Grow Up

Grow Up

I really liked the first Grow Home game. It was such an oddly charming experience. But it’s also the kind of experience that would be hard to “sequelize.” I don’t know where you could logically take the game since the original already had you climb into space. That was the fun of Grow Home, though: slowly and meticulously growing this gigantic plant and then free-falling from extreme heights as you looked for more secrets. While Grow Up still has some of that in play, the game is much broader horizontally rather than vertically. You can fly around an entire planet, landing on floating islands and tinkering with various flora. While that’s definitely fun, it’s also not as endearing.

Part of the problem is that this sequel wanted to build off of Grow Home, so it wouldn’t make sense to strip Bud of his powers. You much more quickly gain access to the jetpack and glider and can plant helpful flora at will. This occasionally makes for some very entertaining “how should I get there” moments, but I also feel like it takes a lot of the reward away that the original had. Climbing to the top of the world isn’t as impressive when you can plant a flower that will propel you halfway up, then use your jetpack to get the rest of the way there. That said, I still had fun with Grow Up and would recommend it to fans of Grow Home. The original was a better experience, sure, but I’m glad this has become an actual franchise now instead of a one-off pet project.

Black Mirror – Season 4

Black Mirror

Black Mirror is such a diverse anthology show that it’s probably not even fair to classify it as TV. It’s more like a series of independent movies. With the extended runtime that Netflix offers it, so many of these episodes do, in fact, feel like feature-length films. I wish they would adhere to stricter times, though. I’m always hesitant to start watching a 70-minute “episode.” Fortunately, the longest episode in Season 4 is also one of the series’ best. “USS Callister” is mostly lighthearted and fun but still has that sinister overtone to keep things interesting and thought-provoking. Black Mirror isn’t a show I would consider rewatchable, but I’d sit through “USS Callister” again.

Like Season 3, Season 4 has two episodes that veer on the colorful and hopeful side, but if you’re worried the show is becoming too soft, rest assured that the other four episodes are your usual Black Mirror bleakness. “Metalhead,” for instance, is the most Twilightiest Zoniest episode they’ve ever done and is a great, concise, 40-minute horror story. The remaining three episodes, however, are fairly weak, making this one of the most up and down seasons. There’s “Arkangel,” which follows a very predictable trajectory that’s not at all interesting to watch play out. And the season finale, “Black Museum,” is a little too self-aware, rushing through several good ideas to support a bigger (but not necessarily better) story.

One of the draws to the show is seeing what crazy technology they’re going to cook up next. Sadly, a lot of the ideas in Season 4 are things we’ve already seen, like digital clones and memory-recording devices. I’m sure it’s really hard to think up new stuff, though, and the episodes at least tackle these familiar ideas in new and different ways. Of course, you always have to be willing to suspend disbelief to enjoy Black Mirror. The tech is cool, but because everything else is so grounded in reality, it becomes vulnerable to scrutinizing and saying, “Hey, wait a minute… if they can do that, then why doesn’t that also happen?” But if you’re willing to play along with the rules in each episode and allow yourself to dwell on the social implications more than the technology, you’ll have a gloomy, good time.

X-Morph: Defense

X-Morph Defense

I love tower defense games that also bring in some other gameplay type, and X-Morph: Defense does this incredibly well. It’s as much a twin-stick shooter as it is a tower defense game. Similar to Sanctum (another favorite of mine), each wave starts with maze-like tower placement, but once the enemies enter, it becomes an action-packed shoot ’em up. That doesn’t mean rearranging towers is then off limits, though. In particularly difficult levels, it became necessary to build, upgrade, and move towers on the fly as the enemy clusters grew/shrank. It’s nice that moving/selling towers doesn’t incur a penalty, giving you plenty of freedom to experiment and re-plan your strategy when things don’t go your way.

And, oh, how things don’t go your way. X-Morph: Defense can be very difficult. The difficulty is pretty up and down, though. Some levels start out feeling impossible, but once you earn more money and can place more towers, they become too easy. Other levels start out easy and then beat you to a pulp in the final wave. I found myself constantly needing to scrap my entire layout and reorganize everything. But, again, I appreciated that I was allowed and encouraged to do so. The enemy patterns frequently change, anyway, so you can never truly be married to your original ideas. Plus, the entire campaign is co-op compatible, meaning you and a friend can fuss over the perfect tower placement together, just like friends are meant to do.

