Wednesday, April 7, 2021

WrestleMania 36

Welcome to my annual WrestleMania-week entry where I recap the previous year’s WrestleMania (WM). Please indulge me for a bit, because the 2020 show had so many unprecedented circumstances going into it that it will require a bit of a prologue before I evaluate the card. For those that remember 2020’s installment of WWE’s biggest PPV of the year, it will be remembered as a WM like no other (hopefully!). For the better part of the latter half of WM history, the event has transpired in mammoth outdoor stadiums and/or sports arenas, oftentimes with inflated attendance numbers of well over 50,000. WWE would spare no expense with elaborate entrance stage sets, live band/artist performances, major celebrity/sports guests, etc.

That all changed with 2020’s WrestleMania 36. WWE was set to roll forward with a pirate-themed WM, with countless pirate-themed ads, signage and a meticulous CG montage of WWE wrestlers decked out in pirate gear, and animated waves splashing against them while doing heroic sword-slashing poses to open the show. However, as we all know by now plans drastically altered, when with under a month before WM36’s original date of April 5th, the worldwide Co-Vid pandemic was declared on March 11th. This promptly shutdown a majority of travel and businesses internationally for the better part of the next two months before businesses and travel restrictions started to ease up, at least here in the United States. No one knew how long the shutdown was going to last, so WWE hastily taped the matches at their Performance Center training facilities, while rumored the tapings lasted up until the final hours before the lockdown went into effect in Florida.

This would mean for the first time in WM history, the even would be taped, and not on a short several hour delay ala Summerslam ‘92, but taped a couple weeks in advance! WWE officials allegedly were warning of severe consequences if spoilers leaked. Upon re-watching this WM36, it is still jaw-dropping to see the show associated with said large sports arenas and near six figures of fans was now emanating in front of ZERO fans in a small black-curtained off area of a training facility. Since the Network-era of WM PPVs in 2014, most of the events have went notoriously long around the six-to-seven hour mark when factoring in a two hour pre-show.

While WWE was marketing yet another loaded 16-match card that would likely last that long, it seemed highly undesirable to force fans to watch that long of a show with zero fan atmosphere so WWE for the first time split WM into two nights on April 4th and 5th. On previous WM recaps here I advocated for two-night WMs because those one night marathons pushed alert limits to new levels, so I was relieved to hear WWE announce the two-night event. Keep in mind this was a few weeks into the pandemic, well before WWE started experimenting with NXT talent as fans for a couple months before eventually settling on the ubiquitous video walls of virtual fans at the Thunderdome that major WWE telecasts currently transpire in.

Usually the yearly WWE Hall of Fame ceremony is included with the BluRay as a bonus feature, but the 2020 ceremony that was slated to happen on WM36 weekend was postponed a year, and transpired earlier this week the same night with the 2021 inductees. Out of sheer habit and self-imposed obligation, I will give a quick breakdown of the 2020 half of the ceremony. It took place at the Thunderdome with Jerry Lawler back hosting, and in order to breeze through so many inductions there was no inductors, and some inductees like the Bellas were told they had a five minute time limit for their speeches. The 2020 Hall of Fame class is the nWo (Hulk Hogan, Scott Hall, Kevin Nash, Sean Waltman), British Bulldog, Jushin Thunder Liger, Nickie & Brie Bella, Justin Bradshaw Layfield, Warrior Award winner Titus ‘O Neil and representing the celebrity wing: William Shatner. Dave Batista was supposed to be inducted too, but he postponed his induction because of a scheduling conflict and wanted to accept in person. It was kind of odd seeing the Hall of Fame done with virtual fans, but WWE did their best with piping in artificial fan noise at appropriately timed references and jokes, and even fake chants when the hall of famers hit their catchphrases.

A nice video recap aired for each inductee, and then most inductees gave roughly five minute speeches. JBL kicked off, and for a five minute speech he hit as many key highlights as he could in that short time allocated, and had a nice closing where he teased a heartfelt apology to locker room rivals. Some inductees like Shatner and Liger could not attend, but sent in brief, pre-recorded acceptance speeches. One inadvertent positive side effect was Liger’s speech was translated through subtitles, and there was no pauses to wait for the translator that would happen if it was done live. Shatner’s breezy speech took a fun jab at Lawler, and was to the point. Between each induction, brief backstage interviews were done with current WWE stars acknowledging how big a night this was for the legends and shared past stories and memories. Davey Boy Smith’s son, Harry, alongside Bulldog’s widow, Diana and Matilda’s granddaughter, Huffy, gave an affectionate induction to his father.

The “Legacy Wing” of the Hall of Fame occurred next, and the 2020 class was represented by Ray Stevens, Brickhouse Brown, “Dr. Death” Steve Williams, Baron Michele Leone and Gary Hart. A very deserving Titus ‘O Neil was recognized with the annual Warrior Award for his countless philanthropic efforts, and Titus gave an inspirational and heartwarming acceptance. The Bellas were expectedly on brand with their speeches, and each of the four nWo members shared some fun Monday Night Wars tales, except for Scott Hall who said only about 20 words. Hogan teased he never lost the nWo Title and that he would make a return to defend it. All told the 2020 portion of the ceremony was about an hour and a half, making it the shortest WWE Hall of Fame ceremony in quite some time!

2020 was undoubtedly a tough year on everyone. Come that WM36 weekend I, like many others, was in a rough place. Being a few weeks into the pandemic I had no idea what to make sense of on the news. I originally had a vacation planned for a week starting a few days before WM where I was going to be travelling out of town for a retro videogame convention I try and hit up most years, and it would have conveniently wrapped up shortly before WM started. As anticipated, the convention was cancelled, and in a crazy coincidence the day before I originally was planning to leave a water pipe burst in my home and my place had all kinds of water damage and furniture moved around for several days before it was all put back into place and cleaned up. Adding to the coincidental timing, night one of WM happened to be on my birthday, and this was early in the pandemic before masks were widely available and a lot of adherence to the lockdown and social distancing was being recommended and I felt gutted when family members wanted to celebrate and all I told them I felt safe doing was briefly visiting a few of them on my driveway. Needless to say, with all that going on my headspace had seen better days, and having WM36 to selfishly fall back on that weekend was a modicum of respite I desperately needed.

Thank you for indulging me with all that prefacing. With that all out of the way, it is time to move onward to looking at night one of WM36. Both nights of WM36 had a half hour kickoff show, with one match on each kickoff show that are included as BluRay bonuses. Night one saw Cesaro and Drew Gulak tear it up in a hard-hitting, five minute technical showcase with Cesaro getting the win with a momentous Airplane Spin. Stephanie McMahon gave a special introduction to the unique circumstances that were forced upon WM36 once the show officially began. I will give props to WWE for their contingency plan when their planned special artist to sing “America the Beautiful” could not make the event, and instead WWE went with a medley/montage of all past WM artists and bands like Little Richard, Aretha Franklin, Boyz 2 Men, Ray Charles and many more singing the anthem that traditionally kicks off WM. From there, four-time Super Bowl winner and host of WM36, Rob Gronkowski welcomed everyone, and his real-life friend and WWE star, Mojo Rawley, joined him in the hosting balcony.

The first official WM36 match was for the Women’s Tag Titles with Asuka & Kari Sayne defending against Alexa Bliss & Nikki Cross. I miss Kari Sayne, and am still in disbelief how WWE wrote her off TV a few months later via implied murder! Kari & Asuka’s foreign taunting and screaming helped fill the void of no crowd noise to an extent, but was not enough for them to retain after Alexa pinned Kari with her Twisted Bliss to win the gold for her and Nikki. Baron Corbin faced Elias who Baron thought would be unable to compete after recently tossing him off a balcony, but Elias made it in time to whack Baron with a guitar, and eventually Corbin’s jawjacking with the ref got the best of him as Elias capitalized with a roll-up for the win in this brief fan favorite arc of his character. Becky Lynch defended the RAW Women’s Title against Shayna Baszler next. Becky was near the end of her red-hot year+ long reign as champ here, but this bout had a peculiar build highlighted by Shayna bloodily biting Becky’s ear. This also-peculiar match saw Becky mostly taking a ground attack beating from Shayna until Becky pulled off a reverse pinning combination for the sudden win.

Sami Zayn defended his Intercontinental Title next against Daniel Bryan. Zayn was accompanied by Cesaro & Shinsuke Nakamura while Bryan was seconded by Drew Gulak. Interference from all three played a factor throughout this intense battle, with a distracted Bryan falling victim to Sami’s Haluva Kick for the victory. The Smackdown Tag Titles were on the line next in a triple threat ladder match, but with only one member from each team due to Miz being quarantined for Co-Vid symptoms. So that meant John Morrison defended the tag titles solo against Kofi Kingston of the New Day and Jimmy Uso. The three did not disappoint with many creative highspots and sequences, with a unique finish that saw all three unhook the tag titles at the same time and Morrison collapsing off the ladder with the titles after a tug-of-war battle with them to successfully retain the titles.

Seth Rollins faced Kevin Owens next, and Owens continued his awesome tradition of paying homage to vintage WM posters, with a nod to WMIV’s poster design on his shirt. Rollins DQ’d himself early in the match after using the ring bell, but Owens goads Rollins into restarting the match with No DQ. This time Owens repeatedly hits Rollins with the bell to lay him out long enough for Owens to climb on top of the WM sign to deliver a Cannonball Splash through the announcer’s table in an eye-opening spot. Owens then dragged a lifeless Seth to the ring to execute a Stunner for the win. A WM host check-in with Mojo and Gronk was interrupted by Hardcore 24/7 champion, R-Truth, who was seeking refuge from all comers up in the host balcony, but instead fell to a gut-punch from Gronk, only to see Mojo sneak in a quick pin and run off from his hosting duties as the new 24/7 champ.

The Universal Title match was up next that was scheduled to have Bill Goldberg defend against Roman Reigns. Several days before the WM tapings however, Roman Reigns shocked everyone by legitimately pulling out of the match due to understandable Co-Vid concerns from having underlying health issues from being a two-time Leukemia survivor. With such short notice, WWE did not have time to build a storyline replacement for last minute substitute, Braun Strowman, and only briefly publicly declared the substitution during a rundown of all the matches the day before on Smackdown. The match was a quick smashmouth flurry of finishers, with Goldberg unable to pin Braun after four straight spears, and instead Braun achieving the pin and Universal title after unleashing four straight powerslams.



