Friday 24 December 2021

2021 in Review: Looking Back

Much like the rest of 2021, this week has seemingly flown by in a flash, meaning that today is the last day of my week-long 2021 in Review series of posts. This began on Monday with my review of my Top 10 video games for the year. On Tuesday, I had a rundown of my Top 10 TV shows. On Wednesday, I highlighted my favorite songs for the year. And yesterday, I went over my Top 10 movies. Today, we'll be taking a look back at the things and events that helped define the year as a whole.

2021 marked the start of the second year since the COVID-19 outbreak. And while vaccines had slowly began to become widely available at the start of the year, this did not come quick enough to prevent most countries from being hit with second, third, fourth and even fifth waves of the deadly virus. Add to that the introduction of more contagious variants like Delta and Omicron and it would seem there is presently no end in sight. 

In spite of all this, things have continued to open up as we were all eager to return to a semblance of normalcy. Most countries have been able to avoid going back into full lockdowns, even though international travel restrictions are still a thing. Movie theaters have also started to see the kind of business they once saw before the pandemic, with some records even getting broken. If there is one thing all these facts illustrate, it is our collective ability to persevere.

One of the things that has helped us persevere this past year is our access to social media, of which Facebook remains the biggest platform. So one can understand the panic some of us felt when on October 4th, the entire platform had seemingly vanished off the face of the internet, taking with it our access to other Facebook owned apps like WhatsApp and Instagram. Thankfully, the outage had only lasted a few hours, but it was still long enough to show the dangers of being dependent on such services in the first place.

It wasn't all doom and gloom over at Facebook this year though, as its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, had made some pretty exciting announcements during its Connect 2021 virtual presentation. It was revealed the company would be changing its name to Meta as a part of their push for helping realize the metaverse, a 3D representation of the internet that would leverage emerging technologies like VR and AR. For those wondering what exactly this proposed metaverse would look like, just think of it as something close to the OASIS in Ready Player One.


Despite numerous health and safety concerns and calls for its cancellation, the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games were finally (read: stubbornly) held between July 23 and August 8th this year in Japan. According to statements released by the Japanese government, the Games were to serve as a beacon of hope during the ongoing pandemic. So events were held without spectators in a bid to curb any further surges of COVID-19 cases in the country. But that could only go so far as record numbers of daily new cases were recorded both during and after the event, peaking at 156,931 on August 23rd.

A total of 205 countries had taken part in the Games, across 339 events. And by the time it was all said and done, the US had won the most medals, taking home a total of 113. This was followed by China and Japan with 88 and 58 medals respectively. Nigeria only managed to bring home two medals, one silver and one bronze, which I guess was still an improvement over the one bronze medal we won in 2016. But the fact that the Olympics had managed to take place at all this year is an accomplishment in and of itself.

In the gaming world, the continued scarcity of the PS5 and Xbox Series consoles meant that scalpers pretty much reigned supreme with jacked up prices on places like eBay. And in the midst of all that, Nintendo released its long-rumored Switch revision. Dubbed the Nintendo Switch OLED, the device sports a slightly bigger 7" OLED display as well as a revised kickstand and dock. It remains to be seen if we're still going to get a full-fledged upgrade for the hybrid console anytime soon, but going by how the Switch continues to outsell both the PS5 and Xbox Series X, it doesn't look like Nintendo is exactly hurting to put one out.

The Japanese company wasn't the only one to announced new hardware in 2021 though. Valve also unveiled the Steam Deck, a portable PC that looks like a souped up Nintendo Switch in its own right. Unlike the Switch though, the new machine promises to be powerful enough to run current-generation games at decent frame rates. The device was supposed to launch this December, but had to be pushed back two additional months to February 2022 due to overall demand and chip shortages. I personally do not plan on getting one, as I spend most of my time at home anyways and thus do not need to carry my Steam library of games around with me on a portable device.

