Thursday, May 1, 2014

Space Quest II: Vohaul’s Revenge (Real Review)

When last we left Roger Wilco, he’d managed to pry the power of ultimate destruction from the hands of the ruthless Sarien mercenaries despite his status as a mere janitor and become the hero of his home planet of Xenon.

But before too long the furor over his heroics died down and Roger became yesterday’s news. His hard work did get him promoted to the spot of head janitor on one of Xenon’s space stations, which is small consolation as he’s the only member of the sanitation staff and most of the rest of the crew can’t stand him. Xenon has moved on.

But even if the rest of the universe no longer remembers what Roger did, one man hasn’t forgotten. Unfortunately that man is Sludge Vohaul, the mad scientist who hired the Sariens to steal the Star Generator and use it for evil. As arch-villains are wont to do, he not only cooks up another scheme to bring the galaxy to its knees (to turn the citizens of Xenon into jelly with an army of cloned life insurance salesmen). But also has his flunkies kidnap Roger to exact some payback for thwarting his previous scheme. Fortunately the bad guys forgot to gas up the hovercraft and Roger manages to escape onto the dangerous jungle planet Labion.

And I seem to be one of only a few people who consider this a step down from the previous installment. For one thing, perhaps the biggest one, the sense of humor isn’t nearly as strong as in the first game. Off the top of my head I can only think of two real jokes: when one of Vohaul’s guards insults another one by calling him “Gorf breath,” and when Roger passes out while hanging in a snare trap and dreams he’s Leisure Suit Larry. Maybe you’re willing to count the thing with the parody of Alien. I don’t know if I am. You walk one screen off where you start in the next game and you’ll see that many gags.

There’s also the villain’s evil scheme not being something that sounds like something out of a straight sci-fi premise, I guess.

But anyway, Roger finds himself stranded on a hostile jungle planet and needs to find some way off it. Kind of like Kerona, except it’s a jungle and not a desert. But again, the wit just doesn’t seem as prevalent even compared to the original version of the first game. Case in point, there’s not one but two of that easy fallback plan game designers use when they can’t think of anything else: mazes.

The first is actually the tendrils of some kind of plant monster that paralyze Roger if he touches them, and then it’s chow time for the monster. And you have go through it both ways to get something you need. I will admit that when the game got an icon-driven remake like its predecessor (a fan-made one, some twenty-four years later), they did include an alternate solution to make this part much less of a pain in the ass. Like with the magnet and the slot machine from the remake of the first Space Quest game.

The second one’s a little less frustrating, although that’s mainly because you don’t die if you touch the walls. Although you do die if you take too long to find the way out/wander into the wrong dead end; I never really found out which, but I think it’s the second one.

Besides two mazes in one game where mazes aren’t the whole point, the puzzles do seem a little more arbitrary than they did in the first game and approaching them with the same mindset I managed to adopt then (the hero’s a janitor who knows as much about surviving in a hostile environment as my flabby suburban ass) didn’t help that much.

Some are kind of obvious, though.
At one point you cross a swamp, and there’s a certain deep spot where you need to dive. If you just dive, though, and don’t specifically tell the game you’re holding your breath before you do, you run out of time and drown before you have any chance of finding out where it goes. Because you, who have intelligence to type well enough to use the text parser and operate a computer in the first place, wouldn’t automatically hold your breath before diving to the bottom of a body of water. And you need to do this because there’s, of course, an all-important item to be had.

That’s assuming you even walk across the swamp at the right part of the screen to find out there’s a deep spot at all and it’s not just there to make you figure out a way to keep from being eaten by a monster that hides underwater.

And I would of course be remiss if I didn’t point out how two later games make a point of killer robots coming after Roger because he didn’t pay for a FREE whistle he sends away for in this game.

It gets better when you end up back at Vohaul’s space base (not entirely by choice), as he like any cheesy villains has a number of death traps protecting him from meddling dogooders, and the proper solutions involve some fairly basic, if slightly cartoony, logic. Then again this is supposed to be a comedic adventure.

“Vohaul’s Revenge” doesn’t destroy the series, but it’s still something of a step back. That’s okay, though. The next little Space Quest odyssey more than makes up for it.

Monday, February 24, 2014

RIP Harold Ramis

I'm sure a lot of us are upset to hear about this. I've heard about the demises of lots of actors, but nothing has really upset me, personally, the way this has. Ghostbusters and my worship of it made up a significant part of my childhood, of course.

