Hey, Arnold!: The Jungle Movie Review

Answering long-held mysteries about the football head’s past and future, Hey, Arnold! The Jungle Movie feels engineered to be a crowd-pleaser for fans who watched the series over a decade ago. As a result, all the big moments my much-younger self hoped to see happen, but because those answers are so expected, it’s instead the little, unexpected homages to what made Hey, Arnold! such a joy originally that mark the high points of The Jungle Movie.

The Jungle Movie in many ways picks up where “The Journal,” the last Hey, Arnold! episode made for TV, left off, with Arnold still wistfully hoping to find his parents. And a possible class trip to San Lorenzo – his parents’ last known location – makes that hope a reality.

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Rive Review

Backed into a corner by curtains of laser fire, I hop and twist, curling my shots and grinding foes into nuts and bolts. After hacking a support drone to bring in some extra muscle to the fight, I battle my way out and continue my maelstrom of destruction. These moments are common in Rive, and they’re emblematic of how the game melds sharp design and challenging encounters to reinvigorate the shoot-em-up genre. It’s a chaotic game backed by explosive action, snarky cracks, and an affection for the ridiculous.

You play as a no-name, space-salvaging badass in a robust spider tank. It’s an armored, all-terrain machine with a giant machine gun for its basic weapon. As you progress, you’ll earn more upgrades like new weapons and armor, plus some gadgets that let you take control of everything from turrets to trains.

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In the beginning, you stumble across a gargantuan derelict vessel ready for plunder. But, of course, there’s a catch: As you explore, you’re accosted by countless drones and bots programmed to put you down. You’ll learn to shoot, move, and use some other basic skills, but then Rive situationally limits how can use your newfound abilities by forcing you into a corner or into a zero-g bubble. These moments are as tense as boss battles, asking you to utilize your skills in novel ways, all while under the duress of constant, high-energy action.

Despite that, Rive rarely feels overwhelming. It’s intense and taxing, but it doesn’t often feel like it’s asking too much. It’s common nowadays to herald difficult games as intrinsically “good,” but that trend belies that fact that there’s a tenuous balance between difficulty and frustration. Rive is challenging, but even if you die, you can instantly jump back into the action. You never lose more than about 30 seconds of progress, and death doesn’t drain resources or knock down your overall score. The game includes plenty of tough spots, but it doesn’t take too long to acclimate to the challenge and wriggle through.

Along the way, you’ll find some rather strange locales, given that the majority of the game takes place on a spaceship. Between giant lava lakes, oceans, zero-G bubbles, and the like, Rive gives you plenty of playgrounds to explore. Each area is bright, colorful and gorgeously animated. Creatures skitter along the floor while lights and backgrounds hum with life. That’s all window dressing, sure, but each level is also distinct, presenting new sets of challenges every few minutes.

One of the few solid knocks against Rive comes from its protagonist. He’s got all the corn and cheese of classics like Duke Nukem (without the crass misogyny). He has all the personality of a brick, and only a couple of his jokes hit their mark. It’s a strange addition that doesn’t seem necessary given the game’s focus on action over storytelling, and is borderline cringeworthy.

Rive is demanding, but it pushes the kind of near-thoughtless play that shoot-em-ups strive to achieve. When faced with an onslaught of enemies and environmental hazards, you’ll have to think fast or die. Rive also doesn’t run all that long, but what’s here is excellent, top-notch action, and the game delivers some of the most memorable moments in a shoot-em-up in years.

Editor’s note: After a few additional hours of testing Rive: Ultimate Edition, GameSpot has updated the score to reflect the Switch version of the game. – Nov. 25, 2017, 7:00 AM PT

Marvel’s The Punisher: “The Judas Goat” Review

Full spoilers follow for Marvel’s The Punisher’s sixth episode, “The Judas Goat.” Make sure to keep up with our full season binge.

The Judas Goat” is an intricately-layered hour of television that sets up a new arc for this season that will inevitably carry us through until the finale.

There are so many great moments to discuss, but the ending seems like a good place to start. Billy Russo’s reveal is an excellent example of how to effectively develop a villain, much of which has to do with Ben Barnes skill as an actor. For most of the episode, you can see the sadness in his eyes, as he learns more about the possibility of Frank being alive. There are a few ways to look at this: either Billy is just a really good liar (like Madani suggests), or he’s genuinely concerned about Frank.

