All posts by Karen

Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2018: Picks From the Dealers’ Room

This may shock you, but I spent too much money in the Dealers’ Room once again. I joked after Cradle Con that I wasn’t going to spend any more money on games or anime for the rest of the year and uh…yeah, I lied. I am a liar. I am setting a bad example for my family.

Nevertheless, I cannot go back in time and unspend all this money (not that I would), so I may as well take advantage of my fevered shopping spree by getting a blog post out of it. Seriously, if I go to Anime NYC (or any other con) anytime soon, I’m probably going to have to make a point of avoiding the dealers room, since I really can’t afford to do this. But enough realistic negativity, I have swag to show off!

I filled out my PS1 RPG collection with these two gems, which I’ve wanted for a long time. I’ve always been intrigued by the dating/weapon forging mechanics in Thousand Arms, and the job system in Star Ocean: The Second Story always sounded exactly like my cup of tea. There are PSP remakes of the early Star Ocean games, but from what I’ve read, I’m better off with the original here anyway. I wish I’d bought more of these games back when they came out, but back then, I only had so much babysitting money….

Speaking of RPGs, I needed this to fill out my FF collection so I can make good on my ongoing threat of Let’s Playing them all some day. Technically I do own these games already (Final Fantasy: Dawn of Souls for the GBA), but I’ve decided recently that I’d rather have everything in Playstation format when possible. PSX discs are readily available, usually inexpensive, and easy to (legally) play on the computer with an emulator.

For the record, I’ve never actually finished FF1; I’ve played about 75% of the way through it several different times, but just never completed it for some reason. I need to fix that sometime soon. FF2 I have yet to even attempt.

Not JRPGs? There must be some mistake!

I wasn’t planning on buying these, but I’ve been hearing since the ’90s that the Legacy of Kain series is high-quality, and these were really inexpensive. As an Eidos series, Kain is kind of like Lara Croft’s brother anyway, right? It made sense in my head.

After attending Leonard Herman’s panel on video game history, I was really curious to read his book. Phoenix has been around since 1994, but the fourth edition covers games history through 2015, so there’s a lot to go through here. I’ve started reading it and find it quite addictive, even if a lot of it is dedicated to covering dodgy peripherals for obscure systems I never knew existed.

Mr. Herman was really nice and even offered to help me raid the Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester to get at their JRPG collection, although I was kidding about that. Or…maybe he was kidding. Let’s assume someone was kidding.

Most of you probably need some background in order to understand why I absolutely lost my shit when fell over this. Versus Books was a company that put out unauthorized game guides back in the ’90s, and they’ve been all but forgotten today. What a lot of people don’t know is that in addition to being very thorough, the Versus guides were also hilarious; reading the Metal Gear Solid book is almost as fun as playing the game itself. Years ago, my brother wrote to the company to try to get a copy of this guide, but they were out of business at that point and it seemed like there was no way to get it.

I don’t know if they used this book to take the piss out of FF7 the way they did for MGS and Resident Evil 2, but if there’s even a chance, I have to find out. Plus, maybe I’ll finally learn how to master all those stupid Gold Saucer minigames that I suck at.

One of the only early Tomb Raider guides that I didn’t already have. I like to collect the TR strategy guides because I need them to complete the damned things I like the extra stuff that’s often included in these books. Chronicles was the installment of TR that came with the infamously robust Tomb Raider Level Editor (TRLE), so I’m curious to see what the book has to say about that.

Apparently magazine ads for games have become collectibles, which makes sense; they often make nice mini-posters. I didn’t think this was something I was that interested in until I saw that they had an add for Ehrgeiz, then I just had to get it. I got a few more of these while I was there (see header). Sadly, they did not have any ads for Parasite Eve. I also picked up one for the original Advance Wars for my brother, since that’s one of his all-time favorites.

These were free, yaaay! Old School Gamer Magazine was kind enough to give away sample issues to anyone who signed up for their email list. I’m glad to discover another print game magazine, since all my favorite ones ceased publication long ago. This mag just started last year, but it has a very experienced team of writers. I’m definitely going to keep up with it and hope they keep publishing it for a long time.


This concludes my posts on LIRGE for 2018. I hope you all enjoyed getting a peek at this fun convention, and consider coming down in 2019 if you’re anywhere near the NY area. LIRGE also includes Tabletop Expo, which I did not cover because I had my hands full with the video game component, but I hope to spend more time there next year. Tabletop Expo might be spun off into it’s own convention next year, so definitely keep tabs on the LIRGE website if you’re interested in attending either or both.

Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2018: Cosplay!

The Long Island Retro Gaming Expo may not be a cosplay destination in the same way that say, Anime Expo is. That said, there was some pretty impressive cosplay on display, and even the simpler costumes shined when their wearers went all-out with roleplaying. Since it was a gaming convention, obviously most of the characters depicted were from games, but there were also some costumes from anime and films. There was even a roving gang of Star Wars cosplayers, but I never got a good picture of them because they only seemed to show up when I was a)eating a sandwich or b)in the bathroom.

No one literally said, “You just missed them; the elusive Star Wars cosplayers!” but that was kind of how it felt. I hope that was the only group cosplay that I missed; if I find out there was a Final Fantasy VII troop somewhere that I just never ran into, I’m going to be upset.

A note on lighting: The Expo holds its cosplay contest in the Planetarium, which is a really cool venue in general, but it doesn’t have the best lighting for photography. I took a lot of these photos during the contest, meaning the photos are a bit dark. I’ve done my best to compensate, but there’s a limit to what I can do. Geek-E Magazine sponsors the cosplay contest, and they had a professional photographer taking pictures, so better pics will be available through them at some point.

Let’s start with a character close to my heart, a gorgeous Lara Croft. Man, I want to cosplay as Lara Croft now…maybe next year. Of course, if I was going to do that, I should have probably done it before I cut off nearly all my hair. Maybe I can cosplay Dora the Explorer in the meantime?

The only Star Wars cosplayer I was able to track down. Was he part of the roving gang of Star Wars people, or an independent agent? Not sure. I should have tried to follow him and see if he’d lead me to the Jedi or whoever, but I’m pretty sure that would have violated the con’s no-stalking rules….

A great Street Fighter group cosplay; so glad I caught these guys on my way out. Sadly, there was no group of X-Men cosplayers for them to fight with; I’ll have to wait for next year in the hopes of seeing an X-Men vs. Street Fighter reenactment. But it’s possible! Keep hope alive!

The judges for the Kids Cosplay contest. I didn’t take pics of the kids for the most part (as a parent, I feel weird about it), but this Little Sister from Bioshock 2 crept in there.

I’m going to level with you, I have no idea what’s going on here. Bunny Sailor Mercury hanging out with…The Riddler? Not a clue. Why didn’t it occur to me to ask them while I was taking the picture? I am an AWARD-WINNING journalist goshdarnit, you’d think I’d know better than to embarrass myself like this.

Awesome Breath of the Wild Zelda. Not to be confused with the Hyrule Warriors version of Zelda, who was also in attendance. It’s almost like this Zelda series is popular or something.

Ness from Earthbound. I’ve really gotta play that game one of these years….

Crash Bandicoot.

This costume is of a Clow Card from Card Captor Sakura, but I’ve been looking for a while and I can’t figure out which card it is. It sound like she said the “Fate” card, but I can’t find any reference to a Fate Clow Card on CCSak sites. Any Sakura superfans able to help me out here?

Your friendly neighborhood Tobi from Naruto.

Hyrule Warriors Zelda. It’s a shame I couldn’t get a better picture, because this was an awesome costume. She won Best in Show.

Cube from Jet Set Radio Future. Love the skates!

Finally, a Mario! Worth the wait.

It’s another Ness from Earthbound. Uh, I really need to play that game….

The Squid Sisters from Splatoon.

Awww, it’s an entire Mario family! I’ve never seen Peach in a cowboy hat before, but I’m sure that comes from somewhere. Their performance was hilarious; they split the Best Group Cosplay trophy with the Splatoon group.

This is a cosplay from the movie The Hangover 2. I haven’t seen the movie, so I have no idea what’s going on here, but it looks like a really good attempt at…at…at a costume. Way to think out of the box there, friend.

A lovely Princess Peach. Not that I have anything against “casual Peach” above, but this is what I think of when I think of the Princess of the Mushroom Kingdom. This cosplay won the Best Craftsmanship award.

Liu Kang from Mortal Kombat. He did not do any huge acrobatics (which are against con policy anyway), but he did a nice routine featuring Kang’s trademark kicks. I wonder: did he have a violent confrontation with the Street Fighter team above? The mind boggles.

Remember Breath of the Wild Zelda from alllll the way back at the beginning? She found herself a Link! Okay, obviously these two came together, but I like the idea that they just randomly found each other at the convention. Then it was love at first sight.

Thank you to all the cosplayers for allowing me to photograph you. To those cosplayers at LIRGE that I missed (and I know there were some), my apologies; I was trying to get as many of you as possible, but I’m only one person and can’t be everywhere at once. I’ll probably be dressed as Dora the Explorer next year, so if I missed you this time around, you know where to look to get your picture taken.

Keep in mind I’m in my 30s though, if you see an age-appropriate Dora the Explorer cosplay, that is an actual child and you should probably leave them alone.

