Running With Scissors (Weird Al Yankovic)
Ladies and gentlemen, everything Weird Al's most mediocre. "Jerry Springer" might be the best song on the album, and that's pretty damn sad. "Truck Driving Song" isn't bad (although the first time I ever heard the song, I though he was saying "Driving a truck with my high beams on") and I guess "Grapefruit Diet" is okay, but I'd rather listen to "Fat".
On the other hand, "Germs" is annoying, "Pretty Fly For a Rabbi" could very well be the worst Weird Al song ever, and "All About the Pentiums" is painful enough, but in a time where we have the vastly superior "White and Nerdy" this song is even more worthless.
Probably the most famous song on the album is "The Saga Begins," in which Al turns "American Pie" into a song about Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Yeah, at the time this album was released a Star Wars prequel was a huge deal, but now that the Star Wars prequel trilogy is regarded a joke this has to be one of, if not the most poorly aged song of Al's entire discography. Really goes to show how overreliance on pop culture can bite you in the ass, huh? Actually, just about any Working Designs translation demonstrates that.
The Rithmatist (Brandon Sanderson, Kindle eBook)
This was recommended to me by a site reader, which makes it that much more uncomfortable for me to say this didn't do much for me.
In an alternate history where everything is steampunk, there exists a type of mage called a Rithmatist who can bring their chalk drawings to life, and are needed at a mysterious tower to keep feral chalk drawings at bay. The main character is Joel, a boy who really, really wanted to be a Rithmatist but never got a chance to be bestowed the magic, and now he has to team up with a Rithmatist who doesn't want to be a Rithmatist, their teacher, and a police officer to solve the mystery of who's picking off other Rithmatists.
I guess I can see how a story about the blending of math and art would appeal to a gamer (not to mention the way Rithmatists have to "program" their chalk drawings, and Rithmatist battles reminiscent of Pokemon battles), but the story is obviously unfinished. The book spends so much time establishing Rithmatism, its various rules, how it ties into geometry, and teasing about its history that the actual story doesn't really kick in until the last few chapters. Okay, Sanderson, you've built up your world. Now for the sequel, do something with it.
Also, the final chapter kind of pissed me off with a plot twist where... at the risk of spoilers, remember how in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the kids were certain it was Snape causing trouble around Hogwart's, but it turned out to be Quirrel under the influence of Voldemort? Well, imagine if after outing Quirrel, Harry went to apologize to Snape only to discover he was also possessed by Voldemort. And then there's a Quidditch match, and the book ends.
Dust: An Elysian Tail (PC)
I'm going to warn you right now that I'm probably going give this more shit than it deserves. It's a competent hack-slash-Metroidvania, but it rubs me all the wrong ways. Dust's main claim to fame is that almost all the artwork and coding were done by one guy (the audio was done by another team). Of course, the original Final Fantasy was also programmed by one guy, so is that really a huge deal? Actually, anyone who's familiar with "The Mythical Man-Month" would probably argue that a game like this should only be programmed by one guy.
Also, it would have been nice if it had been well programmed by that one guy. The framerate noticeably drops for a few seconds after closing menus, I once had the game screen turn into a green haze after falling into a cave, and sometimes the game would just break down as save points and merchants stopped reacting, and the bat's spells stopped targeting enemies and synergizing with the spinning blade attack, forcing me to restart the game when I finally got a save point to work.
But yes, it is a very pretty game... well, aside from the DeviantArt-level character portraits. And the final area has you leading a small army of lizardman against an army of mammals through a fire area with a blurry overlay, turning the end of the game into a visual clusterfuck (Game time: See how long it takes you to figure out where the fuck the player character is in this screenshot. Now imagine that clusterfuck in motion.)
But what makes me so irrationally angry isn't the game itself, but the way people are always bringing it up as an example of what one person can do and telling others that if they want to get into the game business, they should at least be making games on this level. And to that I say:
First of all, the attitude that if your game (or any piece of art, really) isn't an earth-shattering achievement then it's a failure is massively insulting. Second, Dust won some kind of contest and was given support and funding from fucking Microsoft; most small-time developers are going to be on their own, or resorting to crowd-funding. And finally, Dust just isn't a particularly good game. Admittedly I played the game on Tough mode which was more annoying than challenging because enemies take you from full health to dead in two hits, and the game had a tendency to swarm me with flying enemies I couldn't jump to get at or else a slime would one-shot me, forcing me to sit through a bunch of exposition to get back to that part only to get one-shotted again. But by the end of the graveyard level, I started to get so overleveled that even this mode got boring, and the final boss couldn't do anything to me. I actually find the fact that Undertale was almost entirely made by one person a lot more impressive, and that game wasn't exactly a visual powerhouse (although Dust's soundtrack is pretty meh, so maybe that evens the field, for lack of a better term).
