Feed (by M. T. Anderson)

All Your Emotional Baggage is in a Zip File

feed book

A scathing satire and a harrowing work of sci-fi YA fiction. Not a fun read, but it’s something that sticks with you.

In the future world of Feed, everyone is born with internet access implanted into the brain. This allows everyone to instant message one another telepathically, and enables corporations to continually bombard all individuals with advertisements and entertainment specifically catered to their personal interests. People don’t need intelligence, because answers can be obtained faster than the questions can be asked. In this environment, the teenagers of this story are consumerist and hedonistic to an astounding level, and all the while their natural dialogue reads like the worst of Youtube comment conversations.

The protagonist of this brave new world is neither a hero nor a rebel, and the relationship that develops between him and the lead girl is about the least romantic subplot you will find in the young adult aisle. But this time it’s on purpose! The point M. T. Anderson repeatedly makes is that when everyone is connected, nobody is connected. This isn’t a happy story, but the prose was engaging enough to get me to see its cautionary tale to the end.

I’ll recommend it to anyone who is a fan of the genre, or who likes to read stories that have a big message to tell. How well this message holds up today, considering this book was released all the way back in 2002, will depend on the reader. How well do you feel society has fared since the advent of television? Or over the past decade, as guided by the omnipresent force that is online social media? Feed may be a work of hyperbole, but that is how satire elicits discussion.

Available on Amazon or Barnes and Noble.

Virtua Tennis 4: World Tour Edition

Racquet Tiers

virtua tennis 4 vita

Who would have thought a handheld tennis game could be this good?

For whatever reason Sega knows how to make tennis games. And for whatever reason, they decided to go all-out with this Vita release. Virtua Tennis 4 was also on the PS3, Xbox 360, Wii, and PC, but only the Vita version got the World Tour Edition with a whole bunch of extras designed specifically for handheld. And what do you know? All that effort really payed off. This is a solid, fun tennis game packed with a surprisingly large amount of content.

The game controls very well, and works great for a couple quick pick-up-and-play matches. It strikes just the right balance between simplistic arcade and in-depth simulation, so it’s easy to get into yet challenging to master. Each tennis player also has a bit of a different play style (strong backhand, focus on defense, etc), and this is something you can experiment with in the world tour mode, where you create your own character and lead him or her to victory in a series of tournaments. This takes the form of an extensive board game, in which you decide if you want to level up skills in a practice match, earn money in mini-games, or build up street cred at fundraisers. It’s a clever way to throw in some variety, getting you to play an otherwise repetitive sports title for hours on end.

If you own a Vita and are not adverse to tennis, I’ll go ahead and recommend this one. It’s a good-looking handheld sports title that manages to keep me entertained, and I’m generally not one for sports in the first place.

As is often the fate of sports games, this one is no longer available digitally. Get its physical release on the Vita.

htoL#NiQ: The Firefly Diary

p7Le#s/VnG

firefly-diary-cover

It’s a flawed game, but I think there is a niche audience for it.

In The Firefly Diary, your goal is to lead an antlered and amnesiac girl named Mion to safety through a rubble-filled post-apocalyptic world. You do not control Mion directly–instead, you play as two firefly-like entities. The light firefly guides Mion to where you want her to go. Meanwhile the shadow firefly is used to activate various objects and affect the environment in certain ways. Time stops when you control the latter firefly, but as its name suggests you can only move it within shadows. In short, this is a puzzle platformer that utilizes gameplay elements reminiscent of Dokuro and Ghost Trick, but works within a much darker and harrowing setting.

It was the beautiful and haunting art style that got me excited for this game, and I’m glad to say it does very well in terms of presentation and atmosphere. When it comes to the actual gameplay though, I have to admit it can often be pretty frustrating. In The Firefly Diary, you will have to fail many, many times in order to work out how to get the slow Mion safely through each series of fatal hazards. (I strongly recommend switching from the default touch screen controls to the joystick and buttons control scheme.) If you are not the patient type, you will get frustrated very quickly.

Overall I personally liked this game, but I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone. Most of the puzzles are set up well enough that you can work out what you need to do, but there are a few that are pretty ridiculous. If an indie-esque horror setting puzzle platformer sounds like your cup of tea though (and you’re up for a challenge), go ahead and give this one a shot.

Get it on the Vita, or on Steam.

Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines

Over My Dead Body

Oreshika Tainted Bloodlines psvita cover

Fantastic RPG, particularly for old-school fans. One of my favorite Vita games.

In Oreshika: Tainted Bloodlines, your ancient Japanese clan has been cursed–everyone will die within two years, and nobody can have children. To save your clan, you work with the gods and goddesses to create adult children (through… magic), but to do so requires points you earn defeating yokai creatures and deadly deities in the dungeons. Your ultimate goal is to defeat the sorcerer Abe no Seimei, the one who cursed your clan in order to smoothly take control of the nation.

There isn’t much else to the story. This is why I note that this title is best-geared toward old-school RPG fans, who are more familiar with the idea of creating their own characters and filling in the details of the overarching plot with their imaginations. I found it loads of fun, personally–and this is largely thanks to the game’s in-depth customization, eye-catching presentation, and ease of play that is well-designed for quick sessions of handheld gaming. In-game months will pass as you fight through the dungeons, and it is inevitable that many of your characters will pass away. There’s a unique “somber determination” sort of mood to this game, and I strongly recommend it for anyone looking for a breath of fresh air in the genre.

The bright and colorful art style is wonderfully vibrant. The traditional-sounding Japanese music fits perfectly. And the game is designed really well for easing you into its complex yet engaging clan management and turn-based battle systems. I feel we’re pretty lucky that this got localized, actually, since it’s 1) very unusual, 2) very culturally Japanese, and 3) just on the Vita. But it’s a perfect fit there, so at least give the free demo a spin and see if Oreshika clicks with you too.

Get it on the Vita.

Undertale

Underweight Champions

Clever little game. It didn’t click with me, but I can see why some people love it.

Undertale is a pixel RPG in which your character, Dora the Explorer with jaundice, falls into the realm of monsters and has to find her way back out. Some monsters are friendly, but most are out for your blood. Battling in this game is a little different from the norm–you attack with a timer bar, and you evade damage from enemy attacks by controlling a little heart and avoiding all the stuff thrown at you (similar to a shmup). At first I found the battles entertaining (and there is some nice variety to how they play out), but after a while I started to find them tedious, as they can last a rather long time.

You have the option to not kill your enemies in this game, though how that is done was not explained clearly. You can select “Mercy” to not fight, but most enemies will still retaliate with attacks dozens of times regardless. As it turns out, you have to dodge attacks for the next 10 minutes until the enemies finally give up. At any rate, the option is there to fight back against all the monsters (and you will be derided for it), or to be a complete pacifist and never harm anyone (and you will have a happier ending).

For the most part the story is a comedy. I found the humor more miss than hit though, and when things turned more serious I just didn’t find myself caring for the characters all that much. Wasn’t a big fan of the art style or the music in this one either. (But hey, you might like it?)

Get it on Steam.