The Anime Sickos Year in Review 2021
2021 in graph form, plus way too many game reviews
Hello Sicko fans.
2021 is coming to a close, and I think I speak for all of us when I say we deserve a better world than this. Last year I had this to say about the prospect of a new year:
2020 saw the machine demand more blood than ever. Well, that’s not exactly true. The machine doesn’t care if it gets blood. Rather, the stewards of the machine all got insanely horny and decided they needed to triple their quotas for no reason. 2021 will not be better because the blood stewards did not get punished for doing this and now they’re vibrating faster than the speed of light at the thought of what they’ll get away with next.
Well, I was right, and I’ll stay right.
That said, 2021 was Anime Sickos’ best year ever and it wasn’t even close. I would not say we are a “popular podcast” or a “huge hit” (and if we aren’t there by ep 100, it’s likely never happening) but our numbies still went WAY up compared to 2020. If the only metric with which to judge the quality of a year is the proportional stat growth of the Anime Sickos Podcast, 2021 was the best year of all time (you should not use this as your only metric).
Without further ado, behold the numbers for 2021 (NOTE: we are using IAB stats, a weird made up podcast stat thing that I don’t understand. I’m doing this because that’s what we used last year so it will be easier to compare the years against each other)
Total 2021 Numbies
Much like last year, I have no frame of reference to understand if 50k downloads in a year is a lot or a little, but considering our total number of downloads in all of 2020 was 15,362, I think the massive growth of da podcast is clear. That’s a 227% increase from last year folks.
Consider also the total number of downloads from across the entire life of the podcast is 67,735.
This means that 74.3% of all Anime Sickos downloads took place in 2021. That’s pretty cool!
With a total of 102 released episodes at the time of writing, this means that the average downloads per episode is now 664. Consider that last year the average was 260. To me this increase is “very good.”
Look at the beautiful line. The line is so pretty…
As this wonderful line shows, da Sickos have two modes: “massive improvement” or “continue to be consistent.” When we hit 5k downloads in June it felt like such a wonderful anomaly, and since then we have repeated it every month. In order to really feel the weight of how good this line is, let’s extend the time frame to 2020 as well…
In 2021, we released 43 episodes. Somehow this is exactly the same amount of episodes released in 2020 which is wild because I would have bet money that we took more “Sicko Breaks” this year than last year. As it is, we took a “Sicko Break” 17% of the time.
Nine episodes (representing ~21%) featured a genius going guesto mode, namely Aaron & Vince (of Kame House Party), Em Haverty, Casey Toney, Tom McHenry, Stephanie Mattos, Whitney Reynolds, Rayne Klar, Josh McVety, and Evan Dahm. Each one of these guestos was an absolute joy to talk with, and taken together they comprise one of the strongest slates of podcast guests on any show. Compared to 2020, we released 5 fewer guesto mode episodes. Please use this knowledge to understand why it takes such a very long time for us to work through our guest backlog.
Eight episodes (representing 18.6%) were about anime. These episodes were: The Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure Episode, The Sickos Present: An Enjoyable Slop Experience (where we read a silly anime trivia book), The Food Episode (where we discussed Golden Kamuy and Delicious in Dungeon), The One Piece Episode, The Sickos Manga Roundup, More Guy Per Guy, The Sickos Return to Work, and Prestige TV is Anime. Of those, you could easily argue that The Sickos Present: An Enjoyable Slop Experience and Prestige TV is Anime are not actually about anime, which would bring the rate down to six episodes representing 13.9%. In 2020, we released six episodes about anime as well. Our title remains a fucking lie.
Four episodes (representing 9%) saw us remember to do the Fruit Annihilation Tournament, a worn-out bit no one likes anymore that we always forget. We started the fruit tournament in August 2020, fuckin lol. We’ll finish it someday.
2021’s Top Episodes
These were the most downloaded episodes of 2021:
The Tragical History of Modesty City is undoubtedly our biggest creative success, a work of art we spent countless hours and hundreds of dollars on, and which was met with raucous acclaim. It therefore only makes sense that it comes in at number two below Great Moments in Posting History, an episode we threw together because we couldn’t think of a topic and were just like, “let’s be lazy and just read a lot of posts.”
The Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure episode is a true essential, one of the few episodes solidly about anime, featuring a singularly goofy and beloved topic in JJBA. Tom McHenry’s Guesto Mode episode is correctly considered one of the show’s best episodes with perhaps the most deranged and horrifying job stories I’ve ever heard. Comedy Still Sucks Now, the Posting Wastes, and The Internet Sucks all grapple with the harsh reality that online (the place where, more than ever, all life occurs) is just so boring and shitty! The Sickos Work Retail is an undercover guesto ep, as Riley Hopkins of the Podcast Mines did a host-swap with us and rendered me obsolete with their incredible jokums and horrific cog stories about Amy, the Awful Woman Who Steals Dog Toys. The Sickos Get Fungible represents a huge blunder as we did our NFT episode before they made the shitty cartoon with the melting apes. And the Sickos Return to Work was the one where I talked about Real.
It’s interesting to me that all the top episodes of 2021 were released in 2021! I guess it makes sense, but I would have guessed at least episode 1 would be in there. I think I am justified in having this gut feeling when you look at the ten most DL’d episodes of all time:
Well actually, considering the only pre-2021 episodes on this list were released on day 1 and only have 200-400 more downloads then the new shit, maybe my gut feeling was wrong! Hey folks: listen to our old eps! Some of our best shit is in there.
The Sickos “Worldwide”—Call us “Mr. Worldwide” (but two guys)
Look at how many nations have been infected by the Sicko plague (the GOOD pandemic!):
Still don’t know why China’s not joining the party but whatever. This shit always makes me rub my hands together like a villain. “yes…” I say, “spread!!”
Obviously our top four countries are the stock English speakers (US, Canada, UK, and Australia, in that order). The top ten after those are Germany, Finland, Japan, Ireland, New Zealand, Sweden, Argentina, Switzerland, Norway, and Denmark. We are beloved among the Scandanavians.
And perhaps the most important news of all to our beloved Joe Da Sicko….
It finally happened!!!
Overall 2021 represented a massive leap forward in the Sickos' reach/audience, and despite very little feeling good, that feels good. This is to me the ultimate kind of microcelebrity where the work is fun and exciting and not shitty homework, where we’ve accrued a lil community of great people and no one is acting like a scary freak, where we’re confident we can do something weird or silly or out-there because we know our people will get it, or at the very least, forgive us.
I hope these numbers were as interesting for you as they were for me. 2022 is going to be a difficult year. Hopefully the Anime Sickos can be a bright spot for you in that time, and also if it is, it means our 2022 numbies will also go up. I like when the pretty line goes up folks.
Thank you for being a Sicko fan!
Tom’s Mini Reviews
The Anbernickos segment on the show turns out is simply not enough to fully cover all the fuckin little games I’m always playing. Folks I have so many fuckin roms. Now, I will do lil reviews of the ones I’ve put some significant time into. This is ostensibly for content but also because at time of writing, I need to give my brain a little task or else it will “go nuts”
Part of my goal for the Anbernic is to actually play the JRPG canon and that means we gotta start at #1. I played Final Fantasy 1 and 2 on the GBA remake cartridge so the graphics were much more palatable and you could save anywhere. For being the first entry, they sure get a lot right—most of the spells are useless and don’t work, the encounter rate is stupid high, every dungeon is designed to make you furious, but like, other than that you can really tell this is a formula that is going to absolutely print money. And it did! Very funny how basic the story is—please restore power to four magic orbs. We need the orbs. When we have the orbs the problem (no orbs) will be solved. The End
Final Fantasy 2
This is the one where you hit your friends to make their HP go up. In 2, they removed standard numbered level-ups in favor of having every stat/spell/weapon type have its own level. This is a very novel and interesting idea and I applaud them for going in such a bold, experimental direction with this sequel. The trouble is this sucks and I’m glad they didn’t do it again. You level up stuff by using it (or in HP and MP’s case, by ending a battle with very little of it). So if you want to grind HP, you are best served finding a weako monster and just having the party hit each other until everyone’s near death and then finally killing the monster. Kinda goofy.
