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!

10 Powerful Pokemon That Are World Champions

While Pokemon has spent the past twenty years enveloping kids and adults alike with its bright & colourful world, exciting battles and storytelling charm, everyone’s favourite creature capturing franchise has accrued a wide range of different types of players. Some want to just play through the story and use Pokemon they like the look of; some want to follow the series’ slogan and catch ’em all, and those who like to spend countless hours resetting their game over and over to get a Mewtwo that’s green instead of pink.

Which of those groups I’m a part of isn’t important (although my green Mewtwo will wipe the floor with whatever pathetic pink monstrosity you throw my way). However, others take things a significant step further. Not content with merely defeating each game’s champion and entering the Hall of Fame, some players go out into the real world with their Pokemon to battle anyone they can find to prove that they are the very best, like…you know the rest. Eventually, these competitions between trainers were formalised, and 2009 saw the video games series (referred to as VGC) join the Trading Card Game at the official Pokemon World Championships, using a 4 v 4 double battle format.

Naturally, with almost 900 hundred different Pokemon in the franchise, not all of them are going to have the power or skill that it takes to be a part of a world champion team and as such, a select few Pokemon have risen to the top. These Pokemon rose to the top and have claimed a spot of a world championship-winning team during their lifetimes. We’ll also be looking at teams that made it to the top 8 (quarter-finals). Be it because they dominated the metagame for a short space of time, or endured through the years as a staple of the scene, these are the 10 powerful Pokemon that are world champions.

I’d like to thank smogon.com and False Swipe Gaming on YouTube, as this is where I got the majority of my research from.

10 – Tyranitar

One of the most fragile Pokemon on this list, Tyranitar is much like any good video game boss in that it has a big glowing weak spot in the form of Fighting-type Pokemon. Not only does Tyranitar’s Rock and Dark typing give it a 4-times weakness to them, but it doesn’t possess any kind of reliable move in its arsenal to deal with them.

Tyranitar’s main strengths come from its ability. The most prominent ability for this pale green monster uses Sand Stream to kick up a sandstorm as soon as it enters the field. This boosts Tyranitar’s defences and deals some all-important chip damage to any non-Rock, Ground or Steel-type Pokemon the field. Backing this up with moves like the forceful Crunch and Rock Slide – the latter of which can deal damage to both opposing Pokemon simultaneously – was the perfect way to make use of Tyranitar’s exceptionally high attack stat. Not to mention, it was always packing a Low Kick to deal with otherwise troublesome Steel types.

Tyranitar’s standout year competitively was 2012. It featured in five of the teams to make top 8 at the world championships that year, including helping the USA’s Ray Rizzo claim his third world championship. While its popularity has notably decreased since then, thanks to weather effects becoming less critical to the metagame, Tyranitar has still made sporadic appearances over the years. Most recently helping Roberto Porretti reach 7th place in 2018.

Tyrantitar is an undoubtedly flawed Pokemon having a whole host of weaknesses to common types. Still, it makes up for it with a fantastic ability and a whole truckload of powerful attacks that make this Pokemon one that can never be underestimated.

9 – Bronzong

From a Pokemon who has popped up on a few teams every year, to one that absolutely dominated a single year of VGC.

After a few sporadic appearances in the early days of VGC, Bronzong disappeared in the background and was very rarely, if ever, featured in high-placing teams as it was outclassed in its support role by incredible Pokemon like Cresselia. This begs the question, in 2016, why on Earth did it feature on 7 out of the top 8 teams, including world champion Wolfe Glick’s?

It was quite simply a beneficiary of the other Pokemon that ended up being featured heavily in the 2016 metagame. This was the first season since 2010 where “restricted Pokemon” like the cover-legendaries were allowed to feature on competitive teams. One of the most popular of these Pokemon was Xerneas, which had the ever-resilient Fairy type and an incredible buffing move in the form of Geomancy. Luckily for Bronzong, it was an almost perfect counter to the legendary of life. It’s rare Steel & Psychic typing made it quite the tough Pokemon to crack, especially against opposing Fairy types, which it could absolutely wreck with a well-placed Gyro Ball.

That wasn’t all it did though, as its primary role on the team was to set up Trick Room, which is a move that turns the speed-calculations on its head and allows the slowest Pokemon on the field to move first. This was a crucial factor to victory in a metagame littered with fast Pokemon like Salamence, Gengar and even Rayquaza. It could even run a move like Hypnosis, to prevent those Pokemon from moving entirely, or use Skill Swap on it’s allied Primal Groudon/Kyogre to keep the beneficial weather effects in play while the Primals make the switch out of battle.

