Archive for December, 2014

Best of 2014: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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I’m not going to lie – this is a list I do mostly for my own amusement, as I know that K-Pop fans who actually devote the time to listening to albums are kind of scarce. And yet, if you’re reading this, then you are either one of those rare people, or you’re at least curious. In any case, please make yourself at home, sit back and relax as I present to you my ten favourite major album releases in Korean pop music over the course of 2014. In my humble opinion there was a decent amount of good stuff to be found this year.

The list is split into two top fives – one for Mini Albums (essentially EPs) and one for Full Albums, which qualify when they contain eight or more tracks.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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MINI ALBUMS
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5. Holler – TaeTiSeo

I’m sure it isn’t an original expression of opinion to say that the only thing holding up the overall quality of Girls Generation’s non-Japanese album output over the last several years is the work of TaeTiSeo, also known as “What happens when you distill a nine-member group down to its three best / most complementary voices”. Indeed the second album from the SNSD sub-unit is a strong sophomore effort that only falls short of their 2012 debut Twinkle by virtue of having one less track. Holler sees Taeyeon, Tiffany and Seohyun harmonise their way around a handful of vocal showcase songs that push their range and certainly do no harm to the future prospects of these three superstars of Korean pop. The mid-tempo ballads are there, as expected, but Holler also ratchets up the tempo more than Twinkle did, resulting in the highly enjoyable StayEyes and Adrenaline, not to mention a general ‘all seasons’ feel.


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Best of 2014: Top 10 Movie Scenes

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Here’s my favourite annual list once again – my personal top ten movie scenes of the year. These are the moments within 2014 films that drew real reactions from me, mostly either of the teary-eyed or the “That was so sick!” nature. Even if they come from otherwise poor movies, I will still remember these cinematic moments, and if they come from otherwise good movies, well those movies just go up a level and look all the better for it.

Naturally, this is the most spoileriffic list of them all, so please proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. The Final Blow – Godzilla

Jeez, I mean – just… Just LOOK at that shot. Badass doesn’t even begin to describe the moment when Godzilla finally bests the “MUTO” menace in his 2014 return to the big screen. It almost makes up for all the flaws in the rest of the movie. Almost.
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Best of 2014: Top 10 Gaming Moments

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Videogames are built on moments, whether those moments be built right into the fabric of the game or simply emerge from the experience of discovery and/or sharing gameplay with others. They are the difference between games you simply play and games you remember. 2014 was positively packed with instances that made gamers start conversations with “How good was it when…” These are the ten that stick out the most in my mind.

MASSIVE SPOILERS FOLLOW for a number of story-focused games, so be warned.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. Final World – Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Throughout the majority of my time with Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the story set-up that gave DK and his friends the motivation to traverse the game’s gorgeous and tough levels – I was simply enjoying the challenging gameplay flow, the sweet level design and the satisfying boss fights. That was until the final world, when I realised I had been island hopping rather than just exploring different parts of the same island like in the first DK Country Returns on Wii. I realised this because, after spending most of the game waiting for the “Freeze” part of Tropical Freeze to show up, it suddenly appeared in the form of the entire original DK Island. Each of the 8 worlds from the Wii game appears as a single level in this world, complete with returning music and signature design elements mixed with ice level tropes. A really *cool* touch from Retro Studios.
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Best of 2014: Top 10 Movie Characters

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Let’s get stuck into talking about some movies, then.

2014 was an unbelievably good year for movies, particularly blockbusters, and the characters they brought along with them to the big screens of the world were pretty universally fun to watch. Whether they were adapted from source material in another medium, based on real life people or entirely new creations, there were plenty to celebrate in 2014. There are some films that even made it really difficult for me to pick just one character for this list (and one instance where I just had to pick two). Without further ado, here is my 2014 list of my personal favourite movie characters.

