I watched more movies this year, old and new, than any other year in my life! Almost all of them were at home on streaming services, but I did get to see a bunch of new releases in theaters (almost entirely empty.) I strongly believe that 2022 was the best year in film of the modern era! I've written reviews of nearly all the films I watched this year on Letterboxd; they're each available here, along with a listing, in order, of my 2022 new release watches from favorite to least.
Monday, January 2, 2023
This year was largely spent on movies rather than games, but I still had time to play quite a few! I deeply disliked a handful of otherwise well-regarded games, but I don't feel the need to go into that; let's focus on what was good rather than stink it up. This time around, games are in order of enjoyment rather than alphabetical.
Top Ten Games of 2022
Elden Ring - The latest FromSoftware adventure was easily my favorite game of 2022. Aside from putting more hours into it than anything else, it was just an amazing, engrossing experience that I've already played through multiple times. I'm going to keep coming back to this one for years. There's just so much to find and every little corner of the map has something useful, deadly, or funny, and while it's not as tightly tuned as Sekiro or Bloodborne, it's an amazing game.
Kirby and the Forgotten Land - The most adorable post-apocalyptic game ever made, and Kirby's first true 3D platforming title. My daughter and I had a ton of fun playing this in co-op mode, completing the game multiple times. When you're not going through action stages you can goof off in Waddle Dee Town listening to music, eating food, fishing, etc. That was her favorite part. A game with an enormous amount of charm.
Bayonetta 3 -There are some real performance problems in action-heavy scenes, some graphics issues, and the story is genuinely bad, but the action is so fun that I can overlook that and still think this is the most fun game in the series. The original game has the best art design, the second has the most fun story, and this one was my favorite for the actual fighting. Another game that I replayed multiple times, I was very satisfied to get all platinum trophies on hard mode. Fighting is divided between standard over the top Bayonetta action, Elevator Action style sidescrolling stages, and the more defensive-heavy new character, Violet. She's a divisive character but I had a ton of fun with her fighting style.
The Punchuin - An indie action-puzzler where a penguin knocks blocks around to make matches. The concept is very simple and easy to learn, but the stage design, controls, and art style are so tight that it elevated this title to one of my top five of the year. There's a nice vs. mode included, but it's unfortunately local multiplayer only. The only knock against this game is I wish it had online leaderboards.
Donut Dodo - A single-screen arcade experience with the platforming of Donkey Kong, the enemy pathing strategy of Burger Time, and the bonus collection structure of Rally-X. It's a love letter not just to one game, but to an entire genre, and it's masterfully made. The controls are excellent (and much more forgiving than the games that inspired it) and the designers really understood how to give this game its own personality without ever feeling like a knockoff. Surprisingly rare in retro revival style games, Donut Dodo is one of the very best of its kind.
Final Fantasy Origin: Stranger of Paradise - A weirdo action-heavy remake/prequel/maybe more based on the original Final Fantasy, I didn't expect to enjoy this one as much as I did. It's a bombastic melodrama that walks the line of comedy and drama really well, with an awesome soundtrack and very entertaining monster fighting. I haven't had a chance to try any of the DLC stories yet, but the core game is completely satisfying on its own. The only real flaw is the endless dump of gear you never need, similar to the developer's previous Nioh games. It's a pain to sort through and dump the trash items.
Tactics Ogre Reborn - A remake of the PSP remake of the PS1 remake of the Super Famicom title from 1995. Each iteration adds more quality of life improvements and remixes the way skills work just enough that they feel like new experiences. This is one of the all time great tactical RPGs and it still feels fresh today with largely excellent voice acting and dialogue choices that actually DO have a massive impact on the story. This time around the game is a little more random, with skill cards popping up in battle near both players and enemies. This was one element I didn't like; the tide of battle can turn quickly based on luck rather than skill. Otherwise, it's still a stellar title.
Atelier Sophie 2: The Alchemist of the Mysterious Dream - A big improvement over the battle and alchemy systems of 2015's Atelier Sophie, this is a very relaxing game with a fun cast of characters. The story is bizarre and feels like a complete derail from the original game's ending, but individual bits are cute and delightful. No one in the game seems to find the core concept of "goddess traps random people in a dream world of her own creation" upsetting, weirdly.
