Thursday, June 7, 2018

Television Review: Power Rangers Turbo

Super Sentai Equivalent: Gekisou Sentai Carranger (Radical Racing Team Car Ranger)

You know when a TV show gets popular, so they make a movie based on it, but it's not actually canon so it's like all of the characters magically forget about what they went through the second it's over? Okay, now imagine if, instead of that, they declared it to be TOTALLY canon and made the plot of the entire next season all about the characters facing the fallout from that movie's events.

That's Power Rangers Turbo, in a nutshell. It's actually fairly impressive that they took the events of Turbo: A Power Rangers Movie as canon, when even non-kids' shows don't usually do stuff like that. Of course, there's a reason WHY they don't usually do it... without watching the movie you'll be fairly lost. Here's all you need to know - the new Blue Ranger is a little kid named Justin, there's a space wizard that talks like ET, space pirate Divatox hates the Rangers for screwing up her wedding to Off-Brand Satan, and the Zords are monster trucks.

Oh, you also need to know that this season is trash. That too. It's not quite as bad as Alien Rangers, and the second half of it is a lot better than the first half, but it's still pretty garbage.

The actors clearly didn't want to be there anymore after four and a half seasons. As a result they kept giving focus episodes to the newest ranger, Justin, a little kid who had the power to grow about two feet taller whenever he morphed. Justin wasn't actually bad as kid-appeal characters go, but he did get way too much screen time at the expense of everyone else, even fan favorite Tommy Oliver, who basically had nothing to do except have occasional shots of him driving race cars.

The villain was boring and stupid, even by the standards of already stupid villains from other seasons... every single member of Divatox' crew was trying to play comic relief at the same time, and their plans were always the same - send a monster to distract the Rangers while the villains plant a "detonator" (which the writers seemed to think was just a fancy way of saying "bomb") somewhere in the city.

Zordon and Alpha 5 also left to return to Zordon's home planet of Eltar. Their replacements were Dimitria and Alpha 6, two obnoxious characters with even more obnoxious gimmicks - Dimitria spoke only in questions and Alpha 6 spoke only in jive, and the two seemed to be in a constant competition to see which of them could be more irritating.

Oh yeah, and Bulk and Skull become chimpanzees for several episodes. There's that too.

To be fair to Turbo, it does get much better in the second half. The original set of Rangers (except Justin) all got replaced and as sad as it was to see them go, at least the new actors cared about the show. With that, the writers seemed to get a second wind too. Divatox and her crew actually got some new plans, even if those plans weren't all that much more effective than her stupid "detonator" plans.

My biggest feeling personally about Turbo is that I felt they wasted the potential of an automobile-themed Power Rangers. When I found out that the Zords were cars now, I imagined a show that was sort of a high-stakes game of demolition derby, like Power Rangers meets Wacky Races. Unfortunately, that... doesn't really happen. There are a few car battles but it's mostly just regular Power Rangers. I know this isn't their fault, it's just what Super Sentai footage they had to work with... still sad, though.

KR Rating: [2] BAD

Friday, May 25, 2018

Power Rangers Zeo

Super Sentai Equivalent: Choriki Sentai Ohranger (Powerful Team O Ranger)

Having finally found the scattered fragments of the Zeo Crystal, the Power Rangers are restored to their proper ages, granted new powers, and can begin to repair their destroyed Command Center. However they also face a new threat... the evil Machine Empire has come and driven away Lord Zedd and Rita from the moon in order to take over the Earth themselves!

Zeo was a sort of return to form for Power Rangers... which is mostly just to say that it didn't suck like Alien Rangers. Power Rangers was never exactly high art and neither was Zeo.

Granted, there were a few interesting ideas, but most of them were squandered. One notable example is when Machine King Mondo falls in battle, allowing the generic Monster of the Week - an evil robot called Louie Kaboom - to usurp his throne. Seeing the disposable henchman actually get something for himself was a neat concept and could have shown a deeper side to the usually one-note monsters. Unfortunately Louie WAS just a boring, one-note monster and was quickly killed off anyway.

