WWE Fantasy Booking: A Better 2020

So I’ve never tried my hand at fantasy booking before because I think there are people out there on the web who do it better than me (looking at you, Mr Blampied), but this was a fun idea I came up with, so I’m giving it a go.

Every year when we look back on the year that was in WWE, we see a lot of glaring errors they made, and we wonder what could’ve been. So I thought, hey, let’s try and analyse what should’ve been in 2020. Obviously, this will be heavily influenced by what I did & didn’t like, so I may make some choices you disagree with, but that’s why this is fantasy.

I’m not going to be rebooking every single storyline that happened in the company in 2020; I don’t have the time or energy for that. So instead, my goal here is to run through the year focusing on the major things I would change, explain a little bit about why and see where the company would be at the end of 2020 had they done things my way. As such, if I don’t mention something, it’s safe to assume I’d just leave it the same as it was.

Now some rules:

– This is just going to be rebooking of Raw & Smackdown’s storylines from 2020

– While injuries are often a ‘wrong place, wrong time’ thing, it can be a bit uncomfortable to book around these things, so I’m going to say that any injuries that happened in 2020 still happened and lasted for the same length of time.

– Finally, I’m keeping any/all NXT call-ups in the same place they happened in real-life because changing that would potentially change NXT storylines, and I don’t want to touch that.

With that established, let’s start this booking with…

January

So we’re all on the same page at the start; here were the champions in WWE at the start of 2020.

Raw:

WWE Champion – Brock Lesnar

Raw Women’s Champion – Becky Lynch

United States Champion – Andrade

Raw Tag Team Champions – The Viking Raiders

Women’s Tag Team Champions – The Kabuki Warriors

Smackdown:

Universal Champion – The Fiend Bray Wyatt

Smackdown Women’s Champion – Bayley

Intercontinental Champion – Shinsuke Nakamura

Smackdown Tag Team Champions – The New Day

24/7 Champion – I’m not dealing with this title, and you can’t make me

Truth be told, in January, there isn’t all that much I would change. Rumble season is always a bit quiet where the titles are concerned, and 2020 was no different. The Fiend vs Daniel Bryan feud was reaching its peak. Meanwhile, on the women’s side of things, Bayley was having an ok feud with Lacey Evans and Becky Lynch was having a brilliant feud with Asuka.

There were two title changes in January that I would like to undo, though. Firstly, The Viking Raiders lost their tag titles to Seth Rollins & Buddy Murphy. At the time, I saw this as a good move as Rollins’ story was starting to heat up, but with the power of hindsight, I can see that it went nowhere, so I’m just not doing it. Instead, I’d prefer to keep the titles on the Raiders for an exciting Wrestlemania feud. Secondly, Shinsuke Nakamura does not lose the Intercontinental Championship to Braun Strowman. Strowman ended up being a transitional champion to get the title from Nakamura to Zayn, but A) Braun Strowman should not be a transitional champion, and B) I think there’s a far more exciting way to get the title from Nakamura to Zayn a little later down the line.

As for the Rumble matches, I’d keep the men’s rumble EXACTLY the same. The 2020 men’s rumble was utterly brilliant, and I don’t want to change a single thing about it, including Drew McIntyre’s win. Truth be told, I’m not going to be changing much about Drew McIntyre’s story in 2020 because I really enjoyed most of it. On the women’s Rumble side, the only thing I want to change is the winner, which will be Shayna Baszler. Charlotte winning the Rumble was a good excuse to kick off her feud with Rhea Ripley, but it was ultimately unnecessary. Charlotte could just show up in NXT one week, and it’d have the same effect, maybe even better, because it’ll be a surprise. On top of that, you have the immediate shock factor of Shayna showing up on the main roster and winning the Rumble, which means you don’t have to waste an Elimination Chamber building her up.

February

First thing’s first, the night after Royal Rumble, Shayna Baszler immediately announces that she’s coming for Becky Lynch’s title at Wrestlemania. This is a feud that should’ve got far more intense than it did, and I want to start building it straight away. This first month should be this “anything you can do, I can do better” competition between Baszler & Lynch, where both women try to assert dominance in this game of one-upmanship. I’ll go into more detail with that when we get to March.

Next, it’s time to head to Saudi Arabia for Super ShowDown and oh dear…

Truthfully, this wasn’t actually that terrible of a show (at least, compared to other Saudi shows WWE have done); it just had one or two majorly terrible things that happened during it. Firstly, Brock Lesnar squashed Ricochet. I’m actually not changing this, I’d just make the match a little longer and let Ricochet get a tiny bit more offence in. Nothing major, just…something. Also, now The Viking Raiders are still tag champs, I would have them retain the titles over The OC. In real life, this was a match between Rollins & Murphy and The Street Profits, but I’m saving The Street Profits for a little later.

The show also saw the start of The Undertaker vs AJ Styles feud, and I’m going to change that because the way they did it here was DUMB. Instead of having The Undertaker show up, win a match he wasn’t in and then leave the trophy behind, AJ Styles is going to win the trophy. Then, on Raw the next week, Styles will show up with the trophy, he leaves it on the ramp during his match, then, at the end of the match, The Undertaker’s gong hits, the lights come down, ‘lightning’ strikes the trophy and it shatters. From there, you can build the story pretty much as it was; I just think this is a better way to start it.

The big one, though, arguably the biggest mistake WWE made the entire year, was having Goldberg beat The Fiend to win the Universal Championship. This was a terrible idea for all kinds of reasons, and I’m not going to waste time going over them all here. But, all you need to know is I’m reversing that result, and in this world, The Fiend beats Goldberg and retains the Universal Championship.

March

Thanks to the stupid Saudi show being in a stupid place on the calendar, we kick March off immediately with Elimination Chamber. This will be a meaty one; we’ve got a lot of Wrestlemania matches to set up.

First up, the Intercontinental Championship. In real life, Strowman faced Nakamura, Zayn & Cesaro in a 3 on 1 handicap match, Zayn got the pin, won the title, and both Nakamura & Cesaro were just fine with that for some reason. So, I’m making a few changes.

