Best of 2021: Top 10 Disappointments

I’m finding it even harder to be deliberately negative at the end of 2021 than at the end of 2020. It was a rougher year for me personally, but I know I’m not exactly alone there so let’s get to the point. It’s the same point as last year: There’s enough genuinely terrible stuff going on in the business of entertainment media, so this list is just gonna be real personal, real first-world and real petty.

What it will not be – for once – is gaming-only: the return of blockbuster movies with the rich potential to disappoint made sure of that. On that note, I’m giving a very light spoiler warning for No Time to Die.

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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. The Same Old Slow Aussie Movie Schedule

It’s come up a few times on this list over the years, under varying degrees of specificity each time: For all manner of reasons, in Australia we still have to wait weeks to months for many movies to hit cinemas. This still happens even though such a problem has been long-gone in gaming and music circles for ages, and the increasing presence of streaming-exclusive films hitting on the same day worldwide makes the disparity feel even worse.

Two things brought the issue back into discussion this year: 1) There was a whole lot more to talk about on the blockbuster front; and 2) usually the bigger the movie, the less likely there will be a big delay, but even before the big lockdown extensions we were looking at extra waits of a month or more for the likes of No Time to Die, Venom: Let There Be Carnage and Dune. The sheer familiarity of this whole situation leaves it low on this list, but in the age of widespread and early reaction content the phenomenon looks increasingly baffling each year.

9. Couches Passing in the Night

Of course the late movie situation was also exacerbated by the timing of lockdowns on the Australian east coast – and a couple of supremely unlucky videogames also felt the pinch. It wasn’t long into the year before fans of local multiplayer shenanigans had June circled as a month worth celebrating: We were set to see the long-awaited HD debut of the Mario Golf series with Super Rush alongside the impossibly good-looking Guilty Gear Strive, which stood out as easily the historic fighting game series’ best-ever chance to attract newcomers.

I don’t know about any of you reading this, but I was hyped. I had plans for these games; plans that kinda required people to be around. But the rest is history and long-story-short, neither of them held much appeal for me without local multiplayer. They were merely victims of bad timing and nothing more, but as a huge fan of the underappreciated Mario Tennis Aces and a regular dabbler in Arc System Works fighting games, I can’t help wondering what could have been.

8. Horizon: Zero Dollars

“Last year we made a commitment to deliver free upgrades for our cross-gen launch titles, which included Horizon: Forbidden West. While the pandemic’s profound impact pushed Forbidden West out of the launch window we initially envisioned, we will stand by our offer: Players who purchase Horizon Forbidden West on PlayStation 4 will be able to upgrade to the PlayStation 5 version for free.”

This post was made publicly on the Playstation blog in early September, a year after Sony made the commitment referenced in the quote; and barely a day after a Forbidden West pricing announcement that had replaced the commitment with a single purchase option that would work on both consoles – $20 USD more than the standard edition. They corrected it quickly, but the fact is Playstation believed a delay was enough to negate a public pricing statement without significant backlash online: a symptom of the age-old console gaming trend that sees the market leader come off as cocky and greedy before long. On that note…

7. Debt Expansion Pack

If I was a bit less of a nostalgic Nintendo 64 tragic, didn’t enjoy Animal Crossing, wasn’t part of a fully-stacked family group, and lived in the US, the implementation of the Nintendo Switch Online Expansion Pack could challenge for my number 1 spot this year. But I am, I do, I am, and I don’t, so here we are at number 7.

For some bizarre reason the add-on subscription, which at last brings N64 games to the service alongside a suite of Sega Mega Drive titles and the Happy Home Paradise DLC for last year’s Animal Crossing, multiplies the overall cost of the service by 2.5x in the States but only doubles it in Europe and Australia. Either way, this pack is a mighty hard sell to anyone only interested in the retro games, and even though the price is comparable for AC-only players it’s also a pretty awful deal for them. The pack does start approaching decent value the more friends you add to a family group, and a full squad makes it an almost negligible cost even if you are only interested in one-third of its offerings; but even then the pack is only available for purchase as a 12-month subscription. It just feels a bit like Nintendo trying to strong-arm people into subscriptions without quite having earned the move.

