Distraint: Pocket Pixel Horror

   DISTRAINT: Pocket Pixel Horror- screenshot

Distraint is a pixel 2D sidescrolling horror game by Jesse Makkonen. It’s quite an achievement of a game to have been made in just 3 months, and it’s also rather trippy in parts – which in this case works in its favor.

Before I get on to the actual review, I should specify: I played Distraint on mobile, but I know it’s also available on Steam. Not having the steam version, I’m not sure if there are any big differences between the two except for the free android version having ads. The ads were unobtrusive enough, but they were unskippable little videos, so they were a bit annoying in that sense. I only encountered them when reloading the game, though, so it wasn’t a big issue.

If there are any other differences, well, just keep in mind I’ll be reviewing the android version.

With that out of the way, let’s start: Distraint is a pretty minimalist looking horror game. The interface is kept nice and simple on the android version. Two arrows and three comfortable buttons (one for action, one for inventory and one for the menu) are located at the bottom. Since it’s a side-scroller, that was a very comfortable way of handling moving about the map.

I didn’t quite know what to expect when I first went into it. The visual of the game, to me personally, was both appealing and unappealing; I wasn’t overly fond of the sprite design, however, their quirky looks gave a new level of creepiness to the story that I didn’t expect. The backgrounds and settings, were beautifully done and most eerie to travel through, making the experience a pleasure.

The story revolves around Price, who guided by greed, seizes various properties from some people in order to gain partnership on the company he works for, a company led already by three very creepy, very shady guys. Along the way guilt and remorse eat away at him and he begins tripping all throughout. Or so it would seem. The game has very weird, very out of the blue moments, but unlike other horror games of the type I’ve reviewed, in this one it actually works in its favor. The very few jump scares (more like startle-scares) were mostly predictable, but not obnoxiously in your face, and also lend themselves to an eerier gameplay rather than just being there for a cheap scare.

Cover art

Which leads me to the sound, as some of these scares were things like a ringing phone. The sound, music and ambiance wise, was wonderful. The creepy music played throughout was perfect for the game, for the weirdness of it, there were, however, a few sounds that looped annoyingly or that were too loud for my taste compared to others.

But looks, story and sound all formed the perfect little creepy vibe to keep you on your toes the entire time, while still touching on your emotions, and truly making you care for at least the main character and the first two people he evicted. The third one… not so much. Even the very few “timed” events that were around were perfectly easy to complete without ripping your hair out… which leads me to the puzzles. The puzzles were simple but fantastic – perfect for a casual player, but perhaps it won’t cut it in that aspect for people who want a bit more difficulty. There is, however, a decent amount of backtracking and the damn character will not run. That is usually one of my major complaints on horror games that involve puzzles that send you backtracking through maps and maps: a lack of the ability to RUN.

You make me sad, developers. You make me sad.

Other than that, the game is fantastic. A true horror game indeed, which relies not only on the cheap scares but on some actual psychological aspects and on a great ambient. The ending is heart-touching, and I completely loved my play-through of it.

Definitely recommended if you’re into horror!

4.5/5

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Hide and Seek: Story of Dorothy

   HideAndSeek[Story of Dorothy]- screenshot

Hide and Seek: Story of Dorothy by TabomSoft is a little horror puzzle/RPG for android. Except for the obvious backtracking required in it (like in most puzzle games, really), the game is fairly short (10 to 15 minutes per floor if you know what to do, with 5 floors and then some extra backtracking), which is not bad considering that it’s currently free (if you play it with ads).

You play Dorothy, a little girl who fell asleep in the closet while playing Hide and Seek, and now seems to have forgotten why she was there to begin with. A weird premise to be sure, but it’s a quick horror game for mobile, so I decided I’d try not to be as judge-y of it.

I, of course, promptly failed.

Despite its two endings, a lot of things don’t make sense in the story to me. Yeah, yeah, I hear those of you who liked it: “You like to be spoon fed the story.” Nope, I like stories to be clear. I guess you can interpret things a couple ways, if you’re into that; to me most of those ‘open’ stories (if it’s what it was intended to be) seem more like just writer laziness.

All the same, the story is not bad in the terms of horror games, even if it does get a bit challenged by the poor translation at certain parts throughout it.

But let’s forget about the story for now, we’re here to be scared, right?

