Sunday, January 15, 2012

An Explanation Of Japanese Tokusatsu (AKA That Foreign Power Ranger Stuff)

(NOTE: I originally wrote this post back in 2006 to educate others on the importance of Toku in Japanese culture, as well as American culture. This post is mostly unchanged since then, but with a few touch-ups in order to keep everything in check. I hope everyone learns something from this, even if it's not their cup of tea per se.)

I'd like to educate the people of this blog and introduce them to an interesting and unique type of television viewing in Japan. This is known as Tokusatsu. Now, I warn you, this is a long read that may turn some away, but in the end, I feel it explains everything I've been trying to get out about the genre.

From Wikipedia:

"Tokusatsu (Japanese: 特撮) is the Japanese term for special effects. Live action productions that primarily feature the use of special effects are also called tokusatsu."

Simple, no? Let's go further.

"Eiji Tsuburaya (1901-1970) is perhaps the most famous tokusatsu kantoku in Japan, and is responsible for bringing the famous characters Godzilla and Ultraman to life. While he wasn't the first FX artist, he fought to make special effects in Japanese cinema truly special. When doing movies and TV shows involving giants (be it monsters, superheroes, aliens, etc.), Eiji's techniques usually involve expert miniature work, and the monster is usually either a stuntman in a full monster costume (a process later dubbed "Suitmation") or a marionette-like prop (Mothra, Dogora, etc.). Even with the support of digital effects since the 1990s, Eiji's tokusatsu method has been lovingly carried over to this very day, and has become a tradition like kabuki theater."

"Some of Eiji's proteges include Teruyoshi Nakano, Sadamasa Arikawa, Nobuo Yajima (who also directed the FX for the majority of superhero shows by Toei), Koichi Takano, Koichi Kawakita and others. They have worked at Toho, Eiji's company Tsuburaya Productions, P Productions and other companies. Yonesaburō Tsukiji, Kazufumi Fujii (who directed the FX for the classic Gamera movies) and Yoshiyuki Kuroda (who directed the FX for the Daimajin trilogy) used the same techniques over at the Daiei Motion Picture Company (now owned by Kadokawa Shoten)."

As you can see from this paragraph, Toei (you may know that name from anime) was the production company for a huge amount of shows of this genre.

Next, I'll go into the whole Power Rangers thing. Now, Power Rangers originated from a series known as Super Sentai, which was started in 1975. This is a picture from the first Sentai series, known as Himitsu Sentai Goranger.

Weird as hell? Well, yeah. That's how it started.

Eventually, the popularity of this style of series led to the creation of others. One was Kamen (Masked) Rider. Here is a picture of the first Kamen Riders; V1, V2, and V3.

Another series, which I think everyone here will get a kick out of in this case, was an actual Live-Action Spider-Man series. It was crappy, but that was what made it so fun to watch.

Spider-Man was also the first Japanese Tokusatsu to use a "giant robot" with which to fight the monsters. Sentai decided to use that idea with their next series and that tradition carried on over the years.

That's not to say this was the only style of show the Japanese followed, as Ultraman and Godzilla were huge inspirations, as well as certain anime titles. You can now see live-action versions of shows such as Cutey Honey and Sailor Moon, as well as some movies for titles like Death Note and Lupin III.

I'm now to going to get into the confusion that America has developed over time. This is again taken from Wikipedia:

"There is currently a misconception in countries outside Japan (including the United States, to an extent) that the term tokusatsu refers mainly to Japanese superhero TV shows (including - but not limited to - the Ultra Series, Kamen Rider series and Super Sentai Series). Of course, this is not true, as the term has always been used in its native country to describe all live action productions, Japanese or otherwise, that feature special effects.

However, in the case of the US (and some other parts of the world), the confusion dates back to the early 1990s, when Ben Dunn, editor of the San Antonio-based comic-book publishing company Antarctic Press, did a short-lived fanzine called Sentai: The Journal of Asian S/F & Fantasy, which was one of the few American fanzines in the wake of the Power Rangers craze that covered live-action Japanese fantasies, which previously had a sizable cult following. However, this magazine got so much exposure that all Japanese live-action superhero shows were mistakenly labelled "sentai" by many fans and non-fans alike. Inadvertently reinforcing this was the formation of the usenet newsgroup On that newsgroup, and eventually other tokusatsu-related forums, more experienced fans had set people straight on the many tokusatsu-related terms. The same went for daikaiju-related forums like the newsgroup and others."

