Warcraft (PG-13)

Oh boy, this was a mess. As far as movies based on video games go it's actually not terrible, but given the reputation of game-based movies that's not saying much.

The film's main problem is it alternates between assuming you already know Warcraft lore so it can skimp out on details, and trying to be its own thing. So the people who don't know Warcraft lore are going to be wondering what the hell Karazhan is or what those blue people Gul'dan sacrificed to open the Dark Portal at the beginning of the film are, while the people who are familiar with Warcraft lore are going to be left wondering why Medivh doesn't turn Khadgar into an old man during their battle. This might also be the reason the humans all give less convincing performances than the CGI orcs since, hey, you already know these characters, right? Who needs personality and development!

This isn't just a fangirlish "Wah, you changed this thing and therefore it's terrible" thing. In the games Medivh was possessed by the Dark Titan Sargeras, who used him to bring the orcs into Azeroth as pawns for the Burning Legion. And Gul'dan wanted the power of the Tomb of Sargeras, revealed to him in a dream Medivh/Sargeras sent to him. Here.... I think the explanation given for Medivh's corruption to the Fel was that he started dabbling in it, thinking he was strong enough to control it and use it for the good of Azeroth, and was ultimately consumed by it? And he brought the orcs into Azeroth because.... reasons? And Gul'dan wanted to take over Azeroth because he ran out of shit to sacrifice to the Fel in Draenor?

I also have to wonder what somebody not familiar with Warcraft is going to think of all the time spent on Durotan's infant son, with the movie even ending with a recreation the story of Moses with him. The Warcraft fans all know that kid's going to grow up to be Thrall, AKA Freder-orc Douglass, who's going to bring redemption to the orcs and forge the New Horde, and then he's going to shoot down the dragon god of death with a magic amulet and do a great big stupid and give his throne to an unstable orc-man-child. But would a newcomer think his recovery by humans is foreshadowing of the orc's integration into Azeroth, since they wouldn't know the humans that found him fucking enslave him? Or will they just wonder why anybody gives a shit about the kid? And in the film it's implied Garona is going to be the one to lead the orcs to salvation, so one of them is making the other redundant.

Although it was kind of funny when Lothar beat Blackhand by stabbing him in the dick.


Attack of the Fluffy Bunnies (Written by Andrea Beaty, Illustrated by Dan Santat)

Here we have another kid's book written in a style that thinks it's being cheeky and light-hearted, but is just smarmy and obnoxious. And I'd almost swear "Andrea Beaty" is a ghost name for M. Night Shayamalan, because the book's idea of characterization is to make everyone QUIRRRKYYY by having them be obsessed with spam (the actual garbage-meat, not Internet advertisements), and calling hot dogs "tube steaks."


Final Fantasy VII (PSX)

So here we are; THE Final Fantasy. The game that put Square and arguably the Playstation itself on the map. Touted as the greatest game ever by half its players, and an overrated pile of tripe by the other half. What do I think of it?

It's... okay. There's not much to complain about regarding the world exploration and battles making up the core of the game, but everything around that core is so much bloat.

I can certainly see why this set the world on fire when it did, though; the boys with NESes in 1987 would be teenagers in 1997, shitting their pants when Cloud comes down the stairs of Shinra HQ on the motorcycle, or when Sephiroth and his sword that's twice as long as he is tall disappears into the flames, or when Barret shows up with a gatling gun grafted to his arm, or when Tifa thrusts her breasts forward in her victory pose (actually "shitting" their pants might not be accurate with that last one). But as a 30-year-old woman in 2017 my reaction to these things was "What the hell am I watching?"

I found the story a bit easier to follow this time since I already knew how it played out and read a couple of Wikis, and even playing through Crisis Core helped. But even though I can sort of tell what's going on now, I still don't think it's very good story (not helped by the lackluster translation); if Final Fantasy VII didn't invent game stories that mistake convolution for depth, it certainly popularized them. And I just don't give enough of a shit about Cloud to care about his tiff with Sephiroth, even before it's revealed his feud was all a bad memory and he becomes a stock "Wah, I'm too weak to protect anybody" protagonist. And Nomura's thinking behind Sephiroth's creation seems to have been to remake Kefka but take out everything that made him even remotely fun, threatening, or memorable, and replace it with vapid "badass" tropes, like dressing in black and carrying a giant sword.

Going into this replay, there were two personal debates I wanted to settle. The first is whether this or X is my favorite 3D Final Fantasy.... yeah, I think I'm leaning towards X. There were moments in this game that got under my skin way more than the orb puzzles and "LIVE AND LET LIVE! I'LL BE RIGHT BACK! LIVE AND LET LIVE! LIVE AND LET LIVE! I WON'T GO SO EASY ON YOU NEXT TIME!", like chasing Ultima Weapon around the map for several minutes waiting for it to finally stop for the next round of the fight, or going the wrong way in that desert prison and getting trapped in a repeating screen maze and having to reload my file, or the obnoxious minigames like that snowboarding with the unresponsive controls (hell, the entire ice area can eat shit), the poorly explain Shinra parade, and the Fort Condor RTS... thing, or how half the battle with Safer Sephiroth is spent sitting through his godforsaken "Blow up the solar system" spell*. And I'll take FFX's linear hallways over VII's unintuitive pre-rendered backgrounds that, while pretty, left me never knowing where I could walk and which direction Cloud would walk in when I pressed a given button, which led to me running back and forth between screens on several occasions when the button I thought would make him move along a path caused him to turn on his heels run back through the door. And I've never heard of anyone getting lynched for pronouncing Tidus "tie-dus" instead of "tih-dus".

