Monday, September 19, 2016

Kotas Reviews Master of Orion Conquer the Stars

Finally, a review that isn't about food! I'm a video gamer, though I wasn't a PC gamer until college due to, well, not really have a PC, but ultimately these days I vastly prefer PC gaming over console gaming, mostly because there are genres there I really enjoy that you really can't do well on a console. One of my old favorites is the 4X game: eXplore, eXpand, eXploit, and everyone's favorite eXterminate. This is the category of Civilization, Master of Magic, and that old favorite Master of Orion. It's experiencing a bit of a resurgence as of late, and that's why we're here today. Let's take a look at the revival of an old franchise, Master of Orion: Conquer the Stars

A game on every PC, and a subtitle on every game!
Master of Orion is one of the more popular franchises from the 1990s in the 4X space (ha!), especially the legendary Master of Orion 2. My college PC gaming circle loved 4X games, and this, along with my personal favorite Master of Magic, were the space bee's knees. I'm told, however, that the third entry in the series was terrible, and the 4X genre faded quietly into niche status, with the dominance of Real Time Strategy absorbing a lot of its fanbase and development dollars. Still, we're not here to talk about that, we're hear to talk about the new one! Well, some things have changed...

Mrrshan have changed a lot since the old days. Me-ow!
Developed by WG Labs, a sub studio of, purveyors of games like World of Tanks and World of Warships, the latest installment of the venerable series is a classic 4X game, with a lot of modern polish. It seems like a labor of love in a lot of ways, since they purchased the rights to this franchise from the ashes of Atari (Microprose having long since died miserably) and frankly, no one was exactly clamoring for a new edition. For those of you who haven't ever played a 4X, the concept is one of empire building, technological progress, colonization, and strategic military management. It differs from Grand Campaign style games like Europa Universalis in terms of scope in that you manage colonies and fleets much more directly than abstractly. You are at the solar system level rather than the sector level. Each colony has a population you can direct into Research, Food, or Production. Food keeps your colony from starving and with a surplus, encouraged population growth. Production helps you, well, produce things, from local buildings (which boost Food, Research, Production, or other things) to star bases and space ships. Research advances your technological progress, opening up new tech and new avenues of research. It's a lot like Civilization in general.

There's a lot of polish here, with lovely graphics (though not pushing any envelopes) and, in my favorite part, lots and lots of voice acting! Most of it is good (John De Lancie! Micheal Dorn! Mark Hamil!), but there are a few rough spots (Tutorial Lady! Human Researcher Lady!) that can be annoying. Thankfully, most of the voice acting is skippable if it isn't your thing. The races are all visually distinct and interesting, Personal favorites include the Meklar (Think Cylons crossed with the robots from the Matrix), the Psilons (because they have FLYING SAUCERS FOR SHIPS!) and of course, the Mrrshan (cat people with an Egyptian theme...and clothing tape, apparently). Each race has its pros and cons: The Silicoid rock people are crude, but they don't need food at all and can live on planets that suck for most races. The Sakkra aren't so good with tech, but they sure do grow fast. The Humans are friendly with everyone, and the Evil Humans, er, Terrans (the Collector's Edition race that I don't actually have) are good at building warships, but not so much at being nice.

One thing that is pretty cool is that you are given a number of slots for blueprints for your war ships. You start with the humble frigate, but you soon unlock destroyers, cruisers, battleships, and even titan class warships. Of course, the pinnacle of space death is the mighty Death Doom Star, of which you can only have one. Each ship has slots for engines, shields, targeting computers, various add ons such as Battle Pods or Displacement Devices, and of course, weapon slots! From lasers to phasors, nukes to torpedoes, you can slot and mount a bunch of different options onto a ship. However, not much about the ship building is explained very well (or at all, really), so usually I just mount the best weapons I can along with some point defense, and just go for it. There may be a lot here, but as much as I liked tinkering with it, I didn't see a huge amount of difference in my fleet's performance in most cases. Shields vs. no shields however, my fleets just murdered the enemy. 

The fleet combat has two modes: Tactical, where you can command your ships directly (with or without AI assistance) or Auto Resolve, which is more like classic Civilization and just does all the calculations for you. Before you actually engage, the game gives you its best estimate as to your chances, and those estimates are usually pretty good, so that's helpful. I often auto-resolve battles when I can easily crush the enemy, such as when my Alkari bombed the Mrrshan into extinction.

This was known amongst the Bird People as a "dick move".
Ground combat is...boring as hell. You have bombs and troops, you send them in, you either kill the opposition or conquer them in a button click, or you don't. *yawn*. I generally just send in bombers to wipe out opposing colonies, but it takes a loooong time (dozen turns or so) for more heavily fortified colonies. I could build troop transports...or I could just send in more bombs. It's certainly not the tactical combat from Master of Magic, but it works, so whatever. Occasionally you will encounter Space Monsters which can wreck your fleets, but they tend to stick to a single star system and don't seek you out. Every so often a "GNN" news report will flash up, and a couple of goofy robots will tell you about a random event, or give you an overall status update on some aspect of the game. Winning can be done a number of ways: Economic Victory, where you have all the monies and control a majority of Space Wall Street. Diplomatic Victory, where everyone votes you Ruler of the Galaxy. Military Victory, where you crush everyone under your booted heel, and of course the Research Victory, where you complete the final technologies and ascend out of meatspace. There's also a "point" victory, when your game ends after a number of turns with the highest score being the victor.

