Wednesday, February 21, 2018

The Vietnam War

Ken Burns is renowned for being one of the most acclaimed documentarians of our time. He has made countless award-winning films on a diverse range of themes such as national parks, jazz, baseball and the Civil War. His latest project was his most ambitious yet and premiered last year on PBS as a 10-part special simply titled, The Vietnam War (trailer) and came out on DVD shortly thereafter. Each part is not your average 30-60 minute telecast, but instead a 1 ½ to 2 hour long feature. Tallying it up including the extras and the set is nearly 20 hours all together. That would seem like a chore to get through, but Burns is such a master of his craft I was invested 100% before the end of the first part and even with my crazy schedule I was able to get through the whole series in just over two weeks.

Going into this series I knew the broad strokes from history classes and what I gleamed off other media over the years and how it was the only primary war America lost. This was my first time taking in the minutia of all the major and minor details that happened before, during and after the war. As expected, I came out of it with a much deeper perspective of the war and learned countless new things from all the endless amounts of reference photos, journals, audio tapes and interviews presented here.

The Vietnam War states from the beginning it is not taking a side, but primarily presenting both sides as an observer. Each of the 10 parts is on its own DVD. The first DVD covers the 100 years leading up to the war, and the final DVD is the aftermath of the war in the past 40+ years. Each of the 8 DVDs in-between has a thorough breakdown of each year of the war. The first part was mostly an eye opener of material I either never knew of or long forgotten where it chronicles Vietnam being occupied by France for nearly 100 years before finally finishing off part one by successfully driving France out.

I recalled hearing how Kennedy first started America’s involvement in Vietnam, but never knew much about the scope of it, and was really fascinated how he first sent thousands of American ‘advisors’ to assist with South Vietnam’s military before Lyndon Johnson escalated it with air strikes and eventually sending in hundreds of thousands of combat troops. Parts three through six feature how Johnson handles the war while dealing with increasing protests on the American homefront. Parts seven through nine feature Richard Nixon taking over during the height of American involvement in the war and how a majority of America was against the war and returning veterans during his time in office. Eventually the film’s ninth part features Nixon getting his gradual removal of troops approved in Vietnam, and the 10th part is how the North obliterated South Vietnam in the next couple of years and how Vietnam and American veterans have existed ever since.

Again, this is not just the American point-of-view, as there are a plethora of Americans as well as North & South Vietnamese interviewed throughout. While a lot of time is focused on the reaction to the war in America, ample time is also given to the North Vietnam perspective with how Ho Chi Minh and eventually his successor, Le Duan’s military tactics and their off and on assistance from communist allies China and Soviet Union. I am surprised Burns’ team tracked down so many Vietnam veterans. In the behind-the-scenes extras, the crew said Vietnam veterans were initially trepid going into the interviews, but then eased and opened up once they realized how the interview unfolded.

There are too many poignant moments from the interviews to recount in their entirety, but many of them paint a vivid picture, and combined with brilliant use of reference photos and a mesmerizing score from Atticus Ross & Trent Reznor that only helped accentuate their tales. There are quite a few descriptive stories of being in the midst of ‘the shit’ and how PoWs were treated on both sides of the battlefield. John Musgraves’ interviews really popped out to me from his harrowing battlefield experiences to coming home and eventually joining the protestors and throwing out his medals he earned overseas.

Three scenes that especially stood out for me was on one episode, members of a veteran’s family are interviewed off-and-on throughout and they eventually come to the moment they learn of their family member’s death and they made sure I felt it along with them. On the flipside of that is PoW survivor Hal Kushner, who was one of the longest Prisoners of War throughout Vietnam. He is featured in nearly every episode with updates from his PoW tenure, and you really feel for him after several years of captivity when he explains the sensation of finally coming back home to America. Finally, the scene dedicated to how the Vietnam War Memorial came to be and footage of veterans and family members coming to visit and talking about their experiences there shook me up in such a profound way I cannot even begin to describe it. It made me deeply regret not making it out to that memorial when I was in DC several years ago.

Apart from being moved from a lot of these candid interviews, the history nut in me was soaking in all the tidbits about the war that were new to me after viewing The Vietnam War. A few of the many new-to-me events of the war featured here that resonated with me were the ‘Pinkville Massacre’ where American troops went rogue and killed innocent Vietnamese civilians, the concept of ‘fragging’ military superiors who were not in favor among the lower ranks, the deadly protests at Kent State and South Vietnamese civilians being sentenced to re-education camps for up to 18 years after the unification of Vietnam.

With all ten parts of the main feature approximately tallying up to 18 hours, it felt like the Ken Burns’ team could have went double that. For such a long war, there were at least a couple times on each part where I felt a certain scene or moment could have been expounded upon or went into another angle. This is not a bad thing because eventually the crew had to pick which topics deserved more time than other and I can only imagine the hours of material that got left on the cutting room floor. The first and final discs of the set contain the extra features. The first disc has about an hour of extras, and the main one to check out there is the making of special that is nearly 40 minutes long where the crew breaks down how they tracked down all their reference material and interview subjects and why they went with the Vietnam War as their next documentary.

The final disc has 45 minutes of extras and there are two features I highly recommend. Fellow Warriors is 20 minutes of footage from a military veterans’ support group suffering from PTSD and the whole thing took me to another level listening to the veterans explain what they are going through and how they are coping with PTSD. Captured Spy & American Interrogator is an 11 minute piece with the highest ranking North Vietnam PoW and a CIA interrogator detail their multi-year relationship and a few moments from their interrogations that made me feel they could make a unforgettable movie from their perspective coming out of it.

I give the highest of recommendations to The Vietnam War regardless of if you are a history nut, war buff, documentary fan or just seeking out top shelf television. It is quite an investment of time to get through, but if a person with a busy everyday life like myself got so invested into it that I made time and sacrificed sleep to power through it in a couple of weeks, then I am positive you can too!

Past TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
2014-15 TV Season Recap
2015-16 TV Season Recap
2016-17 TV Season Recap
Adventures of Briscoe County Jr: The Complete Series
Angry Videogame Nerd Volumes 7-9
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
OJ: Made in America: 30 for 30
RedvsBlue - Seasons 1-13
Roseanne – Seasons 1-9
Seinfeld Final Season
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle
Superheroes: Pioneers of Television

Saturday, January 27, 2018

The Kliq Rules

WWE has already released multiple home videos on both the nWo and DX over the years. In 2015 however they switched it up by having the core members of both factions’ real-life friendships be the theme of today’s BluRay that is being spotlighted, The Kliq Rules (trailer). It explores how the friendships of Kevin Nash, Scott Hall, Shawn Michaels, 1-2-3 Kid/Syxx/X-Pac and Triple H formed and evolved over the years and how it lead to the success of the nWo and DX.

The Kliq Rules catches up with all five members of the Kliq and interviews them separately and has a couple scenes of them hanging out backstage at the 2015 Hall of Fame and Wrestlemania 31. In case you did not see the preview, there is new vintage behind-the-scenes footage and photographs of the Kliq hanging out in the 90s being shown for the first time. It added a little bit of a new perspective to their story seeing them be chummy behind-the-scenes before the average fan knew about existence of the Kliq well into the Monday Night Wars.

The documentary is a little over an hour long and it marches right through the history of Kliq’s origins with Michaels meeting Hall originally in the AWA and continuing their friendship when Hall arrived in WWE in 1992. They recollect the popular story of how they liked seeing Nash and Triple H’s work in WCW and convinced McMahon to bring them on board in WWE. I never heard how Sean Waltman (Kid/Pac) fell into the Kliq’s ranks and hearing Nash say how the impetus for it was Waltman’s pranks he pulled on The Smoking Gunns was what won them over was a worthwhile new piece of history to consume.

