While Hello Kitty has been a constant fixture in pop culture since the 70s, I’ve never really looked into it because I was too wrapped up in my Star Wars and Star Trek action figures and reading The Warlord and Turok: Son of Stone comics to pay much attention to ‘cute’ stuff. I have so many friends of all ages who continue to just love Hello Kitty that I finally decided I needed to learn something about her other than how cute she is. I wanted to see just how she became so entrenched in geek and pop culture. Because Viz Media recently began a new series of Hello Kitty graphic novels on their Perfect Square imprint, I now have the opportunity to delve into the world of Hello Kitty and find out just what all the fuss is about.
I really didn’t know what to expect so was surprised (no pun intended) when I cracked open Hello Kitty Vol. 3: Surprise! and discovered there were no words other than titles and exclamations and that it was a collection of short stories from several authors and featuring various artistic styles. The first story, Fintastic Day At The Beach, was visually noisy with close frames on the characters and because I wasn’t familiar with the style, it took me a few moments to look it over and really start picking out the unfolding story. Without the use of words, Hello Kitty relies completely on its visual storytelling and with the exception of that first story, I think the creative team did a great job. I didn’t dislike the first story but it didn’t strike a cord with me (it did make me want to slap one of the characters though).
I did however find the rest of the stories entertaining and in some cases, heartwarming. As the title suggests, the common theme in each story is some sort of unexpected event or discovery (SURPRISE!). Of the 10 stories in this volume, my favorites were UP and Ghost Story.
In UP, Hello Kitty is reading a pop-up book with a tree coming out of it but its no ordinary pop-up book. She decides to climb the tree and has an adventure discovering the inhabitants of it. Being a book nut myself, I can really identify with opening a book and finding a world to explore within it but what really grabbed me in this story was the art work. Unlike the other stories, this story is completely illustrated (with the exception of Hello Kitty herself) with what appears to be construction paper cut outs. It really gives the story more visual depth and I found myself going back to this story repeatedly just to look at the brilliant cut outs.
In Ghost Story, a lonely skeleton takes advantage of Halloween to dress up like a ghost and go out to enjoy the festivities.
Hello Kitty Vol. 2: Delicious! is a foodie’s delight. Every story features a food theme. My favorite stories in the collection are Sweet Dreams and Banana Split!
In Sweet Dreams, Hello Kitty dozes off while playing a Candy Land type of game and dreams of being in a world made of candy. When she wakes up, she immediately schedules a dentist appointment.
In Banana Split! Tim and Tammy, have been eating bananas but run into a problem when they get to the last one. After trying to come up with ideas to decide who gets to eat it, they finally agree to share but its too late as someone else ate it while they were busy debating.
The books are full of beautifully illustrated, lighthearted stories that are safe for any age child or adult and are printed in a high quality paperback binding. I’m sure any Hello Kitty fanatic will be pleased to add them to their collection.
You can purchase Hello Kitty online at Amazon or find it in your local bookstore.
With the recent release of Star Wars: The Complete Saga on Blu-ray, and Hallowe’en on our doorstep, a sci-fi geek’s thoughts naturally turn to dressing up as a Jedi (or Sith, if one’s inclination is to the dark side of the Force).
BuyStarWarsCostumes.com offers you the Authentic Adult Jedi Robe (a Child Robe is also available), officially licensed from Lucasfilm. This is the Jedi robe you’re looking for! Made in the USA, the Authentic Adult Jedi Robe is a high-end piece that’s durable, well-stitched, and constructed of a thick polyester fabric, made thicker by the entire outfit being fitted with a backing of the same material. As a result of the extra fabric weight, the robe drapes in a very attractive fashion, unlike cheaper, less solid robes that have the consistency of heavy netting, and are practically see-through. The Authentic Adult Jedi Robe is so warm and snuggly, it’s tempting to throw it on around the house in place of a bathrobe or Slanket. You certainly won’t feel the chill while out trick-or-treating, even in Hoth-like conditions, though indoors, in close, stuffy environments like convention halls and house parties, the robe’s thermal efficiency might necessitate stripping down to your Jedi tunic. Since it’s one-size-fits-all — the packaging says that it’s a men’s standard cut that fits up to a 44 jacket size — the hood and sleeves are very roomy, and the robe’s length (67″) is cut to accomodate Jedi of all sizes. Shorter Jedi will definitely need to take the hem up, unless they want a train of fabric trailing behind them. Fortunately, shortening a cloak is fairly simple with basic sewing skills, and, in a pinch, double-sided tape can be used instead of a sewing needle to make alterations. The care label on the Authentic Adult Jedi Robe suggests hand washing and hang-drying the garment, but it can be put through the washing machine on the gentle cycle and tumble dried on a low setting. In fact, it’s actually advisable to run the robe through the wash a couple of times before wearing it in order to remove the layer of fuzz still clinging from the manufacturing process.
Those who are sticklers for 100% complete screen accuracy, and have the funds to support their obsession, may wish to upgrade to the Collectors Jedi Robe, which is made of wool instead of polyester and therefore has the coarser texture that the robes in the films have, or, for the ultimate in movie replicas, there’s the Authentic Luke Skywalker Costume, Authentic Obi Wan Kenobi Costume, and Authentic Anakin Skywalker Costume. Conversely, if both the Authentic Adult Jedi Robe and collector’s robes fall outside your range of affordability, BuyStarWarsCostumes.com does carry a selection of less expensive, standard Hallowe’en costume fare:
The Princess Leia Bun Headpiece, made out of synthetic brown hair, quickly and easily adds a realistic touch to your Princess Leia costume. Just part your hair down the middle, pin it back, and pop the hairband on to complete the hair-do. From a distance, the hair looks quite real, and, if you’re a brunette, blends quite well into your own hair. The hair buns are sewn onto a brown, felt-like fabric, which also covers the plastic headband, and strands of the fake hair are attached bun-to-bun across the top of the hairband, as well. The large buns fit comfortably over the ears, doubling as toasty warm earmuffs on a cold Hallowe’en night. Since the buns are a solid mass of hair, they’re rather heavy compared to plush headpieces, so you might want to consider hairpinning them in place if you plan on energetic activities, like dancing, as sudden, sharp movements tend to dislodge the headpiece. Due to this, and the headband being adult-sized, the Princess Leia Bun Headpiece is not intended for use in play by children under 14 years of age.
