I mean… Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays, everybody!
Today is the day in which we celebrate the special things in life: friends, family, peace on Earth, goodwill towards men, and jolly, overweight prowlers clad in red who deliver Playstations or coal underneath your decorative tree depending on whether you’ve been good or bad during the previous twelve months (Santa Clause is such a badass. He’s up there with Popeye in terms of badass-ery).
Christmas serves as a double celebration here at the Dojo, however, as it was on Christmas Day that I first launched Wizard Dojo! Well, technically I launched the site earlier in December of 2014, but I didn’t post any content on it until Christmas Day, to make it more special (and easier to remember). So Christmas is the “official” anniversary.
As is Wizard Dojo tradition, this most festive of days serves as an excuse to write some long-winded babbling, compile some lists, give out some awards, and bombard you with gifs!
Before we get started, I’d just like to be serious for a (brief) moment and wish you all happy holidays.
Happy Rusev Day!
Happy everybody! Happy holidays to all, and here’s to a happy 2023! Hopefully in the next year this site will be more productive and not so reliant on movie and video game anniversaries for content.
Anyway, I’m rambling. Let’s move on to the Wizard Dojo Christmas festivities proper.
Chapter 1: The Best of Wizard Dojo in 2022
2022 may not have been Wizard Dojo’s most productive year (I hate how many years in a row I’ve had to say that), but I did write a few things that I think are worthwhile, if I say so myself.*
*it literally is only me who says so.
Here’s hoping that the Dojo’s 2023 will bear a little more fruit, but here’s the stuff I wrote in 2022 that I particularly liked.
Video Game Reviews
Video game reviews were once the bread and butter here at the Dojo, but sadly it seems I’ve slowed down considerably over the past few years in that regard. So I’ll make special note to rectify that in 2023. Including catching up on reviews for games released in 2022 and even 2021 (because how have I still not reviewed Metroid Dread?). At any rate, here are my video game review highlights of 2022.
I have a few mixed feelings about my movie review output this past year. On the plus side, I reviewed a decent amount of movies released during 2022, all things considered (though there are still a few I’ve been meaning to write on). On the downside, I only reviewed movies released in 2022. I usually have a couple of older movie reviews in the mix. Ah well, guess it’s just something else to prioritize in 2023.
“Other stuff” – the official, scientific terminology – suggests the majority of things I wrote that don’t fit squarely into the review territory. Mostly the aforementioned anniversary celebrations (I am a festive individual, after all), but some other nice things in there as well.
What, I have to explain to you what a list is? It’s like top 5s and top 10s and stuff of that nature. Unfortunately, I only wrote one such post this year, but it’s a good’n. After all, it’s about Kirby! So you can’t go wrong! Although I admit that my rankings of Kirby’s finest would be switched around slightly since I wrote it. Again, hopefully more lists next year.
He wanted to be the very best, like no one ever was. To catch them was his real test, to train them was his cause…
It was recently announced that Ash Ketchum and (even more surprisingly) Pikachu would soon be retired as the main characters of the Pokemon TV series, with new protagonists set to take over after an epilogue series of episodes for good ol’ Ash and Pikachu.
Yes, the twenty-five year journey of a ten-year old boy finally comes to a close, and I’m not even going to lie, my heart sank when I heard the news. Pokemon has been an indelible part of not only my childhood and those of my generation, but of every generation since. And while Nintendo and Game Freak may release new editions of the Pokemon video games every few years, and the show has seen numerous character (and animation) changes over the years, the one thing that has always been constant within the series were that Ash and Pikachu were at the heart of it. The fact that the series is moving on without them (particularly Pikachu, who became the mascot of the series and one of the most recognizable video game characters of all time because of the TV show), well, it’s a hard pill to swallow.
I admit, I haven’t seen the show in a very long time, but the fact that I haven’t seen it in so long and yet the news of Ash and Pikachu’s departure still got to me the way it did speaks volumes to the impact these characters had on me (and so many others).
I can remember how every kid wanted to be Ash growing up; the excitement to see Ash and Pikachu on the big screen in Pokemon: The First Movie (as well as its admittedly better sequel and threequel), and how sad everyone in the audience was when Ash seemingly died when he turned to stone, and Pikachu tried desperately to wake him up. As a kid, I even wrote and drew a few of my own Pokemon comic books, which of course starred Ash and Pikachu.
A few Nintendo franchises have seen some pretty big shifts over the last few years, such as Breath of the Wild’s departure from the usual Legend of Zelda traditions. But Pokemon without Ash? Pokemon without Pikachu? Now that’s a seismic shift. Hopefully Ash’s journey ends with he and Pikachu coming face-to-face with the legendary Ho-Oh, to bring the series full circle after their encounter with the mythical bird in the very first episode.
I tip my metaphorical hat to you, Ash and Pikachu. Thank you for the countless memories you have given to countless people for over two and a half decades. Pokemon may endure, but it won’t be the same without the story of a boy and his Pikachu at its center.
Please keep Team Rocket around though.
Chapter 3: When Love is Found
Let me start this chapter by saying that The Muppets Christmas Carol is one of the best damn Christmas movies ever made! Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol is already one of the best stories ever, and with its seemingly countless cinematic revisions, it may seem like a bold statement to say that the version involving the Muppets may very well be the best version of A Christmas Carol put to film, but that may very likely be the case. It’s a fantastic interpretation of the classic tale in every sense of the word. From the surprising faithfulness to the source material to the good-natured humor that never gets in the way of serious moments, to Michael Caine being one of the best Ebeneezer Scrooge’s (playing the role straight against Muppets in a way that recalls Bob Hoskins interacting with cartoon characters in Who Framed Roger Rabbit), to that trademark charm of Jim Henson’s creations, The Muppets Christmas Carol has it all.
But for a long while, it didn’t.
That’s because one of the film’s most important moments was omitted from its original theatrical release, but left an impact on many a 90s child when it was included in the film’s original VHS release, only for it to be removed once again in all subsequent releases (to the befuddlement of that same generation of 90s kids).
I am, of course, referring to the musical number “When Love is Gone.” The song that takes place during Scrooge’s trip to his past, when he witnesses the moment he chose money over love. Sung by Scrooge’s one-time love, Belle (Meredith Braun), When Love is Gone is emphatically heart-breaking, especially once the elder/present day Scrooge breaks down into tears as he relives the pain of his past (and when Michael Caine cries, we all cry). It’s one of the most emotional moments in the movie, made all the more apparent as the film ends with a reprise dubbed “When Love is Found.” As a kid, it was one of the first moments I can recall in a movie that really touched me on a deeper emotional level.
So why was it removed in the first place? Because Jeffrey Katzenberg – who was a prominent figure at the Walt Disney Company at the time – found it to be “too sad.” Brilliant deduction there, Sherlock! That’s kind of the whole point! Of course it should be noted that Jeffrey Katzenberg is the same dude who wanted to remove “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid (y’know, the song that explains the premise of the entire movie!) and once he moved over to Dreamworks, was responsible for all those obnoxious, cynical animated films in the 2000s. So yeah…
Well, thankfully, we can all rejoice. On December 9th of this year, When Love is Gone was integrated back into The Muppets Christmas Carol on Disney+ in honor of the film’s 30th anniversary (and just out of common sense, I suppose). You just have to go to the film’s “Extras” section and select the “Full Length Version” of the film. I would call it the “As God Intended Version,” but that’s just me.
Because the song plays such an important role in the film’s narrative, and because I have such a strong emotional attachment to it, I had refused to watch The Muppets Christmas Carol – despite its overall quality – on Disney+ until it was made whole. I’ve had Disney+ since it launched, and The Muppets Christmas Carol has been on the service for just as long, but only now do I feel the film can be viewed properly. And I couldn’t be happier.
Chapter 4: WWE Awards for 2022
It seems like forever since I’ve written about pro wrestling here on this site, and that’s probably because I stopped watching it for a little while. WWE had become so wrought with dumb storylines, start-and-stop pushes for wrestlers, utterly dumbfounding booking (especially where Bray Wyatt was concerned), and so many wrestlers being released, that I had to tune out. I know, mainstream North American wrestling now has an alternative with AEW, and New Japan Pro Wrestling is bigger than ever, which is all well and dandy, but I was too burned out for anything wrestling related for a while.
But this past July, the biggest wrestling news story in decades occurred, as WWE Chairman Vince McMahon – whom wrestling fans have always known to have been a pretty terrible guy – was forced out of the company amid controversy. I won’t go into the details here, but when the WWE’s shakeup occurred (especially former wrestler Triple H being promoted to Head of Creative), it got me back into it. And boy (Uncle) Howdy, the difference is night and day! There are still mistakes here and there, of course, but they’re reasonable creative mistakes. Not the failings of an out-of-touch, petty, senile narcissist like they were not so long ago.
Currently WWE’s programming is still the only wrestling I regularly keep track of (no offense to any other wrestling promotions, there are just only so many hours in a day), so I refrain from calling these “Pro Wrestling Awards” and instead I’m just focusing on the WWE side of things.
Anyway, with my renewed interest in this most bizarre and interesting of entertainment industries, let’s get on with the awards.
Best Tag Team: The Usos
No surprise here, seeing as the Usos still currently hold the tag team titles of both the RAW and Smackdown brands, similar to how the “Tribal Chief” of the Bloodline still holds both of WWE’s world titles as of this writing (talking of which, either unify the titles or separate them again, WWE). The Usos’ reign with the Smackdown belts has now even become the longest tag team championship reign in WWE’s entire history. The Usos have continued to be booked as strong, underhanded heel champions, and as part of the Bloodline, are among the best things WWE has going.
Runner-up: The Street Profits
Best Stable: The Bloodline
In other news, the sky is blue. But seriously, the Bloodline actually had some competition this year, with WWE bringing back the idea of wrestling stables in full force (Imperium, The Brawling Brutes, The Judgement Day, etc.). But with Roman Reigns holding both of WWE’s world titles (with his reign as Universal Champion stretching well past two years, which is unheard of in modern wrestling), and the Usos holding both tag belts, they’ve basically been at the forefront of all of WWE’s major storylines this year. And with the additions of Solo Sikoa and Sami Zayn (the latter of whom may be the most entertaining performer in WWE today), not to mention perennial bad guy manager Paul Heyman by their side, the group is more prominent than ever. That will probably end come Wrestlemania, but it’s been a thrilling ride while it’s lasted.
Runner-up: The Judgement Day
Wrestler of the Year: GUNTHER
Although I still question why WWE changed WALTER’s name to GUNTHER, it ultimately doesn’t matter what his name is, because GUNTHER is the best wrestler on the planet today no matter what you call him. No other wrestler puts on as consistently brilliant, more hard-hitting matches. GUNTHER somehow makes his matches feel like both a work of art, and a man being mauled by a bear (with GUNTHER being the bear, of course). His showdown with Sheamus at Clash of the Castle has already been entered into the discussion of Best WWE Matches of All-Time, and his ongoing reign as Intercontinental Champion has given that belt a prestige it hasn’t had in decades. It basically feels as important as the world titles now. It’s hard to imagine (yet easy to believe) that Vince McMahon “didn’t get” GUNTHER, and was ready to bury him before Triple H took the reigns. Bullet dodged.
Runner-up: Bianca Belair
Sports Entertainer of the Year: Sami Zayn
Wrestling purists might not like it, but the goofier “Sports Entertainment” side of wrestling is still an integral part of wrestling. As far as that entertainment goes, no one stood out quite like Sami Zayn in 2022. His constant efforts to win over the Bloodline and ultimately being accepted by them as the “Honorary Uce” is wrestling’s best storyline of the year. It’s been so entertaining, in fact, that when the Bloodline inevitably turns on Sami (or Sami betrays the Bloodline from within), many people think Zayn should be the one to go on to Wrestlemania and dethrone Roman Reigns. I myself am very much in that same camp. The honor will probably go to someone else (Cody Rhodes seems likely), but the storyline for Sami has already written itself. I’ll keep my fingers crossed WWE will capitalize on Sami’s momentum.
Runner-up: The New Day
Best Event: Clash at the Castle
Although it sounds more like the name of a Japanese wrestling event (or the title of an indie game), Clash at the Castle was actually WWE’s first major Premium Live Event to take place in the UK in 30 years (Premium Live Event being the new name WWE gives pay-per-views, because who the hell orders pay-per views anymore?). WWE didn’t half-ass the opportunity for their long-awaited UK comeback either, delivering one of their best “PLEs” in years. Only six matches on the card, all of them ranking from ‘good’ (Liv Morgan vs. Shayna Baszler) to ‘all-time classic’ (GUNTHER vs. Sheamus). No filler in between matches, good booking, a notable heel turn (Dominik Mysterio). Just an excellent show.
Runner-up: Survivor Series WarGames
Match of the Year: GUNTHER vs. Sheamus (Clash at the Castle)
As soon as Sheamus became number one contender for GUNTHER’s Intercontinental Championship for Clash of the Castle, I knew it was going to be a great match. However, the bout exceeded all expectations, delivering one of WWE’s best matches ever.
From before the opening bell rang with GUNTHER and Sheamus’ cohorts (Imperium and the Brawling Brutes, respectively) flying all over the place as the two proper combatants just stared each other down until the last moment when GUNTHER finally put Sheamus away with a simple (yet devastating) clothesline, this match was just an all-out war.
Perhaps this isn’t the same kind of match that usually gets called a “work of art” (no aerial maneuvers, neither wrestler stepping outside of their usual moveset), but it deserves the moniker as much as any of them. You can probably count the number of different moves both men used during the match (kicks, knees, elbows, bodyslams, GUNTHER’s patented chops, etc.), but both men used their movesets in such a way to tell a compelling story. Both GUNTHER and Sheamus walked into the match as heels, but Sheamus’ valiant effort turned him into a hero even in defeat. It’s easily the best match of Sheamus’ career, and it’s up there with GUNTHER’s as well. It kickstarted a career renaissance for Sheamus, who has never been more popular than he is now because of this match (which,I repeat, he lost). Also of note, the match occurred a little over a month after Triple H took over creative control in the company. This match never would have happened under Vince McMahon. I think, years from now, this match will be viewed as a turning point for the promotion.
An absolute five-star classic.
Runner-up: Seth Rollins vs. Cody Rhodes (Hell in a Cell)
Chapter 5: My Most Anticipated Video Games of 2023
2022 was a great year for video games, and 2023 looks to continue its momentum. A number of high profile games have already been revealed, and who knows what else will be announced during the new year?
The following are the five games I’m most looking forward to in 2023. But first, a special mention goes to A Frog’s Tale, an indie game inspired by the Mario RPGs with a rhythm-based battle system, which would have made it onto my list except it’s only tentatively slated for 2023. So until something is made official, it’s in the runner-up spot.
Now, onto the top 5!
5: Pizza Tower
I remember my brother telling me about Pizza Tower about two years ago (it’s apparently been in active development since 2018), but as promising as it sounded, it also seemed like one of those games that would never be finished. Recently, however, a release date for Pizza Tower was revealed, and it’s pretty soon. January 2023!
Pizza Tower is an indie title inspired by the Wario Land sequels (which, looking back, I feel I underrated with my reviews. Something to revisit down the line). You play as a pizza man named Peppino trying to save his pizzeria from getting blown up or something. Like his inspiration Wario, Peppino can’t die, instead gaining transformations from enemy attacks (he can, however, lose the pizza topping he collects along the way).
A return to Wario Land gameplay feels long overdue as it is, so Pizza Tower is already appetizing. But throw on hilariously exaggerated character animations based on 90s cartoons, and Pizza Tower looks like something special.
4: Mina the Hollower
More indie goodness!
Mina the Hollower is the newest title from Yacht Club Games, the creators of Shovel Knight. Yacht Club Games have stated that, if Shovel Knight is the studio’s Mario, then they hope Mina will be their Legend of Zelda.
To be specific, Mina the Hollower looks – both in gameplay and visuals – to be inspired by the Game Boy Zeldas of yesteryear. With Gameboy Color-inspired visuals that harken back to Oracle of Ages and Oracle of Seasons, to a gameplay setup that will intentionally use as few buttons as possible, Mina the Hollower is already looking like a brand new treat from the kings of indie games.
3: Crash Team Rumble
The Crash Bandicoot resurgence continues! After the first three games in the series were gloriously remade for the Playstation 4 in 2017 as Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy, the one-time Playstation mascot has never looked back. A stellar remake of Crash Team Racing followed. After that, a brand-new adventure with Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time. Now, Crash looks to take things to the multiplayer stage once again with Crash Team Rumble!
