Saturday, April 29, 2017

8-bit Fridays Game & Watches: Defiance & Falling Skies - Part 2 Falling Skies

In part one I spoke about Defiance as part of a trend of alien invasion shows we saw early in this decade. Falling Skies like Defiance was another one of the better TV shows this short and unceremonious era produced, and that also got it’s own game.

Falling Skies

My introduction to Falling Skies took place in the late summer of 2011. I use to have Fridays off from my job of the time and I would often assist my wife, who was a book sales rep back then, in placing her books out at a large Walmart store. With the book section being oddly in the electronics section, I got to see TV ad after TV ad for TNT. The one ad that always stuck out was for Falling Skies, a TV show which followed a group of survivors after aliens knock out communications, and invade. Great and interesting concept, one problem though, it was on TNT a network I hate due to its non-stop commercial breaks, and the fact that it always turns the volume up on its commercial as does its sister station TBS. A few years later I decided to look the series up and found a few out of order episodes on Directv on demand, so I recorded the first. With the first episode a little violent towards the beginning and my youngest son in the room I decided to turn it off to return later, but I would end up returning to it a lot later. After completing Defiance I decided to stay with the whole alien invasion theme and started watching Falling Skies again.

Falling Skies not only preceded Defiance by two years but also overlapped with Defiance in it’s three seasons. Falling Skies is another show that features a lot of familiar faces, perhaps a bit more well known then some of those in Defiance. ER’s Noah Wyle as Tom Mason headed up the cast and produced the show, Will Patton (Spitfire Grill, The Agency, Remember the Titans) plays Captain Weaver, and Moon Bloodgood (Terminator Salvation, Eight Below) plays Anne Glass. There are a lot of other familiar faces too from TV and movies too, and the ensemble cast comes together well to produce a compelling show.  Out of the gate I must have watched four episodes in the first sitting, and I found myself easily losing several hours a night getting involved in the show. Having the ability to binge watch this I have to say this is one of those “just one more” type shows that will keep you up till the wee small hours. Frankly, it took me finishing this series to actually begin getting to bed at a decent time again.

So the main jist of the story is that what remains of the United Stated military, is broken up into small units and assigned groups of civilians to protect and move to safety. Essentially, the mission comes down to survival and resistance. The show focuses on the Mason family headed by Tom Mason (Noah Wyle) a former history professor, turned resistance fighter and second in command after Captain Weaver. Having lost his wife in the initial attack Mason now only has his sons the older Hal (Drew Roy), and the youngest Matt (Maxim Knight) while his middle child Ben (Connor Jessup) has been captured and attached to a mind controlling “harness” by the aliens. Tom Mason is also involved with Anne Glass (Moon Bloodgood) the doctor attached to their group, the “2nd Massachusetts”. Mason also finds himself compromising with and eventually forming a friendship with the hard nosed US Army Captain Weaver (Will Patton). Of course we also have are human villain John Pope (Colin Cunningham) a former murderer turned leader and weapons designer, who questions authority and acts as Mason’s foil.

Season one revolves around moving the civilians to safety, but in the process of doing so the Mason’s find Ben’s whereabouts and begin working on way of rescuing him as well as some of the other kids harnessed and being used for labor. In the meantime on the search for food, weapons and working vehicles the “2nd Mass” encounters a group of raiders called the “Berzerkers” lead by John Pope. Pope initially takes them hostage, but decides later to join the 2nd Mass not only adding himself but another new character Maggie (Sarah Carter) to the cast. Maggie begins to develop a relationship with Tom’s eldest Hal, after his girlfriend Karen (Jessy Schram) is taken and harnessed by the aliens. In the meantime Pope advises the 2nd Mass on best methods for killing the spider like aliens known as “Skitters”, and makes special bullets to combat enemy “Mechs”. Eventually the harnessed teens and Ben are rescued, but only part of Ben’s harness can be removed with the remaining part giving him super-human abilities. Weaver decides to attack a large alien structure in Boston, and well on recon with Mason discovers a new race of aliens who seem to be in charge. The season ends with a failed attack on the alien structure, and the survivors leaving the middle school they were hiding in for most of season one, but not before Karen reappears with the new alien overlord and forces Tom to board their ship.

