Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Jake's five favorite albums of 2013

5. Partycrasher - A Wilhelm Scream

This album is comfort food for me. A Wilhelm Scream is a melodic hardcore band I've been listening to since high school, and Partycrasher is their first album in six years. A bit slower than previous records, as many artists do by the time they've reached their sixth full-length album. But it's still got all the rockin' guitar and fun singalong vocals you want from A Wilhelm Scream. Partycrasher is melodic hardcore with enough emphasis on the "hardcore" that it has an edge, but "melodic" enough that it's accessible to people who aren't big fans of hardcore punk. The best of both worlds!

4. Yeezus - Kanye West

Everyone loves to hate Kanye West. I can't say it's totally unwarranted. But at the end of the day, he makes some groundbreaking music. While his much more widely respected counterpart Jay-Z released the most flaccid, predictable album you'd expect from a successful middle-aged rapper this year with Magna Carta Holy Grail (Brought to You By Samsung), Kanye came out with a fast, angry ten-track CD that didn't even have album art. It's awesome.

It may not reach the ambitious heights of its predecessor My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, but Yeezus isn't trying to be its predecessor. In fact, it's Twisted Fantasy's antithesis. Even if it's not your favorite Kanye album, you have to respect him for constantly trying new things.

3. Wishbone - Oh Land

Inventive indie pop from Denmark. Oh Land's music probably has the broadest appeal of anything on this list, but she still maintains a creative edge. And of course, Oh Land incorporates Scandinavian design into her approach to music. Makes me nostalgic for my time living in Copenhagen.

Wishbone provides all the hooks of mainstream pop music, with the singer-songwriter independence of alternative music and a female-empowerment message.

2. The Electric Lady - Janelle Monáe

Janelle Monáe is blowing up right now, at least here in her hometown Kansas City. Her Sun Ra/George Clinton/Octavia Butler-inspired Afrofuturist brand of R&B/soul is a breath of fresh air in pop music. She keeps the Metropolis-esque Electric Lady motif through all her music and videos, along with her iconic pompadour and tuxedo. The Electric Lady is Monáe's most ambitious album to date.

1. Wolf - Tyler, the Creator

I feel old. For the first time in my life, my favorite album of the year was made by someone younger than me. Tyler, the Creator is 22 and it shows. A lot of his work is immature and stupid. But with his newest album, I couldn't stop paying attention. Tyler is vulgar 100% of the time and he seems to say a lot of things just for shock value. But it's performance art. And beneath all that, there's a biting honesty. He's clearly got a vision for everything he does, mixing violent imagery with a boyhood wonder. Wolf is by far his most mature album. And if he's making records like this at 22, I can't wait to see what he makes a decade from now.

Tyler reminds me of Kanye in that he always says what he wants to say, warts and all. And much like Kanye, he always uses strange non-traditional samples and beats for his songs. Tyler's not as refined as Kanye, but he's much more edgy and weird. Not held down by trying to maintain radio popularity. And he's got that gravelly deep voice. Wolf is the best album of 2013.

Monday, December 30, 2013

Jake's five favorite comics of 2013

5. Prophet

Brandon Graham's Prophet is impenetrable at first. A reboot of a subpar '90s sci-fi series by Testosteronest Artist Ever Rob Liefeld, it's really hard to say what the story is even about. But Graham's take on the series is so surreal and ambitious that it takes you along for the ride even if you're not quite sure what's going on.

There's very little dialogue, since most of the story involves a guy walking around alien planets alone. The art, drawn by a revolving team of all-star pencillers including Graham himself, provides a grimy, melancholic vision of space.

4. Daredevil

Mark Waid and Chris Samnee's run on Daredevil continues to be by far the best traditional superhero comic in production today. I was worried when Paolo Rivera stopped drawing the series, but Chris Samnee continues Rivera's bright, '70s-style approach to the art. It really pops among a superhero comic book landscape covered in grim 3D-ish "realism."

Waid's writing hits a perfect balance of not taking itself too seriously while still presenting a real superhero storyline. For any casual readers who want a gateway into the superhero comix landscape, Waid and Samnee's Daredevil is the perfect entry point.

3. Saga

Daredevil may be a good entry point for superhero comics, but for comics in general, Saga will appeal to just about anyone. It's a humorous, romantic space opera about parenting, but don't let that dissuade you. Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples are crafting a story so thoroughly enjoyable that it's hard to believe the rights to a TV show or movie adaptation haven't been sold yet.

Admirably, Vaughan and Staples are adamant that Saga is meant to be a comic book above all, and it will remain that way. If you want to get into comics and you think you're too high-minded for superheroes, try Saga... Volume 1 is only $7.99 on Amazon.

2. Hawkeye

Matt Fraction took the Avenger No One Cares About and turned it into the single best publication by either Marvel or DC Comics today. Hawkeye is a deconstruction of the superhero genre, a superhero series without the superhero. Hawkeye (or Hawkguy, as most prefer) doesn't have superpowers or wealth. He's just a guy.

The series feels like an indie comic that just happens to be published by a mainstream publisher. Artist David Aja employs a distinctive minimalist, stencil-style approach to much of the artwork. Oh, and there's the issue that's entirely from a dog's perspective.

But my comic book of the year has to be...

1. The Manhattan Projects

"Weird science" alternate history where the Manhattan Project used the development of the atomic bomb during World War II as a front for much stranger research? Alcoholic Einstein as a protagonist? Evil Freemason Harry Truman and FDR turned into an AI program? Sign me up. Writer Jonathan Hickman has his fingers in every pie these days, but The Manhattan Projects is unquestionably his crowning achievement. Hilarious, violent, and exceedingly weird.

