Sunday, December 31, 2017

2017 - The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

With 2018 upon us, we here at Trophy Unlocked would like to take a look back at the best and the most disappointing movies and video games of 2017. This year we got a lot of quality entertainment, perhaps more than last year, though that didn't stop a few duds from popping up. In no particular order, here are the highlights of the year, a subjective list of what to check out and what to avoid. As usual, however, we are limited by our own time and money, so if you don't see something you think should be on this list, that is likely a reason why.

Top Movies of 2017

Admittedly, this barely qualifies for the list considering it’s mainly a nostalgia movie. However, for a childhood Yu-Gi-Oh! fan, the latest film in the franchise, penned by Kazuki Takahashi himself, is an absolute ride from start to finish. The animation never falters and the increased focus on Seto Kaiba was actually a nice change of pace. The main villain, Aigami, might not have the same presence as other villains like Bakura or Marik, and the internal logic behind Dimension Dueling doesn’t make the most sense, but that did nothing to take away from my enjoyment of the story. Watching this movie is like hanging out with old friends, which can be a good feeling to have from time to time.

This movie is easily one of the more emotional ones of the year. The setup, though somewhat reminiscent of films like The Lake House and Freaky Friday, gives way to a compelling “Boy Meets Girl” story with equally compelling characters and an engaging plot with a few smart twists at just the right moments. Your Name. also has some of the best traditional animation out there and a soundtrack that kicks in at the most impactful moments. If you only see one anime film from this year, this is the one to see.

After a string of notoriously awful movies, the DCEU managed to finally get one good entry in the form of Wonder Woman. The film, directed by Patty Jenkins, features great acting, particularly by Gal Gadot and Chris Pine, good action and a more compelling plot than its predecessors. If you only ever see one DCEU film, make it this one.

Logan stood out for a number of reasons. It takes Wolverine and places him within a slightly futuristic noir framework, a relatively rare R-rating (meaning children shouldn’t watch) allows the story to use the character without pulling any punches and the movie is able to use a very dark take on a popular character without feeling overly bleak or joyless. The characters are very well-written, backed by very powerful acting, particularly from Hugh Jackman and Dafne Keen, and the plot moves along at a balanced and engaging pace. If you decide to view on it on home video, make sure to also view Logan Noir, a black-and-white version which contributes very well to the noir atmosphere (though it is otherwise unchanged).

Wonderstruck is one of the more interesting films to come out this year. Thanks in part to a screenplay by Brian Selznick, the author of the original novel, the movie is a mostly faithful adaptation that makes some respectable changes that would allow the story to work better on film. What makes it really stand out, however, is that it focuses on two protagonists separated by time whose stories eventually intersect. One is shown in the style of a black-and-white silent movie while the other is more or less in the style of a 1970s movie. Although the movie spends a little too long establishing 1970s New York at one point, the story and characters are very compelling and the way the stories intersect is quite a surprise. A good film to check out for those who are looking for something a little different with a unique presentation or fans of Brian Selznick’s work.

After two previous attempts, the MCU finally does a Thor movie right. Thor: Ragnarok is in many ways the opposite of the first two, as it contains more humor and makes use of a generally brighter color palette and more variety in the setting than just Asgard and Earth (aka Midgard). Along with Chris Hemsworth’s great performance as Thor, we also get more character development for Bruce Banner/Hulk and an interesting villain, Hela. As one of the better films in Phase 3 of the MCU, Thor: Ragnarok is one entry not to miss.

Top Video Games of 2017

Resident Evil 7: Biohazard

Although I hadn’t really played any of the Resident Evil games, I was aware that the series had been in decline with Resident Evil 5 and 6, which took the action elements of Resident Evil 4 a bit too far. Cue Resident Evil 7: Biohazard, which returns to the series’ survival horror roots in a big way, placing the action in first-person and telling a very personal story in a smaller, more intimate environment. The new story and gameplay direction presented by Resident Evil 7 creates a persistent and somewhat more realistically frightening atmosphere that is able to pull the player in and not let go. While it remains to be seen how the franchise will continue form here, this is a great foundation to build upon and is perfect for both fans and newcomers.

As someone who had absolutely next to no knowledge of Persona, let alone Shin Megami Tensei, I had an absolute blast playing Persona 5. While the story may feel uneven at times, the gameplay is a huge step forward for turn-based RPGs, especially in terms of speed, and the world is highly immersive thanks to surprisingly interesting social simulation elements. Combine that with a unique sense of style, an acid-jazz soundtrack that won’t quit and some memorable characters and you have a game that rightfully earns a spot on this list.


