Best of 2021: Top 10 Movie Characters

What a line-up of scene-stealers we had at the movies (or, you know, in our homes) in 2021. That probably has a fair amount to do with all the delayed 2020 flicks that crashed on top of this year’s cinematic plans, but you analyse the hand you’re dealt, as it were. This is yet another year without any protagonists on the list, but that’s just the way it shakes out more often than not. The human focus of a film’s story doesn’t tend to capture my attention quite like the good old extended cameo or enjoyably hammy villainous performance – or indeed both at once.

This list is rarely the place to find in-depth plot spoilers, but it’s still worth being careful if you consider yourself behind on major blockbusters this year.

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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.

Spoilers may follow.

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10. Luisa – Encanto

Encanto is packed with super-powered characters that get very quick introductions (this is a Lin-Manuel Miranda work, after all, so the words-per-minute can get a real workout) and then have to fight for character arcs while staying under a Disney animated movie runtime. So it makes sense that the character with the most physically apparent power – and the solo song with the most words in it – would present the best opportunity to kick off the movie’s themes of familial expectation. But my word, do her voice actress Jessica Darrow and the entire animation team run with that opportunity. Luisa is consistently entertaining to watch and “Surface Pressure” is a throwback to the golden age of chaotic Disney visual storytelling within a musical number.

9. Cipher – F9: The Fast Saga

That’s right: the main villain from the eighth Fast & Furious movie appears in the ninth one trapped in a giant glass case for most of the runtime, wearing a bowl cut, and is still more memorable than John Cena’s primary antagonist in this one. That might be because Charlize Theron is allowed to have a lot more fun than Cena – whose comedic timing in at least two other 2021 movies proves how wasted he is playing the stoic, burdened younger brother of Dominic Toretto – but also because she commits to looking and sounding even more cartoonishly evil than she did in F8. The degree of ham in her performance is a perfect fit for this franchise, so it’s a shame she won’t be coming back for any more movies.

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Best of 2021: Top 15 K-Pop Singles

This was somehow my tenth year following the Korean music industry, but not all of those years have been the same in terms of interest levels – as you may know if you’ve read any two or more instances of this top 15 list in the past. Sometimes I’m all-in for most of the year; some years I do a big catch-up binge every three months or so, and some years I do all my listening in a dense, borderline-overwhelming chunk at the very end. After an exhausting 2020 where I was back on the week-to-week release grind for the first time in ages, it turned out 2021 gave me a new listening pattern: almost nothing for the first half of the year, then a gradual ramp-up from July onwards.

This meant I got to skip a fair amount of the garbage-wading of last year, and perhaps this year’s list isn’t as authentic as a result; maybe it won’t last as long when I listen to it later. But right now it feels light and fun and I’m digging listening to it on repeat as I write this. On that note, as always it’s worth mentioning that this is always audio-first thing for me: I had seen precisely four out of these twenty-five music videos before I started formatting the list.

It’s also strictly for songs that have music videos and feature at least some Korean language lyrics, disqualifying fantastic songs like Adoy’s Baby. I recommend turning off the YouTube subtitles if they end up automatically playing for you on this page; I’ve just never thought they added anything worthwhile to K-Pop, but that’s a matter of opinion of course.

However, only your best headphones are allowed while you’re here.

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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. Beautiful Beautiful – ONF

I daresay a whole lot of people around the world looked to K-Pop for an injection of positivity in their lives, and so I can think of no better way to start this playlist than with a relentless dose of just that. Mid-tier boy group ONF’s breezy Beautiful Beautiful uses a basic 2010s pop template to great effect with a sticky main hook that kicks off the song and comes back with verve time and time again, briefly stopping before the last chorus for a lovely harmonious pseudo-in-the-round session that I wouldn’t mind to hear revisited in a longer form. It’s hard to mess up a backing track like this, but ONF’s vocals elevate Beautiful Beautiful to the next level.

