With E3, gamers across the globe are inundated every year with hundreds of announcements for upcoming video game releases – and every year it is a Goomba Stomp tradition that we compile a list of the best games of the year so far so we can promote the titles we love one last time before they’re (sometimes) lost in the shuffle.
While you sit back and wait for the games set for release in the second half of the year, we strongly recommend the following titles. Let us know if you think we’ve missed something in the comments below. Enjoy!
Special Mention: New Super Mario Bros. Deluxe
Nintendo has this weird ability to straddle the old and the new, perhaps unlike any other gaming company in the world. They have spent decades selling us on consoles and games that for better or worse continually push the envelope on what we expect from games and the hardware we play them on, whilst simultaneously reselling and rehashing games that we grew up playing, drumming on those nostalgia buttons to tease that dollar from our pockets. One such set of games that encapsulate all of this is the New Super Mario Bros series.
The NSMB titles are a set of games that hark back to a simpler time when Mario was 2D and all you had to do was bounce, jump and flame throw your way from left to right to the flag at the end. With NSMB and in particular NSMB U Deluxe, Nintendo take this now well-trodden formula and sprinkle a bit of their modern sensibilities, adding updated visuals, coin collecting on each level and a whole host of power-ups, from the Tanuki and Flower suits, to newer additions like Metal Mario and a personal favourite of mine, the Penguin Suit.
There’s nothing new about this game and it being a re-release from the dark WiiU days might mean that many have allowed it to pass over them this year, but if you have even a passing interest in 2D Mario, don’t let this one slip by unplayed
The NSMB games, may on the face of it seem like an old game with a facelift, but the truth is that they are much more than that. They manage to achieve that age-old Nintendo ‘Holy Grail’ and marry the old with the new and this title is no exception. When Super Mario 64 brought Nintendo roaring into the 3D world, it felt fresh, new and exciting (Which it was), but as time goes on, many players to this day will go back to those 2D games and enjoy them all over again.
Perhaps NSMB has never reached the heights of the originals, but there’s no doubt that they are an excellent way to get your fix of 2D Mario, and for once I’m happy to give Nintendo new money for old rope. NSMB U Deluxe is a stellar outing for this series, but also one that was sorely underplayed due to the disastrous disinterest people had in the WiiU. If like most you missed this game the first time around, don’t let it go unplayed a second time. (David Smile)
18. Baba is You
Baba Is You, is a wonderful little puzzle game where the physical rules of the game are the puzzle pieces themselves. In a graphically-simple little world, you push and pull words into phrases, like a miniature programming language, but you’re a weird bunny creature doing the heavy lifting. It’s sort of like The Adventures of Lolo meets Scribblenauts, if you’ll mind the deep-nerd references. The conceit and gameplay are novel, well-executed, and well worth a look for any fan of puzzle games. The mechanic gets a bit less satisfying when the puzzles become more unforgiving about 3/4 into the game, but Baba remains fun and interesting for long enough to be one of the highlights of 2019 thus far. (Marty Allen)
17. Katana Zero
Telling compelling narratives in video games is no easy feat. In Katana ZERO, the player takes on the role of a young assassin for hire. He takes assignments during the day and returns to his rundown apartment building in a less than desirable part of town at night. Though it starts out fairly straightforward, the story takes several surprising turns rather quickly. The writing here is sharp, and the narrative flies from thrilling to comforting to horrifying all in the game’s short five to six-hour runtime.
At its core, though, Katana ZERO is an unrelenting action platformer that isn’t afraid to make players work to reach the next level. The game is split into levels spanning a multitude of locales around its seedy city backdrop. Similarly to Celeste, each level is broken into small segments that, upon death, can be restarted almost instantaneously. This design decision is a smart one seeing as both enemies and the assassin go down in one hit. As a result, every room almost feels like a puzzle that needs to be solved to near-perfection to finish, and they’re designed in such a way that it’s always clear what players need to do to beat them.
Katana ZERO is a concise, mysterious, and strikingly atmospheric game. Its story is well-worth playing through, though whether or not it sticks the landing is up for debate. Similarly, while the art direction and moody 80s synth-pop soundtrack deliver a completely intoxicating experience, the game isn’t much of a looker as far as pixelated games go. Nonetheless, this is a must-play for any fans of the action-platformer genre. There’s a lot of fun to have here and, with the choices you make having a significant impact on how the narrative plays out, there’s a good bit of replayability as well. (Brent Middleton)
16. Rage 2
The open world first-person shooter niche is largely dominated by the Far Cry series. However, every once in a while a game comes along that attempts to tip the balance. Rage 2, developed in tandem by id Software and Avalanche Studios, is one such game. With a focus on the kind of high octane, madcap combat that made 2016’s Doom such a hilariously violent return to form for the franchise mixed with the emergent anarchic antics that make Avalanche’s Just Cause series such a guilty pleasure, Rage 2 is the most unapologetically fun game released so far this year. The key reason for that is that it’s not ashamed of what it is, and doesn’t try to express anything other than the joy at the core of gaming itself.
Featuring a visual aesthetic so glaring and vibrant it’s like the developers tapped into the essence of rave culture and spraypainted the world with it, the game’s environments never become dull or repetitive. The same can’t be truly said of the activities on offer in those environments, as the world map is festooned with the usual array of enemy outposts and exploration locations that can at times make the entire point of traversing the world between main missions feel like little more than a box-ticking exercise. Fortunately, the quality of the gameplay and the world design means that on the whole you spend less time thinking about what you’re actually doing and more time on how you’re doing it.
No matter how much of an improvement Rage 2 may be over its 2011 predecessor, it does fall down in one major regard. The first game was roundly criticized for its lackluster narrative and eight years on it seems that neither id or Avalanche were able to overcome that issue. The story is serviceable at best, and whilst what little of it there is well-written and constructed there just isn’t enough of it to carry the entire game. This wouldn’t have been such an obvious problem if the side missions had been properly fleshed out, but as they stand they are limited to various bounty hunts and nothing else. All things considered, the lack of story content is Rage 2‘s only really significant flaw. Nevertheless, it is definitely one of the best games released so far this year and is a strong contender for my personal game of the year for 2019. (Christopher Underwood)
Wargroove is an epic, beautiful love letter to the lost (but not forgotten) classic strategy series, Advance Wars. Following the same formula of Nintendo’s collaboration with Intelligent Systems, Wargroove tells the story of the trials and tribulations of Princess Marcia as she leads her kingdom in the wake of her father’s assassination. Players will recruit troops, capture towns, fight the undead, and — if you play as well I do — get stuck on the same missions for hours.
Wargroove is not an easy game, and sometimes it’s not even a fair one. Objectives may change in the middle of a battle, making a difficult fight almost impossible — until you replay it, knowing what’s coming, and beat it without a modicum of effort. Some units never seem to be worth their excessive cost, and map design often doesn’t allow for the interesting positioning tactics that the game otherwise tries to encourage. The story — while better than anything put forward by Advance Wars — is nothing to write home about, either.
