01/01/2011

The Agony & The Ecstacy, 2010

by Matthew Hawkins

First off, from last night…

Katie and I spent New Year’s Eve with Travis and Colleen and a few of their pals. Highlights include a fucking fantastic Korean dinner, bootleg Perfect Strangers DVDs, and a dance party in the basement of some bar. A nice, laid back affair, and the perfect end to…

I know I’ve stated the same following sentiment ad nauseum at the start of every blog post as of late, but I guess one last time won’t hurt: 2010 has been one CRAZY year. Never has so much awesomeness gone down in 12 months, alongside so much headache and heartache. Time to go down the hit-list:

- At the very top would have to be all my efforts with Babycastles throughout the year. Four events, starting with a modest zine opening at some DIY music venue in Queens in the spring, culminating with a pair of video game art/music/culture explosions in the heart of Times Square in the fall and winter. For years I’ve wanted to help infuse the Big Apple with some much needed game culture, and more basically, mission accomplished!

- Became the number two guy in Attract Mode! My zine was one of the very first items in the shop, and Adam has always been its number one supporter, so being asked to lend my East Cost connections and skillz was both a honor and a thrill. Best part is how we’ve become real deal b-fries as a result! Oh, and being able to rock both Boston and Seattle, via PAX East and Prime, was also hella fun.

- Accomplished another long sought-after goal: officially began writing for Electronic Gaming Monthly, the holy grail for any video game journalist! Granted, I’m not on staff or anything, but penning special features revolving around game culture is obviously my forte, and one that I’m happy to share with the EGM audience.

- On a related note: I’m still quite proud of being asked to be part of Tiny Cartridge earlier this year! Hopefully when JC goes on vacation this time, I’ll be asked again, along with Adam and Bruno! At the very least, it was super sweet to be included in their own best of 2010 rundown.

- Discovered the greatest merging of Grand Theft Auto and the Holy Bible ever, the You Testament.

- Went to the beach with Katie, and that was pretty awesome. Also attended a ritualistic bloodletting, and it was pretty interesting.

- Got to meet both Mexican wrestling icon La Parka and avant garde, underground filmmaking mastermind Justin Fornal.

- Oh, also Katie’s dad’s babyhead, plus saw Tim & Eric LIVE, both on the same day!

- Jizzmoppa got a resurgence of popularity in 2010, thanks to Babycastles, where it became “our very own Super Columbine RPG”.

- Best film I saw all year? Two way tie between Crispin Glover’s Fine, Everything Is Fine, and Shibata’s Doman Seaman. Sucks that the chances of either of those appearing on DVD is pretty much null.

- Made a complete ass of myself in front of a packed room at the New York Comic Con. But at least it led to a pretty sweet yaoi starring myself and dmauro!

- Got two names for you: Jerry Seinfeld X Gundam.

- Started that cable access Tumblr at long last. The kids seem to dig it.

- Despite reaching the mountaintop as it relates to EGM, and also becoming a video game review for Giant Robot, discovered that the world of video game journalism is as bleak as ever. Which in turn led to me being pretty dead broke for the most of the year, and seriously contemplating what I’m going to do with myself. No fun at all.

- On another related note, became a part-time government goon, aka a census employee. Had a knife pulled out on me on my very first day, and got electrocuted on my very last day. Among other things.

- Was also a copywriter for an Orthodox Jewish video game accessory peddler in Williamsburg, Brooklyn for a little while. That too was interesting to say the least.

- On the brighter side, a ton of out of town peeps made an appearance in NYC, in some cases very along awaited. A few of them even got to crash my couch! Along with Adam, you had Phil Fish, Brandon Boyer, Mike McWhertor, and Ryan Sands.

- And I made some new friends this year (like Cory and Mare, sup dudes), plus became closer with certain folks that I’ve been pals with for sometime now. Unfortunately, and this was easily one of the worst parts of 2010, found myself drifting apart from others, a few I used to fairly tight with. Reasons vary; some are mundane, others delicate. In some instances, it was almost an inevitability, which was the most depressing. Practically across the board, many of us are all at a point of transition, due to age, career, relationships, that kinda stuff. And at moments like these, we often drift apart. Tis is life.

… I guess, more than anything else, you could say I finally opened my eyes in 2010. Was able to gain a greater degree of perspective, and I now know more than ever that certain shit needs to get done. Unfortunately, some of it ain’t gonna be pretty. All this and how one has to work one’s ass off harder than ever to accomplish certain goals, but even then, circumstances can be the deciding factor, and seriously make no miserable. Not to be downer, but I have a sneaking suspicion that 2011 be just as rough and tumble. But again, that’s just the way it is.

