Kevin C. Wong

July 2022

Spot Reviews 07/29/22

Apple Arcade - Cardpocalypse (2019) [/] This is a kids-based light RPG with Hearthstone-like card battles. You are the new kid at school. Interact with other kids and accomplish quests. But mostly interact with other kids to play Mega Mutant Power Pets which is a medium-complexity card battle game. You have hero cards, can build 20-card decks, can trade cards with other kids. Different kids have different decks and styles so can strategize to beat them. Unfortunately the whole building decks and trading cards is what I don't like about Magic The Gathering and Hearthstone.

Apple Arcade - Lifeslide (2019) [/] You are a paper plane flying down a valley. Pick up yellow gems to get more time (you start with 100 seconds) and blue gems to buy upgrades. Pick up power ups such as red gem to heal or green gem for speed boost. Pick up keys to unlock buildings which have combined yellow/blue gem trails. Pick up airplane parts to unlock new planes. Nice soothing music and controller support makes for a rather zen-like game.

Urban Momo, San Mateo - Bhuteko Bhat Chicken ($13.50) [/] Nepalese chicken fried rice. Pretty much like other fried rices with a bit of long-sliced onion (i.e. not finely chopped).

Movie - No Time to Die (2021) [+]

No Time to Die is the fifth Daniel Craig James Bond film and completes his run.

The intro scene starts James Bond (Craig) and Dr Madeleine Swann (Léa Seydoux), the love interest in the previous film, in their happily ever after but it doesn't work out and they break up in the midst of a running car-chase-gun-fight through the narrow streets of a coastal European town.

A few years later we find Bond retired from MI6 and living on a sleepy tropical island. He's approached by Felix Leiter (Jeffrey Wright) to do an off-the-book mission to infiltrate a Spectre party in Cuba and extract a scientist. Bond eventually agrees but he ends up tangling with the new 007, Nomi (Lashana Lynch), who is also going after same target.

After Bond is betrayed he then has to return to MI6 for help in stopping Lyutsifer Safin (Rami Malek), a terrorist who has stolen Heracles, MI6's bio weapon that's designed to target specific DNA sequences and once infected a carrier goes on to infect anyone they touch.

Bond and Nomi go after Safin at his HQ island but Safin has Dr Swann creating a bit of a conflict for Bond...

I didn't realize until now that the five Daniel Craig movies are an arc of James Bond from the time he receives his license to kill to his retirement. The movies follow each other and the various characters have small arcs. It's also nice to have a competent poc female 007 agent.

The movie itself is the usual exotic locations and action. Throughout the series it was great to see the production quality increase to make James Bond competitive with S-tier action films. But it's hard to see James Bond as being anything special in the action genre (contrast with the five Matt Damon Bourne films which has similar action but Bourne has a more interesting background and motivation).

In the end though I did quite enjoy watching No Time to Die.

Apple Arcade - Dread Nautical (2019) [+]

Dread Nautical is a modern horror rogue-like set on a cruise liner that ends up in some sort of demon dimension. You play one of four survivors and explore 20 randomly generated decks.

Each deck you go into rooms which can have items (weapons, armor, misc items, food, parts, runes), the first three of which take up slots on your equipment bar, passengers which you talk to and can eventually convince them to join you, or monsters to avoid or fight.

For passengers you talk with them getting four dialog options at various points. Correct choices move their relationship bar to the right. Doing quests for them also helps. Once it goes all the way right you can recruit them to join. Back at base you need enough beds for your crew and when you go out you choose who goes with you. There's a food resource and everyone needs to eat each day (exiting a deck-level ends the day) though you can have people go hungry and they'll get weaker.

When you get close to a monster it goes to tactical mode. Each person has Action Points: moving a square is 1, attacks take 1 to 3 AP (unarmed and small weapons are 1, most weapons are 2), picking up an item is 1. Your team goes first in any order (and interleaved) then the bad guys go.

All equipment has durability and each use (weapon attack, armor defense, item use) reduces durability by one and at zero the equipment is broken (you can repair back at home using parts, you also use parts to level items and improve their stats, finally items have rarities and rarer items are more powerful).

Back home you have some work rooms you can build and improve. Beds so you can recruit more passengers. Work bench to repair and improve equipment using parts. An altar to improve people using runes.