Although Bronzong has seldom been seen in VGC before or since the 2016 season, during that one season, it was almost mandatory to have if you wanted to land yourself a high placement. In the long-run, it will always have Pokemon that do its job better, but it absolutely proved that all it takes is the right set of circumstances to launch any Pokemon into the forefront of the metagame.

8 – Incineroar

One thing that is abundantly clear when looking through the history of competitive VGC is that starter Pokemon do not make good competitive team members. Their relatively even stat balance often makes them perfect for running through the singleplayer game, but relatively unviable for the much harsher climate of competitive play. So what makes Incineroar different?

First of all, the Dark-type is a huge boon, as it gives it access to some fantastic competitive moves. These can include moves like Snarl that lower the opposing Pokemon’s Special Attack, or Knock Off which can rid opposing Pokemon of their held-items, which are often crucial to a Pokemon’s survival in battle. The moves that were key to any Incineroar set, however, were Fire Blast, which could deal out massive Fire-Type damage, and Fake Out, which was guaranteed to immobilise its target on that turn if it hit.

Combine this with its Intimidate ability – an ability that lowers the opposing Pokemon’s attack when Incineroar enters the field – and you’ve got yourself the perfect support Pokemon. It’s able to keep its partner in the fight by stalling out opponents and perfectly countering some of the most prominent and powerful Pokemon in the Sun & Moon metagame, including Aeigislash, Celesteela and even the all-powerful Cresselia.

As such Incineroar has seen huge usage since its Intimidate ability set was released in 2018. It featured on five of the top 8 teams in 2018 and seven in 2019, featuring in the 1st place team both times.

Incineroar was able to prove that starter Pokemon are more than just fodder for the singleplayer game and fond childhood memories, but could wreck shop on the battlefield too.

7 – Amoonguss

Another Pokemon here that has seen scattered usage throughout the years, Amoongus is one of those support Pokemon that never truly goes away.

Spore and Rage Powder are the moves that have been key to Amoonguss’ success over the years. Spore is a move with 100% accuracy and is guaranteed to put the opposing Pokemon to sleep, which is an incredibly powerful thing to have in your arsenal. Meanwhile, Rage Powder forced all attacking moves (not counting spread moves) to target Amoonguss, allowing it to easily protect it’s partner while it dealt out all of the damage.

It had options when it came to its abilities. It could run Effect Spore, which had a chance to inflict a status effect onto any Pokemon that attacked it, or Regenerator, which let it restore one-third of its health when it switched out of battle. While Effect Spore was run for its early seasons, in the years since, high-ranking Amoonguss players have almost exclusively Regenerator sets. This makes it a bulky support Pokemon that can restore its health whenever it wants to, which is a giant boon to controlling the pace of any battle.

Amoonguss’ presence in VGC is quite wide-spread, but also somewhat scattered. It featured on three of the 8 teams in 2011, 2013 & 2019, while taking a spot on a whopping six teams in the 2015 season. It also claimed the world championship in both 2013 & 2015.

Amoonguss ended up being one of those support Pokemon that competitors in VGC just keep coming back to. It has some pretty clear counters, which is why it isn’t seen every year, but when the metagame allows for Amoonguss to flourish, it will always have a noteworthy spot to fill on a team with world championship aspirations.

6 – Thundurus

Arguably one of the most versatile Pokemon this list, Thundurus can fill just about any role you need it to, depending on how you build it.

With a lightning-quick Speed stat (pun definitely intended) and a Special Attack stat to die for, Thundurus could thrive as an all-out attacker. Running Thunderbolt as a robust attacking move made it hard to contend with. It could also carry Hidden Power Flying or Hidden Power Ice to deal with several Pokemon that would otherwise threaten it. Its speed made sure it’d always get to move first, save for a Trick Room which wasn’t overly common in the seasons where Thundurus saw its most prominent usage.

That wasn’t all Thundurus could do though, as it was also an ideal support Pokemon. It couldn’t dish out healing like other great supports, but it didn’t need to. Its ability, Prankster, gave all of its non-attacking moves priority, which meant that they would always execute first, even if the opposing Pokemon was faster. Combine that with access to a move like Thunder Wave and the opposing Pokemon would be lucky if they ever even got a chance to move before they were swept away by Thundurus’ partner. It could even run Rain Dance to control the weather if the team needed it.

Thundurus’ standout year was inarguably 2011, featuring on seven of the top 8 teams at that year’s world championships, including 1st place. It was most frequently partnered up with its fellow genie Tornadus, and the fair of them wrecked shop throughout the 2011 metagame. It’s usage dropped in 2012 when the enitre National Dex was allowed to compete in VGC, instead of just the Unova Dex. However, it still managed to find a spot on four top 8 teams in 2012 and three top 8 teams in 2013.

