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Jan 4 / Great Apes

Getting Started Improving Your Fitness

A few years ago as I entered my mid-30s I wasn’t happy with how my body was aging. I had constant back and neck pain, I would get tired doing almost any physical activity, and I just generally didn’t feel very good. My doctor had me go for some tests that determined there was no structural damage to my neck or spine that would explain my chronic – and sometimes debilitating – pain, so he suggested that I should consider lifting weights to strengthen the back muscles and improve my posture. I was a bit skeptical, but given how I was feeling about my body in general it was enough of a push to get me to give it a shot.

That was about 4.5 years ago, and these days I’m looking and feeling as good as I’ve felt in years. My neck and back pain, which used to be so bad I sometimes wound up spending half the day in bed, has now almost entirely gone away. My overall level of fitness has massively improved too, to the point where I have some of the best endurance on my (admittedly low level) beer league hockey team.

I don’t want to bore you with personal details, but I think it’s important to clarify where I’m coming from, which is where I think most of the people reading this will be coming from: a regular guy whose body wasn’t feeling great and is trying to do a better job of looking after himself. Here’s the difference between what I looked like when I started compared to now:

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Dec 14 / Great Apes

Games of 2021

2021 felt like a pretty slow year for video game releases. I suspect there are a bunch of reasons for this, among them: the ongoing Covid pandemic slowing down work, the shift to a new console generation with the release of a new Playstation and Xbox, and the increasing shift from the big publishers towards Live Service (TM) games full of microtransactions rather than complete experiences that you buy once and play through. But it also felt like a slow year for indie releases, or at least ones that I came across.

I probably spent more time this year playing older games. I played the entire Yakuza 3/4/5 trilogy this year, went back and replayed Final Fantasy 7 yet again (it’s still an amazing game), and so forth. I won’t complain about that, as it can be nice to have some space to play older things again. But it does mean that as far as current games go it felt like that was a smaller emphasis for me this year.

Nevertheless, I did play enough new games that I enjoyed to write up a list of my favourites. Rather than ranking them numerically this year I’ve decided to split them into tiers, which I noticed was happening naturally as I put this list together. Within each tier I’ve sorted the games alphabetically. But enough preamble, here are some games that are good.

As an aside: the two top games on this list both came out on the same day, which is a funny coincidence.


Neo: The World Ends With You

This is an RPG that absolutely drips with style. Every aspect of the game works together to create a cohesive experience. The soundtrack is incredible and the game has the best real-time combat system in any party-based RPG I’ve played. I really hope other games steal the control scheme, it does a great job of letting you control all four party members at the same time without needing any menus or pausing. My only real complaint is that it’s just too long, and in particular the final act really drags out, with something like 3 false endings.

I really need to reiterate how amazing the soundtrack is.

The Great Ace Attorney Chronicles

I’ve been playing the Ace Attorney games for years and I think this game (actually a collection of two games that were previously only available in Japan) is the best in the series. While there are certainly still long sections of the game that are largely a visual novel, it feels like this is the most interactive and “game-y” of the Ace Attorney games. It also has the most interesting mysteries in the series, for my money. My only objection, again, is that it’s too long, and in particular the final case in the second game in this collection really drags out the final trial much longer than is necessary.


Hitman 3

I’ve been a big fan of the revival of the Hitman games, but I have to say of the three most recent ones this is the weakest of the bunch. This mostly comes down to the level design, which I think is more uneven than in the other games. A few of the levels in this one are as good as ever, but some of the others fall a bit flat for me. It’s still a very fun game with the same intricate interlocking systems as other Hitmans, but I haven’t found myself returning to it to replay the levels over and over again like I did with the previous two. If you’re new to this series I’d definitely recommend Hitman 2 as the starting point.

Psychonauts 2

Easily the funniest game I played this year, I enjoyed Psychonauts 2 a lot. My only real complaint is that the levels felt less creative than in the first Psychonauts. The first game had non-linear levels with unique premises, butthe levels in Psychonauts 2 are for the most part linear platformers. I did enjoy the hub world (which is actually several fairly large, open levels) quite a bit, and spent a lot of time in it scouring for secrets. That said, it controls a lot better than the original, and feels much better to play. The first one, for all its zany creativity, was kind of janky, and Psychonauts 2 feels far more polished.


Wildermyth is a sort-of procedurally generated tactics RPG with comic book-style storytelling. The combat is pretty simple but well executed and I never grew tired of it even though it lacks the complexity of something like XCom or Final Fantasy Tactics. I also liked its approach to story-telling, with characters that age and evolve over the course of each procedural story. This is the closest to playing a tabletop RPG I’ve felt in a video game. There’s also a light strategy layer on the world map that ties things all together. Highly recommend this one if you’re into RPGs at all, even if you don’t normally play tactics games.


Alba: A Wildlife Adventure

A game about a little girl who photographs the local wildlife and tries to save a nature preserve while on a family vacation. Very cute game, and I had fun for the three hours or so it takes to play through.

