Mordheim

Mordheim: City of the Damned
Rogue Factor/Focus Home Interactive

Reviewed on: PC (exclusive)
Street: 11.19

 

Strategy games have seen resurgence in recent years, with the success of X-COM: Enemy Unknown paving the way for similar titles. Tactical RPGs seem to be cursed to either be brilliant or mediocre, and thankfully in the case of Mordheim: City of the Damned, it’s the former. The game’s punishing difficulty, visceral combat, and bleak setting all come together to create an experience that will have you cursing the city time and time again as it snatches away units you grow attached to.

 

Mordheim takes place in the Warhammer fantasy setting, which should sound familiar to those acquainted with tabletop gaming. A twin-tailed comet has crashed into the city, sparking a conflict for control of a mysterious new resource among four major factions. The four playable races are a group of human mercenaries, the savage Skaven ratfolk, the Sisters of Sigmar, and the Cult of the Possessed. Each of the campaigns varies slightly, but for the most part they’re broken up into story missions and skirmishes.

 

Story missions are infrequent but always enjoyable, each map introducing new concepts for you to play with while you take a slight break from skirmishing, the real meat of the game. You control your units in turn-based combat across various maps; planning out attacks and counterattacks while avoiding various environmental hazards. Your squad will have anywhere between four and ten units at a given time, and though you can recruit additional members, I found myself getting attached to particular units, something I can’t in good conscience recommend you do unless you want to have a bad time. Every time a unit drops to zero health in a map, they suffer a permanent injury moving forward. In rare cases, they’ll die outright, leaving a hole in your squad, your battle plan, and your heart. Skirmish maps are procedurally generated, so you’ll have to think on your feet in order to get most of your squad out intact. Battles aren’t over when one side is wiped out entirely. Instead, after certain factors are met and enough damage has been dealt either you or your enemy will surrender. This leads to numerous tense moments, with me alternating between swearing profusely at enemies refusing to surrender and begging my own troops to give up early when the odds turned against us.

 

In between battles, you’ll play the long game in terms of strategy. Each of your units demands an upkeep cost in order to continue risking their lives for you, so before heading off to buy the shiniest new equipment you’ll need to consider how many more battles you can afford to fight with your team.

 

Mordheim also includes an online multiplayer mode that functions in an identical manner to the skirmish maps, albeit pitting you against a human opponent rather than a computerized one. From the few matches I played, it’s clear that game balance is needed. On more than one occasion I was matched with a team that vastly overpowered mine in terms of raw numbers (as in the potential damage dealt and reduced by equipment, not the actual number of units).

 

Mordheim’s visuals and score are passable, but not enough to justify the long loading times that await you between maps, and for all of the tutorials it offers, it’s not a game for genre newcomers. If you’re the type of gamer who looks fondly back to the days of hand painting miniatures and shelling out hundreds of dollars for environments and special units, then Mordheim will be perfect for you. If you’re just starting to dip your toes into the ocean that is grand strategy gaming, then take a risk on Mordheim. It’s punishing, even frustrating at times, but you’ll have a great time battling your way through its dark alleyways and crumbling squares.

Space Dandy

Space Dandy: The Complete Second Season
Funimation

Street: 9.22

 

Every so often, you come across a show that you just need to hand the reins over to and trust that it’s going to take you somewhere enjoyable. Space Dandy is just such a show. It’s over the top, at times crass, nonsensical, and seeing as it comes from the creative team behind Cowboy Bebop, not without its fair share of great music.

 

Pompadour Prince

The titular character of the show, Space Dandy is helpfully described in the show’s intro as a dandy in space. He pilots the Aloha Oe, a spaceship with a heavy Hawaiian motif, keeps his hair in a ridiculous pomp that would put The King to shame, and frequents an interstellar bar called Boobies in between jobs (even though he’s an ass man, as one episode points out). His two crewmates are an obsolete robot named QT and a cat-like alien named Meow who spends his time eating fish and reminding us that he’s not actually a cat. The exchanges between the three protagonists make for a fantastic snark-based friendship. On paper, the crew of the Aloha Oe work as bounty hunters, bringing in unregistered aliens for rewards. Their actual activities are a good deal more varied, and never seem to end with them actually completing any jobs.