Its last hurrah was in the 2015 season, where it won itself a second world championship thanks to Shoma Honami using it as a part of his team. It held two top 8 spots in 2016 but was mostly unable to make an impact thanks to the presence of Primal Groudon & Primal Kyogre.

Even though the Primals were banned again for 2017, it faced a significant problem as there was a new Electric-Type Special Attacker on the scene that outclassed Thundurus in just about every way and that Pokemon’s name was…

5 – Tapu Koko

I won’t lie to you, this list is most legendary Pokemon from here on out.

Dipping back into the well of Generation 7 Pokemon now, Tapu Koko has seen almost total dominance over VGC since it burst onto the scene in 2017 and it’s clear to see why. It has a stupidly high Speed stat which allowed it to totally wipe the floor with the rest of the metagame, which ended up being full of pretty slow Pokemon. It was in a bit of trouble if it came up against a Trick Room team, but even then it had a few tricks up its sleeve to protect itself.

First of which was its ability, Electric Surge. This causes the terrain to become charged with electricity immediately upon Tapu Koko entering the field. Electric Terrain was an insanely powerful tool, as it boosted the power of electric type attacks by 50%, prevented any Pokemon on the ground from falling asleep. Finally, it made the move Hidden Power (a reasonably common move on a lot of Pokemon) the chance to paralyse its target. On top of that, it always ran Thunderbolt (chosen over the more powerful Thunder due to it’s higher accuracy) as a mighty attacking move. It also was backed up by Volt Switch, which allowed it to easily switch out of battle and refresh the Electric Terrain when it rejoined the fight.

Tapu Koko featured on a world championship-winning team in both the 2017 and 2018 seasons of VGC, featuring on seven of the top 8 teams in 2017 and four top 8 teams in 2018 and 2019. It had a great variety of allies over the years, although it was most commonly seen alongside Incineroar for an overwhelming display of attacking prowess.

4 – Garchomp

There are no frills on Garchomp, it’s just a big nasty bastard with more power than most Pokemon can handle. With an absolutely monstrous Attack stat, even the bulkiest of Pokemon have trouble standing up to Garchomp when it gets going. There’s nothing complicated about its moveset either. Garchomps main attacking moves are the devastating Earthquake, which damages every other Pokemon on the field that isn’t flying. It also packs Dragon Claw to cover anything that resists or is immune Earthquake, and even if a Pokemon resists both of those moves, Garchomp can also carry Rock Slide to deal with it.

It even has some defensive prowess too. Dragon and Ground is an incredible defensive type combination and while it’s HP and Defense stats don’t quite match up to its Attack, they’re certainly nothing to be sniffed at. It can even work its defensive capabilities into its moveset, as Substitute could be used instead of Rock Slide, to keep itself around on the field even longer than usual.

Garchomp’s usage in VGC has been a bit scattered throughout the years, although it is generally only missing from the metagame in years where ‘restricted Pokemon’ are allowed. It first made waves in 2012, where it features in three of the top 8 teams, including Ray Rizzo’s first-place team. Garchomp’s standout year was 2014, where it sat on five of the top 8 teams, including battling alongside Sejun Park’s legendary Pachurisu, which won him the world championship that year.

While more recently it has only seen two top 8 placements at the world championships (both in 2017), that’s not entirely representative of the force Garchomp has been on the metagame over the years. Even in the years where it didn’t reach any of the highest placements, it was still widely used amongst the community helping various competitors win regional and national championships respectively.

Garchomp is a Pokemon that needs nothing more than it’s pure power to be successful, which makes sense when you look at the absolute monster this thing presents itself as.

3 – Groudon & Kyogre

I’m giving these two the same entry because their careers in VGC have been heavily linked to each other in some way and their roles on teams are pretty similar in the grand scheme of things.

While Groudon & Kyrogre may not look like they’ve been used as much as many other Pokemon on this list, that is only because they’re classed as ‘restricted Pokemon’ which means that they have been banned from usage in all but three seasons. In 2010, which was their debut season, they were featured heavily. Their ability to control the weather upon entry into the field made them perfect for the format, as it meant they would always be switching in with an advantage.

Their solo typing combined with their substantial defensive stats made them great Pokemon to control the pace of a battle, as it was likely they’d be able to stick around in the fight for an incredibly long time. It would really put the pressure on the opposing team to find a way to handle it quickly, or risk getting swept away by the pair’s hard-hitting spread moves like Surf or Earthquake. As such both Pokemon were featured heavily at the world championships that year, with five of the top 8 teams featuring Kyrogre and six featuring Groudon. This included Ray Rizzo’s 1st place team, which made use of both of them.

Restricted Pokemon weren’t allowed again until 2016, and the metagame had shifted a lot by then. Mega-Evolutions were now running rampant, and there was plenty of brand new powerful Pokemon that threatened to put the weather duo out of a job. Then Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire came out and bestowed Groudon & Kyogre with a gift from the heavens…Primal Forms.

