Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Some Really Quick Thoughts on Zelda: Ocarina of Time

I promise.

You don’t disappear down the N64 Zelda nostalgia rabbit hole for 30 hours this late in a game-stacked 2021 without at least writing something about your experience. Well that’s how you justify the time spent. If you’re me.

You see, it turns out it’s been a tick over a decade since I last played through The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – in the form of its wonderful 2011 3DS remake – and almost two decades since I gave its original blocky Nintendo 64 iteration a go. I have never played the 60Hz version – as I’ve only ever lived in (50Hz) PAL regions and so only remember a version of OoT that runs literally 16.7% slower than the American/Japanese release. I never owned an N64 Rumble Pak either. Despite this blog housing lengthy posts devoted to Majora’s Mask, Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword – even a short reflective post on Spirit Tracks – I have never typed out anything on the legendary time-travelling 3D Zelda standard-bearer lasting longer than two consecutive paragraphs.

The recent addition of N64 games (and a controller to match) to the Nintendo Switch Online service gave me a fine opportunity to address all that.

It’s All Been Said Before

The most imposing barrier to my Ocarina of Time writing motivation has always been its status as “everyone’s favourite Zelda game” during my formative years playing videogames. I didn’t own any gaming platforms when the game first came out, but was properly invested in the medium for every subsequent Zelda game release; every 3D Zelda since OoT was already destined to be measured up directly and exhaustively, but this timing made the game’s shadow feel especially inescapable. For well over a decade I found any opinion other than “Ocarina is the best one” to be unpopular at best.

Discourse always felt dead in the water.

I’ve always enjoyed Ocarina of Time, but attempting to discuss it with people has never been particularly fruitful for me; it seems like every other game in the series has more interesting strengths and weaknesses. Not only that, but Ocarina did a genuinely fantastic job of bringing the stellar Link to the Past Zelda formula into three dimensions; the adulation it receives is not undeserved. The nostalgia haze around the game is strong, make no mistake, but there is no great wool-pull conspiracy going on here. It may have understandably aged in places, but this is a good videogame.

It’s just a boring one to write about. Or it was, until recently.

Now my thoughts can take flig- you know what I just find this picture really funny.

From the beginning I’ve thought of Ocarina of Time as the “vanilla” 3D Zelda game, because it codified so many successful series tropes. The inevitable side implication is that its successors each take a couple of those tropes and implement them with far more razzle-dazzle.

Majora’s Mask does sidequests and minigames better while tap dancing all over the tonally unsettling parts of its predecessor; The Wind Waker does combat and wonder like a champion and looks / sounds sensationally timeless doing it; Twilight Princess outdoes its direct inspiration in scale, heft and dungeon ambition; Skyward Sword nails narrative, pacing, item quality and lore substance; and Breath of the Wild just blows the doors off what was thought possible for nonlinearity in 3D Zelda. It’s been a long time since I genuinely believed Ocarina of Time was the best Zelda game in any particular category; even if it does plenty of things well, it has a real master-of-none vibe in retrospect nowadays.

And speaking of Skyward Sword, I wrote a LOT about it this year.

It wasn’t long into my 2021 test-turned-playthrough of Ocarina of Time before I realised this neat internal summary of the classic might need a tweak or two, because it turns out the game does do something better than its younger counterparts: It’s arguably more rewarding to replay than any of them.

CLICK HERE TO KEEP READING

The Second Age of Uncertainty for the Nintendo Switch

And (probably) the second-last article I’ll write about it. But we can’t be certain…

In late 2016, the questions were made of ‘if’s. Plenty of takes were ready to answer those questions with doom and gloom predictions, sure. But mainly, it was ‘if’s. Nintendo was back in the home console doghouse after a string of Wii U-tinted flops and an ambitious handheld/home hybrid seemed like an uncertainty at the very best. As a period in the Big N’s history, it’s been well-covered – although it still seems a little surreal to think about. If the Switch made a real sales impact, Nintendo would have pulled off yet another unlikely comeback. If it didn’t, the company was in for some real trouble.

