Matt Baume’s Culture Cruise

I recently came across a really interesting YouTube series (Matt Baume’s Culture Cruise) which analyses the representation of LGBT people in TV shows over the last few decades. Here’s my favourite one so far, based on an episode of Frasier:

The videos area really well made and Matt Baume clearly knows the shows he’s discussing really well, while also having a strong awareness of LGBT history and what was happening when the different shows aired. He speaks about the subject in a fair and considered way – I find him easy and engaging to listen to. Click here if you’d like to see a full playlist. Other episodes I’ve watched spoke about The Simpsons and Quantum Leap – have a look at the playlist as I’m sure you’ll find something you’ve watched on there. They’re such good videos that I just wanted to help them reach as many people as possible!

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Doctor Who: Cat’s Cradle: Witch Mark by Andrew Hunt

The Cat’s Cradle story arc in the Doctor Who New Adventures is nowhere near as cohesive as the Timewrym one. They all deal with the TARDIS being damaged (which happens in Time’s Crucible) but are otherwise not connected – so don’t be put off of reading this if you’ve not read the others, as it is essentially self-contained.

The first book was very much tied into the mythology of the Doctor Who series and something I found quite boring (despite loving the mythology). The second book took the Doctor and Ace on an adventure very different to any they’d been on before – it was a very dark and experimental. The third, meanwhile, feels much more like the kind of Doctor Who story you’d find on television – only if it were a little more adult. And I don’t mean to imply it feels like something we’ve seen before. What I mean is that this feels like a good, new episode of the show.

I may not have enjoyed it quite as much as the second Cat’s Cradle book, but I have to say that this is a pretty solid Doctor Who adventure. The Doctor and Ace arrive in Wales and find that there have been sightings of mythological creatures in the area – sightings which are being covered up. Their paths cross with a couple of American backpackers called Jack and David (whose portions of the story I enjoyed just as much as the Doctor and Ace’s) and I think Andrew Hunt has done an especially good job of not depending too much on the character who we have already been endeared to. Even if this was just a novel about Jack and David, I think I’d have loved it.

The story ends with a satisfying twist which I appreciated very much. It’s a book which wonderfully blends together sci-fi and fantasy – and also realistic day to day life in small rural towns. It’s expertly written and I always found myself excited to read the next chapter. One criticism I have is that there is one particularly strange scene which is never explained – perhaps it will be picked up on in a later novel, but at the moment it just feels like a plot hole. Ignoring that, it’s a pretty good read indeed.

Rating: 8.4/10

Buy it here.

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Unofficial Chinese Pokémon Cards

A few weeks ago, I was blessed with a rare visit from my world travelling friend, Tulin. Together with my housemate Sophie, we went to get some delicious food and had an all-round lovely evening.

Not only was her company appreciated, but so too were the gifts that she brought me, including, most interestingly, some unofficial Chinese Pokémon cards. Here’s a quick look at all of them:

I know the quality of the photo may not be perfect (it took a couple of attempts) but I have to say that I really admire the quality of the cards. Though the art style doesn’t quite match up with what you’d get in official packs, I do like that they have their own aesthetic. My favourite ones from these are Darkrai, Aerodactyl and Geodude. It was a really nice gift and a glimpse at something I’d otherwise never have encountered. I shall keep them safe.

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The one way 3DS will always be above the Switch

I love the Nintendo Switch. It’s a fantastic new addition to Nintendo’s line of consoles. I like that it can be played on the television and on the go. I like lots of the games on it and I like the general aesthetic and design of its interface and hardware. It many senses, it is superior to the Nintendo 3DS. Except one.

StreetPass. I carry my 3DS with me everywhere I go in the hopes of getting a few StreetPass hits. Back in 2011 to 2015, I would get lots of StreetPass hits every day I’d go out. I loved the StreetPass games and the content in other games which you’d get if you did get any StreetPass hits. I also loved the pedometer that it had and how that factored into StreetPass games – I’ve already written a blog post about my love of the 3DS pedometer.

I mean, it’s not perfect. My 3DS is horribly tattered due to the fact that I carry it everywhere with me and I am glad that my Switch isn’t. I just really loved the days of finding people’s Miis inside my console – there was a certain communal feeling to it. It was nice to know that lots of people were playing the same games as me and to have their play-throughs influence my own. The Switch is great – but I’ll always miss StreetPass…

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Battletoads in Battlemaniacs

I kind of enjoyed playing Battletoads on the NES and I found Battletoads on the Game Boy pretty good. As the SNES is a console for which I hold a great deal of nostalgic affection, I was pretty excited to see its Battletoads game.

