Alexa has gotten an interesting new addition, and in the near future the smart assistant may also be able to continue a discussion without using a wake word.
To correspond with what’s known as ‘Alien Day,’ Alexa has a new skill called Offworld Colony Simulator. According to Fortune, you can use the skill on all devices that have Alexa. The skill is a game that’s similar to roleplaying games and that uses voice prompts and responses to challenge you to get away from a Xenomorph. There have been other voice-based RPGs available on Alexa (like The Magic Door). This one, though, is for sci-fi and Alien lovers.
There’s also news that Alexa may soon gain some more useful abilities. TechCrunch reports that Alexa users will be able to talk with Alexa more naturally and have Alexa remember certain things they choose.
Currently, when you want to use Alexa, you have to use a wake word (like “Alexa” or “Echo”). But in the future, Alexa will not always need you to use the wake word when you’re asking follow-up questions. So if you ask a question and then need more information, you won’t have to wake Alexa up all over again and form a complete new question. This will make conversations with Alexa flow more smoothly and be a little easier to manage.
As TechCrunch notes, you’ll also be able to ask Alexa to remember things. You can ask her to remember peoples’ birthdays or other important pieces of information. Then you’ll be able to ask her about that information in the future and retrieve it easily.
All of this is meant to give Alexa a more expansive and useful memory. It will make her more personal to each user’s account and it will make conversations with her feel a step closer to a conversation with a human (though, of course, we’re not fully there yet).
Offworld Colony Simulator is available to play now, while Alexa’s new memory updates are coming soon (TechCrunch says there’s not yet a launch date).
Xbox One gamers will soon be able to play more of the old games they remember. Forbes is reporting that more original Xbox games are becoming backwards compatible, making them playable on Xbox One.
These games will be released in two batches over the course of the month, and the games include some that have gamers very excited. People using Xbox One will be able to play original Xbox games like “The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind” and “Star Wars: Battlefront,” along with many other popular titles (including several other Star Wars titles).
According to Tom’s Guide, there are currently 13 original Xbox games that are backwards compatible. These were released last October, and they include games like “Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic” and “Fusion Frenzy.” And, of course, a large number of Xbox 360 games are also playable on Xbox One. These classic Xbox games, however, are particularly exciting since there were so few playable up until now.
Forbes gives the following schedule for the release of the backwards compatible games:
- Blinx: The Time Sweeper
- Conker: Live & Reloaded
- The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind
- Hunter: The Reckoning
- Jade Empire
- Panzer Dragoon Orta
- SSX 3
- Destroy All Humans!
- Full Spectrum Warrior
- Mercenaries: Playground of Destruction
- MX Unleashed
- Panzer Elite Action: Fields of Glory (Europe only)
- Star Wars: Battlefront
- Star Wars: Battlefront 2
- Star Wars: Jedi Knight: Jedi Academy
- Star Wars: Jedi Starfighter
- Star Wars Knights of the Old Republic 2: The Sith Lords
- Star Wars: Republic Commando
If you own an Xbox One and want to go back and replay these classic games, keep a close watch on the schedule this month. If you own any of these discs, you’ll be able to begin playing them on your Xbox One. If you have them as digital downloads, you’ll be able to find them in your list of games, ready to be installed.
It’s very nearly spring, and for some, the urge to start spring cleaning has already hit. (It definitely has for me—I went for “late winter cleaning” instead.) Spring arrives on the 20th of this month. So if you’re about ready to get started cleaning out your garage or your messy closet, you should know there are some great and super helpful apps out there.
Here are just some of the ways you can improve your spring cleaning with apps!
- Any.do (Android & iOS): Any.do is a to-do list, calendar, and more. You can get reminders and schedule times for you to accomplish whichever spring cleaning tasks you want. You can even share your to-do list and set up certain tasks for certain people, and there are many more helpful features.
- BrightNest (Android & iOS): BrightNest lets you plan your cleaning schedule and get tips on how to accomplish tasks. You can get reminders, and you can look through their tips for cleaning and organizing, among other useful features.
- OurHome (Android & iOS): If you’re spring cleaning with other people in your home, OurHome can help. You can assign different tasks to different people, set up rewards, get reminders, view progress, and more.
- Sortly (Android & iOS): Sortly is a great way to set up an organized system as you finish spring cleaning a section of your home. With this app, you can take photos of your stuff and then tag them, add notes, put them in different folders, keep track of who you loaned items to, and more. Using this app throughout the year could make spring cleaning even easier next time around.