Hallowe’en sales have already begun at BuyStarWarsCostumes.com, so save on your next cosplay outfit, pick up a deal on Christmas presents for the Star Wars fans on your list, or just get a head start on next year’s Hallowe’en costume. Of particular note are sales on Authentic Star Wars Costumes: the Supreme Edition Boba Fett is now $300 off, the Luke Skywalker Collectors Ceremonial Jacket with Medal is discounted by more than $100, and the popular Slave Leia bikini (better than lingerie on Valentine’s Day!) is on sale, too. An inside tip from BuyStarWarsCostumes.com says that these prices are only going to last through the first week of November, so be sure to take advantage of these amazing deals while you still can!
Like most geeks, I spend a lot of time alone – reading, playing MMORPGs, watching sci-fi and fantasy movies or TV shows; but I’m also a very social person, and I love talking about these things I do alone when I get into a group of like-minded individuals. Since I packed up and moved across country, I haven’t found a group for regular game nights yet, so my socializing has been at a minimum of late, and when do I get a chance to play games with a group I especially enjoy it if what we are playing sparks conversation. Over and over again, I have found Looney Labs games to inspire imagination and conversation. They have such a variety of themes in their award-winning games that no matter what interests someone might have (not so many geeks in this neck of the woods), Looney Labs can deliver a great conversation-sparking game.
Seven Dragons definitely delivered in that department. It’s a variation of their classic Aquarius, but instead of primary-colored landscapes and rainbows, as the title suggests, the cards feature colorful dragons. The artwork by Larry Elmore is beautiful – like some scene from a fantasy novel that is selected to grace the cover of the book. Each dragon is featured in some action or setting that either calls to mind stories you’ve read or makes you wonder what the story is the card has to tell, and sometimes does both.
While playing Seven Dragons, we were reminded of our favorite dragon-filled tales and talked about everything from Eragon and Harry Potter to The Hobbit and Xanth, but also made up our own little stories to explain the scenes on the cards. It was kind of like being a kid again, playing the “let’s pretend” game. You know the one, “let’s pretend that…”, and then you describe some scenario that you then either act out or tell a story about, each person contributing their ideas and creating an interactive adventure. Though our ages ranged a 20-year span from teen to late 30s, we were suddenly all little kids again, our imaginations running wild. What was meant to be a fairly short gaming session to kill time before leaving for work turned into a long session of laughter and leaving for work more than a little late.
Enough about the fun social aspect of playing the game, and on to the gameplay itself:
Seven Dragons is for 2 to 5 players. Gameplay is a little like dominoes with an UNO twist. There are 5 colorful dragon goal cards: Red, Gold, Blue, Green and Black. Once each player is dealt a goal card, they must attempt to be the first player to create a chain of seven connected dragons by matching the cards, the way you connect the numbers on dominoes. Each player begins with 3 dragon cards and 1 goal card. At the beginning of each turn, the player draws a dragon card and then plays a card by matching one or more of the pictures on the played card to one of the cards already placed. The dragon card may have 1 to 4 different pictures featured on it and you get to draw bonus cards if you can match 2 or more. To create a chain, the player must place an unbroken line of 7 touching matched cards. While this may seem simple, once you add in the Action Cards it gets more complicated.
This is where the touch of UNO sets in. Once you throw down a Trade Hands, Trade Goals, Move a Card, Rotate Goals, Zap a Card or Shuffle Hands, you are adding twists and turns that can turn a losing hand into a winning hand or vice versa in 2 seconds flat. Since you don’t know what goal the other players have, you have to guess which color dragon they are trying to match so you don’t inadvertently help them. You have to lay a card down with each turn (or forfeit the turn), and you may not want to give your goal away by aggressively pursuing it, so you may end up laying down a chain of cards simply because you need to get them out of your hand in hopes of drawing more of your goal dragon cards in the next hand. Your opponents are probably doing the same.
Just because someone matched 4 black dragons in the last hand doesn’t mean it’s definitely their goal. You could throw down a Rotate Goals card thinking you will win if you do, since you have the card in your hand needed to link those 4 black dragons to 2 others and win in the next hand, only to find out they actually have the green dragon as their goal. Suddenly, you’re eyeing the table trying to find enough green dragons linked to still win, only to discover you were better off keeping the goal you had.
The more people you play with, the better the chance is that you are helping someone else achieve their goal every time you lay down a card. Because of these tricky little twists, gameplay can get pretty complex if you are the strategizing type, though the basic principle and gameplay is so simple, even young children can play it. The instructions even include a version for pre-schoolers, making Seven Dragons truly a game for all ages.
You can pick up your copy of Seven Dragons and other great games from Looney Labs’ Online Store, Amazon, or your local game shop (check out the store locator for the seller nearest you).
I Am Maru by mugumogu
Hardcover (96 pages)
Recommended Reading Level: All Ages.
Meet Maru! This round, adorable Scottish Fold cat may be an internet sensation, but he knows how to keep his celebrity status from going to his fluffy head… mostly. Maru and his owner, mugumogu, give readers a peek into the low-key life of the world’s most famous cat. See all his favorite hiding places — trash cans, cupboards, cereal boxes… if it’s cozy, he’s there — meet his treasured toys, and learn what it means to wield just the right amount of cat-titude.
Anyone who spends time online and loves cat memes is doubtless already familiar with Maru, the cat with a passion for boxes of all sizes and shapes, through his popular YouTube Channel. If, however, you somehow have missed Maru’s cardboard escapades, then the trailer for his first book, I Am Maru, gives you an overview of what Maru’s so celebrated for:
I Am Maru was first published in 2009 (as Maru Desu) by Maru’s owner, who remains anonymous behind the username “mugumogu”, in her and Maru’s native Japan. Now English-speaking fans have access to the book in this new, translated version that gives readers the full experience of the original by retaining the Japanese text descriptions beneath the English translations. For those learning the Japanese language, I Am Maru makes a great primer, especially with such a fun topic as motivation!
