Retreading Familiar Ground in Animal Crossing: New Horizons

The first and only Animal Crossing game I’ve ever played longer than a day (I borrowed one in college but didn’t have the time to do more than make a character) was the original one on the GameCube. That isn’t a result of a lack of willingness on my part so much as a result of my disconnect from buying new games during college (I think the only new game I got while I was in college was Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword) and my lack of free time as a post-college adult. I’ve always had something come up that make a time-intensive and daily play game like Animal Crossing prohibitive.

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Let’s Talk About Pokemon Go’s Newest Adaptation

There’s a new Pokemon game coming out for the Nintendo Switch, called “Pokemon: Let’s Go Pikachu/Eevee!” If you aren’t aware, it’s basically a remake of the original Pokemon games with a few changes. The biggest ones have to do with wild Pokemon and the player’s interactions with them. In previous iterations of the standard style, you would wander around in the grass until you spawned a random encounter with a Pokemon from wherever the grass is located. Then you fought the Pokemon until it was weak enough to be captured or you defeated it. Now, you actually see the Pokemon walking around and can pick which ones you encounter.  Additionally, you catch them like you do in Pokemon Go. You use a berry if you want to, select your ball, wait for the circle to be the right size, and then attempt to throw the pokeball so it lands inside the circle. Then you either catch it or you don’t. There’s no battling involved, except with the occasional trainer.

This was one of the first things we learned about the new game and it upset a lot of people. More so even than the fact that it was a third remake of the first generation of Pokemon games. The change is a pretty big departure from the core games. Battling wild Pokemon in order to gain XP and level up is such a core element of the game that felt like spending money on this game would be a waste. Wandering around, training Pokemon, and collecting XP has always been a core aspect of the games for me because I use them primarily as a way of shutting my mind down for a few hours or as a way of quieting my mind when I can’t sleep. That’s going to be a lot harder to do when I actually need to look at the game and employ motion controls with any degree of accuracy since you only get XP if you catch the Pokemon. How am I supposed to just cruise through the game with an overpowered team if I can’t dedicate a few mindless hours of battling wild Pokemon to each area between cities or gyms so my Pokemon stay above the curve by five to ten levels?

Thinking about it like that, it made it clear that this wasn’t a game for me. News that has come out since then, about other things that will be different about Pokemon: Let’s Go has made it clear that this game wasn’t meant for me or anyone like me. This game was meant for people getting into Pokemon for the first time. Children who have had to try to pick up the games that are always at least partially targeted toward older audiences, casual gamers who want a quiet couch game that doesn’t involve a lot of meta-analysis, or people who haven’t really played many games before but have started now that Pokemon Go has proven so popular and accessible. It’s a reintroduction to the series that somewhat mirrors the way the first game was simpler than all the ones since then.

For instance, Let’s Go won’t have eggs or breeding. All of the highly competitive aspects of the game that stem from that won’t be present either. There will be no breeding for natures, IVs, or EVs. Egg moves, secret abilities, TM/HMs won’t get passed down through generations to create the perfect Pokemon after a dozen hours of breeding, walking, and hatching. Now you need to catch the Pokemon or send them over from Pokemon Go if you want to try for a specific nature and all of that is more or less random. Sure, there are elements the game has that the originals did not, but it’s stuff like playing little mini games with your Pokemon to make it like you more or handing over surplus Pokemon for candies that boost your Pokemon’s stats (which actually maps pretty well to IV/EV stuff and the various stat-boosting items you could get when you inevitably wound up with more money than you knew what to do with).  Everything they’ve added fits within the relatively simple and less competitive framework of the original game. Your only real competition are the friends you battle against using the system link or the game itself, most of which is pretty optional.

In order to entice the older, more competitive audience as well–and I’m willing to admit that this idea has gotten me interested in buying the game again–they’re adding “Master Trainers” to the game. These trainers are the specific master trainer of one type of Pokemon and you will have to battle them with that specific Pokemon as well. Your Charizard will have to battle their Charizard, and it’ll actually be a tough fight since their Pokemon will allegedly be specifically geared toward fighting its own species. Gyarados has been able to learn thunderbolt for a long time, but trying to beat one that knows that with another Gyarados? That sounds like an incredibly tough challenge that would require me to not only level up my Pokemon, but maximize its potential stats and find a way to give it an unbeatable set of moves. Which is exactly what most of the super-competitive Pokemon players where saying this set of games lacked. I’m not that competitive, but the idea of being declared a Pokemon Master after all these years sounds incredibly tempting, especially for my favorite Pokemon.

I’m still curious about how the game’s going to go once it comes out, but the twin powers of nostalgia and disposable income have convinced me it’s worth buying. I doubt I’ll try to get anyone else to buy it and just make up for the lack of a trading partner with Pokemon Go, but I expect it’ll be a good time now that I’ve started looking at it the right way. This isn’t a remake, it’s a reintroduction, and I think that’s a great thing. I hope more people online start to see it for what it is as well.

