One of the other things I did in the breaks during my very busy Q4 (yes, about nine months ago) is finish up Book II of Ys. My major takeaway: It is amazing how Lunar stole absolutely everything from Ys - Alex, Luna and Lucia, Vane, Ghaleon, Zophar, pictoglyphic friezes, blue-tinged goddess real estate, entire cutscene sequences and shot compositions - and at the same time stole nothing at all, because Ys does absolutely zero with its material. Hey! These are good ideas! Why don't we tell a story with them?! Because Ys sure didn't.

Misframed black bar on top baked-in and not my fault for once.

I've gone over the gameplay failures after Ys I, and that assessment stands. The sequel does add a fireball spell, which makes boss fights play like My First Shooter instead of its predecessor's nonsensical non-affairs, and the puzzles are a bit smarter and more involved this time around, making varied use of a spell that transforms you into an enemy creature. Any hope for a satisfying resolution to the story set up in Ys I takes a big dive here, though, so it's the narrative missteps that have my attention. Ys II is remarkable in its ignorance of how to use the various elements of its medium - both that of the video game and the new CD-based platform on which it was published - to tell a story.

  • the world's friendliest SWAT officer, who kept waving at me for stopping as he crossed the crosswalk
  • obligatory yet welcome T-rexes
  • very alert French bulldog (not a costume)
  • Link w/ spiffy plastic shield & Master Sword
  • more homemade Link with no spiffy shield but no less spirit
  • twin ravens
  • Among Us crewmate/impostor
  • walking vampire teeth (bottom row only)
  • dragon mask with homemade coat of gradated autumn leaves (supposedly the Green Man as per a later conversation, but I'm not seeing it)
  • rainbow Romany girl
  • homemade Cruella de Vil complete with branded Dalmatian bag
  • twin parrots
  • female berserker w/ fur boots
  • traditional princess w/ impressive pink taffeta meringue-whip skirt
  • deer bride (? woman in white dress w/ antlers)
  • little girl steampunk engineer
  • black & red dragon (not original, but the costume was really well-made; a well-formed fuzzy head, like a stuffed animal, with a warm cape just the right length)
  • inflatable dragons; more of these than T-rexes
  • Black Widow
  • hot dog w/ relish ruffles on sides (overheard: "Don't pull on Mom's mustard!", even though Dad was wearing the costume; this was never explained)
  • young surgeon (female STEM representation very strong this year)
  • inflatable...badger? wolverine? it had sharp claws
  • zombie, and that's not original, but the kid kept yelling "BRAAAAAIIIINS!!" and was impressively committed
  • either an owl or No-Face from Spirited Away (this was just a mask with a short fuzzy white blanket draped from it and worn on some sort of support seated on top of the head, and while it was extremely lazy, points for originality)
  • neat looking knight in faux chain mail & a red tabard plus full-face black hood/visor
  • neat green fairy (Tink? absinthe personification?) with pointed wings lit w/ fairy lights
  • pharaoh
  • an adult wearing Pinhead's coat but not anything else Cenobite?
  • someone with just a literal jack o' lantern on their head
  • an older girl with elf ears, a crown, and a red cape, black vest, and white shirt; she looked good, but I got the feeling that she was someone specific and I couldn't identify her
  • another homemade Cruella de Vil with a fur jacket spray-painted red on the back (maybe this happens in the new movie; I don't know)
  • father in Día de los Muertos makeup & a sombrero + daughter in beautiful black & aqua Mexican-inspired princess dress
  • a couple Beetlejuices, which is odd, since they were kids who should be way too young to recognize the character; they must just like his style
  • inflatable BB-8 with old-school Leia (but blonde)
  • a black-clad superhero whom I thought might be Black Bolt but who had some inverted-triangle symbol with vertical lines on top I didn't recognize and can't look up
  • twin Scooby-Doos
  • family of shiny green dragons w/ fabric wings (2 women + child)
  • another female berserker (w/ skull skirt this time - to balance out all the STEM?)
  • an ostrich
  • little twin firemen, parents dressed as a burning building and hydrant, and a stroller doubling as a fire engine (w/ real light-up headlights)
  • sentient rainbow with neat rainbow gradient light-up cape
  • another deer bride, what the hell (is this a Midsommar thing?)
  • guy wearing plastic molded full-head bluebird mask?
  • businessman w/ head being eaten by shark
  • something inexplicable: a dad dressed up as a raccoon with a daughter dressed in gray and a sandwich board saying "ROCK"? ????
  • Eli Wallach from A Fistful of Dollars (this was a kid)
  • glitter shark
  • female lineworker
  • Chica from Five Nights at Freddy's (FNaF costumes were all over a few years ago; fairly unusual now)
  • tons and tons of neon light-up LED Dead by Daylight Legion-like masks with X-ed-out eyes and sewn-up mouths; it couldn't have been Legion, because they were so popular - there were literally dozens - but they looked neat
  • inflatable rainbow unicorn
  • a flamingo
  • either just Zorro with a long, full beard or practicing Orthodox Zorro
  • an older kid in a black robe holding just like a hobbyhorse unicorn head in front of him; I don't know if this was meant to communicate that he had beheaded the unicorn - the message was unclear
  • evil Ralphie from A Christmas Story in his rabbit jammies w/ a bloody baseball bat
  • Slipknot-loving unicorn in band T-shirt (as this unicorn passed, a kid called out: "there are so many unicorns!")
  • man with just a literal tree branch tied with rope to his back
  • Amanita mushroom