Over on the home front, 2021 has been a good year overall. I finally found something resembling a decent work-life balance, having fully embraced life as a freelancer. I'd written more words than any other year of my life as a result, which also counts for something. The YouTube channel is still going strong, and a couple of important milestones were crossed over the course of the past 12 months. I am currently on the verge of crossing another one right now as a matter of fact, so if you happen to be reading this and are still yet to subscribe, now's the time to do so.

But more than anything, thanks for taking the time to read my random thoughts and ramblings. And may our 2022 be even better than our 2021.

Thursday 23 December 2021

The Matrix Resurrections (Movie Review)

The final film in Warner Bros' campaign to release its biggest blockbusters simultaneously in theaters and on HBO Max has arrived. And I think it is a bit fitting that the movie ended up being The Matrix Resurrections. The original film in the sci-fi series is still regarded as one of the greatest science fiction films ever made, even though its sequels had quickly fallen victim to the laws of diminishing returns. So the question then is does the new film manage to live up to the first film's legacy, or is it merely more philosophical musings akin to its sequels?
The Matrix Resurrections once again finds Keanu Reeves reprising his role as Thomas Anderson. He looks substantially older but none the wiser apparently as he is again living a reality he has grown to question. And just like déjà vu, he would once again have to "follow the white rabbit" and a string of clues if he hopes to get out of his mental prison. But things are different this time around and the Matrix seems almost bent on keeping his mind trapped and subjugated.

I guess I need to start by saying I am one of the few people out there who openly enjoyed The Matrix Revolutions. For all the film's flaws, I had found its conclusion to the trilogy satisfactory enough, as left to interpretation as it was. Most people had taken issue with that ending though and how characters like Trinity were handled in the film. So on that note, the Matrix Resurrections looks like it was almost tailored-made to address those complaints. And therein lie the start of my problems with the film.
But before we get into negatives, let me go over some of the things I did enjoy about the new film. For starters, I loved seeing both Keanu Reeves and Carrie Anne-Moss on screen together, kicking butt and generally looking bad ass once again. It was a shame they weren't joined by Laurence Fishburne but I did enjoy Yahya Abdul-Mateen's take on Morpheus.
It was also nice getting to see how both The Matrix and the real world had evolved following the events of the last movie. An uneasy truce had been reached between the humans and the machines at the end of the last film and we get to see some new dynamics to their relationship in this one.
The film is also a lot funnier than I expected, although I suspect that might have more to do with its heavy push for self-awareness. The original trilogy had a few jokes and gags thrown in every now and then, like some of the soundbites used during the famous Burly Brawl, but this one was downright comical, which isn't something I thought I would ever say about a Matrix film. 
With all that said, I have to now transition to why I honestly think The Matrix Resurrections is the worst film in the entire series. This is not to say that the film itself is an unmitigated mess like some people think, but just to place it in my ranking of the overall franchise. It is hard to discuss my biggest gripes with the movie without getting into spoilers but I guess they can be summed up in one word: woke. It takes what started as a basic story about self-discovery and tries to mold it into something more palatable by today's standards and it doesn't always succeed at doing so.

Just to be clear, I have no problem at all with roles that get gender swapped in films, or movies that push to be more diverse and inclusive. But when all that happens at the expense of just telling a decent story, it becomes harder to ignore the inherent agenda. But back to the movie itself, which I thought was also a little too reliant on callbacks from the previous films, with so much archival footage and references that it almost felt like being beaten over the head with it.

I am beginning to see a pattern developing with Warner Bros. and its approach to new entries in its legacy properties. It has this tendency to go heavy on the nostalgia factor surrounding these works while throwing the audience knowing winks about the cash-grab nature of reboots and sequels. This was the case in both Scoob! and Space Jam: A New Legacy, and it is certainly the case here in The Matrix Resurrections. Except here it pushes really hard with its meta commentaries that the whole thing soon starts to border on the edge of ridiculous.

