Noah Howell

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Noah Howell is the Arts & Entertainment Assistant Editor for Niner Times. He is currently majoring in Computer Science with a minor in Journalism. He is a fan of all things "Star Wars" and "The Muppets," and spends his free-time playing too many video games and watching the Oklahoma City Thunder.

‘One-Man Star Wars Trilogy’ brings a fresh take to a familiar franchise

If the pre-show music of John Williams’ fantastic score wafting through Booth Playhouse wasn’t enough, then the two gentlemen close to my seat debating the quality of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi” cemented it. I was at the right show. Everyone around me shared a common love for the “Star Wars” saga, which meant Charles Ross seemingly had his work cut out for him in the form of the beast that is “Star Wars” fandom. The fandom can be a bit too overprotective of the saga at times, though from my talk with Mr. Ross a couple weeks before the show, it was apparent that he was one of these fans as well.

As a one-man act, Ross carries out his one-hour version of the original trilogy in a splendid way, producing his own sound effects and music on top of his performance. While the pace is a bit jarring at first, I quickly settled in right around R2-D2 and C-3PO landing on Tatooine. This isn’t simply a run-down of the plot, but Ross injects his own humor and comments into the show itself, a bit like a parody similar to the likes of “Family Guy” or “Phineas & Ferb’s” “Star Wars” specials. For example, he makes note of the fact that General Dodonna, who gives the attack plan for the Death Star on Yavin IV, is the only person in the entire saga to pronounce Princess Leia as ‘Princess Leah.’ It’s moments like these, as well as some quick-witted improv based on some mic difficulties which occurred the night of my show, that make this hyperactive version of the original trilogy feel worthwhile.

Images courtesy of Charles Ross and One-Man Star Wars Trilogy

While it is an unrealistic expectation for Ross to nail every voice for each character, he instead makes it perfectly clear what character he is performing through greatly exaggerating the character’s mannerisms, such as Lando’s suave and confident nature or Luke’s early whiny tone. While someone who may have never seen “Star Wars” before may still be confused — though I would wonder why they were even there —  it is helpful in keeping track of all that is happening in this sped up version.

What impressed me most was how well the version of the trilogy Ross presents flows, as even though I was aware of the fact that the show is only an hour, it never fully sinks in just how amazing it is of an accomplishment until you see it for yourself. Boiling down nearly seven hours worth of film to just one is no small feat, especially in making sure it still makes sense and is entertaining to the audience. Throw on top of that having to remember lines while switching between characters, flying around stage with his arms in an x-wing position, and making sure he gets Vader’s “Imperial March” at the right time and it is mind-blowing, let alone that he is doing it as a single person with no props for an entire hour. The show’s lighting is the only real assistance, which is reserved for moments like when the Death Star explodes or to shine the spotlight on the emperor’s evil monologue.

With all of that energy expended into the show, what the audience gave in return at my showing was a phenomenal applause. After the show, Ross made the accurate remark that people are passionate about “Star Wars,” and even those who dislike it, love to express their hate towards it. Ross is just like everyone who sat around me last Friday, a fan who holds a deep love for the “Star Wars” franchise. Ross touched on this concept after his show, as it is the world of “Star Wars” that offers an escapism from life’s everyday woes that causes so many fans to gravitate towards it. Mr. Ross shows a clear understanding of this concept throughout his show and is able to showcase his own passion in a hilarious way; a way that connected everyone in the audience to a singular passion.

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘The Children From Tehar’ & ‘Signal From Sector Six’

Warning: Spoilers for “The Children From Tehar,” “Signal From Sector Six” and prior episodes of “Star Wars Resistance” follow.

“Star Wars Resistance” has been a treat to watch each week so far, and while it may lack the nuance of a truly exceptional show, its compelling cast of characters and unique setting have made it stand out among the rest of “Star Wars” media. The first of the episodes continues the exploration of the First Order’s mysterious involvement on the Colossus, of which Kaz (Christopher Sean) learns more about from trying his hand at a sort of bounty hunting on the station. The second finds Kaz on his first real mission with Poe.

“The Children From Tehar”

Short of any amount of self-sustaining funds, this episode finds Kaz attempting to locate two lost children, who have a well-compensated bounty on them for their safe return. Unbeknownst to Kaz, this bounty was set by the First Order, who made the claim to Captain Doza (Jason Hightower) that they merely belong to a wealthy, well-respected family from within the FO’s allies. Once Kaz and Neeku (Josh Brener) find the brother and sister, Kel (Anthony Del Rio) and Eila (Nikki SooHoo), they learn of the true intent of the bounty placed on their heads. This episode is probably my favorite one yet as it connects the series and its characters to both the recent films and books, as well as features a lot more of the always-positive Neeku.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

One of the coolest subjects of the episode was the two runaway siblings. We learn that the duo are from the planet Tehar, which is located in the Unknown Regions. As of right now, the Unknown Regions have largely been untapped from on-screen material and is essentially a large area of the galaxy that has yet to be charted. It is where the remnants of the Empire escaped to under the guidance of the mysterious Snoke and contains the origins of Grand Admiral Thrawn and Luke’s island refuge on the planet Ahch-To. It is one of the most interesting parts of the new canon, and I am excited for the series to explore it more.

The two siblings from Tehar explain that their family and entire people were wiped out by the First Order who were led by a figure cloaked in black called Kylo Ren by his troops. This is the most shocking part of the series thus far, as even though it was apparent that it would deal with the First Order, I did not think we would even reach Kylo’s area (or at least this soon). While we know what his role in the films plays out as for now, this mere mention builds up his frightening persona. He is only attempting to match his grandfather, albeit in a much more chaotic and unruly way.

Something I have stated before is how the series excels at mixing species from across the trilogies, all while introducing its own into the fray as well. In this episode we are introduced to the Chelidae (Frank Welker), later referred to by Neeku as simply shell-folk, who are a really cool turtle/sloth hybrid that remind me a bit of the caretakers seen on Ahch-To in “The Last Jedi.” Their slow-moving animation contrasts well within a series that has so far focused on quick movements and facial expressions from its characters (more so than previous series). The species are the crew that keeps the Colossus up and running and end up being key to locating the runaway duo as well as saving them from First Order operatives. In addition to Porgs, the Chelidae are one of my favorite new additions into the aliens that inhabit the “Star Wars” galaxy.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

In addition to a few appearances by Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), we are also introduced to another shiny high-ranking First Order operative in Commander Pyre (Liam McIntyre). Pyre dons a gold armor akin to that of Phasma’s clean, shining outfit, which I even thought in the series’ initial trailer was just Phasma with simply a weird lighting effect reflecting off of her. Here, Pyre is on the hunt for the siblings in order to take them out and prevent the spread of the news of the First Order’s conquering of multiple systems within the Unknown Regions. This is the first piece of real intelligence Kaz has gathered for the Resistance and he shares it with Ello Asty (Matthew Wood) at the end of the episode, wingman to Poe Dameron in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi.”

While again there is a noticeable lack of Yeager (Scott Lawrence), who does get at least a line at the beginning of the episode, this episode sees Kaz accompanied by Neeku for much of the episode, which is welcomed in my book. Neeku’s forthright way of speaking and looking at typical situations leads to a number of humorous scenarios, but it is his generosity that adds a whole other layer onto his character. With Kaz essentially flat-out broke, Neeku pays for his glass of “basic hydration” at Aunt Z’s (Tovah Feldshuh), as well as the medicine needed for Eila’s injured leg. When Kaz takes note of his generosity and inquires about it, Neeku simply replies that money should go towards anyone lacking the basic necessities. It is Neeku’s generosity and overwhelming positivity that stands out to me and, despite the show carrying a light-hearted tone overall, is something to highlight in a galaxy that can carry some pretty depressing events.

“Signal From Sector Six”

While I am a bit mixed on the episode as a whole, “Signal From Sector Six” does have a good number of neat moments. It is not especially plot heavy, but does give us a trip off of the Colossus in the form of an adventure with Kaz and Poe (Oscar Isaac). The two come across an abandoned freighter with some nasty inhabitants, and rescue a seemingly abandoned worker named Synara San (Nazneen Contractor). By the end of the episode though, we learn that she is in league with the pirates, and you can even spot her in the dogfight between the Aces and the pirates from a few episodes ago — a minor continuity detail which I appreciate.

On the freighter itself, Kaz and Poe face off with escaped Kowakian monkey-lizards as well as their much larger ape cousin. You’ll probably recognize the smaller ones as the same species as Jabba the Hutt’s court jester, Salacious B. Crumb, from “Return of the Jedi,” though we never have quite seen one the size of the ape in canon. One small animation touch I appreciated was Kaz’s pupils dilating when he first hears the Kowakian ape roar, which I only noticed upon second viewing but is something that goes that extra mile of selling these as real characters.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

The first time I’ve had a problem with the show’s writing comes in a moment of dialogue exchanged between Kaz and Poe when practicing aerial tricks. It just feels rather forced, but for it to be the first time I have had a real problem with the writing is a really good sign, I think. One of the minor relationships covered in the sequel trilogy is the adorable one found between Poe and BB-8, which luckily for us, this episode brings up a fair amount as the two are reunited once again. Similar to my comment on the animation before, this helps to set up the characters as genuine people the audience can relate to. Poe’s genuine care for his droid is a sweet spot among a chaotic galaxy.

Kaz’s actions in this episode straddle the line between annoyingly goofy and enjoyable. The sort of slapstick humor is something “Star Wars” is no stranger to, but here it nearly crosses the line of being just a bit too much. From the way the show is progressing now though, I foresee that this won’t still be an issue come the end of the season. I do like that, so far, Kaz has been one of the few “Star Wars” protagonists to not carry around a blaster or lightsaber on a regular basis. I think this again speaks to the unique perspective we are getting from this show, which is something I hope it will stay like for a while longer.

“Resistance” is the type of show that handles the balance of self-contained plot in conjunction with a season-stretching arc well, and this is why I look forward to getting to watch week after week. The first in particular is one of the best, as I think the show is at its best when it can connect these freshly established characters to the overarching “Star Wars” plot through things like the Kylo Ren callout. What will become of that is unknown, but I am looking forward to seeing where this story leads in regards to the First Order, the pirate Synara and seeing more of the sweet shell-folk gang. You can catch the next episode of “Star Wars Resistance” for yourself when it airs next Sunday night at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel.

