Now Playing October 2019

Beaten

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne — This was a lot of fun. I still have more to do; some armor I want to make, some endemic life to capture, Zinogre to beat, etc. But I saw the credits roll and I am ready to put this away for a while. I really like a lot about Monster Hunter, but I am not a huge fan of fighting the elder dragons. I don’t mind failing a hunt because I, or my partners, got KOed. What I don’t like is hammering away (literally, the hammer is my tool of choice) at a monster for 50 minutes only to lose because he didn’t die in time. Sure, part of the problem is I need better tactics, but with the really frustrating monsters, like Kushala Daora, the problem is that there just aren’t a lot of opportunities to do damage. I realize this is post-game DLC, but a lot of the content here is elder dragon nonsense that just is not that much fun. That is the one part of this huge expansion that I didn’t like. I liked the snow area. I really like most of the monsters here. Nargacuga and Barioth are fun returning monsters. Banbaro is pretty great. There is a lot to love here. Just the very end annoyed me.

Final Fantasy VIII — I wrote about it here.

Ongoing

Persona Q2 — Yeah, I am really trucking on this now. It is still a game that is prone to throwing sudden, unavoidable deaths at me, but they are growing less frequent. Still, I cleared a stratum and a half in fairly short order. The bosses have been pretty uniformly a chore. I have been told that this is actually a pretty easy part of the Etrian and Shin Megami Tensei series. As someone who has beaten all of the Etrian games and most of the SMT games to reach the West, I disagree. This game is hard, and not in a fun or interesting way. I have never felt less interested in the demon fusion system; it feels like I am always full up on demons that are too high leveled to fuse in a helpful way. As I’ve said before, the map making tools are more stylish but wholly less useful. While I have begun to enjoy this game, it is still a disappointment. That is mostly on me; I don’t think this game was ever intended to operate as a farewell to beloved series and system on its own.

Sonic Mania — I only beat a couple of stages of this game last month. It is an excellent recreation of the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games. It captures that feeling perfectly. I was just never any good at those games past the first couple of Areas. I am trying to push through the back half of this game and I neither am good enough to do so, nor do I care enough to get better. It is definitely on me, not the game, but I am going to wait until I get a real itch to play this again before finishing it instead of trying to force it.

Upcoming

Judgment — This game keeps falling off the ongoing list, but I am going to clear it before too long. It’s fun. (Yes, I did mostly copy and paste this from last month)

Sega Genesis Games — I’ve got the mini, I am going to play some of the games that came with it. I already started with Alisia Dragoon, a game I do not understand at all.

Elliot Quest — I feel a need to go back and finish up some leftover WiiU games, or maybe some Wii games. Elliot Quest is one that I got most of the way through, and really enjoyed, but never got around to finishing. Another one high on my list is Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Or maybe either of the Shovel Knight alternate paths, neither of which I’ve finished.

Okami HD — I’ve got this on my PS3 and I played the first chunk of it a year or so ago. I’ve been feeling the itch to get back to it.

Final Fantasy VIII Remastered

I haven’t played Final Fantasy VIII since soon after it was released. Or at least, soon after it was released on PC. That said, it is still a game that means a whole lot to me. FF8, along with Pokemon Gold and Silver, was on of the first games that I closely followed prior to release.

I was a Final Fantasy fan before FF8. I had read about Final Fantasy 2 (4) in Nintendo Power and searched it out, but instead found the original Final Fantasy for NES in a Wal-Mart bargain bin. I played and loved that, but I didn’t have a SNES and did end up upgrading for some time. Still, I managed to experience Final Fantasy 3 on the SNES before that by playing it at a friends house. I ended up being obsessed with the game for several years, paying an exorbitant amount to get a used copy from Funcoland once I finally did get an SNES. That same friend also showed me the PC port of FF7, which gave me a chance to experience some of that game long before I got a Playstation.

It is a time that is hard to imagine now, but in 1998 my family did not have a computer. Not one capable of accessing the internet, at least. My ability to follow the pre-release hype of Final Fantasy VIII was limited to biking up to the public library for 1 hour of dial up internet access a day or for a few minutes at the school computer lab after school got out, as well as whatever I could find in EGM or Game Informer.

I followed it obsessively anyway. The scattered updates of grainy shots from E3 and the like. Text descriptions of cutscenes. Releases of character art that let me imagine who those characters might be. Then it was released to solid reviews, though with undercurrents of disappointment about how different it was from Final Fantasy VII.

I got it when it was released for P.C. My family had a modern (1999-era modern) that was not quite up to the task, but it worked well enough. I never truly grasped the junction system, appear to have straight up missed swathes of the story and gave up on the game not too far before the final dungeon. I still liked it well enough, but I was put off by the technical problems enough that I never reinstalled the game when my family upgraded our computer and when I finally got a Playstation, I moved on to games like Suikoden 2, Chrono Cross and Final Fantasy 9.

Something about the remastered release drew me, though. For some reason I really wanted to play the game again. I am glad I did. I understand how the game works much better now and I am still a fan of the look of the world.

