Super Mario Bros Replay: New Super Mario Bros U

New Super Mario Bros U, to date the last New Super Mario Bros game, is absolutely the best in this subseries. The first New Super Mario Bros was a delightful return to 2D for Mario after a decade away, New Super Mario Bros Wii (which I don’t currently have access to) improved on that first game and added the fun of simultaneous multiplayer and New Super Mario Bros 2 was mostly just more of the same, but it showed a greater mastery of level design than the previous two. This one brings all of that together for a game that is creative and interesting and masterfully designed all around.

Like NSMB2, this game came out during a glut of Mario games and I don’t think it was properly appreciated. It doesn’t help that it is currently, exclusive to the tragically ignored WiiU. Some people think it is the best Mario game, but many more have likely never gotten to experience it. Hopefully the rumored Switch port becomes reality, because this game deserves to be played by more people.

NSMBU does its best to ape Super Mario World in many ways and it mostly succeeds and at times it surpasses that SNES classic. It brings back the world map stuff that helped make that game so memorable, for starters, with alternate paths opening up based in taking specific exits. Finding those deviously hidden paths is delightful. Otherwise, it is mostly just a Mario game, if a particularly well made one. It is hard to specify how the level designs are great without going into specific examples, and I really don’t have those queued up, but the difficulty curve is masterful. Most players should be able to beat the first couple of worlds without trouble. The next few provide more challenge, especially if the player is insistent on getting the hidden coins in each stage. Then the last couple of worlds are truly challenging, though largely surmountable without too much frustration. It provides a game world that has something to offer players of all skill levels and is set up to teach players to be better at the game.

Possibly its truest triumph is in the presentation. It is the first outing for Mario and company in HD and it shows, in a good way. Stylistically it is the same as the previous “New” games, but it just looks and moves amazingly. Then there are the special levels. Certain levels use a special graphical style that is beyond anything else. The most notable example is the swamp stage with a background patterned off a Van Gogh painting. There are other examples making for a game with varied and interesting looks that perfectly complement the play.

There isn’t anything new in New Super Mario Bros U, but it does almost everything other Mario games do better than it has been done before. If this turns out to be the last game in the “New” line of Mario games, it is a fitting end. It is everything those games are at their peak.

On to, or back to, Super Mario Galaxy!

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Monster Hunter World

I was admittedly pretty nervous about Monster Hunter World. While the trailers and previews I had seen looked excellent, they had made one thing very clear to me: Capcom was changing things up with this game. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but the changes seemed like they might be affecting core of the series and could change Monster Hunter into something else. While there are certainly things about the series that could use some updating, altering the series too much runs the risk of losing what made it so compelling in the first place. Luckily, Capcom managed to focus on just the changes that needed to be made, making a completely modern feeling Monster Hunter game that still plays like a Monster Hunter game. Maybe the best Monster Hunter game.

Monster Hunter World is still Monster Hunter. The game removes a lot of the seams from the game, but it still plays largely the same. Some of the smartest moves Capcom made were about the stuff that the game didn’t change. The array of weapons are the same as they have been for the last two games. There have been adjustments to how each weapon works, but they are same ones that have been there for years now. It is a familiar base to build from as other things are altered. The structure also hasn’t changed, it is still up to four players hunting a beast or two, it still has the same rhythm. You take a quest, you eat a meal and then you go out on a hunt. The combat is the weighty, measured affair that it has always been. Afterwards, you take your rewards and try to build better gear to kill bigger monsters. That repetitive, simple core of the game is what makes it so easy to lose yourself in. After every couple of quests you can make some new weapon or armor and you will be a couple of piece closer to making the next one on the list.

