The Best & Worst of Pokémon: Generation VIII

Games/Expansions
Pokémon Sword
Pokémon Shield
The Isle of Armor
The Crown Tundra

Platform
Switch

Region
Galar

New Pokemon
89

+7. Into the slipstream

If you had to summarise the entire legacy – the highs and the lows – of the main eighth generation Pokemon games in just one word, “streamlined” would be pretty close to bang-on. Just about everything Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield did for the series seemed hell-bent on trimming fat, tucking in corners and straightening out paths. This post will come back to this theme repeatedly, but we start with all the miscellaneous quality of life improvements that make going back to older generation games just a little bit tougher after playing Sword or Shield.

The headlining improvement in this area was surely the ability to access the player’s boxes from almost anywhere in the game world, swapping a Pokemon out from storage into the party with a couple of button presses on the clean new user interface. A one-button save shortcut, the entirely fresh autosave option, non-intrusive activities to allow boxed Pokemon to grow (goodbye Festival Plaza and good riddance), combining the Affection and Friendship stats into one mechanic, wild Pokemon models visible in the overworld (a welcome feature brought over from the Let’s Go spin-offs), a proper audio balance menu, bikes that can surf, and the consolidation of several useful features traditionally locked to specific cities into the most useful Pokemon Centers in history all add up to a smoother moment-to-moment experience than ever before.

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10 Games From the Last 10 Years I Should’ve Ranked Higher

I thought I’d never do this, but ten years gives you a bit of a stretch to think.

It takes time, careful consideration and countless drafts to finalise an annual videogame countdown; some would say such an abundance of effort is a waste. But as far as I’m concerned it’s all fine and dandy, because the result is a ranking that might as well be cast in iron. Once published, it’s not just that I back my choices confidently; the order I’ve chosen becomes unquestionable canon within my head, ready to reference at a moment’s notice as if it was as tangible and unchanging as a musty library book on a shelf.

But I’m also human, and looking back on a decade worth of Game of the Year countdowns earlier this year pushed up an eyebrow or two. Not only that, but the absences of a few great games I played too late from some past years’ lists now stick out as annoying missed opportunities under the cold glare of hindsight. But what if there was a way for me to purge those small frustrations – gathering as they have over years – via a nice neat list? Well, luckily there is, and you’re about to read the result.

Of course there’s always a danger with this kind of project that picking at one thread will unravel several more. So to avoid a chaotic, sprawling tinker-fest and the potential 50+ item list that may have produced, I set up a few tiny rules:

  • Games that might have hypothetically risen up a list just because I overrated titles appearing above them cannot qualify – no Steven Bradburys here, positive vibes only;
  • Even if my newfound appreciation for one of these ten games has arrived courtesy of a newer, shinier and/or more accessible version of said game, I must make an effort to judge it based on the version(s) available in that relevant year;
  • Most importantly of all: I must be able to justify these inflated rankings as if I was still in the year they were published, but had way more free time (or just better time management). This is probably the trickiest part and there’s obviously no way I can do it flawlessly, but I’ll try.

Persona 4 Golden

2 0 1 2

Original Position: 4th
Where It Should’ve Gone: 1st

Starting off with a bit of a free hit here, as once I completed it Persona 4 Golden landed in my all-time videogame top five – and it hasn’t left that club since.

Looking back on my janky first public GOTY list today is a cringe-inducing experience for me – I sure did make some sweeping statements about Halo 4‘s multiplayer – but it’s surprisingly easy to put myself in the somewhat rigid mental space I was in a decade (!) ago, because the videogame analysis zeitgeist was in such a distinctly turbulent place that hasn’t quite been replicated in any year since.

2012 was the last full year of a GFC-stretched console generation; incessant commentators predicted the industry’s downfall as two woefully mismanaged new platforms began their all-too-short lives. Major triple-A releases were in short supply, and as those ten main list entries and five (unexplained) honorable mentions reflect, the industry was only just beginning to erase the prestige line between full physical game releases and “downloadable” games, as we used to call them. Despite their quality, there is just no way the 2012 version of me would have been able to give either Journey or The Walking Dead a fair crack.

