When Toejam & Earl came out in 1991 it was exactly the sort of game that made me love the Sega Genesis. I mean, I had never seen a game like this on the NES. It was just so... weird. There were these funky little aliens who were into rap music and they went around looking for parts of their ship while encountering even weirder earthlings. It was pretty wild.
I didn't know what a roguelike was back then. I'm not even exactly sure when they word came into use. I think many years later. But it's interesting that my first exposure to roguelikes would be two games on the Genesis of all platforms: this one of course, and also Fatal Labyrinth, which I also enjoyed.
At any rate the roguelike thing is interesting in a 16-bit console game. Here, you walk around as either Toejam or Earl and explore isometric levels. Some levels contain ship parts and some don't. You'll need to find all the parts and get to the elevator to the next level. Easier said than done of course.
The real draw to this game is the personality. The music is great - and though it has hip hop attitude, it's actually way more reminiscent of 70's jazz fusion. I swear to goodness one of the motifs is jacked straight from a Weather Report song. But throw on some of the fusion era work of Herbie Hancock or Miles Davis and you'll have the right idea.
The game is also pretty funny. There's all the weirdo earth people like a renaissance faire wizard, a stampede of paparazzi, cupid who shoots arrows that make you walk with inverted controls, a gigantic hamster in a ball, and so on and so on. You can get weapons like tomatoes. You can overeat and burp. "Toejam is a wiener." The game is bursting with personality. In two player mode you can even high-five.
Unfortunately, actually playing the game in 2019 feels like a bit of a drag to me. It feels, I don't know... boring? I had fired it up while trying to decide if I should pre-order the new game. And I still might, because I like to support physical Sega releases. And also because maybe quality of life has been improved after all these years.
The original game just feels so slow to me. I found myself constantly using the fast-forward feature on the Sega Genesis Classics in-game emulator and that's really not a fun way to play through a game. In fairness, the VHS-style look of it is pretty charming though. The game is also pretty unforgiving. You take a lot of damage easily, and it's game over before not too long. In the modern day roguelike (Spelunky, Dead Cells) this would be motivation for me to trudge ahead. But in Toejam & Earl I'm finding that I just want to stop playing.
I've played Mega Man 2 many times in my life. It and Mega Man 3 are total comfort food games. It's weird, because I have big time love for certain entries in the series - X and X4 included - and yet have managed to totally skip others altogether. I'm a pretty big fan, just not a rabid one.
But Mega Man 2 is like riding a bike. I was actually impressed with my muscle memory as I breezed through each level. My memory says the last time I played this game was in 2008 on the old Gamecube anthology (that had botched controls). If I'm wrong, it wasn't much later than that. But man, I totally remembered each level easily - at least until I got up to the Wiley stages.
Digital Eclipse's work on this collection is fantastic, and they should be paid to anthologize as many beloved franchises as possible. Everything felt spot-on from the original NES release and all of the emulation options were much appreciated. I'll be honest, I totally used the rewind feature during the old disappearing blocks sequences because truthfully, I've subjected myself to that torture enough in the past that I felt like I had earned the privilege to give myself the mulligan.
But hey, guess what? Mega Man 2 is still completely awesome thirty years later. The music is still phenomenal. I've had various tunes from the game stuck in my head all weekend. Oh, and I've always loved that opening - the epic music, the fast-panning camera going up the building, and Mega Man himself with his helmet off, hair blowing in the wind. This game is still an absolute classic.
I have a pretty nasty cold right now. Lucky me, I just got over a nasty cold a couple of weeks ago. Ugh. So last night I wanted to do nothing but lay on the couch. I decided I'd do so with the 3DS remake of everybody's GREATEST OF ALL TIME list #1, Zelda: Ocarina Of Time. And before I even talk about the game itself, I think I really need to give some background on my own experience with Ocarina.
You should know that while it seems like Ocarina is a series favorite for many gamers, it's always been kind of a black sheep for ME personally. I had played the first two Zelda's in the late 80's and adored them both. And A Link To The Past was seriously one of my absolute favorite games of the early 90's. After that I bought a Super Game Boy just so I could continue playing Link's Awakening on a TV. To say that I was a Zelda "fan" would be an understatement. If anything, Zelda was one of the biggest most important game series that shaped my early gamerhood.
So then what happened? Well in the late 90's I had moved on to the Playstation. And actually most of my friends had done the same. I had one weird friend who had decided on a Nintendo 64, and another weird friend who had decided on the Saturn. Anyway, the weird N64 friend would show me the games he was getting and the vast majority of them looked bad to me. No wait, don't stop reading in disgust (yet). I should clarify: I don't mean that they looked like bad GAMES. But my own eye, I never really cared for the way that most N64 games looked. Those polygons and color pallet I guess. I don't know.
Over the years - I'll admit - I've been rather harsh on the N64. I do think that the controller is terrible, though. I never liked that thing. But the truth is that I avoided Ocarina Of Time for many years because I just thought it LOOKED bad (visually) and because I had grown a certain aversion to the majority of N64 games. There were outliers, sure. But as good as Mario Kart 64 was, it was definitely replaced by Double Dash and MK8 for me.
