One Piece “Marineford Arc” Review

At first glance, the “Marineford Arc” of One Piece is just like the previous arc: a lot of fighting and running. However, everything about “Marineford” is done in a far superior way to “Impel Down”.

The scope of the battle at Marineford is huge, with dozens of characters both old and new, and while the structure of “Impel Down” was fairly straightforward (run to the bottom of the prison and then run back up), “Marineford” is full of twists and turns that kept me entranced throughout. There are a ton of “wow” moments, far too many to list, and these are expertly balanced with more intimate character beats that retain the show’s emotional core in the midst of all the action.

The star of the show is without a doubt Whitebeard, whom Oda has only really teased us with before. Whitebeard is one of the strongest characters in One Piece so far and seeing him unleash his full power is incredible. Whitebeard has long been mentioned as one of the most feared and respected pirates in the One Piece universe, and his characterization here makes it perfectly believable that he could command such loyalty from so many people.

On the opposite side of the battlefield is the Navy fleet admiral Sengoku, who has a much more demure role through most of the arc, but provides an apt foil to Whitebeard. While Whitebeard’s guiding philosophy is based around love for his “sons” and securing freedom and wellbeing for those he cares about, Sengoku is driven by an impersonal sense of justice and maintaining order in the world. The war at Marineford essentially serves as battle between their conflicting worldviews.

The true villain of the arc is the admiral Akainu. In contrast to Sengoku, he shows no respect for his enemies or even concern for the lives of his underlings. We aren’t given much insight into his motivations, but he seems far more driven by malice and hatred of pirates than any sense of justice, and he is fittingly vile for one of the major villains of One Piece‘s second half.

“Marineford” has a mixed reputation among One Piece fans, with many feeling it is overly long and drawn out, but I was gripped by it from start to finish and devoured the entire arc in only a few days. (The One Pace edit only covers the first 10 episodes, but even with the slower paced official edit, I was never bored.) The “Marineford Arc” is a wild ride and serves as a fittingly epic close to the first half of One Piece.

Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5

One Piece “Impel Down Arc” Review

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The premise for the “Impel Down Arc” sounds great. Luffy has to break into the most secure prison in the world to rescue his brother. At first, I really enjoyed it, but the arc just drags on for far too long, even with the One Pace version cutting out just over half of the run time.

The entire arc follows the same formula. Luffy runs around trying to get deeper into the prison, fights a some guards or monsters and runs around some more. It gets really repetitive, and there aren’t a lot of emotional character moments to break up the action.

Luffy is still separated from the rest of the Straw Hat crew, and instead teams up with some familiar (and flashy) faces from past arcs. I always love it when Buggy the Clown shows up, but apart from him all the other returning characters are from Baroque Works. It’s great to see the return of Mr. 2, and Luffy and Crocodile joining forces is an interesting twist, but it would have been nice to have more variety.

There are also some new characters introduced. Jinbe, one of the Seven Warlords, befriends Ace before Luffy’s arrival and joins in Luffy’s escape, but he isn’t overly interesting. Emporio Ivankov, the “Okama Queen”, is essentially a super-powered version of Dr. Frank-N-Furter from the Rocky Horror Picture Show, and provides some good comic relief. We also learn that he is a member of the Revolutionary Army led by Luffy’s father, though we aren’t given any details beyond that.

The villains in the arc are just okay. The Warden, whose body is composed of poison, is the most interesting but the multiple fights against him get boring after a while, and other enemies like the Jailer Beasts are completely generic.

The arc is also pretty anticlimactic, which Luffy never even getting a chance to see Ace, and after running and fighting down the six levels of the prison for the first half of the arc, they then just fight and run up the six levels to escape. It gets really tedious.

“Impel Down” doesn’t have a very good reputation among One Piece fans and unfortunately I have to agree. The “G-8 Arc” despite being filler handles the escape plotline in a much more interesting way, whereas “Impel Down” is just a bit of a bloated mess.

Final Rating: 2.5 out of 5

One Piece “Amazon Lily Arc” Review

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This arc was really short so I don’t have much to say about it. It’s a pretty standard One Piece (though standard One Piece is still miles above most shonen). Luffy arrives a new island meets a bunch of quirky people, gets in some fights, and learns someone’s tragic backstory.

