Sunday, 6 March 2022

Top 5x2 Hopes for Mario Kart 8 Deluxe DLC Tracks

With Nintendo announcing that new tracks will be coming to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe starting in March, Keybug and I thought it could be interesting to develop a list of tracks that we'd like to see in this run of DLC. Both of us came up with five tracks separately, which is why you'll see some tracks twice. The only rule we had was that they had to be from the games listed in the announcement (not that it was a severe limitation, neither of us have much experience with the Arcade games). For convenience, we've also listed what game the track originally came from in brackets ("(7)" for example means the track came from Mario Kart 7). With that said:

Keybug's #5: Wuhu Loop (7)

For my list, I tried to focus on what the new mechanics in Mario Kart 8 could bring to these older tracks. An outlier in this would probably be Wuhu Loop (also known as Wuhu Island Loop), as there's not much that can be done with it when it comes to Anti Gravity. This circuit is, after all, a loop you're meant to jog in Wii Fit, and Mii's can't walk on the roof. One of the big things to help this track would probably be fixing its broken shortcut, but that should be a given. If you want to practice for the track, though, play Wii Fit. Get some exercise in.

Keybug's #4: Maple Treeway (Wii)

Maple Treeway is just an iconic track to drive through, and there isn't much to improve on it. Sure, you could add anti-gravity to sections of the race, but that may ruin the track's simplicity. The only thing Mario Kart 8 can bring to this track is the HD visuals and audio, which I'd be absolutely ok with. So why fix what isn't broken?

Keybug's #3: Waluigi Pinball (DS)

The chaos that could come from anti-gravity in this track. Some say that Waluigi is a chaotic character by nature, and the speed you could get from anti-gravity in the main table and the ball track after the launch could give this a feeling similar to Baby Park. With the added speed, the pinballs themselves could also be given a speed boost, encouraging players to keep the momentum going or be crushed by the giant metal pinballs.

Keybug's #2: Kalimari Desert (64)

One of the ways Mario Kart Tour expands its tracklist is by remixing the tracks already in the game, adding new paths and obstacles. Kalimari Desert was always a track that could benefit from such a design, thanks to the train tracks being drivable but risky thanks to the train riding on them. Some people believe that the Tour original tracks could include some of the remixed versions as randomly selected layouts, like Excitebike Arena in Mario Kart 8. If that's true, something similar could work for Kalimari Desert. If that's not possible, making the train track a challenging but very rewarding shortcut, along with adding boosts on top of the train if you manage to land on it with the glider, could also help give this N64 classic some modern touch-ups.

Keybug's #1: Koopa Cape (Wii)

Koopa Cape is a beloved track from Mario Kart Wii and one where you could do one of a few things to bring it up to Mario Kart 8's features. For example, anti-Gravity along the track would be easy, a section in the pipe would be a great fit to keep the speed going, and one along the river could make that high-speed section even more intense. In Mario Kart 7, they cut the pipe in half and filled it with water, including a glider section right before the river. A mix of any or all of these would be interesting to see, but even if they play it safe and keep it close to what it was in Wii, there's still a lot of enjoyment to be found in it.
Blaster's #5. Bowser's Castle (Wii)

I'll admit there is a lot of bias with my list. While I have played most Mario Kart games (the only exceptions being Super Mario Kart, Mario Kart Super Circuit and Mario Kart Tour). Nostalgia, and me focusing more on courses already well made, rather than thinking about how new mechanics can be incorporated, is what made up my list. While Mario Kart 8's Bowser's castle does come close to dethroning this beast, there's something so satisfying about the half-pipe section with Mecha Bowser shooting fireballs at you, something thrilling about narrowly missing the fireballs as you go from one jump to the next that makes this track so memorable for me. Considering that 8 Deluxe already has three Rainbow Roads (something I would love to expand on, but more on that later), nothing is stopping them from adding in more Bowser's Castle tracks. Plus, it would be more engaging than remaking SNES and GBA Castle tracks.
Blaster's #4. DK Mountain/ DK Snowboard Cross (Double Dash/ Wii)

"But wouldn't these conflict with Mount Wario?" No, just because something is set on a mountain doesn't mean it'll clash with Mount Wario. While both these tracks are great already, I think Anti Gravity could add a lot to both. In the case of DK Mountain, it may help bring back its lost charm from Mario Kart Wii because while the weight in 8 is even heavier than Double Dash, the speed from Anti Gravity could help with the air time especially on the initial Alpine section of the mountain. On the other hand, it could also lead to some sabotaging, as both Mountain and Snowboard Cross are known for Mushroom based shortcuts over pits; getting an Anti-Grav speed boost right before they make the jump could throw opponents off, giving you the advantage.

Blaster's #3. Maple Treeway (Wii)

This is a track I'm torn on because if the theory of these tracks being ported from Mario Kart Tour is true, then this could be a very disappointing track. I love the look of Maple Treeway, both the Wii and 7 versions of the track look great for the hardware, and there's something so relaxing about driving around a tree in Autumn. It has the potential to look gorgeous on the Switch, especially if Wild Woods is anything to go by. However, from what we've seen of Wave 1, the tracks look like a downgrade compared to the details of the first 48 tracks. Perhaps these are still Work in Progress textures, but I could be setting myself up for disappointment if it's indicative of what's to come. Hopefully, we see a return of the rope bridge, and I find it more entertaining than a glider section.

Blaster's #2. Rainbow Road (Wii/ 7)

I can't choose between these two. It was pretty hard to narrow it down to five tracks (Sorry, Wuhu Mountain Loop and Airship Fortress), but trying to pick out of these two was impossible for me. I love both tracks for different reasons. They're excellent tracks, just like a good Rainbow Road should be. The deceptively hard turns on the Wii version, driving on and around planets in 7, the beautiful music for both of them, there's very little separating these two in terms of quality, and seeing what can be done for them in 8 Deluxe just makes me more excited for these new DLC packs.

