Ratchet & Clank 1-3 Review

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Over the past month I've played through all three of the Ratchet & Clank games on the HD collection that was put out for PS3 back in 2012. That's Ratchet & Clank, Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal, although depending on which region you're from those last two might just be Ratchet 2 and 3 to you. They're all solid games and don't get a ton of buzz anymore, so I figured I'd do a quick review of the trilogy now that I've played through them all for the first time.

Props to Sourcespy91. Since the PS3 is from before the age of the Share button, I couldn't easily capture images myself, and relied on his playthroughs for those.

Ratchet & Clank

The original Ratchet & Clank(2002) became dear to my heart over the course of playing it. The story is the thing I was most surprised I love about it. Chairman Drek, a ruthless Blargian businessman, leads the Blargian invasion of the galaxy as they're pulling apart planets to gather parts for a new one of their own, Frankenstein style. One of their huge war robots comes out a bit jank(being about 2 feet tall, sentient and kind) and flees from Drek with information on the invasion. On the way he crash-lands on the backwater desert planet Veldin, where Ratchet lives. Ratchet's a hot-headed mechanic kid who wants nothing but getting off his planet, and they join forces to stop Drek. It's essentially Star Wars with a lighthearted, satirical consumerism bent to it. Every character you meet is in it to get paid, and the biggest villain of all is the guy who's started a whole war just for money.

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It's not exactly common for 3d platformers to have a great story, but Ratchet 1 manages it. Partly by being quite funny. It's a comedy the way something like Ghostbusters is a comedy, you're not gonna be slapping your knees every minute but every bit of dialogue is solid gold. But mostly it's because of the whole buddy cop relationship of Ratchet & Clank. From the beginning, Clank knows what's most important. But he can't really do much on his own, and Ratchet only wants to have a good time. See the galaxy, get in some good fights, go on an adventure. Initially they've got a relationship of convenience. Clank gets Ratchet off of Veldin while Ratchet promises to help him get the information to Captain Qwark, a famous galactic superhero type character.

Even at this early point their chemistry is great. Ratchet is eager to get into any argument and always ready to seize any opportunites coming his way. Clank is more nerdy, more caring, more contemplative, but also a lot more naive, having been literally born yesterday. That's a good hook for a buddy platformer. Their conversations are fun to watch. Later on, the relationship gets strained because of Clank's naivity getting them into trouble, and Ratchet goes berserk and only continues the journey out of being blackmailed.

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Ratchet and Clank argue a lot more from this point on, but as Ratchet gets his revenge on the person who fooled them, he realizes how selfish he's been to focus on his own vendetta when the whole galaxy is in danger. The couple become friends for real just in time for the finale, teaming up to take down Drek for good. At the end of the game, you really feel like you were on a journey with these characters, not just in terms of planets but in terms of how their relationship and Ratchet himself have grown. They do feel like an iconic duo, well deserved, and that wouldn't be the case without all of this conflict and development in their friendship. You don't get this kinda character arc from Banjo-Kazooie.

The story focus isn't actually that big. There's only an hour of cutscenes in the game, while the whole game should take you about 15 hours the first time through. Comparatively, Uncharted 4 has over three times that much with the game still taking around 15 hours on average. Ratchet & Clank is mostly gameplay, despite having this stellar story in it, which I think is commendable.

Little of the cutscenes in Ratchet 1 is even directed as a regular (or animated) movie might be. Instead, the story is told through dialogue conversation with unique NPCs on every world, as well as through various presentations, video calls and commercials. It has a unique, low-key feel to it all, the glossy commercials juxtaposed nicely with all of these real down-to-earth conversations. The setting itself also stands out. I suppose it operates in the same general area as Star Wars, with its more messy and dirty sci-fi compared to something like Mass Effect, but there's even more of a mechanical vibe to it, bolts and metal plating everywhere.

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All the weapons look like they were cobbled together in someone's garage, even the menus have this old-school CRT vibe. Combined with the overt consumerism spoofs, it all forms a coherent image of this setting. There's a strong thematic core of these weapon businesses and the celebrity worship to build everything else around. It's not like a super deep game, it's not critiquing consumerism all that hard or anything, and themes aren't really the most important aspect of a game for me. But it's worthwhile having all the game systems make sense within the context of setting, and having a common theme for the comedy and characters to draw from. It justifies everything the game wants to do. For instance, R&C has a big focus on collecting bolts as a currency, but concentrates way less on specific collectathons to progress the way other 3d platformers might have done. You get your money just from defeating enemies and busting common crates. Every NPC you meet wants you to give them some bolts, either so you can get an infobot you need to progress the story or for some optional gadget. That in turns encourages exploration so you can get more bolts.

The lighting in parts of this game still looks cool
The lighting in parts of this game still looks cool

It's a fantastic first try at the mechanics of the series too, mixing shooting in with the 3d platforming that at this point had been fairly played out over the course of the last generation. You don't actually aim in this game, aside from if you go stationary and into first person. Instead, the weapons will auto-aim at enemies in the vicinity, displaying a reticule to always let you know where your bomb or bullet is gonna land. It works perfectly fine for most situations, you aren't really ever required to pick out one specific enemy in direct combat, but it can be a real bother with the occasional flying enemy. The targeting is a little untrustworthy on those. Still, the stages are definitely made around your abilities, I never felt like I was asked to do something I couldn't with the weapons and systems at hand.

Similarly, your jumping abilities aren't that refined. You've got the ability to float slowly downwards, a long jump, a tall jump, an eventual butt stomp, a wall jump that only works on specific walls, and a grappling hook that only attaches to specific points. It's a pretty weak and typical assortment. You can't really build up any momentum (unless you're a speedrunner), and most of the jumps you can do are a little finnicky or only work in contextual circumstances. But combined with the shooting, it all coalesces into a very fun gameplay loop. You never grow tired of either aspect because they interact well and both feel good to play.

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Ratchet 1 is a spectacular opener. I think all of the games in this collection are good, but Ratchet 1 is definitely the game that seems like it had the longest development time. You meet a ton of unique NPCs (all well animated, written and voice acted) and each planet has at least one enemy of its own to make it feel like you're exploring a vast galaxy. There's a lot of detail in the environments, lots of good lighting, and always a lot of moving elements in the background, like flying cars. Every planet is richly varied, usually with two or three distinct environments to its setting. The music often changes for each environment in the level, too, and there's a rich variation in the types of challenges you're asked to do. Sometimes there's platforming, sometimes there's some combat, sure, but that's just the basics of Ratchet. You'll also encounter setpieces where you're flying a spacecraft around, traveling on grindrails, participating in hoverboard races, getting chased by a sudden flood in a tunnel, or escaping an exploding space station, Metroid style. Variety is the name of the game.

And speaking of Metroid, Ratchet is a pretty open game, too. There's usually several paths to take right from the start of a stage, leading to either bonus stuff or the main objective, with no way of knowing which is which. Several times a planet will also contain a path that can only be opened with an item acquired later, making you come back after the fact. It's hardly a metroidvania, but it does feel like you're really out in the universe exploring on your own.

The Metropolis level is probably the most beautiful one in the whole collection
The Metropolis level is probably the most beautiful one in the whole collection

The OST is outstanding. Occasionally you get something a bit too bombastic or with too many spooky retro scifi sounds, but overall I dig many of these tracks. Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal both have some amazing songs as well, but I definitely think 1 has the most exceptional lineup of bangers.

A big difference from 1 compared to Ratchet 3 and especially more modern games is the rate of dialogue. Almost all games these days have some kinda audio logs, maybe some minor NPCs talking in the background, perhaps an Oracle talking to you on the radio in your ear. But Ratchet 1 only has chatter whenever you meet an NPC and enter a cutscene. I'd call it delightfully retro. I guess I can see how someone might think it's lonely, or missing out on a chance to further characterize our leads, but honestly I was just relieved I didn't need to have a support character yapping in my ear the whole time. Even Spider-Man has that now, and dude used to just talk to himself. There's something to be said for just playing a game while enjoying the music and the action without someone delivering lines over it all. I don't wanna play Mario Galaxy or whatever and listen to Peach and Luigi doing comedic radio skits over the gameplay. From what I've seen of the later Ratchet games, they do eventually go down this road, and I can't say I'm looking forward to it.

The HD collection has this terrible bug where the final boss doesn't have its music playing, leading to me putting it on in youtube instead, which is hardly ideal. I dunno if it was like this in the original, but the music also doesn't loop at all. It just reaches the end, briefly stops, and then starts up again from the beginning. That's a janky thing to have for what otherwise feels like a polished game.

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If there's anything weak here, it's the puzzles, which are comically simple and will remain that way for the rest of the series. In games like Zelda, there's usually multiple ways to use an item. You might be navigating several floors of a dungeon, opening and closing the right doors or lowering and raising water to access new areas. It's not rocket science or anything, but they're decent brain teasers. Even in Breath of the Wild, I'll get stuck on a shrine or Divine Beast puzzle once in a while.

In Ratchet, puzzles usually amount to navigating a straight path by just pressing a button. This is especially clear with the gadget that removes or adds water to specific areas. Unlike Zelda, this gadget adds or removes water from a pool right in front of you rather than changing an entire temple. It's never difficult, and it just feels like tedious busywork. Especially since you don't want to keep gadgets in your quick select when you could be keeping the cool weapons there. It's not much more fun when you gotta pull out a gadget for a hacking minigame, or when Clank takes over for a brief section and has to guide minions through obstacle courses. I'm not sure I ever got stuck on any of these, besides a tricky late-game hacking puzzle or two. But at least the puzzles aren't both tedious and hard, they're easily overcome. You just finish them quickly and move on.

If I'm doing petty nitpicks, then the credits are also pretty crap. They're just static screens of stages with the mega dramatic music from the final level playing, which doesn't really give you that wonderful feeling of closure you'd like at the end of a journey. No Ocarina of Time credits for these guys either, that's for sure. This goes for all of the games. At least the actual ending sequences tend to be good.

I'd also be remiss not to mention the camera controls. For some reason the Ratchet games all default to what me, and I expect most people, would call inverted. Least you can change that instantly.

This can't have been the first game with a weapon wheel, but I don't think I've played an earlier game that uses it
This can't have been the first game with a weapon wheel, but I don't think I've played an earlier game that uses it

One rough patch for me was my first encounter with the checkpoints. The game usually only revives you after you've passed whatever counts as a "part", so sometimes you're slowly making your way through a section only to miss one jump and start right back at the beginning, which can be frustrating. Probably a reason modern games tend to only take a point off your health when that happens. Ratchet isn't very punishing, however. Besides getting sent back to the last checkpoint, you keep all your money, so it doesn't feel like much of an hindrance. As long as you earn more bolts than you gotta spend to refill your ammo, you're golden. It's just a bit of old school flavor I forgot was going to be here back in 2002.

It's easy to tell how this became such a long-running series. It's a (for the time) beautiful game that's got a lot of memorable tunes and a stellar story. Even now it moves at mostly 60fps and plays well. It's got it's own identity, too. It might play in the 3d platformer pool, but it brought with it gunplay, snappy dialogue and an uncommon setting. It feels like Sonic for a new age, fitting well with Sony's Dreamworks to Nintendo's Disney. It's not exactly "mature", but it was perfectly positioned to grab the kids for whom Mario started to feel too kiddy. I remember my step-brother, who was like 11 or 12 at the time, sold me his Gamecube while he got himself a PS2 with GTA San Andreas and Ratchet 3. Back then I felt it was his loss, but in retrospect I might value Ratchet & Clank a lot higher than I value Super Mario Sunshine.

Ratchet & Clank: Going Commando

The second game in the series sees some clear changes right off the bat. The devs had gotten a lot of responses that people didn't like Ratchet being a jerk, especially to Clank, so efforts were made to make him more likeable. They changed his voice actor to someone doing a voice that sounds a bit older. He always jumps to Clank's defense here, and he no longer picks any fights or acts selfishly. Instead he instantly jumps at the chance to be a hero when it's offered to him by the CEO of Megacorp a galaxy away, and essentially becomes his soldier. Ratchet's lines are rather "Yes Sir, right away Sir!" this time around. He's a lot closer in terms of personality to Clank in 1 in terms of naivity, too. At one point they're obviously betrayed by the man they're working for, and opposite the first game, it's Clank who gets upset while Ratchet doesn't even believe they were betrayed.

I'm not a big fan of this new depiction of Ratchet. I never felt he was annoying in the first game, he was a fun character to watch bounce off the rest of the cast, especially Clank, and he underwent a journey in that first game to become a truly heroic character by the end. I definitely never thought he was too mean to Clank. They had their fights for sure, but that didn't last for all of that game and was an important part of building their relationship. At the ending, I was close to getting teary-eyed at how good friends they had become. Here, he just kinda seems like this dumb, "always follow orders" kinda straightlaced dude. If you were just writing "a hero", this might be what you come up with. There's only a single scene of Ratchet's I enjoyed in Going Commando, and that bummed me out.

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There is a reason for his change in the story, with the game opening on Ratchet & Clank having sat on their asses for months with nobody needing their help anymore. Ratchet finding purpose in his new job and enjoying being on an adventure again can explain his sudden shift in behavior to an extent. But there's also no point where he realizes what a mess he's gotten himself into or regrets yes man-ing obviously evil people.

The rest of the plot is kinda frustrating in the same way.

Look, there's a couple of twists in here, so for politiness' sake I'm gonna spoiler tag it all. Suffice to say, if you don't want to be spoiled, let me just say it frustrated me.

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The main conceit is that Ratchet & Clank are working for the CEO of Megacorp to retrieve an experiment that was stolen from them, the Protopet. But it's pretty obvious that when a gigantic corporation with an eccentric boss is after a lost experiment of theirs, they're probably not up to anything good. You fight the thief who took the experiment for a while, only for him to reveal that yes, Megacorp are gonna ruin the galaxy with the Protopet. And even then Ratchet believes the man who hired him just hasn't heard about it and spends the rest of the game trying to get him to answer his calls.

The thief, Angela, is easy to figure out is actually a good guy. Naturally. But her personality changes in and out of costume to a ridiculous degree that makes the whole twist not make much sense. At one point she home invades Ratchet & Clank's apartment and straps Clank to a torture rack, electrocuting him.

Like, for what? 'Cause Ratchet alone has been chasing after her tail? You'd think that would get brought up again, right? If only in a "Sorry for giving you the Ocelot treatment", "Don't worry about it, I was once struck by lightning" kinda way. It just doesn't make much sense considering their relationship after that, and the same goes for the stages you chase after her too. She doesn't really need anything to destroy the Protopet besides that big missile at the end(and does she? I kill a lot of protopets just with my guns), so what's with her just traveling from planet to planet? There's no important established reasons for Angela to go where she's going. With Drek, he was going from planet to planet picking up ingredients for his new one. Like it's Bowser's wedding in Mario Odyssey or something. You're just following on his or Qwark's trail that whole game. It's not like there was never a hokey reason to move to a new planet, but you had a feeling that where you were going was actually helping your quest. With Angela it's both more aimless and obviously a set-up, so it just comes off as a wild-goose chase.

Thugs-4-less are funny. The main leader they've got is probably the best bad guy in the game, even if he doesn't have a name. He gets like three boss fights and a lot of cutscenes building him up as this bruiser running a very effective operation. The thug joke as a whole might just be emasculation, all of these barbaric, cutthroat mooks talking about their sensitivities and picnic parties and so on. But the thug leader himself is the closest you've got to someone actually being an active and clear antagonist to Ratchet & Clank. He's good for a joke, but he also works as a threat. It's just a shame they're only hired guns, changing their allegiance when Angela reveals Megacorp is up to no good. If the leader had more of an ambition, I could see him trying to take over the operation and become the final boss himself. That could've been kinda neat.

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The final bad guy is the most bizarre writing so far in the series. Mr. Fizzwidget, the Megacorp CEO, was the one who pulled Ratchet & Clank into his galaxy in the first place. He then hires Ratchet & Clank, at various points expects them to die or sends them into obvious death traps, at one point betraying them by breaking their spaceship and stranding them on a desert planet, and later hiring thugs to get them even though they're his own employees. It's played off as if Fizzwidget is getting a bit old, if you see what I mean. "He's not evil, he's probably just confused".

Then right at the end, before the final boss fight, the truth is revealed: It was Qwark all along! After working for Drek in the first game, he ventured to another galaxy to start over. He's been impersonating Fizzwidget all along, and he's planning to show up to stop the Protopets himself, gaining recognition as a hero again. It's a weird turn of events to say the least. There hasn't been a hint of Qwark in any of Fizzwidget's mannerisms, when Qwarks' greatest attempt at disguise last time was changing his name to Steve. Like, it's pretty funny. It's a reasonable thing for Qwark to try to pull off, or at least, it isn't out of character. But it comes out of nowhere and makes little sense considering what came before, and Qwark is such a non-treathening villain that everything kinda fizzles out once it's revealed that he's the brains behind it all.

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The intro cutscene is him talking to himself in character as Fizzwidget about how perfect Ratchet & Clank are for the whole experiment mission business. He's sitting there trying to fool the audience rather than anyone else. Later on in the game, there's a lot of buildup about Megacorp's bad business practices - the desert level you get stuck on was a jungle world they ruined, for instance. That's not something Qwark did. His involvement just comes off as something the devs decided on at the last minute, and doesn't solve the frustrating parts of the plot where Ratchet is just following his orders or keeps getting fooled by his excuses. This is the same guy who was suspicious of Qwark after all of a single mission in 1, and here he's got undying faith in the man's acting.

It also means that unlike 1, there's nowhere in the story where things really feel dire for our heroes. Ratchet might occasionally make an angry face, but it's limited to that as far as the emotions go. There's no heart here like Ratchet & Clank's friendship in 1, Clank's mom, Ratchet's quite genuine anger at Drek and so on. A rogue pet killing the population is silly in the first place, but then finding out it's Qwark who's behind it deflates any kinda drama about it. It feels anticlimactic, especially when the final boss is such a pushover. We're not on the third game yet, but unlike 3, I don't think this game nails both being comedic and also having stakes and strong bad guys. It's just got the silly comedy part, and it's also not as funny as 3's comedy is.

Angela's alright. She's clumsy, which is a very 90s/2000s Disney heroine trait. I think it's cute that standing up, she's like twice Ratchet's height, presumably so she'd be a little bit intimidating as the thief.
Angela's alright. She's clumsy, which is a very 90s/2000s Disney heroine trait. I think it's cute that standing up, she's like twice Ratchet's height, presumably so she'd be a little bit intimidating as the thief.

Finally, Angela and Clank's girlfriend/stalker are kinda strange as love interests. In Ratchet 1, neither protagonist had anything resembling a love interest, but here they both get one in a fairly non-committal kinda way. Ratchet acts all awkward around Angela, but it doesn't seem as if anything comes of it besides a couch conversation right in the ending. Maybe he just has like a Bond girl every game from now on, considering he ends up making out with Sasha in Up Your Arsenal and I think he's got some other girl come the Future games? Meanwhile, Clank's girlfriend(who's... an infobot?) has no lines, and only seems to be there to help them out of prison and deliver the Qwark video right at the end. It's not exactly a love story for the ages, even if I did laugh when Clank's head spins in excitement as she shows him what she likes to do on weekends.

(This isn't a slight on 2's story, but it's even more out of place when these characters don't have anything to do in 3. I guess it's not unusual to have heroes that go from place to place, meeting new friends and getting involved in a local conflict before moving on. But it's an odd aside in a series that otherwise brings back so many old characters. It's not like Dick Gumshoe, Harry Butz or Edgeworth are abandoned for the sequels to Phoenix Wright, to put it like that. )

None of this ruins the story, but it gives it this overall vague and unsatisfying feeling. The goals are unclear, the plot doesn't totally hang together, the characters feel off and the most recurring bad guy doesn't even get a name.

It's just weird, man. Maybe this story isn't something most people care about, it's still only about an hour of the whole experience, but I was very disappointed at getting this plot as the direct follow-up to Ratchet 1, where I adored the story. I don't think it's a trashfire or anything, but I don't think it completely fits together either.

Megapolis is the most drab-looking stage in any of these games, especially when contrasted with Metropolis, which I guess is the point. On a different note, maybe I should just get to the Jak HD ports after this.
Megapolis is the most drab-looking stage in any of these games, especially when contrasted with Metropolis, which I guess is the point. On a different note, maybe I should just get to the Jak HD ports after this.

The gameplay, on the other hand, has seen a lot of positive change. In the first game it was rare to have big combat encounters with multiple enemies. You usually only had to deal with a couple of the bigger ones or many smaller ones that were easily dispatched. Going Commando introduces strafing into the mix, and it made for a big difference. In Ratchet 1 you were stuck with the auto-aim in the direction you looked, and while you could do a few flips and shoot during them it wasn't exactly ideal. Now you can run in whatever direction you want while still aiming at the enemy, gaining easy access to flips in the process, and it's enabled a whole new type of combat.

They can throw enemy after enemy at you, and even then they just won't stand a chance because of your newfound mobility. The hordes you have to face in this game are completely overwhelming compared to 1, and it's an exciting challenge even when you're powerful yourself. Way more enemies spawn in than before, which... can be a little annoying. Fighting a huge swarm of enemies is marvelous. Fighting two or three guys that keep spawning in from teleporters, that's more like playing whack-a-mole. It felt more fair when you could see the enemies up ahead and not be worried that defeating them would send in another wave.

Your weapons have also been changed. Ratchet 1 featured various mines, a glove that produced bombs, a blaster with a limited range, and so on. Many of them were effective and fun, but Going Commando blows them out of the water with the new weapons. The Pyrocitor is made obsolete by the Lava Gun, the Blaster is replaced by the much more powerful Lancer, the Glove of Doom by the Synthenoids, and so on. Most of the old weapons show up in a new form. New additions like the Blitz Gun, the Miniturret Glove and the Seeker Gun become hard to imagine playing the game without, helpful as they are. The Blitz Gun especially has that good FUS RO DAH feling where a huge blast just wrecks enemies right in front of you.

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Additionally, there's a bit of an RPG element to the weapons now. The more you use them, the more experience they gain, and upon leveling up the weapon will change into a more powerful version. The bomb is a spectacular introduction to the system, as it changes from a regular explosion to a Mini-Nuke, with an appropriate mushroom-shaped cloud. Ratchet himself gains experience too, gaining more HP once in a while, as opposed to the first game where you could take 4 hits for most of that game. I feel like you die faster in Going Commando, maybe there's less invincibility after you take damage or something, but it works out overall I'd say. Finally, the quick select menu actually pauses the game unlike in the first game, allowing you to easily swap to whatever you need in any given situation, when before you either had to rely on your previous weapon or run away to a safer position. It all adds up to some much more intense action gameplay in this game compared to 1.

You can still get some of the old weapons from Ratchet 1, for free if you've got a save lying around even, which is nice. But the damage scaling has left them behind, and they quickly become completely pointless. The Visibomb in ratchet 1 used to 1-hit kill enemies from across the map. By the end of this game, you need like ten of them to take down a single tank. These weapons also don't evolve. In short, they did a better job with 3, when the weapons from 2 return and are still valuable, the Plasma Coil being one of the most powerful weapons you can get.

Levels always have shortcuts back to the start from the end of paths. These taxis take care of it whenever the layout doesn't. They mostly work fine, but I swear one taxi on Kerwan in 3 hit a sign or something and Ratchet slid off the edge to his death.
Levels always have shortcuts back to the start from the end of paths. These taxis take care of it whenever the layout doesn't. They mostly work fine, but I swear one taxi on Kerwan in 3 hit a sign or something and Ratchet slid off the edge to his death.

Content hasn't been skimped on this time around, either. There are still multiple paths on most of the planets and various smaller mechanics and setpieces all around, like a bit where you fight on a moving train and sections where you're piloting a hangglider(perhaps the hardest part of the game is the last one of these). Grind rails return and are still stellar.

There are a couple of big, open sandboxy areas now, where you can collect crystals for cash. It's a bit of a grind that's not very fun to do, and the second one is probably the worst part of the game for how aggressive and endless its enemies are, but y'know, it's something different to do. The first one is a bit novel since there hasn't been anything else like that in the series so far. The shine just wears of fast when there isn't as much something to explore as it's just a crystal, a big enemy and a swarm of smaller enemies dotting the map every few metres.

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I heartily recommend you save the grinding for when you pick up the charge boots, too. They're this cool new gadget that works sort of like the Pegasus Boots from A Link to the Past, where you can activate a thruster in your boots to fly forward at high speeds. Then after a few seconds, the speed slows down considerably and you become more manouverable instead. I wish you could just move more at that same high speed. Ratchet can't run, so besides the long jump this is the only regular movement option he has that makes it feel like you're moving fast. It's fun to move quickly, but not so much when it's mostly useful for just clearing long distances. I wanna dart around the enemies, not only make a commute less tedious.

While Ratchet's moveset has been reduced a bit (there is no longer any difference between the jetpack and the helicopter pack I'm able to tell, leaving it entirely up to personal preference), there's still plenty of platforming here. One new addition is spherical worlds, a couple miniature planets that operate like they later would in Super Mario Galaxy. There's a reason people talk more about the Galaxy planets, however. Maybe it was more impressive back then, but now it just seems like they probably spent a lot of time on making these subpar Mario Galaxy-likes. The gravity boots are more of a success. They were already in Ratchet 1, but here you can actually shoot, walk normally, and jump while walking on walls. It's a solid addition! On one planet you're fighting through a building, walk out onto a balcony, which then folds out and suddenly you're having a shootout on the side of a building. That's awesome.

There's a ton more boss fights in this game. This one incorporates Giant Clank and a spherical world, which works out well. There's another one later on that keeps spawning enemies that can knock you about and is a nightmare to deal with because of it. I'll also call out the secret boss on the first stage as one of the best bosses, and the giant robot you fight with turrets as one of the most tedious.
There's a ton more boss fights in this game. This one incorporates Giant Clank and a spherical world, which works out well. There's another one later on that keeps spawning enemies that can knock you about and is a nightmare to deal with because of it. I'll also call out the secret boss on the first stage as one of the best bosses, and the giant robot you fight with turrets as one of the most tedious.

Hoverboard races have been replaced with Hoverbike races, which seem to move much faster and are a much better change of pace than the hoverboard races were because of it. They feel more exciting to play, regardless of how much technical difference there is. Space combat has been more fleshed out this, with several missions dedicated to it and a whole progression system for your ship, but it's not really my favorite. In Ratchet 1 enemies basically just flew in front of your ship, limiting any issue with aiming, and you only did it for a couple of brief segments. Fleshing it out into a bigger thing is... admirable, but maybe misguided, 'cause I don't think it's satisfying enough to be more than a quick diversion, and the changes they've made to the controls made it less accessible for me than the sections in Ratchet 1.

The Arenas are the big new attraction, the perfect place to showcase how much the combat has changed. You get wave after wave of enemies and bosses, in two different arenas with their own enemies, and a ton of challenges in each. I spent hours in both of them. You get to the first one pretty early on, and it was the most fun I had since I started playing, distracting me from the story I was frustrated with.

I don't think there's a worse enemy in the series than this guy
I don't think there's a worse enemy in the series than this guy

While Going Commando is still a good game, I can't see myself playing through it again anytime soon when I disliked the story so much. The context for what you do matters here. There's great gameplay in Going Commando, but if I'm always annoyed at what got me there that's not an enjoyable experience. And while I like some of its side activities, a lot of them I'm kinda "eeeh" on. Although I can easily recommend it for the gameplay, it's the game out of the trilogy I'm the most lukewarm on.

Ratchet & Clank: Up Your Arsenal

The final game in the collection really shows us how far we've come in the gaming landscape as a whole. Ratchet & Clank started out as a platformer/shooter hybrid, but with this game they dropped almost all of the platforming and exploration and made a shooter campaign instead.

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Ratchet & Clank return to their home galaxy after news that a race of aliens called the Tyhrranoids are invading Veldin. Upon their return they're promptly inducted into the Galactic Rangers, an army of robot soldiers working for their commander named Sasha and the president of the galaxy, operating out of the Starship Phoenix. Who knows what they were doing during Drek's invasion in the first game. Maybe the galaxy decided they needed some better defenses after that war? Starship Phoenix acts as a hub, and it's pretty nice to have a homebase in one of these games.

It's soon revealed that the Tyhrranoids are lead by a megalomaniacal supervillain called Dr. Nefarious. He's a mad scientist type character who's also a tall robot, and he's a pretty excellent villain. Nefarious is out of this world, a cartoon character who expresses himself with an shouty voice and extreme body language. Drek was a serious businessman, Qwark was a self-interested, larger-than-life celebrity, the thief was a disgrunted former employee and Fizzwidget was a kooky old CEO. Dr. Nefarious is beyond wacky, and he doesn't tie into the old themes of 1 and 2 about the whole consumerist/capitalist nature of the setting, but there's a reason he's beloved. He's super likeable, getting tons of funny lines and scenes, and he's a clear and direct threat the entire game. They've given him a butler robot named Lawrence, who follows all of his orders while taking the piss out of him on the sly. Together they're a great comedic duo.

Qwark was the oone who beat Nefarious back in the day, somehow, so Ratchet & Clank get hold of him and bring him up to the Starship Phoenix. Soon he's the leader of the whole operation, recruits minor NPCs from Ratchet 1 to serve as sidekicks, and sends you out on missions to locate and stop Dr. Nefarious.

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My favorite part of Ratchet 3's story is how hilarious it is. Ratchet 1 was a comedy, but it was very down to earth. It relied on dry, cynical, snappy dialogue rather than any slapstick antics. The villain was a serious threat more than he was a joke delivery system, and there were plenty of dramatic scenes. Ratchet 2 leaned wackier, but here in Ratchet 3 they've gone way beyond that. They've also hired their first proper writer and done a ton of cutscenes that've got more going on than just conversations or commercials. The story overall is more of a focus, with about 20 more minutes of cutscenes, and much more NPC chatter over the radio during missions. It's more of an animated comedy kids movie now, with jokes every second and nothing serious ever really happening. Or being taken very seriously, anyway.

I was kind of afraid I'd loathe this game's story considering how much I liked the tone and storytelling of Ratchet 1, but while Ratchet 3 is silly and there's no real thematic core anymore, all the jokes are so much fun and the cutscenes so animated I had a very good time. Boring military crap and following orders from dumbasses would usually be too annoying for me to bother with. I'd rather go on an adventure on my own. But this game is enough of a spoof that it didn't actually get on my nerves. Ratchet is instantly made sargeant of the regular grunts and doesn't suck up to Qwark the way he did to Fizzwidget, so that's all good.

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Up Your Arsenal is the game that gave us Courtney Gears, the Britney Spears robot that had a music video about how organic lifeforms stink and how she's gonna love killing them all. It's phenomenal. I could take or leave the NPC chatter and Ratchet is never gonna return to the character he was, but he gets way more funny lines and scenes this time around. I can't complain about the story when I'm enjoying it this much, even if it is different from how we started out. The focus on Ratchet & Clank, Qwark, Nefarious, Lawrence, Courtney Gears and the crew of the Starship Phoenix fit this more action-movie tale rather than a galactic exploration, everyone getting multiple scenes and more screentime than ever before. They made the right story for the kinda game they were making.

It's not entirely fantastic. Clank has this movie career now that doesn't tie into the plot all that naturally, and Nefarious' hatred for all things organic isn't a natural conclusion from his origin story or challenged by the characters in the game. But I think the funny bits and the clear goals and funny characters help smooth over any plot holes or strange asides.

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I'm a bit more split on the gameplay. As I mentioned, Ratchet has now fully transformed into a third person shooter, complete with a control scheme that allows you to aim with the right stick as you move with the left, firing with R1 rather than the circle button(although the game still supports the old controls). This was the game that Sony wanted online multiplayer in, and it shows all over development. Lock on is all fine and good against enemies, but in a PVP environment you want to be able to aim wherever you want.

It allows you to play it even more as an action game than before - you don't have to use it to get through the story, but it definitely helps, and I think it's the way to play. Props for adding a button to the vendors that lets you refill ammo for every weapon at once, that's some needless busywork eliminated. I dunno if I'm all in on weapons evolving more than once, however. Here you can level up a weapon 4 times on your first run through, and while that's effective at making me use them more, it doesn't have that same impact as one weapon level up in the last game, the bonuses each level not really feeling that special. Even then, I adore a lot of the weapons here, the roster is maybe even better than back in 2. While the changes don't feel as overwhelming as the changes from 1 to Going Commando were, I definitely prefer this combat.

I think planet Daxx is the only stage in the game with three paths. In the development commentary I've been watching, it's the only stage described as being a
I think planet Daxx is the only stage in the game with three paths. In the development commentary I've been watching, it's the only stage described as being a "parody" of Ratchet stages. In practice, it's the only stage left that resembles a stage from Ratchet 1.

The level design has completely changed from Ratchet 1. There's only a single planet I can think of with three paths right from the go, and only a couple of them even have two. You don't explore anymore, meeting funny NPCs along the way, you just travel down to a location to shoot some mooks. This is a military corridor shooter game now, most stages being entirely linear affairs where you go through mostly combat sections(with NPCs along for the ride, natch) and then an occasional simple puzzle or the new hacking minigame. You don't have to go back and forth between planets to open up new paths anymore, on account of there being no paths to open up. There's also no longer any NPCs you gotta pay to keep the story going, one more thematic element removed now that the story is no longer about that, and also for the convenience of the plauer.

Grind rails, the paraglider, space combat, racing, almost all instances of swimming, the jetpack that let you hover around in Going Commando, that's all completely gone. Instead, you get a single arena and one spherical world, a handful of sections where you drive a buggy around an open area, a bunch of horde mode style challenges set in the multiplayer maps and a hovership used exclusively for these maps and the final battle. I like the Arena as a bonus, but when the main game requires you to do so many of these horde mode sections as part of the main path, I think that's a bit of a problem. I'm already getting all the shooting I need just from the regular stages here, which makes them feel like cheap padding.

These multiplayer maps are especially simple looking compared to the stages in earlier games, but even in general, I think most of Up Your Arsenal's stages look worse than the older ones. Don't get me wrong, there are a few good ones here, especially Florana and parts of the Aquatos level. But putting 1's and 3's stages side by side it's clear something has been lost.

Put this Metropolis next to the picture of Metropolis from 1, and it's clear we've taken a step back
Put this Metropolis next to the picture of Metropolis from 1, and it's clear we've taken a step back

In terms of just visual design, 3 follows the shooter trends of the mid 2000s by having a large number of dull desert stages. It's not ideal. After the fact, I have this overwhelming impression of Ratchet 3 as a very red and brown and yellow game. The older Ratchets had desert worlds too, but they were nowhere near as common as here. And, presumably because they didn't need to be huge battlefields, they could afford to put in better details and lighting.

Instead of unique enemies on all the planets you visit, you're stuck with the Tyhrranoids for many stages, mostly broken up with the same humanoid robot troopers. The Tyhrranoids have a good five or six variations so it's not like you're stuck fighting only two enemies, but it does mean you're gonna be seeing a whole lot of these dudes. There are some old enemies that return from Ratchet 1 as well - but like the NPCs that join Qwark's force, it's hard to know if this was a decision based on what made most sense for the story or on reusing old assets. The magnet boots return, but for some reason the camera is nauseating. Maybe combining a third person shooter camera with an environment like that wasn't the best idea ever. You collect crystals in sewer tunnels this time around, which makes it feel like even more of a grind(and a real trial once you get the magnet boots and now can't avoid walking on the walls of the sewer tunnels, spinning the camera constantly).

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One entirely new feature are the Qwark vid-comics, a series of short Mega Man-esque platformer levels. I'm sure someone loves these, but for me it's one of the worst 2D platformers I've ever tried. We're talking barely above Pagemaster levels here, people. Less Mega Man and more Daffy Duck. The camera doesn't move how you want it to. The music is unbearable. The jumping is somehow both very steerable and yet never precise (Maybe it's not floaty enough? Maybe it's that you can't adjust your speed and momentum Mario style, yet it's very fast and loose?). And all the enemies seem to be placed to bother you the absolute most.

It makes me respect the people at Nintendo even more for having made so many classics of the genre, when even seasoned devs like Insomniac can't make a good one. To be fair, it is just a minigame in the context of Ratchet 3, but I always dreaded when it was time to play another stage to progress the campaign. I think this sort of stuff is better the less there is of it in the game. Ratchet 1 had a ton of brief diversions, but none of them took up a significant portion of the game the way this does. It doesn't matter if they're shallow as long as they're fun for their ten minutes of screentime. When it takes up as much time as Qwark's vid-comics or the space combat in 2, I kinda expect to get more then they can give me.

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Once upon a time, whether you were okay with the reduced content came down to how much fun you thought the multiplayer was. But the multiplayer aspect of Ratchet 3 is dead, the online on the HD collection shut off. Even back on the PS2, you needed an online adapter to get to it, and I can't imagine that was a ton of people. You could still play it locally, but that's about it.

At this point, how you feel about the reduced content mostly comes down to how fine you are with the improvements on the gunplay and the funny story. Variety isn't everything. While it might seem like the focus on the multiplayer interfered with what the single player can do, I think they tried honing in on the combat that would be central to both and make it as good as possible. This game is objectively a poorer game than 2 or especially 1 was in terms of bang for your buck, in terms of variety, in terms of the quality of the art design. But personally, the new shooting and the great script still kept me entertained. I might enjoy more aspects of 2's level design, but 3's jokes and shooting certainly beats it out. And it's such a changed game from 1 that it's difficult to compare the two. I'm totally alright with this game doing something different that was still very fun. It would have benefited from some more inclusions of elements from the first two games (grind rails spring immediately to mind) and prettier environments, and the story isn't necessarily the most coherent despite being very funny. But it still works for what it is, and I could see myself returning to it many times. In part because it is so straightforward, although they also added a sweet bolt multiplier to new game+ for killing several enemies in a row.

For the record, while I watched my brother play through a bunch of Ratchet 3 and played some local multiplayer with him, I barely remembered anything about it except for Courtney Gears' video. It's possible that without any unique setpiece levels or different gameplay modes to set them apart, the stages blend together and make it hard to recall specifics. Same for the story, when everything is a joke.

The HD collection, Deadlocked, the Future series, and the remake

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The HD ports of these games are largely decent, translating the old games well into something that still looks good. But there are some glitches here and there, and it's hard for me to tell what visual jank or glitch is the fault of these new devs or the old ones who made these games in the first place.

