I LIKE IMPERFECT GAMES! MY TOP IMPERFECT GAMES.

Intro

The recent release of Redfall has been a sour affair, at a time Xbox really needed a hit, they released what both critics and gamers have perceived as a misfire. I have not played the game yet (though thanks to gamepass, I will), but it got me thinking of the games I’ve played over the years and what I’ve realised is, sometimes I prefer games that are “imperfect” or “mediocre”.

Though I don’t believe the “perfect” games exists, but there are games that come strikingly close to that. Anything by Naughty Dog (The Last of Us Part 1 PC port being an outlier) has been perfectly paced, brilliantly written and polished within an inch of its life. The Forza Horizon series is always stellar, most Mario games absolutely nail everything. And don’t get me wrong, I love these games, but there’s something about them can leave me feeling cold. They feel clinical, riskless, dare I say… boring.

But I have a great fondness for games that maybe score 6’s and 7’s, not the disasters like Life of Black Tiger, but games that took a few swings and had a few misses, but for the most part created an endearing experience in its own right.

Recore

Recore is semi-openworld platformer/shooter, it’s really difficult for me to put this game in a category or even compare it to another game, as I can’t think of a game that’s anything like it. It tows the line between realism and cartoon, making it a strange hybrid with weirdly satisfying colour co-ordinated combat and challenging but fair platforming. Plus the robots are dead cute and fun to use.

I really liked this game, the lead character was really endearing, the story was decent and kept me engaged to the end. Its drawbacks were middling graphics, samey open world areas and technical issues that plagued the initial release, insanely long loading times being the biggest bug bear. But the Definitive Edition of the game addressed the majority of these problems and expanded the games story and altered the exploration in an interesting way. This game is worth your time and was totally slept on due to middling reviews.

The Order: 1886

The Order: 1886 had a lot going for it pre-release, it had that sexy PlayStation AAA sheen, the graphics were fantastic and still look top notch 8 years later. What many put this game down for, I think makes it so good. It was short, but sweet. The one issue I have with a lot of games these days, is they are arbitrarily padded with fluff to increase the playtime *cough* God of War Ragnorok. But I actually appreciated the length and linearity of The Order: 1886, I didn’t need this world to be open and I didn’t need filler levels. It was concise and I appreciated it.

My biggest gripe was the the game not using the werewolves to their fullest potential. But I liked this game and absolutely adored the Steampunk style, shame we never got a sequel.

Croc: Legend of the Gobbos

Often maligned for being a lesser game than Crash Bandicoot, Croc was a fun little adventure than had way more in common with Spyro than Crash. But herein lies the games issue, Spyro was much more refined and was the better game. This was detrimental to Croc, as it was massively overshadowed by other family friendly platformers that dominated the space at the time. Croc did have some issues with controls, with the character feeling a little bit weighty and unwieldly when performing an attack.

Croc did get a sequel so it wasn’t all doom and gloom, but this sort of dark but cute platformer had a lot to like and yet little Croc may never be seen again!

Atomic Heart

I have 2 big issues with this game, for starters, the protagonist is so dull and dreary, I have have to wonder what on earth they were thinking, especially when Granny Zina is RIGHT there and would have made for a far more compelling character (as well as more interesting, having an elderly woman as the main protagonist). My second issue is the controls to me don’t always flow the way I want them to and can make some of the combat encounters a bit of chore.

But by God this games atmosphere and world design are fabulous and despite the story sometimes chugging from time to time, it’s still pretty fun to play, warts and all.

High on Life

High on Life truly divided critics, but audiences seemed to be far more receptive to the game and it looks like it did very well on Gamepass. What I liked about High on Life, was that though the combat and parkour weren’t the most engaging things in the world, it was all uplifted by a crazy and unique world. Comedy games are few and far between, so it was refreshing to me to play something that really didn’t take itself seriously. A lot of your enjoyment on High on Life would depend on whether the humour landed or not, luckily for me, it landed more often than it didn’t.

I had an absolute blast playing High on Life and dare I say, despite some short comings it might have been the most fun I had with a game last year. Sorry Elden Ring.

Conclusion

These games have been maligned and are often touted online as being “trash” or “mediocre”, but do you know what, sometimes I like it when a game doesn’t get it all right, sometimes I like the annoying quirks, you can feel a certain passion seeping through when a game isn’t as polished. I will play Redfall at some point and I will make my own choices about what I like and don’t like about the game, but if it’s anything like the above maybe it’ll be more special to me than the Game of the Year… maybe.

My moral dilemma with Hogwarts Legacy

I’ve never been a big reader, especially as a kid. I was always far more interested in videogames and films, but I do genuinely enjoying reading novels when I actually attempt them. As a child I barely read anything at all, until the book that every child of my generation was obsessed with came along, JK Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone. The book captured my imagination in so many ways, not only was I pretty close to Harry’s age in the books, by the time the films came round I was the same age as the actors playing the roles (Daniel Radcliffe is 2 months older than me). The magic of the stories enthralled me, this magical world felt like it almost could be real, the characters were all fully fleshed out, funny, conflicted, flawed – there was even a sport in it that I really wanted to play (why haven’t we invented flying broomsticks yet?)

I was one of those Harry Potter nerds that queued up in Asda to purchase the final book. Like so many in my age group Harry Potter was EVERYTHING, I truly loved it, all my friends loved it, to say JK Rowling got a whole generation of children reading, really isn’t an understatement and that achievement can never be taken away from her! But unless you live under a rock, J K Rowling has been embroiled in controversary regarding her views on transgender rights – this is a hot button topic at the moment as the trans community strive for similar equality that the gay, lesbian and bisexual community have received in the last decade, there’s been very similar push-back from some sections of society, where the arguments seem to mirror the excuses people gave with gay marriage equality, and the cycle of abuse of minorities continues again, just with a new target.

