After a year of PS5 it is Time For Sony’s Exclusives to be Finally Unleashed

The PS Plus Collection is quickly becoming a rotting catalogue and wasted potential

Anyone who became a first-time Playstation owner this year with the arrival of the PS5 (which itself was no easy feat) will no doubt herald the included PS Plus Collection – A terrific catch up catalogue of twenty of the PS4’s best titles. This PS5-only benefit is unlocked once you become a member of the PS Plus scheme which, for £50 a year, provides members with free games each month, exclusive discounts, and online play. But for long-time Playstation players, and up to date PC players who will likely have experienced some if not all these games at some stage, its a bit of a waste. One year on, its a neglected ecosystem that could easily be reignited.

Personally I am yet to own a PS5. Before you get your pitchforks out or slam down your laptop lid in disgust, please hear me out. I have been a Playstation gamer (non-exclusive) since the hazy days of the PS One all the way through to today. My own PS4 is in constant use with plenty of life left in it and, naturally, a backlog library longer than both my arms. And that’s just the titles I own; the PS Plus membership catalogue of “free” games of the last 3-4 years is a backlog of its own. These are both factors in my reluctance to make the inevitable generation jump.

With the PS5’s own rather underwhelming catalogue in tow, Sony’s powerhouse would be nothing more than a 4K Blu-Ray player plus backward-compatibility peripheral in my household. I am yet to be sold otherwise; Astro’s Playroom is a highly enjoyable showcase of the PS5’s controller’s capabilities, but it is an experience that is over very quickly, even for the less keen trophy hunters, and without the significant investment in software the current generation demands, the head once again turns to a collection of games that needs an injection of life. The solution? Enter Playstation’s other platform that is undergoing a revolution of late: PS Now.

Until the last twelve months or so, PS Now struggled with both its catalogue and streaming performance. Even the largest internet bandwidths were negated due to consistent streaming issues, leaving cinematic titles such Metal Gear Solid HD Collection, a PS3 title, unwatchable and unplayable. More recently, the option to download PS Now titles locally removes the performance issues, and, most importantly of all, the catalogue has expanded exponentially since the release of the PS5. Surely some of these offerings could be interchanged with the current PS Plus Collection crop, or adopt a similar approach in releasing new offerings on a regular basis?

Should Sony ever decide to adopt such an approach it would do little to devalue a PS Now or PS Plus subscription. We’re all aware that if the latter’s free monthly offerings are not claimed, then we’ve missed out. Furthermore, taking this interchanging approach keeps things varied, and may even influence a decision to invest in the PS5 if they haven’t already. Including myself.

Best in Series #1 – Relive Past Wimbledon Glory With Virtua Tennis 2

Welcome to a new regular feature entitled Best in Series. Expect analysis and reasoning behind my personal favourite entries across entertainment medium franchises. This first edition revisits a truly classic sports simulation celebrating its 20th anniversary of release both in the arcade scene and at home.

Wimbledon is so quintessentially English. With the worlds most distinguished Tennis gland slam tournament returning following its pandemic-induced cancellation in 2020, tennis fever is gripping the British isles once again. For two weeks of every English summer, come rain or shine, everyone becomes a tennis fan. Throw in the nation’s fondness for queuing, along with strawberries and cream, and you have the complete Wimbledon experience. There’s the matter of some actual tennis in there somewhere too. And be on the lookout for Cliff Richard if rain disrupts the occasion. You’ll thank me later. Probably not.

What, no strawberries left?!

The Queue, as it is officially known for Wimbledon, is often half a mile long or more, full of potential punters trying their luck for entry tickets. Why wait three hours or more in the current searing SW19 heat, with no guarantee of any entertainment? Why indeed, when the greatest video game tennis experience has been in the palms of our hands for the best part of 20 years.

Sega’s Virtua Tennis series laid the marker for tennis simulations in both the arcades and at home for the majority of the 2000’s. I won’t bore anyone with yet another Sega Dreamcast history lesson, but the console’s significance and popularity was largely due to arcade-perfect home conversions such as Virtua Tennis and in particular its sequel, Virtua Tennis 2. The Dreamcast delivered what the Sega Saturn and Sony Playstation simply could not; arcade-level visuals and gaming in the home. For the home console market the Dreamcast served as the biggest corner turn for arcade-quality entertainment, and the industry has never looked back. And Sega’s now-absorbed Hitmaker development team were one-time masters of it.

