Saturday, April 22, 2017

8-bit Fridays Game & Watches: Defiance & Falling Skies - Part 1 Defiance

Towards the beginning of our current decade there was an influx of alien invasion and/or alien coexistence television shows that aired. To be honest I think it had a lot to do with riding the Stefanie Meyer train and hoping her next novel, The Host, would be the start this as the next big trend of alien invasion, after the vampire craze she started with her the Twilight series of books in the latter part of the last decade. The Host’s popularity, and subsequent film adaptation more or less achieved a modicum of success residually based on her Twilight momentum, and both the novel and film ultimately failed to catch on.

TV and movie executives however wanted to be out in front of the next big thing and The Host in all probability seemed like a good place to start. ABC for instance would choose to reboot V, and use some familiar faces from the sci-fi cult show Firefly to give the show a chance. The CW would give the sci-fi sub-genre a hit and miss with their Star-Crossed, an implied Romeo & Juliet alien-human romance tale, but the show would only be around for one season and luckily freed up Matt Lanter for Timeless. TNT would try it’s hand with Falling Skies, ultimately one of the longest lasting of the series, about a group of resistance fighters and survivors following an all out alien invasion. SyFy too would bring us Defiance, a show about a coexisting group of aliens and humans in former St. Louis following and alien invasion and war.

Now, I watched V  in its brief existence on ABC, and it had potential but one could see that the show had issues with writing and the networks plan for it, and it often lost cohesion on an episode to episode basis. Falling Skies and Defiance on the other hand where shows I wanted to watch but was never able to get around too. Back in late February after catching up on season one of The Expanse, and plowing through Space Above and Beyond I decided I needed more sci-fi and checked to see if my newly aquired Amazon Video app had Defiance or Falling Skies on it, and I was in luck. So I started digging into the three seasons of Defiance first.


A few months back I covered the Defiance video game on PS3. At that time I had mentioned that I never really saw the show so I was a little lost as to what was going on in the game. Now, I knew of Defiance and I remember seeing the SyFy channel advertise it from time to time, especially before it came on the air in 2013. From what I gathered from the commercials the show was about a lawman in a town with alien citizens. As one person put it to me several months ago it was like the critically acclaimed 80’s film and TV series Alien Nation.  When I finally tuned it in on Amazon Video I was pleasantly surprised by what I watched. I wasn’t like Alien Nation at all although it had some minor similarities. What we had instead was a show about a scavenger or Ark Hunter, who reluctantly finds himself as a towns lawkeeper following the death of its lawkeeper. That part did reminded me of another SyFy show Eureka. As the three seasons of the show played out we get involved in various evil alien plots, a human-alien romance, a government takeover, and a lot of other plot twists and turns.

The show has some pretty decent acting especially from the main characters. Grant Bowler who plays Joshua Nolan our Ark Hunter turned lawman plays a character who is tough, yet likable and even sympathetic. He’s backed up with several other familiar faced character actors like Julie Benz, Jamie Murray, and Graham Greene all of which carry the show well. Of course I remember the beautiful Julie Benz from a show called No Ordinary Family some years ago where she played the mom, but I never realized how gorgeous she was, I guess with Autumn Reeser in the cast too though perhaps I was a little distracted. Jamie Murray, who play Stahma Tarr spends the entire time in completely white makeup but honestly makes it look very sexy, Murray is a SyFy channel mainstay and played H.G. in another SyFy channel show Warehouse 13. As for Graham Greene I won't call him sexy but I will say you’ve probably seen him in a lot of other things like Maveric, Dances with Wolves, and most recently the Twilight movies. Look for the little joke thrown in about him and the Twilight movies in the episode I Just Wasn't Made for These Times season 1 episode 9.

So yes there are some attractive women in the cast. There's also a lot of sexy time scenes, if you know what I mean, that push the boundaries of FCC rules to their limits. So between that and some of the violence and full out cursing, I can definitely say it's not a family friendly show.  I can however say that for adult audiences it's a fairly compelling show.

