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.

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