Admittedly, not a whole lot of details have been revealed for Crash Team Rumble, except that it sounds kind of like a Rocket League-type of team-based multiplayer game, where players take control of different Crash Bandicoot characters (each with their own special abilities), try to collect as much Wumpa fruit as possible, and deliver said fruit to your goal, all while stopping the other team from doing the same. Interestingly, it looks to have the same platformer-style gameplay as the core Crash series, and multiplayer platformers don’t get the love they deserve. Here’s hoping that changes with Crash Team Rumble.
2: Pikmin 4
There’s even less information on Pikmin 4 than there is on Crash Team Rumble. Basically all we know is that Pikmin 4 exists, and that the three original Pikmin types return, and a brief glimpse at some new environments. It’s not exactly a lot to go by. But for me, it’s more than enough to be excited.
We only get a new Pikmin game about once every decade (in this case literally, as 2023 marks 10 years since Pikmin 3 released on the Wii U, which in tern was nine years after Pikmin 2). So it’s always something to savor.
I can’t wait to see what new Pikmin types may be in store, and what crazy creature designs Nintendo has come up with this time. One thing’s for sure, Mario, Zelda and Donkey Kong’s younger sibling series is definitely one to look forward to.
1: The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom
An easy choice for the top spot? Yes. But as I’ve said in the past, oftentimes the obvious choices are obvious for a reason.
It’s a new Legend of Zelda! That right there is reason enough to be excited! More specifically, it’s a rare direct sequel for the series, serving as a follow-up to The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, one of the most acclaimed video games of all time. While I may not want every Zelda game going forward to use Breath of the Wild’s rulebook, I’d be a flat-out liar if I said I don’t want to see more of it.
It seems the big hook to Tears is that now Link can traverse the land above the sky of Hyrule itself, in addition to, well, Hyrule itself. That already makes the game massive, and one of the things I loved about Breath of the Wild is how it made that massive world feel alive with all the things you could do.
Granted, there are some Breath of the Wild quirks I hope get smoothed out (breakable weapons, horses not being worth the trouble, inclusion of proper dungeons), but if Nintendo can make one of the best games of all time even better, that right there is reason to celebrate.
Unless a Super Mario Odyssey 2 or an Elden Ring 2 or a new Donkey Kong Country is announced and released within the next twelve months, I don’t see anything else dethroning The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom as my most anticipated game of 2023.
Chapter 6: The Last One
Once again, my friends, we reach the end of our annual Christmas Special. I know, once upon a time these Christmas Specials had more chapters, plus an epilogue! I promise those days will return, hopefully next year. But in my defense, the newer Christmas Specials have a greater word count, and I’m (relatively) better at writing. So it’s a fair enough trade, I suppose. Plus, with all the stuff I currently have going on, I’m kind of surprised this Christmas Special managed to be as wordy and varied as it did.
So as we wrap up these Christmas festivities here at the Dojo, I’d just like to once again wish you all a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays! Whatever day you celebrate, I hope it’s as awesome as GUNTHER vs. Sheamus. And have an awesome New Year while you’re at it!
Here’s to a happy and awesome 2023 to the Dojo, and to you!
Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays from Wizard Dojo!
Happy Fourth of July, everybody! Here’s the customary picture of Captain America punching Hitler!
If only there were a follow-up panel of Cap kicking Hitler in the crotch…
I know these past few years have been a really rough time for America (and the rest of the world), and it sometimes feels like there isn’t reason to celebrate. But there is always room for hope. The spirit of America and freedom endures even when the physical America may fall short. Or something like that. I think you get what I’m trying to say.
So grab yourself some de-licious barbeque, set off some fireworks (safely, of course), and spend some quality time with friends and family. Just don’t get those really screechy fireworks that scare dogs and other animals. Come on, don’t be a jerk.
Happy America! Happy Fireworks!
And to everyone not from America: you have a super, swell day too!
Happy Fourth of July, everyone! Have fun, stay safe, and be good to each other!
I made my second trip to the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures on May 22nd, so it’s been a week ago now, but I still wanted to write about it. So sue me.
Unlike my first trip to the Academy Museum, where I tried to see as much as possible, this time I simply spent the day visiting the Hayao Miyazaki exhibit, since that’s sadly going to be leaving the museum in June. Goodness gracious, what a magical exhibit! Filled with so much artwork, sketches, character designs, even sculpted recreations of locations from Miyazaki’s films (the model of the house from My Neighbor Totoro even hides some Soot Sprites to find). They even have a little mock patch of grass that you can lay on to look up at some clouds (as characters in Miyazaki films often do)!
I’m really going to miss this exhibit when it goes. I mean I’m REALLY going to miss it. Like, the idea of going to the Academy Museum and that exhibit no longer being there makes me genuinely sad. Sure, there will still be other interesting exhibits. But sadly, the ‘magic’ will no longer be there.
I’ve often said Hayao Miyazaki is my favorite filmmaker, and that his films are my favorites. But really, that doesn’t even begin to do justice to what his films have meant to me. Now, I say this with all due respect to the many great filmmakers throughout history, but for me, none of them can even begin to compare to Miyazaki. I have a friend who claims that the original Star Wars (that is to say Episode IV – A New Hope) transcends all of their favorite films and is in a category all its own as a perfect film. And I guess for me, that’s what Miyazaki’s films are like (it’s also why I’m not satisfied with any of the reviews I’ve written for them and have thought about rewriting them in a way that differs from all my other reviews). Sure, not all of Miyazaki’s films are equals (though Howl’s Moving Castle is the only one that’s notably ‘weaker’ than the others), but his style, tone, voice and artistry are simply beyond anything else in movies. They really are magical.
In short, I’m really going to miss the Miyazaki exhibit, and so my entire second trip was spent revisiting it. I even went back into the exhibit around closing and had it practically to myself for a while. That was pretty darn cool.
Once again, they didn’t allow pictures within the exhibit itself (and boy, was it difficult to resist the urge to photograph everything). But I got some pictures of the outside of the exhibit again. This time with me in them!
What a magical experience it was to see this Hayao Miyazaki exhibit. Finally, a place here in the US for Studio Ghibli fans to appreciate (and maybe geek out) about the world’s greatest animation studio. From entering a woodland tunnel greeted by “The Path of the Wind” from My Neighbor Totoro, to seeing the Kodama from Princess Mononoke appear on the walls, to finally exiting via the tunnel from Spirited Away (complete with Stone Spirit guardian), I absorbed every last drop of that exhibit. The fact that I actually got to see original artwork and concept sketches from Miyazaki’s films firsthand… that’s something that will stick with me forever.
It’s going to be really sad to see the Miyazaki exhibit leave (though I don’t know why the museum can’t at least keep the merchandise in the gift shop), though I can’t blame Studio Ghibli if they want their stuff back in their native Japan. But what a delight it’s been to be able to experience it.
Also, a big shout out to the little girl waiting in line for the exhibit who freaked out with enthusiasm at the sight of Totoro and Ponyo. What a cool kid! Warms my heart to know that kids these days have that kind of adoration for Miyazaki’s films.
Thanks for the Miyazaki memories, Academy Museum! It was a magical experience.
Before we get into anything else: Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Happy Kwanzaa! Merry Festivus! Happy Life Day! Happy Rusev Day! Happy/Merry everybody!
Whatever holiday(s) you celebrate, I hope you have a great one filled with happiness, joy, and lots of good food!
Happy holidays to all!
With all the holiday greetings and well wishes out of the way, Christmas Day also marks the anniversary of when I launched Wizard Dojo (well, when I first posted content to it, which is what I would say actually constitutes the launch of something). It’s a double celebration here at the Dojo!
Being both Christmas Day and the anniversary of this site, it’s time once again for the annual Wizard Dojo Christmas Special! Because Wizard Dojo is actually just one long, elaborate Christmas movie in disguise… like Die Hard!
So without further ado, let’s get on with this Christmas Special!
Chapter 1: Ranking the Spider-Man Films
There have been no less than nine theatrically released Spider-Man films ever since Spidey’s first big screen outing back in 2002. I figured now is as good of a time as any to rank all of the Spider-Man features. After all, Spider-Man is kind of like Christmas when you think about it: Spidey wears a red suit, like Santa Claus. The way he swings around New York is kind of/sort of like how Santa flies around on his sleigh on Christmas Eve. And the way Peter Parker builds his web shooters is kind of like how Santa’s elves build the toys…
Okay, it’s not like Christmas at all (unlike Die Hard). But the newest Spider-Man movie, No Way Home, came out recently, and the festive atmosphere of Christmas has me feeling celebratory, so why not?
Oh, and keep in mind that I’m just counting the Spider-Man movies themselves here, and not the Avengers movies in which Spider-Man appears, or Spider-Man adjacent movies like Venom.
With that out of the way, here’s my ranking of the Spider-Man movies!
9: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)
That “Amazing” in the title is more than a little ironic, as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is regularly cited as the weakest Spider-Man movie (as it is here). It’s doubly ironic in that the original ‘Spider-Man 2’ was already amazing.
The second and ultimately final iteration of the Andrew Garfield-starring Spider-Man films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 perhaps has more merit than it gets credit for (it’s certainly better than some other Marvel movies, like Eternals or the later X-Men films). But it does ultimately succumb to its desire of wanting to be everything.
Not satisfied with simply being a Spider-Man sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wanted to kickstart its own Cinematic Universe to compete with what Marvel had accomplished with the MCU (remember that Spidey was still strictly under Sony’s control at this time). So what we get is a movie that’s trying to tell its own story while simultaneously setting up an entire series of sequels all at once.
You thought Spider-Man 3 was overstuffed with three villains? The Amazing Spider-Man 2 not only packs on the villains, but also hints at others, tries setting up potential sequels and spinoffs for them (there were plans for a Sinister Six movie, among others), and features a lingering mystery involving the fate of Peter Parker’s parents (which remains unsolved). All this while still trying to give Peter Parker a meaningful character arc involving his girlfriend, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone).
It’s just too much, and the film crumbles under all that weight. Sony got greedy and sacrificed their Spider-Man sequel just to play catch up with Marvel. But Marvel took its time setting up its shared universe of characters, they started with standalone movies (something I wish they’d go back to) before they brought their characters together. By fast-tracking their planned Cinematic Universe, Sony killed it before it even began. It’s a shame, because the Amazing Spider-Man series had potential.
At the very least, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gave us a Russian Paul Giamatti inside of a robotic rhinoceros. That’s something to be grateful for.
8: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)
The Amazing Spider-Man is actually a technically well-made movie. So why do I rank it so low on this list? Because its technical polish doesn’t translate to its creativity. The Amazing Spider-Man served as a good launching pad for a reboot to the series (though we know how it ultimately ended up. See above), but it does so by simply going through the motions.
Released ten years after the original Spider-Man (which was Spider-Man’s origin story), and five years after Spider-Man 3 (which heavily focused on part of Spider-Man’s origin story due to an annoying retcon). Audiences just didn’t want to sit through Spider-Man’s origin story again. Give Uncle Ben a break, will ya?
This is the film that introduced us to Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, and to be fair, he’s great in the role (he looks more the part than Tobey Maguire and is less annoying than Tom Holland’s Peter Parker). And it’s his performance, and his chemistry with Emma Stone, that most separates this film from what came before it (that, and I suppose the fact that its villain is a lizard-man). But the film’s darker and more gritty tone haven’t aged as well as the more colorful Sam Raimi-directed films. The fact that Spider-Man was rebooted yet again (and added into the biggest movie franchise in history in the process) five years later, leaving its lingering plot threads to drift in limbo, also hasn’t helped The Amazing Spider-Man stand the test of time.
It’s a shame, because I actually really liked The Amazing Spider-Man when I first saw it. Perhaps if it hadn’t felt the need to show us Spider-Man’s origin story in detail after the 2002 film already did it so well, it may have been able to build more of an identity of its own.
7: Spider-Man 3 (2007)
It pains me to rank one of the Sam Raimi films this low on the list. But Spider-Man 3 was the first instance of the series feeling the need to include as many villains as humanly possible at the expense of storytelling coherence. Spider-Man 3 was such a downgrade in quality that it resulted in the end of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, and “Spider-Man 4” never saw the light of day.
To be fair, it was Sony who forced Raimi’s hand to include Venom into the movie, resulting in one villain too many. Harry Osborne had already been set up to take over his father’s mantle of the Green Goblin in Spider-Man 2, and Raimi wanted the Sandman, as he liked the idea of a small-time crook being turned into the main villain, as well as believing he’d be impressive visually. But Sony wanted Venom, so we got him too.
On the subject of fairness, Raimi’s hands weren’t entirely clean, either. It was his decision that Sandman should be revealed as Uncle Ben’s real killer, even though that whole story seemed nicely wrapped up in the first movie. And you know you’re in trouble whenever a movie retcons something like that (“that guy wasn’t the real killer, thisguy is!”). Though once again, in the spirit of fairness, at least Raimi only did so because he wanted the film to be themed around forgiveness. I just wish he’d had found a better means to do so.
Suffice to say, the film is a bit cluttered. It has too many elements in too many places. If even just one of them had been cut (let’s just say, oh I don’t know, Venom, for instance), perhaps Spider-Man 3 could have found a better focus and been a better movie.
There was once a time when I’d tell you that Spider-Man 3 was one of my most hated movies. Though a few years ago, when I watched it again for the first time since it was in theaters, I realized it isn’t that bad. I mean, Spider-Man 3 can’t hold a candle to its two predecessors, and I think the massive downgrade in quality from Spider-Man 2 may have been why I was extra critical of it initially. But it still has its good points.
Though it doesn’t resonate nearly as strongly as the first two films, Spider-Man 3 still has something of a beating heart to it. Sam Raimi and company still tried to give the film meaning. As messy as the end result may have been, that’s still something more than I can say about most superhero movies that have been released since. Spider-Man 3 actually had something to it (albeit it often got lost in the shuffle) and wasn’t just about hyping the next string of movies in the Marvel pipeline.
A bit of a mess. But its own mess.
6: Spider-Man: Far From Home(2019)
Spider-Man: Far From Home was the second Spider-Man film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the third Spider-Man film released in as many years (following its predecessor in 2017 and the animated Into the Spider-Verse in 2018). You would think Far From Home would have suffered a bit from Spider-Fatigue, but for the most part, it’s still a solid entry in the series. It featured a decently fun villain in Mysterio, took the action out of New York and into various locations in Europe, and had some good action scenes. Far From Home was fun, if maybe not groundbreaking. In other words, it sure was an MCU feature.
Still, there are some things holding Far From Home back from reaching the same heights as other Spider-Man films. Notably, with the film being the first MCU feature released after Avengers: Endgame, you would think that Far from Home would respectfully acknowledge the events of Infinity War and Endgame, given the gravity of – oh, I don’t know – Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe for five years before the Avengers travelled through time to bring everyone back! But you’d be wrong.
Instead, Far From Home plays up the whole thing as one big punchline. Aunt May laughs off the fact that while she disappeared from existence for five years, someone else was living in her apartment. A kid in Peter’s school also jokes that his younger brother became his older brother during the time he was snapped away by Thanos. Maybe a few jokes about it would be fine, but Far From Home seems to exclusively reference the drama of Endgame as a joke. Considering Endgame was the culmination of everything in the MCU up to that point, and Far From Home was the first MCU film released afterwards, its utter disregard towards Endgame basically devalues the entire MCU franchise. It’s like a big middle finger to anyone who invested in the series. And sadly, this element of writing off the past seems to have become a common trait in the MCU since.
At least the sacrifice of Tony Stark is made important! Because of course it is. Tony Stark was all over Spider-Man: Homecoming, just to hit home the fact that Spider-Man was in the MCU now. So Far From Home is sure to let everyone know how impactful the loss of Tony Stark was, to the point that Peter Parker never even brings up Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben wasn’t Tony Stark, why should he be remembered? But Spidey still manages to snag plenty of new gadgets from Stark Industries in Far From Home. Because Tony Stark!
Okay, I won’t keep going on. Simply put, the film’s overemphasis on pointing out that it takes place in the MCU at the expense of Spider-Man’s own mythology, while simultaneously treating the MCU’s history as a joke, is a bit of a problem. But if you can dig past that, Spider-Man: Far From Home does deliver an entertaining movie.