Blah, blah, blah, enough personal ramblings, time to talk about what most folks come here for; video game talk! Lord knows that there hasn’t been nearly as much as of late… something I plan of rectifying in 2011 btw.
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So, how was the state of gaming in 2010 ? Damned if I know; for a number of reasons, perhaps due to some of the reasons stated above, I find my myself increasingly out of touch with what’s going on. Though I’m not one of those ill informed that love to spout that there’s nothing cool going on in the world of games. Far from it. There’s just so many awesome games from every which corner that one can afford to be supremely narrow in their world view and still be sufficiently entertained! Which might explain the following…

Quite Simply, The Top Five Games Of 2010:

5. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (Wii)
I guess further evidence of how good we’ve got it is how one of easily the best Mario games ever came out in early 2010 and hardly remembers it. That and how it basically gave us everything we loved about the first one, which was brilliant level design, an amazing soundtrack, graphics that makes the Wii respectable, and a three dimensional platforming landscape that actually works, but even more so, yet that still wasn’t enough for some. Whatever.

4. Metal Gear Sold 5 (PSP)
AKA Peace Walker. AKA the reason why I held onto my PSP after all this time. Sorry, I’m a MGS fanboy, tried and true, and while I certainly would love to see the game on a console, Kojima and company was again able to craft a mind-blowing gameplay experience that plays to the strength of the platform it’s on, which has always been one of the core strengths of the series. That and Big Boss is just a fucking bad-ass, glad to see him in action again, and how I was more than satisfied with the amount of mecha he had to deal with. Bonus points for all the wonderful Ashley Wood illustrations and how “interactive” they ended up being.

3. Pac-Man Championship Edition DX (XBLA, also on PSN)
How do you improve upon perfection? You can’t really, so you basically mix things up by emphasizing and more or less exaggerating all the best parts from before, to create an almost entirely new animal. To be completely honest, it hasn’t grabbed ahold of me like the first one, and not just saying that cuz I’m not nearly as good as it either. But I’ve having the best time eva, trying to reach the top of the score boards and figuring out the in’s and out’s.

2. Split/Second (PS3, also on Xbox 360)
Here’s the game that cements that fact that I no longer see eye-to-eye with the rest of the critics and gaming’s consensus as a whole these days. The fact that this didn’t make anyone else’s best of 2010 lists, let alone nominated it would seem, is a real travesty. I get it; how the re-ignition of the arcade racing genre this year didn’t succeed at all. Aside from the game not performing all that well at retail, Blur also bombed, and that game was pretty rad as well. But few games offered such a white-knuckled sensation of speed and excitement, regardless of genre. Split/Second brilliantly mixes the euphoric thrill of power-sliding that one could only find in a game like Daytona USA, along with it’s equally phenomenal track designs, along with the tit for tat interplay that the Burnout series used to embody, all wrapped together in a Michael Bay-like package. Also, the graphics are drop-dead gorgeous, the best argument for HD gaming yet, and both the music and overall sound design is heavenly. The only way it could be perfect if there was a car that indeed controlled like Daytona’s Hornet/Gallop (as fun as they are to pull off, power-sliding is still rather tricky in the game), along with the a heavenly front-end, the kind only Codemasters can provide (hence why I’ll be getting DiRT3 for just the menus and not the not quite arcade enough, uber challenging driving mechanics). If you love racing, or just action, then PLEASE pick up this game.

1. No More Heroes 2 (Wii)
And here we have the best argument against HD gaming yet, or at least how it?s ultimately overrated and unnecessary. It’s almost like my choice for game of the year in 2009, aka Flower, Sun, and Rain, in which Suda 51 & company were able to create such rich, in-depth characters, whereas others like Rockstar, despite all the hype and money in the bank, can only come up with lamebrain caricatures from a televised drama that draws way too much inspiration from a Scorsese movie (not even a really good one). Well, there’s a moment in No More Heroes 2, right before the battle with a psychotic cosmonaut, which takes place at a moonlit hayfield before the break of dawn, where both the visuals and audio… despite them being “low fi” or “standard definition”… combines in such a manner to create a time and place, a mood to be more exact, that frankly puts all the pristine vistas offered in, say Grand Turismo 5, to laughable shame. Cuz it’s all about personality, the uber hottie that has nothing behind the eyes versus the girl with the realistic body and someone you can talk with till way past your subway stop. It also does Pac-Man CE DX is not able to do, which is take the original formula and makes direct improvements, mostly via logical refinements as it pertains to controls, pacing, and presentation. Some things are bigger, while others are smaller, yet all for the better. Focused is perhaps the best term; as noted in my review many moons ago, NMH2 is to NMH1 like Persona 4 is to Persona 3. The original feels more like a proof of concept in retrospect, though some of the original’s charm is missing, but that’s almost impossible to avoid (with sole exception being Persona 4 interestingly enough). Also, much like Flower, Sun, and Rain, NMH2 tries to be funny and actually succeeds, which is a milestone all by itself. And like Split/Second, not nearly enough folks played it, in this instance due to the wonderful marketing team at Boobie Soft. Forget Mass Effect 2, forget Assassin’s Creed 3, forget Call Of Duty 74, unless you like playing the same shiny but ultimately boring (and I mean BORING) shit and instead give No More Heroes 2 some much-needed attention.

