WWE Summerslam 2020: Predictions & Analysis

The biggest party of the summer is upon us! Only, it’s not much of a party this year, is it? To think back in March we were all expecting fans to be back in time for this show…

WWE’s been a bit of a mixed bag over the past month or so. I’d argue Raw has had a pretty decent hit-rate week-to-week, with a lot of fun storylines. Smackdown, meanwhile, is definitely better than it was a couple of months ago, but it’s still not great. Still, I think WWE has put together a show with a lot of potential, the main event matches especially are looking pretty tasty.

Let’s break down the matches.

Mandy Rose vs Sonya Deville
(No Disqualification)
(Loser Leaves WWE)

Honestly, it’s amazing that we’ve had to wait this long for a payoff to this feud. It’s not like WWE has carefully spent time building to this match either, they just straight-up dropped the storyline for a couple of months before suddenly remembering about it in July. As it stands though, I’ve been enjoying this one a lot. I think shifting the focus of the story slightly was the right idea. Otis is wildly entertaining, but his presence is no longer necessary in this feud, so I’m happy that the recent instalments have focused just on the animosity between Rose & Deville.

As for the quality of the match, I honestly don’t know, but I’m optimistic. Deville has been on fire since turning heel, and she’s quickly becoming one of my favourite wrestlers in WWE’s women’s division. Rose, meanwhile, I think is a far better wrestler than many fans think she is. I think we’re so used to 00s-10s WWE’s style of ‘gimmick centred around attractiveness = bad wrestler’, I don’t believe that to be the case with Rose. These are two women who know each other incredibly well, so I have no reason to doubt the fact that they’re probably going to kick some ass.

I can’t quite decide who’s going to win though. When it was hair vs hair, I thought Mandy was an easy pick, but now the stipulation’s changed and I don’t see where this is going. I don’t believe there have been any reports that either woman is legitimately thinking of leaving or even taking a hiatus. I suppose the loser could go to NXT, or maybe even Raw Underground, you could argue those would count as ‘leaving WWE’. It’s a tough call, but I’m going to stick with what I think the story was leading to anyway, which is Mandy Rose coming out on top. I just hope there’s something interesting planned for Deville going forward because I want to see her do so much more.

The Street Profits(c) vs Andrade & Angel Garza
(Raw Tag Team Championships)

This match feels incredibly familiar. I wasn’t quite sure why at first, but then I remembered that this feud has been going on, on and off, since Wrestlemania.

As such, I’m not sure there’s much more that can be said about it. Bianca Belair has been doing great work, and I’m glad Zelina Vega is getting to show some skill outside of a managerial role, but it’s only tangentially related to this match. At the end of the day, this is a match containing four incredibly talented performers, and I have no doubt there will be plenty to enjoy once it’s all said and done.

In terms of a result, I think there are two ways it could go. The fact that Andrade & Garza can’t seem to get along has been running for months now, so I’m pretty confident that will play into the result of this match. They could pay it off by having them come together and finally win the tag titles, which I think has a decent chance of happening. Street Profits have been champions for roughly 6 months now, and changing the titles just for the sake of it is precisely the kind of thing WWE would do with its tag titles.

Alternatively, the pair could finally fall apart and start beating the crap out of each other, allowing The Street Profits to retain. I think this is more likely, and also more beneficial. If the two of them launch off into a singles feud, I hope that it’ll give Angel Garza a more prominent platform to get himself over, something I believe he is more than capable of. Meanwhile, The Street Profits can keep doing what they’ve been doing, which, for the most part, has been very entertaining.

Apollo Crews(c) vs MVP
(United States Championship)

I’m of two minds with this match. On the one hand, I think there are a lot of wrestlers who need the opportunity at the US title a lot more than MVP. Not to mention, I think a lot of wrestlers would put on a better match with Crews. That said, MVP has been crushing it on the microphone so far this year, and he’s pretty much the only reason I have any interest in this feud. Between this feud with Crews and his semi-takeover of Raw Underground alongside Lashley & Benjamin, I think we could be praising the entertainment value of MVP for a long time to come.

As to what I think the match will be like, you can pretty much just copy/paste whatever I said during my Extreme Rules predictions. Except this time, I expect we’ll actually get to see the match, rather than it be surprise announced on the show that it’s not happening (I know it was because Crews was ill, but still).

My prediction is the same too, I think Apollo Crews is going to retain. Admittedly, I do see value in putting the title on MVP, and I won’t complain if it happens, but keeping on the younger guy in Crews feels like the right way to go. I think I spent so long not caring about Crews that I forgot how good he can be, so now I’d like to see him carry this on for as long as possible.

Dominik Mysterio vs Seth Rollins
(Street Fight)

We all knew this was going to end up here, and yet for some reason, I was still surprised when this match was announced.

I know I wasn’t much of a fan of the eye-for-an-eye match at Extreme Rules, but I think the build of this story has been great. I’m still not entirely sure why guys like Black & Carrillo are wasting their time with it, but the stuff between Rollins and the Mysterios has been fantastic fun to watch. I was expecting to have a difficult time getting used to Dominik showing up and fighting every week on Raw, but the writing team did a great job in getting me invested in him. Admittedly, it was through the method of having Rollins & Murphy beating the crap out of him, but what can I say? I’m invested.

The match itself is a bit uncertain though, purely because we have no idea what Dominik is like as a wrestler. He might have taken to the sport miraculously quickly and will blow us all away, but there’s an equal possibility that he’ll be really green. As such, I’m not if a weapons match was the right choice for his first match. The positives are that it allows for plenty of interference, so the pressure isn’t all on Dominik to help carry the thing, plus, a slower pace will work better with his relative inexperience. The problem is that it takes two very skilled performers to make a slow-paced weapons match work, which means he could be in trouble. Also, I don’t like weapons matches, but that’s beside the point.

I could theoretically see this one going either way, but I’m reasonably confident in picking Dominik Mysterio. Rollins has won the entire feud up until this point, so I think it’s only appropriate for this to be the time for him to take the loss. If Dominik is going to be sticking around as a permanent fixture of the Raw roster, then giving him a big win like this right out of the gate is an excellent way to build him up. I know people are arguing there’s a believability issue with Dominik beating someone as big of a star as Rollins, but if Rey gets involved, then I don’t think that’ll be a problem.

Braun Strowman(c) vs The Fiend Bray Wyatt
(Universal Championship)
(Falls Count Anywhere)

How is THIS the match I care the least about? On paper, it’s an absolute winner, both of these guys have a history, and both of them have significantly evolved since 2016 when they were together. Yet, this story has been running for roughly 4 months now, and I’m bored with it. I can see what they were trying to accomplish with getting Bliss involved, and I commend them for trying to switch things up in regards to the heel/face alignments. The thing is, I don’t think it’s been very well executed. This is a war between a destructive monster and a brutal psychopath, why are they sitting around arguing all the time?

I used to love Braun Strowman around 2017/2018 because he’d come in full of adrenaline and absolutely demolish anyone or anything in his path. It was much the same with The Fiend, he was this seemingly invisible force of destruction that would tear his opponents to shreds. This should be the most straightforward story in the world to tell, all you have to do is slowly escalate the violence week on week. Have it reach the point where their conflict starts to intrude upon every aspect of Smackdown until management has to step in to try and put a stop to it, only for them to keep causing mayhem anyway. It’s the kind of story that, somehow, WWE don’t tell very often, and with characters like these, it would be an absolute blast to watch. The final segment on Smackdown proved my point on that front, it was by far the best part of the whole feud, and this whole story should’ve been full of cool stuff like that.

When it comes to the match, I’m not sure what I’d prefer. On the one hand, they’ve already had two very drama-focused matches, so part of me wants to see a much more action-focused match. Then again, maybe doing another drama-focused match is the way to go? Bray is a world-class in-ring storyteller, so if anyone could make it work, I’d say it’s him.

The result is a tough one, so I’m just going with what I’d prefer, which is The Fiend Bray Wyatt to win the title. To be blunt, Braun’s title reign has been crap. He’s been boring as a character and none of his matches have been any fun to watch. Sure, The Fiend having the title again may create some problems down the line, but I honestly don’t care at this point. If we’re going to have anyone hold the title until Roman’s ready to come and take it, I’d rather it be Bray than Braun.

 

Sasha Banks(c) vs Asuka
(Raw Women’s Championship)

AND

Bayley(c) vs Asuka
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

Bundling these two together because their stories are essentially one and the same.

So, there’s plenty of theories as to how this whole story with Banks, Bayley & Asuka could turn out, which is why I’m so invested in it right now. There are a bunch of different options, all with their own exciting storyline potential.

First of all, what I don’t think will happen: Bayley & Sasha BOTH retaining. I feel confident that Asuka is walking out of Summerslam with at least one of those titles, the question now remains, which one? Or perhaps even both? I seriously considered the ‘both’ option, and I very nearly made it my final decision, but I think it would create some problems. While it’s become almost a cliche to say it at this point, I think we’re headed to a break-up of Bayley & Sasha, which would mean that they’re going to be feuding with each other in the near future. While I agree with the sentiment that it’s a feud that doesn’t need the title, I think it would unquestionably be enhanced by having a title on the line.

So, which title will it be? Here’s my pitch.

Bayley takes the hit for her friend and has her match against Asuka first, and it plays out mostly how you would expect it to. The two of them have a fun match for 12-15 minutes, then things go into overdrive, and the shenanigans ensue. I don’t know the specifics of it, but Sasha does her thing, screws over Asuka and Bayley escapes with her title. Then, a little later on in the night, it’s time for Asuka vs Sasha. Already we’ve got a great story to tell in the match as Asuka is starting on the back foot in a major way. Things boil to a climax where, somehow, someway, Bayley costs Sasha her title, letting Asuka walk away with the Raw Women’s Championship.

Whether Bayley does this through deliberate sabotage, an accidental miscommunication or simply inaction, something is going to happen that causes Sasha to lose her title. From there, you’ve got a whole bunch of directions to take it. You can either do the break up there and then, or you can let the tensions simmer for a little while, through the pair’s defence of the tag titles at Payback.

It’s an ambitious theory, I’ll admit, and I can’t wait to see how horrifically wrong I am, but let me have my fun, dammit.

