Thursday, January 15, 2009

Catching Up: The Best of 2008

Happy 2009, everyone!

So 2008 has come and gone, and a whole lot of great stuff has happened. In fact, so much great stuff happened that I was off doing all of it and therefore was totally unable to update this blog! Oh boy a whole lot of great stuff! It was so great!

Yeah!

....


Okay, that was a lie.



What actually happened was a whole lot of me being lazy.



...In other words, 2008 was just like every other year.

But hey, a new year means a fresh start, so maybe I can start paying more attention to this website. Freshly. Like I've said before, I really do want to start updating this blog on a regular basis. The beginning of a new year seems like a good opportunity to make that wish a reality, so that's what I'm going to try and make happen. Anyways, I think the best way to start off what will hopefully be a whole bunch of 2009 updates is to get 2008 out of the way. Cause you know what, a whole lot of great stuff did happen last year in the world of Things I Like To Waste My Time On, and I want to write about them.

So without further ado, here's AtA's Best of 2008: A list of the past year's highlights!


Webcomics

Nedroid Comics


Nedroid is one of the webcomics that I just discovered this year. Actually, that would be slightly inaccurate. I was made aware of the comic sometime last year when I was linked to the creator's 200 Bad Comics project, which I think is pretty self explanatory from the name, and oh man it was wonderful and hilarious. So I looked at his other past comics a bit, most of them cute little shorts starring Beartato (the ingenious combination of a bear and a potato) and his friends. And those galleries were all great, clever stuff. At that point my attention span turned me elsewhere and it wasn't till a year later that I found out that the author, Anthony Clark, was still making comics regularly. I have been checking them out since and so many of them are pure freaking gold. On top of that he's a really good artist, and he does really awesome collaborative work with other internet pseudo-celebrities like Emmy Cicierega.

I'm glad I rediscovered this little gem, because 2009 is already looking like it's going to be a great year for the comic.

Daisy Owl


Here's another comic I just got into recently. It just started being made this year, and even this early on it is really awesome and promising. The art, while simplistic, fits the feel of the comic perfectly, which is kind of like a modern Calvin and Hobbes, except Calvin is a girl, and Hobbes is her little brother, and their dad is a talking owl with a bear for a best friend, and okay it isn't like Calvin and Hobbes at all. But it is very cute and very, very funny. I am really looking forward to seeing where the comic goes from here, because if it keeps up the same level of quality it'll be one of my favorite all time comics for sure.

Sam and Fuzzy


Speaking of "one of my favorite all time comics for sure", Sam and Fuzzy is this amazing long form comic that I've been following for-freaking-ever, and guess what? It is still pretty amazing, you guys.

It's come a long way from where it started out, which was a four panel gag comic that not-so-subtly ripped off of the Sam and Max franchise. It's slowly evolved from those humble beginnings into this epic action-comedy thriller about a nerdy, unlucky guy and his cuddly, pathologically insane bear friend who get tied up in a vast conspiracy that involves ninjas who are also part of the mafia. Actually it's a mafia made of ninjas. I should probably be extra clear on this and mention that they are called the Ninja Mafia. You obviously wouldn't have been able to figure this out on your own so I figured I'd help.

It very recently ended the storyline I just mentioned, which took about three entire years to complete. A story that long drug on at times, sure, but when the storytelling was on, it was freaking on, man. I can't wait for the next storyline, which I hope will be just as epic and hilarious as the one before it, especially since it's not very often I get to use those two words in the same sentence.

Gunnerkrigg Court


Another heavily story-based comic, Gunnerkrigg Court is a story about a young girl named Antimony Carver who gets sent to the eponymous school, and she meets a bunch of quirky and/or charming characters while some crazy spooky awesome things happen. The comic feels kinda like what Harry Potter might end up being if the series was written by Neil Gaiman or something, and if the magic wasn't so much the focus as the mythology of how the school came to be, and why things are the way they are in Annie's life. The first couple chapters get things off kind of slow and the drawing's kind of rough at the start, but the story's been nothing but awesome for the past couple of years.