Firstly, as I said in January, Nakamura never lost the title to Strowman in this universe, so he goes in as the champion. Secondly, rather than being a 3 on 1 handicap match for the title, it’s a Fatal 4 Way, Nakamura vs Zayn vs Cesaro vs Strowman. This means the heels can still team up to take the monster down, but you can have fun with their conflicting egos. The finish of this match will involve Nakamura & Cesaro teaming up to take Strowman down, like, REALLY putting the work in to topple the monster. They smash him with finishers, ending with a double-superplex from the top rope, wiping out all three men. At which point, Zayn slides in the ring, pins Strowman and wins the title. This gets the title on Zayn as I want and can start to give us cracks in the skin of The Artist’s Collective, as Nakamura would naturally be pissed Sami stole his title.

Next, the Raw Women’s Championship. Since Shayna Baszler has already won the Rumble, this will be for the title instead of a Wrestlemania match. Baszler essentially goads Lynch into putting her title on the line in the Chamber as part of their game of one-upmanship that they’ve been locked in since the Rumble. The participants will be mostly the same as they were in real life, except I’ll swap out Shayna for Becky, as Becky’s the champion, and Asuka for Kairi Sane because…well, I felt like it. Becky obviously retains, but Shayna attacks Becky after the match and here is where we ramp up the brutality and intensity of this feud going forward.

Finally, we’re going to have ourselves another Chamber match to determine The Fiend’s Wrestlemania opponent. The six men I’d put in this match are Roman Reigns, Jeff Hardy, Kofi Kingston, Baron Corbin, Sheamus & John Cena.

Now here, we have to make an awkward decision.

If I was booking like WWE was at the time, I would have Roman win, but I’m sitting here in 2021, and I know that the COVID-19 pandemic will become a lot more severe and force Roman to miss Wrestlemania. So do I book with the power of hindsight? Or do I act like I would’ve if I was in the moment, not knowing the effect COVID would have on Wrestlemania? Given that this is fantasy booking and most of what I’m doing is with the power of hindsight anyway, I’m going to say that I do book knowing the effects COVID will have.

As such, the winner of this match is John Cena.

April

It’s Wrestlemania time! And this show is going to look pretty similar to the real thing, just a few tweaks.

First up, Roman Reigns. Now, as I’ve already addressed, he missed Wrestlemania due to being vulnerable to COVID. However, since he didn’t pull out until a week before the show, WWE would still book him in a match, which is why I’d book Roman vs Goldberg, just not for the title, as The Fiend still has that. Then you can do the same thing that happened in real life where you substitute in Braun Strowman and have him beat Goldberg instead.

After keeping the Raw Tag Titles on The Viking Raiders for a few extra months, here is where they fight The Street Profits. The story to this could’ve been great, and the match would’ve been even better as The Street Profits never beat The Viking Raiders in NXT. You can still do the weird skit stuff after Mania if you want, I thought most of it was pretty funny, but the build to this should be serious, and the match will hopefully be great. The Street Profits will win the titles and do what they did in real life for the rest of the year.

Next, the United States Championship, and this is a bit of a weird one. Andrade actually missed Wrestlemania because of an injury, which surely means I can’t have him around, right? Well, I’m actually going to break my own rule here. Andrade’s injury only kept him out of action for a couple of weeks, and it didn’t seem to be that serious. So, I think it’s fair to call it a ‘wrong time, wrong place’ kind of injury, and with what I’m booking, he’ll be in a different place at a different time and hopefully won’t get injured. Which is good because I’m booking a Fatal 4 Way match with Andrade, Angel Garza, Humberto Carrillo & Rey Mysterio. Andrade had been involved with all these guys by the start of 2020, and it’s a shame it never led to anything interesting, so I’m getting something good out of it here. On top of that, Andrade is going to retain.

Jumping over to Smackdown, we have Sami Zayn vs Daniel Bryan for the Intercontinental Championship. So, after Zayn stole the title from Nakamura, The Artist’s Collective looked to be falling apart, but Zayn managed to win them back over, albeit things are still uneasy. Zayn then carries on doing his thing, which eventually causes Cesaro & Nakamura to abandon him, meaning they’re not in his corner for this match. This means that we get to have Zayn vs Bryan with absolutely no outside shenanigans, yes please. I’m also going to change the result and give the title to Daniel Bryan. Sami Zayn would leave the company for a few months because he didn’t want to put himself at risk of COVID. So once again, I’m using the power of hindsight to make sure he doesn’t have the title when that happens. Plus, it means Daniel Bryan gets to do great wrestling with the IC title for a few months.

For the Universal Championship, The Fiend defends against John Cena, which will be exactly how it was in real life. The Firefly Funhouse match was a creative masterstroke, and I want to keep it exactly the same. The only difference will be that there’s a title on the line, adding that wrinkle of Cena’s potential 17th world title. When it’s all said and done, The Fiend retains.

The only thing left that I’m going to change is Becky Lynch vs Shayna Baszler. For one thing, it should go longer than EIGHT pissing minutes. Lynch main-evented the show last year, and you’re not even going to give her 10 minutes to work with the next year? Piss off with that; this is a 15-20 minute match. Secondly, and this one is obvious, Shayna Baszler wins the title. With the power of hindsight, we know that Becky wouldn’t be able to defend her title anymore anyway due to getting pregnant, but even if you pretend you don’t know that, it’s so clearly the right move. Shayna’s run of dominance in NXT is one of the best things to ever happen to that brand – which REALLY saying something – it absolutely blows my mind that Vince can’t see anything in her for the main roster. Baszler is MONEY, and she is holding that Raw Women’s title well past the end of 2020 in my universe.

That’s it for things I would change, all the other results I’m keeping just the same.

May

Now we’re past Wrestlemania, things need to cool down a bit, and we can start to lay out some plans for the rest of the year. The first port of call for which is Money in the Bank.

In an ideal world, we would be building to a Shayna/Lynch rematch for this show, but as I’ve said, Lynch is pregnant by this point, so that’s off the table. So instead, Lynch just disappears after Wrestlemania, maybe showing up one week to make her announcement, because that was a lovely moment. With that off the table, though, I’m just going to go for Baszler getting to look extremely dominant, beating both Liv Morgan & Ruby Riott in a triple threat match.

