Monday, July 31, 2023

Comedy Science Fiction Animated Web Series Episode Review: Futurama - The Impossible Stream

Futurama has returned from the dead yet again with the broadcast of the first episode of the eleventh broadcast season, or the eighth production season. Yes, the season numbering is weird, but blame the Cartoon Network executives for that because that channel's two seasons of Futurama were broken up into four parts.

I'll admit that I'm a huge Futurama fan. I briefly changed my screen name from Lopantu to Bender followed by Flexo, both in 2000, before settling with MetaFox the next year when I got my first arcade cabinet with a Seta game of the same name. I'm not the rose-tinted glasses type though, so I was cautiously optimistic about this episode but prepared for a possible letdown since the series has been off the air for 10 years. That's a long break, so I wasn't sure if the showrunners would be able to get back in the groove right off the bat. 

I didn't have to worry, as it managed to hit the mark with its usual dose of satire relating to today's world, as well as jabs at itself and the executives who cancelled it. The episode starts off right where the series ended in 2013 with "Meanwhile". The Planet Express crew learn that the time-stopping shenanigans of that episode messed with time itself, pulling the world ten years forward into 3023. Fry is distraught that he has been in the future for twenty-three years but has nothing to show for it. He decides to watch every television show ever made. This leads to some funny names of shows that are parodies of popular television and streaming shows, callbacks to previous shows-within a show such as their Twilight Zone parody The Scary Door, the Emeril Lagasse parody Elsar, and a surprisingly funny jab at Netflix's anti-trans comedy specials from Ricky Gervais and Dave Chapelle.

The episode truly kicks off when Fry decides to binge all of the episodes of All My Circuits, Futurama's parody of soap operas which is more like a telenovela parody today as those are the only variation of shows of that type that remain popular. The professor puts Fry into a binging suit, while the rest of the staff gets All My Circuits renewed so that Fry can keep watching episodes before he runs out of them.

I'm not going to say more, as it's definitely worth watching. So far Futurama has all of the humor and wit of its predecessor, reminding me a lot of the humor of the Comedy Central run of the show after the release of four films which ran for four years from 2009 to 2013. The voice actors step into their roles perfectly as well. This aspect of the show especially feels like it never went off the air in the first place. Time will tell if the series retains the heart of the show as well, but as Bender says about Futurama is definitely true. It's back, baby!

Final Verdict:
4 out of 5

Friday, July 28, 2023

Open World Action-Adventure DLC Review: Sea of Thieves - The Legend of Monkey Island: The Journey to Mêlée Island

The Journey to Mêlée Island, the first chapter of the free Legend of Monkey Island Tall Tale expansion for Sea of Thieves, is available now. It aims to blend the open-world action-adventure pirate swashbuckler with the inventory-based adventure mechanics of the Monkey Island series.

The story fits snugly in between Curse of Monkey Island and Escape from Monkey Island. The Pirate Lord invited Guybrush Threepwood and Elaine Marley Threepwood to honeymoon in the Sea of Thieves. However, there is a curse that makes Guybrush, and presumably Elaine in future chapters, relive memories of past adventures that create a skewed version of whatever island is being remembered.

This makes it possible for pirates from the Sea of Thieves to physically travel to Mêlée Island. Because of this, Kate Capsize and the Pirate Lord want to hire a pirate to free the honeymooners from their curse. The Pirate Lord wants to rescue them, while Kate wants revenge on Guybrush because he switched his face for hers on a wanted poster which caused her to be imprisoned on Phatt Island.

Most of the people on the island appear to be from Guybrush's memories because the SCUMM Bar patrons the chef, the lookout, the shady merchant, the shopkeeper, the ghost pirates, Otis the prisoner, and the three loitering pirates all appeared in Guybrush's first adventure. The presence of Murray could be from the skewed memories due to the curse. I'm glad the latter was included as I really loved Murray in this chapter, especially after he gets what he wants. The animators deserve a raise for Murray's animations.

One character that doesn't belong is a cursed skull from A Pirate's Life Tall Tale who is known as the Cursed Captain. He appears to have actually made it to Mêlée Island but got stuck up on the wall of the SCUMM Bar by the three important pirates. There's a lot of potential for story there and I hope Rare doesn't squander it in future chapters.

