Every NXT Men’s & Women’s Champion Ranked – Part 1

PROGRAMMING NOTE: I’m going to be trying my hand at streaming, starting next Saturday at 6pm GMT, because, quite frankly, I’ve got nothing better to do right now. I’m going to be playing a variety of indie games for the first time, along with a few classics that I love. If you’re interested, then please swing by twitch.tv/strongstylesmark and hit the follow button to be notified when I go live!

Ahh NXT. When the world of Raw & Smackdown makes it feel like wrestling will never be good ever again (which doesn’t happen all the time, although sometimes it does feel like it) there’s always the warm black and gold glow of Full-Sail University gently sits you down and reminds you that: “Hey! Wrestling’s fun and you enjoy watching it!” Whether it’s compelling storytelling or five-star matches, NXT has just about everything you could want from a modern-day wrestling promotion and no-one better embodies that than it champions.

Between the main Men’s and Women’s Championships, 25 different wrestlers have stood at the top of the brand at some point in their career and each of them brought their own unique style and flair to the title. That said, as is the case with everything in life, not all of them were equal, and it’s always going to be someone’s job to file their opinions on these titles reigns in the form of a ranked list.

As for what criteria I’m ranking these on, it’s a combination of hard stats (days as champion, number of defences etc.) and my personal feelings of the quality of storylines and matches they had while champion. Whatever they did outside of their title reign is irrelevant, all that matters is what they did when the gold was around their waist.

I also won’t be including Io Shirai in this list, nor will I count Karrion Kross. In Io’s case, I don’t think it’s fair to judge a title reign before it’s over, while in Kross’ case, the injury was a tragedy, and the 4 days he held the title wasn’t representative of what was planned for him. All-in-all, I just think it would be mean to put him on the bottom spot of this list when it wasn’t his fault his reign was so short.

With those caveats made, let’s get started.

26 – Kairi Sane

Days as Champion: 71
Successful Title Defences: 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Shayna Baszler at NXT Takeover: Brooklyn IV

Kairi Sane had the unfortunate distinction of being a hot up-and-comer in the NXT Women’s division during Shayna Baszler’s run of dominance. While this time was terrific for the NXT Women’s division as a whole, with countless incredible matches, very few women ever got a taste of the gold. However, the only woman who managed to interrupt Baszler’s time at the top for a little while was Kairi Sane.

Sane won the title from Baszler in one of the best matches of that year and was just one chapter in the fantastic rivalry the two had. Given who was on the NXT Women’s roster at the time, there was all the potential in the world for Sane to spend a year going around and having brilliant matches with everybody in sight, especially after Io Shirai burst onto the scene. Unfortunately for Sane, Baszler had so much potential, and NXT management saw more money putting the title back on Bazler.

So, at Evolution, without a single title defence under her belt, Kairi Sane lost the title back to Shayna Baszler. Again, the match was great, and Baszler would do great things with the title, but it was disappointing for Sane. It’s an unfortunate scenario of a wrestler being in the wrong place at the wrong time, meaning their chance at crowning glory was swept to one side for someone else.

25 – Johnny Gargano

Days as Champion: 57
Successful Title Defences: 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Adam Cole at NXT Takeover: XXV

Well, if you want a ‘victim of circumstance’ look no further…

Gargano’s title reign should’ve been so much grander. It should’ve felt like the culmination of the whole previous era of NXT. From the moment Ciampa threw Gargano into the LED screen at Chicago in 2017, it had felt like Gargano has NXT Champion was NXT’s new endgame. Then the world intervened, and NXT had to adapt and create something different. Which unfortunately left Gargano in the dust.

The match where Gargano won the title at Takeover New York was fantastic, but it should’ve been so much more. When the finale of the Gargano vs Ciampa series was set for the show, it felt like we were finally going to reach the end of this story. The characters had changed and adapted over the years, but they were still the same people, and they still had business to settle. Then, tragedy struck, and Ciampa got injured. Adam Cole came in as the replacement and – as I said – the match was one of the best of that year, but the moment when Gargano won the title didn’t feel like the massive payoff it would’ve if it was against Ciampa. In fact, once the match changed many fans, myself included, turned against Gargano and was rooting for Cole to win the title instead.

Seeing their best-laid plans fall directly into the bin, NXT management did what they do best and adapted. They didn’t stubbornly stay the course, they changed tactics and during the rematch a couple of months later. Cole took the title from Gargano, ending a completely empty reign. Once again, the match was one of the best NXT has ever produced, and it started off a fantastic title reign for Cole (more on that later), but it left Gargano with nothing to do from that point onwards. He’s managed to find a better character angle to take now, but it took almost a year to get there.

The only thing that separates this title reign from Kairi Sane’s down at the bottom is that Gargano’s matches where he won and lost the title were better. Other than that it’s just two faces that should’ve had everything but, thanks to circumstances beyond their control, ended up with almost nothing.

24 – Keith Lee

Days as Champion: 52
Successful Title Defences: 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Dominik Dijakovic on NXT 15th July 2020

Well, this was a disappointment.

For context, when I started writing this list, Lee hadn’t even won the title yet. It was during the build to The Great American Bash, and there were high hopes for Lee to have a dominant run at the top of NXT.

I think the main problem with Lee’s title reign is that it came just a little too late in his run. Lee spent about a year doing practically nothing of note in NXT until he suddenly hit the big time in 2019. He had that star-making performance against Roman Reigns & Seth Rollins at Survivor Series. He spent the first half of 2020 blowing everyone away with his defences of his North American Championship. Realistically, he probably should’ve taken the title from Cole in the spring.

By the time Lee won the title, two things had happened. First, those behind the wheel on Raw realised what a ready-made star they had on their hands with Lee, and they wanted a piece. Second was that an absolute monster had arrived in NXT by the name of Karrion Kross, and there was no way he was doing anything other than shooting straight to the top.

There was at least some good story during his reign, I loved the rivalry turned friendship that Lee & Dijakovic have shared over the past year, and it was brilliant to play that into Lee’s feud with Kross. In addition, at least Lee got to defend the title at least once, which puts him over both of the other champions we’ve covered so far. As disappointing as it was for Lee to lose the title so quickly, he’s absolutely killing it on Raw right now, and we’ll always have that euphoric visual of him holding up both titles amongst the confetti.

23 – Drew McIntyre

Days as Champion: 91
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Andrade “Cien” Almas at NXT Takeover: WarGames

It pains me to do this, it really does.

Being a man who had already seen success in WWE prior to his 2017 run in NXT, it always felt like Drew was never going to stick around for very long down at the Performance Center. Not only had he already been an established WWE star before his 2015 release, but he’d come back looking like one of the toughest tough guys to ever be tough, of course Vince was going to decide he wanted a piece of that action on Raw & Smackdown sooner rather than later.

This meant that, despite coming into NXT full of fire and taking the title from Bobby Roode in an excellent match, he didn’t really get much of an opportunity to do anything exciting with the championship while he was holding it. While the 91-day length is longer than several other entries on this list, he didn’t get a chance to show what he can really do in any of those 91 days. Both of his successful title defences were on NXT TV, rather than at a Takeover, which meant that they didn’t have that atmosphere or drive that takes NXT matches to the next level despite both being excellent.

When he lost the title to Andrade, it came as a surprise to many, myself included, as it felt like his reign was only just kicking into gear. As it turned out, even if he had won that match it wouldn’t have made a difference, as Drew suffered an arm injury in that match and was out of action until Spring of 2018 when he showed up on Raw.

Drew Mcintyre is a brilliant wrestler who deserves all the success he is currently experiencing in his career; however, he left no lasting impact whatsoever when it comes to NXT.

22 – Samoa Joe

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 121; 2nd Reign – 13
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 1; 2nd Reign – 0
Best Match As Champion: vs Finn Balor (Steel Cage) at NXT Takeover: The End

Given that Joe was the first-ever two-time NXT Champion in history, you’d surely expect him to be a lot higher on this list than fourth from bottom. However, let me ask you a question: What did Joe actually do with the title? Seriously, what did he do during his time as champion to leave any impact whatsoever on NXT? The answer, my friends, is nothing.

For one thing, Joe’s title win wasn’t even televised. For context, by this point in 2016, Joe & Balor had been feuding for ages, and Joe had come out on the losing end every single time. At both London & Dallas, Balor had put Joe away cleanly, walking away with the title both times. Then suddenly one night, on an untelevised house-show, Joe wins the title from Balor. It wasn’t a botch, this was a genuine booking decision made by NXT management. Now, title changes happen on house-shows once every couple of years or so (usually at Madison Square Garden), and it’s always fun when it does. However, in Joe’s case, it felt a bit underwhelming, especially after he’d failed to win the title so many times before.

Joe’s 121 days to his first title reign may sound impressive, but don’t let that fool you, nothing of interest happened during that time. He defended the title against Balor in a Steel Cage, in a good match, but nothing extraordinary. Then Shinsuke Nakamura burst onto the title scene, they feuded for two months, and when they finally had a match, Nakamura won the title, just like that.

“But what about his second title reign?” I hear you ask. Well, it lasted about as long as this sentence.

Joe won the title back from Nakamura at Takeover: Toronto in a shocking moment. However, this title reign lasted an upsettingly short 13 days. The only reason Joe even won the title back is that NXT was doing a show in Nakamura’s home country of Japan in a couple of weeks and they wanted Nakamura to win back the title there. That’s honestly it. Joe left NXT shortly afterwards, and it honestly felt as if he’d never been there in the first place. It seemed like him having the NXT title was more just something for him to have on his resume when he went up to the main roster. I honestly don’t think the history of NXT would have looked any different if the title had gone directly from Balor to Nakamura instead of using Joe as a stop-gap.

21 – Shinsuke Nakamura

Days as Champion: 1st Reign – 91; 2nd Reign – 56
Successful Title Defences: 1st Reign – 0; 2nd Reign – 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Bobby Roode at NXT Takeover: San Antonio

I seriously considered having Joe & Nakamura share a slot to be entirely honest with you because I have very similar things to say about them. As great as we know Nakamura can be, I don’t think he left much of an impact on NXT while champion. His best work on the brand all came before he won the title. His match against Finn Balor was one of the last stepping stones before he challenged for the title and his match with Sami Zayn (his unquestionably best match in NXT) was his debut.

By the time he’d actually won the title, it felt like NXT was ready to move onto the next era. They were starting to sign a bunch of big names left-and-right, and with no secondary title, they rushed a bunch of them to the title too quickly. In fact, Joe & Nakamura are great examples of this. They both should’ve had long and fruitful reigns with the title, but they rose to the top at almost the exact same time, which meant they both dragged each other down.

The story with Nakamura’s title reigns is just as dull as Joe’s. He won it from Samoa Joe at Takeover: Brooklyn II, lost it back to Joe at Takeover: Toronto, before winning it back again in a taped match from Japan. A few weeks later, their feud finally ended when Nakamura beat Joe in a Steel Cage in Melbourne. It’s worth noting that all of these matches were good, it’s just that it had got very tiresome by the end, and I now look less fondly on the earlier matches as a result.

Finally, Nakamura was free of Samoa Joe and could move on to defend the title against NXT’s best a brightest…or not. Nakamura surprisingly lost the title at Takeover: San Antonio to Bobby Roode…and that was that. He lost a rematch to Roode in Orlando and showed up on Smackdown later that week. Thankfully, Roode would break this cycle and be a far superior champion, but it meant that Nakamura’s legacy in NXT is quite a disappointing one.

20 – Sami Zayn

Days as Champion: 62
Successful Title Defences: 1
Best Match As Champion: vs Adrian Neville at NXT Takeover: R Evolution

Sami Zayn’s title win marked the end of the first era of NXT. It was the biggest story the brand had ever had, and Zayn’s title win represented the culmination of it. It was the point where many fans finally turned their heads and started paying attention to the black & gold brand. The great thing about Takeover: R Evolution though, is that it didn’t just culminate a great story, it immediately started a new one.

Immediately getting annihilated by his best friend Kevin Owens, Zayn had a red-hot storyline to kick off his title reign. He put on a good show in his rematch with Neville shortly after he won it, but following that, it was all Kevin Owens. NXT had taken it’s biggest babyface and given him a rival that had everything. Not only are they real-life best friends, and thus know each other better than anyone, but they’ve both got unmatched microphone skills and storytelling ability. It was that storytelling ability that pulled Zayn’s title reign up a few places from where it should realistically be.

When you look at the bare facts of how Zayn’s title reign ended, it sounds like a travesty. The biggest babyface NXT ever had up until that point got absolutely annihilated, to the point where the referee called for the bell, handing the title to the new monster heel, barely two months into his title reign. The thing is though it was brilliant. Zayn as a face is undoubtedly a character that benefits from getting arse kicked, and the story surrounding it meant that this outcome made sense. Owens knew Zayn’s in-ring style inside and out, while Owens had totally transformed himself into a killing machine. There was nothing Zayn could do to get one over on Owens, and it made all the sense in the world.