14. BEcause – Dreamcatcher

The year after dropping what I still think is the young decade’s best K-Pop album, Dreamcatcher returned to making powerful standalone title tracks with BEcause, which is nominally a summer track but sure brings plenty of the dark sonic elements that are often associated with the colder months. Opening with suitably creepy nursery rhyme vibes brightened up by Leez and Ollounder’s world-class production, it’s not long before the track is going harder than the operatic pop-rock outfit has for a couple of years: Punchy chants, strangely satisfying note slides, double-time breakdowns, an ethereal piano bridge; this is quality vintage DC and I’m here for it.

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE LIST

Best of 2021: Five Special Awards

It’s been ten years of this and I finally have a small window to talk about TV shows. Kinda. Marvel and Disney made sure of that. So as you’ll soon see we have not one but two new special awards in 2021, alongside three returners. I have no idea which ones will be here next year and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The category I felt worst about cutting to make room was Best K-Pop rookie, but I just wasn’t following the industry for long enough this year to give a decent account of that one (for the record, it probably would’ve gone to Purple Kiss). Let’s get stuck into the standalone good stuff.

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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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Best Third-Party Game Publisher

Square Enix

I know I hit them pretty hard at the pointy end of this year’s disappointments list, but that was largely because of how good Square Enix’s game releases were this year. Beginning 2021 with a meaty JRPG on the level of Bravely Default II, especially at a time when almost no other third parties were showing up, put them in the early driver’s seat, but then… well, the months went on and still no real competition. Remember how the only new multi-platform games on physical shelves before May were Nier Replicant and Outriders? Yeah, both Square Enix.

Even when the other heavy hitters came out to play, neither the Western or Japanese publishing arms of Square were ready to put the cue in the rack. The long-awaited Neo: The World Ends With You delighted fans as a huge part of the JRPG July festivities, joined in that genre this year by SaGa Frontier Remastered and another surprising Yoko Taro joint in Voice of Cards: The Isle Dragon Roars. The PS5 appearance of Final Fantasy Remake Intergrade drew massive praise, with its fantastic new story DLC in tow. Five of the company’s six planned Final Fantasy Pixel Remasters launched on PC and mobile throughout the year, each to promising general reception; then in quick succession came absolute narrative gems Life is Strange: True Colors and Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Even a release as disastrous as Balan Wonderworld couldn’t mess up a year like this.

Only Capcom and Bandai Namco gave this title any real competition in 2021: the former with hugely successful brand-new Monster Hunter and Resident Evil releases; the latter absolutely bringing the quality with shock (Scarlet Nexus), reinvention (Tales of Arise) and high-value horror sequels (Little Nightmares 2 and House of Ashes). EA did put out unexpected wins in Knockout City and It Takes Two, but missed the mark on Battlefield 2042. Ubisoft failed to impress with a mix of flops and delays, Bethesda isn’t a third-party publisher anymore, and it sure wasn’t a good follow-up year for Activision-Blizzard, now was it?

Oh that reminds me, I only forgot to mention that 2021 was absolutely the year of Final Fantasy XIV, which not only released its titanic expansion Endwalker this year but is now the world’s most actively played MMO. It even needed to suspend all purchases earlier this month to try and give the servers a break. I honestly don’t think I’ll ever see a 12-month period this dominant for Square Enix ever again in my lifetime.

Runner-Up: Bandai Namco

Best Indie Game Publisher

Devolver Digital

This one was truly spicy in 2021, without a clear leader but plenty of worthy contenders. No major indie publisher from last year’s round-up failed to release a game that caught my attention this year, so ultimately I can’t help but feel we’re all winners in this world where cool game ideas are boosted to the top of the pile by smart marketing support.

Chucklefish bears the first mention, because they actually brought a game this year – and that game was the absolutely wonderful Eastward. They do seem to be going for quality over quantity still, but I’m totally fine with that if they keep spotlighting and releasing games at their current level. Team 17 seemed to fall off the radar slightly despite quite a few releases, but those releases did include Greak: Memories of Azur and Narita Boy, the latter of which I played quite a bit. Curve Games (formerly Curve Digital) brought crunchy graphical showcase The Ascent to the world and so cannot be discounted.