The Matrix films are also fondly remembered for pushing the boundaries of special effects in movies, with VFX shots from the first film still holding up surprisingly well today. So of course my expectation going into the new film was that it would continue that trend. Sadly, the effects in The Matrix Resurrections were far from special and sometimes borderline ugly. It also lacks the iconic green hue that was a core part of the previous films' identity, giving the new one an almost made-for-streaming look. This is my way of saying I am happy I got to see the movie at home, because all those visual shortcomings would have looked especially garish sprawled across a massive theater screen.

The Matrix Resurrections is a heavily flawed if somewhat entertaining return to one of the most iconic sci-fi creations ever made. For every good idea the film introduces, it seems to be bogged down by at least two head-scratching ones. This often had me smiling one moment and then rolling my eyes the next. But ultimately, the movie feels too self-aware and woke for its own good, sacrificing what could have been a half-decent sequel at the altar of modern-day sensibilities.

2021 in Review: Top 10 Movies

The movie industry had suffered a crushing blow last year as a result of the pandemic, which led to a number of movies underperforming at the box office, and others still getting delayed. So at the start of 2021, I was simply hoping for the best when I'd published my list of most anticipated films for the year. Looking back on that list now, I am pleased to note that only one of those films had been pushed further into 2022. For those curious, that film is Morbius, which is currently slated for a January 28th release.

To accommodate the uncertain times, most studios had flirted with the idea of day-and-date release dates for their movies. Or in the case of Warner Bros, wholeheartedly adopted it, a decision that ended up hurting their box office prospects more often than not. But the fact that Spider-Man: No Way Home could gross over $600 million in the opening weekend of its global rollout (sans China) shows just how far we've come since those early days. The recovery is still ongoing though, but here are just a few of the great movies that helped get us to where we are right now this past year.

10. Godzilla vs Kong

While TENET had been originally positioned as the film to get moviegoers back into theaters, it wasn't until we got Godzilla vs Kong earlier this year that moviegoing received the kickstart it was so desperately in need of. It was the first tentpole release that simply demanded to be seen on the big screen, and it helps that the movie itself did not disappoint, delivering on its promise of showing the titular Titans duking it out.

9. Free Guy

Ryan Reynolds is one of Hollywood's most bankable stars right now and he was in not one but three high-profile action movies this year. Of all three films though, Free Guy is easily the best one, a science fiction comedy in which he plays a run-of-the-mill video game NPC that becomes sentient. His charisma was once again on full display and the film itself was a fun thrill ride of a rollercoaster with plenty of heart.

8. Judas and the Black Messiah

With a total of six Oscar nominations under its belt (two of which it had taken home at the prestigious ceremony earlier in the year), Judas and the Black Messiah is easily one of the best films released in 2021. The film was carried by a pair of standout performances from both Daniel Kaluuya and Lakeith Stanfield, as well as an overall solid execution across the board, which is something we only get to see in the very best biopics.

7. Dune

Following a year-long delay, Dune finally hit theaters and HBO Max in October of 2021 with all the grandness one has come to expect from the works of director Denis Villeneuve. His latest sci-fi epic is an adaptation of the eponymous book series by Frank Herbert, covering the events of the first half of the very first book. It was a book I'd grown up loving as a kid and the movie certainly did the source material justice in more ways than one. The second half can't come soon enough.

6. Spider-Man: No Way Home

Spider-Man: No Way Home was without a doubt the biggest film of 2021. No other movie had that level of hype leading up to its release, nor was there one that delivered the goods as thoroughly. The MCU might have appeared to have peaked with Avengers: Endgame back in 2019, but films like these serve as proof that there is still plenty of gas left in the tank. The Spider-Man fan in me could easily see this film topping this list. But I had to put my fandom and recency bias aside, and give the other solid movies we got this year their due.