I’ll Always Love the Legend of Zelda

One of my first memories of playing video games was sitting on the carpet with my friends while we took turns playing Super Mario Cart. I remember the ease with which I made turns, hopped over puddles, and the ways we laughed whenever we ran into the moles that appeared in a couple of the levels. It was a fun, social activity. It set the foundation for the way I still view video games today, as an activity best done with friends. As I grew, and my friends all moved away or disappeared as such things do, I found myself less and less able to find people to play with other than my siblings. That was always fun, but my older brother wasn’t very interested in playing because he always won and my younger sisters weren’t as interested when I initially needed people.

Around that time, the N64 came out. I wanted one so badly, so I could play the new Mario game I got to try when we visited some of my dad’s friends, but no amount of begging or pleading would sway my parents. It was just not in the cards for us. Long after I’d given up, though I of course still asked frequently as a matter of course, we got the limited edition, see-through green edition that came with the expansion pack and Donkey Kong 64. I was so excited that I woke up at five in the morning or earlier every day during winter break to play it. Donkey Kong 64 was one of my first experiences with a game that was meant to be played by a single player and it was way more fun than I expected. Then, I don’t remember when it happened or who gave it to us, but I got my hands on a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, and my world changed.

I honestly hadn’t expected much going into it. My first Legend of Zelda game was A Link to the Past, because we borrowed it from a friend for a while. My older brother enjoyed it, but I couldn’t quite figure it out. I was five or six while I was trying to play it and I just couldn’t figure out where to go next at one point, so I didn’t get very far into it before we had to give it back. When we got Ocarina of Time, I was excited by a new single-player game of course, but I was a little skeptical that it’d be nearly as fun as Donkey Kong had been. I let my brother take the first turn and I immediately fell in love as I watched him play. There was just something about seeing a child who looked like he was my age fight against evil and go on these adventures before ultimately growing up to continue them. Most of the thematic elements of the game went right over my head, but I had so much fun wandering around the world, searching for heart pieces and Gold Skulltulas before ultimately trying to look up guides online, that I didn’t care about anything else.\

A year later, not that long after my brother and I had gotten tired of finishing Ocarina of Time, we got a Nintendo Power magazine telling us all about the new Legend of Zelda game that was going to come out, Majora’s Mask. I demanded the game immediately, which didn’t get me very far, of course. I had to save and beg and wheedle and convince my parents to get it for the family since no one person could have a game console (there were four of us kids at that point and we used any power we had to get one-up on each other). I don’t remember the day we finally got it, but I remember how excited I was and then how frustrated I was when I couldn’t get through the first part of the game. At that point, due to how much we played video games and how many of us wanted to play, there was a strict thirty-minute restriction on how long your turn with the N64 could be. If you’ve played Majora’s Mask, you know that thirty minutes is barely enough time to get through the first part of the game even when you know what you’re doing and that there’s no way to save the game until you’ve finished. Needless to say, it took a lot of tries to figure everything out so I could actually finish the first part. My brother cheated by getting up in the middle of the night when no one would call him on playing for longer than thirty minutes but, joke’s on him, I beat the game before him using that method.

This game was different from Ocarina of Time, though. I’m not sure if it was because of how much I’d grown in the year between starting Ocarina of Time and playing Majora’s Mask or if it was because the themes of the game more closely matched the issues I was struggling with at the time, but I finally starting to realize what was going on behind the missions and adventures. I saw all these crazy characters who were struggling to deal with the things that happened in their life and they went from being hilarious or weird caricatures to being sad but truthful depictions of the way we struggled to cope in a world were we ultimately have no say in how things turn out. The big moment for me was watching the Zora hero, Mikau, tell his story and then die. I didn’t really understand what was going on and what the game meant back then, but it has stuck with me for over a decade as something that opened my eyes to the fact that lots of people feel powerless and want someone to help them.

I mean, even the hero can’t accomplish everything he wants. He has the power to help other people, to fix some of their problems or at least act in their stead when it is too late for them, but even he can’t find the person he’s been searching for throughout the entire game. It’s a lot like the stories we tell ourselves as we try our best to live our lives. It can be really easy to step in for someone else, to help them fix a problem that feels insurmountable to them but that we have the tools to address, but we often find ourselves unable to help ourselves in the same we. We struggle and fight our way through whatever comes up, but can’t always guarantee that the struggle is going to be anything but an obstacle to overcome. Winning doesn’t guarantee that we’ll get the prize we seek. Or any prize at all, for that matter.

As a ten-year-old kid, I couldn’t have put this into words, but I understood it. I felt it deep inside my heart and recognized it in this game that was a rush job slapped together using old assets by a team of people who had a vision and a plan and not much else. It reach into my soul and let me know I wasn’t the only one who felt this way or had experienced these feelings. It was a revelation and the reason Majora’s Mask is always going to be my favorite Legend of Zelda game. Even with Breath of the Wild’s amazing open world and the hundreds of hours of joy it has brought me, Majora’s Mask will always be the nearest and dearest to my heart because it taught me about depression and how to handle it before I even knew that’s what I had. It set the stage for a lot of the most important mental developments in my life and is more a part of who I am as a person than anything but “stories” as a whole. I’m glad I got to experience it when I did and I’m glad I can go back to visit it and find it the same after all these years so I can measure how I’ve grown and changed.

