Nick Aldis vs. Ricky Starks (NWA, 2020)

[This match can be watched for free on YouTube, commencing around the 34 minute mark]

This match was an exhibition, with a six minute and five second time limit. More importantly; it was a lesson in brevity.

As both men stand apart from each other at the beginning of the match, the story is evident before the first lock up. Aldis is the ‘world’s champion,’ clad in sleek black gear with a gold trim – while not the most jacked wrestler ever to lace a pair of boots, he is obviously something of a ‘body guy’ with traps bulging around his neck. His nose is in the air and he is roundly booed by the charmingly rowdy studio crowd. Starks is noticeably smaller but oozes with physical charisma. His brightly coloured gear and cocky sneer with a thumbs down before the first bell are cheesy but in a way that endears him to the audience.

The mannerisms of both are fittingly pantomime, but this is the perfect environment for that.

The opening exchanges echo the pre-match visuals – Aldis gains the upper hand with some straight-forward grappling, and is impossibly amused by his simple takeover, as he cartwheels to the corner and smugly sits on the top rope. The crowd boos, Aldis relishes it. This NWA revival is obviously very humble in scope, but that doesn’t stop this guy from giving it his all, and really buying in. He isn’t Ric Flair – but he puts his all into being the obvious Flair surrogate of this era. Believing his own hype and milking every second of it. The party he’s throwing himself is interrupted by a sharp dropkick from Starks, who poses mid-ring to the elation of the crowd; our guy is being underestimated, and Aldis is going to regret that.

On paper, the match has a very basic formula. On paper.

Starks gets a little bit of shine, Aldis cuts him off. Aldis grinds on Starks who valiantly fights from the bottom. To use the oldest cliché in the book though, what makes this match so impressive is not what they do, but how they do it.

Look, I held my hands up and said it was a cliché!

If two other guys have this exact same match, move for move, on an episode of Smackdown, or Dynamite, or even this very episode of Powerrr; I don’t think I’d be compelled to write about it. The physical charisma of both men meshes wonderfully together, with Aldis not just being unlikeable but conveying a sense of cocksure arrogance that Starks is not on his level. And for Starks, it is pure, uncompromised, raw white meat babyface FIRE.

Image: YouTube / NWA

With the performances of both men, and the resulting crowd dynamic, being so strong – they get an awful lot out of very little, meaning this six minute (and five second) match has a closing stretch that feels just as epic as most of its stadium-wrestling peers. Without derailing this review into complete Cornette territory, 2020 was definitely a year where I grew to appreciate the ‘less is more‘ philosophy in wrestling. And trust me; I love MOVES as much as the next guy. Weaned on peak-PWG during my teens, I grew to love the go-go-go, all action style that defined 2010s wrestling. But we have now seen so much of that. It has permeated every facet of wrestling, minor and major league alike. Companies like NJPW and WWE have adopted the lengthy, near-fall laden epic as their go-to style, and AEW was born directly of it.

So when the heel ‘cut off’ spot for this match comes from Nick Aldis catching a cross body, and turning it into a picture perfect vertical suplex followed by a cocky sneer; I’m all about that. If you can get the crowd in the palm of your hand with the bread and butter tools of pro wrestling, after years of escalation and ‘innovation,’ it speaks to the actual connection you have with that crowd. When Starks hits a desperation Sling Blade to turn the tide of the match, it’s the panicked, gritted-teeth look to the audience that elates them, more-so than the physical performance of the move.

To that end; the finish is buoyed by an incredible performance by Starks. Tweaking his knee on a top rope move, the babyface is set upon by Aldis. After a dramatic attempted roll up to counter, Starks is unable to fend off the Texas Cloverleaf from Aldis (or whatever Brit-themed name he has given it). The champion sets it in exactly as the announcer chimes in to signify 60 seconds remain in the match. While sitting in a submission until the clock ticks down is among the more rote finishes of this genre of match, the performances more than make up for that. Aldis pulls Starks to the centre of the ring, making it seem as though all hope is lost — but Starks fires up one final time. In the style of the classic Hart/Austin spot, Starks pushes himself off the mat and crawls towards the ropes; red-faced, eyes bulging, clawing along to the sound of the roaring crowd who desperately want him to get there. Not to win; that ship has probably sailed with just 20 seconds left on the clock. But they want him to get to the ropes so he can survive and say he hung with the champ.

The bell sounds and naturally Aldis thinks he’s won before he’s informed of the draw. Starks didn’t get to the ropes but he survived nonetheless.

