Aquaman (PG-13)

Since everybody sort of shrugged at Justice League instead of pelting it with old vegetables like Batman v. Superman, DC must have taken that a sign to be less grumpy with their movies. And hey, Jason Momoa seemed to be enjoying himself as Aquaman in what little screentime he got, so let's give him his own movie and let him go nuts. And it actually works alright. It's over-the-top, silly, and brightly colored (unlike Justice League, which looked like it was filmed through a smoke cloud and had the saturation bumped up in editing), and has memorable set pieces like the confrontation with the leviathan and the big undersea battle at the end. I also prefer Aquaman's message of "Hey, let's try not being xenophobic dicks and try to communicate for a change, y'know?" to Justice League's "We are nothing without Superman, WAH."

Question time: I'm pretty sure this takes place after Justice League because Mera references Arthur/Aquaman's fight with Steppenwulf while trying to warn him about the Atlanteans declaring war on the humans, and Aquaman wasn't wearing the gold and green mail in Justice League. Later, the poncy prince guy says Arthur has no right to throne as his half-blooded butt has never even been in Atlantis. But didn't Arthur briefly come into Atlantis try to save the Motherbox from Steppenwulf? It's possible I missed something (maybe the Motherbox was kept near Atlantis but wasn't actually in the city, or the poncy prince just wasn't aware Arthur tried to defend the Motherbox), but I wonder if this was originally planned to come out before Justice League and somebody forgot to edit something.


Even More Humongous Entertainment Adventure Games (PC)

At least Freddi Fish and the Case of the Haunted Schoolhouse got away from that "follow the bottle" claptrap. I'm not sure if I like the "If somebody steals your shit, they're just sad and you should let them keep it" moral, though.

Spy Fox in: Some Assembly Required was... surprisingly okay? It actually had several puzzles that made me think oh, I have to go here and use this item to do this thing or get this information. Spy Fox's quips are still kind of grating, and having to watch a cutscene where the villain repeats his evil scheme every time you complete one of the major steps in shutting down his doomsday device wasn't really necessary.

The defining moment of Freddi Fish and the Case of the Stolen Conch Shell for me was at the end of the game, when Freddi pulls an item out of a bag that's supposed to implicate one of the suspects. In my case she* pulled out a microphone, but because I had collected all the pieces of the shell and got shunted to the final area before meeting all the suspects, I had absolutely no fucking idea who it belonged to. That's some great event checking there, guys! I had to guess based on two other suspects telling me they'd seen the octopus hanging around the conch shell before it disappeared and the fact she sort of looked like a singer.

* Yeah, in this one we find out Freddi's a girl. Color me surprised.

Pokemon: Volcanion and the Mechanical Marvel (Y7)

Some time before the launch of Sun and Moon, it occurred to me that I hadn't seen any of the Pokemon movies after 2000 and decided to rectify that (except for one reason or another, I didn't get around to the Zoroark and Hoopa movies). In the process I thought I'd do a writeup on the series but dropped the idea for couple of reasons, one of them being so many of the movies falling into three storylines:

1. Shit got fucked in the past but was unfucked, but it's getting fucked again and Ash and company must repeat the past to unfuck it.
2. A prophecy says shit is going to get fucked now, Ash and company must fulfil that prophecy to unfuck it.
3. An evil human is using Pokemon to fuck shit up, Ash and company must unfuck it while proving there's good in humans.

And going through that over and over just wasn't going to be exciting to read or write about. A couple were okay; the Deoxys and Arceus ones at least felt like something was accomplished at the end as opposed to the status quo being restored, and I vaguely remember the Giratina movie would have been passable if Shaymin wasn't such an irritating little shit. But most of them were different flavors of bad, the worst being the Manaphy one with a tortuously drawn out runtime of over two hours. Or at least that was the trend up to the Arceus movie, after which they become forgettable. What even happened in the Genesect movie?

In this outing, Volcanion oversees a valley of Pokemon that were dumped by their trainers, drawing parallels to an abandoned pet sanctuary. And as the overprotective guardian of his wards he hunts down some thugs who steal an unusual Pokemon named Magearna, and during the chase he gets chained to Ash by a pair of magnetic bands. And fucking hell was Volcanion such an irrational bastard over that. Watching him repeatedly steam-blasting Ash away, then getting pissy when the bands activated and pulled Ash back into him got old fast. And smooth move making Ash a suit of armor that blows up when submerged in water, inventor kid whose name I don't care about. It's not like your world is full of creatures that can summon tidal waves.