Drew McIntyre(c) vs Randy Orton
(WWE Championship)

I cannot believe that I’m sitting here in 2020, excited for a Randy Orton world title match.

I know I wasn’t a fan of Orton vs Edge at Backlash, but I’ll be damned if Randy Orton hasn’t become one of the most entertaining characters on all of WWE TV right now. I don’t know what it was, but something lit a fire under his ass, and he’s become more motivated, animated and downright exciting than he’s been for years. He’s entertaining to the point where I’m sitting here thinking that if he won the world title on Sunday, I’d be perfectly ok with it; even when he’s taking the title away from my beloved British wrestling hero, Drew McIntyre. NOW, to clarify, just because I’d be ok with it, doesn’t mean it’s what I want to happen, I would still prefer Drew to retain, however, if it happens I won’t be mad about it. There’s just something about the idea of Orton vs Edge for the WWE title that gets me very excited indeed.

I honestly don’t know what to expect from this match. I have no idea how the styles of these two men will mesh in the ring, whether it will be a slow burner, or fast and furious, I really couldn’t tell you. However, I’m choosing to take the optimists route and say that I think it’ll be something we’ll look back on fondly at the end of the year. Maybe not a match of the year contender, but definitely something we’ll have been glad to have invested our time in.

Now…I’ve got to pick a winner, and I’m really struggling. Every logical bone in my body is telling me, Orton. Looking at his story since Wrestlemania, it makes all the sense in the world and, as I said, Orton vs Edge III still needs to happen…but I just can’t do it. This a decision made almost entirely by my heart rather than my head, but I’m picking Drew McIntyre to win. He’s had an absolutely cracking reign as WWE Champion, and I’d very much like to see it continue.

NXT Takeover XXX: Predictions & Analysis

NXT Takeover time! A time where we can all rejoice and feel happy that great wrestling is going to be on our screens very soon. Except…this time around, I’m not nearly as excited as I usually am. At least 3 of the matches have unlimited potential, that is true, but weekly NXT TV the past month or so has felt pretty soulless to me. None of the builds to any of the matches have been anything unique or exciting. The only build that’s done things differently ended up being killed dead in the water on Wednesday when Pat McAfee cut the world’s most generic heel promo.

Maybe the pessimism of the world has gotten to me, who knows? Let’s try to stay positive as we break down the matches.

Breezango vs Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch vs Legado del Fantasma
(Winner becomes #1 contender for the NXT Tag Team Championships)
(Kickoff Show)

You know, the NXT Tag Team division became utter barren so quickly, I barely even noticed.

The tag division on NXT has heavily suffered from Imperium very rarely being on TV week-to-week. I like Imperium as champions, and I hope they hold onto the titles for a while, but they were such a bad choice given the current situation. This isn’t like Lesnar with a world title, where him not showing up as much adds to his drawing power, with the NXT tag titles gone from TV most of the time, it just means we stop caring. I want to care about the NXT tag titles, they’ve given us some of the best matches in NXT history, but right now, they’re in serious trouble.

That said, I’m confident this will be a fun match. I’m not entirely sure what the point was on putting this on the pre-show but provided it gets a respectable amount of time, I have no reason to doubt the excitement we could be in store for. Breezango have had a new fire lit under them since returning to NXT, Lorcan & Burch have always been extraordinarily reliable in situations like this, while Legado del Fantasma are the exciting new prospect and still feel quite fresh.

There’s a couple of ways to go in terms of a winner here. My first instinct was that Legada del Fantasmo would win because they’re the fresh guys and even if they aren’t going to win the tag titles, a high-profile match with the champions would be great for them. However, I’m actually going with Oney Lorcan & Danny Burch. My logic behind it is pretty simple, I think they’ve been killing it over the past year, and while their role is mainly to put guys over, I think it would be really cool to see them go for the titles. I don’t think they’d dethrone Imperium, but it’d be great to watch.

Finn Balor vs Timothy Thatcher

This is one of those matches that most people won’t give much thought, but could absolutely tear the house down on Saturday. I’ve still not made my mind up entirely about what I think of Thatcher, but there’s definitely a lot to love about his character. His stuff with Riddle was a great way to bring him to prominence, and I like the idea that he’s someone who slowly crawls his way up through the ranks in NXT over the next couple of years.

I don’t really know what this match is going to be like, these are two guys who have pretty different styles, and that always makes it hard to tell how they’ll mesh. I have faith in them though, so I’m remaining optimistic that it’ll be good. I’m torn for a winner though. As much as Balor’s in a position where nothing will hurt his stock too much in the long-run, I still don’t think he should lose too often. Looking into recent history, he got a win over Damian Priest at the last Takeover, but that’s it, he’s lost to just about everyone else with name value. That said, beating Balor would be an excellent way to turn some heads towards Thatcher.

It’s a tough call, but I’m going with what I think is the more sensible pick in Finn Balor. I just don’t think Thatcher has been built up enough to the point where he could beat someone on Balor’s level. That said, I would certainly be on board if Thatcher won.

Adam Cole vs Pat McAfee

Ok, just to get it out of the way, I don’t know if the radio show blow-up was a work, or a shoot that NXT turned into a work, and quite frankly I don’t care.

I’m of two minds with this feud. There’s the optimistic side of me that says McAfee is going to blow us away. I have no idea how long or hard he’s been training for, so I can’t make a judgement call yet, but he’s been around the industry long enough, and he’s in the ring with Adam Cole, so I think there’s a good chance this could be a killer match. Then there’s the pessimistic side, which says this is going to be like every other time an ‘outsider’ tried to come in and have a serious wrestling match.

The story’s been ok, it certainly had a decent amount of heat to it following the blow up on McAfee’s show, but I don’t think they capitalised on it all that well. Things started alright, with them seeming to patch things up, only for them to come to blows on NXT again, I even liked Cole’s rant about the situation, because Cole can talk with the best of them. What killed my excitement for the match was McAfee’s promo on Wednesday. I alluded to it in the intro, but it was dull and generic, not just with the words he was saying, but the style he delivered them, it was like what a trainee would put out after their first week of promo classes.

I’m a bit torn with a winner because I think there’s a chance McAfee is going to stick around and wrestle semi-frequently on NXT. If that’s the case, then I think he should win, not to mention, with a draft coming later in the year, I wouldn’t be surprised if Cole is leaving NXT sometime soon. That said, this is Adam Cole we’re talking about here, he’s just off the back of a 400+ day title reign and is bouncing back from a high-profile loss. Surely he’s got to win? Admittedly, I don’t think it would do all that much damage to Cole in the long-run, but it just doesn’t feel right to pick anyone other than Adam Cole to win this one.

Damian Priest vs Cameron Grimes vs Johnny Gargano vs Bronson Reed vs Velveteen Dream
(NXT North American Championship)
(Ladder)

Ahhh, a good old fashion multi-man ladder match. These will always be entertaining, regardless of which promotion they take place in. That said, the last time NXT had a ladder match for the North American Championship, it was arguably one of the best multi-man ladder matches ever, so…

That doesn’t answer the question of who wins though, so let’s take a look at the participants.

Velveteen Dream – I don’t think Dream was even supposed to be in this match initially. Given the uncertainty surrounding his return, I think NXT management decided that the only thing they could do with him so close to the PPV was to shove him in this match. On top of that, Dream’s already had a run with the North American Championship. There are indeed a lot more opponents he could face now, but I don’t see what could be gained from it.

Bronson Reed – The case with Reed is that I think just being in the match will be enough to raise his stock. He’s still a fresh face in NXT, and this is the perfect opportunity to show everyone what he can do. That said, I don’t see him winning the title for at least another year, he’s just not been built up enough yet. Hopefully, his performance in this match will go some way to remedying that.

Johnny Gargano –  It’s really starting to feel like the NXT writers have no idea what to do with Gargano. That’s the problem when he’s been in NXT for so long – Ciampa’s got the same problem – as great as he is, NXT doesn’t have as deep of a roster as Raw or Smackdown, so there’s very little for him to do nowadays other than to take high-profile losses to the new guys. That’s not to say he won’t add anything to this match, I think he’ll be fantastic, but much like Dream, there’s nothing to be gained from him winning the title again.

Cameron Grimes – Now we’re getting to the people that I think have a chance of winning this thing. To me, the North American title seems to be the perfect tool for taking someone who’s not quite a huge star yet and getting them over and a main eventer in the eyes of the fans. This is technically the role of any mid-card title, but in practice, it very rarely works out that way. However, Grimes is in the perfect position to pick up a mid-card title right now, if he were to go on a bit of tear for it for 8 months or so, it’d be the perfect launching pad to send him to the main event scene. I’m not picking him to win though, as I think there’s one guy that NXT is more likely to invest in right now.

Damian Priest – Honestly, I think Priest is the only real choice for this one. It’s felt like he’s been on the cusp of breaking through for around a year now, so we’re coming very close to ‘now-or-never’ territory. Priest has all the makings of a top guy in NXT, and I think his feud with Balor was a mini-test of that fact. The way I see it, Priest is a perfect fit for the North American title in his current state. NXT in need of a heel champion, and who better than a man who will probably be one of NXT’s biggest stars in a year.

Io Shirai(c) vs Dakota Kai
(NXT Women’s Championship)

It’s amazing how briefly Charlotte was champion. It already feels like it was years ago.

I’ll speak plainly, Io Shirai has been absolutely killing it since winning the title. I was pessimistic about waiting this long to put the title on her, but all my doubts have since been cleared. Sure, she’s not been wrestling as much, but when it comes to pure force of personality, there is no woman better in NXT in right now. There’s nothing about her character that inherently draws her to a heel or babyface alignment, a fact that I think will be fantastic for her stories throughout her title reign. Dakota’s been on fire too, she grasped her heel persona almost instantly, and since then it’s been built to an incredibly compelling degree.

I honestly think we could be in for one of the best WWE matches of the year so far, I really do. Io has already proven that she can go with just about anyone, and I really get the feeling that we’ve not seen anywhere near the limits of what Kai can do yet. I firmly believe that these two women will have near-flawless chemistry, and we could be in for a fast and fun fight.

