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Saturday, 31 October 2015

Editorial: The Joy of Goosebumps

Editorial: The Joy of Goosebumps.

We all know Goosebumps. That's not me using hyperbole, that's just a logical extrapolation from the fact that they were bestselling books in Europe, Australia, and the US; and moderately well selling books in Canada, most of Asia, and significant chunks of Africa. 

RL. Stine's children's horror novels, originally intended as a six book series but later ending up with nearly a hundred books (if you include the Choose Your Own Goosebumps books and the Goosebumps 2000 books) redefined what bestselling is, selling not only copies in the hundreds of millions, but also spawning a television adaptation, comic books, and several video games. There's even an upcoming film based on the series.

Which is odd, because actually, they weren't very good.

Put the pitchforks away, it's true. The defining feature of the Goosebumps books was that if you had read one, you had functionally read them all. A white middle-class American kid (or two) discovers something that seems wondrous (it could be a location, an item, or occasionally a person), but who actually turns out to be sinister some time around the end of the second act. The either vanquish the sinister item/person or escape the sinister location using some kind of painfully obvious trick (yes, I do remember the Evil Comic Book story where the solution was just dipping the comic in water so that the ink ran), and then there's a hint at the end that the evil is not truly gone and will be returning at some point to cause havoc once again.

Perhaps the series' most baffling feature was its attempt to translate the horror film convention of Cat Scares - where there's a build-up to something scary happening, culminating in a jump scare that is revealed to have actually been some regular, non-scary thing - into literary form. The first six or so chapters would always end on something ominous, like 'And then a monster rose from the closet, screaming,' before the next chapter would begin with '... But it was actually just his Dad, dressed as a monster.' It got to the point where even its audience, primarily composed of small children, were rolling their eyes a bit.

So, why was it so popular?

Well, for many children, it was our gateway to horror - a foundation on which later, slightly more serious novels like the Point Horror series would build upon. Goosebumps books used tried and true horror plotlines, but did so in a way that wasn't really scary, wasn't really threatening, and was perfectly suitable for children. 

It was deliberately, cleverly defanged horror, developing an interest in the genre in children without ever really pushing their boundaries - and while it is important to have children's media that pushes and challenges them, it's just as important to give them media which is safe, friendly, and harmless, where they can develop their tastes. 

Which is not even mentioning that in a children's literature market saturated with moralising books about how to do right (which are important, mind, but which can be overwhelming if they're all you have), Goosebumps never tried to push a moral agenda on its reader. If there was ever any message, it was things like 'Maybe just burn the evil, talking puppet,' or 'Summer camps aren't fun if everyone is dead,' and frankly those are common sense messages that anybody can appreciate. Goosebumps didn't need to justify its presence by being a positive influence on children: It was just fun, with no expectations attached to it.

(Which did not remotely stop people in the US trying to get it banned, on the grounds that it was somehow encouraging Satanism.)

Goosebumps may have never been structurally amazing, or great literary works of art, but they not only got children reading, they kept them reading - children who read Goosebumps inevitably graduated on to other, more difficult books, and a large part of that was that Stine's books (which were simple, fun, and short enough to read in a single sitting) had given them a fantastic place to develop their reading skills and their love of literature.

The best part is that Stine is still writing: The last Goosebumps books came out in 2012, and while the man takes long breaks quite often, he eventually always starts putting out more work, so that new generations of children can enjoy his stuff. The man is basically a one-man factory, churning out admittedly sub-par works on a schedule that would make most authors weep.

So, here's to RL. Stine and Goosebumps. You may not be high art, but your work is truly appreciated, not just by me and by an entire generation of people worldwide, but also by Scholastic, since you make up something like fifteen percent of their revenue and are their most successful series. That publishing house will literally die without you, Stine. They will actually perish.

Friday, 30 October 2015

Kamen Rider Ghost E3+E4

Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 3 and Episode 4.

So, is the 'Takeru hugs people and then they're all better' thing going to be a regular fixture? Because while I liked that the first time, I admit that when it happened a second time, in the very next episode, with the exact same words and what appeared to be at least a second or so of stock footage, I did raise my eyebrows a bit. 

I'm not even certain what's meant to be happening there - some kind of magical ghost-purging thing? Takeru's just that good a hugger? Given what we know about Takeru, either one is equally plausible.

In the third episode, Takeru and the team - who have now set up shop as the Supernatural Phenomenon Laboratory - track down a thief with seeming telekinetic powers, who has called themselves Little John and is stealing from the wealthy to give to the poor, as Robin Hood did. In the fourth episode, the team is called in to investigate the strange behaviour of the president of Sengoku Corporation, who has been aggressively pursuing acquisitions, like some kind of Business Nobunaga - and Takeru encounters another Rider in search of Eyecons.

So, I said in the last review that I didn't really have much of a handle on what Takeru's character is like, and while I feel like I know a bit more about him, he still feels a bit lightly sketched out to me. He's absolutely adorable, and he's clearly very sunny and cheerful and a bit childish, and that's all good, but I want to know more about him. In a way, he doesn't seem to be able to hold his own as a character amidst the much louder, larger presences of Onari and Akari.


At this point, he doesn't seem to have any kind of internal conflict other than 'I'm dead and I need to not be dead' (which, to be fair, is a fairly solid thing to be concerned about), whereas we knew that Kouta had a conflict between his desire to contribute to his household with gainful employment, and his desire to do what he loves; Eiji had a disparity between his cheerfulness and his crippling PTSD; and Shotaro had a conflict between his desire to be a hard-boiled detective and his actual nature.

I do like Takeru, though. I like how happy and chirpy he is, I like how singularly good a person he is, and that's part of the reason why I want to know more about him and get a better handle on what kind of character he is.

Speaking of characters, I do not trust Yurusen and the Hermit one jot - I didn't before, but these two episodes, where the Hermit casually admits that he knew that there was another Rider and didn't tell Takeru, and more importantly, where Yurusen actively expresses disappointment over a woman not dying, and encourages Takeru to leave thousands of people to their deaths, makes me think that they're evil and playing Takeru for their own ends.

I might well be barking up entirely the wrong tree there, but nevertheless, that's the vibe I'm getting off them for the moment.

Specter, meanwhile, seems quite lovely.

We also got our first appearances of Specter! They're very much a prologue to him actually, properly making his entrance into the show, which will be happening next episode, but it was nice to see him, nevertheless. You go, Specter, with your stealing and your ominously lurking in the shadows.

As far as the plots of these episodes go, they were fine. Nothing tremendous or amazing, but very entertaining to watch, and it's always nice to have a Kamen Rider series that actually does solid single-episode plots instead of stretching a plot thin over two episodes. Technically, they're fine too - the cinematography is sound, the acting's all fine, the special effects are good. They re-used footage from the OOO film in the most recent episode, but hey, if you have the footage, you may as well use it. It wasn't as if it was especially jarring or anything.

