Prior to this month, I think the only soccer game I've ever played is World Cup Soccer on NES. And that was because it was a Kunio-kun game. I've never been interested in soccer. I don't know anything about soccer. I don't understand the rules outside of "kick the ball into the net." And yet, these FIFA games get such critical praise. So I went and grabbed a super cheap copy of FIFA 18 and figured, what the heck?
Here's my ultimate history of soccer as a sport... I know that in Karate Kid, Daniel shows Elizabeth Shue how to bounce a ball on her knee. I know that Pele is a guy that was good at soccer. I know that Will Ferrell starred in Kicking & Screaming. I know that my friend Mike coaches his kid's soccer team and he said that the other dads take it super serious.
None of that helps me here. But I have played a TON of Rocket League over the past few years, so I know that soccer is kind of like Rocket League but with people instead of cars. Maybe there's hope for me.
So I started up FIFA 18 about a week ago. It's been a really tough week as it happens. Not to get into it all but we had to put our cat down - 13 years old - and it was really unexpected. So things have been super sad around our house. So it's kind of strange that my down time has been consumed by a video game about a sport that I know and care very little about.
But here's what's made it fun for me...
You can start a career as your favorite pro striker. But I don't know any. Or you can make a character, but I have no fantasies about being a great soccer player. But y'know who does like soccer? My brother-in-law, James.
Now this is super funny to me, but not anyone else reading this because you don't know James. But yeah, I'm playing FIFA 18 as my brother-in-law, which is hilarious to me. One time a couple of years ago, me, my wife, my sister, and James went up to New York and I was telling James about the movie Red Sparrow. On the bus ride home he decided to watch Red Sparrow on his cell phone, and I look over, and he's switching between Red Sparrow and the world cup and my mind was blown. I remember thinking, "what is wrong with this guy? Jennifer Lawrence is on his screen and he's looking at soccer scores?"
Oh, the other thing you need to know is that James loves bagels. One time, we helped my mom move and she got bagels for us all, and I watched James eat THREE bagels that morning. It was nuts. But the weird thing was, he wouldn't touch the Asiago bagels. Nope. This dude only likes PLAIN bagels. It's like... how does that work? You're into something, but only the most basic form of it? James is hilarious.
And so here begins the tale of Jimmy Bagels. He graduated from college - oh, yeah, we went to college together in real life, and I think I did a lot of things to embarrass him in college. He could tell you stories, but I'm the one writing. ANYWAY, in FIFA 18, Jimmy Bagels graduated from college and then instead of going to law school he was drafted by the New England Revolution.
So far things are going well. I played through the pre-season as Bagels and it was on the easiest difficulty since I'm so new at this. It was way too easy, so I kicked up to Amateur for the start of the season. A few games in, I think it's probably still too easy. I'm winning by blow-outs and there's no real challenge. But again, I'm still learning the ropes.
The weird thing is I did something I'd never expect myself to do - I googled the rules of soccer so I'd know why I kept getting offsides violations. So now I know how that works.
And yeah, weirdly I'm having a really good time with this game. It's solid. And it's genuinely exciting when Bagels gets a goal. I'm weirded out by the fact that I'm enjoying soccer as it's maybe the only major sport I've never cared about.
I've learned that if you kick the ball towards the net, and an opponent knocks it into the net, it doesn't count as a goal for you. Lame. Jimmy Bagels needs to put up some numbers. Those would count in Rocket League!
No matter. It seems that Blackburn Rovers have signed a one year loan contract to have young Jimmy Bagels come play across the pond. And while they're a minor, they still expect way more out of him than the NE Revolution ever did. There's more pressure, but it's making things more exciting.
It's strange to me. I've never cared about soccer. And yet, this game has me fairly hooked.
When I was in sixth grade, my buddy Kenny had a sleepover party for his birthday. I remember it was Kenny, me, my good friend Ted, and this kid Robert, and we just played NES games all night. And this memory comes back to me because it's Super Dodge Ball that stands out in my mind as the game we spent the most time on.
In hindsight, it seems weird that a dodge ball game would keep us so interested. And really, why would anyone buy a dodge ball game? But I'm glad Kenny did. Coincidentally, it was at Kenny's house that I first played River City Ransom as well. I don't know if HE knew this at the time, but both of those games were localizations of Kunio-kun games.