That said, I think this is by far the easiest match to predict. Io Shirai is winning this one, her title reign has barely begun and has so much potential. Meanwhile, Dakota’s story can be enhanced by a loss here. She’s already getting a bit too full of herself, so if she blames Raquel Gonzalez for her loss, then there could be months of great TV in that. Not to mention, Io herself is proof that Dakota could easily come back in a year’s time and pick up the title without it feeling any less of an accomplishment.

Keith Lee(c) vs Karrion Kross
(NXT Championship)

Colour me impressed, I really thought they were going to wait on this one.

There’s so much to break down here and so many directions the story could go. First of all, Kross is incredible. He’s the first person in so long that I think genuinely gives off a Lesnar-esque vibe of indestructibility. Not only has he torn through everyone he’s come into contact with, but everything surrounding his persona & characterisation gives him an aura of an unstoppable badass. Meanwhile, Keith Lee is the purest human being on the planet, so watching him being pushed to his mental limits by Kross is very compelling stuff.

I have all the confidence in the world this match is going to rock. Lee’s shown time and time again that he can wrestle any style he needs to for a match. Kross has a wide range as a performer too, so I think there are several ways this one could play out. Personally, I think this will be akin to Lee vs Dijakovic in January, with plenty of big & explosive moves and a pace that refuses to ever let up.

This is where it gets tricky though because honestly, neither man should be losing here. However, I don’t think we’ll get a screwy finish, that’s not the NXT way. The thing is, Keith Lee has only just won the title, he’s barely held onto it for a minute, which, under normal circumstances should mean there’s no way he’s losing the title this quickly. The problem is when you look at NXT’s history, the brand’s biggest babyface always have insultingly short title reigns; Sami Zayn, Johnny Gargano & Drew McIntyre are all clear examples of this. On top of that, Kross has been built up like no-one else has since he debuted. He SLAUGHTERED Tommaso Ciampa, and if that isn’t a sign that he’s destined for stardom, I don’t know what is.

The way I’ve rationalised it to myself is thus: Keith Lee can recover from a loss, a hell of a lot better than Karrion Kross can. Sure, Lee won’t have the title anymore, but people are still going to love him regardless because of everything he is as a person and a performer. Meanwhile, Karrion Kross’ whole persona has been built around his unstoppable nature, so taking such a high-profile loss this early on in his NXT run could be catastrophic in regards to the audience’s view of him. Maybe I’m overanalysing it, but I’m going to go with the logic I’ve laid out and pick Karrion Kross to be crowned our new NXT Champion.

And that’s it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read these predictions. Please, let me know what you think is going to happen on Saturday, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back here this time tomorrow, where I’ll be running down my Summerslam predictions!

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (20-11)

Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Top 20 time! This is where the games hit that upper rung of being genuinely incredible, I hope you enjoy entries 20 through 11!

If you haven’t read the previous instalment in this series, please do so here, and here’s the first entry if you want to start from the entry 100.

SPOILER WARNING!

Just a heads up that there will be full SPOILERS for every game I’m going to talk about in this series, so be careful if I talk about something you don’t want spoiled.

Let’s not waste any more time!

20 – Super Mario Odyssey

Release Date: 27th October 2017
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment Planning & Development
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Metacritic Average: 97%

It’s a game about throwing your hat and possessing creatures to complete platforming challenges.

As you’ve probably guessed by this point on the list, I didn’t grow up playing the Mario games. I had one on the Gameboy, but I didn’t really get much out of it at the time, much preferring Wario Land instead. So when people would talk about games like Mario 64 being the greatest of all time, I never quite got it. I could understand the appeal, but I didn’t see what put in the upper-echelon of gaming. Then, Super Mario Odyssey was released, and I decided this was finally the time I’d sit down with a Mario game and see what makes them so great.

Literally everything. That’s what makes them so great.

Nintendo’s design philosophy is one that I wish we would see more of the gaming industry today. Every time Nintendo start to make a new game for one of there core franchises, they sit down and work out amongst themselves what they can do that’s new and interesting. They don’t see the point in making another game that’s like Mario 64, because they’ve already done it…what would be the point in doing it again? I love that way of thinking because that’s almost exactly what I strive for in my creative endeavours. Naturally, it doesn’t always work, there are always going to be some stumbling blocks (looking at you, WiiU), but it also means that we get absolutely incredible unique titles like this one.

If you want a more in-depth look into Cappy’s mechanics in SMO, then I highly recommend checking out Mark Brown’s video on the subject, but I’ll just say that it made platforming in that game completely different some any other 3D platformer I’ve ever played, in the best possible way. I usually prefer my platformers to be 2D, because I’m not very good at 3D platforming. However, every mechanic in SMO is designed in such a way that it makes the platforming easier, while still being fun and interesting.

Combine that with some of the most creative mechanic, world and creature design I’ve ever seen, and you’ve got yourself an adventure that never stops being fun and is always ready to throw something new your way to keep you hooked. It’s got so much death and quite literally several hundred different challenges for you to try your hand at. As far as I’m concerned, this is the game that exemplifies what makes Nintendo the world’s best game developer.

19 – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

Release Date: 29th October 2019
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Milan, Ubisoft Kiev
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU, Windows
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about pirates.

(From my Every Main Series Assassin’s Creed Game Ranked article)

Remember that one time, when Ubisoft just thought “fuck it” and made a pirate game for no reason? Good times.

Counting Black Flag in a list of best Assassin’s Creed games almost feels like cheating, because let’s face it, it’s an Assassin’s Creed game in name alone; that doesn’t mean it isn’t brilliant though.

I don’t think I’m alone when I say that my favourite part of Assassin’s Creed III was the sea battles. The team at Ubisoft clearly thought the same because the next game, Black Flag, was entirely about the sea battles. They stumbled upon an entertaining style of gameplay, and to their credit, they leaned all the way into it, to make an absolutely fantastic game.

Every battle you got into with the boats felt like an all-out war. The scale of it all combined, with the vibrant colours of the Caribbean, and the extremely well-designed soundscape made every single encounter feel like a chaotic and epic fight. Pile on top of that, extreme weather conditions, a wide variety of weapons at your disposal, and the ability to board your opponent’s ships – which causes a massive battle in quite a confined space – and you’ve got yourself a formula that never ceases to be fun to play.

The world was also exceptionally well designed, with the towns being bright and colourful, but not so big as to feel too big and also having enough variety in the environment, so all of them felt distinct. The random islands and plantations were also great additions, with things continually sidetracking you (in a good way) when you’re poncing about on the open seas.

Black Flag, has a relatively big open world, but by no means too big, and the game is very carefully designed for touring you through it at a very steady pace. As such, you never feel overwhelmed at the amount of stuff there is available to you. Speaking of stuff, unlike most of the other open worlds in this franchise, Black Flag’s world is very densely packed with a great variety of stuff to do. Be that hunting down collectables, hunting animals for crafting, playing board games, throwing harpoons at sharks or firing on every British ship you see. There’s never a dull moment when traversing the world; and even if you do get bored, you can make your crew sing sea shanties to keep you entertained.

Once again, the story was perfectly fine. It doesn’t stand out to me as any kind of exceptional storytelling, but it also never did anything to piss me off or turn me against the characters which, in a game like the Assassin’s Creed series, is all I really want.

In a way, I’m quite glad this ended up being a one-off for the franchise because I honestly don’t see many ways in which this formula could’ve been improved, as the boat-based mechanics in subsequent games in the franchise have proven. Black Flag was a rare instance of a game I can honestly describe as unique in its gameplay, and at the end of the day, it’s just an absolute blast to play.

18 – Celeste

Release Date: 25th January 2018
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Publisher: Matt Makes Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 94%

It’s a game about climbing a mountain while dealing with anxiety.

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played for the First Time in 2019 article)

Celeste is an absolute master of controlling the difficulty. It’s undeniably a hard game, and that’s part of what initially put me off. However, it’s when you push through that difficulty and carry on in spite of everything that the game is throwing at you that you come to see Celeste for what it is: The most perfectly paced game in history.

Every room in Celeste is designed so that you can almost see the extensive amount of play-testing and tweaking that went into every jump. Every challenge feels so carefully crafted to give you the exact right amount of hope and despair as you throw yourself into it over and over again and their own, every single room is a masterclass in level design. However, the real magic of Celeste comes from stepping back and looking at how the game is threaded together.

Every single room prepares you with the skills you need for the next, it’ll teach you a technique or idea, and you’ll spend multiple attempts getting through it. Then, when you come to the room immediately after, the game asks you to take what you just learned and re-learn it slightly differently to solve a new challenge. This persists chapter to chapter as well, with each chapter giving you a new mechanic to play about with and understand as you go.

The way each level is designed forces you into the mentality of pushing forward despite hardship, which is so incredibly clever when you consider the themes and ideas behind the game’s narrative. The way this tale is told of living with and overcoming, anxiety is so beautifully and thoughtfully done, because it’s so low-key and yet feels entirely heartfelt, while insightfully addressing a severe mental health condition.

When you combine the overarching themes with the incredibly colourful and engrossing visual style and the absolutely mindblowing soundtrack, the game can take control of your mental state and align it with exactly how Madaline feels in the story using its level design as the primary tool.

Not only is Celeste one of the most mechanically sounds and fun games I’ve ever played, but it goes above and beyond to say something meaningful using those mechanics, something which has stuck with me ever since I finished it.

17 – Descenders

Release Date: 7th May 2019
Developer: RageSquid
Publisher: No More Robots
Platforms: Xbox One, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 78%

It’s a game about riding a bike downhill very fast before wrapping yourself around a tree.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

First available on Steam Early Access in February 2018 and I picked it up a couple of months later, and since then it’s become my 2nd most played game on Steam at 604 hours, beaten out by only Skyrim and the weird thing is, I’m not even entirely sure why I play it so much. I certainly wouldn’t describe it as an addictive game, but what I think is it’s a straightforward game to play.

By “easy to play” I don’t mean the difficulty of the game itself, I mean it’s a game that I’m never “not in the mood” to play. In the way that I play it (very casually), I don’t really have to put much thought into it, so it’s become what I play when I don’t want to play anything. I’m someone who finds it very hard to just sit and watch something for example, so what I will often do is put on something I want to watch on my 2nd screen and then play Descenders, almost in the background, while I watch it.