But more than that, Harold Ramis lived in Highland Park, Illinois, which was two towns south of where I lived for most of my life, and I always thought it was so cool living and going to school relatively close to one of the Ghostbusters. A couple years ago I went to a Q&A panel at the Highland Park Library and like many of the people in attendance brought Ghostbusters merchandise to see if I could an autograph, and ever since once of my most prized possessions has been my copy of Pumpkin Patch Panic. For a few minutes, I was close enough to touch one of my childhood idols. I didn't even mind that he kept the marker.

Goodbye, Harold. You'll be sorely missed.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Space Quest I: The Sarien Encounter (Real Review)

Ah, when adventure games realized they could be funny.

It seems that far off in the depths of space, the life-giving star of the populous planet of Xenon is growing cold and weak. To prevent their extinction, a team of scientists aboard the research ship Arcada are tasked with finding a solution. And by god they do in the form of the awesome Star Generator that can restore a dying star to health or, in the clammy hands of evil, turn a planet into a charred crisp in an instant.

Which is exactly what the ruthless Sarien space warriors have in mind as their battleship bears down on the unsuspecting Arcada. Soon they’ve slaughtered the scientists, stolen the Star Generator and set the ship to self destruct. The only crew member they missed was you, Roger Wilco, sanitation engineer second class, and only because you were, as usual, slacking off on the job and napping in a broom closet when the Sariens were purging the crew. But if you don’t watch your ass they might just catch you during their final sweep while you try to find a way off the doomed ship.

To tell the truth, Space Quest was actually the first Sierra series I discovered. When I got around to King’s Quest I’ll admit there was a little disappointment that it was a series of mainly straight fantasy quests, and not what Space Quest was to its genre: a raucous parody that tended to have fun at your expense whenever you did something stupid, which usually resulted in a hideous death. If not, it just made it impossible for you to win the game.

The parodic nature of the game also answers what I thought was one of the weaknesses of the earlier examples of the King’s Quest series. Namely, why would the finest knight in the kingdom on a desperate quest to save it embark on his adventure completely unarmed and unequipped. Well, our so-called hero’s very nature explains that here. He’s not Strong Bod Space Captainface, he’s a janitor. And not even very good at that. So basically the great hero charged with keeping the evil aliens from unleashing galactic devastation is you, the everyday schmuck. And I was mostly okay with that. I relate more to Dave Lister than Jim Kirk anyway.

And frankly if you're the kind of person who runs away when you see the bad guys, you're probably the kind of person who ignored the magic sword in the Zork books too.
As annoying as the taunts I earned when I got killed could be, it just drove the point home even further that me, the guy sitting at the keyboard, literally had as much idea what he was doing as my character should’ve. When I started thinking about it like that I felt pulled into the game to a higher degree and the things I was expected to do seemed less arbitrary. And playing further involved common sense behaviors like not taking the first offer when someone wants to buy your air car, don’t leave the keys in the ignition, don’t follow a sketchy-looking guy into a dark alley. Not so much if I was up on my bedtime fairytales or not.

Which isn’t to say there aren’t some annoyances, and some big ones. One is present in the first part of the game, where you need to escape that Arcada and not just dodge the Sarien soldiers looking for survivors but do so before the ship explodes. There’s an all-important item necessary to get the most successful ending in the game you need to get while you’re there, but with a clock ticking down to your doom it’s a little counterintuitive to be in an exploratory state of mind and to think doubling back is a good idea.

The biggest annoyance is, of course, once you escape the Arcada and manage to make your way to some semblance of civilization, you need to scare up enough money to buy a spaceship. And since you’re a janitor who has no idea how to fly a spaceship, a robot to handle that for you. The only way to get money is a slot machine in the local bar. And if you get three skulls, you don’t just lose your money, you freaking die.

Fortunately this was one of a few mercies the game designers took when the game was revamped a few years later with Sierra’s new icon interface. While you’re on the Arcada you can find an item that lets you cheat the slot machine. You even get puzzle points for doing that, and only get to kill an afternoon saving and reloading if you do it the hard way. Thanks, Sierra!

They got sued for this later. But you knew that.

Another comes in the form of making the coupons for local businesses actual inventory items. You got actual physical pieces of paper that came in the box of the original game, and apparently quite a few players couldn’t figure out you could walk into the bar or robot store and “redeem coupon” to reap the rewards.

