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2 stars
A mechanical romance story in a dreary setting

Cyberpunk stories often take place on Earth in a dystopian future characterized by a) darkness, rain and neon lights, b) corporations running everything. So, really, mostly a darker, rainier version of the present.

Synergia, a visual novel by indie developer Radi Art, takes place on a desert planet colonized by humans that is home to multiple political factions, including a dominant superpower, the Empire.

In other respects, it follows the cyberpunk template, featuring cityscapes drenched in neon lights; cyborgs, androids, and evil corporations. It also takes itself quite seriously.

This is a mostly kinetic visual novel, meaning that there are only a few choices (three in total) you get to make to influence the course of the 4-5 hour long story.

The story revolves around Escila, or Cila for short, a cop demoted under circumstances that will be revealed later in the story. When looking to replace her household android, she gets more than she bargained for: an outgoing, cheerful and remarkably human-like android named Mara. Cila soon becomes entangled in a web of conspiracy and romance.


Some of the full-screen art is quite well-done. Here, Cila encounters the android Mara for the first time. (Credit: Radi Art. Fair use.)

Romance without chemistry

Synergia is at its heart about the relationship between Cila and Mara. Unfortunately, as a romance story, Synergia failed to click for me. It reads as a relationship of necessity and convenience—two people drawn together only out of alienation towards the rest of the world, and out of sheer loneliness.

The larger narrative of a conspiracy involving androids, rebels, and corporations is convoluted and unsatisfying. Dialogue doesn’t read like the interaction between different people, but like a single writer cramming exposition into speech bubbles. It doesn’t help that the UI doesn’t always make it obvious who’s talking.

The writing suffers from a few typos and grammar errors. The character art and backgrounds are original and maintain a coherent style. As is typical for low budget visual novels, a few backgrounds are overused. The game’s strongest point is its soundtrack, which never dominates but creates suitable ambience.

I can’t recommend Synergia, but your mileage may vary. If you love the cyberpunk aesthetic and enjoy romance stories that are on the more mechanical side, you may get something out of it.


La Lanterna, Ristorante Vegano Biologico, Verona  it
5 stars
Ottimo ristorante vegano a Verona  it

Ho mangiato benissimo, i piatti erano abbondanti e ad un prezzo contenuto. Ci sono capitato per caso durante un sabato a pranzo e ho apprezzato tanto sia il servizio, sia il cibo veramente ottimo e fresco.
Il menù si trova sul sito internet ed è contenuto il giusto che basta per darti una selezione variegata di piatti senza farti spulciare ingredienti e varie all’infinito.


5 stars
A milestone deckbuilder with masterfully executed mechanics

Slay the Spire is not the first roguelike deck-building game, but its massive success created a recipe many indie developers would soon try to follow.

The game doesn’t owe its popularity to its rich lore. You’re ascending a tower—excuse me, spire—fighting monsters on its many floors, to face a final enemy: a corrupted, beating heart. Random events hint at a larger mythology, but if you’re looking for a narrative adventure, look elsewhere.

The monster bestiary is also not what will keep you playing this game. While the art and animation are always serviceable, the array of cloaked figures, slimes, geometric shapes, and bands of thieves and gremlins gets a bit samey after a while.

What sets Slay the Spire apart is the tightness of the card-based battle mechanics, the unique play styles of the different characters, and the clever combination of cards and relics to make each run feel different.

Chance and strategy

You first play as the “Ironclad”, a powerful masked warrior. You navigate the spire across a path of your choice: you can face challenging encounters with large rewards, pursue random events, or plot the safest course to the level boss.

Monsters on the map indicate turn-based battles against one or multiple opponents. You draw cards from your deck in random order, and expend limited energy to play some of them. (Your opponents don’t have cards.)

The game will usually tell you what the enemy will do next: attack, defend, inflict status effects, and so on. This gives you a chance to prepare: if the enemy is about to do a lot of damage, you better have those defenses ready.

After each battle, you pick up new cards and other loot. As you ascend the spire, you’ll also find treasure chests and shops. Question marks on the map lead to random events. Those may have small negative or positive consequences, or give you dramatic choices: Would you like to play the rest of the game as a vampire?


