Machinarium (PC, E)
If nothing else, Machinarium is a good example of how to do earth tones right - the browns are earth browns instead of shit browns, there's plenty of color to contrast with the browns and grays, the sketchbook art style is certainly pleasant to look at in and of itself, and most of all there's no bloom. It's certainly more satisfying and consistent than Samorost2, although by the end I swear the game was trying to get me to hate it. I mean, I understand that in every point and click adventure game there's going to be some overly obtuse puzzles I have to go to GameFAQs for, but fixing a didgeridoo by shoving a cat into it? Come on. But the absolute worst part of the game is towards the very end, you have to solve two Professor Layton-esque puzzles with these strings of beads while another robot in the room makes constant slobbering and hacking noises, which got really annoying really fast. Then right after you have to fix said robot by playing this really awful shooting maze minigame.
An incredibly short adventure game that, if I recall correctly, was one of the first WiiWare titles available. Also, it was obviously cut in half, with the second half later released as Winter of the Melodias. I don't know if that was to get it out on time, WiiWare game size constraints, or so you'd have to pay again for the other half of the game. It's really hard to think of much to say about this game. It's two hours long, it's easy, it ends abruptly, and the second time I took on the final boss (after dying the first time, the only time I died in the game), the hero clipped through a rock when the boss came crashing down to receive the final blow, and I had to reset and fight him again.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 XX (TV DVD)
Project Moonbase is a pretty good example of why the Season One episodes are so horrible. J. Elvis Weinstein doesn't have half the energy Kevin Murphy does as Servo, the jokes are few and far between, provide a chuckle at best, and one of the writers seemed to think having Servo read text on the screen aloud was a joke. Also, Best Brains hadn't got their silhouette technology down, so the characters are really jagged and flickery. Come on, Shout Factory, there's a reason they told Comedy Central not to air these episodes.
Sinbad is okay, but the highlights of Volume 20 are the two Master Ninja movies. Really four episodes of a TV series spliced together into two movies, I'm guessing they were meant to jump on the Karate Kid bandwagon where a deadbeat kid learns ninjustsu from a master ninja. Except the kid and the ninja just drive around in a van, saving damsels in distress. Also, another ninja occasionally shows up to duel with Lee Van Cleef for no reason. And it's freaking ninjas, what more do you want?
Drawn Together Season 1 Uncensored (TV DVD)
This is the worst shit I've seen since Shredded Moose (and don't worry, that's a link to the Your Webcomic is Bad and You Should Feel Bad review on Archive.org, not the comic. In fact, the actual comic doesn't exist anymore, and the Way Back Machine's archive doesn't have the actual comics. Good.), and at least I didn't ignorantly pay money to see Shredded Moose. Drawn Together combines the "fart and poop jokes are funny" mentality of Robot Chicken, the "pop culture references are funny" attitude of Family Guy (and Robot Chicken), the "tedious is funny" bullshit from Aqua Teen Hunger Force (and Robot Chicken), and the pandering to frat boys who think the idea of Mario doing Luigi up the ass is hee-larious of just about any gaming webcomic (and Robot Chicken) to create something that depresses me immensely to know people actually find funny.
There were a handful of jokes I probably would have laughed at if they were done in a show that wasn't so godawful (like how Skittles taste better when they're poured from their bag and not fished out of a cow pat), such as when Link Knockoff asks Betty Boop Knockoff why her first reaction when something doesn't work is to eat it, or the scene where four of the characters struggle to put an egg into a bucket. Other jokes I'd already seen done before and better, like somebody falling down the stairs of that one MC Escher painting in Futurama. And a couple of times the show would stop being offensive and be simply banal for long enough for me to *just* start wondering if I was overreacting, because yeah, it's fucking horrible, but at least it's still better than Ctrl+Alt+Del Animated, right? But then for no reason Flash Pig would shit on something (which I swear is his entire schtick, along with exposing his curly penis), or Betty Boop Knockoff would streak across the screen with her sagging breasts and pubic hair hanging down to her knees, and those doubts would go up in a puff of smoke.
Also, I wouldn't let this get to me in a better show, but one of the drawbacks of studying a foreign language is that when you see somebody on a cartoon who's supposed to be speaking that language but is actually just speaking foreign-sounding gibberish, it's really distracting. The second volume of Animaniacs might have annoyed the hell out of me, but I have to give the show credit that in one episode (that I think was actually in the first volume) there were some Japanese people touring the Warner Bros. Studio, and the translator was actually speaking Japanese.
