Steve Norman’s Top Ten Games of 2017

The following is lifted straight off my other site, Retro Arcadia, but just to complete my annual trilogy on this one I’ve indulged myself with it here too…

I very rarely have the impulse to buy anything day one, and I’ve spent most of this year playing catch-up with stuff I’ve been given for birthdays or Christmas that I’d directed people to get for me at bargain prices – Wolfenstein The Old Blood, Doom (which was the only game that’s ever induced serious motion sickness in me then outstayed its welcome a bit but I finished it), Dishonored, Dirt 3 and the marvellous Trackmania Turbo were highlights. Lego Dimensions, particularly the Midway Retro Arcade level pack and all the old favourites of mine it included, has also been a mainstay, as has No Man’s Sky, which I’ve now pumped hundreds of hours into and it remained my go-to game until November when I decided I just didn’t want to play it any more. Special mention also to Super Mario Run which appeared right at the end of 2016 and I’ve continued to play throughout 2017. I also got a New Nintendo 2DS which opened up a whole new world of Nintendo games that I’d missed out on since the Game Boy Advance – Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Harvest Moon, Super Mario Tennis and much more…

1. Elevator Action

Seeing this appear out of the blue on the PlayStation Store new release list towards the end of November was a console generation highlight for me, only previously (almost) equalled by the same for Renegade a couple of years ago! Every time I play it I’m standing in front of an arcade cabinet in the cafe area of our local leisure centre in 1984, with the music from the Saturday morning roller disco in the background and a can of Dr Pepper from the only vending machine in town to stock it on the table beside me. It’s the arcade version of Elevator Action, released on PS4 as part of their Arcade Archives series, and by default is the best game released in 2017 on any platform.

2. Stardew Valley (PS4)

This is one of the most joyous gaming experiences I’ve ever had! It also gives me the chance, as someone living on a farm in the country with no intention of ever farming or even vaguely embracing country life, to experience all of that stuff from the comfort of my own living room! You just do whatever takes your fancy, whether it’s clearing some land, doing up some buildings, growing some crops, fishing, looking after your chickens, playing the arcade games in the village pub, mining, building a fence, beach combing, helping out villagers or just wandering about the place. Slow-paced, open-ended, great looking and wonderful – just like the life waiting right outside my front door if only it wasn’t so much hassle!

3. Pokemon Ultra Sun (3DS)

For this game I did get that rare impulse to buy day one! Pokemon Gold (see below) very recently introduced me to a series I’d missed out on for decades, but this brought me right up to date with a stunning handheld masterpiece. The world is brimming with life (including some great Pokemon), the story will cost you hours that you thought were minutes, and even the necessary grinding stays fun. So much gameplay here and I can’t recommend it enough. Especially if you’re still the sceptical non-player that I was until a couple of months ago.

4. Everybody’s Golf (PS4)

I’ve never really played as much Everybody’s Golf as I should have, given I’ve owned iterations on various platforms since the original Playstation release. I have made up for that a bit with the latest one though. It’s still instantly familiar, albeit with a PS4 sheen and all kinds of modern gaming depth, maintaining a very simple mechanic that makes it very easy for a quick nine holes to turn into ninety!

5. Pokemon Gold (3DS)

Okay, it’s another pure re-release (but definitely not the last one in this list), this time of an ancient GameBoy Colour game with no 21st century bells and whistles added, but it was my first ever Pokemon game, I’ve sunk dozens of hours into it and its fantastic immersive world hasn’t aged a day, so definitely deserves to be in the top half of this list. Check out a more detailed post I did on this here.

6. Wipeout Omega Collection (PS4)

Before you think it, it’s a remaster and not a re-release! But anyone, I’m playing by my rules here so anything that came out this year goes! This collects some of the more recent titles, updating them with incredibly fast moving and great looking graphics, but the core gameplay remains, meaning it’s still the best futuristic racer out there and was a joy to come back to.

7. Fire Emblem Heroes (iOS)

For a free-to-play game built around loot crates, this is an incredibly generous, very focussed tactical fighting game. Production values are off the charts; it’s accessible but deep; there’s some very saucy characters, and in my 30+ hours with the game I collected the strongest possible units and rinsed every mode in the game without ever feeling I was grinding for it; without ever spending a penny.

8. Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp (iOS)

This game is pointless. And that’s most of the reason I love it. I don’t care that it’s constantly (though completely unobtrusively) reminding me that I can spend money that I won’t spend. I’m quite happy waiting for stuff to appear that I can use to help out the animal people hanging around my campsite who give me money and materials to buy more stuff then wait for that to appear while I fish and catch bugs and rearrange things. The most casual, relaxing, mindless and fun waste of time I’ve played this year.