Blaster's #1. Waluigi Pinball (DS)


Predictable? Yes. Many people rank this track high on their lists of great Mario Kart tracks, and it's easy to see why. A Kart racing game, to me at least, is at its best when the tracks you can drive on go as far as they can on stylization, letting you move in and around things you never thought would be possible to drive on. For example, a road made entirely of light, a castle flooded with lava, through a giant Maple Tree, and in this case, inside a massive pinball table. Though I think this concept could be improved with a more chaotic pinball table, it doesn't change the fact that this is still a fun track to drive through, and the music used is without a doubt one of the best track themes in Mario Kart. Though I hear people calling the song used in the announcement trailer a remix of Coconut Mall, I struggle to hear it as, at best, it sounds like a cleaner version of the Wii song. Still, if the Mario Kart Band is off the table because of Covid, I would gladly take the Smash Bros remix of Waluigi Pinball. 

I want to quickly mention Wario Colosseum from Double Dash, as it's an honourable "sixth spot" that we both came up with, and once, we don't hear many people talk about it. While it's not a track that I've personally played, it looks like a fun track to drive through, and its potential in Anti-grav mode could make it even better. Time will tell if any of these do make it into the game, though.

Wednesday, 2 June 2021

MAYvel 2021 (Streaming Edition); Inhumans: I can see why this couldn't even get to double digits...

 One of the main reasons I review content made for the Marvel Cinematic Universe every May is consistency. As repetitive as the movies may get, one thing that's hard to deny is the level of consistency in the quality of their content. While all the movies might not be great to watch, a bad Marvel movie is still considered better than a mediocre movie from other studios. I'd rather watch Thor: The Dark World over Venom if given the option. The same, though, can't be said for their Television content. While Wandavision and Falcon and The Winter Soldier have been great starts for them on Disney+, and there are gems in the Netflix partnership like Jessica Jones and Luke Cage, when it gets bad, it gets really bad. If you thought Iron Fist was a lousy show, allow me to introduce to you Inhumans, a show so bad I couldn't even get past the first episode out of eight. See why I did M.O.D.O.K. first?


First, to get some positives out of the way, I think the island shots of Hawaii are well done. For the most part, the costume design is fine, and the casting choices are solid for the roles. I also appreciate the changes made for Black Bolt; I think the use of Sign Language for him is an excellent idea. Unfortunately, though, that's pretty much where the positives end. If I were to describe my thoughts with the first episode, the episode meant to hook me in on the show's premise; it's boring. I was bored throughout the episode to the point that I would pause, change to a new tab and watch Youtube videos for a while to watch something entertaining, something lively. What doesn't help is the setting and the delivery of most lines. Attilan looks like a hodgepodge of sci-fi and the world's most boring prison in terms of architecture, thanks to it being nothing but grey building that feels like cinder-blocks with basic carvings on them for detail. At the same time, inside, it's more bland, monotone coloured rooms and hallways. As for the delivery, while the casting looks like solid representations of the characters from the comics thanks to good costume design, their direction isn't. The delivery of most lines in the script reminds me of the Star Wars prequels, along with moments of Man of Steel where it feels like the only emotion they can portray is bland stoicism. It's hard to get a reading on some scenes as a result because there was one moment when the Royal Family was having dinner, and one member tries to flirt with a waitress before going on for too long and (I think?) saying he'll kill her for some reason? Then when she walks away, he gets mad about it being his power? Was that meant to be funny? I don't even know what his power is yet!


However, the powers go into the most significant issue the show has. Like with Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Inhumans was done on a T.V. show budget, but corners were cut to make it as cheap as possible to produce. Some establishing shots look awkward going from the actual camera to full CGI. Many of the powers are limited whenever possible (to the point where they cut off Medusa's hair, taking away her power entirely for the sake of not needing to animate her hair past episode 1 poorly). Without needing to go into more detail about the characters online, the only character after 30 minutes that I could get a feel for who he is and his powers is Lockjaw, a giant (poorly rendered) CGI dog that can teleport. Though not as accurate of a comparison as it would be if I had another show to compare it to, at least in the X-Men movies, I can get the basics of most characters down within a few minutes of their introduction, or at the very least by the end of the film. Their name, their powers, their personality. I can't even tell you the terms of the main cast in this show off the top of my head because of how uninteresting they are, and I can't even begin to describe most of their powers because of how reserved they are for the sake of the budget. 

This show was green-lit was to try and improve the image of the Inhumans and have them replace the X-Men in the comic culture so that they don't need to promote characters Marvel didn't have the movie rights to. If this one episode is anything to go by, I wouldn't be surprised if people cared even less about the Inhumans after watching the show. Nothing about it feels like anyone genuinely wanted to work on the project, genuinely wanted to bring these characters to life. This show feels lifeless, soulless, brought into existence because of an awful business decision, and suffers as a result. If you can sit through more than one episode, great, good on you, but I couldn't do it. What a downer note to end on for MAYvel 2021... Loki looks interesting at least, and hopefully, this lockdown will lift so I can see Black Widow in cinemas.

Wednesday, 26 May 2021

MAYvel 2021 (Streaming Edition); M.O.D.O.K: A Frost Giant's head, on an infant's body, with the voice of Patton Oswalt... ok.

Only a short one today, as there's only one episode to watch right now (here in Australia). Inhumans is still coming. However, I was pretty busy with work last week and put it on hold for now. Who knows, if my state goes back into lockdown, I could have plenty of time on my hands. Though it is only eight episodes, M.O.D.O.K caught my curiosity because of the style, and with it currently only being one episode here (of how it's being released here), I thought it might be fun to sit back, have a laugh, and watch Patton Oswalt be one of Marvel's strangest villains. Welcome to A.I.M.


