Every Episode of Doctor Who Series 8 (2014) Ranked

Series 8! A new Doctor takes the reigns of the show, which means that the whole dynamic of the show tends to get thrown on its head. This goes doubly so this time as Capaldi gives us a departure from the young men of Tennant and Smith. Gone are the days of bouncing around like a goofball, instead giving us a grumpy, cynical and sarcastic style of comedy.

Personally, this was the series I was most dreading because it’s the only one that I haven’t actually rewatched since it originally aired. My memories of a lot of these episodes have faded in the years since 2014. There’s even one episode in here I’m relatively sure I’d never actually seen before.

Still, there’s no time like the present, so let’s get reviewing.

11 – In the Forst of the Night

In the Forest of the Night is the worst episode of modern Doctor Who. It’s really that simple.

Children actors are bad and annoying at the best of times, so it doesn’t help that A) They’re one of the most critical factors of this episode, and B) They were explicitly written to be the most insufferable, stereotypical arses I’ve ever seen. On top of that, all of the adult characters seem to act like children too. There are attempts at comedy, but they are DIRE. Jokes that are so unfunny they’d even be too bad for an episode of The Big Band Theory.

The ‘drama’ in Clara & Danny’s relationship about how much she’s been seeing The Doctor is laughable, and wholly forced into scenes where they have no place being. Speaking of Danny, I have no idea why the writer decided he should be completely inept in this episode, but it turns him into the most unlikable character in the whole thing. I can get behind his motivation of protecting the kids, but he isn’t even good at it, for one thing, he steps up to tiger, with a torch, after which, we NEVER see that tiger again. THAT’S NOT HOW TIGERS WORK. Not to mention that not nearly enough attention is paid to the fact that Danny manages to lose a child at a sleepover. It’s not like she just wandered off either, she’s fully dressed and out in the forest, which means she’s been missing all night, and neither he nor Clara, nor any of the kids noticed.

All of that, all of it pales in comparison to this episodes biggest sin. The one time while watching an episode of Doctor Who that has made me physically angry that it was ever allowed to be broadcast. That is the moment where Clara tells The Doctor not to bother saving all of the children, and The Doctor just agrees. Clara makes this decision, not just to let the human race become extinct, but to let all these innocent children die, without consulting anyone, she simply tells it to The Doctor as a statement as fact. The fact that The Doctor doesn’t spend the remaining 10 minutes of the episode verbally eviscerating her for even suggesting it is a disgrace and a complete failure to understand anything about any of these characters.

Oh, and what’s Clara’s reasoning for letting the children die? Because, if they lived…they’d miss their parents…which is the dumbest justification for anything I’ve ever heard. It spits in the face of anyone who’s ever lost a parent too because Clara’s essentially just said that there’s no point in living without your parents. She says this, by the way, in front of Danny Pink, who is an orphan. Even putting all that to one side, if I was the parent to one of those kids, and you told me that you could’ve saved their lives, but chose not to, I would never stop being furious about it.

And before you say it, I don’t care that it turns out to all be fine in the end, because Clara still made that decision, believing all of the kids were going to die, and THAT’S what matters. Even during their most unlikable periods, I could never possibly believe that Clara or The Doctor would even consider such unbelievable bullshit for a second. It quite simply goes against the entire ethos of the show.

Oh also, making a joke about how they just call the kids ‘gifted & talented’ so they feel special, and it’s actually meaningless? Congratulations on completely shattering the self-esteem of any school kid who gets put in a ‘gifted & talented’ class. I don’t care if it’s a stupid joke on a TV show, kids pick up on this stuff, they will remember it, and it will hurt them.

10 – The Caretaker

Whenever I’ve seen people criticise Moffat’s writing, I’ve never understood where the ‘misogyny’ point comes from, then I rewatched this episode, and I get it now.

This episode treats Clara like an object rather than a character as all the men have a big fight over her. Danny & Clara’s relationship is the focal point of this episode, and it’s absolutely terrible. I know they couldn’t dedicate tonnes of time to establishing their relationship before this, but skimming over it in a montage doesn’t help us feel the connection the show keeps telling us they have. When Clara proclaims that she loves Danny, all I could do was wonder why? We’ve shown them being vaguely flirty and the show keeps telling us that they’re in love, but I’ve never actually seen them make a real emotional connection.

I think the problem comes from perspective. The entire episode is written from Clara’s perspective. On paper, this seems like the smart decision as she’s the bridge between these two worlds. However, the episode never actually focuses on her thoughts and feelings on the conflict between The Doctor & Danny. We get the sense that she wants them to get along, because of course she does, but we never get a real sense of the stress of her worlds colliding. Personally, I think the episode could’ve been a lot better if written entirely from Danny’s perspective, then you could’ve had a proper look at the emotional trauma he goes through when discovering all of this. Not only would it make Clara seem more like a real person, but it would’ve helped up connect to Danny because as it is, I have no reason to like him.

The conflict between The Doctor & Danny shows hints of being good, but more or less just devolves into them being petty little school children to each other. Maybe that idea was the point, but it just comes across as annoying. Danny flips out in the TARDIS for no reason and seems like an arsehole because of it, and The Doctor just seems bitter that Clara didn’t like the guy who looked like him. The Doctor comes across as unbelievably childish for discarding Danny because of his past as a soldier. I know they’ve never liked military organisations or those in them, but The Doctor is always the kind of person to reach out and try to show them the better way, not just bat them away like they’re the scum of the Earth. Neither Danny nor The Doctor comes out of it looking sympathetic or likeable, and Clara is just treated like a little damsel who needs the men to protect her. I know I’ve criticised Clara for never struggling before, but this is too far in the other direction.

At its core, this is an episode that fails to understand its characters,.fails to understand interpersonal relationships, and fails to have any kind of exciting plot. It just wanted to be a drama-based episode, but still had to throw in a monster of the week because it’s Doctor Who. As a result, both suffered.

9 – Listen

Listen is two different types of episode pressed together into one. One half of it is a slow and tense mystery surrounding a very interesting concept. It knows what it’s doing had carries a solid plot. The other half is a character study between The Doctor and Clara, focusing on how it’s shifting with the inclusion of Danny Pink. This fails to understand the established dynamic between these characters, has no idea how romance actually works and tries to wrap it all up with a completely meaningless speech about fear.

I’ll start with the good stuff. First of all, the hook is great. The concept of something under your bed is immediately understandable by absolutely everyone, and I’m surprised it took this long for the show to use it. I loved the idea of how you talk to yourself sometimes to reason that there might be something there. I, for one talk to myself ALL. THE. TIME. And I’d be thrilled to know that all of my genius thoughts didn’t go to waste when I verbalised them.

The scenes where we get teased as if we’re going to see the creature are great. They build so perfectly to their climax. The bedroom scene is the best example of this. It starts with Clara calming Rupert, seeming to diffuse the situation. It’s a sweet scene, but the atmosphere remains tense because we know that something’s really there. The tension then takes a huge spike when something sits on top of the bed. There’s then the whole build with The Doctor, talking things out to Rupert, but simultaneously trying to work things out for himself. The Doctor’s slightly panicky tone as he hopes the creature will go away makes the thing feel genuinely quite scary. The same goes for the scene in the space base later on.

Where things fall apart, though, is the character stuff between Clara & Danny. The dating scene is fine, although I didn’t really buy into their connection. I’m not saying I wanted to see the whole scene where they found common ground and started getting along – I’m totally cool with the episode yada-yadaing over that stuff – but it felt like we so quickly went from them awkwardly trying to find common ground, to them falling out that I didn’t have any time to digest their connection. In fact, it didn’t feel like they had any at all. I understand what they were trying to say about Danny’s mental state by having him flip out with the idea of killing, but the argument makes him seem so unreasonable. A perspective that isn’t helped by the fact that we only follow Clara.

I like that the situation flips a couple of times – they both get a chance to be wrong – but again, not nearly enough time was dedicated to it to be worthwhile. I know they tried to establish a connection between the adventure & the date, but it fell relatively flat for me. The Doctor’s investigation played into the date very little, and I’m sorry, but I just didn’t care about someone who we assume is Danny’s descendant connecting with Clara. Danny is such a focal point around Clara’s internal conflict here, and yet I don’t feel like I know who he is. I grasp the idea of being a soldier that hasn’t quite gotten over his days in the war, but that story has been told so many times that, unless you have something interesting to say about it, you just shouldn’t bother. What we get here from Danny is the most basic version of that archetype.

I didn’t enjoy the stuff between Clara & The Doctor either. I know that it was sowing the seeds for later in the series, but it escalates so quickly that I just don’t buy it. I understand that when The Doctor snaps at Clara, it’s because he’s desperate to solve a mystery from his childhood, but there was no build to it. The Doctor doesn’t seem any different than normal until he suddenly starts forcefully ordering Clara around. Sure, he disregards Clara’s date, but from what we’d seen from this Doctor so far, that’s nothing out of the ordinary for him. It meant that all of the character-based drama (both in this episode and the series at large) feel extremely unearned because no-one bothered to give it any proper build.

It’s such a shame that I’ve had to rank this so low because there’s some great stuff in here, but the character drama that is supposed to carry the episode utterly fails.

8 – Time Heist

If you were wondering which episode it was that I hadn’t seen before, it was this one. I feel it’s important to clarify that, because this is an episode with a lot of twists to it, so I need to impress upon you that I didn’t already know what was going to happen going into this episode. The reason this is so important for me to clarify is because all of the twists were really obvious.

Seriously, there was only one twist that I didn’t see coming, and it was the only one that wasn’t foreshadowed until about 30 seconds before it was revealed. Usually, I wouldn’t think much of a secondary character dying in one of these episodes, but it happened so quickly after they were introduced that I knew there was no way they were dead. Their deaths were given no fanfare and no time to breathe, with exposition about their character crammed into the 10 minutes each of them had before vanishing briefly.

Secondly, I cannot stress how painstakingly obvious it was that The Doctor was the architect the whole time. As soon as they had their memories wiped I knew there was going to be some kind of ‘gotcha’ moment when it came to the identity of the architect, and as soon as The Doctor realised it was a time travel heist, it more or less confirmed my theory. Sometimes, solving a mystery before it’s revealed is a fun experience that makes me feel smart, but in this instance, it felt so obvious to me that I couldn’t help but feel bored as The Doctor ran around trying to slowly figure it all out.

There was a nice variety of stuff to enjoy here, though. The first 30 minutes or so was very tense and enjoyable. The episode didn’t spend too much time introducing us to the world, but it didn’t really need to. Bank, heist, mysterious person behind it all; that’s all we need to know. This meant the heist action got to shine, which was where this episode was at it’s strongest. I still wouldn’t call it anything extraordinary, but I had fun watching the team break into the vault while evading the monster that could sense their guilt. Speaking of, what a brilliant concept for a monster, bravo to the Thompson & Moffat for putting that concept together.

The last 15 minutes leave all the excitement behind, though, which felt like a bit too much of a change of pace. They reach the private vault ridiculously easily when I was honestly hoping we’d get at least one more scene of tense heist shenanigans. It left me wanting more, but not in a good way, I just felt like it had short-changed me on the action and totally killed the pace. The sequence where The Doctor works everything out and confronts the monster is good, but the fact that I’d already worked out the solution took something away from it. The fact that the thing in the vault was another one of the monsters though was a brilliant way to end it and, as I said, I didn’t see that coming.