It is also one of the girliest things I have ever read and professing my love for it is kind of embarrassing.


Dinosaur Comics


I will never understand how consistently amazingly written this comic is. We've been looking at the exact same image of talking dinosaurs for like six friggin years now and somehow it hasn't gotten stale yet. In the hand of most authors it probably would be right now, but eight times out of ten, Ryan North attributes dialogue to these characters that has led to me naming this my Favorite Comic of 2008.

The best Dinosaur Comics this year, in my opinion, would have to be the two where T-Rex and Utahraptor write a story about a dude named Tina, and the very last new comic of 2008 where T-Rex complains about Daffy Duck.

Runners Up:
Order of the Stick: This DnD stick figure epic is actually generally one of my favorite webcomics, it's just that this year in general the story's just been plodding along and not much has happened to make me go "Oh man I am pooping myself with how amazing that thing that just happened was! Poop poopa doo!". Cause yeah I say that at least twice a day.

Penny Arcade: Again, usually a great comic, just nothing outstanding this year.


Anyways time for a new category. This might take a while to write.

Video Games

Super Smash Bros. Brawl


So if you didn't look at the headline and assume I would be talking about Brawl at least somewhere in this entry, then I guess you're not one of the two people that usually read this blog. If you DID assume, then good job on assuming correctly! Are... are you proud of yourself?

Anyways I did have a tremendous amount of fun with this game. The new characters and stages were all pretty great, as well the giant explosion of wonderful fanservice that was the Subspace Emissary. Plus, both the quality and variety of remixes of classic Nintendo tunes means that this game probably wins my award for Best Video Game Soundtrack of 2008, hands down. Even though it needed more Ballad of the Wind Fish and Eight Memories. Still, the game was a gigantic, solid package (kind of like the one in my pants), looked GREAT (for a Wii game), and was basically a Nintendo fan's dream (I am a Nintendo fan hello), and.... yeah (I like to make useless comments in parentheses).

And yet, it wasn't half as engaging or addictive as Melee. I played Brawl for a month straight before I got tired of it, but that doesn't even hold a candle to me playing Melee for seven years before I finally stopped picking it up every week. I think that when Sakurai made the game more accessible and more of a party game instead of a competitive fighting game, he took out the best part of the series. When you beat an opponent in Melee, there was a sense of accomplishment. You were skilled enough to beat someone at an equal or sometimes greater level than you. When you beat that same person in Brawl, you go "Oh sweet, the random elements of the game favored me instead of him this time". Even no-items matches are less challenging thanks to the random tripping element and everyone falling in slow motion.

Not that the way the game is now isn't fun! I guess it just means that I didn't get as much long term enjoyment out of the new installment as I'd hoped, and that makes me a little sad. On the bright side, maybe Sakurai'll go back to the game's competitive roots when he inevitably makes another sequel in five years or so.

If you didn't notice, I used the word "explosion" to link to an article about farts. This is because I am both sexy and clever.

Mirror's Edge



"Whoa hey that's some pretty good dancing you're doing there, hey I can dance too, check this out, I call this one the 'Soulja Boy'"


Anyways. This game gets the "At Least You Tried and That's Why I Love You" Award for 2008.

When I saw the first trailer, it looked neat, but I was only vaguely interested. I mean, first-person parkour game? How could that possibly control well? It was a great concept, and I was both appreciative and proud of EA for trying something new and interesting, but since it was so unique and never been attempted before, there was also a whole lot that could go wrong. So I decided to stay cautiously optimistic. Eventually the demo came out and oh man I got excited. The controls were perfect, the gameplay was awesome. I felt like a freaking urban ninja and it was so great.

