Looking for Family Friendly Halloween films? We get it. You have kids. Or you’re scared of the dark, or whatever. Here’s ten movies for you and your tinies for when you’re ready to take a break from the Hocus Pocus marathon playing on ABC’s Freeform!
The Scooby Doo movie is perfect. That’s all there is to it. It’s a wonderful, lovely, hilarious movie that DEFINITELY deserved a sequel. Using “Who Let the Dogs Out” by The Baha Men in the soundtrack was a subtle, nuanced choice that just exemplifies the tact behind every other decision made while filming. The cartoon characters are ACTUALLY brought to life – literally, not figuratively – by the cast. Plus, it’s where Sarah Michelle Gellar and Freddie Prinz Jr. fell in love. Probably. Which makes it a classic of the early 2000s.
Throw a dart at a list of Tim Burton movies and any one of them could fit right into a Halloween list. Of all of Burton’s creations, Edward Scissorhands is one of the most recognizable, but also one that fans don’t find time to watch very often. It’s a beautiful film about a young Johnny Depp and Winona Rider falling in love over snowflakes, before things turned upside down. Along the way, Johnny Depp gives some suburban housewives much better hairstyles and Nick Carter makes a cameo. And that’s all I’d like to say about that.
THE ADDAMS FAMILY
Everyone’s family is a little weird, except for the Addams family. The Addams Family takes you back to a time when Angelica Houston still had movement in her face and no need to use it. Though tiny Christina Ricci’s portrayal of Wednesday Addams as displeased with the sun and pretty much everything else in the universe is brilliantly sadistic, Lurch is the clear winner of best character by a landslide. Or a Lurch. There’s a pun there.
THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS
You knew we’d mention it at some point. Is it a Christmas movie? Is it a Halloween movie? Who knows. Throw away your preconceived notions and your Hot Topic fingerless gloves and just put the movie in already. Because there are few who deny at what it does it is the best and its talents are renowned far and wide. When it comes to surprises in the moonlit night this film excels without ever even trying. With the slightest little effort of its ghost-like charms it has seen grown men give out a shriek. With the wave of its hand and a well-placed moan it has swept the very bravest (toddlers) off their feet.
HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE
Harry Potter is the best movie for all holidays, and yet it seems the most appropriate on Halloween and Christmas. It might be the only thing (besides both being on this list) that Sorcerer’s Stone and Nightmare Before Christmas have in common, besides a plethora of products at, you guessed it, Hot Topic. Keep an eye out for trolls and the inevitable eight part movie marathons.
IT’S THE GREAT PUMPKIN, CHARLIE BROWN
Linus Van Pelt proves he’s not just a philosophy spouting mouthpiece but a kid after all as he believes in The Great Pumpkin; an Easter-Bunny-meets-Santa-Claus rip-off that only Linus seems to believe in. If you see someone wearing a ghost sheet with multiple eye holes all over, it’s from this. Or if you’re in need of a simple, last minute Halloween costume.
International film star Rick Moranis blows audiences away in another of his classic roles, as the guy who lives down the hall from Sigourney Weaver. Don’t cross the streams, and also don’t think about the stay puft marshmallow man. And also if someone asks if you’re a god, you say yes, Ray. You say yes. Can you believe this movie is 30 years old?
While Beetlejuice is a great movie to get into the Halloween spirit, this entry might be better suited for your older tinies. The scariest part of this movie is how Alec Baldwin looks NOW compared to how he looked in 1988. Seriously. Ghosts are the cutest and Michael Keaton is the cutest and Winona Rider makes her second appearance on this list! Win-win-win!
Speaking of second appearances. Christina Ricci graces our list once again in the 1995 classic Casper, and 90s babies swooned everywhere when the tiniest Devon Sawa uttered his most famous and not at all creepy line, “Can I keep you?” Even if you aren’t introducing your kids to it, this movie is definitely worth a rewatch for nostalgia’s sake alone.
Kid talks to dead people. Puritains were bonkers. Classic pun name. Don’t live in New England. Moral of the story? Bullying isn’t nice.
Need some more adult oriented Halloween ideas for once the kiddos are lulled into a candy coma? We’ve got you covered! Check out our lists for Ten and Five Games
Well, it’s finally October, the season of cooler weather, colorful trees and pumpkin spice. It’s also the time to watch scary movies in the lead up to Halloween, and there’s no shortage of choices when it comes to horror. But with all of the Freddys and Jasons and Sammi Currs out there, is there room in a Halloween movie marathon for a film that doesn’t contain buckets of blood? If Good Day is any indication, the answer to that is “yes.”
