The honeymoon for nostalgia-fueled Kickstarter video game projects has long since passed. Older games and genres from the 80s and 90s inspired a treasure trove of multi-million dollar projects, to varying degrees of success. Despite the digital gold rush, I never expected one of these Kickstarter fruits to bear a new ToeJam & Earl game, let alone it be quite good.
ToeJam & Earl: Back in the Groove is the fourth game in the bizarre but strangely memorable 90s series. But it’s also a triumphant recreation of the 1991 original, which has all the early trappings of a solid roguelike dungeon crawler, that happens to star a pair of funky aliens. While some gameplay elements are quite frustrating, Back in the Groove is dripping with 90s charm, lots of replayability, and fantastic co-op.
I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I enjoyed the fourth novel in Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching series much more than the previous two. The first one is a classic coming of age adventure, while the second focuses on social drama among tween girls (yeesh) and the third an annoyingly awkward pining romance (double yeesh).
The fourth book, however, stars an older teenage Tiffany, comfortably seated as the witch of her lands. The new villain is yet another malevolent force and too similar to book 2’s hiver. But what made it a wonderful read was the fantastic, complex relationship between Tiffany, Roland (the young prince, now grown up), and Roland’s new fiance Letitia.
Pratchett smartly stays far away from a tiresome teen love triangle, allowing all the characters to breathe, develop, and interact in a much more likable, but still dramatic, way. Plus we’re given a fun side jaunt to Ankh-Morpork, including guest stars from the City Watch series. It also provides a satisfying ending, though there’s one more book to go.
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Nostalgia for the action-platformers of the 80s and 90s have helped fuel the modern indie game industry, from spiritual successors to direct recreations. Monster Boy and the Cursed Kingdom is a modern take on the old and underrated Wonder Boy series.
The first new Wonder Boy game since 1994 has been given an astonishing overhaul, with gorgeous hand-drawn animations, a bombastic musical score, and a lengthy campaign that hits every checkbox of regional themes. Unfortunately it also dregs up some of the more unforgiving challenges and obtuse puzzle designs of that era, holding back an otherwise fantastic original entry.
The Ring of Winter by James Lowder
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Primarily read because of any possible ties to our ongoing Tomb of Annihilation campaign. It’s a short, easy read with paper-thin characters, but it’s a decent little swashbuckling adventure in the jungles of Chult. Too many goblins and not enough of everything else, however, as Artus Cimber hunts the Ring of Winter, befriends goofy talking wombats, battles dinosaurs, and meets the immortal defenders of Mezro. The brief but intriguing Ras Nsi cameo and the climax featuring the unleashed Ring of Winter are the most relevant sections to ToA, though Artus himself is a generically boring hero. Not a horrible book but not exactly a memorable adventure.
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In space no one can hear you scream, but Lord Eradikus will surely hear all that noise you’ve been making while snooping around his ship. All that clanking will summon his wrath, and your only hope is to run faster than your friends.
Clank in Space is a brilliantly fun board game that combines the strategy of a deckbuilding card game with a space-themed dungeon crawl. The recently released Apocalypse expansion adds new villainous schemes to thwart your heist plans even more, creating an always exciting and memorable race through the mother ship.
What started out as a goofy mashup of a handful of Nintendo characters having a What-If throw-down has spent the last two decades transforming into one of the most beloved, consistently excellent series on every Nintendo console since the Nintendo 64.
As the fifth game in the series Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is well deserving of its Ultimate title, featuring every fighter and stage from previous games while providing a solid balance of new and classic gameplay modes, though it’s still a series built for, and best enjoyed locally rather than online.
The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Phenomenal. It’s been a long time since a book started out rather ho-hum, and by the end I had to devour the last 50 pages in a single sitting, desperately wanting more. Jemisin created not just an intriguing retrofuture world of extreme, apocalyptic weather but also a rich culture surrounding the caste-bound humans who survive these Seasons, including those special humans who can feel the Earth and control it.
The setting is a delicious mixture of X-Men, Dragon Age, and even some Horizon Zero Dawn, yet it’s not derivative at all but feels like a natural evolution for sci-fi/fantasy. And the multiple POV features some incredibly rewarding and satisfying twists, including a very bold second person narration. Highly recommended and I cannot wait to read the rest of the trilogy.
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