That’s not all Descenders is good for, because it hits that sweet spot that PopCap games were always brilliant for, where you can play it casually and do reasonably well, but also you can spend time honing your skills and mastering the game to pull off some incredible feats of skill that I could never even dream of. The procedurally generated nature of the levels means I’m never just “going through the motions” when I play. I can’t just rely on muscle memory to get me through each level I have to learn to adapt to the terrain that’s currently in front of me, so I don’t wrap my body around several trees at several hundred kilometres per hour.

It’s a game that has complete mastery over its movement, the bikes feel light and nippy while manoeuvring it in the air and on the ground feels forceful and satisfying. The way you glide down the hillsides, doing jumps and flips and spins the whole gives this incredible feeling of flow that gives you such a rush as your performance in the environments becomes more fluid and streamlined.

Descenders is a game that came together in a way I honestly never would’ve expected to make it a game that I’m going to be playing on-and-off for a very long time.

16 – Terraria

Release Date: 16th May 2011
Developer: Re-Logic
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU, Nintendo 3DS, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Metacritic Average: 85%

It’s a game about adventuring and building.

It’s hard to accurately define precisely what Terraria is in a single sentence. It’s a bit sandbox, it’s a bit builder, it’s a bit RPG, and it’s a bit adventure. On the surface, if someone were to describe a game to me like that, I’d expect it to be a bit of a mess, but somehow Terraria manages to mash all of its ideas together really cleanly. I originally wasn’t all that interested in it. I think it had to contend a lot with the perception from many critics that it was just ‘Minecraft but 2D’. However, over the years, through several major content updates, Terraria has proved itself to be something entirely different from that and something rather unique when you look at any of the genres it fits into.

Unlike most sandbox games, Terraria has a distinct sense of progression as you play in your world and you won’t even realise it at first. I had the wonderful privilege of going into the game almost completely blind, so the feeling of accomplishment throughout every milestone was so great. Every time I thought that I’d reached the limit of what the game had to offer, I’d find out that I’d barely scratched the surface. Oh, you defeated the Eye of Cthulu? Congratulations on completing step one of 300. Ah, so now you’ve gone to hell and defeated the Wall of Flesh? That’s nice, but you’re not even halfway, mate, come back when you’ve killed the horrific being that is literally the God of the Moon.

I was always exploring and discovering new things, and all of it was paced in such a way that there were never any dull points that had me just grinding away at resources in the hope that I’d uncover something new. While I never quite got into the building mechanics like I did with Minecraft, I still can’t deny the complexity and variety that is on offer for those that want to go down that route; I’ve seen some gorgeous creations in the community.

15 – Thomas Was Alone

Release Date: 30th June 2012
Developer: Mike Bithell
Publisher: Mike Bithell
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo WiiU, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS, Android
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about friendship and jumping…and also a little bit about the nature of self-aware AI.

Told you I’d be talking about Mike Bithell again.

Although the story told in this game isn’t as complex as in either of the “Circular” games, there’s a whole bunch of other factors that put Thomas Was Alone above its descendants. Namely how every single mechanic is designed to feed right back into the nature of the story.

First up is the fact that this game isn’t just a load of text boxes that you click your way through, there are real game-mechanics here, and they’re executed suberbly. None of the game’s puzzles are particularly difficult, but I don’t think they’re supposed to be. Instead, they’re a tool for seeing these characters relying on each other’s abilities to feel their bonds growing as they help each other to reach the end of each level. Even the designs of the characters are so perfect, they’re literally just coloured rectangles, and yet it’s able to perfectly capture the personality of all of them.

Personalities that are fleshed out through some genuinely fantastic narration that happens throughout every level. Read by the wonderful Danny Wallace, the whole story has this warm feeling to it, like you’re being told a sweet bedtime story. Even when the story is touching on some more tragic or serious elements, it’s told in such a way that you never have any reason to question your protagonists and their bonds change and grow.

Thomas Was Alone is what I would argue to be the second-greatest story ever told in a video game (more on the best in the finale). It has total control over the tone of the plot, the characters and the player’s emotions at every moment, and I always take joy in revisiting it.

14 – Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

Release Date: 16th November 2010
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about stealthy stabbing.

(From my Every Main Series Assassin’s Creed Game Ranked article)

It’s got a little bit of everything without having too much of anything.

I’ve talked a lot throughout this article about the “formula” of Assassin’s Creed, which is the general: Viewpoints, 5 different types of collectables and about 100 of each one, way too many weapons and vague stealth mechanics, (this would later become almost every Ubisoft game as well, but that’s a discussion for another day). I generally view this formula as a bad thing, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. While too much can be a bore, the right amount of small tasks dotted all over the open world can make for an extremely compelling game for a habitual completionist like me, and Brotherhood is the closest thing I’ve found to a perfect version of that formula.

The open world is big enough to have plenty of variety to it, but not so expansive that it feels bloated and pointless. Traversal of the world feels fun and fluid, with parkour mechanics that Assassin’s Creed have always been good at, but it mainly feels like the world was handcrafted to make running around Rome’s rooftops extra fun. Even when you wandered out into the outskirts of the city, the vast plains felt like a breath of fresh air and galloping about the place on horseback was just as fun.

There was a considerable mission variety, not just in the main story, but with side missions too. Each of the three guilds had different styles of missions, which were solid enough to flesh out the relevant characters while staying pretty brief and not overstay their welcome. Leonardo’s missions are also great fun, playing with all the weird toys, including a tank, so I don’t have anything bad to say about that. However, best were the Lairs of Romulus which were a series of levels almost entirely based around fun parkouring challenges, with impressive scenery and a great variety in the mini-stories surrounding them, they’re my favourite set of side quests in the whole franchise.

The visual design is excellent, with every section of the colour palette being used in one place or another in the game. Ezio’s red and white outfit from Brotherhood is far and away from my favourite protagonist outfit, and every other character had colours and styles that seemed to perfectly match their personality. Speaking of characters and story, it’s still nothing overly special, but it’s definitely the best the franchise has done. Cesare is the best villain from this series as far as I’m concerned, and Ezio is also the best protagonist because he’s the only one I don’t hate at least a little bit.

Brotherhood is simply where all of the features and styles that make the Assassin’s Creed formula what it is come together in just the right way. I firmly believe that if you took all that was good about Assassin’s Creed and refine it to a point, you’d end up with something that looked pretty similar to Brotherhood. It’s the game that I will always go to when I need reminding of why I actually love this franchise deep down.

13 – Moonlighter

Release Date: 29th May 2018
Developer: Digital Sun
Publisher: 11 bit Studios
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, MacLinux
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about murdering monsters by night and then selling their loot by day.

Have you ever wondered how, in RPGs and the like, the shopkeepers around the world are able to get ahold of incredibly rare and powerful loot that you, the adventurer, often struggle to find? Well, as it turns out, they’re just as bad-ass at cave-diving as you are, and Moonlighter proves it.

As I’ve said previously in this series, for me to take an interest in a roguelike/roguelite, it has to do something special, and I’d argue none are more special than Moonlighter. On the one side, there are the dungeon-crawling elements of the game, which are excellently done. The combat feels weighty while remaining very fluid and every dungeon has its own host of unique and interesting looking enemies that make me want to press on just to see what new things are around the next corner. Although, what I’m really interested in is the stuff they leave behind when I slice them up because that is the stuff I can use for the other side of the game, the shopkeeping.

This is where I went from enjoying Moonlighter, to loving it. When you’re running your shop, it isn’t as simple as setting out your goods and waiting for people to come and throw money at you. Instead, you have to use your knowledge of various other items in the game to assign an appropriate value to each item. You then must watch for your customer’s reactions to your prices, to determine if they’re too low/high and adjust accordingly. Each day in the shop doesn’t last all that long, so it doesn’t drag on, but you’ll be constantly occupied as you split your attention between making sure your shelves are always stocked and watching your customer’s faces to find the perfect prices for your goods.

On top of this, Moonlighter avoids the trap that puts me off so many other roguelikes, which is that it doesn’t overwhelm you with an infinite amount of content. There are four dungeons (each unlocked by beating the previous one), and each dungeon had three floors before a boss fight. On top of that, your end goal is staring you in the face the whole time, the final dungeon holding some ancient secret, which will only be unlocked after beating the four other dungeons. Moonlighter sets you up right away so that you know why you’re doing everything which keeps me motivated to push forwards, instead of getting bored of the ‘infinite’ nature of things, something I wish more games in the genre would strive for.

12 – Pokemon Sword & Shield

Release Date: 15th November 2019
Developer: Game Freak
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Metacritic Average: 80%

It’s a game about becoming the world champion of rural England.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

Firstly, when it comes to the towns and routes in the game, I thought they were absolutely beautiful and captured a lot of different feelings from phases in British culture. There’s Motostoke, the industrial, victorian town; Wyndon the modern-day metropolis that we all know and (kind of) love today and then there were towns like Ballonlea that felt like something out of an old fairy tale. The visuals in this game were bright, colourful, and an absolute joy to behold.

As for the Pokemon, while I certainly wouldn’t rank it among the best new roster we’ve received for a generation, It’s most certainly nowhere near the worst. I’ve already talked about the Pokemon I loved the most, but there were a whole host of other new Pokemon added in this game that I really love the look and feel of.

While the story itself was nothing special by Pokemon standards, it was paced quite nicely, and I thought the climax was quite a cool sequence, not Ultra Necrozma levels of cool, but cool nonetheless. I enjoyed my interactions with any character not named Hop or Leon. I also thought the difficulty was rather nicely done, I didn’t exactly struggle at any point, but there were several points in the big battles that I felt were a bit touch-and-go, and I was forced to think about what I was doing a bit harder than I usually have to in Pokemon games.

I’m undoubtedly biased towards Pokemon as a franchise, but that doesn’t change the fact that I had loads of fun with this addition to the series. It was a Pokemon game that ticked all the boxes in terms what I need to have fun from a Pokemon game and in terms of visual spectacle, I think it’s the best we’ve seen so far. If the lack of a national dex was the only thing keeping you away then implore you to reconsider because this is still just as brilliant of an experience as Pokemon always has been.

