Loot Box City: Won’t Someone Think of the Children?

The sensitive subject of loot boxes was reviewed last week in a post regarding Blizzard Entertainment’s Overwatch, and it appears that their model might be the new standard for video games. One bizarre example of this is the unnecessary inclusion of loot in the upcoming Middle-earth: Shadow of Mordor game, which has raised important discussion amongst gamers.

Developed by Monolith Productions and published by Warner Bros., the sequel to Shadow of Mordor was eagerly anticipated by a number of fans, due to the unique ‘nemesis’ system the game employed. However, the sudden implementation of loot in a single-player game has rightfully agitated and confused players.

This time around, Monolith Productions will allow players to purchase loot boxes which can contain a variety of XP boosts, flashy gear and even orcs. It’s a surprise to see that they can somehow fit huge orcs into small little boxes, but regardless, these digital items can be purchased with real money without any guarantee of winning specific items.

The whole scheme stinks of greed, but it brings up an important question regarding this industry. Are some developers and publishers enabling gambling for gamers of all-ages with this new model? And is it a fair system if it allows developers to continue producing free downloadable content after release?

Unfortunately, there are a growing number of companies that have absolutely no issues with this new structure, and one of the most egregious examples of this is showcased in the multiplayer game, Counter-Strike: Global Offensive, in which skins are gambled with players all around the world.

Video game developers Valve introduced this new program a few years back and countless players have wagered items on several third-party websites, where ridiculous amounts of money have been exchanged. There’s hardly any regulation from Valve, who are allowing players of any age to take part in this shady gambling scheme.

Thankfully, a few publications have already picked up on Valve’s new business model, and the sheer level of profit is currently unprecedented. Unsurprisingly, some of these third-party sites really abuse the system, which is addressed by popular Youtuber h3h3productions, in this informative and entertaining video below.

It certainly feels like Valve is mostly to blame for this recent surge of ‘gambling’ though, as they first introduced a similar arrangement in their multiplayer game Team Fortress 2. A game which was renowned for having some of the best balance for a shooter was abruptly tarnished by digital hats, crates and an assortment of new weapons.

For some, including myself, it was enough to stop playing a game I had engaged with almost every day. New weapons were effectively changing the way people played, and this new fascination with cosmetic items in Team Fortress 2 felt a little peculiar.

Whilst Team Fortress 2 opened the floodgates, it was Overwatch which really put a strong focus on loot boxes, thanks to their seasonal events. As has previously been addressed, their loot boxes haven’t been well-received by a number of players. However, Blizzard Entertainment is making some positive changes, so it’s not all terrible over there.

There are other games that attempt the same model of Overwatch, and that means we shift our focus towards the massively disappointing Gears of War 4. The Coalition provided gamers with the option to buy ‘Gear Packs’, which can help with progressing through Horde mode, whilst supplying fans with special skins.

Not content with people buying the game and the season pass, The Coalition even announced a $100 loot box package which gamers could purchase! In addition to this, they restricted exclusive content for some weekends only, because they still want money from the few people that still bother with the game.

You simply can’t justify the pricing of a loot crate package costing around $100, and thankfully the questionable actions of some of these developers have already caught the interest of government bodies, such as the UK’s Gambling Commission.

With new regulations coming into play, it’s clear that there’s a growing problem here. It seems to be raising eyebrows everywhere else too, with Chinese gaming regulations forcing Blizzard Entertainment to reveal the drop-rates of their loot in Overwatch. The country already has issues with gaming addiction, so adding gambling into the mix is one hell of a nasty concoction.

Sure, there might be some gamers who are not personally affected by this, but it doesn’t change the fact that gambling is wrong on a fundamental level. It can deeply affect people in different ways, where younger players are more susceptible to such habitual, nasty habits.

For instance, studies from a leading UK survey company in 2015 have shown that 11% of respondents aged 11 to 15 years have gambled in online games, with 2% of them having done so in the past week. The number seems to be slowly expanding, which is a worrying sign.

It’s normalising gambling, which can lead to problematic issues further on in life. Young people can often feel rewarded for betting their money on these digital items, and that can have a hugely negative impact, leading them to believe it’s a completely normal activity without any risk involved.

Loot boxes appear to be replacing season passes and paid downloadable content now, and Overwatch is clear proof of that. These crates have paid the way for free content since its release, and even EA are now adopting the same model for their upcoming Star Wars: Battlefront sequel.

It’s amusing because EA’s season passes for the first Star Wars: Battlefront completely split the user base in half once substantial content was eventually released. The price of the pass also felt extortionate for a game that wasn’t even finished. So, in all honesty, the idea of scrapping passes is a welcome one.

 

source – kotaku (au)

Season passes need to be fine-tuned though, as gamers have been fooled into buying season passes by the Assassin’s Creed franchise, and Gears of War 4, to name a few. For all the astounding work that CD Projekt RED has provided us with The Witcher 3, we’re still being supplied pathetic offerings from other companies.

Still, loot boxes just aren’t the answer to resolving this complicated problem with video games. Sure, some developers may vehemently disagree due to the sheer profit they’re making, but luckily gamers are beginning to stand up against loot. The exceptional PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has also recently introduced crates which have to be paid to open, and players are already showing their clear disdain for it.

It’s a massive shame that this is happening because PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds has just become one of the most-played games on Steam, and despite this resounding success, the developers Bluehole still feel the need to slap loot crates into the game. Of course, servers are expensive and they need to be maintained for such a growing community of gamers, but there must be other ways to help finance further support for it.

So far, few games have managed to do it correctly. It’s possible, and that’s been proven with the original Mass Effect franchise and The Witcher 3. Significant downloadable content for those games has ultimately been worth the gamer’s time and money. Heck, even Nintendo, who are relatively new to the concept of DLC, have managed to set a decent standard with Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

There is a way to give gamers cosmetic items without having to find them in countless crates, and Titanfall 2 accomplishes just that. The game allows players to purchase specific skins and attributes for the entire roster, and so far it looks to be working. It’s all affordable, and obtaining unique animations keeps those Titanfall 2 devotees happy.

Loot boxes are soon becoming the new way to finance games after their release, and we’ll be seeing much more of it from the industry in years to come. If you don’t like it though, and you believe it’s supporting a form of gambling, then vote with your wallet.

Sure, your online character might not look as cool as the others, but then you’ll be happy with the knowledge that you didn’t waste your money on gambling for superficial items, so there’s that.

Overdone?

Now surpassing a staggering 30 million players worldwide, Blizzard Entertainment’s massive online shooter Overwatch has seen some of the strongest support in the industry today. It’s a magnificently polished video game, but now a year after its release has the game actually maintained gamer’s interest?

A thread I recently discovered on Reddit appeared to suggest otherwise. The question was posed to gamers whether they were still playing, and out of approximately 1,300 comments, the majority had stated that they had drifted away from the game. There were a number of reasons for this, such as users complaining that the game had grown stagnant, to the toxic community and timed events ruining Overwatch.

It was a surprising discovery and of course, it goes without saying that this is but a tiny fraction of gamers that have touched Overwatch. Blizzard’s colourful and entertaining shooter is loved by millions, but why do some gamers, including myself, feel completely burned out with the multiplayer game?

There might be a few reasons for this, but we’ll engage with the topic of loot boxes first. To continue free support for the game, Blizzard implemented a loot box system that allows players the opportunity to win new skins, emotes, sprays and voice lines for all characters. They all differ in rarity, and boxes can either be purchased in bulk lots or acquired by completing arcade modes and levelling up.

The loot box system was a welcome idea at first because it allowed us a new way to gain fancy items for favourite characters. These boxes are set to have random drops and if players are lucky enough, they’ll even discover a rare ‘Legendary’ skin inside one! Blizzard appeared to get the system correct, unlike other games that adopted the same method, such as the atrocious Gears of War 4.

However, when Blizzard decided to kick off their first season event for Overwatch, loot boxes quickly became a topic of concern with fans. Whereas all previous items could be purchased via in-game currency, the Summer Games event contained items which could only be found in loot boxes.

With the introduction of 112 items, players had to act quickly if they wanted the desired item, due to the timed exclusivity of the content. It was actually a decent first event, and it was clear that this was Blizzard simply dipping their toes into the ‘loot’ waters.

Blizzard listened to the community’s complaints regarding the exclusive skins, and following events were changed so gamers could purchase whatever item they could afford. Since then, there have been at least five different events with their own unique items. Some of those have been incredibly entertaining, such as the Halloween Terror and Uprising events.

Something started to happen with every new event though, and the community soon realised the exponential number of rare items that were getting included. Whereas the first event began with six legendary skins, the latest Anniversary event boasted a surprising eleven legendary skins, and 24 ‘epic’ emotes!

By all means, fans don’t need all of the items, but if collectors wanted all of those sought after skins, they would have to spend 33,000 of their hard earned credits. If they wanted the superb dancing emotes, at the cost of 750 credits each, it would set them back 18,000 altogether. Sure, some of us tried their luck with loot boxes, but then the drop-rate for the experience was exasperating.

In some instances, users were finding that the money they had spent on loot boxes resulted in severely disappointing results. Some of the wilder players that were spending upwards of £50-100 on boxes were finding that they only won three legendary skins in approximately 50 boxes. The whole event felt like a joke to those who wanted to collect the majority of the content, and you couldn’t blame them, as it was all brilliantly designed.

Of course, Overwatch’s skins and various offering are not essential to the enjoyment of the game. Unlike Team Fortress 2, they’re purely cosmetic and don’t affect gameplay, but the drop rates of loot boxes have still raised important discussion online. Has it been a fair system? Is Blizzard getting a little too greedy with how much-timed content they’re putting out?