Monster Hunter Stories 2

I was curious about how Monster Hunter would work as a turn-based game, but I think they captured the general feeling of the MH games quite well, combined with a more detailed story than a regular MH would have. I must complain, again, that it’s simply too long, as the later parts of the game feel like they’re recycling content to drag out the running time.

New Pokemon Snap

It’s kind of like a roller coaster ride where you take pictures of Pokemon. It’s a little bit of a puzzle game too, as you try to figure out how to coax Pokemon into the best poses to fill up your photography book. Nothing too complicated here, but a fun game to chill out with, and it’s got a lot more content than I was expecting going in (How Long To Beat estimates that it’s about four times as big as the first Pokemon Snap.)

Persona 5 Strikers

While this is a real-time action RPG in the Dynasty Warriors engine, I thought it did a great job of capturing the general feeling of Persona 5. It’s a considerably pared down experience compared to Persona 5, with no calendar or relationships to manage, but the feeling of going into the palaces with a group of your friends is intact, and it has the same great sense of style as the original. It also feels fairly distinct from the Dynasty Warriors games, with smaller groups of enemies to fight and a bigger focus on magic and special abilities. But look, this is yet another long game that has a false ending leading to an even longer game, and I’ve really got to ask developers to stop with the false endings.

Tales of Arise

I enjoyed Tales of Arise, but not as much as the critical consensus. I wouldn’t say there’s much that’s special about it, but it’s a kind of comfort food for people who like games about travelling around the world hitting monsters with swords, and I am one of those people.


Death’s Door

This game was made by quite a small team, and it definitely feels like a small team trying to be ambitious and over-reaching a bit. The combat is generally pretty fun but feels like it lacks weight or impact, and the environments are very repetitive (surely a limitation due to the size of the team and the budget). I’ve seen comparisons to Zelda and the Soulsbourne games, but I’m not sure either one really fits. It doesn’t really have the structure of a Zelda game, nor the difficulty and world-building of a Soulsborne game. I’d say a better description is that it’s a (mostly) linear character action game. I’d really like to see a sequel to Death’s Door, I think there’s a solid foundation to build on.

Kena: Bridge of Spirits

I am of two minds about Kena: Bridge of Spirits. It’s a gorgeous-looking game, as you can easily tell from screenshots or trailers. Exploring its lush cartoon-y environments is fun. But it seems like the developers couldn’t decide if they wanted to make a family-friendly platformer or a punishing Soulsbourne action game, and it never really comes together because of it. Sometimes Kena can be punishingly difficult in a way that you absolutely would not expect based on its general look and the way the marketing has focused on its cute characters and colourful world. I’d have enjoyed it more with the combat stripped down or even taken out entirely.

The Forgotten City

The Forgotten City started out as a Skyrim mod before eventually being remade as a stand-alone game. In it you play as a person who gets warped back in time from the modern day to ancient Rome and then stuck in a time loop mystery. I found the mystery fun and the world building was generally pretty good, but (and this is very much a me thing), I always burn out on time loop games because no matter how much variety the developers add, or shortcuts to prevent the player from having to start from scratch on every loop, it starts to feel repetitive to me after a while. This one is definitely worth checking out if you’re into narrative in games, though, I think it’s mostly well-written and does some interesting things.

Dec 28 / Great Apes

Games of 2020

This felt like a slow year for video games. I think the pandemic had less to do with that than the release of the new Xbox and Playstation did. Development resources have substantially shifted to the new consoles, but very few of the games in development for them have been released (and at any rate, I don’t have either of the new consoles). Unsurprisingly, when I put together my list of all the games I played this year, it leaned quite heavily towards smaller independent games, especially games developed for PC. The upshot of all this is that I had a lot more time open in my schedule, and I took advantage of that to replay a bunch of older RPGs like The Banner Saga, Ni No Kuni, and Kingdom Hearts III (and I’m currently about half-way through Final Fantasy IX, a game I haven’t played in a good 10 or more years). Here, then, are the 10 games I had the best time with in 2020.

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Dec 23 / Great Apes

Music of 2019

I think this was maybe not the best year for music in recent memory. I certainly didn’t hear as many great albums as I did last year. Nevertheless, there are always lots of good albums – more than I could possibly listen to, so here are the 15 I enjoyed the most. As is often the case, the list leans heavily towards post-rock and metal, but there’s a decent mix of other stuff, I think. Half of these albums are instrumental, with another few having only intermittent vocals.

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Dec 16 / Great Apes

Games of 2019

In putting together this list I learned that I played 27 games that were released in 2019. Almost all of them were good, too. There were only a couple that I bailed on without putting in a decent amount of time. So it’s easy for me to say that this was a pretty strong year for gaming. The fact that I felt compelled to make a list of my top 15 games, rather than the 10 I normally aim for, helps illustrate how deep the pool of games was this year. That said, I don’t think there were any big stand-out titles this year. In other recent years I’ve had games like Monster Hunter World and Breath of the Wild as my favourite of the year, and there was nothing quite that good this year.

I usually do multi-paragraph write-ups of all the games on my list, but I suspect that no one actually reads those, so I’m going to do briefer write-ups this year. I’d consider the top three games on this list roughly interchangeable, with everything else a step or two back of those games.

