Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Best of the Best: 2014




 
The NES game that should have been. And now is.

Year: 2014
Movie: The Grand Budapest Hotel
Game: Shovel Knight
Album: Bloodstone & Diamonds by Machine Head
Song: Faith in Others by Opeth

2014 was a key year for me, in some ways, mainly because I started a new job at a fairly new online  company, that was supposed to get huge, but then didn't (more on that later). I got a new gym membership for the first time in years, which didn't bear immediate fruit, but did later on (more on that later also). It was also a better year for entertainment, I'd say. Well, at least two thirds of the equation I've been shilling here so far. On the gaming front, 2014, for me, was The Year of the Indie Games. Two in particular. One being Shantae and the Pirate's Curse, which came out late in the year, and the other, as seen above, being Shovel Knight. Now, ironically, Shantae is developed by a studio called WayForward, and Shovel Knight, was actually founded by several former developers from WayForward. It was one of the first BIG game projects to get Kickstarter funded, one of the first of those to gain major attention as well. I was there for the whole ride, supporting the KS fund, hanging out with the crew as they did live-streams with the fans, getting the updates, the whole shebang. And when it finally released in June 2014, it was a godsend. They developed it specifically to be like old 8-bit NES games, and the design itself borrows from many classics, such as Duck Tales, Mega Man, etc. The game is chock full of great humor, solid gameplay mechanics, and rockin' 8-bit tunes. They even got game music composer Manami Matsumae, who did the soundtrack for the first Mega Man, to do a bit of music for the game, including the main theme.

All in all, Shovel Knight is brilliant. It certainly has it's "NES hard" moments, and they pissed me off plenty, let me tell you. But it's also fun as hell, with some very clever ideas and designs. And the game is technically still going, as during the KS fund, against the typical fan-fleecing practices of the modern era, the developers committed to giving people who bought the game DLC content for free. They already delievered on that with an update called Plague of Shadows, in which you play as one of the boss knights, Plague Knight, and while it still uses the same basic levels, it's a whole new campaign with new story, mechanics, etc. And they originally committed to doing a total of THREE such playable-boss expansions, that the fans voted to choose, so we've still got two more coming. That's a lot of bang for your buck, for a game that was also not expensively priced to begin with. Even if you're only "casually" into games, I would suggest giving Shovel Knight a look.




Another good poster, simple, yet subtle.
 


As for movies, 2014 was an unusual step up. As in there were multiple movies I actually wanted to bother to spend money to go see in theaters. Captain America: The Winter Soldier, in particular, stands out as a movie that I honestly feel, so far, may be the altogether strongest of the entire Marvel lot. It wasn't perfect, but I think it had nice pacing, and hit enough of the right notes. A movie I rented, was the Tom Cruise film Edge of Tomorrow, which while not amazing, did have a novel "time loop" theme, and was pretty well executed. Another that I saw on Netflix, was Earth to Echo, which many compared to Super 8, another "kids having an adventure dealing with an alien" type film...but honestly in some ways it's kind of better. Perhaps "better" is a strong word, but it's definitely on par, even though I think it flew under the radar a bit. A movie that I did enjoy (though I don't love that they're going to, naturally, whore it into a whole franchise now), was The Lego Movie. The did such a good job with the look and "feel" of the Legos, I actually wondered if it was stop-motion, and not CGI (it's CGI). Guardians of the Galaxy, while I'm sad the original Guardians team is being ignored, was also a well done, funny film.


They also made a new American "Godzilla" film, which I did and still do have mixed feelings about. It came out on the 60th anniversary of the original Godzilla, and I had wanted Toho themselves to make a new movie, which they didn't. Toho IS making a new movie now....but honestly, I'm not super excited for it, because the new design doesn't look great at all, which makes me sad. But as for the 2014 American "Zilla"? Well, many compare it to the 1998 "Godzilla" film, the one with Matthew Broderick, featuring a giant irradiated iguana. Many people state that it's great compared to THAT film, and I guess in some ways, they're right. It certainly is more "Godzilla-like" than that film was. Thing is, that film wasn't bad...it was a big dumb summer blockbuster type film....I just hated that they tried to pass it off as "Godzilla". This film, on the other hand, really IS trying to BE "Godzilla"....but it just kind of isn't. Like, for one thing, I never loved the big, clunky look they gave him. And for another, as I've pointed out in previous articles, when it comes to daikaiju films, there is just something that suit actors bring to the screen, an organic life, that CGI can't mimic. Del Toro's Pacific Rim had the same problem. But beyond effects, the movie itself focused too much on one soldier character trying to get home, and the giant bug things that "Godzilla" had to fight, were kind of dumb. It wasn't a BAD film...it was just kind of dull and uninspiring. I feel like their heart was in the right place, and part of me is glad it made a lot of money, so that Godzilla gets a bigger presence again. But ultimately, I didn't love the film, and wish that someone would have just made more of a TRUE Godzilla film. I wonder if Hollywood ever could?