The dust cover of the book reverses to reveal a glossy, full-colour poster of Maru, featuring one large picture in the center and two smaller images lining the top and bottom. The poster’s long, skinny format is ideal for hanging on the inside of a locker or on the panel of a closet door. Since the dust cover is intended to be removed, the cover of the book itself has been printed with the title and sepia-toned images of Maru so that it will still look attractive when displayed on your bookshelf. Inside the book, mugumogu’s full-colour photographs are printed on thick, semi-gloss white paper, of the kind found in quality art books, with English text printed in black and the Japanese text in a more muted brown ink. The photo reproduction is sharp and clean, without any of the muddy look that often characterizes books that include content from the Internet. A portion of the photos aren’t brand new, having previously been displayed as still images in Maru’s YouTube videos, but that doesn’t detract from enjoyment of the book. Just think of I Am Maru as an offline scrapbook, or family album, with bonus text available only in this format.
I Am Maru is divided up into sections, with photos grouped into categories like “As long as there is a box…” and “Funny face collections”. “Snapshots” offers a peek into Maru’s everyday life — sleeping, lounging, posing, playing, and eating, like any normal cat. Between groups of photos are selected blog entries, mostly written from Maru’s point of view, but augmented by some behind-the-scenes entries penned by mugumogu. The book opens with an in-depth biography of Maru, including a “résumé”, which is written like the character profiles typically found in manga. There’s even a complete floorplan of Maru’s current home, with notes on his favourite spots and where he typically does the things that fill his daily schedule. At the back of the book is an episode guide that highlights Maru’s most popular videos.
Not enough Maru for you in I Am Maru? Then check out mugumogu’s Maru blog (written in Japanese and English), Maru’s posts on Twitter, and, of course, mugumogu’s frequently updated YouTube Channel dedicated to Maru’s entertaining antics.
Grordbort Industries, in partnership with Weta, has opened their armory again, this time to unveil the second in Dr. Grordbort’s line of genuine “imitation metal” (or “plastic”) Infallible Aether Oscillators. The successor to the magnificent Righteous Bison Indivisible Particle Smasher raygun, The Saboteur 66 Ultra-Wave Equaliser is “The Wave-Weapon of Choice for Assassins, Space Ninjas and Competitive Hair Stylists.”
You’re deep underground in the Moon Men lair. Silently you approach the power core, ready to detonate this hive of tyranny and stinky smells, when UNHOLY BISCUIT-TIN OF SATAN you’re surrounded by Moon Soldiers! Look down, what have you got in your hands? A handkerchief? Some moisturising lotion? A length of garden hose? Egads! What were you thinking?
Quickly, open this Dr. Grordbort’s package and arm yourself with its contents — The Saboteur 66, and dissolve those brigands back to the primordial soup from whence they came!
Before we crack open the box, let’s take a gander at that packaging, shall we?
The Saboteur 66’s wrappings are pretty much utilitarian; once you’ve removed the raygun, you probably won’t have further use for the box. It has no clear acetate window under a top opening flap like the Righteous Bison’s box, and isn’t covered inside and out with glossy, full-colour artwork, but there’s a large photo of the Saboteur 66 on the cover and the box exterior and inner tray are printed in weathered sepia tones. Three smaller photos, showing the raygun at different angles, run along the top of the box’s back, accompanied, as has become standard on Dr. Grordbort weapons, by a humorous warning: “Not suitable for adults”, amended at the bottom edge of the box by “unless you like running around in the garden playing space soldiers of course” (and who doesn’t enjoy defending the backyard from invading alien hordes?). Essentially, the Saboteur 66’s box is much like a doughnut box in design, except that it’s made of heavier cardboard and has a lift-out tray liner. Instead of being held closed by magnetic or velcro tabs, the lid has tabs on the front that tuck into side slots, and, in place of a moulded plastic tray, the raygun is attached directly to the back of the cardboard liner with protective foam-covered wires. Okay, so it’s fancier than the average doughnut box, but it still performs the same function — protecting its sweet contents — and does it well. Anyway, you’re buying a raygun, not a decorative box. Weta clearly intends for you to get hands-on with the Saboteur 66, so break it out and start playing!
Compared to the Righteous Bison (2.6 pounds), the Saboteur 66 (1.1 pounds) is notably smaller. A stamp on the box reads “Now with 35% less Atoms!”, and this fact is reflected in the raygun’s price, which is somewhat lower than the Righteous Bison’s. The size reduction doesn’t mean a reduction in quality, though. Like the Righteous Bison, the Saboteur 66 is just as detailed; if anything, it has a bit more detail on its compact frame. Where the Righteous Bison’s two cast sides are mirror images, the Saboteur 66 has some asymetry that lends to its realism, since steampunk weapons tend to have a cobbled together and added-on appearance to them. In addition to the two valves on either side of the raygun’s body labelled “POW” and “Wheel of Fun”, with tiny raised needles, there’s an extra valve affixed to the top-left bulb marked “Science!” (yes, the exclamation point is included, to let you know that this is serious science here). The bulb that’s below the muzzle, in front of the trigger, appears to be a separate component from the body moulding, as well. Seams are unavoidable with plastic casts, but the Saboteur 66’s seam is so excellently minimized, even better than on the Righteous Bison’s, that it’s only really noticable along the top fin and on the trigger guard. The Saboteur 66 doesn’t have the built-in scratches and dents that the battle-worn Righteous Bison does, but this seems in keeping with its newer, more modern aesthetic, which is most apparent in a grip that looks like it was lifted straight off a military-use handgun. It would have been a nice touch if there was a red LED within the drilled-out muzzle, which lit up when the trigger was squeezed, but that feature would likely make this piece significantly more expensive, and the point of the plastic line is to be a less pricey alternative to the metal collector rayguns. While the Righteous Bison was rooted firmly in the realm of classic sci-fi, the Saboteur 66 is clearly a few steps along the munitions evolutionary chart. It’s interesting to see the progression, but hopefully this sci-fi/real-world hybrid is as far as Weta takes the experiment. A raygun sculpt that borrowed any more heavily from modern reality would appear out of place in the Grordbort world.