 

Long Island Retro Gaming Expo 2018

The Long Island Retro Gaming Expo is probably the warmest convention I’ve ever been to. I’m not referring to the ambient temperature; the AC was working fine (and in the Planetarium, arguably too well.) I mean it felt warm in the sense of being incredibly inviting and friendly. Part of this is no doubt due to the efforts of the con organizers (who deserve plenty of credit for putting together a great event), but I think it’s also due to what the gaming community looks like in 2018.

You had babies in strollers clutching beloved Pikachu plushies, little kids wearing Mario t-shirts, older men and women who vividly remembered playing their Magnavox Odyssey in the ’70s, and everything in between. It was really a family event, not just because there was all-ages programming, but simply because there were a whole lot of families walking around. You had hardcore game collectors, anime cosplayers, tabletop enthusiasts, professional game historians, indie game developers, and little kids who just wanted to play Sonic all day long, and everyone seemed to be having a wonderful time together. I know that this one convention does not represent the state of gamer culture in the entire world, but the attendance at this event couldn’t be further from the stereotype of the stand-offish, “toxic” gamer.

The whole second floor of the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, NY was filled with dozens and dozens of consoles playing retro games. There were also plenty of classic Arcade cabinets. 

The main Freeplay arcade area, minutes before the doors opened at 10 a.m.; once the con was open, it was standing-room only in here.

Even though the con is primarily focused on the gaming of yesteryear, there was plenty of talk at panels about recent developments in the industry. About half the convention was in morning after the apparent Death of Luigi during Nintendo Direct; streamer Vinesauce even held a “moment of silence” for Luigi during his panel. (It lasted about one second, but hey, it’s the thought that counts, right?) More importantly, everyone was talking about Nintendo’s aggressive targeting of ROM sites; in some cases, it came up because I asked about it specifically, but a lot of other congoers broached the subject during Q&A sessions as well.

While no one condemned Nintendo for shutting down emulation sites, many guests expressed concerns about how this move could effect the preservation of video game history.

“Taking such a broad approach to the issue does actual harm to the medium,” said Jeremy Parish of the Retronauts podcast. “As it is, it feels like they’re cutting off access to the past.” Parish went on to suggest that Nintendo continue taking down ROMs of their own games, but perhaps allow ROMs for more obscure titles to remain available.

From left to right: Jeremy Parish and Bob Mackey of Retronauts, and Kurt Kalata, Editor-in-Chief of Hardcore Gaming 101. Their panel covered the history of SuperJoe.

“This is a tricky topic….there are some games that are out of print, that the only people that would be making money from them are second-hand sellers– for like $400, for some of these games,” said @VinnyVincesauce, a popular streamer. “So you want a game that is, let’s say, from 1989, that you can’t get on the Virtual Console, that you can’t legally own. Now they’re making it harder for you to get it, so it’s just gone now.”

To Vinny’s surprise, the Vinesauce panel filled pretty much the entire Planetarium at the museum. This was about as close as I could get.

Leonard Herman, video game scholar and author of Phoenix IV: The History of The Videogame Industry, had a different perspective on Nintendo’s actions. “I’m for that…As a writer, you have copyrighted materials. The copyright lasts the life of the person who wrote it plus 50 years, and whether you’re making money on it–whether it’s available or not– those copyrights should be preserved. And I found my book, the earlier editions, on the internet for download, and it infuriates me…not that I’m losing a sale…I just don’t believe, unless the person who put it out agrees to it, I don’t agree with that.”

Right: Video game collector and educator John Hancock, and Leonard Herman, known as the Father of Videogame History. Their panel together covered not only milestones in video game history, but how to dispel misconceptions about videogames and disseminate the facts instead.

“I’m torn, because as a preservationist, emulators are the only way to play prototypes and hacks and all that stuff, and I think that’s awesome,” said game collector John Hancock, Herman’s co-panelist. He went on to say how frustrated he was as a collector to see Nintendo pass on the opportunity to allow people to legally purchase ROMs for individual games, and instead focus on “half-baked” options like the NES Classic. “It frustrates me to no end.”

Shawn Long, better known as RGT85 on Youtube, also lamented the inability to legally purchase older games directly from Nintendo, using the example of Mario Sunshine for the Gamecube. “This should be done more on a case-by-case basis,” said Long, echoing what Parish had said earlier in the convention.

Naturally, there were plenty of other things to talk about besides Nintendo’s recent shenanigans. Pete Dorr of Pete’s Game Room hosted a very entertaining panel about collecting games for older systems, speed-running, and finding underrated gems in older console libraries. He has also very nearly convinced me that I need to speedrun Ehrgeiz: The Forsaken Dungeon, so if you hear any tortured screaming coming vaguely from the Tri-State Area, know that it’s all Pete’s fault.

The guys from the Stone Age Gamer podcast used their panel to pit controller-against-controller in a no-holds-barred Best of 16, “The Best WORST Controller.” With the help of the audience, they picked the Dreamcast controller as their favorite “bad” controller; personally, I think the fix may have been in for the Dreamcast from the start, but I will give the SAG guys the benefit of the doubt here.

The Stone Age Gamer panel: Kris Randazzo, Dean DeFalco, and Marc Raimo.

I even got to attend a panel on NESMaker, something I didn’t know existed before this convention. Software that allows you to make videogames without coding has proliferated in recent years, but what makes NESMaker particularly special is that you can burn your creation to an actual cartridge and play it on an NES console; obviously, you need to invest in some hardware to be able to take advantage of that particular feature, but it’s pretty amazing to me that this is even possible. In terms of features, the program looks to me like it has a lot in common with RPG Maker, although with fewer options; however, that might be a good thing. Apparently you can knock out a game in NESMaker in a weekend if you feel like it, whereas RPG Maker can consume your entire life if you let it (believe me, I know this from experience.) I’m not sure if I’m quite ready to drop $36 on the software myself, but for hardcore NES-era fans, this looks like a dream come true.

I have some other stuff from the con to post for you: keep an eye out for cosplay photos and my pick ups from the dealers room (aka “The Reason Karen Can Not Afford to Go To Conventions Anymore). Now I’m going to go obsessively look up information on speedrunning, because surely I can find the time to fit that into my schedule, right? Don’t answer that.

Review: Uncomfortably Happily by Yeon-Sik Hong

I picked up this volume pretty much on a whim. While I’ve read plenty of manga, manhua is relatively new to me, and it seemed like a good time to dive in. The story of two artists leaving bustling city life behind for a secluded, yet picturesque existence on an isolated mountaintop was immediately appealing; I’m a sucker for anything about the beauty of nature (except for actually going outside in real life, since there are bugs out there, but let’s gloss over that for now.)

So I was expecting a kind of manhua version of Non Non Biyori, or Laid Back Camp; a comic that immerses you in the wonders of the outdoors through beautiful artwork, and leaves you feeling serene and somehow, purified. Uncomfortably Happily is that, to a certain extent, but there’s a lot more going on here. It’s also about the dangers (both physical and psychological) of trying to earn your daily bread as an artist, and the difficulty of living in the moment even when you’re trying your absolute damndest to do so.

Hong’s style is well-suited to the material. While the characters are very cartoony (and quite adorable), the backgrounds are elegant; detailed, yet not fussy or over-rendered. The story covers the change of several seasons, and through Hong’s linework, you can very nearly feel the change in the temperature on your skin. When the trees are all covered in snow and Hong and his wife huddle around their little charcoal stove, you can feel that warmth, that inviting coziness, so effortlessly. At some points the art loses its detail work and becomes very stark, but always in the service of creating powerful images that communicate the characters’ inner lives better than any dialogue could.

This is an autobiographical comic and it feels like it, filled with tons of little details that would probably only occur to someone who had lived in this exact scenario. I’m always a little hesitant to use the term “autobiography” in regard to comics, because a lot of so-called autobiographical comics that I’ve read feature a lot of fiction weaved in with the real-life remembrances (and there isn’t anything wrong with that, necessarily, but it does make me wonder if the term “semi-autobiographical” isn’t a safer designation.) I have no idea how much of this comic was drawn directly from Hong’s experience, and how much might have been exaggerated for drama, but regardless, it feels real; it feels like a glimpse into a year or so of someone’s life, disappointments and all.

Sometimes I think about retreating to some rural cottage somewhere, breathing clean air and going swimming in a crystal-clear stream every morning. It’s a nice idea, but for some reason, I think I’d always assumed that in that venue, my problems would just disappear, and Uncomfortably Happily shows all the reasons why natural beauty, as wonderful as it is, is not a cure-all for your problems. In fact, sometimes it felt a little uncomfortable to read this book, since the gap between the pastoral paradise Hong wants and the reality of his life is so jarring, it made me conscious of how unrealistic my own fantasies were. Nevertheless, nature can be a cure for what ails you, but it’s not going to do the work all by itself; you need to meet nature halfway, by being at peace with yourself (or close enough to it) that you can actually take in the wonder of what you’re surrounded by with clear eyes.