Cuphead stands out from the competition due to its unique visual style. A labor of love by Studio MDHR, all of Cuphead’s assets and every single frame was hand-drawn, hand-painted and animated using the same techniques as a 1930s Fleischer cartoon. Additionally, the game has a 1930s Jazz soundtrack recorded in a similar fashion. The sheer amount of dedication to developing Cuphead paid off, as the stunning visuals are married with a challenging run and gun gameplay style that makes taking down each boss feel incredibly satisfying. Easily a game that lives up to the hype and one that shouldn’t be missed.

South Park: The Fractured but Whole

South Park Digital Studios’ follow-up to The Stick of Truth is a remarkable improvement over its predecessor. On the story side, in spite of feeling a bit muddy as it goes on, the jokes just keep coming one after another and pretty much all manage to hit their mark. The South Park style of humor and political commentary is ever-present and feels right at home with its setting. The idea of using the kids’ superhero personas is taken full advantage of in the gameplay, which features an evolution of the combat system where instead of a traditional turn-based system, it now involves one where field position and the range of each ability actually matters. It may be kind of easy overall and the idea of a “perfect team” is a very real thing, but the game is still consistently fun all the way through.

Assassin’s Creed: Origins

Ubisoft’s latest entry in the Assassin’s Creed franchise has proven that taking a year off between installments was worth it. The more open ancient Egypt setting feels fresh and the gameplay, though in some ways familiar, feels different and unlike any other game in the franchise. The story feels uneven at times, but goes very well with the setting and is able to immerse the player in a rather fascinating time in history, complete with opportunities to learn more about ancient Egyptian culture. If taking time off allows the series to gain a breath of fresh air, then I wouldn’t mind if two-year gaps between installments become the norm.

Super Mario Odyssey

When I bought a Nintendo Switch for some future releases, I also got a copy of Super Mario Odyssey to have something to play on it in the meantime. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but it turned out to be really fun. The plot is very simple, Mario has to stop Bowser from marrying Peach, but the gameplay strikes the right balance of simple and difficult. There’s always something new for the player right to the end and the boss battles take full advantage of the different mechanics at play. From my own limited experience, Super Mario Odyssey felt like a modern and natural extension of Super Mario 64, which seems like a pretty good foundation. If you need something to go with your Switch, this is a good game to start with.

Top Disappointments of 2017

The latest installment in the Sharknado franchise is an absolutely unenjoyable mess. It manages to be almost soullessly bad as the nonsensical plotline, lower-tier celebrity cameos and overabundance of increasingly terrible special effects make it perfectly clear that Sharknado has outstayed its welcome. When a Sharknado movie of all things is capable of jumping the shark, you know something’s truly wrong.

Ghost in the Shell (2017)

While Ghost in the Shell (1995) is fondly remembered as an artistic masterpiece which helped spawn a well-loved and influential franchise, the same will likely never be said of the recent live-action remake. Pre-release nontroversy aside, Ghost in the Shell (2017) falls very short of its main influence by managing to near-faithfully execute the visual identity of the franchise, but without the same heart that would allow it to feel like Ghost in the Shell. On top of this, it decides to try and recreate memorable scenes from the original animated film, but without any of the original motivation that made those scenes so iconic. If you have interest in Ghost in the Shell (2017), you’re better off watching the 1995 original and the subsequent Stand Alone Complex anime.

Illumination’s latest entry in the Despicable Me franchise was definitely a disappointment. While it may be an improvement over Minions, itself a very low bar, the story features an overstuffed plot backed by a premise normally reserved for the creatively bankrupt. Not even Trey Parker’s legitimately enjoyable performance as Balthazar Bratt is enough to redeem the overall quality of the movie. Perhaps it’s time for Illumination to reconsider the direction of the franchise, considering they still haven’t been able to recapture the spark that made the original Despicable Me work so well.

While Wonder Woman gave the DCEU its first real winner, the follow-up in Justice League nearly erased a lot of the goodwill the franchise had. There were plenty of issues, from a cast assembled too early to an uninteresting villain and slow-moving plotline that had me looking at my watch a few times too many. It’s obvious Warner Bros. needed the team-up to happen before the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War, but this might have turned out better if audiences actually had time to get used to each member of the team before putting them together. Justice League may be one of the better DCEU movies, but when compared to Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad, is that really saying much?

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