There is plot of trying to find out why you're there and what's going on with the boat. Part of this is finding tome pages each of which has a short cryptic sentence.

For ultimate rogue there is a hardcore mode where everything is tougher and death is permanent. There is voice acting for the various characters and they have distinct personalities. Each deck-level takes like an hour if you're doing all the rooms but you can save and quit at any time.

It's a nice rogue-like game of low to medium complexity (though possibly keeps adding more things as you go along).

Spot Reviews 07/22/22

Reviewing games leaving Apple Arcade in September.

Apple Arcade - Over the Alps (2019) [+] A kind of choose-your-own-adventure story (not fighting fantasy which has stats, you don't have stats here). In the first story you're a British agent in Switzerland on the eve of World War II trying to accomplish a mission tough half the problem is you're not sure what the mission is. It's told in postcards of you writing back to your agent friend and each postcard has one to three points where you get two or three choices of what you're writing next. Some of these give you points (in the background) which influence the story later. It's fairly light and about an hour long and there's two more stories. A little bit of replayability trying to get a different ending or plot twist. It's well done and the best of the three games I'm reviewing today.

Apple Arcade - Explottens (2019) [/] A side-view aerial twin-stick shooter type game (though not sure it supports twin sticks). On a world dominated by sophont cats peace is finally achieves just in time for an alien invasion. You are an old-guard cat recalled from retirement to man your warplane and shoot down the enemy. In each mission of the campaign shoot down enemies and bosses, pick up coins, then upgrade your warplane with different weapons and abilities. Plays pretty well on my iPad.

Apple Arcade - BattleSky Brigade: Harpooner (2019) [-] Vertical scroller, top-down view shooter. You are a sophont bunny living with other bunnies on a sky ship. You man a harpoon gun, or actually you man the harpoon shot out of the gun. In a run you get shot out then you shoot enemies and obstacles, once you get to your maximum rope length you're reeled back in and now you deploy a net which you maneuver around to pick up coins and salvage, though enemies you didn't kill get another crack at shooting you. Afterwards buy upgrades and do it again; I don't think there's a campaign mode. It's a different concept though gameplay a bit boring.

TV Show - Supergirl s6 (2021) [/]

Supergirl s6 was the last season of the show. Kara (Melissa Benoist) is sent to the Phantom Zone and the first half of the season is getting her out while Lex Luthor (Jon Cryer) kind of rules the planet because everyone loves him. Once Kara is back Luthor is deposed but our heroes accidentally free Nyxlygsptlnz (Peta Sergeant), a fifth dimensional being like Mxyzptlk (Thomas Lennon) but she wants to remake the universe using five totems of power and the last half of the season is Nyxy and Lex battling our heroes to get the totems.

Looking back Supergirl the series started out strong but kind of cooled off after season three which is why I stopped watching after season five. The series finale was nice. They wrapped up the main plot in the first half and the second was Alex (Chyler Leigh) and Kelly Olsen's (Azie Tesfai) wedding and everyone being happy. Overall it was a worthwhile series and great seeing Supergirl on television. Also the Martian Manhunter (David Harewood), Jimmy Olsen (Mehcad Brooks who makes a guest appearance in the finale) and Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart, also makes an appearance in the finale). We got to see some of the Legion of Super Heroes and having Lex Luthor a multi-season major villain was cool. Guess I'll miss the series a bit.

Flick 'em Up! Dead of Winter (2017) [/]

Flick 'em Up! Dead of Winter is a light kids vs zombies miniatures game. It uses stand up building faces, light posts and barrels, and kid and zombie stands. The big thing is that when you attack you flick your weapon (a big shot, four small shots for a shotgun, a knife or a club) and if you knock over a zombie it's dead. You also flick a movement counter to move and if you hit something while moving the movement is cancelled so movement is tricky.

We played two missions. The first one was just kill most of the zombies and enter the RV to escape. The second one was go into buildings and get four specific pieces of salvage then get them back into the RV to escape. To go into the RV or a building you flick the movement token under the stand (stands are held up by two mounts with a bit of wedge to deflect the movement token inside.

