Now Playing December 2019

Beaten

SteamWorld Dig 2 – I think I legitimately forgot this game was released until I found it on a Christmas eshop sale. I really wanted to play it on WiiU, which it was never released on. I don’t think it was originally released on 3DS either. I loved the first SteamWorld Dig game and I loved SteamWorld Heist. This game turns the fairly simple “dig straight down, bring stuff back up” of the first game into a full blown metroidvania. I loved it. The game really isn’t doing anything new or innovative, like Heist did, but it executes its formula incredibly well. There is something incredibly soothing about the rhythm of the game. Making a trip to dig up some gems and kill some monsters, going back up to sell what you find, buying some new equipment and power ups, lather, rinse, repeat. It is just kind of a perfect video game. No matter how many indie-ish metroidvania games we get, every time I play a good one I remember why these are so great. This is just a very good exercise in the genre.

Ongoing

Stella Glow – The same eShop sale that brought me SteamWorld Dig 2 also got me this game. I’m roughly a third of the way into it and it is fine. I don’t really have more to say about it than that. The battles are decent; there are some balance problems as it relates to character speed, but it mostly works fine. I recall some similar problems with this developer’s Luminous Arc games on the DS. The stuff around the story and characters is just above the most risible stuff that frequently appears in JRPGs. It keeps looking like it is going to be just kind of gross, but keeps itself from falling into the abyss.

Life is Strange – I cleared the first chapter of this game. It is really good. It is doing something I have not seen many games do, telling a kind of story that few games do. The game does so with a very obvious video game mechanic. Prince of Persia did this games rewind time thing in an action game 15 years ago. Here, it is put into a, so far, pretty mundane and thoughtful story. This is the kind of thing I want more of; games that push video games into places other than just violence.

Fire Emblem Warriors (3DS) – I was shopping for Christmas presents and bought this on amazon for next to nothing to give to my brother. It was only later that I recalled that he does not have a New 3DS to play it on. So I kept it. I’ve played five or six missions. The mix of Dynasty Warriors and Fire Emblem works surprisingly well. The menus are dense and not particularly well laid out. I will probably get through the story mode in January and basically call this game done. It is fun enough, worth the $10 I spent on it.

Judgment – I keep making a little progress in this game, loving it while I am playing it and then forgetting about it for weeks at a time after I turn it off. I think if I just let the game take me I would have the time of my life, but I have been too busy lately to really sit and enjoy it. Maybe in the new year. I did finally get to the drone races, which are simple and fun and I spent way too long with them.

Upcoming

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – I have a hankering to play this some more.

Code Name: STEAM – I got about halfway through this game a couple of years ago and I really just want to go back and finish it off.

Dragon Quest XI, Final Fantasy XV, Horizon: Zero Dawn – A trio of PS4 games I have started and just sort of lost track of. I really want to beat them, maybe not in January, but some time in 2020. In early 2020, because I am going to have a busy second half of the year. But I really want to beat some of these.

Persona Q2 and a Goodbye to the Nintendo 3DS

I knew that Persona Q2: New Cinema Labyrinth was going to be one of the last new games to be released for the Nintendo 3DS. I thought it would make a wonderful send off not only for that system, but for the entire Nintendo DS family of systems. There was no series that was more consistent across the more than fifteen years of DS and 3DS existence than Atlus’s Etrian Odyssey. The games only appeared on DS, with the first appearing in 2007 and the last proper game in the series, Nexus, hitting early this year. The Persona Q games, functioned as spin-offs of Etrian Odyssey, as well as spin offs of the Persona series. Persona wasn’t ubiquitous on the DS or the 3DS, but the greater Shin Megami Tensei series had more than a few releases. The last important game for the system being a mix of both seemed fitting.

That is why it pains me to say that Persona Q2 is an all around disappointment. It doesn’t really do anything as well as games in either of its parent series do. Some of it is baked into the concept; combining the casts of 3 Persona games into one meant that the game was always going to feel crowded. Some are seemingly self-inflicted, like changed to the map making interface. Overall, the feeling is a game that is constantly less fun to play than it should be.

I had a problem making sense of the bloated cast in the first Persona Q game, and that one was only combining the characters from Personas 3 and 4, this one adds the cast of Persona 5 to the mix and has an even bigger problem. The game does its best to lessen this, but it does so in the most disappointing way. You start with just the cast of Persona 5. At the start of the second, of five, dungeons you unlock the cast of Persona 4. Then in the third dungeon you finally get the cast of Persona 3. You are nearly halfway through the game before you even get to the Persona 3 crew. By that time you likely will have a pretty established party. The game gives you ways of getting underused party members up to speed in a hurry, but trying to sort through this many characters and find defined roles for them in the game’s battle system is a chore, especially because this is a game that is not afraid to punish the player. It is hard to experiment when any battle can go south in a hurry and a party wipe probably means a significant loss in progress. The game ends up kind of pushing the player to use the Persona 5 cast and they are the least interesting.

The combination of the casts of the three games also highlights their similarities. To me the differences were more apparent when it was just two, but now that all three of them are together you can see how the games have roles for characters to fill and while some details around the sides may change, the central conceits of these characters doesn’t.