The system REALLY falls apart with the magic levels. It’s easy as anything to teach any character almost any spell, but the spells all start at level 1, which guarantees they will be useless. Damage spells will do baby numbers, heal spells do barely anything, and any spell that applies status effects has like a 99.9% chance of failing. This means that if you want your “Sleep” spell to have a sliver of a chance to put an opponent to sleep you have to cast it like 50 times KNOWING that it won’t work. This is exacerbated by the fact that the game has a rotating fourth party member—a very novel concept at the time that was the precursor to the massive rosters of later games like FF6. But the problem is the fourth characters (almost) always join with no spells learned so you have to teach them a bunch and then level their baby spells up all over again until they finally become barely useful (but never anywhere near as useful as the three real guys).
Sounds like I’m dunking on this one but it’s actually pretty fun. I love how the narrative and characters are so much more ambitious than 1, but the plot is legit just “There’s an emperor....he sucks. Can you stop him?”
Ys 1 & 2
I spoke about this on the Evan Dahm Guesto episode and posted a bit about it but I will do it again. These games (PC Engine CD version only, don’t play other versions) are wildly underrated and at least as good as Final Fantasies 1 & 2. The CD format allowed the game to have cutscenes, animation, music, and voice acting light years ahead of its time, just jaw-dropping shit given the time period this came out. Check out the speech the boss gives here, it’s absolutely boilerplate fantasy writing but the performance is so dope. Listen to how he says “I shall crush and consume you.” Hell yeah.
The gameplay whips because it mega respects your time. You deal damage by walking into the bad guys. No buttons to press, just move into them. Grinding takes like zero time as a result and there’s just enough depth to the combat to keep your brain engaged at the precise level to get in the Gamer Zone but still have something on in the background. The bosses are also really creative and cool for a JRPG because of this combat system, they’re more like shmup bosses than RPG bosses because the challenge is entirely one of movement and pathing.
The music in the entire Ys series is exceptional, I’m gonna say it here so I don’t repeat myself. When this boss music first kicked in my hair got blown back like a cartoon.
I have both 1 & 2 as one entry because that’s how they come. Ys 2 actually was never released in the US as a standalone game. When you beat Ys 1 on this, the ending cutscene is also the intro cutscene to Ys 2 and you just start Ys 2 with the same XP and money as you ended Ys 1 with. I think that’s cool.
Ys 3: Wanderers from Ys
In the tradition of Final Fantasy 2 and Zelda 2, this is the sequel that boldly changes the core gameplay in a way that is creatively admirable but also sucks ass to play. This one is a side scroller instead of using the top-down view of 1 & 2 and it really suffers for it. The unique bump-into-enemies combat is replaced by mediocre side-scrolling slashing. Bosses in particular become real crappy because of this change. Skip this one.
UPDATE: Since writing the above I’ve beaten Ys: The Oath in Felghana, the modern remake of Ys 3. Oath in Felghana is insanely better in every way, a syringe of concentrated action RPG slop injected directly into my spine. The bosses are such a highlight, brutally hard but in a fair way where you will die to them 50 times but after beating them you could do it again with no damage taken. The story is still the Ys 3 story so it kinda sucks lol but I’m glad they were like “sorry 3 was shitty, I’m trying to remove it”
Ys 4: The Dawn of Ys
The absolute pinnacle of classic Ys (especially since I hear Ys 5, the last classic Ys, is a bit of a dud). Apparently the SNES and PC Engine CD versions of Ys 4 are totally different games and the US only got the inferior SNES one. Well there is a translation patch for the PC Engine CD one (including a fan dub of all the voice acting!) and baby this is just the best it gets for classic Ys. We have big animated character portraits of major characters, a pretty good story for the time, some extremely dope bosses, a bunch of quality of life improvements from Ys 1 & 2 (including making the dungeons far easier to mentally map), better character writing, just a slam dunk of a game.
The fan dub rules because one of the ghostly sages you need to meet has a cartoon Boston accent and one of the evil villain trio is constantly yelling so loud that her track is peaking on almost every word.