However, objectives are mixed up at a decent rate between missions, stopping the game from getting too repetitive during overly long, socially-unacceptable binge sessions. New units are introduced at a healthy rate, and the game is absolutely loaded with content. There are three separate single-player modes (including the brilliant “Puzzle Mode,” in which the player has one turn to win a battle from a predefined position), and each requires a significant time investment to complete. On top of that, there is online and local multiplayer for up to 4 players, and it’s possible to craft not only your own maps, but your own entire campaigns.
Above all else, Wargroove is a wonderfully produced game with tense battles, gorgeous sprite work, a generous amount of content, and absolutely tons of heart. It hearkens back to an era when games were simpler, but no less wonderful affairs. It’s an expression of pure joy, and while there will be some debate as to whether it manages to live up to the legacy of its obvious inspiration, Wargroove is a worthy investment for any fan of classic turn-based strategy. (Rowan Ryder)
14. BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL!
BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is a game for squares. It is a game for gamers who appreciate clear visual presentation in favor of aesthetic frills, tone in favor of traditional narrative, and meticulous variation-on-a-theme design over anything in vogue. After all, it is a game about a square (or two squares, or a rectangle) moving from left to right across a monochrome palette. The best news about this fourth entry in the series is that it brings co-op to the table, so multiple squares can complete a campaign full of puzzles specifically designed around two allied players. And somehow the game’s third campaign, where the player controls a rectangle rather than a square, radically alters traversal and puzzle-solving despite merely making the playable character taller. What other game makes such intricate and deep use of its architecture that doubling the size of its protagonist could sensibly justify building a new campaign from scratch?
If you haven’t enjoyed past BOXBOY! games, it’s unlikely you’ll like this one. BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is pretty much more of the same, and considering BYE-BYE-BOXBOY!’s insanely diverse power-up-style boxes that are nowhere to be seen here, it can sometimes feel like less of the same. But for those who enjoy slow-paced brain-ticklers and appreciate a simple mechanic being milked until its udder is bone dry, BOXBOY! + BOXGIRL! is an undeniably great value. Though the first half of 2019 has left the Switch with a rather lackluster first-party lineup, this game is a low-cost diamond in the rough. But of course, its primary reason for existing is to rationalize Qbby’s inclusion in Smash’s Fighter’s Pass as the fifth and final new character. Bring the hype! (Kyle Rentschler)
13. Ape Out
In Ape Out, Gabe Cuzzillo and his small team have crafted something unique that comes highly recommended. This game is equal parts beautiful, thoughtful, exhilarating, and fun. The sum of its parts is a creation that is all-too-rare in games — something fresh and unlike anything else. I found myself thinking about it when I wasn’t playing it, and unable to put the controller down in order to give each board ‘just one more try.’ To have that gameplay experience put together with so much artistic flair makes for the kind of experience that is worth killing for. Again and again and again.
Ape Out is a rhythmic pulse of thrust-push-kill fun. Ape Out is the kick drum rolling right into to the snare and a crash just as you crush that guard a hair before he pulls the trigger. Ape Out is blood trailing behind you when you can’t take another shot, then crossing through the green door of freedom and into the jungle beyond at the last moment. (Marty Allen)
12. Days Gone
If you’ve played one zombie apocalypse game, you’ve played them all. Right? Wrong. Bend Studio (best known for the Syphon Filter series and Uncharted: Golden Abyss) took a largely played out concept and made it entirely their own in their latest title, Days Gone. Written and directed by John Garvin, the game tells a tale of love, loss, friendship, and hope for redemption. Driven by the heartfelt performance of Sam Witwer as the protagonist, Deacon St. John, the game explores the more human elements of a zombie apocalypse. Although the game has been criticized for it’s supposedly lacking narrative, what makes it stand out from all the other games in this genre is precisely the fact that its story is relatively grounded and simplistic.
Featuring jaw-droppingly evocative landscapes, the game masterfully evokes its rural Oregon setting with relentlessly stylistic aplomb. Whether players are navigating their way through tangled forests carved up by traffic-clogged back roads or scavenging amidst the ruins of a small town overrun by merciless bandits, the environments are always remarkably well crafted and utterly engaging at all times. The sheer level of detail in the game world means that the sense of place is always genuinely palpable to such an extent that at times it’s on par with and often exceeds even Ubisoft’s Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey.
Other than Techland’s Dying Light, Days Gone is the only game of its kind that makes its zombies/infected enemies feel genuinely threatening. Whether players encounter them in small, roaming packs or teeming, ravenous hordes they are always cause for concern and are rendered with such precise detail that they’re more a reflection of mankind’s darkest urges than they are brutish monsters. Even when you’re in the middle of nowhere safety is never assured, as at a moment’s notice you can be ambushed by all manner of freakish creatures hellbent on ending your life. Days Gone may not be especially innovative or genre-defining, but it is without a doubt one of the most entertaining and thrilling games released so far this year. It is a more than welcome and deserving addition to the expanding catalogue of excellent PS4 exclusives that continue to make Sony’s latest generation of consoles the best on the market. (Chris Underwood)
11. Apex Legends
Apex Legends is the hero that EA needed, but not the hero they deserved. Released just over two weeks before another EA game, Anthem, Respawn Entertainment’s title received almost no fanfare, no marketing and no hype build-up – especially in comparison to the aforementioned Bioware effort. Anthem was plastered all over online stores and E3 presentations, and ended up being a miserable pile of unfinished, dull, employee-draining gubbins, while Apex Legends quietly went about its business on the way to becoming arguably (and correctly) considered the best game in the battle royale genre.
Combining Titanfall-style movement with Hero Shooter character classes, Apex Legends is an incredibly polished and unique battle royale title. It wasn’t perfect but, astonishingly, the game launched in a very impressive state, especially for a game released, not only in 2019, not only by EA, but for free. It was fast and fluid, it had an interesting array of weapons and character abilities and it just worked. It worked and it was bloody brilliant – a mishmash of genres that culminated in a shooter that was riotous fun without any caveats.
There were things that needed work in the aftermath of the game’s launch, and Respawn has admirably addressed their missteps in acceptable timeframes – both for the end user and for the people making it to avoid killing themselves through exhaustion and stress. Since launch, the game has received its obligatory Battle Pass and Season modes, and both were decidedly lacking in their initial state. As recently as last week, both have been significantly improved for Season 2. Learning curves are wholly understandable when the price of entry is absolutely nothing for the player.