Of course 2017 gave us a definite, emphatic answer. The Switch did just about everything right all year, dropping a steady stream of compelling titles without a single delay. But by 2018, the ‘where’s started to creep into the online chat. Any serial Switch YouTuber subscriber will remember the hysteria at the beginning of the year: Where was that Nintendo Direct? Then later, as the wave of ports and DLC expansions gathered momentum, where were all the brand-new games? Where was the launch content in the new Kirby and Mario Tennis games? Though nothing in Nintendo’s history suggested a year like 2017 could ever be properly backed up, their new console’s success made pundits ravenous.

In 2019, we got a nice big serving of ‘why’s in the air. Some of Nintendo’s announcements that year inspired heavy-duty communal head-scratching: A portable-only Switch that couldn’t switch? A poorly-justified ‘dex reduction in the new Pokemon games? A new fitness game with a plastic ring accessory costing north of $100? Why? Of course all of these sold super well – 2019 was ultimately a strong year for exclusive games and big third party support alike – but no one could accuse the Big N of resting on their laurels to get there.

As we all know, 2020 was a very different story. The releases dried up when an already light year collided with a worldwide pandemic, and the ‘how’s came out to play. How would Nintendo stay relevant amid such a climate when new Xbox and Playstation consoles were set to dominate headlines and interest all year? But the Switch had its most successful year of hardware sales ever, with periods of unavailability easily trumping its launch year as Animal Crossing finally smashed into the top tier of Nintendo franchises. Incredulous analysts could only ponder how such serendipity had lined up for Nintendo.

Now here we are, coming up quickly on that magical (usually final for Nintendo) five-year mark in a console life cycle. As hardware sales settle down again in 2021 and restless 4K Switch successor rumours refuse to go away despite an unprecedented global chip shortage, the ‘if’s have returned. There have been valid questions asked of the Switch throughout its life, but the ageing technology within what is functionally a handheld console now compares even less favourably with its beefy direct competition. Will it be able to hold its own or is another Nintendo nosedive coming up? Is the Japanese giant about to abandon support in favour of its next console, as it has done so often before around that half-decade point? Not since that first trailer five years ago has such an air of uncertainty hung around the hybrid gaming platform.

Allow me to present two points suggesting that probably shouldn’t be the case.

CLICK HERE TO READ THEM

Revisiting The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – In High Definition & High Detail

Yep, we’re doing this again.

Ten years. Wow.

It has somehow been (almost) ten years since The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword hit the flailing, ailing Nintendo Wii to a chorus of crickets. Essentially the last major release on the console, there was already a mighty stack of factors going against its success before November 24th, 2011 rolled around: The Wii had endured an extremely light year after a banner 2010 that already felt like a celebratory send-off, as Nintendo pivoted first to launching and then to saving the fledgling 3DS; the game required the purchase of the Wii Motion Plus attachment in order to work with its ambitious controls; and perhaps most tellingly, the lightning had left the bottle for the casual Wii audience and everyone else was playing Skyrim.

Yes, Link, it’s true.

This left a smaller audience than Nintendo would’ve liked to pick up its latest 3D Zelda extravaganza, the endcap to a year-long celebration of the series’ 25th anniversary. Skyward Sword sold in the millions, but for a game five years in development and an install base as record-shattering as the Wii’s, it was nothing short of a disappointment. The day I started writing this it still held the record for the worst-selling 3D entry in the Legend of Zelda series (Edit: Switch sales may have changed this by now). And despite an initial wave of critical acclaim customary for a Zelda game, the reputation of Link’s motion-controlled escapade took a sharp downturn before long and stayed down for years. After all, who wants to dust off their horrifically outdated Nintendo Wii and buy an extra controller attachment just to challenge the notoriety of a finicky, linear, repetitive, excessively hand-holding game in *ugh* standard definition?

omg ewwwww

Five years. Oh no.

It has somehow been (just over) five years since I put out what is still the longest singular piece of writing I’ve ever cobbled together in my lifetime: A 10,000 word behemoth on The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess HD (Edit: Um, about that…). Inspired by a decade of mixed personal feelings, lengthy conversations with friends, and triple-digit hours of watched YouTube content on the strengths and weaknesses of the game; the post ended up perhaps a touch unwieldy and yet oh-so-cathartic. Thanks to a bucket of alternate perspectives and a highly underrated Wii U remaster, I had never felt so assured that – despite its flaws – um, I liked the game, actually.