The Ninja Warriors
I put “beat em up with no Z-axis Tim Rogers is always talking about” into Google and found this. Say what you will about Tim Rogers (his schtick rules to me) but he is on the money with this one: The Ninja Warriors owns.
Because there is no Z-axis you are getting pincered 100% of the time and it is extremely easy to get utterly mobbed, meaning crowd control is your top (and only) priority. Luckily the controls are extremely tight and satisfying and all three playable ninja robots (the game could easily be called The Robot Warriors) have very satisfying grapple/throw attacks that can flatten a crowd of baddies easy. This is one of the few beat-em-ups where knocking enemies down is actually the smart thing to do, because every enemy who is prone is an enemy who isn’t closing in to kill you.
It’s short and not super hard (even if you’re stuck it has infinite continues) but I have no issue with that—the gameplay is distilled down to its pure essence, there’s not much to it other than “BEAT UP THE GUYS” and once you have seen every type and combination of guy it’s time to wrap it up. That just means you get an exciting experience that goes down smooth and doesn’t overstay its welcome. Loved this one.
This is a shmup (shoot-em-up) that sucks ass. It is critically acclaimed but don’t be fooled: you have to have a degree from NASA to enjoy this game. It is, to be clear, monstrously hard.
You play as a little airplane flying to the right. You shoot crappy bullets that do no damage and you have to press the fire button each time you want to shoot one because they want to destroy your thumb. But you’re really supposed to be using the charge shot, an actual damaging shot that goes through the enemies. The charge shot takes cartoonishly long to get ready so unlike most shmups where you just hold down fire and focus on avoiding bullets, in Pulstar you have to focus on avoiding bullets and ALSO make sure the one shot you are allowed to fire every five seconds hits the maximum amount of high priority enemies (if you miss, ever, you’re fucked).
There are power ups that make your ship stronger but I only know this from watching gameplay on YouTube. In practice I see a powerup labeled “S” that I pick up and am not sure what it does and then I die and it gets taken away.
Joe roasted me for hating this game but then I looked it up and turns out the devs of the game were really worried they had made the game too hard that it wouldn’t be profitable. That’s right, I went to teacher and got a note that said I am actually smart and correct to whine:
You may notice in the wikipedia excerpt above that Pulstar’s brand was so toxic they had to change Pulstar 2 to “Blazing Star.” Well turns out Blazing Star is insanely better than Pulstar. It’s so fun, and really drives home what cruel gray sludge Pulstar is. Fuck Pulstar.
Blazing Star is as difficult as Pulstar but it’s also thrilling and cool. Pulstar is insanely slow: your ship is doo doo sluggish and you only get to fire one shot every few seconds. You almost never have a reason to shoot your piddly normal shot. So much of it is waiting. Blazing Star is fast, fast, fast, colorful and exciting.
You have 6 ships which each have unique normal shots (good and worth using, unlike Pulstar), charge shots (does not take very long to charge and are cool super moves and not just “the only bullet you have that works”), and charge break attacks (even more badass versions of the charge attacks but you can’t charge at all for a while after using one). Like Pulstar it is designed around the charge shot, but unlike Pulstar, all of the ships feel powerful from the jump and the charge shot is the ace you use to really wreck shit. In Pulstar you are never powerful, it feels like you were flying a model T with a nerf gun taped to it.
Enemies constantly drop powerups and bonus gems and every time you pick up a gem an announcer breathlessly exclaims “BONUS!” as though it was the best thing that she’s ever seen and I feel happy. The powerups just make your shots stronger and when you die it only goes down one power level. The bullet-dodging is mondo hard but the rest of the game is so friendly that I actually enjoy it. Pulstar was bullshit hard on top of just being dour and mean. Fuck Pulstar.
Lords of Thunder
The premier shoot-em-up for the PC Engine. This one owns, and here’s why: you are NOT an airplane, you are a medieval times guy in flying gun armor shooting dragons and knights and shit. Also, you have a fucking life bar. That’s right: you can make more than one mistake before the game starts hyperventilating and slapping you. ALSO also, you do not instantly die when you touch the floor or ceiling (any designer who makes a shmup where you die when you touch the floor or ceiling gets the chair).
