Tyler’s Favorite Games Of 2017

Tyler’s Favorite Games Of 2017

2017 brought with it so many quality gaming experiences across each and every platform, so much so that many people have claimed it to be one of the all time greatest years to be a gamer, period. I definitely played my fair share of games throughout the year, so today I’d like to talk about the ones that really stuck with me.

Honorable Mentions

Kingdom Hearts

Kingdom Hearts: Birth by Sleep 0.2- A Fragmentary Passage was a short and sweet prelude to Kingdom Hearts III that was included in the Kingdom Hearts HD 2.8: Final Chapter Prologue compilation.

Aqua is one of the coolest characters in the entire series, and piloting her through the realm of darkness was a ton of fun. The general gameplay is a big step up compared to previous entries, and feels a lot closer to something like Kingdom Hearts II, plus the game is absurdly gorgeous. A Fragmentary Passage was just a taste of what we can expect from Kingdom Hearts III, and it got me even more excited to get my hands on it.


Snipperclips was a fun, but really challenging puzzle game released around the launch of the Nintendo Switch. Although I rarely get to enjoy them these days, I absolutely love couch co-op games, especially ones like Snipperclips that really test the patience (and trust) that you have in your friends and family.

Naughty Dog is one developer whose games you can never really go wrong with, and Uncharted: The Lost Legacy is no exception. There’s no Nate, Sully or Elena this time around, as players follow the escapades of Chloe Frazer and Nadine Ross.


Lost Legacy isn’t as consistently impressive as some of the previous Uncharted games, but its high points are just as high. Gunplay is tight, traversal is nice and comfortable, and the handful of setpieces are among the best in the series.


The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild gets an honorable mention mostly because I’ve yet to finish it. Having said that, I absolutely adored everything I played. While I didn’t think much of the story, and I detested the weapon system, being able to go essentially anywhere I wanted to in a vibrant open world was more than enough to keep me engaged.


Much like Breath of the Wild, Nier Automata is another game that I loved, but never quite got around to finishing. I enjoyed the story to an extent, and I loved every minute of the hack and slash gameplay that Platinum Games has staked its name in, but the relatively empty feeling open world hampered my experience a bit. Having said that, I still think everybody should give this game a shot, as it really is something special.

Without further ado, these are my 11 favorite games from 2017

#11. Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash

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What’s not to love about a game like Senran Kagura: Peach Beach Splash. In addition to having costumes and skill cards that are totally unlockable in game without having to spend a dime, there’s also tons of sexy, busty and scantily clad shinobi schoolgirls to play as.

On a semi-serious note, Peach Beach Splash was some of the most mindless fun I had with a game in 2017, and I mean that in a good way. Leveling up my skills and weapons was really satisfying, and seeing their new effectiveness in combat was even better. Plus, ya know… busty shinobi schoolgirls…

#10. Splatoon 2


With a few exceptions like Uncharted 2: Among Thieves and Kid Icarus: Uprising, I don’t generally get too into online multiplayer games, but Nintendo’s Splatoon 2 is another one of those exceptions. I gave the game’s single player campaign a shot, but found it to be extremely boring, as the whole time I was playing it I was thinking about getting in another match of turf war.

The game is such a perfect “pick up and play” experience. Turf war matches only last about three minutes, and as such I would always find myself trying to squeeze in just one more round before I had to go to work, bed etc. While the game does have its share of quality of life issues, I was often having too much fun splatting dudes with my custom little squid kid to care.

#9. Doki Doki Literature Club

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My experience with visual novels up to this point has pretty much been limited to the Danganronpa franchise, but Doki Doki Literature Club may have made me a fan of the genre. I can’t say much about the game without spoiling it, and seeing as how the best way to experience the game is to go into it completely blind, there’s no way I’d give away all of its secrets here. What I will say however is that the game is well worth your time, plus it’s totally free to boot.

#8. Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy


I grew up with the original Playstation console, but most of my time spent with it was on Goofy’s Fun House and the Spyro franchise. With the advent of the Crash Bandicoot N-Sane Trilogy, I’m finally able to experience the platforming escapades of Sony and Naughty Dog’s orange marsupial.

The compilation got quite a bit of flak for its high difficulty upon its release, but I found most of the challenges presented by the game to be tough but fair. Crash and Coco felt awesome to control, level design was consistently challenging and rewarding, and it was fun and refreshing to play such a unique platformer, as well as filling in a sizeable gap in my career as a Playstation fan.

#7. Golf Story

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I love my Nintendo Switch, I love golf and I especially love RPGs, so it should be no surprise that one of my favorite games on the Switch in 2017 was Sidebar Games’ debut project, Golf Story. This quaint little indie game kept me thoroughly entertained for hours on end with its charming and genuinely funny dialogue, super tight golf mechanics, and intense rounds against other aspiring golf champions.