In particular, the HD port for the fourth Ratchet game, Deadlocked, looks pretty atrocious. Way more than any minor glitches and visual hiccups I've seen in the first three games. There is some occasional jank there, too - the loading seems to take a second longer to kick in or something, so scene transitions are often preceded by a split second of the characters just standing in a level. Ratchet's eyelids and helmet can act a little strangely, some weird clipping issues going on there. Snow effects are missing, and the water occasionally looks... off. The ninja enemies in Ratchet 3 are supposed to drop from the ceiling, so once I just saw them jump up first and then hang in the air waiting for me, presumably meant to be off-screen. Haven't seen that since Origa in Death's Gambit last year.

But it's nothing compared to Deadlocked, where people constantly jitter around from pose to pose in cutscenes, and faces do... very weird things. I dunno if I'll eventually give Deadlocked a shot, but maybe if I hold out long enough it might receive a better port.

This is from a cutscene
This is from a cutscene

Going Commando has one of the more bizarre omissions, in that it doesn't have subtitles in Europe. The American version has English subtitles, but for us it's just a greyed out option. I guess they didn't have the time to sub it all in Spanish or whatever in the original, and some rule says you have to do that if you're going to have subtitles? For that reason I had to watch the Going Commando cutscenes twice, going over them after the fact with the subs to get all the nuance.

It's a bother, and especially for your target demographic. Reading English is one thing, understanding some spoken English goes without saying. But you're asking foreign kids for a lot of vocabulary skills if you expect them to just listen to these cutscenes and understand everything people say with no issue.

Besides Deadlocked, Ratchet had quite a long life on PS3 with the Future saga. All of the mainline Ratchet games have been critically well received, but considering how much the story matters for me, I dunno if I'd agree. The Future games seem to go for a different tone, more mystical space macguffins and less cynical businessmen, and I dunno if that's quite my jam. Feels like it would be pretty strange to take Ratchet & Clank in that direction after these games.

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Similarly, the 2016 remake of the first game, meant to coincide with the movie, seems like it combines all tone changes of the later games and drapes them over Ratchet 1. I own the reboot on PSN thanks to PS+, so it doesn't cost me anything to try, but I kinda suspect I won't love it. The movie it takes its story and cutscenes from got like 20% on Rotten Tomatoes, that's not the best sell in the world. Besides, the heavy motion blur/30FPS thing they've got going on now has recently become one of my biggest visual pet peeves of the modern video game era. Just makes my eyes hurt.

That's not to say the remake is a bad game - The actual improvements to the assets look beautiful and I'm sure the controls are pretty tight over 8 games later. I just don't think I could be all in on it if the story changes are as bad as they seem. It's an odd way to remake an already fantastic game, when games like Resident Evil 2 2019 are much more faithful about sticking to the original.

Either way, nothing here is outside of the realm of possibility. I liked these first three games so much I do want to play more Ratchet & Clank adventures eventually.

Further viewing

After playing each game I watched the Developer Commentary by Mike Stout and Tony Garcia, former Insomniac devs who were testers on the first Ratchet and gradually moved up until they were designer and programmer respectively on Up Your Arsenal. Their commentary is invaluable when it comes to learning a bit about the behind the scenes aspects of the games, and they're both funny guys to boot. These guys have been friend since high school and you can tell. Sometimes other people are on it too, most commonly Mike's wife Mary, who was also a tester on several of the games.

Tony's the person responsible for the snow level with the snow beasts in 2, which is probably the worst level in this collection. To be fair, he did it in three days. I wonder if there are similar stories behind all other bad sections of otherwise fun games.

(The commentary was made before 2014, so be ready for the occasional use of "r*tarded" with no shame whatsoever. It's been a long while since the last episode. I hope they get together again for some other game, even if it's not one they worked on).

Insomniac devs usually livestream games... once a week now, I think? I like tuning in for when they have devs commenting over their own games. In this case, a couple of the old devs of Ratchet 1 playing through the first hour or so of that game along with one of their newer employees. Mike and Tony didn't have much creative say in Ratchet 1 so they didn't cover it much, and this episode fills in that gap just a little bit. See also the Ratchet episode of Devs Play with Tim Schafer and Ted Price.

This movie-length critique of the original Ratchet & Clank and its reboot is one of my favorite videos on youtube. It's snappy, funny, really insightful and compares the two games very effectively. Youtube analysis videos of games tend to be either a bit dry or shouty for me. You often get either super dull academic stuff or angry video game nerd yelling. Charlie's cheeky persona here manages to both entertain and critique, and it flows so well I've watched it many times even though it's incredibly long. His love of the old game kinda balances out his loathing for the remake, in my opinion, and his nitpicks are alright 'cause they're funny. This review is what made me want to go search out the Ratchet games in the first place, so if I haven't convinced you with my own review, try this guy.

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Anyway, I hope I could bring a little bit of attention to old Ratchet & Clank even as we're sandwiched between releases like the Resident Evil 2 remake, Kingdom Hearts 3, Sekiro and Devil May Cry V. The thematic core, the actual story, that's strongest in the first game, which I feel is often the case. You make one solid, emotional, lowkey, moody game, and then for the next ones you up the action and wackiness gradually until there's hardly anything left of the original tone.

Ratchet & Clank have the advantage that Going Commando and Up Your Arsenal are still excellent games, even if 3 did move away from the original and 2 has some serious story issues. It wouldn't surprise me if lots of folks plain can't go back to Ratchet 1 after 2 and 3 made it into more of a shooter. It just depends on taste. Do you lean closer to good third person shooting or good 3d platforming? Do you value variety and polish or stronger iteration on a combat system? Can you stomach bad 2d platformers or plain space combat sections more easily? Do you prefer something low-key and open or something more intense and linear? Would you rather have a focus on the protags or on the funny bad guys and fside characters?

They're all well worth playing, and I can imagine any of these games being someone's favorite in the series. I might have given 2 some shit, but I still thoroughly enjoyed most aspects of that game.

From the outside you always heard jokes about how the only thing they changed between Ratchet games was the color of the UI, but I've found that to be some bullshit in practice. These games changed a lot despite being annual releases, and I think they all have their place.

If you find yourself missing the 3d platformers of yore but haven't tried these out yet, give the Ratchet & Clank trilogy a shot. In the gaming landscape of today, they're a breath of fresh air. There's nothing else quite like them. Thanks for reading!

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Redhotchilimist's Manga Adaptations and Backlog of 2019 - Recommendations Wanted Edition

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In 2019, a lot of manga I've read is getting an adaptation. Originally, I was planning on writing a blog about manga I'm reading that should get an anime adaptation. Then, one by one, almost all of them got announced. I'm gonna do a bit of a public service announcement and talk about my impressions of the comics to give you all a heads up on what might be worth looking out for. In theory, anyway. You never know if a manga adaptation is gonna get the love it deserves or if it's gonna fizzle out in mediocrity.

However, I'd like to end the blog with asking for help. This year, rather than following all these adaptations(and hopefully some good original stuff) live and get drowned in anime, I want to get some of my backlog out of the way. I'll list a bunch of shows with maybe a line or two of what I expect or why I put it in the Plan To Watch list in the first place, and then I'd love some help from the readers to figure out which I should actually attempt to go for first.

Manga I'm reading that's getting an anime

Dr. Stone

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My favorite out of the newcomers to shonen jump, it depicts an Earth where everyone were turned to stone in a flash of light. Thousands of years later, our protag child genius Senku awakes in what's essentially a new stone age and starts turning other people back to normal. However, in a desperate situation he has to revive a particularly brutal man for help, and that man wants to become the ruler of a new world rather than reviving everyone turned to stone. Senku's scientific ways are put against this dude's super strong warrior ways. You get to follow along as Senku tries rebuilding all of Earth's science from what you can find out in the forest, which is extremely fun as a concept for a shonen. Very different from training or other ways of getting power ups, but definitely in that same spirit.

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It's written by Riichiro Inagaki, the writer behind Eyeshield 21, and drawn by Boichi, a stellar Korean manhwa and manga artist currently living in Japan that I mostly know for Wallman. It's a real good mix, Inagaki knows exactly how to write an energetic shonen story so each chapter feels exciting and like it's progressing the story, while Boichi's artwork has an amazing energy all of its own. Neither of these dudes are rookies, and it absolutely shows. Every single chapter you'll get at least one big moment, impressive drawing or dramatic turn. I think Boichi's illustrations are gonna be too porny for a lot of people, it's the kinda drawings you look at and can instantly tell he once made some art. That either lands for you or it doesn't. But personally I love the mix of good artwork, sexy poses, scientific edutainment, naive kindness, heartfelt scenes and dumbass comedy.

There's a joy to the proceedings, and over every piece of the puzzle of technology, from batteries to hot air balloons. "Science" can usually be pretty cold, dry and detached. It tends to be portrayed as something smart people do separately from everyone else, smart people who are jackasses that don't like people. Senku might be Mr. Science, a genius too smart to believe, but he's just as much about people, and recognizing their individual strengths. It's all very wholesome. He genuinely wants to save everyone that got turned to stone, rather than just moving on and starting over.

Stick with it for a few episodes/chapters. Early on, the cast almost entirely changes aside from Senku himself, and I definitely prefer his new allies to his old ones.

Dr Stone will get an anime in July 2019, by TMS.

Dorohedoro

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When I heard the news that Dorohedoro by Q Hayashida is getting an anime adaptation, I couldn't believe my own ears. Dorohedoro is some of the weirdest stuff I've read. It starts out with a slummy postapocalytic-like city. Its inhabitants are weird and are only getting weirder, 'cause wizards from another world keep opening doors into it and try out their new spells on the inhabitants. A couple of friends in the city, a big dude with a crocodile face called Caiman and a dumpling restaurant proprietor named Nikaido, are looking for a way to break the spell that gave Caiman his head. This would easily be done by just killing the wizard, but Caiman's lost his memories and isn't much of a help, so they just keep slaughtering wizards. They'll get the right one eventually.

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In the first few chapters they attract the attention of En, one of the most powerful wizards in the wizard world. Imagine a mob boss, not Gandalf. He sends his hitmen after them while searching for Caiman's identity on his own, fearing him to be an opponent he faced in the past that's returned. So you've got these two teams, the theoretically good guys from the city and the cruel wizards from the wizard dimension, both looking for one another and trying to figure out who Caiman is.

Over a hundred chapters later and I have no fucking idea, man. Dorohedoro has the set up of an action movie. It looks sort of like a sketchier Battle Angel Alita or Eden: It's an Endless World!, both in terms of settings and character designs. It feels very mid 90s/early 2000s( The wizards look like this). But in practice, it plays out more like a guro-styled slice of life.

Caiman's identity is the mystery box hanging over this whole story. It drives everyone's actions, but it takes a long time to learn anything about it. And as you start understanding it, you realize it might have been better not to have bothered - It's a trail of split personalities, memory loss, death, resurrection, possession, extra lives, personifications of hate, clone bodies, very retcon-feeling excuses and absurd magic.

But while Caiman's identity drives the plot, I wouldn't even say Caiman himself is that important, here. The appeal is barely related to him at all. Dorohedoro creates a bizarre feeling mood, all of these magic murderers hanging out in improbably dangerous places and doing their best to live normal lives, even as Hell is literally right below the wizard world and all the wizards make deals with literal devils for their power and status. It's a cool vibe. It's in theory all a big edgefest, but the characters are just as goofy and dumb as they're murderous mobsters. It doesn't have that heavy metal/90s kinda vibe even though it seems like it should.

You spend just as much time with En's hitman squad as you do with Nikaido, Caiman and their friends from the city, maybe even more. And the fascinating part of Dorohedoro is seeing their day-to-day antics and learning about the out-there setting piece by piece, unraveling the mysteries along the way. Mafia wizards who always wear masks, baseball-playing cockroaches, literal hell, more than one completely naked muscular woman, absurd amounts of gore, literal Death, all of this crazy stuff in an oddly light and comedic tone. At one point three cut-off heads have a conversation among each other. It's got the biggest cast of male/female platonic best friends I've ever seen. Dorohedoro is truly weird, in big and tiny ways, even when compared to other anime.

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I've read all of it and was utterly transfixed, pulled along by mystery box bullshit during the slower parts. I don't love it. The story often feels like it was made up along the way, and several characters change personality non-stop in magical ways that are frustrating. It feels like it takes forever to get anywhere, and many of the mysteries just go in circles. Around the 16-18 volume mark it loses the lighthearted tone and becomes plain depressing for a while. In the story, the rain of the human world weakens wizards and might slowly kill them if they're exposed for too long. It rained for a looong time during those last volumes. Nobody had a good time anymore. It brightened up in the end, boy did it brighten up, but there were some rough spots there.

And personally, gore just grosses me out. Especially when it's done in this guro-like manner, where the artist is way into finding new and interesting ways to turn the human body inside out.

But I've never seen anything quite like it, and between the bonkers story, the gratuitous violence and gore and all the naked chicks I just couldn't imagine anyone adapting this. I guess it has to be a Netflix show. Nothing has been announced so far beyond that an anime is coming, so I guess we'll see what happens. But if you give this to a director who gets it, I think we're in for something legendary.

Vinland Saga

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Vinland Saga is made by the team of Makoto Yukimura, the man behind Planetes. Based on the old saga of the same name as well as the general European history of that time, it tells the story of Thorfinn, an orphaned boy shanghaied by vikings. He could escape pretty easily, but he's working for his father's killer, a man who calls himself Askeladd, in order to get a shot at revenge against him in a duel.

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I think it might sound a bit dry on its face, but there's a real down to earthness to the characters mixed with some good Japanese exaggeration. I've read pages of Power Girl flying at the speed of sound that don't look half as exciting as a big viking in Vinland Saga kicking a smaller viking into the air or punching a horse. Because everyone's just portrayed as people, they work equally well in comedic situations as they do when they're forced to work as thralls for years or question their sanity during war atrocities. It's a manga where you can have the occasional comedy bits or lighthearted characters without it ruining the impact of, say, the chapter where a viking breathes his last as he bleeds out on a battlefield and is very disappointed that valkyries don't exist.

The only problem is I'm kinda afraid the anime is gonna suck. I think many of these comics have great drawings that will inevitably suffer in a translation to TV anime, but a lot of historically accurate, gorgeously detailed depictions of vikings and warfare and large-scale fighting really take the cake. I can't really imagine a studio doing them justice. It's either gonna be 2d stills with some yelling over it, or most likely, piss-poor war CG. If the anime does end up sucking, I heartily recommend reading it. It's stellar.

There is some hope, though. It's being made by Wit Studio, the people behind Attack on Titan, Kabaneri of the Iron Fortress and The Ancient Magus' Bride. As far as tv anime goes, this studio works magic, apart from the occasional questionable CG bit. Let's hope.

The first arc they're adapting is the one with all the raping and pillaging of England, and while I won't spoil where it goes, suffice to say the author isn't exactly romanticizing the viking life too much. This is the Golden Age from Berserk segment of the story, to put it like that. It's the Game of Thrones-style atrocity party, with lots of murder and political manouvering, while the next arcs are definitely not.

A bit of my fondness for it is because it's local - while not a ton of it takes place in Norway, it's still familiar to me. But I think it's appealing even if you aren't from around here. It's not like I had heard a thing about the original Vinland Saga until this manga adaptation.

Kengan Ashura

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Kengan Ashura is made by Yabako Sandrovich and Daromeon, neither of whom I know anything about. Kengan Ashura's conceit is that big businesses all over Japan are part of a secret society, the Kengan Association, that settle their disputes through having representative fighters duke it out for the best deals. It soon turns into a big tournament where the winner gets to be chairman of the whole association. So what you get is a whole lot of burly macho dudes beating on another for hundreds of chapters, with political manouvering from the businessmen in the supporting cast.

Kengan Ashura is incredibly fascinating to me as the framework for a Street Fighter story. While not quite as wacky as the Street Fighter universe, there are several characters that feel like they map directly to Street Fighters. The main character in particular, Tokita Ohma, basically has a dark hadou lying dormant in him, and has to mix that with his martial arts training to win. Sekibayashi Jun is a phenomenal pro wrestler that I might like just as much as Zangief. I can just _tell_ how this would be a phenomenal way of writing a proper, long-running Street Fighter manga. They even had a little crossover at one point.

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As a story on its own, I largely like it. The main businessman is in waaay over his head and is very fun to watch as he desperately sweats his way through situations where he ends up looking like he knows what he's doing by accident. And for all the incredible shit-talking the opponents do to one another(one American fighter in particular is dirtbag with a real potty mouth), when the matches are over, most of them are all hanging around chatting like the best of friends. Conflict is for the ring. I like that vibe a lot.

The manga nails an ensemble cast. The focus might be on the main characters, but everyone get their time to shine. That makes it very difficult to predict who's going to win. Which archetype is being played straight and which one is a set up for an upset is hard to tell.

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I don't expect it to be something anyone can get into, it's a very macho show, with not a single woman fighting and a large undercurrent of body building/workout wish fulfillment going on. But I definitely enjoyed it and found more heart underneath the surface than I expected. It presents itself as a violent gladitorial killfest, but very few people actually end up dying in it, even if many of the fighters have violent pasts.

Still, let me deflate anyone's hype right here: It's being adapted by Larx Entertainment, a studio that predominantly works with CG. Judging from the teaser, it's a full CG show, and one that looks as bad as those always do. This wish was a bit of a Monkey Paw one.

The art style in Kengan Ashura is a bit take it or leave it for me - some of the anatomy grosses me out, Grappler Baki style, but a lot of it gets across the immense force and damage of the blows these fighters are suffering, and goes above and beyond in creating a sweaty, rough atmosphere. The damage looks like it hurts terribly, which is important when you're making relatively low-powered fighters and want the punches to have some impact. The faces are often caricatures of real people, and very expressive. I prefer the artist's work when he's doing caricatures to when he's drawing "typical anime" faces. It's not a very "on model" kinda manga, and I don't think it benefits especially from being CG.

It's getting on Netflix, so I expect a lot of people will watch it anyway though.

The Promised Neverland

The Promised Neverland is written by Kaiu Shirai and drawn by Demizu Posuka. This one's Dr. Stone's sibling, one of the new shonen jump stories that started around the same time. It's fairly unusual, which is always a good start. The story out with a bunch of kids in an orphanage, who do unusually hard math, but otherwise just kinda chill in the huge mansion until someone who wants to adopt them shows up. First chapter reveal: The kids who get taken away are killed and eaten by monsters, who are raising them in this orphanage as high-value food. I guess the brain tastes sweeter the better you are at equations.

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From there on, it's a prison escape story with an increasingly huge cage, as the kids try to survive and shut down the whole "children as food" business. It's very tropey, but not very shonen fighting tropey, if you catch my drift. It reminds me much more of adventure books for kids, like I dunno, an Oliver Twist or whatever. The main character is a girl, which is bloody unprecedented as far as shonen fighting I've read goes. If the kids were a little older, I would've thought of it as a Young Adult kinda story.

Rather than powering up, the kids just learn to shoot firearms and move stealthily around. One villain is beaten by tricking him into the hunting grounds of a big monster. Those are the kinda tropes we're working with here. The whole "bred and raised to be smarter so they're more delicious" is taken to extremes, so even five year olds can basically act and communicate as well as teenagers. The main trio of characters, who I think are around 11, are just as smart as adults, if more naive. It's more than a little bit ridiculous, but very convenient. I suppose they're the ultimate underdog, in terms of bodies, anyway. In practicality they're just as capable as older teens would be in other manga.

The first episode is already out. I'm... moderately interested, but I don't love Promised Neverland like I love Dr. Stone. It's got a self-serious vibe that doesn't fit with me that well, and I don't find the moment to moment action and drama as interesting as in, say, Attack on Titan, or One Piece. Or Dr. Stone, for that matter. I think it would work better if I was younger. I could take the crazy parts as seriously as the characters in the story do, and the violence would be much more shocking to me.

Frankly Reg's robot dick gets under my skin more than anything in Promised Neverland
Frankly Reg's robot dick gets under my skin more than anything in Promised Neverland

As it is, there are a lot of other shonen series I think are more fun, and as far as young kids on dangerous adventures way out of their dept goes, I think loli creepfest Made in Abyss is a lot more interesting. It actually feels like a terrifying descent through monster territory, a couple of poor kids on a journey in an adult's world. It's uncomfortable and cruel, but ultimately, hard to not keep reading. Promised Neverland, while perfectly fine and pretty unusual, doesn't really make me feel anything much at all. It does a lot of the talking and planning of an Hunter X Hunter without ever getting to the moments that make me feel. It might just aim for a younger audience, really.

Demizu Posuka is a great illustrator, with beautiful and interesting artwork to his name. But I don't think he's amazing as a manga artist. The human faces in particular look ugly, blobby and off-model a majority of the time, with the occasional bizarre expression. The imagery he gets to draw here isn't as imaginative as what he can do on his own, it feels like his writer doesn't really care that much about the looks of the setting itself. As an artist, while this might be presumptuous of me, I feel like I can tell that the directions given to Pozuka weren't very focused on what's going on with the environment or backgrounds. That's something the anime might improve upon just by sheer force of good background artists.

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The anime is made by Cloverworks, a part of A1 that was recently rebranded. So you get the people who made Persona 5 the Animation and Ace Attorney to animate the manga with the wonky faces, I guess that's appropriate.

Still, I expect it'll be a hit, and if you're looking for something a bit different in the shonen mold it might work well for you. But please bear in mind that I think this manga aims a bit younger than most shonen fare. Like yeah, some kids die in it, but it feels distinctly written for a younger audience to a bigger extent than a lot of these things. Upon reflection, I could've read this when I was 8 and started reading Animorphs, and it would've fit right in with those books.

Fruits Basket

I actually haven't read the manga for this story. Instead, I watched the old anime not too many years ago with a friend. It's pretty much Love Hina for the ladies - it's in that same general genre as shows like Ouran High School Host Club. The advantage of these reverse harems over the harems of the world is that they're pretty light on the whole fanservice thing. Presumably because the target audience get bigger flutters from seeing the boys blush or pushing people up against walls rather than stumbling around in their boxers, the focus is more on silly comedy, traumatic backstories and light sprinklings of romance. That makes it something I can watch as a straight dude without feeling like I walked in the wrong door. The dudes might all be unrelatable anime prettyboys, the anime equivalent of men from romance novels, but I can still enjoy the wacky antics and the emotions of the characters.

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The actual story is about Tohru Honda, this chick who starts living with the Sohma family that picks her up off the street after her mother dies and the other members of her family treat her badly. Now she's living in a house of prettyboys who all share a dark past, as they're being possessed by the chinese zodiac, turning them into animals when they're hugged by people of the opposite sex. Fruits Basket is about Tohru getting to learn about the effed up family relations of the Sohma family and helping individual members out, all the while getting closer to the cold Yuki and the passionate Kyo especially.

Fruits Basket isn't my favorite of these, that's Ouran, but both of them were woefully unfinished back in the early 2000s. Meanwhile, the manga has long since finished, so there's nothing stopping them besides whatever math is going on behind the scenes. I guess someone at TMS decided that banking on finishing a beloved old anime would be worth the money, even if it's been a whopping 18 years. I guess they might have to start over again? I dunno what their actual plan is, but I look forward to watching it sometime.

And I'll heartily recommend the old Fruits Basket and Ouran while I'm at it.

Mob Psycho 100 season 2 and One Punch-Man season 2

This premiered on January 7th. It hasn't been that long since season 1, so hopefully everyone already know that Mob Psycho rules. It's the same author as One Punch Man, and to my knowledge the same team of people that animated One Punch Man season 1(who knows how season 2 of that is gonna turn out at this rate), and that's a winning combination. One's writing is stellar. I have my issues with it - he writes pretty terrible villains, for one thing. They're never evil for any actual opposing moral reason or goals. They're always just mean because they're high on their own power or for comedy reasons. And fight-wise, it's mostly just dudes flailing wildly at one another, measuring powerlevels.

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But One is very good at writing a coming of age story that feels both relevant and earned. Mob doesn't just have to learn to believe in himself, although that's definitely part of it. He has to learn to have his own opinions, care about his surroundings, working to improve his shortcomings and so on. And he is such an earnest kid that you wanna root for him every step of the way, through both well-animated esper battles and school problems. It's really astounding, the level of animation at display here. There's more amazing action going on in a minor Mob Psycho 100 fight than in the entirety of a My Hero Academia season. You know those fights where they bust out with some kick-ass animation? This is like those, but every episode. And when it isn't lavishly animated fight scenes, it's amazing comedy bits or animation that heighten the mood of an emotional scene.

The manga is done now, and I loved it all the way to the end. This season of Mob Psycho 100 is probably going to cover three arcs or so, leaving the final three arcs for a season 3.

On a related note, One Punch Man is getting another season in April, after a three year hiatus. While I liked the first one, I'm personally not super excited for it. The anime is based on Murata's manga adaptation of One's work, a webcomic drawn as well as One can draw. But the webcomic isn't done, and Murata's adaptation isn't either - because One takes this chance to expand the story greatly. As a result though, it feels like we aren't going anywhere. The big current arc in the manga has been going on for years, and one anime season isn't gonna even get close to finishing it.

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This gets into my problem with the manga itself: Whenever One Punch-Man doesn' focus on Saitama, it's pretty boring. If I wanted to read a silly fighting manga with characters I actually care about, One Piece just released its 91st volume. One Punch Man's whole selling point is Saitama decimating everyone with zero effort, and the way One writes himself away from that is by making it rarer and rarer for Saitama to show up. He's basically cameoing in his own comic at this point. And that's a shame, because while Murata draws incredible fight scenes that can be turned into incredible animated fight scenes, thats pretty much all it's got going on. I read it whenever a colossal 100-page chapter comes out and I'm usually very impressed artistically, but the writing just isn't engaging to me.

And then on top of that, there's a new studio animating this season. I dunno if the old staffers are busy on Mob Psycho 100 or went their own ways afterwards or what, but that first season is a very special thing. It looked amazing, but it was because of the personal skillset, investmant and effort of the staff, not from any extra budget or anything. J.C. Staff has taken over, but while they're no slouches, I also don't have much hope that they can match those dudes from season 1. I guess we'll see.

The Rising of the Shield Hero

This has also already started airing its adaptation. It's the same studio that made Made in Abyss, so maybe it looks pretty good?

There's been some buzz on the internet about this one for a while, for natural reasons. Naofumi and three other non-nerds are pulled into another world to become the heroes of a kingdom, and while all of them receive cool weapons for cool people, Naofumi's abilities are limited to shields. As if that wasn't enough, Naofumi gets betrayed by his one own party member, the kind-seeming princess of the kingdom, who falsely accuses him of rape and gets him cast out of good company. Naofumi's a good kid, so he still tries to build up his abilities and help people out, but he has to work on the shadier side of society to do it now, picking up a slavegirl as a party member and getting down with the dark arts to gain power.

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On one hand, this is a pretty riveting story, right? It looks like this nerd is getting lucky in another world, but it's instantly turned on its head and he's just as much of a schmuck here as he was in our world. Worse, he gets manipulated and taken advantage of for the machinations of others, and nobody believes him when he's falsely accused. It's tough to see this nice kid undergo a transformation into a bitter, wounded, cynical hero. My favorite arc is an early one where he returns to the castle, accused of even more wrongdoings, and his heart feels like it's about to break - only to be saved by the friends he made on his own adventure up to that point, who know him for the man he truly is. That's heartwarming. It's also fairly different from most of these isekai shows.

On the other hand, this is very much a bitter nerd revenge show, and I kinda can't stand bitter nerds unless they get tried for their crimes. The Cool Guys are stupid and ineffective and don't actually protect the people well. Being falsely accused of rape by the princess of the kingdom is basically the highest tier of being fucked over by the popular girls. If this was an American teen movie she'd be wearing a cheerleader outfit and kiss the jocks immediately after letting you take the fall for some prank they pulled. You get the sense Naofumi is the kinda dude who'd go on a message board and call all women bitches(though within the context of the story, to be fair, he does not. He's a kind guy who's got his own harem of cute girls just like every other isekai dude, he's just a bit more pissed off than most of them).

Like yes, getting falsely accused of rape is a thing that actually happens. It's relatively uncommon, but it is real. It's awful. And false accusations like this can make for gripping stories. Getting one anime among thousands that deals with the subject, I don't think that's out of line. But in this context it only feels like it builds up the whole bitter nerd persecution complex thing. It adds a bigger pinch of vindictiveness than usual to the regular nerd fantasy isekai ingredients, and validates that feeling of the whole world being out to get you that can fester if you're having trouble fitting into society. It reads like paranoid delusion to me, especially when it's a grand government conspiracy at heart like in Shield Hero.

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This whole atmosphere is a bit "eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeehh" for my tastes, and the big emotional moments don't really stick around after that early arc. My suggestion is you watch until Naofumi's first return to the castle, and then you get out, 'cause that's the peak. Nothing after that particularly struck me, and I could't care less about the generic setting of it all. If you want a story about a main character falsely accused of rape who's shunned by society, then I'd recommend just playing Persona 5. It's like the best JRPG in years, and it uses this plot point without making it feel like you're reading a story written by a dude trying to get back on the women that wronged him. Or at least, written by someone targeting that demographic of bitter nerds very hard.

The two I'm reading that actually haven't got an adaptation announced yet

To Your Eternity

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By Yoshitoki Ōima, the woman behind A Silent Voice. It's a story about this immortal being who moves throughout the ages, telling the tales about the friends he makes and loses along the way. He's a shapeshifter, starting off as little more than a rock, and gradually gaining sentience and a mind of his own as he keeps growing, accumulating experiences and making friends. Whenever someone he cares for dies, he gets the ability to transform into them, bringing them with him into the future in a sense. He also encounters a monstrous enemy who keeps hounding him, wishing to take those transformations and memories from him.

I'm a sucker for these kinda stories where death is everpresent, but as a fact of life, not in a grim or edgy way. It feels like a fantasy setting(an Asian one, primarily, not a European one), but besides the immortal and his archenemy, there doesn't seem to be any magic around. Little has been revealed about his true nature, but he seems more like an extraterrestrial piece of tech or something, more than anything magic. I expect he's meant to experience everything on Earth to be able to replicate it later, maybe when a big meteor hits it or something.

A Silent Voice was adapted into a movie by Kyoto Animation, and if you can get that studio to do an adaptation of To Your Eternity as well, that's an anime I'd love to see.

Gal Gohan

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By Marii Taiyou. A gyaru named Okazaki has to take home ec classes after failing most of her other classes to barely justify having her graduate, and she ends up in the cooking club under her teacher, Yabe. Given something like five hours with a teacher who's got some faith in her and manages to make her learn to do something on her own, and she's pretty much fallen for him. The rest of the manga is all about various club activities where Okazaki develops her onesided crush on Yabe while learning occasional cooking skills. There are some other girls that also like Yabe that show up later. You know how these things go, as a romcom keeps progressing the main love interest just accumulates suitors by existing.

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This one's been one of my favorites lately. Lightly romantic fanservice shows are a dime a dozen, but the specific way this one's drawn and the portrayal of each of the characters is really cute. It's definitely far above whatever low bar How Not To Summon A Demon Lord set. Okazaki's obvious feelings and Yabe's obliviousness are a good, if common, foil for one another.

And the setting makes it pretty obvious why these two characters don't just get into it, which makes it easier to swallow the extended tease of a relationship for me. I could easily see this ending with Yabe never returning Okazaki's feelings at all and be perfectly alright with it, though I might cry a little.

Definitely something for the pervs in the audience, I had the hardest time finding a cover image I could live with posting here. Read it if you want your well-drawn boob manga to come with likeable characters and sweet crushes.

It was published in Young Animal, which I think has a good track record on the manga front. Nana & Kaoru, another of my favorite manga romcoms, was also published under their label. However, the anime adaptation of Nana & Kaoru was one of the worst I've seen, turning a sweet BDSM relationship-based romcom into a hentai episode sans sex. They couldn't have missed the mark harder.

So they really gotta step up their game if this is gonna get a worthy adaptation. They've got solid material to work with, at least.

The Backlog

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So, those were my recommendations. Now I could use some of yours. These things have a way of building on themselves until you don't know where to start anymore. I'm just gonna list everything I'm considering, alright? Shout out in the comments what you think I might like or should prioritize, especially if it's one of your own favorites. See you next update! It's not gonna be about anime!

Anime that people from the US won't shut up about

  • Trigun - I think this is supposed to have a terrible ending? I've seen a couple of episodes, it's fun
  • Hellsing Ultimate - Everyone's crazy faces are too crazy for me, but it seems cool anyway
  • Yu Yu Hakusho - I love Hunter x Hunter and I enjoyed Level E, so I'm pretty excited about this one
  • Sailor Moon - let's see where this magical girl thing all started. People keep posting gifs of pretty backgrounds on social media, so that looks alright
  • Ghost in the Shell Stand Alone Complex - FINE, scifi nerds, I'll watch it
  • Bubblegum Crisis - The one anime Brad Shoemaker has seen
  • Ninja Scroll - Wait, he watched that one too, didn't he?

Anime I've tried and put on hold, but liked what I saw

  • Shirobako - Great show. I only put it down 'cause you need to pay attention to follow along properly and I usually watch anime slumped on the coach, trying to relax
  • Space Battleship Yamato 2199 - I got a little bored after the first few episodes, but I adore the premise. Amazing intro song.
  • Bakemonogatari - Watched all of Bakemonogatari, but only made it halfway through Nisemonogatari. Like Shirobako, it's kind of too high-intensity to watch halfheartedly, to much dialogue to only half pay attention to.
  • Gintama - Some episodes I've seen have been hilarious, but then occasionally there are serious episodes that I think are just poor. I don't think the art looks good at all. But the jokes are usually funny
  • Kaiji - I jumped into this, loved it, got distracted and jumped out again. It seems like Akagi, only with a protagonist who's likeable instead of an OP dirtbag
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Anime recommendations I've gotten

  • Redline - I have a car enthusiast friend who loves this, but I dunno, dude might be a bit biased about the car anime
  • Toradora - I know Taiga from Dengeki Bunko Fighting Climax. Got recommended to me in the anime thread when I asked for good, down to earth romances
  • Itazura Kiss - Got recommended to me in the anime thread also

Old anime that seems promising

  • Redord of Lodoss Wars - I enjoy the story behind it and the clips I've seen look deliciously retro. I've heard the story stinks.
  • Riding Bean/Gunsmith Cats - Love the artstyle of these, and I can always go for some fun buddy cop action
  • Gundam - Could've put this under the American category too. I've heard it's good, so it's worth a shot.
  • Space Cobra - After Space Dandy and Lupin I think I can easily love a pulpy space adventure with this dude. The music sounds exactly like Lupin music
  • Ginga Nagareboshi Gin - I've seen the OP a few times and it looks fucking awesome
  • Giant Robo the Animation: The Day the Earth Stood Still - I dunno, looks very cool to me
  • Yokohama Shopping Trip - Love the manga. It's one of the few chillout things I can read without getting bored because the atmosphere is so tangible and relaxing. There are four OVAs I wanna check out
  • Planetes - Vinland Saga is great, and this seems like it might be too

Anime movies "everyone" have seen so I feel like I have to watch

  • Ghost in the Shell - Seems boring, but it's a classic
  • Your Name - Couldn't make it through the last movie I watched from this director, but maybe this one's better?
  • Akira - I read the manga and can't imagine them fitting 6 huge volumes of pure action into a two hour movie. However, I look forward to seeing some god tier animation
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Trashy anime that might be terrible but I still wanna see

  • My Little Sister Can't Be This Cute - I kinda feel like I have to, since it's so infamous and popular. Sister stuff is really not my kink tho, might be a quick drop on this one. Depends on what this show actually is besides its reputation
  • Highschool of the Dead - I love this director's intensity in everything he does. I read HotD years ago, and really enjoyed it as an exciting zombie action romp with super wacky fanservice and cool art. I've seen some clips that makes the anime seem even more entertaining. Shame that it's never gonna finish, on account of one of the creators' unfortunate passing.
  • Girls Und Panzer - Me and a buddy got drunk and watched the first episode in the middle of the night, laughing the whole way through. It's got a funny premise and a weird vibe, but we'll see how it holds up without alcohol.

Anime that I wanna see because it's Lupin III

  • The Woman Called Fujiko Mine - A friend who works in retail suspects the collector's edition sells unusually well at her store 'cause there's tits on the cover. This is directed by the Michiko & Hatchin lady, which seems like a great fit
  • That one Goemon movie and that one Jigen movie - I think these follow on from the Fujiko anime. They've got a decent reputation.
  • I'm sure some of the other 40 or whatever Lupin specials/movies besides Cagliostro are good but I dunno which

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Redhotchilimist's ~*ANIME*~ Of The Year 2018

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2018, in terms of anime, was a decent year for me. I picked up a few favorites and watched a number of good shows. More than anything, it was a very anime-intensive year, despite watching fewer shows than I'd planned. All Systems Goku alone made me watch five episodes of dudes charging up every week. I finished right about 20 shows, and I tried and dropped 15 more. In the grand scheme of things, the time investment was minimal. Most seasons are only a dozen episodes long, which isn't more than a 4-hour commitment. It's entirely possible to watch more than 35 anime a year.

There were a staggering 180 shows that debuted just this year. But to me this a lot more than I usually watch. My tastes are pretty established at this point: I like a lot of action, and I like a lot of comedy, and I don't mind a bit of romance mixed in with either of those. But there's a lot of stuff I don't really care about, from most serious dramas to most moe slice of life shows, and many typical looks I can't stand(anything particularly moe~, anything with edgy-ass, gross contorted faces or anything with bishie dudes face an uphill battle, for instance). I hardly watch any anime movies or movies in general either, 'cause somehow a 2-hour movie feels like more of a commitment than a 12-episode season of anime. If this list fails to interest you, there's very probably still an anime from 2018 out there that you'd love, and you can find out about most of them just from whatever lists come out of the anime vloggers on youtube.

For now, let's dole out the awards for 2018, ending with my top 10 favorite anime this year. If you wanna read more about any individual anime, I covered that here and here.