But the movie I gave the Film of 2014 to, was by one of my favorite directors, Wes Anderson. The Grand Budapest Hotel just might be my favorite Anderson film. It has a bit of everything, and it was like your typical Anderson quirk, but turned up to 11, and wrapped around somewhat of an adventure story. Wes has always been great at characters and narrative, and that strength was on full display in this. The movie bleeds heart, and charm, and wit, but not in a painful, forced way. There is an organic, earnest quality to Anderson's films, he definitely has his own unique style, and in a Hollywood landscape with SO much lifeless, generic crap produced in this modern era, his films don't really come off as "Hollywood". I don't love every single one of his films, but I've liked most of them, and they're a breath of fresh air.






Much better album art.



Now, it's fair to say that Machine Head's "Unto the Locust" album was GOOD. But their 2014 follow-up, "Bloodstone & Diamonds", is pretty great. 2014 in general was a better year for music, with great albums by two of my favorite bands, Machine Head and Opeth, coming out. I don't love EVERY song on Bloodstone, but it has some true gems, including "Now We Die" and "Sail Into the Black". In fact I had the lyrics up on my crew's blackboard for "Sail Into the Black" for months, and I'm not sure anyone noticed. Opeth's "Pale Communion" was good enough on it's own, that I seriously considered it for album of the year as well. The previous album, "Heritage", continued the progressive rock trend they had been on, this time completely dropping all death metal growling 100%, but it was, for me anyway, almost TOO prog rock, it didn't have a lock of hooks, and there wasn't any one song that really stayed with me. They correct that with Communion, as it has that same prog, eclectic sound, but is more focused, has the hooks, and many of these songs really stick with you. The song I picked for Song of 2014, in fact, is one of the best they've ever done, called "Faith in Others", which has a wonderful strings accompaniment.





Thursday, April 13, 2017

Best of the Best: 2013





 
Old School.

Year: 2013
Movie: The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Game: Super Mario 3D World
Album: Skull by Evile
Song: Tomb by Evile (or Cry of Achilles by Alter Bridge)   

 I wouldn't go so far as to say that 2013 was another "dead year". And yet, I'm hard pressed to say it was all that great either. Right at the ass end of the year, I did finally manage to move away from a crappy college neighborhood I'd stuck myself in for the better part of a decade. Being a writer, something I've wanted badly for a very long time, is to live somewhere where, on a daily basis, I can get a regular dose of peace and quiet. Sadly, while I did get to a neighborhood not rife with loud bass pounding my walls sometimes from parties happening a block or more away (yes, really), in a way I kind of traded one set of noise in for another. Meaning I made the sorry choice to move into a downstairs apartment, and have regretted it since. That's enough about that, really, but let's just say I still yearn to, and fully intend to someday actually attain a QUIET home. Someday.


The Wii U was out in Fall 2012. And I was initially happy with the console, because while the "Gamepad" controller was a bit bulky and took a little getting used to, it is in essence a regular controller, that just happens to have a huge touch screen. The system still can use the Wiimote and other Wii accessories, in fact it is 100% backwards compatible with all Wii games, which is a nice touch in an era when that is not really longer the case with other systems. But it became obviously early into 2013, that something was not quite right in paradise. Big games were getting delayed, alleged exclusives were being delayed AND made multi-platform. There were multiple months in 2013 when zero retail Wii U games released at all. That's what we in the gaming business call a "drought". And as a fan, and owner of a new system that I rushed out to own? It sucked. I specifically got a Wii U, personally, for one major game, and that was Pikmin 3. It was announced as in development for Wii prior, but then was moved, and was originally supposed to release fairly early on in the system's life. It got delayed til August 2013, and when I finally got it, I was, sadly, very underwhelmed. They took a few of the most key elements of Pikmin gameplay that had made me love the first two games so much, namely the ability to independently control the Pikmin with the second stick, and camera zoom (and even MULTIPLE save files) away, for no good reason. They also switched to new characters, and a focus on collecting fruit, but zero treasure. The treasure hunting alone had been a big part of the fun of Pikmin, because you always wondered what little trinket you were going to find next. So the game that had been my most anticipated for Wii U, was a big let down. Not a BAD game...but it's not really Pikmin, not the complete experience.