It’s a tricky subject. Overwatch’s lead designer, the great Jeff Kaplan, has insisted that these events aren’t intended for gamers to manically collect everything in such a short amount of time. If they have a favourite character, then they should simply focus on getting their new accessories.

That’s a fair point of course, but then I didn’t acquire a skin for my favourite character until the last few hours of the timed content. Standard duplicates were constantly being found in the majority of my loot boxes, and it really soured the entire experience.

Despite how exhausting the loot boxes became, Blizzard Entertainment has actually listened to their community in regards to their events. There are some actual improvements on the way, with drop rates set to increase and the possibility of old skins making a return. That’s fine, but I can’t help but feel that those susceptible to gambling habits have been badly affected by Blizzard’s system so far.

It’s great that Blizzard listens so well to the community, but then that leads us to one of the more important reasons for not continuing to play Overwatch on a regular basis. The community in the game, especially in competitive mode, can be completely and unnecessarily toxic.

Sure, competitive gaming is notorious for bad behaviour, but then due to the anonymity, the desire to win, team gameplay and the dislike for some characters – people can get real nasty in Overwatch. It’s a massive shame, and I’m almost certain that almost everyone who has played competitive has experienced toxic behaviour in some form.

It’s disheartening to have someone yell down a microphone because they’re not happy with the state of the team or a character, or even if someone makes a simple mistake. Their ranking in competitive is so damn important to their lives that they will berate anyone who ruins their chance of climbing up the ranks.

Competitive mode on Overwatch has shown me just how fickle some people can be with video games, and on occasion, I’ve received abuse for not picking the character they want you to be. When you have teams consisting of 6 players, apparently there is just no room for error. Here’s a handy tip for those who suggest you be a healer, go to the character select option and pick Mercy. It’s as simple as that.

Judging by people’s opinion of the community, levels of toxicity are almost up there with League of Legends. In my countless hours of playing Team Fortress 2, there was hardly any abuse thrown around. Players were there to have fun, which some people appear to forget about during Overwatch.

Sure, it isn’t the only game to suffer from hateful players, but then the objective based gameplay just easily angers some folk. And to those who solo queue, you are some of the bravest souls who play Overwatch. Personally, the toxicity has completely put me off competitive, because it’s just not a nice environment to be in.

With so many playable characters and their whole host of abilities, tweaks are regularly needed to help balance gameplay in Overwatch. Unfortunately, some changes have affected the viability of certain characters in the game. The tank class has gone through some of the worst changes recently, with Roadhog mains getting the worst treatment to date.

Several changes have often had a number of negative effects, and players will remember that one time when Bastion became completely invincible for a short period of time. It’s weird that this is happening though, as Blizzard seems to regularly ignore the problems that testers raise. Mostly everybody cried about the Roadhog alterations, but nothing was done.

It certainly isn’t the worst thing that ever happens to Overwatch gamers, but in the past, one of my most played characters D.Va received a decrease in armour and a change to her damage. Suddenly, one of my regulars received an undesirable nerf that negatively impacted the way I play. These fluctuations for the game’s roster aren’t completely game-breaking, but it’s a slight annoyance that has occurred on numerous occasions.

Don’t get me wrong, Overwatch is a brilliantly made game. It has some of the best designs I’ve ever seen in a game, but it’s just not grabbing me the same way it used to. Unlike some users in the aforementioned Reddit thread, I don’t agree that the game is poorly made. Perhaps updates could extend to a little more than just a new hero or map every once in a while because entirely new modes might pique my interest again.

Blizzard has done a superb job with building a rich universe within Overwatch, and they have also provided us with some of the finest animated shorts as well. It begs the question though; where is our single-player mode? The interesting lore they have built upon needs to be made into a fully functional campaign.

Unfortunately, they have absolutely no plans for that anytime soon though, which is a shame considering how well the Uprising story went down with fans. The entire history of Overwatch could be explored and surely knowing Blizzard’s skills, it could be turned into an engaging story mode.

It’s a damn shame that I’m not finding myself returning to the game regularly, but then some of the points made earlier showcase why the game is currently collecting a thin layer of dust right now. It’s a solid piece of work, but the toxic community, the loot boxes, the nerfs and buffs and lack of any substantial update just isn’t bringing me back anytime soon.

At the moment, I’m currently finding myself enjoying Titanfall 2’s crazy multiplayer modes and the new season of Diablo 3. Sorry Overwatch, I do like you; we’re just taking a break right now.

Play Wolfenstein You Jerks

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Do you enjoy the idea of killing Nazis in space? Well then, Wolfenstein: The New Order is the game for you. Despite strong sales during its release, I often found that a staggering amount of gamers hadn’t bothered with the first-person shooter. Perhaps this was because it was a Wolfenstein game, but then the joke’s on them; as The New Order is the best FPS in years.

Released in 2014 and developed by MachineGames and published by Bethesda, The New Order follows veteran William ‘B.J.’ Blazkowicz, who attempts to stop the Nazis from continuing their reign of terror after winning the Second World War. It’s a fresh reboot for the series, introducing compelling character development to the main protagonist for the first time ever.

During its release, the game was mostly met with critical acclaim, with critics praising its narrative structure and intuitive shooting mechanics. It seemed weird to see a Wolfenstein game receive such positive reviews, but then again, they weren’t wrong in the slightest.

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Providing William Blazkowicz (or ‘B.J.’ for short) with much-needed depth and emotion was the best idea that MachineGames came up with for this game. For so long now, the games have only provided little more than a grimacing face but now, B.J. appeared in The New Order with a love interest, a personality and a much greater motivation for killing Nazis.

During the game, players will take Blazkowicz through an extremely unforgiving war, taking place amongst the Allied forces in a deadly fortress, to an asylum where he awakens 14 years later, towards a forced labour camp and even a lunar research facility. The game has it all, even allowing Blazkowicz to commandeer a German U-boat in the meantime.

Of course, the narrative also requires the gameplay to be fun, but thankfully MachineGames decided to make this one of the craziest first-person shooters around. When there’s no need for stealth, gamers can go in guns blazing, wielding some of the finest guns known to the series. If they really want to use both hands, B.J. can even dual wield, therefore making it easier to take down enemies.

Some moments in The New Order don’t always require stealth to complete sections of the game, as it’s up to the gamer to decide on how to tackle certain enemies. Alarms can go off though, and that’s when the Nazis appear in droves. Their deadly machinations though, need to be tackled with much more finesse than other enemies. Just you wait until B.J. encounters some of the big dogs, oh boy.

It cannot be understated just how much fun gamers will have with Wolfenstein’s action-packed gameplay. Thanks to the polished combat mechanics, it’s an absolute delight to play as Blazkowicz. Thankfully, there’s enough variation throughout the game, so players won’t get bored with the same weapons. As they’ll find out, there’s a whole selection of methods in taking down Nazis.

The level design in Wolfenstein is another thing that really stands out as being outstanding, and that is immediately noted during the beginning fortress attack. Despite some of the maps having a linear structure, there’s still room for Blazkowicz to explore certain areas. Levels are designed in a way that players can navigate throughout them however they please, using whatever tactics they see fit.

The New Order really captures the grisly reality of war at first, and it later expands on how the Germans took over parts of the world. The game maintains a certain disturbing atmosphere wherever players take B.J., and I often found myself looking around at the finer details found on specific levels. The propaganda that can be found in the game was usually quite interesting.

The story in The New Order has some fascinating development during B.J.’s journey in taking down the Nazis, and gamers are presented with two different choices in the beginning of the game which affects the narrative later on. The narrative somehow manages to have a wonderful blend of emotional, downright terrifying and crazy ideas throughout. It’s a rollercoaster ride from start to finish.

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The length of the campaign is around 12-15 hours, depending on how long gamers want to take with certain extras. It’s a sufficient amount of time for a single-player mode, and it’s a mighty relief to see that MachineGames never bothered to tack on a multiplayer mode onto the game. Too many games nowadays have watered down multiplayer modes, taking up developer time that should be spent on the single-player aspects (obligatory Mass Effect: Andromeda mention again, sorry – not sorry).

It appears that Wolfenstein: The New Order was a nice little surprise for reviewers and gamers alike, who didn’t expect much from the game. The previous 2009 entry was rather unremarkable, so having a Wolfenstein game implement a proper story, strong character development and polished gameplay mechanics was totally unexpected.

The success of The New Order allowed for a small expansion a year later, The Old Blood, a prequel story focusing on Blazkowicz in 1946 Germany. During The Old Blood, players have to infiltrate Castle Wolfenstein to obtain the location of The New Order’s main antagonist, ‘Deathshead’.

Whilst the additional content upheld the solid gameplay of the original game, The Old Blood slightly suffered from having a story that just wasn’t as impressive or as interesting as The New Order. Still, it’s certainly worth playing if players are itching to take down more Nazis as the effortlessly cool B.J.

This year’s E3 saw the surprise of new Wolfenstein II footage, showcasing a bunch of outlandish action that the series is now known for. This time, it appears that the Nazi regime is at its strongest in the occupied countries, and a returning Blazkowicz is now ready to help turn the tide once again. Even if he’s in a wheelchair, he’s more than able to kill the enemy.

With the game out later this year, there is no better time to get caught up on Wolfenstein. It is the most fun I’ve had with a first-person shooter in absolutely years. Whereas games like Titanfall 2 provided a decent campaign, games such as Wolfenstein went the extra mile and delivered a solid story with rewarding combat.

Wolfenstein: The New Order should be fairly cheap to purchase now, so you’ve got no reason to not pick it up. MachineGames are cementing themselves as a great video game company, and with the current sequel out soon, let’s hope they continue their success with Wolfenstein and many other games.

The Legend of Zelda, A Breath of Fresh Air.

