Windforge PC Video Game Review

Windforge

There’s an old adage in sports journalism that goes, “No cheering in the press box.” It means that no matter how much you’re rooting for one team or outcome, you must remain neutral as a member of the press.

Reviewing Windforge has been my cheering-in-the-press-box moment because I’ve been eagerly awaiting its release since I first found its Kickstarter page that promised a Contra-meets­-Minecraft building-block RPG. It had Steampunk aesthetics and flying whales and shipbuilding – the description basically read like a checklist of my most-wanted gaming features.

I didn’t come into Windforge as a passive reviewer, I came in wanting to love the heck out of it and champion it as the next can’t-miss indie smash hit. And that makes writing this review all the harder, because for all of its promise and potential, Windforge has a lot of issues.

On its surface, Windforge is an easy game to love. It’s a 2D-style crafting game similar to Terraria, but with gorgeous graphics and a greater focus on narrative to help drive your exploration. In an era when so many indie games are going the 8-bit nostalgia route, it’s refreshing to see a studio go all-out with their art style, and the visuals are one of the game’s biggest selling points along with its wonderful soundtrack.

But for as good as Windforge looks and sounds, problems arose almost as soon as I took control of my custom-created character. The first thing I tried to do was examine my ship’s engines and I got kicked back to my desktop. Twenty minutes later I died by walking into my ship’s propeller and chose the option to be spawned in town and got kicked back to the desktop. The latest patch that I auto-downloaded nuked my manual save file (guess where I got kicked when I tried to load it?), forcing me to load from an earlier autosave instead. From then on I saved nervously every couple of minutes just in case I hit another glitch, and that’s something no gamer wants to deal with.

Patches will surely serve to even out some of these glitches (I’ve seen multiple updates being pushed through both pre- and post-launch), but even when Windforge is running smoothly from a technical standpoint, the gameplay still hits its fair share of rough patches. Your on-foot character feels like you’re controlling a mini airship rather than a person, making even basic navigation a chore. The best way I can describe it is ‘floaty,’ and your character glides at such speeds that I actually started to get a headache after extended sessions from the detailed scenery rushing by. Jumping onto the back of a flying whale and blasting away until it crashes to the ground below should be great fun,  but more times than not I felt like I was battling the controls as much as my enemies.

Crafting and building – the other half of this ContraMinecraft marriage – also comes with its set of frustrations. Everything can be broken down and mined for elements in Windforge, but the tradeoff of the beautiful graphics style is that element blocks are not as clearly defined as they are in other mining games. That makes mining feel imprecise, like you’re waving your mouse at a cluster of ground that’s producing blocks rather than selecting each individual block to mine. Building also felt clumsy, and trying to get turrets and propellers to ‘stick’ to the right spot of my airship was unnecessarily touchy.

Of course, you need to explore in order to mine resources, and Windforge pulls no punches early. You’ll be under constant assault from winged monsters and human enemies as your underpowered airship scurries from one floating island to the next, and often times I found it best to just put my head down and run to the next objective rather than deal with the constant assault as I scrapped for resources.

It’s too bad, because there is a framework to a good game in Windforge, and one that will hopefully emerge as Snowed In Studios continues to patch and tweak it. But right now that good game is stymied by bugs and a general lack of polish. The soundtrack and art style are both some of the best in the indie gaming scene, but those ultimately feel like a shiny coat of paint on a house with some serious structural flaws.

Rating: 5.0/10.0

Windforge PC Video Game Review | Snowed In Studios | March 11, 2014

(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)

(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Manhattan Before8 and Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)

Powerstar Golf Review

Powerstar Golf CoverAt times, Powerstar Golf feels a lot like playing its real-world counterpart. Like real golf, Powerstar is filled with frustration, botched shots, curse words muttered under your breath as your shot bounces into the bunker for the hundredth time, and promises that you’ll never play again. But then you hit that one shot, that one perfect shot, and it makes all the frustration worth it.

Powerstar Golf is an arcade-style golf game through and through. You select one of the Pixar-stylized characters, then play them through a series of tournaments in challenges in increasingly dangerous and exotic environments that earn you coins and experience. Shots are handled via a power meter – tap A when it reaches its peak for maximum power, then tap A again in the middle of the accuracy gauge to try and hit your ball straight. It’s challenging, especially when factors like wind and water hazards come into play, and that challenge can be startling when contrasted with the cartoony animations and overall tone.