Honorable Mention (two-way tie): Deadly Premonition (Xbox 360) & Sin & Punishment (Wii)

Alright, what else?

Game I’m Confident I Would Have Loved And Would Have Made The List, But Never Got The Chance To Play:

9 Hours, 9 Person, 9 Doors (DS)
It’s definitely right up my alley, but I simply never found the time to pick up a copy. Which is not good news since I hear the print run is low and the chances of finding a copy at Gamestop is like zilch. Though I did find a Best Buy gift under the tree, and if that fails, Katie does owe me a belated Xmas gift!

Game I Was Really Excited About Till I Heard The Camera Sucked:

Epic Mickey (Wii)
And I was all excited to see if this Warren Spector guy was worth the hype. Oh well!

Game That I Couldn’t Get Into As A Kid But Am Hardcore Into As An Adult:

Super Mario Bros: Lost Levels, AKA the Japanese SMB2(Wii)
I simply couldn’t get into it back in the day, and promptly gave it up due to being way too into Gunstar Heroes and assorted other Sega Genesis platformers at the time. In recent years, I became obsessed with the arcade version of Super Mario Bros, which had slightly different (and harder) levels than the NES version. When I was told that they were incorporated into the Japanese sequel, I began counting the days till the re-release. It also gives me hope that not all my gameplaying skills from my youth has degenerated… can’t wait to see if Lost Levels World 6-3 is the same one I remember trying to beat at my local 7-11!

Game I Really Wish I Could Play, But I Live In A New York City Apartment:

Dance Central (Xbox 360)
Seriously, the next level of dancing (and music) games, by the focus who knows how to make them, and I can’t play the damn thing cuz I have kindly old Puerto Rican ladies downstairs that I’d rather not disturb. At least there’s no other Kinect games I mind missing out on. And on a related note…

Game/Platform That’s Not Nearly As Dreadful & Douchey As I Predicted It Would Be:

PlayStation Move
Sure, it’s still Wii HD, and I still can’t stand how arrogant and unoriginal Sony generally is, but they also happen to have vast resources, including actually cool developmental teams, ones that are coming up with cool stuff that you just can’t do on Nintendo’s platform. And if Sony Computer Entertainment’s Japan Studio can kepe up with the pace with Echochrome 2, then competition will again inspire some awesome things.

Game/Platform That Was Indeed Just As Dreadful & Douchey As I Predicted It Would Be:

Heavy Rain (PS3)
So I hear people actually like this game! LOL & WTF

Game That Everyone Loves To Death, But I Just Can’t Get Into:

Super Meat Boy (XBLA)
Sorry, I know it’s a real no-no to say this, cuz the game and especially those behind the scenes are everyone’s favorite. And they do seem like rad folk! But as for the game itself… I want to like it, since it’s kinda like N+, and that was cool… there’s just something about the physics I think? Something just doesn’t click with me, sorry.

Sequel That I Wanted So Badly, But Now That It’s Almost Here, Am Not Nearly As Excited, Though It Could Still Turn Out Okay (Maybe):

Children of Eden (Xbox 360 & PS3)
I was all into the idea of a Rez 2, even when others were saying “is one REALLY necessary?”. Then I saw the teaser and thought, okay, this could be cool… sorta like how Tron is to Tron Legacy. But guess what? The ending of the Tron sequel wasn’t filled with user submitted pics of their happiest moments, like Children of Eden promises to deliver. Ugh.

Most Pleasant Surprise:

Vanquish (Xbox 360 & PS3)
I’ve always wanted to to get into first person shooters, but due to my motion sickness, hasn’t been an option. And the next best thing, third person shooters? Exposes the fact that your lead’s character design sucks. Plus they’re basically boring in general. So call me a Japanophile, but Vanquish has been the first TPS that I actually dig, and no, it’s not cuz I’m a God Hand fanboy. Not a fan of that game, but that’s for another time. I think it’s the whole sliding on your knees at super speeds mechanic and yelling “Get out of the way!” constantly in super slow mo.

Biggest Disappointment:

Metroid: Other M (Wii)
I guess it’s not a total shock that Team Ninja managed to domesticate gaming’s strongest, independent female leads. I hear it’s not so bad near the end, but I’m having a hard time dealing with her daddy issues in the early stages.

Biggest Regret:

Not Playing Fez When I Had The Chance
When Phil was crashing at my place, he was working on Fez, and I totally had the chance to ask “hey, mind if I give it a quick spin?” but was too shy. What a dumbshit, eh?