Boa Hancock, the Snake Princess, is an okay character. The idea of woman so beautiful that she can compel everyone to do what she wants and Luffy being completely oblivious is a good gag, as is having her fall in love with Luffy, though her habit of kicking kittens, puppies and baby seals makes her less than likable.

There’s a lot of set-up for future arcs. Luffy learns of Ace’s impeding execution and sets out to rescue him, and we see Luffy’s use of Haki in full force for the first time (after him briefly using it in his battle against Duval).

It’s all very enjoyable and doesn’t overstay its welcome, but “Amazon Lily” is one of the more unmemorable arcs in One Piece‘s history.

Final Rating: 3.5 out of 5

One Piece “Sabaody Archipelago Arc” Review

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I had a lot of problems with the pacing of the previous One Piece arc “Thriller Bark”.. Apparently Toei decided that in an effort to keep ratings from dropping during filler arcs (which are necessary to keep the anime from catching up to the manga), they would instead use padding so that one episode of the anime would roughly equate to one chapter of the manga. I’m not a fan of this decision as it results in fans getting an inferior product, but there’s a reason it’s called the entertainment business.

Luckily, a friend told me about a project called One Pace, which removes the padding so that the pacing of the anime more closely matches that of the manga. In the original anime, the “Sabaody Archipelago Arc” is 21 episodes adapted from 24 manga chapters, whereas the One Pace version is only 11 episodes. I haven’t watched the original anime version so I can’t compare the two, but for the most part, the One Pace version flowed very smoothly, and I certainly enjoyed it a lot more than I did the drawn out Toei version of “Thiller Bark”, so I’ll probably be sticking with it from now on.

As for the “Sabaody Archipelago Arc” itself, I found it incredibly enjoyable. Keimi is a great addition to the cast, and Hatchan was one of my favorite parts of the “Arlong Park Arc”, so it’s great to see him return. The twist in the opening fight with Duval is hilarious and the Sabaody Archipelago itself once again shows Oda’s talent for crafting inventive, magical worlds with packed full of detail to make them feel real.

The arc introduces a ton of new characters in a relatively short period of time, but even with the One Pace edits, it doesn’t feel rushed. Luffy’s rival rookie pirates have a ton of cool powers and I can’t wait to see more from them in the future, and Admiral Kizaru strikes a great balance between being likable and menacing. There’s also a lot of world-building with us learning more about the nature of the World Government as well as the truth behind Gold Roger’s death. With so much set-up and exposition, it would be easy for this arc to just be a boring infodump, but it’s entertaining from start to finish.

The final battle with Kizaru, the Pacifistas and Kumo is gripping as hell. One Piece is full of instances of the Straw Hats facing insurmountable odds and somehow winning the day, and seeing them be so soundly and quickly wiped out really raises the stakes. (The cut to bubbles popping as Kuma does away with each of the Straw Hats is a really nice touch.)  I can’t wait to see where the story goes from here.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5

Bucky O’Hare (NES) – Retro Game Reviews

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Bucky O’Hare is another great licensed game from the classic Konami library. You play as the titular Jazz Jackrabbit Bucky O’Hare who must rescue his crew from Toad Empire.  The game features many similarities to Capcom’s Mega Man. At the start of the game, you can choose between four planets that can be played in any order, each of which has a different member of Bucky’s crew. Once rescued, you can switch between different crew members at any time by pressing the Select button. After rescuing all four members, the crew takes on the Toad mothership, with an additional four levels.

The controls are very tight, which is a good thing since the levels can be very challenging, especially once you get on the Toad mothership. However, one very annoying thing about the game is that if you are hit while in midair, your jump is cancelled and you fall straight down. This wasn’t a huge problem for me and didn’t ruin my enjoyment, but it can be very frustrating at points.

Each of the five characters have different primary weapons and special moves that can be activated by holding down the B button. This can take some getting used to. Bucky’s special move is a high jump, so I always found myself wanting to hold down the jump button instead. Most of the characters also go into a crouch when charging their special moves, but if you are crouching while holding down the B button, they don’t work.

Each level has power-ups you can collect to upgrade your characters’ life bar and power meter to increase the strength of your special moves. Often these are found in out the way areas with trickier platforming, so there’s a nice risk/reward element. Each character shares the same life bar but have their own power meters that must be upgraded individually. However, upgrades carry over between levels, so it’s not too difficult to max out every character.

