Game #18: Trainyard Express (2010)

TrainyardExpressCMade by: Matt Rix
Finished on: 14 Nov

A fun little iPhone game that I played last month. It’s a puzzle game which involves trains, as the title suggests, and it has quite a steep learning curve, but it’s really fun once you get used to it. Trainyard Express is actually the free version. I also bought the larger “Trainyard”, which I completed most but not all of, as it turned out to be much harder later on. They’re basically the same game, but with an entirely different set of levels.

At the most simple level, you have to direct the coloured trains to the right destinations. But there’s only so much you can do with that, and thus quite early on, obstacles are put in your way, tracks start having junctions (which toggle one side or the other whenever a train passes over them), colour changing tunnels are introduced, and then the game starts to take a slightly surreal turn, as instead of crashing into each other, trains merge colours like a painting kit. Or two trains joining the same track at the same time will merge together to become one train. This doesn’t really make any sense, but it’s a diagrammatic iPhone game, so this doesn’t really matter so much.

The other most amusing thing about the game is that it’s got Canada stamped all over it. In the Express version each set of levels is named after a province of Canada, while the paid-for version has names of cities. But this was mainly just something that I chuckled at when I realised what was going on.

It also looks very slick and runs very smoothly, and the two games kept me well-amused for a week or two. Overall it’s worth checking out.

Book #23: Snuff (2012)

author: Terry Pratchett
language: English
length: 406 virtual pages
finished on: 7 November 2012

I started reading this book on my kindle after finishing “Gulliver’s Travels”, very enthusiastically, since it was a lot more engaging than that. Unfortunately, my enthusiasm died down a bit and in the end it took about four months to finish the book – I started reading it in the summer, after all. Like other recent Pratchett works, such as “I Shall Wear Midnight” (which I read and reviewed about a year ago), it’s become very repetitive in its writing and humour style. But it was at least miles better than that, too.

As a return to old favourite characters, mainly focussing on Sam Vimes, it was very welcome. But perhaps the book focussed too much on him and not enough on other Watch characters and the like – the basic plot is that he goes on holiday to his estate, leaving the city behind. Again, it’s been so long since I’ve read a book with him in it, so there were a few things that come up near the beginning of the book, such as the fact that he has a child (a charming and perfect young boy obsessed with poo), or that he’s been half-possessed by some sort of demon.

The plot concerns the goblins of Discworld, who have only been briefly mentioned before, but here get a fuller fleshing-out. Like many other books in the series, it deals with the fantasy racism applied to the goblins, who are not regarded as human. Discworld has already covered that ground with dwarves and trolls quite early on, though, so I didn’t see what in particular this book added, except for just another fantasy race to keep track of.

Compared to other Discworld novels, one other thing I did notice was that it was very risqué. Swear words are used once or twice, and a running gag involves a ship called the Wonderful Fanny, which gives many characters the giggles. I’m not sure how I liked this. I think it just seemed almost too upfront for Pratchett’s work.

Again, I’m going to be quite curt with this review and just say now that I did enjoy it, but it’s just not as good as some of the earlier books. As I say, it did take me four months to finish it, again, although I suspect that part of that is simply not finding the time to read, but if it had been more interesting, I would have made the excuse to do so. As it stands, it was OK, but it doesn’t stand in the Discworld hall of fame for me. I am glad that Pratchett is still writing, though. And I do quite want to read the latest book, Dodger, which is not Discworld, but is set instead in Victorian London (which leads me to ponder the fact that I always saw Ankh-Morpork as a cypher of Victorian London, and wonder if it will be majorly different from Discworld books, but I’ll reserve judgement until I’ve read it).

Film #69: My Neighbours the Yamadas (1999)

aka: ホーホケキョとなりの山田くん (Hōhokekyo tonari no Yamada-kun)
directed by: Isao Takahata
language: Japanese
length: 104 minutes
watched on: 17 October 2012

So this was the next in my semi-ongoing project of watching all the Ghibli films that I haven’t seen yet (I’ve still to do “Grave of the Fireflies”, at least, although I hear it’s horribly depressing). Like the other ones I’ve been watching recently, this is not Miyazaki, but rather Takahata, Ghibli’s second-most prolific director. Of course, the first thing to note about it is that it’s drawn in a completely different style to ordinary Ghibli movies – instead it employs pencil-like lines and the most minimal of backgrounds.

The plot reflects those backgrounds – it’s minimal and is more of a series of vignettes about the life of a Japanese family. I can’t even recall a basic outline, although there was a four-seasons theme running throughout the movie, and many of the vignettes focussed on the family’s ineptness, and were very character-driven. The grandma especially was an excellent character.

Overall, I quite liked the film, but this review is pretty bare because I can’t really remember much specific about it. I watched it with a Japanese friend, and he got a lot more of the jokes than I did, since it’s heavily based on Japanese family culture, and he was able to come up with a few facts that I wouldn’t have caught on my own (eg, they’re speaking Kansai-ben).

Now I just need to catch up with the rest of these films…