The first season revolves around Nolan, and his alien daughter as they adapt to their roles as law keepers in Defiance. We also get involved in the political intrigues of Mayor Rosewater (Benz) as she balances the towns two major powers, mine owner Rafe McCauley (Greene) and top gangster Datak Tarr (Tony Curran). McCauley and Tarrs daughter and son, human Christie (Nicole Munoz) and alien Alak Tarr (Jesse Rath) are also carrying on a relationship and looking to marry, while Tarr’s wife the aforementioned Stahma plans to use the relationship to her own family's advantage. We also have a scheming alien town doctor, Doc Yewll (Trenna Keating), who is working with the town's past mayor (Fionulla Flanagan) to uncover a buried alien weapon that will kill all humans. Lastly, we have additional intrigue carrying on with Mayor Rosewaters sister Kenya (Mia Kirshner), the madam of a local house of ill repute who has Nolan, and both Tarr’s as clients. I have to say that I thought the first season was best.

In season 2 a new Earth central government takes over the town, leading to Rosewater being booted from office and military leadership taking over. Kenya disappears, and Alak and Christie start married life, although Alak finds himself reluctantly in charge of the crime family. Datak is imprisoned by the new government, and spends the second half of the season exiled from his own house. McCauley has a similar fate as the new government confiscates his mine, and later his house. Irisa begins to harness frightening new powers, that lead to major issues later in the season.

In season three Mayor Rosewater is back in charge as the new Earth government leaves. Tragedy befalls the McCauleys, and Irisa and Nolan return to Defiance. Meanwhile the Tarrs fall prisoner to a rogue alien general Rahm Tak, who is on a genocidal campaign to kill all humans. In the second half of the season Tak is defeated but Defiance must deal with a new alien race the cannibalistic Omec.

I have to rate the seasons in the same order as they aired or 1,2,3. I though seasons 1 and 2 were well done, but season 3 had a some lazy writing to it especially in the way in which Rahm Tak was defeated. I also felt as if season 3 went for a lot of shock value, especially with the horror elements of Tak beheading humans and displaying rotting heads on pikes, and later of the Omec cannibalism. Of course I also think the show had potential to go longer than three seasons had care been taken in season three. I will say that I did find the final episode to be pretty impressive, and wrapped the series up nicely on a note I wasn't expecting.

Defiance Video Game

The video game interestingly was released in 2013 during the first season of the series. The game assumably takes place before the first season since we meet Nolan and Irisa as Ark Hunters. Nolan and Irisa both voiced by the original actors only appear for a brief scene, but the rest of the game is non-show characters. Although the game is in universe, overall it has little to do with the actual show. This doesn't mean to say it's a bad game, as a matter of fact as I reviewed back in January the game is actually pretty fun and has an unexpectedly large community of online players. The graphics themselves are par for a gen 7 system, and could even be improved a bit but things are pretty solid, even if hit detection is an issue from time to time. The game does control well though, and most actions are fairly responsive. As far as originality despite being based on a TV series the game manages to create its own dimension and even expands on and past what the TV series gives us.  



Tuesday, April 18, 2017

8-bit Fridays Game & Watches: MST3K Season 11

I know I started mentioning this on my most recent post, but I thought I would take some time to talk about the new season of Mystery Science Theater 3000, season 11 on Netflix. Of course I have no doubt that a million other articles probably hit on this same subject over the weekend, but I just thought I would share my thoughts on it.

First of all I’m going to say this, I know there are those of you out there who probably are all over the fact that it’s not season 11, but actually season 12. There’s a yes and no to that being a true statement. Yes, it is technically a 12th season, but you have to keep in mind that many, including Joel Hodgson himself consider the very first season only a pilot season. Season 0 or “The Pilot Season” only appeared on Minneapolis's KTMA, and many of the episodes will appear with a K in front of them when catalog or referred to. So instead of being season 1 episode 3 or 103, you will see it appear as K03 and so on. Once the show was picked up on Comedy Central, and Sci-Fi after is when the main seasons and numbering kicked in. The Netflix season 11 goes on that numbering basis.

