My Gaming Future

I love video games. I really and truly do. I love them so much so that, as I’ve stated in the past, I’d like to make my own games someday. In many ways, gaming is better now than it’s ever been. But gaming is also a mighty expensive hobby, and I’m not made of money. Even more so, gaming is becoming more and more time consuming.

Now, I realized some time ago how much of a time commitment gaming was becoming, but it really hit me personally when I played Persona 5. Now, don’t get me wrong, from what I played, Persona 5 was a pretty great game. But once I had put more than ten hours into the game and still wasn’t done with the first dungeon, it kind of lost me. I still want to go back and finish it sometime, but it really hit me just how long games get these days. And it would be one thing if it were a couple of games here and there, but it seems like most major releases these days require 50+ hours just to get through the story.

Somehow I actually managed to beat Red Dead Redemption 2, which was a great game, but took forever just to get through the story (and as I mentioned in my review of the game, it’s fifth chapter feels like little more than extensive padding just to drag out the story longer. And yes, this was the primary reason I scored RDR2 an 8 as opposed to a 9, despite its many, many strengths). For as much fun as I had with the game, it seemed like its main story – great though it was – went on much longer than it needed to, when the countless side activities the game’s open world provides would have more than sufficed in regards to content.

In short: these games are too damn long.

That’s not an innately bad thing, of course. But if you have one game after another after another that each take forever to complete, you begin to not have time for any of them.

That’s why, as of 2019, I’m trying to cut back on my video game purchases. Yes, I bought the Bowser’s Inside Story remake and Kingdom Hearts 3 already. But the former is a remake of my favorite DS game, a title I enjoyed so much I definitely want to give it another whirl in its new guise, while the later has been in the making for thirteen years (and, more importantly, I love me some contemporary Disney, so I couldn’t resist playing a game that featured Frozen, Tangled and Big Hero 6 in it). So that’s two games so far in 2019, plus a couple other I have on pre-order. But if we went back to this time last year, I had pre-orders up the wazoo! And, as is evidenced by the fact that I’ll only now be getting to my reviews of games like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and God of War (and still need to get to a point where I can review Ni no Kuni 2), I’ve gotten pretty backlogged.

In my defense, the reason I’ve been playing so many games these past few years is, well, because of this website. I greatly enjoy writing reviews and sharing my opinions, and I want to build this site up. What better way to do that than build up an extensive library of game reviews?

Well, I think I’ve succeeded in building such a library of reviews covering several different eras of gaming and many different genres. Not to brag or anything, but my Red Dead 2 review was my 328th video game review. So I think I’m at a point where it’s okay to slow down with the video game reviews for a while.

Now now, I don’t have any plans to stop updating this website. I plan to keep on keeping on with the Dojo. But when it comes to video games, I think I’m going to start prioritizing the games I still have in my collection for reviews, and that I don’t need to purchase more than a few new titles every year. Granted, that may make my annual Game of the Year awards less interesting (talking of which, my 2018 awards will happen really soon), but there are only so many hours in a day.

I still have plenty of games I already own that are in need of some reviewin’, and I’m still going to buy new games and review them. But because time and money are limited, I’m going to have to be more picky. I’m going to try and put a number limit on myself for games per year, and try to stick to that (there will be exceptions of course. If Nintendo suddenly announces they’re making Super Mario Galaxy 3 and it releases this year, I don’t care if I’ve met my limit, that’s a game I’d make exception for no question).

I remember in my younger days, I replayed video games a lot more. Star Fox 64, for example, is an easy game to beat. But I still probably spent countless hours on it over the years playing its single and multiplayer modes over and over. I find myself continuously wanting to replay games like Bloodborne and Super Mario Odyssey, but then I tell myself I’ve already reviewed them, and that I have other games to review. But games like Bloodborne and Odyssey are the kind of games that beg to be replayed over and over, much like Star Fox did all those years ago. Besides, it’s not like someone is paying me to play these games (though I am continuously trying to build up this website and hopefully can get some earnings from it. Wouldn’t that be dandy?). Plus, there are more ways to write about games than the direct reviews themselves.

While it’s been great picking up different big releases each year to review them, I think I’m at a point where I can also just replay games if I feel like it, and write other articles about them. Don’t worry, I’m still going to write game reviews, but probably less for newly released games every year. Gotta pick and choose.

Yeah, I will review Persona 5 and other extensively long games when I can. But I’m not going to try to rush those games to completion just to add another review to my belt sooner. If anything, my review of Red Dead Redemption 2 felt special. As long as that game was, I took my time with it, and my review almost felt like a reward to myself…as weird as that sounds.