The junction system has always been strange, but it is a flexible and interesting character building system. It kind of turns the characters into blank slates for the player to completely remake into whatever image desired. The only combat function that you have to have available is attack. Whatever other skills you want to use are up to you. It lets you summon your guardian forces whenever you want, but it turns out that they are much more situational in usefulness that I thought years ago. The big change is turning magic into a consumable resource and letting the player junction magic to stats, attaching the magic to that stat and increasing it by a not particularly obvious formula. One part that is clear is that the more of the magic you have, the greater the effect on your stats.

So casting magic is not generally a great idea, but instead conserving to make your stats better. Junctioning a strong magic to Squall’s strength is generally enough to handle most of the game, as it makes him so much stronger than everyone else.

I don’t know that I want to get into all the other changes: drawing magic, triple triad, enemy levels, guardian forces in general, how the game handles weapons. The game is strange, but all of its strangeness kind of works when put together.

I do want to comment on the story. For one big complaint, the back half of the story seems rushed and maybe unfinished. It spends a lot of time really building up the characters and the party, then as it seems to shift into high gear the end appears. When I gave up on the game way back when, I had no idea how close I was to the end of the game, I was thinking I was closer to the three quarter mark.

When I first played this game, I thought the cast was cool. I still think that about the designs are cool, but these characters as a bunch of dorks. I don’t mean that as a criticism; I think they work exactly as intended. When I was a teenager, I saw cool teenagers. As an adult, I see a bunch of stupid kids. I think I was right both times. Squall worked really well for me this time. His friends see a taciturn badass, but his being closed off is out of fear, not for any other reason. Irvine and Zell are projecting different kinds of cool, but it is clear how much they are faking it. Quistis attempts some maturity, but that is as much a projection as the boy’s attempted coolness. What all of them want is to know that other people like them, but none of them really think that is the case. The only one that seems to avoid that is Rinoa, and she has her own problems. Selphie seems to have come up with a genuine way of dealing with her emotions, with her happiness seeming to be less of a front than the others.

It contrasts nicely with the more adult Laguna, who still has his own problems. I feel like the game could have done a better job of fleshing that part of the game out, but it mostly works. I don’t know that the Edea and Cid stuff does; I still haven’t quite wrapped my mind around what is going on there.

The big tragedy of the game is Seifer, but in the intended story and the execution. He is just like the other party members, but he ends up on the other side of the conflict, sticking with the Sorceress that they have a childhood connections with. He is delinquent and a jerk, but he wants to be loved as much as the others. He thinks he is the hero of this story, but it is hard to tell exactly what he is doing because the game doesn’t give the player enough information about what Seifer knows. It is still touching at the end when his cronies finally convince him to abandon his quest.

Final Fantasy VIII is not my favorite Final Fantasy game. In fact, I would probably put it in the lower half. But playing a game like this, that I don’t exactly love, reminds me of why I was and am such a big Final Fantasy fan. Games like FF8, or 10 or 13 or 4 , game that I like but I think are flawed, may outnumber the ones that I do absolutely love. But they are all so interesting and generally enjoyable that I can’t help but want to play them. I guess that means I should get back to Final Fantasy XV.

Now Playing September 2019

Beaten

River City Girls —

This game is so close to being everything I want from a beat ‘em up. I feel like I say that with every new River City version. I really liked this game, but it has a bunch of small flaws that kind of grated on me as the game went on. One is that it requires a button press to move between screens. That button press is the same as attack, so if you end up fighting near the edge of the screen, be ready to jump back and forth whether you want to or not. Also, some of the boss battles try too hard to be different from the actual game play. It also has a twist at the end that I found narratively unforgiving. Not usually that big a problem in a beat ‘em up, but this one makes you spend a lot of time with its plot. Having the last impression the game leaves you with be pulling the rug out from under the player sucks. Those are the problems I had with this game. I have blown them somewhat out of proportion. River City Girls is gorgeous and fun. It is just a blast to play. It’s two (initial) characters have satisfyingly different movesets, making choice of character more than just a choice of look. The game is filled with fun references to other games in this series, as well as some fun general pop culture riffs. I will go back and do the new game plus before too long. I will try to get all the trophies. It is as good a beat ‘em up as I’ve played in nearly 20 years. River City Ransom is one of my all-time favorite games, when a game in that lineage comes out, that game is the mark I measure them against. River City Girls doesn’t quite meet that mark. But that doesn’t make it in any way bad. It is a delight.

Inazuma Eleven — I bought this game as soon as it was released in the US more than 5 years ago. I have generally enjoyed Level-5’s output, and a true sports RPG was an idea that I had long thought was a great one. The fact that I didn’t finish the game until now kind of says what I thought about it. I didn’t much like playing this game. I like everything about it in theory, but in practice it doesn’t quite work. I am glad I finally got around to finishing it, but I think I see why this series didn’t take off in the West.

Ongoing

Sonic Mania — I am taking this game at a leisurely pace. That, of course, means that I’ve kind of put it down and forgot about it. I still like it and will take the couple of hours I’ll need to finish it sooner or later.

