Pine

This is a game that’s very rough around the edges, but I enjoyed it, anyway. Pine is a bite-sized, open-world adventure that probably drew a lot of inspiration from Breath of the Wild. It feels like a case where an ambitious indie studio bit off just a tad more than they could chew, though, and didn’t have the technical prowess to iron out some of the kinks. This game is a buggy mess at times. Frequently, my character got stuck in a wall, and the only way out was to quicksave and reload. Combat is also pretty clunky and got a little frustrating near the end. Fortunately, there are only a few instances where you are forced to fight. Most of the time, you can easily run away from danger or pay off the other tribes to leave you alone.

That gets into the cool part about Pine: its world building. The world is inhabited by several intelligent species who rarely get along. They especially hate humans, and so you have to win them over by donating to their villages. But as you befriend one species, it’ll cause other species to hate you again. Sadly, you can never make peace with everyone at once, but it’s still a neat mechanic that makes the game more dynamic and interesting. Like, is it worth allying with this particular species so you can safely complete the quest in that area, or are you better off holding onto your resources to craft better armor? I really liked having to weigh these options, though I almost always regretted giving up my resources. Some items are just really hard to find again.

The world is fun to explore, though. Er… when the platforming mechanics behave, that is. But there’s a lot to uncover, and no resource or reward feels pointless, because you can always donate or trade it if it serves no purpose to you. There are also three dungeons/vaults that unlock special abilities, and you can do these in any order. The caveat is that you can only do one per story beat, and the wait time between Vaults 1 and 2 is pretty long. That means a good chunk of the game plays very differently depending on which ability you unlocked first. Being able to tame wild animals is a fun and useful skill, so it would suck if that was the last one you got, and you didn’t get to actually use it much. All that said, Pine gets an A+ for what it tries to do. The execution, however, is disappointing but still mostly enjoyable.

The Boys Presents: Diabolical – Season 1

I love animation, but I don’t particularly enjoy when a live-action show takes a detour into animated territory. The characters just don’t feel like themselves, and it’s hard to take seriously what happens in the animated world as canon. That’s definitely true for this Diabolical spin-off. Though to be fair, most episodes have nothing to do with the main The Boys cast, anyway. Which begs the question: why is this even set in the same universe? Amazon could have just called it a separate superhero anthology series similar to Netflix’s Love Death + Robots, and I would have been more onboard with the idea. The only thing that really ties it to The Boys is the fact that most episodes are about people getting their hands on some Compound V… to disastrous results. But I thought Compound V only worked on children over a long period of time? These cartoon episodes really confuse what the main show has tried to show us.

Taken as a cartoon, though, some of these episodes are pretty fun. I liked the Baby’s Day Out episode that was done in a more traditional animation style and featured zero dialogue. And the episode about a girl discovering that her power is to make poop come to life is certainly amusing. But, again, neither of these felt like they had anything to do with The Boys and would have worked better as their own random creations. Only two episodes play into The Boys storyline, but the first one models the characters after their comic book counterparts, so it means nothing to people like me who’ve only seen the live-action show. The second such episode feels more grounded, mainly because the characters look and sound how we would know them. That episode was about Homelander’s first (unsuccessful) rescue mission and further highlights how awful he is, but… we already knew that. Can we just get to Season 3 already?

Grow: Song of the Evertree

I absolutely loved the developer’s previous game, Yonder, so I was quick to jump on Grow. It wasn’t quite what I expected, though, but it’s my own fault for thinking they were just gonna make Yonder again. Where that game was pretty open-ended with an emphasis on exploration and side quests, Grow is more linear in how you progress and focuses on farming and town management. Unfortunately, the farming aspect of the game is very repetitive and tedious. You’re presented with mini worlds that need to be “cleaned up,” but you don’t have any creative control over where things are planted or how much work you actually want to do on each world. I did like how creating these worlds was somewhat random, so you never knew what the next one was gonna look like. But taking care of them is still a slog.

I stuck with it, though, because farming provides the resources needed to open up the rest of the game. Large sections of the main world are blocked off until you can raise a town’s happiness level, which requires building houses and shops and assigning people work. The town management is fairly simple but rewarding to see come together. Plus, a lot of the shops you build actually serve a purpose. Pro tip: build a tailor shop as soon as you can, because you can buy new clothes there on a daily basis! It’s fun to check in on the shops before heading off to explore the town’s surroundings. Exploration isn’t as integral to the game as it is in Yonder, but I still enjoyed finding what few secrets I could. Each district also has a nearby temple/dungeon to complete. The challenges inside are… not challenging. But it adds that much more to the variety in gameplay, making this a very unique experience overall.

