Saturday, December 26, 2009

Lord Bling's Top 10 Favorite Video Games of 2009

The music list is down, now on to video games! One fair warning (and this applies to the music list as well): I'm not a professional critic, and didn't get to play everything this year, so a couple that might have made my list (Assassin's Creed 2, Dragon Age: Origins) didn't get played before the year was out. I'll play 'em next year and hopefully will post mini-reviews afterwards. Also, I don't have a gaming PC, so anything PC-exclusive would not have been played.

10. MadWorld (Wii). The bloodiest game of 2009, hands down. It's so over-the-top that it's like a playable Itchy and Scratchy cartoon. Great tongue-in-cheek moments throughout, and the Wii motion controls (usually annoying in most games) fit in perfectly here. Also, the running commentary by Greg Proops and John DiMaggio is one-of-a-kind, and laugh-out-loud funny. (In the interest of full disclosure: I work for Sega, but that doesn't change the fact that it's a fun and funny game.)

9. God of War Collection (PS3). It might be cheating to include this, since the two games included were released in previous years. However, since they were originally on the PS2, THIS is truly how they should be played: Full HD and at 60 frames-per-second. I wish the cutscenes were rendered in the same way (they look PS2 quality), but don't let that scare you away. These are two of the greatest games of the last console generation. Even if you've already played them on the PS2, they're worth owning and playing through again on the PS3.

8. Scribblenauts (DS). A puzzle game where you are only limited by your imagination. Sounds like a cliche, until you actually play it. You write down a noun, and as long as it's not trademarked or a drug of some kind, it appears in the game to help you. Want to conjure up a time machine to go back to ride a dinosaur, then bring him to the present and make him kill robot zombies? You can. The only real negative about the game is that you're forced to use touch controls, and it isn't as precise as you'll want it to be. However, this is worth buying simply for how innovative it is, and some of the harder levels will give you a strong feeling of satisfaction once you beat them. Not that I'd know, cuz I'm still stuck in the first half of the game. Guess I'm not imaginative enough!

7. Forza Motorsport 3 (X360). Forza 2 was already a very good game, and brought great ideas to the online racing genre (Auction House, custom liveries). Forza 3 improved up on it in many ways. Sharper graphics. More cars, more tracks. A stunning playable in-car view. The ability to rollover. And probably the best of all: They kept it hardcore for the gearheads, but they also put in play options that the casual racing fan can enjoy. I've been a fan of the Gran Turismo series since the first installment on the PS1, but they're gonna have to hit a home run with GT5 if they want to be the best racing game of this generation.

6. Little Big Planet (PSP). As you may remember, the PS3 version made my top ten list last year. I can't quite rank the PSP version as high, because the level creator is a little harder to use, and there is no multiplayer. However, the new levels for this version are a lot of fun, and the imagination and skill of the LBP community never ceases to amaze me. If you get this, go to a WiFi hotspot, take it online, and download the highest rated levels. Some of them are better than anything in the actual game. Oh, and one thing this version does better than the PS3? Downloaded levels can be saved to your memory stick, so if someone makes a fun level that breaks the Terms of Service (for copyright infringement or adult themes), if you download it before the mods delete it, it's yours.

5. Trials HD (Xbox Live Arcade). Excitebike meets N+. Just those words got me excited for this one. Then I played the demo, and immediately handed over my $15. It can be frustrating (the extreme levels are downright masochistic), but the challenge is what keeps me coming back. Like N+, the physics are very consistent, so if you die, it's because of something YOU did, not because of a mistake the developer made. The leaderboards are great, not only because it compares you to your friends (and gives you something to strive for), but it also allows you to watch replays of the best performances worldwide on each track. This feature comes in very handy on the harder levels, as some people solve sections in ways you may not have previously thought of. It's been very popular too, and has been at or near the top of the most played Xbox Live Arcade games list every week since release. The demo is free, so download it and give it a try.