As season 2 begins we see the survivors in a makeshift encampment, and Anne Glass and her young assistant Lourdes (Saychelle Gabriel, The Last Air Bender) struggling to keep up with the medical needs of the survivors. In the meantime with Tom missing, Hal and Ben butt heads over teaching Matt about using a weapon. Later we see Tom being tortured on the alien ship, before Karen arranges a meeting between him and the alien overlord. Tom manages to break free and attack the overlord, and his Skitter guard (keep him in mind) before being recaptured. Tom and some other humans are dropped off in Michigan, where he witnesses the other humans shot down while he is allowed to live. The survivors scope out a former hospital to use as an new HQ, and must move there quickly when alien mechs begin closing in on their current position. Tom eventually finds his way back to the 2nd Mass. Once at the new place Ben and Maggie find the dead bodies of several formally harnessed teens but one is found alive, Karen. Ben tries to protect Hal from Karen’s influence, she ends up seducing him instead and the two run away only for Karen to lead Ben into a trap. As the aliens are about to execute Ben, soldiers from the 2nd Mass arrive killing the would be executioners, and capturing the Overlord who tortured Tom. With the Overlord captured alien attackers descend on the hospital to free him and infest the hospital with flesh eating bugs. Tom mortally wounds the Overlord, and works out a deal to give the aliens enough time to save him, while the survivors evacuate the area. They eventually end up at small airport where a plane lands, and tell the survivors about a new US capital and survivor colony in Charleston, NC. The survivors fight their way there, but Ben encounters and makes contact with the Skidder guard who held father and is now a member of a Skidder resistance against the Overlords. As the season ends the survivors make it to Charleston, as Ben sets out to help the Skidder resistance, and the episode ends when a mysterious new group of aliens arrive.  

In season three we see that not all in Charleston is as it seems, as Tom meets his mentor who is now President of the United States and who has a chokehold on the colony. The new aliens the Volm assist the survivors war on the alien invaders the Espheni, and announce that they are building a secret weapon to counter an Espheni secret weapon. Ben returns with the friendly Skidders, but is met with distrust and resistance by the new government. Lourdes finds herself infected by an alien virus, and begins a path of destruction. Tom and Anne get deeper into their relationship and Anne becomes pregnant. As the season roles on a near coup leads to Tom being elected the new president, and balancing his alliance with the Skidders and Volm, while his military commanders disagree. The colony is eventually attacked by members of the US Military who claim the actual president is alive, and arrange for Tom and Cochise to meet with him. After Tom and Cochise are separated, the Espheni shoot down Toms plane with himself and Pope on board. Pope and a wounded Tom then fight their way back to Charleston. In the meantime Hal is also infected by an alien virus, and  Anne gives birth but realizes her baby isn’t normal, and later finds out the baby has alien DNA causing her to run away with the baby. Tom steps down from office to find Anne, leaving his VP Marina Peralta (Gloria Reuben, also of ER) in charge. Marina begins to grow suspicious about the Volm weapon and with her science advisor and Weaver, uncover the Espheni’s terrifying plot to use the structure in Boston from season 1, with others worldwide to irradiate the planet and kill all living things. While searching for Anne, Tom is captured by Karen, who at the Boston structure informs Tom that she killed Anne and the baby. Tom escapes Karen, and makes it back to Charleston, just in time to uncover Hal’s infection, and using a Volm medical device help cleanse him. Later Lourdes bombs the colony bunker, and Volm structure but is eventually caught. The Espheni weapon goes online, and the Volm and 2nd Mass set out to Chicago(?) to destroy the structure there with the Volm weapon. In the season finally Anne and the baby Lexi return, but the child has aged years in the short time. The Volm announce their plans to move all humans to safety in Brazil, but the humans meet that plan with resistance. Karen appears with a proposal towards the end, but is killed by Tom while Lexi cures Lourdes of the alien virus. On the way back to Charleston the Espheni attack again, separating the Mason family.