There's an espionage system, but it plays like a mobile game where you wait for a spy, send the spy to a colony, and then select a mission for the spy, which can succeed or fail for a result (intel on a colony all the way up to putting it in revolt). It's not very deep, and kind of becomes an annoyance later on. Diplomacy works a lot like Civilization, where you offer things to your opponents in trade, declare things, and otherwise choose from a small set of options. It's not bad, and the voice acting here really makes this feel a lot deeper than it probably actually is. This is not nearly as deep a game as Stellaris, but it hits all the right notes and most of the various systems are good, if not spectacular. Mostly it feels like a good game to explore the 4X genre if you have never played it, or if you (like me) don't have time to really dig into a much deeper, more complex and nuanced game but still wanna enjoy a good experience.

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 2 smiley faces. If you've never played a 4X game before, this is a solid modern entry into the genre that builds a solid, if not amazing, foundation for building up a good play experience. For real enthusiasts of these games, this is a bit of lighter fare with pretty scenery and enjoyable polish. For the time squeezed, this is a great way to scratch that conquest itch. For $30 (more if you by the Collector's Edition, which comes with all three previous games), it's a good romp. There is even multiplayer, though at the time of this review, I haven't tried it. See you in the space ways! 

Friday, September 16, 2016

Kotas Reviews Frito-Lay I Have No Idea (Takoyaki-Tei)

Today we return to the Mystery Box for additional snack treats! There is a glorious habit of anthropomorphic food icons to sell us various treats. From the talking M&Ms to the crazy zaniness of McDonaldLand, walking, talking food has been trying to sell itself to us for consumption for ages and ages. Occasionally a product takes it to a whole new level. Today we look at...I have no freakin' idea.

Soy Fritter Ball Things? Adipose gone horribly wrong? I wish I could read Japanese.
Whatever the heck these things are, they are ADORABLE. Look at 'em, with their big smiles and stumpy limbs only good for the suggestion of motility! Clearly they are supposed to be living incarnations of the fried sauce covered things to the right of the packaging, and the potentially female one has a BOW in what passes for hair. And big eyelashes for some reason. Anyway, I love this packaging. It makes me want a plushie version of these things. SO CUTE! I wonder what is on the back?

Aw, they have a lovely family. Wait, are they eating their own kind? THE TERROR OF IT ALL!
The back of the package is no help determining what these things are, but it shows a preciously snuggly family settling down to eat a meal of themselves, like the horrible cannibals that they apparently are. So much for cute and cuddly, eh? It's always the cute ones you have to watch out for. Let's open it up and see what we have.

Heh heh. BALLS.
Well, they smell like onion and soy sauce, and they are basically corn puff balls with flavor dust on them, much like I expected. By Akira's Ghost these things are darn tasty though! It's like someone took an unflavored corn puff, dipped it in soy sauce, coated it lightly in onion powder, and let it dry. Savory, tangy, and excellently munchable, I ate almost the whole bag of these. My daughter however rejected them outright with "Yuck!", but she's a three year old and thus her opinion on the matter doesn't count. I now understand what drives these cheerful mascots to greedily devour their own kind. They are delicious! So, what the heck are these supposed to be? Well, according to the Internet, they are a snack food distillation of a takoyaki: fried octopus ball with sauce. I can honestly say that is not what I was expecting.

On the FACE Rating System, these get an easy 2 Smiley Faces. They are om nom nom good, but I wouldn't want them every day. Damn tasty though, and if you can get your hands on them, you should pop them in your food hole. Unless you hate soy sauce, probably. And you know what? I don't care if they are cannibalistic, I still want a plush version of their mascot.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Kotas Reviews Suppaiman! Snacks

Oh, we're in for a real treat in the upcoming weeks. So, one day recently I was getting my mail and I found a package on my doorstep. Since I hadn't ordered anything online recently, particularly anything from JAPAN of all places, my curiosity was piqued. After confirming with my spouse that she hadn't ordered anything, I examined the box. The customs label had the word "gift" written on it, but other then that there was no way of identifying the sender. What was inside this mysterious package? Why, a ton of really weird looking Japanese snack foods. Hold onto your butts, we're in for a bumpy ride. Many thank yous to the anonymous soul who sent me these lovely items. This review is for you! And the rest of you. First up, we have...I don't even know. Welcome to Mystery Box Madness!

Why is there a flower on his chest? Why is anything about this?
Well, from the packaging, I think this is whatever was leftover after a superhero of questionable fashion sense punched a cloud. Or possibly some sort of snack food. My goodness is this thing full of wonder. The mascot (I guess?) is appropriately detailed in a mix of art styles both West and East. I have no idea what most of the text says, but "Suppaiman!" is at least something I can parse, so we're gonna go with that being the title of these snacks. I could be way wrong, given the placement of the word as sort of arcing around the more prominent picture. It is quite striking, that's for sure. 