Artist Nick Pitarra's creepy Where's Waldo-meets-Rugrats artwork features shaky lines and strangely proportioned humans... in a good way. And I don't think I ever fully appreciated colorists in comics until I came across Jordie Bellaire's work in Manhattan Projects. Turns out she's the colorist for about half of my favorite comics. It was a tough decision, but The Manhattan Projects is the best comic book series of 2013.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Jake's five favorite films of 2013

UPDATE 12/31: I probably should've put the documentary Blackfish on here. You should definitely watch it. It's currently streaming on Netflix.

5. Gravity

Most space films are about saving the galaxy, stopping xenocide, all sorts of epic sagas. Gravity manages to be a very intimate, small space movie. There's really only one main character and one supporting character, and that's it. No huge musical score either. I'm not a Sandra Bullock fan, but she does a great job here, reminding me of James Franco's "solitary character trying to save themselves for the entire film" performance in 127 Hours. Breathtaking cinematography and a strong female protagonist (something movies in general and sci-fi in particular can use more of) make Gravity one of my favorite films of 2013. A lot of sci-fi geeks preferred Europa Report this year, but Gravity is less ambitious in scale and more tightly written and heartfelt.

4. The World's End

Edgar Wright, Simon Pegg, and Nick Frost's Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz are two of my favorite comedies of all time, and they complete the spiritual trilogy with The World's End. It doesn't quite stand toe-to-toe with them, but that might only be because I haven't watched it dozens of times yet like I've watched the other two. The film starts off slow as a story about old friends getting back together, but it quickly escalates into the trio's signature insanity. A commentary on suburbia and pub culture... with evil robots. This movie was in production for years, but seemed to get overlooked because of the similarly-titled and similarly-premised comedy This Is the End hitting theaters a month earlier. Hopefully The World's End stands the test of time and lives on as a cult classic like its predecessors.

3. The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Everyone seemed to hate this movie. It was everything I wanted the followup to the first Hobbit film to be. While An Unexpected Journey had to spend tons of time introducing all the characters and storylines, The Desolation of Smaug gets to skip most of the exposition and head right into the story. If you want something deep and meaningful, go watch The Lord of the Rings. This movie is just pure movie fun. The barrel escape scene, my favorite scene from the book, is one of the best comedic action sequences I've seen in a mainstream film in years.

It's awkward to make The Hobbit AFTER making the chronologically-later and larger-in-scale Lord of the Rings, but Peter Jackson makes it work to the film's advantage here. When Bilbo loses his Ring and has to take it from a baby spider, he does so with the uncharacteristic fiendishness of a drug addict--some great foreshadowing of things to come with the Ring. And of course, Benedict Cumberbatch's performance as the dragon Smaug is a thing of beauty, somehow making a talking dragon not sound super cheesy.

2. I'm So Excited

Pedro Almodóvar wanted something a bit more lighthearted after working on The Skin I Live In in 2011. I'm So Excited (Los amantes pasajeros in Spanish) is a gay comedy about a doomed flight full of quirky passengers. The vast majority of the film takes place on the plane itself, with the eccentric flight attendants trying to figure out how to calm the passengers when they know their plane is going to crash. This is the kind of comedy American studios never make anymore, with the trademark Almodóvar flair and some nifty cameos by Almodóvar veterans Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas.

1. Escape from Tomorrow

This movie is not for everyone. The acting is inconsistent, the plot doesn't quite make sense, and it's all in black and white. But Escape from Tomorrow is my favorite film of the year by a landslide. It was filmed entirely on location at Disney World and Disneyland without permission. The film's official website has a clock counting the amount of time it's been released without getting sued by Disney.

How does this movie even exist?! Escape from Tomorrow was filmed undercover with the actors and crew pretending to be regular Disney World tourists taking pictures and video of their family vacation. The director flew all the way to South Korea to edit the movie in secret, and now that it's been released, Disney isn't suing because they know it would only give Escape from Tomorrow more publicity. It's a surrealist commentary on consumerism and the Male Gaze with trippy visuals and creative camera work. Even if it's not the most expertly crafted film, Escape from Tomorrow is the most daring, adventurous movie of 2013, and you need to see it. It's currently available for streaming on iTunes and Amazon Video.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Double Stuf Pull List: September 25 and October 2, 2013

Lots of comics to get through from a couple weeks ago, so only the best (and the best at being the worst) will get a lot of attention.


-Guardians of the Galaxy #6 (Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli, Olivier Coipel)
This isn't a good issue.  It's not a particularly bad one either, but it's just not good.
Some notes I made while reading the latest GotG:
  • Thought Gamora's redesign was to lower sexploitation, but she's fighting Angela; so that's a dumb idea.
  • They gave the previous Star-Lord helmet to Tony Stark?  Really?
  • Drax's speech pattern, his lack of knowledge of the blue area of the Moon, and not realizing Thanos is close by is all sorts of wrong. 
Okay, I lied this is a bad issue, at least from a story and continuity standpoint.
Gamora is the one that is fully clothed.  Angela is the one fighting scantily clad on the Moon.

-Uncanny Avengers #12 (Rick Remender, Salvador Larroca)
Larroca taking over art duties is not what I would call ideal.  A weaker entry in a story that overall I enjoy.

-Deadpool #17 (Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan, Declan Shalvey)
North Korean prison camp hijinks continue to be illustrated marvelously in this issue.  One of Jake's big complaints about Marvel comics is that whenever Captain America shows up he's an asshole.  We're treated to a counterpoint within these pages as Cap's memories of WWII motivate him to act in a truly heroic fashion resulting in the line, "This can't be a an Avengers mission, but it must be a job for Captain America."

-A+X #12 (Christos Gage, David Williams, Justin Jordan, Angel Unzueta)
Part 1 is a nostalgia trip of Beast and Wonder Man's friendship, and part 2 is Captain America and Jubilee fighting a sunken U-boat full of Nazi vampires.  Rekindled bromance and good old fashioned vampire slaying/Nazi punching fusion.  These concepts either resonate with you or they don't.

