Every Pokemon Rival Ranked

As you journey across the regions of the Pokemon world, it would be pretty lonely if you didn’t have anyone to share your journey with. As such, every game since the very first has had you share your journey with a rival who is exploring, growing and battling just the same as you. They’ve come in many different flavours over the years, but be they friendly, antagonistic or…just kinda…there, they stand to challenge you throughout your journey and hopefully bond with someone as you grow as trainers together.

Each game has its own versions, and they have widely varying personalities, so which ones left the biggest impact on me? Let’s rank ’em.

15 – Calem/Serena – X/Y

Serena may be a great character in the anime, but her game counterpart is the world’s blandest human.

As you’ll see in just a few entries, the rivals that are the gender-swap of the player character tend to be the worst. The problem is that because their identity is entirely dependant on which gender the player is, they had to create a personality that would fit both characters. Of course, the easy solution would’ve just been to create two different personalities, but that’s beside the point.

Calem & Serena are by far the worst when it comes to these situations because they’re SO boring. Everything they say is stupidly generic and just pointless prattle about becoming stronger and growing as a person. Running into them is an absolute chore because they never have anything interesting to say. Even exposition tends to be given to the other characters around them. No attempt went into giving them any kind of character arch. They just copy/pasted the base template they’ve always used for the rival and didn’t change anything.

Most importantly, they’re an awful rival. X & Y as a whole often get derided for being too easy, even by Pokemon’s standards, and Calem & Serena are one of the clearest examples of this. Their team is ALWAYS lagging behind yours in terms of levels, and they just don’t have very interesting Pokemon. I’m so disappointed that THIS was the rival that got an Absol as their strongest Pokemon because…Absol deserves so much better.

14 – Shauna/Tierno/Trevor – X/Y

These three are technically all distinct characters, but they’re so tightly linked to one another that I’m lumping them all into one entry. The general idea of travelling together in a big group was one I liked. It created a real sense of fun on the journey with so many people journeying with you. Unfortunately, the characters that are on that journey aren’t anyone interesting.

Since there are so many characters, and they all have limited screen-time, the writers went to the tried and tested trope of boiling their personalities down to a single trait. Shauna is “girly”, Trevor is clever and Tierno…likes to dance? Characters who only have one trait aren’t interesting at the best of times, but it’s made so much worse when the traits are stupid and generic like those ones. Encountering them is never anything interesting either, they’ll all say a line or two, maybe you’ll battle one of them, and that’ll be that.

Once again, they’re terrible as rivals. For one thing, you very rarely battle them, and when you do, they’re absolutely no challenge. Running into them feels like an interruption to your journey rather than a part of it, and that’s a bad sign. As I said, the idea of having a big group to journey with is a great one, and I hope they try it again, but this was an absolute failure of an attempt.

13 – Brendan/May – Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald

These two suffer from the same problem that Calem & Serena do, only they’re a bit better because they have at least a little bit of character.

While the friendly rival thing has been done to death by this point in the franchise, Brendan & May were the first time it happened in a major way in the series. As such, a lot of what they had to say felt fresh, and the friendly atmosphere was a nice change of pace from the antagonistic rivals of the first two generations. Sadly, that’s where the positives end.

When you actually look into their personality, there isn’t very much there. Most of what they say is just there to move the plot along, but they at least say it in a slightly more interesting way than in X & Y. In terms of their teams, there’s a lot more interest to be had, and they certainly feel like a more well-rounded trainer on that front. I never found any battle with them to be much of a challenge, and once again, I got that feeling they were always lagging behind me, not growing alongside me.

12 – Hau – Sun/Moon/Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon

To me, Hau is the epitome of the boring friendly rival trope that now plagues the franchise. He’s bright, energetic, all too willing to explain everything to you and always loses. Admittedly I’m not as against the friendly rival stuff as many in the fanbase are, but I’d like them to have a more complex personality than this. The Alola games had a powerful story, and many of the other characters were brilliant, so it’s a real shame that Hau was a character that just seemed to get left in the dust.

