Despite all of the DOOM, There Isn’t Much Gloom.

I got DOOM for the Nintendo Switch. You’d think that I’d have chosen differently after buying Skyrim for the Switch and never playing it past the first few levels since it reminded me why I never played first-person shooters until I could get them on the computer. But no, I bought it for the Switch. And I’m once again remembering why I dislike playing first-person shooters on a console. I’m also enjoying the shit out of DOOM because it doesn’t really matter.

Sure, the graphics are updated and the game has basically been entirely remade to fit the modern era of consoles and gaming in general, but it was originally played on a system where you controllers your entire character’s movement and aim from a keyboard. The first people to play this game couldn’t look up or down at all and, instead, just ran around until the enemy was centered in their crosshairs. Despite all of the modernization, that strategy still works pretty well. The enemies tend to duck and dodge a bit more, but rapid crouching and very high horizontal aiming sensitivity made it a cinch to pivot and shoot them right in the face. Honestly, the biggest challenge is that I keep swapping my weapons instead of firing them because I can’t stop hitting the right bumper instead of the right trigger. It’s frustrating and literally the first time this has ever happened. There is no game where my bumper is the primary fire of my weapon and I play a bunch of other games on the Switch with mechanics tied to the triggers and bumpers without ever confusing which I’m supposed to be using at any given time.

Beyond that unfortunate habit, I’m having the time of my life. This is my first foray into the DOOM series and I’m enjoying the sheer over-the-top cartoonish level of violence in the game. Doomguy, the protagonist, is an incredibly angry person who punches the crap out of everything I’ve encountered so far. Annoyed at the guy talking to you on the computer? Throw the monitor away. Attacked by some kind of demon thing when you’re literally coming out of a stone coffin you’ve been sealed inside for who knows how long? Better grab what’s left of its skull and smash it on the edge of the coffin. Still super annoyed with the guy who is now talking to you over the elevator’s control system because he seems so smarmily self-assured while all hell literally breaks loose on the mars base you woke up on and you stare at the corpse of one of his soldiers or employees (you can’t tell which because it’s too mangled)? Punch the shit out of the elevator. Want to purchase an upgrade from a flying little robot dude but don’t have the money? Steal it and then punch the little robot dude until he stops trying to get his property back. Punching solves most of your problems and the ones that punching doesn’t solve are solved by shooting. It’s a simple, straight-forward game style that appeals to me when I’m stressed out or exhausted (which has been me since June).

Since I didn’t play the first games, I can’t really speak to how much has changed since then, but the modern game still seems pretty basic. Upgrades are point-based, the path is fairly linear since all roads eventually lead to your goal. Exploring is often rewarded, but you’re preventing from going too far afield so you never find yourself wondering if it’d be better to just focus on getting to your destination rather than running to every corner of the map. There is some hidden stuff, but keeping an eye out for alternate paths and actually exploring everything has gotten me all of the secrets so far. At least, I’m assuming I’ve found all of them since I’ve walked on every surface the game will allow me to walk on and two it tried really hard to prevent me from walking on. What makes this even better is that your character is constantly sprinting, the jump/climb mechanics are incredibly forgiving, and Doomguy doesn’t take fall damage so you’re not penalized for messing up a jump other than maybe being surrounded by demons who want to rip you to pieces.

The enemies are plentiful and annoying, but the health packs are all over the place, armor is readily available, ammo is never in short supply, and the badass melee kills just spew health packs when you get one just right. This is my favorite game to play an unstoppable killing machine dishing out mayhem and death to demons and mostly dead humans turned into quasi-demons that want to use your corpse to summon actual demons. Despite the low-key horror vibes of the game, the unending amounts of blood, and the horrific violence being perpetrated against the demons without end, none of it is really on-screen long enough to make an impact. You just wade through the sea of violence and mayhem, slaughtering demons by the wave and ripping them apart so they heal you whenever one flashes blue or orange. It’s a good time.

It’s a good enough time that I keep accidentally staying up too late playing it. My time is at a premium these days but I still find myself putting off my less urgent writing so I can take the time to play at least a little DOOM every day. It’s incredibly relaxing, really. Even with all of the harsh colors and the anxiety-inducing music (even the friggin’ PAUSE menu has a track that flip-flops between almost silent and pounding drums that make me certain I’m currently being attacked despite being paused in a single player game), it’s still responsibly for most of the peace and relaxation I’ve had. And that’s only possible because I got it on the Switch. Since I can go from unpacking my Switch to playing DOOM in thirty seconds, I’m much more willing to spend my five or fifteen minute breaks on it. Also, if I know I’m going to play it more, I just leave the game running and put my Switch to sleep so it only takes five seconds to get back to playing. It’s way easier to enjoy on the Switch than it’d be on my computer, even if the gameplay is more of a challenge without the precise control of a mouse.