The clue is of course in the name. Hitmaker did just that: make hits. Hits that easily still stand up today. Despite two sequels coming in the years and gaming generations after, nothing has touched the tennis scene better than the first sequel in the series. Released in 2001, Virtua Tennis 2 was quickly ported to Dreamcast on the back of the original’s success. It is arcade-perfect both aesthetically and mechanically in every way, a concept none-too-common at the turn of the century. Hitmaker added bucket loads of content, particularly for the single player, to an already coin-grabbing classic.

In today’s sports simulations, a.i-reliant single player modes sometimes prove to be a drab, soulless affair (I am literally staring at my copy of FIFA 21 right now). No sign of that here, particularly in career mode where you create your own tennis pro. The matches are in a calibre of their own, with increasingly-challenging CPU opponents thrown in. But it’s the developmental mini games that really serve up the aces. One such mini game sees you practice serves across court into bowling pins to reach a target score. It’s simple, it’s challenging, and most importantly, a lot of fun. In FIFA, the would-be cute mini-games and training set pieces offer little more than a meaningless preamble for the most part. Virtua Tennis 2 began using such training regimen to better your player before it was cool. Today realism may be the demand, but often at the expense of the concept of fun; you know, that feeling a game is supposed to bring to our fingertips and brains.

Mastering the career training paths, multiple match wins and rank-climbing culminates at Wimbledon, or the “English Championship” as it is referred to here. Sega may not have acquired the licensing for the Grand Slam occasions, but they certainly made up for that with its roster. Anyone with a historical knowledge of tennis past would recognise such names as Tim Henman and Pat Rafter, names synonymous with my own tennis-crazed years. Rafter, the Australian heavy hitter was a personal favourite of mine, such a joy to watch. Now-legend Serena Williams, sister Venus and Monica Seles, all Wimbledon finalists, form part of the female roster, a new addition to the series.

This game is almost twenty years old and still remains the greatest nod to the world’s greatest tennis championships. It’s better than its sequels and predecessor largely due to its more balanced roster, but mostly because as a tennis sports sim package it is perfect in style, content and the most importantly, the tennis. The female roster added a new dynamic to the tennis video game at the time; mixed doubles matches, more base line play, less serve and volley, more ground-strokes and decisive rallies. The male and female attributed differences also means two different dimensions to career mode. You’ll engage in hours of entertainment regardless, and is also perfect to dip in and out of between matches and mini games.

In today’s world of online sports gaming, sports simulations are frequented by players hundreds or even thousands of miles apart. There is no such option here, as Virtua Tennis 2 is from a different era. People, actual people, need to attend somewhere physically for the multiplayer experience. Imagine that. Actual banter in your face. Or someone else’s. Plus you don’t look like a tit like many a Wii Sports player often does, as if the more wildly the arm is swung the better the shot will be. It won’t, mate. Have a lie down.

Fans of queuing, strawberries and/or cream will of course be disappointed with the lack of digital equivalent. Don’t judge us Brits, we’re weird like that. We queue, then we die. If it were possible, the English would probably queue to die. But there is a solution. Only got 2 controllers between your friends? Why not make those waiting their turn queue at the door? Maybe while stuffing their faces with – you guessed it – strawberries and cream. Problem solved.

You see, any sports fan, maybe even players of the sport, needs to realise that Virtua Tennis 2 is as pure a sports gaming experience as they come. As far as the real thing goes I have sparsely watched a single rally of tennis since the 2012 Olympics in truth, but just 30 minutes of Virtua Tennis 2 pulled me right back in. I might even dust off my old racket and have a rally myself. Who says video games aren’t good for you?

Virtua Tennis 2 serves as a perfect reminder of a time when sports games were more immediate. No installation times. Miniscule loading times. Huge fun. And best of all, no queuing required. Sure, you won’t see centre court for real. But for a third of the queuing time you could have a blast with the best tennis players of yesteryear. And, most importantly, you won’t have to keep an eye on the weather in case Cliff Richard shows up.

Luftrausers Review (PS3)

With the recent announcement of the PS3 PSN store due to be shutdown, then Sony reversing that same announcement, the provocation has resulted in clearing the dust on Sony’s seventh generation console. Starting with this Sony console exclusive, Luftrausers, a war-themed shooter that dared to dream with its release, competing with an already-released PlayStation 4 just a few months earlier.

War, never been so much fun. You sunk my battleship. Both those memorable phrases detail the quality Luftrausers provides, albeit from a high level. When you first load up Luftrausers’ cartoon retro-style title screen, a simple instruction is given: Press ‘Up’ on your D-Pad. You soon realise you have been thrust into the cockpit of a plane as a complete novice, not knowing where to go or what to do. Instinctively though, you quickly find yourself flying back and forth, projectile barrages and small planes coming at you at breakneck speed, with a simple goal: Kill or be killed.