I first got the chance to see Good Day at the Kew Gardens Festival of Cinema in Queens, NY. I was invited to the screening by the movie’s director, Louie Cortes, and felt compelled to check it out. I’d only seen the trailer for the film and really didn’t know too much about it before I went in. What I saw, however, was much different than I imagined.
Written by Christine Clark and Cortes, Good Day follows the lives of six twenty-somethings in New York City. Much like Pulp Fiction and 2 Days In the Valley, their paths intersect in some meaningful way as they all converge on the same Halloween party. Unlike Pulp Fiction and 2 Days In the Valley, Good Day is a wholesome yet funny look at the gamut of emotions they’re struggling with. Depression, loneliness, loss of a family member, and the fear of a stagnating career. All of these themes are relatable to the audience, which makes the characters feel like real people. They express their emotions and feelings, sometimes in overly verbose ways, but at the end of it, viewers can easily understand their plight.
The film does all of this in a highly engaging and hilarious way. This was probably the most surprising thing about the movie because there isn’t the slightest hint of comedy in the trailer. Watching that, I assumed Good Day was a coming of age melodrama that happened to be set around Halloween. To be fair, though, that trailer was cut well as it didn’t set any expectations for the humor and may have worked in its favor as Good Day was recently nominated for “Best Comedy Feature” at the Alternative Film Festival.
Though the film didn’t win “Best Comedy,” it did walk away with the award for “Best Cast,” which was most deserved. The cast was one of the finer parts of the film. Though Good Day featured no big name stars, most everyone has a great on-screen presence, despite the one or two stilted performances,
The film focuses on Sam M, played by Christopher Poultney. Sam has a strong self confidence which borderlines on arrogance and is forced to reevaluate himself after he meets a girl who doesn’t reciprocate the interest he feels. His storyline comes to a head when he meets Lisa (Kaelin Birkenhead). Lisa displays a hardened exterior to the world despite having a very caring heart. The audience learns this early in the film when Lisa is shaken to hear that her grandfather, whom she’d never had a relationship with, had died.
The film is rounded out with other great characters, such as Lydia, played by Samantha Quintana, a small-town girl who moved to New York for the right reasons but with the wrong motivation and is struggling to find her place. Then there’s Matt (Michael Ryan Assip), Sam’s best friend who dreams of becoming the next great horror movie writer a la George Romero but lacks the focus to finish a screenplay. Though his performance was rocky at first, Matt quickly became one of my favorite characters in the movie, helped along by Assip’s great comedic timing.
Good Day is not a perfect film, however. It is plagued by a number of technical issues, most notably the sound in some areas. A few of the shots feel cramped and claustrophobic, which is likely due to the indie nature of the movie and the need to shoot in any place that feels authentic regardless of size. These things are easy to overlook, though, through the director’s deft cinematography. Cortes has a way of framing his shots that’s simple yet intriguing and makes the movie fun to watch.
As of writing this, Good Day has yet to find a distributor, meaning that it’s unlikely to get a wide release, either in theaters or streaming. There is some good news, though. If you are local to New York, Good Day will be screened for free on October 23rd at the Queen’s Court in Astoria. The film will be shown alongside two surprise short films. The event is BYOB and candy will be supplied so if you’re interested, be sure to check out their Facebook page for more info.
Overall, Good Day is a poignant look at the real issues young people face and the ways in which they cope. It’s the kind of movie that can easily fit into an annual Halloween screening, a welcome break from the horror films and slasher flicks that most people watch every October. Hopefully Good Day will find a distribution deal soon so more people can enjoy it. Given its newly found status as an award winning film, the chances of that seem higher.
Recently, I was asked to write an advance review for a forthcoming science fiction novel from a small press. I jumped at the opportunity to read the book before fully contemplating if it would be worth the time. Smaller presses are always a gamble in terms of quality, both with the writing and the printing, so for all I knew I was in for a terrible reading experience. I decided to plow through with the review anyway and soon found Leech Girl Lives by Rick Claypool and Spaceboy Books in my inbox. So, were my fears justified or was Leech Girl Lives worth the effort of a read through?
Leech Girl Lives takes place in a dystopian future where the majority of humanity has died out and what’s left live in a domed city called the Bublinaplex. While the Bublinaplex is surrounded by a “Fungus Wasteland” filled with large, horrendous and terrifying creatures, the people have managed to build a pretty stable world which is overly concerned with safety. This is where our protagonist comes in.
Margo Chicago is an Art Safety Inspector who investigates all works of art put on display to ensure that the artwork doesn’t hurt anyone. She has a fairly important job because the denizens of the Bublinaplex are all encouraged to work on some sort of “creative pursuit.” Some of these are worthwhile, like painting and singing while others, like Margo’s desire to crochet cats, are a little offbeat. Others still are just asinine, like Margo’s boss and his creativity in stringing nonsense words together in everyday conversations.