#6. Battle Chef Brigade

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I’ve been watching the Food Network ever since I was a kid, and I’ve always been a huge fan of shows like Iron Chef and Chopped. But I never would’ve guessed that Adult Swim Games would bring us the most accurate video game depiction of these shows in the form of Battle Chef Brigade.

Equal parts side-scrolling beat em’ up and match 3 puzzle game, Battle Chef Brigade is easily one of the most unique and inventive games I’ve ever played. Going out into the field to gather monster parts and plants to cook with, making sure each dish has a balanced flavor distribution, all while battling the clock made for some of the most genuinely tense gaming I’ve ever had.

The game has a gorgeous hand drawn 2d art style, and the voice acting is pretty good as well, with special mention going to protagonist Mina Han’s voice actress, the absolutely amazing Erica Mendez (who also voiced Akko from Little Witch Academia and Ryuko from Kill la Kill). Battle Chef Brigade is such a cool addition to the Nintendo Switch’s already impressive library, and easily one of my favorite titles the little hybrid system has to offer.

#5. Horizon: Zero Dawn


What do you get when you take a meticulously crafted open world, storytelling on par with titles from Naughty Dog and top it all off with intense combat scenarios not unlike those found in games like Monster Hunter? The answer to that question is none other than Guerrilla Games’ Horizon: Zero Dawn.

I’m typically not a fan of open world games, but there were so many cool locales to unearth in Horizon that I was hooked from the start. Exploration aside, my favorite part about the game was the dozens of mechanical creatures that threaten protagonist Alloy during her journey, as well as the dizzying array of options that players have available to them. Every Playstation 4 owner should have this game, as it is just as good and often better as offerings from Guerrilla’s first party siblings.

#4. Super Mario Odyssey


Super Mario Odyssey may not be my number one personal game of the year, but I’ve gone on record as saying I believe it was the best game released in 2017. Nintendo is the Disney of video games for a reason. Just when you think their ideas have become tired and stagnant, both companies give you something that reminds you just who you’re talking about.

Every single part of Super Mario Odyssey, from the control, level design and aesthetic is so lovingly crafted, and the developers at Nintendo crammed secrets into every corner of every kingdom.

I’ve been playing Mario games since I first picked up a controller, and it impresses me to no end that Nintendo is still able to put the overall clad plumber into such fresh and exciting experiences. Playing Super Mario Odyssey made me feel like a kid playing Super Mario World for the first time again, and it will always get endless praise from me for that achievement.

#3. Cuphead

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I’ve talked a lot on this blog about how much I love animation, especially Disney. I’ve also talked about how much I love those challenging, “get good” style games that reward the player for mastering mechanics its mechanics. Studio MDHR’s Cuphead is the absolute perfect marriage of these two passions, and I love it endlessly so because of this.

Challenging but rewarding games need to accomplish two things in order for me to love them. One of these things is having extremely tight and reliable controls, and the other is tough, but fair boss design. Cuphead does both of these things in spades.

Everytime I died on a platforming challenge or boss fight, I knew exactly when and where I messed up, and this really encouraged me to get back in there and try again. In a year that wasn’t so jam packed with amazing games, Cuphead would’ve easily been my personal Game of the Year, but there are just two more titles that managed to rank above it.

#2. Sonic Mania

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Sonic Mania encapsulates pretty much everything I love about the blue hedgehog. The music, the visuals, the promotional artwork and trailers, the animated sequences; Sonic Mania is one of those games that I would just play with a big ol’ goofy grin plastered onto my face the entire time.

I’m still not quite ready to say definitively, but it is probably the best Sonic game ever made. It takes the best parts of each of the original classic games, fleshes them out with levels both new and old, and throws in a few fresh ideas for good measure. I can’t wait to see what Christian Whitehead, Stealth and PagodaWest Games come up with for the inevitable sequel, and I really hope Sega and Sonic Team take the leash off and just let their creativity run wild.

#1. Persona 5

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My Game of the Year for 2017 is none other than the stylish and cool Persona 5. Coming from acclaimed Japanese developer Atlus, Persona 5 is a incredibly deep and polished experience all the way through.

Persona 4 Golden is one of my favorite games of all time, but even I have to admit that Persona 5 is a better experience in almost every aspect. The thing I’ve always said about Persona 4 Golden is that high school and social life parts of the game were incredible, but the role playing game parts were totally serviceable, just nothing too special.

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Persona 5 completely changed this for me in every possible way. Combat is so much deeper this time around, as the player is given many more options to both attack and change strategies on the fly. In addition, your confidants, Persona 5’s version of social links, yield incredibly useful gameplay benefits this time around, with being able to romance your waifu of choice being an added bonus (Makoto and Hifumi are the only right answers).