Pokemon Sword & Shield have certainly become more controversial entries into the franchise than most, especially amongst the online fanbase, however, I think it’s a perfect encapsulation of everything I love from the modern era of Pokemon games. While Sun & Mon was a lot more visually interesting, I think the pace of the gameplay and the sheer force of personality and character on display in Sword & Shield is exactly what I adore from the franchise in the modern-day.

11 – Black and White 2

Release Date: 4th October 2005
Developer: Lionhead Studios, Robosoft Technologies
Publisher: EA, Feral Interactive
Platforms: Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 75%

It’s a game where you play as God and throw bunnies around with your giant God-hand.

All aboard the nostalgia train! Black & White 2 is the first game that I remember truly loving. I’m sure my parents will attest to the fact that when I was younger, I would play it non-stop. There was a short period where we didn’t have it installed on our family computer because it was playing up and I wouldn’t stop bugging my parents about getting it back on there so I could play it again. Even to this day, I make sure that I play through it at least once a year, and I have so much fun doing so.

I don’t usually like city-building games very much, and I’m not the biggest fan of real-time strategy, yet this game is a mix of those two things. If I had to guess, I think it’s the free-form nature of the game. There are minimal restrictions as to how you build up your cities or what tactics you want to use to conquer your enemies. There’s something about the freedom of playing as the literal hand of God and planning out these grand cities full of a variety of buildings that all have a unique charm to them that I just can’t get enough of. Also squishing tiny men with rocks and feeding their corpses to my giant pet cow is pretty fun.

That’s the thing with this game, it’s got so much charm and character that fills me with warm feelings of happiness. The way your people react to every action you make, or the personality that’s poured into every animation of your creature. Pour on top of that the overwhelming waves of nostalgia I get from playing it, and we’ve got a game that I’ll never get tired of, no matter how many times I play it.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post, just ten games left to go! Please, let me know what you think of these games, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this weekend, where I’ll be covering WWE Summerslam!

The Simpsons’ 10 Best Secondary Characters

Alright, it’s time to talk about The Simpsons. I’ve had a few Simpsons lists planned for a while now, and I was wondering which one of them would be the best place to start talking about this 30+ year running show that influenced the comedic tastes of myself and so many others throughout its lifetime. In the end, I decided that we should talk about the vessels through which all these jokes can be told – the characters.

However, just ranking the “top 10 characters” would be a bit pointless, as the top half of the list would be full of, the Simpsons family members, the show is named after them, after all. So I decided we’d explore the wide and wonderful world of Springfield via the secondary characters. The characters who aren’t in any way ‘protagonists’ in the show, but play a vital role in the comedy & action nonetheless.

What counts as a secondary character? That’s very simple. The only two conditions are: 1) They can’t be directly related to The Simpsons family 2) They must have appeared in more than one episode. That second point is just to weed out some of the weird one-off characters. As much as I love Hank Scorpio, for example, it doesn’t feel right putting him on this list over characters that have appeared in well over half of the almost 700 episodes this show has produced.

10 – Moe Szyslak

To put it simply, Homer is an alcoholic, so who is he going to be seeing a lot of? The bartender.

In the early series, Moe was quite hard to get a read on. He seemed vaguely friendly to Homer when he was in the bar, but there was always the hint that he was a more cynical character. Moe’s Tavern has always been shown to be a very run-down and horrible bar, and naturally, we as an audience will transfer those uncomfortable feelings onto the owner. Once the writers had a grasp on this idea, they really, really ran with it.

Although we would very rarely see Moe outside of his bar in the early seasons, we still got to see quite a lot of him. As I said, Homer spends a lot of time at the bar. The thing is, even though we went there in a lot of episodes, it was almost always just for a single scene, meaning that the writers never really ran out of material for the place. When every scene is only a couple of minutes long, it’s very easy to throw in a quick joke or two about how run-down the place is and move along without it having to affect anything.

This included ramping up Moe as a much more shady & criminal character. You’d never see him being on the run from the law or anything. In fact, I don’t think he’s ever had any trouble with the law, outside of the occasional health inspection. Yet, we still see him panicking whenever someone even mentions the police, often followed by him telling some random goons to “shut it down” before releasing exotic animals into Springfield.

Later seasons decided to zero in on how discontented Moe is with his own life and draw a lot of dark humour for that. Sure, this did lead to a lot of lazy ‘isn’t suicide funny?’ jokes, but it also gave us stuff like his desperate attempts to change his ways in Bart Sells His Soul, only for it to come crumbling down under the pressure. It’s quite a depressing story, sure, but it’s told in a funny way. Let’s face it, children are assholes, and it’s funny and cathartic to see a character like Moe blowing up at one when they continuously push his buttons.

Modern seasons tried to add more to his character, specifically his relationships with the Simpsons family, but that’s no the kind of thing that makes him such a great character. Moe is a downtrodden & largely grounded character in a world where over-the-top hijinks are the order of the day. His style of humour is one that can be put in stark contrast to most other characters in the show, which only increases the impact it has on us as viewers.

9 – Fat Tony

Fat Tony is a character that’s funnier, the more vague his antics are. It’s why I loved how the early seasons never gave him any kind of spotlight episode. Even when Bart joins the mob, Fat Tony is more there as window dressing for a few jokes than anything else. He works best as a comedic plot device, rather than a person.

This is in huge part to his voice actor (aside from a couple random moments), Joe Mantegna. I don’t know a great deal about the guy other than he had a role in The Godfather 3, but his voice is so ideally suited for your stereotypical American crime boss. The American-Italian accent, the calm demeanour and the small hint of gruffness give you the perfect idea of exactly what this character is all about before you even see him.

When it comes to the comedy scene at large, racial stereotypes aren’t funny. They’re lazy at best and harmful at worst, so what The Simpsons do (or at least, classic Simpsons did) is establish a character based on those stereotypes, then proceed to subvert, criticise and generally rip the piss out of those stereotypes at every available opportunity. A character like Apu only became an offensive racial stereotype in the past few years because the writing lacked the finesse it used to. In classic Simpsons, his jokes served the purpose of intelligent & satirical social commentary, now they’re just vaguely racist jokes that appeal to the lowest common denominator. I’m not going to say any more on that, as lord knows there’s been enough debate surrounding the topic.

So how does all that apply to Fat Tony? Well, it’s simple. He’s an intimidating mob boss based on the ideas of Mafia organisations…and his attitude towards crime is so incredibly laid back. Unlike most of The Simpsons’ secondary cast, he’s actually reasonably competent at his job, it’s just the crimes he’s committing are so niche and weird. The best example is the thing with rat milk. Yes, it is disgusting, and he should be hauled away for it, but it’s such a weird crime that you can’t help but laugh. He went to all the trouble of setting up this vast room that’s continually milking rats to sell it to local schools as regular milk. I mean, how much money can he really be making from that? Milk isn’t expensive, so you’ve got to imagine he spent more money setting the whole rig up than he ever made from it.

Naturally, his best lines come from interacting with characters like Chief Wiggum. I love how brazen he is about denying his crimes. When Wiggum accuses him of stealing a truck full of cigarettes, he simply replies “What’s a truck?”. He goes so far over the top with ‘playing dumb’, and I just can’t get enough of his antics. It’s even better when the show started to chip away at his tough facade. I can never forget moments like when he’s asked where would be the best place to shoot a man, and he simply replies “follow your heart”.

Fat Tony has such a satirical edge to everything he does that it’s so easy for the writers to come up with funny one-liners for him. Combine that with the excellent voice acting that makes the part what it is, and you’ve got yourself a character that will stick long in the mind of the audience.

8 – Nelson Muntz

The children characters on The Simpsons have always walked a fine line. Their stories have to remain relatively childish and low-stakes, otherwise they seem out of place, and yet, the writers still manage to incorporate more mature elements into them. As much we’re used to it by now, the idea of 8-to-10-year-old kids being as articulate and knowledgable as the ones are Springfield is quite odd, and this goes double for Nelson. While his first handful of appearances stayed centred around the schoolyard bully aspect of his character, he very quickly matured. This went to the point where now, I’d argue he’s more of an adult who acts a bit childish sometimes, as opposed to the other way around.

When it comes to the comedy of the show though, this is perfect. There was plenty of satire to be had when it came to bullying-culture in schools. Not just in terms of someone like Bart getting beaten-up by Nelson, but also in the non-committal ways the adults around the school responded to it. However, it didn’t exactly have enough material to do more than a few plots centred around it. So, what do you do with the ‘bully’ character? Make him an ironic tough-guy who stands up for morals, instead of just beating people up.

By the time Nelson reached his prime as a character, he had done very little in the way of real bullying. He’d still beat people up and threaten them, but instead, it would be for things like “wasting teacher’s valuable time” or “selling out your beliefs”. The writers were careful to chip away at his tough-guy facade in a consistently funny way. He’d sit around in playground talking about the best way to deal with huckleberries that are too tart, only to pretend to be talking about beating a guy up when Principal Skinner is in ear-shot. Even something like being overly excited about going to an Andy Williams is so funny for a character like Nelson that it’s almost impossible to pinpoint why.

He could’ve ended up going the same route as Jimbo, Kerny & Dolph, who are just characters that appear whenever the writers need to make a quick joke about bullying in schools. However, Nelson evolved beyond his original niche to become a genuinely classic Simpsons’ character.

7 – Chief Wiggum

I think it’s more impressive how heartbreakingly relevant much of the police-based satire would become relevant this year…

To put it plainly, Chief Wiggum was the character the writers went to whenever they needed to make police jokes. Thankfully, there are A LOT of police jokes that you can do. Not just around how they’re perceived in American society, but also things like crime dramas. The best jokes around Chief Wiggum are always the quick ones. There’s very little to be gained from him lingering around in the scene, he’s always much funniest when he comes in for a couple one-liners, bounces off the other characters a little bit and then goes away again.

