Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016 – The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

Whatever your opinion may be on how 2016 turned out, let’s now take this time to reflect back on the entertainment we received during the year. This year, we were able to watch a lot more movies and play more games, so this list is now longer as a result. As usual, we are limited by what we actually watched and played, as we do everything on our own time and dime, and the list is in no particular order.

Top Movies of 2016

This R-rated Ryan Reynolds passion project came out at exactly the right time and proved that it could stand out in an era of big blockbuster superhero movies. Deadpool is a laugh riot as it mocks modern superhero conventions and regularly breaks the fourth wall with perfect comedic timing. It’s sort of an antithesis to other films in the genre, as the story is more personal and the final fight does not resort to leveling an entire city, but rather stays entirely within a confined space. I highly recommend it to absolutely anyone, though it must be stressed that Deadpool is absolutely not for children.

Zootopia has a production history as fascinating as the unique world that it takes place in. For a PG-rated movie, it manages to tackle the mature subject of racism in a universal way without talking down to the audience and features a cast of flawed and expertly written characters. Various small details such as the realistic way the animals move help to sell the setting and immerse the viewer. Combine this with smart humor and incredible voice acting and you have a movie that shouldn’t be missed.

Where Cloverfield was a mockable attempt at a found footage film, 10 Cloverfield Lane is a masterwork of a psychological thriller. The consistently ambiguous nature of the events does a fantastic job of keeping you guessing about the true nature of everything until the very end. While its connection to the original Cloverfield seems vague at best, the very gripping and multilayered narrative will leave you trying to process what you just saw in the days following your initial viewing.

Comedic duo Key and Peele’s first venture into feature-length film has no shortage of laughs as it follows two average joes in their quest to enter the criminal underworld to steal back a kitten. The humor is mainly found in the many contrasts that occur along the way, all of which make the movie fun to watch more than once. Come for the cute kitten, stay for the laughs.

Laika Studios proves once again that they are the modern masters of stop motion. Kubo and the Two Strings presents an original story set in ancient japan which pushes the envelope as far as it possibly can in terms of what’s possible with the medium. Apart from the top-notch animation and voice acting, the story knows how to immerse the viewer and deliver in terms of narrative and emotional payoff.

I wasn’t sure at first how to feel about Rogue One, but the end result turned out better than I had expected. Rogue One is a true Star Wars prequel, with an engaging story and likeable characters, plus the ending neatly plugs directly into the original Star Wars. As a bonus, watching Rogue One and Star Wars back-to-back only enhances the latter.

Although Yo-kai Watch: The Movie does not have the same pedigree as most of the other movies on this list, I was able to feel a great sense of fun watching it. Its story adapts Yo-kai Watch 2 in a way that is very film friendly, the animation is pretty high quality and the humor is enough that it doesn’t try too hard or overstay its welcome. While perfectly enjoyable in its own right, it also makes for a good family movie and is one of the very few video game movies that actually succeeds at being a good movie.

Top Video Games of 2016

Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

Naughty Dog proves once again that they are masters at storytelling in video games. The story focuses on Nathan Drake, but this time showing him as torn between settling down and having a family or indulging in his lust for adventure, as well as the consequences which follow his decisions, leading to a satisfying conclusion to the franchise. There is also a much better mix of gunfights and platforming than in previous games, aided in part by the introduction of the grappling hook, which helps to pace the game better, and the controls were the smoothest yet. If you didn’t have a reason to get a PS4 before, Uncharted 4 is a pretty good one.

Doom (2016)

Although this was my first proper exposure to the Doom franchise, I felt this latest entry was exactly what the FPS genre needed. The old school maze-like level design and fast-paced gunplay emphasizing environmental awareness felt like a breath of fresh air and I enjoyed every second of it. Doom (2016) demonstrates that sometimes going back to your roots is the best way to stand out from the competition.

Gears of War 4

This latest entry in the Gears of War series retains much of the familiar elements that fans have come to love and expect, but also adds just enough to keep the gameplay interesting. Thanks to placing more of an emphasis on the environmental awareness, players will now have to be aware of a new enemy type, Juvies, possibly erupting out of organic cover spots, as well as keep track of enemies which can quickly jump around the battlefield. There is also the occasional storm that can throw off trajectories and force you to dodge lightning to get to the next objective. The new gameplay challenges, combined with a fairly well-written “passing the torch” story, mark this game as one of the few reasons to actually own an Xbox One.

Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition

Another solid reason to actually own an Xbox One is to play the Definitive Edition of Killer Instinct (2013). The combo-based fighting system forces the player to think about the most effective combo strings (if they’re not playing with an assist function), the fighters all feel different from each other and can suit any playstyle and the music, especially Celldweller and Atlas Plug’s collaborative contributions in Season 3, is fantastic. The ability to also have all characters and other DLC on-disc in one package for a pretty good price also made it pretty enticing. Plus, unlike Street Fighter V, it’s actually a complete game.

Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits

Although Yo-kai Watch has been compared to Pokémon in the west, the concept of monster capture is truly where those similarities end. Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits has the player traveling around Springdale befriending spirits called Yo-kai responsible for all of life’s problems, both big and small, while also preventing the evil Dame Dedtime from erasing the Yo-kai Watch from history, thus preventing humans and Yo-kai from ever becoming friends. The story is engaging and the gameplay is well-designed, as it encourages the player to strategize and create the right Yo-kai team with the right mixture of special abilities while the active battle system keeps them on their toes. A number of real-world touches to the open world, as well as giving each Yo-kai a unique and distinguishable personality, add to the game’s charm and help make it a worthwhile 3DS experience.

Top Disappointments of 2016

The second installment in DC’s cinematic Extended Universe, following a three-year gap after Man of Steel, does very little to raise the bar from its predecessor. It’s overly dark and plodding narrative feels more like filler leading up to the showdown promised in the title, only to have the actual fight remain one-sided throughout the entire five minutes in which it occurs. On top of that, DC and Warner Bros. lazily inserted teases for their other films, which come off as complete non-sequiturs. It’s amazing how one can go in expecting nothing and still feel disappointed.

The latest installment in the DCEU is better than both Man of Steel and Batman v Superman, but that’s not really saying much. What could have easily been a light-hearted antidote to the preceding movie is, in reality, an overstuffed movie that was hastily re-edited in a rather obvious way in an attempt for Warner Bros. to save face. Too much plot and not enough character (except for Harley Quinn and Deadshot) and story logic, as well as a botched interpretation of the Joker, make for one of the bigger disappointments of the year.

Though I knew next to nothing about the Warcraft games, I went in solely to see what director Duncan Jones, son of the late David Bowie, was capable of. Unfortunately, this movie was made exclusively for Warcraft fans by a Warcraft fan. The plot is somewhat easy to follow at first, but gets lost somewhere in its own lore and character names are nearly indistinguishable unless you’re already familiar with the property. It’s difficult to recommend to a general fantasy-loving audience, but if you’re already a Warcraft fan, you’ll no doubt love it.

Ice Age: Collision Course

Not that I really expected too much out of an Ice Age sequel, I had even skipped Continental Drift, but this installment is proof enough that the franchise just needs to die already. The basic premise alone is far-fetched, but then it tries to balance too many characters at once and makes Shrek-esque references to modern trends and technology while making the animals act even more human-like than they ever did before. It should also say something if not even the usually humorous Scrat segments could save this disaster.

Not that I expected high quality from this movie to begin with, but I initially thought it might at least be decent. Unfortunately, the humor willingly appeals to the lowest common denominator and the plot is literally Toy Story with Pets, not to mention there are some darker elements that the trailers made no effort to show, perhaps in favor of repeatedly drilling Bounce by System of a Down into the viewer’s brain. It seems that so far that Illumination still has yet to even match their first success, Despicable Me, in terms of quality.

Street Fighter V

As a fan of the Street Fighter series, I was relieved that Capcom finally made a proper fifth entry after the slew of Street Fighter IV versions that weren’t supposed to exist. Unfortunately, the game was obviously made to appeal more strongly to the tournament crowd, as a complete lack of a proper story mode until a few months later, as well as the absence of a proper Arcade mode, a rather small launch roster and a broken Fight Money system, cement this game as hard to recommend except to the most die-hard fans. Either wait for the inevitable [Prefix] Street Fighter V with all of the DLC on it or just get Mortal Kombat XL or Killer Instinct: Definitive Edition instead.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Mutants in Manhattan

As both a fan of Platinum games and more recently the TMNT franchise, both felt like a natural fit for a satisfying action game. Unfortunately, while the graphics and voice acting are solid, the gameplay left something to be desired, with a rather short campaign and a difficulty which pales in comparison to previous Platinum projects like Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance. It wasn’t a bad game by any stretch, but it lands on this list purely for a lack of substance.

Dead Rising 4

Since I had played all of the other Dead Rising games and generally liked them, mostly the first two and Off the Record, I readily played the holiday themed fourth instalment when I got it for Christmas. The combo weapons and vehicles are fun to use, and it’s fun to mow down zombies without feeling rushed by a strict timer, but the whole experience reaches its conclusion much faster than the other games and there was a relative lack of difficulty, as leveling up takes less effort than before. Ultimately, it goes on this list because unlike the other games, I felt less motivated to max out Frank’s stats in the post-game due to an unexplainable feeling that something’s missing.

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