My only major complaint with Persona 5 is the narrative. It starts incredibly strong, and I think the pacing and moment to moment story beats are much better told in comparison to Persona 4 Golden, plus the themes the game tackles are surprisingly adult. But the latter third of the game makes some questionable story decisions and felt a bit rushed at times.

Anniversary.jpg Although I have issues with the game’s narrative, the characters arcs are just as strong as they were in the previous Persona title. This extends not only to your party members, but to almost all of your other confidants. Each of them has their own interesting set of problems to deal with, and it always made me genuinely happy to see them reach a satisfying conclusion.

I love Persona 5 as a gaming experience, but I also love the conversations it has spawned between me and my close friends. We talked consistently throughout the year about story opinions, discussed battle strategies and even debated waifus and best girls (I’m fed up with the slander of the Persona 4 girls by the way). I haven’t had these types of discussions with my friends since probably middle school, and it was such a heartwarming experience to have them one more time.


2017 was an unforgettable year for gaming, and 2018 is looking to be pretty exciting in its own right with titles like Dragon Ball FighterZ, Marvel’s Spider-Man, a new Tomb Raider, and of course Kingdom Hearts III. I’m looking forward to these games and many more, and I hope each of them ends up being as special and memorable as my favorites from 2017.


My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Kingdom Hearts II’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Kingdom Hearts II’

Role Playing video games are about much more than just the moment to moment gameplay. Story, characters and world building are equally important to the experience as the combat system and level progression mechanics, and for this gamer in particular, Kingdom Hearts II delivers in each of these areas by a large degree. For these reasons and many more, Kingdom Hearts II is my favorite game of all time.

Kingdom Hearts II is one of the first video game stories that I remember being truly and thoroughly invested in. I previously enjoyed the stories from games like Sonic Adventure 2, Pokemon Crystal and especially the original Kingdom Hearts, but Kingdom Hearts II was on an entirely different level as far as I was concerned.


You’ll never hear me argue that the writing on display in any of the Kingdom Hearts games is incredibly deep or well written. But in spite of this claim, myself and millions of other Kingdom Hearts fans love every little story detail about the series, flaws and all.

There’s so many things I adore about Kingdom Hearts II’s overall narrative. I love just how grand Sora’s adventure feels this time around, and having a dangerous group like Organization XIII constantly lurking in the shadows really does a great job of raising the sense of tension.


My favorite thing about the game is the portrayal of the characters. Sora, when compared to his original Kingdom Hearts self, has a more defined personality. He comes across as much more mature and confident, and is able to effectively take charge of his group.

Other characters like Riku and Roxas are super enjoyable in the story as well, but I especially love how much development the game gave to Kairi. She was just a damsel in distress during the events of the first game, and while that is still true of Kingdom Hearts II to an extent, she does much more than just sit around and wait for Sora and Riku to come rescue her.

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The ending to Kingdom Hearts II will likely always be my favorite of any video game, and is honestly one of my favorites in any storytelling medium. Many games have followed Kingdom Hearts II, but I’ve always said that Kingdom Hearts, Chain of Memories and Kingdom Hearts II all come together to serve as a nice little trilogy, one that Kingdom Hearts II wraps up with a genuinely beautiful and heartwarming finale.

I’ve talked so much about loving games with deeply rewarding systems and mechanics that I’m practically a broken record at this point, and Kingdom Hearts II, in conjunction with multiple Sonic the Hedgehog games is responsible for this.


Kingdom Hearts II has what is easily one of the most underappreciated combat systems in all of gaming, but I can’t say that this is unjustified. The mechanics that make the game truly shine are best represented in the game’s Final Mix version, which wasn’t available outside of Japan until 2014.

In addition, these same mechanics only really work on the higher difficulty levels like Proud and Critical. Most people are going to experience the game on Normal difficulty, and this, in conjunction with just how many powerful abilities Sora gains access to, is almost entirely why the game has the negative stigma of being a mindless button masher.



Boss encounters are without question the best thing about Kingdom Hearts II’s gameplay, more specifically the human sized ones. These fights test your reflexes, reaction time and ability to watch for, observe and adapt to attack and defense patterns.

Kingdom Hearts II’s boss fights manifest themselves not too unlike traditional fighting games, with many fighting game terms being applicable to Kingdom Hearts II. Spacing, active frames, recovery frames, all of these terms and more are necessary to have a solid chance against some of the tougher opponents.


A large part of what makes the combat so engaging is the staggering amount of viable options Sora has available to him. Physical Keyblade attacks are what you’ll normally default to, but there’s also drive forms, summons, magic attacks and limit breaks to consider. Each of these mechanics have their own utility for different situations, and it’s a ton of fun experimenting with different loadouts to see what works best for individual play styles.

