GAME | Everyone loves Mario Kart. But how about Mario Kart, in 2-D and on foot? SPEEDRUNNERS (Steam Early Access) somehow pulls it off with skill. Superhero-inspired characters (a chubby man in a chicken costume is my favorite) run, burst, slide, double jump and grapple their way across a treacherous course filled with spikes, lasers and pits. As an Incredibles-style soundtrack pumps in the background, the players grab power-ups, drop blocks, and fire boulders, ice beams and grappling hooks at each other, thwarting the progress of their opponents. Fall too far behind, as I always do, and the edge of the screen swallows you up. As competitors are winnowed away, the screen narrows and the room for error gets even smaller.
TV | What's more impressive than somehow managing to capture the Coen Brothers' quirky spirit, without feeling derivative, across a near-perfect season of television? Doing the whole thing, with an entirely new cast and story, a second time. Somehow FARGO (FX, Mondays, 10 pm) has done it again. This time the story is set in 1979, and focuses on a butcher and his wife caught between feuding mob families. Once again, everyday Minnesotans find themselves ground up by their own moral lapses. And once again, showrunner Noah Hawley finds a serene beauty amid the violence. The series' contrast and paradox is summed up by its color palette: A splash of bright-red blood against the pure white snow.
BOOK | A follow-up to The Power of the Dog, Don Winslow's THE CARTEL once again takes DEA agent Art Keller to face down drug kingpin Adán Barrera in Mexico. The Cartel has all the machismo, fire and violence you'd expect from a bloody and gripping thriller, but it's also shot through with a kind of acidic cynicism. Keller, Barrera and numerous other cartels mostly just succeed in plunging Mexico into a civil war, with countless innocents brutalized, beheaded and tortured. At times, Winslow shows flashes of genuine brilliance, packing profound clarity into starkly short sentences. ♦