Dropsy

Dropsy

I can’t remember the last game that affected me this much emotionally. Dropsy was a roller coaster. It was weirdly touching, sad, and inspirational. And that makes the ending all the more bittersweet, because I really didn’t like the direction the story went. The ending kind of trivializes your hard work throughout the game, about Dropsy going around town, trying to make people like him. I love how Dropsy is so creepy and grotesque but is quite possibly the most heartwarming character of any video game. Watching him hug various animals and strangers always made me smile. The fact that he only had nightmares when he slept in his own bed was also a nice touch.

I didn’t care for the day/night cycle, though, since it was often pure luck for me to stumble across certain situations at certain times of the day. For the most part, however, the point-and-click gameplay made sense. The whole thing is played without any dialogue, which is an impressive feat, but that means there are no instructions whatsoever, not even labels for the UI buttons. Saving your game for the first time is pretty much guesswork. But I can’t stress enough how cool this game is, right down to the clownish yet melancholy jazz soundtrack. I ended up buying the soundtrack, and whenever I listen to it, I’m nearly moved to tears. How often does a game stick with you that much?

The Promised Land

Promised Land

I think this was one of the most casual games I’ve ever played. There really isn’t much room for error, since the game holds your hand through just about every step, and you have no freedom over where to build things. It’s a very light resource management sim where much of the game boils down to you watching your people work and then selling the fruits of their labor. In fact, way too much time is spent waiting around for the laboratory to finish with its research tasks. I hated how slow that laboratory was, even with 5-10 people stationed at it.

Don’t get me wrong, though. This did end up being a fun experience. I kind of needed something that didn’t require a lot of thought, and this worked out perfectly. I enjoyed juggling the different people to figure out the most efficient way to keep food supplies up, and there was some care involved in making sure those who hated chopping wood didn’t have to chop wood. However, the random, pirate-themed Angry Bird mini-games didn’t fit at all. Sure, in a way, I appreciated how they broke up the sim game repetition, but seriously… Angry Birds? You couldn’t have ripped off something better?

Kubo and the Two Strings

Kubo

It’s disheartening how all animated movies are practically the same now. Same style. Same jokes. Same pacing. So the Laika films truly are something special. I love stop-motion animation, after all, and I’m glad there’s at least one studio that still embraces it. I just wish they would hire better writers. Kubo is probably my favorite of their efforts, but it, too, falls victim to lame attempts at humor, forced dialogue, and inconsistent characters. Kubo, for instance, starts out as a very mysterious and soft-spoken boy, but once his adventure begins, and the stakes are significantly higher, he’s suddenly sticking his tongue out and acting immature. Same goes for the monkey character. The more we learn about her, the more her previous actions don’t make much sense.

The adventure itself is fun, though. While it does feel a little video gamey in the sense that Kubo has to find three artifacts before he can defeat the “end boss” (where each artifact is guarded by a mini-boss), I walked into the movie kind of expecting that. Not like Coraline where the game-like finale came out of nowhere. Plus, despite the cast being quite small, all of the characters were very memorable. Bringing in big stars like Matthew McConaughey wasn’t even as distracting as I thought it would be. More importantly, though, is that Laika’s signature animation style is perfect for this type of project. Kubo benefits from stop-motion more than anything else they’ve done. The world feels real and fantastical at the same time, and I really hope they continue down this direction. But they’ve got to up the quality of the writing to match!

Bojack Horseman – Season 3

Bojack Horseman

Every season of Bojack Horseman leaves me feeling… different. They seem to always end on a dour note, and for the next several days, I have brooding Bojack quotes running through my head. This show gets a little too real at times. But that’s also why it’s so intriguing. It goes from silly animal puns to existential crises at the drop of a hat. While the humor doesn’t always land (though to be fair, much of the humor is in the background details, anyway), the “serious” scenes will punch you in the gut every damn time. Honestly, Bojack Horseman has more of an effect on me than most other shows billed as outright dramas.

A lot of Season 3 felt like retread, though. Bojack still hates himself and still messes up good opportunities when they come around. We’ve kind of seen that already many times before, only now he’s digging a deeper hole and pushing his friends farther away. But speaking of which, the supporting cast felt more important and less cartoony this time around. That’s especially true of Todd. I never cared for Todd before, but I thought he was used well, and by the end of the season, we learn something about him that really humanizes him. Plus, I think Aaron Paul’s voice acting finally grew on me.

