A Thousand Words: The Story of Ricky

Riki-Oh: The Story of Ricky

It’s time to review one of my favorite movies of all time. The story of The Story of Ricky is one of bizarre decision-making. A Hong Kong producer looked at a Fist of The North Star knockoff manga and bought the rights. Then came the decision to make the movie. However, it comes across as having almost all of the budget spent on fake blood. And most of the rest spent renting out the sets for the jail.

The plot is this: The titular character ends up in a prison and gets into fights. Actually, that isn’t quite right. There is only one properly choreographed bout in the entire film. The rest is just someone getting hit and cheesy, bloody special effects resulting. That’s basically how you can describe the entire movie, and it is amazing. Hearing the bad-as-you’d expect English dubbing is part of the fun.

This movie is, in its own stupid, horrible way, a masterpiece. It’s one of the best “B-movies” I’ve seen and if you don’t mind (fake-looking but still plentiful) gore, then you have to watch this. Don’t expect well, anything technically good from it. But do expect a lot of fun.

A Thousand Words: Wario Land 4

Wario Land 4

When I was a kid, I got a Game Boy Advance, and one of the available games that early in the product’s life cycle was Wario Land 4. It’s still one of my favorite platformers ever, and learning about it and the character’s history has made it even better.

Wario’s origin apparently came from the Game Boy team loathing having to make a Mario game, viewing him as this ugly mustached intruder. So for Super Mario Land 2, they made an ugly mustached intruder. By a good coincidence, flipping the letter “M” in Mario led to a viable pun in both Japanese (Warui) and English (War) for a villain. Wario became popular enough to get his own games.

The excuse plot is Wario finding about an ancient pyramid and then heading off to plunder it. He travels through paintings into various dimensions (it just dawned on me now that this is a parody of Mario 64), and goes on weird escapades. This is a well-done game. The platforming is very good, and the colorful setup manages to work around the GBA’s infamous dark screen without being too obnoxious. It also ditches the outdated arcade holdover “life” system completely-if you die, you just get pushed back to the hub and have to restart the level.

What’s made me extra-fond of this game is that it’s the first that I mastered. I remember how fun it was to be able to effortlessly beat bosses that used to give me trouble, and recall being able to constantly stunlock one boss as a moment of pride. (Also, it was actually hard to accidentally get the worst ending, but I remember being “bad” on purpose to do so as yet another challenge). The GBA had a lot of clunkers, but this was not one of them.

Review: Hit And Fade

Hit And Fade

The second book in the Forgotten Ruin series, Hit And Fade features the timeshifted Rangers going against something close to the original Fuldapocalypse “mascot”. Not a zombie sorceress, but a lich, a zombie sorcerer. I guess his sister was off provoking a Third World War and disabling the nuclear warheads.

The book is very similar to its predecessor in terms of quality, which makes it a little hard to review (in contrast to the original). All of what I’ve said about the good and bad parts has been stated already, and it doesn’t feel that different. If I had to say something, I’d say that the contrivances in worldbuilding add up when repeated, and that there aren’t enough new good qualities to make up for that.

Still, this is not a bad book. Its flaws are not insurmountable, and if this was the first in the series that I’d read, I’d probably feel differently. If you want to see Rangers fighting a skeleton mage, you’re in the right place.

Review: No Man’s Land

No Man’s Land

The 58th Kirov book, No Man’s Land takes the series to World War I. It has tanks and monsters, but not monstrous tanks. This installment isn’t quite as good as The Mission, and returns somewhat to the “excuse to show a bunch of battles” plot format. This isn’t unexpected from the series, but it is a little disappointing after seeing the previous one be a little more cohesive.

This is Kirov, for better or worse. It’s got all the weird elements and now it’s making them even weirder. This is not a bad thing. I still don’t think it’s really possible for the series to end gracefully by this point. It’s going to be some mushed-up variation of “destroy everything”, “reset everything”, and/or “just stop”. But I honestly don’t care.

Review: The Mission

The Mission

The 57th Kirov book, The Mission is a delightful change of pace. For a start, the absolute basics are changed. It’s less of a long, big, every-tank-and-every-missile wargame lets play like the past two seasons. This alone makes it preferable to the formula that was wearing out its welcome after sixteen previous installments.

The setting is also different. And by different, I mean “a lot more awesome”. There’s not only a change of scenery back to the Russian Civil War and airship fights, but the ridiculous goofy time manipulation and mystical elements come back with a vengeance. It reminds me of the later Payday 2 metaplot, and I say this as a total compliment.

This book was a lot of fun, the most I’ve had with Kirov in a while.

Review: I Refuse To Be Your Enemy Volume 1

I Refuse To Be Your Enemy! Volume 1

It’s time to review another light novel with an overlong title, this one being Kanata Satsuki’s I Refuse To Be Your Enemy! Now, a bit of explanation is in order. Much as how Mack Bolan spawned a glut of mobster-slaying vigilantes, thus the success of Hamefura led to a ton of “reincarnated as a previously doomed video game character” tales that continue to this day. And this is no exception, with game villainess Kiara Credias realizing her predicament and trying to change things.