Monster Hunter World takes the bones of the series and then takes advantage of the greater power available to them with the current consoles. That means that the graphics are significantly improved. Which is to be expected; the last few games were on the 3DS and the last console one was originally made for the Wii (it did get a WiiU upres, but it was still working off of Wii base graphics). It also allows for the maps to be more intricate and layered. Instead of just a dozen screens to run around in, the areas in this game are dense, dynamic environments. The game has removed the loading screens between areas, meaning that each map is now one big playground, albeit a playground with a lot of interesting little areas to explore. Aside from looking better, the monsters have more fluid arrays of behavior, especially when there are more than one of them about. Monsters seem to truly interact with each other, getting in fights and acting according to certain characteristics. The big alpha monsters of each area scare off the smaller game, roughly equally powerful monsters fight it out. Before, the only monster that really acted anything like that was Deviljho (someone will correct me with monsters I forgot). The game just feels more alive than previous games in the series have.

The other thing that Monster Hunter Word added was to the hunting part of the formula. Before the hunter part consisted of a lot of tedious, mostly fairly simple systems. Bring a spit to cook meat on, Paintballs to hit a monster and mark it on the map. Just a lot of little systems that don’t add a whole lot, but also weren’t all that much of a hassle. Now, the game adds some track checking and some fireflies that after you find a monster’s trail help lead you to it. Of course, those fireflies do more than lead the player to monsters, they also lead players to any sort of item that you need to forage out in the wild. They are a really elegant edition.

The biggest problem I have with Monster Hunter World is that there really aren’t as many monsters as previous games. That is to be expected with the jump to new hardware, but it is still a little disappointing. The new monsters are mostly really cool, but I really miss some of my old favorites, like Brachydios and Zinogre. Hopefully, Capcom will add some of those back in later editions, that I am sure are coming, or sequels. As it stands, Monster Hunter World is excellent.

Suikoden V Past Ties

Suikoden V is a game with one very clear goal: to be as much like Suikoden II as possible. That is evident in every fiber of the game. It is a pretty big change from the previous PS2 Suikoden games. Suikoden III came out in the wake of Final Fantasy X and is an ambitious game that bites off a little more than it can chew and is just a little out of sync with the times. Still, it feels like game trying to push the genre forward in a way that the 16-bit throwback PS1 games didn’t. Suikoden IV feels like a game trying to keep up with the big boys of the genre, but manages to sand off a lot of what made the series unique. (I used to hate Suikoden IV, but while I still consider it the weakest mainline entry in the series, I’ve softened on it lately) Suikoden V, despite its charms, feels a bit like the series giving up and grasping at ties to the series most popular entry in an attempt to recapture its fans.

I don’t know if Suikoden V was truly low budget or if it only feels that way. I assume it didn’t have close to Final Fantasy money tossed around during development. It is riddled with bugs and inconveniences. But it also feels cheap because its odd camera angle. Suikoden V’s camera is static and position as close as they could get it to the 2D games. While the character models are fine, the how zoomed out everything is makes it feel really small. You can zoom the camera in, but it doesn’t change the angle, so it mostly just cuts off the player’s view. Everything about the game’s presentation screams reminders of Suikoden II. As a fan of that game, it is comforting, but it does little to account for the difference between 2D and 3D games. It just feels very low budget. The game also goes back to the six person party, but eschew’s the pairs system from Suikoden III, and most of that game’s skill system.

One of the strangest ways that Suikoden V echoes Suikoden II is that it has alternate Stars of Destiny. Among its 108 Stars, Suikoden II had a couple that were mutually exclusive. At one point the player has the option of picking one of two returning characters from the first game to be the representative of the Toran Republic, country where first game took place, the one you don’t choose never joins your army. There are also a trio of monsters to recruit, though only two of them get to be stars of destiny. As far as I recall, none of the other games do this. Except Suikoden V; it has a pair of mutually exclusive stars. Except having them be so doesn’t really make any sense. The two mutually exclusive stars are Eresh, a tiny mysterious wizard with ties to series mainstay Jeane and whole extra dungeon (extra section of dungeon) to flesh out her (?) story and Euram Barows, a secondary antagonist who plays a big role in the story from the start. Eresh is a side character with marginally more to do than the bulk of the lesser stars. Her and her connection to Jeane are some of the more interesting incidental parts of the game. Her dungeon, the big hole, is left completely unexplained if you do not recruit Eresh. Having her be an optional recruit, when there are so many lesser characters, is an odd choice. Making Euram an optional character does make sense, though his being optional kind of leave his arc potentially unresolved. Euram is a worthless little shit throughout the game, starting as an ineffectual ally before switching to an ineffectual nemesis. He starts the game in a position of power and loses everything, mostly through his own incompetence, but unless you make him the last recruit to your army, his story line just kind of disappears. His plots to discredit the protagonist have all failed, his father has been killed and his sister has disowned their family. Him joining up brings it all full circle, he has learned from his experiences and is ready to help fix things, if he doesn’t join he is just gone. I like that the game gives the player the choice whether to let Euram have his redemption or not, but the fact that adding his useless behind to the army means going without Eresh makes it a lopsided choice. It is a choice I believe the game would be better off without.