So the game I chose for my Game of 2013, IS a pretty good game, even if it wasn't the big epic HD Mario game that everyone wanted (and is still waiting for). Super Mario 3D World is a follow up to the Nintendo 3DS title Super Mario 3D Land, which was the first fully 3D Mario game on a portable system. It had but in comparison to that game's bite-sized levels, this game features much bigger stages, arguably better overall design, and as you can see in that picture up there aways, for the first time since Super Mario Bros. 2 (or if you want to be technical, since it's remake Super Mario Advance), you could play that classic 80s line up of Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool (Peach). They also, as has been their habit over the last several games, added new a new "suit" power up, this time being Cat Mario, which in addition to being adorable, allows you to climb walls (somewhat), and claw enemies to death. The thing is, not only is 3D World not the big, sprawling epic HD Mario many (myself included) dreamed of, but they also missed a key opportunity with it,  I feel. The game already has SEVERAL subtle hints and traces of Mario 2, so why not just go full bore? Why not, instead of having another game where you have to fight Bowser, and instead of sending the heroes to some generic "fairy land", why NOT just have a return to Subcon, and have the Mario 2 bosses like Mouser, Tricyde, Birdo and Wart return? Why NOT have Shy Guys and Sniffits and Phantos all over the place? That would have made the game far more unique and memorable. But as it is, it IS a fun game, with decent 4 player co-op play, and the ability to play those four characters (including Peach being able to float, ala Mario 2).





Typical "evil looking" modern metal album cover.



2013 was another fairly dry year for music, but it did feature an album by a band that I had thus far only partially gotten into, the UK thrash metal band Evile. They are not an old 80s relic, but rather a young band trying to recreate that style, and while their early work sounds more like the band Slayer (whom I'm not terribly fond of), their last two albums, including this one, really see their sound progress and get richer. "Skull" is definite evidence of that, and I'd like to see them continue going in that direction. Most of the songs are still pretty "balls to the wall" thrash, but there is one brooding "ballad" piece (that in true thrash fashion gets heavy near the end), called "Tomb", that is lyrically super depressing, but also very poignant, and a very good song. If you're into metal at all, I'd suggest checking them out.




So there.



Another on the list of "movies I didn't actually watch in theater but rented later and liked", Ben Stiller's The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was another nice surprise. It's directed by Stiller also, which makes it the third film he's directed that I liked (the other two being Cable Guy  and Tropic Thunder). The movie is more of a serious film, though it does have it's comedic moments. And it presents, while a bit ridiculous, something I myself have been all too familiar with my entire life: living a rather unspectacular life, and wanting something more, and having fantastic daydreams as a means of escape. Walter Mitty is a simple guy who works as a photo editor for Life magazine, which is sadly defunct, and finds there is a key photo missing that his boss wants for the cover of their last ever issue. So he has to go on an impromptu adventure to find it, and in doing so, goes on a journey the likes of which he has only ever imagined, which truly chances his life, and him as a person. It's really strong, compelling, at times even profound stuff. In some ways, it's Stiller's best work, both as an actor and director.

Monday, April 10, 2017

Best of the Best: 2012





Otherwise known as The Borrowers.

Year: 2012
Movie: The Secret World of Arrietty
Game: Skyrim (PS3 version)*
Album: Cascadia by Third Seven*
Song: Destination Now by Third Seven*

I'm just going to start out by saying that especially after looking back at it, I think it's safe to say that, especially entertainment-wise, 2012 was a fairly dead year for me. In my private life, I finally managed to fully conquer the unrighteous and horrendous demon known as "Forced General Education", as I put math I should have never been required to take for an English degree behind me, and finally earned a few college degrees, even if they aren't worth much. My struggles with math, which, again, I should have never been required to take, were epic, even though I was concurrently in the Honors Program and regularly pulling off As and Bs in classes that actually interested me, I struggled in math and a couple math-heavy science classes. None of which applied to my degree. But I digress. That was one minor accomplishment in my life worth noting, finally "graduating" college. I had intended to move on to another university in pursuit of a Humanities/Arts and possibly even Film degree, but got stopped short by financial aid issues that aren't worth going into. Regardless, while having college degrees to my name is neat, it doesn't help me attain what has been my ultimate goal (career-wise) since my late teens: to make a living as a writer. A goal I'm still working towards, and shall continue to do so.