Sega Genesis Mini I bought one of these. I really like my SNES mini, even if I haven’t played it as much as I want to. I never managed to track down an NES mini. I bought a PSX mini when they got discounted to $20 and I feel like I got ripped off. After spending less than an hour playing it, I don’t feel like the Genesis mini is quite up to the standards of SNES mini, but it is certainly better than the Playstation one. One thing I don’t like, which is not really a problem with the system, is that I don’t really have the nostalgia for this specific system. I had the redesigned Genesis, with 6-button controllers. That just means that the aesthetics of this machine don’t quite hit my nostalgia buttons as hard as it could. I will get to the game sooner or later.

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne —

This hit the spot. I had to get my PS4 out of my house when MHW first hit because I was falling behind on my school work. Now it’s back, and with a sizable DLC campaign. I’ve cleared probably half of the new content. I don’t really know what to say; it’s Monster Hunter. It added a new area, some new weapons and armor, and a mix of new and returning monsters. Just the excuse needed to sink another 80 hours into this.

Persona Q2 — I might have hit the breakthrough point with this game, in a good way. I’ve cleared a couple of floors without a party wipe; I feel like I am gaining a better understanding of what strategies work in this game. I have also all but abandoned most of the characters. I’ve got about 7 I’m using, a base five and a few switch outs. Due to the structure of the game, that means a lot of the characters are from Persona 5, but since everyone shows up to blabber on in cutscenes, who you use in battle is 100% a building an effective party choice. Maybe I’ll actually start to enjoy this game soon.

Final Fantasy VIII Remaster — I didn’t get too far in this remaster, but plan to keep at it. This game holds a special place in my memory and playing it for the first time in about a decade has been interesting so far. One thing that has surprised me is how differently I feel about the characters. I used to think that most of the party members in this game were cool, but now I realize that none of them are. Good characters, but they are not cool.

Upcoming

Judgment — This game keeps falling off the ongoing list, but I am going to clear it before too long. It’s fun.

Sega Genesis Games — I’ve got the mini, I am going to play some of the games that came with it. I already started with Alisia Dragoon, a game I do not understand at all.

Elliot Quest — I feel a need to go back and finish up some leftover WiiU games, or maybe some Wii games. Elliot Quest is one that I got most of the way through, and really enjoyed, but never got around to finishing. Another one high on my list

Now Playing August 2019

Beaten

Crash Bandicoot 3 Warped – wrote about it here.

Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon – wrote about it here.

Paper Mario: Color Splash – wrote about it here.

Celeste – I think I lied and said I beat this before. I actually quit with something around half of the last stage to do. Celeste is great. It requires and inspires mastery. One of the things great about the game is how it slowly teaches the player to do things that look absolutely amazing or impossible at first glance. This is just a great game.

Ongoing

Judgment – Slow going, but I am starting to ease into this. I am having to kind of unlearn some things I picked up playing Yakuza games. The game looks and plays largely the same as its sister series, but there are enough differences to slow you down if you think you know how it works. The combat, for instance, is largely the same as it is in the Yakuza games, but protagonist Yagami doesn’t really fight anything like Kiryu. If you go in trying to use Kiryu tactics, the game will be much more difficult than it should be. I am just to the point where this game opens up and lets the player go their own way in the world. It feels so promising in the early going that I am hoping the meat of the game.

Persona Q2 – I made almost no progress on this last month. I am not ready to give it up, yet. The time I would normally use with my 3DS got filled up with Paper Mario on my WiiU. I will get back to this, but my complaints from the last few months still stand. This game really isn’t doing it for me. I was hoping for a farewell to Etrian Odyssey and probably a lot of Persona characters. Instead, I got a slog. I’ve had similar problems with other dungeon crawlers early on; maybe I will get to a moment where this one clicks.

Sonic Mania – This really should be in the beaten section than the ongoing, but for some reason I never found the time to get to the last few stages. It has been a long time since I’ve played a 2D Sonic the Hedgehog game, but this really feels right. I have always found them to be simultaneously somewhat sloppy feeling and continually compelling. The levels feel sprawling and labyrinthine, but it doesn’t really appear to matter when you are playing, so long as you can get from beginning to end. This game nails that feeling. The only downside I would point to so far is that it has too many bosses. Each stage in each zone ends with a boss of some kind. It is frustrating. I don’t remember many bosses from the Genesis games; they aren’t something I played Sonic for. I know they were there, but I only recall them at the end of zones. There are way too many bosses in this game. Still, it is excellent though about 11 zones or so. I should finish this up soon. At least my first playthough; there is a lot more to this game. I haven’t yet played as Tails or Knuckles, let alone got the DLC to play as Ray or Mighty. I don’t know how much of that I am going to do, but I am glad it is there for me to maybe do it.

Upcoming

Monster Hunter World: Iceborne – I am really itching to get back into Monster Hunter, so this couldn’t come at a better time. I might need to finish some things up in the base game, but I think I had it beaten. It seems like it has been a long time since I’ve hunted some monsters.

