Posts Tagged ‘Best’

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

Best of 2020 Intro

Well a year certainly did happen this year, didn’t it?

You’ve probably already seen, heard and read enough pithy lines about 2020 to form your own top ten list of sub-divided top ten lists, but luckily for you I’m really only interested in the good stuff that released throughout the year to entertain you. You know, if you could play it. Or watch it in one 90min-3hr sitting. Or listen to it. If it was Korean. That’s the stuff I’ll be spending the next ten days talking about on this site, anyway. I promise nine out of ten lists will focus on the positive. We just have to get the whiney stuff out of the way tomorrow, then its all good and straight on to 2021.

Join me for one list, some lists, all of the lists even, if you want. Have a great day.

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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 of 2019: Top 10 Movies

Like any other recent year, I spent the majority of 2019 trying to see as many movies as I could, thoroughly enjoying posting an entry in my ten word review series every time I passed another ten-film milestone. I wrote up two of those this year – a decent effort I thought, given some years I’ve struggled to get to 20 movies.

Four of those 20 made this list.

Yep, although the first two thirds of the year were certainly no slouch, that final bit brought the goods like nothing else and turned 2019 into a banner year for worthwhile theatrical adventures (though sadly I haven’t seen Parasite yet). In the process it transformed this list from a Disney-dominated extravaganza to a… slightly less Disney-dominated extravaganza. Yay for a bit of competition, right?

Happy New Year!

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VR BEST OF 2019 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 rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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10. Toy Story 4

This was a strong year for animation to be sure, but the most surprisingly good dose of it came from Pixar’s initially derided bonus sequel to the beloved Toy Story trilogy. Pixar is still doing a fair amount of good stuff in the modern era, but this still felt like a cash grab when it was announced. Then it actually came out, and wow. The team who brought you a heart-rending tale about growing up now brings you a heart-rending tale about parenthood and shifting between phases in your adult life. Oh, it’s also the prettiest animation you ever done seen, and it’s by far the funniest Toy Story movie yet. Unafraid to use only the legacy characters it needs in order to serve this particular story, it also introduces a hilarious set of new ones and none of them outstay their welcome. Toy Story 4 kicks a come-from-behind goal to beat 23 other movies to the tenth slot.

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Best of 2019: Top 15 Games

Your mileage may vary on 2019’s strength as a videogame year. As I daresay my consoles list would suggest, that mileage will probably depend on whether you have a Nintendo Switch, but not just because that console enjoyed more exclusive new releases than any other this year. Much like the improved Xbox Game Pass, the Switch offered a raft of opportunities for time-poor players to enjoy older games in a new form. This definitely contributed at times to a feeling that I was helplessly drowning in stuff to play, but I do have friends who look back on 2019 with more laid-back attitudes and shrug. It wouldn’t have helped that the heavy-hitting North Americans largely sat 2019 out, taking up only two slots on my list; this was a year utterly dominated by Japanese and European developers, after all, with a strong line-up of perfectly toasted indie treats along for the ride.

To help me cut down this list to a usable 15, I always use the same rule: A game can make it on if I played it for 5+ hours or finished it (whichever comes first), unless it’s a multiplayer-focused game; then I just need to have played it once. I feel like this has always served me well as an indicator that I’ve given a title a fair shake, but it once again disqualifies a bunch of fantastic games that make me wince just typing them out: Luigi’s Mansion 3, Man of Medan, The Outer Worlds, Devil May Cry 5, Baba is You, Gears 5, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. If you don’t see a game either on the main list or in this paragraph, you can safely assume I just did not rate it highly enough or lacked the interest / awareness to try it.

Parentheses indicate where I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2019 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 rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Rage 2 (XBO/PC)

2019 was positively laced with games that one might call 7/10 experiences; titles that do plenty right but have a noticeable permeating flaw or simply don’t do much to distinguish themselves (see the honorable mentions for a few examples). Many count Rage 2 among these, but I feel like it’s got plenty enough going for it to carve out a unique voice. The environments – especially outdoors – are absolutely stunning at times, thanks to Avalanche’s gorgeous Apex Engine; the popping colours in the most intense firefights are instantly identifiable to this game; and the gunplay is well fitting of Doom developers Id Software. Rage 2 was knocked by critics and audiences for repetitive open world design, but I often feel like modern criticism is too quick to undercut the importance of well-designed movement flow. Actually playing Rage 2 feels amazing moment-to-moment, gun-to-car, which is the main reason it makes my GOTY list in 2019.