Actually, maybe I'm misunderstanding the attitude: I guess it is acceptable to say your game should at least be functional mediocrity dressed up all pretty-like.
And this guy who did all the art and programming, did he also write the story? Because Dust's story is the most incompetent load of cliched bullshit I've seen since That-Game-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named. It loses several million points right out of the gate by being about a guy with amnesia, then continues to accumulate strikes with characters that talk in fortune cookie riddles and non-sequiturs about Dust's mysterious past, hinting that he was a cold-blooded assassin who lost his memories when something made him seek redemption, but then a character comes out of nowhere at the end of the penultimate level and infodumps the truth, which is something completely different (not to mention dickish and stupid). After the big reveal, another character tells Dust that they knew what was going on all along, but never told him because they feared if he knew the truth it would distract him from his mission.
The real reason this happens is because it's impossible for a character to relay information to the protagonist without the player also finding out, which means they can't blow their mind with a "HOLY SHIT" moment just before the final boss.
"Well, what are we supposed to do, reveal everything at the start of the game?"
For starters, you can go look up what a false dilemma is. Then learn the difference between building a story and withholding it, and how to structure narrative so 90% of the story isn't confined to the last 10% of the game with everything leading up to it being a load of fuck-all.
I also love how aware the villain is that he's evil and his best friend was a total bastard.
Also, at the very end it seems to take on an anti-technology stance when the Moonbloods elder speculates they intentionally lost their technology to go back to living with nature. Anti-technology messages haven't become any less trite since Castle in the Sky said we need to go back to living in caves like the guy who talks to rocks, and when a video game has one it rockets past cliched and smashes headfirst into arrogant and hypocritical. At least games like Final Fantasy 6 and Secret of Mana objected to WMDs, not technology as a whole.
There is some cute dialogue outside of the main story, and I got a little choked up at the end of the scenario with the mushroom people, but by the end of the game I was getting enraged by the flip-flopping as to whether Dust is this guy or that guy or both or neither, and this one character insists he's the one guy and Dust says he isn't, then when that character decides Dust really isn't the one character after all Dust says yes he is and then Dust dies in the volcano, but then maybe he's still alive and oh my god, make up your fucking mind, game.
The Stanley Parable (PC)
Gone Home left me pretty lukewarm on the whole "walking simulator" genre and I don't have much faith in the genre as a whole, but Stanley Parable is at least worth checking out because it is fucking funny.
That said, it's also hard to write a review for. As much as I hate the "this game is brilliant but it's a spoiler to say why so take my word that it's brilliant and play it" attitude, Stanley Parable really is a game you want to go into blind. Much like Undertale, a big part of the game's appeal is meta humor and playing with your expectations. And afterwards, YouTubing the stuff you won't touch with a ten foot pole (a Genocide game for Undertale, that fucking baby ending for Stanley Parable).
Oh yeah, this game also gave me motion sickness, notably at a certain part that has you running in circles through similar looking rooms. But unlike Jazzpunk, Stanley Parable has a POV Slider to mitigate the pain.
Dear Esther (PC)
And then we've got Dear Esther which... isn't Stanley Parable. I have to admit it's a lot prettier than Stanley Parable, but while Stanley Parable invited you to fuck around with its world and provoke the narrator, Dear Esther wants you to sit down, shut up, not touch anything, and listen while it shows off its toy collection and reads the poems that its mother assured it were brilliant.
Do you remember that episode of The Simpsons where the teachers go on strike? Specifically, the scene where Professor Frink is demonstrating the physics of one of those toy lawnmowers with the popping balls in a dome to a bunch of kindergarteners, and when one of the kids asks to play with it Frink says "No you can't, you won't enjoy it on as many levels as I do!" That's Dear Esther's attitude towards itself and the player.
Dear Esther didn't give me motion sickness, but that might be because the game is over in less than an hour and didn't really have a chance to give me motion sickness.
Toki Tori 2+ (PC)
While the first Toki Tori was about collecting eggs in bite-size levels by using Lemming-style consumable skills, Toki Tori 2 reduces the hero's abilities to stomping the ground and chirping to focus on environmental puzzles throughout one large world. The puzzles are just daunting enough, and the reliance on local wildlife to solve them lends a certain life to the game world. Also interesting is how the game tells it story solely with visuals, even if it doesn't make it very clear what the special frogs are supposed to be; ancient guardians of the floating island to be rallied when something threatens it? Convenient macguffins to work toward? Gratuitous Team Fortress 2 references?
Okay, yeah, I'm having trouble writing this. It's a decent game while it lasts, but doesn't leave much of a lasting effect once it's over.