5. The Mitchells vs The Machines

Netflix might have been home to some of the year's biggest duds (a film like Thunder Force immediately comes to mind), but it was also home to one of the brightest gems. I am talking about The Mitchells vs. The Machine, a computer-animated film by Sony Pictures Animation that was sold to the streamer during the height of the pandemic. And going by its all-round stellar reviews and reception, the sci-fi comedy is sure to be a frontruner for the Best Animated Film award at the Oscars next year.

4. Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Kevin Feige and crew proved in 2021 that the MCU was still full of surprises, with shows like WandaVision and Loki (both of which were featured on my list of favorite TV shows for the year). But I don't believe none were as pleasant as Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. The film was a love letter to old-timey Chinese martial arts movies and the wuxia genre as a whole, but it was the wholesomeness of the love story at its core that make it one of my best movies of the year.

3. The Green Knight

The Green Knight is an adaptation of the 14th-century poem Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. And anyone who knows anything about my background as a writer should already know my affinity for Arthurian Legend (I'd written 6 books based on some of that legend after all). So I was of course immediately endeared by the very concept of The Green Knight and was stunned by just how brilliant its execution had proven. I've pretty much already done all the gushing I can do for the film in my glowing review, so all I'll add to that is this is a must-watch by anyone that values film as art. It is an endlessly beautiful piece of filmmaking that was lovingly crafted by David Lowery, and it shows.

2. The Suicide Squad

Following the lackluster reception of David Ayer's Suicide Squad in 2016, the prospects of a sequel had seemed somewhat slim to nonexistent. So you can imagine my surprise and excitement when it was first announced that the MCU's very own James Gunn would be taking another stab at Task Force X. The resultant movie has the director's signature style all over it, with over-the-top antics and an overall bonkers chain of events that was never anything but fun to watch. It's a shame the movie didn't do better at the box office, but at least we still have the Peacemaker TV show to look forward to on HBO Max.

1. A Quiet Place Part II

After holding the distinction of being my most anticipated movie for two years in a row, I finally got to see A Quiet Place Part II this past year and it was amazing. The first movie had blown my expectations out of the water, with its tale of a family's survival against impossible odds. And with my love of post-apocalyptic fiction, the film had grown to become my favorite movie for 2018. That nail scene alone was reason enough for it to beat out the likes of Black Panther and Avengers: Infinity War in doing so.

So the fact that the second film not only manages to match the first for sheer thrills, but also expands upon its overall lore and universe without falling into the trap of over explaining everything is an accomplishment that shouldn't be taken lightly. John Krasinki's has shown a mastery of the art of building tension and dread, and it was refreshing to sit in a theater full of people where we all held our collective breaths as the monsters closed in on our heroes. That is the stuff that cinemas were made for, and A Quiet Place Part II delivered it in spades.

Wednesday 22 December 2021

2021 in Review: Top 10 Songs

A quick disclaimer before I jump into my Top 10 songs for 2021: most of the songs I spent time listening to this past year were either random tunes I had on repeat while I exercised, or old classics I found myself rediscovering. This is not a knock on the quality of the songs we are getting these days by the way, but rather a reflection of the fact that I am getting old and thus nostalgic for those years gone by. 

That said, the year still produced or played host to a few standout tracks. 2021 can perhaps be best remembered as the year that afrobeat hit the global stage like never before, invading both the international charts and social media feeds with songs like Love Nwantiti by CKay and Essence by Wizkid & Tems. But out of all the songs that graced the charts and various Spotify playlists during the year, here are the ones I consider my favorite ones.

10. Loud Urban Choir - Bloody Samaritan

I'd be lying if I said I knew who Ayra Starr was just a few short months ago. But after hearing this beautiful rendition of her hit song, Bloody Samaritan, by Lagos-based ensemble group, Loud Urban Choir, she has made a blip on my rusty radar. The cover version transforms an already-catchy song to new heights with some sweet vocal harmonies and a haunting piano backing track.