And I’d be OK never writing another word about it.

The last thing I was thinking as that project slowly came together was “I’m setting a template here and I definitely want to put myself through this again.” And yet you know where this is going, because you read the title: It’s Skyward Sword’s turn. But this time around, dear reader, we’re not investigating if years of Zelda franchise evolution and some neat nips and tucks have improved my sentiments towards an inconsistent videogame; we’re seeing whether my third favourite Zelda game of all-time (behind only Majora’s Mask and Breath of the Wild) can possibly still hold such a lofty position after it has been exposed to a decade of stiff critiques, a lack of clear historical identity and a radical reinvention of the entire franchise in its wake.

Challenge accepted.

But we are going to try our very best to do it in less than 10,000 words this time, probably (Edit: We failed, and we failed hard). Regardless, this one will need a beverage or two to get through; at the time of writing Skyward Sword is the last 3D Zelda game to release on a second console, and rest assured I have no intention of leaving stones unturned. Whatever it will cost.

You guessed it – we’re in for another long one.

(I’m going to go ahead and re-purpose a paragraph from the Twilight Princess post because it fits too well this time, and kinda feels poetic too)

Be aware that this post contains a huge amount of spoilers that get steadily worse the longer you read – worth mentioning if you haven’t played the game before. All you need to know if you’re a Skyward Sword newcomer is that yes, I believe this HD / portable release is definitively the best version of the classic title, and yes, you really should play it. If you really want to read on, continue at your own risk, but you should know that what follows is so exhaustive that you may not even feel like you need to play it by the end. But maybe play it anyway?

HERE WE GO: Click here to regret your choice to click here.

So Let’s Talk About E3 2021…

Deep down, we all knew it had to happen.

Only a full E3 show would get me writing agai

Something had to give. Following on from a year without the traditional Los Angeles summer videogame hype extravaganza – a year peppered with spread-out morsels of tasty videogame announcement news carrying a considerably lower combined profile due to the all-consuming effects of a global pandemic – the Electronic Entertainment Expo returned in June 2021 more electronic than ever. This time, it was all-digital, all the way; and after so long for fans in the proverbial desert, the inevitable had to happen. Millions of gaming pundits lined up to sate their thirst, and plenty set their expectations into overdrive.

And who could blame them?

Like many things in life, the global pandemic rendered the gaming events of 2019 a distant memory. Way back then, we were wondering how relevant a trade show like E3 truly could remain in a world where major game publishers were growing increasingly confident following the example of the revered Nintendo Direct model, holding their own digital news events on their own time. Discourse was shifting steadily towards questioning its very existence; but fast-forward to 2021 and the benefits of a concentrated week of hype are now abundantly clear. Lots of eyes, lots of Twitter accounts, lots of people who want to want things, all looking in one place; in greater and more idle numbers than ever before.

Too Many Cooks

Not Enough Recipes

But the industry isn’t magically positioned as it was five years ago just because a legion of fans feel nostalgic for a bit of LA-flavoured normalcy. Understandably, not every big company was ready to march to the beat of the notoriously difficult ESA, E3’s governing body. Traditional E3 heavyweights Sony and EA decided their plans did not line up with a mid-June blowout – as they have for the last three years at least – and even a considerable pack of parched players was not enough to change that. But the opportunity was there, and so the ESA made the call to bolster the size of the event by widening its arms.

The ESA began to rope in the increasingly numerous satellite showcases from recent years with a history of capitalising on residual mid-June excitement, making them officially a part of the E3 lineup. And so the likes of the PC Gaming Show, Guerilla Collective showcase, Future Games Show, and yes, Devolver Digital all suddenly had pride of place on official E3 Twitch and YouTube feeds – complete with lead-ins by well-known games media voices on a souped-up soundstage. What’s more, without a traditional show floor to show off their typically limited wares, some familiar publisher names decided to add their clout to the ever-expanding roster and pivot to a conference/showcase format.

Whether or not they had anything new or noteworthy to show off.

CLICK FOR MORE E3 HOT TAKES

Best of 2020: Top 15 Games

Ah, 2020 – you came, you saw, you reduced us all to the last shreds of our sanity. But my word; you sure gave us some incredible videogames to fill the time.