The United States has seen almost every Godzilla and Gamera film, as well as many Japanese kaiju films up to the early 1970s, but mainstream America does not look at these films very favorably.

Even only a handful of Japanese superhero shows such as Ultraman (the most recognized Japanese superhero in America, of course), The Space Giants and Johnny Sokko and His Flying Robot made it there, as well as Spectreman, which was the last major superhero production to be seen in the States, whereas ironically, it was just the beginning (in that exact same period, Kamen Rider, a low-budget TV series, began the "Henshin Craze" in Japan).

Of the American populace, Hawaii (and, to a lesser degree, San Francisco) was more familiar with the superhero shows made since the "Henshin Craze", and these shows were very successful there. Shows like Emergency Command 10-4-10-10 (the first tokusatsu series to be subtitled in English), Rainbowman, Android Kikaider/Jinzo Ningen Kikaida (perhaps the most popular show in Hawaii), Kamen Rider V3 and Secret Task Force Goranger, as well as 1967's Ultra Seven (which, in 1975, became the first Japanese program to be dubbed in English there). The last tokusatsu series to be subtitled in English was 1979's Battle Fever J (the first "Super Sentai" series). But sadly, the rest of America has missed out on this milestone period of tokusatsu history (shows like 1983's Science Task Force Dynaman, which was comically dubbed, are a very rare exception).

This perception of tokusatsu in America can be chalked down to a few things:


One of the things that Japanese live-action fantasy is usually criticized for by non-fans in America is that these productions don't look "realistic." Back in the 1950s, some people criticized the special effects in Godzilla movies, comparing them to Ray Harryhausen's stop-motion techniques (Ray was hurt by this, and instead started making fantasy films). When Star Wars was released in 1977 and made science fiction mainstream, the American public began to forget the past and focus on the future. Even when some Japanese companies use their tried and true techniques for sentimental reasons (combined with Hollywood-style effects), Americans continued to label these films as "cheap," "cheesy," and/or "campy." In fact, many old Japanese special effects fantasies, no matter what regard they were held in Japan, were pretty much considered B-movie material by many Americans who raise themselves on big-budget Hollywood films, nowadays strictly using CGI effects. That perception is also based on watching faded, worn-out fullscreen prints of these classic films.

However, American fans like August Ragone and reporter Steve Ryfle have enlightened a skeptical media on this subject countless times, and people were pro-founded. According to Ryfle, even classic Japanese special effects fantasies were not necessarily trying to look "realistic," they were trying to make something that's colorful and spectacular. These were fantasies. Godzilla is not a "realistic" monster, because he's not a real animal. He is a fantasy creature, basically a god (not unlike the beasts from Chinese and Japanese mythology, like the Chinese dragon). This goes for many of the Japanese kaiju of the type. Rodan, Varan, Mothra, Gamera, etc. These hand-crafted fantasy monsters looked "real" to some fans. Some even say that, unlike stop-motion, these monsters looked very real, because they were filmed real.

Eiji Tsuburaya himself thought that absolute realism was "boring," so he experimented with the many films he did, and his surreal visuals dazzled many audiences, including children and fans. And even if certain techniques didn't work, it still amused him. Some audiences may laugh at these effects shots, or even criticize certain aspects of them, but this was something Eiji never took too seriously. A notable example was one scene in the 1965 film Frankenstein Conquers the World, where the giant monster Baragon attacks an animal farm, and smashes a stable with an obvious puppet of a horse galloping wildly inside. When asked by a Japanese journalist about why he used a horse puppet instead of a real one against a bluescreen, Eiji replied, "Because it's more interesting!" Eiji's "unreal" effects techniques were copied to this day by other Japanese effects artists, who have even added their own touch of realism to suit today's audiences.