Still, one of those aforementioned new platforms was the Playstation Vita, and I played arguably its best game over an intense four-month period straddling the end of 2012 and the start of 2013.

I probably haven’t written enough about Persona 4 Golden over the years considering the special place it holds in my heart – perhaps a better chance to dive into all that in earnest will arrive another day. For now all I’ll say is that the very best parts of the game take place much further into its hefty length than I had the time to reach by the end of December 2012, and even if that weren’t the case, the game (and series) has a knack of making you appreciate its characters and setting steadily more the longer you spend playing.

As good as Pokemon White Version 2 is – and if anything, its seam-bursting suite of content and still-unique approach to storytelling within the mainline Pokemon series has only made it more revered in 2022 – P4G still has it beaten for legacy. Had I somehow managed to play at warp speed and finish it before the end of 2012 the game’s impact on me may have been dulled slightly, but it’s hard to see a world where it wouldn’t have been the first-ever Vagrant Rant Game of the Year.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

2 0 1 4

Original Position: Honorable Mentions
Where It Should’ve Gone: 5th

I don’t know where my head was at for this one. This is the only game on the list that I haven’t played at all since writing the original countdown, meaning the considerable appreciation growth curve I’ve been on since has come about purely through the added context of a chorus of critical voices praising its many design accomplishments. All the little ways decorated developer Retro Studios pushed past the expected bare-minimum quality line of the early-2010s 2D platformer add up over a meaty campaign loaded up with wondrous mechanical ideas and packed with deviously-hidden secrets. No new idea outstays its welcome, yet each one is explored with a near-perfect difficulty curve. The visual presentation is artistically stunning, the controls are fluid, the musical tracks often soar. And the weird thing is that I knew all this while I was playing through the game in co-op with a mate.

The problem for both its initial reputation – and indeed my 2014 ranking of the game – is that premium-priced 2D platformers felt like they were a dime a dozen throughout the very late 2000s into the early 2010s. Nintendo was responsible for the lion’s share of these, and the company’s comparative lack of output in other genres ensured a palpable fatigue among fan circles that was difficult to avoid. Amusingly enough, Tropical Freeze was essentially the last of them, but of course we didn’t know that at the time.

Nonetheless, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a 2D platforming masterwork, and belongs right under the one-two punch of the Danganronpa titles and Nintendo’s formidable Kart/Smash Wii U combo on that 2014 list. I’m convinced that with a bit more time spent ruminating on the game, I would have – and should have – given it the rank it deserved.

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Another Ten 2022 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

I don’t know, I’ve never done a third one of these within a single year before; I’m not sure what else to title this one.

This probably still would’ve felt like a bonus list even if we weren’t living through one of the best cinematic years in recent memory; but here we are, so I’ve enjoyed somewhat of an unfamiliar feeling of lightness to accompany this third batch of 2022 films. Every new release is like an extra sprinkling of spice on a delectable banquet; the usual slightly anxious anticipation of wondering when the next good movie will hit just isn’t there for me at the moment.

Which is great because while the pleasant surprises keep on coming, the quality over the American summer blockbuster season thus far has been a bit all over the place.

Another ten quick ones for you:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

After Yang

Dizzying, ponderous themes curbed by stunning visuals and merciful length.”

Cyrano

The only aspect not joyously surprising is Dinklage’s powerhouse performance.”

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I Can’t Believe It’s Not E3! The Best Moments From June 2022 Hype Season

As an event trading on often delirious hype, the annual Electronic Entertainment Expo has always been intimately familiar with the importance of expectation. So when, in February of 2022, the event’s governing body the ESA announced that E3 would not be taking place this year – not even in its pretty successful restricted 2021 format – the expectations of an entire industry were reset. Reset, perhaps for some, to the sprawling hodgepodge of digital showcases from 2020 that spanned multiple months, each stream slapped with a cheap sticker denoting either Geoff Keighley’s “Summer Game Fest”, “IGN’s Summer of Gaming”, or both. That year felt like a few enterprising marketing teams trying to make the most of an awful situation; on the other side of E3’s brief return, however, the atmosphere felt more calculated.