INTERVIEW: Charles Ross details his Charlotte-bound ‘One-Man Star Wars’ show

Since its initial release in May of 1977, “Star Wars” has remained a cultural touchstone across multiple generations. Charles Ross is one of the many people affected by the franchise and actually went as far as to create a whole one-man show based around his love of the original “Star Wars” trilogy. In preparation for his show’s arrival in Charlotte this weekend, I got to speak with Mr. Ross about how the franchise and his show have impacted his own life.

First thing I want ask is: where does your love of “Star Wars” stem from?

Well I grew up in the ‘70s. I guess that in the ‘70s, there was a lot of crappy sci-fi that was out. I mean, it wasn’t all crap, but it wasn’t extremely high quality. I also lived on a farm around the time that “Star Wars” came out, so the story of a farm boy living on a farm-y kind of planet like Luke Skywalker [did], it definitely appealed to my disenfranchised way of life (laughs). And yeah, I mean, the idea of being able to be whisked up into space was unthinkable. Totally awesome. And we didn’t have access to lasers and laser-swords and stuff like that. I mean, it was amazing. There was just, as far as the other films that were out, there wasn’t anything of that kind of quality. They made those special effects just unthinkably good — for the time at least. Just in the fact that there was nothing to compare it to, and back then, everybody liked it.

That isn’t totally true. There’s people that have said that they never liked it or whatever. But, well, these are people that enjoy kicking clowns or something. I don’t know what it is. If you enjoyed life and breathing oxygen and have the ability to have a smile, you kind of like “Star Wars” because it was just ridiculous fun.

I agree. And so where did that love of “Star Wars” get you into a position where you are developing an entire show around it?

Well, okay, so I have the ridiculous, bad idea of trying to be an actor for a living. I went to university, studied theater, and it’s great to be able to spend time studying that stuff, but when you get out you got to work. I live in Canada, so when I graduated I was living in Canada, and you know, we don’t have free reign to sort of just come down to the States and work. There’s tons more work down in the States, but I kind of had to do something up here in Canada. So I was willing to go where the work was, but even though we’ve got a large land-sized country, we don’t have a lot of work to go around, so I kind of just tried to make something of my own. It was just an idea of trying “Star Wars” on stage, by myself, just using my whatever general knowledge of it to try to recreate it, just as a doofus would. And I really didn’t think the idea would have any legs to it, but you just never know what idea is going to strike a chord and what isn’t.

I think for my own purposes, like when my show had an opportunity to do some kind of fun things, was sort of when the rise of YouTube was happening, but it wasn’t quite there yet. And I mean, I think that YouTube really does define the way that we share our ridiculous and great ideas, not just YouTube, but all forms of social media, or just digital transmission. Though I wasn’t just putting the show up on to YouTube, I was doing the show in the old school way that it was intended, which was a piece of theatre or a ridiculous one-man show. I think if I had tried doing this show, even like, just to try doing it five years later then when I did, I don’t know what would have happened. I think it might have been something people would look at online, go ‘Okay, well, whatever. Next.’ and move on, and it’s over. But I mean, people do that now. They serve these things that way now and even my show.

Image courtesy of onemanstarwars.com

I came out of the analog world that the original “Star Wars” was, the thing that digital cannot recreate, which is that we were living in analog society. Things moved slower. We watched movies that were slower paced. We kind of listened to stories even though blockbusters were coming out and things were kind of ramping up, and as far as the expectation of summer releases of movies, it still was moving at a slower, I don’t know, maybe measured-out pace that we aren’t so used to anymore. It’s funny because when I make new shows now, it’s funny how different the people are that come to see the shows. Like how different they are than just the old “Star Wars” folks. Because for so many people in the population, they saw “Star Wars” around the time it came out, and because of that, people kind of reminisce like a bunch of bozos about how great things were back in the day. They weren’t all great back in the day but our time, when we were sort of hit by “Star Wars,” it was kind of cool.

I can’t think of anything [today] that’s culturally happened on a what I call, like, your big-scale theater sort of stage. Where people were still going out watching shows in the movie theater and happened to go line up and maybe not even get into the movie. Kind of ramp up your expectation of how great this thing must be because it was sold out for weeks. [Now] we are satisfied immediately with what we want or we move on. And that’s not to say that is right or wrong. That’s just the way we are. We get instant gratification. So when you create a new show, it has to be for that new kind of insatiable monster. It has an audience in mind. It’s a fun monster, like, it’s fun to sort of get up in front of that monster and go like ‘Oh I hope it doesn’t eat me. I hope it likes what I put out.’ It’s just a conversation that spreads the the sort of critical ability of people to comment, and is immediate. It’s just a very different world.

So going off of that, how did you initially go about preparing for the show for the first time? How do you practice it now?

Oh, I don’t really practice so much because, I mean, it’s the job I do.

So it’s more second nature now?

Kinda! What a weird thing to have a second nature, but you know, if you were a pilot of a very specific type of vehicle, be it an airplane or whatever —  and this is far from being an airplane of a show — it’s what I’ve been doing for a long enough now that, I mean, nobody else does it, so I’m not comparing myself to the legions of other “Star Wars” folks. At the time, preparing for it was just kind of testing new ground. What’s going to make a person laugh? The only way I could find that answer was by putting it up, at first in front of my director. What did we laugh at? And then start putting it up bit-by-bit in front of audiences and then, you know, it worked! I mean it’s not so much that preparation, because today if I was to make a new show, and watch, say, for instance, I do a one-man “Stranger Things.” When I watch a show today I’m thinking about, like, when I was a kid I watched “Star Wars” because I liked it. I now look at shows and go, ‘I wonder if this would work?’ It’s weird! I’m like, why can’t I just go back to being that kid and just enjoy things for when they’re great and not great?

I guess when you get older you get jaded (laughs).

So do you think that has affected your perspective when rewatching the original trilogy?

Like in how they lack in quality or how great they are?

Like, you condense it down to an hour. Does it ever feel like its going too slow?

(laughs) No, in a sense of what the movies actually are, the movies remind me of being a kid. That’s kind of a cool thing to sort of still be able to be reminded of, being a kid when you’re an adult, and even though I do the show that I do based on the original trilogy, I just in some ways get transported back because I can’t do every single moment of the trilogy, I only do my own version of it. So they still, God, my show is one hour, and I think it shows. The full trilogy runs something like over eight hours, so there’s seven hours of stuff that I can still be genuinely delighted about rather than bored. The only reason why it didn’t make it into my version is because just time factors.

It’s amazing how you can condense the essence of that story down like that, though.

Yeah, well it’s weird, but when you try to figure out what to cut out and what to leave in, it’s hard to just have to go with what you know and just go with what you can remember. I didn’t bother to sit there and have the video playing and stop it and start it and stop it and start it because, well, that’d be really frustrating number one, and you lose sight of what to keep and what to take out. What I did was sit down with my own memory of it and wrote from what I could remember off the top my head, because the idea is that whatever I remember should, in theory, be what the average person can remember, and it turned out that I was right.

Image courtesy of onemanstarwars.com

So you’re doing this one hour show including sound effects, music, lines and everything else all by yourself. How do you keep that energy up throughout the show?

Like I said, it is actually what I do so I don’t know. I have to wonder how there’s people who keep going to do certain jobs that I would find impossible to do. I guess it’s what you learn and you get used to the geography that is your life and is your job and you know when to push and when to hold back and when to coast. I know I don’t have a lot of people that can relate specifically to doing a “Star Wars” show. There’s actually quite a lot of people that do stand up or they tour as a band, or they too are doing solo shows and I mean, the way you sustain it is that you to sort of take every single show as a small beginning and treat it that way and have to sort of remember; that even though you might feel really tired or maybe you’re just feeling like things are stale, for every person in the audience, this is usually the first time that they have ever seen you do it live and that’s kind of the special part of doing live performance. I guess if you are a radio DJ or are just dealing with the public you know, customer service in every interaction is slightly different.

You touched on the beast that can be “Star Wars” fans. Are there any standout interactions from the audience that you have had?

It was weird; I actually had these folks that came to see my show many years ago, but they had just come from their own “Star Wars” themed wedding. I thought it was kind of cool. Like they came to see my show after they were married, in costume. The woman was dressed up as Leia, but the groom was dressed up as Boba Fett. So I’m like, I guess in their idea, when Han was frozen, maybe Leia and Boba had a thing (laughs). I didn’t get into it too much and I didn’t get too many descriptions as to why, but yeah; they obviously got the show very well. And it was kind of neat to think that I was in between their ceremony and the reception. I don’t actually know where they went after that, but it was pretty funny.

So for someone who is trying to develop something creatively that they’re passionate about, what advice might you share?

I think the only advice I can really say is that it’s not so specific as much as it’s a feeling, and for me to sound like some sort of “Chicken Soup for the Soul” or some crap. Your heart really does lead you in the right direction, as easy as it is to get distracted by what other people suggest what you should do, remember that your love and passion for something is that. It’s yours, and as much as other people want to have some sort of say, or post some kind of weird sense of ownership over your love, it is still yours.

There is a fine line between listening to what others say and following your own heart. If you’re going to follow your own heart, remember one day you might be looking back and going like, yeah this is what you wanted. You just have to learn to say ‘well, yep, this is what I chose.’

I think also the opportunities sometimes arise out of moments where things seem like they’re at a low point. I think you have to understand at some point when to hang up the gloves, that things aren’t working. Sometimes when it feels like you’re dealt a very negative card, it’s amazing how quickly things can twist around and become totally in your favor. I guess just trying to be really active and reacting, but also not trying to get down on yourself too quickly.