Meanwhile, even the equally criticized Japanese live-action superhero shows (aimed mainly at children) achieved what American productions usually could not when making adaptations of comic books: a colorful, fantastic sense of wonder. After the original "campy" 1966 Batman TV series, superhero fans, even the American public, started to take their fantasies for granted, because color and fantasy became "silly," "stupid," and thus equated with "camp." Thus, superheroes became dark, grim and "realistic." These were no longer the comic-books kids grew up with, they were more "adult" and "cynical." Japanese superheroes, on the other hand, retain that colorful "comic-book" feel. Yes, some of these superheroes are altruistic, like Super Giant, Moonlight Mask, and Ultraman, yet others (of the Henshin variety, for example, like Kamen Rider) take their powers for granted, but the hero still must make do with their powers to help the innocent, even getting along with children, who usually idolize these heroes. They have even long before experimented with "grim" and "ironic" concepts that would finally be utilized in American superhero comics by the late 1980s. The villains in these shows included the kind of threats depicted in American comics that American movie & TV adaptations usually exclude; an evil empire, an alien race, a mad scientist and a weekly monster. Some would argue that Japanese superhero movies & shows, despite their "limited" special effects, are much better at emulating the style of American comic-books than the TV shows and Hollywood movies that are based on them.

Furthermore, it also has to do with conservative budget reasons. Japanese studios, unlike those of Hollywood, are not union-based. Some Japanese studios still allow a notoriously tight budget and schedule, while others are liberally taking a chance on things. Actors/staff are paid a smaller salary, yet they work together like a family.


As is evident since the 70s, Japanese superhero movies & TV shows became increasingly violent. Even as kid shows in Japan, American audiences were overly concerned over violence in America, and by the 70s, censorship against violence on American children's television had grown more and more strict. This mainly includes Japanese superhero TV productions, many of which were very dark and violent, and had grim and ironic stories. This goes for anime shows as well. Superheroes like Kamen Rider were created surgically by the villains, and turn against them. Superheroes like the title team of Science Ninja Team Gatchaman (an anime series) ruthlessly beat villains to a pulp. Superheroes like Mirrorman chop the monsters' heads off. Shows like Android Kikaider and Robotto Keiji had the monster of the week demonstrating their powers by slaying an innocent victim (an expendable character) at the beginning of each episode (not unlike the victims of the weekly monsters and alien threats featured in Star Trek). Needless to say, even Godzilla movies had followed suit in the same period.

In the 1990s, Power Rangers, which was Americanized from the Super Sentai series, made the shows more palatable to American TV standards by removing the excessive violence, and it differed dramatically from its original version. This is still a highly debated topic even among fans. One particular reason is that some evil kaijin in various tokusatsu are psychotic vicious and unforgiving. Those same monsters that are "adapted" are now depicted as stupid, unintelligent goof-offs to the point that the suit monsters are, to some, "Barney-esque." One victim of this was the warrior Grifforzer (renamed Goldar in Power Rangers). Originally a powerful, threatening figure in his original Japanese incarnation from Kyoryuu Sentai Zyuranger, Goldar became more and more pitiful as the series went on.

Lack of Cultural Identification

Because American audiences did not readily identify with the appearance and culture of east Asian characters, elements were introduced to increase a sense of familiarity. For example, to make the original 1954 Godzilla more palatable to American audiences, actor Raymond Burr was added to help the audience accept the Japanese characters from the original version. In the mid-1960s, Hollywood actors like Nick Adams and Russ Tamblyn actually appeared in some of these films alongside the Japanese actors (thanks to the collaboration between Toho and UPA, best known for their animated movies & TV shows like Mr. Magoo). The Gamera films, aimed at children, started to include Caucasian children alongside the Japanese children to appeal to the American market, upon the success of the first Gamera film there. In order to reach the Australian market and particularly the North American market, Tsuburaya Productions co-produced two Ultraman shows starring a multiracial cast. Tsuburaya has been trying to penetrate the North American market for a long time. Later shows such as Power Rangers were completely Westernized to fit mainstream tastes.