It looks like the plot is going to kick into a slightly different gear from this point onwards, as Takeru now has his main team of Fancy Ghosts - not that we don't know that he's going to be adding more to that team, but it's probably safe to assume that the others won't be used all that much. 

Tiny delicate ghost.

We have a break next week for golf (ugh, golf), so it'll be three weeks before another one of these reviews. Still, I'm looking forward to the next episode, which will apparently involve Makoto being manipulated by Alan (why, writers, why did you call your villain Alan?) and a fight between him and Takeru, along with the first usage of the Nobunaga Eyecon. So far, this is a solid, fun series, and I'm enjoying it - I just hope it can keep that quality up or improve on it.

I'm still slightly bitter that we don't have the ghosts possessing Takeru ala the Imagin, though. That would be beautiful and hilarious. 

Thursday, 29 October 2015

The Park.

The Park.

I first saw this game as a video on Jim Sterling's channel, a rather flowery-dialogued walking simulator that managed to burn away any goodwill I - or anyone watching, I think - had for it when it subjected us all to a five minute long retelling of Hansel and Gretel. While on a slow boat ride. That wasn't fun. But I looked up the whole thing anyhow, because before that point, it had seemed almost sort of interesting.

Also, because I foolishly committed to doing a Spooky Halloween Week despite the fact that I don't watch horror films and I haven't played a proper horror game in ages.

Created by Funcom and set in the universe of Ragnar Tornquist's urban horror-fantasy MMO The Secret World, The Park follows Lorraine, a young mother who has lost her child in a sprawling amusement park. As she searches for him, she begins to suffer from hallucinations, and starts seeing strange and sinister figures around the park, culminating in her entering the haunted house at the centre of the park.

Oh, wow, it's a scary skinny person in a top hat, not seen that before.

The hour long game starts off with a warning that the game will 'mess with your sanity', which is probably the quickest way to sour me to a horror game, because if you feel like you have to inform me in advance that I'm meant to be scared, then your game probably isn't all that scary. That's a pretty apt way to feel about this game, it turns out, because whatever this game is, it's not scary. 

The game tries. Gosh, does it try - the first real attempt to scare you involves a wooden swan swiveling its head around like it's auditioning for The Exorcist, but the scare is completely ruined both by the fact that a) That's silly, and b) Moments afterwards it just swivels its head away again, giving the impression less of supernatural forces and more of a very judgmental swan boat. 

Later scares, involving violent hallucinations of impending doom and brief glimpses of a looming figure, were a little more effective, but only a little. Whether it was because I was just annoyed with the game at that point, or whether it was because I'd seen all of the game's scares done before in better games, they only managed to rouse a mild 'well, I guess that's creepy' reaction out of me. I scare really easily, incidentally. I never finished Silent Hill 2 myself because it scared me that much, that's how easily I scare.

'Children love teeth,' - the designers of this park, probably.

Technically, it is a pretty game, mostly. The game's graphics fall down hard whenever it has to render people, which isn't often - just enough to remind you that yes, yes, you didn't misremember the people looking like figures from a waxwork exhibition titled Fashion of the Early 90s - but the landscapes are actually really gorgeous by the standards of a small, not-quite-indie horror game. The aesthetic of the run-down amusement park, which has been a horror classic since amusement parks first existed, has been perfectly captured here, with just the right mix of bright colours and grime.

The music is also fine, and while the voice acting starts off as more than a little uninspiring, Lorraine's voice actor really comes into her own later in the game, when she's given fewer flowery monologues about how magical and lovely the park is and more meaty stuff about her own life. The writing of that dialogue most certainly starts off extremely weak, with the Hansel and Gretel sequence probably in the running for some kind of prize for most boring sequence in a video game of the past decade, but it does improve as time goes on. It's never brilliant, and nobody is going to come away from this game going 'Man, that was such a well-written, deep story', but it's engaging enough.

In terms of gameplay, it's a walking simulator. It's not even trying to be anything else, I think, it's just a walking simulator - you walk, pick things up (but you don't have an inventory or anything), read stuff, and occasionally go on a ride. That's it. That's the game. It's not exactly thrilling stuff, and even for a short game, it starts to wear out its welcome towards the end.

You can't see, but she's wearing those high-rise jeans that went out of fashion
in 1998.

The game ends on a rather confusing note. It all builds up in that tired old way that walking simulators do, hinting at an obvious Dark Secret in the protagonist's past (and it's always obvious what it is - in this game, it's obvious that it involves killing her child, after accidentally or on purpose), and eventually culminates in Lorraine stabbing her son through the heart, only to then seemingly reveal that it had all been in her head? Just something she was absently pondering?

This is set in the universe of The Secret World, as mentioned before, and the park does apparently show up in that game and is apparently haunted by actual ghosts, so there's room for some kind of supernatural meddling afoot, but the ending still left me baffled, and not in a good way. It reeked of the developers going 'Oooh, it's up for interpretation' - and don't get me wrong, I adore stories where there's an enduring mystery at the end, where you can interpret for yourself what really happened and discuss it with other people, but there's a fine line to walk as far as still making that satisfying goes, and The Park missed that line by a country mile.

If you enjoy The Secret World, or you really enjoy horror, then maybe consider picking up this game? It's priced far too high for the length or quality of the product you're getting, so I cannot and will not give it a recommendation, but browse the description, maybe.

Wednesday, 28 October 2015

The Flash S2E4: The Fury of Firestorm.

The Flash
Series 2, Episode 4
The Fury of Firestorm.

So, query, where was Jay during this episode? He went upstairs at the end of the last episode, and then this episode picks up where that one left off (more or less) and he's nowhere to be seen. Did he just go out for a very long coffee or something? Is he going to wander back in and be like "Oh, hey, guys, what's going on? What? Stein's gone? I loved that guy!"

Like, I know you have a fairly large cast, Flash writers, but you can't just forget about one of your cast members. Even if you just have him in the background of the S.T.A.R. Labs scenes, or helping to hold Stein down during his convulsions, he needs to be somewhere. 

In this week's episode, Stein starts to become increasingly unstable, as he has gone too long without merging. The team attempts to find another person who can fuse with him, and land on two candidates - scientist Hewitt and mechanic Jefferson 'Jax' Jackson. When Hewitt proves incompatible and flies off the deep end, Jax is forced to step up, merging with Stein to become the new Firestorm. Meanwhile, Patty is on the hunt for a Man-Shark, Iris meets with Francine, and Earth-2 Harrison Wells steals a powerful weapon.

Also, the Firestorm-y stabilisation device suits him.

This episode is, obviously, a Legends of Tomorrow tie-in. We got one last week with Arrow, with Sara being resurrected in the Lazarus Pit, so I suppose it was The Flash's turn. Well, its second turn, because the third episode was kind of a Legends tie-in as well. I'll be honest, I'm getting kind of annoyed with all the set-up episodes we're having for this series, because it should be able to stand on its own without large amounts of build-up episodes.