But the big four of 2021 pushed this one to the wire: Raw Fury released noir adventure Backbone and unwinding toy-builder Townscaper as strong support for their long-awaited headliner Sable, which launched with rough performance on some platforms but soared to critical success regardless. Annapurna Interactive and Humble Games both came mighty close, the former with the triple-threat Twelve Minutes, The Artful Escape and Solar Ash among others; in fact if the ridiculously cool Neon White had made its 2021 release date Annapurna may just shot up to top spot. But Humble well and truly held its own after an amazing 2020 by snuggling up to Microsoft with a suite of winners that all game to Xbox Game Pass day one: Dodgeball Academia, The Wild at Heart, Into the Pit, Unsighted and Unpacking are all so good -and so different from one another – that the publisher’s name should arguably have appeared under all the XGP ads running everywhere this year.

But after a classy, diverse, powerful 2021 display, Devolver Digital deserves to take this one. From solid shipwrecked platformer Olija to surprising free mobile sequel-ish thing My Friend Pedro: Ripe for Revenge to absolutely bonkers shock spin-off Minit Fun Racer, Devolver embraced their modern status as the deranged cousin of the stuffy triple-A elite with a line-up that didn’t skimp on quality; they fully leant into the hype around Loop Hero and Inscryption, neither of which disappointed once they released. But there can be little argument about what was their crown jewel this year: Isometric roguelike Death’s Door is the closest 2021 got to a Hades in terms of sheer word-of-mouth energy, and it was all Devolver’s to reap.

Runner-Up: Humble Games

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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.

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Best of 2021 Intro

A year of two halves: That’s how I’ll always remember 2021.

Down here on the east coast of Australia, we were fortunate enough to open the year with almost six straight months of false security in this post-2020 world. As our North American and European friends weren’t quite in the same position, new release movies were rather difficult to come by – and those debuting on US streaming services didn’t always match up 1-to-1 with our offerings. What’s more, the starved extrovert in me was very keen to make up for lost time, and it turned out one of the routines of my life that made way for the extra social time was (most of) my Korean music listening.

As for videogames, 2021 was positively grisly for people with free time in the early months of the year; between January’s Hitman III and May’s Resident Evil Village the triple-A videogame needle barely moved for the home console crowd. Although the picture for Switch owners was definitely more consistent, the widespread game delays 2020 had promised all seemed to hit at the same time, leaving very little in their wake. Luckily, more room opened up for some unexpected gems, but a legendary half-year it was not. Even this blog stayed dead-silent for almost six months.

Then 2021’s entertainment media came alive, just as the lockdowns came back with a vengeance down under. The PS5 actually received a couple of exclusive games, the Switch enjoyed a fabulous JRPG July, Bandai Namco and Square Enix unleashed some real surprise gems, and Xbox Game Pass enjoyed a sustained watershed moment with a full handful of the best-reviewed games of the year. Two summers of pent-up American blockbusters started to hit movie theatres and streaming services in earnest, and they kinda haven’t stopped since. I slowly picked up the K-Pop again with the help of some unexpected new friendships, and it turned out I had missed some pretty good stuff.

It’s a tired observation these days, but you really would be forgiven for feeling like you lived two years this past year; I certainly feel that way. But I promise these next ten countdowns will not focus purely on that bountiful second half: We’re looking at all of it.

Regardless of how many lists you click on, I’d like to thank you for joining me for Vagrant Rant’s 10th annual year-end countdown celebration!

Oh yeah, I kinda buried the lead there.

Ten years. Wow, there you go.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

The following lists represent my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting them 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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The Year(+) of Halo – Part 5: To Infinite and Beyond

At last, we’re on the doorstep.