A Growing/Divided Fandom

Thanks to the Internet, tokusatsu fandom and acceptance in the United States is growing, slowly but surely. Originally, the only forms of tokusatsu presented the past few decades were either Daikaiju Eiga (specifically Godzilla and Gamera) or Ultraman, it wasn't until the debut of Power Rangers in the 90s where audiences were introduced to other categories of the genre. Despite the intervention of US "adapting" such as the replacement of Japanese actors with American actors or the use of dubbing, many recognized Power Rangers was Japanese due to the obvious use of a different camera. At the time, the camera types and techniques used by America and Japan contrasted a great deal. Japanese footage still had that grainy texture to the footage that was used in the past. Furthermore, the quality of the hero's suits was much higher in Sentai footage , with the spandex costumes being much more vibrant, shining and reflective, unlike the dull and solid color of the American-made costumes. For years, tokusatsu has had fan clubs all across the world, as well as countless dealers and collectors selling merchandise directly from Japan. Imports and illegal bootlegs of Japanese movies & TV shows have become commonplace for fans of the genre. Because of this steadfast phenomenon, the American mainstream has finally started to take notice, especially companies like Sony, Media Blasters and ADV. Although it may not yet have the same level as anime or manga, tokusatsu is just as important and influential to Japanese culture, as well as all of pop culture. Fansubs have also played a significant role in the genres popularity; and like anime, fans began to compare and contrast "adapted" tokusatsu shows, like Power Rangers, to its original Japanese counterpart.

The backlash to this is that many tokusatsu superhero shows are seen as all Power Rangers; even Ultraman is mistaken as a Power Ranger. This is because in Japanese shows the main motif are mufflers/scarves, helmets, and elastane/spandex; however, the same can be said in the US considering heroes over here had capes, masks, and tights. Both sides didn't drop their respective trademarks until later on. Another situation is those who grew up with Power Ranger assume that any superhero tokusatsu can be a Power Ranger spin-off or adapt without the knowledge of content the genre has. This usually results in a mockery of the original product rather than a homage. Many of these disputes resulted in extreme cases of bashing; and because of it, a new rivalry brewed over the years among fans of "adapt" shows (like Power Rangers) and the tokusatsu purists.

Purists claim that shows (like Power Rangers) give tokusatsu a bad reputation and further degrade the Original series they were adapted from. While "adapt" fans argue that the shows are new and innovative and breathes new life into live action TV shows. It came to the breaking point that terms like "Sentai Snob" (now evolved to "Toku Snob"), a term use to describe a hardcore tokusatsu purist believing that "adapts" are nothing but poor imitations and racist; and "PR Snob" (now evolved to "Anti-Sentites"), a term use to describe hardcore "adapt" fans who believe the American products are more creative and innovative than their Japanese counterparts, and many hold the idea that the Japanese material is inferior to its American counterparts. This brand of fandom argument parallels the conflict between "Subbies" and "Dubbies," where two factions argue in anime fandoms about which is better, "English Subtitles" or "English Dubbing." This takes that idea even further. In some cases, other "unrelated" fandoms were dragged into the arguements for no apparent reason.

And with the US adapting even more Japanese franchises (such as Godzilla and The Ring), the argument between the two groups becomes more significant, and emotional. Recently, the announcement of the Magiranger vs. Dekaranger movie using a Power Rangers prop (in this case, Jack Landors' SPD Battlizer from Power Rangers SPD) caused a new, heated debate between the two groups. Furthermore, since Magiranger, there is indication that Toei and Disney are now working side by side and co-producing both Super Sentai and Power Rangers. This gives some alarm to both sides whether or not other tokusatsu genres will be either "adapted" or subbed in the future. Toho has become kind of borderline since the Zilla situation in 1998; however, the company still remains in good terms with Sony, as they released the entire Millennium Godzilla series. Whether or not Toho will allow their Choseishin series (which currently rivals Super Sentai) to come to the states is still unknown. 4Kids's reintroduction to Ultraman angered many older audiences, as many strongly felt they bastardized Ultraman Tiga to the greatest degree (ironically, Tiga was the deemed the most popular of the Heisei Ultra Series during the 90s) and, in addition, many younger audiences continuously mistook the Ultraman in question for a Power Ranger. Meanwhile, with the growing popularity of the New Generation Kamen Rider which now has a growing female demographic along with the young boys demographic; many wonder if Disney will give Maskèd Rider another chance. There was a rumor about Kamen Rider Ryuki being adapted by Disney in 2003, but turned out to be untrue. Ever since Disney's acquisition of Power Rangers from Fox; Ryuki, as well as Hurricanger, served as an introduction to original source material of tokusatsu shows; which intrigued many "adapt" fans. Some of the story writing in toksuatsu could best be described by some viewers as dark-toned which are seen in many animated series like Justice League Unlimited, or as outlandish and cartoon-y like Looney Toons, or even in-between, as was the case in The Incredibles. It's a trademark in tokusatsu to range from too grim to too outlandish; pretty much how anime is looked upon. This further excites some viewers while it disgusts others.