But the episode itself was solid. In a way, it felt like the early Firestorm episodes from the last series, where the principle threat was that Ronnie and Stein exploding unexpectedly. As with those episodes, people were constantly in danger of exploding this time, and that was nice - I'm always a sucker for episodes where the problem is some kind of natural event, rather than really being a villain (because while Hewitt is the villain of this episode, he only really starts villaining in the third act of the episode).

I do like Jax, even if it did feel that the writers were kind of over-pushing 'he's a peppy teenage hero who just wants a higher purpose to aspire to!' (yes, I know that he's twenty), which is the role that Ronnie had in the comics, before his character was kind of retrofitted to be a) A science-y type, and b) Extremely wooden, because he's played by Robbie Amell. It's kind of a tired, worn out character archetype, and I hope they build on it a bit both later in the series and in Legends. 

"He was enraged, like a shark. Then a hell-beast ate them."

But thank god that we have a Firestorm who can act, though. I have always adored Stein, but Ronnie was just so flat. It's no wonder that Caitlin moved on to Jay so quickly, Jay actually emotes. Franz Drameh puts on an excellent performance as Jax, and I do look forward to seeing more of him.

This wasn't a very plot-heavy episode, but we did get Iris finding out she has a brother - who I presume is Wally, and I'm guessing that Kid Flash!Wally, which we know we'll be getting at some point this series, will be an Earth-2 or Earth-3 version of him. Or possibly this universe's Wally will meet with a particle accelerator accident. The sky's the limit.

We also got Earth-2 Wells skulking about, stealing things, and eventually revealing himself to Barry by defeating Man-Shark with an energy blast. I admit to having no idea as to what's going to happen here: My original thought was that Earth-2 Wells was also actually Thawne, but now I'm not so certain. I'm hoping that we find out either way next episode, because this slow-burn plot has been burning a mite too slow for my tastes.

It's lucky that Hewitt was a black dude, otherwise Caitlin would have come off
as incredibly racist.

(Man-Shark appearing was also a rather unexpected twist, even if he did get taken out after about twenty seconds. It was more a joke than anything, and a way to have Wells introduce himself without having him take out the main villain of the episode, but it was set up well, and it did get a slightly startled laugh out of me.)

The preview for the next episode seems to suggest that this may actually be the genuine Wells article - but then, we also know that Wells lies. It will also see Jay returning after his short and odd absence, and the arrival of Doctor Light as the metahuman-of-the-week, who according to Jay wasn't a threat on Earth-2 - it seems to be Kimiyo Hoshi, the superheroic Doctor Light, rather than Arthur Light, the supervillainous one.

That should be a good episode, I'm looking forward to it.

Tuesday, 27 October 2015

Editorial: Four More Survival Horror Video Game Ideas.

Editorial: Four More Survival Horror
Video Game Ideas.

So, I really like survival horror games. Okay, that's a lie. That's a brazen lie. I'm sorry, I'm sorry I lied - I like watching other people play survival horror while I wail "It's so terrifying!" and they're like "This is the menu screen, Murphy," and I am like "I'm so afraid."

We've looked at some blue-sky spitballing survival horror ideas on this blog before, with both myself and Reecey talking about various ideas for unique and interesting horror games. As this is Halloween week, and thus Fission Mailure Horror Week, it's time to add a few more.


You know what I don't much like in video games? Darkness. You know what horror video games, especially in recent years, seem to love? Darkness!

It's difficult to be afraid when you can't see what you're meant to be afraid of, and even if it wasn't, dark and dilapidated hospitals, schools, and shopping centres are starting to get old. Yes, we get it, these places are scary if you take the people out of them. Hospitals, by far the most popular choice of the three, are especially scary, as they are in essence miniature, mazelike cities.

But you know what's also terrifying, even with people? Lavish regency balls.

Imagine it, you're exploring a locale not unlike the Palace of Versailles, but twenty times more decadent and opulent, at the height of its grandiosity, beautiful to almost absurd extremes, and the monsters pursuing you are dressed in extravagant formal clothing with intricate, shimmering masks. Everything is well-lit. Everything is gorgeous. And you are very nearly helpless and must do your damndest not to get caught, because they will graft a mask to your face and eat you and possibly titter about your poor table manners in the bargain.

Well-lit, colourful, beautiful survival horror. Give it to me. As a bonus, you could have the main villain be called the Sun King, because that is just an inherently sinister name.

Clockwork Moon.

My least favourite on this list, the 'steampunk survival horror' one.

As a genre, survival horror tends to cross over with a lot of different genres - science fiction and fantasy survival horrors are far from uncommon, after all - but I don't think I've ever seen a steampunk one, and that's a little odd, because steampunk is almost an inherently sinister genre.

(That's partly because the Victorians were just quite a creepy people, and largely because steampunk is largely about the juxtaposition of omnipresent, advanced, unstable technology and people who don't really fully understand it.)

Also, steam-powered and clockwork automatons make great unfeeling, relentless monsters to throw at a player who just wants to find their way out of this mad scientist's laboratory, right?


Aka 'I'm very happy with Until Dawn, but I'd like to see an actual slasher flick game.'

The premise is simple: You, and a band of other survivors, are trapped in a - in a somewhere. Given what survival horror games and slasher flicks, it's probably some kind of lodge or private island. But there's a serial killer among you. 

While the mechanics would be very survival horror, instead of avoiding monsters like you usually do, you'd be avoiding just one person - which means that a lot of the time, the game will be quite slow-paced, working on building atmosphere; and then intercut with shorter, fast-paced sections where you're fleeing the killer and hiding from them.

Add in an element of choice (think more Dead Rising or Mass Effect than Until Dawn's excellent level of choicery) and you can have a whole new dynamic: Making sure your fellow survivors survive, with your various choices at various points determining how many of them live or die.

It'd be fun. Everyone loves slasher flicks.

Bad Dream.

Aka 'Life is Strange did one of the best dream sequences I've ever seen in a game, even if it did go on for too long, and I'd like to see a whole game like that.'

'Properly dreamlike' is a difficult thing to pull off for dream sequences, not least because dreams don't resemble reality in any way: Their basic structure is fundamentally different, because they are constructs of the mind in which the divide between thought and perception doesn't really exist. But I can always respect a game which tries its best to represent something surreal and dreamlike, and there's a wealth of opportunity there.

There are ways you could make it very sinister, too. Have the nightmare be a recurring one, intercut with real life sections that get progressively less and less normal and more and more odd, bizarre, and dark as the dream starts to bleed over into reality. Do interesting things with the interplay between reality and dream, play with the fourth wall, go all-out on the surreal, strange imagery.

It'd be difficult to pull off, and you certainly wouldn't get a long game out of it - four or five hours at the absolute tops - but it'd be a wonderfully interesting experiment.