What’s funniest about him is just the brute force of his incompetence. There are so many quotable Wiggum jokes, more so than almost any other character. Lines like “it’s a ghost car!” or “Thank goodness it landed in this smoking crater!” are lines that I wish I had more reasons to quote on a daily basis because honestly, I think about them a lot. Weirdly, I think he’s helped out a lot by having Ralph as a son, it makes him incredibly endearing as a character. It allows us to see a side of him outside of the incompetent police chief. He’s still reasonably incompetent with Ralph, don’t get me wrong, but he’s always portrayed as such a loving father, and honestly, I think his interacts with Ralph are his best; even more so than with someone like Lou.

He’s a character that never needs anything complex to be funny, which makes him a straightforward character to watch. Whenever he shows up, you know that you’re in for some fast and fun laughs.

6 – Principal Skinner

And now, we have the ‘straight man’ of Springfield…sort of.

In a world with such outlandish characters, one character was always going to have to stand as the antithesis to that. The man who’s so down-to-Earth and up-tight it’s laughable. In some ways, that role is filled by Lisa, but in a more meaningful way, it’s filled by Skinner. The subversion of expectations is one of the most straightforward concepts in comedy, but Skinner was always able to use it to significant effect. His atmosphere of being strict and repressed means that he’s always a great character to deliver an absurd punchline, especially when he delivers it as flatly as humanly possible.

Skinner is at his best when he has someone else to bounce off of, which makes a school the perfect place for him to be. That is a setting that gives him just about every kind of character to interact with in some way. Bart, Lisa, Chalmers, Edna, Willie, all the other school kids and even Homer & Marge from time to time, his dynamic with each of these characters is very different, and yet the writers know how to get the greatest potential out of all of them. There’s a deep irony to his character that’s almost tragic. When he’s interacting with the kids, he’s overbearing, harsh & manipulative, and yet, he comes into contact with his mother or Chalmers, and suddenly he becomes a total toadie, with no control over the situation.

Skinner never got stuck in a rut as a character, the huge variety of roles he could play when in contact with other characters meant that he always had a smorgasbord of jokes in his arsenal.

5 – Milhouse Van Houten

The case of Milhouse is an interesting one. As much as his primary purpose in the show is to be Bart’s best friend, I actually think he’s funnier without Bart hanging over him.

The dynamic surrounding him is weird. He’s a total loser, who seems to always get crapped on by the worlds, and yet, most of his best jokes are when he’s the one being proactive in a situation, or taking centre stage for himself. His funniest interactions with Bart are definitely the ones where he’s biting back against Bart’s bullying. It’s episodes like Bart Sells His Soul, where he’s the dominant one that brings out the best in his character.

He’s excellent at taking a more mature & intelligent joke and telling it in a very childish way. Something like how he breaks down Bart’s story about his goldfish, pushing the point of “why did I have the bowl?” is so funny because it’s a very serious thing, told in a very childish way. Even his musings on reverse vampires conspiring with their parents are weirdly intelligent for him. On top of that, so many of his lines are pure iconic. I use “Everything’s coming up Milhouse” more often than I should, and even the less well-known ones give me many chuckles on rewatches.

I’m not sure the writers ever had the intention for Milhouse to become such a tour de force of a personality on his own, but once they realised what they had on their hands, they ran with it as far as they could. He became a character that broke free of the role he was initially intended to play and became a much better character for it.

4 – Ned Flanders

Who’s Homers greatest character foil? Why, it’s the most delightful human on Earth, of course!

Ned is a bit like the opposite of Milhouse’s progression in a way. Where Milhouse expanded to fill a much more significant role than was ever intended for him, Flanders has stayed more or less in his lane. Admittedly, it was a huge lane, but the thing is, it’s rare that you see Ned without Homer being involved in the story in some way. The only time Ned really shakes him is when it’s an episode about his faith, and even then, Homer usually finds a way to worm himself in there.

This honestly surprised me when I was looking back on Flanders’ best moments for this list because he feels like this colossal character that’s involved in everything, but the truth is, he’s tied as heavily to Homer as you can possibly imagine. I guess that’s mostly down to the fact that Homer is inarguably the main focus of the show, so we get plenty of Flanders to get jokes out of him.

Flanders’ jokes tend to come in two flavours: Fanatically religious, or a reaction to a situation most people would consider out of the norm. On the fantastically religious front, the jokes are pretty standard, if you’ve ever heard any religious comedy before, then you know what you’re getting. That’s not to say it isn’t funny, but it’s not exactly groundbreaking stuff. The reactionary jokes though are what makes Flanders as great of a character as he is. There’s something inherently funny about him responding with a cheery “okily-dokily” after having someone tell him very rudely to leave, or how he doesn’t feel right putting ‘cash-register ink’ down as a business expense because he likes the smell.

He’s the kind of person that’s so overly nice that we can all have a good laugh at his expense, without ever having any ill-will for the guy. Even when an episode tries to play with his darker side, Flanders is a character that it’s just impossible to hate.

3 – Lionel Hutz/Troy McClure

So these are technically two separate characters, but if we’re being real here, what makes them great is exactly the same thing: Phil Hartman.

Arguably one of the best comedy voice actors ever, Hartman was able to inject a surreal over-the-top aura to his characters that made just about every line they ever came out with hilarious. What’s great is that they’re characters used very sparingly too. It would be easy for their schtick to get tiring if it was in every episode, but it’s not, it’s like a rare treat when one of these characters appears on screen.

Troy McClure is probably the more iconic of the two, purely because his lines are so memorable. “Hi, I’m Troy McClure, you may remember me from…” is perhaps the single most quotable line The Simpsons has ever come out with. On top of that, the punchline is always funny, even with how frequently it’s used. Troy’s character is the perfect satirisation of the more seedy side of the entertainment industry. Where a character like Krusty is used to show the personal drama behind the performance, Troy is used to rip the piss out of the land of cheesy American TV. As a Brit, I can honestly say that the comic ridiculousness of some of the advertisement segments Troy appears in are genuinely how I view all US adverts. Meanwhile, the shady educational videos are a hilarious take-down of the ‘talking down to you’ tone those videos always use, despite often talking total bollocks.

My personal preference of these two goes to Lionel Hutz however. I don’t know how much experience the writing team had in regards to the legal system but feels like they had a lot because they LOVED doing court-scenes that were a laugh-a-second. He’s just the right amount of stupid to be funny, without getting frustrating, plus, the show makes it very clear that he is a ‘budget’ lawyer that may not even have a licence, so it’s not like he’s supposed to be competent. I’d go on, but honestly, all I can think of to get my point across here is just list a bunch of great Lionel Hutz jokes, so I’ll move on.

The fact is, neither of these characters would be anywhere close to as great as they are without the man voicing them. Phil Hartman always brought so much to these roles, and it felt like he had so much fun performing them. I’m sad that his untimely death meant these characters were lost to Simpsons history, but I’m also glad the showrunners didn’t try to replace Hartman because it would never have worked. These characters were lightning in a bottle, and while they were around, they gave us some of the funniest Simpsons moments of all time.

2 – Sideshow Bob

Sideshow Bob is a character that’s only ever had a singular role over his time in the show, and yet he’s never boring. Seriously, I cannot think of a single time where I’ve not been happy to see Sideshow Bob show up in a Simpsons episode. He’s one of those characters that, even when the episode is bad, the role he takes as a character is still wildly entertaining.

His dignified aura allows the writers to take all kinds of angles with his comedy. Straight-up humiliating the guy is always a pretty great way to go; the rake gag will always be funny for this very reason. Where I think he’s at his best though is when he’s forced to respond to the stupid and whacky world of Springfield. How he carries himself means that watching him bounce off of over-the-top characters like Bart, Wiggum & Krusty is incredibly funny. It’s a very simple ‘straight man’ dynamic, but something about Bob’s characterisation makes it so much funnier than when other characters do it.

This is where I have to give all the props in the world to Bob’s voice actor, Kelsey Grammer. For one thing, he’s an actor who GETS comedy, even though he’s just in a booth speaking into a microphone, I always get the impression that he performs his lines to the max, which is perfect for an animated show like this. He makes Bob’s vicious side so very real-feeling with how he adds the hint of gruffness to the tone. Not to mention, he might have the best evil laugh I’ve ever heard. So many of the jokes in an episode like Cape Fear simply wouldn’t have worked with a more overtly villainous voice for Bob.

Bob is a character that makes for the best plot-based episodes of The Simpsons. When Bob is around trying to murder Bart, you don’t have to worry about giving any serious or heartfelt character moments, you can just let the insanity of Bob’s plan carry everything. It makes his episodes extremely easy to watch, you just have to sit back and let the jokes wash over you.

1 – Mr Burns

Burns is the best secondary Simpsons character because he’s the funniest. It really is that simple.

The way his character was put together means that he can slot into almost any narrative situation and have him steal the show. He’s Homer boss, sure, but he’s also an old-man dependant on others, he’s an unfathomably rich man, and to top it all off, he’s a complete and total bastard. He’s the closest thing The Simpsons has to a real antagonist, a role which he takes to perfectly. What’s great is that writers never tied him down to reality. This means he can take the role of an authentic villain when he blackmails Homer so he can keep his job. However, he can also become a cartoonish supervillain who steals puppies to turn them into shoes.

All of these situations give him ample opportunities to come out with plenty of the funniest lines in the show’s history. Whether he’s singing about how evil he is; showing his lack of physical prowess; or exemplifying a rich, old white guy’s naivete of how the real world works, Mr Burns is a character that never fails to bring the funny. What’s great is that the writers no this, and as such, Mr Burns is the most prominent secondary character in the show’s history. They captured lightning in a bottle with this character and have spent the past 30 years getting all the use out of it as they possibly can. I know pretty much all of Burns’ best moments are in the early seasons (like most characters), but I think he’s one of the few characters that has retained the magic he had back in the mid-90s.

The Simpsons is a show that lives and dies on the satiric potential of its characters, and Burns is a character based on a stereotype that has never (and probably will never) cease to be relevant. He’s an embodiment of what many perceive to be the core problems of modern western society, which means that you can channel just about every joke you can think of about society through Burns.

