Friday, September 30, 2016

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohger Episodes 28-31

Ahoy Mateys! Surprised to see me back so soon? So am I honestly but I wanted to get another recurring feature caught up before October. Speaking of that glorious month, I can barely believe it's almost here. There's so much on my plate this year it's a little spooky, more so since I'm apparently going to be running a midnight Q&A session with some local filmmakers the Saturday before Halloween. If you're going to be in the Charlotte MI area and want to watch me bullshit my way though a public event, here's your chance. Alright, I'm exaggerating a little, I think it'll go fine, plus it should be good for everyone involved, including the Freakshow Film Festival group that I wrote about on Dreadcentral a while back. Should be a nice little achievement for the year.

On the matter of achievements, our favorite karate spandex franchise recently hit a major milestone with the 2000th episode. Consider that for a moment. Think of all the big nerd franchises out there like Star Trek, Dr. Who, any of that stuff and consider how puny they seem stacked up this monster. Combine that many episodes with all the solo, team-up, crossover movies, and video specials and you've got more content than a sane human being would ever dream of tackling. So how did they go about celebrating this milestone? Quite simple actually, they brought back the last anniversary team Gokaiger for a two part team up.

As usual of late, Bangley starts causing trouble but instead of being interrupted by our crew he is met in battle by Marvelous, pirate caption of the Gokaiger and major fan favorite among red rangers. Marv is back on Earth in search of a treasure located within the big cube that originally brought the Zyumans to our world.
The treasure is a golden cube with a message from the very first zyuohger, a whale who defended Earth centuries ago and later went on to create zyuland. He informs the team of the greatest guardian beast of all time, the cube whale.
In a nice bit of serendipity, the cube whale is the reason Bangley came to Earth in the first place. He's actually a beast hunter at heart and was merely entertaining himself with smacking around superheroes while he searched for clues about his big prey.

At first the prescience of the Gokaigers leads to conflict because....reasons. We get that old cliché where the older team was probably just here to lend a hand and history lesson for the new cubs but decided to fight first for the sake of entertainment. Honestly there wasn't even much of a reason for a team-up in the first place as this plot progression could have happened without the extra group in play. Still the point of the 2000th episode was pure spectacle and on that front they succeeded.
Once everyone was on friendly terms it was time for a double treat of Yamato's new whale form and both teams battling copies of big bads from previous Sentai series. It's all a big shiny birthday bash for this franchise and thankfully the writers were smart enough to keep the main plot moving forward instead of hitting the brakes for the sake of an anniversary special.

Getting back to normal we find ourselves in another two-part adventure as the team attempts to find and enlist the aid of cube whale. A task which turns out to be more complicated than it would seem. Cube whale is not only an illusive creature but also entrusting as it lashes out while everyone fights for control over it. Even Master Genis gets involved, sending down Naria in a newly updated G.I.F.T. While Kubar teams up with Bangley to poison the sea.

During the big three-way battle for whale supremacy we finally get a sub-plot for Misao and Sela. For whatever reason these two have been kept apart but they end up thrust together since each has an aquatic robot. Getting caught up in the aforementioned poison leaves them bedridden with a chance to bond. Misao has been screwing up more than usual due to repeat attempts at being more useful. Sela can relate due to her own attempts over the years to be a stronger person. Alright, so it's not a huge development, at least they tried to establish something between these two. It's not as substantial as the awkward guy friendship between him and Tusk or the love/hate standing with Leo, still it's something.

Something that is becoming an issue is Bangley. When he first arrived it was refashioning to have a villain other than the core group yet other than his dealings with Kubar he's become something of a one trick pony. That wouldn't be so noticeable except he's been at the forefront of villainy lately with the other baddies sitting back and taking a breather.

As the show stands right now, it can pretty much go wherever it wants too. The crossover special is over, the team has new robots, forms, etc, and there's a hint Master Genis might get off his ass and be a threat again. One dangling issue is the bird guy and Lari who were shown meeting in the woods like 5 episodes ago only to be quickly forgotten in favor of the anniversary antics.

All that will have to be straightened out come November cause from here on out it's all Halloween, all the time. Hell, I'm already into my first horror flick of the month. Sadly I've gotta start the month with work which means I'll be held up in a tiny guardhouse during a rainy weekend. Getting through that with all my sanity should be an achievement in itself.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Star Wars Book Club: The Weapon of a Jedi

Howdy yall. I'd hoped to have something up for you this past weekend but as it turns out I had to start yet another new job. Yes indeed, while still working for a non-profit shelter organization I've gone from Alzheimer home maintenance man, to liquor store clerk, and now a security guard for a condemned factory. Slowly but surely I'm covering every basic horror movie profession though I feel like undersea researcher and space jockey may be just out of reach. On the matter of space jockeys I managed to wrap another Star Wars book. Sure it's doesn't really mesh with all the Halloween stuff I've been pitching but we gotta keep the regular features rolling along.