He’s a better rival than the ones I’ve covered so far, but not by much. His team is a lot more interesting and is quite well balanced; the levelling is the only real problem. The problem of a lack of difficulty is by no means exclusive to the rivals in the modern games, but it’s undeniable that I just kept destroying the guy every time we met because I out levelled him. What’s worse is he just let every loss roll right off his back in an “aw shucks, I’m just happy to take part!” kind of way that drives me insane.

Yes, there’s definitely value in teaching kids that winning isn’t everything, but real people CARE when they keep losing like that, and Hau just doesn’t.

11 – Hop – Sword/Shield

For the most part, Hop is just a copy/paste of Hau. He’s nice and friendly, piss-weak compared to you and will throw exposition in your face until you want to strangle him.

I could end this entry right there and be done with it, but what puts Hop a small step above Hau is that he actually gets a bit of character arc in Sword & Shield. It’s not an amazing one, but it’s certainly more than the rivals I’ve covered so far have got. Unlike Hau, Hop actually gives a shit when he keeps losing. The pressure of his unbeatable brother and you beating his ass at every opportunity weighs on him after a while. Granted, they don’t go very far with it, but it’s something, and I’ve really gotta take all I can get during these lower entries.

10 – Marnie – Sword/Shield

I wanted to put her higher based solely on how much I love her character design, but the truth is, Marnie just isn’t that interesting of a character.

My decision to put her over Hop is a bit arbitrary; I guess it’s because she’s less in-your-face and annoying, but that’s not saying much. Personality-wise, she’s got a bit more of an edge to her, but in reality, the game just treats her like any other friendly rival. The stuff with Team Yell is kinda interesting with how Marnie isn’t into it, but like with Hop’s story, they don’t dive into it very far. She just runs them off when they’re being annoying sometimes. Similarly, there’s her conflict with her brother overusing Dynamax Pokemon, which is interesting, but again, doesn’t go anywhere.

Her team’s a bit more interesting than Hop’s, but the lack of difficulty strikes her down again as someone who never presented me a challenge. She’s got the added disadvantage of only focusing around a single type due to how she becomes a Gym Leader by the end of the game. Unlike the others so far on this list, I didn’t hate it when I ran into her because it usually moved things forward quite quickly, but she still wasn’t all that amazing.

9 – Hugh – Black 2/White 2

Hugh is another who fits into the ‘friendly rival’ archetype, but I think he comes in a step above what I’ve covered so far by virtue of him actually having motivations as a character. He’s still extremely buddy-buddy and tutorialising to your player character, but he actually gets a decent role in Black 2 & White 2’s story. The Unova games emphasised their narratives, so even template characters like Hugh got a nice boost from being involved.

His determination to get stronger is all in service of his goal of recovering his sister’s Purlion from Team Plasma and, while it might not be the strongest of motivations, it means he’s got a clear goal from the outset, and you can see how everything he does is in service of that. It also plays well with his kind and helpful nature, both to the player and to other characters, as he doesn’t want other people to have to go through what he has.

His Pokemon aren’t the strongest ever, but his team is well-rounded, and the generation 5 games are still just difficult enough that battles with Hugh can be challenging if you’re not ready for them. He still doesn’t break out into being one of the best, but Hugh is definitely a tier above what we’ve seen so far.

8 – Barry – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

Much like Hugh, Barry is a rival who still fits the ‘friendly’ archetype but has some stuff piled on top.

His hyperactive personality is simultaneously annoying and charming in a way that I can’t quite put my finger on. I love how he immediately wants to go out and catch a legendary Pokemon before he’s even got a Pokeball; it actually makes him feel like the youngish child the rivals are supposed to be in this game. Of course, that’s where the annoying aspect can come in because it does get tiresome here and there. Additionally, he doesn’t really progress as a person at all, he becomes a bit more mature at the end, but nothing really noteworthy to make him super interesting.