Well, it finally happened. A few weeks back, I succumbed to Nintendo’s charm by purchasing the obsolete console, the Wii U. There was only one main reason for it though, and that was to play Breath of the Wild. The 18th game in the Legend of Zelda franchise, Breath of the Wild promised players a brand new way of play, with a strong focus on surviving in a harsh open-world environment.

My reasoning for purchasing the Wii U was a total surprise, considering how the Wii had affected my opinion of Nintendo as a whole. A Nintendo fanboy through and through in my younger years, I felt let down by Nintendo’s move to the more casual gamer. Having drifted away for some time, was Breath of the Wild the game to pull me back in?

As most people are aware, Nintendo’s Wii U didn’t have the most successful run as a console. It arrived hot off the heels from Nintendo’s biggest selling home console to date; the Wii, and unfortunately, the Wii U failed to make anywhere near the same impact of its predecessor.

Why is that though? There were a lot of factors, but the Wii U seemed to miss the mark in appealing to the casual and core gamers. During its short lifespan, the console saw an upsettingly small amount of exclusives. Sure, some of the first-party games they produced were superb, but with other developers quickly cutting their support, it just wasn’t enough.

There were plenty of other reasons to factor in, such as the insufficient hard drive, the strong competition it faced and the cost of the machine. There’s a whole host of explanations as to why the Wii U struggled, but it at least went out with a bang this year thanks to the innovative adventure game; Breath of the Wild.

The game was announced way back in 2013, and during its development, Nintendo attempted a number of crazy designs that the franchise had never seen before. Concept art revealed earlier this year showed Link playing the guitar, and Hyrule even being invaded by aliens.

Upon its release, Breath of the Wild acted as a major launch title for Nintendo’s latest console, the Switch. It also represented itself as the final first-party release for the Wii U. Unsurprisingly, the game was met with enormous praise, with some critics even naming it the best Zelda yet.

The game follows the standard storytelling structure from the franchise that most gamers should be familiar with; our main protagonist, Link the Hylian, attempts to save Hyrule and Zelda from the evil Ganon. It’s a straightforward plot that appears in most of the games, but each entry in the series has been tweaked in slightly different ways.

In Breath of the Wild, Link wakes up from a century long sleep. Riddled with amnesia, he finds himself in the vast landscape of Hyrule, which is being ravaged by the malevolent Calamity Ganon. Princess Zelda has attempted to contain Ganon in Hyrule Castle, but now she requires the aid of her appointed knight before the kingdom is destroyed forever.

When starting the game, players are thrown into the unknown. Guided by a mysterious figure, Link learns that he needs to reclaim the four Divine Beasts from Ganon. These hulking, ancient machines were once used to fight evil before they were turned against the very people that needed them.

After discovering his destiny, players will begin to get a sense of just how huge the map is in Breath of the Wild. Almost twelve times the size of Twilight Princess, the entirety of Hyrule can be reached by becoming a brave adventurer. Whilst the sheer size of Hyrule seems rather daunting at first, gamers will soon realise there are plenty of ways to explore the vast kingdom.

However, Link can’t just explore without taking the proper precautions. Dangers await Link throughout the land, as he must stay equipped for the right situation. Gamers have to find a way to survive harsh conditions, from the freezing cold and to the scorching heat.

Whereas previous games allowed Link to somehow find heart pieces stuffed into plants and vases, Breath of the Wild now forces the gamer to rely on cooking to keep their health and stamina full. Yes, Link can now be his very own master chef. Expect Link’s own brand of ready-meals in stores soon.

source – @TristanACooper

Thankfully, cooking in Breath of the Wild is relatively simple. All players require is a cooking pot, a fire and some tasty ingredients. Those ingredients can range from fresh fruit and vegetables to raw meat and fish. Some recipes can even be discovered in homes and stables, and fairies can even boost the stats of some meals.

The wildlife is rather diverse in the game, but then certain players may feel a bit weird about randomly killing some of the animals in the game, such as the cute foxes. For example, my Link survived brilliantly on a diet of mushrooms, fruits and nuts. He eventually became one with nature. He couldn’t even eat one of those cool frogs.

Cooking isn’t the only new thing that’s introduced to the franchise, as Link’s weapons now have added durability to them! Hooray! Durability is a sore subject with some gamers, as now Link has to carefully use and forage for his own weapons. These can range from swords to spears, bows and even shields.

It’s a mechanic that has been utilised in various games before, such as Dark Souls and Oblivion, but in Breath of the Wild, it’s a brand new concept that may frustrate some Zelda fans that aren’t particularly fond of the idea.

It’s understandable really, but then enemies tend to drop their weapons quite often. Players just have to be careful with the stats of their weapons, so they’re not wasting strong items on unnecessary battles. Shields can also be destroyed instantaneously by some of the stronger enemies if the proper precautions aren’t taken.

This added durability, unfortunately, involves some of the series’ most iconic weapons though, such as the Master Sword and Hylian Shield. Once Link has received the treasured sword, gamers will soon realise that its energy will run out if it’s constantly equipped for unintended use (however, if the sword is equipped for the final part of the game it’s true purpose prevents this).

It can be a frustrating mechanic in some parts of the game, but it wasn’t necessarily a game-breaker here. Weapons were just used correctly, and other methods were utilised to combat enemies and complete puzzles. Having said that though, it is totally reasonable to see where some gamers are coming from, as breakability can become a bit of a chore when you’re struggling.

Whilst exploring the dangerous terrain, it quickly became apparent that Link needs a certain level of stamina to get around. Providing Link with a stamina wheel was first introduced in Skyward Sword, but in Breath of the Wild players really need to keep an eye on their stamina, as it can make the difference between life and death. Just don’t find yourself in the middle of a lake with little to no stamina. You’ll get Sonic the Hedgehog flashbacks.

Due to the inventive weather system that Breath of the Wild employs, players will come to absolutely despise the sight of rain whilst they’re trekking. Cliffside’s become much harder to climb when water is involved, and let’s not even mention the worrying appearance of thunder and lightning. If any metallic weapons are equipped in a thunderstorm, then Link’s in for a nice shock.

The weather constantly changes in Hyrule, and the stark contrast between a sunny day and a thunderous evening is a sight to behold. It’s hard to think of any other game that manages to implement a weather system so brilliantly, and it allows for some truly atmospheric moments. Paragliding across the lands during thunder is always a pleasing experience.

To acquire extra hearts or stamina in Breath of the Wild, Link now has to collect four ‘spirit orbs’, which can be found in shrines that are hidden throughout the domain. Each one has a completely different puzzle or a tough challenger, where players have to overcome the trial to gain one orb.

In total, there are a grand number of 120 shrines which are totally optional to complete. Some quests are also tied to shrines, where players will have to decipher some of the hidden messages and riddles provided by some of the NPCs in the game. There are all sorts of interesting ways to find hidden shrines.

The addition of these mini-dungeons is a neat idea, but patience is essential if players want to complete all the shrines. After a while, it became slightly infuriating to stock up on plenty of hearts and stamina boosts. For instance, some shrines relied on motion controls and it completely sucked the fun out of the game at one point. There is a time and place for motion controls Nintendo, and Zelda is not it.

Some of these shrines rely on an understanding of physics and the new abilities given to Link. New talents are available through Zelda’s very first ‘smartphone’, the ancient and powerful Sheikah Slate. These new skills consist of a variety of ways to help Link survive in the game, which adds a fresh dynamic to the way people play Zelda.

Remote bombs can be created, ‘Magnesis’ can be used to magnetise, ‘Cryonis’ allows the formation of ice blocks over liquid and ‘Stasis’ temporarily stops objects, which can be manipulated with kinetic energy.

As well as being essential in completing some shrines, these functions can also be lifesavers for Link when he’s facing some of Hyrule’s evil inhabitants. An upgraded stasis can completely render some foes immobile for a temporary amount of time, which can change the tide of a fight.

The ancient slate also allows players to explore the map, allowing Link to pinpoint certain locations. Fast travel can also be unlocked via the map once shrines and towers have been accessed. It’s a ridiculously helpful tool, and it’s topped off with the use of a camera (that’s some fascinating ancient tech for you). Using the camera is great fun, but it would be much nicer to export Link’s photos with ease.

Despite being new/old technology, the Sheikah Slate never really feels out of place. It looks great, and it really provides the series with a refreshing change. Most of the skills can even be upgraded during Link’s journey, providing neat bonuses to those who bother to collect the necessary materials.

Even though the game boasts 120 mini-dungeons, Breath of the Wild appears to have done away with some of the huge intimidating dungeons that the franchise is known for. The four Divine Beasts are all accessible and have their own bosses and puzzles, but they never truly feel substantial enough.

The Divine Beasts slightly resemble the goliaths that appear in Shadow of the Colossus, but unfortunately, they’re just not as impressive or imposing. The chambers inside these machinations would feel a little more exciting and perilous if there was more to explore. The lack of diverse enemies inside of them and the easily solvable puzzles result in a bit of a disappointing experience, especially after the exciting series of events that always lead to entering the Beasts.

Bokoblins, Moblins and Lizalfos all make their return to the series, and Lizalfo’s in Breath of the Wild are almost just as annoying as their Ocarina of Time counterparts. As is tradition though, the night often reveals skeletons that will stop at nothing to kill you. They’re amusing to combat though, as Link can easily decapitate them and throw their skulls off high ledges, which was a tactic used regularly for comedic effect.

Some enemies vary based on location, such as the flying Keese, the blobs of goo known as Chuchus, and the inherently annoying Wizzrobes and the Octorocks. Players will discover that Octorocks like to ruin people’s fun by pretending to be tempting treasure chests. They are the worst.

One of the deadliest enemies in the game are the Guardians, ancient beings that were once programmed to protect Hyrule. Now used for evil, players must be more than prepared to face them. They are relentless killing machines, armed with a powerful laser that can destroy shields if Link doesn’t deflect their lasers properly.