Each golfer has their own special ability that can be used a limited number of times per round, like a power boost or an energy field that draws your ball closer to the pin. You also equip a caddy with their own ability to either show the predicted flight of your drive or the predicted path of your putt. None of these abilities are overpowered, and they’re limited enough that they won’t save your entire round, but they can be a lifesaver in a tricky situation.

Early rounds in Powerstar Golf are rough. Your golfer (there are only two available at the start of the game) is woefully underpowered, and that means scraping for par in even the first few events. You gain experience and coins through completing holes and in-game challenges, and while leveling up your experience unlocks more courses and challenges, coins are your life-blood here.

Coins allow you to buy booster packs, and those packs contain random clubs and stat boosters that are the only way to improve your golfer. That means that you never know which upgrade you’re paying for, and that can be frustrating when you’ve already unlocked three sets of woods and you’re dying for a new putter. And like seemingly every next-gen offering on the Xbox One, coins can be purchased for real-life currency to speed up the process.

To complicate matters, there are also custom clubs that can be unlocked for each golfer, but those are also randomly inserted into the most expensive packs. The problem is that the more golfers you unlock, the more those elusive custom clubs will spread across your entire roster regardless of who you play with. It’s frustrating that the best strategy is to only play with one of the two initially-unlocked golfers to try and unlock all of their clubs first instead of unlocking the rest of the cast to experiment with.

Fortunately, the gameplay on the course really makes up for Powerstar’s microtransaction shortcoming, especially the brilliant Rivals mode. Powerstar Golf has no online multiplayer in a traditional sense – you can’t jump into a lobby and play live against an opponent – but Rivals mode puts you against three other friends or strangers who have already completed certain rounds, then lets you play through the round with them just like a live game. You see their shots and you rotate strokes just like in a normal online game, but the benefit here is there’s no waiting and no risk of an opponent backing out because they need to leave or are playing poorly. It’s a great way to earn coins and experience quickly as you get more reward for each player whose score you beat, and you can even earn XP offline if another player fails to top your score.

There’s also incentive to go back and replay holes because the best shots that you and your friends make are indicated by markers on the course, and you earn bonus XP each time you set a new personal best or outdrive your friend. It’s all wonderfully addictive and builds a great level of competition and oneupsmanship because your friends’ shots are always in front of you begging to be beaten.

Powerstar Golf isn’t the killer launch app that is going to send you running to the store for an Xbox One. Its graphics are akin to most Xbox 360 games, and there’s nothing truly new or groundbreaking at play. But what Powerstar Golf is is a heck of a lot of fun, and the online features give it a ton of replay potential.

Rating: 7.0/10

Powerstar Golf Xbox One Videogame Review | Microsoft Game Studios | November 22, 2013

(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)

(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Manhattan Before8 and Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)

LocoCycle Xbox One Video Game Review

LocoCycle CoverComedy is one of the finest lines that a developer can walk while making a game.

Do it right and you can produce a classic like Portal or the Monkey Island series that keeps the player laughing and engaged throughout the experience. But if you miss the mark, you risk subjecting the player to hours of eye-rolling and cringe-inducing ‘humor’ that can overshadow every other aspect of the game.

Unfortunately, LocoCycle misses the mark far more often than it hits it.

You play as I.R.I.S., a sentient motorcycle built by the Big Arms Corporation to be a military weapon. But when I.R.I.S. gets struck by lightning, she develops the urge to be free and makes a run for a biker freedom rally in Scottsburg, Indiana, dragging her poor mechanic Pablo behind her by his pants leg.

What follows is an absurd chase through Middle America with Big Arms agents, SUVs, and a rival bike named S.P.I.K.E. all trying to take I.R.I.S. and Pablo down. LocoCycle is a vehicle combat game with action that bounces between shooting, ping-pong melee attacks between flying enemies, and a healthy dose of quick-time events. Your score builds as you chain combinations and avoid taking damage, and that score can be used as currency at the end of each stage to unlock health perks and new combat options like helper drones and the ability to fling Pablo like a ninja star.

This all unfolds at breakneck speed, and it’s just as silly as it sounds. But even at just four hours in length, LocoCycle becomes extremely repetitive, and the upgrades and few enemy variants don’t do enough to mix up or enhance the shallow combat. It’s fun in a mindless, daytime-TV kind of way, but there isn’t much of a hook to go back and keep playing once the final credits roll.