The main event for night one of WM36 was the cinematic “Boneyard Match” between AJ Styles and The Undertaker. For those not keeping up with pandemic-era WWE, the first few PPVs of the pandemic saw the inclusion of one or two matches on each PPV shot in the form of a movie, often without commentary and instead ambient music in the background. I embedded the match above (or click or press here to check it out) for those who have not seen it, because if you are a lapsed fan and have not witnessed it yet, the match garnered surprise acclaim from both wrestling and non-wrestling fans. It saw AJ and ‘Taker duke it out in a dilapidated graveyard, complete with Eastwood-esque trash talk, mystical druids, old-school ‘Taker dark magic, Good Brothers, motorcyles and Metallica. It was freaking great, and a much needed distraction from the empty arena. The finish saw ‘Taker big boot AJ into an empty grave, and dump a truckload of dirt on him to gracefully exit the “Boneyard” on his motorcycle with Metallica singing him out. As of this writing, this was Undertaker’s last match, and going by his latest interviews it sounds like he is indeed hanging it up for good this time, especially after WWE threw him a “final farewell” retirement-esque ceremony on the character’s 30th anniversary several months later at Survivor Series.

Still with me for night two coverage of WM36? Take a break, grab a Steve-weiser, and relax for my night two coverage! The kickoff match saw Liv Morgan usurp Natalya with a reverse roll-up after a solid back-and-forth match. Night two officially started with Rhea Ripley defending the NXT Women’s Title against Charlotte Flair. Sorry to report that I am not a big fan of either of these two, and this match did not sit well with me either as it was mostly Flair working over Rhea’s leg until she locked in the Figure-Eight for the tapout win. Charlotte’s NXT title run wound up being a disaster, and she did not put over anyone while she was champ there. Onto better things as Aleister Black and Bobby Lashley squared off next. I completely forgot Lashley was married to Lana at this point in his character, but that would change soon after this as Lana urged Lashley to switch up finishing moves on Black, which backfired and saw Aleister connect with his Black Mass finisher for the pin. Next up saw Dolph Ziggler face Otis in the apex of a meticulous storyline where Otis fell victim to Dolph’s treachery when trying to win the heart of Mandy Rose. Mandy’s former friend Sonya Deville was assisting Dolph throughout the match until Mandy ran out to take care of her, which set up Otis to hit his outrageous Caterpillar finish for the win, and the happy uniting with Rose which tried its darnd-est to be on the same level with Randy Savage and Elizabeth from WMVII.

The next match was Edge’s big return singles match against Randy Orton after coming back at the Royal Rumble a couple months earlier. The buildup to this bout was impressive too, with Edge, Orton and Beth Phoenix all having emotional and investing promos leading up to this. This was a Last Man Standing match that saw the two battle all over the Performance Center throughout the backstage area, offices, training facilities and parking areas before reaching its final act on top of a semi where the two traded finishing moves until Edge hit a con-chair-toe for the 10-count win. The match held up much better on second viewing, and is best to watch it on its own as it lasted nearly 40 minutes. Shortly after this, Mojo Rawley re-emerged into the ringside area fending off 24/7 Title pursuers. Gronk took this moment upon himself to leap onto the pile of wrestlers from the host balcony and pin Mojo to win the 24/7 Title, a belt he would hold for a couple months until shortly after un-retiring from football where a sneaky R-Truth would roll-up Gronk for the title in his yard while filming a Tik-Toc video….seriously.

Titus ‘O Neil would shortly arrive later to wrap-up hosting duties for Gronk for the remainder of the show. The RAW Tag Titles were on the line next with the Street Profits defending against Angel Garza and Austin Theory, who was a last minute sub for an injured Andrade. This was a quick five minute recharge bout, with the four competitors all staying in third gear throughout it for a non-stop action affair. Angelo Dawkins pinned Theory after a surprise splash from Montez Ford. The Smackdown Women’s Title 5-Way Elimination match followed with Bayley defending against Lacey Evans, Sasha Banks, Tamina and Naomi. Sasha and Bayley team up for a lot of early success, until their teamwork fails and Sasha falls victim to Lacey’s Women’s Right leaving it down to Lacey and Bayley. Right when it looks like Lacey has Bayley’s number, Sasha returned with a Backstabber on Lacey, which allowed Bayley to follow that up by driving Lacey down to the mat for the win.



The cinematic match of the second night was a “Firefly Funhouse” bout between “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt and John Cena. I have no idea where to begin describing this one. Essentially, Bray Wyatt suffers from multiple-personality disorder, and in this match Cena journeys to Wyatt’s multi-dimensional funhouse. It is filled with decades of pro-wrestling references that sees Cena and Wyatt cut Saturday Night’s Main Event-era promos on each other, join the nWo and relive Cena’s debut against Kurt Angle. I swear I am up not making any of this up! Just check out the embed above or click or press here to see for yourself! This cinematic match did not quite measure up to the Boneyard match, but was still an entertaining spectacle to experience with the deluge of references and callbacks to wrestling history. Eventually “The Fiend” pinned Cena with his Mandible Claw (while Bray Wyatt counted the pin, just roll with it), and the live feed then cut to a confused Titus ‘O Neil proclaiming what we all were thinking “I have no idea what we just saw.”

The main event of night two saw Brock Lesnar defending the WWE Title against Drew McIntyre. This was built up as Drew’s big redemption story after being fired from WWE several years earlier, and it taking him 16 years to win his first major championship. It was too bad it all played out in the empty performance center, but the duo made the best of it with another instant hard hitting affair similar to the Braun/Goldberg match. After a little bit of early brawling, Brock hit three F5s which Drew all kicked out of, and then Drew countered with three straight Claymore kicks to be crowned the WWE champion for the feel-good closing of the show. What aired on RAW the next night, but actually transpired about 20 minutes after the Brock match and is on here as a BluRay bonus feature is Drew coming back to the ring for a victory interview only to be interrupted and challenged for the title by Big Show. Drew accepts the challenge, and after taking a pounding from Big Show for several minutes, Drew recovers and fires back with a Claymore for his first successful title defense. Drew has went on to be “the guy” for RAW for the better part of the next year, and while it feels he has been fulfilling that role, it is impossible to tell without a live, paying, audience, and I am curious to see how Drew is received at WM37 this weekend against Lashley.

The WM35 BluRay had the 2019 Hall of Fame as a digital bonus feature, and on the disc it had the entirety of the next night’s RAW, and a couple segments from the next Smackdown. The WM36 BluRay went down a different road with its bonus features, and aside from the two bonus kickoff matches and the post-WM Drew/Big Show match, there is about two hours of accumulated interviews, promos and segments from the previous two months of RAW, Smackdown and NXT. I watched them all, and it was a nice refresher of all the rivalries, although awkward at the same time, because about half of the segments still have fans in the arena which felt weird to see again after so long with empty/virtual arenas. Some highlights include a couple vintage Paul Heyman hype promos, AJ Styles and the Goodbrothers messing with Undertaker, the awful Rhea Ripley/Charlotte Flair interactions from NXT and Randy Orton’s epic must-see promo on Beth Phoenix for why he attacked Edge.

It would be unfair of me to give a traditional yay/nay grade to WrestleMania 36 due to how the event barely came together at the final hour in the early stages of the pandemic. Seeing a lot of these matches in the empty Performance Center simply feels weird, and proved constantly difficult to suspend disbelief and get into the pro-wrestling fan mindset during viewing. The two cinematic matches are what essentially helped get me back into “fan mode” and get invested in the unique nature of those two bouts, and if you have to watch two matches from this show, then those two are the way to go. The two “slobberknocker” world title brawls are also quick, intense matches that are worth checking out. Once again, I love the two-night concept as it serves as a perfect break point for watching at home, and I am thankful WWE is doing that again for this year’s WM. All things told, this will go down as a historical achievement that WWE managed to put this together, and probably worth one day going back to watching to see how far we have come from those early dark days of the pandemic before we knew what the next eventful year had in store for everyone.



Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Clash of Champions
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 3
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
DDP: Positively Living
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
Eric Bishoff: Wrestlings Most Controversial Figure
Fight Owens Fight: The Kevin Owens Story
For All Mankind
Getting Rowdy: The Unreleased Matches of Roddy Piper
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Hulk Hogans Unreleased Collectors Series
Impact Wresting Presents: Best of Hulk Hogan
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
The Kliq Rules
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
NXT: From Secret to Sensation
NXT Greatest Matches Vol 1
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History
Owen: Hart of Gold
Randy Savage Unreleased: The Unseen Matches of the Macho Man
RoH Supercard of Honor 2010-Present
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Scott Hall: Living on a Razors Edge
Shawn Michaels: My Journey
Shawn Michaels: The Showstopper Unreleased Sting: Into the Light
Straight Outta Dudley-ville: Legacy of the Dudley Boyz
Straight to the Top: Money in the Bank Anthology
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Then Now Forever – The Evolution of WWEs Womens Division
TLC 2017
TNA Lockdown 2005-2016
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns
Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe
War Games: WCWs Most Notorious Matches
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania III: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28-Present
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
Wrestling Road Diaries Three: Funny Equals Money
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2017

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Trauma Center



Last Christmas my mom continued her tradition of buying me a random bargain bin DVD for a stocking stuffer. I requested we discontinue this tradition as I have been slimming down my DVD/BluRay collection the past several years, and have traded in roughly a third of my movies, and buy far less than what I use to. I guess my mom could not break from tradition and thus we have today’s entry for 2019’s Trauma Center (trailer). Usually my mom’s hit-to-miss ratio is pretty solid on gifting me a film I have not seen yet and wound up loving with past examples like Sour Grapes, Alpha Dog, Blues Brothers and Trading Places.

Trauma Center is a straight-to-video action movie one would find on the old “Movies for Guys Who Like Movies” pick of the night on TBS. It does have star power in the form of Bruce Willis as police detective Steve Wakes. Willis has been doing more straight-to-video efforts in recent years in other decent action films like Hard Kill and 10 Minutes Gone. It must be working out for him better than his theatrical efforts because I have no idea why he keeps up with these type of films. Digression aside, turns out Steve’s cover for his CI was tracked by a pair of corrupt cops, Tull (Texas Battle) & Pierce (Tito Ortiz).

Tull & Pierce take out the CI, but also injure innocent bystander waitress Madison (Nicky Whelan). They track her down to the hospital and discover the supposed secure room on a vacant floor Wakes sets up for her. What happens next is a game of cat-and-mouse with Madison doing her best to stay one move ahead and hold off the bad cops while Wakes pieces the clues together and attempts to assist Madison. Watching Madison adapt to her surroundings to fend off Tull & Pierce was actually entertaining, despite some too convenient camerawork at times that made it appear an injured Madison could pull off miraculous feats of strength.

Tito Ortiz is a trip as the “bad cop” of the duo, and his overacting is probably the highlight of the film as he stalks and tortures Madison. Rest assured, he gets his well-earned comeuppance. Bruce Willis is as subdued in here as he was recently in his role in Glass. I am having difficulty determining if that is what he was shooting for, or if he was just going through the motions in this straight-to-video affair. If you are going into this thinking this is a Bruce Willis-lead action blockbuster, then you will be disappointed because this is a vehicle for Whelan’s survive-at-all-costs performance. Willis’s character is in the supporting role mostly doing background detective work until the final scenes. Whelan is pretty convincing in her effort at barely managing to stay alive, and the final act is fairly entertaining when all four figures have their respective standoffs.