The Silent, one of the four playable characters, faces a Shelled Parasite. It will take carefully planned moves to penetrate the monster’s plated armor while minimizing inbound damage. (Credit: MegaCrit. Fair use.)

Game-changers

Among the items you can find are relics. These can significantly alter the game mechanics—for example, you might get extra energy every three turns, or boost the effectiveness of certain cards.

More and more content gets unlocked the longer you play—additional characters (four in total), cards, and relics. That means that a relic you unlock after 20 hours of play could be transformative for your next run.

The four characters offer fundamentally different play styles: The Silent is a rogue whose cumulative poison attacks can bring down the most powerful foe. The Defects is a sentient automaton who uses orbiting energy orbs to line up deadly chain reactions. The Watcher is a blind ascetic who uses “stances” to collect her energy and defenses (“calm”), then attack with twice the strength and vulnerability at the right moment (“wrath”).

Learning by dying

Battles can feel terribly unfair—such is the nature of roguelikes—but there’s enough strategic depth to reward repeated play. You will get better, learn to avoid unnecessary risks, and achieve easy defeats in battles that seemed unwinnable before.

To keep you playing, the game never ceases to throw new challenges your way, and that’s without taking into account lovingly created mods like Downfall, a fan expansion that lets you play as the bosses.

After 40 hours of play, having faced (but not defeated) the game’s ultimate boss and unlocked most cards and items, I’ve decided to put Slay the Spire down again for now. But I know it’s sitting in my library, ready to give that dopamine rush that only a perfectly executed game can.

If you like the genre, I also recommend Krumit’s Tale (review), Iris and the Giant (review), and Dicey Dungeons (review). All were released after Slay the Spire, and each brings something new to the genre.


Istituto Tecnico Industriale Guglielmo Marconi, Verona  it
1 star
Istituto tecnico sotto certi punti di vista pessimo  it

Ho frequentato svariati anni nella prima metà dello scorso decennio e a livello umano mi sono sempre trovato malissimo - capisco che il focus sia sulle tecniche (si chiama istituto tecnico non per altro), ma l’ambiente tossico che si va a creare dal generale disinteresse per le materie umanistiche (e indubbiamente anche dalla predominante presenza di ometti pre/adolescenti) porta la scuola indietro di un ventennio buono: razzismo, misoginia, queerfobia erano all’ordine del giorno.

Quelle poche materie che potevano suscitare un poco interesse psicologico verso sé stessi si riducevano a studiare a memoria per ripetere a menadito.
Tutte le risorse parevano dirigersi verso il prepararvi al mondo del lavoro, come fine ultimo quello di rendervi una ulteriore minuscola rotellina del sistema capitalista. Parlo per esperienza: vedo ancora svariati ex-compagni di classe che usciti dall’Istituto e trovato un lavoro sono invecchiati paurosamente male - a metà dei venti anni parlano e pensano ancora come se ne avessero dieci in meno.

Sfortuna mia con i professori? La ricordo peggio di come era? Non posso dirlo con certezza, ma se non siete sicuri della vostra scelta per il futuro (ed esserlo a 14 anni penso sia molto difficile) facciatevi il favore di andare a visitare L’Open Day di tante altre scuole, magari di un certo liceo a qualche passo da questo istituto.


4 stars
67 "retro-style" indie games covered true to form of the first volume

The main focus of Hardcore Gaming 101’s “Retro Indie Games” book series are games that look, feel and/or play like old-school games from the 1980s and 1990s, but that are much more recent indie titles. (See my review of the first volume.)

The second volume covers both old titles that didn’t make the cut last time (e.g., Papers, Please! and Fez), and very recent games like Helltaker, Paradise Killer and Lair of the Clockwork God.

The format is largely the same as before: each game is richly illustrated and described in detail, with heavy focus on gameplay and story, and little emphasis on any other aspect such as the developers or how the game was made. As before, games are grouped by developer.

With 67 individual games, every reader with any appreciation for indie games is likely to discover at least one or two to add to their backlog. For me, that included Katana Zero (the time manipulation mechanic sounds super-interesting) and The Binding of Isaac (it just seems like a wild ride).