On the title defence front, Daniel Bryan’s first post-Mania feud will also be a triple threat, as Shinsuke Nakamura & Cesaro team up on Bryan to get back the title Zayn stole from them. However, they will be unsuccessful. Then, with the Universal Championship, The Fiend, having erased John Cena from WWE, is going to start dismantling all our other heroes too. Jeff Hardy calls out The Fiend but deeply regrets it come Money in the Bank when The Fiend wipes the floor with him.

Not every championship is staying put, though, as Andrade’s reign with the United States Championship is coming to an end, and here’s where I feel a little cruel. In real life, Apollo Crews was the man to take Andrade down, but that’s not who I’m having it be. It’s not because I think Crews was a bad choice; he was a good champion. There’s just someone I’d rather have the title and could be built up even bigger with it around his waist. That man is Aleister Black.

What we’re all looking forward to, though, is the Money in the Bank ladder matches themselves. Keep the entire premise of the match the same, although it was a bit too silly for some, personally, I loved the weird fever dream that was the cinematic Money in the Bank match last year. As for the winners, on the women’s side, I’m keeping that the same and having Asuka win. However, as Baszler is the champion in this timeline, Asuka will hold onto the briefcase for a little while rather than being handed the title straight away.

On the men’s side, it’s not going to be Otis, that was shit, and I’m not giving it to The Miz either because 2021 proved that it was entirely pointless. Instead, I’m going to give it to Bobby Lashley. Lashley’s run with the US title in the latter half of 2020 with The Hurt Business was terrific, but I can’t give him that title for this rebooking due to some plans I’ve got in place, so he can run with the briefcase instead. Plus, when the time comes for the cash-in in February 2021, things are much more straightforward, with Lashley taking the title from Drew straight off the bat, rather than using The Miz as a middle-man.

June

Straight out of the gate in June, Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura will win the Smackdown tag titles from The New Day. This happened in July in real life, but I’m pushing it forward a month. No real reason, I just wanted Cesaro & Nakamura to have a longer reign. That’s not the only title change, though, as AJ Styles is going to beat Daniel Bryan to become Intercontinental Champion, and this is where the IC title roughly falls back into the same path as real life.

The Fiend will continue to murder our heroes, this time Kofi Kingston is up on the chopping block. I don’t want this to be too dominant a victory, as Kofi deserves better than what he got at the end of his 2019 WWE title reign, but he will ultimately be vanquished by the Eater of Worlds.

Over on Raw, Lashley having the MITB briefcase means he can’t fight Drew at Backlash, so I’m going to pull a quick substitution and put Kevin Owens in against Drew here instead. He won’t need to turn heel for this; you can keep it face vs face pretty easily. I know this leads to Owens taking a big loss, but given that WWE were doing absolutely nothing with him around this time anyway, I’d argue this is still better.

Aleister Black’s first major feud with the US title can be with Apollo Crews because I feel bad about taking that title reign away from him. You know that match these two had on the Raw after Wrestlemania? The one that went 20 minutes and was really bloody good? Yeah, we’re just going to let them have that match at Backlash instead, and everyone will probably enjoy that.

With the Raw Women’s Title, Baszler will continue her run of dominance against Natalya. However, after the match, Asuka will come out with the briefcase and declare that she will be cashing in…at Summerslam.

July

One of the more uneventful months now, as we’re mostly biding our time until Summerslam.

On Raw, Aleister Black will defend his US title against Ricochet, playing off how they came onto the main roster as a tag team, and it’ll hopefully be a great match, not to mention a new one. The Raw Women’s Championship scene is going to heat up a bit too, with Asuka’s cash-in looming on the horizon, Baszler will defend her title against Kairi Sane. These two made magic in NXT, and I’d love to see some of that on the main roster, plus Sane & Asuka’s allegiance keeps Asuka at the forefront of the action in the build to Summerslam, as well as teasing Asuka vs Kairi, which would be a match people would want to see. Unfortunately, Kairi isn’t going to win, as she would retire from in-ring competition around this time. Hopefully, this was a worthy sendoff for her. Certainly better than Nia Jax almost killing her.

Over on Smackdown, Styles defends his IC title against Daniel Bryan, and we’re starting The Fiend vs Braun Strowman feud at last. One of the main problems with that feud in real life is that it just dragged on forever. They fought at Money in the Bank, then they forgot about it for a month until Bray suddenly showed up again, and they kept going for another couple of months. I’m shortening it by waiting until now to start it. You could do the cinematic match that happened in real life, but I thought it was crap, so I won’t. Instead, I’m going to have this be similar to the Money in the Bank match from real life, with the funhouse version of Bray fighting Braun instead. The only difference here is Bray will retain, but you can get some spooky shenanigans involved, so it’s not clean.

August

Summerslam time, and here I’m actually changing quite a bit.

First up, Retribution. As much as I think the whole idea of this faction is a bit naff, I’m going to do my best to improve it. I’ll keep most of the things about their introduction the same, but fuck those masks and fuck those stupid codenames. Let them be the same people they were in NXT; just give them more of an aggressive edge. Additionally, have them only show up on Raw, but DON’T give them contracts because that was DUMB. Just keep them as a presence that could strike at any moment and wreck Raw week in and week out.

At Summerslam, Aleister Black will be defending his United States Championship against Cedric Alexander, and this is where Retribution get involved in the show. During the match, Mustafa Ali’s music hits, and he comes down the ramp. Everyone’s a little confused as to why until Retribution jumps the barricade and storm the ring. Once they’ve taken Black & Cedric out, Ali gets in the ring and stands at the head of the faction as they all unmask themselves. We actually get to see their faces, and all of them, Ali, Dijakovic, Dio Madden, Shane Thorne & Mia Yim, stand in the ring until being chased off by security. More on this next month.