From story to gameplay and everything in between, Kingdom Hearts II is an absolute treat in my eyes. There’s practically nothing I don’t love about the game. Certain characters and story moments that were shown in this game have stuck with me for years, and have had a huge influence on the types of stories I enjoy to this day. Kingdom Hearts II truly does have that Disney magic, a magic that can be plainly seen in each and every area of the game.

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Defining Game Of The Year In 2017

Defining Game Of The Year In 2017

In spite of its rich and storied history, video games are still a very young hobby, and the modern internet culture surrounding the hobby is even younger. Around this time every year, the gaming industry comes together to discuss what game best represents the hobby, otherwise known as the Game of the Year.

Whether it’s professional sites like IGN and GameSpot, industry influencers on Youtube, fans on message boards like Reddit, or even a humble blog like my own, every gamer on the internet has an opinion on this subject.


But as gaming culture grows from year to year, so too does the meaning behind the title of Game of the Year. While determining Game of the Year was never an exact science to begin with, the sheer diversity in styles of gaming has really changed how these conversations are held, and the most recent example of this is the phenomenon known as PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.

It’s impossible to have been someone who is invested in gaming culture to not have heard about PUBG this year. It has broken a few really impressive records on Steam, been an extremely popular title for Twitch streamers and been a hot topic of conversation when it comes to deciding whether or not it should be considered for Game of the Year.


There have been many people that don’t see the game as a contender for the title, with the biggest reason being that it is still in early access, meaning it technically isn’t finished. In spite of this, the game was still nominated for Game of the Year for Geoff Keighley’s Game Awards show, alongside Super Mario Odyssey, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Horizon: Zero Dawn and Persona 5.

At their core, video games are about gameplay, and Super Mario Odyssey is my personal pick for game of the year because it’s moment to moment gameplay is incredible. But video games in 2017 are much more than that.


Games like Uncharted and Bioshock have great gameplay, but it’s their incredible worlds, characters and narratives that have made them into some of the greatest games ever released. Going even further with narrative, games like Journey and Gone Home are almost entirely story based, and are also revered as some of the best games released in recent years.

There is also something to be said about a game’s impact. The argument could be made that there are games much more polished and technically sound than something like PUBG, but one thing that can’t be denied is that game’s impact, as it is easily the biggest game of the year in this respect.


In that same sense, could not an argument be made for Pokemon Go being 2016’s Game of the Year? It’s initial launch was littered with bugs, and it’s not the deepest gaming experience out there, but it was impossible to go anywhere without hearing or seeing something about Pokemon when that game was at its peak.

The nominees for Game of the Year would look completely different if we were basing the title on one criteria. For pure gameplay, Super Mario Odyssey would likely be accompanied by games like Sonic Mania and Cuphead, but none of those titles would stand a chance if the judging was based on narrative.


The great thing about Game of the Year discussions in 2017 is the fact that gameplay, narrative and impact all seem to get a fair chance at the title, as evidenced by the nominees for the Game Awards.

As weird as it may seem, games are no longer simply about raw mechanics and gameplay. Video games have the potential to tell stories that rival and even surpass those seen in theaters, and can have just as big an impact on mainstream culture as any popular song or television show.


As games evolve year after year, so too will the definition of Game of the Year. The conversation may seem pointless to some, but myself and many others get a lot of enjoyment from the various debates held across the internet (the civil ones, anyway).

2017 Wrap Up

2017 Wrap Up

As the year of 2017 begins its final month, I think now is an appropriate time to wrap things up for this blog. First and foremost, I’d like to give a huge thank you to each and every single person that has visited my blog throughout the year. I may not get tons of views, likes or comments, but I truly do appreciate the ones that come my way.

I had a ton of fun writing for this blog this year, and I hope to continue to improve my skills in 2018. I have a lot of things planned for the new year, and one major thing I’ve been looking at is my approach to writing reviews.

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I expect my video game reviews to remain much the same. I find games much easier to review because there are specific game mechanics I can bring up, and discuss why they did or didn’t work. Movies and anime are a different beast in this regard. It’s easy for me to quantify why Sonic’s jump in Sonic Forces is bad, but it’s much harder to put into words why a particular scene in a movie has issues.

While I don’t plan on doing away with traditional reviews for films and anime entirely, I’ve already started looking into doing more editorial style pieces for them. I recently did essays for both Your Name and The Book of Life, and my goal with them was to discuss specific elements that made those films special, as opposed to giving them a more general review.


Not only are these pieces way more fun for me to write, but I also feel like they are more enjoyable to read. Reviewing something like Your Name would’ve been kinda pointless, as it would’ve just been paragraph after paragraph of me gushing about the film. There’s a time and a place for gushing, but I really want to start putting more unique content on this blog.

