01/01/2009

When All Is Said And Done, 2008

by Matthew Hawkins

First off, a pic from last night…

… Most folks I know stayed in, even those that generally go out and celebrate New Year?s Eve. I guess it was a combination of it being a midweek night, the shitty economy, and the brutal weather. But myself and Katie, along with Joe and June, plus Joe’s friend from back home, John, all braved the elements (which as a result meant that hardly anyone was out and about last night) and hung out at a couple of bars near Union Square. It was nice and chill.

But anyhow… 2008, what a year. Like for so many others, these past twelve months have been a real roller coaster. On the negative side of things, I lost a fairly lucrative full-time paying job and have been struggling to cut it as a full-time freelancer ever since. To the point that I am seriously considering a serious shift in focus career-wise for the upcoming year. I’m certain I’ve uttered those words once or twice before, but now I’m forced to be serious; it’s just become so Goddamn difficult to pay the bills from writing about games alone, though I will continue to do so around here and maintain this blog (something Katie was concerned about when I pondered the future with her the other night). I’ve always had my hands in various projects in other areas, and this year saw me get involved in a record number of them, and more or less all of them went absolutely nowhere due to assorted reasons, with the crap economy being the usual culprit. Either that or my all-around crazy, and often times bad luck! Let’s just say often poor timing…

Yet, in the end, I honestly can’t complain. And not just because I’m not the only game journalist out there scraping for work, nor someone in general who lost their job this year. I guess there’s more than enough reason to be bummed out, but I’m not. Ultimately, there were quite a few positives, making 2008 pretty darn kick ass; perhaps the most pleasant discovery was how, if you simply have a positive attitude and just ask, ye shall receive. Like asking to see Lady Refstrike‘s ass; a simple and earnest request about her underwear got her to lift her skirt and bend over (well, I was interested in getting a pair for Katie). Anyway, 2008 was full of little moments like that (actually, that anecdote was from 07, but I like repeating it any chance I get), and here are some other highlights…

- Finally shared to the rest of the world the ecstasy that is Love Love 2.

- And finally made it out to San Francisco and the Game Developer Conference. Among the many highlights: meeting the Red Power Ranger and cursing out some no-name local AM news reporter at a party.

- Was somewhat of a minor hit at the New York Comic Con 08, though it remains to be seen if I will be involved with next year’s show (pro-tip: if you want to do work with people, don’t criticizes whom else they’ve hired to do the same thing, even if they end up inciting a KILL THE GAYS chat at a show).

- Also made what was supposed to be my final appearance at I-CON, but I guess I simply cannot get enough of Long Island (and have committed to be back next year).

- Got pretty much the awesomest birthday present ever.

- Despite the fact that I still have the tendencies of a 15-year-old, came a little bit closer to being an adult: began living with a girlfriend!

- Tried in vain numerous times to get a podcast started. Eh, I think a cable access show would be better avenue for me anyway.

- Speaking of, became a staple on several call-in shows this year.

- As predicted, was the one guy who didn’t go gaga over Grand Theft Auto 4.

- Finally got a Xbox 360. Didn’t get a PS3.

- Met tons of awesome and interesting people, like the creator of Metal Gear Solid, an American Gladiator, and the original snarky video game blogger (and still the best imho) Solid Sharkey.

- Made many people’s lives better by spreading the joys of The Fast And The Furious 3: Tokyo Drift.

- Speaking of movies, the VERY long-awaited (at least for me) Iron Man movie came out, and it didn’t suck!

- Became the owner of a very cute, but also VERY stupid cat.

- Both validated and dispelling many people’s assumptions of myself in the flesh, based on my “internet persona.”

- Witnessed the drummer from The Misfits hit on said girlfriend.

- Correspondents get! Sup Hilary and dmauro. Also a street team of sorts, again dmauro and Isfet (the worst part about going to video game events is my inability to play them well).

- This website finally saw a print version, via the fort90zine!

- Got a free t-shirt from Yoshitaka Amano.

- Finally saw Killing Joke in the flesh, my fave band stemming from my high school daze, and got to hear my favorite album of all time, Millennium, also live.

- Discovered the joy that is Video Pizza.

- Saw a one-armed guy (actually, a guy with one and a half arms) rock out on Rock Band at a bar.

- Also saw a rodeo clown buy drugs in a Brooklyn subway station, and learn assorted rope tricks from the dealer. This was just yesterday btw.