Monday, 26 October 2015

Doctor Who S35E6: The Woman Who Lived.

Doctor Who
Series 35, Episode 6
The Woman Who Lived.

I am rapidly losing patience with this series, I swear to god. After the absolutely terrible historical episode with Maisie Williams last week, we come back to the show this week for a ... terrible ... historical episode ... with Maisie Williams? But, you see, this episode brings something else to a table: The 'the Doctor ruined my life by saving it' plotline that Moffat absolutely adores and that, one imagines, everybody else hates. Also, this episode has an angry lion man, so that's - a thing. I guess.

Ugh, someone save me from writing this review. I will pay you. I will literally pay you real, hard cash to write this review for me and also to shoot me in the face for having made the decision to do this series as an ongoing.

In this week's episode, the Doctor shows up in Georgian times, where Ashildr (now going by the name 'Me', because that won't get confusing) is now an infamous highwayman, robbing with the help of her ominous, glowy-eyed lion friend. When the Doctor interrupts a heist, the two end up teaming up to find an alien device that has found its way to this time, and the Doctor sees how immortality has changed Ashildr for the blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah.

Blah blah blah blah blah.

I'm sorry, I am, if I seem to be not invested in this episode, it's only due to the fact that I'm ninety-nine percent certain that I've seen every single constituent element of it in other, better episodes of Doctor Who. 

Where did Maisie William's acting ability go, incidentally? Did she leave it on the set of Game of Thrones, or is she just not bringing her A-game because she realises that Moffat has cast her not for her or her acting (which is usually really good!) but out of a pathetic, cloying need to pander to the fanbases of other shows? I don't say that lightly, but when you consider that the very first shot we ever saw of this series was of her, that the very first news we got was her inclusion, and that two terribly written episodes have been very hastily constructed around her in a way that feels awkward and forced, it's really the only conclusion to come to.

Williams' acting is certainly not the worst part of this episode, but I think I'd struggle to tell you what the worst element of it even could be, it is that uniformly bad. The tired, rehashed plot that winds its way to an obvious and boring conclusion without ever bothering to create any real sense of tension, perhaps. The fact that the entire emotional weight of the episode is predicated on you knowing and caring about a character who got maybe twenty-five minutes of screentime at all ever on the entirety of the show. The bad, no-good, terrible comedy. The unconvincing villain who combines all the worst elements of campy BBC rubber-suitery with all of Moffat-era Who's tendency to take itself too seriously. Capaldi apparently forgetting that he is a seasoned, veteran actor, and instead mugging and scenery-chewing and sighing his way through every shot.

Blah blah blah blah blah.

Take your pick. It's really a judgement call as to which part of the episode you want to hate the most, I myself cannot decide.

Usually this would be the point where I try and drum up a few positives, usually because nothing is all bad, so - it provided a lovely contrast to the shows before and after it on BBC One, since those were both enjoyable? The sets in this episode, scavenged from other BBC shows, were lovely, many props to the set designers of those shows? At one point, Ashildr put on a very nice dress? There isn't anything positive I can really say about this episode, as it was basically just forty-five minutes of me suffering, set to a Murray Gold soundtrack.

Blah blah blah blah.

Next week, we apparently have the Zygons showing up, and given how badly Moffat and his merry crew of incompetents bungled them the last time he used them, I do not have especially high hopes for that episode. I really wish I did, I don't actually enjoy having to write negative reviews, but these past two or three weeks haven't left me with a tremendous amount of choice in the matter.

Now, please excuse me while I go and scream for literally hours. Did you know I had to rewatch this episode for this review? I had to rewatch this episode for this review. I mean, can you imagine.

Saturday, 24 October 2015

Minecraft: Story Mode E1: The Order of the Stone.

Minecraft: Story Mode
Episode 1
The Order of the Stone.

This might be the Telltale Games project I've been the least excited about, as yet - at least until they announced The Walking Dead Season 3 (words cannot describe how bored I am with zombies). While I kind of distantly enjoy Minecraft in the sense that I like watching other people play it, but could probably take or leave actually playing it myself, I don't like it enough to have been pretty hyped for a whole game based on it, especially since Minecraft has no story or anything resembling one, making it a great sandbox crafting game but poor fare for a story-driven Telltale Games game.

Set in a sort of vaguely Minecraft-y world, Minecraft: Story Mode follows Jesse, a young builder (who can be slightly customised in that you can pick their gender and skin tone, which is nice), and their friends, Olivia and Axel, as they attempt to win a yearly building contest in the hopes of meeting Gabriel, one of the legendary Order of the Stone. Things go horribly wrong when a mysterious man summons a Wither Storm, an enhanced Wither that grows endlessly, and Jesse must set out to find the other members of the Order, before the world is destroyed.

We'll start by talking about gameplay, because that's going to be a simple one: It is, more or less, more of the same - you talk to people, make choices (which you're informed that people will remember every so often) that ultimately don't really impact on the fairly railroaded plot, engaging in some light point-and-click adventuring (which, as always, is pretty easy), and do some quicktime events. It's the standard Telltale Games package, for better or worse, and the only real new addition is that you occasionally get to do some crafting. There are three instances of crafting in the first episode - two where you're told what to make, and one where you have a small set of recipes to cycle through. It's a fun addition, but it doesn't really change the formula any - it's just an extension of the aforementioned light point-and-click elements.

You get to go to the Nether, it's lovely.

While I am constantly hoping that Telltale Games will try to innovate a little with their games, I am also relatively resigned to the idea that any innovations they make are coming very slowly, so it isn't as if I was expecting Minecraft: Story Mode to play drastically differently from their standard output.

So, let's talk about the story. In a way, it feels like it's a story that's been dragged out of half a dozen action films, patched together, and satirised a little - in that respect, it's very LEGO Movie, although the satire in that one was certainly a lot heavier. The characters are instantly recognisable archetypes, the storyline treads some extremely familiar paths, and while Telltale Games are definitely being slightly tongue-in-cheek about it all (the 'training montage' sequence is a fine example of that), it definitely falls on the 'using these tropes seriously' side of the line.

That's not necessarily a problem - Minecraft: Story Mode is clearly intended to be the studio's funnest, fluffiest work yet, after all, and I was never distracted by how, well, cliche the plot was. While I noticed it, it didn't dampen my enjoyment in any way. Maybe that's partly because of how the game doesn't give you much time to think about it, as a large swathe of its middle is devoted to almost unbroken, actually quite frenetic and tense action. Maybe that's partly because, with the exception of monobrow'd big guy Axel, the characters are all engaging and enjoyable, even if I've seen them about a hundred times in other pieces of media.

Customisation. Well. A choice between six options.

(Someone I know did get a little vexed at the lack of Minecraft Accuracy in the game, incidentally. "You can't push down a stone pressure plate with an arrow," she said. "Why didn't they cover those rail tracks with cobblestone, ghasts can't get through that. And since when do ghasts die in a single hit?" "That book would be full of random sentences." I have instructed her to write a sternly worded letter to The Times, as one does in these situations.)

