Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange

I think I’m starting to get MCU fatigue. As a standalone movie, Doctor Strange probably wouldn’t have been that bad, but the whole time I was watching it, I couldn’t help but wonder how much this is going to shake up the Marvel universe. Doctor Strange adds a huge amount of magic to the proceedings. Not that magic hasn’t been at play before, but past Marvel movies (especially the non-Avenger ones) felt at least a little more grounded. Poor Hawkeye might as well retire for good if he’s expected to fight alongside Doctor Strange.

And this late into the MCU, I’m getting kind of bored with origin stories, too. The last origin story I liked was Deadpool, because it played around with the timeline. Doctor Strange walks a very straight path from normal guy to magical dude, and his transformation isn’t even that fun to watch. Sure, Benedict Cumberbatch plays the perfect smarmy asshole, and we get the occasional Marvel zinger, but it wasn’t as relatable as I thought it was going to be. We jump right into, “Oh, I guess magic is real now,” followed by, “And here’s your generic villain to beat.”

So the story is pretty weak, but the movie is still fun for no other reason than the visual effects. This is like watching Inception through a kaleidoscope. Fights take place while entire cities fold in on themselves, and one scene plays out in real-time and backwards… at the same time. It’s the most impressive-looking Marvel movie to date. Of course, it’s also the weakest in terms of character development. I never felt like I understood why anyone was doing anything or why we should care about Doctor Strange as a person. I know he’ll show up in future Marvel movies, but unless he brings his effects team with him, I don’t really care.

Paper Mario: Color Splash

Paper Mario Color Splash

The first few hours with this game felt like one of the most disappointing things Nintendo has ever put out. Like Super Paper Mario before it, this is a big departure from the original Paper Mario mechanics. I wouldn’t even call it an RPG anymore, even though it still has turn-based battles. And that’s the truly disappointing part. The battles are really clunky and ultimately pointless. I was about ready to give up on the game until I reached the first main boss. By then, the battle mode made a little more sense, but they really should have just removed random encounters altogether. The only battles I cared about were the mandatory ones.

Even the bosses can be annoying, though, if you failed to bring the correct battle card into the fight. And yet the game so heavily telegraphs which cards you need to have beforehand that it makes you wonder why the requirement is there in the first place. You’re pretty much getting punished for not following directions. In this case, you can’t beat the boss, but there are so many other “gotcha” moments, as well. For example, if you don’t solve a hotel’s mystery quickly enough, you have to restart the level. If you don’t answer all ten questions correctly in a game show, you get kicked back to the title screen. This makes Color Splash an oddly difficult experience.

Nonetheless, I was still hooked once I got past that first boss hurdle. It’s not like there are a lot other games like this, games that combine such a variety of different elements (turn-based battles, platforming, painting, card collecting, puzzle solving) into one solid adventure. That’s what’s special about Color Splash; it really feels like an adventure. It may have a “world map,” but the game isn’t strictly linear, and every level offers something new and extra reasons to go back into them. Taken as a whole, this is a fun, unique game with plenty of humor and interesting scenarios. You’ll just have to be more patient and forgiving of the game’s bad first impression and come to terms with the fact that the Paper Mario series is never going to be what it used to be.

Luke Cage – Season 1

Luke Cage

At first, it seemed like Luke Cage was going to be nothing more than a mash-up of Jessica Jones (reluctant hero, super strong, doesn’t hide his/her identity) and Daredevil (up against a local mob boss). A few episodes in, however, it does start to differentiate itself, to the point where it had the makings to be the best Marvel/Netflix show yet. The cast and characters felt a lot stronger, especially the initial villains. I liked the mob boss here a lot more than Wilson Fisk, and I really liked how said mob boss didn’t always have the upper hand. It was nice to see some back and forth instead of always watching the hero fail until the very end.

