The 9 Best Cliffhangers in Doctor Who

Doctor Who is a show that has told all kinds of stories over its modern lifespan. I, along with many other fans, would argue that many of the best stories are ones that span two, or sometimes even three episodes. The extended amount of runtime allows for so much more to be achieved than is ordinarily possible. The secondary characters get ample time to shine, the plot can swing to-and-frow a bit more often than usual, and this usually creates a much more compelling story.

They also provide us with the most exciting and hype-inducing trope in narrative history. Cliffhangers.

A cliffhanger cuts the story off at a crucial point. If done well, these cliffhangers will immediately get the audience excited and ready for the next instalment. When done perfectly, they can create some of the greatest moments in the history of the show. If anything is going to have you come away from an episode of Doctor Who still buzzing over what transpired, and what might transpire the following week, it’s a properly well-written cliffhanger.

I want to make it clear that, in this list, the quality of the episode following the cliffhanger is entirely irrelevant. I could point to a handful of the cliffhangers on this list that had disappointing payoffs, but that isn’t important. All that matters is that the cliffhanger itself left a lasting impact on me.

Now, let’s look at some of the best, from modern Doctor Who.

9 – The Sphere Opens – Army of Ghosts

Army of Ghosts is a bit of a flawed episode, but one of it’s best elements is the mystery surrounding the sphere. The way it’s introduced to us as this thing that needs to be observed and researched 24/7, the massive looming presence it has over the room, and even the way it doesn’t quite seem to fit in visually with its surroundings. The Doctor explains that it’s a void ship, designed to travel between parallel universes, and your mind immediately jumps back to earlier in the season, where the Cybermen overran that parallel universe. At that point, it seems like the episode has accidentally tipped its hand, but really, it’s just luring you into a false assumption.

They revisit it enough to keep it regularly in the back of your mind, wondering what on Earth it could be. Could John Lumic have survived his factory exploding? Could it be some incredible new type of Cyberman we’ve never seen before? As the episode ramps up to its climax and the Cybermen reveal themselves as the ghosts around the world, it seems like it’s a done deal. Then episode decides it’s going to totally blindside you.

First of all, the Cybermen deny having anything to do with the sphere. Our reaction is the same as The Doctor’s. Totally unexpected and immediately throws you through a loop. Then, while you’re still scrambling for any semblance of an idea of what it could be, BAM, DALEKS. It’s such an exciting moment, made all the more brilliant with how the episode goes to such great lengths to lure you into the false assumption about what it can be.

Even once the excitement of the reveal subsides, you suddenly come to the realisation that the Daleks and the Cybermen are in the same place at the same time. Will they team up? Will they fight? How will The Doctor possibly cope?

It does precisely what a great cliffhanger should do. It doesn’t just put the characters in danger that you know they’re going to get out of within 30 seconds of part 2. It poses you a whole bunch of exciting questions as to where the story is going to go, not to mention hitting you with a huge reveal.

8 – O – Spyfall Part 1

Having The Master as a recurring villain consistently makes for such great reveals, purely because they can change their appearance without our knowledge. You’d think I’d have stopped falling for it by this point, but every time a new human-looking mysterious villain comes along, I always fall for it.

The difference here is that O was presented as an ally of The Doctor’s that they already had a history with. Immediately there’s a bunch of intrigue surrounding the character, which was only magnified during O’s conversation with Graham earlier in the episode. There, we saw a hint of menace appear in the character, especially when discussing the topic of The Doctor. We get these very subtle hints that he’s hiding something, but nothing so overt to give it away. Even something like O seeing the inside of The Doctor’s TARDIS becomes a very weighty scene once we know the twist.

I understand why many people aren’t as big on this cliffhanger as I am. It was done in a way that went over a bunch of people’s head at first, and to be fair, I didn’t realise that the house flying alongside the plane was supposed to be The Master’s TARDIS either. However, I very vividly the remember the moment when it hit me that he was The Master. It was a revelation that almost left me winded when I connected the dots. It took me a few seconds after he claimed to be “the spy…master” to work it out, but once everything clicked, I felt blown away by it.

This was backed up by Sacha Dhawan acting circles around everyone in the scene for another minute following the reveal. It kept things building right up until the climactic plane crash. It hit me in a way that I don’t think any other cliffhanger has hit me on this show before, which is why I rate it quite highly.

7 – A Trap – The Time of Angels

Ok, this one is a bit of an exception to my rules of good cliffhangers.

This was a cliffhanger that really extends out about 5 minutes before the episode actually ended. It held a tremendous sense of rising tension, as things very slowly, then very quickly, got dire for our heroes. The fact of the Aplans having two heads is one of those facts that totally passes you by when you don’t know it’s important. It even doesn’t twig for The Doctor, that’s how insignificant it was, but I can’t describe the level of “Oh shit!” that went off in my head when The Doctor asked why the statues don’t have two heads.

From that moment on, it’s a remarkable moment for Smith’s Doctor. The way they immediately take control of the situation and gives out orders is The Doctor at his peak. Then, we have his speech about the flaw in the angel’s trap. The Doctor looks like such a badass hero as they talk circles around the angels and even though it doesn’t really raise any plot-related questions or have any significant revelations. I always feel so pumped when The Doctor finishes his speech, declaring “Me…” and firing the gun.

The Time of Angels is a blast of an episode outside of this, but this ending put the topper on things. It always leaves me pumped and always makes me want to rush right into the next part to keep the excitement rolling.

6 – The Pit Opens- The Impossible Planet

One of the best stories of the RTD era, The Impossible Planet is entirely based on the slow and creeping build of tension and mystery. Most Doctor Who episodes have some level of that, of course, but this episode makes it the central focus of the plot. It’s an episode that refuses to let you in on any of its secrets in part 1 and then hits you with everything it’s got in part 2.

This approach had the potential to cause part 1 to be boring, but it was built so brilliantly that it actually makes for some of the best edge-of-your-seat viewing from that era of the show. The way the episode starts to give you little hints and pile on the intrigue, slowly but carefully, makes the whole thing feel ludicrously tense in its delivery. The Doctor doesn’t even discover the pit until about 2/3rds of the way into the episode. However, it didn’t need to come in sooner because of how much it eats at you. It’s the most straightforward kind of mystery, there’s a locked door, and you want to know what’s on the other side. That alone could be enough to carry it, but then you throw on top of that the idea that The Devil himself could be in the pit? Now that’s excitement. That’s not all though, as I haven’t even mentioned about the mystery surrounding the Ood yet.

After spending the whole episode very slowly feeding you hints as to what might be going on and how it’s all going to fall apart, the writer suddenly slams their foot down and hits you with everything at once. First, the Ood start killing people, and Rose is trapped in a room with them. Next, the whole planet starts falling into a black hole, throwing everything into chaos. All of this is topped off by the pit being opened and some demonic voice declaring that they’re free.

While I did say that I don’t like it when a cliffhanger just throws a petty threat at the characters, here it works in tandem with the game-changing revelation of the pit opening up. It works because it accelerates the pace of the episode to a fever pitch, which after a very slow episode is incredibly effective. More importantly, it raises more questions than it answers. What’s free? What’s it going to do? How can The Doctor stop it? Why has the planet chosen now to fall into the black hole after orbiting it for so long? All these questions are the kind of thing that will float around in your head for the next week and ensure you come back for part 2.

5 – The Long Way Round – Heaven Sent

Let’s get this out of the way first, the payoff to this cliffhanger (i.e., the entirety of Hell Bent) is utter shit, but as I said, that has no bearing on how awesome this cliffhanger was.

I’ll talk about it more when I eventually rank Series 9, but Heaven Sent is an absolute masterpiece. The story it tells & the way it tells it are beautiful, while Capaldi put on arguably the best performance of his entire career, carrying a 45-minute monologue about grief. The emotional stakes by the end of Heaven Sent are insanely high. We’ve just watched The Doctor kill and revive himself several trillion times so that they could punch his way through a solid wall of the toughed substance in the universe. When it comes to a character journey, they don’t get much more emotional than that.

Then, you have the series-wide stakes. After 10 years since the revival of Doctor Who revealed that Gallifrey had been destroyed. After The Doctor spent all this time with the guilt of its destruction weighing on their mind; they have finally step foot on their home planet once again. That in itself is a massive moment, but when you pair that up with ordeal that the Time Lords had just put him through…it’s such a powerful moment.

As I said, Hell Bent would absolutely shit it all up the wall, but I refuse to let it take away from the genuine work of art that is Heaven Sent. This cliffhanger was easily the perfect way to cap off such an episode. It fills you with this desire for The Doctor to march into Gallifrey’s parliamentary rooms and show them who’s boss.

It’s an incredible combination of a historical moment for the show, with a meaningful and heartfelt character moment for The Doctor and that’s such a wondrous achievement.

4 – The Doctor Regenerates – The Stolen Earth

Is it a bit goofy? Yes. Does it mess with the laws of regeneration a bit? Definitely. Did it blow my God-damned mind when I watched it for the first time? Hell. Yeah.

I’m not entirely sure there’s much to say about this one, because what makes it so good is incredibly simple. The Doctor, without any form of indication or announcement, suddenly starts regenerating, with seemingly no way for stopping it. It’s entirely based on shock factor, which you could argue is cheap, but I say balls to that, I loved it.

It’s one of those Doctor Who moments where, when I think back to it, the first thing that comes to mind is the raw feeling of “WHAT?!” that I experienced at the time. Sure, as an adult, it would be reasonably apparent that this was a fake-out, but as a kid, it threw everything I was expecting into the bin. I was convinced that we were saying goodbye to Tennant and that we’d have some new Doctor for the finale. I can only chalk this up to the fact that children are stupid, but sometimes ignorance really is bliss.

Quite simply, remembering this cliffhanger makes me really happy. It’s very rare that any show or film can truly shock me or blow my mind anymore, so I genuinely treasure the times where a show like this properly blindsided me with something incredible.

3 – “Listen to me!” – The Pandorica Opens

Honestly, this could’ve made the list just for that final shot alone.

The Pandorica Opens is such a wild ride of an episode. We race through The Doctor’s adventures of Series 5 to get a message to them, then we mess around with the Romans; then we get a giant box of mystery; then Rory turns up after being erased from existence; then The Doctor gives an epic speech; then the Pandorica Opens…

This may be the greatest twist in Doctor Who history. The way it was built up with the most fearsome warrior in the universe, and how all of The Doctor’s old foes show up to get a piece of it. It builds so wonderfully to the climax, and you’re so very ready to see what’s really inside the Pandorica. The moment where it finally opens to reveal an empty chair is SO GOOD. The sinking look on The Doctor’s face as he starts to get dragged towards the box pulls in so many emotions, even to the way he starts to break down as he pleads with the monsters that they’ve got it all wrong.

It makes sure to show you just how dire the situation is too, with it continually cutting back to River trying to prevent the TARDIS from exploding but utterly failing. Then, just as one final kick in the nuts, Rory shoots Amy and kills her against his own will. That final shot of the camera zooming out from Amy’s body to the sight of the whole universe collapsing in on itself was pure genius. In a single ten-second shot, you’ve encapsulated everything at stake, the personal drama of the characters and the universe-wide threat of the crack in the skin of the universe.