A lot of the dialogue felt like advertisting. You can practically hear the film going "Hey, kids, do you know what Pokemon this is? Yes, it's Pinsir! Can you guess that move Gengar is using? It's Hypnosis! And you know about Mega Evolution from the games, yes you do!"

Once they finally find a way to break the bands connecting Ash and Volcanion, it becomes... actually tolerable for a Pokemon movie? Volcanion stops being a total dimwit, and it backs off on the "Who's that Pokemon?" pandering and finally gets to the point of the movie. And that point is... an evil human is using Pokemon to fuck shit up, so Ash and company must unfuck it while proving there's good in humans. Hey, I said it was tolerable, not fantastic.


Kirby Return to Dreamland (Wii, E10+)

Modern Kirby games have some kind of gameplay gimmick; Canvas Curse had the path drawing, Epic Yarn dumped the ability copying and played more like a Yoshi game, Squeak Squad let you combine abilities, and Mass Attack had you controlling ten Kirby's at once. This one's gimmick is... four-player co-op? Really, HAL Labs? So yeah, you and three friends can play as Kirby, King Dedede, Metaknight, or a Waddle Dee, which to my mind is like an Avengers game where you can play as Captain America, Iron Man, the Hulk, or a random Iron Legion drone. Oh, and some levels give you a super-sized version of enemy powers for the final stretch, which is pretty much the game telling you to go nuts for a couple minutes while it goes to check on the laundry.

At least it's perfectly playable in single-player. It's standard Kirby fare; a platformer but you can also fly, you can steal enemies' powers, there's optional routes that often require certain powers to take for collectible nicknacks, and it's not that difficult except for bosses that seem to move way too fast for your pudgy marshmallow butt. This might be the first one I've played where the final boss keeps pulling out new forms, and after the third fake-out death it starts to feel like a kid on a playground who keeps making shit up so he doesn't lose. And on Hard mode, he has yet another form.


Wonder Woman (PG-13)

DC Executive A: "Now that we've got a few movies in our extended universe in the bag, let's make a prequel set in an alternate version of a World War in which the Germans are building secret superweapons with secrets from the gods, then a superhero comes in with a group of ragtags and kicks everybody's asses. Oh, and somebody sacrifices themself to bring down a plane carrying the war-changing macguffin. And the person making the weapons is facially deformed. And there's a guy named Steve!"

DC Executive B: "You sure? This is going to sound an awful lot like Captain America: The First Avenger with a metal swimsuit."

DC Executive A: "Look, whatever gets people to shut up about Batman v. Superman, alright?"


LEGO Star Wars II: The Original Trilogy (Gamecube, E)

It's pigshit.

To save myself a little time, I'm going to point you to my LEGO Batman quickie because everything I said about that dumpster of owl pellets applies here. Although it sounds like LEGO Batman wasn't quite as bad about the camera being zoomed out so far and awkwardly angled that I'd spend ten minutes running back and forth in a room trying to figure out what I was looking at, where to go, and what to do. And I don't remember getting stuck in the scenery of any LEGO Batman level TWICE and effectively having to play through it three times (*cough*Dagobah*cough*).

LEGO Star Wars thinks it's a parody, but the only remotely funny thing in it is watching a game aimed at children dance around Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru's fate by dropping them from the story without explanation and sending Luke and Ben right to Mos Eisley after the scene in Ben's house. Sort of like telling your kid Bambi's mother was just scared away by the gunshots, right?

So congratulations, LEGO Star Wars II, you're the first anything I've give zero Skitties to since that game. Is it as bad as that game? Well, both are insulting but in different ways; that game was a "technically functional" pile of hot garbage that thought it was brilliant, while LEGO Star Wars II is completely broken garbage and knows it's completely broken garbage, but believes children will eat whatever completely broken garbage is put in front of them so that makes it okay.

Rating: No Skitties

The LEGO Movie 2: The Second Part (PG)

Onto something LEGO related that doesn't make me want to vomit blood.

