I recently joined Ben, Lucy & Aadil on Tanked Up for episode 295. One of the main topics for that was what I have dubbed “my TUP10”. However, my list of cool things from the year didn’t go entirely to plan. My own arbitrary rules for putting together my list fell apart almost immediately; not to mention the fact that one of the things on my list wasn’t even from 2021! It made for a good fun time and you should definitely check out the episode on your podcast listening application of choice. I think I can be forgiven for getting it a bit muddled the first time around. 2021 has been a hell of a decade after all; however, I have felt it necessary to “correct the record” by updating my list. Feel free to share yours with me here or @APTSnack in all the usual places.
Hawkeye drops out despite being my favourite Marvel outing of the year… that I enjoyed at home. Scarlet Nexus too, relinquishes its place next to Tales of Arise, with the latter dropping down a few places now that it is on its own. The biggest change though is that my list is now in order. On the podcast only my number one was actually locked in, now all ten are too. So, without any further ado, let’s get into the list!
10. Arcane / League of Legends from Netflix / Riot Games
My friends convinced me to play League of Legends with them for the first time this year and we have enjoyed ourselves quite a bit while getting to grips with the whole thing. I’m also finding the toxicity of some of the players much funnier than I would have in the past when it would have annoyed me more. That’s my white male cishet privilege on show, for sure, but still. The game may be excellent – and it is – but the animated series Arcane is better. It is amazing what you can make with all the money and time in the world if you’ve got good ideas and characters. This gorgeous looking show features surprisingly few LoL Champions and that is likely the secret to their success. Instead of packing in as many characters and references into their story as possible, they left the crowbar at home and the show is better for it. As a result, I can’t wait to see what they do next.
9. Forza Horizon 5 by Playground Games
Playground Games have mastered the arcade racer. Forza Horizon 5 is a masterpiece of its genre in terms of visuals and gameplay. The story, such that there is one, I am less keen on. Do I care for being called “Superstar” by everyone with a voice line in the game, often while I am struggling to keep a supremely overpowered Audi Quattro pointed vaguely in the right direction? No. Do I care while I am racing past my rivals on the dirt tracks and cross country courses criss-crossing Mexico? Absolutely not. Plus, playing with friends – despite some technical inconveniences – made my time with the game a brilliant experience.
8. The Witcher Season Two on Netflix
I liked season one of The Witcher on Netflix. So when I say that season two is miles better, you can believe it. There is no confusing timeline shenanigans this time. Just an excellent story that focuses on Geralt & Ciri and Yennefer. It is quite different from the books but I like the changes they have made so far. For the most part at least. They have a great cast to work with so hopefully season three will be even better, yet again!
7. Tales of Arise from Bandai Namco Studios
A JRPG epic from Bandai Namco Studios that could quite easily have gone off the rails, but didn’t, Tales of Arise is excellent. They do an excellent job of pulling together a cast of characters who find common cause and work together to improve themselves and the world. As events progress and the relationships between them grow, I couldn’t help but connect to them and their struggles. The flashy and slick action really is just a bonus.
6. Chivalry 2 from Torn Banner Studios
5. Mage & Demon Queen by Color_LES (WebToon)
The mage Malori climbs the demon tower, facing and defeating powerful enemies along the way, to come face to face with the Demon Queen. Anyone else would be there to kill her and end the human/demon war but not Malori. Malori is there to confess her love instead. This funny, heartfelt romance takes a lot of the fantasy genre tropes and has a bit of fun with them. Mage & Demon Queen is part parody (sort of), part homage and wholly committed to its characters and their desires. I honestly wasn’t sure about this one. But when I saw, about 4 panels from the end of the first episode, the look of bliss on Malori’s face as she got blasted out of the tower by the Demon Queen, I couldn’t help but laugh. It reminded me a lot of One Punch Man but instead of Saitama’s trademark nonplussed expression, Malori looked delighted. I was on her side, cheering her on from that moment on.
4. Room of Swords by Toonimated (WebToon)
The mysteriousness of waking up in an unknown place, dressed as an astronaut, with only a little robot companion and no idea how, why or where you are is just an excellent hook. This series is a bit paradoxical in that it is a slow burn but feels like it is travelling at 100mph at a minimum at all times. The story has progressed so far that it is almost unrecognisable from that first episode where literally everything is a mystery. As the episodes progress, the layers of the onion are peeled, questions are answered but throw up new questions in the process. On and on it has gone. The twists and turns are surprising, captivating and awe-inspiring. If you haven’t read a WebToon series before, this is the one to jump in on to see what it is all about. Room of Swords is simply incredible.
3. SSSS.Dynazenon by Studio Trigger
I absolutely loved SSSS.Dynazenon. A fascinating story with excellent characters and Studio Trigger knocked it out of the park with the visuals, as they so often do. It is the complete package and who doesn’t love a bit of mecha vs kaiju action? The outlandish action is complemented beautifully with some very raw character interactions. Those awkwardly hanging pauses between responses cultivate a really strong pull. I often found myself just desperately trying not to scream in frustration as I was willing them to just get along already! I highly recommend it!
2. Horimiya by CloverWorks
Romance stories aren’t my usual go-to genre for entertainment – don’t let the fact that two of the entries on this list are romances fool you. However, Horimiya absolutely hooked me at the start of the year. I won’t lie, I initially gave Horimiya a shot because I liked the animation and character designs from CloverWorks. Superficial though my motivation may have been, I am so glad I did because the story of Hori and Miyamura falling for one another is just sublime. The entire cast of characters have their thoughts and feelings examined in a really thoughtful and sometimes confronting way that just works. I almost forgot all about it because spring, when the show was airing, feels like a lifetime ago. We all have different sides of ourselves, often hiding who we really are from the world for one reason or another. It is easy for your impression of someone to be way off base for this reason, as Hori, Miyamura and their friends discover.
1. PowerWash Simulator from FuturLab (Steam Early Access)
A deserved number one. I am a sucker for soothing, relaxing gameplay and this hits the spot perfectly. PowerWash Simulator beautifully balances the simulator part of its name with having a bit of fun. FuturLab has done the work to make cleaning stuff look and feel satisfying. That’s not all though, they have imbued the entire world with slightly cartoonish and goofy humour. The characters, tasks and text messages all serve to keep the mood light. New content drops pretty regularly at the moment so hop onboard and help clean-up!
There you have it, one TUP10 for 2021. That is correct this time, I promise…
See you in 2022.