If you’re looking for a game to play, I recommend DOOM, but only if you hate demons and don’t mind excessive violence against the worst things imaginable. Most of the game is demons and over-the-top violence against said demons, so demon lovers or violence haters should probably avoid it. Apparently there’s going to be a sequel to this game eventually, so you should get into this now while it’s still the only modernized DOOM game. Otherwise you’ll be committing to what might be a new video game series rather than just a series of remakes.

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.

Breath of the Wild’s Master Mode is Killing Me

I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this, but I really love The Legend of Zelda and Breath of the Wild in particular. It’s not like I’ve got a Triforce tattoo featuring the Triforce of Wisdom or that about 25% of my t-shirts are Legend of Zelda themed. It’s not like I can tell you just about anything from any of the games or point each of the references to past games in Breath of the Wild. Nope. Not at all. No one could ever guess that I spend a lot of my time thinking about The Legend of Zelda and it’s not like I should probably make The Legend of Zelda a category on my blog since I write about it so much.

With all the sarcasm out of the way, I want to honestly, earnestly say that Breath of the Wild is the game that keeps on giving. Not only did it give me over one hundred hours of fun during my initial run through the game, but subsequent DLC story content and the Master Mode version of the game more than doubled that. I’ve passed three hundred and fifty hours of gameplay on a single file and I’ve created two other files who probably add up to fifty hours total. The reason I created the first one was so I could stream the game on Twitch, because I thought that would be a lot of fun. I was right, of course, since it’s a fun game and having an audience only made it more fun, but it was impossible for me to make myself wait for my weekly streaming time and then I didn’t really feel like playing through it again on stream and in private after Master Mode came out. I wound up deleting that file so one of my friends could play instead.

The second file, though, was started because of a pet project of mine. While playing the game through the first time, I made my way to Hyrule Castle when I only had five hearts (but tons of stamina), in pursuit of a memory (one of the quests you get is to restore Link’s lost memories and one of them requires visiting Hyrule Castle). I had to make my way through what is basically the dungeon before the final boss with weak gear, no health, and nothing much in terms of healing items. While I was trying to find the right place, I got killed so many times it was almost funny. What actually was funny was a sequence of deaths brought on by an unfortunate auto-save. Every time I died right after entering Hyrule castle, I was brought to the same place, five seconds from getting one-shot. I eventually escaped by using the deaths to my advantage, trying different things to quickly escape the Guardians and simply repeating what worked until I made it to a safe place. I wound up with this really cool sequence of dodges, fire-powered flights, wall climbs, and a trip around a wall to a secret ledge. I probably died some fifty times figuring the sequence out, though.

Which is why I decided I wanted to make a “1,000 ways to die in Breath of the Wild” video to put on YouTube. I’ll put it to some kind of humorous music and make it out of segments of me dying recorded with my streaming devices. It’s going to be great. I was originally going to do it with a regular file, since it’d be easiest to power through it, but I decided Master Mode was the way to go since it eventually gets easy to avoid almost all deaths in a regular file with a modicum of skill and the eventual accumulation of good weapons and healing items. In Master Mode, sometimes you just die. A basic enemy can kill you in one hit, sometimes, and I struggle with killing them since they have a bunch of HP which regenerates if you don’t hit them frequently enough and weapons are a finite resource. Sure, you get bombs that are unlimited, but those take time to use without hurting yourself and lots of monsters have unpredictable invincibility frames when they recover from getting knocked around by a bomb. If you take too long to start dealing damage again, to make sure you’ve got your explosion lined up, then they just heal whatever damage you dealt to them. It’s incredibly frustrating, especially when bombs are all you have for an enemy with over seven hundred HP in the Trial of the Sword quests (which pit you against a bunch of tough enemies after taking away all of your gear and items).