While you can select any of the four planets at the start of your game, the Blue Planet can’t actually be completed unless you rescue Blinky from the Green Planet first. The Blue Planet is also the game’s ice level and slipperiness is even worse here than it is in most platformers, making it one of the most frustrating levels in the game. It’s always great in Mega Man when your acquired weapons allow you to access additional areas or power-ups, but allowing players to choose the order of levels and then making one of them impossible if played in the wrong order is bad game design.

There is quite a bit of die-and-memorize gameplay on some levels, such as the Red Planet where you have to outrun one-hit death lava and you don’t have time to outrun it without memorizing the path ahead of time (and even then it’s still pretty hard). However, the graphics in Bucky O’Hare are really nice and soundtrack is great, so even when it gets frustrating, it’s still pretty enjoyable.

One area where Bucky beats Mega Man is in the boss battles. There is a lot of a variety and most of the bosses have pretty interesting designs. There’s one level where you have to cross lava by riding on giant green balls only for one of the balls to turn into a robot you have to have to fight to finish the level.

Bucky O’Hare certainly has its flaws, but for fans of NES platformers, particularly Mega Man, it’s still a lot of fun.

Final Rating: 4 out of 5

Westworld Is Expensive, Exquisitely-Produced Trash

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Westworld is a show that looks good on paper, with an interesting premise, a great cast and a huge budget, but none of that saves it from being one of the most cliched and poorly written shows I’ve seen in recent years.

The show is led by Jonathan Nolan, the brother of Christopher Nolan and writer of most his films, with his wife Lisa Joy. The Nolans have always specialized in dumb movies that pretend to be much smarter than they are, but usually they are quickly paced and packed full of enough action and special effects that they still manage to be enjoyable. But when stretched out to over ten hours (I only watched the first season and don’t plan to watch the second) the shallowness of the characters and plot becomes hard to ignore.

J. J. Abrams also serves as executive producer, which I didn’t notice until midway through the season, and if I did, I never would have bothered with the show to begin with. (If I hadn’t already promised a friend to watch the entire season, I would have dropped it then and there.) Abrams is possibly the worst thing to ever happen to modern cinema, and Westworld is dripping with his signature mystery box BS. Viewers are teased with references to secrets sure to be revealed at a later date, but the characters and plot are so uninteresting, it’s hard to care about the true meaning of “the maze” or the identity of the Man in Black (even when played by an actor as great as Ed Harris).

The Leftovers, a concurrent HBO series produced by Abrams’ Lost partner Damon Lindelof, is also full of mysteries, but is grounded in believable, engaging characters who keep viewers invested while the mysteries slowly unfold. Comparing these two series, I’d be willing to bet that Lindelof was responsible for most of the best parts of Lost while Abrams contributed the factors that made the show so ultimately disappointing.

The dialogue in Westworld is atrocious. I suppose it makes sense for the robot characters to be so cliched and one-dimensional, but the human characters aren’t any better. You can tell a character is cynical and mean because they swear a lot, and that’s about as deep as any of them get. On top of that, the show can’t go more than ten minutes without a character explicitly stating their motivation or one of the show’s themes. One of the character’s mentions the ‘show, don’t tell’ rule at one point, but this is the only evidence anyone of the writing staff had ever heard of it. If I took a shot for every line of cringey dialogue, I’d have died of alcohol poisoning by the end of the first episode. (Given Lisa Joy’s eye-rolling proclamations about the importance of “diversity” and “creating opportunities” in writers’ rooms, it’s not hard to guess why the writing feels so god-awful amateurish. And this coming from a woman whose most notable skill is spreading her legs for the Batman guy’s brother.)

The philosophy of the show is not only spoonfed to the audience at every turn, it does nothing but rehash themes that have been explored by science fiction for decades: corporate greed is bad, modern hedonism leads to spiritual emptiness, and *gasp* what if the robots are more human than us? (Karel Capek called. He said you’re all hacks.) There’s still a lot of rich territory in these themes for ambitious creators, but Westworld doesn’t want to risk alienating or confusing its audience and only gives any of its ideas the most cursory examination. (The Leftovers is much more subtle and experimental in its philosophy, which resulted in the series never gaining a large following.)