9. Riton x Nightcrawlers - Friday (ft. Mufasa & Hypeman)

One of the biggest club bangers of the 90s was recently given new life by the antics of Mufasa & Hypeman, two internet personalities who had featured the track in one of their viral skits. So it was only a matter of time before an official remix was made (or in this case, a remix of a remix) in the form of Friday, a crossover between English DJ, Riton, and the OGs themselves, Nightcrawlers.

8. Ed Sheeran - Bad Habits

After taking some considerable time away from the limelight, Ed Sheeran was back with his newest album, =. And that album was ushered in by the lead single, Bad Habits, a song that has the singer-songwriter stepping out of his comfort zone to deliver something different. That the song sounds like a reworked version of the Supermode track, Tell Me Why, only bodes well for its throwback credentials.

7. Tech N9ne - Face Off

With more than 22 albums under his belt and a career spanning two decades, Tech N9ne is one of those rappers that has remained relegated to the underground. Except none of that seemed to matter on the fiery track that is Face Off, a single off his 2021 album, Asin9ne. The song is perhaps most noteworthy for featuring a verse by wrestler turned Hollywood superstar, Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson.

6. Adele - Easy On Me

Another artist that was back in 2021 after an extended hiatus was the British singer, Adele. Her eagerly-anticipated new album, 30, was released on the 19th of November, preceded by its lead single, Easy On Me. The song itself is a ballad that has her once again showcasing her vocal chops, and the album would go on to become the highest-selling for the entire year, as most of her prior albums tended to do.

5. The Kid LAROI - Stay (ft. Justin Bieber)

Justin Bieber has pretty much been in the public eye since he first burst onto the music scene with early hits like Baby. And in the time since then, he's been featured on collaborations with a variety of artists. But something about "Stay" with rising Australian star, The Kid LAROI, seems to signal that it could very well be his best one yet. The song is certainly one of those earworms and shouldn't be out of place on any summer playlist.

4. Grum - Sparkles

I have Spotify to thank for the discovery of this rousing House gem, with the music service finally being expanded to Nigeria this past year. The song is immediately reminiscent of past club anthems from the mid-to-late 2000s, with its pulsating synthesizer riffs and deep bassline. And that the track currently has so few viewers over on YouTube is one of the great injustices of the year in my opinion. But hopefully that changes as more and more people discover it.

3. The Weeknd - Save Your Tears

The Weeknd might have been snubbed by the Grammys two years in a row, but that doesn't mean his music has waned in quality. To the contrary, I would even go as far as stating that his 2020 album, After Hours, has some of his best material to date. He'd released the music video to the track, Save Your Tears, back in January of this year, and the song would even receive a Billboard-topping remix featuring Ariana Grande.

2. Machine Gun Kelly - drunk face

Machine Gun Kelly made the transition from rapper to punk rocker with his 2020 album, Ticket to My Downfall, following a successful collaboration with Blink-182 drummer, Travis Baker. And of all the songs on the album, drunk face captures the classic Blink-182 style the best. It speaks to that carefree, rebellious spirit that was pretty much integral to punk rock as a whole back in its heydays.

1. Dua Lipa - Levitating

That's right folks. My favorite song for 2021 is none other than Levitating by Dua. The song is just one of several bangers to be found on her 2020 album, Future Nostalgia. And while it had officially been released as a single towards the tail end of last year, it is a testament to its staying power that it completely dominated the various pop charts and playlists for most of 2021. 

Backed by silky-smooth production from a heavy hitter's list of producers that include Jeff Bhasker and Stuart Price, the song fuses pop and disco elements to create a sound that at once harkens back to Jamiroquai's Cosmic Girl. Add to that similar astronomical themes and lyrics about falling helplessly in love with the boy or girl of your dreams and what we're left with is another bona fide classic for the ages.

Tuesday 21 December 2021

2021 in Review: Top 10 TV Shows

There was definitely plenty to watch on TV and the various streaming platforms in 2021, from new seasons of long-running shows, to the new ones that came out of nowhere and set the internet on fire. It has become almost routine even to hear Netflix announce yet another show as its biggest one ever. But it wasn't the only streamer to churn out the mega hits this past year.