This is one of those episodes that I can’t really conjure up any strong feelings for. It didn’t do anything terribly, but it didn’t do anything spectacular either. I enjoyed it, but I doubt I’ll remember much about it in a few weeks.

7 – Into the Dalek

This is an episode that I keep going back and forth on. I think it succeeds in telling its self-contained story, but when it comes to the long-term, series-length plots, it leaves a lot to be desired.

This was the episode that kicked off the “Am I a good man?” storyline and, in theory, I can see that this would be a very good episode to help that story along. I’ll touch on it in a bit, but there are plenty of moments throughout the episode where the Doctor’s morality is questioned in a meaningful and effective way. The problem with it was that the scene where The Doctor posed the question, was at the start of the episode, not at the end. The Doctor hasn’t done anything in the previous episode(s) that caused this doubt in the mind of the audience, so it just feels like we’re being told what to think.

If instead, The Doctor had asked Clara that question at the end of the episode, it would’ve felt like a natural culmination of the story that was being told. It’s a minor change, but I think it makes a huge difference. One way tells the audience what they should be thinking, while the other allows the audience to come to these doubtful thoughts themselves before the show starts to press on the issue.

Next up, we had the introduction of Danny Pink. Now, I’ve already touched on what I think of him and his story, but, for an introduction, I thought this was quite effective. It felt totally out of place with the episode, but in a bubble, this was an excellent way to give us a bit of a taste of Danny and his budding relationship with Clara. I did find it a bit weird that they seemed to be hot for each other the moment they made eye contact, but whatever.

Looking at the plot, it definitely landed for me. The whole dilemma of a ‘good Dalek’ was an interesting plot thread that I don’t think has been done before. It didn’t feel like a gimmick either, it actually felt like there was a point to this story, that was trying to evolve the Daleks as villains. I think the fact that there was actually a reasonable explanation as to why the Dalek had shifted its perspective went a long way to bringing me into the story too. If the Dalek had just randomly changed its mind, then I wouldn’t have bought it, but the explanation of the damage it had sustained, allowing it to open up its mind was a great touch.

The progression of the characters in this story works well. I genuinely got the sense that Clara was someone who knew and understood The Doctor’s mind when she called him out on his bullshit this time, rather than just her usual ‘generic strong woman sass’. Why we couldn’t have seen this side of Clara in Series 7, I will never know, but I’m thrilled that we’ve got it now.

The finale was near-perfect in its execution. The tension of Clara restoring the memories was a nice segment to have running through everything, but the best moment was when The Doctor went inside the Dalek’s mind. The fact that the main thing the Dalek took on board from The Doctor’s mind was his hatred for the Daleks was a brilliant twist; because we’d seen it bubbling throughout the episode. It adds so much to the “Am I a good man?” discussion too, because we’ve been shown how hate-filled The Doctor’s mind can be, but also, Daleks are born and raised to embrace hatred, so maybe it’s not The Doctor’s fault. That’s why I think the question should’ve come up after the fact, not before.

Fortunately for this episode, the stuff I didn’t like takes up minimal time at the beginning and end, while the stuff that’s in between it is an exciting adventure. It knows exactly the story it wants to tell and tells it in a compelling manner, which is all I ask for from this show.

6 – Robot of Sherwood

I was very pleasantly surprised by this one. I’d managed to convince myself it was a terrible episode. I think all I really remembered is the general goofiness of the thing, which isn’t entirely representative of the episode. Not to mention, it was written by Mark Gatiss, who doesn’t have an exceptionally high hit-rate when it comes to writing good Doctor Who.

The tone of this one is played relatively light, but I don’t mind that. The whole concept of meeting Robin Hood and having him fight robots is an inherently ridiculous one, so there’s no way trying to play it off as serious would’ve worked. The first half of the episode is filled with a lot of genuinely funny stuff. The scene where The Doctor and Robin first meet is hilarious. Capaldi wouldn’t get nearly enough opportunities to show off his comedic side in this series, but here is a gleaming bastion of funny. I’ll admit, the bickering between The Doctor and Robin does become tiresome pretty quick – the scene in the prison cell should’ve been way shorter – but there were still a fair few lines that got a laugh out of me.

Looking to the plot, I think it was about as good as it could’ve been given the concept. A light-hearted romp with Robin Hood and his merry men was never going to be a revolutionary story, but I struggled to find any major complaints with it. We spend enough time with The Doctor questioning how this could all be real that it builds suspense, but it doesn’t go on and on too much. Then, a large chunk of the episode is spent unravelling the mystery, arguably more so than usual.

The guest stars did a fantastic job here too. Tom Riley was able to capture the over-the-top atmosphere that Robin Hood gives off in his stories (much better than Jonas Armstrong’s portrayal of the role, I must say). The way he gave every line this kind of casual, yet slightly posh touch was very endearing. Ben Miller does a beautiful job as the Sherriff too. If you’ve ever watched Armstrong & Miller, you’ll know that he’s able to pull off ‘posh & manacing’ like few others, which made him great for a cartoonish villain like the Sherriff. He carries the serious stuff too though. The scene with him and Clara could easily have been a bore, but I’d argue that his performance makes it interesting to watch.

The climax wasn’t the greatest. A middle of the road sword fight over a pit of lava isn’t a very ‘Doctor Who’ way to solve things, but sod it, this episode was just an excuse to bring back memories of the old BBC Robin Hood series, which had sword fights way stupider than this.

I really didn’t expect to enjoy this episode, but I was proven so very wrong. It’s absolutely not to everyone’s tastes, but I think that as long as you don’t try to take it too seriously, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

5 – Deep Breath

Following The Eleventh Hour, Moffat was going to be hard-pressed to top himself when it came to writing another brilliant ‘first story’ for another new Doctor. Did he nail it? For the most part, I’d say it did.

The thing that stood out to me most in this episode was the humour, which was a bit of a mixed bag. At the start of the episode, most of the jokes landed, and the tone worked for the jokes. The line “Don’t look in that mirror, it’s furious!” got a huge laugh out of me. The problem I had with the humour was that it persisted throughout the episode even once the tone had drastically shifted. Scattering in jokes during serious moments can be good, but they still need to be consistent with the tone of the scene and most of the jokes here were much too goofy to fit in the more serious scenes.

For example, the scene following the interrogation where Clara calls in the Paternoster gang to help them. This was the point in the episode where the action burst into the forefront of the scene and having Strax comically crash into the floor with a thud only for Jenny to make a quip about it didn’t fit at all. Speaking of Jenny, the jokes between her & Vastra were clearly written by someone who has only ever seen lesbians in porn films. All of the jokes between the two of them were had some form of sexual connotation or innuendo behind them, and while that is funny in small doses, it really got tiresome by the end.

That said, I thought the dramatic and serious side of the episode was fantastic. The scenes underneath the restaurant where Clara is forced to hold her breath to escape is incredibly tense, and I loved it. The following scene where she confronts the villain was also a standout moment for the character. The performance was excellent, and I really bought into the feeling of Clara being absolutely terrified but using everything she’s learnt from The Doctor in her travels to keep herself safe.

The way the inner conflict of Clara adjusting to this new Doctor was well told and I liked how it shifted throughout. She starts off with a very clear denial of the situation, and I enjoyed the scene where Vastra confronted her about it. It was the first time since her introduction that I actually felt Clara’s integrity as a character was challenged by other characters in the show. After being a void of personality in Series 7, some attention is finally being paid to Clara’s flaws and facades to make her more of a person. This conflict remains, where she takes a leap of faith on the fact that The Doctor didn’t actually abandon her in her most dire moments. It culminates beautifully in the final scene where she receives a phone call from Matt Smith’s Doctor to guide her towards acceptance. It’s a bittersweet scene and all three actors involved did a fantastic job of performing it.

That’s the perfect segway to talk about the whole point of this episode: Introducing us to the new Doctor. On that front, it was really good – not Eleventh Hour good, but still good. The shifting in tone from comedic, to dramatic, to heartfelt at the end gave Capaldi the chance to show off his full range for the role in just one episode. All of his comedic lines were great, and he was even able to bring the subtlety to the performance in the form of how he slowly grew out of his post-regeneration daze throughout. It seemed like every scene he was just a little bit less crazy, culminating in the final scenes where he confronted the villain and spoke plainly with Clara.

This episode did an excellent job at what it was supposed to do, and regardless of how well the rest of the series capitalised on what it did, the things it set in motion were great. We saw a wide range of what the new Doctor can do, along with getting a good sense of his personality; Clara got challenged and developed as a character for the first time since she was introduced, and it told a compelling story with a satisfying conclusion.

4 – Dark Water/Death in Heaven

So, this finale was a lot better than I remember it being, but I’m still not entirely sure I like it.

Starting with Dark Water, this is a really good episode. It’s not the most amazing depiction of grief (that happens next series), but I definitely think that the numbness that transitions into anger as Clara processes it is good. I definitely felt it hit a genuine place, it doesn’t feel the need to rush through it either, it gives over about a third of the episode to Clara processing her grief, and that’s good. I especially like how The Doctor responds to it, the line “Do you think I care about you so little that betraying me would make a difference?” is pure brilliance.

The tension builds ok, but it definitely reveals the Cybermen a little too early. I know that you won’t get the door & musical sting thing if you didn’t watch Series 2, but for those of us who did, it just spoiled the reveal that happened 5 minutes later. Speaking of Series 2, why does no-one remember the Cybermen? The whole ‘Army of Ghosts’ thing only happened 8 years prior to this, and don’t give that “everyone just forgot” bullshit, because that’s just not how the real world works. We don’t just forget cataclysmic events like that. As it stands though, there was really no reason for these to be Cybermen, especially when they’re just going to play second fiddle to The Master. The only thing the Cybermen actually add over some random monster (other than marketability) is the whole ’emotions’ thing at the very end. Still, surely it wouldn’t have taken much effort to find another way to do it. All it did was serve to continue the decline in threat or interest in the Cybermen.

Those gripes aside though, I still liked the episode. We don’t get a lot of Missy’s antics here, but I think that’s a good thing, just gives us a taste of what we want to see in part 2.

Then we move onto Death in Heaven, which…is ok. There’s definitely some stuff to like in there, but there’s a lot that I really didn’t enjoy.

Missy is a bit from both groups. Her being crazy was fun, and if you enjoyed that side of John Simm’s performance like I did, then you’ll definitely get a lot out of it. The problem is that the craziness is all she has. There’s no menace, no threat. Yes, she’s doing evil things, but she doesn’t actually feel evil or scary. I think what makes The Master so brilliant is how they mix the crazy & sinister sides to create someone who makes you uncomfortable because of how truly wrong they feel. Missy would eventually become a very different (but much better) character, and this feels like we’re just getting to grips with her.

The plot is definitely the weakest part of the episode, mostly because it never feels like it gets going. I’m glad that the character elements were the main focus of the episode, but the plot really suffers because of it. The scenes on the plane don’t feel anywhere as tense or exciting as they were probably meant to, and the rest of it just gets explained to us at various points.