Constant death is an inevitability in Luftrausers. But this is glorious, unpredictable, addictive and even productive death. Every plane or battleship you destroy tops up your overall score, levels you up, and bumps your multiplier within each run too. Levelling up means better weapons, armour and the like, and thus, this is how you progress in Luftrausers. In-game side objectives, such as destroying 6 planes in a single run unlock further parts and modifications; homing missiles, reduced melee damage, even protection from the water below. You’ll need that last one should you dive in for temporary cover. All these elements bring variety to the feel and power of your craft. As you toughen up, the opposition gets tougher, and more frequent, which serves up more breath-taking moments of near-kamikaze brilliance.

Although this may not sound as appealing as it is in practice, there is quite the tactical element to Luftrausers to cap off its addictive brilliance. Any damage you do take slowly recovers with ant brief respite, indicated by a circle that closes in the nearer you are to being blown out of the sky. You are also more manoeuvrable should you ever release the fire button, which is great for healing and a temporary reprieve, but those going for the big multipliers will see it reset in those precious recovery seconds. Then the waves begin again, meaning it really is a case of who dares wins.

The wonderfully simple and symbolic nature of holding ‘up’ to fly and rotating using left or right for direction becomes second nature almost immediately, as intended, by throwing you into the action head on. I guarantee a few seconds later you’ll be throwing yourself head-on towards countless merciless targets. Granted, you may well escape some rounds by the skin of your teeth with more luck than judgement, but regardless, the sense of momentary relief is ever present.

Visually, Luftrausers offers a unique semi-retro style, akin to an HD Atari 2600, should such a thing ever have existed. When in battle, it can be similar to a typical bullet hell shooter, with enemies left, right and centre, a la Asteroids, but with the freedom of movement, of course.

As you progress through the various waves of increasing difficulty, Luftrausers succeeds in retaining the thrills and spills of those initial bedding-in runs throughout. For those with a PS Vita, you may miss a train stop or two if you’re not careful. While some runs may be over in mere seconds, the action is consistently heart-stopping, merciless, and seriously addictive. And it all begins with the touch of a simple command: Up.

Sega Mega Drive Mini – Top 5 Games

In a world before the Covid-19 pandemic (yep, I barely remember either) there was something of a retro videogame revival taking place. We’ve had the NES mini, and the SNES mini, cataloguing some of the most beloved releases to grace either platform. The Sega Mega-Drive Mini (Genesis mini in the US), released in 2019, aimed to do the same. Forty-Two titles came included, 13 of which were exclusive to the west. Sega division M2 handled the conversions, and the console itself, arriving at 55% the size of the original home classic, certainly looks the part. But what about the games?

Thankfully the choices are not as generic as expected heralding quite a few tasty surprises. Castlevania: Bloodlines, Mega Man: The Wily Wars and Contra: Hard Corps are among the rarer and desirable classics on offer, as well as a very welcome return of Road Rash II. Who knew Sega and EA even still talked?

On the downside, many of the titles are a case of same old, same old. Sega have been releasing various Genesis/Mega Drive collections since the PS2 era, with the latest edition only being made available on Switch last December. No less than 24 titles (57% no less) make a reappearance on the Mega Drive Mini. But no one can argue that regardless of how many times they are released, many of these titles were key to the Mega Drive being a success. From Alex Kidd to World of Illusion, The Mega Drive Mini certainly is worthy of our money and time. And so, in no particular order, here are my top five picks.

Castlevania: Bloodlines (1994)
The inclusion of Castlevania: Bloodlines is certainly one of the best inclusions for many reasons. Firstly, it is the only Castlevania game for Sega’s platform, and was also exclusive at the time. Thankfully, the version included matches that of the recently released Castlevania: Anniversary Collection for PS4/Xbox One/Nintendo Switch in that it is uncensored; its original 1994 release felt the wrath of the censors, much like Mortal Kombat did for the SNES. The end result is a traditional Castlevania adventure that is also among the most violent in the series.

Eternal Champions (1993)
Not an obvious choice for many I’m sure, but a pleasing one for me nonetheless. Sega’s answer to Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat was better than neither of them, but could easily be considered the cultists choice. Sega developed Eternal Champions for the Mega Drive, and not an arcade port like its more successful counterpart giants of the genre.