The graphics are sumptuous and goofy, and the music is the delightfully cheesy butt rock, a really great fit for the dumbass Heavy Metal aesthetic this whole thing is going for.
I really like this one, especially because you get to go to a shop before each level and spend the gems you picked up in the last level for bonus power-ups n shit. Always feels good to start the level already strong rather than having to start on baby mode every time.
I saw a Youtube video where a guy reviewed every PC Engine shoot em up (there are more for PCE than for any other console ever) and I went straight to his review for this one. To my delight, he too agreed this was one of the system’s absolute best. To my despair, he also said “if there’s one downside, it’s just too easy.” Folks I have not beaten any of the last 3 stages and I think it’s very hard
Streets of Rage 2
I mainly played this so I could have an excuse to listen to the soundtrack which is fucking stellar. If the OST was released as an album it’d be one of the best records of 1992.
Well turns out it’s also an outstanding beat-em-up. No frills, no gimmicks, just extremely good gameplay and fun movesets for all the characters. I have gotten near the end of the last stage but still can’t beat it. But I’m feeling myself get better, which to me is the sign of a well-designed game. A lot of hard games I’ll play and play and I find I am learning absolutely nothing, I have gleaned no lessons from my failures other than “this game sucks, fuck Pulstar.” When you actually get a little further each time, when you start to understand the decision making process you need to follow, what move is useful in which situation, buddy that feels good.
UPDATE: since I wrote the above, I BEAT STREETS OF RAGE 2. I had to use both continues but I did it! What a great game. Highly recommended
And right on cue, a beat-em-up that I do not ever get any better at. I played Sengoku 3 because I saw footage of it and my eyes popped out at the quality of the sprite art and animation, and that’s what keeps me playing. It looks so good because it’s one of those Neo Geo games hilariously released post-2000. To me it is always wildly funny when a game comes out for a console that hasn’t been relevant in five years (to say nothing of how the Neo Geo was never relevant).
This game is dick-stomping hard. The enemies all have much bigger hitboxes than you and always have priority over your attacks, a basic mook’s attack does like 1/3 of your health, and their AI is constantly trying to get you surrounded. In order to stand a chance, you have to make your guy do some fuckin gorgeous sprite animation. The combat is a surprisingly deep system of combo strings, dash cancels, specials, and air combos.
Here’s the problem: this is a system of fighting-game level depth that requires fighting-game level precision in its input. My baby brain simply can’t do that. I see people on Youtube be like “this is easy: dash cancel into an enemy, then dash B, then jump into an air B, air A, then land and while the enemy is still airborne, do your B, B, B, A, B, A, B, down down A ninja art” and I go, ok. Let’s give it a try. I dash into the enemy and then I try to follow up with a dashing B but I am too slow and the enemy has already fallen prone. Unlike The Ninja Warriors, in Sengoku 3 if you knock an enemy down without killing it you are king bitch of the earth and everyone at the arcade spits on you. I have literally never gotten my guy to jump fast enough to land an air combo. Rest assured every FAQ begins the “air combo” section with something like “air combos are not optional if you want to play this game competently.” Why do I keep going back? Buddy it’s that animation. I like when the ninjas move.
Oh, also this game really makes me appreciate the no Z-axis in The Ninja Warriors. The number of times I’ve biffed a combo due to being misaligned on the Z-axis sucks. Sprites don’t get bigger the closer they get to the screen so you have to be looking at the shadows to line guys up. Annoying. Further annoying is how the characters can run very fast side to side but when they have to walk up or down they face 90 degrees away from the direction they’re moving and waggle their legs back and forth as they move extremely slowly. This is also true in Streets of Rage but it bugs me more here because I generally suck at it more so I cut it less slack. In any case: just get rid of the damn Z-axis.
Oh, ALSO also, the girl ninja Okuni has the biggest wiggliest yabbos I’ve seen in any game. It’s so dumb. To me it’s so fucking funny to try to put JO bait into pixel art. I’m just imagining the guy picking the colors for each pixel going like “gotta make this frame really jiggly.”