We’ve also seen new characters, challenges, weapons and some, unfortunately, ‘meh’ skins released since launch – but it’s obvious that Respawn is committed to keeping the service alive with improvements and additions. A game as good as Apex deserves to be a mainstay in the genre, and it definitely deserved more attention from its own publisher at launch. Regardless, the cream has risen to the top and Apex is here to stay. (Alex Aldridge)
10. Life Is Strange 2
When a sequel to the critically acclaimed Life is Strange was announced back in 2016, it was unclear as to where Dontnod Entertainment was going to go for the next chapter of their game. No matter what choice the player opts for at the end of the first game, it is a fitting conclusion to Max and Chloe’s story. Even though fans were hoping for more from the characters in the original, it was announced that the main characters and the story would be new. It was hard to see how players would be able to connect with the game as much as we did with the first installment but Life is Strange 2 has so far managed to be just as compelling as the original.
This time around the focus is on two brothers, Sean and Daniel, as they embark on a road trip whilst on the run after a tragic event triggers Daniel’s strange powers. Whilst Max was able to control the flow of time, Daniel’s powers are more telekinesis based as he is able to move objects with his mind and create powerful energy blasts. This time around we don’t play as the character with supernatural abilities. Instead, we play as Sean, Daniels older brother who must guide and advise him. It’s an interesting take in terms of story as your decisions directly impact Daniel and how he uses his powers. Choices are again crucial within the game as they can change how certain characters (most importantly Daniel) react and behave towards you as well as changing the flow of story events, even if it all ends to the same or a similar conclusion. I found myself trying to be the best guardian and big brother that I could be towards Daniel, opting for the choices that felt the most responsible and wise. In the same way that Dontnod was able to create a compelling relationship that the player rooted for with Max and Chloe in the first game, their depiction of the two brothers is equally convincing despite the bizarre circumstances that they find themselves in.
Life is Strange 2 has only released three episodes of five so far and I definitely feel that it is one of the best games of the year despite not even being complete yet. Hopefully, the game will continue as successfully as it has begun when episodes four and five are released on August 22nd and December 3rd for PC, Playstation 4 and Xbox One. (Antonia Haynes)
9. The Walking Dead: The Final Season
After the news came that Telltale Games would be shutting its doors last September, fans were rightly concerned about the fate of The Walking Dead: The Final Season. With the game in the middle of its story, one that wraps up Clementine’s fate (the star of three previous Walking Dead games) things were pretty dire until Skybound Entertainment swooped in to save the day.
And lucky for us all that they did, for The Walking Dead: The Final Season may be Telltale’s finest game. With more advanced gameplay thanks to a new engine, a story with genuine stakes and plenty of twists and turns, and themes that mirror those of the beloved first game without downright aping them, The Walking Dead: The Final Season is a triumph of a game and a story that deserved to be told.
We’ll miss Telltale Games, but this gem is as good a way as any to send them off. (Mike Worby)
8. Mortal Kombat 11
Mortal Kombat 11 is the latest (and possibly greatest) installment of the long-running bloody bonanza. With gameplay refinement reaching new heights, eye-popping graphical fidelity, and a roster more balanced than the most talented tightrope walker; NetherRealm Studios smashed it.
Mortal Kombat 11 doubles down on its best in class story mode, delivering an entertaining (albeit cheesy) romp through its eclectic lore. A barrage of single player content incentives play for those aspiring to eat brains as Baraka without the warming comfort of a friend or loved one. Endlessly alone, punching in Fatality button combinations. Sometimes it’s four buttons, sometimes it’s five. The on-screen digital puppet is shredded limb from limb, but you’re the one that’s hurting. She left you and took the kids, and now all that numbs your tortured soul is the flicker of fun attained from uppercutting Kano’s stupid head.
Well, who needs the wife and kids when such a stupendous Krypt exists? Manifesting on Shang Tsung’s island, it’s chock-full of classic eye candy and darker mysteries than Michael Jackson’s sex dungeon (well, almost more). Said Krypt lends itself to a rewarding gameplay loop with the Towers of Time, with staggering quantities of unlockables providing an endless reason to fight, fight, and fight some more.
Mortal Kombat 11 isn’t perfect, and its missteps spoil bits of what’s otherwise a flawless victory. But this aside, it’s 2019’s most kickass fighter thus far, and with the Shang Tsung DLC looming, things will only get gorier in the wild world of Kombat. (Harry Morris)
7. The Division 2
The 1st quarter of the year has become an increasingly contested release window ever since Horizon Zero Dawn proved that the post-holiday season lull didn’t have to be a lull at all. Tom Clancy’s The Division 2 was one of the biggest titles to come to market early this year, and beyond that, it’s one the best looter-shooters ever made. A bold claim indeed, but one from my perspective is entirely true because it’s not a genre that I’ve ever really got to grips with. The combination of the realistic setting, excellent core mechanics, and an addictive gameplay loop has resulted in a looter-shooter that has a unique appeal. There’s an artful understatement to every element of the game in hands of other developers would have crossed-over into a threadbare territory, but Ubisoft struck the right balance between simple and intricate that just works on every level.
The main campaign missions are classic popcorn political thriller through-and-through, although some critics have complained about the developers not standing behind any particular political message, I’m of the firm belief that they didn’t really need to. Far better to allow players to draw what conclusions they may from the story rather than shoehorn in any prescribed stance on contemporary life. Beyond the endgame content is absolutely as good as it gets for the genre, with loot coming thick and fast to the extent that character progress through gear upgrades is always a possibility so the game never feels stagnant in the way that say Destiny 2 often can. The class and skill system gives players a large range of build options and loadout types so that they’re never forced into using one particular set-up in order to feel useful, which is again quite refreshing for a game in the looter-shoot genre.
The Division 2 may not be as drastic a department from the first game as many might have hoped, but it strikes all the right notes as far as a sequel is concerned. The gameplay and support systems are refined just enough that they do feel improved across the board but aren’t so radically different that they alienate fans of the first game or stand as a barrier to entry for those new the series. With regular additions and updates being made to the game The Division 2 wasn’t just a strong start to the year for Ubisoft but also for fans of the series and the genre alike. It’s a game I will keep going back to throughout the course of 2019, and if you’ve not already played then I urge you to do so. What are you waiting for? Washington D.C isn’t gonna save itself! (Christopher Underwood)
6. Yoshi’s Crafted World
Maybe looks aren’t everything, but a new coat of paint can sure freshen a room up. The Yoshi franchise has been the subject of cute visual experimentation since the coloring-book aesthetic of the SNES’ Yoshi’s Island, but the little dino’s latest adventure for the Nintendo Switch might just be his most eye-pleasing yet. Sure, the platforming might feel a bit more cardboard than in some previous outings, but Yoshi’s Crafted World is nevertheless a joy to play from start to finish, if only to see what homemade delights developer Good-Feel has tucked around the next corner.
The story of missing gemstones serves as classic Nintendo window dressing used to move players along as they perform light platforming and exploration through a variety of fantastic and disparate worlds; once the game begins, the plot thread can quickly be forgotten. But who cares? The real draw of Yoshi’s Crafted World is the levels themselves, which look like they’ve been built in someone’s basement playroom out of household materials like corrugated cardboard, paper plates, tinfoil, bendy straws, toothpicks, and plastic cups. The pure imagination on display in constructing environments ranging from palm-tree jungles to coral-lined sea floors is absolutely grin-inducing, with chugging locomotives and creaky haunted houses all lovingly pieced together with a handmade, toy-like feel that leaves an impression that the stages in this game are not meant to just be played through, but played with.