Uncomfortably Happily is $29.95, published by Drawn and Quarterly. Originally published in two volumes in Korea, this thick edition has the complete story. The paperback edition isn’t as robust as I would like; after one reading, the spine already looks pretty worn. Nevertheless, it’s an attractive looking book and deserves a place on your graphic novel shelf. And if you don’t have a graphic novel shelf, for some strange reason, you can always just put it on your regular bookshelf (preferably next to Henry David Thoreau’s Walden), and call it a day.

X-Men: TAS Episode 3: Enter Magneto

Hi everyone, and welcome to the latest installment covering a cartoon from 1992 that still feels so relevant it kind of hurts you on an existential level, X-Men: The Animated Series! Seriously, this is a pretty stellar episode with a surprisingly adult script (even for this show), and I don’t want to wait any longer before diving into it.

Actually, I should pause to say one thing: I’m not going to attempt to keep politics out of these recaps. As sympathetic as I usually am to the “please keep your stupid politics out of my fun escapism show” argument, this cartoon happens to deal with a huge amount of political themes. Trying to write about this show without mentioning politics is like trying to write about My Little Pony without mentioning unicorns: You can try really hard, but at some point you have to acknowledge that Ponyland is just bursting to the gills with fucking unicorns, you know?

We start out at a jail; apparently this is some kind of super-secure jail for mutants, or perhaps just hardened criminals, but it doesn’t really matter. Beast is reading Orwell’s Animal Farm in his cell, and the idiot guards are taunting him, mistaking from the title that it must be a picture book for children. Beast doesn’t look terribly upset by this; I’ll bet if you asked him, he would lay the blame for their behavior at the feet of a sub-par American education system that allowed these people to go through school without learning about George Orwell, and he bears no grudge against them personally. For Beast, the root problem is never hate, only ignorance. He may not be entirely right, but he’s right more often than Magneto.

Speaking of which, Magneto is going nuts ripping up the facility with his magnetic tomfoolery, leading the guards to panic. Beast, bless him, calmly puts a bookmark in Animal Farm so he won’t lose his place, and prepares to scold Wolverine, whom he assumes is responsible for the all the hubbub. Alas, it is not the brash Canadian one, but Magneto, in all his power and glory! It’s telling that Beast already knows who Magneto is; even though Xavier clearly hasn’t told the other X-Men about Mags yet, he has confided in his fellow doctor.

Magneto wants to break Beast out of jail in the name of mutant solidarity, but Beast isn’t having it; he wants to go through the legal system properly, to prove that mutants can and should be treated as humans by the law. What’s really striking about this is how out of touch it is with today’s notions of “social justice;” from a modern, progressive perspective, Beast is putting himself in the hands of the oppressor and expecting the oppressor to give him justice after an appeal to their common humanity, and that’s a fool’s errand. The modern view, at least in many academic circles, is that you should do everything possible to disrupt “the oppressors,” because you’re never going to convince them to do the right thing through reason.

But that’s the nature of (this particular) Beast though; you can’t convince him that “civility doesn’t work” (or, more on the nose, that Civil Disobedience doesn’t work), because Beast’s whole character is about rejecting the primal, emotional reactions you’d expect a “beast” to be governed by, in favor of civility. If your path to justice isn’t civil, Beast has no interest. I never thought about it before, but really, Beast is the one who’s more diametrically opposed to Mag’s viewpoint, and not Xavier. Xavier and Magneto are different sides of the same coin, while Beast is using different currency entirely.

“While I respectfully recognize that this is in contrast to today’s notions of Performative Wokeness, I will surrender myself to the mercy of my Oppressor because I refuse to internalize the simplistic Oppressed/Oppressor dichotomy; not primarily out of any altruistic concerns for my ideological opponents, but because I do MYSELF an injustice by conceiving of my existence in such terms.”

“Also, jail gives me a lot of free time to read and that’s awesome, don’t ruin this for me bro.”

Magneto is surprised to learn that Xavier was responsible for the lawbreaking that got Beast jailed, since he always thinks of Charles as sitting around and doing nothing, waiting for humans to start being nice. This is another important distinction: according to Magneto, Xavier doesn’t fight, and that’s naive. In reality Xavier does fight, but he tries to fight surgically, picking the most important battles, whereas Magneto just wants to declare all-out-war all the time. It’s classic all-or-nothing thinking: Xavier does fight back against evil and injustice, but he doesn’t do it exactly the way Magneto wants, therefore Magneto treats it as Xavier doing fuck-all. If he had to accept that Xavier was also actively fighting for mutant rights, he’d have to examine his own views, and he’s too emotionally damaged to do that. Much easier to adopt an “you’re either with me or against me” mentality.

“Listen, Charles doesn’t like us breaking into government facilities on general principle, but there were kids being kidnapped, so we had to vaporize all of their data and destroy all of their advanced weapons.”

“How like Charles, to sit there doing NOTHING!”

“…what part of ‘we destroyed their entire operation’ is confusing to you?”

Naturally, the guards are trying to shoot Magneto, which Magneto tries to use as proof of the humans’ overall terribleness; not very convincing when Magneto was the one who broke in and started causing havok. Beast says that the humans fight because they don’t understand, but Magneto counters that they do understand; humans realize that mutants are superior, and that’s why they fear them.

This is an interesting point, but one X-Men dealt with relatively early in its publishing history. Cyclops has a wonderful speech in X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills about how mutant talents, while special, are not far-and-away above non-mutant talents in terms of overall value. Sure, being able to use your eye-lasers to punch through a wall has its uses, but how does that compare to a doctor who comes up with a new treatment for a disease, saving thousands of lives? How does enhanced physical strength compare to what a visionary artist or musician can do, enhancing the lives of millions? From this perspective, “Homo Superior” really isn’t superior in any meaningful sense, and is merely part of the vast continuum of human ability.

As an aside, the reason why I haven’t enjoyed X-Men comics in about 15 years is because Marvel Comics seems to have collective amnesia about God Loves, Man Kills. They’ve doubled down on the idea of mutants as this special, “endangered” species separate from humanity, which seems completely at odds with what the original point of the series was. Basically, regardless of how much Magneto is involved in the stories (and it varies), recent X-Men comics seem to be about a world where Magneto’s ideology won, and that’s not okay with me. But I’m getting too far afield of the episode here, and I’m sorry.

Mad that Beast isn’t read to join Team Mutants Only, Magneto goes on a rampage and destroys more of the jail. For the most part, he’s seen damaging tanks while the human pilots escape, but there are a few cases where it looks like the pilots must have been killed, or at least hurt. This will be important later.

Back at the mansion, Xavier is explaining his history with Magneto to Jubilee. Now, World War II and the Holocaust cast a huge shadow over this show– especially this first season– but since it’s a children’s cartoon, they can’t be too direct about those things. So Xavier says that he and Magneto met “after a war,” without giving any more specifics. There’s an interesting question here about whether or not Magneto is still truly Magneto if you detach him from the Holocaust, but we’ll come back to that another time.

Anyway, Xavier was using his telepathy to “cure” refugees from the war of their trauma, and I wonder; while this is supposed to be an example of what a good guy Xavier is, it’s does provoke some interesting ethical questions. Like, is his version of “curing” patients just burying their PTSD deep in their minds so it can’t affect them? Because that’s essentially what he does for Rogue, burying the Carol Danvers persona so Rogue can function (and we see what happens in Season 2 when he’s not around to do this). It’s questionable if that’s really curing anything, plus, these patients absolutely cannot consent to what he’s doing, because non-telepaths can’t fully understand how telepathy even works. I doubt this is a problem that we’re going to have to face in real life in regard to actual telepaths, but it is something that may come up the more we develop technology that directly interfaces with the brain.

“I’m going to bury those bad, bad memories away deep in your psyche; you’ll probably start having horrible nightmares sometime in the future and you won’t even know why, but hey, you win some you lose some. I’m a very ethical doctor.”

Magneto was supposedly a “young aide” to Xavier at the time, but the animators couldn’t be bothered to come up with a younger character design for Magneto, so he still looks about 45 years old. Magneto and Xavier reveal their powers to each other while rescuing their patients, and Xavier discovers Magneto’s rage at humanity. Xavier urges Magneto to use his powers to help make peace with mankind, only for Magneto to point out that humans “can’t even make peace with each other.” This is an ironic line on many levels, primarily because if there’s one thing that would make all of humanity band together in solidarity, it would be against the kind of mutant uprising that Magneto wants.

Xavier has already defeated his old colleague once, but he’s disturbed that Magneto is starting a new campaign for mutant supremacy. Jubilee reassures him that with the X-Men here now, Magneto can’t fight all of them, and Xavier doesn’t respond. You can kind of tell he’s thinking “Actually, he can fight all of us,” but you don’t say that to a vulnerable 13-year-old whose just had her entire life turned upside down.

Scene change to the courthouse, where Beast is being arraigned. Anti-mutant protesters hold up signs saying things like “GO BACK HOME,” and “GO BACK WHERE YOU CAME FROM!”, which is amusing since Beast is a U.S. Citizen. This is typically the problem with telling people to go “back where they came from,” because Earth isn’t that big a place; if you’re dealing with say, a Shi’ar invasion, you could get some mileage out of “Go back to the solar system where you came from, bird-feathered scum!” but that’s a rather unique circumstance.

Angry Mob in New York: “Go back where you came from, mutant!”

