Sometimes a book comes into your life at just the right moment.
When a friend of mine recommended The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms, I was struggling with a bout of depression brought on by the winter holiday season. I’ve struggled with depression my entire life, so I’ve learned a lot of techniques to keep me above water during the bad times. But the holidays always trigger periods of severity for me, and this past December was my first without antidepressant medication in many, many years, so it was hard.
The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms was exactly what I needed to get through that time. The first of a trilogy, THTK serves as the introduction to a world that is a pleasure to get lost in. It’s hard to believe that the novel is the debut of author N.K. Jemisin, who shows a mastery of characterization, world-building, and stunning prose usually only visible in later-life works. I slipped into the city of Sky like a warm bath and was enthralled the entire time the book was in my hands.
I particularly loved the main character, Yeine. She’s a driven young woman who is strong, but not because she’s perfect. She suffers from the stress of being thrown into a strange, dangerous situation; the self-doubt that comes from not being completely sure of one’s identity; and the pangs of loneliness that come from being far from home. In other words, she’s emotionally vulnerable, and I loved her for it. Because that emotional vulnerability didn’t keep her from doing what she needed to do. And though it made her human, it didn’t make her weak.
I highly recommend The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms to anyone who enjoys fantasy. It has elements of both high/traditional- and urban- fantasy, so everyone has something they can enjoy. The best part? Despite its epic feel, it’s only a trilogy. And the whole trilogy is out right now for your binge-reading pleasure!
Please Don’t Touch Anything is a tiny game that looks really boring at first. The entire thing takes place in one room — really just a desk in a room — so there’s just one screen. You can’t move or look around, just stare at this bland, industrial-looking desk and wall with a screen on it. The only exciting thing is this big red button.
An irresistible big red button. A button you just have to press, even though the game tells you not to. Even though the very title of the game tells you not to. But that’s all you can do.
Then the whole game opens up as a beautiful little gem of a mystery puzzler.
I love games where the whole game is pretty much just figuring out what the game is. No tutorials, no guidance, just a whole lot of trial and error. Please Don’t Touch Anything is a great example of this format. And it lends itself well to playing in short chunks, rather than long sessions, because there are a bunch of different endings that happen when you go through that trial and error process. I’ve “beat” the game quite a few times now, and each time took me a maximum of 15 minutes.
I hesitate to say anything else about the game, because the joy of it lies in the unfolding, but if your curiosity is roused, here’s the Steam page. I’d recommend it to puzzle fans, especially those who are looking for something to play in those odd pockets of time where you want to play a game, but don’t have much time to devote to the session.
Like so many others, I struggle with maintaining healthy habits in my life. I live a fairly sedentary lifestyle, with a desk job and a lot of hobbies that involve sitting in one place for long periods of time. I’m trying to get better about exercising, but finding the willpower is proving difficult.
I am also trying to improve my relationship with food. I feel like I eat fairly well, but I also know I could be more informed about what I put in my body. I mean, I know eating lots of sugar and fried things is bad, but what about carbs? Fat? What are all those additives doing to my body, really?
In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto is a book that tries to get at the heart of the human relationship with food. By examining the Western way of eating, Michael Pollan attempts to cut through all the complicated nutrition talk that has come to surround eating healthily and get back down to the commonsense, cultural knowledge we hold about food. “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”
Pollan is an excellent writer, and I very much enjoyed In Defense of Food. I devoured it quickly, took lots of notes for myself, and feel that a lot of the information has helped guide me towards a better way of eating. So much of the literature surrounding food is firmly entrenched in diet culture (don’t even get me started on that), but In Defense of Food is not. This is a book that celebrates the joy of food and doesn’t try to prescribe a one-size-fits-all plan for eating.
And, even better? It’s not about losing weight. It never makes you feel guilty for loving and enjoying food.
I remember hating Secret of the Scarlet Hand when I was younger, though I can’t remember why. I was dreading its approach in the queue, but was pleasantly surprised with my actual experience. I suppose the deeply historical subject matter was just a little too dry for my taste back in the day.
After the harrowing experience of seeing her friend kidnapped in The Final Scene, Nancy craves a summer of normalcy. Using her dad’s contacts, she snags a summer internship at the Beech Hill Museum in Washington, D.C. to help them prepare for their special exhibition on the Maya.
As the museum is preparing for opening night, one of its prize pieces — an incredibly rare and valuable jade carving — is stolen. The thief left behind a cryptic note consisting of ancient glyphs and a ghoulish red hand-print. In order to avoid scandal, the museum’s Board of Directors asks Nancy to work on the case.