The game has that pixel-RPG vibe of RPG Maker games. I’m not familiar enough with the horror assets of it, but I did quite like the art, sprites and the tiles used throughout. Dorothy was pretty adorable. Ambiance wise, the game took you from normal to eerie to black and white badness as you progress through the floors, and it did gave it all a bit of a gloomy, eerie feeling, so thumbs up for that.

Moving through the game is easy-peasy; you have the four movement buttons to the left and two buttons to the right (action and inventory). You interact with objects by walking up to them and pressing action, making text choices, and using items from your inventory.

The puzzles weren’t horribly difficult, but again, one or two included reading and you needed to do some slight extra job figuring out what the translation had meant. It wasn’t the worst translated game I’ve encountered, however, so it was still mostly understandable. There are more than a few timed scenes (chase scenes) which, if you know me and timed events, you will know I didn’t like them at all. Not only were they cheap tricks to get your heart pumping without using actual horror, but the monsters looked ridiculous.

   HideAndSeek[Story of Dorothy]- screenshot

The game has a gimmicky mobile item: hearts, which you lose every time you die, and you unfortunately lose hearts often because it has even some traps throughout. You replentish times every so many minutes of gameplay though, so no big deal. There are also clocks, I assume they grant you more time during chase scenes, but I didn’t try them, so I wouldn’t know.

You save on grandfather clocks which are placed rather generously through the game, a much appreciated feature considering it’s, as I mentioned, scattered with traps. I couldn’t decide if I liked these or not. They were quite interesting, though frustrating, and once you knew they existed they were rather easy to spot if you were paying attention. But the first couple felt like just cheap tricks to piss you off, so I was a bit torn.

There are various characters through the game, however, except for three of them (and then “mom” and “dad”) they didn’t bother to name any, and they are all called A, B and C. It was kind of a lazy move.

There were some problems with it though, with the save games disappearing, so save often and in more than one spot, just in case.

As for the ads, they were rather bothersome. I had some at the top which I was able to easily ignore after some playing, but the ones popping up when you lose or try to hit to go back are just cumbersome, so watch out for them.

All in all, I rather liked the game for the looks of it, but the unclear story and the gimmicky chases and silly monsters knocked a few stars out of it for me.

Is it scary? Meh. Skulls are scary… right? No?

Would I recommend it? I think you’d have fun if you’re into quick horror games, but if you like a horror game with substance, look elsewhere.

2.5/5

SIM – Sara is Missing

   SIM - Sara Is Missing- screenshot

Sara is Missing (SIM) is a horror sim game for android (which can also be played in PC and Mac). I have to give the developers kudos for their originality: the entirety of the game is played through a phone interface, making you able to get a bit more into the story. Advisable to play it at night, of course, to be fully into it. Sadly it happened to be daytime when I played it, so it wasn’t –quite- as horrific and immersive.

The premise of the story is simple: You’ve found Sara’s phone, and the AI in it requests you help find and return the phone to her. To achieve this you must go through her phone – photos, emails, texts, videos, etc – and make various choices along the way, as well as interact with people she knows (and those she doesn’t, too).

The game’s graphical interface is pretty good: the graphics are well designed and truly make you feel like you’re in a phone OS, the use of your own phone back button makes it easier for you to feel like you’re really on her phone and not yours, the videos and images and sounds are pretty spot on and make it seem like a phone from a real person as well. What I’m not so happy about is the AI, though I suppose you need someone guiding you through.

At set times through the game you will be allowed to interact with people. Sometimes ‘real’ people, sometimes just the AI, and you can choose from 2-4 choices throughout. Unfortunately, as with most choice type games, I found the choices way too limiting. Sometimes your choices would just be three different ways to ask what was going on, instead of saying something different, and that’s not really much of a choice unless you’re also adding a personality engine to your game.

These limited options were just there to guide you in the one single direction, and the only real divergence was whether you accepted something or not (and sometimes not accepting wasn’t a choice if you expected to continue with the game), and the fates of a few and ending you got from a few poor choices.

There was another part I didn’t much enjoy, I don’t want to spoil much, but you are asked to make a choice between two people (it’s a fairly typical horror after all), however, because at first it phrases it one way, and then rather than offer you the actual option it goes on babbling and phrases it another way, if you fail to read through the inane babbling after when you just want to make the darn choice already, you might end up making the wrong choice. As I did. Which just pissed me off.