Trying to lasso together all the videogame announcement vehicles of various shapes and sizes that we’ve just seen rolling through gaming social media spaces these past two-and-a-bit weeks may seem unwieldy, but when compared to 2020, those stickers seem far more premium and better-aligned. Keighley and co. were clearly much more ready to step up in 2022. Though not all the traditional pillars were present this year, a proper “replacement” for E3 – should it officially go the way of the Dreamcast – at last looks not only possible but likely.

Was this 2022 edition of the all-too-short announcement season a success? That probably comes down to the comparisons you choose to make, but I for one had a grand old time. These are my ten favourite moments/trends from “Keigh3” 2022.

A Tone-Setting REveal

The lack of ESA oversight in 2022 meant videogame publishers didn’t have any particularly pressing reason to show up with the goods in June, and quite a few of the big guns took that as an invitation to walk right on by. Though it was a bit of a downer to see the absence of dedicated Nintendo or (arguably more shockingly) Ubisoft showcases within the traditional E3 period, Playstation pulled an ambush on regular E3 watchers by unleashing easily their best-ever State of Play program right at the beginning of June. And it began with a context-free release date, bringing exactly the right kind of what-is-going-on energy for which modern Capcom is so renowned. Then a Spanish guitar riff, a giant “R” in a very familiar font, and then bam- right into a confirmation of the long-rumoured, gorgeous-looking Resident Evil 4 remake.

To be clear, since leaving E3 behind years ago Sony has divided its hype-building trailer montages into an almost-annual “Playstation Showcase” (usually around September), where they tend to put their biggest announcements, and then lower-key, often third-party/single-title-focused “State of Play” shows scattered throughout the year. When one such show was slated for this June, it came with a disclaimer that this would be yet another third-party-dominated affair. But there are few bigger third parties to being along than Capcom, and so that RE4 trailer was more than just a look at a game I am beyond excited to play; it lifted the hype bar and set the tone for what an E3-free June could hold in store. The colourful re-reveal of Street Fighter 6 minutes later only backed that up (and there was plenty more in that show to get excited about).

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Ten More 2022 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

So, uh, this happened. Never had to do back-to-back movie summaries before – but don’t say I didn’t warn you. It turns out that this is a pretty huge cinematic year.

I don’t know what feels more surreal: The near-certainty that this is the most new release films I’ve ever fit inside a month across my whole life, or the fact we live in a world where I could manage a whole nineteen movies before the first Marvel release of 2022. And a lot of those movies are good! Who knew!

Some of them are even really good; in fact I’m feeling bold enough to say that come the end of December, if my overall movie of the year somehow isn’t on this page I’d be shocked. In that unlikely case we would have truly enjoyed a special 2022.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

The Bad Guys

Sam Rockwell is back! And he brings thoroughly entertaining support.”

Ambulance

Michael Bay’s return to big screen spectacle matches his best.”

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Ten 2022 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

We are fully back to our regular schedule of movie-watching! Getting to the ten new releases mark when April has barely begun – without having to scrape around on streaming services – feels a bit like coming home if I’m honest. While you can probably say I started that journey in earnest last year, 2022 so far has largely brought my friends’ enthusiasm for the big screen back as well, so I’ve been having a better time watching as a result. That might have affected how positive I feel looking back at this batch of cinematic morsels, but who knows; they might just actually be decent viewing.

Well, with one or two exceptions.

The Aussie film release calendar is about to get properly packed, too – here’s hoping a good start leads to a good year!

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Death on the Nile

Mystery hits different after Knives Out, but this film’s gorgeous.”

Uncharted

Viewed as alternateuniverse homage, it’s a surprisingly fun outing.”

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Ten Years of Vagrant Rant

LEAFY LEAVES!

