By Mento 0 Comments
Last month of the year. We all made it to the end somehow (and if you didn't, should I even ask how you're reading this...?) and while 2020 isn't exactly off to a great start there's no point losing hope just yet. For one, there's a new generation of video game consoles arriving soon and we'll getting a steady drip-feed of news throughout the year of what to expect from these new consoles games-wise. My current diet is mostly years-old AAA games and Indies of all vintages, so these big sweeping changes won't mean much to me for a while, but it should make the site more interesting as it does what it does best: provide an enlightened commentary on the industry as it takes the next big step into the future.
Speaking of which, I guess Dan Ryckert's gone to the big wrestling ring in the sky, huh? And by sky I mean Connecticut. Probably should've phrased that better. It's going to leave a big energetic hole behind at Giant Bomb East, and I'm infinitely curious who Vinny and Jeff will bring in to fill it. I'll abstain from any suggestions or fantasy bookings, given that the site has (wisely) cautioned people against it to make the process easier for everyone involved, but it's going to be a big topic around these parts for the foreseeable future that I hope folks can be chill about. I wish Ryckert well in what sounds like a dream job of his and a chance to do something new after 15 years in the games reporting industry, and hope he can pop by for some Bomb/Beastcast guesting whenever the WWE caravan rolls into NYC or San Francisco for some PPV event or what have you.
Anyway, this is really all January news. December's come and gone, and with it another GOTY season. Besides a few "GOTY (Adjusted)" lists this'll be the last I'll write about my 2019, and honestly good riddance to it.
Indie Games of the Month
December comprised the 149-150 entries of Indie Game of the Week, outlined below:
Seasons After Fall (IGotW 149) is one of just two Indies for December, following my plan of 50 IGotWs per year. It's another explormer, though it's a rare pacfist one; there are no enemies or combat in the game, and the closest thing to conflict are pits and spikes which both have generous respawn checkpoints. In fact, most of the game doesn't even have those, they only exist in the vaguely nightmare dream worlds. If you can imagine Ori and the Blind Forest with a similar beautiful arboreal art direction and smooth animations, but without the challenge or the evolving jumping mechanics. You also tend to visit the same four areas a lot, as new objectives open in each world for each of the game's "acts". I found it a little shallow both mechanically and challenge-wise, though perhaps that suits different audiences better. Not every explormer can (or should need to) be Bloodstained, after all.
GNOG (IGotW 150) is another very light game, though one I found endlessly charming in a way that almost felt deeply nostalgic. I know I would've adored this game's little procession of interactive puzzle boxes and expressive cartoonish graphics at a much younger age. As it is, it's delightful but a little bit empty, its presentation doing a lot of the heavy lifting. A single puzzle box won't take more than five to ten minutes to figure out, and in the non-VR mode there's limitations on how much you can move the box around. You can't spin it around to see the top or bottom, for example, which could've been used for all sorts of additional modifiers (I'm only assuming the VR version gives you full camera control). If you're looking for something bouncy and light and/or have kids to entertain, GNOG's not going to disappoint. However, anyone looking for a slightly sillier The Room (not the movie; that's plenty silly already) might be left with a completed file an hour later wondering where the meat was.
Hey Everybody, It's the Tuesday Slot
It's not a regular yearly feature, but the Black Friday sales and post-birthday voucher expenditure can often find me in a position where I have access to a lot of current-year gaming to squeeze in before the GOTY period of judgement. When that happens, I dedicate the entire first half of December to getting through all the most likely contenders for my season of awards. Go! Go! GOTY this year covered six games (technically seven, though there's a big asterisk on that seventh) and through it I managed to bump up my top five to a top ten again this year, albeit a top ten I can't imagine will stay that way once I've caught up with the rest of the year's most acclaimed releases.
A quick rundown of the above (read the blogs for more details): Baba is You is a fiendishly clever and challenging puzzle game that I admired for its unpredictable nature and encouragement of trial and error that doesn't feel arbitrary in the slightest; Horace has a huge beating heart and an incredibly twisty and absurd story that's enough to carry players through the kinda rough gravity-switching platforming; Pikuniku is charm personified and looks like a lost Keita Takahashi game but is an otherwise overly simple and straightforward puzzle-platformer; Odysseus Kosmos and His Robot Quest is an uneven but well-written contemplative episodic space adventure game more akin to a The Dig or Solaris than Aliens; Shovel Knight: King of Cards excels with its platforming but falters with an unappealing card game, sending out the complete Shovel Knight set on a bumpy note; Electronic Super Joy II is every bit the wildly entertaining, visually striking, and utterly ridiculous EDM nightmare masocore platformer its forebear is, though with a little more ambition and an inexplicable price tag of "free"; and Outer Wilds was a mysterious and highly engrossing game with an infectious sense of exploration... until it ate my save file and I quit in disgust (I hear that issue's been patched as of 6/1/2020, so I might take another crack at it eventually).