On the movie front, it was basically a few lone oasis' in a vast dessert. Which is unsurprising as that is obviously the direction my views on modern blockbuster films has been heading in this whole time. Getting into the negative at this point would be redundant, but I will mention two films: Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance, and The Hobbit (part 1). With Ghost Rider, the original Nick Cage film was, while not perfect, enjoyable, and I had been looking forward to what they might do with a sequel. As it turned out? Wish they hadn't bothered. It was another case of different writer/director, and basically just taking the whole thing to pot. It was legitimately a bad film, which almost entirely ignored the fact that the first film had even happened, and I was really let down. But not nearly as much as I was with Peter Jackson's The Hobbit. To save myself bitching about in more in subsequent years, I will just say that while I really enjoyed his Lord of the Rings films at the time, and Fellowship was my "favorite movie" for a few years there, even looking back on those, I wish they had stuck more to the books, and been done differently in certain key ways. But they're still GREAT compared to what he did with The Hobbit. I won't allow myself to bog this down with another huge rant, but I will just say that I truly will always wish that Guillermo Del Toro had stayed on as director, I feel he almost would HAVE to have done a better job. He only wanted to make ONE movie based on the Hobbit (which was ONE book), and that is precisely what should have been done. Instead, Peter Jackson let Hollywood suits talk him into making ONE book into a fucking trilogy. And the man who I had once felt had been FAIRLY faithful to Middle Earth, a place that had been near and dear to my heart since childhood, went and made films that were, I shit you not, almost 50% completely made up bullshit. The opening like 20 minutes of this first Hobbit film? Pretty solid. The rest of the trilogy? Gets worse as you go. I genuinely hope that someone else comes along years from now and does ONE good Hobbit film. I really do, because it deserves better. For now, the 1977 cartoon is THE way to go, if you want a good (and faithful) adaptation.

The Lorax was okay, but I feel that these CGI Dr. Seuss films are sometimes missing the beat a little bit. There was the Wes Anderson film Moonrise Kingdom, which was in his typical quirky style, and was quite enjoyable. The Avengers also surprised me, and stands out as the only thing Joss Whedon has ever done that I actually like. But the movie that earned my Movie of 2012 praise, and not merely because nothing else really stood out, was Studio Ghibli's Secret World of Arrietty. Based on the Borrowers novels, while not directed by the master Hayao Miyazaki himself, it was still pure Ghibli, and a very, good film that I would recommend to anyone.




Game of the Year?



So, I need to tell a quick story to explain this one. I didn't play it when it released in 2011, even though I own a PS3. In fact I had never previously played any of the Elder Scrolls games, not being a big PC gamer, and never being terribly interested in the previous game Oblivion. When this game came out, I really didn't get the hype, and as is sometimes the case with me, was actually rather annoyed by the hype surrounding it. Oblivion had gotten some attention, but the sheer level of buzz and craze surrounding THIS game was insane, and I just didn't get it. Then came the gaming desert of 2012, wherein, literally, almost nothing that I really wanted to play came out, happened. So at some point around the early summer of 2012, after I had finally conquered "Gen Ed" and "graduated", I just randomly decided to ask my friend Jay if I could borrow his copy, since he had also given the game praise, and wasn't playing it at the moment. Now, while I didn't (and don't) love the forced cinematic opening nonsense you have to go through, once I really started the game, I found myself getting into it. And getting into it led, quite frankly, into a veritable "lost week" in that early summer, wherein I stayed up all night playing Skyrim for hours, slept for awhile, got back up and did it again, for the better part of a week.

So I got into it. That isn't to say I LOVE the game, and I WILL state that the game deserves an asterisk as my Game of 2012, because nothing else really deserved the praise. I DID go out of my way to buy a Wii U on launch day (which saving up for that in itself was an adventure), and I DID like New Super Bros. U. But I chose this because I poured hours into playing this fucking game, for good AND ill, so based just on how much time I sank into/wasted on it, I felt it deserved the title. The game is hardly perfect, in fact it's VERY flawed. I didn't love the stupid civil war storyline, nor did I love more or less being forced to choose a side if you want to get anywhere in it. And the PS3 version is glitchy as hell, with a lot of bugs, a few of which made certain missions unbeatable. And overall I really kept constantly feeling like "okay, why can't I do THIS?", over and over as I played the game. What I came away from the experience with, was a feeling that while Bethesda is NOT a terribly good developer (noone that puts out that buggy a product deserves to be called good), what they crafted with Skyrim was a fairly organic feeling, "living" type of game world, and THAT was why I played it for hours. Not for the often overly long, VERY much the same thing over and over dungeons. Nor for the riveting plot about racist Nords, Asshole Elves, and a World Eating Dragon. But the most fun I had playing Skyrim, was forgetting the game I was supposed to be playing, and just getting lost in the game WORLD, running around, exploring, filling out the map, finding hidden areas, etc. You know, the same basic shit I love about Zelda games. I was left with a feeling that, if they ever finally make an Elder Scrolls 6 for a system I own, that if they could take what they did for Skyrim, but do it a lot BETTER, that is a game I would like to play.