4. Batman: Arkham Asylum (PS3, X360). If you'd have told me last year that a Batman game would make my Top 10 list for 2009, and that it would be this high on the list, I'd have told you to put the crack pipe down. A good Batman game? Yeah right! But someone finally did it. Batman finally feels like a badass like he was always supposed to. Part open-world exploration, part Splinter Cell, the variation in the different parts of the island and in the boss battles keeps everything feeling fresh. The story is very strong too. Mark Hamill voices the Joker, and he's phenomenal. He pulls off funny and sinister in ways that the video game world has never seen. And this is all coming from someone who doesn't give half a crap about the comic books! It's a great game, and I'm looking forward to playing the sequel.

3. Borderlands (PS3, X360, PC). Hey, you got your RPG in my FPS! Hey, you got your FPS in my RPG! Fans of games like Diablo and fans of games like Call of Duty can finally agree on something: Gearbox has succeeded in making these two great tastes taste great together. A good game to play by yourself, but a great game to play cooperatively with up to three friends. I would've liked more voice acting in the missions (instead of text, which you'll probably end up skipping most of anyway), but that's a very minor complaint. 'Bazillions' of weapons are in the game, and there's nothing quite like the candy-colored explosion of loot when you kill a tough bad guy. Also, Claptrap is far and away my favorite game character of the year. "Check me out, I'm dancin', I'M DANCIN'!"

2. Uncharted 2 (PS3). Did you hate the last Indiana Jones movie? Of course you did. But playing this game more than makes up for it. Naughty Dog took everything good in the first Uncharted game and improved upon it, plus added strong co-op and multiplayer modes. The graphics and character animation is supurb. The story might be the best in any video game of this generation. The voice acting might be the best in any video game ever. If you haven't played it yet, I don't want to overhype it, but I'm not sure if it's even possible to do. It's THAT good.

1. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (X360, PS3, PC). Oh c'mon, don't act too surprised. My love for the Infinity Ward installments in this series has been well documented on this site, but even my highest expectations were surpassed with this game. The single-player campaign is short, and the story has ADD, but most don't play this game just for the single player. Online is where it's at. The multiplayer added many new weapons and perks, but the balance of it all is still perfect (especially now that they recently patched the range on the Model 1887 shotgun). The graphics are almost photo-realistic. They added a two player co-op mode called Spec Ops, and one could play it for days and not even touch the other two game modes. Infinity Ward has sold millions of copies of this game, and they deserve to. They improved upon a masterpiece. This is the greatest online console shooter ever made.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Lord Bling's Top 10 Albums of 2009

Instead of doing a lengthy top 10 video game list like last year, I thought I'd do three shorter lists for music, games, and movies. So let's start with music. Caveat Blogger: I listen to a lot of heavy stuff that some people consider 'noise'. However, my list is not 100% metal, as you'll see.

10. Converge -- Axe to Fall. It might be their best since Jane Doe. It's at least as good as You Fail Me, and is miles ahead of their last album. Brutal, raw, and uncompromising. FAVORITE TRACK: "Wretched World"

9. Dying Fetus -- Descend Into Depravity. Many fans of this band have been waiting for them to release something that approaches the level of their influential masterpiece, Destroy the Opposition. They've finally done it. I won't say it's better, or even as good, but it's close. Oh, and don't be fooled by the band name. Their lyrics are political, not gory. FAVORITE TRACK -- "Descend into Depravity"

8. The Black Dahlia Murder -- Deflorate. This band is consistent. Not a weak album in the bunch. It's less 'black' than their last one, but not quite as cross-over sounding as Miasma (still my favorite of theirs). The DVD that comes with the album is great too. FAVORITE TRACK -- "I Will Return"

7. Between the Buried and Me -- The Great Misdirect. Part Faith No More, part Dillinger Escape Plan. Just those words alone should tell you that a BTBAM album is never boring. This one is no exception. I'm on the fence as to whether or not it's as good as their last album (Colors), but if not, it's damn close. I still wish the vocalist had more variation in his growls, but the talent on display is undeniable, and they've only become better songwriters as time goes on. FAVORITE TRACK -- "Obfuscation"

6. The Mag Seven -- Cotton Needle Sessions. I wrote about this album a couple of months ago, and it's still getting regular rotation on my MP3 player. Yes, the members of this band are friends of mine, but don't let that stop you from giving it a spin. It's very different from their previous albums, which are punk and surf inspired instrumentals. This one is very laid back, and wouldn't sound out of place in a 50's spy movie. FAVORITE SONG -- "Lahaina"