That's a nice bridge. It'd be a shame if anything ... happened ... to it.

Overall, Minecraft: Story Mode isn't breaking any molds, but it is a fun little romp of a game so far, especially if you're one of Telltale Games' small legion of fans. If you have a few hours free and enjoy episodic games, I do recommend picking it up. If you don't want to pick it up, but are still interested in seeing what happens, then never fear! I have recently completed a Let's Play of it, which can be found at this playlist. So, go check that out. Go check it out now. 

The next episode of Minecraft: Story Mode should be out in about two months time, so keep an eye out for it.

Friday, 23 October 2015

Editorial: The Top 5 Star Trek Characters (Who Aren't Captains).

Editorial: The Top 5 Star Trek Characters
(Who Aren't Captains).

You know, I was originally going to do an editorial on why I've soured to the Star Trek films. I would've talked about the whitewashing, and the weird misogyny, and the storm of cliches, and how I don't think Star Trek really works as films - and I'll probably do that at some point, but on a day when I have food poisoning and a splitting headache, it's not ideal fare.

So, instead, let's do a lighter, fluffier Star Trek editorial, and count down the top five characters who aren't captains. Why aren't I including captains? Because if you had to make me pick between Picard, Janeway, and Sisko, I wouldn't be able to. Yes, I know that Sisko is technically a commander.

5. Julian Bashir, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Bashir might take a prize for 'character who undergoes most character development', because in the earliest episodes of DS9, it's really only his adorable pep that saves him from being totally unlikable, as he rambles on about 'real frontier medicine', acts incredibly self-important, and falls in love with Jadzia, a woman he barely knows. In fact, fans hated him enough that their distaste for him would sometimes get brought up in interviews with Alexander Siddig.

It was quite unusual, because Star Trek didn't usually do characters who were unlikable or poor role models up until that point.

While he changes slowly, he does change, though, becoming a much more pleasant, much more understanding person. In later series, when DS9 became about the Dominion War and characters started to slip into moral-greyness, it was usually Bashir (and O'Brien and Jadzia) taking the role of 'person who has to remind the rest of the crew of the morals and ethics they've momentarily forgotten.' It's a development that feels entirely natural, and in a way fits with Deep Space Nine as a very character-driven, introspective show.

Also, he's played by Alexander Siddig, and Alexander Siddig is great.

4. Q, Star Trek: The Next Generation & Star Trek: Voyager & Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Everyone loves Q. Everyone. The recurring fan favourite is best known for his interactions with the crew in TNG, but he makes appearances as a sometimes-antagonist sometimes-ally in three different series, along with being a major character in what is functionally just a video game about him, Star Trek: Borg.

While a large part of why he's popular is probably just that the combination of 'godlike powers' and 'John de Lancie' is an inspired, Q is also popular because, more than any other character, he demonstrates how different each captain is.

Picard puts up with him with impeccable dignity if not at least a tinge of irritation, and occasionally tries to teach him life lessons (one which Q sometimes even seems to learn); Janeway reluctantly finds herself on good terms with him, humouring his whims while still being straight-talking and honest with him, something that makes her more or less his go-to person when he's having problems with other Qs; and Sisko punches him in the face, and then Q never appears in another DS9 episode ever again.

3. Tuvok, Star Trek: Voyager.

Tuvok is the most sarcastic character in all of Star Trek, and he does it while being totally stony-faced all of the time. He's so sarcastic he makes Spock seem earnest and forthright, and that's glorious.

I'll be honest, I don't really have any additional points to this, but if you don't love Tuvok's endless supply of world-weary, dry snark, then I really don't know what to tell you.

2. Jadzia Dax, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.

Jadzia is, in a way, the antithesis of every other Star Trek science officer. While Data is a tiny, delicate labradroid, Harry Kim was extremely generic, and Spock was a sharp, logical Vulcan, Jadzia was canny, warm, and playful (and, as is usual for Star Trek science officers, usually the one with the solution to whatever glowy space glow they had encountered that week).

What made Jadzia really interesting, though, was her Dax symbiote - a sapient being that had lived in a dozen different hosts before Jadzia, its presence led to an interesting situation where Jadzia was essentially the melding of two (and a dozen) people. The Deep Space Nine writers were always keen to use that to full effect, having Sisko be an old friend of Dax while simultaneously being a new friend of Jadzia, and giving her no shortage of episodes where she had to struggle with her symbiote's memories of its past lives.

The Trill remain one of the most interesting species in Star Trek for me, and Jadzia's character is a big part of that. While I never really warmed to her successor, Ezri, in the same way, I would love to see more Trill characters in Star Trek media.

1. Data, Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Data was so beloved by TNG's writers that you could be forgiven for thinking he was the main character, as he got more focus episodes and critically important roles in ensemble episodes than just about any other member of the crew, bar possibly Picard.

But it's not difficult to see why: Data being an android meant that he had interesting plotlines about the nature of humanity, the rights of artificial intelligences, and the ability of an unemotional being to relate to others - but he was also an example of that most rare type of character, a character who is purely and wholly good while still being engaging to watch.

In many respects, Data was just a walking, silver labrador, only instead of retrieving sticks or water fowl he usually retrieved the solution to whatever the swirly space swirl of that particular episode was.

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Tales from the Borderlands E5: The Vault of the Traveler.

Tales from the Borderlands
Episode 5
The Vault of the Traveler.

You know, after Life is Strange's total wiping away of almost all of your choices, it is nice to see that Telltale Games is at least trying to improve upon their track record with choice and have your decisions build to something resembling actual meaningfulness. They've failed, but the effort is there, and I do, at least, respect that somewhat.

In this final episode of the much-loved Telltale Games series, Rhys and Fiona must escape from Handsome Jack, who now has control of Hyperion and wants to install a robot skeleton inside Rhys. Reaching the ground, Rhys has a final showdown with Jack, and Fiona is forced into an untenable choice - before, months later, the masked figure reveals his true identity, and calls on the two to assist him in one last task: Summoning the Vault of the Traveler, and defeating the monster that guards it.

This episode really hits the ground running, throwing the cast immediately into escaping Handsome Jack, who is now Hyperion itself, and in the process destroying the space station. Continuing on from killing off recurring mechanic character Scooter in the last episode, this move - basically destroying the main villains - really hammers in that Tales from the Borderlands isn't a side-game: It's an actual, proper part of the main Borderlands series, which is nice to be able to say.


The game never really relaxes after that, either. Almost as soon as one action sequence is done - and the entire escape sequence happens before the credits and takes up maybe twenty minutes tops - we're thrown into others, with a heavy emphasis on the personal impact of each scene. Special mention goes to Rhys tearing out his own cybernetics (which, you'll recall, includes his eye - I couldn't watch) to rid himself of Jack.