Unsurprisingly, there are no bonus features on this DVD, not even a trailer! Regardless of that, I do not want to mislead you dear reader that I am praising the movie. I have seen a lot of straight-to-video action films, and this one is maybe a notch or two above average, but is by no means rush-out-and-see blockbuster. That is on the straight-to-video curve as well! The performances they got out of the cast seems about as good as it could get, and there are even a couple genuine moments I was kind of invested into Madison fending for herself. That said this film will not blow you away, but if you run across it on cable/streaming or the bargain bins, than it is an ideal movie to have on in the background with the occasional scene that will divert your attention. Factoring in all this curved grading, and I will chalk this one up as a semi-win for my mom’s annual random Christmas DVD!

Other Random Backlog Movie Blogs

3
12 Angry Men (1957)
12 Rounds 3: Lockdown
21 Jump Street
The Accountant
Angry Video Game Nerd: The Movie
Atari: Game Over
The Avengers: Age of Ultron
The Avengers: Endgame
The Avengers: Infinity War
Batman: The Dark Knight Rises
Batman: The Killing Joke
Batman: Mask of the Phantasm
Batman V Superman: Dawn of Justice
Bounty Hunters
Cabin in the Woods
Captain America: Civil War
Captain America: The First Avenger
Captain America: The Winter Soldier
Christmas Eve
The Clapper
Clash of the Titans (1981)
Clint Eastwood 11-pack Special
The Condemned 2
Countdown
Creed I & II
Deck the Halls
Detroit Rock City
Die Hard
Dredd
The Eliminators
The Equalizer
Dirty Work
Faster
Fast and Furious I-VIII
Field of Dreams
Fight Club
The Fighter
For Love of the Game
Good Will Hunting
Gravity
Grunt: The Wrestling Movie
Guardians of the Galaxy
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2
Hell Comes to Frogtown
Hercules: Reborn
Hitman
I Like to Hurt People
Indiana Jones 1-4
Ink
The Interrogation
Interstellar
Jay and Silent Bob Reboot
Jobs
Joy Ride 1-3
Justice League (2017 Whedon Cut)
Last Action Hero
Major League
Man of Steel
Man on the Moon
Man vs Snake
Marine 3-6
Merry Friggin Christmas
Metallica: Some Kind of Monster
Mortal Kombat
Mortal Kombat Legends: Scorpions Revenge
National Treasure
National Treasure: Book of Secrets
Nintendo Quest
Not for Resale
Payback (Director’s Cut)
Pulp Fiction
The Punisher (1989)
The Ref
The Replacements
Reservoir Dogs
Rocky I-VIII
Running Films Part 1
Running Films Part 2
San Andreas
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Scott Pilgrim vs the World
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty
Shoot em Up
Slacker
Skyscraper
Small Town Santa
Steve Jobs
Source Code
Star Trek I-XIII
Sully
Take Me Home Tonight
TMNT
The Tooth Fairy 1 & 2
UHF
Veronica Mars
Vision Quest
The War
Wild
The Wizard
Wonder Woman
The Wrestler (2008)
X-Men: Apocalypse
X-Men: Days of Future Past

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Shawn Michaels: The Showstopper Unreleased

WWE has release a few Shawn Michaels DVDs over the years, but continuing on the theme of my last few wrestling-centered entries, WWE Home Video stuck with their “unreleased” brand of DVDs in 2018 with the three-disc release of Shawn Michaels: The Showstopper Unreleased (intro - I could not locate a trailer for this anywhere!). In that clip Shawn quips that the producers deserve an award for finding previously unreleased matches. I believe the criteria for this release is still similar to previous “Unreleased” collections where they may have aired on television (and thus likely in the WWE Network archives) or long discontinued VHS tapes, but this DVD will mark the first time the matches are available on disc. Also included is a new interview with Michaels that they broke up in several parts and sporadically inserted throughout the collection.

The first disc is something special as it essentially is a “Best of Rockers” DVD. The first two matches are from Shawn’s rookie year in 1985 for Mid-South in quick enhancement matches for Hector & Chavo Guerrero and Jake “The Snake” Roberts. Matches serve their purpose, but it is nonetheless fascinating to see how Shawn had that already apparent potential in him way back in 1985. The remaining 11 matches on the first disc are all Rockers matches, with the first three tag matches being from their Midnight Rockers AWA days with two bouts against Doug Summers & Buddy Rose and one more with Brian Knobbs & Dennis “I’m not booked” Stamp. The two Summers & Rose matches are show-stealers that had exhilarating beginning/middle/end structures, and was fun to watch the 1980s crowd go nuts for.

The first disc is almost all AWA & WWF Rockers matches!!


For the eight WWF Rockers matches, they consist of almost an all-star lineup of a golden age for WWF tag teams where they square off against the likes of Demolition, Brain Busters, Hart Foundation, Natural Disasters and Legion of Doom. The sad thing about The Rockers back then is that as charismatic and agile as they were back then, they mostly made other teams look good in their WWF run and that is the case here as they lose six of those eight WWF matches. Even worse is the two matches they win is a DQ win against the Rougeaus after Jimmy Hart’s megaphone is used, and a countout win against the Orient Express. That said, a lot of the other matches are pretty damn good, with high honors going to the Brain Busters bout, two Demolition matches and surprisingly working in a lot of good stuff against Legion of Doom. Worth pointing out is another good match against the Hart Foundation where it seems noticeable the teams missed their cue to go home because the match starts to feel there is no end in sight when out of nowhere during an abdominal stretch a bunch of wrestlers run in and an awkward impromptu brawl ensues and the match is declared a draw.

Disc two has 12 matches from Shawn’s first singles WWF run from 1992-1998. Some highlights from this are an unsurprising technical showcase with Mr. Perfect, oddly having a positive dynamic with Bret Hart to team up against the Blu Brothers in 1995 and predictable-yet-high quality formula matches during his first WWF Title run against 1-2-3 Kid and Steve Austin. Disc two has a disappointing triple tag elimination match with Shawn, Diesel and Undertaker against Psycho Sid, Tatanka and Kama filled with lots of stalling and headscratching booking for the eliminations. There is also a questionable match against Vader a month after their controversial-yet-excellent Summerslam match, where in this match Shawn takes 95% of the offense and quickly squashes Vader in three minutes. There is also a fascinating bout against Yokozuna from the summer of 1996 in Kuwait, when Yoko is nearing the end of his WWF run due to him putting on excess weight, and the match kind of expectedly plods along, until something must have clicked for Shawn to motivate Yoko into a pretty watchable match in the back half, and the two show respect afterwards which was awesome to see….until Yoko suddenly darts off to the back like he really has to go to the bathroom.

The third disc consists of 10 matches from Shawn’s return run to WWE from 2002-2010. All the matches here are from RAW, so that means they follow the formula that still holds true for WWE TV main events today where it is either a cobbled together tag match, or a really good one-on-one match with interference or a hokey finish. There are a couple exceptions with worthwhile clean matches against Ric Flair during a Japan 2005 tour and against Christian in 2004 when he was building momentum with Tyson Tomko by his side. HBK’s matches against Rob Van Dam, Kurt Angle and Chris Jericho are the highlights on disc three, but all three contests have varying degrees of interference to effect the finishes, and in some cases it actually benefits the match as is the case with Angle with the story they were telling. I was delighted to see a post-RAW dark match included with Shawn teaming with Batista against Triple H and Edge. WWE is notorious for usually doing a fun untelevised promo or bonus match for the fans after the cameras go off the air with some quirky moments that would never fly in a televised match. That is the case here with Triple H doing lots of exaggerated selling and fun jawing with the crowd that absolutely ate it all up for a fun time.

Shawn didn't disappoint in his 21st century run, with matches included here that don't disappoint against Ric Flair and Kurt Angle.


A couple of promos are uncovered like Shawn doing an open Q&A with the fans when Sensational Sherri was managing Michaels early in his singles run. Another amusing bonus promo is Shawn and Diesel doing a Times Square workout session to hype up their upcoming WrestleMania 11 match with the one-and-only Todd Pentigill hosting. The several interview clips inserted throughout the DVDs has Shawn hitting on certain parts on where he was at that stage in his career and reflecting on the infamous Barber Shop break-up with Marty, his 2002 return, rebooting a less edgy, more goofball version of DX in 2006 and retiring in 2010 (this was filmed before his ill-fated Saudi Arabia return match).

From these series of introspections, it was fascinating to hear Shawn think back on why he was not all-in for teaming with Jose Lathario in his WWE Title run, and hearing him settling on being a family man in retirement and turning down multiple
WrestleMania return matches. There are also a few sets of interviews with NXT talent commenting on how lucky they are to have Shawn as a teacher at the WWE Performance Center. Shawn comments a few times here too on being proud of passing on his knowledge, and it is obvious he is genuine on his passion for his new role building talent in NXT.

WWE has once again amassed another recommended collection of un-vaulted matches. I am digging this format following the Piper and Macho Man sets where they break up the action every few matches with a set of interviews. Wort mentioning is about a quarter of the 35 matches here have no commentary because they were either dark matches, or from arena shows WWE use to film at regionally in the 80s and 90s and never recorded commentary for and/or lost the rights for the commentary. While there are some skippable matches, the good-to-bad ratio is largely in the positive here, and the not-so-good bouts usually at least have an entertaining backstory or era they emanate from. This all adds up for Shawn Michaels: The Showstopper Unreleased being another must-have installment of the Unreleased branding.