So after that I got the full game on day one, and was it worth it? Well, kinda! The parkour segments for the most part were pure bliss, especially the first couple levels worth. But the farther I got into the game, there was increasingly less emphasis on dancing around the city like it's a big metal-and-concrete playground, and more on "HEY MAN HERE'S 20 GUARDS, DISARM THEM ONE AT A TIME", and so it started getting frustrating. On top of that, the graphics were the most beautiful I've ever seen on the 360... so why do the cutscenes look like I'm watching an Esurance commercial? And on that note the story and dialogue were terrible.

Those flaws aside, though, I still had a lot of fun playing it, and the gameplay was certainly a breath of fresh air compared to the other "This time the grizzled badass with a gun has a triceratops tattoo on his butt instead of a skull!" first person shooters of this generation.

Perhaps the biggest tragedy is that I didn't even get a chance to finish the game and see if it improved. I lent it to a friend while my 360 was getting repaired, and in that timespan he broke the game disc! It was terrible and I was sad.

Castle Crashers


So I've already mentioned that I think Castle Crashers is great, and guess what? I still do! Not only have I beaten the game twice since then, but it's also finally gotten a patch that makes the game not delete your save files. Apparently online play also doesn't suck anymore, but I don't really know since I haven't tried it yet.

In my most recent playthrough I have been playing as a Beekeeper who attacks things by throwing bees at them. If that doesn't qualify it for game of the year I don't know what does.

Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 4


Here's a game that kind of snuck up on me. A couple of months ago I didn't even know it existed. I'm aware of the Shin Megami Tensei series, and have enjoyed its Pokemon-with-demons gameplay in the past. However, I didn't know a new game in the series had been made for the PS2 until early December, when I suddenly saw it get two perfect 10 reviews in a row. So I went "WHAT" and then I bought a PS2.

Basically, the game is.... uh... it is very, VERY Japanese. You are a high school student who got transferred to a new school in a small town because your mother died. Days after you visit, a series of murders occur. You and some friends you just made decide to investigate, and you discover that you have the power to enter televisions, which grant you a portal to the spirit world. Soon after that you get your first Persona, spirit reflections of your personality that are also based off tarot cards, granted to a mortal when s/he faces a demonic personification of his/her secret feelings. Then you and your friends use your Personas, and the assistance of a giant talking bear, to solve the murder mystery. Also there's two distinct play styles. While the first is more or less like a typical JRPG, the second type of gameplay feels like... like a dating sim.

Did I mention how Japanese this game was?

Anyways, despite the amount of times I facepalmed while writing that synopsis, it actually works really well and is a whole lot of fun. Unfortunately it is also a whole lot of HARD and I haven't beaten it yet because I'm stuck on a pretty ridiculous boss right now. I will go back and beat it though, if only so my main character can earn sweet sweet makeouts from Chie Satonaka. Oh Chie, you're a spunky tomboy and that isn't a cliche anime archetype or anything at all.

The World Ends With You


I had to think about this for a little while, but I think TWEWY (go ahead and say that abbreviation out loud, by the way, as if it were a word. Hours of fun!) is my Game of the Year. I know, right? I'm as surprised by that decision as you probably are, but I just wasn't expecting the game to rock as much as it did, especially considering the way it started out.

The opening cutscene of the game made me think the game was going to be awful. It involved the main character, Neku Sakuraba, striking a bunch of poses, all of them portraying his angst and isolation, punctuated by him spouting gems such as "Outta my face! You're blocking my view" and "All the world needs is me. I got my values, so you can keep yours... all right?" I am not even kidding, this is all delivered with a straight face. The first few chapters aren't much better storywise, as the cast covers Every Anime Cliche Ever Created, and the "omg I'm dead I must recover my past!" angle... doesn't sound familiar at all! *snicker*

Still, the battle system, which had you a equip a customizable deck of Pins that gave you different abilities you could use with the touch screen, was really neat. So I tolerated the story while I enjoyed the gameplay, while more neat elements kept surfacing. For example, all your pins and clothing (which serves as the game's equipment, makes sense) have specific brands. As you go through the game's setting, the city of Shibuya, certain brands are more popular in some parts of the city than others. If you battle with pins or clothes of a popular brand equipped they'll be more powerful. Also, you have a stat called "Bravery", and if it's high enough you can wear girl's clothing. It was little unique touches like that that made the game start to grow on me.