Still, it's not like the original series was ever above that. The major flaw this has over the original is the villains. The Machine Empire just aren't that interesting. The don't have any of the sense of humor that made Rita Repulsa and Lord Zedd fun. In fact that only have one actual joke - Machine King Mondo dotes on his incompetent son Prince Sprocket and blames his actually competent underlings Klank and Orbus whenever Sprocket's schemes inevitably blow up in his face. Yawn.

On the other hand, they also don't have any of the seriousness or threatening intensity of later villains. Despite being built up as terrifying enemies who could make Rita and Zedd flee the moon in fear for their lives, the Machine Empire still fail instantly at everything they try to do and never come across as legitimately frightening.

In all, they're just sort of there. They're written just well enough to get the job done but not well enough to actually stand out... sort of like this season as a whole, really.

KR Rating: [3] MEDIOCRE

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Mighty Morphin' Alien Rangers

Following the end of the original series, the Power Rangers are all transformed into children by Rita's dad and their power coins are destroyed, leaving them all that way seemingly permanently. Obviously, this wasn't going to stick. Eventually they went and found the Zeo Crystal, a magic rock with the ability to restore their proper ages and their powers, and that led into Power Rangers Zeo.

In the meantime, though, we got Mighty Morphin' Alien Rangers. Realizing that Earth is vulnerable without Rangers to protect it, Zordon calls on his friends from the planet Aquitar to defend the Earth while the kid rangers search for the pieces of the Zeo Crystal.

This is where the whole thing falls apart. The idea of other planets each having their own sets of Rangers was pretty cool, but... the Aquitian Rangers themselves just aren't good characters. They're twitchy and overly formal. Their struggles to survive in their new environment were really more tedious than interesting. Worst of all, only two of them even have any real characterization at all. Delphine the White Alien Ranger gets a lot of screen time as their leader, and Cestro the Blue Alien Ranger spends a lot of time working on tech with Billy. The rest of the Alien Rangers just sort of... well, they have to be there to pilot the zords, I guess.

Also, the actual Power Rangers, aside from Billy, are all still kids so everything they do is done with the child actors, who... do I even need to say anymore? I can count on one hand the number of shows I know of where child actors did a really good job - mostly because the list consists of Avatar: The Last Airbender and nothing else.

Fortunately this season didn't last very long. There's only 10 episodes before the Aquitian Rangers go back home and we move on to Power Rangers Zeo.

Unfortunately, that's about 10 episodes too many for what is quite possibly the WORST that Power Rangers has to offer.

KR Rating: [1] HORRIBLE

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (The Show)

It was the early 90's, the era of totally radical attitudes and bright colors. Also apparently another moon landing. Yes, astronauts on the moon find and open up a "space dumpster," unwittingly releasing the long-imprisoned supervillain Rita Repulsa (later joined by Lord Zedd), who decides her first act upon release will be to conquer the nearby planet Earth. The only hope of stopping her is good space wizard Zordon, who summons five teenagers with attitude to don the brightly colored uniforms and vaguely dinosaur-themed weapons of the Power Rangers!

I probably don't need to say a whole lot about this show. (I will anyway, of course, because my first language has always been and will always be filibuster.) If you're the kind of person who cares about Power Rangers, then you already know about it. Hell, you probably know at least a little even if you don't care at all.

What you might not know is that Power Rangers is the "fortified wine" of television. That is, they took an existing product, mixed it with some stuff of their own, and presented it as a new thing. In this case the base was Japanese action series Kyroryu Sentai Zyuranger (Dinosaur Team Beast Ranger), part of the long-running Super Sentai franchise. Saban Entertainment used battle footage from Zyuranger, and later on Gosei Sentai Dairanger (Five Stars Team Great Ranger) and Ninja Sentai Kakuranger (Ninja Team Hidden Ranger), added new story scenes featuring American actors, and released it to western audiences. The result was a hit show despite its flaws, and the beginning of one of the longest running franchises on television, celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

I'll be going over all of the Rangers series to date here. No, not all at once as that would get boring for both of us, but I will keep up with it over time. So, on to our review.