Basically, my point is, it’s getting harder and harder for me to review every big game that gets released these days. So I’ll be slowing down with that for a bit. Again, I think I’ve reviewed enough games, covered different genres, and awarded each number on my scoring system more than enough to justify the majority of my reviews in the foreseeable future being games I already own. Like I said, that’s no shortage of games as it is, and with the occasional review for a new release, Indie games, and other articles focused on games, and I think I still have more than enough game-related material for my site. And of course I also have my movie side of things and, as I keep saying, I want to start writing about TV shows to some degree as well.

So…sorry I’m not going to be able to review every major release that hits shelves, but I will still keep the gaming side of this site strong and healthy. Like a kid who ate his broccoli. Plus, this opens up more time for me to work on other creative outlets, like my long promised videos and studying up on video game design. You’d want to play a game made by me, right?

Hope you enjoy what I have in store.

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Red Dead Redemption 2 Review

*Review based on Red Dead Redemption 2’s single player campaign. A separate review based on the game’s online mode will follow sometime in the future*

I don’t think I’ve ever played a video game as big as Red Dead Redemption 2. The sheer scope of its world, countless playable activities, and excruciating attention to detail are second to none. Though Red Dead Redemption 2’s ambitions can prove to be a bit of a double-edged sword. Its journey and world-building can feel miraculous at times, but daunting in others. The whole of Red Dead Redemption 2 is a thing of sheer beauty, but its individual pieces can frequently expose its weaknesses on both a creative and technical level. Tedious gameplay elements, bloated objectives, and technical issues eventually do add up to hold back what is otherwise a classic and unforgettable gaming experience.

Set in 1899, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a prequel to its beloved 2010 predecessor. Players take on the role of Arthur Morgan, a member of the Van Der Linde gang (named after its leader, Dutch Van Der Linde), who happen to be going through a rough time after a big heist went horribly wrong. Members of the gang, authorities, and innocent civilians were killed when the job went awry, leading the Van Der Linde gang to go into hiding, and Arthur to begin questioning their future.

Dutch and the gang are on the run from the law, trying to find a means to survive both nature and civilization. Dutch believes one last successful job can lead the gang to prosperity, but that’s easier said than done when Pinkertons, wealthy oil magnate Leviticus Cornwall, and rival gangs such as the O’Driscals are out for the blood of the Van Der Linde gang. In Arthur’s shoes, it’s up to the player to help the Van Der Linde gang get back on its feet, in hopes of a better future.

That’s the basic setup of everything, but as the game progresses, Red Dead Redemption 2 turns into a pretty compelling, character-driven narrative, complimented by some of the best voice acting I’ve ever heard in a video game.

As the game begins, the Van Der Linde gang is low on resources, so naturally the gang has to start small to build itself back up. As Arthur Morgan, players can simply progress through the plot – completing necessary objectives to push the story forward – or they can partake in seemingly countless endeavors across the game’s vast open world.

“Yes, you can even dictate Arthur’s facial hair depending on if you shave or not (and drink hair tonics). Of course, for me, the only way to play is to go full Gimli.”

Unlike most open world games, there’s never a moment when Red Dead Redemption 2 feels lifeless. Every inch of the game feels packed with things to do, whether big or small. You can ignore the story entirely and just get lost in hunting wild animals for meat, robbing trains, playing poker, or making new discoveries in the game’s world. You really have to hand it to Rockstar, they left no stone unturned in regards to making their interpretation of the Wild West feel like a living, breathing world. There is so much to do in Red Dead Redemption 2, in fact, that it would be impossible for me to detail them all without this review turning into an instruction manual.

“The dude in the river who thinks himself a preacher may be a little on the crazy side, but he’s harmless. As such, harming him will do your morality no favors.”

Red Dead Redemption 2 features a morality system, which will change Aurthur’s moral alignment (and his interactions with others) depending on the choices the player makes. So even though Read Dead 2 gives players the freedom to go about Authur’s life and journey as they see fit, there are consequences for your actions. Killing random passersby and looting them will, of course, take away Aurthur’s morality. Should anyone else notice evidence of Aurthur’s crimes, a bounty will be placed on the player’s head. And whenever bounty hunters are close by ready to collect said bounty, certain game elements (including side quests) become unavailable. Conversely, if you happen to come across people in need during your journey (whether it be a blind beggar or a victim of a snake bite requesting Arthur to suck out the venom), lending them a helping hand will reward you at a later time (in a few instances, the people I helped later appeared in towns, and offered to buy me whatever item or weapon my heart desired). Although Rockstar games have a reputation of indulging in deviant behavior (and that can even be true here), Read Dead Redemption 2 bucks that reputation with an emphasis on every action having a consequence.

As stated, Red Dead Redemption 2 is a massive game, filled to the brim with content. On a technical level, the attention to detail and the amount of things to do are unrivaled. Though there is a downside to this insane level of intricacy, with the game sometimes being unable to handle itself, leading to some unfortunate technical issues.