However, as great as the story was, it doesn’t change the fact that Zayn lost the title after barely having a cup of coffee with it.

19 – Big E Langston

Days as Champion: 168
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Seth Rollins at NXT 6th December 2012

When looking back on the history of NXT, the early champions are always pretty hard to rank, because the only thing that connects 2012-2014 NXT to 2015-present NXT, is the name – apart from that, they may as well be two completely separate entities.

As it stood, Big E was a big dominant guy who had an undefeated streak, and that was pretty much it. The fun & exciting part came from where he demanded that the referee count 5 on his pinfalls instead of three. A fun little gimmick at first, but it’s not a great deal to go on. This was before the NXT writers room was full of the most inspired storytellers in the business, and was instead just a bunch of guys that weren’t ready to write for Raw yet.

He dethroned Rollins to become the second-ever NXT Champion, as Rollins was a bit busy being one-third of the newly debuted Shield at the time. Then we hit our next stumbling block with this era of NXT, because, although Big E held the title all the way from the start of December through to the end of May, he only defended the title three times, with minimal story going into any of them.

He dispatched of Conor O’Brian (who would later become one half of The Ascension…and put a ‘K’ at the front of his name for some reason) sometime in March. A few weeks later he beat Brad Maddock (yes, the guy who was Raw GM so briefly you’d almost certainly forgotten about it) in under 90 seconds. Then Bo Dallas came around, and that was that. Big E had already debuted on the main roster by this point as Dolph Ziggler’s lackey, and there was very little value in him being NXT Champion anymore.

I think Big E definitely has some decent role in establishing NXT for the success it would later see, but I can’t say that what he did with the title was particularly impressive.

18 – Ember Moon

Days as Champion: 140
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Shayna Baszler at NXT Takeover: New Orleans

Based on the numbers, you might think Ember should be a bit higher up on the list, but as much as she had an enjoyable run as champion, I don’t feel like she left much of an impact on the brand.

In 2017, it felt like Ember Moon was to be the successor to Asuka’s throne. It’s hard to say whether or not she would’ve eventually overcome Asuka had The Empress of Tomorrow never gotten injured, but the general feeling was that Ember Moon was going to be sitting on top of the NXT Women’s division for quite a while. Sadly, she fell short of these expectations, not because of any fault of hers, but because she was surrounded by some extremely hot prospects.

When Ember Moon won the NXT Women’s Championship, it wasn’t too far out from the very first Mae Young Classic tournament ending, which meant that there was a fresh crop of incredible women’s wrestlers waiting for their time to shine in NXT. Ember was delayed in winning the title to begin with, thanks to the insanely hot run Asuka found herself on, but once Ember got a hold of the title, there were some high expectations.

Her first defence of the title was against Sonya Deville on an episode NXT in November. It was a good match, but it was only 7 minutes long and served more to be a mini-showcase for Sonya Deville than anything substantial. Then Ember ran into the woman who would cause her run at the top to be cut short: Shayna Baszler. Admittedly, Baszler was nowhere near as dominant as she would later become just yet, but anyone with half a brain could see all the potential in the world, so her winning the title was very much a matter of ‘when’ rather than ‘if’.

Moon successfully defended the title against Baszler twice, however, both times it was by the skin of her teeth; one via an opportunistic rollup and the other via DQ. On top of that, Baszler laid waste to Ember at every opportunity. Great for the purposes of building Baszler up as the next big thing, not so great for Ember and her title reign, which would end at Takeover: New Orleans with relatively little fanfare.

As great as Ember Moon had the potential to be as champion, the way history has played out, her legacy is entirely overshadowed by the two dominant forces that surrounded her in the form of Asuka & Shayna Baszler.

17 – Seth Rollins

Days as Champion: 133
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Big E Langston at NXT 6th December 2012

Rollins gets a prestige boost by virtue of being the first champion, but that doesn’t carry him far.

If I’m being entirely honest, my thoughts of Rollins as champion are very similar to my thoughts on Big E’s time as champion. The difference here being Rollins at least wrestled for a lot longer during his title defences. Admittedly, that’s not much of a benefit when his main rival was Jinder Mahal, but it’s still got to count for something.

Defeating Jinder Mahal in the finals of a tournament, Rollins was chosen as the very first man to carry the black and gold brand to glory, and he did an admirable job for the upstart promotion. His first title defence was against Michael McGillicutty – who would later come to be known as Curtis Axel – and while it wasn’t anything incredible, it was a better match than you’re probably thinking it was.

Rollins then didn’t do much of anything for a few months, until Jinder Mahal came sniffing around once again, looking for vengeance. Following this match, Rollins debuted on the main roster as part of The Shield, and the writing was on the wall for his title reign. At the next set of tapings, he lost via DQ to Corey Graves in 5 minutes, then lost the title to Big E.

Much like Big E, Rollins held the title for a decent number of days and defended the title cleanly in decent matches. That, alongside being the very first champion gives him a slightly grander legacy as champion than most from this era, but that really isn’t saying much in the grand scheme of things.

16 – Aleister Black

Days as Champion: 108
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Tommaso Ciampa at NXT 18th December 2018

Aleister Black was such a dominant force in NXT for so long that I always find it quite surprising looking back at his title reign because it’s so boring. He’s one of those people who ended up doing most of his best work before and after his time as champion. All of his best matches (vs Velveteen Dream, vs Johnny Gargano, w/ Ricochet vs War Raiders) happened without the championship over his shoulder.

His victory against Almas was a good one, but it didn’t main event the show, as that slot was (quite rightly) taken by the first Gargano vs Ciampa match (trust me, this is going to be a pattern). Black was made to look very strong as champion and came out on top more often than not in any encounter he had, but none of them were all that memorable.

He defended the title against Eric Young on an episode of NXT that was good, but not very long. Then, when Takeover: Chicago II rolled around, Black once again had the main event spot taken from him by the second Ciampa vs Gargano match. Sadly, his match wasn’t anything too special either, as he dragged Lars Sullivan to a passable 15-minute match.

Before we knew it, the time had come for Black to lose the title, and it wasn’t even on a Takeover event. After being shunted aside for it twice, Black found himself stuck in the middle of the Ciampa/Gargano feud. Gargano’s actions in his title defence against Ciampa would indirectly cause him to lose the title. Black was set to fight in a triple threat match for the title at Brooklyn 4, but an injury put the lid on those plans.

Black’s reign wasn’t very glamorous or memorable, but it rises this high on the list because he was treated very well as champion. As I said, he rarely if ever lost a non-title match, and continued to cultivate his strong and mysterious persona.

15 – Andrade “Cien” Almas

Days as Champion: 139
Successful Title Defences: 2
Best Match As Champion: vs Johnny Gargano at NXT Takeover: Philadelphia

Andrade is one of those people that I always seem to forget was NXT Champion. Not because he didn’t do well as champion, I liked a lot of what he did, he just didn’t seem to leave much of a mark on the belt at the end of the day.

As 2020 seemed to mark the end of NXT’s 2nd goldern era, I think it’s interesting to look at where it began. Most people focus on the Gargano/Ciampa rivalry, as that’s a large part of what defined the era, I think a very good case could be made for Andrade as the first champion of that era. The match where he won the title from Drew McIntyre was good, but not amazing thanks to Drew’s injury, but Andrade would work his arse off to make his title reign worth it from there onwards.

Having Zelina Vega as a mouthpiece was brilliant for him and the two clicked better than most wrestler/manager combinations have in recent memory. They both carried themselves with a cocky swagger that suited Andrade’s persona and even though they didn’t directly talk all that much, their chemistry during Andrade’s matches was incredible.

Speaking of Andrade’s matches, there’s one that sticks out in the mind far more than others. His first title defence at Takeover: Philadelphia against Johnny Gargano was the first in a long, LONG series of genuinely unbelievably good series of Takeover main events. It was the first match in NXT to be awarded 5 stars by the Wrestling Observer and remains one of my favourite NXT singles matches to this day.

The problem with Andrade though is that he doesn’t have much of a legacy in NXT outside of that match. He defended the title again a few weeks later against Gargano in another great match that is largely forgotten by history. Then, while the match where he lost the title to Aleister Black was brilliant, it was entirely overshadowed by everything else that happened on Takeover: New Orleans, a show seen by many to be NXT’s finest work.

I wanted to place Almas higher, but when you look at his title reign’s content, it doesn’t really justify it. Admittedly his match against Gargano carries him up a handful of places on its own, but given that it was immediately followed by the Ciampa/Gargano feud, this reign tends to be a bit more forgettable.

14 – Paige

Days as Champion: 273
Successful Title Defences: 3
Best Match As Champion: vs Emma on NXT 12th June 2013

Paige is somewhat of a difficult one to rank in the context of this list. When you compare her to the women who came after she’d left NXT, she technically didn’t do all that much fantastic stuff with the belt, however, I think doing that woefully understates the impact she made on, not just NXT, but main roster WWE as well.

With Paige, you have to look at what was going on with the women’s division in WWE at the time and how Paige’s work compares. For one thing, WWE was still calling them ‘Divas’ instead of ‘women’. The longest women’s match on Pay-Per-View for the entirety of WWE in 2013 was 11 minutes long, and that was only because it was a 7 on 7 elimination tag match, and even then it was one of the worst Survivor Series tag matches we’ve ever seen.

Then, you put that in contrast to what Paige was doing in NXT at the time. She was putting on 15-minute matches that outshone just about any women’s match in WWE history at the time and carrying the only women’s title that felt like it meant anything in WWE. When looking back at the rise of women’s wrestling WWE, the four horsewomen are always the most obvious people to point at for where it all started, but I don’t think that’s true. The four horsewomen may have brought the idea that women can actually do great wrestling to a mainstream audience, but Paige was the one who knocked the door down in the first place for them to take advantage. It’s entirely possible that without Paige putting in the incredible work that she did, NXT never would’ve come around to booking it’s women’s division seriously, and then where would we be?

It wasn’t perfect though, the fact that she defended the title only 3 times in 9 months isn’t the best, especially when one of those was a 3- minute match against Summer Rae. On top of that, she never actually lost the title. Instead, she was forced to vacate it by JBL (who was apparently the General Manager of NXT for a while?) after she showed up on Raw in the spring of 2014 and won the Divas title from AJ Lee. That move did lead to great things in the long-run, but the fact that the first NXT Women’s Champion never actually lost the belt is a bit of an oddity.

Paige laid the groundwork for what would become NXT’s revolution in women’s wrestling, and her role cannot be understated. However, when you compare her to the modern era, where women’s wrestling is taken far more seriously, her title reign just doesn’t quite hold up against a lot of them. She was the one who lit the fire but didn’t get much of a chance to enjoy the flame.

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 these NXT title reigns, 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 my favourite post-game features in the Pokemon series, PLUS the week after that for part 2 of this list!

Game of the Year 2020

We’re here! The year is finally coming to a close! As we all sit and pray that 2021 won’t somehow be worse than 2020, it’s time to wrap things up with a look back at the games released over the last 12 months and see what we enjoyed the most.

First, some caveats. I HAVEN’T PLAYED CYBERPUNK 2077. I do want to play it, and I am going to in the new year, but it became apparent to me that even if I did play it on launch day, I wouldn’t have been able to play enough of it in time to fairly judge how much I liked it. So, I’m not writing it off, but expect to see it appear on my 2021 ends of year lists rather than here. Secondly, I don’t own a PS5 or an Xbox Series X, so if a game was exclusive to either of those consoles, then I haven’t played it.

I will also be continuing to add the games I think are worthy into my 100 Favourite Games list, so check that out too, if you want context on that one.

Outside of that, though, I’ve played quite a wide range of games this year. I don’t know if I played quite as many as in 2019, but that’s more because there have been fewer games coming out. As such, this list will cover quite a variety of stuff, and I won’t waste any more time rambling. Let’s look at the best of what this year had to offer!

SPOILER WARNING!

While I’ll try to avoid anything too plot-critical, I will be talking about spoilers for all of these games. I’d recommend you tread carefully with games you like the sound of, especially as some of these are heavily narrative-focused games.

14 – Cloudpunk

Release Date: 23rd April
Developer: Ion Lands
Publisher: Maple Whispering Limited
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows

I didn’t know how to feel about Cloudpunk for quite a long time, but after thinking it over, I definitely think it deserves to be discussed on this list.

Cloudpunk is a game with an incredible atmosphere. The sound design team did an absolutely incredible job of creating the feel of the kind of city Cloudpunk is set in. The whirring of the cars, the low rumble of chatter in the street and the miserable atmosphere the whole thing carries with it. Even the music the in-game radio gives you has such a ‘manufactured’ feel to it which is perfect for the tone the game is trying to convey.