Barry hits pretty well on the difficulty aspect, though. His levels normally match pretty well with the area he’s in, and his team is fairly well balanced (not the best, but still pretty good). A battle with Barry was almost always a welcome challenge rather than an annoying obstacle which is how it should feel.

7 – Bede – Sword/Shield

I’ve slated the Sword & Shield writing quite a bit in this list so far, but I’d say Bede is one of the highlights.

For one thing, antagonistic rivals tend to feel like better characters just because the writers can go a bit loser with it. They don’t have to be constantly patting the player on the back or espousing the power of friendship. This applies to the Pokemon anime too, just look at rivals like Gary & Paul. Bede’s self-important persona is one you can instantly recognise as dislikable, and the game has no trouble playing up to it. They’re extremely headstrong, and it bites them in the arse a couple of times in the story.

The place where they fall down is when you battle them. Like Marnie, they suffer from focusing on a single type, so things always feel a bit easier, not to mention the difficulty problems I’m mentioned already in later generations. They also don’t have a fantastic end to their story. It’s nice that they got something to do, but the Gym Leader thing came out of nowhere, and they don’t even seem like they want to do it.

Bede is definitely one of the better characters in Sword & Shield, but they just don’t quite follow through to the end.

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

Gladion is by far the most interesting character I’ve talked about so far. The dude’s actually got a back-story, which puts him head and shoulders above the rest so far.

The story surrounding The Aether Foundation and the family at its centre is an interesting one that’s split into many pieces across Alola’s story. All things considered, Gladion is one of the more minor parts of that story, but he still helps tie things together and give a much fuller picture of that life. His downbeat and untrusting personality stands as an essential contrast to Lillie’s open and kind personality. Both of them went through very similar trauma in their childhoods, but where Lillie used it as motivation to be good and kind, Gladion used it to close himself off from everyone but a select trustworthy few.

Aside from that, Gladion is ok as a rival. As I’ve said, the later generations have a problem with difficulty, and Gladion does fall victim to that somewhat, but I’d say he’s better than Hau. His team is a lot more interesting with some rather powerful Pokemon, which makes up for the fact that his levels often aren’t on par with yours. I also love the touch that three of his Pokemon have friendship based evolutions; it’s one of those subtle things that tells you loads about his character.

Plus, his battle theme is kick-ass, so that’s always a positive.

5 – Wally – Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald

Wally isn’t the primary rival in the Hoenn games, and in fact, you only fight him twice during the story, but he still managed to leave a notable impression on me. Initially, a kid you have to escort to catch a Pokemon, Wally grows surprisingly fast into a rather formidable trainer. His vague illness and quiet demeanour make him someone that I feel the urge to be kind towards. He starts off quite unsteady yet determined and eventually turns into a quietly confident trainer that I can respect.

Since you don’t battle him too much, he’s not an amazing rival, but he provides quite a challenge when you battle him at the end of Victory Road. His ORAS battle theme is bloody brilliant, but that aside he has a brilliantly constructed teams with some powerful Pokemon. Even though he goes down in defeat in that final battle with you, he still feels like someone who has achieved his goal. He overcame his hurdles and became the powerful Pokemon trainer he always wanted to be. It’s not a complicated character arc, but it’s all you really need.

4 – Blue – Red/Blue/Yellow

The original, but not quite the best.

While I may not rate Blue at the top, I can’t deny that he is the measuring stick for all the other rivals that came after him in the series. His in-your-face douchebaggery made him an extremely memorable character, and it’s no surprise that he’s still fondly remembered to this day. I’ve got many criticisms to level at Generation 1, but the writing isn’t one of them. I think they nailed this character and how he’s always a few steps ahead of you on your journey. You get the feeling that, even when you beat him, it could’ve gone the other way and, maybe if he had a slight attitude shift, he could actually surpass you.

In terms of strength as a rival, I think Blue does the best out of anyone on that front. His Pokemon are almost always a higher level than yours unless you’ve been doing a lot of grinding, and he does briefly manage to become the champion of the Pokemon league too. Before the games got their own dedicated champions, having to face off against the guy who’s been poking and prodding you the whole game in your final battle was a brilliant conclusion.