Some new terms have also been developed over the years to separate each type. Feel free to use them.

" * Original Toku(satsu) - This term refers to the original movies & shows that came from Japan.
o Examples: Godzilla, Gamera, Ultraman, Kamen Rider, Super Sentai, Metal Heroes, Chouseishin Series

* Toku(satsu) Adapts - This term refers to movies & shows that "Americanize" the original Japanese concept.
o Examples: Power Rangers, Saban's Masked Rider, VR Troopers, Big Bad Beetleborgs, Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad, etc.
o American-made remakes of Japanese FX movies may fall into this category. Examples: Godzilla (1998), The Ring (2002), The Grudge (2004)

And there you have it. I hope you have come out of this article (assuming you're still here!) with a new found knowledge of this genre, and the impact it has on the many countries of the world, even outside of Japan itself. Take care everyone!

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Bandai Entertainment: What Happened, and What It Means For The Industry

If you are an anime fan, there's no doubt you've heard all the commotion about Bandai Entertainment, the subsidiary of Namco Bandai in the US. As of 01/02/2012, the company announced it will stop offering new DVDs, Blu Ray discs, and manga after February. Many releases are now being cancelled altogether, including Turn A Gundam, Gosick, and mangas for titles such as Code Geass, Gurren Lagann, and Tales of the Abyss. This is a major blow to both the anime industry in the US and the Eurpoean markets, but what caused it in the first place, and can businesses learn anything from this experience?

For now we'll start with the "why." You may be expecting something along of lines of "blah blah internet, blah blah piracy," but nothing could be further from the truth in this case. Namco Bandai Holdings made it no secret that they hated how its Western audiences wanted cheaper box-sets for their anime releases instead of expensive two-episodes-per-volume sets like they produce in Japan. Japan's Strategic Business Unit (SBU) were the ones that ultimately made the decision to pull the plug on their operations in the US, instead of trying to cater to the market demands. It appears that the single-volume release of the anime "K-On" was what ultimately called this decision. The release did well enough for the company to still profit from it, but looked bad on the scale of the market as a whole.

So, depressingly enough, this whole thing was caused simply due to the Japanese market refusing to change their business model and meet the demands of the Western market. It also doesn't help that the industry hasn't been the same since around five years ago when sales began to plummet. I used to lose count of all of the anime shows we got on TV through Toonami, Adult Swim, and other places. Now I can hand-count them and still have fingers left over.

The worst part about all of this is that there is simply nothing we can really do about it from our side, except put up with it and hope other companies will continue to help Bandai distribute some of their titles. I was collecting the Blu Rays for Mobile Suit Gundam: Unicorn, and was very unhappy to find out we wouldn't be getting volumes 5 and 6 in the states when they came out. Because the Blu Rays are being put out by Sunrise, the Blu Rays released in Japan will still contain the English dub and Japanese with English Sub options on them, as well as be region free (unlike the standard DVDs in Japan which are region 2 and only contain the Japanese version). While I do feel happy I'll still be able to collect the whole series (which is more than fans of some other series will be able to do), it is going to be a much more costly process than I was hoping, as the series is already expensive as it is, reaching over $50 per volume, while only containing about an hour's worth of footage. I would never normally spend such a large amount on such a release, but I have felt that Unicorn was worth it from the beginning. I suppose my feelings on that will be put to the test as these remaining two volumes arrive in the coming months.

The real question now is whether or not other companies will try to help Bandai release their titles. Ken Iyadomi of Bandai America stated in an interview that not only will they keep putting out all of their current releases until the licenses expire, but that they will also work with other group companies by "handling licensing and sub-licensing for digital, tv and merchandise for group company properties."

You can read the full interview here:

So, what do we take from all of this?

- Bandai will no longer release DVDs or Manga as of February

- Instead of trying to cater to the Western market, Japan completely pulled the plug altogether.

- Many DVD and Manga projects have been cancelled

- However, they will still hold on to the licenses they own and keep releasing those titles until they expire.