People familiar with the behind-the-scenes part of the business are probably aware of the Kliq stirring up a lot of trouble in the mid-90s and they go into that here with their reputation on bragging about paydays, influencing booking and other controversies getting covered. A plethora of WWE talents from mid-90s are interviewed about various Kliq anecdotes and how they were not locker room favorites. These talents include Vince McMahon, Lex Luger, Bret Hart, Sunny, Vince Russo, Billy Gunn, Sgt. Slaughter, Shane/Dean Douglas, Justin Credible/Aldo Montoya, Kama/Godfather, Jim Ross and rare out-of-character interview excerpts from the Undertaker.

There are a lot of interesting quotes from these interviews, most details I was aware of, but there were some I was not or some stories I heard new perspectives on. For example, I always heard Lex Luger was the one to come up with the name of the Kliq, but hearing Lex’s take for the first time brought some new light on their origin. I heard some brief details over the years, but never knew the full story of the other behind-the-scenes group known as ‘The Bad Street Krew’ that consisted of Kama/Godfather, Undertaker, Yokozuna and Rikishi/Fatu and hearing Godfather breaking down their history for the first time was another new piece of history this feature provided.

Since The Kliq Rules is only an hour long each of these stars are only featured a couple of times, and I got the feeling there were more intriguing stories that got left on the cutting room floor. I always heard how Aldo Montoya/Justin Credible was an unofficial member of the Kliq back then and even though he is interviewed here, that topic is never brought up. Most WWE BluRays have extra bonus interview excerpts that were cut from the main feature, and it is a missed opportunity on what I imagined could have been dozens of enlightening tidbits from this unique cast of characters.

Hall and Nash go into detail why they signed on with WCW, and no matter how many times I hear that story, it is one I never mind hearing again. This of course leads to the infamous ‘Curtain Call’ incident where the Kliq broke the time-honored tradition of the business and broke character in front of the fans and embraced in the ring together on Hall and Nash’s last night in the WWE. A surprising new take on that incident here is WWE tracked down the fans who recorded that footage and interviewed them for this feature on what it was like to see that transpire live in front of them.

The feature then breaks down the fallout from that controversy and how ‘Kliq-North’ went on to rule the WWE and ‘Kliq-South’ dominated the WCW airwaves and we see a montage of DX and nWo highlights from the Monday Night War. After spending a little time on the failed return of the nWo in 2002 and the couple of DX reincarnations in the later half of the 2000s, the documentary concludes with highlights of speeches of Shawn Michaels, Hall and Nash all going into the WWE Hall of Fame.

As with most WWE Home Video releases, the BluRay is loaded with extra matches. There are 23 matches, four of which are exclusive to the BluRay. Each match features at least two Kliq members. It comes as no surprise with the talents featured that most of these matches are pretty darn good to say the least, and even the bouts that are not great are at least passable and/or on here for a noteworthy moment in the match. A lot of these I have not seen since their original TV airing, or are completely new to me. A few I have seen quite a few time in other collections such as the 1-2-3 Kid upsetting Razor Ramon on a 1993 RAW and the iconic ladder match between Shawn and Razor at Wrestlemania X, but both are such pivotal moments in the WWE that they warrant inclusion in this set too. Diesel’s last WWE PPV match against Shawn Michaels in 1996 is on here too, and it still holds up as my favorite singles match with Nash going to dire straights to try and beat Michaels in their must-see ‘No Holds Barred’ clash.


Some of the bouts I have never seen before that still hold up tremendously well today are Shawn Michaels and 1-2-3 Kid squaring off on RAW at the end of 1993 where HBK nails a couple devastating Razor’s Edges to the Kid. I never saw the match where Diesel beat Ramon for the Intercontinental Title in 1994, so I got a lot out of seeing that, but am still perplexed why it took place on Superstars of all shows. It has been a long time since I saw the epic ‘CryBaby’ match between 1-2-3 Kid and Ramon, and it was a blast reliving that unique stipulation match. An early ’96 encounter between Triple H and HBK on RAW I completely forgot about was far better than I expected it to be for a TV main event that went through three commercial interruptions and told a great story and belonged on PPV. The aforementioned curtain call is featured in its entirety, and I still lose it at the fans losing it in the moment recording that classic footage.

I want to highlight the 2003 Judgment Day bout between Triple H and Nash because of all the ref bumps poor Earl Hebner took throughout it, including a sledgehammer shot. Speaking of which, Nash and Triple H’s ‘Sledgehammer Ladder Match’ from the 2011 TLC PPV is also on here, and it was my first viewing of that match which was far better than it had any right to be, and definitely worth checking out. I forgot how much I enjoyed DX feuding with Jeri-Show in 2009, and their killer ‘Tables, Ladders and Chairs’ match from the 2009 TLC PPV is on here (as a BluRay exclusive) and it features several creative new weapon spots I did not anticipate that resulted in a very entertaining spectacle.

I know I have went on about quite a few of the matches, but one final bout I want to touch on is how I heard many great stories of the Kliq having an absolute classic tag match on the old mid-90s weekend morning show, Action Zone. The Kliq Rules is the first official WWE Home Video release I have seen it on. Even with all the hype I am happy to say the match lived up to its buzz with the four starting things off in fourth gear leading to a hot crowd throughout the match. I was amazed when Diesel oversold a mistimed Superkick from Michaels and the remaining story of the match was Diesel marginally recovering from the Superkick while Shawn persevered in a 2-on-1 beatdown for several minutes until Diesel recouped to save him. It looks outrageous, but they pulled it off in a spectacular clash that needs to be seen by all, and for many it will probably be the first and only time you get to hear the commentary magic from one Todd Pettengill.

I regret holding off for over two years on watching this BluRay. I went into The Kliq Rules already knowing most of the key points of their history and thought the matches would eventually be a slog to get through since they primarily featured at least two of the five members of the group in all the matches. I could not have been more wrong. The documentary provides enough new perspectives and other new dynamics to their history I was unaware of that made it very much worth watching, and by the end I wanted more from all the talents that were interviewed. The matches were not a slog to get through, and most of the matches I have either not seen before or were literally decades since I originally viewed them, and the good-to-bad match ratio is far superior here compared to most WWE Home Video releases. This all combines to make The Kliq Rules a must-have in your collection.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Clash of Champions
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 3
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
DDP: Positively Living
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
For All Mankind
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History
Owen: Hart of Gold
RoH Supercard of Honor 2010-Present
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Sting: Into the Light
Straight to the Top: Money in the Bank Anthology
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
TNA Lockdown 2005-2016
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns
Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe
War Games: WCWs Most Notorious Matches
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania 3: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28-Present
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
Wrestling Road Diaries Three: Funny Equals Money
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2017

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Roseanne - Season 9

-It took a little over a year since I started, but here I am covering the ninth and final season of the original run of Roseanne! I am still bamboozled that in the middle of doing this I found out the show was returning, and that I was able to catch up in time just a couple months before Roseanne returns to ABC on March 27. Click here to catch up on my entries covering all the prior seasons.

-I knew going into this season that I heard a lot over the years that the ‘lottery-winning’ season was the only bad season of the show and that I should have avoided it all together. Season eight had a huge cliffhanger where Roseanne (Roseanne Barr) and Dan (John Goodman) got into a huge dispute involving all kinds of broken furniture that implied their marriage was on the brink of collapse. In what was mostly a good season premiere the two overcome their huge fight and got back together by the end of the episode. However, in the closing credits scene of that episode the Connors find out they won the lottery, which is the catalyst for the worst season of the series.

-The next several episodes are absolute train wrecks! The Connors travel overseas to wine and dine with their newfound wealth in a series of gimmick episodes that I despised so much over the last couple seasons. Jackie (Laurie Metcalf) dates a detestable European prince, there is an awful wild west train heist episode, another that satires Rosemary’s Baby, an episode where Roseanne and Jackie spend at the spa that is easily the worst episode in the entire series, and a couple of episodes where they try and fit in with the wealthy and elite with their lottery winnings. This whole string of episodes is cringe-inducing throughout and saying it was a chore to get through these is a severe understatement. It got to the point I had to watch this stretch of episodes at 1.5x speed to gradually ease the pain.