5. Behemoth -- Evangelion. This album is a return to form after the less-than-stellar The Apostasy. More time changes, more brutal, and probably the best production of their career. Some of their fans think their best albums came before Demigod, but I think they were always trying to define their sound up until that one. Evangelion is probably the purest vision of that definition. FAVORITE SONG -- "Ov Fire and the Void"

4. Silversun Pickups -- Swoon. A Smashing Pumpkins copycat releasing one of my favorite albums of the year? Yeah, I'm just as surprised as you might be. There's just something about this album that pushes all of my right buttons. It's much more influenced by shoegazer groups like My Bloody Valentine, and they're all the better for it. And they can also throw down a great hard rock song, like this one: FAVORITE SONG -- "Panic Switch"

3. Cannibal Corpse -- Evisceration Plague. This band has been the AC/DC of death metal. They put out an album, and it's almost the same as everything else they've done before, but the fans will continue to be happy. However, they hinted at slight changes on their last album (Kill), but then came this one. The title track doesn't have a single blast beat, and yet it's probably the catchiest thing they've ever written. Most of the rest of the album is what you'd expect (fast and brutal), but the hooks in every song are more polished than anything they've done in a long time. Non-fans won't be completely converted, but anyone who likes the harder side of rock music will have trouble not getting into the title track, if not more. It's the best album they've written in over 15 years. FAVORITE SONG -- "Evisceration Plague"

2. The Red Chord -- Fed Through the Teeth Machine. This band has had an interesting history. Their first album was recorded quickly and on the cheap, but ended up being extremely influential in the math-core genre. Second album tightened their sound, and the pharmacy-inspired lyrics are still a high water point. Third album felt rushed, and was extremely disappointing. They took their time on this one, and it shows. They also went from two guitar players to one, but didn't miss a step. Hints of melody exist in some of the riffs, but they never hint at anything mainstream. They've come back and reclaimed their position as one of the top math-core bands, and I couldn't be happier about it. FAVORITE TRACK -- "Embarrassment Legacy"

1. Mastodon - Oblivion. The guitar comes in with three notes, then four. Then the bass guitar follows. Then the drums. Then, 'I flew beyond the sun before it was time...' and HOLY CRAP, did Mastodon get a new vocalist? Nope, that's the drummer. Then the surprises keep coming throughout the rest of the disc. A concept album about Rasputin, an assassination attempt, and a LOT of acid, Crack the Skye reaches for the stars, and grabs them. I rarely use the word 'epic' to describe an album, but this one deserves it on every level. I tried to put the disc away for a while, because I was afraid I would burn it out. I couldn't bring myself to do it. And yet, it's still just as amazing as it was when I first spun it. I've been a fan of this band since their major label debut, and felt their last two were inspired but inconsistent. This album is distinctively 'Mastodon', but it's much more sprawling and vast than anything else they've ever done. I can't imagine them improving upon this, but I can't wait to see them try. FAVORITE TRACK -- "Oblivion"


These albums were good, but not quite good enough to make the top 10. In alphabetical order, by band:

- Cattle Decapitation - The Harvest Floor (favorite song - "Regret and the Grave")

- Devin Townsend Project - Addicted (favorite song - "Supercrush")

- Goatwhore - Carving Out the Eyes of God (favorite song - "Apocalyptic Havoc")

- Living Colour - The Chair in the Doorway (favorite song - "That's What You Taught Me")

- Muse - The Resistance (favorite song - "Undisclosed Desires")

- Pelican - What We Have All Come To Need (favorite song - "Strung Up From The Sky")

- Suicide Silence - No Time To Bleed (favorite song - "Smoke")

- Suffocation - Blood Oath (favorite song - "Dismal Dream")

Movie and video game lists coming sometime in the next week or so. Until then, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Merry Kwanzaa,

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Quit Apologizing for Thinking Avatar is a Good Movie

You're going to be sorry.