Billy Mickelson



2012 was also a dead year for music. So much so that it isn't even worth going into whatever came out that I didn't like. So I will just instead mention that by pure accidental happenstance, the previous December I had been in an "Intro to Jazz" class, and was supposed to be attending a live Jazz show to write a paper on. And instead, because of a mix-up with signs and days and whatnot, I accidentally went to this little coffee shop type place to see "Third Seven" instead, which is basically a one-man act (though he sometimes has an accompanying musician or two). The one man band is Billy Mickelson, pictured above. He is from Bend, Oregon (I myself being born in Portland), and he is, I don't mind saying, a fairly masterful cello player. The cello also happens to be my favorite classical instrument, and what he does with it is rather remarkable. Especially live, he is literally a one man band, as what he does is he uses looping/mixer peddles, to record and loop music that he plays live, on the fly. So he'll do a simple beat on the body of the cello, for example, and then loop that, then strum a simple tune, loop that, and THEN play mournful cello strains OVER his own loops, and sing. It's very unique, and I was quite taken with his work right way. I got an mix cd of his older music from him that night, and later downloaded (he offers it for free) his 2012 album "Cascadia". I've seen him once when he came back to town since, and though it's been awhile, I eagerly await his next stop. He offers his music for free (though he also sells cds) on his website.





*You can ALSO check out some simple "music videos" I made for several of his songs last year, over on the Retro Revelations Youtube Channel:

As Are We - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ep1nZa9e-Lc

Something Oceanic - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCZWLvD7zOw

Himinn - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4yMRhgfMrYE

Fyrre - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3rt7eUBvyZ8&t=11s

Cleansing Fire - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BNMhlbT5iKI

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Best of the Best: 2011




More movie poster should look like this. Less actors, more art.


Year: 2011
Movie: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Pt. 2
Game: Kirby's Return to Dreamland
Album: Unto the Locust by Machine Head
Song: Darkness Within by Machine Head

2011 wasn't a great year for movies. A Green Hornet film came out, a project long in the making, that I feel would have been awesome if it had starred Stephen Chow of Kung Fu Soccer fame, as it was originally supposed to. At one point it was even linked to Jet Li. But the movie that finally did come out, while not terrible, starred Seth Rogen, and some Korean pop star, and honestly it just kind of came off like a Seth Rogen film. Didn't really live up to the spirit of the Green Hornet. Sticking with the Green theme, Green Lantern was also pretty bad. Which is too bad, because the character and concept are pure gold, but they miscast Ryan Reynolds as Hal Jordan (really miscast), and the film in general just wasn't very good, with a terrible villain. Spielberg made a Tin Tin film, which I appreciate, but I felt the film itself was too....I don't know...busy. I just didn't like it as much as I had hoped I might. There was also a "prequel" made to John Carpenter's The Thing, which I feel is one of the best horror movies ever made. The "prequel"? Was okay, but honestly, while I really appreciate the attention to detail they put into trying to recreate what might have happened in the Norwegian camp discovered in the original film, this movie just proves that the modern reliance on CGI and jump scares, is no substitute for the genuine tension and creepiness that classic horror movies relied on. Also, as a minor personal gripe, they didn't bother to give it a subtitle of any sort, just calling it The Thing again, which is both lazy and confusing to audiences.

There were some surprising films that I didn't see in theaters, but later rented, like Super 8 and The Adjustment Bureau. With Super specifically, it's an oddity, as I honestly can't stand most of JJ Abrams work (especially considering the fact that personally, I feel he helped ruin Star Wars a bit, nuff said). But Adjustment was actually very good, out of the various "surreal" films that came out around this same time-frame, I feel it was the best. Another I didn't see in theaters, but later rented, also ironically starring Matt Damon, is We Bought a Zoo, a drama about a family that buys an abandoned zoo, and I'll tell ya, there were all kinds of feels in that movie. I'd highly recommend both. I'd also recommend Tower Heist, starring Ben Stiller, Matthew Broderick and Eddie Murphy, a very funny and well done "heist", a dark comedy really.

