Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen

Dragon's Dogma

I expected this game to be a lot bigger than it actually was. I know people who have put 100+ hours into it, and the size of the map suggests that’s entirely justifiable. The map is deceiving, though. Most of it is purposefully unreachable with the game taking place on just a handful of the same roads. This isn’t like Breath of the Wild where you’ll travel from a desert to a jungle to a snowy mountain. Everything stays consistently “rocks ‘n trees” here, and you’ll get sick of fighting the same flying harpies over and over regardless of which mission you’re currently on.

The combat can be pretty fun, though, when you’re up against bigger monsters. Taking down a chimera or cyclops is always a rewarding experience. In fact, I think my favorite part of Dragon’s Dogma was the final chapter where you are sent to explore a dungeon full of harder monsters. There’s also a superfluous bonus dungeon called Bitterblack Isle that’s probably pretty similar, and I’m guessing that’s where players are racking up these 100+ hours of gameplay. But I never bothered to visit Bitterblack Isle, because, frankly, the main game didn’t captivate me enough to warrant staying after that really weird ending.

The story of Dragon’s Dogma isn’t very memorable, anyway, but it does hit some rather strange beats. For instance, there’s a mission that ends with the duke throwing you in prison, but when you escape, everyone’s friends with you again. The game tries to make you think your choices matter, but they ultimately don’t. And all of the story-related missions are just as fetch-questy as the actual side quests, which cheapens their impact. I feel like they could have scrapped the story entirely and just focused on designing a better variety of monsters and dungeons. Maybe that’s the whole point of Bitterblack Isle, and I’m missing out on the best the game has to offer. But then why wasn’t the main story the best?

Toy Soldiers: Complete

Toy Soldiers

There aren’t enough co-op tower defense games in the world. So if you’re anything like me and are constantly craving more, then Toy Soldiers: Complete should be right up your alley. The “Complete” version is required, though, since Toy Soldiers 1 didn’t originally have co-op and has been reconfigured here to support it. But that also means this version of the game ended up being a somewhat crummy port. Enemies are constantly falling through the map and dying or failing to reveal themselves, making it impossible to finish the level.

Fortunately, once you get into the Cold War levels, the bugs go away for the most part. And Cold War is a more challenging and intense campaign, anyway. But both campaigns are fun, especially when tackled co-op. One player can focus on keeping the towers upgraded and repaired while another player can hop in a tank to attack the enemies head-on. That’s the best part about Toy Soldiers: being able to directly control a tower or vehicle. It’s not as hands on as, say, Dungeon Defenders, but it does make the tower defense gameplay that much more action-oriented.

Trailer Park Boys: Out of the Park – Season 1

Trailer Park Boys: Europe

You can take the boys out of Sunnyvale trailer park, but you can’t take Sunnyvale out of… well, I take that back. Even though Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles stayed true to their personalities while traveling in Europe, they put up with way more crap than they would have ever tolerated back home. Mr. Lahey had always been a great antagonist to “the boys,” because there was so much give and take in those battles. Lahey would lose as often as he would win. In this “Out of the Park” travel spin-off, however, the antagonist is a Swearnet representative with the most punchable face in television who never gets his comeuppance. He mocks the boys right up to the end and even hints that there could be more seasons of this kind of suffering.

Oh, Lord… I really hope this was a one-off experiment. I liked that the boys’ trip was hardly glamorous, though. I was afraid this was going to feel like nothing more than an excuse for them to have fun in Europe. That wasn’t the case at all. Even the celebrities they met were, for the most part, intentional assholes. And the point of the trip quickly became them needing to perform ridiculous tasks to earn enough money to eat. But the Swearnet guy almost always refused to give them their money based on technicalities like, “There were too many people in your photo.” After a while, I just got tired of watching the boys get beaten down and grow increasingly hungry. Consider this a lesson learned and don’t leave the park next time.

Master of None – Season 2

Master of None

After the show’s first season, I was worried that Master of None would try to follow in the footsteps of Louie and morph into an all-out drama. Season 2 definitely feels more serious and experimental. I mean, the first episode is strictly black-and-white, and there’s even an episode that doesn’t feature Aziz Ansari’s character, Dev, at all. Ansari is the best thing about the show, though. The episode without him got so boring that I started skipping ahead. I know comedians like Louis C.K. and Ansari want to be able to flex their directorial muscles, but I’m not one to hand out praise simply because something is different. The episodes of Master of None that break from the mold are certainly the weaker ones.