Blue is undoubtedly one of the most memorable trainers, and it’s no surprise that the fanbase points to him when asked how they want the modern rivals to be. However, I think there are a few that have more interesting character arcs.

3 – Silver – Gold/Silver

To my mind, Silver is like Blue, but with the intensity turned up. Where Blue is energetic and childish in how he antagonises you, Silver is more calm and collected. It’s not an in-your-face kind of hatred; it’s seathing below the surface and only comes out in dismissive and hateful remarks. His laser-focus on being the ‘strongest’ trainer is the kind of goal that we can relate to, but his methods are despicable, and it can get frustrating to see him constantly dismiss anyone who tries to tell him that opening your heart to Pokemon is how to become stronger. His thought process of those kinds of people being ‘weak’ is weirdly reminiscent of things we see in our society today, such as toxic masculinity, and it brings out similar feelings.

Much like Blue, he’s a pretty strong trainer, although I wouldn’t quite put him on Blue’s level in terms of challenge. His team is a bit less well-rounded, but the levels are still on-par if not above yours and require preparation. His growth as a character is what puts him over the top of Blue for me. While Blue does mature a bit, he doesn’t go through the learning process that Silver does.

His hatred for Team Rocket (which in HGSS we found out was because his father, Giovanni, abandoned him) is driving him to become stronger, but that hatred is what’s locking him off from reaching his true potential. It takes him a while, but he eventually begins to understand this and dedicate himself to diving deeper into the topic. His change in language from being the ‘strongest’ trainer to the ‘greatest’ trainer is a small change, but it’s the perfect encapsulation of the growth that he goes through.

While I think giving characters in Pokemon games a massive story arc is asking a bit much in the modern era, I still think it’s entirely possible to do things like this, even with the sporadic encounters we get with the rivals.

2 – Bianca – Black/White

While the generation 5 games are far from my favourites, I can’t deny that their narratives are what Pokemon games should be aspiring to achieve. Sure, when compared to the gaming industry as a whole, it’s not anything incredible, but it’s by far the best the main-series Pokemon games have ever put together.

As such, both of the main rivals in Black & White had really interesting character arcs that played to satisfying conclusions. Black & White are rather heavy-handed in their themes of ‘Truth & Ideals’, which both work in tandem and in conflict with each other. Bianca & Cheren are two of the clearest representations of this. It’s interesting to see how they go through very similar experiences but come to very different conclusions about their respective lives.

Bianca is more of a representation of truth. She starts off on uneven footing, partly because she can be a bit clumsy and forgetful, but also because she’s taking her journey against her father’s wishes. It’s never been shown as a big deal in the Pokemon world when children wander off around the world at 10 years old, but this finally touched on how it would actually work if they came into conflict. It’s key to showing that Bianca may be full of self-doubt and uncertainty about her abilities, but she still holds a powerful resolve to push towards her goals.

The second half of her story is interesting because she has to come to terms with the fact that she just isn’t good enough to hang with the best of the best (the player). It’s a weird balance because she’s still a formidable opponent, but her battles are by design a bit easier than Cheren’s, and it’s that narrative through mechanics design that I love to see, even if it is rare in this franchise. We actually get to see her reach the conclusion to go out and research instead of battling, and thanks to the sequels, we see the successful person she eventually turned into. I think the excellence of Bianca’s story is why I didn’t connect with Hop’s. Hop’s story just felt like a cheap imitation that the writers didn’t commit to enough.

She serves as one half of a pair of excellent rivals, and the highlights of her character truly sign when you contrast the two together. So, with that in mind…

1 – Cheren – Black/White

Where Bianca represents truth, Cheren represents ideals. Before you even set out on your journey, it seems like he’s got it all planned out. He has extensive knowledge of Pokemon (compared to Bianca & the player character at the start) and seems laser-focused on his goals. Where his conflict comes in is pondering exactly why he’s striving for what he’s striving for.