This past year brought the interactive goods like it was 2017 all over again: the genuine power behind Dreams’ boundless player expression; the frenetic flow of Doom Eternal; the absolute ton of new content in Persona 5 Royal; the revolutionary VR jaw-dropper Half Life Alyx; the shiny systems sandbox of Watch Dogs Legion; the viral push of Valorant; the unreal ambition of Microsoft Flight Simulator‘s return; the grand scale of Immortals: Fenyx Rising; the unlikely success of long-awaited sequels Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time, Spelunky 2 and Streets of Rage 4.

We had gorgeous remakes like Resident Evil 3, Demons’ Souls and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2. We had acclaimed games with laser-targeted niches and actual budgets, like Wasteland 3, Star Wars Squadrons and Nioh 2. We had strategic gems like XCOM Chimera Squad, Gears Tactics and Othercide; amazingly fresh indies like Spiritfarer, Carto, Paradise Killer, The Pathless, Bright Memory and Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin; hugely successful spin-offs like Minecraft Dungeons and Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity. And of course, we had the one and only Cyberpunk 2077.

That’s just the stuff that didn’t make my list.

To qualify a game for this top fifteen I need to have played it for more than five hours and/or finished it, unless it’s multiplayer-focused. That disqualifies a lot of good stuff that I was enjoying but stopped playing early due to interruptions, such as plenty of the games I just mentioned but particularly Ikenfell and Sakura Wars. I also cannot use a 2020 re-release of an old game on a new platform unless I didn’t play the original release at all – This last point means some of the best games released this year (A Short Hike, Pikmin 3 Deluxe, Dragon Quest XI S – all of which you should definitely play) cannot count.

Without further ado, these are my fifteen favourite videogames from 2020. Parentheses indicate where I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2020 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 an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Animal Crossing: New Horizons (NS)

2020’s Animal Crossing: New Horizons really could have gone anywhere on this list; anyone who got involved in that initial two-month wave of communal playing could tell you that as long as it’s got new content to offer, this is less a game and more a daily life activity on roughly the same level of necessity as brushing your teeth. As a result some people will have this in their number one spot while others may forget to even think about it in the GOTY conversation – and so using it as an introduction of sorts to this list just feels right.

I’ve been playing the Animal Crossing games for almost two decades, so I’ve seen plenty of games in the series get away without adding much shiny new content. Though it’d be easy to see New Horizons as simply another addition to that legacy when looking at the right screenshots, the genius of this one is that it takes the opening moments of most Animal Crossing titles and essentially makes them the endgame of this one. You build up day-by-day from a desolate island with a mere campsite to a bustling remote town with a host of diverse facilities – all with the help of a clever new crafting system – and then eventually you get to terraform the island itself. The secret of Animal Crossing has always been about self-expression, but New Horizons takes the concept through the stratosphere.

14. Genshin Impact (PS4/Mob)

This is a weird one, because I played Genshin Impact for eight hours on its PS4 launch day (my laptop was being repaired at the time), then checked in daily over a couple of weeks for no more than the login bonuses, tried the mightily-impressive (sadly cross-save-incompatible) mobile version for an hour or so, then never went back to it. But I just can’t not have it on the main list; this game may be a confusing pitch blending the gacha mechanics of standard free-to-play mobile RPGs with a distinctly skin-deep Breath of the Wild approach to environment design, but in its moment-to-moment gameplay it is something else entirely. It plays more like an action RPG with on-the-fly elemental mixing mechanics that – bizarrely enough – remind me of Starlink: Battle for Atlas. Its cast of characters bring vastly different playstyles to the table and slot into the story interchangeably without consequence – or emotional investment. Genshin Impact somehow feels like both the shallowest and deepest game I played in 2020, and I’m still trying to reconcile that in my head.

Two down, thirteen to go – click here

Best of 2020: Top 10 Gaming Moments

What a spicy year for videogames this was. I’ll get more into the sheer volume of good ones in a couple of days, but long story short I played a lot of games this year and finished a fraction of them. This gave me a monster of a shortlist for cool moments within those games, and they came in all sorts of flavours. The year brought us gameplay surprises, narrative shocks, and good-old fashioned feelings of accomplishment. Sadly 2020 was lacking in the ‘local multiplayer gathering’ kinds of moments that usually find their way onto this list most years, but we’ll just have to hope 2021 lets us bring more of those back.