* The first time I played this game, he only cast that spell once. This time I had to watch it four bloody times. This might have been because on my first play I dropped three or four Knights of the Rounds on his ass. This time I only cast it once, and even went in with the intention of beating him without using it at all. But when I saw him winding up for his third Super Nova I thought "Oh, fuck this."

The second is where Cid sits among the three best 3D Final Fantasy characters. One thing that makes this so hard to determine is how deep a niche he's made himself in ten years, while I've only known Auron and Balthier for a few months. But I have to concede that, while Cid is certainly a fun character in-game and I got a chuckle every time he asked Cloud to ride the chocobo, once the game is over I just don't think he has the staying power of the other two. And in retrospect, it's not hard to see why he got defanged in Kingdom Hearts II, since I can't imagine Disney was very keen on the idea of him telling Donald Duck to sit his ass down and drink his goddamned tea. Which isn't to say Cid is now shit in my eyes; the scene where he's in outer space and has suddenly gone from a cantankerous bastard to a little kid admiring the stars and his speech about the planet afterwards just might be the best part of the game. Just... look at who he's up against.

And as far as I'm concerened, Sephiroth impaling Aeris is the second most cathartic character death in a Final Fantasy after Kefka punting Ghestal off the Floating Continent. Even Red XIII finding his father was more emotional. But you know what struck me about Aeris' death this time around? The game itself doesn't even seem to give a shit. "Hm, that's a shame. NOW WHO'S UP FOR SNOWBOARDING?"


Ittle Dew (PC)

Ittle Dew is a cute little Zelda clone, consisting of one large dungeon broken up with trips to smaller dungeons to acquire three tools to solve the puzzles in the main castle. The dialogue is also pretty funny, and the final boss reveal is one of the funniest I've seen.

... yeah, I'd probably have more to say about it if it wasn't over in two hours.


The Beginner's Guide (PC)

The Beginner's Guide comes to us from the creator of The Stanley Parable, which was my favorite game of last year. And while they share a lot of surface elements, both being boxy walking simulators with a narrator that are hard to review because they're games that are best played blind, they're actually two very different experiences. While Stanley Parable was a comedic satire on storytelling, Beginner's Guide is a soul-crushing look into the struggles of being an artist, and hit especially hard for me as I was undergoing massive frustration regarding my own work at the time (I've dug myself out of that hole somewhat since then, but still...)

I'm still docking it for giving me motion sickness, though.


Axiom Verge (PC)

If you can imagine Super Metroid with a big scoop of Another World mixed in, you've pretty much got Axiom Verge. Although while Super Metroid rewarded you for exploration with life upgrades and increased capacity for your missiles and bombs, most of the time I'd backtrack through Axiom Verge's world trying to find that one barrier I passed by hours before that took the item I'd just unlocked, only to receive a weapon I never used for my troubles. And while the pixel art is for the most part gorgeous, at times I swear it's deliberately trolling trypophobes.

But the game is held back from true greatness by its controls. Okay, 90% of that is because the 360 controller is garbage for 2D platformers. But this was like Teslagrad where by the end the game was so glutted with abilities I started having trouble managing Trace. And was double-tapping really the best option for dashing? Not only was it needlessly difficult to dash when I wanted to, I was constantly dashing when I didn't want to. This really got on my nerves during the final boss fight, where I think you're supposed to dash through his turrets when they rush you, but dashing in this game is a crapshoot and my ability to beat him hinged on how many of the turrets I destroyed dropped health refills.


Samurai Jack Season 1 (TV DVD)

The classic cartoon about a samurai time-displaced by an evil wizard, Samurai Jack uses its fish-out-of-water premise to give us both high energy martial art battles again insect robots, aliens, and fish people, and the comedic scenarios of a no-nonsense swordsman in a world of insanity. And it is a damn stylish show.

Some episodes are about Jack finding a lead on how he can return to the past, or at least a way to defeat Aku in the current time. Other episodes are more of a scenario-of-the-day faire, like when Jack is lured into a mountain to fight a man of stone who just wants to die in battle so he can finally move on to the afterlife, or when he crosses paths with an angry Scotsman I immediately recognized as being voiced by John DiMaggio who he then has to team up with when they get handcuffed together (although I have to wonder why Jack couldn't just jump over the Scotsman when they were on the bridge. And if you think it's because he was afraid of falling off the bridge, he didn't seem to have a problem leaping 50 feet into the air to perform his sword-shattering move).

But there's a certain bit of knowledge hanging over the series, stifling investment in any of the "lead to the past" episodes; because this is a TV series with five seasons, you know Jack isn't going to succeed. I guess the purpose is in seeing what exactly screws him out of his victory in a given episode, but this need to keep the status quo led to the most enraging episode on the set, the one with the gangsters. I was actually enjoying it up until the copout ending, and just to put the cherry on it Jack is a total dumbass afterwards when he lets the gangsters keep the water jewel just because they said they were going clean. You'd think he'd have learned something from the green swordswoman, or the Woolie tamers.

At least it's followed by the most gloriously fucked up episode on the set, where Aku gathers a bunch of children and instead of, I dunno, eating them, he tells them a series of progressively more off-the-wall fairy tales.


Never Alone (PC)

Dear Developers:

When creating an "arty" platformer based on another culture's folklore, could you please make sure the game's controls and physics work? Because when you put out a game that's basically a cross between ICO and Limbo and the basics of the actual game barely function, it comes off as you using pretentiousness as a criticism shield.

Best Wishes.