1.03.2014

DIY project: Raptors jersey overhaul



For Christmas, I received a Toronto Raptors jersey, which is pretty cool. Unfortunately it was a Rudy Gay jersey, which is problematic for two reasons. One, he's no longer on the team, and that's a fantastic thing because, two, he has terrible shot selection and the team's gone on a winning streak since dumping his contract on Sacramento.

So I was stuck with an only moderately cool fan item. But yesterday, an idea hit me: why not flip that G upside-down, and turn it into a J? Not only do people sometimes call me "Jay", but my initials are JAY. I wasn't sure it would work out, but I had to try it.


The first step was to use a sewing needle to break the stitching on the G, thereby removing it from the shirt. It was very time-consuming and fiddly, and there was a lot of leftover thread and cotton. It looked like this afterward:


I cut part of the G off, which left me with a slightly off-looking J:


So I cut another corner off of the removed G serif, and glued it onto the back of the J, to give it a more consistent look:


The next part was definitely the trickiest, as I had to sew the darn J onto the back of the jersey by hand. I'm proud that it only turned out slightly crooked.


I think it turned out pretty well, and now I have something to wear when I'm breaking fools' ankles on the court. Or, more likely, when I'm in the overpriced seats at the ACC.

It's going to be so great when Drake ruins overhauls the team's whole aesthetic for next season.

12.31.2013

The best games of 2013

I can't let a year go by without putting together a top 10 list of the best videogames. I played a lot of cool games this year, but as it turns out, not many of them actually came out in 2013.

After some reflection, however, here are the best ones that did.

Honourable Mention: Ridiculous Fishing (iOS)

10. Year Walk (iOS)

9. Shin Megami Tensei IV (3DS)

8. Guacamelee! (Vita)

7. 怪獣が出る金曜日 / Attack of the Friday Monsters (3DS)

6. Tearaway (Vita)

5. Super Mario 3D World (Wii U)

4. Hatsune Miku Project Mirai 2 (3DS)

3. Gunpoint (PC)

2. Pikmin 3 (Wii U)

1. The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds (3DS)

Overall it was a strange year in gaming, now that I think of it. And three of these games came out on the same day (November 22), which is remarkable.

Hard to believe a Zelda game tops the list in 2013, but there you have it.

2.07.2013

Bravely Default is a very excellent JRPG videogame


In his excellent Winners’ History of Rock and Roll series for Grantland, Steven Hyden writes

the average rock fan tends to burrow deep into subgenres and sub-subgenres, feasting on refinements of stuff they already like. Rock now caters in specificity, not broadness; most rock records these days are geared toward aging collectors already buried in rock records.

Whether intentional or not, Hyden argues, an isolationist attitude has begun to prevail among people who are enthusiastic about rock records as they’ve been traditionally defined. As a lifelong ‘videogame nerd’--but more specifically, a fan of games of Japanese origin, especially so-called RPGs--I can relate to that tendency. Rather than swinging wildly between genres and forms in the increasingly overwhelming jungle of game-fun options out there, it’s somehow more inviting to burrow deeply into one particular subgenre. There’s a certain comfort level that comes with this kind of fenced-off specificity. The genre enthusiast might risk missing out on what other forms may have to offer, but experiencing those things in an equally informed way--appreciating, rather than just playing, or just listening--would require an education, at least a primer. Better, then, to debate minutia and intricacies in a well-established and well-worn form.

But there’s at least one pretty big difference between rock records and JRPGs: the former has some vestigial built-in remnant of ‘cool’ associated with it, handed down from a time when rock was edgy and denim-clad and long-haired. JRPGs, on the other hand, might also have denim and long-hair associations, though much more unfortunate ones, probably. As far as I know, they have never really been ‘cool’ signifiers, anywhere in the world. Dragon Quest might sell millions and millions of copies in Japan, but ‘cool’ certainly has some kind of outsider, minority status implied, right?

Maybe, the rock record niche-ification, with its ‘cool’-ness still somehow intact, is inspiring other niche-dwellers to confuse the niche-ness for the ‘cool’-ness. As if the very act of cordoning oneself off in a genre-defined zone is the source of the ‘cool’, since specificity and depth (rather than breadth) of knowledge give the illusion of something worth knowing due to its apparent barrier to entry. Sure, bro, everyone’s played Super Mario Bros., but I’ve max-leveled all my dudes in Phantasy Star IV. I learned Japanese just so I could experience Mother 3 the way it was intended. And so on.

Eventually, thanks to built-in attention from long-established mainstream media outlets, the rock and roll enthusiast cult became aware of, and began to revel in, its outsider-y, exclusionary position. Rock bands, now, don’t aim to sell millions of copies of records or get airplay on MTV - those options don’t exist anymore, so their craft has changed to reflect that. Bands dig deeper into established sounds, hoping to satisfy small but dedicated fanbases. The results of those bands’ craft often sounds ‘good’ or ‘cool’ or like ‘deeply destabilizing queasiness, amplified … to a frightening degree’, and a certain crowd of sanctioned cool-dudes has their cool-dude-ness reaffirmed once more. No one bats an eyelash.

JRPGs are, in the realm of videogames, like rock in the realm of popular music: no longer that relevant, dinosaurs from an ancient age when a lot about the form hadn’t yet been figured out. Just as most eleven-year-olds you know today are probably not huge Japandroids fans, they probably also aren’t counting down the days until Etrian Odyssey IV finally gets localized and released. Ni No Kuni was released outside of Japan recently, much to the fanfare of 35-year-old white dudes, while 11-year-olds everywhere kept flinging Angry Birds and whatever it is they do with Skylanders. This would almost certainly not have been the case in a bygone age (the ‘70s and early ‘80s for rock, 1997ish for JRPGs).