To me J K Rowling’s views on the matter aren’t as extreme as social media has painted, in the grand scheme of anti-trans rhetoric Rowling’s are very mild, and seems to come from a misguided place of believing that to include trans-women as part of women’s rights is regressive to the women’s rights movement, which to me is just fundamentally stupid. She also liked a post in 2018 referring to trans-women as “men in dresses”, which I think says more than her actual words ever have. But her language isn’t as derogatory as others have been and after having discussions with many people of different age groups about the topic, it seems to come from a generational divide and a lack of nuance and understanding on the subject.

Whether you align yourself with Rowling’s views or whether you align more with mine, the fact now remains that I’m a member of the LGBT+ community and playing Hogwarts Legacy would feel like a sort of betrayal. But words cannot describe how much my inner child wants to play this game… from the sounds of it, it’s literally my fantasy Harry Potter game, one I’ve always wanted but never got.

I think the fact that I keep trying to justify the purchase in my head is a good indication that I do truly think it’s wrong for me to buy the game, I don’t really want to give money and support to a woman I feel is harming the trans community. I keep thinking if I buy it second hand or if it came to Gamepass or PS+ then my support is much more, limited. Maybe it’ll review badly and then I won’t want it anyway!

One thing that must be playing on the publishers mind, if the game is good and reviews well, this would have been an absolute sure-fire hit (and I think it still will be), but now there’s this weird dark cloud hanging over the game (and everything involving Harry Potter) that seems unfair to the people that have worked on the game.

In conclusion, I still don’t know whether I can support this game, I keep talking myself in and out of it, but if you’re not bothered about this whole debacle, I really hope you enjoy the game.

SUGABABES – THE LOST TAPES REVIEW

It’s been 22 years since original Sugababes members Mutya, Keisha and Siobhan last released an album together and all I could think whilst listening to The Lost Tapes is “what a shame”. What a shame we were deprived this trios excellent work. One Touch still stands as the Sugababes strongest album (until now at least), despite only really having 1 hit song ‘Overload’ on it. As an album, One Touch was a strong and defiant journey with cool R n B and pop sensibilities, coupled with fantastic vocals and mature lyrics, despite being written by the girls when they were 14-16 years old!

The Lost Tapes is definitely a sequel to One Touch, but at the same time unseats it as the Sugababes strongest piece of work. Opening with the percussion led ear worm ‘Drum’, things start out strong with Mutya’s now iconic husky vocals purring over groovy beats, and the catchy chorus ‘I love it when you beat that drum’ is bound to take hold after a couple of listens.

The albums second track is the already released ‘Flatline’. I will die on this hill, Flatline is the Sugababes best song. Don’t get me wrong I love their mega-hits ‘About you Now’ and ‘Push the Button’, but Flatline is sublime, timeless, rousing. It’s still a stand-out on a very strong album, this song should have been a mega-hit. #justiceforflatline

Other stand out tracks are the MNEK produced ‘Love me Hard’ and ‘Boys’, the latter of which displaying the gorgeous ethereal vocals of the first departed member Siobhan. All 3 girls have such distinctive voices, that each track on the album give the girls their time to shine, but when these 3 sing together, it’s magic! A personal highlight on this album though is the Sia penned ‘Victory’, a storming anthem about overcoming a relationships hurdles, but making it through in the end. The production on this track really enhances it, the drum and bass belts after the chorus give it more of thump than the other tracks lack and the defiant “it’s a victory” refrain is rousing sing-a-long moment. This should be a single if they release any more.

The Lost Tapes is a strong album, there’s no filler here, every track has strong song writing, beautiful mature production and lush vocals. You can tell lots of care and love was put into making this album and despite being written and produced in 2013, it still sounds fresh and interesting.
I want more. Here’s hoping the Sugababes have more to give and I think they do.

Favourite tracks – Flatline, Love me hard, Boys, Victory
Tracks to skip – N/A

Rating: 5 out of 5.

HOW GAMEPASS SAVED MY LIFE!

OK, Xbox Game Pass didn’t save my life, but who doesn’t love a dramatic headline?

There’s one thing that as a Brit we often don’t talk openly about, 1 of those things is money and the other is mental health. But I wanted to share this, both my story of my struggles through the pandemic, but also how gaming (and specific games) truly helped me through some of these difficult times. I am sure there are plenty of others who have had worse or similar experiences to myself, but I felt like writing something more personal to me and something where I genuinely praise gaming for all the good it can do.

In October 2019 I left a company I had worked at for 6 years, deciding to follow a new career path. I had just turned 30 and got engaged to my long time partner, I felt it was the right time. I started a new job shortly after that I genuinely enjoyed, it was a new and exciting, but the money was poor – less than I was on in my previous job. But it was worth it – and when starting afresh this can happen, plus I had a little side hustle to keep me ticking over. Fast forward to April 2020 and Covid 19 is upon us, and we go into lockdown . The uncertainty at this time was scary for a multitude of reasons, how long would we stay this way, what would happen if we caught this virus? What do we do now?