The generic “become stronger” goal of most of the rivals gets challenged significantly here, and while the game doesn’t push all the way with the examination, it does somewhat analyse what it even means to be strong. Cheren blindly pursues his goals without considering why, and it leads to a great deal of inner conflict with him. What’s great is how he changes his analysis of his situation. He starts out looking to others and seeing how they behave, but eventually turns his questioning to himself and pondering what would make him happy in his life.

Once again, the sequel does wonders for him, as we get to see what path he chose amidst the relative uncertainty we left him in the originals. A Gym Leader & Teacher is an interesting choice, but one that I think works. He gets incredibly frustrated at constantly losing the player in Black & White, and yet, as a Gym Lader – the first Gym Leader, no less – his role is to be beaten. He no longer seeks to increase his own strength but instead aid other trainers in finding theirs.

When combined with Bianca, we see the themes come through strongest of all. The idea that your ideals in life may not be what you think they are, but that’s ok as long as you learn to adapt and find happiness in where you end up. It’s not some earth-breaking revelation, but for kids who play these games and take on board this message, I have no doubt it did wonders for their world view. That’s what games with audiences that skew younger should be doing, and that’s what makes Cheren & Bianca Pokemon’s best rivals.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post. Please, let me know who your favourite rivals are, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Finally, make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be running down the worst Royal Rumble winners in history!

Best Post-Game Features in Pokemon Games

When it comes to determining my favourite Pokemon games, one of the biggest considerations is how much there is to do in the post-game. For those unaware, the post-game is any features/stories that become available to you only after you have seen the game’s credits roll for the first time. In Pokemon games, this translates to anything that happens after you’ve defeated the champion and entered the hall of fame.

These are the features that keep you playing hours after having finished the game and provide a handful of extra challenges to prove your team’s mastery. To be clear here, I’m not talking about the general stuff that you can do in every Pokemon game, such as shiny hunting or competitive battling, I’m talking about the unique stuff that only features in one or two games. I also won’t cover the Isle of Armor or the Crown Tundra, as those are DLCs you have to pay extra for.

8 – Ultra Wormholes – Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon

It’s become standard fare in the modern era of Pokemon for at least one game in every generation to include all of the legendary Pokemon from previous generations for us to catch and encounter. This has led to a few fun systems. The Dynamax Adventures in Sword/Shield are a lot of fun, but I struggle to call them post-game, since they’re a huge feature in the Crown Tundra DLC, and the ‘soaring’ mechanic in Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire filled that purpose well too, but I think this was the best it has been done.

Once you switch the control method away from motion controls, the mini-game through which you find all of these Pokemon is a lot of fun. It only takes a couple of minutes every time, and it provides a little bit of challenge to get to the Pokemon you want, rather than just fulfilling certain requirements. On top of that, you had to look for the different coloured portals to find the right Pokemon, and even if you didn’t encounter a legendary, you could find plenty of other Pokemon with boosted shiny odds, so it was a win-win, really.

The little environments made good use of the multi-verse concept those games focused around, with each of the Ultra Beasts’ domains being especially beautiful and fun to explore. As a shiny hunter, I spent a lot of time using this feature in USUM, and I’m glad it was a lot of fun to do so.

7 – The Battle Zone – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

To be clear, I am not including the Battle Frontier in this bit, I’ll talk more about that later, I’m referring to the island as a whole that you get to explore after becoming champion in the Sinnoh games.

For starters, as soon as you get there, you have a double battle with the final Gym leader and an Elite Four member, which is pretty cool and after that, you’ve got a whole island to explore. It features three whole towns, each with their own unique features, a massive villa that you can own and furnish, a whole host of Pokemon not in the Sinnoh-dex, a cafe where you can rematch Gym leaders, and a god-damned Volcano where you can fight Heatran.

What I love so much about this island is how completely different it feels to the rest of Sinnoh. Even the ground is a different colour here, playing off of the volcanic/tropical island vibes to great effect. The routes are winding and dangerous, just like you’d hope them to be at such a late stage in the game, with one final dungeon for you to explore in the form of Stark Mountain. The music is pretty kick-ass too.

