Oi Rio Pro 2019: Toledo Looking For Third In A Row

Booking the IC Championship from Now till WM37 | Part 1: The Artist

Since its inception, the Intercontinental Championship has been heralded as the workhorse championship. Over the course of its 41-year legacy, there have been 174 title reigns distributed amongst 85 wrestlers, legends like Randy Savage, Shawn Michaels, and Bret Hart all holding the title. In recent years though, the prestige of the championship has been tarnished through a series of meaningless title reigns, the title seeming more like a prop than something worth fighting for. This booking will span from WrestleMania 36 to WrestleMania 37 with the intent of restoring the title’s value.

Part 1: The Artist

Build to Money in the Bank
WM36 has come to an end, with Sami Zayn retaining his Intercontinental Championship against Daniel Bryan through the Artist Collective running interference, taking us to SD after WM. Zayn goes on a spiel about how one year ago, he returned to action, challenging for the IC Title, but he was unsuccessful. It wasn’t because Zayn wasn’t good enough, it was because his mind was elsewhere. He wanted to hold the fans accountable for their actions, with titles coming later. And if you take a look at WM, it’s because of Zayn holding each and every one of those ‘critics’ accountable that the arena was empty. They were too afraid to come to WM because they knew the truth would be delivered to them. He stands here now the Great Liberator and still IC Champion, having knocked off the people’s idol, Bryan, and quite frankly, he’s the best wrestler on the planet. People can forget about their past champions like Seth Rollins, Finn Balor, and even Daniel Bryan, because Zayn is the real workhorse of the company and the only man worthy of holding this title. He’ll be damned if by next WM he isn’t walking in as the defending champion, because no one is capable of taking this from him. This ain’t no Honky Tonk Man title reign, no, this is far greater than that. This is the era of The Artist. This is the era of Sami Zayn.

As Zayn heads to the ropes to leave the ring, Bryan comes out, but not in the positive state he was in at WM. He trudges out, limbs heavy, bags under his eyes, as if he hasn’t slept in days. A concerned Gulak is by his side, willing Bryan on as the Beard begins speaking. He delivers a heartfelt promo, displaying disappointment in his failure to capture the IC Title, believing that he’d be the one to shut Zayn up and return the gold to a more deserving home. He harkens back to the time he vacated the IC Title. That night, he promised that when he returned to the ring, the first thing he’d do was recapture the IC Title. But… he didn’t. He’s been back for two years, and yet he still hasn’t delivered on his promise. Although there wasn’t anyone in attendance, he knows that he let down everyone around the world, and he’s lost sleep over thinking what he’s going to do to make things right. He pauses for a moment, before challenging Zayn to a rematch for the title, right here, right now, but with no Gulak or Artist Collective at ringside, so they can face-off the right way; 1-on-1.

Zayn immediately shoots down the challenge, claiming that Bryan is a loser, and this is what all losers do. They can’t accept the fact that they lost, that they lied to all their fans about winning, so they try and change things, but to no avail. Zayn is here to raise the prestige of the title, not muddy it by facing Bryan. Despite Zayn’s words though, Triple H comes out, acting as an interim authority figure for RAW & SD, claiming that the ‘fans in attendance’ look so eager to witness a rematch, thus declaring the bout official for the night’s main event to Zayn’s chagrin. The bout ensues as scheduled, the dynamic of the match quite different to WM as neither men have their backup, leading to an even back-and-forth showcase from both sides, this time Zayn playing the aggressor, both through physicality and mind games, looking to break Bryan’s iron will down, whilst Bryan responds with his veteran instinct, parrying Zayn’s explosiveness with his striking acumen. In the end, Bryan lands a Knee Plus on Zayn, crawling towards his foe to cover, only for the bell to sound as Bryan is mere inches from Zayn! The match is ruled a time-limit draw, having gone 30 minutes already with no end in sight, the SmackDown broadcast ending with both men lying flat on their backs.

In the weeks leading up to Money in the Bank, Bryan is even more heartbroken as he failed once again, this time having Zayn beat, only for the timer to expire, prompting him to demand Zayn for one final shot, claiming he needs this. Zayn refuses though, stating that Bryan couldn’t get the job done again because he’s a loser, and when he steps into the ring with the greatest wrestler on the planet, he’s doomed to lose again. The fact that Bryan is asking for another shot is absurd, when it should be Bryan thanking Zayn for giving the fans what they truly needed; liberating them of Bryan’s lies and empty promises. Bryan, unable to hear anymore, snaps, taking down Zayn and stomping his head into the canvas. Gulak pulls Bryan off Zayn, shaking him and telling him to snap out of it, reminding him that Zayn is purposefully trying to tear him down. He tells him that the real Bryan is a man of respect and honour, so he must keep his composure intact. Bryan slowly nods, apologising, still determined to take the IC Title.

Due to Bryan’s actions, Gulak is given a non-title match with Zayn in his stead, the Philadelphia Stretcher wanting revenge for Bryan. However, Shinsuke Nakamura & Cesaro play into the finish as they run out from the back, costing Gulak, before conduct a 3-on-1 beatdown on Gulak alongside Zayn. A crushed Bryan races to the ring, causing the heels to flee, leaving a battered Gulak in his arms, realising the grave costs of his obsession with fulfilling his promise, yet he’s still not deterred from his quest. Bryan is given a MITB Qualifier against Cesaro, though his focus is placed elsewhere, constantly looking outside at the IC Title cradled in Zayn’s arms. Even with Gulak ensuring Zayn & Nakamura are neutralised at ringside, Bryan still loses the match as when he heads to the corner to set up the Knee Plus, his gaze drifts ringside to Zayn, who has been yelling at him incessantly throughout the match to distract him, allowing Cesaro to catch a running Bryan with the Swiss Death to qualify for the annual Ladder match.

On the go-home show, Bryan cuts another impassioned promo on Zayn, almost on his knees now as he asks firmly one last time for a title shot. As Zayn prepares to turn it down yet again though, Bryan stops him, claiming that he’s not done. He tacks on a stipulation to his challenge, stating that if he loses, he’ll be barred from competing for the IC Title as long as Zayn’s holding it. The offer perks Zayn’s interest, who revels in the idea of being the man to put a definitive end to Bryan’s hopes and dreams, and in the process, all the Bryan fans’ too, preventing them from ever vicariously living through Bryan again due to him being branded a false idol. Zayn accepts the challenge, before mocking Bryan’s promise with one of his own, promising that not only is he going to beat Bryan, but also that Bryan is going to be the first of many to fall at Zayn’s feet, defeated, as he holds this title into the next year, and the next, and the next, and so on and so forth.

Money in the Bank 2020
The match between Zayn and Bryan is billed as a Last Chance match, Bryan entering with a chip on his shoulder, knowing that this is his final chance to make good on his words, whilst Zayn is cocky and headstrong, believing that the title will remain around his waist for years to come. In a surprising move, Zayn tells Cesaro and Nakamura to stay in the back, exuding boatloads of confidence, so much so that it could very well work in his detriment. Nonetheless, Zayn strides into the ring solo and raises his title right in Bryan’s face, telling him this is as close as he’ll ever get to holding the title again. The bell rings, and the two foes tangle, clashing in their third and final encounter.

They start off with a striking exchange, knowing that the match will go long just like last time, thus hoping to wear each other down in this war of attrition. Zayn lays in some early brutal forearms to Bryan’s head, the challenger forced into the ropes by Zayn’s malicious offense. The Artist is quite unlike the man from WM, as instead of toying around with Bryan, he’s cold and calculated with each move, wasting not even a trickle of energy as he batters Bryan. Bryan drops Zayn with a Lariat as he rebounds off the ropes, before using his opportunity to punish Zayn with Shoot Kicks, leaving the champ red all over. They exchange a series of blistering chops, their chests turning ugly shades quickly. Bryan attempts to go high-risk with a Missile Dropkick, only to be snatched out of the air with a Snap Powerbomb to the mat. Zayn immediately gets on top of Bryan to lay in forearms to the face, followed by stomps to the head, eager to get revenge for the assault by Bryan a few weeks back. Zayn mocks Bryan’s label of Technical Wizard, locking him in a Crossface of his own, getting under Bryan’s skin. It almost costs him though, as Bryan slips out, almost locking in the LeBell Lock, only for Zayn to escape to the outside. Bryan goes after him, wiping him out with a trio of Suicide Dives, each one driving Zayn back-first into the barricade with more impact than the previous.

The advantage returns to Zayn though as on the outside, he narrowly evades an incoming kick, before grabbing it as Bryan attempts to pull back, yanking down with a Dragon Screw Leg Whip! Zayn drags Bryan about ringside with him, mercilessly sending him knee first into the steel steps, followed by the apron, but as he goes for the steel post, Bryan lands an Enzuigiri to the ear. As he hobbles his way back up to the apron, preparing for a Diving Knee Strike using his healthy leg, Zayn sweeps the now injured leg out from underneath, causing Bryan to land back-first on the apron. Before Bryan can roll back into the ring, Zayn snatches him up for an Apron Brainbuster, subduing him for a near-fall! He tortures the challenger by locking in a Sharpshooter, racking Bryan’s legs whilst talking trash to him condescendingly. A gutsy display of heart from the Beard wins him a break in the ropes, only to realise Zayn is coming full-speed at him with a Helluva Kick, reversing the effort into a Regal-Plex to cause momentary separation! Doing the best he can with a lame leg, Bryan dumps Zayn on his shoulders with a German Suplex, not keeping a bridge due to the shooting pains in his leg. However, Zayn remains in the bridged position, causing Bryan to slip behind and nab a Cravate Suplex! He teases a Surfboard Stretch, Zayn attempting to play defence for the incoming submission by kicking wildly, only for Bryan to smoothly leap into Cattle Mutilation! Unfortunately for him though, Zayn has it scouted, flipping through into a nail-bitingly close near-fall.

The two continue their scrap for the better part of half an hour, leading right into the closing stretch as the clock runs past the checkpoint, allowing the two men to have a definitive end to their match. At this point, Bryan’s leg has been put through hell courtesy of Zayn, who used every nook and cranny he could to injure it and get Bryan to quit. However, a Hurricanrana escape out of a Blue Thunder Bomb allows Bryan to floor Zayn with a swift Roundhouse Kick to the side of the head! With Zayn almost lifeless, drained by the intense matchup, Bryan goes for one last gasp effort for victory, cinching in the LeBell Lock! He’s unable to get too much torque on the shoulder though, but it is enough to leave Zayn panicking for the ropes. With Zayn refusing to tap though, showing off some of his own spirit to keep his title, Bryan wrenches back as far as he can, only for Zayn to pop back into cover for a near-fall! Bryan is back on his feet, immediately trying for the Knee Plus. Zayn is one step ahead of him though, launching Bryan into the corner with an Exploder Suplex! Bryan, unaware of his surroundings, weakly pulls him up using the ropes, leaving him in prime position for a Helluva Kick! Bryan collapses into Zayn’s arms, but the IC Champ isn’t finished with him, instead sending him across to the other corner with another Helluva Kick, and another, and another, until ultimately, Bryan drops to the mat like a ton of bricks. The referee goes to call for the bell, not wanting to let Bryan continue in the condition he is… Zayn stops him, still not done with Bryan! In a move of sheer disrespect, Zayn locks Bryan in the LeBell Lock! Bryan tries to give him fight, but he’s fading… fading… fading… he’s out! Bryan’s IC Title dreams are over!
Sami Zayn (c) def. Daniel Bryan in a Last Chance Match by technical submission (34:17)

Build to Backlash
In the biggest ego booster ever, Zayn defeated one of the greatest submission specialists of the modern era using their own finisher, but most importantly, he did it clean. Zayn cuts an obnoxious promo, Nakamura and Cesaro accompanying him, claiming that Bryan made one of the worst decisions of his career when he turned down Zayn’s offer to join them, and he made an even worse decision on Sunday when he put his hopes of ever becoming IC Champion again on the line, truly believing he could beat the Great Liberator. Thanks to him, the people are free now of Bryan’s lies, and his title reign is only growing by the day. It won’t be long before the IC Title is known as the most prestigious title in all of WWE, and it’ll be because of no one but him. As he continues his rant though, Nakamura and Cesaro flash him peeved looks from behind, unsuccessful in their exploits at MITB of winning the briefcase. They helped him at WM, so the least he could do for them was have their back too, no?

As tensions in the arena slowly rise, the trio are interrupted by a segment courtesy of the infamous SD Hacker, who speaks in riddles and cryptic messages, flashing images of the Artist Collective. They claim that those entrenched in power turn a blind eye to the suffering of the masses, prodding fingers at them in hopes of diverting the attention from them, for inside the leaders lies an innate greed which cannot be quelled until they have destroyed everything they once loved. The greedy will tear down a monarchy to build a dictatorship in their image, where the only thing remaining in the ruin will be a mirror displaying their callous, heartless reflection, stained with imperfections that they can no longer hide from the public once they show their true colours. The hacker leaves the trio with a thought-provoking question: Will you continue to dance in the smoke and mirrors until it suffocates you and leaves you a mere relic in one’s tyranny, or will you revolt and carve out a righteous path of your own, ending the tyrant? A reflection of the trio is shown on the titantron, with cracks forming on the image as Zayn swivels his head between his two compatriots, unease painted on his face as questioning looks are returned by them.

As Backlash draws closer by the week, Zayn is scheduled for a title defence against Lince Dorado, displaying the same cockiness from MITB as he orders his buddies to stay in the back, believing lightning will strike twice for him and he will retain again cleanly. His arrogance leaves him in a pickle though, as whilst he was ingrained in Bryan’s mind through traumatising him and feeding his obsession, he has nothing on Dorado, who only has his eyes on the title, and nothing else. Eventually, realising that he’s in a tougher spot than he thought, he calls out to Nakamura and Cesaro, who take a little longer than usual to answer to his pleas, ultimately still helping Zayn retain despite Lucha House Party’s efforts to stop them. After the match, Zayn has an over-the-top celebration, acting as if he beat Dorado by his lonesome, causing more irritation to creep onto the visages of his pals. However, much like MITB, Zayn isn’t there to return the favour when Nakamura and Cesaro have a match of their own, clashing with New Day in an attempt to fish their Tag Titles away from them, leading them to succumb to a Midnight Hour, rendering their title challenge unsuccessful. In a backstage interview, as they look to share their thoughts on what went down, who arrives but Zayn, taking over the interview to boast about his victory over Dorado, before claiming that Nakamura & Cesaro just had a little hiccup in their match, and that they’ll get the win next time… right? Zayn nudges his buddies for approval, but there is no response from the duo, who instead walk out of frame, prompting Zayn to run after them, not wanting to be left behind alone.

The same events occur when Zayn has a title defence against Kofi Kingston, New Day using the momentum from their victory over Nakamura & Cesaro to get a shot at Zayn’s gold. Zayn signals to the Artist Collective to help him retain again, the duo taking even more time to come out this time. As they have the numbers advantage over New Day due to Woods being missing, Zayn is able to retain again. The post-match events take a sudden turn though, as when Zayn frolics about in celebration, he accidentally bumps into Cesaro. He laughs and apologises, before encouraging the Swiss Superman to join in with him. He takes off his shades though, giving Zayn a cold stare. Taken aback, Zayn turns around, hoping for a warmer response from Nakamura, only to receive the same treatment from the Japanese star. Realising something is amiss, Zayn begins to slowly back away from them, before attempting to bolt out of the ring and to the back. Nakamura cuts him off outside the ring, with Cesaro on his other side, the two seemingly taking the hacker’s words to heart as they snap on Zayn, knocking him out cold with their respective finishers. They stand on opposite sides of Zayn’s felled body, with his title draped over him, the two men sharing a tense look as they both point at the gold. Nakamura and Cesaro are both after the IC Title! Will they succeed at their “leader’s” expense though?