- Spring Cleaning Checklist (Android): With this app, you can create a helpful checklist for getting all your tasks done. You can organize your checklists by different areas of the home. There are also videos that give tips for cleaning, and you can listen to a playlist while cleaning.
- Wunderlist (Android & iOS): With Wunderlist, you can create different lists and keep up with your tasks. You can share lists, add photos, discuss tasks, set reminders, and more.
Make it fun
- EpicWin (Android & iOS): EpicWin can make completing your tasks a little more fun. It’s a to-do list in the form of an RPG. Instead of just checking off tasks as you complete them, you have a character that can gain XP and develop. There are “animated battles” as you complete tasks, you can find loot, and more. There are also some typical features, like reminders.
- Habitica (Android & iOS): With Habitica, you can treat your tasks like a game. Finishing tasks allows you to level up your avatar. You can go on quests, fight with your friends (helping you stay accountable and on track), and gain rewards as you progress.
There are plenty of websites that offer tips for effective and safe cleaning! Here are just a few sites you can check out.
Get rid of unwanted stuff
Once you’ve cleaned out your closets and under your bed, you’ll likely have some items you don’t need anymore.
For those things that aren’t really worth anything and that you couldn’t sell, you should look into recycling. One app for this is iRecycle. This app is available for Android and iOS. Using this app, you can use your location to find recycling centers near you. After choosing which type of item you’re wanting to recycle, the correct recycling centers will be suggested for you.
If you have items someone might want to purchase, selling online is much simpler than it once was. You can sell through a site like eBay, an app like LetGo, or a service like Facebook’s Marketplace.
For help getting rid of your stuff, check out my article about selling online!
Tech Spotlight is back this week with more cool and useful tech! Each week, I’m finding the most interesting or helpful tech-related products on Amazon and telling you all about them. With the new year quickly approaching, consider starting 2018 right with some fun new tech!
Roav is a simple-looking device that can do much more than you might expect. Roav plugs into your car’s lighter socket and helps take care of your music, charging, calling, and car finding needs. It uses Bluetooth or FM radio to let you play your music through your car’s stereo system. You can also use Roav for a hands-free device to make calls while you’re in your vehicle.
While you’re listening or talking, you can charge your devices—it has two USB ports for car charging, and it’s designed to charge quickly. It’s described as using “high-speed charging” no matter what charging cable you’re using and regardless of what device it is.
It also helps you keep track of what’s going on with your car. Using Roav’s app, you can keep up with how your car’s battery is doing. You can also take steps to avoid losing your car. If you’re parking somewhere confusing, or if you tend to forget where you’ve parked in the parking garage, you can use the Roav app to take a picture of your car, set a timer so you don’t run out of time on your meter, and even place a pin at your car’s location so you can find it later using the map.
Roav by Anker is a great multi-purpose device that could potentially consolidate a number of other devices you’re thinking of getting for your car. Take a look at Roav to make your car’s tech a little more convenient.
This set of headphones from Mpow is a well-reviewed and affordable choice for your listening needs. The Bluetooth headset works with PCs, phones, TVs, and any other devices with Bluebooth capabilities. It has hi-fi sound and can be used wirelessly or with the cord Mpow provides. Whenever the battery runs low, all you have to do is plug it in and charge it.
The headphones go over your ears, and they use a “memory-protein ear cushion” that’s designed to be soft and comfortable. You can also adjust the headphones so they fit properly. Also, the sliders you use to adjust the headphones are also used to fold them for easy carrying.
Mpow’s headphones also work well for hands-free calling. The headset has a microphone built in, so you can make calls when you’re using the headphones wirelessly.
If you’re looking for great headphones at a great price, check out Mpow’s Bluetooth Headphones!
The Genius Kit from Osmo is a great way to take your own devices and turn them into educational tools for the young ones in your life. Osmo Genius Kit requires an iPad to use. With your iPad, there are five available games that let kids (ages 5 to 12) use their hands and learn about subjects like math and spelling.
The Genius Kit also helps kids practice certain skills. For instance, the Masterpiece game helps with drawing skills. The Tangram game works on spatial thinking, and the Newton game lets kids work on their problem-solving skills.
