Skylanders: Swap Force

Skylanders Swap Force

I avoided the Skylanders series for a long time. I didn’t want to get sucked into buying a bunch of plastic. But now that I’ve dipped my toes into Swap Force, I finally understand the appeal. Yeah, you can think of the characters as nothing more than expensive DLC, and if you’re not careful, you could wind up spending hundreds of dollars on this thing. For collectors at heart, however, it’s fun to have a tangible version of an in-game character. The tech behind these games—how the toy and game sync up—really is impressive. Swap Force is particularly cool, because you can interchange the top and bottom halves of the characters, which works seamlessly and creates some interesting combos.

You do have to level up the characters a little bit, though, before they’re actually fun to use. And if you’re not willing to spend the money on extra figurines, you’ll be annoyed at just how much of the game is locked away. While you can still play the full story mode and discover a lot of secrets with the three pack-in characters, there are many more doors that only Skylanders with certain attributes can enter. The upsell is obvious, but I’ll admit that it worked on me, and I ended up buying three more characters. I drew the line there, though, because I know all I’m really missing out on are a few more mini-games and treasure chests. Still, Swap Force’s “swappable” nature does make it harder to resist…

As for the game itself, it’s a decent, kid-oriented action game that plays very similarly to the LEGO games. In fact, I think the game itself would be better off without the toy gimmick, if all of the character swapping was digital and instantaneous. But then Skylanders would be a rather forgettable experience. The cutscenes are annoying, the in-game puzzles are way too easy, and the platforming/jumping mechanics are barely functional. It’s mainly the combat that holds it together. Some of the characters’ abilities are a lot of fun to use. Which, again, makes Swap Force stand out from other games in the series, since you have a little more customization at your fingertips. Now if a future Skylanders adds interchangeable arms and legs, then I’m in trouble!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Star Wars: Force Awakens

A New Hope is almost 40 years old. Not to discredit what Lucas originally accomplished, but it’s become a fairly dated movie. And so I didn’t mind that this new Star Wars followed a lot of the same beats. The major plot points and character types are very similar, making The Force Awakens feel more like a reboot or remake rather than a full-fledged sequel. But, man, Star Wars really needed a reboot. After the atrocious “special editions” and prequels, I’m just glad this franchise can be good again. The Force Awakens is a good movie. Because audiences have seen so many other sci-fi and superhero moves since 1977, though, the wow factor isn’t quite there. It’s not going to rock your world, but it should at least let you forget Episode I.

Seriously, this is what I was hoping Episode I would have been. If that turd had been as good as this, maybe I wouldn’t have grown into such a cynical adult. The Force Awakens was made for fans by fans. It rekindles the spirit of the original trilogy by not overdoing it with CG effects, but modern movie techniques certainly help out. The dogfights are spectacular, and the background aliens are fun without being goofy and ridiculous. In fact, while the trailer may not show it, The Force Awakens can be pretty funny at times, and that’s without resorting to fart jokes and characters stepping in poop! God, what a relief…

But I knew JJ Abrams and team wouldn’t make those mistakes. They know better. My only concern going in was Harrison Ford. He’s come across as bored and tired in the last 10 movies I’ve seen him in. Fortunately, he does a decent job here. The real accolades, however, go to all of the new characters. Yeah, they tend to mirror the same personalities we saw in A New Hope, but I actually think these guys are better. They’re more complex and interesting and less whiny! Plus, that BB-8 droid… I’m already preferring him over R2-D2. He is fantastic, and knowing that’s an actual prop makes it so much cooler. I already can’t wait to see what they do with the next movie now that the tone has been set.

Z Nation – Season 2

Z Nation

The first season of Z Nation took me by surprise. The show really had no right to be good, and on a technical level, it wasn’t. But it was fun in a silly, campy way and wasn’t afraid to take risks with the zombie genre that the competition (The Walking Dead) has been afraid of in recent years. That’s still true for Z Nation’s second season, but the show, unfortunately, has doubled down on the ridiculousness to the point where I’m not sure if I’ll tune in next time. In a universe where zombies are real, I guess I should be more open to things like Murphy’s ability to mind-control the dead and the fact that his blood and bite have supernatural properties. It can go overboard at times, though, and fluctuates between being unique and just being outright dumb.

But what’s strange about this show is that when it wants to hit an emotional beat, it hits it hard. This is what I like about Z Nation over The Walking Dead. Major character deaths are actually sad. They’re not cheap shots; characters die for believable reasons. And some of the situations they’re put in, like being forced to steal medicine from a peaceful community, are a somber reminder of what a real apocalypse could be like. Season 2 doesn’t have as many great ideas as Season 1 did, though. The only standout episode was number 6, “The Collector,” where Murphy stumbles across a crazy loner hellbent on documenting zombie culture. While the group did cover a lot of ground this season, most of the other storylines were either them dealing with one-off communities or running away from bounty hunters.

That said, there were some decent action sequences, but most of them had to do with humans fighting humans. Yeah, in a zombie apocalypse, it’s probably true that other people would be your main concern. Still, as a zombie show, I was expecting more… well, zombies. Maybe the money they saved on zombie make-up went towards everything else. Season 2 does feel like a slightly bigger and better production overall. Don’t take that to mean Season 2 is leaps and bounds above Season 1, though. It’s not. This show still has a long ways to go if it’s ever going to be taken seriously. Granted, the show doesn’t take itself seriously, which is kind of the point, but it could benefit from fewer zombie babies and mad scientists without sacrificing the humor.

