All posts by brian

2019 Goals

2018 is over and mostly successful, goals-wise. It’s time to write up some goals for 2019.

Exercise

I realized recently that I was in better shape and probably happier when I ran more. I’ve been avoiding running since I trained for and ran a marathon in 2016, which I blame for my 2016 kidney stone. While I have no intentions of ever running another marathon, in 2019, I will run more. In 2016, I ran 367 miles (counted on my Garmin). I’m not training for another marathon, but I need to log more miles than I did last year (~100).

Goal: Run 200 miles

Being a Person

I’m still looking to improve myself in non-video game things, and I’ve been watching too much Great British Bake Off. In 2019, I’m going to do better at making food.

Goal: Make a food item (not frozen or pre-made) at least once a month. (need to somehow document each thing)

Shhhh

Some goals I can’t talk about in public. It’ll either screw something up or cause drama or otherwise impact my ability to achieve the goal. This is one of them. I guess if I succeed, I can reveal it at the end of 2019, and if I fail, I won’t.

Secret Goal

2018 Goals Review

2018 is over, so maybe I should go back and look at those goals I wrote at the beginning of the year and see how they went! Introspection!

Writing/Production

Goal: One video per month

Hmm nope. But I did stream a lot of games, much more than 12. Most of that was my ongoing Stardew Valley playthrough, which is still in progress. Partial success.

Goal: One non-review per month

Not even close. Excluding video game reviews, WWE PPV reviews, and posts about streaming, I wrote four non-reviews. That’s too far from 12 to call even a partial success. Failed.

Exercise

Goal: Keep my body weight under 200 lbs.

I’ve hovered around 190lbs all year, so that’s an unqualified success. Success.

Goal: Increase max 5 rep weights

Completely abandoned after I hurt my back. I’m not even going to go back and check. I had some success here, but I’m not counting it. Failed.

Goal: Maintain the ability to run a 33:00 5K

I didn’t test this as often as I would have liked throughout the year, but I kept up this pace for every race and only dipped below on purpose (like doing a negative splits run). I ran 5+ miles today at a sub 10:30 pace. Success.

Being a person

Goal: Play each of these games once

I played half of those games. Partial success.

Goal: Go to a con

I went to two cons. Success.

Wrap Up

I’m genuinely a little surprised at how well I’ve done. I’ve been avoiding looking at my goals since March-ish because I thought I had blown all of them and I was wrong. I only completely failed one, and abandoned a second. The rest were either complete or partial success, and I’m quite pleased by that. In 2019, I will set fewer goals, but no less ambitious.

Donut County

Cute. Quirky. Colorful. Friendly. Light puzzle solving. Consuming small things to make a bigger thing. This describes Katamari Damacy, but it also describes Donut County. But also Donut County is a story about gentrification.

In Donut County, you make holes. And then you move the hole around to collect things. The more things that fall into your hole, the larger your hole gets. The goal of each level is to put everything into your hole. Also, you play as a raccoon (named BK) and you’re putting all these things into holes because you think they’re trash and you love trash.

While the gameplay is rather simple, the writing is rather good. It’s one of those stories that starts near the end as all of your neighbors and friends are mad at you for dropping all of their stuff into your hole. They’re mad but really kind of chill about it, and BK is kind of a dick about it but not really. He really wants a quadcopter and he has to drop all this stuff down the hole to get it, even if it means wrecking things. By the end, there is character growth.

It is a short game, but I would say that’s not a bad thing. Like many other shorter, more readily accessible games, it’s less of being too short and more of not overstaying its welcome. It’s over before the cuteness of it becomes annoying. Donut County is one of those games you can give to just about anyone and they will have a good time. It’s not a huge mind-blowing experience, but it’s fun and has a point.


Reference: Ben Esposito. Donut County (Annapurna Interactive, 2018)

Source: Purchased from GOG

Dusk

I was skeptical of DUSK. I’d seen it being played by others when it was in early access and I wasn’t particularly drawn in by it. It emulates older games, but I thought the enemies looked goofy in a way that would take me out of the game. As it got near non-early access release, it’d acquired some buzz behind it. Since I loved the games it purports to be inspired by (Blood, Quake, Redneck Rampage, Heretic, etc.), I gave it a shot. That was a good decision. DUSK was my favorite game to come out in 2018.