Once again, the paint quality in the plastic raygun line simulates metal to an amazing degree. From a distance, it truly does look like the genuine article. Where the Saboteur 66 differs from the Righteous Bison, paint-wise, is in the finishing touches. The paint job is, as expected from Weta and their exacting standards, spotlessly clean, but apart from the faces of the red and white pressure gauges, the Saboteur 66 has very little antiquing, especially on the grip, so it doesn’t look very old or worn. Steampunk purists who can’t abide the clean, unused look, and have some hobby painting skill, can easily add their own aging and weathering effects, though, to complete their cosplaying prop.
The Saboteur 66’s one moving part is its trigger, the same as the Righteous Bison.
Being a play piece, the Saboteur 66 comes with no attachments or accessories, and doesn’t include a stand or case like the metal rayguns. If you really want to display it in style, though, Weta offers a Universal Gun Stand for separate purchase. The small, square hole at the bottom of the Saboteur 66’s handle fits a matching rod on the metal stand, and the stand’s circular base is stamped with the Grordbort Industries logo. Another Weta item that complements the Saboteur 66 is the Dr. Grordbort’s Satchel. This roomy, hand-made canvas bag with multiple pockets matches the military look of the raygun, and the Saboteur 66’s concealable size means that it will fit neatly in the satchel’s large main compartment.
An open-ended edition priced at $89.99 US, the Saboteur 66 is a steal, especially considering that the full-size metal rayguns run several hundred dollars each.
So far, the plastic rayguns have been completely new, original designs. Continuing the practice of offering affordable versions of its wares, Weta should consider releasing plastic copies of some of its collector models, such as the Pearce 75 Atom Ray Gun, the most classic piece in the entire Dr. Grordbort range. It’s easy to imagine shouting “Zap!” when firing the Pearce 75, as opposed to the Saboteur 66, which has more of a “pew pew pew!” vibe to it — though, as befits the futuristic weapon of an assassin or space ninja, perhaps it has a silencer. After all, in space, no one can hear your target scream.
With the announcement of a film in the works, Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games trilogy has been splashed across the news recently. Actors for the three main characters have been officially announced by Lionsgate and fans are divided on whether or not the choices are good enough. The last time the YA literature community buzzed with this much energy was during the casting of the Twilight series.
The first book, which has the same name as the series, introduces us to seventeen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, a lean, mean, fighting machine.
Katniss is from District 12 in a post-apocalyptic North America called Panem. Of the 13 districts, District 12 is one of the poorest, not only because its sole source of production (and the district’s specialization) is coal mining, but because it is furthest away from the central controlling government, The Capitol. In addition to being from a poor district, she’s from the slums called The Seam. Everyone from The Seam scrambles to find food. Plus, she lost her father, the breadwinner, when she was eleven years old and, as a result, her mother fell into deep depression. How is an eleven-year-old supposed to provide for her family?
Katniss, trained by her father, is an accomplished archer and skilled hunter, illegally providing food for not just her family but for the people of District 12. This puts her at an advantage when she enters the Hunger Games.
The Games were created by the Capitol to remind the people of the 13 districts of the repercussions of rebellion.
The rules of the Hunger Games are simple… each of the twelve districts must provide one girl and one boy, called tributes, to participate. The twenty-four tributes will be imprisoned in a vast outdoor arena that could hold anything from a burning desert to a frozen wasteland. Over a period of several weeks, the competitors must fight to the death. The last tribute standing wins. (page 18, Scholastic paperback printing, September 2009)
Think of it as the Triwizard tournament from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire meets Battle Royale, but even more twisted: kids as young as twelve years old get selected for the Hunger Games. The entries stack, too; eighteen-year-olds have their names entered a minimum of 7 times. Participants are allowed to sign up for more food and oil per year, per person, at the price of an extra ticket entered with their name.
So, Katniss has 20 entries while her sister, Primrose (Prim), at the age of twelve, has 1. Luck of the draw, though, the younger Everdeen gets picked. Prim is the complete opposite of Katniss: if Katniss is like their father, a hunter; Prim is like their mother, a healer. Young, innocent, and kind-hearted Prim is everything to Katniss. It is no wonder that Katniss, without hesitation, volunteers to become a tribute in Prim’s place. The boy tribute from District 12? Peeta Mellark, the baker’s son, a boy from school. As the story unfolds, the reader finds out just how intertwined Katniss and Peeta’s lives are, which is half the magic of The Hunger Games.
The other half, of course, is Katniss’ performance in the arena. The events leading up to the Games see us following Katniss to the Capitol. The Capitol is a highly-developed metropolis full of materialistic people. Everything is glam, glitter, and luxury for them. The Games? They’re just a source of entertainment, not unlike how the Romans enjoyed a good battle between lions and gladiators.
I have not mentioned the other semi-important male in Katniss’ life yet: Gale Hawthorne. Gale forms the third corner of the love triangle, but he is barely there in the first book. He’s the boy from back home, Katniss’ only friend and fellow rebellious hunter. We mostly learn about his role in her life through her thoughts on what people might be thinking when she plans her survival in the Games.
To write more about the book would spoil it. To write about the second and third book in the series would definitely spoil the first (but I can say that the latter two books are a lot more political). Though not a huge fan of politically-themes novels, I am a huge fan of the series, having finished the trilogy in less than a week. The messages of “hope” and “love” are powerful, and the twist near the end really drives that home. I urge anyone who likes reading YA science fiction and fantasy to pick up a copy.
