Mario & Luigi Partners in Time

I missed this game when it first came out. Actually, I missed the first two Mario & Luigi games when they first came about. I eventually picked up a used copy of Superstar Saga, but by the time I’d finished with that, Partners in Time was hard to come by and Bowser’s Inside Story was coming soon. Plus, the word of mouth of on Partners In Time was that is wasn’t very good. So I passed it by, letting it be a hole on the series while I busied myself with the wealth of other games available on the 3DS. As the years went by, the game’s reputation was cemented as the bad one. When the game came to the WiiU Virtual Console, I picked it up to be a completionist, but I didn’t have high hopes. I have never been happier to be wrong. I don’t know that I like this game more than Superstar Saga, but Partners in Time is an excellent evolution the series.

The big change to Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was to add Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, making the pair a foursome. To be completely honest, it doesn’t quite work. It adds a layer of complexity, but the control in M&L was already complex enough. Now, special attacks require tracking four different characters, each represented by a button, rather than just two. It is hard to do. Adding two more buttons to combat made, for me at least, some of the attack items all but useless. That being said, the game doesn’t require the player to master all of its tools. All you have to do is find one or two that work for you and exploit them. It does work when the game forces the two pairs of brothers to split up. Those too infrequent bits are great, with the babies on the top screen and the regular bros on the bottom, moving them in tandem trying to solve puzzles. It is the absolute peak of the what this series offers. The only problems I had were likely caused by playing it on the WiiU rather than on a real DS.

The game also lacks a truly memorable villain, something that Bowser’s Inside Story and Superstar Saga have. In the first game there was Fawful, with his nonsense metaphors and showboating. In the third, we got the humorous take on Bowser. Partners in Time has … personality free evil mushrooms. There really isn’t anything to them, they are just a vague evil. That is one reason that Partners In Time is frequently considered lesser than other games in the series. But while that flaw is there, there are still a lot of great moments among the other characters. You get a lot of fun with a pair of Toadsworths as they attempt to keep the Baby Peach happy. There are a few, but impactful, scenes with Bowser and Baby Bowser. Then there is Kylie Koopa, who shows up throughout the game as some sort of Koopa Lois Lane. She is a delight. Not quite on the level of Fawful, but she is a character that should have had more staying power in the series.

The other “problem” the game supposedly has is that it doesn’t really take advantage of its time travel premise. That is true, I guess. It really doesn’t do a lot with the time travel. Essentially, the current day Mushroom Kingdom, really just Peach’s Castle, is the hub for a game that takes place almost entirely in the past. Nothing you do as a player in the past really affects anything in the future, it is just another place to go to have adventures. It is a missed opportunity, but I don’t see the point in faulting the game for not doing something it never tried to do. It wanted the big bros running around with the babies, it really wasn’t interested in the mechanics of time travel.

The story has a lot of great moments that I don’t want to spoil, but one worth noting is near the end, when the brothers reach a Star Gate. The gate won’t let them pass because, it says, that Luigi isn’t pure enough. So there is a quest to prove his purity, at the end of which the Gate admits that he was just messing with Luigi and the brothers in general. It is pretty great.

Nintendo recently announced that they are putting out a remake of Bowser’s Inside Story, following up on the remake of Superstar Saga and skipping over Partners In Time. I get it, because BiS is the better remembered game and that is one that will sell more copies, but it feels like a missed opportunity to me. Partners in Time is a great game and with the kind of small tweaks and improvements that would come with a remake would go a long way to helping other people realize how good the game is.

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Bob’s Burgers

When I was working on my Top 10 TV Series of 2017 list, something occurred to me. Not only was Bob’s Burgers one of the best shows I watched last year, I think it might be one of my all-time favorites. If I were to make a list today, it would probably make my Top 5. That is a shocking revelation for me, since that top five had been set in stone for the better part of a decade (for the record, around 2008 it would have been something like Always Sunny, Futurama, Arrested Development, The Office and Home Movies, with Psych coming on strong). Usually when I see something that I like, it hits really hard. Always Sunny had me hooked when I found it late in the 2nd season. I loved Home Movies from the start, for all that I watched it by catching sporadic airings on Adult Swim. Bob’s Burgers, though, kind of snuck up on me. I always liked it, but I would only have said liked. Somewhere along the way, it moved up from being a good show to a favorite.

