Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 - The Highlights (Tetris_King)

This year turned out to be a bigger year than in the last few years for me for both games and movies, though mostly movies, as there were more that I happened to be interested in seeing. As such, the following list is much longer than in previous years, to the point where I liked so many movies I split the ones I liked the most between live-action and animation. That aside, the way in which the list is presented is as normal, in that it is a collection of my favorites and disappointments of the movies and games I watched/played this year, presented in no particular order and with review links where applicable.

Top Live-Action Movies of 2016

To put it simply, Deadpool is one of the funniest movies I’ve ever seen, and its timing was perfect as it takes jabs at the recent trends in superhero movies, primarily the type of movies seen in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Note: As a 20th Century Fox movie, Deadpool takes place in Fox’s X-Men universe, which gets a number of shout-outs). What sets this movie apart and makes it seem fresh is that it was a smaller movie, leading it to be a scaled-down, more personal story, plus it stays extremely faithful to the source material in terms of character traits and personalities while also giving it its own identity separate from the comics. The jokes in the movie also manage to stay funny upon multiple viewings, though to prevent it from losing its humor value, it is recommended that one savor the experience like a fine wine.

As a sequel to the 2008 movie Cloverfield, I wasn’t sure what to expect since the trailers made it appear like a movie that had nothing to do with the first. What I did get out of it is a very intense psychological thriller fueled by the superb acting ability of John Goodman, which left me thinking about it for at least a week after initial viewing as I tried to grasp the nuances of the narrative. The ending promises a third Cloverfield movie, though unlike the original, this movie actually made me want to see more.

As a prequel to the original Star Wars movie (retroactively labeled A New Hope), Rogue One achieves what the so-called Prequel Trilogy could not do entirely well and actually tell a meaningful story that ties directly to the events of the Original Trilogy. The new characters introduced in this movie are given just enough of a personality and history for the viewer to become invested in them, and the plot of obtaining the Death Star plans ultimately creates a very nicely-executed transition point to the original Star Wars that makes the two movies prime material for a double feature.

Though I had not watched the Comedy Central series Key and Peele before seeing this movie, I thought the two actors were really funny in Keanu, where they play cousins Clarence and Rel, who end up having to pretend to be gangsters while attempting to recover a kitten that happened to previously belong to a drug lord. If, like me, the adorable kitten Keanu attracted you to watch this movie, you should stay for the laughs.

Top Animated Movies of 2016

When I first heard about this movie, I became intrigued by its premise and wanted to see what Disney could do with it. As it turns out, I found myself becoming very invested in its two main characters, Nick Wilde and Judy Hopps, as well as what I saw as infinite potential for storytelling with its setting and premise. The movie notably deals with racism in its plot, however this movie was better at addressing the subject since it did not base itself on any real-world events and the usage of anthropomorphic animals (with the racism angle being between “predator” and “prey”) helped the message it was sending be more universal without feeling forced. The movie's tie-in material helps to expand on the unique setting of the movie, and is something I really wish to see more of in the future.

As a fan of the Ratchet & Clank series, I was really looking forward to this movie when it was first announced. I found this movie to have delivered a solid Ratchet & Clank story, re-imagining the basic events of the original game with some interesting twists and a good amount of well-executed humor. The only problem I had with this movie was the fact that I ended up watching it in a mostly empty theater upon release, since I found this to be a good introduction to the world of Ratchet & Clank and a great animated movie in general. Hopefully it sees success through the home video market.

In terms of animation, this is Laika’s best effort to date, with many effects that will leave you wondering how they managed to pull it all off in stop motion. In terms of story, it is one that is very well-written and can actually get rather emotional at certain points. A must-see for fans of stop motion and of animation in general.

Top Games of 2016

In relation to the movie mentioned above, this PS4 re-imagining of the original game takes Ratchet and Clank’s origin story in an interesting new direction, both in terms of plot and gameplay. The game takes the basic mechanics introduced in the original game and combines them with all the best parts of more recent games, plus it has added replay value with the introduction of card collecting. Overall, I found this game to be far superior to the original and any prospective fan can use this game as a good jumping-on point.

Skylanders: Imaginators

In this year’s installment of the annual Skylanders game series, the ability to pilot Vehicles in SuperChargers is followed up with the highly-requested ability to create your very own Skylanders, known as Imaginators, achieved via special Creation Crystals. While this sounds really amazing, my only hesitation with actually creating a Skylander in the game is the fact that, while you have to select 1 of 10 Battle Classes before creating an Imaginator, the choice of Battle Class is applied permanently and cannot be undone without somehow resetting the Crystal (thankfully, the internet has found workarounds that don’t require buying a whole other Crystal). That aside, the game is a great improvement over previous entries, with a huge world to explore and a great deal of replay value in the collectible Imaginator Parts and Chests, in addition to the amount of customization options presented in creating Imaginators. The creation option is, at the time of this writing, also available as its own app, Skylanders Creator, allowing you to experiment freely with the customization options available and also purchase 3-D printed figures, trading cards, and T-shirts displaying your custom Imaginator. Hopefully the future of Skylanders shines bright.

Ori and the Blind Forest: Definitive Edition

Admittedly, what got me curious about this game was the art direction, as well as the praise that it had gotten. Sometime after its initial release, I heard about a physical edition, released as the Definitive Edition, and so waited until then (partially so I could have an excuse to use my Xbox One). While this was one of a handful of Metroidvania titles that I ended up playing this year, I found the gameplay to be interesting, though I learned the hard way that certain abilities were required in certain sections of the world, and I was well invested in the story until the end. From my understanding, the Definitive Edition includes some additional features to the base game that make it easier to play through, although the original release is also included with the Definitive Edition for those that are curious (plus it comes with a physical CD of the soundtrack).

Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls

I became a fan of Yo-kai Watch, about spirits that affect people’s lives by inspiriting them, through the anime airing on Disney XD (at the time of this writing), and so became somewhat interested in the game. Though I have not completed the main story at the time of this writing (I have gone through a good majority of it), I was able to get into it since I had previously seen Yo-kai Watch: The Movie, for which this game and its counterpart, Bony Spirits, are the source material. That aside, the game has an interesting combat system, involving a party of 6 Yo-kai split between front and back rows, and the Yo-kai themselves are fairly memorable due to each one having their own personality.

Top Disappointments of 2016

This movie is what you get when you hype up a sequel to Man of Steel and take too long to get it off the ground. The pacing was extremely slow to the point where I was constantly checking my watch every 10 minutes, plus it was difficult to follow along with what was happening since it seemed like the plots of 2 or 3 other movies were crammed into one in an attempt to establish the idea of the DC Extended Universe. Incidentally, the actual fight that was hyped up all this time only lasts for 10 minutes within the last 30 minutes of the movie and with absolutely no payoff, making me feel like I had essentially wasted my time. There are hints of what’s to come in the DC Extended Universe, which I want to all be better than this movie.

While certainly an improvement over Batman v Superman, it’s really not saying that much in the grand scheme of things. This movie felt as though DC and Warner Brothers were trying to copy the successful Guardians of the Galaxy, by developing a more ragtag group of characters to the tune of older music against a theoretically more light-hearted story, and falling short of that endeavor. Whereas Guardians succeeded in developing all five of its main characters enough to where you understood who those characters were, Suicide Squad only really focused on Harley Quinn and Deadshot most of the time, plus the editing of the movie makes its events really hard to follow (not to mention scenes involving the Joker don’t really have much of a payoff). My only hope is that the first 3 installments of the DC Extended Universe so far, including this one, do not set a permanent precedent of the rest of the franchise.

Unlike Ratchet & Clank, I came into this movie as a non-fan hoping the story would be able to stand on its own, and also because it was directed by Duncan Jones (son of the late David Bowie), and I left rather disappointed. While I can agree that it looks accurate to the games (from what I have seen of them), the plot requires you to have prior knowledge of Warcraft lore to able to follow along, plus I found myself getting lost with all the unusual character names (some of which get somewhat obscured by prop Orc teeth) as well as the Orcs generally looking rather similar to each other. In short, if you are looking for a good introduction to Warcraft lore that doesn’t just drop you in the middle of everything, look elsewhere.

Ice Age: Collision Course

If you ever needed evidence that the Ice Age franchise has been running for too long, this movie would be it. I will admit I felt a little confused by a sudden increase in characters because I managed to skip the fourth installment, Continental Drift, however even with that, I could not get into the inherent wackiness of this particular movie, partially because of its odd pacing and the out-of-place references to modern times, as though there wasn’t much thought put into delivering a good story (not to mention the weird focus on jokes involving male nipples). The only reason to watch this movie is for Scrat, and even then, it still had me wishing the plot-important meteor would actually hit the Earth and finally end the Ice Age.

Since animation studio Illumination made the great Despicable Me, the original movie so far being the best the franchise, I wanted to like this movie despite what the trailers had shown (not to mention their overuse of “Bounce” by System of a Down). Rather disappointingly, all of the potentially good moments in the movie were in said trailers, and my enthusiasm for those moments waned due to overuse in advertising, plus the story is essentially a rehash of Toy Story, except with animals in place of children’s toys (Toy Story also did it better). Not seen in the trailers, the movie also gets surprisingly dark at times, which justifies (and possibly stretches) the PG rating. I want success for the studio’s upcoming Despicable Me 3, though I’m also a bit on the fence about watching Sing after having seen Pets.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan

As a recent convert to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles via the IDW Publishing comic, it was really nice to see how well TMNT artist Mateus Santalouco’s art style was able to translate to 3D, and combined with the writing and voice acting felt like seeing the comic come to life. While the gameplay itself was actually pretty interesting, including the ability to switch between the four turtles at will, the main thing that makes this a disappointment is that, compared to the prior Platinum game Transformers: Devastation, this game felt like it was a bit short on the story side and it didn’t feel like it had much replay value outside the main story and the ability to collect comic book covers. For what it is though, the ride is fun while it lasts.

Honorable Mentions

Seasons after Fall

As with Ori and the Blind Forest, this is a game where the main draw for me was the art direction, as well as, in this case, the core gameplay mechanic of being able to control the four Seasons to solve puzzles. Not only did this game deliver on both fronts, it also presented a rather interesting mythos involving the way the Seasons work in-universe. Though it did get a little difficult at times, mainly in finding whatever was required for 100% story completion, I still had a good time playing this game.

Stories: The Path of Destinies

Another game where I was attracted to the art direction, what I got was a hack-and-slash containing elements of a choose-your-own adventure book, where you have to play through the game enough times to figure out the Truths within the narrative and be able to get the best ending. The gameplay does admittedly get a bit repetitive after a while, however it is worth exploring each level as much as you can, plus I got very invested in the story and wanted to see how it would all actually play out. For those like me that prefer physical media, it has been released as a physical game disc for PC by way of a partnership between Indiebox and GameTrust, GameStop’s new game publishing arm.

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