The product looks simple, with the stand for your iPad and some game pieces, but all together, Osmo Genius Kit makes an iPad something completely different. Kids can learn important subjects with just one device and the Genius Kit. Consider getting the Osmo Genius Kit for a child in your life!
In case you didn’t know, smartphones and tablets aren’t just for playing Clash of Clans and watching viral cat videos at any given moment. Mobile devices can also be used to expand your knowledge and keep you in good mental shape!
There are many apps available that can help people exercise their minds and learn more about mentally-challenging subjects. There are, of course, games like Sudoku and crossword puzzles readily available. Other apps, though, use games and other techniques to do things like keep your mind fit and improve your memory. Though these apps have not all been studied to see what the results of using them are, they are at least entertaining and typically feel good to play.
If you’re like me, you might decide to keep at least one app on your phone or tablet that is slightly more educational than your typical bubble shooter game. Here is just a sampling of apps you might want to use to keep your brain on its toes (so to speak):
Brain Yoga Brain Training Game
Brain Yoga is an app available through Google Play and in the App Store. The app uses games to improve many aspects of the mind, including improving memory and vocabulary. There are currently eleven different kinds of puzzle games, and there are different ranges on difficulty for each one. The description in Google Play specifically mentions there isn’t any “timer pressure” and there aren’t any “high scores,” meaning there’s no stress. The games are bright, colorful, and clean. Brain Yoga is a good option for a multi-purpose mind exercise app.
Elevate – Brain Training Games
Elevate is another multi-use mind training app that is available on Google Play and in the App Store. The app has over 40 games, and it helps with things like productivity and math. It also strengthens memory and other cognitive processes. It personalizes your challenges for you as you use it, and it makes a point to challenge its users. Check out Elevate for a personalized and expansive set of mind-exercising games.
Lumosity – Brain Training
Lumosity is available on Google Play and in the App Store. It has over 50 games intended to improve your brain in many different ways. It’s touted on their website as being “created by scientists and game designers.” The games do things like improve memory and the ability to pay attention. It also keeps track of your progress and shows you how your training is going. Lumosity is a hugely popular mind exercise app. Take a look at their website to see what Lumosity has to offer.
Mind Games is a multi-purpose brain exercise app that is on Google Play and in the App Store. It has almost three dozen games intended to exercise the mind in areas like attention and vocabulary. Many of the listed games also focus on improving memory. The app will show you a graph of the progress you’ve made, so you can keep track of how you’re doing. The app description does note that some of the games can be played up to three times and then must be upgraded to play more, but since there are quite a few games, this may not become an issue. Mind Games is a decently popular option for exercising your mind.
Peak can be found on Google Play and in the App Store. It focuses on a range of different skills, like coordination, emotional control, and like most others, memory. There are more than 40 available games, and the App Store description notes the games were “developed by neuroscientists and game experts.” The app is free, but you can also get access to Pro features for a cost. You can also go up against your friends who have the app, giving this app a bit of a competitive air. Peak is a fairly well-known and expansive choice for a multi-use mind training app.
There are tons of gift options out there, but one cool way to make someone feel special is to get them something that has been personalized just for them. With the holiday season fast approaching, it’s time to start thinking gifts—and even if you won’t really be buying winter holiday gifts, you might at least be hunting for good birthday presents.
With all the custom gift ideas out there, it might be hard to pick out some of the more interesting or fun ones. It’s hard to go wrong with a custom photo gift, like a mug or a canvas print. But if you want something just a little bit different, you’ve got a lot to work with.
Whether you’re shopping around for a child, a friend, a family member, a significant other, or anyone else on your list, the following twelve items might give you some ideas for a special gift!
Books and Prints
I See Me! Personalized Books
I See Me! personalized children’s books are great for kids of many different ages. There are storybooks, coloring books, and assorted sets. Some of the books include photos of the child, and others have various customization options. The book can use your child’s name and other relevant pieces of information. For instance, “My Night Before Christmas” lets you customize the name and town, as well as other bits of information, and you can include a dedication, photo, and more. There are books for different occasions, like birthdays and Christmas, and there are different adventures and stories, as well. If you know a child who enjoys reading, one of these personalized books could make them feel pretty special.