The two guys behind Bob’s Burgers are Loren Bouchard and Jim Dauterive. Bouchard co-created Home Movies, a show that I absolutely love. Dauterive worked on King of the Hill, a show I like. You can feel the influence of both of those shows in Bob’s Burgers. It has Home Movies’ irreverent, conversational tone and King of the Hill’s humanity. The way the characters talk to each other is just perfect. The Belcher family feels like a family, their conversations have sardonic little asides whenever a family member is about to stumble into a quixotic adventure. The’ve all seen it before and know how it ends. But it also never treats its characters as anything less than people. Even antagonists, like Jimmy Pesto or Mr. Frond, have their humanity.

The show shines in how it has built up the little seaside town the characters live in. There are one off characters, but the show has also built a stable of recurring characters that fill out the world. One episode will introduce a character, but they keep coming back and becoming more developed, until the show can create entire episodes around the brother of the Belcher’s kooky landlord or the sometimes criminal Mickey. Look at the kids classmates. Tina probably has the best developed set of classmates, with her on again, off again love interest Jimmy Pesto, Jr., the rambunctious Zeke, mean girl Tammy, and the ditzy Jocelyn. Gene, whose class is mostly neglected, has his ex-girlfriend Courtney Wheeler. At first Courtney was just the most annoying girl in the school, who happened to like Gene, but as she has returned, she’s developed into a girl that shares a lot of Gene’s qualities. She isn’t just this annoyance, she becomes a full character. Then there is Louise, who’s classmates started as seeming one offs Milly and Regular-sized Rudy. Milly is obsessed with Louise, who can’t stand her. But she is more than that. Like Louise, she is an extreme, letting the show do a somewhat crazier episodes with her while still letting her have a signature thing. Then there is Regular-sized Rudy, Louise’s asthmatic friend of normal proportions. Since his introduction, he has become one of my favorite characters, with his willingness to engage in Belcher craziness despite his frailties.

This is where the humanity of the show shines. Louise is set up to be something like Stewie from Family Guy, but unlike that show, Bob’s Burgers is a show with a heart. For all her seeming sociopathic tendencies, Louise is really just a little girl that loves her family. And her friends. When she learns that a girl is taking advantage of Rudy, she sticks up for him, because they are friends. Her devastated singing in “Glued, Where’s My Bob” after she accidently glues Bob to a toilet shows how much she cares. All the characters care. When Jimmy Pesto wins a minivan out from under Bob, by cheating, Bob still helps him change the tire. No matter their differences or idiosyncrasies, Bob’s Burgers treats all of its characters well.

That is what puts it over the top for me. The show has always been funny, but as it has gone along it has really found its heart. Even Home Movies only ever did that intermittently. That show, which did not have near the number of episodes to build up its world that Bob’s Burgers had, was mostly about the joke and the situation. There was humanity there, but it took a back seat to silliness most of the time. Here, the caring relationships among the Belcher family and between the Belcher’s and their town is the reason for the show. And it is wonderful.

Tomb Raider Movie Review

Tomb Raider clears the very low bar of being the best live action video game movie adaptation. It is very close to being really good and maybe not any good at all. I enjoyed watching it, but even as I did I could see the glaring flaws. Tomb Raider does a good job of translating the game to the screen, pulling in even more from things that influenced the game, such as Indiana Jones.

Tomb Raider starts with Lara Croft living low in London, refusing to have her father, missing for seven years, declared dead and accept her inheritance. Then she stumbles on a clue as to where he father disappeared to and she sets out to find him. She stops in Hong Kong, where she meets the son of man who disappeared with her father and together they set out for an uninhabited island near Japan. There, the adventure kicks into high gear as Lara must solve the mysteries of the island before a group of mercenaries to prevent ancient relics falling into the wrong hands.

The movie is very much Raiders of the Lost Ark, with Lara as Indy and her buddy Lu Ren as Salah/Marian and Walton Goggins playing something of a Belloq. Though it takes a little longer to get going than that movie, since this is determined to be an origin story for Lara Croft. Once Lara is adventuring, it follows a lot of similar beats to Raiders. Not exactly, and as an adventure movie it is going to be similar, but there are several bits that stand out as clearly inspired by that seminal film.

