Knights of Pen & Paper +1 Edition (2013 - PC)

My first RPG completed on Steam was one of the most "meta" gaming experiences of my life. You are literally playing as a group of people (that you create from a standard set of characters and classes at the beginning) who are engaged in a tabletop RPG, complete with a table, Dungeon Master, 12-sided dice rolling to determine random elements, and quests that give experience points upon completion. While much of what goes on seems to be in the imaginations of the players and Dungeon Master, eventually the lines between fantasy and reality become severely blurred. The settings and story are also chock full of pop culture references, with the majority being based on oldschool video games, cartoons, and movies, and occasional internet memes.

Sometimes, the references are really cool (a temple that has Nintendo controllers and Game Boys for hieroglyphics; Missingno enemies from Pokémon), other times they are a bit much (an entire plot line centered on "Gonzo" and "Rizzo" from The Muppets). Your enjoyment of Knights of Pen & Paper will largely depend on whether you can be endlessly entertained by the constant stream of references (and if you'll recognize them), or if you just want your RPGs to tell a coherent story.

The game is fast-paced as far as leveling up and traveling to new areas is concerned. Don't let the "tabletop RPG" theme fool you into thinking it's going to be really complex, because it's actually quite simplified, even when compared to many console RPGs. Characters start with a set of skills that you can upgrade as they gain levels, but they never gain new skills. Simple strategies will often work on just about any enemy formation, and if you end up on a quest that's too difficult at your current level, you can usually abandon it and find an easier one.

Money, however, is slow to earn. That, combined with the complicated method of gaining new equipment, might mean you'll play most of the game with the default weapons and armor up until you reach the final dungeon, where you'll be slaughtered if you don't upgrade.

Environments are displayed one screen at a time, rather like oldschool PC adventure games, and are entertaining not only for their colorfully-drawn pixel-based graphics, but also because you can play "Spot the References" with many of them. Unfortunately, the music doesn't reach the quality that the RPG genre is known for, as the game only contains a handful of songs, and it has the "curse of annoying battle music" that many RPGs suffer.

DLC content includes an extensive Halloween-themed environment, which you must purchase if you want all of the achievements on Steam as it counts towards exploring 100% of the map, but since this game and its DLC often go on sale for a few bucks, a fraction of what a console RPG would've cost back in the day, I won't complain too much about that and will recommend getting it if you want the main game.

Rating: 3.5/5

Sonic the Hedgehog: The Complete Series (1993 - DVD)

Years ago, I saw people on message boards fondly remembering this show for its "dark" storyline that followed a plot from episode to episode. I think those people must've been very young and impressionable at the time they saw this show, because it only comes anywhere close to fitting that description partway into the second season, and even then only just barely.

How dark and serious is this show? Sonic solves everything by running away from it. If he's surrounded by enemies, he starts talking, and they stop to listen to him talk, and when he's done talking, he runs away. This happens all the time, sometimes multiple times in the same episode. When confronted with a series of tunnels that each have its own danger, Sonic can simply turn towards a wall and burrow through it to completely avoid them. When Robotnik invents a machine that tracks Sonic's movement so that he gets fired upon whenever he tries to run, he simply uses a Magic Ring to run a little faster. There is never any sense that the characters are in any real danger. When they're also devoid of traits that would make them likeable, it makes the episodes extremely boring and painful to get through.

Robotnik, despite the transparent efforts, cannot be taken seriously as a villain. It's far too ridiculous that he can do nothing to stop these silly little animals from constantly thwarting this plans, that his power plants are easily and completely shut down with the flip of a switch, and that he cannot locate Sonic's secret woodland hideout. Despite the latter being Robotnik's main goal (which is not at all like Gargamel on The Smurfs), he is handed the opportunity at one point when the character Antoine "captures" him and threatens to take him there as his prisoner. Robotnik could have played along to find the hideout, but instead becomes obsessed with the Magic Ring Antoine is carrying. That's because Robotnik is not allowed to think, he is only allowed to lose.

Towards the end of the second season, the show suddenly can't decide if it's a dark-themed action cartoon, or a really bizarre sitcom. One of the "sitcom" episodes involves Antoine getting sexually assaulted by a robot. It is not an exaggeration to call it that.

Considering all of these problems, along with mediocre animation, a lack of elements from the games (Sonic, Tails, Robotnik, and the Magic Rings are pretty much all that come from the games), dodgy morality (technology is bad, bad, bad, but Sonic is allowed to have an electric guitar), and nothing for adults to appreciate, a one-star score seems generous.

If you, dear reader, have ever recommended this show to anyone for being "dark" and "following a storyline", for future reference, please consider recommending Disney's Gargoyles instead.
Rating: 1/5



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