Despite throwing players those bones, though, a couple of things were made nastier. Like when you’re about to launch your escape pod in the first game, it politely reminds you to buckle up before you blast off. Forgetting to do so in the remake kills you automatically.

Mostly the updates to the original were good, though, like taking advantage of the extra space to cram in more silly sci-fi references. It’s a shame the remake didn’t do better, though, and we had to wait until after the turn of the century before fan developers were a thing and other old games in the Sierra library might start to see rerelease with a less clunky interface.

But all in all this is a fine start to a series willing to have a sense of humor about itself, even if it’s willing to have some fun at the player’s expense quite a few times too. I’ve always preferred a game that was willing to be weird over one that wasn’t anyway.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Adventure Begins Here 2 - Dragon's Deep (Real Review)

Didn’t think I’d see the day, but since I did, Adventure Begins Here: The Renegade Wizard, supremely clich├ęd story of unlikely hero Toby the squire, evidently did well enough to go to sequel.

A little time has passed. Toby’s apprenticing under a new knight and the kingdom’s facing a new threat, this time from a massive rampaging dragon. And the only weapon in the realm capable of slaying such a ferocious beast, the legendary Dragon Spear, has been filched from the royal repository. So you find yourself on another quest, not just to retrieve the spear but to then use it to slay the dragon before it incinerates the entire kingdom.

Unlike the first book, this one begins with a part where Toby’s recounting how he got to a certain point that’s told in first person. Since it’s a flashback, you have a nominal amount of control but if you die the narration stops and says that’s not what really happened, and you get sent back to pick another course of action. Reminds me a little of the do-over feature in the old Zork books, except as far as I remember it never tried to catch me cheating.

It was a little confusing though, since as a direct sequel to the previous book you’re expecting to be able to carry over the stuff you got in the first book. And you can. But it’s only once the “tutorial” part ends and you have to start actually rolling the dice that the game brings that up. Importing your character isn’t even mentioned in the rules. So you can, you just aren’t given any reason to think so until you’ve been reading the book for fifteen minutes, which got the book off on kind of a weird foot.

Which brings me to how when you do import you stuff you can also say you’ve leveled up since the last book. While filling in your character sheet with the stuff you plundered from the first book you can spend Hero Points to buy skills or spells relevant to the one you picked before going after Maudilus in the first book. It’s an interesting dilemma that represents since a having certain skill can feasibly make the adventure easier, but at the same time if you break the bank you won’t be able to reverse a roll that could mean game over. Although those of us checking this out because of being longtime Fighting Fantasy and Lone Wolf readers, like myself, are used to not having Hero Points to fall back on anyway.

Oh, and you probably did, but if you picked the reading runes skill hope you picked the wizard’s spell book as your prize or the selection of spells for sale will be awfully limited.

Unfortunately, the writing and plot are still as pedestrian as can be. One particular thing that doesn’t make any sense is that when the story begins, Toby’s the squire to a new knight. After the flashback portion ends and he’s rescued by a group of knights who plan on venturing onward to slay the dragon, he asks to come along but they demur because a prophecy says only a knight can do it. He says they can just knight him and he’ll be good. And they do. And that’s it. He’s a knight, just like that.

Kinda anticlimactic, don’t you think? Or worse, delayed. Something like killing an evil wizard, one who foiled every bounty hunter, assassin and army of knights of the realm sent to dispose of him seems like it’d merit a promotion, but no. It’s not even that nobody else knows about it and doesn’t believe Toby when he claims responsibility. When Toby and his new benefactor go to the capital city the knights there have already heard the story of how he kicked Maudilus’s renegade wizard behind and give him a hearty slap on the back for it. Why is Toby still apprenticing when the book starts?

Speaking of a prophecy, here it is: “A knight the slayer will be, but the Dragon Spear is the key.” As prophetic verse goes, that’s pretty nickel-and-dime stuff there. Try this one on.

“When the full moon shines o’er the temple deep,
A sacrifice will stir from sleep
The legions of a long forgotten lord
When a fair royal maid on the altar dies,
The dead of Maakengorge shall rise
To claim their long-awaited reward.”

The rhyme’s not the best, but it does tie into the plot (of Lone Wolf 4, The Chasm of Doom) and it’s a little unnerving if you think about what it means is at stake. The one in this book just tells you the one to kill the dragon must be a knight, which as I already was handled poorly, and gives a nebulous clue.