The Weapon of a Jedi is another young adult novel published under the Journey to the force Awakens banner, the very same product line that us given the best book so far, Lost Stars. Don't expect that level of quality here though. This one serves much the same purpose as the last book we covered, Heir to the Jedi. Much like that tale it's about Luke Skywalker stumbling through an adventure and continuing his education in the force. Only this may have even less of a point.

This one actually takes place after Heir to the Jedi, not that you'd know it. None of the progress Luke made during that tale is on display here and he seemingly has no idea how to utilize the force despite learning some basic telekinesis during that adventure. It doesn't prove to be much of a set-back though as he's fully capable of some Bloodsport level blind fighting during the climax.
This is a potential issue for the entire franchise right now. Granted this new cannon is young with many of the books being in different eras with separate casts so there hasn't been much trouble with repetition, yet here's a story with the same basic goal as another novel with zero references or connections. The whole affair stinks of a total lack of synergy. Granted Heir was originally intended for the old cannon before being reworked which may explain the unnecessary double dip that's going on here.

Logistics out of the way let's get on to the actual story. In yet another odd similarity to Heir, the first third or so of this story is almost completely inconsequential. Luke is sent on a mission for the rebellion, for the life of me I can't recall what this mission was. Things don't go as planed and while escaping from an attack, Luke follows a few hints from the force to land on a dinky jungle planet which just so happens to have the ruins of a Jedi temple on the surface.
The remainder can essentially be knocked out with bullet points, Luke slightly bonds with a teenage girl, meets a suspicious guide, reaches the temple, practices his skills, fights off some baddies, the end. There's never a step in an unexpected direction or a development out of left field. It's rather like having a dull person itemize how they spent their day.

Possibly the biggest misstep is the character of Sarco, a dark and mysterious figure who at first serves as a guide for Luke in his journey towards the old temple. There were infinite options for this guy. Maybe he's an honorable warrior, perhaps even a slight follower of the Jedi path that could impart wisdom to Luke. Perhaps he has a dark past that guides his actions. Instead he turns into a lame proto-vader villain within the last 30 pages because the book suddenly realized it had no bad guy to speak of. I should also point out this guy doesn't even die, he's actually in The Force Awakens where if memory serves, he does nothing worth mentioning. Poor guy joins the club of potentially neat Star Wars characters who accomplish zip. Say hi to IG-88 at the next meeting, ya sad bastard.

That sort of rushed and aimless storytelling continues right to the end. I'd forgotten to mention this whole thing is being told by C-3PO to a young pilot. After the big battle, the droid runs out of time to finish the story properly. The fuck? As an author how do you get off on not finishing a story by pretending your characters don't have the time to discuss it? Just wave and say everything worked out fine, the end.

I'm afraid this one has to go to the very bottom of the pile. It's as much of a seemingly pointless adventure as Heir to the Jedi yet it lacks the character interaction and variety of settings. And even though the writing is more grammatically sound than Aftermath, there's barely enough activity to keep things interesting for the reader. Let's check the standings.
  1. Lost Stars by Claudia Gray
  2. New Dawn by John Jackson Miller
  3. Tarkin by James Luceno
  4. Heir to the Jedi by Kevin Hearne
  5. Aftermath by Chuck Wendig
  6. The Weapon of a Jedi by Jason Fry

It's official now, we've found ourselves in a Star Wars slump. This feature started off swimmingly yet here it is the third lackluster book in a row. I'm not giving up on the goal of sticking with this new cannon and guiding folks through it's various ups and downs (lotta downs lately). We;re gonna hunt down something bigger and better next time, I can feel it.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Wayback Burgers' Ghostbusters Menu

One of the big surprises of this Halloween season is the sudden appearance of Wayback Burgers Ghostbusters menu. I hadn't heard a single whisper about these until Matt from Dinosaur Dracula posted an article on the very topic. Even he had been informed by someone else as these just snuck out with little fanfare. With more and more fans tracking them down however, the Ghostbustin' Burger and Stay Puft Marshmallow Slime Shake have become hot ticket items for this spooky season.