-The Connors winning the lottery kind of negates the need for a job roll call since they now are filthy rich. A couple early episodes of the season take place at the Lunchbox diner before Roseanne and Jackie ultimately decide to sell their shares to Nancy (Sandra Bernhard) and Leon (Martin Mull). As a tribute to the Lunchbox, last weekend I was playing Scattegories and we rolled the letter ‘L’ and one of the categories was ‘sandwich’ so I felt it would have been a sin not to list ‘Loose-Meat’ as my sandwich of choice! Here’s hoping The Lunchbox returns in season 10!

-Darlene’s (Sara Gilbert) college situation in Chicago is never really addressed at all this season since she and David (Johnny Galecki) are expecting their child. While the Connors are overseas, their house gets renovated with decorations more fitting of their new tax bracket. It is kind of a downer actually watching this much-relatable blue-collar family transform their home into everything that went against the show’s theme all these years.

-I got the vibe the producers felt they went off the rails a bit too far nearly halfway into the season and thankfully dialed back the hokey episodes, and by the halfway point in the season them winning the lottery is almost an afterthought. Roseanne and Dan getting into another huge fight at this point in the season is when this season kind of gets somewhat back on track.

-Roseanne’s yearly Halloween special this season is easily their worst as it was the aforementioned Rosemary’s Baby knockoff that did not pan out. The Thanksgiving episode was a riot though as they have the trademark family fight at the dinner table where Bev (Estelle Parsons) comes out of the closet. Readers of these blogs will recall how bummed I am that Fred (Michael ‘O Keefe) was no longer part of the show, but I was a little relieved to see Jackie and Roseanne at least address his absence during the Christmas special stating that he found a new lady.

-Also around the halfway point of the season DJ (Michael Fishman) is given a few new takes on his character when he is revealed to be into filmmaking and a big time movie buff. He also gets his first girlfriend in the series and the two seem to hit it off by the end of the season. Good on the writers for finally giving DJ some depth….halfway into the very last season.

-Last season saw Lecy Goransen return as Becky after a few years off, but with Sarah Chalke subbing in for a few episodes as a nice gesture for her filling in for a few years. I have no idea why, but Lecy did not stick with the show for its final season so they had Chalke return again to play Becky throughout the entire season. I feel awful though because Becky is very much a background character this season even moreso compared to the previous few seasons. Becky is only in about half the episodes this season, and she only has a couple lines an episode she appears in as she is never really in a featured arc throughout the season. Becky essentially is receiving the Meg treatment on Family Guy. Her husband Mark (Glenn Quinn) is again a more featured presence throughout this season, and like the past few years is played up for comic relief throughout the season. On the season finale the two do reveal they are expecting their first kid however.

-I think I may have only addressed Roseanne’s grandma Mary (Shelley Winters), only once or twice before. Nana Mary appears only once or twice a season on average, kind of like Rose on Lost. Whenever she was on, it felt like a truly special episode where the writers made sure her appearance mattered. I was surprised they kept her character alive all these years to the point they kind of 4th-wall jest about how she is still alive. She has a great final episode in the 9th season where Mary and Bev bury the hatchet after all their years of differences. According to her Wiki, she guest-ed on a total of 10 episodes throughout her run. Winters eventually passed in 2006. Speaking of passing, I was saddened to see in my research for the show’s relaunch to find out that Glenn Quinn passed away in 2002 from a drug overdose. I saw that Mark will be re-casted for the return, but bummed to see I went this long without seeing the news.

-Even though a good chunk of this season is awful, it has one of my favorite episodes where Darlene delivers her kid two months early. Nearly everyone on the cast steps up to deliver a strong performance in this dire time for the family, with an especially powerful scene with Mark, Dan and David that I instantly re-watched a few times. Another fun episode is when Jackie and Mark get involved at the matches at a local wrestling show. It was at this point for the last several episodes of Roseanne where it is brought back down to Earth with back-to-basics storytelling and I nearly forgot they won the lottery.

-Let us touch on the controversial last episode, beware of ending spoilers in this paragraph. Darlene and David are getting setup at Roseanne’s for the interim until their kid is in full health. All the cast has an individual one-on-one with the newborn, Harris in an interesting final moment for each character. Then in an ode to the show’s opening theme where we see the cast gathering around the table for dinner all these seasons we see almost the entire cast gathering around the supper table for Chinese. Earlier in the episode DJ is moved to the basement and he references to Roseanne how they used that room for Roseanne’s writing room way back in season two.

Roseanne then goes in a voiceover during this dinner table scene saying how she has been writing ever since Dan had his heart attack and passed away the previous season. She reveals that she has been trying to cope with his death by rewriting history and essentially the final season of the show was all in Roseanne’s head. She reveals one-by-one the true fate of each cast member with Dan being dead for over a year since his heart attack, Jackie and not her mom actually being gay, and Darlene and Becky swapping spouses. It is truly a bizarre ending and definitely threw me for a loop. I was relieved to hear that ABC is pretending that final voiceover twist reveal from Roseanne never happened and that Dan will be there in full form for the re-launch in March.

-There are two bonus interviews with Roseanne Barr touching on her overall thoughts with the series and final episode. Even though the extras have been minimal to none in all prior Roseanne DVD sets I am surprised they did not interview a few other cast members for a more comprehensive final set of interviews, but I guess this is better than nothing. There is no question, the 9th and final season of Roseanne is easily the worst. Most of the first half of the season is unbelievably hard to watch, and there are a few scattered weak episodes in the second half as well. That twist ending certainly did not help either, but at least there are a few really strong episodes buried in the trenches that made it marginally worthwhile to stick with it all the way through.

-Even though this is the only season of the show I recommend to avoid, that does not take away the fact that I rank Roseanne right up there with Seinfeld as my two all-time favorite sitcoms. If I were to cherry pick the best three seasons of the show to watch, I would recommend seasons three, four and six. By season three the entire cast was clicking and Roseanne finally hit her groove with working in the mall café and having a great supporting cast with Crystal and Bonnie to bounce off of and that chemistry carried over throughout season four as well. Season six was a great redemption season for the series by bringing Becky and Mark back into the mix and David and Fred injecting new life and perfectly blending into the regular cast.

Seasons two, seven and eight are also strong seasons but having some minor hiccups from me ranking them in the same company as seasons three, four and six. Seasons one, five and nine are the weakest seasons with only season nine being the only one I recommend to avoid all together. It took about half the first season for the cast to find their groove and to finally start evolving into the characters we got to love. Season five hit a major lull after Becky and Mark left a couple episodes in and it was not until towards the end of that season that Roseanne finally started to recover from it and you can already tell from this blog why you should avoid season nine.

This was a blast reliving Roseanne for the past year. Thank you all for sticking with me throughout it, and have to re-enforce that I am flabbergasted that the show was announced to return in the middle of going through all these seasons so I am taking credit for these blogs inspiring ABC to bring Roseanne back! Rest assured, I will most likely dedicate a separate future blog covering the new season of Roseanne instead of lumping it in with all the other TV shows in my annual TV season recaps you can find in the links below. So please come back and join me in a few months for my thoughts on season 10 of America’s favorite dysfunctional family!

Past TV/Web Series Blogs

2013-14 TV Season Recap
2014-15 TV Season Recap
2015-16 TV Season Recap
2016-17 TV Season Recap
Adventures of Briscoe County Jr: The Complete Series
Angry Videogame Nerd Volumes 7-9
Mortal Kombat: Legacy - Season 1
OJ: Made in America: 30 for 30
RedvsBlue - Seasons 1-13
Roseanne – Seasons 1-9
Seinfeld Final Season
Superheroes: A Never-Ending Battle
Superheroes: Pioneers of Television

Friday, January 12, 2018

Top 10 and Worst Films of 2017

Greetings, and welcome to my best and worst movies of 2017 feature! This is my second installment of breaking down my best of cinema of the year, if you missed last year’s feature, click here to get caught up! I did not get to hit the theater as much as I wanted to this year and have missed out on at least several movies I wanted to see and will be catching up on Netflix throughout the year. I still managed to see 25 live action films, four animated films and seven documentaries from 2017 so with that said, let us get on with the rankings!

