Archive for December, 2016

Best of 2016: Top 10 Movies

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I’m not sure if 2016 was a better year for going to the movies than 2015, but it was definitely a much better year for my motivation to go to the movies, and that mostly came about due to the comparatively high volume of “event movies” – or films a large number of people were talking about – that hit cinemas throughout the year. And as it turns out, even though a handful of those event movies were pretty average (spoilers: you won’t see Independence Day: Resurgence on this list), more than enough of them were good to make up what I think is a fairly decent top ten. So let’s finish this.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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 strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.
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10. Doctor Strange

While it’s easy to look at the plot of Marvel Studios’ adaptation of Stephen Strange and point out its rather generic “origin story” flow, leaving the assessment of the movie at that would be dramatically underselling it. Doctor Strange‘s place in the catalogue of MCU movies is as much about its unique look as its plot, characters and corresponding performances (which are great, by the way). The action that unfolds on screen is visually creative in ways matched by no other superhero movie – and the sequences only escalate in creativity and impact throughout the movie right up until Strange’s memorable final confrontation. Another good one, then.

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Best of 2016: Top 15 Games

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Now for the home stretch.

2016 was ultimately a much better year for videogames than it might currently feel like it was. No really, I mean it. Some of the latter-year triple-A releases may have failed to hit the mark with large enough audiences, and the pacing of the videogame release schedule in general was super weird (What on earth happened to the trend set over the last couple of years that June/July/August can be a smart period to release games? Why was Ubisoft the only company releasing anything big in the first three months of the year?). Yet when you look at a list of all the titles that hit over this bizarre 12-month period, there’s a hell of a lot of quality there. The indie and JRPG scenes in particular had phenomenonal 2016s, multiple games with years upon years of hype delivered on at least some of it, and there were plenty of surprising hits that came seemingly out of nowhere. Welcome to this countdown of my favourite 15 videogames of 2016.

The letters in parentheses after each title indicates where I played that game.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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 strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.
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15. ReCore (XBO)

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At the start of the year I might have expected I’d soon play a 2016 game with 3D platformer collect-a-thon roots, but never would I have thought I’d find it inside that Xbox-exclusive Keiji Inafune/Armature game announced at last year’s E3. It turns out that ReCore is more of a platformer at heart than any retail 3D action game released this decade, and its airborne control mechanics feel wonderful. It also packs a massive world that encourages exploration and plenty of colour-coded shooting boss battles that aren’t afraid to get difficult, with customisable robots thrown in for good measure. Some confusingly restrictive systems and a lack of environmental variety may weigh it down as it plods through its latter stages, but ReCore is still one of the year’s most pleasant surprises for me.

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Best of 2016: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

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One of the symptoms of the churning waters of 2016 in K-Pop was the comparative evaporation of full album releases from big players in the industry. Whereas every previous year I’ve done this countdown has brought a reliable salvo of well-polished, high-variety SM releases – usually led by f(x) – and a breakout LP or two with strong devotion to a decidedly non-Korean concept – think IU’s Modern Times or Wonder Girls’ REBOOT – 2016 had neither. If your first thought is that this might translate to a bloodbath of competitive mini-albums, you’d be right, as hedging bets seemed to be the name of the game for the big Korean entertainment companies this year. Luckily there were still some real gems spread throughout the year for fans of longer form K-Pop, and you can find my favourites below.

For the purposes of this list a mini-album is a release between four and seven tracks long, while a full album holds eight or more.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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. Music is a very personal thing and if you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS
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5. The Velvet – Red Velvet

I’m just such a sucker for clearly defined concepts when it comes to albums of any kind, so Red Velvet’s The Velvet was always going to have a bit of a leg-up in a crowded year for quality K-Pop minis. As a follow-up to last year’s energetic, off-kilter The Red, the idea behind The Velvet is to show off the softer, more conventional side to the quintet that is in theory build into the group’s very identity. And for the most part, it pulls the idea off, with only the robotic rhythm of Cool Hot Sweet Love there to indicate that this is even the same people who did The Red. While some may find the lower tempo and less experimental flavour a bit boring, if the 90s warble of lead track One of These Nights is any indication of the kind of song we’ll get in the future from this half of the Red Velvet discography, I’m in. And that’s before I mention Rose Scent Breeze, the most glorious instance of cheesy, karaoke-friendly ballad goodness I’ve heard in a long time. I have screamed out the chorus of this song on late drives home more times than I care to admit.