When I did finally get around to playing Ocarina Of Time, it was years later via the Zelda Anniversary Collection on Gamecube. Mind you, this was after I had played Wind Waker, Oracle Of Ages, and Minish Cap. And so I struggled with Ocarina Of Time... partly on the bias I had already built in my head. Partly because I found the camera to be a pain in the ass. Partly because I spent so much time just in that opening village trying to figure out how to leave. I don't remember having much patience for the game and eventually I found myself far more drawn to Majora's Mask on that compilation because at least Majora had an insane nightmare Groundhog Day vibe going on.
So here we are then. 2019. People still call Ocarina one of the best games of all time - if not THEE best. Metacritic says that it's the best reviewed game of "all time." Or at least as long as Metacritic's been tracking. And I know if you were to check any other subjective bestie lists in Nintendo Power or Game Informer or on IGN or wherever else, you'll find Ocarina probably in the Top 10 (or 5?). So fuck it, I'll try again. Because remember I'm sick and cranky so why not?
First up some very preliminary thoughts on the 3DS remake itself. Okay, the game LOOKS so much better than it did on N64. And that's going to help me out a lot. I am struggling with the camera a bit though. My brain wants this to just be something that takes advantage of two analog sticks, y'know? There's a gyroscopic camera thingy that you can use when you Z-target or when aiming or whatever in first person. It.... works, I guess. But my mind has a tough time feel comfortable with when this can be used or not. I don't know. I've just played 3D Zelda games since that all seem to handle the camera thing better so again, I feel biased. But I'll do my best here.
The opening of Ocarina feels like such a slog to me. I'm sure if you're familiar enough with this game then you can just breeze out of the village in 15 mins or whatever. But if you're playing with no guide and you don't have the game memorized than it can take you upwards of an hour to talk to everyone and figure out where to get the sword and shield and all that. Let's contrast that with the opening of A Link To The Past which is exciting as F. Or how about even the original Zelda which is like "hey, here's the world! Go explore!"
But now I'm in the first dungeon which inside the tree. And it's pretty good. It's also bigger than I remember. I haven't actually made it to the boss yet, so I'll hold off on proper thoughts for now beyond saying that it was cool to see the lighting of the stick to bring fire to other torches thing which is still a staple in Breath Of The Wild all these years later. I'm still very early in the game obviously, but at least for now - and now that you know my history with the game and series - for now, Ocarina remains sort of mid-tier Zelda for me. Let's see if that changes as I progress...
...and ten days later I've still not had any urge to fire this game back up. It's actually really weird in a way. I'm a longtime Zelda fan, right? I've played and loved the majority of the series. And this - THIS game is the one that many fans claim is the best in the series. And yet I just can't seem to get into it. There's something about that N64 era that just doesn't click with me. And I sort of wish I could get over that. At least with Majora's Mask there's a more compelling story that can suck me in.
I just feel like I'm supposed to like Ocarina Of Time. And yet, each time I try - often separated by many years to see if my tastes have changed - I just can't. I suppose I'll hang on to this cartridge for now. Maybe I'll try again in another few years. Sigh.
When I was little, my father was famous. He was the greatest samurai in the empire, and he was the Shogun's decapitator. He cut off the heads of a hundred and thirty-one lords. It was a bad time for the empire, The Shogun just stayed inside his castle and he never came out.
People said his brain was infected by devils. My father would come home, he would forget about the killings. He wasn't scared of the Shogun, but the Shogun was scared of him. Maybe that was the problem. Then, one night, the Shogun sent his ninja spies to our house. They were supposed to kill my father but they didn't. That was the night everything changed.
No, wait a minute. Sorry, wrong story -
When I was little, Ninja Gaiden was awesome. First of all, it had ninjas. And second, well... who needed a second? It had ninjas. Remember this would have been right smack dab in the middle of the Ninja Turtles hype. So to me, anything with ninjas was awesome. And I remember playing all three games in the NES trilogy with glee.
Quick side-story (or gaiden, sorry) that I'm embarrassed to admit: When I was a kid I didn't understand that there was kanji in the game's logo on the artwork. So when I was younger I thought that the kanji was the word "the" just sort of stylized. So for a while there I thought the game was actually called "Ninja: The Gaiden." Seriously. I wasn't always this smart.
Anyway, I remember thinking that the animations were so cool in this game. Like the fact that you could stick to the sides of things? Awesome! All those crazy power-ups? Awesome! Those anime style cutscenes? Awesome! It just seemed like a game that oozed cool. And ninjas.
I will say that those cutscenes ARE still awesome. I've been trying to go back and play some old games like a crazed madman lately. We are expecting a daughter this summer, and I know that my gaming time will be diminished, so I've been trying to cram in some classics now while I've got the time to do so. However, I also know that my time is limited to do this which can make my patience run low. Basically, a game has to really grab me or else.