Top 10 Films of 2017

1) Logan
2) Wonder Woman
3) Trainspotting 2
4) Guardians of the Galaxy 2
5) Dunkirk
6) Greatest Showman
7) Spider-Man: Homecoming
8) Justice League
9) The F8 of the Furious
10) Goon 2: Last of the Enforcers

The first Goon blew me away and reignited Sean William Scott’s career. It is right up there with Major League as one of the funniest sports films ever. The sequel picks up where it left off and most of the cast returns in a follow-up that managed to hit nearly all the same notes, but of course could not be as good as the original but still cracked me up enough to crack my top 10! F8 of the Furious is another crazy adventure with our favorite gang of superstar car-jackers as I enjoyed a bucket of popcorn and awaited the next preposterous stunt they threw my way.

Spider-Man: Homecoming surprised me after the disappointing cameo in 2016’s Civil War, but Marvel/Disney got it right and props to them for blowing right by his origin story and getting it out of the way with a throwaway line of dialogue in three seconds! He has a fun chemistry with Iron Man, and the jokes all find their mark for the most part. Justice League also surprised me because all I saw on news feeds is how awful all DC films were going into it, but I thought it laid a solid foundation for future films as it solidified the team. They just need to dial back the comedic antics of The Flash in future films. I am a sucker for musicals and Greatest Showman absolutely nailed it with countless numbers that had me bopping along with a sublime performance from Hugh Jackman.

Guardians of the Galaxy 2 is the only film out of the MCU where I usually do not mind Disney/Marvel going all out with comedy because of the unique cast and cosmic setting, but then I stood corrected as the first half hour plays out almost like a satire and when it got time to get real with the plot I was still in the mindset of ‘where’s the jokes.’ I had the same problem with Thor 3, but it is less damaging with GOTG2 because like I said, the first film established that brand as a whimsical, light-hearted ragtag bunch of misfits and it was able to recover.

Logan and Wonder Woman both stunned the hell out of me. Wonder Woman is a bona-fide ass-kicker, and the film made the World War I setting work far better than I thought. I didn't know Logan was R rated going in and its opening scene thus went on to leave me open-eyed throughout. If this is indeed Hugh Jackman’s final portrayal of Wolverine as he alluded to, then it was a hell of a sendoff. And let us raise a glass to more films having thrilling finales taking place in the mountainous wilds of North Dakota! Trainspotting 2 had a lot to live up to for a sequel happening 20 years after its cult hit predecessor but it delivered and its final half hour is insane.

Best Documentary – Tie: Jim & Andy & The Great Beyond and Too Funny to Fail: The Life and Death of the Dana Carvey Show

I saw seven documentaries this year, but wanted to see more as I only got around to seeing just one ESPN 30 for 30 this year and there were a couple others as well. Netflix’s rundown of Jim Carrey causing mayhem behind-the-scenes of Man on the Moon in its documentary, Jim & Andy & The Great Beyond inspired me to pull out Man on the Moon from my backlog box and review it last month. Too Funny to Fail is a fantastic dissection of how The Dana Carvey Show was suppose to be the greatest new sketch show ever, but instead had a rapid decline and was cancelled after seven episodes, but not without introducing the future kings of comedy for the next two decades.

Best AnimatedBatman & Harley Quinn

The only animated films I go out of my way to see each year are the straight-to-video animated DC films. A lot of people that worked on the hit animated DC cartoons of the 90s went on to work on those and they got a good routine of pumping these out at about three to four a year. The best one I saw was Batman & Harley Quinn. It was a bit edgier than I anticipated as it tells the tale of Harley Quinn teaming up with Batman & Nightwing to stop Poison Ivy’s latest dastardly plan.

Wor-…..err…underwhelming….disappointments of the Year!


3) First half-hour of Thor 3: Ragnarok
2) First Half-hour of Jumanji
1) The Circle

None of these three films are ‘Worst Film of the Year’ material. They all just underwhelmed/disappointed me. With Thor 3 and Jumanji it was more of the first half hour of each were downright painful to get through. Thor manages to salvage its act once a certain someone is introduced a half hour in, but the first half hour is abysmal. That is doubly so with Jumanji because it is getting through stereotypical-bad high school stereotypes until the cast is stuck in the Jumanji game. Then they shove Kevin Hart and Jack Black in your face both of whom I am not too big on nowadays, but then the film introduces how each player has three lives like in a videogame and they get creative with some of the early deaths for some surprising laughs that got me back on track with the film and actually got me into it after that. Any film gratuitously killing off Jack Black and Kevin Hart not once, but twice I can get down with! The Circle was just a blah film I did not either love or hate, but wound up being the first film I walked out on about halfway through because it was not worth the time to finish.

That is it for this year, see you all in 12 months!

Monday, January 8, 2018

Eliminators

I know how much you have enjoyed my past WWE Studios entries from me so I aim to please and bestow upon you today with a review of their 2016 direct-to-video release, Eliminators (trailer) . Martin Parker (Scott Adkins) is in a witness relocation program in England after his cover got blown in a string of off-screen events that resulted in his wife’s death. Now him and his daughter are living a new life overseas until one day a burglary break-in at his home a few years later results in him killing a few intruders and putting his face all over the news. This results in his original American crime boss he betrayed, Cooper (James Cosmo) rediscovering Parker’s whereabouts. Cooper sends Britain’s most lethal hitman known as Bishop (WWE’s Wade Barrett) out on a hit to finish Parker but this winds up in a nonstop a cat-and-mouse chase instead.

This is this first WWE film to my knowledge to have its guest starring wrestler no longer employed with the company by the time the movie released. Wade Barrett’s contract expired with WWE about a half year before Eliminators was released. I did not see much of any previews before seeing this film and was not expecting much out of Barrett since I recall him saying no more than five words as a forgettable henchman in his performance in a previous WWE film, Dead Man Down. WWE Studios had far more faith in Barrett here because the film sets him up as the deadliest assassin of all of Britain. He has a killer intro scene where he flawlessly takes out a gang without breaking a sweat, and he delivers all his dialogue with a flair of cunning that makes him look and speak the part. I was truly surprised at his big step up in performance in this film.

Scott Adkins is also on point with his role of the hero on the run. It was fun watching him try to break out of the hospital while cuffed to the bed because the film bizarrely sets him up as a vigilante who took the law into his own hands and paints Parker out as the villain instead. Luckily this does not last that long as the feds intervene and clear his name. However Bishop catches up to the feds and forces them to give Parker’s location to Bishop and the cat-and-mouse chase resumes with the duo engaging in a series of intense brawls throughout the film. A fun fight sequence in a sky lift had me cracking up, but their gritty, brutal brawls at a safehouse, docks and ultimately at a barn in their final clash had my adrenaline bumping in an old school 80s action movie kind of way.

I wish Eliminators had some kind of better way to wrap things up as its ending was so instantaneous and over before you knew it. That is my main gripe with it, other than a few other minor characters not being that well casted. It is the standard low budget, direct-to-video film from WWE Studios, but the production does a decent job at hiding its restrictions with clever cinematography and getting a lot out of practical effects instead of CG. This is explained well in the two extras on the BluRay. They are nothing that in-depth and total for about 10 minutes, but they breakdown the major fight sequences and shows how they pulled off a few of the key stunts while another extra interviews Barrett on his experience in the film.