The character stuff though, that’s where this episode (mostly) gets it right. Even though Clara has a minimal role in this episode, I’d say she’s the character that Moffat got the most right with here. She’s playing a much more reactionary role, but her reactions finally feel reasonable and realistic. I keep feeling her pain. Danny’s story has its problems, but on the whole, I still liked it. The revelation that he accidentally killed a kid was good in theory, but in reality, it plays basically no part in the story and doesn’t feel like it affects his story all that much. It gives him a chance to redeem himself, but honestly, sacrificing himself to save the day felt like it was enough. Maybe if it had been built up to a little more, then I’d have been more invested, but outside of a few hints, it wasn’t ever referenced. It was just backstory, not a character trait.

The Doctor is where the episode lives and dies though, and in classic Doctor Who fashion, it does a bit of both. The “am I a good man?” plot thread is not a good one, and while I see what they were going for, it didn’t end well. Missy giving The Doctor an army is all well and good, but she doesn’t actually give him any reason to use it. Sure, there’s the promise of being able to generally bring justice to the universe, but the man’s already got an infinitely powerful time machine and a basically infinite lifespan, what would he need an army of his weakest villains for? There should’ve been some immediate pressing threat that was forcing The Doctor to use the army.

What I thought was this episode’s strongest scene though, is when Clara & The Doctor are sitting in the cafe at the end. Lying to each other. Just 10 minutes (screentime) that Clara declared he was the one man she would never lie to. They’re so bare with each other, and yet we know how it’s dripping in lies and feelings they’re hiding from each other. Genuinely, if that had been the last time we saw Clara (which apparently, it was meant to be until Jenna Coleman signed on to do another series at the last minute), I think it might’ve been one of the best companion exits we’ve seen. This series showed us how the relationship between the two of them is fundamentally flawed. Some reasons are their fault, others are just the nature of their lives, and I think that would’ve been the perfect end. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be, and next series we’d get the real end and…oh boy…it’s….sure something.

3 – Flatline

Flatline is an odd episode, and I’m surprised I ended up ranking it this high, and how much you like it will depend on what aspects you chose to focus on. When I look at the writing of the characters in this episode, I see clear examples of some of the biggest flaws there are in this series. However, when you look at it from a plot-based standpoint, it’s an absolutely thrilling episode.

I’m going to talk about the negatives first because I want to leave a positive lasting impression about this one. First up is Clara. After progressing very well as a character up until this point, here she regresses back into the ‘smoother’ version of her character. She becomes the flawless, more perfect version of the character we saw in Series 7, the character with no real substance. Despite having to handle basically the entire situation alone, she never feels like she’s being challenged. She goes in with a head of steam and fixes every problem almost immediately, with only a little assistance from The Doctor. She literally figures out how to bring the TARDIS back to life in about 20 seconds. I’ll accept that of a two-millennium old super-being, but not of a human who’s been consistently shown to not be on The Doctor’s level this series.

The side characters are pretty paper-thin. Rigsy gets a couple of glimmers of hope, but the episode doesn’t invest in him anywhere near as much as it should’ve. I get the impression he was supposed to be a make-shift companion to Clara, but outside of the beginning & end of the story, he just fades into the background. The old guy is just a lazy stereotype. He’s not even close to a real person and exists purely, so there’s a vague sense of conflict in the group.

Now, onto what I love. Most importantly, we get a proper breakdown of The Doctor’s mind. Through his explanations to Clara, we get to fully understand how The Doctor thinks, and how he’s able to solve mysteries like this so quickly. When you look back at older episodes, you can clearly see them going through the steps outlined in this one. It shows a strong understanding of what makes the show great, and exactly why The Doctor is a hero, an understanding that feels lost throughout many episodes in the series.

The whole thing is exceptionally well-paced. I wish they hadn’t shown us what the monsters were doing right in the cold-open, but the mystery still worked regardless. I liked how the episode gave its audience enough credit to connect some of the dots themselves. Things like the weird texture on the wall in the flat is what I’m talking about. Sure, it gets explained eventually, but for that whole scene, it’s just sitting there in shot, with very little attention being drawn to it. It gives us the breadcrumbs we need to make those kinds of connections and feel more like The Doctor.

The ending put a smile on my face too. Yes, The Doctor’s speech is a bit cheesy, and the way he points out the sonic to blast them all away is quite over-the-top, but it feels earned. This was such an incredibly dark and tense episode that to have a big heroic moment like that felt like a huge sigh of relief. It was a bit much, but it wrapped the episode up nicely and left me with positive feelings.

2 – Kill the Moon

Kill the Moon is the example of how brilliant this series could’ve been if it was done properly. Everything that all the other episodes get wrong, this episode hits the mark perfectly. The conflict between Clara & The Doctor, The Doctor’s faults, even Clara & Danny’s relationship is done exactly how I wanted it to be done in this episode.

The plot is very well-paced. There isn’t a lot of action in this episode, but the one or two scenes we do get are well-placed. The mystery unfolds satisfyingly, and every scene gives you just a little clue as to what’s going on. The scene where The Doctor explains it is a little long-winded, but that’s more or less the only problem I have with how the story was told. One thing I do have to have a go at though is how stupid ‘turn your lights on or off’ is as a way to get the Earth to vote. Apparently, Clara only cared what Europe & the east coast of America wanted to do, because they’re the only places she could actually see.

Courtney Woods was an element of this episode that I didn’t particularly care for. She wasn’t bad, or even that annoying, she just felt kind of unnecessary. Her input into the big debate at the end didn’t affect much, it would’ve been nice to get more of an opportunity to see the situations through her eyes. I wouldn’t say her presence made the episode worse though, so it’s not a huge issue.

Ok, now onto the things that actually make this episode the brilliance that it is. Firstly, this is the best showcase of The Doctor’s arrogance and failures we get all series. He steps to one side and ‘allows the humans to make their choice’ in a way that felt incredibly condescending, especially when you know that he’s already got a plan to save the day. When it all finally comes out, and The Doctor explains it, I couldn’t help but feel like he manipulated Clara in a significant way. If that fact had just been allowed to skate by, I would’ve been furious about it, but instead, Clara calls him out on his shit.

This brings me to my other point, which is that this is the best version of Clara I’ve ever seen. She’s not a plot device, or a perfect caricature, or some damsel in distress, she’s a real person with real emotions. It’s incredible how rare it is for Clara to actually be written like this because it’s utterly brilliant. The performance from Coleman was top-notch, not just in her outburst, but the panic and confusion that she goes through the decision she’s making. The Doctor gets his arse kicked because he deserves it, and the fact that he can’t understand why she’s so upset about is the perfect way to make us doubt whether or not he really is a good man.

It ends on a great note too. Danny’s response to Clara’s outburst is perfect. He doesn’t say a word while she vents, he doesn’t go on about how ‘I knew this would happen’ or anything like that, he just listens and then tells Clara what she needs to hear. That 30-second scene gets me more invested in the connection the two of them have that ANYTHING else in the series. He’s not ‘protecting’ Clara, or trying to make a point, he’s doing the right thing for someone he cares about, and that’s all you needed to make him likeable.

If anything, I’d say the biggest problem with this episode is how well it highlights the failings of the rest of the series when it comes to these areas. It’s like someone read all of my complaints in the rest of this article and fixed them in one fell swoop.

1 – Mummy on the Orient Express

As one of the few episodes in this series that is largely unburdened by the overall series arc, Mummy on the Orient Express was allowed to flourish to become one of the purest and most exciting mysteries the show has ever produced.

What makes this episode so brilliant is that The Doctor is in his element from start to finish. The entire thing feels like one big stream of consciousness from The Doctor. He’s constantly thinking on the move, talking to himself at a million miles a minute and clevering his way out of the situation. This is a version of The Doctor we don’t get to see nearly as often as we should in this series, and it just proves how entertaining it can be to watch.

The mystery of the mummy is so well-paced. The use of the timer in the bottom corner of the screen right from the start is absolutely perfect for building suspense, as well as giving us some clues as to what’s really going on. We start seeing each encounter with the mummy the same as The Doctor, an opportunity to learn more, to get a little bit closer to solving the mystery.

This also continues to poke away at The Doctor’s identity as a good man in a meaningful way. As he says at the end of the episode, he would’ve just kept letting people die until the mystery was solved. Not out of arrogance or malice, but because it’s the only way to save everyone that’s left. It’s the kind of higher thinking that puts The Doctor above you or me, it may seem cold-hearted on the surface, but he’s just doing what has to be done. As The Doctor said: “Sometimes the only choices are bad ones, but you still have to choose”.

While the series arc stuff is there, it doesn’t dig its teeth too heavily into the episode like with The Caretaker. Instead, it serves more as bookends to tie everything together. Clara’s slow realisation that she would never be able to give up travelling with The Doctor isn’t addressed directly until the end, because it doesn’t need to be, we can see her processes as everything unfolds. You can feel the awkwardness between the two of them in the early scenes, as neither of them can say what they really want to. A friendship fading is different from a relationship ending, and I think this is a good representation of the fragile balance The Doctor has with some of his companions. While you could argue that Clara’s U-Turn at the end was a bit cheap, I think just enough was sown throughout the episode that we can understand her thought process.

Regardless, what makes this episode brilliant is the thrill and the mystery. It knows exactly when to accelerate and let off the gas, and knows the best ways to build up tension. Even when you already know the solution on a rewatch, its still an exciting prospect because of how well its told. It’s one of the purest Doctor vs Monster stories we would ever get in the Moffat era, and it’s all the better for it.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what you thought of this series, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be covering WWE Hell in a Cell!

The 10 Worst Treehouse of Horror Episodes of The Simpsons

Every year, when Halloween rolls around (or sometimes over Christmas depending on when that year’s season starts) The Simpsons’ writers get a chance to flex their creative muscles a bit more than usual. As much as the show slowly gets wilder & wilder each year, it does its best to stick to the universal laws that govern the real world. However, for one episode every year, those rules are thrown out of the window, and the writers go wild with crazy stories that are at least tangentially related to Halloween (sometimes).

We’ll cover some of the brilliance this has given us later on this month, but tonight, we look at the crap. As with any creative endeavour, there are bound to be missed, especially over the course of over 30 years. So today, we’re running down the 10 worst ever episodes of The Simpsons’ Treehouse of Horror series.

NOTE: I haven’t yet seen Treehouse of Horror 30, as while it has aired in the UK already, it’s not available on-demand, so I won’t be including it in this ranking.

10 – Treehouse of Horror XV

Original Airdate: 7th November 2004
Segments: The Ned Zone; Four Beheadings and a Funeral; In the Belly of the Boss

This is one of the episodes that falls into the “just fine” category. It’s nothing exceedingly terrible, but I’m never going to go out of my way to watch it, or even really remember it.

The first, best, and most memorable segment – The Ned Zone – is a fun concept that I don’t think the writers got as much out of as they could have. Flanders is always a fun character to play around with in a horror setting, as his uptight nature allows for plenty of more risque jokes at his expense. The highlight of it is undoubtedly the Homer/Ned interactions which carry a large chunk of the segment. However, it’s far from their best work.