Disney Animated Canon pieces will continue like normal, and my first one of the year will be over Lilo & Stitch, my favorite Disney film. In addition, I’d like to start discussing music on this blog, as it’s something that I’ve always been immensely passionate about.

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2018 may be fast approaching, but I still have a few things planned to go up throughout December. Followed by this post will be one discussing what it means to be “Game of the Year” in 2017, and the rest of the month will feature pieces for the Made in Abyss anime series, as well as the Nintendo Switch game, Battle Chef Brigade.

In addition, I’ll be posting my final favorite games piece about Kingdom Hearts II, and updating my Kingdom Hearts Beginner’s Guide article that I wrote earlier this year. Afterwards, I’ll be ripe and ready to go for January, starting with an article detailing my favorite games of 2017.

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Once again, I wanna give a genuine thank you to all of the people that have read anything I’ve written this year. You may be small in number, but I appreciate you taking time out of your day to read something that I worked hard on. Thank you oh so much, and I’ll see all of you in 2018. From me to you and yours, Happy Holidays!

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Sonic Unleashed’

My 12 Favorite Games Of All Time: ‘Sonic Unleashed’

I’ll never forget how excited I was during the lead up to the November 2008 release of Sonic Unleashed, my all time favorite Sonic the Hedgehog game. The initial teaser trailer featuring the hedgehog whistling and twirling a gold ring around his finger caught my interest, but it’s the trailer that debuted at that year’s E3 convention that really sold me on the game.

Sonic was always known for being the fastest thing alive, and Sonic Unleashed is a game that truly lived up to that title. I had never seen Sonic move at such absurd speeds, and my little 8th grade mind would watch that trailer over and over again until I finally got the game for myself the following Christmas, along with a brand new Playstation 3.


Sonic Unleashed is my favorite Sonic game for a multitude of reasons, many of which have to do with just how ambitious the game was. To this day, it is still the most visually impressive Sonic game ever released, as well as the best use of the innovative technology afforded to Sega and Sonic Team courtesy of the custom built Hedgehog Engine.

This also extends to the computer animation done by Marza Animation Planet. The opening that they did for Unleashed will likely always be my favorite Sonic the Hedgehog cutscene, and seeing it always makes me wish for a fully animated Sonic movie (it also gives me some serious Toy Story 2 opening vibes).

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Speaking of which, Marza did actually get the opportunity to make an animated short film based on the game, aptly titled Night of the Werehog. It’s a cute little short, and I go back and watch it from time to time just to enjoy the animation.

The entire premise of Unleashed is Sonic and his new friend Chip embarking on a globe-trotting adventure to solve a planet sized jigsaw puzzle created by Eggman. Each level in the game is based on a real world location, and the music is appropriately composed to include instruments and sounds from each continent.


Sonic Unleashed isn’t my absolute favorite Sonic soundtrack, but it’s definitely up there. The music is so catchy and varied, and every song goes a long way towards making each new place you visit feel unique.

Sonic Unleashed is the game that set a new standard for storytelling in Sonic games. It really feels like there was a lot of thought and effort put into the narrative, and tone wise, it feels very appropriate for the franchise. The game also featured one of Jason Griffith’s best performances as Sonic, and he remains my favorite voice for the hedgehog.

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Gameplay is what really makes or breaks a video game in most cases, and that is absolutely true of Sonic Unleashed. Just to get this out of the way, no, I’m not really bothered that much by the Werehog. While I do think it was a bad inclusion, his gameplay was largely inoffensive to me, outside of his stage length, and that’s about all I have to say on the matter.

The game’s biggest selling point is the new boost gameplay for 3d Sonic, which debuted in Sonic Rush three year prior. The two original Sonic Adventure games tried their best to bring Sonic and his friends into the third dimension, and in many ways, they succeeded. However, there were a few things that they never really nailed, and this held them back from being truly regarded as excellent 3d platformers.


Sonic Unleashed’s solution to this problem is to essentially strip Sonic of being a platformer almost entirely. The worst parts of even the classic Sonic games were when they tried to be more like traditional platformers, and this problem was present and even exacerbated for the 3d entries in the series.

The classic games were all about earning your speed. Mastering the game’s controls and mechanics, as well as the Sonic franchise’s unique momentum based pinball physics would reward the player with incredible moments of speed.


Sonic Unleashed takes the concept of speed as a reward, and applies it in a brand new way. Sonic’s boost ability rockets him to top speed in an instant, but the challenge this time around is being able to keep that speed for the duration of the level.

Sonic Unleashed manifests itself like a racing game, and to borrow a term from TSSZ writer BlazeHedgehog, it feels like a “racing platformer”, right down to Sonic’s secondary abilities such as the drift and quick step.