-Avengers #20 (Jonathan Hickman, Leinil Francis Yu)
Space Operatic elements manage to keep me enthralled even as the plot and general direction of the story lose steam and direction.

-Nova #8 (Zeb Wells, Paco Medina)
A rebirth for the New Warriors might be on the horizon if Nova can manage to not get killed by a super creepy chick that sleeps in the guts of weird space cows.  It seems Nova has moved firmly into rad superhero stories territory.  Ok, I might be riding on a high brought on by the mention of the original Nova (a favorite character of mine), still the trajectory of this series into downright fun superheroics.

-Iron Man #16 (Kieron Gillen, Carlo Pagulayan)
A big ol meh if you ask me


-Justice League #23.4: Secret Society #1 (Geoff Johns, Sterling Gates, Szymon Kudranski)
Someone probably thought this was a clever story that needed to be told.  I am not that person.

-Action Comics #23.4: Metallo #1 (Sholly Fisch, Steve Pugh)
While not as bad as the Cyborg Superman entry, Metallo's story is still boring and incredibly forgettable.

-Aquaman #23.2: Ocean Master #1 (Geoff Johns, Tony Bedard, Geraldo Borges)
Any subtlety or nuance in Ocean Master's character that was present in the Justice League/Aquaman crossover "Throne of Atlantis" has been thrown out the window.  Nothing else is of note as this issue continues the disappointing, but not wholly unanticipated trend, of being another sub-par entry in the gimmick that was Villains' Month. 

-Action Comics #24 (Scott Lobdell, Tyler Kirkham)
The Psycho Pirate is back.  That's cool.  This is part 2 of a crossover that started in Superman?  That is significantly less cool, in fact that might be the exact opposite of cool.  There's a month of one-shot sidestories without Superman, and then when it's time for a "real" issue it's part 2 of a story taking place in a different comic book?  Nah, I'm cool.


-Saga #14 (Brian K. Vaughan, Fiona Staples)
Flying space sharks get hunted with a telescoping lance, and Lying Cat shares a scene with Sophie (formerly Slave Girl) that could warm even the coldest of hearts.  Stuff is kept relatively mundane, but even so Fiona Staples manages to flex her artistic might; it's just channeled into emotions and facial reactions as opposed to fantastical settings.

-East of West #6 (Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Frank Martin)
A Judge Dredd/Punisher/Texas Rangers mashup?  Oh hell yeah.  The issue seems like an aside that isn't all that important, however the awesome western elements more than make up for that.  Have I mentioned how amazing the artistic design of East of West is?  Because from a design standpoint it continues to be a nearly flawless comic.


-G.I. Joe #8 (Fred Van Lente, Steve Kurth) 
Shipwreck shoots boats full of androids trying to suicide bomb the statue of liberty with a bazooka.  blah blah blah... Destro is full on crazy supervillain and has androids (of the same design as the combat ones shot by Shipwreck) dressed in maid and butler outfits as he uses failed underlings as clay discs for his routine skeet shooting.  Can someone explain to me why there isn't a G.I. Joe cartoon on my television right now?


-Mobile Suit Gundam: The Origin volume 3 (Yoshikazu Yasuhiko)
Like the two previous volumes, there is some stiff translation and different interpretations of certain iconic(memetic) lines that hold this release back somewhat.  The rest of the book more than makes up for this slight misstep, and really, Yas is such a skilled visual storyteller that the book could get by without a hint of dialog (note: I still like the words because they add a depth and insight into the characters).  Volume 3 takes its subtitle from Ramba Ral, a veteran enemy officer sent to Earth to destroy the ship and its inexperienced crew that make up the main cast.  I don't want to go into the gritty details because you either have an understanding of what great twists and turns the story takes at this point, or you don't know and I'm not going to be the asshole to spoil a 34 year old cartoon for you.  Most Gundam aficionados count Ramba Ral as a fan favorite though, and I'm no different.  There's a buttload of deep thematic elements tied to Ramba Ral that I could discuss at length, however there's also the old takeaway that war is hell.  It's worth noting again that Yas makes this hellish war look oh so good.

Please excuse my bad scanner marring otherwise beautiful art (also as a heads up only a handful of pages have full color)

Sunday, October 6, 2013

2013-14 NHL jersey rankings

Thanks to the fun lockout last season, this is the second time I'm doing this list in 2013! There have been a few uniform changes for this season, mostly for the better. My initial thoughts on most teams' uniform sets are in the old article linked above, and this article focuses mainly on changes for the 2013-14 season. Let's take a looksie.

30. Chicago Blackhawks

Uniforms unchanged from last season. Still as culturally insensitive as ever, but people still gush over them because it's an Original Six team.

29. Anaheim Ducks

Uniforms unchanged from last season. Still too much black for a Southern California team and still too boring of a logo. Luckily the team has officially declared the "Webbed D" crest is the team's primary logo, and the wordmark appearing on their home sweater is only the secondary logo. Makes no difference for this season, but hopefully it's a hint that the vastly superior third jersey will replace the home uni next season. Apparently Anaheim will be wearing a throwback Mighty Ducks jersey for at least one game this year: the more eggplant we see, the better.

28. Columbus Blue Jackets

Uniforms unchanged from last season. There are only a few clubs still using the design relic of the '90s that is the "full sleeve shoulder yoke." It seems only a matter of time before the Blue Jackets' jackets get a facelift.

27. Florida Panthers

The blue third jersey (which I actually liked!) is retired. Still needs a better primary logo, and they still get deducted points for calling themselves "Florida" when they're not the only NHL club in Florida.