The voice acting in general has always been a little hit or miss. The show does bring in some pretty big stars, but, as I’ve said before, great actors aren’t necessarily great voice actors. I still absolutely love Will Arnett as Bojack, though. This is the best thing Arnett has done since Arrested Development. Surprisingly, however, the most memorable episode of the season had very little voice acting at all. The dream-like underwater episode was such a joy to watch, and without any dialogue, they still managed to convey the same heart and soul. I already can’t wait to see where this series goes and what boundaries it pushes next year.

Pokémon Go

Pokemon Go

Pokémon Go is the most frustrating mobile game I’ve ever played. It constantly crashes or freezes on me. Now I’ve been good to cut Niantic some slack since I’m pretty sure nobody expected the game to turn into a worldwide phenomenon overnight. They’ve undoubtedly got their hands full trying to cool off the servers and don’t have time to investigate every crash on every outdated Android device. But good lord, it gets annoying having to reboot the game every five minutes, because it keeps failing to track my movement. That makes trying to hatch eggs—a very cool idea, by the way—a painful process. And there have been many times where I’ve gone to an area with a lot of Pokéstops and couldn’t participate in the fun, because the game kept outright quitting on me.

Normally, I would not be this forgiving of such a problematic game, but it’s hard to say no to Pokémon. I was a big fan of the original generation, so Pokémon Go feels tailor-made to me. And when it works, it’s a truly fun experience. I don’t say that from a gameplay perspective, either, because… let’s face it, there’s not much “game” here. Sure, throwing a Pokéball sometimes ends up being a little trickier than you thought, but the gym battles, if you even care about them (or rather, if you can even get into a gym without the game breaking), kind of take the fun out of traditional, turn-based Pokémon fights. It’s the act of collecting that makes this so exciting, that every time you boot the game up, there might be a rare Pokémon nearby to propel you into the cool kids’ club.

Unfortunately, Niantic had to remove the “nearby” feature, which makes it impossible to actively hunt for specific Pokémon. But that hasn’t stopped me from frequently checking the game to see what monsters are still within reach. Truth is, I haven’t had to walk much to accumulate a lot of Pokémon, anyway. There’s a Pokéstop outside my office, for instance, that almost always has a lure activated thanks to someone else. I’m much too self-conscious to actually go out and find this generous person, however, but I like and appreciate the social potential here. The neatest thing about Pokémon Go, after all, is how it turns real landmarks into Pokéstops, which gives you an incentive to explore and see parts of your city you previously never noticed. I’ll forgive the warts of any game that encourages such. But man… they seriously need to fix these bugs.

Xenoblade Chronicles

Xenoblade Chronicles

It was easy to miss the original Xenoblade Chronicles game when it first came out, so I’m really glad Nintendo brought it to the eShop. It’s a good RPG and a great way to keep the spirit of the newer Wii U game going if beating that one left a hole in your heart. It’s probably not entirely fair to go from the Wii U game to the older Wii game, though. It does feel like a step back, not just graphically but in everything, as you realize Xenoblade Chronicles X improved on a lot. But the Wii version manages to stand out on its own, too.

For one, the story and characters are more interesting. Yes, it’s a typical JRPG where the “chosen one” spends most of his time dramatically grunting and yelling his friends’ names, and nobody really dies in very non-surprising twists. But the end goal was clearer, and the story didn’t hit as many lulls. I also really liked the game’s character management, how you’re free to switch around active members (even taking main hero Shulk out of the picture altogether), and how characters’ affinity towards each other allows them to share skills. Building the perfect team is quite rewarding.

The side missions, however, were pretty lame. That’s something XCX did much, much better. As for the battle system, it’s fundamentally the same but does enough differently to not be a total bore if you’ve already seen it. This is one of my favorite battle systems of any RPG, after all, so it was great to be able to experience it again in an alternate universe. I just wish the last several hours weren’t all fights against the same robots. It’s no surprise, then, that the Wii U version is still the better game, but I’d recommend newcomers start here so they can appreciate the progress the series is making. And if you’re not a newcomer, check it out, anyway.