Monthly Archives: December 2018

The Curiouser Top Ten Games of 2019

Previously posted on my gaming page Retro Arcadia.

This year my SNES Classic Mini was finally joined by its previously impossible to buy NES sibling, plus a C64 Mini and almost a PlayStation Classic – I cancelled the day before it was shipped, not because of the controversial games list, but it just sounded like the finished article was very bare-bones and the emulation was crap. On the ones I didn’t cancel, I’ve loved pretty much everything on them more than anything that will ever be released again. On a similar note, I also love most of the old NES stuff that came with the Switch online service – especially the wonderful Tecmo Bowl, Balloon Fight and Mighty Bomb Jack. And on another similar note, I’ve loved playing a ton of the Switch Arcade Archives releases of Donkey Kong and 10-Yard fight, as well as ACA NEOGEO Super Sidekicks 3, and the fabulous Megadrive and SNK collections. And with a Switch now in my possession, Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Golf Story from last year, and of course, Breath of the Wild, which I sandwiched between Ocarina of Time and the original Legend of Zelda (which I played on two different platforms almost in parallel).

Hovering just outside this list would be the Williams packs on Pinball FX, featuring some of the best tables ever produced; last-gen racing powerhouse Burnout Paradise Remastered on PS4; Castlevania Requiem (if I’d played a enough of either game included in time); and a game I’ve seriously been waiting 25 years to play, Night Trap on the Switch, which might not be the most mechanically-varied game ever, but was a technical marvel at the time and is still a fun romp today. I’m sure that had I played it yet, Red Dead Redemption 2 would be somewhere around the top, but finally playing and completing Mad Max just before it was released only confirmed I’m a bit done with open worlds at the moment, and I’ve more than enough to keep me going until they finish patching it and the price drops. And I’d have loved to have Tetris Effect on here, but after fifteen minutes of my first game on the beta, the motion sickness began…

As always, the rule here is if it’s been released for the first time on a platform this year, it’s fair game…

1 Gris (Switch)

The very last game I bought in 2018 (at time of writing on Christmas Eve at least). If you ever wanted to convince a non-gamer that gaming is an art form, you’d show them this, because it really is a wonderful piece of art in anyone’s language. I don’t think I’ve ever seen (and probably heard) anything quite as stunning as this on any platform, and maybe aside from Journey, anything as powerful. It’s a dream to play, and a dream to experience as it becomes more and more beautiful as you progress, and subtly more complex. A genuine gaming masterpiece.

2 Minit (Switch)

I avoided buying Minit when it came out on other platforms in the hope it would appear on Switch one day, which seemed like the right place for it, and that day came but a few horrendously hot months later. Bizarre premise of your hero living for only sixty seconds in an old-school Zelda-esque black and white pixel art rogue-lite world, doing simple quests, solving puzzles and killing monsters. Sixty seconds at a time. But it really works! It begins with almost no context or instruction, but you soon work out how things work to progress your story, planning out your next sixty second life as you carry out the next set of activities for this one. Fantastic game, very different, and perfect on the Switch. And when you’re done with the story, there’s a couple more hours picking up the stuff you probably missed then new game plus where sixty becomes forty. Future cult classic!

3 Moonlighter (Switch)

That wonderful Stardew Valley vibe where minutes are actually hours. But with more fighting. Moonlighter is a greeat rogue-like by night, and shopkeeper-sim by day, where you kill for booty to sell to buy armour, weapons, upgrades, better shop stuff and things to liven up your town so you can access new dungeons with better booty. Fantastic to play day or night.

4 Taiko no Tatsujin: Drum ‘n’ Fun! (Switch)

I searched Tokyo in 40 degree heat and 90% humidity for this bundled with the physical drum controller. I failed, but not long after it was all announced for European release and everything was well in the world again. I can’t remember the last time I had a stupid grin on my face playing a game, but there’s little here not to smile about, from the real drum you play along to a huge, bizarre playlist with, to the completely bonkers visual feast that could only come out of Japan happening on the screen. The ultimate party game, even if you’re the only one invited.

