Here’s a list of recommendations of things to check out or avoid from what I’ve watched, read and played in 2008.
The Girl Who Leapt Through Time
Man, what a terribly boring year for films. The main one I enjoyed was watching Michael Clayton on the plane over (and back from) GDC, with some great performances in it. The Dark Knight was good, if only for Heath Ledgers performance as The Joker, although the plot was generally random (as usual for comic books I guess). Burn After Reading was also a better-then-average comedy, which I certainly laughed at, but is very, very cringe worthy. I expect something more from the Coen brothers, but perhaps Fargo and the like made me have too high a standard for them 😉
Both Quantum of Solace and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, despite my low expectations of both, do have moments of fun but generally just don’t think too hard and they’re a lot more enjoyable (also, check the Quantum of Solace theme out). I’d pretty much ward people off Crystal Skull though, and watch the originals again instead. I also saw Hancock where all the criticism was basically spot on – Will Smith can’t play “drunk and angry”, and the plot twist half way through is just silly (and somewhat easy to spot there will be one) which is a shame – I’d have preferred more of a parody of superheroes to be the entire film. Hellboy II: The Golden Army and The Incredible Hulk were both passable superhero flicks, with great set pieces in the former (but the plot and characters going no where, or even reversing from the first film), and a watchable plot and some nice bits in the second.
However, animated film wise, I found The Girl Who Leapt Through Time an very good film, on par with any Studio Ghibli’s film, with interesting characters, a unique use of time travel and brilliant animation. I also got to watch another Studio Ghibli film which I got for my Birthday, that being Kiki’s Delivery Service, which was itself a good one to watch – a fun series of events and adventures a young witch goes through. Very fun both of them!
Haruhi Suzumiya and gang playing videogames
On regular TV, the only thing I ever really got around to watching consistently was Have I Got News For You, which had an excellent run of episodes (with some rather less impressive ones). I enjoyed the over the top guest stars – worth catching the Christmas one on iPlayer if you haven’t already seen it. Never Mind The Buzzcocks was generally okay too, and makes me wonder why they never release full series’ of it since there are never any “this week” questions.
From the Anime front I’ve watched several highly regarded shows. The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is a stellar short anime series (with more episodes out soon) based on some light novels, about a group created by a girl interested only in “aliens, time travellers and psychics” – where the dysfunctional group she creates has just those elements in it, plus the person who gave her the idea – a deadpan snarker narrator who is really fun to listen to. Well worth watching since it brings together a good story (which both explains and makes mysterious the various events) and characters with a great mix of genres (sci-fi, comedy, drama, mystery and others), is really well animated with good music, and the best thing I’ve had the pleasure of watching this year – I should have done a separate post for this to be honest 😉
Other ones include Now and Then, Here and There, which within such a short series really pushes up against some tough topics of rape, the use of children in armies and other things, when a boy is teleported along to another place or time where the world has trouble with water shortages and a mysterious girl can create water who he sets out to rescue. I re-watched Azumanga Daioh this year too, a funny set of basically slightly-linked-together 5 minute stories about what those “crazy” (from a boys perspective) high school girls do, especially when a 10 year old prodigy joins them, which is very manageable humour and mostly translates well to English (please don’t watch the dub though).
I was also able to borrow Trigun, which was, for the most part, pretty good – set in a “wild west sci-fi land”, the plot explains why later on, and follows Vash the Stampede, wanted for property damage and followed by two insurance workers. The problem is it lapses to and from seriousness in a very odd way (although the extremes of both are well done), almost being two stories in one, and with a rather abrupt ending (starting out as more a comedy with Vash helping people in odd ways, turning to drama nearer the end). Finally, there is the entirely over the top Hellsing OVA series, which is about the Hellsing organisation which kills vampires and zombies, who has a vampire helping them – Alucard (yes, Dracula backwards 😉 trust me, that’d not bad compared to some of the other names). Action, comedy, and not much seriousness is on the ball here, with Nazi’s and artificial vampires being plot points, you know you’re in for some insanity. Finally, there is The Daughter of Twenty Faces, which follows a girl who becomes an apprentice of a mysterious thief, with quite a bit of drama, action and comedy all mixed up, and a somewhat well explained story over the course of the series too. I’d recommend any of these series’ to those who haven’t seen them, but probably The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya first, and maybe even Now and Then, Here and There second for the divergent types they are. The Daughter of Twenty Faces is a very watchable third though.