Octopath Traveler Was Pretty Alright, I Guess

So, I’m willing to admit that a certain amount of my “underwhelmed” reaction to this game is because it was hyped so much by friends and the few advertisements I saw. That being said, the game I was sold via recommendations and the advertisements does not, at all, feel like the game I actually bought. The game I was promised had tons of choices and all this variation and wonder and the game I got has fun battle mechanics and a rather stunted plot with little variety available to me. Because, if I’m being honest, the plot is kinda boring, even for a JRPG. Honestly, I’m still not even sure what the plot is beyond individual quest lines that have nothing tying them together.

Your character has a skill. They use the skill to complete a task in order to resolve a conflict that has interrupted their routine. They are prompted by some minor portion of their personality to pursue some greater task elsewhere. You move on to the next town. You repeat the whole saga for a new character. They join your party. You continue until you get to another portion of one character’s mission and then stuff happens that really doesn’t differ.

For how convoluted the skill crap is, in terms of actually completing the side quests, there really isn’t a whole lot of explanation. If you’re playing through this, I recommend ignoring the side quests until you’ve unlocked all of the characters so you understand what all the abilities are and can figure out how the shit you’re supposed to get fresh ingredients for some whiny-ass baker who can’t go talk to the shop keeper 50 pixels away from him. I mean, c’mon. Literally hiding them all behind these stupid skills that, for the most part, do nothing but force you to tap a bunch of buttons on every character who has the ability to talk? That’s super frustrating!

And don’t even get me started on how many unnecessary clicks there are in this game? Want to sell something you only have one of? First you have to select it, then you have to select the quantity, then you have to push up to say you want to sell it and then you have to tap the “A” button again to actually sell it. This mechanic is present EVERY TIME you have options, most of which mean nothing beyond choosing yes or no on selling something or saying if you’re reading to move on in the dumb little plot bits. Also, while I’m complaining, the writing is super cliché. There’s no real depth to the characters and they’re about as interesting as a cardboard cutout.

Now, all that being said, the game is still kind of fun. The battle mechanics are fun, the powers are interesting, and it’s got a rather smooth grind (in this case, grinding is the act of completing repetitive tasks in order to level up characters or gear in a game) without being entirely mindless. It’s basically a step up from Final Fantasy (auto-attack to grind and win), so about the same as Pokemon. You need to use the weaknesses of the enemies in order to gain an advantage over them, dealing more damage and preventing them from acting for a turn or two. Some enemies are weak to things you won’t have in your party, so it’s usually best to make sure you have a wide range of magic abilities and physical attacks so you can handle whatever comes your way. There’s a lot of grinding that happens early on, unfortunately, because all of the areas around the towns, the main areas you travel through as you pick up the characters, are really low-leveled. It quickly became pointless to fight those battles and it was frustrating to continuously have to run or to have to remember to equip a character’s special skill that lowered the chance of a random encounter (which I didn’t want in higher leveled areas because those areas were worth grinding in).

What makes the game the most fun for me is how easy it is to pick up and put down. There’s a bit of a long loading time when you start up the game, but that only happens whenever you fully exit the game. On a Switch, the only platform that supports it right now, that’s incredibly easy to avoid. I haven’t left the game in a week, despite only playing for half a dozen hours in that time. It’s a great unwinding game because it requires little input from me beyond actually pressing buttons and, if you get enough distance, the cardboard cut-out quality of the characters can actually be quite amusing. Hell, one of them seems like something straight out of a bad anime and I laughed my butt off as his super-serious and grandiose voice actor butchered his way through the lines. I don’t know if they just didn’t give the voice actors the context of their lines or what, but a lot of the emotive responses from this guy seemed a little out of place.

Aside from gameplay, the best feature is the beautiful pixel art of the game. It is a callback to old 16 bit games, but only in artistic style. The trees blow in the wind, the waves shift the water along the short, and there’s a level of detail to the environment that older games could only dream of. You move in two dimensions the entire game, but the backdrop and scrolling as you move around give an amazing approximation of three dimensions. The sound design is also impeccable. The music fits each scene perfectly and even the sort of off-key voice acting doesn’t negatively impact that.

Fun as it can be, I definitely understand that this kind of grindy game isn’t really everyone’s cup of tea. It’s barely my cup of tea. With a price point of sixty bucks, I wouldn’t really recommend it. If you can get it on sale for forty or less and want something to eat up some time, then I’d recommend it. There are plenty of hours in the game, they are just grindy hours with small steps in the plot that are so far apart that it seems like they just drop the stories between plot points (which they basically do).

Also, don’t let the demo fool you. Going through the initial arcs of the various characters gets old real fast. Just make a bunch of different profiles on your switch and play the demo once for every character. That way, you can experience most of the game without actually paying for it.