It’s hard to think of a better showing for a guy in the position of Starks than this; hell, even if he won the title that would have felt inorganic and badly timed. This was entertaining in its melodrama, conveyed that Starks is gutsy fighter who can hang at the top of the card, while still illustrating Aldis is ‘The Man’ around these parts. All in six minutes. And five seconds.

The Mundane Reality of Mourning in The Last of Us Part II

This post contains major spoilers for The Last of Us Part II.

The enormity of The Last of Us Part II is inescapable.

It is a game that is trying so much, with such wildly varying effectiveness depending on who you speak to, that the reactions to it are still pouring out – almost a month after release. Long form writing, tweets, message board posts, video essays and more; praise, condemnation, commentary on its themes, backlash, backlash to the backlash, examining its politics, praise of its LGBTQ representation, criticism of its LGBTQ representation. It’s a lot of things to a lot of people, whether they loved it or hated it.

Despite its almost overwhelming scope, and ponderous themes about human nature, love, hate, and everything in between — one of the most memorable scenes in the game’s 25 hour runtime is also one of its simplest.

The story of Part II is set in motion by the violent murder of Joel – the player-controlled character of the first game. The flawed-but-still-beloved protagonist of 2013’s The Last of Us suffers a reckoning that was certainly to be expected, but was nonetheless still very shocking.

Continue reading “The Mundane Reality of Mourning in The Last of Us Part II”

Randy Orton vs. Edge (WWE Backlash, 2020)

At Backlash, Edge and Randy Orton worked very hard and had a genuinely great pro wrestling match. They told a simple story that progressed nicely across the surprisingly breezy 40+ minute runtime. Little things like Orton dodging an armdrag and dominating much of the early grappling were complimented by good facials that never veered into over-acting, and hammered home the story that maybe the more battle-worn Edge wasn’t quite able to hang any more. They worked with intensity and crispness, but never phoniness.

Like a lot of modern matches that intentionally shoot for ‘an epic;’ I would have trimmed more than a few nearfalls, and nixed the section where they imitated finishing moves of their peers — most matches like this need to be reigned in, and this was no exception. But beyond that, this was evidence that both men still have it in them to produce compelling matches — which is honestly as much of a pleasant surprise with regards to Orton as it is with regards to Edge.

Obviously there’s a big ‘but’ coming here.

Continue reading “Randy Orton vs. Edge (WWE Backlash, 2020)”

Top 10 Games of 2019

This is easily the latest I have ever written one of these lists.

Last year was so jam-packed with big releases, spread so wide across multiple genres, that it was honestly overwhelming. So much so that I was fairly sure I would not be able to make a significant enough dent in the backlog to write a list like this and be satisfied with it; I had basically resigned myself to not bothering.

Then 2020 happened. And suddenly I had enough time to get through those remaining 2019 releases. Funny how that worked out.

Anyway — games in 2019 absolutely ruled. It felt like a year that took nothing for granted, with a lot of my favourite games this year presenting fresh ideas — like, really fresh ideas! Not just refinements on existing genres or series… I mean, sure, there was plenty of those too, and that’s great. But as I look up and down my list of played games this year, debating in my head what order I was going to organise everything in, I was really pleased to see so many truly unique ideas brought to life in last year’s big releases.

Before I jump into the HYPER OFFICIAL, DEFINITIVE NUMBERED LIST of 2019’s games — here is a list of honourable mentions. I enjoyed all of these to various degrees and some of them have been on and off the numbered list right up until the point I hit ‘publish.’ I recommend them all, they’re all winners folks!

Disco Elysium 31_12_2019 23_08_49

  • ApeOut
  • Baba Is You
  • CTR: Crash Team Racing (remake)
  • Disco Elysium
  • Gato Roboto
  • Katana Zero
  • My Friend Pedro
  • The Outer Worlds
  • Super Mario Maker 2
  • Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
  • Totally Accurate Battle Simulator
  • Void Bastards
  • What The Golf?

And now for the actual list.

Continue reading “Top 10 Games of 2019”

Tiger King (Season 1)

There’s a pretty clearly defined sub-genre of documentary that has emerged on Netflix in recent years; the streaming giant has punctuated every few months with a new meme-worthy shocker that has become instant watercooler talk across the globe.

Making A Murder set the tone, Fyre and Don’t Fuck With Cats are more recent examples, and the first half of 2020 has been dominated by Tiger King.

The dramatic opening credits, the somber strings of the closing credits, the cliffhanger endings, and perhaps most importantly; the somewhat shameless editing to weave a narrative more similar to a scripted drama than a linear retelling of events.