Elsewhere on the card, Jeff Hardy wins the Intercontinental Championship from AJ Styles. Again, keeping this the same as in real life, but let’s actually put it on Summerslam because that just feels better. Bayley continues her run as Smackdown Women’s Champion, but she’s not getting involved with Asuka in this timeline. Sasha & Bayley still win the women’s tag titles, but Sasha doesn’t get her hands on the Raw women’s title, and at Summerslam, Bayley will be defending against Alexa Bliss.

Shayna Baszler vs Asuka is up next, and this is another point where I feel bad about the decision I’m making. Asuka’s run as Raw Women’s Champion in 2020 was great for the most part, and she absolutely deserves it, but this really is Shayna’s year. Shayna shouldn’t take a loss until at least Wrestlemania 37 in this universe, so she will retain her title over Asuka in this one.

The main event goes on as it did in real life, ending in the exact same way with Roman showing up and laying waste to everyone.

But wait! That’s not all!

For some strange reason, WWE booked another PPV a week after Summerslam, so I’ve got to book that too.

Randy Orton vs Keith Lee is up first, and I’m making a slight change in that this will now become a number 1 contender’s match for Drew’s WWE title, which Lee will win, as he did in real life. I want to keep the Drew/Orton feud, but I think it went on too long, so I’m breaking it up in the middle here with Keith Lee instead.

Secondly, Bayley & Sasha lose their tag titles, as they did in real life, however, Baszler & Nia Jax aren’t a tag team in this universe, so I’m putting the titles back on The IIconics because…it’s The IIconics.

Finally, Roman Reigns wins the Universal title from The Fiend. I know it’s unceremonious and not a great end to The Fiend’s title reign, but Reigns’ run in the latter half of 2020 was SO good, and I don’t want to change any of it.

September

The Intercontinental Championship gets firmly back on the path it had in real life now, with Sami Zayn returning and winning the title at Clash of Champions. The only change I’d suggest is maybe throwing Daniel Bryan into that ladder match too. Not required, but it might be fun. Drew McIntyre vs Keith Lee will be a great match, but Drew will ultimately retain. This serves more as a launching platform for Keith Lee than anything else; it would be a bad idea for him to win the title so soon. I’d have it be clean and let Orton attack Drew after the match, but if you wanted to protect Lee, you could have Orton spoil the match. Shayna Baszler will pick up a feud with Nia Jax now and wrestle circles around her with ease…that’s all I have to say about that.

Now, we pick up the Retribution thread again. The idea around this group should focus on what Ali has touched on a lot online recently about them being ‘underutilised’ wrestlers. Here, you can use the established identities of the group’s members to enhance this story. Dijakovic was constantly passed over in NXT for guys like Keith Lee. Shane Thorne was never given a proper opportunity to get off the ground, and Dio Madden was cast away from Raw commentary as quickly as he arrived. These aren’t complicated motivations, just use the character-building you already have right in front of you.

Anyway, after they ruin the US title match at Summerslam, Cedric runs off to join The Hurt Business while Aleister Black sets his sights on the faction. Once again, Retribution DO NOT get given Raw contracts. They are an outside force that is wrecking the shows; why would you ever hire them? They demand contracts from Adam Pearce, but he refuses them time and time again, so their antics get more violent, one week they’re actually on the brink of cutting the power and taking Raw off the air in the middle of the show when Black comes in and chases them off with a surprise attack.

This is the only time Black gets one up on the group, as after this, Retribution focuses solely on Black. Black wants to fight them, but Pearce won’t let him because “it’s too dangerous” or something like that, but Black won’t be deterred. Eventually, Black goes over his head and gets Vince involved, who makes a match, Aleister Black vs Mustafa Ali for the United States Championship at Clash of Champions. Ali forcibly adds the condition that if he wins, Retribution gets Raw contracts. Pearce pleads with Vince to not do that, but Vince blows him off with a cocky attitude because “no-one’s ever beaten me at this game before”.

So at Clash of Champions, Ali beats Black, wins the United States Championship and contracts for Retribution. On Raw the week after, Pearce can go to Vince and be like, “what do we do now?” to which Vince is like, “that sounds like a you problem”, and peaces out of there.

We’re not quite done in September yet either, as I’m booking Sasha Banks vs Bayley for Clash of Champions. While I think this feud was great, it was a bit disappointing that we only got one match out of it. So instead of having this feud weirdly skip this show, this is where it starts, and Sasha wins the title straight away. This might seem like an odd choice, but here we can play up the story of Sasha being unable to defend her titles, and that’s where the drama comes from in the Hell in a Cell rematch.

October

Heading into the final quarter of the year now, and here’s where my changes start to wind down. The rest of the year is more about seeing through all of the stuff I’ve already set up rather than bringing in anything new.

The major thing that happens in October is the draft, and while I did think about rebooking it, the more I thought about it, the more of a nightmare it became, so I’m keeping it as is. I’m including the New Day splitting up in that too. I still think it was a bad decision, but Big E has really started to flourish as a singles competitor (again) throughout the start of 2021, so I’m keeping him on that course.

Looking to this month’s Pay-Per-View, Hell in a Cell, and things are looking pretty similar. Banks & Bayley can still have their Cell match. Only Sasha will now be going in as champion. I think this will be better because the feud will have had more time to reach the kind of heat that would require the Cell, plus you can centre the story around Banks not being able to defend her titles. Banks will win, and she can carry on as she did in real life from now on. On the Raw women’s side, Shayna Baszler defends her title against Mandy Rose. Not much to say here, Shayna retains.

The US title scene heats up now as Retribution is going to get involved with The Hurt Business (now with Cedric Alexander) as they did in real life. However, this time, Retribution will not lose and be made to look like fools every week. The central point of the feud for this month is going to be Ali vs Shelton Benjamin for the US title because Lashley’s got the Money in the Bank briefcase. The match will play out at Hell in a Cell, and there should be a lot going on around ringside for this one. Everyone in both factions should be getting involved. Said chaos leads to Benjamin getting caught up in the crossfire, and Ali gets the win. It’s not a clean win for Ali, but he should be able to hold his own in the match against Benjamin. I feel the need to specify this because, let’s be honest, in real life, Ali would be booked like a chump, and I don’t want that.