Eliminators will not light the action genre on fire by any means, but it was a pleasant surprise and is a quick watch at 90 minutes. I would highly recommend it on a movie marathon night as a quick pallet-cleanser in the middle of your movie binging! I think this will be the last WWE Studios blog for awhile, because it looks like WWE started making their films available to rent on disc from Netflix again. I checked and they are carrying WWE’s latest action thriller starring Seth Rollins and Wesley Snipes in Armed Response!

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

3
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christmas Eve
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Countdown
Creed
Deck the Halls
Dirty Work
Faster
Fast and Furious I-VIII
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Gravity
Guardians of the Galaxy
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
Ink
Joy Ride 1 & 2
The Interrogation
Interstellar
Jobs
Man of Steel
Man on the Moon
Marine 3-5
Mortal Kombat
National Treasure
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
The Replacements
Rocky I-VII
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
San Andreas
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Shoot em Up
Steve Jobs
Source Code
Star Trek I-XIII
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
UHF
Veronica Mars
The War
Wild
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Saturday, January 6, 2018

Dale's Top 21 Videogame Experiences of 2017


Howdy, everyone! Welcome to my first blog of 2018, and what better way to kick it off than reflecting back on my top gaming experiences of 2017! I had a blast with my top 11 gaming experiences blog from last year, which was really more like 30-40 moments condensed down to 11 entries. I did a similar thing for this year, but for a whopping 21 entries instead. That is nearly double the fun! Just be forewarned, this is a doozy of a read, so without further ado, let us get onto the list!

21) End-Label-Fever

My buddy Matt introduced me to unofficial N64 end labels that were available online. I became immediately envious and ordered the complete set off Etsy and promptly applied them to all my games. I am still befuddled to why Nintendo never had them to begin with.

20) Quantities are Limited!

I ordered several games from Limited Run throughout 2017. If you are unfamiliar with Limited Run, they publish physical versions of former digital-only PS4/Vita games, but true to their name in small print runs that you have usually only several minutes to order online as soon as they are available or you are out of luck. Thankfully I had no problem getting my orders in on them and I was stoked to get the physical versions of games I was super into such as Oxenfree, Firewatch, Windjammers and Read Only Memories.

19) A Certain NES Guide Book

Past few years I have gotten into YouTuber Pat Contri’s work a bit. I first found out about him on an AVGN guest spot, and have been keeping up with his podcasts and videos since. A couple years ago he released a mammoth tome dubbed The Ultimate Guide to the NES Library and as the title eludes it tries to be the ultimate guide by reviewing every American, Europe and Australlian release for the NES and have a bunch of bonus columns and features to round it off. I try to read two-to-four reviews before bed at least a few days a week and I have been doing that for just over a year now. I have found out about a ton of NES games I have never heard of before or knew very little of, plus it was interesting to find out their takes on the games I grew up on. This has lead to me tracking down a few NES games throughout the year such as Roundball, Crystalis and Indy Heat to name a few. I still have a ways to go and am only up through Rolling Thunder on the reviews as of this writing.

18) Mmmmm….Pie

The last couple years I have been hearing a lot of buzz about all-in-one emulator machines known as RetroPies. Questionable legalities of the device aside, they have risen in popularity this past year and I inevitably stumbled into playing a couple variations of it at various places throughout the year. One person had a custom arcade cabinet with it installed and we tore it up playing countless arcade fighters and brawlers on it. Another time another friend and I went out of our way to search for obscure versions of Street Fighter ports and had a decent time experiencing the original Street Fighter and surprisingly decent versions of Street Fighter Alpha on the GameBoy Color and Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the SNES.

I told one friend my joy last year experiencing the import-only arcade release of Ring of Destruction, and sure enough we found it and slaughtered each other for quite a bit on it. The best RetroPie moment was finding an English-patched version of Super FirePro Wrestling Premium on SNES and the worst was when playing a RetroPie for the first time for whatever reason the first game of the several thousand available on it I decided to play was Shaq-Fu, a game I already own…two copies of…don’t ask.

18) The Return of Bimmy & Jimmy!

I was surprised with the out of nowhere announcement and quick release of Double Dragon IV at the beginning of the year. I am presuming the 16-bit Super Double Dragon is no longer cannon. Got a chance to play it with Matt shortly after its release and I loved how it captured the NES feel of the classic 8-bit brawlers and we had a good time with it until we hit one of the final levels. That level was filled with mazes of mind-boggling auto-scrolling ramps and pillars that pop down from out of nowhere and instantly kill you much in the same vein as that godawful N64 Sub-Zero game, but worse! It was an instant turn-off to an otherwise fine co-op brawler. Limited Run had a nice collector’s edition of it up for sale recently but those memories of those nasty pillars and ramp sequences convinced me to stay away.

17) Now You’re Playing With Super Power!

I loved the NES Classic in 2016 and in 2017 I had to make sure to line up in stores a couple hours ahead of opening to procure the inevitable SNES Classic. While it has nine less games compared to the NES Classic, the quality and scope of those 21 SNES games is far greater than the ones featured on NES Classic. Finally experiencing the previously unreleased StarFox 2 was a treat and I made sure to first play the first game I owned for my SNES 20 years earlier in Street Fighter 2: Turbo. Me and my friends Derek and Ryan had a ball taking turns to see how far we could last in the unbelievably-hard Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (it was not all that far). A couple months later I got my brother one for his birthday and we spent many hours failing to make significant progress in the brutally-tough-yet-super-fun Contra 3. I believe we only got to the third level. One day we shall conquer it, and one day I will sit down and take the time to get through EarthBound!

16) Them Damn YouTubers!

I mentioned YouTuber Pat Contri earlier and I think 2017 has become the year where I routinely started to follow several YouTube videogame personalities. Before I primarily stuck with the crew at GiantBomb for most of my online gaming-related videos and still do for most of them, but I like mixing in a little variety from several other YouTubers. I will give a shout out to Pat Contri again for his many podcast excerpts that entertain me, as well as James Rolfe and his Cinemassacre crew for the always-excellent AVGN videos and let’s play streams he posts with his co-host Mike Matei. Gaming Pick-ups and hidden gem list rundowns sound kind of blah on paper, but the man known as ‘Metal Jesus’ and his wide array of mostly likeable guest hosts find a way to make them entertaining and I cannot help but watch nearly every video he posts on his channel.

I have been following Jeremy Parish’s writing and Retronauts podcasts for well over a decade and have been a huge fan of his Works line of YouTube videos chronicling countless GameBoy, NES and SNES games. They are exhaustively researched and well-produced and filled with tons of facts and behind-the-scenes info that your average online review likely would not have. Finally I will give a shoutout to two more retro-themed gaming channels, The Gaming Historian and Classic Gaming Quarterly. Both YouTubers do deep dives into gaming’s past and put a lot of work into their videos and as a result they do not have as frequent videos as other channels, but their quality makes up for the quantity. I am beyond belief, but my hat is off to the host of CGQ for making his ‘Let’s Read’ videos where he highlights and notates tidbits from his favorite articles of old-school gaming magazines and somehow makes them must-see material!

15) I AM TUROK!

Last year I mentioned how I got a Retron 5, a handy device that allows you to play several retro game system’s cartridges on an HDTV with clean visuals like how I remember them instead of the dreadful fuzziness you get when hooking up old-school systems on HDTVs with the older composite cables that came with the system. I finally finished my first game using the system in 2017, and the game that got that honor was the long forgotten GameBoy….gem….Turok: Battle of the Bionasaurs. It came out alongside the more popular N64 game and was a simple 2D side-scrolling action/platformer game. If you are wondering why that random GameBoy game it is because I spent several summers on a farm with nothing but a GameBoy growing up so these no-frills basic platformers resonate with me in a unique way.

The Retron has the ability to download an exhaustive vault of Game Genie/Action Replay codes onto an SD card from their website and that came in handy here or else I stood no chance of beating this game. Even though the infinite health made dealing with enemies a breeze, the limitations of the GameBoy’s screen made platforming a bit of a hurdle than I intended so I still died plenty of times, and if it was not for taking advantage of Retron 5’s save-state feature I definitely would not have finished it. I have all the other Turok games on GB (there are five of them!) and eventually would like to get through most of them as these simple watered-down GB conversions are nice little pallet-cleansers to start off a gaming session.