DUSK has a story in the same way all of those games had stories. It’s loosely told, doesn’t really mean anything, and it’s totally optional. This is a classic first-person shooter. Collect weaponry, find colored key cards, kill enemies. It’s got episodes that each have a theme, going from rusty farms to industrial plants to hell.

I am a product of the generation that made those classic FPS games and DUSK really takes me back to those days. It feels like a sequel to Quake. From the movement to the survivability to the weapons and the hordes of enemies, DUSK perfectly emulates those games. It just feels right. There’s no modern “niceties” to it. Health doesn’t regenerate. There’s no recharging shield. You can carry as many weapons as you can find. No objective marker. No one yelling at you to shoot the something or other. It really is “find the key, kill the enemies”.

Beyond the sometimes goofy-looking (but always lethal) enemies and some levels that weren’t quite as easy to navigate as others, I don’t have much to complain about. It’s a fast moving, fast action, classic FPS. The music rips, the levels are really atmospheric, the action is excellent. If this came out 20 years ago (okay, maybe 22 or 23 years ago), it’d be hailed today as a classic. Who knows what the future holds, so today DUSK is the best example of neo-retro done right.


Reference: David Szymanski. DUSK (New Blood Interactive, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Steam.

2018 Dream of waking video game awards

2018 wasn’t exactly a great year for me and video games. I played a lot of games and very few of them stuck with me. Maybe it’s me, maybe it’s the games, but I wasn’t really feeling much of anything. Even the two games I spent the most time playing this year, Final Fantasy XV and Assassin’s Creed Odyssey, didn’t make the top of my awards. They merely consumed the most time. As I look around at other GOTY lists, I’m seeing a lot of stuff I’m either not interested in, not on a platform I own (or even compelling enough to buy that platform to play it), or some combination of the two. But that doesn’t mean that there were no good games! I absolutely loved my GOTY, and many of the others on this list! It just means that most of these are only going to have one honorable mention, and some of them may not be from 2018.

2018 Game of the Year

DUSK

Right, this was an easy choice. I love DUSK. It’s a Quake/Heretic/Blood sequel I never got. It’s ugly but fun. It’s an amazing emulation of games from the mid-90’s, but even better. Many games have tried to make neo-retro work and failed. They usually get the look right, but not the feeling. DUSK nails it all.

Runner Up: Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

2018’s 2017 Game of the Year

Assassin’s Creed Origins

I’ve had a long-lived love/hate relationship with Assassin’s Creed. I almost always finish them, but I rarely enjoy them. They’re just kind of mindless filler, and after Unity, I was pretty much done with the series. Until Origins. Origins brought me back because it changed so much of the Assassin’s Creed formula. It changed so much that it’s more or less a different game entirely from its predecessors. The same could almost be said for Final Fantasy XV. This is a series that I’ve played (nearly) every game but never enjoyed them and never finished them. I enjoyed FFXV and finished it. Dark Souls 3 didn’t particularly change much of the series but it is the first one I enjoyed enough to finish

Runners Up: Final Fantasy XV, Dark Souls 3

The “I Wish I Had More Time for This” Award

Battletech

Battletech could almost go into “Wish I Liked This More” because I enjoyed the short time I’ve played it, but maybe not enough to go back. I love the Battletech world, but I’m much more of a Mechwarrior type of person. Still, I came home from Gencon and wanted to jump right into Battletech. I got humbled on my first real mission and I haven’t worked up the nerve to go back. I want to. I eyeball it. But I don’t know if I’ve got the time to invest in re-running the beginning or starting up again and seeing if I’ve dug myself into too deep of a hole to get out of.

Runner Up: Into the Breach

The “I Wish I Liked This Game More” Award

Hollow Knight

Hollow Knight is the clearest winner of this award, maybe the easiest choice of the year. I really enjoyed the demo for Hollow Knight, so much that I bought it immediately upon release. But the punishing difficulty, often aimless design, and awful body retrieval mechanic turned me off eventually. This is a beautiful game, fun in many parts, and doesn’t want you to enjoy it. I love a good Metroidvania. Hollow Knight hates me and I refuse to stay in an abusive relationship with it.