Its unique characters from different time zones, including caveman Slash, futuristic Muay Thai fighter R.A.X. Coswell and 1920’s mobster Larcen Tyler, are unlike any other fighting franchise. They certainly could not have had names that were any less memorable if they tried. Weapon-wielding, an Art of Fighting-style special move meter, even its own take on fatalities make Eternal Champions a unique, if a little clunky, fighting experience.

Street Fighter II: Special Championship Edition (1993)
On the back of Capcom developing Street Fighter II: Turbo for the SNES, Sega made the wise choice of delaying their own version of Street Fighter II to improve its content. Originally intended as a port of the namesake arcade, this newly dubbed “Special” edition includes both ‘Champion’ and ‘Turbo’ modes, the former of which the SNES version never had. In addition, this was the first console port of the famous arcade fighting introduction sequence, which is noticeably absent from all SNES versions of Street Fighter II.

It’s incredible to think that a decision to originally stick with Nintendo as its home console base, then to come full circle and over-compensate for a rival console, would result in such a console-defining moment. Special Champion Edition became a revolutionary move for the Mega Drive, paving the way for production of the 6-button controller that would resolve the initial issue of toggling between punches and kicks with the 3-button pad start button. This inevitable shift is a decision that transformed a title that was originally unworkable to arguably having better control than its SNES counterpart. Depending on your taste in controllers of course.

Although it trumps the SNES Turbo title on feature inclusion alone, what of the action itself? Everything is intact, plus the additions of tournament modes and both ‘Champion’ and ‘Turbo’ modes give the Street Fighter II Turbo a run for its money. As ever though, the Mega Drive just isn’t up there when it comes to the sound quality. The slightly muffled tunes and voices let the side down just a tad. Nevertheless, this is the best fighter the Mega Drive ever had to offer until the arrival of its sequel, Super Street Fighter II.

Road Rash II (1993)
Although boasting an incredibly baron Wikipedia page, Road Rash II is easily one of the greatest racing games on the Mega Drive. The core elements of racing with dirty fighting tactics to take out your rivals makes for challenging-yet-brilliant entertainment. Use chains, clubs or even punch/kick your way through multiple obstacle-riddled tracks at breakneck speeds. Road Rash II is simply an insane amount of fun.

Childhood memories of Road Rash include unlocking several of the nitro bikes, such as the black nitro addition. It would often be too fast for any race with any collision catapulting your rider through the air, hilariously defying gravity, and still have enough time to gather your bike and win the race. Ah memories. Road Rash II also introduced the split screen 2 player mode, whether against CPU opponents or head to head, which is presumably what gave it the nod over the original’s inclusion.

Road Rash II is simply a riot of a racing game, and a very welcome surprise to the Mega Drive Mini.

Mega Man: The Wily Wars (1994)
A unique inclusion given it is its first ever rerelease, Mega Man: The Wily Wars is unique to me in that I’ve never had the pleasure. All the more reason for looking forward to it then, in this 16-bit take (a la Super Mario All Stars on SNES) of the first three NES Mega Man games.

Unlike Nintendo’s Mario compilation however, there is a story behind this Capcom collection; Dr Wily seeks to change the future by going back in time, to the first three adventures, to eliminate Mega Man. Once you’ve conquered the graphically-enhanced adventures, it’s on to an original stage, Wily Tower, for a final showdown.

Given its sporadic release back in 1995, particularly in the US, it’s no surprise that Wily Wars at one time sat at the £200+ mark on eBay and other gaming markets. Which in turn makes it all the more pleasing that it is included here.

How about you? Did you buy the Mega Drive Mini? What are you favourites?

Retroreflection #4 – Foray Into Football’s Arsenal (FIFA)

Football: it’s a funny old game, a game of 2 halves, and many other obligatory clichés that lead us to question the IQ of the football world at times. But at the end of the day football is fun, or should be, and there have indeed been some frankly fabulous fun football games (try saying that three times fast) from years and gaming generations past. 

 

Before the original FIFA Soccer for Sega Mega Drive/Genesis, there were little if no football simulations to speak of; most were arcade interpretations of the world’s most popular sport. The SNES never truly had a great football sim until Konami’s International Superstar Soccer came along. The port of the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis FIFA was weak and frankly didn’t fit in the catalogue, which is a fair reflection on all of EA Sports’ simulations for Nintendo’s 16 bit beast. But of these arcade efforts were a few fun gems, and that’s why this edition of Retroreflection is doing what many nostalgic football fans do: look to the glories of the past.