How to describe this show? Based purely on the pilot, the best way I can describe it is "what happens when you combine Marvel, Modern Family, The Office, and Robot Chicken?" As strange of a combination as that might sound, that's probably the best way to describe the show. The show will primarily focus around the titular M.O.D.O.K as he balances issues at home... because someone actually married him, and gave him children (oh, I hope that becomes a joke in Deadpool 3...), a mid-life crisis, along with the after-effects of selling A.I.M to the show's equivalent of Google/ Apple/ Samsung/ Waddle/ insert tech giant here, GRUMBL. Along the way, though I haven't seen most of these characters yet, we can expect to see other Marvel characters like The Leader, Mr Sinister, Mandrill, Arcade, and others. However, one personal issue I have with the show that I want to bring up before going further, though, is the voice direction. Though I haven't seen most of the characters in action due to only one episode being available here, most of the characters I have seen I don't think have great direction; I don't hear the characters, I hear the actors. Though I joke about some voice actors having repetitive voices and standing out like a sore thumb like Troy Baker, Tara Strong, and Laura Bailey, it's hard to joke about that here when many of the significant voices are like that. I don't hear M.O.D.O.K; I hear Patton Oswalt. I don't hear Louis; I hear Ben Schwartz. But on the more comedic side of it, any time I hear Austin Van Der Sleet talk, I imagine Launchpad McQuack like this is his side hustle when not driving Scrooge McDuck around.


The Office and Modern Family writing style and the somewhat more tame Robot Chicken comedy and animation style made the first episode entertaining to watch. It was funny seeing things like M.O.D.O.K taking Iron Man's boot as such a big and vital trophy after it was lodged into his hoverchair, seeing the Super Adaptoid being used for mundane things like a smoothie maker and a ladder for M.O.D.O.K. The A.I.M agents were funny, shout out's to Gary and the accountant for being the standouts in the first episode. Though my tone may still change, the first episode was at least amusing enough to watch the other episodes when they're released on Friday's. One other thing to add to the list of watches for me alongside The Bad Batch. Next week, Inhumans.

Wednesday, 19 May 2021

MAYvel 2021 (Streaming edition); Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D: Thank you for the traumatizing image of Culson with his exposed brain begging to die Joss...

 Remember when Marvel was doing T.V. shows tied to the MCU before Disney+ happened? Oh, you thought I would do the Netflix stuff first? They're on my list; they need a month to themselves. No, this was chosen because of content coming up, both an upcoming review and a character joining the MCU that may tie into what was introduced here (however that is very unlikely). While there are seven seasons available, I'm choosing to focus on two for now, mainly because these were made for public television and, therefore, harder to binge for review. Welcome, to Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. 


The primary plot for the seasons mainly revolve around Skye (who would later be known as Daisy), as she becomes an Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. for season 1, learning from the full agents like a revived Agent Culson (back when death didn't mean anything in the MCU, just like the comics). The first season would eventually lead to a tie into Captain America: The Winter Solider, as S.H.I.E.L.D falls to Hydra and is taken back in what feels like a surprisingly short amount of time (however that could be me misremembering the Hydra take over in Winter Soldier. For season 2, the plot shifts to build up the Inhumans, thanks to a push by Isaac Perlmutter during that time which would be too long to explain here, though it is a fascinating story. While those are the big overarching plots, due to the show being made for traditional television, most of the episodes follow contained stories, with only small pieces used to build up to the finale. The show was intended to be viewed over 22 weeks, not a few days; you'll get bored trying to binge it because of how repetitive things are in the show. "A good guy turning out to be a back stabbing bad guy" is interesting in the proper context, but it gets boring when it feels like every new addition to the cast is going to backstab somebody. 


One thing that worked to the show's advantage in Season 1 but really did not work for Season 2 and likely onwards was the effects. The show's made on a T.V. show budget, and the effects aren't going to look as good as they do in the movies or the recent streaming shows. I've got no issue with the budget, as when it's focusing on spy stuff, the budget works. When it focuses on the Inhuman related content, though, and the more complex power sets of other heroes that come with it, it doesn't look good at all. To me, a good effect can still look cheap, but an effect that feels cheap will never look good, and none of the effects for the Inhumans look good. It's not the worst of it, though, that will come next week... maybe, I haven't seen the episodes yet when writing this, but I have heard horror stories. Spies and espionage can be done well on a small budget, not so much for superpowers. They try to somewhat cover up the shortcomings by making the powers and transformations not very drastic a lot of the time, but that makes the transformations and more effects-heavy powers stand out more. I'm not sure if it's addressed in later seasons. Still, one thing that was very questionable about this show regarding the Inhumans is an issue that's always plagued the Inhumans, the Mutants, and other similar power-based characters. The MCU's a world where the Avengers are praised. So why are the Inhumans looked down on as if they're, well, inhuman? Some with physical changes I can somewhat understand, but the ones that otherwise look and act normal?

And now, you get to have this image in your head too


So, why did I review this and put Fantastic 4 off for even longer? Well, curiosity. Ms Marvel, Kamala Khan, is in the comics an Inhuman (at least she was last time I checked). When writing this, unless a leak has come out that I've missed, we don't know how she'll get her powers in her upcoming Disney+ series. Considering how long Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D went on, even after the point when Joss Wheedon was taken out of the inner circle of Marvel Directors (hence why I'm only reviewing the two seasons set between the first two Avengers films). Do I think any of this will be followed up? No, but it's at least interesting to look at one of the black sheep of the MCU, even if it's only a taste for what's to come. If you want to watch it, watch one a week. Don't binge it as I did. See you next week, for Inhumans.