On this very day all the way back in 2012, I decided to start a blog, hoping it might be a place to order, solidify and essentially catalogue my thoughts on the entertainment media I enjoyed on a daily basis. I had already realised that I enjoyed discussing and analysing movies, videogames and music at least equally as much as actually experiencing them (if not more), and had published small pieces of writing on such subjects with all manner of flavours in all manner of places. But I wanted something to (as much as one can) call my own. So I set it up with WordPress, made sure to sprinkle it with plenty of green, named it after an obscure personal reference and kicked off.

Little did I know that not only would the blog still be around a decade on, but it would hang around despite a massive shift in the internet’s wider priorities and a huge change in its purpose barely three years in. You can just about divide the history of Vagrant Rant into two clear – yet uneven – halves right around 2015: The sheer number of posts I put up in that first “half” dwarfs the next seven years combined; but the individual articles just got so much longer afterwards that I’d wager the word count is just about even.

As uncomfortable as it is to be this self-reflective, I knew I couldn’t let this day go past unmarked – My constantly-compartmentalising brain would not allow it. So here, in no particular order – are my ten personal favourite posts I’ve published on Vagrant Rant.

Game Review: Final Fantasy X/X-2 HD Remaster (2014)

> LINK <

Of all the post formats I used to stick to, my old videogame review scaffolding is the one I look back on with the biggest cluster of hindsight-boosted winces. The idea of homogenising pieces of art as diverse as videogames by using the same structured headings for every single game made writing with any sort of flow quite difficult – though it did usually keep word counts mercifully contained. So my favourite review I ever wrote on the site has to be the April Fools’ Day entry reviewing the FF X/X-2 HD Remaster – or rather, just X’s incredibly addictive minigame Blitzball, which I jokingly passed off as a review for the whole game. It was the one instance I was able to come up with a creative use for the format I had restricted myself to, which probably helped me realise I didn’t enjoy robotically reviewing games much afterwards.

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Best of 2021 Closer

Ah, 2022. Welcome. It’s good to see you. Such promise you hold.

I mean, I’m sure we’ll get some good Marvel movies, and maybe even the last of the 2020-delayed crop (Top Gun Maverick and Mission Impossible 7 are at the top of the hype pile for me). And K-Pop will do its thing and continue to mutate in enough directions to produce quality tracks. But most of all, 2022 promises a properly spread-out videogame release schedule, perhaps to an extent not seen since the legendary 2017. The first quarter alone looks unambiguously stacked, ready to start millions of players off already behind on their backlogs. Bring it on.

Until it gets going, here’s the best stuff I watched, played and listened to in 2021:

1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Five Special Awards

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 10 Movie Characters

5. Top 5 Game Consoles

6. Top 10 Movie Scenes

7. Top 10 Gaming Moments

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

Thank you.

Best of 2021: Top 10 Movies

What a difference twelve months makes.

The year in general may have felt like its own form of tired sequel when all was said and done, but after scrambling to the finish line in 2020 and doing my best to bask in the unexpected, I finished 2021 having seen 31 whole new-release movies. Sure, that’s mostly because we got almost two years of delayed blockbusters crammed into one, but numbers are numbers.

More movies means I can be more confident of a quality list that properly reflects my tastes, but it also makes ordering the movies a tad trickier. I found this year in particular that quite a few of the films I saw came off somewhat uneven, with plenty of individual elements worth praising but almost as many misfires. That, of course, just makes them more fun to discuss, which in turn tends to make me like them more. Some even make this list. Because I will be vaguely gesturing towards such individual elements, you may find slight spoilers here, but it’s unlikely.

Let’s finish this thing.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. In the Heights

My most anticipated movie of an uncertain year for movies – mostly cause I knew I’d enjoy at least some of it, and that first trailer was incredible – John M Chu’s adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s stage musical In the Heights is exactly the visual feast fans could’ve hoped for. Though it hacks one of the main characters’ stories to bits in the name of streamlining an already-long runtime – and the musical already lacks the plot momentum of Miranda’s Hamilton – some of the other changes to the source are neat, efficient and well-executed. Some of the stage songs even take on new life with the visual flair added in the film, while the ones that were already highlights take another step up.