What’s even more amazing is that it’s willing to end on a downbeat note. It doesn’t build with a bombastic soundtrack to a climax. It quite literally peters out into silence, leaving you with nothing but your own thoughts as to what on Earth just happened and how it could possibly be solved. It leaves you with a feeling of total hopelessness, which is perfect for reeling you back in for the emotional highs of the series finale.

2 – “I’m coming to get you” – Bad Wolf

(From my Best Doctor Who Speeches article)

I’ve talked a lot about The Doctor having his “hero moments” so far in this list, but I believe that The Doctor has never seemed like more of a hero than he has at this moment, even if he’s being motivated by hatred and rage.

You’ve got to take a look into The Doctor’s mindset during this speech, earlier in the series they thought the Time War was finally over, the last Dalek in existence killed itself and all of the sufferings they’ve gone through, and all of the horrible things they did seemed like maybe they might’ve been worth it to finally rid the universe of the terror of the Daleks. Now, they’ve just discovered that not only did more escape the Time War, but they’ve multiplied and now there are hundreds of thousands of them. This is a person who very recently wiped out his entire race just to get rid of the Daleks and now they’ve learnt it was all for nothing, how would you feel in that situation?

Ecclestone’s acting during this scene is top-notch, the minute movements in his facial expressions put forth this feeling of someone who is having to suppress so much rage, guilt and fear all at once. In the moments before this speech, they flick between mild joking and serious threats, their head is not in the right space and it shows. I almost get this feeling like they’re going to explode in a fit of rage and totally lose their mind – I know I would – but they don’t. Instead, what they do is channel it all and use it to fuel their drive and desire to do the right thing, as Rose would later say “To stand up and say no”, quite literally in this case.

The way the music swells as The Doctor decides to defy the Daleks’ demand, the way they don’t even raise their voice on the first “No”, it’s just a cold statement of intent, a statement that they’ve had enough of dealing with the Daleks’ shit and they’re not going to tolerate one iota of it this time around. They call the Daleks’ bluff and they tell them exactly what they’re going to do, only to totally ignore the Daleks in the end and simply tell Rose “I’m coming to get you” like they’re just picking her up from karate class, no big deal.

Every time I watch it, it gets me PUMPED and it created one of my favourite cliffhangers I’ve ever seen this show pull off.

To add to what I said there, there is no cliffhanger in history that gets my adrenaline pumping quite like this one. The revelation of the gigantic fleet of Daleks, just a handful of episodes away from seeing just one Dalek murder countless people; the look of fire in The Doctors eyes & the fury in his voice. It ends the episode letting us know that The Doctor is in for the fight of his life, and you’ll have to come back next week to see how it goes. Thrilling stuff.

1 – “Bye-bye!” – Utopia

Ok, I might’ve told a hyperbolic fib earlier. THIS is the greatest twist in Doctor Who history.

What’s brilliant about this cliffhanger is that you don’t actually need to know who The Master is to feel the gravity of the revelation. I definitely didn’t when I watched this episode for the first time, but the episode makes sure to hit you with all the big notes so that you understand what an unbelievable reveal this is. The use of the fob-watch was a great touch because you immediately think back to its use earlier in the series. It keeps piling it on too, you get the callback to the Face of Boe’s final words. Then, just to top it off, we see him regenerate to absolutely solidify the monumental threat this guy really is.

The turn in Derek Jacobi’s performance when he becomes The Master is an incredible piece of acting, only for the whole situation to be turned on its head when John Simm enters the scene. The work of the music that undercuts the whole thing cannot be understated either. It’s loud, brash and bombastic when the reveal first occurs, before moving into a more brassy affair, that’s slightly slower, but still carries the weight of the threat and despair that The Master imposes.

This is a cliffhanger that turns everything we were told since the start of the modern series on its head. The Doctor is no longer the last Time Lord, but this new Time Lord turns out to be one of The Doctor’s most powerful foes. Then, to throw several more spanners in the works, The Master steals The Doctor’s only constant companion in the form of the TARDIS and leaves him stranded at the end of the universe, with monsters bearing down on him, Martha & Jack. Also, Jack is there, which makes any scene better.

That shot of The Doctor staring at the space where the TARDIS used to be, with a mixture of shock, desperation & rage on his face is all that’s needed to up this from one of the best to the very best. It honestly has absolutely everything you could possibly want from a great cliffhanger.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know of any Doctor Who cliffhangers you love, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Wednesday for the next instalment in my 100 Favourite Games series!

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (40-31)

Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! Today, I’ll be covering entries 40 through 31.

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

SPOILER WARNING!

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

Let’s not waste any more time!

40 – Driver San Francisco

Release Date: 1st September 2011
Developer: Ubisoft Reflections
Publisher: Ubisoft
Platforms: Playstation 3, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 80%

It’s a game about driving around San Francisco while you’re in a coma.

Driver San Francisco is something so incredibly unique that I can’t even say I’d want to see more of it in the modern era because I’m not sure it could even be pulled off quite as good as this ever again. The concept of Tanner being in a coma gives the game so much freedom to do many weird and wonderful things.

For one thing, it’s incredibly open, almost like a sandbox. The mechanics let you float around any part of the map at any time and enter any car that you see. So much of the fun I’ve had in this game is just messing around in the open world, possessing a bunch of different cars in the same area and getting them all to completely mess each other up.

Arguably the game’s best feature though is it’s missions. I usually find missions are the least exciting parts of open-world games, however, the mechanics of the game allow for such incredibly innovative ideas of missions. You can act as the police and take down getaway drivers by hopping between every car on the road and boxing them in. You have to go through chase scenes where literally any car on the road could suddenly start darting towards you, or the stupendously impressive mission that you play from a second-person perspective.

This was a game that went above and beyond when it came to creative mechanics, and these mechanics all came together to create a ridiculously fun game no matter how you try to play it.

39 – Rocket League

Release Date: 7th July 2015
Developer: Psyonix
Publisher: Psyonix
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 87%

It’s a game about playing football with cars.

I don’t like sporty games for the most part. By that, I don’t just mean games about sports, I mean the kind of games that are popular in the esports scene. I like CS:GO, and when I’m particularly bored I’ll drop into a game of Overwatch, but that’s pretty much it. Yet, you add the phrase ‘but with cars’ to the end of the sentence, and suddenly I love it. As much as I never play it competitively (in fact, I very rarely play it with another human), it’s one of those games that has such a broad appeal that I think it’s quite hard to hate.

The concept is so simple too: football, but with cars. It hits that perfect niche of a casual game that lets the skilful people do skilful things, while the casual players can still jump into a game, have some fun and do pretty well. As you’d probably guessed, I fall into the latter category. I have plenty of fun just knocking the ball around against the decent AI every now and then. The game has such a strong sense of fast-pace that I find it so easy to just drop-in and play a match or two when I’m bored.

It’s also become quite the expansive games with all the different game-types and variants that you can tack onto those game types. Everything about it seems entirely designed to pump as much fun out of every match for casual players, while still maintaining the integrity of the standard modes for competitive players. It really is a game that lets you play however you want to play, and I think that’s what makes it such a widely popular game.

38 – Superhot

Release Date: 25th February 2016
Developer: Superhot Team
Publisher: Superhot Team
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux, Oculus Quest, Google Stadia
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about recreating that scene from The Matrix where you dodge the bullets in super-slow motion.

(From my Favourite VR Games article)

It may not seem like it on the surface, but what really makes Superhot great is how you’re always having to think a few steps ahead of each move. The slowed time concept gives you almost as much time as you need to think about each series of movements and despite having to focus on reacting to what’s going on, you’re forced into a proactive mindset to avoid certain doom.

Stick this formula into VR and you’ve got something so incredibly unique and special that I almost can’t comprehend what makes it so great. It’s still that idea of thinking a few steps ahead and making precise movements, only now those precise movements are going to have to be made by your body. It’s easy to avoid movement when you’re using a keyboard or controller, but when you’re in the situation yourself and every little wasted movement you make costs you precious seconds of reaction time, the stakes of the whole thing become so much more.

I’ve never felt so aware of every movement I’m making while in VR. It almost feels like the game heightens my senses, I become aware of almost everything that’s around me as I quickly calculate the best movements to escape the current situation. These plans almost never work and I probably look like a twat while executing them, but who the hell cares? I’m an action hero in slow motion and that’s what matters.

37 – Stardew Valley

Release Date: 26th February 2016
Developer: ConcernedApe
Publisher: ConcernedApe, Chucklefish
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation Vita, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, MacLinux, iOS, Andriod
Metacritic Average: 89%

I’m a game about running a farm and making friends.

The modern indie scene has done weird things to my brain. Whenever I see a game like Stardew Valley that presents itself as a cute & happy farming game, I expect there to be some weird and meta-narrative twist on the whole thing. That’s not the case in Stardew Valley, it turned out that it genuinely was just a cute and happy farming game, but I’ll tell you what, it’s a really bloody good one.

I only spent about a month playing through Stardew Valley, but during that month I was playing it CONSTANTLY, I just couldn’t put it down because everything about the world was so engrossing. The thing that gets me, though, is the way in which it was engrossing. It wasn’t because of some lucrative story or addictive mechanics, it was the simplicity with how every little activity in the game is dripping with a light, fun tone.

From the big and obvious things like the visual & audio style to even the smallest little things like the touches on the animation as you character sows seeds or waters crops. With every character having a very distinctive personality, the whole village feels alive, so you really do become part of a little community as you get to know everyone.

The farming stuff is pretty simple, but that makes it perfect to be the driving motivation of the game. The pacing of the farming is extremely refined to the point where I never got bored of it, despite being somewhat repetitive in nature. An in-game day is long enough to just about everything you want/need to do, while not giving you so much time that you’re sitting around waiting for the clock to tick by. On top of that, the different crops/animals in the game grow/produce at just the right speed so that you’ll always be making progress. Even if you haven’t got anything grown today, chances are there’ll almost certainly be plenty ready for you tomorrow.

Combine that with a wealth of side-activities and clear goals the entire duration of the game (something many of these games lack), and you’ve got a cute little life-sim game that is among the best of it’s kind.

36 – Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

Release Date: 18th June 2019
Developer: ArtPlay
Publisher: 505 Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Metacritic Average: 84%

It’s a game about murdering everything in the world’s most ambitiously designed castle.

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

I’d never got around to playing a Castlevania game before, but they always seemed right up my street. So, when I heard there was a game coming out made by the original creator of Castlevania in the style of Castlevania (but not officially called Castlevania because Konami doesn’t like using the historic franchises they own) I knew I had to check it out. I was absolutely blown away by what I found.

Bloodstained always keeps you on a journey of discovery. The items, enemies and powers it’s possible to acquire/encounter mean you’re always going to be finding something new and the map itself is packed with an almost overwhelming amount of variety. Every area feels extremely different to the ones that surround it and they’re all just the right size so that once you get comfortable in an area, you’re thrown right into a new one.

The combat system is wonderfully designed, it took a little getting used to, but once I got the pacing of when I should be striking and dodging I had so much fun with it. Every room presented a great challenge and I had a lot of fun trying to work out how best to tackle each combination of enemies that got thrown my way. It nails that balance of enemy design, where every enemy is easy on its own, but when a bunch of different ones are thrown together, it creates a great challenge.