 

Universe of the Unexpected

Dandy and his crew never finish jobs, sure, but their escapades are a blast to watch. There’s not much over-arching narrative for the season, and episodes are their own self-contained storylets, but the formula works perfectly, letting Space Dandy mess around with a bunch of different ideas while never straying too far from its strong comedy backbone. One episode has the crew barreling through alternate universes and meeting different versions of themselves (while causing massive damage to the space-time continuum of course), another is quite literally a high school musical, one takes the form of a documentary chronicling the rise and fall of Dandy’s ill-fated rock band, and yet another pits Dandy against an alien “smile collector” and dares to venture into slightly darker territory. Each episode is visually distinct, with subtle changes in the already-gorgeous animation and art style to evoke the feel for a given story. Die hard anime fans will catch style callouts to Panty & Stocking, JoJo, Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann, and the Monogatari shows, to name just a few. There are quite a few nods to other aspects of pop culture too, my personal favorite being a room full of telepods identical to the ones used by Jeff Goldblum’s Seth Brundle in The Fly, complete with fly-headed professor urging students to volunteer for an experiment. The animation is top-notch, and while there is of course some quality disparity between the Blu-ray and DVD versions included in this box, they both look phenomenal.

 

Rock On, Baby

The music of Space Dandy, while not quite at the levels of the jazzy tunes of Cowboy Bebop, holds its own by keeping things interesting. The opening and ending themes are both a blast to listen to, and the songs within the episodes themselves are performed with a good deal of skill. This is one of the few Funimation titles where I can actually say with certainty that it doesn’t really matter if you go for the dubbed or subbed version, since both voice casts give great performances. Sometimes the dub ends up sounding a bit awkward because of characters trying to catch up to lip flaps or fill empty space, but other than those occasional stumbling blocks, it’s not hampered in any big way.

 

If you’re looking for a show that you can let run in the background, then come back to completely bewildered after having paid various degrees of attention, then give Space Dandy your time. Binge-watching it won’t help clarify many plot elements, but it does help highlight the artistic differences between episodes. If you loved Cowboy Bebop, then give Space Dandy a try. It doesn’t take itself seriously, and in today’s anime climate of gritty realism and gut-wrenching drama, it’s a breath of…well, not fresh air, but maybe a breath of air that’s filled with hair spray, cheap cologne, and the smell of grease from retro diner food.

Living In Oblivion

Living in Oblivion
Shout! Factory

Street: 11.17

 

Art about art is some of my favorite shit, honestly. Plays about plays, movies about movies—the metahumor of the creative process is a goldmine, especially for anyone who’s spent any time backstage at a theater or behind a camera at a slow-moving shoot. Living in Oblivion is a 1995 comedy about an ill-fated independent film shoot, and given its cast and writing, this Blu-ray is a beautiful piece of cult cinema that you shouldn’t ignore.

 

The main action of the film is broken into three different acts—each bit is own unique production nightmare (literally, in the case of the first two). Director Nick Reve (Steve Buscemi) is desperately trying to keep his crew on schedule, his actors happy, and still get a good finished product. Of course, this is nearly impossible with all of the horrible mishaps that transpire. His leading lady, Nicole (Catherine Keener) isn’t confident in her acting ability, horrendous diva actor Chad Palomino (James LeGros) keeps trying to change the script to fit his image, and Tito, the dwarf hired for the dream sequence (Peter Dinklage), is rightfully irked about his odd part in the script.