Mac Slater Hunts the Cool (Tristan Bancks)
The moral of this story is "stand up for what you believe in, including your dreams" but it also has the age old "cool people are shallow and materialistic and fall apart when they're sense of entitlement is questioned! Cool people aren't cool!" message. Look, even if it's true, we've heard that a million times before, along with "believe in yourself and you can achieve anything!" Also, Mac has a crush on the popular girl who's a total bitch, and he and his friend are genius inventors. Does this book have anything original to bring to the table? Well, unless you count a sprinkling of pop culture references that isn't quite as bad as Daniel X but still unnecessary, no.
SWAT Kats: The Radical Squadron Complete Series (TV DVD)
I remembered SWAT Kats being like Freakazoid, in that the first season was really hit or miss, then for the second season they got their act together just in time to get cancelled. But unlike Freakazoid, my memory didn't hold up. While Season One is still a bit hit or miss, the good episodes are very strong and the weaker episodes are mediocre at worst, but the vast majority of season two is really dumb.
SWAT Kats is often noted for its violence. While I'm sure it was a bit X-TREEEMEE for its time, it's really not *that* brutal. Certainly not at the beginning where they're really careful about not killing characters. Yeah, vehicles are blowing up left and right, but you always see the pilots parachuting from the plane wreckage or bailing out of tanks just before they get melted by a laser. But I guess after they had a character get turned into crystal and shattered and saw society didn't collapse, they started killing everything. That said, I still wouldn't call the show "violent" so much as "really screwed up." People dying in explosions aside, the worst it gets is Commander Feral emerging from some rubble covered in red scratches, but I can totally see some moments sending little Timmy out of the room screaming, particularly any of the Dr. Viper episodes and the one with the Ci-Kat-A.
Season two seems to be the result of a slashed budget and either network suit influence or new writers who didn't know what the hell they were doing. A new character is introduced, Commander Feral's niece, who looks like a human with a triangle painted on the tip of her nose and cat ears, and just does not fit in with the rest of the denizens of Megakat City (another female kat introduced in season two, Turmoil, also looks like this. What gives?). And the writing itself is totally lackluster and makes up and forgets laws as it needs to. Look, I understand the Turbokat carrying about ten times as many missiles as it should AND a motorcycle, or T-Bone and Razor running through a small army of aliens with shields that only cover about half their bodies and none of the aliens think to shoot their feet is par for the course in shows like this, but when the Turbokat went into fucking outer space, even I was crying foul. One part of the Caverns of Horror episode made me laugh out loud for entirely the wrong reason, where T-Bone is running down a tunnel carrying Ann Gora, the news reporter, when a giant mutant scorpion jumps in his way. He knocks it into a lava pit by throwing Ann Gora at it. The show also reduces itself to using more cartoon cliches than I care to see, like when the SWAT Kats battle their evil clones and T-Bone almost strangles Razor because he couldn't tell the evil ones by their chain smoker voices and the green skulls on their helmets (also, in the first episode of the season, T-Bone gets mutated by Dr. Viper's mutagen and tries to kill Razor. In the Turmoil episode he kicks Razor out of an airlock. At first I thought somebody had a thing for seeing T-Bone smack Razor around, but then you have the aforementioned Ann Gora scene, so maybe they just wanted to make him look like a dick).
Also, the clip show that ends this set is a worthless piece of crap.
Four skitties for season one, two for season two.
Mystery Science Theater 3000 Vol. XIX (TV DVD)
Let's skip Robot Monster, because I'm running out of ways to say "The season one episodes suck and Shout Factory needs to stop wasting a space on every set with one". And in all honesty, I was having a bit of trouble paying attention to Bride of the Monster. But if you've heard "He tampered in God's domain" and "To be like the hu-man. To feel like the hu-man" referenced in other MST3Ks, now you know where they're from.
But if you're looking for laughs, Devil Doll and Devil Fish (hm, so we got two '"Monster" movies on the set, and two "Devil" movies) are your typical MST3K fare - good laughs, bad movies.
Phantasy Star III: Generations of Doom (Genesis)
Yeah, remember this? Well, one night I had a dream about Phantasy Star IV (I don't remember the dream entirely, but I think in it I was telling somebody on a message board about the choice of characters for the final dungeon) and it left me with a really strong craving for some Phantasy Star. Then I thought, hey, maybe this burst of inspiration is what it'll take for me to finally get through III. I wound up starting the game over, and since I chose Maia at the end of the Rhys' generation on my botched playthrough, this time I chose Lena just to see what was different.