At first, they’re simply terrifying to approach. The background music changes whenever a Guardian locks onto Link, and then the heart rate ramps up. They’re really challenging at first, and loads of fun to combat on horseback. When armed with the Master Sword though, they’re a breeze, particularly once stasis has been applied. Just don’t attempt two at a time.

There’s one opponent in Hyrule though that strikes fear into some of the braver adventurers out there, and that’s the Lynel. These centaur-like creatures are the toughest beings in the entire game. Players must maintain a certain safe distance, as these intimidating foes are equipped with a sword, shield, spear and bow.

Lynels come in different forms and they take an awful lot of practice to kill. Still, the Guardians and Lynels are some of the best opponents to encounter in entire library of Zelda games! They have a certain presence about them, and it’s simply exhilarating to face them once Link is properly geared up. If players are feeling bold enough, a well-timed paraglide jump can even help Link mount a Lynel.

There really isn’t a set of rules for completing the game and rescuing Zelda, but it must be noted that Hyrule Castle can be easily accessed and finished if players take specific shortcuts. It’s a bit of a shame really because some skills can stop players from really exploring the castle. Bearing in mind the fact that Hyrule Castle is treated as the most dangerous place on the map, it can be a bit of a disappointment.

Of course, it’s entirely up to the gamer to decide on how they tackle the final quest, and in previous games, Ganon has been a complete pushover with the right tools. If players really want a proper challenge, they can fight Lynels and a huge selection of Guardians on the way. Perhaps the castle should have been a bit more linear? It’s just too easy for some people to skip a majority of it.

There are plenty of references to other parts of Hyrule’s history located throughout the game, and it’s rewarding to seek out some of the hidden secrets of the map. The Lost Woods makes a triumphant return, and it’s home to some of the cutest character designs in the game; the Koroks. Link will discover that the giant Korok Hestu is unarguably one of the greatest musicians of our generation.

Gamers will realise, this is where the game really shines. Breath of the Wild has an outstanding art direction, and it’s one of the most beautiful games of this generation. Zora’s Domain has never looked so outstanding before. The vibrant colours almost burst out at you, and the shrines and Guardians are clear examples of that.

It has a simply sublime art style, and it feels ever so slightly similar to a Studio Ghibli film. When Link manages to climb one of the towers in Breath of the Wild, it’s compulsory to stop and admire the view. If players are lucky enough, they can even witness a beautiful sunset from one of the tall towers. On one occasion, I found myself listening to a Rito playing the accordion as thunder bellowed around us. It was something else.

There are few games that can be considered art. There’s only a small selection that can attest to video games being art, and titles such as The Witcher 3, Bioshock Infinite and Uncharted 4 help prove that. Breath of the Wild though, should be entered as one of the strongest examples of videogame art. It is simply breath-taking in parts, and I’ve often found myself pausing several times to take it all in.

It’s clear that the game borrows elements of previous games, such as Wind Waker. The colourful palette is there, and the cartoonish stylisation slightly resembles it. It’s just been upgraded to keep a level of realism to it.

Breath of the Wild’s map is full of serendipitous moments that help solidify the game’s position as one of the best entries into the franchise. Interactions with all sorts of humans and creatures often results in some simply charming moments, and the finer touches help make this world feel alive. Let’s not talk about how we can’t pet dogs yet though, Nintendo.

The sheer scope of Breath of the Wild cannot be played down, and thankfully it’s not completely style over substance. There are plenty of things to do, and it stands with Nintendo’s modus operandi. It’s essentially pure fun. Sure, there were times where my frustration almost reached peak levels, but then the game provided me with so many mesmerising and unforgettable moments.

If Nintendo does decide to keep the same formula for whatever Zelda game is next, then they may need to do some work on dungeon building. The thought of having to stock up and complete mini-quests before going on dangerous excursions is too good an idea to pass up. The Divine Beasts themselves are superb ideas, but they just need a little expansion.

The survival aspect of Breath of the Wild has some solid foundations for any following Zelda games. Exploring the harsh wilderness was challenging but ultimately rewarding, and cooking was a fun skill. Even the little cooking tune is pleasant. Fans will also be happy to know that a selection of songs featured in the game are simply slowed down versions of old favourites!

My experience with Breath of the Wild resulted in the most fun I’ve spent with a video game in ages. The gameplay was a refreshing change of pace, and unsurprisingly there were hardly any issues or bugs with the game. Unfortunately, there are some slight frame rate problems on the Wii U, but considering the sheer size of the game and the level of physics, it comes as no surprise. Still, there wasn’t a single sign of any glitches throughout my play-through and reportedly, the Switch version works perfectly.

It’s safe to assume that Nintendo won me back with Breath of the Wild. For a while now, first-party releases from other consoles have been brilliantly polished and fun to play, but they didn’t reach the levels of adventure and enjoyment that Breath of the Wild boasted. Uncharted 4 was almost there, but too many scripted events got in the way.

How does it rank though, in the long list of Zelda games? It’s certainly up there with some of the greatest. Personally, Ocarina of Time has never been bested. This might be due to a sense of nostalgia for a game that was replayed countless times in my youth, but then Ocarina of Time still feels like a magical experience that stands up to the test of the time.

Breath of the Wild might be a very strong contender for game of the year though. It reminds us that Nintendo can deliver some of the finest video games ever produced, with a certain polish that most games seem to be without nowadays (here’s looking at you, Mass Effect: Andromeda).

If you haven’t had a chance to play Breath of the Wild yet, then it must be rectified immediately. There’s a reason as to why it’s one of the best-reviewed games on Metacritic. Sure, some players may find some aspects of the game a little unrefined, but personally it’s an experience that I have been without for a long time. Go out there and play Breath of the Wild. Just don’t harm the Cuccos.

Mass Effect Andromeda and how The Witcher has ruined me

Since its release, Mass Effect: Andromeda has received a very mixed response from gamers, who just aren’t happy with Bioware’s latest offering. Based on the original hit trilogy, Andromeda is the fourth instalment in the science fiction video game franchise.

Taking place in an entirely different galaxy, Mass Effect: Andromeda introduces two new protagonists to the mix, Sara and Scott Ryder. Their aim is to establish new worlds for mankind, as they leave the Milky Way to discover new technology and new opportunities.

As they explore this uncharted galaxy, the Ryder family discovers something that threatens the very existence of life in Andromeda. To examine and combat this deadly threat, players will have to discover new worlds with the aid of their very own squad.

After completing the main story along with a huge selection of side-quests, is it fair to say that Andromeda deserves some of its unfavourable reviews? With an average 4.7 on Metacritic, it almost seems like this is Bioware’s worst Mass Effect yet.

But does Andromeda even stack up to the previous three games? Is it a complete trainwreck? It’s hard to say, but here’s my verdict, based on a playthrough with Sara Ryder.

Andromeda begins its expansive journey by literally throwing the player onto a new planet, as Sara follows her father to discover a strange abnormality. An N7 Pathfinder, Sara’s father Alex is voiced by Clancy Brown, and he provides an example of just how cool N7 recruits are. Just like fellow N7 Commander Shepard, Alec simply kicks alien ass.

When players begin the game, there’s a clear sense of mystery and adventure. Set with intrigue, players will be enveloped by the terrific atmosphere that the game presents. Ryder is quickly paired up with fellow human Liam Kosta, a response specialist who later becomes a valuable teammate.

At first, Bioware nails that all too familiar feeling that the franchise is renowned for. Harking back to when Shepard first encountered Saren, or when the Collector’s attacked in ME2, Ryder’s brief incursion on this new planet feels new and exciting.

But then, you notice something the second you pull a gun on the enemy. Where’s the detailed combat wheel that every Mass Effect game has featured? Suddenly, the ability to control my teammate has been removed entirely.

Yes, for some inane reason Bioware have done away with that truly solid system that enabled players to coordinate a plan of attack. Instead, they’ve replaced it with a poorly designed and ultimately forgettable system for equipping abilities just for Ryder. It seems like a huge step back.

Whereas Mass Effect previously allowed players to construct their characters’ story around whatever class they begin with, Andromeda allows the player to swap their profiles on the switch. This may make for some interesting combos, but it sort of feels a bit cheap.

Thanks to this weird decision, players now have way too many powers to select or boost. Excluding specific enhancements, there are roughly 24 different powers that can be equipped. Having previously played as a biotic god before, it did seem wise to select throw, singularity and overload for good measure, but there are just too many options to choose from.

However, Ryder is much more mobile than Commander Shepard has ever been, thanks to the inclusion of a new snazzy jetpack. Allowing the player to boost forwards or upwards, it does get you into those hard to reach areas, and it adds a quick getaway solution when facing enemies. It also makes a nice sound, so there’s that.

Along with the departure of controllable teammates, Bioware also decided to rid the player of customisation options for the entire team. ME2 didn’t necessarily have an amazing variety of options, but the ability to equip different weapons for different characters allowed for further freedom.

Oddly enough, this just isn’t an issue for Ryder. If anything, you’ll notice there are just too many options for the main character. There are four sets of armour for Ryder to wear, including the helmet, chest, arms and the legs. You can research and develop these armour pieces, but there’s a countless range of different designs.

Remember how annoying the inventory system was for the first Mass Effect? Well, buckle up, because congratulations should be awarded to the development team for somehow managing to create an even worse system than ever before. With long lists of options and modifications for weaponry and armour, players will just end up getting lost in the midst of the menus.

There really is just too much, and it doesn’t help that most armour pieces can be upgraded at least ten times, as long as players have the ridiculous amounts of resources. Those resources are acquired soon after you leave the first planet, and brace yourselves – as you have to probe for them!