Which brings us to Ninja Gaiden today. Look, ninjas are still awesome in 2019. But I'm gonna need a little more to hold my interest. And unfortunately the gameplay just isn't doing it. I no longer find the controls to be cool. The wall-sticking/jumping feels annoying and imprecise to me. The constant barrage of power-ups is confusing because I never seem to have time to get comfortable with what I've got.
But far more importantly, this game is annoying to me. It's not "hard," it's just frustrating. Getting hit once will often stun you - but not leave you invincible long enough to stop you from taking multiple hits while stunned, like in many other games. People complain about Medusa heads in Castlevania? Well screw that. Have you seen the eagles in this one? What really got me was enemy placement such as making a jump only to have an unseen enemy appear on the other side to instantly knock you into a pit. Annoying. It feels like this game was built around pure memorization of each stage and that kind of game just isn't fun for me anymore. Apparently.
For years I kind of looked at Diablo III with a bit of distant interest. It was a game that I felt like I would totally enjoy, but was never quite the game I felt like playing RIGHT NOW. So I waited. I waited four years until one day I realized there was a playable demo of Diablo III that I could download and give a try. And so I did just that. And then I upgraded to the base game. And I knocked that whole thing out over the course of a summer week.
Diablo III was so damn good in fact that I had decided that playing any more of it should be done with good company. I should preface this by saying that even after all these years I'm never exactly sure what games will click with my wife and which won't. Some of her favorite games of recent years have been pretty random - Dead Or Alive 2 comes to mind when she generally doesn't enjoy other fighting games. But for some reason I just thought she might possibly enjoy Diablo III. I wasn't really sure why.
Even for more it's tough to say what makes this game so special. Is it the seemingly endless grind? The loot? The compulsion to constantly upgrade? Is it the music or the world or the writing? Is it the utter satisfaction that comes from leveling up? Maybe it's the buckets of blood that explode from your victims? Or watching a kill-streak counter keep going up?
It's all of these things and more.
So I knew that introducing my wife to Diablo III would be hit or miss. I convinced her to give it a shot sometime after Christmas. I told her that she'd basically be attempting the story on her own, while I just kind of escorted her, keeping her alive and walking her through the intricacies of the game. A couple of hours later she was hooked. She informed me that on New Year's Eve we'd stay in, make lots of good food, and just play Diablo III all night. So that's what we did.
My wife likes games, but not the way that I like games. She can easily go weeks without playing a game because it's just not her biggest hobby. She'd rather read a book or catch up on one of her shows while I'm usually spitting obscenities at Overwatch in the other room. So it's been interesting for me to see her get so into Diablo III. She actually likes going into menus and comparing armor and weapons and deciding on which skills to augment. It's like for whatever reason Diablo III has been the one game I've ever seen her getting really deep into. For whatever reason it just grabbed her the right way.
We're still playing the game now - slowly. Like I said she can go weeks without playing a game. So every week or two (or three) we'll fire it up and play for a few hours. We're currently sitting somewhere toward the middle of Act II. And because the Ultimate Evil Edition on Xbox One contains a bunch of expansions and stuff, we still have a lot more to get through including the stuff I never saw on my own vanilla solo run.
I will say this, though - Diablo III is infinitely better in co-op. To the point I kind of have lost interest in even playing the game by myself. Actually we just ran through the "anniversary event" this January. The Darkening Of Tristram is kind of sort of meant to be a bit of remake of the sixteen dungeons of the original Diablo. I had been itching to play it all month but I didn't want to bother alone. So this past weekend we finally fired it up and tackled it in a few hours. It was a lot of fun seeing this new HD tileset getting the pixelated treatment and all. We even started new characters just to do that one event.
Oh! And the ability to roll on consoles is awesome. I remember wondering how well this game could really work on a controller but it turns out it's even better this way. Flicking the right analog stick to roll out of the way of an attack just seems so much more natural and comfortable to me. It's awesome.
I know I'm just kind of rambling here, but Diablo III is truly a fantastic game. I imagine we'll be playing this one together for quite a long time...
...and we have been.
I remember one night my wife had dozed off on the couch and I put on some gaming news show. She woke up in the middle of it, squinted at the TV and mumbled "Diablo III is coming out on Switch? Awesome."
We picked up the Switch port along with a second Pro Controller over our Christmas vacation this year and have been randomly chipping away at it again. It's still a phenomenal game. It never gets old and it always sucks us in and makes us lose track of time. This HAS to be our favorite co-op game. The funny thing is we have date nights that are specifically referred to as "Diablo Date Nights."
It's been awesome having another reason to replay this game. And I love that we can share our joy of such an awesome game. Of course it's also incredible to have it running on Switch. It means that I can have the game on console for when we want to co-op, but I can also sit around with the Switch in handheld mode if I want to run a second character for seasonal play.
Please Blizzard, please continue to bring your games to Switch. I would kill for Switch versions of Hearthstone and Heroes Of The Storm and Starcraft II and Warcraft III. And honestly, if you ported Overwatch to Switch I could stop paying for Xbox Live haha.