It’s not as sophistically written as JK Rowling’s Harry Potter, nor would you want to step foot into the world of Panem (well, maybe a visit to the Capitol would be fun). But the characters — both major ones like Katniss and Peeta, and minor ones like the other tributes — are so charming that you just can’t put the book down.
Pick up your copy of The Hunger Games at Amazon or find it at your local bookstore.
Looney Labs has been pleasing gaming fans for years with their Fluxx family of games. The newest addition, Pirate Fluxx, is no exception. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Fluxx, it’s fun, easy to play and starts with one basic rule: draw one, play one. From there, everything changes, as the name suggests, because every card has a different set of instructions on it.
Each version of Fluxx includes the same basic set of cards: Rules, Goals, Actions and Keepers. Most versions also include Creeper cards, a card you don’t want in your hand unless it’s required to meet the conditions of the current Goal. When you play a Rule card, you change the rules of the game for everyone. For example, you could place the Draw 4 or Hand Limit 2 rule, or the Play All rule where, instead of only playing 1 card per turn, you have to play your entire hand each turn.
With Pirate Fluxx, we also see the addition of the Surprise card, one that can be played at any time, out of turn, to mix things up in the game. For example, with That Be Mine! you can steal someone’s Keeper, Skullduggery allows you to cancel any Action that would cause a Keeper you want to change ownership and Avast! Halt! cancels an Action another player just played.
You’ll find the usual pirate fixtures such as Monkey, Parrot, Rum, Jolly Roger, Cannon, Cutlass, lots of booty (Pearls, Rubies, Pieces of Eight, Gold Doubloons) and of course seafaring vessels (Dinghy, Galleon, Schooner, Frigate, Sloop). You’ll also find some nice little twists you weren’t expecting like Oranges and Limes to fight off Scurvy, and The Key to help you avoid the Shackles. My favorite card, though, is the Talk Like a Pirate rule. I have a habit of speaking with funny voices throughout the day, so this card finally gives me an excuse to not get funny looks from people for my vocal effects.
I played Pirate Fluxx in my favorite coffee shop with some folks who’ve never heard of Fluxx before. It was a real pleasure to see the initial confusion followed by giggles and eventual all-out laughter. The game is quick to learn (especially since every card has instructions on it) and, depending on the New Rules played, fairly quick to play (5 to 30 minutes per hand). We played 3 or 4 games in about an hour, with everyone (but me) winning at least once.
Pirate Fluxx is a perfect gift for the salty dogs in your life. If it sounds like fun to you but Pirates aren’t really your thing, no worries, because Fluxx is like Baskin-Robbins or Heinz — there are enough flavors available that you’re sure to find something for everyone!
Pirate Fluxx is for 2 to 5 players, ages 8 and up, and includes the following 100 cards in each deck:
Universal Monsters are very popular amongst sci-fi afficionados, and there have always been Universal Monsters-based toys that have allowed them to share that interest with their sons, but, until recently, their daughters have been largely left out. The launch of Mattel’s Monster High franchise gives the classic screen icons a “freakishly fabulous” make-over that finally welcomes girls into the monster club. Monster High’s characters are the trendy teenage offspring of monster legends, and attend a school full of students whose supernatural heritage has resulted in such unusual physical traits as green skin, fur, fangs, and pointed ears.
The highlight of the Monster High toy line is a collection of plush dolls, its first and second waves including a selection of the most popular Monster High students:
Lagoona Blue, daughter of the Creature from the Black Lagoon
The dolls come in “Friends” box sets with their signature pets: Frankie Stein & Watzit (franken-dog), Draculaura & Count Fabulous (bat), Clawdeen Wolf & Crescent (kitten), Cleo De Nile & Hissette (Egyptian cobra), Deuce Gorgon & Perseus (two-tailed rat), and Lagoona Blue & Neptuna (piranha). Cute profiles on the boxes’ back panels give background info on each of the pets, written from the pets’ point of view.
If you’ve read Coraline, Neil Gaiman’s creepy children’s novel, then the Monster High plush dolls, with their big button eyes, will immediately remind you of the book. Their sewn-on eyes are friendly looking, though, unlike the Other Mother’s sinister black buttons. Also, instead of being made of hard and shiny plastic, they’re sculptured on with soft, embroidered thread, as are the entire faces of all the dolls and pets. The embroidery adds to the folksy charm of these ragdoll-style toys, and the stitched-together look seems appropriate to monsters, especially since one of them is a Frankenstein’s Monster. While traditional ragdolls are usually fairly basic in design, the Monster High dolls are lavished with detail. They have full heads of thick, multicoloured yarn, the strands tacked into place for some of the more elaborate hairdos. Their outfits, which look like miniaturized sets of real clothes, are made of a variety of materals, trimmed with fur and other accents. Clawdeen Wolf even has tiny loops of ribbon sewn into the edges of her ears to recreate her gold hoop earrings. These dolls are almost as enjoyable to touch as they are to look at, and the only real complaint to be made is that Deuce Gorgon’s snake-hair is reduced to a tuft of green yarn instead of recognizable snakes. (Granted, plush micro-snakes are probably difficult to produce.) At ten inches high, the dolls are big enough to be huggable, yet still small enough to be easily toted around. The pets are a fair size, but if you’re giving the toys to younger children, you may want to tether the pets to their friends with a yarn leash so that they don’t go astray.
In addition to the plush dolls, Monster High features a line of fashion dolls that are similar in appearance to Bratz dolls, their articulated limbs removable to allow for quick and easy fashion changes. Each doll comes with a plastic pet figurine, spooky fashion accessory, skull hairbrush, doll stand for posing and display, and a diary written by the character. Wave 1 consists of the same six monsters that appear in plush form, with couple Cleo De Nile and Deuce Gorgon paired together in a gift set. Wave 2 adds two new characters: Ghoulia Yelps (daughter of Zombies) & Sir Hoots A Lot (owl), and Holt Hyde (son of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde/alter ego of Jackson Jekyll) & Crossfade (chameleon). As in all fashion doll lines, there are themed variants, such as “Dawn of the Dance” (Frankie Stein, Clawdeen Wolf, Cleo De Nile) and “Gloom Beach” (Frankie Stein, Clawdeen Wolf, Draculaura, Cleo De Nile, Jackson Jekyll); separate fashion packs, such as the “School Spirit Uniforms” (Clawdeen Wolf — soccer, Deuce Gorgon — casketball, Frankie Stein — fearleading, Lagoona Blue — surfing); and playsets, like Frankie Stein’s Mirror Bed and Draculaura’s Jewelry Box Coffin. Every bit as detailed and elaborately dressed as their plush versions, the Monster High fashion dolls will appeal to both adult collectors and mini-geeks.