Due to a freak accident, Margo gets a pair of giant parasitic leeches attached to her arms. The leeches slowly eat away at her flesh and, through their symbiotic nature, become her new arms. It’s a unique concept. Although it sounded strange at first and had me questioning what kind of book I was reading, eventually the idea settled in and just flowed with the narrative. I wouldn’t have imagined that I’d enjoy a concept like that but I surely did.
Leech Girl Lives is author Rick Claypool’s first novel and that’s fairly evident in the way the book is written. Claypool builds his world and presents his novel using simple prose, which I liked. Lots of science fiction authors use long, flourishing prose and convoluted sentence structure that may sound pretty but can be confusing when trying to build an in-depth world. Claypool shirks that and just lays everything out on the table in easy bits for the layman. Whether this was intentional or just a byproduct of not finding his unique voice yet, I’m not entirely sure but the move worked in this instance.
One move that was intentional was the way Claypool split the chapters for the first third of the book. Each chapter vacillates between “Earlier” and “Later,” clearly delineating two different time periods. It’s an effective strategy that made the story more enticing; each time I finished one section, I wanted to find out what happened next but I had to read through a different section that piqued my interest just as much. Unfortunately, once the two sections converge, the story runs somewhat flat. It managed to remain interesting, but it lacked the oomph of the previous section.
The novel is also split into two distinct books, named Book One and Book Two. While I enjoyed Leech Girl Lives in its entirety, I did start to feel weighed down by the time I got to Book Two. It’s not that the second part wasn’t good; it’s just that I’d become burned out by the time I got there. I’d already gone through an entire adventure with Margo and her leech arms so to be thrown into another one right away was exhausting. I would have preferred if Leech Girl Lives ended at the first ending, with Book Two comprising an actual second book.
Doing so would have also allowed Claypool to expand on some of the themes he brings up in Book Two. While Book One dealt with the idea of stifling expression through the Art Safety’s mission to have artists alter any work they deem unsafe, Book Two explores the idea of a corporate run state as well as the division between the rich and the poor. By day, Rick Claypool is an activist who works with an organization that fights corporate power so if there would be anyone who can successfully integrate the dangers of a corporate state taking power in a silly little sci fi book, it’d be him. The way he breaks down the company’s rise to power makes us believe that the city would accept the corporate power, but everything that happens in Book Two happens so fast that it almost comes off as hokey despite the gravity of the theme. Claypool spends too much time focusing on scenes that don’t have much of an impact while breezing through others that are far more interesting. Characters speak in awkward, unnatural ways and the action doesn’t serve the plot but merely acts to hasten the transition to the next scene. I would have enjoyed it more if he slowed down and delved further into this new world he’s introduced. Allowed us to get to know a few of the newer characters better and see why they do what they do and how the corporation changed them from their previous lives.
The characterization is really the weakest part of Leech Girl Lives. Claypool focuses on Margo and spends a lot of time making sure she’s as fleshed out as possible, which is to be expected of the protagonist. Unfortunately he does this to the detriment of the supporting cast. Margo is surrounded by many unique and interesting people but they never feel whole. For example, Margo has a great relationship with her mentor, Cuthbert. Though we get a peak at Cuthbert’s home life, all we really know about him is he’s a great cook and he cries a lot. Even the book’s main protagonist, Lorcan Warhol, is a two-dimensional foil to Margo. Sure, his character takes an interesting twist during Book Two, but at a certain point he disappears and has no impact on the rest of the book. He had the makings of an interesting character but he’s flung off without a second thought.
I enjoyed Leech Girl Lives. The simple prose aside, the book played with some deep sociological themes and really dived into the darker aspects of society. Even the superficial nature of Margo’s affliction, forming a symbiotic relationship with a pair of parasitic leeches, was handled in a way that felt natural and believable. That’s not to say the book doesn’t have its flaws; in fact, there are quite a few of them, but they’re easily overshadowed by the depth of the symbolism. All in all, I’d recommend Leech Girl Lives if you’re looking for a fun adventure that doesn’t require too much brain power to really understand and enjoy.
Leech Girl Lives by Rick Claypool is available on September 26th from Spaceboy Books.
On Friday, Netflix dropped Death Note, a live-action film adaptation of the popular manga/anime of the same name. Since I was free for most of Sunday afternoon, with no plans besides counting down the hours until the seventh season finale of Game of Thrones, I figured I may as well check it out. After all, it was something I was looking forward to, despite the valid whitewashing criticism.
Before you read through my review, please keep in mind, I haven’t read the manga version of Death Note, nor watched a single episode of the anime series. I’m merely critiquing the Netflix movie on its own merits.
Also, while I’m not going to outright give away the ending, I do make references to certain plot points of the film, which may be spoilers for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet. So proceed with caution.