Vallory's death was a lot less striking than Jack's (although while Vallory can't be saved, it is possible to let Jack live, trapped in an eye without anyone to talk to), with her basically just showing up for five minutes in order to get killed by the Traveler. That said, her death is really not the focus of the scene - it's instead more about Fiona being forced into a heartwrenchingly unpleasant decision.

That's really only half of the episode, though, and the second half picks up a few months later, with the masked man revealing that he wants to rebuild Gortys, summon the Vault, and defeat the monster that guards it - and that's where the choices you've made start to come in. Out of about six or seven characters, you have to pick three who will join your team, and which ones are available depends on the choices you've made throughout the game. It doesn't really change the final outcome of the battle no matter who you have, which is a little disappointing to me, but it does change what the battle is actually like.

That's a lot of Jacks.

The battle, incidentally, is awesome. It involves Giant Robot Gortys with five of your squad members (Rhys, Loader Bot, and whichever three you picked) piloting her in Super Sentai team fashion, giving her access to all of their abilities. It's a delightfully over the top, fun scene, and in a way the perfect way to finish off the game.

Arguably, this final episode does enjoy more than a bit of cop-outry, as no less than four seemingly dead characters return from the grave. One is acceptable, two is starting to push it, three is not great, and four is - well, four should be pretty damn bad, but if I'm being honest, I didn't mind that much. It fit with Tales' light, perky tone, and I didn't feel like I was being emotionally manipulated or cheated out of an emotional moment. 

(Incidentally, did anyone notice that post-timeskip Rhys is actually about seventy percent better looking than regular flavour Rhys? Maybe it's the black outfit. Maybe it's the yellow eye. Maybe it's the tattoos. Who knows.)


The story is very much left open for a second series, but at the same time, it doesn't necessarily need one. The characters have gotten what they wanted, everyone is safe, and while the game ends on a slightly weird note - Rhys and Fiona open the box in the centre of the Vault and then are gone in a flash of light - it's not clear whether that's meant to be literal or a case of artistic license, just showing that they opened the box, took what was in it, and then left. Arguably, that's intentional, allowing Telltale to return to this series with an easy plot hook if they want to, or to leave it and do other things instead (and with Minecraft: Story Mode having just started, The Walking Dead Season 3 looming on the horizon, and Game of Thrones set to end next year, they certainly have plenty to keep them busy).

I do hope they return to this story, though. Flawed as it is, I do think it's easily the best series that Telltale Games has put out, and the wackiness of the whole thing gives them an excellent medium to refine their craft. Also, you know, I need to know if Rhys and Sasha end up getting together. I need to know that, guys. I need to. 

Wednesday, 21 October 2015

The Flash S2E3: Family of Rogues.

The Flash
Series 2, Episode 3
Family of Rogues.

I complained last week that the first two episodes of this current series of The Flash had been 'Barry struggles with an enemy within' episodes, and expressed my deep hope that this episode would have zero angsty self-examination on his part and much more dealing with an external problem. Well, luckily for me, it did.

When Lisa Snart approaches the team, saying that her brother has been kidnapped, Barry goes looking for him - only to swiftly find that Snart is being blackmailed by his father, Louis, who wants to enact a daring, and potentially violent, diamond heist. Meanwhile, Jay and Caitlin try to construct a device that will stabilise the breach in S.T.A.R. Labs' basement, and Joe is visited by his supposedly-deceased wife.

I've made comments about how unsubtle this series is with its foreshadowing, but wow, this episode takes it to whole new levels, with Barry and Joe explicitly drawing attention to the idea that if Barry was raised by somebody else, he might have ended up as a supervillain. Now, I don't know that Zoom is going to end up being an alternate Barry who was raised by Harrison Wells, but I know that Zoom is going to end up being an alternate Barry who was raised by Wells, unless all of this foreshadowing towards that (Zoom literally having the same costume as Barry, Barry making remarks about how being raised by someone else could've made him a criminal, Jay literally describing Zoom with the same phrases Barry used to describe Wells, Zoom only appearing at the same time that Jay got his powers meaning that he can't be Wells, multiple references to Zoom being the fastest man alive) is one big misdirection.

I think that's just bad lighting, and he doesn't have white hair or anything.

Maybe I'm just old and cynical, but this really feels like it's some even more unsubtle foreshadowing than in the first series, where I literally knew that Harrison Wells was the villain from the moment he spoke.

Apart from that, though, good god is this episode a breath of fresh air. No angsting, no speeches about how Barry needs to trust people, just fluffy, bright fun involving Barry and one of his best not-quite-villains. Everyone in this episode puts on absolutely stellar performances, too: Barry is earnest and puppylike, Patty is peppy and bright and fun (I want her to meet Felicity, I want this), Lisa alternates between being earnestly concerned for her brother and playfully facetious. 

The standout performances of the episode are Wentworth Miller as Captain Cold and Jesse L. Martin as Joe, although for very different. For Martin, he does an excellent job in his few scenes of bringing dramatic and emotional weight to his role in this episode's subplot; and Wentworth Miller meanwhile is wonderfully expressive. You can practically see the expletives that Cold is thinking when Barry is pretending to be 'Sam the criminal'. 

'Barry has to pretend to be a criminal and Snart needs to help him but is rolling his eyes
and getting very frustrated' sounds like bad fanfic, and I'm okay with that.

(Speaking of, I know that Barry/Snart is a popular ship in the fandom, and I admit, I did not see it until this episode, and now I really kind of do. Like, wow, writers, please, hammer in how deeply Barry and Snart understand each other more. Give them more playful banter. It's fine, I'll wait.)

While the main villain for this episode, being essentially just an elderly dude with a detonator, is perhaps not the most compelling threat the writers could come up with, the situation that the team is put in nevertheless feels tense and precarious. Most of all, though, this episode is just fun, and a nice break from the much more serious, even brooding episodes that we've had up to this point.

Which isn't to say that this episode isn't plot relevant. Clearly, Barry's talk about how Snart could become a hero is meant to be a set-up for Legends of Tomorrow, but we also have Jay and Caitlin stabilising a portal to Earth-2, which somehow nobody realised could be used in the other direction - which it does, with the final moments of the episode showing Earth-2 Wells arriving through it. We also got Stein firestorming up unexpectedly before collapsing, in yet another hint that Ronnie is actually alive and either in Earth-2 or absorbed into Stein.

Aw, they have matching judgmental stares.

It looks like we'll be finding out what's going on, given that the episode is called 'The Fury of Firestorm', in reference to several Firestorm comics of the same name - some of which have included transformations into Firestorm going horribly wrong and giving rise to a being called 'Fury', so that is at least one possibility.

If the preview is anything to go by, though, next episode will be introducing Jay Jackson, played by Franz Drameh and previously announced as a central character in Legends of Tomorrow, who will be playing Stein's new Firestorm-ery partner. Whether that lasts after Ronnie's totally inevitable return, I don't know, although in the comics Firestorm has been made up of three people before.