That being said, it also means that you die fairly frequently and don’t need to stand around waiting for it to happen. Maybe you choose not to heal yourself mid-battle, just to see if it happens, but I played for half an hour the other day and died six times. Which means I only need to play for another eighty-four hours and I should be good to go! I’m hoping death frequency will go up once I get off the intro area and stop trying to avoid difficult situations. I’m also hoping to find places to try some incredibly stupid and badass stunts like that time I strung together a bunch of crazy tricks to trick a Lynel into running off a cliff to its death or that other time I used a bomb, the ragdoll physics, and four fairies to get down the tallest mountain in half the time it’d take to warp to the shrine I wanted to get to. Each of those involved several deaths, even if most of them got cancelled by fairies.

There’s a lot to say about Master Mode, but ultimately the most notable thing is that it serves as an easy way to rack up deaths for my stupid video. It’s basically the same thing as the standard game, but with a somewhat more difficult beginning. In my main file, I still pretty much effortlessly win all fights, even if they take a while longer to finish because the stupid Golden Lynel I’m trying to kill has seventy-five hundred hit points. Enemies, late in the game, aren’t really a problem so much as they’re a nuisance. I prefer to avoid them, but I’m not put out much if I need to fight them, even in Master Mode where they’ll almost one-hit kill you even with the best armor on. Still, it’s more fun to have the additional (generally small) challenge than to play without it.

 

Victories in Hallow Knight are Anything but Empty

As you know, I am a big fan of the Nintendo Switch. I like to find games I can play on it and, as it happens, most of the highly rated games on the Switch are platformers. As I’ve said before, I love platformers and metroidvanias in particular, which means I’ve had my eye on Hallow Knight since before it came out. I’ve had it on my Steam wishlist for well over a year and, when it looked like the internet was going to be out for a while, I downloaded it during the brief periods when the internet was working. That was the best decision I’ve made this month.

Hallow Knight is basically just another metroidvania. You start out in a basic world with a jump, an attack, and the ability to heal yourself. After that, you slowly unlock abilities that let you progress through the game until you reach an end determined by a couple of factors. You move about in a two-dimensional plane, avoid stage hazards, and fight off enemies using a combination of your basic attacks and unlocked abilities to get around the special qualities of the enemies. When it comes to gameplay, its nothing super special. It’s fun, but there are better examples of gameplay innovation and quality. While it is fairly standard in those terms, it makes it’s mark because every other quality of the game is extraordinary.

The plot is fairly simple, you’re a knight who was called to complete some kind of quest. You don’t really know what, but you find yourself drawn to the ancient, ruined city of Hallownest. There, you find a cadre of characters, all of whom adhere to the “bug” theme your character starts, who make their lives supporting the numerous people who feel called to explore the dungeon or call it their home. One of the first I met was a map-maker who quickly set the tone for there being something a little off about the world and the people in it. As you defeat enemies and rescue these little worm guys, you start to notice blobs coming out of some of the enemies you defeated and then encounter enemies who had giant sacks of the stuff which they fire at you like little orange bombs. While exploring, you meet a few more characters who subtly work in references to a wonderful world lost and the eventual corruption of everyone who stays in the city for too long or who goes too deep. There’s more to the plot, of course, all of which is revealed through little hints or statements by the more peaceful denizens of the dungeon. I don’t want to spoil it, since I was more interested in digging up little nuggets of the plot, themes, and history as I played than I’ve felt while playing any game since Celeste.

While you’re working through the world, you’re making your way through a world of black, white, and grey tones that manage to brightly portray a world of gloom in a way I’d never thought possible. Occasionally, a splash of color shows up as some enemies explode into orange blobs or shoot little orange spheres at you. Occasionally other color shows up in the environment, like when you find a giant blue crystal that, when shattered, gives you temporary hit points. Other times, it’s something like a mine with light purple crystals scattered throughout or the worm creatures you rescue. Each time you see color, your eyes and attention are instantly drawn to it as it shatters the beautiful gloom of the greyscale environment you get used to between blooms of color. Setting color aside, every visual in Hallow Knight is absolutely incredible. The characters feel so alive and even the background stands out in its incredible variety as you try to find your way through the various rooms. Even though everything is notable enough that you never really feel lost or like you’ve just walked through the same room twice, it still all blends together incredibly so you know that the mine and the courtyard with the small palace in it are definitely a part of the same place. The game also makes incredible use of the foreground, having your character walk behind a whole range of things as you move from one place to another, but never in a way that you lose sight of your character.