If you didn’t know it, I’ve been a fan of the show for a very long time. I remember visiting my sister's house for her first Thanksgiving in late 1992 and catching the show on Comedy Central for the first time. I can't remember what movie was, but  it was something about Vikings perhaps it was The Saga of the Viking Women, but what I can remember is laughing a lot. When my parents finally got Primestar Satellite TV (remember them) in 1996 MST3K would be one of the first shows I would look up. At first I remember catching it very late on Sundays, but eventually it moved into a time slot on Saturday afternoons. Being a bank teller back in those days my Saturdays mainly consisted of working till Noon or 1 PM, coming home and watching Chicago’s version of MST3K, Svengoolie and then immediately catching MST3K on Sci-fi. Many a Saturday afternoon was spent that way, and a lot of good memories made to boot. I stayed an avid fan till the very end with Diabolik in 1999, but I continued to catch the show in repeats on the Sci-Fi channel till it was finally taken off in about 2003. In 2000 I would introduce the show to my wife, who in turn introduced it to her family creating even more fans. In 2002 while we were at college, I remember my wife and I recording and watching it many a Saturday night usually with some beverages in hand. The show also got me through a lot of tough times too. I can remember a particular rough spot in 2007 when the MST3K Collection Volume 9, and the MST3K Collection - The Essentials helped me laugh my way through a few things. Since then I got a few other DVD sets, and I keep a sharp lookout for some of the episodes that get posted on YouTube. To say the least, good times or bad I still fall back to the show for a good laugh, kind of like a comfort food for the mental outlook.

So season 11, sorry for digressing. I will say as of writing this I haven’t completed the season on Netflix, but I am 11 episodes out of 14 in. Trust me the fact that I’m four movies from the end nearly has me in tears. With that said though I think I’ve invested enough time into the series to offer an honest opinion on it. So let's start with a breakdown of what's going on in season 11.

A scientist for the Gizmonic Institute, Jonah Heston (Jonah Ray) is testing a new type of drumbeat spaceship propulsion when he answers a distress call on the dark side of the Moon. Upon landing his ship is captured and he is taken prisoner by a mad scientist Kinga Forrester (Felicia Day), her lacky TV’s Son of TV’s Frank or Max (Patton Oswalt), and her henchmen The Skeleton Crew, who double as her band. Jonah is forced onto the Satellite of Love where he meets Crow T Robot (Hampton Yout), Tom Servo (Baron Vaughn), and Gypsey (Rebecca Hanson). Jonah is of course then forced to take part in Kinga’s experiment, which as you guessed it, is being forced to watch bad movies.

Of course we get some fan service here as well as a bit of legacy building with the fact that Kinga is the daughter of Clayton Forrester from seasons 1-8, and granddaughter of Pearl Forrester seasons 8-10.  As you may have guessed Patton Oswalt's character TV’s Son of TV’s Frank, is the son of TV’s Frank (Frank Coniff) from seasons 3-7. Of course there is some additional fan service and legacy building in episode 2 of season 11 but I’ll let that be a surprise for you. The band and henchmen The Skeleton Crew also play bits and pieces of past MST3K songs during the breaks, for instance the Wild Rebels Cereal song from the Wild Rebels episode, I Wish I Was Back in Old Canada from The Final Sacrifice episode, and The Janitor Song from the Teen-age Strangler episode. Of course as always with MST3K,  past episodes are referred to often in the course of watching the movies as well, no Torgo reference as of yet.

Watching a new season after 17 years with a new cast is off putting and a little hard to get use to at first. Of course being a long time fan and one who has gone back and watched early episodes it’s not the first time fans of the show has encountered this. Before Kevin Murphy iconically voiced Tom Servo, Josh Weinstein was Tom Servo’s voice as well as playing Dr. Erhardt who was Dr Forrester’s original sidekick before TV’s Frank. Of course Trace Beaulieu who played Dr. Clayton Forrester for the first 8 seasons also voiced Crow T Robot in that same period, before Bill Corbett toke on the role in season 9. We can also talk hosts here as well since Mike Nelson (Micheal J Nelson) replaced Joel Robinson (Joel Hodgson) halfway through season six, and there was a switch in the “Mads” with the aforementioned Erhradt to TV’s Frank between season 2 and 3, and with Pearl Forrester (Mary Jo Pearl) replacing Clayton Forrester (Trace Beaulieu) between seasons 7 and 8 after Clayton, Pearls son, was humorously turned into a baby. TV’s Frank is also replaced by Pearl towards the end of season 7 when he goes to Second Banana Heaven. Once Pearl takes over fully the “Mads” become Pearl, Observer (Bill Corbett), and Professor Bobo (Kevin Murphy). With all that said any longtime MST3K fan will find that the changes in voices and characters aren’t all that hard to take once you get use to them since we have past experiences with these things.