Past Wrestling Blogs

Best of WCW Clash of Champions
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 2
Best of WCW Monday Nitro Volume 3
Biggest Knuckleheads
Bobby The Brain Heenan
Daniel Bryan: Just Say Yes Yes Yes
DDP: Positively Living
Dusty Rhodes WWE Network Specials
ECW Unreleased: Vol 1
ECW Unreleased: Vol 2
ECW Unreleased: Vol 3
Eric Bishoff: Wrestlings Most Controversial Figure
Fight Owens Fight: The Kevin Owens Story
For All Mankind
Getting Rowdy: The Unreleased Matches of Roddy Piper
Goldberg: The Ultimate Collection
Hulk Hogans Unreleased Collectors Series
Impact Wresting Presents: Best of Hulk Hogan
Its Good to Be the King: The Jerry Lawler Story
The Kliq Rules
Ladies and Gentlemen My Name is Paul Heyman
Legends of Mid South Wrestling
Macho Man: The Randy Savage Story
Memphis Heat
NXT: From Secret to Sensation
NXT Greatest Matches Vol 1
OMG Vol 2: Top 50 Incidents in WCW History
OMG Vol 3: Top 50 Incidents in ECW History
Owen: Hart of Gold
Randy Savage Unreleased: The Unseen Matches of the Macho Man
RoH Supercard of Honor 2010-Present
ScoobyDoo Wrestlemania Mystery
Scott Hall: Living on a Razors Edge
Shawn Michaels: My Journey
Sting: Into the Light
Straight Outta Dudley-ville: Legacy of the Dudley Boyz
Straight to the Top: Money in the Bank Anthology
Superstar Collection: Zach Ryder
Then Now Forever – The Evolution of WWEs Womens Division
TLC 2017
TNA Lockdown 2005-2016
Top 50 Superstars of All Time
Tough Enough: Million Dollar Season
True Giants
Ultimate Fan Pack: Roman Reigns
Ultimate Warrior: Always Believe
War Games: WCWs Most Notorious Matches
Warrior Week on WWE Network
Wrestlemania III: Championship Edition
Wrestlemania 28-Present
The Wrestler (2008)
Wrestling Road Diaries Too
Wrestling Road Diaries Three: Funny Equals Money
Wrestlings Greatest Factions
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2015
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials Second Half 2016
WWE Network Original Specials First Half 2017

Monday, March 8, 2021

Dale's Top 31 Gaming Experiences of 2020

Welcome to the 2021 installment for my ranking top gaming moments and experiences of the previous year, regardless of what year the game was released in! Besides ranking my the games themselves, This encompasses all videogame-adjacent experiences aside such as movies, board games, accessories and hardware related items and possibly more! This will be a lengthy read so I suggest right now inputting ‘Ctrl + D’ to bookmark this page, and/or make use of a handy ‘read later’ app like Pocket. This year’s recommended background reading music is a soundtrack I recently got clued into from the MojoMenace community in the form of the score for Mirror’s Edge: Catalyst you can check out by click or pressing here. If you somehow manage to want more of these behemoth reads, than I will point you to my previous year-end recaps here:

2019 - 2018 - 2017 - 2016

To assist with this read, here are some in-article page anchors to instantly jump around to bookmarks on the rankings!

CHAPTERS

Part 1 – Rankings 31 through 25
Part 2 – Rankings 24 through 18
Part 3 – Rankings 17 through 12
Part 4 – Rankings 11 through 7
Part 5 – Rankings 6 through 4
Part 6 – Rankings 3 through 1


PART 1 – Rankings 31 through 25

31) The Worst Wrestling Game of all Time!

For a project I will detail later on I had to relive the abyss of wrestling games that is WCW Nitro on the N64. It is a port of the PSone version, and it was as awful as I remembered first experiencing it two decades prior. If you want to experience broken controls, insufferable slowdown, and a flatout painful experience of a game, then Nitro is where it is at. Instead of playing the games, I will instead opt to link you to this clip of the PSone version because it has these so-bad-it’s-good FMVs of the wrestlers trash talking on the character select screen.



30) The Remake Frothingly Demanded for Years….Delivered!

I was ecstatic to see the Final Fantasy VII fanbase finally get the modern-gen remake they have been craving for years. I only consider myself a mild fan because I started that game several times, and only progressed shortly past Midgar in my farthest attempt. Through Midgar is what the Remake covers though, and going by all the coverage I have seen, it looks like Square shocked the doubters and nailed it by expanding on that section of the original game with a ton of new content and storylines to flesh out that iconic setting and cast. I played the demo and loved the stunningly overhauled visuals and combat. One day I will play the full game, but for the time being I will be sufficed with my former podcast co-hosts’ cutouts of the cinematics for most of the game.

29) FMV-Camp Returns!

A couple years back on a Game Informer stream they jokingly started playing a modern day Sega CD FMV-style choose your own adventure game, Late Shift. It was a throwback to those camply FMV games that dominated the SegaCD. However, this one actually had solid production values and all around acting for an indie release, and the Game Informer crew slowly got into it as it went along. Seeing them navigate through the first chunk of the game inspired me purchase it, and I finally got around to throwing it in this year and is it a breezy game to get through in under three hours. The storyline branches off in all kinds of directions based on your choices, so I played through it twice and got pretty different endings both times in this game that sees an overnight car park clerk getting forced into a heist job against his own will. The developers at Wales Interactive went on to make a couple more games in this FMV style like The Complex, The Shapeshifting Detective and The Bunker, and I feel they are on the right path with how much I got into Late Shift so I wound up putting all three of those other games on my radar!



28) Hey, Watch me Ollie!

The emotional nostalgia burst that poured down upon me within minutes of firing up Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 1 + 2 was insane. Almost instantly within loading up my first two minute run I could tell the game just felt like how I remembered the awesome PSone game I played to death. Having almost all the memorable songs from the soundtracks of the first two games also incredibly helps. I believe it was intentional on the developers to have the very first song to boot up when playing being “Superman.” This near perfect HD remake/update of the first two games erases the poor attempt done on the 360 and PS3 several years prior. This would have ranked much higher if I had a chance to put more time into this.

27) Unexpected Carnage

Following up on last year’s entry where I made the retro purchase of the Jaguar, I had one more session with Atari’s “64-bit” feline with my friend Derek. One Jaguar game I was eager to get some two-player co-op in was with its version of Total Carnage. It was the “bigger and better” sequel to Smash TV, another arcade classic I cherished. Never playing the sequel though I was eager to start it up with Derek, but only upon a few minutes in we realized this was a grave mistake due to the Jaguar port being rough around the edges and only limited continues allowed which resulted in us making very little progress. Before Derek left I remembered I owned Midway Arcade Treasures on the 360, which had Total Carnage in its line-up. We popped that in, and mercifully that fun-yet-brutal version of the game allowed infinite continues and we absolutely capitalized on that option and proceeded to knock out a huge chunk of the game. It mixes up the room-style gameplay of Smash TV and opens it up into levels that scroll up like Ikari Warriors and Mercs, but with that same style of over-the-top action.

26) Unleashing Destruction in the Streets and Rings

At the beginning of the year longtime friend Steve and I had a fun night planned catching a minor league hockey game an hour out of town, but of course a blizzard spoiled that for us by closing the highways. Luckily we had a back-up plan of meeting up for a game night that included marching through the entire tag team championship mode of WWF WrestleFest and all of the arcade version of Final Fight. Steve also had the arcade follow-up to Saturday Night Slam Masters that never received a home release in North America in Ring of Destruction that we tore each other apart in. Finally, I demonstrated FirePro Wrestling World to Steve, and we busted out our vintage favorite football game, ESPN NFL 2K5. It was a hell of a game night, and thank goodness for back-up plans!

25) And the Keighley goes to….

The last few years I have been looking forward more and more to the end-of-the-year videogame award show Geoff Keighley puts on. His annual award showcase keeps improving each year, and has a far lower amount of compromises that the decade’s worth of VGAs on Spike had to endure. Each year Geoff keeps getting closer to that sweet balance of acceptance award speeches, game trailers/reviews and special live performances. He stepped up bigtime this year for not having a crowd in attendance, and I was dreading throughout the show for any one of this virtual award nominees to have an audio or video snafu at any moment, but luckily everything worked out. There were some impressive game reveals too with an intriguing teaser for a new Mass Effect game focusing on the original trilogy characters stealing the show. I have seen a notable contingent criticize Geoff for lack of focus on awards, but it seems almost right where it should be. He tried going all awards the first year he had control, but it was overkill and an insanely long show. Sure, there are spots that can use some tweaking, but for the most part The Game Awards I feel are a worthy end-of-year award show for the industry I have been enjoying for the past several years now.

PART 2 – Rankings 24 through 18

24) Online Gaming Therapy

The pandemic undeniably made 2020 a rut of a year for everyone. I miss meeting up indoors and hanging out with friends and family as much as the next person. I was able to do some alternate social distancing outdoor meet-ups with friends and family during the summer and fall, but North Dakota’s winter put a halt to that. What has significantly helped has been doing more online gaming than I usually do this year in general. I will cite a few more examples as you read on below, but I want to highlight this so I can be thankful to have a perfectly viable way to still game with friends and family during the pandemic. I have played a lot of Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy! online with my dad and brother this year. I love my game show videogame adaptations, but one quirk I want to point out in the Xbox One version of Jeopardy is that it does not have the option to traditionally input responses, and instead offers three multiple choice responses instead. I would call blasphemy on this, but there has been so many releases of Jeopardy! over the years that it was actually kind of a neat alternative way to play the classic game show……this time!

23) Love for Videogame Coffee Table Books

This past year has seen a surge in videogame hardcover tomes that have been an indulgence of mine the past few years. It started with Pat Contri’s “Ultimate Nintendo” line dedicated to reviewing all the games on the NES & SNES. I have Kickstarted two similar anthology books this past year focused on the Dreamcast and Vita. The Dreamcast book is still in production, but I already received the Vita book in the mail, and a quick flip through of it already indicates it is an exhaustive look at the Vita’s library.

There have been a couple other books that are less all-encompassing and focus more on showcasing artwork based on the system with supplemental interviews with developers who worked on it. The two I have on those are based on Sega’s Genesis and Master System consoles. These are perfect coffee table books for friends and family to flip through, and a nice refresher on history to see how others have perceived and rated the games I grew up with. I also took advantage of the recent Humble Bundle charity offering that collected nearly 100 videogame-themed eBooks for around the suggested $35 donation. I need to one day get a viable tablet or eBook reader for all these. Any suggestions?

When Pat Contri sent out a tweet last summer seeking additional writers to help with the upcoming N64 book of his Ultimate Nintendo line, I sent in a resume with my credentials and shortly after trading a few emails was welcomed onto the team! It has been a trip and a half revisiting N64 games I have not played in decades or had yet to discover until this project. As of this writing I have at least a couple hundred hours into the N64 games I am covering! That blurb for WCW Nitro to kick this year’s rankings off is just a teaser of what to expect to see in my full review of it in the book. So yeah, this project has been keeping me busy playing a lot of N64 this year, and I cannot wait to see the book in physical form! Be on the lookout on Pat Contri’s online storefront to order the forthcoming N64 book, and to also order the past NES & SNES books!

22) BOOK-SHAKA-LAKA!

Reyan Ali’s book I had on pre-order for well over a year about NBA Jam and the creators from Midway did not disappoint. Here is my quick take on it from my Goodreads.com profile review….

NBA Jam (Boss Fight Books #21)NBA Jam by Reyan Ali
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had this book per-ordered for a while. Based on the amount of interviews conducted going into it and combined with it taking four years to compile I had high expectations going in. Ali did not disappoint with a quick, but thorough history on everything that lead up to NBA Jam, its breakthrough success in the arcades, at home and with the NBA players on the road and the many ups and downs with the franchise and publishers at Midway and Acclaim in the years that followed. Interviews from developers and NBA players are featured throughout the book that help paint a picture on every vital aspect of NBA Jam and why it became a hit in arcades and has a lasting impact to this day.