In the age of the Internet, Monster High isn’t just about the toys, of course. An immersive, sign-up website at monsterhigh.com allows junior monsters to register at Monster High, meet and interact with its famous students, explore the campus, participate in school activities, play several games, and download music, wallpapers, buddy icons, and a ringtone. Special codes, obtained from toy packaging or hidden locations on the website, unlock even more content. Best of all, the website hosts an animated Monster High web series. The webisodes are brief but very entertaining, and can be viewed on the Monster High YouTube Channel, as well. Of higher quality than a lot of cartoons on TV, this is a show that parents can actually enjoy watching with their little ghouls. (Episode 1 is “Jaundice Brothers”.) The Monster High Fright Song music video is also posted on YouTube, its upbeat lyrics encouraging everyone to embrace their “freaky chic ‘n’ fly” differences.
Perhaps of greatest importance to geek parents is that Monster High promotes reading, with a tie-in series of novels that’s fun and prepares geeks-in-training for when they’re old enough to read Dracula and Frankenstein. The debut book, simply titled Monster High, deviates somewhat from the web series, but since it’s a prequel of sorts, chronicling Frankie Stein’s creation and arrival at school, it may eventually synch up with the web series in future volumes. The book’s reading level is aimed more at teens than the tweens that the toys are primarily targeted at, so it’s recommended that you preview it before giving it to young readers, to make sure that it’s appropriate for them. Monster High: The Ghoul Next Door continues right where the original story paused at a frightful cliffhanger, and is set to be published on April 5.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 (MST3K) fans (or MSTies for short) have been waiting a long time for this game, and I think I speak for all of them when I say it was well worth the wait. When J. Allen Williams first came up with the idea of creating a game, he called in his friends and started the decade-long labor of love that is DARKSTAR. It’s not just a game though, it’s an interactive movie, with your decisions leading to various outcomes, some continuing the story and others bringing you to a dead end (sometimes literally).
As Captain O’Neil, you’ve just awoken from a 312-year sleep that has robbed you of all of your memories, including your identity. You immediately discover a gruesome murder, a sleeping beauty and a missing shipmate. As you begin to explore your surroundings, you discover things about yourself, your crewmates and your mission. You also discover something has gone very, very wrong.
DARKSTAR is similar to the King’s Quest or Myst games in feel and style of play, and features high-quality graphics and textures. There is a mixture of interactive environments, exploration and puzzles, but it’s the video that really sets it apart from traditional adventure games of this style. Hours of video woven throughout turn it from a game into an interactive movie. One of the key parts of the story is a series of short, historical films that have been created for your mission, to be presented at your final destination. These films document the reason for your mission and stress the importance of your success. I can’t give much more information than that without providing spoilers, but I can say that the films are broken up into pieces and you can only access it as you unlock different parts of the game, typically by activating or restoring power to a part of the ship. Each of these, if you pay close attention, will provide hints and clues that will help you with the next step of your exploration.
At first, I found myself spending a lot of time exploring, but not accomplishing much. Then I realized I wasn’t looking hard enough. There are many hidden items, hidden clues and hidden panels. Once you find a few, you start to know where to look and will progress faster. Because there are so many variable outcomes of the game, based on where you explore and in what order, you may miss a large amount of the game without realizing it the first time around. I took a look at the All Revealed Guide (which is in PDF format) and realized that there are several videos I missed out on, especially relating to SIMON, the ship’s smarmy maintenance robot. I was having a bit of a problem with my video being choppy (more on that later) and at one key point, I missed out on an interaction with SIMON that affects his appearances throughout the game. The lesson I learned was that if the game seems to pause, don’t start clicking right away; give it a moment just in case it’s changing from a stationary scene to an animated one.
On that note, I should point out my video-related issues with the game. Here’s my specs:
Windows XP Pro, Service Pack 3
NVidia GeForce 8200 Motherboard with integrated graphics
AMD Athlon 64×2 Dual Core 5000+ (2.6Ghz)
3.25 GB RAM (XPs limit)
When I first installed the game, I couldn’t play it. I would receive an error message during the splash screen that informed me that iShell had crashed. I tried visiting the website for help but, at the time, there wasn’t any information there or patches available to fix the issue. I spent a few days off doing some web searches and the best suggestion I found was to roll back Quicktime. I uninstalled Quicktime (I was running 7.6.8) and reinstalled 6.0, and then installed updates up to version 7.6.5. The game finally ran properly but still had a few hesitations when switching to a video or animated scene. I saved the game frequently and it helped relieve the stress of lost progress in case of game crashing. I did discover that Quicktime tries to automatically update to the newest version, so while you are playing the game, it may interfere with your iTunes account. Hopefully they will be able to patch this soon, as I did have to go through the process of rolling back Quicktime several times because I had other multimedia programs that required the latest version.
Other than the video issue, which I finally figured out, I had no problems with the game and truly enjoyed playing it. It took me a little longer than I thought it would, but part of that is because I took the time to zoom in on what I’d consider Easter Eggs in the game, such as the bookshelves and personal items in the crew’s cabins. While SIMON’s room is blatantly an homage to MST3K, as is SIMON himself, there are lots of other more subtle touches throughout the game, but if you have no previous knowledge of the MST3K universe, you won’t feel like you’re missing out on anything. Well, maybe you will a little bit, but hopefully that will just encourage you to learn more about the DARKSTAR folks and their previous and current projects.