Custom House Portrait
The home can create warm feelings for a lot of people. With a custom portrait, you can gift someone artwork that represents an important home. It might be a new family home, a childhood home, or any special place. If you have detailed photos of the outside of the home, you can have a custom portrait handmade as a gift. There are many artists and shops offering this service—a quick search will find a lot of them. One with good reviews on etsy is Custom house Portrait by AllaboutANN. These portraits are done in watercolor. You can see examples on their product page and then have a special home portrait made for that important person on your list.
Soundwave Jewellery is a shop that makes custom soundwave engravings from short sound clips. You could record yourself saying “I love you,” reciting a short quote, or speaking some special phrase. How long your recording can be depends on the jewelry you choose to have engraved. You might also want to use a short recording from a loved one who has passed away. There are rings, necklaces, and bracelets available for customization. Having a soundwave engraved is a special and beautiful way to hold on to a memory.
Custom Birthstone Necklace
Birthstones can be a lovely gift for a friend or family member. Even better are customized birthstone pieces. This custom birthstone necklace by delezhen has birthstones in the shape of leaves and includes a small engraved pendant with a letter or number of choice. You could gift someone a necklace with their own birthstone, or you could customize a necklace with the birthstones of the giftee’s children. There are a lot of options—you can even have one that has 20 birthstones and 20 engraved leaves (though that might be a bit much). There are other customizable birthstone pieces on etsy and elsewhere, but this particular necklace might be the right gift for someone on your list.
Morse Code Bracelet
Morse code jewelry, like soundwave jewelry, gives you a special way to send a message. You can have all sorts of morse code pieces made, using pendants, charms, rings, and nearly anything you can think of. The morse code bracelets by Houseofcharmz are particularly fun. They arrive on a card that says what the morse code means. There are some message ideas, like “Friend” and “Mother,” but you can also use a custom word. They’re also a reasonably priced but special customizable gift. These bracelets are a great option if you want to send a message in a slightly different way.
Toys and Games
A Cuddle Clone is just one of the many options available for custom stuffed animals. You can have stuffed toys created using all different sources. With Cuddle Clones, you can give the gift of a stuffed toy replica of a beloved pet. You can also have a figurine made. Cuddle Clones are made using photos and descriptions as guides. A stuffed toy could be a great way to make sure someone remembers their companion forever. It’s also pretty funny to capture the real deal trying to figure out what’s going on with their stuffed doppelganger. You might want a Cuddle Clone for yourself, too, but one could be a wonderful gift for pet lovers of all ages.
With Crayola Imaginables, you can turn a piece of art into something cuddly. If you know a child who likes to create, you might have their work made into a toy for them to keep. All you have to provide is a picture and description of the art. The art is turned into a plush that’s around 16 inches tall (or you can ask for a 30 inch plush). he toys are hypoallergenic and sewed by hand. Like most custom plushes, an Imaginable doesn’t come cheap. But one could be a memorable present for a child during the holidays or on their birthday.
Personalized Monopoly Board Game
You can have many different games customized in some way, whether it’s putting your photo on a deck of cards or having initials engraved in a chess board. A cool twist on this, though, is the Personalized Monopoly Board Game. Your customized Monopoly board can have all kinds of different layouts and sayings, and they can be for different occasions, like graduations or birthdays. You add your own photos to the Monopoly board’s center area. A customized Monopoly board could be a great gift for a family member or friend who wants to have a special gameboard to play with and hold on to as a keepsake.
Personalized Pint Glass
The Gold Rimmed Personalized Pint Glass by HomeWetBar is a simple but elegant personalized gift. Pint glasses are nice to have even if you’re drinking non-alcoholic beverages, so they can make a nice present for most adults. There are many options for having personalized drinkware made, but these particular glasses are well-reviewed, and they’re simple enough that you can feel confident most people would like them. You can have an individual’s or couple’s monogram placed on the glass. Take a look at their design and see if this is the right gift for someone you know. Whether you want this specific design or not, you’ll have plenty of choices for personalized glassware.
Portrait Personalized Cookie Cutter
This personalized cookie cutter is a cute way to give someone a gift they’ve almost certainly never received before. The shop owner, Copypastry, uses the image you submit to make your custom cookie cutter with 3D printers. This gift could be pretty tasty if you also included some cookies made with the cutter. If you’re not sure anyone you know would want cookies shaped like their faces, you can also have a cookie cutter made from a pet’s portrait. Not only would this gift make interesting cookies, it could also just be something cool for your friend or family member to keep on display.