Final Fantasy VIII: Remaster – It has been a long time since I’ve played Final Fantasy 8. It isn’t one of my favorite games to play, but it is a game that meant a whole lot to me growing up. I’ll get into it more when I write about it, but it is one of the first games that I followed the development of. I plan to jump on the remaster and see how it feels 20 years on.

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse – I am working through the last few unbeaten WiiU games I have, so I can sadly unhook and retire one of the most underrated consoles ever made. Actually, I won’t be unhooking it, I need it to play a similar stack of unfinished Wii games that even I know I’ll never get to.

River City Girls – This looks delightful and I love Kunio/River City games. I will absolutely be jumping on this as soon as possible.

Yakuza 3 – Maybe. I am going to buy this on PS4. I am not going to do so until I beat Judgment. I really should get back to Final Fantasy 15 and Dragon Quest 11 before I buy any new PS4 games. I also have Ni No Kuni 2 and Uncharted 4 sitting unplayed on my shelf. I am likely to buy and play this.

Crash and Spyro 3

I was prepared to give Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped an hour or two, conclude that it was roughly the same as the previous two entries in the series and move on to Spyro 3: Year of the Dragon. I had already all but concluded that the PS1 Crash Bandicoot games just weren’t for me. I didn’t begrudge the people who do like them, but I didn’t consider them among the cream of the early 3D platforming crop. Honestly, I didn’t really find the first two games worth my time in 2019. I was only sticking with the game to keep up this gimmick of writing about Crash and Spyro in tandem. Then I started playing Warped.

I can’t articulate why or how, but this game just feels better than the previous two. It has all the hallmarks of the third game in a series on a console; the built up junk of repeated iterations trying to make something new without actually innovating. There is nothing I can point to and say that Crash Bandicoot 3 does better than 1 or 2. All I can say is that I really enjoyed playing it. It just feels like the game that all three of the games in the series should have been.

There are things in Crash 3 that should be the signs of an aging series. There are a lot of weird gimmick levels. Some with Coco on a jet ski, some with Coco riding a tiger, a few with Crash on a motorcycle, a few underwater levels. a level with Crash flying a biplane. With only 25 or 30 stages, having a full third of them being something other than the traditional stages should be a point against the game. But most of those stages are fun. They largely don’t completely change the game, they just put it in a different context. I hated the motorcycle races, but otherwise they were a lot of fun. That leaves a dozen or so regular stages. They are the same mix of fun and frustrating as before, though I encountered less of the frustration. The jumps still have that arc that I haven’t quite mastered. I still have a hard time judging distances going forward, though I learned to use the slide more than the spin as an offensive weapon in that context really lessened that problem.

It all just worked for me this time. There were some small frustrations, but I found Crash Bandicoot Warped to be a solid game. Especially considering its vintage. It almost makes me want to go back and give the first two another look. Almost.

While I went into Crash Bandicoot 3: Warped with little in the way of expectations, I went into Spyro: Year of the Dragon a little wary. I loved Spyro the Dragon, but Spyro 2 left me cold in the worst way. It wasn’t that the game was bad, but that it frustrated me in so many small ways that my memories of playing have curdled. It likely isn’t fair to the game, but I went into Spyro 3 scared that it would continue a downward slide. It is one thing to not like three straight games, it is another to love one and have the sequels disappoint. Luckily, Spyro: Year of the Dragon did not disappoint.

The game is not quite as good as the first, but Year of the Dragon was still a delight. It wisely gets rid of Spyro 2’s annoying upgrade system. Spyro has his abilities and those abilities are pretty static. For the most part, stages seem a little more simple, at least the Spyro sections. (I’ll have more to say about that clarification in a second.) Not every dragon’s egg, which are this game’s macguffin of choice, are hidden behind an elaborate set piece. Some are just hidden off to the sides of a stages, in well crafted nooks and crannies. For the most part, it plays just like the previous two Spyro games. You collect gems and find some other doodad.

There are different sections. Spyro meets a handful of allies on his quest and they are are playable at specific spots. They play close enough to Spyro that it is not completely jarring, and some of the sections actually add a fun dimension. The least enjoyable ones, aside from some of the weird one offs with the Yeti, are those featuring the monkey Agent 9 with a sort of proto-Ratchet and Clank style gameplay. Then there are the sections that kept me from 100% this game like I did with the first; the skateboard sections. Yes, I realize that Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater was popular, but these are out of place and frustrating. They show something that often crops up after a few games in a series.

Both of these games illustrate a problem that often happens with long running series; cruft builds up around the core gameplay and the fun little asides start to overwhelm the actual game. It often starts to appear in third entries, even good ones. Look at Sonic the Hedgehog 3 (And Knuckles). The game adds a lot of complementary ideas and extra playable characters. I choose that game as the example specifically because it shares something with both Crash 3 and Spyro 3; it is an excellent game. The accumulation of unnecessary stuff is there, but it has yet to really hamper the game. With Crash it is evident in all the vehicle levels. There are motorcycle races, jet skis obstacle courses, and bi-plane dogfights. They are not the game you came in expecting, but only the motorcycle stages are bad. In Spyro 3 it manifests itself as extra playable characters. Lots of sections of stages are there for Spyro’s new, and largely annoying for one reason or another, friends. There are some frustrating parts, but they are largely fine.