As with the first volume, I still feel the series could do better at being an actual guide to genres and developers. As an effort to catalog and describe some of the greatest retro-styled indie titles of the last decade or so, it is without equal.

The full list of games in the second volume follows (grouped by developer):

Cuphead
Celeste
Panzer Paladin
The Messenger
Cyber Shadow
Gunpoint
Aces Wild
Blazing Chrome
Katana Zero
Minit
Fight ‘n Rage
198X
Cave Story
Kero Blaster
La-Mulana (series)
Xeodrifter
Hollow Knight
Blasphemous
Iconoclasts
Dex
Rabi-Ribi
Pharaoh Rebirth
Touhou Luna Nights
Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth
Fez
The Binding of Isaac
Dusk
Project Warlock
AMID EVIL
Cruelty Squad
Saturday Morning RPG
Cosmic Star Heroine
Anodyne
Anodyne 2: Return to Dust
Into the Breach
Chroma Squad
Katawa Shoujo
Digital: A Love Story
Don’t take it personally babe, it’s just not your story
Analogue: A Hate Story/Hate Plus
Ladykiller in a Bind
Broken Reality
Coffee Talk
Unavowed
Lamplight City
The Low Road
Ben There, Dan That!
Time Gentlemen, Please!
Lair of the Clockwork God
Paradise Killer
Return of the Obra Dinn
Umurangi Generation
Hypnospace Outlaw
Oxenfree
Back in 1995
Stories Untold
The Count Lucanor
Yuppie Psycho
Detention
Devotion
Paratopic
Anatomy
Papers, Please
Stardew Valley
Helltaker


4 stars
An absurd but entertaining conclusion to a flawed trilogy

As a twelve-year-old, Gwendy Peterson met a stranger who gave her a magical box that can destroy the world. That’s the premise of the Gwendy trilogy by Stephen King and Richard Chizmar.

The first book, Gwendy’s Button Box (review), was a fine story that stood on its own as a morality tale. The titular button box can fulfill wishes and wreak destruction—including at the planetary scale. As child custodian of the box, Gwendy used some of its powers, but was never corrupted by them.

In the mediocre sequel, Gwendy’s Magic Feather (review), Gwendy became a celebrated author and elected Congresswoman, and the box once more played an (ultimately anticlimactic) role in her life.

In Gwendy’s Final Task, the mysterious man or being who originally gave her the box tasks her to get rid of it once and for all. Because it’s a magical box, throwing it into a volcano won’t do. It must be…shot into space!

And so it is that Gwendy, now a Senator, finds herself on the way to a space station, with the button box locked away in a steel box marked “CLASSIFIED MATERIAL”. The spaceflight is organized by a SpaceX-style private company that is hoping to monetize space tourism.

That explains why one of the other passengers on board is an obnoxious billionaire. It doesn’t explain why the man seems to be completely obsessed by what’s in the steel box. Meanwhile, Gwendy is literally losing her mind to early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The setup is ridiculous, but it mostly works. The enclosed environment, combined with Gwendy’s dwindling mental faculties, builds suspense. King rewards his constant readers with plenty of references to other works, including the Dark Tower series many consider his magnum opus.

The ending leaves no doubt that this truly is the final book in the series. That’s probably for the best. If you’ve made it to the second book, the conclusion is definitely an improvement, and I would recommend picking it up. If you’ve not started the trilogy yet, there are much better works in King’s oeuvre.


5 stars
A profound biographical remembrance of American imperialism

In the late 19th century, as the United States fully consolidated itself and its territory (through war and ethnic cleansing), its elites began to realize openly imperial ambitions. These ambitions reached a fever pitch in the Spanish-American War, which led to the US establishing control over Puerto Rico, the Philippines, Guam, and (nominally independent) Cuba.

When Smedley Butler, the son of an influential Pennsylvania family, joined the US Marines in 1898, he was caught up in the war fever of the time. But instead of fighting the Spanish, he soon found himself helping to police America’s empire on behalf of its most powerful economic interests.

Decades later, Butler, now a Major General, started to write his own script. In 1933, he alleged that he was invited to take part in a conspiracy among wealthy businessmen to overthrow U.S. President Roosevelt and install a dictator.