Season four opens very dire as Tom and Weaver are imprisoned, Matt is stuck at a brainwashing school, Anne is alone with a group of survivors, and Ben encounters Lexi and Lourdes at an odd sanctuary. Lexi, who has now aged to her late teens believes herself to be a messiah who will bring peace to the Earth by forming a union between the Espheni and Humans, and is served by Lourdes. In the meantime Ben remains skeptical and finds out Lexi is secretly meeting with an Overlord known as “The Monk”. While that is occurring Matt finds himself and another student fighting the schools brainwashing. Back in the Charleston ghetto Tom finds a way to escape his cell and attack Esphenis in the camp as “The Ghost”, well Hal attempts to help others in the camp. Tom eventually gives himself up to save the camp, and is told by the Overlord on the spacecraft above the camp of the new Espheni plot to mutate humans into submission. Afterwards Tom, Weaver, Hal, Pope, and a new character Dingaan (Treva Etienne) develop a way to breakthrough and disable the energy nets keeping them in the camp, as well as a plan to evacuate the survivors. Anne and her troop eventually find Lexi’s sactuary, and Matt and Maggie clue her in on Lexi’s activities, Matt and Maggie also develop feelings for each other in Hals absence. Pope manages to carry out destroying the energy fence, and the Charleston survivors escape encountering Cochise and his Volm commandos at a former food warehouse. A recon party see’s Matt at the school, and Cochise, Tom, and Weaver set out to rescue him. In the process of doing do Cochise is injured, and Weaver encounters his daughter who has now been mutated, but dies saving him. Eventually Tom, and his survivors find the sanctuary as well and the Masons are reunited creating a love triangle between, Hal, Ben and Maggie. We also pick up a love interest for Pope along the way Sarah (Mira Sarvino). Lexi eventually enters into a cocoon, and emerges with frightening powers killing Lourdes, and then escapes to an Espheni ship bringing Ben with, who believes he can turn her. Seeing the forced mutations, Ben escapes back to the sanctuary which is now under attack, they survive several attacks but not before bringing down an enemy aircraft known as a Beamer. Hal and Cochise uncover the main enemy powerplant on the moon, while Anne saves a paralyzed Maggie with a few of Ben’s harness pins bringing Maggie and Ben closer. Lexi, finds out the aliens are just using her and planning to kill her, and kills The Monk with her powers, before heading back to the sanctuary. By this time Tom has decided to conduct a suicide mission to the moon to destroy the central power plant, and Lexi looking to prove herself agrees to go with.

As season 5 opens Tom is reinvigorated after an odd set of dreams, as the tide is turning against the Espheni. The sanctuary must hold on for dear life after the the Espheni release tides of cloned Skidders on them. Eventually, the 2nd Mass find the cloning facility and head out to destroy it, while Sarah finds herself in alien glue and Pope must fight to save her, butting heads with Tom who's on his way to destroy the cloning facility. After Pope becomes angry from his loss he leaves the 2nd Mass with his remaining Berzerkers, taking Hal hostage along the way. Tom sets out to find Hal and Pope, while Weaver and the 2nd Mass must move again. Tom eventually finds Pope, and Hal and releases Hal and Isabella shooting Pope in the process, but then finds himself being snatched by a flying Skidder. Hal and Isabella set out to find Tom, and the 2nd Mass finds shelter at a former distillery that also contains and alien communication node. Tom, is saved from the flying Skidder and finds himself at a rural farm far removed the invasion, but where the children remain oblivious to the invasion. After helping the eldest son come to grips with the invasion, Tom convinces him to stay and help protect his family. Isabella and Hal find Tom, who thanks to his encounter with the family, suddenly has new commitment to the fight. Reunited with the 2nd Mass, the group moves out to a former navy base held by a Virginia regiment lead by former colleague of Weavers, Captain Marshall. As they quickly find out Marshall is extremely paranoid and imprisons and plans to execute Tom, Anne, Hal, and Ben. Weaver finds out Marshall is meeting with an Overlord in the woods, and kills the Overlord bringing the body back to base and upsetting Marshall. As the execution is being carried out the soldiers of the firing squad refuse to shoot, and the Volm and remaining distillery garrison arrive to save the day, in the fight Marshall is killed revealing she was a disguised alien. As the garrison comes under control an ancient alien race reaches out to Tom revealing the Espheni end game with the arriving queen, and provides him with a weapon to fight them. A disfigured Pope finds out Tom is still alive and sets out to kill him, however the attack is a failure and Pope is assumed killed. New survivors arrive at the base, and a final attack is planned on Washington DC where the alien queen has nested, and produced eggs for an overwhelming occupation force. The 2nd Mass gets into DC, and Tom makes it to the Lincoln Memorial where the alien queen has fully nested. Spoiler alert: Tom manages to release the secret weapon killing the queen and destroying the eggs. In the battle though Anne is mortally wounded, so Tom carries her body to the ancient alien vessel, saving her life. In the process Pope sneaks up on Tom, but terribly wounded is unable to carry out his attack, and dies on the beach in front of Tom (ala Darth Mahl and Obi Won in Star Wars Rebels). Matt rewrites new world policy, as Tom and company lead a new world order.

Ok, first of all I wrote this trying to avoid as many spoilers as possible, plus there is a lot going on in this show and many characters. So my synapsis hardly justifies the show. Unlike Defiance I will say Falling Skies is a little more family friendly. Falling Skies is pretty clean as far a cursing, and sex scenes, but there is some violence and occasional but rare gore. It's a show that would be good for older kids to watch, but maybe kind of frightening and intense for younger ones. Unlike Defiance it would have no issues with my eldest son watching this, as a matter of fact the story does have an element of young adult fiction to it since many of the main characters are teens and kids themselves like the Mason boys.