I’ve tried to express it in as intelligent away as I can. Still, the basic fact of the matter is, Mr Burns is a hilarious character and has remained funny throughout the entire history of The Simpsons.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this article. Please, let me know what you think of The Simpsons’ secondary characters, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Finally, make sure you come back here this time on Wednesday, where I’ll be releasing the penultimate instalment in my 100 Favourite Games series!

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (30-21)

Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Today, I’ll be covering entries 30 through 21.

If you haven’t read the previous instalment in this series, please do so here, and here’s the first entry if you want to start from the entry 100.

SPOILER WARNING!

Just a heads up that there will be full SPOILERS for every game I’m going to talk about in this series, so be careful if I talk about something you don’t want spoiled.

Let’s not waste any more time!

30 – Final Fantasy XV

Release Date: 29th November 2016
Developer: Square Enix Business Division 2
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Google Stadia
Metacritic Average: 85%

It’s a game about the best anime boys on an anime boy road trip

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played for the First Time in 2019 article)

Let’s get the elephant in the room out of the way first. Final Fantasy XV is the first and to date, only, Final Fantasy game I’ve played. I don’t know and I don’t really care what the hardcore Final Fantasy base thought of this game, because I thought it was a masterpiece.

First of all, it looks beautiful, almost excessively so. It’s par for the course that in this generation of games, AAA games will look graphically impressive, but there’s something extra in the visual style of Final Fantasy XV that absolutely blows me away with how impressive it is. It’s not afraid to abandon the sense of realism to inject an extra dose of colour and styling into the world. The terrain is shaped in a visually pleasing way, the design of the various creatures in the world is amazingly diverse and foreign, while still maintaining a somewhat realistic feel, even the UI is so tightly designed that it’s able to convey all it needs to while still managing to fit with the aesthetic of the world around it.

The game as a whole seems to take a full-scale RPG like Skyrim or Witcher and shrink it down into a smaller, but more refined experience without losing much from the appeal of the formula. It’s a rare case of a game where I wanted to partake in some of the more repetitive side-quests like the hunts because I was fully invested in both the world and the progression of my characters. On top of that, the feel of the combat was top-notch, the various weapons had a very distinct feel to each of them and whether you wanted fast strikes or clubbing blows, you were guaranteed to get an extremely satisfying feel with every strike and every dodge. Then you add your party, which add a whole new layer to things. Not only does having a group of people around you partaking in the fight adds a lot to the feel of each encounter, but the strategic options each of them offer means I found myself constantly trying to think a few moves ahead to who I was going to use and when, as well as adding to this intense feeling of camaraderie between the guys.

This brings me to my other favourite thing about this game, which is the constant interactions that Noctis would have with his three “royal guards” (best friends) that come along on this “procession” (road trip) with him. The story as a whole was perfectly fine, there were great moments, there were not so great moments, but the interactions between the four main characters was constantly entertaining and engaging no matter the situation. They weren’t just people who happened to be following me on my journey, they were their own people and my friends who had their own things they wanted to do and the game makes sure to show you that. Ignis never ceases to entertain me with his attitude and him proclaiming he’s come up with a new recipe is music to my ears. Gladiolus will occasionally ask you to get up early and come jogging with him and isn’t afraid to call me out on my bullshit. Then there’s Prompto, who is an absolute angel and seeing all of the photos he takes during your activities at the end of each day was such something that I would genuinely look forward to because it added so much to that sense of friendship.

By the time I was done with Final Fantasy XV, I instantly wanted more, more of the combat, more of the characters, I felt like I’d come on such a journey with everyone that I wanted to keep it going for as long as possible, alongside the extremely fun combat system. I just wish other Final Fantasy games were like this one.

29 – Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon

Release Date: 17th September 2015
Developer: Spike Chunsoft
Publisher: Nintendo, The Pokemon Company
Platforms: Nintendo 3DS
Metacritic Average: 69%

It’s a game about dungeon crawling with Pokemon.

This might end up being one of the more controversial entries into this list, as the Pokemon fanbase is one that tends to be very divided on…well everything really, but the Mystery Dungeon series is especially divisive.

However, I’m planting my flag in the ground regardless and saying that I love the Mystery Dungeon games and Super Mystery Dungeon does the formula to perfection. The turn-based style of dungeon crawling is something I’ve seen very few other game series attempt. Unless I’m being an idiot and blanking on some major game, Curse of the Necrodancer is the only other game I can think of that uses this style of gameplay.

The PMD series is one that takes the varied, fun and colourful world of Pokemon and turns it into something new in what for my money is the best spin-off franchise the series has ever developed (Pokemon Ranger is a distant second). As I’ll discuss a lot more throughout these last few instalments in this series, turn-based strategy is amongst my favourite genres so to create an endless amount of dungeons with a whole host of different visual styles and Pokemon within them provided me with countless hours of fun. Explorers of Sky was very close to getting this spot. However, in the end, I decided to give it to Super Mystery Dungeon purely because of the ridiculously large amount of stuff there was to do in the endgame, which kept me playing the game for a good few weeks past the credits.

What really impresses me with these games though is their stories. While it still remains firmly in the family-friendly category, it isn’t afraid to tell stories that have a real emotional weight to them; something the main series of Pokemon games have so far failed to do. I genuinely cried while watching the final cutscene, and that goes for almost every other game in the series too. It proves that Pokemon can be used to tell a genuinely compelling and emotional story, and I hope that one day we get something like this outside of this spin-off franchise.

28 – Sid Meier’s Civilization V

Release Date: 21st September 2010
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about creating and destroying the world throughout the entirety of world history.

So-called 4X games are a genre that I’m sure I’d absolutely adore if I ever had the mental energy to learn any of them. Games like Stellaris and Sins of a Solar Empire have taken the genre to complexities can I only dream of ever understanding. Proof of this is the one 4X game that I came across when I was young enough to still bother learning these kinds of things, that being Civilization V.

As I’ll discuss a little later on in the list, I’ve always preferred turn-based strategy to real-time. Something about running numerous processes through my head at once and formulating a strategy is the kind of drug that gets my brain totally hooked on a game. Civilization is perfect at this, as the game progresses you will have so many plates spinning all at once, every decision you make will affect several of them in ways that you don’t always see coming.

Whether playing against AI or with friends, I have so much fun formulating my masterplans for world domination and watching them crash and burn slowly and methodically as I frantically try to stop everything from falling apart. Then, once in a blue moon, my masterplan actually works, and it’s the single most satisfying feeling in gaming.

To tell a story, I was once playing a game with two of my friends, it was just the three of us on the map (no AI). I ended up spawning with my civilization sandwiched between the two of them. So I got to work. I spent the whole game playing both sides of the brewing war, a war that was only brewing because I was playing the two of them off against each other at every turn. Sure enough, the war came to pass, and I sat idly by while they whittled each other down bit by bit, helping both of them just enough so that they didn’t suspect I was double-crossing them. Then, when the time was right, and the war looked to be ending, I picked the bones of the winner before they had time to recover and handily won the game.

While that was an absolutely incredible gaming experience that I will never forget, I know from (vast) experience that it would have been equally as fun if my plan had gone awry and the two of them clamped down on me to take me out. Even when things don’t go my way, I still have so much fun playing a game of Civilization (even if I do occasionally get a bit salty) that I’m sure I’ll be coming back to it for years.

27 – Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball

Release Date: 19th February 2015
Developer: Erik Asmussen
Platforms: Windows, MacLinux

It’s a game about…well…a robot roller derby disco dodgeball…I don’t really think there’s a more concise way to describe it.

Dipping once again into my bag of obscure games that I absolutely adore, we have a rough-around-the-edges multiplayer arena shooter that’s absolute chaos at every turn and a tremendous amount of fun. The concept is very simple, you’re either in teams or as a free for all, you get dropped into a pretty small arena, and you have to grab dodgeballs off of the ground and throw them at your opponents to get ‘hits’.

As you can probably imagine – given that I have time to write about 100 games – I didn’t enjoy PE(or ‘Gym’ for Americans) very much in school. However, the one game that I always enjoyed (and was surprisingly decent at) was dodgeball. You have to make perfect use of your space as you attempt to navigate the absolute chaos that is constantly going on around you, which I found that to be great fun. This game can capture that feeling almost exactly.

Then it piles on some bright visuals and some chaotic techno music – the likes of which I usually despise, but for this game, it works perfectly – and it gives you an experience that feels like someone’s distilled the concept of fun into a liquid and is pumping it directly into your veins.

26 – Beat Saber

Release Date: 21st May 2019
Developer: Beat Games
Publisher: Beat Games
Platforms: Playstation VR, HTC Vive, Oculus
Metacritic Average: 93%

It’s a game about slashing up blocks with lightsabers in-time with music.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

The concept is so simple as it’s just like any other rhythm game, except you’ve got to move your arms to hit the blocks instead of just pressing buttons in time with some music.

This game as a mastery of its sound design, making sure that every slice of a block has an extremely satisfying sound to it, helping to create this cool factor as you slice left, right and centre, even when you know that to anyone watching outside of the headset, you just look to be flailing around wildly. Even the sounds and music on the menus create an intense sense of atmosphere as you stand in what seems to be the most neon warehouse to ever exist.

A lot of VR games that I enjoy are games that I think would still work fairly well without the VR component. While games like Job Simulator and Budget Cuts would need some tweaking, I don’t think the VR element is specifically what makes them as good as they are. Beat Saber is very much the opposite, I’ve never particularly cared for rhythm games, nor am I all that good at them, but when you take that concept and put it into VR suddenly it becomes one of the most all-out fun experiences I’ve ever had.

I don’t know what part of how my brain works causes this, but I am so much better at Beat Saber than I am any other rhythm game I’ve ever played. I’m miles away from being among the best of course, but I can play on the higher speeds and difficulties and not struggle massively as I play and I think the sense of pure fun the game as injected into it is a big part of that.

On top of all of that, it works as an exercise game, but it doesn’t frame it as one. I’ve never got along with games like Ring Fit Adventure or Wii Fit because they make sure to let you know you’re doing exercise the whole way through, but in Beat Saber you just start flailing your arms and suddenly you’re drenched in sweat and have lost about 20 pounds without even realizing it.

Beat Saber is a game that realized the massive potential that an existing genre of games could have in VR and made sure to tailor the experience perfectly so that it couldn’t possibly work without it and that is fundamentally what I believe makes a good VR game.