If players thought ME2’s system was monotonous, they’ve seen nothing yet. This time, you have to travel long distances on various planets until a mining area is unlocked. Once it’s unlocked, gamers will still have to drive around until a rich source is discovered! Whoever thought this was a good idea, needs to rethink their positioning in the industry.

Players will notice that when evaluating planets, they’ll spend most of their time in this new six-wheeled vehicle. Thankfully, it can traverse planets with ease, but it doesn’t excuse the fact that most of the exploration is done in the damn vehicle.

Anyone who has had the pleasure of using the Batmobile in Batman: Arkham Knight will know that it was an unnecessary addition that took over a majority of the gameplay, and in Andromeda players will be using it for around two-thirds of the game. Oh, it doesn’t have guns by the way. You have to awkwardly exit to engage in combat.

Some planets are lush with wildlife, but there’s no need for Ryder to travel across empty desert dunes to get to a certain point on the map. In some cases, most areas feel just as empty as some of the lifeless planets from the first Mass Effect! You know, the entry to the franchise which was released in 2007.

Players will soon realise that they’ll encounter the same enemies on different planets as well and that the galaxy severely lacks a diverse ecosystem. There is a reason for this which is explained much later in the story, but it feels like a bit of a cop out to save the designers a bit of time.

Still, one of the most important questions remains unanswered. How is the new ensemble that helps out our main protagonist throughout their journey? Well, they’re surprisingly okay. As is tradition with Bioware, they have managed to include a mind-numbingly boring human character into the mix, but it’s not a terrible effort.

If players are playing Mass Effect properly, they won’t be focusing on the humans in their squad anyway. Everybody remembers just how painfully dull James Vega was, and now the biotic Cora can now join his ranks as an ultimately forgettable, one-note character. Instead, players should shift their focus to the new Asari and Krogan for example.

During the playthrough, two members never left my side; Peebee and Jaal. An Asari with an interest in ancient technology, Peebee seemed like the perfect choice. She’s certainly different compared to my top-tier wife Liara, but her impetuous attitude is a welcome change of pace. Obviously, she became my romance, because she’s Asari. Duh.

Jaal belongs to a new species in Andromeda, the Angara. His personal story in Andromeda has the most weight and taking him along for missions felt essential. Having Jaal and Peebee travel hostile worlds with Ryder also provided some pretty entertaining conversations between all three characters.

Considering that these new teammates will constantly be compared to the original trilogy’s characters, Bioware has done an alright job. It was a mighty task to introduce a new squad that follows in the footsteps of Garrus, Wrex or Tali, but they made a commendable effort. If anything, Jaal may become a favourite for some and heck, even Liam has his moments.

What some players will immediately realise is the significant lack of well-known voice actors. The main VAs in the game are perfectly fine, but the original trilogy with rife with big names; Keith David, Martin Sheen, Carrie-Ann Moss and Seth Green. Hell, Seth Green was in every game and Yvonne Strahovski voiced a teammate.

There’s only one recurring character who has a recognisable voice, and that’s doctor Lexi. Voiced by Natalie Dormer, she makes a few appearances during cutscenes and is often found in the medical bay. Considering the franchise has been known for boasting such big names though, it feels like a bit of a disappointment. If anything, it used to add a certain gravitas to the series.

Specific quests need to be chosen carefully, as there are just too many fetch quests dotted around the numerous planets. It is unfortunately slightly reminiscent of Dragon Age: Inquisition, and often completing various quests can feel like a massive drag.

However, what is utterly baffling is Bioware’s decision to incorporate a major plot point in one of the tedious collectable quests. Something that can be entirely missed throughout the game, adds an extra layer to Andromeda’s story, which should’ve been prominently featured at some point of the game. For fans, it’s almost essential viewing.

It cannot be stressed enough that all of the allies’ quests should be tackled because they result in some of the better writing witnessed in Andromeda. Funnily enough, the two humans aboard Ryder’s ship have some of the more entertaining loyalty quests, with Liam’s having some funny, sharp dialogue throughout.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for the final quest. The main villain that has plagued Ryder during the game, the Archon, is a terrible attempt at creating an interesting character. For a franchise that has given us Saren, the Collectors and most importantly the Reapers (here’s looking at you Harbinger), the Archon completely fails to deliver.

Bioware appeared to have missed the memo for creating villains in Andromeda, as the Archon is hardly intimidating or even remarkable. The writers have supplied no interesting backstory and no sympathetic reasoning for his cause. He simply hates other species because Bioware forgot to come up with a valid reason.

Some may deem it unfair to constantly compare Andromeda to the previous trilogy, but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Andromeda has been in development for years, and the last entry was released in 2012. The first entry is almost ten years old now and it even that does a better job with the animation!

Shepard will always be the greatest of all time, but at least Ryder is somewhat serviceable. She’s inexperienced, and that is reflected during the game. She’s burdened with a mighty task, and her development is somewhat entertaining to watch. Hopefully, later games will fully expand on her story as well.

It is rather difficult to recommend Mass Effect: Andromeda to gamers, let alone fans of the franchise. It might not deserve some of the sheer hate that it’s currently receiving, but then it’s part of a genre that has been almost perfected with the original trilogy and games like The Witcher 3.

Perhaps we have been spoiled in the past, but thanks to games like The Witcher 3, a new standard has been set in the RPG genre. Developed in less time than Andromeda, CD Projekt delivered something that was rich with great storytelling, solid animation and superb attention to detail.

Yes, it’s all Geralt’s fault. After having spent numerous amounts of time on the game, taking in the beautiful landscapes and defeating monsters whilst romancing a hot sorceress, I realised that I had experienced a game like none other.

It’s funny because at first, I hadn’t appreciated The Witcher 3 for it’s worth when I started the game. With time though, it soon became clear that this was a game developed with a clear love for the material and its characters. Both of the downloadable content offered even stood up against full video game releases.

CD Projekt ruined my gaming experiences with the RPG genre because it completely set a new standard. Perhaps not every game developer should aspire to be like CD Projekt, but it wouldn’t hurt. When you get a franchise like Mass Effect which is adored by thousands, it should be treated with care.

Bioware reportedly handed down the fourth game to a different development team, whose previous work on the franchise was Mass Effect 3’s unnecessary multiplayer, along with some of the downloadable content. Of course, most of the team behind the previous games are no longer with the company, but it just seems utterly bizarre to see it handed down the development line.

Maybe to some, it came as no surprise to see the mixed response for the game. Dragon Age: Inquisition ruffled some feathers, but here it feels like Bioware completely dropped the ball on one of their biggest franchises.

For fans of the series like myself, it’s a massive disappointment to see that Andromeda failed to deliver. Bear in mind, it isn’t the worst game in the world and I didn’t particularly hate the experience. It just felt very lacklustre, especially for a Mass Effect game.

So, does Andromeda actually deserve the criticism? Yes and no. Some might find some elements of the game enjoyable, so check it out when it’s cheaper. Also, Bioware has responded to the criticism and they’re apparently listening. So there’s that. That does not condone some of the abuse that the developers have received, however.

Anyway, I’m going to talk Saren out of working for the Reapers again to be reminded of how great science fiction games can be. Shepard.

Top 20 Films of 2016

It’s been a long time coming, but here are the Top 20 Films of 2016! This year has served up some truly great cinematic treats, whilst others may have left a sour taste for days, if not weeks. Blockbusters have yet again seen a boom, and Warner Bros still haven’t managed to find their footing since Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy. Still, plenty of people paid money to be disappointed, as both Suicide Squad and Batman Vs. Superman displayed.

Disney really took over the box-office this year, with at least five of the top ten box-office earners all being Disney titles. Also, a staggeringly large amount of people paid to see The Secret Lives of Pets. Some cinemagoers even praised it. There’s a strong possibility they walked into a screening of Zootropolis and assumed that was the same film.

Regardless of box-office numbers, a lot of films flew under the radar for many. A few films in this list had terribly limited releases, so they suffered from a lack of exposure. If anything, this list is here to help that. Also, all films listed are based on UK theatrical releases alone. No exceptions are made to festival screenings, or even films that somehow weren’t even released in the UK. Here’s looking at you, Anno’s Godzilla (do check it out, it’s great).

Anyway, without further ado, here’s the list.

20: Welcome to Leith

Directed by Michael Beach Nichols and Christopher K. Walker, this documentary focuses on the small North Dakota town of Leith and its unwelcome guests. With a population of roughly 16 people, the small community is threatened by the appearance of white supremacist Craig Cobb, who attempts to build his very own Neo-Nazi community within Leith.

A truly uncomfortable watch, Welcome to Leith provides a fascinating insight into an ugly part of society, which is highlighted with some extremely close interactions with everyone involved. It’s raw, attention-grabbing some truly captivating and scary viewing.

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19: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Directed by David Yates, Fantastic Beasts is the first of many spin-offs from the Harry Potter franchise. Set in the 1920s, British ‘magizoologist’ Newt Scamander finds himself stuck in New York, right in the midst of the secret wizarding world. As it turns out, not all is right behind the scenes of New York’s cobbled streets, as Newt befriends part of the community to help thwart the looming dark presence of evil.

Fantastic Beasts is a pleasant return to the wizarding world, as David Yates manages to recapture some of the wondrous visuals and charismatic characters that the franchise is renowned for. It really comes as no surprise,  as Yates filmography does already consist of four of the Harry Potter films.

It’s a telling sign that this is J.K. Rowling’s first foray into screenwriting also, as the script still feels like it is part of the same universe. The story may be a little straightforward, but the performances from Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell are truly exceptional. It’s a real pleasure to see Colin Farrell in such a role, which we deserve to see more of.

One of the reveals in the film may leave a sour taste for some viewers, as will the proposition of four more sequels, but David Yates Fantastic Beasts feels like a warm, welcome return to a home that many have missed for some while now.