My Favorite Family

One of the first webcomics I ever read was Brawl in the Family by Matthew Taranto. I honestly can’t tell you which comic number I started on, what year I started, or even how I found out about it, but I know it was one of my “original” webcomics. I got used to my daily routine of typing in website addresses to check for updates with this comic and I still automatically start typing the address for Brawl in the Family, or “BitF,” in some days. Unfortunately for me, the comic hasn’t updated in almost four years. Thankfully, that was a choice made by the creator as he moved on to other things and he was able to give it the ending he desired.

Brawl in the Family started about three months after Super Smash Bros. Brawl, or just “Brawl,” came out and was mostly about the characters from that game, though a lot of the comics featured Kirby initially and, ultimately, they were not restricted to only the characters in the game. They eventually adopted a sort of expanded “Nintendo-verse” to include a ton of Nintendo characters that never appeared in a Smash game and the occasional non-Nintendo character who showed up in something with a Nintendo character. While the comic tends to feature the characters on their own, doing gags or stories involving mostly their respective worlds, the fact that Brawl included characters from a huge variety of games and worlds allowed for a lot of hilarious single-strip crossover gags and huge, world-colliding story lines.

Brawl in the Family started a gag-a-day comic drawn by a man with a dream of telling funny stories about Kirby eating things. There wasn’t much plot to start, beyond the low-key animosity King Dedede, Kirby’s main villain in some of his games, feels toward the plucky pink ball of suction. Even that isn’t a constant as the one-off events of the webcomic eventually paint a picture of a growing friendship between the penguin-esque creature that is King Dedede and the small round master of destruction that is Kirby. There isn’t much plot beyond the individual stories, but there’s tons of continuity. Characters often depicted as shallow caricatures find elements of humanity and develop a surprising emotional depth under the guiding hand of Taranto (which, coincidentally, wound up actually being canon).

Honestly, if I had to pick one thing about this comic that I had to endorse above all else, it would be the alternate canon that Taranto creates in the comics. Kirby and King Dedede are enemies, but only sort of, in official Nintendo canon. Taranto takes that a step further by making them begrudging (at least on Dedede’s part) best friends who have more in common than you’d think at first glance. Samus and Captain Falcon are actually in a serious relationship that’s working out pretty well for them. Mario is still a plumber, Meta Knight used to look like Kirby, Waddle Dee (a copy/paste minion of King Dedede) would be an even more ruthless and awful king than Dedede ever pretended to be, and Waluigi is almost sympathetic. Hell, in stuff Taranto has done since the end of the comic, Waluigi actually is sympathetic.

I’ve always been a little leery of a lot of “fan canon” because of the level of ownership a lot of people display over their favorite characters and intellectual properties. You only need to look at the shit-show that is the vocal minority’s reaction to The Last Jedi to see how an excess of attachment can lead to some really disgusting behavior. Taranto, though, makes the characters his own but still manages to acknowledge that they belonged to someone else first and they belong to everyone who wants to share in the joy they bring to the world. He creates his own canon in the expanded Nintendo universe he’s pulled together but always acknowledges, mostly in little ways but sometimes in big ways, they the characters have a life outside of his comics.

When it comes to the topics of his comics, he covers everything from Kirby eating something weird and turning into something weirder to the delicate balance between hero and villain when molding young heroes. There are abusive men on power trips, women who save themselves, the unending question that is Birdo (seriously, look her up), and a healthy fascination with Solid Snake’s disturbingly well-depicted buttocks, all without ever going beyond a PG rating. That’s pretty impressive for a guy in his twenties (as Taranto was when he created this comic) given that I can’t seem to go a single blog post without swearing all over the damn place. There are comics about pushing kind people too far, the strength of friendship, the redemption of minor villains, and the power of song when it comes to depicting the troubles of the villainous. Because not only Does Taranto go from rough, blue lines and a basic depiction of the characters to a wonderfully shaded comic in high detail using mostly shades of blue, but he creates musical comics and songs for a lot of his major milestones. They’re hilarious, incredibly touching and, if you see the loneliness inside Waluigi that makes him lash out at everyone around him in an effort to garner some attention because no one cares about him even when he’s not being awful, tear-inducing. Yeah, I’ll admit I’m a little over-invested in Waluigi, but Taranto gives him a great deal of tragic depth despite there being almost no canon information about him beyond the fact that he shows up for sports, parties, and racing whenever the Mario crew gets together.

In addition to the stories he creates for these characters, Taranto also takes on a lot of the classic “video game webcomic” tropes and ideas in what feels like an exciting and fresh way. In one, Mario jumps on a Goomba and has to look on from the sidelines as that Goomba’s family appears to mourn him and hold a funeral for their dearly departed. The Thwomps are clever, Koopas throw their own shells, there are countless jokes about all of the weird power-ups Mario gets in some of his recent games, and Link never once speaks a line of dialogue aside from a few inarticulate shouts. Despite occasionally leaning on a lot of the common knowledge of most people who’d find his comic, Taranto does a great job avoiding relying on it to the point that less-versed people wouldn’t get his jokes. If he makes a particularly obscure reference, he usually has a helpful explanation in the text post below the comic and there you can see just how much he loves the games he draws and writes about. Reading this comic for any amount of time makes it incredibly clear just how passionate he is about these games and it is incredibly infectious.