Custom Pet Pillow Keychain
Keychains are another popular way to give someone a customized gift. Instead of having initials or a name engraved in wood, consider giving someone a Custom Pet Pillow Keychain from Red Cloud Studio. These keychains are about 2” by 4” and display pets on small, custom-shaped pillows. The keychains are double sided and are a fun way to show love for a pet, whether the pet is still around or has crossed the rainbow bridge. Just submit a photo and they’ll print it for your keychain—simple. If you know someone who loves their pet(s) and wants to proudly display them, this could make a special gift.
Custom Face Magnets
You might not think of magnets as the most exciting gift to give (or receive), but some personalized magnets are different from the rest. These Custom Face Magnets by JordanGraceOwens are illustrated by hand using the photo(s) you submit. They’re small—about an inch—but look cute and fun. You can have six made in one order, so you could give these as a gift to a family. Or you could have two made for a couple’s special occasion, or just one for a friend. There are plenty of options. They’re a little pricey, but they’d make a unique gift for someone on your shopping list.
Pokémon Go was, as you surely remember, an enormous hit in the Summer of 2016. It seemed like everyone everywhere was playing—myself included. Parks and all kinds of outdoor areas were filled with people walking to hatch eggs and running to catch highly-coveted Pokémon. As the months passed, players began to drop the game, slowly losing interest. This year, it is much less likely to bump into someone who’s playing the game like you are. (I still play when I have the time, but even I don’t get much chance to open the game.) Recently, though, Pokémon Go has popped back up in the news for a very strange reason: its connection to Russian meddling. Just last week, CNN reported that a campaign with Russian ties used Pokémon Go in order to cause problems among people during an intense election cycle. Hearing that the Pokémon-hunting game was used to influence U.S. politics is certainly an interesting reason for the game to show up in the news again. But it also creates a great opportunity to ask—what has Pokémon Go been up to since you last played? Here are some of the new things you might find if you haven’t played in a while.
Raids take place in Gyms. Players can team up to fight Raid Bosses. There are special prizes to be had if the Boss is defeated. The Bosses have varying levels of difficulty. There is a time limit, which makes things a little trickier, and you use special Premier Balls to try to catch the Boss. Raids are a good reason to team back up with other players in your area—to join the team, you must, of course, be close to the gym.
Everyone was waiting for Legendary Pokémon, and some have been released over the past months. Over the past few months, Trainers have been able to add Legendaries like Mewtwo and Raikou to their Pokedexes. These Legendaries are caught by completing certain special raids while that specific Pokémon is still available in-game. Legendary Pokémon are very difficult to catch, so if you open the game back up while one is available, be prepared to work at catching one.
Pokémon Go has included themed events for some time, including over Christmas. But in the past months, there have been more fun events. What is great about a lot of these events is they often give a chance to catch a special Pikachu who is dressed for the event. For instance, there was a special Christmas Pikachu, a special Pikachu for the anniversary event in July, and a Pikachu wearing a party hat for the Pokémon Day event. These events also add special features like an increased chance of catching certain kinds of Pokémon or hatching eggs more quickly. If you’ve missed some special versions of Pikachu over the months, don’t worry—you’ll have more chances. And Pokémon Go has just launched this year’s Halloween event, with more candy to get and a chance to catch Pikachu in a costume.
One interesting change over the months has been the addition of evolution items. Some Pokémon are able to be further evolved by using a special item. There are several different evolution items, and you need the right one for each Pokémon before you can evolve them. This has added an extra challenge to completing a Trainer’s Pokedex.
A while back, the game added Pokestop bonuses that keep Trainers playing on a daily basis. Players can get a bonus each day for the first Pokestop of the day. Even better, players get an extra special bonus if they visit at least one Pokestop every day for a full week. Getting this special bonus can be especially important, since this is a really good way to get an evolution item.
There have, of course, been many other additions and changes over the months. It may seem like not many people are playing anymore, but actually, the game is still widely used. In July, Ars Technica wrote that the game still had about five million users every day. It may not be as widely played as before, but it’s still being played by many, and the game has evolved to keep players interested. With upcoming events and past additions in mind, it might be a good time to check the game out again.
If you’re typically pretty involved in the gaming world, you’ll already know about Steam. But for those who aren’t already familiar, Steam is a platform that is used to download games from a wide variety of game developers. To use Steam, you simply create an account, download the Steam software, and then find games you want to download. Steam offers everything from popular, well-known games (like Assassin’s Creed) to lesser-known indie games.