Runner Up: CrossCode

The “I’m Never Going to Finish This, But It’s Still Great” Award

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

This isn’t entirely fair, because Super Smash Bros. Ultimate just came out weeks ago, but there’s so much in there that there’s essentially no possibility I’ll ever see the end of it. There’s so many character unlocks, so many spirits, so many minigames, just an unholy amount of video game. Even the World of Light seems like a nearly impossible task for all but the most dedicated SSBU player. It’s a lot of fun, but it’s a lot. The same could be said for Forza Horizon 4. It’s a fun game, but I play racing games in 2-5 hour spurts maybe three or four times a year. When I want to play one, I enjoy it, but I get my fill of them pretty quickly.

Runner Up: Forza Horizon 4

Awards for Things That Aren’t Video Games That I Loved in 2018

Best Film – Annihilation

Best Album Single – Childish Gambino This is America

Best Novel – Peter Watts The Freeze-Frame Revolution

Best TV Show – Great British Bake Off Series 6

PPRe-View: WWE Survivor Series (2018)

OH BOY Survivor Series. This is a show that’s one of the big four, has been around for decades, and almost never results in major story impacts since the brand split. With the rosters on each brand being separate, Survivor Series has become “the only time Raw and Smackdown compete against either other”, which isn’t true and means that things that happen in these matches have little to no effect on the weekly shows themselves. It’s all fighting over “bragging rights” that don’t come up until next year’s Survivor Series.

This year’s show has had a hell of a weird build. It went almost unmentioned until after Crown Jewel, which only gave it two weeks of build. From the start: three matches were a lock: Seth Rollins v. Shinsuke Nakamura, Ronda Rousey v. Becky Lynch, and Brock Lesnar v. AJ Styles. In those two weeks, Lynch was injured and Styles lost his WWE Championship to Daniel Bryan, so those matches changed to Rousey v. Charlotte Flair and Lesnar v. Daniel Bryan in the go-home Smackdown. The other matches were built utterly haphazardly, with most of them settled on the go-home show, but still mixed up their rosters before Survivor Series started. With these messes in mind, let’s tackle the show.

Pre-Show: 10 Person Tag Team Survivor Series Match (The Revival, The Ascension, The B-Team, Lucha House Party, and Roode/Gable for Team Raw vs. The New Day, The Colons, Sanity, Gallows/Anderson, and The Usos for Team Smackdown)

Holy hell, the first two thirds of this match were a damn disaster. Just a mess of miscommunications, missed tags, worked injuries, messy action and unceremonious eliminations. Where it clearly improved was after three teams were eliminated from each side and we were left with The Revival and Roode/Gable vs. The New Day and The Usos. We got teased with some action between Chad Gable and Big E that demands a singles match someday in the future. Big E nailed his signature, utterly self-destructive, spear through the ropes to the outside, which impaled Dash Wilder and looked real nasty. We wind up with The Revival vs. The Usos and both teams looked amazing. They’re great tag teams and I can only hope this spells better fortunes for The Revival on Raw. Usos land a win for Smackdown, which doesn’t count because it’s the pre-show.

Between this match and the start of the show, the women’s Survivor Series match gets their rosters set for both shows. For some reason, Raw ditches Ruby Riott and Natalya after they attack each other and replace them with Bayley and Sasha Banks. Both of these women should’ve been in their lineup from day 1. Smackdown lost Flair from their team to her singles match with Rousey, and they replace her with Mandy Rose and also select Naomi as their replacement captain. Being the captain of a Survivor Series team is more or less meaningless.

Women’s Survivor Series Match (Nia Jax, Tamina, Mickie James, Sasha Banks for Team Raw vs. Naomi, Asuka, Carmella, Sonya Deville, and Mandy Rose for Team Smackdown)

Jax was identified on Smackdown’s go-home show as the person who injured Lynch, so she’s greeted with boos on entrance. The match starts with a “Becky” chant from the crowd, and it’s not a great match from there. James gets a lot of time in the ring and shows some good offense, and Rose gets more time in this match than she’s been on TV in months. Banks and Bayley, being the only babyfaces on the Raw team, end up conflicting with the rest which ends with Jax (to tons of boos) causing Banks to be eliminated by Asuka, and then defeating Asuka to win the match for Team Raw. Jax, triumphant, eats more boos and seems surprised that the crowd hates her. Hello, you’re a heel, and you injured a super hot champion. You should be drinking this in and feeding off of it.