On top of that, it’s a master of the ‘show, don’t tell’ philosophy. Your job as a courier (and occasional taxi driver) around the city means that you really get to see every aspect of the place. From the dark, dank depths on the underbelly to the more well-off areas, and the people that live in them. You start in an unfamiliar land with unfamiliar people, but as the game progresses you really grow to feel a sense of attachment to the city and many of its citizens, and you see all sides of it.

The game doesn’t shy away from giving you the moral choices either. It dumps a pretty heavy one on you reasonably early, and they keep on coming from there. It’s not the perfect dynamic system of something like Papers, Please, but it’s more than enough for what the game is trying to do.

So this may pose the question, why did I not know how to feel about it? The simple answer is that the ending wasn’t what I was hoping it would be. That’s not to say it was bad, but I definitely think a lot more could’ve been done with it and I almost wish they’d made it a little longer to properly dig into some of the ideas it touched on. However, I’ve also spoken to people who loved the ending and thought it was perfect, so you’ll have to make up your own mind on that one.

Even if I did feel it ended on a low note, the world and narrative throughout have still stuck with me all these months after I first played it, and that definitely makes it deserving of a spot on this list.

13 – Spiritfarer

Release Date: 18th August
Developer: Thunder Lotus Games
Publisher: Thunder Lotus Games
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux, Google Stadia

There’s a lot to unpack when it comes to Spiritfarer. In terms of gameplay, it takes elements from a lot of different genres. On the face of it, that sounds like a bad thing, but in actuality, the game takes just the right amount from each genre and balances them incredibly well.

The first thing that struck me when I started playing was how beautiful it’s visual/animation style was. Everything looks so wonderfully vibrant and colourful, and every character moves and acts in such adorable ways. It puts me in mind of some of the old Hanna-Barbera cartoons with how much life the animations bring to the characters and the world. Similarly, the sound design is a huge plus. The sounds of the ocean and the slow creaking of your boat are very relaxing sounds to listen to, and when music comes into play, it wraps itself around you and pulls you right into the moment.

The survival/crafting elements that drive the largest portion of the game are great. The process of collecting/manufacturing resources is never a chore and done at just the right pace so that you don’t breeze through it all and get bored. What’s great is that all of the main character quests will take you to the places you need to find the new resources, so you’re always progressing at the perfect pace for where the game wants you to be.

Similarly, the world is a joy to explore. The game limits the areas you can explore in just the right way so that you don’t get too overwhelmed or stray off of the beaten path until you’re ready to. Even at the start of the game, when you’re the most restricted, there’s still a huge amount of areas and oceans to explore, and you never lose that sense of discovery. Additionally, travelling from place to place is never a chore. There’s always something to be doing to keep you occupied as your boat sails from one place to another. Some farm will need watering/picking, or food will need cooking, or ores will need smelting, and even if you’ve done all of that, you can always fish for more food.

What drives this game at its very core though, is the spirits which travel with you along the way. Your job as the spiritfarer is to see spirits through their last business in the world, before taking them to the gateway to the afterlife, and no matter how many times you have to do it, it’s still an emotional moment. You get to see the lives of spirits laid out before you and understand what they’re truly like, only to have to eventually say goodbye and move on to the other spirits you need your help. To describe the kind of feelings it evokes is difficult, but if you’ve ever experienced grief, then you’ll definitely relate to the feelings on display here.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 95

12 – Star Renegades

Release Date: 8th September
Developer: Massive Damage
Publisher: Raw Fury
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux

Arguably the most obscure game on my list this year, Star Renegades mixes the roguelike & turn-based strategy genre in a way that I haven’t seen since Into the Breach.

What I love about turn-based strategy (TBS) is the feeling of sitting down and working out a really good plan, whether that plan works or fails miserably is beside the point. In a TBS, I see each battle as a puzzle to be solved, and it’s the thinking through the possibilities that brings me the most joy. Star Renegades is brilliant at tapping into that part of me.

The battle system comes together in the kind of way I absolutely adore. The fact is, you could technically go through any battle without taking a single hit if you’re good enough, but the game makes sure to keep applying the pressure to make sure you never get too good. It takes ideas from D&D in that each ‘turn’ is 60 seconds of battle-time, and in that time, every character on both sides of battle gets to act once. The kicker here is that if you go before another character, not only do you do more damage to that character. However, you can also ‘stagger’ that character, meaning they end up attacking later than they originally would’ve.

Already, that’s perfect for the puzzle-solving mindset I take in these games because every character starts with 5-7 attacks/abilities and they all do different things. You can push for heavy damage, but you’re going to attack last and take more damage, or you can focus on only doing little chips of damage that will stagger your opponent and save you from taking as much damage in return. Then you add on the fact that every character can only be staggered a certain amount of times, and if you stagger them far enough, they won’t attack at all, and you’ve got all the makings of a battle system I can really sink my teeth into.

Of course, there’s a bunch of different character classes to play around with too, and as you progress through each run, your characters will level up, get new gear and gain new abilities, slowly growing the tools at your disposal. It’s not a perfect game, and it’s not even that unique in the grand scheme of things, but it ticks all of my boxes in just the right way, and I played a lot of Star Renegades since its release.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 86

11 – ScourgeBringer

Release Date: 21st October
Developer: Flying Oak Games, E-Studio
Publisher: Dear Villagers, Yooreka Studio, Plug In Digital
Platforms: Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux

At its core, ScourgeBringer doesn’t really bring anything new or unique to the roguelike genre, but it’s filled with all the little optimisations that the genre has accrued over the years, and that’s what makes it such a compelling experience.

First up, we have the movement which is so incredibly crisp that I would honestly love to play a platformer using these kinds of systems. The precision and speed with which you can navigate the map put me in mind of Towerfall Ascension with how much I enjoy playing it. What’s even better is that the game puts a heavy focus on movement, as positioning is key to surviving every fight. The dash attacks, the wall runs and the floaty jumps can be combined to create all sorts of movements that you’ll be able to process at a speed that makes just navigating a screen satisfying.

Secondly, the combat ticks all of my boxes. It all focuses on that split-second decision making of a whole bunch of aspects you need to balance. What to attack and how to attack it: Do you dash towards it? Do you shoot it? Do you wait for a chance to stun? Do you charge in like a madman? All of these are viable strategies, and you have to employ them at a speed that makes you feel highly skilled even when you’re not doing all that well. On top of that, every hit feels crisp and heavy, the sound and visual design are perfectly on point to make slashing away at enemies very fun.

Finally, I enjoy the sense of progression. The truth is, as with most roguelike games, I’m probably never going to make it to the credits. The genre is known for somewhat of a steep difficulty curve that you need to put a lot of time and effort into overcoming, which I don’t often do. This puts me off some roguelikes, but with ScourgeBringer, I don’t really care. Not only is the gameplay fun enough in and of itself that I don’t mind if I don’t make much progress, but the constant unlocking of new abilities and story elements kept me going for quite a while.

If you’re looking for a unique take on the roguelike genre, then ScourgeBringer probably won’t do it for you. However, if you just really like the genre and want great games in it, this will be sure to please you.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 79

10 – The Henry Stickmin Collection

Release Date: 7th August
Developer: Puffballs United
Publisher: Innersloth
Platforms: Windows, Mac

Calling this a game is almost doing it a disservice, it’s more like a sketch show about the history of video games.

For context, several ‘episodes’ of this game were initially released between 2008 & 2015 on Newgrounds as funny little games with some clever writing. However, I’m counting this as a new release as a whole bunch of content was added to the old episodes, and one whole new one was added that is utterly massive.

The reason I like this game is honestly very simple, it’s really, really funny. The simple mechanic of having you make a bunch of different choices to get over various obstacles is all that’s needed to lead into a huge amount of hilarious cutscenes that show you just how fun failure can be. I mean that by the way, because it’s one of those games where picking the wrong options is usually funnier than getting it right because of the hilarious ways in which you end up fucking it all up.

Mixed in with all that is a true love letter to video games & gaming culture. This thing is PACKED with so many references there’s no way you’ll even get them all. What’s great is that they’re not lazy references either, they’re always implemented in a hilariously creative way that sometimes you don’t even realise it’s a reference until you get blasted with the punchline. Despite having a limited amount of content, the game is incredibly replayable thanks to the several different paths & endings for each episode. Usually, I don’t bother with finding every path in a game like that, but with Henry Stickmin, I HAD to see everything, because it all made me laugh hysterically.

I’d love to dive deeper than that, but the truth is this is just a hilarious game made by some hilarious people, and I love it.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 69

9 – The Solitaire Conspiracy

Release Date: 6th October
Developer: Bithell Games
Publisher: Bithell Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac

If you read my 100 Favourite Games series, then you’ll be all too aware of how much I adore Mike Bithell’s games. They’re never anything super flashy, but the writing, atmosphere and tone of the world he & his teams create put him among the elite when it comes to indie developers. The Solitaire Conspiracy is no exception.

For starters, the premise is that you’re a spymaster who does their spying by solving Solitaire puzzles, which already has me hooked. Then, once you get into the game, you’re greeted by a man who definitely isn’t secretly the bad guy explaining the whole deal to you. The FMV acting in this game isn’t world-class, but it injected a real sense of personality into the story, the cutscenes are brief, and the actors they got in carry the scenes well enough so that I was always pleased to get a new one.

Outside of that, the story is told through the short text descriptions before and after each mission which give a good sense of world-building to the story. I also like how it justifies the style of gameplay, as the variant on Solitaire you play is described as you directing your team and organising all of their movements, which is very creative. Admittedly, I wouldn’t rank it among the best of Bithell’s narratives, but he writes at such a high quality anyway, that I still loved every second of it.

The puzzle-based gameplay is really fun and a lot cleverer than it first seems. Each new ‘team’ you can play around with brings new abilities with them that let you manipulate the cards you have around you, and there’s a surprising amount of variety in them. What’s great is that they were all clearly designed with the idea of collaboration in mind, as once you get to grips with the systems, you start to see the interesting ways in which you can chain these abilities to breeze through a puzzle.

What I love even more is how every ability can end up being as much a hindrance as it is a help depending on how you use it. It all depends on the context. Sure, ‘Bloodline’s’ ability to ‘kidnap’ the lowest card of that suit and bury it at the bottom of the pile might seem like it would hurt. However, when you use it to dig out a card at the bottom of a big stack and put it at the bottom of a small stack, you begin to realise how much of a help it can be. It means that every team’s ability requires you to fully understand how it works to master it and create some excellent puzzle-solving moments.

It might not be anything revolutionary or mindblowing, but The Solitaire Conspiracy is intelligent in all of the right ways. It has Bithell’s trademark endearing world design and puzzle gameplay that I’m always in the mood for.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 61

8 – Animal Crossing: New Horizons

Release Date: 20th March
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch

This is hardly an original sentiment, but I think it’s true to say that Animal Crossing was the game that came about when we needed it most.

Personally, my relationship with the game was a bit of a weird one. When I first bought it, I played it A LOT. When we were first entering lockdown, it was pretty much my morning routine to play Animal Crossing for a couple hours at the start of each day. In an era where survival/crafting/building games are an extremely oversaturated market, this one manages to strip it back and allows people to just have fun with it.

For one thing, there are no survival elements, which makes me happy, because, at this point, I just see stuff like that as a lot of faff. On top of that, it brings forward the series’ trademark style into something that’s just very sweet and enjoyable. The wonderful truth about Animal Crossing is that it’s a game that can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be.

While I didn’t grow particularly attached to any of my villagers, I really loved the feeling of a growing community that forms as you progress through the game. Personally, I would’ve liked the ‘camping on a deserted island’ vibe to stick around for a while longer, but that didn’t stop there being a significant amount of joy to come from new buildings popping up all over the place and expanding your island into a lovely little community.

Even though I haven’t touched the game in about 6 months, I still have fond memories of slowly building up my islands and creating something that felt really personal to me. It gave me more excuses to hang out with my friends (virtually) in a time where we were all apart, and that’s what I was hoping for from a game like this.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 59

7 – There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension

Release Date: 6th August
Developer: Draw Me A Pixel
Publisher: Draw Me A Pixel
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android

There Is No Game is a brilliant blend of a comedic story, an homage to retro games and extremely creative puzzle mechanics.

From the moment you open the application, the game is all-in on its premise. The first time I booted it up, I ended up accidentally quitting it because of some deliberately misleading menus which was an amusing moment right out of the gate, and it doesn’t let up from there. I won’t go too much into the story, because it really is the kind of thing you need to see for yourself, but the premise of the game desperately not wanting you to play it manages to be the source of near-endless comedy that keeps coming back in fun new ways.