But to get to the final credits, you have to suffer through LocoCycle’s dreadful live-action cut scenes, and they are far and away the worst part of the game. While the in-game action contains some genuinely funny moments, the live-action scenes that serve as a bridge from chapter to chapter aim to be campy but veer wildly into overacted and unfunny territory. The production value is akin to something shot in your friend’s backyard, and the scenes don’t have nearly enough charm to justify the several minutes that each one takes to unfold.

LocoCycle is fun in spurts, but that fun is undermined by repetition and humor that will leave you groaning rather than grinning. The Xbox One post-launch library is sparse, but you’re better off holding out for a more substantial offering.

Rating: 5.0/ 10.0

LocoCycle Xbox One Video Game Review | Xbox One | 22 November, 2013. Twisted Pixel Games

(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)

(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Manhattan Before8 and Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Xbox One Review

Max,_The_Curse_of_Brotherhood_box_artMax: The Curse of Brotherhood is a sequel to 2010’s Max & the Magic Marker that released across the Wii, Playstation Network and a variety of touchscreen devices. Developer Press Play has gone exclusively to the Xbox One for their 2013 sequel (with an Xbox 360 version reportedly in the works for 2014), and their outing represents one of the few post-launch downloadable titles available on the Xbox One to date.

You play as Max, a boy who must rescue his little brother Felix after accidently banishing him to an alternate dimension. Max is aided by a magic marker that can control elements of nature, and he sets out to reclaim his brother from the evil Mustacho.  It’s a thoroughly goofy affair, but each of the characters have their charm and the simple story is actually a highlight of the game. There aren’t many twists and turns thrown at you, but as a vehicle of moving Max from point A to point B, the story does its job in a pleasant way.

Gameplay is divided between basic platforming and using your magical pen to manipulate environmental triggers, with occasional chase scenes thrown in as a change of pace. Max has no direct attack against enemies, so every encounter becomes a puzzle in how to safely bypass your threat.

Max isn’t the fleetest of foot, and that lack of jumping height and movement speed combined with one-hit kills means that there isn’t much margin for error if you misjudge a jump or enemy. Early in the game I sprinted up a hill only to realize a second too late that a boulder was about to come crashing down, leaving me with no time to escape back to a hanging rope before I was crushed. My playthrough was filled with these kinds of deaths, and while it taught me to play more cautiously than I would in a game like Super Mario, there was a feeling of trial and error at play like there was no chance of me reacting with the necessary speed without knowing what was coming first. Fortunately checkpoints are spaced fairly frequently throughout each level, so you’re never bumped too far back after a death.

Holding down the left trigger brings up Max’s magic marker, which you can use to ‘draw’ items from glowing prompts like dirt pillars, vines, and tree branches. It’s here that The Curse of Brotherhood shows its touchscreen roots, and the translation to a controller isn’t as seamless or precise as it could or probably should be. Early in my playthrough I remember thinking that the delay in holding the trigger and the marker appearing on the screen could be really annoying if you ever needed to draw something quickly, and that fear was realized in later chase sequences that were made far tenser by battling the imprecise controls than the baddies chasing Max down.

But while the controls can be a bit stifling, there is a lot that enjoyed about The Curse of Brotherhood. The art style is reminiscent of a Pixar movie, and the environments are all beautiful and engaging. Pacing is also handled well, and I found myself unlocking a new marker power right at the point when I was getting bored with the status quo.

As much as I enjoyed the game – and ultimately I did enjoy it – $15 is a steep price to pay for roughly eight hours of mediocre gameplay and pretty visuals. Even the added collectibles are mostly hidden in plain view or require some minor exploration to find, and any achievements you don’t collect on your first playthrough can be mopped up with a handful of replayed levels.

If you’ve already exhausted your Xbox One launch library and are searching for something new to justify your early console adoption, you’ll find some things to love in this offering. But as far as essential downloadable titles goes, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is one you can skip.

Rating: 7.0/10

Max: The Curse of Brotherhood Xbox One Review/ Xbox One/ December 20, 2013, Press Play

Cloudberry Kingdom Xbox Live Arcade Review

The opening sequence to Cloudberry Kingdom gave me more anxiety than most full games ever have or will. In it, a computer-controlled character navigates through an endless loop of randomly-generated platforming levels from hell, narrowly dodging spikes and sawblades on his way to safety. These levels looked impossible, with no discernable pattern or pause in the action to speak of.

“How the heck am I supposed to do that?” I asked myself. And as I pressed the start button, one thing was certain – I was going to die a lot.

Cloudberry Kingdom began as a Kickstarter project from Pwnee Studios with a modest $20,000 budget, but was picked up by publishing giant Ubisoft for distribution. In it, you’re tasked with navigating your cartoonish and customizable character through an endless supply of increasingly difficult levels.