9. Raya and the Last Dragon

It’s a bit of a struggle to articulate what I enjoy so much about this movie, but ultimately I think it comes down to a simple claim: Raya and the Last Dragon features the best-looking hand-to-hand combat scenes I’ve ever seen in an animated film. Any criticism that it breezes past its cool wordbuilding is definitely valid, but there are plenty of other things to like about the movie: Awkwafina’s larger-than-life performance style almost works better in animation than live action, the entirety of the team-gathering second act is good fun, and the central message about old wounds preventing current growth is poignant. I stand by what I said back in July: It’s my favourite non-musical Disney animated feature in twenty years.

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Best of 2021: Top 15 Games

You can try to tell me 2021 was a bad year for good videogames. Tell that to my backlog. Look it in the eyes and tell it.

Don’t get me wrong: 2021 definitely was, without a shadow of a doubt, a slow-starting year for videogames; maybe even the slowest since I started writing these lists. It was also a bit light on Playstation exclusives thanks to development delays. But this was also the first full year of a brand-new console generation out in the wild; the year League of Legends finally began to make good on its promise to expand into other genres (and a Netflix show too); the year Apple Arcade finally drew some attention from core gaming audiences with a suite of nostalgic releases and the exclusive new Mistwalker RPG Fantasian; the year the whole Pokemon Unite thing happened; the year Microsoft’s XCloud mobile streaming service expanded to PC, Xbox consoles themselves – and Australia.

There was real, exciting movement in the games industry throughout 2021, and the big games – eventually – followed suit. When they did arrive they were continuously scoring over 80 on review aggregate sites, leaving September in particular packed with games lining up to try and distract from one another. More than half of this list’s games come from the release window starting late August and going through October – and only one from traditional powerhouse November. A weird year indeed.

But a good one: I always set a five-hour playtime minimum for a game to qualify for this list, yet I’ve actually finished 12 out of the 15 games on this 2021 list (and two out of the remaining three are JRPGs). Any of my friends will tell you that’s a sky-high conversion rate for me. Quarantines will do that, but so will great videogames. It’s hard to believe I had no room this year for Hitman III, Scarlet Nexus, Returnal, Mario Party Superstars, Monster Hunter Rise, Monster Hunter Stories 2 or Deathloop – into which I put a combined 60+ hours, and all of which I enjoyed. I’ve never actually been in that kind of a position before.

If you don’t see a 2021 game on this page, I didn’t play it enough to qualify. Parentheses indicate on what platform(s) I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is beyond unlikely. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. New Pokemon Snap (NS)

Over the two decades since the original Pokemon Snap came out, the idea of a sequel has naturally been thrown around all kinds of Pokemon fan circles; what most nostalgia-seeped memories tend to forget, however (mine included), is just how short the original game was. Pretty much accidentally designed for the repeatable game rental market, you could see all the game’s content in an afternoon if you knew what you were doing. Knowing this Bandai Namco concocted the clever New Pokemon Snap, which is not only the sequel we’ve been asking for, but the significantly more substantial sequel we didn’t know we wanted.

Carrying many more areas stuffed with randomly-shifting occurences, stacked with secrets, and teeming with Pokemon hiding four different scoring poses each, the completionist player has a ton to do in New Pokemon Snap – even before the chunky free content update released months after launch. The week of near-day-long sessions I played with my siblings passing the controller around was an absolute blast.

14. Shin Megami Tensei V (NS)

As a “JRPG guy” without the time or attention span for the truly unforgiving genre entries these days, the entire mainline Shin Megami Tensei series has mostly passed me by. That finally changed with the long-awaited open-world-ish fifth entry, a truly ambitious shift for both the series and Nintendo – who slapped their publishing label on the game and gave it their main first-party slot right in the middle of November (knowing Pokemon was coming out the following week to clean house, sure, but it was still a big deal).

SMT V may not care all that much about its story or supporting human characters, but it stands as a shining testament to the merits of a rock-solid battle system using a crisp UI – especially when paired with deep team customisation mechanics built to last. Boasting a stunning main character design and truly rewarding nook-and-cranny exploration, this is a game I suspect I’ll be playing for a long time yet.

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