In some senses, I loved it, in others, I was disappointed – and I think that the disappointed was only due to my own expectations. I was looking forward to seeing a brand new adventure for the toads, but really this game is just a fancy remake of the NES original. The Game Boy version is probably more different from the NES game than this one. I’ll admit that the story is different (the toads go into some kind of virtual reality) and there are a few fancy extra features, but the game is largely the same.

You’ve got a level which is essentially just a remake of the original Turbo Tunnel (with some nicer visuals), you’ve got a level which has you using lots of fast moving snakes as platforms and dodging spikes (just like the original), and a level where you’re racing an enemy downward through a tower (again just like the original) and, most horribly, you’ve got a level which remakes Clinger Winger (an ordeal I hoped never to go through again.)

But I will say that if you go into this expecting a slightly remixed remake, you’ll be delighted. The controls are better than the original, the music is better than the original and the graphics are nicer than the original. It’s also easier than the original, which might be a disappointment to some hardcore fans, but I feel that the first game was too hard and this winding down of the difficulty is a welcome change.

I’d say that if you’re a more casual gamer who always wanted to try Battletoads, then I would certainly recommend this over playing the original. It’s a better experience all round and, unless you really want a challenge, I think most people would prefer this one. I’m surprised it wasn’t included within Rare Replay…

Rating: 7.9/10

Buy it here.

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A Clash of Kings by George R. R. Martin

Attentive readers may remember my review of A Game of Thrones from last year and wonder why I bothered to read the sequel after I clearly didn’t enjoy it very much. The problem is, once I start a novel series, particularly one where I have to invest so much time to just finish the first book, I feel I have to see it through to the end. I am mildly interested to see where it all goes (especially as so many people seem to love the adaptation) and so that’s why I kept going into the second installment.

And you know what? I’m glad I did keep going. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think that it was amazing and I certainly don’t count it as a favourite – but I could tolerate and even enjoy it throughout most of the time I spent reading it. I felt that the first book started to become more interesting towards the end and that trend of being more interesting continued.

I liked that the characters were all quite complex and had different motivations. It was interesting to see the different ways that they interacted with one another. Tyrion in particular was very interesting and I was always glad when there was a chapter focusing on him, because he was always pulling the strings and trying to manipulate events for the greater good. I also found myself a lot more invested in the storylines of Arya and Sansa, but I have to admit that they were pretty distressing too. A new group of people called the Faceless were also introduced and though their role as small – I was fascinated. In my opinion, they’re the best part of the series so far.

But as much as there was a general improvement with the overall quality of the novel, some of the issues from its prequel are just as bothersome here. I’m sure there’s not a single female character whose breasts aren’t described – often repeatedly – every time they’re in a scene. The female characters also all seem to have a bath every single chapter too. Martin just seems to write female characters in embarrassingly creepy way.

Then there’s also the fact that so much time is wasted describing the clothes of different characters and on little pieces of scenery. The book is about 800 pages long (excessive) and it probably only really needs to be about 500, but so much time is wasted describing the colour of the doublets of side characters, the interiors of buildings and the size of thirteen year old girls’ breasts.

The ending seemed a bit sudden, as it did in the first book, as if each novel in the series is just one giant chapter in one overall story, rather than a book of its own. Still, I am interested to know what comes next, so despite the flaws, a small part of me does look forward to the next book…

Rating: 7/10

Buy it here.

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The Dreamer Awakes

I had a very interesting dream the other day – one which I may eventually adapt into a short story, but for now it will make a nice blog post.

In it, I was riding on the bus with a friend of mine at the end of a pleasant evening out. I was heading home and feeling good. Things took a turn for the strange when a man riding on the bus started talking to me.

“It’s time for you to leave the simulation,” he said. “Prepare yourself, this will feel weird.”

Before I could say anything, my friend grabbed my arm and said “Make sure you don’t forget anyone. We can only survive in your mind.”

Then I experienced a sensation which I can only describe as being the opposite of slowly falling into a pleasant dream. I felt almost as if I was being sucked out of a dream – finding myself in a sensory deprivation tank.

I was let out and found myself inside a small, clinical building. Through the window, it looked as though I was in the countryside somewhere near Corsham.