But Luke Cage makes the same mistake that Season 2 of Daredevil did by introducing a much more cartoonish threat halfway through. When Diamondback arrived, grinning ear to ear and spouting Biblical nonsense, the show lost a lot of its heart and soul. And with no complex villain to hold things together, the cheesy dialogue and contrived situations started sticking out more. For instance, there’s a moment where the cops beat up a kid, so the corrupt politician holds a rally to convince the community that they need to arm the police with more powerful weapons to stop Luke Cage. Uh… what? Why would anyone in this universe buy that?

Unfortunately, there are many instances like that where something ridiculous happens for no other reason than to move the story forward. After a while, you get sick of seeing characters simply walk away from situations where they should have gotten caught. By the end of the season, I was no longer sure on how I would rank this among the other Marvel shows. Again, it’s very similar to Daredevil Season 2 in that it gets off to a great start and then squanders most of it, whether that’s because they tried to stay too close to the comic or they shot themselves in the foot by sticking with the long-winded 13-episode format. Even Luke Cage isn’t bulletproof to that.

Klischée – Bend the Rules

I’m deeply, deeply saddened by how different this album is to Klischée’s previous album, Touché. Why are all of my favorite electro swing artists abandoning swing?! This is also what happened with Caravan Palace, though in Klischée’s case, they’ve moved pretty far into pop territory. Only two songs on Bend the Rules are instrumental, and only one song can really be considered swing. “Swing it Like Roger” is such a great example of the genre, though, and is at least a nice reminder that Klischée still has a glimmer of what I love them for.

Overall, however, Bend the Rules sounds more like a Bag Raiders or C2C album now. But don’t get me wrong, I like those groups, and I like enough songs on Bend the Rules to make it worth buying the whole album. While I honestly can’t stand some of the songs, other tracks like “Damn Hot” and “Come With Me” are really energetic and catchy. This definitely has more mainstream appeal than Touché did, and I hope that means Klischée starts getting more recognition. But I’m also afraid that their swing roots may disappear altogether for the next release.

Dropsy

Dropsy

I can’t remember the last game that affected me this much emotionally. Dropsy was a roller coaster. It was weirdly touching, sad, and inspirational. And that makes the ending all the more bittersweet, because I really didn’t like the direction the story went. The ending kind of trivializes your hard work throughout the game, about Dropsy going around town, trying to make people like him. I love how Dropsy is so creepy and grotesque but is quite possibly the most heartwarming character of any video game. Watching him hug various animals and strangers always made me smile. The fact that he only had nightmares when he slept in his own bed was also a nice touch.

I didn’t care for the day/night cycle, though, since it was often pure luck for me to stumble across certain situations at certain times of the day. For the most part, however, the point-and-click gameplay made sense. The whole thing is played without any dialogue, which is an impressive feat, but that means there are no instructions whatsoever, not even labels for the UI buttons. Saving your game for the first time is pretty much guesswork. But I can’t stress enough how cool this game is, right down to the clownish yet melancholy jazz soundtrack. I ended up buying the soundtrack, and whenever I listen to it, I’m nearly moved to tears. How often does a game stick with you that much?

The Promised Land

Promised Land

I think this was one of the most casual games I’ve ever played. There really isn’t much room for error, since the game holds your hand through just about every step, and you have no freedom over where to build things. It’s a very light resource management sim where much of the game boils down to you watching your people work and then selling the fruits of their labor. In fact, way too much time is spent waiting around for the laboratory to finish with its research tasks. I hated how slow that laboratory was, even with 5-10 people stationed at it.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This did end up being a fun experience. I kind of needed something that didn’t require a lot of thought, and this worked out perfectly. I enjoyed juggling the different people to figure out the most efficient way to keep food supplies up, and there was some care involved in making sure those who hated chopping wood didn’t have to chop wood. However, the random, pirate-themed Angry Bird mini-games didn’t fit at all. Sure, in a way, I appreciated how they broke up the sim game repetition, but seriously… Angry Birds? You couldn’t have ripped off something better?