The hook of Cloudberry Kingdom is its algorithms, which it uses to create a literally endless supply of levels to continuously test your platforming chops. As you play deeper, the levels get more and more challenging, and even though a perfect run can get you through a level in a matter of seconds, the chances of getting a perfect run on your first attempt are very, very low. Laser beams, enemies, saws, falling and disappearing platforms, everything conspires to kill you, and there were times when I would reach a level, see what awaited me, and would ask again, “Seriously, how the heck am I supposed to do that?”

But that challenge is what makes Cloudberry Kingdom so much fun. There’s a sort of masochistic joy to it all, and I couldn’t wait to see how the algorithms would come together to try and thwart me next. And fortunately, each level contains ten crystals to collect, but their real purpose seems to be serving as a guide for the best path to take. Often times it’s best to bomb through a level to match the optimal timing, turning your run into a twitch-reflex sprint to the finish that leaves you out of breath by the time you finish.

A game like this would be impossibly frustrating if its controls were imprecise, but Cloudberry Kingdom’s are buttoned up tight. It was strangely comforting knowing that if – when – I died, it was my fault, and the instant respawn means that there’s no consequence for experimenting and ultimately dying other than starting back at the beginning of the level.

Make no mistake, Cloudberry Kingdom is frustrating – thus is the nature of platformers that demand this level of perfection – but it’s never unfair. And when you finally do complete a difficult level after hundreds of attempts, the feeling of accomplishment is such that you’ll eagerly move on to the next one to experience it again.

Throw in the ability to adjust game sliders to change everything about your character and the game physics (which the computer will then use to create new levels for you), and you’re looking at a serious amount of replay ability. Hardcore fans will find as much content as they can possibly handle, and it’s impressive to see a level come together out of nothingness and work.

The difficulty will be a turnoff to some, and the graphics, while cute, are nothing to write home about. But if platforming is your thing, and you like a game that will happily kick your butt, Cloudberry Kingdom is worth a buy.

Rating: 8/10

Cloudberry Kingdom Box Art

Cloudberry Kingdom Xbox Live Arcade Review/ Pwnee Studios, Ubisoft/ pwnee.com

(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)

(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Manhattan Before8 and Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)

Storm Xbox Live Arcade Review

xboxboxartStorm is a physics-based puzzle game that tasks you with navigating a seed from a tree to a patch of dirt of the other side of the map using wind, rain , and lighting.

Gameplay is divided into four seasons – spring, summer, autumn, and winter – with each of the 49 levels comprising one day in a season. Each season presents players with new challenges and gameplay mechanics, like dry grass that can be set on fire in summer and freezing seeds in winter. The varying seasons keeps things fresh, and I would complete a season just as I was starting to tire of its particular gimmick.

The physics are Storm’s driving force, and they work well for the most part. Wind blows the seed in different directions, rain floats the seed and creates currents, and lightning bounces the seed and can destroy rocks and logs. These elements can sometimes be imprecise though, and led to some frustration when water wouldn’t flow the direction I wanted it to or a boulder bounced the wrong way and blocked my progress. I had to accept that I was simply guiding my seed rather than controlling it, but giving up that control might be difficult for some gamers.

Other times, I’d beat levels by barely bouncing my seed over an obstacle, and I wasn’t sure if I had beaten the level the ‘right’ way, or just manipulated my way through it instead. Maybe that’s part of the beauty of Storm, accepting the flow of nature instead of needing to control everything directly, but when you’re as obsessive-compulsive about puzzles as I am, it can be frustrating to not know if you actually solved the puzzle.

Storm also offers an additional Spirits mode where your seed must collect spirits throughout each level, thus requiring you to stretch above and beyond the level’s main path. It’s a nice challenge that adds a bit of replay, but if you’ve already invested the time to beat the main game, collecting spirits doesn’t offer a ton of incentive to replay every level again.

I enjoyed Storm, and the soft art style and mellow music are a nice backdrop to relax to. It’s not a puzzler I’ll be going back to months down the road, but if you’re looking for a change of pace to fill 10 hours of your time, Storm is definitely worth a look.

Rating: 7/10

Storm Xbox Live Arcade Review/ Eko Software, June 14, 2013

(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)

(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Manhattan Before8 and Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)

State of Decay Xbox Live Arcade Review

Over the last few years, the genre of survival horror has taken a marked turn towards action horror. Later installments of series like Dead Space and Resident Evil play like Michael Bay blockbusters, and it’s rare to have an actual sense of dread for the monsters that you’re mowing down.