Charlie Ross will be performing his “One-Man ‘Star Wars’ Trilogy” show from Nov. 16-18 in the Booth Playhouse at Blumenthal Performing Arts Center. General tickets can be purchased at $19.50 and students can also order them in advance for $15 at: www.blumenthalarts.org/events/detail/one-man-star-wars-trilogy

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘The High Tower’

Up until now, “Star Wars Resistance” has mostly been a self-contained plot in a niche side of the galaxy, leaving only hints about how its characters would tie into the overarching galactic narrative. From eavesdropping on a top-personnel-only meeting to being chased down by First Order stormtroopers, Kaz (Christopher Sean) gets a real taste of what the spy life is like in this episode. While I enjoy the small stakes plotlines and don’t expect those to go away completely, I am happy to finally dive into why the First Order is so interested in the Colossus.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

Much like prior episodes, this one starts off with Kaz struggling as a mechanic in Yeager’s workshop, with Neeku (Josh Brenner) testing out his new communicators so that he and Kaz will always be in contact with each other no matter where they are. When the Colossus’ power begins flickering on and off, Kaz, Tam (Suzie McGrath) and Neeku head into Aunt Z’s (Tovah Feldshuh) diner. Here, Aunt Z reveals her suspicions regarding the Colossus’ leader, Captain Doza (Jason Hightower), having ties with the First Order. We also finally meet another pilot of the Aces, Hype Fazon (Donald Faison), who is a very egotistical individual. Tam reveals that the two were friends before he became one of the Aces, a goal they were working towards together. Despite being resentful for his abandonment, Tam accepts Hype’s offer to check out the tower and brings along BB-8 and Kaz, who are eager to get a glimpse after seeing the arrival of First Order troops.

Once at the tower, Kaz is taken with the finer accommodations provided in the Aces’ lounge. Meanwhile, Tam and Hype discuss how their friendship fell apart. Not getting to know the characters besides Kaz was one of my only grievances with the start of the series, though last episode with Yeager and this one with Tam give us a better understanding of what these characters are motivated by. The exploration of Tam’s goal to become the best racer on the platform is a lofty one; something that I will be interested to see further explored, especially with Kaz seemingly working towards a similar goal. Speaking of, Kaz sneaks away with BB-8 to find out where the First Order troops went only to discover a meeting between them and Captain Doza. Major Vonreg (Lex Lang), the red stormtrooper pilot seen multiple times in the series so far, offers Doza a deal in protection from the pirates who have been attacking the station. We of course know that the First Order themselves are the ones supporting these pirates, though why they are so interested in the platform still remains a mystery. Doza remains firm in his stance against them though, and on their way out, Kaz manages to get spotted by the troopers, resulting in a chase.

Despite never really fearing that Kaz would actually somehow get killed or caught, the chase itself offered up some humorous moments which I enjoyed. Kaz first stumbles into Torra’s (Myrna Velasco) room, who was the Aces pilot he raced in the first episode, and is also daughter to Captain Doza. Her room offers a number of references, like stuffed animal versions of different species like Ewoks and even a poster of Sabine Wren’s icon from “Star Wars Rebels,” which I get the feeling isn’t there merely to be regarded as an easter egg. Kaz quickly jumps out the window and runs along the tight edge while dodging blaster fire, which the patrons of Aunt Z’s diner get the full show of, including Tam and Neeku. Kaz manages to make it back safely to the workshop, meanwhile Torra covers for his events at the tower with her father and Vonreg. Because of Doza’s backing of his daughter, the First Order back down and soon leave as planned. Despite Doza helping his daughter in covering for Kaz, the episode ends with his eyes still on what Kaz’s true intentions are.

If there is one thing I think the show struggles with the most, it is its way of balancing its lighthearted tone against having actual stakes for its characters. This is a series that I think is aimed at a more general audience than its two predecessors in “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels,” both of which also had a bit of maturing to do past their initial season. I don’t think “Resistance” is aiming to get as dark, nor do I even want it to drop its lighter tone, though it wouldn’t hurt to help get the audience a bit more invested in tenser scenes. I like the way the latter half of the chase handled comedy, with Aunt Z and her patrons placing bets on Kaz’s survival odds, so if they continue to substitute it with this kind of humor in future episodes then I won’t be disappointed. I think I am being a bit too harsh though as it is only episode four out of what is assumed to be about a 20-episode season.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

Looking ahead, I am very curious to learn what exactly warrants the First Order playing both sides just to gain control of an isolated station in the Outer Rim. I’m mildly shocked to find that we had no Yeager in the episode, which was disappointing after what we learned of both his past and future potential in the last one. We did get to see Tam get fleshed out more, giving her further relevance than simply being used as a sort of cliche ally for Kaz who constantly gives him grief. Her drive to fix the Fireball so she can become a top racer herself certainly gives her character more of a compelling take, which I am excited to see followed through for the rest of the season. Torra also gets more screen time in the episode, and she is left in a position to be more of a potential friend of Kaz, and possibly to help get him into the Aces. Hopefully that all leads to more exploration within the Aces themselves.

This was another solid episode to add to “Resistance’s” debut season, one which sets up a number of exciting plot points to follow in the future. One minor detail from Hype’s ad-laden jumpsuit serves as an exciting reminder that a restaurant called “Admiral Snackbar” exists within “Star Wars” canon, which I love despite how cheesy it may seem. Since the episode was at night, we get a different perspective on the art style, though I would have hoped to have seen more ship combat in this style. The plot for Kaz to discover the First Order informant on the ship continues to thicken, even though he still kind of sucks at spying and being a mechanic in general. I’m excited to see where “Star Wars Resistance” goes from here, which you can see for yourself when the next episode debuts next Sunday at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel.

Five of gaming’s scariest people and creatures

WARNING: The following article contains MAJOR spoilers for “Resident Evil” and  “Undertale.”

Lisa Trevor – “Resident Evil”

“Have to find Mom. Have to give face back to mother.” – Image courtesy of Capcom

Just as terrifying as she is tragic, Lisa Trevor was a frightening addition to find inside the remake of the original game. Her introduction comes in a lone shack in the middle of the woods, far away from the main mansion. Inside it contained a typewriter and storage chest, two things which signified up to that point that you were in a room safe from any type of enemies. Once you go back towards the exit in your first time in the shack, you hear the door slam shut. When you head through the door way, you are knocked out, later waking up to find a horrific monstrosity in front of you. Lisa Trevor is a sight to behold, one that you can never get a clear grasp of because of the amalgamation of human faces that make up her upper body. With her hands bound together and chains around her ankles, you can always hear the monster lumbering towards you throughout her specific areas.

Lisa Trevor’s origin lies in the family who created the twisted mansion (unknowingly) for an evil corporation. Once it was completed, Lisa was taken away as a test subject from her parents — who were eventually killed — to have a number of experiments completed on her for multiple years. Lisa was later thought to be killed once tests were over, but because the experimentation resulted in her becoming nearly invincible, she continued to wander the grounds in search of her mother. Her end is a touching moment, and her overall arc is part of why I fell in love with the series two years ago. Growing up, I viewed the overall series as cheesy horror, but when I finally gave this remake of the original a chance, I wished I had tried it sooner. There are a plethora of stories like Lisa’s in not only the first game, but the rest of the series, though her’s is definitely one of the best.

Happy Mask Salesman – “The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask”

“You’ve met with a terrible fate, haven’t you?” – Image courtesy of Nintendo

In a game that depressingly shows how people will deal with an impending doomsday-level event and features a number of shady characters, it takes a lot for this guy to stand out among the rest. The happy mask salesman is one of the first characters you meet in the game and his constantly grinning face immediately fills you with a sense of dread. He never really antagonizes and only helps Link in his quest to save Termina from its constant three-day-loop of the moon crashing down on the entire city. The combination of his creepy laugh and jerky animation is what really brings on the goosebumps. Why he carried around a mask, said to be created by an ancient tribe for dark rituals, that could easily be taken off his bag is beyond me. Lastly, when you fail to play the “Song of Time” and reset to day one by the end of the 72 hours, he is the one who speaks to you as the world abruptly comes to an end. There are many creepy characters in the “Zelda” series, some maybe more frightening than him at first glance, though the happy mask salesman is the one who remains on my mind till this day.

Flowey – “Undertale”

“Howdy! I’m Flowey! Flowey the Flower!” – Image courtesy of tobyfox

Thrust into an unknown land, Flowey the Flower is the first to greet you at the wonderful land called the Underground. His pleasant demeanor in your initial meeting lulls you into a false sense of safety only for you to quickly realize this “flower” is not to be trifled with. His happy smile turned murderous grin is terrifying, but not as much as his final form (again, please turn back now if you plan on trying this game at some point). His omega form at the end is the one time the game abandons its 8-bit art style in favor of a much too realistic art style, which can only be described as a plant/computer abomination. His tense soundtrack, menacing laugh and use of constantly resetting your save file to have the opportunity to kill you over and over again is one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had in a game. I have tried to remain as vague as possible, but Flowey will simply be a character that sticks with me till the end of time.

Everything – “Bloodborne”

“Die! Die, die! Hunters are killers, nothing less! You call ME a beast? A Beast? What would you know? I didn’t ask for this!” – Image courtesy of FromSoftware

“Bloodborne” is a game that’s setting lies in horror, and with so many unique enemies, it was hard to just pick one (which is why I listed everything). For the unfamiliar, “Bloodborne” is set in Yharnam, a land filled with gothic/Victorian-era architecture. For the deep yet vague lore, everyone who remained outside for the night turned into a horrible creature with some H.P. Lovecraft-inspired beasts thrown in for good measure. Whether I was walking into a pitch-black room inhabited by a crazed old man in a wheelchair armed with a gatling gun or breaking another crate only to be given yet another heart attack by an enlarged crow, “Bloodborne” was constantly throwing something new at me. What was impeccable was that each enemy, boss and NPC felt unique in their design, and it’s not just in their looks but in their fighting style and the cool environments that caused them to shine. The game’s difficult learning curve and terrifying world make it hard to get into. If you manage to conquer the game though, it serves as not just one of the most rewarding experiences you’ll ever have in a game, but any piece of entertainment period.

Mr. Resetti – “Animal Crossing”

“My patience gauge is now officially on EMPTY!” – Image courtesy of Nintendo

Perhaps more aggravating than he is scary, Mr. Resetti certainly has the resume to back up his spot on this list. The grouchy mole comes to visit you throughout all of the main-line “Animal Crossing” games, but usually only when you fail to save before quitting, or attempt to time-travel by changing your system clock to get holiday-locked items. When I played the original game on GameCube, I remember being distinctly shaken up by my first visit from Mr. Resetti, mainly because how bewildered I was at how this mole could possibly know I forgot to simply save my game before turning it off. His fourth-wall breaking rants could even last for about ten minutes, and some could go even longer if he made you type out your apology exactly as he asked for it. Much like Tom Nook’s interest free mortgage loans though, I came to realize that Mr. Resetti was actually teaching a good lesson in his now-humorous dialogue. Sadly, because of some complaints sent to Nintendo by parents about Mr. Resetti’s quick-temper scaring some children, the company has since toned down his appearances in the series, eventually becoming completely optional in the latest entry, “Animal Crossing: New Leaf.” Despite his slowed inclusion in recent games, I am greatly looking forward to the mole’s return in next year’s game for Switch.