Skylar & Plux: Adventure On Clover Island

Skyler & Plux

Steam has really needed some 3D platformers to fill that Nintendo void. Plenty of indie developers have attempted 3D platformers before, but I know the genre is hard to pull off correctly, and most of the ones I’ve played haven’t been that great. Skylar & Plux, however, is pretty good, though it’s probably only safe to say that simply because the game is so short and bows out before things get hairy. The three worlds/levels that make up the entirety of the game feel more like Act I in something bigger. I guess I should give the developers credit for keeping the scope of the game within reason. This could have easily ballooned out of control otherwise.

What we’re left with is a well-made homage to the platformers of the Gamecube/PS2 era that, for genre veterans, can be beaten in about 2-3 hours. Sure, there are still collectibles and secrets to find, but the variety is fairly limited, so there really isn’t much replay value here. I did enjoy my two hours with the game, though. The environments are fun, the controls are surprisingly tight, and the new powers you learn provide some clever moments. There just needed to be more… more of everything. More powers, more collectibles, more levels/goals, and more for Plux to do besides be an annoying, expository sidekick. Maybe in the sequel, right, guys?

Star Wars: The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi

I liked The Force Awakens, though I wished it hadn’t followed the plot of A New Hope so closely. I was a little worried, then, that The Last Jedi would similarly mimic the main beats of The Empire Strikes Back. While there are definitely some nods to the Battle of Hoth, Yoda teaching Luke, and Vader’s “join me” speech, this does feel like a truer sequel than a remake. I’m conflicted if I would call it a “good” sequel, though. There’s a lot of time spent spinning its wheels. Most of the movie takes place in only two locations: Luke’s island and a rebel ship. And the people in both locations don’t really have much to do while they wait for the plot countdown.

To break up the feet-dragging, the movie does send Finn on a ridiculous side quest to find some hacker dude. It’s the most pointless and random adventure, though. This was when The Last Jedi started channeling the prequels, knowingly or not. In fact, the whole movie reminded me a little too much of Episodes 1-3. Gaudy set design, goofy animals, out-of-place humor, suddenly overpowered droids… Seriously, BB-8 was doing the kind of wacky shtick that R2 was doing in the prequels. I kinda… don’t like BB-8 anymore. Sadly, that’s true for most of the new characters. Finn, Poe, Snoke, and Phasma (again!) are pretty much wasted here.

I still don’t know how I feel about Rey, either. She’s too powerful, and I never feel like she’s in danger. She does start to develop a pretty interesting connection to Kylo Ren, though. I was really hoping they would have explored that more. Kylo is a deeply troubled character, and it’s so hard to tell (but in a good way) what side of the Force he’s on. But with Rey, it’s like they’re too scared to push her into the same gray area, so by the end, it’s back to the status quo of clearly good versus clearly evil. I was ready for the new Star Wars movies to start taking some real risks, but it seems like they played it safe again. Oh well, at least the action sequences were pretty cool!

Dexter – Season 7

Dexter

I’m pretty late to the Dexter party, but once I got into it, I was all in. That is, except for Season 6. Man, that was a terrible season, so much so that I was about to give up on the show altogether if not for the cliffhanger. Now I kind of wish I had. Sure, Season 7 started out really strong, which made me think Season 6 was just a fluke. Deb coming to terms with the real Dexter, Louis being an obnoxious rival in over his head, Dexter accidentally pissing off the Russian mafia… All great stuff. But this show has a habit of wrapping up storylines too soon, and each great subplot in Season 7 is quickly swept under the rug to make way for—brace yourselves—Hannah freakin’ McKay.

God, I hated this character. The Dexter/Hannah pairing was the most forced and unconvincing relationship this show has ever done, and believe me… Dexter is all about forced and unconvincing relationships. I just didn’t buy that Dexter was that smitten with her. Not only was she a boring person but she was a known killer. She fit the code. Why are they suddenly changing the rules? I get that anti-heroes need to eventually slip up, similar to how Walter White’s greed eventually got the best of him, but here, Dexter’s just making dumb decisions, because the writers ran out of ideas. It doesn’t feel natural or organic at all. It would have made more sense to bring Lumen back, someone we already care about, someone who already has a connection to Dexter.

Seriously, Hannah is the worst. Her toxicity (ha, ha, toxicity) affects everyone around her, turning Dexter into a mushy dumbass and undoing six previous seasons of the “cold, calculated killer” we’ve grown to love. I had to look up if Hannah was in Season 8 or not just to calm my nerves. Much to my dismay, she’s still a main character! And that just made it so much harder to enjoy what was happening here in Season 7. I honestly had to start fast-forwarding through her scenes. I know, I shouldn’t judge a season based on future events, but I’m glad I peeked, anyway. Now I understand why Season 8 got such a bad rap. I’d be extremely pissed to jump into Season 8 unaware and have Hannah ruin yet another year of Dexter for me. At least I can quit the show now, before things get really bad.