But since this blog is mostly known for facts and opinions about video games, I guess I should do…
________________________________________________________________________________

Another stupid best of 2008 list? How splendid. But what else can I say? Truth of the matter is, there is indeed a law stating that all video game bloggers have to do such things at the end of a calendar year…

Quite Simply, The Top Five Games Of 08:

Now, I realize most folks go for a top ten list, so why only five? Is it because only five good games were released this year? Far from it; most people haven’t realized it, or perhaps feel differently, but once again, it’s never been a better time to be a gamer. Not only is the number of choices available positively staggering… no matter who you are or what you’re into, there’s something for everybody… but the overall quality of games in general continues to go up and up. Plenty of boundaries, whether they be technical or artistic, continues to be pushed, and the future has never been brighter. Sorry if you disagree, but I’d have to say that you’re either no looking hard enough, or you might have to simply rethink your platform of choice.

But that being said, still why only five games? I played plenty of superb games from 08, but only five really took ahold of me and didn’t let go. Games I poured endless numbers of hours into, and which stayed with me well afterwards. And they are…

5. Super Smash Bros Brawl (Wii)
A time when even the most loyal and diehard Nintendo fan has to feel disenfranchised, at least we have this love letter to those that helped make the house of N in the first place.

4. Braid (Xbox 360)
The indie darling of 08 actually delivered despite the ungodly amount of hype. This platforming genre-bender is yet another love letter, but of a different sort, which I dare say is perhaps also one of the most important games to come out in a long time.

3. Rock Band 2 (Xbox 360 or PS3)
A reminder of why we play video games: to have fun. More so than Tony Hawk Pro Skater during its heyday, RB2 is the ultimate, across the board smash hit that not only shock the foundation of gaming to its very core (much to the chagrin of hardcore gamers), but was a sequel that smartly added to the original in a way that most other sequels fail to do. Plus, finally was there a game in which paid DLC was not some evil monster.

2. No More Heroes (Wii)
Again, another hardcore action title on a system that desperately needed one, though because of the Wii?s reputation, Smash Bros not withstanding, NMH sadly was largely ignored. Also, yet another game where people bitched and moaned about the purported piss-poor graphics and the such. But who needed it? Here’s a game that positively screamed personality, from the wacky bosses, to the wanna be cool otaku protagonist. The use of the Wii-mote and nunchuck, for an action arcade game, actually worked wonderfully (I honest can?t imagine who it would have played in its original next-gen incarnation), and it also happens to boast the single most catchiest and versatile jingle in a game since perhaps Super Mario Bros.

1. Persona 4 (PS2)
Like I said in my review, not only is it by far the best damn Japanese role playing game to come in, seriously, the last ten years, but it finally also offers something for “the rest of us”. The combination of hardcore dungeon crawling plus monster creation/management, along with a high school simulator, replete with hangin’ with buds, dating girls, and holding part-time jobs, was beyond addictive to play as well as flat out brilliant in its execution. I normally abhor the idea of investing 100 hours into some RPG, but I played just that amount, a little more actually, and was taken by the charming characters, as well as the gripping story, the entire time. A textbook example of a genre both defying and embracing its conventions, I just hope I don’t have to wait another ten years for something equally as compelling.

… Once again, there were plenty of other games of note; Professor Layton never made it so much fun to be stumped, and GRID never made it so much fun to constantly crash and restart a race, for starters. If not for Persona 4′s mesmerizingly elegant presentation, I’d have to give the nod to GRID. Speaking off, might as well mention those other titles and their unique qualities…

Best Game That No One Has Bothered To Talk About:

Cubello (WiiWare)
It’s really hard to describe, other than it’s what one would believe puzzle games, or video games in general, would (or should) look like in the 21st century, via a sci-fi movie or tv show. Instead of explaining the concept, how about everyone just look at the game in action here. But yeah, it’s not exactly the most balanced puzzler in the world, but it manages to mix a bunch of different concepts together rather elegantly, and is just plain hella fun to zone out to at the end of a long, hard day.

Best New Paint Job:

Rez HD (Xbox 360)
Guess I can’t mention the games of 08 without bringing up my personal favorite game of all time which was actually made better. Though I will confess that I haven’t played it nearly as much as I did the original, mostly because I went through the PS2 version to an absolutely insane degree. That and I lack an HD set to fully take advantage of the new experience.