5: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)
Five years after the Andrew Garfield era started (and only three years after The Amazing Spider-Man 2), the Spider-Man franchise was rebooted yet again! This time, Sony and Marvel worked out their differences (they would have more later, and work them out again), meaning that Spider-Man could now join the MCU! Sony’s planned Spider-Man universe didn’t pan out, so I guess it’s a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”
The good news is that Marvel knew no one wanted to see Spider-Man’s origin story again, so they skipped it entirely, and introduced this newest version of Spider-Man in a previous film (Captain America: Civil War) for good measure. So for once, we could just get right into things.
The bad news is that Marvel and Sony were way too excited to let people know that Spider-Man was now in the MCU, with Tony Stark being all over Homecoming (I can’t remember a single advertisement that didn’t put Iron Man front and center). And sadly, Marvel and Sony seemed to think that “skipping” Spider-Man’s origin story meant ignoring it outright. Uncle Ben’s death is still (supposedly) a pinnacle moment in the life of the MCU’s Peter Parker, but you’d never know it from watching Homecoming. Who has time to remember a lost loved one when Tony Stark’s in town?! Yahoo! MCU!
Okay, I’m sorry. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie. But I do think sacrificing Spider-Man’s own mythology for the sake of the MCU is a big problem in the Tom Holland-era Spider-Man films, and not one that grew bigger over time. It was there right out the gate with Homecoming. Still, I guess being overly enthusiastic about being in the MCU is better than an MCU movie making fun of the MCU (like Far From Home).
Other than the film’s obsession with reminding audiences that Spider-Man is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Homecoming has a lot to love about it. While Tom Holland’s Peter Parker can be pretty annoying at times, the actor definitely looks the part, and makes for a fun Spider-Man. The action scenes are, once again, very exciting. And perhaps most notably, Spider-Man: Homecoming gives us one of the few MCU villains who could be described as ‘interesting.’
Adrian Toomes, AKA ‘The Vulture,’ wonderfully portrayed by Michael Keaton, seemed to have taken inspiration from the Raimi-era villains. A hardworking man who (rightfully) has a grudge after his salvage company are sent out of business by the government and (*sigh*) Tony Stark. Michael Keaton plays Toomes as a likable, blue-collar man just trying to set things right the only way he feels he can. That’s the kind of villain the MCU could certainly use more of. I’m getting pretty tired of evil rich guys who have the same powers as the hero…
Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be perfect, but it remains one of the MCU’s most fun and lighthearted installments. And everyone loves Michael Keaton.
4: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)
Okay, there may be a recency bias here seeing as this movie was just released. Or it could even be a nostalgic bias, seeing as this film brings back so many faces from Spidey’s cinematic past. Whatever the case may be, I’m ranking No Way Home above Homecoming for the time being. I guess we’ll see how I feel they compare later.
The good: It’s magic just to see Alfred Molina Doc Ock and Willem Dafoe Green Goblin again. Lots of great action scenes. A few good emotional bits. A truckload of fanservice for the MCU, the Amazing Spider-Man films and the Sam Raimi trilogy.
The bad: The film makes too many cynical jokes at the expense of past Spider-Man films. Dr. Strange fills the role of “overbearing Avengers presence” left over by Tony Stark. The classic villains are made out to be easy pickings for MCU Spidey and Dr. Strange unless they team up. J. Jonah Jameson has been turned into a one-note villain. Mr. Ditkovitch didn’t make a return appearance.
A very fun movie fueled by fanservice and nostalgia, if maybe not the most heartfelt Spider-Man film.
3: Spider-Man (2002)
Nearly every list that ranks a particular franchise has that point where the quality of work within that franchise ramps up considerably. For this list, this is that moment.
The original 2002 Spider-Man feature is still a treat. Although X-Men beat it to theaters by two years, it’s Spider-Man that created the blueprint for the entire superhero genre. It may be easy to forget in this day and age, when the all-encompassing MCU seems to grow bigger and bigger, swallowing other franchises in its wake. But back in 2002, Spider-Man – and Spider-Man alone – was a huge deal. No Cinematic Universe required.
Spider-Man made superheroes mainstream. It was the first film to make over one-hundred million dollars on its opening weekend, and it became a talking point not just for comic book nerds, but people who had never read a comic book in their life. Kids and adults alike ate it up.
Perhaps Spider-Man’s initial success and continuing legacy can be attributed to how Sam Raimi gave the film a heart. This wasn’t simply an origin story where the hero gets his powers (though it is that too), but also a story about love, loss, and responsibility.
Tobey Maguire made his version of Peter Parker a loveable dweeb: goofy, awkward, somewhat naive. Later Peter Parkers Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland seemed to be cast to turn the character into something of a heartthrob. But Tobey Maguire’s version is nerd incarnate, giving him a more underdog quality.
To compliment the film’s relatable hero, we were given a sympathetic villain in Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), whose descent into the Green Goblin is equal parts tragic and terrifying. He’s the father of Peter’s best friend, and even becomes something of a father figure to Peter, as well. But a desperate attempt to save his company by rushing an experiment – using himself as a test subject – results in his personality being split a la Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Norman Osborne remains, but the evil Goblin can take over at any moment. Willem Dafoe plays the double role with a brilliance similar to what Andy Serkis would give Gollum a few months later in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.
In what is perhaps the best bonus possible, Spider-Man even gave us the greatest comic relief in superhero movie history in J. Jonah Jameson. The bombastic newspaperman was brought to life so flawlessly by J.K. Simmons that Marvel had to bring him back for the role in the MCU, because they knew no one else could match his performance.
We may all laugh at Spider-Man’s origin story by this point, but the 2002 film got it so right. Peter Parker gains his superhuman abilities after being bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, and at first uses his newfound abilities to win some money and impress the girl next door, Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). But a petty money squabble leads Peter Parker to let a crook get away, a crook who later shoots Uncle Ben (before Spider-Man 3 retconned the shooter, anyway). Peter holds Uncle Ben’s hand as he passes. No overly long, dramatic speech is necessary. Uncle Ben (memorably played by the late Cliff Robertson) simply shows joy that he can look at a loved one before he passes. With his uncle’s teaching of “with great power comes great responsibility” resonating in his heart, Peter Parker decides to use his powers for the sake of others.
It’s beautifully told, and the emotion is earnest in a way that seems lost on the MCU.
Sure, 2002’s Spider-Man has its share of cheesy moments: the upside-down kiss, Green Goblin’s costume, the wrestling scene… But if anything, those cheesy moments only add to that aforementioned earnestness. Spider-Man is telling the story it needs to tell, and if that entails some awkwardness, then so be it. Personally, I find the cheesiness of the Sam Raimi films to be much less eye-rolling than the forced “applaud here” moments of the MCU.
In 2002, no multiverses needed saving. No one was wiping out half of all life in the universe. There was just Peter Parker growing into Spider-Man fighting Norman Osborne, who had fallen into becoming the Green Goblin. And it was great.
Spider-Man may not be the highest ranked movie on this list. But y’know, it’s something of a classic itself.
2: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
“Inventive” may not be the word you’d use to describe the superhero movies of today, but it’s an apt term when describing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.
Boasting animation that looks like a comic book come to life and a story that plays with the Spider-Man mythology, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the surprise hit of 2018, becoming one of the most acclaimed superhero films of all time.
Into the Spider-Verse shifts the focus to Miles Morales, who becomes the Spider-Man of his world. When Kingpin activates a portal that starts bringing in people from different universes, Miles has to team up with various other Spider-People from across the multiverse to save the day. Miles’ team includes an out-of-shape Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey from a world where her and Peter’s roles were reversed, a monochromatic Spider-Man out of film noir, an anime girl version of Peter Parker, and a cartoon pig.
The film is as fun and varied as its oddball lineup of characters, with its story unfolding – rather uniquely – from the perspective of its main characters, rather than letting the audience in on most of the details ahead of time. Though perhaps as a consequence of this, Kingpin himself – despite having a pretty good story to him – ends up getting a little shortchanged in the film.
In a time when every superhero movie under the sun seems hellbent on building up towards a string of other superhero movies down the road, Into the Spider-Verse was a breath of fresh air. Here was a new take on Spider-Man, no Cinematic Universe was needed. Into the Spider-Verse worked so well as a standalone movie, that I don’t know if its upcoming sequel, Across the Spider-Verse, can actually match it. The fact that the sequel includes a “Part 1” in the title is also a bit disappointing. I’m all for sequels, but it’s a shame that today’s sequels can’t just be their own movie anymore. They always have to hype up something else on the horizon. Being excited for Across the Spider-Verse isn’t enough these days. You have to be excited for the movies that come after it before it’s even released…
I guess we’ll see how that all ends up. But even if the sequels don’t live up to the original, Into the Spider-Verse will have still left us with one of the most original and definitive movies in the superhero genre.
1:Spider-Man 2 (2004)
Into the Spider-Verse may be the most original Spider-Man movie, but make no mistake about it, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is still, quite simply, the best.
The Amazing Spider-Man took a nosedive with its second entry, and the MCU Spider-Man films can feel kind of interchangeable (the fact that No Way Homeneeded to bring back old faces to feel distinct is telling). But 2004’s Spider-Man 2 was a case of a sequel taking everything that was good about the first installment and improving on them in every way. It’s one of the best sequels of all time.
The emotion is better. The drama is better. The action is better. The humor is better. And with all due respect to the Green Goblin, even the villain is better.
With Peter Parker’s personal life suffering due to his duties as Spider-Man, he begins to wonder if the city still needs its web-slinging hero anymore. Meanwhile, Dr. Otto Octavius becomes Peter’s mentor, only to turn to a life of crime once a would-be revolutionary experiment ends in tragedy.
This is a key factor to Spider-Man 2’s enduring appeal: On one hand, it is about Spider-Man’s battles against Doctor Octopus. But even more so, it’s a movie about the inner struggles of Peter Parker and Otto Octavius. Even after all these years, it’s still the single most character-driven Marvel film. But if it’s superhero action you’re looking for, Spider-Man 2 has that covered as well, featuring a number of memorable action scenes, notably its iconic train sequence. Though that’s just one of many, many standout moments created by Spider-Man 2.
Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker was a likable dweeb in the first movie, but here he becomes a true hero. And Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock – whose mechanical arms make him a perfect foil for Spider-Man – is a tragic, sympathetic villain with a depth that no Marvel movie since has been able to grasp. The supporting players all get their chance to shine as well, and add even more emotion to the film (the scene where Peter Parker tells Aunt May the events leading up to Uncle Ben’s death being another high point). Not to mention J.K. Simmons is at his best as Jameson.
It all comes down to the characters, really. Everything we loved about them the first time around is brought back in full force, with some great new additions as well. Doc Ock is the obvious newcomer, sure. But even characters like Mr. Ditkovitch – Peter Parker’s stingy landlord – leave an impression. And of course, we have the inspiring scene where the people of New York stand up to Doctor Octopus to defend Spider-Man (this was something of a theme in the Raimi era, with something similar happening in the first film as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, Spider-Man 3 lacked such a scene). Even the random citizens were important here in Spider-Man 2.
Yes, it’s true, Spider-Man 2 has its cheesy elements (though perhaps not to the same level as the first film). But again, I almost feel like they add to its appeal in retrospect. Spider-Man 2 is sincere and upfront, warts and all. It’s as genuine and heartfelt as any superhero movie ever made.
There have been many, many, many movies based on Marvel comics in the nearly eighteen years since its release, but not one of them has made me care as much as Spider-Man 2.
Simply the best.
Chapter 2: The Best of Wizard Dojo in 2021
2021 was not exactly the most productive year for Wizard Dojo. Although January got off to a decent start (I reviewed the entire Oddworld series… although a new entry was released a little while later and I still need to review that), things quickly fell silent. From February through May, I only wrote four posts (all movie reviews), with May being the first month in this site’s seven year history where I didn’t post anything whatsoever. And here we are, nearing the end of the year, and I’ve only reviewed nine videogames in all of 2021…five of which were the aforementioned Oddworld titles in January. I haven’t done right by video games this year, so I guess I should focus more of the Dojo on gaming in 2022. Catch up on the games I played but failed to review this year. Fingers crossed I can catch up to my backlogged game reviews.
With all this said, I still like to think I provided some quality content (by my standards) to Wizard Dojo this year. I certainly wrote about plenty of movies. So now, here’s some quick access to the best of what I wrote in 2021!
Video Game Reviews (might as well post them all here)
The Best of the Rest (Things I wrote that aren’t directly reviews)
The 1000th Blog! – In which I celebrate my 1,000 blog milestone here on Wizard Dojo*. Also includes my ranking of the Paper Mario series.
*Technically, I removed some old filler blogs a while back, and the 1,000th post was the 1,000th not including those removed. And I deleted a further few filler posts of old afterwards. So I guess technically it isn’t the 1,oooth blog anymore. But come on, I’m over 1,000 again. Just let me celebrate.I’ll try not to delete any more past content.
Super Smash Bros. Has Lost its Heart – In which I write about how the Super Smash Bros. series has betrayed what made it so fun and memorable in the first place, with its overemphasis on third-party characters, hype and pandering to eSports at the expense of its own identity.
And now we meet somewhere in the middle, because I posted two movie reviews on the tenth anniversary of their respective movies: Rango and The Adventures of Tintin. But now we’re getting back into review territory.
And perhaps my favorite thing I wrote this past year…
Whether you read any of these back when they were posted or not, I hope you have some fun reading them.
Chapter 3 & 4: My Months in Movies (November and December 2021)
Following suit with my previous ‘My Month in Movies’ post, I figured I’d write about what I watched during the last two months of 2021. Sure, December isn’t quite done yet, and I could still watch another movie or two before year’s end. But come on, it’s Christmas!
Because my last ‘My Month in Movies’ post ended up being so long, I will sadly keep things shorter here (seeing as I had other things to post on this Christmas blog). So here I’ll list the movies, and then go straight into the awards. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to write about some of these movies in more detail sooner rather than later. As before, movies are listed in chronological order of when I watched them, and those with an asterisk are movies I watched for the very first time.
Now let’s get started!
My Month in Movies: November 2021
Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure
Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey
Ron’s Gone Wrong*
Home Sweet Home Alone*
Castle in the Sky
Die Hard 2
Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
Best Movie(s) I Watched All Month: Castle in the Sky and Die Hard
Alright, I’m going to cheat right out the gate and select two movies as the best I watched in November. My reason is simple: they both put up strong arguments to being the best live-action (Die Hard) and animated (Castle in the Sky) action movies of all time. So why not just celebrate both? Also, I know if I just picked Castle in the Sky, my best movies of every month so far would definitely show some favoritism (and having favorite directors or movies or anything is considered taboo these days for some reason).
Castle in the Sky, the first film released by Studio Ghibli (though the third feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki), is one of the most influential animated films ever made. Not only did it kickstart the world’s greatest animation studio, but it continues to influence movies, animation, television and video games to this day. Hell, with the exception of Star Wars, I’m having trouble thinking of a movie that has had as big of an influence on video games as Castle in the Sky. Everything from The Legend of Zelda (most overtly in Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild), Skies of Arcadia, Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy have drawn from it. Even the storyline of Sonic & Knuckles was directly lifted from Castle in the Sky (as a bonus, Dr. Robotnik’s entire character design was largely based on a character from the film).
Even without its impact, Castle in the Sky is such an incredible film. It’s probably Miyazaki’s most straightforward tale, but it’s a perfectly structured adventure film brimming with the director’s unrivaled imagination. Two kids, Pazu and Sheeta, go on an adventure to find Laputa, the titular castle in the sky. A band of pirates, lead by the elderly yet energetic Dola (one of Miyazaki’s best characters), are also out to find the castle and its countless treasures. But a bigger threat looms in the form of the military, under the command of the mysterious Colonel Muska.
Again, it’s a simple adventure story, but flawlessly crafted, and the world it created has proven influential for a reason (the city of Laputa itself is perhaps second only to the bathhouse in Miyazaki’s own Spirited Away as the most indelible place in animation). The action set pieces utilize animation to send them over the top of what you would expect. They’re so exciting, in fact, that it’s a mystery Miyazaki never really tackled another full-on action-adventure film after this. A classic.
I feel like I don’t even need to introduce Die Hard. It’s one of the most iconic action movies of all time. It deserves mention alongside the likes of Terminator 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road as one of the greatest works of art in the genre (I would also add Speed to that running). And yes, it’s also one of the best Christmas movies of all time.