Where this Tomb Raider fails in in is characters. Not the actors; Vikander, Goggins and Daniel Wu are all solid and do good work with the material available. Vikander is especially charming as Lara. The problem is Lara aside, the movie spends a little time sketching out the characters as they are introduced, but does nothing with them from after that. Lara gets the whole first half hour to set up who she is and what her motivations are; it works. Everyone else gets maybe two minutes. The movie seems to set up characters beats to come later, but does nothing to pay them off. It is frustrating. Wu’s Lu Ren joins with some clear unsettled business with his missing father, but once they reach the island he mostly disappears as a character. Walton Goggins does the most he can with the villainous Mathias. Again, in his introduction he is set up to be a interesting inverse of Lara; she headed to the island to find her missing father, Mathias is stuck on the island, wanting nothing more than to get home to his kids. But after giving him that motivation, the movie really does nothing with him or the parallels. That is where the movie really falls apart. The plot exists to string action scenes together and the characters exist only to the extent necessary to keep things movings.

Those action scenes are largely pretty good. Sometimes they feel a little too mindful of being in a movie based on a game, but for the most part they are pretty entertaining. There is a really good, if somewhat pointless, bike chase early on that looks good and most of the the stuff on the island is pretty exhilarating. They do feel lacking somehow, like there is some cohesion that would really make them sing that isn’t there, but they are the movie’s main draw and they hold up their end of the bargain.

The biggest problem with Tomb Raider is how fixable its flaws seem. It isn’t like the movie fails in some obvious, unfixable way. It just feels like some of the stuff that ties everything together ended up on the cutting room floor. The biggest problem is that whole movie feels like it should be better than it is, even though the movie isn’t bad. If this is the start of a Tomb Raider movie franchise, it is a good start. They have laid a good foundation here. Tomb Raider is a good adaptation of a game that turns into a fun, but flawed movie.

***

Super Mario Replay: New Super Mario Bros 2

I thought I had written about this game back when it was released, but apparently I didn’t. That is a shame. New Super Mario Bros 2 was released amongst a uncharacteristic deluge of true Mario games. From 2009-2013, there were 6 full Mario games released, not including Super Luigi U, a full-sized DLC add-on. NSMB2 was released right in the middle of that, and it got overshadowed by the games around it. That really isn’t unfair; most of those games are straight up masterpieces. NSMB2 is not quite on that level, but it is also a decided step up from its immediate predecessor New Super Mario Bros. Unfortunately for this game, excellence is overshadowed by brilliance.

The first New Super Mario Bros game was a phenomenon, but it is actually pretty pedestrian compared to the rest of the series. As you play it, you can almost feel Nintendo working through the rust of not having made a 2D Mario game in more than a decade. That time gap also allowed people to give it a lot more leeway. It had been a long time since there had been a 2D Mario game, the sheer newness of it covered a lot of the games lesser moments. Plus, its not like NSMB was bad, it just wasn’t on the level of the first four games. After that, Nintendo followed up with the multiplayer focused New Super Mario Bros Wii, (my copy of which unfortunately won’t play, so I can’t revisit it at this time) which was its own thing. NSMB2 feels much more assured than the first game; by the time of its release the developers knew how to make Mario games. But it also adds little to the formula.

NSMB2 is not helped by its gimmick, which is based around collecting coins. It is a good thought; coins were a long time part of the series that had little to no mechanical import. Sure in Mario 64 they acted as health, but for the most part they seemed to be there because they always had been there. Without changing anything, NSMB2 emphasizes collecting coins. It almost feels like it should have been a Wario game, since he is the one that loves treasure. It adds almost nothing to the game.

That said, I still think NSMB2 has been unfairly dismissed. While it lacks that spark that makes a lot of the Mario series so great, the game is still excellent. Now that Mario games have again slowed to a trickle, the routine excellence of NSMB2 is more easily appreciated. Not all games can be Super Mario 3D World or Super Mario Galaxy 2. Sometimes just doing everything right can be enough. Sometimes you just want to play more Mario levels. That might be all that New Super Mario Bros 2 brings, but it brings it so well that it is hard to hold it against the game. At least, it is now that it is not coming less than a year after Super Mario 3D Land and a few months before New Super Mario Bros U. Those are the more essential games, but once one has finished with the essential, there is more than a little to recommend in the excellent.