SIM is original and immersive in the technical aspects, but the story was rather lame. I could not really find the curiosity or desire to help find Sara with the limited content (or just because some AI asked me to, instead of maybe say… her mother texting me, or friend, or someone actually invested in her well-being), and I certainly didn’t care to pick for many of the choices that came after since I hardly got to interact with any of the people she knew, so I had no attachment to their well-being. Which in turn made the whole game a bit pointless since you’re probably supposed to want to find and help people…

The inability to interact with whomever I wanted whenever I wanted was kind of annoying too, having to wait for prompts to interact with others was boring, and this is why I end up giving this one such a low rating despite its originality.

2.5/5

Review: Book Marketing for Authors: 19 Tips and Tricks to Market your Book to Readers

Book Marketing for Authors: 19 Tips and Tricks to Market your Book to Readers
Book Marketing for Authors: 19 Tips and Tricks to Market your Book to Readers by C.A. Price
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was ok. If you know absolutely nothing about writing, publishing and marketing, it’s a good starting point. It sums up a lot of stuff for you and provides many useful links to other sites and books that will give you in-depth knowledge in all those themes.

That said, this is no more than that: A summary of various topics and a collection of (far more useful) links.

That your book should be well edited and proofread is a given, if a prospect author doesn’t even know that, then they’re in the wrong business. Also, I don’t know how that relates to actual marketing, because if you don’t count the “look inside” that not all books have, then they’ve probably already bought the book by the time they get to read it.

But lets forget about that, because this book made me ranty.

I might have been slightly miffed by the following quote: “Nowadays, readers can be vicious, and there are trolls everywhere. Don’t believe me? Look at some of the greatest books out there, go to their Amazon page, and look at the one star reviews.”

I don’t deny readers/reviewers can be vicious. And of course, there are trolls everywhere. But this seemed to imply that all reviewers that gave these “greatest” books one-star reviews were trolls, which is simply not true. There is a thing called “taste”. It’s different for everyone. Some people just don’t like those so-called “great” books. Get over it.

Maybe I’m just being overly sensitive. *shrug* But it set me in a bad mood for the rest of the book.

The tips he provides, as I said, are sound enough, and he does a lot of name-dropping which was both annoying and good. Annoying because on the one hand it left me wondering why he just couldn’t go into it himself as part of the tip instead of just saying “You need this” or “you need that” but “go read this book for more information”; good because at least you know where to look for more information.

Another thing that annoyed me slightly is that this was supposed to be about marketing, but it’s all over the place with pre-marketing stuff (editing, proofing, etc) as well as side-stuff you should be looking into (formatting for paperback, etc).

And finally, one of the tips is to make it easy for the reader to get to more of your books by adding links. Yet he assumes that everyone reading on a phone, tablet, or ereader has working wifi and/or is willing to go through the bother of using it, rather than going to their desktop PC. As such, actual urls are only put at the very end, and the text is peppered with hyperlinked words that made it really, really annoying to me, both because I’d sometimes accidentally click on one without realizing, and because it required me to go through extra steps to get the actual url (or wait until the end, and by then I was no longer motivated enough to click most of those links.)

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Evil Origins Collection by J. Thorn

Evil Origins: A Horror & Dark Fantasy CollectionEvil Origins: A Horror & Dark Fantasy Collection by J. Thorn
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Most boring thing I’ve read in a very long while. I started all 3 of the main novels to see if any caught my interest, but none could.
Could not relate/did not like any of the characters, did not care what happened to them, did not even mind where the story was going and it was so boring that I even got tired of skipping to reach the end and see if anything of interest happened there.

Also did not like the repetitive way in which people’s faces were described. (“His eyes sat (…)”, “His hairline sat (…) “)

Don’t get me wrong, I can see where a certain crowd would like it, but I’m clearly not part of it.

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Merendam: Escape from Seram Isle Review

 Merendam horror adventure room- screenshot

Developer Erocona brings us Merendam: Escape from Seram Isle, a small horror game that from the looks vaguely reminded me of Fatal Frame, which is one of my favorite games ever. So of course I had to give it a try. This game is available for android (which is the version I’m reviewing) and PC (the PC version is free). It’s also been on steam Greenlight since forever, so if you happen to like it, help the developer out and give it a vote.