Taking place on Christmas Eve, New York police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is visiting Los Angeles to reconnect with his estranged wife. He visits her at her place of business, the Nakatomi Corporation. But things quickly go south when a band of terrorists, lead by Hans Gruber (the late, great Alan Rickman) take over the building. John McClane then has to figure out a way to use what resources he has to take out the bad guys one by one if he wants to save the hostages.
Again, a simple premise, but perfectly executed. Besides how well made and exciting the action sequences are, there are a few key areas that make Die Hard stand out from other action movies: One of them is John McClane himself, a much more human and vulnerable action hero. Released in the late 1980s, Die Hard purposefully made John McClane contrast the seemingly invincible heroes of the genre played by Schwarzenegger and Stallone that dominated the decade. Sure, John McClane still survives things he probably wouldn’t in real life, but just barely. Notably, he just happened to take his shoes off right before the terrorists showed up, so his feet end up in a bad, bloody way before the end of things.
There’s also Hans Gruber, debatably the best villain in any action movie. He has a charisma and cunning about him that make him so much more memorable than other villains in the genre. We can’t forget Officer Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), John’s only ally outside of the building, who has an interesting story of his own. Then there’s the Nakatomi building itself. Setting all of the action inside one location proved to be a stroke of genius, and gives the film a strong sense of place.
Die Hard’s 90s sequels are also exceptional action flicks (I still haven’t seen the 2007 and 2013 entries), though they lack a number of the qualities that make the original still feel so unique. Al Powell is reduced to a cameo in the second film, never appearing again thereafter. Hans Gruber was never topped in the villain department. The scope grew, at the expense of a singular, iconic location. And John McClane slowly became the indestructible action hero he once defied. They’re solid sequels, sure. But the original Die Hard is the action classic.
And also a Christmas classic.
Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Eternals
I already wrote a review for Eternals, so mercifully I don’t have to delve too deeply into this mess again.
Suffice to say, it’s the worst entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No contest.
It’s a boring slog with a pessimistic attitude. It has an undeserved sense of self-importance. It conveniently retcons elements of the MCU’s world-building to try and make itself make sense. It’s… uhhh. Yeah.
Look, if you want to know more about why I don’t like it – and you don’t want to scroll all the way back up this wall of text for the last link – I’ll post the link again here.
On the plus side, Spider-Man: No Way Home seems to have brought audience attention right back to the MCU. So thankfully Eternals is already looking like a memory. A bad memory, but still.
Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Encanto (Ron’s Gone Wrong is a very close second)
One of my bad habits this year was seeing a number of great animated films and then not writing about them, such as Luca and The Mitchells Vs. the Machines. I have no idea why. On that subject, here are two other great animated films that were released this year that I still have yet to review: Disney’s Encanto and Ron’s Gone Wrong! Mayhaps I’ll catch up on these animated movie reviews before I start dedicating Wizard Dojo’s 2022 to video games.
Anyway, Encanto is yet another winner in Disney’s current hot streak of animation. Say what you want about Disney’s live-action output, but their animated films have never been better than they are now. I’d be ostracized from my generation for saying that. But with due respect to the ‘Disney Renaissance’ of the 90s, most of those movies were largely the same. The modern Disney era – whether you think it began with The Princess and the Frog in 2009, a year before that with Bolt, or the year after with Tangled – has provided an array of movies with a depth and variety that Disney has never seen before. It’s now also probably the longest hot streak in the studio’s history, so there’s that too.
Encanto tells a beautiful and heartfelt story about family, as Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), an ordinary girl in an extraordinary family, must figure out why her superpowered siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and mother are losing their magical powers.
It’s beautifully animated and has a great selection of songs (which I almost hate to admit, given they were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. But as Moana proved, Disney seems to be able to bring out a more creative side to him and it doesn’t all sound the same). A joy to the senses.
Bafflingly, Encanto was a box office disappointment. That breaks my heart. But now that the film is readily available on Disney+, hopefully it will find the audience it deserves.
Encanto is very worthy to hold the distinction of being Walt Disney Animation Studio’s 60th film.
While we’re here, let’s go ahead and give Ron’s Gone Wrong the “Pleasant Surprise of the Year” award. Seriously, “pleasant surprise” may be the best way to describe this movie. It was barely advertised, and those advertisements didn’t exactly look promising. I went to see it more out of curiosity than anything, but ended up seeing a sweet, emotional, wonderful movie.
Yes, it may look like a Big Hero 6 clone on the surface (but would that be so bad?), and its themes of an overreliance on technology and social media were already done relatively recently by The Mitchells Vs. the Machines. But Ron’s Gone Wrong has an identity of its own and ends up being a touching tale about friendship and loneliness.
Just writing about it now, I want to watch Ron’s Gone Wrong again. It’s currently available on both Disney+ and HBO Max. So if you have time for a movie, give this overlooked gem a watch. You’ll be glad you did.
Now seriously, why haven’t I reviewed these yet? I reviewed that piece of crap Eternals fast enough after I saw it, why not these actually great movies? There must be something wrong with me. Go ahead and call me ‘Scott’s Gone Wrong.’
The Guilty Pleasure Award: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York
I honestly had real trouble thinking about what would take my “Guilty Pleasure Award” for November, and not just because I didn’t watch any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. I really just don’t think I watched anything that fits that bill. I thought maybe the Bill & Ted movies – of which I hold the unpopular opinion that Bogus Journey is way better than Excellent Adventure – but no. I genuinely like them. I also thought about Home Sweet Home Alone, which I reviewed already and found to be mediocre and unmemorable, but harmless entertainment that was better than the other post-Macauley Culkin Home Alone movies.
In the end, I decided to go with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Even now, I don’t know if it really qualifies as a guilty pleasure. I find it to be thoroughly entertaining.
I decided to go with it for one specific reason: Home Alone 2 is basically Home Alone 1. It’s the very definition of a copy-and-paste sequel. However, if any sequel could get away with being so similar to the original, I suppose it would be Home Alone. It is, after all, just a story about a kid being left home alone on Christmas and outsmarting a duo of bumbling burglars. It isn’t exactly aiming for a deep, rich narrative. Sometimes, it’s okay to just have fun.
Home Alone 2 does have a couple of distinctions from its predecessor. The first difference is in its setting (It is called Lost in New York, after all), with Kevin McCallister now staying at the Plaza Hotel as opposed to his actual home. The second difference is that the film adds some secondary antagonists in the form of the hotel’s staff, with the concierge being played by Tim Curry (always a huge bonus).
Otherwise, Home Alone 2 is basically more of the same: the setup of Kevin being separated from his family. Kevin enjoying his time alone, before he inevitably begins to miss his family. Kevin is fearful of a local (this time it’s a Pidgeon Lady in the park), only to befriend them later. And he sets up a series of elaborate booby traps to defeat burglars Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), who are also somehow in New York at the same exact time as Kevin ended up there by accident. But, as an added plus, the booby trap sequence here is longer and more brutal than the first movie, and is perhaps the best example of cartoon violence being done in live-action.
So yeah, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York may as well be called Home Alone Again: But in New York. But what it lacks in narrative creativity it makes up for in sheer entertainment. And I don’t really feel guilty about it.
My Month in Movies: December 2021
West Side Story (1961)*
My Neighbor Totoro
Being the Ricardos*
Spider-Man: No Way Home*
The Santa Clause
The Santa Clause 2
The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Jingle All the Way
It’s a Wonderful Life
Best Movie I Watched All Month: My Neighbor Totoro
December may have been my slowest month of movie watching since I started doing these ‘My Month in Movies’ things, but it wouldn’t have mattered how many movies I watched, the crown was guaranteed to go to Totoro.
I say that with the utmost respect to It’s a Wonderful Life – truly one of the best movies ever made -but if there’s one movie I can think of that’s even more life affirming than It’s a Wonderful Life, surely it’s My Neighbor Totoro.
Hayao Miyazaki’s quiet tale about childhood, nature and life really is a one of a kind film. Truthfully, Miyazaki could have retired after Totoro and he’d still be the greatest filmmaker in animation. The fact that he continued to create so many classics afterward is nothing short of inspiring. One of those subsequent films, Spirited Away, is Totoro’s only equal as my all-time favorite film, animated or otherwise.
My Neighbor Totoro is the story about two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, as they move to a new house to be close to their ailing mother, who is being treated at a hospital. But their new house comes with a surprise, as just beyond it rests a giant camphor tree, which is the home of Totoro. The girls soon discover the animal-like spirit, and have many adventures together.
Totoro was Miyazaki’s follow-up to Castle in the Sky, which may be the most overt display of the director’s versatility. Going from the spectacle and set pieces of Laputa into the ethereal beauty of Totoro was something else. And none of Miyazaki’s artistry was lost in the transition.
My Neighbor Totoro remains Miyazaki’s most iconic film, with its titular character becoming the face of Studio Ghibli (adorning the opening of every film from the studio thereafter). It’s been said that young children in Japan believe in Totoro in a similar way to how children believe in Santa Claus (something which Miyazaki’s colleague and mentor; the late, great Isao Takahata, claimed was Miyazaki’s greatest achievement). Its reputation couldn’t be more deserved. My Neighbor Totoro is the most gentle and sweet movie I’ve ever seen. A masterpiece.
And let’s give a special shoutout to It’s a Wonderful Life. Because, well, we’re talking about It’s a Wonderful Life here! Famed director Steven Spielberg recently revealed It’s a Wonderful Life to be his favorite movie, and I’m not about to argue that. It deserves all the praise it’s received over the decades. If you tell me you can watch It’s a Wonderful Life without getting choked up and misty-eyed, well then, you’re probably either lying or a robot.
Worst Movie I Watched All Month: The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause
Wow. Going from talking about My Neighbor Totoro and It’s a Wonderful Life to talking about The Santa Clause 3. Wow. Just… Wow.
1994’s The Santa Clause is actually one of my favorite Christmas movies. The tale of Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) becoming Santa after the former Father Christmas falls off his roof is unique in that it works as both a kids’ movie and a more complicated one for adults. It’s genuinely a really good Christmas movie.
The 2002 sequel, The Santa Clause 2, is definitely aimed more at youngsters. It doesn’t deal with the same complexities of adulthood as the original, but it works in its own way. It’s another guilty pleasure of mine (and would take that award for December, if not for another Christmas movie). And it’s got Tim Allen in a second role as a human-sized toy Santa who takes over the North Pole and becomes a dictator. So that’s fun.
But The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. Ouch. You thought The Santa Clause 2 was juvenile? It looks like Breaking Bad compared to its successor!
The Santa Clause 3 is basically about Jack Frost (Martin Short) plotting to take over the North Pole, already recycling the second movie. Also, Santa and Mrs. Claus are expecting a baby, so Santa brings his in-laws to the North Pole to visit, claiming he works at a toy factory in Canada to keep his status as Santa Claus a secret (he claims the elves are small Canadians, as one does). It’s silly.
None of the more grown up elements of the original are intact, nor does the film feel the need to give children a fun, coherent story like the second movie. Instead we just kind of get a series of hyperactive things happening, and Martin Short running around in a funny costume saying things (admittedly some of which are funny: “Did you just call me skillful and delicious?”). Did I even get into the time travel aspect of it yet? Yeah, Jack Frost and Santa go back in time to the events of the first movie and change history, so kind of like a Back to the Future Part II thing (but that’s giving Santa Clause 3 way too much credit).
Still, at least I can laugh at The Santa Clause 3. That’s more than can be said of Eternals.
Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Being the Ricardos
I saw the original West Side Story for the first time this month (I still need to see the new Spielberg one), and it was good. I also saw Spider-Man: No Way Home, and it was good. Maybe it’s because I’m more used to superheroes and musicals than I am biopics, or maybe it’s because I wasn’t aware of this movie until some friends invited me to tag along with them to see it and thus I was pleasantly surprised, but I’m going to give this honor to Being the Ricardos for the time being.
Being the Ricardos is the latest in a long line of biopics to be released in recent years. I admit I’ve only seen a few of them, but I really enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder. While Being the Ricardos isn’t quite as fun as those movies, I still found it to be a good time.
Ricardos focuses on the inner workings of the production of I Love Lucy, during a particularly turbulent week for the show’s filming (with some additional flashbacks stretching the scope of the film’s story). It has a stellar cast, with Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball, Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance, and my man J.K. Simmons as William Frawley. The cast may not necessarily look like the people they’re portraying (then again, Tom Hanks doesn’t look like Walt Disney, either), but the film has fun with transforming the actors to look more like the I Love Lucy cast in the moments in recreates scenes from the iconic show.
It’s got all the drama you would expect from a biopic, but of course a movie about I Love Lucy has to have some humor involved, and Being the Ricardos includes some genuinely funny bits. It may be a bit Oscar bait-y, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable all the same.
The film was simultaneously released in theaters and Amazon Prime, so I may have to watch this one again at home soon. I repeat, it’s got J.K. Simmons as William Frawley as Fred Mertz! Need I say more?
The Guilty Pleasure Award: Jingle All the Way
Is Jingle All the Way the best bad Christmas movie? I definitely think it makes a strong case.
The weirdly specific sub-genre of “take an action star and put them in a family comedy” was everywhere in the 90s, and even shows up today every now and again. I would say I don’t know why they keep trying, since there hasn’t been a good movie produced by the combination of action star and family comedy (that I can think of, anyway. Unless Last Action Hero counts). But then I remember how gloriously stupid Jingle All the Way is, and suddenly the genre makes sense.
Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger himself – the action star of the 80s and 90s – Jingle All the Way is a movie about a dad named Howard Langston trying to make up for his failings as a father by getting his son the toy of his dreams for Christmas. The problem is he forgot to get the hot-selling toy (a superhero named Turbo Man) ahead of time, and now that it’s Christmas Eve, it’s going to be impossible to find! It doesn’t help that he keeps running into a troublesome mailman named Myron (Sinbad) who’s after the same toy.
Using last minute Christmas shopping as the premise for a Christmas comedy actually isn’t a bad idea. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all been through, and that a movie could exaggerate for comedic effect. The problem (great thing?) is that Jingle All the Way exaggerates it so much, that the film ends up being completely bonkers.
Howard has to literally fight his way through a mall to get a raffle ball, gets tangled up with a group of Santa Claus conmen, and in one of the most ludicrous finales ever conceived by mankind, Howard becomes Turbo Man himself for a Christmas parade (complete with working jetpack), where he does battle against Myron, who dons the costume of Turbo Man’s nemesis. Oh yeah, all this while Harold’s pervy neighbor (the late Phil Hartman) keeps trying to put the moves of Harold’s wife. You know, kids’ movie stuff.
The movie is completely ridiculous. It’s dumb, goofy, and makes cosmic leaps in logic. Yet I find it impossible not to give Jingle All the Way at least one annual viewing towards Christmastime. It’s dumb fun. But the emphasis is on fun.
There are a number of good Christmas movies to watch around the holidays, but if you just want to have something you can have fun with and laugh at, Jingle All the Way has you covered.
I mean, how could you not be entertained by a movie that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger screaming the words “Put that cookie down! Now!”
Chapter 5: The Last One
I apologize that I once again have to cut my Christmas special short, chapter-wise (though the word count here is among my highest to date). Remember when I used to do eight chapters to these things? And that was not counting these ending parts which now are one of the numbered chapters. It’s kind of like how in Banjo-Kazooie, the final boss level was considered its own separate entity outside of the nine proper levels, but then Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie included the final boss stage as part of their level count to try to hide the fact that they had less levels.
My point is that hopefully next year I can get started on my Christmas post earlier and do something extra special with it. I love Christmas. I made sure my site would celebrate its anniversary on Christmas Day for a reason (and not just because it would be easy to remember). So here’s hoping that I can eventually make these Christmas posts everything they should be.
At any rate, I hope you had a good time reading this. But more importantly, I hope you had a Merry Christmas, or happy Hannukah, or happy Kwanza! Happy everybody! Happy holidays to all!
I’ll see you in 2022… And by ‘see you’ I mean I’ll write some stuff here and maybe some people will stumble on it by sheer accident and decide to read it if they have nothing better to do.
Sorry I still haven’t brought back my Halloween Top 5 lists of Wizard Dojo’s earliest years, maybe next year I’ll finally remember to bring those back (especially seeing as my “Top Five Video Game Skeletons” list from a few years back continues to be one of my most popular posts for some inexplicable reason). I was also thinking about writing a review for a certain NES game for the occasion (a game so bad, it’s scary), but I didn’t get around to replaying it in enough time, so it will have to wait for another day. I sadly don’t even have too much of an excuse, given all the movies I watched this month, I probably could have found the time.
