Posts Tagged ‘worst’

Best of 2021 Closer

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

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

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

1. Top 10 Disappointments

2. Five Special Awards

3. Top 15 K-Pop Singles

4. Top 10 Movie Characters

5. Top 5 Game Consoles

6. Top 10 Movie Scenes

7. Top 10 Gaming Moments

8. Top 10 K-Pop Albums

9. Top 15 Games

10. Top 10 Movies

Thank you.

Best of 2021: Top 10 Movies

What a difference twelve months makes.

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

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

Let’s finish this thing.

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

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

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10. In the Heights

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

9. Raya and the Last Dragon

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

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE LIST

Best of 2021: Top 15 Games

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

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

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

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

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

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VR BEST OF 2021 DISCLAIMER

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

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15. New Pokemon Snap (NS)

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

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

14. Shin Megami Tensei V (NS)

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

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

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE LIST

Best of 2021: Top 10 K-Pop Albums

2021 may have thrown my Korean music listening habits all sorts of curve balls, but at the end of it all, this consistently maddening list was once again the hardest and most time-consuming one to construct. No matter how much musical content I skip, there is always a mountain of quality Korean album content to grace my ears; there are always tight calls to make in the ordering of those albums; always moods ready to take hold and change up how I respond to them at any given time. Those moods were quite often on the more negative end of the spectrum this year, and 2021 was a particularly strong year for ballad B-sides, so you may see that reflected in the rankings.

In any case, the list before you now is done now and I’m pretty confident it represents a strong line-up of audio quality. Headphone up.

A special mention this year has to go to LambC’s excellent full-length album treat I’ll see you when I see you, which would have ranked very highly on the list except it’s entirely in English – It didn’t quite feel fair giving it a proper ranking given what I’ve disqualified in the past. But please, go listen to it.

1-3 tracks = N/A

4-7 tracks = mini album

8+ tracks = full album

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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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MINI ALBUMS

5. I burn – (G)I-DLE

One of the coolest things to come out of (G)I-DLE’s fruitfully unexpected partnership with League of Legends is the fast-tracking of star member Soyeon to the role of group producer, and never before has the leader been given as much control over a multi-song project as she has with I burn. Conceived as a spiritual continuation of the HANN vibe that punctuated the group’s debut year back in 2018, I burn’s title track HWAA can’t help but feel a tad derivative as a result – at least when experienced alone. Listen to the entire EP, however, and you just might find the most sonically consistent mood piece in mainstream K-Pop this year.

Building out of seven sombre piano notes that spread out and become a melancholy intro with light – but not airy – vocals, the mini album finds an ethereal pocket and stays hovering there, doing somersaults for occasional flair but never threatening to break out into a sprint – or quite dipping into ballad territory. It’s all full-sounding, lower-register vocals mixed around one another at a mid-tempo pace on moody backing tracks. Even Where is love, the danciest track on the thing, uses all the trappings of a modern girl group B-side without actually raising the heart rate. The best tracks are the final two, LOST and DAHLIA; they work because the embers within the preceding songs have been fanned with such a steady, unbroken pace, and what’s left is a chance to really smoulder with style.

4. Stairs – Stella Jang

Stella Jang at last puts her trilingual songwriting prowess into album form with Stairs, the pocket follow-up to last year’s full-length easy listening triumph Stella I. Though 2021 was the most prolific year in Jang’s fringe-skimming career – she released singles with wistful thirty-something relatability, understated city-pop panache, and ragtime reimagination while cameoing on that aforementioned LambC album – another sustained studio session was always going to hold the greatest potential for another hit of that emotional resonance she managed in 2020.

In mid-October we finally received that hit: a piano instrumental backed with faint heartbeats and footsteps in stereo giving way to an English lead track packing plenty of Jang’s signature bitter whimsy. A pair of Korean tracks follow – an old-timey lounge-leaner and a mid-tempo acoustic jaunt – neither one losing that paradoxical tone. Then the finale: a full-on French flex with simple ambitions that ties together the European undercurrents of the whole EP and promises to open yet another avenue for a discography that is finally starting to gather some real steam.

3. Planet Nine: Alter Ego – ONEWE

The increasing acceptance of actual bands into the stables of K-Pop labels not ostensibly known for employing instruments isn’t just allowing for said labels to diversify their sounds; it’s starting to produce some delightfully confusing emotions for yours truly. Some of the songs on ONEWE’s Planet Nine: Alter Ego (yay for another needlessly complex album title) sound like they wouldn’t have been out of place on my CD rotation as an angsty teenager in the mid-2000s. Exhibit A: The wistful, bellowing chorus of the lovesick AuRoRa, which kicks off the tail of the EP following lead single Rain to Be, which I talked about last week.