The puzzles are main driving force of the gameplay, and they will mess with your head in all of the best ways. Each chapter plays with different puzzle mechanics, all of which are innovative and encourage you to go against the grain as much as humanly possible. It’s the kind of game that will have you interacting with everything just because you want to see what the hell it could possibly do, with inevitably hilarious results.

On top of that, it’s clear how much love the developers have for many of the games they parody in the story. Point-and-click adventures, 2D adventure games, overly money-grabbing mobile games and even credits are all shown love and turned into the most ingenious puzzle levels I’ve ever seen.

In all honesty, I feel bad for making this entry so short, because I adore the game, but it really is the kind of game that you need to play for yourself to really understand. I’d recommend going in as blind as possible to let the game blindside you over and over again. All I will say is that I promise you will have an absolute blast.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 51

6 – XCOM: Chimera Squad

Release Date: 23rd April
Developer: Firaxis Games
Publisher: 2K Games
Platforms: Windows

To put it mildly, I love the XCOM series. XCOM 2 is one of my favourite games ever, so when a PC exclusive new title in the franchise was surprised announced this spring, I was very excited to play it.

It takes the usual XCOM formula and remixes it into something faster and slightly simpler, but just as engaging. Mixing up the way turn-order works was an interesting choice that totally shifts how you plan your moves. Instead of having breathing room to allow your team to act as one, you have to think about every unit as an individual. It makes you ponder over your choices a little harder because you’re always going to be putting one of your units at risk by making some moves that would be fine under normal circumstances.

Breaking up each level into smaller areas was an interesting way of doing things as well. It removes some of the stealthier elements of XCOM, with you no longer having to strategically explore each area, but it makes up for it by making each room essentially a puzzle in terms of how to clear it. There are so many variables at play: Where to breach; What order to enter your units; Who to target when you get in, that it allows for a wide range of strategy for each small segment of gameplay, and also allows you to mix-up strategy mid-mission, rather than having to commit for an extended period of time.

On top of that, being able to finally play as different alien species was a very welcome addition. While the writing could’ve been a bit better in terms of giving them stereotypical personalities, their gameplay elements were done very well. Every alien on the team had a valued role and distinct purpose in terms fo playstyles, which is precisely what you want when facing such a diverse set of enemies. It added to the feeling I mentioned of having to treat every unit as an individual, rather than a group.

At the end of the day, I’d still say I prefer the regular XCOM formula, however, as an experiment into mixing things up, this was a roaring success as far as I’m concerned. I will definitely come back and play this one through again at some point next year.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 49

5 – Haven

Release Date: 3rd December
Developer: The Game Bakers
Publisher: The Game Bakers
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows

This was the last new game I played this year (I finished it less than a week ago), and in a year with so much bollocks, I think it was very nice to go out on a game so unapologetically positive & optimistic as this one.

The two lovers at the core of this game are some of the most genuine characters I’ve seen in gaming all year, and the positive relationship they hold together is so heartwarming. What I love so much about the portrayal of their relationship is how it doesn’t rely on them being lovey-dovey all the time to show how good of a relationship it is, it’s more down-to-earth than that. It’s not two young idiots who are madly in love with each other, it’s two people who are just right for each other, and it comes across every time they interact, which is pretty much the entire game.

The story focuses purely on this couple, and we see the entire world through their eyes, and some of the writing is very clever in how you learn about the world. As the couple discovers new things on the planet they’ve found themselves on, you learn as they do, so far so standard, but I really like how it handles the backstory. The game doesn’t pull you back at any point to be like “here’s the backstory” or have the characters turn around and say things like “hey, remember this event from our past?” instead, the backstory is baked into the dialogue subtly. It was quite bold to start throwing out some of its terms without explaining them first, but it becomes pretty apparent what everything is purely by how the characters refer to it in their speech. That is the kind of writing I love because it can weave the function into the world-building and never stops the pace to explain something to us.

The gameplay is a lot of fun too, even if it isn’t anything mindblowing. The gliding mechanics are very satisfying; a feeling that only grows when combined with the idea fo cleaning up the environment as you glide over it. The focus is definitely on exploration, and that feeling definitely comes across. While there isn’t as much variance in the visuals as I would’ve liked, you’re always encountering new creatures, plants and mysteries to keep you wanting to push on. The combat is relatively simple, and not particularly difficult, but I don’t think it needed to be, the game even tells you that it wasn’t designed to be complicated. It’s not the game’s focus, just a part of it to keep things interesting, a function it definitely fulfils well.

At the end of the day, Haven was just a fairly chill game that left me feeling nice and warm inside. It was full of positivity and optimism, and it put a smile on my face, what more could you ask for?

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 44

4 – Spelunky 2

Release Date: 15th September
Developer: Blitworks, Mossmouth
Publisher: Mossmouth
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Windows

When a sequel was announced for Spelunky several years ago, I was both excited and confused. I played far too many hours of the original, and it seemed like such a perfect formula that I really didn’t see what could be added to it to make it better. Having now played Spelunky 2, it seems the answer to that was that there wasn’t really much they could add, and as such, it simply focuses on being a brand new adventure for Spelunky players. You could argue that Spelunky 2 feels more like an expansion pack for the original than an outright sequel, but for only £15 I’m honestly fine with that being the case.

Instead of worrying about adding a bunch of new mechanics to the already fantastic Spelunky gameplay, the development team behind this one instead looked to take what the original gave you, and simply give you more of it. Every aspect of this game is just “more” than in the original, which is definitely a plus for this game. New environments were implemented to make the world far more complex and varied to explore, with many opportunities to find brand new and endlessly convoluted secrets.

Outside of that, everything just feels a lot smoother. Visually, many rougher edges have been smoothed out, and the new enemies all fit perfectly into their settings. As such, I’ve played a lot more of the sequel than the original this soon after launch. It’s a game that I still play on an almost daily basis three and a half months away from its launch. Usually, it’ll only be for half an hour or so at once, but that’s enough time to have a few runs that keep me entertained while I’m playing them. Once again, it’s a game where I know I’ll probably never actually ‘complete’ it, but I don’t care, I just enjoy booting it up and seeing how far I can get with a few runs.

The simple fact is that if you enjoyed the original Spelunky, then you’re going to like Spelunky 2. As far as I’m concerned, the only changes made were positives ones, and you generally get a lot more for your money with this one.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 42 (replacing Spelunky)

3 – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

Release Date: 10th November
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Windows, Google Stadia

The Assassin’s Creed franchise is one that I’ve had my ups and down with over the years, and my opinion on the previous game in the franchise, Odyssey, was the epitome of that. I didn’t have a great first impression of it, but a few months later I came back around to it and played it a lot and eventually came away liking the game. So, when I booted up Valhalla to find that it does basically everything Odyssey did but SO MUCH BETTER, you can imagine how pleased I was.

The combat system was focused down and massively improved. Instead of worrying about giving us seven different weapons, they narrowed it down to just a couple of main types and made them feel fantastic to play around with. The light and impactless combat of Odyssey has been fine-tuned to be slow, heavy and the most satisfying combat system in the entire franchise. On top of that, your gear and abilities’ in-game progression was made to work so much better with the open-world design. While the massive sprawl of the ability tree wasn’t perfect, the way they scattered the stat upgrades between the actual abilities meant that your power creep felt far more natural than it ever had before.

Looking at the open-world design, it was far more interesting than the previous few examples. Where both Egypt & Greece look the same pretty much all over, the combination of England & Norway meant that the environments felt way more varied and more enjoyable to explore. Even though you don’t spend much of game time in Norway (comparatively), I didn’t get sick of the English environments either purely because they’re so bloody pretty.

I like how Ubisoft has completely thrown out the idea that their games have to stick to realism in their worlds and stories. I mean, the Assassin’s Creed stories have never been world-class, and this is no exception, but the fact that they’ve allowed some of the more gamified elements to seep into the story is nothing but a boon for both the narrative and combat aspects of the game. I meant that the terrain didn’t have to be entirely realistic to England, the abilities didn’t have to be super grounded and it generally felt like the development team were less constrained their designs here.

I’ve fallen back in love with the Assassin’s Creed franchise since they shifted to an RPG style of game, and this is by far the best version of that we’ve seen to date.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 37

2 – Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

Release Date: 4th August
Developer: Mediatonic
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows

Trying to describe what a near-endless source of joy this game has been so far is a tough task, but I’ll give it a go.

Battle Royale is a genre I’ve always wanted to like a lot more than I did for a while. I love the idea of taking tonnes of people and slowly whittling them down to the very best, unfortunately, I just never fell in love with the previous titans of the genre, it’s hard to say why, but that’s the way it is. However, once I saw Fall Guys’ premise, I knew I was in for something fantastic.

For one thing, it’s so inherently different, and yet feels somewhat familiar. There are no games in the battle royal genre that look anything like Fall Guys (not including all of the copycats that came after this released) with the overly light and bouncy aesthetic that gives such a pleasant atmosphere. On top of that, invokes a lot of feelings of nostalgia on two fronts. On one front, it puts me in mind of Takeshi’s Castle, which is a show I watched a lot of when I was younger, and on another front, it puts me in mind of the soft-play areas, which were tonnes of fun to run around as a kid.

All of the games in Fall Guys are so inventive. Not all of them are amazing, but even the worst Fall Guys games still have a pretty high base-line of fun to them. There was a considerable risk of it getting stale with a limited set of levels if you played it too much, but they honestly never do. I’ve played Fall Guys for over 50 hours currently, and I’m not bored of any of it, even the games which have been in it since launch. I think a large part of that is down to how great of a variety of games you get in each match, they made sure to design it so that you get a little taste of everything if you make it far in a match so, by the time a game comes around again, you’ve played a lot of other things in between it.

What’s great is how much the dev team are committed to supporting the game into the future. As much as the people spamming ‘dead game’ on Twitter would like you to believe otherwise, the game is still booming as far as the community & support are concerned. The wait-time for games is still just as quick as it was at launch (maybe even a bit quicker thanks to server improvements) and the new seasons add a whole host of new games that are sure to keep people interested over the next year and beyond. Yes, that will change one day, but for now, Fall Guys is here to stay, and I’m going to stay with it.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 30

1 – Watch Dogs: Legion

Release Date: 29th October
Developer: Ubisoft Toronto
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, Windows, Google Stadia

Watch Dogs has not been one of my favoured franchises over the past generation. I hated the first game, and while I enjoyed the second game, I didn’t think it was anything special. So what’s so special about Legion that I’m willing to call it my game of the year? Truthfully, it’s got quite a lot going for it.

Where the original Watch Dogs was heralded as the encapsulation of what the then ‘next-gen’ consoles could achieve and failed miserably, Legion actually does feel like an actual ‘next-gen’ experience. The graphics aren’t a significant leap or anything like that, but the systems the game contains are above and beyond what has been achieved in open-world games before.

The ‘play as anyone’ gimmick was one that I wasn’t expecting much from because it honestly seemed too good to be true. It felt like another case of a games company over-promising what they could achieve to get some flashy headlines. I was wrong, though, because the system really worked as good as they promised. Watch Dogs already had the systems in place to generate people are random around the world, it was a feature in both of the previous games. However, this game stepped that up and gave all of them histories, relationships and abilities that the game actually remembers.

Yes, the fact that you’re playing as literally anyone and everyone means the story has to treat your character as a bit of a blank slate, but that doesn’t really matter because it’s the kind of game where your characters form their own stories as you play. I think the game is enhanced significantly when you play with permadeath on because it gives every mission stakes. As you form bonds with your characters and send them into missions, the story’s emotional stakes aren’t as important as how desperate you are to keep your character alive because you know that failure means losing them forever.

On top of that, every building in the game is like it’s own mini Hitman level with how you have to infiltrate them. The tools at your disposal are so varied depending on who you’re playing as that you can always mix up your styles to get the most out of each experience. Sure, using the spider-bot to infiltrate every building is probably by far the easiest way to do things, but it’s so much more fun to use my uniform disguised recruit to walk in there unseen and take people out stealthily. The nature of how the game used its abilities means that I’m happy to go for a more risky strategy if it’s more fun to execute.

On top of that, it’s really nice to be able to wander around (and cause havoc at) places around London that I know quite well and actually recognise. They captured the city’s feel very well, and while the story is nothing mind-blowing, it does develop into quite the exciting action-thriller by the end. The result is a game that pulls me all the way into a franchise I didn’t particularly care for at the beginning of the year, and now I’m looking forward to where they take it next.

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 27

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this and all of my articles this year. Please, let me know what games you loved from 2020, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo! Finally, make sure to join me this time next Saturday, where I’ll be ranking every champion in NXT history!

WWE Match of the Year 2020

Much like every company (and every person) in 2020, it’s been one hell of a year for WWE, with a lot of ups and downs. However, it led to many things we’ve never seen before, some stuff we never thought we’d see in a WWE ring and a lot of bloody good wrestling. So, as we sail off into a new year which surely HAS to be better than this one, let’s take a look back at some of the best matches WWE gave us in 2020.