That was also a game that reminded me how amazing boss fights can be, because not since NieR Automata have I had so much fun fighting bosses in a game. They follow that ethos that so many, typically old games do in that every boss has clear and recognisable patterns that are easy to dodge/counter and the skill comes from being able to react to them in time to deal out the damage. It’s a game that makes sure that every single failure and death I experienced was because I wasn’t skilful enough in order to pull it off, not because I got unlucky.

Bloodstained makes sure that every room and every enemy teaches you something, not necessarily something about the mechanics, but about what is the most optimal way to fight. This sense of pushing forward and constantly getting to experience new stuff is what pushed me towards achieving 100% completion without even realising I was doing it until suddenly I was 95% there and had to get that last little bit.

Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night is a game that is constantly pushing you deeper into it using its world & enemy design along with its combat system to enthral you in its world and give you the best Metroidvania experience I’ve had in many years.

35 – Quarantine Circular

Release Date: 22nd May 2018
Developer: Bithell Games
Publisher: Bithell Games, Ant Workshop Limited
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 73%

It’s a game about talking to an alien.

I often struggle to engage with pure-story games like this. I often find it difficult to get involved and focus when my attention isn’t being drawn continuously with gameplay. When it comes to Mike Bithell’s games, however, it’s an entirely different scenario. I’ll break down his style more in future entries of this list, but the main thing that I think makes Quarantine Circular so special is the understanding and insight it gives you into all of your characters.

In each chapter, you take control of a different person and see the story from their perspective. You get a chance to fully understand exactly how each character operates and why exactly they take the stances they do. The writing is intelligent enough to let you slip into answering questions and scenarios exactly how you believe that character would, perhaps without even realising it. It’s so tightly in control of your outlook and feelings on the situation at any given moment, and yet, you don’t even realise what it’s doing to you until you finish it and have the time to reflect.

Once you understand all the characters so deeply, it gives the critical choices so much weight, it deepens the emotional investment in the story so much more than almost any other game. Not because of any kind of world-ending stakes, but because of the personal stakes between each of the characters.

34 – N++

Release Date: 28th July 2015
Developer: Metanet Software
Publisher: Metanet Software
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about being a Ninja who dies, a lot.

When it comes to controls in a platformer, I don’t think this game has an equal. In N++, even the most minute movements feel precise and make you feel totally in control of every single jump and manoeuvre you make; Which means that when you miss the jump by half a millimetre and fall into a pit of mines, it’s entirely your fault. Every jump feels so smooth, and when you get good enough to chain a lot fo these movements together, the sense of flow you get is easily on par with that of the Sonic games.

It also has the difficulty to boot, with one of the most well-constructed difficulty curves I’ve ever seen. Every level is designed so creatively and given the literal thousands that there are in the game, it’s quite frankly amazing that they managed to keep them all confined to a single screen. Each different element that will kill you in a level is placed so perfectly that you can almost instantly see the way you’re supposed to get past them, but that doesn’t make doing it any easier than it should be.

The game knows precisely how forgiving it wants each level to be and they seem to have been laid out in an order that means you’re always mastering the skill you need to push through to the next set.

33 – Overgrowth

Release Date: 16th October 2017
Developer: Wolfire Games
Publisher: Wolfire Games
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

It’s a game about rabbits murdering each other.

This one is a real oddity, and seeing “2017” as the release date blows me away because this game has been around for about a decade in some form or another. As you can probably tell from the lack of any on this list, I’m not really a fan of fighting games, I’m not entirely sure why they’re just not for me. However, even though at its core, Overgrowth is a fighting game, it doesn’t really follow the rules of any other game in the genre.

Instead of having health bars and the like, Overgrowth instead uses a system of body parts that slowly take damage and get crippled over time. I don’t know anything in the way of specifics, so I’m not going to explain anymore, but it leads to a high-speed, but very weighty fighting game where no two fights ever quite feel the same. The details of the sounds and blood when you take hits in certain places are almost too gruesome to look at in some cases, but it’s precisely those responsive mechanics that make fighting so much fun and drive me to do it over and over again.

32 – Heat Signature

Release Date: 21st September 2017
Developer: Suspicious Developments
Publisher: Suspicious Developments
Platforms: Windows
Metacritic Average: 79%

It’s a game about performing space heists where you inevitably fling yourself out of an airlock accidentally.

Heat Signature has just about everything you could want from a heist game because that’s essentially what each mission is, a mini heist inside of a spaceship. You can sit there and survey the entire scene before you as you craft a highly detailed and skilled plan to reach your target. Every movement you make is slow and clever…until you get seen, at which points it descends into chaos where you have to either use your various tools to escape with your life or be flung into the cold vacuum of space.

The set of tools you have at your disposal hold a bunch of surprisingly unique concepts that do things like reverse forcefields, magnetise enemies and just cause general chaos to your targets. The catch is, the enemies have all of these tools too, and these dynamic systems are so cleverly interwoven to create plenty of unique experiences that are always sure to surprise you in terms of just how spectacularly they go wrong.

Heat Signature that understands that it needs to let the mechanics speak for themselves and gets you to learn by doing. This means you’re bound to form your own tactics and strategies that will vary wildly from anyone else’s but will still lead to equally as hilarious fuck ups.

31 – WWE 2K19

Release Date: 5th October 2018
Developer: Yukes, Visual Concepts
Publisher: 2K Sports
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Windows
Metacritic Average: 77%

It’s a game about wrasslin’.

My original plan when I was putting this list together was to put the whole WWE 2K series in this spot because they’re all of pretty equal quality. Then WWE 2K20 came out and was an utter shit-show, so 2K19 gets the spot instead.

I know may people prefer many other wrestling games, but as a modern wrestling fan, these are more than enough to satisfy my needs for video game graps. Once again, it’s a fighting game that doesn’t follow most of the traditional rules of fighting games, and I think it’s much more fun to play because of it. The gameplay is so easy to grasp, and it really captures the feel of a live WWE show in interactive form.

The many different game modes mean that whatever kind of way you want to play the game you’re covered. Whether you just want to do random matchups with your friends, play through written stories or craft your own grand storyline and shows. Since the series first came to PC with 2K15 I’ve put over a 1000 combined hours into the games, which isn’t even including the time I spent playing it on consoles before then. I just have so much fun putting all these matches together. The fighting mechanics are enjoyable enough that I don’t even mind playing against AI all the time.

However, when you’re not a loner, it’s easily one of my favourite games to play with friends. Not only is there a rapid and easy learning curve, but once you’ve both got the hang of it, you can have very intense matchups. On top of that, I’ve had many friends (myself included) who played the games first, and that led to them becoming wrestling fans, which makes it all the better. Except for 2K20, fuck that one in particular.

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

9 Best Title Reigns That Followed a Money in the Bank Cash-In

A few weeks ago, I discussed the worst of what the Money in the Bank briefcase had to offer us, today we do the opposite.

The Money in the Bank briefcase is often seen in WWE as something that could potentially make someone’s career, giving them their long-awaited big break. As we discussed last time, that isn’t always the case, but these people are the ones who succeeded to at least some small degree. These are the people who ultimately benefited from having used the briefcase to their advantage, rather than becoming little more than a footnote with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it title reign.

9 – CM Punk – 2009
(World Heavyweight Championship)

Cashed In At: Extreme Rules 2009
Won Title From: Jeff Hardy
Days As Champion: 42
Lost Title At: Night of Champions 2009
Lost Title To: Jeff Hardy
World Titles Since: 4

After the indisputable failure that was his first world title reign, WWE gave themselves a do-over a year later when Punk won the briefcase for the second time. This reign went better in just about every conceivable way.

Punk started out strong, coming out victorious in a triple threat match on Raw a week later, retaining the title over both former champions, Edge & Jeff Hardy. His next title defence was at The Bash against Jeff Hardy, and that one didn’t go as well. Although Punk did retain, it was via disqualification when he attacked the referee. As is always the case when these things happen in WWE, a rematch was booked for the next Pay-Per-View, where Hardy would regain the championship from Punk in a really good match.

By this point in the list, you may have noticed a pretty consistent pattern with the bottom-half entries, which is that the new champion only gets a month or two with the title before dropping it back to the exact same person they’d won the title from in the first place. This is because WWE often likes to use the Money in the Bank cash-in as nothing but an extra hurdle for a babyface to overcome once they finally think they’re in the clear. Or even worse, sometimes it will simply be used as something for the current champion to do for the next few months while they wait for the next major Pay-Per-View to roll around.

That said, this title reign did actually have a pretty big upside for Punk. For one thing, he would quickly win the championship back from Hardy, but more importantly, he struck upon his “straight-edge saviour” persona. This was a persona that allowed Punk to showcase his incredible promo ability on a week to week basis and can be widely credited for a lot of the great success he’d see later on in his career.

As much as the statistics aren’t anything overly impressive in this instance, looking towards the long-game is where this title reign really earns some positive points.

8 – Dean Ambrose – 2016
(WWE Championship)

Cashed In At: Money in the Bank 2016
Won Title From: Seth Rollins
Days As Champion: 84
Lost Title At: Backlash 2016
Lost Title To: AJ Styles
World Titles Since: 0

The case for Ambrose’s spot on this list is actually the exact opposite to what I discussed in the previous entry. As it’s what happened during the title reign itself that elevated this entry’s position.

Winning the briefcase at Money in the Bank 2016, Ambrose would cash-in that very same night on long-term rival Seth Rollins after he had just won the championship from Roman Reigns. This created the wonderfully poetic moment of all three former members of The Shield holding the WWE Championship on the same night. Immediately following Ambrose’s title win, the focus on WWE shifted towards the newly established brand split. Ambrose’s first title defence took place a week before the draft, and it ended in a draw when both men’s shoulders were down for a three count, the rematch took place the next week and, after being drafted to Smackdown, Ambrose put Rollins way with a clean victory.

A few weeks later at Battleground, Ambrose once again defended his title in the fabled “Shield Triple Threat” match as all three former members of The Shield faced off for the first and only time ever. It was a great match (even if it didn’t quite live up to some people’s expectations) and Ambrose came away with the win, taking the championship over onto the newly established Smackdown roster.

His first feud on the blue brand was against Dolph Ziggler in a forgotten feud for a forgotten Summerslam. Ambrose came away with a clean victory, but the match wasn’t good, and the memory of it quickly faded. Backlash was up next for the champion and this time it would be AJ Styles stepping up to the plate after having just gotten a clean victory over John Cena to end their feud. Against all odds, AJ Styles, a man who had only joined WWE earlier that year and was known across the wrestling world as “Mr TNA” would succeed in claiming the WWE Championship for his own after kicking Ambrose square in the balls.

Ambrose spent the rest of 2016 chasing after Styles to get the title back, but was unsuccessful and eventually found himself winning the Intercontinental Championship to close out the year instead. While on-paper, Ambrose was treated relatively well as champion, on a week to week basis he was treated more as a comedy character than anything else. WWE had always leaned a bit too hard to the “unhinged” aspects of Ambrose’s character and not in a good way. As it stands, he still rises up to the top half of this list purely by virtue of being treated like a credible wrestler who can win matches. However, he would never see world title success again in his WWE career, eventually leaving for the greener pastures of AEW, where he currently reigns as a much more successful world champion.