You take the role of a young girl who appears to be asleep as she is being driven… somewhere by a not creepy at all old man who is saying some not totally creepy stuff along the way. Thankfully for you, some evil spirit attacks your car and you end up stranded in the middle of some old abandoned place, because it wouldn’t be a horror game otherwise. Well, if you can call abandoned a place fully inhabited by evil spirits that will attack you at random times. I still think she dodged a bullet there.

The game has 3 modes: hard, normal and no ghosts. Obviously, the latter has no ghosts popping up and lets you focus on the wonderful puzzles. Let’s talk about them for a bit, because they’re a big part of the gameplay.

Like all horror games you’re to find your way out of that place and back to civilization intact, and you do so by completing (i)logical puzzles with plenty of backtracking, because backtracking is fun! All the puzzles seem to be randomized, which means that while you might have found out how to do things or where codes and keys are, you won’t use the same code twice in different playthroughs. The puzzles were rather illogical to me (a bit of a hit and miss in logic, really, and you’re never explained why you need something or the other, even if you know it’s for the end goal), and there was no clear way of knowing when you would need an item for a puzzle and when you could safely drop it. Why is this an issue? Well…

You can only hold 2 items at any given time. No more than that. You want a third item? You have to drop it and pick the other item up (which requires a few more steps), because there is no swapping them either. Which means that if you carry with you the wrong items you are in for a world of backtracking (you probably are anyway). Thankfully there are only two main parts to the map each with their respective sub-sections, but you’ll know them quite well by the end of the game.

 Merendam horror adventure room- screenshot

Other than those weird puzzles, the game isn’t too hard. The ghosts will truly pop up anywhere and at any time, but they are easy-peasy to defeat in normal mode. You have two ways to fight them in mobile: two buttons will appear on the screen and you will have to smash them not to be cursed, or, some blue and red arrows will appear on the screen and you will have to swipe the finger of the correct side of the screen in the direction of the arrow (blue is for the left hand, red for the right). This latter one is a bit trickier until you get a hold on what you are supposed to do, but then it’s not too difficult. There seems to be no penalty for making the wrong move anyway (at least in normal mode) and you have plenty of time to correct your mistake if you don’t panic.

The ghosts jump up at you for cheap thrills and jump scares, and after the first few you just get used to them and don’t even jump anymore. I don’t much like when horror games go by jump scares alone, but this one gets a pass because the entirety of the game is pretty eerie on its own without the ghosts anyway. The closer you get to the end the more often ghosts seem to appear, but that might have just been me.

There are two savepoints located at each main section of the maps, they’re useful, but the menu they pop up is a bit full.

Story-wise there’s unfortunately nothing to say. The girl has to get out of there, there’s nothing new to it. Nothing else seems to happen, stuff isn’t explained. The ending was… a little puzzling.

It’s a short game, it clocks in at under an hour if you know what to do, but might take longer if you have to do a lot of backtracking.

So, let’s get a bit more technical here.

The interface isn’t exactly minimalist, there are plenty of buttons and things going on and changing colors and symbols at the same time. It’s a bit bothersome, but at the same time I liked it, even if it was a bit too bothersome to have it displayed all the time. For performing most actions you have to hold your touch, and although I found this a tad bothersome at first, I grew to really like it because in most actions it makes a slow, creepy camera pan as you do (although it was pointless to have this when picking things up). When this lines up with a ghost jumping out at you for a scare, you’re in for a bit of a heart-pounding fright.

Although the graphics are 3D, it really is a side-scroller game, barely 2.5D. The character designs are far too anime-cutesy, which is not in itself bad; it doesn’t lend itself much to horror, but it fit strangely well in a cutes-y horror kind of way. The animations were very nice, not the smoothest I’ve seen, but pretty darn good compared to the average “cheap”, and the settings and atmosphere, with their darkness and perpetual rain, were gloomy and scary enough that it did put you on the edge of your seat for most of it.

The sound effects were on point, but the music nonexistent, which I barely noticed at all anyway, mostly because I usually mute it anyway in most games.

The English translation is not the best, but it’s quite passable compared to others I’ve reviewed lately.

I honestly think this game is full of potential and a fun little play, but it’s short and has a few shortcomings in terms of story and puzzles, which bumps down the rating quite a bit for me. Still worth a try, though!