To be honest although it took me some getting use to in the first episode of season 11 Reptilicus, I was pretty invested in the new cast by the second episode Cry Wilderness. The new cast, obviously made up of fans themselves, manages to bring the show back to life pretty easily and by the fourth episode I thought it was pretty safe to say that the torch is passed. Style of humor, the fast pace of the jokes, the odd catch phrases, and the songs all flow pretty seamlessly from the previous seasons.

So what do I like most about the show?

-Jonah Ray. Ray fits in well in the part of the experiment victim (i.e. show host), and has the same demeanor as Joel, and Mike with being laid back since playing it too wacky could be a little too much. I also like how Jonah interacts with the robots a bit like Joel did, where there’s almost a fatherly element to it. Don’t get me wrong I like how Mike interacted with them too but that was more of a big brother type interaction. Like the previous two host Jonah is also able to deliver the jokes, and skits with just the right amount of wit and comedic timing.

-More mobile bots. Crow and Tom move and interact a bit more than they ever could. I think their current mobility may have been what Joel Hodgson originally imagined.

-Great connection. As mentioned above the show seamlessly connects to its past and a delivers the same show we basically knew 17+ years ago. After nearly 20 years it would have been easy for the show to take a different turn, but it didn’t and stayed right on track

-Kept Clean. Despite appearing on Netflix free of FCC regulations they show is kept clean and family safe. Even the movies they watched in past seasons occasionally had some gruesome elements, but this season so far they have been pretty clean and family friendly. I’m not saying it’s been turned into a kids show, and many of the jokes only adults would get are there, but I would have no problems letting my two sons watch the show on their own.

-More Imaginative. The original seasons were pretty imaginative with props and kit bashing, but they were also a bit my hampered by lower production budgets. The new Kickstarter and Netflix funded version has a higher budget, and access to new technologies as well. This means the SOL opens up to living quarters on the way into the theater, and part of the intro can be stop motion. It also means a few other cool elements have been added.

-Max and Kinga. Although not much time is spent with them, a humorous element of Max having a crush on Kinga exists that I find pretty funny.

Dislikes? To be honest I don’t have any dislikes of the show, but I have suggestions:

-More plot to the “Mads”. In previous seasons between movies, interactions with the “Mads” always took place. Like Clayton and TV’s Frank catering with Torgo, or Pearl, Observer, and Bobo babysitting space children. Kinga and Max should be up to dastardly but ill planned deeds too.

-Gypsey. I like the mobility of the bots but Gypsey hanging from the ceiling and having an articulate voice will take some getting use to. As will her appearing in the theater once or twice per movie.

-Star Studded. Ok, I know we have Patton Oswalt, and that Felicia Day and Jonah Ray are both famous in their own right too. But do we need Wil Wheaton and Neil Patrick Harris stopping in? I mean the Neil Patrick Harris bit was funny and all, but MST3K was funny when the current cast double or tripled in the roles of goofy guests. Of course I know many of these celebrities are probably huge fans and a minor cameo in a beloved show is probably a huge honor so I’m not completely against it, but in the vain of the old seasons a little goofy overacting please. Since it’s Netflix I also wonder how long it will be till the Stranger Things kids make cameo’s.

-Kinga and Max origin story. Clayton and Frank were afraid of girls so I’d like it explained how they each managed to have kids. I’m sure there’s some funny material there.

It’s a great show, but it will take an old MST3K fan to get used too. Once you do though you find your place and comfort zone quickly and the new season is all worth it. If you have Netflix be sure to put this one on your watch list, you won’t regret it. If you don’t have Netflix, get with it man, you need it.

Monday, April 17, 2017

8-bit Fridays: Lost Weekend's and Cheap Thrills

A year ago last weekend I was in Milwaukee for Midwest Gaming Classics. It was my intention to go again this year, but due to an endless string of flu and other illness it became pretty clear at the beginning of last week I wasn’t going to be going. That Wednesday I cancelled my hotel rooms, yes rooms plural, since I was unsure whether to stay at the events Sheridan or the local Hilton. Of course the cancellation and the let down was all worth it since since I myself came down with the flu the same afternoon I would have been heading up to Milwaukee. As of the time I’m writing this I’m nearly recovered, but I doubt this post-flu reduced stamina would have allowed me to plow through MGC on that Saturday. I guess when MGC 18’ is announced I will plan for next year, and hope my youngest doesn’t drag half as many virus’s home from school as he has this year.

