Quickie Reviews #31

Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee was one of the first big Kickstarter video game successes, crushing its original goal on the way to crowdfunding millions of dollars. The pitch was to create a new, third-person mascot platformer the likes of which we haven’t seen since the days of Banjo Kazooie. Considering this, I’d say that Yooka-Laylee is a success. I don’t have a ton of nostalgia for Banjo Kazooie specifically, but I loved games of the same ilk like Spyro and Super Mario 64. However, the larger argument is whether or not there’s room or need for third person platformers in this modern gaming age, and that justification is where Yooka-Laylee falls flat for me.

Yooka-Laylee doesn’t really offer anything new to the genre, but there are more issues than that. The game doesn’t even fix classic problems from its predecessors, which came out 20+ years ago. The camera is absolutely atrocious and the world variations all feel a little obvious, for example. One my biggest complaints is around the character voices. I remember thinking the whole “characters talk by grunting a few short sounds over and over” idea was annoying back when I was 12. It isn’t any better 15 years later. The “collectathon” nature of the gameplay also gets old well before you unlock the final world. It was to the point that after over 16 hours of play, I came to the final area thinking I had collected plenty of pagies, the equivalent of Mario stars in this game, only to find out that I still needed almost 20 more to even be able to finish the game. That’s when I decided that I’d had enough.

There are things to like, however. Most of the characters have a lot of personality (Trowzer, the move-selling, pants wearing snake is a particular highlight) and the graphics are generally good. They aren’t amazing, but I’m a sucker for any game that gives me bright colors. The music is also pretty good, if repetitive. And while things definitely begin to feel a bit rote later in the game, I appreciated the gameplay variety it sets up early. There are traversal puzzles, side scrolling platforming sections, combat scenarios, game show questions, and plenty of other types of distractions. It’s just a shame that you see every single one of them on every single level, and the meaningful iterations are few and far between. Yooka-Laylee has some charm, but just isn’t what it should be from a gameplay perspective. Wear rose-tinted glasses if you decide to give this one a try. You’re going to need them.

6.5/10

 

Sherlock Season Four

To be honest, I’m a little afraid to be writing this review. I haven’t “officially” reviewed any of the other seasons, so there really isn’t anything for my readers to compare this to. Writing that opener is kind of my way of dancing around saying that I was a bit underwhelmed with Sherlock season four. *hides behind couch*

But before you pick up your pitchfork, let me say that the first and second seasons of Sherlock were some of the highlights of my recent television viewing history. The first season was great because each episode mostly stood on its own, and the second was great because it gave us one of the best television villains of all time in Moriarty. I found season three to be slightly less successful with its villain, but still thought the season on the whole was good. It’s a bit weird thinking of Sherlock in the format of a “season” because so many of the episodes aim to stand on their own, but there are some overarching stories and themes that each deal with.

For the sake of this review, I’m considering season four to be made up of three episodes, “The Six Thatchers,” “The Lying Detective,” and “The Final Problem.” Let me quickly break this down by episode. The first primarily focused on Mary’s history, and to be honest, I never clicked with her as a character. She was sarcastic and lined up with with Sherlock’s personality, but I never felt like her and John’s love was earned the way the show tried to sell it. So, her story and subsequent resolution didn’t hit me the way the show intended, and John’s reaction felt very out of character for him.

Then in the second episode, the show dealt with some of that fallout, and allowed Martin Freeman to prove yet again how he’s one of the most underrated actors out there (yes, I know he’s won an Emmy and been nominated for two more, but he still deserves more attention and great roles). The episode itself felt a bit meandering at times, but holy shit that twist at the end. I have no problems bragging about how good I am at spotting twists (my wife will attest to both points), but I totally did not see this one coming. The actual core of the reveal was a bit cliched, but still. Damn.

I have complicated feelings about the final episode. After the twist to end “The Lying Detective,” I was all in on the story after feeling disappointed in the premiere. But the episode didn’t really meet those lofty expectations. The show did find a clever way to bring back a favorite character, but including that person in the story made my demands of the plot higher, and the show just couldn’t reach them again. And that’s to say nothing of the insanely cheesy, ridiculous ending. After everything that happened with the characters, I don’t believe for one second that Sherlock would react in the way that he did, just being fine with the new status quo. I’m purposely being vague because everyone needs to watch the show without being spoiled, but that does make it a bit hard to write about. All signs point to Sherlock being over, especially considering the finality of the last episode, and I’m okay with that. Sherlock is a great show, but I’m satisfied. If they kept going, I would want things to return to the simplicity of season one, but I just don’t think they can do that anymore. The show will continually feel the need to top itself, and that isn’t sustainable. I think season four proves that.

8.4/10

 

Don’t Think Twice

I’m a big fan of Mike Birbiglia, so when I saw his new movie about improv comedy hit Netflix, it became a priority watch. And I have to say, it was a rough one. Not because the movie was bad by any means, but it rings so true to my life and background in acting that I ended the movie feeling pretty damn down on my whole situation. It’s a movie about friendship, jealousy, and how your dreams sometimes change as you get older. It can be hopeful or super depressing, depending on your perspective.

As a movie, Don’t Think Twice isn’t anything particularly special. It’s perfectly fine, but there isn’t a ton of story. The group’s improv troupe is about to lose their studio, and they’re all sort of competing against one another for a spot on Weekend Live, the movie’s fictional analogue for Saturday Night Live. All of the characters have interesting and different flaws, which is also what makes them a good comedy team. You get to spend some time with the group actually doing their thing on the improv stage at different points in the movie, which I liked in theory more than in execution. I’m not sure if these scenes were scripted or unscripted, but if I’m being honest, a lot of the comedy there didn’t hit for me. That’s weird and disappointing, considering it’s a movie about improv. The funnier moments came from just watching these friends interact with one another, making inappropriate comments and random observations about life.

But the true heart of the film is its, well, heart. There’s a very clear history among the characters. There’s some bad blood, jealousies, and just a sense that they’ve known each other for a long time and been through a lot together. Every character faces a particular challenge throughout the film, and not all of them deal with it well, or with the support of their friends. In the end, they all kind of have a realization about what matters most to them personally, and some of those priorities don’t line up with the rest of the group.

My biggest takeaway was about the entertainment industry in general. There are so many of us out there that are so desperate to succeed that we’ll do anything to reach our goals, and anything to keep that success once we’ve attained it. That isn’t very healthy. Fame is fleeting and success is all about perspective. For me, I’m not in a position to be pursuing acting full time right now. That sucks, and it’s something I struggle with daily. But I’ve found happiness in other places. My wife, my dog, pursuing and experimenting along a different career path, maintaining this silly little website. I’ll never “give up” on acting, but I don’t rely on that dream any longer. I think that’s good, but I can only speak for myself. Plenty of my friends are still out there fighting the good fight, trying to make their acting careers happen. I wish them nothing but the best, even though this movie really highlights that in a creative field, it’s pretty impossible to not carry around just a little bit of jealousy. You just can’t let it control you or ruin your friendships.

9.0/10

 

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