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘Fuel for the Fire’

Knowing one’s friends and foes is a basic yet essential plotline to follow through in a character’s arc, something Kaz (Christopher Sean) gets a taste of in the third episode of “Star Wars Resistance.” While light on the action, “Fuel for the Fire” delves deeper into Yeager’s (Scott Lawrence) past, which is something I have been wanting more of since the premiere. Much like last week’s episode, Kaz again struggles with juggling life as a spy for the Resistance and his cover as one of Yeager’s mechanics. Yeager has to constantly remind Kaz of the importance of playing the role of a mechanic despite what he may think of it himself, because if his cover is blown, the whole operation goes sideways.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

Similar to last episode, it starts off with Kaz getting into hot water with Yeager once again, which sends him off in protest to Aunt Z’s (Tovah Feldshuh) diner. Here, Kaz meets Jace Rucklin (Elijah Wood) and his crew, who at first glance appear to be the friends Kaz has been looking for since arriving on the Colossus. Shortly after, Rucklin challenges Kaz to a friendly race on his two speeder bikes, which goes well until Kaz’s bike malfunctions and is conveniently saved by Rucklin. A bit earlier to this, I had my suspicions about Rucklin’s true character, which I appreciate the show not riding the obvious mystery for too long and revealing the truth to the audience fairly quickly. To make up for the incident, Kaz invites Rucklin to check out Yeager’s personal ship in secret.

Through taking advantage of Kaz’s trust, Rucklin steals Yeager’s own supply of hyperfuel to use in the next race. Hyperfuel was a key device in “Solo: A Star Wars Story,” so it’s nice to see it pop back up again here, further tying the galaxy together. After Rucklin is gone preparing his ship for the race with his crew, Kaz realizes his mistake when Bucket the astromech takes note of the missing inventory. Because of his own cocky nature along with his crew, Rucklin uses the hyperfuel despite the warning of a few mishandled drops being able to explode an entire ship. Kaz makes it to Rucklin in time, though not before the ship itself takes off for the race. Both eject from the ship only mere moments before the ship itself explodes. This leads to a confrontation between the two which ends up leaving a likely return for Rucklin and his crew.

It’s always cool to see major actors crossover between giant nerd franchises, which in this case is major “Lord of the Rings” alum Elijah Wood as Rucklin. While his performance isn’t of award winning caliber, he definitely leaves a strong impression as a character that I hope is explored further as Kaz’s rival in the future. I think the real interesting parts of the episode are found in the exploration of Yeager’s backstory. Kaz learns from Rucklin and his crew that Yeager is probably the best racer on the platform but chooses not to participate. We also learn that he has (or more likely had) a family as we see a picture of him at the aftermath of the Battle of Jakku. This battle takes place shortly towards the end of the Galactic Civil War and you may have seen it played out in the campaign for “Star Wars: Battlefront 2” last year. I’m assuming this will begin to setup some sort of mentorship role for Yeager over Kaz in regards to becoming a racer, though perhaps that is too obvious. While this is early in the season, I do wish we had gotten a bit more from Yeager’s past in the episode.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

Kaz himself continued to show development through the lessons he learned from Yeager, even though I found him a bit too prideful and childish in his protest to the old mechanic. It is still early on though, so I expect this will go down as the season progresses. I also want to take a moment to point out that Neeku (Josh Brenner) steals the comedic spotlight in whatever scene he is in, as his constant infectious positivity never fails to bring a smile to my face. Perhaps a smaller part of the episode, I did enjoy the two moments featuring an older alien who is a bit too over-eager in recruiting Kaz to live with him. It almost feels like a bit too much bizarre humour to have in a show that airs on a children/teen network, but I am honestly interested in seeing more of the old guy in the future.

While it was a bit more self-contained, “Fuel for the Fire” sets up some interesting plot threads that I am hoping to see further explored in the upcoming episodes, both through Yeager’s past and Rucklin’s rivalry with Kaz. There are no First Order teases in this one, which I think is a benefit because it maintains the shows more lighthearted and serialized format for now. While it goes without saying based on my prior reviews, the animation continues to mesh well within the show’s chosen setting and tone. The water effects were particular standouts during Kaz and Rucklin’s speeder bike race. It’s not the best thing to ever come out of “Star Wars,” but “Resistance” continues to carve out its niche in a series that I think can enjoyed by the masses. It is everything you’d want out of a “Star Wars” show excluding Jedi, and I am excited to see where it goes from here. You can watch the next episode of “Star Wars Resistance” for yourself when it airs next Sunday at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel.

GAMING REVIEW: ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops 4’

For nearly 15 years, “Call of Duty” has been a constant release every fall. Thanks to the three-year developer cycle shared between Infinity Ward, Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games, publisher Activision has ensured a year does not go by without its flagship franchise. The past few years have seen the series come under fire by many in the gaming industry, which I don’t attribute to the games actually being bad, but more in line with the fatigue that comes with releasing a game year after year. Innovation is probably the only thing that helps to combat this, which is something that I think only Treyarch has accomplished through both 2015’s “Black Ops 3” and this year’s title. At its initial reveal event, “Black Ops 4” came under heavy criticism with the announcement of its lack of single-player campaign, something that has been a staple since the series’ inception. In its place, Blackout comes in as the franchise’s first crack at the battle royale genre, one that has seeped into the mainstream’s consciousness thanks to “Fortnite.” Besides this swap, the rest of the package contains the traditional multiplayer and Zombie modes. The question is, does the lack of campaign truly work to the games detriment? In short, not really.

Blackout

If you have somehow avoided the battle royale phenomenon, the mode works through dropping usually 80-100 players onto one giant map, which slowly shrinks in size, making the last player/team standing the winner. This immediately adds a whole layer of tension to the mode right from the start, something “Call of Duty” has not really come close to playing with besides maybe the Search and Destroy multiplayer mode. Blackout works much more similarly to “PUBG,” the sort of originator of the mode, rather than “Fortnite’s” building-focused gameplay. This mode sticks strictly to gunplay, something that “Call of Duty” has already perfected with its mechanics, though never at quite the distance some of these long-range engagements can get. What mainly sets Blackout apart from the rest is its map design, characters, gunplay and special abilities. Blackout is what Treyarch describes as the crossover of all of its games, both the “Black Ops” series and “World at War.”  This isn’t just limited to the campaign, but it also encompasses the lore-rich Zombies mode as well.

Image courtesy of Treyarch

Part of what makes Blackout so great is the map’s design, which features a number of locations pulled from its multiplayer and Zombies modes. This includes iconic maps like Nuketown, which can now be explored more fully thanks to the open nature of the mode, and Asylum (a map taken from “World at War’s” multiplayer and later zombified as Verruckt in the same game). Having familiar locations serves the dual purpose of tapping into your nostalgia and simply letting you quickly understand a certain location’s layout straight away. Given the map’s size, vehicles are also reintroduced for the first time since “World at War,” though instead of tanks you have trucks, helicopters, boats and ATVs. For a franchise that hasn’t really played with vehicles much, “Black Ops 4” handles them in a way that feels intuitive and easy to understand, something that can be said for the rest of Blackout’s new mechanics.

Overall, I think Blackout was a worthy inclusion here and is really the first look at what a Triple-A studio can do within the battle royale genre. Everything in the mode works better than it had any right to, coming from a series that has long been a close-quarters arcade shooter. Treyarch making use of their catalogue of “Black Ops” history really is what sets this mode apart from something like “PUBG,” whether it’s coming across a zombie-infested location, prime with special loot or seeing Viktor Reznov riding on the back of an ATV with the Shadowman.

Multiplayer

The traditional multiplayer mode is what I think will feel the most familiar for returning players, albeit with a pretty gameplay defining change. In prior “Call of Duty” entries, health was automatically regenerated over a certain amount of time, though here this has been changed to a self-heal ability fixed on a very quick cooldown timer. This forces players to rewire something that has been a constant in the series for over a decade, but I think it really helps to bring a fresh take on the mode. Pairing this with the returning tweaked specialist characters, it really helps make the game more tactical and slower than it has ever been before. One of the big selling points of the mode was the lack of exo-suit traversal this time around, something I honestly missed in my time playing. Boots-on-the-ground gameplay just feels too one-dimensional to go back to, where as I felt the jumping and boosting in “Black Ops 3” was a natural progression for the series’ traversal system. Something I do like that was introduced are the new game modes, one of which is a one-life per round mode that takes influence from “CS:GO’s” money system, in which you get a certain amount of cash per round to spend on your loadout. This forces one to learn another new interesting playstyle, making them come to terms with what should be needed in the round and what can be sacrificed.

Tacked alongside multiplayer is the specialists HQ in which you are given quick tutorials and rundowns for how each one’s abilities playout as well as their gear. During these you will be instructed by Frank Woods from the original “Black Ops,” and completion will net you a cutscene going into the backstory of the specialist completed. This is a nice attempt at trying the amend the lack of campaign, but certainly won’t be the substitute for it if that’s what you’re looking for. From a general view, multiplayer has taken a shift for the better in some ways, like through health and new modes, but also a step back in its traversal system.

Zombies

The third and final corner of the “Black Ops 4” triangle, Zombies, takes the mode to a whole new level in terms of sheer depth. There are some polarizing choices, such as the perk and health system getting some serious reworking, but I believe they are for the better in the long run. Treyarch’s Zombies mode itself is one of my favorite games on its own, and quite frankly I would still pay full price for the game even without the multiplayer and Blackout modes. For the past three years since “Black Ops 3,” Activision seemingly forced both Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward to add their own version of the mode to their games because of its popularity. This resulted in some admirable yet lackluster creations that failed to match up in comparison to what Treyarch has done with their original mode.

Image courtesy of Treyarch

To start off, customization has been taken to another level in this year’s game. Now you have the option of create-a-class, which lets you pick out your starter weapon, elixirs (replacement for gobblegums), a new specialist weapon and your four perks. There are also two storylines this year, both of which your classes are split between due to the differences in specialist weapons and perk formats. Specialist weapons are new, cool-down based items that are intended to be used in a pinch and progressively grow stronger in the game as you use them. The way perks have changed up this year is primarily by the removal of the iconic juggernog, double tap and speed cola, which have their own replacements to find in the game. This opens up the slots for which four perks you will run each game and will shift based on the mode and number of players you are with, which fixes the problem of always following the predictable path of picking the same perks every time in prior games. As much as I loved the iconic perk machine jingles, their sacrifice made for an overall better experience in my mind.