While the game doesn’t pick up on any of the big mysteries left simmering after the first three games, mostly dealing with the Harmonia and Pesmerga and Yuber, it does bring in some characters mostly because they were included in II. The big one is Georg Prime, who in both games is a serious badass. Basically the whole story of this game springs out of one detective investigation of Georg from II, which alludes to his history in Falena, which is one of the few mentions of the country before this game. V also returns Killey and Lorelai, a pair interested in the Sindar ruins. This is Lorelai’s third appearance in the series, but Killey had previously only appeared in II. The two of them are investigating the Sindar, a mysterious ancient race that is connected to the True Runes that end up important in most games in the series. While V offers no more answers than any game in the series, it at least gives a few clues.

At the point I am at in the game right now—I just saved the ravaged town of Lordlake and finally my army has a castle for its headquarters—it is clear that the pacing of events also echoes Suikoden II very closely. This is harder to define, but the rhythm of new area to story sequence to dungeon to army battle feels very familiar. This is where the game shines, I might like the protracted opening even if no one else does, but once the game gets past that and kicks into high gear it is one of the most enjoyable games on the PS2.

I still have a lot I want to write about with Suikoden V. The character Sialeeds, the story in general, some of my favorite minor characters. I feel like as soon as I publish this I am going to remember a lot of the stuff that connects this game specifically to Suikoden II and curse myself for not including it, but I’ll find a place to put it in.

Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology

When this game came out the first time, way back in 2011, I thought it was one of the best original rpgs to hit the DS. I found that it drew elements from a lot of games that I loved, from Chrono Trigger to Final Fantasy Tactics to Final Fantasy X, to make a game that felt simultaneously classic and original. This enhanced port, while fixing some of the game’s flaws, also manages to draw more attention to some of the structural problems the game has.

Perfect Chronology makes few big changes to the core of the game. It adds some new character art that is largely not an improvement. That is to be expected. Mostly what it adds are a lot of balance tweaks. The original game was not exactly smooth when it came to a lot of things. There were weird humps in the level curve and in enemy strengths and equipment costs. This remake does a lot to fix those mostly very slight problems. In my limited experience, the changes do a lot to just make the game simply play better. Most of what I said originally still stands.

My ability to accurately describe the changes to the game in detail is limited because I played it on Friendly mode. The difficulty levels are another new addition to this version and I choose the easiest one. Mostly because I had already played the game in its original form, this time I just wanted to take a tour of the game and be reminded of why I initially liked it so much. Which is what Friendly difficulty provides. It basically turns the battle system into just boss and scripted battles, which are easier than they normally are. If you just want to get the experience and story, it works just fine. If you really want to see what the game has to offer, I would not recommend it.

The new story stuff largely based about new character Nemissa, who possesses a new tome that controls alternate histories. Mostly these work as little side-stories of scenes you know from playing, and replaying, them in the main game. Eventually, completing them leads the way to alternate endings for a lot of the characters in the main game. That is where the new stuff really falters. Most of Radiant Historia’s cast is not exactly nuanced. There are some complex and thoughtful characters, but those aren’t the ones who get new stuff in this game. And the games doesn’t really flesh them out, it just adds discordant codas to what was already there. Take, for instance, the vain, incompetent Queen Protea. She is an out and out monster, ordering her own capitol city burned to root out members of the resistance. After a brief adventure in an alternate history where Protea is not a tyrannical puppet queen, but a major player in the resistance, the party gets a way to remind her of who she once was and her ending now has leaving the throne for a life of quiet repentance. That is probably the least objectionable new outcome for the villains, who get redemption without earning it. So the new story content is not great.