The loading times can be extensive, but that’s fair, given everything the game has to load at any one time. Less tolerable however are the glitches you’re likely to run into across Arthur’s journey. During my playthrough, I encountered more than my share: In one instance, I had to restart a tutorial after enemies spawned on top of the camp I was setting up, who then proceeded to disappear and reappear. For another example, I even had one of my bounties disappear into thin air just as I was taking him in to the local sheriff. Thankfully, I never encountered anything game-breaking, but these issues were big enough and frequent enough to lead to more than a few moments of frustration.

Another aspect of Red Dead Redemption 2 that may end up feeling like a double-edged sword is its emphasis on realism. Now, again, the level of detail is truly stunning, and that’s reflected in the game’s sense of realism. But these realistic elements can also border on tedious.

Arthur’s stats are divided into three categories: health, stamina and deadeye. Health is self-explanatory, and serves as Arthur’s hitpoints. Stamina dictates how long Arthur can run or swim without getting exhausted. Deadeye grants players the ability to slow down time during gunfights, allowing you to mark your targets and get easy shots in the process.

It sounds simple enough, and aside from the addition of deadeye, it brings to mind Breath of the Wild. But while Breath of the Wild streamlined things by simply having certain items recover (or boost) Link’s health and stamina, Red Dead Redemption 2 adds an extra layer to the equation in the form of cores. Cores more or less serve as the base stats of Arthur’s three attributes, and can be leveled up throughout the game to increase the maximum amount of health, stamina and deadeye Arthur can possess.

“You’ll have to set up camp pretty frequently to get some food and rest.”

The downside to this is that the cores also deplete if Arthur has ran out of the stats themselves. And the cores require their own items to recover, separate from those used to heal their respective attributes. So you’ll often have to pause whatever you’re doing to cycle through menus (which thankfully is rather easy in itself, adopting the “wheel menus” originated by Secret of Mana), and use a myriad of different items just to get back to your standard. You won’t believe how many times I got killed in gunfights simply because I couldn’t keep up with all my stats, and kept getting riddled with bullets as Arthur stopped to perform the required animation for using each item.

Yes, Rockstar’s efforts in making the game realistic are admirable, but it also means keeping Arthur in top shape – as well as putting up with every little animation (you can’t simply grab an item by pressing a button, but have to wait for Arthur to crouch and pick up the item himself) – may try the patience of some gamers.

“You never know who, or what, you’ll encounter next when traversing RDR2. Here I was hunting in the wild when I came across a friendly drunk.”

Unfortunately, there is one other big drawback to Red Dead Redemption 2. I mentioned that the story of the game is well written, and I mean it. The character development (particularly that of Dutch Van Der Linde) is truly captivating. But – as is a bad habit of modern games – the story can become dragged out with padding on a few occasions. With how massive of a game Red Dead Redemption 2 already is, and the countless things you can do at any given time at any given place, it really seems unnecessary for the main plot to be as long as it is. The story could have been trimmed down a good number of hours and not taken away its impact, and left the optional elements to fill out the game’s content.

In the most blatant example of padding in gaming since Uncharted 3’s cruise ship sequence, the entire fifth chapter of Red Dead Redemption 2’s story feels completely unnecessary. The plot would have worked just fine without it. What’s worse is that this chapter is the one instance in the game where you aren’t free to do as you please, as it forces the player to do what it wants. As great as the rest of Red Dead Redemption 2 is, the game’s fifth chapter brings its momentum to a dead stop.

“Yeah, I think it’s safe to say I tend to play RDR2 a bit humorously. This is my Arthur’s poker face.”

These may be considerable complaints with the game, but Red Dead Redemption 2 is so well made in just about every other regard, that it’s still easy to get lost in it all despite its issues. None of its flaws are deal-breakers, but in many areas Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like one of the most masterfully crafted games I’ve played, and these issues sadly prevent it from reaching its full potential. In terms of ambition, content, and execution, Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like an all-time great. But the myriad of technical issues, gameplay tedium, and story padding do become something of a wet blanket, leaving Red Dead Redemption 2 to being “merely” great.

Still, it can’t be stated enough how much Red Dead 2 gets right. On the visual front, it’s a non-stop spectacle. The character models are some of the most believable and realistic I’ve ever seen (with only Uncharted 4 and 2018’s God of War matching it in those areas). And the scenery is absolutely breathtaking. Aside from actually stepping outside and experiencing nature in real life, you probably couldn’t ask for more beautiful natural environments.

Complimenting these beautiful visuals is an absolutely terrific musical score that rivals any movie western soundtrack. There were countless moments in my playthrough where the score not only set the mood for what was happening in game, but really pulled me into the moments themselves. Rarely have I been so involved in what was happening in a game as I was riding on horseback with Dutch and the gang, dodging gunfire and riding to safety as Woody Jackson’s epic score flooded my ears.