Well, at least it didn't by the end, because the first two-thirds had me wondering where it was going with increasing concern. It opens with the LEGO world in ruins because aliens that like glitter and bright colors and stickers keep pillaging it, so they keep the place ugly and rundown and as unappealing as possible. Then an envoy kidnaps several of the protagonists from the first film and takes them to the Sis-tarr system, led by a queen who sings an elaborate song about how she's, like, totally not evil and totally isn't manipulating anyone with her gifts and totally just wants to be friends, like totally for reals. Then they're put into brainwashing chambers to have their will sapped with bubble baths and bad pop music and flowers until all they care about are glitzy dance numbers. Now it's up to Emmet and his new ultra-macho friend Rex Dangervest to save the LEGO world from being pussified.

So, the first hour was me asking "Is this movie trying to say that girls ruin everything?" Finally it gets to the big twist, where it answers "Sure, if you're a toxic male who thinks women need to stay in the kitchen."

So yeah, while the first movie was calling out corporations overzealously guarding their IP and copyrights, the second movie is calling out men overzealously guarding their hobbies and insisting things like "emotions" and "joy" are female conspiracies they use to manipulate men into getting what they want. You know, through the power of LEGO. Although I kind of wish it taken a moment to say hey, girls, it's nice to want to connect with your siblings, but can you not douse your brother's stuff in glitter glue?


Nausicaa and the Valley of the Wind (PG)

I admit to not being the biggest fan of Studio Ghibli films. They're pretty and have imaginative scenery and Nausicaa is no exception, especially for a movie from 1984. But they seem to put all their energy into the imagination porn and neglect the rest of the movie, and I don't really care for the "Nature yay, technology boo" mentality so many of them have - why can't nature and technology coexist? Maybe they mean to say humans can't have technology without misusing it, but what, we should all give up modern medicine and other advancements in life to go back to living in caves because that'll make guns go away?

The audio is a mess, but not on a technical level. The voice acting leaves something to be desired, which might be a combination of the awkward lines the actors had to read out, and having to talk fast to keep up with the mouth movements. And some of the music is really inappropriate, at times sounding like stingers from a Saturday morning cartoon. There's a scene where Nausicaa and the male protagonist get knocked out of the sky by a giant dragonfly, and the hilariously bad music made it more goofy than shocking. And the child singing in two scenes involving the giant pillbugs is more annoying than "pure of heart."

And Nausicaa herself is a boring protagonist. The perfect princess who's brave, knows everything, is so attuned with the natural world that she can tame wildlife just by saying "Hi," and is the first person in the world to hit on the idea that the giant bugs and the toxic mushroom forest aren't bad, while everyone around her is a technology-loving bastard fighting for control of an ancient weapon. When the giant pill bugs stampede her and she goes flying, I cackled with glee.


Yoshi's Crafted World (Switch, E10+)

What's this? A modern Yoshi game that I actually like? Better start stockpiling canned goods because I'm pretty sure that's a sign of the Apocalypse.

Yes, Yoshi's Crafted World actually comes closer to capturing the magic of Yoshi's Island than Yoshi's Story, Yoshi's Island DS, or especially Yoshi's New Island, may it burn in hell. Just imagine the coloring book aesthetic swapped out for a world where everything is made out of cardboard, milk cartons, paper towel rolls, pipe cleaners, and other stuff that got lost on its way to the ACI Films set (that was one for my RiffTrax homies).

Crafted World sure wants you to get your money's worth out of it. First you clear a level, then you can play it in reverse while looking for Poochy's three kids, then a robot wants you to go back through each level several times searching for objects hidden in the scenery, and after all that you might still be missing some of the collectibles. I was at least compelled to replay levels for the coins I picked up along the way along the way. Since Crafted World doesn't have lives you instead use the coins to purchase costumes, just in case you always wanted to dress Yoshi up in bits of garbage. There might be a bit too much going on, as I'd purchased all the costumes and gotten my fill of the game long before 100%ing all the levels.

It's a little on the easy side, especially because the costumes are also shields and can soak three to five hits depending on the quality of the costume. And they repair when you cross a checkpoint, so unless I was being really reckless (or it was one of the bonus challenge levels) I rarely even lost the shield. And whether this is a good or bad thing is up to you, but you don't have to collect all the knick-knacks in one go to 100% a level. So if you find 18 red coins, then come back and find the last two without collecting all 18 you'd found before, you still get full credit for all the red coins.

I do have some issues with it. Trying to throw an egg at something in the fore- or background is fiddly, especially if it's moving. And the music is awful. At best it sounds like kids plinking away on toy instruments, and at worst it sounds like somebody nailed a broken cuckoo clock to an accordian. Still better than the kazoo farts from Yoshi's New Island I guess.