Biggest Gateway Anime

In this year's category for anime most likely to entice new viewers into entering a world of other worlds and pedophilia, there were a lot of strong contenders. My Hero Academia, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure, Fairy Tail, Attack on Titan and One Piece are all major international shonen fighting hits that got new seasons this year, with Hero Academia still being the most recent hotness. It really has taken the place of Naruto in all meanings of that comparison. My friends that used to have Naruto posters on their walls have largely replaced them with posters of Bakugou, Midoriya and Kirishima.

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I think there's always gonna be room for a school-based shonen with an insecure protagonist in a larger than life setting. My feelings on Naruto are very similar to my feelings on My Hero Academia. It's not really my thing. I don't think it's bad, but it's also not a show I am in any way passionate about. Is it pretty good? Yes. Am I having a better time with it than I have had reading One Piece, Zatch Bell!!, Battle Angel Alita, Dr. Stone, Attack on Titan or Fullmetal Alchemist, or watching Gurren Lagann, Planet With, Hajime no Ippo, Jojo or Hunter X Hunter? No, not even close. That makes it difficult for me to be enthusiastic about it.

But I can respect it. It's a big deal for a lot of people, and for a generation of young new fans it's gonna be the shonen fighting show they grew up with.

The other likely contenders are Aggretsuko and Devilman Crybaby, the Netflix babies. Just being on a mainstream streaming service is a big help for getting recognized, and while I don't have any numbers at all for this, Aggretsuko and Devilman Crybaby are the two shows my friends that don't care about anime bothered to watch this year. They make an interesting contrast, between Devilman Crybaby's edgy-ass content and Aggretsuko's cute-but-too-real office comedy.

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Devilman is the kinda thing you pass along in college dorms to show someone a cartoon with violence in it, the spiritual successor to Brad Shoemaker's Ninja Scroll. Aggretsuko is the kinda thing you pass around to share stories about your shitty work environment and existential angst. Having a first season airing this year automatically puts them ahead of the pack, and feels more fair than them losing to shows that have been going since I was seven. And while Aggretsuko will almost certainly have another season, I sincerely doubt Devilman Crybaby will.

But they will have to settle for second and third place. In the year of Dragon Ball FighterZ, Dragon Ball Super's finale and All Systems Goku, I couldn't possibly give this award to anything other than the entire Dragon Ball franchise. It has gotta be singlehandedly responsible for suckering in at least half of all anime watchers all over the world at this point, and was definitely the anime of the site as a whole this year. It stopped publication around the time of the Super Nintendo but has never really gone away, and reprints and games and new adaptations keep getting people into it.

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A lot of newbie anime recommendations just default to the most western-like shows, but really, is that a way to get someone into anime in general? Surely you would only wanna keep watching anime if you get something from it that you can't get anywhere else. In this case, you can't turn on the TV and find a ton of American superpowered martial arts shows. Definitely not with this kinda tone, where people die and serious things do happen, but everyone can just be wished back and there's a Ginyu Force for every Cell. The only things remotely similar on more than a superficial tropey level I can even think of are cartoons aping anime, like Steven Universe or Avatar, and they're still a different beast from the original.

Dragon Ball is the prime example of something that there's nothing exactly like in western media, but that still holds a near universal appeal anyway. There really is no greater uniter than flying dudes shooting lasers at one another, except perhaps free games.

Best Moment or Sequence

Goku and Frieza co-operate

I haven't watched much Dragon Ball Super. I hear Toriyama is involved somehow, but it's been over twenty years since the manga ended. What I have seen, read and heard about Super seems like fanfiction, and I have no interest in going back to Dragon Ball for that.

... But that didn't stop me from watching clips from it on youtube. During the tournament arc, I'd weekly get recommended clips from the fights and occasionally watch one. Most are nothing special. Some were a little cool.

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During the very final episode, those minutes in the clip happened. And it was fantastic! It doesn't, to me, feel like Dragon Ball exactly. Goku talks about the time he would've let Frieza live if he hadn't tried to stab him in the back, on Namek. Then they co-operate in an intense, low-powered fight, busting out their super moves only for a moment with what little energy they have left. Also Android 17 is there for some reason.

I can't imagine Toriyama writing this. He's the kinda author that forgot his characters existed, and abandoned stuff like the kaioken entirely. Except for, what, Raditz, Toriyama never did this kinda co-op brawl. I just can't believe that this is the kinda scene he would do if he sat down to make Dragon Ball again.

But damn, did this fanservice work for me. It's exhilerating to see these old rivals fight on the same side in this all-out slugfest, running on fumes and barely keeping upright, but pulling all of their energy into one last shot. I wanna punch the air as I watch and yell "KA KA KACHI DAZE" along with the singer. It's a fantastic finale, and for me it justifies Super's entire existence.

Runner-ups:

One Piece for Big Mom's introductory musical number

Karakuri Circus for Shirogane delivering dunk of the year

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind's torture dance

Best Old-Time Anime

Out of my top 10 this year, half of those are either continuations or reinterpretations of old properties, several of them taking on a retro look, and that's not including Devilman Crybaby or Karakuri Circus. But this award is for those old anime that didn't come out this year, but that I still found time to watch and enjoy for the first time.

Again, Dragon Ball Z Kai(2009-2011 and 2014-2015, though originally 1989-1996) was a strong contender. But while I did enjoy it, it also wasted a lot of hours of my life on Bulma pissing around on Namek. Let's say it has to be satisfied with going home with only two trophies under its arms today. I've already written too much about it in this and the previous blog post, so let's leave it at that.

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I haven't mentioned them up until now in these blogs, 'cause they don't factor in much, but me and a friend tried our best to watch some Flying Witch(2016) and Hyouka(2012) this year. The former being a healing anime I had heard good things about and Hyouka being one of Prozd's recommendations. Both of them lulled us into a trance, so we gave up after an hour on each. I also watched five episodes or so of To Be Hero(2016) while I was sick, and I swear it made me worse. It's a gross-out superhero parody that was so aggressively unfunny I had to up my dosage of painkillers. Unofficially, it's earned its place as Worst Old-Time Anime.

Besides that, I watched Street Fighter Alpha the Animation(2000). As a movie, it's not very good. Ryu and Ken take care of this kid that's really only used as an experiment by an evil scientist villain. Ryu struggles against the satsui no hadou inside of him. There are some fights along the way. It feels very filler. While the movie isn't very good in terms of plot, I gotta say I do love the art style. Sakura and Ken look particularly great, and have some awesome expressions here that have since been lost to time. Akuma's also an extremely cool presence, hiding out on this island full of wooden dolls I wonder if he carved himself, appearing a good few metres taller than usual. He's one scary guy. All in all though, it's just a pretty bad movie that has an occasional good scene, neat animation and a good atmosphere to it.

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However, I did watch two old things I liked a whole bunch this year. The first is Angel's Egg(1985), Mamoru Oshii's old Dark Souls movie. Besides Dark Souls, it mostly reminds me of artsy European films I had to watch during art school. One of them featured Peter Falk playing an angel, but essentially just being a dude walking around in Berlin. This movie is almost entirely a girl and a boy walking around in the dark, not saying much besides "who are you?" and "don't break my egg" until a lore dump near the end.

While the symbolism didn't exactly light me on fire, thanks to the slow pacing, the striking visuals and the terrifying music it succeeds in creating an overpowering mood that sucks you right into it. After I was done I had to just lie on my couch for a while and pet the cat to feel like I mattered to the world. It's not something I'd recommend to everyone, and some of the more lingering scenes tried my patience, but I won't forget it anytime soon, that's for sure.

The second old anime I adored, and the definitive winner of this category, is the Devilman OVA series consisting of Devilman: The Birth(1987) and Devilman: The Demon Bird(1990). Devilman Crybaby didn't impress me much this year. The animation work is shoddy and the characters are outrageous. I think it got severely overhyped, and isn't that director's best work by a long shot. But I owe Devilman Crybaby one for making everyone talk about Devilman, or else I'd never have watched a recommendation video for these old movies.

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The Devilman OVAs cover the intro and Sirene arc so well that I can't imagine anyone doing them better. It's not exactly deep stuff, considering all the dramatic twists and turns in Devilman are after this point. Devilman gets born, Devilman fights demons, that's about it. But it is a meticulously crafted pair of action movies that hit just the right spot in terms of realism and fantasy. You can feel the weight of the demons as every step is animated without shortcuts, as they consistently stay on model, and make their gross sounds. The dramatic shadows look beautiful decades later. The animation might be old, but it's incredible compared to what most anime will look like today. It takes its source material seriously, but improves upon it in every way without actually changing it all that much.

This year, the Devilman OVAs, Angel's Egg, Dragon Ball and Street Fighter Alpha made me realize I might well have it in me to become one of those snobs that won't give the time of day to anything made after year 2000. There is inherently something better-looking about the art in these old things than modern anime to me, presumably because of both the trends at the time and the way they were made. On that note...

Worst CG, Presented By Berserk

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While anime has come a long way on CG, it's still a pathetic showing compared to what good CG looks like. Largely, studios seem to imitate 2d anime only to fall short of that, creating low framerate, plain ugly animation that looks worse than video game cutscenes from at the very least the last generation.

There were a couple of standouts this year. Ninja Batman, Planet With and SSSS. Gridman managed to overcome the issues with anime CG by largely focusing on armor and mecha, and propped that up with some great effects, textures and direction work. I wouldn't say they looked better than what they could have if they were entirely 2D, but it's alright, you know. I could watch them without gagging.

But there are always those that fall below the mark, and I watched my fair share this year of anime that I plain don't like the look of. Fullmetal Panic IV and Karakuri Circus both have some occasional awful CG, but the one this year that stands out to me the most is the TV show I watched that's almost entirely CG: Hi Score Girl.

Hi Score Girl's look can be defended in a lot of ways. It integrates very easily with all the arcade cabinets and video game footage. The original artwork isn't very good to begin with. There's actually a spectacular effort on the part of the anime studio to spice it up with pretty backgrounds and good lighting and color choices. I think Hi Score Girl is an exceptional anime. It deserves more attention.

But at the end of the day, people are gonna take one look at Hi Score Girl, think it looks ugly, and go watch something else. It's at its best when there's no movement happening. And that's a real shame. I take one look at Mob Psycho 100, another anime based on an amateurish artstyle, and wonder what could have been.

Best Anime Commercial

If I ran a succesful confectionary when it came upon it's 70th anniversary, I hope I'd also have been cool enough to celebrate by hiring Bump of Chicken, Rie Matsumoto and Bones to make me an anime music video. Not in the usual meaning of that term.

Most Forgettable Anime

Garo: Vanishing Line

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I forgot to add this anime to the list something like four times just writing this blog post. Garo started airing last year, but I watched a majority of it this spring. Neither painfully bad nor outstanding in any way, Garo is a waste of some completely fine Mari Shimazaki character designs and not much else. It gets in, tells an episodic story about demon hunters hunting demons in the US, and then leaves without making a fuss. If you wanted a Devil May Cry anime that was mediocre rather than outright bad, then Garo is there for you.

Runner-ups:

-Record of Grancrest War

-Gegege no Kitarou(2018)

Best Anime Rap

I don't know shit about hip hop and don't listen to it particularly often, but I liked these rap segments.

3. Ton disses Retsuko in Aggretsuko

2. Sakura and Saki fight it out in Zombieland Saga

1. Kukun is just like Miko

The Actual Top 10 Anime Of 2018

10. Ninja Batman

It was a difficult decision between this and Dragon Pilot: Hisone & Masotan. In the end I asked myself a question: If I could only rewatch one of them, which would I pick? And the answer couldn't be more obvious to me. Batman battling a giant robot castle with the batmobile beats listening to Mari Okada's quirky dialogue any day, even if the whole story part of Ninja Batman is barely worth registering. Batman might be the lesser anime if you take the critical approach, but watching Batman is overall much more fun to me.

9. Megalo Box

Megalo Box is the competent workhorse of 2018, delivering a good story well-told, with just a couple of its own stylistic twists on an old formula. It's got a shady old coach down on his luck, a determined underdog who's such an underdog he literally calls himself Junk Dog, and there's adorable street urchins for everybody. I'm not a fan of the way they've made it look lo-res even in the best of resolutions, and I don't particularly care about it after the fact. Controversially, I guess, I don't really resonate with hip hop and don't like the soundtrack very much at all. The fights themselves aren't that strong, relying much more on the emotion and drama than the impact of the animation, the tactics, or the coreography.

But it's still a good anime I'd recommend to just about anyone, because it's using tropes with international appeal rather than otaku appeal.

Now when is Madhouse gonna get me another season of Hajime no Ippo?

8. Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory

Can an anime overcome its dodgy CG, wonky 2d animation, horrible production issues and painfully long hiatuses on the strength of its writing and characters alone?

Well yes, evidently. After 13 years of waiting around for the continuation to the story, they could've served me pure shit and I'd still have watched it all. What I got instead is a show riddled with issues in a lot of technical ways, but with a strong core of story progression and characters near and dear to me. The ways in which it has become old-fashioned only make it feel delightfully retro. I won't let it go higher than 8 though, I'm too embarrassed about the quality of the car chase sequence.

7. Zombieland Saga

Zombieland Saga was one of my favorite comedy shows this year. The first two episodes are amazing. The next two are pretty boring. It then plateaus out on a pretty great level for the remaining episodes. It's well worth watching, and I have high hopes for a season 2, but I wish all of it was as engaging as episode 1 and 2. More than anything, that's what's keeping Zombieland Saga from climbing higher.

6. Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind

There was a time when I expected Jojo would top this list, but it simply didn't start airing in time. Other shows have made a bigger impression on me this year, with tighter plotting or more fully ended stories, while Jojo's still on something like its fourth monster of the week bad guy. It's still a phenomenal anime, and depending on how next year goes down, it might get higher on the list in 2019. Every Jojo season has been so consistently good that all of them deserve to be seen, by as many people as possible. But I'm not gonna put this higher on my list when I've seen so little of the full product.

5. Aggretsuko

In this year's most positive surprise, the Netflix anime all my friends were talking about wasn't a complete waste of time. Aggretsuko isn't just good, it's great, a super fun office comedy about everyday struggles. Retsuko isn't just exhausted from dealing with dirtbag co-workers and bosses, sexist treatment and all-consuming work, she's also at a complete loss about love, future and even her own dreams. The anime's portrayal of all of its memorable characters speak to me in a very specific way, where they're well based in real people and then stretched and caricatured just a tad and given life through expressive, if simple, animation. Characters might look one-note, the fat sexist boss being a literal pig and all, but there's always just a bit more under the surface to these guys. I feel like if this was an American show, it would end very differently, and I'm happy it ended the way it does instead.

Aggretsuko is one of this year's best shows, especially if you're in your twenties and increasingly depressed. If you've somehow avoided the hype, look this one up no matter how much or little you're into anime. It's only like two hours or something and all of it is wonderful.

4. Hinamatsuri

Out of all the comedy shows I loved this year, Hinamatsuri is the one that most easily played my emotions like a fiddle. I laughed the hardest, and I cried the most, to different scenes in this anime. It has a way of playing around with cruelty and kindness in a way that gets right under my skin, and more than any other show this year it always took me by surprise. I don't have as much to say about it as I do about Aggretsuko. I don't really relate to these characters. I just adore them.

Perfect voice acting on Hina, too.

3. Lupin III: Part 5

There isn't anything out there quite like Lupin. It nails the cool machismo parts of pulpy spy fiction and heist movies, but tempers it with goofiness and slapstick in a way I find very appealing. It's the kind of universe where everyone should by right be smoking a cigarette all the time, wearing either a slick suit or a sexy dress, preferably in a ballroom. And then a monkey stumbles through the room with a serving cart holding the safe with ten million dollars, flanked by an amazing samurai and an old man that fires a gun real good, and also a detective in a fedora and trenchcoat is chasing them with a pair of handcuffs. Lupin's fantastic competence is well matched by his goofy behavior, like a more succesful Nathan Drake. He is perhaps too perfect to keep it exciting, but with the feats he's accomplished at least his confidence feels earned.

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Lupin and his gang might be thieves, but they aren't any more bad guys than what the Strawhats are, to put it like that. It's a joy to see them move from adventure to adventure, generally acting in their own self-interest but always helping out people along the way. It's not really a character-focused, or even story-focused show. You're here for the slapstick and mood and amazing spy music, and continuity doesn't really matter as much as just going on a new adventure(If you're looking for a place to start watching Lupin III, start anywhere. It's like asking where to start reading Donald Duck).

But I do like these characters, and there's some effort put in this season to look closer at their relationships with Lupin that I appreciate. I'm not sure, when looking back on it, if I'll prefer this to Part 4. And having not watched Part 1-3 on account of them being old as balls, I I can't really compare it to those old seasons. But as it stands, I had a hell of a time in 2019 with Lupin Part 5.

I wouldn't want all aspects of popular culture to resemble Lupin III. It's probably for the best everyone moved on from the seventies. But I'm glad Lupin alone is back. It's so much fun.

2. Hi Score Girl

I love romantic stories, but I don't often watch one I stick with. I just have high standards and specific tastes for them. In this case, they managed to make one that hit me right in the heart. It's about as authentic as Genshiken, but set in a different age and scene of Japanese gaming, and the portrayal of both the era and the characters make it feel like the author lived it. You're not gonna be surprised by the tropes at play here - romantic leads that love one another but have trouble communicating, a third wheel who keeps getting her heart broken, a girl from rich family leading a strict life of study and a boy from a working class family with minimal supervision.

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But the way it's portrayed, and the unique trappings of the setting, help make it stand out from a crowd. Hi Score Girl doesn't get a ton of play, 'cause it doesn't look very pretty. The commercials they gotta do in the middle to be able to reference all these games by name and use their characters is as shilly as it gets, and Haruo's ranting can sometimes be a bit much. But it _is_ an excellent anime, and it's on Netflix, so you really have no excuse not to give it a shot.

If you're a regular on a video game forum, odds are you can relate to getting to know others through games. I certainly can. Watch Hi Score Girl if you want a romcom with that kinda feeling to it. I found it all very sweet.

1. Planet With

There are many popular shows on this list. Planet With, unfortunately, feels like a show that only I like. It's not that most people dislike it, it's that most people seem to have never even heard of it. It's a depressing feeling. I don't need my opinion validated, but I don't want people to sleep on my favorite show this year just because its name makes it difficult to search for in google or look up on youtube.

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I already wrote the best recommendation I could manage back in my first anime blog post. But I dunno if the appeal is apparent until you try it. There isn't any high concept unique to it. It just takes common anime tropes and uses them well - playing with them, deconstructing them, calling attention to them, but generally recognizing why they are the way they are rather than take a cynical approach to it. They aren't just twisted for the sake of twists, or to mock how unrealistic they are.

Coming of age mecha stories are a dime a dozen, and I might not have given this one a shot if I hadn't just read the author's previous work and loved it. Satoshi Mizukami is a uniquely odd author. There's an arc in Spirit Circle where a necromancer slowly but surely wipes out people in a major city with an army of the undead just to study in peace, and he's barely conscious of it happening. He doesn't hate people, he just doesn't care, and he lacks the awareness of exactly how cruel his actions are. I can imagine a lot of shows where he'd be portrayed with a crazy anime face, or you see his uncaring face from the crowd as the victims keep piling up bloodily. Instead, it's portrayed mostly off-screen, as he barely notices the destruction happening outside of his house. When his old friends show up to stop him, he greets them with a regular smiling face. It's just a tad better than most manga would be about that kinda story and those tropes.

Planet With is just written and directed well, in a way that snipes my tastes perfectly. There's a serious conflict at hand with some solid stakes, but just by making sure each character gets to behave like a regular human being at all times, it naturally ends up with a lot of lighthearted moments. It doesn't feel self-serious, you know. There's an unassuming qulity to it. We might fight over the future of humanity, but we still power up our mecha by drinking beer, if you see what I mean.

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By basing its large-scale galactic and moral conflicts in individual people and their feelings, no moment of self-reflection or big fight ever ends up feeling like a waste of time for the opposing element. The ideas are big, but the setting is small, if that makes sense.

By having a cast consisting largely of good, genuine people, it manages to portray a conflict with a lot of shades of gray. Not in the usual meaning of the term, where everyone's an asshole and there is no good answer, but in the opposing sense, where everyone's basically a decent person and just have different ideas about what constitutes the best option. At the same time, there's a clear villain hanging over it all who's taken things too far, and the gray conflict is mostly about how to deal with the fallout of the atrocities he committed, and from stopping another one like him from existing in the first place. There's also a clear hero, who has the most to be angry about but also no right to be angry, and his road to both forgiving his enemies and his own redemption from his legacy of violence.

It's a smart and kind show, about revenge, forgiveness, peace, war, hatred, love and growing up, but ultimately just about people. Usually funny, likeable people, and sometimes people that are dogs. It accomplishes what it sets out to do in an exciting twelve episodes that tease out the plot at just the right pace, and it all manages to make sense. It's by far the best mecha anime this year, especially in terms of writing, so far ahead of shows like Gridman and Darling in the FranXX that it's not even funny. It even nails down a great ending. Among the shows on my top 10, only Megalo Box, Ninja Batman and Planet With truly have definitive endings. And Planet With has absolutely the best of them. While there's no way for me to know if others would feel the same way, it's the anime I loved the absolute most this year.

Also it had some cool music.

Next Time On This Blog

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I have some different plans for 2019: rather than trying to follow along with the current hotness, I'd rather dive into the backlog. The next blog post from me is gonna be about manga I'm reading that are getting adaptations this year, and I'll also need some help to pick out which backlog shows to prioritize.

Until next time!

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2018 in ~*ANIME*~ Part 2

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Hey! 2018 wrapped up. I had planned on seeing a lot more anime of the year than I ended up doing, and originally thought I'd go through this year's backlog in January before writing up my blog. Then I weighed that against doing work that actually gets me paid and decided the forty isekai shows I didn't get around to can be put on hold indefinitely. Sorry I couldn't get around to your favorite show. Especially you Laid-Back Camp fans. There is no mention of Laid-Back Camp beyond the intro. Sorry. Maybe next year.

In this post I'm gonna sum up the remaining shows I watched in 2018, from October and through December. The format is gonna be a little different from last time since I didn't end up sampling a ton of new anime. I'll put up my Anime of the Year blog at the end of the week, and a post looking at upcoming adaptations a bit later. Here's the previous blog post, about the rest of the year.

I read the manga and couldn't be bothered to watch the anime: Golden Kamuy, That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime, Goblin Slayer, Overlord, The Ancient Magus' Bride

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I did plan on getting around to do these, but they were the first to go when I was short on time. At least I've read a bit of their source material, so I'll give my two cents on that.

I quite liked what I read of Goblin Slayer. The setting is kinda weird, what with being a regular JRPG fantasy thing where all the violence is real, man, and all the goblins are doujinshi rape goblins. You'd think the adventurers in general might be a bit more prepared if goblin assault is as common as it seems, but I guess it couldn't start out the way it did if they were. Goblin Slayer got a lot of headlines this year for opening with goblin rape, which quite frankly, is something you tend to save for a later arc. You don't get a lot darker than that subject, and if you just throw it in as motivation without buildup right off the bat you're in for some ridicule. Especially when your setting and art direction brings jrpg-styled porn to mind more than it does anything else.

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You gotta temper your edgy content with care, depth and skill, or else it's just shock shlock. Nobody really gives Berserk shit for that one time a lady gets impregnated by trolls and explodes as the spawn burst from her stomach, because it's a quality manga that spends a lot of time getting you invested in the world and has various characters deal with the subject of rape and abuse in different ways. You gotta earn the right to have your protag literally chew on childrens' intestines.

Ultimately, what I like about Goblin Slayer is the Goblin Slayer himself. Goblin Slayer isn't an isekai show, but just like Is It Wrong To Try To Pick Up Girls In A Dungeon?, it might as well be. And Goblin Slayer just devastates every other protagonist. Functioning as some combination of Batman, The Punisher, and appropriately enough the Doom Slayer, he has a charm that the rest just lack. He's very driven. He's got a recognizable design, not like every other yahoo with a sword who serve as the main character for most of these kinds of things.

He's not overpowered in the context of the setting, only being able to slay as many goblins as he has with careful preparation and dirty tricks. Crucially, other characters thinks he's lost his marbles. He gets his team of trustworthy comrades(and presumably a harem, but I didn't get that far), but he is not someone the rest of the world cares much about. All of that makes him very likeable to me. He tries his best to help others, he's got his own thing going on, and he isn't put up on some pedestal by the world. Which isn't to say Goblin Slayer is my isekai of choice. I haven't read that much, and I tend to prefer something lighter. Not so much a revenge fantasy focused on porn tropes. But in the context of this year, Goblin Slayer is not my least favorite isekai.

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On the other hand, Overlord is basically everything I hate in an isekai story. The protagonist, Ainz, is this self-righteous, overpowered prick, surrounded entirely by yes-men that obey his every word. Nothing can harm him. None can oppose him. Rather than being kind, he's happy to invade as much of the new world as he can. He shows no mercy to evildoers. For him to seem remotely noble, his opponents have to be colossal dicks, resulting in a world of mostly jerks. Sure is a pity if some innocents get in the way of his army of monsters, too.

I appreciate that this is the whole intended charm of Overlord. Personally it just gets under my skin. Whenever Ainz gets flustered by an embarrassing NPC he made I just think about the human skin pergaments he writes his maps on. I watched the internet be outraged about the goblin rape in Goblin Slayer, and wondered where everyone was when that one sex slave chick gets abused and thrown out on the streets in Overlord with all her teeth knocked out, so the butler could have motivation for his revenge arc. Overlord isn't quite the king of morally despicable power fantasies yet, but until Re: Monster gets an anime it sure is up there. That's gonna be a trip, if it ever happens, I tell you what. If you're unfamiliar, it's as if one of the rape goblins from Goblin Slayer was the main character.

Pictured: Goblin Slayer's next target
Pictured: Goblin Slayer's next target

I recommend That Time I Got Reincarnated As A Slime if you'd like to be on the other end of a goblin fucking. Unlike these aforementioned edgelords, Slime is largely inoffensive and chill. It's just this OP slime helping out everyone in a generic JRPG world while gathering up a harem of sexy goblins and more superpowers than is fair for anyone to have. It doesn't exactly stir my heart, but it doesn't offend me either. Least he's nice about it. Good year for goblins, by the way.

The Ancient Magus' Bride is an interesting one. It's about this suicidal chick who's cursed with a specific kind of magic. She sells herself into slavery and gets bought by a monstrous, ancient wizard-like creature to be his student slash pet slash wife slash experiment. Unlike most fantasy shows, it doesn't have its roots in modern fantasy literature or RPGs, but in fairy tales and religion. It nails that dangerous atmosphere where every interaction with the supernatural is likely to cost you your firstborn child. The fairies, the trolls, the spirits - they aren't a metaphor for a minority or whatever in this setting. They aren't just humans with long ears or big beards. They're different species entirely, with a completely different set of rules and morals. The imbalance of power and figuring that alternate world out makes it exciting to read.

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However, that same fantasy element also goes for the love story part of it. It's one of the most unashamedly Beauty and the Beast-like romance stories I've read. It's all about struggling, broken women with no faith left in others or themselves getting rescued by powerful father figures that are emotionally immature or closed off, who have to be broken out of their shell and learn to love. That part doesn't appeal to me. It just makes me feel like they should go out and try to date someone who doesn't own/raise them. If they even can go out without getting spied on by their masters.

While there is some conflict over this in the story, I definitely got the sense that it's the whole appeal for both the author and the intended audience. The manga is still ongoing, so who knows how it ends there, but from what I've seen the anime just adds a wedding dress to a reconcilliation scene. I was also a bit frustrated with the villain, a man so unintimidating he should by rights have been devoured by the magus the first time they see each other. So yeah. I enjoy the setting, and some individual segments, but not the actual story all that much. Definitely not the romantic aspect of it.

Golden Kamuy is alright! It doesn't really speak to me, but it's got a unique setting and feels like a western. I heard the anime wasn't exactly the grestest adaptation in the world so I'm in no rush to watch it.

I didn't want to feel this year: March Comes In Like A Lion, Bloom Into You, A Place Further Than The Universe

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I have a hard time jumping into dramas, so I kept putting these off until the year was over. I've heard nothing but praise for all of them - which isn't to say that I'd love them. I might not. People have their tastes, if my whole Overlord rant wasn't proof enough. But I definitely think they all seem worth giving a shot at some point in the future.

What I dropped

Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai

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I tried out Rascal Does Not Dream of Bunny Girl Senpai, this year's most anime titled anime. It's okay. There's definitely a genre of light novels that's "urban magic: otaku edition" or whatever, which this, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and Bakemonogatari are all parts of. People suffering from magical realism ailments with some metaphor going on("I wanted everyone to stop noticing me, so I've turned invisible"), helping out chicks in trouble, constant unrealistic banter, self-aware fanservice anime nerd tropes, you know the drill. But if Haruhi is the classic and Bakemonogatari is the wacky artsyfartsy sex version of it, this just seems like a bland derivative of those. The setting is just a normal town, "filmed" like any other show.

Pictured: A more interesting show than Bunny Girl Senpai
Pictured: A more interesting show than Bunny Girl Senpai

I'll grant you Bakemonogatari's flashes of screens being entirely red with the word "red" on it didn't exactly do much for me, I don't like everything they did, but they always tried to do something interesting during long-ass conversations and what might otherwise have been dull exposition. There's occasional funny animation. It's got an instantly recognizable art style and cool character designs. It's got outrageous licking. Comparatively, Bunny Girl looks like a bargain bin Kyoto Animation show.

The banter in Bunny Girl is the self-conscious "we're both thinking five steps ahead and just saying whatever we want with flat expressions on our faces" kinda thing. I'm inclined to admit Haruhi's or Bakemonogatari's banter is far from natural either, but whether it's because of stronger writing or better presentation, I enjoyed listening to those characters talk a lot more than in Bunny Girl. Here you just get two characters that seem unrealistically detached and confident trading quips and exposition. I thought it was boring.

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I liked the concept of the first case. This ex-celebrity girl is increasingly becoming invisible, and eventually forgotten, by most people. That's why she can wander around in the whole bunny girl getup, although she only does that for one scene. It's a heart-wrenching kinda curse to never be seen by anyone, even when that's what you wanted to when everyone kept recognizing you from the TV stuff you did.

I'm not sitting through annoying banter and dull direction for the occasional interesting curse, however. Your mileage may vary, but ideally I want to be gripped the whole way through a show, not just holding out for the interesting high concepts or themes, so I dropped it after that first arc. Which doesn't mean it's a terrible show, I just didn't enjoy it enough to bother spending more time on it.

Skull-face Bookseller Honda-san

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I'm sad I only watched about an hour of this. It's a cute little based-on-real-life-experiences comedy show about people working at a comic book store. It starts strong by focusing on international customers, so I got to see a lot of "How Japanese people view noisy tourists" type observations, complete with funny caricatures. There's a segment on fujoshi that's so relatable I couldn't help but laugh. Poor Honda-san. He's got a positive attitude to it all, though.

Out of all the shows I have put on hold/dropped in 2018, this one is the most likely to get a reprieve as a thing I'll watch with a friend. Incidentally, we still haven't watched Attack on Titan season 3.

Good year for skull-faced men, by the way.

The Finished Business

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While AoT season 3 had to wait, we did finish up Persona 5 the Animation, which remained a disappointing waste of time till the end. It ends at the Bad Ending, by the way. It's pretty fierce. Gotta hold out for March to get the True Ending.

I also finished My Hero Academia season 3 and don't have more to say about it since last time really. My Hero Academia is okay. Next season will adapt better arcs.

What I actually watched

Zombieland Saga

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What a positive surprise! I never heard a thing about Zombieland Saga until the internet was abuzz with whispers. "You should watch Zombieland Saga. Don't read anything about it, just watch." Then I did. And I was very entertained.

No relation
No relation

I'll echo that recommendation myself. Just go look at the first episode if you're curious. It's a comedy, and I don't wanna sit here and just tell you the jokes. But if you want a bit more, allow me to elaborate behind the spoiler tags.

Zombieland Saga is a zombie idol show. Through unknown methods, for dubious reasons, an eccentric young manager has resurrected idols from Japan's last 200 years of history. They're gonna revitalize the Saga district of Japan! ... By being idols? Bringing publicity to the region? I suspect there's something more to this, but the why and the how isn't the point. It's about the inherent comedy in seven dead chicks trying to make it big as entertainers, even while one of them has a rotted brain and they keep losing their limbs.

It's directed quite well. It's a strong contender for best anime rap of the year. Best opening, too. And for the second half of the show, while the comedic tone never quite leaves, it knows how to focus in on the backstory of the girls(who all died young, natch) and get to the heart of things. One girl's father has survived his daughter's demise and is a pretty sad sight. It's touching to see them make up post-mortem.

Nothing's perfect, the CG used for some of the dance scenes fails to look like a parody of bad idol CG and just looks exactly like bad idol CG. Episode 3 and 4 are both much weaker than the first two, which made me afraid I'd have to award Zombieland Saga the Most Disappointing Award until it picked back up again. I don't necessarily think it became as good as those first two episodes once more, but it maintained a high standard that was definitely good enough for me. Lots of good laughs, lots of good sad moments. I was always happy to watch the next episode.

Overall, it's one of my favorite anime this year.

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SSSS. Gridman

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An explanation might be in order. There was an old tokusatsu show that only aired from 1993-1994, called Denkou Choujin Gridman or Hyper Agent Gridman. In it, some kids make a computer game that gets possessed by Gridman, an inter-dimensional police officer. Similarly, an inter-dimensional villain called Khan Digifier possesses the computer of a social misfit in the same class as the Gridman kids. Digifier and the loner create kaiju that invade the computer world, while the good guys merge with Gridman and fight him back.

The "computer world" in this case being some set of colorful buildings that represent the inside of whatever electronic article the kaiju are attacking. Gridman defeating the kaiju and repairing the damage to the computer world might stop a microwave oven from exploding, to put it like that. The show was put out in America with new live action segments under the frankly phenomenal name Superhuman Samurai Syber-Squad.

Now it it's 25 years later and some madmen at Trigger decided that what they really wanted to do is create an anime sequel to a show nobody's bloody ever heard of. Maybe the director, who also did Inferno Cop, feels a kinship with Khan Digifier? The version of Digifier that appears in SSSS. Gridman, called Alexis Kherib for reasons beyond my understanding, looks a lot like both of them. The anime really expects you to have seen the old Gridman, bizarrely. The final ability the hero pulls out of his ass is taken straight from that old show, and will only feel justified if you already knew what it was.

I don't have to tell you the concept for SSSS. Gridman, 'cause on its surface it's identical to the old one. The difference is one of execution. Hyper Agent Gridman is a campy-ass kids show with cute actors in outreagous 90s fashion playing cartoony characters. SSSS. Gridman, for some reason, tries to de-camp as much as it can. There's almost zero music aside from the Gridman/Kaiju battles. Everyone talks in this weird way, which to me sounds closer to J-dramas but is probably intended to sound like real life conversation? The comedic timing is completely off.

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Characters act in this odd, breath-taken way like they can't quite understand what is happening or get into it, never asking reasonable questions or acting like people. I have no clue what they're going for. The main character, Yuuta, has lost his memory and doesn't regain it until the final episode, which is always annoying. Shinjo Akane, the bad guy, doesn't really have much going on. She just sends kaiju after people that annoy her, and spends the rest of the time lounging in a room filled with garbage.

The Kaiju fights, on the other hand, are pretty spectacular. I shit on anime CG a lot for looking bad, but by keeping it to the giant robots and monsters and keeping those largely separate from the 2D animation, it looks fine. There's enough snappy animation to it that it looks exciting and fun in the way you want it to, and enough details that it doesn't look plain.

Let's get into spoiler territory, 'cause there's a twist here that reframes the whole thing, and it's pointless to talk about the anime without factoring it in.

The one difference in the concept for the old show and SSSS is that the kaiju attack in the real world now. Or so it appears. About six episodes in, it's revealed that the whole world is actually Akane Shinjo's creation, and only consists of the city. She's got regular old kaiju to murder the people she dislikes, and the colossal kaiju that litter the horizon but are invisible to normal people are the clean-up crew that erases the town's memories and repairs the buildings after a fight. This is all possible because Alexis Kherib turns her creations real. Also, Yuuta has no memories because he was possessed by Gridman all the time. I guess Gridman has a thing for high school girls, which might be alarming. The team of weirdos that turn into Gridman's weapons and never explain their presence(do anyone even ask them?) are also explained as parts of Gridman's personality that split into pieces, though they never rejoin during the anime. The final scene of the show, and I called this so hard, is a real life shot of a Japanese woman meant to be Akane waking up in her bed.

I was especially impressed with this battle
I was especially impressed with this battle

Naturally, this opens up a few questions. Is this all just a dream Akane is having? Is it another computer the real life Akane is using? Are Gridman and Alexis Kherib intended to be actually real, or are they figments of her imagination based on whatever tokusatsu nostalgia she has? How come she has so seriously little control of this world if it's actually hers? Do none of the heroes ever try to attack her directly, despite her living quite literally in the next door house, because she's intentionally designed them to be fucking morons unable to harm her, or do they realize they can't really hope to fight a God?

How much of everyone acting bizarrely is meant to be because it's a dream or simulation? Is that one humanoid kaiju who appears and tells Yuuta all this some character from the original series that they don't bother explaining more about? Are we just doing Cells At Work here, but for the different parts of Akane's personality, like some kinda Inside Out thing?

Ultimately, why are we doing the it was a dream all along twist?

Obviously the twist turns it into a story about Akane working through her issues. She has to learn to deal with her insecurities and self-hate and return to the real world rather than hide in a dream, growing into a better person. It's a coming of age/dealing with mental issues thing. But let me be clear here:

What's the bikini phone a metaphor for?
What's the bikini phone a metaphor for?

This is already part of pretty much every mecha show I've seen. Shinji in Evengalion, Simon in Gurren Lagann, all the kids in FLCL, the people in Eureka Seven, Planet With just this year. Not to mention, it's a popular theme in anime in general. Dragon Pilot, Welcome to the NHK, Mayoiga, Kiznaiver, Persona 4, Mai-Hime... It's so common. A lot of these are Trigger's(and previously Gainax') own shows, too.