 

Frankly, I’m surprised that we don’t have a copy of this in our cult cinema section over at the Tower, because I had an absolute blast with all of the dry humor and jabs at overblown personalities in show business. I’m hesitant to reveal much else about the movie because it’s definitely something that needs to be experienced rather than heard about. The banter is top-notch, and though some of the humor falls a bit flat 20 years after release, none of it feels particularly mean-spirited, even the bit where Buscemi tells LeGros to return the cameraman’s eye patch because it makes him look a little bit gay. Everyone’s acting is on-point. As an actor, I can tell you that acting as if you’re acting is one of the hardest things to make believable onstage or on camera, so the fact that Keener manages to pull it off so flawlessly is nothing short of a miracle.

 

The stylistic choices of Living in Oblivion are beautiful. The film alternates between using black and white and color for its shots, depending on the act. For one of them, the production area is monochrome, while color is used once the cameras are rolling. For the next act, this trend is reversed. Buscemi does a phenomenal job as the fanatical director, and even though this is Dinklage’s debut role, he absolutely steals the show in the third act with a killer monologue.

 

The Blu-Ray comes with a standard plethora of special features, but a surprisingly nice addition is the DVD version of the movie that’s also included—if for some reason you haven’t gotten a Blu-Ray player by this point.

 

Regardless, if you enjoyed Noises Off! and Birdman, it’s well worth your time to give Living in Oblivion your time. At the very least, you’ll come away with a better understanding of what makes a believable dream sequence. After all, have you ever had a dream with a dwarf in it?

Dairanger

Gosei Sentai Dairanger: The Complete Series
Shout! Factory

Street: 11.10

 

If you ask someone who grew up in the ’90s what Super Sentai is, odds are they’ll look incredibly confused until you clarify with “Power Rangers.” A staple of American television, the Power Rangers series was cobbled together from footage of Japanese children’s show Super Sentai—or, at any rate, its later seasons. Sentai had been putting out shows since the end of the ’70s and it wasn’t until 1993 that it was adapted for American television. Apparently an all-Asian superhero team wasn’t appealing enough, so they had to cut it down to the Yellow Ranger. The show’s first season made use of stock footage from Kyu Ryu Sentai Zyuranger, the sixteenth Sentai show, while the second season used pieces of Dairanger, the seventeenth Sentai, now available in one massive DVD collection.

 

Gosei Sentai Dairanger focuses on the conflict between the Dai Tribe and the Gorma Tribe, millennia-old enemies whose clashes span generations. The Dairangers are all descendants of the Dai tribe—naturally, though, most of them are unaware of their heritage until they’re scouted by Master Kaku to join the fight against the Gorma. Each of the six kids get their own motivation and backstories, all fleshed out in early episodes with lots of inspirational speeches from their Master. It works, but that’s not what we’re here for. We’re here for the action, and there’s plenty of it. Every episode brings with it some great fights, ranging from mystical showdowns to motorcycle chases to massive mecha battles. Things start off ridiculous, and then proceed to get even more ridiculous for the entire show. Villains with names like Baron String, Purse Monk, and Tofu Hermit keep our heroes occupied with ludicrous special techniques that often require one or all of the Dairangers to gain a new power of some sort. Good naturally triumphs over evil, and between the powers of Chi’i and friendship there’s not much that stands in the way of our spandex-clad protagonists.

 

If you grew up on costumed superhero shows, then it should come as no surprise to you that the source material is just as campy, if not moreso, than its adaptation. The fight scenes are like 70 percent posing and 30 percent actual fighting, the fashion sense of every single character is questionable (pretty sure the villains are just a club of misunderstood leather doms), and at least once per episode you’ll get a lengthy explanation of just what a character’s special attack is supposed to do. The cinematography makes heavy use of triple-cuts, sped up footage, and even the occasional rewind so we can see the same attack in reverse, then forward again. That said, it’s incredibly entertaining to watch. There’s nothing in the way of special features on the ten discs, but with 50 episodes of action, plus the introduction of the White Power Ranger (lord, that never sounds good out loud, does it?), there’s more than enough to occupy your time.