Then, the unexpected happened: the characters started to develop unpredictably. The story began to gain depth. The writing became kind of good. And then suddenly I was wrapped into the entire experience. I fell in love with the characters, laughed at the jokes, got a little teary at the dramatic scenes (but not much because I am a manly stud(, and started grinding through levels. Not because the game forced me to, but because I wanted to unlock more pins and special items that could only be obtained through special quests and challenges. The game got me addicted to an extent that not even Brawl had managed earlier that year. I played pretty much nonstop right until the ending, which was a total mindfuck. And even then it turned out the game wasn't completely over. By achieving various post-game objectives, I could unlock one of the cast's secret journals that unraveled even more of the game's deep backstory. It was awesome, and added a buttload of replay value.

So yeah, TWEWY is my favorite game of the year, and it's also one of my favorite DS games of all time. I hope Square-Enix has Jupiter working on another title this unique and interesting.

Runner Ups:
Grand Theft Auto IV: I almost put this on my main list just due to the sheer amount of detail and perfect little touches put into this game. However I decided on a max of 5 main entries per list to keep the length psuedo-reasonable. Just know that this was a really close sixth, and it's not like this game isn't on enough Best Game of 2008 releases already, so I doubt its feelings will be hurt.

Mega Man 9: This 2008 throwback to 1988 was a lot of fun. It really felt like a NES game, and it was just as enjoyable and freaking hard as one. It's only a runner up because I feel that it plays things too safe in the long run, and never really steps out from being kind of an expansion pack to Mega Man 2.

Fallout 3: This game has fantastic, fantastic production values and I enjoyed what I played of it. But for some reason I could never play for more than a couple of hours at a time before I just wanted to do something else. It does a lot of great things I want out of a game, but there doesn't seem to be much heart put into it. Maybe it wouldn't feel that way if all the NPCs didn't look like soulless mannequins whenever you talked to them.

No More Heroes: I love, love, love the cheesy B-movie feel of the game's cutscenes, as well as the awesome boss battles. However, I'm also aware of its shortcomings as an actual game. A sequel's been announced that'll apparently fix those flaws, though, so I'm looking forward to it.

Strong Bad's Cool Game For Attractive People: These games, of which I've played 3 out of 5, are hilarious and emulate the Homestar Runner feel pretty well. Too bad they're only okay as far as actual adventure games go.


Internet Videos

There she is!!


Hey, remember when I talked about this in the last post I made back in August? Well I already linked to that post when I talked about Castle Crashers, and it'd be silly to do it again so I'm not going to. But in between then and now, the fifth and final episode of the series hit the internet!

Last time I talked about there she is!!, I mentioned that while the fourth episode was good and well made, it was also really dark and depressing, and this would only be okay if the fifth one made up for it by being wonderful and adorable. Without spoiling too much, I can confidently say that it does so, and in spades. The series in total is probably my favorite internet video series thing of 2008.

It's really sweet and cute and you should go watch it.

Super Mario Bros Z


Back when I discovered this series in 2007, I saw the name, got the jist of the concept, and figured it would be terrible. I decided to watch the first episode anyways, and it was okay. Not great or anything, and I remember going "How is this anything like Mario OR DBZ" the whole time. So I stopped watching and went on my merry way through the vast caverns of the internet.

A couple months later I decide to give it another shot and watch Episode 2, and it was actually pretty neat! The author was able to implement really fun, well-choreographed fight scenes using simple 2D sprites, and both the plot and dialogue were starting to reveal themselves as a pretty amusing tribute/parody to Dragon Ball Z, starring various Mario and Sonic characters. And from there the series kept getting better. The creator kept learning new tricks, and subsequent fight scenes got increasingly badass, and I have been genuinely impressed that the latter half of the series has been actually good.