Both of these third entries show series treading water. They know they’ve hit on something successful and they do not seem interested in evolving that idea, instead the games merely iterate. The extra stuff is here to try to show growth without actually risking messing up a good thing by attempting to grow. The third Crash has softened me on that trilogy, and I genuinely enjoyed Spyro 3 almost as much as the first. Still, I am ready to be done with these series for a while.

Paper Mario Color Splash

Nearly three years ago, my brother’s got me Paper Mario Color Splash for Christmas. While I had been greatly anticipating the game, for some reason the game pretty much immediately fell on the back burner. For some reason, I got the notion to finally give a play a few weeks ago. It turns out that Color Splash, like most of Nintendo’s WiiU output is an excellent game.

Color Splash is built in the same mold as its predecessor, Sticker Star for DS. That surely was a big disappointment for the people who hated Sticker Star, but Color Splash truly refines what that game did and feels like the culmination of this conception of Paper Mario. Like Thousand Year Door took the original Paper Mario and perfected it, Color Splash perfects the enjoyable but flawed Sticker Star. Super Paper Mario was perfect the first time out. (No, I haven’t played the game in nearly a decade, but I am sure my memory of it is perfect.) There are no companions and Mario’s abilities are still represented by a randomly drawn deck. Here they are cards instead of stickers, but the concept is generally the same. Mario can only do what he has the cards to do. The game has also been almost completely lost its RPG elements. There are almost no numbers to be seen, no levels or experience. Mario still does have HP, but that is about it.

Mario can carry up to 100 cards and use as many as four a turn. Cards are plentiful, meaning there is rarely any reason to horde them. Sure, you might want to make judicious decisions when using them, using regular jumps to take out weak enemies like Koopa Troopers and saving the huge jump and five jump cards for bosses, but nothing sticks in the inventory for long. The game is divided into levels and each one has a gimmick of some sort. Some of these play into the real world looking items that are in the paper world, others just have a neat hook.

Where it really shines, especially in comparison to Sticker Star, is in the story and characters. The main complaint with Sticker Star is still there in Color Splash; the game’s characters consists almost entirely of Toads. Bowser is almost completely absent, Peach makes only a slightly larger appearance. It is mostly Mario and Huey, a paint bucket, messing around with Toads and Shyguys. Still, the game manages to use the interchangeable facelessness of the Toads to its advantage this time. There are some with personality, like a feisty yet fearful ship captain, but mostly they are just folk, letting the events of the game happen to them. Still, they are worked in perfectly in every environment. They panic and are resigned. They try to help, but are generally ineffectual. Like they do with the eternal second brother Luigi, this time Nintendo has turned that into wonderful comedy. The highlight of the game is a big train rescue. Lemmy of the Koopalings has hijacked a train and Mario has to defeat him to gain a Paint Star. (More on those in a second.) Mario makes his way through the train, saving Toads from various torments at the hands of enemies. Then he reaches a peaceful train car. There, with the sun setting in the background, Mario and a Shyguy have a philosophical discussion. Then you go on. It is a brief aside that manages to be both humorous and thoughtful at the same time; it is great. The game is filled with moments like that.

About those Paint Stars: the big gimmick of Color Splash is that Bowser and his army are sucking the color out of the Paper World. So Mario gets help from a sentient paint can named Huey and sets about restoring the Paint Stars that protect the worlds paint and filling in the whited out parts of the world. It is the perfect gimmick for Paper Mario. It also works well with the entirely papercrafted world of game.

Like nearly all Mario RPGs, Color Splash goes on a bit too long. It is too easy and there are some tedious levels. But it looks amazing and is a great time for the bulk of its run time. There aren’t too many games left on the WiiU that I haven’t played. A part of me wants to argue for the underrated greatness of the WiiU, but that feels like a completely lost cause at this point. Especially since most of the best WiiU games have migrated to other systems. And I am sure that most of the rest will at some point. Maybe not Wonderful 101, which is an all time classic that needs more love. I don’t have the time or energy for this cause. If this is the game that is my farewell to the WiiU, I am glad I sent it off with a great game. I do still have Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, so I do have that still to look forward to.

Now Playing July 2019

Finished

Crash Bandicoot 2 – I didn’t exactly beat it, but I am done with it.

Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage – I finished it off. It is a good time, but a step down from the first game.

Ongoing

Judgment – I like playing Yakuza as essentially a PI. I need to play this game more.

Sword Coast Legends – I tried to get back into this. Something about it is not quite right with, it feels like one of the old Black Isle Infinity Engine games that is just not put together correctly. I am still working through the early portions, though, so maybe it gets better. I don’t know if I will have time to stick with it.

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth – I just don’t know with this game. All of the elements seem like something I would like, but for some reason it is pushing all the wrong buttons. Battles seem to take too long, with the hard hitting Etrian Odyssey style not mixing well with Persona’s knock-down critical hits. I hope I am just getting to the point when it all clicks together and becomes its own game instead of an inelegant mix of two others, but I am becoming increasingly concerned that that moment is not coming.

