Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley

I’ve put so much time into past Harvest Moon games and even Harvest Moon clones that you’d think I wouldn’t need to raise a digital cow ever again. But here we are, 30 hours into yet another farming simulator. The thing is, Stardew Valley is pretty much the Harvest Moon that PC gamers have been wanting for years. It nails the same sense of accomplishment, the same sense of progression, the same sense of wonder and exploration perfectly. If anything, Stardew Valley does it all better. Maybe the only thing that is lacking are the festivals. In Harvest Moon, festivals were always a chance to curry favor with the locals, but most of the festivals in Stardew Valley can be skipped without much consequence.

I really like how alive the world feels otherwise, though. The characters actually have personalities, and if you catch them at the right time, various sub-stories will unfold. It makes the act of befriending them all the more important. It’s also a nice touch that “quests” will occasionally pop up, asking you to run errands for the townspeople in exchange for a little extra money and friend points. Alas, some of these quests involve catching a particular fish, and it can be a pain to not only know where that fish is but to perform the fishing mini-game correctly. I’m afraid I’m not going to be able to complete all of the fishing tasks, but I’m definitely motivated to find, grow, buy, and sell everything else this beautifully charming and relaxing game has to offer.

The Tick – Season 1

The Tick

Amazon’s new rendition of The Tick couldn’t have come at a better time. I’ve grown a bit jaded by the slow, brooding pace of the Marvel/Netflix shows. The Tick is nearly the polar opposite with a protagonist (Tick) who is overly optimistic all the time, even as real-world violence takes place around him. That can be a little jarring at times, since the show’s heroes and villains are so goofy yet revel in the occasional F-word and blood-spurting murder. But I also really appreciate that the show’s universe allows these super characters to be goofy and over-the-top while the civilians are still regular, old, normal people. The Tick’s “Saturday morning cartoon” behavior can be pretty funny when the people around him look at him like he’s crazy.

On the topic of crazy, though, the show first suggests that Tick is nothing more than a figment of Arthur’s imagination, and I was really worried that that would end up being the case. The Tick needs more people than just Arthur to play off of his childishness. Fortunately, they drop the “imaginary friend” angle by the end of the second episode. However, it does still take a long time for Arthur to not only realize that Tick is real but that he’s not going away. I know it’s important to establish Arthur’s character and motives, but with only six episodes, I didn’t want us wasting the whole season on the reluctant hero storyline. It’s in the final episodes where Arthur accepts his destiny that the show becomes really fun and funny.

What also makes the show work so well in the second half is that we have a much bigger cast of characters by then. Anti-hero Overkill is a great addition, because his brutal methods are so at odds with Tick’s. It smells of Daredevil vs. Punisher, sure, but it’s played for laughs. I think my favorite thing about the show, however, is the main villain: the Terror. He doesn’t even have much screen time, but he’s honestly the best comic book villain I’ve seen since… I don’t know, the Joker from The Dark Knight? What made the Joker effective was that he would do random, crazy shit purely for the fun of it. He loved being bad. The Terror is the same way. And isn’t that the perfect foil to a sugary do-gooder like the Tick?

The Defenders – Season 1

The Defenders

The Netflix Marvel shows have had their moments of greatness but were pretty rocky overall. Still, I was really looking forward to The Defenders, because (particularly in Danny Rand’s case) these heroes needed to be able to play off of each other to truly shine. The Defenders doesn’t have the characters meet up until the third episode, though, in an already shortened season. But when Daredevil, Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and Danny finally come together, it’s definitely fun. Luke and Jessica really help balance out the mythical nonsense that bogged down Season 2 of Daredevil and Season 1 of Iron Fist. Danny Rand isn’t nearly as insufferable when Jessica Jones is there to roll her eyes.

Unfortunately, that mythical baggage is the heart of the threat here, which means sitting through more Hand drama. Seriously, can we please move onto better bad guys? These resurrected ninjas are getting boring. I thought putting Sigourney Weaver at the head of the Hand would mean we’d get some actual substance, but she didn’t even do anything. All of the leaders of the Hand felt useless, since the “Black Sky” carried most of the conflict. Considering who the Black Sky is, though, the conflict felt fairly muted throughout. I knew things would end in a tepid showdown where nobody dies, despite how much the show wants you to think someone dies. And I bet that means we haven’t seen the last of the Hand. If that’s the case, I think I’m finally done with these shows.