With Backlash right around the corner now, a #1 Contender match is set up between Nakamura and Cesaro due to the two men expressing their interests of winning the title. Backstage, Zayn tries to convince the two out of it, offering multiple ways around it, claiming that he’ll help them win the Tag Gold or whatever it is they want. Cesaro pauses, asking him “Anything?”. Zayn nods eagerly and frantically, believing he’s found his way out… only for Cesaro to point at the IC Title, stating that that’s what he wants. Zayn has a nervous breakdown as his two ‘allies’, or more so lackeys duke it out for an opportunity to face Zayn at Backlash. The match is hard-hitting, neither man managing to sustain a clear advantage. In the end, as they prepare for their respective finishers, Zayn runs out, decking both men with his title, thus ruling the match a No Contest! He lays into them with forearms, before shouting that he gave them a home, he even gave them a chance to back out of this match, but if they’re going to turn they’re going to turn their backs on him just like everyone else has, then they don’t deserve the generosity of the Great Liberator. He strolls to the entrance with his title, an irate expression on his face as he looks back at the two men he believes he made relevant.

As he makes his way to the back, he just so happens to bump into one certain Game there, who declares that if Zayn doesn’t want to defend against one of Nakamura or Cesaro, he completely understands. Zayn’s scowl turns into a grin, thinking he’s gotten off easily, only to flip out as HHH announces that the three men will face off in a Triple Threat for Zayn’s title at Backlash! By this point, Nakamura and Cesaro have recovered in the ring, all ears for HHH’s announcement. Zayn gulps as he turns to look at them, the closing shot being of the three men who were once allies, now driven apart, looking to tear each other to shreds for Zayn’s title, the Artists having sparked a revolution amongst themselves and against their leader. Has Zayn bitten off more than he can chew?

Backlash
The tension in the arena is palpable as the three men make their respective entrances, Zayn rounding out the bunch by entering last due to being the defending champion. He takes a while to get into the ring, put off by how determined his foes look at the prospect of beating him for his gold. Eventually he enters, only to leave immediately once again when the bell rings. The two are after him though, having their way with Zayn to start off the match, punishing him brutal knees and European Uppercuts, leaving Zayn gasping for breath on the outside. Nakamura and Cesaro resume their match from SD, putting on a strong-style showcase as they batter each other with stiff move after stiff move. Cesaro flaunts his power advantage, keeping Nakamura at bay with a Delayed Vertical Suplex, followed by a Double Underhook Powerbomb. Nakamura uses his experience to clap back at his foe, placing knees to the gut to leave Cesaro winded, before delivering a series of Dragon Suplexes and a Death Valley Driver. An Avalanche Superplex from Cesaro leaves both men gasping for air as they lay plastered to the mat.

With both men down, Zayn slips in, going for a few unsuccessful pin attempts, getting more and more frustrated after each kick out. Realising there’s work to be done, he brings in a Steel Chair from under the ring, battering both men with it as he delivers a monologue about how he gave them the world, only for them to turn their backs on him, claiming that it is them who are greedy. Cesaro is the first to tank through the punishment though, defiantly returning to his feet as Zayn continues to whack him with the chair. As Zayn swings for one more shot, Cesaro catches the chair mid-swing, before tossing it to the outside! Cesaro returns all the inflicted punishment back on Zayn like a machine, firing nonstop European Uppercuts, before starting up the Uppercut Train, going back and forth between both his opponents. Nakamura cuts it short though with a knee to the back of Cesaro’s head, bowling over the Swiss Superman. As he goes for a Kinshasa, Zayn runs out of his corner, catching Nakamura with a Blue Thunder Bomb for a near-fall!

In the closing stretch of the match, all three men duke it out in the ring, the match devolving into a grim striking fest, the 3 men taking out all their pent-up aggression through absolutely brutalising one another. A common sight in the match, Cesaro has the advantage once more, showing off what one can do with raw power as he gets Zayn on his shoulders for a UFO whilst putting Nakamura in the Cesaro Swing! After countless rotations, Cesaro finally drops them to the mat, before locking Zayn in the Sharpshooter, looking to not only win the gold, but leave Zayn embarrassed too as he loses everything due to his supposed greed. Nakamura breaks up the submission attempt with a Kinshasa out of nowhere, putting Cesaro & Zayn in prime position for a Double Kinshasa. As he charges in though, Zayn pulls Cesaro into the way, effectively knocking him out of the ring due to the impact! With only Nakamura and Zayn left in the ring, Nakamura goes for one more Kinshasa to put an end to the match, only to be blasted on the knee mid-move by the Steel Chair! Zayn shoots the half, only for Nakamura to valiantly kick out.

Despite Nakamura surviving, Zayn displays a sadistic look on his face as he tosses Nakamura into the corner with a Half and Half Suplex. He charges in for the Helluva Kick, only to stop as he gets to Nakamura, wagging his finger in his face, promising there to be a much worse punishment for traitors. He takes Nakamura up to the top rope, hooking him in for an Avalanche Brainbuster. A surprise European Uppercut from Cesaro, who is now on the apron, meets its mark on Zayn, preventing the move and causing him to crash down to the mat! As Nakamura gets in position for a Kinshasa off the top, Cesaro pounces onto the top turnbuckle, instead delivering an Avalanche Neutraliser to Nakamura! Upon the two men connecting with the mat though, Zayn grabs Cesaro, landing a Brainbuster on him! 1…2…3!
Sami Zayn (c) def. Shinsuke Nakamura and Cesaro to retain the Intercontinental Championship (16:02)

Build to Extreme Rules
With Backlash in the rear-view, Zayn cuts another promo, only this time sounding more paranoid than usual as he tries to hide the fact that he barely survived his defence, instead acting his obnoxious self as he rants about what happens to traitors, claiming that he liberated Nakamura and Cesaro from fading into obscurity, yet they betrayed him and paid the price. Wanting to sweep his last title defence under the rug, Zayn declares that he’s putting his title on the line once again like the true workhorse he is, challenging anyone in the back to face him so he can make an example out of them too. Out comes Hardy with a mic, cutting a promo about how he returned to the WWE to redeem himself for all his past faults, and the best way to start is by winning back his first singles title in the company; the IC Title. He wants to make it up to the fans, talking about how he stripped them of witnessing a potential run for himself at the top of the company, but he promises not to let them down this time. Zayn responds by comparing Hardy to Bryan, mindlessly living his life by looking for the approval of ‘critics’, before reminding Hardy what he did to Bryan, claiming he can do the same to Hardy. Before the two can converse any further though, out comes Sheamus, who’s one title shy of the Grand Slam, wanting the IC Title for himself to complete the set, followed by John Morrison comes out too, the former Intercontinental Champion hunting down his first singles title since returning to the company. With all three men looking for a title shot, a #1 Contender match is set up, with Hardy ultimately coming out on top victorious in underdog fashion, setting up a bout between him and Zayn for next week!

Zayn employs his wiliness throughout the match to keep Hardy on the back foot, constantly cutting off the veteran with cheap manoeuvres that prevent him from building momentum. Eventually, Hardy manages to get the ball rolling, delivering signature moves like the Mule Kick and Double Leg Drop, before getting Zayn in prime position for the Swanton Bomb. As he looks to leap though, Zayn pops up to his feet, shaking the ropes to call Hardy to plop down on the turnbuckle. On his way down though, Zayn catches Hardy low, but the ref doesn’t see it as Zayn is in the way. Comfortably, he puts Hardy away with a Helluva Kick to retain, in the process screwing Hardy out of winning the title. Hardy is enraged by Zayn’s display of cheating, demanding a rematch for the title. Zayn refuses with a cheeky smile, stating that he’s already beaten Hardy so there’s no point in facing him again, before going on to say that this isn’t 2009, with all these nostalgia acts like Hardy, Sheamus and Morrison trying to steal the spotlight once again. This is 2020, the era of Zayn, so Hardy should just walk back out of the company and get drunk or something. This line draws the ire of Hardy, who races down to the ring to beat Zayn up, only for the Great Liberator to escape the ring, cackling as he revels in his master mic work.

The following week, an enraged yet driven Hardy pulls up into the parking lot, determined to get his title rematch. However, he’s blindsided by a hooded figure, quickly revealed to be the Great Liberator himself, who lays into Hardy. The Charismatic Enigma tries to give fight, only for Zayn to overwhelm him, the element of surprise playing into his favour. He sends Hardy into his car repeatedly, before putting a chair around Hardy’s head for the final toss into the car! As Hardy gasps for air, Zayn loads him onto a stretcher and sends him crashing into an ambulance! Crouches, he pulls Hardy up from the wreck and forces him to look at the vehicle, reminding him of all his drug problems. He claims that if Hardy wants to come at Zayn, either he’s going to intoxicate his way back into that ambulance due to his depression of failing to redeem himself and coming up empty just like every other pathetic liar in Zayn’s way, or Zayn’s just going to have to incapacitate him so bad that he won’t be able to ever walk again, getting stretchered away into that ambulance as he realises he has to spend the rest of his life on a wheelchair. He warns him not to come after him again unless he wants either of those realities to come true, leaving Hardy to lay on the floor, grabbing at his neck in immense pain.

Despite Hardy seemingly out of the picture, Zayn still continues to poke the bear, trashing Hardy on the mic as he talks about how these ‘critics’ look up to him like he’s some sort of inspiration when he’s just a fraud. They claim that he’s the epitome of what a workhorse represents, yet the reality is that Zayn is the IC Champion, so he’s the true workhorse of this company. Hardy is a mere washed-up drunkard, not an inspiration. He’s having a hard time deciding what he’s more embarrassed about: the fact that fans still look up to Hardy, or the fact that he once tried to be like him on the indies with all the flashy, flippy moves. Nonetheless, he did his job and liberated the fans of ever seeing another stinker of a match from Hardy, claiming that all his matches since returning have been in-ring failures; something he can’t let ensue as the workhorse of the company that puts on classic after classic.

To his surprise, his promo is interrupted by video footage playing on the titantron of an ambulance backing into the parking lot. A figure is unloaded from it on a stretcher, who sits up as they reach the outside… it’s Hardy! Zayn begins panicking as he realises Hardy is racing down to the ring, having had enough of Zayn. As he attempts to high-tail the area by heading through the backdoors, Hardy appears on the other side of them, brawling with Zayn! Zayn begs Hardy to leave him alone, before cracking him with chairs and trying to low blow him again so he can run away, only for Hardy to evade and drop him with the Twist of Fury onto a pile of chairs. Not satisfied yet though, Hardy heads to the scaffolding directly above, delivering a death-defying Swanton Bomb onto Zayn, leaving the Great Liberator laying on the steel, with Hardy holding high his IC Title! Due to the growing animosities between the two men, a title match is set up for Extreme Rules, but in the PPV’s spirit, it isn’t any old singles match… it’s a Stretcher match! Zayn wants to be the one to put Hardy back in ambulance and rid WWE of him, and he plans to do so by strapping Hardy down on a stretcher and taking him away, whilst Hardy wants to stave off that reality to make things right again, kicking off his redemption run by winning the beloved workhorse gold.

Extreme Rules
Hardy is out first, a solemn expression on his face as he sports dark face paint to reflect the grim occasion. Zayn is out next, his entrance completely juxtaposing that of Hardy as he skips to the ring jovially, mocking Hardy on his way there. Hardy doesn’t wait for the bell to ring though, immediately making a beeline for Zayn, forcing the ref to start the match. Hardy takes him down with a Lou Thesz Press, laying in heavy shots to the head as Zayn desperately attempts to cover up. Hardy delivers his signature Double Leg Drop, followed by a Mule Kick sending Zayn into the corner. Hardy stomps a mudhole in Zayn, consumed by his anger, as all Zayn can do is take it. He wedges a chair between the middle and bottom turnbuckle, positioning it in front of Zayn’s face, before nailing him with a Hardyac Arrest! He takes a moment to compose himself after the hot early start, knowing that he has to keep his emotions in check should he want the victory. Thus, he takes Zayn to the outside, loading him on the stretcher, hoping for a quick victory.

Zayn still has lots of fight left in him, leaping off the stretcher and getting some revenge on Hardy with shots of his own. He sends his back-first into the apron, followed by Irish Whipping him into the Steel Steps repeatedly, watching Hardy slowly crumble in pain. He delivers a Half and Half Suplex on him onto the Steel Ramp, before loading Hardy onto the stretcher, going for a win of his own. Hardy manages to survive though, but it takes him a while to come to his senses, making a last-minute save at the line by rolling off the stretcher. Zayn grabs a handful of hair to make striking Hardy in the head easier, only for Hardy to break free by kicking him in the gut, teasing a Twist of Fury on the ramp. Zayn escapes though, tossing Hardy off the ramp towards the crowd. Hardy manages to land safely on the floor, but doesn’t have a Tornado DDT from Zayn scouted, who plants him on the concrete! Zayn tries for another unsuccessful attempt at getting Hardy over the line, with Hardy kicking Zayn away this time and surfing down the ramp on the stretcher to wipe out Zayn.

Zayn attempts to wear Hardy down with a Koji Clutch, only for Hardy to escape, flooring Zayn with a Whisper in the Wind! Zayn ramps up the brutality by trying to run Hardy’s head over with the stretcher, but Hardy just keeps coming back at Zayn, laying him on the stretcher with a steel chair under him, delivering a Diving Leg Drop off the apron on Zayn! Hardy comes oh so close to beating Zayn, only to eat a Helluva Kick that floors him. Zayn wraps a steel chair around Hardy’s head, attempting to replicate the scene from the parking lot, this time trying to send Hardy into the steel post, only for him to fight back. Nonetheless, Zayn tries for a Brainbuster onto the stretcher, Hardy reversing into a Twist of Fury! With Zayn in prime position, laid out on the stretcher, Hardy goes for his patented Swanton Bomb… only for Zayn to move out of the way, causing Hardy to crash and burn on the stretcher! Despite having Hardy beat, Zayn wants to end Hardy, proceeding to waylay on his legs with a barrage of steel chair shots, leaving him an absolute mess as he yells out in agony. Satisfied, Zayn slowly but surely pushes Hardy up the ramp on the stretcher and past the line to win, successfully retaining his title and breaking Hardy in the process!
Sami Zayn (c) def. Jeff Hardy in a Stretcher Match to retain the Intercontinental Championship (14:39)

Build to SummerSlam
Each time Zayn has come off of a successful title defence, he’s been cocky, but after doing what he did to Hardy, he’s cockier than ever. Rather than coming down to the ring to run through his usual diatribe of ending another delusional star that thought they were better than the Great Liberator, he takes a seat on the stage, title laid out in front of him, mic in his hand, staring out at the empty arena. He calls the cameraman over, demanding a close-up shot of him, before talking into the camera. He claims that as much as he’d love to educate the critics about yet another victory on his record, he has something to get off of his chest. Since winning the IC Title, his perception of things slowly began changing, until he realised something. This company is filled to the brim with liars and frauds that pander to the millions of critics, hoping for approval so they can advance in their career. He beat Bryan, the poster-child for all these critics, exposing him as a mere liar who couldn’t fulfil his promise to the people. He beat Nakamura and Cesaro, two men who he gave the world, yet they still tried to take advantage of his greatness by taking his hard-earned gold, so he exposed them for their greed. He just beat Jeff Hardy, who’s just a shell of the man Zayn once looked up to, now a drugged-up mess who doesn’t belong here.