A turn is players move in any order and each player has two actions (move and attack or 2 moves or 2 attacks, picking up an item is an action and I think trading is an action -- each kid has two backpack slots to carry stuff). After a player finishes if he fired a weapon then three zombies activate, otherwise one zombie activates. If a zombie is down it gets up and if a zombie is up it goes on top of a tower (kind of like a dice tower). You then remove a cardboard piece to release a trap door and the zombies fall down and shoot towards the player. If the player is knocked down they take one damage (players start with three HP). After all players move two or three more zombies appear. There is a certain number of turns you have to complete the scenario.

The weapons have different capabilities. Handgun you flick the shot (it's a small hockey-puck shaped projectile). Rifle there is a guide you place the shot in and it's really good at straightening out your shot. Shotgun there is a different guide that is a bit more spread out and you four shotgun shots (not directly stacked). With shotgun ricochets count. Knife you stand on end then flick it. Club you place face down pointed at your target knob end towards you. With club you also move and can do two move/attack actions.

Going into a building and fighting a zombie involves a special fight. You have a deck of cards, like 8 movement and 1 attack. Start out the player and zombie 30 inches apart. Flip a card and if it's a movement move the zombie the card's length closer. The player can then attack. Then repeat until the zombie is knocked down or the attack card is flipped and the player takes a point of damage combat over. Club only gets one shot so using a club indoors is rough.

It's kind of a fun game. I'm sure there are more rules (each scenario introduces more rules) to make it more challenging -- at the least I'm sure there's special items you can pick up and use. It did get a bit boring towards the end of the second scenario. Christopher Jr liked the game.

Spot Reviews 07/15/22

Urban Momo, San Mateo - Paneer Momos Steamed ($12.20) [/] Steamed dumpling with paneer inside (a hard cheese but crumbled up for the momo). There is hot sauce and non hot sauce (achaar) and I tried the latter though a bit bland.

Podcast - The Curious Girl Diaries (2016) [/] Layla London chronicling her sexual explorations after the age of 40. It's kind of sexy but not interesting enough because it's a podcast about a person not a topic. Also, lots of ads jammed in there without regard to when they're interrupting the main podcast.

Movie - Any Given Sunday (1999) [/] Was in the mood to watch a football movie. This is about a fictional pro football team in Miami with a new owner (Cameron Diaz) clashing with the old-school coach (Al Pacino) and his aging quarterback (Dennis Quaid) while in the wings is an exciting rookie running quarterback (Jamie Foxx) that might bring in more fans but means tanking the rest of the season... It tries to be realistic and show behind the scenes shenanigans. Oliver Stone film.

Movie - Turning Red (2022) [/]

Turning Red is a Disney animated film (mostly released on Disney+ with some theatrical showings) set in modern day Toronto. Mei Lee (Rosalie Chiang) is a young teen trying to fit in with her three best friends at school whilst also trying to be the perfect daughter and honor roll student for her mother Ming Lee (Sandra Oh). One day that pressure explodes something inside Mei and she turns into a very large red panda. At first she tries to hide it but once her friends find out they think it's awesome and soon the rest of the school does too.

But mom and dad are not pleased because the red panda is a curse inflicted on the women of the family and for generations they've used a secret ritual to submerge the red panda form but there will be only one chance to do it and Mei is not sure the red panda is a curse...

It's a fun coming of age movie. Relatable to a lot teens with Asian immigrant parents. Tiger Mom is not that far off a stereotype for many of those teens (not really my experience though).

Comics - Vampirella (1969) [/]

Vampirella is a character first appearing in same-titled anthology horror comic magazine. She comes from Drakulon, a world where the rivers run with blood and the people have vampire-like abilities without the weaknesses. In her first origin story Drakulon is a dying world visited by a human space ship. She investigates, ends up killing the humans, then takes the space ship back to Earth, a world full of blood-filled humans.

Vampirella Magazine (1969) [-] (Dynamite sells reprints as Vampirella Archives) she's mostly the intro/outro narrator of each story, a la Rod Serling or Elvira. After a few issues she gets a serialized story that continues throughout the life of the magazine, though each issue is still mostly random horror stories. For the most part the Vampirella stories in the magazine are not that interesting. The other stories vary a lot and many are "the protagonist has a bad, usually ironic horror, end." It's very 1970s feel and wordy. I kind of found it mostly not interesting except for an occasionally story or two in each issue.