Intercontinental Champion Seth Rollins vs. United States Champion Shinsuke Nakamura

This is a great, if predictable, match. Rollins is fire in the ring and Nakamura is fresh because we haven’t seen him compete in months. However, they’ve been forced to wear their show colors, with Rollins bringing back a half-and-half Raw shirt, and Nakamura wearing an out-of-character all blue outfit. They look silly but the match is good. Rollins kicks out a Kinshasa and comes back with a Stomp to win.

Raw Tag Team Champions The Authors of Pain vs. Smackdown Tag Team Champions The Bar

It’s not really worth talking about this match because it’s only okay. Four hosses going at each other should’ve been more exciting. The Bar wrestled in a babyface style, which is an odd choice as they’ve been heels for quite a while. No, what’s worth talking about is the ending. Authors manager Drake Maverick pulls an Author’s foot onto a ring rope to cheat and save his team, which results in him being confronted by The Bar’s friend(?) Big Show. Big Show puts Maverick in a one-handed choke and Maverick pees his pants. This distraction causes the Authors to hit Sheamus with a tag team powerbomb, giving them the win for Team Raw. I expected Maverick to play a role in this match. I did not expect him to pee his pants. I love Drake Maverick and his commitment to entertaining a crowd is unmatched, but come on. Couldn’t he do something slightly less embarrassing?

Cruiserweight Champion Buddy Murphy vs. Mustapha Ali for the Cruiserweight Championship

For once, the cruiserweight championship gets main show (not pre-show) billing and they make the most of it. These guys put on amazing matches every week on 205 Live and go underappreciated by the bulk of the WWE audience. They both play their roles perfectly, with Ali being the high risk, high flying all-heart fighter and Murphy tossing him around like a mini-Brock Lesnar. The crowd starts dead but eventually gets into this match in a serious way and garners the first “this is awesome” chant of the show. It is awesome, and you can see these kind of matches every single week! Ultimately, Murphy is too much for Ali and pins him to retain his cruiserweight championship. This is a great match and both competitors looked fantastic.

Men’s Survivor Series Match (Finn Balor, Bobby Lashley, Dolph Ziggler, Drew McIntyre, and Braun Strowman for Team Raw vs. Samoa Joe, Jeff Hardy, Rey Mysterio, Shane McMahon, and The Miz for Team Smackdown)

I’m beginning to believe the rumors that Samoa Joe is working injured based on how he was immediately bodied by McIntyre and eliminated within three minutes. I can’t say it’s downhill from there as it never really gets great. The Raw team fights each other, McMahon jumps very far three times, and Strowman eliminates four out of five of the Smackdown team to ultimately get the victory for Team Raw. Listen. I know Raw had the big body boys, but a team with legends like Hardy and Mysterio should’ve gotten at least competitive booking. It ends with Best Wrestler in the World Shane McMahon as the last member of Team Smackdown. It just wasn’t a good match.

Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Charlotte Flair

I am biased here; I do not like Ronda Rousey the person. However, this was an amazing, very physical match. Flair, as usual, is amazing and looks so good in almost every match she has. Rousey has diversified her moveset and it pays off here. It doesn’t look like a choreographed stage fight, it looks like a great wrestling match and earns another “this is awesome” chant from the crowd. It ends with Flair beating Rousey with a kendo stick, disqualifying her and giving Rousey the win. Flair, in a heel turn that is cheered by the crowd, beats the holy hell out of Rousey with the kendo stick, plants her with Natural Selection into a chair, and stomps on that same chair as it’s wrapped around Rousey’s neck. The crowd loves it. They chant “thank you Charlotte”. Does WWE expect the crowd to boo Flair here? They barely like Rousey before the match started. She limps to the back to a “Becky” chant and boos. This heel turn is maybe the only thing that mattered on this show but its payoff won’t come until Royal Rumble or Wrestlemania. Unless the rosters are mixed up, Rousey has to move on to her next promised title defense against Nia Jax. I don’t know where this leaves Flair on the Smackdown roster.