Four Beheadings and a Funeral is easily the most forgettable of the three. It’s a story set in Victorian England that assumes it can just pull elements from all sorts of different stories set in that era and just get away with it. It’s technically a parody of 1990s graphic novel From Hell, but it takes most of its jokes and tropes from Sherlock Holmes. You then pile on a title stolen from a romance film that has nothing to do with anything, and it creates a bit of a mess. No-one even dies via beheading in it.

In the Belly of the Boss is incredibly dull. It’s a parody that has already been done so much better by Futurama. All of the jokes are basic, and not all that amusing. It’s a kind of story that needs some tension to properly work, but this is a Treehouse of Horror episode, we’re all fully aware that there are no stakes during this. Not to mention, the ending doesn’t land at all. I get the gruesome imagery they were going for, but it just feels a bit uncomfortable to look at. It’s not even slightly funny.

It comes out as an episode that’s an ok watch if it happens to come on the TV late one night, but there’s absolutely no reason to seek it out.

9 – Treehouse of Horror X

Original Airdate: 31st October 1999
Segments: I Know What You Diddily-Iddly Did; Desperately Xeeking Xena; Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die

The earliest episode on this list (and one of only two to actually air on Halloween), this episode was more of a precursor to the steep dive some of these episodes would end up taking.

I Know What You Diddily-Iddly Did is a pretty funny segment with a terrible ending. Most of the jokes got a good laugh out of me, and the plot moves at just the right pace to make things feel meaningful. I can easily imagine a modern version of this episode where they spend almost the entire thing on the ‘Weekend at Bernie’s’ stuff and throw away all the other opportunities. The ending with Flanders becoming a Werewolf is pretty dumb though. Partly because it’s completely out of nowhere for the plot, but also because I really hate the way Werewolf-Flanders was drawn. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but it just looks wrong.

Desperately Xeeking Xena is definitely the weakest of the three segments. There are some funny jokes at the start surrounding nerd culture and the shows they like (and yes, I’m well aware of the irony here), but once it gets going, there’s not a lot to love. For one thing, Bart & Lisa are entirely irrelevant to the plot. Everything important that happened would’ve happened with or without them. It seems like such a waste to take the concept of those two going on superpowered adventures just so you can give your celebrity guest some more lines. Most of the superhero jokes this segment made were already played out, even by 1999, which leads to a segment that just isn’t very funny.

Life’s a Glitch, Then You Die is pretty much the definition of ‘alright’. Doing a segment on the 2K virus was a good call, and weirdly on-time for The Simpsons. It has a handful of good jokes but definitely doesn’t get as much out of the concept as it could’ve. Between the pop-culture references at the start and all of the plot stuff at the end, we don’t get much of technology going crazy, which is where I felt all the funniest stuff was. I know that you don’t want to go to the same well too many times, but surely there was more ground to cover there?

8 – Treehouse of Horror XI

Original Airdate: 1st November 2000
Segments: G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad; Scary Tales Can Come True; Night of the Dolphin

G-G-Ghost D-D-Dad is the saving grace of this episode, and I’d honestly say it’s worth seeking this one out on its own. Its brisk pace keeps the jokes coming thick and fast, with the writers knowing just the right amount to get out of each subject. Highlights include the ways in which Homer almost dies, the way in which he actually dies, and the segment’s portrayal of Saint Peter.

Sadly, I can’t be as complimentary of the other two segments. The first of which is Scary Tales Can Come True, which is just an awful title. The ‘get in, get out’ pace was a good idea, and it would’ve worked if the jokes were anything worthwhile. Unfortunately, it’s the most basic humour you could possibly think of to mock any of the ‘Grimm’s Fairy Tales‘ stories. Hey, what if the three bears behaved like real bears? Wouldn’t it be excruciating for a full-grown man to use your hair as a rope? What if the troll under the bridge just wanted to make friends? Why aren’t you laughing? The jokes aren’t creative, and the plot is a threadbare excuse to fit in way too many parodies.

Night of the Dolphin isn’t much better either. This is technically a parody of a film where Dolphins are trained to kill the president (don’t ask), but you won’t actually find any jokes in here to do with that. Instead, the writers did their own thing with it. This sounds like a good thing, but honestly, a parody of dolphins being trained into assassins probably would’ve been funnier than what we got. Instead, the joke is just dolphins killing people in generic and uninteresting ways. The joke where Homer pulls a big speech to get people to fight back, only to be instantly shut down by the horde of dolphins staring at them in silence is utterly hilarious, but that’s the only good joke in the whole thing.

7 – Treehouse of Horror XVIII

Original Airdate: 4th November 2007
Segments: E.T. Go Home; Mr & Mrs Simpson; Heck House

An E.T parody that’s at least a decade too late, this show’s first segment seems desperate to explain all of its jokes to you before it makes them. It feels terrified that no-one watching is going to have seen or remembered anything about E.T, so they make a point of having the characters more or less directly point out when they’re parodying famous scenes from the movie. The joke that none of The Simpsons realises that Kodos’ plan is obviously evil gets overplayed, and then no-one even pretends to care when it gets put into effect. I find it so strange that, despite all being roughly the same length, some segments feel so rushed, while others feel lengthy and deep.

Mr & Mrs Simpson is actually a pretty good segment. The gimmick wears itself out almost immediately, and I don’t care for the big fight scene, but almost all of the banter between Marge & Homer got me laughing. The final ‘they have sex’ joke was quite an obvious and unexciting punchline, but everything else was pretty enjoyable to watch.

Heck House is bland and forgettable. The first half is spent setting up the kid’s downfall, but it’s not funny in the slightest. They just got an upbeat track and had the kids destroy stuff while Lisa shakes her head. There aren’t even any jokes in it, at least not funny ones. It goes hard on the horrific imagery for the next part, but it’s not even slightly entertaining. I don’t get much out of that stuff at the best of times, but this isn’t even a good version of it. Then it wraps thing up on a ‘FOX is bad’ joke, which had been overplayed for about a decade by the time this episode aired.

Maybe watch the middle segment if it sounds like your thing, but the other two are definitely not worth your time.

6 – Treehouse of Horror XVII

Original Airdate: 5th November 2006
Segments: Married to the Blob; You Gotta Know When to Golem; The Day the Earth Looked Stupid

This is an otherwise fine episode pulled into the mud by one awful segment.

Married to the Blob absolutely terrible. There are barely even any jokes in it, it just makes one joke over and over. That joke being ‘Homer eats someone’, and it’s not even funny. Eating the random space blob is a very ‘Homer’ thing to do, and that’s about the only funny thing in the whole segment. Call me a prude, but I don’t see how Homer eating every resident in Springfield is in any way fun to watch. They throw in the world’s most basic Dr Phil cameo, and then end the whole thing on another ‘Homer eats someone’ gag, only now it’s institutionalised. Way to make the hard-hitting political satire there.

You Gotta Know When to Golem is alright, but a lot of the jokes go right over my head. This is probably one of the segments with the strongest sense of plot, but that actually turns out to be more of a negative when it takes precedent over the jokes. Ultimately, this is one that I just forget about, and am mildly entertained by when it comes on.

The Day the Earth Looked Stupid is a good segment, and it’s a shame I have to lump it into this list. However, this should go to show just how much I hate Married to the Blob. There’s a lot of good jokes in this one, it nails the tone of a 1920s Springfield, and I can totally believe that town is dumb enough to believe a radio hoax. The only thing that I didn’t like was the ending, which I think was supposed to be a dig at the Iraq war, but it was so out-of-nowhere that I honestly can’t be sure.

5 – Treehouse of Horror XVI

Original Airdate: 6th November 2005
Segments: B.I.Bartificial Intelligence; Survival of the Fattest; I’ve Grown a Costume On Your Face

B.I. Bartifical Intelligence is an interesting one. This is one of the longer segments, at just under 10 minutes, so there’s a much broader scope when it comes to the plot. Events actually feel like they have time to breathe, and there’s more room for the writers to get out the jokes that they want. So it’s a shame that very few of those jokes land. A couple of the one-liners are pretty funny, but most of it is ground that other comedies have covered better before and since. Then, to end it, it hits us with an “all a dream” ending and the world’s laziest Exorcist parody.

Survival of the Fattest isn’t much better. The downside of the first segment getting 10 minutes becomes clear throughout the next two, as the whole thing feels extraordinarily rushed. There’s very little in the way of interesting jokes here. The whole thing is just a murder followed by a quip. Maybe it would’ve worked if the jokes were funnier, but it’s all just some basic jokes based on things we’ve known about the characters for years. It’s not terrible, but you won’t get much out of watching it more than once.

I’ve Grown a Costume On Your Face barely feels like it should even count as a segment. The shortened length becomes a problem here, as nothing gets a chance to breathe. The whole thing is crammed to the brim with mediocre jokes about various Halloween costume. We don’t get a chance to take anything in because the segment is so desperate to rush us to the finish, we only get about 90 seconds to enjoy the humour of everyone having turned into their costumes before the episode hands us the solution. The ending is just awful too. If it was meant as a joke, then it doesn’t land, but if it was meant to be serious, then it’s even worse.

I still wouldn’t go quite so far as to say this episode is a properly terrible one yet, but we’re definitely getting there.

4 – Treehouse of Horror XXIII

Original Airdate: 7th November 2012
Segments: The Greatest Story Ever Holed; Unnormal Activity; Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure

The Greatest Story Ever Holed is just desperate to explain all of its jokes to you. Thankfully, it’s relatively light on the pop-culture references, but it goes for the base-level humour where the writers don’t seem to have to confidence that the audiences will get their jokes. Instead of letting Homer wrap his long fingers around Bart’s neck and leave it as a visual gag, they have to have Homer exclaim that he’s nature’s choking machine. It’s an extra joke which is a very thinly veiled attempt at explaining the visual gag we just witnessed. It’s the kind of trope that I despise shows like The Big Bang Theory for, and it feels like the writers just didn’t have confidence in their jokes.

Unnormal Activity is definitely the best segment of this episode, but it’s still not great. The opening is quite funny, and Homer generally fooling around while trying to record everything going on was a good series of gags, but that’s pretty much all there is to like about it. As a parody of Paranormal Activity, it’s ok and hits all of the beats you’d expect it to, but it doesn’t go beyond that to create anything super memorable, which, as we’ll discuss in a couple of weeks, is what makes the best segments.

Bart & Homer’s Excellent Adventure is just plain boring. There was so much potential in a time-travel story, especially with a show like The Simpsons which has so comprehensively covered all of the significant historical events of its characters. I can see a version of this segment that plays wonderfully off of classic Simpsons’ moments in a loving, but fresh nostalgia trip for all of us. Sadly, we only got one scene of that, and then it devolves into how Marge’s life would’ve been so much better if she never married Homer. Which is a joke that wasn’t funny in the first place because of how obviously true it is, and it hasn’t gotten any funnier being constantly repeated. Making a joke out of your show’s flaws isn’t witty comedy if you do nothing to fix those flaws.

3 – Treehouse of Horror XXVI

Original Airdate: 25th October 2015
Segments: Wanted: Dead, Then Alive; Homerzilla; Telepaths of Glory

Wanted: Dead, Then Alive is one of the biggest wastes of potential I’ve seen in one of these segments. Giving Sideshow Bob his own segment was the chance to go truly off the rails with his schemes, give him something really out there and horrifying. Instead, it’s mostly the same joke over and over. I don’t see what I’m supposed to get out of watching Bart get murdered in a bunch of gruesome ways. What’s supposed to be the entertainment value there? Sure, these characters are pretty loose by this point, but he’s still a child. Plus, murder isn’t actually a punchline unless you set it up to be one, which this segment definitely doesn’t do.