So, the question on everyone's mind... is the nostalgia here deserve? Well, I would argue that nostalgia is never deserved or undeserved it simply exists on its own... but philosophical mumbo jumbo aside, is the show good? I would say yes and no.

On the one hand, the show gave us some classic episodes and storylines. The most notable example of this is, of course, the story of Green Ranger Tommy Oliver, who started out as the most threatening and successful villain on the show, turned to the side of good, and eventually became a permanent part of the team as the heroic White Ranger. You might have heard of him as the most popular Power Rangers character ever and probably the longest running, not only following the other old school rangers into Zeo and Turbo, but also reappearing as a recurring character in Dino Thunder.

On the other hand, episodes and storylines like that were the minority. Most of them are really just "okay" at best. The show definitely tended towards the BAD side of campy in most cases. Evil tubes of lipstick and rapping pumpkins were common enemies. The "teenagers with attitude" were actually overly idealized with basically no flaws or attitude at all. (They also weren't played by teenagers, but you probably could have guessed that.)

It also suffers pretty serious decay later on, with eventually the two most threatening villain lackeys - Rito Revolto and Goldar - becoming absolute jokes who were regularly defeated by unarmed 10 year olds. And no, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying I want to watch Rito and Goldar chop up a busload of little kids any more than the show's producers want to show that. Obviously. I just also don't want to watch the villains who I'm supposed to find intimidating get humiliated by tweens with water balloons. Yes, that happened. So... I don't know, maybe just don't write yourself into that corner to begin with? It's not hard, you just have to care about what you're doing.

And yes, I get that the show was aimed at kids and was meant to be funny, but that's no excuse. There's a difference between making your show accessible to everyone and just insulting the audience's intelligence. There's also a difference between telling jokes and BEING a joke.

So overall, it's kind of hard to give this show a single rating. Power Rangers was a roller coaster of quality. The good episodes were really good and would warrant an easy 4, while the bad episodes oscillate between a soft 2, a hard 0, and a middle finger before being tossed in the trash. Overall, I'd give it...

KR Rating: [3] MEDIOCRE

While the show was mostly mediocre on screen, when it was off the screen... it was a hot @#%$ing mess. It was run by greedy dick Haim Saban, whose basic plan was just to make the cheapest show possible with a scheme that only beats out Vince Perri's Action 52 scheme by virtue of the fact that Saban's Get Rich Quick Plan actually worked.

Aside from the cheapness of just re-using scenes someone else shot, the actors were treated like slaves. Amy Jo Johnson (Kimberly, the Pink Ranger) has called it the lowest point of her entire career. Austin St. John (Jason, the Red Ranger) stated in interviews that he would have made more money working fast food. David Yost (Billy, the Blue Ranger) was so mistreated by his co-workers that he nearly walked off the show multiple times because the constant anti-gay bullying he suffered made him want to kill himself.

It's ironic that, in spite of how troubled the production was, this is also the most lighthearted and idealistic series of the entire franchise. The heroes have zero flaws, society is perfect (or at least has problems that are easily solvable), the only true evil out there comes from obviously bad space demons... I guess the ultimate lesson we can learn from this is that, just like the rich philanthropist who runs a secret sweatshop (ie. Haim Saban himself) anyone who puts that much effort into being so obsessively nice is DEFINITELY hiding something.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Video Game Review: Slayer Shock

Let me start by saying that I do really like developers Minor Key Games. At the time of this writing I've got 44 hours in their first game, Eldritch, a "Call of Cthulhu by way of Minecraft" type first person rogue-lite. So you could say I'm a fan and none of this is meant as an insult against them.

