Cornerstone: The Song of Tyrim

Cornerstone

This is the kind of game that’s frustratingly shy of being great. With just a little more polish and a slightly bigger scope, it could have easily become my Game of the Year. As it stands, Cornerstone is merely “good.” It’s another island-based adventure game that will undoubtedly be compared to Wind Waker, which is also why I’m so enamored with it. I can’t stress enough that Steam needs more Zelda-like games, although Cornerstone does more to differentiate itself than the other indie homage I recently played, Oceanhorn. But it also amplifies some of the same shortcomings.

For starters, it’s easy to get lost. Not every task is put on your “to do” list, making it feel like the game has glitched out when said list turns up empty, and yet you have no idea where you’re supposed to go next. Blaming it on glitches is totally valid, by the way, because Cornerstone is full of them. Tyrim will randomly start grunting like he’s stuck on a wall, and one boss in particular had a habit of disappearing from the fight, never to return. The controls aren’t great, either, and the combat system is about as simple as it gets. Block, parry, repeat, only with the added confusion of weird button mapping choices.

But enough with the complaints. I do like the way they’ve set up the world/islands and how everything revolves around crafting from four set materials. Swords, shields, bombs, and parachutes are all conjured on the fly and can wear out and break over time. I only wish this aspect of the game were stronger, because the most enjoyable part of Cornerstone is finding a new crafting recipe and experimenting with what it gives you. I even liked the story, which is rare for me, though the way dialogue is presented is rather stale. Again, this is so close to being a truly awesome game, but even a less-than-stellar Wind Waker “clone” is still pretty cool.

Oceanhorn: Monster of Uncharted Seas

Oceanhorn

Steam has an abundance of almost every game genre now, but one thing that PC gamers are still missing out on are good Zelda clones. I seriously don’t understand why these types of games aren’t a dime a dozen. I suppose if they were, though, then Oceanhorn would not be as charming as it is. Basically, this is Wind Waker if Wind Waker had been done by an indie studio. Depending on how you feel about indies, that probably sounds awesome or terrible to you. I will admit, the game is a little rough around the edges. Your character’s movement is clunky, and some of the models and animations are cheesy. Nonetheless, this is a great homage to the Legend of Zelda series.

Well, you could argue that it’s more of a rip-off than an homage. So many things are pretty much copy and paste, right down to the silent protagonist, inability to jump, dungeons with master keys, bomb and arrow pickups, heart containers, and real-time sailing between islands. But it actually does some things better. Sailing isn’t as tedious, the achievements are fun, and the game doesn’t hold your hand nearly as much as Nintendo likes to. Sometimes I felt like I was stumbling across the right path by accident, although I kind of liked that approach. The number of islands you can explore—and the way they are introduced—help Oceanhorn feel like a true adventure. It’s still a bite-sized adventure, but any Zelda fan turned PC gamer will enjoy it.

The Walking Dead – Season 6

The Walking Dead

Yep, I’m done. This formula just isn’t working for me anymore. The Walking Dead has always been the occasional burst of awesomeness followed by a lot of feet-dragging, but the ratio of good-to-bad moments has gotten pretty intolerable. The numerous extended runtime episodes aren’t doing it any favors, either. This show really needs to cut back; a shorter season would do wonders. But AMC clearly loves to milk it, and the writers must have finally gotten onboard the studio’s train of thought, because Season 6 was obnoxiously manipulative. It’s like they’re more concerned with generating buzz than telling a good story anymore. The fake-out death near the beginning of the season was already bad enough, but then we got several more cliffhangers along the way and a major “screw you” at the end.

Maybe this was the season where the comic actually hurt the TV show. There was a lot of anticipation towards Negan’s arrival. I did like what little we finally got to see of the character, though. The Saviors were pretty terrifying in the finale, but they would have come across as even more dangerous if Rick’s group hadn’t steamrolled over them in every other confrontation. Rick & Co. have been reaching levels of invincibility—no major deaths this season—so watching Negan take one of them out would have really helped to raise the stakes again. But that godawful cop-out just makes me think the writers haven’t even decided who to off yet and are waiting to cull through the fans’ responses. It’s like when The Simpsons left the fate of Flanders and Krabappel up to a vote. That’s about when I quit that show. I think it’s time I did the same for this one.