Best Completely Overall Of A Classic:

Space Invaders Extreme (DS)
You know, as revered the original is, I’ve never been able to give it the time of day. So kudos to Taito for doing the impossible and breathing new found life (and playability) into the all-time classic. And somewhat on the same note…

Best Game I Played This Year That Wasn’t From 08:

Pac-Man Championship Edition (Xbox 360)
Talk about late to the party, I know. But again, I’m just amazed that Namco Bandai was able to actually improve upon the original, something that had been tried for almost thirty years. And somewhat done with Ms Pac-Man, but this game completely surpasses it.

The “Wow… simply, WOW” Game That’s Not Even One In The First Place:

KORG DS-10 (DS)
Again, it’s not even a game, but a serious music creation software suite. Been messing around with my copy pretty regularly for the past month or so and I haven’t even scratched the surface. Would help if I had some actual skills and understanding of music, naturally. But yeah, it seriously has the potential to rock the world of electronic music in a few years.

Most Overrated:

Grand Theft Auto 4 (Xbox 360 or PS3)
Of course. Again, I could go on and on about how crappy it is, but I know most folks will either laugh once again, or choose to ignore me, so moving on…

Biggest Disappointment: (Two Way Tie)

1. Mega Man 9 (WiiWare or others)
The one game that every diehard Mega Man fan (such as myself) had been waiting years for. Too bad it was too damn hard.

2. Thunder Force 6 (PS2)
Again, another dream game made real, though this time, it’s just too boring and doesn’t feel at all like the previous entries. Plus that goofy end-boss, good God.

The Game I REALLY Wish Came Out Here: (Two Way Tie)

1. Tatsunoko vs Capcom (Wii)
While Street Fighter 4 is cool and all, this is the game I want, which we’ll never see, due to assorted licensing issues.

2. RIZ-ZOAWD (DS)
Basically a RPG that tells the tale of the Wizard of Oz with what I hear is some really wacky, and inventive, control scheme. This one actually has a chance of coming out here, though I’ve yet to hear any interest thus far.

The Game I Wanted To Hate, But Ended Up Really Enjoying After All:

Burnout Paradise (Xbox 360 or PS3)
Once more of the record, it ain’t no Burnout 3 or even 4, but it’s still lots of fun on its own right. Plus the visuals are perhaps the best ever, for any home console arcade racer, and the amount of content is simply ridiculous.

The Game That The Rest Of The World Passionately Despises, But Which I Can’t Bring Myself To As Well:

Castlevania Judgment (Wii)
Yes, it totally sucks, but the overall premise is actually pretty neat (note: I am as big a Castlevania fanboy as they come), with a rather brilliant roster (though most are completely marred by the well-meaning, but ultimately atrocious art direction).

Even Though My Days Of Listening To Nothing But Video Game Soundtracks Are Well Past Me, The One Game Score That I Couldn’t Stop Playing On My iPod: (Two Way Tie)

1. No More Heroes
As previously noted, there’s one hook that is constantly repeated throughout the entire game that NEVER gets old and makes a serious case for Masafumi Takada as the new Koji Kondo.

2. Persona 4
And as also previously noted, during the 100+ hours I played the game, I heard the same exact battle music over and over again, and not once did I ever become sick of it. Quite the opposite to be completely honest. Additionally, the whole thing is simply aural bliss.

Series I Officially No Longer Give A Rat’s Ass About:

Soul Calibur
You know, I’m one of the few that actually liked part 3, but part 4 is just too ridiculous, as well as broken. Sorry, but those Star Wars characters was the line that shouldn’t have been crossed. Also, all the female characters look like prostitutes that have been working the streets for three days straight. Speaking off…

Game With The Hottest/Cutest Girls:

Persona 4 (PS2)
Nuff said!

Best Console Game That Ended Up Working MUCH Better As A Portable Game:

Everyday Shooter (PSP)
Jonathan Mak’s “shmup mix-tape” actually works far better on the small screen. I just found it more enjoyable while sitting on a train, with the soundtrack going directly into my head via earphones, than sitting on a couch or computer. Though the system’s crappy buttons is at their absolute worst here.

Best Arcade Game That I Can’t Believe Ended Up Being So Awesome As A Portable Game, But Was:

Ketsui (DS)
While still not quite as amazing as the arcade original, I was expecting a total horror show, and proven completely wrong. Once again, never doubt Cave!