The platform is also very popular for its extensive sales that offer many games at extremely low prices, and it regularly offers some fun games for less than $10 or even for free. Steam users can play games like Dota 2, Fallout Shelter, Mobius Final Fantasy, Star Trek Online, and Robocraft for free through Steam. During their sales, games can be crazy inexpensive, leaving some Steam users to joke about how many games they buy each time the sales start. During one holiday sale, I remember buying about a dozen games in one day, most of them ranging from $1 to $4. Oops.
There are so many game to choose from, big and small, easy and difficult, that it seems likely that anyone with access to Steam and an understanding of gaming will be able to find something they like. As usual, some select games are on sale right now, while many others are simply offered at regular prices similar to what you would find on regular consoles. Until the next sale starts, here are some recently-added and interesting games you can buy for $20 or less each!
Image from Batterystaple Games
This game is a platformer that can be played by one person or multiple people, with the option to play with people online. There are regular new challenges to take on and a wide variety of different levels to beat. Players can collect power-ups and fight in boss battles. The trailer shows a fast-paced, colorful, busy game with a heavy retro feel. It also gives strong Mega Man vibes, so if you enjoy Mega Man, you should probably give 20XX a shot.
Price: $14.99 – Reviews: 94% positive – Check it out on Steam
Image from Bedtime Digital Games
Figment is an action game set in a strange alternative universe and featuring odd-looking characters on an adventure. The game includes battles and puzzles, and it has an interesting visual style. The trailer shows wacky, loopy lands and off-beat villains, as well as clockworks, catapults, and giant floating books. This single player game should appeal to anyone looking for something unique and new.
Price: $16.99 (on sale) – Reviews: 86% positive – Check it out on Steam
HIVESWAP: Act 1
Image from What Pumpkin Games, Inc.
This indie game is a humorous adventure following Joey Claire. It features monsters, puzzling situations, and a fun storyline revolving around Joey being transported to an alien world from 1990s Earth. The game is set in the world of Homestuck and is the first in a series of accompanying games. The trailer shows a fun animation style and an appealing mix of dark and brightly colored places. Take a look at HIVESWAP: Act 1 if you want to try out a game that’s fun to watch and intriguing to figure out.
Price: $7.99 – Reviews: 95% positive – Check it out on Steam
Image from KISS ltd/GameTomo
Project Nimbus is a fast-paced indie game that’s heavy on action. Players in mechanized suits fight against opponents and weapons to survive in a post-apocalyptic universe. The single player game lets players use numerous different weapons while going up against different enemies. The trailer shows extremely quick-moving fight scenes, flying in space, and beautiful differently-colored mech suits. Check out this game if you’re searching for something fast-moving and enjoyable to look at.
Price: $11.24 (on sale) – Reviews: 89% positive – Check it out on Steam
Image from AMG games
This game is set in a beautiful world where the rain never stops. Your character solves the mystery of the rain while clearing the skies and exploring a 3D world filled with rainbows and richly colored lands. The game is very simple, using only two buttons. The trailer features glowing butterflies, dark and rainy lands, rainbow platforms, and gloomy towers. If you’re into games that are more relaxing, beautiful, and don’t require a huge investment of time, this game should appeal to you.
Price: $2.54 (on sale) – Reviews: N/A – Check it out on Steam
Image from Monomi Park
Slime Rancher lets the player act as, well, a slime rancher in an indie action game. This adventure is set in a world far from Earth and is a first-person problem-solving game. Players have to keep up with ranching the slimes in order to make money and overcome various challenges. The trailer shows cute, rounded animation, bouncing, smiling balls of slime, and brightly colored areas of the world, all from behind the equipment being used to scoop up the slime. For a game filled with colorful blobs of slime and an off-beat adventure, check out this new single player game.
Price: $19.99 – Reviews: 95% positive – Check it out on Steam
SteamWorld Dig 2
Image from Image & Form
This game is a sequel that’s set under the earth and involves platforming and mining. The game has a heavy Steampunk aesthetic and has the main character digging for treasure and fighting enemies along the way. The game centers on trying to discover the reason for earthquakes that have suddenly begun in a nearby town. The trailer shows a mix of dark, earthy shades and bright, glowing colors as the gameplay moves from above ground to the world below. It also features treasure, fast-moving enemies, and a battle above glowing lava. If you like platform or mining games, check out the new SteamWorld Dig game.
