Top ten games of 2008
Despite the issues, this game is a perfect example of the type of original games that should be on services like XBLA: great production quality, easy to pick up and play, old-school feel outfitted with new-school aesthetic, and tons of replayability. It’s too bad the bugs dragged this one down, but even with the problems, it’s still a great game.
It’s not a platformer, only it is. There’s still tons of collectibles to be found, but instead of unlocking abilities, you unlock vehicle parts and get access to a Lego set that every kid has dreamed about for years. The platformer isn’t dead (and I do still hope to see an amazing next-gen platformer soon, though Mario Galaxy delivered on Nintendo’s side already), but it did take a nice drive around the countryside with this one.
Grand Theft Auto 4
Instead of growing the game outward, they grew it inward. It would be hard to top San Andreas for sheer scale and size, so they didn’t: instead, they went real, and put together the best reconstruction of a living, breathing modern city in any interactive experience.
Left 4 Dead
Perfect co-op. And boy did they nail the zombie asthetic, even while they pushed the mythology just enough to make it their own.
Rainbow 6: Vegas 2
The turn from slow strategy to cover-system action has worked very well for Rainbow Six, and spreading the multiplayer system out across the whole game (you can earn XP on your character no matter what mode you’re playing in) was a great decision that paid off very well. It’s too bad multiplayer matches seem to go too fast, but there’s endless fun to be had in t-hunting.
Wrath of the Lich King
Blizzard is just rocking it. No one else is even close to their level in terms of what they’re doing with MMOs and PC games right now. WoW was already a legendary game, but the ideas, technologies, and storylines they’re running in Northrend are just astounding.
A complete deconstruction of the Mario genre (and the myth in general). People remember it for the time warping, but it was much more than that — a moving, powerful story told not through cutscenes or text on the screen but through the actual gameplay itself. Brilliant from beginning to end.
You Have to Burn the Rope
Not all games have to or even should be hundreds of hours of epic gameplay. Sometimes all you should have to do is burn the rope, and then figure out what you’re going to do for the rest of your day.
Rolando represents what’s possible on the iPhone – it looks great, plays great, sounds great, and uses the iPhone’s potential in a way almost none of the other games in the App Store has before. This is the first really serious original triple-A title on the iPhone. Here’s to many more.
But that doesn’t mean that all games need to be original and amazing on the iPhone. Sometimes you just need a quality falling-block game with a twist to pick up and play while waiting for the bus, and Tatomic serves that purpose very well.
Top ten movies of 2008
Disclaimer: I’m behind on movies, and I know it. So a lot of the films I really wanted to see this year (Doubt, My Name is Bruce, Frost/Nixon, Gran Torino, Synecdoche, New York) I haven’t actually seen yet. But I’m soldiering on anyway with ten that I really liked.
If Ben Stiller stays in the silly comedy realm, this will likely end up being his best movie — he’s got Jack Black doing things we’d never seen him do before, he’s got a pitch-perfect skewering of a subject he knows very well, he’s got Robert Downey, Jr. in the best acting job in a comedy in years, and he’s got Tom Cruise — well I don’t know exactly what that was Tom Cruise was doing, but it was very enjoyable.
The Dark Knight
Duh. This is the Batman mythos at its core — trying to fight crazy criminals while walking the line of becoming a crazy criminal yourself — and it was supported by the scariest Joker I’ve ever seen. Including all of the Jokers in the comics. Plus, I’m in this one — when I get my hands on a Dark Knight DVD, I’ll do a post here and show you.
Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark was perfect casting, and it made for a great comic book movie. Gwyneth Paltrow also deserved a little more credit for this one — she was terrific in bringing the superhero nuttiness right back down to a more human level.
I didn’t actually like this one as much as everyone else — I still think The Incredibles is Pixar’s best film, and the themes of humanity growing fat and lazy in this one didn’t really resonate with me so much, because while most people equated the brilliant Buy-N-Large concept to Walmart, I saw some interesting parallels to Disney. But anyway, the film was still great, as beautiful as all Pixar films are, and EVE was one of the best characters of the year. Even if most of the movie was just Wall-E and EVE yelling each other’s names.
You laugh, but Stallone has proven himself as a terrific director with last year’s Rocky and this movie, which is actually a lot smaller than it seems while you watch it. But that doesn’t matter — it moves fast, it’s fun to watch, and it gives you exactly what you want: John Rambo, a guy dealing with the knowledge that when you’re pushed, killing’s as easy as breathing. Bonus points for having Julie Benz, too — she was great on Angel, is awesome on Dexter, and is good in this one as well.