On the superhero front, Thor was a mixed bag of both good and bad. The movie in general, and the casting of Loki and Thor (even Odin) were good. But the cinematic Marvel insistence (up until now) of NOT having anything truly mystical or magical in their movies, even though the Marvel Universe is RIFE with it, is outright idiotic. And because of that, they changed what is supposed to be Norse Gods (even in the comics), to a Hollywood multicultural array of "aliens"....even though their "planet" is literally still a flat-world island floating in the sky/space. Like I said, the movie itself is okay, but those little details are important, and their reasons for changing them are absurd. 2011 also saw the release of Captain America, starring Chris Evans who had already previously played The Human Torch in the non-shared-universe (and shitty) Fantastic Four films. It was actually really good, a nice 1940s period piece, very well done, with Evans being a very good Steve Rogers.

But of course the movie that gets my Movie of 2011 pick, is Harry Potter 7 (part 2). I honestly don't really like or agree with this new Hollywood trend of splitting adaptations of ONE book up into multiple parts, and while I can see the logic, I suppose, of "fitting more of the book into the film", the real reason they do it is to get twice as many millions in $$$ at the box office. I don't know that HP7 needed two films, even though I've admittedly still never read the books (plan to). But while it was a good movie, I feel Deathly Hallows Pt. 1 needlessly dragged in places, where as Pt. 2 feels like a rush to the finish line. In other words, the two films are uneven. I think if they had made one film, if the fucker wound up being 3 long hours, that they could have easily still fit in all of the key points of the story, and cut the fat of Pt. 1 especially, to make one balanced, complete film. But regardless, DH Pt. 2 is a great end to the film series, a series that it unusually accurate to the books (from what I've been told), which had great casting, mostly good film choices, little deviation from the source material, etc.




There's those angry NA Kirby eyes.



There honestly wasn't much that I played, gaming wise, at least new games, in 2011. The two biggest releases for me were on Wii, and they were Zelda and Kirby. First I'll talk about The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword. On it's face, it's a decent game, and there were elements of it I liked that I wouldn't mind them bringing back in future games. Such as the upgradable items, a nice touch that wasn't ever implemented quite this way in previous Zelda titles. The graphics, while an odd pastel palette, were nice to look at, a more cartoony fare than Twilight Princess had been. And the game having a more personal relationship between Link and Zelda (basically childhood best friends), was neat. The negatives of the game, however, while I would never call it a BAD game, were fairly strong. For one thing, the game is big on repetition in a way that few other Zelda games are. There are only four major areas to the game, a sky world "hub", and three earthbound "overworld" areas. You go to these three areas, basically, over and over. And while there are a couple unique bosses thrown in, you literally fight the two main villains, Girahim and Demise, three+ times each, getting harder and more annoying each time. On the one hand, yes, it was a novel approach. But on the other hand, I don't prefer it.

However, all of that could have been forgiven, if the game had PLAYED better. Eiji Aonuma, the man who has been in charge of the series basically since Ocarina of Time, insisted (with some strong nudging I'd imagine from Shigeru Miyamoto), in heavily implementing the Wiimote and the "Motion Plus" attachment they made for it, in the gameplay. And for the swordplay itself, I was fine with that notion. But the problem is, they went fucking overboard with it, applying motion controls to EVERYTHING in the game. Even navigating simple menu screens, or aiming arrows, or flying, or swimming...ALL things that would have controlled 100% better using the analog stick or the IR pointer function of the Wiimote. And that over-use of motion controls almost ruined the game for me. I still had a relatively good time playing it, and had stretches where I enjoyed myself. But those controls were also often very cumbersome, and even at times quite annoying, and absolutely detracted from the overall experience. I think even with it's repetitious nature and other flaws, Skyward Sword would have been 100% better a game if it had only used motion controls for Link's swordplay, or even just used traditional "analog and button" controls.

My Game of 2011, goes to Kirby though. Seeing as how Kirby's Adventure is one of my Top Ten Favorite Games Ever, the Kirby series in general has always been one of my favorites over the years. They often deviate and do little side games, which is fine, and as explained I even liked little experiments like Epic Yarn. But while I prefer 2D sprite graphics to 3D polygons, at least for 2D styled games, as the name Return to Dreamland implies, this game was a nice return to form. What it REALLY was, in all blunt honesty, was the long-awaited culmination of a "2.5D" Kirby project that had been in development YEARS before for the Gamecube, but sadly never came out. I wish it had, but this game was still a lot of fun, and traditional Kirby fare, with the inclusion of limited-time "super powers" you could get, along with your normal powers.