Universal Champion Brock Lesnar vs. WWE Champion Daniel Bryan

This match could have been bad. Recent Lesnar matches haven’t been bangers, and the switch from Styles to a now heel Bryan was sudden and unexpected. But it turns out to be a great match. It starts like all Lesnar matches, with lots of German suplexes from Lesnar and zero offense from Bryan but it takes a turn when Bryan hits a low blow after a ref bump. From there it’s all about Bryan outsmarting Lesnar. He’s working the leg, he’s escaping Lesnar’s holds, he’s reversing Lesnar’s attacks. The story here is that Lesnar is a beast, but Bryan is a technician and he’s smarter than Lesnar. Eventually, he gets caught in a F5 and eats the pin, but this was easily my favorite Lesnar match in recent history and Bryan doesn’t look like a joke coming out of it.

Final Thoughts

This whole show was a big rollercoaster. The singles matches were all highlights and the team matches were mostly forgettable. Very little of this show will matter long term, but what doesn’t sit right with me is that the meta plot of it (and this weekend as a whole when we include NXT Takeover) is that Raw’s roster is completely dominant to Smackdown’s and UFC fighters will beat WWE wrestlers every time. I’m bothered by this, unless it’s signalling an intention to make major roster changes to fix the “imbalance”, and it significantly downplays the skill and talent of the wrestlers in the company who don’t have UFC backgrounds. They’ve made their own talent look inferior to “real world skills” without any obvious gain. It doesn’t make any sense, but at least this show barely matters so maybe things will improve next month with TLC.

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey

Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (ACO) is a role-playing game. I know I said it was moving in this direction with last year’s Assassin’s Creed Origins, but this entry in the series is as much of a RPG as The Witcher 3. But where Origins last year pushed Assassin’s Creed further into RPG territory and further away from the focus of assassinations, ACO takes this series even further from its roots. In fact, this entry may as well be an entirely different franchise.

In ACO, you can select from the start whether you want to play as Kassandra (woman) or Alexios (man). Either way, you are a Spartan in exile, a descendant of Leonidas himself, during the Peloponnesian War. In the broad game world, Sparta and Athens are at each other’s throats. In the story’s winding path, you learn more about your destiny and how the Cult of Kosmos is attempting to leverage your bloodline to control the world.

This game is enormous, and I could spend hundreds of words describing just the game. Instead, I’ll sum it by saying this is a third person character RPG in a historical setting. Even though killing people isn’t your only course of action, most missions are resolved with murder and there are four different power structures to be murdered: the Cult of Kosmos, a seemingly endless string of mercenaries, an arena full of champions, and the national leadership of the Greek states. This may sound like a lot and it is; each of those is a different tweak on the game.

The cult is hunted through finding clues, usually by killing other cultists, sometimes through sidequests. Hunting the cult is some of the most fun this game has and it ties deepest into the main plot. While most cultists are just a name, some are given personality and character, and there are some genuinely surprising reveals.

The mercenaries hunt you when you’ve committed crimes, usually murder, sometimes theft or destruction of property. They’re an endless stream of difficult enemies with unique qualities (“takes less assassination damage”, “has a wolf companion”) in a way that sort of makes it like the Nemesis system in Middle-Earth: Shadow of Mordor, except this is far less fleshed out. It’s one of the game’s biggest missed opportunities. With any amount of personality ascribed to these mercenaries, it might have added something significant to the mindless murder, but instead it’s just another long chain of bodies.

The arena, by comparison to the rest, is fairly simple; fight waves of enemies in an arena and then kill their champion boss. The fights aren’t particularly different from what you do in the game world, but they do take place in an arena full of obstacles to avoid and exploit. There’s a story to this arena that’s worth seeing to the end, but that’s about it.