But JRPGs don’t have any ‘cool’-ness attached. In fact, they’ve got quite the opposite aroma about them, and their ardent fans aren’t usually proclaiming fandom out loud to the public, mostly because they often suffer from crippling social phobias, lol. (I’ve been watching too much Freaks and Geeks lately.) So while being informed and being passionate are already well-realized traits in the JRPG fan community (check out a cool new website called gamefaqs.com for proof), being ‘cool’--or socially congratulated for your carefully cultivated niche tastes--is nowhere in sight. You could argue that it’s not even desired, and that that is a form of ‘cool’, but let’s not go too far down the rabbit hole. Developers of JRPGs are like modern rock bands in the sense that they cling for dear life to established conventions in the hopes that died-in-the-wool fans will continue to lap up what they’ve always lapped up before. There is little attention paid to luring in new fans. This is why a new Ys game released in Japan can retail for the equivalent of $100 Canadian and/or American Dollars--people will pay it, and happily!

Unfortunately, the creepy, geeky, borderline pedophelic tendencies that apparently (that must, because fanbait for these personality traits keeps getting churned out) exist in the JRPG fan community seem to dictate what the risk-averse publishers for these increasingly-niche-ified entertainments are willing to include in their products. Look at stuff like Atelier Ayesha: The Alchemist of Dust or Hyperdimension Neptunia V (they’ve made five of them!!)--you either don’t know what they are, or would be afraid to be seen playing them in public, or both. And rightfully so!

So niche does not equal cool, and the majority of makers of JRPG niche products seem fine with that trend continuing--or perhaps herding the JRPG niche further and further away from the cool kids. But every once in a while, someone with apparent and palpable life experience outside of gross cigarette-stained windowless meeting rooms makes a JRPG. And we get something like Mother 3.

Or, we get Bravely Default Flying Fairy. The first JRPG I’ve played that seems to want to reward dedication to a genre the way modern rock bands do. That is, it respects its audience, and instead of pandering to its most base, depraved tendencies, appeals to its highest aesthetic preferences, with an assumption that the person appreciating this crafted piece--this game--is probably also a person capable of appreciating a fine red wine or a Milan Kundera novel or a set of Egyption cotton 1000-count bedhseets. Bravely Default applies the highest artistic standards (capable on a Nintendo 3DS) to the best conventions of its genre, and then works to turn the player’s expectations of those genres inside-out in a way best appreciated by longtime fans of said genre. It is the second-ever JRPG--after Mother 3--that I’ve played that seems to display real literary authorial intent. But whereas Shigesato Itoi’s scenario might have worked just as well--arguably even better--as a novel or stage play, it’s hard to imagine Naotaka Hayashi’s script and plot working in any format other than a ‘traditional’ JRPG.

Somehow, everything about the game feels convincingly like a loving tribute to classic Final Fantasy games while at the same time a clever satire of everything traditionally attributed to that brand. And if there was ever any doubt of that intention, just notice the FF in Flying Fairy, and know that even that is absolutely deliberate. In fact it is integral to one of the most genuinely fantastic ‘shocking reveals’ I’ve seen in a videogame! If you can, you should play this game soon, before that spoiler becomes canonized.

The story starts out with four warriors on a quest to rescue four powerful elemental crystals, which is a little too on-the-nose, really. By the end, however, events become bleak and borderline-sadistic in a way that’s comparable to Game of Thrones. The characters start out as typical trope collections--the naive village boy who becomes a hero, the sheltered and upstanding maiden, the amnesia-afflicted rogue womanizer, and the sassy no-nonsense lady who clashes with him. There’s also a fairy companion, mentioned in that clumsy-but-awesome title. But over the course of the game, each of them develops fully-realized personalities that are not at all in keeping with genre norms. They are characters in the real sense of the word, not the hollow archetypes we usually find in these games. Though there are moments of light-hearted humour and a couple of catch-phrases (the sassy lady often says mugugu! in a very grating way when she’s angry), they come off more like winking concessions to genre than attempts at lols. The game borrows the Party Chat feature from the Tales series to convey a lot of this character development, transforming that feature from a tedious series of interruptions to a welcome series of dialog flourishes.

Battle, the other pillar of JRPGs, is fun and snappy. Like the story and characters, the system in Bravely Default is grounded in tradition and expanded in meaningful ways. It’s still essentially all choosing menu options and taking turns with the enemies, but you’re also able to stack turns offensively or defensively. So are enemies. This adds a whole degree of strategy, and actually demands that the player think! There’s also a job system, because that was fun in Final Fantasy V and half of the Dragon Quest games. But maybe the nicest touch is a fast-forward button, so you can sit through battle animations leisurely, or speed them up, at any point in battle, at your leisure. But the more inventive and exciting additions to the battle system come in the game’s acknowledgement of Street Pass and the 3DS’s online capabilities. At any time during any battle, you can ‘record’ one move by one character, then upload this recording to a player profile. You can then Street Pass and exchange these recorded moves with other players, or swap with friends over the internet, and summon each others’ characters into battle. It’s a pretty neat idea! And given the degree of flexibility in the multi-tiered job system, it’s exciting to see what move sets other people have come up with for their characters. There’s also a world-building mini-game that is powered by collecting Street Passes. The more Street Passes you collect, the faster you can rebuild the main character’s home town, which rewards you with fancy weapons and limit breaks. It’s clever! And it gives an interesting social angle to an otherwise intensely single-player game.