Wednesday, 12 May 2021

MAYvel 2021 (Streaming Edition); Wandavision (+1): Finally, a Scarlet Witch

Wanda Maximoff. She was experimented on by Hydra; an evil robot killed her brother, her city was destroyed by said robot who wanted to use it to destroy the world. She was the cause of the Sokovia Accords, labelled as an enhanced terrorist when her side lost a civil war and was on the run for years; she had to kill her boyfriend robot to stop a giant purple guy from completing his rock collection, then watched him be brought back to life only be killed again because the purple guy really wanted to finish his rock collection dammit! She was wiped out of existence for five years, brought back to life only to find out so much has changed... yeah, you'd be needing some therapy too after all of that. But well, there are probably better ways to do it than kidnapping a town to live out sitcom fantasies. Welcome, to Wandavision.


Marvel Studios does a sitcom, or rather a mash-up of every sitcom while throwing in a touch of existential horror that'll leave you asking, "what's going on?" most of the time. This is because most of the characters both in the show and in the show but also watching the show (it makes more sense in context) don't know what's going on either. Inside the town, thanks to the power of The Hex, Wanda can manipulate the town, turning it into a series of Sitcom settings based on iconic decades for the genre. The 50's with shows like the Dick Van Dyke Show, the 60's with Bewitched, the 70's with the Brady Bunch, the 80's with shows like Growing Pains and, hilariously ironic, Full House. There was an episode that was a recreation of Malcolm in the Middle. The final few episodes themed around modern fourth wall breaking sitcoms like Modern Family and The Office, an ideal time for the illusion to be shattered (which all the previous episodes had been building up too). Still, it does lead to the payoff of Wanda finally becoming the Scarlet Witch, something that only after watching the series did I notice that she had never been called that in any of the MCU movies prior. 

While inside The Hex, it's a traditional sitcom storey week to week, with stories changing drastically save for the underlining question about how this pocket world works. Outside the Hex is far more streamlined, focused, more Marvel like in presentation and storytelling. S.W.O.R.D., a new version of S.H.I.E.L.D., is observing the Hex, trying to figure out what's going on inside of it and what's causing it, resulting in the introduction of Monica Rambeau. She's trying to ease the situation between Wanda and her superiors in S.W.O.R.D. that view Wanda as too dangerous a threat to be left alive. Throw in witches, a philosophical battle between two Visions and what you have is a confusing roller-coaster of a story that is hard to describe without spoilers. The big issue I have with the series is that the ending feels rushed, but this is primarily because of how much there was to get through by the end of the show. While Falcon and Winter Soldier was relatively consistent and streamlined, Wandavision is more scattered in its approach. It's juggling a lot of things, and not all of them land well. But I appreciate the ambition, and though the finale wasn't as good as the show itself, that's primarily due to how good the show is. 

One thing I love about Wandavision is the attention to detail when it comes to the Sitcom settings. While Falcon was very traditional in terms of the Marvel aesthetic, Wandavision mixes it with the Sitcom aesthetics. Outside of the Hex is traditional Marvel in terms of presentation, inside The Hex fluctuates depending on the period, with the first two episodes even using the same practical effects techniques and editing tricks used for those original shows. The first episode even had a live audience. If you are curious, a documentary series on Disney+ called Marvel Studios Assembled goes into the production of both Wandavision and Falcon and the Winter Soldier. They're fascinating to watch, and I hope that it continues for future MCU projects.


Flawed but fun would be the best way to describe Wandavision as a whole. The ending was a letdown, but I was hooked all the way through, something many actual sitcoms don't manage to do for me partly due to the drawn-out endings. Like the previous review, Wandavision is a short, primarily sharp and mainly to the point series. The fun of sitcoms without all the fat, and some existential horror added in, fun for the whole family! For now, though, we need to take a step back. We need to rewind the clock, back to when Avengers was still new before Kevin Feige had complete control of the MCU machine, and the small screen outings were made for T.V., budget and all. Up next, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. Seasons 1+2.

Wednesday, 5 May 2021

MAYvel 2021 (Streaming Edition!); The Falcon and The Winter Soldier: And you thought Black Panther was political

 With 2020 causing all the cinemas to shut, and movie schedules are still up in the air when it comes to getting a theatrical release, the world turned to streaming services, and for this MAYvel, so will I. No movies this year, instead it's all about the shows on Disney +. Two that are directly connected to the MCU, and two that are... well, they're there... maybe... kind of waiting on Ms Marvel to see what they're doing with them. Anyway, let's look at the newest of the shows, while it might still be possible to cash in on Google's Algorithm. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier. 

While Wandavision (next week) was focused more on the after-effects of Endgame on a smaller scale, Wanda's reaction to what happened, Falcon and Winter Soldier focuses on the significant scale effects of Endgame. The world is a mess; refugees worldwide are without a home, thanks to all the people who disappeared after Infinity War returning and continuing as nothing had happened. Borders are returning, and because of this, a political extremist group known as the Flag Smashers is out to try and return the world to the way it was in the five years between Infinity War and Endgame. "One World, One People." What makes this group more intimidating when compared to similar organizations in the real world is that many of its members have been given a working version of the Super Soldier Serum, and have the powers of Captain America. There is one main difference, though, their physical bodies don't change in size, compared to Steve Rogers transformation in the first Captain America movie. What happens, though, in the chase to try and stop the Flag Smashers is a mix of parties with conflicting agendas. Sam and Bucky work alongside Barron Zemo (the main villain from Captain America: Civil War), which results in Wakanda sending in the Dora Milaje to recapture Zemo he killed King T'Chaka. The American Government promotes John Walker and turns him into the new Captain America, who, alongside his friend Battlestar, is trying to capture the Flag Smashers and the Serum. Zemo wants to destroy the serum. Another villain, MCU "newcomer" the Power Broker, who initially funded the creation of the new serum, wants to regain their lost property from the Flag Smashers, and that's all for the A Plot of the series. There's a lot of stuff in these six episodes. They're dense with story, and yet this mess of plot threads are held together, thanks to the B Plot. 