Recently the dude making these got tired of the series and went on hiatus for a while, but near the end of last year he made the 7th episode of the series, and it's one of the best so far. If you like Mario, Sonic, Dragon Ball Z, or if you like making fun of at least one of those things, I'd totally check it out, because I fill those criteria and I enjoyed it.

Don't watch the Intro if you don't want spoilers for events that haven't happened in the series yet, though. That's kind of silly, right? A show's intro having spoilers? Haha, what's next, a woman having a penis?

... Actually don't go to any Japanese websites either.

TV Shows

LOST


Warning potential LOST watchers and LOST watchers that haven't seen the whole series before Season 5 yet! Generally I've been pretty vague about huge plot twists and whatnot in the things I've been covering, but here I pretty much explicitly mention a couple of spoilers from Season 4 and previous seasons. If you don't want this ruined for you, just scroll past till I start talking about Avatar.

So if you've watched the show from the beginning, it's likely that you'll already know how good it is. And if you haven't, you've probably already resigned yourself to not understanding a single dang thing people who watch it are talking about.

Anyways, Season 4 was aired early last year, and even though it got Writer's Strike'd, it was still really good. Or should I say, parts of it were really good. On one hand it wasn't really as good overall as the last half of Season 3, but on the other hand it has had a couple of standout episodes that are among the best in the entire series.

I think I have three favorite episodes this season. The first would be "The Constant", because aww Desmond and Penny. I was initially tentative on loving this episode because I figured the writers would never give us a happy ending between the two, and this was just more teasing. Thankfully I already get to eat my hat on that one! Even if they don't live happily ever after permanently, them reuniting at the end of the season was wonderful.

My second favorite would be the creeptastic "The Other Woman", because the guy who plays Ben is such a fantastic actor. My third favorite would be "The Shape of Things to Come", because ditto my reason about that last episode, and it also it has one of the funniest scenes of the whole season even though I think the humor was unintentional. There's one scene where The Others' village is getting attacked by Widmore's men, and a person exiting their house gets shot. Sawyer notices this, and yells at a second person coming out of the house, "GET BACK INSIDE", and while he's yelling this, that person gets shot in the head and dies. This happens THREE SEPARATE TIMES before Sawyer finally gives up and makes a run for it. You probably had to be there but it was hilarious.

The finale was also great, but like I've said before, not as great as Season 3's. Still, it has me looking forward to Season 5, which is less than a week away. And that's great, since I have all these questions:

How will Daniel find the island again?

Is Jin still alive?

Will Sawyer ever find a shirt to put on?

...Why am I wearing this dress?

Why are you feeding me breakfast?


Avatar: The Last Airbender


I'd been hearing great things about this series for years, but I never checked it out aside from a couple of episodes I happened to catch every once in a while. This wasn't because I didn't want to see the whole thing, cause I actually was really interested. It was mostly cause I didn't want to spend 80 bucks on a DVD set. I spend ridiculous amounts of money on dumb things sometimes, but even I have my limits, and I think the limit for DVD sets is in the general area of 80 freaking dollars.

Recently though, the price got lowered to 40-50 a season, which is still pretty expensive but I figured it was as low as it was going to get for a while. So I bought the first season to see if the rest of the series was worth buying. Shortly after I bought the second season, and shortly after that I watched the third. I have now seen the entire series to date, and this show is great and really well done.