To be clear; the story at the heart of Tiger King is wild, unpredictable, and totally unique. Following the exploits of the self declared ‘king’ of wildlife park owners, we’re told of a turf war between zoos and animal rights activists, with everyone boasting a dark past and supported by shady background business partners. Guns, drugs, sex, betrayals — it literally has it all, and is tied together in a package that on the surface is slickly produced and sharp as hell.

There is obviously a big but coming here.

Continue reading “Tiger King (Season 1)”

A Week In Barryland (Animal Crossing: New Horizons)

One of my favourite things in games is a perfectly balanced instance of ‘The Loop.’

Titles that focus on a ‘loop’ are gaming at its purest.

It’s simple; you gather resources until you meet a certain benchmark. That benchmark opens up new, faster ways for you to gather resources, and the loop restarts. You keep playing to reach your next trinket, and the trinket encourages you to keep playing.

While it wouldn’t be fair to say Animal Crossing is entirely a game of numbers, the spirit of The Loop lives on in my adorable little island with my cuddly animal pals.

Animal Crossing 4

I’ve never played one of these games before, but a combination of the inescapable hype for ‘New Horizons‘ and a fairly light release schedule for 2020 made me take the plunge.

Continue reading “A Week In Barryland (Animal Crossing: New Horizons)”

AEW Revolution

All Elite Wrestling came out swinging in 2020. After kinks in the armour started to appear towards the end of 2019, the company entered the new year with a sense of vigor and focus. Their first pay per view of the decade, Revolution, served as a perfect foundation for things – as it provided a destination for the television show to drive towards; telling a series of well structured stories weekly, that came to a head on Saturday night’s show.

While arguments could be made about what the ‘real’ main event was on paper; tradition dictated, and the closing match saw the coronation of Jon Moxley as the new AEW world champion.

Continue reading “AEW Revolution”

Top 10 Pro Wrestling Matches of 2019

Wrestling somehow got even stupider in 2019, and it was amazing.

I know it’s extremely cliche to talk about how ‘there’s never been a better time to be a fan!’ — and also somewhat gag-inducing with how overly cutesy and positive that is — but seriously; wrestling is anything but boring right now.

There’s a ratings war, and it’s getting competitive. There are bidding competitions for top talent, as companies try and compile as compelling a roster as possible. There’s been tonnes, and tonnes, and tonnes of controversies. There’s been returns, there’s been departures. New entities have sprung into existence, and established names have struggled to reinvigorate themselves. There’s been niche wrestling, and there’s been new faces in major league wrestling. Numerous companies have carved themselves out a unique sense of style, and pushed the boundaries of what the genre can be.

And then there’s the actual wrestling. It’s been amazing, and it’s been dreadful; both in quantities you would never have enough time to actually get through.

But ultimately, irony and cynicism aside; there has been an insane amount of great matches this year.

While not perfect promotions in their entirety, places like OTT, Riptide, and AEW presented styles of wrestling that truly made WWE near-unwatchable for me; as the industry leader’s deeply entrenched tropes and production ticks are as noticeable as ever, and other groups prove that theirs is not the only way to skin a cat. But even with that said; WWE themselves made a handful of moments this year that I would rank among my favourites they’ve produced in my 20 years as a fan.

I can also comfortably say this was the most wrestling I’ve ever watched in a calendar year. I watched every tournament match in the Best of the Super Juniors AND the G1 Climax — genuinely something I have never even come close to previously. While there are people out there whose watchlists dwarf mine; it felt good to seek out as much good wrestling as my free time would allow.

Hell, I even kept a SPREADSHEET (!) of my favourite matches this year! Over 150 matches in the four stars or over range! Across 16 promotions!

And that segues nicely to the actual list. The aforementioned ‘sheet was a wonderful tool to help me actually keep track of all the great matches I watched this year; although I won’t be copy-and-pasting my top ranked bouts from there to here, directly.

Some stuff withstood the test of time better than others. Some five star classics on a first viewing (or even a live viewing) didn’t quite hold up under scrutiny once the (figurative) ecstasy and (literal) cider wore off. Some matches that were ‘merely‘ granted a 4.5 rating upon initial viewing, actually ended up burning themselves into my subconscious to the degree that it would almost feel unjust to not include them on a list that should encapsulate all that was great in 2019 wrestling. Such as… Number 10!

Continue reading “Top 10 Pro Wrestling Matches of 2019”

Cara Noir vs. PAC (Riptide, 2019)

This match is available to watch for free here.

The post-WWE career of PAC has already been tumultuous and fascinating, despite us only being a year in.