But why am I writing apologies for what I could have written? Let’s just enjoy Halloween! Pumpkins and candy and monsters and all that. What a great day!
Whatever you did this Halloween, whether it be Trick or Treating, having a Halloween party, or just sitting in the pumpkin patch waiting for the Great Pumpkin to arrive, I hope you had a great one!
Why do I keep posting gifs of The Nightmare Before Christmas on a Halloween post when that’s a Christmas movie? Oh, you can argue that all you want, but the story is centered around Christmas, so it’s ultimately a Christmas movie (it’s perfectly acceptable to watch it in honor of Halloween as well, I suppose).
Anyway, here’s a picture of me in my Halloween costume this year.
I am of course Noface from Spirited Away. It’s a costume that I have been wanting to do for a long time, but never got around to it. With this year being Spirited Away’s twentieth anniversary, it seemed like a great time to finally do it. Yeah, I would have preferably made my own costume, but I didn’t decide to get a costume until late this year. So I did what I could in the time given to me. Kind of like what Gandalf said. Maybe next time. And yes, that’s my nerd room. You can see my posters of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Bros. 3, Sonic Mania and my framed poster of DKC: Tropical Freeze (right behind me. You can see Funky Kong in the corner).
Again, apologies for a continued lack of a proper Halloween post. Maybe next time. But I still needed to write something. Halloween is one of my favorite holidays after all, along with Christmas. So it has to be acknowledged here at the Dojo.
Well, I had quite the satisfying week, I must say. I got to see my favorite film, Spirited Away, on the big screen again. Always wonderful. Seinfeld, arguably the best sitcom of all time, is now on Netflix so I’ve been watching the heck out of that. And to cap it all off, I visited the newly-opened Academy Museum of Motion Pictures.
After several delays, the Academy Museum finally opened on September 30th, and I just couldn’t wait to make my way there. Especially since the museum’s first temporary exhibit is dedicated to the films of Hayao Miyazaki, my favorite filmmaker.
The Miyazaki exhibit was truly something else. I can’t share any photos, because they didn’t allow pictures to be taken in the Miyazaki exhibit (perfectly fair). Everything in the exhibit was so lovely and beautiful, I really had to keep reminding myself that pictures weren’t allowed. I was, however, allowed to take pictures of the wall outside of the exhibit. See?
Pardon my questionable camerawork. There was a line of people in the area so I went for the pictures I could take without getting anyone in the shot. And also I’m just not good at taking pictures.
The entire museum was great, featuring all kinds of costumes and props, and lots of history to delve into (they even had pages of the handwritten script for The Wizard of Oz). They had this cool room filled with walls of movie clips, with the clips changing genre or style every couple of minutes. They even have two movie theaters for special screenings (although I didn’t get to see anything this time). But it was the Miyazaki exhibit that truly stood out as magical.
It is such a shame the Miyazaki exhibit is only temporary (it will be there until June), as the museum will really lose something without it. But I think that’s probably due to Studio Ghibli wanting their contributions back in their native Japan. I guess I can’t argue with that. But if it turns out the exhibit’s temporary nature was a decision by the Academy Museum, they’d be out of their minds.
Seeing all of these original concept sketches and storyboards – drawn by Miyazaki himself of course – just took my breath away. They had various clips of his films being projected against the walls (both Japanese and English clips, which I appreciated. None of that “subtitle supremacy” nonsense). There were models and sculpted recreations of places from Miyazaki’s films. Different sections were dedicated to the themes and devices of the director’s filmography. They even had a desk once used by Miyazaki to draw those beautiful illustrations that serve as the starting points of each of his films.
A particular object in the exhibit that caught my eye was one of Miyazaki’s early sketches from My Neighbor Totoro. It was of the house featured in the film, done entirely in pencil, not colored in or anything. You could see wrinkles in the paper, and one of the corners had been torn off (not affecting the sketch itself, thankfully). Seeing that just really hit me. The fact that these wonderful movies, these masterpieces of animation, began with drawings like this, is just amazing. That this little, imperfect piece of paper featured this (very detailed) pencil sketch which, in turn, helped create something I have loved and cherished my whole life… It blew my mind. I mean, I know how animated films work, and specifically of Miyazaki’s unique process. But to see that original sketch (and all the others) drawn by Miyazaki himself, right there in front of my face, it just made it all so real for me. I can’t explain it.
The whole thing, the whole exhibit, really moved me. Again, the whole museum was great. It was interesting and informative. But that Miyazaki exhibit made everything else seem mundane by comparison (which I suppose is true of the movies themselves). From the moment I stepped inside, being greeted with the heavenly sound of “The Path of the Wind” from My Neighbor Totoro, to the moment I exited through the tunnel from Spirited Away, with the sounds of the Ogino family’s footsteps echoing against the walls (both of which brought me to tears, by the way), the entire Hayao Miyazaki exhibit had me feeling like I was in another world. I can’t wait to make my way back.
It’s time to celebrate (and also feel old), because Hayao Miyazaki’s Spirited Away is twenty years old today! Yes, it’s been twenty years to the day that Spirited Away was released in Japanese cinemas: July 20, 2001.
Spirited Away tell the story of Chihiro, a ten-year old girl who’s a bit spoiled and apathetic. Chihiro’s family makes a wrong turn on their way to their new house, which results in them being trapped in an alternate world of spirits, witches, gods and monsters. With her parents turned into pigs, Chihiro must find her inner strength and brave this new world in order to save her parents and return home.
The film would go on to become a massive critical and commercial success, not just in its native Japan, but throughout the world. Praised for its storytelling, characters, animation, and ineffable imagination, Spirited Away would quickly become one of the most acclaimed and beloved films of all time, animated or otherwise.
Spirited Away won Best Picture at Japan’s (far more open-minded) Academy Award equivalent, and would later win the Oscar for Best Animated Feature (the second-ever awarded in the category, and still the only traditionally animated winner of that award to date). But more important than any awards, Spirited Away won the hearts of moviegoers the world over (myself very much included).
Personally speaking, Spirited Away is my favorite film of all time (perhaps tied with a previous Miyazaki masterpiece, My Neighbor Totoro). As someone who hopes to one day create wondrous fantasies of his own, Spirited Away has been my biggest source of creative inspiration. In the over eighteen years since I first saw it, I don’t think a day has gone by that I haven’t thought about it in some capacity. And it’s because of Spirited Away that this site even exists at all! Suffice to say, Spirited Away had an impact on me.
But who cares about me? We’re here to celebrate the film itself!
It’s kind of weird thinking how there’s now generations of children who have grown up watching Spirited Away, and how a movie I saw when it was new is now firmly established as an all-time classic. It really makes one feel old, but like, in the best way.
It’s hard to believe that it’s been twenty years since Spirited Away first captured the hearts and imaginations of the world. May it continue to do so forever more!
It’s been a rough few years for the US of A, and the world for that matter. Thankfully, things are starting to look a bit brighter. So why not spend some quality time with friends and family, break out the barbeque, listen to Hulk Hogan’s theme music, and (safely) set off some fireworks! But don’t be a jerk and get those really loud, screechy fireworks that terrify dogs and other animals. Be considerate!
To my fellow Americans, Happy Independence Day! And to everyone not from America: you have a great, super day as well! Let’s all have a great time!
When it comes to movies based on video games, the sub-genre is usually seen in a pretty negative light. As a fan of both video games and movies, I sadly can’t really disagree, because for the most part, video game movie adaptations have sucked. To be fair, in their earlier years during the 1990s, they had something of an excuse, as adapting video games to the silver screen was a new concept. And with how fundamentally different video games are from movies, it’s easy to understand why the earlier efforts didn’t stick the landing. Later efforts didn’t have the same scapegoat, however, and with how cinematic video games have become in the years since, there’s really no excuse as to why video game movies have remained as bad as they’ve been, leaving many to jokingly refer to the sub-genre as being cursed.
Though to say the video game movie is entirely cursed would be to turn a blind eye to 1995’s Mortal Kombat, one of the earlier video game movies, and the only one that was genuinely good (though I’d argue 1993’s Super Mario Bros. and 1994’s Street Fighter were “so bad they’re good”). Sure, it may not have been a cinematic classic, but the Mortal Kombat movie was a satisfying action flick modeled after kung fu movies, and it paid respect to its source material while other video game movies seem embarrassed by it. In recent years, the 1995 Mortal Kombat movie has been seen in an evenmore positive light than it was in its day, for the well done fight scenes as well as the aforementioned fanservice done right, and also for being one of the few Hollywood movies in the 1990s to star an Asian lead. Sadly, the film’s 1997 sequel, Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, was a cluttered mess of a movie, and effectively killed the hopes of any further sequels. With the one good video game movie’s own sequel failing to deliver the goods, it made the 1995 film even more of a diamond in the rough.
In the past couple of years, however, it seems the video game movie curse has been broken, at least to some degree: 2019’s Pokemon: Detective Pikachu was a surprisingly fun family adventure, as was 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, with both films also showing respect to the video games that inspired them. Now seemed as good of a time as any to reboot Mortal Kombat’s place in the movie world, and lo’ and behold, 2021’s Mortal Kombat has given us three consecutive years containing a good video game movie adaptation, and a worthy reboot of the 1995 film, even if it does contain a few more hiccups than its predecessor.
The overarching plot here is mostly the same as its always been for the series: the evil realm of Outworld seeks to invade Earth, but ancient laws laid down by “Elder Gods” prevent it from doing so, unless it can win ten consecutive contests of Mortal Kombat, a tournament pitting champions of Earth against those of Outworld. Naturally, Outworld has already won nine tournaments, with a tenth looming on the horizon, making Earth’s victory absolutely necessary for its survival.
There is a bit of a twist to the plot this time around, as there is now an added prophecy that the descendant of a legendary ninja named Hanzo Hasashi (Hiroyuki Sanada) – better known by fans of the series as Scorpion – will help aide Earth in victory over Outworld in the Mortal Kombat tournament.
Centuries ago, Hanzo Hasashi and his family were murdered by the Lin Keui clan, lead by Bi-Han (Joe Taslim), a ninja who wields the power of ice. Hanzo’s infant daughter, who was hidden from Bi-Han, is rescued by the thunder god Raiden (Tadanobu Asano), ensuring Hanzo’s bloodline will continue.
Fast-forward to the present, and we meet Hanzo’s descendant, Cole Young (Lewis Tan), a former MMA fighter who was born with a dragon-shaped birthmark. He soon becomes hunted by Bi-Han, who now goes by the moniker Sub-Zero after being recruited by Outworld sorcerer Shang Tsun (Chin Han). With the help of a man named Jax (Mehcad Brooks), Cole manages to get his family to safety, and learns that his birthmark is actually the symbol of the fighters chosen for Mortal Kombat, with Jax bearing the same mark. With Jax staying behind to face Sub-Zero, Cole soon meets Sonya Blade (Jessica McNamee), who has been studying the Mortal Kombat tournament’s history, though lacks a mark of her own. Sonya has recently taken a mercenary named Kano (Josh Lawson) hostage, and after the three of them are ambushed by Reptile (one of Shang Tsun’s assassins) they set out to find the temple of Raiden, where they’ll find fellow Earth champions Liu Kang (Ludi Lin) and Kung Lao (Max Huang), as well as Lord Raiden himself.
It’s admittedly quite a bit of setup, but I’ve watched the movie three times now and enjoyed the build, as well as the training scenarios and fight scenes that follow. The film’s inclusion of an original character in Cole Young as the film’s central character has been divisive (I mean, making an original character the focus in an established franchise is kind of fanfiction-y). But to the film’s credit, he’s constantly learning from the established characters, as opposed to outshining them like Milla Jovovich’s character in the Resident Evil movies.
I actually find myself quite enjoying the fighting scenes in the movie, which is definitely a big plus, given that this is a Mortal Kombat movie. Being the first R-rated Mortal Kombat film, it’s also the first to include the series’ controversially violent “fatalities.” This is a much gorier film than the 1995 original, with some (not many) moments bound to have some viewers covering their eyes to avoid queasiness. On the downside, some of the CGI in the film looks well behind the times. Sub-Zero’s ice effects look great, but the blood effects just don’t look right. Maybe that was intentional? To balance out the violence, make the blood and guts look as fake and cheesy as possible, to keep with the over-the-top nature of the video games? I don’t know.
Sadly, one of the film’s big flaws is carried over from Mortal Kombat: Annihilation, albeit maybe not quite to the same degree: the film simply features too many characters from the games, to the point that a number of them have disappointing showings. This is especially true of the bad guys, with Shang Tsun introducing us to all kinds of colorful villains, only for them to be killed off after a minute or two of screen time. I guess that’s the pitfall of trying to appease fans of a long-standing franchise is a single film, some characters are going to get shortchanged. Sure, certain characters are always bound to get less screen time than others, but when Goro – one of the main boss characters from the original game – is hinted at in silhouette over halfway through the movie, only to show up for a single fight and written off moments later, you can’t help but think he should have stayed in his silhouette in this film, and been properly utilized in a potential sequel. Sometimes, it’s better to keep fans’ hope alive with what could be, over disappointing them with a lackluster execution.
With that said, the characters who do get to shine, do so rather brightly. This is particularly true of Scorpion, Sub-Zero and Kano. Though Scorpion’s screen time is limited, the film definitely gives him the proper respect as a fan favorite, particularly in its buildup to his eventual return (that’s not much of a spoiler, Scorpion was always an undead ninja, so he was bound to bounce back from death in the film). Sub-Zero, meanwhile, is the de facto main villain, seeing as Shang Tsun isn’t an active participant in Mortal Kombat. And the added element of Hanzo’s bloodline in the plot puts all the more importance on good ol’ Sub-Zero. I mean, Scorpion and Sub-Zero are the two characters everyone remembers from Mortal Kombat, so you may as well build the film around their rivalry.
It’s Kano who perhaps gets the best treatment in the film (at least for the most part), being given the most personality and humor in the entire movie, as well as the best lines. After ripping Reptile’s heart out of its chest, Kano proceeds to draw his own “Kano graphic novel” recounting the confrontation. How can you not be won over by that?
Unfortunately, Kano’s character is also put in a weird place. He’s always been a villain in the games, and the movie addresses that he isn’t a good guy, but it does put him in a position that places him on the side of the good guys, at least for a good while. So when he does inevitably play the role of a villain, it comes across as too abrupt after the film made us enjoy the character way too much.
Another downside to the film is that – without spoiling too much – the tournament itself never actually takes place in the film. Shang Tsun is constantly cheating by using his assassins to try and take out the competition before the event even occurs (if this tournament is so sacred, maybe those Elder Gods should be paying a little more attention to it), and by the film’s third act, the good guys just kind of say “screw it” and have Raiden force them into one-on-one fights against their Outworld opponents. So while the fights technically take place, Mortal Kombat does not. It’s not a big problem in itself (it gives us something to look forward to in the sequel), but sadly, I do think this approach leads to many of the final fights feeling a bit rushed, which plays into the aforementioned sporadic entrances and exits of the film’s villains. Who’s going to be left on Shang Tsun’s team come Mortal Kombat 2? The movie wisely realizes it doesn’t have room for Johnny Cage – one of the original Mortal Kombat heroes – and simply doesn’t feature him. But it does hint that he’ll play a role in the sequel. Perhaps it could have done something similar for some of the bad guys?
2021’s Mortal Kombat is ultimately – like 1995’s Mortal Kombat – a lot of good, goofy fun. And, along with the 1995 film, Detective Pikachu and Sonic the Hedgehog, is now one of the few video game movies that seems to understand and respect the game that inspired it, which means it will be doubly enjoyable for fans of the franchise. Now here’s hoping the sequel doesn’t end up being a repeat of Mortal Kombat: Annihilation…
That’s right, Kevin! The big day has finally arrived! It’s Wizard Dojo’s ONE-THOUSANDTH post! Huzzah!
This has been a long time coming. Both because it took a long time to write 1,000 posts, and also because my updates have been so slow these past few months it really dragged this out. But how great to finally be here, eh?
Here’s the short film “Fresh Guacamole” by PES, the shortest film ever nominated for an Oscar!
Ah, yes. Everything about that short is satisfying.
A big thank you to everyone who reads this blog, and double thank you to the people who have been reading it for a good while and stuck with it. And an additional thank you for the people who read it in the past, forgot about it, and then came back to it. You’re like Palpatine: somehow… you returned!
To quote the great philosopher Herman Munster: “I would like to thank all the little people who helped make this possible… I would like to, but I can’t, because I did it all myself.”