Despite Shadows of Evil from “Black Ops 3” being one of my favorite in the series, it admittedly was overly difficult and complex for new players to jump into and play as the first map released. This year, things are changed through not only having three maps at launch (four if you get the season pass), but also a large amount of custom mutation options for newcomers. There is now a tutorial mode to teach you the basics as well as four difficulty options to choose from for classic play. You can also now add up to three bots into your game if you have no one to play with, which alleviates some of the pressure in surviving and learning the maps for a new player.

A competitive mode entitled Rush makes its way to Zombies, which is something I have been wanting in the mode for a long time. Instead of the classic building up points to buy better guns and unlock new areas of the map to survive, this mode pits you against three others in a race to see who can build up the highest score in their given amount of lives. All weapons, perks and pack-a-punch upgrades are free for this mode, as it takes you from room to room in extremely fast-paced action unlike your traditional Zombies mode. This is something that I really appreciate as it lets me hone my own skills as well as put them to the test against other players in a more interesting way than simply comparing your highest round on a map with someone.

The maps themselves this year take you across three very different locations, each with their own specific atmosphere and layout thanks to both the visual design and music. For the two maps in the new storyline, you have a roman-esque colosseum called IX, which is matched with a sort of heavy-metal/orchestral sound mixed with a choir. The other takes the new crew to the Titanic on Voyage of Despair, a jazz-filled map with a number of twists and turns. For the continuing storyline, the original crew is taken to Alcatraz in a sort of remake of a previous map called Blood of the Dead, this time much more expansive and with new twists thrown in. Both the new crew and the old are a variety of charming and diverse characters and are part of what makes the mode so great. The maps each offer a unique layout that keeps things from getting repetitive. For example, Voyage is filled with incredibly cramped corridors and a sense of verticality while IX has number of open areas and tighter catacombs, and Blood is a sort of mixture of both (but probably stands as the largest). If you are looking for another map, the season-pass-locked map is a remake of Five from the first “Black Ops,” which takes place in the Pentagon. This map also fits into the timeline from then and has a couple of new areas and additions that I think make it a worthy addition if you’re planning on getting the DLC down the road anyways.

Image courtesy of Treyarch

Something I don’t want to go unnoticed are the numerous quality-of-life changes Treyarch has made to the mode this year. Stuff like a max ammo power-up filling both your reserve and now your magazine as well is very appreciated. They also dampen your game audio now when listening to one of the lore radios hidden all around the maps, something that I never would have thought of adding but is a genius move. There are more of these things that don’t necessarily improve gameplay but enhance the overall experience for returning players which I love.

What I love most about what Zombies has grown into is its offerings for a variety of different players. Whether you’re simply going for high rounds or trying to solve the next incredibly cryptic step of the main quest line on a map, there is something that can appeal to all types of players. My only gripe with the current mode are minor bugs and glitches, primarily in the occasional crash that can happen in late rounds, which Treyarch has talked about getting fixed soon (at the time of this review). Other than that, Zombies is the best the mode has ever been, making it easy for both new and old players to jump in. The drastic shifts in certain areas just make high-round attempts all the more meaningful, and I think make it even more rewarding for players to work towards.

Final Thoughts

What Treyarch accomplishes with “Black Ops 4” is an offering that can appeal to a variety of different players. For someone who predominantly plays Zombies, like myself, it is nice to have multiplayer and Blackout to switch on to for when I’m craving something else. While a lack of campaign may upset some, what stands in its place is something that I think more than fills the gap of a mode that typically only provided a six-to-eight hour experience. If you have been off the “COD” train and have been looking to hop back on, or never even got onto it to begin with, this is the year to do so. It may not compete with the various titles for best of the year come the end of 2018, but “Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” is one of the most complete and content-filled packages to release this year and I think is well-worth picking up.

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘The Triple Dark’

Warning: Spoilers for “The Triple Dark” and the premiere of “Star Wars Resistance” follow.

Last week’s debut episode of “Star Wars Resistance” did a great job of setting up both a compelling cast of characters and new location to explore. This week we got a closer dive into Kaz’s (Christopher Sean) past with his father in the New Republic, as well as more information on the Colossus’ elite team of pilots, nicknamed the Aces. Again the cel-shaded art style continues to grow on me and looks exceptional towards the end of the episode’s climax during a dogfight between the Aces and a group of pirates.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

“The Triple Dark” starts off with Kaz attempting to assimilate into his new repair crew on the Colossus, which is led by a friend of Poe’s, who served as a pilot in the Rebellion, named Jarek Yeager (Scott Lawrence). Kaz shows clear inexperience in regards to fixing ships, so Yeager sends him off to fetch a part from a shop in the Colossus. Accompanied by BB-8, Kaz unwittingly sees the time as an opportunity to spy for Poe and try and find the rumored First Order informant. Things quickly go awry when he comes across someone whom he owes a debt to from the last episode. This is a minor point, but I hope the show continues to reference past episodes like this in the future, something I think both “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels” failed to do early on.

After the close call, Kaz manages to return with the needed parts in time for the client’s departure. Because of the client’s suspicious nature, Kaz eavesdrops on him while installing the part for his ship. This leads to Kaz hearing about “Triple Dark,” a phrase which we learn shortly after is associated with a storm that plagues the station with low visibility, often allowing an opening for pirate attackers. The pirates do come, allowing us to see the Aces finally in action at the Colossus’ defense. I enjoyed this dogfight much more than the one that kicked off the premiere, and the cobbled-together ships the pirates flew were especially cool designs. I’m not sure they sell the effect of a low-visibility storm here, though I think that’s due to how difficult it would be to make it both believable and still let the viewer be able to watch and enjoy the fight. The establishing shots of the storm surrounding the station in the episode work great in tandem with the cel-shaded graphics, which is reminiscent of the storm-ridden water world of Kamino in “Episode II” of the main saga films.

During the fight, Kaz manages to get inside the station walls and even helps Grevel (Dee Bradley Baker), the alien whom he owed a debt to, get inside. This comes at the cost of his trophy, which comes up throughout the episode as his good luck charm that he got from the first ever race he won. This is yet another valuable lesson for Kaz’s character and it further pushes the value Poe saw in him for the Resistance. The rest of Yeager’s diverse crew also get the spotlight, of whom many have contrasting personalities. You have the innocent Neeku Vozo (Josh Brener), who is a bit of a comedic character and was responsible for unknowingly getting Kaz into a race because of his literal way of thinking. Tam Ryvora (Suzie McGrath) is also a sort of foil to Kaz, resenting him for seemingly easily coming in and taking her chance at fixing up the Fireball and using it to race. Rounding out the group is Bucket, the crew’s astromech droid who has so far sadly been overshadowed by BB-8’s star-studded presence. Overall, these are all characters that I am looking forward to learning more about in upcoming episodes.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

Ending the episode was a sort of tease, which revealed the First Order’s involvement in funding the pirates who attacked the Colossus, which was for unknown reasons as of now. We see the red-armored pilot who attacked Kaz in the beginning of the premiere, as well as Captain Phasma (with Gwendoline Christie reprising her role from the films much like Oscar Isaac with Poe). Since she was marketed so heavily for the films yet didn’t see much action, I really hope that this is Phasma’s chance to shine (both figuratively and literally) and see her character get further development. I appreciate that the show seems to be using the First Order sparingly for now as it avoids the common “villain of the week” problem that I think “Star Wars Rebels” suffered from in its second season with the Inquisitors.

One thing I didn’t mention in my last review was the show’s music, which is arranged by Michael Tavera here. I was surprised to learn this because Kevin Kiner did such a superb job in “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels,” but I am glad that someone else has gotten a chance to step in. Tavera continues the trend of the other non-saga films and shows so far in that he manages to match the feeling of John Williams’ epic scores, all while creating something that is unique to him. The bright tone most of the music usually contains, especially the main theme, matches the light-hearted tone of the show perfectly.

For the second episode, I think “Resistance” is still on a solid path and has a bright future ahead if it can continue to amp up the drama with moments like we got from the pirates and First Order here. Phasma was teased much like Poe in the show’s original announcement this year, so I’m curious as to whether we’ll see any other characters from the films show up, like General Hux. The show’s main cast is just fine with me though, and I hope we get to explore more of the others like Tam or Torra Doza (Myrna Velasco) from the Aces, who is the one that raced Kaz in the premiere. The show is still in its infancy and I am anxious to see where it goes from here. You can catch the next episode of “Star Wars Resistance” for yourself when it airs next Sunday at 10 p.m. on Disney Channel.

Gaming Roundup: October 2018

“Super Mario Party” – October 5 for Nintendo Switch

Image courtesy of Nintendo

Starting off the month of October is what should be a return to form for the “Mario Party” series. The mini-game bonanza has always been a great title to play with friends, even though the last couple entries have been somewhat lackluster. The series is especially great for sibling rivalry, which I can personally vouch for from the personal experience of constantly being beaten by my older sister on “Mario Party 4” for GameCube. If you are unfamiliar, the series takes a variety of “Mario” characters onto a traditional board-game format, playing a multitude of mini-games in between rounds to progress. The online functionality of the game however, consists only of a series of five mini-games to go against others online. I think it would have been nice for Nintendo to include the ability to play a full regular board-game match with either friends or random players online in 2018. I can sympathize with the reasoning that it would never be nearly as fun as playing with people in-person, but the option would always be nice to have. If you are looking for a game to liven up your own party life with friends, “Super Mario Party” could be the title for you given its extensive list of fun mini-games and ability to play portable anywhere thanks to the Switch.

“Luigi’s Mansion” – October 12 for 3DS

Image courtesy of Nintendo

Coming out just in time for Halloween, this port of the original GameCube classic finally gets a rerelease, though sadly only on 3DS. “Luigi’s Mansion” is one of Nintendo’s more experimental titles, giving the spotlight to Luigi in a mildly spooky but extremely charming action game. The main gist of the game is that Luigi is outfitted with the Poltergust 3000, a backpack vacuum designed specifically to suck up ghosts. Like most of Nintendo’s games, the reliance on a specific art style rather than graphical fidelity means this game still holds up well today. The mansion explored in the game is more maze than manor, which really shines through the game’s use of lighting and different effects like dust particles or towels draped over furniture that can be sucked up. Luigi himself delivers a variety of animations that help bring him to life, and small details like him whistling along with the game’s soundtrack only help to build up the atmosphere. I could gush about this game for a while, so if you have not yet gotten a chance to play the original “Luigi’s Mansion” before, this new release on 3DS is a great opportunity to do so.