 

If you’re looking to scratch that old nostalgia itch with something that’s a little different, or if you really loved Power Rangers, be sure to give Dairanger a look. Another weird benefit of the show is that if you’re trying to learn Japanese, this is actually a surprisingly good place to work on your vocabulary recognition. All of the episodes are subtitled, and since it’s a kid’s show, you’ll be able to pick out bits and pieces of vocabulary with ease. So suit up, transform, get your Chi’i flowing and make sure you’ve got a black background with a couple of smoke machines so you can explain your special techniques, because it’s morphin’ time!

Pulse

Pulse
Pixel Pi Games

Reviewed on: Windows
Also on: Mac, Linux
Street: 10.20

 

Aesthetic is an important part of games. Photorealistic graphics hold up for their current generation, but if the art style isn’t sufficiently fleshed out, then its appearances won’t hold up after a few years. The problem is when aesthetic overtakes gameplay and story. Titles like Eidolon, Proteus and FRACT OSC fail to garner any sort of long-term interest simply because there’s no substance beyond the visuals. I wish I could say that Pulse is an exception to this trend, but it just doesn’t do much for me. The concept is interesting, certainly, but the game fails to do anything with it other than use it as a visual gimmick.

 

Pulse tells the story of Eva, a blind girl who relies on her other senses in order to “see” the world around her. There are bits and pieces about saving the world, some overprotective parents, a prophecy, but nothing really feels fleshed out. All relevant plot is delivered in the form of expository monologues, and the areas I adventured through never seemed to mesh with the whole dying world theme the game was going for.

 

Eva navigates her world via echolocation. Each noise in the world sends out sound waves that illuminate the surroundings. If you’ve ever played Metroid Prime 2: Echoes, the effect is akin to wearing Samus Aran’s Echo Visor for an entire game. Move quickly, and your footsteps will reveal much of the world around you. Stand in one place long enough and darkness will creep in around you. Anything that makes sound in Pulse also makes light, so you’ll often find yourself navigating with gusts of wind or strange white creatures that you can pick up and throw. Aside from this, there’s not much else to the game. You wander from area to area, sometimes get stuck because you took a wrong turn, and get treated to blocks of text that tell you what you’re accomplishing instead of showing you.

 

This isn’t to say that Pulse is a bad experience, it’s just not a very good game. It’s pretty, but there’s not a whole lot going on beneath the surface. The blindness mechanic feels like a poor excuse to leave the environments riddled with low-quality textures. The whole game will take you about an hour to get through, which is disappointing given its $15.00 price tag. To its credit, Pulse does have a phenomenal soundtrack. I caught myself standing still in places, just letting the dark wrap around me while listening to the ambient sound.

 

I want to close with a word on client optimization, because frankly this is one of the most frustrating things about Pulse. It’s listed on Steam as running on both Windows and Mac, but the Mac client is horrendously optimized. I tried running it natively on both Mac and Windows, and then within a Windows virtual machine on Mac, and for some god-awful reason the virtual machine client worked better than the native Mac client. We’re talking smooth framerates at the second highest graphics setting vs. watching a PowerPoint presentation at the lowest graphic setting level of performance disparity here. Hopefully this gets addressed by the devs soon.

 

I can’t in good conscience recommend that you pay full price for Pulse. At this point, you’re better off waiting for it to be packaged in a Humble Bundle with other pretty, shallow games. At least that way you can decide how much it’s worth to you.

Zestiria

Tales of Zestiria
Bandai Namco Entertainment

Reviewed on: PS4
Also on: PC, PS3
Street: 10.20

 

The Tales franchise is home to some of my all-time favorite JRPG’s. Though it’s never reached the popularity that Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest did with Western audiences, the games consistently deliver enjoyable combat, delightful stories, and memorable characters. Zestiria is no exception to the rule and, rather than resting on the laurels of its predecessors, it dares to experiment a bit, with excellent results.