Biggest Fall From Grace:

Rock Band 3 (Xbox 360, PS3, & Wii)
Speaking as a HARDCORE Rock Band 1/2/Beatles player, I was fully expecting to become just as obsessed with part 3, via the I don’t care how much the keyboard accessory is. I think it took maybe 20 minutes before Katie and I went “screw this noise”. All I can say is, a truly bad interface will truly destroy a game.

Biggest Headline That I Did Not Give A Rat’s Ass About:

The Whole Infinity Ward Debacle
Sorry, I really should…. but I don’t.

Biggest Headline That I Did Care A Lot About:

Keni Inafune Saying SayonaraTo Capcom
AKA, the coffin in the nail for Japan’s game industry, or so it felt like. At the very least, a real wake up sign that things are all not that well, at least with the old guard.

Best Sequel, Simply By Virtue Of The Fact That I Can Read The Text This Time Around:

Dead Rising 2 (Xbox 360 & PS3)
Hey, I can read vital and supplemental info that appears on the screen, and someone simply realizes that not everyone has a HD set! Sweet.

The Five Best Game Related Video Of 2010:

5 Ryu, from Street Fighter, but in real life.

4. If Lady Gaga went back in time and in Japan and starred in a crappy Sega Saturn game.

3. Nadie, get your shit together!

2. A gentleman’s wager.

1. And of course… the one vid that rocked my world, and of so many others, the life and times of Jesus, as witnessed by a man in a diaper.

… And of course, the always favorite…

The Ten Best Random Videos Of 2010:

10. Space fever.

9. By far the most disgusting sex tip vid in existence.

8. Why I love Mexican wrestling so damn much.

7. White girls + a love for Japan = (two-way tie) Weeaboo vid #1 & Weeaboo #2

6. A furry Christian folk singer for kids.

5. Love can’t turn around.

4. Immortal dog.

3. A tribute to Joe Pesci.

2. Most entertaining and original Obama hater by a wide margin.

1. Another tie: Who killed Captain Alex? & When does a dream become a nightmare?

Honorable Mentions (best remixes to come from the really popular vids)
You Dun Goofed dubstep & Struttin’ That Ass dirty south version.

DocFuture1 Bonus Vid:
A semi-alphabetical listing of Black actors with speaking roles on Friends.

… And for those who want a slightly different take, be sure to check out Katie’s rundown on Facebook. She’s far more rigid with her choices (insists that every vid must be made in 2010, whereas my only criteria is that I saw it in 2010).
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A Head’s Up

Well, I’ve been meaning to make an announcement for the past couple of weeks now, but for a number or reasons, haven’t been able to. So even though I don’t have… the entire package, all together, figured now would be an okay time to at least make a partial announcement. Especially since I’ve already mentioned No More Heroes 2!

For starters, I’m officially announcing the fourth installment of my zine; gonna be called FORT90ZINE 4 ANSWER! And at this point, I hope to premiere it… wait for it… the Toronto Comics Art Festival! So what does this have to do with NMH? Well, as anyone that’s familiar zine knows already, each installment has a centerfold of a video game cutie or hottie. And this time time, it’ll be one of the sultry lasses from No More Heroes! And who will be the artist behind? Possibly YOU.

Time for another art contest! Much like the one I had for Persona, there’s gonna be some AWESOME prizes for the lucky winner, much of it super exclusive Grasshopper Manufacture related items that were acquired directly from the source! Including impossible to get anywhere else books and apparel, covering not just NMH but Killer 7 and even Flower, Sun, Rain! Did I mention that they’re kinda sponsoring this contest?

Unfortunately, not everything is here yet; the rest has yet to arrive from Japan, perhaps obviously. But I’ll have pictures of the prize package once everything has cleared customs. Including a Killer 7 art-book, autographed by Suda 51 himself!!!

So in addition to all the wonderful stuff that has yet to be revealed, I one again also plan on reprinting the winning entry as a centerfold. So before anyone starts drawing, please wait for specific instructions, like dimensions and the such. Though now is the time to brainstorm, and considering that the prize package encompasses a bunch of Grasshopper Manufacture’s titles, I guess anyone lady from any of their games is viable subject matter (though I will more than likely have a strong preference towards someone from No More Heroes).

Stay tuned for info! 2011 may rock after-all…

EDIT: Oh, another head’s up, one I totally forgot to mention before; am thinking of shutting down the forums. Place is kinda dead. Any thoughts?

  • http://tobyisawesome.livejournal.com Toby

    Definitely the best 2010 write-up I’ve read. I’ll have to give Split/Second a go, as my house has been playing Blur for weeks and loving it.

  • Rachel

    Aww yiss. I am all over this contest.

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