Have I referenced that before? Seems like I have. Ah well, it’s a great quote, and Herman Munster was a badass. So I regret nothing.
Anyway, what are we doing spending so much time on the thank yous? Let’s get down to business (to defeat the huns)! Let’s dedicate the rest of this thousandth blog milestone to a number of things I’ve been meaning to write for a good while, presented as different ‘chapters.’ You know, like Paper Mario. Back when Paper Mario was good.
Chapter 1: My Favorite Film of 2020
Finally! It’s been a long time since I revealed my favorite film of the year before the last few months of the next year. I mean, I’m still really late in doing this, and for that, I apologize. But it’s an improvement.
Go ahead and call me repetitious, but my favorite film of 2020 was an animated film. And no, it wasn’t Pixar’s Soul.
Sure, people might say I’m biased, as every year that I’ve named my favorite film of the year ever since I launched Wizard Dojo, the winner has been animated. But I’d argue that we’re simply in a great era of animated filmmaking. You always hear people complaining that movies these days are “getting worse” or that they’re dumbed down, but I believe people who say such things are ignoring the animated side of things (which, sadly, seems likely). Sure, maybe blockbusters are getting repetitious, art films are getting too self-absorbed, and indie films ironically feel like they’re coming off a conveyor belt. But animated films have continued to shine throughout the new millennium. So fans of animation, such as myself, are witnessing a kind of golden age for the medium.
Is that enough needless justification for my stance? And is it really such a bad thing in the first place? I mean, the Oscars select the same kind of dramas year after year (and continue to lose ratings. I wonder if there could be a connection there). So is it such a crime that some random dude on the internet is won over by animated films time and again?
Anyway, let’s cut to the chase. My favorite film of 2020 is…
Director Tomm Moore and his studio “Cartoon Saloon” have provided some of the best animated features of recent memory. Although Wolfwalkers is only the studio’s fourth feature film (and Moore’s third), the artistry and craftsmanship that has gone into them ascends them near the very top of the animation totem pole. Moore’s previous film, Song of the Sea, was one of my favorite films of the 2010s full stop, and Wolfwalkers is a more than worthy follow-up, being the best film of 2020 in my book.
Moore, who has appropriately been dubbed the “Irish Miyazaki,” has made three stunningly beautiful, hand-drawn fairy tales that are among the few works that deserve that Miyazaki comparison. There is an emotional depth and sensitivity to Tomm Moore’s films that make you feel for their stories and characters right from the get-go. Here’s a filmmaker who intimately understands fantasy storytelling, and makes films aimed at children that never once talk down to their target audience. They’re equal parts fun and captivating to audiences of any age.
Wolfwalkers tells the story of two girls: Robyn Goodfellowe, a hunter’s daughter, and Mebh, one of the titular Wolfwalkers, a being who takes the form of a wolf when her human body sleeps. While the two girls’ burgeoning friendship that serves as the heart of the story will certainly entertain kids (especially Mebh), the film also has a lot to say from a societal and philosophical perspective. Robyn is continuously forced to toil in a scullery, her proud father is reduced to being the whipping boy of a fanatical general, and poor Mebh and her wolves are in constant danger simply for existing.
I love this movie. It’s deep and beautiful and fun and magical, like all the best animated fairy tales. Pixar’s Soul was a good movie (though far from Pixar’s best), it had some important things to say, but often stumbled in trying to express them. Wolfwalkers didn’t suffer those issues. It’s a film that shows how everyone wants (and deserves) their freedom, though society doesn’t always seem to want that for them. It just so happens that those issues are told within a lovely fable of profuse visual splendor.
Song of the Sea was one of my favorite films of the 2010s (hopefully I’ll make a more concrete list on the subject soon), and seeing as I think Wolfwalkers is the best film of the only finished year of the 2020s as of this writing, I guess that makes it my favorite film of this decade so far. Together with 2009’s The Secret of Kells, Tomm Moore’s output already reads like an all-time great.
Chapter 2: Some Changes
Wizard Dojo has been around a few years now, and in that time I’ve written hundreds of reviews for video games and movies. I originally used a .5-based 1-10 rating scale when this site launched in 2014. In 2018 I converted to the more streamlined 1-10 scale using only whole numbers (and altering every score accordingly). Sometimes I miss the ol’ 9.5s and 8.5s, and wonder if I made the right choice. But then I remember that any of the “.5” scores below that are insanely arbitrary, and that confirms I did indeed make the right choice. I mean, what the hell is a 3.5, anyway?
What I’m getting at here is that I’m no stranger to altering some scores when need be. And I do feel that, with this 1,000th blog milestone, I may use this as an opportunity for another soft reboot of sorts. I have been tempted to change the scoring system again (like an A to F scale or something), or even omit it entirely, but I’m not going to do anything that drastic right now. But I do think I will be reviewing some of my past reviews (review-ception!), and altering them every here and there.
Some might say that’s unprofessional to change scores. But come on, people’s opinions change, they might see things in new lights. It’s not like I’m grading algebra papers and there are definitive right answers here.
Interestingly (to me, anyway), this all mostly applies to the video game side of things, though there may be some movie review score I might adjust. I guess there’s just something about the interactivity of games that makes it all more flip-floppy.
Some video game scores I’ve already altered. Others I may have to replay a bit so I can make the proper changes to the written review itself (which is the actual review, after all. The scores are just numbers to easily sum it all up). Though keep in mind it may take some time to get around to re-writing.
Some games whose scores have been altered include:
Kirby’s Dreamland 3 (SNES) – Promoted from an 8 to a 9/10: It’s the best Kirby game, and one of the most charming games ever made. Also one of the greatest (and tragically underrated) art styles in the medium’s history. Why haven’t the Animal Friends introduced here made subsequent appearances? Nago the cat is my home skillet!
Tetris Attack (SNES) – Promoted from an 8 to a 9/10: Honestly, Panel de Pon is one of the best falling block puzzle games of all time (even if the blocks don’t actually fall, but rise). The addition of the Yoshi’s Island characters, story and music of its Tetris Attack incarnation makes it the best version of the game. If only this version could see a re-release…
Castlevania: Aria of Sorrow (GBA) – Promoted from an 8 to a 9/10: I say this as a Nintendo fan, but when it comes to Metroidvania, I actually prefer the Castlevania side of things. Though Symphony of the Night is (rightfully) hailed as the best entry in the series, Aria of Sorrow on the Game Boy Advance comes closer than you might think. For a game to reach similar heights and depths to Symphony of the Night with the limitations of a handheld console in 2003 is one hell of an achievement.
Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin (PS4) – Demoted from an 8 to a 7/10: Despite the extreme views fans of the series may have, Dark Souls 2 is not a disgrace to the series. But I will admit it is the weakest entry of the SoulsBorne series nonetheless. The limited spawns of enemies can make it difficult if you need to pick up additional souls and items, but can also be a strange combination of easy and tedious if you re-light the bonfires after the same few enemies over and over just to exhaust their spawns and clear your path. And don’t get me started on the Shrine of Armana. Beautiful to look at, but the worst area in the entire series to play. Blech!
Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle (Switch) -Demoted from an 8 to a 7/10: Mario + Rabbids is a good game. The simple fact that it’s a good game involving the Rabbids is some sort of small miracle of its own. No one expected much out of it when it was released in 2017, but it ended up surprising people, myself included. While I still think it’s a good game, in retrospect I think maybe that surprise factor may have boosted our opinions of it. Yes, it’s a fun tactical RPG, but when I started replaying it some time ago, its flaws were more apparent. Primarily, its trial-and-error approach, which may work in a faster paced game. But in a turn-based, tactics RPG? It makes things a little too slow. Still a good game, I want to stress that, but not one of the best Mario spinoffs.
Battletoads (NES) – Demoted from a 5 to a 3/10: Ah, Battletoads! I seem to keep going back and lowering my score to this one. I feel kinda bad about that, since some people still swear by this game. But the sad truth is that the so called “legendary challenge” of Battletoads is more accurately described as “poor game design.” The game presents its levels as challenges that require one-hundred percent accuracy, yet the actual mechanics of the game are so stiff and clunky, that they just don’t allow the precision that the game demands. Some might say I just need to “git gud.” But if you don’t mind my bragging for a second, I get the platinum trophies in Fromsoftware games. I’m fine with a steep challenge. Battletoads is just a bad game. At least the music’s good. And I hear that newer Battletoads game is actually decent.
Some games whose scores I’ve been thinking of changing include:
Bloodborne (PS4)- Upping it from a 9 to a perfect 10/10: Honestly, Bloodborne is probably the best entry in the SoulsBorne series by Fromsoftware. And being the best in a series that has to be the most influential in the medium for at least the last decade has to amount to something. Maybe I just didn’t have enough insight the first time around to give it a perfect score?
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U/Switch)- Upping from a 9 to a perfect 10/10: Have I bragged up any game more on this site than DKC: Tropical Freeze? It’s hands down the best 2D platformer since the genre’s heyday in the 16-bit generation, has some of the best level design I’ve ever seen. And it has an all-time great soundtrack. Sure, I still wish there were more variety in the bonus rooms, and that there were more Animal Buddies other than Rambi, like in the old DKC games. But is that really enough to deny what is otherwise one of my favorite games of all time a perfect score?
Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (Gen) – Upping from an 8 to a 9/10: The most acclaimed Sonic game of all time, and the most popular Sega Genesis game of all time. It was also my favorite entry back when I was a kid. Though as I’ve gotten older, I do think Sonic 3 and Sonic & Knuckles were improvements. And Sonic Mania probably deserves the crown as the best in the series now. So basically, the reason Sonic 2 is an 8 is because I think it has similar but superior sequels, meaning it’s not the best such game to play today. Still, considering Sonic 2 has held up as well as it has after all these years, am I wrong to not rate it higher than I did?
I have also been considering changing some scores on the movies I’ve reviewed. Namely, depending on how I want to continue with how strict I want to keep my grading, Hayao Miyazaki’s Castle in the Sky, Ponyo, and Princess Mononoke are all worthy of perfect 10/10s (Castle in the Sky, in particular, is probably the best animated action film ever made). The only reason those films sit at 9s is because I’ve currently been doing the whole “minimal perfect scores” things by means of comparing a creator’s works, and only giving their absolute best perfect scores. And since Spirited Away and My Neighbor Totoro are both at perfect 10s, the above mentioned are at 9s. But the more I think about it, that’s pretty bogus. Am I just denying deserving movies of perfect scores just so I look more strict? That’s kind of pretentious of me. Perhaps being more open with my grading is the way to go, at least with movies. Video games seem more appropriate for stricter scoring, for whatever reason.
Or maybe all this is proof that I should do away with all this scoring nonsense…
Chapter 3: 2021 Video Game Awards
Huzzah! I’m getting my video game awards done at the same time as I named my favorite movie of the year! And it only took until mid-June of the next year. I’m really catching up!
As always, my video game awards are presented in mostly-traditional categories. So without further ado… here they are!
Best Sound: Demon’s Souls (PS5)
Is it cheating to award Best Sound to a remake of a game from 2009 that used pretty much the same sounds now that it did back then? If so, well then give this award to Crash Bandicoot 4. If not, then Demon’s Souls has to win.
From Software’s “SoulsBorne” games simply have the most atmospheric sound design in video games. And it all started here with Demon’s Souls. Clanking armors, the shrieks and grunts of some horrible monster around the corner, it’s all here, crisper and clearer than ever. Even the sounds that emanate from the PS5 controller are satisfying.
Given that I’ve awarded Best Sound to Dark Souls II, Bloodborne, Dark Souls III and Sekiro in the past, it seems only fitting that the game that started the Souls lineage should triumph in this category as well.
Best Music: Hades
Supergiant Games are no strangers to memorable soundtracks, and their most recent work, Hades, is no exception. Although the music of Hades isn’t quite at the forefront of things as it were in, say, Bastion, It still provides a mix of atmosphere and heat-pumping action that is more than fitting for the game.
Best Visuals: Demon’s Souls (PS5)
I don’t care if it’s an upgrade of a game originally released on the PS3 in 2009, the Demon’s Souls remake is gorgeous! Perhaps now that we’re deep into 2021, the Playstation 5 has seen more titles that are stronger showcases of the console’s graphical power. But there’s still none that I like to look at more than the Demon’s Souls remake. The textures, the colors, the lighting, everything. New PS5 games be damned. When it comes to pleasing aesthetics, Demon’s Souls has them beat.
Best Multiplayer: Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout
It’s such a shame so much of Fall Guys’ thunder was stolen by Among Us shortly after release. For one, Fall Guys is a much better game than Among Us (Fall Guys actually has gameplay, which is a bonus), but it’s also sad that such a cute and charming game was on its way of becoming the new biggest thing in gaming, only to be spearheaded by a two-year old game that isn’t half as good.
Still, while Fall Guys’ popularity may have taken a hit, the sheer fun of it hasn’t. I’ve heard some people complain that Fall Guys doesn’t have enough depth to it, but that’s kind of what I like about it. It’s a throwback that suggests that *gasp!* fun gameplay might be enough to have players coming back.
Taking the popular battle royal genre of today, but giving it a lighthearted, platforming twist inspired by shows like Takeshi’s Castle and Wipeout, Fall Guys is always good fun. I still pick it up from time to time and have a blast every time.
Best Remake: Demon’s Souls (PS5)
When I originally played Demon’s Souls, it was after the other Souls games. As such, Demon’s Souls felt like it was lacking in certain areas, and it was easy to see where its successors improved on the experience.
Well, for whatever reason, the PS5 remake won me over much more strongly. Granted, there are some obvious improvements (excess items automatically going to your character’s storage is a huge improvement), but not so many obvious changes that it makes the source of my newfound appreciation for the game too apparent. It’s still very much Demon’s Souls, and there are still some areas that could have used some updating to be more like the subsequent Souls games. Yet somehow, I love the game way more now.
Simply a case of right place, right time? I don’t know. Maybe. But the point is the PS5 remake of Demon’s Souls made me see the game in a whole new, more positive light. I originally thought of Demon’s Souls as the weakest entry in the Souls series by a wide margin. And while it still may not be Dark Souls or Bloodborne, I now feel like Demon’s Souls can more properly be talked about in a similar light. That’s quite the improvement. As such, Demon’s Souls gets Best Remake!
Best Remaster/Re-release: Super Mario 3D All-Stars
Yes, it’s true, Super Mario 3D All-Stars is NOT what it could have been. Nintendo missed the opportunity to really spruce up the visuals of the games, as opposed to simply giving them a coat of HD gloss (which is what they did). The fact that the game lacks any extra features for players to delve into or read up on Mario’s history is questionable. Sunshine’s countless unpolished elements are left untouched. And where the hell is Galaxy 2?
Basically, if one series deserves better, it’s Super Mario.
Even if it were something of a missed opportunity, Super Mario 3D All-Stars still includes two all-time greats in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy, and a decent third game in Super Mario Sunshine. You simply can’t go wrong.
Yes, Super Mario 3D All-Stars should have been something more. But considering that 64 and Galaxy are already so much more than most games, maybe we’re asking too much?
Best Content: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
I know that the PS4’s “Dreams” would seem to fit the bill here, considering that people can potentially create entire games within it. But “potentially” is the key word there. As initially amazed as I was with Dreams, it quickly became apparent that the majority of content people made was unfinished at the best of times, and outright crap at its worst. Sure, people made a lot of crap with Super Mario Maker, but you’ll find a lot more excellent Mario Maker stages than you will Dreams creations.
So yeah, Dreams doesn’t win this.
Animal Crossing: New Horizons does win this, however, for the sheer number of tasks you can do at any given time. And in traditional Animal Crossing fashion, you can go about it at your own pace. Between fishing, bug collecting, crafting, digging for fossils, diving, visiting other players, having other players visit you, there’s just always something to do in Animal Crossing. No matter how big or how small.
Between lengthy play sessions and small bursts of play, my total playtime in Animal Crossing: New Horizons stands tall over any other game on the Nintendo Switch. New Horizons is simply a treasure trove of fun things to do.
Best Gameplay: Hades
Hades is a game of surprising depth. Its rogue-like setup and hack and slash gameplay make it instantly engaging, but you’ll constantly be surprised by just how much there is to pretty much every aspect of the game. The six primary weapons, as well as the acquired upgrades and items you get along the way, would already give the game great variety, but combine it with all the powers you gain (and lose) with every run through the underworld, and Hades is a game that’s always changing and evolving.