Vampirella (1992) [/] A different publisher picks up the property in the 90's. With Mark Millar and Grant Morrison writing it has more of a superhero feel with Vampirella fighting vampires and demons and teaming up with previous allies and government agents. Still not very interesting but closer.

Vampirella V1 (2010) and V2 (2014) [/] Dynamite picks up the rights and Vampirella continues fighting vampires and demons and more super-powered foes. This is the closest to being interesting and most mainstream to me but there's a lot of historical baggage they reference.

Vampirella V3 (2016) [+] I guess my favorite incarnation (Dynamite really got into "let's reboot each title very year or two"). Vampirella and a couple of allies move to Hollywood. Old characters out and new characters introduced so it's a fresh start.

Vampirella V4 (2017) [-] Vampirella jumps the shark and ends up a thousand years in the future. Post apocalyptic Earth where what remains of humanity is docile and listless and it's up to Vampirella to free them from a Matrix-like existence. Didn't like the story, writing or art style.

Luckily Dynamite also puts out limited series Vampirella stories, crossovers mostly, which are more standard stories and thus good.

Vampirella V5 (2019) [/] Back to the modern day except now Vampirella's secret is out and she's trying to explain her life story to a psychiatrist who thinks she's delusional. It's kind of nice that every reboot of Vampirella tries to reconcile her different origin stories (first one was "true" then next time Drakulon is more like an implanted memory and so forth). Anyways this version is maybe a bit too post-modern realism comic book storytelling for my tastes.

Overall Vampirella is a character with a mixed history and only in brief flashes has her character and stories been interesting.

Spot Reviews 07/08/22

Incas Grill, Concord - Chupe de Camarones ($24) [+] This is one of the best Chupes that I've had. It's a chowder soup (has milk), with large shrimps, a cooked egg (you crack and egg and dump it in the soup so it cooks and the center is unbroken), yucca, Peruvian corn, carrots and spices. In comparison, Las Americas had a good one with rice and Emelinas has a good one with spaghetti. This one uses yucca for starch which is basically tastes and feels like a potato.

iOS Game - Jump Jerboa (2021) [+] Jerboa is a jumping desert rat. You've escaped from a cage and have to navigate to the exit. Each level is a small platformer with minimal graphics. Your only control is tap to jump (though longer tap is bigger jump) and you move back and forth automatically (bouncing off walls and such). Avoid obstacles that instantly kill you and reset the level, collect the key to unlock the exit door, and collect stars for bonus points. Each level is a few seconds to run through but perhaps many minutes to get the timing right... It's cute, fun and challenging. Free with ads, $2 in-app to remove ads.

Movie - The Professional (1994) [/] Léon (Jean Reno), an Italian immigrant living in NYC, works as a loner hitman for Tony (Danny Aiello). One day his neighbors are assassinated by crooked cops led by police lieutenant Norman Stansfield (Gary Oldman) and Léon, who never gets involved, saves the neighbors' daughter Mathilda (Natalie Portman). He soon forms an attachment to Mathilda and has to protect her from the cops who want to eliminate the last witness... It doesn't quite stand up today but if you think about it as a 90's movie it's quite good.

Movie - Thor: Love and Thunder (2022) [+]

Thor: Love and Thunder is the fourth Thor movie. Thor 1 and 2 were serious movies. Thor 3 went for heavy metal space campiness that worked well. Thor 4 continues the zany.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is still hanging out with The Guardians of the Galaxy fighting bad guys and moping about his lost love. He hears that Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) going around murdering gods and that New Asgard is his next target. So he leaves the Guardians and returns to Earth just in time to help save New Asgard and meet the new Mighty Thor aka former love Dr. Jane Foster (Natalie Portman).

After Gorr kidnaps the Asgardian kids Thor, Mighty Thor, King Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) and Korg (Taika Waititi) head out to Omniponent City where all the gods hang out in order to recruit help but Zeus (Russell Crowe) shuts them down. Not deterred they steal Zeus thunderbolt and head off to fight Gorr in the Shadow Realms.