Radiant Historia was initially released in the fading days of the Nintendo DS. The 3DS was on the horizon and piracy had pretty well hollowed out the systems support. A great game disappeared pretty quickly after it was dropped into an ecosystem that would have been completely dead if not for the fact that Nintendo insisted on propping it up with some late Pokemon games. Now it gets a chance for release on a system … in much the same situation. I think the 3DS is a little healthier at this point in its life than the DS was when Radiant Historia released, if only because there is no successor on the horizon, but it isn’t enough the make a big difference.

Now Playing July 2018

Beaten

New Super Mario Bros U – I finally finished it up. I should have a post ready to go up soon. I was shocked at how much I enjoyed this, which says a lot when I went in expecting to enjoy it.

Pokemon Ultra Sunread review here.

Ongoing

River City Knights of Justice – I had a long car ride and I had finished Pokemon and hit a snag on the next game I am trying to work through (see below), so I fired up River City Knights of Justice, the beat-em-up from a couple years ago that was a spin off River City Ransom, maybe my favorite game of all time, and set in a fantasy world. It is fine, but somehow also completely unsatisfying. It shouldn’t take me long to finish this, I think I am nearing the end, and will post my complete thoughts on the game somehow next month.

Shin Megami Tensei Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers – I don’t know if I ever posted it, but I started something about the giant stack of unbeaten Shin Megami Tensei games I have sitting around a couple of years ago and was planning to make a genuine effort to beat them. Since then, I think I’ve beaten two of them, including the newly released Persona 5. The games in this mega-series tend to be long and challenging, not something that a person can just play. But I pulled this out while searching around for a new to play on my 3DS. While I am only three or four hours into it, I like it so far. It is clearly a much earlier game in the series than what I am used to, so plenty of the streamlining that has made the games more playable are not present here. That doesn’t mean it’s bad, just a little more cumbersome than most 3DS games. It is definitely a SMT game. You recruit demons and fight through first person dungeons. The odd thing here is that the main character doesn’t have any magic. Which means that the magic stat for him is all but useless and cutting down build possibilities for the one character you get to make choices about down to nil. Still, so far it has been a good time, though I frequently I am not sure exactly where it wants me to go.

Suikoden V – I made a little progress and another post is coming about this game. I love this game.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy – I started this up again a few months ago, but I intend to speed through this sooner rather than later.

Yakuza – Probably Yakuza 0, but I’ve also got Kiwami and 6 ready to go. I plan to get my PS4 back from my brother, after only 9 months, and I’m itching for the unique menacing goofiness of the Yakuza series.

Pokemon Ultra Sun

I am going to link to my review of Pokemon Moon, because it is largely the same game as this. For the first time since Pokemon Platinum, Nintendo has trotted out one of their incremental updates. I guess to be fair, this might be closer to Pokemon Black & White 2 than Platinum or the GBA’s Emerald, but it is definitely more of an update than sequel. So I don’t have a lot to add from what I already wrote about the first release of this game.

If I remember the story of Pokemon Moon correctly, which is no sure thing because the story of Pokemon games is not the sort of thing that sticks in my mind, the changes to the plot in Pokemon Ultra Sun mostly exist to close off what appeared to be sequel hooks. Instead of open ended semi-conclusions, the game now tells a full story. Like the original game, the story takes up more of the game than most Pokemon games, but now at least it is a complete experience.

As usual, the roster of available monster is much expanded. It is almost too much, which is in no way an actual problem. Even on the first of Alola’s four islands you can build a varied and effective team. Personally, I love that the game makes Hawlucha, objectively the best Pokemon, available very early in the game. It is a big change from Pokemon Crystal, which I recently played and thought the game held most of the interesting Pokemon to the second half of the game. (Or maybe just put them out in the daytime, because I could only play at night.) Ultra Sun gives the player access to Pokemon of almost every type within the first quarter of the game.