All of these people claim that they’re ‘workhorses’, when in reality, they’ve done nothing to earn that label. Look at Ricochet, for example. The man that wrestled the most matches in the company last year, yet look where that got him? He did all these flips and stunts, only to find himself losing on Main Event week after week. Zayn used to be like him, doing all these insane moves, dancing for the critics, yet that got him nowhere. Unlike the rest of the locker room, he had the guts to take responsibility and prove that he doesn’t need any of them to be successful. That’s why he’s the champ, and no one else is. That’s why he’s the true ‘workhorse’ of this company. However, he’s starting to think that this company doesn’t even deserve his presence if this is the state of it. In fact, the company doesn’t even deserve ‘his’ IC Title, the one he’s made relevant for the first time in years by putting on classic after classic, beating some of the ‘best’ in the company. Now, what’s he going to do with this realisation?

At SummerSlam, say goodbye to the greatest wrestler in the world and most valuable asset of the WWE, as when he retains his championship… he’s leaving! 9 years ago, a man tried to bring change to the WWE by walking out, and he plans to continue that quest, but unlike that man, he’s going to make good on his promise. He’s going to successfully defend his title in his hometown of Toronto (SummerSlam has been relocated for the purposes of this storyline), and then take it from company to company, beating the best of the best, proving himself to be the workhorse that he says he is, and the greatest wrestler in the world. He gave everyone chance after chance, but these critics don’t deserve him anymore. This company doesn’t deserve him anymore. SummerSlam, Zayn is gone!

Due to the shocking announcement made by Zayn, the company enters panic mode as they try to give Zayn a plethora of offers to keep him with them, only for Zayn to turn down each and every one of them. Not wanting to risk losing their coveted IC Title, they put Zayn through the ringer week after week, offering whoever wants a shot at his gold to step up and face him. Zayn faces and defeats Ricochet, who wants to prove Zayn wrong for what he said about him, Elias, who’s been etching his name as a fan-favourite through weekly performances in ring and on the guitar, and Robert Roode, who hopes to enter the Biggest Party of the Summer in his home country with some gold. With only SummerSlam left as the WWE’s final bet to get the title off of Zayn, the Artist demands to know who he’s going to face in his final match.

(Continued in comments)
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Pokemon Emerald

Hello Everyone. I recently played through Pokemon Emerald for the first time. I heard many things about this game. That it had the best region. That it was the best Gen 3 game. That it was a "director's cut" to Ruby and Sapphire. Given all that, I had high expectations for this 15-year-old GBA title. My first Pokemon Game is Diamond back in 2008. Since then, I've played Pearl, A little of Soulsilver, White, Black 2 and Y. I've also gone and played the ROM hack Crystal Clear. I'm going to be comparing Emerald to these games. It may seem unfair but I feel it will provide a better look at the strengths and weaknesses of the games.
If you want the short version of my thoughts on the game, I enjoyed it but there were some major problems. The visuals, world, gyms, post-game content and general gameplay are great. But the overuse of a handful of Pokemon, the excessive overuse of boring water routes and pokemon, The overuse of HMs, the limited TMs and movesets overall for most Pokemon all bring down the experience by a significant margin.
Let's Get started:
-The Visuals Despite being on a Gameboy Advance, The game looks great. Environments are varied. Places like Fortree, MossDeep, LavaRidge are all visually and thematically distinct. The Pokemon Look varied as well. Their poses and design show their personality and styles. The overworld may have this pixellated style but it looks pretty charming to me. I especially Like the Starters and how the evolve forms look.
-Gameplay The game is very familiar to other Pokemon games but this gen introduced a few new features that have become standard in later games. Abilities are passive effects that trigger in Battle when certain conditions are met. For example, the Ability "Blaze" powers up fire type attacks when health is less than 50%.
Overall, it's still fun. What makes Pokemon's battles more than just fancy rock, paper, scissors is that you have context for why your opponent may pick rock and the ability to choose the target of your opponent's attack. This is what makes more competitive Pokemon interesting. If you predict your opponent's attack, You can switch to a ground type to nullify an electric attack and stuff like that is very satisfying to pull off. Sadly, the latter is really rare in mainline games. But as a whole, add in abilities and cool effects from moves and you have an RPG with a simple pick up and play nature with a lot of depth.
However, there are some problems. Firstly, type balancing isn't great. Grass and Bug, in particular, get the short stick with a lot of pokemon resisting them, and very few strong pokemon and moves compared to later gens. It's to the point where hidden power grass and bug are considered some of the best moves to have (It's somewhat similar for poison except at least it has toxic. Ice and Rock have too few resistances but is great offensively). In contrast, fighting and dragon get a lot of benefits.
This even extends to the starters. Torchic ends up being the easiest as there are lots of great fire and fighting moves, it's super effective against much of the elite 4 and gyms and can get a lot of great coverage moves. It's also one of the few good fire pokemon. Mudkip and Treeko aren't bad but less valuable as there are many more good water and grass pokemon around Hoeen than fire ones. Not to mention grass's earlier shortcomings. Gen 4 would take this discrepancy even farther.
Ideally, a Pokemon game should have its starters be roughly level with each other so their pros and cons end up being roughly even by the end. Gens 1 and 6 seem to be the only ones so far with this design. I've heard people defend this approach by saying "picking a tougher starter is like a hard mode" to which I respond: firstly, a dedicated hard mode would be a better option and secondly, for a new player who picks what looks cool, they may inadvertently give themselves an easier or harder time without realizing it as the game's don't make it clear from the start which starter has what advantages.
Another issue is the lack of level-up moves for many Pokemon and the limited TMs. This makes making a well-rounded team and even backup Pokemon much harder and really forces you to commit to a team early on for the best results. It Also means you're dealing with weaker moves for way too long. As an example, Crawduant, my Water-Dark Type, doesn't learn a decent dark move like Crunch in the game (it does in FireRed and LeafGreen, and subsequent gens would also give it moves like Night Slash meaning Gamefreak recognized this is a problem). Even your starters are not off the hook. Blaziken for example, learns only 2 fire type attacking moves by level up, Ember and Blaze Kick (that's worse than Flamethrower) and no decent fighting moves after Double Kick until level 59 with Sky Uppercut. Compare this to Gen 4 onwards which at least added flamethrower and flame wheel among others to the mix for Infernape, alongside mach panch and Close Combat.
In addition, the physical/special split hasn't happened yet (a system that categorizes moves based on if they make contact and thus use physical or special stats to calculate damage) so many Pokemon aren't at their most effective. Blaziken's Blaze Kick would be cool but being Special, Flamethrower beats it in every way. Pokemon like Absol can't have STAB (same type attack bonus) with their high attack stat because Dark is special. Gyarados, an absolute monster with physical attack, is straddled with special water moves.
I also wish the Exp Share was like its Gen 6 Incarnation. It would make growing a team much less tedious while still being challenging.
Exploring the overworld is fun. It really makes you feel like you're going on an adventure. The towns and routes are all well done. But there are a few things holding it back.
Firstly, the HMs are a pain. Before I rip into them, Let's talk about the positives of HMs. They allow your pokemon to do something in the overworld and they can add a bit of intrigue to routes (like seeing an item past a tree). Now for the negatives: Firstly, most of their battle applications are useless. Cut is less accurate than tackle, your actual starting move. Rock Smash does pitiful damage. Strength, Fly, Surf, Dive and Waterfall are at least fine but most of that list is water type moves, which limits coverage and are special and redundant in many cases. The 8 of them mean you basically need 2-3 HM Slaves and need to plan your party around HMs. Secondly, even using the HMs isn't all that fun. You see a rock, you go to it and smash it, the decision makes itself. There is no clever thinking aside from maybe Strength with its puzzles. Here's the thing, you could do what Dragon Quest does and make all HMs an item you can use as soon as you have the appropriate Gym Badge and that would solve all major issues with it instantly. You still have problems like the flavour text that keeps appearing (except for Strength) even when you keep using the HM. Why can't when I press A next to water, I start surfing instantly? I don't need to keep being told the water is blue. Why can't when I press A next to a rock, or a tree it gets removed instantly? That would save so much time, it's not even funny.
Secondly, The Water Routes are a pain. (I know, IGN's 7.8 Too much Water but they are absolutely right). Firstly, despite being half the routes in Hoenn, The water routes do not have half the content. They are boring, repetitive, have very little to do or to differentiate them and have the same bloody Wingulls and Tentacruels. I'm sick of them. They're not even at a high-level consistently (I've fought level 9s and 39 next to each other). Compare this to the land routes, they can be visually and even geographically distinct (you can have giant grasses, differing elevation and bridges, different terrain, different pokemon and weather effects. One land route can look and feel remarkably different from another).
I've seen people defend these routes for quite a few reasons. Here are a few:
>"It makes thematic sense. Water vs Land"
Here's a quote from a review of Pocket Morty's that responds to the same defence
Ghost in a Jar 3 years ago +Human Jokic While thematically it makes sense that Mortys should mostly feel the same when using them, applying that to gameplay makes it very shallow and repetetive. And usually gameplay > theme. and I am sure no one would complain if the Morty's abilities and attributes were more wildly different. Nothing dumb about her insight on that at all, imo
>"It's based on a real place"
Firstly, The job of game designers isn't to be realistic. It's to make something fun. Assassin's Creed devs have frequently stated how they changed the real maps to be something more fun to navigate.
Secondly, Future Games avert this. Sinnoh is based on Hokkaido and is much farther north than prior regions and has a major mountain in the middle. Despite this, it's not all mountains and ice. Unova is based on New York, it's not all giant urban city and filled with lots of steel and poison types. Kalos isn't all fairy type. And the final nail in the coffin, Aloha is based on Hawaii and its islands, yet has a far better balance of types and environments
>"You can skip it/go faster with Sharpedo and later with the Flute in ORAS"
That doesn't change the fact that you're still playing a boring part until then. And even then, making something slightly less bad doesn't magically make it good. There's also the issue of HMs from earlier that it interferes with.
-The Story
It's a standard Pokemon story that set many of the staples of the series going forward (You're a kid in a small town, you get a starter from a tree named professor. You fight the Pokemon League and an evil team that wants to use a Legendary Pokemon you gotta stop). There are some twists along the way. Your protagonist has a parent in Norman the normal type leader which adds a bit more stakes to the journey. You have a sort of apprentice in Wally who grows more confident from Pokemon. You have 2 evil teams with nonsense motives (this is something ORAS improved on). There are some nice interactions and characters along the way.
I have some problems. May, your actual rival, kinda drops off after a certain point, making her feel superfluous. I'd rather she be more present throughout the adventure. Wally is cool because of his arc but he too is very absent from the events at hand. I'd love if he was someone you mentored throughout the adventure.
The Evil Teams and the Legendary Plot isn't very interesting. It feels tacked on for the sake of tradition. I prefer either Gen 1's approach where the Evil Team was grounded and connected with the main plot (Giovanni was the 8th Gym Leader) and the Legendary Pokemon were Legends you had to seek out. Or Gen 5's approach where it was even more integrated (the evil teams, legendary and league were all connected). Emrald's set up falls flat because the climax of the story happens before the Elite 4.
On the plus side, At least catching Rayquaza is a decent challenge for the reward of a level 70 monster before the Elite 4. It being optional also helps.
-Gyms and Elite Four Compared to Gen 6, The game is surprisingly challenging. The Gyms frequently had higher levels and some pretty interesting tactics I couldn't brute force through with a single stronger Pokemon like the normal trainers. Norman, for example, had a Slaking that would tear through my team despite being higher level than it. It's facade and counter were very powerful. My winning tactic involved sending out Gyarados and using leer while Slaking used 2 counters that failed before taking it out in a single Facade. I then sent out Combuskin who took it out with a single Double Kick. Or the Twins Tate and Eliza who required me to synergize my team so my surfs and revives were used effectively, culminating in a very tense 1 on 1 with Gardevoir with Shadow Ball versus a Lunatone that healed at least 4 times. It was fun (I do wish their gym was teamed more around double battles).
I do have some issues. While the puzzles were decent, some Gyms' ideas fell a little flat. Norman's gym used X Items but the trainers had only 1 Pokemon so the Gym may give players who aren't knowledgable of X Items the impression these items are useless. If these Trainers had more pokemon and maybe even moves like Trick Room and Baton Pass, it would be a much better learning experience.
I'm mixed on Wallace being the champion. On the one hand, he does mix up returning Ruby and Saphire players and makes it harder for Blaziken to sweep through like he did with Steven. But on the other hand, It's more dang water types, especially as the 8th gym was already water.
-Post Game
The Battle Frontier is really cool. The different facilities and their challenges are a fun test of the player and things can escalate very fast. I do wish the requirements for medals was made more clear. Overall, I'd love to see this become a staple of the series.
Now personally, I prefer Gen 5's approach to a post-game with new areas to explore with higher level challenges as well as a Battle Frontier Like area. I also wish there were easier ways to level up and Train Pokemon at this point because the best bet is to grind the Elite 4.
Catching some of the remaining Legendaries wasn't that fun. Groudon and Kyogre moved around so much so finding each of their caves was frustrating. The Reggie puzzle is cool but way too over the top. Latias/Latios as roaming Legendaries is as painful as always.
Breeding is cool. There is a lot of depth through the system with egg moves, chains and more. My problems are how long it takes (even with Slugma’s abilities) to hatch eggs and how mammals can lay eggs. I’d rather have a system where the daycare man tells you a Pokémon had appeared after fewer steps that a new Pokémon has appeared, you can examine its stats and choose to keep it or leave it permanently with the daycare. This would solve both issues.
-Conclusion
Despite Emerald being over 15 years old at this point, I enjoyed my time with it and glad I got to experience it. I am of the belief that good game design is timeless. This means that Emerald, no matter how many years pass, will always have its positives as positives. But if I had to rate it and recommend it, I'd give it a 6.5/10 at best with a "if you want a fun straightforward Pokemon adventure with lots to do, go for it". If the HMs were removed, water routes removed or made extremely less tedious, Movesets and TMs improved, and types be improved, I'd give it an instant 8-8.5

So there you have it. If you read this whole thing I'm interested in your thoughts. I also have a blog where I write about games. I've written in-depth critiques of AC2, Bro Middle Earth Shadow of MordoWar, as well as more specific things like sailing in AC4 and bombs in Rev.
https://mieckfram.blogspot.com/
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I Played Pokemon Emerald for the First Time