There are also Greek mythology motifs in here, with talking idols of the gods offering you magical artifacts if you can prove yourself worthy. They feel out of place, but I get the feeling they were put there to make something else feel less weird. You see, one of the guardians of the dragon’s lair is no less than Medusa, and it seems she was only put in there so the player could have an easy way and a hard way to kill the dragon, and the author was inspired to put the easy way in by seeing Clash of the Titans.

And in the end, this book seems even more hopeful than the first of another installment. Those artifacts you get from the gods? You’re told one thing they do, but it’s made pretty clear they probably have other powers you have yet to discover. And the spear wasn’t stolen by the dragon’s thralls to protect their master, it was stolen by a cult of elves for reasons of their own, which the author was probably hoping to build up in another story. With where the creativity starts and stops on the premises of these books, not sure I’m looking forward to that.

But I’ll probably review it anyway.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Loonatics Unleashed – In Search of Tweetums, Part 2 (Snark, Series Finale)

After the recap, open on Wile E. appraising Bugs of the situation with Deuce, with Bugs reacting only with a “thanks for the update.” You found out Deuce stole your ride, and he’s using it to bring a supposed ultimate army of emotionless killers to a place that he can use as a staging ground to invade anywhere in the universe he pleases. And all you’ve got to say is “thanks for the update.” Not even an “oh man”?

We see Zadavia in a cabin on her brother’s former, now reclaimed, flagship. Deuce mocks that without her powers she might “catch your death of cold” and tosses her her cape. She fires back that he might have her powers for now, but ultimately they’ll be his downfall. Is there any reason why they won’t be your downfall, maybe, Big Z?

“Accept your fate. You will never rule again.” I ask again, what was stopping her from going back to Freleng and being the ruler? Her flunkies defeated Optimatus who only became a threat again very recently. Did Optimatus blow up the planet and his asteroid headquarters from this time last season was all that was left? A little more effort in the world-building would've been nice.

As they fly along, chasing down the trail of clues to Tweety’s hiding place his decoy promised them, Bugs addresses his posse, “Hang tight, gang! We’ve gotta reach the real [Tweety] before the bad guys!” Good thing you’re here! The usual pre-theme song prologue was replaced by a recap this time, so this isn’t even for the benefit of people who missed part one.

They land at a ring of stones where their first clue is carved into the rock in alien writing. “What’s black and blue and red all over?” Daffy corrects Tweety-bot that it’s “black and white” and the answer’s a newspaper. Even seven and a half centuries in the future, huh? He spots a rolled up newspaper on the ground nearby, but when he picks it up triggers a booby trap that drops a load of orange slime on him. Easily shaken off orange slime at that. If that’s this planet’s idea of a booby trap, I’m starting to see why the bad guys had so little trouble walking in and taking over. The newspaper turns out to be a map, and it wasn’t even ruined by the slime. Gee, how wrong this could’ve gone if the bad guys had the advantage of numbers and found the map first.

A clue, apparently.

Via the miracle of recycled footage we see Deuce’s commandeered ship cruising through space. Then, Zadavia escaping her cell/cabin through an air vent. Wearing her big, voluminous cape while doing so for some reason. I don’t know, that just seems like something you’d ditch if you were trying to be stealthy.

She’s able to do this because even though her room has no door, the robot guarding her’s facing the hall. If there’s nothing keeping her in there but the guard himself, why wouldn’t he be facing her, I ask? Because if the robots lived up to their reputation, the heroes would be screwed. The robots don’t even prove to be that tough, because Zadavia climbs down from above and easily rips one’s head off with her knees and then kicks it aside with one blow.

Big Z opens a closet that she just happens to know contains the cosmic guitar and handily isn’t locked. Villain arrogance or bad writing? You decide.

She’s caught before she can re-absorb her powers from it and just uses it to shoot music lasers at the robots chasing her, then flees to the hangar to commandeer a ship. Deuce catches her, and despite Zadavia blasting him with a music laser he mysteriously isn’t torn to bits like his robots were. Admittedly as I was going through here pausing repeatedly to get screencaps I could see that Deuce somersaults out of the way, but with the spastic light effects it’s hard to tell that he doesn’t get hit while watching the actual scene. And she still shot that at him knowing what it did to his robots, and that it has the power to warp the fabric of reality.