The egg-throwing gameplay with which one does so is mostly safe and familiar (with a giant Yoshi robot or plane ride thrown in to keep things fresh), but replaying levels in order to collect flowers or red coins is still a blast when it feels like there are layers to each stage that can be pulled back to reveal some previously unseen visual treasure. Gamers have always been drawn to shiny things, and for those who appreciate the whimsical, Yoshi’s Crafted World is one of the most glittering on Nintendo’s console. (Patrick Murphy)
5. Tetris 99
One of the biggest surprises this year was the reveal and launch of Tetris 99, which combines the tried-and-true puzzle gameplay with his own particular blend of mayhem. The game, which is free to download (provided you’re a Nintendo Switch Online subscriber), is perhaps the least expected take on the battle royale genre – but some would argue the best. Developed by Arika, known for Tetris: The Grand Master series, Tetris 99 pits you against 98 other players simultaneously, and the last surviving player wins. It’s ridiculous and mesmerizing — not to mention mind-blowing when you stop and admire how Tetris 99 demonstrates the true adaptability of the original Tetris.
At its core, the game is still the Tetris you remember. It involves tetrominoes, geometric shapes composed of four square blocks each. A random sequence of Tetriminos fall down the playing field and it’s your job to manipulate these Tetriminos, by moving each one sideways and/or rotating by quarter-turns, so that they form a solid horizontal line with no gaps. When such a line is formed, it disappears and any blocks above it fall down to fill the empty space. Anyone who remembers the original Tetris will also notice the blocks are the same colors, and the familiar Tetris theme plays along in the background. The difference, this time around is that your ultimate goal isn’t to get a high score but instead to be the last man standing.
It’s hard to believe that three decades on, Tetris is still a worldwide phenomenon. It’s also hard to believe that Tetris 99 was a joke someone apparently made on Twitter before Akira made it a reality. Even harder to believe, Tetris 99 is a contender for Game of the Year and is able to stand side by side on a stage with behemoths such as Fortniteand APEX Legends. I won’t dare say Tetris 99 is the best battle royale game on the market, but it sure is my favourite. (Ricky D)
4. Kingdom Hearts III
There are few game franchises with histories as storied, or convoluted, as Kingdom Hearts. At seventeen years old, the series spans across no less than eight games and has appeared on almost as many consoles. The fact that each and every one of those games relates in varying degrees of importance to Sora’s vaunted fight against darkness is equal parts impressive and absurd. The story has been the butt of jokes and internet memes as creative as the story itself is labyrinthine. It’s because it’s been so long that it makes the sheer existence of Kingdom Hearts III feel like a miracle, that we’ve actually made it to the end.
Kingdom Hearts III is the very definition of a beautifully flawed game. On one hand, we have the stupendous combat that feels like a fairy-tale popup book in game format, the stunningly realized Disney worlds (except Frozen’s), and Yoko Shimomura’s spell-binding songs that continue to be simply enrapturing. On the other hand, the story is incredibly lopsided, magic spells break the game in two even on the most difficult setting, and Sora still has all the likeability of a piece of cardboard.
Yet despite those flaws, this spaz of game manages to succeed in becoming the grand culmination to this nearly two-decade-long saga. Plot threads that had been left hanging for years finally had their closure. As characters were reunited and heavy consciouses finally relieved, it felt as much a victory to the player as the characters experiencing them, and that’s something incredibly emotional.
Where this series goes from here is anyone’s guess, as Nomura has repeatedly demonstrated just how zany he’s willing to go with the franchise. Either way, Kingdom Hearts III will be fondly remembered by fans as the title that finally brought this first book to a close. (Matthew Ponthier)
3. Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice
The good people of From Software are best known for providing deep combat and high difficulty gameplay experiences, and this is not a reputation that Sekiro shirks. On the contrary, Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice might be the toughest, most brutal challenge from the creators of Dark Souls yet.
Set in feudal Japan, Sekiro follows Wolf, a shinobi charged with protecting a child whose blood holds the secrets of immortality. When the divine child is taken by force, and Wolf is left for dead, the shinobi wages an all or nothing war against the Ashina samurai clan in hopes of retrieving the child and redeeming himself.
With lightning fast gameplay, all or nothing stakes, and a remix of some of the features that have made past From Software games a success, Sekiro is a gauntlet for the ages, and one of the most rewarding games you’re likely to play all year. (Mike Worby)
2. Devil May Cry V
If you don’t count the spin-off/reboot DMC developed by Ninja Theory, 2019 marks eleven years since we last had a proper entry in the Devil May Cry series. That’s a long time to wait for loyal fans but thankfully Devil May Cry V is a return to form and more importantly, almost everything about those original games has been improved.
Developed in-house at Capcom by a team of series veterans, Devil May Cry Vis sprawling, infectious, inventive, ambitious, and downright thrilling. The momentum never lets up from the second the prologue begins and for roughly 15 hours and exactly 20 missions, Devil May Cry V is electrifying. Director Hideaki Itsuno and his team have delivered quite possibly the goriest, craziest, most eye-blowing (there’s a lot of eyeballs), chunk-spewing, head-exploding installment of the series yet.
Propelled by non-stop, over-the-top action, geysers of blood and fetishistic metamorphoses, DMCV must be
played seen to be believed. It’s spectacular, irresistible, unapologetically juvenile and totally fuckin’ insane – a mesmerizing piece of art that experimentally pushes the series to daring new heights. (Ricky D)
1. Resident Evil 2
It’s rare to see a direct sequel live up to or surpass the original, but Hideki Kamiya’s Resident Evil 2 (1998) not only matched the quality of its predecessor but arguably surpassed it to become one of the greatest of its genre. The original RE2 was the perfect sequel — an outstanding science-fiction thriller that put players at the edge of their seats. Scene to scene, encounter to encounter, its tension builds unrelentingly. It isn’t, however, so rare to see a game remastered or remade outshine the original, especially given how far technology has advanced over the years. That’s not to say that all games remade are winners, but there are plenty of reasons why Resident Evil 2 (2019) has gathered high praise. If the original RE2 was a perfect sequel, the new Resident Evil 2 is a prime example of how to remake a classic while staying faithful to the original. Dare I say, it’s a near-perfect remake?
While the word “Remake” doesn’t appear in the title, Resident Evil 2 (2019) is, in fact, a remake of the PS1 original. Capcom built the game from the ground up, changing a few things here and there, and for the most part those changes have improved what was already a great game. Much of the critical acclaim has centered on RE2’s gameplay and thick atmosphere, and much like Resident Evil 7, Capcom has made a game that is visually stunning throughout. Resident Evil 2 has just the right amount of retro appeal, capturing the spirit of the original without being bound by it. Capcom’s new Resident Evil 2 — which was released twenty-one years after the PlayStation original — is everything one can hope from a video game remake.