The B plot of the show focuses on Sam and his journey into becoming the new Captain America, as was Steve's intention in Endgame when Sam was given the shield. However, it isn't without its hurdles, thanks to John Walker having the shield and sinking further into madness resulting in him killing a Flag-Smasher, instead of the original intent of arresting them, in broad daylight, on international soil, with the shield. Encase that wasn't enough of a political message forced down your throat, we also learn of the darker history of the shield after Steve was frozen in the ice. These story threads are where the comparison to Black Panther is inevitably created. While that depicted a fantastic version of Africa, a city free of colonization in the form of Wakanda, this show tackles racism in America head-on to Isaiah Bradley. While his story is slightly toned down for the series, the only thing different between his comic book history and his MCU history was that he was a trial run in the comics before they gave it to Steve.


In contrast, here, he was already frozen, and they were trying to recreate it. While the exact specifics aren't something I can personally attest to, due to what minor differences there are between the racism of America and the racism here in Australia, this still hits hard because of the situation. The show is very respectful to the character and doesn't hold back in showing how badly black people were treated then, and even how bad black people are treated now as Sam himself interacts with racist people on screen. This series was initially meant to air in August last year, and I can't help but wonder how the previous year's events would have impacted how people view this character as the racial tension due to George Floyd's death would have only been two months old by then. 


The production values are surprisingly consistent, considering this was in post-production during COVID Lockdowns. It's what you'd expect from a Marvel movie. However, I will give an honourable mention to Madripoor. It's probably one of the most exciting places they've made for a Marvel production so far that doesn't lean heavily on the sci-fi aesthetic (compared to somewhere like Wakanda or Sakkar). The translation of Sam's Captain America costume from the comics to real life is also very impressive. It's a great looking costume, and I appreciate the white accents to break up the blue, compared to something like Steve's costumes from the movies, which look very monotone in retrospect. But, with how similar MCU projects are in terms of presentation (there have been 25MCU movies and two canonical shows. I think you can get a good idea as to how these things look and sound), I'll be ending the review of it here. This show was a great watch, thanks to the character interactions and how the world around the characters interacts with them. Would I recommend binging them now that all six episodes are out? No, these do feel catered to the release schedule Disney + has, that being one a week (most of the time). The show is worth a watch, though, and it's going to be interesting to see what happens next for these characters in the MCU.
The Mediaholics Toybox is joining in on the MAYvel fun this year with Marvel Legends reviews. For those interested in that, you can check them out at any time, with new ones going live on Sundays. In the meantime, I'll see you next week for Wandavision.

Tuesday, 4 May 2021

Lego Star Wars; The Complete Saga: Sometimes Less is More

Allow me a bit of a self-indulgent review. Recently, just for fun, I've felt like going back to some Lego Games. While I know this is ironic because every Lego Game I've reviewed, I've been highly critical of, they made up a good chunk of my childhood/ early teenage years in gaming. As someone who grew up with the Prequel movies going into cinemas for the first time, a child of two Star Wars fans and was also into both Lego and gaming, it should come as no surprise to learn that Lego Star Wars games were in my gaming library as a kid. I had Lego Star Wars 1 (based around the then-new prequels) and Lego Star Wars 2 (based around the original trilogy) for the Playstation 2. But, when I got a Wii, I got today's review subject, Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga (a directors cut of the two games that put them together with some extra content). Though my memory is hazy, I want to say that these were some of the first games I played to completion, and the main reason why I try to complete Lego Games to this day (I say try because Dimensions and Marvel 2 said, "Haha, no!" thanks to game-breaking bugs and corrupted save files). I loved these games as a kid, but do they still (or at least, the Complete Saga as I don't have Lego Star Wars 1 and Lego Star Wars 2 anymore) hold up now? 

The story for the game is pretty self-explanatory. The six movies released as of 2007, The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi, retold in a comedic style casting mostly mute Lego Minifigure representations of all the characters. The only voices in this game, aside from the occasional voice clips from Battle Droids, is grunts, so the critical story moments are primarily done with visual comedy. Vader tells Luke he is his father? Done with a polaroid picture of Anakin and a pregnant Padme. Hyperdrive broken in the Royal Naboo Starship? The collection of bricks that make it up explode with Obi-Wan giving a look of "I dunno how to fix this". What bits of the story they can't describe in cutscenes get told with Star Wars title scrolls at the start of each level. It all works surprisingly well. Even if you aren't a Star Wars fan or have seen the movies, you get a good grasp of what's going on, even if the exact specifics on why is unclear. Back when the first game was new, while I'm pretty sure I had seen Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones on DVD, I hadn't seen Revenge of the Sith. It's why I can say with a level of confidence that it's easy to know what's going on so long as you're paying attention in the cutscenes.


The jokes in the cutscenes are pretty amusing, with a good handful of tricks getting a good chuckle out of me, but the gameplay's central comedy comes from the gameplay itself. Like with all the TT Games developed Lego Games released after Lego Star Wars, Complete Saga is an (I don't want to say Action-Adventure because of how broad and generic the term has become now) mix of 3D platforming collect-a-thon with beat 'em up combat and pretty simple puzzle-solving themed around interacting with Lego objects in the world. If it's made of Lego, you can interact with it, be it breaking it, building it, riding it, triggering switches, the usual basic puzzle solving checklist. It's nothing groundbreaking, and when compared to other similar games of its time, it can be rather mundane. However, what helps it stand out alongside other PS2/Gamecube/Xbox Action-Adventure games is the strong theming to the source material and the comedic nature of the game leading to funny moments throughout the game. One thing that did get a laugh out of me was the disco rooms, especially the one on Kamino in Attack of the Clones. Even moments like finding the Mos Eisley Cinema in A New Hope helped give the relatively simple gameplay some much-needed charm and making it memorable. 