Upon first reading about this selection, I wasn't all that excited. I knew Wayback was a fairly small chain, so the chances of me getting my mitts on any of these goodies was probably zero Little did my unobservant ass realize I'd already gone past one location dozens of times. It was just like twenty minutes from here. So on a decent sized shopping trip to pick up all important Halloween supplies like cemetery fence and lights I fueled my consumerism in the best possible way, with a movie tie-in novelty meal.

Entering the joint I found the general décor to be a slick, nearly futuristic version of classic diner styling. It's like entering the world of next Tuesday. it's a clean look with some nice touches like the paper on every serving tray looking like old newspaper.
I was surprised at the pricing. For whatever reason I thought it'd be a more standard issue fast food joint. Instead I found a moderately upscale place like Chipotle or Five Guys. It's not crazy expensive but their burgers cost in the five to six dollar range. So long as they turned out good, I'd say the damage was worth it.

First up on the menu was a free sample of the House Chips. The owner brought these out since we were official Wayback Newbies and I gotta say the chips are awesome. They're thick, crunchy, and a damn fine side dish. Possibly my favorite bit is that with the bigger ones you get a slightly mushy center confirming that yes this is just a big slice of tasty Potato.

After that we dug into our order of mac and cheese bites. I'm always conflicted with this item no matter where I get it from. I love mac and cheese like family so I naturally expect more from it once it's been battered and deep fried. There's just something missing for me. On the other hand, we did neglect to get any dipping sauce, maybe that's what makes these babies shine. As is, they're still decent.

Appetizers out of the way it was time for the Ghostbustin' Burger. There was a little trepidation on my part when ordering this because of it's ghost pepper sauce. Now let's make it clear I am in no way against spicy food. I love spicy stuff. What I take issue with is food that's just hot. If you give me some fine Indian or Middle-East cuisine, I'll lap it right up but if you throw some habanero flavored snack my way I'm gonna pass cause I know better than to eat that crap. What worried me was not being sure what I was getting with this burger, tasty spice? Or hot garbage?
As with many things, the reality was somewhere in the middle. The bun seemed decent enough and the beef was actually really good. That sauce however got uncomfortably close to flavorless pain-inducing goo. It wasn't there completely as I could still make out the flavor of the cheese, meat, etc. and I could also make out some other ingredients within the sauce itself though it was nearly impossible to identify any of them through the veil of heat.
And hot it was. Not as powerful as one might guess from the ghost pepper moniker, all the same it brought droplets to my brow and lit my lips ablaze. But the genius of this promotion is that the second item was perfectly made for cooling that fire.

Here in all its glory is the Stay Puft Slime Shake. A marshmallow flavored shake, topped with marshmallows, and accented with green goo, this monster was thick and strong. Seriously, this isn't some lightly sweetened treat. No, this is like having someone punch you right in the mouth with an entire bag of marshmallows. Actually, if you ever wanted to experience the scene where Walter Peck is covered in Marshmallow Man goo, here's your chance.

How did this all digest though. As you might imagine there were a few farts that afternoon but that's to be expected from afterlife themed food. Otherwise I'm happy to report it went down smoothly. I should note however that either the spice, sugar, or something about the combination gave me a distinct urge to bust out some Patrick Swayze Roadhouse poses.

All in all I was pretty impressed by Wayback Burgers. My nephew was angling for a return visit within hours. For me the experience wasn't an absolute slam dunk mostly due to my meal being firmly in stunt food territory. That's not a knock against it mind you. The Ghostbustin' Burger may never touch my lips again but I'll cherish the delightful absurdity of eating a well-made meal based entirely around Ghostbusters with a special little sandwich sign to boot.
This is exactly what makes this time of the year so great. Despite Summer being lauded as the time for fun, Fall is where even something so mundane as eating a burger can be transformed into a mini event.

So yes dear readers I suggest you hunt down the nearest Wayback location, within reason that is. Even if you can't stomach the ghost pepper sauce, at least you can get a legit Ghostbusters shake and some other fine eats. If you're extra good, they might even let you have one of those little signs too.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Hit Z Road Board Game Review

With Autumn closing in quickly, it's time for cold nights indoors with friends and family, enjoying all the ghoulish fun whether that be a steady stream of horror flicks, breezy walks among the dead leaves, or a good night of gaming. One of the newest tabletop titles for this years fright season is Hit Z Road published by Space Cowboys and designed by Martin Wallace.