It became known as the Business Plot. A congressional committee concluded that “there is no question that these attempts were discussed, were planned, and might have been placed in execution when and if the financial backers deemed it expedient." Nobody was prosecuted.

In his final years, an increasingly radical Butler gave fiery speeches and penned a short book called War is a Racket. It contains the following passage:

I helped make Mexico, especially Tampico, safe for American oil interests in 1914. I helped make Haiti and Cuba a decent place for the National City Bank boys to collect revenues in. I helped in the raping of half a dozen Central American republics for the benefits of Wall Street.


Late in his life, Butler denounced war and empire, and fought for veterans’ rights. (Credit: Bettman/Getty Images. Fair use.)

Legacies of Empire

For American journalist Jonathan Katz, Butler’s life presents a lens through which to view the history of American imperialism, and its modern legacies. In Gangster of Capitalism, Katz traces Butler’s career in the military and his stint as Philadelphia’s “Director of Public Safety”, a role in which he waged a brutal war on crime in the city.

Katz makes it clear that Butler, in spite of his Quaker upbringing, committed truly horrific and violent actions, and often rationalized them through the pervasive racism of the time. As part of the nearly 20-year-long occupation of Haiti by the United States, Butler instituted de facto slavery to build up the country’s infrastructure.

Unlike the opaque Business Plot, the corporate interests that profited from these endeavors and drove US policies are well-documented, from bankers to landowners to oil companies. Franklin Roosevelt himself pursued personal agriculture investments in Haiti while helping direct its occupation as Assistant Secretary of the Navy.

In each chapter, Katz describes the modern legacy of American imperialism, including by quoting Haitians, Filipinos, Chinese, and others he has met. While Americans have forgotten the little they have ever known of this history, the citizens of these countries have not. Katz’s travelogue enriches the book and makes this history tangible.

Past and Prologue

Gangsters of Capitalism is an accessible, informative and engaging book. At no point does Katz turn from facts to polemic. He gives clear-eyed accounts of the brutal regime of Nicaragua’s leftist autocrat Daniel Ortega, and the imperialist ideology of China under Xi Jinping. The book is a critique of empire, not an anti-American screed.

It is also a timely book, as another imperialist power, Russia, wages a war of aggression against neighboring Ukraine. What role should Western powers play today to counter such naked brutality? Can military alliances like NATO protect the peace in the 21st century? What alternatives are there?

The invasion of Ukraine marks a new chapter in world history, and we all benefit from remembering previous chapters—including America’s own brutal imperial history—to navigate the moral landscape now before us.


5 stars
Ein Comeback wo eigentlich kein Comeback möglich war  de

Dexter war vor Jahren eine meiner Lieblingsserien und das ging bestimmt nicht nur mir so. Innerhalb der ersten vier Staffeln wurde die Handlung um den Serienmörder in Diensten der Polizei spannend und gut inszeniert herübergebracht. Die weiteren vier Staffeln kamen nicht mehr an das Niveau der anderen heran aber trotzdem bleib ich dabei um zu erfahren wie es weitergeht. Und am Ende der achten Staffel war für mich klar, das es nicht mehr weitergehen kann. Der Abgang Dexters hat für mein Empfinden keinen Spielraum für eine Rückkehr gegeben. Tja, was soll ich sagen? Ich habe mich getäuscht.

Die Geschichte startet in einer US-amerikanischen Kleinstadt und ich war von Anfang an wieder im Dexter-Fieber. Vergessen war das seltsame Ende der achten Staffel. Die Stimmung im winterlichen Handlungsort ist gut eingefangen und wird rund um den Hauptdarsteller gut aufgebaut. Auch wenn in der ersten Folge für Neulinge nicht ganz klar wird, was hier eigentlich los ist. Diese Folge wird meiner Meinung nach nur zur Schaffung der Atmosphäre verwendet. So kommen auch Leute, die bisher keinen Kontakt mit Dexter Morgan hatten, in die Dexter-Stimmung.

Anfangs ist unklar wer welche Rolle hat. Wer ist der Böse, wer nicht und wann kommt es zur ersten Dexter-typischen Handlung. Der Reiz und die gut eingefangene Atmosphäre haben mich die komplette Staffel in drei Tagen durchschauen lassen und es war zu keinem Zeitpunkt langweilig. Die Spannung wird gut aufgebaut und es wird langsam aber sicher klar wer welche Rolle spielt und welches Schicksal diese Personen erleiden werden.