Anyway, these are the ten gaming moments I feel like talking about the most this year.

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VR BEST OF 2020 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 an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

THERE ARE BIG VIDEOGAME SPOILERS ON THIS PAGE.

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10. Space Infomercials – Journey to the Savage Planet

Every time you return to your ship in the darkly funny commoditised exploration adventure Journey to the Savage Planet, a colourful screen buzzing with over-the-top energy and a yelling voice of some kind awaits you. Sometimes it will show a plot-focused recorded message from the CEO of Kindred Aerospace, the 4th-best interstellar exploration company in the galaxy. But whenever it doesn’t, there’s a randomly-chosen bizarre advertisement with daytime TV vibes to chew on – and I can’t pick just one for this list. Whether it’s the visceral horror of the animated waste Meat Buddy, the purple structure-changing food replacement goo known only as Grob, or the explosion-laden pitch for fictional game Moba Moba Moba Mobile VR v17 (where microtractions are the game), the main adventure always had to take a break whenever one of these came on during my playthrough.

9. Baby Shark… – Maneater

I didn’t exactly love Maneater, but it’s definitely quite a bit of fun at the start, and I wasn’t expecting the weirdly charming low-budget-aquatic-GTA shenanigans to turn so suddenly dark immediately after its extended tutorial. I had a physical reaction when the powerful, confident shark I’d been playing as fell into the clutches of happy-go-lucky villain Scaly Pete; the guy abruptly puts an end to your predatory avatar with one gruesome slash of his knife, revealing that you were pregnant the whole time. As a sneering act of cocky faux-pity, Pete throws the newborn shark into the river, simultaneously revealing that this shark is actually the game’s true protagonist. Then it’s back to the goofy attack-feed-upgrade loop.

Click here for more moments (with some spoilers)

Best of 2020: Top 5 Game Consoles

So here we are once again, in the launch year of proper “next-gen” consoles. The gaming world is in a wildly different place than it was in 2013 – as anyone who tried to get a pre-order on one of the new consoles can attest – and while that would’ve been the case even without a pandemic, it’s hard to look anywhere online at the volume of overall console demand in 2020 and call it run-of-the-mill. It feels like the Switch spent the entirety of 2020 breaking sales records, and we seemed to get an apology from a different gaming CEO every month apologising for the lack of some form of hardware stock.

So a few more people have videogame consoles in 2020, but which one had the best feature upgrades and exclusive games this year? Which one felt the most like this was its year? Yep, it’s time for this merry-go-round once again; this is my opinion on the Top 5 Game Consoles of 2020.

No, PC and mobile are not consoles.

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VR BEST OF 2020 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 an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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5. Xbox Series X|S

LAST YEAR: N/A

Over the last month and a half I have not been shy about expressing how much I appreciate the new generation of Xbox consoles. They’re so fast to get anywhere or do anything; they’re compatible with mountains of games and accessories; they look sharp and modern; they love being connected to good screens and for the most part, they just work. However, right here at the starting line in 2020, it feels like the Xbox Series X and Series S can’t go anywhere on this list but at the bottom. I’ve always used two main factors to navigate console placement on the year-end list: fresh advances in the world of user features, and exclusive game releases. Microsoft has made both of those things quite irrelevant within the marketing pitch for their new consoles at this point in time, but more on that in a couple of paragraphs time.

I promise they’re great though. I had to pull myself away from playing my Xbox Series X to write this.

Click here for the other four

Best of 2020: Five Special Awards

Got the usual mixed bag here – the same three ultimately meaningless but fun-to-write awards I’ve been unable to fit into any other lists for a few years now, joined by two new ones – and I’m hoping one of the new two has the staying power to return next year. But we will see. Not much more to say on these ones, other than that they’re a bit wordier than they were last year. Here we go.