Homerzilla feels like an attempt to recapture the magic of segments like King Homer but fails to understand what made a segment like that so funny. Yes, there’s a big element of parody in those things, but that isn’t all that’s there, we still have character-based jokes and a lot of clever punchlines. This segment focuses purely on the concept of parody and doesn’t look any further than that. I even rolled my eyes at a couple of the jokes in here because of how dumb they were. Then, because the writers just can’t help themselves, they go and make a satire of Hollywood remaking things, which is so unbelievably lazy and feels more like an excuse to pad the runtime.

Telepaths of Glory is fine, I guess. There just aren’t many jokes involved. The montage is a bit of fun, but that’s really it. The ‘Maggie did it’ punchline has been done before, and so much better, even on this very list. Ultimately, I just don’t have a lot to say about it, and probably will forget about it again once I end this sentence.

2 – Treehouse of Horror XXV

Original Airdate: 19th October 2014
Segments: Wanted: School is Hell; A Clockwork Yellow; The Others

School is Hell is all the proof you need that original ideas don’t work for these kinds of episodes. Yes, I’ve moaned about a lot of the bad parodies these episodes have given us, but almost all of the best segments are parodies too. The same cannot be said for the original concepts like this. Bart being evil is a very played-out punchline, but I can appreciate that they tried to take it to its logical extreme here. There were some funny jokes about what a school would be like in hell, but there was a lot of lazy visual gags and jokes that explain their punchlines.

A Clockwork Yellow is perhaps the laziest pun-name they’ve ever come up with for one of these segments, and the parody doesn’t get much more interesting from there. The parody of the sped-up sex scene where Homer just eats a lot was a very funny joke, but that’s the only time I laughed during the whole thing. Everything else just hits all the beats parodies like this need to. They spoof the most famous scenes and vaguely hold onto the direction of the original plot. Also, there’s a bunch of terrible cockney accents, but I’m willing to overlook that, as I’m not petty. Sometimes.

The Others didn’t even bother to come up with a pun-name, which is somehow worse than a bad one. In terms of content, its a nice trip down nostalgia road, and it’s nice to see a show acknowledge its roots, but there’s not much to enjoy in the way of laughs. The episode seems to favour the plot over the jokes, which isn’t the way you want things to go in these segments. Unless you count all of the family members killing themselves as jokes…which I definitely don’t.

1 – Treehouse of Horror XXII

Original Airdate: 30th October 2011
Segments: Wanted: The Diving Bell and the Butterfly; Dial D for Diddly; In the Na’Vi

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly is a fart joke. For 5 minutes. That’s it. There’s literally nothing else to it. The joke is that Homer farts, over…and over…and over. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a prude, I still find farts funny, but a fart on its own isn’t a joke, it’s just a bodily process. Oh, and it becomes a Spiderman parody at the end for reasons I still can’t even begin to comprehend. Literally the only nice thing I have to say about it is that it’s incredibly short.

Dial D for Diddly is mostly fine. Which should go to show you just how awful the other two segments are to drag this episode down to the worst. The opening segment of Ned doing evil-looking things only for them to turn out to be innocent is well done if a little cliche. The rest of the episode feels just a little below average, Homer & Flanders interacting is always a good thing, the only real problem is the ending. It’s not necessarily bad, it’s just upsettingly predictable. God shows up, then the Devil shows up, then it turns out God is the Devil’s bitch, then just to put the cherry on things, Maud is sleeping with the Devil. Great, who cares?

In the Na’Vi is the worst parody The Simpsons has ever done, plain and simple. Despite being the highest-grossing film of all time until 2019, Avatar left a minimal cultural impact on the broader scope of pop-culture, which is a massive problem for a parody like this, especially when it’s coming in two years late. I didn’t laugh once during this. Every joke is either boring or dumb. They’ll go from referencing the wrong movie to making a joke about the different plug shapes around the world for no reason, and then quickly throw in all the essential plot beats to wrap it all up. The big fight scene at the end is ridiculous, and the whole thing ends on a word-play that makes me roll my eyes every time. It’s almost the perfect distillation of everything I dislike about modern Simpsons and an absolute failure of a Treehouse of Horror segment.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think of these episodes, either in the comments below, or on Twitter 10ryawoo. I’ll be counting down my favourite Treehouse of Horror episodes on Halloween night in a few weeks, but until then, make sure you come back this time next week for my rundown of Doctor Who Series 8!

10 Best Tracks from Sonic the Hedgehog Soundtracks

The Sonic the Hedgehog games have been on quite the ride over the past 29 years, with some of the best games ever made and…well…some of the worst games ever made too. One thing that has been relatively consistent throughout the franchise, however, is the music, which has remained incredible.

The Sonic soundtracks have gone through a few phases of their own as it so happens. There are the classic 16-bit soundtracks, the late 1990s-early 2000s punk-rock and even a small foray into pop music towards the turn of the 2010s. The main point is that (almost) all of it has been great. Every level in every game is paired up with a track that is able to capture the feeling and setting of the surrounding level, while still being able to provide an exhilarating ride as you roll around at the speed of sound (little spoiler for you there).

So, let’s have some fun and explore some of the best tracks the franchise has ever produced. Before we start, I should clarify that several of these tracks (especially the classic ones) have been reused and remixed in many games throughout the franchise over the years. So, for each one, I will specify in which game it originally appeared and which version of the track I like the best.

Honourable Mentions
– Press Garden Zone for being incredibly unique
Sky Sanctuary Zone for being insanely emotional
Open Your Heart for being bloody mental

10 – Haunted Ship

First Appearance: Sonic Rush Adventure
Best VersionSonic Rush Adventure

Arguably one of the best stages in the DS title Sonic Rush Adventure, it has a fast and tense track to go with it.

The colour palette for the level in incredibly muted. There are grey and white coloured ghosts all over the place, while the ship itself is lined with a dark yellow and pale turquoise. Combine this with the thick fog that covers both the background and the foreground of the level, and you’ve got yourself a level with a very intimidating presence (when you’re not bouncing off of bright blue trampolines). The music looks to add to that while also helping bring some of the action to the forefront.

The beat starts off very fast, but also quite quiet. Immediately the tense factor is there, pushing you to get a move on and blast your way through the rundown area. Then the guitar kicks in as things in the level get going, and it matches up perfectly with the Sonic Rush series’ boosting mechanic which, if you do it right, should persist throughout almost the entire level. The quick and complex bassline continues throughout the entire track, helping that sense of unease persist throughout every moment in the level.

The track also has a bit of a disjointed nature to it, as the melody swings wildly through different phases. This is absolutely perfect for the feel of the level, which is one of a stage that could fall apart at any moment. It’s being held together by bits of fraying rope and splintered wood. Nevermind the ghosts, the whole level feels like it could collapse in on itself at any moment, which is what helps make this track quite an intense one.

9 – Ice Cap Zone

First Appearance: Sonic the Hedgehog 3
Best VersionSonic the Hedgehog 3

It’s widely known by this point in time that Michael Jackson was at one point among the artists that were putting together the soundtrack for Sonic the Hedgehog 3. Although he did eventually leave the team as he was unhappy with the poor sound quality that Sega Genesis/Mega-Drive produced, his fingerprints are still all over the game’s soundtracks, and this is the level where that is the clearest. If you’ve never seen it, look up ‘Smooth Criminal – Ice Cap Zone Remix’ on YouTube, you’ll see what I mean.

Much like Haunted Ship, this track starts out with a quiet, but fast beat that lines up perfectly with the opening section of the level where you rocket down a mountain on a snowboard. Once you crash down into the cave, the main melody kicks in, which is absolutely beautiful. I don’t know what kind of instrument they used for that melody, but it fits the cold and frozen feel of the level so wonderfully. Ice Cap Zone is arguably one of the prettier levels in Sonic 3, and this soundtrack goes along with that.

It doesn’t sacrifice everything to nail the level’s feel, though, as the constant bassline is once again used as a brilliant tool to keep the feeling of speed. In a level with so much variety like Ice Cap Zone, it’s nice to have a track that stays relatively consistent to tie the whole thing together, keeping you going with a beautiful melody as it does so.

8 – Sonic Boom

First Appearance: Sonic CD (US Version)
Best VersionSonic CD (US Version)

You want slightly outdated 90s pop? This is basically all you could ever want of it rolled into one song. It’s got a synth melody that’s just outdated enough to feel charming to modern ears, a beat that’s basic enough that it doesn’t distract from all of the other wonderous stuff going on in the song, and the lyrics, oh lord, the lyrics, I’ll eat all of that right up.

I know that the Japanese version of the soundtrack is far superior when it comes to, well, every other song in the game, but I’d say the whole endeavour was worth it just for this. It’s very much a ‘not for everybody’ kind of track, but it plays right into my hands for a track that just won’t leave my head, and I just can’t bring myself to have even a mild dislike for it. It’s stupidly catchy, and the lyrics are dumb enough to make me smile on every listen. Lines like “If your strong, you can fly” which make absolutely zero sense still fill me with that inspirational pump that I need before racing through a Sonic game.

If anything, the only real downside of this song is that the title will forever make me think of one of the worst Sonic games.

7 – Studiopolis Zone

First Appearance: Sonic Mania
Best VersionSonic Mania

I’ve talked about it loads by now, but Sonic Mania was a wonderful celebration of the best of Sonic’s past. As you’ll see as this list goes on, Mania did a perfect job of remastering many of the classic tracks, adding just enough new elements to make them feel modern, while still capturing the retro feel of the style. This is somewhat impressive when a large chunk of the composition was already done for them with the old tracks, however, what blew me away was how amazing the original tracks are in Mania. Press Garden and Mirage Saloon were viable contenders for a spot on this list (in fact, I’d say Press Garden is the unofficial number 11), but where Tee Lopes shows his real talent for creating a Sonic track, it’s in Studiopolis Zone.

What many composers for modern Sonic games don’t understand is that a track doesn’t necessarily have to be fast-paced to fit the gameplay. Sure, it can’t be too slow, otherwise, it would feel extremely out of pace, but you don’t have to be putting your foot on the accelerator all the time. Studiopolis is a track that understands this. It maintains a steady pace that’s fast enough to feel satisfying along with the gameplay but then spends the rest of its time engrossing you in the world around you. This isn’t just the track that plays during Studiopolis Zone, this IS Studiopolis Zone. The big and brassy melody, the broadway feel of the track and the background noises of what sound like studio equipment and the classic “lights, camera, action” line, it all meshes perfectly with the visual design of the level to create a stage that feels truly alive as you blast through it.

If SEGA allows the team that worked on Sonic Mania to make a new 2D Sonic game anytime soon, then this is exactly the kind of stuff I want to see from them. The remastered old stuff is great, but the totally original stuff is what has the potential to be the greatest.

6 – Egg Reverie

First Appearance: Sonic Mania
Best VersionSonic Mania

Final boss themes in games come in a few different flavours. Some games like to make them a grand emotional moment, to draw you to the climax; some games want to bear down on you with big, intimidating themes that press upon you the challenge you face; and some just want to rock the fuck out and give you one hell of a fun ride. This theme falls into the latter category.