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Hand Of Fate 2 Review

The original Hand of Fate succeeded largely on the strength of its concept. It combined the rules of a roguelike with a deck-building card game to create something unique, and the devious, ever-present Dealer made the whole thing feel like a single-player Dungeons & Dragons experience where the Dungeon Master was actively trying to stop you. It was a great idea, but had some major issues that held it back from reaching its full potential. It was a good game crying out for a great follow-up; thankfully, Hand of Fate 2 has delivered just that.

In each of the sequel’s 22 missions, you select several encounter and equipment cards from your personal deck. These are then mixed in with the Dealer’s deck to form the card base you’re playing with. The cards are scattered onto a table face-down, although the shape and structure they form changes on a mission-by-mission basis. As you move across the table turning over one card at a time (usually either looking for or moving towards a specific card), you’re issued challenges that might or might not help you achieve the mission’s goal. The outcomes of several situations are dictated by games of chance and skill–rolling dice, perfectly timing a button press to an on-screen pendulum, stopping a spinning wheel at the right time–and there are various stats you need to follow and maintain, as your character can run out of money or starve to death. There are also several cards that throw you into combat, at which point the game briefly turns into a third-person action experience until all your enemies are downed (or you die, failing the mission).

While in the first game you were constantly on the hunt for the boss card, in Hand of Fate 2 there’s far more variety in objectives, and the game is better for it. You usually still have to find and kill a boss, but each mission now has its own gimmick. These can include challenging you to work out which character of three is plotting a murder, or tasking you with escorting an innocent potato farmer. Each mission has a strong sense of identity and purpose, and many of them are clever.

However, while the game gives you plenty of opportunities to escape bad situations or reasons to rethink your deck if your current plan isn’t working, the start-over-if-you-die structure can sometimes be excessively frustrating in certain scenarios. A prime example is the Justice mission, in which you travel around the 28 cards laid out on the table, gathering resources and dodging enemies through games of chance, continually traveling back to your base card to use said resources to strengthen your fort. It’s tremendous fun, but less so when you’re killed an hour into it, right at the end of one of the many, many intense battles you’ve been made to fight. It’s hard to pull yourself back into retrying a mission when these things happen. It also took me many attempts to beat the Strength mission, which starts you at low health and takes away your ability to heal by eating food. In a typical roguelike, where heavy randomisation makes the game feel different each time you enter, this wouldn’t seem like a big deal. But the individual missions in Hand of Fate 2 often ask you to fight the same battles repeatedly, and replaying the more difficult ones over and over is a strain. Thankfully, until you reach the very end, you’ll have multiple unfinished missions unlocked at any given point; if one is giving you grief you can usually jump into another.

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Hand of Fate 2’s combat has gone through an overhaul. It discards the ineffective camera, clunky controls, and unclear parry cues for a system that feels much closer to the Batman: Arkham Asylum fighting system that so clearly inspired it. It’s not a unique system, and the game lacks variety in both enemies and tactical possibilities, but it’s now much more satisfying to take on a group of enemies. Parry and dodge cues are clear, and managing the timing of your attacks and moves requires active attention.

You can equip different weapons before battle, which are divided into three classes (heavy, two-handed, and one-handed), and what to equip largely depends on your opponent. Thieves, for instance, are weak against blade attacks, which do little damage but let you attack multiple times in quick succession, while several different kinds of guard are easier to fight if you’re carrying a one-handed sword and a shield. However, the more hectic battles can still be hard to read, and the quality of the fights may vary depending on which equipment you’ve managed to source during your journey–if you aren’t able to find or buy useful weapons, it can turn into a slog. Luck plays a big part in Hand of Fate 2, and while you can manufacture better luck with a good deck, there’s always the somewhat frustrating possibility that random chance will strike you down.

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In most missions you’re joined by one of four unlockable companions who provide buffs during combat and specialize in improving your odds of victory in some specific circumstances. The mighty Colbjorn, for instance, can offer an extra die for you to roll should you need it in certain scenarios. These companions also add to the already rich incidental storytelling of the game. Playing through each mission, uncovering cards, and watching as conflicts and allegiances twist and shift depending on the story you’re pursuing at any given point gives you a strong sense of the game’s world, even if it’s largely confined to text. The Dealer, who is once again voiced by Anthony Skordi, is a treasure of a character, repeatedly referencing events from the first game and hinting at the dark secrets he keeps stored somewhere within his robes. He’s not an antagonist in the same way he was in the original game, and ultimately feels like a deeper, more mysterious character.