Ugly album art, good album.



As for music....well, I honestly don't remember much of what music may or may not have come out in 2011. Which of course isn't a good sign. Granted, I am not really into a lot of modern music, especially various forms of pop music, but still, even of the stuff I DO like, there wasn't much. Trivium put out their follow up to "Shogun", called "In Waves", but while it featured two or three decent songs, it was honestly a major letdown to me, comparatively. But the one album that did come out in 2011 that I did really like, was "Unto the Locust" by Machine Head. It was a decent follow up to the album that got me into them, "The Blackening", and while it was on the shorter side (only seven tracks), it still featured some strong music. Most especially, the song that is also my pick for Song of 2011, and one of the best songs I've ever heard period, a ballad (of sorts) called "Darkness Within". Not only is it beautiful, but the lyrical theme of being "saved" from the pain of the harsh world around us by art, like music, really struck a chord in me.

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Best of the Best: 2010





Isn't that such a happy album cover? Positive vibes.

Year: 2010
Movie: The Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader*
Game: Cave Story - Nintendo Wii version
Album: Relentless Retribution by Death Angel
Song: Claws in so Deep by Death Angel

Starting on a different note, 2010 was certainly a better year for music then 2009 had been. For one thing, one of my favorite bands, Sevendust, had previously seen the return of original guitarist Clint Lowery, and the first new album with that lineup was released, called "Cold Day Memory".  It had many strong songs, such as "Splinter", "Forever", and "Nowhere". While it didn't have, to me, the sheer number of songs that really hook you, as the previous album, 2008's "Chapter VII: Hope & Sorrow", it was still a strong album. And while I liked his replacement, Sonny Mayo, it was nice to have Clint back, because he honestly never should have left. 2010 also saw the release of Powerglove's next opus, dubbed "Saturday Morning Apocalypse", this time focusing on mostly old cartoon show themes, instead of video game metal covers. The Batman song on there is especially good.

But my vote for Album of 2010, and subsequently Song of 2010, comes from the Bay Area thrash metal legends Death Angel. This band had a unique and also tragic history, starting out as (so far as I'm aware) the only all-Asian American metal band, as the members were all Filipino. They got their break and their first album recorded back in the mid-80s with the help of fellow half-Filipino Kirk Hammet, lead guitarist for Metallica. They rose to break into a taste of mainstream success with their third album, 1990's "Act III", only to nearly lose their drummer to a bus accident. The band more or less broke up after that, and didn't get back together until the early 2000s, under their mostly original line-up. That lineup put out two great albums, 2004's "The Art of Dying" and 2008's "Killing Season", after which the original bassist and drummer decided they had had enough of life back on the road or whatever, and quit the band. It was after this, when the band was joined by a couple of journeyman musicians (the band no longer being all Filipino), that they recorded 2010's "Relentless Retribution", and while it made me sad that the original members left again after making such a triumphant return, this new album was undeniably the band's strongest work yet since returning.

I wouldn't necessarily say that it was better BECAUSE of the new guys, but the band obviously had a fire lit under it during the writing and recording for this record, because it comes through in pretty much every song. There are many great cuts off this album to choose from, and honestly I could have chosen a song from Sevendust's album as well, but ultimately THE Song of 2010 for me was "Claws in so Deep", a very visceral yet haunting song, speaking very vaguely and metaphorically about society, the rich, politicians, etc....people with their claws deep into us, The People, manipulating us and living off of us, like parasites. Basically strong themes for the album in general, with even the album art displaying the concept of "wolves among us". It's just a really kick ass song, and it has a really nice acoustic outro by the Mexican duo Rodrigo y Gabriela.





One of my favorites of the Narnia series, though not my TOP favorite.



2010 for movies was still not a great year, as that downward trend was still continuing. It saw what I felt was yet another sub-par adaptation from Tim Burton in the form of his Alice in Wonderland movie. I must note, that I DO like several Burton films, but they are pretty much exclusively his more original ideas, most notably Pee-Wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Ed Wood. His adaptations, however, not a huge fan. The Batman films are okay.....but the only Batman committed to film that has ever really "gotten it right", was the 90s animated series. 2010 also saw yet another of my beloved classics needlessly remade into a boring, stumbling CGI-fest, this time Ray Harryhausen's
Clash of the Titans. The 1981 film is rightly regarded as a classic, and I personally consider it Ray's masterpiece, his final opus before he decided to sadly call it quits. The remake, beyond just the magic of that old stop-motion effects work begin replaced be fairly lifeless CGI, also just kind of has fairly lifeless writing and acting as well.

