Best of 2014: Honorable Mentions
The Past Cast – Rick Brose & Ben Wilda [Podcast]
Yes, I am putting my own podcast on the list of honorable mentions. I am proud of The Past Cast and how it is shaping up after the few months it has been out. Ben and I put a lot of time into the show, and I think that it is evident in the end product. For those unfamiliar, The Past Cast is a weekly show where we talk about a different pop culture topic from our past. Episodes have covered themes like our favorite children’s books, board games, magazines and NES games. With varied content, the show touches on relatable subjects for a wide range of people. The format is simple, we are two friends reminiscing about memorable things from our lives. There is humor, nostalgia and some honest thoughts on the fucked up parts of our cultural past. I hope you will take the time to check it out. If you like it, please share it with a friend.
Whiplash – Damien Chazelle [Movie]
I did not see Whiplash until after I had put together my “Best of 2014” list. If I had seen it sooner, it would have been a main entry and not relegated to the honorable mentions. Whiplash is the story of a young jazz drummer who gets the chance to play under an excellent, but merciless instructor. The movie explores motivations, and questions whether true greatness comes at the cost of everything else. It is intense and shocking at times. J.K. Simmons plays a brutal and unrelenting teacher who is willing to push boundaries to bring out the best in those under him. The performance is awesome. I had some minor issues with the film, but the content and progression of Whiplash enthralled me. The music, cast and thematic elements all worked together to produce a wonderful movie.
Ordinary People Change the World – Brad Meltzer & Chris Eliopoulos [Books]
Launched with two books, I Am Abraham Lincoln and I Am Amelia Earhart, the Ordinary People Change the World series is a set of children’s books highlighting real life people who made significant contributions to the world. Written by Brad Meltzer and illustrated by Chris Eliopoulos, the books showcase everyday people who grew up to do extraordinary things. In a time when the modern celebrity machine bombards children with less than savory role models, this series offers an alternative for kids to strive towards. The talent behind the books is strong. Brad Meltzer is a great writer, and Chris Eliopoulos provides cute, well crafted illustrations filled with heart and plenty of little easter eggs. Along with the launch titles, other books in the series cover Rosa Parks, Albert Einstein and Jackie Robinson. Lucille Ball and Helen Keller are next on the schedule of releases for 2015. I have been buying the books to set aside for my future children. It is a great series with a wonderful intent behind it.
Don’t Wait Up – Bane [Music]
For those entrenched in the hardcore scene, Bane is often considered one of the top of the genre. Though I listened to a lot of music like them, I had never heard the band before. In 2014, Bane released their final album, Don’t Wait Up. It was their first studio album in eight years and their swan song to the scene. The release was a perfect chance for me to see what all the hype was about. The album clocks in around thirty minutes, and contains ten no nonsense, kick ass songs. Don’t Wait Up is an awesome album and a great way for a band to go out. The tracks are catchy as hell, containing the kind of sing along mentality that makes the hardcore scene so cool. There is not a bad song in the bunch. It sucks that it took me this long to find such an amazing band, but as they say, better late than never.
Sunset Overdrive – Insomniac [Video Game]
In the current generation of consoles, most big game titles appear on both the PS4 and Xbox One. Each manufacturer has their own development studios, but the output is small compared to the overall releases in the industry. In 2014, Sony published games like Infamous: Second Son and Driveclub. Xbox One had exclusives like Titanfall, Forza Horizon 2 and Halo: The Master Chief Collection. Though Infamous: Second Son was gorgeous and Titanfall was fun for the twenty hours before I stopped playing it, most of the games did not deliver on their promise or failed to interest me at all. Insomniac managed to buck the trend of lackluster exclusive titles by releasing Sunset Overdrive on the Xbox One. Sunset Overdrive is a loud, colorful, open world game where the population of a city gets turned into mutants after consuming a contaminated energy drink. As a non-mutated survivor, you scour the city helping out those in need and looking for a way out. The character customization is robust, the clothing options especially great. The main draw of the game is the traversal system though. Players can grind on rails, telephone lines, buildings and other surface edges. They can bounce off vehicles, rooftop fans and other parts of the environment. Players can also wall run to keep up combos while zipping around the city. The game design keeps players moving, increasing speed and allowing for bonus attacks. While grinding and bouncing around, the main character has a set of odd weapons to attack the mutants and other unfriendlies throughout the city. Among the weapons are harpoons, bowling ball launchers, dynamite teddy bears and other bizarre contraptions. Players can level up weapons and abilities as play progresses. The game is fast paced and fun. The humor relies on over the top antics, pop culture references and self-referential nods to deliver a funny experience. The jokes do not always hit, but most of the time it works and makes for a good laugh. Mastering the combat and traversal system takes time, but once it clicks, the action is great and zooming around the city is a blast. The only reason Sunset Overdrive did not make my main list is because I have not finished it yet. So far, I have had a blast with the parts that I have played, and I look forward to finishing it in the coming months. Sunset Overdrive feels fresh and vibrant, twisting a lot of familiar pieces into an entertaining, new product.