The problem with this compared to My Next Life As A Villainess is that the latter didn’t go the easy route of just munchkining through with foreknowledge. Instead, Katarina tried to munchkin her way through with foreknowledge and it didn’t work (except it did in that she survived happily). In this case, the “win through foreknowledge” is played much straighter. This is both less amusing in its own right and clashes with the still-present goofy antics.

While this isn’t technically bad , it’s still little more than a 51% book.

Review: My Next Life As A Villainess Volume 3

My Next Life As A Villainess Volume 3

The third volume of My Next Life As A Villainess takes place after the original planned ending of the story. In-universe, it takes place after Katarina has “beaten the game”. There’s two reasons why this declines in quality. The first is that the second volume was such a good stopping point that it feels a little wrong (even if understandable) to go past it. The second is that the setup just really isn’t that deep, so it’s especially vulnerable to getting worse as it gets bigger.

The structural fundamentals present in the past two books are still there, for better and worse. But it’s definitely lost something. Going from “someone tries to munchkin a setting through foreknowledge and successfully ‘fails’ because she thinks it’s still railroaded when it’s not” to just “light fantasy antics” is a big step down. There’s a reason why, despite enjoying the first two installments, the third is the last I’ve read, with little motivation to keep going further.

Review: Forgotten Ruin

Forgotten Ruin

A lot of books are what I call “median 51%”, middle of the road stuff that’s perfectly fine to read but which can be hard to actually review well. Then there’s Jason Anspach and Nick Cole’s Forgotten Ruin. I can hardly think of a better example of a “Mean 51%” book. The means a work of fiction that does some things very well and others-not so much. This kind of book can both be disappointing and engaging, and perfect to critique.

Since its magic-vs-technology, fantasy-vs-firepower conflict is music to my ears, I knew I had to check it out. So how was it?

From the start, it’s written in first-person, which I consider suboptimal for thrillers. But this isn’t a deal-breaker. A lot of the characters are one-note stereotypes and the main narrator comes across as a macho ass. But that’s not a deal-breaker either.

The bigger dichotomy comes from the worldbuilding and action. To be frank, the worldbuilding doesn’t live up its potential. It puts its modern military heroes in a fantasy world, but then does nothing but stuff it full of generic fantasy creatures. And the contrivances needed to set it up range from “oh, this political reference is really hamfisted and likely will age quickly” to “OH COME ON!”. (What a coincidence the main character is a linguist who just happens to be able to speak all the right languages, which are variations of existing human ones!)

Then there’s the fighting, which is of course the centerpiece of this kind of book. I’m also of two minds on this. On one hand, at times it reminded me of artificial Payday 2 assault waves where masses of enemies just keep charging forward into superior firepower, which is not a good thing. But on the other, there were instances of cleverness and, more importantly, the setup was evenhanded. As I’ve seen way too much fiction where the “primitives” are just tomato cans for the “awesome modern armies”, this was a welcome change.

While I had mixed feelings about this, its premise is good enough and well executed enough to make me want to continue. And it’s the kind of book I really enjoyed thinking about and writing about. And that alone makes it worthwhile to me.

Review: The Hungry Dead of Yu-Ching And Other Stories

The Hungry Dead of Yu-Ching And Other Stories

From Sea Lion Press author Paul Leone comes The Hungry Dead of Yu-Ching And Other Stories, a series of horror-fantasy-thriller tales spanning history. From the ancient past to the Cold War and beyond, he brings to life one supernatural confrontation after another. Each story is short but sharp and never wears out its welcome.

I might be biased given the preferred subject matter of Fuldapocalypse, but I liked the “Red Dawn [no relation to the movie], Operation ___” stories the best. It’s very hard to go wrong with Soviet commandos facing extranormal enemies, and I grinned at every word of those tales. Not that the others were bad by any means, but these were my favorite.

In short, this is a very fun collection. I enjoyed it a lot and highly recommend it.

Review: Whirlwind

Whirlwind

The 56th book in the Kirov series and the conclusion of its third World War III arc is Whirlwind. By this point, the same issues present in any other installment are there. The prose is what it is, and the “time travel soap opera mixed with wargame AARs” is familiar as well. A large chunk of this book doesn’t even pretend to be a conventional narrative and just recaps the war in detail.

While this (supposedly) second-to-last arc in the series doesn’t just nuke everything and overwrite the timeline like its predecessor, it leaves an uncomfortable feeling. The talk about how weapons and doctrine in-universe evolved gave me the impression that Schettler would pull the football yet again and have yet another four-books-too-long wargame sim. Especially because the main ship plot does have a lot of genuine promise.

The concept of the titular ship’s crew going back in time to stop delightful supervillain Ivan Volkov from destroying the timeline is a great one, and I know very well that you could merge such a plot with wargame scenarios. But even my patience is wearing down with the formula. The circle could be squared if the ship and its crew got a good final conclusion while allowing the toy box lets plays to continue, but I’m not really confident in that happening.