It’s been a minute since my last collection of notes, and boy do I have a ton of random thoughts on all the games I’ve been playing! For the first PN of 2020, I’ll do what I did at the end of 2018: cram a ton of little thoughts into one big lightning round extravaganza! Some of this edition’s topics include the new Pokémon game, various PS4 titles (I can play them now!), and an addendum to my favorite games of 2019 list. Also, I’ll be including a special edition at the end of this Punished Notes specifically dedicated to film and television, because I assume you all like those too!
-After playing through most of Pokémon Shield, I’ve concluded that Pokémon as a concept works better when it’s mostly a sports game with some wild lore than a story-heavy RPG with a little competition sprinkled in. Generation 2 best embodied that focus, and Shield mostly finds that balance… until the main story’s later hours.
-Though I just said I’m not a fan of the more RPG-heavy Pokemon games, I am legitimately interested in the upcoming Isle of Armor and The Crown Tundra expansions, since they seem to zero in on the better elements of the Wild Area.
-I just finished The Last of Us for the first time, and I appreciate how its slow, tense gameplay matches the gloomy mood and structure of the story. Each bullet matters because each enemy encounter matters, and being forced to craft necessary items in real time makes even the quieter moments stressful as all hell. I wouldn’t call the game “fun,” but it depicts a post-apocalyptic world they way that it should: full of stress, grief, regret, fear, and dread. The arduous and deliberate gameplay connects nicely with those feelings.
-I also played the Left Behind DLC, and I would rank it among the best DLC content I’ve ever played, up there with Splatoon 2’s Octo Expansion and The Witcher 3: Blood and Wine. Left Behind is beautiful, harrowing, hopeful, and devastating all at once, and it makes me all the more excited about The Last of Us: Part II.
-Though I already mentioned it in my end of the year piece, Marvel’s Spider-Man really is one of the most delightful and pure superhero experiences I’ve played in a video game. It understands the appeal not just of the Spider-Man universe, but of superhero stories in general, and it never bores the player with pointless tasks. It forces the player not just to act like Spider-Man, but to think like Spider-Man. This distinction separates the title from the wider pack of licensed video games, which often feel like copies of other games with a new skin.
-I’ve gotten into the tabletop deck-builder Ascension lately, and while I think the game itself is phenomenal, the PC version of it is pretty bland. The music that plays during games is basic and boring, the animations are minimal, and the whole UI just feels uninspired. I still enjoy playing it, but I’d prefer a Hearthstone-style approach that gives everything a little more personality.
-This happened a little while ago, but the addition of Zelda mechanics to Super Mario Maker 2 was just what the doctor ordered. Unfortunately, the latest Mario Maker (one of the best games of 2019) hasn’t consistently received the kind of downloadable support from Nintendo that its predecessor did, but adding Link (and his collection of fun toys) to the festivities revitalized my interest in the game and has made for a whole new crop of incredible stages.
-I recently played Undertale for the first time as well, and while I enjoyed it overall (the game’s take on turn-based combat was refreshing and full of surprises), the ending I got was disappointing and nearly ruined the experience. (I got the “killed some but not all monsters” ending.) I guess I can try again for the pacifist run?
-Also re: Undertale, I understand why so many players found this game uniquely touching and emotionally resonant. It has real heart, and its characters are genuinely interesting (the beautiful soundtrack certainly sets the tone for some of the more moving story beats). Still, so much of the story feels too self-aware and emotionally manipulative, and lacks the kind of subtlety that could have made everything feel more grounded.
–Luigi’s Mansion 3 and Untitled Goose Game both made my “best of 2019” list, and as much as I loved both of them, there’s only so much I can say about either one. They are good games that achieved their intended goals, and I’m not sure there’s much else I need to say about them.
-Actually, I will say this about Luigi’s Mansion 3: It is by far the best Switch game when it comes to taking screenshots.
-Though I didn’t play any of it until after I made the list, Baba Is You is absolutely one of the most interesting games I played from 2019 and would certainly be in my top ten if I had to do my list all over again. It’s remarkably creative and full of surprises, and I know I’ll never finish it because I’m not that smart.
-The first season of Netflix’s The Witcher had its ups and downs, but ended strongly enough that I can’t wait for season two.
-I love The Mandalorian, but I might argue the best original content on Disney+ so far is found in Encore!, a reality show about people in their thirties and forties performing musicals they did in high school. It’s funny, cringeworthy, ridiculous, heartwarming, bizarre, and moving, and it is everything I never knew I wanted out of a Disney reality show.
-When the list of Oscar nominees was released, the only film nominated for Best Picture that I had seen was Marriage Story. Even though I hadn’t seen anything else yet, my immediate thought still was, “I hope Marriage Story loses.”
-Meanwhile, here are some great films I saw in 2019 that received ZERO Oscar nominations: Hustlers, Us, Dolemite is my Name, Uncut Gems, and Booksmart.
-I can’t believe I’m saying this, but it’s an absolute travesty that Adam Sandler and Jennifer Lopez weren’t nominated for Oscars this year.
-Ok, finally a few thoughts on Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: While I can’t confidently call it the worst film in the franchise, it might be the least interesting and most pointless. Everything about it felt focus-grouped and cowardly, and while one can easily appreciate the colorful effects and art direction, I honestly struggle to think of many moments in the movie that I thought were especially good or memorable. Rise of Skywalker lacks a cohesive vision, fails so many of the (largely well-developed) characters from the other films in the trilogy, and does nothing to stand out from the pack other than aggressively strive for mediocrity.