I, like millions of others, was furloughed. My wage cut by 20% and my side hustle that was keeping me financially afloat was no longer viable under the strict lockdown rules. As the lockdown and restrictions continued month after month, my finances were dire. What made this more difficult, was I had never had more free time in my life, at first a welcome break, but it very quickly turned into horrible monotony. Where some of my friends were buying anything and everything to keep them entertained, I didn’t have the same luxury. I tried filling my time with free online courses, cooking, Netflix, books, YouTube, started a gaming blog and even tried to find some part time work. The best distraction of all though was gaming, I’ve never been so thankful for owning an Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and a Nintendo Switch, hours of entertainment in the palm of your hand. My issue was money, I had no expendable income at all and games generally aren’t cheap – the second hand market had always been my go to, most of my physical games I would buy a year later from CEX and would trade games for credit to play more games. This wasn’t much of an option now.

Lockdown muddied my gaming buying habits, I literally couldn’t afford new games. What I did have was Gamepass, it was a service I had subscribed to just before lockdown and I was tempted to cancel it save money, but luckily I hadn’t made use of the 3 months for £1 deal – so I kept it. I am so glad I did. That service helped me so much when I was struggling – my mental health had taken a tumble, my relationship was going through a bad patch and staying indoors constantly with the same distractions was making me feel down. Gaming gave me the escape I desperately needed, I honestly don’t know what I’d have done without it.

Hellblade was the first game I played on the service, I had only really become aware of the game thanks to the Microsoft purchase of developer Ninja Theory. I was so happy I got to experience it, though some of the gameplay was a bit by-the-numbers, but the story, writing and atmosphere gripped me almost immediately, as did the the towering performance of Melina Jurgens. It was an unforgettable experience, one that I can’t wait to revisit in the sequel.

The Observation (my review) was another gem I found on the service during lockdown, a puzzle game set in space where you play as an AI assisting a young astronaut whose space station winds up on the outskirts of Saturn. A game I never would have played without Gamepass, made by a very small indie team, but again what a gripping story such a small team came up with – an unsettling mystery that unravels with perfect pacing. A brief 4 hour whirlwind, I loved it.

A Plague Tale: Innocence (my review) was another game similar to Hellblade, a game I was blissfully unaware of, but played it after hearing some good things (thankyou Digital Foundry). This story driven stealth game had rat physics that were both impressive and kind of gross, but gave what would have been a fairly unimpressive stealth game a huge surge of uniqueness. Though the story veered into videogame silliness in the final act, I couldn’t help but taken in by the setting and well drawn characters.

Ori and the Will of the Wisps, my personal Game of the Year of 2020 (my review), the game that reintroduced me to side scrolling games and one that took me on a rollercoaster of excitement and tears. One of the most beautiful games I have ever played. Ori made me try out other side scrollers which I had abandoned playing for years. I played the following; Carrion (loved it), Hollow Knight (liked it), Super meat boy (brilliant), Limbo (Amazing) and Guacamelee (not for me).

There were others; I dipped my toes into Dead by Daylight and really enjoyed it, another game I’d never have touched otherwise. Along with plenty of others and the ability to replay favourites such as Fable 2 and Halo 3.

But beyond the specific games, what Gamepass did was give me an affordable way to play and entertain myself at a time where I couldn’t afford it and a time when I desperately needed a distraction from what was going on both in my life and the depressing things that were happening in the world. I often hear that Gamepass devalues games, but I couldn’t disagree more, Gamepass if anything broadened my gaming horizons and made me appreciate the medium. Plus a good game is a good game no matter how you obtain it.

Despite being made redundant in July 2020, I managed to find a new job in August 2021 so my monetary difficulties have completely subsided. But I will still never forget how much gaming helped me and I’m so thankful I had Gamepass, so I genuinely am grateful to Xbox for creating this service, even if they didn’t make it for me or for any other reason than to gain back customers from PlayStation, I can honestly say it’s amazing and it saved me during lockdown.

REVIEWING EVERY SINGLE MADONNA SONG – MADONNA (THE FIRST ALBUM)

As a huge Madonna fanboy, I felt it was time I went through every song of hers and rate them. Now Madonna has been around just shy of 40 years, and she’s released a lot of music so I thought the best way to get through it would be to review each album song by song, then do the random one offs. I may even get to some unreleased songs too.

This is an undertaking, but my love for this woman cannot be understated. I’ve been a fan since I was about 6 years old, my sister was also a fan so I grew up with her music – her music lightens my mood when I’m feeling down, chills me out when I’m feeling stressed, gets me dancing when I’ve drank too much gin and makes me feel warm when I want pop music with substance.

So here it goes, starting with her self titled debut album Madonna.

  1. Lucky Star

Lucky Star starts out with a child like twinkling and quickly evolves into an 80’s disco beat, you can feel the adulation in Madonna’s vocals as she serenade’s her lover. The bridge of “shine your heavenly body tonight” punches to give this long dance track a bit of variety while the simple lyrics of “star light, star bright, first star I see tonight” are simple, yet infectious. 8/10

2. Borderline

Another song dedicated to a lover of some kind, Borderline is an absolute classic. Borderline is great because it can easily transcend it’s disco roots, Madonna herself has refreshed the song live with rock and jazz versions. Madonna sells the song, you feel it when she tells her lover “to stop driving me away” and again the catchy chorus “Borderline, feels like I’m going to lose my mind. You just keep on pushing my love over the Borderline”, they don’t write songs this simple or catchy anymore. 9/10

3. Burning Up

Burning Up has intensity. The hand clap, electric guitar riffs give the song the appearance of an anthem. The lyric repeat of “I’m burning up, burning up for your love” is a touch repetitive, but the outro to the song it comes together nicely with the backing singers, guitar and hand claps working in harmony. 7/10