It's really not hard to see why I gave up on this game before; I was half tempted to give in again. While the dungeons aren't half as brutal as those in Phantasy Star II, they're still somewhat maze-like. Sometimes you can find yourself going in circles and not even knowing it, but most of the time you'll just come to a fork in the road, pick a route, reach a dead end after walking in a straight line for two or three screens, then have to backtrack to the fork and try another path. If that doesn't sound annoying to you, you also get into fights every few seconds. Fights which can almost always be won with the "Everyone wail on the enemies until they fall down" button, just make sure you heal up between fights. And even if you do want to be clever, it's just too much trouble to keep going into another menu to program each character individually, and trying to remember if you already gave a character a command or not, only to start the actual fight and have it go all wrong because the Speed stat doesn't seem to mean anything in this game and everyone attacks whenever they feel like it, and accomplish the same thing as if you'd just activated combat right away. And good luck fabricating any kind of strategy on the first round with that irritating battle startup music drilling into your skull.
While I very much remembered that stone head enemy that attacks by wiggling its ears at you, I had forgotten just how terrible the battle animations were, to the point it would have been better if they didn't move at all. Almost every enemy in the game only has two frames, and are drawn to move as little as possible. Usually it's merely cheap, but every so often you hit an embarassment like Stone Alfalfa. For example, a giant tyranosaurus comes out at you. Does it attack by chomping? Stomping? No, it attacks by wiggling a little bulb at the end of its tail. Other highlights in animation include horned giants that attacks by extending their index finger into the air, cyclopses that attack by flexing their pecs, tree men that brandish giant swords but attack by flashing a light at you, and a floating head and hand that attacks with the "come closer" gesture but looks more like he's giving you the finger. Do your guys hurt themselves laughing, or something?
When I gave up the first time, I'd just gotten the sub parts for Wren but couldn't figure out what to do with them, and I couldn't take the dull as hell gameplay anymore. This time I did figure out what to do with them, but completely on accident when I was walking along the coastline by that city in the desert to check out a whirlpool somebody in said town told me about, when Wren suddenly transformed into the submarine. Damn, is my face red, I can't believe I didn't figure out something so obvious before.
Then there's the generations mechanic. This is both the game's most touted innovation (I mean, it's in the subtitle), and its biggest disappointment. The game goes through three generations and at the end of the first two you choose which of two women to marry, but this falls apart as soon as it shows up - there is no reason for Rhys to marry Lena (I only chose her because I chose Maia last time and wanted *something* resembling freshness out of this game). The whole point of his scenario is finding his fiancee, Maia, and to suddenly choose someone else when he finds her is absurd. But let's say Rhys is a narrow-minded prick, or doesn't want the political backlash, or whatever, and doesn't want to marry Maia after finding out she's Layan (although if that's the case, why did he press on after he got to Cille and had all the townfolk telling him to keep his filthy Orakian ass away from their princess?). Why Lena, then? He'd only met her at the beginning of his quest, in which she encouraged him to find Maia. Just because she's there?
But whoever you choose, all the humans you got acquainted with get ejected from the plot and replaced with a new set who all have the personality of a dial tone, because the developers have to halve their efforts on characterization with each generation. Like, in Nial's scenario this guy named Ryan joins you. Although it's never explicitly stated, he seems to be Layan because he can use magic (granted, the most worthless set in the game, but still) and weilds a staff, but he's leading a rebellion against Lune, a Layan who wants to see all Orakians dead. Is Lune bad news even for Layans? Did Ryan come to his senses, realize that Orakians aren't all bad and that Lune is a jackass? Is he actually a cyborg, and weilding a staff instead of a gun for some reason? Well, don't hold your breath for an answer, because after he joins you and tells you about the sub parts, the game seems to forget he exists, despite him being right there in your party. I mean, Phantasy Star II wasn't strong on characterization, but you still felt kinda bad for them in the ending, where (spoiler alert for a twenty year old game you're probably not going to play if you haven't already) they get massacred in a hopeless battle, light years from their home planet (where they're wanted criminals, anyway). Also, if you marry Maia at the end of Rhys' scenario, during their son whose name I can't remember's quest you get some followup on Lyle, that dragon that kidnapped Maia at the beginning, and Lena (whose daughter with another man is one of your potential wives). Marry Lena, and Lyle, the dragon, and Maia all just vanish from the game. You know what might have worked better? If Rhys just married Maia at the end of his quest, then their son married some predetermined woman at the end of his. They would have only had to work with three sets of characters instead of seven, and put all their efforts into one grand scenario instead of seven disjointed, fraction-assed ones. Personally, I would have rather seen the whole game keep the same characters, but you'd have to do something about the subtitle then.
This really isn't much of a "quickie" anymore, is it.