5 Mario Tennis Aces (Switch)

I never played Mario Tennis on the Game Boy Colour or Advance, so don’t lament the depth of their story modes apparently missing here. I did, however, sink dozens, if not hundreds of hours into Tennis (featuring Mario as umpire) on the original Game Boy. Jump into an online tournament on Mario Tennis Aces on the Switch, and that’s what you’ve got, dialled up to eleven with trick shots, specials, bullet-time and more, and all against real other people. There’s depth here too – after a few hours you start to notice little things that stack up to make all the difference; you work out how to properly use the trick shot or the blue glow around the ball or the star that sometimes appears on the ground or a dozen other minor things; and then you start winning one in five matches, then one in three, then two, and you’re reaching (and occasionally winning) tournament finals… Stunning looking game, polished to hell, full of character, and utterly addictive. Who cares about story modes (which is actually pretty enjoyable too)!

6 Hollow Knight (Switch)

Specifically here for the first 30 hours, then another 15 hours after 36 hours, then a few more after 53 hours. I absolutely hated everything in between and deleted the game twice in disgust at two bosses I just couldn’t beat. Until I did. Very few games over the last almost forty years have hooked me like this gorgeous looking, vast metroidvania did – even when it was gone, it kept dragging me back. 80% love, 20% pure hatred, and probably the best £7.99 I ever spent on a game.

7 Alto’s Odyssey (iOS)

I’ve played the original Alto’s Adventure more than any other game on mobile (or tablet in my case). It’s the perfect, premium mobile game, and has been my go-to time-passer across thousands and thousands of miles on plane journeys over the last few years. Alto’s Odyssey swaps snowboards for sandboards, but is more of the same, and then some. The new desert backdrop is stunning, and the day/night cycles, variable weather – especially the storms – and multiple biomes to explore make for some outstanding eye-candy. And the one-touch, backflipping gameplay remains as challenging, skilful and perfect as ever.

8 Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon (Switch)

Old-school Castlevania in all but name with some really clever character-switching mechanics, atmospheric old-school graphics and sound that make me want to live in it, and plenty to explore and go back to when you’re able. In the five hours or so to complete first time, it gets progressively more tricky, but aside from a few frustrating sections (generally involving moving platforms in the late game), it’s all do-able after a few attempts and some experimentation with the characters, even on veteran mode. My only gripe is the checkpointing on the double final boss battle – going back to the very start is a real pain while you’re dying over and over again to learn how to beat the second part! Once you’re finally done, definitely worth playing the newly unlocked nightmare mode to explore those places you couldn’t before you had the right characters available. Great game with a lot of retro-love oozing out of it.

9 Mega Man Legacy Collection (Switch)

Much like Zelda, I’d never played a Mega Man game before this year, and now I’ve played and finished three of them; 2, 1 and 3, in that order. I’m particularly proud of finishing Mega Man 2, over a period of months, as I completely avoided all the quality of life enhancements like rewind and save in-progress that come with this wonderfully presented collection of games 1-6 in the series. It’s not just the games though, most of which are bonafide hardcore classics; those enhancements, the mass of settings options and the museum of art that accompanies every game make it one of the best compilations I’ve seen. And it’s the reason why Mega Man 11 is missing – I’ve played the demo dozens of times and it’s awesome, and would certainly deserve to be here in place of this from what I’ve seen, but I’m going to be busy with games 4-6, as well as the Mega Man X game on the SNES Classic Mini, for some time yet!

10 Owlboy (Switch)

There’s still pixel-art everywhere this year, but this really is a marvellous lesson in pixel-art design, and a great Metroidvania game to boot. The sky islands you navigate in this vertical platformer are diverse and stunning. Controlling your owl boy feels great. The evolution of the game mechanics works brilliantly as you meet new partners in crime. And those characters are ones you really care about as you make your way through the thought provoking story. Another brilliant Switch indie.