Primal Forms completely turned the metagame on their head and were vital for victory in the 2016 season for a couple of major reasons. Firstly, they didn’t take up a mega-slot. Under normal circumstances, there can only be one Pokemon per team that can mega-evolve in a battle. However, the Primal Forms triggered automatically upon entry, provided they were holding the right item (Blue Orb for Kyogre, Red Orb for Groudon). This meant that you could run a different Mega-Evolved Pokemon alongside them, essentially allowing you to have two Mega-Evolved Pokemon in every battle.

With them came some genuinely incredible abilities. Kyogre’s Drizzle ability became Primordial Sea, which prevented attacking Fire-Type moves from doing any damage whatsoever. Meanwhile, Groudon’s Drought ability became Desolate Land, which prevented attacking Water-Type moves from doing any damage whatsoever. As you can imagine, this led to tense battles for control over the weather, as one of those weather conditions would prevent the opposing legendary from executing their signature move (Origin Pulse for Kyogre, Precipice Blades for Groudon). This factor ended up dragging Mega-Rayquaza into the metagame, as its ability, Delta Stream, was able to remove both of these weather effects.

Both Pokemon were all over the 2016 & 2019 seasons, which were the only two that Primal Kyogre & Groudon have been allowed to compete in as of 2020. In 2016, Kyogre saw a bit more useful than Groudon, claiming five slots in that year’s top 8, including 1st. Meanwhile, Groudon only managed three, just missing out on the top slot at 2nd place. However, in 2019, the situation was flipped on its head as this time Groudon was the one to claim 1st place, while Kyogre’s highest placement was only 3rd.

The only thing holding back Kyogre and Groudon is how infrequently they’ve been allowed to take part in VGC. Although, it’s clear as to why that’s the case, as any season where they’ve been allowed to take part, they’ve absolutely dominated the competition and have become must-haves for anyone with world championship aspirations.

2 – Landourus

I wonder if Game Freak meant for the genies to be this powerful when they made them?

First of all, it’s typing is incredible. Being the odd combination of Ground and Flying-Type gives it not one but two immunities; Electric and Ground-Type attacks won’t even scratch it. While there are better defensive Pokemon, its defensive stats are still high enough to give it some staying power. Surely with access to amazing moves like Earthquake and Rock Slide, it would be a sure-fire hit for VGC right? Well…not at first.

For the first couple of years after debuting, Landourus didn’t actually make any top 8 placements at the world championships. The problem was, there were just other Pokemon than could do its job better. Between Terrakion, Krookodile and Garchomp, there wasn’t much reason to pick Landourus over any of them.

UNTIL…

In 2012, Pokemon Black 2 and White 2 released, which gave each of the genies (Thundurus, Tornadus & Landorus) brand new “Therian Forms”. While the other two genies ended up not using theirs much over the years. Landorus, on the other hand, became terrifying. It’s Attack stat got boosted to 145, which is one of the highest for any non-Mega Evolved Pokemon. At this point, Landorus dominated.

At first, in 2013 it made four of the top 8 spots at the world championship. That was nothing, however, compared to the 2015 season, where Landorus’ Therian Form featured in all eight to the top 8 teams that year; a feat that no other Pokemon has ever achieved as of 2020. That wasn’t even the end of its dominance, as it persisted into the 7th generation. It most recently featured on six of the top 8 teams at the world championships in 2018.

Landorus got off to a bit of a rocky start, but once the Therian Form came along, there were few Pokemon that stood any chance of stopping it. It has almost unrivalled attacking power and a type combination that is both unique & exceptionally useful.

1 – Cresselia

To put it simply, Cresselia is the ultimate support Pokemon.

The first point in its favour is it’s exceptionally high HP and Defence stats. The solo-Psychic typing means that it doesn’t have a great deal of weakness, and its Levitate ability grants it immunity from the ever-present and potentially devastating Earthquake. The long and short of it is that once Cresselia is out on the field in a battle, it can stay there pretty much as long as it wants to, with its opponent having to scramble to find a way to get rid of it. This is because if the opponent doesn’t find a way to remove it from the battle quickly, it could very well wreak havoc.

As for the ways it can wreak havoc, they vary. The most commonly used set is the Trick Room set. Using Trick Room to allow the slowest Pokemon the field to move first is a great asset that almost always puts Cresselia in control of the pace in the battle. From here it can be loaded up with a bunch of great support moves, and there’s honestly so many to choose from. It has its choice of Light Screen or Reflect, which reduces the power of opposing attacks and usually carries Helping Hand to boost the power of its partner’s attacks.

