I always thought I SHOULD like the Fallout series. Its latter day iterations are basically sci-fi Elder Scrolls, right? But here's the thing - even though I'm a big sci-fi fan, what really appeals to me is cyberpunk stuff and robots and things like that. I mean sure I LIKE Star Wars, but what really scratches my nerd itch is the works of Philip K Dick. Oh, and also, I've never had much interest in the post apocalyptic worlds of Mad Max and all that stuff. So... yeah, Fallout has never grabbed me.
Years ago I attempted to play some of the original PC game and I bounced off it hard. Later I picked up Fallout 4 on Xbox One because I had heard it took place in New England. I never even played the darn game. And I sold my Xbox stuff around the time my daughter was born. I suspect I MIGHT like the Wasteland games as they're turn based strategy. Right? I think?
Anyway, Fallout Shelter is a spin-off mobile game that was ported to Switch. And I think it's fairly popular as far as mobile games go. I've been reading the HG101 book, Epopee which collects interviews with French developers, and this title came up. It's free so I gave it a go over the weekend. I think I put in a couple of hours and... meh.
This game is SUPER slow unless you want to spend money. A true mobile F2P cash-cow kind of game. Much of my time with Fallout Shelter was waiting for something/anything to happen. And I think that if you don't want to spend money on it (I don't), then this game is meant to be played in ten minute bursts, or maybe during commercial breaks when you're watching TV. But sitting and focusing on it like a true blue full featured game? Not so much.
I've played and loved a lot of free games over the years. Games like Lightseekers and Fortnite and Tetris 99 all come to recent mind. These are games that can over dozens of hours of enjoyment without costing you a dime. Games so good that you might consider tossing money to the developers after 50 hours because - wow - you feel like they deserve it for all the fun you've had. Fallout Shelter does not do this for me.
The Wonder Boy series has always been a big confusing mess. The first game in the series was also called Adventure Island. And then there were Wonder Boy sequels and Adventure Island sequels that were all totally different things. Then there were weird localizations and spin-offs. There were two different Wonder Boy III games. And then the Wonder Boy games also became Monster World games. It's daunting.
One of the two Wonder Boy III games was The Dragon's Trap, a 1989 Sega Master System game. And that one was remade in 2017 and received a lovely release on the Switch. I can't really undersell the love that was put into this remake. Though it's now in widescreen, it's like a 1:1 conversion. You can literally hit a button at any time and switch between the updated graphics and the original SMS graphics and it's flawless. Although the game utilizes in-game saves, you can still use your 1989 passwords if you so choose. It's nuts.
Though I did click between the retro graphics occasionally for the sake of comparison, it's really hard to get away from this new hand drawn art. My goodness. This is one beautiful game. Like, I get the awe that Cuphead inspired. But I feel like Dragon's Trap was overlooked when it comes to sheer gorgeousness.
I've oft said that the original Phantasy Star on SMS was way ahead of its time as it did things that most JRPG's at the time didn't do. I'd point to Dragon's Trap as sort of similar as it's a pretty big Metroidvania with lots of hidden stuff and a BUNCH of different characters to play as. See, Wonder Boy has been cursed and each new section of the game has you playing as a different animal with different powers.
You start as a dragon who has a powerful projectile attack and no shield. Then you're a mouse who is tiny and weak, but can climb walls and fit in small cracks. The fish dude can swim (duh). The lion has a large swinging sword that can hit above and below him. The bird can - guess what? - fly! Late in the game you'll find areas where you can switch characters on the fly, which is helpful.
I've been playing this one in most of my down time this week. And it's been really solid. I've stuck with this more than any other Wonder Boy game I think. And while the Shantae series is a pretty obvious spiritual successor, it's cool to see a renewed interest in Wonder Boy with a couple recent remakes and the honest to goodness Monster Boy game.
At this point, I've made it to the last castle in the sky, but I'm getting my butt handed to me. I know I'm underpowered, and have some grinding to do for better gear, though I don't know if I'm really in the mood to do that. I've had a lot of fun with this game, but I'm not sure if I'll see it to the end just yet.
I'm hooked. Straight hooked. Slay The Spire is an incredible game.
I've been doing this sort of deep dive into high-rated Metacritic games that I've overlooked lately. And I know - you can go on and on about the flaws in Metacritic's system; the foolishness of trying to quantify a game's worth; the problems that are inherent in the gaming industry's reliance on SCORES. But when I'm browsing Metacritic and find a game like Slay The Spire - a game that I managed to grab a cheap copy of and then lose oh so many hours to... well, that's worth something.