9. Resident Evil Biohazard

I’d have loved it if this didn’t have the word “Biohazard” in the title and been able to maintain the feeling of Texas Chainsaw inspired anxiousness that built up in the first few hours before the ooze started appearing. I’d also have appreciated it being a few hours shorter. But all the same it takes the series back to its horror roots, even including a nice nod to the dogs jumping through the windows in the original. It’s a lovely looking game, great attention to detail with surprisingly varied settings, and happily the puzzles aren’t too obscure, the inventory system isn’t too restrictive, and the save points aren’t too far apart.

10. Rogue Trooper Redux (PS4)

Some of the mechanics are creaking a bit by today’s standard, but this remaster (the last on this list I’m proud to announce) will bring a tear to the eye to anyone that’s not read Rogue Trooper since they were a kid in the 80’s! Okay, it’s not a patch on the Spectrum version that everyone’s forgotten ever existed first, but just to spend a few hours running and gunning across Nu-Earth and bringing back all those 2000A.D. memories makes it essential!

Steve Norman’s Top Ten Albums of 2017

Obviously The Doors’ Strange Days remaster is the best release of 2017, but anything touched by the hand of Morrison transcends mere lists and is therefore not eligible for inclusion at number one, though my favourite living band are definitely worthy alternatives…

1. The Afghan Whigs – In Spades

I love this band. I listen to their entire, almost thirty year long, back catalog incessantly. There’s simply nothing else out there like them, and nothing this year like this. Soulful, sleazy, multidimensional alt-rock with the most talented vocalist of several generations serving up all the grizzled drama and heartache you’ll need until the next time.

2. Satyricon – Deep Calleth Upon Deep

These guys continue to transcend Norwegian black metal with this. Every track is just of such high quality, both in musicianship and sound. And big choruses. Each offers its own variety of polished darkness, with the band never afraid to experiment, whether it’s just dropping the heavy chugging and ferocious blast beats for some (admittedly equally heavy and ferocious) finger picking, going orchestral, operatic or even throwing in some kind of Arabian sax. Just genius.

3. Black Anvil – As Was

Exquisitely produced, sophisticated black-prog metal that came early in the year but from first listen was clear to make this list at the end of it. Very atmospheric, very complex, very heavy, and a real hypnotic joy to listen to, especially through an expensive pair of cans! What Venom might have been if they’d had the money.

4. Moon Duo – Occult Architecture, Vol. 1

The best new romantic psychedelic garage I’ve heard in ages! Given I only grabbed this from Apple Music on the basis of the word “occult” in the title, what a find! And there was a Vol. 2 this year too! Definitely look both of them up for a mesmerising, entirely legal high.

5. Marilyn Manson – Heaven Upside Down

I didn’t realise how much I missed the old Manson until I listened to this for the fist time. Back in his black glittery box full of bombastic, stadium industrial obscenity. Exactly where I like him. The Halloween party that keeps on giving all year long.

6. The Black Angels – Death Song

A wonderful slab of dark, threatening, noisy garage psychedelia from Texas. Or 1968. Which I’ve just noticed spells out where they got their name from! More 13th Floor Elevators than Velvet Underground though. Anyway, it’s their best album to date and a great listen.

7. Gary Numan – Savage (Songs From a Broken World)

This album could be rubbish and would still have to be on here to mark yet another milestone from the man that invented music in 1978. Fortunately it’s anything but rubbish. He’s ditched the silver jumpsuits of old for a messianic take on Mad Max in a post-apocalyptic Middle East; there’s really no stopping him! Mixing synth-industrial with exotic trinkets, The Numanoid continues to bring electronic theatre to the miserable like no one else.

8. White Ward – Futility Report

Black metal infused with lounge sax. It really works! These Ukrainians know their Norwegian heritage, they know their instruments, and they know how to craft an incredible, haunting, depressive journey.

9. Myrkur – Mareridt

Black metal infused with folk – not quite up there with a sax, but it also really works! This album is absolutely stunning. A one-woman odyssey from synth-tinged folk-doom to guttural modern black metal and back again over and over. She’s got serious potential to climb high on my self-indulgent lists in the future!