Disney+ continued the momentum it had built with the first two seasons of The Mandalorian by following up with a number of MCU shows, while HBO proved it was still the de facto network for topnotch entertainment. And while I didn't get around to seeing every single show that was on offer on every service and network, I am still able to cobble together a Top 10 from the small pool I was able to see.

10. Money Heist Season 5

I don't believe I'd ever rolled my eyes as much as I did while watching season 5 of Money Heist. So why is it on my list of favorite shows for 2021 then? Well, for all its frustrations and flaws, the two-part final season of the popular Netflix series still managed to offer plenty of intrigue and spectacle, as well as some much-needed closure to the ridiculousness of it all, which is worth something in my opinion.

9. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier

Billed as the precursor to the next Captain America film, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier showed us a side of the MCU we don't typically see on the big screen, tackling the social, economic and political ramifications of the Blip, as well as real world topics like racial profiling. In particular, it managed to offer a level of insight into its two main characters that simply surpassed all the character development they'd received in their various film appearances.

8. The Witcher Season 2

After a somewhat shaky first season that was almost as muddled as it was exhilarating, The Witcher seems to have finally found its footing in its sophomore outing, delivering more of the high production values and deep wells of lore viewers have come to expect from the show. Henry Cavill returns to play the eponymous Witcher, a mysterious monster hunter that forms an unlikely bond with a young girl that could very well grow to determine the fate of their troubled kingdom.

7. WandaVision

WandaVision had kickstarted the MCUs foray into the realm of television way back in January, with an unconventional style that was half paranormal mystery and half homage to the different eras of classic sitcoms. But the fact that it was able to weave all that into the overall narrative while serving as a springboard for future MCU films sets it apart as one of the year's best shows.

6. Mare of Easttown

Over on HBO Max, the show that had viewers buzzing the most this past year was undoubtedly Mare of Easttown. Anchored by a standout performance by Kate Winslet, the limited series would grow over the course of its seven-episode run, peaking at more than 2.2 million viewers by the time its series finale aired back in the tail end of May.

5. Loki

Of all the MCU shows that were first announced as part of Phase 4, Loki was the one I had the least amount of interest in. I mean, we all knew the God of Mischief couldn't stay dead for long, having cheated death several times already. But all that changed when the show started and it introduced us to its so-called Sacred Timeline and the concept of branching paths and multiverses, signaling the direction the MCU would be heading in going forward. 

4. Squid Game

If there was one show that came out of nowhere and took the entire world by storm in 2021, then that show is definitely Squid Game. The South Korean survival drama had captivated viewers with its take on the Battle Royale genre, juxtaposing the children's games central to its story with all the bloodletting. Leave it to Netflix to craft yet another cultural phenomenon that once again haunts viewers' dreams and social media timelines with equal measure.

3. Invincible

The Boys might have taken the year off on Amazon Prime, but that doesn't mean subscribers still weren't able to get their bloody superhero fix. This came in the form of Invincible, a new animated series based on a comic book by Robert Kirkman of The Walking Dead fame. The show would prove so successful that a second and third season were greenlit even before the first one wrapped up.

2. Midnight Mass

Mike Flanagan continued to carve a name for himself in the supernatural horror realm with his latest Netflix limited series, Midnight Mass. And much like he'd managed to do with both The Haunting of Hill House and The Haunting of Bly Manor, he'd given fans of the genre yet another captivating story populated with an interesting cast of characters.

1. Arcane

Video game adaptations might routinely get bashed for their perceived lack of quality in the movie realm, but the same doesn't always hold true for series. And with shows like Netflix's very own Castlevania already showing what can be done within the less-restricted boundaries of the medium, the streamer had sought to adapt yet another video game. Only this time around, it is the immensely popular MOBA, League of Legends, that got adapted.