Death Note focuses on Light Turner, a smart high school kid who doesn’t seem to have any friends. His mother was recently killed, leaving just him and his cop father, a dynamic which causes a rift in their relationship. His mother’s killer walked away from the charges and Light doesn’t feel his father pursued the killer hard enough. One day, during a freak storm, Light finds a notebook, the Death Note, which grants the user the ability to kill anyone whose name is written on its pages. There are a bunch of rules associated with the Death Note but it all boils down to “killer notebook.”
Along with his girlfriend Mia, Light (I can’t believe this is the kid’s name) goes on a killing spree. They target bad guys and people who hurt others in an effort to “better the world.” In the process of their murders, they attribute the killings to a karma god of sorts, whom they name Kira, as a way to strike terror into the hearts of evil-doers.
The murders attract the attention of L, an eccentric detective who is fueled by candy and often forgets to sleep. Being a sugar addict seems like an odd character trait to give a prominent character so I assume that this was a carry-over from the source material, but it really seems out of place. The film tried to explain it with an off-hand remark about the “insulin rush” but the trait doesn’t seem natural. In a long form narrative, like the manga or the anime, a quirk like this can developed and also used as a detriment to the character, such as when he’s in a situation lacking sugar. The movie, however, just shoehorns it in with very little (if any) explanation, so it comes off as silly.
Then there’s Mia, Light’s girlfriend. She’s the guiding force in Light’s usage of the Death Note, a girl with a dark side that she hides from the rest of the world… except the movie makes the audience aware that she is the “bad girl” from the minute we first see her. She’s smoking a cigarette at cheerleading practice, for example, so clearly she’s edgy. The problem is that Mia has no depth. We never get a glimpse at her past, or at her home life to really understand why she’s so messed up. She is 100% gung-ho about using the Death Note, to the point of threatening Light’s life to convince him to give it to her but it’s never clear why. She’s deeply disturbed and would make for a fascinating character study, but unfortunately she’s used as a side note, only meant to push Light further and further to see how far he’ll go.
My main problem with the film is how easily all of the characters accept the idea of the supernatural being involved in the murders. Light’s cop father wastes no time coming to the conclusion that his son is Kira despite the physical impossibility for him to be so. Even L, with all his grand detective skills, fingers Light early on as the culprit, assuming he has some sort of latent telepathic abilities that allow him to control and kill people.
This wouldn’t be a big deal if the movie established itself as part of a world where this sort of this was commonplace. A few references to some of L’s past cases that document criminals with telepathy or whatnot would go a long way here. From everything we’re shown, however, the viewer has to assume that the film takes place in our world where the laws of physics apply. Yes, Light has a magic book that can kill people but that’s the outlier, not the natural order. If L had been shown to be chasing this book for a decade and realized that it found its way into Light’s hands, his deductions would make sense. But L, from what we’re shown, doesn’t know about the book’s existence and still manages to guess almost every rule. It’s implausible and makes the movie hokey.
I also had a really difficult time figuring out who I should be rooting for. We get why Light has a hard time with life: his mother is killed, her killer buys himself out of a prison sentence, and he has to deal with bullies at school. So when he gets the Death Note and he’s able to turn everything around, his first act is to kill a classmate. It’s a little out there and doesn’t do much to establish himself as a “good guy.” When it comes to L, the guy who is trying to find justice and stop these murders, we never really connect with him. He is so quirky and abstract that it’s hard to find common ground, so despite his intentions, we don’t really care if he wins or not. It isn’t until he suffers a major loss do we see him exhibit any kind of emotion, and by then it’s too late into the film for the audience to really connect with the character.
So who do we root for? The down-on-his-luck killer or the eccentric detective?
Death Note was directed by Adam Wingard, who is best known for V/H/S and for surprising everyone in 2016 with a new Blair Witch movie. I like Wingard as a director but he seemed to miss the mark with Death Note. The movie is remarkably directed and looks fantastic but really suffers from all of the logical and character inconsistencies in the script. I feel like there was definitely the possibility of a good movie, especially given the depth of the source material, but lacked the proper execution.
The cast did a great job with what they were given. Nat Wolff, who played Light, really felt like a lost, angry child, mad at the world for everything that happened to him. Wolff brought a lot of energy and emotion to the role and makes the character likeable despite the terrible things he does. Juxtaposed with that, Lakeith Stanfield as L made a great foil. His delivery as the stoic, brilliant detective drew that divide between the character and the audience, which made it so effective when the character hit his emotional breaking point. As a viewer, I felt his sadness and his rage, and enjoyed the way this emotion mirrored Light’s own, making them two sides of the same coin, of sorts.