When Cresselia isn’t using Trick Room, Icy Wind is the move it will use to control the pace of the battle, as that move is guaranteed to lower the Speed of the opposing Pokemon. Thunder Wave is also an option, as it can inflict Paralysis. However Icy Wind is usually preferred as it does damage along with the reduction in speed. It will also carry the move Calm Mind, which raises both the Special Attack and Special Defence of Cresselia. This boosts its bulk even further, along with giving it greater ability to deal out damage for itself, instead of relying on its partner to do all the heavy lifting. It’s attacking move of choice is Psychic, although it can also carry Ice Beam to take out common threats such as Landorus or Mega Salamence.

When it comes to top 8 placements at the world championships, Cresselia is second to none. With the exception of 2019, the only years where it didn’t claim a spot were the years that it was banned. In every other year, it has claimed a spot on at least one of the top 8 teams, winning a world championship on three separate occasions; those being in 2010, 2012 & 2015.

With the sheer amount of usage it’s seen over the years, you could make an excellent case for Cresselia being the face of VGC. Every time a new generation comes along, it features a handful of useful support Pokemon. Still, none of them will ever be able to have the longevity or legacy that Cresselia has in the competitive. It’s seen a slight dip in usage in recent years, but you can bet that it will only be a matter of time before Cresselia finds yet another way to take charge of the competitive scene; probably winning another world championship in the process.

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 Pokemon, either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure you come back this time next week, as I’ll be releasing the first instalment in my summer-long series where I’ll be running down my 100 favourite games of all time! You won’t want to miss it.

Game of the Year 2019

2019 has been a bit of an odd year for games. There have been several high-profile releases scattered throughout the year like there always are, but I think that when we look back at gaming in 2019, it will be remembered as the year that set up all the super-hyped releases in 2020.

Despite that – as I mentioned in my favourite old games article – I played more games in 2019 than I ever had in a single year and that is just as true for new releases. While there might not have been much on a massive scale like Cyberpunk or Animal Crossing promises to be next year, there are undoubtedly some all-time favourites for me that came out this year.

Just to clarify, Early Access games will not be included on this list as I don’t think it’s fair to judge an unfinished game, I will instead consider them for “Game of the Year” in whatever year they leave early access. Also, I’d like to make a quick disclaimer that there are some games that I think look brilliant, but never found the time to play. Games like Baba is You and Superliminal are ones that I want to play as soon as possible, so will likely be showing up on my “old games” list at the end of next year.

So join me as I talk about the best of what the world of gaming had to offer in 2019.

SPOILER WARNING

As you probably expected, there will be major spoilers for most, if not all, of the games in this list. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED.

11 – Cricket 19

Release Date: 8th May
Developer: 
Big Ant Studios
Publisher: 
Big Ant Studios
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Metacritic Average: 73%

It’s ok Americans, you’re excused from this one.

So this one’s probably not one anyone expected to make this list (myself included), but I really wanted to feature it on this list because cricket is a sport that has almost never had a competently made game for it. I had a brief discussion about this with my dad (an avid cricket fan) and we came to the conclusion that the best cricket game up until this point was Stick Game’s Stick Cricket which was a free browser & mobile game made over a decade ago.

While I certainly wouldn’t consider myself a fan of cricket, there are many sports I can’t stand watching that I enjoy playing virtual versions of, so when I saw that the reviews for this game didn’t call it a total crock of shit I was eager to try it out. The first thing that struck me was the sheer level of detail that went into how you approach every match in the game. If you’re in batting then you have to not only consider the basic stuff like the type of shoot you’ll do and where it’ll go but also the little details like where you’re going to position your feet and how you’re going to step towards the ball and it’s a very similar situation on the bowling side.

This year’s world cup final aside, I’ve never enjoyed watching cricket, I don’t find most sports very entertaining, but cricket especially bores me to tears whenever I try and watch it, so imagine my surprise when I found myself reacting with all the vim and vigour you’d expect from a match-day pub crowd while playing a match in this game. Every ball became a nail-biting affair, whether I was batting or bowling and all of that is thanks to the fact that the detailing has allowed for both a realistic and more exciting adaptation of the national sport of these fair isles.

Unlike many of the previous attempts at cricket games, it’s obvious that Cricket 19 had a lot of love poured into it from people who knew a lot about cricket and while there are rough patches that need to be ironed out, this is the first time that I can say there’s a cricket game out there that does the sport justice.

Now we just need a competently made Rugby game and we’ll be set.

10 – Hot Lava

Release Date: 19th September
Developer: 
Klei Entertainment
Platforms: Windows, Mac, Linux

Hot Lava is a game that knew exactly what it’s audience wanted from it and leaned into it entirely.