10. Cradle of Filth – Cryptoriana: The Seductiveness of Decay

Much like their last album, this isn’t the best Cradle of Filth album but it’s a very good one. Actually, it’s very much like their last album, but that’s no bad thing. All the elements are there – melodic black metal padded out with orchestral gothic drama; the musical equivalent of a generic Hammer film. Meaning there’s more than enough to love here no matter how many times you care to listen.

Steve Norman’s Top 10 Films of 2017

Before I start the list, some notable omissions… Guardians of the Galaxy Vol.2 was ruined (as predicted from the trailer) by that stupid plant, and Dunkirk was a tedious wasted opportunity – if you want a war film, watch Sink the Bismarck instead. I’d also like to mention The Cult of Chucky and the lower jaw kill, which is one of the finest slasher movie kills in years! And Rambo III is always worth a fresh look! Now here be my top ten films of the year.

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Everything a Star Wars fan needs and more – epic space fights involving some mental new ships (and the greatest sound effect involving absolutely no sound ever), imaginative lightsabre battles, some great new characters and locations and decent storyline progressions for the old ones. Apart from the ridiculous scene when Leia is flying through space like Superman. And it all goes on for hours! Can’t wait to see it again. And again. And again…

2. Underworld: Blood Wars

Kate Beckinsale goth’d up in tight black leather. Killing stuff. No further words needed.

3. Thor: Ragnarok

Despite Thor never being my favourite Marvel character, this is probably the most fun I’ve ever had with a Marvel film. It’s a non-stop barrage of ridiculous action, and it knows it, resulting in something genuinely funny on top of being a complete visual feast of set piece after set piece involving all your favourite Avengers.

4. Wonder Woman

If a hot chick kicking arse in skimpy bits of metal is empowering to women, then let me slip on a pair of comfortable shoes and start a new crochet project in front of some ladies’ cricket because I’m all in! Great superhero movie regardless of all the shoe-horned right-on crap surrounding it.

5. Leatherface

Really cool story about a bunch of surprisingly likeable deviants escaping from an asylum and going on the run from some crazy hick lawmen. Just try to forget the association and back story that no one needed to know and enjoy the sickness.


I probably enjoyed the next film in the list more than this, but the appearance of Erik Estrada at the end moves it up a place. I loved CHiPs (to use its original monicker) back in the 80’s, and this is familiar territory but reinvents Jon and Ponch as an ex-extreme sports sad-case and an undercover FBI sex addict, resulting in Carry on California Highway Patrol, complete with Freddy Got Fingered levels of smut. Which obviously makes it worthy of this list.

7. XXX: Return of Xander Cage 

This is a real man’s film. Stunts, explosions, gun fights, martial arts, car chases, surfing motorbike chases, night clubs (and women) that don’t exist in real life… It’s all familiar mindless territory but it’s done so well!

8. IT

About as scary as The Goonies, but I liked The Goonies and this had a similar vibe. I’d have loved an 18-rated version full of blood and gore, but for a kid’s film this kept me a lot more entertained than most do. Pennywise is really well cast, some evocative locations and a nice variety of supporting characters make this my favourite horror film for people that don’t like horror of the year.

9. Justice League 

Wonder Woman and her cohort in even skimpier bits of metal! This is Pro Evolution Soccer to Marvel’s FIFA, especially with its most generic super villain ever, but it’s a decent story, Aquaman makes a great entrance to the franchise, and the other characters are slightly less dour than previously. There’s far better superhero movies this year but there’s enough stuff exploding to make it worthy of the list!

10. Spider-Man Homecoming

 I didn’t know much about this going in, assuming I was going to get the spider bite for the tenth time in about as many years, but when I saw it this Christmas I was really pleasantly surprised by a fun, funny, breath of life into what has become a tedious cannon of films made for a brainless generation of viewers that can’t relate to a film that doesn’t feature the latest iPhone. I can recommend another viewing of Captain America: Civil War beforehand as it adds a whole new layer to that film as well as being a very fine romp in its own right.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi Topps Trading Cards

I love the old Topps cards from the original Star Wars movies. Not sure that these new ones are anything more than promotional images, but if they appear in the local newsagent with a stick of chewing gum inside, I’m all in!

Just four images so far – Rey Encounters Luke Skywalker, Kylo Ren’s TIE Silencer, Canto Bight Casino Patrons and The Canto Bight Police Collect Information. Here they be…

8-Bit Tatooine by Gabrielle Roman

This picture is great!