Hello Everyone. I recently played through Pokemon Emerald for the first time. I heard many things about this game. That it had the best region. That it was the best Gen 3 game. That it was a "director's cut" to Ruby and Sapphire. Given all that, I had high expectations for this 15-year-old GBA title. My first Pokemon Game is Diamond back in 2008. Since then, I've played Pearl, A little of Soulsilver, White, Black 2 and Y. I've also gone and played the ROM hack Crystal Clear. I'm going to be comparing Emerald to these games. It may seem unfair but I feel it will provide a better look at the strengths and weaknesses of the games.
If you want the short version of my thoughts on the game, I enjoyed it but there were some major problems. The visuals, world, gyms, post-game content and general gameplay are great. But the overuse of a handful of Pokemon, the excessive overuse of boring water routes and pokemon, The overuse of HMs, the limited TMs and movesets overall for most Pokemon all bring down the experience by a significant margin.
Let's Get started:
-The Visuals Despite being on a Gameboy Advance, The game looks great. Environments are varied. Places like Fortree, MossDeep, LavaRidge are all visually and thematically distinct. The Pokemon Look varied as well. Their poses and design show their personality and styles. The overworld may have this pixellated style but it looks pretty charming to me. I especially Like the Starters and how the evolve forms look.
-Gameplay The game is very familiar to other Pokemon games but this gen introduced a few new features that have become standard in later games. Abilities are passive effects that trigger in Battle when certain conditions are met. For example, the Ability "Blaze" powers up fire type attacks when health is less than 50%.
Overall, it's still fun. What makes Pokemon's battles more than just fancy rock, paper, scissors is that you have context for why your opponent may pick rock and the ability to choose the target of your opponent's attack. This is what makes more competitive Pokemon interesting. If you predict your opponent's attack, You can switch to a ground type to nullify an electric attack and stuff like that is very satisfying to pull off. Sadly, the latter is really rare in mainline games. But as a whole, add in abilities and cool effects from moves and you have an RPG with a simple pick up and play nature with a lot of depth.
However, there are some problems. Firstly, type balancing isn't great. Grass and Bug, in particular, get the short stick with a lot of pokemon resisting them, and very few strong pokemon and moves compared to later gens. It's to the point where hidden power grass and bug are considered some of the best moves to have (It's somewhat similar for poison except at least it has toxic. Ice and Rock have too few resistances but is great offensively). In contrast, fighting and dragon get a lot of benefits.
This even extends to the starters. Torchic ends up being the easiest as there are lots of great fire and fighting moves, it's super effective against much of the elite 4 and gyms and can get a lot of great coverage moves. It's also one of the few good fire pokemon. Mudkip and Treeko aren't bad but less valuable as there are many more good water and grass pokemon around Hoeen than fire ones. Not to mention grass's earlier shortcomings. Gen 4 would take this discrepancy even farther.
Ideally, a Pokemon game should have its starters be roughly level with each other so their pros and cons end up being roughly even by the end. Gens 1 and 6 seem to be the only ones so far with this design. I've heard people defend this approach by saying "picking a tougher starter is like a hard mode" to which I respond: firstly, a dedicated hard mode would be a better option and secondly, for a new player who picks what looks cool, they may inadvertently give themselves an easier or harder time without realizing it as the game's don't make it clear from the start which starter has what advantages.
Another issue is the lack of level-up moves for many Pokemon and the limited TMs. This makes making a well-rounded team and even backup Pokemon much harder and really forces you to commit to a team early on for the best results. It Also means you're dealing with weaker moves for way too long. As an example, Crawduant, my Water-Dark Type, doesn't learn a decent dark move like Crunch in the game (it does in FireRed and LeafGreen, and subsequent gens would also give it moves like Night Slash meaning Gamefreak recognized this is a problem). Even your starters are not off the hook. Blaziken for example, learns only 2 fire type attacking moves by level up, Ember and Blaze Kick (that's worse than Flamethrower) and no decent fighting moves after Double Kick until level 59 with Sky Uppercut. Compare this to Gen 4 onwards which at least added flamethrower and flame wheel among others to the mix for Infernape, alongside mach panch and Close Combat.
In addition, the physical/special split hasn't happened yet (a system that categorizes moves based on if they make contact and thus use physical or special stats to calculate damage) so many Pokemon aren't at their most effective. Blaziken's Blaze Kick would be cool but being Special, Flamethrower beats it in every way. Pokemon like Absol can't have STAB (same type attack bonus) with their high attack stat because Dark is special. Gyarados, an absolute monster with physical attack, is straddled with special water moves.
I also wish the Exp Share was like its Gen 6 Incarnation. It would make growing a team much less tedious while still being challenging.
Exploring the overworld is fun. It really makes you feel like you're going on an adventure. The towns and routes are all well done. But there are a few things holding it back.
Firstly, the HMs are a pain. Before I rip into them, Let's talk about the positives of HMs. They allow your pokemon to do something in the overworld and they can add a bit of intrigue to routes (like seeing an item past a tree). Now for the negatives: Firstly, most of their battle applications are useless. Cut is less accurate than tackle, your actual starting move. Rock Smash does pitiful damage. Strength, Fly, Surf, Dive and Waterfall are at least fine but most of that list is water type moves, which limits coverage and are special and redundant in many cases. The 8 of them mean you basically need 2-3 HM Slaves and need to plan your party around HMs. Secondly, even using the HMs isn't all that fun. You see a rock, you go to it and smash it, the decision makes itself. There is no clever thinking aside from maybe Strength with its puzzles. Here's the thing, you could do what Dragon Quest does and make all HMs an item you can use as soon as you have the appropriate Gym Badge and that would solve all major issues with it instantly. You still have problems like the flavour text that keeps appearing (except for Strength) even when you keep using the HM. Why can't when I press A next to water, I start surfing instantly? I don't need to keep being told the water is blue. Why can't when I press A next to a rock, or a tree it gets removed instantly? That would save so much time, it's not even funny.
Secondly, The Water Routes are a pain. (I know, IGN's 7.8 Too much Water but they are absolutely right). Firstly, despite being half the routes in Hoenn, The water routes do not have half the content. They are boring, repetitive, have very little to do or to differentiate them and have the same bloody Wingulls and Tentacruels. I'm sick of them. They're not even at a high-level consistently (I've fought level 9s and 39 next to each other). Compare this to the land routes, they can be visually and even geographically distinct (you can have giant grasses, differing elevation and bridges, different terrain, different pokemon and weather effects. One land route can look and feel remarkably different from another).
I've seen people defend these routes for quite a few reasons. Here are a few:
>"It makes thematic sense. Water vs Land"
Here's a quote from a review of Pocket Morty's that responds to the same defence
Ghost in a Jar 3 years ago +Human Jokic While thematically it makes sense that Mortys should mostly feel the same when using them, applying that to gameplay makes it very shallow and repetetive. And usually gameplay > theme. and I am sure no one would complain if the Morty's abilities and attributes were more wildly different. Nothing dumb about her insight on that at all, imo
>"It's based on a real place"
Firstly, The job of game designers isn't to be realistic. It's to make something fun. Assassin's Creed devs have frequently stated how they changed the real maps to be something more fun to navigate.
Secondly, Future Games avert this. Sinnoh is based on Hokkaido and is much farther north than prior regions and has a major mountain in the middle. Despite this, it's not all mountains and ice. Unova is based on New York, it's not all giant urban city and filled with lots of steel and poison types. Kalos isn't all fairy type. And the final nail in the coffin, Aloha is based on Hawaii and its islands, yet has a far better balance of types and environments
>"You can skip it/go faster with Sharpedo and later with the Flute in ORAS"
That doesn't change the fact that you're still playing a boring part until then. And even then, making something slightly less bad doesn't magically make it good. There's also the issue of HMs from earlier that it interferes with.
-The Story
It's a standard Pokemon story that set many of the staples of the series going forward (You're a kid in a small town, you get a starter from a tree named professor. You fight the Pokemon League and an evil team that wants to use a Legendary Pokemon you gotta stop). There are some twists along the way. Your protagonist has a parent in Norman the normal type leader which adds a bit more stakes to the journey. You have a sort of apprentice in Wally who grows more confident from Pokemon. You have 2 evil teams with nonsense motives (this is something ORAS improved on). There are some nice interactions and characters along the way.
I have some problems. May, your actual rival, kinda drops off after a certain point, making her feel superfluous. I'd rather she be more present throughout the adventure. Wally is cool because of his arc but he too is very absent from the events at hand. I'd love if he was someone you mentored throughout the adventure.
The Evil Teams and the Legendary Plot isn't very interesting. It feels tacked on for the sake of tradition. I prefer either Gen 1's approach where the Evil Team was grounded and connected with the main plot (Giovanni was the 8th Gym Leader) and the Legendary Pokemon were Legends you had to seek out. Or Gen 5's approach where it was even more integrated (the evil teams, legendary and league were all connected). Emrald's set up falls flat because the climax of the story happens before the Elite 4.
On the plus side, At least catching Rayquaza is a decent challenge for the reward of a level 70 monster before the Elite 4. It being optional also helps.
-Gyms and Elite Four Compared to Gen 6, The game is surprisingly challenging. The Gyms frequently had higher levels and some pretty interesting tactics I couldn't brute force through with a single stronger Pokemon like the normal trainers. Norman, for example, had a Slaking that would tear through my team despite being higher level than it. It's facade and counter were very powerful. My winning tactic involved sending out Gyarados and using leer while Slaking used 2 counters that failed before taking it out in a single Facade. I then sent out Combuskin who took it out with a single Double Kick. Or the Twins Tate and Eliza who required me to synergize my team so my surfs and revives were used effectively, culminating in a very tense 1 on 1 with Gardevoir with Shadow Ball versus a Lunatone that healed at least 4 times. It was fun (I do wish their gym was teamed more around double battles).
I do have some issues. While the puzzles were decent, some Gyms' ideas fell a little flat. Norman's gym used X Items but the trainers had only 1 Pokemon so the Gym may give players who aren't knowledgable of X Items the impression these items are useless. If these Trainers had more pokemon and maybe even moves like Trick Room and Baton Pass, it would be a much better learning experience.
I'm mixed on Wallace being the champion. On the one hand, he does mix up returning Ruby and Saphire players and makes it harder for Blaziken to sweep through like he did with Steven. But on the other hand, It's more dang water types, especially as the 8th gym was already water.
-Post Game
The Battle Frontier is really cool. The different facilities and their challenges are a fun test of the player and things can escalate very fast. I do wish the requirements for medals was made more clear. Overall, I'd love to see this become a staple of the series.
Now personally, I prefer Gen 5's approach to a post-game with new areas to explore with higher level challenges as well as a Battle Frontier Like area. I also wish there were easier ways to level up and Train Pokemon at this point because the best bet is to grind the Elite 4.
Catching some of the remaining Legendaries wasn't that fun. Groudon and Kyogre moved around so much so finding each of their caves was frustrating. The Reggie puzzle is cool but way too over the top. Latias/Latios as roaming Legendaries is as painful as always.
Breeding is cool. There is a lot of depth through the system with egg moves, chains and more. My problems are how long it takes (even with Slugma’s abilities) to hatch eggs and how mammals can lay eggs. I’d rather have a system where the daycare man tells you a Pokémon had appeared after fewer steps that a new Pokémon has appeared, you can examine its stats and choose to keep it or leave it permanently with the daycare. This would solve both issues.
-Conclusion
Despite Emerald being over 15 years old at this point, I enjoyed my time with it and glad I got to experience it. I am of the belief that good game design is timeless. This means that Emerald, no matter how many years pass, will always have its positives as positives. But if I had to rate it and recommend it, I'd give it a 6.5/10 at best with a "if you want a fun straightforward Pokemon adventure with lots to do, go for it". If the HMs were removed, water routes removed or made extremely less tedious, Movesets and TMs improved, and types be improved, I'd give it an instant 8-8.5
submitted by coolwali to TruePokemon [link] [comments]

top 25 albums of 2019

Top 25 Albums of 2019

25. Lightning Bolt - Sonic Citadel

I have a very on-again-off-again relationship with noise, one that was very much tested on this Lightning Bolt album. Still, any hesitance I have for noise rock is accompanied by a deep love of hardcore headbangers, and Sonic Citadel more than delivers on that front. For every noisy mess like Van Halen 2049 there’s a track like Blow To The Head to ram me in the face with focused intensity, and for every seemingly aimless track like Don Henley In The Park there’s an Air Conditioning. Oh geeeeez, Air Conditioning. This is surely hyperbole, but I feel like I could listen to the main riffs on Air Conditioning for the rest of my life. That’s the good shit right there.
Favorite Tracks: Blow To The Head, USA Is A Psycho, Air Conditioning, Big Banger, Halloween 3
Least Favorite Track: Van Halen 2049

24. Tyr - Hel

Tyr holds a unique space in the metal sphere for me, meshing the viking imagery of Amon Amarth with a war-ballad style better fitting a band like Turisas. Their singer in particular has a SUPER unique approach to vocals that evokes tribal imagery and the triumphant ballads of conquering warbands. That style is in full force on Hel, which sees the band putting out a few of my new favorite Tyr songs amidst a bunch of others that are varying levels of successful.
My biggest issue with Hel is that it feels quite a bit bloated in spots. Some songs feel a minute or two too long and drawn out, while others go in one ear and out the other and come off as filler. On tracks like Downhill Drunk the singer’s signature style just doesn’t land at all, messing up the vibe of the entire song and ruining it for me.
Still, these issues aren’t so numerous that they ruin the album, nor is the bloat an issue of much significance- it’s simply a 1:09 album that could have been closer to 50 or even 45 minutes with some time spent trimming fat here and there. It’s still easily one of the best metal releases of the year.
Favorite Tracks: All Heroes Fall, Garmr, Sunset Shore, Empire of the North, Fire & Flame
Least Favorite Track: Downhill Drunk

23. Bonobo - fabric presents Bonobo

Fantastic background music for sure. While Bonobo has put out more focused pieces, as a collection of tracks mixed to blend seamlessly into each other, this is still a very pleasant and upbeat experience for its hour-and-a-quarter runtime. It’s very easy to just zone out while listening to this mix, which in this case works as a compliment as the music just kind of washes over you with steady beats and ambient transitions. Every song has some kind of musical hook to latch onto, which more than helps to catch a groove and follow the song through its next transition, swapping tracks sometimes before you even notice it. While some beats here and there don’t quite land like others (especially in the back half), there are enough great tracks across this lengthy mix to make it more than worth the time.
Favorite Tracks: Flicker, Jacquot (Waters of Praslin), Hidden Tropics, Maia, Cold Harbour, Ibrik, Sacred, By Your Side, Buzzard Walk
Least Favorite Track: Perpetrator

22. Clear Soul Forces - Still

As far as down-to-earth rap goes, this is a really good album. Mellow beats and four skilled emcees that work well together. These guys have nerd cred too- listen to a couple songs and try to keep track of how many video game, comic book and pro wrestling references they drop, and watch as you rapidly lose track. Still, there’s something missing from these tracks, a memorability or charisma that, while present, isn’t present enough to make this album really special beyond just being a collection of good rap songs. Also, it’s not their fault but the Go ACH Go song has aged REALLY poorly.
Favorite Tracks: Blaow, Hit Me Now, Diamond Rhymin’, Kick It, Dinner Time, Don’t Stop
Least Favorite Track: Sword Play

21. Otoboke Beaver - ITEKOMA HITS

Man what the FUCK?
This album is fucking weird. It’s like they took a bunch of j-rock girls, gave them a mountain of coke, and waited for them to start freaking out before holding a gun to their head to force them to record an album. This album is bouncy, it’s energetic, and it’s also absolutely out of its mind and wild to the point of total disconnection with conventional songwriting. One second these girls will be jamming along to some groovy bassline, hitting you with a surf-rocky vibe that’s easy to headbang to, and the next second they’re trying to murder their instruments with punk-rock fury as they scream in demented unison. And the craziest part is the entire thing WORKS.
Once you listen through it a couple times you start to adapt to the band’s warped style and get less shaken up by sudden transitions into insanity, which lets you really appreciate just how talented and synchronized this band really is. They’re playing the most frantic and violent shit in complete lockstep, which gets more and more impressive with every sudden jump and switch back to the land of the living. I don’t know how it happened, but they made me fall in love with this crazy, wild, pants-on-head demented fucking album.
Favorite Tracks: Legit every song, somehow. What? I think my favorite favorites are probably S’il vous plait, Love Is Short, Bad Luck, Don’t light my fire, and I’m tired of your repeating story, but like… what?
Least Favorite Tracks: What the hell is this album?