But you know what none of these other shows do? Have some twist halfway through where it turns out all the characters are just the dream of the bad guy. It just feels like a twist for a twist's sake. Would the theme have been unclear to anyone if Shinjo Akane just went through the same plot beats she does in the anime already, minus the "I am the god of this world" parts? It doesn't really add anything to the narrative besides another layer of meta.

I was not a fan. The action and the basic concept are completely fine, but the way they did the twist and the direction of the human parts of this show is some of the least fun stuff I've had to sit through. It was also difficult to understand some bits of it because they're direct references to the original Gridman. I respect that they did something just for them and the people that care, but I couldn't dig it despite the impenetrable references the way I could with, say, FLCL.

Made me listen to a ton of this theme, though.

Karakuri Circus

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The introduction I wrote to Karakuri Circus at the end of the previous anime blog says it all, really. They did the Ushio & Tora thing again, but applied it to the author's next work.

Ushio & Tora was COOL
Ushio & Tora was COOL

I wouldn't say it's as much of a success, for many reasons. Chief among them is the conceit of the setting. In Ushio & Tora, you've got a simple concept to write everything else around. Ushio is a good kid who's got a powerful demon-slaying spear, while Tora is a powerful cat-like demon who was trapped by the spear for centuries. Now they gotta work together reluctantly while all kinds of monsters are after their heads. It's a concept you could build on in all sorts of ways for hundreds of chapters, and it was still easy to follow. Even though the anime skipped 90% of the material and some turns and introductions were super sudden because whole characters and arcs were excised, you could easily get it and feel like you weren't getting the cliff notes version. Even though you totally were.

That's not the case with Karakuri Circus. Everything comes back to circuses and dolls, yes, but that has to be explained in a way "ghosts/yokai/monsters exist" doesn't have to be. I struggle to sum it up in any comprehensible way. We start with contrivances right off the bat, with the main hero Narumi just protecting this random kid who gets assaulted in the street. Narumi is suffering from a debilitating disease that strangles him if he can't get people to laugh, which is as out there as it sounds. A few episodes later, it turns out he's essentially Street Fighter's Ryu. It's weird, man.

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The kid, meanwhile, is the heir of a family of people that fight with huge robotic dolls, and they're out to get him for the inheritance. But that's just the first arc! It's probably a hundred chapters or something, but they do it in six episodes.

Next arc you get this huge exposition dump about a medieval circus of living dolls that give people the same sickness Narumi has, and... Look. It's pretty dumb stuff. This author is also a big fan of introducing new reincarnation/clone/memory transfer crap each new arc, and having all the main characters share in some ancient past. If what he wrote is what he planned to write when starting out, it is profoundly insulting.

My Hero Academia, by the end of season 3, has covered 124 chapters(ending on the beginning of the Internship Arc) over the span of 63 episodes. Fairly similarly, One Piece covered 104 chapters(Ending on Laboon) during its first 62 episode long season. Hunter X Hunter(2011) did 120 chapters(Ending at the end of the York Shin arc) in 58 episodes. It's a pretty good ratio, around 3 chapters per episode plus the occasional anime original filler episode(One Piece's extra episodes compared to MHA comes down to 10 episodes or so of pure filler arcs compared to MHA's two or three recap episodes and Asui bumming around on a boat for that one ep). This mostly doesn't feel rushed, and mostly doesn't feel slow, either. You can do even better, Jojo's Bizarre Adventure: Stardust Crusaders covers all of its 152 chapters in a mere 48 episodes without ever feeling rushed, largely by just never doing any filler episodes and keeping the action scenes snappy. But by and large, this is just about the ideal ratio of episodes to chapters for a faithful shonen fighting manga adaptation.

This isn't Karakuri Circus either
This isn't Karakuri Circus either

Comparatively, Karakuri Circus covers the plot of 180 chapters in the span of just 12 episodes. And because Karakuri Circus skips most of the material, we go from revelation to revelation, retcon to retcon, dramatic character death to dramatic character death. Characters have their introduction, redeeming moment and death in the span of 30 minutes.

At one point, a character appears to die dramatically and is revealed to be alive within the next 20 minutes rather than, say, after two more volumes. Sometimes characters appear with no introduction, while other times plot points make less sense because the details around them changed. A status quo that takes several arcs to change now changes every couple of episodes. It doesn't work well at all.

Many of these same problems are shared by Ushio & Tora. But unlike with Karakuri Circus, those issues didn't take me out of it to the same extent. I guess it's the difference between which parts they chose to include, and the strength of the core ideas.

Karakuri Circus is still moderately fun in a retro kinda way, although it's definitely aged better in some areas than others. The animation is occasionally strong, the direction of the scenes work, there's good voice and sound effect work. I actually quite like Narumi, I'm a sucker for these do-gooder, brave protagonists. The kid he rescues, Masaru, grows into a very nice little kid quickly too.

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There's also a third main character I haven't mentioned, the cold acrobat Shirogane, who's pleasant. While Masaru and Narumi map onto Ushio & Tora without too much trouble(Narumi is voiced by Tora's voice actor), she's a different kind of person entirely. I hope you like her design, 'cause there's at least four different characters who all look exactly like her.

Anyway, I enjoy Karakuri Circus as a shonen fighting show that actually moves at a brisk pace and with passionate energy. The cut content is both a blessing and a curse here. Not all of it was worth saving, with the kind of setup the story had. You can cut a lot of random encounters and dragged-out fights and still get a fun anime out of it.

But it's difficult to recommend this anime when Ushio & Tora is a better version of the same thing. Check it out if you've watched Ushio & Tora and could go for another helping.

Jojo's Bizarre Adventure Part 5: Golden Wind

Jojo has a lot of things going for it, both as a manga and an anime. I love how it's sorted into "parts", so rather than following one character for a thousand chapters, we're following 10 characters for a hundred chapters each. It keeps all the lore and characters largely separate and managable, and switches up the setting before it gets tired. Some characters might come over into the next part, either permanently or for a bit, but by and large they're self-contained stories.

We're now on the fifth part in the anime, and while I wouldn't recommend starting here since every other season is also good, you theoretically could jump in here and not really be too confused. It's set in Italy for the first time since Part 2, and besides a few inherited characters with limited screentime everything here stands on its own.

The franchise really is spectacular. Whenever they put out another season and overwhelm me with their new music and take on the art style, I think "This one's my favorite". The artwork can't measure up to the manga - it's an intricately detailed comic, and those designs are hard to translate and harder to animate well. But the studio does its best to make up for that shortcoming in other areas. Impressive work with color, good music, outstanding sound effects, it's got it all. While I read Part 5 a long time ago, I'm having a much better time with the anime than I ever did with the manga. Partly 'cause of the wonky scanlations, but still.

What I love the most about Jojo personally is the way it handles its fights. Most shonen fighting manga operate on a scale from "drama" to "rules". At one end you never explain any abilities much in detail and it's all down to coreography or the story to give it impact. You don't really have to be smarter, you just have to be stronger. On the other end you've got intricately detailed systems, and the appeal is in seeing how one ability is used to beat another. One is a character action game, or perhaps an action movie. The other I'd liken to a tabletop RPG. Jojo lands squarely in the latter category, and every fight is just fascinating to watch.

This year's 15-year old shonen fighting protags
This year's 15-year old shonen fighting protags

Essentially, it's the author playing a game with the audience. Here's a character with this ability. How can the heroes, who have that ability, figure out a way to beat him? He wins when he can write a fight that arises naturally from the abilities and makes it exciting, and he fails when there has to be an asspull. Mostly, he manages to win.

If you look up a fight from Jojo on youtube, you'll almost entirely see one person beating the shit out of another, which might give you the wrong idea. Jojo is nothing but fights. An episode usually begins setting the stage with something mundane or light-hearted. Then the enemy stalks the heroes, unleashing impossible things on them with his ability, in a way similar to horror movies. The heroes then have to figure out how he's doing it, a way to open up the villain. The beatdown is just the satisfying reward after 20-40 minutes of getting hounded by the opponent.

Jojo did get a bit Monster of the Week with its format post Part 2, but I really don't mind when it's done this well. I actually don't have much to say about the plot and characters of Part 5. You might like them, you might not. I think every Jojo Part is good and whichever set dressing you prefer just comes down to taste.

Personally, I think these protagonists are kinda jackasses and I know ahead of time that the villain is poor, so I'm not super invested in that aspect of it. I don't really care about the mafia flavor of it except as an excuse for a journey where the heroes get assassins sent after them again. But as an exciting shonen fighting anime with the best fights in the genre, presented amazingly through inspired direction? Yeah, I'm completely in love. Jojo Part 5 has some of the best fights in the series, with many of them involving multiple opponents at once.

Karakuri Circus and Jojo are both ongoing, and I'm gonna keep watching both of them.

How Not To Summon A Demon Lord

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I ended up watching a whole harem show after all. This is also the only isekai show I watched this year, which, I'm very sorry about.

How Not To Summon A Demon Lord starts with a high-level MMO player getting sucked into another world based on the MMO. He ends up there in character, as the Demon Lord Diablo. For once, we actually know why he's here right off the bat: He was summoned here through summon magic by two adventurers, the elf Shera and the catgirl Rem, who could both use a strong bodyguard. They try throwing a spell on him that will turn him into their servant, but the spell is reflected by Diablo's passive abilities, and he ends up with two hot chicks who now wear his collars. Makes you wonder why his magic reflect didn't reverse the initial summoning spell. There are comparatively few reverse isekai shows, where fantasy creatures are summoned into our world. Save something for the sequel, I guess.

Rem and Shera didn't just summon him for fun. Shera's a princess who escaped from the kingdom of the elves to live life on her own, and a war is treathening to break lose between the elves and her new home if they don't get her back. Which sounds like a tough start, but Rem has it worse. Through some jinchuuriki business, she's ended up with this world's actual demon lord trapped inside of her, and should she be killed the demon lord will revive. Of course every demonic prince in the vicinity want nothing more than to rip her open. Diablo isn't really hard to ask, and they start out questing while looking for ways to solve the issues: Settle things with the elves, exorcise the demon in Rem, and remove both their collars.

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Diablo is a shut-in nerd who hasn't talked to anyone besides his mom in ages, so in order to communicate, the best he can manage is roleplaying his character. I like him. Theoretically, the collars give him the ability to get Rem and Shera to do anything he'd like, but he never once uses them. He might be a dork, bu he's a nice dork, y'know. On the outside he does his best impression of an evil overlord, but unlike actual Overlord, it's clear there isn't a mean streak in his whole being. He's as overpowered as every other dull isekai protag, but it does help that he can't do shit in social situations and finds himself in them quite often. I especially like when he has to be polite and can barely eke out a sentence while still keeping to his RP.

As an anime fan I definitely relate to disappointing people, so I get it whenever his social anxieties come up, and appreciate it when his friends still support him.

Look. Boobs are fun. I used to be very annoyed by the fanservice aspect of anime, but the more stressed I've become as my twenties wear on, the more I appreciate a nice, relaxing show once in a while that isn't really about much more than boobs. "Why would you watch this when you could be watching porn???" doesn't apply. I don't relax to porn. But I do relax to Demon Lord. Watching a few good guys fight a few bad guys while boobs bounce around is the kinda mindless fun I can just sit down and enjoy without thinking about.

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As far as these anime titty shows go, Demon Lord isn't the best. It's got a gross rapey bad guy for a few episodes. The porny situations Diablo finds himself in are often the usual, contrived stuff("Oops, I accidentally grabbed your boob when I was reaching for the alarm clock"). It doesn't really have the aspirations to go much further than what is expected of it. It's far from the 10/10 comedy boobs of Prison School, nowhere close to the stellar shonen fighting butt parody of Keijo!!!!!!!!, not even in the same conversation as Re: Cutie Honey's energetic action. It hasn't been long since Konosuba, and that was twice the show this one is at the very least.

But it's also not the worst. Some characters are decent. Shera, Diablo and Rem end up sharing a pretty sweet friendship. The backgrounds, if a little generic, generally look nice. Diablo has some fun insight from using the MMO mechanics in this world based on them. The anime knows where to use its good animators, busting them out for the big combat scenes and the big bouncing boob scenes. It doesn't drag. It's kind rather than cruel. There's an occasional good comedic beat. Demon Lord never outright bored me. It's not the generic nightmare of Yuuna and the Haunted Hot Springs, which I could barely stand an episode of. It's not Heaven's Lost Property.

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In a year as weak at fanservice as this one, Demon Lord had my back when I needed it to. It's not gonna make my top 10, obviously. It's at best three stars. But I appreciate it.

I would've watched Senran Kagura but I didn't wanna come in during season 3 and miss all the plot.

Dragon Ball Z Kai : Waiting for Goku

In Scandinavia, there was a sort of manga boom in the early 2000s. It ended in the late 2000s, with to my knowledge no manga being translated here anymore(edit: Someone's apparently re-translating Dragon Ball), but the damage was done. A generation of kids now knew there was more to comics than Norwegian comic strips, The Phantom, Tintin, Italian Canon Donald Duck, Conan the Barbarian, Calvin & Hobbes and Spider-Man. And they were easily able to get it online. Reading manga is usually as simple as searching for "Read *title of manga*". Despite nobody publishing it here anymore, there's no shortage of fans.

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At the time, our local publishers tried printing various magazines and put out the books of whatever comics they could get their hand on(some huge, like One Piece, some small, like Time Stranger Kyoko). Ranma 1/2 was the first big one, which Egmont picked up. Schibsted started later, but what they got was Dragon Ball. As a teen, I read every volume.

All Systems Goku started this year, so for the first time in my life I've been watching Dragon Ball in animated form(well, sort of for the first time. I've watched some Dragon Ball Abridged and AMVs here and there, but never an episode of the original). To follow along with ASG's commentary, I've also been listening with the English dub, though I did listen to the JP voices for an episode here and there. It's had its ups and downs to say the least. I'd watch it in Japanese if I didn't think I'd lose out on context for Jeff and Dan's jabs at the American voice actors.

The English dub has some funny jokes and isn't... bad exactly, but there is something unnatural to the way they structure their sentences and perform their lines. It doesn't sound like Americans speaking regularly, and it doesn't sound like the way people speak in American cartoons. It still has that weird anime dub vibe as they try to increase the flowery language to match English sentences with Japanese mouth movements. The differences between Goku's goofiness in English as opposed to his naive childishness in Japanese make it hard to jump back and forth between them, too. It's a different thing.

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The big charm point of Dragon Ball, for me anyway, is the art style. As Toriyama got older, I think his style got a lot uglier. Over the course of Dragon Ball Z it gradually becomes sharper and pointier, to the degree that when they show flashbacks of Goku goofing around during the Saiyan saga it looks like a different guy. People are calling Dragon Quest 11 beautiful, and I think they're outta their minds. But Dragon Ball did start out looking really great. Soft, squat characters, barely a few heads tall, with stumpy little arms and legs pulling of sweet martial arts moves with godlike speedlines.

Even when the DBZ art gets harder, less refined, you still get the colorful and cute characters only Toriyama really makes. It's downright approachable, is what it is. And it's aged like fine wine. In a year I watched a lot of anime aping a retro style, it was delightful to also watch something where you can see every sketchy pen stroke on the character close-ups, every painterly background. It's such a different thing from the digital techniques of today. While many artists have been inspired by him, there isn't anyone else that's mimicked Toriyama's style and gone big with it. It feels uniquely his, and that lends a timeless quality to the show. It isn't like Ushio & Tora where you can pinpoint the exact years it was published because of the trends it follows.

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My big problem with Dragon Ball is that the fighting is plain bad. When you start out watching, the lasers and the big punches and all the flying around, that's really impressive. Dragon Ball is unabashedly a kid's show, but it's much more violent than American cartoons, and I can easily imagine kids used to watching Transformers or whatever get blown away around the time Nappa punches Tenshinhan's arm off. Back when I started reading, I was amazed at how fluid and cool the martial arts felt to read. However, Dragon Ball Z's laser-filled fights haven't aged well for me.

In the decades after Dragon Ball, shonen fighting usually focuses on abilities that differ widely between characters. They might share an origin or a system, like nen, or stands, or chakra, but ultimately everyone's got their own special skill going on. Dragon Ball is all Superman with energy beams, from Raditz to Buu. It also quickly becomes clear that Dragon Ball is more of an RPG than a character action game, to put it like that. Not a tabletop RPG this time, but a grindy oldschool one.

What's important is who has the biggest numbers. Who can fight better, who can think better, who can plan better... that sort of thing does matter sometimes, but it's rare. And while the numbers go higher, the changes to the fights over the course of the series is minimal. There just isn't a big visual difference between a level 1 explosion and a level 100000000 explosion, and characters can destroy planets ever since Vegeta's first fight. You just have to take the word of the author for granted and accept that yes, this or that new character is ten times faster and stronger than the last opponent even though there's zero indication of that being the case besides how effective the heroes are against them.

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The experience of watching Dragon Ball is an exercise in patience. Usually Character A beats up Character B, overwhelmingly. Character B can shoot whatever he wants at Character A, but no matter how many explosions hit Character A, the smoke is gonna clear and Character A will barely have a scratch on him. Character B either powers up, or gets bailed out by a stronger character. The only way to turn the tides is to "get stronger", which rarely has anything to do with specific moves and more with just grinding out enough points to level up. And it gets very old very fast.

I think there are good ways to make a system work where every fighter share similar abilities. Hajime no Ippo comes to mind, it's just people boxing, but because of the specific training and moves and manouvers Ippo learns to overcome his opponents, it stays engaging. But that's not how Dragon Ball operates. It never really goes into depth on fighting, how one character might be better at parrying or whatever or how another has mastered jabs. The only determining factor is their level. And the only new techniques besides a couple early on in the Saiyan saga and the instant transmission are power-up moves. Dragon Ball can only engage with drama once the shine of the lasers start fading.

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And that drama does basically work. There are bad guys there, we have good guys here, we want to see the good guys beat up the bad guys. But it's pretty one note stuff for 100+ episodes. Even with Kai's heavy cuts, you're looking at an intimidating runtime. The Buu Saga in particular barely seems like it got any cuts at all, with lots of shots of characters just staring at one another and all these pointless asides that never come up again.

But even before that it's a bother. Bulma has a movie's worth of screentime on Namek, which in the manga was pretty much just a cover illustration of her pouting in a cave. She spends all that screentime bitching and moaning, because they originally integrated the last bit of her misadventures into the main plot, so they had to show how she ended up where she was. And it's a huge waste of everyone's time, and makes people resent the character. Filler Bulma sucks.

What helps ease this tedium is when Dragon Ball gets a little weird, or a little funny. In OG Dragon Ball, they're the norm, but they still turn up here and there in Z. When Goku has to chase a monkey around a little planet, you know. When the Androids go on a road trip. When Buu turns out be Kirby With No Regard For Human Life. But these moments get further and further apart whenever the arc turns serious, and I probably wouldn't have made it through the entire thing on my own. I needed Jeff and Dan to walk me through it with wrestling references, their sheer joy at discovering an anime that was fun, their funny imitations of the voice actors. They made Dragon Ball much better for me.

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Dragon Ball has had a profound influence on the medium, and that makes it easier to forgive its flaws. Of course you make some mistakes when you're the one paving new ground that everyone's gonna riff on for the next three decades. You basically introduced power levels, so of course the focus on those is gonna be a bit dumb. You're making this up on the fly, having evolved from a comedy manga to a martial arts manga to an intergalactic laser fight manga, so of course the plot won't make the most sense from start to end.

Most importantly, Dragon Ball is approachable. The art style, whenever someone doesn't Hulk out, is simple and nice. It's got heroic good guys, merciless bad guys, and an antihero or two for edgelord fans of all ages. It's got silly comedy and a lot of intense fighting. Very simple fighting, yes, but that means anyone can get it at a glance. There's a reason it is most people's gateway into anime at large, and there's nothing wrong with a crowdpleaser. I actually appreciate it a lot for getting everyone interested in the medium.

Please tell me ASG is doing OG Dragon Ball next, this art style is so my jam
Please tell me ASG is doing OG Dragon Ball next, this art style is so my jam

I dunno how to give a score to Dragon Ball. I don't necessarily love it anymore. If I were to make a top 10 list of my favorite fighting anime/manga, I dunno if it would make the top 10 for certain. Still, I'd say I enjoyed my time with Dragon Ball this year. And All Systems Goku even more.

Finally

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Well, that's it then. Stick around, and I'll get the AOTY post out on Friday. Make sure to vote for the site's overall AOTY as well while you have the chance. See ya then!

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Redhotchilimist's Top 10 games of 2018 and GOTY awards

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2018 wasn't a big video game playing year for me(It was an unusually big anime watching year instead). I played some games from this year, but the only one that rates as a favorite game is Spider-Man, and I didn't spend a ton of time on much besides Street Fighter V's multiplayer. So rather than a top 10 games I played this year, I'm gonna go through everything I played this year chronologically. Afterwards, I'm for the first time gonna present some different awards.

Games I played in 2018

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Naughty Dog's games have been in my backlog since forever, so last January I decided to take the plunge and try out Giant Bomb's 2009 Game of the Year.

The game goes for this adventure movie vibe of an Indiana Jones, but with the added quipping of television shows like Buffy or Castle. That dedication to being like a movie runs through the whole game. There's a ton of scripted sequences and big setpiece moments, and you've always got an NPC around to show you where to run and to exchange quips with you. I think setpiece moments are fine now and then, but when you step out of line in this game it shuts you down immediately.

Chloe starts out alright, but she suffers from a severe case of thinking this game isn't an action movie. By approaching the situation they're in realistically compared to Nathan Drake and the rest of his friends, she comes off like a well-meaning coward who doesn't know what genre she's in. That's when Elena takes over, by acting in what would be an outrageous way IRL but that fits much more with being action protags.
Chloe starts out alright, but she suffers from a severe case of thinking this game isn't an action movie. By approaching the situation they're in realistically compared to Nathan Drake and the rest of his friends, she comes off like a well-meaning coward who doesn't know what genre she's in. That's when Elena takes over, by acting in what would be an outrageous way IRL but that fits much more with being action protags.

At several different points you get locked in a room for a big firefight or stealth 'em up. One time you're hiding inside a turned-over train car and have to fend of attackers. But if you pick the smart option of getting out and using the whole car as cover, snipers spawn behind you and finish you off in an instant. At first this looked like I could dodge them. But it doesn't work.

They're effectively a cutscene, instantly ripping you apart for going outside the script. Later on there was a boss fight with a dude who could soak up an indefinite amount of bullets but would go down in a few scripted melee hits. There was a sequence where you're trying to escape up an obvious spot, sneaking around enemies stalking for you in the snow - but if you actually sneak around successfully and climb up, you get shot in the back in a game over cutscene. You've got to kill them all first. No no, not just once - you thought you were done, but there was another wave coming in and now you're dead.

This all frustrated me terribly. I guess I didn't expect to like Uncharted much. I'm not a big moviegoer, and when a game tries its best to ape movies it kinda tires me out.

Elena's winter jacket is my favorite character in Uncharted 2
Elena's winter jacket is my favorite character in Uncharted 2

The characters are often cited as the draw, but while they're more fun to be around than the Assassin's Creed protags or whatever, I don't think they're especially noteworthy either. I don't care about any of these people, at least not like the way I care about them in other video games. The heroes are just too much banter and action movie cliches with little to set them apart from the sea of similar characters out there. Meanwhile, the bad guys are an angry bald Russian(he's not actually Ruassian - he's Serbian) and a slightly uglier british clone of Nathan Drake.

There isn't time for these guys to develop further than their archetypes. It just ends up feeling like I'm dealing with stock characters. I don't sit there listening to Nathan Drake talking about how much he dislikes clowns and feel like I'm getting something out of it. It's not so bad I can laugh at it, but also not so good I genuinely feel something, the worst kinda middle of the road.

And then on top of that, I'm not very fond of most shooters(there are exceptions). I appreciate that you can run around and do some jumps while firing guns, and the melee takedowns look funny, but I was pretty bored during even the most dramatic black and white shootouts of this game. It's not that it was easy, I'm a pretty mediocre player at best and died a lot during the more dramatic shootouts, I just wasn't engaged by it. You're gonna spend the majority of the game shooting at regular dorks from behind cover, only broken up by the occasional armored bastard with a shotgun and snipers that will wreck your shit. At the end of the game you meet a more monstrous faction of mystical enemies, a tradition I assume the new Tomb Raiders stole from here, and they're a right pain to fight until you realize they're weak to their own weapons.

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It was worth giving Uncharted 2 a shot just in case I was surprised and it turned out I loved it. I've made the mistake of avoiding games before, thinking they weren't for me, and then discovered I liked them a lot. But actually playing this game didn't change any of my preconceptions about it. It just frustrated me even more in practice how locked in I was. Aside from the instant game overs I described above and some non-entertaining gunplay, I was also annoyed by the climbing, which just locks you into a path and only rarely requires you to hit a button. It's like fake platforming or something. You're never asked to think.

The only time challenge enters into it is when I've been playing for 7 hours and my brain can no longer figure out where to find the ledge that starts the climbing. This only happened like twice, but I just had to give up and come back later. Most of this stuff is meticulously color coded as usual, but throw one white ledge on a red brick wall and apparently my eyes cease functioning, probably 'cause they're used to doing zero work at this point.

I'd be having more fun if Uncharted had either way more freedom so I could play it in my own way, or if this was all presented as one of those modern adventure games, Until Dawn style. The middle of the road approach just gets on my nerves, I guess. Every developer steers its players to get them where they want them to go, but with Uncharted 2 it feels like they're both pulling on my leash and pushing on my back, and any deviation I make from the script earns me a smack on the nose. They're essentially giving me quick time events without showing me which buttons I need to press. It's not a good time. I'd rather just be sat in a roller coaster, but Uncharted is eager to play theater with me even though only they have read the script.

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If you're blown away enough by the performance capture and movie aspirations I can understand how it could be your game of the year, especially if you naturally play inside the confines of the game. But I promise you the visual shine has faded in the decade since then, especially running at 30 fps in the original game that I played. And then the gameplay is both not especially fun, and terribly locked in.

More diplomatically, this one wasn't for me, as one says. I can see how it does something unique that could appeal to you, but it's very much not my preferred taste.

Metal Gear Rising Revengeance

If I was doing a top 10 list of the favorite games I played this year, the winner would be 2013's excellent Metal Gear Rising Revengeance. After Uncharted 2 failed to entertain I went to replay something that makes me sit up in my chair, grinning from ear to ear, laughing with excitement as amazing tracks kick in and colossal robot monsters are cut into a million pieces. It's not that I can't enjoy some cinematics in my games, it's that they need to be fun cinematics rather than dull ones.

There is bald terrorist bad guy in this game too, like Uncharted. The difference is that Lazarevic says things like "Compassion is the enemy, mercy defeats us!" and then chases you around for a spell with a shotgun. Meanwhile, Sundowner is asking you to give war a chance and wants to bring the war economy back to the good old days after 9/11, and you fight his armored ass on top of a building as he smacks you with pillars he ripped out off the ground himself. I guess for some people this style is just a bit too dumb for them to get into it, but I'd rather go through this story than Uncharted's any day. Or even something with much more time to develop its characters, like Mass Effect or Horizon Zero Dawn.

Monsoon alone steals the show with his Buggy the Clown style separation gimmick. In fact, you could map many of the bosses onto One Piece villains, which I appreciate.
Monsoon alone steals the show with his Buggy the Clown style separation gimmick. In fact, you could map many of the bosses onto One Piece villains, which I appreciate.

There's an inherent joyful vibe to it that's sorely lacking in those other games. It's fun. And it's fun in its own way, not from trying to be Indiana Jones by way of Castle. Despite the Metal Gear franchise coming from Kojima's love of American movies, there's a distinct separate voice to it that Uncharted lacks.

Rising doesn't feel like it follows on from Metal Gear Solid 4, even though it does. At the end of that game, Raiden has a family again, gets a humanoid robot body rather than the war machine he was wearing for the entirety of the story, and seems ready to care for them. By the start of this game, he's back in the war business and we barely ever hear about his family at all. A few hours later, he's gone extra murder mad as his child soldier personality resurfaces, which is hard to not feel like a step back for the character. Revengeance is a story that stands on its own, and might be best experienced as that.

I'm mostly grateful it doesn't delve into his family stuff. Rose remains a complete nightmare, and her character always involved her lying to Raiden for the entire runtime of the games she's in. We interact with the one person from MGS4 worth interacting with for a few scenes, and that's good enough for me.

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Which isn't to say that Rising doesn't benefit from being set in the Metal Gear universe. In some ways, it surpasses the storytelling of MGS, giving me proper codec calls and an enjoyable miniboss ensemble again in a way MGS stopped doing back in MGS3(so, 2004). The near future sci-fi of 2018 in this game is an utterly unique setting for a brawler. It's our world, but with significant advances in robotics and AI, and a military complex consisting almost entirely of PMCs.

Basing it in the real world and never delving into anything supernatural grounds Rising in a way Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden, Dante's Inferno, God of War or Devil May Cry can't be. It gives the genre the opportunity to move outside of the endless angelic/demonic conflicts these games use 'cause it's an easy way to create visually distinct, unquestionably evil opponents with interesting attack patterns and designs to mow down. Fortitudo from Bayo, Ares from God of War, Belial from DMC4, the Succubus from DmC, these aren't characters you can talk to besides some brief taunting, and you don't learn much besides the fact that they're evil or mad at you.

The bosses from Rising only get a few scenes to introduce themselves, it's a pretty cutscene-light game in the context of the Metal Gear series. But they're endlessly more memorable and enjoyable because they're cyborgs, grounded in human history and conflicts rather than demonic ones. The final boss might be the best final boss in any action game ever, a charismatic jackass politician who goes outside his mecha to power up in a way I haven't seen since Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann. Platinum took the already fantastic cheese of Metal Gear and added their own sense of humor to it, resulting in a charming game with tons of funny moments even as some of the darker elements come to light. It's a bit more animated, winking at the camera during moments the other MGS' would be more straightfaced, especially during MGS4 and MGSV.

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Rising is in many ways a lesser game than Platinum's Bayonetta. The chapter where Raiden regresses to his old persona has a walking section I would rather do without. The visual design is based on MGS4, the brownest and bloomiest game of the brown and bloomy 7th generation of gaming, so the color palette isn't exactly lively(but to be fair, Bayo also has the bad habit of dousing areas in yellow light). It's much shorter and much leaner than Bayonetta, lacking the variety you get from Bayo's endless weapons, dodges, double jumps and move list. But I think it surpasses it in setting, story and music, and the unique gameplay gimmicks of blade mode and the parrying defense keep it more than fresh enough for a runthrough of the modest campaign length. Metal Gear Rising Revengance is a trip, and if you have it in you to enjoy cyborg ninjas exchanging trash talk with robot dogs, it's a game you need to play ASAP.

Monster Hunter World

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When the devs do their best to make on of the most inherently fun concepts in gaming more accessible, prettying it up and putting it out on a console, I felt like I owed it to both them and myself to try it out. Unfortunately, I think there are still enough trappings around the edges of it that makes it tough to get into. The online is hard to get working, the in-game terminology for quests is difficult to understand, the menu text is often small enough that I needed to move my couch closer to the TV and all the tiny subsystems are impossible to remember.

There has to be a way to do this better. It feels like getting thrown into Pokemon lategame. I don't really need the gameplay to be dumbed down, the actual, well, action, I think that's excellent. And there's a palpable charm to all of it, especially with the little cat buddies. Love to watch them make me dinner. I just need an easier learning curve up to the action, and for some of the usability to be improved. Maybe next time.

Bloodborne

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This got on my list last year. I like it a lot as a refreshing, more action-oriented sequel to the Dark Souls series. This year I revisited it for 2018's Return to Yharnam event, where fans get together to play it at the same time in order to reinvigorate the online elements. I made a character that looks a bit more like me, and made it through... I dunno, half the game this time? It hadn't been that long since last I played it, so I wasn't all that hungry for more, but I did have a good time co-operating more with people than last time. I hope Sekiro evolves this formula even further. I've tried to stay in the dark on trailers and such, but I have seen they added some new mobility options that look enticing. I also like that Sekiro looks a bit more colorful. Old Japan isn't my favorite setting, but I suppose it lends itself to some light and beautiful environments for once.

Burnout Paradise Remastered

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The second attempt I made this year at playing one of Giant Bomb's favorite games was Burnout Paradise. I managed to go about an hour, but by then I was bored to tears. I thought this racing game was arcadey enough to still be fun to play, but I guess it's Mario Kart or nothing for me.

30 years of Street Fighter

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Last year was Street Fighter's 30 year anniversary, so Capcom, with their usual sense of punctuality, took this year to celebrate. Street Fighter V got its first major overhaul with Arcade Edition, which changed a lot of menus and systems. They then added the regular six new characters throughout the year plus Kage just this December.

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Most importantly, the new season added in arcade mode, which had been astoundingly missing from the game since launch. Going above and beyond, they made six different arcade ladders based on each of the main games in the franchise, playable for characters that were in the original games(with a few exceptions, like the Final Fight dudes getting their story added to the SF1 ladder, or Laura standing in for Sean in SF3's ladder).

I think Arcade mode is welcome, and ambitious, but not done exactly the way I wanted. Every character gets their own hand-drawn ending splash page, summarizing their endings from the game it's from. But a splash page presentation is definitely a step down from what used to be cutscenes, albeit still image or lightly animated cutscenes. It's also as impenetrable as ever for a newcomer, and only gives the tiniest text summary next to the ending.

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I get what's going on, but I played these games before and got the extra text at the start, the full dialogue of the original ending, all that stuff. Most damningly, the load times and overall longer battles mean that this mode that used to take 15 minutes if you were decent now can take half an hour at least. Yeah, you can get through some of the shorter ladders in that time, but good luck with the longer ones. To be fair, some of these endings are quite good. Ed's especially is touching. I appreciate that in addition to the arcade endings, you also get both new and old illustrations for the new gallery.

I've run through pretty much everyone's story in every game throughout the year, and there is some entertaining stuff in there. Street Fighter V is big on costumes for the characters - "Even if we redesigned your favorite character for V, you can pay us to get his old design back" might be the cynical way of looking at that. For the arcade mode though, it means they have all these costumes based on the various redesigns of the characters throughout the years. They've also pulled in a bunch of old stages and remade them, including most of the ones from Street Fighter 2.

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So as you go through the arcade modes for the various games, they attempt to place characters on a stage that most resemble theirs from that game(like sticking Rainbow Mika in the new beach stage during the Alpha ladder). And they'll be wearing the closest skin to their original look. G even does the same thing Q did in SF3, only for SFV's ladder, and appears to challenge you if you're doing well. It's the same thing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate did this year with World of Light, although to a much smaller extent. Those people even straight up recreated Ryu's SF2 ladder as close as they could.

This year's characters were mostly not my thing - Sakura, Falke, Cody and Sagat were all characters I'm "Meh" on, while Blanka's annoying voiceover in both languages annoyed me too much to use him. I do like what they're doing with the story, however. Street Fighter 4 might as well have been a Street Fighter reboot, it brought in all kinds of characters from all across the timeline with no regard for how they fit together or how old they were in relation to one another. Street Fighter V, for better and worse, tries to move each character along.

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Blanka has been conned into buying a load of bad mascots to increase his popularity, which he can't get rid of, resulting in one of the best story costumes. Sakura, now apparently the voice of my generation, has graduated school and gotten herself a part-time job, but is at a complete loss about what to do with herself in the future. Her personal answer is to start a family (maybe with the dude she's been stalking since Alpha 2, who knows), which I can respect. She's very cute about it. Cody has not only served his time in prison, he's inherited the role of Mayor on recommendation from Haggar, somehow. It's nice to see Cody return to his more heroic days, even if he still acts a little like a bored bum sometimes in his fancy new suit.

I love all of this, their old arcs being done means I can finally appreciate them for a moment in time, and it's interesting to me to see where they go next. I'd have appreciated if they did more with Sagat, however. He's gotten himself an actual tiger and a big cape, but his story mode is him clutching his chest and fighting his former self, having somehow acquired his own satsui no hadou. Which is kind of a direction to go in, but then in Kage's story mode you see the scene again but this time it's Kage fighting Sagat, so I guess that was what's going on. That's not much of a story for ol' Sagat. I expected them to do his story from the Ryu Final manga, which they do allude to in his SFV arcade ladder ending, but I'd rather see that expanded upon in his story mode. As it is, his arcade mode ending for V is just a more regressive version of his Ryu Final story.

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Kage himself seems like little more than an excuse to have an Evil Ryu exist in a setting where Ryu has purged himself of the satsui no hadou. It was his big moment during A Shadow Falls, and by SF3 he canonically has overcome it. Until Street Fighter 4 brought him back the way it brought everybody back, it was just a Street Fighter Alpha thing. But the kids love their shotos, so Evil Ryu is back and eviler than ever. I guess the very concept of a lust for murder and power has the ability to break away from a person and form his own body now, able to interact with other fighters. It's silly, but not as silly as his new design.

I appreciate moving away from the basic Ryu reskin look as much as anybody, but the same way they gave Ken banana hair and Akuma's new beard brings a sunflower to mind more than it does a lion, I think their new look for Evil Ryu looks very hokey. He's got shiny oni horns, like he's Rem from Re:Zero, and he wears Ryu's bandana around his neck like a scarf. At least there's some thinking going on behind that, what with the horns of a berserk Ryu tearing apart the bandana meant to keep him cool, a gift from his best friend. But it's still a shirtless man wearing his bandana like a scarf, and I don't think you can pull of that look if you're not a cute girl. The dumbass Evil Ryu fans don't get what they're looking for, they don't want none of this oni mythology crap in their evil version of protag character, and there isn't much to latch onto for people who didn't like him before, either. I would've liked them to go way harder on his demonic form now that he's supposed to be his own being separate from Ryu, but I suppose that would be missing the point of his appeal. Personally though, I prefer his battle costume design. That looks more like some kinda demon and less like Ryu doing a cheap bit of cosplay with fake teeth and horns.

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G was this year's breakout character. Not only does he play like an improved Q, which is a ton of fun, but his mysterious backstory and charismatic showmanship are very charming. I definitely prefer his Q-like alternative costume over the president look, however.