“Call of Duty: Black Ops 4” – October 12 for PS4, Xbox One and PC

Image courtesy of Treyarch and Activision

Battle royale has been a hot topic for gaming in 2018, first popularized by “PUBG” last year and then taken to a whole other dimension this year with “Fortnite.” It was pretty much assumed that most triple-A developers, at least ones dealing with first-person shooters, would try to give the craze a go. “Call of Duty” has been a staple in gaming for almost the past decade, delivering a quality (yet sometimes too familiar) experience year after year. The series works on a three-year development cycle, with this year’s release falling to Treyarch. In my eyes, Treyarch is the top dog for their design of the “Call of Duty” formula, and is the only one that brings me back every three years for their turn. This year, some controversy came about when the studio announced they would be dropping the single-player campaign in favor of the battle royale mode, but when the beta for the game dropped last month, most of these complaints seemed to be squashed. I enjoy the multiplayer side attractions, but what brings me back every time is their Zombies mode. Zombies has grown in a tremendous way since its secret inclusion in “World at War” ten years ago, now stretching across a number of maps in a story that I think has gotten more convoluted (yet still as fascinating) than the TV show “Lost” at this point. This year the mode will feature three maps at launch opposed to the typical one. The first two maps are starting a completely new and separate storyline for new players to jump in on with the other continuing on the old story. Even with a lack of campaign, “Black Ops 4” looks to be another excellent title for Treyarch, beefing up their other modes with more content and including the new battle royale mode to make up for the loss in single-player.

“Red Dead Redemption 2”- October 26 for PS4 and Xbox One

Image courtesy of Rockstar Studios

The biggest release of the year, “Red Dead Redemption 2” caps off the month of October with the sequel to Rockstar’s critically acclaimed open-world western. Initially slated for last spring, the game’s new release date sent most games seemingly scurrying away from it. “Call of Duty,” for example, moved up their usual beginning of November slot up a whole month to October and “Battlefield V” was delayed from their typical October release into late November. The reason for this is not purely based on Rockstar’s level of quality, but is probably due to their last game, “Grand Theft Auto V,” reaching the number three spot on the list of best-selling games of all time. From even the small amount of gameplay they have shown, it’s more than clear that “RDR 2” will be one of the most expansive open-world games to date. Rockstar is the king of open-world design and is extremely meticulous in paying attention to every single detail in a game, despite its overwhelming size. Despite the two in its name, the game is set before the events of 2010’s “Red Dead Redemption,” placing you in a gang of outlaws in the year 1899. One thing I think “Red Dead” holds over the “GTA” series is that it tells a much more grounded narrative and I am keen to see how this one will play out this year as a prequel.

TV REVIEW: ‘Star Wars Resistance’ – ‘The Recruit’

Warning: Review contains minor spoilers for early plot details from the episode “The Recruit.”

Among the many forms of story-telling in “Star Wars,” animation has always been my favorite in the franchise. In the downtime between the prequel and sequel trilogies, “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” filled the gap by delivering a unique story set inside the galaxy with a wide cast of characters week after week. “Star Wars Rebels” continued this with a more intimate look on a smaller family of characters, and now “Star Wars Resistance” carries on the torch into the sequel era. Set six months before “The Force Awakens,” “Resistance” follows Kazuda “Kaz” Xiono (Christopher Sean), a pilot in the New Republic military. The show features a brand new art style, reminiscent of that of Studio Ghibli, which helps to further distinguish itself from its predecessors. I’ve been looking forward to another medium further exploring the New Republic era on screen, especially with the limited time frame given in Episodes VII and VIII.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

The premiere kicks off with Kaz and two other New Republic pilots on a mission to deliver key intelligence about the First Order to the Resistance. The mission becomes jeopardized when a First Order ace pilot gives the squad trouble, though the arrival of Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and some quick maneuvering by Kaz takes care of the problem. With the intelligence delivered, Poe sees a desire for something greater within Kaz and offers him a spot in the Resistance. This takes us to what should be the main setting for the series, the Colossus, a giant station located on the ocean planet Castilon. The Colossus is explained to be home to a multitude of hot-shot pilots, all looking for fame and glory through racing ships. Poe leaves Kaz on the planet with some Resistance sympathizers and BB-8, with his mission being to locate the First Order informant on the planet. Through some unfortunate interactions with the some of the station’s locals, Kaz finds himself thrust into the competition as a racer.

While both premieres for “The Clone Wars” and “Rebels” had their merits, I feel as though they lacked something in terms of general appeal for a wider audience at the outset. “Resistance” feels the opposite though, and I think it provides a more mass appeal both in its story and writing. All of the animated series in general are aimed at a younger audience at first, but “Resistance” seems to find its place much more quickly than the rest. Besides some flat jokes, I felt as though the comedy within the episode was great, with an emphasis on slapstick humor. Kaz in particular is an example of this as he is presented as a somewhat clumsy fellow, albeit well intentioned. As the series’ protagonist, that might typically wear on the viewer, though there are more serious moments that I found compelling to his character, particularly with his father. Kaz shows a clear disdain for his father, a senator in the New Republic, for thrusting him into the military regardless of Kaz’s own choices and pushing him through the ranks based on his position rather than Kaz’s own abilities. This is something I am really looking forward to exploring more in future episodes, especially as it has a great significance on Kaz’s character arc.

One thing you will likely take note of when you finish the episode is the noticeable lack of any lightsabers or Force-inclined individuals. As much as I love that aspect of “Star Wars,” I am thrilled that we are finally getting a series dedicated to individuals who lack those skills, something “Rogue One” and “Solo” touched upon. In this debut episode, there is a lack of action on the ground. The only combat seen comes in the opening dogfight, which I felt was slightly underwhelming and a race towards the end. This shift of focus on the characters is something I would like to stick throughout the season as I think it is the strongest quality that “Star Wars” has, even with the genre-pushing visuals in both film and television.

With the art style, it certainly stands out in comparison to the other two series, especially compared to the shift from “TCW” to “Rebels.”  I thought the bright color palette would be annoying at first, but seeing it in action really brings out all of the characters, ships and environments. The quick sort of movements for the character animation is an interesting choice and I feel like it matches the show’s tone and art very well. What I appreciate most is the use of aliens from across all the films as well as new ones specifically made for the show, which is something that I feel ties the different mediums more closely together. The backgrounds are always filled with something or someone to watch, further adding to that lived-in feel that usually accompanies “Star Wars.” Since the show places a larger emphasis on ships, the animation style suits them well, especially in the big race, where the excellent sound design and visuals collide in classic “Star Wars” fashion. Art Director Amy Beth Christenson, who has been doing great work for Lucasfilm since the game “The Force Unleashed,” has simply done a fantastic job here in the design of the show overall.

Image courtesy of Lucasfilm

The connections to the wider galaxy and other stories are present across the entire episode. Per the episode guide on StarWars.com, the X-wings seen in the first part of the episode are the new T-85 models, which the New Republic’s military make use of, something I hope is explored more in future episodes. For reference, T-65’s are what you see the Rebellion use in the Original Trilogy with the Resistance using T-70’s in the new trilogy. Greg Proops voices the announcer over the race at the end, which you may find familiar as it is the same voice actor who voiced the two-headed announcer in the pod-race for “The Phantom Menace,” though Lucasfilm has sadly confirmed it is not the same character. Oscar Isaac also reprises his role as Poe Dameron in this episode, which further legitimizes the television side in relationship to the films. Often times, actors who go in to do voice work seem like they simply read the lines off the script once and call it a day; Isaac, on the other hand, has a solid performance here.

“Star Wars Resistance” is a welcome addition into the Star Wars canon. While I was bummed about “Rebels” ending last spring, this prospect of an entirely new era and cast of characters to learn more about is something I am very excited for. From visuals to sound to storyline, “Resistance” is shaping up to be another solid animated series to add onto creator Dave Filoni’s repertoire. This era of “Star Wars” has been ripe for exploration for a long time, especially in such a way that places less emphasis on the more mystical side of the galaxy. If you loved any of the prior animated “Star Wars” series or are simply looking for something more outside the films, “Star Wars Resistance” is something I can highly recommend. It balances its comedic beats with a compelling narrative and cast of characters, giving it that almost Saturday morning cartoon vibe. If you want to check out “Star Wars Resistance” for yourself, you can catch it when it airs on Disney Channel next Sunday at 10 p.m.

GAMING REVIEW: ‘The Walking Dead: The Final Season’ – ‘Suffer the Children’

Warning: Spoilers for “Suffer the Children” and prior episodes of Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” follow.

Image courtesy of Telltale Games

Leaving off with a massive cliffhanger in last month’s season premiere, this episode of Telltale’s “The Walking Dead” brings back a ghost from Clementine’s past in season one. The premiere set the bar high for the season, and this episode not only holds it up, but raises it even further. With the death of Marlon by AJ’s own hands, the situation for the pair may not go well with the other members of the community. Of course, Marlon was at fault for sending his own people to die with the raiders and even killed one of his own teens himself. Being shot in the back of the head after surrendering though, certainly did Clementine and AJ no favors as new arrivals.

With the tension at a peak, Clementine and AJ are voted out of the school despite their own protests and are escorted to the end of the safe zone by Violet and Louis. After heading deeper into the woods, Clementine and AJ are soon caught by Abel, the same man who stole food from the two at gunpoint last episode. This time he is accompanied by someone else, who, after some mysterious camera angles, is revealed to be none other than Lilly. Lilly is, of course, the ill-tempered character from all the way back in season one who was left on the side of the road to die after shooting Carley (or Doug based on your choices). I have to say this moment would have been all the more cooler had Telltale not spoiled the reveal in the episode’s trailer and on Twitter. I thought I would be safe from skipping the trailer, but posting images and gifs of the reveal as promotion through Twitter was a bit disappointing. At the end of the day, I understand it was likely on the marketing team and not the devs themselves. It did leave something to be desired, especially how they play up the moment in the episode by avoiding showing her face to build on the anticipation.