I wish I had more to say about this, but I really don’t. It hits right in a blindspot for me. I want to say that it is just because it is so much like the original Pokemon Sun & Moon. However, I don’t remember that game well enough to articulate how it is similar and how it is different. Maybe I don’t remember it well enough to comment on it similarity to its predecessor. So I am just going to leave it at this; Pokemon Ultra Sun is a familiar and delightful game. Finally, it is the part where I make some vague resolution to do post game stuff or complete the pokedex or something. That isn’t happening any time soon. I am going back to the growing stack of unbeaten 3DS games I have and trying to whittle it down some. Maybe put some serious time into Etrian Odyssey V.

Now Playing June 2018

Beaten

Pokemon Crystal – I did beat it. I really don’t like Gen 2 Pokemon, as I said last month. The level curve is all over the place. The last few gyms are all really close together, with little difference in the levels needed to beat them, before the Elite 4 makes a big jump. The available Pokemon, especially early, are underwhelming. I admit that complaint is mostly about personal preference. In Gen 1 you can find something interesting to complement your starter pretty early, like a Mankey or Nidoran. Here, I was stuck using useless cruft for about four towns. THat has something to do with the games day night cycle, an excellent idea that doesn’t work when the only chance you have to play is for 30 minutes before going to bed.

Despite all of my complaints, there is still something magical about the end of this game, of getting to what appears to be the end, only to have the map of the first game open up to the player and a whole new set of gyms to conquer. No Pokemon game since has managed that, and I can’t quite figure out why not. Pokemon Crystal is a worthy piece of the series history that I am glad I played and am glad to no longer be playing.

Ongoing

Pokemon Ultra Sun – Beating a somewhat unsatisfying Pokemon game convinced me, for some reason, to buy a different Pokemon game. I forgot how chatty these latest Pokemon games are, but in every other way it is just such an improvement over what has come before. There have been so many quality of life improvement since Gen 2, like reusable TMs of getting rid of HMs. I do kind of miss the usual gym structure and I think I may have made the smart choice skipping this after having played Moon when it was released, but this is a good game.

Suikoden V – I haven’t really pushed much further than the opening, but I am still really enjoying the time I get to spend with this game. It is an underrated classic. I really miss this sort of mid grade JRPG.

Upcoming

Super Mario Galaxy and New Super Mario Bros U – If I ever have time, I am going to get back to my replay of the series.

SNES Classic – I also hope to get some time to play with Christmas gift at some point.

Suikoden V: Opening

I am replaying Suikoden V; it seems impossible to me that this game is more than a decade old. I’ve recently been looking back on the PS2 era very fondly as I find myself increasingly out of sync with modern video games. It seems more and more that the games I like are on the margins of the gaming landscape and are slowly but surely disappearing. This feels odd to say with games I love, like Breath of the Wild and Monster Hunter World selling tons of copies, but those are more the exception than the rule. Over the last decade or so my interests have slowly but surely faded from prominence. Alternatively, maybe the stuff I liked was never really that popular. The Suikoden series, and Suikoden V in particular, are perfect examples of that. I consider Suikoden II to be on of the greatest games ever made, and while it is well regarded, it was always rare enough that many people haven’t even heard of it, let alone played it. The series seemed on the verge of breaking out in the PS2 era, but by the time Suikoden V was released in 2006 the PS3 was coming fast and a backwards looking game like it was almost perfectly designed to be ignored by the zeitgeist. Which it was; the game is more of a footnote for the series and the genre than anything else and I have long found that to be a great injustice.

