GAME REVIEW: Undertale

written by David Steffen

Undertale is an RPG game developed by indie developer Toby Fox published by 2015. Its based on a familiar format to many gamers–the RPG, walking around the map and contending with random monster attacks and boss fights as you go fulfill your quest.

You can fight the monsters, like you’d expect. But the entire game is built so that you never have to kill anything, in fact the game is much more interesting if you don’t, because each kind of monster you face off against requires a different strategy to not kill. Your goal in each battle is to get the “spare” button to work, but often you need to prep the enemy some way. You have a menu of commands to try to each one and you never know which one will make the difference–such as “flatter” or “insult” or a variety of other things. The catch is that if you don’t kill any monsters, you don’t get any experience and level up, so you don’t get any more capable of defending yourself.

Besides the menu dynamic, the monsters are still attacking you, and it has an interesting way of dealing with it–your soul is represented by a heart in a square you can move around to dodge enemy attacks. Unlike the games it’s based on where an attack is just a damage number that pops up, if you figure out the patterns you might be able to avoid all damage entirely.

The game has a great sense of humor as well, and interesting storyline about how the dynamics of the monster world to human world works. It’s a fun game worth playing, and well worth it!

Visuals
Cute, I particularly like some of the closer images of the enemies during battle seasons. Especially the warrior dogs.

Audio
Cute.

Challenge
Decently challenging in a different way than most RPGs. Each kind of enemy requires a new kind of strategy–there are multiple options to try and you never know which of them. It turns out it’s more trouble to spare most of the enemies than to just fight them.

Story
No particular story (not that that’s unusual for an arcade game from this era).

Session Time
Not too badly spaced, I think most of them were within 15 minutes or so of gametime (plus the Switch can sleep at will).

Playability
Easy, pretty standard RPG.

Replayability
You could at least take a couple passes at it trying to play pacifist or trying to play violent.

Originality
Takes a very familiar RPG format and does something very interesting and new with it–monsters are always presented in these kinds of games as being inherently evil, it’s nice to see something different.

Playtime
A few hours of playtime, but doens’t overstay it’s welcome.

Overall
This is a very neat and original take on a genre of games I know and love, the RPG. The entire premise being based around doing your best not to kill monsters that are determined to kill you while still achieving your objectives. It’s fun and original and adds some compassion for those who usually aren’t considered to be worth it.

DP FICTION #57A: “Consider the Monsters” by Beth Cato

Jakayla crouched in front of her dark closet. She hadn’t turned on the light because that was an awfully rude thing to do when trying to talk to the monster hidden inside.

“You gotta listen to me,” she whispered. “The news is saying really bad things, like rocks are gonna fall out of the sky and a lot of people are gonna die. You can’t stay in my closet. You gotta go to the basement. There’s dark spaces down there for you to hide in. I won’t tell no one you gone there.”

“Jakayla!” She turned to find Grandma leaning into the bedroom. “I got to run to your auntie’s house. The phone network’s down.”

“The phones don’t work?” Jakayla gasped. “Why? I didn’t think anything had fallen yet?”

“Nothing has, yet. Everyone’s trying to talk to everyone on the phone, and the system can’t handle that. Listen, girl.” Grandma waddled forward to cup Jakayla’s face. “We’re going to be just fine, you hear me? Don’t you worry. Just stay here. We’ll have everyone here together in the basement tonight.”

Jakayla nodded, wide-eyed.

“I love you. You be safe.” Grandma took a few deep breaths and planted a quick kiss on her forehead. A moment later, she was gone. The walls shuddered as the front door closed.

Jakayla whirled to face the closet again. “She don’t want me to worry, but I’m not worrying. Grandma wants to save all our family, and I’m trying to save you, too. Just ’cause you’re a monster don’t mean you don’t count.” She paused, head tilted with hope of an answer from her closet. “I can’t wait ’til night for you to talk. Just go to the basement, okay? If you get scared, bring Fluffinator the Stuffed Unicorn from the box right there. She always helps me feel braver.”

Jakayla hurried through the apartment. Grandma’d left on the TV. Jakayla would have gotten yelled at if she did that. A big red “BREAKING NEWS” banner filled the bottom of the screen. One woman talked in front of a big computer-made graphic of Earth with a lot of lines going all over and a whole bunch of colors, words everywhere like “projected impact zone” and “tsunami risk” along with countdown timers.

She knew all about tsunamis because her cousin had this one video game where a tsunami happened. Those scenes had scared her a lot until Grandma told her she shouldn’t worry because they couldn’t even see the water from their apartment.

“Plus, we’ll be in the basement,” Jakayla said to the TV. “Grandma said that’s the safest place to be. It don’t even leak like it used to.”

She rushed onward. Out the sliding door, their tiny backyard held a big pile of black garbage bags. Grandma’d said she’d throw out all Uncle Jerry’s belongings unless he paid what he owed in rent. This was as far as she’d thrown everything. Now weeds grew on some of the bags.

Jakayla nudged a sack with her foot. Further back in the pile, something rattled.  “Hey, monster. I know you won’t come out or talk in daylight. You’re worse than the closet creature like that. But you can hear the television from here, right? You know what’s coming?”

She waited for a reply, because it was a polite thing to do. Somewhere nearby, sirens wailed and dogs howled like bad back-up singers.