When not running around as minifigures, you're in control of iconic Star Wars vehicles with servicable control. Lego games and vehicles have a mixed history. If you were to ask me what I'd prefer for the execution, I would say these vehicles over the newer games and their insistence on over-world races, all because of one word, control. At no point throughout my time controlling the vehicles did I feel like I wasn't in control of it. While some things like the Proton bombs are tedious, it is nothing compared to the frustration I had when trying to control a vehicle in games like Lego Marvel 2 and Lego DC Supervillains. I had more fun controlling vehicles like Anakin's Pod Racer and the Hoth Snowspeeders than I had in any race mini-game in DC Villains because one felt like a balanced challenge that was playtested thoroughly. In contrast, the other felt like the developers went, "Oh shit, we need to have a reason to get in these vehicles don't we?". 

Fun fact, I actually have this set. Only reason I skipped the remake was the cost. Lego Star Wars toys are expensive...

There is also a hub world to explore. Still, unlike the recent Lego games where the hub world is an open world with lots of things to do, the Mos Eisley Cantina is designed more like the Comet Observatory from Super Mario Galaxy or Station Square from Sonic Adventure. It's small; practicality focused, more of a time-waster, place to mess around rather than something to explore in great detail. While I prefer this due to the nature of the games, there's no correct answer for which style is objectively better, as the more extensive hub world can help make the game feel more prominent than it is. However, my bias might be down to the fact that I feel like levels in more modern Lego games are shorter and smaller when compared to levels in games like The Complete Saga. 


The soundtrack for the game is ripped right out of the movies, which is great for Star Wars fans, though one minor nitpick of mine is that the dynamic soundtrack does get annoying when it keeps changing from "quiet and peaceful" to "you're being attacked" just because you got a bit to close to some distant Battle Droids. Visually though, this game has and hasn't aged well. While the designs for the Lego objects, such as the destroyable small builds, the vehicles, and the minifigures, look alright, even nostalgic at times due to how the models were based around actual Lego sets at the time, the background textures and the resolution do look quite bad by today's standards. I played the Playstation 3 version of the game for this review, and even just comparing this game to Lego Star Wars 3: The Clone Wars, let alone recent games on last-gen hardware, shows how far the Lego games have come in terms of visual presentation. It's hard to deny that it looks dated now, and while that's not inherently a problem, I know that there are people out there who struggle to play older games due to lower visual quality.


I remember a comment regarding one of my Lego Game reviews; I forget which one; I think it might have been Lego Marvel 2. It brought up the fact that the Lego Games are meant for kids, so looking at them from an adult's perspective is meaningless, redundant, stupid even (I'm paraphrasing based on memory here). I'm afraid I have to disagree with this statement, for the same reason that Pokemon isn't purely a kids game, or the fact that the recent Lego Movies (I say recent, but the first Lego Movie is seven years old) aren't kids movies. They're for the whole family. Lego is, at its core, a family toy as people of all ages can play with it, create things with it. There's a whole TV show based on Adults building stuff out of Lego that has versions for 11 different countries; I don't think you can find many people who'd argue, "It's just for kids." So why are the Lego Games getting treated as "just for kids"? I recently just finished completing Lego DC Supervillains, one of the most recent Lego Game at the time of writing. Yes, it had more things to do in it, more places to explore, more characters to play as, more vehicles to control, but I was only having fun for a small section of it. The levels felt short, and hub world exploration felt cumbersome and tedious; many of the missions felt like mindless busywork. Elements of the control actively angered me at times, primarily when switching characters in free play mode due to the Selfie Button, but especially in racing missions where I actively wanted to rip my hair out because of how awkward the vehicles were to control. Is Complete Saga better? Arguably no, there are things about it that frustrated me, such as changing the player-controlled character in story mode, basic and repetitive combat, the surprisingly small window to collect studs and hearts, along with collision and clipping issues of said studs and hearts. I could also see people having a hard time getting back into it due to the lack of quality of life improvements to puzzles between 2007 and 2018. But when comparing the amount of time I was having fun in Star Wars compared to the amount of time I was having fun in DC Villains, Star Wars wins by a lot because it feels more refined.


With The Skywalker Saga coming out sometime this year (supposedly), I can't say for sure yet if it's worth going out of your way to play The Complete Saga. The primary reason is it being for older consoles, and finding copies of games for those consoles is getting harder and harder to find due to them no longer being inconvenient shops. It is available on Steam; however, I do not recommend playing it with keyboard controls. Though it does still hold up well, the game itself is interesting to look at it and see how far the Lego Games have come, how many steps forward they've taken, and how many steps back they've taken. It is a good game; there are reasons why many people put this as the best Lego game TT Games has made, if not the best Lego Game period. This is the main reason I'm so critical of the newer Lego games; newer doesn't always mean better. I hope Skywalker Saga is good, but while my hopes are high, my expectations are low, which is a shame.

Sunday, 28 March 2021

Opinion Piece/ Review; Zack Snyder's Justice League: Should we #RestoreTheSnyderVerse?

 With the Snyder Cut out, it's safe to say that DC is right now enjoying a lot of time in the spotlight now. I'm sure a lot of people here are at least somewhat familiar with the story. Zack Snyder was removed from directing the Justice League film due to tragic events that happened to his family. Joss Whedon was brought in to get the movie to a releasable state; that version was a disaster due to conflicting tones and visions, leading to a campaign to get Zacks version finished. AT&T heard that, though it would make great content for HBO Max, and so it was done, giving the public a four-hour movie. If all you're looking for is a review comparing the two, well, there is no comparison as objectively, Snyder's version is better. But is the Snyder Cut a good movie on its own merit?