Though I did eventually play the GBA sequel, it's been a long, long time since I've gone back and revisited the original. And to be honest, I had some worry that the game wouldn't hold up. But, much like my recent run through of River City Ransom, it turns out that Super Dodge Ball is still a lot of fun. It's a little simple, sure. But it's still a lot of fun.
The rules and controls are all easy to pick up right away. In that sense, it's an easy pick-up-and-play party game. Maybe that's why it struck us so much as kids.
It's also a little on the easy side, at least on the default difficulty. I was able to breeze through the championship - including the "true" last boss, your own shadow team - in a single sitting.
But man, I really do love the Kunio series.
I stumbled upon Puzzle Fighter completely by accident back in 2009 or so. Back then, Gamestop was phasing out their GBA supply, and I'd often go to stores and ask to look through their boxes of stock. It was an insane time where you could get ALL of the big hitter games for under $10. And you could impulse buy a wide array of weirdo things that looked interesting for just a couple bucks.
So when I saw a Capcom game called Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo for under $5, how could I pass? It sounded weird enough to be worth a try. And boy was I right. This became my go-to GBA puzzle game. And over the years I've played (I think) every single version and re-release of this one. (FYI, the title of the game is sort of a joke. There was no Puzzle Fighter I. Although there was a game released simply titled "Puzzle Fighter" in 2017... on mobile, and it was delisted in 2018. WHY the heck didn't Capcom reboot the series for Switch instead?)
At any rate, this game is pure comfort food for me. I fired it up last night and blew through the arcade mode in a single credit. Then I decided to delete all save data and go through the Street Puzzle mode, which is a series of challenges - think of it like a campaign. That mode is more challenging, and should keep me busy for a couple nights anyway.
If you don't know, this is a game about dropping gems to form bigger gems and then use explosive gems to set off big chains. It's kind of hard to explain, but super awesome. I'd also note that Crystal Crisis - a somewhat recent Switch game - is a complete and total rip-off of Puzzle Fighter except it uses indie characters instead of Capcom characters. Crystal Crisis is not as good, though. It lacks the great music, the charming sprite work and satisfying FEEL of dropping/exploding gems. It also lacks Morrigan.
Apex Legends first launched back in 2019 on PC and Xbox One, a mere four months before I'd become a dad. At the time, I was still gaming on my Xbox fairly regularly and I remember booting it up one night - around midnight, because I'd still stay up super late to play games back then. I played just one round of Apex Legends. I had no idea what I was doing. My teammates were luckily polite and tried to be helpful, but did at one point sternly tell me, "we can't keep reviving you." I understood. I was dead weight. And as the match came to a close, it was just me and one enemy remaining. We did a stupid little gun dance and I pulled out a victory. My teammates were ecstatic. I was relieved.
It was a good enough first impression of the game, but not something I wanted to come back to soon. At the time, battle royales were not something I could enjoy very much. I bounced off PUBG and Fortnite pretty hard back then. And though my one game of Apex Legends was kinda sorta fun with an asterix of stress, it wasn't really my kind of game.
Really, I only checked it out because it combined the battle royale with a sort of Overwatch aesthetic. The idea was that instead of everybody being the same generic fighter with a cosmetic skin, you chose from a limited roster of specific heroes - each with their own unique abilities. It was an interesting variant on the genre for me. But after that one game, I just stuck with Overwatch.
Fast forward two years, and things have changed. Yes, I still love Overwatch. Hard. But I've also spend a lot more time with other sort of overlapping games. I've begrudgingly spent way too much time playing Fortnite for instance. And Splatoon 2 - a game I didn't connect with when it first launched - is now considered one of my top tier Switch games.
I figured that in 2021, a game that combines the battle royale nature of Fortnite with the heroes and first person view of Overwatch should be my bread and butter. So I downloaded Apex Legends upon its Switch launch and came away with two new first impressions:
1. I do like the game.
2. I'm terrible at it.
The game took a considerable amount of time to download, so I probably only got to play for an hour or so. But yeah, I'm not good. I played through the tutorial and then like maybe a half-dozen matches, and I never got a single kill, which feels embarrassing. I mean, I did get some damage done, and even an assist, but that's it. At any rate, I think I like this game enough to stick with it a while and see if I can improve.
Having played a bit more, I'm starting to the hang. However, it's hard for me to see Apex Legends sticking the same way that Overwatch, Splatoon 2, or Fortnite have with me. Let's break it down for a second...