GOTY 2019 (list)
As sure as sunrise follows sunset, the GOTY season follows Go! Go! GOTY! like an expectant customer behind it in a line at the deli (did I paraphrase this analogy from Seinfeld? Who can say). My GOTY is always a double-pronged affair; the GOTY list itself, where I try to discuss ten games I've already talked about to death elsewhere, and the Mento Game Awards blog which - if this year's lack of interest and my lack of playing anything new is any indication - could probably use some major retooling or excising it entirely.
The MGAs are also currently the only place to see my prestigious MS Paint comic creations, which were unexpectedly popular many moons ago for reasons I am entirely unable to fathom. (I don't think anyone still recalls why JC Denton is my go-to guy for all this award host punishment; I know I barely do.) These are my big takeaways for this year regardless, and I always enjoy joining the community and staff to ring in the winter holidays with some capricious ranking and a whole lot of salty discourse about our year's gaming highlights.
The last Bucketlog of 2019 looked at the Wii U exclusive (though only for another ten days) MegaTen/Fire Emblem hybrid Tokyo Mirage Sessions: ♯FE, which found a novel outlet for the meeting of these two JRPG titans via the Japanese entertainment industry based out of and around Shibuya town. The above review digs deep into the mechanics, but I neglected to talk about just how committed the game is to its idol/actor/singer/model show business aesthetic: on the menus, instead of "characters" it's "artists"; instead of "party" it's "casting"; instead of "equipment" it's "wardrobe". The showbiz aspirations are endless, but it also gives the game an energy and visual pizzazz that is infectiously charming. That a character, in the middle of a tense battle with phantasmal enemy creatures from another world, can suddenly bust out a few lines of their number one J-Pop ballad as a powerful special alternative attack is all the evidence you need that it doesn't take itself quite as seriously as either of its inspirations.
Even if it is a gloriously silly game with cutscenes and characters to match - my latest party acquisition is such a perfectionist method actor that he forgot to eat for several days and collapsed outside a cafe, and the gossip mags still made it sound like he was the coolest guy in all the land - it has some really smart QoL and dungeon design that easily matches (and surpasses in the case of the dungeons) Persona 5, and its session system where everyone seizes on an enemy weakness with massive chain combos ensures that most battles tend to fly by quickly and gives you all the enemy drops you'll need to synthesis plenty of new weapons and "radiant" (passive) skills. It's easily the most accommodating and enjoyable MegaTen game I've played, and though the Fire Emblem connection is mostly superficial I think fans of that series would find SMT's deeply tactical elemental-superiority flowchart combat system well within their wheelhouse. It'll be fun seeing everyone's reactions to the new Switch remake as it discovers a wider audience that left the Wii U for dead and the game an underappreciated obscurity. What is an artist without an audience to perform to, after all?
I didn't catch a whole lot of movies this year, but I have been catching up on my stories. The following are the ten seasons of TV I was most enamoured with in 2019:
- Mr. Robot (Season 4): Mr. Robot's final season was nothing short of transcendental; not only the perfect way to tie up years of twisty cyberhacking neo-noir plotting and the journeys of individual characters, but another high mark for the show's endlessly inventive cinematography and (maybe slightly gimmicky) ideas, rendering one of the most emotionally intense episodes of the entire run as a black box theater production punctuated with separate act cards and another episode involving a heist that was almost entirely dialogue-free (the only two lines, one at the start and one at the end, were "we don’t have to talk" and "it's about time we talked"). I also think this was where Sam Esmail really took advantage of the gift that is Rami Malek as his lead, giving him plenty of dramatic scenes to chew on as his whole existence almost literally collapses around him, and the rest of the phenomenal cast - Christian Slater, Carly Chaikin, BD Wong, Michael Cristofer, and Grace Gummer - are just about able to keep up. Such a wonderful show that I'll miss terribly, and to think that I only started watching because I felt like trying out a cool edgy hacker show.
- Mob Psycho 100 (Season 2): Anyone who has yet to be sold on the strength of anime as a storytelling medium really owe it to themselves to watch Mob Psycho 100. It's not only one of the most emotionally wholesome anime airing right now but also one of the most visually impressive and dynamically animated. The psychic battles between the withdrawn middle-schooler Kageyama - the titular "Mob," so called for his nondescript appearance (as in, "just another face in the mob") - and the various "Claw" antagonists are nothing short of breathtaking in their spectacle, but in-between the show finds plenty of time for some really funny and poignant character work exploring the connections between people, especially that between Mob and his "psychic mentor" Reigen, the latter of whom is quickly becoming my favorite anime character of all time. The art style (especially character designs) takes some getting used to initially, but I highly recommend watching both seasons of this back to back. I won't be the only otaku extolling its virtues around these parts I'm sure.