I confess that I have never played League of Legends before, nor am I remotely interested in MOBAs as a whole. But after watching Arcane and seeing just how rich and deep its lore and characterization go, I am very much glad that it exists to serve as source material. The show is leagues above everything else that came out this year, and the fact that it effectively functions as a prequel to the events of the game make it a must-see for fans and the uninitiated alike.

Monday 20 December 2021

2021 in Review: Top 10 Video Games

It's that time once again when I take a look back and examine the past year and all the great things and memories it gave to us. And as usual, I'll be starting this week-long series of posts with a rundown of my Top 10 video games released during the year. We received some truly stellar video games in 2021 although I must note that I was unable to get my hands on a fair amount of them, owing to the PS5 still being scarce as it is, and scalpers still having a field day with jacked up prices.

It is also worth mentioning that we also truly started to feel the impact of the pandemic on the gaming release schedule this past year, with 2020's lockdowns and work from home mandates resulting in big profile delays. As such, some of the games that were on my most anticipated list for the year have been moved into 2022. This would also result in some half-baked releases from big studios, like the recent Grand Theft Auto remastered trilogy, which you also won't be finding on this list. So with all that out of the way, here are my Top 10 video games for 2021.

10. Eastward

Eastward managed to hit me in the nostalgia feels this past year, with its beautiful pixel art visuals that were immediately reminiscent of some of my favorite action-adventure RPGS from the Super Nintendo era. Add to that a memorable retro-inspired new wave soundtrack and you have one of the indie standouts of 2021.

9. Death's Door

Speaking of standout indie titles in 2021, we can't really have any kind of countdown without including Death's Door. Developed by Acid Nerve and published by Devolver Digital, the action-adventure game is often likened to both classic The Legend of Zelda and Dark Souls, with its item-based puzzle solving and challenging difficulty.

8. Resident Evil Village

Capcom continued its current winning streak in 2021 with the release of Resident Evil Village, their follow-up to the brilliant Resident Evil 7 and the latest entry in the long-running series. For the new title, the Japanese developer sought to draw inspiration from the much-beloved RE4 which can seen from its Eastern Europe village setting as well as its focus on combat and gunplay.

7. Psychonauts 2

After nearly two decades, fans of Tim Schafer and Double Fine's Psychonauts finally got the sequel they've been dreaming of in 2021. This was following a very successful crowdfunding campaign, as well as Microsoft's eventual acquisition of the studio, the latter of which would prove instrumental to the finished game's overall quality.

6. Kena: Bridge of Spirits

Kena: Bridge of Spirits was yet another indie title that managed to exceed expectations in 2021. The game was first unveiled last year during a PlayStation 5 showcase, where it immediately stood out with its Pixar-grade animation. That really shouldn't come as a surprise though, given its first-time developer's prior work on the beautiful The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask short film, Terrible Fate.

5. Little Nightmares 2

There was certainly no shortage of beautiful visuals on display in 2021 and Little Nightmares 2 had some of the very best I had seen all year. The follow-up to the 2017 title by Tarsier Studios is every bit as haunting as its predecessor, expanding upon the previous game with even more gorgeous locales for players to platform through while solving its various puzzles and uncovering its central mystery.

4. Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury

Super Mario 3D World made a return this past year in the form of Super Mario 3D + Bowser's Fury on the Nintendo Switch. And the Bowser's Fury portion of the game offered us our first glimpse at what a potential open-world Mario game could look and play like. Leave it to Nintendo to take what could have been yet another cash-grab Wii-U port and make it into one of the most impressive evolutions for the Super Mario series thus far.

3. Metroid Dread

While we are on the topic of long-running Nintendo franchises, one that doesn't seem to get nearly enough love is Metroid. Well, all that changed in 2021 with the surprise reveal and subsequent release of Metroid Dread, a 2D action-adventure game that was first rumored all the way back in 2005. That the game itself was as brilliant as it was only shows that we need more of these games. Thankfully, fans still have the currently-in-development Metroid Prime 4, as well as the rumored Metroid Prime 1 remake to look forward to.