My wife can tell you that I'm really terrible at apologizing, even when I know I'm dead wrong about something. This is the main reason that I don't want to see the movie Avatar. Not because it's directed by James Cameron, who I've hated since Titanic became the most over-rated film of all time. Based on the reactions from my friends who have seen the film, apparently it's not acceptable to admit that you like this movie. I am not excited about seeing a movie where I'll probably be apologizing to everyone that I talk to about it.

Most people who have seen the movie say something like: "Don't judge me for saying this, but Avatar really was a good movie." This type of statement coming from people who are generally reviewing movies by saying things like: "If you don't like this movie, you're a hopeless idiot." leaves me concerned that if I see Avatar, I'll spend the next three months trying to justify to people why I thought it was good, as if I'm concerned about what people think of my taste in movies. I think Billy Madison should be on AFI's list of greatest movies of all time for the love of God. Is that something that you would admit if you cared about what people thought?

Titanic was painfully long, cheesy, predictable, and formulaic, if not visually stunning. The predictability was not Cameron's fault, since most anyone who can tie their shoes knows that damn boat is going to sink at the end of the movie. Like the Passion of the Christ, the ending is bound to be predictable. Perhaps liking a movie by the same director as such a piece of cinematic tripe does make one defensive that their credibility will be negatively affected by this admission.

I say, who cares. If you like Avatar, good for you. If you think that Ghosts of Girlfriend's Past is as funny as the Hangover (as someone recently admitted to me), then you have problems. I'm glad we had this talk.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

So long Moral Oral!

We're both dead.
When I heard Oral Roberts died earlier this week, it reminded me about an example that you can use when people say that there's no harm from the power of prayer when treating people who have illnesses. I'm not trying to suggest you shouldn't pray, if that's your deal. Oral Roberts represents the worst of what can happen when people of faith are exploited by someone who they think they can trust. Roberts duped his followers out of millions of dollars over the years and claimed to be able to use the power of God to cure people's illnesses. Many of the illnesses that Oral claimed to treat were probably medically treatable. It's impossible to know how many people with actual diseases sufferred longer than they needed to or even died because of this scam artist, but it raises a fundamental issue that crosses lines between medical treatment and religion.
Here's my conundrum: Is this just a type of natural selection where stupid people seek medical advice and treatment from a religious zealot liar? If you believe that God is going to cure your cancer, all the power in the world to you, but I'm not betting on you living very long. If you believe that God has the ability to cure your cancer, but just let all those other cancer victims die, including thousands of kids, you've got some serious megalomania or you believe in a God who falls on the sadism scale somewhere between the John McCain's friends at the Hanoi Hilton and the gang from the film, Hostel.
Oral wasn't alone in his quest for taking money from stupid people. He originated the practice. This is why, while I'm never glad to hear that someone died, I won't cry a single tear for Oral Roberts.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

This Christmas, give your loved one a gift that keeps on giving.

If you've watched any TV in the month of December, you've probably seen a commercial for Kay Jewelers, with a man who's giving a gift to his deaf girlfriend. He comments on how his sign language isn't very good, and she reassures him, then he gives her a Christmas gift, blah blah fuckin' blah. But the best part is the end of the commercial, when he asks her if she likes it. The sign he uses? The Reverse Shocker!

This guy should write a book. Is that actually how you sign 'Do you like it'? Who cares?!? Any excuse to get the Reverse Shocker on TV is a good one.

BONUS: In 'researching' this post, I found some other interesting variations on The Shocker. Enjoy:

The Rocker
The Woodstocker
The Spocker
The Minivan

Monday, December 14, 2009

Top Ten Lists coming soon

Happy Monday everyone. I thought I'd drop by with a quick note to say that I'm working on a Top Ten of 2009 list for three catagories: Games, Movies, and Rock/Metal albums. Since there will be three lists, they won't be as lengthy as last year's Game list. Hope to have it posted sometime between Christmas and New Years.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

One year.

365 days. That's how long it's been since my brother passed away. One year, and yet all cliches aside, it still feels like yesterday. Either that means I haven't truly begun the healing process, or he was that important in my life. I think it's both.

Rest in peace, bro.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Grindcore Baby

Midge, is this your son?