The strongest points of the series definitely include the well-built universe, with its own mythology and folk tales and everything, the neat bending system that actually manages to surprise me with cool and plausible new uses for the elements as the series goes on, and most of all some of the coolest fucking mega badass animated fight scenes I have ever seen in my entire lifetime. This was me during a fight scene in Season 2: "Oh my god oh my god ohmygodohmygod OH MY GODDDDD FUCK YESSSS! HOLY SHIT!! FUUUCK! FUCK YEAH THAT WAS FUCKING AWESOME OH MY SHIT OH MAN- *rewinds DVD*"

My favorite characters probably had to be Sokka, the smartass with no powers who eventually becomes the Batman of the group, Iroh, the wise old Fire General who is also a smartass but he's more cool about it, and Toph, the blind Earthbender who is a total freaking monster on the battlefield with her awesome powers, and also she's a smartass too but in an adorable way. What can I say, the smartasses get the best lines.

The worst part was definitely that the series ended waaay too soon. It felt like there could have been an entire season's worth of episodes in between the first half of the third season and the final conflict. There was so much backstory and character background that was implied, but we missed out on it because it couldn't be crammed into their last 20 episodes. I only hope that we get some sort of Direct-to-DVD-or-TV-or-something animated Epilogue that shows the aftermath of the end of the war in the main series, cause I'm not done with this universe yet.

Overall, great series... a little too much focus on 12 year olds making out. I think I cringed every time Aang said the word "love". Dude I know you think she's pretty but you're the most powerful being on the planet! Play the field a little first!

Chuck


And finally, my award for Best TV Show of 2008!

I am going to make this quick.

A nerd accidentally downloads the entire government onto his brain and two spies are hired to protect him. One of the spies is Jayne from Firefly (one of the best shows ever), and the other spy is a hot blonde. Wacky spy shenanigans occur.

And it's awesome and hilarious!

That's all you need to know, go watch it!






And that's it, that's all my favorite stuff of 2008! I might have forgot some stuff, so maybe in the near future I'll edit this or add an addendum or something.

Now if you all don't mind, this took way too long to finish so I'm going to go pass out now.


By the way, I'm planning on making this a once a week thing from now on, and I think I have a system set up so it'll actually stick this time. Stay tuned!

2 comments:

Lungkisser said...

Nedroid Comics, Daisy Owl, Sam and Fuzzy, Gunnerkrigg Court, Order of the Stick: Never read ‘em. Have heard good things about Sam and Fuzzy, though.
Dinosaur Comics, Penny Arcade: Me and DC had kind of a falling out this year. Same with me and Penny Arcade. And XKCD, for that matter. The only webcomic I actively check now is Questionable Content, and if that doesn’t start moving somewhere interesting soon...

Brawl: SO addicting for like two months, but then...
Mirror’s Edge: Can I cuss? FUCK Mirror’s Edge. I loved the style and the story but it was so frustrating sometimes. Of course, doesn’t help that I played for the “no guns” achievement, but still. ARGH!
Castle Crashers: I avoided this for awhile because I heard there was like a bad bug? Or something? But I guess it was patched recently.
Persona 4: THIS IS JUST LIKE MY JAPANESE ANIMES (JUST started playing it, love it, been a big fan since Persona 2 on the PS1)
The World Ends With You: Is it a sin that I haven’t played this yet?
GTA4, Mega Man 9, Fallout 3, Strong Bad: Loved ‘em
Didn’t play No More Heroes...

There she is!!: Thanks for getting me into this!
Super Mario Bros Z: Another thing I haven’t heard of.

LOST, Chuck: Hated. Them. OMG.
Avatar: Loved. Avatar. OMG.

I thought a long reply was exactly what a long post needed. Just thought I’d give you my opinion on things. Also, you should play Fable II, it was pretty dang fun, and a lot of places - like Joystiq - gave it GOTY (my GOTY was probably MGS4, or Fallout 3.) Also, Persona 4 is like the 16th highest rated game on Gamerankings, which is pretty impressive considering: 1) how anime it is, 2) the other games in the 1-20 are basically well established sequels to like sports and action games.

Chief said...

I guess I should probably get TWEWY and Persona 4 at some point.

Also: There she is!! 4 was INCREDIBLY depressing, but 5 did, in fact, make up for it.