Some mild plot spoilers will follow.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. TARS – Interstellar

There was a lot about Interstellar that surprised unsuspecting viewers, from its mind-screw of a plotline to its odd twisting tone to its completely un-telegraphed big name acting cameos. And yet perhaps its biggest sucker punch was the appearance and popularity of the ensemble dark horse TARS, a space-faring robot companion with a literal “humour setting”, which allows for a rare and refreshing source of comic relief throughout an otherwise very sombre film. It isn’t just the sarcastic zingers that make him so memorable, though. His visual design is unusually far from the standard Hollywood robot archetype, consisting of four magnetic rectangular prisms that work together to grant the bot a deceptive range of mobility and functionality. Very cool.
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Best of 2014: Top 5 Game Consoles

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A very merry Christmas to all! I’m celebrating with the return of another list that debuted last year – my personal opinion on how the seven major videogame consoles stacked up against one another in 2014, with sales successes taken out of the equation. I like to think I played a decent amount of everything relevant to this list in 2014, so hopefully I’m qualified for a balanced opinion. It is still an opinion, though.

Once again, the two biggest factors that go into ordering this list are overall user experience and quality of 2014 games released on the console. Exclusive games are given priority over platform-agnostic ones unless there is a significant difference in functionality and playability between versions of a game. Also, because a PC doesn’t really count as a console, I may mention certain games as “exclusives” even if they also appear on Steam.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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5. Playstation Vita

(LAST YEAR: 3rd)

The short-lived era of Western-developed “Triple A” games for the Playstation Vita appears to be over after just two years in the wild. However, it’s still my favourite console on which to play games. Portable, sleek, very pretty and supported by a near-constant stream of high quality smaller titles and big Japanese games, I spent an awful lot of time with my Vita in 2014. Sony actually released two new models of the Vita hardware this year – the even more convenient if slightly less visually capable PS Vita Slim in June, and then the rather odd but quite cool Playstation TV last month (which I reviewed on this site). It may have been completely missing a universally eye-catching new exclusive game, and its operating system may look near-identical to the 2012 launch version, but there were plenty of reasons to love the Playstation Vita in 2014 and it easily slides into my console Top 5 this time around.

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Best of 2014: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

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Trust something like K-Pop to make me nostalgic for 2012, of all things.

The ancillary troubles that dogged the Korean pop music industry throughout 2014 are well documented in K-Pop circles, and while I have no interest in writing a full-on postmortem, there’s little doubt these troubles had at least some effect on the amount of quality stuff released throughout the year. As once-big acts found themselves on the way out and the mid-tier labels attempting to profit from this got caught in a game of follow-the-leader, the resulting stretches of ho-hum releases stretched on for quite a while.

But this is K-Pop, and you can always guarantee such a high volume of output from all the gazillion labels these days that some of it is bound to be worth listening to. 2014 was no exception, producing some good quality singles worth celebrating, or in this case, counting down!

No album B-sides or non-Korean language songs from K-Pop artists are eligible for this particular list – generally only songs with MVs (music videos) appear. The visual nature of K-Pop means I have taken said MVs into consideration when ordering the list, but ultimately I made this list via an IPod audio playlist, so the song itself is the biggest contributing factor.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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15. Jackpot – Block B

K-Pop is a lesser entity overall without the crazy creative energy of Block B, so it’s a very good thing indeed that they are still around after all the label dramas of last year. Block B’s new home, Seven Seasons Entertainment, seems even more willing to let Zico and the boys loose on whatever concept tickles their fancy than Stardom was, and as a result we get things like Jackpot. Somehow both high-energy and creepy at the same time, the song leverages a carnival atmosphere to thrilling effect. Yes, the change-up for the chorus is jarring, but I have no doubt that was part of the plan, and that post-chorus is just so infectious. Block B is alive, manic and well.
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Best of 2014: Top 10 Game Cases

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Let’s kick the negativity and move on to explore the best of the best that 2014 could offer in the realm of entertainment media, at least in my opinion. We begin with that highly subjective topic – what looks good on a videogame box. Here I put forward my specific 2014 view on the simple joys of appreciating the aesthetics of packaging, whether it be with plastic, cardboard or something else. I spent a lot of time looking at videogame cases this year, and these are my top ten favourites. Front cover art is naturally the most crucial part of weighing these up against each other in my eyes, but the rest of the case is important as well. Happy viewing!

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham

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LEGO Batman 3: Beyond Gotham brings together a ridiculous amount of comic book characters from the DC Universe, sending them into space via the conceit of the various superpowered Lantern Corps. And what better way to showcase this fantastical set-up than with a suite of colour-soaked space action shots blending seamlessly with the titular hero’s billowing cape? I dig the hell out of this visual design choice, as it also affords the artists the ability to line up some of the more well-known DC characters in a more grounded fashion on the case’s lower half. Nice.
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Best of 2014: Top 10 Disappointments

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Last year I began my year-end countdowns with a list of a more negative flavour than the stuff I’m usually inclined to write, but it received a pretty substantial amount of attention (who knew?) and was a refreshing challenge to put together, so here we are with its 2014 return. I present my opinion on the top 10 entertainment media disappointments of 2014.