Price: $19.99 – Reviews: 97% positive – Check it out on Steam
Super Fancy Pants Adventure
Image from Kongregate
This game is a curiously drawn platformer featuring a stick figure on an adventure. The game moves quickly and has the player fight enemies and take on challenges as they run. There are secret levels and plenty of different stages to run through. The trailer shows the main stick figure sliding through portals, springing itself into the air, and using an ink pen to defeat enemies, all while moving through stages of all colors. This game looks great for anyone interested in platform games, stick figure animation, and clever game design.
Price: $9.99 – Reviews: 86% positive – Check it out on Steam
Tooth and Tail
Image from Pocketwatch Games
This indie game is action-filled and strategy-heavy. Players build an army made up of different battle-ready animals, like owls and mice. This strategy game can be played in numerous different ways, including single player, online, and split screen modes. The trailer shows armies in battle, army camps, and mice waving flags in front of their troops. If you’re interested in games heavy on strategy and battle, take a look at this game.
Price: $19.99 – Reviews: 88% positive – Check it out on Steam
Image from Fatbot Games, s.r.o.
Vaporum is a new dungeon crawling game with a Steampunk theme. The game features a mystery set inside an unfamiliar tower filled with challenges. The player solves puzzles and engages in combat while trying to figure out what’s going on around him. The trailer shows a dark game with battles against spider-like mechanisms, laser weapons, and the tower’s twisting interior. It also shows how players can use and equip different weapons and gear. Vaporum looks like a game for anyone who likes to immerse themselves in RPGs and solve mysteries, and it should be especially fun for anyone who’s interested in the Steampunk aesthetic.
Price: $17.99 (on sale) – Reviews: N/A – Check it out on Steam
Prime seems expensive: the upfront annual cost went up to $99 since I signed up years ago. But if it was worth it to me then, it is a steal of a deal now, if you consider all the newly added benefits you get access to.
Get Prime by the month: Don’t have $99 lying around, or don’t think you need an entire year of Prime? Sign up by the month and pay $10.99. And you get a deal if you qualify for low-income benefits: it’s only $5.99 per month for customers with an EBT card. Sign up for Prime around Thanksgiving and cash in on all the online Black Friday/Cyber Monday deals, with free shipping to boot, and then drop it when you’re done.
Prime Student: Use your school email (ending in .edu) to score four $49-years of Prime. Act soon and you can get 6 months free.
Amazon Household: A Prime account is for your whole household, not just one person. Two adults living in the same house, and with separate Amazon accounts, can link their accounts to share the benefits of a single Prime account. You can share payment methods, and even add profiles for up to four children so your kids can take advantage of all the free reading and streaming of videos and music without being able to order anything. (You cannot use Amazon Household if you have a Prime Student discount).
Prime Wardrobe: Try before you buy. Choose 3 or more items of clothing, and have them shipped to you to try on. Send back what you don’t want in a prepaid box, and only pay for what you keep. Keeping more items earns you discounts, too: up to 20%. Currently, Prime Wardrobe is in beta, but you can ask to be notified when it launches.
Prime Video: Originals like Transparent and Catastrophe are available. They also have Downton Abbey, The Wire, and you can pay a little extra for channels like Showtime and HBO.
Unlimited cloud storage for pictures: Store as many precious memories in the secure Cloud Drive as you want, and stop worrying about losing them.
Prime Music: Choose songs, albums, or a station. More than 2 million available songs and you can also upload your current collection and listen on any device with the app. There is also a paid subscription that gives you access to tens of millions of songs for $7.99 a month; however, the family plan is $14.99 per month and allows up to six family members to use it. That’s $2.50 per person! Quick, I need five people! Anybody?
Food: Have some grocery staples shipped to your door: Prime Pantry boxes ship for $5.99, and you can save 15% with Subscribe and Save. Weekly deals and coupons also make grocery shopping online attractive.
Prime Rewards Visa: For serious Amazon shoppers, the 5% back (in credit, not cash) may be a draw. Add a $70 gift card for signing up.
Free two-day shipping: Of course, this perk is awesome, but it can only be used for certain items. If you shop Amazon for everything, this perk may be worth the fee on its own: leading up to Christmas, the free shipping alone more than pays for my account. However, sometimes you can opt in for slower shipping and get credits for books, music, and more.