The big thing of note for Snyder's version of the movie is that it's far longer by necessity. They've added in many scenes that help fix the pacing issues of the theatrical cut and give characters like Cyborg a more critical role. There are also inclusions that, as it currently stands with the fate of this take on the characters in limbo, forced in for the sake of building up later movies that might not happen. There are two scenes with the Martian Manhunter that can be summed up as him telling Lois "stop being depressed" and another asking Batman after the final battle "hey, you mind if I join in next time?". Darkseid is brought in for more buildup, which feels redundant due to his presence in the movie, thanks to Steppenwolf.

Why are you in this movie?

In contrast, another part of it is frustrating: the continuing focus on the nightmare future from Dawn of Justice (but I'll get back to that later). I think they could have easily cut over half an hour off the movie by trimming down these rather pointless inclusions (when looking at the story itself, taking out the director's desire to direct a scene with these characters). It's just padding out the run time, setting up sequels that will only really happen if AT&T get involved again, which they may not even do!

Remember this picture for after this coming paragraph...

One other issue that I have when it comes to how the movie was released is that the film was rendered and released in IMax resolution, which doesn't work on a streaming service release. Most people have 16:9 Wide Screen TVs, projectors and Monitors. There is a lot of dead space on either side of the screen because of this. When you combine that with the fact that the movie has a very cold, dark pallet with a lot of harsh shadows, night time shots, and not a lot of brightly lit shots in general, it makes the movie look a lot darker than it is when you have two very distracting black borders on the left and right of the screen. 

This is how distracting the black boarders can be.

Though I'm not sold on some of the designs, Cyborg reminds me a bit too much of Michael Bay Transformers for my liking; the CGI and effects in the movie are well done, with moments like the final battle looking a lot better with the lighting the costumes were designed for. That, and the scenes added to help expand on rushed moments from the theatrical cut, is why I'm not saying much about the actual movie itself here. As I said at the very start of the review, this is the best version of the film to watch, even if there are decisions that don't make much sense given the context for release and current standing on upcoming movies. The big question about the film isn't "Is it good", it's "should we go back to this style of DC movies?". I don't think we should.

I don't think it would be a big shock to say, "I'm a fan of the Marvel Movies". I think the fact that I've talked about every movie released so far and have done yearly Marvel reviews now for the last few years goes to show how much I enjoy them. They have problems, don't get me wrong, but the quality of the movies overall has kept me invested in them. When the worst movies in the MCU can be described as "Ehh, it ok." you're doing something right. Two of the big reasons for their success and the two things DC need to get right are the characters and the pacing. Looking at the three Snyder movies, Man of Steel, Dawn of Justice and Justice League, none of the characters feel faithful to the material because "deconstruction storytelling" has been baked into them from the start. That's not necessarily bad, but it does mean that none of these characters feels like the source material due to the conflicting ideas going into them. Introducing characters, deconstructing characters, modernizing characters, subverting expectations. I don't know who any of these people are. Can we start with introductions, please?! At no point in the three movies have I felt like I've gotten the character, something that I've done with every Marvel movie, and the versions of these very same characters in the DCAU. The only character in the DCEU that I can safely say, "ok, I get what this character is like, what their personality is, I get why they're a hero", is Wonder Woman, thanks to her standalone movie.

Really? You're doing a Flashpoint this early?

This takes me to my next point. Why are we here, at this point that we're at by the end of movie three with Snyder's films, four if we're going to count Wonder Woman (and no, I'm not counting Suicide Squad because that feels bolted on at this point)? We've got a four-hour movie trying to introduce three new heroes, revive a fourth that shouldn't be dead in the first place, getting them all together while also trying to introduce the madness that is the New Gods before establishing the Old Gods. It's the fourth movie directly focusing on members of the Justice League. One of the biggest reasons the MCU has succeeded is pacing character introductions, letting people get to know characters in their movies before they start mashing them together. Batman and Superman shouldn't have fought in Movie 2; they should have fought/ worked together after a Man of Steel 2 and a Batman movie introducing people to this new version of Bruce Wayne. Superman should not have died in Movie 2 (that shouldn't have happened for several years) to give the Justice League time to establish itself properly. Superman shouldn't have been immediately revived either because that kills the moment entirely! This version of Justice League (minus resurrecting Superman) should have happened after Flash and Aquaman had standalone movies. The DCEU shouldn't be building up to an Injustice movie, and you people want more of this? You want more of WB's corporate meddling, rushing to get crossovers to happen, forcing iconic characters to suffer as a result?

Why are you in this movie?

I want more DC movies too. I would love for a shared DC Cinematic Universe to rival Marvel's, to give them a run for their money as both companies are at their best when they're building off each other. But I want more movies like Wonder Woman, Shazam, Aquaman, movies that keep to the spirit of the character, with the movie's tone complimenting the character. Movies that show the world why these characters have fans, not trying to contort them to "the sensibilities of the movie going audience". The answer to beating Marvel isn't to make a grim, dark, cold series of movies where the idea of a smile is a rarity because "older people don't like smiling!", it's showing why DC's characters are beloved by fans by showing the good, the bad, the silly, and everything in between. There's a reason why WB Animation frequently mocks Snyder's movies because of how dark and edgy they are; that should show you that we shouldn't want more; we should want better. 

Why are you in this movie? And why the hell didn't you help earlier?!

As nice as it is to finally see a version of Snyder's Justice League, for as good as the movie is, anything would be better than the theatrical cut, and this should not absolve all the previous movies problems. This doesn't change the fact that Man of Steel tried to make an idealistic hero realistic, defeating the point of the character. This doesn't change the fact that the version of Batman we were introduced to was so far removed from what Batman should be that the final "look, he's Batman again!" moment feels cheap. This doesn't change how bad Joker was in Suicide Squad, how bad Killer Croc looked in Suicide Squad, and how bad the course correction from Dawn of Justice was because of how botched the theatrical cut was to try and cut down the run time. If the reason you want more of this was so that you could have something with a tone completely different from the MCU, you need to rethink your priorities.