26. Winnipeg Jets

Uniforms unchanged from last season. Still as boring as ever. It's only a matter of time until a "throwback" third jersey based on the classic Winnipeg sweater is introduced, and it eventually becomes the primary jersey: just like what happened with the Oilers, Sabres and Islanders.

Monday, September 23, 2013

The Pull List: September 18, 2013

I read too many comics.  It's a habit that so far has only benefited my local comic shop.  That changes now as you can learn from the mistakes of my purchases, and perhaps even be intrigued to check out some of the cool picture books of the week.  There's always the option to make fun of my tastes, too.


-Superior Spider-Man #18 (Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman)
Doc Ock's web of control keeps unraveling.  I know I say this all the time.  There were some seriously unheroic actions undertaken in this issue though.  To the point where he violated the first rule of Spider-Man, the one of great power and responsibility.  Man, I really want the real Spider-Man back.  Spider-Man 2099 is still involved and unfortunately the little scuffle he has with Spidey/Ock is very breif and Stegman doesn't get a chance to cut loose.  Maybe next time the Spider-Men will actually fight.  

-New Avengers #10 (Jonathan Hickman, Mike Deodato)
Marvel's Infinity event is in full swing and New Avengers is along for the ride.  The two are somewhat organically tied together, but it still feels like the Illuminati's search for Thanos' son comes out of nowhere.  It's a pretty weak plot point.  There's a lot of talking in this issue which would be fine if it seemed like anything really got done.  Instead it comes across as boring with more emphasis on tell over show.

-Daredevil #31 (Mark Waid, Chris Samnee)
Look, do I really need to say that Daredevil is a great comic again?  It is.  Daredevil remains the best superhero comic around for a number of reasons.  Daredevil saves people with his own hands as well as using his quick wit to ask a my favorite scientist, Hank Pym, for help.  The way Daredevil handles the present crisis reflects the heroism of the character, because he does so while trying to throw as few punches as possible.  There's an great opening scene, but I'll let the picture tell that story.  Also, Daredevil is confronted with his greatest weakness: LED screens.  Think about that for a second.  It's not too late.  You too can find out why Waid and Samnee are two of the best storytellers around right now.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Pull List: September 11, 2013

I read too many comics.  It's a habit that so far has only benefited my local comic shop.  That changes now as you can learn from the mistakes of my purchases, and perhaps even be intrigued to check out some of the cool picture books of the week.  There's always the option to make fun of my tastes, too.


-Captain America #11 (Rick Remender, Carlos Pacheco)
Dealing with the aftermath of being trapped in a hostile dimension for twelve years, this issue takes on a more low key tone as it shows Captain America getting reacquainted with the present day.  What this results in is a rather touching character moment as he tries to let go of the past so that he can move forward and protect the present.  Some might find it corny, but I thought it was well done.  Carlos Pacheco's art remains remarkably similar enough to the established look of the book that the transition in artists is seamless; I suspect the colorist is to thank for maintaining consistency.  Nuke's appearance in the subplot assures an interesting set of upcoming issues as it will provide Cap with a nice ideological foil as well as someone to punch.  

-Deadpool #16 (Brain Posehn, Gerry Duggan, Declan Shalvey)
Comedy takes a backseat as the current story arc really cranks it in gear.  Laughs are to be had, but they're more a result of the general setting, North Korea, and some humor can be found if you're really into dark stuff.  I'd like to take a moment and mention that this is a story about Deadpool breaking out of a North Korean prison/experiment camp.  Who doesn't want to read that?  The set-up is a great homage to Barry Windsor Smith's classic "Weapon X."  Along the way there are some very tight action sequences, and once again Shalvey impresses me.  If you're still on the fence about checking out this issue then I have three words for you: North Korean X-Men. 

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Pull List: September 4, 2013

I read too many comics.  It's a habit that so far has only benefited my local comic shop.  That changes now as you can learn from the mistakes of my purchases, and perhaps even be intrigued to check out some of the cool picture books of the week.  There's always the option to make fun of my tastes, too.


-Iron Man #15 (Kierron Gillen, Carlo Pagulayan)
Look, I was ready to make a crack about how this comic is currently poop, but being spared additional Greg Land interior work mellowed me out some.  This issue looks nicer than the previous couple, not that this is a hard thing to accomplish, however I very much appreciate looking at Pagulayan's power armors. It's still not a good comic as it seems this storyline has been going on forever.  Pacing and bizarre retcon choices have plagued Iron Man for a while now so I've come to just grudgingly accept them.  Introducing a giant robot and then doing absolutely nothing with it is a sin that cannot be ignored though.

-Superior Spider-Man #17 (Dan Slott, Ryan Stegman)
The Goblin subplot simmers in the background as Spider-Man 2099 decides to stop by and engage in some time shenanigans.  There's not much to say.  It's an inter-temporal crossover.  That's a concept you like or you don't, and I like.  I'm looking forward to seeing Stegman draw the inevitable fight between the two Spideys next issue.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Comfort Gaming

  It’s that time again.

  Every couple of months, I feel the need to relax in something warm and familiar, like most of us, I’m sure. Also like many of us out there somewhere, I have a hella clogged backlog of new games that I desperately need to play so as to render them good purchases rather than wasted money. Games like Max Payne 3, Assassin’s Creed III, Deadly Premonition: Director’s Cut, Fire Emblem: New Awakening, Monster Hunter 3, and many others are just sitting in my small Japanese apartment, waiting to be played. More than that, there are even some new games I don’t yet have that I am super excited to play eventually like The Last of Us and very shortly NHL 14. But fuck that.

  As many new games there are, there are many games I have played and enjoyed thoroughly in the past that I would rather enjoy again than venture into a new saga where I have to play carefully and pay strict attention and read every word… Sometimes, that just sounds tiring. You may think, “what a lazy bastard this guy is,” and, no doubt, that’s partially true, but shit, we all need a lie down sometimes. That’s what these games have become for me, and the most difficulty they pose me these days is just deciding which one to start up and play through, again.