Adding even more to these audial pleasures is some stellar sound work, which ranks as some of the best you could hope to hear outside of FromSoftware. Red Dead 2 is – like FromSoftware’s Souls series – one of those titles where every last sound helps create the emersion of its world.

“Yeah, you can even find a viking helmet, which hilariously shows up in cinematics.”

Another fun aspect of Red Dead 2 is that it has a pretty good sense of humor. Though the main story plays things straight for the most part (save for a now infamous drinking binge segment), there are many side quests and occurrences in the wild that frequently lighten the mood. Though the main game stays true to its American Wild West setting, the optional content will see Arthur encounter U.F.Os, vampires, robots, and many other oddities that might otherwise feel out of place. It’s actually a pretty effective and unique example of a game taking itself seriously in terms of its story, but also knowing when to take a break and just have a good time.

“Follow the buzzards! We’re here…”

Red Dead Redemption 2 is, in many ways, an absolute triumph of video game design. Even if you give the technical blips a pass for being a side effect of the game’s sheer scope, its aforementioned missteps in padding and tedium are creative choices that are a little harder to forgive, and prevent Red Dead Redemption 2 from being the flat-out masterpiece it otherwise would have been. But if Red Dead Redemption 2 is a flawed game, it’s one of the best flawed games I’ve ever experienced.

Red Dead Redemption 2 has it’s issues. But while those same issues may break a lesser game, Red Dead 2 is so full of life and surprises that whatever drawbacks it does have suddenly seem a lot smaller amidst its campaign and open world. In terms of sheer scope and ambition, Red Dead Redemption 2 is nothing short of peerless.

 

8

Kingdom Hearts 3 Impressions

Well dang, Kingdom Hearts 3 actually exists! Yeah yeah, I’ll get to my overdue reviews soon, but considering it’s been 13 years since Kingdom Hearts 2, I felt compelled to do a quick write-up of my playtime so far with this long gestating sequel.

Admittedly, I only started playing KH3 yesterday, so I’m not very far. I’ve completed the game’s first proper world (Olympus, based on Disney’s Hercules) and the first Gummiship segment, and am currently in the second world proper (Twilight Town, a Kingdom Hearts original). But even from my playtime so far, there are some things I have to say.

As we all know, Kingdom Hearts is the bizarre (yet somehow working) crossover between Square Enix and Disney properties, helmed by Tetsuya Nomura, who grew to prominence with his work on the PSOne-era Final Fantasy titles. Strangely, the Final Fantasy representation continues to be lost in the shuffle, which is understandable on the Disney side of things (with the possible exception of Nintendo, it’s hard to imagine another franchise machine that could have a spotlight in the face of Disney). But it always struck me as kind of odd how there are so many original characters in Kingdom Hearts, when many of them feel like they could easily be swapped out for Final Fantasy characters.

Now, let’s get something out of the way: the story. I honestly don’t have a clue what’s going on with half of the plot. But I can’t really blame myself, since Nomura and company saw fit to make every last “spinoff” entry in the Kingdom Hearts franchise an integral part of the main story. And I’ve only played the properly numbered Kingdom Hearts games up to this point, so it kind of sucks that people like me are left out in the cold because I couldn’t keep up with all the handheld and mobile games, re-releases (which contained new story content) and so on. Nomura’s storytelling tends to be convoluted by its own merit, so to spread out his story across so many platforms makes it nearly incomprehensible. I’m only a few hours in, and already Kingdom Hearts 3 has casually name-dropped a small army of characters as if I’m supposed to know who they are or their place in the story. Unless you’re a really hardcore fan who could fork over a small fortune to follow the series through the years, it’s more than a little alienating.

Thankfully, the Disney half of the equation is as charming as ever. And frankly, I wish the central plot were more focused on the Disney bits, and less on the dozens of Nomura characters who, frankly, seem largely interchangeable from one other in both character design and personality. But hey, I’ll suffer through some narrative gobbledygook if it means I get to visit worlds from classic Disney movies and meet classic Disney heroes and villains.

As for the gameplay, well, it’s mostly fun, but there are some dated elements. Namely, Sora’s jumping still feels awkward and floaty after all these years, feeling as though he comes to a dead stop when the jump is initiated, and can only decide which direction he’s jumping in once he’s in the air. Given how long the Super Mario series has been around, I don’t know why any game with platforming elements doesn’t try to replicate the fluid and intuitive jumping standards of Super Mario.

Aside from that, there are certain combat elements that feel a little too chaotic. As usual, Kingdom Hearts 3 is like a hack-N-slash RPG. You swing your ‘Keyblade’ amidst hordes of monsters, cast magic spells, and perform special moves. For the most part, it’s easy enough to figure out, but after you’ve combo’ed enough hits or spells (or Donald and Goofy have done the same) you can unleash special attacks of different varieties, go into special modes, unleash more powerful spells, and use team attacks with your party members.