While it seems like a somewhat happy reunion to start off, the two quickly realize the different sides they’re on, as Lilly is working with the raiders who have been stealing kids from the school for their own war effort. The series is focused on more personal and contained stories, so hearing about a war going on in the northern part of the country is a cool bit of world-building to learn about. Clem and AJ narrowly escape with the help of Violet and Louis and soon make it back to the school in a series of events involving AJ being shot. Despite being voted out, the two are allowed back in so AJ can receive medical help and so Clem can work on building up defenses around the school in preparation for the eventual raider attack.

There are a lot of interesting character moments in this episode yet again, though the one I enjoyed most was AJ and Clem’s. I loved that the episode forced me to help AJ struggle with his own morality in regards to killing Marlon and deciding whether he was justified or if it was murder. The relationship draws parallels to Lee and Clem’s own bond from season one, this time with Clementine being the one to pass on what Lee taught her. I like the small touches in how my choices are affecting AJ, but I am more curious as to how the entire payoff for them is supposed to play out.

In the episode we are introduced to James, who helped Clementine and AJ escape Lilly through the use of a herd of walkers. James wears a walker’s skin so that he can walk among them, which allows him to use them to his advantage. He learned the technique from a group called The Whisperers, which I believe is from the comics, and it works well in adding to the mystery of the character itself. It’s common knowledge in universe that covering yourself in walker guts will allow you to blend in, though the thought to wear one of their actual skins never crossed my mind and is an extremely cool concept. Even though he probably smells terrible considering he’s wearing a dead corpse, James proves he is an ally to be trusted by taking care of Clementine and AJ the night before and helping them get back to the school safely. While he is not ready to join back into a society again at the school, I suspect this won’t be the last we see of the character.

For the relationships with the rest of the school kids, the highlight is probably how you can choose to romantically pursue either Violet or Louis (or neither if you are so willing). These lead to some more intimate scenes towards the end, though I ultimately declined both because of my own indecisiveness. Mitch’s character is also explored more deeply, with him starting off pretty angry towards Clem because of AJ’s murder of Marlon, though as the episode progresses he becomes more friendly through some minor adventures. He ultimately becomes a big ally in the defense of the school for the climax, and while I understand it was leading up to it, his death is likely one of the most idiotic I’ve seen in the entire series. It may be a bit harsh, but it seemed a little brash for Mitch to openly charge someone holding a gun, who was surrounded by other people with guns, with only his fists. It was a weak payoff, though I enjoyed the lead up to it, and it doesn’t detract from the episode overall. The final showdown between Clementine and Lilly was a great moment and only left me hating her even more after she brought up Lee. It plays out much like how one would poke at an old wound. The defense of the school ultimately plays like the Ewoks versus Stormtroopers in “Return of the Jedi,” with the students dropping duffel bags of bricks, using homemade bombs and one even suggests the use of a swinging log to deter attackers.

As you should expect, the gameplay is on the lighter side, but works well for how simple it is. In addition to fending off walkers with a knife, this episode also spices up the gameplay by giving Clem a bow. The bow’s use is fairly straightforward, but again it is fun to use and doesn’t overstay its welcome in short bursts. Used primarily in the climax, the big moment you use the bow also only helps in building up the tension against the raiders.

This is usually the part of the review where I give my final impressions and tell you to check out my review of the next episode, though this time I’ll also be addressing the elephant in the room. If you have not yet heard, as of a few weeks ago at the time of this article, Telltale Games has begun the process of closure.  Besides a skeleton crew of 25 people staying on to fulfill contractual obligations, the rest of the 250-some employees were laid off without any severance pay or actual heads up regarding the studio’s closure. The developer has since announced on their social media that they are actively searching for other studios to pick up and finish the final two episodes. As I watched the credits scroll by with all the people who had worked so hard to make something I enjoyed and who are now jobless, it served as a reminder for how much I take the work game developers put in for granted.  As much as I love this series and desperately want to see a conclusion to Clementine’s story after all these years, I truly hope that the studio will take care of the employees blindsided by this decision before the final two episodes are possibly released. It’s hard to believe the studio is closing down, especially since they had just announced a season two for “The Wolf Among Us,” a new series based on “Stranger Things,” and even actually gave us release dates for the entirety of this season of “The Walking Dead,” which felt like the first time they had so confidently done so. This season was going so well both narratively and visually; I hope that something in this situation is able to be worked out. If we do get the final episodes of Clementine’s story, you can expect my reviews of the episodes here when the time comes.

Indie Spotlight: ‘Undertale’ and ‘SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt’

Strong indie titles are a treat in today’s game industry. While most Triple-A studios steer away from taking risks, many indies introduce players to unique experiences they wouldn’t be able to find anywhere else. The following two titles are shining examples of this; one, a character-driven RPG with a massive fan base, and the other offering a refined experience of a beloved genre.

“Undertale” – PC, PS4, Vita and Nintendo Switch

Image courtesy of tobyfox

“Undertale” is an indie that garnered massive praise during its initial release on PC in 2015 and has been a hole in my own gaming catalogue since. With the recent release on Switch, I decided to finally find out what all the buzz was about for this game. What I discovered was a game that immediately pulled me into its bizarro world and left me entranced with every character introduced along the way.

With gameplay, the title takes an unorthodox approach to the typical turn-based RPG format, having you take part in a bullet-hell style mini-game rather than having you sit idly by through turns. The game’s main attraction, though, is offering you the opportunity to talk your way out of every situation instead of resorting to violence. You can certainly take the more traditional approach, but each of your decisions will play a significant role into how your story will play out. Besides the combat, the rest of the game has you traversing the overworld and interacting with puzzles of varying difficulty and oddball characters.

Something I really appreciate about a game that takes a more pixelated, retro art style is it forces the designer to really make some interesting designs for each character in order for them to all stand out. Each character you meet serves a purpose and is incredibly endearing, whether it be a lazy skeleton prone to making puns or his totally inept yet pure-hearted brother. Because of how the game plays out, I won’t include any spoilers here, but know that this is an incredibly touching tale. The game also leaves ample room for humor and rides the border of breaking the fourth wall in a way that never feels in your face at any point.

From a gameplay, narrative and design standpoint, one begins to wonder how this package could get any better. The answer to that lies in the music, all composed by the game’s creator Toby Fox. Fox ensures each moment is matched with the perfect sound bite to go with it, like with epic moments that feature heavy-hitters that fill you with a feeling of grandiosity, or more laid-back times where the soundtrack makes you want to just lay down and doze off. The music matches the retro art-style but doesn’t shy away from using real instruments in key story beats. When these two formats of music do sometimes meet, they create some really incredible tunes. This is likely one of my top-five soundtracks in any game and you’ll likely have these catchy beats stuck in your head till the end of time.

“Undertale” brought out a range of emotions during my first six-to-eight hour playthrough, from happiness to sadness and even anger at appropriate moments. While it may not be a game for everyone, I believe “Undertale” is not just a game that can show off the best of what indies have to offer now but the gaming medium as a whole. In large part thanks to its characters and music, I found myself completely invested in this world from start to finish and was ready to jump back in after my first playthrough. At $15 on PS4, Vita and Switch and $10 on PC, these are price points I believe are well worth the value for what you are getting.

“SteamWorld Dig: A Fistful of Dirt” – 3DS, PC, PS4, Vita, Wii U, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch

Image courtesy of Image & Form Games

While maybe not on the same level as the aforementioned title, “SteamWorld Dig” is something I think will please crowds both new and familiar to the metroidvania-style genre. If you are unaware, metroidvania is a genre that places a player in a large map with blocked off areas of which you will gain access to as you unlock the necessary abilities. “SteamWorld Dig” puts you in control of a robot who has just arrived in a town straight out of the Old West, which is inhabited by other robots. Pretty soon, you’ll find yourself in a mine armed with a pickaxe that kicks off the real gameplay.

After the acquisition of your pickaxe, the 2-D sidescroller sets your primary objective as digging down as deep as you can. Along the way, you’ll come across rooms that offer puzzles in exchange for a new ability to add to your gearset. You’ll also dig up various valuable minerals of which you can sell back at the town to upgrade your earned gear. This sets up the loop you will continue to repeat throughout the game, and while it seems simple, it offers an addictive format as you continually try to get just a bit deeper to get that next upgrade or new piece of gear.

Again, it may not be of the caliber of “Undertale,” but I thought “SteamWorld” would be a nice bonus to include if you are looking for something a bit more gameplay driven rather than a narrative. The game’s steampunk, western art style certainly helps distinguish itself from other metroidvanias, but the gameplay itself is what will keep you coming back for more. If you are looking to jump into the genre for the first time, “SteamWorld Dig” offers a great value at $10 and will hopefully lead you to explore the genre further as it did for me.

GAMING REVIEW: ‘Marvel’s Spider-Man’

Warning: The following review contains minor plot and character elements from early on in the story.

The history of games involving “Spider-Man” is a long one, beginning with a modest title on the Atari 2600, which focused on the hero simply scaling a building to reach Green Goblin at the top. Jump forward to when the 3D-space was realized in games, where a number of “Spider-Man” centric games focused on trying to capture his staple web-slinging from building to building. Most tried and failed with this key mechanic, all but Treyarch, a studio tasked with creating a game adaptation of the film “Spider-Man 2” at the time. What set this title apart from the rest was its focus on having your webs attach to buildings rather than the sky, which also made use of a momentum-based system, and was ultimately a treat to play at the time. It was one of my favorite games growing up, and I distinctly remember standing in the EB Games at the time before its release, bewildered with what I was seeing in the demo as Spidey swung down from a building and began beating up a group of thugs. Looking past the nostalgia, the game’s traversal is still a neat attraction as are its humorous side quests and rude dialogue from New York citizens, but it fails to hold up like it once did in the long run. I bring all of this up because Insomniac Games has seemingly captured the heart of how fun I remember the game being in “Marvel’s Spider-Man,” but amplifies it to ten with its own unique flare added on.