He gets the last laugh by shooting a control panel that opens the bay doors and sucks her into the void. Bye bye, Zadavia!

Back to the Loonatics, who are in a network of caves. “So, uh, which one’s the lucky tunnel?” Bugs asks. Don’t you guys have a map? If this is where it ends and you need to solve another puzzle for your next set of directions, could somebody say that?

Oh, but there is no puzzle, as Tweety-bot explains Daffy’s supposed to guess. “That’s what makes it fun!” And Daffy does guess, steps on a pressure plate and gets squashed by falling rocks. That’s what the ruler of the most important planet of the universe, one so significant it can plunge the galaxy into centuries of war, thinks is fun. And the show wants you to think the universe is in good hands with him in charge.

Daffy’s okay, because that was supposed to be funny. They make it to the end of the trail which is marked by a door and an obvious panel of levers to open it. Again, they have to randomly select the right one or suffer the humorously painful consequences. Screw you, Tweety! You specifically said follow a trail of clues, not a trail of lucky guesses!

Daffy refuses to play Tweety’s games this time, and tries to make Sylvester do it. He refuses too and makes Taz do it. Taz picks one that makes rocks fall, but in predictable humor fashion the falling rocks squish Daffy and Sylvester instead. It does open the door, prompting Lexi and Bugs to praise Taz’s random guess and ignoring the others still buried underneath ten tons of rock.  More on that kind of thing in the wrap-up, but right now, is that supposed to somehow keep out intruders? The rocks don’t even fall on the guy pulling the lever, even if it was something that would hurt him.

They find an awfully lavish back-up throne room behind the door, and after an annoying song from Tweety, Sylvester decides he’s had enough and stalks over to make a snack out of him only to fall down a trap door (even though we clearly saw he has a jetpack). Tweety declares, “Well, I left you plenty of clues Mr. Duck. But you sure took your sweet time getting here.” Maybe that’s because most of your clues were “here’s your options, close your eyes and pick one,” smart guy.

Tweety basically tells us why his scepter’s so important, whichi Zadavia already told us, and that he hid out here because it’s the one place the bad guys would never find him. And wouldn’t you know it, right then Optimatus flies out of the trap door Sylvester fell down, carrying the bad ol’ putty tat. You know, when the plot only works because the characters on both sides are dummies, it makes it hard to figure out how to root for.

Deuce shows up too, along with his robo-troops. And they blow up the same wall twice with the footage flipped the second time (Yeah, sorry guys, you're messing with a Dragon's Lair vet). So much for the bad guys would never find you there, huh?!

The robots prove completely useless, and even Sylvester gets to kick some butt, but they provide enough of a distraction that Deuce is able to grab Tweety and demand that Bugs hand over the scepter. “You’re a very, very bad man,” Tweety informs Deuce. And you’re a very, very unbelievable benevolent monarch.

Daffy pleads with them to spare Tweety’s life, but as soon as they toss Tweety to Bugs, the bad guys put him in a force field to take with as “A little insurance policy, in case your friends get any ideas.” They reveal their true colors right away anyway, having the robots shoot out the ceiling to bury the Loonatics. All they actually do is create a wall of rubble that cuts them off from the Loonatics. Lexi tries to blast through, but the room’s so unstable Bugs warns her against anymore or it could bring the roof down on them. Oh, now the show's in "serious mode," and rocks falling on them would be dangerous instead of funny, huh?

Optimatus gloats about ruling the universe, but it turns out Deuce is backstabbing Optimatus. Just like Bugs. And Sam. And Zadavia. And Keyboard Man. So I have to disagree with Daffy when he says “I did not see that one coming.” Deuce puts Optimatus in a bubble that contains his rainbow powers. And for some reason they switch Daffy’s force field out for handcuffs that block his powers.

Back to the other Loonatics, who are stuck in the throne room. Even though Bugs was worried about any big shock bringing the roof down on their heads, the shaking from Wile E. drilling into the room via his drill-mobile from “Going Underground” doesn’t do anything. So…the Loonatics have another spaceship, allowing the others to find their friends on Blanc? Which one? And they knew where to find the others because of homing thingies.

Tweety explains things aren’t over yet, because his scepter can’t actually control portals without a jewel hidden in the necklace that was the only part of the stupid knight costume Daffy’s still wearing. Handy, huh?