With so much variety on top of what is already smooth and fun action, Hades is one of the most addicting action games in years.
Best Indie Game: Hades
Supergiant Games are no strangers to making acclaimed independent titles, and Hades is most likely their best work to date. An engrossing, action-packed indie classic that also manages to have a pretty interesting narrative.
Best Handheld Game: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
Now that I’m including Nintendo Switch titles for the title of Best Handheld Game, this was a really tough choice between Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Hades. In the end, I went with Animal Crossing, simply because it can be easier enjoyed in short bursts as well lengthy play sessions, which seems ideal for gaming on the go, while Hades is a little more demanding of your time. Hey, I had to pick one, okay!
New Horizons may not be the first handheld Animal Crossing, and I understand the complaints some have that it’s lacking some of the features of its 3DS predecessor. But New Horizons is still a prime example of why the series works so well on handheld platforms. Its relaxing “play at your own pace” gameplay, and the hidden depth therein, make it a perfect fit for gaming on the go.
Best Platform: Nintendo Switch
Uh oh, I gave the nod to Nintendo over Sony. According to the internet, that makes me a blind fanboy. But c’mon, the PS4’s biggest game of 2020 was an overhyped sequel to 2013’s most overhyped game, and the new, state-of-the-art PS5’s best game was a remake of a PS3 game. 2020 may not have been the Switch’s best year, but Animal Crossing and Hades alone really helped propel it.
Maybe a B+ year for Switch overall, but it still managed to shine brightest.
Game of the Year 2020: Animal Crossing: New Horizons
I only played Hades more recently, and that recency bias almost forced my hand to name it Game of the Year. It certainly would be a deserving choice, to be sure. However, I started thinking about those first few months Animal Crossing: New Horizons came out, the countless hours I poured into it, and how it basically ruled the minds of all those who played it.
Importantly (and go ahead and call this cheating), those first few months coincided with the first months of the dreadful Covid-19 pandemic. In such a dark time, Animal Crossing: New Horizons was that tiny ray of light that brought some happiness and normalcy to the world. That’s something that can’t be taken for granted.
Both Animal Crossing: New Horizons and Hades are worthy for the title of best video game of 2020. But due to unprecedented circumstances, it’s the latest iteration of Animal Crossing that I feel deserves to take the honors.
Though even without said circumstances, Animal Crossing: New Horizons has so much going for it. Yes, the coffee shop and a few other features from the 3DS version are absent, but what is present represents Animal Crossing at its peak. Collecting items, building up your island, visiting friends, hording those sweet, sweet bells. Few series provide such simple enjoyment as Animal Crossing, and New Horizons provides it better than the series has before.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to get back to my island and pull some weeds…
Runners-up: Hades, Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout, Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time
Chapter 4: SomehowPalpatine Returned
No, I don’t care to elaborate.
Chapter 5: Where We’re Going We Don’t Need Roads
First, some apologies. I’m sorry my site has really slowed down with the updates since the last quarter of 2020. Things looked like they would improve in 2021 when I reviewed all five Oddworld titles (before SoulStorm’s release) in January. But since then, I’ve slowed right back down again. For the first time since I launched this site, May of 2021 was the first month where I didn’t post a single update. And for this slowness, I apologize.
On the plus side, as I’ve been writing this 1000th post, I’ve also written a few additional reviews, which I will make public in the days following this celebratory post.
I’m hoping that my updates will once again pick up in the coming weeks and months, though I do have to admit my actual reviews for movies and video games may not be as frequent as they once were. Simply put: I can’t keep up with them all. As much as I would like to review every game that catches my eye and every movie I see, that’s just not possible, unless this were to somehow magically become a full-time job.
By this I mean that, in the past, I would often buy games (sometimes when I really didn’t have the money to spare) just so I could get an extra review on this site. To give myself a compliment, I feel that commitment to something (in this case, creating content for a website) is admirable. But if I’m being realistic, I just can’t keep up with that pace (notice I still need to actually write my reviews of the aforementioned Animal Crossing: New Horizon and Hades). Partly because of life, and partly because (as I’ve complained about so many times) modern video games are just too damn long. And of course they’re expensive. As for movies, well, there’s just so many of them, and while I appreciate movies of all kinds, I admit there are certain types of films that I certainly enjoy writing about more than others (or, at the very least, where the writing comes to me more naturally than others).
Don’t worry, I still hope to pick up the pace and get a steady flow of content in the future. But, aside from my 400th video game review milestone (which I’m just so close to already), I won’t be rushing myself to get to the next big milestone for a while. Maybe expect a small handful of reviews every month, and maybe an additional piece of writing and (hopefully) a top 5/10 list. I’ve been meaning to catch up on making such lists, so maybe an easier flow of reviews will help me finally get to those lists.
Another reason why I may not be racing to get as many reviews done as possible is – as I’ve stated so many times in the past I’m now kind of tired of saying it and not pulling through with doing it – I would like to get started on other creative endeavors. Doing something in a video format would be interesting, and something I’ve given a lot of thought into for quite some time, so maybe it’s time I finally do it (I could always post those videos here as well). And more importantly, I really need to start delving deeper into learning video game development. I’ve never been one who could just simply enjoy things like movies and video games. I’ve always wanted to make my own creations, ever since I was a kid.
While I will continue to update this site as much as possible, suffice to say if I were given the choice between reviewing stuff made by other people, or making stuff of my own, the latter option is the one I would describe as my dream come true. So it’s about time I started taking the appropriate steps to making that dream a reality.
So don’t worry, Wizard Dojo isn’t going anywhere. I just have other things to do, and places I need to be.
Chapter 6: Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles (2021 Edition)
Here we are at the THIRD edition of my list of the best video game launch titles. The first time I did it was a simple top five (with runners-up) that I posted on the launch day of this site. The second was a proper top 10, and happened in 2018, when I did a sort of “soft reboot” for this site. Since I like to think this 1000th post constitutes another kind of new beginning for Wizard Dojo, it seemed appropriate to include a third edition here.
So here now is a (slightly) updated installment to my list of the best launch titles in video game history. The games that released right alongside their console (sometimes in the same box!) and set a high standard right out of the gate. Oh, and keep in mind these entries were all released on the same day as their consoles, so even though Super Smash Bros. Melee and Pikmin are often considered launch games for the GameCube, they were only released around the same timeframe, not the same day. So they aren’t here.
So here now – again – are my top 10 video game launch titles!
10: Demon’s Souls (Playstation 5)
The Playstation brand has produced some great consoles. But you know something, they’ve never really been too good with launch titles. Every time I think of great video game launch titles, I can’t say a whole lot of games from Sony’s consoles come to mind (and by that I mean none do). Well, it looks like the PS5 has finally given the Playstation brand it’s first truly great launch title… and all they had to do was remake a Playstation 3 game from eleven years earlier.
Okay, perhaps Demon’s Souls on PS5 is a little something of a cheat. But it’s also the first time a Playstation console has had something truly great right out of the gate, so that has to count for something, right?
Although some of Demon’s Souls’ design choices may be rough around the edges when compared to the subsequent Souls games, the PS5 remake does a great job at streamlining some of the more cumbersome elements of the original 2009 game to bring this influential title a bit more up to date.
Sony may still be waiting on that launch game that really encapsulates what its console is all about, but Demon’s Souls’ intricate combat, deep design, and unforgettable world make it the best game to launch alongside a Playstation console to date.
9: The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)
In its earlier years, Nintendo would use its star franchise, Super Mario, to ring in a new console. But in more contemporary times, it’s Nintendo’s other premiere franchise, The Legend of Zelda, that simultaneously ends one console and ushers in the next. This unique trend started in 2006, when The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess closed the door to the GameCube and helped bring about the age of the Wii.
Like Demon’s Souls on PS5, Twilight Princess was perhaps not the best showcase of the Wii for this reason (the motion controls were kind of tacked on, but still fun), but the sheer quality of the game itself has to earn it a spot on the list. It’s certainly the ‘biggest’ of the traditional Zelda titles, featuring terrific dungeon design and some of Link’s greatest gadgets and gizmos.
With the two follow-up console titles in the series trying to change up the Zelda formula (to varying degrees of success), Twilight Princess is kind of like the last traditional Zelda game. That gives the game something of a bittersweet appeal in hindsight. But if Twilight Princess were to be the last traditional Zelda title, it was a high note to go out on.
Perhaps Twilight Princess isn’t the most “Wii” of Wii games. But its still one of the biggest and best Zelda titles, and Wii owners didn’t even have to wait to play it (unless they played a certain other launch title first).
8: SoulCalibur (Dreamcast)
Yes, SoulCalibur was originally in arcades. But its port to the Sega Dreamcast as part of that console’s launch was considered a nearly-perfect port of the weapons-based fighter. Considering even the likes of Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat were considered to have sacrificed some quality in the transition to home consoles, it’s quite the achievement.
SoulCalibur was to 3D fighters what the aforementioned Street Fighter 2 and Mortal Kombat were to 2D ones. Intricate combat coupled with a varied cast of characters made for a deep fighter. And with the Dreamcast version losing nothing from its arcade counterpart, SoulCalibur was, at long last, the “arcade at home” experience fans had been looking for. It’s still one of the most acclaimed video games of all time! Also, jiggle physics!
Sonic Adventure was another memorable launch title for the Dreamcast. Though I’d be lying if I said Sonic Adventure stands the test of time, even with my nostalgia for it. SoulCalibur, on the other hand, has held up surprisingly well. Considering SoulCalibur was a pioneer in the 3D fighter genre, that timelessness is all the more impressive.
The SoulCalibur series may not be as acclaimed as it once was. But rest assured, the original’s place in video game history is well secure.
7: Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
Dang, it hurts to put Halo at only number seven on this list. Honestly, it’s at this point where things got reeeally hard to rank, even this third time around. Make no mistake about it, however, Halo’s placement is no indictment of anything it did wrong as a launch title. It’s only a testament to the accomplishments of the remaining games on this list.
Without Halo, would the Xbox brand be such a prominent force in gaming today, twenty years later? I honestly don’t think it would be. Remember, the original Xbox was competing with the white hot Playstation 2 (and to a much lesser extent, industry mainstay Nintendo with the GameCube). Without something truly memorable at launch, the Xbox brand may have been doomed to have just been “that other guy” in the video game console equation.
Thankfully for Xbox, it had Halo.
Goldeneye 007 may have been the game that made first-person shooters work on home consoles, but it really has nothing on Halo.
Halo streamlined what needed fixing in the genre (only two weapons at a time, so no more endless cycling through your arsenal to find the weapon you’re looking for), and also added so much to it. The multiplayer of course speaks for itself. Anyone who owned an Xbox spent countless hours with friends and family in deathmatches and capture the flags. But for a great change of pace for the genre, Halo even included a great single-player campaign that was worth playing again and again. You could even play said campaign with a second player!
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of good games on the Xbox, but suffice to say Halo’s appeal transcended all of them. It wasn’t until its own sequel hit store shelves three years later – with added online functionality – that Halo: Combat Evolved was usurped as the biggest game on the console.
6: Wii Sports (Wii)
Maybe I just shouldn’t make these lists, because placing Wii Sports at number six is kind of killing me. No, it’s not the deepest game on this list, but it – perhaps more so than any other game – expresses exactly what its console is all about. Sure, Twilight Princess filled the need for a new installment in a beloved Nintendo franchise, but it was also originally conceived as a GameCube title. But Wii Sports was the Wii game.
Wii Sports is good, simple fun. Anyone, no matter their prior experience with video games, could pick it up and play. You had five sports included (tennis, golf, bowling, baseball and my personal favorite, boxing), all of which were played with motion controls. Simply move the Wii remote, and the character would move accordingly. It’s kind of weird how so few other games (on Wii and elsewhere) would end up utilizing motion controls half as well. Wii Sports came right out of the box, and got everything so right.
Oh, and you can’t forget the Miis. These simplified, player-created avatars became such a staple for Nintendo, that they continue to this day on Nintendo Switch, surviving long after the Wii name itself. Wii Sports just wouldn’t have been the same without them. Seriously, imagine the same concept of a game, but with a realistic looking baseball player. It’s just not the same, is it?
Wii Sports was just that perfect storm of components. Its simple, addictive, player-friendly gameplay combined with the innovation of the console itself made it an unforgettable experience. Even with a new Zelda ready and waiting, Wii Sports was the first place most Wii owners went to on their homepage (well, maybe after the Mii Channel).
No doubt the appeal of Wii Sports helped the Wii become the phenomenon that it was, which in turn helped gaming as a whole become more accepted as a mainstream pastime.
5: Tetris (Game Boy)
Although Tetris actually predates the Game Boy, it’s on Nintendo’s original handheld juggernaut where it became a phenomenon. It was a match made in heaven: Tetris’s simple gameplay of aligning falling blocks worked perfectly for the handheld console. Tetris was the kind of game you could play for a few minutes or for hours at a time (provided you had the batteries).
Sure, being on the Game Boy may have brought Tetris worldwide recognition, but I’d argue Game Boy was the real beneficiary for having Tetris be a part of it. No doubt the infectious, deceitfully deep gameplay of Tetris helped boost the Game Boy’s sales early on, and even throughout its lifetime.
Other titles such as Super Mario Land, Kirby’s Dream Land and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening helped the Game Boy continue to grow, and the Game Boy is one of the only consoles (maybe the only one) to get a second life when it was supposed to be at its end, due to a little game called Pokemon. But the Game Boy would have never made it to Pokemon if it weren’t for Tetris. This falling-block puzzler even went on to transcend the Game Boy and consoles themselves, being released on virtually any available electronic and digital platform in existence at this point.
To this day, Tetris remains one of the best games of all time. The Game Boy may have helped Tetris in its ascension towards world domination, but I don’t think it’s a stretch to say Nintendo’s long dominance in the handheld gaming market (which even continues today with the Nintendo Switch) owes a lot to the fact that Tetris was available on the Game Boy right from the get-go.
4: Super Mario Bros. (NES)
I have to stress this every time: if we’re going by influence alone, Super Mario Bros. would top this and every other list. Although it may seem hard to believe nowadays with how far video games have come since, but no game showcased a bigger leap from what came before than Super Mario Bros. did in 1985.
The sheer fact that Mario could start one level on land, enter a pipe, and then be submerged in water with accompanying mechanics, was unlike anything else at the time. Before Super Mario Bros., if a game was going to be underwater, then that’s what the game was in its entirety, all on a single screen.
Super Mario Bros. brought adventure to video games. Even better, it did it while also having pitch perfect gameplay. It set the standard of forward-thinking ideas and flawless execution that would come to define the series. It singlehandedly made the NES the console of the 80s and set the stage for Nintendo’s many other franchises to follow. Not to mention it did it all during something of a dark age for the video game medium. Its impact and influence can’t be overstated.
Sure, there are plenty of better Mario games now (a couple of which you’ll be seeing on this list), but the original Super Mario Bros. remains a timeless classic in its own right. Which is no small feat for an NES launch game.
3: Super Mario 64 (Nintendo 64)
If one of a launch game’s biggest jobs is to showcase what a new generation can do that its predecessors could not, than no game has ever matched Super Mario 64 in that regard, and I don’t believe one ever will.
Super Mario 64 wasn’t the first 3D video game, but it may as well have been, as it was the first to truly bring the concept to life. For the first time, a character could roam freely in a 3D environment, player’s could go about the game world as they pleased. And thankfully, the exquisite design Super Mario had been known for remained fully intact.
Just as Mario reinvented video games in 1985 with Super Mario Bros., he did it all over again with Super Mario 64, this time elevating 3D gaming from a mere novelty into being the direction the medium would traverse going forward.
It may be hard for some to appreciate these days with how far gaming has come, but the sheer act of moving Mario around the courtyard of Princess Peach’s castle was a revelation. Mario now had acrobatic moves, like a triple jump, a wall jump and a punch/kick combo. Some of his moves (like that weird crouching, breakdance-like kick) seemed to exist just because they could in Mario’s new 3D environment. Never before had the sheer act of controlling a character in a video game felt so special, and it’s seldom been approached since.
Sony’s Playstation was the new kid on the block at the time. It may have been the “cooler” console with the fresher faces. But it was one of gaming’s oldest icons who paved the way for the future.
2: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo Switch)
History repeated itself in 2017 when – just like Twilight Princess simultaneously ended the GameCube era and ushered in the Wii eleven years earlier – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, after many delays, closed the book on the ill-fated Wii U and started a new chapter for Nintendo with the Switch. Though this time, instead of a hefty traditional Zelda title, we had one that reinvented its series.
