Well, we’ve all reached the year’s halfway point. I’m proud to say that I’ve already written twenty-eight reviews so far. With me having taken down my review of BioShock: Infinite earlier this year, the current count is 127. My goal by the end of the year is to reach 150, which I’m feeling good about because I’ve been able to write at least one review per week so far in 2018.
Films watched in June 2018:
- Upgrade by Leigh Whannell (2018)
- Hereditary by Ari Aster (2018)
- American Animals by Bart Layton (2018)
- Incredibles 2 by Brad Bird (2018)
- Won’t You Be My Neighbor? by Morgan Neville (2018)
- Leave No Trace by Debra Granik (2018)
- Floating Weeds by Yasujiro Ozu (1959)
- You’re Next by Adam Wingard (2011)
- Run Lola Run by Tom Tykwer (1998)
- Scarface by Howard Hawks (1932)
- Vengeance Is Mine by Shōhei Imamura (1979)
- Aguirre, the Wrath of God by Werner Herzog (1972)
- Rope by Alfred Hitchcock (1948)
- Patton by Franklin J. Schaffner (1970)
- Gimme Shelter by Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Charlotte Zwerin (1970)
Now that we’re six months into the year, I think I’ve figured out what 2018 is all about when it comes to films. Before I can say what it is, I want to make one thing clear: I am usually on the critics’ side when it comes to assessing films. I think they’re more important than the average person gives them credit for, and their words can allow readers to appreciate works in new, interesting ways. It’s especially great whenever they go off the beaten tracks and talk about works most people don’t give the time of day.
Having said that, I also realize they’re not infallible; there have been plenty of instances in which they completely dropped the ball whether it was by letting a gem slip through the cracks for arbitrary reasons or being unduly enthusiastic about a mediocre/bad work just because it reaffirmed their viewpoints. Therefore, while 2017 was a time in which there was no middle ground in terms of quality for major Hollywood releases, 2018 is shaping up to be the year when critics are all over the place. Between singing praises of the dire Upgrade and (comparatively speaking) neglecting the surprisingly good American Animals, they haven’t had a particularly reliable batting average this year. Granted, this isn’t exactly new; they also sung praises of the mediocre You’re Next back in 2011, but that seemed to be an isolated incident. I can tell because the score dropped appropriately when it got a wide release in 2013 and people realized it brought nothing substantial to the table. In any case, they managed to save face with their assessments of Leave No Trace and Incredibles 2 later in the month, so here’s hoping they managed to get their act together.
Also, I can imagine cinephiles reading this would be taken aback by the fact that I highlighted Hereditary in yellow. To me, A24 is a strange company. On one hand, they’ve been behind some truly hard hitters in the past few years such as 20th Century Women, Moonlight, and Good Time. On the other hand, someone really ought to considering putting their marketing department on a leash. While their infamously puerile Tinder viral marketing campaign for Ex Machina and how they went about presenting Hereditary in trailers have done a great job getting people talking about their films, I can’t imagine that strategy is going to work out well for them in the long run. Going on the way they are, they’re going to make a fatal error in judgement, which would be awful for the talent associated with the studio. Then again, I think it’s appropriate that the two films in which the marketers resorted to decidedly unethical tactics also happened to be the ones I was the most underwhelmed by (though I still admit Hereditary is not as bad as Ex Machina).
Games reviewed in June 2018:
Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992)
Super Mario Land 2 was the first Game Boy game I’d ever played, and for its time, it was a neat little platformer. I had rented Super Mario World numerous times and owning a game that had a similar presentation but in portable form was a real treat. I was a bit strange in how I approached Mario games (or games in general) back then in that I bounced back and forth between installments without really making significant progress in any of them. I remember making it to the final world of Super Mario Bros. 3, but neither I nor my friends had the tenacity to complete it (despite using the Warp Whistle). Back then, I think we valued playing a game more than we did actually finishing it. Because of this, I had to actually think of which Mario game I completed first. The answer turned out to be Super Mario World, which I didn’t get until quite a bit later. Unlike its predecessor, I’d say Super Mario Land 2 has stood the test of time fairly well – not quite to the point where I’d consider it a must-play, all-time classic, but it does have a bit to offer platforming fans.
Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies (2013)
When I started this Ace Attorney retrospective, I felt the fan-favorite Trials and Tribulations to be a stronger effort than Dual Destinies. When I actually began writing the review, I concluded that Dual Destinies edges it out. I’d say one of the worst propensities fandoms (and even certain critics) have is that they’re too quick to dismiss works the original creator had nothing to do with. Ace Attorney is a rare instance in which I would argue the series actually improved without Shu Takumi’s involvement. The man is undeniably talented, but there were quite a few issues with his writing – he had trouble coming up with good villain motivations, he didn’t know when to let a joke go, and the two worst episodes in the series (“Turnabout Big Top” and “Turnabout Serenade”) occurred on his watch.
Indeed, part of the reason why I found the Professor Layton crossover Mr. Takumi was working on a step down from Dual Destinies is because it went back on Phoenix’s character development (which is admittedly somewhat understandable given that it takes place before Apollo Justice chronologically) and proceeded to push gags that had long since overstayed their welcome. With Dual Destinies, Takeshi Yamazaki and Motohide Eshiro achieved the seemingly impossible task of allowing Phoenix to return to the courtroom while also exploring new themes with the canon. It’s not easy to continue a story with a definitive ending, but they and their team found a way.
The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (2007)
I have a bit of a strange history with this game in that I actually got it when it was released back in 2007. It wound up being the first time a Zelda installment failed to truly grab my attention. As a result, I ended up abandoning it after the first dungeon, selling my copy years later. Over the years, I heard fans saying great things about it – some of whom even seemed to suggest the insufferable character known as Linebeck would redeem himself. Even so, it wouldn’t be until a few months ago that I would finally play the entire game. Unfortunately, I’m sorry to say this is a case where I feel I was right the first time; in fact, it had even deeper issues I didn’t catch onto during my first attempt at playing this game (due to having not made it far then).
As a possible result of this, Phantom Hourglass is yet another instance in which I was prepared to draw a different conclusion than what ended up being published. Going into the review, I thought that, for all of its flaws, it offered a more solid experience than Link’s Awakening. However, when I began listing all of its pros and cons on paper, I realized I couldn’t justifiably award Phantom Hourglass a 5/10 as originally intended and wound up declaring it the worst Zelda game I’ve played so far. It’s a bit strange because at its best, it blows Link’s Awakening and Zelda II out of the water – especially when it comes to boss fights. At the same time, Link’s Awakening has a much more ambitious (if slightly problematic) narrative while the Great Palace of Zelda II, dire as it may be, has nothing on the Temple of the Ocean King in terms of sheer annoyance. Also, Linebeck. At the end of the day, Zelda fans will like it, but everyone else should approach it with the knowledge that it probably won’t be for them.
Sonic Heroes (2005)
In every decade I’ve been gaming, I have, without fail, run into that one game I was really looking forward to and was really excited when I finally got to play it only for it to be a complete and total disappointment. In the nineties, it was Yoshi’s Story while in the 2010s, it was The Last of Us. Between those two games was Sonic Heroes. What I find interesting is that all three games differ in when I considered them disappointing. I was disappointed in Yoshi’s Story the minute I heard its title theme while it wasn’t until I let the experience set in that I realized I’d been had with The Last of Us. Sonic Heroes, on the other hand, was a bit different. Despite not completing it when it came out, I walked away from the experience mostly okay with it. When a member of the Something Awful forums conducted a Let’s Play of the 2006 edition of Sonic the Hedgehog and took a parting shot at Sonic Heroes, I realized at that exact moment he was right. When I replayed it a month ago to refresh my memory, I all but confirmed the game is a total mess.