All in all, the story of Scarlet Hand is great fun and fairly believable. Nancy is the type of character who would excel at curatorial work, and solving a modern mystery with historical implications winds up being much more entertaining than it sounds. In fact, I think I learned more about the Maya from playing Scarlet Hand than I ever did in school — and had a great time doing it. I know that it wouldn’t be a game if there weren’t a mystery involved, but it seems a shame that Nancy doesn’t get to have a normal internship with the museum. Everything about the position seems right for her.
Scarlet Hand has a great cast of characters. There are the four main suspects that drive the interaction in the game, but there are also a number of other characters to speak to as well. The scope of the mystery has Nancy speaking with museum curators, post-modern artists, wealthy philanthropists, and even smugglers. Unlike many of the other games, the phone is not just for calling Bess and George. In fact, I barely called Bess and George during this one.
Beech Hill’s curator, Joanna Riggs, is passionate about her job and enthusiastic about the upcoming Maya exhibit. However, her excitement comes with a fair amount of stress, which she occasionally unleashes on Nancy. As someone who has done event planning, I understand.
Henrik van der Hune is the resident expert on Maya glyphs and dropped everything to come work on translating Beech Hill’s newly acquired monolith. I really liked Henrik because he’s obviously super intelligent and it would have been easy for the game designers to paint him as an aloof or holier-than-thou scholar. Goodness knows a lot of people who are the top of their field appear that way in media. But Henrik never gets impatient with Nancy’s questions and encourages her to learn as much as she can about the Maya culture he cares so much about. His lovely voice doesn’t hurt his charm either.
The anticipated success of Beech Hill’s monolith unveiling means that Mexico has a vested interest in what’s going on. Alejandro del Rio is an ambassador to the Mexican Consulate and has a hand in making sure everything Beech Hill does with Mexican artifacts is on the up-and-up. He’s mistrustful of American museums due to the long history of shady dealings in Mexican antiquities and feels that his country has been robbed of important aspects of its heritage. His passion is infectious, but sometimes becomes overwhelming and — under the circumstances — suspicious.
The art dealer, Taylor Sinclair, is my least favorite character in the game. He just feels too broadly drawn, too reliant on art dealer stereotypes. He sees art and artifacts only in terms of their monetary value, not their beauty or cultural significance. I’m so tired of seeing this stereotype and never any art dealers that are genuinely excited by art. His ugly tie did nothing to endear him to me either.
Scarlet Hand does a great job of keeping suspicion spread across the characters without pointing the finger towards any one in particular. But it also felt perfectly natural when the perpetrator was revealed.
Scarlet Hand”s puzzle elements are restricted to Beech Hill, mostly in the form of mini-games. The museum features a temple full of games that guests can play through in order to see more artifacts and exhibits. It’s a cool idea, but I didn’t enjoy it. I prefer puzzles that involve logic or object manipulation, but Scarlet Hand’s puzzles are mostly data entry. You go around and explore the museum for answers to trivia games. The nice thing about the data-entry style is that I never got absurdly stuck on a puzzle, because I knew I’d be able to find the answer somewhere.
Nancy got a laptop! It’s not that big of a deal, because it’s basically only used to read a couple of floppy disks (how cute) hidden around the game, but still. It’s a move to get Nancy up with the times. And it’s a feature that will stick around and be expanded upon later in the series.
As with the rest of the ND games thus far, I had some difficulty installing the game. I claim no technical knowledge of why it happens, but these older games have a hard time running on new computers. Fortunately, as with the others, it was an easy fix. I just typed “pathing error on Nancy Drew game” into Google, and it took me to a page on HerInteractive.com with instructions on how to fix the problem. Easy-peasy.
Once installed, I had only one other major issue with the game: it just stopped running. This only happened once and honestly, wouldn’t have been a very big deal if I hadn’t been stupid. You see, I had played for about three hours without saving. Like a dummy. So I lost all that I’d done. Like a dummy. Fortunately, I really like taking good notes. I replayed the first chunk of the game at warp speed.
There were a number of minor issues, mostly with the syncing of audio and visual elements of the game. More often than not, speaking to other characters would knock the video behind the audio, leading to some awkward moments of silence while the character finished displaying what they had to say. It didn’t affect gameplay and I was mostly able to ignore it, but it did get jarring at times, particularly if a character gestured while they spoke.