Another laugher from you, probably — a TV movie likely doesn’t belong on this list. But I loved it — I’ve missed 24 for so long, it was great to see Jack back in action, even if the movie wasn’t that good. As a two hour preview for the show returning, it works great, and there was never a minute of this that I was bored or unhappy with what was happening. It was Jack, and he’s finally coming back.
This probably isn’t worth watching again, but being that I was under some influences at the time, it was probably the most visceral visual experience I had this year. Brain off, eyes engadged, it was wild.
The Air I Breathe
Brendan Fraser, for all of his silly family comedies, is an extremely underrated actor. And this is probably the best job he’s done in a dramatic film yet. He needs more parts like this.
The Incredible Hulk
There seemed to be no coming back from Ang Lee’s version, but Edward Norton did his best, and Marvel pulled it off. Sure, it got silly at the end (though the effects were great anyway), but I think I rewound and watched that chopper crash three times over. That’s the way a big-screen Hulk should be.
Don’t expect to care about the story — even James McAvoy can’t make what’s happening to him make sense. But Timur Bekmambetov took his NightWatch and DayWatch creativity with effects and brought them successfully into an American action movie. Angelina Jolie is nice eye candy, but the real charmer is the inventiveness that the action scenes bring with them. Everybody does guys jumping with akimbo pistols these days, but not everybody has them jumping across from one rooftop to the next (in Chicago, which amused me the whole movie, seeing places I go by every day), and then demolishing a whole crew of assassins. Great fun.
Top ten albums of 2008
Fleet Foxes “Fleet Foxes”
White Winter Hymnal is pretty much the best song of the year. That’s all I really have to say about this one – it’s on the top of everyone else’s lists, too. It’s great.
Bon Iver “For Emma, Forever Ago”
Ditto – not much you can say about this one that hasn’t been said. It’s simply crafted (supposedly by a guy by himself in the northern woods), and unbelievably beautiful.
Hold Steady “Stay Positive”
Quality American rock songs with a story behind them. The title track is a refreshing look at the future.
Girl Talk “Feed the Animals”
My one issue with Girl Talk is that he’s too schizo – instead of actually exploring the connections between the songs he samples, he moves way too fast from song to song to song. That’s part of the feat, I guess (playing “name this tune”), and the album sounds great. But I think if your thing is mashups, you have a responsibility to put something of yourself in there, and he really doesn’t.
Jonathan Coulton: Everything he’s done
He didn’t really release any of those amazing tunes this year (he’s been putting together great geek pop for years), but this was Coulton’s year: performing at PAX, showing up on The Daily Show, and riding the “Still Alive” wave to get his music in Rock Band and out to the bigger audience it deserves.
MGMT “Oracular Spectacular”
Album: 8. “Time to Pretend”: 11. Million.
Mountain Goats & Kaki King “Black Pear Tree”
Saw them live and they were both amazing. This EP is one of the most overlooked of the year. And if it wasn’t for a last-minute showing by the Mario Kart Love Song, their Thank You Mario tune would be the best Mario-related song of the year.
She & Him “Volume 1”
I thought this album came out last year, but no, I’ve only been crushing on Zooey Deschanel for most of 2008. She was so awesome on this album I’ve had all of her movies on Netflix (yes, even Flakes, ugh), and I watched most of Bones (ugh) hoping for a cameo. “Volume 1” means there’s more volumes to come, right? Please?
Weezer “Weezer” (a.k.a. The Red Album)
I’ve stuck with Weezer through thick and thin, even while my friends were making fun of me for still liking them (I’m still a fan of “Make Believe,” no matter what anyone says). And sure, this album had its weak spots (I couldn’t name any of the songs not written by Rivers), but “Pork ‘n’ Beans”? “Troublemaker”? And “Greatest Man that Ever Lived” is a classic. Still proud to be a Weezer fan.
Jem “Down to Earth”
Don’t you dare make a Holograms joke — Jemma Watson is rocking a great mix of trip-pop, and almost no one is noticing. Her first album, “Finally Woken,” had my favorite songs of 2003 on it, and this album follows up with just slightly fewer really great songs. But the title track and “It’s Amazing” make up for the lack for any low points.