Speaking of the Retron 5, Hyperkin released an adaptor for it this year allowing it to play Master System and Game Gear games. I picked it up, but kind of regretted it afterwards as it took a few hoops of downloading and applying updates/patches from Hyperkin’s website in a particular way until a couple hours of trial-and-error got it to finally work. I do not believe the effort was worth it though because I have no Master System games and only six or seven Game Gear games. I did make sure to play quite a bit of Game Gear Road Rash immediately afterwards for my troubles. Hey….if I were to track down just five Master System games what would you recommend? Tweet me your picks!

14) The Year of VR….No, Not That VR

I keep hearing about how Playstation VR, Oculus and HTC’s virtual reality sets that came out over the last couple of years have legitimized VR and brought it up to par with core console based gaming. However, I am just not seeing it. The price point is the primary deal breaker for me, and then factoring in the space factor for all the cables and some games that require you to move around is another major deal-breaker too. This past year saw some AAA console games get their full single player mode available in VR like Resident Evil 7 and Skyrim that I would not mind checking out one day, but most of what I see that is playable out there seem like decent little mini-games and shooting gallery variants, but not worth the barriers to invest into a proper VR setup. If you have it and enjoy it, that’s awesome, but I simply cannot justify crossing that line.

That said, I still have the original VR monstrosity that is the Virtual Boy and 2017 was THE year it became active again! I was missing the AC power adaptor hub for my Virtual Boy that I misplaced long ago, and I searched for them on eBay and they were surprisingly affordable there, as was a replacement tripod for the Virtual Boy. I also picked up a few more VB ‘gems’ such as Virtual League Baseball, TeleroBoxer, Galactic Pinball, Vertical Force and Wario Land to increase my mammoth VB library to nine games (that is more than half of its complete library, seriously!). I tried a few of them out and was surprised at my lack of TeleroBoxer skills that I need some severe practice at. VB does have a fine pinball game though and I would like to set aside time to finish Wario Land one day because it is one of the few legit quality games on the platform. Suffice it to say, the good ‘ol Virtual Boy will likely be my sole VR system for the forseeable future.

13) Pinball Gaming Love

Like last year, I played a healthy chunk of pinball games. This year it was primarily Zen Pinball 2 and I kept up with its final round of new tables and tried my best to attain each table’s trophy/achievement. I probably put way too much time trying to get that pesky Rogue One trophy. I put in some time into Pinball Arcade and Hyperspace Pinball, but not nearly as much as last year. I really need to put more time into the former because I just got caught up acquiring its latest season of tables and have yet to try any of them out. It is a shame that unlike the Zen tables, purchasing Pinball Arcade tables on PS3 does not carry over to the PS4 version so I am stuck playing them on PS3.

I did do the upgrade a few months ago from Pinball FX2/Zen Pinball 2 to Pinball FX3 and am still coming around to it. Zen thankfully allows my PS3 purchased tables to carry over into the PS4 version! I think I am finally getting use to PFX3’s new unlockable upgrades system, but there seems to be a bit too much optional mini-modes available in order to ‘master’ each table. I will give Zen props for making their latest two tables free in honor of the 10 year anniversary of the first Pinball FX. I imagine I will conform to its various new extras and features soon enough, but not as quickly as I thought.

12) Twin Cities Gaming – Part Two

Last year I mentioned how I went to the Twin Cities to visit a couple friends where we engaged in all sorts of gaming awesomeness, and I continued the trend again this year. I first visited my friend Tyler and while checking out the Mall of America we caught a glimpse of this VR Arcade/theme park there that had all kinds of ambitious sets rigged up. We did not test any out, but just surveyed the area to get a good idea of how to plan out a day there next time we return. We did stop in one of the other traditional arcades in the Mall of America however where I finally discovered in the wild one of the Mario Kart GP games that Namco develops. There have been a few iterations of these over the past decade and I believe the version we played was Mario Kart Arcade GP DX. The version we played had a sweet two-player setup that held its own with the latest home versions, and I was delighted to see it bring back some of the two-player co-op features not seen in the series since Double Dash.

I made another trip to the awesome Up/Down Arcade with my friend Dick while I was in the Cities and I was thrilled to see they had just as many awesome 80s and 90s arcade units there as it had last year. We also checked out a pinball bar called Tilt Pinball Bar. It was much smaller compared to Up/Down, but still contained everything I wanted out of such an establishment with a good variety of around 25-30 tables from all eras. We spent a good couple hours there competing for high scores while enjoying a brew and I finally got a chance to play the authentic versions of tables I put countless hours into their digital versions in Pinball Arcade with tables like Champion Pub being a thrill to finally play in reality!

11) First Rule of Fight Club…

I have neglected online multiplayer on Playstation since Sony started charging for it on PS4. A couple months ago I relented and picked up a three month card because of my friend Chris who I use to semi-regularly play online PS3 fighting games with. Since I activated the subscription we played on three out of four Saturday mornings and had some great sessions in a variety of fighting games. Neither of us are EVO-quality vets by any means, but we kind of have a vague idea of what we are doing out there and are both along the same skill level. We played a ton of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, Street Fighter V and Injustice 2. I dug all three games, and Chris and I talked a lot of friendly smack while we mashed away on buttons relentlessly.

10) Reviewing my first game since 2011…kind of

I adored the first two Syberia games that hit PC/Xbox in 2003/04. I loved their story, atmosphere, cast and writing. While its adventure-genre standard puzzles it featured had me referencing guides online, I did not mind because I had to see what was next for the affable heroine, Kate Walker. I somehow missed the announcements leading up to the third game and was surprised to see it on shelves one day early in the year and I immediately grabbed it without question. That turned out to be a mistake because Syberia 3 is a near-unplayable mess filled with countless glitches and bugs that were previously not part of the franchise’s pedigree. I have no idea how this got the stamp of approval for release. I saw Syberia 3 went on to have more patches and updates after I finished it so hopefully it is not as much of a hot mess as it was when I played it during its first week of release.

I wrote a lengthy post chronicling my troubles with the game on a forum I frequent online. Once I realized I rambled on for a quite a bit about the game that it nearly resembled a review, I tweaked a few spots in the original post and made a couple other minor addendums to cover most of the bases of the game. I then submitted it with the lowest score possible to my GameFAQs profile (I am not a fan of how they converted to its five hearts rating system). I have not done a video game review in several years since I switched to focus on reviewing movies on this blog. That said, if you want to see a more detailed account of my disappointment with Syberia 3, then click here to see my first video game review since 2011.

9) Beating my first Mega Man game at Extra Life!!!

On my top gaming moments blog last year I recounted how Mega Man 2 became the first game in the series I put serious play time into by beating three stages in it during the annual 24-hour Extra Life charity drive I participate in every year. I beat a few more stages since then, but still had a few more to go and it felt fitting to finish the game off at the next year’s Extra Life! That is exactly what I did, and boy did I feel like an idiot doing so with my lackluster Mega Man expertise. While I still enjoyed my time with the game, I had to exploit save-states for every few screens of progress. I had no idea there was a huge labyrinth of levels leading up to the final encounter with Dr. Wily, which included finishing off all the previous bosses again one more time. I was only anticipating spending another couple hours with the game when instead it took me about five to six hours to finish it off. I still loved every moment of it and want to at least finish off a couple more games in the series someday. I hear that Mega Man 3 is even better than Mega Man 2 so I should at least play that one….right?