Shadows of Destiny ‒ I only played the opening this, but I am intrigued by it. It is an early PS2 game where the player time travels to prevent his own murder. I’ve only got through the first little prologue cycle, but it is very interesting. It is also apparently pretty short, so I see myself getting through this pretty quickly. If I find the time to get back to it at all, that is.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – I played through a chapter of this as well. I got this game a few years ago after hearing some good things from acquaintances. I like it, but I guess not enough to stick with it for more than a chapter or two. The dual protagonist gameplay is good. It isn’t really an escort game, except the parts where it is, but it does give the player two characters to guide through the game. I feel like it is just a little bit from clicking all the time. I’m not sure I’ll be getting back to it anytime soon, but I am not really giving up on the game either.

Upcoming

Suikoden II – I am really feeling a desire to replay one of my favorite all-time games. We’ll see if I can actually make the time to do so.

Crash Bandicoot 3 and Spyro The Dragon 3 – I’ll get back to the final games in these trilogies sooner or later.

Paper Mario: Color Splash – I don’t know why I’ve never played this. I need to fix that.

Dragon Quest XI – I’ve let this sit for too long. I was loving it when I started playing it a few months ago, then I got distracted and never really got back to it. It is likely in line after Judgment.

Crash 2 and Spyro 2

I have more to say about the slightly disappointing Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage than I do about Crash Bandicoot 2. Crash Bandicoot 2 is more Crash Bandicoot. Nearly none of the problems I had with the first game are solved. The game adds a slide/crawl ability, but it doesn’t really change much. The most positive change is that it opens up the level selection, from going one level at a time in a strictly linear path to giving the player five or so to choose from at a time. It is an improvement, making it less likely that a player will get stuck for an extended time on one challenge. My major problems remain. I find Crash’s jump trajectory hard to parse and hard to control. It isn’t so bad in the side scrolling sections, but when going into or out of the screen, I can’t tell where I am going to land. There is some of this problem that is skill, and I am honestly not interested in honing that skill, but I have played a lot of platformers and I would say that I am generally pretty good at them. Crash Bandicoot 2 just feels sloppy. I want to specifically call out the chase segments, which were showstoppers back in the day, but I do not have a lot of patience for the trial and error they require since it is almost impossible to see upcoming obstacles. It feels like the hoverbike sequence in Battletoads. So I got about halfway through Crash Bandicoot 2 before deciding that my time was much better spent elsewhere.

While Crash 2 gave players more of the same, though it did add a new playable character, Spyro 2: Ripto’s Rage feels like it did more to evolve. The problem is that that evolution did nothing to improve the game. I would argue that the new stuff actually made the game worse than its predecessor. And that more to evolve is only relative to Crash Bandicoot 2, for the most part Spyro 2 is just more Spyro as well.

Without being too harsh on what is still essentially a very good game from two decades ago, Spyro 2 is a bit let down after playing the first Spyro, a game that I am increasingly of the opinion is a masterpiece. Spyro 2 adds gameplay complexity to it simpler predecessor, but that complexity doesn’t make the game better, it only makes it somewhat more tedious.

For the most part, Spyro 2 is the same as the first game in the series. The new stuff is around the edges, clear attempts to make the game deeper and more complex, but they mostly succeed in making the game kind of a drag at times. The first game was mostly environmental puzzles; you explore the worlds and find all the hidden gems, with dragons generally functioning as checkpoints and the occasion egg thief chase to spice things up. Spyro 2 still has the gems, but it replaces the dragons with orbs. Some orbs are simply hidden around the stages. Those are great. They play into Spyro’s strengths, which are largely how enjoyable it is to just explore as the punky purple dragon. More of them are hidden behind some sort of minigame and that is where the game loses me.

It isn’t that all of those minigames are bad; it is that they are inconsistent. Inconsistent in quality and inconsistent in difficulty. That isn’t helped by the new skills that Spyro learns along the way. I was inordinately annoyed at how I earned those new abilities. The fact that those new skills are slowly doled out as the game goes on is as much a problem with presentation as conception. Does it make sense that someone teaches Spyro to swim? I guess so, but why does it have to in such a perfunctory manner. Similarly, why does he need to learn to climb when all he has to is jump on the wall and climb. That is mostly a presentation problem; instead of giving the player a decent explanation for Spyro’s new powers, it treats it as a joke. The minigames work kind of the same way. Some of them work, like flying along a set path or finding lost baby turtles. Others, like playing hockey or a shooting gallery, are less fun. As the game goes on, the frustrating parts start to overwhelm the fun parts, culminating in a final boss battle that feels like it goes on forever.

Spyro 2 is still a pretty good game; all of the stuff I didn’t like is on the margins. You can beat the game without completing many, if any, of the frustrating challenges. But the first Spyro is the only game I’ve gotten a platinum trophy in; I felt compelled to experience everything that game had to offer. With Spyro 2, despite really enjoying it, I couldn’t wait to be done with it by the time I got to the end.