Much of Q's charm is just how mysterious he is. Is he a robot? Is it Chun-Li's father under there? A cyborg? Just a man in an iron mask? Are there more than one? Is he connected to the illuminati? Like maybe a third brother to Gill and Urien who's identity must remain a secret, or a side project like the Twelves? Is he completely unrelated to the main plot and just is this creepy detective dude? He has been seen at the scene of disasters and murders all over the world, but is he the cause or is he investigating? Is he just an extended reference to the tokusatsu show Robodeka K? Yeah, probably that last one, especially considering certain other SF3 characters who look like tokusatsu characters, but again who knows. Capcom are very aware that his allure lies in the answers being uncertain, and make sure to never reveal too much about him. His iconic look and well-animated sprites are enough to stoke the imagination.

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So I was skeptical about G, but they kept the right appeal by being very mysterious about him, too. G's story is simply him preaching on a street corner, only he's also livestreaming his speeches. All of his extravegant behavior and bizarre philosophy(he talks about embodying the Earth, and its people) could go either way. Is he just a bit dumb? Is he pulling an elaborate con? Again, is he related to the illuminati? His moves all look like less deformed versions of Q's moves, and he's quite similar in build and the few visible features Q has. Does that mean he's gonna turn into Q? Maybe after his death, in an illuminati experiment, same way Nash was resurrected? Is he a defect model in a line of detective robots? Is he their leader, and they are his puppets? Is he, bizarrely, some sort of demonic entity? His power is the real deal, but who knows how he got it.

Those mysteries build on the legacy of Q in a neat way, letting us see more pieces of the puzzle without having a clear picture still. I dunno how much they'll actually reveal about them and if they'll ruin that appeal with bad revelations. Street Fighter V has a proper cinematic story mode now, and if they do a second chapter G is gonna be in there. He might be a bummer the same way Necalli never lived up to his own hype in A Shadow Falls. But as of the time of writing, I love G.

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I haven't picked up Kage yet - He's not part of a season pass, so I'll at least wait until Capcom have stated their plans for Season 4.

Now I noticed I forgot to write anything about Falke, which, I suppose that's appropriate. She's part of Ed's Neo Shadaloo crew, a bunch of former test subjects imbued with Psycho Power that Shadaloo had created. After Shadaloo's defeat in the main game, Ed's been going around gathering them up to become his new family.

There really isn't much to Falke. She's a guarded, cold, blonde Bison experiment - so in both personality, backstory and hair color she's Cammy. Only difference is she acts like Ed's older sister, looking after him since he rescued her from Shadaloo. In terms of clothing, she's wearing a more feminine version of Ed's outfit, and upon first glance, just looks like a genderbent Ed. It's better than Ed's outfit looks (if a bit ridiculous since her jacket over a leotard makes it look like she just put on a bath robe that morning) but it's also very similar. I suppose if she didn't have the jacket, she'd basically just be wearing Cammy's outfit.

Falke's kinda just a forgettable character - nothing special about her design, concept or execution next to the rest of the characters in the game. Her gameplay is sort of unique since she uses Ed's simple button commands to do ranged attacks, but it's not something I can get into. Her animations, keeping in line with her personality, are stiff. Bottom line is, she's boring. Doesn't even have a good theme. Only reason I remotely appreciate her is because Ed gets to have a friend - But Neo Shadaloo is hard to know what to think about. The whole "neo" bit, genetic experiments, short blonde hair and military attire draws the imagination to nazis. And making all of them playable, which seems to be the direction we're going, means many roster spots taken up by characters fitting the same roles ( Even if one of them is a gorilla). It also looks like they'd be a villain crew.

At the same time, I don't think Ed makes for a good villain, if that's where they're going. Him and Falke are hardly treathening, and characterized more as a support group for struggling victims of Shadaloo than an evil organization. Bison's ghost is trying to possess him, but I'm gonna call it right now, an M.Bison inhabiting the body of this guy isn't exactly the end boss to end all end bosses. So I dunno why we're wasting time building up Neo Shadaloo rather than get some more hooks in for an Illuminati storyline if we're trying to lead up to Street Fighter 3. Falke is just one of the least welcome newcomers, in terms of story significance, personality, design and even gameplay.

This is meant to be England, but it's straight up an existing German castle I forget the name of. Beautiful stage, anyway.
This is meant to be England, but it's straight up an existing German castle I forget the name of. Beautiful stage, anyway.

Capcom put out Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection this year too. It collects the arcade version of every version of Street Fighter from 1 to 3, which sounds like it shouldn't be too many but are in fact a whopping actual 12 titles. Most of them are Street Fighter 2 versions, then there's 3 each for Alpha and 3, with a measly one for SF1. It's also got a couple of bonuses I appreciated, with galleries of concept art for the games. It's uneven, though.

Only Street Fighter 2 has dev commentary over the design documents, and I've seen enough official art over the years to know the devs didn't exactly put everything they had into this Museum mode. Similarly, there's a character page where you can look at some animations frame by frame for the different characters. But I gotta imagine it wouldn't be impossible for them to make something where it's easier to look at the sprites. It's probably just a matter of time and money, same as the game shipping without training modes and the devs then patching them in.

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It was fun going back. Definitely in a load times sense. Street Fighter V spends two minutes getting from the ps4 icon to the menu, and loading into a fight is at least a 30 second-long deal. These old games load instantly, natch.

I'd tried some version of most of these games, but the vast majority of these entries were unfamiliar to me. Good to see some solid spritework again. 2, Alpha and 3 all have separate, solid styles, with their own strengths and weaknesses. SF2 has the most realistic shading work, but the most rudimentary animation with the fewest frames. It's got an unassuming groundedness compared to what came later.

I'm happy Street Fighter V remade a bunch of these stages, but their new lighting often isn't as flattering as it was on the old stages. Sakura's house is now completely covered in intense pinks, purples and reds. Ryu's classic SF2 stage suffered a similar fate. Maybe only I give a shit about these shifts in color, but personally the very saturated colors and low contrast with shadows make my eyes water.
I'm happy Street Fighter V remade a bunch of these stages, but their new lighting often isn't as flattering as it was on the old stages. Sakura's house is now completely covered in intense pinks, purples and reds. Ryu's classic SF2 stage suffered a similar fate. Maybe only I give a shit about these shifts in color, but personally the very saturated colors and low contrast with shadows make my eyes water.

The Alpha series is beautiful to look at, a lot of clean flat shading and strong colors that make it look slightly more 90s anime than the others. I think it has many of the best stages in the franchise, like Rolento's elevator, Ken's cruise ship, Sakura's home and her shopping arcade, and Mika's beach. Maybe they were making up with the later ones for Alpha 1, which has some of the more boring and Street Fighter 1-like stages out there. Probably intentional, since this is set between 1 and 2, but trying to ape 1 for anything is a terrible idea.

And then SF3 has the most beautiful sprite animation I've seen, even if some animations and backgrounds have a whiff of the tracing and rotoscoping about them. Especially that car minigame. Sean's minigame has a background dude who might as well be a Mortal Kombat character, which isn't something you want anywhere near beautiful sprites. Anyway, Q, Chun-Li, Makoto and Hugo in particular are just some of the best animated sprite characters in any game I've ever played. They hold up no problem. Sprite animation has had an elongated life thanks to handhelds and a renaissance thanks to the indie market, but nobody ever attempts to make games with this level of spritework. Instead you get a lot of stick figures or simplified shapes with gradients on top, silhouettes or chibis or games imitating something older, often with good animation for what they are, but there's just no comparison to the skill and detail put into SF3. People don't make sprites looking like this stuff anymore, and even at the time of release, SF3 stood out.

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The only indie fighting game I know of that even approaches SF3 is Skullgirls, which smartly went with traditional 2D animation. And wishing not to offend, while Skullgirls looks stellar, SF3 looks spectacular. It matches amazing animation with an eye for anatomy that just hasn't been beaten, and the only way it will look outdated is in terms of aspect ratio and resolution. In many ways, it still looks better than Street Fighter V. There's no odd expressions, clipping or oddly behaving physics objects going on when every frame is touched by a human, and you can get the muscles, smears and exaggerations moving just right.

Eagle's stage looks reasonably pretty though.
Eagle's stage looks reasonably pretty though.

This was the first time I'd tried Street Fighter 1, and I'm glad their first title was so objectively terrible that nobody argues over what the worst Street Fighter game really is. This one will always hold the crown, no matter how many shitty live action Street Fighter movies get shitty video game adaptations. I'd swear the music is tailor made for torturing prisoners. I could link it, but please just take my word for it, I don't want to inflict it on anyone. The sprites themselves are so basic and janky it's a wonder any of these characters made it forward at all. Sagat looks like his thigh is twice the size of his lower leg.

Street Fighter 2 is a nostalgic title for me. It's one of the first games I played at my neighbor's house when I was very young, and those multiplayer experiences have grown over the years into full-blown fanboy love. But the problem is, that was the Super Nintendo version. 30th Anniversary has arcade perfect emulation, but it's naturally just the arcade games.

Differences in music and graphics made it difficult to feel like I'd come home, and the old controls were incredibly difficult to get used to after more recent fighting games. In short, I didn't play it for long because the elephants on Dhalsim's stage wouldn't shut up. On Super Nintendo they were mercifully silent. Still, it's nice to see these sprites again. These characters have been around for such a long time you can forget what they used to look like. Difference in skill these artists would later acquire aside(there's some odd anatomy here that can't be attributed to stylization), this game is probably the closest Street Fighter ever was to being remotely grounded. Chun looks positively believeable compared to her SFV look, and Ryu hasn't yet gone all porcupine with his hair. I have a fondness for this game still because of that identity it has that none of the others have recaptured.

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It's amazing how many tweaks were done between versions. Some stuff is questionable, it seems like they only fiddled with the background colors so it'd look different at a glance, so some of the later versions' stages just look wack compared to the earlier ones. It's pretty nuts to me that the character's default canon colors aren't even easily available in some of these versions. That was a bad idea.

But the characters' new moves look amazingly animated and expressive compared to their old ones, and there are these tiny improvements everywhere that definitely improve the look of the game. The portraits undergo a lot of change, so while there's a special place in my heart for say, dopey original Guile, it's clear that they improved.

I had only played Alpha before on the GBA as Alpha 3 Upper, and the most important thing this collection showed me is why a lot of people prefer Alpha 2. Gameplay aside, the stages are all beautiful and the music is impeccable. Alpha 3 has its moments as far as stages go, but most of the music tracks are crappy tunes that have never shown up again in recognizable form in the franchise. Alpha 3 seems, undeniably, a lot deeper. There are a lot more characters, and there's now three systems for each to choose from. I'm just not inspired to experiment when I can't stand the music and the controls don't feel as tight as the later games.

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The controls are still closer to 2 than any of the later ones, which was a bother again. I didn't realize how much I had gotten used to dashing, EX attacks and throws on light punch+light kick until it got taken away from me. Alpha 3 is also one of the games that suffers the most from just being an arcade port. The home versions had unique modes and many characters that were added in specifically for those versions. You won't find any Eagle, Yun, Guile or Maki here. Picking Balrog is a huge pain - Alpha 3 Upper just added the secret characters to the character select screen, but no such luck here. You gotta input an annoying code each time you want to play as him. As much as the arcade experience was vital to North American and Japanese fans, over here, there were never any major arcades, and certainly not in my town. While I appreciate getting the best experience in terms of looks and playability, those extra bells and whistles from the GBA port are sorely missed here.

It's interesting to play Mika and Birdie again now, in their original appearances. I love playing both in Street Fighter V, but back here in Alpha they're terrible. Some of this is the controls. Modern fighting games tend to have some kinda input buffer, making it easier to do motions. I dunno if Alpha and 2 have this, but it sure doesn't feel like it. My thumbs have never hurt more than when I desperately try to pull off a super move or a 360 motion in Alpha.

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While I liked Mika in Alpha 3 Upper just from her looks and personality, I really didn't like Birdie. It's impressive how much they improved both of them, losing very little of their appeal while giving them both worthwhile new stuff. It's hard to go back and play them without their banana peels or Nadeshiko assists, as well as new normals. Translating Alpha original characters to something 3d and semi-realistic can be difficult 'cause they're a tad more anime than the rest, with outrageous haircuts. They did a good job here though.

Sodom is the one remaining character who hasn't hopped from Alpha into either 4 or V(Alpha 3 Upper characters aside), so I expect him to show his face in SFV sooner or later. While I think he's pretty uncool in Alpha, I won't mind at all if they work their magic on him like they did with Mika and Birdie.

On the opposite end from Mika and Birdie, Rose both looks and feels better to play here than I thought she did in 4. She's actually pretty cool, but only in her in-game sprite. It's got a whole different color and look from her artwork, and definitely from her depiction in Street Fighter 4. It's the difference between red, magenta and yellow vs black, pink and yellow. The first one looks more coherent.

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Street Fighter 3 Third Strike is the crown jewel of the collection. The gameplay is some of the best it's been, and the controls and systems set the standard that Street Fighter 4 and V still follow to this day, parries aside. Choosing which super to bring into a fight, EX moves, dashes, that all came from here, as did the position of the throw buttons. This means it's by far the easiest game to go back to if you've played SF4 or V. I played this a lot not long ago, in the form of Online Edition on Xbox 360, and that's definitely the superior port. It gave you proper online, a decent filter, a lot of extra unlockables and music and even a tutorial or two.

This port might be arcade perfect, but like all these games, you lose out on a lot of bonuses and conveniences from the home versions. Still, it's just as enjoyable to sit down and play Third Strike as ever. I even liked going back to the first two games. They're undeniably worse, but there are some cool stages and good music in there. Sean's Second Impact stage I particularly like. I might actually say the stages were largely better before Third Strike. It's cool how several of them change location after a round, as bridges break or buildings are broken into. That's a feature I'm happy returned for Street Fighter V.

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Third Strike was one of my college fighting games of choice. Me and my flatmate would rotate between playing this, Skullgirls and Jojo's Bizarre Adventure(all on xbox 360), usually every night. Third Strike is a pretty technical game. The parry system means you can deflect any attack as long as you've got that timing right. But even at our pleb level, where we almost never landed one, it's a very fun game to play.

The game just moves. Between the good feel, the awesome sound effects that sell all the impacts, and the lavish animation, it's very enjoyable to play at any skill level. There's a good speed to all the movement, as characters dash across the stage with their specific smears and exaggerations. Then there's amazing impact, thanks to some appropriate impact frames, hit sparks, sound effects and screen shaking. If Q gets you with his second super, you feel like you've just been hit by a truck. Just look at that video, it could not have been presented better. And throughout all of this action, these characters just look beautiful. There's never been a better Spinning Bird Kick. In terms of both feeling great to play, looking amazing, having stellar sound effects and having a ton of technical depth, Third Strike is a masterpiece.

I think they stopped doing these screens of the loser being beaten up 'cause they started looking too fierce. Might've just not agreed with the alternate costumes of the 3d model games however.
I think they stopped doing these screens of the loser being beaten up 'cause they started looking too fierce. Might've just not agreed with the alternate costumes of the 3d model games however.

Street Fighter 3 used to have a bad rep and was a less popular Street Fighter compared to 2 and Alpha. I wasn't really aware of many details about it, personally, till they put it out on 360. I guess I can see why from a character perspective at least. The first iteration, New Generation, only featured new characters besides Ken and Ryu. And while Ibuki and Dudley are fairly popular, the rest sure aren't.

And on a personal level, I'm really only into Necro and Dudley in the game. It wasn't until Third Strike I'd gotten all my favorites, like Q, Makoto, Hugo and the best incarnation of Chun-Li to date. Characters aren't, as established, just functions. So I won't blame anyone who didn't pick it up at the time.

Even as Third Strike, it's a bit light on content compared to Alpha 3, with fewer characters and stages to pick from. Beautiful animation has its price, it takes a lot of time, and that means not being able to have as many characters. And even among those... While clones have been a part of SF ever since Ken and Ryu, the clone to original character ratio of SF3 is a bit out of whack, with Ken, Akuma and Sean all based on Ryu, Yang on Yun, and Urien on Gill. Sure, they play a bit differently, but you still get to see 4 different-colored Ryu sprites with different heads, and they make up a big portion of the characters this time around.

I'd also be lying if I said I liked every character. Twelve is a nonentity, a standard shapeshifter with no personality and no really fun transformations. Remy feels like he walked in from a different fighting game, and I can't stand the guy. While Oro is conceptually fun as a one-armed master martial artist, his double jumps make the camera follow his movements upwards while the other character stays behind off-screen, which never fails to be annoying and gives me a bit of motion sickness.

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And while some people love the soundtracks for this series, which has more of a hip-hop and jazzy sound this time around, I don't give a crap about most hip-hop, and neither do a lot of people. I do like some of the music in it, but you're never gonna convince me that Elena's Third Strike theme isn't total garbage, for instance. And there are many "nothing" themes that I barely remember are even there, like Makoto's, Chun's, Urien's, and Ibuki's.

Coming to it after the fact though, this is one of my favorite Street Fighter games. The positives far outweigh the negatives as far as I'm concerned.

Preordering 30th Anniversary came with a code for Ultra Street Fighter 4 on PS4. I didn't bother with that, but ended up buying it on sale this year anyway. At the time SF4 released I didn't own a 360, and Capcom's early CG models looked astoundingly ugly. When I finally bought both the game and the console in 2011, it didn't hook me and I didn't get around to much Street Fighter before SF3 Online Edition came out and I loved that.

Juri is the only SF4 character they bothered to bring over into SFV, which was a good choice, but you could probably get away with Poison and Hakan as well. Perhaps even C. Viper or Gouken in a pinch. Just leave Rufus behind.
Juri is the only SF4 character they bothered to bring over into SFV, which was a good choice, but you could probably get away with Poison and Hakan as well. Perhaps even C. Viper or Gouken in a pinch. Just leave Rufus behind.

Trying to get into this game at last, it's pretty fun. I can see how it revitalized the entire fighting game scene. It feels good and snappy and tries its best to accurately capture the look of what came before, but at that point was a decade in the past. Their later models are also much better than their earlier ones, with the Street Fighter 3 characters in particular looking as awesome as they could manage. I actually prefer this game's Elena to Third Strike's, and SF3 has some of the grandest sprite animation in gaming. Elena is just ground zero for all the rotoscoping.

The online in the 30th anniversary Collection isn't great( it either works fine or completely does not), and USF4 has been pretty much abandoned at this point. So I've kept racking up hours in Street Fighter V instead still. My PS4 Life finally worked for me yesterday and told me I'd been playing for over 600 hours, which makes sense. I generally boot it up once a week minimum, and have done so for over three years. But I have played less this year than previous years, and that's because the game is now three years old and has started getting stale.

While SFV has a good roster now, I do miss some of the characters from these old games still. Getting Makoto, Elena, Hakan, Dudley, Necro and Hugo before we're done doesn't seem very likely. I'd happily take Q, honestly, even with G already present.
While SFV has a good roster now, I do miss some of the characters from these old games still. Getting Makoto, Elena, Hakan, Dudley, Necro and Hugo before we're done doesn't seem very likely. I'd happily take Q, honestly, even with G already present.

If they don't have something severely impressive planned for an update, even more than they did with Arcade Edition this year, it might be time for a break. Considering how barebones Street Fighter V was in its initial release, their time might be better spent working on Street Fighter 6 now. You don't wanna repeat that devastating launch, you want to come out of the gate with a fully-featured package. Street Fighter is beloved, but it's taken a lot of hits since Street Fighter 4 because Capcom can't seem to make any of their fighting games land on their feet out the door. Street Fighter V is one of my favorite fighting games, but I am not representative of the general attitude people have towards that game.

I wish 30th Anniversary came with a time travel device so I could go back to when I played each game originally and have those good local multiplayer experiences again. Or less ambitiously, maybe just a bus ticket here for some of my mates. Being able to play through these games any time I want to on my own isn't bad, but I would enjoy them a lot more if I had someone local to play them with regularly.

Still, props for just giving me the ability to play every mainline Street Fighter easily on a single console.

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Majikoi!(Love Me, Seriously!!)

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Earlier this year I made a thread asking for recommendations for dating sims/romantic visual novels. It had been years since I got through and loved Tsukihime, and I felt like I could go for another. I put up a long list of preferences(pidgeons need not apply, I'm not playing dating sims to have fun), and people gave me quite a lot of suggestions. I gathered up a few that looked promising and decided I'd play through them all this year.

What stopped me right in my tracks was trying to get through Majikoi.

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It's been over half a year since I thought about it, so the memories have started to fade. But what I remember is reading for hours through a text version of a dull, uninspired, mid-2000s harem anime. It stars a self-absorbed, obviously more intelligent than everyone else nerd, and it's not like his supporting characters are any better, just a varied assortment of tsunderes and big/little sister type characters.

The tone of it all is this wacky action thing where it's a group of teens who all played together as kids and share a rough backstory, only they also go to a school for people who are really good at fighting and solve all their issues with competitions. It's a bit shokugeki no souma, only instead of cooking it's a competition of whatever. The introductory sequence before you start dating any individual girl took me around ten hours to get through, and after reading on my laptop for that long I felt like I was in hell.

Maybe there is a depth to Majikoi. It's not like Tsukihime presented itself up-front as a revelation either, with several characters appearing to be stereotypes and then revealing that there was more to them when you got to know them better. But in my opinion, a game has to be fun along the way to get to that depth. You can't get by on being a bad text version of a lame romcom anime, full of one-note characters that only know a single joke each. You can't lead with a bad guy who seems to rape some dude in his first scene and the pedo joke radio host. You can't make me sit through ten hours of unfunny school hijinks even if what's at the other end is pure gold, and I sincerely doubt that it is. I think y'all were pulling my leg. It's not the fact that it's anime that's the problem, I just think it's bad.

Maybe I'll make an attempt at a different VN next year. This one was a bummer.

Skullgirls

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I tried checking out the online, but it's completely dead, so I just replayed some of the story modes. Squigley's, Eliza's and Beowulf's remain pretty great. They hit it out of the park with the DLC. The others, maybe not so much. I hope Indivisible has better story chops next year, being an RPG and all.

Dragon's Dogma: Dark Arisen

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Dragon's Dogma is one of my favorite games ever, which I've spent hundreds of hours getting lost in. But I didn't really play it this year, only booted it up and looked at it, running through the first section's quests. This was because I finally caved and bought the Playstation 4 port. Looking at footage of the PC port after playing so much of the 360 version is honestly what made me see framerate for the first time, and care about it. The old Dragon's Dogma ran unevenly, 30 at best with tons of screen tearing, and that was with big black bars on the top and bottom of the screen to boot.

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While DD on PC has gotten a much better framerate, the PS4 version is disappointingly similar to the old game. While the tehcnical hiccups are minimal and it's a cleaner image running at a more steady framerate, I wish I had gotten those 30 extra frames. It does make a big difference. I'm also not entirely a fan of the new look the game gets color wise. It looks a bit more desaturated, with a bit lighter shadows. Adjusting the brightness and contrast of both the game and my tv only got me odd results. Not sure what that's about.

Incidentally, I bought this game again because the photo service on the 360 has shut down, and I was thinking I might want to do some sort of blog/let's play thing. No promises.

Just Cause 3

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Just Cause 2 was an unexpected favorite of mine, one of Yahtzee's old GOTY winners that got such a glowing recommendation I had to try it out for myself. After a rough start, learning the not very intuitive controls, I ended up becoming a sort of rural, tropical Spider-Man, substituting an endless amount of parachutes for buildings. There's so much relieving freedom in Just Cause 2, freedom to do cool things, often completely by accident. Another game might fail a mission if you catch up to someone too soon, or have you escort someone painfully slowly, any deviation from the plan resulting in a game over. Just Cause 2 doesn't give a shit what you do. "Here's a dude who's escaping into a hangar, here's you on a hill overlooking it all. How are you gonna solve it?" They did put a sniper rifle next to me, but after he escaped from my shaky hands and bad aim the first time, on a second I leapt off the edge and hookshotted next to him and punched the guy. That's Just Cause 2 in a nutshell. A lot of fun, explosive mechanics, and a lot of missions where all you gotta do is use them on someone.

Just Cause 3 then, five years later, is more of the same. The story is nicer, with Rico being an active part of a rebellion in his fictional home country of Medici and some nice relatable locals as side characters, rather than Just Cause 2's "let's fuck up this country for the CIA" approach. And Rico has evolved from non-caring agent with a permanent scowl to Dad Beard Rico, like the entire rest of the gaming landscape, acting in a more caring and often jokey manner with his old pals from home. I like it. It's still a b-movie kinda plot, but the characters are in on the joke to a certain extent, and the devs certainly are. It knows when it's being silly, and it's happy to be so.

The direction of the cutscenes can get a bit annoying. Characters just kinda prattle on without stop, give Rico a smack on the bum and push him into gameplay, and that goes for most every scene. I just wanna tell them to chill, they've got something good going on here. There's even a great purely comedic scene or two, like a flashback scene showing a side character doing something dastardly off to the side doing earlier story scenes. It's funny in its own way without going down the exhausted roads of meme humor, referential comedy, old timey dumbassery or having a completely wacky world ( Except, that is, for the DLCs, which adds mech suits and jetpacks and lightning guns. I like them. They're good for gameplay). So I'd appreciate a slower scene now and then that isn't just about setting up missions. I loved the scene where Mario pretended to be a cow just to prank Rico.

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But caring about the story in a Just Cause 2 game is kinda like caring about the story in porn. We're here for the action, with the story just setting the scene. And to the developers' credit, the action is in no way worse than in 2. We've got a new flight suit, which opens up the traversal delightfully, even if I crashed throughout the course of the game more than I did with my parachute. There are many quality of life improvements like a more accessible vendor and unlimited grenades.

The Mediterranean setting(Medici is meant to be an island located just outside of Italy) is a pretty unusual location in gaming, and looks gorgeous. You get teal blue skies contrasted with sparkling emerald water, golden fields, beautiful beaches and white buildings. There's a very vacationy feel to the coast cities. However, as you get further inland it all starts looking a bit more generic. Regular European-looking forests, the same brown hills and mining operations, the same snow-covered mountains. Nothing in those areas read as distinctive to me, and I gotta admit I prefer the South American nation of Panau from Just Cause 2, with its lush jungles and desert areas.

The side missions are kind of a bother. You're still required to destroy certain parts to liberate the towns. In Just Cause 2, this seemed like such a mind-boggingly long task I didn't bother, but JC3 gave me waypoint markers for all the bits so I felt compelled to do it. And I gotta say, it's a dull checklist-checking waste of time. Destruction is fun when it's freeform chaos, not so much when you keep blowing up the same five speakers in copypasted villages. Just Cause 2 shared this problem, too. You were asked to go through a lot of forts with the exact same procedure. It gets boring.

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The performance is almost game-breakingly bad on ps4 and might be too much to ask for some people. The blur alone is something else. But the game also failed to spawn propaganda cars I needed to blow up to liberate villages, several times. The loading times are unbearably long. The game crashed many times on me, which Just Cause 2 never did.

The Just Causes are great games if you just wanna mess around and have a good time for a while, but I wouldn't recommend sticking with one for 100% completion. Only regret lies in that direction. Do the main story first, then see if you feel like liberating some districts.

I left JC3 feeling good on it as a whole, it's lighthearted and fun and you get the freedom to do whatever you'd like. It's got charm, you know. You can drive a car through a hundred trees and down a mountain without it exploding, but the moment you jump out of it you've pretty much created a bomb. It's the kinda game you can put a podcast on whenever a cutscene isn't going and just have something mindless but cool happening onscreen. It's worthwhile, as a chillout game. But I definitely don't need to jump into Just Cause 4 immediately, and it's a pity this one has so many technical hiccups.

Dragon Age Inquisition

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Dragon Age Inquisition won GOTY awards the year it released, and I have no idea why. This is not a good game. The controls are awful, the game is terribly buggy, textures pop in every scene transition, the story is endlessly padded, the character designs are ugly, the open world design is a timesink that beats Just Cause 3 for how much of a repetitive waste it is, the gameplay is up there with all other wprgs for worst action RPG combat, the equipment and crafting menus are a mess, the game completely fails to give your party a feeling of actually knowing one another because any interaction betwen them is rare and usually limited to the ones you start with, Sera is the most annoying Bioware character I've experienced yet, the plot abandons the ideas of mages vs templars early on in favor of a generically evil, boring bad guy everyone can agree upon and everybody's skin is comically shiny and wet while everybody's hair is this awful shiny lowpoly-lookin' mess.

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If you wanna engage with the dialogue and characters you gotta run around a castle hub for an hour each time you do a big mission which is a huge waste of your time, but it's nothing compared to the timer missions where you send soldiers out on minor text-only quests and have to wait real time for them to be done with it, sometimes for over en hour. Movement is still this stilted thing where you spend forever just turning your character around, the combat feels bad to control and looks like a mess of colored lighting and special effects, the lore is both astoundingly generic and needlessly detailed in tons of books and notes, the tone manages to neither engage me on a mature or dark level or be entertainingly funny and adventurous, the music is either painful or mercifully forgettable, Iron bull's tits are about three sizes too big, the character animation is so bad it ruins any emotion a scene tries to convey, etc, etc, so on and so forth.

And yet it's the only Dragon Age game I've beaten, and I don't like what that says about me. It means I can get hooked into an experience just because I played the previous games, no matter how little or much I liked them. It says I'm a sucker for some actual color in my game, as the one thing they actually nail in this game are environments with beautiful use of color, especially compared to the drab and muddy earlier games in the franchise. It says that even a combat system as weak as this one is better for me than the system of Dragon Age Origins just 'cause it doesn't rely on numbers to tell me if an enemy I just hit was actually hit.

Bioware, for all their flaws, have some very talented 2d artists on board. I think most codex entries come with a clever little illustration, like this one for Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall.
Bioware, for all their flaws, have some very talented 2d artists on board. I think most codex entries come with a clever little illustration, like this one for Hawke, the Champion of Kirkwall.

It says I'm so easily won over by some interesting character dialogue and a romance right down my particular kink that I'm able to forgive a game that can barely keep itself upright.

It means that even if it's broken and boring, I can still pout my way through it as long as I've got the carrot of a DLC ending that never came to the 360 version. This year I played on PS4, and it's got exactly as many technical issues, only now some of them are different. I still haven't even made it past the Winter Palace on this file even though I've played for over 20 hours, which says that for me, it's easier to beat side missions with a podcast on than trying to move the story forward and engage with the game. I wish I was less shallow and lazy.

Dragon Age 4 has been announced, and unless Bioware just about swaps out every single developer responsible for anything but the writing and drawing the cool little illustrations on the cards, I don't want to play it. But I feel like I might play it anyway. Despite all the things that get under my skin about Dragon Age Inquisition, there is something here that keeps pulling me back.

I bet it's peer pressure. Please send help.

The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit

It's not a graphically intensive game, but the lighting and snow does make it look very nice
It's not a graphically intensive game, but the lighting and snow does make it look very nice

Captain Spirit was a pleasant surprise. Dontnod put this out as a sort of a demo for Life is Strange 2, which had everyone wondering how it connected. It's not very important. Having not played LiS2, but knowing what's going on there, it just seems like the characters from that game run into this kid at some point. This is a self-contained little adventure game vignette about this imaginative, lonely kid named Chris playing around in the house where he lives with his dad. It soon becomes clear that his mother died in a mysterious traffic accident while his father has taken up drinking - occasionally yelling at and abusing his son. Walking around the house, looking for items that explored the backstory and these scenes of playing around where the kid decides between being vengeful or being kind, that's a good time. Occasionally Chris is pulled into fantastical landscapes - Calvin & Hobbes, but the indie game version with dead parent metaphors.

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It's a touching game, and I found the character writing to be more relatable than Life is Strange. That was a game filled with college kids that all acted like high school kids, and antagonists that acted like Batman villains at best. I superficially related to the one-sided love of the nerdy best friend and the dude who sat at the lawn drawing portraits of people, but in terms of main characters I didn't really feel strongly about any of them.

In this game, both Chris and his dad are portrayed in ways I appreciated. On a superficial level again, as a man who used to be a lonely, imaginative kid and who's literally named Kristoffer, I could definitely relate to Chris and his earnest way of talking and thinking about his situation. The way he tries to keep it down around his dad and dives deep down into his playing and fantasies to escape felt very true to life.

If this was Life is Strange 1, the dad would be a mad monster always throwing bottles everywhere, hitting his kid in the face with a belt at the slightest provocation. He'd be fat, ugly, unseemly, and mean, only revealing a good side of himself at the very tail end of his screentime in the story. Chris' dad looks like a regular person, the ways he hurts Chris don't seem cartoonishly evil, and there's a clear sense that he was neither born harmful nor is harmful all the time(Although he's definitely more than harmful enough that this family needs severe help, possibly moving Chris away from him). You can tell why Chris still cares for him, and he cares about Chris, even if the relationship is awful. It's just a bit more subtle and down to earth than Life is Strange 1 was. It feels real.

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It's a good little story, and a complete steal since it's entirely free. I dunno how LiS2 ends up, but hearing the first episode has a lot of caricatures of racists, only beliveable in the sense that some people out there are unbeliveably huge jerks, is a bit of a turnoff. Makes me feel like we haven't moved on from shitty step-dads, bitchy popular high school girls or drugged up rich boys.

We're just applying that one dimensional writing to something where people like to see the extremes portrayed and ridiculed. For adventure games that take themselves this seriously, the flat LiS 1 villains really don't do it for me. And I was frustrated by how the story ended up in the first season, with the dumb way the supernatural powers were used to contrive a dramatic last choice.

But even if I don't end up playing the proper game, I was glad I went through this freebie. There are three adventure games on this list, and I think this is the only one that takes itself completely seriously and works.

Death's Gambit

I'd been looking forward to this Castlevania/Dark Souls mix for years now, and it ended up... pretty much alright? It's decent. But it wears its influences on its sleeves so hard it's difficult for it to have an identity of its own, the writing not nailing the mystery of Souls nor the clear good vs evil of Castlevania. There's a hint of indie amateurishness to the production, from the dialogue down to the crashes. Once I'd move the camera up only to see a character who was gonna jump down be frozen in the air until I got close enough to trigger her dramatic landing. Which granted, I think this is their first project, and in that context death's Gambit an achievement. It's just not the revelation I was hoping it would be.

Early trailers lead me to believe we'd get to climb these huge bosses, but I suppose it was eventually cut. To my knowledge, there's no grappling hook in the game now. You do fight a couple of giants, but the only one you climb is just a little platforming challenge. It's cool that they're so big, but I got more of a SotC feeling from that weird horse boss in Order of Ecclesia that you climb on the back of.
Early trailers lead me to believe we'd get to climb these huge bosses, but I suppose it was eventually cut. To my knowledge, there's no grappling hook in the game now. You do fight a couple of giants, but the only one you climb is just a little platforming challenge. It's cool that they're so big, but I got more of a SotC feeling from that weird horse boss in Order of Ecclesia that you climb on the back of.

I like it, but I don't feel particularly strongly about it, and I think it has a hard time standing out next to games like Dead Cells, Salt & Sanctuary, and Hollow Knight, which all carved out their own distinct style besides the obvious Dark Souls/Castlevania robbery. Death's Gambit can't do that when it straight up has a few Shadow of the Colossus colossi and does the Flowey fight from Undertale, and uses the same storytelling as Dark Souls, but with worse NPCs and a less intriguing mystery.

The writing just isn't as compelling. At one point you meet a sorceror who's been stuck on top of a tower for ages and acts like he's gone mad since realizing the eventual heat death of the universe. But he's also Death's old pal and will quiet down considerably once beaten. That feels more like talking down a buddy who's gotten a bit angsty at 3 AM. It's difficult to get a grip on exactly what tone we're going for here.

The parent/son angle is pretty interesting. You regularly get flashbacks to Sorun and his mother, giving this guy a bit more personal stakes in the matter than a blank Souls character. Just having a defined protagonist makes for some more cool scenes here and there, where he interacts with the NPCs. But I dunno if I'd call it a new thing for Souls games when it's basically just Castlevania with stamina at that point.

The Origa boss was my favorite. She locks you up, Seathe style, if you die. And there's some good storytelling where you break out in creative ways. Besides, a power armor wearing lady with a sci-fi sniper rifle is always gonna stick out in an up to this point fantasy setting. Her fight is like 2D The End. Well worth checking out.

Marvel's Spider-Man

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I wrote a 15 000 word review of Spider-Man back when it came out, so if you want my opinion in exhausting detail, there it is. Short version: It's a a wonderful video game version of a Spider-Man movie, which feels good to play, but is very shallow. I liked a lot of it and I had a ton of little problems(for instance the stealth sections are boring, and Screwball is a pain). However, at the end of the day, Insomniac managed to capture my dream of what a Spider-Man game could be. They had a vision and polished it well, and it ended up being my favorite new game from this year. I only hope they add some more depth and variety next time.

I like Insomniac's Spider-Man more than I like Tom Holland's.
I like Insomniac's Spider-Man more than I like Tom Holland's.

The DLC is perfectly fine, but it's more of the same. I was already tired of the gameplay in the main game by the end and was pretty sick of the same mooks by the end of the three DLCs. The cutscenes steal the show here, that's where the meat of the good presentation is. It astounds me that they doubled down on Screwball for all the DLC challenges. I think most players that even bothered to do them this time around wanted to rip her head off by the end, and that's not very in character for ol' Pete. She sounds like Abby's pretend youtuber voice and is a real pain in the ass.

I wonder if Into the Spider-Verse's success is gonna make Insomniac add some more stylized bells and whistles for the inevitable sequel. I wouldn't mind, that movie looked cool.

Deltarune

At the beginning of the game, Deltarune asks you to write your name. So naturally, as a Kristoffer, I wrote in "Kriss".

The game then told me my choices don't matter. And said my name was Kris. Like alright, Toby Fox. Obviously any name you pick is gonna be someone's actual name, but I feel like I got one over on you here.

I like Deltarune, but maybe more for the surprising way it was released(a "survey" on the Undertale twitter account that was the game's .exe, telling everyone to not talk about it for 24 hours) and less for the game itself. It's supposed to be the first chapter in an Undertale sequel - In theory, anyway. At first it seemed to me like a prequel, but nothing matches up that well with the original. Looks like Deltarune, as the name implies, is Majora's Mask to Ocarina of Time, an alternate world that reuses all the old NPCs. Any way this might fit with the old Undertale(a dream, reincarnations, an alternate dimension, some Homestuck crap, something meta about them being games) aren't really worth speculating about.

