Okay, this is the other game I started this week as part of my what-the-hell-do-I-feel-like-playing uncertainty. Astral Chain is a game I picked up on a total whim. I'm not even sure why I was drawn to it. I'm not the biggest fan of Platinum Games to be honest. I did kind of enjoy Metal Gear Rising, but much of their output hasn't really appealed to me. I'm not crazy about these kind of insane 3D beat-em-up things. But...
Well, if a game LOOKS like Blade Runner or Akira, I'm probably gonna be interested in it. At least on some level. So yeah, I grabbed it.
I've put a couple of hours in, and it's kind of interesting. Kind of? I mean, it looks phenomenal. It has this crazy kind of painted look to it. And pretty incredible pixel-dust effects when things die. And the color pallet is gorgeous. The music is strong. It's just very visually and audibly appealing to me.
The gameplay is fun, but kind of shallow TO ME. And I say "to me" because I'm not super into these kinds of games. I've known people who are, and they totally get the deepness of the combat systems, and they care a lot about replaying levels to up their score. For me, it's not about that - I just want to play the story through.
So far, it's kind of a neat little futuristic tale of cyber-cops fighting alien threats. And I can't deny that the battles are impressive with a constant flow of varying bosses thrown at you. You have this kind of pet alien-robot thing on a chain and you control it and yourself at the same time. Definitely it's unique. I'm just not quite sure if it's for me... yet.
The biggest thing is that after a couple hours I'm starting to wonder if I like the IDEA of this game more than the game itself. I like the look, the music, the aesthetics, the setting... but do I like THE GAME? Do I enjoy playing it? I'm not actually sure. I guess we'll see if it beckons me back or not.
It's been a weird few weeks. I've had a tough time figuring out what I feel like playing after finishing the masterpiece that is Fire Emblem: Three Houses. I keep starting stuff and not quite feeling like THIS is what I want to play. And then I'll just dabble with Splatoon 2 or Tetris 99 to get some kind of gaming fix because I don't know.
Xenoblade Chronicles has been on my to-play list for a decade. I was fascinated by the Operation Rainfall project back in the day. And of the three original games in that campaign, this one seemed the coolest to me. It's been sitting in my collection unplayed for a while now. But I don't know, I never got around to it. I did play like 30 hours of Xenoblade Chronicles X a year or more ago, and loved it. So why don't I play the original already?
I don't know. But I fired it up this week, and...
I don't know.
It has kind of a charm to it, sure. I mean, it was released when the Wii was on its last legs. And even then, this was some low powered hardware, right? I mean, my goodness does the disc-drive CHUG while I'm playing this game. It drives my wife crazy. Me too, a little. But look at it - it looks good, sure. There's no denying that. But partly that's the art style. There's no way that this was competing with - what was a peer at the time? Final Fantasy XIII? I mean, say what you will about FFXIII - that game was gorgeous to look at.
Anyway, I played two-plus hours of XC and kind of fizzled out. Something just wasn't grabbing me. I can't put my finger on it. For one thing, it doesn't have the overwhelmingly sci-fi feel of XCX. That's something I guess. This looks like a kinda-sorta futuristic Final Fantasty XII to me or something.
Maybe/probably the bigger issue is the time demand of the whole thing. I played two hours and climbed through some caves and found a little mini-boss fight... it was these two floating disc things that kept shooting at my party. But they'd wipe us out in a few hits. I tried EVERY strategy I could think of to no avail. Finally I googled to find that recommended level here is 10, and we're at 6.
Suddenly all the time-suck of XCX came crashing back to me. I mean, I really liked that game, but it was DEMANDING as heck, and I barely scratched the surface in my 30 hours. So like, if I'm not sucked into this one in a couple of hours, do I intend to grind and dig into menus and put in another 28 or more? Not right now. I don't think so anyway.
I'm going to hang on to this one because I feel like it's an IMPORTANT game, and I feel like I COULD really get into it. Someday. But not now.
I actually played Renegade a couple of weeks ago, but forgot to write about it. So I'm doing that now.
When I was a kid, I absolutely loved Renegade. It's a gritty beat-em-up for NES. At the time, I knew nothing of its history. All I knew was that it was kind of like Double Dragon, but I don't know - crazier? I mean, there was dudes on motorcycles, and giant woman who could pick you up and bear-hug you, and some kind of burger joint, and all kinds of weirdness.
Of course many years later I'd learn the true story of Renegade. It's the first in the Kunio-kun series. A series that I've been a pretty big fan of over the years. Kunio-kun localized a lot of classics (well, cult classics) into games like River City Ransom and Nintendo World Cup and Super Dodge Ball. And the series has lived on over the years - sometimes only in Japan - but even just now we've gotten confirmation of a River City Girls SEQUEL, so obviously the series has its fans.