A lot of Season 2 felt like a repeat of Season 1, anyway, with Dev falling in love with a woman and then hitting a major impasse in their relationship. Only now the woman he’s chasing is already engaged to someone else, so it’s harder to side with Dev on this one. And, like Season 1, so much of the acting is just… bad. I understand those are Ansari’s real parents, but knowing that just makes his mom’s wooden acting all the more distracting. Eric Wareheim as Arnold is also surprisingly off-putting. It’s weird, because Wareheim was so charming in his many Tim & Eric skits, but he just doesn’t fit in here. It’s like Ansari is the only actor who’s at all comfortable on the show. At this point, I honestly can’t tell if that’s some intentionally artsy move.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Breath of the Wild is such a huge shift from the typical Nintendo formula that it doesn’t even feel like a Zelda game anymore. There are a few familiar jingles and the same goofy character designs for NPCs, but that’s about it. The gameplay is something else entirely. I wouldn’t necessarily call it original, though, because even the Wii U’s previous Xenoblade Chronicles X accomplished a lot of the same sense of exploration and adventure. But, man, I’m a sucker for adventure, and I had a lot of fun exploring such a huge map. It’s nice to be rewarded for veering off the main path. It’s not like you’re under any kind of pressure to find and beat the dungeons, either. There’s not even much guidance on which order to do them in, which is great.

That does mean the story plays out in very disjointed parts, though. But the story’s pretty lame, anyway. How many times now has a hero emerged 100 years later to defeat Ganon? I promise, if you only focus on the story-related missions, you’re gonna be disappointed. Breath of the Wild has so much more to offer. I just wish they’d found a better way to balance the difficulty with the openness. In order to keep the game from suddenly becoming too easy, most enemies do a huge amount of damage. I friggin’ hated how many monsters had that stupid laser lock-on attack. Combined with the fact that swords and shields can break and disappear forever, it was often easier to just run past enemies than stop and fight.

This isn’t a perfect game, then, so I’m surprised by all of the 10/10 love. Maybe critics have been so eager for Nintendo to make a game like this that they’re much more willing to overlook its flaws than I am. Hell, the controls alone knocked it down several pegs for me. I struggled with the button mapping for the entirety of the game. Nintendo invented the concept of “press A to jump,” so why the hell is the A button not the jump button here?! Certain areas in the game also suffer from noticeable framerate drops, and the stamina meter can be annoyingly limiting in the first few hours. I definitely hold Xenoblade Chronicles X more dear to my heart, but Breath of the Wild was still a great follow-up and the perfect way to say goodbye to the Wii U (or say hello to the Nintendo Switch, I guess).

Iron Fist – Season 1

Iron Fist

There was a good story somewhere in here, but Netflix really dropped the ball this time. Iron Fist is pretty disappointing. And I’m not even holding the Netflix/Marvel shows to very high standards, anymore. They’ve all tended to start out great and then turn into a slog near the halfway point. Iron Fist, however, is consistently bland. Our hero, Danny, has so little personality, and it was never very clear who the villain was supposed to be. Sure, Danny spends plenty of time chasing after “The Hand,” but there’s really no single, formidable opponent. You don’t get to see Danny struggle and lose in the same ways that Daredevil and Luke Cage suffered (and ultimately grew).

I liked the potential of Danny Rand as a naive businessman, sort of like a mix between Iron Man and Spider-Man. But he’s really the worst thing about his own show. The supporting characters were much better, particularly the Meachum family. Ward Meachum wavered so much between being a good guy and a bad guy but in a believable way. It’s a shame, then, that the story didn’t revolve more around them. Instead, we get hours of Danny whining about Ye Olde Hand. At least the Hand’s mysticism fits better here than it did in Daredevil Season 2, but the Hand as a whole just comes across as an even sillier organization now. Seriously, this doesn’t give me much hope for The Defenders, but maybe an ensemble is what will really boost Danny to his true potential.