- Due to February being the close off date, we are still getting a few releases before that, such as the second half of Mobile Suit Gundam 0079 and the K-On Box set.

- This is a major blow to the American industry, and there is not much we can do to change it, since this was a decision on Japan's end.

- Piracy is NOT to cause for this situation

- All we can do is hope other companies try to pick up these titles or help Bandai release them.

And on that note, let's all hope for the best, anime fans. I'd expect Gundam to get picked up at the very least, but there are many more obscure titles that I'm worried about. I'd also very much prefer stream sites and digital downloads NOT become the norm for anime. It can always be an option, but I know too many fans who prefer physical copies as I do, who would never let things go in that direction. Once again, let's just meditate on this and keep going strong.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Game Of The Year Awards 2011 (Only 2 days late!!!)

As promised, here are my personal picks for all of the basic game of the year (GOTY) categories. Of course, since these are all opinion, you are free to disagree with them, and all are totally up for discussion if you see fit. Alright, let's get the ball rolling!


It was very difficult to choose between this, Batman: Arkham City, Uncharted 3, and games like Crysis 2 and the Witcher 2 that admittedly look incredible when played on the right PC. In the end, I didn't really see any other final choice than Battlefield 3 however. I can generally tell when developers are really putting the work in, or if they're playing tricks on us. This one will not disappoint for those who have a big shiny new gaming rig they want to show off to their technical friends.


It kills me not to give this award to a title like El Shaddai for the PS3/360 or Alice: Madness Returns (Multi-platform), Rayman Origins has too much charm not to take this one home. The creative scenery and overall atmosphere of this 2-D platformer will grab you, regardless of what type of gamer you are. It's the type of thing everyone should experience at least once just to say they did. They just don't make games like this anymore, and it's a damn shame.


We had some wonderful game soundtracks this year, ranging all the way from Bastion to Portal 2 to Skyrim, but I feel that indie title To The Moon's soundtrack takes the cake on this one. Not only is this game incredibly beautiful in the story department itself, but it has one of the most emotional soundtracks I've heard from a game in years. Once again, this is something that should be experienced by everyone, regardless of what type of gamer you are. You will more than likely cry after playing this, and the soundtrack will be the biggest reason.

BEST VOICE ACTING: Portal 2 (Multi-platform)

Was there ever any doubt? Don't get me wrong, we had some amazing voice talents in games like Batman: Arkham City (Mark Hamill) or Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (Nolan North); but nothing was more memorable to me than all of the acting, dialogue, and overall execution of what we saw in Portal 2. The voice actors for this game deserve many awards and I hope they continue to win them.

BEST CO-OP MULTIPLAYER: Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)

It was hard not to give the one to Portal 2 as well, but I'd be lying if I said that I didn't have the most fun with the co-op in Gears of War 3. One again, Epic Games shows just how make a great action and third-person shooter title. Horde mode (which Modern Warfare 3 pretty much cloned from this series) is still one of my favorite ideas for playing with friends and working together to reach the common objective of staying alive longer. It's always fun to progress through the story mode this way as well.

BEST COMPETITIVE MULTIPLAYER: Battelfield 3 (Multi-platform)

My Call of Duty friends are going to beat me up for this, but unlike Modern Warfare 3 where we saw very little sign of any improvement, the team behind Battlefield worked exceptionally hard to create an experience that requires both a large amount of skill and tact if you're working with a team. I don't feel that kind of dynamic with Modern Warfare 3, even when playing with a group. I simply find Battlefield 3 the more rewarding of the two. Gears of War 3 and Dark Souls had very rewarding experiences as well, but in the end, I still see myself coming back to this one first and foremost.

BIGGEST IMPROVEMENT SEQUEL: King of Fighters XIII (PS3 & Xbox 360)

As a very big fan of this series, I will be the first to admit that King of Fighters XII was incredibly disappointing. Not only were there less than half of the characters from the previous entry, but there was no story mode or boss fights to even speak of. I was also tempted to give this to Mortal Kombat, due to the disappointing nature of the last few entries in that series, but King of Fighters desperately needed this to bring the series back to form and it did so in spades. I hope this series never dies out and this sequel was a great sign of things continuing for years to come.

