Movie Review: Black Panther

An entertaining film with a strong cast that tells a different type of superhero story, but suffers a bit from pacing issues. The story takes a while to get going. The opening sequences ends anticlimactically, and although there is a good payoff later, it doesn’t jump start the film with enough urgency. In fact, it’s quite some time before the movie establishes its threat for our heroes. Fortunately, the strong cast and beautifully designed environments make the more mundane aspects of the story spring to life. In particular, Chadwick Boseman and Danai Gurira give strong emotion and conflicted performances, while Andy Serkis just has a ball being villainous. Michael B. Jordan’s Killmonger has a great and tragic backstory, but his overzealousness and callousness make it harder to sympathize with him. While the design of Wakanda is fantastic, the reinterpretation of vibranium as a glowing purple, almost-magical metal, seemed like an odd choice. The action sequences are good, but the CGI shows too much, especially when enhancing the Black Panther’s movements. And his final fight wasn’t as physical as I would’ve liked. There is a mid-credits and a post-credit scene. Neither is really worth sticking around for unless you just want a bit more story.

***1/2 out of *****

Video Game Review: Super Mario Odyssey (Switch)

***Review contains a few gameplay spoilers***

A fun and inventive new game in the Super Mario series, that keeps much of what has worked over the years, while adding some new twists. The overall game mechanics are still largely unchanged since “Super Mario 64.” Mario still has his arsenal of long jumps, ground pounds, wall jumps, and cartwheels to dodge enemies and make daring leaps to avoid danger. It’s the addition of Cappy, the living hat that transforms this game into something brand new.

Aside from the most basic use of throwing him as a projectile weapon, which replaces Mario’s starbit-based attack from “Super Mario Galaxy,” Cappy can do so much more. Tossing him at certain objects can yield coins, a passage forward or even power moons. Throwing the hat and stopping it in midair provides a quick boost to hop off of, or better yet, a way to extend jumps a considerable distance by bouncing off the hat in while jumping, then diving forward from there. Cappy can also be thrown at certain things and allow Mario to “capture” them and become them. There are a lot of new gameplay options added by capturing things, whether it’s transforming a frog and using its leaping ability to reach high places, becoming a Bullet Bill to cross large chasms, or commandeering a Tyrannosaurus Rex and destroying everything in your path. (There are a few things that feel more gimmicky, like capturing binoculars to survey the land, or becoming an inanimate pole so that you can fling yourself up the side of building.) Another fun addition is are “flat zones.” located in most kingdoms, Mario enters an 8-bit segment, with sounds and graphics lifted from the original “Super Mario Bros.” While the gameplay becomes 2D, the 3D environment effects the action. Things bend around the flat surfaces, fish swim above you as you move around the ocean floor. And there’s not much better than the Donkey Kong themed sequence above the Metro Kingdom.

The story is mostly straightforward and isn’t much more complicated than the first game: Bowser has kidnapped the Princess and you must save her. The plot is just the means for Mario to travel throughout the well-designed kingdoms so that he can explore the land looking for power moons. While it’s not too tricky to get enough of them to progress towards the game’s final showdown, tracking down all 999 power moons can get a bit frustrating. They can turn up everywhere and anywhere. It feels almost as tedious at times as looking for Koroks in “The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.” Luckily, a tip-giving parrot will give you clues, while a Toad will mark power moon locations on your map for a small fee. Between the two of them, it’s not too hard to find all the power moon locations, even though locating them on your own is more rewarding. Also, some power moons require some actions that differ from normal gameplay and can be aggravating. Trying to return a volleyball or jump rope 100 times, bounding around an artic race track or racing koopas never feel like they’re worth the effort.

Those trying to unlock all the costumes and trophies in the game will also be on the hunt for purple coins, with anywhere between 50 and 100 hidden on most levels. The hunt for these coins and the power moons take you all over the different kingdoms, giving you a good look at all the details that went into making each of them unique. Many of them seem quite massive at first glance, but after searching for goodies for a while, the scope diminishes as you realize you’ve checked “everywhere” for purple coins or power moons. Things can get repetitive when you realize just how many gold coins are needed to purchase all the in game outfits. Farming certain locations over and over for coins can get boring. After completing the game, there’s so much more to do. New kingdoms can be unlocked, along with dozens of new power moons in each kingdom. There are some fun, new challenges. And some annoying ones, like rematches with more difficult versions of the bosses. And then there’s the Dark Side: A 14-part challenge that will require almost every skill you’ve mastered. Dying at any point will force you to start over at the beginning.

**** out of *****