Overwatch and Splatoon 2 are huge ones for me. I love both games dearly. And the common denominator there is that they are team based, but not just battle royales. Instead, they offer up maps with defined win-states. In that sense, I think of them as more like a sport. And I think that's what the real grab for me is.
As far as battle royales go, it's really hard to compete with Fortnite. And as dumb as this sounds, I feel like it's all the crazy licensed inclusions that keep me coming back to it. There's something to be said about a game where depending when I log in, I might be breaking into Stark Industries or Dr. Doom's mansion. Or I might team up with The Joker and Poison Ivy. Or I might get hunted by a Predator or a Xenomorph. Ultimately, the gameplay in Fortnite might veer on the side of shallow, as it's always kill or be killed. But it's presented in such a fun toybox kind of way that it never gets too serious, nor too stale.
That said, I'll most likely give Apex Legends a bit more of a chance, but when keeping in mind the other competitive games I could continue playing, it's kind of hard for me to see myself replacing any of them with this one.
Here's my proof that Apex Legends is not clicking with me...
I turned on my Switch last night with the intention of giving the game another go. Then I remember that there was a "Pachimarchi" event going on in Overwatch. Pachimari is a little onion-octopus thing if you don't know. He's sort of a mascot for the game. Super cute. We have a stuffed one that my daughter loves. ANYWAY, I fired up Overwatch instead and was immediately reminded why I love Overwatch so much. I played that instead and just thought about how Apex Legends didn't suck me in nearly the same way. And this was an event that offered onion-octopus cosmetics. So I mean.
After getting burnt out and completely disappointed with Bravely Default II, I decided to switch gears completely and play something totally different. And what's more different from a slow, systems heavy JRPG than Mortal fudging Kombat? Nothing!
It's hard to believe, but we haven't gotten a Mortal Kombat game on a Nintendo system in quite some time. The last one would have been Armageddon on Wii going way back to 2006. Though we did receive Injustice: Gods Among Us on Wii U, which kind of counts, given the DCU crossover stuff. But it's a bummer that Mortal Kombat X and Injustice 2 didn't find their way to Wii U or Switch. And given such a long lull, it was actually quite the surprise when Mortal Kombat 11 was announced for Switch.
Now I'm far from the biggest Mortal Kombat fan, but then again, looking at the list of games, I did play ALL of the games since Armageddon on other platforms... Mortal Kombat Vs DC Universe and "9" on PS3, X on PC, and Injustice 2 on Xbox One. So maybe I am at least more than the casual fan that I thought I was. But I am selective. The original game is impressive for the time, but also pretty janky. Really it's Mortal Kombat II that would be my favorite of the early games. And for newer titles, I really enjoyed X and Injustice 2.
At any rate, Mortal Kombat 11 seems like a quality release. The fighting is sound, assuming you like MK games. Truth be told, I tend to lean way more towards Smash and Street Fighter these days. And even the Injustice series is a bit more endearing to me than MK given the DC characters. But, I can't help but have some nostalgia for this silly mess of a series.
There's a wealth of content here. I started with the tutorial mode, and didn't play through all of it, but found it a good starting point for someone who's been out of the MK mix for a while.
Currently I'm playing through the story mode, which I really like. I have to say that when I was younger and super into fighting games, I would have ignored a story mode and jumped right into playing online with friends. Nowadays, I really appreciate the single player content. And the story is ridiculous in an awesome way. It's like, y'know how there's so much 90' s nostalgia happening in pop culture now? Well, they've figured a way to merge the 90's with now, and the juxtaposition is solid. (Spoiler: it's time travel).
So far, my favorite characters to use in story mode have been Cassie Cage, Scorpion, and Kung Lao.
I was pretty excited about the announcement of Bravely Default II. The first game in the (loose) series would technically be Final Fantasy: The 4 Heroes Of Light on DS, which was a spin-off thing that served as a sort of spiritual sequel to Final Fantasy V. In a time when modern FF games were going off the rails with emo haircuts and flashy 3D visuals and action elements, The 4 Heroes Of Light was a conscious throwback to the SNES days of turn based gameplay and DEEP systems meant to be broken.
Following that was Bravely Default, and then Bravely Second - both on 3DS which furthered this experience. And then there was Octopath Traveler, which doesn't seem to really be part of this series at all. But if you've played it, and you've witnessed the battle system, then you know it could have easily been released as Bravely Octopath.