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Binge (Streaming Service): "Ever heard of the phrase "don't compete with yourself"?

Before I get to my review of the release of Justice League, entirely directed by Zack Snyder, I have to cover something first as it will impact my view on the movie. The streaming service I watched it on. See, here in Australia, we don't have HBO Max. Our equivalent of Cable TV, Foxtel, has the distribution rights to HBO Max content for the next few years, including putting the content on it's streaming services. Binge was the version I chose to view it on. If people outside of Australia are looking to pay for Binge, I can tell you right now, don't waste your time. Even assuming they enable VPN's to work, the service is less to be desired.

Like my review of Disney+ back in December 2019, this review primarily focuses on the service itself, not the content on it. However, I will be referring to content on the service in examples of positives and negatives. A lot of the review focuses on the web browser version Binge. However, I've also looked at the Android app version for minor differences. I'll start with the main home screen. While it's not bad, clearly drawing inspiration from other Streaming platforms by grouping similar shows and movies together, the content presented is a bit skewed in terms of preference. Binge primarily markets itself as a home for more mature content, so while there is Kids Content on the service, it takes more digging to get to it than something like Disney+, where the Home Page has a mix of content at different age groups. Because of this, and the fact that Binge hasn't got any clearly defined way to set up content restrictions, I wouldn't recommend it for parents straight away if they want to turn it on, give their kids the remote and tell them "watch what you want while I work."

Finding content on the service is also more frustrating, then it needs to be. The Search Bar doesn't work logically. To give an example, in an attempt to find content supposedly on the service, Batman The Animated Series. I could search for "Batman" and get 36 results. But suppose I searched "Batman The Animated Series". In that case, I get 250 results, with content that supposedly fit the criteria, including Mr Bean, Green Lantern, Sex and the City, Animals, Joe Exotic: Tigers, Lies and Cover-ups, and To Catch a Serial Killer. If nothing matches the criteria, most search results would say "nothing matches the criteria", why would your search bar bring up random bits of content instead? With the lack of parental locks, this is a pretty serious issue.

"Timmy! Why are you watching Sex and the City?!"
"Binge told me it had Batman in it!"

Even the limited search of just "Batman" has oddities in it. Not to the same extent as the full title search, but I'm pretty sure if I'm searching Batman, I don't want to watch Scooby-Doo, Pawn Stars, or Shipping Wars. 

Parental controls aren't the only thing missing from settings. The only thing there is if you want Closed Captions for content, which I do at least appreciate for accessibility. However, some settings are desperately needed, such as a more refined picture quality setting (Youtube's picture quality settings, for example). The main reason for this is that from personal experience, when using the service on my computer, when Binge bounces the picture quality from HD to SD, it locks it as SD for the rest of the video. This issue was highly frustrating during the Snyder Cut, as the lower quality meant that a lot of scenes became hard to watch. What made it even more frustrating was that at around the two and a half hour mark of watching the movie, I saw that Binge was using up a lot of my computer's memory trying to view the film. No other streaming service has this issue on my laptop, no other video platform has this issue on my laptop, and every other video platform knows that if I want to watch something in HD, I want to watch it in HD. The picture quality drop wasn't as big of an issue on my phone, as the video quality didn't noticeably drop when watching The Loony Toons Show. It looks to be an issue with the way the web browser version is designed and optimized.

Technical issues aside, how is the overall content? It's alright for the most part. The content is more in favour of lifestyle and drama entertainment. For someone like myself, it is nice to see a good chunk of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon content on there. Still, there are some cases, such as Codename Kids Next Door, where only a few seasons are up, even though Foxtel has the distribution rights in Australia. One of the biggest reasons for this comes back to what I said in the opening paragraph. "Our equivalent of Cable TV, Foxtel, has the distribution rights to HBO Max content for the next few years, including putting the content on it's streaming services." The keyword there being services. Foxtel has four streaming services going here in Australia. Foxtel Go, Foxtel Now, Binge and Kayo Sports. Binge and Kayo Sports are the more traditional Streaming Services, with prices roughly in the range of other platforms like Netflix, Stan and Disney+ to match this. Foxtel Go is a service you can only get if you have a Foxtel subscription, which usually costs $139 a month for the whole package. Foxtel Now looks to be a "we want to have our cake and eat it too" with a subscription model that acts like their regular Subscription (where you pay for a base pack and then opt into extras). Still, it's a mainly digital service with an optional box to plug into your TV if it's not internet compatible. Without the box, it's $104 a month for everything. I wouldn't be surprised if Binge was a hodgepodge of all of Foxtel Now's bundles cut down to the bare minimum to try and get people to purchase Foxtel proper. 

Because of all of this, do I recommend Binge? No, I don't. If you're looking for a cheap Foxtel, then I guess this is good value for money, thanks to the fact that it comes the closest to competing with other Streaming Services. But because Foxtel wants to keep people paying for its set-top boxes, keep paying for Cable, it doesn't have a chance in the long term, especially if or when HBO does decide to bring HBO Max properly to Australia. Foxtel, you can't have it both ways if you want to compete with the other services. Stop competing with yourself and commit one way or the other with how you want to distribute the content you have the rights too.

Wednesday, 25 November 2020

Animaniacs (2020): Just what the Hello Nurse ordered?

Yes, it has all gone mad since you went away.


Unless something drastic happens, such as what has happened this year, you don't really notice how much change happens in day to day life. Changes to yourself, your friends, family, the world as a whole, you become oblivious to it. So when something comes out and points out and make fun of just how much has changed in, say, 22 years, it comes as a massive shock. Considering what this year has been, it's safe to say that many could go for something comedic, something zany. And, well, who does zany better then the Warners? "They're baaaaack"