Mini Motorways

Gameplay: Connect neighborhoods with shopping centers, workplaces, and other destinations to keep traffic moving on your highway network.

How is it?: I've platinumed the predecessor to this game, Mini Metro, despite the devs constantly trying to take that away from me by issuing new levels six years after release. It's not an exaggeration to call Mini Metro an all-time classic, turning the iconic art of subway maps into a satisfying game of transportation line management combining long-term planning with rapid responsiveness and thinking on your feet.

This doesn't measure up, and it's primarily because, bluntly, the flow of traffic cheats. Locations seem to spawn their own artificial "demand" for motorists independent of your population, and you can lose through no fault of your own just because the map hasn't spawned enough of the right type of houses. In one game, I had a direct expressway connecting the only neighborhood in one category right to the doorstep of its only matching destination, and the destination still timed out. There was literally nothing I could do.

The game design is also littered with careless, aggravating dead ends, like the traffic lights that are utterly useless or the houses that spawn in the stupidest, most wasteful locations and orientations or the roundabouts that facilitate traffic flow in a way that real roundabouts don't but that require room you'll never have in the busy locations where they could actually help. It's just not as smart or tightly-designed as its predecessor - or as successful puzzle games in general, for that matter. It looks purty, but avoid.


Crossniq+

Gameplay: Connect tiles of the same color to form crosses on a 6x6 grid by shifting entire rows & columns.

How is it?: It has a heavy 2000s-era Lumines vibe with its clean interface and photorealistic backgrounds, which I dig, and the gameplay isn't bad, either. I just wish there were more single-player content: more modes, more unlockable BGM tracks, more colors for the tiles. The special-ability tiles are reserved for local multiplayer only, and the Coloris-style shifting tile graphics appear only in an aimless scoreless mode. The game could use more than one background, too. And you can't play against an AI. This isn't a bad diversion for a couple hours, and I appreciate the effort, but both the presentation and the gameplay could use further exploration.

(That said: I suspected, given the polish in what is present, that the missing content was due to a lack of manpower and possibly a solo dev, and an AMA proves that hunch correct. Here's hoping that the dev gets the funding for an update or sequel with that story mode and single-player versus.)


Link-a-Pix

Gameplay: Connect matching numbers on a Picross grid using lines composed of the same number of squares to form nonogram art.

How is it?: The puzzles are huge, colorful, and well-drawn, and you get a ton of them, particularly for the price. If you like illustration-based number logic puzzles but want a variant from Picross, you won't go wrong with this. The only problem: a couple pages in, the puzzles start taking 45+ minutes to complete. Not great for those of us looking for just a quick puzzle hit. (But there are DLC packs of shorter puzzles to fix that problem.)


Dark Fantasy Jigsaw Puzzle

Gameplay: Connect jigsaw puzzle pieces to reveal van art breasts.