That’s what makes State of Decay, the ambitious new XBLA offering from Undead Labs and Microsoft Game Studios, so refreshing. Play like Rambo, and you are going to get torn apart, and for the first time in a long time, you’ll actually fear the consequence of death.

When you die in most games, you get a game-over message, and the worst consequence is jumping back to a checkpoint and losing some progress. Die in State of Decay, and that character is gone forever, leaving you to carry on as one of your other survivors.

State of Decay is many things, but forgiving is not one of them.

At its core, State of Decay is about surviving. You are dropped into a massive open world where every building can be explored and searched. There are bases that you can construct, other survivors that can join your community and must be taken care of (you can switch control between characters if they are loyal to you), and food and materials to scavenge. On top of all of this, each survivor comes with their own unique traits and abilities, and can be leveled up in areas like melee combat and how much weight they can carry.

If it sounds like a lot to wrap your head around, it is, and orienting yourself to the gameplay can be daunting and a bit frustrating. There is no hand-holding, and while text descriptions pop up as you navigate the pages of your menu, it can take several hours before you’re clear on everything that the game has to offer.

The world that you live in also evolves in real time, so resources are depleted at your base even when the game is off. Adding to the difficulty, the resources and cars in the game are also finite, so if you wreck a car plowing through a crowd of zombies, that car is gone for good. Fortunately you can upgrade your base to repair damaged vehicles and weapons, but it makes you feel like there are real consequences for playing wastefully and recklessly.

In fact, consequences are what sets State of Decay apart from most other zombie-focused action games. Whereas I would normally charge headfirst into battle, the concept of perma-death had me slinking down back allies past zombie hordes praying that I didn’t alert them to my presence. It was maddening to lose a character that I had spent hours leveling up, but that just made the rest of my playthrough all the more tense and satisfying.

State of Decay isn’t perfect by any means. Graphics are constantly popping in and I encountered a myriad of glitches like zombies shifting through walls and cars disappearing as I was driving in them. The sheer magnitude of the game means that it’s rough around the edges, but none of the glitches will keep you from enjoying yourself and getting lost in its vast world.

This game isn’t for everyone. Some players will be turned off by the learning curve, real-time resource depletion and perma-death. But if you’re looking for an unforgiving challenge that you can really sink your teeth into, State of Decay is the game you’ve been waiting for.

Rating: 8/10

State of Decay Box Art

 

State of Decay Xbox Live Arcade Review/ Microsoft Game Studios, Undead Labs, 2013/ UndeadLabs.com

(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)

(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)

Fireburst Xbox Live Arcade Review

Fireburst is built on risk and reward – set your car on fire to boost and destroy opponents, but hold that boost for too long and you go up in flames yourself. Water cools your car down, allowing for more sustained boosts, but fire barrels threaten to raise your car’s temperature at every turn.

It’s an interesting concept, and reminds me a bit of the Nintendo 64’s Star Wars Episode I: Racer, but unfortunately the concept here doesn’t lend itself to much fun.

Neither does the game in general.

Fireburst suffers from a variety of issues that make it more chore than fun to play. Handling is difficult and sluggish, with cars feeling extremely heavy and unresponsive. Several times my car felt like it was drifting to one side or the other despite my finger not even being on the left thumbstick. The camera also has a tendency to wander rather than staying directly behind your bumper, which can be maddening when courses are comprised of sharp turns that, exacerbated by the poor handling, need to be reacted to quickly.

Adding to the difficulty, the car physics are pretty wonky, and several times I found my car driving up an obstacle or bouncing at an unpredictable angle when clipping an object. With the time trial races being decided by seconds, it only takes one of these little freakouts to cost you the race.

The characters themselves skew more obnoxious than charming and spout repetitive taunts throughout each race. If you’ve ever wanted to hear a Japanese school girl shout one-liners in a horrible Asian accent, now is your chance. Unfortunately, I had a lot of time to hear that, because the soundtrack might be the worst of any game I’ve ever played, and I turned it down after about 30 minutes of gameplay, unable to take any more.

Each character has their own fire mechanic, like the ability to turn into a fireball or leave trails of fire from their wheels, and the best part of the game is strategically balancing when to use these attacks against opponents. The mechanic is extremely touchy though, and trying to watch your heat meter while navigating the levels with an unresponsive car can be a big pain. I often found it better to hoard my boost until opponents were near, set it off to kill them, and then ignore it the rest of the race in favor of staying cool and thus less vulnerable.