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Best of 2016: Top 10 Movie Scenes

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Movie scenes! Much like gaming moments, they bring delicious morsels of potential discussion to us and our friends – but they are much more static, and thus even easier to appreciate on a wide scale. Though this might have been a bad sign for originality or standout movie moments of any kind in eras gone by, 2016 brought plenty of animated hits and big-budget action blockbusters, and in recent years that has actually meant a pretty consistent well of memorable scenes worth talking about. This year continued the trend. Spoilers coming, obviously. Lots of them.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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 strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

Big movie spoilers follow!
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10. Sweet Dreams – X-Men Apocalypse

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My feelings on this scene are pretty mixed, because it’s very appeal is based on an all-too-similar scene that topped my list two years ago, starring the exact same character. Quicksilver, the breakout mutant of X-Men: Days of Future Past, has a lot more screen time in Apocalypse, and he kicks it off this time around with another slow-motion action scene set to a period-appropriate tune. The scene is, of course, amazing anyway, as the silver-haired troublemaker arrives at the X-Mansion just in time to save a bunch of its inhabitants from an explosion that happens to be unfolding far slower than the guy can move. The ways he saves them are as amusing as you’d expect, and the Eurythmics backing track fits everything so well.

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Best of 2016: Top 10 Gaming Moments

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Not every game worth playing brings a single standout moment worth talking about separately – Oftentimes it’s the consistent elegance of the mechanics, presentation and/or story flow that makes a game worthwhile. But many will have standalone gameplay sequences, story twists or bits of content that stand out from everything around them, either because the rest of the game is not quite as memorable, because everything just seems to come together in that moment, or even because when you played them you were in exactly the right mood to be affected by them. As a result, everyone’s lists will likely be pretty different, but these are my picks for the most memorable videogame moments of 2016. Spoilers are everywhere here.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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 strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

Big videogame spoilers follow!
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10. Getting Schooled – Pokemon Sun

Opinion seems to vary wildly on the difficulty of Pokemon Sun & Moon relative to the last few games in the series – and in truth a lot of that always depends on team composition – but at least for me and the five people I played alongside on launch day, it presented a challenge for which we weren’t quite ready. You can pretty much nail down the start of that difficulty spike to the first trial of the second island, where the player comes face-to-face with a School Form Wishiwashi – a gargantuan fish with boosted stats roughly equivalent to the most powerful legendaries in the game. Its raining when you fight it and it will summon allies to use Helping Hand – all of which combines to ensure that even its Water Gun is strong enough to one-hit-KO every Pokemon in your party that doesn’t resist water moves. I was lucky enough to have it summon an Alomomola, too – a Pokemon capable of healing the son of a bitch for half its health whenever it felt like it. The whole thing was a tense struggle that felt tremendously refreshing.

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Best of 2016: Top 10 Movie Characters

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Time to talk movies.

Characters remain the heart and soul of any decent film, and there were plenty of magnetic ones on the big screen in 2016, even if we’re just talking big blockbusters (which unsurprisingly made up most of what I saw this year). A few new takes on big-name characters make it on to my list this year, but as usual it’s dominated by the surprises – major and supporting characters that add laughs, narrative depth and/or reasons to get excited about every new scene in which they appear. Also, not a single villain on the list this year. Yep, it’s true.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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 strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

Some movie spoilers follow.
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10. Wonder Woman – Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

Ben Affleck’s brutal take on Batman was one of the only positive aspects of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice that people seem to agree on, but he’s a character we’ve seen on screen a million times, so I’m putting Gal Gadot’s Wonder Woman on this list instead. Slinking around the fringes of the action for most of the movie, Gadot nails the supreme self-assurance of Diana Prince, and she remains an intriguing figure you want to see more of – even if one of her major narrative functions is to be an audience surrogate for an incredibly forced Justice League introduction sequence. When Prince returns in the final act as Wonder Woman, she lights up the final battle, bringing with her one of the most immediately memorable musical motifs of the year.

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Best of 2016: Top 5 Game Consoles

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2016 was a year of transitions for console gaming. With at least one – possibly two – machines on their way out and another pair going through significant physical changes, there was a lot on offer for owners and prospective owners of the five main dedicated gaming consoles alike this year. Because it’s fun to do so, I will now rank them once again. Exclusive games on each were plentiful, helping to draw lines in the sand between the consoles, but I’m also counting versions of non-exclusive games that I feel are different enough from their siblings to warrant a mention. Needless to say, new versions of existing hardware weigh heavily as well.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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 strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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5. Wii U

(LAST YEAR: 3rd)

 

At the start of 2016 there was a pervasive feeling that the Wii U was on its last legs, but we had no way of knowing just how barren the year would be for the ailing console. Its relatively bare schedule of major releases throughout the year only kicked off in March, and though Pokken Tournament turned out surprisingly well, a slightly-tuned HD remaster of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess wasn’t exactly the kind of release to attract new buyers (even if that remaster was pretty damn good). Then April marked the death knell for the console, as that brought with it the combined disappointment of Star Foz Zero and the announcement that the Wii U’s successor – then codenamed NX – would release in March 2017.  From then on, only three first-party games came out on the platform at all. Admittedly, Paper Mario: Color Splash and Tokyo Mirage Sessions #FE were fantastic, but that simply isn’t enough to make a year worth celebrating, sadly. Onward to the Switch, then?

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Best of 2016: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

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Wow, five years of listening to K-Pop. I’m not sure how to feel really.