In addition to the 13 hours of video, the soundtrack includes 38 compositions featuring several genres of music. Much of the music is ambient with a dark, brooding and ominous feel, but you’ll also find classical piano scores in a few “scenes”, and the battles and other action sequences are backed by high-power rock. As my cohort here at ÜberSciFiGeek said, “The soundtrack is great! It has a hint of heavy metal sound that gets the adrenaline pumping, without being distracting.”
DARKSTAR: The Interactive Movie for PC and Macintosh
2-disc Sountrack Album with 38 songs by Progressive Sound and MetalWorx
PDF downloads of the All Revealed Guide and DARKSTAR Coffee Table Book
Pre-printed (not hand-signed) Cast Glossy
XL DARKSTAR T-Shirt
The All Revealed Guide definitely came in handy. While I tried playing most of the game without it, I did have to check through it a few times to see what I was doing wrong. It listed events out of the order in which I explored the ship, so I did get a few spoilers that I wasn’t looking for. Since it’s a PDF picture format, you can’t search for keywords, so be careful because you may see something you don’t want to know yet! If you stumble through DARKSTAR the first time around without the guide, check it out for your second round of gameplay to make sure you get to see all the cool death scenes and Easter Eggs you may have missed.
The DARKSTAR Coffee Table Book may be a PDF file, but it looks like one of those “The Art of…” movie books you see for Hollywood blockbusters. It’s a behind-the-scenes look at the creation of DARKSTAR and includes some beautiful images that I can imagine on high-gloss, archive quality paper. I think some of them should be available as prints, they are so impressive. In addition to images of the creation process, you’ll find information about the cast and crew and all the hard work that went into creating DARKSTAR. I think maybe they should make this available on Amazon or some other Print-on-Demand service. It’s really a gorgeous book and, as much as I love my computer, nothing beats holding a real book in your hands.
The Cast Glossy and T-Shirt are a nice bonus. The photos are high-quality photos printed on heavy card stock and the black t-shirt is made of 100% cotton, nice and thick — not the flimsy stuff you often find printed shirts made of. It’s sure to stand up to lots of wear and washing.
The only thing about DARKSTAR that needs improvement, as my cohort pointed out, is that the game is packaged in a large, bulky case with both discs on one side, resting directly on each other, instead of a 2-disc streamline case. While most games include printed material, and the larger case would be perfect for holding that stuff, everything is digital with this game so it takes up more space on your bookshelf than it really needs to and you have to be a bit more careful not to scratch a disc while removing one to get to the other.
Overall, DARKSTAR is a fun and funny game, and a fabulous addition to any adventure gamer or sci-fi geek’s collection. Unlike most games where, once you play it, you put it away, the film-like aspect, hours of footage, and multiple outcomes, death scenes and other scenarios ensure that you’ll most likely play this game several times and, rather than give it away, tell your friends to get their own copy.
How to Train Your Dragon was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray, but if you’ve already worn your disc out and need a new Dragon fix, then pick up a copy of the film’s companion book, The Art of How to Train Your Dragon by Tracey Miller-Zarneke. Published at the beginning of this year to coincide with the film’s premiere, publisher Newmarket Press has posted an announcement on their website that the title is now back in stock.
The Art of How to Train Your Dragon is a gorgeous hardcover, divided up into five easily accessible sections:
The Dragons: The next best thing to having a Dragon Manual — the dragon field guide that Hiccup consults on-screen (and needs to be replicated in real book form) — this chapter details each of the dragons that appear in the film, from preliminary design sketches through to finished CG animation stills. Stats on the different species, some that aren’t revealed in the film, accompany the illustrations, and thumbnails of several dragons that didn’t make it to the screen are included, as well. Budding fantasy artists will find the material in this section invaluable, not only as a tutorial on how to draw credible dragon anatomy, but as a creative reminder that dragons come in more shapes and sizes than the traditional green dragon seen in storybooks. Not surprisingly, Toothless, as the main dragon and the character who underwent the most changes as he winged from book page to silver screen, dominates The Dragons, with considerable coverage also given to his nemesis, the monstrous Red Death, who received a number of progressively scarier make-overs.
The Vikings: Early sketches, character studies, CG models, and biographies of the film’s human characters add background and depth to the main cast: Hiccup, Astrid and the other dragon trainees, Chief Stoick the Vast, and blacksmith/dragon trainer Gobber. As an added bonus, original drawings by the author of the How to Train Your Dragon books are reprinted alongside the film drawings. A two-page spread is devoted to the design of Berk’s Viking “extras”, and Hiccup’s mother, Valhallarama, who didn’t survive the journey from book to screen, is memorialized.
The Dragon World: Dragon Island’s forbidding environment is showcased, with a focus on the immense Dragon Cave. A maze of shadowy dragon dens, pits, and winding passageways, the intricate Dragon Cave proved to be quite a challenge to build in 3D, leading to it being dubbed “the Swiss Cheese set”.
The Viking World: In an exploration of Berk’s varied landscapes, from the sea to the highest mountain peak, digital paintings take readers on a breathtaking tour of the Viking village, houses, Meade Hall, harbour, and training grounds. In addition, visits are made to Toothless’ secret cove and some intriguing locations that were unfortunately dropped during script revisions. A wealth of sketches and illustrations delve into Viking culture, examining the Vikings’ props, iconography, boats, weapons, statues, and the fascinating Meade Hall carvings and tapestries.
Bringing the Worlds Together… and Bringing It All to the Screen: The final chapter offers a run-down of the tasks assigned to individual units of the film team: story, layout, cinematography, 3D rendering, animation, character effects, general effects, lighting, and editorial. Filmmaker comments take viewers even further behind the scenes of creating a full-length animated film, and the job descriptions may help those who aspire to work in feature animation decide where their skills lie, much like Hiccup finding the place he fits best in Viking society.