Fever Pitch Soccer (SNES/Mega Drive/Atari Jaguar)

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Unlike today’s FIFA/PES same old year-in-year-out efforts, Fever Pitch is a much simpler affair; just switch on and enjoy 1-2 hours of pure fun.

Fever Pitch is hardly a simulation, but ironically simulation itself is one of the many ‘skills’ on offer in what is a superbly slapstick football/soccer video game. Your team is made up of rough and ready ragamuffins, each with a dirty skill (diver, banana shot, fireball shot) that can (or will) be use, as desired with the touch of a single button, to win at all costs. In practice it makes for some frankly ridiculous scores on the board, but you’d be too busy laughing at players diving all over the place to even notice.

It may now be well over 20 years old, for me it is still a great example that football video games shouldn’t have to take themselves so seriously. As the saying goes, its a funny old game, and if nothing else, Fever Pitch Soccer achieves that perfectly.

Football Manager (PC/Mobile/Nintendo Switch)

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Wrecker of relationships, destroyer of social lives, all for the chance to live the dream: to see your team win, all achieved by your hand and yours alone. I’ve known girlfriends be bribed with presents just to secure a day of play on Football Manager. A somewhat unimpressive feat for sure, but not to a Football Manager player.

Forget all the depth, the fact you can train each single player individually how you wish, manage any team in almost any league imaginable, do the unthinkable (yes, even Spurs winning the Premier League).

Football Manager takes itself as seriously as you desire, leaving it open for the most dedicated of football managers, or for those who prefer to keep it simple. Not many video games can lay that gauntlet down and succeed. I am a semi-retired Football Manager Player myself, but it is a series so consistent that I would easily be able to jump back in any year if I so wished. Maybe just one more month before bed won’t hurt. What’s the worst that could happen?

Sensible World of Soccer (PC/Xbox Live)

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Holy hell I lost a lot of my youth on this game. Perfectly balancing the core features of football management with arcade football only the 90’s could provide, Sensible World of Soccer was/is indeed the best of both worlds; either manage a team, train and buy players and watch the games, or same again but play out the outcome. Using the old-school up and down pitch view, the football on offer is fast and fun, and while it will never compete with FIFA for realistic gameplay or Football Manager’s exhaustive stat-heaven, the beauty of it is that it doesn’t need to.

Despite being released in 1994, patches are still being released for PC for the latest Premier League squads, which is a testament to the games legacy as quite possibly the most fun football game in existence. No sequel could improve SWOS. Still available on Xbox Live also, enhanced in HD goodness, it’s a bargain at under a tenner. And although it is the last game in the series in almost 10 years, it’s still top of the league, and any football fan would be mad not to check it out.

How about you – outside of FIFA/PES, what football games are close to your hearts?

Return to Championship Manager 01/02 Season 2 (19/20 Data) – Conclusion

The end.

THE OBJECTIVE: Chelsea want their title back. As all entitled Premier League clubs do.

THE CAVEAT: Any transfer bids must be accepted.

Greetings one and all, especially faithful readers of this series. Firstly, I owe everyone an apology. The last instalment of this Championship Manager challenge was back in June 2020. At that time, tragedy struck. The device running the game, as well as completed screenshots at the time, went kaput. With three months left of the season to go, it was a season derailed. However, a few weeks ago, said device was finally recovered. Given this challenge used data from the 19/20 season, I have no intention of riding the wave of that season, like Liverpool FC are at the moment week after week. Instead, and with the intention of a new season with more recent player data, I bring to you a round-up of the remainder of this challenge. Enjoy.

March

Premier League:- 

February ended with Chelsea improving in the Premier League, yet still twenty seven points away from runaway leaders Manchester City. Even the possibility of Champions League qualification is a longshot unless a near flawless final ten games is achieved. Or winning the competition itself. Sounds familiar….

March’s fixtures are as follows: Man Utd (H), Liverpool (A), and Newcastle (H). Ouch. Here’s the results.Transfer Ban mar 2

Transfer Ban mar 9

Transfer Ban mar 10

Not too shabby. The win against Liverpool a particularly impressive one. Although, they are used to losing at home these days. Boom boom. Here’s the table after those results:-

Transfer Ban mar 12

Man if only five of those eleven draws were wins, eh? Still, with twenty-one points still up for grabs the Champions League places are still possible, just. Speaking of the Champions League, lets see how Chelsea faired there.

Champions League:-

In group stage phase 2 (I really don’t miss those days), there is a home tie against Shakhtar Donestsk and a sure-fire battle at the Bernabeu against serial Champions League winners, and general shithouse team Real Madrid.