4. I Know it

A bit of a filler track, it’s a bit one note. I enjoy the fake sax that’s piped in and it’s a toe tapper, but it’s one of Madonna’s weaker moments in the 80’s. Simplistic lyrics and uninspiring production don’t help, but the bride section of “I don’t wanna cry for you” is nice. 6/10

5. Holiday

An infectious pop beat with a wonderfully joyous lyrical delievery of what is pretty naff lyrics, but it works so well. It invites everyone to have a good time and dance, and you want to – the dance floor beckons the moment she starts hollering “Holiday, celebrate”. 8/10

6. Think Of Me

Often forgotten about due to its album track status, this song is quintessential 80’s dance, the mid-tempo verses make way for a an upbeat and intense chorus of Madonna stretching her voice to punch the words “think of me” into your skull. Again Madonna addresses a lover of the past, the lyrics are simple but the sax solo at the end really makes this stand out. 8/10

7. Physical Attraction

Physical Attraction and Think Of Me feel like sister tracks, they both have a similar production, but I think this is the lesser of the two. I enjoy the backing singers, but the song feels a bit one note and on the same level. The production is still good and it’s still a catchy track, I particularly like the “maybe we were meant to be together” section. 7/10

8. Everybody

I appreciate Everybody, it was Madonna’s first officially released track and it’s a got that classic 80’s disco vibe, it’s cool, calm and collected. The track is mostly just too long and repetitive for me to truly love it, but it’s got a funk and even here you can tell that Madonna can sell a song, you can hear intensity where a another artist might have reeled it in. 6/10

E3 fashion week – 5 best and worst looking console designs

It’s console fashion week (aka E3) and what a great time to look back at our beloved plastic boxes of the past, present and future and reminisce about some of fashions biggest triumphs and fails in console design.

WORST

5. Nintendo Entertainment System

See the source image

Bulky squared off design, with a grey colour scheme that just screams 80’s monstrosity, this saviour of the home videogames market really wasn’t much to look at. Though I give props for the scarlet red naming and buttons on the controller, this is a big fashion miss. The two toned grey’s just don’t look good, and give it dowdy aged look, rather than something retro and antique.

4. PlayStation 5

See the source image

Promotional images of the newest PlayStation are much kinder to this console than it is in person. This enormous monstrosities entire design doesn’t work for me. The tacky shiny black middle, the weirdly shaped wings, a disc drive that looks like they slapped it on at the last minute and the white black colour scheme making the console appear even larger than it already is. Thank god it’s internals make up for its externals, because this is one ugly console.

3. Xbox One

See the source image

This eyesore was described as looking like a VCR which is fairly apt, the console is bulky, cheap and boring. Its only saving grace being the glowing “X” logo on the front. But even the materials don’t work. The tacky shiny black plastic covering half the box and the other half adorned inelegantly with vents, it looked old before it was even new. There’s nothing sleek or about this design, it’s just a heavy black box.

2. Xbox

See the source image

The OG Xbox has a lot in common with the Xbox One, this was a large bulky and ugly looking design, even that now legendary green statement badge in the middle of the box couldn’t make this thing any prettier. Black is supposed to be slimming, this this console looks like it’s in desperate need of a diet. It’s very American in its design, it’s in your face like a Karen complaining in a restaurant, I don’t like it.

1. Colecovision

See the source image

Though very of it’s time, words cannot describe how much I hate the design of this console. It’s like they took every single 80’s “futuristic” look and threw it into the console. The strange knobs, the old school mobile phone controllers that slot in the top, the pointless grating, the cheap sticker on the front, the lack of symmetry. Nothing about this design works and for that I give it the top spot on this worst console design list.

BEST

5. Intellivision

See the source image

This is what I like to see in my retro fashion statements. I love the design of the Intellivision (the gold and brown is the best of it’s many designs), unlike the Colecovision, this design went for symmetry and understatement. The gold and brown compliment each other perfectly, with faux wooden panelling on the side, this console is brave and bold with it’s design and it just works. You can catch it’s sleek frame at any angle, it just loves the camera.

4. Nintendo Gamecube

See the source image

Not every Nintendo Gamecube was born the same. The black version is a bit of shrug, but the Gamecube came in such a variety of colours that it’s hard to pick a favourite, but the gold Gamecube is just stunning! What I love about the console is it threw out any regular conventions of design and went for a new shape that looks good from every angle. Comparing it to the bulky designs of the original Xbox and the uninspired look of the PS2, the Gamecube was odd, adventurous and above all sexy.

3. Xbox Series S

See the source image

If the current generation was going to be won on the looks of the console and nothing more, the Series S would win hands down, especially up against it’s bigger brother the Series X and the aforementioned monstrosity that is the PS5. The Series S is compact, in a stunning robot white that makes it both unassuming and sleek. The big black vent in the top, makes a statement without pulling focus – it’s beautiful and makes up for a lot of poor designs from Microsoft’s past.

2. Atari VCS

See the source image

There’s something about the Atari VCS design that I just love. There’s a more premium feel to it than the very toy-like quality of the Nintendo consoles of the time. Whether it’s the symmetry of the buttons and either side of the cartridge slot, the black grating leading to the faux wood finish at the end or the curvy under belly , but it just works for me and would look sexy living under a TV even today.

1. PSone

See the source image

This little console is an absolute snack. It’s curvy edges, the off white/grey colour, the symmetrical design and even the writing and logos work beautifully with this device. The pastel colours of the power and eject buttons work in tandem for a design that’s fresh even today. It’s just gorgeous, plus we need to talk about how dinky this thing is, almost like cute puppy you can hold in one hand. This is Sony’s most accomplished design in a home console. And the winner of my E3 fashion week.