The other thing to keep in mind is the intermingled DNA that Double Dragon shares with Kunio-kun. To oversimplify it is to say that Double Dragon is a sister series that was made with Americans in mind, rather than just bastardize the Japanese games for localization.
Anyway, playing Renegade in 2021 is probably a tough proposition. It's certainly rough around the edges. And it wasn't all that refined to begin with. But man, I still have soft spot for it. It's not even close to the impressiveness of River City Ransom. Not even close! But yeah, I still think it's a totally underrated game from that era. Certainly I prefer it over Double Dragon. (I'm not sure about Double Dragon II, though).
I picked up the eShop edition on Switch by the way, which is nice in that it has some good options built in. Save states are nice, of course. And the ability to remap buttons means I could make the jump-kick a single button press rather than A + B. Good stuff.
Still, this is a simple and early beat-em-up and ultimately you'll spend a lot of time jump-kicking dudes over and over until they flicker off the screen. I couldn't beat it this time, I got up to that end section with the branching doors, and those big strong ladies kept bear-hugging me to death. They're tough to read, as they don't broadcast their moves all that obviously. But yeah, this game is still fun to me. I wouldn't revisit as often as River City, but I still can see what I liked about it so much as a kid.
When I was in my early 20's, I was fairly pretentious. And like many pretentious early 20 year olds, my favorite director was David Lynch. I'd have long LONG conversations about what Lost Highway or Mulholland Drive meant. But here's the thing, now that I'm 40 I'm pretty sure that even David Lynch wasn't sure what they meant. I mean, I still have my theories. And I'm sure he has his. But his movies weren't meant to have traditional plots and conflicts. They were meant to illicit a feeling. And finding the meaning in his films is akin to finding meaning a dream. Sure, you can find symbolism in them. But you can find symbolism in ANYTHING if you try hard enough.
A couple weeks ago I had fifteen minutes to kill before a haircut, so I stopped into Best Buy next door. I found a copy of Kentucky Route Zero sitting on the shelf for $35. Now, I know that the game was no longer available online in physical form, and that copies were going for $50+ on eBay, so it seemed like a good purchase. I wasn't really sure at the time if I was planning to play it or just hang on to it and keep it sealed for a while.
But after finishing Three Houses I've been a bit unsure of what to play next. And while I knew very little about Kentucky Route Zero, it was calling out to me for some reason. When I fired it up and played through the first chapter I was immediately reminded of the work of David Lynch. There's a story, but it's disjointed. The dialogue is weird. And here's the other thing - this game creeps me the F out even though there's nothing overtly scary happening. Kentucky Route Zero is all tone and atmosphere. And it's chilling me to the core.
So here's my dream journal...
I'm a truck driver trying to make a delivery but I can't find the address on my map. I stop at a gas station and ask the attendant for directions and he tells me I need to get to Route Zero but he doesn't know where that is. I can ask his friend Weaver, but I need to turn the power breaker on to get his computer up and running first. (Typical adventure game stuff).
I go in the basement and there's three people playing a board game in the dark. I shut the flashlight off and they disappear. I get the breaker on and find Weaver's address. Off I go.
I bring a TV to Weaver's house. She lives on a farm. There's a grave yard there. The TV doesn't work. There's people in the distance playing guitar. There's an old barn behind the farm that creeps me out and I don't know why. She sends me off to find Route Zero.
Weaver's directions bring me to a mine where I find someone named Shannon. Sometimes I'm me. Sometimes I'm Shannon. We do experiments on the mine's echoes. There's a cave-in and I injure my leg. We take a cart further into the mine until we find our way out.
Shannon is Weaver's cousin. We go back to her farm but Weaver's gone. Shannon fixes the TV. There's an old barn behind the farm that creeps me out and I don't know why.
I had too much to dream last night.
First I was Emily - a young girl in a museum with her friends. We were at an exhibit of a woman who had done all these huge pieces of art made out of technology. We listened to bits of tape that she had recorded over 15 years and spliced together. At one point, she and two friends were in a cave. They were hiding. They were scared. They said that men were angry, and coming back for them. Then she was driving down Route Zero, looking for a mailbox to mail the cassette tape back... somewhere.
Then I was an older woman, Lula. I received a rejection notice from some kind of design school. Architecture I think. I'm working a desk job. I have to approve or deny proposals to repurpose old buildings into new businesses.
Suddenly I'm "myself." Me and Sheila are out this archives building looking for directions. We meet with Lula. She sends us to a chapel to find some old records. We listen to a sermon. I black out. We need to find a doctor. My leg hurts.
We find that the doctor's house is gone. The whole neighborhood is gone. It's now a huge factory filled with tents and campers and a house boat. I get the feeling that this is some kind of community of people down on their luck, forced to live in this factory "town." We go out in the rain and meet Ezra who tells us the doctor is in the forest. He can take us there.