Prime Reading: There is a large rotating collection of books, magazines, comics and more available free with your Prime account, and some even have Audible narration, if you would rather listen.
Video games for Prime: Twitch Prime includes a Twitch subscription and free content. Prime discounts on video games could save you some real money, and some pre-orders are delivered ON THE RELEASE DATE. That means you can skip the line and still get that new game the second it is released.
It’s hard to resist all those perks for about $8.25 per month if you pay by the year. Amazon Prime members are much more likely to only shop at Amazon (I can see why), but beware: sometimes they have the best deal, and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes they really don’t, and getting free shipping may not make up the price difference, especially considering that other online retailers like Walmart and Jet are making a major effort to compete by offering their own free shipping. So remember to shop around.
Everyone is talking about Castlevania, and after watching the series on Netflix last weekend, I can see why. Sometimes my job is hard: lots of research and lots of brainstorming unique ideas to write about. Sometimes I just want to watch Netflix instead. Sometimes I do watch Netflix instead. Sometimes I find an excuse to call watching Netflix “working.” This is one of those times.
Is this just another show about vampires?
According to the IMDB series synopsis, “a vampire hunter fights to save a besieged city from an army of otherworldly creatures controlled by Dracula.” By that description, it could be any vampire movie. But fans of the Castlevania series of video games (which is the number one source material for the show) have certain expectations for this series, not the least of which is wall chicken.
Producer Adi Shankar doesn’t know about the wall chicken quite yet, but he’s not about to let gamers’ expectations go unmet. Expect Easter eggs from the games, and a soundtrack with “the heavy metal electro guitar vibe found in the early games.”
Shankar said in an interview for Collider.com: “The goal is to bring hard hitting anime to the America and be America’s first animated series for adults.”
To an outsider, it may appear that the series is trying to get onboard with the huge audience for dark fantasy (Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings), vampire shows (Angel, Buffy, Underworld), or Japanese anime (Akira, Ghost in the Shell). And maybe that is what made 2017 the time to release this show. But the show was being conceptualized in 2005. That’s right: this has been in the works for 12 years; before the wave of dark, medieval magical beasts took over our entertainment.
It’s an animated series, but it isn’t for children
It may go without saying, but I’m going to say it: this cartoon is not for kids. The creators have called it “R-rated as ****,” and it totally is. Profanity and entrails abound, as one may have come to expect from a show about hunting vampires. The Castlevania target demographic is made up mainly of those who played the original game (Castlevania III: Dracula’s Curse, 1990), which puts the average age around late-20s at a minimum.
The cast of the show is excellent. Adi Shankar is an executive producer (The Grey, Dredd, Judge Dredd: Superfiend, The Punisher: Dirty Laundry). Richard Armitage (Thorin from The Hobbit) voices Trevor Belmont. James Callis (Dr. Gaius Baltar from Battlestar Galactica) voices Alucard. Graham McTavish (Dwalin from The Hobbit) voices Dracula. The series is written by Warren Ellis, a seasoned comic book creator who has written for animated series (X-Men, Justice League, Wolverine) as well as major motion pictures (Iron Man 3, Red). Emmy-award winning Trevor Morris is in charge of the soundtrack (Dragon Age: Inquisition, Immortals, The Tudors).
The first season only has four 30-minute episodes, but a second, 8-episode season has been confirmed.
How well does it reflect the games?
Season 1 is dedicated to fleshing out the main players in a way that wasn’t really possible in the video game, and I am a fan of the slow revelation of backstory over the course of several episodes.
As far as the soundtrack is concerned, I am reminded more of the Japanese anime series’ the show animation takes inspiration from, rather than the Castlevania games. This may come as a disappointment to fans of the games, as the original music was iconic, and has been reprised many, many times in different styles. A big part of the nostalgia for gamer fans is wrapped up in the original soundtrack, though it is possible the show creators were unable to license the original music from Konami. This may be the reason that the show, despite maintaining the integrity of the original game canon, has garnered some fan comments that it doesn’t really feel like Castlevania.
Even so, it is great for many other reasons: the animation is great, and even haunting at times. Fans of Japanese anime will enjoy the style. The storytelling is deft and rich, and the voice acting is top notch. This is, without a doubt, one of the best video game adaptations to date. A+, highly recommend, would watch again.