In general I've made a point of avoiding most zombie themed board games. Nothing against the theme itself, I love a violent zombie massacre. No, I avoid such games as past experiences with them have usually proven to be messy, over complicated, and on some occasions too damn expensive.
So what was different about this one that suddenly peaked my interest and made me add it to my collection asap? Simple, the publisher. Within just a few years in the market, Space Cowboys has already gained a reputation for making beautiful, well-made, smart, but never too complicated games. Everything I've touched from the company has provided some seriously great gaming. You can imagine my excitement when I heard such a fine group was tackling a horror theme. Does the game live up to those high hopes? You really think I'm gonna give that away within the first few paragraphs?

First up we've got to talk about the production on this thing. The whole idea is that this game was made by lil Marty, a kid who survived the zombie apocalypse and decided to make a game about his experience. With that in mind, everything is meant to look like something he salvaged from the rubble of civilization. The box is from some nonexistent family game the kid wrote on. There's fake company logos and even pictures and rules for Hit the Road on the back of the box. This is already genius and we haven't even opened it up.

Inside revealed something a little shocking for me. Space Cowboys is known for making outstanding inserts that perfectly store every piece of the game but there is no insert here, once again aiming for presentation. Marty wouldn't have the resources to make plastic inserts, all his stuff is in Ziploc bags in an oversized box complete with fake mystery stains.
The rest of the components follow suite. The tokens resemble bottle caps very similar to popular brands like Coke and Gatorade. My favorite are the Colt Beer bullet tokens, a clear placeholder for Coors, silver bullet! The cards are supposed to be cobbled together from different sets and games with pictures and stickers pasted on top.
The rest of the pieces like zombies and dice are all wooden as if little Marty carved them in his spare time. Every piece of this title adds to the overall atmosphere. Even the turn order markers are made to look like old credit cards and name tags. It almost feels like something that fell into our world from another time and place.

Setting up the game is fairly simple, the most difficult task is removing certain cards from the deck depending on the player count. Each player starts with the same number of survivors, gas, bullets, and adrenaline.
With everyone one even footing, each round starts with people betting those resources for the right to pick one of the multiple routes. A route is two cards that you resolve from left to right. Each card has four potential features, first is supplies you pick up, second is events, third is zombies to fight, and lastly are potential points for completing the card. Those cards illustrate the journey cross country, increasing in difficulty as the game progresses. Early on there's plenty of supplies and few zombies, later players are scrambling for bullets and facing massive hordes of the undead.

Speaking of zombies, combat can be avoided by spending two gas tokens to flee, though you lose out on any points that card has to offer. If however you chose to engage the undead, battles are handled by dice occasionally augmented by using bullets to take them down from afar. If you use a bullet token, roll two dice and only pay attention to hit results. When engaged in close combat players roll one die for each survivor in their group. There's a good chance of wiping out a decent amount of ghouls with little trouble but once in a while your survivors get nibbled on and require adrenaline or else they succumb to their wounds. Using adrenaline is a tricky balancing act as you need it to survive from bites yet it can also be used to kill off more zombies given the right circumstances. Knowing the correct time to use your supplies is key to survival.

After going through the entire stack of route cards, any players still alive compare points and gain bonuses for how many supplies and survives they have. Whoever has the most points naturally wins the game. No tiebreakers either. If players are tied, they all win.

That's really how easy the game flows. You bet for first place, take some goodies, maybe gain or lose some fellow survivors while fighting off hordes of flesheaters. It stands the risk of getting repetitive yet there's enough variation to keep things fresh. One turn you're bidding too many supplies in the hopes of not getting stuck with a zombie packed path, the next you're fighting for your life with just two survivors and zero bullets. Add in the interplay between certain cards that make for unique events like upgrading a bus into a massive battle wagon and each session takes on its own narrative.

As far as anything negative, well, that's not the right question. There's nothing wrong with it so much as it isn't an absolute knockout. Every element of the game is well done but some heavy gamers may find it too simple for their liking. Also the game is at it's absolute best with four players. Any less than that and it's still decent, just not as good.
If anything the game could use a healthy dose of more. I'm talking alternate route cards, maybe the potential for a higher player count. What's here is all nice but it feels like there's only enough here to keep the game interesting for a little while.

Still, even with those few issues, Hit Z Road has proved to be a big hit around here. I've played it with siblings, nieces and nephews and all but one have have fallen for it's charms. The one who didn't is pretty much ant-board gaming so it'd take a miracle to win him over. Folks enjoyed starting bidding wars to dodge dangerous routes or watching as someone fights through a group of six zombies with only one survivor and very little adrenaline. The game is simple enough to teach to almost anyone and it makes for quick, bloody stories of survival. It's a perfect activity for sipping beers with friends by the light of the Jack-o-Lantern. If that sounds like your kind of thing, definitely check it out.