Christmas Island – Andrew Jackson Jihad [Music]
As a fan of Andrew Jackson Jihad for many years, my first listen of Christmas Island, their 2014 release, was disappointing. The production and sound of the band was not what I expected. They signed to a larger label for the release, so I figured that it may have had something to do with the change. After all, many bands have received more money for recording and ended up putting out music that did not have the same kind of charm and connection to their audience. As one of my most listened to bands in the last decade, I did not want to give up after only a few listens, so I continued to put Christmas Island in my regular rotation. I am glad I did. The music grew on me, and after reading some interviews, I realized that the sound change was due to the addition of a full band with more members. It was a change made after Sean Bonnette went through a dry spell of creativity, and it helped him to get back into songwriting. Knowing that, I am glad to take an altered sound over not having the group around at all. Once I opened my mind and gave it a chance, I realized the new sound was excellent. Sometimes gut reactions can be way off and it takes time to see the brilliance in something.
Wolfenstein: The New Order – MachineGames [Video Game]
Like Sunset Overdrive, I was not able to finish Wolfenstein: The New Order in 2014. That should not be a knock against the game though. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a surprising treat. I played countless hours of Wolfenstein 3D, but had no interest in the newest revamp of the property. I figured the game would be a mindless first person shooter, a genre I have fallen out of love with over the years. After its release, there were too many gaming sites that praised Wolfenstein: The New Order for me to continue to ignore it. I picked the game up on sale from Amazon, and have not regretted that decision. The first chapter of the game is a typical first person shooter with familiar Wolfenstein mechanics. It looks good and plays well, but does not stand out as anything special. Once through the first chapter, the story kicks in and players can experience the real magic of the game. The storytelling is excellent and introduces a great plot that helps flesh out the main character, B.J. Blazkowicz, and those around him. The environments and missions are great, mixing stealth and all out gun fights in a way that feels seamless. The levels have hidden objects to collect, but they are not needed to progress. Those who enjoy finding additional content will appreciate it, while those who do not can push forward without bother. I am not far in the game, but I love what it has done so far. I hear that it continues to get better. Without finishing the game, Wolfenstein: The New Order remains an honorable mention, but I would recommend it to anyone that asks.
Rogue Legacy – Cellar Door [Video Game]
Released as a cross buy game on the PlayStation Network in 2014, Rogue Legacy came out on the PC the year before. Since there were no big changes from the original game to the release on PSN, I cannot put the game on my main list. However, it is too good of a game to not mention at all. In Rogue Legacy, players take on the role of a knight exploring a randomly generated dungeon split into four sections. Each section has a main boss, and once players defeat all four, a door opens to the final boss. As a roguelike, each death in the game is permanent and players must then pick an heir to play in the next round. Each death regenerates the dungeon as well. Despite the restart of the game on every death, gold, power ups and main boss victories stay from generation to generation allowing players to build up their ancestry and become powerful enough to take on tougher sections of the game. Rogue Legacy is a hard game with a lot of dying. The quick ability to get back into the game with the next character makes it addicting. Sitting down for a single round turns into playing for hours, hoping to get enough gold to power up the next ability and get farther than before. The game design is awesome and kept me coming back over and over. Each new generation has various body types, classes and genetic attributes that affect the game play. The dungeon contains tough, but fair enemies, treasure and other cool abilities. After twenty hours of play time, I beat the final boss. It was incredibly satisfying. Rogue Legacy might not have been a true 2014 release, but playing it on the PS4 and Vita was some of the most fun I had in gaming all year.
The Jimquisition – Jim Sterling [Podcast, Video Games]
Though new to me, Jim Sterling has been writing and commenting on the world of video games for years. In 2014, he struck out on his own with the support of Patreon to make his living. Not having to cater to publishers and ad creators, Jim launched his own website, revamped his YouTube page and started a new podcast, beginning the next phase of his career. The Jimquisition website contains reviews on the latest games. The YouTube channel features a weekly show named The Jimquisition, along with Let’s Play videos and new game trailer commentary. The podcast, The Podquisition, features Jim talking with Laura Kate and Gavin Dunne. Together they discuss games they have played, recent gaming news and all kinds of other random bullshit. The Jimquisition is more lewd and foul mouthed than many of its contemporaries, but it adds to the charm and persona of Jim Sterling. He is not afraid to speak his mind, calling out shit in the gaming industry from the fast growing library of broken games released through Steam to the poor decision making of many big name companies. It is a refreshing view and change of pace from many other game related sites. That is not to say that the content is all negative. The Jimquisition touches upon games and news that are positive in the industry as well. If you are looking for something a little off kilter in the world of gaming, The Jimquisition may be for you.
Threes! – Sirvo LLC [Video Game]
I do not do a lot of casual gaming. I enjoy playing games on consoles with controllers. It is how I grew up, and it brings me the most satisfaction when immersed in the hobby. With that said, there were a few casual games with enough buzz surrounding them in 2014 that I decided it was worth checking out. Threes! is a simple game. Players have a four by four grid where they can slide tiles left, right, down and up. The tiles have various numbers, and players must slide similar numbers together to form bigger number tiles (e.g. combining a three tile with another three creates a six). Each slide brings a new tile into play on the grid. The goal is to combine tiles together into higher and higher values hoping to top the leaderboards. Threes! is a basic concept with layers of strategy and skill. The design is sleek and uncluttered. The music and sounds are awesome. The voices for the various tiles are so cute. I am not as hooked on Threes! as other people, but I can recognize excellent game design and execution when I see it. For the price, Threes! is a great bargain and a good way to pass the time.
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