Also, maybe we'll see Earth-2 Harrison Wells actually do something. Who knows. It's a possibility.

Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Life is Strange E5: Polarized.

Life is Strange
Episode 5

(Spoilers throughout.)

So, Life is Strange has come to its much anticipated finish. Were the highs and lows worth it? Did it all come to a satisfying conclusion? Oh, lordy lord, where do I start. What do I say? This is a difficult one to untangle.

Picking up shortly where the previous episode left off, Max awakens in Jefferson's Dark Room, where he is preparing to kill her. Using her time manipulation powers, she manages to escape, but it isn't long until she has to use her time powers again, as her meddling in the past starts to change events for the worse, warp space and time, and bring the apocalyptic storm she saw in her visions down onto Arcadia Bay.

So, let's start by talking about choices: I praised several episodes of this series for giving you choices that really mattered, in a move that I thought, at the time, put Telltale Games' relatively railroaded stories to shame. Well, we can now strike all that praise from the record, because when it comes down to it, there is only a single choice in all five episodes that actually matters: Everything else gets wiped clean, meaning that no matter how you played the game so far and what choices you made, it is all totally irrelevant. You might as well have been watching a film that occasionally required you to press A to continue.

Ah, yes, the slightly odd gallery section, that was nice.

For an episodic game series which has lived and died on its choice mechanic, that's kind of unacceptable. For all their flaws, Telltale Games does at least try to have all your choices come together to some kind of conclusion at the end: In The Walking Dead, your choices could decide whether Lee would be left to become a zombie, or put out of his misery. In The Wolf Among Us, your choices ultimately decided if the fairytale characters' new government would be a benevolent or draconian one. While those narratives are very often irritatingly railroaded, there is at least an effort to give your choices weight.

In Life is Strange, though, you have one weighty choice, at the very end, leading to one of the two short, dialogue-less cutscenes. Great job, guys. Sterling.

As far as the rest of the episode goes, it's actually generally fine, if not exactly flawless. The time manipulation shenanigans to take down Jefferson (who has gone full hammy villain, but still manages to be quite intimidating and sinister) are interesting and have a sense of foreboding to them, and even though dealing with him takes up only the first half of the episode, the remaining half gives us some great, atmospheric sequences. Max struggling through the storm to get to the diner is a beautifully done sequence full of terror and chaos, and the brief moment of respite once she gets to the diner is a nice breather.

Reality and also Max are bleeding, send help.

The dream (? Reality breaking down?) sequence that follows is also absolutely amazing, even though it goes on for too long. It starts off ominous and sinister, and a little nauseating as dream!Max fawns over Jefferson, and builds to a sinister crescendo that hits its apex in a survival horror esque sequence where Max must stealth her way through a vast, dark wasteland made up of various parts of Arcadia Bay, while Jefferson and, later, most of the cast, stalk her. But then it keeps going. After that beautifully atmospheric climax, the dream-and/or-reality-collapsing sequence just continues, dipping down into more and more cliche and hackneyed territory - not just for five minutes or so either, but for a good twenty minutes or more, killing any tension built up prior to it.

By the time Max woke up, now at the lighthouse with Chloe and ready for her final (and only) choice, I was bored. I had been all dream-sequenced out (which is a shame because as far as dream sequences go, the early parts of that sequence were some of the best portrayals of dreaming I've ever seen) and I was ready for the godforsaken game to end. Needless to say, 'give me an ending or give me death' is not the kind of thing you want your players to be saying as they reach the dramatic climax of your story.

The consequences of that choice at the end are never really explored. If you're going to give me that choice, why not take the opportunity to hammer it in: Why not give me a small area to explore and people to talk to afterwards, and drive in not only the emotional and physical consequences of whatever choice you made, but also that it's a choice that can't be taken back - in a game where you can functionally just undo any choice you made if you have a sudden change of heart, stripping that ability from the players for the final ten or fifteen minutes of gameplay would be a pretty effective move, especially if you want to emphasise the finality of that choice.

The dark room is a creepy place.

Also, at the end of it all, we never really got any answers. I don't necessarily mind that too much - in a way, a clear and solid explanation for Max's time travel ability would have been a lot of exposition that isn't really important to the story, and in a way Life is Strange is geared more towards 'it's loosely sketched out magical realism that never really gets explained but ties in with various themes' than it is the dip into full-on sci-fi or fantasy that an explanation would engender - except that characters kept drawing attention to that. It was as if the writers had decided not to explain it, but continually felt they needed to sheepishly justify that choice by having characters constantly go "I don't know how you got these powers, Max. I guess nobody will ever know. There will never be an explanation, and that is fine. It's fine. Don't think about it." Which only served the purpose of making me think about it more. 

Either choose to tell me, or choose not to tell me. I am actually fine with either option, but what I'm not fine with is 'choosing not to tell me and then reminding me at every opportunity how you're not telling me.'

All in all, it was an enjoyable but actually kind of disappointing conclusion to a series with a lot of ups and downs, and I can't help but wonder if this would have worked better as a television show. I mean, the choice mechanic ultimately ended up being meaningless, which kind of saps the illusion of interactivity away from it. Still, I am somewhat fond of this series, so it gets a slightly reluctant recommendation from me.

Monday, 19 October 2015

Doctor Who S35E5: The Girl Who Died.

Doctor Who
Series 35, Episode 5
The Girl Who Died.

It's two hours until my usual deadline for these posts, and I am staring at a computer screen wondering what on earth I'm meant to say about this episode. Have you ever encountered something that was just such an aggressive mass of nothing that you have nothing worthwhile to say about it? Because that's this Doctor Who episode. In a way, it almost doesn't feel like an episode of Doctor Who at all - its blandness gives it an oddly liminal quality where it's halfway between Doctor Who and CBBC's entire programming schedule.

Arriving in Viking times, the Doctor and Clara are quickly abducted and taken to a nearby village. The Doctor's gambit to pretend to be the physical manifestation of Odin is scuppered when Odin actually appears, taking away all of the village's warriors. With it swiftly becoming obvious that this 'Odin' is not the god himself, but the leader of a brutal warrior race with its sights set on the village, the Doctor, Clara, and young Viking woman Ashildr must work together to prepare the village for an attack.

So, you know how I said this was like CBBC's entire programming schedule? That wasn't a joke. As a family program, Doctor Who is essentially children's television anyway, and that's fine, but this episode skews a whole lot younger than the show usually does. The sets, costumes, and acting all have this air of unreality to them that I'd usually associate with Raven or Leonardo, and it's actually weirdly distracting. 

Pictured: A brilliant actor who is acting really, really badly for some reason.

It only becomes more so when you add in the fact that this week's villain is actually more comical than anything: The big blocky robots are pretty much standard of Doctor Who, but the tinfoil and cotton Odin costume that the big bad of the episode is wearing is distractingly bad and only serves to underline the hammy acting.