Slayer Shock is an interesting game and does have potential. You play as the Slayer, an implied Buffy expy who hangs out in a coffee shop with a gang of friends and occasionally goes out to hunt undead monsters. The game is very Buffy, even to the extent of dividing itself up into seasons and episodes - every mission is an episode, find and defeat the boss vamp, that's the end of the season. Move on to the next season and the next boss.

It isn't a bad premise and like I said it does have potential. The problem right now is the gameplay. Again, the idea isn't bad. It's basically the same combat and movement mechanics from Eldritch, but turned up a notch. There are RPG elements at play; you can't just expect 1-2 shot kills all the time like you could in Eldritch, instead enemies actually have HP and damage stats of their own.

And that's kind of the issue here. Slayer Shock is a hard game, and unfortunately it's not all for legitimate reasons. Despite what the game's Steam store page says stealth really isn't optional. Enemies tend to travel in large packs, they often take many hits to kill and they strike fast so evading isn't as easy as it was in Eldritch. If you're playing on anything above Easy difficulty open combat becomes suicidal, so you'll really need to rely on stealth to get by.

The problem is, the stealth doesn't work very well. You move so slow that trying to sneak up behind enemies while they're moving away from you is next to impossible, there is no grace period when you're spotted, and even with the perk that lets you deal additional damage on a backstab you're STILL looking at a protracted battle against most enemies.

Worse, enemies like to spawn in on top of you. I've seen enemies pop up two inches in front of my face as I was walking, and unlike Eldritch where you could stop spawns by not looting enemies, here there is NO WAY to stop new enemies from re-appearing constantly.

Basically, Slayer Shock is a good premise, executed poorly. The developers are still working on the game as of this writing, so hopefully they'll fix the stealth mechanics and the respawn problem. If they do then expect this review to be updated but for right now I can't really recommend this game in good faith.

KR Rating: [2] BAD

Annotation From The Future:
It seems that Minor Key Games has, sadly, given up on Slayer Shock so sadly none of these issues will ever be fixed or addressed. I know it's their game but still. It had potential and its sad to see that potential squandered. As they say, a work of art is never finished, it is only given up on, and Minor Key Games... they gave up.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Video Game Review: Fallout 4

Let me start by saying I've never much cared for the Scavenger World setting. I know it's really popular but it just never worked for me. To me, it just seems unrealistic - this idea that after the bombs fell everyone just forgot that they could build buildings and run factories and stuff, or for that matter create basic things like soap which for those not in the know was invented roughly 5,000 years ago. It's ridiculous.

That said, I never hated Fallout. In fact, I loved it. I spent so much time with Fallout 3 because it was fun and the ridiculousness of the setting never really bothered me because, again, it was fun. This also is part of why I was excited for Fallout 4; the outpost mechanic addresses my major gripe about the setting, even though I still don't know why stuff that you build brand new looks so busted and shitty... but then, I guess that's just the aesthetic so whatever.

Well, onto the review. I'll start with what the game did right.

The level of customization is pretty cool. You can equip armor in seven parts now - underclothing, helmet, torso, right arm, right leg, left arm, left leg. It's still not quite as deep as it was in, say, Morrowind, but it's still nice.

You can also customize your weapons and armor at workbenches throughout the game. That said, the customization here isn't particularly deep and honestly feels less like customizing and more like simply upgrading; it would be nice if I could tinker and find a setup that works for my play style, but most of the options are just straight upgrades rather than changes, and it seems like the coolest weapons in the game are also the ones with the fewest upgrade options.

The outpost system is also pretty cool and does do a lot to answer the issues I have with the setting, like I said. Getting to set up your own dwelling is pretty cool, although I do still wish it had a few more features to it, like maybe the ability to add color.

I do also really like what they did with power armor. Unlike in other Fallout games where power armor was pretty much just like any other armor option, albeit with much better stats, power armor in this game really changes the way you play, turning you into an epic tank. You get a sense for how powerful it is when you get your first (assuming you're following the story) suit in Concord, then proceed to rip the minigun off a helicopter, jump off a three story building, and wipe out an entire squad of raiders AND a deathclaw. Best. Mission. EVER.