Joe called this the reason to have a Genesis and he’s right. A run and gun shooter that can’t stop kicking ass. You can mix and match the four weapon types to create ten distinct gun modes all of which are cool as hell. What’s more to say. A classic.
Revenge of Shinobi
Old games used to do this amazing thing where they would be fun and full of unique character and flavor, and then be like “oh whoa did you want to play the game? Lol, eat shit idiot!” This is probably the pinnacle of that.
The player character is purportedly a ninja but his movement is distinctly mummy mode. He walks like Frankenstein and hates to go fast. He walks like he’s at finishing school and he needs to keep a book on his head for posture class. You have a double jump that changes your normal shuriken throw into a fan of multiple ones (very useful!) but here’s the thing: the window where you are able to activate the double jump is so short it feels like they did it as a gag. As in, if I told someone to play this game and didn’t tell them you could double jump, I seriously doubt they would *ever* discover double jumping was even possible. I gotta be clear: double jumping is absolutely necessary to clear most of the levels in this game.
That said, this game has a banger soundtrack by Streets of Rage’s Yuzo Koshiro, and despite your shinobi’s extremely stiff movement, the actual gameplay is sharp as a knife. It’s got the same addicting draw that Ninja Gaiden on the NES does: it’s bullshit hard and kills you in two seconds, but you know—you can see it, you can sense the path even if you can’t walk it—you KNOW there’s a way to do this perfectly. You will, one day, be able to slowly walk through these levels without breaking your stride, wiping out all who oppose you as though they had no chance of ever touching you. I wish I knew what design decisions make a hard game achieve this feeling. Many hard games do not feel as though they do have a solution, that they could have their knotty little problems eventually unraveled. This one does. If only the double jump were easier to pull off..
Oh also you fight and kill Spider-Man in this. He’s evil in this game.
Oh, ALSO also, fuck Pulstar.
I feel like this is an “if you know, you know” kind of game where if you say the name, most people will go “???” while a certain cohort of maniacs will start hooting and banging the table. I feel this because I am now one of them.
In our episode about perfecting game criticism, we mentioned that in order for a game to be good, you have to upgrade a little town. In ActRaiser, you are the most powerful town upgrader of all: God. You have to inhabit a warrior avatar every now and then to go down to earth and play a mediocre side-scrolling hack-and-slash in order to make an area safe enough for humans to live in, at which point you go back up to heaven and look down at the little town and tell the humans what to upgrade. You also have a little angel servant you can make shoot arrows at flying monsters that come to fuck up the town.
The loop of side scrolling action to city management to side scrolling action to city management is bizarre and weird and neither side is really that good on its own, but put them together and you end up with something much more than the sum of its parts. It’s like if every once in a while in SimCity, the citizens pulled you into the computer and you had to punch a bunch of mummies in order to keep property taxes in order.
Contra: Hard Corps
The Genesis had a lot of series known for being on other systems that made one entry for the Genesis and in so doing made the weirdest, wildest, and best entry in the series. Now I can’t say whether Hard Corps is the best Contra, but it’s sure my favorite.
You have four selectable characters who each have a totally unique arsenal of four different weapons which each have different uses (they all have some kind of big spread shot that blankets the screen for easy coverage and a much, much more finicky-to-hit-with shot that does way more damage). This kicks ass imo, there’s just a ton of little treats and toys to play with, and there’s also the bonus of knowing what you’re in for when you pick a character. You also have a super handy dash slide move, which in addition to giving you quick movement options, makes you invincible for its duration. Hell yeah!
Well you’ll need it all because this game feels like you’re a cop who just touched fentanyl. When I first booted this up I thought there was a bug that was making the emulator run the ROM too fast. I went to Youtube to watch some gameplay and nope! It’s just like that! It’s total sensory overload and I love the courage it took to lean so hard on the gonzo chaos. There’s a secret area where you can fight an alien with a big shopping cart in a battle arena and at the end you fall in a portal to dinosaur times and have to marry a monkey. During the battle arena segment they play Castlevania music but sped up so it sounds fucked. Great game!