10 – Men’s Royal Rumble – Royal Rumble

Putting a Royal Rumble on the match of the year list almost feels like cheating, because even a lousy rumble is at least a little bit good. However, I think this one did enough unique things that it deserves to be spoken about.

Rumbles often have a bit of a through-line story to them, especially when there’s a story surrounding who enters first, however, normally in that instance it’s about that wrestler being an underdog. So here, we finally got a chance to see what it would be like if that formula got turned on its head. Brock dominating the first half of the match was brilliant, I know some people say it went on for too long, but I entirely disagree, it was perfect. Not only was it something new, but it gave us so many great little moments between Brock & various competitors, and the little moments are what make a lot of the best rumbles so good.

On top of all that, it led to what was possibly the largest crowd reaction of the year (not exactly a high bar, but whatever) when Drew eliminated Brock from the match. From there we got loads of really fun Rumble antics that hit all the beats you want from a match like that. We got a bunch of fun action as the ring filled up, until what was ACTUALLY the biggest crowd reaction of the year when EDGE returned to wrestle for the first time in 9 years. Then, as the match drew (heh) to a close, we got another brilliant final four-segment between Orton, Edge, Roman & Drew that gave me a result I wasn’t expecting but was very happy about.

The past few years have been absolutely brilliant for rumble matches, and it makes me all the more excited for 2021’s version of the match, whatever form it takes.

9 – WALTER(c) vs Ilja Dragunov – NXT UK 29th October
(United Kingdom Championship)

Live crowds weren’t the only thing we missed out on this year, thanks to the UK’s restrictions, NXT UK was off the air for a large chunk of the year. However, once it came back, they did as much as they possibly could to make up for all the time they missed.

Truth be told, there isn’t really anything complicated about why this match is so good. It’s not a technical masterpiece or an epic story, it’s just two men beating the absolute stuffing out of each other for twenty minutes, and it blew me away. WALTER wrestled a ferocious style at the best of time, it’s what made his matches against Dunne and Bate so incredible to watch, but when he’s up against a guy like Dragunov who, despite his smaller size, can hit back just as hard, it’s compelling in the weirdest way possible. Almost like a car crash, in that, you just can’t quite bring yourself to look away.

Despite the brutal style, they still did a great job making Dragunov someone I wanted to cheer. I don’t watch NXT UK’s weekly show very often, so I wasn’t very well informed of the story going into this match, but I got all I needed to from watching the match itself. He was able to mix his strong strikes with that kind of plucky underdog style of creating openings and pulling out ‘hope’ spots; a factor that is greatly aided by the fact that WALTER is bloody massive. There’s a reason you have to write his name in all-caps, after all.

This match was a brilliant showcase of the best of what the division has to offer, which was desperately needed after the show had been off our screens for many months.

8 – Bayley(c) vs Sasha Banks – Hell in a Cell
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)
(Hell in a Cell)

Bayley and Sasha are just really good at wrestling each other.

Their NXT matches are, in my opinion, the two very best women’s matches the world has ever seen (and in the conversation for best overall) and they haven’t missed a beat since those encounters, even with the heel/face roles reversed. In fact, I’d argue the reversal of the roles was to this match’s benefit, as it created a very different feeling match. Sasha can draw love from any crowd by simply selling like she’s being murdered with every move she takes. At the same time, Bayley spent 2020 producing the best heel-work seen in the company all year, to the point where the super-babyface NXT Bayley genuinely feels like a completely different person.

Hell in a Cell matches are usually not for me, they’re the very height of slow builds to high spots we’ve seen plenty of times before, but in this match, the competitors didn’t let the weapons detract from the action. Other cell matches would grind the match’s pace to a halt so the wrestlers could set up a spot, only to immediately go through the motions to do the next one, in this match, the weapon spots were primarily set up during the auction. There were a few points where things had to slow down, but they were few and far between, and the match’s wrestling action spoke for it more than the weapon spots.

That said, what weapons spots there were had a significant impact. The thread of Bayley using the chair that came back towards the end was classic storytelling done to near-perfection, and it helped the match build to its climax. Sasha winning wasn’t was I was expecting going in, but with hindsight, it was definitely the right conclusion. I’ve become so used to WWE dragging out stories for way longer than they needed to, that I forgot how great it feels when the big win happens when it feels like it’s supposed to. It rounded off a great match which a wonderful emotional moment that left me with very positive feelings.

7 – The Undertaker vs AJ Styles – Wrestlemania 36
(Boneyard Match)

I was really worried this was going to be crap. The few times in the past WWE had tried cinematic matches, they’d been awful, or cheap imitations of what other companies had already done. However, when the world felt like it was ending, WWE pulled out all the stops and created some genuinely amazing pre-taped stuff this year. The Money in the Bank match isn’t on this list, but it was a little bit out there, and genuinely hilarious with the bits they filled it with, and it showed that when WWE employees are allowed to be creative, they can create some magic. Speaking of…the boneyard match.

It reminded me of some of the more epic fight scenes from movies, but with a difference. The thing is, in a movie, a fight scene is just one part of the overall story, there’s usually so much more going on around it that the scene is either short or constantly cut away to see what the other characters are going. However, in a wrestling match, the fight IS the story, so we got 24 minutes of two men fighting like their lives depended on it.

The build was a little bit goofy, but in the match itself, both men leaned all the way into it, and it made it work. AJ became the most hatable human in the world and Undertaker had the badass vibes we haven’t seen from him in a while. With the hindsight of knowing this is Undertaker’s last match, it gains a whole other layer too. The way he fights like an old gunslinger on his way out of the door, the way he acts so visibly tired in some points, and even the way he talks to Styles as he puts him in the ground. It’s not the send-off I expected, or even wanted for Taker, but it really works.

It was the kind of match that I was genuinely on the edge of my seat during it because it was something I’d never seen before. Every new twist popped me in some way, and at the end of the day, it left me with a massive grin on my face, and I can’t ask for more.

6 – Roman Reigns(c) vs Jey Uso – Hell in a Cell
(Universal Championship)
(Hell in a Cell)
(I Quit)

There’s been a lot going on with Roman Reigns this year. After it looked like we were in for another run with face Roman at the top following Wrestlemania, the unfortunate circumstances forced him to take time off from WWE and miss out on that opportunity. We all knew he’d come back at some point, and I was looking forward to seeing him around again, but little did I know just how great it would be. After years of asking for it, we’ve finally got to see what Roman Reigns can do as a heel, and it’s absolutely fantastic. He has this aura of indestructibility around him that makes him the kind of figure you always want to pay attention to when he’s on-screen.

A considerable part of building this aura was his story with Jey Uso, where he showed himself to be genuinely ruthless in a way we haven’t seen from anyone in WWE for a very long time. Jey Uso is the kind of guy that I don’t think anyone ever saw as a single star, that’s not to say he didn’t have the potential to do well. It’s just his identity (and looks) as a wrestler are tied so heavily to his brother, it seemed impossible for them to do anything outside of the tag team division. This was precisely the right story to prove that belief wrong, though.

This match at Hell in a Cell is the best part of this story. The Cell is largely irrelevant, and to be entirely honest, so is most of the actual wrestling action. What matters here is that the story that was told was one of the most compelling WWE have told in years. Every element simply worked. Roman wanting to assert his dominance as the leader of the family, Jey desperate to prove himself, Jimmy wanting to make sure his brother didn’t get hurt and Heyman standing by to put the exclamation point on everything, along with being the personification of Roman’s betrayal of his old ideals.

The way Roman would put Jey down with such ease, only to watch Jey struggle to his feet. He would gain the advantage here and there, but it never lasted long. It was clear that Roman was the far superior wrestler, but Jey just wouldn’t say die, which ended up being his undoing. We got to see just how much of a bastard Roman has become, not just in the way he brutalized Jey, but in the way he pretended to break down crying, only to emotionally manipulate his cousins into letting their guard down.

It struck the right balance of drama so that it didn’t feel over the top, it just felt real, and I felt the emotional weight of every moment of it. It didn’t just establish Roman as an absolutely horrible person, but it elevated Jey’s standing to the point where he’s now seen as a credible singles competitor. Everybody wins.

5 – Drew McIntyre(c) vs Seth Rollins – Money in the Bank
(WWE Championship)

There really isn’t any complexity to this one, it’s just a bloody great wrestling match.

Drew McIntyre’s ascension in 2020 has been one of the more positive stories of this dark year. I’ve already talked about his Royal Rumble win, but once he actually had the title over his shoulder, the pressure was on to deliver. We all knew he had it in him, it was just a matter of whether or not it would be able to shine in his feuds. Thankfully, WWE knows what they’re doing sometimes and knew that Seth Rollins was the perfect person for Drew’s first major feud as champion.

This match let us see all sides of what Drew could (and would) give us as WWE Champion. He was able to look beatable, without looking weak, he was able to look tough without seeming too dominant, and most importantly, he could wrestle like hell and hang with the best. Both competitors came together perfectly to create a match that was an absolute joy to watch. When Rollins lets loose, there are honestly few better in WWE and McIntyre rose to his level particularly on that night.

Rollins adapted his fast & flashy high-flying offence into something slightly slower and hard-hitting. Instead of bouncing all over the place with some fast-paced flying knees, he slowed them down and made them more impactful when he smashed Drew in the face with them. It worked to Drew’s more brutal style and created the sense of a real fight that kept me engaged in the action from start to finish.

4 – Rhea Ripley(c) vs Charlotte Flair – Wrestlemania 36
(NXT Women’s Championship)

While Ripley’s star has faded slightly from what it was at the beginning of the year, the fact that she was able to have the best singles wrestling match of Wrestlemania against one of the best women’s wrestlers in the history of the sport is something that will forever keep her a star in the eyes of everyone inside and out of WWE.

This was the match I was the most hyped for going into Wrestlemania, and it didn’t disappoint. As the opening match for night 2, it set the tone perfectly for the rest of the show. It’s easy to roll your eyes at Charlotte these days after she was pushed so hard for so long, but we can’t forget that when it comes to pure wrestling ability, she’s in the discussion for best women’s wrestler of all time. Charlotte pulled out all the stops in this match, and Rhea matched her beat-for-beat. This match felt so explicitly crafted to make both women feel perfectly matched for one another, and Rhea came out of it looking like a star, even in defeat.

The action was so fluid and satisfying at all moments, with Rhea slipping into the role of the hungry underdog, while Charlotte looked down her nose at Rhea as the veteran. Charlotte underestimated Rhea in the opening segments but quickly learnt what she was capable of, which was all the story that was needed to turn this into one of the best matches of the year.

3 – Keith Lee(c) vs Dominick Dijakovic – NXT Takeover: Portland
(North American Championship)

While NXT is still an excellent wrestling product these days, it definitely feels like the golden era is over now. For the past couple of years, NXT has dominated my ‘match of the year’ lists, but as you’ve seen, it’s been pretty barren this year so far. I think it has suffered greatly from the lack of live crowds – perhaps more so than any other major promotion – so I guess it makes sense that one of their better matches would come before we were all locked down.

Keith Lee is a rocket waiting to take off. From his performance at Survivor Series 2019 all the way through 2020, you can feel the stardom that awaits him when he’s finally allowed to run free, and this remains one of his finest works. Interestingly, it took me a hell of a long time to get on board with Dominick Dijakovic (now Retribution’s T-Bar). For the longest time, I just didn’t understand what was so special about him, he was just another big guy, right? Wrong, very, VERY wrong.

Turns out, he’s a big guy moves like a cruiserweight and can put on fast-paced, exciting and bombastic matches with a wide range of opponents. Lee & Dijakovic clicked like you wouldn’t believe in this match, they were absolutely perfect for each other. Rather than focusing entirely on power, the early stages of this match focused more on the two competitors out-manoeuvring each other to get the upper hand, only busting out their feats of strength when they had the upper hand. Then, once the opening was out of the way, they slammed their feet down on the accelerator and started to destroy each other for our entertainment.

This match stunned me in how amazingly fast it was, yet it still managed to convey the two men’s power and brutality. All of the biggest moments came and went in a flash, and yet they left such an impression on me that I can still picture some of the spots almost a full year later. Lee seems like he’s going to reach the spot her deserves at some point over the next few years, and I hope Dijakovic does the same because he deserves so much more than what he’s currently getting.

2 – The Fiend Bray Wyatt vs John Cena – Wrestlemania 36
(Firefly Funhouse Match)

The only reason this isn’t number 1 because it wasn’t technically a match. Truthfully though, I believe it to be one of the best things WWE has ever aired.