There's also a decent story, I guess, but I just can't bring myself to care about it. Normally story is a selling point for a game to me, but in this case I just don't feel like it fits with the style of the game. I liked Fallout 3 because it had a deep story but there wasn't a lot of characterization for my own guy so I could play them however I wanted. Fallout 4 knocked me out of the plot right off the bat by telling me I was middle aged, married, and had a kid. So much for all of my character ideas. Basically, at no point did I feel like I was playing my own character. No, I was playing Nate, husband of Nera and father of Shaun, and the game is never going to let me forget that.

Combine that with the dialog system which has been reduced significantly. You only have four options, all of them described with three or four word long phrases so you never know what you're going to say before you say it. Hell, most dialog options leave one of your choices as just "Sarcastic" which is so damn vague it isn't even funny, which is appropriate since the spoken line usually isn't particularly funny either.

It's honestly kind of sad to me. Bethesda spent so much time building this backstory and characterization only for it to end up as one of the game's flaws. Oh well, moving on.

Speaking of flaws, the game is sparse. The world is tiny and doesn't have much interesting in it. I know I shouldn't be surprised by this, being as Bethesda games have been getting smaller and smaller with every new game, but what about Skyrim? That game was smaller, but they did it so they could put more effort into what they did have. That does not apply to Fallout 4. Most of my time was spent wandering across vast tracts of open, empty land, looking for something to explore and when i did finally find something it was usually one building with three rooms and five enemies and barely anything to loot.

As with the power armor, you also get a sense for this when you arrive in Concord, a city of 17,000 people covering 26 square miles which in this game is pared down to maybe 30 or so buildings, only about 4 or 5 of which can even be explored, and only one of which is actually even instanced. You'd expect to be coming back to this town to scavenge for junk and supplies constantly but no, you'll be totally done with it after the first mission.

To be fair, there are some locations that are bigger, for example the City of Boston which is actually worth visiting. Still, locations like that seem to be the exception.

Also not surprising, the game is a buggy mess. I spent my first half hour or so with this game just trying to make it work, because I committed the cardinal sin of not owning a widescreen monitor. I use a 1280x1024 resolution, which according to Bethesda apparently means I'm not worthy to play their game. I had to manually set the screen size to 1280x1024, which had the result of erasing most of my HUD and somehow rendering the lockpicking GUI invisible. I had to download a mod to fix it but it still didn't work because, I don't know, the universe hates me I guess.

Lastly, I feel like they've done something to combat. The smooth and workable combat of Fallout 3 is gone. I'm not sure if it's how fast and twitchy enemies are or if the guns are less accurate (probably both) but I can never seem to hit anything. I feel like they're responding to the people who criticized the V.A.T.S. auto-targetting system in 3 by making it so that it's mandatory in this game. Whatever's going on it totally wrecked the fun of the game for me.

I guess in the end Fallout 4 is pretty much exactly what you'd expect from a Bethesda game. There are some things they did with the game that I really liked, like the customization, the outposts, and the revamped power armor system. There are also some things I really didn't like, like the story, the sparseness of the environment, and the combat.

That said, I kind of feel like it's all been done better in other games already. I know I'm going to catch Hell from a whole lot of fanboys for saying this, but I really don't feel like Fallout 4 is anything special. In fact, I'll go a step further - I don't like it at all.

I'd like to say that "if you like Bethesda games you'll probably like this one too" but I don't really agree with that statement either. Bethesda has been showing cracks in their armor for a while now, but this is the first one of their games that has actually gotten me to ask for my money back. The changes to combat and the sparse exploration just aren't fun to me, and in the end this game is just Exhibit A in the case of why I'm beginning to hate Bethesda.