I thought the puzzles were fun. I liked how they integrated the Sea of Thieves mechanics into the puzzles too. The sword, tankard, and lantern all were used fantastically. The crane puzzle, especially, was great. It was a head-scratcher, especially when the crane wouldn't lift it. I was stuck for a while before I jumped into the water to see what was going on and saw the solution. That puzzle was something that felt like it could have been in the series proper.

The voices used the voice actors from The Secret of Monkey Island Special Edition or Terrible Toybox's Return to Monkey Island for those that weren't in the LucasArts joint. They were just as excellent here as they were in the preceding games. The music was also used well, with the Monkey Island theme popping up as you approached Melee, the familiar SCUMM Bar music that faded out in volume as you got further away from the bar, and Walt the skeleton pirate playing the skeleton ship theme on his violin. Bonus points for the name Walt, too.

There were some aspects that didn't work as well, however. Hunting for pieces of eight was tedious and not fun at all. At the end of the chapter, I couldn't find all of the money needed for the optional content, so I just gave up and ended the chapter four pieces of eight short. The walk up and down the hill to get to the lookout and back also wasn't fun, and he didn't have enough pieces of eight for the trouble. I kept jumping off early on the path down and losing health. Getting hurt was worth it though, because it cut down on all the tedious walking.

The Journey to Mêlée Island was a good start to the Sea of Thieves Legend of Monkey Island expansion. The story, voice acting, music, and puzzles were great. I really hope the next chapter ditches the money collecting and long walks because it felt like artificially extending the time required to finish the chapter. If the issues with this chapter are sorted in future chapters, we could potentially be in for a great time.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Friday, July 21, 2023

Sea of Thieves: The Legend of Monkey Island - The Journey to Mêlée Island Is Available

Rare's open-world online multiplayer pirate action-adventure swashbuckler, Sea of Thieves, now has more pirate goodness with the addition of a Monkey Island campaign. All of the voice actors from the Monkey Island series have returned as well.

There will be three episodes. The first episode is The Journey to Mêlée Island, which is available right now!

Thursday, June 15, 2023

Television Series Episode Review: Star Trek - The Next Generation: Time's Arrow (Part 2)

The follow-up to the final episode in season five of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Time's Arrow: Part 2, takes the unusual route of not following directly after the cliffhanger. Instead, there is a time skip of at least a month.

Jean-Luc Picard, Geordi LeForge, and Deanna Troi have rented an apartment under the guise of a traveling theater troupe. Will Riker poses as a police officer and Dr. Beverly Crusher serves as a nurse at a nearby hospital. Meanwhile, Data still resides at the hotel still pretending to be a French inventor. Mark Twain has been following Guinan for weeks, trying to discover what she and the people from the future are doing in nineteenth-century San Francisco. Naturally, as the author of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, he assumes that their presence will cause havoc to his time period.

After Data's machine picks up time skips, the aliens are revealed and Data's fate comes to fruition. The away team of the USS Enterprise-D has to stop the aliens on Devidia II in the twenty-fourth century, while they also have to deal with the fact that Mark Twain knows more about the future than he should.

While I was disappointed that racism wasn't mentioned in the previous episode, I did appreciate Mark Twain mentioning the European colonialists that destroyed existing civilizations in the name of exploration. It did ring a bit hollow though, with the ultimate treatment of the aliens by the Enterprise. Picard offered an alternative to one alien, so it was a bit surprising that this wasn't offered to the remaining members of that species.

Ultimately, while it isn't quite up to the standards of the previous episode, it does remain a fun episode to close the two-parter. I grew up in Elmira, NY, where Mark Twain is buried, so I have had an affinity for the author since childhood. It was fun to see him interact with the crew and be so willing to adapt his perspective on things. The treatment of the aliens was a bit jarring, but the rest of the episode wrapped up nicely.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5

Wednesday, June 14, 2023

Television Series Episode Review: Star Trek - The Next Generation: Time's Arrow (Part 1)

While on my month-long trip through the Southern United States, I binged the third season of Star Trek: Picard. As it was a reunion of the main characters and their actors from Star Trek: The Next Generation, I wanted to go back and check out some of my favorite episodes from when I was young and see how they hold up today. 