If you’re looking for a completed Webcomic to look through, enjoy gag-a-day styles, and don’t mind wading through less-than-stellar artwork before you get to the really good stuff, I can’t recommend Brawl in the Family strongly enough. You may not enjoy every minute, but it’ll take you on an emotional journey beyond your expectations of a video game webcomic based around a bunch of character beating the tar out of each other.

This Mario Game Was Super. What an Odyssey.

I have a bit of a strange history with Super Mario Odyssey. I got it the day it came out, left work early to play it, and spent my entire afternoon and evening playing it, exploring the mechanics and getting invested in the story. Then I set it down for the night and didn’t pick it up again until last month, at which point I played it for an entire weekend before setting it down and not picking it up again until this past weekend. Which I only did because my roommate started playing it and I wanted to grab a few more power moons since I had fifteen minutes to kill.

This game is simultaneously a ton of fun to play but difficult to pick up. Odyssey takes me back to one of my first major gaming memories, when I tried to get all one hundred twenty power stars in Super Mario 64 on my own, but it feels even more rewarding now since there is no real interruption when going from one power moon to the next. In 64, you got brought out of the level after every power star (except for the 100 coin stars), but Odyssey lets you flow from one power moon to the next with only a small “got moon” cut-scene. The only exception is when you’re altering the map as a result of pursuing one of the ongoing plot points (such as causing an upside-down pyramid to rise into the sky, exposing a sinkhole or beating a mini-boss and returning to the level following the storm that was the backdrop for your battle. The fluidity of the gameplay is important because there are power moons EVERYWHERE, with a wide-range of difficulties associated with them. Some or simply sitting on the top of a tower you need to climb, while others are buried behind quizzes and mini-games or secret doors that are only revealed if you notice every tiny little detail or spend your time attacking literally everything. If there was even the relatively short “get sun” cutscene from collecting a Shine Sprite in Super Mario Sunshine after getting each power moon, it’d be a real drag to collect them since your gameplay would constantly be interrupted.

Mario’s moveset has grown again, which is part of what has made this huge variety of difficulties possible. In addition to his classic air-dives, long jumps, spins, wall-jumping, this game introduces a companion, Cappy, a hat-spirit that replaces Mario’s destroyed hat and gives him all kinds of new abilities a whole range of attacks based around throwing Cappy, like a mid-air jump (by throwing Cappy out and then landing on him), and the ability to take over the bodies of various enemies. This lets you do thinks like turn into a T-Rex, a tank, a Hammer Bro, or do crazy things like create a tower of Goombas that stretches into the sky (my current max stack is 20), all of which is often a requirement to find hidden power moons or progress through the level. In addition to these powers, Mario can also roll around (for the first time in a 3D game) if you hold the crouch button while running, which so far seems like a great way to pick up a little extra speed when going down a hill. It’s a bit silly at times, but it can be super convenient despite the difficulty of steering Mario when he’s on a roll.

These abilities, combined with levels designed as somewhat “open-world,” means that it is entirely possibly to string together move-combos that entirely by-pass the mini-games that allow you to access secret areas or let you avoid lots of obstacles by moving over open-air that you probably shouldn’t be able to cross. If you spend any amount of time looking, you can find tons of creative solutions to the puzzles in the games that bypass using the intended mechanics for something either much faster or something incredibly and ridiculously over-complicated. The inventiveness required to get some of the power moons in the earlier levels does an excellent job challenging the player to think outside of the box when it comes to the usual linear approach to collecting power whatevers in a Mario game. It leads the player to consider the wide variety of options available when it comes to moving through space and then, after the second or third level, just starts dropping power moons everywhere and letting you figure out how you want to get them. The range of difficulties in the puzzles also means that less experienced players can find enough power moons to move the story along while still providing challenges to the more experienced players. It also cleverly helps newer or less exacting players find the more difficult moons by incorporating a hint system and a coin-based system to help you figure out the puzzles. With enough time, any player can find all the power moons.

The biggest downside to me, and the sole reason this game isn’t easy for me to pick up and play is that it almost requires you to play with the Switch on the TV and the two JoyCon in your hands. Because of the huge variety of moves available to Mario, there aren’t enough buttons or button combinations to let the player control Mario with button inputs alone. Some of the moves require specific motions to be made with one or both of the JoyCon. These moves can be reproduced using only inputs, but they are almost always incredibly complicated strings of inputs that combine other moves together to produce a move that can be done by simply shaking the JoyCon. They can also be done using the Pro Controller or the Switch in Handheld mode, but they become incredibly clunky (and create a significant risk of accidentally dropping the controller or system) because the JoyCon are meant to move independently. As someone who primarily uses the Switch as a handheld device, I’m super afraid of trying to perform one of the “controller twist” moves and accidentally flinging the Switch at the wall or the ground, so I only play this game when I’m feeling like lounging on my couch, in front of the TV.