Even Margaret Qualley was fantastic as Mia. Though the character has the least depth of the cast, she’s a driving force to the story. Qualley plays the role with a certain coolness, almost emotionless. It makes the audience wonder if our opinion of the character is wrong or if she truly is a sociopath. Which is a great take considering how little backstory we get of the character.
One of the highlights of Death Note, though, was Willem Dafoe as the voice of the demon Ryuk. Dafoe never shows up on screen but he brings life, ironically, to the death demon. His performance is reminiscent of his take on the Green Goblin in 2000’s Spider-Man, which I liked. He added a lot to a character that spends most of the movie shrouded in shadows and gives the audience something to grasp.
A Death Note film like this was a huge undertaking, considering it needed to boil down 37 episodes of the source anime into a 100 minute feature. Despite its missteps, the cast and crew did the best they could, unfortunately that didn’t make for a wholly great finished project. It’s the kind of movie to watch on a lazy weekend, or when you’re home sick hopped up on Nyquil. While it captures the dichotomy of doing bad things for good reasons, it doesn’t really explore those themes and just comes off as a superficial revenge story. Though I really did enjoy the final scene and the open-ended finale, I feel like all I really got out of this movie is the desire to watch the anime in the hopes of finding a good, complete story.
Spring just arrived recently and winter has finally come to a close. So far in 2017 we’ve already seen quite a few great releases, the most recent being the Legend of Zelda machine, the Nintendo Switch, and the release of Mass Effect: Andromeda. As much as I’ve enjoyed Nintendo’s past offerings and felt the nostalgic pull of Zelda and since I’ve never actually played a Mass Effect game, they just weren’t on my list of upcoming things I’m looking forward to. However, on my list are other games, tech, events, and some are just random nerdiness.
In no real particular order, as they say, let’s get some 2017 HYPE!!
I love me a good piece of tech. Who doesn’t really? In my tech arsenal, among other things, I have a smartphone, a tablet, a laptop, and a desktop PC. My smartphone I use all the time and my PC handles everything my smartphone can’t. The tablet and laptop though, I find gather quite a bit of dust. The tablet I only bring out when there’s an app that I would just like on a little bigger screen than my smartphone, and the laptop only when my main PC is down and I still need to perform desktop-like tasks. Those times are far and few between and every time I turn them on they have hundreds of updates waiting.
This is where the Sentio Superbook comes in. Using an Android app that turns the Android OS more desktop-friendly, the Superbook is essentially a laptop shell that uses your smartphone for the processing power. According to the Kickstarter, the Superbook “provides a large screen, keyboard and multi-touch trackpad, 8+ hours of battery, and phone charging capabilities”. Always up to date, and never falls behind your Android’s tech. This I can see completely replacing my tablet, fitting usefully between my phone and desktop.
Release: Pushed back from February until June for initial Kickstarter orders.
Fun fact: I’m an original card-carrying member of the MST3K fan club. I remember having Thanksgiving at my grandmother’s house, eating myself silly, and then relaxing watching the Turkey Day marathon. I didn’t have cable growing up, which is how I’m easily able to live without cable today, but MST3K was a treat. When they announced they were Kickstarting a new season, I legit threw money at my screen. Got myself the t-shirt to match my older MST3K t-shirt, a couple nice prints, a keychain (I think… don’t tell me I’ve already lost it…), and the satisfaction that I’ll be able to watch brand new episodes. To answer your burning question, I think Joel was better than Mike. Fight me.
Release: April 14th, 2017! So close I can taste the movie sign.
I’d like to think that when I game on PC, the games I play are complex and deep. However, I’ve never wanted that complexity on my phone. For mobile gaming I like keeping it light and in small increments, hence why the Switch was never a draw. Cook, Serve, Delicious is quite possibly one of the best mobile games I have ever played. It’s light, tricky, takes a bit of skill, never felt like the phone hardware ever got in the way, and had entertaining graphics to match. You don’t have to play it on mobile, you can play it on other systems, but it shines on mobile. So when they announced CSD 2 at the end of 2016, I was giddy. Giddy.
Release: “Available on Steam and PS4 in 2017“. Not specific, and no mention of mobile, but their alpha trailer was released in Dec 2016, so hopefully soon.
CBS announced in November 2015 that following the 50th anniversary of the original series of Star Trek, and 12 years after the last official Star Trek: Enterprise episode aired, they would be opening a new chapter in the Star Trek Prime universe. Yes, the Kelvin timeline exists, and while I personally really enjoyed Beyond and what the reboot has brought to the series, it’s no Prime Universe goodness.