Warnung: Der untenstehende Text enthält Spoiler.

Diesmal wird es leider endgültig keine Fortsetzung geben. Aus dem für mich nicht hervorsehbaren Ende kommt selbst Dexter nicht mehr heraus. Aber wer weiß ob sein Sprössling nicht den selben Weg einschlägt und wir in ein paar Jahren eine weitere Staffel zu sehen bekommen. Wir werden es sehen.


5 stars
Unleash bullet hell upon thousands of monsters in near-perfect minimalist action

Vampire Survivors by indie developer Luca “poncle” Galante was released in December 2021. It only costs $3 and is still in early access, but has already racked up tens of thousands of “overwhelmingly positive” reviews on Steam.

The game’s formula is simple but brilliantly executed, once you look past its rudimentary 16-bit style pixel graphics. Your goal is to survive for 30 minutes against ever-growing mobs of monsters. You start with a single weapon, but as you defeat monsters, you level up quickly. So far, that sounds like many twin-stick shooters.

The game-changing part of the Vampire Survivors formula is this: There’s no need for button-mashing, as your character auto-fires all weapons at their maximum firing rate.

As someone who quickly gets controller fatigue from many action games, I found it surprisingly chill to play, in spite of the amount of stuff happening on the screen. You avoid enemies, destroy them with an ever-growing arsenal of weapons, collect experience gems, and level up.

Power-ups from hell

Level up enough, and the game’s promise that “you are the bullet hell” becomes fulfilled. It’s hard to convey just how insane things can get. Consider that this shows only a mid-level build:


Character “Krochi” facing an onslaught of monsters in the first stage. (Credit: Luca Galante. Fair use.)

To make it through 30 minutes, you need to continually improve your build, and combine items into ultra-powerful “evolved” weapons. You can also use collected coins from a run to buy persistent power-ups that will help you with all future runs.

It won’t take you more than a few hours to master the first stage, but Vampire Survivors has lots more to offer. You can unlock many different characters (who may have their own unique weapons), additional stages, and additional difficulty levels.

While the maps are generally super-simple, there are a few surprises. For example, the “Dairy Plant” map features new mechanics, such as little carts you can push in the direction of oncoming enemies, and special floor tiles that trigger enemy waves to spawn.

Challenging but not limitless

Even though it is still in early access, Vampire Survivors easily offers 10-20 hours of frantic play as of this writing; content updates have been forthcoming at a rapid clip. If you like action games and don’t find the visual intensity offputting (or worse), you’ll definitely want to check it out.

Unlike roguelikes that offer nearly endless challenges, most players will eventually hit a ceiling as they accumulate persistent power-ups and develop ever-more successful builds. But for $3, that’s still a hell of a lot of entertainment (no pun intended), and anyone trying the game now should revisit it again in a few months as it continues to be expanded and balanced.

I played Vampire Survivors on Linux using Proton without issues (I did have to set the launch options to PROTON_LOG=1 %command% as recommended on ProtonDB).

Additional reading

  • In February, NME published a nice interview with developer Luca Galante.

  • As usual, a Fandom wiki has quickly popped up; if you don’t want to discover every combo for yourself, the weapons evolution guide in particular is indispensable.


5 stars
An addictive twist on the deckbuilding genre with few flaws

What if you took some of the best ideas from the roguelike deck-building genre, but instead of being dealt cards, you rolled dice on each turn? That’s the premise of a ridiculous, addictive, and sometimes frustrating game called Dicey Dungeons.

Developer Terry Cavanagh has published indie games since at least 2008, but his breakthrough titles were the puzzle platformer VVVVVV (2010) and the brilliant twitch game Super Hexagon (2012).

When I first looked at Dicey Dungeons, I was not especially enamored. Anthropomorphized dice, really? The moment you start actually playing it, the game’s self-aware sense of humor makes it all work.