In the early months of the year, I didn’t have much of a list building. Almost every widely anticipated movie proved to exceed expectations rather than dip below them, and as for videogames, despite a relative six month drought of major releases, there was always something good to play. Then, in the second half of 2014, things started to unravel, with huge, emotionally charged media stories abounding over controversial issues. They were mostly gaming related, which stung a bit, but that was fine with me in at least one department, as it ensured I wouldn’t have to think up a new type of list for 2014. Here we go.

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.
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10. Interstellar fell short of the hype

One could make the point that no movie of 2014 felt the weight of expectation more than Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar. Many people, myself included, waited with baited breath for more details to be revealed about the sci-fi epic following a highly cryptic opening teaser and an even less transparent first trailer. Few would disagree that Nolan’s highly impressive track record justified the kind of hype afforded to Interstellar, but when the disappointing first wave of reviews came through for the American release of the film, that hype backfired. Then, as my free time began to dissipate due to new commitments, a lot of my friends started to see it without me, and several of them raved about it. So my hopes were raised again – then I saw it myself. While I do think Interstellar is a good movie, even a very good one, I just can’t get past its messy attempts at sentimentality which, for me, place it below every other (admittedly excellent) Nolan movie thus far. It’s a compliment to the director, really.
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Best of 2014: Intro

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And so it is that we are already at the end of another year. You know what that means – I lose the last two weeks of my year in a frantic haze of writing up ten carefully pre-considered Top Ten countdowns, focusing on videogames, movies and K-Pop music. I wouldn’t have it any other way, because this is the most wonderful time of the year. I look forward to helping you revisit some of the finest pieces of entertainment released over the last twelve months, whether you agree or disagree with my particular choices. I hope you’ll sit back, relax and enjoy a pleasant read or ten.

This is my third year doing this and I feel a lot more settled in my approach than I did in 2013, opting to bring back all ten of the specific types of countdowns I ran last year. In fact, just like last year, you won’t see any movie-related countdowns until about halfway through, to allow for me to catch the Boxing Day Australian opening of Disney’s Big Hero 6 before I sit down and finalise my film lists. We begin in about 24 hours with a real downer, my top ten general entertainment disappointments of 2014. See you then!

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VR BEST OF 2014 DISCLAIMER
The ten lists that follow represent my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting them as I have. My opinion is not fact. If you actually agree with me 100%, that’s spooky. Respectful disagreement is most welcome. No, seriously.
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A Public Service Announcement for Wii U Owners

Though it’s really, really difficult to believe right now, the Wii U just turned 2 years old a couple of weeks ago, and that means there is something you should probably look into rather soon if you happen to own a Premium version of the console (that’s the black one).

You see, whether you’ve realised it or not, ever since you’ve had your Wii U you may have been earning points towards what ultimately amounts to free money. And in a matter of weeks your ability to earn said points will cease, so now would be a good time to have a look at your point haul.

As long as you have a working Nintendo Network ID (which is required to use the Nintendo eShop online storefront in any case), every digital purchase you have made on your Wii U since you got it, whether we’re talking GBA games, SNES games, original titles like the NES Remix twins, full downloadable versions of retail titles, right out to Mario Kart 8 DLC, Hyrule Warriors Season Passes etc, has earned you points towards an “activation code” for $7 AUD eShop credit. Now I’m not exactly sure how much you need to spend to get this activation code, but I do know that I’ve earned three of them since the Wii U launched, and that I’m very, very close to my fourth:

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So how do you find out what you’ve earned? Easy. Just go to p.nintendo.net/, choose your country, and sign in with your Nintendo Network ID. You’ll be met with a screen like the one pictured above. Note the text in the red box. Though you will have until the end of the coming March to redeem any codes you may have earned, your ability to earn those codes expires on the last day of this year. So depending on how close you are to a code, now may be the time to pick up Earthbound, Shovel Knight, Advance Wars and the like.

The more you know.