There's also gimmick levels tossed in like a safari shooting gallery, and a couple levels that put you on a vehicle you run along the back of to move instead of, you know, directly controlling it with the analog stick. And while they're all annoying in their own way the big punching robot level was especially terrible because the punch frequently fails to respond if you're changing direction at the same time. This, by the way, is why I never beat the game's secret boss; after three phases fought as normal Yoshi you're dropped into the robot, and he'll send out a stream of minions. You then have to hit all of these enemies, and if you miss even one because the damn thing didn't punch when you told it to you get to eat shit.


Painkiller: Hell and Damnation (PC)

Boy, that escalated quickly.

You might have noticed the subtitle's initials are HD, which is the game's unsubtle way of marking itself as an HD remake of the original Painkiller. At least until you actually play it and find it only has about half the levels - 13 to the original's 24, or 9 to the original's 19 if you exclude bosses. Then late in the game I found myself at a haunted orphanage, thinking "wait, isn't this a Battle out of Hell level?" Then the next level was the demonic amusement park and yup, this is an HD remake of Painkiller: Black Edition with fewer than half the levels. Then you have to buy DLC packs to plug in the rest of the levels and if this game thinks I'm paying money for that fucking Stalingrad level it can kiss my ass.

It's also a bit buggier than the original. Enemies felt like they moved way too fast and I just couldn't get any distance between them, their range feels too long, and they can damage you without even doing their attack animation. There's a giant you have to kill in the second level, the cathedral, and as well as zooming around the place like he has jet engines in his boots he was really inconsistent as to whether his attack was a frontal cone or all around him from twenty paces away. And the Necrogiant boss has this attack where spikes shoot up from the ground under you, and they are fucking impossible to avoid. I thought maybe I was misremembering something or all the time I've spent on World of Warcraft has rotted my reflexes like a box of strawberries in the sun. But then I got to the Swamp Thing boss and yeah, that bugger was moving and attacking WAY faster than he did in the original game.

A couple other changes have been made. They rearranged the bosses, so while the first boss is still the first boss, the original fourth boss is now the second boss, the second boss is now the third, the third boss is missing, and it ends with a completely new final boss who, to be honest, kind of sucks. He barely does anything and takes a bajillion hits to kill. There's also a new gun, and I swear the thought process behind it was "Everyone loved the shurikens and lightning gun so much, let's give 'em one that shoots SAWBLADES and lightning!"

Also, while the game is an HD remake of Painkiller: Black Edition, the story takes place after all the other Painkillers. And instead of Samael offering Daniel the deal to get into Heaven, it's Death. Then the ending is a big "You fuckin wut mate?" that would normally deserve a punch to the throat for screwing up the canon if (A) Painkiller's lore was particularly sacrosanct, and (B) it wasn't so laugh out loud stupid.

For the uninitiated, the original Painkiller protagonist is a man named Daniel who was killed in a car accident along with his wife, and while she went to Heaven he went to Purgatory. Well, at the end of Hell & Damnation... it turns out Daniel isn't actually dead, he's been in a coma all this time. He wakes up at the end of the game in his hospital bed, where Eve informs him Death is ready to fetch the other three Horsemen and jumpstart the Apocalypse. Then Belial, the protagonist of Overdose, busts in and declares it's time for him and Daniel to kick everyone's asses.


Peace, Death! (PC)

It's a bit like Papers, Please, but instead of a border guard checking passports and deciding who gets in, sent away, or shot, you're a reaper sorting the recently deceased into Heaven, Hell, or Purgatory. As the days go by, more and more rules get added - do they have horns, what do their eyes look like, what are they carrying and do they give it up, are they bloody and does the blood wash off, and then does it reveal bullet holes, and so on. I did at least like how much faster and cleaner the interface was compared to Papers, Please; click on your client to see what comes off, then press A, S, or D to send them on their way.

But Papers, Please had little stories about separated families trying to reunite and a woman on the run from a human trafficker. Peace, Death! just has memes and pop culture references. And the streamlined interface makes it a bit too easy, and the only things that gave me trouble were the souls that give you five seconds to make a choice before rushing into Heaven, who can fuck right off. And the phone, which is essentially a soul you process though text rather than visuals and don't get credit for after the fact, was just annoying. Later in the game you're occasionally taken to a minigame where people on a conveyor belt pass by a pair of monsters and you have to feed the sinners to them, and those things just did not respond half the time.