The moments of frustration in Hand of Fate 2 are worth enduring for the sweetness of its adventures, and getting to know the different cards and learning to build a deck that is perfectly suited for the mission you’re entering is satisfying. Hand of Fate 2 is a realization of the first game’s promise, and it’s exciting to play a game that blends seemingly unrelated elements together so well.

Marvel’s The Punisher: “Gunner” Review

Full spoilers follow for Marvel’s The Punisher’s fifth episode, “Gunner.” Make sure to keep up with our full season binge.

“Gunner” feels like so much more than your average superhero show. Marvel’s The Punisher has taken away all of the superpowers and mythological jargon found in its other series and replaced it with something more relatable. This approach keeps each episode feeling fresh and important. There’s no filler here, so far.

The themes of post-war trauma and its effects on Frank are still prevalent, but this episode is beginning to explore the complex issue of what it means to be a dad. While The Punisher is far from a show like Modern Family, it’s admirable that the writers are choosing to explore the subject using Frank and David.

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Marvel’s The Punisher: “Home” Review.

Full Spoilers Following for Marvel’s The Punisher: “Home.” Make sure to keep up with all of our Marvel’s The Punisher binge here.

“Home” would have made an excellent season finale, but there’s still one more episode left before it’s time to say goodbye to the bloody adventures of Frank Castle. This episode was a shining example of how good The Punisher can be when it gets everything right.

The imagery used throughout was stellar. Frank’s visions of Maria provided more valuable insight into his past. This wasn’t a physical struggle for Frank, but more of a mental one. He wants to die because he doesn’t believe he deserves to live. While highly unlikely, Bernthal deserves an Emmy nomination for his performance here.

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Marvel’s The Punisher: “Kandahar” Review

Spoilers follow for Marvel’s The Punisher’s third episode, “Kandahar.” Make sure to keep up with our full season binge.

Marvel’s The Punisher continued to showcase its strengths with a harrowing episode focused on the backstories of two seemingly different men who we learn have a lot in common. There is a tremendous amount of character development with Frank and David, and even though the season is still in its infancy, “Kandahar” will likely rank among the very best episodes in the entire Netflix Marvel universe.

There is an unflinching, brutal honesty to the way showrunner Steve Lightfoot is crafting the story of Frank Castle. Unlike the Marvel Cinematic Universe, The Punisher isn’t going for quick laughs and colorful action sequences. There are moments in this episode that are shockingly savage. While it’s difficult to say, the violence is a necessary component for us to understand where Frank comes from; he may call himself The Punisher now, but it wasn’t the death of his family that triggered his transformation, it was his time spent as a soldier.

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Marvel’s The Punisher: “Memento Mori” Review

Full Spoilers Following for Marvel’s The Punisher: “Memento Mori.” Make sure to keep up with all of our Marvel’s The Punisher binge here.

Marvel’s The Punisher ends on a quiet note for Frank Castle. Without a war to fight, the troubled soldier must find a new way to exist in a society that still fears him. “Memento Mori” does everything a good finale should do, but not in the moments of over-the-top action and violence. Instead, the episode is at its best when dealing with the aftermath of this bloody season.

There’s a price to pay for Frank’s vengeful rampage across New York City. Having consequences is a necessity in order to tell an effective story centered around Frank Castle. If he just killed hundreds of people and felt no remorse or sorrow, then this would be a less effective series.

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Marvel’s The Punisher: “Front Toward Enemy” Review

Full Spoilers Following for Marvel’s The Punisher: “Front Toward Enemy.”

Make sure to keep up with all of our Marvel’s The Punisher binge here.

For most of the season, Marvel’s The Punisher has done a good job of balancing all of its characters and plotlines into a cohesive story. However, in “Front Toward Enemy,” the writers started adding stories that were unnecessary.

Still, there were some fantastic moments centered around Lewis, Curtis, and Frank. All of these soldiers have a unique way of looking at how the world should be after wartime. Curtis tries to help people, Frank avenges his family, and Lewis blows up buildings.

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Marvel’s The Punisher: “Crosshairs” Review

Full Spoilers Following for Marvel’s The Punisher: “Crosshairs.” Make sure to keep up with all of our Marvel’s The Punisher binge here.

An episode where Frank Castle doesn’t kill anyone is a rarity, but he managed to complete most of his mission without a single fatality. There’s a message in “Crosshairs” that deals with a bigger issue. The issue of senseless killing.

Some may say that Marvel’s The Punisher is the wrong show at the wrong time. Frank finds it easier to kill when he’s on a mission, but he doesn’t ignore that what he’s doing can have grave consequences.

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