It preserves enough of the source material to feel like a respectful tribute, yet changes just enough to warrant its existence. This is one of the best horror games ever made — and proof that cannibalizing old material sometimes works fiendishly well. While I have fond memories of the original game, RE2 (2019) is smarter, tighter, and far scarier — start to finish. It’s a masterclass in environmental design, sound design, level design, and atmosphere. All of that and more makes Resident Evil 2 one of the best remakes — er, ‘re-envisionings’ — of a horror classic (game or otherwise). (Ricky D)
The Legend of the Game Boy, 30 Years Later
Forever Changing how we Play Games
Thirty years ago, Nintendo unleashed the Game Boy, forever changing how we play video games.
When the modest gray brick arrived in the late ‘80s, it was an instant sensation and the first internationally successful handheld gaming system. Nintendo sold out its entire first run in Japan in two weeks and in North America it sold a whopping one million units in just under two weeks. To say Nintendo’s miniature was a phenomenon is an understatement. The Game Boy kickstarted the popular handheld gaming trend and without it, portable gaming may have never become what it is today. It paved the way for the world of mobile gaming and hybrid devices like the DS, PS Vita, and the Nintendo Switch – and while the Game Boy doesn’t quite hold up to those modern consoles, it will always have a special place in the hearts of old school gamers.
Timing is Everything
The Game Boy wasn’t the first portable gaming device on the market nor was it Nintendo’s first attempt at portable gaming (the company had previously released the hit Game & Watch) but as with many iconic products, the Game Boy was released at the right time for the right price.
Nintendo patiently waited for hardware costs to drop so they could design a system cheap enough for families with tight budgets and when the Game Boy arrived in North America, it was packaged with what some would argue is the greatest launch game of all time.
By the time of the US launch, Nintendo had secured the handheld rights to Tetris, a unique puzzler designed by Russian programmer Alexey Pajitnov. Tetris was attracting a new audience of casual gamers due to its simple yet addictive gameplay and because of that, Tetris would become the centerpiece in Nintendo of America’s marketing plan.
Laying the Bricks for the Foundation of the Handheld Gaming
The Game Boy had a massive collection of 716 games including beloved classics such as Donkey Kong, Kid Dracula, Kirby’s Dreamland, Metroid II, Super Mario Land 2: The Six Golden Coins and Link’s Awakening, but Tetris will always be the game best associated with the Game Boy. Alexey Pajitnov’s famous puzzler took the world by storm, selling 35 million copies while helping Nintendo literally lay the bricks for the foundation of the handheld gaming industry. Nintendo has created some of the best partnerships in the history of the gaming industry but packaging Tetris with their greyscale portable system back in the day is one of the best decisions the company has ever made.
While Tetris helped make the Game Boy a household name, it wasn’t the top selling game on the system – that honour would go to Pokemon Red and Blue, a game inspired by Satoshi Tajiri’s childhood love of collecting insects, coupled with his desire to find new ways to bring people together. Pokemon Red and Blue launched an international craze with its unique blend of exploration, battling and even trading Pokemon thanks to the evolutionary Link Cable.
Long before online gaming, Nintendo would release the Link Cable, an accessory for the Game Boy which allowed players to link their systems together for head-to-head competition and cooperative play. Tetris was one of the key titles to take advantage of the Game Link cable for multiplayer fun but Pokemon was the series that relied on the accessory for years since the Link Cable allowed data transferring between two devices. Trading Pokémon was not only encouraged, but it was also necessary in order to assemble a complete collection of all the Pokémon in the games – and the Link Cable made trading Pokémon possible.
The Link Cable wasn’t the only accessory made for the Game boy; it was just the first of many. There was also the rudimentary low-resolution Game Boy Camera and Printer. The camera was used to take grainy, black-and-white digital images via the four-color palette of the system while the printer utilized heat-sensitive paper to save images before making a copy. Among the many other accessories was the Handy Boy, an all in one accessory that features two amplified external speakers to be positioned on each side of the screen, as well as the Game Boy Pocket Sonar, a peripheral used during fishing trips to locate fish up to 20 meters away. While most of these peripherals were considered cheap gimmicks and commercial failures, they did expand the gaming experience in fun and creative new ways and became the spiritual predecessors of features Nintendo would later include in future consoles such as the DS and the Wii. The Game Boy Camera and Printer are especially notable since the printer helped evolve low-cost digital photography while the camera predated Apple’s iPhone by well over a decade.
Power Isn’t Everything
The 8-bit handheld video game device was created by Gunpei Yokoi along with Nintendo Research & Development 1—the same staff who had designed the Game & Watch series nearly a decade earlier. As far as the design is concerned, the GameBoy was made simple and devoid of any slick modeling. If rumors are to be believed, Yokoi is said to have been inspired by watching people fiddle with calculators and apart from having a light grey-colored shell with a slight texture, there isn’t much to write home about in terms of how it looks.
The biggest criticism with the original Gameboy however, is the screen, which features four levels of grey to augment the lack of back-lighting. While players could adjust the screen’s contrast, the display quality isn’t very impressive since it is extremely grainy and difficult to see in most lighting conditions. Needless to say, the original Gameboy doesn’t display any bright shiny colors; Instead, it features a 2.6-inch screen with a resolution of 160×144 and a 2-bit color palette and a custom 8-bit Sharp processor running at just 4.19MHz combined with 8KB of RAM and 8KB of video memory. Along with the rudimentary sound system and single speaker, the Game Boy’s specs just aren’t very impressive.
The Game Boy may not have been a technical powerhouse but Nintendo proved that power isn’t everything when they released the portable system. Like so many tech companies, Sega (Game Gear), NEC (TurboExpress), and Atari (Lynx) had fallen for the performance trap, opting for faster processors and color screens to compete with Nintendo’s basic black and white system. These other consoles, however, sold for twice as much as the Game Boy’s budget-friendly $89 – not to mention they ate through batteries in a short time. Nintendo recognized that in order for the Game Boy to be a commercial success, they would have to make sacrifices, and chose to compromise certain features in favor of a broader, more utilitarian appeal. Even with such limited hardware, game frame rates on the Game Boy at least ran at 59.7fps and while rival handheld consoles like the Atari Lynx and Sega Game Gear boasted expensive hardware, the Game Boy required only four AA batteries for 30 hours of gameplay.
Only Nintendo would have had the confidence to release a handheld console so deliberately underpowered but truth be told, Nintendo could have priced the Game Boy much higher and it would have still been a success if only for the games and consumer’s familiarity with the Nintendo brand.