Game Night

At first glance, Game Night looks like any number of middling comedies that have come out over the last decade. It takes a good high concept and throws together a group entertaining performers in hopes of making something resembling a movie. Game Night, though, actually is really good. It isn’t perfect, but it has some really great performers, a twisty, funny script and it is shot with more care than is usual for comedies.

Game Night stars Jason Bateman and Rachel McAdams, who are both a lot of fun, as married couple Max and Annie. Bateman excels at playing the put upon voice of reason and that is mostly where he is here. Here he is competent, but also over competitive. McAdams as great as his similar wife. They play off of each other well. There are joined on their game night by their dimwitted buddy Ryan, his intelligent date, married childhood sweethearts Kevin and Michelle. Those four have their moments, feeling like at least conceivable friends. They are joined by Max’s successful brother Brooks (Kyle Chandler), who tries to spice things up. Left out of game night is Max and Annie’s neighbor, the recently divorced Gary, played by Jesse Plemons. Brook’s invites the group to his house, where he has hired actors for a fake kidnapping mystery game. Unbeknownst to the group, that is interrupted by an actual kidnapping. The couples go their separate ways to solve things.

It works surprisingly well. At first they all think it is a game, but eventually they start to realize that things are more real than they thought. The movie does a great job of keeping the viewer in their toes as well, as what seems real might not be as real as they seem or make fake parts aren’t as fake as they seem. All the players do their part, though Bateman’s deadpan and McAdams enthusiasm do a lot of the work in getting jokes across. The best part is Jesse Plemons, who underplays everything as Gary. He come across as genuinely creepy. It is hard to tell if he is just depressed because of his divorce or planning something sinister. It all pays off in the best way.

I’m not an expert on shooting movies, but even I can tell the difference between the usual comedy and what is seen in Game Night. Maybe it’s bad that the movie has shots that stand out, but they stood out to me in a good way, enhancing my enjoyment of the movie. There are a handful of distant establishing shots that almost look like models, like they are all pieces on a gameboard, before the camera zooms in on the action. There is also a chase scene through a mansion that at least looks like an impressive long take as the various characters run up and down stairways. The movie really looks good.

I wouldn’t call Game Night great. There is a decent chance I won’t remember I saw it come the end of the year. But it is better than even my somewhat high hopes had expected. It it definitely worth hitting a matinee for or grabbing from the Redbox in few months.

***1/2

Black Panther

While I wouldn’t call any of the Marvel Cinematic Universe movies bad, I think the quality slipped in recent years. 2014 saw the release of Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Guardians of the Galaxy, two of the best movies they have released. Since then, though, Marvel has not exactly struggled, but I would call the next half dozen movies middle of the road output for them. There is a certain level of polish that all of their movies have that never left, but none of those movies really stuck with me. Last Falls Thor Ragnarok pushed things to a new level, finally giving Chris Hemsworth a movie fully worthy of his God of Thunder. With Black Panther, Marvel may be at the start of a trend. Black Panther stands with the very best superhero movies ever made.

The Thor movies are a good reference for Black Panther, because they are doing a lot of the same things. Black Panther does them successfully the first time. The Thor movies have a lot to do with the politics of a fantasy land, with a young prince having to determine how he will rule and dealing with a fractured family situation. Black Panther does all these things as well, only it does them better. The political situation of Wakanda is clearer than that of Asgard, as is T’Challa’s struggle compared to Thor’s. The Thor movies, though, focused almost solely on the ruling family and their close allies. Though I liked the first two Thor movies, Ragnarok was the first one that I completely effectively portrayed the family dynamics. Black Panther deals more with state of the nation of Wakanda, though family certainly comes into play.

Black Panther also displays amazing range. A lot of movies have trouble doing one thing well, Black Panther works in at least two modes at a very high level. In Wakanda, T’Challa is caught up in essentially a fantasy epic; the story there shares more with Lord of the Rings than with Iron Man. It is among the most effective fantasy epics ever put to film. But there is also a detour to South Korea to play out a mini-spy thriller; the movie turns into a James Bond movie for thirty minutes. What is most amazing that it manages to weld these two concepts together almost flawlessly. The various parts of the movie support each other. The Seoul sequence lets T’Challa see his policies in action, letting him be more sure or less, as the case may be, of his actions when he returns to Wakanda. It creates a movie that feels remarkable assured of itself.