- Barry (Season 2): I binged the first season of Barry a few episodes in and quickly followed with its successor, as I noticed it was drawing a lot of the conversation away from the last season of Game of Thrones (which was fairly disappointing from the obfuscating pitch-dark battle at Winterfall onwards). It wasn't long before I was in love with all these characters, from the surprisingly sinister lead played by the usually not sinister at all Bill Hader to Harry Winkler's self-obsessed but empathetic acting coach to Anthony Carrigan's wonderfully accommodating Chechen mobster NoHo Hank. However, what cinched the second season as one to watch was a star turn by Barry's slimy handler Fuches (played by Stephen Root, who so often gets stuck with broad eccentrics rather than great, underhanded villains like Fuches) and an episode in particular where one assassination - that Barry tries to bail on and turn into a merciful act - instead becomes, in rapid succession, a martial arts movie, a horror movie, and a thriller movie. And for as dark as that episode gets, it's absolutely hilarious throughout. It feels like the show has ascended beyond its "let's see if audiences take to this idea of a hitman wanting to become an actor" pitch and is gleefully charging into an undiscovered territory of rough chuckles and absurdism.
- Doom Patrol (Season 1): I generally don't watch a lot of superhero shows (the Marvel movies, sure, they're fine popcorn flicks but as a non-comics guy that's usually the extent of it) but recent years have seen a bounty of slightly off-kilter and obscure comic book series coming to the screen for a slice of those MCU billions, and more specifically the unprecedented success of perennial goofballs (and, prior to their movies, relatively unheard of) the Guardians of the Galaxy. Disney and its few remaining rivals alike have been throwing money at every unusual superhero group going as a result, and DC gambled with the Doom Patrol as the big draw for its new online streaming service. In some ways it paid off though, as Doom Patrol is both brilliantly and aggressively weird and it feels like the writers were given carte blanche to be as faithful as they wanted when adapting Grant Morrison's bizarre, unfilmable material. As I said, I'm not much of a comics nerd so I can't speak to the show's accuracy in that regard, but if you needed me to tell you a show that starred Brendan Fraser as a robot man, Alan Tudyk as an insane godlike supervillain fond of screwing around with people like an even less scrupulous Q, and episodes revolving around nazi puppets, an ocular elder god that slowly unmakes the world, a crazy old man named Mento (!), a megalomaniacal cockroach voiced by Booger from Revenge of the Nerds, and a sapient genderqueer street who communicates through store signs is worth checking out, then I don't know what to tell you. Check it out?
- Watchmen (Season 1): Watchmen definitely had the most to say of any superhero show this year, tying the heady themes of Moore's and Gibbons' influential comic to the struggles of African-Americans as far back as the 1920s Tulsa Riots and the unrest of the occupied Vietnamese in an alternate 2010s where at least one superhero exists, and many other vigilantes take up the mask as a matter of course. Regina King radiates as the masked cop badass Sister Night, and the show makes excellent use of the original Watchmen characters and a group of new ones. Tim Blake Nelson's Looking Glass is a fantastic new addition that I wished the show spent more time with, with a combination of dry wit and a lifetime of paranoia making him adept at ferreting out lies. I also loved that it continues from the end of the original comic book rather than the movie adaptation, giving us an impression of what the world would be like several decades after a catastrophic (apparent) psychic alien squid attack as the terrified populace of the world try to maintain their sanity given what's out there. I'm not sure this show needs another season, but I'm so glad Lindelof didn't mess it up with layers of rudderless enigmata.
- The Expanse (Season 4): The most recent season of The Expanse, now part of the Amazon Prime family, showed up right at the end of the year and proved to be just as compelling and rich as the previous seasons despite the change in management. The show smartly weaves in major world events - the most recent being a nexus built with ancient alien tech that has opened up gates to hundreds of unexplored star systems - with personal stories of those in the thick of them, giving us lots of drama and action and fairly realistic space travel science, and it's probably the best sci-fi show on TV (well, streaming TV) right now. Though the cast was separated into three discrete storylines, it felt like one of the more focused seasons of the show, with the Rocinante and its crew supervising the colonization efforts of a new exoplanet that might have a connection with the destructive alien protomolecule, while UN Chairperson (basically the Chief of Earth) Chrisjen Avasarala deals with a challenge to her position over Earth's indecision to send more colonists out into these new worlds despite the risk, and tough but bereft ex-marine Bobby Draper uncovers a Martian smuggling ring that might only be a symptom of "fixer-upper" Mars's lessened impact as a potential new home for humanity now that a whole host of habitable planets have just become accessible. At some point I'm definitely going to have to read the books it's based on, if only to find out what happens next months before the next season comes along.