The sad thing is that shortly after I posted my review, I watched a video of what someone believed to be the ten worst Sonic games. Not only was Sonic Heroes absent from the list, it wasn’t even an “honorable” mention. This is a particularly damning commentary on the franchise’s quality, for I can fully accept that has bad as Sonic Heroes is, there are indeed ten worse games (I myself have played at least four I know for sure are worse: Sonic Labyrinth, Sonic Drift, Sonic R, and Sonic the Fighters). If any respectable franchise such as Mario or Zelda had a game of this quality, it would be considered its nadir by a very significant margin. As it stands, Sonic Heroes is both objectively terrible and shielded from the brunt of criticism due to being thousands of miles away from being the worst the series has to offer.
BioShock 2 (2010)
BioShock 2 actually reminds me a lot of Zelda II: The Adventure of Link in that I can agree it’s a step down from its predecessor while also believing it gets more heat than it deserves. As I said in my review, I don’t think it has a reasonable chance of changing the mind of anyone who wasn’t won over by BioShock, but for those who loved it, the sequel has quite a bit to offer. Yes, its villain isn’t nearly as memorable as Andrew Ryan |or his replacement, Frank Fontaine|, but there are quite a lot of interesting story beats to be found for those willing to entertain them. I was going into this game expecting a disaster, but that’s not what I got. In fact, I would even go as far as declaring BioShock 2 a superior effort to System Shock 2. System Shock 2 may have better gameplay and level design, but it has the same problem as BioShock in that it gets off to a great start and falters in the last third. The reason BioShock 2 edges it out is twofold: it’s more consistent with its quality and it sticks the landing far better.
Super Monkey Ball 2 Review by thedeviot – thedeviot over at Comma Eight Comma One rounded out the end of May by reviewing a childhood favorite of mine: Super Money Ball 2. He manages to capture what makes it such a great game and a worthy sequel to the original.
Coin Dozer by iplayedthegame – I generally hate it whenever slot machines show up in video games because I know the developers are going to offer super-rare prizes for winning money off of them when it’s much more fulfilling to win them in a game of skill. I mention this because Rob over at I Played the Game! decided to kick the month off with a ton of energy by angrily reviewing Coin Dozer, a mobile game he claims “represents the absolute worst of the mobile game market”. These types of games are generally the reason I avoid the scene, apparently being a virtual slot machine in which you insert real money only for it to dispense virtual money in return. With no opportunity to PUSH START TO RICH, this game indeed looks like a waste of time.
Bioshock 2 Remastered Review by Khayl Adam – I wasn’t the only one who reviewed BioShock 2 this month. Khayl Adam makes a strong case for BioShock 2 being the best game in the series. Though I technically agree with the vocal minority who believes it to be a step down from BioShock, I definitely think it got way more hate than it deserved (one independent critic foolishly believed that it was inferior simply for having a multiplayer campaign), and Khayl made a solid argument as to why more people should play it. If nothing else, I can agree that it’s a bit more consistent than BioShock, which had a bunch of great ideas only to crash and burn somewhat in the final third.
Constructed Worlds vs. Civil Rights Metaphors by Aether – Quantic Dream’s latest work, Detroit: Beyond Human, began making the rounds at the end of May, and Aether decided to check it out for himself. In doing so, he was compelled to write an essay detailing the common failure many writers have when attempting to turn their stories into allegories for race relations. He and I came down to the conclusion that all too often, it boils down to writers attempting to have their cake and eat it. They attempt to make these fantastical situations analogues for real-world oppression, yet in doing so, they tend to lack the nuance needed to make it work. At that point, it makes one wonder why the author simply doesn’t think to trim the fat and address the issue directly.
We Are Our Own Worst Nightmares by kariyanine – Despite the fact that I probably hit most (if not all) of the criteria when it comes to being considered a geek, it’s a label I reject. Chris Scott manages to demonstrate why it’s a culture I tend not to buy into when he discusses the Star Wars fans’ ire that drove actress Kelly Marie Tran to quit Instagram. The way I see it, the problem is that geeks seem to be exceptionally bad at liking things – and I mean that both in the sense that they have trouble liking things and when something comes along that they genuinely enjoy, they’re inept at expressing positive feelings, leading to innumerable cringeworthy displays. The truly tragic thing is that without any irony, these geeks became arguably worse bullies than those they were once tormented by.