The book’s preface is written by Cressida Cowell, whose children’s book of the same name (the first in a series) inspired the How to Train Your Dragon film, which The Art of How to Train Your Dragon classifies as a prequel of sorts to Cowell’s stories. In her introduction, the author engagingly relates the story of her family’s annual camping trips to a remote Scottish island, a tiny, rugged spot that sparked the idea for How to Train Your Dragon and served as a model for the Isle of Berk, the place that her imaginary tribe of Vikings inhabits. Comedian and late-night television host Craig Ferguson, the voice of Gobber, provides a humorous yet heartfelt foreword that reveals how he conquered his fear of flying, singling out a favourite scene from the movie that expresses his newfound passion for flight.
Expertly penned by Walt Disney Feature Animation alum Tracey Miller-Zarneke, The Art of How to Train Your Dragon benefits from the knowledge of an animation insider, coming to life as Miller-Zarneke deftly pulls quotes from the production crew, sprinkling them throughout the book to enhance her narrative. Compared to other “The Art of…” books, the The Art of How to Train Your Dragon does seem to have less of a text-to-pictures ratio, but is still as enjoyable and informative a read as Miller-Zarneke’s prior film animation book, The Art of Kung Fu Panda, and Dragon’s 350-plus images really do speak for themselves. Beautifully printed in full colour on large, glossy pages, the development art, sketches, pencil and marker drawings, storyboards, digital paint renditions, and finished artwork collected in The Art of How to Train Your Dragon makes reading the book feel like a stroll through a fantasy show at an art gallery. The volume’s binding is stitched, rather than glued, so the book lies perfectly flat, which is particularly handy for artists using it as a reference work.
Fans of Disney’s Lilo & Stitch, the previous film helmed by How to Train Your Dragon writer-directors Chris Sanders (whose unique visual style is evident in the look of both films) and Dean DeBlois, will obviously be drawn to this book, but, as Newmarket Press points out, The Art of How to Train Your Dragon is actually “a book for anyone who loves moviemaking, animation, art, Vikings, and, of course, dragons.”
The Art of How to Train Your Dragon is distributed by Newmarket Press. Follow Newmarket Press on Twitter. For more information about How to Train Your Dragon, please visit DreamWorks Animation’s official How to Train Your Dragon website.
Geeks sure do love their online kittehs, the reigning feline of the moment being the star of Simon’s Cat, an award-winning series of short animated films that launched in 2008 and instantly became a YouTube phenomenon. Simon’s Cat made the leap to print last year with the publication of the bestselling Simon’s Cat book, and this season sees the release of its much-anticipated sequel, Simon’s Cat: Beyond the Fence.
The first Simon’s Cat book focused on the homelife of Simon’s Cat, giving readers a peek into his daily routine: exasperating his owner Simon with mischievous antics, hatching plans with his garden gnome friend, playing with a family of hedgehogs that live in the yard, and trying (mostly without success) to get one over on the birds who invade his territory. Simon’s Cat: Beyond the Fence offers up another, bigger helping of Simon’s Cat’s charming, signature style of black-and-white line drawings, but instead of being a fairly random collection of sketches, this book’s illustrations string together to form a loose story. After an encounter with the vacuum cleaner, and being subjected to the indignity of a bath, Simon’s Cat decides to hit the road in search of greener pastures. Along the way, he makes new friends and experiences things that he never imagined as a sheltered housecat, but ultimately realizes, as he eventually tires of his wild adventures, that he had it pretty good back home with the doting Simon. On his return trek — during which he reveals how cats are connected to crop circles! — he’s followed by everyone that he’s met on his journey, resulting in quite a reunion with his old friends… and an even bigger surprise for the poor, unsuspecting Simon.
Publisher Canongate Books says on their website — referring to volume one of Simon’s Cat — that “Simon Tofield’s beautiful drawings and warm humour come alive on the page in the first of a series of irresistible stocking-filler humour books”, hinting that readers can look forward to several more books to paw through between film releases. To that tease, fans of the ever-hungry Simon’s Cat can only respond with a demanding “Meow!”, while pointing expectantly to their mouths.
In addition to the books, a line of Simon’s Cat merchandise, such as mugs, calendars, and plush, is available at the Simon’s Cat Official Web Shop. The brand manager of the Simon’s Cat online store promises that “T-shirts will come eventually. We’re working on getting them into the web-shop.”
Ryan Robertson is an average teenager from a boring family. He isn’t really popular or especially gifted, but he’s got a best friend who’s always there for him and a really hot girlfriend who seems to be way out of his league. Just as school is getting out for the summer, he learns that his parents are going on a trip to Europe, and now, instead of hanging with his friend or getting cozy with his girlfriend, he’s got to go spend the summer with his loony old grandfather. Spending the summer at the farm isn’t exactly his idea of excitement, but soon after arriving he finds himself with his hands full of more excitement than he can handle.
Turns out grandpa isn’t as crazy as Ryan thought he was, and his parents aren’t exactly on a vacation in Europe. He and his grandfather end up on an adventure in Bolivia in search of the Fountain of Youth. Along the way, they face dangerous thugs and a villainous vixen as Ryan gets caught up in, learns about, and becomes a part of his family’s secret life.
The artwork is straightforward, like you find in the classic comics of the 70s and 80s, not the flat, lifeless smears of color and blocky lines that are prevalent in other comics these days. It complements the story well, especially the first part of the book, which is done in sepia tones (because it takes place over 50 years ago) like you might find in a flash-back scene in a movie. I think it’s a really great touch.
As a special bonus, the back-matter of the book includes not only illustrated bios of the writer, artist, letterer and inker, but some great pin-up art in various artistic styles, if you are so inclined to decorate your walls with them. I’d recommend getting two copies if you want to do that, though, because you will probably want to re-read it or pass it on to a friend.
Overall, I found Wonderdog, Inc. to be very entertaining and fun. Even though I hadn’t planned to read it all in one sitting, once I started reading it, I just couldn’t stop. If you like good old-fashioned adventure comics, or you’re looking for something safe to give to younger readers just developing their love of comics, I recommend that you pick up a copy of Wonderdog, Inc.
Wonderdog, Inc. is available at your local comic book store or Amazon.