The problem is that all of these specials are mapped to a single button (the triangle button, if you’re playing on PS4 like me). Oftentimes you have more than one of these specials built up at the same time. And I still don’t understand if there’s a way to swap which one you use next, or if you simply have to use them in order or wait for their window of availability to run out. I mean, when I have the special moves based on Disneyland rides/parades, of course those are the ones I want to use. I don’t care about Sora changing forms, just let me unleash the Disneyland rides!

As for the Gummiship segment, well, from what I remember these were the low points of Kingdon Hearts 1 and 2. But here, I enjoyed it a bit more, as you now have much more freedom to explore and collect items (of which I spent a surprising amount of time). Though the controls could have benefitted from learning a thing or two from Star Fox 64 (seriously, when it comes to controls, just do what Nintendo does…although I guess Star Fox Zero couldn’t even emulate Star Fox 64’s controls…).

Now, I hope I don’t sound too negative, because for the most part I’m having a lot of fun with Kingdom Hearts 3. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t get a huge wave of melancholic nostalgia when that title scene music kicked in. The game is proving to be a fun time so far, and as a fan of Disney’s modern day output, I’m excited that most of the worlds I have yet to visit reflect contemporary Disney films (if anything, the thirteen-year delay benefited the game’s Disney representation. The past games were released when Disney was in something of a low point, and thus relied on Disney’s past. Now that Kingdom Hearts 3 is released in a time when Disney has long-since got its groove back, the Disney aspect of the game feels less like a yearning for former glory).

Kingdom Hearts 3 is thus far shaping up to be a pleasing experience, but it is a shame some of its controls still feel stuck in the PS2 era, and I wish Nomura would have learned a little from the storytelling capabilities of the Disney movies his games feature, which could only have benefitted Kingdom Hearts’s narrative. Still, I admit that the Disney/Square crossover and the tone that comes with it still feels unique even today, and the gameplay (warts and all) feels more standout than ever in a time when everything else on the market feels the need to shoehorn open-world gameplay and gritty realism. I’ll take Disney characters and anime kids beating monsters with keys any day.

L’Ochestre de Jeux Video Appreciation Post

I’ve made it no mystery that my love of video game music rivals my love of video games themselves. Though I’m no musician, I can appreciate (and am often mystified by) what music can do both on its own and for other mediums. Though there are a number of film scores that have left an impact on me (namely Joe Hisaishi’s work on Hayao Miyazaki’s filmography), for the most part, I think the musical side of my heart belongs to video game scores. Whether it’s the infectious soundtracks of the Mega Man series, the atmospheric sounds of Donkey Kong Country, or the epic scores of Dark Souls, video game music continues to shape and mold my creativity as much as video games themselves.

As such, I not only have a rather impressive collection of video game soundtracks (if I do say so myself), but frequently seek out remixes, covers and live performances of video game music. And a number of months ago, I discovered one of the best.

L’Orchestre de Jeux Video is an ongoing orchestra that specializes in video game music. As someone who has frequently sought out video game orchestras, I do believe L’Orchestra de Jeux Video (or ‘OJV’ for short) is the most consistently excellent I have discovered so far.

Some of their performances reflect the original feeling of the music they’re covering, brought up to the epic score of an orchestra. Other times, they recreate classic pieces in new ways, bringing new appreciation to both the pieces in question as well as OJV’s abilities.

Seriously, I can’t speak highly enough about what OJV does. Oftentimes when I’m writing a review late at night, I listen to their performances, and I swear it helps my creative juices flow, and even some of my trickier reviews start coming together. I guess you could argue that a number of my writings owe a little something to OJV.

But enough jib jab from me, here are some of my favorite performances from OJV, direct from their own YouTube channel.

Let’s start with one of my all-time favorites, Super Mario Galaxy.

A little Banjo-Kazooie always does the heart good.

Here’s an entire performance dedicated to my main man, Bowser.

Some Undertale music, because that’s always wonderful.

Of course, you can never go wrong with the iconic Dr. Wily theme.

And naturally, I of all people have to include their performances of Donkey Kong Country and Super Mario RPG. I just hope they do some more covers from them in the near future, because you can never have too much of a good thing.

 

Simply beautiful!

If you would like to find out more about L’Orchestra de Jeux Video, you can check out their website here. Or you can find more of their performances on their official YouTube channel. It’ll be well worth the time of any lover of video game music.

Goodbye Wii Shop Channel

Allow me to get nostalgic – and a wee bit weepy – as Nintendo has officially shut down the Wii Shop Channel, after over twelve years of service.