MOST ORIGINAL GAME: Catherine (PS3 & 360)

I had a little bit of difficulty with this one, but when deciding, you have to factor in a lot of things, including the game-play mechanics and the story involved. In this game, you not only have a story involving a man who cheated on his girlfriend and has to figure out where to go from there, but you also have an insanely creative system of puzzles and unique atmosphere. Just like Persona 4 before it (also from the same development team), you get one heck of a psychological and all-around fascinating experience from this title. We need more risks like this in the gaming industry.

MOST MEMORABLE MOMENT: Desert Scene, Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception (PS3)

Another VERY difficult category to choose from here, between all of the wonderful moments from Portal 2, Skyrim, a very emotional scene in Gears of War 3 that I won't spoil, Bastion, and all sorts of other titles. Even though I found this sequel to be fundamentally flawed in quite a few ways, there was something very eerie and interesting about this scene in the game, where Drake suddenly became stranded in a desert, following a huge air-battle from the previous chapter. What followed was an intriguing scene of mystery and awe as Drake stumbles farther and farther to what he is certain will be his final moments of life. I won't go into any more details than that for those who have yet to see this, but I'd be surprised to find anyone not taken in by this.

MOST UNDERRATED GAME: Rayman Origins (PS3 & Xbox 360)

The lackluster sales of games such as this are really discouraging. This game represents a medium that is unfortunately dying whenever it doesn't come straight from a developer like Nintendo. This title is a mix of gorgeous 2-D style platforming with a very beautiful and unique setting. People (on the internet) always seem to complain that no one puts out anything innovative or unique anymore, and yet titles like this slip through people's radars. I will never understand it.

And finally, the best of titles by genre and system:

BEST INDEPENDENT TITLE: Bastion (PC and Xbox Live Arcade)

I was certain I was going to give this award to The Binding of Isaac for quite a while, but Bastion took the cake. Playing this game all the way through was completely rewarding and memorable. It didn't make me cry mountains of tears like To The Moon, but for these awards, I go with what I feel is the best mix of graphics (technical or artistic), as well as game play and story, and Bastion delivers on all of these fronts.

BEST ACTION/ADVENTURE GAME: Batman: Arkham City (Multi-platform)

The only titles that even came close to this for me were Uncharted 3 and The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, but once again if we are going for the best overall package, this one wins by a landslide. Between the gripping story that shook you on all sides and the improvements to the already near-perfect game-play formula, we have a clear winner on our hands. Between the Christopher Nolan films and the Arkham game series, Batman has become THE superhero to follow.

BEST DRIVING GAME: Forza Motorsport 4 (Xbox 360)

Wasn't too much to choose from this year, and picking Mario Kart 7 would have seemed a bit silly for this one. Forza pulled out all the stops you would want and expect from a racing title of this series. It's difficult to make a racing game realistic and fun at the same time. This one has somehow managed to craft both of the elements together once again for a near-definitive experience.

BEST FIGHTING GAME: King Of Fighers XIII (PS3 & 360)

After mentioning the improvements above, it's also worth noting just how deep this fighter is. It'll all come down to preference of course, but I have always found the King Of Fighters series to be much skill-based than a lot of Capcom fighters like Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 or the Street Fighter series. Don't get me wrong, as I enjoy the hell out of those games as well, but KoF has become my forte over time, and for good reason.

BEST PLATFORMER: Rayman Origins (PS3 & Xbox 360)

If you've been reading my other mentions of this game, then you already know all you need to about why this is the clear winner this year. There was no other platformer as innovative, or even as close to being able to compete. I only hope other big developers will find new ways to keep this genre fresh and exciting (not to say that the indie developers don't do AMAZING jobs already. In fact, I very much hope their enthusiasm will carry on to the big-budget groups someday!).

BEST PUZZLE GAME: Portal 2 (Multi-platform)

Once again it's hard to put anything else near this one. Every installment of this series brings new and even more innovative ideas than the last. You'll stop and think after some trial and error, only to realize the solution was right in front of you all along. You'll smack yourself in the head, proceed to solve the puzzle, and feel awesome inside after the fact. And honestly, isn't that how all puzzle games should really make us feel?