That’s pretty much the only fault of the game, though, and is more on Nintendo for, once again, pushing a frustrating gimmick (I mean, most new games for the 3DS don’t even pretend to have a “3D mode” anymore…). I’d definitely recommend this game to everyone if it was easier to play without the JoyCon separated from the Switch, but I’m only going to recommend it to the TV players. The game is fun, but it’s not so fun that I’m willing to play it with a super frustrating control mechanic.

Return to Celeste Mountain

One of my go-to unwinding games has been Celeste. I really enjoyed playing through it the first time and, while I can’t recapture the catharsis I felt as I watched Madeline work through her problems for the first time, I still spend some time reflecting on how they still apply to my life as I try to get the additional collectibles or set a personal speed record for a level. That’s why I always start from the beginning of the level and, unless I’m doing a speed run, explore the entirety of each level, including talking to everyone again.

This game has plenty of collectibles and even additional levels if you get certain collectibles. These tapes are called B-sides, and you can find one hidden in every level you play through. The rooms they’re in are usually hidden in some way, requiring you to make a split-second decision to alter your course, thoroughly explore all your options, or to notice that a wall isn’t really a wall but a hidden entrance. Each room has a puzzle involving timing your jumps from one set of blocks to another as they switch which set can be interacted with. They’re not terribly challenging once you figure out your path, but they’re not easy, either. That being said, I found it a lot easier to find the B-sides on almost every level than some of the other collectibles.

The hardest things for me to find where the Crystal Hearts. There’s one hidden in every level, though the ones in the B-sides aren’t really hidden so much as the goal of the level, and I found maybe two of them during my first play-through. When I went back and spent more time meticulously combing through the levels, I found three more. I’ve still got two more to find on the traditional levels and then a bunch of B-sides to complete. The Crystal Hearts are used to unlock the last level of the game, The Core, and I only just got enough of the hearts to start exploring The Core, so I’m looking forward to dedicating the time to getting through that level. I’ve already spent half an hour exploring it and finding almost nothing. I got through the first puzzling bit, but it feels like I haven’t gotten that far yet.

The last collectibles are the Strawberries scattered through all but one of the main levels. Like all of these collectibles, they have almost no impact on the main game since only the Crystal Hearts actually unlock anything, but they give you a reason to start exploring and a reason to keep exploring even after you’ve cleared the level. They’re often quick to get and encourage you to do more than just get through the level. Usually, you can find the Strawberries in hard-to-reach, out-of-the-way places that require you to change how you’re getting through the screen in order to collect them. Unlock the Crystal Hearts and B-sides that just require contact to collect, the trick to the Strawberries is that you have to stand on solid ground after collecting them in order for them to stay collected. If you die before then but after getting the Strawberry, it just pops back to its original place.

Thankfully, you don’t actually need to complete the level again in order to accumulate the collectibles you’ve gathered while re-doing a level. If you want to leave after getting that last Strawberry instead of making your way through the entire level, you still get the Strawberry (and your additional deaths), added to your record for that level. While the death total is interesting to see and compare to other parts of the climb, deaths are definitely not something you want to collect. I haven’t found any kind of negative impact resulting from having a bunch of deaths recorded and I’ve reached four figures in the deaths department, so I expect that I’d have encountered it by now if it existed.

I really enjoy replaying the levels. Sure, I’m only racing against my own timer at this point, but the game is really easy to pick up and put down as my time allows. The whole system is super portable and easy to use for short periods of time, but most of the games I have do not work that well in short periods. If I’m playing for only five minutes, I’ve only just finished loading into my Breath of the Wild file. Or I’ve gotten to the first checkpoint on one of the later levels in Celeste. I really can’t emphasize how great the portability of the Switch is and it feels like Celeste was specifically made for the accessibility and ease of use this platform provides. I can save and resume even in the middle of levels without needing to worry about getting sent back to the nearest checkpoint.

A month and a half after I first finished the game, I’ve gotta recommend it again. The levels are fun, there’s so many reasons to keep playing after you’ve beaten the game, the themes are mature, and the plot actually has something difficult to say. If you read, play or watch nothing else I’ve reviewed, you need to play this.

Gotta Catch ‘Em All

I’ve been playing a lot of Pokemon X lately. I’ve finally gotten past the place where I stopped last time, even after falling into the same hole of earning tons of money and XP fighting in the Battle Chateau because I’m a completionist and would rather spend two hours walking in circles to find the last Pokemon than move on and breed it from the evolved form I already caught. The problem is, there’s no real “complete” moment with the battle Chateau, so you can level up Pokemon endless or make sure that your wallet is always sitting comfortably above one million Pokedollars.