Now, I've been a pretty longtime fan of video game card games. There's no secret there. I spent several hundred hours over a series of years playing Hearthstone. Though I was never really that great at it. I'd argue that Pokemon TCG on GBC is one of the BEST Pokemon games ever released. Card Fighters Clash is by far the best Neo Geo Pocket Color games. My point is, I'm no stranger to the genre. Heck, I've even dabbled in other, lesser card games.
The last card game I got really into was Lightseekers - a freebie on Switch that had the interesting catch that you could buy actual real word paper cards, and then add them to your digital copy of the game. It was a neat hook. And it was a competitive game. My apprehension with Slay The Spire is that it's a single player card game, and I don't know. That feels antiquated in 2021. But apparently not the case, because I LOVE this game.
Let me tell you what makes this game interesting: it's a roguelike. That is, there's no massive deck building here. Every run, you start with a small and weak deck. It's your job to build (and cull) a deck based on drops. So unlike other games where you're constantly trying to create this master deck that's perfect, in this one you're doing it in real time - you're building the best and most streamlined deck you can, based on what's offered to you. It's a brilliant hook.
There's four characters (deck types) to choose from, and I've dabbled with the three that are unlocked at the start. So far I'm sticking with the Ironclad, and I've actually just now got a handle on how he works best for me. I've made it to the boss of Act 3, which to my understanding is the boss right before the final boss. So I feel like I'm making excellent progress, and that a win is actually in sight.
This is a game that's so good that I find myself thinking about it while driving. Like, hmm, have I tried THIS yet? I should try to get such and such a card and hope that I can then use it with this other card. That's the sign of a good game. And I feel like if I can finally get a win, I'll still want to keep playing with other characters. Because this game is just so brilliant.
It took me 30 hours to beat Slay The Spire. This was spread out over WEEKS of squeezing in gaming time when I could. It's been kind of a rough month. But I'll tell you this: I adored every moment of playing this game.
I had gotten close to beating it with the Ironclad. I felt like his health regeneration relic made him "easy mode," but that wasn't the case. I finally hit a wall, and switched over to playing with the Silent. And that just changed everything.
With the Silent I worked out a strategy that really worked for me. My goal was to take only cards and relics that accomplished two things: (1) gave me block, and (2) gave me poison. From there, I'd constantly be throwing up barriers and adding more and more poison to enemies. It was thrilling to watch that poison effect compound. Each round I'd watch as poison would strip away 2 HP, 7 HP, 15 HP, 36 HP and so on. It was awesome.
Most of my runs ended the same... I'd breeze through the first act, struggle through the second, and then get killed at the second boss (floor 33).
And then I had this one glorious run where it felt like everything went my way with my poison-block strategy. I breezed through Act 1, getting in as many battles as I could to reap the rewards. In Act 2, I juggled battles with shops and ?'s and campfires as needed. And then in Act 3, I found the "safest" path I could to the end boss, only to find that I was so prepared with a deck full of poison and blocks. The boss barely caused me any concern and I watched those sweet, sweet credits roll.
This game rules, hard. It bumped its way up to my 7th most played Switch game, trailing Splatoon 2. That's major compliments right there.
I should probably get this out of the way now: I don't particularly like 3D platformers. I don't hate them by any means. But I don't go gaga for them. I'd much rather play a 2D platformer. I'll take Super Mario World over Super Mario Galaxy any day of the week. I had a buddy in high school who was really into Mario 64. I'd always ask him if we could play Mario Kart instead. I thought Mario Sunshine was pretty fun, but I definitely preferred Luigi's Mansion.
A few years back I was binging 3DS games and played through New Super Mario Bros 2 and Super Mario 3D Land, back to back. I thought the former was pretty great and the latter was just okay. I tell you all this so you know where my head is at. I don't hate these 3D Mario games, but I don't love them either.
Anyway, just after Christmas this year I decided to use some gift cards and finally jump on that Wii U bandwagon. To my happy surprise, the refurb console that I got from Gamestop was apparently a bundle that came pre-installed with several games. One of them was Super Mario 3D World - a game that I most likely would not have bought on my own; but one I'd happily play if I were given a free copy. So, the planets had aligned.