20. Unprocessed - Artificial Void

I just baaaarely started getting into djent this year, but I’m glad I did because it got me to try this album from a band who (to me) was a total unknown. As it turns out, this album is a fantastic mix of prog metal and metalcore (though I’m unfamiliar with the latter so I might be wrong there), and it shines in its creative and catchy riff structure and in the layers the band works into each of their songs. Very few tracks on this album feel one-note, and often progress between multiple phases across their runtime, leading the whole album to have this cohesive depth to it that makes almost every song that much more enjoyable. When they want to go hard they do it really well on tracks like Abandoned and Prototype, but when they decide to go for a cleaner mellow sound for the majority of a song, it leads to standout tracks like Ruins with extremely catchy melodies that have been stuck in my head basically all year and keep me coming back for more.
While it does falter a bit in the second half, this is overall a really solid album that I’d recommend to just about anyone who isn’t afraid of a bit of out-there riffing and some screamed vocals. If more djent measures up to Artificial Void, I’m sure to enjoy my time exploring this genre.
Favorite Tracks: Prototype, Artificial Void, Ruins, Fear, Abandoned, House of Waters, Down the Spine, Another Sky
Least Favorite Track: Avatar

19. Soil & “Pimp” Sessions - OUTSIDE

Big thanks to GuyofEvil for turning me on to these guys. S&P are a creative and energetic jazz ensemble, and this album shows every bit of that creativity and energy. The upbeat tracks on this album are bouncy and fun, keeping a strong and consistent tempo so that the leading instrument for each song has space to really have some fun with their solo segments. The style of each song can vary, though, and scattered throughout the album are a number of very mellow, lowkey tracks, which are extremely pleasant in their own way. A few times they get a little too wild for my tastes (the trumpet solo on Tracking being the prime example of this), but more often than not I found myself captivated by either their smooth relaxing tracks or the frenetic energy of their faster tracks. Front to back just a really enjoyable jazz album.
Favorite Tracks: Blue Eyed Monster, The Light and The Shadowland, Shapeshifter, Wanna Be A Man, Out Of Control, In The Gloom of The Forest, Inside
Least Favorite Track: Tracking

18. Shredders - Great Hits

I’ve been a P.O.S stan for about a decade now, ever since getting into Audition and Never Better back in high school. The whole Doomtree clique pumps out creative alternative rap on the regular, and this combination of P.O.S and Sims with Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak on production is no exception. Their mix of rap styles work well together over these surprisingly danceable beats, coming together for a brief but entertaining album that does its best to get stuck in your head. The biggest downside of this album, I’d say, is there’s no real standout here- everything sits at a consistently “pretty good” level, never really sucking but never breaking out into something truly fantastic.
Favorite Tracks: Vanilla ISIS, Ayeyayaya, Shadap You Face Pt. II, Young Bros, Chips
Least Favorite Track: Suburban Base

17. Denzel Curry - ZUU

Not much needs to be said on this one. While I still prefer last year’s TA13OO for its fully-fleshed-out concept and huge sonic variety, ZUU is a great change of pace for Curry, going back to an old-school boom-bap Southern rap style and doing it really well. Every song on this album seems designed to sound at its very best when blasted from car speakers, and he leans well into this style, delivering BANGERS on BANGERS on BANGERS on this album.
Favorite Tracks: ZUU, RICKY, WISH, BIRDZ, YOO, SHAKE 88, P.A.T.
Least Favorite Track: SPEEDBOAT

16. JPEGMAFIA - All My Heroes Are Cornballs

Last year’s Veteran didn’t sit right with me, let’s start there. I like Peggy’s rapping style, all high energy with a fun mix of pop culture to pull from for references (and I especially appreciate all the wrestling references, too). In a way he kinda reminds me of a modern Ol’ Dirty Bastard, all energy and intensity but with less of a focus on dirt and more on being what almost amounts to a troll rapper. Like seriously, whether or not I liked his music, I’d appreciate the shit out of Peggy’s meme-savvy song titles any day.
My problem with Veteran that crops up on this album is Peggy’s experimental production style and unorthodox song structure, often breaking off into out-there tangents and side-noises that on Veteran took me out of the album entirely too much to enjoy it. On this album, however, it’s more of a back-and-forth, and more often than not the weirder segments are bookended by Peggy hitting a stride on a track where he matches his production perfectly, making for a fantastic song even if the more out-there parts don’t sit right with me. He also dips his toes more into mellow-but-glitchy production and a singsongy approach to hooks, both of which work pretty well for him. Cornballs, for me, is a much more enjoyable album than Veteran, because on Cornballs Peggy finds a pocket where his wild rapping style and his eclectic production style mesh perfectly without going completely off the reservation.
Favorite Tracks: Jesus Forgive Me I Am A Thot, Kenan Vs Kel, Beta Male Strategies, Grimy Waifu, PTSD, All My Heroes Are Cornballs, BBW, Thot Tactics, DOTS FREESTYLE REMIX, BUTTERMILK JESUS TYPE BEAT
Least Favorite Track: Lifes Hard, Here’s A Song About Sorrel

15. Rapsody - Eve

Ever since hearing Rapsody on TPAB a year or two ago, I wanted to see what her next big project would be like. Turns out, Rapsody has a ton to say, more than can be contained in one (very very good) guest verse on a Kendrick album.
It’s tough to fully describe Eve as an album, seeing as Rapsody’s every verse is about the struggles of and empowerment of black women, spurring them towards self-love and independence and giving them anthems for their own lives. Meanwhile, I’m a middle-class white dude with a pretty decent life and no real major struggles to overcome. So, uh, a lot of these themes don’t sit with me, as much as I appreciate them.
Still, from a purely musical standpoint, Eve is a great album. Rapsody comes in STRONG on just about every song, with socially and politically-charged verses delivered with absolute confidence that makes it really sound like she believes everything she’s saying and wants you to believe in it, too. The production is pretty good, often building a dramatic and intense atmosphere that further amplifies the impact of Rapsody’s words (although a couple songs like Cleo and Ibtihaj lean WAY too hard on their samples and influences for my taste).
As disconnected as I can feel from the topics Rapsody discovers, I can’t say much against how she delivers them. I’m glad she felt so strongly about these topics to make an album this focused on them, and I’m glad it turned out this great.
Favorite Tracks: Nina, Aaliyah, Serena, Iman, Sojourner
Least Favorite Track: Oprah

14. CZARFACE - Czarface Meets Ghostface

I’m a pretty big fan of CZARFACE generally, and for good reason. Inspectah Deck shines in these group projects, Esoteric has nerd bars and clever punchlines for the next 500 years already written down somewhere, and 7L’s production fits the two rappers perfectly with a unique mix of Wu-Tang-style mellow production that works well with battle bars and DOOM-style sample-heavy interludes and comic-book-inspired beats. Their recent collab album with DOOM grew on me over time, and as Ghostface is my favorite member of the Wu-Tang Clan, I was hype as fuck for this album.
Turns out, it was pretty good! I was consumed by hype at first, thinking it might be CZARFACE’s best project (it’s not, Every Hero Needs A Villain is still the best), but this is several steps above the lackluster Fistful of Peril and definitely a whole lot of fun in its own right. Nobody’s quite on their A game here, unfortunately, but their B game is still great and delivers a bunch of tracks that should be added to any rotation of brag rap. The biggest downside of this album is that very little really stands out in the way songs like Escape from Czarkham Asylum did or Bomb Thrown did. Ghostface is alright if not as present as the album title would make you think, Deck is alright but never really goes apeshit like he has in the past, Esoteric is generally pretty fantastic but doesn’t carry songs, and 7L’s beats are alright but sometimes a bit too mellow for the brag bars going over them. When it all clicks on tracks like Post Credits Scene it’s good shit, but it doesn’t click often enough to be a truly fantastic album like Every Hero Needs A Villain.
Still, there are no bad tracks at all on Czarface Meets Ghostface, and the consistently pretty good tracks lead to a pretty good album.
Favorite Tracks: Face Off, Iron Claw, Powers and Stuff, The King Heard Voices, (Post Credits Scene)
Least Favorite Track: Mongolian Beef

13. Malibu Ken - Malibu Ken

I had to come back to this one a couple times to decide what I really liked and didn’t like about this album. Honestly, there’s not a lot to dislike, though. Aesop Rock is in top form as he has been just about this whole decade, rapping with the buttery flows he’s developed that made me absolutely fall in love with Skelethon and The Impossible Kid. Standout tracks like Tuesday, Acid King and Churro show Aes’ knack for storytelling hasn’t faded at all, either. Tobacco’s production, throughout very mellow and almost chiptune in style without ever sounding much like a videogame soundtrack and accompanied by some really heavily processed but very interesting hooks, remains a super unique approach that I haven’t heard mirrored all year.
I guess my biggest problem with the album is that for how good Aesop’s rapping is and for how good Tobacco’s production is, I just don’t feel like the two work well together. Aes feels almost too dynamic for Tobacco’s lowkey production, and Tobacco’s beats feel too understated for Aesop’s very diverse and verbose rapping style. Moreover, no matter how well Aes can ride almost any beat, Tobacco’s really out-there hooks feel almost at odds with Aes’ very precise and calculated rapping. In this situation, the two excellent parts remain excellent, but their combination lacks the synergy to evolve 1+1 into something greater than 2.
Favorite Tracks: Corn Maze, Tuesday, Save Our Ship, Dog Years, Acid King, Churro
Least Favorite Track: Sword Box

12. Benny the Butcher - The Plugs I Met

Just about everything about Pusha T’s last album DAYTONA is also relevant here. Benny has a calculating approach to rapping mixed with an intensity that makes you hang on his words, and his coke raps, while nothing really new or exciting, are delivered with creativity and confidence that sells them despite their lack of novelty. Across the board, this brief album has few real flaws and lets Benny and his guests shine at what they do best (especially Black Thought, holy crap). As long as you’re not expecting some crazy experimental boundary pushing, this album definitely satisfies.
However, it’s not DAYTONA. While that album was my album of the year last year, Benny’s album isn’t quite up to the same caliber. Benny’s raps, while very competent and well put-together, lack Pusha’s charisma and fall slightly flatter as a result (especially when the two are directly comparable on 18 Wheeler). The production, while great at evoking this Tony-Montana-like drug lord vibe, can’t hope to compare to Kanye’s perfect production accompaniment on DAYTONA, which draws from a much more interesting group of influences. So while The Plugs I Met is definitely a nice little slice of coke rap and is by no means a bad album at all, I’ve still heard better and I know the potential that this album could live up to, but doesn’t.
Favorite Tracks: Crowns for Kings, Dirty Harry, 18 Wheeler
Least Favorite Track: Took The Money To The Plug’s House

11. Gloryhammer - Legends From Beyond The Galactic Terrorvortex

For those unfamiliar with Gloryhammer, they’re an Anglo-Swiss power metal band that uses aggressively catchy power metal to tell aggressively cheesy sci-fi/fantasy tales of a made-up world not unlike our own, except for the million ways it’s not even close to our own. To perfectly illustrate this, the rest of this review will just be a synopsis of this album’s plot. If that won’t sell you, you probably won’t like this album.
Angus McFife XIII, descendant of the original Angus McFife and Crown Prince of the Kingdom of Fife, is no stranger to the cruel machinations of the space wizard Zargothrax. After Zargothrax was released from his frozen prison by chaos wizards in the distant future of 1992, Angus McFife teamed up with the Hollywood Hootsman (he’s the king of California), the Questlords of Inverness, and many more noble allies to defend the land of Dundee from Zargothrax’s nefarious grasp. At the climax of their epic battle, Zargothrax and Angus McFife XIII were cast into an interdimensional portal that catapulted them through time and space to an alternate reality. Quick to take advantage of this situation, Zargothrax defeated the original Angus McFife, corrupted the Knights of Crail to serve under his new empire, and has all but taken over the galaxy! With all of his allies gone and his Astral Hammer depowered, Angus McFife must embark on a new quest, making allies from enemies and facing foes that were once friends as he searches for a way to defeat the dark wizard at his absolute strongest. Only with an army at his side could our intrepid hero hope to overcome Zargothrax’s evil once more.
I made none of that up. This album fucking rules. Space 1992 is better, but this album is still super good.
Favorite Tracks: Masters of the Galaxy, Power of the Laser Dragon Fire, Legendary Enchanted Jetpack, Gloryhammer, Hootsforce, Battle for Eternity, The Fires of Ancient Cosmic Destiny
Least Favorite Track: Into the Terrorvortex of Kor-Virliath

10. Brother Ali - Secrets & Escapes

Yo, where the hell did this come from? I would have completely slept on this album if I didn’t stumble on a DeadEndHipHop review of the record several weeks after its surprise release. Glad I did, too, because I really love Us and All The Beauty In This Whole Life, so I was gonna jump on this as soon as I found it.
Overall, I would say “this is more great Ali”, but it’s really not. Like, it’s more of the type of things Brother Ali discusses, and it’s more great Ali flows, but the dude deliberately went in a very different tonal direction this time around. Evidence’s production is part of it, washing away Ant’s warm and upbeat production in a wave of dusty, lo-fi, sample-heavy production that casts Ali’s verses in a whole new light, but Ali’s own delivery is different too. He’s more mellowed out here, more relaxed and less emphatic in his delivery across the board. It sounds less like he’s preaching (not that he ever came across as holier-than-thou or talking down to his audience, ‘cause he didn’t) and more like he’s having a conversation with the listener.
While this change of pace means the album lacks some of the grandiosity or the thematic focus of Ali’s past albums that I’ve loved, Secrets & Escapes is a fantastic exercise in change and another great addition to an already excellent veteran catalogue.
Favorite Tracks: Abu Enzo, Situated, Greatest That Never Lived, Father Figures, Secrets & Escapes, De La Kufi, Red Light Zone, They Shot Ricky
Least Favorite Track: Apple Tree Me