It’s just so cool to have a bunch of new areas to explore after you think you’re done with the game, even if nothing major happens around those places in the grand scheme of thing.

Speaking of…

6 – The Rest of Unova – Black 2/White 2

In the original Black & White games, the post-game allowed to explore a new portion of the map. It was ok, but ultimately didn’t really hold anything special outside of a few non-Unovan Pokemon and the Kyurem battle. However, the direct sequels had a lot more to offer on that front.

In Black 2 & White 2, you start the game in a completely new area of the map, with some brand new cities to explore, but that means you completely skip all of the starting towns from the original, including two of the gyms. They still sit there on the map though, taunting you as to the possibilities of what you could find there, so when you’re finally let loose to explore it in the post-game, there’s a lot of fun to be had.

Much like the Battle Zone, it provides you with a bunch of new areas to explore, only these areas are filled with a bunch of nostalgia from the original Black & White games. You get to explore fully fleshed-out towns from the originals and encounter a load of new content there. It’s a wonderful blast from the past if you played the originals and a great series of places to explore for the first time if you didn’t.

5 – The Pokemon World Tournament – Black 2/White 2

Let’s see what we have here…a bunch of trainers from old games? Check. Every old Gym leader? Check. Every old Elite Four member? Check. Every old Champion? Check! What more could you possibly ask for?

It’s a huge blast of nostalgia, but that’s exactly what I want from a post-game battle facility like this. It pulls in everyone from all the old games and celebrates the contributions they made to their games. We get remixed themes, improved and remixed teams, and the game celebrates them like the heroes they are to those of us who have played the old games. It’s wonderful to see the Pokemon games happily throw caution to the wind and just let you have a bit of everything for the ultimate tournament experience.

On top of that, it’s genuinely challenging. The battles I had in the champions’ tournament are genuinely some of the most challenging singleplayer battles I’ve ever faced in the series. This is an area that has absolutely no desire to hold back and throws the best of what it has to offer at you in an attempt to earn the ultimate victory. In an era of Pokemon where the lack of difficulty is one of the main complaints about the franchise, it’s really great to go back and remember some of the times where the franchise gave you absolutely no mercy.

We’re three full generations removed from this world tournament, and honestly, I want to see it happen again. Sword & Shield didn’t shy away from using tournaments in its climactic battles, so having another situation where trainers come from around the world to compete in an ultimate tournament would be amazing. Stuff it to the brim with as many trainers as possible to make it feel like a proper Pokemon league, and it may just skyrocket to the top of lists like these.

4 – The Battle Frontier – Platinum

That’s right, I’m putting my cards on the table. Platinum’s Battle Frontier is better than Emerald’s, it just is, ok?

The post-game battle facilities haven’t been all that great in the modern generations. The Battle Tree is fun when it comes to seeing old trainers, but that’s about all it does differently. Meanwhile, X/Y and Sword/Shield did the bare minimum with the Battle Chatuex and Battle Tower respectively. They present a nice challenge if that’s what you want from your post-game in Pokemon, but personally, it’s not what I get drawn towards.

That’s what makes the Battle Frontier so special to me because it makes those post-game challenging battles more fun by adding a whole heap of gimmicks on top. You’ve got the Battle Tower, which is your standard streaks of battles, which is fine enough, but the other facilities are where the real fun lies. The Battle Castle puts a minor twist on the usual formula by not healing your Pokemon between battles, instead giving you currency and forcing you to make some tough choices as to how you how/what you want to recover between battles.

The other facilities get progressively more wild and fun though, you have the best battle facility from Emerald making its reappearance in the form of the Battle Factory. True to Dynamax Adventures in Sword/Shield, using rental Pokemon can be a lot of fun and cause you to use Pokemon you would have never otherwise considered to some great results. Then there’s the Battle Hall, where you have 1 on 1 battles against Pokemon that are a type of your choice. This is fantastic, as it’ll force you to consider unconventional strategies to take down Pokemon of types your Pokemon is very weak against as you wipe the floor with everyone in sight.