I started playing Super Mario 3D World on New Year's Eve after we finished watching Blade Runner (hello, 2019!) and while we were waiting for Chrissy Teigen to start counting down the ball drop. Mostly, I wanted to test using the Wii U tablet as a portable console - which stupidly enough involves me lugging the actual Wii U console out of my game room and plugging it in to a spare electrical outlet close enough to where I actually want to use the tablet. It's not pretty, but it works. And the game was a fun enough way to kill some time. The little cat suit is cute, I guess.
I didn't think about the game again for weeks. But this past Saturday I found myself battling a nasty head cold and home alone one Saturday morning. What to do? Oh! I could actually play the Wii U on a TV for once! So I fired up Super Mario 3D World and poured myself some coffee. I was going along just fine. It was the usual 3D platformer experience. I didn't love it; I didn't hate it. But it was cute and everything and those Toad levels are their own little challenge and I was having a decent enough time.
And then it happened.
Y'know what I do hate in a platformer? Being blocked from starting the next level because I haven't collected enough THINGS. You see, you need to collect green stars in each level and eventually, there will be levels that you can't move on to because you don't have enough green stars. So now you've got to go back and replay older levels to find more green stars. It's stupid. I hate this kind of thing.
In fairness, maybe this was in 3D Land as well? I can't remember as it's been five or six years since I played that one. I did beat 3D Land, so if that was in it then maybe I was more patient or it wasn't as annoying or glarding? I don't know. But I wasn't in the mood for this shit. Especially given the head cold and all. So y'know what? I'm all set with 3D World. I've got a copy of New Super Mario Bros U on its way to me now... I'll probably enjoy that one a lot more.
It's really crazy to me that I last played Super Mario 3D World over two years ago now. Time... flies... wow.
In the time since, I've gone back and replayed some other 3D Mario games. It turns out that Mario 64 is actually better than I remembered, while Sunshine is actually worse.
Anyway, 3D World is kind of all the rage right now, as it has been re-released on Switch and people are talking about it again. Plus, a lot more people have Switch than had Wii U, so there's that. But because of all the re-evaluated praise for 3D World, I decided to fire up my Wii U copy (which came pre-loaded on my console). Ironically, my daughter likes to hold the Gamepad and watch the intro to this game. She laughs and yells "Mah-Oh!" which is super cute.
Now strangely, my save file has been deleted. Ugh. But actually, it's not so bad. It kind of forced me to back into 3D World with fresh eyes, and play it right from the beginning all over again. Which has been... kind of great. After a couple of hours, I'm sort of seeing 3D World as possibly/probably my favorite 3D Mario game. It looks great, and the levels are fun and - gasp - actually encourage the exploration required to find all three green stars in each.
So yeah, I'm actually having a whole lot of fun here, and I'm glad that I decided to give this one another shot. I'm only in the middle of World 2 right now, but yeah, this is good stuff.
When I had started replaying this, I was just using Mario because, y'know, it's a "mario game," but last night I started using the Random button before each level. This randomly picks between Mario, Luigi, Toad, and Peach - each with their own unique (and familiar) physics. And this feature really bumps the game up for me. Y'know why? Because now it feels like a secret pseudo-sequel to Super Mario Bros 2 - the good one; Doki Doki Panic.
I've never hidden my adoration for the USA version of SMB2. That game rules so hard. And now, playing this semi-3D game with the same-ish versions of those four characters, I'm loving SM3DW even more. This is a genuinely great game, full of non-stop new surprises.
I'm now in World 3, and left off at the train level that is flooded with bullet bills. I remember this level being a pain for me the first time I played the game two years ago, and it's still a pain to me now.
I've mostly been playing the game as Peach now, which again makes it feel more like Super Mario Bros 2 USA 3D World or something. Which is awesome. However, after like 12 hours with this game, I've hit a wall.
For most of my play time I've had a ball playing (and replaying) stages, to grab as many green stars as I could WITHOUT resorting to a guide. And it's gone great. Every Captain Toad level is done. Every Mystery House is done. I thought I had an abundance of stars. And when I made it to Bowser's big tower... I found out I was short by TWENTY stars. Twenty. Wow.
Going back through all the worlds hunting for lost stars does not feel appealing to me. And using a guide would just completely suck the fun of exploration out of it for me. So I feel like I'm a stand-still sitting outside Bowser's tower.
That said, twelve SOLID hours of fun with a 3D Mario game? Who would have thunk it? I don't regret any of the time I've spent playing the game. And I COULD come back to it once I feel removed from it and refreshed. But at this point, I'm ready to move on.