You play as the contestant in a gameshow whose host, Lady Luck, promises to fulfill your innermost desires if you win. The catch? You’re transformed into a dice and are doomed to compete in Lady Lucks’s dungeons forever, with the game clearly rigged against you.

Revenge of the bloodsucking vacuum cleaners


The maps are the least interesting part of the game, but they do show you all the enemies you can fight in a given level. In this case, you can go up against a marshmallow, a coin-stealing kid, and a sickly hedgehog. (Credit: Terry Cavanagh. Fair use.)

The enemies you encounter are not the standard fantasy fare. Instead, your next opponent could be a bloodsucking vacuum cleaner, a snowball-throwing yeti, a poisonous ice cream cone, or a guy whose entire head is a home stereo system.

Battles are turn-based. On each turn, you roll a number of dice, which you then drag and drop to a compatible item in your inventory. You may not have one! For example, all your items might require even numbers, and you might roll a bunch of threes.

It’s a simple enough concept, but with a large variety of enemies and items, it adds up to a rich gameplay experience. By itself, that could make for a 5-10 hour game. What makes Dicey Dungeons a 30-60 hour game is its willingness to throw its own rules by the wayside.

Rules, schmules

As you play the game, you unlock new characters with their own sets of items, and with completely different play styles. For example:

  • a character that casts spells from a spellbook with a fixed number of slots, of which up to four can be active at any given time.

  • a character that, instead of rolling dice, generates random numbers towards a fixed target value. If you hit that target value exactly, you get a jackpot reward.

  • a character that is dealt a set of cards in random order, combining true deckbuilding mechanics with dice.

Moreover, each character advances through six episodes that play with rules in interesting ways. The most interesting of these are the “parallel universe” episodes (in which items and status effects work completely differently) and the bonus episodes (in which you gradually accumulate randomized rules like “after 4 turns, all enemies transform into bears”).

It all culminates in a final confrontation which, again, does something completely new and interesting with the game mechanics. I won’t spoil it for you; suffice it to say that there’s a lot to keep the player engaged. And when you’re done with that, there are some (fairly easy) Halloween bonus episodes as well.

As with Super Hexagon, Cavanagh again collaborated with Chipzel on the music. Unlike the high octane chiptune sound of Super Hexagon, Dicey Dungeons’ soundtrack blends in jazzy flavors, which give the game a unique feel.


The game’s wit and humor come through in many places, such as when visiting shops. Sometimes the shopkeepers will even remark on specific enemies in the level you’re in. (Credit: Terry Cavanagh. Fair use.)

Dice with rough edges

The game is not perfect. My criticisms of it can be summed up in three categories:

  • Pointless maps: The game features suitably atmospheric levels such as “the libary” or “the dark forest”. But the actual dungeon maps are extremely linear and basic. The most complex choices you’ll make navigating the dungeon are branching questions: This enemy first, or that one?

  • Luck over strategy: Being at its heart a dice game, Dicey Dungeons can be incredibly unfair. An enemy can roll two sixes twice in a row, hitting you with maximum damage and status effects, while you are barely able to make a dent due to a poor roll.

    In theory, you can sometimes flee a battle. But that action is almost useless. You’ll still have all your damage, and in many cases you won’t progress unless you defeat the enemy. So, go against the same enemy again with three hit points left, while they’re back at full strength? Good luck!

  • Inconsistent execution quality. The spellbook user experience, for example, is very clunky—the drag and drop mechanics are poorly explained and not intuitive. Even though the mechanic had promise, I had the least fun playing that character, just due to the interface feeling so unpolished.

    Each character’s list of episodes includes an “elimination round” which, as the name suggests, exists to prevent straightforward progression. It achieves this by making the enemies’ items a lot more powerful. Unfortunately, this can lead to a high number of unwinnable encounters.

The Verdict

Those criticisms shouldn’t distract from the fact that Dicey Dungeons, overall, is a hell of a lot of fun to play. There’s a lot of love in the details, from the silly unlockable enemy biographies, to the clever dialogue during encounters or shopkeeper visits.

I would give the game 4.5 stars, rounded up because of the sheer amount of gameplay variety and content. If you enjoy the deckbuilding formula, and are looking for something similar that may keep you entertained for a few weekends, go and roll those dice—you might get lucky!