The least fun of these are the nation takeovers. You have to first lower national threat levels by infiltrating forts and destroying supplies, stealing their war chest, and killing their leadership. Then you can take to the battlefield in a mass combat scenario that’s a lot less fun than it sounds. It’s just a lot of the same combat except with more enemies on screen, and most of them are occupied in fighting other nameless soldiers that are on your side, until one of the two nations wins. Your influence is in killing enemy captains and heroes, which are just the same enemies except with more hitpoints. If you were on the winning side, you get a big reward of gear. If you were on the losing side, you still get some gear. It ultimately does not matter whether Athens or Sparta controls a region, so it’s really just another lost opportunity but maybe it’s commentary on the game world.

I highlight these power structures because they’re the vast majority of the game, and where it loses the most Assassin’s Creed flavor. The focus of these power structures is mostly built on killing the people at the top, which is what you’d expect an assassin to do, but you’re not playing an assassin. The word “assassin” might not ever be used in Assassin’s Creed Odyssey. Where Origins reduced the functionality of the “single-button murder” that was a staple of the series, it’s almost entirely removed in ACO. No longer does catching somebody by surprise and pressing the murder button kill them outright. For most non-fodder enemies, it only takes a large chunk off of their health. The satisfaction I derived from this game was looking out over an enemy infested fort, sneaking around to kill all of the fodder stealthily, and then getting the drop on the cultist, national leader, general I was there to kill and fighting them without backup because I killed all their backup. This is a formula Ubisoft has been building on since Far Cry 2. It’s still fun, but Assassin’s Creed used to make sneaking in and just killing that one target without engaging in mass murder feasible.

Another major change is the addition of dialog options. Sometimes, you can talk your way out of bad situations. None of these are influenced by your character’s stats, which are solely focused on how easily you can kill someone, so the choice of dialog often feels like a guessing game. ACO doesn’t pretend that these choices are particularly meaningful, except that at six points in the main plot they can influence which of the nine conclusions the story reaches. Even then, the results are largely the same but who comes to the end with you changes.

This is emblematic of ACO. It presents the illusion of choice, but there’s really not much choice at all. Your choices don’t have far reaching consequences for being a story largely centered around your character’s special bloodline. The game world is wide open but it’s a static thing. Killing one nation’s leader just results in another filling in their place. Killing one mercenary moves you up the ladder, but another mercenary fills in behind you. Random name, random traits, no personality. The only murders that count are those against the Cult of Kosmos, but even half of those are just faceless people. I found two of the last ones just sitting alone in the woods. It seems that as Assassin’s Creed has opened up the world over the course of the series, it has reduced the player’s impact on it. Prior games were more linear affairs that could do things like jump 20 years in the future, or kill major characters and show the impacts of those deaths. In ACO, no one’s death means anything. By the end of the game, my character’s actions have had no meaningful impact on the game’s world. Maybe it’s a direct contradiction of the game’s “chosen one” story, or maybe it’s commentary on the meta narrative of the series, which is that all of this is largely meaningless because this world has been simulated to completion. Ancient aliens solved all of this long ago and humanity is just going through the motions. The ones who thought they could change things were wrong.

In this Assassin’s Creed game, you are not an assassin, you’re not part of a group of assassins, and you hardly assassinate anyone. In most aspects, this game and Origins before it are unlike any others in the series, and they benefit from it in some ways, but calling them “Assassin’s Creed” is a misnomer. The game is still historical tourism, with appearances by famous Greeks such as Socrates, Leonidas, Herodotus, and Pericles, among others, but it’s otherwise an entirely different animal from the series that came before Origins. I look back on the 70ish hours I’ve spent in the game, and I enjoyed my time playing it, but it’s a sort of hollow enjoyment. This is a popcorn game, tasty but void of nutrition or substance.


Reference: Ubisoft. Assassin’s Creed Odyssey (Ubisoft, 2018)

Source: Purchased from Green Man Gaming.

PPRe-View: WWE Evolution (2018)

As stated before, I wasn’t happy with the build to Evolution, but the show itself was mostly good.

Trish Stratus and Lita vs. Alicia Fox and Mickie James

This was fine. It was a nothing match. No stakes, a couple of messy spots, but not a disaster. Sure, it pops the crowd to see Stratus and Lita in the ring again, and they fared better than other legends brought in for a nostalgia match, but it wasn’t my favorite if only because I have zero to little investment in those two (as someone who watched WWE before and after their tenures), and Fox and James bump like wild but rarely get a win. Tonight was no exception.