Valkyrie Elysium - A revival of the PS1 classic Valkyrie Profile series, Elysium is an action-brawler rather than an RPG. It's not particularly deep, but it's a very fun game to just wail on ghosts and blob monsters in while melodramatic Norse gods yell at each other. Everyone's pretty and the costumes are cool and there's some surprisingly tender backstories here; I heard very little buzz about it, but there's a well-written trans character here and she's great. I haven't played the God of War series; Valkyrie is more my style, I'm guessing.
Tetris: The Grand Master - The first ever home port of the 1998 arcade Tetris focused on high-speed rounds and attaining master rankings. This isn't a new game by any means; it's a straight port that's part of the always excellent Arcade Archives series. It's release is a landmark, though, with the title finally playable outside of fan emulation. The exact opposite of the relaxing, meditative Tetris Effect, this one's a panic attack in puzzle form and I love it.
Thursday, January 6, 2022
2021 was a solid year for movies, but what about games? This year I replayed a lot of games, including the three Game Boy Advance Castlevanias (my first time playing them on a TV instead of an unlighted GBA; being able to see the graphics so much clearer was amazing) and half of the Souls series (and I finally finished Sekiro after being stuck on the final boss for ages). For new games, I tried out the Atelier series for the first time, starting with Atelier Ryza, and was pleasantly impressed. On that note, let's look at my top ten!
Top Ten Games of 2021
Atelier Ryza 2: Lost Legends & the Secret Fairy - Whether it's action movies or video games, I'm tired of "We've got to stop the bad guy from blowing up the world" plots. Atelier Ryza goes in a completely different direction, with its threats local and its focus on uncovering the past and becoming better people by recognizing the sins of our ancestors.
The first Ryza game is a coming of age story with a climate change backdrop and the second focuses on drifting around trying to find your place in the world once your friends have graduated and moved on to new jobs/lives. The biggest shock to me is that it's a series focused on gather items and brewing potions that's actually fun! Both the RPG fighting and the alchemy scenes are more refined this time around, which makes sense as our heroes have grown smarter and stronger in the years between these two stories.
The atmosphere is so laid back and delightful, even when covering serious topics, that Ryza's world is just an incredibly comfortable place to live in.
Chicory: A Colorful Tale - A combination Zelda-style adventure and paint program, players color their black and white world to complete puzzles, fight enemies, and bounce from platform to platform. It's a game that celebrates creativity and it's genuinely funny, whether you're laughing at the jokes or your own miserably messy attempts to paint portraits. There's the expected plot about depression, but the far more interesting aspect of the story is a movement to take ownership of art away from the elite and give its power to all people.
Ender Lilies: Quietus of the Knights - This is a Castlevania-type game that never wastes the player's time: Huge respect for giving players a double jump in the first 10 minutes instead of holding it back. Travel is easy, figuring out where to go next is simple even with all of the possible branches, and combat is challenging without being punishing. The entire game, from story to music, has a fairytale/lullaby mood, and players move from feeling defenseless to empowered as they take control of their world. Ender Lilies is the best indie Castlevania-type I've played in a long time!
Life is Strange 3 - The fourth Life is Strange installment is called Life is Strange 3 and it moves from episodic releases to a single, long form story focused on a character who has the ability to observe, manipulate, and absorb the emotions of others. This story could easily be written as a horror tale, but instead follows a troubled but genuinely good person who just wants to live a normal life. Smaller than the road-trip story of Life is Strange 2, #3 is set entirely in and around a small mountain town that players get to know intimately. I've got a ton of respect for this series focusing not only on different characters but on entirely different story structures each time, and #3 is a mature refinement of the series' signatures.
Lost Judgment - The second installment of Sega's Yakuza spinoff, Lost
Judgment is a refinement of the first game's combat and world exploration.
While Yakuza moved from its classic brawling gameplay to turn-based
mechanics in Yakuza: Like a Dragon, the Judgment series continues
where the series tradition of solving mysteries and making friends by actively
punching people in the brain.
This time, detective Takayuki Yagami goes undercover as a teacher at a local high school in order to make sense of an extremely convoluted series of crimes. When he's not playing detective or lawyer, Yagami gets to teach kids how to dance, build robots, and play Virtua Fighter. Some of these minigames are great, others (the motorcycle races) are exhausting, but overall it's a great time even if the story isn't quite as impactful as the previous game's.
Metroid Dread - Nintendo's long-awaited follow-up to 2002's Metroid Fusion, Dread is an incredible experience that shows why this series is still so special even after decades of tributes, imitators, and knockoffs. The map feels large but straightforward, exploration feels organic, and, most importantly in an action game, movement feels wonderful. It's the most challenging game Nintendo's released in ages, but you usually restart very close to where you failed so every loss feels like a learning experience instead of a punishment. It's on the shorter side compared to some games in the genre, but I'm fine with that; I immediately wanted to replay a second time once I finished it.