But that’s not all this handy mini-album can do; the chorus of the similarly-themed Veronica brings in a decidedly bubblier J-Rock riff to encourage some different emotions (both name-themed tracks incidentally ascended to get their own music videos later down the track). LOGO scrubs up the processing to let a single electric guitar sing before hitting the ground running on a soaring anthemic chorus line, while A.I. brings out a relentless circular rhythm that carries the EP’s momentum through to its final stretch. You could do much worse in the growing Korean pop-rock sphere than this gem.

Click here to let the tunes roll on

Best of 2021: Top 10 Movie Scenes

When you bring back blockbuster movies, you bring back spectacle and surprise and scale, and that makes this year’s list very different from 2020’s. Though I really did enjoy putting together last year’s list, the bombastic highlights were much easier to pick in 2021; in fact there are multiple films on this page packing more than one worthy scene, so I had a grand old time choosing. We’re looking at plenty of big action beats, coils of tension, a surprise or two, and a whole heap of spoilers.

Seriously, don’t read this if there were any big movies you missed in 2021 – especially that really recent big one that everyone’s been talking about.

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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.

HUGE SPOILERS FOLLOW!

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10. Train Fight – Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

For my third mention of Shang-Chi this week, we have this fabulous character-revealing martial arts platform from the film’s first act. The one-vs-many showdown on a bendy-bus is actually quite similar in both setting and narrative purpose to another great sequence in Nobody, but of the two I think this one is more flashy and fun. With great choreography, every kind of dynamic camera move in the book, well-paced comedic beats, a properly crunchy soundtrack, and a (literally) crowd-pleasing final move, the constant momentum of the fight makes it easily the action highlight of the movie’s first two hours.

9. Scorpion vs Sub-Zero – Mortal Kombat

Speaking of martial arts scenes, Mortal Kombat fans get to see two rounds of the series’ most iconic rivalry in action within the 2021 movie of the same name: Once when neither combatant has reached the full extent of their powers in the extended prologue, and once for the grand finale of the whole (and I use this word loosely) plot. The second fight doesn’t really do anything super different from previous movie iterations; it’s really just playing the hits with much higher-quality stunt work and special effects. But the build-up to Scorpion’s re-entrance is a lot of fun, and if the thing you pay to see in a Mortal Kombat movie is the best thing about that movie, it’s kinda hard to complain.

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE SPOILERS

Best of 2021: Top 5 Game Consoles

In all kinds of ways, 2021 was a tired, drawn-out sequel to 2020; a reminder that the rollover to January 1st each year is ultimately pretty arbitrary. But while there was arguably more room for optimism in some parts of life this year, just try to get yourself a PS5 to see how little has changed in others.

Indeed the first full year on the market for Sony and Microsoft’s new machines was slower than some might have hoped, both in getting stock to people and in releasing mind-blowing exclusive games; this kept their last-gen siblings well in the conversation all year. But the experience of using each console did improve substantially, and Nintendo predictably bounced back strongly to keep them on their toes.

This is how I would rank the current five major consoles (disregarding PC and mobile) in order of the impressions they made on me in 2021.

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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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5. Playstation 4

LAST YEAR: 1st

It feels pretty weird having the Playstation 4 at the bottom of this short list, especially after a show-stopping 2020 when the sales titan ushered in its much scarcer successor with a powerful final salvo of acclaimed exclusive games. But even though the lack of PS5 availability has funnily enough made the PS4’s 2022 look mighty tasty – as plenty of next year’s Sony headliners will land for the last-gen machine as well – 2021 will still enter the pages of history strangely blank.

In terms of games not available on Nintendo or Microsoft consoles, the PS4 got a simultaneous release of Kena: Bridge of Spirits alongside the PS5, and received a down-port of uneven PS5 launch title Godfall nine months after the fact. Spider-Man made his promised Sony-exclusive debut in Marvel’s Avengers as DLC, but that’s… it? The only actual 2021 PS4 exclusive of any note I can find in the data is Chicory: A Colorful Tale, which was thankfully extremely well received, but I’m drawing a blank on anything else worth mentioning (EDIT: less than a week before I published this Chicory came out for the Switch and no longer counts, oops). The champion console also received essentially no new firmware features, although I doubt many people were expecting any. So, uh, bring on 2022 I guess.

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE LIST

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.

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE LIST

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

CLICK HERE FOR THE REST OF THE LIST

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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