How is it?: This is a jigsaw game for people who just want to kind of half-ass playing a jigsaw game. You see the art blurrily beneath the assembly field and can just sort of drop a piece in the general vicinity of its spot to fit it in. Look, intellectual rigor is not exactly this title's selling point:

Well, that's not a screenshot. Actually, I didn't take many screenshots, because I found out soon after purchasing that all the art is just available as .pngs in the game's steamapps folder. And, actually, that shot's misleading, as most of the women aren't as tastefully clothed as female Julious up there. Here's the only screenshot I bothered to take, of the last puzzle, which is more representative of the title:

All right, not all of it is that far, either. Split the difference between the two, weighted toward the latter example. I don't know exactly why I purchased this, jokes about my own potential obliviousness aside. Some things are mysteries. It's not the sort of purchase I can recommend, but I'd be lying if I didn't say I didn't have a bad time with it. If you're in the mood for this type of art, you might want to hit up the artist's page. (Also, since commission pricing has been a hot topic around here, those commission tiers are eminently reasonable given the work involved.)

I've been having a pretty good day. I'm actually on the road, touring the great postage stamp that is the Ocean State, seeing its little-visited western half. On the way, I got some photos of this gorgeous marsh ringed by peak-autumn foliage by with silvery pampas grass in the foreground and lilies on the surface - just a stunning contrast. I note that my first day's destination is near Mystic, CT, where I had a memorable day trip with my father when I was a kid, so I nabbed what turned out to be a good hotel room at a reasonable rate, went downtown, ate at Mystic Pizza (veg pie, could used more salt), had a delicious lemon-choco-chunk and Indian pudding ice cream cone, and so enjoyed window shopping that I've decided to stay tomorrow, see the aquarium, and tour Mystic in earnest. I snagged a replacement charger for the one I forgot to bring from home so I could relax with a little Dead by Daylight and the brand new tome with cosmetics for my beloved Yun-Jin and Trickster (man, that is a Blanche Devereaux starter outfit they gave Yun-Jin - which is fine for Blanche, but not for Yun-Jin).

Then I'm getting into bed, and I think, oh, wait! In the rush out the door this morning, I forgot not only my laptop charger but to check Akari Funato's Skeb! I didn't expect commissions to reopen so soon, but to my delight, I find - success! She's Seeking once more. At last, the hour is at hand...to correct the error of my stupid bank from...what was it, a week ago?

I see, though, that the suggested starting bid for a commission has gone up significantly - from 20,000 yen to 33,000 yen. That's...a lot. Furthermore, I had put a significant bonus on top of my initial bid to attract attention and maybe a little extra detail in the work. I can't afford that bonus now - the minimum's a hefty ask as it is. I won't have an attention-grabbing bid, and I can't guarantee an extra-nice piece. But, you know, the heck with it! I'm still cursing my bank under my breath for not getting in at a lower price point, but this is a once-in-a...well, not lifetime, but a several-months purchase, at least. An Akari Funato image of Morris in 2021 is still worth a hefty price to me. It's been a long day, but I'm ready to babysit this commission and/or bug my bank - all night, if need be! All right, at least until 2 or 3. I sign in, fill in my request, hit "Submit," and...

I'm greeted with another error message. Not remotely the one I expected, though.

The text includes the creator-specified premium term "Vheen".
Please submit an offer of at least 60,000 yen or try revising your request.

60,000 yen. That's over $500 U.S. as of this writing. What I feared happening seems to have indeed happened - requests for Lunar work (Vheen Hikuusen in particular) started coming in after the Ghaleon piece, Funato took umbrage at being pigeonholed by her Lunar stuff as she was back in the '90s, and so she set a price high enough to deter anyone from making the requests in the first place. I doubt getting my request in last week would have mattered - she takes offense to being asked to do Lunar stuff at all, even of her own creation. Even if I were in a position just to burn $500+ outright, if an artist doesn't want to do a request, you're not going to get a good piece.

Even though I love Vheen Hikuusen to death and think it's absolutely Funato's masterpiece, I understand her frustration with being identified with a work that's part of another creator's franchise instead of her own stuff. I think I would have had more respect, though, if she had just refused requests with "Lunar" or "Vheen"/"Vane" in them outright rather than charging double for a begrudging commission. For $500, I could get a lot of fan art from fan artists who would most likely put more love into the final product. I'm happy that Skeb is working out for Funato, but at this point, I'd rather give that money to someone else.