In the ring; early reviews were mixed. But the former Neville quickly proved he still had it – with match of the year contenders with Kzy, Walter, and Will Ospreay in the first half of 2019.

From there, however, the conversation has shifted to PAC’s seeming inability to lose while he’s a champion in Dragon Gate — or perhaps his unwillingness to do so.

While the purpose of this review isn’t to speculate on that, or open the can of worms that is debating what amount of loyalty is “right” in pro wrestling – it’s a crucial bit of context for this match.

For the last few months, PAC has been a world beater. He has dominated in Japan and Europe. He’s put away everyone from Chris Brookes to Pentagon Jr – and anyone who came close to scoring a win had their efforts go up in smoke via a disqualification. Coupled with the fact he’s jacked to the gills, as well as finely tuning the minutia of his sneering bastard character – and PAC has cultivated quite the aura. He’s an ass-kicking champion, whose primary objective is to win; he has no time for your post-match hug or ‘this is why we love wrestling’ promo. He sees himself above it.

And then he comes to Riptide Wrestling.

While the promotion’s billing as ‘Cinematic Professional Wrestling’ immediately makes sense to anyone who sees it — with their atmospheric lighting and super high fidelity video making them stand out from the crowd — the company has developed a new unique selling point in the last few months.

Riptide very much feels like the ‘Land of Misfit Toys‘ in British wrestling. A boutique promotion that feels almost hand-crafted in how it’s run. It’s a passion project, scooping up talent others seem to not believe in; or haven’t yet given a chance to. It hosts the rebounding TK Cooper on his journey to redemption; it gives a much more prominent role to Spike Trivet than its larger peers; and in this match it pits a top star on the international scene against a cult favourite among the local crowd.

Cara Noir

Cara Noir’s entrance coupled with Riptide’s production is a match made in heaven; an instantly arresting visual that will make immediate fans of anyone watching for the first time. It’s such a refreshing change from other promotions where so many people are varying degrees of ‘I’m the toughest guy’ or ‘I’m the zaniest guy.’ Cara is very much his own person.

And then we get PAC. Black trunks, title belt, thoroughly unimpressed look on his face.

The tone is set immediately for the character dynamic of the match; it’s like a full on culture clash — as though PAC is so out of his element in Riptide that his appearance is like something from a ‘What If’ edition of a comic book.

But when the bell rings, it doesn’t matter what the setting is for PAC. He is the man. He is the international champion. And he takes charge. He dominates things early, as Noir constantly gets back to his feet and requests a handshake. PAC doesn’t just ignore the handshake; he mutters something to Noir every time, in disgust. This is a fight for respect for Noir — and it doesn’t come easy.

Cara handshake

The thing about this match is that they don’t convey Noir is on PAC’s level by having him go 50/50 with the man, and having them exchange moves endlessly. Such is the way with matches like this, more often than not, and it’s starting to feel passe.  This wasn’t a squash by any measure, but the story of the match was PAC, the world-traveled champion, was the better man and won. Noir was elevated not by any kind of elaborate booking or “protection” near the finish — he was elevated by using his natural charisma to garner sympathy from the crowd — due in part to his tremendous selling in the second half. While wins and losses will always matter, there is so much more to being a successful pro wrestler than that – and earning sympathy in defeat will always be a pillar of the art.

With this match, PAC is confident and assured, and when the resilient Noir gets his flurries – the Dragon Gate star is caught unaware and is left flustered. They don’t need to do ten 2.999 nearfalls to illustrate Noir has heart; he illustrated that in the match regardless. Likewise, true to his character, PAC doesn’t raise Noir’s hand and tell the crowd what a sport he is — why would he? And with the match they just had; it wasn’t needed. The crowd didn’t need to be told ‘Noir came THIS close to winning!’ – his performance was so endearing that they respected him for fighting to the bitter end, despite the unbeatable aura of his opponent.

This was wonderful pro wrestling.

AEW Fyter Fest

With their debut event in May, AEW made an unflinching declaration of war. They have money, they have an eclectic talent pool, they have some fresh ideas, and most importantly; they have already amassed a cult following. The first show, Double Or Nothing, was energetic and memorable, with seemingly everyone working with a chip on their shoulder.

With June’s Fyter Fest, they had the unenviable task of following themselves, and proving that they could be more than a high-production super indie – especially as their shift to episodic television is looming.

The results were mostly positive, but as the promotion chugs along, with two fully fledged events and dozens of ‘road to’ videos under their belt; their identity remains muddled.

Continue reading “AEW Fyter Fest”