Set 10 years before Captain Kirk started his famous 5 year mission, they’ve announced the main protagonist will be Lieutenant Commander Rainsford, played by Sonequa Martin-Green, and referenced in the show as “Number One”. Star Trek: Discovery will revolve around the USS Discovery, although they’ve announced casting decisions for a second ship, the Shenzhou, and a number of Klingons. This, and other rumors, hints that the plot may revolve around the Klingon-Federation scrap-up at Donatu V, mentioned in the episode The Trouble with Tribbles which led to a Cold War between the two factions.
The show will initially air in the US on CBS, after with episodes airing on CBS All-Access shortly after. Outside of the US, episodes will air on Netflix. I personally don’t care how they air it, I’m just psyched for new Star Trek!
Release: As of this writing, it appears to have been pushed back until late summer/early fall, with possibilities of being pushed back further. Blech.
If you haven’t yet played Life Is Strange by DontNod Entertainment, by god what are you waiting for?! Go play one of the most fresh and stunning games you’ve ever played! If you have played it, then you probably understand why Vampyr, another game in production by DontNod Entertainment, has me so excited. Action-oriented with a sort of Assassin’s Creed meets the episodic genre vibe, set in 1918 London? Sign me up. I don’t play brand new games often, but with this setting and story potential, I’ll play.
Release: This site is suggesting Q4 2017, maybe just in time for Halloween?
I’m a Disney World nerd. What can I say, I’ve visited the parks quite a few times and each time have had some amazing experiences. Nothing beats having fun all day with family and friends, seeing all the sights, riding the rides, and sitting down for one of the best meals you’ve ever had in your life. Cap it all off with a phenomenal show and fireworks every night you’re there! I wasn’t so much a fan before I met my wife, but now that she has shown me what I was missing, I’m a big fan.
So when Disney makes changes to their parks, which happens all the time, it just makes me excited for the next time that we’ll visit. At this point, it may be a few years before the next trip, but by then hopefully the big EPCOT changes announced at the D23 Expo last November will have come to fruition. When the Chairman, Bob Chapek, tells the Imagineers to “dream big” and to expect a “major transformation,” I’ll lap up any news like I’m dying of thirst. I mean, shoot, they’re adding hanging gondolas to their transportation roster. Gondolas! How cool is that?!
Release: Changes won’t happen for a few years, but hopefully we’ll hear what they will be at the next D23 Expo July 14th-16th 2017.
All the way back in May of 2013, one of computer gaming’s legends, Richard Garriott, started a Kickstarter campaign with his company Portalarium to bring back a “spiritual successor” to one of the most influential game series of all time, Ultima, called Shroud of the Avatar. Since I’m a huge fan of the Ultima games to this day, I backed it to a non-ridiculous degree. To say that it’s been a long journey since the Kickstarter launch is quite an understatement. Like most Kickstarted projects, the feature creep has been quite extreme, to the point that the game still hasn’t been completed yet in full. Posing primarily as an MMO, the features they want to add are story mode with content delivered in episodes, written by Garriott and Tracy Hickman, a single player offline mode, different multiplayer modes, a vast classless character system, PvP, player housing, a crafting-based economy, full guild systems, player owned towns, and all the other accoutrements one would expect with MMOs these days.
As of right now, Shroud of the Avatar is still in a beta state and they stopped issuing character wipes in July of 2016, but still has not officially “launched.” I’m not one to play incomplete games though, so if they don’t consider the first big chapter complete yet, I have no issues waiting. I’ll finally jump in once they start officially calling it “launched.”
Release: 2017, or so the FAQ says.
Near the end of last year, I took the plunge into home automation and bought a Google Home while it was on sale. To say the least, my wife and I have been enjoying it quite thoroughly. I quickly discovered that home automation is a deep rabbit hole, with Google Home itself being the gateway drug. It started with one Google Home, then a second, and then a Chromecast Audio to sync all of the speakers together to form a whole-house audio system. A Philips Hue starter kit later and we had voice-controllable lights. Ten more bulbs later and we rarely touch our lightswitches anymore.
We bought it early on in its development because we expected more functionality to come, and so far they haven’t disappointed. More, though… we want more.
Release: Ongoing, since Google Home has already been released in 2016.
If you’ve never heard of the quirky podcast Welcome to Night Vale, you are sorely missing out. Based around the community radio station of a fictional, and quite strange, desert town located somewhere in the southwestern US, Welcome to Night Vale has been chronicling the town’s oft-bizarre happenings since June of 2012.
In 2015, WTNV’s creators Joseph Fink and Jeffrey Cranor released their first novel, Welcome to Night Vale, based on the town. More heartfelt and personal than I was expecting, I enjoyed it, so I was excited when during the episode “After 3327,” they announced a second novel! Finally, around mid-March they announced the title and a release date of October 17th, 2017.