Fighting the ‘video games are low-brow’ stigma by zerathulu – I find it appropriate that zerathulu wrote this article in the same month Chris wrote his because I feel this represents the other half of the problem. While enthusiasts, including gaming enthusiasts, really ought to make significant steps to become more mature, the media is just as guilty of this perceived stigma – if not more so considering their total unwillingness to meet gamers halfway. The sad thing is that the gaming community could be made up of nothing but saints and the mainstream would reject that reality because it doesn’t fit their narrative. Zerathulu also quotes Ray Bradbury, who managed to simultaneously insinuate that video games are a waste of time and only men play them, though considering his anti-television stance, it’s not terribly surprising. Much like the above geek conundrum, there is a sad irony in how baby boomers reject their children’s interests. They grew up with rock music and New Hollywood-era films that almost certainly freaked out their own parents, yet when presented with the opportunity to learn from that experience and not repeat it, they completely missed the boat.
Hello, World… Again! by Lightning Ellen – A while ago, one of my longtime readers, Lightning Ellen seemed to vanish without a trace. Many of us speculated where she may have gone, but I’m happy to say that she’s back with a new blog. All I can say is that I hope you’re feeling better.
EA’s Command & Conquer Cash Grab by readthisstance – Electronic Arts has consistently been considered one of the worst companies in the United States, and though I’m not sure if I’d go that far, their business tactics and PR are all kinds of terrible. It’s kind of a wonder anyone chooses to use them as a publisher considering how parasitical the relationship ends up being. They see a promising IP, buy out the company, and proceed to run it into the ground. Not having learned their lesson from the Dungeon Master debacle, they now saw fit to ruin the Command & Conquer franchise. I can understand why many longtime enthusiasts hate the company considering how long they’ve been doing this – lest we forget their meddling led to the death of the Ultima series back in the nineties.
Hereditary’s D+ CinemaScore, Explained by Kelly Konda – Hereditary received nearly universal critical acclaim when it was released. Possibly fueled by the outrage generated by how the film was presented in trailers, fans weren’t nearly as welcoming. Film essayists, including Kelly Konda of We Minored in Film, attempted to understand why it wound up receiving a D+ on CinemaScore. My personal take? I wouldn’t go as far as calling it bad, but I do think a few essayists write under that unsaid “Well, of course the mall crowd wouldn’t like it; they’re idiots” mentality, and their reasoning tends to be weaker for it. Fortunately, Kelly doesn’t fall into that trap in his own assessment, and it was an interesting take both on the film and its reception.
Xenoblade Chronicles 2 Review by The Video Game Auditor – The Video Game Auditor decided to round out the end of the month by reviewing Xenoblade Chronicles 2. I have to admit I never finished the first one, though I want to return to it someday. Judging from his review, it looks like the sequel goes in an interesting direction, boasting a complex battle interface, great music, and an intricate character customization system.
Still to come:
To kick off the second half of 2018, I’m going to review the final installment in the Super Mario Land trilogy: Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. After that, my Ace Attorney retrospective will draw to a close (for now) when I review Spirit of Justice. Up next in my Zelda retrospective is Spirit Tracks, which I recently completed. Finally, having reviewed BioShock and its sequel, I’m at last ready to rewrite my BioShock: Infinite review. You may have noticed that like when I was reviewing Final Fantasy and Zelda entries in tandem that I’ve run out of installments of one series to talk about. I’ll just say for now that I do not intend to switch it out with another series this time; I’m going to take a different approach going into August.
Links to my reviews:
- Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney – Dual Destinies
- The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass
- Sonic Heroes
- BioShock 2
Links to my other posts:
- Reel Life #5
- Real Neat Blogger Award Response
- Reel Life #6
- A Question for the Readers #8
- Reel Life #7
- Reel Life #8
And that’s it for me this month. Any of you have plans for the summer?