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Kris goes to school, gets in a fight with a bully, and then they both walk into the wardrobe and end up in Narnia. What follows is a children's fantasy novel for childish twentysomethings that grew up on the internet, and increasingly approach 30. A children's fantasy novel shaped like Mario & Luigi RPGs anyway.

Structurally it's the same as Undertale, which is fine, but it's not as fresh anymore. You move along these linear rooms while the area's bad guy hounds you, blasting jokes at you while you solve simple puzzles and beat the local enemies. It's like the constant radio chatter games like Borderlands or Bioshock use, but applied to a humorous JRPG like Earthbound or Paper Mario. While the changes to the combat gameplay are welcome, it doesn't feel like it lends itself to the same antics as regular Undertale. I don't remember these enemies the way I remember the Tsunderplane or the dogs. Deltarune looks better than Undertale, and Toby Fox still makes excellent music. It feels like we moved from NES to SNES. But in terms of each battle being a conversation between you and the enemy, that doesn't happen as much anymore. Which is a shame, 'cause that was the main draw.

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Ultimately it's a decent little story, with a good jokey tone and some heart underneath. But it's not gonna stick with me as is, since it's over so fast this time and you don't exactly contribute much to the story. I got to the end and was surprised, because while it's a lot for a free demo, it's not much for a full game. And for a game so fond of twists and turns as Undertale, the only trick in Deltarune's book is pulling out characters that look like old characters but have new places in the world, and a cliffhanger right at the end. Maybe there was something more if you beat the secret boss, I certainly gave up on that fight. The secret boss is a jester by the way, and that's maybe a bit too close to the Homestuck origins of all this stuff for my tastes.

It might have been a mistake to release this on its own. I thought it was an exciting couple of days when we all played it and tried to keep a lid on it(with some game journalists immediately posting reviews and articles, thanks for ruining a fun thing), but there wasn't anything in the story that hit me very hard. It's still charming, but that's also all it is.

Detroit: Become Human

Detroit: Become Human isn't a good game, it's a great game. David Cage is evidently a pretentious ass, but when given an enormous budget and years of dev time, what he produces is just about the most entertaining adventure games out there.

There's extraordinary polish in the graphics, epecially in attempting to replicate faces, and that grounds it in the real world in a stellar way - and only underscores how batshit out there the writing is. It's all such a chliché, so broad, so typical. You know when I praised Captain Spirit for writing the abusive father in a human, relatable way, and also ripped into Life is Strange for having such bad villains? You have to see Detroit, dude, every villain looks like this obese, ugly monster who sits there talking to themselves about how much they're gonna beat their children while getting high and drinking at the same time. It goes beyond unrealistic and one-dimensional straight into excellent camp. I'm sure some people have lived it, there's a lot of jackasses out there, but from my point of view it's plain comedy how unsubtle it is. You know how the politician in Metal Gear Rising at one point says "I have a dream!" and Raiden says "... what?" In Detroit, you can straight up holo-spraypaint "I have a dream" on stuff! You know how Life is Strange 1 made sure to color the lesbian blue because all French people watched that movie? Yeah, David Cage is just as dumb.

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If it sounds like I'm taking the piss out of Detroit it's because obviously I am. The game aims high and falls short, often in hilarious ways. It tries to tackle the serious subject matter of race relations, no matter what Cage says it tries to tackle, and it's so on the nose and so ripped off from black people's struggles that it makes Mankind Divided's cyborg-racism look positively discreet. But David Cage doesn't just use cliched and predictable ideas, he presents them in this terrifically well-produced way, and uses them with enthusiasm. Occasionally, a scene straight up works. There's a scene where Markus, the robot rebel leader, is cast out into a pit of messed up robots that might as well be robot hell. It's affecting, and exciting, and difficult to watch, as he has to replace his broken body parts with those from the corpses of other robots. Then he climbs out of the ditch and puts on a trenchcoat that was hanging on what might as well have been a samurai sword, swaying in the wind. It's spectacular. You have to see this shit.

The mixture of the things that genuinely work(the adventure game mechanics and controls, the choices that do in fact matter and result in widely different outcomes, the beautiful graphics, the occasional strong scene, the detective robot and his human partner doing buddy cop stuff) mixed with everything that falls flat and becomes funny is so engaging I heartily recommend that you play this. It depends on how you react to this stuff, natch. But if you have it in you to both laugh at something ludicrous and get engrossed in a modern adventure game, then you won't get a game doing it better this year. It's silly and entertaining and engaging the whole way through, and you should play it with likeminded friends and have a very good time.

Tales from the Borderlands

If Detroit is comedy by way of taking yourself too seriously, then Tales from the Borderlands is intentional comedy at its finest. Telltale shut down from brutal mismanagement this year, so out of a sense of sympathy I decided to play the game they made that people kept insisting is good. But it's Borderlands, the video game equivalent of an internet meme post, so how could it be any good at all?

Well, by just being a modern adventure game, for one thing. In Borderlands the comedy has to be contained to menus, item descriptions, UI and voiceover. I can barely remember any cutscenes, even. Were there any, besides the intro? So the presentation just isn't there to get most of those jokes to land, and for me and many others it just became gratingly annoying.

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Tales from the Borderlands is essentially a movie(or five movies, rather) broken up by QTEs, talking, or the occasional room where you walk around looking at stuff. You can have funny scene transitions now! Hilarious camera angles! A focus on your characters! Facial expressions! Conversations with a proper flow to them! Good visual gags! Slapstick! Romance! Timing! Different writers aside, it all works so much better just by changing genres from first person shooter to modern adventure game.

The story and characters themselves are naturally more likeable than normal, too. We're not doing an FPS campaign here - we're doing a story with thieves and scoundrels and scammers and con artists. I dunno what would be the closest comparison here... Guardians of the Galaxy? The Road to El Dorado In Space? It does share the overall tone and DNA with Borderlands - the characters all being killers that quip without pause, people get murdered brutally and faces get ripped off but nobody ever mention sex etc. But the tone is helped by likeable characters who are in way over their head, and have to work together to make it out with their lives(and hopefully some of the money) intact. The robot companions especially contrast nicely with Claptrap from the main game. They're kind, naive and always glad to help. Instead of them being deliberately annoying, they form the heart of this ragtag group of scoundrels.

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The game often breaks in ways that are unfortunate. Sometimes, intentionally, even if you make the "good" choice, characters are mad at you for the sake of drama. It wouldn't be a fun story if everyone got along all the time. Other times, choices you made will be reversed in a later dialogue by what must be a glitch, lending an air of "why did I even bother?" to that aspect of it. Athena's introduction is fairly bizarre. She's antagonistic one episode, and then by the time the next one rolls around she's suddenly the vault hunter senpai of one of the main characters, with a whiff of the retcon about her. It's also evident they didn't have time time to properly check the game for bugs or glitches, especially in the final episode, where a scene would transition and characters popped in one by one, which is a bit of a bummer during a hype final battle.

The Telltale engine isn't the best in the first place, and it's asked to do a lot of exciting stuff here. Big action scenes, robot fights, car chases and so on. The animators do their best, they go above and beyond and deliver som extremely funny slapstick scenes and exciting shootouts. However, between the "my face was painted on this model" Borderlands(and also Walking Dead) art style and the Telltale animations, it doesn't even come close to something like Detroit in the visual department. It's not about face capture, even. It's about models properly transitioning between scenes without popping in, being in the right place at the right time, not stopping and starting erratically. Tales from the Borderlands takes me out of the scene all the time, giving the feeling that it's a rickety operation held together with chewing gum and hope.

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And eventually, the writing could get on my nerves. The constant quipping and the one permanently raised eyebrow are definitely a sometimes food for me. But because the quips are so quick and there's always a new one, a bad joke doesn't have time to linger.

By the end, the game had made me care, and knew when to take the characters seriously. I ended up feeling quite sad that any shot at a continuation is over. The people that made this deserved way better than what they got.

It's hard to do comedy, especially in gaming. Speaking as a guy who couldn't stand the writing in Borderlands 2: I think these people totally nailed it with Tales From the Borderlands. Try the first episode out and see if you don't enjoy it. It's only two hours long, and at the end you'll want to see all of them.

Donut County

it's fun to make the things fall into the holes lol

i could take or leave the messenger chat lingo everyone talks in lol but i guess it's fine lol

two hours, i had a good time, probably won't think about again but it was nice lol

The Christmas Games

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When my family came over for Christmas, it was time to bust out the Wii and play through some nostalgic games. It's been ages since I played any of these, and unsurprisingly, I'm bad at all of them. I dunno how much this is my lack of practice, my nervous 28 year old hands, the straight up difficulty of these old childrens' games, the awful wii classic controller, the delay on an HD tv, or the virtual console emulation - but I sucked harder than I've ever sucked before.

Couldn't make it through the first two stages of Super Mario Bros. 2. Couldn't make it through even a single stage of Super Mario Bros. 3, though in my defense, that's on the game. I think the constant flickering was present in the NES game, but to me it looks like the ROM is broken because I played all those classic Marios on a friend's Super Mario All-Stars copy. Which for some reason, the monsters at Nintendo only put out as some sort of physical bonus disc for an anniversary. So playing through these feel like playing bad demakes of the games I loved as a kid. I even beat the GBA versions of 2 and 3 back in 2007 or whatever. It wasn't as hard as this.

Kirby Super Star was much easier, although I still played worse than ever. It hasn't been that long since I beat Kirby Super Star Ultra on the DS no problem, and got through Kirby's Return to Dreamland on the Wii. This has to be the game's fault.

This is me playing all of these fantastic games
This is me playing all of these fantastic games

Super Mario World gave me no end of trouble. The controls I remember as being super airtight, with the ability to turn on a dime and switch direction mid-air, now felt slippery and loose. I wish I had a Super Nintendo and old TV on hand. I still can't believe this. It's such a great game, I feel like I'm failing it, even if this is the way Nintendo themselves gave me to play it. Super Mario World is where I completely broke down. Rather than getting nostalgia to when I was a 12 year old with a decent grasp on games, I felt like I was reliving being a five year old, constantly dying to simple jumps. I wanted to call my uncle over so he could try doing the stages for me again.

Super Mario 64 is a lot more merciful, with fewer pits and instant deaths than these old ones. I managed to gather 8 stars and get to Bowser's stage, but actually getting those eight red coins was such a trial I gave up and left the TV to my sister for a while.

Super Smash Bros. Melee is, controversially, as good as I remember. Unlike the others, I can clearly feel like what's deteriorated is my own skill. My brother won something like 90% of the matches, but to his credit, he still occasionally plays it with his friends while I play it with him once a year. I need a new gamecube controller. The one I've got is so well worn the stick looks straight up injured.

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Tales of Symphonia was the RPG of choice for anyone who owns a Gamecube, since it's one of like four besides Baten Kaitos, Skies of Arcadia and Paper Mario 2. It's a good fit for sibling co-op, since you can put your brother on spellcasting duty while you play as Lloyd and run around slashing things. After I beat it, my little brother beat it several times, getting even deeper in than I had done. It's fascinating how much we still remember. Names of places are often lost to time, but all of the plot points, characters, puzzles and tactics are ingrained into our skulls in a different way than the fine motor skills these other platformers demand.

I mostly watched my brother play, enjoying stuff like the classic coffee scene. We made it more than halfway through Sylvarant. For the record, we played the Playstation 3 port, even though we still have the game lying around somewhere.

Now that we're done with the year, the actual awards

Best Game I Haven't Played

Last year, I wished I owned a Switch so I could play Mario and Splatoon and everything else that looked like much more fun than what it felt like to play through Nier and Horizon Zero Dawn on my PS4. This year hasn't had a ton of other games that made me think that, but it sure had this one. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, aka Smash 4+++++, looks like the most enticing Smash game since Melee. It's fantastic that they managed to take with them every character from all the previous games, and I don't mind them reusing assets from Smash 4 to manage that. You kinda have to, if you want this big of a roster, as Tekken Tag 2 and Marvel VS Capcom 2 has shown us.

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The new characters also look fantastic. There's a pretty good spread between heavily requested characters who were easily cloned from existing ones(Dark Samus, Ken, Chrom, Daisy), old classics that haven't shown up before(King K. Rool, Ridley, Piranha Plant, the Belmonts) and the more recent fare of Isabelle, Incineroar and the Inklings.

Besides the recent ARMS, which might have been too new for the planning of this game, I can't off the top of my head think of a Nintendo franchise not well represented. The crossover characters are getting outragous too. The DLC is getting Joker from Persona 5! That's amazing, and a great pull. I respect the Smash Bros. crossovers more than anyone else's because they always seem to have a vision for who they wanna get in - generally, big name Japanese characters, often of a retro or gamey tilt or who have had games co-developed by Nintendo. They aren't just pulling in Ezio, Negan, the Alien or whatever, they're curating who they wanna use pretty well and make them fit with the mood of the different Nintendo characters. It feels like a celebration of gaming's history, and specifically the Japanese part of it, which I think often gets overlooked by the western press. I guess maybe I'm just hanging around on the wrong parts of the internet, but the number of outlets and youtubers covering primarily JP titles are vastly outnumbered by the ones talking about Fallout 4 or whatever all the time. It's wonderful to have this series become more and more of a party for the parts of gaming that I love.

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The only major misstep in my eyes is Pac-Man, and that's because while his game is a milestone, the character himself is this creepy smiley man that only brought with him the ugliest stage in the game. I guess you gotta give Namco a spot when they're co-developing the game, but couldn't you have gotten Solaire or Lloyd instead?

I also think the Fire Emblem characters are an issue. They're very incestuous. There's Robin who's a wizard, there's Corrin who's a half-water dragon thing I suppose. Then there's Marth, and like four other swordsmen who are all derived from him to a bigger or lesser extent. That's pretty bad.

There's more to Fire Emblem than swordsmen lords, but you wouldn't think so from their selection. They could've gone with Tharja, Hector, Camilla, Joshua or all kindsa different dudes. All Fire Emblems have huge casts of wizards, wyvern riders, heavily armored knights, pirates and archers. But no, five straightsword dudes with counters and chargeable neutral B specials it is, and four of them are gonna have blue hair while all five of them wear blue. Fire Emblem is awesome and deserves a big presence in Smash Bros, but they're like the shotos of the game at this point. I can respect that people who are big fans of an individual entry in the series are happy just to see their main guy here in some form, and it's much less effort than making a new character from scratch, but to me it's just adding more clutter. Especially since they've never added the Sacred Stones leads, the sods! That's the one Fire Emblem I played! Is it 'cause Ephraim uses a spear?

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It's difficult to judge how much I'm gonna play Smash without having put my hands on it. I have loved Melee in the past, but I was also disappointed by how Brawl felt to play, and I dunno which way Ultimate leans. All the content in the world doesn't matter if the actual game doesn't feel snappy and exciting to play. But for the matches I've watched, the ridicilous amount of playable characters, lovingly rendered, the stupid amount of stages and the outrageous number of amazing music tracks from all across gaming... Smash Ultimate is the game this year I wish I had the opportunity to play the most.

It puts every other fighting game out there to shame in terms of value especially, with games like Street Fighter V demanding 60 at launch bucks for 16 characters, something like 12 stages and a pittance of modes and extras. The trailers alone are some of the most fun I've had with video games all year, and it's good to see Nintendo taking better care of Konami's properties than Konami can manage themselves.

Incidentally, the new Gang Plank Galleon remix deserves Music Of The Year.

Worst Game I Haven't Played

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On the opposite end of the spectrum we have a game that made me more pissed the more I saw of it, from trailer till I watched one of my favorite let's players go through the whole thing(for the record, it's his GOTY). I don't think it is a bad game. Lots of people loved it, and it's made with an apparent and incredible amount of polish and care, telling a personal character-based story amid stunning visuals and gameplay with some depth.

But it's absolute kryptonite to my own tastes. If Smash is a game that speaks to me on every level, then God of War is its twisted mirror image, and deserves the Grumpy Old Man Award for games that most make me mad. This maybe doesn't come as a surprise. Of course I don't like the most movie-like God of War, when I disliked Uncharted's storytelling. But I did enjoy Spider-Man more than any other new game this year. And I do have it in me to enjoy experiences based entirely around a story, like Tales From the Borderlands. It is possible to make a cinematic adventure I enjoy.

This just isn't it, because it's slow and self-serious and clichéd and predictable, an unearned take on the main character and a rotten take on the source material for the new setting. And I feel like the cinematic approach is actively hindering the rest of the game from being as fun as it could, with a lot of walking sections and an annoying kid by your side the whole way through.

This God of War feels like the exact same thing as the old games, just more self-satisfied and chasing current action adventure trends. The slow walking and talking replacing the cutscenes, the simple puzzles, I'm amazed there wasn't a button you could hit to make Kratos enter stealth. The camera constantly creeps on Kratos' personal space. They've added in a very necessary gear and leveling systems, but made sure to reduce the weapon variety for my convenience. Don't worry, it matches up with their amount of bosses. Not boss fights, there'll be a lot of those, only most of them will be the giants with a reskin. I suppose that's in line with God of War 1 at least, I remember being surprised at how few boss fights that game had compared to the later ones in the series.

And what is up with these people's haircuts anyway
And what is up with these people's haircuts anyway

Speaking of which, what's with these enemy designs? You think werewolves are norse? And what's the deal with the flying witch zombie? That's just a stock video game enemy, I swear I saw them in Destiny. We definitely don't have gorillas, and if the elephant-skinned giants are supposed to be trolls we're making stuff just by slapping local names on generic fantasy enemy designs.

I know norse mythology doesn't exactly have the hottest monsters, that was Greek mythology. They've got a creature made out of a goat, a snake and a lion. They've got a snake lady who looks at you and you turn to stone, a dragon that keeps growing new heads when you chop them off and a man who's half bull. The ancient greeks were creative. We've got a big wolf and a big snake. But you gotta at least try to work with us here, or all we're left with are fantasy designs that could be any creature from any fantasy movie of the last ten years. The problem isn't that you aren't slavishly faithful to the source material. It's that your new take is run of the mill. I prefer the Marvel Thor comics to this, and in that setting the norse gods are pretty much aliens.

On a story level, I think this take on norse mythology is just as childish and edgy as their take on the Greek myths. Oh, you've got a God of light, kind to everyone and beloved by all? Well in our game he's this tattooed, drugged-up looking hipster shitbag who hates his mom. I look forward to the reboot where Kratos moves to the US or whatever and beats up a version of Jesus Christ who's this total asshole that hates his dad for letting him die on the cross. Maybe we'll get to beat the shit outta God finally in that game's sequel.

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You remember when Kratos decided to kill all the gods in the Greek Pantheon because he was pissed at his dad? Well, he's grown up now. He's still gonna do the exact same thing, starting ragnarok and all, he's just gonna do it to protect his son instead. Dude's literally climbing a mountain with his kid while carrying his wife's ashes in a bag, while his last wife and kid's ashes are clinging to his body. We start as we mean to go on.

It's still a heavy metal fan's take on mythology, only now the metal fan has gotten so old he has a kid of his own. It's the same thing, just with a full dad beard instead of a chin beard.

Maybe this focus on the relationship between a father and a son worked for you. Good for you. For me, the themes focusing on all the patricide felt like it was missing the point. Kratos isn't an irredeemable dirtbag because he killed Zeus. He's an irredeemable dirtbag because he killed everyone. Kratos used to murder people just to open doors. Back in 3 he basically started the apocalypse. You can't just treat a guy like that as if the worst he did was beat his old man to death. You can't redeem mass murderers by giving them a kid, and the more self-serious the game was about this, the more it pissed me off. This take on the character felt completely unearned to me.

Back in God of War 1, that one door nonwithstanding, Kratos was essentially heroic. Kratos might've had a warring past already at that point, but I don't ever think I harmed any other humans in that game, and Kratos' quest had some worth when Ares was laying ruin to Greece and Kratos was the only dude trying to stop his rampage. He might just have been going at it out of revenge and self-loathing, but he did the right thing in trying to kill Ares, and didn't wreck the surroundings in the process.

But ever since that second game, Kratos became more and more of a monster himself, and it was the director of this game who put him on that path with God of War 2. He can't just come back a decade later and pretend like this game in any way fits with the Kratos shown in those older games. Turning the asshole knobs on the Norse gods to the maximum to try and justify Kratos being just a little aggressive again falls completely flat for me too. I don't think you can make Kratos remotely sympathetic any more. It's a lost cause. The outrageous murders he did in the past games flash in front of my eyes whenever he has a quiet moment with Atreus. You can't turn the quite literal God of War into Wolverine. Or Logan, more specifically, I suppose.

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When you combine that unearned take on Kratos and those older games with the slower modern approach, the dumbass adaptation of my local mythology, and the gameplay that at least wasn't fun to watch, GoW takes the cake for biggest game this year I absolutely don't wanna play.

It frustrates me, because in theory, I'm all about a well-made action game where you beat up the norse gods and go on adventures with some nicer characters than usual for God of War. I expect to like that in a way I don't expect to enjoy, say, Red Dead Redemption 2. But the God of War reboot really feels like it's tailor made for annoying me, and I needed to get this rant off my chest. Least the devs can be happy that everyone else seem to like it.

Mimir is cool though. I unofficially give him the award for Best Use of Lollipop Chainsaw.

Most Audaciously Bullshit Ending presented by Alex Navarro

I've been told Kassandra is the better player character, but I dunno if that's because she's actually written differently from Alexios. Is this a femshep situation again or what? People insisted she was the way to play as well but I found that in practice it was the dullest Jennifer Hale performance ever.
I've been told Kassandra is the better player character, but I dunno if that's because she's actually written differently from Alexios. Is this a femshep situation again or what? People insisted she was the way to play as well but I found that in practice it was the dullest Jennifer Hale performance ever.

I don't like the Assassin's Creed series. I've tried 2 and 4, rumored to be some of the best ones. While I managed to get through 2 at least, I just bounced right off 4. They're impressive as historic tourism sandboxes, but they're not really my thing, and I think they're overall pretty damn boring.

We're now on something like the eleventh main game in the series, and any attempt at grounded realism has evidently gone straight out the window. I hear they hired the Saints Row 3 director, and it seems his latent ability is to make the games he work on sillier over time. I did not bother playing Assasin's Creed Odyssey, but Alex Navarro sure did, and his retelling of one of the game's endings is so spectacularly dumb I needed to highlight it here so people daunted by 20 hours of podcasts don't miss out on one of the funniest bits of the year. Maybe it makes more sense in context. Alex made it sound hilarious.

Best Moment or Sequence In Spider-Man

Spider-Man has a ton of good story moments. I enjoyed the text message cutscene, the true challenge after Mr. Negative has been defeated. While not stimulating in a gameplay sense, the final boss fight has a terrific presentation. And watching Octavius juggle his balls was a wonderful scene too.

But nothing hammers home that friendly neighborhood Spider-Man feeling quite like getting home late at night, only to discover you've been evicted and then having to chase a garbage truck around the city just to get your USB drive back.

Best Stealth Takedown of 2014

Best Giant Bomb Feature

This was made by @frankace_art
This was made by @frankace_art

Giant Bomb turned ten this year. Personally I've been following the site for seven years, so I'm around the time where I started to get tired and looked elsewhere for different entertainment. But I couldn't leave. What Giant Bomb has got going here is unique, and there isn't another place I've found that has the same vibe, even if they've got their own things going for them.

However, I did take a break for several months. There was only one feature that I still had to have when I was tired of listening to the same people on the same site talk about the same things over and over again. And that feature was All Systems Goku.

Calling ASG a pleasant surprise would be an understatement. It reinvigorated not only my appreciation for Giant Bomb, but for Dragon Ball, too. Jeff and Dan approached Dragon Ball with joy and enthusiasm. Listening to them walking each other through this brand new world of anime with wrestling metaphors is one of the most enjoyable things I did total in 2018, and I could rarely get through an episode without laughing. It made me remember how fun it was when I discovered anime myself back when I was a kid, and how funny Giant Bomb can be as well. That's why ASG is my Giant Bomb feature of the year.

Honorable mentions: The Game of The Year content, Best of Giant Bomb, This is the run

The Super Best Friends Memorial Award For Best Video Game Personalities Outside Of Giant Bomb

Rounding out this year's awards, this year's Most Likely To Make Staff Members Upset Award goes to Super Best Friends Play. I spend quite a lot of my free time watching various let's plays and coverage of video games. Six months ago, when I was getting tired of GB all the time and started looking for different outlets for my let's play and podcast needs, I stumbled upon the Super Best Friends playing through God Hand. "Hey, this is just like that dream let's play of mine they just started over at Giant Bomb", I thought. Only it was done within two weeks instead of starting in July and still not being done, and the commentary was more informed. "This is like Giant Bomb but better", I thought at the time.

And that's not entirely true, although it's definitely true with regards to that God Hand LP. I think The SBF are like Giant Bomb, but more like me. They're a lot more about Japanese games, fighting games, brawlers, RPGs and Souls games. They're slightly younger overall. They watch anime, quite often. One of them is literally a balding, bearded ginger. Of course it would appeal to me when it is me.

Twitch is still fun, but if you've got five to eight hours each weekday to watch someone else play games, you're a different kinda person than I am
Twitch is still fun, but if you've got five to eight hours each weekday to watch someone else play games, you're a different kinda person than I am

Unfortunately, nothing can stay the same forever. Many of the personalities I follow have gone through a crisis of some sort, usually a split, and come out changed on the other end. Old Giant Bomb here had Ryan's death(which was an actual tragedy), and later the east/west site split. Spoiler Warning ended up splitting into several pieces, the members separating into different parts of the internet that aren't as good as they all were together.

Marcus Sanders(aka ENB, aka Epicnamebro) ended up splitting with himself, somehow, misguidedly deleting most of his excellent old youtube videos and now existing primarily as a Twitch streamer. It was a bummer for everyone involved. Besides himself, I hope. Dude made a lot of my favorite gaming videos on youtube, entertaining me for hours and introducing me to games I love dearly now like Dark Souls, Demon's Souls, Dragon's Crown and Bloodborne. Taking them down is like if Miyazaki decided "Well, I'm not really satisfied with how my old work holds up, so I've removed Demon's Souls from the world. Please don't try to play it any more". What a waste.

It's always rough when something happens to the creators. On the viewer end, you don't know what's going on in people's personal life until it results in a major shift for the #content. There's not much you can do after the fact other than see if you enjoy the new approach, or move on with your life, trying to make peace with what little information you're given on why things have changed. Personality-based content generally relies on making you feel like you're the creators' friend. And in one sense you are, only they aren't your friends back.

A week ago, Super Best Friends shut down because the two founding members themselves weren't friends anymore. I'll always have their side channels, and of course I have many years of archived videos to go through. But it's sad. I wish I discovered that I like them sooner. They were my Giant Bomb outside of Giant Bomb.

The runner-ups: Smug, Chipcheezum, Marcus Sanders, Maximilian, Spoiler Warning, ThatGamingBritShow, Outside Xtra, dunkey

In summary

Most of the games I looked forward to this year are coming out in 2019. In particular, I'm excited for Devil May Cry V, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice, and the big Resident Evil 2 remake. I'm starved for a good character action game, Sekiro looks like another fresh take on the Souls formula in the vein of Bloodborne and Resi 2 is giving me good Resident Evil 4 flashbacks. Hopefully I'll be able to make a proper top 10 in 2019.

Thank you for reading. The anime blogs are returning in January. Have a happy new year!

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2018 in ~*ANIME*~

We're only three months away from the end of the year, so I figured I'd take the opportunity to write about all the anime I wasted my time on so far in 2018. If only so I feel like all the hours spent resulted in me making something. There've been a lot of animes I liked, and a lot I disliked, too. Ultimately I don't expect you to share my opinions, most of this stuff is entirely subjective, but I would be happy if a recommendation lead you to a show you ended up having fun with too.

If you're a regular in the anime thread, you might recognize a couple of these paragraphs - I copy and pasted the ones I had written exhaustively about already. If you want a fuller picture of what kinda monster is writing this, here's my Myanimelist account. Buckle up.

The Non-starters

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I watch a lot of anime just to check and see if I like it, and as a result there are many shows I don't continue watching long enough to have much to say about. Violet Evergarden, WotaKoi, Darling in the FranXX, Cutie Honey Universe, Gegege no Kitarou, Pop Team Epic, Record of Grancrest War and Yuuna and the Haunted Springs were all shows I dropped this year.

Gegege no Kitarou used a very typical spirit detective kinda premise, and while it's revered as a classic over in Japan, the execution didn't exactly capture me. Yuuna and the Haunted Springs is the only harem show I watched this year so far, and one episode was about all I could take. The story is about this monk kid who was ostracized for being able to see ghosts, and ends up living at a haunted hotel with a lot of cute girls, including a cute ghost girl. It subscribed to so many cliches of the genre and had such a pedestrian sense of humor, run of the mill of character designs and mediocre animation that it isn't something I could get into unless I was 13 years old again and hadn't seen anything better.

Cutie Honey Universe was this year's second Go Nagai reboot, after Devilman Crybaby. If you're not familiar, Cutie Honey is an android that fights evil by transforming into different disguises and getting naked a lot. I'm pretty sure she gets credit for inventing the magical girl genre. I was pretty excited for this one, but my Cutie Honey fanboying only extends to one piece of media: Re: Cutie Honey's first episode. It's one of my favorite things Hiroyuki Imaishii ever directed back when he was at Gainax, a fast, fun, funny and energetic self-contained story. The other two episodes of the OVA are nothing special, 'cause he didn't direct them, but the first one is great. Then Cutie Honey Universe comes out and is dull, plodding, and just overall nothing to write home about. Better luck next time.

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Darling in the FranXX was a big talking point this year, being the Trigger staff's first proper return to the mecha genre since Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann back when they all worked for Gainax. Now, Gurren Lagann is fantastic, but Darling in the FranXX didn't really do much for me. It was slow, it was largely colored grey, the mecha designs were pretty damn lame and the story wasn't exactly riveting. The themes were about as subtle and elegant as that latest Deus Ex game coupled with that latest David Cage game, although Darling in the FranXX is not about robot racism.

For me the anime only came moderately alive in the action scenes, which suddenly looked like Trigger's other work. I watched more of it than anything else that I dropped, but seven episodes was still all it took for me to just get bored of it. Props for starting out strong with the doggystyle cockpits, I had a good laugh at those the first time they were revealed.

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Darling in the FranXX might wear Trigger's name, but it's also made by A1, a studio that craps out mostly trash. Having not looked that deeply into it, it's hard to say how much of the blame lies with either of them. I'm inclined to give Trigger the benefit of the doubt here, but while they've made several high profile shows since they formed Trigger, none of them have reached the heights of the Gainax classics for me. Kill la Kill is my favorite of their shows, sharing a lot of the creative team with Gurren Lagann, and even that I'd give like three stars. I'm still waiting for them to return to the glory days of Gurren Lagann, FLCL and Evangelion, and to a lesser extent Panty & Stocking, Dead Leaves and Re: Cutie Honey.

I believe Imaishi is gonna direct a show called Promare next, and I hope that's more my thing. Trigger's house style is very much my taste, and judging by their popularity, I'm hardly alone. I just wish they'd make something better with it. It's so rare that the imaginative directing and appealing artstyle is also paired with a good plot and likeable characters.

Violet Evergarden is a very typical Kyoto Animation production, in my experience. It uses a lot of filmic techniques and camera tricks, it's got gorgeously realistically rendered environments and it has stellar animation. Also it's got dull-ass generic anime character designs, generic sappy movie music, a boring and melodramatic plot and characters I think are terribly unrelatable. It's absurdly pretty, but it's not for me, and I'm still waiting for them to adapt another property that works for me again the way The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Nichijou, Miss Kobayashi's Dragon Maid and Full Metal Panic did.

I was especially impressed with Violet's hands
I was especially impressed with Violet's hands

WotaKoi is a romcom about this nerd couple and their relationship problems. The character designs reminded me of Monthly Girls' Nozaki-kun hard, which is a good start, but in terms of writing I just thought it was boring. I don't feel like it captures the international subculture of nerdery especially well, and what jokes were there didn't make me even smile, so I'd rather just watch something else. Bit of a disappointment for me, 'cause on its face the concept of two adult nerds dating is definitely in my wheelhouse. Ended up only giving it two episodes. I've got another nerd couple I dig much more further down in this blog post.

Record of Grancrest War was so thrilling I forgot to put it on Myanimelist and promptly deleted it from my memory, only remembering it after writing everything else in this blog post. It only stands out for me by having one of the highest contrasts between grounded, beautiful medieval castles and landscapes and modern-looking JRPG anime character designs.

Finally, Pop Team Epic's sense of humor didn't work for me. A bunch of supershort skits and pop culture references, ten minutes long, then you get them all again with different voice actors for the second half of the episode. Wohoo. I'm still thinking about Hellshake Yano though. That sketch is golden.

The Goddamn Ninja Batman

Ninja Batman(or as it's translated in English, oddly, Batman Ninja) was a big old CG movie put out by Kamikaze Douga, a studio best known for making the amazing CG openings for Jojo's Bizarre Adventures seasons 1, 2 and 3. Shows made with 3d models get a bad rap because they look almost universally awful. They don't fit in at all with the 2D artwork, they seem to be animated at a framerate that looks too low for them, they look uncanny and cheap and aren't very expressive. Western CG cartoons aren't all lookers, either, natch. I've watched a few episodes of that Turtles show from 2012, and the difference from TV show level graphics to proper movies is astounding. But I think anime in particular has a hard time of it because of the ways it looks like 3d anime tries to ape the conventions of 2d anime animation.

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There's nothing revolutionary about the way Ninja Batman does it, it's just done very well. The models all have enough shading, textures and details on them to not make them appear flat and featureless. The direction is fun and lively and feels like it hits hard, the same way the Jojo openings do. The plot allows for a lot of robots and armor to be involved, which always helps. I wouldn't take this over some well-animated 2d, but for once I actually think it looks good enough to not be an issue.

So what's it like besides the looks, then? Pretty good! The plot isn't anything to write home about - an experiment by Gorilla Grodd goes haywire, pulling all of Gotham's criminals and the extended Bat family into feudal Japan. The biggets criminals then promptly build giant mechas and became warlords, 'cause this is Japan and that's what you do. Batman arrives in the past after everyone's had time to set all this up, and then has to find a way to beat them all and bring everyone back to the future. It's not a story written to do a compelling character study or whatever, it's a story written to have a bunch of samurai mecha action scenes with all of your favorite Batman characters in rad Japanese cosplay. I thought it was a ton of fun and a way better Gurren Lagann-like than Darling in the FranXX was, even if it is a pretty shallow thing. It doesn't exactly feel like all the dialogue was gone over by people who did Batman TAS, if you see what I mean, but it still left me grinning for a majority of its runtime. Regardless of the quality of its banter, seeing a giant Batman "mech" made out of bats and monkeys punching out a giant Joker mech is the kinda spectacle you just gotta see for yourself.

Netflix' Devilman Crybaby

The first Go Nagai adaptation this year, this thing felt like all anyone were talking about for a while. If you're unfamiliar with the source material, Devilman is about demons awakening after having been frozen for thousands of years. They can be summoned into or possess people on their own, and unless the person is pure of heart, he'll be taken over by the demon. A kid named Ryo discovers all this after his archeologist father turns into a demon and tries to kill him. He gets his kind friend Akira to be possessed by a demon so that he can get the body of a devil with the consciousness of a man - a Devilman - and together they fight to defeat the demons that are invading. There's more to it than that, and the story takes one depressing turn after the other, but it's all spoiler territory. Despite the original being 40 years old or something it's probably not worth getting into. I only started on the series this year, watching the two OVAs and reading the manga before checking out Crybaby in the same week. They're all fairly short.

From what I've been told by people way older than me, the old Devilman is supposed to have been controversial with regards to violence and sex, so I guess the creators managed to inherit the spirit of that. As a Netflix anime, it completely dodged any TV regulations it'd have to adhere to in Japan, and you regularly have people both ripped in half and fucking for the entirety of the runtime. At one point the main character cums so hard his semen sticks to the roof of his room and drips back down on him. At another point he rapes a harpy monster in mid-air. It's pretty wacky. I can see how this anime got so much traction between its Christian imagery, bleak outlook on humanity and absurd explicit content. There's even a gay bloke or two in it.

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Devilman Crybaby was directed by Masaaki Yuasa, everyone's favorite trippy animator turned director, who'd never draw a person on-model if he could help it. At his best, he's got spectacular visuals and directing that build up the atmosphere or emotion a scene tries to convey. His characters move expressively, his camera angles are exciting, his colors are bold, everything looks funny and engaging. At his worst, everything looks like a mess.

And I'm sad to say, I definitely don't think this is his best work. The characters aren't so much expressive and impressionistic as they just look off-model. The colors are, for the most part, muted and dark. Almost every action scene takes place during pitch black nights where you can't see anything. Whenever someone moves around, attacks or gets injured severely, there's little impact to it. It's more like watching water balloons burst than a human or demon actually getting cut into seventeen pieces. It feels like Yuasa on a budget, or perhaps more pressingly, on a deadline.

And on a story level, I don't think this version is all that. This is to my knowledge the first time there's been a full adaptation of the plot of the manga, so props for that, but the characterization of everyone feels severely off. Ryo in particular is insane in this version, and I don't think the framework the characters are placed in works anymore with everyone's new personalities. It was a story that fit the old characters. With the new ones, it feels stupid. Whenever Ryo explodes an old woman to death or whatever, I wanted the kindhearted Akira to go WTF DUDE and have some serious issues with him, but the most you get is some pouting. Akira just seems like the world's biggest idiot. Between the storytelling not working that well for me and the visuals looking jank, I couldn't get that behind Devilman Crybaby(I also thought the music sucked, but I don't expect to get a lot of support on that one). Overall it's a better, more unique experience than most of the drivel that every studio craps out every season, every year. It's got good moments, it's got some fun jokes, and I for one was touched by that one rapper dude's rap. But while Devilman Crybaby stands out in a crowd, I don't wanna stand too close to it for fear of smelling weird afterwards. I'm not entirely with the hype on this one, sorry.

Still, those two old Devilman OVAs were very cool, and I heartily recommend them to anyone who wants to watch the early parts of the story again with amazing visuals and a more coherent plot. You know how great that old Jojo OVA with Dio looks? That's the Devilman OVAs, an awesome, grounded and expanded take on the original manga, with the kinda quality drawings you can't get from a TV show. And if you want another time Yuasa made an anime where people turned into monsters and ate their loved ones, Kemonozume hasn't gone anywhere.