3.5/5

Quick Cheats for Writing With Dragon: Hidden Tricks to Help You Dictate […] by Scott Baker

Quick Cheats for Writing With Dragon: Hidden Tricks to Help You Dictate Your Book, Work Anywhere and Set Your Words Free with Speech Recognition
Quick Cheats for Writing With Dragon: Hidden Tricks to Help You Dictate Your Book, Work Anywhere and Set Your Words Free with Speech Recognition by Scott Baker
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This book was free, and is a modified extract of a larger work called The Writer’s Guide to Training Your Dragon: Using Speech Recognition Software to Dictate Your Book and Supercharge Your Writing Workflow, not something I’m that curious reading after the disappointment of this book. As such, it kept repeating here and there about the other book so you’d go buy it. That’s annoying, even if I understand the need to advertise for more sales. Also, I don’t like links in my texts: at the front matter, at the back matter, ok. I’ll put up with the self-advertising there. In the middle of the text? No, thanks.

The book was not bad but… I don’t know, I guess I thought the “cheats” weren’t really “cheats”. Tricks… ? Maybe. I mean: “Get a good microphone”…. that’s not really a cheat, that’s common sense. The book assumes you’re somewhat familiar with Dragon already, but I feel like it was geared more towards people who had no idea about dragon instead, because the rest was, as I said, mostly common sense for anyone who’s been using it for longer than three days. There was a tip or two that were a bit more on the interesting side (like why you should go for a USB mic instead of a regular jack), and the interesting part (the differences between home and premium packages, for instance, which I never found properly explained in Nuance’s site) was glossed over to just say which pack to choose if you wanted transcription. Maybe the full book goes in more detail.

I also felt like it repeated itself quite a bit in the first 2-3 introductory paragraphs of every section just to create filling before getting to what was essentially the cheat/hack/trick.

All in all it wasn’t a terrible book, but it was also neither useful to me nor what I expected it to be from the title. Maybe if you’ve recently installed dragon so that you’re somewhat familiar with it but not very savvy, you’ll find some use on it.

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Fiction Unboxed by Johnny B. Truant

Fiction Unboxed
Fiction Unboxed by Johnny B. Truant

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I want to say 3.5, almost 4, but I think I’ll settle on the 3 stars rating because… I was torn with this book.

The first 30% of the book, as well as the last 10%, was unimpressive. It was all about how they came about and dealt with the kickstarter (and the last 10% was about the summits they held afterwards for the backers), all of which I had no interest whatsoever and felt was not really related to unboxing fiction at all, but simply recounting how they’d worked things out. And that’s fine, but I kind of expected the book to be all about writing, not about how to run kickstarter campaigns for complex writerly-related things.

Now, the rest of the book was about the writing, but I kept going back and forth between feeling annoyed by the way it was all just told and not actually shown, and liking it.
On the one hand, I did enjoy the way they told the story, On the other, that still didn’t solve most of the part they mention themselves of making the book of real value or use to the writers by showing how they worked without having to see the videos.

So, there was some value in the content, yes, but it felt like if you weren’t following along with the videos, you missed out on MOST of what they were trying to show and get across.
Also I feel like I missed out too by not reading The Dream Engine first, because the way we’re told things sort of assumes we’ve already read, seen, or know most of it. Not all sections do, but most, particularly at the start.
Another thing was that the whole thing (of course) counts on them working as a group like they always do and being able to brainstorm among each other, so I’m not sure for a single author, with no group and no buddies willing to brainstorm with them, this would be of much use.

So while Fiction Unboxed (the book alone, with no videos or anything) had some interesting lessons to teach, it wasn’t really as useful as I expected it to be. I think this would be easily solved catching up with the videos and reading The Dream Engine, but ultimately I ended up feeling just a bit disappointed with the book.

All the same, it relates an interesting experience, and it’s at the very least worth it for that.

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All Wrapped Up Anthology

All Wrapped UpAll Wrapped Up by Elizabeth Hyder
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Ground Mission: 4.3/5 Now here is present tense done well.

Wildwood: 4/5 I wish it’d had a happier ending though, it was kind of bittersweet.

Dark Covenant: 1/5 (view spoiler)

Situation Normal: 4.3/5 Nice, fun read.

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1984 by George Orwell

19841984 by George Orwell
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When it’s a well known, famous author and most of your FL gave it a 5 (the rest gave it a 4), you feel a bit hard pressed to rate it high too. But the truth is, for me it was just likeable, just up to there.
No, I didn’t miss any of what was going on, and yes, I gather it’s an excellent story, if you’re into this type of thing; but I guess it’s just not my type of book after all. Oh well. I gave it a try.

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