“Here’s the thing,” she continued. “I know you got a good home in these bags, but you should come to the basement. I’ll be there with a bunch of people and the closet monster, too. There’s room for you.”

An odd clicking sound caused Jakayla to glance indoors. The living room was dark, the room quiet. “Oh. The power went out. No more TV.” Her voice suddenly sounded high-pitched. Scared. But she had to be brave so the monsters stayed calm. She took a few deep breaths, like Grandma did before she left.

“I need to go,” she told the pile of bags. “I want you to be okay. You live in Uncle Jerry’s trashed stuff, so you’re kinda like family.” A pop-pop-pop sound like fireworks carried from way off in the distance.

How soon until the rocks fell near here? She pictured the map from the news. The news lady had said something about her city being in a red zone. Red was Jakayla’s favorite color, but a red zone didn’t sound so good. That meant she needed to be fast, “lickity-split, zoom-zoom!” like the bird in her favorite cartoon. She had to go to the old church down the block to warn the gargoyles, then dash to the park on Howard Street to tell the shadow in the sewer pipe, then get home, all before Grandma got back.

She ran through the house. First of all, she had to visit the closet again. She hoped the monster there wouldn’t mind if she borrowed Fluffinator the Stuffed Unicorn. She needed her favorite unicorn with her as she warned her other friends about the awful things to come.

The basement would be crowded tonight, with lots of family and monsters, but that was okay. Grandma said they’d all be together. They’d make it through. In the end, that’s what mattered.

 


© 2019 by Beth Cato

 

Author’s Note: I wrote this story as part of a Weekend Warrior flash writing contest on Codex. I don’t recall the exact prompts that inspired this story, but I really wanted to show a child’s compassion in the thick of a terrible crisis.

 

Nebula-nominated Beth Cato is the author of the Clockwork Dagger duology and the Blood of Earth Trilogy from Harper Voyager. She’s a Hanford, California native transplanted to the Arizona desert, where she lives with her husband, son, and requisite cats. Follow her at BethCato.com and on Twitter at @BethCato.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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MOVIE REVIEW: Hotel Transylvania

written by David Steffen

Hotel Transylvania is a 2012 computer-animated children’s comedy by Columbia Pictures.  The legendary vampire Dracula (Adam Sandler), after the death of his wife at the hands of humans, raises his daughter Mavis (Selena Gomez) as a single parent. Frightened of violent and unpredictable humanity, he has made a life for them by founding a five-star hotel in Transylvania just for monsters, and telling Mavis constant horror stories about the human world so she won’t to go.  But it’s her 118th birthday now, which means she can make her own decisions and for some reason she still wants to go out into the world.  To make matters worse, a human named Jonathan (Andy Samberg) somehow finds his way to the hotel and is not scared away by the monsters, and Jonathan and Mavis hit it off.

It’s a fun idea, and since there’s been three movies to date and a cartoon TV show, clearly the kids especially like it. There are some funny bits, particular from Jonathan as he is an oddball human to have made it so far into Transylvania without being scared off.  The ensemble cast (Steve Buscemi, Molly Shannon, CeeLo Green, David Spade, Fran Drescher, among others)

Adam Sandler isn’t super Adam Sandler-ish in this one, so if you tend to hate Adam Sandler movies as much as I do (some notable exceptions exist), I didn’t get that vibe about it.  But the main plot of the movie is based around a fragile scaffolding of transparent lies that Dracula has been building for a century–it was pretty clear it was going to crumble at the slightest touch and then most of the basis for Dracula’s relationship with his daughter would be revealed to be completely fabricated and so the relationship between the two most important characters in the movie would be almost entirely built of lies while her father tries to intimidate and force Jonathan out of the hotel so that she can’t get to know him.  Especially since Mavis is an adult even by vampire reckoning at this point, this level of interference in her life was more annoying than endearing, and I thought she was remarkably chill about her dad being revealed to have been running a long-term con on his own daughter instead of trusting her.

 

Hugo Review: My Favorite Thing is Monsters (Graphic Story)

written by David Steffen

I’m afraid I’ve gotten behind on my reading and so I’ve only read one complete entry and one partial entry in the Graphic Story category for the Hugo Awards.  I haven’t even finished a single one of the graphic stories this year all the way through, but I’ve gotten about halfway through My Favorite Thing is Monsters, written and illustrated by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)

Written as the illustrated journal of 10-year old Karen Reyes in 1960s Chicago, My Favorite Thing is Monsters is a beautifully illustrated mystery story with horror flair as Karen imagines herself as a werewolf and sees everything around her as a sort of a horror flick as she investigate the death of her mysterious upstairs neighbor Anka.

The drawings are in a gorgeous line-shading style which I’m sure has a more specific artsy name, but reminded me of the drawings in Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, but with a story with a much darker tone.  While Karen’s perspective on monsters lends her own fun flair to parts of the story, the story itself is very dark, and despite the young protagonist, is what I’d give to a child or even a teen.  I haven’t finished reading it yet, but I love the illustrations and Karen makes a great protagonist–I’ve just been reading it as a PDF, but I might buy it in print because it would look so much better in that layout, drawn as it is to look like it was drawn in a lined notebook where pages pair together sometimes for bigger pictures.

I can’t comment yet on whether the end follows through with the rest of it, but I’ve read enough that I feel comfortable recommending it.