Now, I’m going to say something that’s bizarrely unpopular, and say that the Wii remains one of my all-time favorite video game consoles. And yes, I liked it better than the N64 and GameCube. One of the (many) reasons the Wii was so great was the Wii Shop Channel.

As Nintendo’s original online store for downloading games, the Wii Shop Channel opened the door for WiiWare – where players could download original titles – and the Virtual Console service, a treasure trove of classic gaming. Sadly, a number of WiiWare games that weren’t released by other means have now entered the nether (and could tragically remain in limbo, lest their developers find a means to code them elsewhere). And although the Wii Virtual Console has long-since been succeeded by the Nintendo Eshop on Wii U, 3DS and Nintendo Switch, the Eshop has never quite matched up to the library of classics the Virtual Console brought to the Wii.

WiiWare introduced the gaming world to titles such as World of Goo, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King (and it’s sequel, My Life as a Dark Lord), and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, among many others. And while retro gaming had been a thing for collectors for quite some time, the Wii’s Virtual Console service helped popularized retro gaming for the mainstream, allowing easy accessibility for new generations of gamers to discover beloved classics from the NES, SNES, N64, and non-Nintendo consoles like the Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafX-16, Commodore 64, and even Arcade titles!

Yes, the Nintendo Eshop has continued the Virtual Console’s legacy on subsequent Nintendo hardware, but not quite to the same degree. 3DS added GameBoy titles, and Wii U gained the GameBoy Advance (admittedly a HUGE get), but they lost nearly all of the non-Nintendo content, and even ended up with considerably less games from Nintendo’s history. And even though the Switch can easily claim to be one of Nintendo’s best consoles, the fact that its legacy content is still currently limited to a small handful of NES titles is a baffling step backwards. Sure, many complained that the Wii’s Virtual Console could be slow in getting content (getting one to three games every Thursday in the US), when all was said and done, it had such an array of classics that it was more than likely the best collection of retro titles you could hope to find. Combined with the great original games on the Wii, along with the system’s backwards compatibility with the GameCube, and the Wii – believe it or not – may have boasted the most classics of any console. Yes, I said that, and I don’t regret it. Fight me.

Yes, the Xbox 360, PS3, and current generation consoles have thankfully kept easy access to gaming’s yesteryear alive and well. But – perhaps simply because the Wii was the first to have such an extensive library of gaming history – they’ve never quite captured that same magic as when the Virtual Console brought another classic to the Wii.

As someone who, sadly, didn’t always take the best care of their games as a kid (and someone who, strangely, only occasionally played older games as time went on in my younger days), having easy access to so many classics all on one console was a godsend. And perhaps I was just at the right age when it began to really hit me how quickly gaming advances and how older consoles fall out of the spotlight, but there was something great knowing that things like the Wii Virtual Console service essentially helped kickstart the preservation of classic gaming (after all, once a movie left theaters, they’d end up on home video formats. But once games became older, they became collectors items. Frankly, I think they always deserved better).

Yeah, I realize I’m talking a lot more about the Virtual Console side of the Wii Shop Channel than WiiWare. WiiWare was great as well, of course. But I feel like the Virtual Console really helped make retro gaming a more mainstream thing, and ‘old school’ gaming was no longer relegated to those who happened to grow up at the time (and I was someone who did grow up at the time. But the idea of younger gamers – and older gamers just getting introduced to the medium – not having played certain classics broke my heart… I am a weird person). Plus, I just have a lot more personal memories of the Virtual Console.

Playing Super Mario 64 again in preparation for Super Mario Galaxy? Lovely. Playing the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games on a Nintendo console? Beautiful. Discovering Secret of Mana? Sexy.

Again, it’s tremendous that subsequent consoles have continued to keep retro gaming alive, but now whenever a classic makes its way to a modern console, it feels like an inevitability. But in the Wii’s day, there was something, for lack of a better word, ‘magical’ whenever a beloved favorite found its way to the Virtual Console. But there are two examples in particular that stand out in my memory.

The first was Donkey Kong Country 2. Although I always enjoyed the game as a kid, I never could get over the fact that you didn’t play as Donkey Kong (little kid logic), so I never got very far during my childhood. On at least two different vacations over the years when I couldn’t find my old copy (again, careless kid), I rented DKC2 at hotels, and beat the first world before I ran out of time on the second. These served like teasers for how much I would eventually fall in love with the game, which happened when, you guessed it, DKC2 made its way to the Virtual Console.

During 2007 when DKC2 made its way to the Wii, I finally played through the whole thing, and damn, had I been missing out all those years. I always liked the original Donkey Kong Country, but it really doesn’t compare with its sequel. The level design is among the best of any platformer, and the more I delved into the game on my Wii, the more I fell in love with its (quite unique) sense of atmosphere, and its incomparable musical score, which played a part in the indelible influence the game has had on my own creativity.

