Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers

This was a very strange movie, but not for the reasons you might think. It honestly felt like whoever wrote the script was taking the piss out of older animation styles. In the movie’s universe, 2D animation is seen as outdated. One of our main characters, Dale, even gets “CGI surgery” to keep with the times. But it doesn’t stop there, as our heroes visit the “uncanny valley” and meet a 2000s era, Beowulf-looking character who repeatedly gets made fun of for the remainder of the film. In theory, I don’t have a problem with lampooning how far technology has come. But they really did not do 2D animation justice in this movie. Most of the “2D” characters are actually 3D models that have been cel-shaded. And their attempts to make the actual 2D characters look like they’re interacting with the real world are extremely lazy, especially when you consider how well Who Framed Roger Rabbit pulled this off thirty years ago!

Story-wise, it’s fine. I like the idea of going meta and having the Rescue Rangers characters simply be actors who struggled to find work after the original cartoon ended. Unfortunately, the real rescue mission that they now find themselves involved in has hardly any meat to it. The Rescue Rangers movie suffers from Ready Player One syndrome, where references to other pop culture are the sole point of its existence. And yeah, it’s fun to see some of the cameos—like Ugly Sonic and a handful of DreamWorks characters—but none of them are used in any creative ways beyond just, “Look who we got!” There is still some decent humor in the movie, but the script has a habit of over explaining its better jokes. For instance, a clay-animated character smacks his head on a newspaper, which leaves an imprint of the words on his face. Funny, but then he says, “Hey, it’s stuck on my face like Silly Putty. You remember Silly Putty?!”

I really want to know what headspace the creators were in when making this, because, on one hand, it feels like they didn’t trust the audience enough to get some of the references. However, they overstuffed each frame with so many other references that you have to pause the movie to catch them all. Then for other things, they didn’t even get the references right. Pogs, for example, are a plot point, but they keep referring to the missing “slammer” from the Rescue Rangers set as just another “pog.” Like, did you even 90s, bro? And, of course, there’s the general disdain for all animation that isn’t cutting edge 3D. Maybe the oddest choice of all, though, is that they made Peter Pan the villain. If you know the story of Peter Pan’s original voice actor, Bobby Driscoll, then this comes across as being in very poor taste. So the creators either didn’t do their homework (and don’t care about animation history), or they were being purposefully cruel. Not a good look either way.

What We Do in the Shadows – Season 4

I’ve never been a huge fan of this show, but I thought the first two seasons were fairly amusing and the third season rocky but still funny at times. Season 4, however, felt like a huge misstep. The only stuff that worked for me was the relationship between Baby Colin Robinson and Laszlo, which was oddly sweet to watch unfold. But I don’t think rebooting the Colin Robinson character as a rapidly growing child was the right trade off. Regular Colin Robinson brought so much more comedy to the table in how his dry vampire lifestyle clashed with the others’. When the real Colin Robinson returned in the finale, it was immediately obvious how much better he works in adult form. So, hey, at least he’ll be back in Season 5, though I don’t think I will bother tuning in after such a disaster of a season.

The bigger problem I have with the show is just how ridiculous it’s gotten. These are not vampires that “do things in the shadows” anymore. Like, yeah, of course you have to suspend disbelief to enjoy a show such as this, but they’re not even trying to keep a low profile at this point and rely on hypnosis too often to fix their mistakes. I mean, these are characters who murder celebrities with impunity and openly advertise a night club for vampires, and the world is none the wiser. Nadja’s sudden obsession with having a night club was pretty obnoxious, by the way. Every joke with her this season was basically, “LOOK HOW LOUD I CAN YELL.” And Nandor bringing his previous wife back from the dead and then slowly wishing away her personality was a little too icky, even for what is supposed to be a dark comedy. Alas, What We Do in the Shadows has totally forgotten how to do the comedy part right.

Cozy Grove

I’ve never been able to get into Animal Crossing, despite normally loving these kinds of casual, slice-of-life collectathons. However, I do think Cozy Grove is better for people like me who, for whatever reason, don’t care for Animal Crossing. The art style is great, movement and dialogue are fast-paced, and the concept of helping ghosts is pretty engaging. But it’s still not quite there. The game’s insistence that it is like Animal Crossing is actually its biggest detriment, because the real-time clock adds nothing of value. I can max out everything there is to do in a day in 30 minutes, and then I have to wait (in real life) until tomorrow for new quests to become available. And when I do boot the game up the next day, my character will abruptly fall asleep to signal the passing of time. It’s such a little thing, but this blatant “you started a new day” animation totally breaks any immersion I was supposed to get from a real-time clock. At the very least, my character should already be asleep!

I think Cozy Grove would have worked better if it behaved more like another game called Farm Together. In that game, your crops still grew in real time, but you were not beholden to any day-to-day schedule. So you could play the game in the morning, water all your crops, and then check back in the evening to harvest everything. Yes, Cozy Grove has things that can supposedly be harvested ’round the clock, too, but any actual missions are timeboxed to the day, not the hour. It also doesn’t help that the majority of the missions are simply “I lost something; go find it.” This feels like a glorified hidden object game at times, though I do like being given clues (e.g., it’s near a tarp) that guide me towards where to look. Unfortunately, as your island starts to fill out more, these hidden objects become harder to spot amid all the clutter.