Daredevil – Season 2

Daredevil

I liked Season 1 of Daredevil but feel Season 2 is better overall. The pacing has improved a lot, and we get to spend time with more villains than just Wilson Fisk and his cronies. Honestly, I really don’t care for Fisk’s involvement in Daredevil lore and am glad he played such a small role this time around. The best thing about Season 2 was actually the Punisher. Pitting Daredevil against anti-heroes who don’t share his morals is a great way to dig into the character, and Jon Bernthal does a fantastic Punisher. The first four episodes, which make up the majority of the Punisher’s arc, were amazing. It’s too bad his character is downplayed from Episode 5 onward as the story shifts gears with Elektra’s and the Hand’s arrival.

While the show’s portrayal of Elektra is fine and all, every time she appeared, it kind of derailed the momentum they had set up in the first few episodes. I know her history with Daredevil is important and complicated, but I would have rather seen more of the Punisher and the trial revolving around him. It was fun to have Foggy and Karen in court for once, after all. This season probably benefited them more than it did Matt/Daredevil. It was getting to the point of annoying how often Matt let his friends down, friends who have grown substantially since we last saw them. The way things ended in the finale left me wanting to know more about their fates over Matt’s.

And that’s probably because Season 3 of Daredevil (assuming there will be a Season 3) will only double down on the ninja/Hand stuff. Yes, I know the Hand is a big part of the comics, but some things don’t translate that well to film. Watching Daredevil beat up faceless ninjas who will most likely come back from the dead isn’t as entertaining as watching him trying to prevent the Punisher from murdering more gang members. In a way, Season 2 was like two different shows molded into one. That certainly helps keep things interesting. Again, it made for a better pace than Season 1’s slow grind to find the Kingpin. But my take-away is that a Punisher spin-off would be more welcome at this point than a third season.

Zootopia

Zootopia

When all is said and done, Zootopia is a pretty heavy-handed story about racism, but it actually works. Considering how humans with different skin color can’t get along, it makes perfect sense that different animal species would have the same issues. So while the movie’s message may be obvious, it’s also earned. For instance, everyone in the movie thinks that rabbits can’t be cops, because they’re too small and cute. And this is portrayed really well as Judy interacts with her co-workers that literally tower over her. I’m glad the studio didn’t take the easy way out and make all of the animals relatively the same size. It’s a lot of fun to see “to-scale” giraffes and mice populating the same city space.

Much of the humor in Zootopia, then, is derived from the animal-based visual gags. The DMV/sloth sequence particularly stands out, though Disney’s marketing probably already spoiled it for everyone. I also enjoyed the story for the most part with Judy, the rabbit, teaming up with a fox (voiced by the always delightful Jason Bateman) to solve a missing persons case. Unfortunately, they crack the case about 3/4 into the movie, and the cliched fallout that happens afterwards is kind of obnoxious. My other gripe with the movie is how hard they tried to shoehorn in Shakira as a character (pop idol Gazelle) and her new song, “Try Everything.” If the movie didn’t end on a gratuitous dance number, I would have walked away with a more favorable opinion.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Season 11

Always Sunny

This was a weird season. Almost every episode was either something completely out of the ordinary or 20 minutes of fan service. There were a lot of callbacks. Yeah, Sunny has always been a show that gleefully builds on its history, like Rickety Cricket’s season-to-season degradation, but it was a little much this time around. I realize episodes like “Frank Falls Out the Window” were supposed to be funny in how much they retreaded. However, I would have preferred something original. And not “The Gang Hits the Slopes” original, either. While that episode was certainly a great spoof of 80s teen movies, the characters didn’t feel like themselves. I mean, Dennis, Dee, and Mac are good at skiing now? And Charlie’s not afraid to sleep with a woman who isn’t the waitress? It just felt off. I also really didn’t like the POV Frank episode, either. That was so nauseating…

Maybe we can consider Season 11 the experimental one. I guess 11 years in, TV creators are allowed to do that, though let’s not forget that Always Sunny has shorter seasons than most sitcoms. If the episodes were merged into standard 20+ chunks, it’d be like Season 5 that’s starting to crumble and run out of ideas. But I’m not saying the show’s done. I’m not ready to see Sunny die in the same way I wanted The League to finally be put down. The Gang is still funny and can still deliver a great episode here and there. “Charlie Catches a Leprechaun,” for instance, felt like classic material that highlighted the characters’ awfulness in new ways. And the two-part cruise ship storyline at the end helped redeem some of the things that didn’t feel right earlier in the season. Ultimately, there were more misses than hits, but I’ll take those few hits over what most other shows can offer.