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Dec 9 / Great Apes

Albums of the 2010s

Putting together this list reminded me of how much great music has been released in the last decade. I have a tendency, like most people over 30, to have nostalgia towards the music of my high school and college years that can cause me to under-rate how good the current music scene is. Putting together the initial shortlist that I pulled these 25 albums from got me a list of nearly 100 great albums from the 2010s, and I could probably name 100 more good ones after that. These final 25 comprise a list of outstanding records, and there was so much good stuff I wanted to include but didn’t have room for. Enjoy.

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Dec 22 / Great Apes

Games of 2018

I don’t think 2018 was quite as good a year for games as last year was (there was nothing that blew me away the way Breath of the Wild did), but there were still quite a few good games.  I played close to 30 games that came out this year, and narrowing this list down took a bit of work.  I’m definitely leaving some good games out of here.  I know most of these kinds of lists go in multiples of 5 or 10, but there were 11 games that I wanted to talk about, so that’s how long this list is.

We’ve hit a point where there are far more good games released each year than anyone could reasonably be expected to play.  I still haven’t had time to dive into Return of the Obra Dinn, the latest game from Lucas Pope, who previously made one of my favourite games of the past decade – Papers, Please.  I recently started Assassin’s Creed Odyssey but I haven’t played enough to form many opinions.  I bought God of War during a recent Playstation Network holiday sale, and everyone says it’s great, but I haven’t had time for that yet either.  The Red Strings Club sounds like it could be really interesting.  I’ve heard lots of good things about Star Traders: Frontiers.  I’m intrigued by what I’ve heard of Vampyr.  There just isn’t enough time.  So I make no claim to this being any definitive kind of list.  It’s just a bunch of games I enjoyed playing, and maybe you’ll like them too.

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Dec 15 / Great Apes

Music of 2018

2018 was a really great year for music.  I had a hard time sorting out the order for a lot of these, but mostly I suspect people read these kinds of lists just to see how many albums they know show up, so maybe the order doesn’t actually matter.  Like most years I’m going to list my favourite 15 albums from the past year in ascending order.  I’ll include a link to one song I think you should check out if you’re not familiar with the band.  There’s a lot less metal this year than in most other recent years.  I don’t know if that’s because I missed out on a bunch of great metal albums or if there just wasn’t as much good heavy music this year, but whatever the reason this list tends more towards the indie rock end of my tastes.  But all the albums here are really good, or I wouldn’t suggest they’re worth your time.

All of these records are available on Bandcamp, both to purchase and to listen to in full even if you haven’t purchased them.  Bandcamp is much better for artists than other platforms (they only take a 10% cut of sales, whereas services like Spotify pay artists virtually nothing) and I think it’s better for listeners too, because you can usually listen to entire albums for free before deciding if you want to pay for them.  So I’m linking to Bandcamp for all of these albums, which means you can usually click through and listen to more music by that artists if your interest is piqued.

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Dec 27 / Great Apes

Music of 2017

When I sat down to put this list together I was impressed by just how much great music was released in 2017.  I’ve limited this list to 15 albums for the sake of brevity, but I easily could have listed more, and I’m sure there are even more good albums that I don’t know about yet.  I’m pretty bad at describing why I like this album or that album, so I’m just going to list them in order and embed a song from each record that I hope you’ll like.  Like most years this list does lean towards metal albums, especially near the top end, but I think there’s a pretty good variety of genres here, and a good mix of vocal and instrumental albums.  Enjoy!

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Dec 24 / Great Apes

Games of 2017

There were a lot of games released in 2017, so many that there are still probably 8-10 games that came out that I want to play that I haven’t gotten around to, and I probably never will get to some of them.  Thankfully, many of the games that I did play turned out to be quite good.

These days the toughest question I have to deal with when putting out this list is figuring out what exactly constitutes a game that was “released” in 2017.  On some level the days of going to a store and buying a disc or cartridge that contains the final version of a game is over.  This list includes one game that’s still in Early Access, another game that was in EA for a couple of years but finally saw its official “release” this summer, and a game that was released episodically throughout 2016 but wasn’t put together as a complete retail package until January.  Then there’s something like No Man’s Sky, which was so thoroughly changed through free DLC this year that it’s practically a new game.  I didn’t include it since it was already my #2 game last year, but it’s an interesting question.

One big difference between this year and most other years I’ve done this list is that this year there aren’t nearly as many indie games.  In previous years I’ve had games with small budgets but great ideas at or near the top of the list, with Game of the Year honours going to things like The Banner Saga or Papers, Please.  I couldn’t say why that is, but for whatever reason this year’s list is dominated by games from big publishers.

I make no claim to having an exhaustive list of the “best” games of 2017.  I counted about 25 games that I played enough of this year to form an opinion, but there are plenty more I haven’t played and would like to (I hear Yakuza 0 is a lot of fun), or games that I started and enjoyed but got distracted from before I could decide how much I liked them (like Thimbleweed Park).  So these are just the ten games I got the most enjoyment out of this year.

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