Finally, as if they knew they had a really special core game nugget on their hands, Silicon Studios really went all-out on the game’s presentation. The music is mostly orchestral with some synths and electric guitars mixed in, and definitely good enough to warrant playing with headphones. And somehow, nearly the whole god darn game is voice acted, and pretty well at that! I understand that a lot of the cast is made up of heavy hitters from the world of seiyuu, though I don’t really know for sure. How’d they fit all that voicework onto that there little cartridge, I often wondered. Because I am an old man and I don’t understand how these things work. But my old man eyes sure do love gazing upon the pre-rendered backgrounds and squat little polygon characters. Each environment looks hand painted, and the camera zooms way out to cinematic angles in a really lovely way. Plus the characters’ different job-dependent costumes are all bursting with neat details that aren’t just buckles and pleather and belts everywhere. It’s visually very pleasing. Like Final Fantasy IX, but directed by an ukiyoe master, and with character design by Akihiko Yoshida.

Still, despite all the loving craft so obviously bundled into this little game, I’d still be really hard-pressed to recommend it to anyone who’s never loved a JRPG before. Uniquely, it isn’t even the type of shining example of genre that you could extend to someone uninitiated in the hopes of drawing them into your own chosen enclave. But for a certain type of deep JRPG enthusiast, it’s hard not to see this as a pinnacle of the form.

12.26.2012

All Ten Everything

For the past few years, I have anticipated the Giant Bomb Game of the Year Spectacular with more and more excitement. I think it's safe to say it's become my favourite year-end holiday tradition. It's my Oscars. Of course every publication in the world is putting out top ten (or top 50, or top 100) lists at this time of year, and I feel like I do my part to read a good chunk of them.

It's also traditional for me to engage in this list-building. So here are my top ten movies, albums, podcasts, and games of 2012. For all of those except podcasts, this year was tougher than usual, because I spent an uncharacteristic amount of time absorbing stuff from years previous, particularly books and comic books. Also, shout out to books, comic books and TV shows! I liked some of those in 2012 too, but not enough of each to compile a list. Oh well!

MOVIES
I'm not even sure I saw more than ten movies that came out this year, to be honest! So compiling this list could include some clunkers out of sheer number-necessity. In fact I'm pretty sure I can list all of the 2012 films I saw on this list. Maybe I only watched nine from start to finish? I probably have no business making a list like this, but I liked all of my top five a whole lot!

10. (three-way tie!) Dark Shadows, Brave, Seeking a Friend for the End of the World
What do these three have in common? I tried to watch all of them on an airplane, got about 20 minutes into each, and in all three cases, found I would rather stare out the airplane window in silence than watch the film in question.

9. ベルセルク:黄金時代II編ドルドレイ攻略 (Berserk Golden Age Arc II: The Battle for Doldrey)
Again, this was a pretty awful movie,  but it's notable for two reasons. One, it taught me what a low-budget animated feature film can look like, and that is: pretty bad. It's computer-generated, with 3D models that are shaded to look like they're hand-drawn 2D. Very unpleasant to look at, especially on the big screen. This film did, however, have the single most awkward sex scene I have ever witnessed. It was the major talking point between me and my friends afterward. Man was it awkward!

8. 逆転裁判 (The Phoenix Wright movie)
Takashi Miike directed a lovingly-detailed film about a series of Game Boy Advance games that is incredibly faithful to the source material. I'm still not sure whether I liked this movie or not, but it was impressive, to say the least. 

7. The Amazing Spider-Man
The Mary Jane and Peter scenes were better than the Spider-Man scenes. But this was the first time I watched a Spider-Man movie and didn't strongly dislike anything about it. I was a huge Spider-Man fan as a kid, so it is with some authority that I say this movie nailed it.

6. Tim and Eric's Billion Dollar Movie
The only movie I watched this year that made me desperate to discuss it with someone afterward. Sadly (or perhaps, luckily), no one else saw it : (
The first half was brilliant, actual-lol inducing anti-comedy, and the second half was just deeply upsetting. I still think about this one from time to time. They accomplished something here, I'm just not sure what.

5. The Avengers
This is the most fun anyone had at the movies this year.

4. Safety Not Guaranteed
A weird, cute indie film with a spectacularly unbelievable premise. And yet somehow, it works. Plus I have the biggest crush on Aubrey Plaza. OMG, you guys.

3. Looper
Two of my favourite actors in a smart, well-realized, plausible dystopic near-future. Gritty and violent, thoroughly gripping. Plus I saw it in NYC, which gave it some extra grit (and grip (the floors of the theatre were kind of sticky)).

2. Skyfall
Like anyone who came of age with GoldenEye 007 on that there N64 machine, I've always had a part of my brain saying James Bond is pretty cool, I guess. But I've never truly cared about a James Bond film before (perhaps because I grew up with Pierce Brosnan as Bond (and saw all of the Brosnan Bond films)). 
This is the best of the Daniel Craig Bond films, and maybe the best action movie I have ever seen. Stylish, sexy, exquisitely paced. Great performances from everyone involved. The new Q and the new M have me excited for where this series goes... assuming they can keep Craig involved.

1. The Master
I really need to see this one again, if only to attempt to resolve some of the weird, seemingly-unreal scenes and vague ending. And yet, it might be redundant, because somehow, so much of this film's imagery is seared permanently into my mind. PT Anderson somehow captured what it feels like to be a man by subtly positing some of the deepest questions about identity, sexuality, determination. All with two of the most unlikable yet thoroughly captivating leads I've seen in any medium. 