Finally, Drew vs Randy happens inside the Cell, as in real life. However, because of our detour with Keith Lee, people won’t have seen this match twice already and will hopefully be more up for it. The key difference here is that Drew is going to retain. I don’t know if WWE made plans and then changed their minds when they gave the title to Orton, but it seemed really dumb for Orton to win the title, only for Drew to get it back a few weeks later. This way, Drew gets to keep one continuous run as champ and doesn’t go into Survivor Series off the back of a huge loss.

November

Survivor Series time, and hey, you know all those Champion vs Champion matches? FUCK ‘EM! They’re gone. I’ll keep the men’s & women’s 5 on 5 tags as they are so you can still sell the show on the Raw vs Smackdown aspect, but the champion vs champion matches are horrible and pointless. Never mind the fact that everyone (including the characters) forget about them the moment the show ends, but it just makes one of your champions look weak, and that’s really dumb. The only change I’ll make to the tag matches is that Bianca Belair wins and is the sole survivor because that thing with Lana pouting like a schoolgirl then winning by accident was crap.

What to do with all these champions who now don’t have matches, though? I’m glad you asked. Sami Zayn can defend against Apollo Crews because they had a mini-feud around this time. Sasha Banks can defend against Tamina because, why not? Might be fun. Shayna Baszler will continue her run of dominance by blasting through Mickie James; haven’t seen her in a while. Roman can have a one and done match with Rey Mysterio because I think it’d be great, and Drew can start his program with AJ Styles a month early, with a regular match here, before getting more hardcore for TLC.

That just leaves Ali. He and Retribution are going to continue their feud with The Hurt Business. Initially, Cedric steps up to be the next to challenge Ali, but MVP says no, he wants this dealt with, and he wants it dealt with now, so Bobby Lashley challenges Ali instead. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go well. Once again, the two factions go at it at ringside during the match, except this time, it’s Cedric who accidentally knocks Lashley. Ali takes advantage and once again gets away with the title.

December

Our final month of the year, and straight away, I have to say that on the Smackdown side of things…nothing changes. The Banks vs Carmella feud gave us a good match, Big E winning the IC title on Christmas day was great, and the Reigns vs Owens feud was brilliant. Smackdown was really good in December, a streak it’s still somewhat keeping up now, so I don’t want to change any of it.

Raw is a different story, though. The Drew/Styles feud will keep ticking along, leading to a TLC match, only hopefully with more build now, and also there is no cash-in because Miz doesn’t have the briefcase.

While I’d love to end this on some massive high for Baszler’s title reign, it doesn’t really need one. This whole year since Baszler won the title has just been about letting her have good matches and getting dominant wins over a HUGE variety of opponents to solidify her as a main-event star for years to come. There are a bunch of different ways you can go heading into Mania 37 with Baszler. Charlotte vs Baszler would be a money match, Rhea Ripley vs Baszler would have great story potential as Rhea was the one to unseat Baszler in NXT. You could even have Baszler face off against Fiend-ified Alexa Bliss if you want something new and weird. However, this booking is just about 2020, so for now, Baszler defends her title in a chaotic tables match with Nikki Cross.

The Raw tag titles! Haven’t talked about those for a while. In real life, The New Day lost them to The Hurt Business at TLC; that isn’t happening here. The New Day are essentially going to get caught up in the war between Retribution & The Hurt Business. Both teams will try to take the titles from The New Day, but the two factions keep screwing each other over. This culminates at TLC with a triple threat tag match, The New Day vs Dio Madden & Dominick Dijakovic of Retribution vs Shelton Benjamin and…Bobby Lashley of The Hurt Business.

What’s Cedric Alexander doing? I hear you ask. Well, after Cedric accidentally cost Lashley his match for the US title at Survivor Series, The Hurt Business have been a bit pissed off at him. MVP essentially tells him, “you’ve made this mess, you clean it up”, and Ali vs Cedric for the US title is set for TLC. Additionally, because of how chaotic the fighting has got between the two factions, Adam Pearce decrees that the extra members of each faction are banned from ringside. To enforce this, he also states that if Retribution interferes, Ali will be stripped of the US title, and if The Hurt Business interferes, Lashley will be stripped of the Money in the Bank briefcase.

The Raw tag title match goes on first, and that is won by Retribution after Dijakovic pins Shelton Benjamin. Ali carries this momentum into his US title match. However, Ali underestimates Cedric, and they have a very even match. It comes down to the wire, but with the pressure on, Cedric pulls it off, wins the US title from Ali and is welcomed back with open arms by The Hurt Business.

From here, we should separate these teams and bring an end to the feud because it’s been going on for a while. Retribution can focus on defending their tag titles, first in a rematch with The New Day and then wherever, while Cedric can be the golden child of The Hurt Business for a bit. Lashley will be cashing in his briefcase to win the WWE Championship come February, so it doesn’t hurt him one bit to take a loss at TLC with a feud that would’ve hopefully made Raw a lot more fun to watch in the last quarter of 2020 than it was in real life.

Game of the Year 2020

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

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

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

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

SPOILER WARNING!

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

14 – Cloudpunk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 – Spiritfarer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 95

12 – Star Renegades

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 86

11 – ScourgeBringer

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 79

10 – The Henry Stickmin Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 69

9 – The Solitaire Conspiracy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 61

8 – Animal Crossing: New Horizons

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 59

7 – There Is No Game: Wrong Dimension

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 51

6 – XCOM: Chimera Squad

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 49

5 – Haven

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 44

4 – Spelunky 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 – Assassin’s Creed Valhalla

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 37

2 – Fall Guys: Ultimate Knockout

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 30

1 – Watch Dogs: Legion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Place on 100 Favourite Games List: 27

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

WWE Match of the Year 2020

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

10 – Men’s Royal Rumble – Royal Rumble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs: Every Match Ranked

That’s a wrap on WWE Pay-Per-Views for 2020, and you know what? I think it’d been a bloody good year for the project on the whole. Sure, it’s far from the best year WWE has ever had, and weekly TV has rarely been anything to shout about, but their PPV output has been consistently great. I don’t usually do a PPV ranking, but I think it’d be fun to look back on WWE in 2020 come January.