We see Optimatus in a cell, and strangely not in that bubble that contains his powers anymore. Who should show up then but Zadavia, with her rainbow powers restored. She frees him, by shooting him in the chest and not his restraints, and he automatically rainbow-blasts some robots coming in to recapture them. After all the evil plots of his, being happy to kill people on a planetary scale just to get rid of her, Optimatus keeps her from being shot in the back by a bunch of robots.After she just shot him in the chest.

That looks real friendly, don't it?

But no, Optimatus’s entire worldview has been completely shattered. One he had even before Zadavia shot him in the face with rocket exhaust. Just like that, Optimatus is a good guy. Just. Like. That. Very convenient. So much so it's almost as if the writers knew the show was ending and didn't bother trying. Yet...well, we'll get to that.

Wile E. and Roadrunner are staying behind in Tweety’s throne room to keep an eye on him, and suddenly the room’s filled with his little egg-bots. Where’d they come from? And what could the show possibly be getting at by showing so many…?

The other Loonatics and Sylvester fly to the core of the planet where Deuce and his robo-army are preparing to deploy. And make no effort to just shoot the dopes down despite seeing them coming.

A massive fight breaks out with the soldiers Deuce was going to take over the universe with going down like wet cardboard. And they still fall for that shooting at their targets from both sides and shooting each other instead trick.

Bugs does almost get thrown over a ledge, but then Zadavia shows up and—this is hilarious—uses her rainbow beams to totally blow away the robots holding Lexi, but all that happens to Lexi is she falls to the ground exactly where she was. And countless other robo-soldiers. “I told you your disloyalty would be your undoing,” she snipes at Deuce. No, you told him your stolen powers would be his undoing. The exact line was “Traitor! You may have my powers for now, but they will ultimately be your undoing!”

Despite her bravado the robots soon appear to be gaining the upper hand. Deuce even brazenly asks if they have any last words, with Daffy replying, “I’ve got a few, but I’d have to wash out my mouth with soap.” He’s the butt of all the jokes and gets all the flak from his teammates, but he’s the only one who ever gets a halfway-decent one-liner.

Sylvester (appropriately) pussies out and tries to change sides by telling Deuce about the missing part of the scepter and Daffy having it. Who should show up to bail our “heroes” out of trouble but Tweety and his egg-bots, who’ve been “retro-fitted” with super-strong armor. Which Wile E. and Roadrunner managed to do all by themselves in the little while it’s been since we saw them (maybe if they’d explained the armor’s actually a special paint or something…), and the raw material for armor and the equipment to apply it on the egg-bots were handily nearby somewhere despite Wile E. only coming up with the idea to turn the egg-bots into an army after he saw them all there. Meaning he didn’t bring it with him intending to do that.

But anyway, with Deuce’s advantage of numbers neutralized the Loonatics are able to fight free and start to gain the upper hand again. Deuce tries to open the portal hub and Bugs follows him inside, with Deuce putting the scepter into some kind of compartment that makes the thingy do the portal stuff.

Bugs and Deuce meet for a final duel. The sad thing is, this is obviously supposed to be not just the climax of the season, but the climax of Bugs and Deuce’s rivalry from way back in “Secrets of the Guardian Strike Sword.” Which as I went into there, doesn’t work that well because it’s between the most generic wise-cracking action hero stereotype and one-dimensionally self-obsessed powermongering villain in memory. And that was the only episode they were given to develop the rivalry between these characters. Which those more sophisticated cartoons from Japan would’ve never given such short shrift.

Yes, yes, they backed off and softened the show, but they still went ahead with it. If they weren’t after Toonami’s audience anymore, then who? With the ever-increasing leanings toward lightness and humor I’m tempted to say young viewers in general, but the serious and silly elements are both so poorly-balanced I’m hesitant to commit to any answer.

The cardboard cutouts fight.
Bugs: “I see ya still have the old moves workin’ for ya!”
Deuce: “And a few new ones that you haven’t seen!” <Punches Bugs in the face>

Not only is the quipping during the climactic fight pathetic, a plain old straight to the face is supposed to be a cool move?

Deuce announces his plans to escape, build a new army and return. “I don’t think so! Looks like you bought yourself a one way ticket!”