That's when a giant bird picks us up.
We wonder the forest forever. There's people singing in the woods in the distance. We find the doctor's house. Sheila and Ezra watch TV. The doctor puts me under. 5-4-3-2-1... I drift off. I don't remember anything else after that.
For as long as I can remember, I've been saying that I'm not really a fan of 3D platformers. And for just that long I've been saying that as much as I love 2D Mario games, I can't really get into the 3D ones. But here's the thing - Mario's the king of platformers. And some of those 3D games are really highly praised. So I can't help but wonder sometimes if I'm missing out on something. Ugh, my FOMO is so bad sometimes.
Speaking of FOMO, last year I bought that stupid Mario 3D All-Stars thing (I actually pre-ordered it) because I'm a total sucker. I mean, I don't like 3D Mario games, but I bought three of them for $50 because, why?
I revisited Super Mario 64 last year and found out that it was actually better than I gave it credit for. But I still gave up pretty quickly because I HATE the collecting stars by replaying levels thing. It feels like it's forcing you to drag out the game, rather than just play through each level like in a 2D Mario game. I also revisited Super Mario Sunshine, only to find that it has aged horribly. In fairness, I've heard that a patch has fixed the inverted controls issue I had. But still, I don't know that that would really fix the game for me.
The third game on the collection is Mario Galaxy - one I've never played. My friend Mike has told me numerous times that it's his favorite Mario game. People rave about it - fans and critics alike. Heck, I think it's the highest rated Wii game on Metacritic. So...
...here we are...
After an hour or so, I think I completely hate this game. Like. I think I hate it so much and for several reasons. I think I hate it beyond any repair. As much as I might fear missing out on something... I can't help but think that there's no way I could stick with this one and actually enjoy it.
NOW, real quick, let me say that the port to Switch is impressive. The way that the motion controls have been ported over is good stuff, and it works. But the game itself? Ugh. I think I loath it.
I'm sure YOU reader (as if anyone reads this) have played Mario Galaxy, but just in case... you play on these little spherical planets. And gravity is weird, but real. SO like sometimes you're playing and it feels like a normal 3D game, until you walk around the planet and you're upside down or whatever. It's extremely rare for a game to give me motion sickness (outside of VR) but this game made me feel sick FAST. I've tried to play it multiple times now and every time my brain goes wonky and my stomach feels off. I just can't seem to play this game and feel okay.
So that's a deal-breaker.
Beyond that, I TRIED to push through in little spurts JUST IN CASE this really is the best Mario game ever, but man... I beat the first real boss only to find that - guess what? I have to play through that same level again like two more times for stars to unlock the next level? Maybe I'm missing something but I don't think so.
I'm sorry, Mike. I'm sorry, Metacritic. Super Mario Galaxy is just not a game for me.
I've been really busy the past couple weeks, so I've not had time to write about, but I've been playing Fire Emblem: Three Houses with any downtime I've had. So much so that I managed to scroll the end credits tonight. This is after 27 hours with the game - and probably six of those were spent on just the last two battles which were insanely challenging, but uber satisfying.
The fact that I stuck with the game instead of walking away at the end there is a testament to how awesome Three Houses is. And I mean, maybe I should just cut to the chase here, but Three Houses is definitely the best Fire Emblem game I've ever played. Truth be told, it may have possibly dethroned XCOM 2 as my absolute favorite turn based strategy game. Maybe. Time will tell.
I've not played every Fire Emblem game. But I've played a good share of them over the years. Along with this one, I've played Awakening, Fates, and Shadow Dragon. Maybe others? I'm blanking. But I've definitely played all these in the past decade now. And one thing holds certain - with each Fire Emblem game I play, it gets cemented even further as one of my favorite Nintendo franchises of all time. People love to roll their eyes and pass off Nintendo as too safe or too kid-friendly or whatever. But my goodness, the FE games are hardcore games. I would hope those people know what they're missing.
Everything about Three Houses is fantastic. Those anime cut scenes? The story. The dialogue. I mean, obviously I'm not even talking about the most important thing: it's impeccable game play. But yeah. Three Houses rules. The missions are just so incredibly crafted. And the freedom between missions - be it exploring/recruiting, or lecturing to level up your team, or resting to rebuilt stats... it all just works so well. Never does a moment feel wasted. And though no choice feels WRONG, you do find yourself agonizing about how to spend your time both on the battlefield and off.
Oh, and this story was epic. I mean it takes place over so many years. And goddesses were involved. Whole kingdoms rise and fall. Childhood friends become bitter rivals. Honest to goodness wars echo war games of school. It's... just all so impressive.