Final Fantasy
Poor Aeris, those flowers always get terribly mistreated.
  I love Final Fantasy, from I to XII (sorry, XIII just didn’t do it for me, but I’m looking forward to giving Lightning Returns a fair shake), and this is the comfortiest of the comfort games I own. I’ve played these the most, and that’s saying something, considering the length of Final Fantasies as a general tenet. The easy main quests with a good mix of collecting and entertaining mini-games (I admit that Tetra Master from VIII and Chocobo Breeding from VII are my favorites, though I’m partial to X’s Blitzball, too) make these just… fun, to play.

  My choice among the thrall, however, is Final Fantasy VII. It starts fast and the first three or four hours just blow by, but then the game just… slows down. The world opens up, the story starts to self-explicate, and the journey begins. The trendy choice is Final Fantasy VI, but I have to say that I just don’t have as much fun with that one. Or with VIII, IX, IV, etc… Cloud is charmingly amnesiac in a way that Locke, Squall, Tidus, and Zidane just aren’t. I like all of these games, but none as much as VII. It’s the ultimate comfort Fantasy for me.

Katamari Damacy
Truly, the most under-appreciated hero.
  I still remember the review I read of this game when it first came out that originally inspired me to give it a try in the first place. Paraphrased, “who knew it could be so much fun to pick up stuff by rolling a ball around?” That line had me hooked. I had to see what this game was about. Add in the amazing soundtrack, intuitive control scheme, and incredibly clever growing dynamic (starting with thumbtacks and moving to candy > candy bars > candy bar boxes > people who carry candy bar boxes > trucks that bring candy bar boxes > etc.) and this game is a true classic, unique video gaming experience.

  This game is so easy and fun to play that at a whim, you can pick up a controller, turn on the system and either start up a new game for a nice size-sequential roll through the universe or just go for an eternal roll around the world while some infectiously catchy music plays on. For my money, this game is relaxation. Thank god this game has finally come to PSN so that I don’t risk destroying my physical disks from overuse. Now, I’m just waiting for We <3 Katamari to make the same jump.

This is one of the more lucid ideas this game has to offer.
  Another RPG, yeah. Another Squaresoft RPG, yeah. I’m a huge fan of RPGs in general (I’m also a fan of long, confusing movies and short, confusing books) and this game is long, confusing, involved, and epic. The first time I played this game (after having bought it and Metal Gear Solid on the same day in October 1998 – best game release date ever ;-) ), I was 12 turning 13 years old. And, being a teenager, I was an idiot. I actually muted the TV and listened to The Offspring’s Americana for the entirety of the first full playthrough of that game. Little did I know that I was missing some of the best music in video games to that point, and upon my second playthrough to try to make more sense of the story, discovered that the music almost entirely by itself added a new dimension to the scope and tone of the game.

  If you’ve never played it, play it. The first time will be strange and some parts will be difficult, so, in that sense, this is in no way a comfort game, but if you make it through the first time and enjoy it anywhere near as much as I did, you’ll find yourself breezing through the difficult parts and even relishing the endless amounts of battles it takes to build up your deathblow abilities.

  Doesn’t sound much like a comfort game, though, does it?

Silent Hill 2
There's nothing I don't like about this game.
  Potentially the best game I’ve ever played, it’s so far down on this list simply because of the attention it requires to play (and these aren’t in any particular order outside of the order in which I thought to include them). It’s not an RPG, so there is no opportunity to sort of phase in and phase out of the game while playing it, not to mention the time and attention it takes to scour the town for the necessary health items and ammo just to make it to the end (especially at higher difficulties).

  The story is complex and riveting. The atmosphere is unmatched; the slow, difficult combat adds to the player’s edginess; and the original voice acting is so generally bad that it perfectly represents the mental state James is in (in my opinion). I just can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed the game, even its perceived foibles. When I’m in the mood to play a game more actively that I know I’m going to enjoy, I almost always pick this one. Unless I’ve just played it.

Mega Man Legends
Mega Man Legends in a nutshell.
  It’s amazing that Capcom killed this series. This game is a 3D Metroidvania with a charming, friendly atmosphere with fun platforming, fun battles (albeit with some terribly dated control schemes), fun characters, extensive upgrading, and an excellent side story to the whole Mega Man mythos. The one story problem I have with it is that the evil Dr. Wily is absolutely nowhere to be seen (he is, in fact, owner of a boat harbor on Kattelox Island – at least, I’m pretty sure that’s him), but, ultimately, it’s not a big deal. This is another game that requires more attention to play than the traditional RPG genre, but it’s utterly disarming in its presentation and is easy to get into.

  The crux of this game, however, is the exploration. It takes a little while to get to the point of the game where you can start exploring pretty much at will, but once you do, it’s heaven to run around to all of the different mines attempting to find all of the treasure and to destroy the walls to connect all of the mines, together. (Now that I think about it, though, those were probably load-bearing walls. Mega Man and the citizens of Kattelox Island probably should have been horribly killed and crushed many times over…) The characters are cute, the town is fun with lots, but not too much, to do, and the relaxation factor is off the charts. You just feel at ease playing this game. You feel happier playing this game. Legends 2 is good, also, but Kattelox Island is a much better designed, tighter experience.

Dark Souls
Ah, finally: peace and quiet.
  You might think this is a departure, but, really, this is simply another exploration game with an incredibly steep mastery curve. This is truly the game that requires the most vigilance to play. Every move must be watched, every enemy feared, every soul used wisely. However, if you manage all of this, the satisfaction gained from progressing is like no other game. Every victory is major: opening a new door, killing a boss, ringing the bells. Everything is important.