Bugs uses his laser vision to break a deadlock (That seems like cheating when Deuce has nothing comparable) and the show reaches the culmination of flat out lying to your face about how he’s the greatest hero ever. The kickback from the laser vision knocks Deuce into the heart of the portal thing, and Bugs uses the Guardian Strike Sword to activate the portal (by stabbing the controller) and suck Deuce off into the ether. Deuce vanishes with an agonized yell, but given the very safe nature of this show and the fact that we’re about to end on hopes for another season, I doubt very much it would’ve been anywhere he couldn’t come back from, and I’m almost positive Bugs knew that too.

And Bugs did this in the interests of banishing Deuce from planet Blanc, but in doing so, gave the villain what he wanted: an escape. Way to go! Nice to see you haven’t improved at all! Sylvester goes to jail, why not Deuce?

Yeah, he’s supposed to be lost without the scepter, but he got sucked inside a wormhole back in the first episode he appeared in too, and that didn’t last. Why not put him someplace where you can keep an eye on him, instead of shunting him conveniently off-screen to get up to all sorts of season-driving mischief?

And even if we’re supposed to believe Deuce is lost in a wormhole, well, Keyboard Man didn’t need an instruction manual to go through a wormhole and find Optimatus. And they had no trouble finding Deuce on a runaway space train. What, because he’s a musician he instantly knows how to control the fabric of the cosmos? Deuce didn’t need any help figuring out the cosmic implement either. Pardon me for saying this show actually makes it look like navigating a wormhole’s easy. And it’s not that he’s trapped, according to Zadavia it’s that “he’d never find his way out again.” But as I just said, this show doesn’t actually make toying with universal forces look hard, and Deuce probably only didn’t escape before because that would’ve blown the surprise. Thirty seconds after Bugs sucked him into the portal Deuce probably landed right on top of some Neolithic guys thinking “If only the gods would send someone to rekindle our people’s warrior spirit…”

How does the scepter thingy even work? You can go anywhere, but you can’t come back without someone who stays behind because the thing you need to control it has to stay there? Or can you use the scepter to open a portal from the other end? Maybe they were planning to go into more detail if they made it to another season...

Outside, the energy pulse from Bugs doing this takes out Deuce’s robots. Handy, with how much time they have left in the episode. While we’re still sort of on the subject of our heroes improving, with the menace seen off for now, Zadavia announces she and Optimatus are going back to Freleng now, and that the Loonatics are no longer just heroes in training. They don’t need her to look out for them anymore, and must “rise to the next level, and become guardians of the universe.”

“Guardians of the universe? I like the sound of that!” Bugs enthuses. Yeah, well, don’t like it too much. You guys already got your greasy fingerprints all over one Warner Brothers-owned franchise. It’s bad enough how Blanc’s the planet at the center of the universe…

By the way, we never heard about that “heroes in training” before. Makes you feel better about all the stuff the Loonatics got up to before, knowing they were only technically trainee heroes, doesn’t it? There probably wasn’t an actual ranking system in place, no, but still, what was Zadavia waiting for to declare their training complete? Most superheroes don’t stop training once they start fighting actual villains. What, saving the world at the end of last season wasn’t enough, they had to wait for a chance to save the whole universe??

This gets even more embarrassing if you think about the push to play up the ties to the original Looney Tunes this season. Fighting all those other villains and saving Acmetropolis from Optimatus on two occasions wasn’t worthy of recognition (the first being “The Comet Cometh”). It’s only after triumphing over Sylvester, Granny, Sam, Fudd, Pierre le Pew, Porky, Flipper, Roadrunner’s slacker kid brother and a villain seriously named Keyboard Man that the Loonatics are finally considered pros. The first season’s villains were nothing great, but most (not all, but most) of the threats faced by our heroes this season were even less so.

Oh, and now we’re hearing about Freleng again. Took you frigging long enough. Despite Optimatus having been taken out and somehow imprisoned even more thoroughly off-screen, evidently the Loonatics needed her more than however many million Frelengians were left without a ruler throughout this whole season. Despite, as I said, the Loonatics having a world-saving and several lesser villains under their belts already. And despite me still having next to no idea what Zadavia actually did for the team besides call them with new developments sometimes.