WHAT DO GAMERS WANT?

Philosophers and academics have been asking this questions since the dawn of time and the answer to this conundrum will always be the same… literally. Gamers want the same things, that’s it, I’ve solved the riddle – pay me a million pounds , give me the Nobel Peace Prize, done.

Do you want a new IP that attempts brand new gameplay ideas, with innovative design and a setting that turns the most outrageous dreams (and nightmares) into a reality? We gamers will absolutely say yes, but when you dig a little deeper what they want is actually God of War 41 or Halo 976 – OOOOoooo they’ve added a grapple hook, that’s revolutionary – OOOOoooo Kratos has a beard, how inspired. So we muddle our way through the same old games and then lambast the industry for lack of ideas. I’m guilty of it too! I play the same Tomb Raider’s year in year out and I love them, I want more, like an addiction to drugs I crave the recognisable highs, so when I see the Tomb Raider’s tropes replicated in a something like Horizon Zero Dawn it feels like satisfying a craving.

Lets go back to 2013 and the release of the Xbox One/PS4, the next-gen game that really grabbed me wasn’t the generic Killzone Shadowfall or Dead Rising 3 – it was a little demo of Kinect Sports Rivals. I had dabbled in motion control with the Wii and wasn’t a fan, but Xbox One came boxed with the Kinect so like Herpes, I was stuck with it. I tried the water skiing demo of the aforementioned game… I was blown away – the Kinect was responsive and could literally recognise my fist closing to make the jet ski accelerate, this was the techiest piece of tech I had ever teched. Then I tried the full game and realised it was all a bit naff. But this was new, it was different, it was using this new technology in a clever and unexpected ways (in the water skiing anyway). The game got no reaction from the gaming community and the Kinect went the way of Old Yeller. What always struck me about the technology was that it was a really cool peripheral, with lots of potential. It could read your heartbeat, something that could have been game-changing for the horror genre , but we as gamers rejected the Kinect, we didn’t want it and to be honest I didn’t want it either as outside that one demo it was useless to me. We constantly want a revolution and yet that entire generation the most popular games were; Call of Duty, Assassins Creed, GTA and whatever 3rd person action adventure game is flavour of the month on PlayStation.

In the last generation the 2 most popular new IP’s from Xbox and PlayStation were Ghost’s of Tsushima and Sea of Thieves. The former game is a critical darling that’s beloved by fans, but it’s literally Assassin’s Creed in all but name. Sea of Thieves on the other hand did dare to be different, putting teamwork at the heart of it’s gameplay and creating something rather unique, and I absolutely hate it. I tried to like it, but it just wasn’t for me. And though Sea of Thieves has its fans, in the grand scheme of the gaming community it’s looked down upon, because what people actually wanted from the game was an Assassins Creed Black Flag clone with Rare’s sense of humour and style. I wanted that too. So we dismiss a game that really tried to be different, while praising a game that is so close mechanically to another series it might as well be in that series. The trouble is, I’d much rather play Ghost of Tshushima, so I’m part of the problem.

Then there’s the debate about VR and this revolutionary way to play games. My limited time with the peripheral means my opinion about games on it can’t be fully formed but I have enjoyed what I have played (Beat Saber is class), but even last year a game like Half Life Alyx which apparently used VR in new and interesting ways, seemed to be seriously overlooked in favour The Last of Us Part 2, which no shade to Naughty Dog as I love the game, didn’t really do anything gameplay wise that 100 other similar games haven’t already done.

We as gamers need to stop lying to ourselves, we don’t want new ideas, we never did. We want the same ideas recycled with a new skin to give us the illusion of individuality. That’s not a dig, we want the familiar, but we should also give games outside our comfort zones a try, as there’s 100’s of indie games out there that do break the mould but won’t get the love and adoration of yet another Spider-Man game. We can’t criticise developers and publishers for never attempting a new IP when we all seem to play the same old Gears of War and Uncharted. Though I think we can all be united in the opinion that Gears of War needs to die right?

TOP 10 DRAG RUPAUL’S DRAG RACE SEASONS

So the time has come for me to rank my favourite Drag Race seasons. As the excellent second season of Rupaul’s Drag Race UK draws to its conclusion, I felt it was time to look back over the seasons and decide which ones I feel stand tall above the rest. This is no easy task, especially as I will be including both the US and UK seasons as well as all the All Star seasons, there has been a lot of battling Drag Queens over the last 13 years and by God it’s been good!

Sadly season 13 of the US season won’t feature as it’s still only half way through and if we’re being honest, it’s pretty shite. Also not included is any other international version as I’m yet to watch Canada’s version or any other, apologies.

10. All Stars 3

See the source image

All Stars 3 had a lot going for it, a stellar cast featuring fan favourites, a tried and tested all stars formula (vote bitches off the island) and some brilliantly conceived challenges. It was all going so well too, but Drag Race’s penchant for “twists” to keep the show fresh backfired massively in the finale whereby the eliminated Queens scuppered the showdown we should have got between eventual winner Trixie Mattel and Shangela. It was an unnecessary move that robbed the finale of the excitement it should have had.

But despite this, it was still a fun ride. BendeleCreme’s early dominance and brilliant snatch game as Paul Lind, followed by her self elimination were highlights, as well as Shangela’s bizarre and sometimes obsessive Game of Throne’s references, Trixie’s awful but iconic impersonation of Rupaul and Kennedy Davenport’s hilarious challenge dominating improv skills. All Stars 3 lives in the shadow of All Stars 2, but it is still one of the best season of the show and deserves it’s 10th place on my list.