That is not even going into the wealth of interesting characters the movie introduces. Somehow Coogler creates the best, most nuanced villain in a Marvel movie with a character named Killmonger. Another highlight is Shuri, T’Challa’s super-genius sister. Or M’Baku, leader of rival Wakandan tribe who challenges Black Panther. All of these characters come from the comics, but the movie does an amazing job of adapting the into a cohesive story.

There are other ways in which Black Panther is a complete triumph that I am not really capable of or inclined to weigh in on, though I do feel compelled to acknowledge their existence. Judging it solely on how successful it is compared to other Marvel movies, or other superhero movies in general, or among all blockbuster movies, Black Panther stands near the top. This is one of the best.

*****

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario 3D Land

I’ve already reviewed this game here, and I mostly stand by what I wrote about this game more than a half decade ago (dear god). Now as then I find it to be a near perfect execution of the Mario formula. Now, though, I am a little more forgiving about how much of a formula the series uses, and how much of a departure this game is from that formula.

Playing it all again, the tight design of this game shines. It starts off probably too easy. That is a common complaint with this game, though an over blown one. It is easy, but Mario games are for everybody. It eases players into things to give new players a chance to learn the ropes. That is a good thing. The counterargument is that many people grew up loving Mario games started with games that are much harder than this one. That is true, but it also misses some crucial points. One is the greater degree of competition for young players attention. Super Mario Brothers might not have been the only game in town, but it was one of only a few when it came out. Super Mario 3D Land faces a lot more competition, with children more likely to turn the game off forever if it is too frustrating. Also, 3D games are more complex than 2D games, and it would naturally take a new player longer to learn to play those than of the original Super Mario Bros. So 3D Land walks a fine line, and maybe errs by being a little too easy, by making a game playable for new players but with enough bite for veterans. It definitely does have that bite at the end; the last few of the special worlds are pretty devilish. So yes, the game makes you wait a little too long before getting to the good stuff, but that stuff is good enough to be worth the wait.

Super Mario 3D Land continues the trajectory from Super Mario Galaxy of bringing the 3D games more in line with the 2D games, with smaller, more inventive levels. Super Mario 64 turned the levels into open playgrounds, and Super Mario Sunshine continued that. The series retrenched after that. In many ways, SM3DL is as much like Super Mario Bros 3 as possible. That is clear in how much emphasis it places on SMB3’s signature power up, the racoon tail. While it doesn’t work quite the same way here as it did there, it is an excellent power up as balanced. It gives an inexperienced player a cushion for ill-advised jumps. But it also gives expert players a lot of tools. The only problem with it is that its ability to break blocks is kind of necessary at some points.

Super Mario 3D Land is one of my favorite games in the Mario series. It is the game that sold me on the 3DS and remains maybe the best game on the system. It is only an incremental movement from the Galaxy games, but it is a meaningful evolution.

Now Playing February 2018

Beaten

Monster Hunter World – I’m not really done with this, but I have essentially beaten it. I will likely have a good, long post coming in a few days/weeks about it. It does a great job of updating the series without losing its appeal. Removing the transition sections from the maps and letting the monsters wander wherever they want makes the world feel more real, and the only thing it loses is the exploit of ducking to the other side of the load screen to heal up. It also has a pretty interesting roster of mostly new monsters. I do hope they bring back some classic monsters through DLC, but it is an early frontrunner for game of the year.

Mario & Luigi Partners in Time – Post coming soon. This is a real good game.

Ongoing

Monster Hunter Stories – I’ve only just started this, but I like it so far. It is fun to get another perspective on a Monster Hunter setting that what is usually there in the games. It is a bit simplistic so far, but hopefully it will develop some as it goes.

Upcoming

Radiant Historia Perfect Chronology – I loved the original release of this game, and I am eager to revisit it and see what new has been added.

Terranigma – I’ve got a Raspberry Pi and I’ve got all my ROMs on it. I plan to play this first to test it out before moving on to some PS1 games or something. I know I’ve had this in the ongoing before, but I think I’m going to have to start over, so I’ve got it here.

What I Read in February 2018

I finished Oathbringer after reading it for a couple months. I also fell behind at in my reading for class, so I don’t expect to keep being able to get stuff read in the next few months. We’ll see. I hope for at least one book a month.