Ty the Tasmanian Tiger 4

Ty 4

I’m really glad Ty the Tasmanian Tiger is still around. Even though the older 3D games were pretty average platformers, Ty is a fun character, and the games have had consistently great music. Calling this “Ty 4,” however, was probably a mistake. It’s not really a sequel and is clearly a big step down in production values. I feel bad for Krome Studios, because I’m sure they would love to do another full 3D game but no longer have the budget for it. While Ty 4 still looks good as a 2D game, the presentation is lacking overall. Much of the soundtrack is recycled, there’s absolutely no voice acting, and the character movement feels very amateurish. It kind of comes across as a fan-made game.

The spirit of Ty the Tasmanian Tiger is still there, though. The levels are refreshingly non-linear and full of secrets and side missions. It’s fun to see what’s traditionally been their 3D platformer setup condensed into a smaller 2D game. After a while, though, I began to question why I was needing to find so many collectibles. There didn’t seem to be any reward involved except for getting 100% and nabbing that final achievement. You can at least buy new boomerangs and costumes with the opals you accumulate, although the boomerangs given to you during the story tend to be the most useful.

The mention of boomerangs, however, brings about the game’s weakest aspect. Combat has never been the Ty franchise’s strong suit, despite the fact that every sequel has relied on it more and more. Ty 4 is no different. Hitting enemies with boomerangs is repetitive and boring. And when you factor in flying enemies and bad guys that throw projectiles back at you, it can veer on the annoying side. But if you were fine with that in the older games, you’ll be fine with it here. Ty 4 is, after all, meant for people who know this character. It’s not going to win over any new fans, unfortunately, but I hope people still give it a chance, because this series deserves better.

Real Rob – Season 1

Real Rob

This kind of felt like Curb Your Enthusiasm but with Rob Schneider, and… well, I guess I shouldn’t be surprised by how it ultimately turned out. After the first episode, I was still optimistic he’d pull this off, though. Schneider is a good actor. He just needs someone to write better material for him. But if Real Rob is as “real” as it suggests, then Schneider just comes across as a rich asshole. He quickly devolves into an unlikable character on the show, and I couldn’t help but wonder if Real Rob was merely a chance for him to trot out his family. It stars his real life wife and daughter, the latter getting her name in the opening credits despite not being able to talk (and not appearing in every episode). His wife’s performance wasn’t very convincing, either. It was obvious this was her first time on screen. Yet I can almost hear Schneider saying, “You may not find me funny, but at least my wife is hot.”

Real Rob doesn’t paint a flattering picture of Schneider’s personal life. Granted, Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm could be a jerk, too, but it felt more justified there and was actually funny. I stopped laughing at Real Rob in Episode 2. That’s when they busted out the cliched vasectomy storyline. I mean, seriously… if you’re already doing a vasectomy story in the second episode, your show’s never going to last. And the delivery is so scattered. Episodes are randomly interrupted by scenes of Schneider doing stand-up. Is he still performing stand-up in real life? The show doesn’t ever acknowledge this. It feels out of place. But not as out of place as the cutaway talking head interviews. Then suddenly, it’s like we’re watching a reality TV show. But nothing else about the presentation suggests it’s supposed to be taken that way.

Don’t worry, if those segments bother you, the show abandons them near the end, anyway. But that late in the game, Real Rob has already resorted to cringe-worthy impressions and scenes of having diarrhea on the toilet, so who knows what they were going for. Any sympathy the show may have tried to convey in the beginning is completely lost, and what we’re left with is basically an Adam Sandler movie without the Sandler. What’s funny is that one of Real Rob’s storylines is about Schneider getting upset over the changes a TV network wants to make to a show he wrote. But if Real Rob is what happens when Schneider gets his way, then he should really go back to listening to the network.

The League – Season 7

The League

I’m ashamed to admit that The League was once one of my favorite shows. Season 4 in particular was great, when they actually started surpassing It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia as far as mean-spirited comedies are concerned. But then Season 5 happened, and the show has sucked ever since. Like, so much suck. At this point, I’m just glad the series is finally dead. I stopped liking most of these characters a long time ago. Pete had become an insufferable douchebag, and Taco’s EBDB shtick was relentlessly obnoxious. Season 7 also brought another set of Ruxin-less episodes and didn’t use Rafi that much, either. Those two were pretty much carrying the show lately, so leaving them both out kind of stung.

Ah, but then there’s the obligatory “Rafi and Dirty Randy episode,” and Season 7’s was, by far, the worst they’ve ever done. It actually started out promising with Sophia’s death and the possibility that Ruxin made it all up, but then we got a terrible animated short that confirmed Sophia was, in fact, dead, and that chupacabras are real, and that Rafi only works as a real person in a real world and not as an over-the-top cartoon. It’s like the The League completely forgot how to use Rafi’s character correctly. At least Season 7 had the balls to finally knock Pete down a few pegs and give Andre a few wins. Having Andre (happily) date Pete’s ex-wife made for some nice comeuppance.

Of course, this being The League and all, and considering how much the writers have been in love with Pete, he still came out on top in the end. Which really irked me, because the season/series finale was doing so many other things right. I laughed more times during the finale than I laughed over the course of the rest of the season. We got to see Ruxin’s hilarious son again, and I’m glad Shiva came back one last time, but it was Larry David’s cameo that really brought a smile to my face. Seeing him on The League made me wish this show had stayed good. But Season 7 (like the two seasons before it) felt like nobody cared anymore. The stories were lazy, the jokes unoriginal, and the characters grating. So good riddance, I guess, and rest in peace.