25 – Hexcells Infinite

Release Date: 1st September 2014
Developer: Matthew Brown Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS

It’s a game that’s a weird mix of Minesweeper and Picross.

Did somebody say more obscure indie games? Because we’re not done yet, it’s time to talk about the really simple, yet weirdly addictive puzzle game that I’ve inexplicably put 200 hours into.

As I explained in the opening line, Hexcells borrows from Minesweeper for its core mechanics. There are hexes all over that are covered up, and it’s your job to determine which ones are blue underneath and which ones aren’t. You do this by looking at the numbers in uncovered hexes, which indicate the number of adjacent blue hexes. It also borrows some mechanics from Picross, as some rows & columns will have numbers indicating how many blues there are in that row/column.

It doesn’t just use these mechanics though as it has some fresh ideas of its own to help you solve puzzles (and also make them more complicated in the process). For one thing, there are ‘{x}’ and ‘-x-‘ indicators (‘x’ representing a number) that tells you if the blues in question are adjacent to each other or not. Some blue hexes will also have numbers on them which indicate the number of blue hexes that are a specified area around them.

All of these come together to make a puzzle game that takes the best elements of the games it’s inspired by and sprinkles in ideas of its own to make something new, yet familiar. There are three different games in the series (all costing less than £5) and the hand-crafted puzzles through each of the games are masterfully designed. There are plenty of puzzles throughout the series that have truly stumped me for quite a while but gave that beautiful ‘eureka’ moment when I find the linchpin that was keeping all of the hexes from revealing themselves.

What I find most impressive about Hexcells Infinite specifically, however, is the seed-generated puzzles that are available. While these levels aren’t quite as smart as the hand-crafted ones, the algorithm the developer(s) used to generate these puzzles is incredibly robust and very intelligent. There are a grand total of 100,000,000 (one hundred million) different puzzles that you have access to. I’ve played just over 2000 so far, and I’ve yet to find a single one that wasn’t solvable. To me, it’s so incredibly impressive that they can build something to generate that many puzzles and not have a single one be busted. It’s a simple formula that has kept me playing for 200 hours and will likely keep me going for 200 more.

24 – Euro Truck Simulator 2

Release Date: 19th October 2012
Developer: SCS Software
Publisher: SCS Software
Platforms: Windows, MacLinux
Metacritic Average: 79%

It’s a game about driving a truck all over Europe.

While I’ve talked about plenty of niche games on this list (several in this particular instalment) yet, despite its relatively large reputation, I don’t think it gets much more niche than a truck-driving simulator. This is a game that came about around the time that YouTubers like Nerdcubed, The Yogscast and Jim Sterling were discovering all of the extremely poorly made simulator games that littered the PC market at the time (and still do, to some extent). So while all of that was going on, Euro Truck decided it was going to shut everyone up by setting an extremely high standard for the genre that, as far as I’m concerned, no other game has ever been able to meet.

I’m not even entirely sure why I like this game so much, it’s not even remotely similar to anything else I like to play, hell, I barely even like racing games, so why is a game where I drive slower more fun? The fact is this is easily one of the most robust and realistic simulators out there. When you’re doing even the most simple of manoeuvres with your truck, it feels weighty & forceful. It’s because of these systems that I’m much more willing to play the game properly than I ever am in more poorly made simulators. It’s such an easy game to just boot up and play, I’ll often stick on a movie or TV show onto my second screen and go for a drive across the continent. Not very good driving habits, I know, but this is a video game so who cares?

On top of that, the amount of content is continually expanding, the developers are slowly adding more and more regions of Europe with new DLC every 6-8 months. Combine this with its sister game, American Truck Simulator (which has started off with a few states on the west coast and has since added several more), and you’ve got so much land-mass to cover that you’ll almost certainly never get the chance to see all of it.

Even having talked about it now, I still can’t quite pinpoint a reason why I enjoy this game so much and yet, here it is, opening the final quarter of the list. It’s just such a nice game…actually, sod this, I’m going to go and play it.

23 – Into the Breach

Release Date: 27th February 2018
Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about going back in time to stop some discount Kaijus from destroying the planet.

I will forever regret not putting this on my 2018 Game of the Year list. I was a fool, and this game is so much more brilliant than I initially realized.

Subset Games had quite the success on their hands when they launched FTL: Faster Than Light in 2012 (we’ll get to that later), and trying to follow up such a brilliant game was always going to be a difficult task. So, instead of rushing to the punch to immediately capitalize, they took their time to slowly craft a game that would be just as fun, and it’s hard to argue that they didn’t succeed in that task.

Into the Breach takes the turn-based strategy genre and adds layer after layer of complexity to it, but not in the way that things like 4X games do. Into the Breach has relatively quick matches for turn-based strategies, but it makes sure that you spend every second of it on your toes. With the combinations or your machines and the enemy’s abilities, you have to continually be thinking two or three turns ahead of the current one to stop yourself becoming overwhelmed.

It takes a lot to make the player feel like they’re under pressure in a turn-based strategy since you have as much time as you need to think about things, but Into the Breach has you always second-guessing your decisions, and never lets you settle on a plan for long. It will constantly be throwing you curveballs, which all serves to make every victory feel hard-fought and satisfying, which is precisely what a turn-based strategy should be like.

22 – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

Release Date: 26th October 2001
Developer: Capcom Production Studio 4
Publisher: Capcom
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Nintendo 3DS, Nintendo Wii, Nintendo DS, Game Boy Advance, Windows, iOS, Android
Metacritic Average: 81%

It’s a game about collecting evidence and using it to obliterate witness’ statements in the world’s most dramatic courtroom.

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played for the First Time in 2019 article)

The Ace Attorney series is a series that I’ve wanted to try for years, but never found a good enough excuse to bother with, so for years I never played it. Luckily for me, in January this year, the Ace Attorney Trilogy released on modern consoles & PC so now I didn’t have any excuse NOT to play at, and I’m thrilled I finally got around to it because this game was fantastic.

The Ace Attorney games are able to hit the mark that almost every other game in the mystery genre fail to, which is that making deductions feels brilliant. In so many games that ask you to “solve a mystery,” it never feels satisfying because if you wander around an area long enough, you’ll stumble across the answer, but Ace Attorney doesn’t do that. This is a game that gives you everything you need to crack the case, the testimonies, the mountain of different pieces of evidence and just tells you to go off and work it out.

The investigation phases are a bit frustrating and essentially boil down to a hidden object game, but the court scenes are where this game absolutely shines. Through a combination of pacing, music and dialogue, the game is able to draw me entirely into a scene and put me in the mindset of Phoenix Wright, I spend ages pouring over every word anyone says trying to pull on the slightest loose thread and rip the case open. I’ve sat at my screen agonizing for extended periods of time because I just can’t find the hole in the story.

Then I finally do find it and the game rewards you in the best way. The way the music kicks in as you throw your witness’ statements back in their face proving that they’re lying, kicking off a series of back and forths between you and your opponents. The way in which this game tells its story captures the essence of the most dramatic courtroom dramas, I can feel the momentum pulling back and forth as the case flows to the point where any ground gained feels like a huge victory.

Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney is a game that is in perfect control of your emotions at all times, it uses all the tools at its disposal to put you in the exact mindset it wants you to be in, so it can use that to take you on one of the wildest rides out there in gaming.

21 – Subsurface Circular

Release Date: 17th August 2017
Developer: Mike Bithell Games
Publisher: Mike Bithell Games
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, iOS

It’s a game about riding a train and solving a mystery.

On the last edition of this series, I talked about Quarantine Circular, I looked at how the game forces you to see every situation from every perspective and then hits you with some incredibly difficult choices. Subsurface Circular decides to take the exact opposite direction, giving you a single character, who never moves from their spot and instead talks to everyone else as the world passes them by.

The game sets out the scenario that you are a detective trying to solve a mystery. So as you interview people across the Subsurface Circular train-line, you get all these different perspectives on events, but they’re filtered through your own perspective on what should be going on. You’re solving a mystery, you’re just trying to find the culprit right? Well, as I’m sure you’ve probably guessed, it’s nowhere near that simple. Each new interview opens up so many fresh layers to explore in further interviews. Some are dead ends, but others lead you down a winding path through a series of complex societal structures.

On that point, this isn’t a game that shies away from tackling pressing real-world issues in its story. It’s not the only game to do this, but the way in which Subsurface Circular presents these issues is trying to get people to look at things from a perspective that they might not have thought of before. It genuinely draws in points from all sides of the arguments and presents them to the player to figure out for themselves.

If that was all this game did, then it’d be good, but not deserving a spot as high as this, so what makes it so special?

I know I gave a spoiler warning at the start, but really, I’m about to discuss the end of the game so if you’ve decided you want to play this game now and don’t want to know what happens, now is the time to scroll to the next entry.

I won’t quite go into the details, but after taking on this winding journey, you discover all kinds of things about the city. Terrorist organizations, corrupt governments, the struggle of the every-day working-class people, but also the potential of how their lives could get so much worse if the system that’s making all this happen was to disappear. The game forces you to make a choice; a very simple choice. Kill the leader of the revolution and keep the status-quo (a status-quo that has caused discrimination and wide-spread poverty) or kill yourself and let the revolution happen (a revolution that might make everything better, but could just as easily make it a whole lot worse).

When the game faced me with this choice, I legitimately spent close to fifteen minutes going over it in my head. I thought through every scrap of information that I’d been told by everyone that I’d spoken to, trying to figure out what the right choice was.

Then I made my choice, and the game did something bold. It didn’t tell me what the result of my choice was. That was it, I made my choice, the credits rolled, and it was brilliant. It plays so perfectly off of all the doubt I had about either decision (I did check and the other choice does the exact same thing). Instead of giving me a moment of relief where I find out if I did the right thing, it just lets me sit there with my thoughts and decide for myself if I did what was right. It was such a powerful storytelling experience, and I’d love to say that it’s Mike Bithell’s masterpiece, but this isn’t even the last time I’m going to talk about one of his games in this series.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think of these games, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Saturday, where I’ll be running down my favourite chracters from The Simpsons!