Dragon Pilot: Hisone and Masotan (it's good)

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In this anime, it turns out dragons existed all along. To hide them from public view, the JSDF has taken responsibility for them and camouflaged them with airplane parts. You can even pilot them, by being eaten and messing around with their innards through the stomach walls(ewwwwww). However, the dragons choose their pilots themselves, and the one on Gifu military base hasn't had one in three years. Then Hisone shows up, and it turns out the dragons will only eat the most insecure and dependant chicks out there, and so she starts her new life as a dragon pilot.

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This was a pleasant surprise for me! Mari Okada worked on it, which usually means I won't like it very much. And it does exhibit a lot of the same traits and themes as those other shows I've seen her work on. Like a lot of focus on dialogue and banter, too much melodrama and self-consciousness, some very arch characters with predictable character development, several main characters with personality and communication issues that they have to work out or work around, and what I can only describe as weird behavior. Stuff happens for weird reasons, let's put it like that.

But this time around, all that stuff is married to a cute artstyle, largely excellent animation, a surprising variety of memorable character designs for such a simple style, and dragons that transform into fighter jets to disguise themselves, which is just about the best concept I've heard of all my life. There's some tastefully underused CG models, it's got a comprehensible and decent story that is completely told in 12 episodes, it's got some good comedy and just a little bit of good drama. Most importantly, it's got a fat cat that hides itself in a bookshelf.

It's not the best thing I've ever seen, but I enjoyed my time with it. Wish there was a bit more of flying around in dragon jets and a bit less melodrama, but I'll take what I can get. It's good!

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Hinamatsuri (it's really really good)

As a succesful yakuza lieutenant in a peaceful area, Nitta's got a generally comfortable and unproblematic life and a penthouse apartment when a superpowered kid assassin accidentally crash lands in his living room. The kid is called Hina, and she's just a regular emotionally stunted kid in every way besides having telekinetic powers. Nitta ends up taking care of her as a surrogate dad on the side of his mob job, and the rest is a slice of life comedy as he tries his best while suddenly having become surrogate dad to a powerful psychic.

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What makes Hinamatsuri so amazing is its comedic writing. Comedy shows in Japan tend to fall pretty flat for me. A lot of them go for the old tsukkomi & boke routine, which tends to boil down to someone doing or saying something stupid - and someone else then tells them it's stupid. It's always predictable and often boring. In the case of Hinamatsuri, it blends tragic circumstances with lighthearted comedy extremely well. You view something dark in just the right light, and suddenly you've got comedy gold, the above clip being an early example. Hitomi's life gradually evolves into the life of a hardworking twentysomething woman, and it's both hilarious and sad to watch.

The author is also well aware that once you've made someone laugh, it's the easiest thing in the world to make you cry. So there are several heartwrenching or touching episodes in Hinamatsuri, and they feel like they belong in the narrative instead of coming out of left field because of the mixing of dark circumstances and funny gags. When a spoiled little kid is suddenly living with homeless people, situations are just naturally gonna go from funny to sad and back again. It never becomes either sickly sweet or darkly sinister, and it manages to actually subvert expectations at every turn. On top of all this, it's one of the few well-animated comedy shows out there, with just enough of an aesthetic of its own to stand out, and some really funny voice performances from the Japanese Hina in particular.

It is not a finished story(being based on an ongoing manga), which leads to some odd scenes. There's one character with a whole episode to herself that never even meets the other characters. But don't let that stop you from watching the anime this year that probably made me both cry and laugh the most. This is one of those anime I'd recommend even to people that don't like anime, 'cause it's both good and approachable, not one of those where I'd have to step in and explain about maids to an uninterested third party.

Lupin III part 5, Lupin Trois

After not having a proper TV series since Part 3 in the eighties, Lupin III finally saw a resurgence in the 2010s. In 2015 we got Part 4, an awesome retro-styled adaptation that's now essentially gotten a season 2. If you were born in the last, say 30 years and know who Lupin is, odds are you're familiar with him through Castle of Cagliostro, a Hayao Miyazaki movie from before Studio Ghibli got formed. His original format are a ton of episodic adventures where he and the gang go on pulpy slapstick journeys together. You've got Lupin, the ingenious master thief, Goemon, a stoic and old-fashioned master swordsman, Fujiko Mine, the sexy femme fatale, and Jigen, a faithful gunman. They're hounded at all times by the honorable detective Zenigata of Interpol, who's got a Tom & Jerry relationship with Lupin in particular.

This is all you have to know to watch any Lupin. The fun is in the adventures they have, while the characters are hardly more than archetypes. Part 4 and 5 have a bit more of an arc than I imagine those older parts have, with some added returning side characters, but no more than say, Cowboy Bebop did. The gang is technically a bunch of assassins and thieves, but you know how this goes, all of them have a heart of gold. They only steal from bad people, or they steal something that helps people out in the process, and they only kill when attacked by killers. The tone of can wary wildly between episodes, going from serious showdowns with professional murderers in one episode to wacky comedy bank heists in the next, but the characters work equally well for both scenarios.

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The hook for the story this time around is that Lupin and the gang have gotten too old for the changing world, which is more than a little meta. Lupin suddenly gets hounded by all sorts of assassins and police as he can't escape social media and sharing of #content, which is a rough spot to be in for anybody. The new party member for this season only is naturally a hacker chick, and she's a pretty good addition to the crew. She's resourceful and smart, but too much of a kid and an amateur to be anywhere near as equipped for adventure as Lupin's gang is, and her crush on Lupin is contrasted neatly with Lupin and Fujiko's love. This time around there's some fun interplay between the gang as they try to suss out not just what their relationship to the world is, but what relationship they have to each other.

I dunno how to say much more about it besides just praising it. I love these adventures a lot, and they've got just about the right mix of romantic spy fiction, wacky hijinks, slapstick comedy, emotional weight and just a hint of edge with the occasional explicit violence and naked boob. There's a heart to it all, you get the distinct sense that not only do the characters love each other even if they dislike expressing it, but the studio absolutely loves working on them.

There's a limit to how much a studio can do in a weekly TV anime format, I don't want anyone to expect the same kind of amazing movement you get in Castle of Cagliostro here. But the backgrounds are absurdly beautiful, and it's definitely animated enough to work, with an art style that looks retro but has that modern touch to it. It feels like it got slightly more modern than in the last season, but the differences are negligible. I absolutely recommend it if you can find it in you to love a bunch of old macho dudes straight outta the seventies, and a lady who's answer to every problem is to seduce it. I think it's all very cool, in an aged, retro sense. It's just a tad more mature than the usual shonen fare that gets all the views, but not so mature it isn't still extremely silly.

Shoutout to the finale for a move out of nowhere that really surprised me. I guess you could view it as an earth-shattering retcon, but I think we're going with the mood of the story at the moment rather than lore. I thought it was very fun, the little extra push that made the season go from good to great. There is definitely going to be another season - there are some key characters here with unresolved plots, especially Lupin's new rival character, Albert d'Andrésy. I look forward to seeing that in a few years.

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Megalo Box aka Ashita no Joe 2018

This is another remake of an old property, somewhat of a trend for anime, at least recently. And unlike some other trends, doing a retro manga or old anime over again in 2018 tends to bring with it some unique stuff by default. Anything old enough is new again, so suddenly you actually get shows that look distinct visually, even with a makeover more in line with current shows. Megalo Box doesn't particularly look like Ashite no Joe, which is nearing its fiftieth birthday in just a few years. But it does look partially like a show about two decades out of time. The artwork is going for a sketchy look, with what straight up looks like artifacting on it. I don't entirely appreciate that, it fucks with my eyes, but I do like the character designs. It's an art in itself to make something that appears to be retro while looking nothing like the ancient original.

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Anyway, Megalo Box is a bit beyond just a modern adaptation of Ashita noe Joe. Instead of retelling the story of the Japanese boxer in the 70s boxing his way through dudes in Tokyo(if this summary seems a bit light, it's cause the anime is old as balls and I only really knew two things about Ashita no Joe going in), Megalo Box takes place in some unspecified location in the future. Everyone wealthy is in a beautiful futuristic inner city, everyone poor is out in the slums which feel like they could take place whenever. JD is stuck doing staged matches for the mob in an underground boxing ring there, but when the champ unexpectedly pays them a visit, his fighting spirit is ignited and he won't just stand there and lose on purpose anymore. He wants out, he wants it all to mean something, he wants to show what he's got. The local mob boss now wants his head, but JD's coach manages to convince him: They win the big boxing tournament to earn back the loss and then some, and they're free to go.

Look, in order to say anything specific about the later plot here, I gotta just throw up a SPOILER WARNING right here and tell people who haven't watched it to duck out.

The two things I knew about Ashita no Joe going in was this: At one point he invents the cross counter, and in his last fight, Joe dies. The creators of Megalo Box are very much aware of this. I get the impression that in the original, Joe's death was sudden and unexpected. In Megalo Box, from the first shot of the episode, they're hinting at the death. There's crosses everywhere, Joe's idea of a hobby is riding as fast as he can to the edge of a cliff and stopping just before falling off, and there's all kinds of imagery about dead dogs(he originally calls himself Junk Dog). Everyone knows they're in dangerous territory, and the mob will kill Joe if he doesn't keep working for them. But even beyond the plot, there's just hinting of an early grave at every turn, to the point where I felt they were being maybe a little too unsubtle.

So when the ending came and Joe didn't die, I was fucking super surprised. They played me like a damn fiddle. I'm conflicted on it. When watching the show, I really liked coach Nanbu, the little kid, Joe himself. I wanted everyone to make it. But then when they did, rather than feeling relief, I just felt fooled. I dunno how I'd feel if I watched it again. Even just looking up images for this blog post made me remember how fond I am of the cast, though.

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Like Hinamatsuri, Megalo Box is one of those shows I can easily recommend to people that don't like anime, by which most of them mean they can't stand this or that common anime trope. Like bizarre, out there plot threads where people are force fields or representations of the planet's love. Or fetish maids. Or weird, neon-colored hair. Or absurdly jiggling tits. Megalo Box is relatively classy and has no cheesecake I can think of, it's fairly Western in its aesthetic, it's grounded, it's focused on one guy beating up a lot of other guys with exoskeletons and it's a short, intense plot, done in 12 episodes. It's even got hip hop music in it. If you clicked on the anime blog and you wanted a cool dude anime for cool dudes, this is the one for you.

It does have its limitations, of course. As a 12 episode anime, you can't get the kinda training sequences and build-up and amazing fights of a boxing show like Hajime no Ippo. And similarly, despite wearing exoskeletons, none of the punches here are anywhere near as impactful as the punches in Hajime no Ippo. But it's a solid drama with some decent action scenes and a strong look to it.

Steins;Gate 0

Sorry guys, not so sure about this one. The first Steins;Gate is one of the most respected shows out there, and I personally loved it when I watched it back in 2012. The nerd self-insert aspect is one thing, certainly. Since the anime was about a bunch of different kinds of nerds in the nerd capital of the world inventing a time machine and then fighting back international agencies trying to take the time machine for themselves, it's no wonder anime nerds love it so much. But even aside from that aspect, it's a thrilling story. Easy to sum up, too, which for a time travel story is nothing short of a miracle. Okabe Rintarou invents a way to time travel. He uses this ability to help all of his friends attain their dreams, by sending a message back in time that changes an action they took at some point. This leads to a new future in which agencies kills one of his friends while trying to get the time machine. In order to make this death not happen, he has to travel back in time and redo all the changes he made. It's simple and it's easy to follow. There's a lot of tension, some occasional action and some nightmareish turns of events that have to be done over. It's a great anime that I think you should watch if you like anime.

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Steins;Gate 0 is at a disadvantage right out of the gate because it is so unnecessary. Instead of continuing the story from where we left off, it continues from the perspective of a bad timeline that made a minor appearance at the end of the last show. We're essentially viewing a "Bad End" we never needed to see, and there are instantly contrivances to make us even have material for another season.

Several new characters are introduced, with a whiff of the retcon about them. Makise Kurisu, a major player from the first season who in this timeline is dead, is reintroduced through an AI called Amadeus that contains her memories. It also turns out that the time machine that's sitting around didn't just bring the character we thought it did to the past in season 1 - it also carried an entirely new character who was never brought up before. Retcon aside, this new character is terrible, a composite of amnesia, mommy issues and brainwashing that I couldn't stand at all.

Not all new characters are a bust, though. The scientist that made the AI, Maho Hiyajo, is a very cute and enjoyable character I would have liked to have seen in season 1. Though of course, she was never mentioned either, despite being Makise Kurisu's best friend and colleague, and her major character issue is a feeling of inferiority towards Makise Kurisu. We're doing a lot of Makise Kurisu expys here, in all shapes and sizes. Even the new character from the future looks somewhat similar to Kurisu for no discernable reason.

The problem here is this: Season 1 was a thrilling, self-contained story. It was easy to understand what happened, but it was hard to predict what was gonna happen next. In Steins;Gate 0, the story entirely relies on having seen season 1, but also in being invested in a problem that the original already solved. The villains are very obvious, but the precise nature of the timelines gets muddled and confusing. It's hard to understand what's happening, but it's very easy to see where it's all going to end up. It's confusing and annoying instead of interesting and thrilling.

So this one I can't recommend, personally. It's not completely without merit, but an individual strong scene here and there does not make this an anime worth watching. I've been told the visual novel it's based on is much better.

Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory (season IV, I get it)

Full Metal Panic! Invisible Victory is the fourth season of FMP. It's remarkable that this even exists, 13 years after the last season aired. This all began in 2002, so if you've been watching it since then you have my condolences.

It's pretty great having it back. As far as I can tell all the voice actors are the same, and their performances haven't notably aged. Sagara Sousuke sounds identical, as does Kaname Chidori. Some of the music I feel like I recognize, and some of it feels new, but it's all cool bombastic stuff that fits with the heroic military mecha thing the anime is going for. The best thing here is just seeing a continuation of the story. Some details have gotten cloudy over the years, but it's cool to just have an unifinished story roll on like nothing happened. It's a strong season, too! Mithril enters all-out war with the bad guys, mechas invade Sousuke's neighborhood to get a hold of Chidori, some serious shit happens in this season. It changes the status quo considerably from the previous seasons of staying undercover at Chidori's school and then occasionally going on missions, and it's all very exciting.

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Few shows blend military action, mechas, heroics and just a touch of romantic comedy as well as FMP does. Despite fantastical elements like the lambda driver, grounding everything in equipment and the military gives FMP a good tangible setting for all the action. And the artstyle, which used to look painfully stereotypical of anime, has now gotten so old that it looks positively retro. It stands out, and has a touch more realism to its character design than many modern shows, so it still works.

On the negative side, this is definitely just another 12 episode season. The anime might get another season next year, or it might go dormant for another decade depending on sales. Regardless, this story isn't done. The animators involved are also either not skilled enough or not given enough time, 'cause people just don't look on-model very often when they move around quickly. Some shots look great, and then suddenly the bad guy runs away and it's like looking at a stick figure. I really miss that Kyoto Animation level of quality here.

It kills the mood when something serious is happening, or a gun fight is going down, and instead of the kills looking suitably horrific as the bystanders scream, it just looks like some blobs sprung a leak. There's this cool scene where Chidori takes a midnight bath outdoors to wake up and start taking some initiative. She jumps into a pool, partially undresses and swims around for a bit, emerging with renewed determination. That's a moment that could be in a potential "Best Moment or Sequence" category, but it doesn't play because the studio hasn't have the money/skills/time/whatever to make it look good.

Computer graphics have reached FMP at last, and they look as bad as they always do, a car chase in an early episode being a particularly ugly offender. The mechs are also all CG, and personally I think it's hard to look at the new ones and not think about how cool the old ones could look. There's technically more animation, right? You can move around CG models a lot easier than you can draw mechas jumping around, and that occasionally looks very cool. But they also look entirely fake and superimposed upon the regular artwork. The robots aren't the biggest offender, though. It's that car chase in an early episode that looks like it's ripped from an old video game. I think I can meet the animators halfway on this one, the CG is fine as long as it's used to depict the robots fighting with no people around, not so much for anything else.

Overall, I enjoyed it and could go for another season. Hopefully it won't take 13 years again.

High Score Girl

Now this is a great anime.

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All of you nerds need to get on High Score Girl ASAP. A good while ago I asked in the anime thread for romcoms that were grounded, preferably with some likeable and funny protagonists and some nerdy crap. I'm not expecting everyone to share those tastes, but I think Giant Bomb should be ripe with people who can get very into a romcom set in the arcade scene of Japan in the 90s - essentially a couple of kids bonding over playing games while growing up. They're sniping my interests very hard considering all the Capcom on display here, so I'm not exactly trying to be objective.

But personally I' enjoyed it immensely. The characters are beliveable and likeable, and while not realistic in the strictest sense(the love interest barely speaks and communicates entirely with facial expressions and cartoon violence), everyone's emotions feel real. It feels a lot like the author himself grew up like this and is now writing a love story in the time of his own youth - as opposed to an anime like Gamers! from last year, which at best felt like playing with romcom tropes in a generic anime high school and at worst just was those tropes.

It reminds me of Genshiken in the sense that the entire setting feels true to life. And despite the differences between Japan in the 90s and say, my rural Norwegian town in the 90s, subculture is international. If you're spending your time on a video game forum, you can relate to this stuff. And if you can enjoy the setting, and then also enjoy some funny setup and good gags to make you like these characters before twisting the heartache knife, you're in for a good time. Haruo's an insecure, annoying, game-fixated nerd, but he's also a very caring boyfriend. Even when he's unable to acknowledge his exact feelings, he still acts on them and does the thing you want him to do most of the time. Oono's got no social skills, but together with Haruo she can straight up communicate through what she loves for once, and her relationship with him relieves the stress and pressure she feels from her home life. They have a lot of arguments and sometimes they don't get along, but in the end they care about one another so much. It's sweet.

I normally can't stand the look of these TV-level computer graphics shows, like I mentioned earlier. it's just such a wide gap from what those 3d models look like and animate like compared to any proper CG animation. However, the studio did a lot with color, framing and the lighting to make it look way better than it should, and heighten the atmosphere with some great emotional music. As ugly as High Score Girl is compared to most manga(I'd say the original manga looks worse than Mob Psycho 100, which is an achievement), the anime adaptation does its best to make it look good. I think the 3d models are a good fit for all the arcade cabinets, and integrating all the actual gameplay footage with the rest of the artwork.

It's an ongoing story, though the original manga is finished. Three more episodes are announced as OVAs, Genshiken style, so here's to hoping a season 2 happens. If it doesn't, jump into chapter 35 or something of the manga, and you're golden.

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Planet With

Planet With is awesome, and I would've been disappointed if it was anything else. The author isn't exactly a household name, but I adored Spirit Circle, and this is on that level. I began writing this blog entirely so I could write about this anime, I just remembered. But now that I'm here I don't know where to start. I'll try to be brief for once.

Planet With starts out with aliens invading Earth, and seven heroes manifesting their psychic aura as big glowing CG mecha and flying out to fight them. On their way back one of them is ambushed by a small kid, our main character Soya, as he is furious at them and wants them to stop. He's an alien himself, from a planet that was destroyed, and he can sense the power that destroyed his planet in the heroes. Also he's accompanied by a girl in a maid outfit and a huge purple cat that walks on two legs. So yeah, maybe this is one for people that like anime too.

And from there, I dunno where to go. Planet With's most admirable element, though you might not expect it, is making sense. Everyone involved is characterized as humans, making rational or emotional decisions based on their experiences and the general wish to help their friends, make a better world and so on. And it's very keen on making clear that this goes for everyone. You get some information rolled out here, some information rolled out there, and in the end you know exactly why everyone did what they did. And it's always for their own reasons rather than being manipulated, mind-controlled or whatever other contrived crap other shows might pull out of their asses.

It successfully paints a picture of people with good intentions who can't agree on what's the right path for everyone to move in, and instead of painting them all as morally grey or completely rotten in different ways, they're all largely good people. And it's not boring, unlike the one other show I've watched that tried this. But it's a constantly changing status quo that I have a hard time summarizing without spoiling the truth of everyone's motivations and history, and I don't want to do that. I'll just promise this isn't a mystery box with nothing inside. It's a twelve episode series, with revelations every episode. It's also not a tragic series. This isn't like Madoka, where three episodes in, someone suddenly gets decapitated.

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Rather than spoiling, I'll praise the characters. I'll praise the tone. Everyone's fun and funny to be around, and when time comes to get serious, they can cry and be angry and it'll feel like it fits. The show has spectacular music that's just as good for comedy as it is for getting the blood pumping during the big mecha fights. The trailer music up there is great, and it returns often. I love how the personal character of everyone is integrated into the action. The aliens attack with devices that show you all your dreams in order to pacify you, leading to many instances of learning a character's backstory and desires organically. A lot of anime do this kinda introspective story about characters with extravagant settings and contrivances. But most of them only work as metaphors, and are completely bizarre if you just view the actual events. Planet With is not. Whatever trope it pulls from the big pile of anime cliches, it sets up, justifies, and smoothes over with funny dialogue. I appreciate the way it justifies the conflicts that happen, but don't excuse the extreme actions some characters take - Soya isn't gonna not fight some dude 'cause he knows he's a nice guy underneath when the dude's a danger to everyone.

Visually, I like the show. It's got an unassuming style, with the characters just registering as anime people, not especially grounded nor particularly crazy in their designs. When deciding on a design for the alien races, the author went for big cute chibi versions of animals. When it was time to to a villainous alien, it became a huge dragon. I like the way he thinks.

Pity that it's so hard to search for the name. It's a terrible title. But it's an outstanding show, and although I'm having a hard time arguing why, it's one of my absolute favorites. I very much doubt it's for everyone, but I recommend checking it out anyway, 'cause it just might click with you the way it clicked with me. This author has a voice unique to him, and I don't think you can know if you like it or not until you've tried.

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Aggretsuko

Does Aggretsuko need an introduction? As a Netflix thing I'd be surprised if I told anyone anything new here, and if not, there's the trailer and myanimelist link.

I really dig Aggretsuko. It's fast, it's funny and I think it portrayed different types of humans in a realistic way instead of an archetype kinda way. They're broad enough that most people are gonna know someone like them, sure. But even the characters that are dirtbags on this show I enjoyed, 'cause they're just well-rounded enough to have some depth, while still being frustrating monsters to work for. Haida is the MVP. Retsuko is too relatable. I think the music is outstanding. While the whole show just looks like a simple flash thing, you can do a lot of comedy with just some memorable character design, some expressive animations, good voice acting and superb music. It's also tight, with only a limited number of shorter than usual episodes.

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It speaks to the same kinda twentysomething angst that Night in the Woods does, in much the same way, complete with chibi animal people. But the setting is more than different enough to separate itself from it, being in a Japanese workforce environment and all. And the tone is much lighter, with better largely better jokes and a better ending, and not so much dialogue that resembles chat messages. And that's coming from a guy that greatly enjoyed NitW.

That's about all I've got, really. Aggretsuko is exceptional, and if you haven't given it a try yet you're missing out.

The summer comedies: Chio's School Road, Grand Blue and Asobi Asobase

You know when I talked about kinda bad-looking, predictable comedies up there under the Hinamatsuri banner? Yeah, here we go.

Grand Blue is a college comedy. It's about dudes in a diving club drinking and stripping all the time while occasionally remembering that they're supposed to do some diving, until they get distracted by their sexy cousins. You get a lot of tsukkomi/boke shit and you get more ugly reaction faces than you can shake a stick at. The issue here is that the jokes are all predictable - a comedy that doesn't make me laugh doesn't really have much going for it. I ended up liking the heartwarming moments where they actually enjoy diving the most, which was pretty weird.

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Asobi Asobase is about a club of girls in a high school that argue with one another and get up to wacky hijinks. One of them is rich and has a butler with a laser in his butt. There's some great reaction faces and I liked the ending segments where they were all real life sock puppets. If I sound like I can't muster much energy that's because I damn well can't. I had to force myself to make it through both this and Grand Blue, and while neither was offensively bad, it sure didn't feel worth it.

I also gave Chio's school road a shot, and in theory, it was pretty funny. But the art was ugly, I forgot the music ten seconds after watching, and the comedic timing on the gags felt off. So I ended up checking out the manga after the first two episodes, and it's a pretty big difference, in my eyes. Those awesome, energetic drawings with all the speedlines and dark shadows get lost in the translation, so even though it seems very faithful, basically a frame by frame adaptation, I ended up reading it instead. They should've had whoever edited that trailer up there do the actual show, 'cause the difference is night and day.

I love the artwork in the manga and feel like it makes it way better. It isn't the jokes in Chio's Schoolroad that make it great - it's the characters getting absurdly invested in whatever catches their fancy that day(whether it be coffee, crossing a puddle of water in the street, or playing Pokemon Go) and portraying it with extreme energy and skill. There isn't a punchline as much as it's the situation itself. So yeah, I heartily recommend reading the manga, but with the caveat that you should not read it if a chapter where all the girls go to school commando sounds too pervy for you. It's up there for the raciest manga I've read. You take one look at this dude's drawings, you know instantly that he's drawn some art.

I'm assuming this might be the case for Asobi Asobase and Grand Blue as well. That the manga might be the way to go, I mean. But as of this moment I haven't bothered checking. Sorry for giving the fans of those a hard time, but I just didn't think they were that funny. There have been so many comedies only these last few years that were better.

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The unfinished business

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I usually save one or two shows a season that I can watch online with a friend, which has gotten a lot easier after rabb.it started existing. Currently we're going through Persona 5 the Animation, which is not a show you should watch. We're at episode 17, and it hasn't gotten good yet. Just play the game. It's very faithful, which is always nice to see in a video game adaptation after decades of shitty live action movies. But it looks cheap, it is paced horrifically, and it doesn't have any voice of its own. And unlike Persona 4 the Animation, which added a lot to the character of Yu Narukami and improved the whole story by doing so, the main character here is the blank slate that I feared Yu would be. It's not a terrible show or anything but it's just not worth it when you can watch so many better shows, you know. I think this was made by another studio than P4A, and if that's the case, Atlus should return to the previous studio for their eventual adaptation of Persona 6 whenever that happens. I watched the commentary track for P4A. It felt like those guys got it.

Next up we're gonna watch Attack on Titan season 3. I expect I'll like it. I already read the manga, and I enjoy all the Attack on Titan stuff. It's got this amazing action mix of slow horror segments with just people on the ground, giant mecha fights and spider-man sword-flipping which never gets old for me, and they mash up all of those in different ways to create some real spectacular setpieces. The characters are largely alright too, broad enough to be entertaining but with enough quirks to surprise. Most importantly, it seems like the author actually thought out his plot and setting before starting, so the slow dripfeeding of information isn't just some hollow mystery box. I figured out several of the reveals of this arc way in advance thanks to the old hints and felt pretty good about it.

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I've caught glimpses of a gif where Levi does some amazing stunts, and I hope to see more of that kinda thing. The final fight of the arc could stand some additional filler moments. Unlike season 1, which got a padded out and melodramatic finale that ruined both Eren's character development and the show's pacing, this arc ends fairly suddenly. I'd actually appreciate it if the last battle got expanded upon, 'cause otherwise it's over in seconds.

I'm still watching My Hero Academia, and my issues with it are the same as ever. Top of the list, turning an exciting vigilante-driven genre into a show where you need government approval to get your new suit processed by the design company. Gimme a break! At least in One Punch-Man the pointless celebrity stuff and rank chasing and bureaucracy of the hero organization is there to show that they're all dumbasses while Saitama is the real deal. It's a comedic thing. In MHA, the only ones opposing it are villains, and the bureacucracy of it all is just worldbuilding. I just don't think superheroes as cops are a fun idea. That short-lived controversy over Spidey being too friendly with the police of New York City in his new PS4 game is ludicrous to me considering the heroes of MHA.

At the moment, I don't think there's a more popular anime than My Hero Academia unless you're willing to count Dragon Ball, and personally I don't feel like it's earned. It's a mildly above average shonen show with a few standout inspirational moments, and some good sakuga once or twice a season, usually combined. It's way better on an emotional side than the action and plotting side, with the villains generally being dull, the fights being weak, and the comedy being about as good as Yuuna and the Haunted Springs' comedy. It's not awful or anything, but I sure don't love it, and I get the distinct impression that much of its success has to do with its direct competitors trippng over themselves on a weekly basis. Most weeks, anyway.

Yeah I dunno what was up with the belly shot either
Yeah I dunno what was up with the belly shot either

As for this season in specific, while All Might's duel was riveting and touching, the hero license exam was so exciting I forgot it existed(I have already read the manga). At the moment I'm halfway through that arc and I plan on continuing watching eventually. I look forward to seeing this season's Deku VS Bakugou fight for myself. I think my favorite scene so far was Izuku and his mom discussing schools with All Might. That writing rang true, for all of the involved.

There are currently two sequels to FLCL airing, but I think they're on some weird website? Amazon's service or something? I might end up watching them eventually, but I don't have the greatest of hopes for sequels to one of the best shows ever, made decades later by different people entirely.

I might end up watching How Not to Summon a Demon Lord, which is the one harem show this year I've heard anyone recommend. I've got my doubts, but I'm not opposed to giving it a shot if I find the time. The level of fanservice in my shows this year has been scandalously low, so I kinda feel like I gotta go look for it if I wanna maintain a proper level of skeeviness. Can't say I'm that enthusiastic about it though.

The remaining three months

There are a few shows I've got some interest in. Karakuri Circus is an adaptation of a long-forgotten shonen fighting series about puppet characters, that most annoying of fighting game types. I'm not expecting much, what with it being completely forgotten about and all, but I was positively surprised by how much fun Ushio & Tora was, in a retro kinda way. I even recognize the voice of Tora as the voice of one of the characters in Circus, and looking a bit closer, that's the same director, too. Wait a minute, it's even the same original author?! Hopefully it moves at the same breakneck pace as Ushio & Tora, covering up the paper-thin characterization of 90s shonen protags with non-stop action.

When adapting Ushio & Tora, these people trimmed 300 chapters or so into a modest 39 episodes, and it looks like for Circus they're doing the same, only they're trimming 400 chapters down this time. This works better than you'd expect, 'cause it's one of those stories where you get a loose framework and then 100 largely episodic fights. When you get so many and they aren't all up to the quality of something like Jojo's bizarre battles, removing the fluff works wonders. You end up with this adrenaline-filled romp that's exceptionally entertaining. Until we reach a moment that's meant to be emotional, anyway.

Also, there's a new adaptation of Osamu Tezuka's Dororo coming out. This is another one that came out waaay before I was born, and I've never heard of it before. It looks like it stars a samurai with Sekiro arms, so that's alright.

That Time I got Reincarnated As A Slime is getting an adaptation. Having read the manga, I have zero interest in watching this, but if you want another lighthearted isekai anime about an overpowered protagonist working his way through a jrpg world, but this time he's a slime and occasionally a loli, then at least this adaptation looks like it had some work put into it.

What else... Is that all? I guess we'll wrap it up here, and maybe I can write another post come January. Thanks for rea--

oh GOD it's JOJO this month

I see Fugo still sucks

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Marvel's Spider-Man, a review *SPOILERS*

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Marvel's Spider-Man has been out for four days now. I finished the main story yesterday, so I figured there's no time like the present to talk about the whole thing and my experiences with it. There'll be many nitpicks, some praise and a lot of comic book comparison nerdery. I'll complain about everything that's different from what I've liked in the past, but in the end I'm gonna praise it anyway. I'm gonna SPOIL with reckless abandon, so you should get out if you wanna go in blind. My three word review would be "Great, But Shallow". The game's a typical Sony release in that it's well polished and has a lot of cinematic cutscenes. It's also got gameplay that feels great to control, even if it's lacking a lot of depth and is a bit too tightly controlled for my tastes. It's well worth picking up if you're a Spider-Man fan, and probably even if you aren't.

Putting down the credentials

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Spider-Man's been around for almost 60 years now, and has been so ubiquitous in media that you can know him from all sorts of things. It's entirely possible to be a Spider-Man fan without ever having read a comic book. I figure I should tell my story with the character before I start on the game - not because I know so much about him that I'm more right(there's always a bigger nerd anyway), but so you know where I'm coming from, and which parts of his portrayal I have no clue about. Feel free to skip to the next bit if this gets too self-indulgent.

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I started out watching the 90s Spider-Man cartoon when I was what, five, back in 1995. I watched the Raimi films, the Amazing reboot movies and Homecoming as they came out. I got around to the Spectacular Spider-Man cartoon back in 2012, and it ended up being one of my favorite Spider-Man things just in general. Real shame about that cancellation. I've tried to watch a couple of the other cartoons like Ultimate - but I didn't think they were very good. As for comic books, Spidey was one of the only superheroes that got his comic book released for a long time here. Norway isn't exactly a booming market for superhero comics. Spider-Man, to my knowledge, never had more than one magazine here, and they pulled in stories from all of the different American ones. So forgive me if some names get confused.

I read a bunch of the older ones from the seventies and eighties, when the editors still translated all the names. When I was a kid and had to visit relatives, people always made sure to put the nerdy kid in the room with all the old comics so he could entertain himself. That lead to me getting some odd points of reference. I read that one 90s issue where Pete finally beat Venom. I owned this one album where Superman and Wonder Woman crossed over with Spider-Man and the Hulk, which was cool. At the time I didn't know there was a difference in their universes. I, unfortunately, read some bad late 90s stuff, but everything got better once John Romita Jr. and J. Michael Straczynski took creative control. Romita himself might be my favorite Spider-Man artist of all time, and while Strayczynski's plots weren't above the odd bad retcon and some mystical backstory weirdness, I loved his writing at the time.

Spider-Man and the X-Men is quite good. More comedians should write Spider-Man. I laughed a lot at this one other story where Jameson and Spidey are forced to go camping together as part of a charity fundraiser and are hounded by Scorpion.
Spider-Man and the X-Men is quite good. More comedians should write Spider-Man. I laughed a lot at this one other story where Jameson and Spidey are forced to go camping together as part of a charity fundraiser and are hounded by Scorpion.

In-between following these current stories, I went back and read the old ones with a good reputation, like the very beginning, Kraven's Last hunt, and Nothing can stop the Juggernaut. They're easy enough to get on the internet. At one point I read a crossover, Spider-Man and the X-Men, where Spider-Man was a teacher for some X-Men and fought a dinosaur named Sauron, which was pretty funny. I also read a couple of issues of Ultimate Spider-Man when I was a teen with bad long hair and enjoyed it a lot(this Peter Parker also had bad long hair), then went back to it a decade later when Miles Morales took over and liked it a lot less.

Our magazine also put out stories from series called Peter Parker: Spider-Man and Spectacular Spider-Man, which did some cool takes on Venom, Doc Ock and Goblin, and was drawn by one Humberto Ramos, who's got a slick, unique style. He later went on to draw Spider-Man full time after Dan Slott took over writing duties following another soft reboot.

Dan Slott

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Dan Slott writes like he's king of the nerds. Under his pen Spidey became more of a scientist than ever, working for a google-like company of inventors and researchers. Slott also seems to remember things everyone else would rather forget about, and has at various times brought back characters from the clone saga, Doc Ock's ex and the Living Brain. He'd use old artwork from the 60s for flashbacks, and draw new scenes that happened long ago in an older style. I always got the sense he was just a huge fanboy who finally had the shot to write stories with the characters he loved, and he took that chance to do anything weird he wanted.

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His stories are fun, but messy. At his worst they read like a parody of intricate, crossover-happy, self-referential superhero comics. At his best they they're great high concept stories that show the whole Spider-Man setting from a new angle. There's one where all of Manhattan get Spider-Man powers. I believe there are two events at this point where every Spider-Man from every adaptation ever cross over, though that's a bit ahead of where I last stopped reading. At one point Ock takes the Sinister Six on an international trip and tries to burn the entire world. This one time the Lizard regains his human form but retains his bestial personality, and The Lizard has to try and play human while desperately searching for a way to turn back into a monster.

Slott has introduced a couple of new characters into the mix, for instance Mr. Negative and Yuri Watanabe, who are barely a decade old. It sounds like a long time, but in terms of comic book character mainstream awareness they might as well not have existed until this game. This is their big breakout hit. Anyway, besides his new characters, Slott's done a lot of memorable arcs. His best storyline is Superior Spider-Man.

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In it, Doctor Octopus was terminally ill after a lifetime of getting the shit kicked out of him and decided to get out of it by switching minds with Spider-Man, Freaky Friday style. And he succeeds, Peter Parker's mind dying in his old body as he lives on in Peter's body. However, Spider-Man's residual memories gives Doc Ock a minor case of a conscience, and he spends the next 30 issues doing his best to succeed the old Spider-Man and be a better man than both Peter and that he used to be himself. He gets into a new relationship, he gets a good job, he tries his best to be a good hero. There's eternal appeal to that kinda reformed bad guy story, where a hero with a criminal past tries starting a better life, and Otto is similar enough to Peter that he works as a dark reflection of him.

But y'know, it's still Dr. Octopus, and all his missteps, arrogance, skewed morals and harsh justice catch up to him as the city descends into total chaos and he has to bring Spider-Man's mind back so he can clean it all up. And you don't just get Otto on the outside interacting with all the familiar Spider-Man trappings in new ways, you get remnants of Peter Parker's mind on the inside fighting back to regain control, in the most perfect mind battles ever. It's an incredible story, and it cemented Dr. Octopus as the absolute best Spider-Man villain in my eyes.

Nailing down the influences

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Dan Slott was one of four writers on this game(one of the other credited is Christos Gage, who co-wrote a bunch of Slott's comics. The other three, Jon Paquette, Benjamin Arfmann and Kelsey Beachum, I'm assuming are Insomniac employees). While I have no clue how much or little Slott actually wrote, his influence is sure felt. The most obvious things in this game that differentiates it from other Spider-Man games is the inclusion of his elements- Aunt May working at the FEAST center is entirely a Dan Slott thing. Yuri Watanabe is here, in a much more prominent role than in the comics, as Spideys liaison with the police. She's essentially playing the Commissioner Gordon role. Mr. Negative also has a bigger role here than he ever had in any of the comics I read, and has been almost completely retooled. We'll get to that in a minute. Like in the comics, Spider-Man has given up on his Bugle job and started working for a laboratory, and he's much more of a tech-oriented crazy inventor kinda character than normal. Only this time, instead of his workplace being the think tank Horizon Labs, it's Dr. Octavius' lab. If the Raft existed before Slott's run, I never heard of it.