7 – Edge – 2007
(World Heavyweight Championship)

Cashed In At: Smackdown 11th May 2007
Won Title From: The Undertaker
Days As Champion: 70
Vacated title At: Smackdown 17th July 2007
World Titles Since: 8

Much like CM Punk, it turned out that the second time around was the winning one.

Once again staying true to his “ultimate opportunist” moniker, Edge cashed-in his briefcase on The Undertaker after he had just won a Steel Cage match with Batista and was attacked by Mark Henry, winning the title with ease. Edge would immediately enter a feud with Batista that would last for several months; however, Edge would come out victorious at every turn. The methods of which included a roll-up at Judgement Day; just beating Batista to the ground in a Steel Cage match at One Night Stand and finally, getting Batista counted out at Night of Champions.

Next up for Edge was Kane, who was announced as the number 1 contender and had a match scheduled for The Great American Bash. Sadly, that match would never take place as Edge legitimately tore his left pectoral muscle on an episode of Smackdown and was forced to take several months off to have surgery.

Although he had to relinquish the title after only a short time with the title, the reign held a series of victories for Edge that consistently made him look like a guy deserving of being on top as a heel and it left a lasting impression on his career after that. By the end of 2007, Edge would be back in the ring and would claim the World Heavyweight Championship once again, which led him to him getting a main-event match against The Undertaker at Wrestlemania 24.

As much as the title reign itself could be argued to be a bit naff, it can’t be denied that Edge was always in a main-event position for the remainder of his career following it. While this cash-in and title run was just one factor in a laundry list of reasons as to why Edge was put into that “top guy” position, I think it’s clear that this was a landmark turning point for the future legend.

6 – Carmella – 2017
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

Cashed In At: Smackdown 10th April 2018
Won Title From: Charlotte Flair
Days As Champion: 131
Lost Title At: Summerslam 2018
Lost Title To: Charlotte Flair
World Titles Since: 0

When Carmella won the first-ever Women’s Money in the Bank ladder match, everyone was a little bit confused. Carmella was a decent wrestler at the time, but she didn’t feel like someone who would hang with the top of the women’s division. However, that is what Money in the Bank is supposed to be about: elevating someone who hasn’t had their chance in the main event yet. So we waited…and waited…and waited. It took almost a full year, but Carmella did eventually cash-in her briefcase on Charlotte Flair, just after she had been attacked by The IIconics.

The reign itself is a bit of a hard one to judge. This is because, while the match quality was often lacking, it wasn’t always Carmella’s fault. A lot of the things fans had a problem with, such as James Ellsworth constantly interfering, is down to the booking. Booking that, it must be said, did a pretty decent job of getting heat onto Carmella. It wasn’t all good heel heat, of course, there was an amount of “go away” heat in there as well but, I think a lot of the character work she did during this time was excellent and let her show her skills more than she’d been able to up until then (including her run in NXT).

Looking to the nuts and bolts of it, Carmella got herself a relatively clean win over former champions Charlotte Flair at Backlash, winning via a roll-up. She then entered a feud with Asuka that was…terrible. As I said, Carmella’s character work was enjoyable, however, the matches were awful and were a clear statement following Asuka’s Wrestlemania 34 loss that she wasn’t someone the company had any interest in investing in. This feud went on for several months.

Once it was over, we were on the road to Summerslam, and Becky Lynch had been gaining a ridiculous amount of popularity over the past 6 months. A title match was set for Summerslam between the two; however, Charlotte Flair would eventually muscle her way in and make it a triple threat. During this match, Charlotte would take advantage of Lynch and pin her to win the title, meaning Carmella didn’t get pinned but lost the title anyway. This is what would eventually spark Becky Lynch to become the single hottest property in the entire industry for the next year or so, but that, unfortunately, meant that there was never any room for Carmella to reclaim her spot.

Instead, Carmella entered the mixed-match challenge and partnered with R-Truth to eventually win the tournament. Unfortunately, this saw no title success for her, as she spent the next year or so being Truth’s back up as he ran around the country, playing out whacky antics with the 24/7 Championship. In recent months, Carmella has been teased to challenge for the Smackdown Women’s Championship once or twice but is yet to actually get her shot.

While it clearly hasn’t done many favours for Carmella in the long-run, the title reign itself saw her being treated as a credible heel, who wasn’t afraid to resort to underhanded tactics. While it might not have felt like all that great of a reign at the time, looking back with the power of hindsight, I think it was a rather entertaining role for Carmella to fill. I just hope she has a chance to fill it again sometime soon.

5 – The Miz – 2010
(WWE Championship)

Cashed In At: Raw 22nd November 2010
Won Title From: Randy Orton
Days As Champion: 160
Lost Title At: Extreme Rules 2011
Lost Title To: John Cena
World Titles Since: 0

While today, The Miz is a widely respected member of the WWE roster, that wasn’t exactly the case when he won the WWE Championship at the tail end of 2010. The look of utter fury on that little girl’s face was a surprisingly accurate analogy for the wrestling fanbase’s reaction to the title change at the time. However, sitting here almost a decade later with all the power of hindsight in the world, I think it was ok.

Just one week after winning the title, The Miz was forced to defend the belt in a TLC match against Jerry Lawler of all people. He won, which was good, but he very nearly didn’t. Jerry Lawler was genuinely just an arm’s reach away from becoming WWE Champion until Michael Cole interfered in the match and prevented Lawler from winning. Not the best of looks for the new champion.

As it so happened, immediately following this was the TLC Pay-Per-View in which Randy Orton got his rematch for the title in a Tables Match. While he was on the back-foot for the majority of the match, the finish got to make him look like a cunning and intelligent heel. While the referee was knocked down, he took a broken table (initially broken when Alex Riley was sent through it) and placed Orton on top of it to convince the referee he had put him through the table. This was brilliant as it was frustrating for the audience in just the right way and didn’t quite feel like WWE just throwing away yet another Pay-Per-View match…but that isn’t actually where things ended. Instead, WWE decided to make The Miz seem like the world’s biggest moron when the referee discovered Miz’s deception after he watched the replay that played on the arena’s ‘tron.

These kinds of flukey retentions were the running theme throughout Miz’s championship reign, as almost every win came thanks to some form of interference. He beat Orton again at the Royal Rumble…after CM Punk interfered and he battled Jerry Lawler for a second time at the Elimination Chamber Pay-Per-View. It looked like he had lost again, only for the decision to be reversed after it was revealed Miz got his foot on the rope during the pinfall.

His greatest humiliation was yet to come, however, as his Wrestlemania main event against none other than John Cena was on the horizon. The match itself was fine, but no-one actually remembers the bulk of the match. Instead, what we all remember was the absolute clusterfuck of a finish. Initially, the match – which, let me remind you, was the main event of Wrestlemania – ended in a draw when Cena clotheslined Miz over the barrier and neither man could make it back to the ring before the 10-count (this move legitimately gave The Miz a concussion as well). It wasn’t over though. The Rock, who was hosting the show, came out and demanded that the match be restarted, so it was. Unfortunately, Miz’s aforementioned concussion meant that very little of substance was possible. However, it was all undermined anyway, when The Rock came down to the ring, hit the Rock Bottom on John Cena and gave Miz the pin to retain the title.

After becoming the least important person in his Wrestlemania main-event victory, the writing was on the wall for Miz’s reign, and sure enough, just one month later, John Cena would take the title from The Miz clean as a whistle.

Despite not looking like all that dominant of a champion, there are plenty of things that rule in The Miz’s favour. For one thing, the pure number of days he held the title is more than most on this list, and he did get actual wins over his opponent; even if they were thanks to outside interference.

The most significant point in his favour, though is what has happened to him since. Although he’s never won another world title, he has taken the wealth of knowledge and experience he’s gained over the years to become a legitimate star in WWE and beyond. He’s seen reasonable success on the silver screen with several high-profile film roles, became one of the best talkers in the company today and is arguably the single most consistent and reliable wrestler WWE currently has under their belt.

4 – Daniel Bryan – 2011
(World Heavyweight Championship)

Cashed In At: TLC 2011
Won Title From: Big Show
Days As Champion: 105
Lost Title At: Wrestlemania 28
Lost Title To: Sheamus
World Titles Since: 4

In 2011, Daniel Bryan was far from what we would know him as just two years later, but that doesn’t mean he was any less amazing of a performer. He had captured the hearts of the audience right out of the gate, appearing in NXT and sticking it to his “mentor” The Miz. This popularity continued well into 2011, and he was rewarded with Smackdown’s Money in the Bank briefcase. Bryan had promised his friend and then World Heavyweight Champion Big Show that he wouldn’t sneakily cash-in on him while he was vulnerable, but if you need me to tell you what happened next, you must be new to wrestling.

Sure as the sun rising each day, Daniel Bryan took advantage of a weakened Big Show following a successful title defence with Mark Henry and became the World Heavyweight Champion, cue a massive celebration from both the fans and Bryan himself, who milked the moment for everything it was worth. Although Big Show attempted to remain true to their friendship, Bryan’s arrogance got the better of him, and he quickly found himself facing challengers on all sides; all of whom were significantly larger than him.

This is where the critical difference between Bryan’s and Miz’s reigns come in. Many of Bryan’s title retentions indeed came through interference or other forms of misdeeds, but in these cases, the story was written in the right way so that these non-finishes were compelling, rather than cheap. Situations arose where Bryan would spot the perfect way out and do everything in his power to make it happen. For example, during his first title defence against Big Show, Bryan did everything he could to provoke Mark Henry into attacking him, thus retaining the title via disqualification.

Bryan developed this aura around his character of being the weaseliest little weasel you could possibly imagine. He looked beatable all the time but still managed to come away looking relatively favourable after he finds yet another ingenious way to worm his way out of losing the belt. I daresay that with most other wrestlers this wouldn’t have worked (in fact, I can point to numerous examples over history of exactly that). Still, there was just something about Bryan’s portrayal of his characters that meant everything just…worked. Even losing the title in 18 seconds at Wrestlemania 28, while absolutely infuriating, somehow made perfect sense for his character. Oh, plus he also got a title defence in the Elimination Chamber where he actually came out of it looking pretty strong and competent as a champion; novel concept, I know.

Daniel Bryan’s career following this reign speaks for itself. While 2012 was pretty rocky for him, 2013 was where he became an undeniable megastar in WWE. He became the single most popular wrestler on the planet. SO popular that WWE was forced to have him win the world title in the main event of Wrestlemania 30 to ensure that the entire building wouldn’t boo the show into oblivion (a lesson they unlearned a couple of years later, but hey-ho).

I’ve praised Daniel Bryan almost too much on this blog in the past. However, it’s title reigns like this one that prove that he is one of the most versatile wrestlers on the planet and can slip seamlessly into almost any role he needs to fulfil, while still being able to whip great matches out of the bag whenever he wants.