 

Legendary Destinies

Tales of Zestiria game starts high up in the realm of the seraphim, and wastes no time introducing us to our first two party members, the ever-earnest Sorey and his straight-laced companion Mikleo. Sorey is human, but he can see seraphim since he grew up around them, which makes him unique. For being a JRPG, the game’s setting is surprisingly low-fantasy. Seraph is the catchall term for guardian spirits with magical powers, most of whom assist humans who can’t ever see or hear them. Organized religions worship the seraphim, but doubts in the existence of seraphim coupled with a corrupt clergy make for a mundane world where corruption can easily seep into the hearts of the populace. Those who fall prey to the corruption become hellions, which make up the bulk of the game’s enemies. Of course, there’s a prophecy and a chosen one and all sorts of destiny bullshit that leads to Sorey becoming the Shepherd, a mythical figure blessed with the power to fight hellions and restore order. The inability of most humans to see hellions and seraphim leads to situations both hilarious and awful for Sorey and his seraph friends (five of the game’s eight party members are seraphim, and usually Sorey is the only human present). An epic battle with a corrupted river spirit becomes incredibly awkward as the humans watching ask Sorey why he’s swinging his sword at a waterspout.

 

From the Abyss

I don’t want to spoil too much of the story, but even though Tales of Zestiria is a standard JRPG fare, it’s a lot darker thematically than most Tales games. Anyone in the world can become a hellion if they become sufficiently corrupt, even the Shepherd, but even the vilest people can avoid this fate if their conviction to their cause is strong enough. The story doesn’t shy away from tackling issues like faith being used as a tool to control people or the difficulties of two separate races coexisting, and death remains ever-present through the story. While things start out as a clear-cut struggle between good and evil, things become muddled, and party members are rarely in agreement at pivotal moments.

 

Graceful Combat

Tales of Zestiria expands on the real-time combat of the Tales franchise in a phenomenal fashion, adding levels of depth requiring players to think on the fly to adapt to enemy tactics, as well as handing them a fantastic set of tools with which to tear apart foes. Instead of giving melee characters free reign and assigning spellcasters a large mana pool, all actions, from dodging to melee attacks to spells, make use of a 100-point stamina bar. The lower your stamina, the slower it recharges, though there are actions you can take to speed up the process. Combat abilities fall into three categories, with a rock-paper-scissors dynamic determining which actions can interrupt each other. Chaining different categories together in a combo reduces overall stamina cost and speeds up casting time, so experimentation is a must. Sorey also gains the ability to fuse with seraphim party members, granting him enhanced elemental abilities and new moves. Each of the playable characters has their own unique fighting style, so be sure to play each until you find your favorite. The equipment system is an entire game unto itself. Every single piece of equipment can hold up to four passive skills that are grouped on a 5×10 grid. In addition, there are bonus skills that are activated when you equip skills in a complete column, stack the same skill on top of itself, or equip skills in a horizontal configuration. These bonuses are usually so good that you’ll find yourself keeping equipment with lower base stats just to maintain your bonuses. Equipment with the same name can also be fused to transfer skills from one piece to the other, improve base stats, or create new skills entirely.

 

Plenty of Heart

If there’s one thing that sets Tales of Zestiria apart from other recent JRPGS, it’s the characters. Interactions between party members are fantastic, skits are a great mix of informative and hilarious, and the clashing personalities kept me entertained. Sorey and Mikleo are absolute nerds when it comes to ancient architecture, much to the amusement of the rest of the party. Mikleo tries to maintain a collected front, but he’s the easiest of the group to tease. Your mileage may vary with the comedic bits, as your enjoyment is dependent on your zest for terrible puns. Reference humor is there in bits and pieces, but never feels too out of place, and there are callbacks to previous Tales games (including a cameo fight with my all-time favorite snarky spellcaster).

 

There’s so much more to Zestiria than what I’ve touched on in this review. The environments are breathtaking, and what the dungeon designs lack in intricacy they more than make up for in stellar music. While it probably won’t draw in newcomers to the series, Tales of Zestiria delivers the quality content I’ve come to expect from Tales games. This is one of the best console JRPGs of the year, so if you’re looking to scratch that itch, pick up a copy and take your first steps as the new Shepherd.