In my mind, the Bravely series is kind of up there with the Xenoblade series. They're modern RPG's with a very old school mindset. They're meant for people who want to dive deeply into the mechanics; for people who are okay with playing an RPG for dozens of hours before they really even understand how things fully work.
I ended up pre-ordering Bravely II, because frankly I thought my daughter (under 2 yrs old) would like to play with the free coasters. I was right. She's already chewed one of them up pretty good.
I'm about 4-5 hours into the game now, and to be honest, I'm not sure how I feel about it.
On the one hand, it's exactly what I'd expect from the previous Bravely (proper) games. The systems are DEEP and fun to play with. Take the job system for example. I've only unlocked like five or six jobs to choose from so far, and they're a blast to play with and mix and match. The battle system where you can Brave (advance turns) or Default (defer turns) remains just as compelling as ever. The system where you can send out a boat to "adventure" for you (IE: earn you free loot) while you're not playing is a fine addition.
There are cons. Chief among them is the story, which I just can't seem to care about. I mean let's be real, the Bravely games are inherently old school, which general means cliches. Right out the gate, The 4 Heroes Of Light was in itself sort of a cliche based on the original Final Fantasy. And that's fine. But the last JRPG I got heavily sucked into was Dragon Quest XI over the winter, and going from a game that has some of the finest writing and story beats I've ever played to this is kind of jarring.
But whatever. I can skip whatever dialogue I want, so that's no biggie. The problem I'm really having is the intense unbalance of difficulty. The developers HAVE made it pretty transparent when you've grinded "enough" given that enemies will run away from you when you're overpowered. But that said, I'll find myself cruising along a dungeon only to find that the end-boss is WAY above my level and can crush me in just a few turns. It doesn't feel organic to me as you're never REALLY sure when you're ready to go for it.
The boss I'm at now is one that plays all these musical spells to buff his minions and he's just completely wrecking me and I have no idea how to counter most of it. It's to a point where it feels like the game halted to a stop and said "okay, time to stop being fun." Which is a bummer.
There's a lot to like about this game, but I feel like these curveballs are pretty damning. Take Octopath Traveler as a comparison. That game had some of the same issues, but somehow felt a little more balanced. Probably because the game did kind of scale with you, as you were free to tackle things in a different order and with different characters.
I don't know that I want to call it quits here yet, though. I mean I really did have high hopes for this one. High high hopes. That and there's two things I've heard about that I've yet to see...
1. There's apparently a card game you can unlock, and it sounds fun to me.
2. There's a Gambler job class that sounds to me like it could completely break the game in interesting ways, much like the "dances" is Octopath did.
... so we'll see. I'd really like to mess with both of those things, so hopefully I can pull it together long enough and see if this game can really redeem itself for me. Maybe it's just that this early patch of the game has bosses more difficult than they need to be.
I went ahead and grinded around that same dungeon for about an hour. I still wasn't sure I was ready to take on Orpheus, but I figured it was now or never, Bravely II. I WAS able to beat him, and... no real fan-fare. Just, alright, now the game can continue.
The amount of time I needed to spend grinding to get through this section has definitely turned me off a bit. And I had kind of sworn to myself that if I didn't beat Orpheus last night, then that was it - I was done. So I guess the game is getting the pass, and I'll continue on.
It's a very weird feeling I get playing this one. Let me use two completely different examples... Back when Shining Resonance came out on Switch, there were very few new JRPG's to choose from, so I was pretty excited to get that one. I ended up playing it for quite a while, but it was a pretty BAD game. It wasn't especially fun or interesting. I knew this, but I played on because I really wanted to be playing a new JRPG on my new Switch. Jump ahead, and when I think of playing Dragon Quest XI, by this point there were tons of JRPG's to choose from. But, my goodness, it was one of the GREATEST I'd played in a long, long time. I was thrilled to play. I looked forward to jumping back in whenever I had spare time all through my winter vacation.
Bravely II falls firmly between these two extremes. All of its systems make for a very compelling experience. However, the story is blah and the actual momentum of the game is poorly executed. After six hours I'm still in the first chapter of the game - and this is all while avoiding most side quests. Apparently there are six chapters, so I'm still very early in the game after six hours. I think that the two things that really interested me here (the card game, and the Gambler job) are both HOURS away from me still. It's tough for me to know that I may well need to play another 10-20 hours before even seeing the stuff I want to mess with.
We will see how this goes, but as of right now, Bravely II is pretty steadily losing my favor. That's always a bummer when you've been looking forward to a game for a year.