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Levels are littered with obstacles to stop Sonic dead in his tracks. Enemies, fire traps, spikes, springs that misdirect you, quick step challenges, having to drift around tight corners, all of these things and more keep the player engaged as they attempt to flawlessly dash through the beautiful locales the game has to offer.

The game perfectly nails the arcade-y feel that Sega is known for. I love chasing high scores and attempting to beat my own best times, and doing it in Sonic Unleashed feels so darn satisfying.

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I actually believe that Sonic Generations is, overall, a better game than Sonic Unleashed, as well as the right direction for the Modern Sonic boost gameplay style. It improves Sonic’s control, adds in platforming challenges that mesh well with the high speed gameplay and scales back on the difficulty present in Unleashed.

Having said that, Sonic Unleashed is my prefered game almost entirely because of the higher difficulty. It’s a game that forces you to master its mechanics if you want to have any real fun, and though this may be offputting to many players, it really appeals to someone like me.


I love that feeling of getting your teeth kicked in by a level on your first time playing, only to return to it later on with a better grasp on how to play. This makes Unleashed a deeply rewarding game to play, and is the main reason why I still enjoy it almost a decade later.

Sonic Unleashed is a flawed game, and of that there is no doubt, but the high points of the game are some of the most fun I’ve ever had in any video game. Every inch of this game feels like it was made by people who wanted to make it, who wanted to make a revolutionary Sonic the Hedgehog game, and I can’t commend Sonic Team enough for this.


No matter what bad times the series may go through, and even if I never get to play an amazing 3d Sonic game ever again, I’ll always be able to pick up Sonic Unleashed and have a great time. I’ve been playing it for nearly a decade, and I hope to play it for many more years to come.

Family, Animation And Music In ‘The Book Of Life’

Family, Animation And Music In ‘The Book Of Life’

I don’t particularly like using words like “underrated” or “underappreciated”, but I’m hard pressed to find terms more suitable for 2014’s criminally overlooked film, The Book of Life. Not only is it one of the most inventive and unique films released in years, but it is one of my favorite animated films of all time.

One of the more noteworthy facts about The Book of Life is that it wasn’t produced at any of the major animation production houses; no Disney, Pixar, Illumination or DreamWorks (though this seems to be a common misconception). The film was created by the Texas based company, Reel FX Creative Studios, who previously worked on 2013’s Free Birds.



Free Birds was a modest success at the box office, grossing roughly $110 million against a $55 million budget, but failed to impress critics. The Book of Life is a completely different case in this respect, as the combined directorial and producing prowess of Jorge R. Gutierrez and Guillermo del Toro, respectively, were able to craft a film that would go on to be a critical darling.

The Book of Life has all of the makings of a remarkable animated film, but there are a few aspects of it that I believe make it a truly outstanding experience, and one that rivals and at times surpasses its contemporaries. Innovative animation, fantastic use of music in the narrative and the prominent theme of family are elements that make The Book of Life stand out in the crowd, and I’d like to point an analytical eye at each one of them.


Family Matters


The friendship and eventual love triangle between the principal characters of Manolo, Joaquin and Maria is what drives the overarching narrative of The Book of Life, but one central theme that has a huge influence on the story and the characters is that of the importance of family.

Manolo is a member of the proud and charismatic Sanchez family. Every Sanchez man was a world renowned bull fighter, which more often than not led to an untimely death. Manolo, being the Sanchez that he is, has an innate talent for bullfighting, but his true passion lies with music.


From childhood to adolescence and adulthood, Manolo is always at odds with his father, Carlos, when it comes to bullfighting and music. Manolo doesn’t enjoy the sport, and thinks it wrong to kill the bull, and Carlos finds his son’s distaste to be shameful to the Sanchez name.

Carlos wants nothing but the best for his son, as he believes displaying his strength in the arena will make Manolo a strong and desirable man in the eyes of Maria.


The father-son relationship story also extends to the character of Joaquin. His father was a once great hero, but died while defending the town of San Angel. As such, Joaquin wishes to follow in his father’s footsteps, and become a man worthy of not only Maria’s love, but of the name Joaquin Mondragon Jr.

The theme of family really comes to a head when Manono visits the afterlife. The Book of Life’s entire story and aesthetic are based around the famous Mexican holiday, Dia de los Muertos, or, the Day of the Dead, an occasion whose purpose is to honor and celebrate the loved ones that are no longer with us.


The Book of Life visually conveys this message by having the afterlife separated into two distinct planes, the Land of the Remembered, and The Land of the Forgotten. So long as a living person carries you in their memories, you can live in the bright and colorful Land of the Remembered. But should you fade entirely from the memories of the living, you will be trapped in the dark and depressing Land of the Forgotten.