ALBUMS
I guess it's debatable as to whether the concept of the album is still relevant in 2012. But I think to music nerds (which I still kind of consider myself one of, to some degree), the album still stands as an important, cohesive, musical statement. 

Shout out to The Hunter by Mastodon. It was released in 2011, but I still listened to it more than most other albums this year. It is my favourite car-driving music, most probably. Especially when my bro Andrew (Bear) is in the car with my and we yell about how face-meltingly awesome it is. Good times.

10. Wild Water Kingdom by Heems
The only record this year that made me text a friend (in this case, my sister) on the other side of the god darn planet and demand that she immediately listen to a song (the title track) even though/specifically because she was at a house party at the time.

9. Reloaded by Roc Marciano
Nimble wordplay about guns and sex over the grungiest production since 1995. This is time capsule rap. Nostalgic perfection. Makes me feel like a badass walking around at night with this in my headphones. 

8. Ultraista by Ultraista
Nigel Godrich and downtempo, grumpy basslines over stuttery electronic percussion. Like a Thom Yorke solo album without Thom Yorke. Laura Bettinson's voice is so smooth and sexy-perfect over this production. Glossy gorgeous date music.

7. Cruel Summer by G.O.O.D. Music
Look. I love Kanye, okay? I always have, and always will (unless he releases another 808s and Heartbreak - one of those is quite enough). I still say, for all its potential, that Watch the Throne was pretty disappointing. This record, on the other hand, despite featuring waaaay too much Big Sean (aka the luckiest man in the music business) and 2 Chainz, also has some of the most interesting sonic experimentation we've ever heard from Kanye. Plus that Kid Cudi track! It's the only song this year I sentimentally, half-drunkenly (okay maybe not half-) proclaimed to be my jam on social media.

6. Channel Orange by Frank Ocean
There's a reason why this is on literally everybody's list. Gorgeous voice, varied song structures, compelling storytelling. The only album I listened to straight through on good headphones in the dark. This is what people mean when they call music cinematic. 

5. FEZ O.S.T by Disasterpiece
Oh brother, a videogame soundtrack! Well this music stands on its own, and opens a portal straight to some weird other world of swirling electronic eddies and tides. I'll never forget driving along the coast after an exhausting day of cycling and swimming, listening to this. Hypnotic.

4. Cancer 4 Cure by El-P
This man is responsible in large part for the soundtrack to my life. He is the only guy in music who is simultaneously as angry, confused, vulnerable, and volatile as I feel. His production sounds like the end of the world, and his raps are bitter and meticulous. 

3. TNGHT EP by TNGHT
I hope everyone who aspires to make hip-hop beats for the rest of time considers this a mandatory source of inspiration going forward. It sounds like a party in a warehouse on a city block that is currently being pelted by asteroids, and all the car alarms are going off at once. I can only imagine what this shit would sound like with a capable MC rapping over top. 

2. 51 by Kool A.D.
Das Racist broke up this year, which is the Saddest Thing of 2012. Luckily, Kool A.D. put out this sprawling mess of half-baked (looool, weed reference) ideas. It's overly long, mostly incredibly stupid-on-purpose, and trivial. But it sounds like a guy giving zero fucks, having fun, and projecting himself, flaws and all. It sounds honest. It sounds like a guy I'd totally want to hang out with and shoot the shit with. I listened to this more than anything else this year, and I still laugh at plenty of the punchlines. 

1. Good Kid, m.A.A.d City by Kendrick Lamar
Instant classic. This will be discussed for years to come. Just when it seemed like rap maybe really was dead (it's still kind of on life support), Kendrick comes along to save it. This is resuscitation music. Personal, lyrical, funny, sad, intelligent. One of those rare records that just gets better with each listen. I had this on repeat for a solid month, and I'm still not finished absorbing all that it has to offer. This one is in my Top Ten of all time, for sure, and I'm reasonably sure it's there to stay. 


PODCASTS
Because I just can't get enough of white people chatting away incessantly!

10. Babel 
From CBC Radio, this is a look at the English language in all its various forms. For someone who loves words and language (me), and also someone who is ostensibly a teacher (also me), this is very captivating stuff, and gives many new facets with which to understand this global language.

9. The Best Show on WFMU
At times funny, at times unbearably boring, at least Tom Scharpling is always giving 100%. Outside of WTF, this is the most engaging character study of one guy. And Gary the Squirrel is a constant bright spot in the dull, gray corridors of life.

8. Stop Podcasting Yourself
Dave and Graham are the reason I fell in love with podcasts in earnest. They still make me laugh regularly, but they seem to have gotten a bit too comfortable lately. This podcast needs some kind of shake-up, but I still eagerly listen to each episode as quickly as I can.

7. The Champs
I took some time away from this one, but am very glad I came back. DJ Doug Pound's drops are the most dada thing in the podcast world, and constantly hilarious. Neal Brennan and Moshe Kasher have the same god darn voice, which is endlessly fascinating. And their concept of Only Black Guests is surprisingly rewarding.

6. The Insert Credit Podcast
The best videogame podcast because they talk about games in a wider, cultural sense. Ten topics, six minutes each. Brilliant format. Plus they featured my comments a few times this year, which was neat.

5. Hang Up and Listen
Sports talk radio that's actually intelligent. Though they tend to ramble on ad nauseum sometimes, they make a lot of interesting points, and serve as a nice counter-balance to the PTIs and BS Reports of the world (both of which I also quite enjoy).