  How in the hell is this relaxing? So, because you have to pay so much attention and think so damn hard, you can kind of get used to it. You find yourself getting in a groove and a sort of autopilot turns on in your head, and you can coast along, slaying enemies, saving up souls for upgrade, and learning the terrain’s subtleties for more profitable slaying. And the game becomes fun. It becomes easy. And you start to relax.

  Until you die.

  It’s an acquired taste, certainly, but those minutes where you’re coasting are wonderfully cathartic. If you manage to slay a boss within the groove, the satisfaction and happiness only exponentially increases.

  These are the games that first come to mind whenever I feel the need for some comfort gaming. And going through my list, I find that my personal comfort gaming has to do with exploration. Every one of these games has you exploring the world (a world, anyway), making progress, and, generally, collecting things. It’s September, and school has just started, so a need for some old comfort is welcome. But fuck that.

  I'm going to play Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Super Mega Madden: Third Down

Madden is misunderstood because people think it's a "sports game".

It's not.

The Pull List: August 27, 2013

I read too many comics.  It's a habit that so far has only benefited my local comic shop.  That changes now as you can learn from the mistakes of my purchases, and perhaps even be intrigued to check out some of the cool picture books of the week.  There's always the option to make fun of my tastes, too.


-Thanos Rising #5 (Jason Aaron, Simone Bianchi)
The foolhardy and brave decision to place this comic at the top of the weekly read pile was based on the theory that every comic I read after it will be better, so might as well start off with the turd.  I stand by this decision, but it caused me to put off reading comics for a couple hours.  Boy was it bad.  Instead of resorting to offensive language might I suggest that Marvel offer reparations for all the poor souls who went into this mini-series expecting a passable story about Thanos.  Passable was all I needed; it didn't need to be good for I knew to lower my expectations since our world is one with such little goodness left.  It didn't have to be good dammit.  

When you can take a comic that expresses passage of time as "many, many murders" and turn it into something that is way too serious and far up its own ass then you have essentially committed comic book infant murder.

-New Avengers #9 (Jonathan Hickman, Mike Deodato)
Completely unfair reviews returns.  I've a better grasp as to what Infinity is so the lack of fairness is only partially based in not having read all the important pieces of the story.  The main factor in the bias is that I had to read an issue of Thanos Rising.  Someone has to take the fall for this affront, and an event in which Thanos is a key player seems to be a good candidate.  Therefore, damn you New Avengers.  Damn you to hell.

Tea: a way of life

It’s a late British Summers day. I am in Carrickfergus, just northeast of Belfast.  The morning sun is glaring through the windows of my girlfriend’s family home, and I am in the kitchen preparing a cup of tea for her. As I stand here looking out over the lush green garden, keeping an eye out for Freddy the Frog, the kettle clicks off. The sound whisks me away from my daydream and I turn to prepare the teapot. As I fill the aluminum pot with a splash of boiling water, it hit me. Tea, as the Brits know it, isn’t just a drink. It is a staple of our culture. Tea is a way of life.

The perfect cuppa. Look at that colour!

Tea Time

Tea... Tea, tea, tea. It is quite simply the best drink on the planet. When Brits say tea, they don’t mean herbal tea, for when we want herbal tea we will ask for “herbal tea, please.” No, when any member of the British public asks for a “cup of tea,” a “cuppa”, a “brew,” or just simply “tea,” they mean, “Give me a cup of black tea, with some milk, and possibly a few sugars.” You see, it’s the perfect recipe, the perfect combination of flavours and textures, and it just makes any situation better. The reason why it works so well, why it is so popular is due to the easy adaption of the recipe. Why? You can make a good cup of tea with any balance of the three main ingredients. However you look at it, at the end of the day, you can’t make a bad cup of tea.

The cuppa can take many different forms, all depending on the balance and blend of ingredients poured into your cup, and they all have a name, too.

Builders Brew or Spider’s Piss?

I’ll start with the weakest cup of tea, Spider’s Piss. This kind of cuppa is simply the first lot of tea poured from the pot. As it is poured first, the strength of the tea is weak because it hasn’t lingered near the tea bags and hasn’t had time to begin stewing. Due to the weakness of the tea, Spider’s Piss is very light and has no colour to it, so when you add the milk there is a more milky texture and taste to the tea. Do you want tea with that much milk?

Next you have the standard Cup of Tea. This form of cuppa is the perfect blend of well brewed tea and just enough milk to give it that creamy texture, but not enough to impose on the taste of the tea. It is the most popular form of tea and people generally take it without sugar, but I know a few who take one sugar... well, now and again they do.

Finally you have Builder’s Brew. This is my favourite. Builder’s Brew is simply the bottom of the pot, the strongest of the strong, the dregs, and you take it with nothing but a splash of milk and lots of sugar; in my case, two. This form of cuppa gets its name from all the tradesmen and workmen of the UK, in honour of all the long lasting roadworks they provide us with.

Yorkshire tea, my favourite
Slurp it

There is a ritual that surrounds tea preparation. It is the solution to most of life’s problems, and every British family takes part in it. We prepare it like no other nation. We drink it, slurp it, sip it like no other culture. Most importantly, it brings people together like no other drink can. In the British household, making tea isn’t just putting a tea bag into a cup, pouring boiling water over it, and then just adding milk, no, no, no, no, no. Making a cup of tea is much more than that. It all starts with the call up.

“Who’s for a cuppa?”

The tea process begins with the all too familiar call of “Who’s for a cuppa?” At this point every member of your family, and any guest in your house at that time, will immediately stop what they’re doing, look up with intrigue, and... well, say “Yes please.” If someone says “No,” you simply ask them over and over again until the pressure is too much, they crack, and say “Yes please.”