Meanwhile the subplot is love and we get to see in a flashback why Thor and Jane broke up after the first movie (or after the second movie). They've had eight years to regret and they're finally at a place where they can reconcile. Unfortunately Jane is dying from cancer, only Mjolnir keeping her alive but also killing her, which means Thor might have to choose between saving her and saving the gods...

This is a fun romp of a movie with big dazzling battles accompanied by well-known heavy metal (and other genre) songs. I like Gorr as a villain because he can teleport from shadow to shadow and summon shadow monsters making him a much tougher villain than you'd think. Mighty Thor has cool Mjolnir attacks -- it's still unfused pieces from when it was destroyed in Thor 3 so she can fling it and have it split into many deadly projectiles and it's also used in a key point at the end.

There's lots of humor with Thor. He's very sappy in the beginning. He longs for Mjolnir which makes his current weapon, Stormbreaker, quite jealous. Early on he acquires two giant goats which are then used to pull their viking longship (apparently based on Norse mythology and I think they were also in the comics). All the flashbacks are funny and we get to see fat Thor again.

Overall a very fun movie.

RPG Acc - Non-Player Cards (2014) [+]

Non-Player Cards is a boxed set of eight 50-card decks useful for generating table top role-playing game NPC backgrounds, quirks and motivations. The box is solid and glossy. The cards are fully-illustrated, a bit glossy and medium-end thickness (not like pro poker cards or even Bicycle playing cards, kind of like promotional deck of playing cards you'd get from a company).

The decks are:

  • Names - "In this deck you will try and discover, what is your character's name". Each card has a list of 20 entries, either male and female names or three name-constructors (beginning-middle-end).
  • Professions - "...what does your character do for a living?". Each card has a profession name and a paragraph describing what "you" do as part of that profession. E.g. Entertainer: You may be a street performer, a tavern musician or member of a traveling troupe...
  • Relationships - "...who is special in your character's life?" e.g. Childhood Rival: As children you were rivals, always competing, always looking to one-up the other...
  • Personalities - " your character interacts with others." E.g. Fanatic: You have a cause to which you are dedicated with absolute faith, a faith that burns inside you until nothing but the truth of your conviction remains...
  • Traits - "...what is the best way to describe your character." E.g. Unusually Clean: You are unusually clean, always well presented, and perfectly groomed...
  • Quirks - "...what isn't normal with your character." E.g. Perfectionist: Everything you do must be perfect, from your house to your achievements to your pets...
  • Secrets - "...what your character is trying to hide." E.g. Patient Zero: You are a carrier for a terrible disease...
  • Goals - "...what your character is trying to accomplish." E.g. Learning: The world has infinite mystery and wonder and if you could, you would unlock every secret."

Quibble: card text is both left and right justified and it looks like automatic justification which fails for some cards and the text is spaced weirdly, but still perfectly readable.

There are no rules and it's very free form. Deal out one of each card for an NPC or only a few cards or even multiples of one card type. If I have time I deal one of each type to an NPC then pick the two to four that makes a sensible back story to me. These cards could also be use for creating a PC if you need ideas.

There are similar products in book or card form. I like this one because the physical production value is good and there are 400 cards for good variety.

Spot Reviews 07/01/22

Podcast - Apple News in Conversation (2021) [+] Weekly half hour episodes where host Shumita Basu interviews a guest about one topic, mostly political and therefore controversial topics. I've listened to the last few podcasts and it's very liberal-leaning but in a very "we should help school shooting survivors more" or "why rolling back abortion rights hurts women" -- more about how we can help people and the world. Tough to listen to but interesting.

Movie - Captain Nova (2021) [/] A Dutch science fiction film. Nova (Anniek Pheifer) travels from the year 2050 to present day Netherlands but her body regresses to her teenage age at the time (played by Kika van de Vijver). With the help of her robot friend ADD (Sander van de Pavert) and local kid Nas (Marouane Meftah) she is chased by police while trying to reach the man responsible for a global climate catastrophe... An ok film.

Apple Arcade - Painty Mob (2019) [/] A little bit of twin-stick shooter except you don't shoot, you explode in paint. You go around exploding and splashing people with paint. They get mad and chase you, There are various items you pick up to help you and you advance by accomplishing goals (paint X number of people and survive Y seconds). It's a cute sort of game but not much depth.