2. Monster Hunter Rise

I'd never really been into the Monster Hunter games to be honest, nor been able to see their appeal for that matter. But something about Monster Hunter Rise on the Nintendo Switch resonated with me like no other game in the series. Long-time fans would probably attribute that to the new game's accessibility, but I think it runs deeper than that. There's just something about teaming up with a party of complete strangers to hunt down its various hulking beasts that feels endlessly satisfying.

1. Halo Infinite

Following a not-so-great first showing last summer, the eagerly-anticipated Halo Infinite was unceremoniously delayed into 2021. Which is a big deal, considering how willing most big studios are to ship half-baked games just to cash-in on holiday sales. That the Xbox Series X was able to have a successful launch without Microsoft's flagship title was a feat in and of itself.

So the fact that Halo Infinite is this superb is cause for celebration. The additional year of development has been used to fine-tune its killer multiplayer formula, as well as spruce up its visuals across the vast number of machines it runs on. This is the classic Halo we all know and love, but with a current-generation facelift worthy of the Master Chief himself.

Thursday 16 December 2021

Spider-Man: No Way Home (Movie Review)

The movie event of 2021 is finally here. And while we have had other mega-blockbusters like F9 and No Time to Die during the course of the year, none have been as highly-anticipated as Spider-Man: No Way Home. Positioned as the next huge MCU crossover event after Avengers: Endgame, the film has had fans going crazy over its promise of the eponymous webslinger's greatest adventure yet, not to mention the return of some classic villains from his rogues' gallery. But does the actual film deliver on any of those promises, or has it merely set us up for disappointment?

The film kicks off right after the events of Spider-Man: Far From Home, with the Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man being framed for the attack in London and Mysterio's death, as well as being publicly outed as Peter Parker. The revelation would not only threaten to alter his life, but those of the people he cares about the most. This would lead him to seek the help of the Sorcerer Supreme in a bid to cast a spell that would restore his secret identity. But things do not go according to plan and they instead end up conjuring some old enemies for Spider-Man to contend with.

To say that expectations were high heading into Spider-Man: No Way Home would be putting it mildly. My expectations were through the roof. This was of course following the cliffhanger of a stinger we'd gotten at the end of Far From Home, coupled with all the fan speculation and leaks that foreshadowed the new movie's release. Chances are you are already well-versed with most of those leaks, but for the sake of avoiding spoilers, I won't be discussing any of them in this particular review.

With that out of the way, let me just start by saying that Spider-Man: No Way Home is quite possibly the most brilliant Spider-Man film we have gotten in the MCU thus far. It builds upon everything that came before without losing sight of what makes this particular iteration of Spider-Man so great to begin with, namely the comedy and overall sense of adventure.

When Spider-Man first joined the MCU in Captain America: Civil War, he had immediately won fans over with his fanboyish enthusiasm. Much of that was conveyed in Tom Holland's portrayal of the character, which managed to set itself apart from Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield's before him. And over the course of the 5 MCU movies he's been in since then, we've watched that character grow and develop. But not until now have we seen this level of depth from the character, marking Tom Holland's most heartfelt performance since his MCU debut.
I was especially surprised by how dark and emotionally resonant the movie got. And that it could do that without losing track of the humor and heart is testament to Jon Watt's deft handling of the material. The director has already proven with the two prior entries that he has an understanding of what sets these Spider-Man movies apart from everything else in the MCU, and it was nice to see him once again step up to the plate, taking everything that worked in his previous films and running with it.

Spider-Man: No Way Home not only manages to deliver on all of its promises, but it also exceeds expectations on nearly every single one. It twists a narrative web that should be considered convoluted under normal circumstances, and somehow keeps it feeling grounded with real heart and emotions despite all the magic and multiversal happenings on display. This is fan service done right and as a Spider-Man fan myself, I was extremely satisfied with just how great the movie turned out.