That said, I can definitely see how this show may not have been to everyone’s taste, as much as I enjoyed it. However, the one thing you can’t deny is there’s no way we’re going to forget about it anytime soon, which is more than can be said for a lot of WWE PPVs, even the good ones.

Still, even on a good show like this, not everything was excellent, so let’s get ranking.

7 – Daniel Bryan, Big E, Otis & Chad Gable def. Baron Corbin, Sami Zayn, Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura

I mean, it’s an 8-man tag match that was announced two hours before the show and went less than 10 minutes, what do you want me to say?

Quite simply, it’s 8 men who could easily main event any show, any place, any time if they were invested in properly…and Otis. However, given how little time they had and how it was just a match for the sake of a match (something Vince apparently hates, but whatever).

It was ok, but I don’t care.

6 – Randy Orton def. The Fiend Bray Wyatt
(Firefly Inferno)

This match was either great or terrible, depending on what aspects you want to focus on.

As a wrestling match, it was trash. Most of the spots were quite contrived, and there was basically no actual wrestling action to speak of. This is fine for the story they were trying to tell, but the booking was so weird that I’m not sure it really makes up for it. As much as I wanted The Fiend to win, I can see past the fact that he didn’t, but to have the show end on such a shocking, yet somehow downbeat note was odd. Orton lit The Fiend on fire, presumably killing him…Orton posed for some reason and…that’s it, fade to black. It felt like there should’ve been some form of final exclamation point on the whole thing. After all, every horror movie ends with the revelation that the killer is still alive.

All of that said, as a visual spectacle, it was incredible. From the moment The Fiend summoned the fire, it was quite the rollercoaster ride. Yes, the spots were contrived, but when they looked as cool as some of them did, who the hell cares? The trail of fire leading to Orton sitting in the rocking chair was brilliant, and the final spot of The Fiend attacking Orton despite still being on fire was great.

As for where Bray goes from here, I honestly have no idea. I hope this means we don’t see The Fiend for a while now, maybe Bray could believe he’s ‘free’ of The Fiend for a while before slowly falling back into his grasp. That’s just one idea though, and Bray’s an extremely creative man, so I’m sure he’ll be able to spin something interesting from it.

Like I said in the intro, maybe not the best match ever, but it was certainly memorable.

5 – Asuka & Charlotte Flair def. Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler(c)
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

I guess now we have to sit around and wait for a sudden but inevitable betrayal, yet again.

As much as an NXT call-up would’ve been more exciting, bringing Charlotte back now is the right move. While I’ve been the first to blame WWE’s booking for the horrible state the Raw women’s division is currently in, it’s hard to deny that they’ve been lacking a certain quantity of star power (that wouldn’t be a problem if they actually invested in some of the mid-card women for more than three weeks at a time, but whatever). Hopefully, having Charlotte back will give the division more focus on TV week-to-week, and we can get back to how great Asuka was over the summer.

This match was a lot of fun. This is one of those cases where this is only ranked low because other matches were better, not because this one was in any way bad. As weird as it is for Asuka & Charlotte to suddenly be hugging and friendly, I’m willing to let it slide to see where the story goes, which has surely got to be a Mania match between the two. As much as I wish Jax & Baszler would be able to continue their reign, I highly doubt this is the end of their run. Asuka & Charlotte have got to break-up at some point, and I would expect they’ll regain the titles in the wake of that.

Either way, these teams had great chemistry, and Charlotte was able to slide right back into a spot where it felt like she belonged. Thumbs up from me.

4 – Sasha Banks(c) def. Carmella
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

See? I told you Carmella was a good wrestler if you gave her a chance.

This match wasn’t perfect. In fact, I thought it started a bit dull, however, once they hit about the midpoint, business really picked up. From there, this was an entertaining back-and-forth match that played to the strength of both women. Carmella made Banks look vulnerable at several points without necessarily out-wrestling her, while Banks played the opportunist, taking advantage of every opening Carmella gave her. Carmella was able to translate her new persona into a match very well, and the one spot of outside interference came at just the right moment to help the match.

My only real issue is where Carmella goes from here. It wouldn’t surprise me if they went for another match between these two, but given that the Royal Rumble is on the horizon, it wouldn’t surprise me if the title isn’t even defended on that show. There have just been so many cases where WWE immediately get bored of a rejuvenized character, and within a couple months they become just another face in the crowd. Truthfully, I don’t want that to happen to anyone, but Carmella has so much promise right now that I hope they find something good to do with her away from the title.

Sasha, meanwhile, is on a roll and will continue to be on that roll until at least Wrestlemania. If she’s going to keep putting on matches like this one, then I’m definitely ok with that.

3 – The Hurt Business def. The New Day(c)
(Raw Tag Team Championships)

A brilliant match that needed more time than it got.

This is one of those instances, like New Day & Usos, where these guys just clicked in the ring. They played with the standard tag team match tropes, but never lingered on anything for too long, and once the action got going, it never stopped. Unsurprisingly, Cedric Alexander was a huge boon to the action, and his sequences against Kofi were undoubtedly my favourite of the whole the match. The others still pulled their weight though, with Benjamin pulling out arguably his best performance since his WWE return.

The only real downside here was the fact that the match only got 10 minutes. I really enjoyed what I saw, but when it ended, I felt like it wasn’t enough. I’m confident that this feud is far from over and that’s a good thing because I absolutely want more from these two teams. If WWE let those guys go out there and wrestle for 15-20 minutes, I think we could easily be looking at a match of the year contender that sky-rockets the stock of everyone in The Hurt Business.

Speaking of, as much as I predicted The New Day, I’m glad The Hurt Business won, and I think it was the right call. New Day aren’t going to suffer from any loss they take and right now. The Hurt Business are the hot property at the moment. I look forward to seeing what they can do with the gold and how it helps all of them out long-term.

2 – Drew McIntyre(c) def. AJ Styles & The Miz
(WWE Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

In my predictions, I was cautiously optimistic about this match. I worried slightly that the stipulation would hold the match back, but I trusted the two performers involved to pull out a great one, and I was not disappointed.