Nier: Replicant - A remake of 2010's Nier, made in the wake of the popularity of its 2017 sequel Nier: Automata. While Automata struck a chord with audiences worldwide, its character left me feeling cold, with a story more focused on the greater world rather than individuals. While there's nothing wrong with that, I always preferred the character-focused original, and this remake just reinforced how much I love these characters. The art is updated, combat is refined and there's an additional (excellent) ending, but everything that made the original Nier so special to me is still here, just as great as ever.
Persona 5 Strikers - An excellent sequel and a very fun brawler, Persona 5 Strikers is a nice, relaxing summer vacation mystery. This is one that you can't really follow without playing Persona 5 first, but for those who have, it feels great to return to its world and characters in a more low-key story where the cast gets to party and solve mysteries on a road trip across Japan. I enjoyed the turn-based combat of Persona 5, but had even more fun with the massive brawls in Strikers. More so than the previous game, the cast of Strikers feels like a genuine group of friends and in a year where everyone was locked down, a virtual vacation helped make things a little less dreary.
Resident Evil 8: Village - Which genre of horror is this one? All of them. It rules. Funny, spooky, great atmosphere. The first-person exploration of Resident Evil 7: Biohazard returns, but with more emphasis on combat and a campier cast of villains that feels more like the wonderful weirdos of Resident Evil 4. You fight werewolves, gillmen, borgs, vampires, Transformers, and a very tall lady. Similar to the underappreciated The Evil Within, the experience here is reminiscent of a real nightmare that shifts often and violently, defying logic and reality at every turn. It's hard to pull this sort of thing off, but Village does so spectacularly.
Returnal - The best sound design of the year, this is a game that I'm
very happy I played with decent headphones. A timeloop robot-alien adventure
with randomly shifting arenas, Returnal has some of the best feeling
action of the year, and is my favorite shooter since Doom 2016. The
random shuffling of rooms and items isn't the most interesting (the game would
honestly work better as a singularly designed world) but movement and fighting
is so spectacular that I was able to overlook that. Some of the year's best
boss fights! This is a classic arcade experience combined with modern, cinematic
game design philosophy.
Actraiser Renaissance - A surprise remake of Quintet's 1990 SNES classic, Actraiser Renaissance takes the platforming/city-building hybrid cult classic and refines its combat, adds a new, almost claymation visual style, remixed music (the original is here as an option), an entirely new zone, and a tower-defense/real time strategy element. The original is one of my favorite 16-bit titles and the remake is an absolute great time as long as you aren't interested in 100%ing it. If you are: Prepare for a grind. Don't do that to yourself!
Deathloop - Another sci-fi timeloop shooter, Deathloop feels
completely different from Returnal, with its focus on learning patterns
and solving puzzles within the same repeating areas time after time. It's more
linear than it first appears, but figuring out everything that makes Deathloop
tick is extremely satisfying. There's a lot of style here and a cool world
design, but then it just ends abruptly with what can barely be called an
Record of Lodoss War: Deedlit in Wonder Labyrinth - Another excellent Castlevania-type action game, this one is based on a classic anime that I watched in the 90's and remember next to nothing about. That's fine; the story isn't important here at all. Combat focuses on hitting elemental weaknesses and quickly switching between Fire and Wind modes to negate damage, giving this game's combat a unique feel from the dozens of similar games released each year. Its pixel art is also top-notch.
Super Mario 3D World & Bowser's Fury - A minor update of Nintendo's
2013 Super Mario 3D World, one of my all-time favorite Mario titles,
packaged together with Bowser's Fury, a brand new, open world Mario
adventure. Two very different Mario games, both are a ton of fun, but I am a
little surprised to see the amount of slowdown and performance issues that pop
up in Bowser's Fury. Still, it's worth it to see a Godzilla fight
between a giant Bowser and a gigantic kaiju Cat Mario.
Tales of Arise - The latest installment in the long-running Tales series,
Arise follows a group of rebels fighting against space fascism, only
unlike Star Wars it's the rebel leader that gets to wear the cool mask.
Combat is fun (but can get a little hard to follow at times), the world looks
great, and the story is genuinely compelling, but it loses a lot of steam
towards the end, when the game's open structure becomes a series of hallways
and extremely long exposition scenes. Still, at least 75% of the game is
excellent, and there are lots of goofy owl buddies to collect.