Hyperion. Not the cover of my version, which is purple, and doesn’t exist according to the web.
Man, my book reading has slipped – I did hardly any at University, where I didn’t take any books to read. In any case, I have re-read several Terry Prattchett Discworld books (among them the great Small Gods, Witches Abroad and Feet of Clay, rather random ones though), and also read his newest one Making Money, which I’d certainly say isn’t as good as earlier ones but contains enough to keep me interested (and really, I read it late 2007, but I didn’t do this last year 😉 ). Well worth reading the series, doing it by release date is nice if you go down the library and book them out in order.
I also found a new series that I sunk my teeth into, the Hyperion Cantos, a set of 4 books by Dan Simmons. Very space-opera rather then technology focused Sci-Fi which was refreshing, and ultimately engrossing page-turner books. Highly recommended 😀 (I got the recommendation from someone in 2007, takes me a while to catch up to them myself).
On the DS, if you enjoy turn based strategy, I’d recommend Advance Wars: Days of Ruin – a less humorous plot (sadly) but different challenges, and okay skirmish too. I also imported the newest Ace Attorney game, which has some twists and turns but basically reads as a graphic novel – you do want to read it though, it’s well done and worth checking out the series if you enjoy comedy court drama (it’s much better then it sounds).
I also got a Wii this year, and have played Guitar Hero 3, Super Mario Strikers and Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Guitar Hero is good fun, although now surpassed by Rock Band and Guitar Hero: World Tour. Smash Bros. Brawl is hard, and the football game is pretty much short football matches. I need to get more games for my Wii, maybe in 2009 I’d have actually got around to playing Super Mario Galaxy, Okami and No More Heroes!
For PC games, Sins of a Solar Empire provides a decent amount of play time (but lacks a singleplayer campaign, which will hopefully appear in a cheap expansion). I’d recommend it when the first expansion is out for that very fact – the multiplayer is still fun, but hard to learn and no doubt a singleplayer campaign will help that. Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War: Soulstorm is a passable expansion to Dawn of War, now patched it might be worth getting cheaper if you haven’t played it – the campaign is basically a lot of skirmish games, which if you install better AI for is actually quite fun. I still wish they’d have released mod tools, or fixed the modding possibilities in the game, but Relic have gimped nearly every game/expansion since the original modding wise (the next one with a big red “can’t mod” over it, sigh).
Exposition! Exposition! Exposition! (not the highlight of the game)
Assassin’s Creed came out on PC this year, which was enjoyable enough parkour to keep me playing, but the story might have used some work (long exposition from corpses, no thanks). I also got Civilization 4: Complete (the game plus all expansions) which is awesome – I was certainly late to the party, which is a shame, since the game is a lot of fun – I’m currently in a Play By Email game on the original, if that gets finished I’ll post on it 🙂 . Finally, I also played through Neverwinter Nights 2: Storm of Zehir, harkoning back to the original Baldur’s Gate which set the series’ off, the overland map and battles are fun – definitely the best of the NWN2 series for sheer fun and bang for buck (I’ll post more on it later I think).
Of note there was also Mighty Jill Off, Red Alert, Max Payne (1 and 2), and Deus Ex, which I’ve still yet to complete. All great games, well worth checking out even if they’re old.
I also got to play Braid on the Xbox 360, which was interesting playing with two others – one puzzle stumped us, which has made me not evangelical about a game which is, more or less, you vs. the developer (like many puzzle and adventure games). Still well worth playing! I also got to play through Halo 3 co-op (overrated, but fun enough combat), N+ co-op (hard to insane on later levels, but fun for people who like platformers I guess!), and You’re In The Movies – which was a strange minigame thing to record you on camera, for a final trailer, and pretty fun.
Still on my “To Play Early 2009” list is S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Clear Sky, which I have, and others which I’ll need to buy – Fallout 3 (definitely) , Far Cry 2 (maybe), Red Alert 3 (maybe), Mirror’s Edge (probably, once it’s cheaper), Grand Theft Auto IV (needs patching, DRM issues abound) and Mass Effect (still not got it, and also problematic DRM).
Whew…roll on 2009!
If anyone else has some good recommendations on books to read, films to watch and videogames to play, I’d not mind hearing them 😉 I’ve left out many other things I watched, played and read which I’ve forgotten or just don’t think is worth posting about, so you can guess the quality, so I’m looking for great things to do and play in 2009 now!