Oathbringer

Brandon Sanderson

I have been a fan of Sanderson for sometime now, but I am coming to the conclusion that this series isn’t really my thing. Not that there is anything specifically wrong with this book, but am finding it hard to maintain an interest in this setting. I really don’t remember much from one book to the next, which is something I am usually really good at.

This book has the conflict of this series coming into focus. It focuses on Dalinar, the oldest of the protagonists and goes over his long history as essentially his brother, the former king’s attack dog. He was good at fighting and that was what he did. It makes for a hard transition as he tries to build a peaceful coalition as they try to fight the voidbreakers. The other characters get some development as well, with Shallan struggling with coming into her power and Kaladin building a small army that follow in his footsteps. I want to have more to say about this book, but the only parts that really spoke to me were Dalinar’s flashbacks. I really like that conceit, with seeing a character in the present before jumping to the past to see how they became that person. I liked it in the first two books with Shallan and Kaladin, and I liked it here with Dalinar. There are other interesting or cool things that happen in this book, but I bounce off of them like I don’t with Sanderson’s Mistborn books or some others. I wasn’t reading it thinking it was terrible, I was reading it thinking that this kind of book might not be for me anymore.

The Dragon Reborn

Robert Jordan

Oathbringer had me wondering if I still liked epic fantasy. I had also stumbled on a Wheel of Time reread that I really liked. So I pulled out my favorite book in that series. I still love this series and I am pretty sure I still like fantasy, I just don’t know that the Stormlight Archive is going to be a favorite of mine.

What stood out to me the most on this read of The Dragon Reborn is how Jordan does perspective. He uses a very close third person that really gets the reader into the head of the character. To use that perspective effectively, the writer really has to know his characters. It also leads to people who do rereads and podcasts to import the opinions of Jordan’s characters onto the writer himself. It is one of the things I like best about the series. Not the mistakes, those are frustrating, but how well Jordan gets the reader into the characters’ heads.

What I Watched February 2018

Movies

Mute – This feels like a personal project from director Duncan Jones, so it hurts to say that it really isn’t very good. It has a lot of good, interesting ideas and pieces, but they don’t fit together in any sort of a satisfying way. The whole thing ends up feeling muddy and unfocused, with flashes of brilliance scattered throughout. **

When We First Met – A new Netflix movie starring Adam DeVine and Alexandra Daddario. It is a time travel romantic comedy that almost works. It frequently does work, but it kind of sits in this odd area between attempting to be touching and being funny, never quite fully succeeding at either. Still, its not bad. But there is so much potential in the high concept that doesn’t really feel like it explores that well. ***

TV

Kakegurui – This is an anime about a school that is all about illegal gambling. A new girl is both great at gambling and gets off on betting. Her lack of concern, especially while exposing cheating student council members, about the consequences causes a lot of upheaval at the school. It’s fine. I’m not sure why I watched it.

The Gifted – There is a lot of good stuff in this show, but there are also a lot of strange decisions and wasted time. For the dilema it ends up presenting its characters, it has pushed things along the mutants hated and feared line too far for it to really work. A peaceful solution is nonsense when mutants are being actively exterminated. It wants both the drama of the peaceful/forceful resistance arguments and the action scenes, but they can’t both exist in the world the show has created. The show also spends way too much time with the Strucker family, who are all almost wholly uninteresting. It makes for a strange show that doesn’t live up to its promise.

The Punisher – The bloom is really off the rose for these Marvel Netflix shows for me. I found this almost unbearably dull. I don’t have much to say about it.

The Shannara Chronicles – I think I might be alone in really liking this show. In a lot of ways it is not good, but it is trying and ends up being really enjoyable. Manu Bennett is a delight as the taciturn wizard Allanon. It has a diverse interesting cast that has some resemblance to characters and concepts from the Shannara books. It also doesn’t waste the viewers time. Plot points that would take half a season on many shows are dealt with in maybe one. It loses some nuance, but it is such a rollercoaster ride that it is hard to care. It won’t make my best of list, but I am glad I watched it.

Electric Dreams – Amazon Prime gets its own Black Mirror, this based on Philip K Dick short stories, which influenced a lot of modern sci-fi including, if only indirectly, Black Mirror. With an anthology like this, the quality varies from episode to episode, but mostly these are really interesting and good.