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VR BEST OF 2020 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 an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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Best Third-Party Game Publisher

Activision

Do not adjust your screens; they’ll still take your money any way they can (as will any of these companies) but due to the widespread delays and unique challenges of game development in a pandemic, the infamously small-output habits of the modern-day Activision did not come off quite as cynical in 2020 as they have in recent years. EA’s only decently-received new release of note was Star Wars Squadrons, although they did make a few unusually consumer-friendly moves by leading the pack on cross-platform play throughout the year and adding their services to Xbox Game Pass by year’s end. Bethesda had to make do with just Doom Eternal and an expansion for The Elder Scrolls Online before ending the year as a Microsoft first-party studio. Capcom essentially only had the Resident Evil 3 remake; Konami stayed disappointingly dormant; and Focus Home Interactive was understandably unable to back up their stellar 2019 efforts. Ditto for 505 Games, although Journey to the Savage Planet is rad.

That left five major third-party publishers in the running. 2K Games deserves a mention for at last giving people a decent mainstream golf game in PGA 2K21, as well as bringing almost the entirety of the Borderlands and Bioshock series to the Switch in fine fashion. XCOM Chimera Squad is excellent – as well as cheap – and the Mafia remake wasn’t awful, but the 2K challenge ends there. Sega cannot be discounted in a year where it released the absolutely wonderful Yakuza: Like a Dragon, Sakura Wars and Streets of Rage 4 – not to mention a sequel to Puyo Puyo Tetris – but alas, we move on. Ubisoft was sitting pretty in 2020 thanks to its decision to delay literally every big game in its holster out of 2019, prompted by the poor critical and commercial reception of Ghost Recon Breakpoint. As a result they were able to unleash huge open world adventures Watch Dogs Legion, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla and Immortals: Fenyx Rising in consecutive months despite the pandemic, right after re-launching their much-improved game client Ubisoft Connect. They also launched their own battle royale title Hyper Scape, though opinions differ on that one to be sure.

For me 2020 comes down to two publishers in the end. The crown could quite easily have gone to Square Enix on the strength of its Japanese contingent alone – the Trials of Mana remake gives the Japan-only 1995 SNES classic a properly impressive modern presentation, Kingdom Hearts: Melody of Memory surprised plenty of people with its content, and Final Fantasy VII Remake is a triumph on plenty of fronts. However, despite a thoroughly enjoyable campaign, Marvel’s Avengers has utterly failed to justify itself as an online experience, and the less said about the XIII remake the better. No, the most consistent game publisher of 2020 was somehow Activision-Blizzard. The extremely pretty Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War successfully evokes the variety and value of the first Black Ops title a decade ago; World of Warcraft: Shadowlands has recaptured a ton of lapsed players; and Crash Bandicoot 4: It’s About Time proved that not only is there still an audience for the marsupial mascot in 2020, but you can still make a really good game for that audience. The clincher? Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1+2 is simply one of the very best videogame remakes I have ever played.

Runner-Up: Square Enix

Click here for more random awards

Best of 2020: Top 10 Disappointments

Take a number, get in line.

Tired jokes aside, 2020 was certainly packed with negative news, and that gave me plenty of time to think about this list. Some of the truly heinous things that went on in the world of entertainment media this year made my usual first-world vents seem truly pathetic. But at the same time, the word “disappointment” feels like it’s nowhere near strong enough to describe them. So I ran with that; I tried to think about the whiniest things that specifically pissed me off about entertainment media in 2020, just to make it clear as day how what kind of pettiness this list is all about. This is the result.

In other words, it’s only slightly different from the normal annual list. Now let’s purge the negativity so we can move on.

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VR BEST OF 2020 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 an utterly bizarre coincidence. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. The Impossible Game Delay

No, I’m not talking about Cyberpunk 2077 – delays have become an expected part of CD Projekt Red’s games even in years without pandemics going on. And because there was, in fact, a pandemic going on this year, I’m also going to give a break to the two games that continue to frustrate me with their ongoing lack of release news, Roller Champions and Samurai Gunn 2. Nope, the only game with a significant enough delay to qualify for this list is none other than Halo Infinite.

If you were lucky enough to get your hands on an Xbox Series X this year, you would have noticed the giant Infinite artwork splashed across the back of the box. You might even have seen some merchandise around the place – mugs, action figures, Nerf guns – all emblazoned with the Master Chief and some even including DLC codes for the game. Delaying Halo Infinite from its position at the centre of the Series X launch lineup was supposed to be impossible, yet the mad lads did it anyway. It was the right call, which is why it’s at the bottom of this list; the game’s July gameplay debut undershot expectations so much it became a meme. But boy, did it take the wind right out of Xbox’s sails.