The Floor Is Lava was always the ultimate game to play when you were a kid, it combined the rush of doing something you’re not supposed to with the endless desire to concuss yourself that plagues all children of primary school age, but it had a problem, you were never really allowed to have much fun with it. There was only so much jumping between the sofas you could do before your mum came downstairs with a look of horror as to what you were doing to her lovely living room, and playing it during the 5 second moments when the teachers weren’t looking your way on the playground just wasn’t the same. I always dreamt of being able to play the game across the whole size of the playground, I imagined the amazing courses I could set up for me and my friends before I would inevitably slip on the first jump, gently graze my elbow and cry my way home.

Hot Lava is essentially that fantasy…only without that wimpy prick ruining it for everyone.

Mechanically, it’s a fairly simple game. It’s got all the features you’d expect a parkour game to have, where it really shines is in its level designs. The school setting makes for a great feel for the game as you’re bouncing around all over the place, but each level is finely crafted to make the most of its mechanics at every turn. Even levels that focus in on a specific gimmick are able to keep things varied throughout, slowly turning up the difficulty so the game scales perfectly with the player’s skill level. Then, once you’re done with the official levels, there is an ever-increasing number of community-made maps out there which range from the impressively creative to the frustratingly difficult.

I had so much fun leaping from table to chair in Hot Lava, it was able to properly capture that feeling that you always wanted to get from playing The Floor is Lava as a kid.

9 – Trine 4: The Nightmare Prince

Release Date: 8th October
Developer:
Frozenbyte
Publisher:
Modus Games
Platforms: Playstation 4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch, Windows
Metacritic Average: 81%

As I mentioned when I spoke about my most anticipated games for Q4 2019, I talked a bit how I love the Trine series and while Trine 3 was somewhat disappointing, I was still hopeful for the new entry into the series. So now I’ve played it, I can safely say that the series is still going strong.

Ditching the 3D side of the game was definitely the right way to go, as it just didn’t quite work, especially when the potential for level design in 2D was far from exhausted, as this game proved. The level design here was just as good as it always has been, every level feels like a logical progression of mechanics, following the same design philosophies that the 2D Mario games do, only this game plays around with some more complex mechanics that make each level last for about 30 minutes instead of 5, but all 30 of those minutes are engrossing stuff.

The pacing in each level has been notably improved, the team seem to have really nailed the balance that needs to be struck between puzzle-platforming and combat. The game’s combat system is extremely basic, which is why it’s used so sparingly through the levels, which is the perfect way to break up the flow of gameplay, so the whole thing feels more like an adventure and less of an endless series of puzzle rooms.

Speaking of the puzzles, they were as spot-on as always, the game didn’t go overboard with new mechanics this time which allowed for a big variety of puzzles that combine features I was already familiar with, with the new ones that got introduced in a very well-paced manner, so I never felt overwhelmed. The puzzles themselves were fantastically designed, I would never breeze through a puzzle, but I also wouldn’t be stuck on it for ages, most puzzles are designed in such a way to make you think about the mechanics you’ve been given in an abstract way. All of the elements in play react to each other differently, so after playing around with any given puzzle for a bit, that “eureka” moment will finally strike and you’ll be able to progress.

As always, the game looks absolutely gorgeous. Trine understands it’s visual style flawlessly and is able to make just about any environment look absolutely beautiful. Not only do the environments look good, but there’s such a wonderful variety of places that you explore as well, which is a big improvement on the older games of the series, where a lot of the environments could feel a tad samey.

Trine 4 is able to look at its predecessors and remove the flaws while keeping what made it great to begin with, which is such a difficult task, but one that the people behind this game were clearly up to.

8 – Slay The Spire

Release Date: January 23rd
Developer:
MegaCrit
Publisher:
Humble Bundle
Platforms: Playstation 4, Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac, Linux
Metacritic Average: 89%

The Roguelike/Roguelite genre is one that I have become truly and thoroughly burnt-out on over the past couple of years. There are so many around the place now that it’s a formula I’m tired of seeing, so it takes something pretty damn special from the genre to make me take notice, enter Slay The Spire.

Slay The Spire looked at the standard Roguelike formula and distilled it down to it’s most basic elements, the rooms you encounter are all very simple, they’re either a fight, a treasure, a quick event, or a shop then it decided that the best course of action would be to slap a deckbuilding, turn-based strategy on the top of it and see what comes out. The result? The most engaging Roguelike game I’ve played in years.

Every battle in Slay the Spire feels tense and to the wire, not because the game is necessarily harsh, but because you’re always reliant on the cards that come your way. It strikes the perfect balance between getting you to think a few steps ahead, while still forcing you to take chances, chances that don’t always pay off. I remember countless times where I’d come up with a plan, but it would rely on drawing the right card at the right time and when it didn’t work it was heartbreaking, but succeeding made me feel like a tactical genius.