Happily

I knew nothing about this moving going in, other than it had a stellar cast. With names like Joel McHale, Al Madrigal, Paul Scheer, Jon Daly, Stephen Root, Breckin Meyer, Natalie Morales, and Charlyne Yi, how could this not be funny? Well, turns out it’s not much of a comedy but rather a sci-fi-ish thriller that just happens to star comedic actors. And that’s fine, too. There are some fun twists in the story that will keep you guessing as to what’s really going on. I liked the initial setup of the two leads “murdering” Stephen Root’s character only to later realize that Root might have just been part of a harmless prank. This creates a nice mystery where they aren’t sure which friend is responsible for the prank and if it was a prank at all. Unfortunately, it’s revealed too soon that Root is still alive, so you already know something supernatural is at play when the movie isn’t even halfway over yet.

Happily still has other twists up its sleeve, though, like when someone went ahead and injected Joel McHale with the serum that Root was trying to “prank” them with even after the group had agreed to wait to get it tested. Because this movie ultimately has so little substance, though, it takes two minutes from the moment we see the injection scar on McHale to when he opens the briefcase and sees the empty syringe. Yes, it’s that kind of plodding movie. Happily only has a few good twists and not enough content to connect them together. But it’s the final “twist” that ruins it all, if you can even call it a twist. We never learn who Root is or what his motives are. He makes the characters sit in a circle and admit to their relationship problems, then everyone goes home. It’s so anticlimactic, especially since we don’t know most of these characters well enough to care.

Paper Mario: The Origami King

Paper Mario is such an odd franchise. This feels like a series of games where Nintendo does whatever the hell it wants. You can’t even say they are consistently turn-based RPGs, because Super Paper Mario on Wii changed that up. And Origami King is only partially turn-based. Smaller enemies and boss battles are still turn-based, but there are several medium-sized enemies that you fight in real-time. I wish they’d just ditch the turn-based battles altogether, because this series has stopped doing them well since the Gamecube. The gimmick this time around is that you have to line up the battle field before you attack. Against smaller enemies, this becomes a tedious chore that I’d rather flee from (if fleeing didn’t have such a high failure rate).

The boss battles are actually pretty fun, though. Instead of lining up the enemies, you need to create a path for Mario to follow that will stop at useful power-ups along the way. Bosses also have different gotchas that make each encounter feel fresh, as opposed to the repetitive minion battles that boil down to “use hammer or jump.” I did appreciate that you could smash and kill an enemy in the overworld to prevent a turn-based battle, but it was never clear which enemies were susceptible to this trick. It’s supposed to be tied to how strong you are, but the only indicator of your strength is how much max HP you have. And since battles reward no experience points—hell, there are no experience points in this game—the only way to increase your health/power is to stumble across explicit upgrades in the overworld.

For me, the best thing about Paper Mario games now is simply exploring the world. Uncovering hidden Toads in Origami King was a fun side goal, and the environments were always fairly clever and visually stunning. I didn’t care for the “flat paper vs origami” storyline, but I will admit that the origami art style is cool. In typical Nintendo fashion, though, they hit you over the head with the story. Yeah, Paper Mario games are always on the wordy side, but didn’t they recently trim down the dialogue in Skyward Sword? Nintendo hasn’t learned its lesson here. Your travel companion will not shut up and has to comment on everything. This is when we need voice acting. It would have been great to listen to Olivia talk while you’re moving about. But being forced to stop and read her dialogue turns this into more of a slog than it needs to be.

Ted Lasso – Season 2

The first season of Ted Lasso was gonna be a hard act to follow. Not only did it come out at a time when some positivity was sorely needed, but the overall theme of people warming up to Ted was just fun to watch unfold. So where does a second season go, when everyone likes Ted now? Well… it goes nowhere, apparently. The first several episodes of Season 2 felt very meandering, like there was no end goal in sight. Sure, there’s nothing wrong with enjoying a show that’s more bite-sized and laidback, but the stakes are sooooo low. Even the most saccharine content needs some conflict. To be fair to Ted Lasso, things do pick up about halfway through when we start to see Ted’s anxiety and Nate’s selfishness manifest themselves. I don’t have a problem with either of these developments, but I also don’t feel like they were foreshadowed very well and kind of come out of nowhere.

For Ted, maybe that’s the point. We, the audience, only see what Ted, the character, allows us to see. And I’m okay with Ted not being able to keep up the facade 24/7. I think it was needed to see him break down. I can’t say the same for Nate, though. Nate is a huge asshole in Season 2. While I get where this is possibly coming from, it requires me to fill in some of my own blanks, and none of it is forgivable to this character. He’s beyond redeemable now. At least Season 2 did something with him, though. Other characters like Rebecca have so little to do in Season 2. For her especially, it’s such a waste of talent. The only character who gets better in Season 2 is Roy Kent. Seriously, he is the best thing about the show, and I’m glad they found ways to include him even though he no longer plays on the team. If Season 3 is nothing more than ten episodes of Roy grunting at people, I’m still on board.