Manual Samuel

Manual Samuel

I’m annoyed by the potential that’s been squandered here. The game starts out with Samuel getting smacked so hard in the head by his girlfriend that he has to start doing everything manually. What a great way to setup an otherwise gimmicky premise. But just a few minutes later, Samuel gets hit by a truck, dies, meets an obnoxious rendition of Death, and then has to agree to a day of “manual labor” to get his life back. Why did we need the Death angle, though? Not only is Death an incredibly annoying character, but his presence cheapens the opening sequence and makes the overall game feel… well… gamey.

That gamey feel couldn’t be more present than in the last two chapters, where Samuel “manually” takes over another souped-up body to do battle against robots first and then friggin’ demons. By then, it’s not really Manual Samuel anymore but a really bad hack ‘n slash with awful controls. The final boss battle—yes, there’s a final boss—is so wrought with quick time events that’s it’s like the ultimate “eff you.” There’s a lot of humor and cleverness in Manual Samuel, and I do like that it can be played co-op by divvying up Sam’s bodily functions, so it saddens me to see the game go the direction it did.

Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later – Season 1

Wet Hot American Summer

The creators of Wet Hot American Summer are really milking this thing, aren’t they. The First Day of Camp prequel alone was hardly necessary back in 2015. To be fair, however, that ended up being a really funny season of TV. I’m not even a fan of the original movie, but First Day of Camp proved that you could successfully bring an ensemble back together years later in ways that Arrested Development’s Season 4 failed to. First Day of Camp was clearly an anomaly, though, because Ten Years Later is the kind of flop you would expect when resurrecting past properties.

One of the big jokes in First Day of Camp was that these actors were playing younger versions of themselves, but in Ten Years Later, that doesn’t quite work anymore. The characters are older, and the actors are (significantly) older. They couldn’t even get Bradley Cooper to make a brief cameo in this one, but instead of writing his character off, they replaced him with Adam Scott, who’s also not in it that much. It’s impressive the talent they brought in, but given everyone’s obviously busy schedules, the show is less an ensemble and more a series of unrelated “where are they now” vignettes.

What’s even stranger is that they shoehorned in two new characters who weren’t in the original movie or prequel and then spent a huge amount of time with these people we have no reason to care about. Their love triangle isn’t interesting. Coop’s new love triangle isn’t interesting. Hell, none of the side stories are interesting. It all feels so… pointless. It’s just snippets of, “Hey, remember this? Hey, remember her?” with the very occasional, actually funny joke. While those few good jokes did make me laugh, the season as a whole simply didn’t need to exist and sours the goodwill First Day of Camp generated.

Submerged

Submerged

I can’t say much about this game without spoiling the ending, so reader beware. And, frankly, it’s the disappointing ending that’s got me so riled up. The actual gameplay is pretty straightforward and repetitive. Once you’ve scouted your third building to find medical supplies, you’ve seen everything the game has to offer. From then on, you’re just going through the motions—climbing more buildings—to see how it ends. Once the protagonist started showing “sores” on her body, though, I was genuinely interested in where the story was going. Would she turn into a monster, similar to the strange creatures lurking out of reach? Would she even be able to save her brother? What would happen to him if she did become a monster?

It isn’t often I stick with a game for the story, so that’s saying something about the build-up here. Because, again, the gameplay alone just wasn’t selling it. While I like the idea of exploring a flooded city free of combat, that sense of exploration boiled down to a series of the same rudimentary, Tomb Raider-like ledge hopping. And what was the payoff for shimmying across 100 ledges? Nothing. The boy is saved. The girl’s sores are magically waved away, and she and her brother sail off having learned nothing. Submerged had the chance to pull a really gut-wrenching ending, but then they went with the safest, most bland choice possible. Missed opportunity…