6. That Marvel Shade of Green

Trying to make movies amidst a pandemic sucks; you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone ready to argue with that. But with Marvel Studios’ move to a much higher output of canon interconnected stories this year to help fuel Disney+ subscriptions (The MCU saw five TV shows and four movies this year), cost-cutting measures were forced to combine with innovative ways to film indoors (see also: The Mandalorian) and the result was an awful lot of green screen with minimal amounts of people sharing a frame.

In TV shows this is sort of understandable, particularly since the likes of Wandavision and Loki involve so many fantastical elements; but when the trend makes its way to the big screen with bigger budgets it really starts to show. The almost claustrophobic look and feel dragged down parts of Black Widow, but it truly came to a head in Shang Chi: Legend of the Ten Rings. A supposedly epic finale featuring two armies of twelve people on a painfully flat background made me long for the wide-open outdoor shots of Eternals. Hopefully we see its prominence scaled back – or at least improved in execution – going forward.

5. No-op

Halo Infinite and Tales of Arise are both really, really good games. You might even say they were both easily in my top five most anticipated games on January 1st, 2021. Both had suffered lengthy delays in development. In their pre-release marketing, both promised new eras for their respective series; for the most part, they successfully delivered those. But the trade-off is both games also ended decades-long histories of including co-operative play, and that stings a bit. I could fill books with memories of playing these series in co-op over the years.

Infinite is more apologetic about it – understandably so as the feature is still coming to the game later and the campaign is clearly designed to support it. Arise, however, doubled down in trailers and interviews on the fact that the game’s bold new direction couldn’t possibly support more than one player. The final product, which takes hefty combat inspiration from Tales of Graces, doesn’t make a particularly strong argument in support of that.

This point would also apply to Persona 5 Strikers, which deflated me so much upon finding out that I gave the game to my would-be co-op partner to play instead; except after seeing how that game actually plays, I get it.

4. Maniacal Misstep

I normally don’t like to discuss movie (or game) plot details on this list, but this one stands out. Rami Melek’s Lyutsifer Safin ticks all the boxes for a traditional James Bond villain: cartoonishly scary name, gloriously cheesy retro-Bond lair, even a conspicuous Dr No throwback outfit. Unfortunately, his motivations in No Time to Die feel relatably confusing at best – and at briefest – then go full-on standard confusing, before ending up at nonsensical. Safin’s first two scenes of the movie are each masterfully tinged with a different flavour of horror, and Malek gives his all to the creepy performance; but the need to fit him in to the set dressing afterwards dulls his impact severely and makes the character’s final moments on screen deeply frustrating. And that’s all I’m comfortable saying.

3. A Square Show in a Round Year

I wrote about it at the time, but it bears repeating: Square Enix’s digital showcase at E3 2021 was absolutely horrendous. Glossing over a hugely significant move towards preserving their history through the Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters with a blazingly-fast announcement that felt like a TV spot – and then not putting them on consoles – would have been enough to make this list. But the show went the complete opposite direction with its Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy reveal, which wasn’t just long but actually repeated footage and did a generally terrible job showcasing the game’s strengths to an already-skeptical audience. The half-decent Life is Strange: True Colors trailer was drowned out as a result, and the clincher came when the heavily-memed chaos-loving Final Fantasy Origin dropped a playable demo – that didn’t work at all for a full 24 hours during the fastest-moving week of the year for gaming social media.

But you can’t be disappointed if you don’t expect anything, and the most deflating part of the situation at the time was that Square’s E3 2020 show had been an absolute pearler, making fans hopeful they had left their messier, more tone-deaf years behind them. I say “at the time” because seeing these games actually playable in the months since has truly laid bare how poorly they were messaged. Reception to the pixel remasters on mobile so far has been warm, the souls-like gameplay of FF Origin is looking promising, and Guardians has joined True Colors among the most acclaimed games of 2021.