9. Good Ninjas Hide From Players

Remember Ninjala? The free-to-play Switch game that looked like a Splatoon spin-off with charming ninja-themed character designs? Oh it’s still going, don’t worry – it’s even got itself a devoted community. But if this is the first you’ve thought about the game since its disastrous late May launch, that would make two of us.

The stage was set for Ninjala to take over the lives of many a Switch player. Nintendo, as a Japanese company, was feeling the effects of the pandemic more than most companies in the gaming space at the time, and had almost no first-party game releases announced for the rest of the year. A colourful free-to-play title with that Nintendo-style polished looked was just the ticket for quarantine. But actually playing the game was easier said than done. I had no success getting into any of the scheduled beta sessions, and reactions on Twitter soon turned merciless. This was mere days before the Borderlands, Bioshock and Xenoblade avalanche, mind you, so it wasn’t long before there were plenty of things to play instead. I haven’t seen any of my Switch friends online playing Ninjala since.

Click here to see just how first-world things can get

A Whole Lot of PS5 & Xbox Series Launch Impressions

2020 began with the promise that the next generation of mainstream videogame consoles (and by extension PC hardware) would at long last grace our homes by its end. At multiple points throughout this year, such a promise seemed about as far from reality as conceivably possible. The stop-start hype cycle, packed as it was with guesswork and noise, was nothing short of exhausting. Yet here we are. Despite two distinctly bitter flavours of worldwide preorder drama, the PS5 and the dual-threat Xbox Series exist in real life; they are out there in the wild and after almost two weeks spent with each, I’m here to talk about how they look out of the racing blocks. Strap yourselves in – this is a big one.

Seven years ago I posted a similar article comparing the PS4 and the original Xbox One. In many ways that feels like yesterday, but going back over it in preparation for this round I was struck by just how many shiny plates were spinning on both sides of the main home console divide in 2013. Gimmicks and talking points abounded: futuristic Kinect voice commands and hand gestures running on a tile-based solid-colour Windows 8 interface versus PS Vita remote play, the abandonment of Sony’s trusty “cross media bar” and Playstation’s most radical controller shake-up ever. Both consoles felt functionally fresh and experimental. They were missing key features their predecessors had taken for granted and neither one showed any interest in backwards compatibility with older-generation games, but at least in those first few months there was a sense that each cut had made way for something tangibly new.

Which is why that launch also feels like a hundred years ago. The still-young gaming industry has continued to change in many ways since 2013, and the feverish year of marketing and punditry behind us would have you believe there’s a growing ideological gulf between Microsoft and Sony. But the dawn of the ninth home console generation has a somewhat surprising streak of quiet confidence about it. Make no mistake: The PS5 and the Xbox Series X feel like marked leaps ahead for the home console experience, and they are quite different despite clearly learning lessons from one another during the last go-around. But neither Sony nor Microsoft has come off looking quite as insecure about it this time around.

Clash of the Titans

Let’s start by talking about the elephants in the room. It’s been well-documented (love an understatement) that 2020’s new boxes are a bit on the large side, but much like the pocket-friendliness of last year’s Nintendo Switch Lite didn’t hit home until I held it, the stature and weight of the Xbox Series X and PS5 feels like little more than a meme – until you actually have to try and fit them into your entertainment setup. I distinctly remember transitioning from PS3 to PS4 painlessly because they shared identical cabling and a similar stature, but the PS5 is so gargantuan that the tape measure had to come out more than once during the multi-hour entertainment unit reshuffle it demanded.

Visually the PS5 looks like it belongs firmly in the middle of the 2000s, right next to the lightly-toned, vertically-marketed day-one model Xbox 360 and Nintendo Wii. Despite being larger than both combined, it would’ve fit right in among that semi-space-age design trend. It marks a huge departure from the last decade of flat, straight black lines that aim to draw attention away from the consoles they adorn, arriving instead with a weighty form factor wearing a brilliant white coat, collar popped like it was made by a company that just sold 100+ million PS4s. It doesn’t care that it needs a chunky (included) stand for stability; it wants to be the first thing anyone looks at in your living room.

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