The biggest positive of Fireburst is the level design, which features nice variety and interesting details like shipwrecks and crashed airplanes to weave through. It’s all very pretty to look at and well-constructed, and I only wish that the character and car designs matched the intricacies and charm of the courses they’re racing through.

At $10, it’s hard for me to recommend Fireburst to anyone. These is simply too much wrong with the core mechanics, and the pretty scenery can’t rescue what is ultimately a frustrating game that is much less fun to play than look at.

Rating: 3/10

Fireburst Cover

Fireburst Xbox Live Arcade Review/ indiePub/ indiePubGames.com

(This game was reviewed with a download code provided by the publisher)

(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)

 

The Summer of Beer and Whiskey Book Review

On its surface, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey is a book about the birth of the upstart American Association baseball league in the 1880’s and about Chris von der Ahe, the eccentric owner of the St. Louis Browns who purchased the team so that he could sell more beer.

That in and of itself might make for an interesting story, but one with limited appeal if you’re not interested in baseball or historical novels. But baseball, despite being the focus of and backdrop to the entire story, is not what you’ll remember after reading this book. Rather, The Summer of Beer and Whiskey is a book about people, and it’s those characters that will stay with you long after you’ve turned the final page.

At the center of the story is von der Ahe, a German immigrant and beer garden owner who gambled that he could sell more beer by buying a baseball team and hosting Sunday games with cheap tickets and plentiful alcoholic refreshments. What was initially dismissed as the “Beer and Whiskey Circuit” soon blossomed into a full-fledged league that came to rival the established National League and helped breathe life into a dying sport. As the American Association grew in popularity and talent, it began to clash with the National League while ultimately erupting into a national frenzy of fandom during the 1883 pennant race.

Author Edward Achorn weaves newspaper quotes from the era throughout the book like they’re character dialogue, which means that instead of a dusty historical retelling, you’re reading the authentic language of the time from the people who actually spoke it. The result is an utterly charming read with a real sense of atmosphere that serves to connect you with these ballplayers from a bygone era. Prior to this book, I really had no interest in the late 1800’s, but the dialogue and the way that Achorn seamlessly transitions between quotes and providing context had me completely engrossed form start to finish.

Often times, I found myself taken aback by the medieval nature of early baseball – referred to as base-ball back then – and of the time period in general. Players played without gloves or helmets and suffered gruesome injuries both at the plate and on the field as a result. Several times throughout the story players were struck in the head with pitches, oftentimes being described as falling like they’d been shot, only to stagger back to their feet and resume play a few minutes later. Team employees would cover their teams for the local papers, a clear conflict of interest by today’s journalistic standards. Pitchers would often pitch multiple days in a row until their arms quit from exhaustion, and games were sometimes so crowded that spectators would line up along the outfield to watch. Humorously, teams would agree that any balls hit onto these crowds, who were standing on the field of play, would be considered doubles.

Achorn also reveals a darker side to America’s pastime. Players were often drunkards who would even show up to games inebriated, and cheating to take advantage of the one umpire who presided over the game was common. Racism was also rampant, with African-American bat boys being treated as mascots or good-luck charms and one American Association owner who made his money by performing in blackface. It was uncomfortable growing attached to and rooting for some characters, only to realize that they shared in the views that were sadly commonplace during that time period.

Darkness aside, the story as a whole is fast-moving and massively entertaining, with von der Ahe’s Browns vying with the Philadelphia Athletics for the 1883 pennant until the final week of the season. It’s a pennant race rich with drama, and perfect for Achorn’s style of storytelling, as the newspaper reports capture the feverous levels of fandom gripping both cities as each crucial game played out. I found myself rooting for one team just like any other fan would, completely caught up in the wins and losses and cheering when they ultimately triumphed.

I really can’t praise The Summer of Beer and Whiskey enough, as it is truly one of my favorite books that I have ever read. Don’t let the topic of baseball pigeonhole this title, there is something that anyone and everyone can enjoy in Achorn’s masterful retelling of one of the more colorful episodes in sports history.

Rating: 10/10

The Summer of Beer and WhiskeyThe Summer of Beer and Whiskey by Edward Achorn review/ 336 pages, hardcover/ PublicAffairs, April 30, 2013

(This book was reviewed with a copy provided by the publisher)

(Cameron Gidari is a freelance writer and the author of Seattle Before8. Follow him on Twitter at @CGidari)