From the word go (quite literally in this instance), this is a track that wants you to feel like a superhero. The simple guitar riff that undercuts as the whole track gives the feeling of intensity in the fight, but it’s not overly intimidating. The game wants you to know that this is a fight you can win and that you should have fun while doing. A feeling that is taken to the moon and back when the synth melody kicks in. The melody summons ska vibes to bring the energy in a major way and pulling a small element of chaos into the mix when it breaks down.

Then it gives way to a guitar melody that I love so much I can barely put it into words. It draws together, the intensity, the chaos and the fun of the track so smoothly. It hits the emotional high of the track while keeping the energy and pace at the max. At the end of the day, this is a track that’s endlessly fun to listen to, and I can listen to it over and over again.

5 – Live and Learn

First Appearance: Sonic Adventure 2
Best VersionSonic Adventure 2

Aaand here comes the Crush 40.

When I think of rock music in the 2000s, this is the kind of music that immediately springs to my mind. Crush 40 embodies a period in musical history that I wish I could’ve been old enough to properly appreciate living through. Johnny Gioeli’s voice is what a pure-rock voice should sound like to me. He’s not perfect, but his range is incredible, and the slight graveliness in his voice means he can carry the vocals so smoothly, despite having to get his mouth around some more out-there wordings.

Getting to Live & Learn specifically, it was quite literally instant love. I heard the intro and immediately rewound the song to listen to the intro again before the verse even kicked in because I loved it that much. It’s the quintessential cheesy 00s rock song. It doesn’t try to do anything complicated or special, it just takes some electric guitars and GOES TO TOWN on them. It creates a simple riff that is endlessly catchy and refuses to let up for a moment.

When the vocals do kick in, the whole thing gets kicked up a notch. The words don’t make a great deal of sense, but I honestly couldn’t care less because they fit the melody better than even some of the best lyrics I’ve ever heard. They’re not the feature-point of the song, instead, they’re another tool to elevate every other part of the song and solidify the pure rocking energy and in-your-face nature of the whole thing.

To put it simply, it’s an incredible all-out rock song, which is the kind of music I live (& learn) for.

4 – Escape from the City

First AppearanceSonic Adventure 2
Best VersionSonic Generations (Modern)

“Rolling around at the speed of sound.” Perhaps the cheesiest line I’ve ever heard in a rock song, and it’s what makes this song such a joy to listen to.

The opening level of any Sonic game is always the best opportunity to bring as much light-hearted joy into the game as possible. That’s why opening Sonic levels are usually some form of bright grassy field or beach, with open levels designs that allow you to take things at whatever pace you want to ensure you get the most enjoyment out of it. They’re levels designed purely to get the most out of the momentum-based gameplay before throwing more versatile mechanics at you.

City Escape doesn’t follow any of these rules. The level is an endless cityscape with a muted colour palette and tight streets. How do you make that a fun & memorable opening level? Well, for one thing, you ride down these streets on a broken piece of the helicopter you just leapt out of, and secondly, you give it one of the most hyperenergetic rock tracks in the history of the franchise. I’ll be honest, the trick of lining up the guitars to kick in perfectly in synch with when Sonic hits the ground was all it took for me to fall on love with this one.

City Escape is an all-time classic Sonic level, with some of the best 3D level design the franchise has ever given to us, and this track amplified its iconic status amongst the Sonic fanbase.

3 – Chemical Plant Zone

First AppearanceSonic 2
Best VersionSonic Mania

If you look up “catchy” in the dictionary, there’s just a URL link to this song.

The main melody is one that seems specifically crafted to stick into the brain. The chord progression is so simple, and yet the pace at which is circles around those chords drives the thing into your skull and makes it stick there for hours and hour upon end. I’m not sure if this was the intension of the composer, but the track gives me vague jazz vibes with his main melody. I know it’s a lot faster than most jazz music, but I can very easily imagine the melody being played on a saxophone, I bet it would sound great.

The breakdown is utterly incredible too, and it’s where the main feel of Chemical Plant as a level comes in. The percussion takes a more prominent role in the track, and you get the industrial vibes of the level. The grey & yellow colour palette of the level gives just enough life for this track to carry the whole level to be one of the all-time greats. It’s a chaotic and winding level that isn’t afraid to throw you through a loop and send you off in all kinds of weird directions. The main melody is cohesive with that feeling as the chords of the main melody never linger, the song is always looking to get onto the next one, and it creates almost a maze of notes, just like Chemical Plant itself.

Besides, regardless of what you think of it, it’s going to be in your head for the rest of the day, so you might as well enjoy it.

2 – Flying Battery Zone

First AppearanceSonic & Knuckles
Best VersionSonic Mania

The intro to this song is easily the best intro to any Sonic level. That high descending note that sends you flying right out the gate as the beat goes crazy in the background. It’s like someone took hold of my adrenaline levels and pumped them up to maximum.

This is a track that refuses to let up for even a second. It’s intense, it’s threatening, it’s fast, and it’s fun. For context, during Flying Battery Zone, you will be making your way through, and then running along the top of, a gigantic airship that earlier in Sonic 3 bombed Angel Island until it was engulfed in flames. This track needed to be loud, proud and epic all in one, a feeling that I believe it nails.

I’ve already talked about the intro, but things keep the craziness from there. The majority of the track relies on downward chord progressions to establish the feeling of threat, but then it moves into the breakdown, and things reach their emotional climax. The shift into a higher octave brings all those intense emotions rising to the surface as you navigate an increasingly chaotic level. All the while, the baseline sits there, carrying the track and maintaining a ludicrously fast pace that means the whole thing never needs to slow down or take a breather.

This track helps me get the most fun of a crazy level like Flying Battery. I often preach that Sonic games aren’t just about speed, but when you’ve got a track like this playing the background, how could you possibly focus on anything else?

1 – Lava Reef Zone: Act 1

First AppearanceSonic & Knuckles
Best VersionSonic Mania

Up until now, I’ve lumped the Act 1 & Act 2 variations of tracks together, because they embody very similar feelings and styles. However, Lava Reef Zone’s Act 2 track is so wildly different from Act 1, that I felt I had to specify.

Lava Reef Zone has a lot going for it as a level. It’s the last level before Sonic & Knuckles properly reaches its climax, so it has to carry the feeling rising tension that you get from seeing the Death Egg ready to rise in the background of the level. So how did the composers achieve this? By making it the most intense 16-bit track you could possibly imagine, that’s how.

The intro is incredibly threatening. It hits you with the looping beat that will sit under the whole track, that makes sure to stay low in pitch and steady in pace. While I wouldn’t call this track slow by any means, it’s definitely one of the slowest tracks from this era of Sonic music, and that makes it stand out all the more. It’s the game’s way of telling you that shit is about to get real, and I feel it when I’m playing through the level.

Then the main melody kicks in, and you realise that this track isn’t just trying to make you scared, it’s trying to bring your emotions to the surface so that it can kick them around for the final climactic levels of the game. It’s such a wonderful melody, the specific tone of the synth that was chosen is perfect for this sort of thing and these sorts of emotions. Ironically, you wouldn’t have to put too much effort in if you wanted to make this quite a relaxing track, but just enough of an edge is kept on things to make it feel intense instead.

The breakdown is the emotional centre of the track, and I feel it every single time I listen. Sonic & Knuckles isn’t even very heavy on plot, but this music is so powerful that I feel invested in the adventure regardless. I think that’s the secret as to why I love the music in the Sonic franchise so much, it creates a story, and world, even when the game gives us very little to work with.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what Sonic tracks you love the most, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be covering WWE Clash of Champions!

 

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (10-1)

Well…here we are.

Just in time for my 21st birthday, we’ve reached the end of the road, and all that’s left is to cover the best of the best. The games that matter the most to me and that have given me the most enjoyment over the years.

If you need to catch up on the series so far, then you can do that here. So, if you’re all caught up, let’s see this through to the end and discuss my 10 favourite games of all time.

10 – Sonic Mania

Release Date: 15th August 2017
Developer: PagodaWest Games, Headcannon
Publisher: SEGA
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Metacritic Average: 86%

It’s a game where you gotta- What do you mean I’ve already used that joke?

I’ve professed my love for the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise already several times throughout this series, but this is the pinnacle of what the blue blur has to offer.

Ironically not made by Sonic Team, Sonic Mania was a game made by Sonic fans who truly understood what made Sonic such a phenomenon to big with. Sonic Mania isn’t just a game that’s ‘inspired by’ the three classic Sonic games, it IS a classic Sonic game. It took the core of the momentum-based platforming formula and expanded it into the modern platform. The music, the visuals, the gameplay, everything feels so very close to those fantastic classic titles that it may as well have sat amongst them as Sonic 4 and no-one would’ve batted an eye.

Sonic Mania doesn’t just sit around and copy what the classic games did though, it learns from their mistakes and even brings in some elements that worked in the modern titles. Firstly, we got a 2D Sonic game that actually made use of HD screenspace (looking at YOU Sonic 4), so now it was a lot easier to see obstacles coming your way, even when you were blasting through at top speed. Also, while the game did take many classic level designs, it remixed them, in ways that inarguably improved them. Even a level as simple as Green Hill Zone was expanded in such a way that made it a much more exciting level to blaze through. Not to mention that the terrain is designed in such a way that doesn’t hamper your momentum as much as in Sonic 1.

Where I believe the game shines brightest though, is in the 4 wholely original zones that the team developed for the game. It’s the clearest proof we’ve ever had that Sonic’s classic formula wasn’t a product of its time and it can absolutely still work in a game today. Those fans who played these games as kids are now the creative geniuses and masterful programmers behind Sonic Mania and they get Sonic. Zones like Press Garden and Titanic Monarch hold up as some of the best in the entire franchise. They combine speed, and platforming challenges in such a smooth way that I don’t believe can be topped by any other game on the planet.

When people look at all the horrible stuff the Sonic franchise has churned out over the past couple of decades and say “How can you like this franchise?” this game is my answer. It perfectly distils all the reasons why Sonic became such a popular franchise to begin with, and why fans still love it to this day.

9 – XCOM 2

Release Date: 5th February 2016
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about almost losing everything every single turn.

This is turn-based strategy at its peak. It took me some time to appreciate XCOM for what it was. I played Enemy Unknown when I was 13 and back then, I didn’t really have the patience for it. I couldn’t be bothered to sit around and carefully plan my actions, to me it was slow, and slow was boring. Over the years though, my appreciation for turn-based strategy as a genre grew, as I discovered my love for games like Civilization, Worms and even regular card-games. So a couple of years ago, I came back to XCOM, I’ve since played through the entirety XCOM 2 on three separate occasions, and I love it.

What blows me away is that none of those three playthroughs looked even remotely similar. There’s such an extraordinary range of strategic potential with your troops in XCOM that I almost couldn’t believe how deep it went when I first came back to it. From the moment you land in an environment in XCOM, your mind has to be on the ball and ready to calculate countless possible outcomes at a moment’s notice. I talk a lot to myself while playing games anyway, but when I’m playing XCOM, I just can’t shut up. I can’t even pinpoint what it is that makes it so fun, but when I’m surveying the field and slowly narrowing down my options, I feel absolutely incredible.