Suikoden V is an awkward game that doesn’t get a lot of love. It tries to turn back to what people loved about Suikoden II after the largely disliked fourth entry in the series, but managed to feel cheap, untested, and unfinished. Still, there is a lot about the game that I genuinely love. I plan to write a lot about it; I have at least three posts planned as I work my way leisurely through the game and am likely to expand that to five or so. This post is going to be about probably the most maligned part of the game; its long, slow opening. Suikoden V does start slowly; depending on how one counts it, the game doesn’t really start for about 5 hours. On this playthrough it took me nearly 7 hours to get past the coup that serves as the game’s inciting incident. However, I think that becomes one of the game’s strengths as it goes along.

I have never been an opponent of games with slow openings. I will get into arguments with people who judge Zelda’s based on how long the games takes to give the player a sword. (Skyward Sword is mad underrated) Especially in the context of story heavy JRPGs, I think games that take few hours to set the table for a 70 hour game are usually using the player’s time wisely. I will point to the Persona series for games that do this well. A lot of Persona 4 happens before the player gets to the dungeon crawling. I don’t think any game does it much better than Suikoden V though. Yes, it takes more than half a dozen hours before the game puts the player in control of the usual Suikoden stuff like planning big battles and recruiting the members for the army. But those first few hours are not without their fair share of interesting gameplay and all of the story and character stuff it sets up makes the rest of the game all the more interesting.

There are essentially three parts to Suikoden V’s opening; a trip to survey the demolished town of Lordlake, the Sacred Games to choose the princess’s spouse and the trip to the sacred springs for a pre-marriage ritual. Each of these impart important knowledge on the player. The first shows how powerful the protagonist’s mother, Queen Arshtat, is with her Sun Rune. It shows the power she wields, or how that power wields her. It also lets the player know that something is wrong. Then there are the Sacred games, which more fully flesh out the political situation in the Queendom of Falena. It shows how the systems are corrupt and backwards, as well as how effective the eventual villains, the Godwins, are at manipulating things. Then there is the trip to the baths that is more character focused. It shows how much many people around the royal family have sacrificed to effect even a small change on the status quo, a change that is currently on the verge of disappearing. And after that, the game kicks into high gear.

These hours of set up are necessary to make the game work. If the game doesn’t give the player the opportunity to see the protagonist’s family and how they relate, then the loss of that family would have no sting. It is vital that players see how the Prince interacts with his sister the heir, with his mother and father, with the various members of the Queen’s Guards, including his ever present bodyguard Lyon. You meet the womanizing Kyle, the playful Miakis, the cold Zahhak and the nakedly ambitious Alenia. The core cast really makes it all work. There is the protagonist the Prince. He is always joined by Lyon, his young bodyguard who is soon revealed to have a mysterious past that Ferid, the Queen’s husband and father of the protagonist, saved her from. Then there is newcomer and all around badass Georg Prime, who’s amazing skills and lack of familiarity with the country each serve a purpose. And lastly is the Prince’s aunt, Sialeeds, who alternates between carefree playfulness and sardonic bitterness. Knowing what Sialeeds (more on her in a later post) has given up makes events that happen 30 or so hours down the line feel all the more tragic and inevitable.

It is not like the player is not playing the game at the time. Yes, the game gives the player no control over the party or any real access to the word map, but there are three or so dungeons in those first few hours and the protagonist should end it around level 20. It also introduces players to close to a quarter of the game’s extensive cast. (This is Suikoden, with its 108 Stars of Destiny) What makes it feel not a lot like really playing is that this is the largest portion of the game that gives the player access to Georg, one of the stars of the game and a brokenly badass fighter. He is unfairly good in combat, and seeing him make short work of every enemy you come across does a lot to sell him as the ultimate badass that he is, but it also means the fights don’t have a lot punch, as he can make short work of anything.

The game could have artlessly told the player these things; that is essentially how Suikoden I operated. That game got by on brevity; it can be completed in little more than a dozen hours. Suikoden V is attempting (I would say succeeding) in telling a story with more depth and nuance. It achieves that depth by slowly introducing the player to the world and the important characters in the drama to come. I can see how it could be off putting for new players, but anyone who sticks with the game through it is in for a treat.

Now Playing May 2018

Beaten

None, I had finals.