Beast: “Very well.” *Packs bags, goes home to Illinois*

Angry Mob in Illinois: “Go home, mutant!”

Beast: “I’m afraid I have some bad news for you.”

Inside, the prosecution moves to deny bail to Beast because he’s a danger to the community. I think it’s not accidental that the prosecutor is depicted as a black woman; just because you’ve experienced prejudice, that doesn’t mean you won’t dish it out to somebody else when you get a chance. I think it was actually a pretty ballsy choice to do this, since you didn’t see a lot of black female lawyers in cartoons (or on live-action TV) in 1992, and this is a decidedly negative portrayal, brief as it is.

“Your Honor, The People would like to clarify that the phrase ‘People of Color’ has never included, and will never include, blue people. Some colors are just wrong.”

Beast’s lawyer claims that The People want to deny bail just because Beast is a mutant, and the judge is offended by the suggestion that the court is prejudiced. The kind of brilliant thing is, I think the judge honestly believes he isn’t prejudiced; he’s just part of a larger system that is. Like the judge may honestly want to be fair to Beast, but if everything he’s heard about mutants for his entire life has been biased to give him a negative impression, there’s a limit to how fair he can be.

Just in case any adult viewer had somehow missed the fact that anti-mutant sentiment is meant to parallel real-life racism, Beast takes this opportunity to quote The Merchant of Venice. Oy vey, the man has about ten PhD’s, and none of them have taught him how to properly read a room. The judge denies bail, and I can’t even say he’s wrong to do so; the audience knows that Beast did not approve of the violence Magneto did in the course of trying to rescue him, but the court has no real way of knowing that. There’s an element of Magneto’s fears being a self-fulfilling prophecy, because it’s stuff like his attack on the jail that torpedoed any chance of Beast being positively received in court. Beast knows this, and seems more sad than angry.

“Oh God, he’s really doing it. He’s quoting The Merchant of Venice in the courtroom.”

“I thought we talked to him about this.”

Beast holds up a copy of Crime and Punishment and says he’ll have a chance to “catch up on his Dostoevsky,” and I call BS; there’s no way in hell that Beast hasn’t already read Crime and Punishment at least three times, possibly in the original Russian.

Then all hell breaks loose when Sabretooth busts into the courtroom and starts attacking at random. Grrr, Sabretooth! Stop making Beast look bad by association in court! I don’t know, I feel like I should be excited for the arrival of Sabretooth, being such a major recurring villain and so on, but he’s much less interesting than everything else in this episode. The guards manage to use their wimpy little laser guns effectively (for once) and knock down Sabretooth, leading Cyclops to say “they’re going to kill him!” This is unusual, because while characters use euphemisms for murder a lot, very rarely on this show do they actually use the words “kill” and “die”; I think there was some kind of limit to how often you could use words like that on a Y-7 program.

“Arrgh, this is the one time these puny pink laser guns do something? Are you kidding me?”

Wolverine, who’s even less excited by Sabretooth’s appearance than I am, is prepared to let Sabretooth die, which probably comes off as shocking and disturbing if you don’t know the history between the two characters yet. Cyclops fights off the guards and saves the ‘Tooth, although how he lugged about 400 pounds of feral Canadian mutant back to the mansion without Wolverine’s help is anyone’s guess. Nevertheless, somehow Sabretooth ends up in the X-Men’s infirmary.

Jubilee is immediately sympathetic towards Sabretooth because he reminds her of Wolverine; fortunately for her, Wolvie isn’t in the room to hear her say that. Cyclops passes on to Xavier that Wolverine knows (and hates) Sabretooth, and the Professor wants to know why; naturally, no one knows why because Wolverine refuses to tell anyone anything. This little storyarc ends up being about how the team should have had a little more trust in Wolverine when he told them that Sabretooth was bad news, but Wolvie’s at fault too for not even trying to explain. If he’d sat Cyke and the Professor down and told them his whole history with Sabretooth, they might not have kicked the guy out, but they would certainly have been a lot more cautious. The only way Wolvie’s decision not to share information reads as anything other than horribly stupid is if you assume that sharing stuff from his past has come back to bite him more than once, and he’s afraid of making that mistake again.

“Grrrr, I hate this guy so much! Don’t ask me why, it’s a secret. I will take to my grave the reason why I hate this guy, but I want everyone to know that he is just the worst. The worst!”

Wolverine wants to literally push Sabretooth out of the mansion, bed and all, which is kind of funny; he could just pick up Sabretooth and throw him out of the house, but then he’d have to actually touch him, so I guess just shoving the entire bed outside was more appealing. Obviously, Xavier is not going to tolerate any patient being forcibly removed from his infirmary like that, so Wolverine is forced to decide how far his loyalty to Xavier goes. Or rather he would have been, except Magneto attacks a nuclear missile base (!) and everything else is put on hold.

On the way out, Wolverine asks why the X-Men have to go beat up Xavier’s old enemy, but go easy on his, and there’s a very simple answer: because Xavier is in charge, and the X-Men trust his judgement Re: who needs to be beat up more than they do Wolverine’s. But what he says manages to touch a nerve anyway, as Xavier’s grimace shows. The Professor is very conscious of the dangers of abusing his power as the X-Men’s leader; granted, he still does it, but he’s worried about it.

“You know what you are, Chuck? A big fat hypocrite.”

“Be that as it may, nukes are being launched. I need you to go stop Mutually Assured Destruction. You can be angry at me whenever we’re not busy saving the world.”

“…Oh, I see what you did there.”

Magneto starts wreaking havok at the missile base, and to be honest, I’m not sure what his goal is here, exactly. Does he want to set off nuclear Armageddon, figuring that while humanity’s leadership is destroyed, he’ll be able to fill the vacuum? Seems kind of foolish, since a lot of mutants would be killed in a nuclear war too, but I can’t think of any other motivation that makes sense. If he just wants to destroy this one base as proof of what he can do, all he’s doing is setting all military everywhere on high alert, making his life harder. I can’t really complain that the specifics of his plan aren’t discussed though, because there’s no way they could be discussed on a show with this age rating; frankly I’m surprised they got away with identifying the missiles as nuclear warheads, specifically.

Anyway! Storm, Wolverine, and Cyclops show up. No idea where Rogue, Gambit and Jean are right now (you’d think this would be an all-hands-on-deck kind of situation for the X-Men), but whatever; I will have to get my regular dose of Gambit another day. Magneto quotes The Tempest, because spending any time around Beast apparently does that to people, and introduces himself. He seems genuinely disappointed that the X-Men aren’t in favor of his “Nuke our way to happiness” plan. He writes off Xavier’s dream of peaceful coexistence as hopeless, leading Storm to haughtily respond that his preferred alternative is a civil war. To which he basically says, “YES, exactly! A gold star for you!”

I see this argument taking place a lot today, albeit in slightly different form. A lot of people go around saying “Do not even try to reason with members Group X,  they are trash, they are garbage, it is hopeless,” and in some cases, they may even be right. But then it’s like…uh, what alternative do you propose? I have yet to hear any good ones. People who don’t outright call for violence seem to have their hearts set on the naive hope that if they just ignore their ideological opponents hard enough, they’ll somehow stop existing.  At least Magneto realizes that the only solution his logic allows for is violence, and he’s up-front about that.

Magneto throws the X-Men around a bit just to show he means business, then takes off. One thing that’s nice about Magneto as a villain is you don’t find yourself asking “why didn’t he just kill the heroes?” because he will always spare mutant lives on the assumption that they’ll eventually realize that he’s right and join him. Anyway, Wolverine’s version of trying to stop the nuke is to smash up all machinery in sight and hope that some of it, somehow, connects to the launch mechanism; in a way, Wolverine is kind of like a befuddled senior in a “Learn to Use the Your Computer!” class who just doesn’t get how this newfangled technology works. Needless to say, he is about as successful as most 89-year-olds at setting up their email, and the nukes launch.

FISSION MAILED

Professor X said that he “should have stopped Magneto when he had the chance,” which sounds an awful lot like saying he should have killed him when he had the chance, but censored for kids TV. Actually, what the Professor could do (and has done in the comics, although it didn’t stick) is disable Magneto’s mind to the point where he’s a vegetable; either way, not something they can be specific about on this show. Storm decides the only solution is to use her winds to pull the missiles after her and then detonate them over the ocean, killing herself in the process. Apparently there were no rules against suicide on Saturday Morning cartoons at Fox Kids; probably just the word suicide itself was banned.

Using Cerebro, Professor X sends technical information about the missiles into Storm’s mind, which teaches her how to disable them without blowing them up. This seems to work kind of like learning a new skill does in The Matrix, since in a couple of seconds, Storm knows enough about the warheads to know exactly how to deactivate them. Telepathy on this show is exactly as weak or as powerful as it needs to be at any given moment, but to be fair, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a show that utilized telepathy where that wasn’t the case.

You have no idea how hard I worked to get this screenshot. So many shots on this DVD end up just being a blur of two cells together, and there were very few shots with Storm AND any of the missiles in the same frame! See what I endure for you, dear reader?