Monday, January 3, 2022
This year I'm doing things a little differently, focusing on my top ten movies and games (plus honorable mentions) rather than summarizing everything I watched and played. I watched a total of 100 movies this year, 50 of them new releases, and still didn't see everything I wanted to! That's an all-time record for me in yet another deeply weird year spent mostly at home. Work continues steadily on Walthros: Renewal, which I'm hoping to release later this year, and we adopted a second cat!
|Sammy the Seal|
Let's start things with my movie picks! I watched a lot of horror this year, both old and new, obscure and mainstream; I rewatched all of the Nightmare on Elm Street and Friday the 13th movies and then went on a deep dive into folk horror on the basis of recommendations in the excellent documentary Woodlands Dark and Days Bewitched. Of my top ten new films this year, seven out of ten were horror with six more filling out my Honorable Mentions section! It was, to say the least, a very spooky year.
Top Ten Films of 2021
Candyman (Nia DaCosta) - I like stories about the intersection of fiction and reality and this movie answers the question, "What if Velvet Buzzsaw was actually good?" This is a great sequel to the 1992 original of the same name that both recontextualizes the original story and stands on its own as something new, with its most powerful moments being the fantastic finale. It's rare for a horror movie to have a great ending, let alone have the ending actually be the best part! The atmosphere throughout is great, but it's the shadow puppetry that absolutely steals the show.
Censor (Prano Bailey-Bond) - Another one that blurs the line of reality and fiction, Censor is my favorite horror film of 2021. Niamh Algar's lead role as Enid Baines is one of my favorite performances of the year; watching her world slowly unravel and mutate into a cinematic nightmare is both unnerving and compelling, a loss of self-identity that's easily relatable even as it crosses into horrifying.
Come True (Anthony Scott Burns) - This is a movie that really made me miss theaters. An incredibly effective mood piece about dreams with outstanding art design in its nightmare realm, I'd have loved to see this in a dark room just completely consumed by its sights and sounds. The ending is a bit iffy, but otherwise this is a film with an incredible sense of unease throughout every scene.Guerrero in a "super powered misfits living in isolation trying to overcome an overbearing parent figure" story with a living house and a desperate need to break hetero-normative expectations so it's basically a PG version of Doom Patrol.
The Green Knight (David Lowery) - One of the few movies I actually did see in a theater this year (with a grand total of four people present) and I'm thankful I did; this is a moody audio-visual masterpiece from the director of A Ghost Story, one of my all-time favorites. It's a spooky, funny, and appropriately weird adaptation of a 14th century story that never feels dry or dated. In spite of its distance in time and setting from modern life, The Green Knight's themes of guilt and responsibility feel absolutely relevant today.
Last Night in Soho (Edgar Wright) - The perfect film for anyone who's ever walked by a mirror and thought, "I really wish Anya Taylor-Joy was on the other side." I loved the fashion, the music, every bit of colorful lighting, and the sheer drunkenness of the film's atmosphere. Anya Taylor-Joy and Thomson McKenzie are both fantastic and I'm always a sucker for Psychic Trauma Lives On In A House stories.
The Night House (David Bruckner) - A quiet horror film about trying to find something, anything, that can explain the unexplainable as a woman tries to find a way to make sense of her husband's suicide while surviving her own nightmares. Rebecca Hall is excellent, as always, and her supporting cast shows more warmth than usual for the genre.
The Paper Tigers (Daniel L.K. Caldwell) - I love stories that walk the line between genuine drama and abrupt silliness and this one balances that perfectly. It's sweet, moving, funny, and has really solid fight choreography. Our bumbling, past-their-prime heroes do their best and are all fleshed out, human characters, never just the butt of the joke.
Pig (Michael Sarnoski) - What could have been a revenge story is instead a quiet meditation on grief, mortality, and remembrance. Robin (Nicholas Cage in my favorite performance of the year) is both subdued and powerful as a reclusive gatherer whose companion hog has been stolen and the time we spend with the pig itself is delightful; anyone can appreciate a pet like this.
We follow Robin on an odyssey through Portland, seeing the hopes, pains, and dreams of the people he encounters as he moves from the wilderness through the underworld and into the light of truth. It's a celebration of cooking as an expression of the soul while simultaneously condemning the artifice of Fine Dining.