I have no idea what is in these at all
The only thing I know about this is that it has some sort of snack food inside, in little hollow cylinders. Opening these up hits you with a very strong scent of what I think is corn, but might be wrong, and some other scent I simply cannot identify, but is very strong. Almost vinegary in initial impression, it has lots of something else too. I am baffled.

To me it says "prototype Froot Loops", at least visually.
Well damn if these aren't interesting. The flavor is sweet and sour, with some vinegar and tomato elements. It's actually pretty tasty, and if I had to name the flavor I would say "Ketchup". It's got a bit of zing to it, but not too much, and the corn undertones meld nicely with it, though I think it might be an acquired taste. Maybe not though, since my 3 year old ate two without any issue. Given she's really not into most flavored snacks, that's a pretty solid recommendation. I don't know exactly how you fight crime, Suppaiman, but your snack food is pretty tasty, if weird. 

On the FACE Rating System, Suppaiman! gets 1 smiley face. The packaging is loud and obnoxious, the artwork makes little sense, the snack itself is a little oversized, and the flavor combination is not something I would have picked out, and yet somehow the whole thing hangs together pretty well. If you can ever find these, definitely try them, unless you hate any of the following: corn, ketchup, Anime style artwork. This is gonna be a fun romp!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Kotas Reviews Swedish Fish Oreos

There comes a time in every reviewer's life when they reach a pinnacle of accomplishment or experience. Once they've reviewed something that epitomizes what their whole reviewing career has been leading up to, one of two things will happen. They will sometimes quit reviewing, moving on to other tasks, since at this point, what more could they possibly do? Or they will be reinvigorated and seek ever higher peaks of their craft. Which one will this one be, I wonder? Ladies, Gentlemen, Children of All Ages, today we review...Swedish Fish Oreos!

This is my unicorn folks. It's gonna be a bumpy ride.
Look at it. LOOK AT IT. My goodness isn't it just MAGNIFICENT? This may very well be the Holy Grail of Weird Food Reviews, and it's not even a clever PhotoShop job. Who would have ever guessed THIS would be a thing? It's the kind of idea a 7 year old has at Halloween when they get Oreos and Swedish Fish and OF COURSE it's a great idea to eat both of them together. And some executive at Nabsico approved it. THANK YOU SO MUCH.

I love me some Swedish Fish. These little gummy morsels that look remarkably fish like have a delicious unique flavor that I mostly describe as red. They taste like red. They are classified as a wine gum candy, similar to gumdrops without the sugar coating. Chewy, slightly chemically, and oh so nomable, they are one of the few candies I enjoy any time of day. They also have a label molded right on them, in case you forgot the nationality of the candy you were greedily devouring. 

Anyway, Swedish Fish are a product of the Swedish (natch) candy maker Malaco, and are mostly sold as a pick n' mix bulk candy there. They also have different flavors elsewhere in the world, but I haven't yet seen anything other than red in the United States. The flavor is unknown, though the speculation says it might be lingonberry. Anyway, I love the things, but I am really unsure how well they match with the almost opposing flavor of the Oreo. The packaging is spot on with both the Swedish Fish and Oreo logos sharing space above a full on Swedish fish and its namesake Oreo. Let's eat.

The very essence of magnificence.
Well damn if they don't smell like Swedish Fish and Oreos being in the same bag. In fact, the odor is so powerful that other sweets pick it up if they stay in an enclosed area. I put one of these in a plastic baggie overnight along with some sugar cookies my daughter helped make, and the whole lot of them tasted vaguely of Swedish Fish afterwards. They got the smell right, is what I'm saying. The creme is almost a perfect match on the shade of red of a Swedish Fish, but it fails every twist off test I put it to, including the one shown above. 

It was with some trepidation that I started eating these. Would they be like peanut butter and chocolate, and meld together in delicious harmony? Or would it be more like peanut butter and olive oil, delicious apart but yakktacular together. Well, I can safely tell you, they are edible. They taste EXACTLY like eating an Oreo at the exact same time as a Swedish Fish. However, I don't think this is necessarily a GOOD thing that it is Exactly What It Says On The Tin. The flavors do not mix together at all, with the chemical fruitiness of the Swedish Fish clashing tremendously with the creamy chocolate flavors present in your typical Oreo. It's just so odd tasting. It's not bad exactly, in that I didn't spit it out, and I did finish the package (and bought a second one to inflict share with some friends), but I'm pretty sure I wouldn't buy them just to eat, but they do at least hold one characteristic shared by both their parents: They are weirdly addictive for reasons I can't explain or understand. 

On the FACE Rating System, this gets 0 Faces. Nabisco knocked it out of the park in achieving exactly what they set out to do, but the actual product that emerged from this unholy alliance of Swedish Fish and Oreos is just off putting and strange. I would however probably eat a package of them if you gave them to me, and may even feel compelled to eat them. It's like I'm trying to puzzle out how they accomplished this feat of bakegineering by simply eating MORE of it. Give it a whirl if you like Swedish Fish AND Oreos, but people who do NOT like Swedish Fish will absolutely hate these. Oh, and don't put it in milk. Yakktacular indeed.