I played totally blind, as I didn't want any spoilers. As a result, I ended up on the Blue Lions route, and - well, no spoilers - but it was an intense 22 chapters. But dudes, I LOVED every single minute of this game. Like I said those last two missions cost me a lot of time and trial and error, but when I finally figured out a rock solid strategy, I felt like a total genius.
This game is the highest of the high recommendations for me.
Sometimes the new hotness is tough to resist. And there's been a lot of talk about Hades lately. The review scores are through the roof. And truth be told, I tend to like myself a solid roguelike. I've lost so many hours to games like Spelunky and Downwell and Dead Cells and so on. And given the sort of spooky nature of Hades, I figured October was an ideal time to give it a go.
The best way I can sum up Hades is if Diablo and Dead Cells had a baby. It's an isometric game with tiny little enemies and dungeons - much like Diablo. But it's very action oriented and has the same sort of procedural generation and weapon unlocks and perks that you'd find in Dead Cells. In summation, it's good stuff.
Now, it hasn't QUITE sucked me in the way that either of those games did. But it is definitely a solid game, and has that sort of "one more run" thing going for it. That's for sure. It's also a lot more story focused than the majority of roguelikes I've played are. Like there's legit dialogue and all, and the NPC's remember your decisions from run to run. And that's the brilliant part. See, you're trying to escape Hades, so each time you die, you go back to the beginning. The loop actually makes sense. Each death is actually part of the story. Kind of brilliant.
I've only played an hour or two so far, but I can see myself sticking with this for a while.
The more I play Hades, the better it gets. I've unlocked more weapons and perks; I've gotten a feel for some of the weapon selection and which in-run perks to use to suit my playstyle; I've gotten more comfortable with certain enemy patterns. Perhaps most importantly, I'm always feeling a sense of progress. I've now made it to the second floor more than once, only to lose a battle (just barely!) against the Hydra.
It actually reminds me that I haven't played many 2020 games this year. It's kind of odd, because I generally keep up on a lot of new releases that interest me, but this year has been a weird year, of course. A combination of the pandemic and FOMO lead me to play Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which I enjoyed for about a week and haven't really thought of since. But I don't know. I've been delving into a lot of older and cheaper games, I guess. Plus having a young one in the house has made it harder to keep track of all the new cool stuff coming out. So I guess what I'm saying is that by default Hades is looking to be one of the best games I've played this year, for whatever that's worth.
I'm definitely hooked. There's some good things this game does. For instance the dark weapon thing... when you choose which weapon you want to use for a run, one is glowing dark. This means that THIS weapon will give you extra drops for using it this run. So always pick this one. Right? The thing that's great about this is that instead of choosing one weapon to master and then getting stuck in a rut, I'm experimenting way more. I hated the shield on my first attempt with it, but now I love using it with the right power-ups.
I had an awesome run last night where not only did I make it to Elysium for the first time, I made it all the way to the Theseus boss battle! Woah. I'm making solid progress on this one and having a really good time.
We will all remember 2020. Sure, it's kind of an insane blur. But it was an unforgettable year either way. And of course, all the content we consumed will be wrapped up in that. We gamers will no doubt attach certain games to that year - we'll call them "the games that got us through it." That sort of thing.
For me, much of 2020 was spent digging through my backlog and checking out cheapo indie games on the eShop. The real big games for me last year weren't games that came out last year. For one thing, I think that subconsciously I gravitated toward multiplayer games because it felt like I was getting some kind of human interaction. So the games that really got me through were things like Splatoon 2, Smash Ultimate, and somewhat embarrassingly, Fortnite.
But when I actually try to think about THE GAMES OF 2020, really only two seem to come to my immediate mind...
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons
These two games couldn't be any more different.
Animal Crossing was all the rage of course. It did huge sales numbers, and pushed hardware sales until Switches were hard to come by. It was a vacation from our anxieties. It was quiet, relaxing, a true escape. I know people who picked it up at launch and are still playing it nightly almost a year later. For me personally, I soaked it in hard for a week or two at launch, and then moved on.
Hades was a hardcore roguelike ARPG dungeon crawler mash-up thing. I played the heck out of this one in the Fall, and was super into it. So it was the game I thought of more fondly between the two. But here's what's weird - revisiting it now, I don't know. It almost feels tainted to me. It brings back memories of uncertainty. About distancing from family and friends.
Maybe it's because of the theme of Hades. It feels like it's an insurmountable object - trying to escape Hades. It's challenging. It's punishing. And it's like Groundhog Day. Not for nothing, but Sisyphus is even in the game. I mean.
Going back to Hades just feels like I'm revisiting all that anxiety, and it doesn't feel good. Unfortunately, it was a game that I really enjoyed in 2020. One that helped "get me through." But, I think it'll have to stay there in 2020.
I have plans to go back and re-evaluate Animal Crossing again this Summer, so we'll see how that one fares.