The back third of the book touches on the other various iterations of NBA Jam and eventually the downfall of the original creators at Midway. Even being a fan of the game since it first debuted, I came out of this book learning plenty of new facts and insight from the creators and its many fans that I cannot help but give Ali's NBA Jam my highest recommendation.

View all my reviews

21) Bite-Sized Gaming

I chose this spot to recognize the smaller indie Xbox One games I would warm up with for about 20-30 minutes before diving into a longer game with. Most, but not all of them were featured on Game Pass. Hyperdot was an intense little puzzler that I was really into until my reflexes were not fast enough for the later stages to keep the dot alive by avoiding all kind of spherical traffic before time expired. Ping Redux tested my billiards/geometry skills in order to get a pixel from one end of the level to the end. Clustertruck I once again put way too much time into this year, but THIS year I felt like I made legitimate progress on my truck platforming skills and have made it into final world of stages and cleared all the bonus winter and Halloween stages! It is addicting and frustrating in all the right ways! Definitely do not skip past this one on Game Pass!

Top Run is the first runner I invested serious time into since Jetpack Joyride. I would say it is still a few notches below that classic runner though because the grind for unlocks here is a bit much, but the neon pixel graphics and head-bopping 80s-synth score keeps me coming back! Finally, Night Call is a fascinating narrative mystery game where you are a taxi driver forced into undercover work to track down suspects for the police by using casual passenger chit-chat as a cover for interrogation. Very cool art style, and diverse range of quirky, deep, mysterious and alarming passengers had me revisiting more for the engaging dialogue and narration choices more than the mystery at large.

20) Hadoken 2020

Welcome to the fighting game section of the rankings, well save for but one other game I shall touch on later. As usual, I played a ton of online fighting games with my longtime online fighting buddy, Chris. We revisited a couple classics in 2020 that we ignored for far too long since our last go around in Tekken 7 and Soul Calibur VI, and it was a lot of fun trying out the season DLC passes for those games I completely forgot I purchased. Both Namco joints are a blast, and I regret not playing more of them during this generation. I got a chance to briefly dabble with a few SNK vintage re-releases in the King of Fighters and Samurai Shodown franchises courtesy of many physical releases from Limited Run Games. I need to make more time to come back to these gems!!!

Retro Fighters is an online game accessory company I associate with their specialty retro fight pads, and I got a handful of them this past year-ish for Genesis, Dreamcast and Nintendo 64. I found myself a big fan of all three pads, especially the N64 pad now having a more traditional two-grip feel instead of its….unique…three grip setup from Nintendo. If you are unfamiliar with these guys, definitely give their website a perusal for some excellent retro controllers!



Finally, I want to shout out Street Fighter V receiving its last major update in 2020, the “Champion Edition” that launched its final season of DLC, and saved me a lot of time grinding for in-game currency to unlock all past and future DLC characters and stages! Only had a chance to go to SFV a handful of times in 2020, but they were memorable sessions, and caught on video too! I keep neglecting PS4’s share video and editing software and finally took advantage of it by uploading one of my battles with Chris on my YouTube channel you can check out by click or pressing here. Another night I got together with a bunch of the fine folks from the MojoMenace/SupertheHardest podcast community for an epic SFV night and even though there were a couple of well-tuned SFV vets on there that dominated, we all still had a blast that evening!

19) Driving Games 2020

2020 was a weaker year for variety of racing games played compared to previous years. There were a couple smaller indie games that were part of my rotation with the nearly graphically blinding Music Racer that turns driving into a musical rhythm game and I miraculously did not endure a seizure with. The awesome Outrun-homage, Horizon Chase Turbo, received continued scattered play from me throughout the year. Super Night Riders is a fun little tribute to Hang-On which I nearly 100% its small slate of courses with the exception of a final endurance track which combines all the tracks in one continuous run and if a few collisions are made it is thus impossible to recover from. I revisited that last race far too frequently before ultimately taking a break from it.

Rock ‘n Racing DX was a game I repeatedly saw for sale nearly every week on digital stores, but I was weary with it looking like a watered down version of Super Off Road. After finally chancing it off a $2 sale I can now confirm it is a bad controlling version of Super Off Road everyone should avoid and its muted beats definitely do not rock. V-Rally 4 was a free Xbox Games for Gold in 2020 that I had a blast tearing up the virtual dirt tracks with in this rally-sim! Monster Truck racing games continued with the latest Monster Jam game, Steel Titans. Still not a five star driving game by any means, but nowhere near as buggy and a big step-up from Crush It, which I will give credit to experienced driving game developer, Rainbow Studios now being behind the series.

Retrowave on Steam hit all the guilty pleasure 80s neon visuals and synth-wave musical vibes I am a fan of, but its slot/timing based gameplay did not gel with me. I put a little time into Sega Ages branded update of Virtua Racing on Switch. This is easily the best Virtua Racing has ever played and looked, and M2 implemented a slew of quality-of-life features to make this the definitive version of the game. Hot Shots Racing I played a few times off Xbox Game Pass and it tries to capture the early polygonal look and feel of Virtua Racing. Very nice homage that all Virtua Racing fans should seek out! I also played many hours of six N64 racing games for the forthcoming Ultimate Nintendo book so be on the lookout for that with my reviews for both Top Gear Rally games, Top Gear Overdrive, Re-Volt, Rally Challenge 2000 and Big Mountain 2000.

Finally, the racing game I put the most time into in 2020 once again is Wreckfest. I continue to be impresses with developer Bugbear’s support for this title. In 2020 they launched a second season pass that they are still releasing new vehicle add-ons for as of this writing. They also introduced a new Tournament mode that has constantly updated Daily, Weekly and Monthly challenges that earn its own exclusive currency to be used for unlockable cars available across all modes with that accrued currency. The challenges have been fun and have a variety of wacky themes like winter season races going on right now, and options that have lawnmower vehicles launching killer snowballs. My brother and I have been regularly playing it online once or twice a month for the better part of 2020.

A feature I find myself taking advantage more for racing games on Xbox One is using the Spotify app for custom soundtracks. I briefly dabbled with it before, but upon discovering the NFSsoundtracks website I have been using it a whole lot more. That website scours YouTube to recreate a plethora of past driving game soundtracks going back to the 8 and 16-bit eras. If a game has a licensed soundtrack, they will comprise a Spotify playlist of all the licensed songs that are available from that soundtrack on Spotify. So far I would say about 75% of each soundtrack is represented on Spotify, and it has helped exponentially reliving favorite scores from Road Rash, Demolition Racer and Burnout Revenge in modern racing games.

18) Retro Game Writing Frenzy

I doubled down on the amount of “Flashback Specials” I produced in 2020 where I celebrate systems on their milestone anniversaries by recapping my favorite games and memories of certain consoles. Some of them were mini-specials where I only had a limited experience with certain systems like the Saturn, PSP and Neo-Geo, while others were for systems I had well over a decade of hands-on experience with and thus many tales to recount which resulted in exhaustive pieces for the NES, PSone, PS2 and Xbox 360. That 360 piece especially did a number on me and went way longer than I anticipated…but I had a lot to say :D

2021 will see a lot of platforms having milestone anniversaries of their American launch, and I doubt I will have time to get to them all, at least with how I have been covering most of them in detail anyways. Part of the fun I have with these specials is busting out each retro system and hooking up and replaying several of my favorites to see if they stand the test of time like Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!! and The Punisher on NES, or to spend some time on lost treasures I picked up and barely put anytime into like CastleVania: Rondo of Blood on PSP and both Rad Racer games on NES. Regardless, if you have been sticking with me through these endless pieces, than please accept my many thanks for indulging my memories and stories of my gaming past!

PART 3 – Rankings 17 through 12

17) Shmuppreciation 2020

I was honored to curate the selection again for the annual “Shmuppreciation” celebration for the mojomenace.com community! Previous years saw me pick a different shmup each week to scorechase on for the NES and SNES, and for 2020 I thought I lined up things perfectly by picking five shmups (AKA shooters/space shooters) that were all going to be available on the TurboGrafX-Mini that was set to release in mid-March. Well, on March 11th the pandemic was officially declared, and it was already in full effect in Asia by that point where production of the TG16-Mini was scheduled so it was no surprise to see the announcement of a delay for a few months on the mini console. That did not deter the MojoMenace community however and we plugged away with our scheduled lineup.

Some of the 2020 lineup I own and have an alright amount of experience with like Blazing Lazers. Others I had little to no experience with like Lords of Thunder, Super Star Solider and Soldier Blade. The surprise hit of the 2020 selections for me was Galaga ‘88/’90. I played my fair share of traditional Galaga over the years and always heard of the TG16 version, but never played it, and it amped up the traditional Galaga gameplay and graphics just enough to make it stand side-by-side with its equals of the day! It was gratifying to see it be a hit with the community and receive the most entries of all the 2020 lineup.

16) A Long Awaited Fourth Rage in the Streets

I have so much nostalgia of the original Streets of Rage trilogy. It was an unexpected surprise to find it available on Game Pass on its day one release. I put about four hours into that game over its first two days, and absolutely treasure those two days with it as I felt my skills organically improving as I picked up on combos and enemy hit patterns. The new graphic style felt like it capture the essence of its past while successfully evolving it to modern day 2D tech standards, and the same can be said for the all-new original soundtrack that lived up to the high pedigree established in the first two games, and then some! I wound up picking up the vinyl for it, and the soundtrack has been in heavy rotation in my playlists ever since.

The only downside is after those first two days of playing it, I took a week off before revisiting and almost instantly found myself losing a few steps from where I last left off. It was then I realized if I desire to beat this game, I have to essentially dedicate a couple of days solely to it to where I can “get good” at it and plow through it in a sitting or two. I guess I can tone it down to easy, and if it was not a Streets of Rage game I probably would, but the thing is with how I am playing so far, yeah the game can get tough on the normal default difficulty, but it is a fair challenge, one that nails that delicate balance where I know dedicated practice will pay off in the long run. In the end, that is how I want my Streets of Rage 4 experience to be!

15) Ryo’s Rally Cry

Last year Shenmue III fulfilled my 18-year long anticipation for the latest adventures featuring Ryo Hazuki. In 2020, a series of three DLC packs were unleashed in the early months of the year. I was not expecting anything too extravagant because all three packs were bundled together for $9.99, and compared to season pass story based content in other games that typically go for double-to-triple that, I had a feeling it was going to be more mini-games than anything, and that is essentially what we got. The first DLC focused on Bailu Village with several treasure hunt mini-games hunting down tiny Bailu Chan collectibles, which was no fun at all, and after the first treasure hunt zone I referenced a YouTube video to blitz through the rest. They were worth going through because they unlocked stat boosts for Ryo to use in the several Battle Rally races that gave a final score based on time completed and number of enemies beaten throughout it. Those stat boosts made Ryo faster and stronger, so it was worthwhile to knockout more foes before the finish line, and that part of the DLC proved to be a fun type of challenge.