It took a little while to grab my attention, but once I’d settled into the match, I had a very good time. To the surprise of no-one, Drew & AJ had great chemistry in the ring, and they made good use of the stipulation. WWE seems to finally be able to strike a balance between weapons being an essential factor in the match, without completely throwing everything else out of the window. The match built nicely to its climax, even though that climax ended up being quite the curveball.

There are ups and downs to The Miz cashing in. On the downside, it’s yet another year that the Money in the Bank contract has been utterly wasted. Out of the past four years, only one of the men’s Money in the Bank holders has won the title, and even then, it wasn’t great. 2016 was the last great cash-in that actually meant something, and by now the contract feels hugely devalued. However, in a bubble, it was great and made this match way more exciting. It’s always been hard to make convincing false finishes in matches like this, but they pulled it off here. With the constant up and down of people on ladders, there were points when I genuinely believed all three men were about to win.

Ultimately, Drew retaining was the right move. After the reports from Raw, I was worried they were going to hot-shot the title to boost the ratings, but thankfully that wasn’t the case, and we still have the strong champion we all love.

1 – Roman Reigns(c) def. Kevin Owens
(Universal Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

Maybe the best one-on-one TLC match ever.

This match was structured so well. Most matches that I love gradually speed up as they go on. The slower starts lead to frantic and nail-biting conclusions, but this match did the opposite. This match started at a breakneck pace, with Owens bringing all kinds of fury to the fight, it got me pumped and invested immediately so that I didn’t lose interest when the match gradually slowed down. It’s such a simple technique, and yet the gradual deceleration of the pace gave the whole thing a fierce feeling to it and told the story of these two guys trying to destroy each other excellently.

The action was great too. Once again, weapons were used to enhance the match, rather than completely focusing on them. With Drew/AJ, as much as I liked it, I still felt it would’ve been better as a regular singles match, however, with this match, I felt that the hardcore stipulation was an integral part of the story being this good. Uso’s involvement felt a bit bullshit at some point, but it aided in telling the story and softened the impact of Owens losing. Even though Reigns retained (which I maintain was the right call) Owens looked like a such a hero from his performance here thanks to how he kept getting back up after going through table after table and only falling short thank to his opponent’s underhanded tactics.

I have no idea if there are any long-term plans for Owens here (I’m not optimistic), but he is now in so much of a better position than he was going into December, it would be a shame not to capitalize on it in some way.

And there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this review. Please, let me know what you thought of the show, either in the comment below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to come back here this time on Saturday, where I’ll be running down my favourite WWE matches from 2020!

WWE TLC: Tables, Ladders & Chairs 2020: Predictions & Analysis

Hey, remember Survivor Series? No, me neither.

I always find myself far less excited for TLC than I do most other Pay-Per-Views, and this time I don’t think it’s WWE’s fault. I honestly like the look of the card, especially the two world title matches, I think it’s just a time of year where I care a lot less about a WWE PPV. Not only is it almost Christmas, but the Royal Rumble is only about a month away, and I’m far more excited thinking about that than I am about a bunch of predictable title retentions. It’s times like this where I really begin to think that a PPV every month isn’t always the best idea, at least, from a storytelling standpoint.

Either way, there are matches, I have opinions, so let’s get predicting.

The New Day(c) vs The Hurt Business
(Raw Tag Team Championships)

Wait a minute, this isn’t Street Profits vs Andrade & Garza…I didn’t even know such a thing was possible.

Speaking more seriously, I’ve actually been vaguely enjoying this feud. The New Day are The New Day, even without Big E, and even when they’re given fairly crap promos, they still sell it well. Meanwhile, The Hurt Business are actually quite fun to watch when they’re not squashing Retribution for no apparent reason. They have a kind of serious aura surrounding them, and MVP can sell them fantastically. Not to mention, this is the first PPV title match in ages for both Benjamin & Alexander.

As long as WWE resist the temptation to overbook this, I think we might be in for a treat with this one. The New Day’s wrestling ability has never been in any doubt, and as much as it’s been easy to forget, Alexander is an outstanding technical wrestler. Admittedly, I’ve not been wowed by Benjamin since his return, but the guy is no slouch so who knows? Maybe this will be the performance that reminds us all how great he can be.

It’s weird, I joked in the intro about the title matches all being quite predictable, but this is the one exception. I could honestly see this going either way. The Hurt Business have been on a roll since Lashley won the US title and there’s definitely some good that could come from them holding a bunch of championships like this. That said, it’s hard to bet against The New Day. As I’ve said before they are the ‘default’ setting for the tag division, and there’s certainly nothing to be lost from having them continue to hold the titles.

Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler(c) vs Asuka & ???
(Women’s Tag Team Championships)

So…we’re not getting a payoff to the Lana thing? I really don’t get WWE’s attitude towards her. We keep hearing reports that people backstage really like her and see her as a potential top star, but they never actually let her wrestle, or even finish a story. Either way, it gives us a good old ‘mystery partner’ situation, and those are always fun.

I really don’t like Asuka’s booking of late. Ever since Summerslam, she’s felt like such a non-factor in the Raw women’s division, and that doesn’t seem right for the woman who was one of the main highlights of WWE during the spring & summer. I get that WWE doesn’t have the deepest women’s division out there right now, but was there seriously no-one they could build up as a contender for Asuka’s title? They sleep on people like Peyton Royce & Dana Brooke then feel the need to do weird storylines like this because ‘there are no credible stars’. It just seems like a problem they made for themselves.

Still, the mystery partner, who is it? The way I see it, there are two main possibilities. Firstly, there’s the woman who has been weirdly absent from TV for a considerable chunk of this year for seemingly no reason at all, which is Charlotte Flair. For someone who fans apparently say they ‘shove down our throats’, they’ve had absolutely nothing for her since she lost the NXT title. Reintroducing her here just before we head into Wrestlemania season would undoubtedly be a good call. I’d be down for Asuka vs Charlotte 2. Other than that…I guess it could be Rhea Ripley? She’s felt like she’s had one foot out of the door of NXT for half the year, and it’s not like the NXT women’s division need her anymore with all the talent they’re holding. Raw would definitely benefit from her presence.