Ongoing

Suikoden V – I’ve played through the big opening segment, which I have a post about going up soon, and I have to say the technical flaws are dragging the experience down for me more than I expected. There are just too many instances of characters joining the party, with a blurb, only for them to leave two rooms later, with another blurb. The menus are a mess. It is in a lot of respects a really badly put together game. I still love it anyway.

Pokemon Crystal – I’ve been playing this. If I manage to finish it, it will be the first time I’ve finished a Gen 2 Pokemon game. I’ve failed several times with Silver and HeartGold and the like. Mostly because Gen 2 are the worst set of Pokemon games. Getting to go back to Kanto is great, but the level curve is messed up, the map sucks and the Pokemon distribution is terrible. Still, there is something overall just great about the Pokemon series that makes them compulsively playable.

The Alliance Alive – I am really starting to lose interest in this. I love the art and graphics and the SNES vibe to the story. Let’s be honest, though, SaGa style leveling is terrible, it has been terrible since FF2 and it is still terrible today. It adds another level of randomness that leveling didn’t need. I get the idea behind it, but it has never worked. I’ve got other games to play, but the positives about this game might draw me back despite that.

Upcoming

Yakuza 0 – Eventually I am going to take my PS4 back from my brother, and then I will play this. Eventually…

Super Mario Galaxy – I am trying to get back to this, but my summer schedule is somehow more full than my schedule during the semester.

What I Watched April 2018

Movies

Logan Lucky – I think I appreciated this heist movie even more after seeing it again. It isn’t doing anything that special, but it is perfectly entertaining. ****

Dirty Rotten Scoundrels – This is the best comedy. It was available for free on Amazon Prime (or maybe Hulu) and I needed to relax for 90 minutes. Steve Martin and Michael Caine are both great and Glenne Headly is perfect as the glue that makes it all work. Really, just a completely excellent movie. *****

The Godfather 2 – It’s real good, I don’t have anything to add. *****

Captain America Civil War – This movie doesn’t really work for me. The villain’s plan is ludicrous and it mostly is just working to get the heroes split on either side. Iron Man comes out looking terrible and while the big airport fight is fun in a lot of ways, the fighting is actually kind of dull. It isn’t bad, I just don’t love it. ***

Thor Ragnarok – I decided to go back to this before Avengers Infinity War hit. I think I like it even more on a rewatch than I did the first go round. The culmination of the Thor/Loki relationship alone made the movie worthwhile. I’ve got brothers, though admittedly none who have transformed into snakes before stabbing me, and seeing the developments in that relationship were relatable. Also, it is really funny. *****

TV

Black Lightning – It is rare for a show to come out as fully formed as this one. From the minute it started, Black Lightning knew what show it was and it was fully that show. There was no flailing about with any of its characters or its concepts; it just told its story. There were some minor missteps, but for the most part it was just one of the most assured and well considered TV shows around. I don’t mean good like I say the other CW superhero shows are good, that they are fun bits of pulp that are just solidly entertaining evening fare. This is legit one of the best shows on TV.

Legends of Tomorrow S3 – Legends took a leap from S1 to S2 by jettisoning a handful of characters that weren’t working (and one of their best in Captain Cold) and bringing in better replacements. It also just solidified the kind of show it wanted to be. I didn’t expect a similar leap in S3, but I still got it. The show has really settled into a solid niche as the big goofy superhero show while also doing a great job of exploring its cast. While the show keeps rotating members of the cast, the core just keep getting better. This is the most fun superhero show around.

The Office – I finished up. Even the bad stuff is good stuff.

Monk – There is something admirable about the purity of Monk to me. There aren’t enough straight up detective shows these days. Even Psych, which I loved, kind of dropped that angle in the last couple of seasons, to the show detriment. Monk was never anything but a mystery of the week show and it was great for that. Not quite Colombo great, but still great.

Superhero Shows – Other than the two the finished up, Flash and Supergirl are back. The Flash somehow keeps getting worse at season long villains, but most of the rest of the show is going just fine. Supergirl is still solidly good. Also, I watched the first episode of Krypton and liked it fine, I’ll get to the rest of it soon.