The three different decks in the game are also brilliant for allowing you to adjust your play style, without massively overturning the formula of the game. Each character has it’s own unique mechanic that is open to massive amounts of experimentation,  which is something I had great fun with. As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t consider myself to be very good at most games, but Slay the Spire had such a smooth learning curve that I felt like I was improving with every single victory.

Slay the Spire is a game that took a genre that I love, combine it with a genre I’m tired of and make something that feels new, exciting and tonnes of fun to play, this is the kind of innovation that I’ve been looking for in the roguelike genre for ages and I desperately hope we see more of it in the years to come.

7 – Katana ZERO

Release Date: April 18th
Developer:
Askiisoft
Publisher:
Devolver Digital
Platforms: Nintendo Switch, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 83%

One of my favourite things a game can accomplish is to be one specific thing while disguising itself as something else. To explain what I mean by that, let’s take a look at Katana ZERO.

When you star Katana ZERO, the impression I got from it is that it was going to be a fast-paced hack and slash, where you slice your way through waves of enemies feeling like a katana-wielding action hero and while the second part of that statement is true, Katana ZERO is in fact not a hack and slash, but a very clever and high-octane puzzle game.

The goal of each room is to introduce every enemy in the general vicinity to your Katana, usually by separating them from most of their limbs in the process, but if you go charging madly into every room, you’ll most certainly fail almost instantly. Instead, every room in the game is cleverly designed to be “solvable”, with a distinct order and pattern in which you need to show everyone their own spleen before removing their head in what can only be described as a “flourish” of blood. Every time I entered a room, I would instantly scour the whole place looking for the one weak spot where I could start my slicing rampage, running through a mental checklist every time I failed and restarted a room, which gave incredibly satisfying feeling when my master plan was executed to perfection.

What makes Katana ZERO stands out though, is the fact that it has that element of chaos to it. I could make the most ingenious plans ever, but that doesn’t mean I was good enough to pull them off perfectly all the time and that was where the game was at its most fun; when plans went wrong. Once a plan went wrong, it would be easy to just take the death and try again, but I think doing that takes out a huge element of the sheer joy that this game brings you when you improvise. Admittedly, my improvised plans very rarely bore fruit, but that didn’t stop it being an absolute blast when I missed my second strike, which sent me sailing into a room of armoured guards, causing me to panic, throw a firebomb which killed the armoured guards but alerted everyone within a 5-mile radius to my presence, at which point I went on a killing spree, slicing every neck I could lay my eyes on before finally being gunned down.

In addition to that…well…clusterfuck, the game has simplistic but masterfully styled visuals with great uses of colours and effect to create a depressingly beautiful cyberpunk dystopia, a feeling only helped by the brilliant choices that were made with the music, which helped elevate the already fantastically designed boss-fights to epic clashes and nail-biting encounters.

Katana ZERO is a game that strikes that perfect balance between careful & tactical planning and total chaos that makes for an incredibly focused and fun game, all tied together with a clever story that keeps you interested and invested in the world all the way to the credits.

6 – Unheard

Release Date: 29th March
Developer:
NEXT Studios
Publisher:
NEXT Studios, Bilibili
Platforms: Playstation 4, Windows, Mac
Metacritic Average: 72%

Out of all the games on this list, this is the one that I’d imagine the fewest people have heard of, because this almost passed me by too, so let me explain.

At its most basic level, it’s a mystery-solving game, however, the method by which you solve these mysteries is what makes this an absolutely exceptional game in my view. Instead of searching the scene and interviewing witnesses after the fact, you get to see the 5-15 minutes in which the crime happened, except you don’t get to actually see the details. What you get is a floor-plan view of the building in which the crime took place which you can wander around as you play through the events of the scene and the only tool you have to work out what happened is sound.

You can see the outline of where everyone is at any moment, but you can’t actually see their form, you can only hear their voices. Using this information you must work out who everyone is, and answer specific questions about the crime. I can’t really be more specific without giving away partial solutions to some of the puzzles, but the way in which the game gets you to hear every conversation in a level to slowly fill in all the blanks is so very innovative and clever.

The game typically starts you off in each scenario listening to one conversation that will give a rough outline of what’s going on, but naturally, there are other conversations going on all over the scene at the exact same time and each conversation slowly fills in all of the blanks. In every conversation, you listen to you’ll learn something new about the scenario that slowly allows you to draw everything together and hit that euphoria of the “eureka” moment when you nail your target.

The game makes sure to give you just the right amount of information so that everything you need to know is there, but without explicitly giving you all of the solutions. I found myself taking notes on every level, creating a list of suspects and slowly ruling them out as I went along until the true culprit reveals themselves.