3 – Kane – 2010
(World Heavyweight Championship)

Cashed In At: Money in the Bank 2010
Won Title From: Rey Mysterio
Days As Champion: 154
Lost Title At: TLC 2010
Lost Title To: Edge
World Titles Since: 0

Despite most people coming to love the big red machine in the years following his 1997 debut, Kane actually saw very little success in regards to world titles during this period. Despite being involved continuously in high-profile feuds throughout his entire career in the late 90s and early 00s, Kane’s world championship achievements amount to little more than 24 hours at WWF Champion in the summer of 1998. It seemed the further his career progressed, the less likely it was that he’d ever have the world title run that many fans believed he deserved.

Then came Money in the Bank 2010. There was already a lot of intrigue surrounding Kane going into this match. It was revealed that he had found his kayfabe brother, The Undertaker, in a “vegetative state” just a month earlier (in reality, Undertaker had to take a few months off to deal with an injury). Kane was on the hunt for whoever was responsible. Luckily for him though, he had the spare time on a Sunday to take a break from this hunt and win a briefcase. It seemed like there could be some interesting things on the horizon for Kane. It all came to a head sooner than anyone expected. Less than an hour after he had won the briefcase, Kane appeared following Mysterio’s successful title defence over Jack Swagger and dispatched of him in short order to become champion.

Kane’s run went surprisingly well pretty much the entire run. Things kicked off with Kane retaining cleanly over Rey Mysterio at Summerslam until, surprise! Turns out it was actually Kane that attacked The Undertaker and now he’s seeking revenge. This took the form of a No Holds Barred match at Night of Champions, which to everyone’s surprise, Kane won clean as a whistle, reversing a Tombstone Piledriver from The Undertaker into one of his own and getting the pin.

After wallowing in self-pity for a little bit, The Undertaker decided it was time to return to 1997, as he brought back Paul Bearer to assist him in conquering his brother. The match came at Hell in a Cell, and Paul Bearer decided it really was 1997, as he turned on The Undertaker to hand the win to Kane. This lead to the natural climax of their feud, a Buried Alive match at Bragging Rights where, to everyone’s surprise, Kane retained once again over his brother. Although it is worth mentioning that this win was a less impressive look for Kane, as it only happened thanks to The Nexus attacking The Undertaker at the climax of the match.

After all that was over, the time came for Kane’s title reign to draw to a close in a pretty weird feud with Edge. In a twist not many expected, Kane turned face after Edge kidnapped Paul Bearer and taunted Kane about it every single week. Edge would then win the title from Kane in a TLC match at TLC, and that would be it.

On its own, you could argue that this title reign may be worthy of the top spot on this list, but the problems for Kane come with what happened after he lost the title. Looking back now, this title reign really was the ‘last hurrah’ for Kane as a singles competitor. He lost a rematch to Edge in January and spent Wrestlemania 28 squashing in The Corre in under two minutes in a match that not one person in the area cared about. Including the wrestlers.

Kane then regained his mask in yet another storyline no-one had much interest in, and he just floundered around the lower midcard until teaming up with Daniel Bryan. Even though their pairing was compelling and led them to them winning the tag titles, it wasn’t much more than a midcard novelty in the long-run. Then Kane joined in with The Authority and slowly faded into obscurity from there.

Last hurrah or not, Kane’s run with the World Heavyweight Championship was still a great one that saw him take on the role of a dominant and robust heel, putting away high calibre opponents month in and month out.

2 – Bayley – 2019
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

Cashed In At: Money in the Bank 2019
Won Title From: Charlotte Flair
Days As Champion: 140
Lost Title At: Hell in a Cell 2019
Lost Title To: Charlotte Flair
World Titles Since: 1

Another same-night cash-in here and one of the most recent on this list, 2019 is when Bayley really grasped her full potential on the main roster, and she has Money in the Bank to thank for that.

Winning it in rather frantic fashion, following Charlotte reclaiming the Smackdown Women’s Championship from Becky Lynch, Bayley immediately got to work doing what she does best with the title, which is wrestling and winning. Bayley’s first test with the title was Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross, where she would face the pair of them in a handicap match at Stomping Grounds (where we kick ass and take names, didn’t you know?) and put on a solid – if not as good as expected – match against Ember Moon at Summerslam.

Then, following these strong wins, Bayley teamed up with a freshly returned Sasha Banks to turn heel and attack both Becky Lynch and Charlotte Flair every week. Suddenly, the somewhat stagnant Bayley face character had new life breathed into it as Bayley went all-in on the persona. She tore down everything she used to represent and built up a brand new character that has been so much more entertaining than anything she’s done since her days in NXT.

Here’s where things may get a bit controversial because following this heel turn. Bayley lost the title back to Charlotte Flair. Which seems like it should land her down in the lower half of this list, losing her title suddenly and unexpectedly to the same person she won it from, BUT, I’d argue the circumstances with Bayley are different because of what happened following this reign.

For one thing, Bayley would get the title back just 8 nights later, which is always lovely and since then, she’s been on an absolute tear. Her heel persona has only grown in both scope and complexity, with the reignition of her legendary feud with Sasha Banks seemingly just around the corner. She’s had solid wins against the likes of Charlotte, Naomi & Lacey Evans and I think her title reign still has a long way to go

Of course, this begs the question, why didn’t I give Randy Orton the same credit given that he did something very similar? To which the answer is that I think the circumstances are quite different. Orton was already set-in-stone when it came to his WWE career, the extra months he had after winning the title back did little to bolster his career or revolutionise his character. Now, look back to Bayley and you realise just how much the Money in the Bank cash-in has done for her. I still liked Bayley’s face character, but it was undeniably stale, and audiences had totally tired of it. What she’s done since turning heel has totally turned that around, I’m incredibly interested in what she’s doing on a week-to-week basis because of what this title reign did for her. So that’s why I’m letting that bolster Bayely’s position here and not Orton’s in the previous list.

1 – Seth Rollins – 2014
(WWE World Heavyweight Championship)

Cashed In At: Wrestlemania 31
Won Title From: Brock Lesnar
Days As Champion: 220
Vacated Title On: 4th November 2015
World Titles Since: 3

When The Shield broke up in May of 2014, everyone knew that within a year, at least one of these guys would be a world champion. Ambrose could talk with the best of them, Roman had everything WWE wanted from a ‘face of the company’, and Rollins had all the natural in-ring talent in the world. Being the man who betrayed his brothers, Seth Rollins was the focal point of WWE TV in a big way throughout most of the year following the break-up of The Shield. Being groomed by The Authority as ‘The Future of WWE’, that nickname was cemented when Rollins retrieved the Money in the Bank briefcase a month later.

As Wrestlemania 31 rolled around and Roman Reigns looked to be closing in on his first world championship, it seemed pretty clear that Rollins would cash-in sometime in the spring after WWE have tested the waters with Roman as champion. Then, it happened. The single greatest Money in the Bank cash-in to ever take place (and my personal favourite moment in WWE history) took place as Rollins interrupted the main event of Wrestlemania, cashed-in his briefcase and ran away with the title.

What we saw over the remainder of 2015 was the making of a career-long top star in WWE. The booking of Rollins could be a little lacking at times, but for the majority of his title run, I believe WWE struck a stable balance of Rollins getting solid wins over credible stars, while still feeling like a beatable champion that would only ever just squeak away with his title in tow.

Things started out with The Authority in-fighting, and at Extreme Rules, Rollins retained over Randy Orton when Kane got in the ring and attacked just about everybody in sight; distracting Orton long enough for Rollins to hit an RKO and escape the cage to retain. Moving into Payback, we saw more of what we were hoping to see with The Shield members as singles competitors, where Rollins defended his title in a Fatal 4 Way against Orton, Reigns and Ambrose. Once again, Rollins retained thanks to well-timed interferences by other members of The Authority and pinned Orton once more.

Next up with Elimination Chamber and Rollins’ re-ignited feud with Dean Ambrose, which is where Rollins was made to look a bit weaker than I would’ve liked. In the absolute height of Dusty finishes, Ambrose actually pinned Rollins, and it seemed like he had won the WWE Championship. However, earlier in the match Rollins had pulled the referee in the way of an Elbow Drop from Ambrose, causing them to collide, so the decision was reversed, so Rollins actually won by disqualification, thus retaining the title. Then, during their ladder-based rematch at Money in the Bank, Rollins retained the title by accident as he and Ambrose both unhooked the title at the same time only for them both to fall to the ground and Ambrose to lose his grip on it, making Seth the winner.

Battleground was next, which brought with it Rollins’ lowest moment as champion when the previously suspended Brock Lesnar was reinstated and got his rematch for Rollins’ title. Rollins spent 90% of the match being tossed around like a piece of meat by Lesnar, and he didn’t even get to finish the match as things ended when The Undertaker appeared to attack Lesnar, making Rollins vanish in the process.

Luckily for Rollins, he would go from his lowest low to his highest high over the late summer when he entered a feud with John Cena. For a start, nearly every match the pair had was a great one, the first of which took place at Summerslam where Cena would put his United States Championship on the line against Rollins’ title. Although the fact that former host of The Daily Show, Jon Stewart, cost Cena the title isn’t the greatest of looks for Rollins, he came away from it as a double champion, and it did wonders for his heelish swagger.

Rollins would then have to defend both his titles on the same night at Night of Champions. He lost his US title back to John Cena before defeating Sting in a match that will forever be marred by Sting’s genuinely terrifying injury. However, a clean win is a clean win. Rollins’ last title defence came at Hell in a Cell, where former Authority member Kane (now in demon form) challenged Rollins for the title. The match was boring, but Rollins did at least win the match clean as a whistle.

Rollins was then set to defend the title against Roman Reigns at Survivor Series where, if the dirt sheets are to be believed, Rollins was going to lose the championship. Unfortunately, we never got to find out as at the start of November where at a house show in Dublin, Ireland, Rollins landed awkwardly off of a Sunset Flip and his leg basically imploded, tearing his MCL, ACL and Meniscus. Rollins would be forced to vacate the title and wouldn’t be back on WWE TV until May 2016.

On its own, this title reign was a genuinely great one, but when you consider the ridiculous levels of success Rollins has had since then, there’s no way this could be anything other than the number 1 entry. When Rollins returned to TV, he immediately beat Roman Reigns to regain the WWE Championship (even if it was just for a few minutes thanks to Ambrose’s cash-in, which we talked about earlier). He won his feud with Triple H at Wrestlemania 33, floundered for a bit throughout 2017, but came back strong in 2018, spending the majority of the year having fantastic matches at every Pay-Per-View, defending his Intercontinental Championship.

This culminated in 2019, where Rollins became world champion once again, beating Brock Lesnar to become Universal Champion, not once, but twice before losing it to The Fiend. Rollins has since become a heel again and has taken his character in a new direction that is just as good as, if not better than, his original heel run.

One thing that is for sure though is that Rollins will be a main eventer in WWE for the rest of his career, and he had Money in the Bank to thank for that.

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 title reigns, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back here this time on Wednesday, for the next part in my 100 Favourite Games series!

My 100 Favourite Games of All Time (50-41)

Welcome back to my 100 favourite games of all time series! We’re over the half-way mark now, and the games just keep getting better. Today, it’s entires 50 through 41.

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

SPOILER WARNING!

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

Let’s not waste any more time!