The other thing I’ve encountered, since I’m actively working on catching all of the Pokemon these days, is just how many Pokemon there are in this game. I’ve caught or evolved over two hundred so far and I’ve only just gotten the fourth gym badge. If I never caught another Pokemon and just evolved the ones I’ve already caught, I’m certain I’d break three hundred. Every route I enter, and even some of the cities, has new Pokemon to catch and there are few overlaps. Thankfully, I’m an old hand at walking in circles and can afford to just throw Ultra Balls at everything because I just go to the Battle Chateau every day so I can achieve my dream of eventually earning a billion Pokedollars. Specifically, having a billion Pokedollars at once, if that is even possible. If not, if the money counter doesn’t run that high, I will settle for having had a total of one billion Pokedollars. I’ve been tracking my expenses so far and I’m a little over two million right now. Only nine hundred and ninety-eight million to go!

I did the same thing with all of my Pokemon Moon play-throughs, and am currently doing the same thing with my Pokemon Ultra Sun play-through. There’s a lot more overlap in Sun and Moon, though there is also variation in what Pokemon can be found on a route depending on which patch of grass you’re in. If I didn’t use a location guide to find out which Pokemon are available where, I’d have missed a few dozen, for sure. That being said, I prefer Sun and Moon’s methods to X and Y’s. I don’t feel trapped on routes as much since I know I’ll be able to find the Pokemon on other routes, much of the time. The biggest downside trying to catch them all in Sun and Moon is that you never get the customary National ‘Dex.

The National ‘Dex was introduced by that name in the third generation of Pokemon games, Ruby and Sapphire. In Gold, Silver, and Crystal, it was referred to as the “Old Pokedex Mode” but it was essentially the same thing. Ultimately, it is an organization of the Pokedex to include all known Pokemon, listing the Pokemon by oldest to newest. It has been a staple part of the core Pokemon games and they completely abandoned it in Sun and Moon. I was devastated! I was looking forward to compiling all of my Pokemon in these new games only to find out that I could, but I’d have no way to actually track them in-game aside from portioning out PC boxes and figuring out where to place Pokemon that way. Which is why I spent the $5 for the Pokebank because you can do the same thing there, but it is a lot easier since it directly interfaces with most of the games. Only one transfer required and you can access it from any of the modern games.

The National ‘Dex available in the Pokebank is likely to be the only National Pokedex available going forward. Since it will be able to interface with all future games and will help solve the problem of cross-generation trading that was such trouble from the very beginning, I can’t see it going away any time soon. Since it is essentially cloud storage for Pokemon, we’d need some kind of big jump in technology for it to be worth changing the system to use something new.

While it isn’t as fun to use the Pokebank to check my National ‘Dex, I can see the value. Nintendo and the developers of Pokemon can just upgrade the one app and the Pokemon in the cloud can be made available to any device people use to access it. Portability, safety in the face of lost systems or games, and ease of access. I just wish there was some character who would give me things for completing it like there was in all of the games leading up to Sun and Moon. I want my ultimately meaningless recognition and prize, dammit!

Hyrule Warriors is Switching it up

I really enjoyed the Hyrule Warriors game that came out for the Wii U. The console kinda sucked, but the game was tons of fun! Until you got to multiplayer, anyway. If you tried to play multiplayer, one person using the little TV-Screen controller and the other playing on the main TV, the console would be unable to keep up with the demands of the game. There were whole levels and challenges I was unable to complete in multiplayer because the game simple wouldn’t render more enemies for me to fight. I’d be running around the battlefield, all but the last handful of goons defeated, but still four hundred short of the challenge goal because no new enemies would spawn. Story missions became impossible to complete because I couldn’t kill enough enemies to make the bosses appear.

The game was fun enough to play on my own that I don’t regret my purchase, but a lot of the achievements and post-story gameplay wasn’t as fun without a friend to play it with. The version they eventually released for the 3DS was better, since it required separate systems to play and they could share the load this way, but it wasn’t nearly as fun to play on the hand-held system (I’ve got huge hands, so even the larger “New 3DS” can cause my hands to cramp if I play it energetically). Plus, the screen was small and a lot of detail was sacrificed every time they shrank the screen from it’s “on TV” proportions. They also added a bunch of really cool DLC to the handheld version but it just wasn’t worth buying again, since no one else I knew was planning to buy it.

Now that there’s an edition coming out for the Switch, I might consider buying it again. I’m fairly certain my roommate would buy it and, since we’ve both got a Switch, we’ll be able to do multiplayer fairly easily. The screen is bigger and has a better aspect ration for these kind of games, so it’ll be less of a pain to play on the go. Best of all, it has all of the combined content from the previous iterations, all without needing to buy any kind of DLC for it! Though, to be fair, I would not be entirely surprised if they added more DLC for this version. While Nintendo isn’t as egregious about DLC stuff as most other game developers are (their DLC is usually more of an “expansion” than content that should have come with the game), they still do it with an increasing regularity. I just hope it never goes to Pokemon games! Or, maybe it would be better if they turned stuff like “Ultra Moon/Sun” into DLC so you wouldn’t need to buy an entirely new game…

The “Warriors” series of games, now in many different skins, all play much the same. You play as one of many heroes running through crowds of mooks, a few captains, and the occasional boss. You are mighty and they are weak. You kill hundreds or thousands of them and, unless you’re playing on a higher difficulty or are not actually trying to complete your missions, none of them can kill you. You can level up your characters, growing their power and unlocking new moves, using resources from the game and various weapons you get as prizes. The stories are simple and the point is to unleash incredible (but never very graphic) violence upon your foes.