Best Portable Game That Worked Better On A Console, But Was Still Neat Nonetheless:

Echochrome (PSP)
The M. C. Escher-esque puzzler could have been the ultimate portable puzzler (which as far as I’m concerned, is the best platform for such games) if not for the fact that certain facets only work on a large, high-def display. Plus, the rules themselves are a tad bit inconsistent…

Best “Last Game Ever For The Dreamcast, Seriously” For This Past Year:

Wind and Water – Puzzle Battles
The best DC game to come up this year was NOT a shump! Sounds crazy, I know. But there’s always 2009.

Most Embarrassing Game Purchase:

Doki Doki Majo Shinpan Duo (DS)
You know, that loli molestation game for the DS that everyone freaked out about last year? It was so much fun that I of course had to pick up the sequel!

Biggest LOL Headline Of The Year: (Two Way Tie)

1. Anything related to the failure that is the PS3.
As any gamer with a half a brain what they think about the system, and the answer will always be the same: why? And at last, the analysts are also starting to realize that it’s not exactly God’s gift to geeks either. I’ve yet to talk to a single coder who works on the platform that actually likes doing so, nor have I yet to speaking to a single PS3 customer that’s happy with the abysmal selection of exclusive titles, or how all the games that are also available on the 360 is also better there. There’s so many things to harp upon, whether it be the super colossal mess that is PlayStation Home, or Sony completely forgetting what got them to the dance in the first place, which is the dropping of backwards compatibility. But moving on…

2. Prince of Persia Rips Off Shadow Of The Colossus? No…
This one is more personal than anything else, but to read the original story by my good buddy Steve Totilo, simply go here. But long story short: it’s hardly a surprise. When I was working at Ubi Soft, when my producer came back from E3, she was ranting and raving about a game that she had seen… Ico… and how amazing it was, and none of my ideas had come close to it’s level of brilliance. Yeah, she was the super supportive type. And then she basically decreed that I had to come up with an idea, any idea, that basically ripped Ico off. Point being, Ubi has a hard-on for the other guys (which is not bad per say, you just gotta be smart and creative about it), and I guess it was only a matter of time someone else noticed.

Best Game Related Vid: (Five Way Tie)

1. The Back To The Future/Wario Ware Vid.
… Which unfortunately has been removed from YouTube. Damnit.

2. The Trailer To Barkley, Shut Up And Jam: Gaiden.
And yes, this game is very much real.

3. Crash Man’s gay love letter to Mega Man.
Say it with me folks: LOL Japan!

4. A dog and a statue playing Street Fighter 2, in Portuguese.
I have no idea what the hell is going on here.

5. Bill O’Reilly playing Battletoads.
So childish, yet so effective.

The Game I’m Most Looking Forward To In 2009:

Metal Gear Solid 4 (Xbox 360)
Once more, nuff said!

… K, enough video game talk. What about the best film of 08? Hard to say; either Speed Racer (again, I’m dead serious when I say that they’ll be showing it in film school in 5-10 years time) or The Shadow Spirit. And best thing I read? Also difficult to say, though Bear Bear simply stands out the most.

Finally, time for one last top ten list…

The Ten Best YouTube Vids Of 08:

10. Ronald McDonald going nuts in Japan.

9. The most uncomfortable freestyle rap showdown ever.

8. What a kawaii day!

7. Cooking hot dogs and peaches, the insane packrat way.

6. Journey at the center of the earth.

5. It’s a story about friendship, between a dog and a duck.

4. Just one word: prisencolinensinainciusol.

3. Screw the real thing, I’d rather see this fake G.I. Joe The Movie.

2. bai biscit

1. Ladies and gentleman, introducing, Mean Green.

… The best non-YouTube video is a two way tie, between the creepy Dutch television host and the reason why I am now a card carrying Tim and Eric fan.

Plus the nod for hottest new internet created superstar of the year is another two way tie, between Chris Dane Owens and the crazy gangsta girl on the train.

  • TDS

    i think speed racer may be the one big thing we disagree on

  • Jason

    Speed Racer. Fuckin’ A. Sooooo good.

  • Llydis

    Please tell me that “Kawaii day” video was a parody, that none of it was real…

  • tiesto

    Yup, you can never escape Long Island… it’s like a black hole that keeps pulling you in. Whenever you think you can get out, you’ll get sucked back in.

    Definitely hyped for ICON 09.

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