In an impressive display of her power, Storm guides the missiles, uses electricity to deactivate them, and deposits them harmlessly into the ocean. She then faints, not unlike a nineteenth-century woman in a corset getting the vapors, but eh, I’m not going to make a big deal out of it. It is sexist that Storm (and also Jean) are more likely to faint after using their abilities than the men are, but I don’t think this scene makes Storm look fragile; it makes her look incredibly badass, first for being dedicated enough that she was willing to kill herself on the spot, then for working so hard to stop the missiles that she had nothing left after she was done. Anyone who thinks she looks weak for reaching her physical limits is being unreasonable– the woman just single-handedly averted nuclear war, for crying out loud. Have some respect.

“What would have happened if Storm was on another mission, and instead we had say, Rogue–“

“Don’t ask those questions, Wolverine. Storm was here. STORM MUST ALWAYS BE HERE.”

As the X-Men take off, Magneto gives credit where credit is due and admits that the X-Men have been well-trained. He seems genuinely confused as to why Xavier would turn his back “on his own kind,” and oh dear, this might be hard to explain. If Magneto doesn’t understand why Xavier doesn’t see “provoking global nuclear war” as synonymous with “helping mutantkind,” it may take a while for them to get on the same page here.

“All I wanted was the death of untold millions and the utter chaos that would emerge after the devastation, is that really so much to ask? Why does Charles have to be so unreasonable? He really hasn’t changed from that time we were involved in the [redacted]War in [redacted].”

Next time: Sabretooth reveals his evil scheme! Jubilee pulls her weight! Rogue flirts too much and makes everyone super-uncomfortable! See you next time for Episode 4, Deadly Reunions.

 

Otakusphere (not) Weekly 27: DARLING in the FRANXX Discussion

Here it is, the return of the podcast! Is it biweekly now? Is it monthly? Is it whenever the heck we darn well feel like it? Honestly we haven’t decided yet, but we knew had to pick up our mics again because we needed to discuss DARLING in the FRANXX right now.

Is Franxx a good mecha show? Is Franxx a good dystopia? Will watching Franxx compel you to slap a decal of a confederate flag on the back of your vehicle, because it’s somehow about weird American politics? All this, and more, in our exciting return episode!

Not up to date on all the DarliFra commentary we’ve published thus far? Well then let’s make life easy for you:

Darling in the Franxx: Episodes 1-5

Darling in the Franxx: Episodes 6-10

Darling in the Franxx: Episode 11-15

Darling in the Franxx: Episode 16-19

Darling in the Franxx: Episode 20

Darling in the Franxx: Episode 21

Darling in the Franxx: Episode 22

Darling in the Franxx: Episode 23

Darling in the Franxx: Episode 24

Tomb Raider II, Level 6: Diving Area

From the title, Diving Area sounds like it should be a fun little level. Imagine Lara set loose in some kind of lush waterpark filled with swimming pools, indulging in some underwater treasure hunting whilst taking in some of that gorgeous tropical sunshine. But no, that is not the delicious digital feast that has been prepared for us.

Instead, we’re still stuck on the inside of this claustrophobic, ugly-as-sin oil rig, filled with toxic waste, and whenever we’re not busy running from room to room to push buttons that should really be in the same damn room, some asshole keeps sneaking up on Lara from behind and setting her on fire. There’s room for improvement here, is what I’m saying.

If I can’t have idyllic underwater treasure hunting, I guess two packs of grenades stuck behind a giant fan will have to do. Seriously, this is a well-hidden cache of grenades, there should have been a Jade Dragon here or something.

I did come dangerously close to having fun with this level, because it’s usually pretty clear where you need to go next, plus the platform elements are fun. The experience was spoiled a bit by too many enemies, especially the new flamethrower baddies, who are just unfair. However, there was nothing about this level as singularly tedious as the second half of Offshore Rig, so I’ll take what I can get.

Have You Thought About Renewable Energy Today?

Why is there a pool of toxic waste in the middle of the oil rig? Are they also mining Uranium from the sea floor or something? I wouldn’t put it past Bartoli, I bet that guy wants a dragon AND a gun that shoots nukes.

One thing that I never got around to talking about last level was the fact that Lara’s stuck on an oil rig. I may not like the look of the location, but it’s kind of interesting thematically. Oil is made up of fossils, creatures from the past– plants, animals, who knows what else– that we dredge up from the bottom of the sea and use for power. From a certain point of view, it’s a kind of an exploitation of the past, although a kind of exploitation that Lara herself is guilty of; after all, I don’t recall seeing any solar panels on the roof of Croft Manor.

Mostly, this area is just a pit stop to fit in a few more levels before we get to the sunken ship area, and I don’t think it was meant to serve any larger symbolic purpose. However, the fact that this whole area is associated with the Bartoli cult and all the evils they do (plus the fact that it’s just generally inhospitable towards Lara), gives a pretty negative view of using fossil fuels for energy, whether or not that was the intention. You get the impression that after this little adventure, Lara’s going to seriously consider building a wind farm somewhere on her property…possibly because, after the body count she wracks up on this rig, there won’t be anyone left to process the crude oil anyway.

Puzzle Puzzle, Turmoil and Buzzsaw

This level doesn’t boast particularly impressive puzzles, but it does have functional (and reasonably intuitive) ones. Too much of the level is spent going back and forth between two rooms, because God forbid you ever be able to solve a puzzle in the same room you started in, but let’s be honest: if that kind of gameplay bothers you, you wouldn’t be a fan of Tomb Raider in the first place.

What’s kind of a shame is that there are some things about this level that could be really cool, but don’t really go anywhere. At one point, a helicopter takes off in the middle of the level, but you can’t interact with it in any way, and you’re usually too busy in combat to even see it take off. You do get the opportunity to battle frogmen (and with the acquisition of the harpoon gun, you can even duke it out with them underwater if you want), but the harpoon gun isn’t fun to shoot. Most of the time, even after you have an underwater weapon, you’re still better off picking off the frogmen from solid ground. There’s a giant, spinning buzzsaw on the floor, but you never get the opportunity to shove any enemies into it. C’mon Core, throw me a bone here.

The fact that Lara can’t reach this keycard without getting shredded by the buzzsaw is an amazingly frustrating little tidbit. It’s the fact that it looks like you should be able to just pick the damn thing up without touching the blade that does it.

A note on a particular puzzle: the burner hall puzzle, the one where you can get the M16 if you know where to look for it. I swear I remember from years ago that I could hit one switch (turning off the first burner) then do a side-jump and hit the other one, allowing me to run down the hall, retrieve the circuit board, and make it back with plenty of time. This time around, whenever I tried to make Lara do a side-jump in this area, she kept hitting the ceiling and refused to jump; while I didn’t have a huge problem with it, this made the timing a lot less forgiving. Is this a difference between the Playstation and PC versions perhaps? It’s not important, but it bothers me because I have pretty vivid memories of solving the puzzle one way and it didn’t work this time.

Can you imagine if this fire extinguisher was actually functional, instead of just being there to mock you? Granted, Lara would die from being on fire before you could make it to the other side of the room to use it, but let’s not sweat the details here.

The Unbearable Cheapness of Flame Dudes

I don’t have a screenshot of a flamethrower, since I was always busy shooting like crazy whenever they were on screen, but I admit that was an oversight. So instead of the picture of the Big Bad Flamethrower guy I should have right here, enjoy this screenshot of Lara about to jump on a crane.

The idea that any death in Tomb Raider is “cheap” might seem a little silly. The whole franchise is based on traps that kill you instantly, not to mention a million other ways for our heroine to meet her demise. Unless you’re a serious fan and have the level memorized, you expect to see Lara die a whole bunch of times during any given level, and that’s not cheap; that’s just the type of game it is. That said, I still think the Flamethrower baddies are cheap, and overall a bad idea.

With most traps, no matter how deadly,  you can see them if you look out for them, and plan how to pass through them unharmed. In contrast, unless you know where all of them are in advance, the Flamethrower-toting baddies can just come out of nowhere and flame you, and then it’s Game Over. It’s okay to get a Game Over when you know you made a mistake and how to fix it, not so much when it feels like there was nothing you could have done differently.

This could be easily rectified too, since the amount of water on these levels could provide an easy out. If Lara can get lit on fire, she should be able to jump in the water and recover (like in The Dragon’s Lair), and then you at least have a fighting chance. Yet somehow, despite all the pools of water on this level, you often fight the Flamethrower dudes with no H20 in sight. To me, this creates additional difficulty for all the wrong reasons.

Bizarre Cutscene Theater: The Monk

When you complete Diving Area, you’re rewarded with one of Tomb Raider II‘s incredibly bizarre, disjointed cutscenes. A monk who has been trying to stop Bartoli thinks that Lara is a spirit guide sent to send him into his next life, and rambles on about that a little bit. Now, Lara doesn’t look like my idea of a Buddhist Spirit Guide, but to be fair, the dude has been tortured and lost a lot of blood. He is lucid enough to tell Lara about the Seraph, the key that Bartoli needs for the next stage of his plans. Bartoli, lurking on the perimeter, shoots the monk before he can give Lara any more information.