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Best of 2019: Top 11 K-Pop Albums

Yes, this is where I’m putting that extra point from the shortened consoles list.

2019 was in my estimation the craziest year for quality K-Pop mini albums I’ve yet experienced. For a significant chunk of this year I toyed with the idea of outright replacing this list with a top ten purely devoted to the EP format. With the extra point and more honorable mentions I’ve pretty much ended up with one anyway, which is great because thanks to an expanded K-Pop recommendation circle I did uncover a good amount of worthwhile full albums in the end as well. I may have bent some rules, but I’m really happy with the list this year. Happy listening!

1-3 tracks = N/A

4-7 tracks = mini album

8+ tracks = full album

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VR BEST OF 2019 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 rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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MINI ALBUMS

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6. Kill This Love – Blackpink

Yes indeed, once in a while a YG girl group actually releases enough songs at the same time to count as an album! In Blackpink’s case, the loooooong time between drinks just about paid off in 2019, because Kill This Love brings three A-game B-sides and a pretty decent remix to slot in under the bombastic title track and create a winning EP. First-change rumbler Don’t Know What To Do leverages the drop-happy stylings that have helped slide Blackpink out from under 2NE1’s shadow, while Hope Not finally brings back the all-too-brief magic from the group’s debut year acoustic B-side Stay. The sealer is the middle track, however: Kick It is a low-key better song than the actual lead single, Kill This Love, which is no dud itself. Uniting big drop with strumming flourish, it rocks.

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Best of 2019: Top 10 Gaming Moments

Videogames are made up of tiny moments, each one hopefully engineered to keep you engaged in the overall experience of playing. But some unique slices of game design or scenario writing stand out from the smaller ones around them, sticking in our minds because they differ so wildly from our expectations, or because they encapsulate everything that’s great about a game in one neat package, or because they’re just fun to go through. Some moments are carefully set up by the developers; others completely unplanned, based on happenstance and/or the involvement of additional human players.

These are my ten favourite moments in 2019 video games.

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VR BEST OF 2019 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 rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

THERE ARE SPOILERS ON THIS PAGE!

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10. Out of the Blue – Apex Legends

It wasn’t as if we didn’t have any games to play at the start of February this year. But with barely a week gone since the year kicked off with Resident Evil 2, Kingdom Hearts 3 and Wargroove – each a big deal in its own way – EA decided the time was right to drop a new, free-to-play shooter with next to zero pre-release marketing or hype. Apex Legends represented a new step for developer-of-the-year Respawn Entertainment, previously of Titanfall fame; but diving into the game with a few friends on day one revealed a tasty basket of unexplored ideas in the battle royale genre that made it clear why EA had such confidence in the risky strategy. Using respawning pods, taking ziplines and especially the near-endless slope sliding were all a heap of fun, and they even let Apex take enough of the Fortnite and PUBG audience to rule the roost for a few months.

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Best of 2019: Top 10 Movie Scenes

Now we arrive at the year’s most stacked and probably most fun list. I had a shortlist of 28 scenes from 31 movies to whittle down to ten, and it’s been a good time reliving these well-constructed moments of tension, emotional catharsis or just plain fun at the movies. But while sifting through the shortlist I had a wild realisation: 2019 was a real good year for movie songs. I’ve got three of them on the main list and two in the honourable mentions, but worry not – there’s plenty of other stuff too. Including, obviously, lots and lots of big fat spoilers.

Proceed with caution.

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VR BEST OF 2019 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 rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

MASSIVE SPOILERS AHEAD!

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10. All Hands on Deck – Shazam!