Whoopi Goldberg's Guinan was always a special character to be. Whenever she was in an episode, I would always get excited as episodes that included her were almost always something special. Time's Arrow serves as an origin story, of sorts, for Guinan. The set-up for the first part of the two-part episode immediately draws you into the episode. Signs of extra-terrestrial life were discovered on Earth in the nineteenth century. Federation scientists call in the USS Enterprise-D to investigate because they had found the android Data's severed head among the old relics.

As fossil records indicated the presence of inhabitants of Devidia II, the Enterprise travels to the planet to investigate. Captain Jean-Luc Picard tries to keep Data from going on the away mission, but when the precise calculations of his positronic brain are needed, he reluctantly acquiesces. He shifts his body to be slightly out of sync with time, which causes him to become invisible to his crewmates. However, as Data has not shifted as far out of time as those on the planet, he is not visible to them.

However, things quickly get out of hand, and Data is sent hurtling back in time to the Earth's past. He arrives in San Francisco in 1893, gambles to win money, and sets himself up in a hotel where he tries to build a device with nineteenth-century materials meant to track the time shifts. Things don't go as planned when he discovers the presence of Guinan. He goes to see her and discovers that she is not from the future as he expected, but rather is from that time period as her species is very long-lived. She is entertaining high-society guests including the author, Mark Twain.

The first episode is every bit as fantastic as I remember it. However, I do wonder how a black woman managed to become so ingrained in high-society America in 1893. There are hints of a book written by her as well as the fact that her father sent her to Earth. It does manage to keep Guinan mysterious, which I like, but it would have been great to get more of a background on that, considering the intense racism present in America at that time. While more background would have been appreciated, the lack of it doesn't detract from the episode, as it works as it is presented.

The episode ends with a great cliffhanger, as the Enterprise crew travels through a portal back in time to discover the reason why aliens were on Earth and to try to rescue their missing shipmate and friend. This was a cliffhanger ending for season five, and it served its purpose well. At this point, Star Trek: The Next Generation was firing on all cylinders and it was an exciting preview of the fantastic adventures the crew would go through during the last two seasons of the show.

Final Verdict:
4½ out of 5

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

I Am On Holiday

If you wondered why I haven't posted the last few days after doing one review a day this year, I'm currently on holiday, driving and tent camping in the Southern United States.

I've been posting daily updates on my trip at my Mastodon, if you're interested.

Thursday, May 4, 2023

Arcade Fighting Game Review: Mortal Kombat

Mortal Kombat was an influential arcade fighting video game by Midway Games that took elements of previous fighting games and put its own spin on things to create something uniquely its own.

Like most arcade fighting games, the plot of the game was simple. Many fighters compete to become the champion of the Mortal Kombat tournament. The playable characters included the sunglasses-wearing Johnny Cage, ninjas Scorpion and Sub-Zero, the cyborg Kano, the lightning god Raiden, the spandex-clad Sonya, and the Bruce Lee-inspired Liu Kang. Once all of these fighters are defeated, two boss fights await. Goro is a four-armed behemoth, and Shang Tsung can take on the form of any and all of the fighters in the tournament.

Mortal Kombat set itself apart from the competition by having realistically depicted backgrounds and characters for the time. The characters were created using live-action actors who performed the various fighting moves which were then digitized into the game. The one exception is Goro, who had a monster-like appearance that was accomplished via stop-motion animation. The game was also famous for its over-the-top gore, as hits would spill copious amounts of blood, some stages contained elements that would impale fighters, and special codes could be entered to finish fighters with a gory finishing move. This game, along with other games from the time such as Night Trap, were the subjects of congressional hearings in the United States that led to voluntary video game ratings which still appear, albeit from a different rating board, on video game boxes today.

The voices are iconic, from the deep tones of the announcer to the grunts and screams of the various fighters. They are a big part of what made the game memorable. The music is also fantastic, and the remixed dance-style track from the Sega CD version is still used today, especially as memes on streaming sites.

Mortal Kombat is a great game that is still fun to play today. While its small amount of characters makes it not as re-playable as Mortal Kombat II and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, it is still a blast to play. The voiceovers, music, and over-the-top violence that looks rather tame today are a big part of what shaped the culture of the 1990s in the United States. It's worth playing at least once, to see where many of today's fighters got their inspiration.

Final Verdict:
3½ out of 5