Artist Gabrielle Roman came up with this fantastic 8-bit rendition of a Tatooine sunset, all the way from the original Star Wars. You can check out more here

The Girl With the Sausage Bouquet 

I’ve no idea where this is from or what it means, but I expect its for German weddings. Anyway, enjoy…

Sexy Beach Fast Food

There’s a lot of bizarre junk on the Apple App Store. This is a new find called Sexy Beach Fast Food. I can’t describe this any better than the official App description:

In Sexy beach fast food you’ll enjoy 64 restaurant levels, challenge stages across 8 mission. Prepare 30 different recipes, and upgrade your restaurants. While cooking all those tasty recipes, you get to serve many sexy customers. Have fun playing Sexy beach fast food, the time management cooking game for food lovers! The all of levels are free but it is locked, with collecting a gem during play each level or an in-game purchase available to unlock the all of level in all missions. Enjoy Sexy beach fast food , an amazing time management cooking game

DASH THROUGH 8 MISSIONS, cook in beautiful beach and sexy customers, complete 64 levels, and extra challenging time attack mode.

BECOME A CHEF, master your skills in this cooking game, and cook three star for your sexy customers.

RUN YOUR SUN SHINE DAY and serve food in a variety of fast food recipes in many beautiful beach.

COLLECT GEMS & buy decorations.

PLAY A TIME ATTACK MODE, to compete for the best score in the World Ranging Board!

There you have it. Make sexy food for sexy people. On a beach. Or something. I just wonder who the target audience is. Time management cooking games aren’t exactly the domain of the nerdy saddo that gets their kicks out of bug-eyed, big breasted Japanese schoolgirls in skimpy bikinis. And I can’t see your average hairdresser being into the knocker intrusion in their time management cooking game on their sun shine day. Who knows, who cares, but here’s some more of what you pervs are really interested in…

Mystical Cork Trousers

There’s a lot you can do with an old wine cork. For example, make a fancy serving tray with the letter W in it…

Or create a low cost engagement ring for your fancy lady…

My favourite use, though, is to create a pair of stylish but comfortable slacks that invoke popular occult symbolism. When the Egyptian arch-dude Horus opened his eyes, the world was enlightened. With this trouser, you can do the same thing without all that becoming a deity hassle. Just do it direct from your jacksy!

Steve Norman’s Top Ten Albums of 2016

I’m regularly lambasted for being old and out of touch, but I’m quite proud to prove that at least one of those accusations wrong with at least 90% of this list! Not a Metallica or Rolling Stones in sight, though I’m still fond of this year’s output. And I still don’t like Bowie. 
  1. Jesu & Sun Kil Moon – Jesu & Sun Kil Moon. When you’ve got a name that catchy, I think it makes sense to use it on your album too!  Amazing how adding one element can make everything so different. It’s never been such a stretch to associate previous Jesu stuff to Justin Broadrick’s Godflesh past, but Kozelek’s ultra-slacker vocals unexpectedly shift this right into Red House Painters territory (more so than his Sun Kil Moon incarnation), rather than the post-rock shoegaze you’d expect, even though it’s often still there in the background textures. I love Jesu, I love Red House Painters, this is a very unlikely dream come true!
  2. Nothing – Tired of Tomorrow. More shoegaze, but this time I’d call it post-hardcore shoegaze! There’s some really incredible soaring and shimmering guitar at play here, but with an occasional hint of heaviness to it that sets it apart from the likes of my other favourites Klimt1918, Swervedriver or My Vitriol, veering towards early Smashing Pumpkins. That heaviness applies even more to the lyrics though, nodding to the band members’ hardcore past and echoing Ian Curtis with a bit of disease and decay sprinkled on top.
  3. Desert Mountain Tribe – Either That or the Moon. Driving, melodic psychedelic rock that can really suck you in and mesmerise you for it’s full length. Multi-layered and complex, great vocals and some really captivating instrumentals. One of my new finds of the year!
  4. Black Angel Drifter – Black Angel Drifter. I know I wasn’t actually there, but this takes me right back to my beloved early seventies Texarkana swampland; look up The Legend of Boggy Creek on YouTube! Feral, gothic, sparce Americana about murder and addiction and stuff, just like I plan to make one day!
  5. Dawn of Ashes – Theophany. I listened to this more than any other [new] album this year. Intense but accessible modern industrial black metal, only let down by an unnecessary Nine Inch Nails cover at the ends, but that’s very easy to avoid. 
  6. FEWS – Means. My annual breakthrough psychedelic post-punk act, and these Swedish-Americans definitely outshone anything else in this admittedly specialist genre in 2016! Literally 20 seconds of Apple Music preview was all it took me to know I’d found one of my albums of the year. Emotive guitar lines, a driving, almost hypnotic bass and a lovely air of playful gloom. Great album. 
  7. The Besnard Lakes – A Coliseum Complex Museum. I think this was the first album I picked up this year and one I had high expectations for. I’ve been a fan since their first album, and always seen them as a bit of a throwback to something, but it’s hard to pin down what – the late 60’s and The Beach Boys; some proggy thing from the 70’s that I’d probably claim I’m not familiar with even if I was; early 90’s shoegaze… For anyone else that’s followed the band, it is a bit by numbers, albeit feeling slightly more “dense” than the more dreamy last couple of albums. That said, they live in their own grandiose, atmospheric world, and I was more than happy to visit it repeatedly through 2016 with this album.
  8. Dinosaur Jr. Pure comfort food for anyone that lived through grunge and was intelligent enough to peek below its surface. Perfect summertime forty-something nostalgia!
  9. Ihsahn – Arktis. Intensely atmospheric latest release by the man from Emperor. Moments of dark ambience, prog and electronica perfectly complement an emotional black metal masterclass.  
  10. Nick Cave – Skeleton Tree. Beautiful, haunting and heartbreaking in equal measure. Just put it on through some decent headphones and listen to every word. He deserves nothing less. 