The mysteries themselves are very well thought out, for example, you’ll have to locate a stolen painting and work out who stole it, but there are also a number of fakes that other people have stolen, thinking they’re the real deal and it’s your job to use the conversations around the scene to piece together a chronology of who committed the first theft in order to determine who holds the real painting.

At £5 the game is absolutely worth it for the 5 puzzles (plus 1 as free DLC) that total to about 4 hours of game time. This is one of the most enthralling and unique puzzle games I’ve played ever and it perfectly captures the feeling on solving a mystery, so if you’re into that sort of thing, this game is a must-have.

5 – Beat Saber

Release Date: 21st May
Developer:
Jaroslav Beck
Publisher:
Jaroslav Beck
Platforms: Playstation 4, Oculus Quest, HTC Vive
Metacritic Average: 93%

I’ve loved VR for a long time and Beat Saber is probably my favourite VR game I’ve ever played. 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 realising it.

Beat Saber is a game that realised 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.

4 – Descenders

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

I’ve talked about Descenders a couple of times already this year and it’s safe to say that my love for it has not diminished in the slightest.

It was 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 539 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 very easy 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 fairly well, but also you can spend time honing your skills and mastering the game in order 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 in order to make it a game that I’m going to be playing on-and-off for a very long time.

3 – Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2 – Pokemon Sword & Shield

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

If you’ve followed my blog for any length of time then you were probably expecting to see this on the list somewhere and here you go, number two, it’s becoming a bit of a tradition for Pokemon games actually.

I was very excited for these games more or less all year, I can’t deny that the lack of the national dex was a tad disappointing, but once I had the game in my hands and was playing it, that fact becomes little more than a tiny annoyance that I barely ever thought about.

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; and 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.

1 – Fire Emblem: Three Houses

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

I’d never played a Fire Emblem game before Three Houses and I didn’t even have any intensions to buy it until I did so on a whim in early September and I am so glad I didn’t miss out on this absolutely joyous gaming experience.

The Turn-Based Strategy combat in this game is extremely refined and taps into that part of my brain that games like XCOM and Civilization created that loves deep strategic thinking in games. The usage of middle-aged weaponry (and magic) gives the battles a very different type of strategy to what I’m used to, I usually tend to play quite defensively in turn-based strategies but the need to get up close and personal with your opponents means you’re not afforded that luxury and it leads to some very tense situations that require a deep level of strategic thought to resolve.

Weaponry and classes each unit has access to gives a nice level of variety too, with each melee weapon allowing for slightly different possibilities in combat, alongside the ranged and magic weapons/abilities meaning each unit has to be treated very differently in battle in order to get the optimum performance out of them.

That’s not what made this game so special to me though. That’s not the reason that, as of the time of writing, I’m currently about to reach the conclusion of my 4th playthrough of this 45-hour game. What makes Fire Emblem: Three Houses such a wonderful game to play are its characters.

You play as a professor at an academy where the various future lords, nobles & knights of the land learn their craft, this naturally means you have students and you get to know these students so incredibly well throughout the course of the game. Every single part of every character is dripping in personality and while it’s true that many of the characters are a bit one-note, when there’s so many of them and they’re all constantly interacting and bouncing off of each other, then you don’t even notice.

Over the course of the game, I grew to understand all of the characters and how they operate in the same way that any teacher does when they have the same class for an extended period of time, you get to see them grow and develop as people and I genuinely care about all of them and their progress. This feeds back into the gameplay and combat because it’s not just faceless armies that you’re sending into danger, it’s your students that you’ve bonded with and have a whole future ahead of them and when one of them dies, that failure – YOUR failure – weighs on you.

The game’s branching narrative is brilliantly set up, forcing you to choose your house less than an hour into the game, with only a base-level understanding of the students you’ll be taking under your wing. It was what pushed me to dive right into my 2nd, 3rd & 4th playthroughs because I had to know what happened to all of these characters that I’ve grown to love.

The feature characters for each line in the narrative are very well-developed as well and there are some genuinely brilliantly written scenes in every path. This was a game that understood that the emotional weight of its story came not from the events happening, but how those events affect the characters. Every scene is written in such a way to draw you into the lives of its characters and that level of investment bleeds over into every other part of the game, whether you’re teaching them on their skills or sending them into battle.

Fire Emblem: Three Houses is that perfect mix that captures exactly what made me fall in love with Octopath Traveler last year. Its characters are flowing with personality that never fails to make me smile and the gameplay has a deep level of strategy that I just can’t keep away from and it’s absolutely the best gaming experience I’ve had in 2019.

So that’s it! Those were my favourite games in 2019! Thank you very much for taking the time to read this, please, let me know what games you loved this year either in the comments below or on Twitter @10ryawoo. Finally, make sure to join me back here on Saturday, where I’ll be talking about my favourite comedy shows!