I’ve got another month or so break before I come back to these two series, but I am eager to see how things go in their third outings.

Crash and Spyro

Caught up in a bout of nostalgia and suddenly having a bit of spending money, I decided to buy Spyro Reignited, the PS4 remasters of the original Spyro the Dragon games from the PSX. I remember really enjoying those games, or at least the first one and a demos of the other two, and haven’t really touched them in almost twenty years. Going on Amazon to buy it, I discovered that at that moment it was actually cheaper to buy the Spyro remasters bundled with the Crash Bandicoot remasters than it was to buy them on their own. I played less of Crash Bandicoot back in the day; I borrowed Crash 2 from a friend for a while and had a Crash 3 demo, but I while I remember enjoying them they didn’t leave much of an impression on me. But I still went the route of buying both, and I’m glad I did.

I’m not glad because it turned out the Crash Bandicoot games are better than I expected. I’m glad I did because it was simply fun to relive some teenage experiences. Honestly, I think the PSX/N64 generation gets short shrift. For the most part, the games don’t seem to hold the same nostalgic charm as their 2D predecessors and the limitations of the consoles make it hard to go back to them at times. There are exceptions. The idea that Super Mario 64 and Zelda: Ocarina of Time are all-time greats is etched in stone. A lot of PS1 RPGs are still well regarded. Every system has classics; what I am looking at are the also rans. Sure, people love Ninja Gaiden and Mega Man 2 on the NES, but you’ll also find people who love games like Shadow of the Ninja or Power Blade. People seem to have a lot of time for mid-list 8-bit and 16-bit games and I don’t see that same affection for early 3D titles. No one is singing the praises of Syphon Filter or Tenchu: Stealth Assassins.

Honestly, Crash Bandicoot and Spyro the Dragon fall closer to the classics than the also rans in people’s memories, at least in my circle. But they also don’t get a lot of mention. There is a gap. I am guessing a lot of this is my subjective experience, if people really didn’t remember Crash or Spyro, why did their games get remasters? They were kings in the late zenith of the mascot platformer. Sonic ushered that age in, and 16-bit systems are littered with colorful animals having adventures. They didn’t really go away until well into the PS2/Gamecube/Xbox days. I remember Microsoft trying desperately to find such a mascot, attempts like Blinx the Time Sweeper, before realizing it was unnecessary. For four or five years, while the PSX ruled the gaming world, Crash and Spyro were on top, facing off against Mario and Banjo from Nintendo.

I remember those days fondly. I was definitely a Nintendo kid, though I did eventually have both a PSX and a N64. I was adamant that my mascot games were better than those on the other system. I told myself that while salivating over all the jrpgs that were hitting the PSX. Sure, they have Final Fantasy VII and Wild Arms, but I’ve got Banjo-Kazooie. It was nonsense, and it really only lasted until I got my own PSX and could play those games. By that time I was a little late for the early action adventure games, but I still played them some and was familiar with them from studious reading of EGM.

So while I didn’t play a lot of the games, I remembered Crash Bandicoot fondly. Here’s the thing: speaking only as to the first game in the series because I haven’t gotten to the others yet, Crash Bandicoot isn’t very good. Or at least, the remaster is not. It is colorful and charming and intermittently fun, but it is also sloppy, imprecise and limited. I am not sure the sloppy controls were part of the original game, but it feels like they were. When in the console wars trenches, I would poo-poo Crash Bandicoot for not really being 3D. Honestly, that is one of the games strengths. When everyone else was trying, and mostly failing, to be Super Mario 64, Crash Bandicoot carved out a smaller, more manageable niche. It puts everything in a tunnel and while still polygonal, does away with any sense of exploration. That is fine. I actually really like that about the game. It is the closest to being a classic platformer done in 3D around. The problem is that the game isn’t actually all that good. It is hard, especially when jumping in and out of the screen, to tell where you are going to land. Also, it is hard to tell how the game is going to interpret how you are going to land. Sometimes, you bounce on the turtle, sometimes you land directly in front of the turtle and are immediately killed. I gave up on the game at the Road to Nowhere level. The game is just not equipped to deal with the precise jumping that level requires, which means tons and tons of frustrating deaths and I don’t have time for that. I might go back to Crash Bandicoot eventually, but not until after I finish the other five games in this collection. I still have some fondness for Crash Bandicoot, but sometimes the past belongs in the past.

Counter to that is the first Spyro the Dragon. I know it is a game that came along a little later than Crash Bandicoot, but Spyro is a classic worthy of canonization. It is clearly taking a lot of cues from Super Mario 64, but also not just trying to be Super Mario 64. The quadrupedal, winged protagonist is one way the game has its own feel. Spyro holds up, largely I think thanks to its simplicity. While it Spyro the Dragon is clearly following in the footsteps of Mario 64. Spyro has an effective but not particularly expansive moveset. He can breathe fire and he can charge. Those two skills set up the bulk of his options when dealing with obstacles. Some enemies must be burned, some must be rammed, others can be dealt with by either. The game slowly starts layering these together, with rooms filled with a mix of enemies, some that need to be dealt with one way and some the other. It adds in enemies that change form. It really taxes the player’s ability to recognize the threat and deal with it.