While the original games never really held my interest, throwing a Legend of Zelda skin on them certainly did. You get all of the above paragraph and more! You can plan as any number of characters from across a few different Legend of Zelda games, use various items from the various games to hilarious effect, and do everything to some really amazing metal or heavy rock versions of classic Legend of Zelda songs. The music was amazing, though I’ll admit it doesn’t make for a very good YouTube or Spotify playlist. The music is best experienced as a part of wholesale slaughter and rescuing your friends from different time periods/universes.

If you want a casual game that’s a lot of fun and enjoy Legend of Zelda or Dynasty warriors, I recommend picking up some version of the game. If you want the Switch one, it should be out in the next three months. As of writing this, the scheduled release is “Spring 2018,” so I’d guess late March or sometime in April. Otherwise, grab a the 3DS or Wii U version and get to trotting around the battlefield as you wantonly murder a bunch of mooks.


Moments That Take Your Breath Away

I write about Breath of the Wild a lot. I play it much more than I write about it. I think about it much more than I play it. It would not be entirely out of line to suggest that this game is constantly on my mind. There’s a constant mixture of the desire to play the game more and my memories of past times I’ve played it, churning around in my head. Unfortunately, I don’t get to play it as much as I would like. Writing and general adult stuff, like working out and picking up extra hours to get some financial breathing space, make it difficult to get more than an hour or two in each week. Occasionally, I get the opportunity to binge it for a while, but that just reminds me of the first time I played it.

I missed my chance to pre-order a switch since I was just starting a new job and was too stressed to follow gaming news closely enough to sign up before they all sold out. Same for the special editions of Breath of the Wild. Instead, I spent all of March second camped outside the front doors of a Best Buy only to watch a bunch of shitty pre-order people show up in the last half hour and be allowed to get their pick of the peripherals because any of the people who had been waiting for twelve hours or more even got to step a foot inside. I’m still bitter about that. I got the last Pro controller, so I didn’t miss out on any of the peripherals I wanted, but I was the second person in line. The other hundred people behind me were shit outta luck.

I got home, played for an hour, and then finally went to bed at around three because I was falling asleep despite my excitement. Over the next three days (of course I took that Friday off of work!), I got maybe fifteen hours of sleep and put in over fifty hours of game time. By the end of the third weekend after getting the game, I had it beaten (except for Korok Seeds) and was sitting in the 125-150 hour range. It was amazing. I don’t think I’d ever focused on something so completely in my life. I’m not one to binge games that much, though I do enjoy a good weekend of playing only one game, so it felt strange to realize just how much I’d been playing every day. It still feels strange and other-worldly to think about. I miss it.

When I started playing, the world was new. Every corner held something new to experience or explore. I was constantly figuring out new things like shield surfing, mounting Lynels for a few quick hits, and the fun things you can do with balloons. I felt excited every day to go home and play. Wandering around a world that felt dangerous, new, and so incredibly sad was probably the happiest I felt during 2017.

The game came at a bit of a crossroads for me. I hadn’t been able to get myself and my now-roommates together in time to move out before our lease needed to be renewed, so I was stuck living with someone who was stressing me out for another six months. I’d started a new job that was so much better than my old job, but I was struggling with impostor syndrome. Home life had been stressful because stuff just kept going wrong around the apartment. My depression was at its worst because of the cloudy weather that we had for long periods and winter in general. My roommate was becoming more and more stressful, and the release of the Switch marked his decent from stressful but tolerable to intolerable and misery-inducing. I’m not exaggerating when I say that Breath of the Wild was not only the best thing that had happened to me in almost a year but that it was the last simply good thing to come into my life for another six months after that.

Even though my life has greatly improved since this time last year, I still wish I could recapture the wonder and excitement I felt at stepping into a new world. No other video game I’ve ever played made me as excited as Breath of the Wild did. No other video game has ever felt tantalizingly real as Breath of the Wild did. It made me feel like I do when I read some of my favorite books, but I can’t seem to recapture that feeling as closely as I can when I reread those books. I can still get lost in it, and I haven’t yet gotten bored with running around the world to find something new I’ve never seen before, but that’s different feeling.

I’ll cherish the time I spent with the game when it was new and all I can really do is hope that I can find that again in some other video game. Maybe the next Legend of Zelda. Current information suggests it will also be open world, so maybe I’ll be able to experience that wonder and joy all over again. Until then, I’ll content myself with my books and the few hours of Legend of Zelda I can work in every week.