When The Fiend lost to Goldberg, there was a lot of worry about how the character would be treated going forwards. This was the hottest property in the company all year, and it seemed like it was going to be squandered. Then, the character set his sights on righting the wrongs of the past, not just of himself, but of the company. Focussing on Wrestlemania 30 for this feud, and how Cena definitely shouldn’t have won was a brilliant way to frame the animosity between these two that hasn’t been done to this great effect before. Cena leaned all the way into it as well and came across like quite an embittered man about the whole thing, something Wyatt preyed upon.

I don’t even know how to go about breaking down how brilliant this whole thing was. It was a complete and total character assassination of, not only John Cena but the whole WWE system of hand-picked stars to carry the company. It’s a miracle that it was ever even allowed to air on a WWE product given that included lines such as puppet Vince McMahon saying “it’s such good shit”, a line used by Jon Moxley to mock Vince after he left the company. It broke down every aspect of John Cena’s career and highlighted how much of a farce it was, and how deeply flawed it was. While it didn’t directly address many of the topics at hand, it doesn’t take much backstage knowledge of WWE to understand the implications of stuff like nWo Cena, tearing down not only Cena but also Hogan’s history of keeping people down for no good reason.

The Firefly Funhouse match didn’t just blur the lines between fiction and reality, it straight-up shattered that line and used every broken piece of the line to create the finished product. It’s the kind of thing that I never thought I’d see on a WWE product and may never get the chance to see it again and I utterly adored it.

1 – Charlotte Flair(c) vs Rhea Ripley vs Io Shirai – NXT Takeover: In Your House
(NXT Women’s Championship)

While, in all honesty, the Firefly Funhouse match was probably my favourite thing to happen this year, this is a list about proper wrestling matches, and on that front, nothing this year came close to this match.

I don’t think NXT made the most of having Charlotte Flair as their champion. It’s not entirely their fault, as they were somewhat handcuffed by the fact that Raw still wanted to use Charlotte on a weekly basis without even referencing the fact that she was NXT Champion. Either way, there was definitely a feeling of wasted potential when it came to an end. That said, they sure as hell did their best to get as many amazing performances out of it as possible. I’ve already covered her Mania match with Ripley, but on top of that, we saw a great match against Io Shirai on NXT and this match, which is one of the best triple threat matches I’ve ever seen.

Shirai was definitely coming into this match with momentum, but I really didn’t think she stood a chance of winning the title. I’m glad that I was wrong about this, but I honestly thought NXT had missed the boat with her thanks to her rise coming right in the middle of Shayna Baszler’s run of dominance. The match’s story was definitely with Rhea & Charlotte following their Wrestlemania encounter, but Io Shirai burst into the feud and made sure her voice could not be ignored.

This patch was paced to near perfection, and never let up. It used the triple threat factor to its advantage and never let there be a moment where nothing was happening. Rhea felt like a vicious underdog who was looking to recover from her Mania loss, Charlotte fought like a woman fuelled by her hatred of anyone that wasn’t her, and Io came in like a house on fire, tearing down any and every obstacle in her way.

It had everything I want from a headline NXT match: Drama, action, excitement and ending out on both a surprise and a high-note. I think it says something about how fantastic NXT is that even in a year where I consider NXT’s performance to be sub-par, it put on some of the best damn matches in the entire company, in 2020.

My Favourite “Old” Games That I Played for the First Time in 2020

I did this last year, and once again, I must explain that when I say “Old” games, I just mean games that didn’t come out in 2020, most of them only came out over the last few years, it’s just hard to phrase it succinctly in a title. My 2020 Game of the Year list will be coming out on New Year’s Eve, and if you missed it, last week I started summarising the wrestling world in 2020 with my AEW Match of the Year list.

In 2019, I said that I played more games than I’d ever played in a year before, and if I didn’t break that record this year, I certainly came close. For a reason that I’m sure you’re far too aware of, I’ve had a lot more free time on my hands this year, so games have naturally been one of the things to fill the gaps. As such, I played a good chunk of the games from previous years which passed me by. Sometimes it’s because I didn’t own the right console, or I didn’t gain any interest in it until long after the hype had died down, or sometimes it’s just because there were so many games coming out that I didn’t have the time (or money) to play them.

As I promised in the summer, I will be using these end of year lists to update my 100 Favourite Games series I released over the summer. So, if I think a game was good enough to make that list, I will state what position I would place it at the end of the entry for that game, meaning the list will always stay up to date.

Regardless of the reasons, here’s the list of some of the best “old” games that I played for the first time this year!

8 – Bastion

Release Date: 20th July 2011
Developer: Supergiant Games
Publisher: Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux, iOS

The world of Bastion is gripping. Visually it’s very odd but very interesting. The colours are vibrant and seem full of life, and yet the atmosphere and the tone is one of despair and isolation. It gives us a world that is utterly lifeless but uses a full colour-pallette to show us how recently it used to be full. What ties this strong feeling together is the narration. The downbeat and gravelly voice of the narrator gives a couple of weird feelings. Firstly, he feels hopeless, like you’re futility fighting against a world that is desperate to end, and yet, he tells the story like it’s already happened, which suddenly becomes a lot more meaningful if you picked the ‘ending’ that I did.

The gameplay isn’t anything special by modern standards, but it is a lot of fun. The melee combat feels meaty enough to keep pushing forward with it, mostly thanks to the brilliant sound design that arises when you hit things. The ranged combat has a surprisingly high skill ceiling if you really want to sink your teeth into it, but still functions perfectly well if you aren’t very good at it. Combine this with the rolling & dodging mechanics which are simple, but satisfying, and you’ve got a system that will easily keep you engaged for the 6-10 hours you spend in the game’s world.

The story is very sombre, and yet it has its hard-hitting moments. It didn’t blow me away like some of the best stories in games, but it definitely left me with something to think about, which is better than most others. Ultimately, I don’t think it left a massive impression on me, but thinking back, I’m definitely happy I played it.

7 – Dicey Dungeons

Release Date: 13th August 2019
Developer: Distractionware
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux

I’ve spoken here and there over the past couple of years that I’d lost interest in the roguelike/roguelite genre. However, between this list and my Game of the Year list (spoilers), I think it’s about time I retracted that statement because it’s pulled me back in this year with some real quality stuff. This is just one example.

In my Game of the Year 2019 list, I included Slay the Spire, talking about how the deck-building aspect completely revolutionised the roguelike gameplay style in my eyes. I still think deck-building is excellent for the genre, but Dicey Dungeons takes it one step further and becomes one of the most unique games I’ve ever seen in this genre. The idea of dice being your weapons is something that seems like it wouldn’t work on paper, but it was implemented so perfectly, that I’m amazed no-one had come up with it already.

Keeping the dice as your constants and allowing you to chop and change your equipment whenever you want was the perfect way to go because it helps remove large portions of the randomness that comes from using dice. The array of weapons and abilities works wonderfully with the randomised elements of rolling dice because there’s always something that will work no matter your luck. Yes, there’s still the general consensus that rolling higher is better, but as long as you’ve prepared your equipment properly, you should still be able to get by with bad rolls. It does what any good roguelike should do, where the randomised elements give you fun and challenging scenarios, rather than completely determining your fate.

Throw on top of that a cutesy art style, witty writing and quirky yet cute sound design, and you’ve got a game that I’ll keep coming back to for a game whenever I’m in the mood for a quick dungeon dive.

6 – My Friend Pedro

Release Date: 20th June 2019
Developer: DeadToast Entertainment, 22nd Century Toys LLC
Publisher: Devolver Digital
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows

This was the very first game I played in 2020, so I definitely got things off to a rip-roaring start.

My Friend Pedro is just a bunch of light-hearted fun…shooting a bunch of people…in quite brutal scenarios…while doing flips! The combat system is simplistic by design, you just point your gun and start shooting, but that allows the real star of the show, the movement system, to shine all the brighter. Taking the term ‘twin-stick shooter’ to its logical conclusion, the ability to control each arm independently adds all the complexity this game needs. It means you can think about two targets at once while staying on the move as much as possible.

The movement is very floaty, but I think that makes it feel very smooth. The game moves at quite a fast pace, and running around gives you just enough time to think about what you need to do before you get pummelled. It can be a little overwhelming at first, but the game is good at easing you into it, and once you get a better grip on it, the possibilities are endless. Getting through the campaign was fun enough, but the game rewards you heavily for making narrow movements and risky plays, the kind that are likely to get you killed but feel amazing to pull off correctly.

It’s a game that understands what makes it fun and just lets you run wild with it. If you want to shoot for perfection, it will facilitate that, but if you just want to have a blast mindlessly shooting stuff while flipping around the place like a badass, the game will let you do that too.

5 – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Release Date: 3rd March 2017
Developer: Nintendo Entertainment
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU

Full honesty, I’d never played a Zelda game before this one. Well, not properly, anyway. I had A Link to the Past on Gameboy Advanced, but I never got very far with it because I was about 6. So I came into Breath of the Wild pretty fresh, and I now understand the unique feelings this franchise has compared to Nintendo’s other headline franchises.

What captures me about Breath of the Wild is how it can play with some very serious gameplay elements, while still feeling incredibly light-hearted in tone, and not have that weight down on the thing. The sound design is the most significant part of this to me. The combat music is light and bouncy with how the chords jaunt through the track. It’s not necessarily ‘happy’, but it does give me the feeling of the fight not being too severe or menacing, which is something I really like. The little touches in how a lot of the enemies around the world react you make them seem almost cute in a way, which helps make the whole world incredibly endearing.

Outside of that, it does the classic Nintendo thing of taking a well-established genre and putting a unique little twist on it. In this case, we have open-world games. It conforms to a lot of the tropes, with plenty of tasks and side quests to keep you occupied, but where Ubisoft directs you to these objectives very clearly, Breath of the Wild is more open-ended. Doing it this way put the exploration of the world as the top priority, which makes discovering things all the more rewarding, even when they’re the shrines which are relatively easy to find.

On top of that, the combat is satisfying and has a surprising amount of versatility once you sink your teeth into it. I know the breakage of weapons is a controversial inclusion, and I’m not entirely decided on it myself, but I can’t deny that it forced me to use strategies I otherwise wouldn’t have considered. The magic abilities are interesting too, as most of them function as a platforming/puzzle-solving tool and have use in combat. The balance between them is surprisingly well-refined and gives you so many options once you understand how to use them.

It’s one of the more unique feeling open-world games out there, and it pulled me into a franchise that I’d never really cared about before now.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 86

4 – Far Cry 5

Release Date: 27th March 2018
Developer: Ubisoft Montreal, Ubisoft Toronto
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Windows, Google Stadia

The Far Cry series and I have had a bit of a love/hate relationship up until now. For the longest time, Far Cry 3 was one of my favourite first-person shooters, and I thought it was brilliant. Then, Far Cry 4 came out, and I hated it, I thought it was boring and frustrated me in all sorts of ways, so, when Far Cry 5 came out, I still had the bitter taste in my mouth and decided I wasn’t going to bother with it. However, this summer, when Ubisoft announced Far Cry 6, they put Far Cry 5 on sale for just £7, so I thought I may as well go for it, and I’m glad I did because Far Cry 5 is the best Far Cry game.

Where previous Far Cry games had a weird way of restricting you, especially in missions, 5 does away with all of it and makes it completely open. Previously, things like the bases you had to take over were entirely optional, despite being the most fun part of the game, you could do the relatively boring story missions and barely touch them. 5 does it differently though, 5 realised that taking down the bases, hunting and doing random encounters was by far the most fun part of the game, so it made it the whole point. There are missions, but now those are the optional things, as it all boosts your progress towards the few critical missions that will lead you to finishing the story.

On top of that, if you actually decide to do a mission, they’re a hell of a lot more fun than they used to be. Whether you’re leading a tame bear around a forest, pulling off a helicopter heist, or defending a mansion from wave after waves of enemies while rock ‘n’ roll music backs you up, they’re an absolute blast. Even the mandatory missions are more bearable, as they focus more on telling you the story than getting you to gun down a corridor of enemies over and over.

Speaking of the story, while it’s still nothing world-class, it is surprisingly engaging. The Seed family are genuinely unsettling villains with a kind of muted charisma that is sure to put you on edge around them, they’re a realistic kind of psychopath with fantastical abilities, and that makes them terrifying. It doesn’t give you the most satisfying conclusion, but it knows the story it wants to tell and sticks to its guns. It didn’t blow me away or anything, but I’m still able to remember it 6 months later, which is better than most games.

Far Cry 5 finally understood what made 3 so much fun and it executed it as best it could, and it took me from not giving a shit about Far Cry 6, to probably picking it up on launch day next year.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 74 (replacing Far Cry 3)

3 – Sayonara Wild Hearts

Release Date: 19th September 2019
Developer: Simogo
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Platforms: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, iOS

I wanted to put this at number 1, I really did, but I played too many incredible games this year.