The tense atmosphere and excitement doesn’t end at the thinking phase, though. There’s just as much to be had when you’ve made your decision and execute your action. I think the late TotalBiscuit put it best when he said that everyone comes away from XCOM with “war stories”. The tale of how your squad was in extreme mortal peril, but your sniper nailed three 20% shots in a row and saved you from disaster, or how you lost your best soldier because they managed to miss a 95% shot.

XCOM’s formula has just the right amount of randomness to it to keep you on your toes and make sure you can never rest on your laurels. However, simultaneously, it doesn’t lean on it so heavily that it feels like the game is entirely luck-based. I think that’s what makes the XCOM formula so satisfying. It’s because, even though there is that touch of randomness that can occasionally topple your best-laid plans, if you are a skilled tactician, you will still always come out victorious.

XCOM tests not only your strategic planning but also your strategic reactions. Yes, it’s a horrible feeling when your soldier misses an easy shot and becomes surrounded by an insurmountable horde of aliens because of it. However, when you knuckle down and calculate a strategy to get them out of that scenario alive, it’s the best feeling in the world.

8 – Fire Emblem: Three Houses

Release Date: 26th July 2019
Developer: Intelligent Systems, Koei Tecmo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch
Metacritic Average: 89%

It’s a game about teaching a bunch of kids in their late teens how to fight in a war.

So you know everything I just said about XCOM? Well, change the combat style to melee (a much cooler style) and add in a bunch of wonderful characters, all with their own complex backstories and ideals that you get to grow relationships with. That’s why Fire Emblem: Three Houses is on this list.

The Monastery that acts as your hub world during FE:3H isn’t the biggest area ever, I’d imagine many high schools are bigger, but the whole place is so densely packed with intrigue. Visually, it’s so vibrant and full of character, usually ‘monastery’ is a word I associate with a somewhat muted colour palette. However, FE:3H throws bright greens & blues at you all over the place, always drawing your eye to all the interesting things.

The biggest and best of these things is the people around the Monastery. The emotional connection I forged with many of the students & allies in the world is what kept it in my mind for so long. It’s what made me desire to play through the game 4 full times in a row; because I was desperate to spend time and form a bond with every single one of them. Even now, many months out from the last time I booted it up, I could name every single student & faculty member at the Monastery and give you a rough description to boot.

Everything all of these characters do is dripping with charm and personality. It’s true that many of them only have one or two major traits, but when there’s so many of them, and they’re all playing off each other, it doesn’t matter. The support scenes are a stroke of genius designs, as it allows you to see an understand these characters from all kinds of lenses. I don’t just interact with them directly, I get to see them interact with others, which gives me an incredibly deep understanding of who they really are.

Aside from all that, the core gameplay is absolutely fantastic. The turn-based combat gives me all the wonderful feelings that I just talked about with XCOM, only with the focus shifted onto melee combat, which is what makes the two games feel so different in my mind. However, it extends outside of the battlefield as well, as, unlike XCOM, you have total control over what becomes of your units. You actually sit down and have lessons with them to grow their skills, giving me an even deeper level of investment in their growth than I’d already gained from their personalities. You really are these kids’ teacher, and I genuinely care a great deal about them…even the ones I don’t really like.

The simplest way to put it is that Fire Emblem: Three Houses takes a gameplay formula that would already have made the top 10 and gives me a deep sense of emotional connection to every aspect of the world.

7 – FTL: Faster Than Light

Release Date: 14th September 2012
Developer: Subset Games
Publisher: Subset Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS
Metacritic Average: 88%

It’s a game about commanding a starship that is just desperate to explode at every available opportunity.

FTL is, without a doubt, the best roguelike/roguelite I’ve ever played. Everything about its premise and presentation is so simple. Even the tutorial is pretty brief, and you’ll probably get the hang of it pretty quickly when you start playing. It’s only once you’ve spent some real time with it that you realize just how stupidly deep of a game it really is. It’s not like Binding of Isaac where you’ll still be discovering secret areas and bosses after years of playing it, but there’s more than enough to keep you going for a very long time.

For one thing, I like the longer campaign length. Sure, a 10-15 minute is nice when you just have some time to kill, but when I’m sitting down with the specific intention of playing the game for a good while, an hour upwards is fantastic. It’s long enough so that I can grow an attachment to my ship & crew, and allows me to spend a significant amount of time planning how I’m going to focus my ship.

While there are a whole host of different ships in FTL, each of which lends towards specific playstyles, you can definitely play the game however you want. You can focus on buffing your shields and augmenting your hull so that you barely take any damage. You can focus on arming yourself with uber-powerful missile weapons that will drain the enemies’ health as fast as it will your pockets, or focus on stealth, firing off a barrage of shots and disappearing before the enemy has a chance to retaliate.

The element of randomness in FTL is just right too. Each map you spawn into feels different because there really is no rhyme or reason to the layout of the nodes. You just have to head vaguely towards the exit. Each node has a massive variety of events. Granted, a lot of them are just battles, but each battle goes so very different depending on your opponent. I don’t just mean their weapons to shield levels either, you have to really consider your strategy based on what type of ship it is & what race is on board. Are they Mantis that will attempt to board you? Are they Engi that annoy the fuck out of you with drones? Are they Lanius that…well…you just have to cross your fingers and pray, really.

Then there’s the final boss. It’s an interesting case with how FTL balanced itself here. As long as you have a decent idea of what you’re doing, you’ll probably be able to get to the final sector on your very first run, reaching the final boss. Then, you’ll actually do battle, and your ship will explode so fast you won’t even have time to comprehend the chaos that is occurring on your ship. It’s something that could be criticized for being way too sharp of a difficulty spike, but I like it. You know why? Because you now have a very tangible goal. In something like Binding of Issac, I never really knew what it was I was working towards because I’d never seen the final boss, I didn’t understand what it was I was fighting against. In FTL, I was IN from the moment I saw that thing, I knew that someday I would vaporize it, and that day would be glorious.

It then took me about 5 years of playing it on and off to actually do it, and it was genuinely one of those “I’m never going to forget this” moments in games.

What’s great, though, is that even though I’ve now won the game, I still LOVE going back and doing a bunch of runs in it every couple of months. There’s just enough randomness that, even when you’ve gotten quite good at the game, you could still get totally screwed over in sector 1 and die. Not to mention what I was talking about with all the different types of ships & playstyles.

I don’t think FTL is a game that I’ll ever feel ‘done’ with. No matter how much I play it, I still feel that urge to go back to it every now and then to try some new stuff. It’s a style of fast-thinking strategy that always leaves me wanting more.

6 – Pokemon Platinum

Release Date: 13th September 2008
Developer: Gamefreak
Publisher: The Pokemon Company, Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo DS
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about growing to love the creatures that do battle for you.

I’m not sure if it’s possible to describe precisely what Pokemon means to me, or even why it means so much to me. Although there are 5 other individual games on this list that I would say I love more, Pokemon as a franchise is the one that means the most to me in modern media.

Pokemon Platinum was the first time I ever connected with a game emotionally. Games were a thing I had always enjoyed up until that point, but they were something I saw more as tools for entertainment (I think the word for that is ‘toys’, but what I said sounds more insightful), they didn’t mean a great deal to me. Pokemon changed that. While I played games where I controlled characters, they were always just the vessel for me to explore and view the world. They had little personality or charm. At least, that was how I saw it as an 8-year-old.

Pokemon was different though. I still had my character, and as it’s a JRPG, they didn’t have any personality at all, but you know what did? Piplup. This weird blue penguin was something outside of myself in the game but acted on my behalf. When I picked it, the game gave me a description of what it was like, straight away, it had a personality, I felt like I understood it. Then we did battle together, we gained new team members, and I came to understand what they were like too. Before I knew it, I had a whole team of these creatures that I genuinely cared a great deal for. They mattered to me. I had an emotional bond with them. I’d never had that with a game before.

This is probably a good time to mention that I’ve never owned a pet in my life. For one reason or another, it’s always been impractical in our household, so I’ve never owned or looked after an animal. So all of these feelings of bonding with something that wasn’t another person was new to me. Once I’d played Pokemon, I felt like I got gaming. I was still young, so I didn’t fully understand the scope of it, but I felt like I finally had a firm grasp on why people cared so deeply about their video games. Sure enough, over the next 12-13 years, I grew into the nerd you see today that won’t stop bombarding you with his opinions on these things.

Why Pokemon Platinum specifically? Well, for one thing, it has all of the nostalgia I can possibly muster. It was my first, after all. However, even looking back at it now, I still think it’s the most consistently enjoyable Pokemon experience. The Pokemon I encounter along the way are among my favourites, from the starters to the routes, to the box-legendary. The music is incredible, the pace holds strong for the most part, the post-game is excellent (with the best version of the Battle Frontier, don’t @ me Emerald fans) and it’s simply a game that gives me warm and happy feelings.

I don’t know if I’d be the person I am today without Pokemon. It set me along the path of games going from something I play to something I connect with. To the point where I’m here with you, running down 100 of the blasted things. Who knows? I might even be able to go as far as saying that Pokemon Platinum is the reason this list even exists.

5 – The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

Release Date: 11th November 2011
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Windows, and…wait really? That’s it? …I could’ve sworn there was about 500 more…
Metacritic Average: 96%

It’s a game about shouting at things until they fall over.

To say that Skyrim shaped the way I think and feel about games would be an understatement, because it went even further than that. It broadened my horizons beyond just the scope of the game, into the wider world and global communities for games that exist on the internet.

Hitting the most significant point first, Skyrim is the reason I watch YouTube as regularly as I do. I know for most people it was a certain other 2011 game that we’ll be talking about in just a moment, but for me, it was Skyrim. Let’s Plays, cinematic content, super cringy original stories, and deep-dives into lore. I watched it all. It set in motion a chain of events that would eventually expand to the point where YouTube has been the primary place where I go to watch things for years now. More than TV and films.

On top of that, it gave me the gift of PC gaming. Now, don’t worry, I’m not one of those people that believes that PC is above all else. However, it has been my primary platform for playing games for many years and likely will remain as such for many more. I originally played Skyrim on the Xbox 360, but when I was watching the aforementioned YouTube videos on the game, I saw all these crazy things people were doing. They were manipulating the game world and doing crazy stuff like becoming invincible or spawning in 50 Lydias. Not to mention all the cool-looking weapons and quests that I couldn’t find anywhere the game. Yes, that’s right, I asked my parents to buy me the game on PC just so I could use console commands and install mods. It stuck though, as I’m still gaming on PC all these years later.

Looking more towards the game itself, it’s easily the non-sandbox game that I’ve put the most time into. By modern standards, the open world isn’t that big, but it’s so very dense with everything that’s packed into it. The enormous stretches of hills and plains may seem empty at first, but you’ll barely be able to walk two steps without an undiscovered location appearing on your compass, or a random NPC coming up and starting an encounter. I know there’s a lot of conversation and heated debate around this topic, but I think it’s the best world that Bethesda’s ever created.