Transfer Ban mar 3Transfer Ban mar 6

The final group games include a first defeat in this stage for Chelsea against Madrid, just, but it has no bearing on the final group table. Chelsea power through the knockouts. Against the other Madrid.

Transfer Ban cl table

Transfer Ban mar 7

FA Cup:-

Finally for March there’s the next round of the FA Cup. This quarter final is an away tie against the runaway Premier League leaders Manchester City. Yikes.

Transfer Ban mar 4

Ah well. A good effort but ultimately a defeat, and another competition draws to a close for Chelsea this season. Only the Champions League remains for a chance of silverware. And now, onto April.

April

Premier League:-

Chelsea are nine points off of fourth place in the Premier League, but have played a game more than most. Results need to start going their way for any real chance of climbing the table. Four games await, with two at home and two away.

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Wow. Just wow. Four wins on the spin throughout the whole month. Maybe a manager of the month award is on the cards? And what about everyone else?

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Those four wins have really closed the gap on nearest rivals Leicester City. Just one point in it now. The upturn in form is so strong that only Manchester City have lost less games than Chelsea. Considering where they were as the January transfer window approached, this is a run only Frank Lampard could have dreamed of. Speaking of City, they of course wrapped up the title despite just their second defeat of the season, almost mirroring their historic 2018-19 campaign. For now though, its Champions League knockout football. 

Champions League:-

Chelsea powered through to the knockouts alongside Real Madrid, but its to the other end of Madrid for the quarters.

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A 90th minute hammer blow from Joao Felix means Athletico take three away goals back to Spain for the second leg. Never say never, but its a uphill task.

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And by half time, Chelsea are rising to the task! Batshuayi going off is of course a concern, but so far they are on course for a great knockout victory.

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They have done it! After Kovacic made it 0-3 on the night, Athletico burst back with two goals in seven minutes, which would level the tie and bring extra time. That is until the Chelsea midfielder completed his hat-trick with ten minutes to go for a famous 6-5 win on aggregate. Phew! Next stop, Barcelona!

transfer ban apr 21

May

Premier League

This is it, the final fixtures of yet another Premier League season. A tough away day at Arsenal, followed by a home tie with already-relegated Sheffield United, ending the season with a home tie with Everton. Lets do this…

Transfer ban May 2

That’s one down. A late win but comprehensive in the end. But how does that affect the table?

Transfer ban May3

With two games left it couldn’t be much title, with even second place a possibility. None of which no one would have predicted at the start of the year. Done, done, onto the next one.

Transfer ban May7

Batshuayi’s goals are what have ignited Chelsea’s form this season. These FOUR, including a seven-minute hat trick, means he is on 35 goals for the season. Incredible.

Transfer ban May8

But elsewhere, Leicester leapfrog Man Utd and Liverpool into second place by beating both of them consecutively. A big statement there with leaves Chelsea now just goal difference away from Champions League football guaranteed. And here is how the final fixtures ended.

Transfer ban May9

Sadly, Chelsea’s 4-1 victory is not enough. With Liverpool narrowly beating West Ham 2-1, and Leicester claiming a last-minute victory at Watford, it means Chelsea miss out on Champions League football with an inferior goal difference. By one goal. Gutted. Here’s the final table.

Transfer ban May10

Norwich, Newcastle and Sheffield United drop to the Championship once again. Chelsea’s championship form in the last three months just wasn’t enough in the end. And now, the small matter of the Champions League semi-final.

Champions League

Transfer ban May1

Oh dear. A disastrous start thanks to Christensen’s red card, and Barcelona take full advantage. They will get one hell of a fight at Stamford Bridge, but is this a mountain too tall?

Transfer ban May4

Ultimately, it is. But Chelsea’s performance was superb, with only coming short in the goals department. They can hold their heads high after that. It’s a Liverpool/Barcelona final.

Transfer ban May11

And it’s Barcelona’s once again after an extra time winner. An all-English final in a British stadium might have been a bigger spectacle, but this was a tight, competitive final.

FA Cup Final:-

Transfer ban May6

The closing fixture of the English season is always the FA Cup final. Manchester City were going for a league and cup double against the 2006 finalists West Ham United. A spirited 2-goal comeback from the Premier League champions triggers extra-time, but West Ham have the final say, restoring their 2-goal lead for an unlikely victory.

And that’s the season wrapped up. I do hope you enjoyed it, I am certainly pleased to get it finished so those of you who followed can savour

And that’s the season wrapped up. I do hope you enjoyed it, I am certainly pleased to get it finished so those of you who followed can savour the end. If this is your first instalment, please take a look at the previous monthly segments and let me know your thoughts. Maybe I’ll do another season with 2020-21 data. Cheerio!