Either way, I think Nia Jax & Shayna Baszler are going to retain, which is why I’m leaning towards Charlotte Flair as the mystery partner. If it’s Ripley, then you risk her looking bad if she immediately loses, unless she does some massive swerve. However, if it’s Charlotte then you can easily create a story of her not getting on with Asuka and losing because of that, not to mention, this kind of loss wouldn’t hurt her in the slightest.

The Fiend Bray Wyatt vs Randy Orton
(Firefly Inferno)

My excitement for this match depends on a couple of things.

Firstly, if this is going to be a pre-recorded match, then I’m all-in on it. WWE has knocked it out of the park with those kinds of matches this year, and I’d be thrilled to see another one come our way on Sunday. However, if this is just a regular inferno match with a fancy name, then count me out. I didn’t think this was going to be much of a classic in terms of the action, but if it’s an inferno match, then all of that goes even deeper into the bin. It remains to be seen, but those are my thoughts on the stipulation.

As for the story, I think it’s got a decent amount of legs. The Fiend seems to wildly switch his focus between winning titles and writing Bray Wyatt’s wrongs, but I definitely think that these kinds of stories are better. The match between Orton and Wyatt at Mania 33 may have been a stinker, but the story building up to it was some mental fun, and this has been no different. It’s been interesting to see such a brutal character like Orton be put on the back foot like this. All year he’s been the one dominating his opponents in the build, so a shift in dynamic was the right choice.

I’m a little torn on this one because I think this might not be the only match in this feud. I know the Royal Rumble is next month, and Orton will probably be in that, but I just can’t shake the feeling that this is a multi-month feud. Either way, I’m going with The Fiend Bray Wyatt to win. The Fiend always wins these gimmick matches of his, and I don’t see what could be gained from Orton winning. Orton has reached the status where he can believably square off with anyone regardless of his recent history, as where The Fiend is WAY more fragile, and definitely shouldn’t be losing these kinds of matches.

Sasha Banks(c) vs Carmella
(Smackdown Women’s Championship)

So a lot is going on here, and I’m not sure how much of it I enjoy.

Firstly, I’m glad Carmella’s back, and I’m glad they’re treating her like a credible threat again. As much as her face persona was a lot of fun, it seemed to be artificially limiting her, but now the image of her riding R-Truth’s back as he’s chased by half the locker room is far from my mind when I see her. The problem, though, is I’m not sure how far this can go, at least not in the immediate future. While I don’t like to be blunt, there’s no way Carmella is winning this, and what does she do once Sasha is done with her? I assume we’re going to get at least one more month of this feud, but WWE has never been great at booking their women’s mid-card.

Those concerns aside, I think this could be a really good match. I know Carmella is never really in the conversation for the best women’s wrestlers right now, but I think she’s better than many believe. With this fresh injection of a new persona too, we could be in for quite the treat of the match. As I said though, Sasha Banks is definitely walking away with the title. It’s possible Carmella could get a cheap DQ win or something, but there’s no way anyone is taking that title from Banks before Mania.

Roman Reigns(c) vs Kevin Owens
(Universal Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

I love matches like this. They’re the kind of feuds that I never would’ve thought of if you’d ask me what I wanted to see, but now it’s been presented to me, I’m really looking forward to seeing it.

Roman has been perfect since his return, and this feud is no exception. The attitude with which he carries himself makes him the most hatable person in the world and having Paul Heyman at his side only boosts his aura of indestructibility. As such, it makes him the perfect opponent for Owens’ current character. He’s a little removed now from his anti-authority persona, but he still carries that rebellious edge that you just can’t help but love, he’s the kind of person who always speaks so genuinely, and it really resonates with me.

I’m also very excited about the match. As with any WWE gimmick match, there is a possibility that it leans too heavily on the gimmicks and ruin it, but all of the gimmick matches over the past few months have struck a good balance, so I have faith. On top of that, I think a weapon focus might be beneficial to this one. Reigns’ current style is ferocious, and Owens’ build makes him the perfect tough-guy to put in a barbaric match like TLC. Not to mention, Owens has been more than happy to take some crazy bumps in the past, so I think that there’s a high probability that this will be the match we’re all raving about come Monday.

As much as I’d like this one to be a bit more of a toss-up, Roman Reigns is going to win, because it’s Roman Reigns. That’s not the insult it perhaps was a few years ago though, Roman is the perfect guy to sit at the top of the ladder on Smackdown right now, and I would be thrilled to see his title reign go on well into 2021. It’s a shame because I really like Owens, but Roman’s just the right guy to go with at the moment.

Drew McIntyre(c) vs AJ Styles
(WWE Championship)
(Tables, Ladders & Chairs)

Ever since Drew first won that title, this was the feud I’ve been waiting to see. It’s no secret these days that Styles can have a good match with just about anyone, and there’s something about these two guys that just clicks in my head.

Despite being one of the biggest ‘indie’ darlings in history, Styles has always seemed to fare far better as a heel in WWE than a face, at least from a character perspective. When he talks as a face, I don’t always get behind him (his title reign through 2018 was a great example of this) but when he talks as a heel, I always listen, and I always find him annoying and despicable in precisely the right way. Meanwhile, Drew has recovered excellently from his Survivor Series loss to the point where you’d barely even remember it happened. After the feud with Randy Orton for so long, it feels like a breath of fresh air to see him free to do something new, with someone exciting.

As before, there’s a risk that they lean too heavily on the gimmick here, but I’m optimistic. Styles is one hell of an innovative competitor, and Drew can definitely keep pace with him if they want to go for a faster match. The in-ring styles of these two can be quite different at times, but I think the quality of this match will come from how both men adapt to the other, especially with weapons involved.

However, I find myself once again faced with a straightforward decision when it comes to picking the winner. While I don’t think it’s entirely impossible that Styles could win the title as a surprise, I definitely think Drew McIntyre to retain is the far safer bet. He only won the title back recently and is coming off of a significant loss to Roman, not to mention that all of the current dirt sheets are reporting that all talks for Wrestlemania have Drew going in as champion. Not to mention, I really like Drew, and I want him to hold that title for as long as possible.