50 – Sonic The Hedgehog 3 & Knuckles

Release Date: 2nd February 1994
Developer: SEGA
Publisher: SEGA
Platforms: SEGA Genesis, Windows
Metacritic Average: 79%

It’s a game about going fast.

Although I’ve grown an appreciation for Sonic’s red, plumber rival in recent years, nothing in the 2D platforming genre will ever be able to compete with the fastest thing alive for me. All three of the original Sonic 2D platformers could have conceivably made the list, but in the end, I decided to go for the combo of Sonic 3 & Knuckles because I feel it’s where the formula reached its peak for that era of Sonic games.

The momentum-based gameplay was down to a science by this point in the series, which meant that the development team were able to churn out more high-quality levels in a shorter timespan and that really showed when you combo these two games together. Most of my favourite zones from the whole Sonic franchise live in this game (Ice Cap, Lava Reef, Carnival Night) and that’s down to the fact that everything in the game felt so fantastically smooth in terms of the platforming.

Everything in the Sonic toolbox comes together so well in this game. It clearly had the staying power too, otherwise, the franchise wouldn’t have been able to endure for so long following so many crap games in the franchise following this one.

49 – Shadow of the Colossus

Release Date: 18th October 2015
Developer: SCE Japan Studio, Team Ico
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation 2
Metacritic Average: 91%

It’s a game about slaughtering harmless creatures that also happen to be skyscraper-sized monsters.

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

I went into Shadow of the Colossus with no small amount of hype behind me. This autumn was the first time I ever owned a Playstation of any iteration, which means there was a big library of exclusives that I’m still slowly working my way through to this day, but the first game I had to try was Shadow of the Colossus. Pretty much every critic/Youtuber/reviewer who’s opinions I value has spent at least some time talking about how brilliant this game is, so I couldn’t wait to try it out for myself.

After finishing it, the best thing I can think of to say about it, it that there is genuinely nothing out there quite like it.

Plenty of games allow you to fight massive monsters, but they’re always so restrictive in how they let you interact with the things. The fights often limit you to a side-on perspective, or just straight up have the fight be almost entirely scripted, that’s not what Shadow of the Colossus does. Not only does it give you complete freedom to tackle each of the Colossus, but it also forces you into that freedom. The game doesn’t baby you in the slightest, the moment when the foot of the first colossus steps into frame, only for the camera to pan up and show you how massive it is was magical. This is all made even more magical when the cutscene ends and, instead of telling you how to fight it like most other game, just leaves you to work it out yourself.

This means that not only is every fight in the game a massive monster that could squish you as soon as look at you but an intelligently designed puzzle that you have to solve so you can climb up onto the thing’s back/head and stab its glowing bits.

The story is minimal, but the whole point of it is to not give you much, and get you to interpret what it’s trying to say. The game sets you up with a straightforward premise, kill the monsters and save the lady; seen it and done it hundreds of times. Then, as the game progresses, you slowly get very subtle hints that maybe what you’re doing isn’t necessarily the right thing. The game makes every battle seem like an epic fight. The music soars in triumph every time you make your way onto the Colossus’ back and yet when you finally kill them, the music changes to be very sombre, framing the death as a tragedy that you’ve murdered this wondrous creature. This leads up to the genius gameplay twist in game’s final segment, where you are transformed and forced to play as one of these giant lumbering beasts. You finally see just how difficult it is to move and attack as one of them, and it makes you realise just how helpless these creatures you’ve spent several hours murdering were.

The core gameplay concept for Shadow of the Colossus was one that could’ve easily been repetitive and boring, but a combination of satisfying climbing & combat; intelligent & varied colossus design; gorgeous looking world design and an unwavering commitment to tone, elevates the game to something genuinely special.

48 – Gunpoint

Release Date: 3rd June 2013
Developer: Suspicious Developments
Publisher: Suspicious Developments
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 83%

It’s a game about using lightswitches to fire guns.

Gunpoint is a puzzle game where every single element of the puzzles can interact with each other seamlessly. The rewiring concept would’ve been fun enough on its own, but the game gives you total freedom in what you can wire up to what. You wanna make it so that when a guard fires their gun, it calls the elevator? Sure thing. You want a lightswitch to set the whole building on red alert? No problem. You want to wire literally everything in the building up to everything else in the building so that they all trigger each other and the whole building descends into chaos. Probably giving some poor guard an epileptic fit as you leap through a window and knock him out with one punch? Couldn’t be more simple.

Gunpoint establishes all of its puzzle mechanics very quickly and then just lets you do what you want with them. The levels are designed in such a way that encourages you to experiment with the mechanics to see what works. With quick deaths and quicker respawns, you’re not punished for trying to have fun with the mechanics. The evaluation mechanic at the end of each level rewards you regardless of what play-style you used (provided you did it well). It allows you to be a lord of chaos and trick everyone into killing each other or getting in and out, without anyone even knowing you were ever in the building.

This is a game that has brilliantly designed puzzles, but also made sure that the puzzle mechanics lent itself to fun experimentation and whacky antics if you so chose to go down that route; and do you know what? I think I will.

47 – Spelunky

Release Date: 21st December 2008
Developer: Mossmouth LLC
Publisher: Mossmouth LLC, Microsoft Studios
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Playstation Vita, Xbox 360, Windows, Chrome OS
Metacritic Average: 90%

It’s a game about spelunking.

There are plenty of games on this list that nail that “one more go” feeling, but they’re usually rapid games. Things like Super Hexagon that only last around a minute before they chuck you out and have you desperately wanting to go back in again, which is what makes Spelunky so interesting.

As much as you can complete it in almost no time at all if you’re good enough, for a standard player like myself, a single run can take around half an hour (assuming you don’t die in the first few levels), but that is what makes it work. What it means is that the game never runs out of ways to surprise you with brand new stuff. The environments are procedurally generated so that levels never feel the same. Even once you’ve been playing long enough to recognise the patterns in the terrain generation, they always link up in unique ways, showing you new traps, items or enemies almost every time.

No matter how much I play Spelunky (spoilers, it’s a lot), I never feel like I’m good at it. I’m a hell of a lot better at it than I was when I first started playing, but the game never lets you rest on your laurels. This sounds like a complaint, but for a roguelike/roguelite game that’s exactly what I want. I want a game like this to be genuinely unsolvable because that’s what will keep me coming back to it time and time again.

46 – Clustertruck

Release Date: 27th September 2016
Developer: Landfall Games
Publisher: tinyBuild
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux, Nvidia Shield TV
Metacritic Average: 76%

It’s a game about leaping between trucks as they get exploderized in various ways.

Clustertruck is an unbelievably simple concept, but one that I never get bored of. This is a game that takes the pure elements of total chaos and manages to distil that feeling into the core mechanic on the game. As you could probably tell by its title, this game doesn’t give a shit about anything other than providing you with absolutely mental fun at all times.

The idea of a “Floor is Lava” game is fun enough in and of itself (just look at 2019’s Hot Lava) but to have your tools to avoid the floor be trucks that speed along at over 100 miles an hour makes the experience all the more exhilarating; and that’s not even mentioning the obstacles. Lasers, Pillars, Lava, Swinging Axes, Massive Cogs, Weird Spinning Pretzel looking things; there’s nothing this game won’t throw at you to try and knock you off your trucks. Discovering what each new level is going to try and throw at you is just as fun as actually trying to complete it.

This is a game that doesn’t need to have any mechanical genius behind it because it’s an absolute blast from start to finish, which is more than enough for me to be happy with it.

45 – Blade & Sorcery

Release Date (Early Access): 11th December 2018
Developer: Warp Frog
Publisher: Warp Frog
Platforms: HTC Vive, Oculus Rift

It’s a game about being a medieval action hero.

I’m honestly getting exhausted just thinking about this game. This is definitely not a VR game for beginners to the platform because it relies pretty heavily on having a decent knowledge of how to get the most out of VR, but once you get into it, there’s nothing that stops you from being the formidable warrior you always dreamed of being. The combat is so weighty in the game, that when I run someone through with a sword, I really feel it. It’s quite gruesome, if I’m being honest, the way that I can feel the resistance as the sword pierces through the body, it’s almost too real. The AI is just the right level for the game since they’re passive enough so that I can mess around with them and do stupid – yet awesome – looking kills, but are also good enough that they can provide a challenge in a straight-up duel.

There was something that clicked in my head as I took a running leap onto a zipline, using my axe to hook onto it, only to release from that zipline, landing on someone and stabbing them in the throat in the process before turning 180 degrees and throwing an axe into another person’s skull all in VR. I just stood there and realised that this is what VR is all about, it’s that empowering feeling that a regular video can’t give you, it’s the ultimate power trip. The only downside is that I can only play it for around 30 minutes at a time before being absolutely exhausted, but that’s not the game’s fault, I’m just unfit.

Ultimately, when I first imagine how cool games in VR could be, something not too far off of Blade & Sorcery is what came to mind and as new stuff is regularly being added (it’s still in early access), it only gets better and better.

44 – Mirror’s Edge

Release Date: 11th November 2008
Developer: EA Dice
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Nintendo Switch, Windows, iOS, Windows Phone
Metacritic Average: 81%

It’s a game about running and jumping across a city.

Mirror’s Edge is a game that has the strange distinction of not only being a unique concept for its time but also remaining a unique concept to this day, despite being released over a decade ago. In a weird way, it took the same design philosophies as the Sonic the Hedgehog games, with the momentum-based gameplay that elevated the parkour mechanics to have an incredible sense of flow & satisfaction.

What I think made this game feel as great as it was (and one of the key reasons I wasn’t a fan of the sequel) was the linear level design. Each level was so carefully crafted to get the most out of the parkour mechanics, creating that feeling of being someone always on the run from the law. Those sequences where soldiers would be shooting at you from all angles and you could do nothing but run are some of the most exhilarating sequences I’ve ever played in a game.

Mirror’s Edge was a game that knew precisely what it wanted to be and did it to near perfection with a formula that I don’t believe has ever been successfully replicated.

43 – Cook, Serve, Delicious!

Release Date: 5th October 2012
Developer: Vertigo Gaming
Publisher: Vertigo Gaming
Platforms: Windows, Mac, iOS, Android

It’s a game about running a restaurant, a whole restaurant, on your own.

When I first saw Cook, Serve, Delicious, I was expecting something along the lines of the time management games that dominate sites like Miniclip & Zylom, but it actually turned out to be something a lot more involved than that. Cook, Serve, Delicious is a game that requires all your focus at all times because it gets absolutely hectic. Orders & chores come in thick and fast, and you have to deal with them pretty much all at once. What makes this such a fun thing to play is the genius control scheme (on PC, at least). Using different buttons on the keyboard for all of the actions means that as long as you’re a fast typer, you absolutely can keep up with everything with some focus. It gives you this incredible rush of being able to do just about anything the game throws at you. It can be mentally exhausting at times, but I think it’s a fantastic feeling.

On top of that, it’s a game that I genuinely think improved my touch-typing skills. I could already touch-type reasonably well when I first found this game, but the rate at which I had to learn all of the different combinations and be able to dole them out on muscle memory alone meant that now I can touch-type so much faster than I ever could before.