There is a story. The somewhat parodic movies that the dungeons are structured after kind of work, I guess. The main plot, though, never even came close to catching my attention.

I was most disappointed in the map making. The game takes the stylish menus and such designs from Persona 5 and tries to transplant them on to the 3DS. It doesn’t really work, and it takes up more of the screen. The game adds a bunch of neat new elements to the map, like gates that toggle on and off, but zooms the screen in on the drawing part to make it something of a chore to actually use. Also, the drawing just doesn’t seem as responsive as it has been in the past. Overall, it just feels like a step back.

I did have fun with Persona Q2. I guess I liked it, it was just something of a disappointment. I wanted a fond farewell and I got a game that did its best to be unlikeable despite its many good qualities. There are other aspects of the game I could go into, like the demon fusing and the battles, but I don’t really have it in me. The baseline is that it was good, but everything it does has been done better somewhere else. I don’t really want just tear into the game forever.

Instead, I think this is a good time to eulogize the Nintendo 3DS. Persona Q2 is almost certainly the last significant 3DS release. It’s run was, if anything, a little longer than that of the original DS. Still, I get the feeling that the 3DS was written off years ago as a failure because it wasn’t the sales juggernaut that the original DS was and never really reexamined. I think it deserves to be remembered well, because the 3DS is a great little system. I’ve had a 3DS since only a few months after it was released, and I feel like I’ve played most of the major releases for the system. In the last couple of years I’ve skipped a bunch of Nintendo first party titles, but they have mostly been remakes and ports of games I have already played. Since 2011, the Nintendo 3DS has easily been my most played video game system.

It is home to lots of great JRPGs, like the Bravely Default games and a sizable chunk of Atlus output. There are tons of great platformers, including several Mario games and some really underrated Kirby games. There are adventures like all the Professor Layton and Ace Attorney and Zero Escape games. There are three excellent Fire Emblem games, several great Legend of Zeldas. A bunch of oddities, like Rhythm Thief, BoxBoy, and Attack of the Friday Monsters. There are three Monster Hunters. There are just so many good games. The 3D gimmick was kind of a miss, though it still looks really neat.

Nintendo combining their development for the console/handheld hybrid Switch is almost certainly the smart move. I will likely get a Switch sooner rather than later. The Switch is great, and Nintendo not splitting their resources across two different platforms is a good thing. But I am going to miss the little clamshell 3DS. I’ve been taking one of those with me everywhere for more than a decade and likely will continue to do so until I completely exhaust the DS/3DS games I can get my hands on. The dedicated handheld system appears to be dead, unless you count the Switch Lite, and I am sad to see it go. But I am thankful for all the fun I’ve had with my 3DS over the last eight years. Good night, sweet prince …

Now Playing November 2019

Beaten

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse –

I bought this game a few years ago, but never really got around to until recently. It is a pretty typical Kirby game in a lot of ways. It colorful and pleasant and not particularly challenging. It plays much like the DS game Canvas Curse, with the player using the touchscreen to draw paths for Kirby to follow through the stage. Knowing how to draw lines to both direct Kirby and to deflect obstacles is intuitive. I don’t know that it is quite as satisfying as a normal platformer, but it still works really well. There is a multiplayer component, but I didn’t have the chance to play it, so I don’t know how well that works. The most striking element of the game is the graphics. Nintendo has long been the master of aesthetics, and Rainbow Curse is another high mark. There was Kirby’s Epic Yarn, which Nintendo took to the next level with Yoshi’s Woolly World. There was The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword, with its impressionist looking backgrounds that resolved into solid shapes when you got close. Rainbow Curse turns everything to clay. It looks amazing; Kirby rolls and squishes. Everything really looks like someone shaped them and get realistically deformed by various kinds of contact. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is like a lot of the Kirby series; somehow forgetably excellent.

Battlefield 1 – read about it here.

Persona Q2 – post coming soon.

Streets of Rage 2 – At Thanksgiving, me and my brother powered through this classic beat-em-up. I don’t have a lot to say about it; Streets of Rage 2 is really good. I had the first back in the day, and my brothers and I would beat it repeatedly. The sequel has some more complexity and gets pretty tough as it goes, but it delivers some classic brawler fun. There is just something mindlessly enjoyable about moving to the right and punching out hundreds of dudes. The brawler has always been my preferred arcade style game. This deserves its reputation as one of the best.

Ongoing

Judgment – Progress is slow, but I am liking this game. Despite its similarities with the Yakuza series, I can feel the developers attempting to give this game a different flavor. A lot of the detective specific stuff works. Examining a crime scene is fun. But some stuff feels like a step back. Like the modal running/walking switch. Instead of holding a button to run, and smoothly transitioning in and out of different speeds, you push a button to run and keep running until you stop. It is a small change, but just slightly more awkward than it was before. Still, this is really good. I hope with some time I can really dig into it.