4. VGMpire
Videogame music, lovingly curated by people with deep knowledge of the source material. Sometimes the discussions get too nerdy, and the one guy has just the most awful voice and has no business being on a podcast. Otherwise, fun, informative, and nostalgic. Plus my friend Adam has known these dudes since childhood? Small world much!?

3. The Slate Culture Gabfest
Still the closest thing to an enjoyable university-style experience in my day-to-day life, whether they intend it to sound that way or not. Deep cultural discussion by passionate New York intellectuals. I always need a bit of that in my life.

2. My Brother, My Brother and Me
This one has been going on for a while, but I just discovered it this year. The brothers McElroy are consistently hilarious, and should never be listened to while driving a car. So dangerous. This has surpassed SPY as my number one reason for having a Maximum Fun bumper sticker on my car. 

1. WTF with Marc Maron
Marc Maron is my modern-day philosopher of choice. Not so much a funny comedian as a deeply inquisitive man who is angry and overly sensitive and honest. His interviews capture something inherent to the human condition. I've said it before, but Maron is doing Important Work here.


VIDEOGAMES
This year was finally the year where it felt like you could skip out on all the big-budget, dumb, shoot-dudes games and still have a heck of a fun. That's what I did, anyway!

Shout out to Saints Row the Third and NHL 12 for being amazing 2011 games that I didn't play until 2012 and that helped me during my post-accident recovery times. Also to Super Mario 3D Land and Dark Souls, for being 2011 games that were better than anything released this year!

10. みんなのゴルフ6 (Hot Shots Golf World Invitational)
Since the days of the Genesis and the Game Boy Color, I have always had a soft spot for golf games. I downloaded Mario Golf GBC earlier this year, and sunk considerable time into it. Then I got a Vita, with this game, and all other golf games are ruined for me. Perfect for 15-minute play bursts, cute yet challenging, and full of unlockable stuff. Plus gorgeous graphics, especially on a handheld.

9. Persona 4 The Golden
I don't know, this is technically a souped-up version of a 2008 game, but it feels like the additions made are enough to qualify it as a new thing. Plus I'm playing it in Japanese now, which feels so much better. Whatever. This game is fantastic and needs to be recognized. It's a shame it was only released on the Vita (unless you own a Vita, where it is awesome and makes you happy you own a Vita).

8. とびだせ!どうぶつの森 (Animal Crossing: New Leaf)
Sometimes this game feels more like tedious busy work, but then something adorable happens and it's all worthwhile. Kind of like life.

7. Street Fighter X Mega Man
How did this take 25 years to happen!? Why was it released only to the PC!? Who decided that Rolento and Urien and C. Viper were good choices as bosses!? So many mysteries! This is better than Mega Man 9 or 10, by the way. So much fun.

6. 世界樹の迷宮IV:伝承の巨神 (Etrian Odyssey IV)
Hardcore as it gets. Captivated me utterly for 20 hours or so, after which the repetitive nature of the grind just began to destroy my resolve. Still, this game is doing something I wish more did: challenge the player and respect the player's intelligence, on a Dark Soulsian level.

5. ファイアーエムブレム覚醒 (Fire Emblem: Awakening)
Excellent turn-based strategy that hearkens back to Advance Wars. Strong character designs with clean lines and bold use of colors. Plus an overarching metagame that makes you care about the development of your characters. This was my XCOM this year. (I'm waiting till I get a better PC to play XCOM for real.)

4. The Walking Dead
Each episode, upon its release, felt like a huge event. Characters I could care about in a genuinely emotionally draining story. Lacked in actual gameplay, and I felt a bit let down by the ending, but still, a powerful piece of entertainment. 

3. Journey
The most emotionally powerful single-sitting game I've ever experienced. More of a gorgeous interactive piece of art than a game, in most ways, but utterly captivating regardless. Completing it felt vaguely euphoric, and losing friends along the way felt poignant.

2. Spelunky
Kind of crept up on me, this one. It's a slow burn. I didn't realize how much I loved it at first, but it's stuck around, kept me coming back all year. And though I've still made very little progress, I'm confident I'll keep returning for years, chipping away little by little. Plus great fun in two-player mode. This is the Game for Gamers of 2012.

1. FEZ
Glitchy but glorious. Nothing else felt as tremendous this year, in any medium, than the moment when FEZ's deep ambitions fully unraveled themselves. Being there at the game's release, when the online community was buzzing with cooperative play, was crucial to my experience of the game, and I've never experienced anything quite like that. FEZ allows so many different levels of play at once, it's kind of astounding. Despite some very deep flaws, this is the first game outside of Miyamoto's milieu that I feel comfortable calling a work of genius. And oh, that soundtrack!

***

Well, 2012 was pretty okay! Maybe 2013 will be even better.

12.05.2012

The Best Things of All

The Internet was invented so that people could compile lists of things.

Thus, just in time for The Holiday Season, here is my list of The 25 Best Things of All. The list is not ordered, as that would be nearly impossible.

I would love to know what everyone else thinks the Best Things are!

New York hip hop. The birthplace of the world's greatest style of music, and still home to the most interesting, exciting people doing it. That's not to say the rest of the world doesn't make excellent hip hop records. But NY owns hip hop. Nothing else sounds so rugged, so built for cold, small spaces (like my heart), so important.