So yeah, it may have taken me 12 years, but I finally discovered my full appreciation for a game that was originally released in 1995 thanks to the Virtual Console.

The other big memory I have is (as you may have guessed if you keep up with my blog) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Now, unlike DKC2, I had always loved Super Mario RPG, and even beat it twice back in the day. But I hadn’t played it in years, and it was around the time of the Wii (again, thanks to the Virtual Console) that I began to realize that not every game from my childhood stood the test of time. I craved Super Mario RPG, but admittedly had a little concern that maybe my memories of it wouldn’t reflect the game itself.

“This was basically me when I beat Super Mario RPG on the Virtual Console.”

Thankfully, when it was released in September (my birth month, no less) of 2008 on the Wii Virtual Console and I jumped right back into Super Mario RPG, it quickly became apparent that it was a fine wine of gaming. It had only gotten better with age. It lived up to my memories and solidified itself as one of my all-time favorites. It was magical.

Come to think of it, the Wii helped solidify most of my favorite games it seems. It all goes back to the “rediscovering of retro games” thing I keep bringing up (as well as the fact that the Wii brought Super Mario Galaxy to the world). I mean, as has become a recurring joke here at my site, the current console generation has really made me flip-flop a lot in regards to my favorites. But when it comes to the titles I can safely say have a secure spot on my list, the Wii really played a helping hand in that.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the Wii marked the time when my enthusiasm for games wasn’t restricted to the moment (or the occasional revisit of a classic), but I really began to think more about video games on a deeper level. And yes, a large reason for that was the Wii Shop Channel.

Now, we have to say goodbye to the Wii Shop Channel. It’s legacy may live on through the Nintendo Eshop, but the Wii Shop Channel itself holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers, myself obviously included. Now, ironically enough, Nintendo’s little download service that helped preserve gaming’s past has now become a nostalgic memory itself.

Thanks for the memories, Wii Shop Channel!

Oh yeah, and we can’t forget what is perhaps the biggest contribution the Wii Shop Channel made to the world of gaming: This delightful music!

Tetris Effect Review

*Review based on Tetris Effect as played on Playstation 4. Maybe one day I will experience it on PSVR*

There is a common misconception that video games are an “in the moment” medium, and that whatever the current landscape of gaming is is guaranteed to be its apex, knocking yesteryear’s games to irrelevancy. While it’s true that video games are a bit more susceptible to age than other mediums given both their interactive mechanics and that technology advances so quickly these days, plenty of titles from gaming history stand the test of time, proving that fun and creativity aren’t bound to the technology that presents them. And perhaps no game has better stood the test of time than Tetris. The brainchild of Alexey Pajitnov has remained a touchstone in gaming for over three decades, shaping the puzzle genre and seeing a re-release on any and every platform that’s capable of playing video games to this day.

Tetris Effect – the PS4 exclusive named after the real world psychological effect Tetris can have on the mind – is but the latest iteration of the timeless puzzler. While the ageless masterpiece remains intact, a few additional modes, along with some spectacular visual effects and music, make Tetris Effect feel like the go-to version of Tetris on contemporary hardware.

The core gameplay is, of course, as it’s always been: block pieces fall from the top of the screen, and players have to fit them together into full rows, thus eliminating them and racking up points. The blocks (called “Tetrominos”) come in seven different shapes, and as the game goes on and the blocks drop faster, the player has to think fast in order to continuously complete rows to keep the game going.

There is a new addition to the classic gameplay, however, with the ability to enter “the Zone.” By eliminating rows, you gain energy, and once enough energy is stored, you can enter the Zone at the press of a button. While in the Zone, time freezes, and the blocks no longer fall on their own. This gives the player some time (until the energy runs out) to complete extra rows and earn additional points, and can be a real godsend when the speed really picks up in the late game.

Tetris Effect features a kind of campaign mode, in which the player has to complete twenty-seven different stages in order to complete the game. While all these stages can be replayed once completed, in order to progress in the ‘story’ players have to complete 36 rows on each stage (save for the last, which requires 90). The stages are separated into different ‘worlds,’ and if you perform well enough on each stage, you can complete a whole world without continuing for an even greater score.

“Can I, like, drown in this game?”

While the only gameplay difference between stages is the difficulty, every last stage boasts its own visuals and musical score. And, my word, what fantastic visuals and music they are! Each level is an audial and visual wonder, with brilliant little touches added to the experience, such as each fallen block adding a beat to the music, and a surprise visual effect accompanying the completion of a Tetris (four rows at once). Tetris Effect is a stunningly beautiful game, but its aesthetic wonders aren’t so much a display of PS4’s hardware capabilities (though they are that too) so much as they are used to showcase an almost spiritual reverence for the Tetris experience. This isn’t merely another port of Tetris, but a gushing love letter to the iconic puzzler. Every audio and visual pleasures serves as its most blatant means of worship towards the grand daddy of falling block games, and to give the player that same level of reverence for Tetris.