Finally, the last thing I’m excited about for 2017 is the “relaunch” of the MMO The Secret World, a personal favorite game of mine. The news of Funcom’s plans to relaunch it’s 5-year-old title came as a bit of a surprise, having been “announced” on Funcom’s 4th Quarter 2016 financial reports. Boasting changes from a redesigned new player experience, a “major improvement” to gameplay and combat, new player retention systems, and changes to the game’s business model, a lot of players are simultaneously nervous and excited for the upcoming changes. Funcom’s community team has been silent on the subject, focusing first on PAX East and Conan Exiles before making any big announcements about The Secret World.
Release: We’ll most likely hear more about the relaunch by the end of March, and see some changes before the end of June.
2016 was a great year for video games. It may not go down in the history books as the most memorable year in the industry, but it was a solid year for bitg AAA and indie games alike. As always, my tastes often align with games with amazing a story and characters. For the sake of transparency, I feel the obligation to point out that, to me, gameplay always takes a back seat to narrative, before diving headfirst into last year’s lineup. Without further ado, below is a subjective list of my personal top ten picks of video games in 2016:
10. XCOM 2
XCOM 2 is a pretty standard sequel. With 2K Games publishing, and Firaxis developing, they didn’t feel obligated to reinvent the wheel that drove the first game and I think that works in its favor. However, there are some major refinements to what is already there, and with the addition of destructible environments, the game feels new enough to not feel like a retread of the original. XCOM is easily one of the hardest games I have ever played, which forced me to lower the difficulty to easy, for the first time in my gaming career. XCOM 2 is no different.
Now I excuse myself from this gamer sin by reminding you all that I am usually not a fan of the strategy RPG genre…but this series is so good. Build up your base, manage resources, send soldiers to their permanent deaths on away missions, upgrade gear and weaponry using stolen Intel, this game is stuffed to the brim with activities that will ensure that each play through feels different than the last.
Walking simulators and linear narrative experiences have become all the rage in the industry over the last few years. Games like Firewatch are top echelon examples of this genre. Campo Santo developed and produced a scenery is always captivating. However, the final smidgen of immersion is thanks to this game’s amazing musical score. The big achievement, are the characters in this game. Delilah and Henry are so lifelike that they are unforgettable.
I still think about the brilliant performances of Cissy Jones (Delilah) and Rich Sommer (Henry) that even a year later I catch myself thinking of their interactions. The sense of mystery permeates through the entire run-time, and while the big reveal did come off as critically polarizing, I felt it was the perfect way to resolve the narrative.
8. Mafia 3
The gameplay loop of Mafia 3 is very apparent early on in the experience. This turned many off, but those who stuck with it experienced next level story telling that transcends average game narratives. I thought the mechanics of the game were good enough to warrant its repetitive nature, but there is certainly a case to be made against that I am sure. By the time the credits rolled, I was completely fulfilled by the characters and narrative.
The story is so paramount in the personal success of this game for me, that i found it incredible easy to overlook its shortcomings. Also, if era based license music is your bag, this game does to the 60’s what GTA: Vice City did to capturing the music of the 80’s. Developers Hanger 13 did a fantastic job of capturing what it feels like to be in late 60’s New Orleans. Check out my review here.
7. Fire Emblem: Fates
Handheld games are woefully underappreciated these days. Fire Emblem: Fates is a shining example of the quality Nintendo still puts out on its mobile systems. Intelligent Systems and Nintendo SPD really stepped it up from the last entry, Fire Emblem Awakening. The game has you managing relationships with characters, dealing with perma-death of said characters, and trying to pair them up properly to create the best children to help you in your quest.
You have 3 completely different stories to choose from, and each story represents your character on different sides of the same war. The run time is packed with cheeky humor, a very interesting tale about war, and some feel good character moments. Also the tactical RPG mechanics are above and beyond the others in the genre. If you own a 3DS, you should be playing this game. There should be a law.
6. Forza Horizon 3
Nobody warned me that I was going to be getting the best racing game of all time this year. Racing games always act as the perfect pallet cleansers for the bigger Triple A games that flood the market, so I try and pick up one racing game annually. I am a big Forza fan, and usually enjoy the simulation entries in the series more. Well there is a new love in town, and it is Forza Horizon 3. Playground Games has made trekking across the Australian landscape as beautiful as it is exhilarating.
The sacrifice of true simulation controls are for the better as these tracks often lead you through dense forests, and varied environments are more fun to traverse with the more forgiving controls. The cars still feel amazing to drive, each with their own varied feel. The amount of vehicles and customization to choose from are staggering and the freedoms each race offers ensure you will have a tailored event to every race you want to participate in. This is a masterclass racer that deserves all the praise it is getting.
5. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided
Deus Ex: Mankind Divided reels in the big story moments to create a much more subtle and low key narrative. While the first game focused itself on more wide reaching conspiracies that could affect the world, this game was more about trying to investigate a singular terrorist attack. Now as the mystery unfolds you will see the larger conspiracies begin to showcase themselves but the story never feels as large scale as Human Revolution. This is by no means a bad thing. Edios Montreal made sure the world felt more fleshed out and detailed as you explored the HUB areas, picking up missions, items, and intel.
The story itself serves as a stepping stone to set up a much larger narrative that is sure to come in either DLC or the next main entry to the series. The characters, specifically the antagonists, can be archetypal at times but they never fall short of interesting. Adam Jensen never felt better to control, and this will be one of the few games from this year that I will go back and replay as I missed many of the completely missable side missions.
By the time Inside wraps up you will be left with so many questions that you will have to do a little research on yourself to fully understand. While some hate the post credits homework assignment, I loved it. Working towards understanding a complex and cerebral story in a visual medium is why video game narratives work so well. Collectively, fans worked together to pull in the major themes and ideas to cultivate quite the amazing answer to what it is you are exactly experiencing at the end of the game.
Inside’s aesthetics are simple but somehow always manage to be impressive. Developer Playdead uses light puzzle mechanics that are a welcomed feature and are challenging enough to make you feel smart when you complete them, but not overly hard and time consuming to the point of frustration. Come for the gameplay, stay for the graphics, leave with a wonderfully complex narrative. It is easily the most atmospheric game of the year. Check out my review here.
3. Quantum Break
Boy howdy what a polarizing game. This is a hard experience to gauge as it seems like a 50/50 split on people who enjoyed it and people who just did not like it. Remedy Entertainment, the developers, had the idea of having a game that is part playable video game, and part TV show, was bold and innovative, and for me it totally paid off. The TV section could have come off corny and boring, but they were everything but. The actors nailed their perceptive roles and the production value was high. I eagerly awaited the next episode at the end of every playable act.
The gameplay itself is some of Remedy’s finest. The shooting controls are tight, and they work brilliantly with the time manipulation mechanics. I feel powerful in this game, while never sacrificing the challenge. I think this is one of the most well performed games on the block, and the story is an incredible time traveling tale, that rivals even some of the best movies of the same subject.
2. Final Fantasy XV
This game had every right to be bad, but ten years in the making, it comes out the other side a not only playable but fantastic Final Fantasy game. The game is equal parts something old and something new. It always feels like Final Fantasy but the new combat mechanics are such a welcomed addition. After all, a complete overhaul of mechanics is the modus operandi of Final Fantasy, always exchanging a materia system, for a gambit system, never using the same mechanics more than once.
While the story is not present enough, and character motivations are hardly, if ever clear, I never felt robbed of the story or experience. Enough was there to deliver the big and small moments, and it created an interesting journey that has a very rewarding destination. This was the first Final Fantasy, I ever beat only to immediately start a new game over again. The adventure was addicting enough to make up for its noticeable shortcomings. Hajime Tabata and his team at Square Enix Business Division 2, finally brought us the Final Fantasy game we’ve been waiting for.
1. Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End
Never in my life have I seen revisionist history work so quickly. This game came out to dropped jaws, near perfect scores, and collective praise across gamers and critics alike. Fast forward a few short months, and people deem this game a disappointment, forgettable, and long in the tooth. Well, you’re all wrong, I am sorry to say.
The game IS objectively a technical masterpiece. Uncharted 4 DOES have some of the best performances and voice acting in the whole industry. You WILL experience one of the best original scores of the year. Uncharted 4 delivers stand out moments in both action and character in a way that Michael Bay wishes he could recapture. These are all undebatable things in my eyes, and not only does it deserve to be my personal number one, but it deserves the right to be called Game of the Year 2016. No other game comes close to deserving such praise. Niel Druckmann,and his team at Naughty Dog has created a near perfect experience, and it deserves your attention if you are a PlayStation 4 owner.
So there ya have it, a full year in review of the totally subjective best games of 2016. There are so many Indie games I wish i could further represent here. Games like Oxenfree, Virginia, Abzu, Stories: The Path of Destiny, Salt and Sanctuary, and I am Setsuna, are beautiful, narrative driven experiences that deserve a place on this list, and surely your absolute attention.
Plenty of big Triple A games did not make it either, but are worth the call out. Games like Doom, Titanfall 2, and Dark Souls 3 are also unmissable entries in their franchises. We were far from lacking as gamer’s this year. How did this year fair for you? Anything you felt I missed or overlooked? If there is one thing you could take away from this year, what would you say it is? For me I noticed a very obvious turn in the use of original scores in games. This has easily been one of the best years for the industry in terms of music. Share your list down below in the comments! Let’s chat about last year!