Keep it in Your Pants
For decades now, Nintendo has had a strange and complicated relationship with advertising their products, taking on many forms over the years, some successful and others not so successful. What I do find most interesting about the Game Boy is the system’s marketing. The company promoted its Game Boy line using a modification of the slogan used for the Nintendo Entertainment System, “Now you’re playing with power; PORTABLE POWER!,” Meanwhile, the television ads read, “They said it wasn’t humanly possible. But now you can have all the power and excitement of Nintendo right in the palm of your hands“. It’s funny how a system that wasn’t built with power in mind, had a marketing campaign that focussed heavily on power. Perhaps even more surprising is the customers it attracted. The target audience for the Game Boy was intended to be mostly boys which I guess made sense since according to Nintendo, only 14 percent of the customers who bought and played with the NES were female. Yet, for a marketing campaign aimed mostly at males, the Game Boy was notable for being an early success in crossing the gender divide with 46 percent of their players reported being female.
Yet apart from the clever slogans, costly TV ads, and gorgeous magazine spreads, the greatest contribution to the system’s marketing came with its name. When you think about it, the name is the most important marketing tool a brand and product can have. It needs to tell consumers something about the product and hopefully entice them to take notice. While some of the names of Nintendo’s video game consoles have become cultural icons, others such as the Wii U confused consumers rather than inform them. The Game Boy, however, is a great name for a video game console and decades later, the Game Boy might just be the best-named video game console to date, at least from a marketing point of view.
The original Game Boy line-up (including the Light and the Pocket) enjoyed a life span of more than 15 years and sold up more 118 million in sales worldwide before Nintendo began to phase it out in favor of the Game Boy Advance series which would go on to sell an additional 81 million units. During those 15 years, the Game Boy would see numerous successors and peripherals; survive a Gulf war bombing, and even travel to space thanks to Aleksandr A. Serebrov who took his Game Boy along on the Soyuz TM-17 space mission. The Game Boy revolutionized handheld gaming and if you were a young gamer growing up in the ‘80s and ’90s, the Game Boy was pretty much your best friend. It would travel with you wherever you went and the Game Boy would keep you company when nobody was around.
Kids these days may look at the original Game Boy as some ancient artifact from the past and not appreciate how it helped shape and influence the video game industry moving forward, but the Game Boy holds an important role in the video game industry and allowed Nintendo to continuously experiment and push the possibilities of gaming. In the 30 years since its release, only one other portable game system has ever outsold the Game Boy: Its own successor, the Nintendo DS, which once again proved that power isn’t everything.
- Ricky D
Quentin Tarantino Triumphs with ‘Once Upon a Time in Hollywood’
Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood is the best film he’s made since Jackie Brown and his most emotional ever.
Unlike other filmmakers I admire, I’ve approached each of Quentin Tarantino’s films since Kill Bill with trepidation. His last few movies have seemed to jettison the influences that animated Pulp Fiction and Jackie Brown, and instead he turned into an uncritical defender of any obscure genre film. His talent for snappy and mellifluous dialogue calcified, and was replaced by an even great reliance on violence and shock value. But with his ninth feature, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, Tarantino has revitalized the filmmaker of yore. It’s his best-written and most enjoyable film since Kill Bill (maybe even Jackie Brown), and his most unabashedly emotional movie ever.
The film opens in Los Angeles in early 1969. Hollywood is in a state of transition as the studio system begins to crumble. Roman Polanski and his new wife, Sharon Tate (Margot Robbie), are emissaries of the New Hollywood, while Rick Dalton (Leonardo DiCaprio), an actor who has descended from films to leading TV roles to villains of the week, is tied to the sinking ship of Old Hollywood. Accompanied by his stunt double and best friend, Cliff Booth (Brad Pitt), Rick accepts almost any part that will keep him afloat in his Hollywood Hills home, even if they typecast him and shrink whatever future career he might have left. His drinking — eight whiskey sours a night — isn’t helping things.
Though he considers Cliff a friend, he treats him more as a handyman and chauffeur (especially after he loses his license thanks to too many DUIs). Yet the stunt specialist, a man of few words, doesn’t seem to mind much. Though he seems almost Zen at times, he has a reputation for making film shoots difficult, so his steady work with Rick is appreciated. The early sections of Once Upon a Time in Hollywood resemble the early moments of Pulp Fiction when it’s a hangout movie about two men drawn together through circumstance. DiCaprio and Pitt don’t have that many lines together, even though they’re often with each other through the film, yet Tarantino makes every bit of dialogue count. He largely eschews the long speeches he cut his teeth on in his first few films, which is for the best — as fun as they were to hear, it often seemed as if Tarantino was more interested in showing off than in crafting dialogue that suited the film he was making.
While Rick and Cliff are trying to rejuvenate their careers, the future seems almost limitless for Tate. She and Polanski have moved in next door to Rick, who hopes the Polish director might notice him and cast him in a Rosemary’s Baby follow-up. But Polanski is out of town or out of the picture most of the time, leaving a lonely Sharon to wander Hollywood. In one of the more touching scenes in the film (not something you’d normally say about a Tarantino picture), Sharon uses her newfound celebrity for the first time to skip the fifty-cent admission price at a movie theater to see herself perform opposite Dean Martin in The Wrecking Crew. Robbie plays Tate as a bit of a ditzy innocent, but the wonder and pride she displays as she watches herself on the big screen are contagious. It’s also doubly poignant because we’re not watching Margot Robbie digitally inserted in the film, as most contemporary directors would have done. Instead, we see the real Sharon Tate, who was brutally murdered later that year by followers of Charles Manson. Her promising life and career were snuffed out in the worst way imaginable, but for a brief moment, it seemed the sky was the limit. Robbie’s part is considerably smaller than DiCaprio and Pitt’s, but she signals a time of optimism and artistic growth for the art form.
Robbie’s role is charming and light, but DiCaprio and Pitt both have enough screen time to give some of their best performances ever. Rick is a man full of insecurities who’s also drunk at least half the time, and DiCaprio allows himself to be more vulnerable than he’s been in a long time. He can’t seem to get out a single sentence without being consumed by stammering self-doubt. Cliff, meanwhile, is a man of few words who exudes power, yet distances himself from the world. A lesser writer than Tarantino would have included a scene where the stuntman blows up at his boss/friend for not respecting him enough, but there’s no such confrontation for Cliff. He understands that he wasn’t meant to be a leading man — just the guy who takes the punches, and he’s learned to handle them well enough after all these years.
Being a Tarantino film, there are dozens of major actors willing to take small cameos throughout Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, and many of them make the best of their parts. Emile Hirsh, who was convicted of assault after strangling a Paramount Pictures executive to the point of unconsciousness in 2015, plays a naïve friend of Sharon’s who’s infatuated with her and hoping she’ll cling to him once she dumps Polanski in a few years. Al Pacino is the least hammy he’s been in years (decades?) as a producer looking to pull Rick away from villainous TV roles in favor of rejuvenating lead roles in Spaghetti Westerns. Deadwood fans will rejoice at the sight of Timothy Olyphant as real-life actor James Stacy, the lead on a Western series Rick is guesting on.