Sayonara Wild Hearts is a weird hybrid of so many different kinds of media. It’s definitely a game, but you could also watch it as a movie, and perhaps even experience it as a play/concert. Regardless of how you feel about that, what is definitely true is that the beautiful journey it took me on is the kind I’ll never forget.

This is a game that gives you it’s basic premise pretty early and gives you only the most straightforward framework for the story it wants to tell, then it lets the game speak for itself, rather than actually telling you anything. The story forms naturally through the gameplay and the music. As well as through the progression of the difficulty and through the visual design of the world. It has mastery over its tone and knows precisely how to design every nook and cranny of the game to communicate this story to you, investing you deeper and deeper until you become absorbed in the narrative completely.

The music is the star of the show here, so I’ll talk about that first. It boils the pop genre down to its essential elements, removes all of the over commercialised stuff that litters the charts and creates a soundtrack that is the purest essence of the story being told. It doesn’t align with my taste in music at all, and yet, I have it on my Spotify playlist and listen to it regularly because it was perfect for the game. It distilled the tone of the world and narrative and conveyed it in pieces of music that took you all over the tonal spectrum, but were a perfect fit for the story at the moment it played. It’s an outstanding collaboration between game and sound design that I haven’t seen done this well in a game ever.

On top of that, the gameplay is top-notch. It’s relatively simplistic, and yet, the level design knows how to get just the right amount of challenge out of it. You won’t struggle too much in this game (because you’re not really supposed to) but it will have you thinking on your feet and pushing yourself to take risks to get a good score and complete challenges. The levels have a huge variety in their gameplay, both through obstacles you face and the method with which you traverse the level. It always keeps you on your toes and blows you away slightly from time to time.

Sayonara Wild Hearts gets in, gives you one of the most memorable experiences in gaming, tells you a genuinely touching and relatable story about recovering from heartbreak and gets out. It will stick in your mind for months, have you humming its songs and pull you back in to re-experience it time and time again.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 24

2 – Among Us

Release Date: 15th June 2018
Developer: Innersloth
Publisher: Innersloth
Platforms: Windows, iOS

I went back-and-forth in my head for weeks over which order to put the number 1 and 2 entries in this list, but when I came to write it, this is where Among Us landed.

Perhaps one of the most unexpected hits of the year, but one that was desperately needed given the circumstances. Among Us takes an already successful formula and expands upon it to make the most of what doing this in a virtual space can give us.

I’ve always loved this style of social deduction game, I don’t know what it is about me specifically that it appeals to, but I just get so much out of solving a mystery/avoiding detection while everyone around me is doing the same. The board game I’ve inarguably played the most of in my life is Secret Hitler, and I have plenty of fond memories playing it at various points in my life. That said, I never found much joy in the virtual versions of these games, I always thought a big part of the appeal was being in the same room and having that atmosphere, so I never clocked on much to a game like Town of Salem.

However, what Among Us does is quite interesting, because it ramps up some of the more “gamified” elements and limits the discussion to one section of the game. Yes, the discussion is still the driving factor of everything, but it’s no longer the only thing you do. The virtual environments and the tasks you have to complete as a crewmate add so much to the game, even if they are just some cheap little minigames. Additionally, things like the security systems and sabotages give you elements that only truly work in a virtual game.

The virtual space allows for much greater control over the flow of information, which is the crucial factor that decides who wins and loses in these games. The focus shifts away from things like analysing people’s facial expressions or reactions to stuff, and just about the information the game provides. Solving the mystery based on how well you know your friends is fun, but it often means it can be hard to get away with things once you’ve played with someone a lot. The lesser focus on those aspects in Among Us greatly increases the replayability of the game.

Outside of that, it is simply the best virtual substitute for a social deduction board game out there right now. It’s easy to understand, it’s affordable (and free on mobile), and the ease at which you can play it through software like Discord makes it the perfect game to play with a group of friends. I’m sure Among Us’ success will inspire plenty of other developers to give it a try now. As such, I’m really excited to see what innovative concepts come out of that, because I honestly think it’s a genre that hasn’t been expanded on to its full potential, even in the board game scene.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 15

1 – Xenoblade Chronicles

Release Date: 10th June 2010
Developer: Monolith Soft
Publisher: Nintendo
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Nintendo WiiU, Nintendo Wii, New Nintendo 3DS/2DS

Over the last couple of years, I’ve come to realise that I like JRPGs a lot more than I thought I did. Initially, I thought Pokemon was the only one I really liked, but then Octopath Traveler came out in 2018 and Fire Emblem: Three Houses came out in 2019, both of which ended up being my game of the year for those years. So this year, I decided to dive into more games in the genre to see what else is out there that I’ve missed. I played Dragon Quest XI, but after 20 hours of play, I just wasn’t clicking with it, and I have Persona 4 & 5 lined up to play next year, but the real standout game that I found this year, was Xenoblade Chronicles. To clarify, I played the Definitive Edition release on Switch, but from what I’ve been told by the community, it made no major changes to the original, so I’m counting it as the same thing.

What immediately stood out to me about Xenoblade is the combat system. Usually, I shy away from the ‘auto-attacking’ style of combat, which is why I never found much joy in games like Dragon Age. However, in Xenoblade, the ‘Combat Arts’ and various other systems mean that you’ve always got something to think about, and you’re never merely watching a battle. The game keeps you always thinking about your positioning, the positioning of your teammates, what type of attacks you should be using, and what’s currently on cooldown, ensuring that even in the most prolonged battles, you’re always an active participant.

The world design was also a thing of beauty. The idea of the entire map being on various body parts of this ancient dead colossus is quite the visual spectacle, and it blends with the design of each of the maps to near-perfection. I love the sensation of running around this wide-open plain, only to look up and see that it’s just a small part of this world. As much as it doesn’t make sense for it to have such wildly varying climates right next to one another, I’m ok with suspending my disbelief to allow for a great variety in environments with a lot of visually impressive areas.

The story is…a bit convoluted, and a lot of the twists were pretty obvious, but it was interesting enough to make me want to push forward, and that’s all I need. The climactic moments were absolutely crazy, and they made a lot of the bigger fights really satisfying to complete. The characters are far from the best I’ve ever seen in a JRPG, but they were all charming in their own ways, so I had a lot of fun watching them all interact.

Xenoblade Chronicles is a game incredibly densely packed with things to do, both in its world and in its mechanics and that kind of game will always want to make me push forward and see as much of it as possible. Despite completing the game over the summer, I made the decision to wait a while to play the sequel (which released in 2017), but I’m definitely going to be booting it up soon because this is a world I definitely want to see more of.

Place in 100 Favourite Games List: 14

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know what “old” games you got to experience for the first time this year, either in the comment below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back here this time next weekend where I’ll be beginning my coverage of WWE TLC!

AEW Match of the Year 2020

It’s December! Christmas is fast approaching and it’s almost time to buy a new calendar, so you know what that means. It’s time to summarise the year! IN LIST FORM!

Truth be told, I had originally planned for this list to encompass all non-WWE wrestling, but as much as I love New Japan, I just never bothered to watch any of their major shows this year, and nothing else from the western wrestling world struck my fancy. So an AEW-dedicated list it is!

With almost two years as an entity in the wrestling world, AEW has shown that the modern wrestling landscape is more than ready to welcome a WWE alternative with open arms, and they have produced some incredible shows this year. So many incredible shows, in fact, that I couldn’t narrow this list down to the standard ten entries, so here are my twelve favourite matches that happened in an AEW ring in 2020!

11 – Jon Moxley(c) vs Eddie Kingston – Full Gear
(AEW World Championship)
(I Quit)

At Full Gear 2019, Moxley & Omega had a hardcore match that divided opinion across the fanbase. While I enjoyed the match, I can see the argument that it felt a lot like uber-violence just for the sake of uber-violence, and the story didn’t necessarily warrant it. So, at Full Gear 2020, Moxley featured in another hardcore match, but this time, the uber-violence was all part of the story, and it made things so much better.

The sense of desperation that came from Eddie Kingston’s character going into this match manifested itself in his actions. Almost every weapon was brought into the match by Kingston and I could really feel the vicious impact behind each strike. The way Kingston cringed in pain as he wrapped the barbed wire around his own hand showed how dark of a place he’d gone to, and how he was willing to give up sacrifice just about anything to put Moxley away.

Moxley meanwhile gave it his all and met everything Kingston hit him with by hitting him right back. The story emphasised the past relationship between the two men, and Moxley’s performance definitely brought that to the forefront. What I like is that, despite clearly caring for Kingston, he didn’t hold himself back, he still got dirty and hurt Kingston as much as he could, because beating him this badly would be the only way to get him to stop.

There’s so much in that final image of Moxley choking Kingston out with his arm wrapped in barbed wire. It was violence for the sake of the story, which will always be better than violence for the sake of violence.

10 – The Elite & Matt Hardy vs The Inner Circle – Double or Nothing
(Stadium Stampede)

At Wrestlemania, WWE put their cards on the table and laid claim to being really good at the pre-recorded segments. I’ll talk about those segments in a couple of weeks, but after that show, all eyes were on AEW to see what they could come up with in response. While I prefer WWE’s matches to this one, it’s still bloody brilliant to watch.

Thanks to the sheer volume of people involved in the match, this ended up being extremely well-paced. They gave themselves a whole stadium to play with and then sent the characters out into it to do just about anything they can think of. We got a comical charge across the field to start the action, and some stuff in the world’s most pointless ring, but the real fun stuff was once the gang split up to look for clues.

I know the meme was of Sammy Guevara getting chased by a golf-cart, but I think that pales in comparison to Hangman Page charging across the football field on horseback to hunt Sammy down. That particular thread led us to the brawl in the bar, which had some surprisingly impressive action with Omega kicking the shit out of everyone in sight. Elsewhere in the arena, Matt Hardy was being his brilliantly comedic self while fending off Santana & Ortiz. Seeing Matt transform into all of his different gimmicks mid-match is one of those moments that just has to happen in a comedy match like this one.

The whole final segment down on the field was jam-packed with brilliance too. The Young Bucks doing dives off of every tall thing they can find is always a spectacle, along with the world longest Northern-Lights suplex segment across the entire field. Then we get stuff like Jericho challenging the referee’s call and you’re left with something you just can’t help but laugh at. Yes, the goofiness might be a bit much in some places, but it’s ok because the match never tried to take itself seriously. It may not be anything world-breaking, but it’s endlessly rewatchable and untouchably entertaining.

9 – Kenny Omega & Hangman Adam Page(c) vs FTR – All Out
(AEW World Tag Team Championships)

One of the main mission statements of AEW has been about making tag team wrestling the main-event level attraction we all know it could be. Throughout 2019, we didn’t see much of that, but in 2020, AEW’s tag division blew me away every single month. Trust me, we’ll be seeing both of these teams again later on the list.

This match was able to tell two main stories. One, Omega & Page are falling apart as a duo, and two, FTR is a solid unit who can divide and conquer better than anyone else. What I think made this story so special is how well Omega & Page were able to show their broken bond in the match. It wasn’t just through violent tags or ‘miscommunications’, although there was some of that, it actually felt like they were wrestling as two individuals rather than a team. We’d already seen the two of them wrestle as a near-flawless team earlier in the year (more on that later) and here they very clearly changed their styles to show how little they were relying on each other as partners.

This made FTR the perfect team to rip them apart. Their classic wrestling style already works great for keeping teams apart from each other, but when they’re going up against a team who don’t trust each other already, it’s easy pickings. In reality, it leads to both Omega & Page fighting the match 2-on-1 because they never had each other’s backs, which made the line of FTR virtually impenetrable. They still produced some amazing action and came close to victory, purely by virtual of their relative skills as wrestlers, but the lack of cohesion eventually got the better of them and FTR walked away from the worthy victors.

It was a fun match to watch that also served as the closure on Act 1 of Omega & Page’s story.

8 – Jon Moxley(c) vs MJF – All Out
(AEW World Championship)

I’ll talk about it a bit more later on, but Moxley’s reign as champion has been one of the best parts of AEW this year. What’s interesting about that is the fact that only once have I ever actually believed he might lose it, which is this match here. MJF has been on the roll of all rolls in 2020. I think we all knew he was marked for stardom as soon as AEW was founded, but this was the year where we saw that he was absolutely up to the task of carrying a huge company like AEW. So, when he came to challenge for the title, I honestly thought we were about to see the coronation.

What’s great about this match is that it was able to make both men look vulnerable in places, but in ways that were always true to their character. MJF is the kind of heel that can take a beating and always have it roll right off his back with an arrogant promo, but here it felt almost as if he was controlling the action, which isn’t what you’d expect against Moxley. It’s simple tactics that are highly effective when executed well, in this case, it’s MJF understand who Moxley is as a wrestler and doing everything he can to exploit those weaknesses. It made MJF feel like a guy who could hang with the best of the best while setting out the story for Moxley to look all the better when he came out the victor.