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18: Deadpool

It’s a weird feeling, but for the first time in years, Fox Studios surprised cinemagoers this year by producing an R-rated, enjoyable superhero film that was nothing like their back catalogue of tired mutant movies.

Deadpool had been stuck in developmental hell for years, but with the help of Ryan Reynolds and director Tim Miller, the film was finally released in spring to a roaring response. It quickly became the highest grossing R-rated film of all time (when unadjusted for inflation), receiving critical acclaim from almost all major critics.

The plot is simple enough. Hired mercenary Wade Wilson attempts to cure his body of cancer with the aid of an experimental procedure, which leaves him disfigured and without the love of his life. Swearing revenge on who ruined his life, Deadpool tries to put together the missing pieces of his personal puzzle.

Thanks to constant pushing from Ryan Reynolds, his role as Deadpool is now synonymous with the actor. Deadpool is hysterical, tightly put together and is unfortunately now set to possibly disappoint cinemagoers with its countless sequels and spin-offs, because that’s the Fox Studios way.

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17: Kubo and the Two Strings

Possibly one of the greatest achievements in 3D stop-motion capture, Kubo and the Two Strings is the tale of a young, gifted boy who attempts to locate a mystical piece of armour to aid his fight against vengeful spirits.

It’s the fourth film from Laika, who have cemented themselves as one of the best animation studios specialising in cinema today. Kubo and the Two Strings features the voices of Charlize Theron, Matthew McConaughey and Ralph Fiennes, to name a few. McConaughey is one of the stand-out voices in the film, whose work as the comical beetle provides some of the funniest scenes throughout.

Kubo and the Two Strings’ script might not necessarily be its strongest suit, but the sheer amount of talent showcased with the animation means the film truly needs to be seen to be believed, as scenes are exquisitely brought to life. The storyline is typically dark in places, but then that’s part of Laika’s traditional storytelling appeal.

Unfortunately, the film fell under the radar for some this year, with the lowest opening yet for a Laika production. However, it is still one of the most critically acclaimed animated films of the year, and it’s never too late to seek out this magical tale of mystery, action and drama.

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16: Zootropolis/Zootopia

Renamed Zootropolis for a UK wide release, Disney’s 55th animated feature was a surprising entry this year. Directed by both Byron Howard and Rich Moore, Zootropolis focuses on the young Judy Hopps, a young, optimistic police officer who starts her career in an urban utopia.

During the first days of her career as a member of the force, she finds herself in an unlikely partnership with the con artist Nick Wilde, as they both try to uncover the disappearance of several animals. Disney picked the ideal voice actors for both characters too, as Jason Bateman channels Wilde perfectly, alongside Ginnifer Goodwin as Hopps.

Zootropolis managed to successfully tell a story about speciesism amongst animals themselves, whilst managing to feature memorable characters and some entertaining scenes, for all ages. Whereas other studios completely failed this year with their cutesy animals (here’s looking at you Illumination Entertainment), Zootropolis completely knocked it out of the park.

It may come as no surprise that director Rich Moore previously directed some of the best ever episodes of The Simpsons, including Marge Vs. The Monorail, Cape Feare and Homer’s Night Out, to name a few. That comedic talent is clearly witnessed in Zootropolis. Zootropolis is brimming with charm, and per the typical Disney standard nowadays, the animation is flawless.

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15: The Nice Guys

Unsurprisingly, The Nice Guys features all the trademarks of a Shane Black movie; a murder mystery, an unusual mismatched pair of protagonists and of course, attractive women. Thankfully, The Nice Guys also follows the same standard of Black’s previous films, and here his formula is perfected.

The film features Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as the two main leads, two detectives who conduct their work very differently. Somehow assigned to the same case, both detectives are in search of a missing teenager.

The script is rife with witty dialogue, and the plot takes some interesting and surprising developments, keeping viewers on their toes throughout. It’s a role that Crowe has desperately needed for some time, as it showcases a range we’ve not seen enough of.

It’s a great little movie, and the 70s setting really helps to reinforce Shane Black’s vision. Regardless of what some may think about Black’s work on Iron Man 3, it’s evident that he’s a gifted writer and director. Here’s to his next film, the sequel to Predator, where the alien has to inevitably team up with an unlikely buddy to solve the mystery of the missing porn actress.

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14: Moana

Yet another animated entry for the 2016 list, Moana is Disney’s 56th animated feature film directed by both Ron Clements and John Musker. Renowned for their work on some of Disney’s greatest films, such as Little Mermaid and Aladdin, it comes as no surprise that Moana is just as enjoyable as their previous efforts.

Moana looks absolutely beautiful, and it may possess some of the best songs from Disney in years. Starring Dwayne ‘the Rock’ Johnson as Maui and Auli’I Cravalho as the main lead, Moana, the film follows her journey to put a stop to the curse that threatens her home and livelihood.

It’s also a breath of fresh air too, as Moana features absolutely no love interests whatsoever. The film is peppered with a wide variety of scenes, consisting of Mad Max inspired action sequences and a visually striking underwater scene featuring one-half of Flight of the Conchords, Jemaine Clement.

The animation in Moana reminds viewers of just how far cinema has come since the days of Toy Story. It’s beautifully animated, tightly put together and it ultimately boasts some of that traditional Disney magic.

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13: The Revenant

There’s no denying it; The Revenant is a technical masterpiece. Set in 1823, director Alejandro Iñárritu based his film on Michael Punke’s novel of the same name, which describes the life of American frontiersman Hugh Glass.

Winning 3 Academy Awards earlier this year, The Revenant stars Leonardo DiCaprio as the protagonist Glass, and Tom Hardy as the main antagonist, John Fitzgerald. Left for dead after being badly mauled by a bear, Hugh Glass has to fend for himself as he undertakes the arduous task of returning home.

Filmed using natural light and under severe weather conditions, The Revenant is a testament to how skilled Iñárritu is with his craft. Scenes are stunningly composed, as the film portrays just how unforgivable life was back then. Whilst Leonardo was recognised for his performance as Hugh Glass, Tom Hardy’s role as John Fitzgerald is arguably much stronger, as Hardy truly embodies the character of Fitzgerald.

The Revenant is a remarkable piece of filmmaking, and it does deserve every accolade it’s received so far. After Birdman and now The Revenant, people are more than excited for Iñárritu’s next project.

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12: Room

Directed by Lenny Abrahamson, Room boasts Brie Larson’s most captivating performance yet. Based on the book of the same name, Larson plays as Joy Newsome, who has been held captive with her 5-year old son for years. The film follows their attempts at escaping, and how they cope with the outside world.

Room is essentially split into two chapters, with each one showcasing the acting abilities of Larson and Jacob Tremblay, who has a spectacular performance as the young son, who acts completely unaware of their harrowing situation. Tremblay’s character feels real, and there’s a real sense of a relationship between mother and son here, which is a welcome surprise concerning younger actors.

The first half of the film acts a tense thriller, whereas the second provides a more sober, emotional hook. Abrahamson has provided cinemagoers with a unique story of survival of love this year, which is not to be missed.

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11:  Captain America: Civil War

It should come as no surprise to see that Civil War makes it into the top 20 this year, due to directors Joe and Anthony Russo returning to the Captain America franchise for one of the biggest events in comic book history. The second highest grossing film of the year (after Finding Dory), Civil War managed to juggle over a dozen characters, whilst presenting a thought-provoking story and phenomenal action.

There are many layers to Civil War’s story, but the main focus is the decision from the United Nations to oversee and control the Avengers, in response to their emergence correlating with major disasters. Creating a divide within the team, an international incident involving Captain America’s old friend Bucky Barnes adds tension and further division amongst close allies.

Civil War had a lot of elements that could have gone wrong; a complex idea, dozens of characters, the introduction of Spider-man, and even Ant-Man’s inevitable change into Giant Man. However, the Russo brothers accomplished all of that, therefore making comic book fans dreams come true. Characters were well balanced, Tom Holland’s performance as Spider-man was the greatest yet, and the film even ended on a surprisingly dour note.

In some ways, Civil War felt like Star Wars’ Empire Strikes Back, as it established new characters whilst developing old fan favourites. It was an incredibly put together film, providing Warner Bros yet another example of how to produce a superhero blockbuster. Maybe they’ll get it one day.

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10: Arrival

In the past few years, director Denis Villeneuve has proved his work as a skilful director. His past films, Prisoners, Enemy and Sicario have had Villeneuve tackling all sorts of genres, but Arrival is his first attempt at science fiction, and arguably his best directorial piece yet.

Based on a short story, Arrival stars Amy Adams as linguist Louise Banks, who is hired by the U.S. army to help discover why 12 extra-terrestrial ships have landed on Earth. Joined by Jeremy Renner’s Ian Donnelly, both Louise and Ian decipher the alien messages in a race against other nations who are unsure of how to act towards these possibly hostile invaders.

Arrival is a surprisingly smart and sophisticated science fiction film, and it succeeds where 2014’s Interstellar miserably failed. The film challenges the usual format of sci-fi feature films, with a strong focus on philosophy and language. It is much more reserved than typical alien invasion films, and that, in turn, makes it a welcome breath of fresh air.

Adams is at her very best here, and Villeneuve is slowly turning into a director to follow very closely, especially considering he’s at the helm of the next Blade Runner.

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9: Nocturnal Animals

Despite the unnecessary first five minutes, Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is an intense, stunning and titillating piece of filmmaking. The film is interwoven into two storylines, with Amy Adams starring in one role and Jake Gyllenhaal in two. In the film, Adams is Susan Morrow, a successful art gallery owner who receives a manuscript written by her estranged ex-husband, Edward.

Devoted to her, this twisted novel she reads is brought to life with the use of several actors; Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. As she’s consumed by the book, the story is interlaced with flashbacks of her relationship with Edward.