The Curiouser Top Ten Albums of 2018

Clearly, The Doors’ Live at the Isle of Wight Festival is the best album released in 2018, but in the spirit of giving new artists (such as The Damned and Superchunk) a chance to shine, I’m going to stick to albums actually recorded within the last year, or failing that, at least within my lifetime! I’ve also just noticed it appears to have been quite the year for black metal…

1 Watain – Trident Wolf Eclipse

As soon as this as announced last year, I did have an inkling that this, the first release I picked up in the first week of 2018, might become my favourite album of the year, but I wasn’t expecting what it turned out to be. From being heirs-apparent to Satyricon’s “mainstream” black metal throne with their last release, they’ve gone right back to their underground roots with something more comparable to Marduk’s decades old masterwork Panzer Division Marduk. It’s a twisted journey through many intertwining layers of ferocity, and it’s an incredible one.

2 Violet Cold – Sommermorgen, Pt. I: Innocence, Pt. II: Joy, Pt. III: Nostalgia

Without doubt the best triple album of the year, as well as being the most uplifting and emotional rock album(s) of most years! Completely instrumental; part shoegaze, in no small part thanks to consistently wonderful soaring guitar lines that might even make Slowdive look on in awe, and part post-metal, though in a distinctly un-metal way. Absolutely fantastic set of albums that I’d have taken any one of in any given year, that have been in non-stop rotation since they all appeared. Just wonderful.

3 Marduk – Viktoria

The opening track, Werwolf, confirms this as a classic Marduk black metal blitz. It just blows your socks off every listen, and whilst the band do offer the odd melodic respite throughout the album, this is pretty much what you get for the duration. Great musicianship, true to form subject matter that will offend all who deserve to be offended, and just a wonderfully cold, cold record.

4 Immortal- Northern Chaos Gods

Masterful mix of raw aggression and more ambient moments, and a masterwork in black metal songwriting throughout, none more so than in 10-minute album closer, Mighty Ravendark. Special mention to some fantastic use of clean guitars that somehow add even more grimness to the mix. Exquisite.

5 Ghost – Prequelle

When Abba met Kiss… or as the recently outed mastermind behind Ghost, Tobias Forge said, sounds like the band from the seventies you never heard. Another slice of bonkers dark glam rock that is more stadium than occult now, but is still sinister (loosely themed as a concept album about the Black Death), is often strangely hypnotic and is as catchy as hell.

6 Behemoth – I Loved You at Your Darkest

This is some complex, heavy satanic black metal! There’s choirs, chanting, operatics, orchestras and ambience, but those are all just finishing touches to a vision of hell that it’s hard to tear your ears away from. They’re not really pushing any boundaries, but their evil excellence makes that totally irrelevant.

7 Primordial – Exile Amongst The Ruins

Always a band I look forward to hearing something new from – progressive (as in progressive, not prog) as ever, often epic, doom-laden, Celtic folk-tinged black-ish metal! As always, the bleak lyrics come across as a call to war, complementing a highly atmospheric, crushing and elemental album from these masters of their art.

8 The Damned – Evil Spirits

Despite being a band I’ve been into since a very early age, and one that created my favourite album ever in Phantasmagoria, I’ve always maintained that you could probably make one decent album out of everything The Damned has produced since Anything in 1985. Then along comes Evil Spirits, and it’s not only a decent album, but a very good one indeed! It does hark back to Anything, with a very 80’s multi-layered production style, and the band once again tapping into their more psychedelic influences. It might not be very punk anymore, but they still know how to write a catchy, angry tune!

9 Ihsahn – Amr

Incredibly polished, atmospheric and almost cinematic, just like every release since Ihsahn emerged from Emperor. And with every release, he’s moving the boundaries further from what started as black metal with some clever embellishments, to some mind-boggling songwriting that touches all kinds of genres, metal and otherwise. There are so many layers, so many things going on and so many contrasts that on first listen you have no idea where he’ll go next, or even where the sound will come from next if you’re listening to this in headphones! Bonafide genius.