Finally, there’s the Battle Arcade, where every battle rolls random effects. Some will help you, some will utterly destroy you. It’s random, stupid and sometimes ridiculously unfair, but that’s honestly why it’s my favourite facility. It’s unpredictable and wild as to what will happen, and I have so much fun trying to work my way out of corners the randomizer forced me into.

This version of the Battle Frontier injects fun gimmicks in the post-game battles that really keep things interesting, and there’s enough variety in how they operate, that there’s likely to be something for everyone within its walls.

3 – Team Rainbow Rocket – Ultra Sun/Ultra Moon

Yes, this was just an excuse for Game Freak to bottle nostalgia and sell it back to us and I don’t care, because it’s cool as hell.

From the moment I saw that ridiculously cool piece of promo art, I knew I was in for a treat when it came to the US/UM postgame, and I was not disappointed. Team Rocket show up out of nowhere, and not only do they have a renewed sense of threat to them, but they’ve also got an updated battle theme that holds the essence of the original and makes it cooler than ever before. That rock version of the Rocket battle theme is just too good to not point out.

Then, you head to Aether Paradise, and all of that juicy nostalgia hits you in the face. First of all, you go through a bunch of puzzle rooms that mimic the old style of evil-team bases. There are teleport puzzles, arrow trap puzzles and just about everything you could want. Then, there are the actual team leaders themselves, except these are the versions of them that didn’t lose to a 10-year-old kid and actually succeeded in destroying/altering/ruling/creating a whole new world.

You face these leaders with a strong sense of their ideals as they give you a small glimpse into the world they created, and you get to fight some buffed-up teams of theirs for some epic battles. In here, it’s the little touches that make these battles so much fun, like the fact that they’ve all caught their Pokemon Master Balls or the INCREDIBLE remixed battle-themes. Cyrus & Lysandre’s especially are some of my favourite pieces of music in the whole franchise.

Then you face off with Giovanni, who seems like a genuine threat for the first…well, ever, to be entirely honest with you, as he attempts to rule the multiverse, whatever that means. He too gets a kick-ass battle theme and a strong team of Pokemon that will really put you to the test if you didn’t adequately prepare.

To put it simply, it was just so much fun to experience all this nostalgia in one lovely digestible sequence of events. Facing the old leaders, seeing them all team up and getting to fight them all off in an epic series of encounters. Is it a bit over-the-top and childish? Absolutely. Do I care? Not in the slightest.

2 – Delta Episode – Omega Ruby/Alpha Sapphie

A handful of Pokemon games have held over narrative elements into the post-game. There was the 7 sages in Black & White, or the Heatran stuff from the Sinnoh games, for example, but until the Delta Episode, it had never been done to this extent.

When Zinnia showed up following the credits of ORAS, there was a lot of intrigue to be had. Not only was this something we’d never seen in a Pokemon game before, but it completely diverged from the story of the original Ruby/Sapphire/Emerald games, of which these were a remake. It wasn’t some massively epic story or anything, but I like how it gave you a quick mystery, hit you with a pretty significant threat and then immediately sent you off to the tower. Here, you learn a bit more about the lore of Groudon, Kyogre & Rayquaza, and there’s that slow realisation of where this is going.

Additionally, this was the first time Pokemon actually addressed the possibility of a multiverse, something Generation 7 would play around with a lot in its narrative. What really blew me away were the two major reveals that happened during this sequence. I have no idea if these were revealed before the launch of the game, but when I played through them for the first time, I had no idea that 1) Rayquaza was not only catchable in the game but had a mega-evolution that is honestly one of the cooler ones out there and 2) You got to catch DEOXYS of all Pokemon, which was an incredibly cool and memorable moment when I experienced it for the first time. As the Crown Tundra has proved, Pokemon games seem to be becoming more willing to make Mythical Pokemon available as an occasional treat, and it gives me high hopes if the Sinnoh remakes are ever produced.