Now I know what you’re thinking; why didn’t he shoot Lara first? He had the drop on her, and she’s way more dangerous to him than an unarmed, delirious monk. I will repeat what I’ve said before; Bartoli passes up obvious opportunities to kill Lara because he wants to save her to play the Maiden to his Dragon. Like, what’s the point of even being a dragon if you can’t have your minions tie a woman to a stake and threaten to eat her? There is none.

But all of that is of lesser importance, because look at this:

YEAH I GOT THE WETSUIT! MY FIRST NEW OUTFIT IN TRII! I’M BLOWING THIS POPSICLE STAND!!!!!!

In perhaps the riskiest plan she has ever tried, which is saying something, Lara glomms onto a minisub that’s heading toward the bottom of the sea. For all Lara knows the sub could take an hour to get there and she would die from lack of oxygen long before reaching her destination, but the promise of pocketing artifact that both narcissistic Italian mobsters and delusional Tibetan Monks revere is just too much temptation to resist.

I’m still getting all the secrets. I don’t know how long I’ll be able to keep this up.

Best: When you finally drop down through the central hub and gain access to the whole level, it’s very satisfying. There’s a nice “aha!” moment when you realize how everything fits together.

Worst: The darn flamethrowers. They tempt you to save every five seconds, just in case you get immolated from behind around the next corner.

Rating: Two Uzi Clips Out of Five. Still brought down by too much combat and less-than-inspiring environs, but there’s some fun to be had solving a lot of small puzzles, so it earns an extra clip over Offshore Rig.

Next Up: 40 Fathoms, because there’s nothing that says “fun!” like suffocating to death a whole bunch of times before the level even properly starts.

X-Men: TAS Episode 2, Night of the Sentinels Part II

Time to wrap up this opening story. We’re in the middle of the mission to destroy all of the files at the Mutant Control Agency; an ill-advised plan, but oh well, it happens. Cyclops, Rogue and Gambit are waiting outside the building. Cyclops is worrying about how the mission’s going, to which Gambit reiterates that he should be the one inside, in case anyone forgot how this mission should have gone down.

Inside, Storm nearly walks her team into a trap, but Wolverine stops her. He claims he can smell gun oil, so he knows that there’re armed guards on the other side of the door. Funny, I would think the scent and pulses of about six people would stand out more than the gun oil would, but what do I know? Maybe Wolverine just really hates that new gun smell.

“There’s guards on the other side of the door, so blow the door off its hinges and send them flying; in fact, always do that. That’s how we’re gonna handle all doors from now on.”

Beast makes a joke about wondering where Storm got her Nom de guerre, and I’m 99% sure this line only exists so kids would ask their parents what ‘Nom de guerre’ means. Then the parents would ask where the kid heard that term, and the kid would say “X-Men!,” and at least temporarily, parents would think X-Men was educational. Oh Fox Kids, you devious charlatans.

A bunch of reinforcements arrive outside to back up the guards, so Cyclops begins taking them down. Cyclops instructs Rogue and Gambit to do the same, but cautions them not to hurt the humans; Gambit snarks that perhaps Cyclops should tell the humans not to harm them. This may shock you, but I think Gambit has a point; Cyclops is assuming that the X-Men outmatch their foes by enough that they can afford not to take the fight seriously, and that assumption is going to cost everyone dearly. I mean, I don’t think Rogue and Gambit should be running around using lethal force on human guards, but still, they’re playing this way too fast and loose.

Back inside, Morph uses a ruse to get some guards out of the way, and the voice he uses is so obviously Cal Dodd (Wolverine’s voice actor) making a froggy voice that it’s pretty funny. The inside team begins destroying the mutant files. Going by the size of the file cabinet, it looks like the MCA has data on thousands of mutants. Err, not good.

We switch scenes to Detroit, of all places, where Jubilee has been kidnapped. Gyrich is trying to get her to spill the beans about the X-Men, but unfortunately for him, Jubilee didn’t stay with the X-Men long enough to even finish the Orientation Breakfast, so she doesn’t know squat. Well, actually she does know the location of the X-Men’s headquarters, and the personnel, and so on and so forth, but she’s not talking. This doesn’t play like Jubilee playing tough to protect her new friends; more like she’s so confused by constantly being kidnapped that she doesn’t even know what’s what anymore. You can’t really blame her.

Bolivar Trask, scientist-guy who makes the Sentinels, discovers that Gyrich kidnapped Jubilee and is clearly upset about it. At first it seems like maybe he’s a decent guy who thinks they shouldn’t be running around kidnapping kids. But no, he’s just pissed that Gyrich went as far as kidnapping a mutant before the Sentinel project had reached the next benchmark.

“Now listen here, if you want to kidnap 13-year-old girls and strap them down to a table, there are certain very specific items of protocol you need to be aware of, Gyrich. First of all, that is not my preferred bondage table.”

Cyclops, Rogue and Gambit are all fighting the guards outside while being careful not to play too rough. Cyclops wants the inside team to come out so they can regroup before things get out of control. Oh Cyke, things are already out of control; you’ve got Rogue dumping tanks into the Potomac. You probably should have told her not to do that.

Fortunately, the inside team is almost finished destroying all the files. Beast tries to wipe out the digital files with a computer virus, but Storm loses patience and fries the computer. I would like to be able to make some joke about how that data is backed up on Dropbox and Storm is screwed, but eh, it’s 1992; Storm’s probably right to just take out the hard drive and call it a day. Informational terrorism was so much easier in the days before the Cloud.

It haunted poor Derrick here that when the hottest woman he had ever seen touched him, he called her a “freak” because of the whole mutant thing. Determined not to ever let that happened again, Derrick adopted a new personal motto: “Booties before Muties.”

The two teams meet up outside, and make a run for the Blackbird. Morph makes another comment about how it’s “Clear sailing all the way!” and oh my God, I’m ready for him to die at this point. You’ll notice a lack of pictures of Morph in this post; that’s not deliberate, I just never felt the urge to take a screenshot when he was on screen. I guess I’m not Morph’s biggest fan, is what I’m saying.

Okay so I felt guilty for not even taking a screenshot of Morph, what with him selflessly sacrificing himself and whatnot, so here you go. Heroic Morph! To be fair, death improves his character a lot; his arc in Season 2 is fun.

Oh no, the Sentinels from Detroit have gotten to Washington in record time! Wolverine is ready to scrap, but Morph gets worried and jumps to push Wolverine out the way of a blast. Jarring scene change to Jean groaning over Cerebro; Morph just died off-camera, sacrificing himself for Wolverine. By the time Xavier puts on the Cerebro helmet to try to sense Morph, it’s already too late.

“I ain’t gonna say I tol’ you so, but I tol’ you so, mon ami.”

As little as the character of Morph himself moves me, I’ve always been impressed with this choice. Killing off a member of the team in the first story shows pretty strongly that there are real stakes here, and makes you question what the X-Men are doing. Was this entire mission worth it? Hundreds, maybe thousands of mutants may be safe from harm now that the data has been destroyed, but the X-Men don’t know that for sure; for all they know, the MCA could collect the same info again quite easily. And even though I didn’t like Morph much, a lot of viewers did; the show killed off a character people actually cared about.

I’m not sure how the show got away with this, because it seems way too hardcore and depressing for a program rated acceptable for 7-year-olds; I have that thought frequently while watching this series. When I first watched it I was already 10, maybe 11, so I had already encountered death in books, but I wonder what it must have been like for really young children who saw this on TV.

We skip ahead a bit to the team arriving back at the mansion; we’ll flash back to the fight against the Sentinels in a moment. This actually reminds me a little bit of the famous second episode of Evangelion, where you see the first half of a fight and don’t get to see the end of until much later; it’s much less dramatic than the Eva version, but to be fair, this came first. Wolverine is about ready to take Cyclop’s head off for leaving his teammates behind, but Jean comes and defuses the situation. She shares that Beast is alive (Thank God!) but Morph is not (okay.)

Instead of shredding Cyclops, Wolverine takes his rage out on Cyclops’ car and takes off. Jean says that what happened wasn’t Cyclops’ fault, or Wolverine’s, and no Jean: it’s Professor Xavier’s fault, for not sending Gambit. I’m not going to remind you again.

Flashback to two minutes ago! After Morph makes his heroic sacrifice, the X-Men are quickly overwhelmed by Sentinels, and poor Beast gets shoved into an electric fence, which is hard to watch. Remember how Cyclops can easily decapitate Sentinels with his optic blast? Well try to forget that, because he doesn’t even attempt it here. None of the X-Men’s attacks seem to do much in this battle, and in order for this to make sense with the end of the episode, we have to assume they were completely taken by surprise and are off-balance. Either that, or everyone gains about ten levels of power progression after this fight.

When the group decides that all they can do now is run, Wolverine wants to go back for Beast and Morph. Rogue uses her energy-sucking power to stop him, which is…weird. She’s not at all subtle about the fact that she’s about to do it, and Wolverine makes no attempt to fight or evade her. You know what I think? I think he wanted Rogue to stop him. I think he wanted to be able to say that he tried to go back from Beast and Morph without actually doing it. Sneaky Canadian.

I said I didn’t care much about Morph, but seeing Beast be sad makes me sad. Anything that makes Beast sad is intolerable.