Robin possesses a perfect memory, a gift that both brings comfort and pain; he can open the hearts of those who suffer, but at the same time cannot move beyond his own loss. Sad but compassionate, this is a film that asks its audience to see and respect the pain of those around them, rather than box everyone into cartoonish "good guy, bad guy" columns.
Saint Maud (Rose Glass) - A slow-burn Satanic Catholic-guilt psycho drama looking at the thin border between life and death, epiphany and delusion, love and hate; Morfydd Clark is a fantastic lead and this movie felt 100% designed to give me, personally, an absolute deepest dread. Obligation, trauma, and regret are bundled together into an existential time-bomb that there's no good way to diffuse.
Bloodthirsty (Amelia Moses) - A gothic-musical-horror film with werewolfism as a metaphor for both primal creativity and repressed trauma, following a singer-songwriter invited to the manor of a literally predatory record producer. Gets campy and weird and the music rules. Absolutely made for me.
The Columnist (Ivo van Aart) - A satisfying revenge-horror film about manners, free speech, and online weirdos, The Columnist/De Kuthoer plays well paired with Promising Young Woman. This one leans further into the comedy side of horror-comedy, but the absurdities of the online world it presents are sadly completely true to life.
Detention (John Hsu) - There sure are a lot of movies and TV shows with this title! I'm not well-versed with the historical setting (Taiwan under martial law in the 60's) but the paranoid hopelessness is certainly universal. I always like movies where dreams are just as real and important as the waking world. The desperate need for any kind of comfort leading you into a nightmare world where even your dreams aren't a safe place to be is always powerful horror. I didn't know this was based on an indie game but that's pretty cool!
The Feast (Lee Haven Jones) - A Witch vs. Rich movie about nature bringing vengeance on people spoiling the earth for their own material gain. A combination of Parasite and Under the Skin if that's a selling point for you (it was for me)!
Lapsis (Noah Hutton) - An incredibly real look at automation and the exploitative nature of the Gig Economy told through the eyes of a grumpy, ordinary dude just trying to pay his brother's medical bills. Noah Hutton creates an incredibly natural scifi world just barely ahead of our own, and Lapsis Beeftech has got to be the best character name in ages.
The Matrix: Resurrections (Lana Wachowski) - This is the only one of the four Matrix movies where I really bought into the love story, which is the core of the film this time around. It also goes so much further into issues of fluid identity than the rest of the series, it's indulgent and over the top and great! Much funnier than expected too. I'm always up for both writing and watching self-referential art about art where life and fiction collide. Yeah, New Nightmare is one of my favorite horror movies, of course I liked this Matrix.
The Power (Corinna Faith) - One of those great double meaning titles, here talking about both electricity and patriarchal power. A classical Ghosts n' Trauma film that evolves into a modern feminist revenge story that goes beyond a story of conquering fear as our heroine learns to weaponize that fear. Fantastic atmosphere and an excellent performance by Rose Williams. Another horror film with a great ending!
Promising Young Woman (Emerald Fennell) - An incredibly grounded horror/revenge movie driven by a remarkable performance by Carrie Mulligan, this is Fennell's directorial debut and I can't wait to see what she does next! A crushing condemnation of a society and legal system that looks the other way when the accused is too big to fail. The revenge scenes are uncomfortably satisfying and the finale is both triumphant and tragic.
Spider-Man: No Way Home (Jon Watts) - The best of the Marvel Studios Spider-Man films, a series I've otherwise been very lukewarm on. Tom Holland finally gets to show some real range, the Tony Stark and SHIELD stuff I hated in the other two movies is reduced to almost nothing, and we're given a reminder of how good the previous two Spider-Man film series were (Yes, I like Spider-Man 3, yes, I like both of the Amazing Spider-Men.) While it hits a lot of similar themes, it's no Into The Spider-Verse, but it stands above anything else Marvel has released.
Zack Snyder's Justice League (Zack Snyder) - A really fun movie on its own plus a damning look at studio meddling, Zack Snyder's director's cut of Justice League is immeasurably better than Joss Whedon's ghastly 2017 reshoot. Ray Fisher's Cyborg/Vic Stone, reduced to a supporting cameo in the theatrical film, is a centerpiece of Snyder's version and the lost heart of the film. There are some missteps (The Martian Manhunter scenes derail some emotional impact and I will never care about a "Bad Guy Needs X Doodads to Win" plot) but otherwise this is far better than the average comic book film and an excellent sequel to the unfairly misjudged Batman v. Superman.
Thursday, July 1, 2021