The Loonatics decide to make Blanc their new headquarters, with the portals allowing them to go anywhere in the universe they’re needed. Yeah. They're going to take on all the evil in the universe. That sounds like something the six of these barely second-string punks can handle.
The show ends with Tweety bashing Daffy over the head with his scepter one last time. And Daffy shows himself to be the least shitty Loonatic one last time, because he at least has the ability to learn from his experiences and gets a helmet on in time. And thank heavens that’s the end, because if this had gone on for another season, Tweety would've been the new Zadavia, and the one we had before was bad enough.

Pee-yoo! When I finished up the first season I said the second one was a little better, but I officially amend that statement to say it’s only better in the sense of making for better riffing

But what was anybody expecting from a premise sick from birth and not long for this world? I know Loonatics Unleashed has its fans, but I’ve yet to hear of anything that doesn’t. And “so bad it’s good” shows count too.

This show didn’t succeed not just because of a premise that never would’ve caught on, but because, like lots of attempts to cash in, the people behind it made too little effort to understand what the audience they were after liked about what they were trying to copy. Warner Bros. seems to have missed the memo that a big part of the reason anime was catching on was because, while there were way cool fight scenes, on the whole it devoted more effort to characterization and plot because of the long, arcing stories they usually have too. Whereas many Western action cartoons could, aside from a pilot episode that established the setting and perhaps a big doomsday scenario to end the season, often be watched in any order. Loonatics Unleashed does little to venture from this.

That’s a big reason I got so mad at “It Came From Outer Space.” We’re evidently left to assume, mainly from one instance of Lexi hugging Bugs in the first season, that Bugs is refusing to let anyone take Lexi because of an understated romantic interest between the two of them. In most anime worth their salt, the capper for that episode would be the characters realizing the depth of their feelings for each other and either taking their relationship to the next level or realizing they can’t do that while <X big threat> is still hanging over their heads. Thus resulting in subdued but still present romantic feelings. In Loonatics Unleashed, they went home, had one last lame gag, and end credits.

Even when it tries to inject a bit of humor into the proceedings, it can’t find a good balance between that and its bigger emphasis on action, and changes gears poorly. Case in point, Daffy having huge rocks fall on him twice in a row in this episode and being okay, because it was supposed to be funny. Then immediately after that, the show decides it's going to be serious now and rocks falling on the Loonatics will suddenly kill them.

Then again, there’s the big changes that took place, and how maybe I shouldn’t be comparing this show to anime since they made it more in the style of DC Animated Universe. Populated by such favorites as Batman the Animated Series, Superman the Animated Series, Batman Beyond, Justice League (Unlimited), and so forth, because of the unfriendly reaction the original trailer got. But I dunno, maybe part of the reason those shows succeeded where Loonatics Unleashed failed is because they were about superheroes that had been around decades and were already familiar to audiences. Yes, everybody knows who the Looney Tunes are, but whenever they did superhero cartoons, those were always parodies. And despite my insistence on sticking to the old names because these can hardly be called a new cast, the show wants you to know that’s not Bugs, Bugs is this guy’s ancestor! Totally new set of characters!

And those shows did make time to explore their characters. Especially ones like, oh, the star of Batman Beyond who didn’t have any previous adventures to refer to.  Even the guy from Zorro: Generation Z had a life outside of fighting crime, but not the Loonatics. Lame one-liners are not character development. Not all by themselves, anyway.

And taking the show’s new directions a step further, there’s the proliferation of reinvented characters this season, in an attempt to make this show viable after the serious direction didn't prove marketable. What if that idea worked, as they were obviously hoping it would? Where was there left to take that? What new versions were there left to roll out other than, like, Lightspeed Gonzales, (Planet) Crusher, and Space…Witch Hazel?

Where was there left to go with that idea? In case you don’t remember, and who could blame you, I made a point that the characters who were harmless comedic antagonists before are still harmless comedic antagonists now. Fudd, Sylvester and Sam didn’t work as threats this time, forget about round two. The only old/new villain who with any believability was Marvin, who was so tough the Loonatics only beat him because the show literally forgot his ship was supposed to be indestructible

Would they have ventured even farther looking for guest characters? Maybe descendants of Pinky and the Brain? Well, they already had the voice actors…

Guess that’s it, nothing much else to say.

Oh wait, my reaction to the “guardians of the universe” remark?

Can't be any plainer than that, can I?

Might as well add I was no fan of Duck Dodgers, but if you want an example of a cartoon that combined Looney Tunes-style humor with serious action when the story called for it and did a decent job? There you go.

Merry whatever-you-celebrate!