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Doubutsu Sentai Zyuohranger Episodes 23-27

In what feels like record time we've arrived at the halfway mark of Zyuohger. It's hard to imagine this show has gotten this far already, then again this whole year has been passing at hyperspeed. Still, this is a big moment for the series which has marked the occasion not only with the appearance of a new villain but by adding some major emotional content to the story. We're talking dead-parents, murder, self-loathing, heady stuff for a show about people in animal print tights who battle space aliens.

It all kicks off with the arrival of Bangley, yet another ill-tempered space alien causing trouble across the galaxy for his own amusement. What separates him from the other villains is his distaste for a structured environment or teamwork. This guy wants fun all for himself tough he does give Bloodgame a try before going back to his old ways. His brief time with the other villains kick starts a rivalry with Kubar after Bangley reads his mind. Apparently Kubar is the last of his kind, his home planet having been destroyed possibly in an earlier Bloodgame. It stands to reason he may have some hidden intent towards Master Genis and the others that he doesn't wish revealed just yet.

Episode 23 was primary an introduction for Bangley, and an action heavy one at that. As you might expect he's a strong dude which makes the team into easy pickings. Eventually, Yamato faces him in solo combats armed with platitudes about all life being connected and what not. This sort of happy horseshit doesn't settle very well with Earth's newest visitor so he makes it his mission to crush the red rangers spirit. How does he plan to go about? I'm glad you asked.
Fairly early we're introduced to Bangley's ability to read minds and recreate things from memories. Most frequently he uses this skill to revive old monsters but on his second outing he begins making copies of peoples lost loved ones, chief among them Yamato's mother who died from an undisclosed sickness when he was a child. He let's the kid reunite with his mommy for a little bit before striking her down again in what is absolutely one of the biggest dick move ever. The plan backfires with our little eagle scout reassured of the power of interpersonal connections.
Imagine that if you will, on a television show primarily aimed at children, we not only saw flashbacks to the main character losing his mother, we then saw her temporally revived before being murdered by a space goon. I mean damn is that ever cold.

Shifting focus to a different feud for episode 25, another story of Mondo attempting to bond with a teammate, in this instance Leo. Mondo picks up a camera said to bestow happiness to anyone whose picture is taken with it. Guy wants to use it in order to cheer up Yamato after the whole dead mother incident. Of course the camera is a scheme on the part of this weeks monster who captures most of the team in photographs. This leaves Mondo and Leo to work together and save the day.
The absolute highlight for me is the scene where both guys confront each other about their general disdain for one another. Leo hates Mondo's whiny, overemotional, soft spoken nonsense while Mondo hates Leo not only because he's an overbearing blowhard but because Mondo can never be that kind of person and hates himself. We're talking about a character whose role is to spawn more toys for the producers to sell and not only is he a total social basketcase but he admits to the audience that he hates himself for it. Brilliant!
By episode's end the pair learns to work together with a sort of friendly hatred. This is also very different for this kind of show. Usually the worst relationships within the team are rivalry,but here we have two people admitting they hate each other while still working towards a common goal.

This emotional roller coaster ain't over yet. In another attempt to break the red ranger, Bangley targets Yamato's old friend from college on the guys wedding day. Yeah, that's his plan for the episode, straight up murder some newlyweds. It may not be imaginative but Christ is it ever effective. Naturally his scheme doesn't work out. In fact it only boosts Yamato even more, to the point of becoming a true match in a fight.

The final piece of business is the oh so dreaded clip show. Boy do I ever wish this franchise would just give up on these things. This one isn't even that bad, but why waste one of maybe 50 episodes on clips?
Anyway, Bangley decides to make copies of Sela and Tusk, then straps bombs onto both pairs. The team has 30 minutes to figure out which pair are copies and kill them before all four blow up in spectacular fashion.
The episode isn't completely without merit. There are some nice jokes and the ending is pretty decent. Once the team figures out which pair is real, they try to find a way to save the duplicates since even a copy of a friend is still a friend. The copies are so touched by this display they chose to willingly fade away to save the originals. Having seen themselves essentially die, Sela and Tusk agree with everyone else that Bangley has got to go.

With all the neat stuff going on, I totally forgot to mention the Bird guy is back again, and he's bumped into Lahri the gorilla. Both characters had slipped my mind of late so it'll be interesting to see what they'll bring to the series with their return. Speaking of returns, the old Gokaiger team will be showing up for an anniversary team-up over the next few weeks. It's gonna be a while before we talk about any of that stuff cause the Halloween features are starting soon. See ya then.