9. Alex Cameron - Miami Memory

I got turned on to Alex Cameron probably a year and a half ago, and while I’m not big into pop, his style in particular latched its hooks into my brain, and since then Forced Witness has remained one of my favorite albums of all time. The nostalgic production on the album mixing synthetic beats and soulful saxophone riffs are layered and engaging while still mellow and relaxing, and Alex works beautifully with each track. His biggest skill has to be his songwriting, crafting unbelievably catchy melodies and vivid lyrics that often err on the side of hilarity, effortlessly bouncing from lines like “In a neon boneyard, raised from the dead / We’ll bet on forever but we both know the spread” to “Me and Roy, we got a pretty mean posse / With the down-syndrome Jew from the real estate crew”. Forced Witness is hilarious without being a comedy album, it’s nostalgic without being a complete ripoff, and it’s endlessly replayable.
Miami Memory is… not Forced Witness 2. This bummed me out at first, given how much I loved that album, but that turned out to not be a bad thing, and Miami Memory in fact grew on me with repeat listens in its own way. It’s still every bit as catchy, with singable choruses like “I’m your STEP-DAAAAAAD!”, but other details about Miami Memory show that Alex has gone in a different direction this time, which has borne new fruit entirely. The production on this album is more varied than Forced Witness, using strong digital influences on tracks like Stepdad and Miami Memory but switching entirely to heartland rock ballads on tracks like Bad For The Boys and Far From Born Again, and it’s a sonic diversity that makes each song stand out in its own unique way. The hilarious lyrics are for the most part gone, excepting specific moments like the bitter chorus on Divorce and the line on End Is Nigh that goes “There’s a guy who thinks I’m fuckin’ his girlfriend, he says he’s gonna make me cry / But I couldn’t get it up if I wanted to, man, yeah, and I already wanna die”.
Like I said, I came in expecting a sequel to Forced Witness, and while I didn’t get that, I got a new direction from Alex Cameron that’s every bit as memorable and explores new avenues that he fits into very well. While I prefer his last album even now, Miami Memory is a fantastic album in its own way.
Favorite Tracks: Stepdad, Miami Memory, Far From Born Again, Bad For The Boys, PC With Me, Divorce
Least Favorite Track: Too Far

8. YBN Cordae - The Lost Boy

Bruh, Cordae put out a better Chance album than Chance.
Seriously, though. Out of the entire XXL Freshman class for this year, YBN Cordae stood out the most, and this album helps explain why. The Lost Boy is for the most part a laid-back album where Cordae skillfully raps about his life and the relationships he’s had and finds himself in. The production is mellow and often has a little bit of soul or RnB flavoring sprinkled into it, and Cordae rides these beats very nicely. As a rapper he’s not usually much of a standout, but he never really disappoints with an abominably bad bar or a trash flow, and when he really wants to flex he can be very impressive on the mic. Outside of a few tracks that just didn’t sit well with me personally, this is a solid hip-hop album and a great debut record for Cordae.
Favorite Tracks: Bad Idea, Thanksgiving, RNP, Thousand Words, Been Around, Nightmares Are Real
Least Favorite Track: Broke as Fuck

7. Opeth - In Cauda Venenum

So I have a limited experience with Opeth- I’ve heard Ghost Reveries and I know they started out in metal then transitioned fully into prog rock, and that’s about it. I also have a limited experience with prog, based mainly around albums my dad (a huge prog head) has had me try, including In The Court of the Crimson King, Brain Salad Surgery, and Days of Future Passed. So I’m kind of familiar with this style of music, but it and Opeth are very much not in my wheelhouse. All that is to say that after listening to In Cauda Venenum over and over, I really want to get into more classic prog rock now.
Opeth’s new album is best described as “cinematic” or “theatrical”, not necessarily in theme, but in style. The dynamic range on this album is fantastic, weaving mellow but melodic segments with bold, bombastic explosions of rock with near effortless ease. Though Opeth has become a prog band fully, I can still feel a little of the metal clinging to the band’s DNA, mainly in the way they feel completely fearless in exploring huge blasting walls of sound, especially on songs like Dignity and Universal Truth. Coming from metal the instrumental work is all top notch as well, and the lead singer’s voice, while not mind blowing in any real way, fits the instrumental work to a T and complements the overall sound super well.
I didn’t quite love this album at first, but it’s growing on me with each new listen. In Cauda Venenum is huge, it’s harrowing, it’s exciting, but at the same time it isn’t afraid to be gentle and delicate, often in the same song. That balance gives it a wonderfully creative duality, and makes just about every song a standout experience.
Favorite Tracks: Dignity, Heart In Hand, Universal Truth, The Garroter, Continuum
Least Favorite Track: Charlatan

6. Sabaton - The Great War

Okay look, Sabaton’s music has a good number of flaws, and this album is no exception. Many songs feel underwritten, given only the barest verses seemingly so that they’re not making a song entirely out of choruses, and as is the case with 82nd All The Way, their abridged retelling of history through music is often woefully incomplete. They virtually never deviate from their main aesthetic outside of very slight additional flavors, leading to songs like Attack of the Dead Men which don’t get the tone shift they could really use. Perhaps most damning of all, Sabaton’s music by and large feels extremely formulaic and samey, with similar musical phrases and melodies very often finding themselves reused or slightly tweaked between songs. The examples are everywhere: the very similar verse structure between Ghost in the Trenches and No Bullets Fly, literally almost the exact same verse melody on Red Baron and Night Witches, the constant reliance on “verse bridge chorus verse bridge chorus interlude solo chorus chorus” for almost every song’s structure, I could go on and on. And all of this SHOULD lead me to dislike this album. That said…
GOD, THIS ALBUM FUCKING RULES! IT’S SO EXPLOSIVE, SO TRIUMPHANT, IT MAKES ME WANT TO TEAR MY SHIRT OFF AND CLIMB THE NEAREST MOUNTAIN SO I CAN BELLOW THE LYRICS OF EVERY CHORUS TO THE MEWLING WEAKLINGS BELOW! Sabaton are power metal down to the bone marrow, and what they lack in intricate songwriting and stylistic versatility they more than make up for in thunderous energy and an enthusiastic overindulgence in the power and fury of power metal. While their songs are lacking a lot of the noodly speed you’d get from something like a Dragonforce album, every Sabaton song hits like a tank shell in part through the raw force of the instrumental backing but also through Joakim Broden’s charismatic voice that sounds like the echoing decrees of a metal-as-fuck Swedish god. EVERY SINGLE CHORUS IS FIRE! EVERY SINGLE RIFF IS A FUCKING BANGER!
Sabaton has a lot of flaws, yes, but they know what they’re good at and play to their strengths. The Great War isn’t the most creative or the most versatile album on this list, but goddamn if it isn’t one of the most exciting and adrenaline-pumping albums on this list by a mile.
Favorite Tracks: Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 82nd All The Way, The Red Baron, Ghost In The Trenches, Fields Of Verdun
Least Favorite Track: Attack of the Dead Men

5. Little Simz - GREY Area

I could probably count on one hand how many UK rappers I’d heard before 2019, but between Little Simz and Slowthai (who didn’t make this list but still put out a really solid album this year that I won’t be surprised at all to see on others’ lists), I’ve got a growing interest in the genre as long as the quality bar stays this high.
I don’t have a lot to say on this album given that I’m so unfamiliar with the genre, but man, Little Simz is a fucking excellent rapper. On Venom especially, she flexes a flow I wasn’t expecting at all, weaving buttery lines together in a catchy pace that easily gets my head bobbing. Other tracks like Selfish and Wounds showcase Simz’ flows but in a way that takes advantage of well-built, contemporary beats and catchy sampled or sung choruses that show her broader appeal as an artist beyond just being “a great rapper”.
Simz covers a good number of topics and delves deep into her personal life on this album, and between the killer flows and strong production, I’m definitely keeping an eye on her going forward.
Favorite Tracks: Selfish, Wounds, Venom, 101 FM, Pressure
Least Favorite Track: Therapy

4. Tyler, the Creator - IGOR

I’m not a gigantic Tyler fan, though since this album dropped I’ve relistened to Flower Boy and gained a new appreciation for it as a result. Still, IGOR is an almost undeniable album, breaking so many conventions of both hip-hop and RnB in ways that showcase both Tyler’s creativity and raw talent on the mic and on the beat. On first listen it sounds jank and unrefined and honestly feels like it shouldn’t work- Tyler’s pitch-shifted vocals are warbly and off, each beat just kind of feels like something’s wrong with it, and the combination is like nothing else. However, instead of collapsing under the weight of these miniature flaws adding up, Tyler manages the impossible and turns these flaws into quirks, making every imperfection into an endearing trait of the songwriting and execution. In the end, the strained falsetto chorus on Earfquake sticks in my head a whole hell of a lot more than most well-sung pop choruses this year. The culprit here is Tyler’s mastery of songwriting, knowing exactly how to craft a beat to accomplish what he wants as well as knowing exactly how to use his creations to their fullest with the vocals and rap verses he adds on top.
Front to back, this album is multilayered, it’s ever-evolving, it’s endlessly fascinating, and it sets the bar ever higher not just for Tyler, but for any of his peers who want to delve into this category of rap-RnB mashups. I’m definitely keeping an eye on whatever Tyler creates next.
Favorite Tracks: IGOR’S THEME, I THINK, RUNNING OUT OF TIME, A BOY IS A GUN, WHAT’S GOOD, ARE WE STILL FRIENDS?
Least Favorite Track: NEW MAGIC WAND

3. POLKADOT STINGRAY - Uchoten

I actually posted on the Polkadot Stingray subreddit a few months ago talking about why I love this album so much, and why it was my #1 album for about six months until King Gizzard showed up to dethrone it. Here’s the link.
To be clear, Uchoten didn’t get dropped two spots because the album soured on me or because I found any glaring flaws. It’s still every bit the summery ball of happy vibes that I absolutely adore it for, and I keep coming back to it every once in a while to brighten my spirits. The albums above it are just that good. My only real gripe is that a few of the songs are just alright and that the song 7 has a weird chorus that I’m just not a fan of.
Favorite Tracks: Ichidaiji, Denkousekka, Drama (track 3), City Life (track 5), Rhythmy (track 6), Love Call (track 8), Secret (track 11)
Least Favorite Track: 7 (track 9 lol)

2. clipping. - There Existed An Addiction To Blood

SPOOK WARNING.
Ever since getting into Clipping a couple years back (the moment I started Splendor & Misery and heard Daveed’s flow on The Breach, I was all in on this group), I’ve been eagerly awaiting the next album. Face was an EP masquerading as an album and that was a bummer, but Clipping came back with There Existed An Addiction To Blood, timed perfectly for the spookiest season of the year, and holy fuck, they delivered. Addiction to Blood is a gut-wrenchingly violent, disturbing album that evokes an urgent need to escape, but beneath its grindhouse horror aesthetic, the album is a technical masterpiece, with brilliant production throughout underscoring Daveed’s absolutely stellar rapping.
I could gush about this album literally for hours. There’s so much perfect about it- the tense piano on Nothing is Safe, the foreboding atmosphere of He Dead, the crushing intensity of Club Down (HOLY FUCK CLUB DOWN IS SO INTENSE), how fucked up it is that the catchiest song on the album (The Show) is about a live show that makes the torture scene from Law Abiding Citizen sound lowkey, the FUCKING AMBIENT CARS PASSING BY CONTRIBUTING TO THE BEAT ON RUN FOR YOUR LIFE OH MY GOD IT’S BRILLIANT, just everything about Blood of the Fang, the insane pace changes on Story 7 sucking you in, holy shit, this album is a masterpiece.
Addiction to Blood lives and breathes its horrorcore aesthetic too, never settling for a basic hip-hop beat and violent lyrics like the old-school horrorcore staples did. Similarly to the Daughters album last year, Clipping’s new album reeks of panic, unease, and an overwhelming desire to escape. You’re being hunted. You’re not safe. Run. GET OUT. Where Daughters’ album was an intense psychological thriller, though, Addiction to Blood comes off as a campy gorefest, reveling in the buckets and buckets of blood and viscera it showers over every song like it’s trying to audition to be a Mortal Kombat soundtrack.
The album is so technically solid, so expertly produced, and Daveed’s raps are so across-the-board phenomenal, that I honestly only have minor nitpicks at best for criticism against the album. The Prophecy interlude is boring, La Chat’s verse is a liiiiittle awkward but I’m cool with it, Daveed’s flow on All In Your Head is too bare-bones for me, and La Mala Ordina, despite its fantastic beat and Daveed’s downright evil lyrics about the difference between hip-hop gangstas and the gangsters of the real world, has two major flaws that threaten to ruin the song for me.
One, the straight minute of noise at the end of the song is just… nah, no thanks. It would be tolerable if it was maybe thirty seconds or twenty seconds, but at its length it’s just a sign for me to skip the rest of the song once Daveed’s lyrics are incomprehensible. Two, Elcamino’s verse coming in second on the album is the weakest rapping I’ve heard almost all year and I’m kind of surprised nobody brings it up. Like yeah, it fits the vibe of the song as he’s this random coke rapper gangsta with a romanticized view of a cutthroat industry that will chew him up and spit him out, but come on. Dude rhymes “wagon” with “status” and then spends the rest of his verse with a lethargic, weak flow that emphasizes exactly how run-of-the-mill and boring his dumbed-down lyrics are. This verse fucking sucks, dude. Full stop.
Rest of the album is perfect though.
Favorite Tracks: Nothing Is Safe, He Dead, Club Down, Run For Your Life, The Show, Blood of the Fang, Story 7
Least Favorite Track: La Mala Ordina

1. King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard - Infest the Rat’s Nest

How? How the hell did these guys make an album this good? King Gizzard went from bluesy folk this year to suddenly unleashing a classic thrash behemoth of an album and I couldn’t be more pleased with it. Every single fucking song on this album is an absolute banger, with singable choruses and vivid imagery supporting a grim and apocalyptic story running throughout. Outside of the chuggy grinder Superbug (which more than grew on me over time), every song is either high-octane classic thrash metal or a headbanging stoner rock anthem and everything GOES SO FUCKING HARD. How the FUCK does this album GO SO FUCKING HARD?
The guitar riffs are almost universally catchy and sprinkled with these Megadethy showoff licks that showcase exactly how talented these Aussie boys really are, the drum beats are these machinegun affairs that don’t measure up to the blast beat intensity of more hardcore metal but are no less exhilarating for it, and the vocals, holy shit the vocals. My dude on the vocals (I’m awful with names) has these throaty growls that perfectly match the grimy, visceral tone of the instruments, and they’re extremely fun to imitate despite the throat pain that follows. PERI-PERIHELIOOOOOON!
But the most impressive part has to be that this is the band’s fifteenth album and their first foray into this genre, the second closest album being the garage rock banger Nonagon Infinity which I loved in the past. I’ve listened to a surprising number of new classic thrash albums this year (did you know there’s apparently a New Wave Of Traditional Thrash Metal?) and Infest The Rat’s Nest blows every single one of them out of the water. It’s not even close, and the same can be said for the vast majority of albums this year.
Favorite tracks: All of them, but the best of the best are Mars for the Rich, Perihelion, Organ Farmer, and Venusian 2.
Least favorite track: Self-Immolate, but that song still fucking slaps.
submitted by FreestyleKneepad to freestylekneepad [link] [comments]