The layered script is flawless, allowing for some great roles to be played by both Shannon and Taylor-Johnson. Jake Gyllenhaal is on form as he usually is, but the combination of personating two characters is the icing on the cake for fans of his exceptional work.

It cannot be understated how well composed some of the scenes are, but then Tom Ford has a keen eye for cinematography. His previous film, A Single Man, presented viewers with a thirst for more, and hopefully Nocturnal Animals will set a trend for the gifted filmmaker.

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8: The Hateful Eight

The second Western in a row by renowned director Quentin Tarantino, The Hateful Eight concerns eight strangers who seek refuge at a haberdashery from a deadly blizzard. Each with their own unique background, these strangers may have their own nefarious plans that involve the bounty hunter and his prisoner.

There’s a varied selection of actors in The Hateful Eight who have appeared in Tarantino’s films before, such as Samuel L. Jackson, Tim Roth, Michael Madsen and even Zoë Bell to name a few, and they’re all on form here.

Of course, The Hateful Eight could be considered typical Tarantino exploitation schlock, but that’s part of the appeal. Tarantino’s characters are often outrageous, especially in the case of Jackson’s character Marquis, and the script is laden with sharp, snappy dialogue. It has all of Tarantino’s staples all over it, and there’s simply nothing wrong with that.

As is the norm with Tarantino and his love for cinema, The Hateful Eight was shot on film. However, his use 70mm film caused a flurry of disagreements between UK cinemas and the distributor. Making at least half of what Django Unchained made at the box office, The Hateful Eight was surrounded by controversy, the new Star Wars, and an obscene amount of pirating. Still, it was another great addition to Tarantino’s filmography, and it’s not to be scoffed at.

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7: Swiss Army Man

Written and directed by Dan Kwan and Daniel Scheinert, Swiss Army Man proved to be one of the weirdest entries in UK cinemas this year. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as a farting corpse and Paul Dano as a suicidal misfit, Swiss Army Man

Even as a dead man, Daniel Radcliffe can still act, and his relationship with Paul Dano’s Hank is unusual and charming. Acting as a Swiss army ‘man’, Hank utilises the cadaver of Radcliffe in weird and wonderful ways to survive in the wilderness.

It’s hard to define Swiss Army Man in a specific genre of film. It’s not an action or adventure, or really a coming-of-age drama. It’s unlike any other indie film that has been showcased this year, and despite its weird content, it’s strangely delightful and full of heart. Also, it has Paul Dano recreating the Jurassic Park theme to a gawping, dead flatulent Radcliffe, so what more could cinemagoers ask for?

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6: Everybody Wants Some!!

No matter what decade it is, director Richard Linklater manages to capture it perfectly within his pictures. His latest, the 2016 comedy set the eighties, Everybody Wants Some!! follows a selection of college baseball players who are interested in two things; baseball and women.

Everybody Wants Some!! doesn’t follow standard storytelling conventions. It throws viewers straight into the eighties, as it showcases what life was like back then with a carefully put together ensemble cast. Each character feels real, as they have their own identity and background, and they’re all perfectly portrayed.

Linklater’s films are like marmite for some people but do not be mistaken as this film is the ultimate frat boy comedy, and it feels like it was ripped right out of the era it is attempting to recreate. The main character Jake Bradford, is played exceptionally well by past Glee member, Blake Jenner. His function is important, as the lead role gets a taste of what the eighties were made of.

It boasts a superb soundtrack, and one standout scene involves five of the baseball players rapping to The Sugar Hill Gang’s Rapper’s Delight, all before attempting – and failing miserably – to pick up women outside their dorm rooms. Everybody Wants Some!! is a nuanced, appealing little picture, and we should all be so thankful to have Linklater as a director.

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5: Green Room

Visceral, suspenseful and downright sickening, director Jeremy Saulnier’s Green Room was one of the best horror movies of the year. Appearing out of nowhere, this horror film starring Anton Yelchin, Imogen Poots and Patrick Stewart, told the story of how one punk band becomes a target after witnessing a murder at a Neo-Nazi bar.

Trapped in the green room after witnessing a stabbing, they’re held hostage by Darcy Banker, the leader of the local group of skinheads. Played by Patrick Stewart, Darcy is a force to be reckoned with as he will stop at nothing to ensure that the police aren’t involved.

Green Room is unapologetic as the tense showdown kicks into gear, harking back to an earlier age of brutal exploitation films that always left no one unscathed. It’s taut, well-acted and surprisingly unforgivable, as the thrills keep coming.

Nobody ever expected Patrick Stewart to play such a role, and it helps add that extra layer of menace to his role. Of course, this is also one of Anton Yelchin’s last roles that he got to act before his untimely death this year. He’s one of the best parts about Green Room, and it’s a pleasure to see him star in such an unrepentant and thrilling movie. Viewers will be left in shock at the demise of some characters, and at some of the lines uttered by Stewart’s mouth.

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4: Train to Busan

Let’s be honest here. There hasn’t been a decent zombie flick since Shaun of the Dead, except for the Spanish horror films, REC and REC2. Thankfully though, that changed this year with the South Korean film, Train to Busan. Heavily pushed for an international release, Train to Busan is directed by Yeon Sang-ho, starring Gong Yoo and Ma Dong-Seok.

Gong Yoo plays the lead role as Seok-Woo, a divorced workaholic who takes his daughter to see her mother in Busan. They board the Korea Train Express, and as their train departs from the station, a convulsing, sick woman boards the train. As it turns out, she’s been infected with a zombie plague – and she’s not the only one.

Train to Busan is a pure survival horror, which takes place prominently on board a train. The confines of the train really push the survival aspect of the film, and the film is bolstered with some strong storytelling, that has a heavy reliance on relationships, selfishness and sheer horror.

There’s clearly a social commentary that is touched upon throughout the film, which is mixed into horrifying action sequences. Viewers will be left rooting for the main cast, whilst managing pure hatred for one of the minor characters. Train to Busan has some great performances, some solid zombie action and make-up, and it should come as no surprise that the film is now the highest-grossing Asian film of all time in China. It’s unique, action-packed and emotional. Not to be missed.

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3:  10 Cloverfield Lane

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg and written by Josh Campbell, 10 Cloverfield Lane sports one of John Goodman’s most captivating performances of his entire career. Alongside Goodman who plays the questionable Howard Stambler, the film stars Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Michelle and John Gallagher, Jr. as Emmett.

After a traumatic car crash, Michelle finds herself locked up in a cell inside Howard Stambler’s underground bunker. Despite Howard reassuring her that he’s helping her recuperate and that the US is under attack from an unknown military force, things don’t appear to be totally above-board. Is Howard who he says he is? Has there been an invasion? And who is Emmett?

Trachtenberg’s film is a tremendous, nail-biting display of tense drama and John Goodman’s jaw-dropping performance. It’s simply engrossing from start to finish, with some terrific cinematography that’s even on display in a confined bunker.

Of course, because it was a Bad Robot production, there was a strong viral marketing campaign that attracted a lot of fans. It was slightly different to the last one, but tonnes of fun whenever a new clue turned up. However, not much else can be said about the film, as spoilers need to be avoided for total enjoyment. That’s not a detriment to the film, but just a necessary precaution.

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2: The Witch

The directorial debut of Robert Eggers, The Witch follows a Puritan family who has a tragedy involving their youngest. Set in 17th century New England, the youngest child Samuel mysteriously vanishes during the eldest daughters care. What follows after that, is the emergence of a witch in the woods, who sets to dismantle the family in wicked ways.

The Witch, which is stylised as ‘The VVitch’ is inspired by old folklore and witch trials, which occurred for years in New England. It’s the most impressive debut by a writer and director this year, As Eggers has provided cinemagoers with a true horror masterpiece.

The genre relies all too often on found footage or jump-scares nowadays, but The Witch succeeds by having a genuinely creepy vibe to it, that’ll send shivers down spines. The period of time is perfectly captured, down to the authentic language, clothing and of course, the devout religiousness of families back then.

Some audiences may dislike its slow pace, but it constantly builds tension that can be felt by the viewers, as the family are torn apart by the evil that surrounds them. It closely follows the horrifying folklore it is loosely based on, as it finally ends in one of the most jaw-dropping sequences in cinema.

It’s always a pleasant change to see the genre mixed up by films like this, as it waves goodbye to tired conventions and tropes. The Witch is deeply unsettling at times, it is exquisitely shot and it will probably be greeted by a furore of horror fans which will simply dismiss it. Don’t. It’s a truly thought-provoking piece of work.

1: Hunt for the Wilderpeople

Ricky Baker is a bad egg. He lives the skux life, and there is no hope. That is until he is taken in by foster mother Bella and her husband, Hec. Ricky’s life is then turned around for the better, up until his foster mother suddenly passes away. After he runs away from his new home and the child welfare services, Ricky and Hec soon become part of a manhunt in the New Zealand bush.

Directed by Taika Waititi, Hunt for the Wilderpeople is dripping with charm, humour and two solid lead performances, by the young Julian Dennison as Ricky Baker and everyone’s favourite onscreen palaeontologist, Sam Neil as the cantankerous Hec. If ever New Zealand needed an advertisement for their beautiful landscapes or even a new national anthem, they need to look no further than this flick.

Waititi was responsible for directing one of the funniest films of 2014, What We Do in the Shadows, and also has screenwriting credits for this year’s Moana, and furthermore is currently adding the finishing touches to Thor: Ragnarok. He is without a doubt, one of the most talented directors working today.

Hunt for the Wilderpeople’s script is simple enough, and it is littered with dialogue that will be quoted for years to come. Ricky and Hec attempt to get along with each other in the bush, whilst encountering a number of dangerous hazards and weirdos, and their relationship is a touching one that evolves during the movie.