Steve Norman’s Top Ten Films of 2016

If a Star Wars film doesn’t continue to top my annual list for the rest of my life, I’ll be very unhappy. But apart from that predictability, this year has produced some unexpected horror gems and decent action fare, the appearance of which here might also have not been predicted by some. 
  1. Rogue One – A Star Wars Story. I’ve watched The Force Awakens at least once a month since it appeared on blu-ray so had big hopes for this. Didn’t disappoint at all. Stunning film (and female lead, which has a lot to do with it being at the top this list). Great story, great characters, great visuals. And easily Peter Cushing’s best performance since he died. 
  2. The Greasy Strangler. This film is insane. Nothing else in my collection of 2000+ films comes close. The premise of the killer is ludicrous enough, but the backdrop of a bizarre father and son disco walking tour takes it to another level. It’s cringeworthy, filthy and there’s a couple of moments that still make me laugh just thinking about them now. Everyone should see this; it’s a life changer!
  3. Night of Something Strange. If Porky’s had absolutely no moral compass, and was a bad early eighties zombie movie, it might have turned out like this. It’s gratuitous, obscene and doesn’t know when to stop. Like zombies with VD… The kick her in the vag scene was a particular favourite!
  4. Deadpool. I didn’t really know much about this guy until I saw the film, but it’s everything an adult superhero movie fan that’s realised that 99% of everything from now on is being dumbed down for the Pixar generation could hope for. It’s funny, has some great nods to other films and is just a fun action film from start to finish. 
  5. The Conjuring 2. I’ve often criticised stuff like Paranormal Activity for being horror for people that don’t like horror films, similar to Nickelback being rock for people that don’t like rock music. One of my biggest bugbears with this stuff is telegraphing the scares from a mile away; leaving a special space on the screen for something to jump out at you. What makes The Conjuring 2 so different is that you’re left wondering where on almost every frame something is going to jump out at you! It might happen, it might not, and this makes for incredibly tense viewing, winding you up to the point that you’re even left wondering whether you saw the old man sitting in the chair as the camera panned past, or simply imagined it. If you are aware of the Enfield poltergeist case, you just need to be a bit willing to excuse how “based on a true story” it really is – my understanding is that the two Americans these films are based on did turn up in England at the time but were sent packing much more quickly than the film suggests! But otherwise this is a great horror film; the best proper one of the year easily, if not the last decade.
  6. The Witch. Wonderfully bleak and unsettling tale of black magic and possession. Beautifully shot with fantastic attention to detail, and one of the more original horror films you’re likely to catch this year. 
  7. Blair Witch. I’d just watched the first two again – both of which I love – when this one had its surprise announcement. It retreads familiar ground but for someone into the Blair Witch lore that accompanied the original, it adds a bit to the story and does justice to the source as a decent horror film. 
  8. Suicide Squad. I’ve got no problem with shallow characters if there’s big explosions involved. This probably won’t appear in many top ten lists, but I enjoyed it loads!
  9. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows. Megan Fox dressed as a slutty schoolgirl. No further review needed. 
  10. Doctor Strange. Another Marvel character I’d heard of but had no clue about. Quick backstory was more than enough to fill in the blanks though, then straight into a visual thrill ride.