At the expense of saying something controversial, Ocarina of Time had held the Zelda series back for too long. While Mario was constantly changing the rules of his series, Link’s adventures felt like they didn’t want to walk too far out of Ocarina’s shadow (itself kind of an extension of A Link to the Past’s shadow, if we’re being honest). They remained great games, to be sure. But their more conservative tendencies may have prevented them from building stronger individual legacies.
Thankfully, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild changed all that, rethinking and rewriting the rules of how Zelda games are played. Hyrule was now a vast open world, Link has a constantly changing arsenal of weapons, he learns all of his key abilities right out of the gate, you can even go straight from the beginning of the game to the final boss, if you’re brave or fool enough.
Nintendo previously seemed to think making such drastic changes to The Legend of Zelda would have been sacrilegious, but the changes Breath of the Wild brought with it should only restore faith into the Zelda series. Breath of the Wild is as fun and deep as any entry in the franchise, but is swimming in ideas and concepts that are all its own.
Yes, it was originally planned as a Wii U exclusive, and who knows how that system’s fortunes may have differed had things gone to plan. But like Twilight Princess, its late-game transition to the next console in line gave it that special feeling that only the best launch games can generate. And Breath of the Wild is so good, it should rank near the top of any list of launch titles.
But there is one greater still…
1: Super Mario World (Super NES)
On the surface, Super Mario World may seem like it’s “merely” a bigger sequel to the NES Mario games, but it shouldn’t take long to realize it’s so much more than that.
While Super Mario Bros. 3 introduced the world map into the equation, Super Mario World turned the world map into a level itself. Now stages included multiple exits, the map featured branching paths, there were secret worlds, and secret worlds inside of secret worlds! You could unlock new paths in earlier levels within the later levels of the game, and find warps to travel to different points in the world map. You could try to find the quickest route to take down Bowser, or uncover every last one of Super Mario World’s many secrets, essentially creating both speedrunning and completionism as we know them today in one fell swoop.
Levels were no longer completed simply by going left to right. Now, Mario often had to travel upward, downward, over and into the levels themselves to find every hidden exit. Metroid and Castlevania (the collective “Metroidvania”) understandably get credit for their emphasis on exploration, but Super Mario World kind of beat them to the punch.
World refined the flight mechanics introduced in Super Mario Bros. 3 through the now-iconic Super Cape power-up, which allowed Mario to travel and explore levels like never before. More importantly, Super Mario World introduced us all to Yoshi! The adorable dinosaur was a (literal) game-changer, and became so popular he starred in games of his own soon after. Has any character addition in a video game sequel ever had a bigger impact?
Something few people seem to mention about Super Mario World these days is that it was the first example of a new entry in a beloved franchise launching new hardware. Though Mario is a constant presence in gaming now, Super Mario World had to prove that to be the case. If the game failed, the Super Mario series may have faded with the NES. So Super Mario World had a hefty task at hand in proving Mario wasn’t simply a product of the 80s. Suffice to say it passed the test with flying colors.
Super Mario World showcased nex-gen capabilities in a way not dissimilar to Super Mario 64 (Yoshi simply wasn’t possible in the NES Marios), and features the same kind of franchise reinvention that would later define Zelda: Breath of the Wild. And it ensured Mario was here to stay.
30 years ago, Super Mario World showed us the best way to introduce a new console. And now, 30 years later, it hasn’t been matched. The best launch game of all time.
Honorable mentions: Sonic Adventure (Dreamcast), Luigi’s Mansion (GameCube), Nintendo Land (Wii U), New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
Chapter 7: The Last One
Did I say the chapters in this post made it like Paper Mario? But I only made it to seven chapters, as opposed to eight… So I guess it’s more like Bug Fables. Still better than Sticker Star, Color Splash or Origami King. That’s for damned sure!
Yes, sadly, we come to the end of my one-thousandth post. There were some other things I wanted to include in here, but seeing as it took me so long just to get this done, they’ll have to wait for another day. I mean, I haven’t posted anything in two months! I can’t keep delaying this.
So I wasn’t able to make this 1,000th blog post everything it could be, but I hope you had some fun despite this. I’ll keep those additional ideas handy, either as their own posts (which might get them more traffic anyway, come to think of it), or as part of my Christmas Special or some other such post. Hopefully this site won’t have another draught like that between my review of Raya and the Last Dragon and this 1,000th post for quite some time.
Thankfully, I have a few movie and video game reviews that I’ve completed as I wrote this in bits and pieces. They’ve just been waiting for me to post this 1,000th post (so that it would actually be the 1,000th post). So now I can start posting those reviews in the coming days.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I must be off now. There’s more writing to be done, and all of that other stuff I mentioned earlier, too.
Once again, a very big thank you to everyone who reads this site. It’s been a fun ride, these past 1,000 blogs. Here’s to one-thousand more. And a lot more after that. It’s not like I plan to stop at 2,000 or anything. Why am I explaining this to you? You knew that “here’s to one-thousand more” doesn’t mean “and that’s it.”
Thanks for stopping by! Keep on keepin’ on! And have a nice day!
Secret Bonus Chapter: Chapter 8: Ranking the Paper Mario Games!
Wait? You mean there are eight chapters here? Well then, I need to think of something to write…
I got it! With the above mention of Paper Mario, here is my “unofficial” ranking of the Paper Mario games (unofficial in that I haven’t played some of the entries in many a year, and am mostly going by memory). Hopefully I can get around to replaying the entries I haven’t reviewed (including slogging my way to the end of Origami King), as I would like to properly review them all some day.
Anyway, here’s my ranking of the Paper Mario series.
7: Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Tragically, Sticker Star kind of marked the end of Mario RPGs. The Mario & Luigi series would continue with two more entries afterwards, but both Dream Team and Paper Jam (the latter of which served as a crossover between Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario) were watered down disappointments of what came before (Dream Team at least still had some original characters, but Paper Jam went all in with the bizarre “No more originality allowed!” mentality that Sticker Start started). This isn’t about Mario & Luigi, though, it’s about Paper Mario.
That’s the sad thing about it though, Sticker Star effectively killed everything people loved about Paper Mario. No more RPG elements, no more partners, no more original characters, no more strategy, no more…anything really.
But at least it had that sticker gimmick! Guh-hyuk! Let me see if I can make any sense of Paper Mario: Sticker Star’s Sticker mechanic: Instead of Mario and a partner having their own moves for battle, all of Mario’s actions used consumable stickers. Because this game hates RPGs (while still using a turn-based battle system), you didn’t gain experience points and level up to get stronger. Instead, your rewards for winning battles were either A) more stickers or B) coins…for buying more stickers. So you use these consumable items in battle, so that you can get more of these consumable items for battle… There’s absolutely no point to the battle system.
Worse still, boss fights could only be won by using very specific stickers (I think they were referred to as “Things.” The creativity is just astounding). Without those “Things” the boss fights were literally unbeatable. So again, no strategy, just use the boss-specific “Thing” and that’s it, you win!
Honestly, I think Sticker Star is up there with the likes of Metroid: Other M as one of the worst games Nintendo has ever made. It killed the Mario RPGs. That right there is heartbreaking.
6: Paper Mario: The Origami King
It was tough deciding which game was worse between Color Splash and Origami King. While Color Splash continued with Sticker Star’s nonsensical formula, it at least improved it somewhat. But Origami King tried to (needlessly) change up the Paper Mario formula once again, and created something that was every bit as pointless as Sticker Star (though with maybe some added charm). So I decided Origami King is the worse of the two.
The thing that really irks me about Origami King is how it pretends like it’s trying to reach out to fans of the original Paper Mario games. It acts like partner characters are back, except these partners are controlled by AI, have literally one attack (which usually misses anyway), and are characters like a generic Bob-omb named Bob-omb! The Bob-omb named Bob-omb even mentions that he used to have a friend, a fellow Bob-omb who was also named Bob-omb! Isn’t that totally funny? It’s not like it’s an example of the many drawbacks that come with the series’ bizarre enforced limitations to not introduce original characters or anything.
Then there are the battles. Origami King would have you believe proper turn-based battles made a comeback, but again, it’s just a huge gimmick where you have to line up enemies in a set amount of time, and though the items aren’t one-time consumables anymore, they still wear out eventually and you have to replace them. Naturally, you don’t gain experience points or level up for battling, you just get coins to buy more items for battling that wear out during battle. Again, what’s the point?!
And don’t get me started on boss battles, where you have to move to a certain space on the board in order to attack the boss, but the bosses can often change the board around as you’re moving, rendering your strategy pointless.
All the more baffling is that these changes were made to supposedly make the game more kid-friendly. But it’s so convoluted I can’t imagine very many kids would have much fun with it. Kids seem to like the RPG elements of Pokemon, so what was so bad about Paper Mario being an RPG again?
5: Paper Mario: Color Splash
The Wii U edition of Paper Mario was revealed to little fanfare. Probably because it decided to go the same route as Sticker Star, and Nintendo knew people wouldn’t be happy about it. It’s one of the most obnoxiously stubborn video games ever made.
At the very least, Color Splash is an improvement over Sticker Star, even if it shares many of its poor design choices (consumable items for battle, no partners, bosses that require the use of a specific item). Though at least this time around, there was some semblance of character progression, since Mario needed to paint the environment with his hammer, and battling could result in Mario levelling up his hammer to have more paint. Hey, any improvement over Sticker Star is something.
I suppose at the very least, Color Splash’s insistence in following suit with Sticker Star meant it didn’t pretend like it was trying to bring back old fans as well, like Origami King would eventually do. Stubborn though it may be, at least this entry was honest.
4: Super Paper Mario
I’m going to be a little controversial here, because some people absolutely love this game to death. But I feel like Super Paper Mario is where things started to go wrong for the series. Now, it’s not a bad game like Sticker Star, but it did start the trend of Nintendo and Intelligent Systems way overthinking what changes needed to be made to Paper Mario.
Change can be a good thing, of course. The mainline Mario series is always changing, and it’s a big reason why I think it deserves its praise as gaming’s best series. But did Paper Mario really need to change so drastically by its third entry?
To be fair, at the time, Super Paper Mario’s changes were a one-off experiment. That’s fine, but it’s a shame Nintendo decided from then on out, Paper Mario needed to be completely revamped.
I have fond memories of Super Paper Mario. It was fun, funny, and contained some original ideas. It abandoned the turn-based nature of the previous two Paper Marios in favor of a platformer with RPG elements. It’s not a terrible idea, though the fact that the mainline Mario games are already platformers does make the change a bit questionable. Maybe a more Symphony of the Night-style Mario action game would have justified the change more? But I digress.
The issue with Super Paper Mario, though, is that despite the change to a much faster paced genre, it has even more story and dialogue than the previous Paper Mario games. One reason why stories, cutscenes and dialogue boxes work for turn-based RPGs is because they’re already a slower paced genre. But turning an RPG into a platformer, while doubling down on the RPG storytelling seems conflicting with itself. I’m not saying platformers can’t have stories, but when Super Paper Mario has more story than the RPG Paper Mario games, it brings the platformer side of thing down to a crawl.
I remember enjoying Super Paper Mario, and hopefully I’ll revisit it in the near future. But it was the game that made the cracks in the foundation of the series.
3: Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling
And now the quality ramps up considerably.
Nintendo fans have made it no secret that they crave the return of the original Paper Mario formula. And for some unknowable reason, Nintendo continues to ignore them. So a small independent studio who were fellow fans of classic Paper Mario decided if Nintendo isn’t going to listen, they’ll just make their own Paper Mario instead.
Bug Fables: The Everlasting Sapling really is classic Paper Mario in all but the names and faces. A wonderful (kind of) return to form for something fans have been starved of for far too long. It should also rank alongside games like Undertale, Shovel Knight and Hades as one of the best indie games around (and Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night. Does that count as indie?).
Turn-based battle system with action commands? Check. Paper-thin characters but no overbearing paper gimmicks? Check. Character progression? Check. The only thing missing are partner characters, but that’s because Bug Fables has a set team of three characters right out the gate. That’s fine. It had to do something different to stand out.
I think my only real issue with Bug Fables is that the difficulty can be a little inconsistent. I actually found some earlier segments to be more challenging than some later stages of the game. It’s not a big deal, but I guess you’d ideally want a game’s difficulty to gradually increase as you go (though it’s not an RPG, Donkey Kong Country 2 is probably the best example of a game increasing in difficulty piece by piece. So look to that for inspiration).
Somewhat hilariously, Bug Fables made its way to the Switch mere months before Origami King. While the latter may have boasted the Paper Mario name, Bug Fables was the Paper Mario you’d been looking for.
Oh, how wonderful it was (and is) to play a game like this again. Why oh why can’t Nintendo see why people love this so much?
2: Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door
The second entry in the Paper Mario series seems to be the fan-favorite: Partly because it was a fantastic game, and partly because it was the last time Paper Mario was the Paper Mario we knew and loved. Like many great sequels, The Thousand-Year Door is bigger than the original in almost every way: the story is darker and more serious, the writing is more colorful and witty, there’s more sidequests. Overall, a great sequel.
With that said, I do find some of the partners to be a little bit of a downgrade from the first game (the first few partners even come across as the B-team counterparts to those of the N64 original), and while there’s nothing wrong with the battle system, there’s nothing wrong with it because it was basically just carried over from the first game. My point being that The Thousand-Year Door is bigger than the first game in pretty much every way, but maybe not as innovative in the little details. But now I’m being nitpicky.
If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, I suppose. It certainly beats the “we know fans love the original, but we’re choosing to ignore that and strip away everything they loved from the series” mentality of later entries.
It’s easy to see why The Thousand-Year Door remains so beloved. It took the foundation of the original Paper Mario, and made it into as grand and epic of a journey as any Mario has ever seen. It should rank highly among any list of Nintendo RPGs (a category which I feel doesn’t get the credit it really deserves).
Of course, I think I’ve made it obvious what my number one pick is…
1: Paper Mario
Sometimes, you just can’t beat the original. Though I guess in this case, Nintendo stopped trying to do that long ago. But again, I digress.
What makes the original Paper Mario still stand out twenty years on is the purity of it all. This is the most “Mario” of the Mario RPGs. But I mean that in a meaningful sense, not in the “it can only have characters from the main series and nothing original” sense of the newer entries. It’s the most “Mario” in that it feels like a mainline entry turned into an RPG: Bowser is the villain, but there’s a twist in that he now possesses the wish granting Star Rod to make himself invincible. Peach still needs rescuing, but there are moments between Mario’s adventure where the player takes control of her which prove her resourcefulness. Classic Mario enemies return, but often as friendly NPCs and even Mario’s party members. And while its battle system is turn-based, the action commands make it still feel like a traditional Mario game.
Granted, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars beat Paper Mario to the punch on the whole (and at the expense of undermining this whole ranking, I think Super Mario RPG is the superior game. But it’s also like my favorite game of all time so no harm there, I suppose). Though Super Mario RPG kind of feels like its own thing (one that Nintendo and company really should revisit someday, mind you), whereas Paper Mario feels like it could be part of the mainline Mario series, despite its change in genre.
Paper Mario may have been the only noteworthy RPG on the Nintendo 64. But if the console could only have one, it was lucky to have this one. It’s probably my favorite Nintendo 64 title (though Super Mario 64 and Banjo-Tooie need to be mentioned), one of the system’s few truly timeless games, and one of my favorite RPGs.
The Thousand-Year Door may have added to it. Bug Fables may have paid homage to it. And subsequent Paper Mario games have done… whatever the hell they’ve done to it. But whenever I think of Paper Mario at its best, I always go back to the N64 original.
Chapter 9: The Actual Last One
Well, that last chapter certainly was totally planned from the start and not hastily written at the eleventh hour. Okay, so actually it had been planned for this 1,000th post, then it was one of the ideas I dropped from this celebratory post so I could get it done. But then, like the madman I am, I decided to add the Paper Mario ranking in here after all at the last minute.
There are, however, still those few extra ideas I had that will have to wait for another day. I actually mean that this time. They’ll have to wait. Hopefully you like them in the not-too-distant future.
So yes, now I’ll leave you with a big, fat T H A N K Y O U ! Thanks for your readership, whether it be continued or first time readership. And also thanks to movies and video games for being so great and giving me something I want to write about.
It took a while to get to this 1,000th blog, but I enjoyed every minute of it (well, except maybe when I reviewed CrazyBus and Super Man 64. Those were hard times). Here’s to many, many more!