Outside of the story, the action was incredibly compelling. Ever since Moxley has been allowed to spread his wings he seems to be able to create magic in the ring like never before, and it really makes you wonder how WWE management never saw this guy as a potential face of the company. MJF meanwhile impresses every time he comes out to the ring, not by doing anything new, but by working with what we already have and bringing them as close to perfection as he can.

This match achieved the primary goal of any feud in pro-wrestling, it told a compelling story, that led to a really good match and both men looked better coming out of it.

7 – PAC vs Orange Cassidy – Revolution

2020 is the year where everyone realised what a star Orange Cassidy could be. As such, I had to put one of his matches from this year on this list, and this was definitely the best. The grumpy ‘old-school’ critics can moan about the comedy all they want, but Cassidy is a future top-guy in AEW and there’s no denying him.

Orange Cassidy does comedy in pro-wrestling like never before. The idea of a wrestler simply not giving a shit about anything he does is something that I wouldn’t think would work at first thought, but Cassidy was the perfect man to bring it to life. His look is one of a chill guy who just hangs around at the beach every day or his life or something like that, and the way in which he can so easily put anyone down with just a few small actions is brilliant. What’s extra amazing about it is that it isn’t just limited to his promos, he’s able to inject this feeling into the match as well, and it just works, even against someone incredibly serious, like PAC.

PAC was sadly sidelined for most of the year thanks to COVID travel restrictions, but in the brief few months we got of him, he blew the roof off of AEW. He has an insane amount of intensity to him while still feeling somewhat self-aware of how ridiculous it can seem from time to time. He can bring a laugh here and there, while still talking with such an insane amount of venom in his voice that I feel a little scared when he talks. So how does this kind of character react to someone as ridiculous as Orange Cassidy? He sinks to Cassidy’s level, of course.

The sight of Cassidy and PAC gently tapping each other’s shins while the crowd reacts like they’re murdering each other is an utterly hilarious visual that encapsulates everything wonderfully revolutionary about Cassidy’s character. Then PAC puts the topper on it by sweeping Cassidy’s legs for real and the crowd shitting all over him for it. From there, Cassidy showed the other side to his character, the side that can wrestle like you wouldn’t believe and it created a match that, despite only being twelve minutes long, got me out of my seat and popping for almost every move.

6 – Kenny Omega vs Hangman Adam Page – Full Gear
(Winner becomes #1 contender for the AEW World Championship)

As I said in my Full Gear review, what makes this match so special, is how both men clearly understood this wasn’t the end of the story, it was the middle, so they put on a match that, while still amazing, didn’t quite tie up all the loose ends just yet.

The main story this match told is how well both men know each other in the ring. Page was able to slip out of almost everything Omega threw his way while trying some new stuff to catch Omega off guard. Page also put a lot of extra force behind a lot of his moves, which is the kind of small touch needed to add intensity to the encounter. Omega played a largely reactionary role in the match that slowly grew more and more proactive as it wore on and Page slowed down. Then, by the time the ending came and Omega got the win, you get the feeling that Omega’s experience is what won it for him. He’s wrestled matches over an hour-long with Okada and won it, while Page doesn’t have that kind of stamina. You can even see it as Omega has Page on his shoulders for the one-winged angels. Page is still trying to slip out of it, but just doesn’t quite have the power left in the tank.

Story aside, the action was brilliant. The pace was near-perfect and the back-and-forth style worked wonders for the story. With Omega being in the tag division for most of the year, it’s been easy to forget how brilliantly he can control himself in the ring to put together a match that flows so smoothly you just can’t look away. Page, meanwhile, continued to show how he improves every time he steps in the ring. He was already a top-level talent, however, singles matches like this let us see that he really is on the level of the best in the world like Omega, Moxley and even people like Styles or Bryan.

5 – Nyla Rose(c) vs Hikaru Shida – Double or Nothing
(AEW Women’s World Championship)
(No Holds Barred)

For many years I’ve been heavily biased against hardcore/weapons matches. This is because they tend to be slower and more reliant on the spectacle of the big spots, which is not the kind of wrestling I like to watch. However, over this year, my stance on this has softened significantly, and it’s matches like this that I have to thank for that.

What this match had that so many of my most hated weapons matches lack is substance in every single move. So often, especially in WWE, any move that doesn’t involve a weapon in these kinds of matches is utterly meaningless, and sometimes they don’t even bother doing any, but this match understood that just using the hardcore stuff wasn’t how a compelling story is told. Instead, it blended the two styles of matches nad made as tory out of the hardcore elements.

Most notably here is the kendo stick which came in and out of the match at several points but always made an impact when it did. The way the two women wrestled for control over the weapon early on, only to eventually throw it to one side until they needed it later was some brilliant ‘Chekov’s gun’ style storytelling that is done often in weapons matches, but never to this effect. The weapons spots were bridged with a lot of regular wrestling action, but everything had an extra sting of brutality to it. Shida did the impressive kind of technical moves but put a more hard-hitting edge onto them, this meant that the weapon spots felt more natural, and had purpose, rather than just happening to pop the crowd.

While the ‘toppling the giant’ story gets less effective every time Nyla is toppled, it worked perfectly here, because despite being the underdog, there was definitely the feeling that Shida was tough enough to pull it off. We see her strategy play out in the match for how to take Nyla down, and more importantly, we saw her adapt to when the situation stopped going her way. Storytelling like that is what makes a compelling champion. It’s just a shame AEW can’t seem to book their women’s division to save their lives.

4 – Cody Rhodes(c) vs Darby Allin – Full Gear
(TNT Championship)

This made some of Cody’s more questionable wins with the TNT title totally worth it.

Cody has such a wonderful grasp of what perspective his character should take in every story that I honestly think he’s one of the best storytellers in the business right now. When he’s facing a guy like Brodie Lee, he needs to be the pure-underdog babyface, when he’s facing a guy like Chris Jericho he needs to be the hungry challenger willing to put it all on the line, but when he’s facing a guy like Darby Allin, he needs to tell a very different story.

Cody’s character has always had an ego because, to be fair, he did found AEW and has held one of its major championships for almost the entirety of its current lifespan. It’s cost him big a few times, like when he allowed MJF into his inner circle (no pun intended) or fell out with Kenny over the Bullet Club, but this feud was where it manifested and clearly became his one true weakness that his opponents can exploit. Darby Allin is the eternal underdog, he always will be, not only because of his size but because his character is built around the idea of being an outcast who never conforms, who better to rally behind?

This is where the complexity AEW allows in its stories comes into play, because despite both being faces, Cody and Allin are about as close to diametrically opposed as you can get. One wear suits and run a business, the other lives on the streets and does what he wants, of course, we’re going to root for the free spirit over the corporate lifestyle, and AEW knew that and adapted their story to it. It’s the kind of three-dimensional character work that WWE so often forgets with their stories and you can see beneficial it was here.

Everything that happened in the match was in service of the story, Cody’s dominance and his growing cockiness. The moment where he started showboating only to be scolded by Arn Anderson was such a small, but powerful moment. Even the finish, which was a rollup, enhanced the story because it exploited Cody’s ego and caught him off-guard to lose the title. They’re clearly not going for the rematch straight away, but the door is open for it down the line, and I’m really excited to see what angle they take for the next chapter.

3 – Chris Jericho(c) vs Jon Moxley – Revolution
(AEW World Championship)

When Jericho won the title in 2019, I honestly thought we were going to see him hold onto it for a LONG time, it really seemed like AEW were putting all their eggs in the Jericho basket, so I genuinely wasn’t expecting Moxley to win this match, which I think goes a long way as to why I enjoyed it so much.

I’ve touched on it a bit already but Moxley has been absolutely incredible throughout 2020 as AEW Champion. Even now his reign has ended, his run with the title this year has been a huge factor of what has made AEW so entertaining to watch week to week and absolutely put all the naysayers following his WWE exit to shame. The way Moxley carried himself as champion along with the way he’s approached every single one of his feuds is such a massive part of what has made AEW feel like a true equal to WWE this year, and even superior in terms of consistent quality.

This match was where it all began, and looking at the rest of Moxley’s title run, it was the perfect way to start it. The AEW crowd were hot for Moxley from the moment he turned up and this match capitalized on it in the best way, the fact that the two men already had experience working together in WWE probably helped them put together such a compelling match, but whatever the reason, I loved it.

The action was a lot more hard-hitting that I’d expect from a Jericho match, but it worked so well with the intensity of the feud. Moxley’s eyepatch created a classic exploitable weak spot that paid off in a spot at the end of the match that was so corny, but utterly brilliant. The action was compelling from bell-to-bell and both men really felt like they were wrestling at their best, which elevated the story and made the belt feel like a huge deal. On top of that we had all the shenanigans with The Inner Circle around the ring, and probably the best ringside ejection I’ve ever seen.

For the first world title change in AEW history, it was built in such a way to feel like a landmark moment. They littered beats throughout the match to pop the crowd bigger and bigger until Moxley won the title in what was genuinely a wonderful surprise to me.

2 – FTR(c) vs The Young Bucks – Full Gear
(AEW World Tag Team Championships)

One of the key mission statements since AEW’s announcements has been their desire to change the perception of tag team wrestling as a side attraction and turn it into the main event. If these top two matches are anything to go by, I think that the main event future for tag team wrestling is going to come about sooner rather than later.

Many were disappointed by the build to this match, and I can’t say I disagree with them, but it’s a scenario where all of that is completely erased by the fact that the match itself was incredible. It was so densely packed with story beats and homages to, not just tag team history as a whole, but both team’s specific history and yet it didn’t feel overbooked for a second.

FTR’s methods of divide & conquer were on full display here, and the Bucks played off it to perfection. It created this burning desperation as I watched to see the big tags get made, and I don’t just mean one big hot-tag, I mean EVERY tag, which is an almost unbelievable thing to accomplish. These teams have almost complete opposite philosophies when it comes to their tag team styles and yet they understood the perfect way to make it mesh. We got limb targetting, we got attacking the illegal man, we got everything both teams have done to make their careers so successful.

We also got a look into how each team views tag team wrestling as a whole with all of their homages. I’ve no idea if it was intensional, but I loved the touch of the Bucks using old moves from the greatest tag teams – the Dudley Death Drop, the Twist of Fate/Swanton combo – while FTR used old moves from their greatest rivals. I honestly don’t think I marked out harder at any point this year than when FTR did #DIY’s finisher, it blew me away.

It was the kind of match, where when it was said and done, I was virtually speechless, and even now, all I can think of to say in summary is that I want more.

1 – Kenny Omega & Hangman Page(c) vs The Young Bucks – Revolution
(AEW World Tag Team Championships)

This was not only my favourite AEW match of the year, it was my favourite wrestling match of the year AND may very well be my favourite tag team match of all time, but I’m going to have to rewatch #DIY vs The Revival 2 out of 3 falls to know for sure.

I mean, what can I even say to describe the action in this match? I feel like no words I could produce could do it justice because it really was the best of the best. When you get four guys who have known each other for so long and have been so close as The Elite have and you put them all in the ring together, it’s pretty much a guarantee that they’re going to make magic, but I’m not sure even they expected to put on a match this good.

It understood exactly the story it was telling. Yes, they were friends competing against each other, but the storytelling up until that point had given us a few more layers of complexity. This is where Page started drinking heavily and having those slightly uncomfortable interviews, while the Bucks let their hunger for tag gold get the better of them and were being overly aggressive/confrontational to the champs. The match used all of those elements to create a story that didn’t take centre-stage for the match but instead used it to inform the real star of the show, which was the wrestling action.

The action itself was paced to perfection. It created that ideal graph of a perfectly smooth rising curve in excitement & intensity levels, and the crowd came with them every step away. In a year where the absence of crowds has detracted from many matches, this is one that benefitted from a live audience to it’s fullest. The ‘feeling out’ process lasted quite a while, but it was littered with a bunch of cool moments and speedy action. There was never a slow moment in this match and it helped create that feeling of desperation that both teams had to end it from the very beginning.

As always in tag matches, when things broke down and chaos began to reign is where things reached a fever-pitch unequalled by anything else I saw in wrestling this year. The action was fast and brutal, with every man in the perfect place at the perfect time to do the perfect move. It’s the holy grail of matches where everything just worked and that’s all there is to it. I could sit here listing off all the cool spots, but that wouldn’t do it justice and why would I when you can just go and watch it again right now?

I’ve always loved tag team wrestling, but a match like this feels like the true realisation of just how brilliant it can be and it gives us an all-time classic in the process.

And that’s it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you thought were AEW’s best matches were in 2020, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be running down my favourite old games that I played for the first time in 2020!