I liked Falling Skies a bit more than Defiance as well, since I felt the storytelling was a lot deeper, and the plots more well thought out towards the larger seasonal story arc. Like Defiance, Falling Skies did grapple with lazy writing from time to time, like the many “Shazaam!” moments when the characters showed up just in time to save the day, or how Tom always found his way back despite the 2nd Mass having moved on, or how everyone got to the sanctuary. Overall though, the stories were pretty tight and well told.

Falling Skies: The Game

To reiterate what I wrote over the weekend 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.

As far as lining up with the series, the games fits nicely and is suppose to take place between seasons 3 and 4. Despite not having access to the full cast the game's voice talent is enough to immerse you in the series. The games also takes enough elements from the series, like class of fighters, and fighting tactics, as well as plot lines to make the game feel like a lost season and to explain the 2nd Mass’s actions between Chicago and Charleston. As a fan of the series the game didn’t feel out of place, and was comfortable to settle into. Admittedly, I’m not a fan of  tactical squad based games so i do wonder if another genre might have worked better, like and FPS, or RTS. With that said though I think the former would have seem out of place, and the latter unable to truly capture the small squad deployment that the series itself actually played out.

The Alien Invasion sub-genre of science fiction is nothing new and no doubt we will see TV shows based on the again in the near future. I do think that Falling Skies will be one of the better shows we will get to see in this sub-genre and gives some realism and weight to such an occurrence if it was to happen. Defiance, also treated the occurrence with some realism in portraying the tensions between humans and aliens coexisting together on Earth, and the plight of humans to survive in such a world. I also think both show produced video games that fed well off the actual chemistry of the shows themselves.

I hope you decide to check these shows and games out for yourselves, and let me know if you do.    

Monday, April 24, 2017

8-bit Fridays: The Diaries - April 21, 2017

So as indicated last week the games are piling up again especially for the PS1. This weekend although tenuous, should have a bit of room to get into a few titles though.

This Weeks Buys:

As previously indicated I'm trying to figure what direction I want to go in next with collecting, so it's been a very light week.

Krazy Ivan (PS1) - This is another tall box title from back in the PS1’s early days. Basically it's another take on the giant mech thing. As a tall box it's a noted game, outside of that it's obscure.

This Week Plays:

GTA 2 (PS1) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️½ - I'm slowly making my way through the GTA series although I will admit I jump around a lot. GTA 2 as compared to GTA is definitely a lot more fun and despite the isometric viewpoint you can see how the third person of GTA 3 springboards off of this. This is actually a better game then Driver on the PS1, which I thought was better game than GTA. Graphics wise it's about as much to look at as GTA or Driver, although is does have the slightly cartoony look of Dick Tracy on the NES. I think the more cartoony look might actually have been meant to give the game that tongue & cheek style the franchise is known for. Playwise it controls better than GTA, but played on the PS2 it only controlled via the D-pad, however I was able to pick up the game's mechanics quickly. As far as originality this game has it and spades despite seeming like a clone of its first rendition.  Overall it's fun as hell to play. 

Sabrina the Teenage Witch: A Twitch in Time (PS1) ⭐️⭐️½ - I'm actually doing this game as part of my Game & Watches series so look for that in a couple weeks. Anyway, his is a colorful and upbeat little game as you would expect although it only features the voice of Nick Bakay as Salem, with someone else voicing Sabrina. Graphics wise it's prisoner to its era and can be a bit hard on the eyes, although it's pretty solid and hit detection is fairly functional. Perhaps with less glare on my TV it would be a little easier to see, but its a little hard to see. Control wise it needs help with the camera views which never look where you want them to and leave you pretty vulnerable to enemies. As with most PS1 games played on the PS2, controls where on the D-pad which again is a struggle to get use to. The game itself stays pretty true to the comical world of Sabrina, but as for originality this looks like it might have borrowed off other games.  It's an ok game but not one I’d suggest buying.

Centipede (PS1) ⭐️⭐️⭐️- Welcome back to the world of Hasbro reboots of Atari games, because dammit they owned the properties and they were going to use them. As with most of these games there is an arcade mode or basically the original game, and an adventure mode which is the reboot. The arcade mode is of course good, as for the adventure mode it's ok, and fun but also a bit dead endish. Based on the adventure mode only, the graphics are par cartoony for one of these reboots, meaning there solid with good hit detection but nothing spectacular. Control wise the side to side motion had to be done with the R1 and L1 buttons which was a bit off putting considering fire was X, overall though once you got passed that it was ok to control. Originality wise it had some fun elements, and bought some imagination to the 2D world of Centipede. It's another ok game but only pick it up if you want to experience these reboots. 