There is simply too much junk in this game. Yes, I praised the art style earlier, but that doesn’t absolve the fact that trees, houses, statues, etc. frequently block your view. It’s also not easy to interact with the object you’re intending, at least with a controller. My character would constantly go into his tent instead of petting the nearby bird or run over to a tree to shake instead of mining the ore deposit sitting next to it. And, of course, all of this leads into having a bunch of stuff fill up your inventory. Why do these games always give you such a small backpack? So, yeah, there are some annoyances, but when played in 30-minute chunks, I guess it’s okay. I’m still enjoying logging in every day to see what’s going on. But considering it takes roughly 100 real days to complete everything, I will probably tap out long before then.

Mail Mole

Mail Mole isn’t a bad game, but its biggest design decision, its whole gimmick, is just really baffling. This is a 3D platformer where you play as a mole who spends 90% of the game underground. You only pop out of the ground when you jump. This feels so backwards to me, though. Part of the charm of any 3D platformer is to see your character running about, so why hide him underground like this? In fact, why bother “rewarding” the player with different costumes if you rarely get to see those costumes in action? And yeah, I get that this is a mole, and moles like to be underground, but any other 3D platformer would have made “going underground” a usable skill to help you solve puzzles or avoid obstacles. In any other 3D platformer, going underground would be like “ducking,” but in Mail Mole, things can still hit you when you’re in this underground state. The only way to avoid spikes, etc. is to jump out and over them.

Jumping is another odd choice that Mail Mole makes. You can tap to jump, but this default jump is so weak and small that you’ll rarely find it useful. To really jump, you have to hold the jump button for half a second first to power up. Again, any other 3D platformer would base the height of your jump on how long you’re actively holding the button down. I realize it sounds like I’m penalizing Mail Mole for trying to be different, but it’s breaking conventions without providing a good reason to do so. These backwards mechanics only work in the levels that are more speed-driven, where you’re either fleeing a rolling obstacle or being propelled forward by zip pads. Had the game been purely this style of gameplay, it would have been fine. But the slower-paced, find-the-secrets type levels just don’t feel right when your character keeps trying to reinvent the 3D platformer for the worse.

Jumanji: The Next Level

I watched both of these newer Jumanji movies back-to-back, and for the first half of the second movie, I was thinking, “You know what? This is a pretty good sequel.” The humor was a lot better this time around, because the body-swapping dynamics were more interesting. I liked that the teenagers didn’t end up in the Jumanji avatars they wanted, and having two new people—some old farts who don’t understand video games—get sucked into the game with them helped liven things up. The main thing I disliked about the first movie was that Kevin Hart was basically just being Kevin Hart, so it was refreshing to see him dial it down and play against type for once. Jack Black “playing black” was a little cringey at times, but I thought everyone (mostly) felt like their real world counterparts. The addition of Awkwafina as an avatar they hadn’t seen before was also a nice touch.

But then there’s the horse. I have so many issues with this friggin’ horse. First, why would a HORSE be a playable avatar? Oh, and Alex riding in on the horse (who was Bethany, by the way) had somewhat gross connotations. It was also really stupid to swap everyone’s avatars at this point in the movie and put Milo in the horse’s body. Whoever is in the horse is basically a non-character, so it ruined the emotional impact at the end that he was supposed to have with Grandpa Eddie. Also, he chose to stay in the game as a horse?! So dumb… Seriously, the second half of this movie ruins all the goodwill it had by essentially resetting the teenage characters and shoving the older characters out of the way. Every potential lesson these people were supposed to learn is thrown out the window as the movie devolves into an uninteresting, unfunny, generic action flick. And I blame the horse.

Dwarrows

I love a good mash-up of genres, and when Dwarrows clicks, it’s a lot of fun. Dwarrows is a casual adventure game that’s half puzzle platformer, half town building. Admittedly, the town building aspect isn’t that great, but I like how gathering resources for said town plays into the greater adventure. Like, you’ll gain access to a new area that’s not only filled with more puzzles to solve but sturdier trees and rocks that produce more resources per hit. Plus, almost all of the treasure you find exists solely to help build up the town back home, be it spirits that can be turned in for more land rights or artifacts that lead to new blueprints. There’s just so much to uncover in what first appears to be a somewhat small game world.

Unfortunately, Dwarrows has serious pacing issues that are mostly the result of super vague instructions. On one hand, I do appreciate that you have to just… wander around and stumble across things on your own. However, that means it’s possible to miss very important elements that will bring all progress to a screeching halt. The most egregious example of this is when you reach a door that you can’t open until you pay a toll that’s more than the amount of money you can carry. The only way to increase your wallet size is to build a bank in your town, but getting the blueprint for a bank requires jumping through so many other hoops that are never explained in-game.

It feels like the developers had a specific series of events they expected players to follow but gave players too much freedom to do things out of order. They also expected players to spend much more time on town management than I think a lot of us are willing to do. For me, I got very sidetracked by the collectables and exploration, because that was far more interesting and engaging. But then I would continually run up against limits and be forced to gather resources for the next hour or so. The end-game buildings are simply too expensive, and I don’t think I’ll ever fully complete this game. But I at least explored every inch of the game world and got my money’s worth in that regard.