Westworld was explicitly created to fill the gap created by the soon to finish Game of Thrones and everything about the show demonstrates its unwillingness to take any chances. The show is beautifully shot and employs great directors like Neil Marshall and Michelle MacLaren, but even at the best of times, it’s as hollow and lifeless as any of the show’s robots. There are some beautiful natural vistas in the Westworld park itself, but the sets for the “real world” behind the scenes of the park all look like a cross between a supervillain’s hideout from a brutalist dystopia and an Apple Store, in other words ugly and generic.

The show does pick up a bit in the final few episodes, where there’s a little more action and the answers to some of the mysteries are revealed, but even then everything still feels very by-the-numbers and it’s certainly not worth enduring the time it takes to get there.

Ultimately, Westworld is schlock with nothing of value to say. It could have been perfectly enjoyable if it toned down the pretension and focused on raw entertaining thrills instead, but like many of its characters, the series doesn’t know what it actually is and plays a role it is wholly unsuited for.

Final Rating: Negative 10 out of 5. What a waste of fucking time.

 

Donkey Kong Country (SNES) – Retro Game Reviews

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I played Donkey Kong Country a few times as a kid, but I never cared for it. The game was too hard for me then, and the art style didn’t appeal to me. (The bee enemies really scared me for some reason.) Revisiting it now, it still wouldn’t rank among my favorite platformers, but I have a lot more respect for it.

Before Donkey Kong Country, the DK franchise was effectively dead. Rareware effectively rebuilt the series from the ground up, changing the gameplay completely, adding what at the time were cutting edge graphics, and injecting some 90s attitude into the aging franchise.

From the opening cutscene, this game screams “This ain’t yo’ daddy’s Donkey Kong.” The original DK is relegated to the role of Cranky Kong, with a grown-up Donkey Kong Jr. taking center stage, surrounded by a cast of new characters. DKC is fully of personality, from Cranky’s hilarious insults right down to DK and Diddy’s idle animations.

For the most part, the art has aged really well. The early 3D reminds me a lot of claymation, and the enemies and backgrounds are nice and colorful. Obviously, everything is a bit pixelated, but that’s to be expected. The only model I really had a problem with was DK himself, who just looks like a brown blob a lot of time. Maybe that’s just me, but considering how DK was removed as main character from the sequels, perhaps someone at Rare shared my criticism.

Donkey Kong Country is famous for its tight controls, and while the game is challenging, it’s nowhere near as hard as I remembered. There’s still some trial and error, especially on the later levels, with enemies appearing without giving you time to react, but it never gets to the point where frustration ruined the experience or made me want to quit.

David Wise’s score is rightly lauded as one of the best soundtracks on SNES if not in the entire history of gaming. From upbeat tracks like “Jungle Groove” to the soothing “Aquatic Ambiance”, DKC shows the heights the SNES sound chip is capable of, and it’s worth playing for the music alone.

Another thing Donkey Kong Country is famous for is its hidden areas and bonus stages. I’ve never been the type of gamer that feels the need to find every secret, but if you are, DKC has a ton of replay value (which is good since the main game can be completed in only a couple of hours).

DKC isn’t without its problems though. The slippery controls in ice levels are atrocious. Ice levels are a bane to most gamers at the best of time, and given DKC’s difficulty, I’m sure they resulted in quite a few broken controllers back in the day. “Stop and Go Station” (where you have to hit barrels to stop invincible enemies from moving for a short time) and “Loopy Lights” (where the same mechanic is used to keep the stage lit up) are cool ideas in theory, but the barrels don’t last for a consistent length of time, making them needlessly frustrating.

By far the worst level in the game is “Torchlight Trouble”. This level is entirely dark, apart from a flashlight being held by a parrot (one of several animal companions in the game). The level itself isn’t bad, but every time you turn around, the parrot swings his flashlight, and the screen flashes completely white for a moment. It only took about ten seconds for this to start giving me a headache, though thankfully there are no other levels employing this gimmick.

It’s easy to see why Donkey Kong Country is favorite game for completionists and speedrunners. It’s a game that rewards repeated playthroughs and mastery of the controls. This has never been what I personally look for in a game and I’ll never be a DKC superfan, but I enjoyed my experience a lot more than I expected, and I could see myself revisiting it from time to time in the future.

Final Score: 4/5