20 Woman Battle Royal

As a battle royal, it was okay. Nearly all of the legends were tossed out right from the start. Kudos to Alundra Blayze for knowing where hardcam was and soaking in it. It had the (now required) spot where someone who rolled out of the ring early in the match makes a sudden re-appearance at the end of the match, and it was the tiny Zelina Vega attempting to toss out Nia Jax and Ember Moon before Nia overhead presses her and throws her at Tamina Snuka on the outside of the ring. Nia gets the victory and that’s a good pick, though I would’ve preferred Ember.

Mae Young Classic Finals – Toni Storm vs. Io Shirai

The match was shorter than I would’ve liked, but it was still fun. Storm and Shirai are both incredible wrestlers, so there was no wrong choice here, but Storm got the victory. I’m looking forward to seeing a lot more of them in NXT.

Bayley, Natalya, and Sasha Banks vs. The Riott Squad

Bayley and Sasha Banks were out here to remind everyone just how absolutely awesome they are when they’re let off the leash a little bit. There were some excellent tag team spots from all of the competitors, and it was infinitely better than the matches they’ve had on Raw recently. Banks pinned Morgan for a victory after a powerbomb by Natalya, an elbow drop by Bayley, and a frog splash by Banks.

NXT Women’s Champion Kairi Sane vs. Shayna Baszler for the NXT Women’s Championship

As I said earlier this week, another great match from Sane and Baszler, with a small tweak. Baszler did some real nasty spots working Sane’s arm, which isn’t new to her repertoire but mean looking nonetheless. This time around, Baszler’s MMA girl squad were ringside and interfered after Sane threw Baszler at them. There was a bit of ref blindness as Sane was attacked three times before Baszler locked in the Kirifuda Clutch for a victory. I can’t tell if this makes Sane look like a stronger competitor or Baszler look like a weaker champion but this locks Baszler in NXT for a while longer and frees up Sane for an upwards (or is it sideways?) move to Raw or Smackdown.

Smackdown Women’s Champion Becky Lynch vs. Charlotte Flair for the Smackdown Women’s Championship in a Last Woman Standing Match

Holy hell, this is why we got Evolution. Lynch and Flair are both incredible, they’ve been incredible for years, and they took each other to hell and back. Though this isn’t the first WWE Last Woman Standing match (I guess commentary are pretending NXT, who did Asuka vs. Nikki Cross Last Woman Standing, doesn’t count), it definitely set a high bar for any future Last Woman Standing matches. After beating each other with kendo sticks, chairs, ladders, tables, the Smackdown Women’s Championship belt, and (of course) the commentary table, Lynch throws Flair off the top rope onto her back through a ringside table, and Flair fails to get to her feet before the 10 count. This match mattered and both women fought like it mattered and it was amazing.

Raw Women’s Champion Ronda Rousey vs. Nikki Bella for the Raw Women’s Championship

This should not have had to follow the Last Woman Standing match. Everyone knew this would be the main event, but did anyone booking this think that it’d be a better match? Rousey judo-threw Nikki left and right before Brie Bella (ringside) interfered to give Nikki an opening. Nikki put in some offense before we went back to the judo throws and, finally, an arm bar. Every Rousey match could be summed up as “judo throws, selling, judo throws, arm bar”. It gave us nothing new and it was mercifully short.

Final Thoughts

This was a good WWE show, with the six woman tag match and the Last Woman Standing match taking a clear spotlight. I did notice that production on it was a lot less stable than usual, with some obvious hiccups and lower value, such as the ringside barriers being the cheap stuff they use at house shows, and the apron being a normal cloth apron and not the LED boards they use on Raw and other PPVs. I obviously wasn’t into Rousey vs. Bella but the rest of the card was fun. I hope WWE makes this an annual event, but I want even more for it to be booked properly, given an appropriate build up, and an A-team for production. Now excuse me while I ignore main roster WWE until after Crown Jewel. When’s Survivor Series?