9. Season 3

See the source image

The early seasons of Drag Race are really nice to go back to as they often feel a lot less driven by controversy and producer meddling. They come across more natural, with the Queens a lot less polished and prepared for what’s to come and season 3 combines that rawness with a more honed sense of what the show was meant to be.

This was a stellar cast of very likable characters such as Manila Luzon, Delta Work, Shangela, Yara Sophia and eventual winner Raja, they all worked well together despite a mid-season divide of the Queens (Heather’s Vs Boogers) which was childish and eye rolling, but a combination of fun challenges and some great fashion from Raja makes this season stand out. Not to mention this features a legendary lip-synch where Mimi Imfurst power lifts India Farrah, it’s hilarious.

8. Season 7

See the source image

Season 7 got a lot of hate when it debuted, but I think this season deserves a lot more credit. Yes there were too many acting challenges and the cast was maybe a little too bloated, but there were some real stand out moments in this season, including the second best Snatch Game to ever feature on Drag Race with all of the queens succeeding somewhat, with Kennedy Davenport’s Little Richard, Ginger Minj’s Adele, Pearl’s Big Ang and Katya’s Susie Orman really standing out. The episode dedicated to Divine and John Waters was brilliant, with all the queens embracing the absurdity of this historic drag performer.

There’s a lot of stand out queens in Season 7, the 4 aforementioned queens but also Miss Fame, Jasmine Masters, Trixie Mattel and eventual winner Violet Chachki, whose first episode “2 in 1” Spring look still gives my willy a little twinge.

7. Season 9

See the source image

I liked season 8, but 7 and 8 back to back feels a little uneventful, so season 9 felt like a shot in the arm, especially in the latter half of the season. The diverse cast really helps Season 9 rise above some of the others and an absolutely iconic finale that has yet to be topped. Rose petals now have a new meaning to the gay community and we will never be the same again. In the twist to the formula that saw season favourite Shae Coulee get annihilated in a lip-synch against best mate Sasha Velour, it was a shocking but joyous moment as a well liked queen truly proved her absolute brilliance in a unique way. It’s an iconic moment for the show.

Stand out’s of the season are Valentina, Peppermint Farrah Moan and Aja. This season also features the Valentina mask lip-synch, I absolutely loved the drama.

6. UK Season 1

See the source image

It had been a very long time coming, why it took UK broadcasters so long to bring Drag Race to the UK, especially with the UK’s history of Drag on primetime television is anyone’s guess. Channel 4 and ITV must be kicking themselves for not snapping this show up now, but their less was the BBC’s gain. It was the breath of fresh air Drag Race needed. Gone are the cut-throat digs for the desperation of $100,000 payday of the US season, instead we have Kim Woodburn impressions and cheeky British humour and some shite plastic badges.

It was a stellar cast of likable queens. With the top 5 queens Cheryl Hole, Blu Hydrangea, Baga Chips and eventual winner The Vivienne all being an absolute delight to watch. Not to mention the brilliant Frock Destroyers song Break Up (Bye Bye) that will go down in drag race herstory as one of the best Rupaul songs ever! It’s still in my head over a year later.

5. Season 12

See the source image

Certainly the best season for the newer seasons of the show, the quality of season 12 was somewhat marred by the Sherry Pie’s controversies, meaning a would-be front-runner ended up getting cut out of the show as best they could. But even with those issues season 12 was barnstorming success.

With a mix of humours and endearing queens like Heidi N Closet and Jackie Cox, some brilliantly done challenges (the Madonna Rusical being one of the best they’ve ever done), some stunning fashion moments from Nicki Doll and Gigi Goode and the fabulous weirdness and personal growth of Crystal Methyd makes this one of my all time favourite seasons.

4. Season 5

See the source image

Season 5 felt like a turning point for Drag Race, this was the season where I feel comedy started to become a more domineering force in the show. This is one of the best seasons as it was anyone’s game. All the 3 finalists had 2 wins each, they all offered something different from one another and they were all fabulous. So the finale episode was one of the most tense and exciting of any season.

It had some of the most iconic challenges like the perfume challenge (Red for Filth, Delusion: Convince Yourself), the Candy Ball, telenovela (watching Alyssa attempting to orgasm, but sounding like she’s having a bunion removed will never get old), Can I get an Amen and Jinkx Monsoon’s legendary Little Edie impersonation on Snatch Game. It’s a season I can re-watch as it’s just so much fun, but also feel-good, with Jinkx Monsoon overcoming the pressure from Relaskadox and coming out triumphant.

3. UK Season 2

See the source image

UK Season 1 was stellar, but with only 10 Queens it felt like a mini series, whereas season 2 felt fuller and more well rounded. Again the Queens are all an endearing bunch, all of them have a sharp sense of humour and it was great to finally see some more left field queens like Ginny Lemon and Joe Black, as it’s very representative of UK drag, I’d love to see some bearded Queens in season 3.

The season felt like more of a competition with higher stakes than the previous season, with a covid break shaking things up and turning the competition completely upside down. After a 9 month break the Queens returned and a rejuvenated Bimini Bon Boulash started to absolutely dominate turning a lovable underdog into a real contender for a crown. Despite some slightly wonky challenges in the latter half of the season (stand up in front of 5 people was uncomfortable), the queens were able rise above it (some of the tasks post covid felt more hollow). Highlights include Bimini’s Katie Price impression (the nipples are the eyes of the face), Lawrence Chaney general being a delightful soul, Awhora’s incredible design challenge outfit, Rats the Rusical being delightfully bonkers and Tayce’s damn face – what a stunning looking queen she is! It’s a shame some of the judging was questionable or it might gone even higher, season 3 has a high bar to overcome.