Beast gets taken into captivity, where he prays for Morph. It may seem odd that a man of science like Beast is praying, but I think I get where he’s coming from. The only thing Beast can possibly do to help Morph at this point is pray for him, so unless he has solid proof that praying won’t help, that’s what he’s going to do. If Beast has ever gone into depth about his religion in the comics I haven’t read it, but that’s how I like to believe he thinks.

I would complain that Beast is sidelined for the rest of the season due to being captured, but to be honest, the scenes with Beast in jail are some of the best scenes in the entire series, so I’ll live with it. You’ll see what I mean when we get to Episode 3.

We see the President of the United States, and she’s a lady! It’s cool. At first it seems like the president is pleased that the X-Men’s attack on the MCA was foiled (it wasn’t actually foiled, they achieved their mission, but whatever), however we soon learn that a) she’s a smart lady who understands the nuances of the situation and b)she’s committed to cardiovascular health. She wisely tells Gyrich to stop with his MCA nonsense, because it’s only going to lead to more bloodshed.  Honestly, at this point, if you put this woman on the ballot, I would vote for her in a hot second.

Wolverine is playing pool at a crummy bar to try to distract himself from his grief. I’ve always gotten a kick out of how seedy this show makes Westchester County look, by the way. I haven’t been there a whole lot in real life, but whenever I have, it’s seemed like the entire area is ensconced inside a giant Starbucks; it’s a little precious. We hear from Senator Robert Kelly over the bar’s TV, in a nice piece of foreshadowing. They really planned out this season! Cyclops shows up to recruit Wolverine on a revenge mission against the Sentinels, and Wolverine is so turned on by the sound of the word “revenge” that he temporarily suspends his hatred of Cyclops and goes along with it.

“I know you’re mad at me, but in my defense, I’m about to offer you a mission that involves chopping up dozens of robots.”

“This is why I can never stay mad at you, Scott.”

This next part is cool. Cyclops goes to Jubilee’s foster parents, and her Foster-Dad rats him out to Gyrich. It quickly becomes obvious that this is what Cyclops wanted to happen, because he wanted Gyrich to send a Sentinel that the X-Men could then track back to the Sentinel’s home base. This is some pretty clever social engineering on Cyclops’ part, and goes a long way toward showing why he’s the leader. Cyclops easily damages the Sentinel (which apparently he can do when he feels like it), and the team tracks the damaged Sentinel back to Detroit in the Blackbird.

Detroit, inside the Sentinel Skunkworks. Gyrich tells Trask that they’re going to pack up the Sentinel operation and move overseas, now that the President has withdrawn the government’s support of the MCA. I would go on a rant about how hard-working American Sentinel-building jobs are being destroyed, but it seems like Trask is the only one actually building the darned things, so I guess that’s not a concern. You have to give Gyrich credit though: by pulling manufacturing out of Detroit, he’s about 5 years ahead of the curve there. If only Detroit had kept the critical killer-giant-robot industry, things might be very different today.

In the chaos caused by the broken Sentinel returning (apparently losing an arm also fries their guidance system), Jubilee tries to escape. She does a pretty good job of blasting through a metal wall, which seems like it shows off a lot more juice than her powers usually have. Why? Because Gambit is near, of course! Gambit gives Jubilee the courage to fight like a proper X-Man!

NEVER LET GO

What follows is a virtuous ass-whomping, with the X-Men easily taking out about 30 Sentinels. It’s a bit puzzling that they’re so good at fighting the Sentinels now when they sucked at it the first time, but I guess we just have to assume that the X-Men are all full of piss and vinegar now and were ready to engage. Back at the MCA, they were still in “Let’s pull our punches and not harm the puny humans” mode, and that’s why their attacks at that time were so weaksauce; that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

“I can nevah kill these robots properly until I’ve had my coffee in the mornin’! Let’s get ’em all, while I’m still running on French Roast, Sugah.”

One particularly choice moment in the fight involves Cyclops yelling at Jubilee to “duck!,” then he promptly blasts some Sentinels about forty feet above her head. There was no need to duck, is what I’m saying. Another nice moment (this time being serious) involves Wolverine using his claws on a Sentinel with extreme prejudice. Even though we know the Sentinel is a robot and not really alive, it still looks impressively brutal and shows off what Wolverine is about.

And so ends the Detroit Sentinel program; of course it’s going to be resumed in Bangladesh or something like that, but for now, the X-Men enjoy a well-earned victory. Besides, the quality of the foreign-made Sentinels won’t be nearly as good as these patriotic, American-Made Sentinels, so the X-Men’s hardest fight is likely behind them. Vote for X-Men:TAS President in 2020, she’ll bring manufacturing back to America and Make Sentinels Great Again!

Wrap-up time: Jubilee is saying goodbye to her foster parents, now that she knows she belongs with the X-Men. She confesses that the pair are the best foster parents she’s ever had, and uh…let’s all take a moment to appreciate what a scathing indictment of the American foster care system that is. Nevertheless, Jubilee will now call the X-Mansion her home for the next five seasons; beginning of an era.

There’s a moment at the end of the episode where Cyclops asks Jean if he did the right thing back during the battle where Morph was killed and Beast kidnapped, and she replies that he “did what he had to do.” Cyclops, hon, you shouldn’t have been put in that horrible situation in the first place, because you shouldn’t have even been there. If the Professor had only sent Gambit—-

*gets pulled away from the keyboard kicking and screaming*

Okay, let’s bid goodbye to Night of the Sentinels, and I promise that I’ll never mention that Xavier should have sent Gambit again. Probably. Unless it’s highly relevant. Next time: Magneto! Sabretooth! Due Process! Wolverine not understanding the concept of organizational hierarchy! We’ve got some good episodes coming up.

Tomb Raider II, Level 5: Offshore Rig

Lara starts off the next major chunk of Tomb Raider II without her weapons, yet mysteriously unharmed. Given that Bartoli is really not a very nice guy, one has to wonder why he lets Lara live. Yes, I know if he didn’t, there would be no game, but let’s try to use in-game logic here: Why didn’t he just kill her while she was unconscious?  She’s already killed about 80 of his henchman (and maybe 30 of his dogs), so you’d think he’d want some revenge.

My guess is that he was planning to wait until he was a dragon and then kill her with his fire breath, because that would be a nice, theatrical use of his new powers. Either that, or the Fiamma Nera payroll was starting to get a bit unmanageable, and Lara actually did him a service by weeding out under-performing cultists. Maybe he was thinking of offering a her a job as his body guard, which would be the smartest thing he could do, but Lara busts out of her cell before the B-man can broker a truce, and now we’ll never know.

And So My Troubles Begin

This burner trap looks really threatening at first, but the solution is incredibly simple and kind of lame.

I really don’t like this level set in general. It has it’s moments, but in general it feels like your regular Tomb Raider session has been interrupted by Metal Gear Solid. You would think putting TR and MGS together would lead to good gameplay, but alas, no. It’s the sterile, industrial environments of MGS without the stealth and intrigue of that series, and the occasional plodding tedium of TR without any of the grandeur and atmospheric magic. Things do pick up a bit once we get to the sunken ocean liner, but we’re not there yet.

And argh, the color-coded keycards. Any Tomb Raider level that has Lara collecting key cards instead of ornate keys or ancient sculptures is automatically suspect.

I tried to enjoy this level, really I did, but it’s full of so many things that are just a pain. In theory, it’s clever that you need to manipulate your armed opponents into shooting out the windows for you so you can progress in the level, but in practice, you’re standing there, waiting to be shot, then getting shot. Not fun.

And getting sucked into the underwater fan about 20 times before you realize you have no need to go over there, ever; not fun.

And climbing lots of ladders. Not fun.

And getting shot by frogmen with harpoons, only to pull up on dry land and nail those froggy bastards with your pistols…okay, I admit, that part is a little fun. The point still stands.

Please sir, can I have the windows shot out? I would be so very grateful!

The Rig that Never Ends

This level isn’t very large at all compared to some of the ones we get later in the game, but it just feels too long. I think after Opera House, I wanted a quick, refreshing little level to get me used to the new environs while I recollected my arsenal of weapons. Instead, by the time you get to the giant, water-filled room with tons of precarious cat walks, it’s like “you’ve got to be kidding me.”

I’m tempted to chalk it up to pacing, except I don’t really understand pacing very well. People will talk about “pacing issues” in books or film, and I’m often not sure I know quite what they mean. Everyone has a different intuitive sense of how things should be paced, so calling something “poor pacing,” as if that’s the kind of thing that can be quantitatively measured, just seems kind of iffy to me. That said, I wonder if my overall dislike of this level can be summed up as poor pacing; there are parts of it I like, but those parts tend to be incredibly short.

Running on top of the seaplane is cool. It’s a shame there isn’t more to do here.

I made things worse for myself by missing the exit of the water room, so I ended up navigating the catwalks about 3-4 times, completely; that’s not the game’s fault, and should probably be chalked up to me being dense sometimes. But still, it happened, and it’s partially Offshore Rig’s fault.

I hate this room. Granted, it’s nice of them to put a pool of water under you so Lara doesn’t die when you fall, but in some ways that just prolongs the agony.

Just when you think you never have to hear that stupid alarm again, you pick up this keycard and it goes off all over again. Goddammit.