Despite the fact they fit into the grey-scale, gloomy environment so well, none of the enemies are hard to spot or difficult to figure out. Occasionally a boss throws a new move into the mix as you chip their health down or their attacks start having secondary effects, but they mostly have pretty clear modes of attack and methods of movement that are nevertheless a challenge to work through without injury. Because of the way your character gets bounced back when it attacks an enemy, it can be difficult to avoid falling in the pit full of spikes and avoid running into the enemy as it is charging toward you. You have to push forward, toward the enemy, just enough that your bounce doesn’t send you off the ledge to your death but not so much that you run into them and get hurt. Throw in the variety of enemies and the way they mix them up, it gets to be a challenge to make sure you’re fighting each enemy the right way.

While you’re fighting them, the somber music in the background doesn’t change, though it somewhat fades to silence. When it comes in, it starts slowly, changing from simple environmental sounds accompanied by the wind to a rather simple but sad music that does an amazing job of representing the area you’re currently in. As time goes on, the music adds more, interjecting small sections of brighter notes to contrast with the quieter, more morose ones. It never changes abruptly and, even when I went to listen specifically to the music for this section, it was so subtly and perfect that I almost didn’t notice the change.

If you like metroidvanias and you haven’t played Hallow Knight, you’re missing out on incredible artistic masterpiece of a game. I recommend you pick it up and let yourself experience it at a comfortable pace. This game begs for a slow, methodical play-through and I recommend you play it in a dim room with little other noise so you can fully immerse yourself in the experience.

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.

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.

Platformers Never Fall Flat

As you might have guessed from yesterday’s review, I’m a fan of platformers. When they’re well-made, they can be some of the most rewarding single-player games out there, in my opinion. They provide the opportunity to tell wonderful stories through the visuals and the interactions between characters in the game without getting bogged down by complex levels or difficult controls. For some platformers, the whole point of the game is the controls, telling a passive story as you move through levels expanding your ability to explore as you go. There’s so much variety out there that I can’t cover them all.

While most of my favorite games are not platformers, it is easy to say that it is my favorite genre of game. Ever since I played Math Blaster as a kid, I have enjoyed working my way through levels by solving simple puzzles and jumping from one bit of safe ground to another. The various Super Mario Bros games, most of the Game Boy games I enjoyed that aren’t Pokemon, tons of great indie games now, and so many easter eggs in bigger-budget games.

Platformers have been in the news a bit more than usual lately. With the advent of Super Mario Maker and games like Cuphead, platformers are getting a lot of attention as a result of their often higher-than-average difficulty. In a lot of games the difficulty is adjustable, making the enemies tougher or weaker, or by giving you more or less information for solving the puzzles. Platformers, though, don’t always have adjustable difficulty. Celeste, for example, did not. There are levels you can unlock, though, that are basically more difficult versions of each level.

For a lot of platformers, the difficulty is set by the precision with which you must control your character. There are Mario Maker levels that require you to pretty much get your timing and movement down to the pixel in order to succeed.  Cuphead is notorious for difficult fights due to the shifting nature of the boss battles, which require you to constantly stay on your toes. Celeste requires you to repeat the puzzles until you succeed, trying to navigate around barriers and use the various game rules and moves to figure out how to move through the stage. This includes adding in a few false-leads that require you to fully consider your actions before you take them. Even replaying levels doesn’t necessarily make them easier because knowing what you need to do doesn’t mean you’ll actually be able to do it. I ran into that a lot. I’d get 90% of the way through a screen, die, and then struggle to get past the 50% mark all over again.

I really enjoy platformers because of this. I get frustrated, sure, but it feels super rewarding to be able to zip through a screen by nailing every move perfectly. I’m not terribly discouraged by failure, so it is easy for me to sit there and attempt to pull of the same sequence of moves for five or more minutes if I encounter a particularly difficult puzzle. My main problem with most platformers is that they’re often on the computer and I don’t really enjoy playing them on the computer. Getting Celeste for the Switch instead of my PC was the best decision I made in the last month. Being able to pick it up for only five minutes and then being able to put it down without worrying about accidentally closing the game is invaluable. I own a bunch of PC platformers that I’d probably re-buy in an instant if they made a version for the Switch.

I’m no platformer god. I’m persistent and I learn by doing, which means I tend to think better by making split-second decisions without too much time to analyze. This gives me an advantage because that’s what platformers, especially ones based on momentum, need most of the time. Only a few times has Celeste given me the opportunity to look ahead so I can determine what I need to do and it is the only platformer I’ve ever played that lets me do that. I enjoy the challenge of momentum-based games, even if I often flub the ending of individual challenges because I continuously forget to watch where I land instead of the difficult bit I’ve just navigated. I’m pretty sure this habit of mine accounts for at least half of my deaths in Celeste.