At least once a year (often more) I get that urge to go back and start Skyrim all over again. Even though I invariably end up playing one of three different playstyles, and I have almost every noteworthy quest memorized, I still have so much fun playing through them all. I just love existing in that world and battling my way through every cave and crevasse I come across. A couple of years ago, I embarked on a playthrough where I installed a mod that disabled the compass and map and made my way around the world just using my own knowledge, and I genuinely did a bloody good job with it. I actually have a large chunk of Skyrim’s world memories in my brain and can get to most places without assistance. There’s not a single other open-world game in existence that I could do that with.

Skyrim is the RPG that contains everything I love about RPGs. I love that it keeps getting re-released under ever console that exists, it just gives me more excuses to play it again…and again…and again…and again…an-well, you get the point.

4 – Minecraft

Release Date: 18th November 2011
Developer: Mojang Studios
Publisher: Mojang Studios, Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Anything released after 2009…except the Ouya
Metacritic Average: 93%

It’s a game about…pretty much anything you want it to be about.

What can you even say? It’s the best selling game ever made, it’s got a cultural reach beyond anything anyone had ever imagined a video game could. You could even argue that it changed the world in several ways, but that’s for people more intelligent than me to debate. How do you even describe what’s so remarkable about a game that means so many things to literally hundreds of millions of people? I guess I can just explain what it means to me.

Minecraft was the first time I really understood how a ‘gaming community’ could thrive on the internet. Through things like the hundreds of Minecraft channels on YouTube or the vast amount of forums where Minecraft was the primary focus, I came to appreciate how exactly gaming brings people together. Not only did I see all the creators I love, interact and collaborate together in a way that I hadn’t seen before, but I found communities where I participated and made friends too. Thanks to Minecraft, the internet became a much larger place to me, full of real people, who I could actually talk to and be friends with. I’d never used the internet like that before Minecraft came along.

Outside of that, the game plays incredibly. It is far-and-away the game I’ve sunk the most time into across my whole life. Unfortunately, I don’t have the exact numbers for it, but given that I’ve been playing it regularly ever since I was 12, I’d say it’s easily been several thousand hours. I’ve created so many different worlds, many on my own, many with friends and they’ve all created a unique experience. Be it because of location, or creativity, or wherever I was getting my inspiration at the time, I’ve never built two worlds that look the same.

Not to mention, it’s one of the best games to play socially too because just about everyone owns it. During the past 6 months especially, playing Minecraft with the people I care about is more or less the only time I’ve been able to socialize. It’s such an easy game for everyone to grasp and everyone to do well in. It can be competitive if you want it to be, but it can be just as – if not more – fun when played collaboratively. It’s just such an easy game to play, it doesn’t really require much mental effort if you don’t want it to.

There’s so much more I could say about this game, but – much like the cultural impact of the game itself – we would be here indefinitely if I talked about everything I loved about Minecraft. I think the simplest way to explain it is that it’s a game that measurably makes my life better in so many ways, regardless of how old I was, or what state I was in.

3 – TowerFall Ascension

Release Date: 25th June 2013
Developer: Matt Makes Games
Publisher: Matt Makes Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Linux, Android, Ouya…no, really
Metacritic Average: 89%

It’s a game about fast-paced, arena-based archery.

It’s worth mentioning here that all of these top 3 games were in the number 1 spot at some point during the process of putting this list together. I love them all that much.

TowerFall Ascension is the most fun I’ve ever had playing a video game. It’s as simple as that.

The multiplayer battling mode is pure perfection. I know it doesn’t have online, but it doesn’t need online, because the whole point of a game like this is playing it against people sitting next to you on a sofa, which you can shout at through your laughter as they kill you in a mad way you didn’t see coming.

The combat runs at an incredibly fast pace, but it’s still a pretty accessible game. When I’ve played this with people (and I’ve played this with many, MANY people) it usually only takes them a few rounds or so to get up to scratch. The controls are very simple so that you can grasp them easily, but there is a layer of skill there for veteran players. Just shooting and jumping would be fun enough, but the inclusion of the dodge/catch mechanic takes things to a whole new level. In a game where attacking is generally the best & only option, you still have a hint of defensive measures, making the combat feel a lot more fluid and give you just enough to think about so that you never truly get bored of it. Not to mention, how satisfying the sounds and animations are, it’s no wonder that the developers’ next game, Celeste, would make that mechanic the primary focus.

Every arena & every match has such a great of variety to it that you can never really rely on the same tactics. Even though each round only lasts 10-60 seconds, a narrative still tends to form. Usually, you’ll start off with no real plan, improvising based on your opponent’s movements and the treasure spawns, but very quickly you’ll start to form an idea of where and how you’re going to approach. Then a massive battle ensues as you come so very close to killing each other about 5 times in 3 seconds before one of you finally makes a mistake. That’s not even mentioning the variants you can add to the gameplay to change the playing field entirely.

While the multiplayer mode is the main focus, I also get a tremendous amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from the singleplayer mode. The design of it is relatively simple – you have to defeat waves of enemies with a set number of lives – but the massive amount of variation in the enemy’s designs and patterns means that you’ve got a hell of a lot to think about. It’s quite a challenging game, in essence, but you can feel yourself improving with every failure. You gradually learn every enemies’ patterns and what the best method to attack them is. It’s great because the game doesn’t point any of this out to you, none of the enemies have glowing weak spots, it’s just a natural consequence of the gaps in their abilities and movements.

Every time I’m playing games with a group of friends, this will always be among my first recommendations because it’s a pure distillation of the fun multiplayer games can bring. I can recall so many joyous memories of times that I’ve been playing this game with people. TowerFall Ascension is a game that I very strongly associate with happy memories, so it will always hold a special place in my heart.

2 – NieR: Automata

Release Date: 23rd February 2017
Developer: Platinum Games
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about what it means to be human.

(From my Favourite Old Games I Played For The First Time In 2019 article)

I didn’t know what to expect going into NieR: Automata. I played it looking for a fun hack and slash, which I definitely got, but I got a hell of a lot more than that too. Not only would I rank it among my top two favourite games of all time, but I also regard it as the single greatest work of fiction ever written.

That’s a big statement, I know, I played the game back in February. I’ve spent all year thinking about that statement, I’ve rewatched almost all of my favourite shows and movies, replayed some of my favourite games. I compared NieR: Automata to each and every single one of them, and I genuinely believe that statement to be true, and it’s hard to articulate exactly why.

I think the most basic element of why I love it so much is that nothing had ever stuck with me as long as NieR: Automata has. For a solid week after I reached ending E and saw the credits roll for the final time, I was still thinking about it almost constantly. The game has crafted such an incredible story and raised so many profound philosophical arguments in my mind that I just couldn’t put it away. It’s been like that all year, I keep going back to it, to the questions it asks, to the answers it attempts to give and breaking that down and trying to work out exactly what it says to me specifically.

Outside of those deep thoughts and questions, there is a fantastically paced thriller-action story that kept me enthralled for every single second I played it (and later, read it) every character had weight, purpose and felt real. Every action had a consequence, and everything mattered which is just the right word, I’ve played hundreds of games, and I love so many of them, but none of them matter to me as much as NieR: Automata does.

I could sit here and talk about how the combat mechanics made it one of the most fun and satisfying hack and slashes I’ve ever played. I could talk about the world was beautifully designed with such a large amount of variety that I wanted to explore every corner, but that’s not what’s really important to me about this game. That’s not why, as I sit here writing this entry, I find myself almost at a loss for words to describe how deeply this game and its story fundamentally affected me.

Over the past few years, the state of the world we live in has genuinely worn me down a lot. I’m not going to sit here and make some grandiose comment about society, but there have been several points during this year in particular where I look at the state of some aspects of our world and just feel this sense of deep despair. Then I look to a story like NieR: Automata, that is set in a world quite literally in ruins, and yet, it feels so weirdly hopeful in its tone. It was a game that left me with such a weird cocktail of emotions that I don’t think I’ve ever felt anywhere else, it was so melancholic and downbeat, almost tragic, yet there was an undeniable sense of optimism towards the future.

Those words don’t do that feeling justice, but it’s the best I can do with the words I have.

As a game, it’s damn-near flawless, and as a narrative piece of fiction, I genuinely feel that it is the single most incredible story ever told and one that I will never be able to forget.

It’s been an extra 8 months since I wrote this, and I think if anything, my feelings for NieR: Automata have only gotten stronger since. No story has ever stuck with me like this one. All this time later, I’m still thinking about what it has to say, about how it changed the way I see the world and the way I see narratives in games.

I honestly wish I had more words for NieR: Automata, but I find it so hard to express so many elements about it, so all I can say is that I genuinely believe it when I say that this is the greatest fictional story ever told.

1 – Octopath Traveler

Release Date: 13th July 2018
Developer: Aquire
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Google Stadia
Metacritic Average: 83

It’s a game about the journey of eight wonderful people.

So…I’ve talked a lot about Octopath Traveler…like…A LOT. So much so, that I almost thought it’d be too predictable to put this in 1st place. I went back and forth over it a lot during the year I spent putting this list together, but in the end, I decided there was nothing else that could possibly take the top spot.

The characters of Octopath Traveler are the most joyous personalities I’ve ever had the pleasure of connecting with in a video game. Giving them all their separate stories was a brilliant way to write it because they all got a chance to show who they are, as much of the time as possible. No-one was pushed to the back or got less development than the rest because they all get the same. The interactions that are scattered in there do wonders too. After establishing their extremely varied personalities, we get to see them interact, to incredibly endearing results.

The writing is so very dedicated to bringing me into the world of these characters and telling me everything I could want to know about them, to the point where I feel like I know even more about them than is in the games. I understand who these people are, and more importantly, WHY they are, which is a fact that so many games forget to establish.

The plots are all interesting too. Writing eight separate stories can’t have been an easy task, especially when they’re all meant to be experience intermixed with each other. Having all of these stories be interesting and memorable, as well as having variety, must’ve been an extremely difficult task. However, because the writers knew the characters inside and out, every plot played to the strengths of that specific character. They weren’t just written into challenging conflicts, they were written into conflicts that were very explicitly challenging FOR THEM, because of who they are.

All of this is backed up by an alive feeling world. The visual style is simultaneously utterly unique and totally beautiful, and it gives every location and intense sense of character & charm. Then, there’s the soundtrack, MY GOD, the soundtrack. There is no question, it is my favourite video game soundtrack. Every track, for every location, every encounter and every character speaks to me on such a deep level. It’s masterfully crafted in such a way that I can attribute so much meaning to every note.

Then, there’s the actual gameplay, which is the pure essence of turn-based JRPGs distilled into a battle. None of the systems are particularly revolutionary, but they give you just enough to balance that very few conflicts are easily resolved. The variety in the roles & abilities of each character makes sure that you can easily make a spot for anyone if you want to. More importantly, it’s not too difficult to grasp what role each character is supposed to play either, which makes team building isn’t as agonizing as it can be in a game as vast as Pokemon. You just have to decide what you want each character to do, and then build them around those ideas; playing into their strengths as much as possible.

The whole thing is a world that just wraps it’s arms around me and pulls me into a world that I love to the very core. I keep going back to it time and time again because it makes me so very happy; and honestly, making me happy is all I want a game to do.

And that is the end of that! Those were my 100 Favourite Games of All Time! Thank you very much for following this series, please, let me know what games you love the most, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo.

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!