KR Rating: [3] MEDIOCRE

Monday, October 19, 2015

Book Review: Bridge To Terabithia (Revisited)

So, way back in 2012 I kinda-sorta didn't really review Bridge to Terabithia. At the time I said that I couldn't fairly rate the story and I was telling the truth. I couldn't then. However, I've given it some more thought and I think now I'm ready to do so.

Before we start, I'd like to talk about something called Cerebus Syndrome. Those of you who spend a lot of time on TVTropes already know what I'm talking about, but for those who don't, I'll give a brief description.

Cerebus Syndrome is when a story that starts out lighthearted and fun becomes darker and more dramatic over time, named for the webcomic Cerebus the Aardvark, a comedy with barely any plot that inexplicably and notoriously became unbelievably dark and depressing later on. There's also the less common Reverse Cerebus Syndrome where a dark story becomes lighter, but we won't go into that right now.

Cerebus Syndrome isn't necessarily a bad thing. Done well, it can add depth to a previously shallow story. When it's done poorly, though, this is easily one of the worst things you can possibly do. A poorly done Cerebus switch makes you feel like you've been cheated out of the rest of the story. You were enjoying it as it was, but now all of a sudden the story is about something totally different and everyone is dead.

This is the reason why I hated Bridge to Terabithia so much. I said in my previous post that I understand why the story is so beloved and, well, I really do. As I also said in my review of Dungeons & Dragons, it's possible to like elements of a work even if you admit the work as a whole is not good, and I kind of feel like that's what's happening here. The fantasy world of Terabithia is interesting and I think that's what most people remember and like about this story.

But then there's that twist. Yeah, spoilers-except-not-really: Leslie dies. I talked in my previous review about how it was similar to a vaccine - exposing kids to sorrow and loss so that when they run into the real thing they can handle it. I honestly hate when stories kill off nice characters at all, which is why I didn't want to rate the story back then because I felt like maybe the problem might have just been me.

The problem, though, is that this twist is not earned at all. In fact, I'll go a step farther and say my whole "vaccine" analogy was giving this bullshit far more credit than it deserves. Yes, that's right, I said bullshit because that's what this is.

As I said in that review, if the story had been entirely about exploring the concepts of mortality and loss from the beginning, if this had been set up in any way at all, then it would be different. But it's not. The story is all happiness and cool fantasy stuff for like 95% of it, and then all of a sudden we're watching a little girl drown and a little boy cry at her funeral.

The best I can say for this twist is that it's not just a cheap shot for feels. It was based on a real life event that happened to the book's author and it took her weeks to work up the courage to write it.

That said, all this really means is that the writer is taking out her personal pain on us. Yes, bad things happen, and if you wanted to write a story about loss and misery to work out your feelings that would be totally fine. But you didn't, did you? No, instead you baited us in with happiness and fantasy and then punched us in the nose with a brass knuckles made out of death, horror, and misery, because apparently your way of working out your pain is to force that same pain onto others.

Despite what I've intended to do for several years I've never really said this before, but for the most part all of my ratings have objective meanings. As a result, none of my ratings really work here. I know that sounds like a cop-out, but it's honestly true. My current rating system is woefully unfit for this work.

In terms of storytelling and crafting the work is virtually flawless, which would normally earn it a rating of 5 - Great, but that twist is just so absolutely terrible it completely killed any shred of enjoyment I was having with the story. So you might think 4 - Good, as a good work that's held back by one glaring flaw. But I feel like this flaw is worse than that. FAR worse. This twist didn't just tarnish my image of the story, it annihilated it, to a level on par with a 1 - Horrible... but it's not a horrible story.

That's why I'm giving this story this rating: negative 5. This story is Anti-Great. It is a beautifully polished piece of shit. It is expertly crafted with the goal of pissing you off and obliterating any sense of joy. It is perfect anti-entertainment. Seriously, I've tried to avoid cursing on the blog of late, but fuck this book.

KR Rating: [-5] ANTI-GREAT