Really listening. To music, to the world around you, but most importantly to the person you're talking to at any given moment. It's the key to any deep, memorable exchange. Everyone is eager to speak their piece, but too often, we forget to listen. This is how connections are made between people. It's how to end conflict, in so many cases.

Sex. When it's really done right, between two (or more! or fewer!) people who really care. Not in a love sense necessarily. I mean caring about making sure everyone is having a good time, being respected, feeling comfortable, and really getting there. So much of human experience is intellectual and emotional, but we have bodies for a reason. We might as well use them to have as much fun and feel as good as possible.

Limited-time flavoured snack items and beverages. This is my refuge from the daily grind of boring life. You may have heard that I sometimes write about these things.

NBA basketball. I love a lot of sports, whether it's playing or watching or talking about them. World Cup Soccer comes close, but it only happens once every four years. The NBA is the most exciting league, with the biggest weirdos, most engaging personalities, best sense of style, and most interesting storytelling. Also basketball - maybe the best sport around - is gorgeous when played at this level.

Awkward photographs. There's nothing like capturing forever the essential vulnerability of being a person in the world. We laugh or groan because we recognize a little bit of ourselves in these photos, or wish we did.

Physical exercise to the point of exhaustion. Like sex, this reminds us that being a living human means occupying a physical space. Working out and totally Pushing It To The Limit feels like getting high on your own supply. It's taking care of the vessel you've got to work with. It's just so rewarding.

The secret rhythms and music made by everyday objects. You know? Like when you make a bunch of photocopies and kind of find your head bobbing along to the smooth ka-joong, chk, ka-joong, chk, ka-joong, chk. 

Earnest expressions of love and affection. Whether it's romantic love or just telling your bros that you really love them, man. This includes sharing weird secret in-jokes with your closest friends, telling someone you appreciate something unique about them, or hand-drawing a little picture for someone for no particular reason.

Dogs. They're the most unintentionally hilarious dudes on Earth. We often keep them around precisely because they're stupid and constantly doing dumb things. But if you've ever come home to a dog who loves you, you've experienced life at its most wonderful.

Reviews of things. Often better and more interesting than the things themselves! What's the first thing you want to do after seeing a movie that's made you feel anything? Discuss it with someone! Reviews are (at their best) people with interesting opinions giving you another way of looking at something, and adding fascinating layers to the way you experience life.

Twitter. If you don't find Twitter fascinating, you're either following the wrong people, or are a huge jerk : (  Imagine getting text messages direct from people's brains at all hours of the day. They often include photos, links, and social movements. This is the first step in humans realizing Why We Invented the Internet. It wasn't just for lists of things after all!  : O

Coffee. It's the only thing that is totally okay to be addicted to! Stimulating, aromatic, warming. It brings people together. It gets me through the day. It's also pretty fucking weird when you think about it. 'Hey what if we take this awful-tasting bean, and roast it till it's nearly burnt, and then make a drink out of it? That could be good, maybe.' Thanks, weirdo a long time ago who thought this way!

Sentimental fiction writing about the sadness and the minutia in individual people's lives. This is the exact reason this type of writing still exists. It's the type of experience that can't be captured in any other medium, even dumb livejournals (though countless teens have tried their darndest). Junot Diaz (one of our greatest living authors) said that novels create unexpected bonds between people across all the gaps: gender, age, time period, race, whatever. That's some type of magic right there.

Handheld videogames from Japan. A lot of videogames are pretty neat. Most are terrible, though : (  And sure, they originated in arcades and on old crappy TVs. But they really came into their own with the Game Boy and Tetris in 1989. The handheld videogame is intimate and private and personal but still super fun. The game design is usually more laser-beam focused. You can play with headphones and really just get absorbed. Plus pushing those little buttons remains one of the most viscerally satisfying tiny experiences. Like popping bubble wrap. It's fun just to hold a 3DS and press its buttons - you don't even need to be playing a darn videogame.

Sleeping next to someone cute. Because you don't even really properly sleep! You cuddle up next to them. You wake up to find they've moved over, so you scoot over, and without waking up they kind of nestle into you. You find all the ways your bodies fit alongside one another, and cuddle up in ways you'd find too precious during waking hours. Then eventually the sun comes filtering in through the curtains, and you realize you've both been awake for a little while, but are both still kind of pretending to still be asleep, and you catch little half-asleep glimpses of one another, and eventually you both laugh, just a little. Then you say good morning and when you say it sounds like a cup of warm cocoa and you're really just 100% happy for that one split second.

Curry. All the best food nations in the world have their own signature curry. Yet each one is totally different from the next! You can put anything in there and it tastes awesome. You can scale the spiciness to suit anyone's tastes. It can even be a god darn soup.

Podcasts. They capture the nearly-forgotten spirit of radio, the human need to reach out and talk, even if maybe no one is listening. The difference is, with some podcasts, often no one at all is listening. It's like having intimate chats with someone you'll never meet, and when one connects, it's the strangest, most satisfying one-sided friendship ever.

Comics and manga that seem like a direct line to their creator's brain(s). What's more childlike and endearing than drawing pictures and telling little stories? We all do it when we're five years old. Most people grow out of it. Some don't. Some just become more adept at it. Thank goodness for those people.

Animals wearing people clothes. I'm not talking about your chihuahua in its Louis Vuitton jumper. I'm talking about a sloth wearing oversized sunglasses. A pig dressed up in a chef's hat. A monkey wearing overalls. There are limitless combinations.

Caring what really old people think about things in a non-judgmental way. Have you ever really just sat and listened to some really old person talk about how they remember things? It's fascinating. These people are our best link to times we'll never experience ourselves. They help us understand how far we've come, and also how little some things ever change.