The second DLC was a cruise ship full of casino-themed mini-games and a couple small story quests. To activate it was tricky because you needed to make about 15 minutes of progress in the second half of the game. Luckily, a new game can be started from the back half. The casino games are decent little distractions, and the only highlight of the ship was earning raffle tickets to use on a prize wheel used to unlock several extra slick costumes for Ryo.

The final DLC was a story DLC that is sprinkled throughout the back half of the game. It is a bit of a chore though, and nothing extraordinary. If you remember the Chan signs that use four tea cups arranged in certain patterns, then be prepared for a series of those quests that are only available after completing a few main story missions. It is mostly a lot of backtracking to find a rogue agent, and only leads to a couple simple fights, and the only interesting thing I got out of it was for one part of the several-part series of quests you go undercover on a dinner date with Shenhua with some intentionally campy lines. I would only recommend playing it if you were playing through Shenmue III for the first time and that way the quests seem like an organic series of side quests you stumbled across, because by the time the last part of this DLC was available, I already replayed my way through about 75% of the second half of the main quest that transpires in Niaowu.

If you are wondering why Shenmue III is ranking a fair way into my rankings with my middling time with the DLC, well that is because of the astounding Shenmue III-themed releases I picked up from Limited Run Games in 2020. A few months back Limited Run had what felt like a Shenmue appreciation day and released a special edition of the game with all the lackluster DLC on the disc, in addition to bonus collectibles that I usually do not go for, but in this rare exception did. They also put out some absurdly priced vinyl options of the soundtrack. Shenmue III has a mammoth soundtrack, so big it took seven CDs and eight vinyls to cram it in. To get the complete vinyl set, it was for around $200-250, so I opted for the CD set for $50 and a special “best of” two record set for $40. Yeah….did not anticipate blowing nearly the price for a Switch on Shenmue merchandise in one day, but I managed to cut myself off before going too nuts.

14) Vinyl Love 2020

Speaking of that Shenmue III vinyl, this will be a good way to pivot to rank the videogame OST vinyls I procured over 2020. Data Disc released their curated Shenmue II record. It is like the one Data Disc put out for the first game in the series which is a hand-picked selection of songs on one LP. I recently listened to it, and at least Data Disc ensured to maximize their minutes with their selections. Data Disc also did a second printing of another Yu Suzuki classic with the OST for Outrun. Other highlights include a complete set of five records of the Tetris Effect OST from Limited Run Games. Many kudos to Limited Run for including an MP3 download code with their records, and it was much appreciated for that set, and as well for their Streets of Rage 4 score. I have heard mixed reception for the SoR4 OST living up to the lofty bar established from the first two games, but after listening to it many times on my record player and in my car, I can attest for it being a win in the series and is right up there with the first two games. I will give a couple last quick shout outs for the OSTs for The King of Fighters ‘98, Street Fighter III, Quake, Celeste B-Sides and Kentucky Route Zero comprising the remaining LPs I picked up throughout 2020. To this day I continue working out to DDP Yoga 3-4 times a week, and having one of the game vinyls on in the background is the ideal background jams for me while I stretch myself to pieces!

13) Pinball 2020

Longtime readers are familiar with ritual weekly habit of competing in the four table weekly high score challenges in Pinball FX3, and yes I am still continuing that tradition every Saturday morning where I will practice and rank up abilities on one of the four tables that is up in the weekly challenges, and then attempt to best the high score for each of the four tables. It never gets old, and it helps feed my pinball addictions. Props to Zen for their output of Williams tables, and I am about 50/50 for using their “remastered” versions with animated toys and additional graphics on the table, and appreciate the option to press a button to flip to the original design. I still popped in Pinball Arcade on PS4 several times throughout 2020 because I feel those are more accurate-feeling real life physics of those pinball tables, but Zen’s versions are a solid alternative. Plus they added one of my favorite tables, Champion Pub, to the PFX3 roster in 2020, now just give me No Good Gophers and I will rest happy!

In other pinball news, I also continue to throw in the rotation Demon’s Tilt, the awesome homage to Devil’s Crush/Dragon’s Revenge. I cannot get enough of those scintillating TG16 throwback visuals and its metal soundtrack! I only threw in the neon-infused visuals of Hyperspace Pinball off Steam a few times in 2020, and I just wish that game took off more and received some home console conversions. Love the bumpin’ soundtrack, trippy graphics and distinctive boss battles that keep me coming back to it. I need to one day dive into recent pinball/platformer hybrids Yoku’s Island Express and Creature in the Well. I briefly tried out the former, and yet to put time into the latter.

Finally, in sad pinball news, the private pinball club I started going to I wrote about in last year’s recap, Fargo Pinball shut its doors last year after failing to sustain business a few months into the pandemic. The owners will still operate about a dozen machines they have on constant rotation at a local brewery however, so there is still somewhat of a local pinball presence to take in. For the two or three times I made it out to Fargo Pinball however, I was in pinball heaven.

12) Handheld Gaming 2020

Last year I wrote about in this section how I made serious headway into Mother 3 on the GBA by the end of 2019. So the first few months I spent wrapping up Mother 3 on my backlit-modded GBA. So that meant I beat it legit with no save states, and a lot of trial and error on boss battles. The only part I did not care for was an underwater maze to navigate through while keeping an eye on oxygen levels, but otherwise I very much enjoyed my time with Mother 3, and mad props to Fangamer’s companion guide for being the quintessential supplemental material to guide me through it. After finishing that, I put a couple hours into the Metroid-esque Scurge: Hive on GBA before throwing in another throwback in the form of GameBoy Color’s Turok 2: Seeds of Evil. A year or two back here I wrote how the first Turok on GameBoy was an old-school style action-platformer that won me over, and the sequel is more of the same, but with slightly more fleshed out levels, now color graphics, and a couple interesting shmup stages for variety! It had some old-school difficulty, so the Retron 5’s save states and cheats and I had to take advantage of in order to power through it!

Currently, I am ever-so-slowly working my way through a fan translated copy of Ace Attorney Investigations 2 on DS. I loved the first game in the series and how they mixed up the gameplay by taking it out of the courtroom and having visual avatars to control and visually maneuver around locations. I am currently on the third case of AAI2, and the translation successfully maintains the whimsical spirit of the Ace Attorney series and has an interesting twist where Miles is now having to side with defense attorneys against his will.

I picked up two unique re-released retro handhelds this past year. Firstly, I picked up the Mario Game & Watch that was released to celebrate Super Mario Bros.’s 35th anniversary. Super Mario Bros. is the first game I ever played, and first game I ever finished so it goes without saying that game is quite special to me and having it in this unique handheld form is a saccharine treat! The second old school handheld I had to import from Japan in the form of the Game Gear Micro. For those unaware of this Japan-exclusive, it is a working Game Gear about 10% the proportion of the original model. Sega only made several versions of it in Japan, with each one having only a handful of exclusive games. I went with the one containing the Aleste collection that contains five Game Gear/Master System games in the acclaimed space shooter series, one of which is an all-new game designed with the Game Gear’s limitations in mind in GG Aleste 3. My cramped fingers were somewhat able to play the games on the Micro (make sure to get the magnifier accessory in order marginally make out the visuals), and it is a nice discussion piece, but I think I will put more time into these games in the future with the PS4 copy of Aleste Collection that came with the bundle I ordered from Play Asia.

PART 4 – Rankings 11 through 7

11) Podcast Guest Hosting 2020

I guest hosted on three podcasts in 2020. I had what ended up being my final recurring guest slot on the penultimate episode of Your Parents Basement podcast. It was my 13th guest host appearance there, but I made sure to make it a clayyyysic one with our analysis for the dubious action-sports SNES title, Bill Laimbeer’s Combat Basketball. I remember going into that episode initially tepid to start off our discussion for the game by admitting I could not figure out how to shoot the damn ball and had to look up a guide online how to figure it out, but was quickly relieved to hear all three YPB hosts had to do exactly the same! Also, there were some regular segments of the show where we all rate the game on a themed where entertaining shenanigans ensued. YPB has since posted one surprise end of year special since having their main series finale, and here is hoping to see them pop in again for more surprise episodes. I will be forever grateful to them for taking my suggestions at covering games I have been meaning to get out of my backlog for ages like Shadowrun, Metal Gear Solid, Crystalis and Earthbound. Click or press here to check out that YPB episode I guested on in 2020.

I was thrilled to guest host twice on the PSnation Podcast in 2020. While it is a Playstation themed podcast, host Glenn always specializes with healthy doses of retro gaming talk in each episode. In March I joined him in covering the FFVII Remake demo that just hit, and we of course had to inject a ton of retro gaming topics in the agenda too (click or press here to download). In November I came on again to anticipate the future by previewing the imminent launch of the PS5 and celebrate the past by dissecting 20 forgotten facts of the PS2 for its 20th anniversary (click or press here to download). While both podcasts were marathon recording sessions, I do not regret a minute of it as I always have a phenomenal time podcasting with Glenn! He recently announced they will be rebranding PSnation with news to come in the near future after a hell of a 14-year run, and I wish nothing but the best for him and his staff to see what they have in store!

On a final note in podcasts, I have been continuing my occasional un-vaulting of select episodes from my long-deceased videogame podcast, On Tap. Throughout 2020, I uploaded about an episode a month to my YouTube channel, often having them coincide with a relevant anniversary or one of my flashback special articles. Some of the ones I uploaded this past year are all several parts of our history of comic book videogames episodes and most of our history of RPG videogames episodes. Also a couple of our movie review episodes where we analyze cult classics like The Wizard, FFVII: Advent Children Complete, Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and both Tron films. I made a playlist of the 28 episodes I have un-vaulted as of this writing you can navigate to by click or pressing here.

10) Switching It Up

In early April of 2020, I had penned in a pretty epic vacation I was anticipating for quite some time, but as we all know, by April of 2020 we were a few weeks into the pandemic and those plans quickly went up in smoke along with everything else in the world. It may have been a good thing those plans got cancelled because that same weekend a water pipe burst at my home and that whole weekend was spent cleaning up the aftermath of it. It was a couple days after the fact of that ordeal and I was simply a mess, and needed some form of a pick-me-up. I was holding off on a Switch for three years by this point, and three years was about what I held off on purchasing a Wii U, PS4 and Xbox One, and so I convinced myself to get out of my slump by going out and buying a Switch.

It helped big time! The first games I played on it were a couple of different SNES games I played online with my nephew Carter. We first played the original Super Mario Kart, and within seconds of starting a race he blurted out, “Dale this looks old!” He was not a happy camper, but we did manage to have a modicum of fun playing two player co-op in Brawl Brothers and Joe & Mac. Other notable Switch games I put some time into this year are Golf Story, Sega Ages Virtua Racing, Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35. I love battle royal Tetris and Super Mario Bros.! Golf Story is the ultimate spiritual successor to the beloved Mario Golf games on GBC and GBA. Also, I highly recommend playing with a pro controller in docked mode, and with Hori’s Split Pad Pro in undocked mode. Despite its bulk, I vaster prefer them more than the painfully tiny JoyCons. In 2021 I hope to invest significantly more time into my Switch! I have picked up many retro re-releases recently with their frequent sales that I must try out!