Scarlet Hand was a lot of fun to replay. Though it’s not as strong or iconic as some of the other games in the series, it’s solid. If you’ve never played it or haven’t played it in a while, it’s definitely worth a shot, but I wouldn’t recommend it as an introduction to the series.
I have an on-again, off-again relationship with Goodreads. It’s a very handy website that’s great at what it does, but for some reason, I tend to always drop off after periods of heavy use.
Fortunately for me, during one of those periods of use, I ran across Patrick Rothfuss’s review of The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making. After reading it, I was intrigued, and threw the book onto my TBR list. Next time I was at the bookstore, I picked it up. Three years later, I finally read it.
I am so mad at myself that I waited so long, but so happy I found this book. Everything Rothfuss says it’s true, and my feelings about the story are pretty much summed up in his words: “This book is beautiful. The language is lovely without being pretentious. The story is careful and playful and smart. This book made me tear up in places.”
If you like faerie tales, especially those with some teeth beneath their surface, definitely pick this one up. It’s gorgeous and so much fun that I want to start reading it out loud to my husband, even though I just finished it myself.
A dear friend of mine was over one day last month and showed me this trailer on Steam:
We had a laugh about it and moved on to other things. But I couldn’t stop humming the song. Then we started drinking. Then I really couldn’t stop humming the song, so we watched the trailer again. Then another trailer. One thing led to another, and before I knew it, Purrfect Date was in my Steam library.
Obviously, I bought this game on a lark and while in an impaired state. It was a joke more than it was any real desire to play a cat dating sim. But when we put it on and started playing (reading?), we were both hooked.
As it turns out, Purrfect Date tells a good story. It’s charming and lovable on the surface (cute animation! cats!) but hides a mystery you can sink your teeth into.
The first thing players will notice about the game is its distinct look. It’s bright and colorful, like many other dating sims, but the art style used is unique. Everything feels distinctive and the characters, both human and cat, all have their own visual personality. Unlike many other dating sims, what’s on the screen doesn’t feel clipped from an anime or manga. And while I like the anime look (I thought Doki Doki Literature Club’s girls were adorable), it was nice to break out of that feel.
Purrfect Date’s structure is also different from many other visual novels I’ve played. Rather than starting a story immediately as a predetermined character, players first choose a character. While the difference is mostly in the character’s portrait rather than any major personality traits that affect the game’s story, it was still nice to have a choice.
Throughout the game, players also choose how to divvy up their time. At any time, the player can choose to spend energy and either:
Rest – restore energy
Date – interact with and get closer to a cat of their choosing
Research – do their job as a scientific intern
Recon – complete a mission to discover more information on the main goal
This time system was interesting, but also felt very strange. There are only so many “slots” available in each category, and once those slots are used, that category is done. While it all worked out overall, I was very confused by the system at first and felt that I was going to miss most of the game. My worry about the system tainted the first chunk of gameplay.
I was also slightly disappointed in the dating aspect of this dating sim. There are multiple cats your character can choose to spend time with, but once you hang out with one, your other options disappear. Again, this all works out in the long run, so it’s not really much to worry about, but it’s not really possible to hang out with all the cats and learn their personality types before choosing which to attach the character to. I wanted to play matchmaker and pair off my character with a cat that suited them, but I wound up having to go with my gut and chill with the cat that I clicked on first. This makes the experience feel like it’s on rails, rather than largely choice-based.
If you think you may like Purrfect Date, I would go ahead and give it a shot (here’s the Steam store link). I know it can seem kind of strange to want to play a dating sim where you’re dating cats, but it’s really not that weird in the game and I never felt uncomfortable, despite being a bit worried that I would.
People who enjoy simple dating sims will probably like this one, as there’s not a lot of game mechanic “meat” behind it. However, if you like having a lot of freedom to muck about and change your mind, you probably won’t like that this one is pretty linear. I had a great time and will probably wind up returning to this one to get the Steam achievements I missed on my first go-round.
I completely forgot about The Final Scene when I was thinking about starting this review project and it surprised me when it came up in the queue. The only reason I could think of for my memory lapse was the fact that The Final Scene happened to follow Treasure in the Royal Tower, so it gets overshadowed, despite its solid gameplay and story.
Nancy travels to St. Louis to accompany her friend from high school, Maya Nguyen, on a journalism assignment for her university paper. Maya has been asked to interview Brady Armstrong about his role in the film Vanishing Destiny, the last event to take place at the historic Royal Palladium theater before it is scheduled to be torn down. When Maya enters a room alone, she is kidnapped from right beneath Nancy’s nose! Maya’s kidnapper is holding her somewhere in the building in an attempt to keep the building from being destroyed and it’s up to Nancy to find her before it’s too late.