Having fun with words. Language - especially languages spoken all over the darn place, like English - is so malleable and personalizable, it's a shame everyone doesn't take the chance to hammer out their own turns of phrase, and really dig deep to express what's on their mind.

Crushy feelings. Carly Rae said it best. I can't recapture it here. Flirting and getting to know and just being in the presence of someone you're interested in in this way makes the heart bounce around in wiggly pastel-coloured cartoony ways. I love this feeling and hope everyone gets to experience it as often as possible.

Just walking around. Whether you're in a brand new city or just at home, it's great to just amble around, without a real target or goal. Just slow the heck down everyone. Take life in. Reflect. Say hi to the world.

Drinking exactly the right amount of alcohol. Don't get drunk and fall down and barf everywhere. Don't have a darn hangover. Just socially lubricate yourself. Feel that little warm glow, and feel like everyone around you is just the greatest. If you drink skillfully, all the best parts about life are made just a little more lovely and saccharine. Sometimes that's all we really need.

11.16.2012

Konbini Gaiden: Takanashi Tasty Banana Latte



Perhaps it was inevitable: this delicious banana funtime drink has a KG-style review stamped right onto its packaging. I've been made obsolete! Granted, I've never heard of the folks over at Takanashi, but, not only have they come up with a delicious beverage, they've labeled it clearly and concisely--in English!

Take you a look:

''Rich Banana taste. Takanashi made the rich banana latte. Please try and enjoy it.''

What can I possibly add to that?! They've even decided to be a bit cheeky. How am I to take their salutation? Is it a dare? Just you try and enjoy the rich Banana taste. Is it some admittance of mediocracy? Look we know we fucked this one up, but here, just try and enjoy it, okay? Please?

YOU BE THE JUDGE.

Just kidding, I'm totally going to be the judge. This Tasty Banana Latte is more than just tasty. Takanashi is just being coy. A more honest label might have read: yeah, yeah, we know. Thank us later.

Know also that this right here is no fake-banana flavour. I know how many of yall hate that sickly-sweet taste that reminds us all of childhood medicine. While I happen to love fake-banana, I also love real banana! This drink right here contains REAL-DEAL banana taste.

***

Recently McDonald's quietly unveiled banana shakes in Japan to an unsuspecting and largely uninterested populace. I and a select few were excited by the news. After all, what is McDonald's if not a slightly more aromatic konbini with fewer inventory items to select from?

Well, let me level with you. That McBanana (Mc?)shake is disappointing. This should surprise no one. The McDonald's shake is the (arguably, lol) potable equivalent to handing a shiny bauble to a small child. The child will be amused just long enough to allow a clean escape.

Likewise, the McShake is so god darn thick that it resembles more closely a jar of vaseline (same petroleum content to boot, probably) than a beverage. Yet it is presented in a cup, with a straw! Well. Once enough time has elapsed that one is actually able to sip the shake through that there straw, the shake-holding customer is most likely off of the McPremises, and too far away to demand a refund or a more thorough QA test.

So don't give your hard-earned (this adjective does not apply to fellow JETs, lol) yens to McDonald's in your quest for drinkable banana delight. Takanashi needs you.

9.05.2012

The Top 100, Revisited


I recently took a look back at my Top 100 Games list and realized it needed some revising... This is something that needs to happen periodically. Here's the updated list. 

100. Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage (Software Creations, 1994, Sega Genesis).  
99.  Diddy Kong Racing (Rare, 1997, Nintendo 64).
98. Taiko no Tatsujin (Namco, 2001, Arcade).
97. Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball (Tose, 1990, NES). 
96. Wave Race 64 (Nintendo EAD, 1996, Nintendo 64). 
95. Space Channel 5 (United Game Artists, 2000, Dreamcast).
94. Golden Sun (Camelot, 2001, Game Boy Advance). 
93. Castlevania: Circle of the Moon (Konami Computer Entertainment Kobe, 2001, Game Boy Advance).
92. Maniac Mansion (Lucasfilm Games, 1990, NES). 
91. Blaster Master (Sunsoft, 1988, NES).  
90. Out of This World (Eric Chahi, 1992, Super NES).
89. Blades of Steel (Konami, 1988, NES).
88. Retro Game Challenge (indieszero, 2009, Nintendo DS).
87. The Walking Dead (Telltale Games, 2012, Xbox 360).
86. The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo EAD, 1998, Nintendo 64).
85. The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo EAD, 2000, Nintendo 64).
84. Jet Set Radio Future (Smilebit, 2002, Xbox).
83. Rez HD (Q Entertainment, 2008, Xbox 360).
82. Seaman (Vivarium, 2000, Dreamcast).
81. Full Throttle (LucasArts, 1995, PC).
80. Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem (Silicon Knights, 2002, GameCube).
79. Super Punch-Out!! (Nintendo IRD, 1994, Super NES).
78. Mega Man X (Capcom, 1994, Super NES). 
77. F-Zero: Maximum Velocity (Nd Cube, 2001, Game Boy Advance).
76. Nier Gestalt (Cavia, 2010, Xbox 360). 
75. Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey (Atlus & Lancarse, 2010, Nintendo DS). 
74. NHL 96 (EA Canada, 1995, Sega Genesis).
73. Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 (Neversoft, 2000, Playstation).
72. Street Fighter Alpha 3 (Capcom, 1999, Playstation).
71. Maximo: Ghosts to Glory (Capcom Digital Studios, 2002, Playstation 2).
70. SSX Tricky (EA Canada, 2001, GameCube). 
69. Lost Odyssey (Mistwalker & feelplus, 2007, Xbox 360).
68. Final Fantasy VIII (Squaresoft, 1999, Playstation).
67. GoldenEye 007 (Rare, 1997, Nintendo 64). 
66. Picross 3D (HAL Laboratory, 2009, Nintendo DS).
65. PaRappa the Rapper (NanaOn-Sha, 1997, Playstation). 
64. Mega Man 4 (Capcom, 1992, NES). 
63. 世界樹の迷宮IV (Etrian Odyssey IV) (Atlus, 2012, Nintendo 3DS).
62. Marvel vs. Capcom 2: New Age of Heroes (Capcom, 2000, Dreamcast). 
61. Final Fantasy IX (Squaresoft, 2000, Playstation). 
60. Wario Land II (Nintendo R&D1, 1998, Game Boy).
59. Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood (Ubisoft Montreal, 2010, Xbox 360). 
58. NFL Football ‘94 Starring Joe Montana (BlueSky Innovations, 1993, Sega Genesis). 
57. Chrono Cross (Squaresoft, 2000, Playstation).
56. WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames! (Nintendo R&D1, 2003, Game Boy Advance). 
55. Silent Hill (Konami, 1999, Playstation). 
54. Killer 7 (Grasshopper Manufacture, 2005, Playstation 2). 
53. Shenmue (Sega AM2, 2000, Dreamcast). 
52. Katamari Damacy (Namco, 2004, Playstation 2).
51. Tetris (Bullet Proof Software, 1989, Game Boy).
50. Pikmin (Nintendo EAD, 2001, GameCube).
49. Super Street Fighter II (Capcom, 1994, Sega Genesis). 
48. Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo EAD, 1990, NES).
47. Grim Fandango (LucasArts, 1998, PC). 
46. Gunstar Heroes (Treasure, 1993, Sega Genesis). 
45. Animal Crossing (Nintendo EAD, 2002, GameCube).
44. Resident Evil: Code Veronica (Capcom Production Studio 4, 2000, Dreamcast).
43. NBA Street (EA Canada, 2002, GameCube). 
42. Portal 2 (Valve Corporation, 2011, Xbox 360).
41. Metroid Fusion (Nintendo R&D1, 2002, Game Boy Advance).
40. Super Mario 64 (Nintendo EAD, 1996, Nintendo 64). 
39. Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney (Capcom, 2005, Nintendo DS).
38. EarthBound (Ape & HAL Laboratory, 1995, Super NES). 
37. Shin Megami Tensei: Persona 3 (Atlus, 2007, Playstation 2). 
36. Super Mario World (Nintendo EAD, 1990, Super NES).
35. Duck Tales (Capcom, 1989, NES). 
34. Mario Golf (Camelot Software Planning, 1999, Game Boy Color).
33. Red Dead Redemption (Rockstar San Diego, 2010, Playstation 3). 
32. God Hand (Clover Studio, 2006, Playstation 2). 
31. Kirby’s Dream Land (HAL Laboratory, 1992, Game Boy). 
30. Luigi’s Mansion (Nintendo EAD, 2001, GameCube).
29. OutRun Online Arcade (Sumo Digital, 2009, Xbox 360).
28. Okami (Clover Studio, 2006, Playstation 2). 
27. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (Rockstar North, 2002, Playstation 2).
26. Bastion (Supergiant Games, 2011, Xbox 360).
25. Parasite Eve (Squaresoft, 1998, Playstation). 
24. Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater (Konami Computer Entertainment Japan, 2004, Playstation 2). 
23. Rhythm Heaven (Nintendo SPD Group No. 1, 2009, Nintendo DS). 
22. Panzer Dragoon Orta (Smilebit, 2003, Xbox). 
21. FIFA 10 (EA Canada, 2009, Playstation 3). 
20. Mega Man 2 (Capcom, 1989, NES). 
19. The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Nintendo EAD, 1993, Game Boy).
18. Mario & Luigi: Bowser's Inside Story (AlphaDream, 2009, Nintendo DS). 
17. Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo EAD Tokyo, 2011, Nintendo 3DS). 
16. Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty (Konami Computer Entertainment Japan, 2001, Playstation 2).
15. Final Fantasy X (Squaresoft, 2001, Playstation 2). 
14. Grandia (Game Arts, 1997, Playstation). 
13. Batman: Arkham Asylum (Rocksteady Studios, 2009, Playstation 3). 
12. Dragon Quest V: Hand of the Heavenly Bride (ArtePiazza, 2009, Nintendo DS).
11. Final Fantasy VI (Squaresoft, 1994, Super NES).
10. Pokémon Blue (Game Freak, 1998, Game Boy). 
9. Mother 3 (Nintendo, Brownie Brown & HAL Laboratory, 2006, Game Boy Advance).
8. Super Metroid (Nintendo R&D1 & Intelligent Systems, 1994, Super NES).
7. Final Fantasy VII (Squaresoft, 1997, Playstation). 
6. Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (Nintendo EAD, 1995, Super NES).
5. Resident Evil (Capcom Production Studio 4, 2002, GameCube).
4. Advance Wars (Intelligent Systems, 2001, Game Boy Advance).
3. Metal Gear Solid (Konami Computer Entertainment Japan, 1998, Playstation). 
2. Chrono Trigger (Squaresoft, 1995, Super NES). 
1. Shadow of the Colossus (Team Ico, 2005, Playstation 2).