While I don’t think we’ll see this kind of thing super often anymore, as the franchise has moved on to more fully-formed DLCs instead, but either way, this was a very memorable experience that held a nice couple of surprised following the ORAS credits.

1 – Kanto – Gold/Silver/HeartGold/SoulSilver

It’s an obvious choice, I know, but what else could it possibly be? Sure, some of the other entries on this list might hold more interesting aspects or flashier ideas, but this a WHOLE REGION for you to explore, including an extra 8 gym battles. This is the stuff we can only dream of in the modern era of Pokemon.

I experienced the Johto games for the first time in the form of the remakes, HeartGold & SoulSilver, which are absolutely incredible games in their own right. Once I’d finally fought through to defeat the Elite 4, to be told that there was now a whole new region for me to conquer was terrific. More to that, since this was only the second Pokemon game I’d ever played (first was Platinum), I’d never seen Kanto before, which meant all of it was brand new to me. It was like an extra Pokemon game on top of my Pokemon game.

Even if you had already played through a Kanto game, there was still huge value to be found in exploring the region a few years following the events of the original games. There’s great fun to be had in seeing how the gyms had changed and who was leading them. After battling Koga in the Johto Elite 4, you find out that his daughter has taken over his Gym, you find out that your former rival took Giovanni’s place as the final Gym leader. It’s got the right balance you want from a ‘sequel’ of the region, with a bunch of nostalgic elements, with a feeling of progression.

Then, once you’ve done all of that, you get to go to Mount Silver and have what is still, to this day, one of my favourite battles in the entire franchise against Red with some ridiculously high-levelled Pokemon for the standard singleplayer experience. Given that Gold & Silver were originally designed to be the last games in the franchise, they definitely nailed the feeling of wrapping everything up from the first two generations, and the exploration into Kanto was a huge part of that.

So there you have it! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this post, please let me know what you thought of Pokemon post-game features, either in the comments below or on Twitter @SStyleSmark. Make sure to come back here this time next week, where I’ll be covering my favourite Fall Guys levels.
AND don’t forget to come and check out my streams at https://www.twitch.tv/strongstylesmark 2pm GMT Tuesdays & Thursdays, and 6pm GMT on Saturdays!

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

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

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

SPOILER WARNING!

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

Let’s not waste any more time!

20 – Super Mario Odyssey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

19 – Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag

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

It’s a game about pirates.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

18 – Celeste

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 – Descenders

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

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

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

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

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

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

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

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

16 – Terraria

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

It’s a game about adventuring and building.

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

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

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

15 – Thomas Was Alone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

14 – Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood

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

It’s a game about stealthy stabbing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

13 – Moonlighter

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 – Pokemon Sword & Shield

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

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

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

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

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

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

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

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

11 – Black and White 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SPOILER WARNING!

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

Let’s not waste any more time!

30 – Final Fantasy XV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

29 – Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon

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

It’s a game about dungeon crawling with Pokemon.

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

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

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

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

28 – Sid Meier’s Civilization V

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

27 – Robot Roller Derby Disco Dodgeball

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

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

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

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

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

26 – Beat Saber

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

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

(From my Game of the Year 2019 article)

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

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

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

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

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

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

25 – Hexcells Infinite

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

24 – Euro Truck Simulator 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

23 – Into the Breach

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

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

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

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

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

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

22 – Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

21 – Subsurface Circular

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

11 More Amazing Tracks from Pokemon Soundtracks

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

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

Now, to the music zone.

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

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

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

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

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

10 – Max Raid Battle – Sword/Shield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8 – VS Team Plasma Grunt – Black/White

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unova’s got a lot of good town themes.

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

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

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

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

4 – Sunyshore City – Diamond/Pearl/Platinum

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 – VS Gym Leader – Sword/Shield

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

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

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

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

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

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

1 – VS Eternatus ~ Phase 3 – Sword/Shield

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

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

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

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

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

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

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