Wario Land 2 (GBC via 3DS Virtual Console)
YES VIRGINIA, WE ARE STILL ON THE WARIO TRAIN.
I don't remember much of Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land, probably because it was a Mario game with a sprite edit. Wario Land 2 laid the foundation for Wario Land games going forward and gave the series its own flavor. Instead of collecting powerups to change his abilities, some enemy attacks temporarily transform Wario into a spring, a zombie, or even more of a fatty than he already is to allow him to solve environmental obstacles.
Also of note, Wario is basically immortal in Wario Land 2. Damaging enemy attacks only cause Wario to recoil and drop some coins, so the challenge comes not in losing all your health, but in not get knocked off ledges, avoiding transformations that will cause you to be unable to proceed (i.e. getting turned into a zombie, which falls through thin platforms when it lands from a fall or jump), and figuring out how to use which transformations to navigate the level. Even bosses can't kill you, only toss you out of the arena to start the fight over if they manage to grab you. It can be annoying when you're one hit away from taking down a boss, but misjudge the hit box and the boss throws you out of the arena, leaving you to run all the way back (the ghost can get in fucking sea). Not helping is the screen crunch.
The Hobbit (J. R. R. Tolkien)
One of my goals for 2023 is to finally read the Lord of the Rings series. At the risk of incurring the wrath of fantasy buffs everywhere... I know Tolkien wrote The Hobbit for his children when they were young so I can see him wanting to keep things mellow for this outing, but this was kind of an underwhelming read. I didn't dislike it, I just didn't get it.
The Hobbit is like Tolkien is taking you on a tour of Middle Earth to get you acquainted with the place before he kicks off the proper adventure in Lord of the Rings. The characters ride their ponies to a place until they run into a new character, who either gives them bed and board, or trouble. There's goblins. There's elves that live in a grand city. There's elves that live in the forest. There's a guy who can turn into a bear. The lead dwarf suddenly lusts for a previously unmentioned jewel, which you'd think he would have brought up when they were planning the trip at Bilbo's place. Honestly, I started to wish I was reading a story about Gandalf and the necromancer, at least that sounds like something was happening.
For all the hype Smaug gets through the book, he's taken down in one chapter because an archer consulted a strategy guide in the form of a talking bird. The Battle of the Five Armies was especially baffling. Bilbo gets knocked unconscious when it breaks out, and when he wakes up another character summarizes the battle to him. This kills the tension of the fight because, well, Bilbo's the one whose should you're riding through the book like a tiny gnome, and since he wasn't there for it, neither were you. How did they stretch that out into a full movie?
It has its moments. The scene of Bilbo and Gollum telling riddles is a classic, and you can tell Tolkien put a lot of thought into his world and the cultures and workings of its inhabitants. He just hadn't figured out what to do with it yet.