In other notes I came across my first Nintendo Switch in a store last week as well. Of course I was in the middle of a hit and run shopping trip, since as mentioned above, I was dealing with a few sick folks at home that week and time was critical, so looking at it let alone purchasing it wasn’t possible. Of course I will openly admit I do have some reservations about buying a Switch now. Reports of broken, and warping screens are pretty concerning, as is the current lack of a library of games. Of course that also brings me to other recent news that Legend of Zelda: Call of the Wild is actually outselling the Switch itself, although details seem vague if that's just Switch versions or Switch and WiiU versions combined. On a slightly more positive note part of my hesitations on buying Switch relate to rumors of new colors being released on the Switch’s later this year too like a cool Bell X-1 Orange.

Lastly, playing games this weekend has been a little on the tough side. This is a result of it being not only Easter weekend, but also of the new season of MST3K being released on Netflix. I don’t know if any of you checked it out yet, but once you get past the knee jerk reaction of new characters, and the “bots” voice’s changing its actually pretty good. Talking about the “bots” I might mention that the guy voicing Crow does get the voice down the later in the series you go but Tom Servo will take some getting use to. I’m not going to say anymore or I’ll start writing a whole article on that alone. Just check it out if you have Netflix.

This Weeks Buys:   

It's been a light weekend on the buys, mainly since I’m deciding where to go next in collection and what system to focus on next. I know it seems to be my theme for this year so far!

Starblade (3DO) - I starting initially chasing down Starblade on the Sega-CD, but after watching gameplay footage on a few different systems it looked like the 3DO got the best version. So I hunted the 3DO version down and we will see how that plays.  

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: A Twitch in Time (PS1) - Ok, I know what your thinking and yes this is an odd choice. Kids sitcom based video games are probably the second most ignored sub-genre of game after sports games. Looking in a bin at a flea market you’ll see Hannah Montana games breaking up the Madden monotony once every third game if you get my meaning. So how, and why did I decide to buy a Sabrina game? Well, we stumbled across the complete series earlier in the week on Amazon video and decided to watch a bit and then we returned to it Thursday evening for a longer period of time. I won’t get into detail about the sentimental and personal connections to the TV show, but I will say I may write something about it up later, and the game as well. I will say knowing the era the show came out in I had to see if any games where made, so hope that explains the choice.  
This Weeks Plays:

Final Fantasy (NES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 1/2- Right off I can see why this was such an instint hit on the NES and why it started a franchise that is still very much alive and kicking. The game does have some Zelda like qualities to begin with, which has always been a plus to NES players. It's brightly colored, the sprites are easy to make out, and the game doesn't require to much explanation to figure out how to work. I will admit the controls did feel a bit stiff though as the sprite only travelled in straight lines, and during play the clues as to where to go next are sparse, which in my first play lead me immediately to death at Garland’s (yeah that sounds evil) castle. Overall though on my own opinion and not just the years of hype I can see what this game stands out, the party system, combat engine, and questing all come together well to make this game very special, and highly playable.

Super Double Dragon (SNES) ⭐️⭐️⭐️ ½ - This is another game that's haunted the old wish list for a while. As I’ve indicated before I'm kind of a fan of the old Double Dragon series since it has all the right elements for defining the late 80’s and NES games. Super Double Dragon or Double Dragon IV is the franchise's only real entry onto the SNES in its true form since Double Dragon V would be a one on one fighter, and not a very good one at that. After this as I understand the franchise had a great GBA port, but the game would be relegated to nothing more than ports of its NES and arcade versions from this point on until the Neon reboot on XBox 360 a few years ago. As far as the game itself it looks par for a former NES franchise brought to SNES, and the colors and graphics although 16-bit stay pretty true to the NES trilogy, but everything looks better and clearer. As far as control it's pretty straightforward but muscle memory tends to lead me to only play the A and B buttons and not go for the X and Y which are used in the game. Overall it's pretty true to the franchise unlike its successor and it's been worth the wait getting it.  

Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune (Wii) ⭐️⭐️⭐️1/2- Sometimes as with movies or even books you find a game that has a name associated with a franchise or series but isn’t actually part of it. It’s a rarity I’ll give you that, and tends to occur with lesser known franchises like the Silpheed and Sylpheed games I mentioned before, although we get into spiritual succession there. I guess we could say the same for this game too, although not actually part of the 3DO Army Men franchise there is a sense of spiritual succession even if the actual franchise was still producing games at the time. In this game you don’t play as the 3DO franchises “Sarge”, but rather as an adventuresome and imaginative 5 or 6 year old Timmy who sets out on an adventure to free his green army friends from the evil tan. Admittedly there are some parallels between this game and some of those of the Army Men 3DO franchise, and even Toy Commander on the Dreamcast, such as the green goodies and evil tans, the toy combat in a room by room basis, and in particular with Toy Commander the fact that we are made aware of a child controlling it all. Graphics wise I think their on par for the game type, which means the cartoony presentation works well with the game but it is easy to start to see how the graphics of some Wii games are looking a little dated. The characters and backgrounds are pretty solid though, and the hit detection also works well. As far as control this has the typical frustrating Wii controller and nunchuk configuration, and like Ghostbusters on the Wii it's one of these games where you must aim the main controller at a target which it always tenuous with the Wii’s motion sensing. Taking all that into account I have to say I salute the game (pun intended) for it’s originality and playfulness, but the Wii controls are a detractor. It’s a fairly cheap game to find so, which makes it one of those decide for yourself suggestions.

Falling Skies (PS3) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ - I’m going to be going over this game, as well as Defiance and their associated TV shows in an upcoming article. Falling Skies: The Game is a PS3 and XBox 360 title based on the alien invasion TV show that was on TNT. It's a third person tactical squad based game, which as you may know I'm not a huge fan of but in this instance it's not too bad. Perhaps they have come a long way from XCOM and the first Rainbow Six on PC, or maybe it's just that I liked the TV show enough to cut it some slack. Graphics wise the game isn't exactly a stunner, and has a slight PS2 look to it, but you have to figure that this game was never meant to be a AAA blockbuster and might have been made with a very limited budget. Playwise it works well with the PS3 controls, but than again tactical squad games are by nature stiff and grid based but I feel it works smoothly. As far as originality it stays pretty close to the TV show and actually brings in the voice talent of a few of the shows actors like Noah Wyle, and that's something the Defiance game didn't really follow through on. The game concept itself though isn't all that original otherwise and it's also kind of funny that based on the TV shows premise they decided to go with a game genre synonymous with that sub-genre in games, thanks to XCOM. Like the above Army Men: Soldiers of Misfortune this is another fairly cheap to buy and find title and worth checking out if it sounds interesting.

Front Mission: Evolved (XBox 360) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️- Square-Enix never fails to impress me with the range of games they make, everything from the famous Final Fantasy series, to the awesome space combat sim Project Sylpheed. The Front Mission series is another in a long line of Square-Enix games that are unexpectedly impressive. Although Front Mission: Evolved isn’t considered one of the franchises top games it still stands well among the series other games and as a good representation of the series. Graphics wise its pretty on par for a generation 7 game, meaning that they look good but there were games out there that looked a little better, with that said though they’re pretty solid looking and perform well. On the matter of controls this game is pretty intuitive and the tutorial works well in teaching them to you, plus it’s nice and short and to the point which is always great. The controls work smoothly, and are all placed in spots that make sense and coordinate well with the “wanzer’s” weapons positions. The game concept itself is basically another "Mech" type game, but given some Square-Enix drama to go along with it so I will give it points for originality there. Most of the Front Mission games do tend to get into the slightly pricier region especially the first one on SNES, and the DS game. This one on the other hand tends to go for a little less, and seems to give me an unofficial theme this week of giving it a try since it doesn’t cost much.

Well as previously stated it’s been a hard weekend and last couple of weekends for gaming. Sadly despite having 17 other games in the backlog, I will be ending this weekend's play throughs here with just this five. If everything stays cool this next week then I should see some time next weekend to game some more and dig into the backlog. Until then!