Atmosphere and Gameplay
The Royal Palladium Theater is a beautiful building filled with hidden passageways, secret rooms, and the secrets to magicians’ tricks. I thoroughly enjoyed my time running around the area, snooping for the next hidden thing. The space is small enough to avoid having to travel between areas, but large enough to feel like a full-fledged experience, creating an overall fantastic space for exploration and play. The game’s music also continues to be top-notch, building on Treasure in the Royal Tower‘s introduction of excellent audio elements to the series. It’s hard to find background music that is exciting enough to be worth listening to without being distracting, but Her Interactive has nailed it two games in a row.
But it’s not all fun and games while exploring the theater. The impending demolition creates a time crunch that is all too obvious while playing the game. Rather than seeing the in-game time on Nancy’s pocket-watch like all the preceding titles, you see what day it is. This serves as a constant reminder that you don’t have the time you need to solve the case. Pair that with the reminders from other characters that time is running low, and you’ve created an adrenaline-soaked rush to save your friend.
At least, that’s the idea. The game won’t move forward until you’ve done everything you need to do in order to get to the next point in the story, so if you get stuck, you’re stuck. Then the time limit begins to feel arbitrary. There’s no true rush because you know that the time a “day” takes is not based off of any real measure of time. Instead, it’s a measure of actions.
I have no idea how the developers could have gone about this another way to ramp up the tension. My initial thought was to let me fail if I didn’t do everything I needed to and make me suffer the consequences, but I squashed that almost immediately. The Nancy Drew games aren’t geared toward an audience that would appreciate getting to the end of the game only to find out they got the “bad ending.” I enjoy games like that, but I also realize that I would be in the teeniest of minorities in the Nancy Drew fan club.
Maya Nguyen: Nancy’s high school friend and main contact in St. Louis. Maya is working as a reporter for her campus paper and invites Nancy along to her interview with Brady Armstrong, star of the recent film Vanishing Destiny. Her kidnapping sets off the events of the game, and her absence means we don’t learn much about her as a character.
Brady Armstrong: Brady is a “wholesomely smoldering” actor with a large fan base. Series veterans will see echoes of Rick Arlen from Stay Tuned for Danger in his character model and mannerisms, but Brady feels much more realistic and likable.
Simone Mueller: Simone eats, lives, and breathes her job as Brady’s manager, and views Maya’s kidnapping as a great opportunity to get her client into the public eye. Simone is always on the phone and her interpersonal skills are practically non-existent, but that doesn’t bother her. She’s a powerful woman and she knows it. Despite her abrasiveness, I really liked her character design.
Joseph Hughes: Joseph has been the caretaker of the Royal Palladium for as long as anyone can remember, but he doesn’t seem terribly upset about its destruction. He is always there to offer Nancy a helping hand in finding Maya, and seems to be the only one to share Nancy’s concern for Maya’s well-being. He is instantly likeable and quickly became my go-to person when I would get a little stuck.
Nicholas Falcone: Falcone is the leader of H.A.D. I.T. — Humans Against the Destruction of Illustrious Theaters — the organization that is desperately protesting against the Royal Palladium’s upcoming demise. His revolutionary streak can be a little overdone, but overall the game does a good job of balancing his hopefulness and desperation.
What Makes This One Special
So far, Nancy has had a personal connection to each of her cases — usually because her host/hostess is a friend of the family — but this is by far the most personal case she has been involved in. Her friend is kidnapped practically in front of her and she feels that she’s the only one who can do something about it. This personal aspect, paired with the time limit of the theater’s destruction, makes for an intense and emotional storyline.
Because of this, Nancy is downright sassy in this game. Or she can be, if you go with the right dialog options. Even my husband noticed her new-found spunk and commented on it while I played. I loved this. It went against the wholesome, unassuming but brilliant heroine that I had always pictured in the Nancy Drew books, but it felt right. She’s a driven young woman who’s been having to make her way in a traditionally male world of investigation. Of course she’s got a core of slow-burning rage that pops out every once in a while! And if having a friend kidnapped and then no one believe that it’s a big deal doesn’t set off that dormant volcano of delicious rage-lava, I don’t know what would!
Though I didn’t love The Final Scene quite as much as Treasure in the Royal Tower, it’s certainly not a title to be sneezed at. Quite frankly, I’m ashamed that I didn’t remember this one right away, because I loved playing through it. If you have the game and haven’t picked it up in a while, go ahead and give it another whirl. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.