But that wasn’t the most frustrating move the Japanese gaming giant made in 2021…

2. Cloudy With a Chance of Keyblades

2021 was the year Super Smash Bros Ultimate capped off a phenomenal extended hype cycle with a near-perfect final DLC character reveal: the much-requested, once-impossible Sora from the Kingdom Hearts series. Buried within that reveal celebration was the exciting announcement that the entire series would at last be landing on the Nintendo Switch… In cloud-streaming form.

Now cloud-only versions of big triple-A games on Switch are nothing new, but this Kingdom Hearts news is arguably the first time a series with a proper history on Nintendo consoles has received the streaming tag. Four games in the series debuted on Nintendo handhelds, and two of the already-established collections that make up the wider saga debuted in fully-remastered form on the PS3, which is (practically speaking) weaker in power than the Switch. Despite Square Enix’s protests that the decision was made for storage capacity reasons, and the definitive proof we have that Kingdom Hearts III is a genuinely demanding game to run, the idea of needing a solid mobile hotspot connection to play a 15 year-old JRPG on the train is simply absurd. Hopefully alternative options emerge.

1. Brilliant Battles? Shining Shame

Pokemon is no stranger to dropping established gameplay features only to add them in again later, but that usually only applies to fringe features between games – not core parts of the Pokemon experience within one game. As this post goes up it has been almost a month since Brilliant Diamond and Shining Pearl came out, and the Colosseum terminal in every Pokemon Centre is still unavailable, meaning there’s no way to battle people – online or locally – with level-scaling to 50. When it was quietly revealed the feature wouldn’t be there at launch, it was disappointing – this essentially meant battles between players who weren’t at roughly the same progression point in the story would be one-sided stomps.

Still, I figured a few days or even a week couldn’t be too bad; after all, the real competitive battles happen in the postgame. But the days kept going by, and as word spread of just how well the remakes nail the unique nostalgia of the original fourth-gen Pokemon games, more of my lapsed friends joined the bandwagon – some even started to show their first-ever serious interest in the competitive scene. And yet, nothing. Now more than a couple of timing windows have closed as people move in with their lives.

Next year’s Pokemon Legends Arceus doesn’t even have multiplayer, so having this core part of Pokemon’s appeal weakened feels particularly confusing. Not only that, but the patch that will inevitably unlock the Colosseum will also supposedly unlock this generation’s version of the Global Trade System – an iconic part of the 2007 games that is still blocked in-game. Weirder still, all versions of the game’s Union Room can currently only support two players, despite the back of the BD/SP retail boxes showing off a full room in all its glory. Just baffling.

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Honorable Mentions

–Dreadful Trailers

I get that Nintendo really wanted this game to do well, and it looks like it worked, but did we really need a million trailers between Metroid Dread‘s June reveal and its October release, each one bringing fresh environmental spoilers?

–Digi-Destined

This was sadly kind of inevitable, but in March, Sony announced the Playstation Network storefronts for the PS3 and PS Vita would be shutting down mid-year. The backlash afterwards caused them to (mostly) reverse the decision, but the news was still a very real reminder of the limitations of digital distribution on consoles.

–Ninty No-Shows

This one’s fresh – NIntendo not bringing any new announcements to the Game Awards at the end of this year was essentially unprecedented in the show’s current format, and probably means the sequel to Breath of the Wild is still pretty far away.

3 responses to this post.

  1. I saw ‘Digi-Destined’ and thought it was a further complaint that Digimon Survive, the once 2019 release is still missing from my collection.

    Great line up, and you’ve actually made me more curious about No Time To Die.

    Reply

  2. Posted by ajuric on Dec 22, 2021 at 7:37 pm

    I want the Vagrant Rant Livestream to be a pallbearer at my funeral, so it can let me down one last time

    Reply

  3. Reblogged this on DDOCentral.

    Reply

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