9) Wrestling Games 2020

2020 was a year like no other for me when it came to wrestling games. The first half of the year started off with me only playing FirePro Wrestling World, the first new wrestling game I put serious time into since WWE All-Stars. I played quite a bit of the PS2 and GBA FirePro games, but the thing that hooked me on the PS4 version was downloading hundreds of created wrestlers to replicate my all-era dream roster, and clearing all 50 scenario trials. I got up to the final trial where the goal is to win a match with a 100% fan approval rating. Thing is, in order to replicate, the opponent has to get in just as much offense and back-and-forth near-falls to make it as exciting as a televised match, and by doing that I put myself at great risk to lose…which happened every time. I vow to complete that final trial in 2021!

Speaking of WWE All-Stars, I volunteered to review its spiritual successor follow-up, WWE 2K Battlegrounds for my friends over at PSnation. While it has some notable flaws holding it back from matching the fun arcade action of WWE All-Stars, 2K Battlegrounds still has a lot going for it and is at least worth checking out. Click or press here for my full review to get my complete breakdown of WWE 2K Battlegrounds.

Finally, as I have mentioned earlier I have been covering a number of wrestling titles for the upcoming N64 book project. As you read above, it was a whole new definition of pain experiencing WCW Nitro all over again, but at least other games held up better than I thought they would. I finally was able to put major time into the four import N64 wrestling games and came out of those with a whole new appreciation of this era of wrestling games. Seriously, AKI’s six wrestling games on the N64 are arguably the best spread of wrestling games in videogame history, and I wish I can expand on it more, but you’ll have to check out the book once it is available for my final word! I promise if you bookmark this page I will edit this page with a link to its online store listing once it is available!

8) Breath of the Wild Progress 2020

Another year gone, and another year where I have yet to finish The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. I have good reasons though! I was making headway steady play a couple times a month until about July. I finally conquered the fourth divine beast, and more importantly I finally reached all the towers and unlocked the complete map. I also moseyed around most areas of the map, even the barren Gerudo Desert, I spent a good chunk of this year in to ensure I did not skimp over any cool hidden areas, or Korok seeds…although I am sure I missed quite a few. A major nagging sidequest I put to bed in 2020 was completing the founding of Tarrey Town for Hudson after running countless fetch quests for Link’s former colleague.

The only major thing in the core storyline I need to do is finally make my way through Hyrule Castle to vanquish Ganon….but I have so many other side quests and DLC quests I desire to finish before properly completing the main quest! I made one attempt at completing the Master Sword Trials that have the beneficial reward of doubling the power and durability of the Master Sword, and while it was a brutal endeavor, the challenge felt fair and encouraging of me to put forth the effort to practice and become better like on Eventide Island! I would also like to unlock the Master Cycle Zero for Link, but that set of DLC missions is mammoth, and if I do get around to them, it would likely be after I finish the main quest.

Anyways, I was making that routine headway and finishing BotW in 2020 seemed possible, but then I had to step back and put most of my spare game time onto my N64 assignments. I should wrap up my N64 work within the next few months, and plan on diving head-first to pick up where I left off in Breath of the Wild! That motorcycle shall be mine!!!

7) Year of the Mini Consoles

I thought I was done buying the “mini” line of classic consoles with pre-programmed games by the end of 2019 after acquiring the Genesis Mini that went along with my NES and SNES Minis! That was not the case though as 2020 saw me add three more to my collection. The Neo-Geo Mini has been out for some time now, but Amazon had huge markdowns on them in 2020 with bundled controllers. For those unfamiliar with it, the unit is designed as a mini-arcade cabinet, but also has ability to plug into a TV via HDMI cable to play the pre-programmed 40 games that way too. It has all the many expected fighting games on there, plus a variety of other genre hits from SNK. I also picked up the Game Gear Micro, but you can see my thoughts on that a few rankings above where I go over my handheld gaming moments of the year.

Finally, I picked up the TurboGrafX Mini, which had to endure a last minute shipping delay by a few months since it was originally scheduled to ship in March right after the pandemic was declared. It is a hell of a collection, with a killer line up of American and Japanese games. Part of me was wishing there was an easter egg to unlock the English translated Sega CD version of Snatcher, but no luck! There is still an unbelievable lineup on here with two Bonk games, Castlevania: Rondo of Blood, several classic shmups like Blazing Lazers and Galaga ‘88/’90, one of the Crush pinball games, and so many more! There was a couple I wish would have made the cut like World Court Tennis and Final Lap Twin because of their charming RPG story modes, and at least one of the FirePro Wrestling games, but what is included is still a hell of a package, complete with probably the best UI of any of the mini-consoles that is overflowing with TurboGrafX/PCengine fan service! So many people in America missed out on the small-yet-mighty TG16 library in America, and this is the best way to be introduced to it to the public! CGQ did an awesome launch stream that has footage of most of the included games if you want to know more about the platform!



PART 5 – Rankings 6 through 4

6) The Year of Videogame Documentaries!

If there was any upside to all the time spent locked down at home in 2020, it was that it helped everyone catch up on a lot of past and current shows on various streaming services or old school physical media. 2020 saw several videogame themed documentaries release, and not a single one disappointed which is why I am ranking this experience so high. Netflix released a six episode docu-series on pivotal moments in the early decades of videogames, titled High Score. It does not shed much new insights if you are up-to-speed on your videogame history, but if you only have a passing familiarity with the roots of videogames, or have younger members of the family who are curious than this is a good place to start because they have high production values, and fun animated sequences to keep your attention throughout. It does not cover the entire history of games in six episodes, but each episode serves as a nice refresher course on key moments like the rise and fall of Atari, Nintendo revitalizing videogames in America with the NES, the 16-bit Wars, popularity of fighting games in the early 90s, and id Software shaking up the gaming landscape with Wolfenstein 3D and Doom.

Next up is videogame YouTuber (and heading up the N64 book I am contributing to) Pat Contri teaming up with Kevin J. James for the documentary, Not for Resale. It has an interesting theme about life as an independent videogame store owner and retro game collecting. It thoroughly covers a wide range of topics from this perspective of videogame retail, and I encourage you to check out my review of the documentary by click or pressing here. Another documentary I reviewed in 2020 for my blog actually first released in 2015, but I somehow never heard of it until 2020. I am talking about Nintendo Quest, and it is all about one man’s journey to collect the entire officially licensed American NES library in one month with only his own funds, and only by visiting stores and collectors in person with no online buying at all. It was quite the ambitious goal, and was a fun journey to watch to see if he could or could not pull it off. Click or press here for my full review.



Next up is Console Wars. I devoured Blake Harris’s novelization of the 16-bit SNES/Genesis rivalry, and was stoked to hear it was going to receive the big budget feature documentary treatment. It took a few years, but it finally released in 2020 as a CBS All Access streaming exclusive. There is no shortage of vintage photos, ads, clips and commercials inserted throughout the interviews and narration that transported me directly back to the early-to-mid 90s! They could not squeeze in everything from the book into 90 minutes, but they still managed to hit a lot of major and minor moments from the 16-bit wars. Despite this being well-documented territory, this was a terrific refresher, and recommended viewing considering the surplus of major and minor players from that era they tracked down to interview.

Insert Coin is an exclusive on Alamo’s streaming service, and is the ultimate supplementary piece to Reyan Ali’s book on NBA Jam I mentioned earlier in this list. If you do not have time for the book, make sure to watch this because they track down most of the major players at Midway/Bally/Williams to chronicle the rise and fall of the company, and touch on so many of its arcade hits. Yes, even Revolution X gets an entertaining scene with previously unseen production footage of band members’ voiceover recording sessions. I loved Cruis ‘n USA, and was a little bummed to see the ho-hum treatment of it in the doc, but if you have killer memories of the NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat, Defender, NFL Blitz, Smash TV and so many other Midway arcade classics, then you definitely want to check out Insert Coin! Pretending I’m a Superman: The Tony Hawk Videogame Story is available to buy or rent off YouTube. I have heard many good things about this doc, but I have sadly been neglecting it for many months, which is not right since I was an avid fan of the Tony Hawk games from their heyday, but want to give it props here because I have good faith that it will not disappoint!



That is it for the traditional documentary features I have seen in 2020. For the past couple years I have provided a long list of YouTube links of my favorite gaming-related videos throughout the year. In place of that is a few documentaries I want to highlight here that hit in 2020 from a few YouTube creators. Norm Caruso, AKA The Videogame Historian did not disappoint in 2020 with several new docs/mini-docs, with the two that stood out the most to me being his exhaustive deep dive into Mario Paint and tracking down the original developer to interview for his look on the infamous MS-DOS versions of the early Mega Man games.

I also am constantly amazed at the steady stream of shorter and lengthier documentaries No Clip releases on their YouTube channel, and the crapshoot that was 2020 did not slowdown their consistent output. I highly recommend their well-researched videos on the history of two prolific developers – Creative Assembly and Arkane Studios. EA received well earned high marks on their incredible remaster of Command & Conquer early in 2020, and No Clip released a coinciding video with many of the original and remaster developers on un-vaulting original material and digging deep to cram in as much unreleased or barely seen content in as possible.



If you were a child from the mid-80s to the mid-90s, then you undoubtedly remember spending countless hours in school trying to master the original “souls-like” game, Oregon Trail. MinnMax released a comprehensive look at this classroom favorite filled with interview clips from the original programmers on how it came to be, and even tracking down Steve Wozniak for his reflections on this iconic title. Finally, I want to shout out this awesome DIY-spirited documentary celebrating NHL ‘94 that came out in 2020 and went to great lengths to pay homage to that classic hockey game by tracking down the primary head programmer, going to great pains for a very brief interaction with Jaromir Jagr and chronicling the current eSports scene of NHL ‘94.



Sorry for the deluge of recommendations, but that should provide many hours of entertainment and videogame history to last you throughout 2021, and then some!

5) Acquiring my First Console Near Launch Since the Vita!

The headline does not lie, the Xbox Series X marked the first console I purchased within the first couple months of a console launch since the Vita! After getting burned on launch window consoles malfunctioning on me with the PS2, 360 and PS3 I instilled a “wait three years after a console launch to buy it so the hardware is likely less faulty” self-imposed policy. I did exactly that with the WiiU, PS4, Xbox One and Switch. I was originally going to do that with the XSX/PS5 also, and I guess the thing that nudged me out of that edict was hearing multiple podcasts, website hardware reviews and YouTube content creators’ analysis of the system’s hardware, UI and overall performance in the opening weeks.