8) Off to the Races

Just like last year I played a ton of racing games off and on throughout the year. Like pinball games, starting off a gaming session with 30-60 minutes knocking off a few races of progress before I move onto something else is ideal for me. I played way too much Konami Krazy Racers on the GBA Virtual Console on WiiU. It is a fun little kart racer featuring a unique cast of side characters from various Konami franchises. I also played a ton of Fast Racing Neo on WiiU and loved its take on F-Zero/Wipeout. Before the Switch version of Mario Kart 8 launched earlier this year I got in a few more online sessions on the WiiU version since I imagined most of the player-base flocked to that version upon its release. I am still surprised at how well that version runs online with my wi-fi setup.

Other racing games that dominated my time this year were The Crew. I am not really engaging in much of its online content and trying to romp through its story mode, but I do like its take on using the USA as an open world hub. The spiritual successor to Road Rash that is Road Redemption finally came out of Steam Early Access a few months ago and I enjoyed a couple loops through its career mode with my brother. TrackMania Turbo is a fun time-trial based racer oozing with style that has me itching for those perfect runs. JoyRide Turbo is an inferior racing game also with ‘Turbo’ in its title. It is a port of the Kinect-racer on 360 that hit XBLA a year or two later with standard controller gameplay added, and it is ok, but eventually it wore out its welcome. It is not as terrible as Beach Buggy Racing on Xbox One, a budget kart racer for the platform with very loose controls and gets my nod as least enjoyable racing game I played in 2017. Finally, I have been playing a lot of the 360 version of Forza Horizon 2. I loved the first game and its festival/party atmosphere it introduced to the spinoff series and the same applies to the sequel. I am almost done with most of the races in the career mode and after that I can finally move on to the third Horizon which I hear nothing but amazing things.

7) One Game in One Day!

I have referenced here before how I am down with the genre of games known as ‘Walking Simulators’ with much love from me to prior hits in the genre like Oxenfree and Firewatch. Games in this genre cater towards me because they usually have powerful narratives that can be finished in a couple sittings. I wanted to finish one more game before the end of the year so on December 30th I started and finished another popular game in the genre that hit earlier in 2017, What Remains of Edith Finch in about four hours. The game did not disappoint as it focused on the last surviving member of a cursed family revisiting her childhood home and each through an interesting series of flashbacks she experiences each family member’s demise. I enjoyed most of it and absolutely loved its atmosphere exploring the mysterious house filled with literally thousands of books. The big focus of the journey though is reliving those 10-12 flashbacks and they scale all over the place from enthralling, to vague, to underwhelming and head-scratchingly dull. I still very much enjoyed my experience with it, especially since it was one of those rare times where I can plow through a game in a single sitting, but I would rank it a notch or two under Oxenfree and Firewatch.

6) Pound-Town!!

On last year’s best of blog I dedicated an entry to my awesome couch co-op gaming nights with friends Derek, Brooke and Ryan, so I will continue that trend this year. We started off the year rotating in and out a lot of our usual favorites but sticking more and more to the social party games featured in Jackbox Party Pack. About halfway into the year another Jackbox-style game hit the PS4 that was a hit with our group called That’s You and it incorporated more unique ways of getting the smartphone in the mix in its games compared to the Jackbox use of the smartphone.

About halfway into the year however we started to play more and more board games. We got a few in the mix in 2016 but 2017 was the year board gaming took off for us. A couple board game/hobby shops opened up in town over the last year or two and it resulted in our group trying out tons of new board games. I must have tried out nearly a dozen tabletop games and some of my favorites were Five Minute Dungeon (a super quick card based version of DnD), YamSlam (think Yahtzee meets poker) and another game I forget the name of where you where a headband and put a card on it while your teammate gives clues to the answer like in the classic game show, $25,000 Pyramid.

While we are on the theme of board games this entry I will give a shoutout to Matt and the few rounds of Othello we got in over recent years (new version out on Switch!). Another night Derek and I joined my brother and friends Mike and Justine for an epic night of the board game Zombicide. I have played that game before and do enjoy it, but that game makes rounds of Risk seem like a sprint and you need to dedicate at least several hours to finish a game. Luckily, Mike is a seasoned pro at the game and breezed through its elaborate setup. Somehow, someway we managed to finish a whole game in about five hours, and it was a blast. I feel bad for my brother because he was the only one in our group that did not survive the zombie horde that night.

5) More Love for the 3DS

This is another themed entry I am carrying over from 2016. I continue to try and get in a couple hours of handheld device gaming a week on my 3DS. 2017 saw me finally finish Phoenix Wright: Spirits of Justice after a whopping 68 hours!! It easily surpasses Dual Destines as the superior 3DS installment of the franchise as it finally opens up Apollo’s background and it gets all the ace attorneys involved from the Wright Anything Agency and brings back fan favorite Maya back into the fray after a lengthy absence from the series. I am now all caught up on the latest games in the series…in America anyways as I hear Japan is getting spin-off exclusives I am envious of.

The other 3DS game I put a ton of time into this year was the remaster of Dragon Quest VIII. It originally hit PS2 around 15 years ago, but this version makes some added benefits for on-the-go gaming like quicksaves and auto-combat which I greatly appreciate. I always liked the Dragon Quest series of RPGs for being simpler, easier to pick up RPGs compared to the average Final Fantasy, and I am digging its art style, score and whimsical narrative thus far after around 30 hours in.

One last game I finished on 3DS is Find Mii and that is a Street Pass Plaza game contained with the 3DS UI. It took forever to finish because to advance in it you need to earn coins via carrying the 3DS around with you in sleep mode to beat simple monsters in a straightforward dungeon layout. There are quite a few monsters to conquer though and it took me banking up many coins to hire countless temporary heroes to defeat in its many dungeon rooms and after nearly three years of off-and-on gradual progress I finally finished it. Huzzah! 2017 saw a far more advanced version of Find Mii released on the 3DS called Mii-Topia which I understand is more of a full-on RPG compared to the intentionally basic design of Find Mii. I think Mii-Topia released shortly after I finished Find Mii and I kind of impulse-bought while on my rush of finishing Find Mii so who knows when I will get to it.

Speaking of the 3DS, my brother Joe and I went in together and got my nephew Carter a 2DS for Christmas. Joe got Carter into Pokemon at the beginning of the year by exposing him to the cartoon and the world of Pokemon cards. He is now a devout PokeKid! He never played any of the games though, so I we got him a 2DS and I loaded it up with Virtual Console rereleases of Pokemon Yellow, Pokemon Trading Card Game and Pokemon Puzzle League and I made sure to download and install a super-sweet Pikachu theme on the system for him too. When he opened it up on Christmas Eve he gave both us the biggest hugs!!! So worth it!

4) Kept You Waiting?

Just like in 2016, I played a good amount of Metal Gear Solid. The first few months of the year I dedicated to trying to finish off Peace Walker. I say trying because I got the first ending to the game, but it seemed premature due to the gameplay style and sure enough after looking up online there was a true ending to unlock that involved beating many more boss fights in a specific fashion that is too particular to explain here in order to truly finish it. I spent way too much time going down this route before ultimately giving up and moving on. I still had a blast with the game and since it did not have a difficulty level setting I guess you can say I did ‘beat’ it on its default difficulty level instead of setting it to ‘very easy’ like I did in prior entries.

I needed a break from the franchise after that fiasco for a few months so it was not until the end of summer that I picked up and played through all of the prologue to Metal Gear Solid V that is called Ground Zeroes. It is like the introductory mission to MGS2 and MGS3 that is a couple hours long and sets up the rest of the game, but it was released nearly two years ahead of the main game. It picks up right after Peace Walker which is why I invested so much time in attempting to see that through. I loved how the new game looked on the current gen with stunning graphical effects that make the series stand out above all other AAA games, and its cutscene production is in a league of its own with a gorgeous set piece that sets up the proper full MGSV experience that came out in 2015, The Phantom Pain.