When Manolo visits the Land of the Remembered, not only is he reunited with his deceased mother, Carmen, but all of his Sanchez relatives. Each member of the Sanchez family is incredibly unique and memorable, and join Manolo on his journey to reclaim the life he was tricked out of, as well as to save his hometown without hesitation.

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I’ve always been fascinated by Mexican culture and the importance it places on familial ties and togetherness, and The Book of Life’s representation of Dia de los Muertos does a phenomenal job of capturing this message.

The Aesthetic Of Mexico


The Book of Life is a pinnacle example of creative use of art direction and animation over pure visual fidelity. Most of the characters in the film all resemble cute and colorful little wooden dolls, and they are animated with so much charm and personality.

It’s hard to put into word what makes the film’s animation so special without overusing words like “unique” and “inventive”, but that’s really what it amounts to. The entire look of the film is so infinitely entrancing, and it only gets better as the story progresses.

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Every moment in the Land of the Remembered is a festival. There’s a near constant parade with a dizzying array of sights and attractions, and the dark backdrop serves as the perfect contrast for the light show that decorates the scenery.

Characters in the afterlife are designed to resemble the iconic Dia de los Muertos sugar skulls, and every single one of them has a style and charm all their own. I was really impressed by just how different each of the characters looked from one another, and it’s commendable just how much Reel FX was able to do with the central design theme of skulls.



I’ve never seen a film with the visual style of The Book of Life, and I can confidently say it will not only stand the test of time as more and more visually impressive films are released, but it puts the film shoulder to shoulder with giants like Disney and Pixar.


Music And Storytelling


Music is an incredibly important element to the aesthetic and story of The Book of Life. The expected musical stylings of Mariachi bands are always present in the film, and are largely represented by Manolo’s comic relief Mariachi friends.

But rather than have music be used as a background element, certain songs and pieces are intrinsically tied to the plot. I previously mentioned that Manolo dreams of being a musician, and that bit of information was much more than just flavor text.

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Early on in the film, Manolo’s guitar gets damaged in a scuffle with a pig. Before Maria is sent off to boarding school, she repairs Manolo’s guitar, and inscribes on it the words, “always play from the heart”, words which carry Manolo through the toughest of times.

Not only does Manolo play the guitar, but he sings, quite a few times in fact. The Book of Life features handful of covers, with the two most prominent examples being Radiohead’s Creep, which Manolo sings after feeling that he has lost his chance with Maria, and Elvis Presley’s I Can’t Help Falling In Love.


Two other standout songs are actually original pieces written for the film. The first of these is I Love You Too Much, a simple, yet sweet declaration of undying love by Manolo. The second is The Apology Song, which Manolo uses to calm a towering bull in the afterlife.

What makes these songs so impactful is the passion you can hear displayed by Manolo’s voice actor, Diego Luna. While a pretty good singer in his own right, it’s the raw emotion in his voice that makes the songs so endearing.

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When he pleads to Maria, you can really feel how much he loves her. And when he humbles the Sanchez family by apologizing to the numerous bulls they have defeated, there’s a strong sense of genuine regret and sadness.

Music really drives the plot and themes of The Book of Life, and as a person who loves music in all styles and genres, I applaud the production team for placing so much importance on it.

Always Play From The Heart


The Book of Life is a one of a kind film that not nearly enough people have gotten to experience. Every aspect of the film was so clearly made with so much care and attention to detail, and I’d be shocked if someone didn’t become totally infatuated with Manolo and the rest of the cast.

Though it may not be from a studio with a long and impressive track record, The Book of Life still manages to be one of the best animated films ever released. Unique visual appeal, fantastic music and the ever present theme of family all come together to create an unforgettable experience.

The Cultural Impact And Importance Of ‘Your Name’

The Cultural Impact And Importance Of ‘Your Name’

Makoto Shinkai’s Your Name was a worldwide phenomenon in 2016. It is currently the 4th highest grossing film in Japan, as well as the highest grossing anime film of all time, dethroning Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away. It is also the 7th highest grossing traditionally animated film of all time, with most of the films above it coming from Walt Disney Animation.

Your Name has received countless accolades since its release, and I wholeheartedly believe that it deserves every single ounce of praise that comes its way. The film is an absolute masterclass in animation, cinematography, storytelling, character development and all of the little nuances that create great and memorable films.


My gut reaction upon my first viewing of Your Name was that it is as perfect as a creative endeavor can conceivably be. But rather than gush about all of the qualities that make the film so special, I’d like to take a deeper look into what made it the global sensation that it has become, as well as what this means for the future of traditional animation, and the popularity of anime outside of Japan.