“Seriously, I want to eat, sleep and breath this game.”

There are a number of additional modes added to the mix to keep things fresh. One sees players trying to eliminate ‘cursed’ blocks by completing the rows they’re found on, with more cursed blocks spawning after an allotted time. One of my favorite new modes will count down a set number of blocks, and after said blocks are placed, a line block will automatically fall into a designated spot, leaving the player to strategize around the inevitable line blocks. The new modes are fun and plentiful, and give a variety of alternatives for when you want a change of pace.

Sadly, there is one glaring omission with Tetris Effect: it lacks multiplayer. Though players can check out other player profiles around the world and see what modes they’re currently playing or prefer to play, you can never actually play a round of Tetris with another player, whether locally or online. This is more than a little disappointing, given that puzzle games are often at their best when they bring out the competitive nature in multiple players (see Tetris Battle Gaiden). And with the fun new modes Tetris Effect brings to the table, it makes you wish the game would have put that same inventiveness to the test for a multiplayer mode (even something as simple as two or more players taking turns in placing Tetrominos on the same board would bring a fun new twist to the formula). For all the many things Tetris Effect gets right, the absence of any kind of multiplayer mode feels like a missed opportunity.

Tetris Effect may not reinvent the timeless formula Alexey Pajitnov created over three decades ago, but it does deliver an undeniably beautiful experience that may just deepen your appreciation for what is the most accomplished of video games. Tetris Effect expresses such a devout admiration for its source material that it’s impossible not to be taken aback by it.

 

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Donut County Review

Donut County is an indie game by Ben Esposito. Released in 2018, Donut County was one of the pleasant surprises of the year, and can be described as something along the lines of an inverse Katamari Damacy. While Katamari saw players bundle up as many objects (and people) imaginable to create one giant mass, Donut County sees players take control of a hole in the ground to engulf everything (and everyone) in sight.

“Sometimes the gameplay takes a break and sees the characters texting each other. You can select the duck button to send a quack to the person on the other end. Just because.”

Taking place in the titular county, the primary characters of the game are employees at the local donut shop; Mira, a human, and her boss, BK the raccoon. Whether or not this shop sells actual donuts is up for debate, as most of their business (unbeknownst to Mira at first) is that BK uses a cell phone app to deliver “donuts” to customers…except that these donuts are actually holes in the ground the slowly increase in size as they swallow more objects, and have ultimately been trapping people underground along with their homes and all of their stuff.

The majority of the game is told in flashbacks, as Mira and BK have been sucked down a hole themselves. The other residents of Donut County recount the events of how they got sucked underground, and their stories are then played out as the game’s stages. All the while, the residents of Donut County try to help BK come to the realization that what he did was wrong (he simply wanted to build up points with the app to purchase a drone). It’s a delightfully bonkers game that really does feel like a little love letter to Katamari Damacy.

As stated, the player doesn’t control any characters, but the hole in the ground. The hole always starts out small, and increases in size with the more objects it swallows. You’ll begin stages sending pebbles and flowers down the hole, and gradually work your way to larger objects, before the hole becomes so large it can overtake houses. It all sounds simple – and truth be told it is – but it’s a whole lot of fun and will keep a smile on your face.

Donut County does find ways to keep the concept fresh, with puzzle elements introduced early on, which continue to grow as the game progresses. For example, an early stage sees the player guide the hole to swallow a campfire, which results in smoke emanating from the hole, with the player then guiding the hole under a hot air balloon so the smoke can help it lift off. And later on in the game, BK purchases a “catapult attachment” to the hole, which can launch specific items out of the hole. You can catapult these objects to knock down out of reach items, which may be necessary to increase the size of the hole. Donut County takes its simplistic concept, and finds fun and inventive new ways to utilize it throughout.

The entire campaign of Donut County should take roughly two hours. So it’s a very short game, which isn’t a bad thing (give me a compact but complete game over an overly long one filled with padding any day). The downside, however, is that there’s not too much incentive for replay value other than to complete the ‘Trashopedia” (the collection of objects you’ve sent down holes, with each item having its own humorous description), but chances are you’ll already have the Trashopedia nearly complete after your first playthrough anyway.

There may not be a whole lot of content to make up for the short campaign, but everything that is present in Donut County – simple though it may be – is undeniably charming and fun. Similar to Portal or (you guessed it) Katamari Damacy, Donut County introduces an innovative gameplay concept, and presents it in so many playful ways it will continuously pique players’ interest to see what’s around the next corner.

There are few things in gaming as satisfying as the combination of fun, original gameplay and a unique, quirky charm. Donut County is a terrific example of just that.

 

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