This whole episode didn't feel like Doctor Who. If anything, it felt like The Sarah Jane Adventures if you were to filter it through a 90s CBBC miniseries a few times over. Which is odd: Doctor Who is pitched squarely at an all-ages audience and thus meant to be enjoyable to young children (something that it feels like Moffat often forgets), but it doesn't often feel like it has to condescend to them. This episode was condescending, deeply so, and that grated.

The main draws that the episode was marketed on didn't pan out either. Maisie Williams gives a pretty lacklustre performance as Ashildr, playing what amounts to early-Game of Thrones Arya if you forcibly stripped her of any nuance, and Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman aren't much better. They're doing their usual schtick, but they both seem exhausted, as if all of the scenes for this episode were recorded at the ends of very long days and they both just wanted to go home.

I mean, maybe Fake Odin is meant to look a little silly, since he's quite a comedic character,
but it just doesn't work.

(Possibly the problem is that this is a 'historical' episode, by which I mean that it's set in the relatively far past, and Doctor Who has never been good at those. Pre-hiatus Who wasn't, Davies-era Who wasn't, and Moffat-era Who certainly isn't.)

If the plotting had been good, I might not have noticed these things, but the plot wasn't especially great, either. The idea of training a Viking village to fight aliens is a good one, but the execution is hackneyed, cliche, and not half as clever as the writer clearly thought that it was. The episode tries to end on a tragic and thoughtful note by having Ashildr become functionally immortal, but since the mechanism for that came entirely out of the left field, it just feels like - well, what it is: A very obvious and very unsubtle hook for the next episode.

There were some good moments. Much as I hate Moffat's introduction of 'the Doctor can speak baby' plot device, which is kind of ludicrous and more than a little bit creepy on Moffat's part, Capaldi's acting made its use in this episode kind of sort of work maybe sort of. It wasn't brilliant, but it wasn't jarringly awful, either, which is frankly the best thing I can say about any use of that plot device.

This could have been a tense confrontation. It was not.

Apart from that, I - guess the final few scenes were okay? They were there. Things happened in them. I'll be straight with you, guys, when I say 'there were some good moments', what I really mean in this context is 'there were moments which weren't bad', and that's both not quite the same thing and a fairly damning indictment all on its own.

Overall, an extremely bland and yet actually quite strange episode. Much like last week's episode, I can't really give this one a recommendation, and next week's doesn't look like it'll be anything to write home about either - it's another historical episode, again with Maisie Williams (maybe she'll actually bring her A-game to this one), and in general just looks kind of tired. I'm not looking forward to that one.

This series got off to such a good start, as well.

Saturday, 17 October 2015

Kamen Rider Ghost, E1 + E2.

Kamen Rider Ghost
Episode 1 and Episode 2.

I've been procrastinating on doing the review for these two episodes of Ghost, I admit that. It's not because I didn't enjoy them, either - actually, if I hadn't enjoyed them, that would have made for a really fun review to write and this would have probably gone out on Tuesday or something. No, I've been avoiding writing this because while I enjoyed both episodes, I'm not entirely sure what I actually think of them.

Our series opener this year saw the main character, Takeru, die from a sword blow, only to be reborn as a ghostly Kamen Rider and tasked with finding the Eyecons of fifteen great heroes, which will allow him to return to life properly. He very quickly finds the first one, the Edison Eyecon, in the second episode of this series, and ends up tangling with a Tesla coil themed Gamma (Ganma? Nobody seems certain) who wants to use an over-enthusiastic inventor to open a magical gate.

Let's start with the things I definitely like: 

I love the opening theme, and I may have listened to it a couple of times already. I really can't wait until the full version of it is out.

Why is your bike a unicorn, though?

While the suit design for Ghost himself didn't impress me in much in pictures, I actually really like it now that I've seen it in motion, and the Gamma (Ganma?) have some nice designs as well - not anything especially unique, and I'm always a little sad when there's not a nice theme to all the monster designs, but perfectly serviceable. 

I like Akari and Onari, and I love their interactions with both each other and with Takeru - my hope is that Akari accepts the existence of ghosts before the first act is up, otherwise we're going to end up with a bit of an Agent Scully situation, where she's constantly saying that ghosts are impossible while being constantly surrounded by things that are undeniably ghosts. Which will be annoying, because that's not how science works: Science doesn't look at a mountain of evidence and go 'Nope, not going for it', you're thinking of - well, actually you're thinking of religion, Toei writers, but the less said on that matter the better. Just write your scientist characters right, guys.

I also absolutely adore the historical figures theme. It's a theme we've kind of known was coming for a while now, because if you cast your minds back a few years, you'll recall that this was actually one of the rumoured themes for Kamen Rider Fourze, with Musashi, Newton, Robin Hood and Billy the Kid referenced outright in it, before we found out that he was astronaut themed, and those early rumours do usually - by coincidence or otherwise - turn out to be true for later series.

(For instance, remember when the rumours for OOO said that it was 'Kamen Rider Regulus' with Zodiac themed villains, and then we got Zodiac themed villains the next year? Or when Double had a rumour about a rider who transformed in water, and then we got that in an OOO film? Or when OOO rumours said he'd be aided by a magical dragon, and then two years later we got Wizard? I might be reaching a bit here.)

Edison Coat here to steal your inventions.

But yes, the historical figures theme: I really like that, it has a lot of potential to be interesting, and - and if I'm being honest they kind of goofed that one up with heroic Edison coat and villainous Tesla-themed monster, but never mind.

Things I like less: Takeru. 

I don't dislike him, per se, I just don't really have any idea what his character's meant to be. At this point in Double, OOO, Fourze, Wizard and Gaim I could have very easily described to you what the protagonists were meant to be like, but it's a lot more difficult for me to do that for Takeru. In comparison to Akari and Onari, who are full of personality, he can sometimes seem to fade into the background a bit. I fully expect that to change in future episodes, once the show has found its footing a little bit more. 

I'm also not massively keen on hermit dude (does he have a name? He must have a name. I didn't remember it, whatever it is), who might be the most irritating character in the show. Luckily, he's not really around all that much, so I am kept from being altogether too bothered by him.

Looking alarmed in a forest is Kouta's schtick, Takeru.

Mechanically, the series is - good but leaning towards so-so. The pacing is better than Drive's but often not brilliant; the special effects are all fine; the soundtrack is fun but nothing has really stuck in my head; and while the acting is good, it does suffer from the pronounced and slightly obnoxious hamminess that you always seem to get in early episodes of a Kamen Rider show.

I will withhold a proper opinion on the show for now, but I am looking forward to seeing more of it - and we should be getting our second rider very soon, which makes me wonder if this is going to be a series with a lot of riders in it, especially since a third rider has also been announced already, so it looks like at least three are going to be debuting in the first act of the series alone.