The Following: Season 3
Warner Bros. Entertainment

Street: 10.13

 

Crime drama is a staple of television. It’s a spectacle rooted in our national psyche, a way for us to confirm that good and evil both exist, and that evil gets punished in the end. The Following is an excellent reminder that the genre isn’t out of tricks, and its final season pulls out all the stops to create a macabre spectacle rivaled in intricacy only by NBC’s Hannibal.

 

The second season ends with Joe Carroll (James Purefoy) finally behind bars thanks to the efforts of FBI agent Ryan Hardy (Kevin Bacon). Even though Carroll is sentenced to death, things are far from over between him and Hardy. Numerous members of Carroll’s fanatical followers are intent on ruining Agent Hardy’s life with a series of elaborately staged killings, each containing their own twisted message. In order to track them effectively, Ryan has to cooperate with Joe in a very Hannibal-and-Clarice-esque relationship. Ryan gives in to some of Joe’s demands, and he, in turn, gives information about the rash of serial killings. Of course, things go downhill as it becomes clear that Ryan is being manipulated by his informant.

 

The Hannibal comparisons don’t end there, as the dynamics between Hardy and Carroll reminded me of the relationship between Will Graham and Hannibal Lecter in the show’s second season. It’s clear that Agent Hardy is becoming more and more like Carroll as the show nears its conclusion, especially in the episodes following Carroll’s execution.

 

Kevin Bacon is one of my favorite actors, especially when he’s portraying morally gray characters. His performance as Ryan Hardy is no exception. The rest of the cast does good work, but it’s Bacon’s chops that really carry the show along.

 

The cinematography and sound design is everything that you would expect from a crime show. There are plenty of dark alleyways, bustling offices, and dim interiors, with music never overwhelming the on-screen action.

 

The Following is not for the faint of stomach. Blood is plentiful, and the more “artful” crime scenes made me regret my decision to snack and watch at the same time. That said, it never crosses the line to being excessive torture porn, always doing what it needs to in order to provide Hardy with his next shock. A few of the side plots felt a bit unnecessary, and most of the killers (Carroll being the exception), felt a bit over-the-top for my tastes. Still, if you’ve been following The Following since its first season, the final season should satisfy you.

 

The Blu-ray contains the special features we’re accustomed to at this point. There are deleted scenes, a handful of making-of featurettes, and commentary for some of the more pivotal episodes. Whether or not this makes the set a purchase for you depends on whether or not you already have the first two seasons. If you’re looking to get into the show, then pick up the complete series, and don’t waste money buying three separate seasons. Leave that for the die-hard fans.

 

If you’re looking for a show to scratch the psychological crime thriller itch that Hannibal scratches ever so infrequently, then give this show a look. It can drag at times, and a lot of the twists can seem arbitrary, but you’re still watching Kevin Bacon in one of his more intriguing parts since he headed up the Hellfire Club in X-Men: First Class. The show’s run is over, so you can safely pick up the entire thing without worrying about waiting for more of it to come. Follow this one until the end.

Anime Banzai

The past couple of years have seen an explosion in Utah’s convention scene. With the introduction of Salt Lake Comic Con a couple of weeks before Anime Banzai, it’s tough for people to decide which conventions they’ll be attending. For me, though, there are a couple of reasons why Banzai remains my go-to con.

Anime Banzai – The Con up North

SLCC is great for day trips. You can head downtown, mill around for a couple hours and  then call it a day. Anime Banzai is a good hour away from SLC, with travel time making it a perfect little slice of escapism. Con-goers are generally in for the entire weekend, booking hotel rooms and planning their days. It’s a much more satisfying experience as opposed to the novelty of popping in to the Salt Palace for a few over-crowded hours.