Though most of the film is a supremely pleasurable trip around Hollywood with the three leads, the sinister presence of the Manson family lurks around the corner. An early scene of a bunch of bare-footed hippie girls dumpster diving is presented as carefree and light-hearted, but it takes on darker undertones since we can guess that they’re tied up in the cult business. It would be a crime to reveal how the Mansons are integrated into the film or its ending, but Tarantino has found a way to wrap things up that avoids many of the obvious pitfalls.
Watching Once Upon a Time in Hollywood, it’s clear that Tarantino isn’t just having a great time — he seems to genuinely love the world he has (re)created. More than any of his other films, he lets the camera wander to glimpse the iconic sights of Hollywood, both those that still exist in some fashion and those that have been recreated. He’s also a master of recreating the look of vintage film and television, which he does copiously, bringing to mind the multiple film stocks used in some of Oliver Stone’s works or Orson Welles’ The Other Side of the Wind. Tarantino is depicting a world and a time he was too late to experience, when many of the films that would shape his worldview were being made. In the movie’s centerpiece, when Sharon watches herself on the big screen, he seems to be living vicariously through her, experiencing his own part in this new world of cinema. He may have missed 1969 by a few decades, but it’s the next best thing.
Fantasia 2019: ‘Come to Daddy’ is a Plot-Twisting and Surprisingly Heartfelt Genre-Bender
Filmmaker Ant Timpson has been on the horror scene for years, producing some of my favourite genre films including the critically acclaimed Housebound, Turbo Kid and Deathgasm. He’s back in the festival circuit again, only this time with his directorial debut Come to Daddy— a wild genre mashup that had audiences running to the exits when it first premiered at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year.
Timpson’s first foray in the director’s chair is a film that refuses to be labeled. It begins as a simple family reunion between a father and son and ends in a violent bloodbath loaded with gruesome set pieces, pitch-black humor, and some surprisingly touching poignancy. And that is its biggest strength – Come to Daddy is full of unexpected twists seamlessly shifting between horror, awkward comedy, mystery, and drama all while constantly surprising viewers from one scene to the next. It really is a wild ride, opening by quoting Shakespeare and Beyoncé and ending with a bizarre shootout at a sleazy motel.
Elijah Wood stars as the finicky and arrogant Norval, whose thin mustache, bowl-shaped haircut and hipster aesthetic borrows heavily from the famous DJ and musician Skrillex. Norval is a self-proclaimed music guru with a limited-edition gold iPhone and a whole lot of male insecurities. After receiving a cryptic letter, Norval visits his estranged father (Stephen McHattie) at his beachfront property in the middle of nowhere. They haven’t seen each other since his dad abandoned him decades previously but when he arrives at the residence, his father not only seems uninterested in a reunion but doesn’t even remember sending him a letter. Regardless, his dad invites him in but as the two men spend time together, his dad becomes increasingly hostile. The more time that passes, the more tensions mount, to the point where, in the midst of an argument, his dad suddenly falls over dead. Left with a lot of unresolved daddy issues, Norval is left to piece things together and quickly learns that his dad has plenty of skeletons in his closet. To say more would ruin the many unpredictable twists and turns the plot takes, as one shocking reveal is made after the next, leaving Norval to battle with demons both real and felt.
Come to Daddy is a perfect inclusion in the midnight section of films.
Written by The Greasy Strangler scribe Toby Harvard, Come to Daddy isn’t quite as crude as Harvard’s previous film, but those with weak stomachs should take caution before sitting down to watch Come to Daddy since it doesn’t take long before the uncomfortable, albeit darkly funny exploration of a broken familial relationship explodes into violent mayhem akin to a ‘70s-style thriller packed with a ton of grime and gore. A large part of the suspense comes from the fact that it’s hard to predict what’s going to happen next but Timpson and Harvard never lose sight of the central theme of the film. Ultimately, Come to Daddy is a movie about a young man desperately seeking his father’s love and approval, and would go to
great horrific lengths to obtain it. Yes, there are scenes that will make you cringe but Come to Daddy is also an emotionally resonant portrait of loneliness and about one man desperately trying to reconnect with the past.
While Ant Timpson is no stranger to making movies, for a first-time director, Come to Daddy is impeccably well-made. Shot in and around the gorgeous beachfront home, Daniel Katz’s moody cinematography beautifully captures the picturesque location while Karl Steven’s eerie score is perfectly accommodating to the movie’s constant wavering tones. I especially love the staging of each scene and the visceral old-school makeup effects by Tibor Farkas – not to mention a surprise bathroom brawl that breaks out midway. But what stood out most when watching Come to Daddy, is the uniformly strong cast. Elijah Wood and Steven McHattie are amazing in their portrayals both giving bravado performances as the awkward and timid son, recovering from alcohol dependency, and the not-so welcoming old man who despite his limited screentime will downright terrify audiences. Meanwhile, supporting actors Madeleine Sami and Martin Donovan all have crucial, memorable roles as well, while Michael Smiley’s unsavory flamboyant character straight-up steals the show.
Come to Daddy is a genre-bender and one of the finest genre films of 2019. It’s a grueling little noirish thriller with slasher-worthy gore and absurd humour that is sure to make audiences laugh. There’s no shortage of scenes that you’ll watch through your fingers but you’ll watch all the same to witness the many secrets, successful twists, and brilliant performances it offers. Come to Daddy is certainly a strikingly assured first feature and recommended viewing for genre fans everywhere. I can’t wait to see what Ant Timpson does next!
- Ricky D
Fantasia 2019: ‘The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil’ is a Devilishly Delightful Time
‘The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil’ meshes action, intrigue, suspense, and visceral violence to the highest order.
“The enemy of my enemy is my friend.” Few adages carry such eclectic morsels of truth like this one. For starters, it entails one understanding that they have enemies. Second, it implies that one can recognize and distinguish between their enemies — which can be dealt with physically, politically, and economically at a later date in time, and which must be handled swiftly and immediately? To that end, one may agree (if begrudgingly) to form an alliance with the threat that can wait in order to dispatch the more pressing danger. South Korean director Lee Won-tae applies the murky realities of said expression to the fullest in The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil.
The clock is turned back to 2005 during a piping hot summer in Cheonan. Jung Tae-suk (Kim Mu-yeol) is a police detective with an unenviable reputation amongst his peers for his attitude, amongst his superiors for insubordination, and in the eyes of criminal underworld leaders like Jan Dong-soo (Ma Dong-seok) — who are greatly annoyed by the law enforcement personality — for enforcing the law in his own brash, hyper-aggressive way. Neither Tae-suk or Dong-soo care very much for another other, but their rivalry is soon put on ice after a lone wolf assailant viciously attacks the gangster one night, leaving him to escape the encounter with a few very memorable scars. When detective Jung puts enough clues together to discern that Dong-soo’s attacker is the same individual that has been murdering people at random, a serial killer investigation is opened. Tae-sook and Dong-soo forge a tenuous alliance to combine resources, each one defying the other that they will catch the killer first.