Resonance With International Audiences

Reaching Out

Anime films have seen varying degrees of success outside of their home country, though very few have been as revered as Your Name. But what is the reason for this? The film is a masterpiece to be sure, but other amazing anime films like Wolf Children haven’t managed to achieve Your Name’s level of success.

I believe that the major factor in Your Name’s resonance with international audiences has quite a bit to do with its simplicity and relatability. While the film does have plenty of fantasy elements to be sure, at its core, the narrative is one of two people who share a unique and special connection.

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The bonds between people has always been at the heart of many of Shinkai’s stories, and Your Name, with its body switching and communication via notes and digital diaries, is this thematic element taken about as far as it can go.

It also helps that Taki and Mitsuha, the film’s two leads, are incredibly likeable and endearing. They come from two infinitely different worlds, and seeing how they adapt and grow in their new environments surely captured the hearts of many viewers.

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Animation doesn’t only exist to be enjoyed by children, and films like Your Name do a fantastic job of proving this. The film’s storytelling is very mature, and many people that wouldn’t otherwise spare a glance at the film have been willing to give it a try.

I’ve had conversations with people in my personal life about Your Name, and the results often surprised me. One such conversation was between myself and a good friend from work, and he informed me that his mother, who has no idea what anime really is, asked him to pick up a copy of the film from work after hearing great things about it from her friends.


This story both shocked me and made me extremely happy, and I’m sure this isn’t an uncommon occurrence. Aside from the film’s box office success, it’s also done really well for itself on home media. Copies of both the DVD and Blu-Ray release have been flying off the shelves at retailers like Walmart, and the collector’s edition has seen similar levels of demand.

Your Name is a sweet and charming film that respects the time and sensibilities of the older members of the audience. This notion, among many others, is why the film was such a hit with viewers the world over, not to mention just how lovely the film’s aesthetics are.

Anime, No Longer Niche

Waking Up

I’ve previously written about the history and decline of the traditionally animated feature, and I cited Your Name as an example of the medium’s future. Japan sees the release of many traditionally animated films every year, but offerings are pretty sparse outside of the country.

Before Your Name, there hadn’t been a traditionally animated film of major consequence since Disney’s 2009 film, The Princess and the Frog, nor had there been any hugely successful ones since Lilo & Stitch and Spirited Away during the early 2000’s.

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It is unrealistic to think that traditionally animated films will ever achieve the levels of market share that they enjoyed in the preceding decades, but the success of Your Name has demonstrated that their is room for both styles of film to coexist.

I don’t feel that it is too farfetched to think that we could receive a handful of traditionally animated films per year, amongst the numerous computer animated ones. The caveat to this statement however is that these select films will have to be award winning material.

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All of the marketing in the world wouldn’t have been able to make Your Name a success if it wasn’t a quality experience to begin with. For a film of the traditional ilk to succeed in modern day box offices, it will have to be firing on all cylinders.

One element that can’t be overlooked is the state of anime in pop culture in 2017. Anime has been steadily growing in popularity outside of Japan for decades now, but the 2010’s have seen an explosion of anime being talked about in the mainstream. Anime Youtuber Gigukk has actually done a great video on the topic, and I highly suggest giving it a watch.

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With every year that passes, anime becomes less and less niche. People are always looking for new shows to binge watch, and the widespread availability of anime on services like Funimation Now and Crunchyroll, as well as more popular and mainstream ones such as Netflix and Hulu have been an immense help to anime’s recent growth, a growth that the success of Your Name is both a product of, and contributes directly to.

Looking To The Future


Animated or otherwise, Your Name is one of the best story experiences I’ve had in years. It has beautiful animation direction, top quality vocal performances and plenty of heartwarming moments that will stick with viewers for years to come.

With new projects in development from Shinkai, Mamoru Hosoda and even the legendary Hayao Miyazaki, the future of anime films is looking as bright as ever. But what excites me the most is the prospect of anime becoming more and more widely accepted, as well as the resurgence of traditionally animated films in the mainstream.


Anime and traditional animation are such wonderful mediums that not enough people respect, appreciate or even know about. The artistry of animation is the perfect vehicle for exploring worlds that were previously thought only to exist in our dreams, and there are so many great and talented people in the world with exciting stories to tell.

To speak of anime specifically, I can’t overstate how influential it has been in my personal life. There’s so much that I’ve learned about Japanese culture, society and mannerisms just from watching anime, and I can genuinely say that it has given me a deeper appreciation of the world beyond my own.

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Crisp and vivid animation, wonderfully developed characters and a rich story are praises that only scratch the surface when it comes to Your Name. It sets a new standard for what can be accomplished with traditional animation, and it is my hope that animation companies around the world are keeping an inquisitive eye on what made the film such an important work of art.