 

Cosplay

The ratio of attendees in cosplay to those in street clothes is staggering. There’s almost an even split each year, and some years it’s more unusual to see somebody not dressed as some character or another. Craftsmanship of every skill level is on show, and some of the best costumes aren’t even featured in the yearly cosplay contest simply because that’s not what the wearer wanted in the first place. It’s a labor of love that’s visible in the smiles of people dressed as characters from various different mediums. Anime, video games, Western cartoons, movies, everything is fair game for cosplay at Banzai.

 

Panels and Events

There is never a shortage of things to do at Banzai. Sure, the celebrity guests they pull each year may not always be A-list, but those guests will be running a number of different panels the entire weekend, ranging from karaoke to questions about the business to fan panels for their favorite roles. Community-run panels are always a huge draw, with events like the State Alchemy Exam and Make n’ Take Kitty Ears filling up almost an hour before their actual start time. Even though ostensibly anime is the biggest thing at Banzai, there are discussion panels for every aspect of geek culture. Want to see a specific panel that wasn’t there this year? Then by all means, make it yourself. The vast majority of each year’s panels are community-made.

 

The People

If you go to Banzai a couple years in a row, there are faces you’ll start to recognize. The guy with the cardboard box, the yearly Pyramid Head and space marine cosplayers, the kimono-clad volunteer whose actual job is never quite clear. I’ve made a number of friends at Banzai through the years, and even managed to network with people who I never would have spoken to otherwise if not for the fact that we snapped a photo of each other’s costumes or happened to be in line for the same panel.

 

Spirit

Anime Banzai is smaller than Salt Lake Comic Con. Even with attendance rising each year, it may never quite reach the numbers that SLCC draws. I’m fine with that. SLCC was built from the ground up as a for-profit convention. My experiences there have all felt hollow and corporate. The exhibition hall is massive, but always feels empty. Banzai got its start at Salt Lake Community College, as a small project put forth by an anime club. It moved venues over the years to accommodate more attendees as it grew in popularity. It stumbled in some places, but learned from its mistakes. Anime Banzai is our anime convention. It’s a testament to the geekiness of Utah, and I know I’ll be going back year after year.

I walked into the formal dance at Anime Banzai expecting to mill about for a half hour or so and come out with an impression of the event decent enough to merit an article. Almost two hours later, my friend and I were on stage, crowned and bewildered.

 

In true Banzai fashion, the line for Anime Prom stretched down one hallway and wrapped around itself, filling the cramped corridor with a sea of people in various states of fancy dress. The dance was slated to start at 9:00, but in keeping with more Banzai traditions, doors didn’t open until about 20 minutes after they were supposed to. My friend Kate and I were cosplaying as characters from the Tales series, and slipped into line a few minutes after 9:00, so we were on our feet for a little while, with not much opportunity for rest after an already full day at the convention.

 

Once we got inside Anime Prom, our eyes had to adjust a bit to the dim light of electric chandeliers. For a formal, it was an odd choice to keep the lighting dim for the entirety of the dance. There was a table with jugs for water and plastic cups, but the massive hall’s one trashcan was difficult to locate. Music was from a variety of different JRPG, with few tracks that we could actually dance to. Kate and I headed off to a side of the hall and started people-watching. Everyone looked fantastic, a wide variety of traditional formal attire and specific character cosplays on display. About three minutes after we got in, an announcer got on stage to tell us that there would be royalty at this event. A King and Queen couple would be crowned, as well as a Prince and Princess. Kate and I joked that we were “going to win prom.” We made a half-hearted attempt at dancing to Final Fantasy VIII’s “Waltz for the Moon,” made hilarious by the fact that neither of us knew how to dance. We went on a circuit of the room, pointing out intricate dresses to one another and trying to pin down an event coordinator so we could figure out when the royalty crowning would happen. After a brief exchange with the hostess, we left the event hall to get some air until 10:30, the planned coronation time.