- The Boys (Season 1): Like Doom Patrol, The Boys comes from an irreverent place within the comics industry that deals so much with the moral infallibility of superheroes, presenting a world where being a godlike entity also comes with a god complex. The superheroes of The Boys are arrogant, cruel, entitled showboats who care little for the collateral damage they wreak as long as the corporation that sponsors them is able to cover it up, or at least let them get away with a public apology. Some turn out to be actual psychopaths. It's no wonder that there's a small cabal of CIA agents and vigilantes figuring out any way possible of revealing to the world the depth of their monstrosity or, in extreme cases, how to kill the nigh-unkillable. It's a bleak and violent show with few people to root for - even the bereaved protagonist, Hughie, ends up murdering a "supe" early on in the series out of sheer antipathy - but it's an entertaining enough look at an alternate universe where the Justice League are all psychos, jerks, or cynical burnouts.
- Stranger Things (Season 3): Season 2 of Stranger Things definitely raised some red flags about how much longer this show could could sustain itself on references to 1980s horror and "boys' adventure" movies like Firestarter, It, and The Goonies, but Season 3 course-corrected a little with some better characterization around the slightly older teen cast and their new predilection for dating over D&D, and the focal point of the local mall and a sinister research base that lies beneath it. It's a lot of the same beats for the most part, including pairing off David Harbour's world-weary Sheriff Hopper and Winona Ryder's skittish Joyce Byers as well as the kids on separate detective adventures, though the welcome addition of Maya Hawke's Robin Buckley and her semi-adversarial relationship with reformed smarmy jock Steve Harrington creates a lot of the show's best hang out moments. It feels like Stranger Things is growing beyond being a cipher for a series of elaborate movie references and is now spending more time developing its characters and the mythology of its distinct "Upside Down" dimension, and I think it's better off for it.
- Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Season 4): It happened very early in the year, but Tina Fey's most recent sitcom came to an end with a final season that - like 30 Rock and Amy Poehler/Michael Schur's Parks and Rec before it - took a small time jump towards the end to see everyone part ways and find their own perfect happy endings. A little rote, perhaps, but UKS was a show that started from a dark place and never stopped searching for a silver lining, especially for its eternally upbeat if somewhat oblivious protagonist. If you wondered where all the snappy joke writing went after 30 Rock, it was all right here. Or, at least it was until it ended. Curious to find out what Fey does next and if she'll continue this streak of exceptionally witty situation comedy.
- Archer (Season 10): It's bottom of this particular list, but I still enjoy spending time with Sterling Archer and his former spy organization buddies regardless of whatever wild new paradigm the show inserts them all into (if you haven't been keeping up with the show, the real Archer is in a coma and has dreamt the last several seasons, hence why it hops to a new thematic genre every time). Season 10 was all about an The Expanse-style ragtag crew of spaceship explorers, trying to make their way across the galaxy without incurring the wrath of a dozen different factions or some entirely unknown alien threat. In spite of the increased stakes, it's mostly just the same sharply written sniping back-and-forth as ever. I actually think the dialogue is a little weaker here than it has been previously, largely due to the show's creator Adam Reed taking more of a backseat (and has since left the show), but it made up for it with the new setting (I love space shit) and some great guest voicework.
Let's leave you all with what to expect from January 2020's release schedule, which is to say "not much." Things will get a lot busier come February/March as almost all the deferred 2019 releases find their way to the ass-end of the fiscal year, but no-one's dumb enough to launch anything of note during January. It's "Fuck You, It's January!" season after all.
Let's see here... well there's the PC port of Monster Hunter World: Iceborne (Jan 8th). I know some holdouts who are happy about that finally showing up. There's the aforementioned Switch remaster of the excellent Tokyo Mirage Sessions: #FE Encore (Jan 17th), the original Wii U version of which I'll be getting back to very shortly. Same day is Dragon Ball Z: Kakarot (Jan 17th) which, I mean, I guess I'm glad DBZ is something people like again but it's not really for me. Uh, what else... a Warcraft III remake (Jan 28th)? I mean, if you still feel like giving Blizzard money for rehashing old shit given their behavior last year, that's cool. Speaking of, the undervalued Pillars of Eternity II: Deadfire (Jan 28th) is coming to consoles at last, so hopefully it finds a second life on there despite being a very mouse-and-keyboard type of CRPG. Journey to the Savage Planet (Jan 28th) might be the first genuinely new game of 2020 that I'm interested in seeing, though I hope the survival aspects aren't too pronounced and it's more about solving puzzles and exploring. That appears to be it, unless some new Indie comes out of nowhere and crushes it. Let's hope, eh? (If you're Japanese or can speak the language, however, you could also get Yakuza 7 on the 16th. After its newest trailer, I kinda can't wait to hear more about it.)