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There are three main influences on this game's depiction of Spider-Man, as far as I can tell:

  1. Dan Slott's run on Amazing Spider-Man, as described above.
  2. The Ultimate universe, which was a line of primarily Spider-Man focused books set in an alternate, modern, more "grounded" take on the comics. Specifically, the character of Miles Morales comes from Ultimate Spider-Man. I also believe that's the first alternate universe where Norman Osborn was depicted as responsible for turning half of all Spider-Man villains into villains, a feat he reprises to some extent here, and also the first place where the spider that bit Spidey was depicted as happening at an Oscorp facility. I also think this is where Venom was first depicted as a lab experiment rather than an alien.
  3. The movies, from the Raimi films to Homecoming. MJ's position as the childhood friend, the music, Peter's internship for Doc Ock, ending the story with a funeral, Spidey's eye lenses, that one train joke, the Stan Lee cameo etc.

A lot of the movie stuff overlaps with the Ultimate universe and is difficult for me to determine. The movies started stealing hard from Ultimate past Raimi, because the Ultimate comics tried being more "realistic". In practice, it just means they're more like Hollywood movies. This gives the movie directors the out of pulling something from the ultimate comics and be able to claim it's from a comic, despite it being very movie-like and mundane in the first place. From their perspective, I suppose it's an easy guideline for how to take a campy, fun, weird comic book thing(like a trained pet bird) and turn it into something more grounded(a drone). Scorpion from Homecoming is a good example - He's nothing like the original Scorpion, but he's a dead ringer for the Gargan from the Ultimate comics who's just a thug.

If it sounds like I've got a chip on my shoulder about the Ultimate universe, that's because I do - When I dislike some dull and mundane "new take" in a new adaptation there's always gonna be some comment saying the Ultimate comics did it first. Thanks, Ultimate Spider-Man.

The story in a nutshell

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At the start of the game, Spidey puts Kingpin in prison after years of conflict. In prison is also a bunch of his older enemies. Peter Parker is working for his childhood idol, idealist scientist genius Otto Octavius, who's trying to make advanced prostheses. Pete used to date MJ, who in this setting is an investigative journalist for the Daily Bugle, but they broke up months ago. Aunt May is working at FEAST, a homeless center headed by billionaire philantropist Martin Li. Martin Li is secretly Mr. Negative, a crime lord with superpowers. Norman Osborn, in this universe the mayor of New York City, is currently holding a re-election campaign. Harry Osborn, Peter and MJ's childhood friend, is on a trip to Europe.

Norman Osborn's doing a bunch of corporate villainy in this game to warm up for his supervillainy in the inevitable Marvel's Spider-Man 2. You never meet him directly as Spider-Man(although you do at one point throw him to safety from off-screen), but the entire plot revolves around his creations.
Norman Osborn's doing a bunch of corporate villainy in this game to warm up for his supervillainy in the inevitable Marvel's Spider-Man 2. You never meet him directly as Spider-Man(although you do at one point throw him to safety from off-screen), but the entire plot revolves around his creations.

Martin Li is outraged at Norman Osborn's success, because he got his superpowers in an accident caused by an experimental gene therapy Osborn used on him. The same accident killed his parents. He starts a gang war against the remains of Kingpin's empire and terrorizes New York, at the same time looking for "Devil's Breath" - a chemical Osborn developed as a cure for all diseases, but which turned out to be a deadly bioweapon. This was also the therapy responsible for giving Li his powers in the first place. Li's plan is to unleash this chemical on New York, killing thousands, and reveal Osborn as the monster who created it and kept it in New York City.

Spider-Man does his best to track down Mr. Negative and stop his rampage across the city. He gets help from MJ, Yuri Watanabe, his contact on the police force, and Miles Morales, who's the son of one of Mr. Negative's victims.

Spider-Man finally defeats Mr. Negative and puts him in prison. Meanwhile, Dr. Octavius' mental state has taken a turn for the worse as his funding was taken away by Osborn. He also knows Osborn is secretly a giant ass, and worked for him on the project that made Martin Li into Mr. Negative. With Peter's help he's developed his trademark mechanical tentacles, but the neural interface he uses to control them has a severe effect on his brain. He attacks the prison, freeing Spider-Man's enemies'(Mr. Negative, Scorpion, Rhino, Vulture and Electro, not Kingpin), and finally unleashes Devil's Breath on the city, infecting thousands.

Spider-Man beats them all up and turns them in to the police, saving the city. There's more to it than that, but we'll get to it.

Like a movie

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I dunno how mandated this is, I seriously doubt this is something decided at the top as opposed to something the individual companies just decided on their own, but Sony's big exclusive games these days tend to follow some guidelines. Namely, attempts at beautiful and realistic graphics, and Hollywood movie-like cinematic storytelling. You don't see a new big cartoony 3d platformer(except for... that one), you instead see HD remakes of ones from PS2 and PS1. And even when Insomniac remade Ratchet & Clank 1 for PS4, it's filled with clips from that lauded movie they made in lieu of the original game's plot. I get the impression that Sony wants to show off what the PS4 can do, and have decided huge cutscenes and realistic rendering of faces and environments is the way to do that. Hence why all their big games now give me Hollywood summer blockbuster vibes.

As a result, Marvel's Spider-Man visually looks more like any of the movies than the cartoons or comic books. People's faces have more realistic pores and wrinkles than anyone would realistically ask for. The photos in this game opt for images of real people, even. In terms of storytelling, I don't mind the cutscenes. They're a great tool, and the story would be poorer without them. They're even well directed. To an extent. They're not weird enough, if you see what I mean. If you looked at something like the Sam Raimi trilogy, you could see the director doing all this wacky stuff with camera cuts and directions, heightening the mood of a scene. In Marvel's Spider-Man, every scene looks competent, but generically so. There's no unique voice to it. But it can be taken seriously, it mostly looks beautiful, it's effective, it's overall good. I think it's maybe a little sexless, but compared to whatever storytelling the Spider-Man games have attempted before, it's night and day.

Great performances from the voice actors, too. This is the best Laura Bailey has ever been, in my opinion, as this game's MJ. Yuri Lowenthal's Peter Parker/Spidey is second only to Spectacular Spider-Man's Josh Keaton(Josh has a minor and unrecognizable role in this game as Electro of all people). You close your eyes and it's easy to hear a Persona 4 reunion, but they work excellently. William Salyers voices Dr. Octopus, and his works is something else. He absolutely nails both the calm, caring Otto and manages to ham it up to eleven once the turn happens. I had heard him before also, but that's not a recognizable performance.

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The best part about the cinematics for me is that it enhances both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. We get a lot of scenes of Spider-Man just doing what he does. Way more than most of the movies have time for, 'cause they only run for two hours and have to fit in an origin story, a plot where Spider-Man loses his powers/doesn't want to be Spider-Man anymore, or a plot where Spidey is just not swinging around in order to differentiate him from himself. You not only get to play as a cool Spider-Man in this game, you get to see him kick ass in cutscenes, too. And not just kick ass, but rescue bystanders, intimidate crooks and chat with the populace. It's great to just see Spider-Man be Spider-Man for once, especially as one that has been Spider-Man for a long time. On the big screen, he's only been the rookie. In the comics, in the cartoons, he's been plenty experienced. It's fun to see that portrayed here. Even though he's only 23, he seems more mature than any of his film adaptations, and he handles extreme situations perfectly. In a movie you might see one big scene of Spider-Man stopping a train or something. In this game, such a scene is just one of many.

And then on the other hand, we get to chill with a calmer Peter Parker scene after a big action mission, which gives us ample context for our side characters and this universe's setting. It's something the other games often neglect.

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Many of the more outlandish designs of the characters are toned down, which works better for some than others. Dr. Octopus works fine with a receded hairline. Silver Sable, unfortunately, often looks more like an old lady in a lab coat than a cool mercenary. Can't do both a white coat, gray hair and a grandma haircut. I was mad about Norman Osborn thanks to a particularly unflattering image from before release, but in-game he does work as a mundane version of the comic book supervillain. Helps that he looks super evil.

Aunt May is completely changed and unrecognizable, and I can't say I'm a fan. Feels like they just cast some random old lady. Martin Li and Yuri look spot on. The faces overall look... I'd say, largely good? Random NPCs often have a bit of the Bioware issue about them where they're clearly assembles from prefab parts, but I didn't notice it much except for one player of a chess game inside the FEAST center.

I wish Peter Parker didn't have as many folds around his mouth. Like yes, it's realistic that faces have wrinkles. But there's a reason not all art styles go for super detailed depictions of wrinkles in someone's face. As realistic as the faces in this game are, they are not photorealistic, and are gonna look as aged in only a few years as the expressions your support team makes in Metal Gear Rising Revengeance. However, the detail on display does help the environments feel real and lived in. While I could do with a little less real in everyone's faces, I think it has its place, and that place is...

The city

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New York City looks phenomenal in this game. I dunno how Insomniac did it. There's been a lot of urban open world games, but this is the first I've played where I could see myself just exploring the streets and taking pictures. Take a look at the last game, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, and both on a tech-level and an artistry level the evolution is just staggering. As a Norwegian who's never been to the US, I have a vague understanding of it from various movies, and of course, all sorts of Spider-Man adaptations. But moving through this presumably fairly compressed version of New York just takes the breath away from me, it's so huge and so good-looking. It's familiar from all of Spider-Man's adventures, but this is the first time I feel like I can tell how it all fits into each other.

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Things get a bit interchangable in the middle of town, and if you look too close you can see the seams and tricks they're using to keep it performing at a steady 30 FPS, but it's an incredibly impressive city. If you have to try and use a photorealistic approach, this is how you do it. The way they made this environment look helped a lot with making me feel like I was in Spider-Man's shoes. The rain, the night, the sunset, it all felt appropriate and looked beautiful(Well, not the rain. The rain felt as miserable as real rain does). I wanna see them change seasons for a sequel so that I can see their take on a hot summer with long days or a cold, dark winter.

If I do ever travel to New York, Marvel's Spider-Man is singlehandedly responsible. They did an awesome job. And it's not limited to the outside, there's also a huge number of mission-specific locations, like Grand Central and Fisk Tower, which look equally wonderful. I'd even extend the compliment to small details like clothing textures and items. The faces might be a bit too much for me, but everything else pulls me into the world they made.

The swingin' around

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Spider-Man 2's game adaptation is popular for having the best swinging ever, and I'm in no position to compare, 'cause it's one of the games I've never played. As for the swinging in this game, I thought it was fine! Maybe a bit skill-less. You can just hold down R2 and you're basically good to go, especially if you occasionally press X. It's not like Just Cause, where you spend hours learning just how to move forward quickly. Here you start out halfway automated and any improvements you make to how you play just make you go somewhere slightly faster. It's not like you have no options, you can run up walls, crawl on them, swing around, webzip straight ahead like an airdash or aim for a specific point and fly to it like Batman would with his grapple.

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It feels pretty good and sounds great, all the TWHAPs of the web shooters are on point. I do enjoy it to a degree. But it's shallow. You rarely have to aim anywhere in particular, and what you latch on to doesn't affect your movement in any way. The speed of your swing feels too slow, I never felt like I was falling too fast and had to chill to not go out of control. Everything feels too tightly controlled for my tastes, with very little need to master any mechanic to get where you wanna go. It feels like the devs are looking over my back. You don't hit the ground if you start swinging a bit low to the ground - instead, Spider-Man sorta levitates forward and gains a boost in speed.

I guess that, without the need to get good, I don't really feel any motivation to fine tune my swings. So for most of the game I just hold down R2, aim for where I wanna go, occasionally mash X when I want some more distance and don't really think about what I'm doing. Later on I just added the L2+R2 web zip to my repertoire, hitting X when hitting my destination, and that's about it as far as evolving the way I traversed. I'm not entirely sure what I would change, but I just don't feel like my inputs make that much of a difference here.

I do appreciate the way it integrated into the other aspects of the game. You can be swinging around, running on walls, and go in and out of combat instantly. If you want to, you can start slinging around during a fight just to get some breathing room. It feels very natural. I wish there was more to it so it was more engaging in the long run, but it's not bad.

The fightin' around

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Spider-Man's a graduate of the Arkham Asylum school of combat design, complete with warning signs popping up to alert about enemy attacks and hanging people upside down to ledges. To be fair, Spider-Man did this for ages before Batman stole it, but when it comes to games this is about a decade after Asylum. There are a lot of differences, too. You dodge rather than counter, you have a launcher and can do air combos, you can throw pieces of the environment with L1+R1, your arsenal of gadgets integrate into battle a bit more neatly(especially your webs) and you have a web strike with which you can instantly be on an enemy across the room.

But the ways they're similar are very similar. If you press square, within maybe six metres of an enemy, Spider-Man will glide over to that dude and punch him. Your main combo is just pressing square a whole bunch. A two-button combination will instantly take out an enemy once you've punched dudes enough. Enemies with guns will wreck your shit in seconds and instantly become your main priority to either disarm or knock out. Then there are different enemy types that will only be affected by specific moves. Enemies with weapons will guard against anything but a launcher. Enemies with a shield have to have their shield grabbed out of their hands or slid under. You have to dodge sword users' attacks before you strike back. Big brutes have to be webbed up.

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What helps this feel a little more fresh than Arkham is that it is actually sliiiightly more freeform. You can throw an object at anyone and it will hurt. Gadgets will damage most enemies effectively. Your big move is on a cooldown, and depending on what you've got, can quickly take out all enemies. Webbing someone up will instantly take them out if they're close to a wall or down on the floor, or if you can web them up and then throw them into one. You can at any point interrupt your combo to do a web strike or launchers, and when you're in the air you can either throw or web strike at any time. If you dodge into a wall, you can launch yourself off it like a cannonball into enemies with a push of aquare. Hitting circle after punching someone will have you zip through their legs to go behind them, from where youcan do two quick kicks to knock them away. It all feels good in a way many games get wrong, and I appreciate the way you can actually activate the attack you want rather than just mash the attack button forever and hit counter at the prompts. I particularly like the focus meter. You can spend them on instant finisher moves, but you can also use them to regain health, like in Hollow Knight. It's a good little use of meter management, and it keeps healing from being a problem.

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The issue here is that it's functional, fast, fun etc. It's beautifully animated and has a real joy to its pacing, how you fly around the battlefield webbing people up and doing typical Spidey manouvers. But like the swinging, it's shallow. When I list it out, it does sound like a lot, right? But you start with almost all these moves right from the start, and what the upgrade tree adds are largely effects, or matters of convenience. For instance, throwing an object at an enemy will only damage the enemy it hits. But upgrade it, and it can damage enemies around the landing zone too. Dodge bullets at the last second, and Spidey will shoot webs into the shooter's face, that kinda thing. It doesn't really add complexity to the combat as much as it adds convenience. I'm not thinking more about what I'm doing, I'm just getting rewarded more for doing what I was already doing.

Dodging perfectly is one of the few moves with a tight timing window, and it isn't really enough alone to provide that extra depth. The animations are gorgeous, yes, but they're also very guided, leading to the same kind of semi-automated feel at times that the swinging has. You are theoretically free, but you can always feel the developers' guiding hands at your back. I feel like this is a fundamental difference between a beat 'em up game and an Arkham style game, and is why I'm not a great big fan of the latter.

You're stuck fighting largely the same enemy types for 20 hours. The only enemy types introduced later on are enemies like Whiplash from the second Iron Man movie and sword dudes, both of whom you have to dodge and then attack, and there's also dudes with armor and jetpack dudes. All of them share the exact same body build. There's a single female villain in this game, Screwball, and you never end up fighting her directly. Presumably for the same reason you don't fight Sable, would've required them to make a whole other enemy model. This is another common and boring thing with the Arkham systems that I dunno how happens. I think you should at least have enough different body types to put Final Fight to shame, dudes.

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I've heard some people say you shouldn't compare the combat in games focused solely on combat to games with a lot going on. That those games are unapproachable while something like Marvel's Spider-Man is obviously chasing the mainstream, and the combat can have a lot of depth because it's all the devs had to focus on. But combat is over half of what you do in this game. You only interact with the game through swinging around or punching, and I don't think it's out of line to say some ways in which the punching could be improved.

Thing is, anyone can pick up and play, say, Bayonetta. There’s tons of depth from the huge movelist, the variety of weapons and on-the-fly weapon switching, witch time, parries, dodge offset, the colossal amount of enemies etc. But it’s also a game where you can continue as much as you like, mash your way through without engaging much with any of the systems, and there’s a super easy difficulty setting, too. Even on default, it’s less difficult compared to Devil May Cry. If Bayonetta's not approachable, it's cause the main character is a burlesque poledancing gun-witch from wacky Japan. It's just about the strength of the property, not the gameplay itself. Spider-Man wouldn’t sell any less or be less approachable at all if it had dodge offset, a larger moveset, or more types of enemies. But it would be a more fun game, at least for me.

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So to sum up, the fighting system in Spider-Man alright. It feels pretty good and it sounds pretty good, but there's not a lot going on. While bouncing around the battlefield can be fun for a while, I just got bored with it way before the end, in a way I didn't with strong action games like Metal Gear Rising. You can use all the mechanics and moves in many different ways, but there isn't enough here to sink your teeth into for the full lentgh of the game(or repeat playthroughs) if you're a seasoned player of action games. I'm not gonna pretend to be some combat designer, but if there's one hot free tip I wanna give out it's to give Spider-Man a dedicated taunt button. I guess it would get in the way of some of the stuff he says already, but the opportunity for a risk/reward taunt mechanic was staring them in the face with this character and it only shows up mechanically as a special move for one of the suits that to my knowledge has no actual effect.

The combat system is a bigger issue in another case...

Arkham combat and boss fights

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Arkham combat is notoriously awful at boss fights. In the first Arkham game, you fought Bane by throwing a batarang at him as he sprinted past and then doing a combo at him. You beat Poison Ivy by dodging her projectiles while throwing batarangs. You beat Killer Croc by nailing him with a batarang whenever he jumped out of the water. You beat Scarecrow by doing some platforming sections and beating up some skeletons. You beat Joker by beating up some dudes, then grapple hooking him into a stunned state and doing a combo on him. How come a game geared almost entirely around combat has so many terrible boss fights?

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The issue lies with the system itself. Most combat systems are all-purpose. In God Hand, it doesn't matter if you're fighting a tall man, a gorilla, five short dudes or a giant devil hanging from a hellish portal in the sky. You've got your dodges and you've got your moves, and as long as you hit the enemies enough you're golden. You get some contextual attacks, for sure, but they're always limited to one specific finisher/action button. That goes for almost every game with combat in it. Devil May Cry, Bayonetta, Ninja Gaiden, whatever.

This is true for games with vastly simpler combat than Marvel's Spider-Man, too, not just brawlers. Dark Souls' movelist is nothing remotely approaching any character action game, and not even Spider-Man's. But each move has the same effect regardless of its use. You can use the same rapier to fight ten zombies, beat a goat demon, duel a knight, pierce a butterfly, and conquer a huge dragon. Regardless of what situation you're in, you can use all your moves freely, and the challenge comes from managing your stats and stamina right and timing your dodges and guards to the enemy's tells or patterns, or predicting what they're gonna throw out depending on positioning.

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With Arkham combat, you can't use this system for a single target. It's entirely based around managing enemy mobs, for one thing. "Ah, I gotta go under a shield here, and that dude is firing soon so I need to pull his gun away, and this heavy goon is running towards me so I gotta jump". Your moves aren't just damaging your enemies, they're stopping them altogether. A launcher launches them, anyone caught in a combo can't get out till you interrupt it yourself, gadgets either take enemies out instantly or stun them, and so on. It's not even just that it's "intended" for juggling large groups of mooks, it's that it seems to lock you into special animations for each punch that lands on an enemy, hitting that enemy only without any regard for a hitbox. You can't just swing out your moves and have them work if they collide with an enemy. That's why the parrying system in Arkham even works as it does, you hit that button at any time you get an alert and it's like you just did a little Quick Time Event. It's a system meant to facilitate bouncing around the battlefield with more beliveable animations, save for everyone sliding into position for punches. You never actually get into a one on one punch-up where the enemy stands a chance at taking you out.

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If your moves worked the same way on a boss, the boss would be unable to even move. Batman is more constrained than Spidey, that is, you actually have way fewer moves you can pull of on command, and Batman instead does an attack depending on your distance and position from the enemy at all times, while Spidey to my knowledge only does one such attack as a gap closer if you're far enough away from an enemy when starting a combo. But the result of both Spidey and Batman's combat have the same issues, you can't actually use your moves effectively on a boss.

So instead, you get all this gimmicky stuff where you just throw garbage at the boss until it enters a stunned state and you can harm it. In Spider-Man, this takes the form of these four:

  • Avoid a boss' combo until he's exhausted and enters an obvious vulnerable state, then do your own combo on him.
  • Stun the boss by firing webs at him, then do your own combo on him.
  • Stun the boss by throwing an object at him with L1+R1, then do your own combo on him.
  • Dodge when the prompt comes up, then hit triangle to web strike him.

That's all you get, no matter who the boss is, and it reduces Spidey's movelist down to just a couple of moves. It's amazingly shallow, and it takes the wind out of my sails when I finally get to a legendary character and all I gotta do to him is hit R1 a bunch and then square a bunch. "If you're not thinking about the actions you're performing in an action game, you're not thinking". The game doesn't have to be super hard, and indeed, Spidey does die pretty quickly in this game already. But it needs to challenge more to be interesting, not just in a "attacks hit you hard" way, but in what actions you have to perform, and you need the freedom to use those actions during climactic boss battles. Just pummeling Ock with web spam isn't doing it for me, it's like all these cutscenes build up to gigantic confrontations and then they just end up being wet farts. It's a letdown.

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If there's a saving grace, it's that the game still looks great, and there's often some neat unique spectacle in these fights. But I shouldn't be enjoying the cutscenes more than I'm enjoying playing the action for myself, and additionally, the spectacle here largely isn't anything you haven't seen in action games before this. Comparing scenes like the final part of Ock's fight where you punch him in the face while standing on the side of a building to other action romps made by devs a generation ago with way less of a budget does this game no favors. One of them has the entirety of its combat system available, while in the other you hit a dodge prompt and otherwise mash square. Spidey might look more beautiful, but there's nothing underneath the hood. The part that makes it worthwhile here has zero to do with the gameplay. It's all in the story, the characters that brought you here, the swelling of the music, the positioning of the camera, being Spidey in that moment. And how big of a deal that is to you largely decides how amazing it feels. Personally, for me, it doesn't do much when the gameplay can't hold up its end of the bargain, even though I was very invested in the story. Watching that clip I linked, I actually felt more engaged than during playing it, when I was annoyed by my lack of input.

Tombstone, Shocker and Spectacular Spider-Man

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Tombstone and Shocker are the two earliest bosses you fight past the tutorial stage(Tombstone is strangely relegated to a sidequest, which I would recommend doing), and they're an interesting talking point when it comes to adaptation. They're pretty faithful their originals, to a point, anyway. Shocker is a bit more armored up than usual, while Tombstone is a bit more of a biker and has shaved his head. But they're essentially their original characters: Shocker is a thug who just wants to steal stuff for money and has no time for Spider-Man, Tombstone is a violent mobster with impenetrable skin. And this might seem contrarian, but these are things I actually wouldn't have minded if they changed.

I don't mind an adaptation changing things if I think they're changes for the better. In Marvel's Spider-Man, Spidey at one point comments to Shocker that he has zero personality, but his suit looks cool. Which is true, Shocker doesn't have a lot going on besides being rational, professional, in it for the money and having a snazzy iconic costume. But commenting on and changing are two different things. I've heard the statement echoed before, specifically by the main man behind the Spectacular Spider-Man animated series, Greg Weisman of Gargoyles fame.

Having said all that, it was EXTREMELY important to us that the characters remained Classic and Iconic in the writing as well as the visuals. I STUDIED these characters and all the source material intensely. I tried to get down to the core essence of each character, i.e. what made him or her who he or she was to the reader. Flash is a bully, who deep down is actually an honorable guy. He's a guy who starts out as Pete's nemesis (and ironically Spidey's biggest fan) and eventually becomes both a decorated war veteran and one of the few people that Pete can count on. We knew we were starting with High School Flash, but we wanted to plant seeds of the guy we knew he'd become.

On the other hand, I studied Shocker. Great powers. Fun battles. Iconic costume. Secret i.d. = a cypher. Yes, we know his name, but there's nothing about Herman that makes him special. So in an attempt to make our universe more cohesive and coherent, I combined Montana with Shocker. I don't make that decision likely, and I do get that this bothers some folks, but it really felt like it worked in the context of our series, and Marvel agreed.

Rather than stick slavishly to the original characters, he took a long hard look at the characters and stories, combined overlapping characters into one, changed ones that didn't work, and made all these disparate characters from 60 years of publication history and movies mesh with one another while making sure they remained iconic - one look and you knew who the character was. Combining Shocker with Montana, a cowboy-like guy from the criminal gang The Enforcers that was active in early Spider-Man but never showed up later, gave him some much needed flair. It also helped tie the early regular human opponents of The Enforcers together with future supervillains by making one of them into Shocker. Good escalation. Finally, because Montana was a career assassin, it meshed well with the traits Shocker already did have, with his workmanlike and professional outlook on criminal life. It added a lot and removed very little.

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Tombstone, for his part, was fused with the early and forgotten mob character The Big Man and was a classy guy with a presentable facade over shady underworld dealings, functioning something like the show's Kingpin, but separating it from the 90s show where Kingpin was such a big presence. It gave the dude some class for the first time in his long career as a jobber on the decidedly lower end of the superpower spectrum, as just this bruiser who has beef with Robbie Robertson. While giving Tombstone a big burning chain was fun in a Ghost Rider kinda way, he's by far the character with the most cutscene time that I forget is even in the game. Props for doing your best with a guy who's deal is just evil albino Luke Cage, but again, I think you could've done something more exciting.

I'm not saying Insomniac needed to mimic any of Spectacular Spider-Man for their universe, and when it comes to bit players in the story like Tombstone and Shocker, maybe less is more. I appreciate that they stayed true to the characters and didn't fuck them up. But I do think they could've changed some things to be more interesting without sacrificing the essence of the characters. On that note:

Mr. Negative

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As I mentioned earlier, Mr. Negative has changed a lot from his comic book version(besides his design. I think he's the least visually changed of anyone in the whole game, which is good since his original design is stellar, and his effects look cool). I've never read his origin story in particular, but what I gathered from what I've read was this:

  • Mr. Negative's powers manifest as an aura that can mind control people into doing his bidding. He can manifest it around himself to hide his identity. He hasn't only got negative energy, he's also got some kinda positive energy with healing powers. His powers can also enhance the weapons of his henchmen, and presumably do anything else that is convenient.
  • Martin Li and Mr. Negative share some sort of comic book split personality, and Martin is unaware of Mr. Negative's existence and his secret life as mob boss.
  • Mr. Negative was a slaver from China who got his abilities from an experimental drug by some mob boss or other, I think it might have been Silvermane.
  • He calls his mask-wearing soldiers his Inner Demons
  • He's got a toxic gas that he calls Devil's Breath. This gas has the very weird property of being tailor-made to an indivual's DNA. So say, if he got a sample of Spidey's blood, he could create a poisonous gas that only harmed Spider-Man. It always seemed a bit pointless when you can just kill people with regular poison.

As you can tell, they used bits and pieces of him, but they changed many details to fit him in. His energy can now shoot out in blasts and powers up all of his henchmen's weapons. He's now part of Miles' backstory. I don't ever think his split personality is acknowledged by anyone besides Jameson on his podcast, and Martin Li is definitely aware of his evil side's actions. I don't really think any of the changes are to his detriment, the only issue is how his personal hatred against Osborn clashes with his mob boss status.

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For around 30 missions, Mr. Negative is the main villain. Then, 16 hours into the game for me, he's replaced with Dr. Octopus for the last 10 missions, or about six-ish hours. They try to make this baton pass work by having the villains share some history and motivations. Both of them hate Osborn. Both of them were involved in the experiment that killed Li's parents, Li as the victim and Octopus as Osborn's helper who wasn't told what was going on. As time passes, both of them become people Peter look up to who then turn out to be evil. It's a pretty weird setup. Most stories don't have two mentors with so similar stories and relationships to the main character, coming right after the other, and it feels pretty contrived.

Placing him among the Sinister Six doesn't particularly work for me either. Personality wise, Mr. Negative isn't really as outrageous as most of Spidey's villains. He's pretty muted, just some dude after revenge, and you learn most about him via audio logs and text boxes. And his position as a crime lord with a huge gang working for him doesn't naturally make him belong in a group of six weirdos out for themselves. He's the odd man out, a current and fresh character that sticks out like a sore thumb next to all the classic villains modernized with power armor. Reminds me a bit of those old Marvel VS Capcom games, which would always cover the iconic basics like Wolverine, Spider-Man and Hulk but would then bring in currently active weirdoes like Marrow, now lost to time. It'd make more sense for someone like Shocker to join up with the gang(as he has many times in the past) while Mr. Negative returns as an unrelated but allied party after the breakout. Especially when Li has so few lines after getting arrested. You don't get to talk it out with Mr. Negative the way you do with Otto, and after Spidey yells at him to not break bad during the last boss fight against him, Otto just swats him away. It's a strange ending to his story.

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They don't explain much about Mr. Negative's criminal empire. At some point you can see he's smuggling crooks in from offshore, presumably from his old gang in China. But it doesn't feel like he's got much to do with running a gang- the only thing he cares about in this game is hurting Osborn. And it's pretty weird to mix that kinda personal, somewhat understandable, one-man vendetta with a man making a business out of people's suffering. I guess it isn't unusual for mob bosses to be spiteful and do things out of petty revenge, at least in media, but his status as supervillain feels at odds with his crime lord thing to me, in a way Fisk doesn't since he just sits on his ass ordering goons around until confronted. And more importantly, Fisk doesn't base his entire gang around his hate for some other man. When the demons show up, Spidey has no idea who they are, like this gang has never even appeared in town before. These aren't necessarily plot holes, and you can excuse a lot of things with mind control and comic book multiple personality disorders, but I'm confused about the specifics. I feel like they gloss over the details of him running a criminal empire here to try and keep him somewhat sympathetic even as he mind controls innocents into suicide bombing police officers.

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Speaking of which, that scene was also pretty confusing to me. During the E3 trailer, there's a big helicopter chase where Spidey catches Mr. Negative. In the game, Mr. Negative in this scene is replaced with a random lieutenant. But afterwards, at the rally, Peter speaks as if though the conflict is now over, despite Mr. Negative being nowhere in sight and indeed, nothing having been solved. Then Mr. Negative blows up the rally, and Spider-Man can't do shit, but I guess Li forgot to put on his aura before rolling up 'cause Spider-Man can easily tell that it's him. It's a little silly. I feel like something weird happened here in production, and they did the best they could to paint over it, but the cracks are showing. Right before that scene is also the last time you hear from Fisk before he disappears with no fanfare from the rest of the story, including when the big prison break happens.

Mr. Negative has got a pretty unique design and I think he largely works as a bad guy. It helps that he's a fresh face. Similarly to how Spectacular Spider-Man used Tombstone as a mob boss rather than Kingpin, Mr. Negative was definitely chosen for the prominent role here because using him will separate this game from all the other continuities. I also like that while Norman Osborn is in many ways responsible for the creation of Dr. Octopus and certainly Mr. Negative, none of this was planned by him. They're accidents caused by his selfishness. That makes Norman Osborn seem less omnipotent than if he deliberately crafted these criminals and sent them after Spider-Man, and is more in line with their comic book origins compared to them being part of some Osborn conspiracy.

But while Mr. Negative works fine overall, the details around him are fuzzy, and I don't see him supplanting any of the more famous classic Spidey villains. He's not that legendary yet, not that iconic, not that charismatic. Luckily, Insomniac had another man in mind.

Dr. Octopus

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I love what they did with this guy. Pete interned for him back in Spider-Man 2, but I don't think we were two scenes in before the accident happened and he went bananas. Here, they combined a few influences(Spider-Man 2, Slott, Pete's usual internship at Dr. Connors) to make something cool.

When the game starts out they're such teases about him. He was the one main villain they didn't reveal in trailers, and they try to fool you at the start when Pete talks about working for Doc in the lab. It's easy to imagine he's talking about Curt Connors, the Lizard, who he's worked for in many continuities in the past. Instead we get to the lab and instantly see Dr. Octopus, hanging around in a harness and with wires going out of his back resembling tentacles, and the whole thing catches fire and looks like it's gonna go wrong then and there - and then it doesn't, it's all good, and this Doc Ock is such a nice guy.

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I like his slow build to villainy. The neural interface being an evident danger to his mind aside, when it is revealed he worked with Osborn on his experiments it's clear he's gone wrong before, and you gradually visit Doc Ock's lab and see his plans build after Norman takes away his funding. It's fun to see him receive funding from A.I.M. instead, and work on the Raft's security systems as a side gig, and of course, build his arms. It's all very obvious stuff for anyone who's ever experienced any Spider-Man before, but I don't mind. It's cool.

Making Spider-Man surprising after these stories have been retold for 60 years is difficult and honestly not worth it. You can only do it by changing who the characters are completely, like when Vulture was suddenly Liz Allan's dad in Homecoming. Which isn't as much writing the characters as they are as it is throwing random relationship darts at a board filled with random character names. A story in which Batman's butler Alfred turns into the Joker might be a surprise, but you're not really respecting either the characters or the fans here, you're just changing it to shock the audience, just for the sake of being different. Keeping Doc Ock natural and instead adding some depth to him is a much smarter idea.

They're kinda stealing Connor's schtick for some of his arc. Connors did experiments to regrow his lost limb. Ock makes cybernetic prostheses theoretically for the good of the world, but really, because his own body is failing him. He's having a hard time controlling his limbs, and eventually, he won't be able to move.

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This is slick for a number of reasons. It gives him ample motivation to develop his arms and want to stick to them. When the arms' interface proves to be unstable and influencing his mind in subtle ways, he's got a reason to keep using them anyway(That's a Spider-Man 2 thing, as far as I know. Doc Ock in the comics never needed any help being an arrogant dirtbag). It means there's a layer to his act of selfless research, too. I do believe the Doc Ock of this setting started out wanting to make the world better. But at the end of the day, he's still looking out for himself, and that's the difference between him and Peter. When he's beaten and talks about how it's the burden of the better to improve the lesser of the world, you can't be sure how much of that was the brain degeneration doing the talking and how much he was rotten all along.

You can look at the equipment and plans he made in the lab after the fact and Peter will wonder just how long he planned this, how long he used the interface, and if he meant to act it out all along or if he got worse along the way. It's uncertain not just how long Doc Ock was planning to terrorize the city, but how much Peter helping to make all his gear contributed to turning him into the monster he becomes. But regardless of that, you can see how he changed from seemingly an ideal, kind, selfless man to an arrogant dirtbag with a one-track mind over the course of the game.

He's a good foil not just for Spidey, but for Miles, MJ and aunt May, who're all portrayed in this game as more altruistic than normal. Doc reads "With great power comes great responsibility" a little differently than Peter. While Pete learns to rely on his friends, Doc Ock doubles down on his intense feelings of superiority. This is a much better way to make an emotional battle than to have Doc do all of this because of a sickly child, a dead wife or whatever else kinda generic villain backstory that half of all the "deep" villains get, including several in this game. It uses a sickness, sure. But the sickness is just a contributor to his descent. The problem is Otto himself. This is much more elegant than just giving him a dead wife, Spider-Man 2 style. It's something deeply personal to him, not to anyone else. Gave me good flashbacks to Kraven's Last Hunt, in that sense.

When I said the boss fights had some spectacle to them, I was thinking of this cool shot
When I said the boss fights had some spectacle to them, I was thinking of this cool shot

This also sets up things for the future, if they want to. In the comics, Otto's regular human body was damaged from years of fighting with superhumans, and that lead to him wearing a huge mechanical cocoon for a while and moving around with just his arms, eventually hijacking Pete's body and kickstarting the Superior Spider-Man plan. If they want to do more with Doc Ock down the line, and I hope they do, they've set up reasons for Ock to want to get out of his body and made it a core part of his motivations. This isn't just my interpretations or anything either, Ock has many lines about the failings of his own body and his desire to improve it or leave it behind. It's stellar. I don't think it is super likely that Insomniac would take the story in this direction down the road, for some reason I'm imagining they think that it's a bit too out there and imaginative for the setting they've created, but I would personally love it.

While the way he takes over as the bad guy is a bit awkward, I do appreciate what they did with him a lot, and the slow burn he took to turn into a villain. I particularly liked the scene where he gets his robot arms to juggle a barrel full of balls.

The Sinister Six and pacing

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It's bizarre that these dudes all showed up at the end of the game. On paper it seems like a balanced game. "For the first half of the story, our bad guys are Kingpin, Shocker, Tombstone and Mr. Negative. For the second half it's the Sinister Six". However, Kingpin is beaten in the first mission and is no different from a regular Heavy/Brute/Whatever enemy, and while welcome, Shocker and Tombstone aren't enough to pick up the slack. A big problem is that Mr. Negative is a very clear villain, but you don't actually fight him until 16 hours in, for me anyway. That's more like two thirds of the way through the game than half of it. Secondly, Tombstone and Shocker aren't helpful when it comes to apprehending him, they're just hired goons.

So the game is incredibly top heavy, with most of the plot and most of the boss fight happening in the last act, while the first two thirds are a lot of beating up of random mooks which will in some way lead us closer to Mr. Negative, who does what he does for reasons we don't know until we've already kicked his ass. It's a severe flaw with the game, and pretty similar to the end of Arkham Asylum, where you get no big boss fights besides Bane clones for most of it and then end up fighting Croc, Poison Ivy and Joker near the end. I suppose there isn't enough time in the world to have every villain here go through their origin story episodically, like Spectacular Spider-Man treated them, but that does result in a game where you do nothing but beat up mooks in suits for 16 hours until the Robot Zoo enters the arena. I dunno if the story of chasing around Mr. Negative's shadow for 16 hours is