Catch-up on what you’ve missed here:-

August September October November December January February

Championship manager and its fan made updates are available as freeware from http://www.champman0102.co.uk/  

For this blog the October 2019 data update was used.

The Best Episodes of Spider-Man: The Animated Series

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On the back of the success of X-Men: The Animated Series, it wasn’t long before a Spider-Man series also hit our television sets in the early 90’s. First airing in the US on November 19th 1994, Spider-Man: The Animated Series became the first Spider-Man TV series since Spider-Man and his Amazing Friends ended in 1983. Just like X-Men: The Animated Series, it ran for 5 seasons, but could/should easily have been more; circulated speculation of executive arguments caused the show to be ultimately cancelled, with its ending open-ended as a result.

Across its 65 episodes, Peter Parker’s life as Spider-Man is presented from his days as a college student. The series charts the development of both Peter and titular hero, and how both directly influence the other. College life, dating, break-ups, jealously, anger and even tragedy are all depicted in a faithful manner to the source material. Despite its demise, Spider-Man: The Animated Series truly remains the greatest animation adaption of Marvel’s beloved web-slinging hero. Thanks to the arrival of Disney Plus, we all get to relive it over and, you bet, over again. With that in mind, and in no particular order, here are the top episodes across its five fantastic seasons.

Night of the Lizard (Season 1 Episode 1)

The first season is all about introductions. This pilot episode introduces Peter’s life as Spider-Man, which has already begun, as has his freelance photography job at the Daily Bugle. It also lays the groundwork perfectly for the show’s tone, and of the characters that surround Spider-Man/Peter. There’s his boss at the Daily Bugle, J. Jonah Jameson, as well as Eddie Brock and Curt Connors, both of which become more complex characters in both Peter and Spider-Man’s life. The latter is another pilot introduction in the guise of The Lizard. As the first of many villains to cross Spidey’s path, The Lizard serves as a perfect example of how those existences cross paths. As for Peter/Spidey himself, he is perfectly crafted as the most human of superheroes. Peter’s delicate balancing of social, academic, financial and of course superhero responsibilities is cleverly conveyed from comic strip to screen. Peter’s superhero duties often take precedence over his own life, but here he is grounded by the reality of making $1000, money Peter sorely needs. In the end, he gives that money to his Aunt May, who needs it even more. After all, this is what Spider-Man is all about: setting a great example for everyone.

Menace of Mysterio (Season 1 Episode 5)

One of Spider-Man’s greatest attributes is his dedication to the good fight. When Spider-Man is framed for a museum break-in by an imposter for all to see, with the city turned against him, he is not deterred. But if it wasn’t Spider-Man, who was it? Welcome to another villain introduction. Welcome to Mysterio. Those of you who have watched the latest Spider-Man movie, Far from Home, will be somewhat familiar with Mysterio, otherwise known as Quentin Beck. He is the master of illusion, and in this John Semper, Stan Berkowitz and Marv Wolfman-penned episode, Mysterio even has Peter’s Aunt May fooled into thinking Spidey is the bad guy! But Spidey being Spidey, as well as Peter being Peter, he perseveres where most would have given up, in order to clear his name. After all, Spider-Man doesn’t fight for the glory; he fights because it’s the right thing to do.

Mutant Agenda (Season 2 Episodes 4 + 5)

Crossover time! Spidey is beginning to go through extreme changes as he begins to evolve from the spider bite that gifted his abilities. Dubbed “Neogenic Nightmare”, it’s a season-long arc with mutations, vampires, The Punisher, Blade as well as the usual criminal rogues’ gallery. To help face his own mutation issues, Spidey visits the X-Men for a cure. Spidey’s misinterpretation of the X-Men and its goal of human-mutant coalition inadvertently uncovers an anti-mutant plot disguised as the “cure” Spidey may need. Let’s be honest, there is always time for a crossover in comics, so why not in animation also? Here we have the also bonus of an injection of the same X-Men, voices and all, from the peerless, parallel-running X-Men: TAS show. It’s a great 2-part adventure for fans of both shows, and feeds seamlessly into this show’s season-long narrative format.

The Alien Costume (Season 1 Episodes 8-10)

Spider-Man: The Animated Series’ injection of Venom fits in perfectly with the first season of villain introductions. J. Jonah Jameson’s astronaut son, John, comes back from space with a rock believed to be more powerful than plutonium. The homecoming is met with a crash due to a black liquid substance from the rock, named ‘Promethium X’, which attaches itself to Spidey’s suit as he rescues the space crew.