The man then explained to me that I was being used to help in a murder investigation. I had been in a simulation for ten years and placed in a situation where I every person I would befriend was a suspect. All of my friends, in fact, were people who I had never met in reality. I only knew their digital copies in the virtual world.

They used this method because by building friendships with people over ten years and earning their trust, I would be able to provide a thorough insight into their minds. Everything that had happened in the last ten years had been engineered to measure their responses to certain things. Every moment recorded.

I felt a little sad thinking about a world where none of my friends had actually known me and I asked a few questions about how each of them were. Many had been dismissed as not likely to have committed the murder and they told me about their lives over the last ten years, most of which was very nice – if a little bittersweet.

I started to think about the people in the simulation. If they were autonomous copies, to what extent where they less than real people? They believed that they were real and I had formed a real connection with them. Just because it existed in another layer of reality made no difference to its significance.

When the man left the room, I took the opportunity to slip back into the simulation – and so the dream ended. It’s very weird for it to have had such a solid ‘plot’ as that, but I liked it and wanted to share it! It was one of those ones which made me feel a little emotional when I woke up.

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Bone-chilling Terror

It was late at night. I had decided it was time for bed. I headed into my housemate’s room to say goodnight. I thought it was going to be a small and pleasant interaction – but I was wrong. With the witching hour close at hand, the two of us were about to have a bloodcurdlingly terrifying experience.

We noticed that the light was shining upon the wall upon something we’d never seen before. Something so terrifying it chilled us to our very cores. It was, in fact, perhaps the greatest evil to exist in the world and it was there in the bedroom. Many would be driven mad by the sight of it – others might weep, others still might scream. I’m not an easily spooked person, I’ll happily wander around the woods or the streets in the middle of the night (even abandoned buildings) but this really unnerved me.

For you see, by an unfortunate twist of fate, we saw upon the wall – actually, we decided that it was probably best not to write about it publicly. So that’s the end of today’s blog post. I thought that by building it up so enormously, you’d all be less disappointed by the lack of climax. Needless to say, we both managed to get out with our lives. I’m sure your imagination will fill in something much more horrifying than I could write anyway – so, I thought, why would I write an ending when they can make a much better conclusion themselves?

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Donkey Kong Classics

Of the original Donkey Kong trilogy, it’s probably Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. which are the most well known. Donkey Kong Classics gathers together these two iconic games on one NES cartridge.

The original Donkey Kong is pretty fun. It’s the game which introduced the world to Mario, Donkey Kong and Pauline – all of whom have gone on to have lots of later appearances. The controls might seem ever so slightly stiff compared to modern standards, but it doesn’t take too long to get used to. I really enjoy the 8-bit art style (especially Donkey Kong’s original design) and it’s a fun game to play when I have a spare few minutes. Unfortunately, this version of the game is only three levels long (missing the ‘Pie Factory’ level) which is a bit of a shame. The game is very short and not something I’d play again and again, but nice to take for a spin from time to time. Read my full review of it here.

Meanwhile, I don’t enjoy Donkey Kong Jr. quite as much. Some of the gameplay is based around climbing around on vines, which feels really slow and isn’t quite as fun. Donkey Kong Jr. also feels a bit sluggish to control. I do like Donkey Kong Jr. himself and the fact that Mario plays a villainous role. The ending is also pretty nice. Again this is a very short game as there are only four levels and I revisit it much less frequently than I do the first game, but it’s still kind of nice. Read my full review of it here.

So it’s nice that these two games have been packaged together – particularly for those who are fans of either Mario or Donkey Kong (or both). It’s a bit of a shame that Donkey Kong 3 is not included, but I suppose that NES memory limitations might be the issue. It’s also a shame that whenever the NES Donkey Kong games are re-released in Nintendo’s various e-shops, they only include the individual versions of the game – presumably to get more money out of us.

Overall, it’s a couple of slices of Nintendo history. Neither have aged perfectly, but there’s still something to enjoy in them both.

Rating: 6/10

Buy it here.

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A Cosy Moment

Yesterday evening, it was pouring with rain, quite heavily. In my living room, we had the lamp on – filling the room with a dull, comfortable light. I’m at the top floor in an apartment building in Bath – outside in the dark void of night I could see all the twinkling lights of the city below – I sat in silence. It was, perhaps, one of the cosiest moments of my life.

I was inside, in the modern construction of a building, while rain and darkness reigned outside. A mixture of nature and human-made constructions. My favourite city against the natural elements with me safe inside. I felt lucky to be alive.

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