 

We came back in with around ten minutes to spare, having reached the conclusion that the coronation was probably rigged in order to facilitate some happy geek couple’s proposal. Imagine our surprise three minutes later as the hostess comes up to us and tells us to go wait by the stage because we’ve been selected as royalty members (though she wouldn’t tell us which ones). Kate and I can’t contain our laughter as we make our way to the front of the hall, because holy shit we might be winning prom. Music continues for a few more tracks and then the hostess signals for a stop.

 

“Would the people I talked to earlier please come up on stage? We’re ready to crown our royalty!” Scattered applause echoes as Kate and I climb up one side of the stage while the two other royalty nominees climb the other. One of them is a smartly dressed young man in a white military uniform with a blue wig and shiny rapier, the other is in a dress inspired by the Queen of Hearts. Kate and I are excited as hell because that was our favorite dress of the evening. The level of detail was staggering, and the overall impact of the outfit left us hoping that its wearer would win at least a judge’s choice award.

 

The first title to be given was Princess. The hostess walked past me and Kate to the other end of the stage, crowning the Queen of Hearts. This is the exact point where Kate and I lost our shit because HOLY SHIT WE WON ANIME PROM. The Prince gets crowned and then we’re announced as the King and Queen of the formal. We got fancy engraved wine glasses; we got to keep the fancy crowns; and we got to dance together in front of everybody while stifling our laughter. All told, an enjoyable experience that started off shaky but ended with a whirlwind of confusion and spotlights. Here’s hoping the rest of the con keeps me on my toes.

Subaeria

Subaeria – Robotic Capitalist Hellscape
Studios Illogika

Reviewed on: Windows (exclusive)
Street: 9.22

 

“Roguelike” is a label that gets tossed around a lot in the indie game circuit, and a majority of the time what it means is “procedurally generated game with optional permadeath and a few RPG elements.” This holds true for Subaeria, a top-down action-puzzler that marks mobile app developer Illogika’s first foray into the realm of games meant for a larger screen. It’s not a roguelike, but it is an enjoyable experience that stands in its own little niche. The game is currently in the Early Access stage on Steam, and the developer’s projected release for the final product is still six months out. Like most early titles, the game suffers from a lack of content that will hopefully be rectified upon completion, with only one of the multiple playable characters available at the moment. Gameplay areas consist of a tutorial and a single procedural dungeon.

 

The story is minimal, but it doesn’t hinder the experience. Your player character has made the mistake of winding up bankrupt in a futuristic dystopia run by killer robots called Cleaners, and spends the game trying to escape. There are multiple endings planned for each character, but since there’s only one available right now, I can only speculate as to how things will end up for the others.

 

Gameplay is where the game shows its creative spark. Your options for self-defense are limited, so the only real way to get rid of your metallic pursuers is to use your surroundings in creative ways to get them to off themselves. Learning how each enemy type behaves is key to survival. Some will make a beeline towards you, others will use projectiles that push them back with each shot. You also have a little drone that you can outfit with various power-ups (though the drone can only hold two at a time), the effects of which you’ll find out with a lot of experimentation.

 

Subaeria wants you to take your time learning how everything in its world operates, and apart from the tutorial there’s almost no handholding of any kind. The presentation is absolutely gorgeous, reminding me of titles like Transistor and Bastion with its vibrant color palettes and highly stylized character portraits. The environment evokes a beautiful sense of dystopia, especially when paired with its robotic enforcers. Sound design is equally good, with some fantastic tracks in the mix. Like with most titles in this vein, I found myself playing round after round, letting each defeat be another lesson into how to progress.

I’m torn on whether or not to give Subaeria a full recommendation, though. Early Access titles are always something of an oddity since by the time most of them make it to a final release any buzz surrounding them has long since died down. Subaeria is good, there’s just not enough of it right now. I wanted more room variety, more environments, more enemies to mess with and more ways to mess with them.

 

With any luck Illogika will push for their final release sooner rather than later. If that’s the case, then pick up Subaeria for a unique title that scratches the sci-fi puzzler itch. If not, well, make your own call on whether or not you want to sink thirteen dollars into a product that only has one of its four characters available at present.