Image courtesy of Insomniac Games & Sony Interactive Entertainment

Gameplay

The main pillar in ensuring a game’s success is, unsurprisingly, gameplay. You can craft a compelling story and a photo-realistic world to go along with it, but if it’s not fun to play, you likely won’t find players sticking around for very long. Like previously stated before in regards to a “Spider-Man” game, what people expect first and foremost is an engaging web-slinging mechanic. You want to imitate the adrenaline of what it would feel like to swing between two hulking skyscrapers, running along a wall or zipping through a pipe at a construction site. All of this, Insomniac flat out nails to a tee. No game before has matched a traversal system as free-flowing and outright fun as this one has accomplished. Zipping across skyscrapers and diving down to swing feels intuitive enough that you could pass the controller to anyone and they would have a good time with it. You’re given the entire island of Manhattan as your playground, which I often found myself mindlessly swinging through, negligent of any of the objectives or collectibles the game had placed in front of me.

The other half of the coin comes down to combat, another key piece to the “Spider-Man” game puzzle. When approaching fights, you have the option of starting stealthy or jumping right into the action. Stealth focuses on whittling down the group of thugs or henchmen’s numbers through silent takedowns, a web-based gadget like a trip-mine or tying them up from above, similar to how Batman does in the “Arkham” games. The man-to-man combat also borrows from “Arkham” in a way, but provides its own Spidey twist. If you attempt to brawl your way through enemies like Batman, you probably won’t find much success. Rather you need to take advantage of Spider-Man’s webs and gadgets to take down enemies. By the end of the game, when you have access to his full gadget wheel and your favorite suit power, the combat really clicks into place as you find a rhythm for beating up miscreants through both web and fist tactics, as well as an assortment of quips and name-calling from Spider-Man.

At certain points in the story, the game will give you a break from the action and put you in the shoes of a non-spidey character like Mary Jane. Most of these segments involve stealth and are a nice change of pace from the typical game flow. You also will take control of Peter Parker’s more scientific side which will have you completing two types of “science” based puzzles, which I found to be pretty fun. However, if you find the puzzles to be too difficult, the game does provide an accessibility option to skip them.

Image courtesy of Insomniac Games & Sony Interactive Entertainment

Narrative

Besides the game’s traversal, the plot was where I was most interested in going after the game’s initial E3 showcase reveal. Much like “Spider-Man: Homecoming,” Insomniac has opted to bypass the web-slinger’s origin story, instead placing us in control of him about seven years after he becomes Spider-Man. The game starts off with the NYPD preparing to make the arrest of Kingpin with Spider-Man heading off closely behind to help out. This is about as much of the story as I’m willing to give away as I think this is something you will certainly want to experience blindly for yourself. Insomniac presents a strong narrative, and while I think its “twists” are mildly predictable, they constantly execute on the buildup to them and the moments themselves. There is a specific character dynamic between Peter and someone else, which I think the studio absolutely nails and carries on right into the games climax, all in a way I don’t think any mainstream format has covered before.

Of course, the main thing they need to nail is the Peter/Spider-Man relationship and I think they handle it in a way that feels familiar and fresh at the same time. Yuri Lowenthal plays the role and he captures the good-natured side of Peter along with the humble-yet-joking Spider-Man. He’s written and portrayed in a way that makes Spider-Man feel relatable as a hero and he never talks down or acts as if he is better than any of the people he is saving. One thing that I really appreciate about the game is they make Mary Jane, portrayed by the extremely talented Laura Bailey, a much more capable protagonist than any prior outings really make her. In Insomniac’s world, she is a reporter for the Daily Bugle, where she is often working in tandem with Spider-Man. Their relationship is explored in a way that is not too unique, besides their partnership, but culminates in a satisfying conclusion by the end.

Most of the key players you would expect in a “Spider-Man” story are here, such as Aunt May or Norman Osborn, but we are also given a look at some characters not often explored. Most prominent of these is Mr. Negative, someone who holds a close relationship with Peter before his early turn to villany. With the number of villains we have already seen in Spider-Man’s rogues gallery on-screen, it’s cool to see his powers and backstory get the spotlight shone on him. You also have J. Jonah Jameson in this story, though here he is a podcaster who carries on a tirade against the web-slinging menace while still holding a genuine love for his city. You’ll sometimes hear his comical rants as you zip through the city and they usually left me waiting before missions to finish listening to.

Image courtesy of Insomniac Games & Sony Interactive Entertainment

Design

Since it’s open-world design, the City of New York that Insomniac has built is a technical marvel. Despite its gargantuan size, it is incredibly detailed throughout, featuring iconic real life locations as well as buildings and areas you would only get in the Marvel Universe. More so, it feels alive with how the traffic and pedestrians inhabit the streets below, with whom Spider-Man can interact with through high-fives, selfies, pointing finger-guns and more. The citizens will give off dialogue which pertains to recent in-game events, which only furthers your immersion into the game as well. You’ll also come across an assortment of random crimes in each district, whether that be thugs robbing a store or a group of terrorists driving a truck strapped with explosives down the busy streets of NYC. Besides the main missions, you will also find more activities to take part in, like tracking down backpacks from Peter’s past which hold mementos for more exploration on his backstory as well as chasing pigeons for a homeless man who has a deeper story to tell than you would think at first glance. There’s much more to do, but the main takeaway should be that you’ll never find yourself bored in between the downtime for missions.

Throughout the game you’ll also unlock more suits. These range from ones made specifically for the game to a number of outfits pulled from Spidey’s deep comic book and film history. At first, I wasn’t fully sold on the main suit designed for the game, featuring the unorthodox white spider, but as I saw it in action and played around with it, I loved the unique look they chose to make their incarnation of Spider-Man stand out. The game has a photo mode as well where you can angle up some great shots and make use of a bevy of filters, stickers, frames and photo settings to get that perfect shot. I usually don’t find myself making use of this feature in many games, but this one’s deep customization and array of shots to make in New York were tempting enough, which are the ones you see in this review.

Music is often one of the most underappreciated aspects of a game, which is a shame given how many studios often find a soundtrack that suits their game well. This title is no different, and the main theme feels at home with some of the cinematic Spidey scores but feels different enough to stand on its own. In key scenes, the music always matches the tone well and amps up the emotions you’re feeling during it. What never got old in my entire playtime was the orchestra kicking in with the game’s main theme each time you begin your first swing to the next destination.

Image courtesy of Insomniac Games & Sony Interactive Entertainment

Final Thoughts

Thanks to the Tobey Maguire “Spider-Man” films going on at the time, I was one of the many kids extremely in to “Spider-Man.” There’s something relatable to the image of Spidey that always stands out, whether it be an incarnation from Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Gwen Stacy or whoever else slaps on some web-shooters and fights crime. When I heard the studio behind one of my favorite platforms, “Ratchet & Clank,” was making the next “Spider-Man” game, it seemed like a match made in heaven.

Even with my high expectations, Insomniac exceeded them in telling one of the best “Spider-Man” stories from beginning to end, all on top of a game that is extremely fun to play and has a vast world to explore. They juggle the duality of Spider-Man and Peter Parker’s relationships and how it may go if it all began to fold in on itself. It’s no surprise why this game gets the Marvel fade-in graphic at the startup of the game, one of the few to get the company’s own stamp of approval. “Marvel’s Spider-Man” continues Sony’s hot-streak of killer exclusives and also stands as one of my favorite games of the console generation.

Gaming Roundup: September 2018

“Marvel’s Spider-Man” – September 7 for PS4

Image courtesy of Insomniac Games

Kicking off the month of September is Sony’s next tentpole exclusive, “Spider-Man,” finally giving the Marvel hero’s license to capable hands in Insomniac Games. The studio is home to the minds behind the great action-platformer series “Ratchet & Clank,” as well as the Xbox One debut title “Sunset Overdrive.” The game’s story is set a few years after Peter Parker became Spider-Man, giving players a more experienced web-slinger to take control of. Traversal has been emphasized by the studio, and based on trailers and footage seen, they have perfectly captured how Spidey swings around the city. We’ve gotten a lot of poorly done “Spider-Man” games in the past, but with Rocksteady Studios’ “Arkham Asylum” showing you can make a genuinely fun superhero game through Batman, I think we’re finally due for a good title for the iconic web-head.

“NBA 2K19” – September 11 for PS4, Xbox One, Switch and PC

Image courtesy of 2K Games

The newest iteration in the hugely popular basketball series, “NBA 2K,” is set to celebrate its 20th release this year. For “2K19,” the studio is going with rising star Giannis Antetokounmpo and the already well-proven LeBron James as this year’s cover athletes, making the celebration for the anniversary as bombastic as possible. The studio has made it clear that they’ve listened in terms of the various improvements to modes, like overhauling the online association mode for MyLeague, a stronger narrative for MyCareer and more ways to build a better squad in MyTeam. It remains to be seen whether those promises hold weight, though community members from early-access events have noted a substantial improvement in the game’s core gameplay compared to last year’s. Continuing the tradition of pulling big Hollywood names for their MyCareer story mode, 2K brings on Anthony Mackie to headline the game, probably most known for his role in the MCU as Sam Wilson (A.K.A Falcon).

All that said, the game still uses a microtransaction model to speed up your progression, even when the majority of the rest of the industry has avoided those pay-to-win mechanics like the plague after last year’s debacle. The reason that 2K and other sports series continue this model is their domination of their respective marketplace, with no reliable other game to go to that offers a fun basketball, soccer or football experience. EA flat out owns the license to make NFL games, and games like “PES” or “NBA Live” fail to match the gameplay quality of their competitors, despite introducing compelling additions like being able to create a female player or getting to play as WNBA teams in “NBA Live.”

“Shadow of the Tomb Raider” – September 14 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC

Image courtesy of Square Enix & Eidos Montréal

The initial reboot for the “Tomb Raider” series during the last console generation was one of the highlights from the era for me personally. It finally gave the iconic video game character Lara Croft a much more realistic presence, showcasing the shift from a scared castaway to the compelling hero most know her as now. The game made excellent use of her defining moments, such as when she has to kill someone for the first time, emphasizing the regretful emotions she experiences despite being completely justified in her actions. Probably the one flaw the series has had thus far was in choosing a release date, with the second game released in 2015 on a timed exclusivity contract with Xbox and lost between games like “Call of Duty: Black Ops III,” “Fallout 4” and “Star Wars: Battlefront.” Despite that rough outing, the series has gathered a dedicated base behind it, enough so to warrant a film adaptation based on the reboot earlier this year. This third title finds itself right on the tail of Sony’s aforementioned marquee title “Spider-Man,” as well as the year-round bestseller “NBA 2K.” I do think the game will still find success though, and hopefully enough to warrant a continuation in the series.