Q*bert (PS1) ⭐️⭐️- Yes, another Hasbro Atari reboot! I'm just going to say both classic (arcade) and adventure mode play terribly. Did you ever so the music video for “Groove is in the Heart” by Dee-Lite? That's how this game looks graphically. I got the cartoony (my word of the day) look they were going for but… Anyway as mentioned the controls barely functioned on either modes. As far as originality it was there and the adventure mode was supposed to be like a puzzle game, which is a workable concept with Q*bert to bad the controls were terrible.

Deep Fighter (Dreamcast) ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️- Taking a PS1 break I'm moving to the Dreamcast for game that has been on my wishlist for Dreamcast, Deep Fighter. Although the concept of underwater fighter subs was already toyed with in the 1994 Microprose title Subwar 2050, the concept hasn't really been revisited much. So when I found out Ubisoft flirted with the concept on Dreamcast I had to take a look since I'm always looking unique Dreamcast only titles. Graphically this one is pretty impressive, and even the FMV looks good. I found the gameplay graphics to be fairly clear looking, despite still have that distant fog limitation typical of games and systems of this generation, but it worked out well considering the underwater setting. The FMV was also clear, and dare I say it very movie like, which I wasn't expecting. In gameplay I did find the graphics to be pretty solid, but hit detection, and even indication of it was a bit off which was a minor detractor from the game. A major detractor though was the control. Of course if you've read my plays on Dreamcast before or even played on it yourself then you know the Dreamcast controller is far from ideal and at times painful to use. In this case the game would have benefited for a better controller. As far as originality the game has only a few similarities to the above mentioned Subwar 2050, whoever it's very much original in concept and overall gameplay, and somewhat imaginative in its overall story about the last human survivors building a ship to escape Earth. This tends to be a little pricier of a game, but I think the gameplay, concept, and graphics make it an essential for the Dreamcast. 

Pong (PS1)  ⭐️⭐️⭐️ -  Back to the PS1, and another Hasbro Atari reboot. So basically this is still just Pong with some interesting backgrounds, centerfield distractions, and with animations. It gets a little more complicated than traditional Pong with multi-balls, and opposing player helpers but it's still about blocking the and hitting back the ball in play. Graphically, as you guessed again it's cartoony, but looks well for what it's trying to get across. Control wise, it Pong just moving up and down and it does it well. I will give this one big props for originality though, since it's all about making the most of Pong. With that said though I still got bored and moved on from this game quickly since you can't just play different levels but rather have to unlock them.

Frogger (PS1)   ⭐️⭐️⭐️- Frogger reboots are nothing new to me since I have some other crazy Frogger game on the GameCube. Now this game like Pong which I mentioned above has just the rebooted modes of play and lack a classic mode. This one does pay tribute to the classic though on the first level which is a 3D re-imagining of the classic Frogger first level, and it's actually pretty good. The rest of the four levels I had access to however where challenging and sometimes confusing reboots. Graphics wise again good and cartoony but nothing overly special. Control is also good, but simple, and there are no timing issues. Originality wise yes it's pretty imaginative, but still a bit lacking. 

Space Invaders (PS1)   ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️- This is the first non-Hasbro/Atari reboot but a reboot nonetheless. It starts off with a kickass intro. Now maybe it's because this is an Activision thing but this one was good, I actually stuck with and played the first level all the way through. Graphically, it's not bad on par with most PS1 games, with being solid and workable. Control where a piece of cake and made sense. Originality I see where they were going and I liked, but still missed the original. Rates a little higher in my book due to it being a joy to play.

Loadstar: The Legend of Tully Bodine (Sega-CD)  ⭐️⭐️1/2 - Taking another PS1 break for the Sega-CD. Loadstar is a game about a space trucker with a truck that runs on tracks, but it's a truck not a train,  got it? So it's got lovely Sega-CD FMV goodness, and ridiculous plot, but Ned Beaty’s in it (guess Homicide wasn't paying enough back then). With all that said though once you get how to use this game it is somewhat entertaining. Graphically I never expect much from the Sega-CD, and but considering this one looked pretty good for that system. Control wise it's far from intuitive and even after playing it a while I still didn't have it completely figured out. With that said though this is another game that felt as if it was supposed to have been a light gun shooter. Originality wise a space/truck rail shooter is pretty unique as is the gameplay mostly. I'd recommend this one more for the collector though.

So nine games later, I think that's a pretty full weekend. I still have a few PS1 game out there including at some more reboots, and some actually good games plus titles on a few other systems. Anyway I have a big, and probably stressful week ahead of me but I can't wait to get to Friday again. Have a good one!!!

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.