Not only is Cook, Serve, Delicious an endlessly fun, fast-paced time management sim, but it has the potential to actually improve some clear real-world skills in the process. Something I’m not sure was its intention, but I’m impressed by it nonetheless.

42 – Dishonored

Release Date: 9th October 2012
Developer: Arkane Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Studios
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, Windows
Metacritic Average: 91%

It’s a game about stealthy stabbing in the middle of a plague.

Mechanically, Dishonored is damn-near flawless, the stealth & combat mechanics combined with the magic abilities creates this wonderful sense of satisfaction in the gameplay. You’re able to calculate clear plans of how to sneak/stab your way through each room and provided your level of play is good enough, you’ll be able to do it almost every time. Every ability feeds into each other and allows you to manipulate the world in just the right way to achieve what you need to. You use your Dark Vision to scout the room and work out the best order of which to take everyone down. You use your Blink & time manipulation abilities to manoeuvre the room and – depending on which play-style you’re going for – either take out every guard in one smooth sequence or slip past entirely undetected.

What really elevates Dishonored above you’re average stealth game, however, is its world-building. The world of Dunwall has such a visceral feel in every sense of the word. Visually it’s almost charming in the way it’s run-down and dirty. As the sounds of the city echo through the streets, I get so absorbed, I can almost smell the horror that lives in the city. That’s not all though, because you have the option to go through the game killing everyone or no-one, including your primary targets, which has an impact on the world. Instead of just telling you what the consequences of your choices were, it makes sure to show you. If you go around killing everyone the city will slowly become more and more worn down and horrible with each mission, those infected with the plague will start to litter the streets as the bodies you created help to spread the infection around the city. In contrast, much the opposite occurs if you take the pacifist route.

The mechanics and the world of this game mesh so well to create one cohesive experience that keeps me going right up until the credits roll (with an awesome song, I might add), creating one of my favourite stealth games ever.

41 – Jackbox Party Pack

Release Date: 26th November 2014
Developer: Jackbox Games
Publisher: Jackbox Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, WindowsMac, Linux, iPad, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, Nvidia Shield TV, Xfinity X1

They’re games about having fun with your friends.

I’m lumping the whole series into one entry here because I honestly can’t pick out one pack that’s better than the rest. They really are the perfect party games, they have concepts that are incredibly simple to grasp by all audiences and can be easily enjoyed by all audiences. I’ve played these games will people of all ages and every time they’ve had great fun with at least one of the games.

The nature of how you play them is also easily accessible. In an era where just about everyone has some form of smart device, using them as the controllers is an absolutely perfect way of doing it that honestly hasn’t been used nearly as much as I thought it would have by this point in time. Each pack has a brilliant variety of games that there’s never a social situation where you can’t open it up and have some fun with a group.

It’s a game that understands that the best humour in a group of friends or family come from the little in-jokes and references that only the people in that group will get, so they’ve created a system to facilitate precisely that kind of humour. It’s a formula that, to date, no other game has been able to replicate because it really is just so spot-on with the atmosphere it creates. Whenever I’m with a group of friends or family and we’re looking for something to occupy us, Jackbox is always among my first suggestions.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what you think of these games, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back this time on Saturday, where I’ll be covering the best on the Money in the Bank briefcase!

11 More Amazing Tracks from Pokemon Soundtracks

At the start of the year, I counted down my favourite tracks across the entirety of the main series of Pokemon games. Except there’s a small problem. You see, I recently dived into the soundtracks again and realised that a mere ten tracks was not nearly enough to cover all the amazing music this franchise had to offer. So, I’m doing it again to create more of a top 21.

Honestly, even that may not be enough to cover everything. So who knows? Maybe there’ll be a third instalment to this series in another six month’s time. Just like last time, I am keeping it purely to the main series of Pokemon games, so no spinoffs like the Mystery Dungeon or Ranger series will be included.

Now, to the music zone.

11 – Accumula Town – Black/White/Black 2/White 2

Ok, yes, it’s the ‘Furret Walk’ song, but there’s so much more than that to love about this track, (although that is a pretty big draw).

As you’ll know if you’ve read the first instalment of this list (which, if you haven’t noticed, I’d like it if you to read), then you’ll know that I don’t usually go for the quieter or simpler tracks, it’s not my style. The reason this track stood out to me is that it’s somewhere in the middle. It’s got a smooth sweetness to it, especially in the middle section where the flute completely takes over the melody and we get a track that has a calming aura to it, despite a decent pace.

In Black/White, Accumula Town is the first town you arrive in after setting off on your journey, so I think it’s an excellent way to introduce you to the broader world if the first town you encounter has a theme that is happy and welcoming. Sandgem Town in the Sinnoh games does this well, but I’m giving the edge to Accumula Town because it makes me feel cheerier when listening to it. While it’s got a relatively fast pace, it doesn’t go too fast for its own good. It’s almost like the track is encouragingly pulling you along the first step of your journey.

I’ve always been amazed at how, even though both Sinnoh & Unova were made on the same limited hardware, they were still able to have very distinct audio styles. I’ll go into more detail with it a bit later, but Unova feels a lot more ‘urban’ with its music, and this is precisely the kind of music I’d expect to come out of a happy little suburb. It makes Accumula Town a track that never fails to get me in a good mood.

10 – Max Raid Battle – Sword/Shield

Perhaps the only thing that the larger Pokemon fanbase can agree on about Sword & Shield is that the soundtrack is incredible. There are so many tracks from those games that I wish I had room to include (and a couple that we’ll be covering shortly). I included Marnie’s battle music in my first list because it was what stood out to me the most upon playing through the game. However, truth be told, I hadn’t properly dived into the full soundtrack yet, so when I did, I found some amazing music. This track included.

Max Raid Battles were one of the key selling points for Sword & Shield, as they put the game’s main gimmick on full display and encouraged collaboration between players in a way the franchise had never tried before. As a result, the track that accompanies these battles feels like it was built from the ground up to fit the entire concept of Max Raid Battles perfectly.

It starts out with this very quiet and odd synth build-up. As the camera dramatically pans around to show who you’ll be battling alongside before finally revealing you Dynamaxed/Gigantamaxed opponent. Then things start to ramp up and get more intense as you bring your Pokemon out on to the field and, the music syncs up perfectly to kick everything off the moment the battle begins. If you’ve played Sword/Shield as I have, then you’ve done a lot of Max Raid Battles, and I’ll be honest, that moment where the music kicks into gear never gets old.

Once the battle begins, the music wastes no time throwing you into a chaotic track that is simultaneously terrifying and triumphant. All around the main melody, there are synth and drum beats that go off at an erratic pace, surrounding and immersing you in the chaos that is a Max Raid Battle. You’ve got four Pokemon against one humongous one, and there are attacks flying everywhere, from all sides as you fight desperately to take down your opponents protections and avoid disaster.

Underneath all of that chaos, you have a melody that mixes brass & synth effects to create a track that feels like this grand spectacle. It taps into that same feeling that ‘Revied Power’ from Shadow of the Colossus does, where the fact that you’re even able to hold your ground against a gargantuan monster like this is a feat worthy of celebration. Just imagine what a Max Raid Battle would be like to watch right before your eyes, I imagine it would be a spectacle like no other, which is exactly the feeling that I get from this track.

9 – Vast Poni Canyon – Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon

While Mount Lanakila is technically the true ‘Victory Road’ section of Alola, I always felt that distinction should’ve gone to Vast Poni Canyon instead. It was unquestionably my favourite area to traverse in-game. It had so many wide open caverns and canyons that had an incredible sense of scale to them, even though your camera was pointed towards the floor most of the time. It twisted and turned in interesting ways, and every little nook and cranny had ways for you to explore the area. It’s an exciting climb to the base of the Altar of the Sunne/Moone, not to mention your final (or penultimate if you’re playing Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon) trial.

Vast Poni Canyon is a track with everything an area like this needs. It’s exciting, but also intimidating. It’s threatening but also encouraging. The opening to track is easily my favourite bit. The way the synth echoes throughout the track makes it feel like it’s echoing around this gigantic and well…vast canyon that surrounds you. It gives a very real feeling of scale to the environment along with bringing in that intimidation factor I was talking about.

Then the main melody kicks in, and the tone picks up a lot. The acoustic guitar in the foreground on the track compliments the subtle electric guitar in the background to make a track that has quite a chill vibe to it, while still keeping a certain energy that you need for an area like this one. A flute then takes over the melody, and things shift to the more emotional side of the music. This is the build-up to the final section of the game, where you’ll travel through dimensions and do battle with legendary Pokemon, this makes it partly a time of reflection on your journey up until this point. However, this track knows that the climax is just around the corner and the fast-paced synth effects, combined with the rapid percussion keep a certain intensity to the track, drawing out the nerves that come with nearing the climax of an adventure like this one.

On top of that, this track SCREAMS ‘Alola’ to me. I’d argue that Alola has one of the most distinct musical styles out of any region, but this is the track where I think it stands out the most. The theme and culture of Alola have been poured into this track, and every beat brings it out. There’s no mistaking which game this track comes from.

8 – VS Team Plasma Grunt – Black/White

Team Plasma has always been quite an interesting case for me. I feel like the story they told of ideals and corruption was an interesting idea. I wish it had come from a more adult-leaning franchise so that they could’ve explored the manipulation at the centre of the organisation.

To that end, their battle theme has a bit of a duality to it. Almost like its at conflict with itself, it’s subtle, but it’s there. The main melody of the song is strong and resolute. The progression of the synth gives me these feels of strong ideals and infinite resolve. These grunts aren’t just petty criminals; they believe they’re fighting for a worthy, humanitarian (except with Pokemon…poketarian?) cause. The conflict comes with the beat that’s carrying the whole thing.

The slow, methodical percussion is there, and it feels just a little bit off. It fits the rhythm of the track, it’s ‘going along with it’ so to speak, but the tone is different. Where the main melody is strong and triumphant, the beat underneath it is dark and intimidating. Maybe I’m stretching things a bit here, but when I think about it like that, it feels like that beat is representing the dissension at the heart of Team Plasma. That fact that Ghetsis is really at the centre of it all, using their message of liberation and kindness to hide his own selfish ambitions for world domination.

Symbolism aside, this is just a really fun track. The main melody has a slightly intimidating presence while still feeling like a grand battle between skilled trainers. It’s light and bouncy in places, while still throwing in the minor keys to remind you that these are the bad guy’s that you’re fighting. Thematically, I think this is a really robust track, and it holds up against any of the great evil-team battle themes.

7 – Castelia City – Black/White/Black 2/White 2

For those who are unaware, the Unova region, in which the Generation 5 games are set, was based on New York and Castelia City is the city that most clearly resembles the state’s capital city.

While the whole track has an ‘urban’ feel to it, this where that style feels the most present. Castelia City is stuffed to the brim with tall and powerful skyscrapers, while the streets below are pouring with hordes of people rushing back and forth. One of my favourite details in the whole franchise was the little text bubbles that appeared while walking through the crowded streets of Castelia City. It felt so realistic to be overhearing the most random snippets of stranger’s conversations. It was the first time in Pokemon history that I’ve felt a city in the game world actually has a realistic population for a city that size.