10 Venom – Storm the Gates

There’s nothing more heartwarming than a new Venom album dropping out of nowhere, just in time for Christmas when I thought this top ten was complete (sorry Superchunk). Cronos still sounds great, as does the trademark blackened, dirty thrash. The rawness is still there despite production they could only have dreamed of when the classic records were made. And despite the classic lineup being long since gone, it still sounds like classic Venom.

The Curiouser Top Ten Movies of 2018

Some of it somewhat predictable, but a few nice surprises this year. It’s a shame there’s no new Halloween movie in here, but it left me as cold as Michael Myers’ eyes. And no Jurassic Park or Ant-Man (and his saucy wasp lady) either because at the time of writing on Christmas Eve I’d still not seen them, though I will have by the time you read this…

1 Deadpool 2

Brilliantly violent, offensive and funny. If it was none of those things, it would probably be winning Oscars. Thankfully that’s not the case! Watching Ryan Reynolds’ anti-hero is like watching blue stand-up comedy in a car chase. Genius.

2 Solo: A Star Wars Story

There’s probably no need for this film to exist, but with every watch I enjoy it more and more – and I enjoyed it a lot the first time! It’s got all the fan-service you want, has a great cast and the story works. Great action film in space even if it’s not the best Star Wars film ever.

3 Avengers: Infinity War

If there was a world record for blockbuster movie, this would be the new record holder. A stunning big old fight between a ton of superheroes and super-villains, all held together by a surprisingly engaging story that’s been many other blockbusters in the making.

4 Mission Impossible: Fallout

Thrill-a-minute action ride with some incredible stunts and set pieces that gets the adrenaline pumping for the duration. I really hope that real-life spy stuff is as bonkers as this!

5 The Meg

Jason Statham playing The Rock against a really good-looking giant prehistoric shark. With explosions. Great to have a decent serious shark movie again.

6 Pacific Rim: Uprising

The first Pacific Rim barely registers in my memory, so this one being as good as it is properly caught me by surprise. Good robots, good monsters, good robots and monsters fighting, and loads of explosions (always a marker for the quality of a film in my eyes). It all makes for a fast-paced, big budget B-movie treat.

7 Rampage

Rampage, the film of the game I loved on the ZX Spectrum then the Atari ST. And the arcade version in the Midway Lego Dimensions level pack on PS4! A gorilla, a wolf and a crocodile are mutated into giants, hell-bent on destroying everyone and everything in their path, and it’s up to The Rock to stop them. Just like it would be if it happened in real life. I’m not usually into animal movies but I make an exception with this blockbuster.

8 The Nun

Its predictable and by the numbers. It’s superficial – all fur coat and no knickers. But I love a creepy nun and it looks like a modern day take on a Hammer film, so I had my fill from it even if I wish it was as scary as it thinks it is.

9 Hellraiser: Judgement

I love Hellraiser, but like most fans, don’t love what seems like dozens of crappy, low-budget sequels that have appeared in about 25 years since Hellraiser 3. I expected more of the same here, but actually this one seems to have been made by a fellow fan, for fans. It follows a decent detectives hunting a serial killer storyline with a great closing sequence, is chock full of gore and squelchy nastiness, and for once the latest incarnation of Pinhead isn’t offensive at all to those of us that love him.

10 Batman Ninja

I’m not a massive fan of the Batman (or many other) animated films, but I’ll always give them a go, just in case! And what a case this is – a complete headcase, albeit an absolutely stunning one! Batman and co are somehow transported to feudal Japan at the start, and the rest is a completely bonkers story of Batman, Robin, Catwoman, Joker, Harley Quinn, etc. reimagined as Samurai, ninjas and Japanese warrior lords. With monkey assistants. You’ll have no idea what’s going on for the rest of the film, but the nonsensical plot doesn’t make it any less enjoyable! It’s an absolute visual masterpiece, with the most vivid colours, wonderfully reimagined character designs and incredibly creative Japanese art-influenced detail that are worth the asking price alone.