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Pull List: August 21, 2013

I read too many comics.  It's a habit that so far has only benefited my local comic shop.  That changes now as you can learn from the mistakes of my purchases, and perhaps even be intrigued to check out some of the cool picture books of the week.  There's always the option to make fun of my tastes, too.

It's been a while, but don't worry.  There'll be a post on the missing month of comics.  Right now though the focus is on the fresh stuff, if you count five days old as fresh.


-Nova #7 (Zeb Wells, Paco Medina)
I'm a bit bitter that there's a new Nova, but Nova #7 is a great comic book.  The series has been mediocre so far, albeit fun.  Things are looking up in this issue as Nova learns some important lessons, like superheroes can't just barge into any situation and recognizing that New York City already gets too much attention in comics.  At one point I was complaining about the lack of superheroics in superhero comics, so having a book where someone is actually learning to be a hero is welcome.  This trend and the New Warriors tease are certainly reasons to celebrate.

-Superior Spider-Man #16 (Dan Slott, Humberto Ramos)
Things seem to be ramping up in the pages of Superior Spider-Man as each storyline that concludes organically flows into the next.  Doc Ock's tightening grip is also exposing more cracks in his attempts at playing hero. The capture of the Hobgoblin this issue was interesting, but I felt  the best parts of #16 were the hooks meant to get the reader interested in the next installment.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Video games do horror better than any other medium can.

Frictional Games' Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs was recently made available for preorder before the game releases September 10. It's a sequel to the critically-acclaimed 2010 indie smash hit Amnesia: The Dark Descent. I'm torn.

I want to want this game. It's co-developed by the Chinese Room, the studio responsible for my beloved Dear Esther. And the original Amnesia revitalized survival-horror in gaming. After mainstream horror mainstays like Resident Evil and Silent Hill decided they would be more action-oriented in an attempt to appeal to the widest possible audience, Amnesia embraced horror's status as a niche genre.

Amnesia didn't succeed with a triple-A budget or massive marketing campaign. It succeeded by being fucking terrifying. Word-of-mouth goes a long way in the internet age, where YouTube videos of people being fucking terrified while playing Amnesia were the best marketing any horror game could hope for:

Immigration reform through games: Papers, Please review

Ever wanted a game where you play as an immigration inspector and the primary gameplay mechanic is "stamping visas"? You're in luck! Papers, Please: A Dystopian Document Thriller is for you!

You work the border of a fictional Soviet country in the '80s, deciding who gets in and who doesn't. As the game progresses, rules and regulations get more complex. Foreigners require ID verification. Everyone needs polio vaccines. Entrants from a certain district need to have their passports confiscated. It becomes ridiculously difficult.

Of course, it's not a simple numbers game. Someone doesn't have the right papers, but they're seeking political asylum and they say if they go back to their home country they'll be killed. An elderly woman has expired documents but she needs to find her husband before the border is closed permanently. You're the one who can change the course of these people's lives.

But it's not that easy. Your salary is based on the number of people you process, and if you make too many mistakes, your pay is docked. You also need to pay rent at your apartment and feed your family. Papers, Please presents moral dilemmas in a more sophisticated manner than the vast majority of games with so-called morality systems. In most games, "good" and "evil" are easily identifiable, and the "good" option is as equally viable and easy to obtain as the "evil" option. That doesn't work, though: when both options are presented as equal, almost everyone picks the "good" option.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

2013-14 Premier League kit rankings

It's been a few years since I did a Premier League kit ranking. With the 2013-14 season starting this past weekend, let's get started. How do you think these compare to the 2013 Major League Soccer uniforms?

20. Cardiff City

Puma continues to be the worst major kit manufacturer in soccer. A bland red shirt with the crest up way too high; it's basically on the shoulder. But by far the worst transgression of this shirt is the change in color. Cardiff have worn blue shirts for over a century. Their nickname is "the Bluebirds." But last year, new Malaysian owners of the club decided to change the primary team color to red, because red is a lucky color in East Asia, where the owners want to market the club. The bluebird crest was replaced by a red Welsh dragon crest, with the bird relegated to a small place at the bottom of the logo. I guess red is what the club needed to gain promotion to the Premier League, but it's a shame a century of history is lost in the process.

19. Southampton

Another club who changed their century-old identity to a bland red design for promotion to the Premier League. I know Southampton didn't want to become the third Premier League club with an "S" name and red/white stripes, but it's a shame they decided to forego their history in favor of a more generic all-red kit. I also dislike the monochrome crest; it can work on third kits and even away kits, but home kits are meant to have the "real" team crest in full color. Especially with such a complicated crest that's by no means iconic, all Southampton has done is make itself more anonymous. Not a bad shirt, just generic. At least they have striped socks.

18. Stoke City

Did someone say "club with an 'S' name and red/white stripes"? Stoke's newest design isn't ugly, but it's nothing new. It looks exactly like any other jersey released over the last five years. It's disrespectful to the fans to make them pay full price for a "new" kit that wouldn't have been out of place in 2008. And the Stoke crest is strangely small. It all looks very low-budget, especially compared to some of Adidas' other designs this year. They get bonus points for striped socks, though.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Nintendo GameCube: the most underrated console ever made

Everyone loves to make fun of Nintendo's purple little box, with its half-size discs and handle on the back. They disparage its fundamental misunderstanding of the gaming market at the time, from lower horsepower than its competitors to lack of online play to a focus on "kiddy" games. It didn't have the huge library that Sony's PlayStation 2 had, and it didn't have the edgy first-person shooters that Microsoft's Xbox had.

But the GameCube is the most underrated system of all time, with some of the most underrated games of all time.

Let's start with the console itself. It's a work of art. While most other consoles look like drab cable boxes, GameCube launched in a pleasant violet color. And everything is exactly where you think it should be. The controller ports are big and right in front, and the discs go right in the top.