2010 ALSO saw the live action adaptation of The Last Airbender, based off of the Avatar show, that I happen to really love, and it was even directed by a director whose work I really liked up until his last few films in M. Night Shyamalan. But the truth is he is not a big budget, epic action film kind of director, and it really showed. He is better suited for smaller, quirky, character driven stories, that's his forte. And in the process of trying to make an Airbender movie, instead of being the beginning of an awesome (though horribly unnecessary) live action film trilogy....it was a fairly humorless and wooden version of a cartoon show that had been vibrant and full of life.

But as for movies I DID like, well of course there was Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows pt. 1, which I could have chosen because it was very good, but I decided to give it to something else. Toy Story 3 came out, which I did not see in theaters, but later rented. However, though wanting to like it, much like part 2, which I can't honestly remember what it was about half the time, I just really wasn't feeling the third film. It was solid, and I got what they were going for, but  I guess I really only liked the first Toy Story film. In the realm of CGI cartoons though, Despicable Me was a surprise hit, and though it didn't need the obligatory sequels and spinoffs that would follow, the original film was actually rather charming. But the movie I did obviously pick as Film of 2010, was the third in the Narnia series (of films that is), The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I originally experienced these stories (aside from the books) in the BBC adaptations of them, which were low budget but fun, and Dawn Treader was always neat. Though I was (and sadly still am) waiting for my favorite entry, The Silver Chair. Voyage was a good movie though, and even though they did change a couple of plot points around, it was strong enough to earn Film of the Years honors.




A major surprise, but SUCH a good game.



2010 had some decent games, but I wouldn't exactly call it a big year for gaming for me. Super Mario Galaxy 2 came out, but while it was a decent game, the first was far more fresh and to me more fun. The direct sequel, to me, felt kind of unnecessary. Nintendo also put out a sequel to an obscure N64 game that we never got, called Sin & Punishment, this one being subtitled Star Successor. It's a decent on-rails shooter type of game, and with the Wiimote aiming, it played substantially better than the N64 game. Sega also put out their own Mario Kart type game, called Sonic & Sega All-Stars Racing (really long title), which was a pretty fun game featuring all sorts of characters from Sega's history. The game Metroid: Other M was a significant disappointment to me (and a lot of people), mainly because the team who made it, "Team Ninja" (responsible for the 3D Ninja Gaiden games), just isn't very good at things like in-game physics, cameras, platforming or...much of anything. And the plot was fairly absurd, and the hero Samus Aran was very un-Samus-like.

A great game that was a very close runner-up for Game of 2010, was Kirby's Epic Yarn, made by the company Good-Feel, who had previously done a really excellent hand-drawn 2D Wario Land game on Wii in 2008. With their crack at the Kirby franchise, usually made by Hal Laboratories, they went in a unique direction wherein the graphics of the game are entirely comprised of digitized yarn and other materials. Kirby and all the other characters and enemies in the game, specifically, are made of strings of yarn, basically character outlines, to give it a look quite unlike anything that had come before. And while it didn't have the traditional "suck, spit, gain enemy powers" Kirby mechanics, it was still a very good 2D platformer, with a focus on exploration and collection, rather than the typical frantic-ness of most platformers. It was a game that I could really just kind of chill out and play, which is rare for a side-scroller, and I liked that.

But the game that DID win my Game of 2010, was one Cave Story. This brilliant indie game had been originally been released for free on home computers in 2004, developed all by one independent Japanese developer, Daisuke Amaya, aka "Pixel". He made the entire game over the course of five years, all in his spare time, and that means everything: the graphics, programming, design, music, everything. Six years later, it as ported to the Nintendo Wii (originally as a Wiiware exclusive), with slightly updated sound and visuals (though you could choose to have the originals). And let me tell you, I don't heap this kind of praise on most things, but I don't mind making the statement that Cave Story is, hands down, one of the best games ever made. By anyone, but it's especially impressive that ONE dude made this brilliant 8-bit/16-bit style masterpiece. The game itself plays out a bit like a "Metroid-vania" type game, in other words a fairly open, explorable 2D world with elements like backtracking. It's essentially a 2D shooter with platforming elements, and it's quite simply one of the funnest games I've ever played. I had not experienced it til it came to Wii, and I was totally engrossed my entire first playthrough. If you've never played Cave Story, do yourself a huge favor and try it.