The more I heard in the first couple weeks, the more the Xbox Series X sounded right for me. This is primarily because the UI/dashboard is nearly identical compared to the Xbox One, and that I can plug in my external hard drive I have been using for the Xbox One directly into the XSX after I complete my initial setup. After doing that it would be like I was playing on my Xbox One again, but with vastly superior hardware and faster loading times. I got a Samsung 55” Black Friday 4KTV special to finally upgrade into the 4K era and be properly ready for the 4K optimized games. My backlog was so huge that I did not mind the XSX did not have any major first or third party exclusives until two and half months later with the release of The Medium. Enjoying faster load times on games like Wreckfest and Borderlands 3 is more impressive than I thought it would be. I am also by this point well invested into the Xbox Game Pass ecosystem as I have elaborated on in previous year-end articles, and having all first party exclusives coming to Game Pass day one is another deciding factor on why I went with the Xbox Series X first. Now here is hoping this system does not brick on me or I am returning back to my self-enforced waiting policy!

4) Conquering the Lands that Border a Third Time!

Speaking of Borderlands 3, that was a terrific alternate method for me to hang out with my buddy Derek through these quarantine times. Several years back we gradually worked our way through Borderlands 2 over the course of a year, and we started up the third game around Halloween of 2019. It took a little over a year of playing only once or twice a month, but we finally finished the core campaign of Borderlands 3! Most of the gaming press bags on the Borderlands games for its style of humor, but to me it kind of rings familiar to Family Guy. Both franchises throw a lot of gags and jokes at you from all angles, and some of them hit, and some of them miss, and that is fine! Humor is subjective with about half of the jokes jiving with me, and that is A-OK because they all do not need to be LMAO zingers!

The addicting co-op gameplay of Borderlands is what keeps me coming back, well that and the perpetual quest of finding all types of fun weaponry and loot I had equipped for far too long (rainbow-explosion grenades being my prime example here). I like the angle of Borderlands 3’s central hub being on a spaceship…even if its design is of the labyrinth nature that I frequently became lost in. The biofuel truck mission was an early favorite of mine and remained a running gag with Derek throughout 2020. The pair of primary antagonists here may not usurp the unforgettable villain that was Handsome Jack, but it was still a fun journey pursuing them and meeting their dad to detail their nature. Right now Derek and I are a good ways through one of the DLC packs for the game, Guns, Love, and Tentacles that is themed around saving the wedding of Wainwright & Hammerlock with the assistance of the mysterious bartender, Mancubus Bloodtooth! It features a refreshing twist on gameplay with longer levels, different vibe of scenery and a more challenging-but-fair difficulty. Needless to say, I am greatly looking forward to marching through the rest of the DLC packs throughout 2021!

PART 6 – Rankings 3 through 1

3) Spooky Gaming 2020

You will see soon why my yearly installment for Spooky Gaming ranked so high this year. First off, I kept up my yearly tradition of playing the 360 launch game, Condemned: Criminal Origins on Halloween! I think that is at least three, maybe four Halloweens in a row now! Only made a little over an hour of progress though on a couple sessions due to not as much free time as I hoped and it took a bit more than I presumed to navigate through a couple tricky levels, but I pushed through a couple more chapters and one day promise to finish this!

Two new spooky games released right around this past Halloween that were both must-buys for me, but regrettably have yet to start. Pumpkin Jack looked like a fun simple action-platformer with graphics and gameplay quality intentionally designed from the early PS2 days which looked like a fun early 2000s throwback from a couple streams I saw. The second game is the next installment in the “Dark Pictures” anthology, following 2019’s Man of Medan that received a rave recounting from my 2019 rankings! That game is called Little Hope and it has a similar structure to Man of Medan, where it follows a group of travelers stranded after a bus crash who stumble into a nearby mysterious/haunted small town that is full of secrets. I watched one stream of its opening scenes, and was delighted to see the narrative choice-based gameplay returns and will determine how many of the group members will remain alive by the end of the playthrough. I want to play this like I did Man of Medan in one sitting in an evening with Derek & Brooke in the midst of a thunderstorm! That will happen in 2021!!



Finally, the highlight of spooky gaming season was surprisingly returning to Xbox One’s Blair Witch Project. I wrote here last year that I loved its atmospheric setting of looking through the same haunted woods from the movies for a lost child, but I unfortunately got stuck about an hour or two in while searching through the woods for my next objective. The woods were too dark!!! So this past Halloween season I booted up Blair Witch Project with the mindset of not even looking to make any progress and to simply put on the gaming headphones and take in that appropriately dark atmosphere of exploring the spooky woods for about 10 minutes before moving onto Condemned.

Well, something unexpected happened during those 10 minutes and I accidentally stumbled onto my next objective and quickly got absorbed into the narrative and could not put the game down! I loved how the character Ellis gradually starts to get wrapped up into the eventual supernatural surroundings that gradually get implemented and do not ruin that awesome initial eerie setting. The way the camcorder was used for gameplay to solve some puzzles was creative, and using the late-90s Nokia-esque cell phone for storyline bits was an unexpected nostalgia trip. Yeah, some of the use of flashbacks/supernatural enemies can be a little hokey at points, but for the most part it keeps up the suspense and thrills, and it caught me jumping on several occasions while playing with the volume blasting on those headphones. The last level pulls out all the scary, mind-bending stops, and was a ride that I had no idea when it was going to end, and even though the ending was a little middling, the ride on the way to that final destination was awesome and had me gripped in throughout. Blair Witch Project is currently on Xbox Game Pass, and is some ideal late night/Halloween season gaming that I highly recommend to all!

2) FINISH HIM!!

Usually I would lump this in with my yearly fighting games recap, but my time with Mortal Kombat 11 rose well above the rest of my time with other fighting games that it climbed out of that group and rose to my #2 gaming moment of the year! For the first half of 2021, I had semi-frequent online sessions with my aforementioned fighting game buddy, Chris! Whenever a new DLC character from the DLC pass released every several weeks, we would usually meet up one of the following weekends and experiment away with the new member of the roster. If I really dug a character, I would then do repeated playthroughs of that character in the Towers of Time in order to unlock more costumes and other gear for that character. That wound up happening with both Joker and Robocop, as I had a ton of fun with both of those characters’ moves and fighting styles.

The announcement of the Aftermath DLC halfway into 2020 totally caught me off guard. It was a new storyline expansion DLC that lasted only a few hours, but continues the same best-in-class production values of fighting game cutscenes that seamlessly transition between fights. Best of all, it brings the DLC characters into the narrative to freshen it up, and is highlighted by Shang Tsung being your uneasy ally/rival throughout which resulted in yet-another killer MK storyline to take in, even if it was a little shorter. Oh yeah, NetherRealm Studios inserted the likeness and voice of the same actor who perfectly portrayed Tsung in the first Mortal Kombat film, Cary Tagawa. My nostalgia for that 1995 movie knows no bounds, so it was a thrill to have Tagawa return to MK11 for the Aftermath storyline. Another movie related surprise was new costume DLC for Sonya, Raiden and Johnny Cage that use the likenesses and voiceovers from their 1995 movie cast counterparts with Bridgette Wilson, Christopher Lambert and Linden Ashby all returning. I am so thrilled to see the games fully embrace the fandom for the 1995 movie, and doubly thrilling is that the new Mortal Kombat film set to release later this year that legit looks kind of promising based on the trailer and general buzz in the movie/gaming press.

Another surprise update to MK11 was the inclusion of cross-network play. So that meant I could finally play against my brother on Xbox One! I was skeptical trying it out when my brother and I lined up a day to play that it would be a laggy mess playing on different systems against each other, but we played for about an hour with no problems, and all my costume and gear unlocks carried forward too! Countless thanks for the developers adding this support, and also many props to Sony/Microsoft/Nintendo for making it so to see it start to become a little more common to other online games in general throughout 2020! So yeah, this all added up to me revisiting MK11 more frequently than I thought I would with the nonstop support from NetherRealm Studios in 2020, and thus it more than earned its #2 ranking on my list, and technically my #1 video-game ranking because….

1) Global Board Game Domination!!

Once or twice a year, dating back nearly 15 years I have met with mostly the same group of friends for marathon sessions of my favorite board game, Risk. That game is notorious for taking anywhere from two-to-five hours to finish in order to take over the world via smart strategy and lucky dice rolls! Every time we play, we bust out pretzels, beers, Chuck Norris shots and end the night playing PS3 Tiger Woods PGA Tour ‘12 until we get sleepy! I always look forward to these nights, and they are kind of like a second Christmas to me because it only happens once or twice a year. As awesome as these are, my technical prowess in Risk strategy and luck in dice rolls leave a lot to be desired over the years, and I am almost always the first or second person eliminated. Regardless of that, I want to give props to Mike, Jim and Paul for the decade plus of priceless Risk memories and moments.

A couple years ago Mike moved and my brother Joe has been filling that fourth chair! We have played a couple five player games over the years, but our 2020 night (which luckily emanated about a month before the pandemic hit), saw Jim’s nephew Matt join us for our first five player game in some time. This was Matt’s first game of Risk and thus a learning experience and I had to be the spoiler to ruin his first game and wound up eliminating him first from the game. From there though it was still relatively early as far as the army bonuses goes within an average game of Risk, but a domino effect happened and I was able to capitalize on eliminating Matt and gaining his territories and within about an hour eliminated everyone else on my own!!!! I was in disbelief, and as much as I hate to admit it had somewhat of a brief emotional moment upon winning that game because in our 15-ish years playing, I have only won once before early on and it had to of been at least 10 years since that and I was not use to things going my way, and in that fashion to boot.

The way that game played out resulted in an oddly short-ish two hour game, so we decided to get another round in that night. Now that Matt had his warm-up round in, he had a better grasp of the game and this was a more traditionally close, longer game of Risk where the excitement was in the mobilization of armies and territories in those early rounds and to see who would make the first big attack move in attempts of expanding their territory. Hell yeah, I was all-in on this five hour game of Risk!!! Now as this round unfolded this will be very hard to believe, but I swear I am telling the whole truth that against all odds the same exact thing happened and I eliminated everybody and won the second game as well!!! I am still dismayed thinking about how well that night went for me in Risk, and highly doubt it will happen again! So for me, predominant loser and usually first one out in a game, to full on run the board and eliminate everyone in two consecutive games happens you damn well bet that night is going to be my best gaming related moment of the year!!

THANK YOU!!!!

I somehow achieved a degree of brevity this year, as last year’s insane best-of list went around 18,000 words, but I was able to….kinda….tighten my word count this year by clocking it at roughly 12,000 words!! My endless thanks for sticking with me all the way through as I recap my favorite (and worst) gaming moments/experiences of the year. Now, to keep up with tradition, after all that perusing and me rambling on for way too long…are you ready for a chuckle or two? Well, then, let none other than John Cena take care of that for you with the following embedded video to close off another best-of list. See you all next year!!!



Previous Year’s Best of Recaps - 2019 - 2018 - 2017 - 2016