A couple months later I finally started The Phantom Pain. The introductory stage is an experience I will never forget and is more like an hour and a half movie that introduces you to the core controls while Konami takes you on a visual effects smorgasbord with easily one of the best produced opening cinematics I have ever seen, and that is saying a lot not just for the franchise but for games in general. Even if you are not that familiar with MGS universe and lore, please click here and take the time to watch The Phantom Pain’s opening hour play out to see a new level of production caliber that games have rarely achieved. That hour and a half or so of gameplay is what I finished off the Extra Life marathon with, and I was glad to rock a pair of surround sound gaming headphones to it because just as much care was put into the audio as in the visuals and it all combined for my eyes being glued to the screen the entire time.

I have only had time to play about four or five hours more of it since, and I am glad I played Peace Walker because it looks like it is carrying over that game’s ‘Mother Base’ central command hub that took a bit of adapting to and I will not be going in to that interface blind this time around. This is a huge departure from previous MGS games as the gameplay is changed up big time and now takes place primarily in an open world. I am still getting use to that part, but I am loving the little I have played so far as The Phantom Pain continues to open up with so many options available at Snake’s disposal. I do miss the traditional codec calls, but I understand why Konami switched it up for this game. Speaking of Snake, I thought I would never accept Keifer Sutherland replacing David Hayter as Snake’s voice but after that opening played out I did not second guess it again.

One last thing about Metal Gear! I referenced earlier how the crew at giantbomb.com are my go to crew for gaming based videos. They occasionally do full play-throughs of games with a second person on hand for commentary, and over a couple years from 2004-06 they went through almost all of the core Metal Gear games. Giant Bomb called the series ‘Metal Gear Scanlon’ because their video-guy Drew Scanlon was playing through the Metal Gear games for his first time while resident Metal Gear expert and published author, Dan Ryckert on hand to lend his Metal Gear expertise. During the course of 2017 I watched their playthroughs for the first three Metal Gear Solid entries. They were a riot to have on in the background and watch in chunks here and there. Here is a link to a few highlight packages from their sessions for those who are interested.

3) Mmmmm….Fresh Meat

I have an odd history with the Diablo series. I love hack ‘n slash RPG games, but I have never finished one in the premiere franchises of the genre from acclaimed developer Blizzard. I played a bit of the first chunk of the debut game right around its release on PC, but then my brother Joe started it up and he had more time to dedicate to it than I did so I wound up occasionally watching him play it from time to time instead. The exact same thing happened with the sequel and I saw Joe play that game nonstop for at least a few years. I played the opening couple of missions to the long awaited Diablo III shortly after its release in 2012 at a friend’s but held off picking it up hoping for a console release instead. I was thrilled when it hit console’s the next year and I picked it up on PS3 and Joe and another friend joined us for a few awesome couch co-op sessions of it and we got nearly halfway through the game until it became difficult to arrange nights for all three of us to meet up and continue and eventually the game fell into my gaming backlog abyss.

Fast forward four years and Joe and I picked up our routine, bi-weekly Sunday morning gaming sessions that we use to do all the time until a few years ago. You want to know how long it takes to finish Diablo III and its expansion act when you only have time to commit about three-to-four a month to it? Turns out it takes roughly five months to finish it that way, but it was gratifying to finally cross finishing a Diablo game off my gamer bucket list. I am also mighty thankful that Blizzard made the normal difficulty a relative cakewalk for people like me who do not have ample time to set aside to master the game. We did not lose a single life until we got to the final boss, and even then we finished him off on our third try, and it felt so good! Joe-berg I apologize again for making you sit through all the story and dialogue sequences, I know you want to just keep on hack ‘n slashin’, but you know I gots to absorb that Diablo-lore!

2) Is This Really A Thieve’s End?

When I hosted my videogame podcast that ran from 2005-2013, Sony’s top-of-the-line action/adventure Uncharted games would always rank high on my year-end game of the year lists. Hell, I even dug the Vita entry, Golden Abyss too! I got my PS4 towards the end of 2016 and it came bundled with the fourth game of the series. I wanted to play it right away, but did not want to nickel-and-dime my way through the game like I do for most games nowadays.

I held off on playing the latest version I heard so much praise for until I requested a week off from work in April this last year when I had a few other things going on in that timeframe I needed time off for. During that time I made sure to set aside nearly two hours a day to make decent headway in that game, and I am glad I did because Uncharted 4: A Thieve’s End is the longest game of the entire series and it took me nearly 20 hours to finish. It took me that long because I did what I always do every time I play through Uncharted and took my time to soak in its lush and beautiful environments while I explored off the beaten path for the game’s trademark hidden treasures.

Uncharted 4 ranks right up there with the second game as my two favorite games in the series. The core gunplay and stealth mechanics I had some issues with before got tweaked and are far more enjoyable this time around. This is the first time in the series I did not mind playing stealthy for a change in certain areas. The platforming is just as masterful as ever as I took in every climbing, rope-swinging, and rock-sliding path that was bestowed upon protagonist Nathan Drake. The vintage set piece chase/interactive cinematics are just as impressive as the past few entries as well. I loved the introduction of Nate’s brother Sam to the cast and he perfectly blended into the series. There was one twist with him later on in the narrative that did not get fully explained that kind of rubbed me the wrong way, but other than that the story lives up to the brand’s high standards. Definitely do no skip out on this entry in the series!

Later on in the year a spinoff Uncharted came out subtitled Lost Legacy. It made the bold move of not having Drake as the protagonist and instead casted Drake’s partner-in-crime Chloe from Uncharted 2 & 3 and antagonist Nadine from Uncharted 4 as the two stars. Playing with these two and an open-ended stage that took up a major part of the second act of Lost Legacy combined to significantly change up the core Uncharted gameplay. I approached parts of this game differently than previous installments while still experiencing the aforementioned top-of-class production values from the series. While I hope it is not the final Uncharted game in the series, I hope the series goes on a mini-hiatus for the time being after six awesome entries within 11 years.

1) Zelda + Elder Scrolls = GOTY

The hype leading up to the latest Legend of Zelda game in the series that hit in 2017, Breath of the Wild was impossible to avoid. Nintendo finally changing up the core formula of a console based Zelda for the first time since Ocarina of Time and going to an open-world format was something I had to be there day one for. I still recall playing the first five hours of Breath of the Wild and being fully immersed with its its new levels of open-ended gameplay previously unseen in the series. I instantly fell in love with its world, and for its first several hours of gameplay I felt I was playing something truly special. The only times I felt this way before about a game were for Grand Theft Auto III, the first Halo and the first Uncharted. That is elite company to reside with.

Minus a couple short breaks to focus on other games, I have been consistently playing Breath of the Wild since its release and have invested nearly 100 hours into it. Despite that I have yet to finish it and have only vanquished two divine beasts so far because I love losing myself exploring its world. I rarely make use of fast travel points and I never use horses for fear or running past and missing out on hidden areas/secrets in the game. It took me several hours over many attempts to finish the mystical Eventide Island and I did not mind its grueling challenge to figure out how to overcome the unique predicament that island starts Link off in.

I remember the thrill of finishing off my first ancient machine and defeating the formidable foes that are the Lynels. I did not mind the weapons breaking frequently since it inspired me to mix up my weaponry and try out weapons I would not have otherwise and there are always a constant flux of weapons available. Somehow, someway, Breath of the Wild is the first game to get me into crafting, something I detested in games prior. That jingle it plays when you make a super zesty dish with bonus attributes is an awesome feeling. I am playing this on the WiiU and my only gripe is that it did not have the option to use the gamepad for inventory management. I guess the rain was a minor hindrance too since it prevents climbing, but those minor two gripes aside did not bother me to invest all this time into it throughout the year, and probably just as much time going into 2018 too. This is easily the best time I have had with any Zelda game ever.

Until Next Year….

Phew, thank you for sticking with me throughout this novel of an entry. This was quite the adventure to write, and I give big ups to you if you got through this in its entirety! See you next year for my top 2018 gaming experiences! As a little bonus, if you are not tired yet of clicking through all the supplemental YouTube videos linked above, here is one more that always manages to crack me up when I need to get myself out of a funk, so please click away and enjoy!