The controller is the most ergonomic official first-party controller ever made for a console. It slides into your hands like butter and fits them like a glove. The shoulder triggers are lush and analog, and the satisfyingly large green "A" button is front and center where it should be. The "B" button is smaller and red, as it should be. The Start button is right in the middle, where it should be. None of this superfluous Select button shenanigans. When was the last time you actually needed a Select button? Not to mention the WaveBird, wireless years before Sony or Microsoft produced wireless controllers.

The primary control stick has nice grips on it, and has little guides on the edges to help perfect 8-directional motion. It doesn't have the rubber covering on the control sticks, but that might be a good thing. Compare the control sticks on my first GameCube controller (from 2002) to my first Xbox 360 controller (from 2009):

But a great console is nothing without great games. Games trump all.

What about the launch lineup? When the GameCube came out in 2001, it launched with Star Wars Rogue Squadron II: Rogue Leader, one of the best Star Wars games ever made. And despite being a launch title on an underpowered platform, its cutting-edge graphics still stand out today.

Its other major launch title was Nintendo's own Luigi's Mansion, which I've written about before. It was disparaged at the time because it wasn't a "real" Mario game, and the GameCube was the first Nintendo console not to launch with a Mario title. But Luigi's Mansion flipped convention and used the more interesting Super Mario Bro as its protagonist.

Luigi is shy, unsure of himself, cowardly, which all makes him... human. A much more interesting main character than main man Mario. Luigi's Mansion was able to succeed as a survival-horror game while still being kid-friendly, something rarely seen in gaming.

Perhaps the greatest metaphor for the GameCube in its library is Super Mario Sunshine. It's by far the most widely criticized entry in Nintendo's main Super Mario series. People complained it wasn't a "true" Mario game because of its focus on story and Mario's role as a glorified janitor, cleaning up graffiti around a tropical island.

But isn't Mario's actual profession... plumbing? Not exactly world-saving fare. Super Mario Sunshine took the series in a new direction, providing a unique gameworld for Mario to explore while still giving players a challenge with the platforming segments.

Today, Nintendo is criticized for recycling its Mario formula with predictable entries like New Super Mario Bros. 2 and New Super Mario Bros Wii. I firmly believe Nintendo only started doing this because it got so much crap from everyone for actually trying something new with Sunshine. At the end of the day, Super Mario Sunshine is hands-down the best Mario game.

Nintendo also took its Legend of Zelda series in a new direction on the GameCube. When they announced The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker would be cel-shaded and cartoony, Nintendo took a heap of criticism for dumbing down the venerable Zelda name. But when it was released, The Wind Waker was a creative, well-written gem with a unique seafaring setting. Today, Wind Waker is rightly lauded as a bold step in a new direction for the series.

My personal favorite, Metroid Prime is much the same way. Nintendo took a beloved series that had been dormant since 1994 and made it a first-person game. Many fans, myself included, feared this would be a simplified, stupid first-person shooter to appeal to the popularity of Halo. Instead, what we got is perhaps the greatest game ever made. A first-person adventure that stays true to its Metroid roots while courageously taking the series in new directions. I think I like this game. I think I've written about it before.

Nintendo is criticized for all the best-selling games on its consoles being games made by Nintendo themselves. The critics are right, but Nintendo makes some damn fine games.

The definitive versions of perennial multiplayer favorites Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. are both on GameCube. Mario Kart: Double Dash!! refined the series without dumbing it down for the casual crowd like Mario Kart Wii would. And Super Smash Bros. Melee is still so widely loved that the twelve-year-old game was one of the games played at this year's Evo Championship Series, the most important fighting game competition in the Western world.

Mario Kart isn't the only classic Nintendo racing game on GameCube. F-Zero GX was overlooked by most people, but among hardcore racing fans it's considered one of the toughest, most brutal, greatest racing video games ever made. GX still hasn't seen a sequel.

Speaking of "niche, brutal Nintendo games," Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance was the first 3D entry in the series, and the first home console release of Fire Emblem outside Japan. It's a hardcore tactical role-playing game with permadeath--a game mechanic popularized by DayZ in 2009, but used by Fire Emblem for decades!--that flew under the radar of most gamers.

But GameCube didn't just have great sequels. Animal Crossing and Pikmin are both colorful, genre-bending, kid-friendly-but-deceptively-deep series with devoted fanbases, with their beginnings on GameCube. Today, both series are major players for Nintendo.

It's not all games for kids, though. Hideo Kojima remade his seminal Metal Gear Solid with The Twin Snakes, exclusively on GameCube. Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem was a milestone in psychological horror, surprisingly published by Nintendo. And outside Nintendo, there's Capcom's beautiful remake of the original Resident Evil, and of course... Resident Evil 4.

Resident Evil 4 is widely considered one of the best games ever made. It eventually landed on other platforms, but it was designed for GameCube. RE4 was part of the "Capcom Five," GameCube-designed games that inevitably ended up on other consoles to make more money. Other members of the Capcom Five? Killer7 and Viewtiful Joe. Ya know.

Speaking of games designed for GameCube then ported elsewhere, there's the home console release of the Greatest Shoot 'Em Up Ever Made, Treasure's Ikaruga. Nintendo is slammed for its lack of third-party support, but in fact, many of the generation's greatest multiplatform releases came to GameCube. Beyond Good & Evil, SoulCalibur II, Prince of Persia...

With the Wii and Wii U, Nintendo has gone in a different direction. The GameCube represents its last attempt at a traditional console. It was misunderstood and glorious. Don't hate on the purple box. It may not have the staggering volume of games that PS2 had, but its games have certainly aged more gracefully than the Xbox's library. One day, GameCube will get the respect it deserves.