I played Pokemon Emerald for the First Time

Hello Everyone. I recently played through Pokemon Emerald for the first time. I heard many things about this game. That it had the best region. That it was the best Gen 3 game. That it was a "director's cut" to Ruby and Sapphire. Given all that, I had high expectations for this 15-year-old GBA title. My first Pokemon Game is Diamond back in 2008. Since then, I've played Pearl, A little of Soulsilver, White, Black 2 and Y. I've also gone and played the ROM hack Crystal Clear. I'm going to be comparing Emerald to these games. It may seem unfair but I feel it will provide a better look at the strengths and weaknesses of the games.
If you want the short version of my thoughts on the game, I enjoyed it but there were some major problems. The visuals, world, gyms, post-game content and general gameplay are great. But the overuse of a handful of Pokemon, the excessive overuse of boring water routes and pokemon, The overuse of HMs, the limited TMs and movesets overall for most Pokemon all bring down the experience by a significant margin.
Let's Get started:
-The Visuals Despite being on a Gameboy Advance, The game looks great. Environments are varied. Places like Fortree, MossDeep, LavaRidge are all visually and thematically distinct. The Pokemon Look varied as well. Their poses and design show their personality and styles. The overworld may have this pixellated style but it looks pretty charming to me. I especially Like the Starters and how the evolve forms look.
-Gameplay The game is very familiar to other Pokemon games but this gen introduced a few new features that have become standard in later games. Abilities are passive effects that trigger in Battle when certain conditions are met. For example, the Ability "Blaze" powers up fire type attacks when health is less than 50%.
Overall, it's still fun. What makes Pokemon's battles more than just fancy rock, paper, scissors is that you have context for why your opponent may pick rock and the ability to choose the target of your opponent's attack. This is what makes more competitive Pokemon interesting. If you predict your opponent's attack, You can switch to a ground type to nullify an electric attack and stuff like that is very satisfying to pull off. Sadly, the latter is really rare in mainline games. But as a whole, add in abilities and cool effects from moves and you have an RPG with a simple pick up and play nature with a lot of depth.
However, there are some problems. Firstly, type balancing isn't great. Grass and Bug, in particular, get the short stick with a lot of pokemon resisting them, and very few strong pokemon and moves compared to later gens. It's to the point where hidden power grass and bug are considered some of the best moves to have (It's somewhat similar for poison except at least it has toxic. Ice and Rock have too few resistances but is great offensively). In contrast, fighting and dragon get a lot of benefits.
This even extends to the starters. Torchic ends up being the easiest as there are lots of great fire and fighting moves, it's super effective against much of the elite 4 and gyms and can get a lot of great coverage moves. It's also one of the few good fire pokemon. Mudkip and Treeko aren't bad but less valuable as there are many more good water and grass pokemon around Hoeen than fire ones. Not to mention grass's earlier shortcomings. Gen 4 would take this discrepancy even farther.
Ideally, a Pokemon game should have its starters be roughly level with each other so their pros and cons end up being roughly even by the end. Gens 1 and 6 seem to be the only ones so far with this design. I've heard people defend this approach by saying "picking a tougher starter is like a hard mode" to which I respond: firstly, a dedicated hard mode would be a better option and secondly, for a new player who picks what looks cool, they may inadvertently give themselves an easier or harder time without realizing it as the game's don't make it clear from the start which starter has what advantages.
Another issue is the lack of level-up moves for many Pokemon and the limited TMs. This makes making a well-rounded team and even backup Pokemon much harder and really forces you to commit to a team early on for the best results. It Also means you're dealing with weaker moves for way too long. As an example, Crawduant, my Water-Dark Type, doesn't learn a decent dark move like Crunch in the game (it does in FireRed and LeafGreen, and subsequent gens would also give it moves like Night Slash meaning Gamefreak recognized this is a problem). Even your starters are not off the hook. Blaziken for example, learns only 2 fire type attacking moves by level up, Ember and Blaze Kick (that's worse than Flamethrower) and no decent fighting moves after Double Kick until level 59 with Sky Uppercut. Compare this to Gen 4 onwards which at least added flamethrower and flame wheel among others to the mix for Infernape, alongside mach panch and Close Combat.
In addition, the physical/special split hasn't happened yet (a system that categorizes moves based on if they make contact and thus use physical or special stats to calculate damage) so many Pokemon aren't at their most effective. Blaziken's Blaze Kick would be cool but being Special, Flamethrower beats it in every way. Pokemon like Absol can't have STAB (same type attack bonus) with their high attack stat because Dark is special. Gyarados, an absolute monster with physical attack, is straddled with special water moves.
I also wish the Exp Share was like its Gen 6 Incarnation. It would make growing a team much less tedious while still being challenging.
Exploring the overworld is fun. It really makes you feel like you're going on an adventure. The towns and routes are all well done. But there are a few things holding it back.
Firstly, the HMs are a pain. Before I rip into them, Let's talk about the positives of HMs. They allow your pokemon to do something in the overworld and they can add a bit of intrigue to routes (like seeing an item past a tree). Now for the negatives: Firstly, most of their battle applications are useless. Cut is less accurate than tackle, your actual starting move. Rock Smash does pitiful damage. Strength, Fly, Surf, Dive and Waterfall are at least fine but most of that list is water type moves, which limits coverage and are special and redundant in many cases. The 8 of them mean you basically need 2-3 HM Slaves and need to plan your party around HMs. Secondly, even using the HMs isn't all that fun. You see a rock, you go to it and smash it, the decision makes itself. There is no clever thinking aside from maybe Strength with its puzzles. Here's the thing, you could do what Dragon Quest does and make all HMs an item you can use as soon as you have the appropriate Gym Badge and that would solve all major issues with it instantly. You still have problems like the flavour text that keeps appearing (except for Strength) even when you keep using the HM. Why can't when I press A next to water, I start surfing instantly? I don't need to keep being told the water is blue. Why can't when I press A next to a rock, or a tree it gets removed instantly? That would save so much time, it's not even funny.
Secondly, The Water Routes are a pain. (I know, IGN's 7.8 Too much Water but they are absolutely right). Firstly, despite being half the routes in Hoenn, The water routes do not have half the content. They are boring, repetitive, have very little to do or to differentiate them and have the same bloody Wingulls and Tentacruels. I'm sick of them. They're not even at a high-level consistently (I've fought level 9s and 39 next to each other). Compare this to the land routes, they can be visually and even geographically distinct (you can have giant grasses, differing elevation and bridges, different terrain, different pokemon and weather effects. One land route can look and feel remarkably different from another).
I've seen people defend these routes for quite a few reasons. Here are a few:
>"It makes thematic sense. Water vs Land"
Here's a quote from a review of Pocket Morty's that responds to the same defence
Ghost in a Jar 3 years ago +Human Jokic While thematically it makes sense that Mortys should mostly feel the same when using them, applying that to gameplay makes it very shallow and repetetive. And usually gameplay > theme. and I am sure no one would complain if the Morty's abilities and attributes were more wildly different. Nothing dumb about her insight on that at all, imo
>"It's based on a real place"
Firstly, The job of game designers isn't to be realistic. It's to make something fun. Assassin's Creed devs have frequently stated how they changed the real maps to be something more fun to navigate.
Secondly, Future Games avert this. Sinnoh is based on Hokkaido and is much farther north than prior regions and has a major mountain in the middle. Despite this, it's not all mountains and ice. Unova is based on New York, it's not all giant urban city and filled with lots of steel and poison types. Kalos isn't all fairy type. And the final nail in the coffin, Aloha is based on Hawaii and its islands, yet has a far better balance of types and environments
>"You can skip it/go faster with Sharpedo and later with the Flute in ORAS"
That doesn't change the fact that you're still playing a boring part until then. And even then, making something slightly less bad doesn't magically make it good. There's also the issue of HMs from earlier that it interferes with.
-The Story
It's a standard Pokemon story that set many of the staples of the series going forward (You're a kid in a small town, you get a starter from a tree named professor. You fight the Pokemon League and an evil team that wants to use a Legendary Pokemon you gotta stop). There are some twists along the way. Your protagonist has a parent in Norman the normal type leader which adds a bit more stakes to the journey. You have a sort of apprentice in Wally who grows more confident from Pokemon. You have 2 evil teams with nonsense motives (this is something ORAS improved on). There are some nice interactions and characters along the way.
I have some problems. May, your actual rival, kinda drops off after a certain point, making her feel superfluous. I'd rather she be more present throughout the adventure. Wally is cool because of his arc but he too is very absent from the events at hand. I'd love if he was someone you mentored throughout the adventure.
The Evil Teams and the Legendary Plot isn't very interesting. It feels tacked on for the sake of tradition. I prefer either Gen 1's approach where the Evil Team was grounded and connected with the main plot (Giovanni was the 8th Gym Leader) and the Legendary Pokemon were Legends you had to seek out. Or Gen 5's approach where it was even more integrated (the evil teams, legendary and league were all connected). Emrald's set up falls flat because the climax of the story happens before the Elite 4.
On the plus side, At least catching Rayquaza is a decent challenge for the reward of a level 70 monster before the Elite 4. It being optional also helps.
-Gyms and Elite Four Compared to Gen 6, The game is surprisingly challenging. The Gyms frequently had higher levels and some pretty interesting tactics I couldn't brute force through with a single stronger Pokemon like the normal trainers. Norman, for example, had a Slaking that would tear through my team despite being higher level than it. It's facade and counter were very powerful. My winning tactic involved sending out Gyarados and using leer while Slaking used 2 counters that failed before taking it out in a single Facade. I then sent out Combuskin who took it out with a single Double Kick. Or the Twins Tate and Eliza who required me to synergize my team so my surfs and revives were used effectively, culminating in a very tense 1 on 1 with Gardevoir with Shadow Ball versus a Lunatone that healed at least 4 times. It was fun (I do wish their gym was teamed more around double battles).
I do have some issues. While the puzzles were decent, some Gyms' ideas fell a little flat. Norman's gym used X Items but the trainers had only 1 Pokemon so the Gym may give players who aren't knowledgable of X Items the impression these items are useless. If these Trainers had more pokemon and maybe even moves like Trick Room and Baton Pass, it would be a much better learning experience.
I'm mixed on Wallace being the champion. On the one hand, he does mix up returning Ruby and Saphire players and makes it harder for Blaziken to sweep through like he did with Steven. But on the other hand, It's more dang water types, especially as the 8th gym was already water.
-Post Game
The Battle Frontier is really cool. The different facilities and their challenges are a fun test of the player and things can escalate very fast. I do wish the requirements for medals was made more clear. Overall, I'd love to see this become a staple of the series.
Now personally, I prefer Gen 5's approach to a post-game with new areas to explore with higher level challenges as well as a Battle Frontier Like area. I also wish there were easier ways to level up and Train Pokemon at this point because the best bet is to grind the Elite 4.
Catching some of the remaining Legendaries wasn't that fun. Groudon and Kyogre moved around so much so finding each of their caves was frustrating. The Reggie puzzle is cool but way too over the top. Latias/Latios as roaming Legendaries is as painful as always.
Breeding is cool. There is a lot of depth through the system with egg moves, chains and more. My problems are how long it takes (even with Slugma’s abilities) to hatch eggs and how mammals can lay eggs. I’d rather have a system where the daycare man tells you a Pokémon had appeared after fewer steps that a new Pokémon has appeared, you can examine its stats and choose to keep it or leave it permanently with the daycare. This would solve both issues.
-Conclusion
Despite Emerald being over 15 years old at this point, I enjoyed my time with it and glad I got to experience it. I am of the belief that good game design is timeless. This means that Emerald, no matter how many years pass, will always have its positives as positives. But if I had to rate it and recommend it, I'd give it a 6.5/10 at best with a "if you want a fun straightforward Pokemon adventure with lots to do, go for it". If the HMs were removed, water routes removed or made extremely less tedious, Movesets and TMs improved, and types be improved, I'd give it an instant 8-8.5
submitted by coolwali to pokemon [link] [comments]