Like quite a few people out there, outside of Batman and friends I’m not a huge DC guy. There’s an awful lot about DC Comics characters that I don’t know. I also did not keep up with a ton of the marketing for Shazam! So I had no idea that the titular character has a super-powered foster family in the comics with whom he fights bad guys. But it didn’t take long for the movie to charm me – and make me well up a bit – with its regular human foster family plot. The movie’s portrayal of believably flawed kids living together in a community held together by a ridiculously patient couple really, really got me. So when the finale places a bunch of dominoes in a row in order to set up that power-dividing moment, it felt triumphant and earned. The fight afterwards is incredibly cheesy and a bit too neatly staged, but it was hard to care. I was having too much fun.

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Best of 2019: Top 4 Game Consoles

Yeah that’s right, I can’t keep up this PS Vita charade anymore – We’re doing just four this year. That extra listed item will be added onto a list near the end of this whole shebang.

Shades of 2012 flickered throughout this past year in console gaming. As the calm before the inevitable year-long media storm awaiting us with the upcoming next-gen console battle, solid exclusives were still around but the burden of true momentum fell to consoles outside of the typical main two. While in 2012 those alternative consoles were the Vita and the, uh, Wii U, 2019 had an alternative that was more than capable of picking up the slack. And yes, I know that this year was also a fascinating year for PC gaming, but this list has always been console-focused. Sorry.

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VR BEST OF 2019 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 rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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4. Nintendo 3DS

(LAST YEAR: 4th)

It’s a bit weird – The 3DS well and truly stomped the PS Vita throughout its life, enjoying many more years of strong sales. But the PS Vita took years to properly die, kept on life support by a huge discrepancy in market interest between Japan and the west. Meanwhile here we are, a mere six months after the 3DS’ last major release, and the Nintendo handheld feels so definitively finished that the mere sight of one may give Tetsuya Nomura cold sweats. Nintendo has given their classic line that they will continue to support the 3DS, and sure, there are still firmware patches coming out. But the game front has been dead-silent since June.

So this appraisal is pretty much about 2019’s first half, when the Switch Lite was little more than an ill-defined rumour circulating the internet. Since we got Yokai Watch 3 at the end of last year in Australia, that means just four big games – two remakes and two new ones heavy on referential content. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story got a full remake with extra content and that game remains an absolute gem, so if you didn’t play it initially you were in for a treat. Likewise for the surprising appearance of Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. Etrian Odyssey Nexus kept the flag flying for a franchise that has arguably had its golden age on the 3DS, then Atlus did that thing they love to do and released a game on a portable at the last possible moment. The date: June 4th. The game: Persona Q2, an adorable series crossover event with striking art and rewarding dungeon-crawl gameplay. And thusly did the 3DS say goodbye.

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Best of 2019: Top 10 Movie Characters

And so it is on this joyous Christmas Day that we raise our glasses to the cinematic characters that jumped off the big screen and our streaming devices in 2019; holding up parts of a story that were otherwise flagging, stealing scenes on the regular, or simply sticking with us after the credits rolled on their stories. I saw a lot of movies this year so I had a pretty great pool from which to draw.

Whether due to an acting performance, visual design, writing or a combination of all three, these are my ten favourite movie characters of 2019. As is usually the case on these lists, you tend to be more interesting to me if you’re a supporting character or a villain; but there were a few kinda-exceptions to that de facto rule this year.

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VR BEST OF 2019 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 rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

THERE ARE SPOILERS ON THIS PAGE!

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10. Jack – Mary Poppins Returns

Step right up and see the majesty that is Lin Manuel Miranda in full flight, snacking on scenery like only a man with musical theatre in his blood can. Taking on the surrogate role of the working-class sage / super Poppins fanboy made famous by the great Dick Van Dyke’s chimney sweep Bert, Miranda’s clear glee at being on the screen in such a huge Disney production helps sell Jack the lamplighter’s contagious energy like nothing else. When you choose to make a sequel that by design repeats the musical beats and character archetypes of its iconic predecessor, direct comparisons were always going to be made; but the Hamilton man holds his own in Van Dyke’s shadow. At the very least, his cockney accent is better.

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