When I first discovered the increasingly wide genre back in 2012, talk of a “five year curse” was prevalent – the idea that K-Pop groups, especially female ones, seem unable to stay together for much longer than half a decade. And though the supposed rule has hardly been exact in its application, 2016 is sure as hell going to be remembered as a year of falling dominoes in the world of K-Pop groups. In the same year that the Brown Eyed Girls celebrated an unprecedented full decade without a member change, the likes of Miss A, Kara (for real this time), 4Minute, Rainbow and 2NE1 – all of whom were in top form when I started out – bit the dust. Other big acts lost important members (B2ST) or finally shuffled off to their mandatory military service (Bigbang), in the process well and truly solidifying the shift in Korean music generations that arguably started in 2014. The landscape is now almost unrecognisable from the days of Gangnam Style.

Of course some things never change, and history is bound to repeat. Though there are more successful soloists, more acoustic guitars, more rappers and heavier EDM beats around than ever before, K-Pop’s affiliation with cutesy girl group concepts returned in a big way in 2016 – especially among mid-tier acts – with barely a trace of the often-tacky “sexy” stylings of the last few years. And while we’re on the subject, it’s kind of a cool novelty to see each of the Big Three Korean entertainment companies bringing a properly successful female group to the table at the same time. That arguably hasn’t happened since 2012, at the tail end of the Wonder Girls/SNSD/2NE1 glory days. Now we have Twice/Red Velvet/Blackpink, and they have cute/weird/cool covered quite well respectively.

But I’m not here to write a dissertation; I’m here to count down my top 15 favourite K-Pop songs of the year, and there are a lot of different kinds of tracks to cover. So let’s do that, for the fifth time on Vagrant Rant.

No more than one song from a group/solo/collaboration can be eligible for this list, and it only takes into account songs that have a corresponding music video and feature Korean language lyrics. Every aspect of the release, visual and otherwise, is considered, but overwhelmingly the audio comes first.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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. Music is a very personal thing and if you actually agree with me 100%, that’s strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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15. Last Dance – Bigbang

I hope you’ll allow me a sentimental entry to kick things off.

Bigbang may be a YG Entertainment act, and true to their label they tease fans regularly with releases that don’t actually release for months or years after they are first mentioned. But they’ve been around in some way or another, without any real hint of breaking up, for ten years, and the gigantic quintet has given us a lot of fine memories. So on the eve of their mandated military service they released, alongside two other pretty decent songs, this heartstring-puller, and its emotional impact feels earned. Last Dance gives Bigbang a contemplative track that feels rather, shall we say, final, particularly alongside its brooding MV. There ain’t nothing wrong with it musically, though, providing plenty of Bigbang staples like growling Daesang/smooth Taeyang vocals, a bassy T.O.P rap and a soaring chorus that ends with a definitive full stop. Good luck to ’em.
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Best of 2016: Top 5 Gaming Trends

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It’s all good stuff from here on out. Well, in my opinion anyway.

Every year in videogames is eventful, and looking for patterns around these events is something I’ve grown to enjoy a great deal in recent times. Looking at trends – which, for the purpose of this list, are positive or at least neutral – can help us better remember a year in gaming as more than just a collection of months, and maybe even get a glimpse at where the medium is going. Here are five I thought worth mentioning from 2016.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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 strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

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5. JRPGs Are Back!

Here’s an easy one; it’s only what I spent most of my blogging hours this year covering, after all. Likely due to a combination of simplified game delivery channels, crowdfunding culture, a YouTube-boosted nostalgia wave, a set of opportunistic smaller publishers stacked with localisation specialists, and the likes of Square Enix/SEGA trying frantically to get their act together, the Japanese role-playing game is currently more prolific than it has perhaps ever been. Players looking for a mechanically satisfying grind with zany characters and a narrative to match are refreshingly spoilt for choice whether they gravitate towards PC, consoles, mobile or dedicated handhelds (especially dedicated handhelds). Want examples from 2016? I’ve got you covered.

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Best of 2016: Top 10 Disappointments

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Negativity isn’t all that much fun to write about, at least for me personally. But there is something cathartic about it, and it can theoretically help us improve on things. Apparently people really like reading about it too, because this annual list always seems to attract quite a few views. So here we go with the top ten most disappointing developments in 2016 entertainment media, at least to me.

There are some spoilers in this year’s list, so proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2016 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 strange. Fun, but strange. Respectful disagreement is very welcome.

Some videogame/movie spoilers follow.
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10. No Man’s Storm

I don’t know what’s more disheartening about the whole No Man’s Sky debacle – that it failed to live up to the expectations set by the general gaming public, that its unclear whether those expectations ever really came from the game’s marketing itself, or that its development team, Hello Games, did nothing to clarify what the game would actually be like in the lead-up to its release. The whole ordeal ultimately came down to a series of unsavoury smokescreens and I’m sure other people’s lists would feature the game much higher up. I didn’t end up playing very much of it though.

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