I ended the game with Adan, and man, I can't believe how short his quest was, but maybe I should be less surprised and more pleased. The final boss was so anticlimactic, what with him being hidden in a chest in a technology dungeon just like every other in the game, and when you kill him he doesn't explode into a spectacular display of fireworks or anything, he falls off the screen like any other back row enemy in the game. In any case, major continuity error in his ending, and two others' according to The Video Game Museum (they're all pretty damn samey, anyway, further questioning the point of the generations mechanic). But since it constitutes spoilers for both this game and Phantasy Star II, I'll white it out:
In Phantasy Star II, Palma was destroyed when a satellite crashed into it. Phantasty Star III takes place on one of the escape ships, called the Alisa III.
After you've defeated Dark Force and averted Alisa III getting sucked into a black hole, you get back on path to your new home, the third planet from a bright star that will make a perfect home for people like the Palmanians. The implication is the people of Alisa III colonize Earth, and maybe that's why Palmanians are so similar to humans? One of the other characters' endings is even more blatant about it being earth, except there's already people here.
But where this goes from unoriginal to retarded is that in Phantasy Star II's ending, after you destroy Mother Brain it's revealed she was a creation of Earth humans who fled into space after they destroyed Earth by tampering with it. Oops. So either Earth was recreated in a couple thousand years instead of a few billion, or nobody on the Phantasy Star III staff got past Palma being obliterated by the satellite in II.
While trying to make a game players could play through four times, they failed to make a game people would want to play through once.
Portal 2 (PC)
My beef with Portal was less the game itself and more the idiocy it spawned, but I still thought enough of it to go through it three times - my first time, then on the 360, then on a better PC to see if it could handle it better. I almost couldn't stomach going through Portal 2 once. The biggest complaint of Portal was how short it was, only 2 or 3 hours long, but I swear, Portal 2 was intended to shut everyone up about Portal 1's length once and for all. You think you've reached the end of the game, and then it just keeps going. And going. And GOING. If Portal was Freakazoid, this is the freaking Handman episode. The best parts are the test chambers at the beginning with GlaDOS making it clear how much she hates you, like in the first game, but then there's these large rooms that only serve as eye candy, and your goal is to comb through them trying to find the portalable (I guess that's a word?) walls to get through them. I hated these rooms, and after a while (about the time they started looking like something out of Bioshock) I started hating being in the test rooms and wishing the game would just end already.
Portal 2 tries to justify its length by constantly introducing new tools to the puzzles, such as cubes to reflect lasers around, panels that shoot objects into the air, and elevators of blue light. In about the second half of the game bouncy blue slime is introduced as a play mechanic. Okay, I guess, but then you get slippery orange slime, and it actually made my sick to my stomach to look at that crap, and when you start mixing the two, I had to call it quits for the day. And since some of the puzzles themselves can cause motion sickness anyway, a word of warning to those with tender tummies.
As an addenum, if Akira and SWAT Kats have taught me anything, it's that people going into space is a great way to end my suspension of disbelief.
More Miscellaneous Manga
Black Cat, Volumes 1 and 2
I went into this knowing it actually had nothing to do with a cat (although there's this white one that makes cameo appearances), but I wasn't expecting it to be quite as appealing as it was. I think when Sven (who, in all honesty, I have a hard time believing has green hair) met Eve was when the series clicked for me. Still room for more, though.
Full Metal Panic!, Volumes 1 and 2
The first volume was a bit oddball. At first I thought I was mistaken on the series I was thinking of - this is the series with the mechs and that killer teddy bear, right? But all I'm seeing is some kid raised on guns and military training trying to fit into high school. But the second volume is where things start going and we see some giant mech action.
Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, Volume 1
This manga was so aggressively incoherent it actually made me physically ill to read.
Bleach, Volumes 1 and 2
Out of the four really big modern manga I read this month - two volumes of Bleach and FullMetal Alchemist, one each of One Piece and Naruto - I probably liked Bleach the most. Good balance of comedy, action, and sap. For what it's worth, I also liked FullMetal Alchemist, One Piece was okay, but I just about hated Naruto. But all these manga share the same trait that keeps me from getting too invested in them - they're all, what, forty or fifty volumes long, and still going?
Taking a break from whole volumes, here's some individual MST3Ks I went back and rewatched, either because it's a personal favorite or because I wanted to refresh my memory on it:
Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (Volume 4)
This was pretty high on my favorite MST3Ks list, and unlike Angel's Revenge and Hobgoblins it still holds its place very well.
Final Justice (Volume 14)
This had me in stitches. I suppose it could have eased up on the fat jokes, but at least they're really funny fat jokes.
Horrors of Spider Island (Volume 11)
Whenever the movie went towards sex appeal the riffs got weaker, but when it focused on anything else the laughs got pretty good. But I must say, the final host segment is worth the admission price alone.