Way back in 2003, Oldboy seemed to change the way global cinephiles viewed South Korean cinema. To this day, that film is quoted as being not only a masterfully bizarre and satisfying thriller, but as the movie that opened the rest of the world’s eyes to the extraordinary talent brewing in the Korean film industry. Since then, nary a year goes by without at least one movie from that country squeezing into somebody’s top ten list. Of course, not all Korean exports can be Oldboy. That would be odd. All the same, whatever their screenwriters, directors, producers, and actors are eating for breakfast before heading to the studio lot or shooting location, just please keep up the same diet for another hundred years.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil is another entry on what is becoming a stunningly long list of Korean thrillers that mesh action, intrigue, charismatic and strange characters, suspense, and visceral violence of the highest order. Oh, and by the way, the audience will erupt in a chorus of laughter a dozen times. It’s fascinating to see a film like this unfold before one’s eyes. It isn’t as if filmmakers have never supplied moviegoers with adventures in which goodies and baddies must come together for a common cause, and it isn’t as if there is a shortage of cop films in which the protagonist is a hot-headed, loud-mouthed (and foul-mouthed) jerk; therein likes the magic of what director Lee Won-tae and his team have pulled off. It doesn’t matter that the terrain has been marched on time and time again — the movie is wildly entertaining to the very final frame.
What generally helps movies of this ilk is how the intricacies of the plot are dealt with in engaging and thrilling ways, especially when the major plot outline requires some setting up in the early goings. How is it there is a killer about? What is his or her modus operandi? Who is the lead gangster in town? Why is there a rivalry between him and this infuriatingly persistent detective? In a lesser filmmaker’s hands, all of this would be played in a very ‘by the numbers’ way, lacking narrative flow and momentum. In a word, boring. Lee Won-tae is too clever for that, however, and drops in characters that will come back in big ways later in the picture, whilst thrusting the viewer into the film’s works with gusto and without a safety helmet. Even though the general beats can be guessed, the movie nevertheless succeeds in keeping the audience on its toes because the world itself is so wild and moves along so quickly. By the time Tae-sook and Dong-soo have agreed to partake in a pseudo-friendly competition to see who nails the killer first, the movie already has the audience — hook, line, and sinker.
Helping matters in no small way are the leads. Kim Mu-yeol, in particular, has a very difficult task at hand; the aforementioned trope of the cop fueled by a devil-may-care attitude requires the actor to bring his or her best stuff to the shoot. What Kim has in abundance is charisma. His Tae-sook is indeed a vile individual, behaving very much like — if not worse than — the actual gangsters he is assigned to bring to justice. The highlight is the charm that the actor injects into the part; for every nasty slap or comment, there is undeniable, raw charisma that exudes from his personality. Put differently, he is the sort of detective one would loathe having to tail them, but who must be amazing to have on one’s team, if only for how ferociously dedicated he is towards the ultimate goal — to capture the villain. Although there isn’t a false note in the entire cast, Kim Mu-yeol is the clear standout. Loud? Yes, but oh so amusing.
The Gangster, The Cop, The Devil never loses steam, nor does it pull its punches. It is a splendid exercise in what South Korean cinema has been doing for so much of the better part of twenty years (at least, since the rest of the world took serious notice anyways). Be impressed by the gangster, sheepishly shake your head at the cop, and stay to see if they catch up with the devil.
Fantasia 2019: ‘The Deeper You Dig’ is Must-Watch DIY Horror
‘The Deeper You Dig’ is the kind of movie that Fantasia Fest was made for: those far off the beaten track, but well worth seeking out if one finds the chance to see it.
As cameras and editing software get cheaper, the bar for entry to becoming a filmmaker gets lower. And despite what snobby gatekeepers will tell you, that is very much a good thing. Art is made by artists, not the tools they use, and the most expensive gear and extensive crews do not a good movie make. The Deeper You Dig is proof of that, having been made for a scant eleven thousand dollars by a family of three who wrote, shot, edited, and starred in the film. While it’s a bit rough around the edges, there’s a dedication and craftsmanship that suffuses every frame, and in many ways those rough edges only add to its charm.
Single mother Ivy lives in a sleepy town with her daughter, Echo, separating the gullible from their money as a fraudulent psychic. But on one dark night, Echo is hit by a drunk driver — the shifty local, Kurt. Kurt hastily hides the body, but soon finds himself assailed by terrifying visions and plain old guilt. Ivy, meanwhile, continues to search for Echo by rekindling her dormant psychic gifts.
The Deeper You Dig is at its best when it is playing out like that old Sylvester the Cat cartoon where he thinks he finally got Tweety, and has nothing to do now but stew in guilt and sweat. Thanks to the impeccable atmosphere, the mostly-silent scenes of Kurt trying to put the accident behind him while he restores an old household instills a wonderfully palpable sense of dread even before the paranormal elements begin to reveal themselves. Of course, those elements do begin to crop up, and the film becomes a more somewhat more conventional ghost movie as it goes on. This isn’t bad per se, but those early scenes definitely leave the strongest impression.
The Deeper You Dig is a great example of how much can be accomplished with very simple tools. It’s quite beautifully shot, for one, with a very careful and confident eye for framing. The editing is also quite stunning at times, occasionally using a carefully chosen crossfade to stunning effect, and marches to a steady but deliberate rhythm the rest of the time. Again, the film is extremely good at using very simple tools to very great effect. Some of the more striking images even come as a direct result of the low-fi aesthetic. Scenes shot in the dead of night feel appropriately pitch black, where a bigger production would have used a lighting rig. Other times, shots are thrown into a high contrast by cameras with low dynamic range. This is the kind of film that reminds one that low-fi is an aesthetic, not a shortcoming.
It does have some rough spots, though. The soundtrack is an odd choice — a droning, amelodic affair that walks the line between music and noise. It often doesn’t quite gel, and some sequences would perhaps have worked better silently. There are also some brief dalliances into surrealism that are certainly ambitious, but can come across as stilted and awkward rather than engaging. The filmmakers will also sometimes try and pull off a visual that perhaps should have been implied rather than directly shown, like a decapitation scene that doesn’t really work despite their best efforts. It’s nothing if not ambitious, and that should be applauded on its own; even if the execution can feel a bit off, the enthusiasm and persistence of vision make up for it to a degree.
A good film demands passion from the people making it, and there’s no shortage of passion in The Deeper You Dig. That abundance of passion goes a long way, and the clear mastery of the tools at their disposal doesn’t hurt either. The Deeper You Dig is the kind of movie that Fantasia Fest was made for: those far off the beaten track, but well worth seeking out if one finds the chance to see it.
Goomba Stomp is the joint effort of a team of like-minded writers from across the globe. We provide smart readers with sharp, entertaining writing on a wide range of topics in pop culture, offering an escape from the usual hype and gossip. We are currently looking for Film, TV, Anime and Comic writers.
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