Sega Genesis Mini – While I beat Streets of Rage 2 with my brother, we sampled almost all of the multiplayer games. When I am around my brothers, I will probably give them some more time. Some Golden Axe or Gunstar Heroes. I also played through about half of World of Illusion Starring Mickey Mouse and Donald Duck with my three year old nephew. He’s not quite old enough to grasp the game past the opening stage, but we had fun. When I’m playing solo, I really want to get to some time with the more complex games; like Shining Force, Beyond Oasis and Phantasy Star IV. I am really liking the Genesis Mini.

Sonic Mania – I played two more stages. I think I might be done with this for now. I don’t have anything bad to say about it, I’m just not feeling it right now and I don’t want to force myself to play a game I’m not enjoying.

Upcoming

Life is Strange – There was a PSN sale, I picked up a few things. Like Battlefield 1. And this, as well as Cosmic Star Heroine and Dragon Age Inquisition. I am going to play this next, and with a month between semesters I should have time to finish it.

SteamWorld Dig 2 – I got some game for my 3DS during the Black Friday sale. This is the first one I am looking to get started with. I kind of forgot this game came out. I loved the first SteamWorld Dig game and SteamWorld Heist.

Shovel Knight: King of Cards – I’ve never actually finished any of the extra campaigns for Shovel Knight. I played about half of Plague of Shadows and a couple stages of Spectre of Torment. I really want to correct that oversight, and the release of the fourth campaign feels like the ideal time to do that.

Battlefield 1

I bought Battlefield 1 during the recent PSN sale. That is likely a surprise to people who know me. I have long had little regard for first person shooters, and have never had much of an interest at all in multiplayer shooters. I was drawn to this particular game for its World War 1 setting. That was enough to get me to fork over the $10 it cost to give it a try.

My take on this game is going to be completely unfair. I feel I have to acknowledge that upfront. The Battlefield series is popular for its multiplayer; the single player campaigns exist and that is about it. So going into Battlefield to play the single player is pretty much by definition missing the point. I am not much of a multiplayer guy. I’ll play some fighting games and party games, but playing with other people is not something I really do. Even Monster Hunter, a favorite of mine, is usually a solo experience for me. I will play it online, but it makes it feel like a chore sometimes. I mostly just enjoy to play by myself and at my own pace. That is what I wanted out of Battlefield 1; to play through some WWI battles by myself. Technically, it delivered.

Battlefield 1 also did a good job of showing the breadth of the First World War. Its splintered single player campaigns range from France to Italy to Arabia. You experience early tank fighting, biplane dogfights, pitched battles on seafronts and mountainsides. It gives the player a little bit of everything. The problem is that almost none of it is any fun. Take the thing I was most excited for: the airplanes. The initial control scheme for the planes is insane. Or at least, it felt insane for someone who does not primarily play first person shooters. After thinking about it for a while, I think the control scheme does make sense when thinking about it through the lens of a shooter. For someone used to controlling an on screen character or vehicle through any other lens it is awkward at best. Luckily, the controls are remappable. Once you find something that works, it becomes tolerable. Frustrating, but tolerable. The game gives essentially two missions in the plane; one big assault defending bombers attacking a base, other defending London from a German bombing raid. Once they get going, they can be fun, but the game does not really explain the parameters.

The game also loves to put the player into situations that, in the story of the campaign, call for stealth. However, the game does not really give the player the tools to play stealthily. I am not sure the game really intends for the player to be stealthy. The most interesting one is the Arabian set section of the campaign. The player has to send three messages from three separate bases. The game hints at sneaking in, but the game gives few sneaking tools. In set up, it feels like a mission out of Metal Gear Solid 5. In execution, it shows how great a game Metal Gear Solid 5 was. Part of the problem is on me: I am not a huge fan of shooting. If the game gives me a peaceful option, I will take that option. Battlefield 1 suggests such options, then pushes the player to go in guns blazing.

Maybe that is why the Italian campaign was the most satisfying. The Italian campaign is the most straightforward of the bunch. It puts the player in a pitched battle, shooting his way up a mountain. Eventually, you are searching for your lost brother, but it is mostly just a series of stages for shooting everything that moves. It works. It is fun to go from bunker to bunker, tearing through enemy troops. Any time the games tries something more complex with its single player missions, it stumbles, but those straightforward shooting missions were solid.

I haven’t said much about the stories, because there is nothing much to say. They range from bland to forgettable, with the one interesting one being the biplane story. It is interesting because it tries to bring in some unreliable narrator stuff that only really shows up there and only serves to undercut the most fun story they put together. There isn’t much to say.

Honestly, I am a little disappointed in myself for buying this game. I have pretty much stopped playing games that are mostly about killing other people. That is something I’ve grown increasingly uncomfortable with as I’ve grown older. It is not that I begrudge anyone else their enjoyment of shooters or anything similar, but I personally don’t really enjoy them. It is kind of arbitrary; I love the Yakuza games and they are incredibly violent. But most of the fights in the Yakuza series ostensibly leave the losers alive. Even something like Metal Gear Solid, which features a lot of killing, at least mostly leaves it up to the player on whether to kill people or not. Shooter, on the other hand, don’t really have options. You shoot things. I bought Battlefield 1 for its novel setting. I thought that maybe that would be enough to get me into a shooter. It didn’t. I am ready to take another decade long break from the genre.

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.