BEST RPG: Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (Multi-platform)

You were probably all wondering when this one would come up. Well, here it is. One of the biggest Game Of the Year contenders on all fronts and for very good reason. This game is MASSIVE. It will take you DAYS to get from one place on the map to another on foot, just to reach an objective. The combat has been drastically improved and the scenery is absolutely stunning. Simply put, this is the kind of game everyone should be playing. I don't care if the only things you ever pick up are shooters and sports titles; you need to play this.

BEST SHOOTER: Gears of War 3 (Xbox 360)

To put it simply, I can't help but come back to this title, even with Modern Warfare and Battlefield 3 competing for my attention. The story mode, the co-op, and the multiplayer all flow together wonderfully, with an excellent control mechanic, and many reasons to keep coming back for more. This is the shooter I'll be picking back up the most in the coming months.


I'm afraid I didn't play enough titles to accurately judge this one. From what I had witnessed however, it appeared that NBA 2K12 and FIFA Soccer 12 were the real contenders for this season, as well as the most improved from the previous year.

BEST 360 EXCLUSIVE TITLE: Gears of War 3

For the reasons stated previously, this is one of the titles I'll keep coming back to, next to Skyrim and a few others. It's perfect for picking right up to play, as well as taking real time to invest into the story and achievements. Unlike most achievements in 360 titles, the majority of the ones you obtain in this game will also yield bonuses and unlockables. It's good for just about any fan of shooters or action/adventure titles.


When a game is developed for the PC from the ground up instead of being a shoddy port of a console, results will follow. The Witcher 2 is a great example of what a PC-developed title can really do. It's ridiculously in-depth in both it's environments and its form of controls. The PC community like to portray themselves as kings. When you load up titles like this at full speed for the first time, it's not hard to see why.

BEST PS3 EXCLUSIVE TITLE: Uncharted 3: Drake's Deception

On the exclusive front, there's little to no contest with this one. Even with the slightly flawed storyline, and a couple of difficulty hiccups, this one takes the prize. Naughty Dog has continued to out-do themselves with the level of quality and cinematic feel that the Uncharted series offers. Some could argue that they're watching more than they're playing with this entry, and I'd agree. I just can't help but say it was completely fun all the same. Another solid entry in what is still a magnificent series.

BEST WII EXCLUSIVE TITLE: The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword

When Xenoblade Chronicles comes out in the US, I'll gladly give the award to it. Until then, Zelda is the prime choice. The bulk of this game felt a bit more filler-oriented for my tastes, but the improvements in the gameplay, as well as some truly and memorable boss battles make this an easy win for the Nintendo Wii this year. Did I mention the soundtrack is absolutely stunning as always?

BEST HANDHELD GAME: Super Mario 3D Land (Nintendo 3DS)

After months of console game ports and a few slightly more decent titles like Pilot Wings and Ghost Recon, we finally got a new first-party Nintendo title that delivers! Super Mario 3D Land is a perfect blend of the gameplay found in both Super Mario 64 and the more recent Super Mario Galaxy. Just when you think the game is finally over, you're thrown double the amount of stages (re-hashed, but so much that it'll feel like a new experience regardless), and given all sorts of other bonuses to keep you going. Pokemon Black and White was incredible, but I'd much rather give this to something more unique (for a handheld) and deserving on the market. This is the 3DS title you've been waiting to brag to your friends about.

BEST MULTI-PLATFORM GAME: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Just like my previous comments on the game, it's hard to argue that this isn't one of the biggest titles to come out this year. There were some truly stellar multi-platform titles like Dark Souls (that I almost wish I could come up with an award for just so it would get one!), Batman: Arkham City, and Battlefield 3 among others. Even with all of the other big league games such as these, Skyrim still wins this category for the sheer magnitude of content and breathtaking atmosphere involved.


GAME OF THE YEAR: The Elder Scrolls Skyrim (Multi-platform)

This is a little redundant, but I don't care. This game wins in every way imaginable. This may be a debatable choice, but I dare someone to give me a game with as much content, scenery, and memorable gameplay moments as this one to come out this year. Xenoblade would be a sure contender in the size department, but until it comes out in the states, it wouldn't be fair to throw that in to the mix just yet. If you don't come out of Skyrim feeling like an epic warrior who can topple any obstacle and move large objects and creatures with your voice, then the validity of your soul may very well be in question.

And that's it from me! Happy New Year everyone, and keep those thumbs busy!