It’s a nice treat to see Sam Neil in a lead role again, and he’s utilised properly for the first time in years. Julian Dennison’s performance as Ricky Baker is a breakout role for the young actor too, and he’s sure to stick around for some time. It’d be criminal not to have Dennison in any other film, especially with his comedic timing.

There just isn’t any other movie this year that leaves viewers with such a warm feeling, as Hunt for the Wilderpeople is set to be a poignant and hilarious classic. A solid cast, beautiful cinematography and an annoyingly catchy soundtrack make this film the best movie of the year, if not the past few years. It’s very easy to return to Hunt for the Wilderpeople, to revel in its unique characters, the scenery and touching story. But that’s enough adjectives for this review. One’s enough. It’s simply majestical.

 

Top 8 Comics of 2016

This year showcased a wide variety of original graphic novels and comics for almost everyone, as the industry witnessed some brilliant storytelling and stunning artwork. There might have been a few blunders along the way, but cynicism towards the industry waned thanks to the release of some truly remarkable titles.

This short list is comprised of some of the best publications of the year, from a number of different publishers. If you haven’t had the opportunity to check out some of these comics, then please support the creators by enveloping yourself in their carefully crafted universes. It’s not too late to hop on either, as a few of these titles will are continuing into 2017.

8. JUGHEAD

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Archie Comics successfully rebooted back in 2015, and since then the publisher has seen a plethora of new talent working on their beloved characters. One of those new creative teams that have achieved something special is the dynamic duo of Ryan North and Derek Charm.

Starting off with issue nine in September, North and Charm built upon the foundations laid by Chip Zdarsky and Erica Henderson. To continue with a new direction for the title, North introduced everyone’s favourite teenage witch, Sabrina, into the equation.

Her first introduction into this new Riverdale, Sabrina helped take the comic to new heights. Jughead was suddenly funnier than ever before, and there was a new degree of charm to it. Falling head over heels for Sabrina, the burger-loving Jughead unsuccessfully begins to date the mysterious, quirky teen.

Of course, when Sabrina doesn’t get her way with Jughead, her dangerous magic comes into play. Jughead is a delightfully fun and hilarious read, and Charm’s artwork is the perfect choice for the story. It’s a late contender for the year, but it’s one to look out for in 2017.

7. DOOM PATROL

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Another late entry into the year, Gerard Way’s reimagining of Doom Patrol has proved to be successful, entertaining and most importantly, just as bizarre as previous entries. With splendid artwork from Nick Derington, Way has managed to create a title which is accessible to new readers, whilst welcoming the old ones back into the fold.

This new series is part of the Young Animal imprint, which is an attempt to replicate DC’s Vertigo for a new audience. So far, it’s proved to be a hit, and it doesn’t hurt that Way’s 1.5m followers on Twitter have been dedicated to following any of work post-My Chemical Romance.

Doom Patrol embraces the bizarre with fresh faces, in the form of ambulance driver Casey Brinke, and her eccentric singing roommate Terry None. Thrown into a world of weirdness, Casey gets to meet familiar Doom Patrol members, whilst discovering a mysterious past.

It’s a title that doesn’t follow standard storytelling structure, and it should be approached by those who want something wholly different to the usual superhero fare witnessed on the shelves. It’s early days yet, but Doom Patrol is set to be one hell of a ride.

6. MEGG & MOGG IN AMSTERDAM (AND OTHER STORIES)

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Written and illustrated entirely by Simon Hanselmann, Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam is the sequel to the funniest book of 2015, Megahex. However, despite being sold as a comedy to many, Hanselmann’s second graphic novel touches upon all too familiar subjects; anxiety, depression and cat’s anuses.

To escape the daily struggles of life and to fix their failing relationship, Megg and Mogg decide to travel to Amsterdam to enjoy its many vices. Of course, they can’t go anywhere without their friends, the insufferable Werewolf Jones and the empathetic Owl.

Hanselmann’s work has a beautiful, vibrant colour palette which really adds a nice dynamic to the many stories involving drug binges, sex, and mental health issues. There’s really nothing quite like Megg & Mogg in Amsterdam right now, and it’s almost criminal to miss out on one of the most unusual books of 2016.

5. DARK KNIGHT: A TRUE BATMAN STORY

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DC has offered Batfans plenty of material to read this year, but it was this year’s original graphic novel that really took the spotlight. A True Batman Story is an autobiographical tale, written by Paul Dini with artwork from the hugely talented Eduardo Risso.

During his career as writer and producer of the hugely successful Batman: The Animated Series, Paul Dini’s life was dramatically altered after suffering a brutal assault one evening in Hollywood. This book recounts his recovery process and how his life was changed, with the visual aids of Batman and his loved villains.

A True Batman Story takes a completely different approach to telling a story which fans are used to, but that’s what makes it stand out from the rest. Dini’s narration of this horrible event in his life is an insightful look into his personality, and Risso’s art really helps bring that era of Batman back to life. For fans of the best animated series ever, this is essential reading.

4. KAIJUMAX: SEASON TWO

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The first season of Kaijumax surprised a few readers last year with its vibrant colour palette, its cutesy monsters and shockingly adult themes. Set up as a serious prison drama involving kaiju, writer and illustrator Zander Cannon continued to impress and astound his readers with Season Two.

The comic continues its focus on the main fugitive Electrogor, who is stuck in a world that doesn’t want anything to do with kaiju. After his escape from prison, Electrogor plans to the cross the Pacific rim in hope of reuniting with his children. However, during his journey, he encounters kaiju parolees, drug addicts and Lovecraftian monstrosities.

It’s a must-read for kaiju lovers, as Zander Cannon infuses his sheer wealth of kaiju knowledge into this book, whilst maintaining a fine balance of humanity within. Readers will be rooting for Electrogor to reach his kids, whilst being fascinated with some of the weird subplots supplied throughout.

Kaijumax is a grand achievement, where Cannon has managed to take a successful first season into entirely new territory. It’s action packed, dramatic and even upsetting in parts. Kaijumax is not to be missed.

3. HEAD LOPPER

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Imagine Adventure Time’s colourful visuals, mixed in with some of the elements of the Hellboy universe. Sprinkle some solid storytelling on top, with a side of beheadings, and you have Andrew MacLean’s breakout hit of 2016, Head Lopper.

Fantastical, colourful and downright entertaining from the first page, Head Lopper surprised loads of readers this year. It quickly turned into a critically acclaimed title, and within four issues, MacLean had established a universe that was here to stay.

The story follows the fearless warrior Norgal and the incessant, nagging severed head of Agatha the Blue Witch. Hired to slay the sorcerer that wreaks havoc on the Isle of Barra, Norgal faces a number of dangerous, blood-thirsty beasts.

Head Lopper is unarguably Image’s best title of the year. It’s tight, focused and enjoyable throughout. MacLean’s art is a visual treat for the eyes, all perfectly framed with every page. The graphic novel collecting the first four issues boasts a grand collection of extras, including a new story, sketches and notes from the talented creator.

2. TRANSFORMERS: MORE THAN MEETS THE EYE

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IDW’s greatest publication to date, Transformers MTMTE wrapped up this year to reboot with the Lost Light. Written by James Roberts with artwork from series regular Alex Milne, More Than Meets the Eye is a title that has never faltered once in telling a rich, compelling and emotional story.

More Than Meets the Eye follows the crew of the Lost Light, a space vessel in search for the legendary ‘Knights of Cybertron’, a mythical group that once existed on the Transformers home planet. Led by the cocksure Rodimus, his merry team of odd, dangerous and sometimes drunk Transformers get involved in madcap adventures in space.

Writer James Roberts throws his characters of MTMTE into uncharted territory throughout, and with his innovative writing and Milne’s highly detailed artwork, the title succeeds where every other Transformers comic has failed.

For some, the prospect of reading a Transformers comic may be daunting, especially considering how meaty Roberts’ dialogue can be, but once that effort is put in, new readers are rewarded with some of the best writing seen in the industry today.

The comic tackles several themes, such as politics, relationships, religion and most importantly for the Transformers, identity. It’s given birth to the first ever gay relationship in the franchise, whilst simultaneously creating a community of fans that like to take the characters into their very own, r-rated adventure…

More Than Meets the Eye is a masterpiece within the comic book industry, and James Roberts should be applauded for his ability to craft such an interesting, thought-provoking and exciting read. Comic book readers, roll out and read it already.

1. GIANT DAYS

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Having established himself as the king of slice-of-life comic books, British creator John Allison treated his devoted readers to BOOM! Studios publication, Giant Days, way back in March 2015. Since then, alongside artists Lissa Treiman and Max Sarin, the series has evolved into one of the best comics on the shelves right now.

The setup is delightfully simple; Esther, Daisy and Susan are three women who are beginning to start the rest of their lives. During their time at university, the three main characters are faced with mystery moulds, complicated relationships, soggy festivals and a surprising amount of carpentry.

Despite not sounding like the most intriguing plot, Giant Days is brought to life with Allison’s technique for sharp, snappy dialogue and perfect characterisation. Every single character in Giant Days feels real, and they’re brought to life with some absolutely solid artwork.

Taking over from Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin has managed to perfectly match the writing talents of Allison. His style is unique, providing exaggerated expressions and dynamic posing throughout the book. Panels are carefully constructed, and it appears that Sarin improves with every issue.

Allison allows a great deal of development for Giant Days, and hopefully the series lasts for many years to come. The artistic goth Esther, the quiet Daisy and the abrasive Susan all go through the motions in the comic, and it would be absolutely criminal to leave their life story after graduation.

It’s a real treat to see a UK based comic thrive, as Giant Days appears to be amassing more readers with every new issue. If you haven’t treated yourself to 2016’s best comic of the year, then do so already. You deserve it.