2. All Stars 2

See the source image

I honestly didn’t know whether this season needed to be number 1 or not, it was so difficult to choose!

What a fucking season this was, the drama, the challenges, the laughs, the tears and Katya… Katya really made this season special, yes she was a good competitor but she was also the narrator of the season and it was hilarious. Every good Drag Race season needs a good talking head, and Katya is one of the best.

A legendary Snatch game of Alaska and Katya doing hilarious impressions of Mae West and Bjork respectively and Alyssa Edwards just randomly blurting out quotes from Mommie Dearest was EVERYTHING! A stellar stand up challenge with Alyssa, Tatianna, Alaska and Detox absolutely nailing it. The shequels acting challenge with parodies on Thelma and Louise and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane had some of the best (over)acting of any season ever. Then there’s the drama; the mirror reveal mid-season, the bribery to stay in the competition, Ginger Minj’s elimination and the relaskatox alliance. This season was brilliant from the word go and it never let up, I love it!

1. Season 6

See the source image

Season 6 is my favourite season as it had the strongest cast of any season (all stars included), it had the best pacing, best challenges and plenty of drama to make it the most engaging season ever. Some queens went on journey’s like Trinity K Bonet’s self doubt, leading to her breaking free of her insecurities and making the best of herself. And we also had a star making turn from season winner Bianca Del Rio, who still remains a force to be reckoned with and is probably the most popular winner to ever grace the show, not to mention she was funny as fuck.

But even first eliminated queen Kelly Mantle had personality and was sent packing in dress that looked like bacon, it was brilliant. Aussie legend Courtney Act is still one of the most stunning female impersonators to ever take part in the show, Milk was one of the first Queens to truly gender bend in the completion, Joselyn Fox was just a delight (why hasn’t she been on All Stars yet?), Leganja Estranger was a bizarre and dramatic force of nature who was insanely entertaining, Adore Delano also went on her own journey, Darienne Lake was a hilarious and bitchy queen who might have won a season with a weaker cast and Bendelecreme was just a joy to watch whose Snatch Game as Maggie Smith is the single greatest performance in the history of of the show.

Season 6 has yet to be topped for me and maybe never will, but the best thing about Drag Race is that it’s still so fun to watch. Sometimes it all comes together in perfect harmony, but there’s still a lot miles left in the tank of this long running series. Just please don’t drag it out like you have season 13 World of Wonder, it’s painful.

TOP 5 FEMALE VIDEOGAME CHARACTERS

It’s women’s history month as well as International Women’s Day (on March 8th) and with that in mind I wanted to honour some of the best and most iconic female videogame characters.

5. SAMUS ARAN

Samus Aran is an icon, the protagonist from the 1986 game Metroid, this ground breaking character was one of the first ever female leads in a videogame (first female human character). Part way through the original games development, the creators decided to reveal the gender of the suited up hero to be female at the end of the game, an inspired choice for anyone skilled enough to finish it, but also a shocking twist as the games booklet implied the opposite. Heavily based on Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, Samus was never intended to be an objectified character and she is often seen as a tough and enduring solider with her exoskeleton suit being more famous than the woman inside. But credit where it’s due, Samus is still in games and many people are eagerly awaiting a new Metro Prime – come on Nintendo you’ve had years!

4. ALOY

Female leads are becoming more common in videogames and Aloy has been part of the recent batch of female characters. Thanks to her unique robot-dinosaur setting, Aloy stands out in the crowd. The ginger haired beauty with early man style attire is interesting and fun, plus we have a character who manages to rise above the oppression she faces in game, and is still able to treat everyone around her with dignity and respect. Plus she can take down a robot from half a mile away, which is simply awesome. We’re all looking forward to seeing what she gets up to in the next game.

3. CLEMENTINE

It’s rare for characters in videogames to get have such a compelling character progression over such a long period of time, especially from childhood to near-adulthood. Despite only appearing in the videogame series, Clementine really stands out as one of the best characters in the Walking Dead universe, we meet her as small child just trying to survive and we end with her taking the reins as the mentor and mother figure to someone else’s orphaned child. Her relationship with Lee in the first season is compelling, Clem feels like a real person and her actions in the game come across as authentic under the circumstances she’s in. Telltale’s Walking Dead series really paved the way for multi-choice story based games (some call them walking sims) and Clementine is a big part of what made the game a success, not only is she a well-written child in a game but she is the emotional heart and an excellent addition to how women (and young girls) are portrayed in videogames.

2. JILL VALENTINE

The Resident Evil franchise has produced plenty of strong women; Claire Redfield, Ada Wong, Sheva Alomar and Sherry Birkin. But none quite measure up to the brilliance of Jill Valentine. We meet Jill at the Spencer Mansion in the very first game, where this tough solider first encounters the deadly T-Virus, armed with a gun and limited ammo against a small army of zombies and other creatures. Jill gets by with tenacity and skill as well her determination to uncover the truth. Even though Jill was later put into overly sexualised outfits, her initial appearances were notable for her being dressed similarly to her male counterparts, not only that but her relationship with Chris Redfield never falls into romance and the two are only ever portrayed as equally matched colleagues, which is rare in most narratives (Resident Evil would pass the Bechdel test if it applied to games). Despite Jill’s most recent appearance being the disappointing Resident Evil 3 remake, we’re all looking forward to seeing Jill return to the franchise… maybe in Resident Evil Village along with a 9 foot ball vampire woman.