Climbing the Mountain of my Heart

First and foremost, I want to thank one of my readers who contacted me, Ryan, for recommending Celeste. I would not have played it without your suggestion because it wasn’t even on my radar before that. I enjoy platformers, but I’m not very good at staying up-to-date on video game news. Trying to follow everything that’s happening is super stressful. Normally, I rely on my friends for that kind of information, but none of them are really into platformers, so thank you so much for recommending a game I have immensely enjoyed.

Like most indie platformers, the game is fairly simple in concept. The game follows a young woman, Madeline, as she attempts to climb Celeste mountain. The controls are basic, based around jumping, an air-dash, and climbing. The levels are often only as big as your screen and the simple move set means it is fairly easy to figure out how to move through them, but the game is still very challenging because the maneuvers require precise timing and execution. Timing your jumps, dashes, and climbs so you wind up being able to combine them all in a quick string that lets you finish by dashing to the final platform at the right moment, to avoid the floating spikes that are moving back and forth, becomes a real challenge. Dying only set you back to the start of the screen or the last mini checkpoint, but it can become the right kind of frustrating when you’ve died a couple dozen times on the one screen.

In addition to the air-dash, there are a number of level-unique gimmicks and a few game-wide ones that get introduced to add variety and further complication to your play. Platforms that fall or crumble a second after you land on them, bouncy clouds, little bubbles that throw you a certain distance in whatever direction you’re pushing, and even little feathers that turn you into a little orb of light dashing through the sky. Moving spikes, weird black round shapes with eyes, and moving platforms that catapult you in the direction they’re moving if you time your jumps well. All of it comes together to create a wonderful and challenging platformer that offers you a ton of variety.

To up the ante, there are various collectibles spread throughout the levels. Strawberries scattered throughout the level, little mini-game screens with “B-side” tapes on them, and crystal hearts in hidden rooms that will encourage you to leave no room or direction unexplored. The strawberries are just collectibles to incentivize exploration, but the B-sides and the crystal hearts add things to your game. Each level has a second, harder version you can unlock by finding the tapes while the last level, Level 8, is stuck behind a wall you can only unlock with four crystal hearts. Like most good collectibles in these kinds of games, you can enjoy the game without needing to gather them, but they add to the game if you take the time to find them all.

Thematically, this game is far more complex. Madeline is climbing the mountain because she feels like she needs to make a change in her life. As you learn throughout the game, Madeline suffers from some pretty bad depression and anxiety, resulting from something bad that happened to her (it is never specified, but the game hints that it may have to do with a past relationship). She has to learn how to deal with the problems that come up as a result of her mental health issues all while trying to cope with the mountain itself, which seems to be doing everything it can to make her journey more difficult. You can even see her slow growth throughout the game in the ways she interacts with and talks about the other people she encounters.

My favorite part, which hit super close to home, is an exchange between Madeline and Theo, a hiker she encounters throughout her climb who she just rescued from the materialization of her inner demons. They’re sitting around a campfire, talking about what happened and why it is happening. Eventually, Theo asks her a question (I’ve trimmed out non-relevant or spoiler-y bits of dialogue):

T: Why not take a vacation instead?
M: I guess I feel like I need to accomplish something.
T: It sounds like you have enough on your plate already.
M: I guess it is kind of extreme. But that’s how I am. I need something to challenge me. And I can’t just do something a little bit. It’s all of me, or nothing.

As someone whose main coping mechanism is “find projects to do” and who has often said that I find it much easier to commit 100% that hold back, I felt a little called-out by the game. Madeline even uses similar language to describe her depression.

I’m currently climbing my own mountain. Trying to update this blog every day for what’ll wind up being at least thirteen months, trying to work enough to pay of my loans quickly, trying to work out regularly, trying to work on my novel five days a week, and trying to maintain my relationships (romantic and platonic) by staying socially active. So far, I rarely ever accomplish all of those things, but I try every day and don’t give myself a hard time if I can only do one or two of those on any given day. I remember learning the lessons that Madeline learns in this game and this was an excellent reminder that I need to be careful or I’m only going to wind up making my life more difficult for myself.

I have to say, this game came at exactly the right time for me. I suggest you pick it up for its super fun platforming and then appreciate it for the wonderful story it tells in a form that doesn’t typically lend itself well to storytelling.

 

 

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.