At least the combat isn’t too bad. There are a lot of foes that you can take out from afar with your little plinky-plink guns, and I appreciate that sort of thing. No matter the level, conserving ammo for my big guns makes my stingy heart proud.

Yeah, I took a long time on this level. I spent a stupid amount of time playing with the underwater switch that leads to the Jade Dragon thinking it was critical to my progression or something (it’s not).

Best: Jumping around on the plane en route to get your pistols, then experiencing the euphoria of being armed again once you find them. I swear, you can almost hear a chorus of angels singing.

Worst: Uh, everything else? If I have to pick, I guess navigating the catwalks above the huge, water-filled room. It’s a good idea, but it just goes on way too darn long. Add in the fact that you end up traversing it a lot looking for the exit to the room, and it’s just annoying.

Rating: 1 out of 5 Uzi Clips. You’re supposed to start out hating this level, then feel awesome once you get your pistols back; unfortunately, the pistols only make me happy for about two minutes, and then I go back to hating the entire level. I’m sorry, Offshore Rig fans.

Next: Diving Area. Just give me my goddamned wetsuit already and let’s get this over with.

Tomb Raider II, Level 4: Opera House

There’s something intimidating about this level. Starting from the very first area, I always expect it to be a lot harder than it is. Yes, there are a couple of areas where you can easily kill Lara over and over again, generally while trying to avoid swinging crates/blocks/whatever, but it’s not actually that devious; most of where you need to go is laid out in plain sight, and you get fair warning before most of the traps. The amount of gun-toting enemies is a little bit insane, but you usually have enough space to move around that you can out-maneuver enemies if you’re smart about it.

Still, I was a bit apprehensive about getting up to this level, and I’m kind of glad it’s over now. My degree of nervousness towards this level is probably equivalent to how I would feel if I were to attend an actual opera and had to pretend I was enjoying it.

The Ghost of Opera Past

Blades of broken glass that come up to your thigh, and we’re not even in lobby yet? This is why no one goes to the opera anymore.

I’ve spoken before about how I prefer it when this series sticks to tombs instead of modern areas, but one thing I didn’t realize until this playthrough is that Opera House actually kind of works as a tomb. Think about it; opera is close to being a dead art form. Yes, operas are still performed, all over the world, but they only appeal to a very small percentage of the population. As far as popular culture is concerned, opera is dead as a doornail.

Once you start thinking about this level as symbolizing the demise of opera as an art form, instead of “random building where a stupid amount of Bartoli’s thugs are hanging out,” it starts to feel much more like a proper Tomb Raider level. I especially like the fact that the orchestra pit has been flooded; it’s like nature is reclaiming the theater, one tiny step at a time. I can’t decide if the frequent boulder traps work as part of this, or if they’re just ridiculous; right now I’m leaning towards ridiculous.

This is one of the only mid-animation screenshots of Lara I have ever managed to take. Don’t take this screenshot, it’s mine! I’m proud of it!

Did Bartoli and his group kick a theatrical company out of this theater? From the looks of things, this was a derelict building long before Bartoli & Co. got here. Friends, this is why we must always support the performing arts, in all their forms; if you abandon a theater and let it fall into disrepair, next thing you know it’s become a nest for ripped, dragon-obsessed cultists. Don’t let this happen to your local community theater, unless their version of Fiddler on the Roof is really just intolerable.

If Only I Could Get To That Place (That Is Totally Accessible)

This shot has nothing to do with the topic of this section, I’m just happy that I got a screen of Lara facing forward for once.

Another interesting thing about this level is that it strongly illustrates a problem not just with Tomb Raider games, but with this kind of adventure game in general; sometimes, you don’t realize where you can access. When I first played this, I was stuck on the audience side of the theater for a long time, because I didn’t realize the stage was accessible; you can do a running jump from one of the balconies onto the stage, but it doesn’t look like you’re supposed to, so I didn’t try. I don’t remember how I got out of this; the strategy guide might have been involved.

I can’t tell you how many times this has happened to me in Tomb Raider. “Gee, if I could get over to that ledge over there I bet that’s where the key I need is, but I can’t get there from here.” *insert an eternity of frenzied running around, followed by a desperate running jump to the ledge; it works.* “Oh, looks like I could get here all along; shame I’ll never get that hour of my life back that I spent looking for an alternate route.”

Am I the only one who has this problem? Maybe this isn’t an inherent problem with the game, and I just have really bad spacial reasoning skills? It’s possible.

Beware the World’s Most Dangerous Wooden Crates

I can’t tell you how many times I got Lara killed by this stupid swinging crate.

The main environmental hazard on this level is swinging items, either crates or sandbags. I find them irritating to deal with, but they’re pretty funny if you consider that the other main threat to Lara’s health on this level is tons of bad guys packing heavy weaponry. So while ruthless thugs with large guns just plink-plink-plink away at Lara’s health, like it’s no big deal, being grazed by a slowly-moving sandbag is equivalent to a death touch. Maybe Lara is just highly allergic to sawdust, who knows.

This is where the decision to institute the “save anywhere” system in this game really pays off, by the way. If you had these traps in the original Tomb Raider, and you had to memorize the timing for several of them in between each save crystal, no one would have finished Tomb Raider. I shudder to think what playing this level would be like if you couldn’t save anywhere you wanted…wait…actually, I know exactly what it would be like. It would be like Tomb Raider III. I’m trying to save my lamentations about TRIII until I actually get up to it chronologically, so I’ll leave it at that.

Immersion, This is Not

I wouldn’t call this level a complete failure on the graphics front, but it has a lot of issues. The main lobby area is pretty nice, but most of the side areas look pretty half-assed and unconvincing. The area above is supposed to be a dressing room (I think?), but it doesn’t really look like much of anything. The level is also frequently very dark, and while I know flares were invented for this purpose, it still bugs me.

I think I used three flares to get the Stone Dragon: three. Because the underwater area is pitch-dark, and you can’t use the cheap lighting effect of constantly firing Lara’s pistols while she’s swimming. I think collecting all the secrets is more important than hoarding flares, but there’s a part of me that always just wants more flares, like they’re candy.

Gunfighting For Profit, Not Fun

Since we spend so much of this level shooting it out with bad guys, this is a good time to talk about how combat in TRII works. Sometimes you can target enemies from far away and finish them off before they get close to Lara; that’s optimum. Sometimes though you have no choice but to get down and dirty, in which case it becomes a game-within-a-game of trying to exploit the enemies AI. If a foe isn’t facing Lara, he has to laboriously turn around, allowing the player to get a ton of free shots at the enemies back. With a little bit of luck, and judicious use of the roll button, it’s possible to take out a gun-toting enemy without taking any damage; just keep them turning in place.

That said, if an enemy gets the jump on you, a whole section of Lara’s health can be gone before you’re oriented properly to start screwing with the foe’s AI, plus there’s numerous other ways to mess up. Once I fell into the water-filled orchestra pit, allowing the guy on stage to take tons of potshots at me while I tried to swim away; I ended up reloading that time.

Given the save-anywhere system, it’s possible to save before every fight and make sure that Lara takes minimal damage. However, that also kills the spontaneity of the game; taking some damage and sucking a medipack is part of the experience. Basically if I really screw up, by letting the enemies get the jump on me and taking out all my health, I reload; if I take some damage from enemies while I’m trying to outfox them, well, that’s the cost of doing business.

Nice little detail I never noticed before now; if you look carefully, you can see the city skyline before you get on Bartoli’s plane.

I may have to get more anal about preventing damage to Lara if I start running short on health packs later in the game, but I’m going to try to continue playing with honesty, i.e. not constantly redoing every section until I do it perfectly. In any case, I used three health packs on this level and while I’m not proud of it, I’m not going to lose sleep over it either. Sometimes if you’re too busy mastering the game, you forget to play the game, and I don’t want to fall into that trap.

Yup, that’s three whole health packs. I also killed 44 bad guys, so my stats are still looking pretty good as far as I’m concerned.

At the end of the level is a cutscene I’ve never really understood because I can’t make out any of the NPC accents in this game, but short version: Lara hitches a ride on Bartoli’s plane, hears Bartoli talking about how everyone must have faith in his Great Dragon Destiny, and gets konked over the head by a muscle-bound baddy. I guess as good as she is, even Lara doesn’t have eyes in the back of her head.

Best: The whole elevator section. Once you’ve found the Relay Box and the elevator becomes functional again, there’s something really cool about riding the elevator down to visit an area you saw (but couldn’t access) earlier in the level. The fact that playing around with the elevator leads to a secret is just icing on the cake.

Worst: That last sandbag trap right before the end of the level. By this point, everyone is just tired of this marathon level and wants to be done with it, only you have to try to figure out how to time your jump so the slow-moving Sandbag of Death doesn’t disembowel Lara, and it’s just so tiresome. Let me on the plane already! I’m ready to have all my guns taken and shoved underwater, anything to make this stop!

Rating: Two Uzi Clips out of Five. I feel like this level earns at least two for pure ambition, but I just don’t enjoy playing it very much. I almost rated it a 3, but it loses a clip for poor graphics in many areas.

Next Up: With Offshore Rig, my bitching about how much I dislike the whole underwater section of this game begins. If no one wants to keep reading, I’ll understand.