Comic fans will no doubt immediately compare the symbiote’s origins with that of this more science fiction approach. Spider-Man’s print parentage of course had the suit acquired during the Secret Wars saga which wouldn’t be told in the animated counterpart until the end of the show’s run. There is nothing unmistakable however about Venom’s origin, or the influence of the symbiote on Peter leading up to one of Spider-Man’s most pivotal moments in history. Christopher Daniel Barnes really excels as ‘angry’ Peter as he dangerously descends further and further away from his own superhero moral code. As early as the first season the producers were not afraid to stretch beyond the single episode format very early on. This 3-episode marvel is one of the best told stories across all its five seasons. The cliff-hanger endings leave you wanting more, the less-frenetic-but-still-frenetic pacing is also a very welcome change. You will struggle to find a better hour of Marvel animated television.

Do you agree with these best episode picks? Which ones would you add, if any? Let me know in the comments below!

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #12 – Ultimate Spider-Man: Nightmare on Christmas

A jump far forward into more modern times, with a friendly neighbourhood take on A Christmas Carol. After stopping the Shocker‘s latest robbery on Christmas Eve, Spider-Man is having a crisis of faith. Is Spidey actually helping anyone, given its come to this? As he ponders whether to give up the superhero mantle, angel and devil versions of Spidey appear to take him through a look back over his career and his effect on the community he is sworn to protect.

Ultimate Spider-Man S03 E22 – Nightmare on Christmas

This episode may be set around Christmas time, but it’s success comes with its homages to past material. There’s the A Christmas Carol setup, the Steve Ditko-style of the Christmas past sequences, and ultimately, a big nod to the classic Spidey No More comic book storyline.

I haven’t seen all of Ultimate Spider-Man, but this episode was pretty decent, and definitely a must for fans of Ditko. It is also definitely one for fans of the always-excellent Mark Hamill, for his appearance as Nightmare (the clues in the title). This one might suit known-fans more than the casual viewer, but its a nice little superhero Christmas nugget.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #11 – The Simpsons: Miracle on Evergreen Terrace

Another classic Christmas episode from The Simpsons, and Bart is the catalyst once again. After an attempt at a cheeky sneak peak at his Christmas presents in the early hours of Christmas Day, Bart inadvertently burns down the Christmas tree and the presents with it. If that wasn’t bad enough, he hides the evidence in the snow-covered front lawn snow, and instead of confessing, conjures up the lie that they were burgled. What results is a fantastic show of charity and togetherness from the residents of Springfield to save The Simpsons’ Christmas. That is, until the town discovers the truth…..

The Simpsons S09 E10 – Miracle on Evergreen Terrace

Often hailed as the last-best season of The Simpsons, Miracle on Evergreen Terrace is a corker. Homer’s Christmas Eve shopping strategy is hilarious. As is Bart’s prediction of his family’s presents under the tree. Concocting such a lie just to temporarily save his own skin is up there with stealing from two seasons before, but in many ways both have endearing qualities. Lying often seems easier, but of course always makes it worse, but what ten year old hasn’t? Excellent nod to Miracle on 34th Street with the title, too.

“Aren’t we forgetting the true meaning of Christmas? You know, the birth of Santa.” – Bart Simpson

Miracle on Evergreen Terrace is an excellent episode of The Simpsons. Some of the later Christmas-related episodes don’t have the endearment on display here, and like many episodes in the earlier seasons (bear in mind this one is now twenty-three years old), this is a stark reminder of how good The Simpsons truly is.

Animation Advent Calendar – 12 Days of Christmas #10 – Pluto’s Christmas Tree

We’re dialling back to the earlier days of Disney with this next Christmas entry. Naturally, its good old Mickey Mouse and pals as they prepare for Christmas.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree

If you go down to the woods today, you’re sure of a big surprise. Mickey Mouse and his loyal dog Pluto certainly didn’t get that memo, as their collected Christmas tree is in fact home to two little chipmunks – Chip and Dale. As soon a Pluto is introduced to the pesky pair, protective mode kicks in.

Pluto’s Christmas Tree is a charming little piece of animation. The mischievous Chip & Dale dynamic carries on in this, their 17th animated short appearance. It is one of the last Disney shorts of this period to feature the Mickey gang together in the final memorable Christmas Carol scene. Thanks to Disney Plus, this and many more of the 1950’s+ shorts can be enjoyed all over again.