1. LARA CROFT

Who else could be number 1 really? Lara is the most famous, most enduring female videogame character whose under gone several iterations across various pieces media. She has inspired so many people of all different genders and backgrounds that her influence can’t really be measured, but what we know is the mark she’s left on the videogame industry – it’s enormous. Even characters on this list owe a debt (big or small) to Lara. Originally conceived as Laura Cruz, a Mexican adventurer the developers at Core Design decided to turn her into a dual pistol wielding English heiress with a long braid and hot pants, an icon was born almost the moment she was revealed. Despite her wholly inappropriate attire Lara became more famous than the games she starred in. Though Lara’s appearance has been subject of debate over the years and despite some questionable marketing – Lara’s tough as nails, no nonsense personality is what we love about her and we eagerly await her return, whatever that may be.

HONOURABLE MENTIONS
Senua Do you hear something?
Ellie – Really hates going on golfing holidays
Cortana – I’m blue daba dee ba da die
Joanna Dark – She’s got initiative, but she’s still rare
Nina Williams – You’re frozen when you’re hearts not open
GLaDOS – How are you holding up? BECAUSE I’M A POTATO

A Senua’s Saga: Hellblade 2 Wishlist…

I make no secret about my love for the first Hellblade game. It came as a complete surprise how much I loved it, the game was barely on my radar till Ninja Theory was acquired by Microsoft and I finally played the game once it hit Gamepass – I wish I hadn’t waited. I was met with a visceral, emotionally powerful story with a character who suffers with mental health problems, which were both delicately and realistically handled. I’ve never played anything so daring and original – gaming will often go for very familiar story beats, but Hellblade was unique not just for the medium but storytelling in general. I was seriously impressed.

The new game was announced in December 2019 and though we’ve heard little about the game, the in-engine trailer showed a beautifully realised world and a character model with jaw-dropping realism. Whether the graphics are replicated in the gameplay remains to be seen, but with Ninja Theory’s pedigree there’s no reason why it can’t.

Now I’m no game developer and I never like to make suggestions about games, because I have no idea what will necessarily make a compelling Hellblade game. I trust these developers and their process (especially as this is not yet a franchise), but I’ve complied some things I’d maybe like to see from this sequel from the perspective of a gaming idiot.

More Varied Puzzles

See the source image

The first Hellblade followed a fairly shallow loop of combat – puzzle – combat – puzzle – boss. I enjoyed the loop and thought it worked well for the length of the game, but a lot of criticism levelled at the game have been down to the rune puzzles that make up the majority of the games non-combat sequences. Though I personally enjoyed lining up obstacles in the environment to create shapes, they are used a bit too often and lose their appeal in the latter half of the game. Though I think these puzzles will remain in the game if they are used more sparingly to give them more impact. Plus with the name “Saga” in the title it seems like it will be a longer length game so stretching these puzzles out over a longer run time might be a detriment to the overall experience.

Some of the other puzzles in the first game were brilliantly implemented, such as using large glass masks to shift the world between time periods to gain entry to a building or using archways to that alter the environment allowing doors to open or bridges to be built – I would personally like to see more of this in the next game and new and interesting puzzles that challenge the player in unexpected ways, using the new Icelandic environment to alter the players perception of the environment would be amazing.

Deeper Combat

See the source image

One of the biggest criticism’s of the first game was the combat. Though I believe many people have over-exaggerated the problems with the combat, there is still validity to it. The first games combat was perfectly serviceable and did pose a challenge with some of the large scale fights and boss fights. My complaints with the combat stem from it being a little bare-bones, it felt like a great core system that needed more layers to make it truly interesting. But I did appreciate how the sound design in the game aided in dispensing of enemies, it certainly helped with the cinematic feel of the game.

I think to diversify the combat Hellblade 2 could do a number of things, but I think the most natural for this game would be to add more weapons. Enemies in the first game would to adorned with axes, hammers, twin blades – where Senua is stuck with her sword. Obviously her “Hellblade” needs to be the core device but weapons that affect Senua’s speed and movement in different ways could really open the combat up.

More Open

See the source image

I certainly don’t want Hellblade to be open world, it would completely ruin what made the first game so compelling, but with the next games stunning Iceland setting, having larger environments to explore would be a serious boon. Adopting a mixture of open areas with the linear corridors could be the way to go. I often felt with the first game that the environment could have been used to hide secrets from the player, rewarding exploration – I loved these places and and would have killed to have seen more.

A more open environment may also allow for more gameplay opportunities, such as larger scale battles (hinted at in the trailer) or tie into more intricate puzzles. You could even have some stealth added into the mix, the first game toyed with this in the trials section and would be lovely to see this done again.

Boundary pushing storytelling

Image

This is where the first game truly excelled and it’s a game sequel where I truly cannot predict how the stories narrative will go. The end of the first game did set up for more adventures in Senua’s life, but the first game was such a personal and affecting journey that ended with closure that’s really hard to predict what comes next in her story. But there are hints given, Senua’s father Zynbel is a prominent figure in her first story and is the catalyst to the events leading up the death of Dillion at the hands of the Norsemen, I imagine he will feature in the sequel, a journey of revenge might be a little too obvious, but as The Last of Us 2 showed, you can take a simplistic premise and create something truly thought provoking and brilliant.

All in all, I trust Ninja Theory in their vision for Hellblade 2. I believe they have the storytelling chops to compete with the best the game industry has to offer and even if none of this wishlist comes to pass, I know they’ll create an incredible game that I can’t wait to play it.