I’m sure you’ve already guessed what I’m going to say next, which that this track complements that atmosphere perfectly. For one thing, the choice of instrument is so genius that I never would’ve thought of it. Saxophone was such a brilliant choice to lead the melody in this track. For one thing, Jazz music is so heavily associated with urban American environments in pop-culture that you’re already on the nose. Then, you add on the fact that it’s exactly the kind of melody you might hear being played by buskers on the street or in the subway.

It’s so simple, and yet I feel such power with the emotions it brings forth. It’s got a slightly quickened pace to it, capturing the sense of hustle-and-bustle that you get as the crowds of people rush past you. Yet, underneath it lies some more sombre emotions. The kind of longing for something more or different that can often come if you grow up in a densely populated area like that. I can’t quite describe what I mean when I say that it sounds like the concept of nostalgia, but that’s pretty much the only way I can think of to describe it.

6 – VS Gladion – Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon

When I first heard this track, I wasn’t too sure on it. I enjoyed the melody, but I didn’t understand how it fit Gladion as a character. He seemed to be a much more downtrodden personality, I would’ve expected him to have a more intense and slow track for his battle theme…but eventually, I worked it out.

It’s the downward chord progression. Unlike almost every other battle theme that progresses upward, every bar in this one goes downward. Gladion’s had a weird life. He was born into a rich family that had their fingers in some very messy pies. Eventually, he caught onto the horrors that his mother was involved in and ran away, taking nothing but the Pokemon he considered friends. He abandoned his sister and caused his mother to fall even deeper into over-protective insanity. He was taken in with a petty criminal gang that he hated, but couldn’t break free from them because where else could he go?

Then he meets you, a trainer his age, who is making their own way in the world and is great at what they do. In battling you, Gladion gets a vision of the life he could’ve had. A life where he got to go out and see the world, making friends and taking on Pokemon battles for the fun of it, not out of necessity. That’s why the track is so upbeat. Gladion finally gets the opportunity to let out those positive emotions that have been suppressed inside of him – partly through his own doing and partly through his circumstance – that’s why he still only has a Type: Null when we first meet him, only for it to have become a Silvally by the end of his adventure.

Yet there’s still that downward chord progression I was on about. That’s Gladion’s underlying tragedy. His encounters with you may have helped him understand his position in the world better, and he may be a happier and better person now, but that doesn’t erase his past. He knows that while his relationship with his mother and sister is fixable, it’s going to be a long struggle. Not just for him to find common ground with his family, but for him to find it in himself to accept them back into his life.

Not only is the melody to this track catchy, fast-paced and really fun to listen to, but it tells Gladion’s story. It represents those deep, dark emotions alongside the high emotions and the joy that battling against you brings out of him.

5 – Nimbasa City – Black/White/Black 2/White 2

Unova’s got a lot of good town themes.

Castelia Cit gave us the more melancholic, emotional side of big cities. It’s the area where everything’s very tightly compact, the population is dense, and there’s not much room for anything other than business. Nimbasa City is the exact opposite.

Nimbasa City is more like Broadway. It’s big, it’s bright, it’s loud & it’s fun. Castelia City is where people do some serious work, while Nimbasa City is the flashy counterpart where all the stars come out to play. They’ve got concert halls, a carnival and two separate sports stadiums right next to each other. Even that town’s Gym Leader, Elesa, is a fashionista/celebrity in town. There are a couple of houses tucked away in the corner, but the majority of the space in the town is given over to the grandeur of the loud and colourful entertainment industry.

This is all backed up by a track that knows exactly how to have fun. The synthesised trumpets carry the track so well that it basically doesn’t need anything else to back it up, other than a simple bassline and an energetic beat. It’s quite a small loop all things considered, but it doesn’t need to be anything special when it’s so enjoyable to listen to. I talked before about how the New York environment is one heavily associated with jazz music. While Castelia City brings out the more poetic side of the genre, this track finds the fun in it. To be entirely honest, all it would need is a good guitar riff over the top, and it would practically be a ska track.

This whole track feels like it could be the opening number for a broadway musical. It pulls you in, hits you with tonnes of energy, gets you pumped and into the groove of things with a catchy hook, then sends you on your way, ready for the show. Spectacular.

4 – Sunyshore City – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

Sunyshore City’s theme is an interesting mix of one because it has to balance a mix of emotions. On the one hand, this is the fight of your life. This is the city where you will fight for your eighth and final gym badge, overcoming the final obstacle between you and the Pokemon League. On the other hand, it’s a bright and sunny town by the beach! Kick back, relax and enjoy the nice weather!.

The intensity is covered in such a short space of time, and yet it’s SO effective at what it does. The intro to the track has such an incredible sense of intimidation. The usually cheery piano chords are undercut by the deep brass notes and sharp percussive beats. It gives you this feeling that you’re stepping into a battleground you’re not quite ready for, but you’ve got to take the fight anyway. This is your final test before you take on the Elite Four, best not mess it up.

Then it kicks in, and suddenly all that intimidation evaporates, and you’re left with an upbeat, jolly track that creates a welcoming atmosphere. As I said, this is a beach town, with a resort just down the road. The place is filled with holiday-makers and people playing around having fun. It adds to the alive feeling of the franchise’s worlds. Sure, you’re on your way to a big and tough battle, but the world doesn’t revolve around you (no matter what the time/space God you just caught thinks). This is a town where people have a wonderful time, so this track is going to make sure you do too.

It balances your place in the narrative with the overall world it’s in and creates a track with a bit of a duality to it. The harsh percussion never really goes away, almost like a pounding heartbeat, but it’s overpowered by the sun and fun that surrounds you in this town.

3 – VS Team Galactic Commander – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

I love this track because it proves that not all villain themes have to be slow and manacing. That’s not to say slow & menacing villain themes are bad; in fact, my previous list on this topic features several of those tracks. However, I think it’s important that no music in games should get ‘stuck in their ways’ so to speak. I believe that it’s more important for your music to fit its usage than anything else. Whether it’s a location, cutscene or character, what makes a good track into an amazing one is when it embodies the feel of that thing perfectly. Which is why I think this track is so much fun to listen to.

The thing about the Team Galactic Commanders is that they’re a bit silly. Not necessarily in the way that they’re written, but just look at them. They wear bodysuits that look they’re from an 80’s film about the year 2000; their hair is done up in over the top ways with bright colours; not to mention the fact that they all named themselves after planets ‘cos Galactic’. In many ways, that’s all part of their charm, but they’re the kind of characters that you’re never really going to take seriously.

Following that theme, this track doesn’t take itself too seriously. It still throws in an overall threatening tone. The bassline especially grounds the whole thing and gives it an extra layer of intensity that would be missing otherwise. However, the synthesised main melody that carries the whole thing is noticeably different in tone. It starts off so incredibly chaotic, leaving you no time to breathe before throwing you straight into a fast-paced, fun and slightly over-the-top melody that doesn’t seem to know where it’s going. That sounds like an insult, but it’s actually the reason I enjoy listening to it so much.

Much like the commanders themselves, this track never gives you time to stop and take stock of what is going on. They just want to fight you, and it’s your job to fight back, whether you like it or not.

2 – VS Gym Leader – Sword/Shield

When I first played through Sword & Shield, I never realised the genius of this track, and I can only profusely apologise because this track is incredible.

The track has three phases, which on its own is great, but when you break each of them down, that’s when I fall in love with it.

The first phase is the simplest of the three; as you’d expect. There’s the build-up as the battle begins and each trainer brings out their first Pokemon, then things get intense. The beat is quite basic, but it’s impactful enough and backed up by a style of synth that I can’t quite describe to create quite the atmosphere. You have to remember that in Galar, these gym battles are being watched by a stadium full of thousands of people. Could you imagine what it would feel like to do battle in that environment? This first phase is like the feeling-out process of the fight. Both competitors are gauging each other’s battling styles and devising strategies to win.

Then you take down the Gym Leader’s first Pokemon, and the music moves to the second phase, ramping all the way up again before the synth comes back at a much higher octave and the melody shifts slightly. Moving away from the synth that just goes along with the beat, we move into an electronic melody that changes the atmosphere of the track. Those nerves from the start of the battle are long gone, we’re right in the thick of the battle now. Each trainer has a plan which they’re doing their best to execute it. A rapport has formed, and the crowd can feel the excitement building.

Eventually, you back the Gym Leader into a corner, all they have left is their final and strongest Pokemon. This is where it gets real. The track takes a moment to build up again, and then it repeats the intro to phase two, except this time, the crowd are chanting over it. When I first heard this, I honestly nearly teared up at how utter brilliant of an idea this was. To actually include the roaring, chanting & singing on the massive live crowd into the melody of the track itself was a stroke of musical genius and it adds everything to the exciting and intense feel of these battles.

If you’ve ever been in a large crowd for any kind of sporting event in the UK (and maybe elsewhere, I wouldn’t know), this is EXACTLY the kind of thing you hear. The composers even made sure that the voices weren’t all perfectly synched up, so it felt like real people were making these noises. The synth finally takes a back seat, just interjecting the backing to give the whole thing its sense of rhythm; then it sits back and lets the roar of the crowd wash over the track and carry you to victory.

1 – VS Eternatus ~ Phase 3 – Sword/Shield

This track is more or less the whole reason I wanted to make another one of these lists.

The climax of Sword & Shield’s story is a bit of an odd one, letting you go all the way to the champion battle before the villain finally reveals themselves and puts their plan into action. It was a weird choice of pacing, and I’m not sure it quite worked, but FUCK ME, it was worth it for this track.

After having already gone through about six quite gruelling battles across two different tournaments to get to the champion, you’re suddenly thrown through a loop and have to save the Galar region from an ancient & eternal monster. The first two phases are rough. First, you have to fight Eternatus’ regular form on your own, which is no easy task. Then it transforms into its ‘Eternamax form’ (which is a dumb name but let’s not go there), and Hop finally does something noteworthy in the story to help you. Except…you can’t actually touch it. Literally none of your attacks with even scratch it.

Then, we get what may be my favourite cutscene in all of Pokemon, where you summon Zacian and Zamazenta to help you save the day. Once they show up, this music kicks in and man…I just have to let it wash over me every time. The way the piano starts things off, for the quiet violin to tease the main melody, for the lead guitar to burst into the track and get the battle going. It even includes the dogs themselves howling over it. Genuinely, I teared up. It’s such an incredible build and fits so perfectly to the moment of these legendary dogs finally awakening to come and help you.

The rest of the track has a triumphant feel to it. It fills you with this incredible sense of confidence. Just moments ago, all seemed lost, yet now you’ve turned the tide. The legendary Pokemon have risen and are fighting alongside you; there’s no way you can lose now. It almost strays into feeling fun, but there’s something in the way the melody progresses that holds the intensity and dumps on a whole heap of emotional stakes.

In it’s simplest form, this is a track that makes me so very happy whenever I listen to it. The emotion it carries is so incredibly powerful that I never get tired of listening to it. Even when I had it on loop for 20 minutes while putting this entry together, it has a lot of complexity to it and yet what it conveys is so very simple. It’s undoubtedly one of the best tracks the composers for Pokemon have ever put together.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this. Please, let me know what music you love best from Pokemon, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back this time on Wednesday for the next instalment in my 100 Favourite Games series!