The Comprehensive Beginners Guide to Selecting an IPTV Provider

So you cut the cord, already did some reading around research on IPTV, and are now ready to make the jump into the actual act of buying/trying an IPTV service. A lot of guides/stickies out there do a fairly solid job of presenting the info you need in a general sense, but ultimately fall short on providing the key explanation details in some areas that make weeding between the endless options out there after-the-fact a lot easier. So in general...this guide is aimed at you. Think of it as a rather long worded shortcut to what you'd eventually find out and realize for yourself anyway after an endless amount of testing around with different providers while looking for "the one" (which in my case is pushing hard on triple digits at this point btw).
Now before getting into what you ideally want to be looking for it's important to both acknowledge and dispel a couple surrounding IPTV myths. Which ultimately just serve the purpose of leading people down a fruitless side track search for what they **want** to exist, and prolonging the process of picking the best provider for you that actually **does** exist.
MYTH #1 - YOUR IPTV PROVIDER IS A DEPENDABLE CABLE ALTERNATIVE IN THE LONG TERM:
This myth is probably the biggest misconception that newbies and/or people looking to save every last penny in particular get hung up on. Regardless how professional that website may look, and/or the effort a provider may put into presenting themselves in a broader "we the company here" sense, it's important not to lose sight of what it is you are actually buying here. At it's core IPTV is a get your profit in the moment business, run in a back room type setting, and built on a model that is offering these providers themselves no guarantee of a tomorrow. As such, the behind-the-scenes infrastructure and decision making processes on when/where to reinvest the profits (if at all) it sees tend to reflect fairly heavily on that. Basically and if making any assumptions always assume profit in pocket is going to stay in pocket (AKA: they ain't running that heavily discounted sale which cuts their own long term profit potential throat with a surrounding goal to turn around and reinvest that money). Even if that means bleeding out some unhappy subs latter while simply choosing to ride out rough patches after a profitable run is achieved.
MYTH #2 - PICTURE QUALITY EQUAL TO CABLE:
In the grander scheme of things IPTV boils down to a game of trade offs, and the very first one you should expect going in is the sacrifice being made here. In short, and while the amount of quality channel feeds can/do certainly vary on a provider to provider basis...no single IPTV provider out there is offering the same across the board FHD channel lineup as your legit cable company or streaming service (such as Playstation Vue/Sling/DTVnow). Going back to myth #1 (this won't be the first time in this guide)...they simply aren't going to realistically have the invested infrastructure to reliably support that.
MYTH #3 - PROVIDER X IS BEST FOR SPORTS:
One of the more popular general questions always being asked, and which at best are always going to just generate flawed answers that almost never take into account the all important variance factor in play there. For starters, it's important to understand that there is no "static" and across the board factor going in to each of provider's specific sport coverage feeds. They are all usually sourced individually from different places, subject to differing levels of quality/stability, and as a whole have a tendency to see random switch outs for something completely different at any given time (which never comes with a guarantee of maintaining that same exact level of previous quality/stability either). For example, the last 3 providers I tested for a full month all switched their base NFL section feeds at least once during my sub period, some not for the better, and I've yet to ever come across a single provider that saw every one of their sport sections always out-preforming something else I already had.
On top of this, it is also important to not to get caught up in the hypothetical paper theory that everything is going to be ok when you need it to be. Especially on things that are going to see a high amount of server traffic. If you are the type that loves sitting down to watch your NFL Sunday coverage or UFC PPV every month, you really need to account for the outside-the-hypothetical and reality based variance a lot of that stuff can see. NFL coverage in particular can be notorious for running into bad buffering weeks, and that big UFC PPV is always going to subject to a monthly roll of the dice that is more or less unpredictable. Outside the "I've never had a problem!' claims being made by people who are either not watching enough of this stuff to actually notice, or who are just flat out lying, you won't find a single provider that isn't going to let you down hard in these areas at one point or another. Hence...the serious consideration that should always go into running at least 2 different providers. Trust me, I'm as cheap/frugal as they come with a lot of different things in my life, and *always* am looking to save an extra buck wherever I can. But that extreme tendency to be frugal goes out the window in a hurry those moments my Sunday football game/s starts having issues, or when that UFC PPV I've spent all month looking forward to watching live starts buffering heavily on all a provider's feeds right before the main event (I could not load up a backup provider a single time all month and in that moment - it's hands down worth the extra $5 to me and then some).
Lastly and as an extension of everything above, always be wary of any best claim that isn't actually telling you what it is they are specifically watching. If you are a strictly US based content consumer like myself for example, who doesn't watch a lick of soccer, that foreign soccer fanatic poster (who doesn't watch a lick of NFL football) from elsewhere who is essentially basing their entire recommendation on their own experience with something you'll never watch probably isn't the best one for *you*.
MYTH #4 - "PREMIUM" PROVIDERS AND ANY 99% UPTIME CLAIMS:
Two surface advertisement terms that can be completely misleading. Starting with the fact that for the most part and generally speaking, you are going to find a lot of these providers using the same sourced feeds (example: 4 the 5 providers I keep on my Perfect Player setup atm all use the same one for all the paid movie channels) and regardless of the price they are charging. In fact, price tag usually boils down more to a matter of individual profit margin goals, and something more centered around the market area of people it's aiming to pull it's subs from. For example, Youtube is generally full of a huge amount of people that don't spend any time debating/comparing IPTV on a forum like Reddit, and who as a result are are basically more open to spending $15 on a one line provider when they aren't being openly or directly compared to any of the better $5 providers. Hence, and to break it down in simple street terms - the typical going rate you can effectively charge for an IPTV service over there is higher.
Secondly, "uptime" claims are essentially just BS fluff to an advertisement line. From a user end perspective the more important factor there is the reliability %, or more specifically how often you aren't going to run into any potential playback issues when you click on something you want to watch. Which is obviously a much more complex % to calculate accurately, but don't kid yourself....even among the most reliable providers out there it's not going to be 99%. Or even 95% for that matter. Which is again why, and I know a lot of people out there looking to save every last penny hate hearing this (and why I'll keep making a point to repeat it), it's always going to be recommended by experienced IPTV users that you plan on buying/budgeting fokeeping at least two separate providers.
_______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
So with the myths out of the way we'll now move on to better identifying the potential red flags to look out for, and which can help make that initial weeding out of the crap out there a lot less tedious. Especially if/when you aren't hobby shopping like I tend to do, and with at least a decent surrounding expectation that I more or less just threw some $$$ out the window in the name of testing different stuff ;)
THE HEAVILY DISCOUNTED YEARLY OR LIFETIME SUB:
See Myth #1 on why this is always a terrible idea to begin with. But never-the-less, that surrounding appeal to get cute in trying to "save" every dollar is always a strong one for many, and there is never a shortage of crappy IPTV providers out there trying to capitalize on this. It's always a safe bet that these deals are essentially being offered because it's the easiest way to rip you off, and the general rule of thumb that 'if it's too good to be true - it probably is" applies in spades here. IPTV providers exist to make $$$, not to be your friend or only take a quick $35 instead of the $60 they might otherwise accumulate in a fraction of that time with any internal projection of still even being around and thriving 6 months down the road.
My personal favorites on these are the ones running with a "LIMITED TIME OFFER ONLY!" add btw. Now stop and think this completely through for a hot minute. Even if you want to believe these are not a scam, if a provider is apparently so hard up for cash that they need to sell a couple heavily discounted lifetime subs at a measly $50 or whatever...what is that really telling you about the overall financial situation going on in the backround? (extra hint: providers without a financially stable base on the back end are always going to make for both the worst short and long term bets).
THE APPEAL TO EVERYBODY POSSIBLE SPAM ADD WITH NO PERSONALIZED TEXT:
I'm sure you've run across them. Copy and pasted in short format wherever they can find IPTV interest, and usually re-posted again after being taken down. "7000+ CHANNELS! 40 DIFFERENT INTERNATIONAL GROUPS! 5000 VOD TITLES! INCLUDES ALL SPORTS! 24/7 UPTIME AND SUPPORT! BLAH BLAH BLAH". Yet other then an original poster not even bothering to list the price and that is simply replying "PM me" to everybody instead of engaging in any personalized conversation, you can't seem to dig up any actual information on them. No reviews, no other users with an account that wasn't made the previous day talking about or recommending them, ect.
Now your first instinct might be to think to yourself 'wow that is a a lot of stuff to be offering, and I've been looking for a good US based provider that also offers some polish channels for a while now. Maybe this will be a hidden gem!". You need to ignore that first instinct though, because the reality there usually amounts to the easiest crap filter warning of them all. Unless of course you are specifically looking for a provider that basically just throws together the cheapest channel feeds possible they can find, with no real emphasis placed on anything beyond the initial advertisement sell. Much less one placed on maintained reliability. Fun fact - No provider that has accomplished any notable level of popularity on reddit, while I've been posting here at least, got their push start from these type of mindless spam ads. Of the couple hidden gems I have hit on, none were just random buys on my behalf without a little finger pointing in that direction from somebody I trusted either. I'm genuinely like 0-30 and down a couple hundred bucks on random shots in the dark lol.
TOO MANY DIFFERENT PEOPLE OFFERING TO SELL THE SAME SUBS:
Another fun fact - Outside a virgin public message board like the one I'm posting this on now, most feedback places you'll find see a heavy population of people with an underlying interest in reselling these IPTV services for profit. As such, the potential overall "popularity" any individual one can achieve isn't going to be equal, and will largely be dependent on the profit margin potential being offered to resellers behind it. So basically, being more popularity doesn't always translate into a default assumption that it's going to be better. For example, Provider One (we'll use N24 which I just reviewed btw) may be a great value on the pure consumer end at $6/per account, but only offer a bulk account sale rate that comes out to $5/per for resellers (a small difference which then also has to account for website/transaction fees, the potential absorption of charge backs from unhappy customers, ect). Provider Two isn't as reliable/stable and hence might not of made my cut on providers I choose to sit down with for an entire month of testing, but the difference between their individual consumer offered rate and the one being offered to resellers in bulk might be $5. Guess which one is going to end up seeing a lot more reseller sales, and as a result gross a higher total amount of hype/recommendations? ;)
On top of this, and we'll just go ahead and label this "The Vader Streams rule" - more people is generally never a better thing once a provider branches out from it's initial growing stage. Again, check your wishful thinking assumptions of what ideally **should** happen on the provider end at the door and go back and re-read Myth #1. Or more specifically, don't lose sight of the basic math principle going into all this. These pirated servers trying to turn an expiration date which could always be tomorrow profit, and that don't have big corporation $$ behind them, are realistically only going to be able to comfortably accommodate X amount of people before running into server load issues. The more outlets you have dumping in subs and/or an endless stream of free trials towards that limit, the faster things are potentially going to go to buffering crap.
NO DISCORD OR TELEGRAM OR WHATEVER ELSE CHAT ROOM:
Granted there are some exceptions to this, specifically among the long running and super well known providers already running a couple 100k subs. But for newer or up and coming providers, this is pretty standard customer service stuff to expect nowadays. It can also be a great go-to way, or at least was before some started (understandably) restricting access to paying members only, to really get a legit pre-purchase feel of what a provider is all about. If able my advice is to always hop in one of these chats first thing, and at least make the effort to read a couple days back. Paying extra attention to how active the chat is, how often are the people asking for help receiving some, and how much overall complaining about the service is going on.
A HEAVY EMPHASIS SELL PLACED ON THE VOD FEATURE:
Saved the best for last, and since I already know this is going to be highly controversial for many. I do get it though, and realize a lot of people out there love the added all-in-one benefit of having their VOD bundled in. But again and to remind people that IPTV tends to boil down to a game of trade offs, it's important to realize though that such a benefit comes at a cost. Namely that it's shared existence tends to leech away from your provider's servers and the one area you should care most about paying out on IPTV to begin with....Live TV stability. In fact, nowadays you can pretty much even conclude that the only services out there completely ignoring the long term legal concerns and pushing hard on some "MASSIVE VOD COLLECTION!!!" sell aspect anymore are only doing so to essentially compensate for the fact that their live tv stream stability (not to mention the underlying investment on their end going in to it) isn't measuring up to some of the better ones to be found out there.
Bottom line - None of the providers I've tested and would recommend as having one of the best and most stable live TV stream experiences possible offer a notably huge or extensive VOD selection, if it's even being offered at all. Which in essence leaves you with a one or the other priority choice to be made there...you don't get an option to have the best of both worlds.
***(additional red flag note - a lot of people would choose to include the lack of a free trial here, and which while always nice to see...honestly couldn't be further from the actual truth. The reality there is that for the most part and outside brand new providers who essentially are forced into begging for more subs, free trials are essentially a waste of time/effort on the provider end. As in maybe on average 1-2 out of every 100 lead to an actual sale, then sees most of the rest just create a fresh email address and re-apply to leech another freebie. Where as even a $1 leech filter price on the trial tends to vastly limit the amount of inquired trial requests, but while drastically increasing the actual buy rate % that results out of them. This approach also tends to cater more on the flip side to, you know...the people already paying out in full on the service and who don't see any potential benefit in having a bunch of constant leechers eating up the finite amount of server capacity)***
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Myths and potential red flags to look out for aside, we'll now move on to the fairly straight forward basics. Which starts with an understanding that for the most part...any provider worth a dang is essentially offering you the same exact thing as the next one. More obscure channel offerings and international feeds (if any) can vary of course, but it is all largely built on the same platform sell regardless of cost, and especially if you are primarily after US content. All the popular channels and then some will be present, all the major sports and PPVs will be be covered, ect ect. In short and assuming you are already following the guidelines laid out above, you don't have a waste any time asking whether a provider has ESPN or Fox Sports, the NFL package, Soccer game coverage, or plans to carry the next UFC PPV. To quote an old Ragu spaghetti sauce commercial - it's in there.
So with that all that said, I **strongly** recommend starting your search in the $5/month price range, and as already noted above with a preferable aim that you'll ultimately be shopping for two different providers. From the "I just want the basics" point of view, and given all the emerging quality options that already exist in this price bracket, there is really no legitimate reason outside your own (usually misguided) wishful thinking fantasies to stretch beyond that. Depending on your own individual experience preferences, there are exceptions to this rule where paying out more can be beneficial though. Which I personally like to summarize up as what additional feature offerings are unique enough to be classified as "premium", and hence potentially worth the extra cost:
RELIABLE TV CATCHUP:
TV catchup is a continuous recording log of everything airing on the specific channel it's being offered on, and spanning back X amount of days before gradually being over-written by the new stuff (time period depending on the provider, and where longer logs as I'm about to explain aren't always the most ideal btw). I included the reliable tag there because while only a small % of providers offer it nowadays, even fewer tend to actually get it right. Basically due to the fact that it can generally be a tricky pita to both add and successfully maintain on the provider end, and therefore ultimately regulated to something that ends up being viewed more as window dressing for their features advertisement then something that actually sees a lot of consistent maintenance effort.
When it is done right it can be a fairly invaluable tool in your streaming arsenal though, especially for adequately covering your playback area needs in a timely manner when the otherwise fantastic free VOD options like Kodi/APK's don't. For example and in my own experiences: CBS soap operas, same night WWE PPVs, UFC/Bellator shows airing on FS1/Paramount, ect.
EXTRA CONNECTIONS:
Being able to watch your provider on one then more device at a time is obviously a biggie, and usually the #1 feature people rightfully look for in any value based offering. That said, it's also **extremely important** to be mindful here that the surrounding concern within Myth #1 and the X amount of server capacity red flag math above still can apply in spades here. Especially if/when those extra connections are not IP locked, and can therefore be shared/abused among multiple people. It's really really easy for servers offering this, which on the provider end is aimed at selling the most amount of subs in the least amount of time (with not a lot of caution thinking usually going towards it's down the road future), to start hitting problem inducing server capacity levels in comparatively quick order.
A HEALTHY AMOUNT OF BACKUP CHANNEL FEEDS:
This goes double for the cheap people out there who are still going to ignore the advice I laid out twice already on buying at least 2 separate providers. This also includes the option for SD alternatives as well. Don't underestimate the potential value in having backup options you can immediately switch to once outside of ideal "everything is running smooth" paper theory, and especially when it comes to the day in and day out reality of running with IPTV as your only access to what you are sitting down to watch live
AN APK THAT HAS A BETTER PROGRAM GUIDE THEN WHAT EVERYBODY ELSE IS OFFERING:
This in particular applies to you android box/stick users out there. Coming in right after that wishful thinking expectation of a complete FHD channel lineup is the reality sacrifice you have to expect on the program guide aspect. With the exception of one established APK out there and another one that's still a stability work-in-progress, pretty much every single provider is offering the same exact player options to run your your service on. All of which have their own pros and cons, and none of which include anything even remotely resembling that hassle free channel surfing experience you found in cable TV. At best the guides are clunky while still retaining a more 80's vibe generic type feel. At worst they aren't even worth the hassle, or just flat out non-existent.
No fail shopping rule of thumb here btw - Don't spend more then $10/mo for 1 connection or $15 total (regardless of the offered connection total they force bundle in) on anything that is just defaulting to using Smarters as their APK. If it's running Smarters as it's base APK (instead of you know...being "premium" and actually developing their own), and it isn't offering a less aggressive upfront $10 or less buy in plan option to start with...it is extremely likely you buying what essentially amounts to an inferior IPTV product and overpaying in comparison to what else one can find out there. Period.
50-60 fps CHANNEL FEEDS:
As an IPTV whole most of the reliable feeds you find are going to be 30fps, which is generally due to surrounding costs, bandwidth concerns, and a need to cater more the consumer masses who generally don't mix well with the increased probability that their unknowingly weakened wifi internet connection is going to lead to buffering. None of which is to say this should be viewed as some "more is always better" make or break factor either, or that those 30 fps can't be of high picture quality mind you. In fact in a lot instances, such as my TV shows/movies or something like a UFC PPV, I honestly could care less about FPS and half the time couldn't even pick them out on sight alone anyway (which in the case of UFC PPVs routinely is never the best quality one to begin with imo/btw). That said and for other stuff like my NFL football games...I do find it to be a nice extra have, and indeed find myself making that effort to search out.
**(additional extra note - While I won't go as far as to label it a premium feature, a lot can be said about having a large extra lineup of local channel feeds for ABC/CBS/NBC/FOX. Especially when it comes to keeping you covered for something like NFL football games, and which can be a day saver when as noted earlier your direct NFL package feed runs into that bad week of buffering. The locals are usually always carrying those games)***
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Lastly but certainly not least, I'm going to close this guide out with one last bit of advice. Something routinely ignored, and which honestly is most common pitfall of them all that people find themselves falling into. Not to mention the #1 gateway to making a bad decision - DON'T GO INTO THIS TRYING TO SAVE EVERY LAST DOLLAR ON DAY ONE! Seriously, I can't stress this enough. At minimum your first 2 months should be dedicated to trying and testing different things. Because regardless how much total info I can cram into a guide, or how many people line up to tell you what your own best choice will be.... **nothing** trumps that extended period of first hand trial and error. Especially considering all the potential variance factors that can come into play, and where something that is great for me might not be great for you for whatever random reason (location, primary channel interests in things I never watch or tested, ect). Don't be overly cheap and hesitant to pay out a measly $1 trial cost on something of potential interest that requires one, and don't get lazy in that approach with the first decent thing that comes along either. In fact and whatever you do decide to buy, go in to that purchase both completely open and all but expecting to buy something different the following month. Even if you pick well that first try. If those latter choices end up busting out, you'll always have the option to go back and re-spend that measly $5 or whatever again on whatever provider you liked best before.

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