The only other skill in Spryo’s arsenal is the ability to glide. A second press of the jump button allows the little winged dragon to glide around, greatly expanding his mobility. This is where a lot of Spyro’s tricky platforming comes in, with much being tied to his ability to get somewhere high up and float to a place he could not reach before. There are also supercharge lanes, which propel Spyro to ridiculous speeds with his charge, and using those to launch him to distant, otherwise unreachable hidden areas. That is essentially the one expert technique in the game. The rest of them are just the moves that you have at the start continuing on.

Wisely, the game makes almost none of the difficult sections of the game mandatory to getting through it. That is in contrast to the strictly linear nature of Crash Bandicoot. In Crash, you have one level in front of you and the ability to replay the levels you’ve previously beaten. In Spyro, new stages unlock as you cross completion barriers. Sometimes you can’t go on until you rescue 50 dragons, sometimes it takes a certain number of found gems. It effectively gates the player without ever forcing the player to bash their heads against a particularly tough challenge until the player decides to walk away from the game instead.

With both Crash and Spyro, the remasters look great. They do that excellent trick of looking like you remember the games looked rather than actually looking like the games did look. Because your memories are not accurate. Nintendo did this with their 3DS Zelda remakes; they still look like N64 games without actually looking like N64 games.

The PSX/N64 generation was a time of great experimentation, as everyone struggled to understand how to make polygonal games. Some took to it like a duck to water, others struggled themselves out of existence. The great disparity in quality of games I think has lead people to discount a lot of games from that era. The small handful that are recognized as classics still get love, but most of the rest are ignored and forgotten. Spyro and Crash are right on the edge; I don’t see people sing their praises with the Ocarina of Times or the Metal Gear Solids, but they aren’t really forgotten; they did get modern remasters. But if games that were as popular as these were are as little thought of as they are, it does not bode well for the mid-tier stuff behind them. I’m done with Spyro the Dragon (and got my first platinum trophy with it) and probably done with Crash Bandicoot. I’ve got two more of each. After a few weeks off I’ll revisit Spyro 2: Ripto’s Revenge and Crash 2: The Wrath of Cortex to see how these two series evolved after their first outings.

Now Playing June 2019

Beaten

Yakuza 6 Read about it here. Goodbye Kazuma Kiryu

Spyro the Dragon – I’ve got the Reignited Remasters. Full post coming soon.

Ongoing

Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth – I hate to say this, but I am not really feeling this game. It kind of feels like the worst of both worlds when combining SMT/Persona and Etrian Odyssey. They tried to jazz the map making up with some of Persona 5’s style, but they succeeded only in making the whole process infinitely more tedious. The game starts you with the Persona 5 crew, understandably, minus the characters you’d actually want to play as (meaning no Makoto) and one strange, atonal addition. The game also just inundates the player with pointless text. Everything is over-explained and every character feels the need to pipe up at every opportunity. I don’t see how adding two more games’ worth of cast is going to fix things. I’ve just unlocked the Persona 4 crew and this has not improved. The battles at this point, when I don’t really have a lot of skills to work with, have been slogs.

Crash Bandicoot –

I gave up on this about halfway through and I have a sizable post about it in the pipeline. I was playing the PS4 N-Sane Trilogy remaster. I hope the sequels are better.

Horizon: Zero Dawn – This is very much a modern open world game. Strong shades of Assassin’s Creed. It is also, apparently, a modern WRPG. Experience levels, skill trees, the works. The only thing that differentiates this from Bioware’s stuff is in how it is presented. I am liking it; I just cleared the first chapter and the world has opened up. I could see myself losing a lot of time in this game.

Judgment – I think I’ve made it perfectly clear that I love the Yakuza series. A game in that world, but you instead play a lawyer turned detective who is investigating crimes sounds like the best thing in the world to me. And maybe it is, I haven’t played enough of Judgment to decide one way or the other. I will say that it doesn’t make the best first impression. I just finished playing Yakuza 6, and this game clearly shares a lot of DNA with that one. However, in putting in the new investigation elements, it feels like it has fractured the experience. Things just feel a lot less fluid than they do in Yakuza. The most obvious example is running. In Yakuza you hold a button to run; in Judgment you push a button to essentially toggle run on and I have yet to find a way to stop running outside of stopping moving altogether.

Upcoming

Sword Coast Legends – I enjoyed the time I spent with this last year and I’m tired of it taking up space on my PS4 harddrive, so I think I am going to rush through it before I really get into Judgment.

Wii Game – I had Epic Mickey on here a few months ago and I might make another attempt at that. I’ve also got a solid list of games I have either never played or barely played.

Enslaved: Odyssey to the West – I was long intrigued by this game, but when I finally bought it I barely got started on it before kind of just giving up it up. I want to get back to it. I have several other PS3 games I’d like to knock off my backlog, so I might try something else out.