Surely now – a year on from its original planned release date – we are nearly in the presence of Halo Infinite‘s story campaign. The wheels are set in motion for a committed launch, and though the game’s release will be aping all manner of giant hulking spacecraft in Halo lore by crash-landing without some of its parts, at least it won’t be on fire. You know, metaphorically speaking. We can hope. I’ve been playing a lot of the game’s multiplayer “beta” that’s basically just final release code, and it’s fantastic, so that’s promising at least.

As you may recall if you perused any of this site’s 2020 output, I spent a decent chunk of free time last year playing through and writing about the PC ports of the Halo campaigns – most of them in co-op while weaving through connection errors, bugs and other technical hurdles – in an effort to get ready for an otherwise-intimidating leap of faith into a dense, lore-soaked story spanning (officially as of last month) decades – plural. As you may realise if you perused any of this site’s 2021 output thus far, I haven’t been spending a whole lot of free time this year doing any of those things.

On one hand, a break from the series was just what the doctor ordered; on the other, it kinda seems like the whole ordeal (and make no mistake, it did feel like an ordeal at points) isn’t really worth much if it isn’t finished. But at the time of writing, there isn’t much time left in the year; there has been a pretty constant stream of new things to play and watch throughout 2021 and almost nothing about Halo Infinite‘s launch has seemed set in stone until quite recently. So to finish this lengthy project, I’ve taken inspiration form – stay with me – the Kingdom Hearts series.

Yep, for all intents and purposes I’m packaging the three remaining Halo campaigns as if they were a twisted sci-fi gun-spraying version of Kingdom Hearts 1.5 HD ReMIX or Kingdom Hearts 2.5 HD ReMIX, and the mental gymnastics required to get us to that comparison are surprisingly light. Both collections repackage three older games using the same formula: one headlining main-series title, one title with “spin-off” vibes (though this is no indication of lesser polish or quality) and one lesser-regarded title presented only as a collection of cutscenes. Spot the incredibly neat coincidence yet?

Basically, I set out to play the Halo 4 campaign to completion on my own time by myself, allowing the “spin-off” Halo 3: ODST to be a co-op side project as time and schedules permitted – with no pressure to finish the game because that’s the only Halo campaign I’d already seen through entirely long before this project began. That leaves Halo 5 as the stubborn outsider that I decided was best left experienced via cutscenes and/or story summaries on YouTube, for reasons including but not limited to:

  • It’s the only Halo game that still hasn’t come to the PC, and there’s still no sign of it doing so;
  • Though I loved Halo 5‘s multiplayer enough to lift it firmly into my top five games the year it came out (and that was a very competitive year), the campaign is almost universally panned as being short, repetitive and unsatisfying;
  • Perhaps more than any other Halo campaign, Halo 5‘s is designed around four player co-op, and there’s no way I can be bothered going through the hassle to get a fully-stacked willing team together given the above factors.

So that’s the setup. Got it memorised?

Halo 3: ODST

What a game! No sooner had I booted up the opening mission with my long-suffering Halo co-op mate Toby than I was hit with a wave of 2009 nostalgia I hadn’t yet experienced on this long PC campaign journey. This was one of my very first tastes of dark, moody Triple-A HD gaming back in the day, and the polished visual contrast between shadowy night-time city streets and funky alien weaponry is preserved superbly in ultrawide aspect ratio today. But the game’s art is certainly not the main reason why this campaign such a stellar reputation within the series.

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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.

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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

Ten More 2021 Movies Summarised in Ten Words Each

We’ve got movies again!

It seems that due to the recent extended lockdowns down under, digital access to blockbuster theatre-only movies has been accelerating of late. It’s not the same speed for every studio – at the time of writing it still looks like we’re a way off from digital releases for Shang Chi, No Time to Die and Venom 2 – but given I didn’t even get to 20 new movies last year, I’ll definitely take this scenario. So here’s the second half of that 20, real quick-like:

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

A Quiet Place Part II

In just 90 minutes, brutally wraps up the first one.”

Minari

Slowburning emotional decathlon gives way to waterworksinducing catharsis.”

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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.