I actually wrote a big long thing about Pokemon Unite - the game I've been playing a lot of this week - but somehow I lost that post. Ugh. I don't feel like re-typing everything again. So I'll get to that one later. But moving on...
Castlevania 64 has always been a divisive one, no doubt. In fact, it's not even titled "64," it's just called "Castlevania" but that's dumb. The same way that every reboot movie now just retains the original title. Sometimes multiple times.
So let's get a few things out of the way here. For one thing, I'm a huge Castlevania fan. Like that's one of my all time favorite series - and this dates way back to the late 80's when I got hooked on the original trilogy on NES. So I suppose it's safe to say that I'm a bit forgiving on the series.
Another thing I need to remind you of is that I was NOT really a fan of the N64 until just a couple years ago. And I mean, I've done a legit 180 on this one. After owning and loving a NES, GB, and SNES back in the day, the N64 was the first Nintendo console I straight up skipped. My buddy Garrett had one, and exposed me to some big hitters, but Mario Kart 64 was the only one I really enjoyed.
That said, I missed MANY games on that platform, and a prime one was Castlevania 64 (along with its psuedo-sequel/expansion, Legacy Of Darkness). This meant that when I finally picked up a N64, Castlevania was one of the first games I grabbed for it. Yet, for some reason it's taken me a couple of years to actually pop the damn cart in and check it out. Huh.
So here we are. I'm FINALLY checking out this divisive game. A game that SOME Castlevania fans despise, while others claim is a hidden gem that's unfairly derided. And so what do I think? I guess I think it's somewhere between those two extremes. Or a little bit of both.
Look, these early 3D games are always going to be clunky if you're experiencing for the first time now. The camera sucks. The z-targetting feels weird. Doing simple things like lining up a ranged attack or platforming is a crap shoot. It is what it is.
Also, Castlevania as a series has never done that well in 3D in my mind. I did play one of those PS2/Xbox era games and, meh. I also played one of the Lords Of Shadow games, and while it was better, it wasn't a great CASTLEVANIA game. So I don't know.
Castlevania 64 has some good stuff going for it. It does have a pretty good atmosphere to it actually. Like, it retains a very quality gothic feel. In that way, it works as a decent throwback to the NES games. Granted, it's kind of ugly for a 1999 N64 game. I wish it had taken advantage of the expansion pak - which I don't think it does. Wait, I'm gonna actually google that cuz I actually care enough to know for sure. Hang on... NOPE. Turns out that Legacy Of Darkness DOES use it to up the resolution, but at the expense of the framerate. So eh.
Anyway, I tried playing as both characters. Reinhardt is your basic BELMONT. He's got a whip. He's fine. Carrie on the other hand is way cooler. She has a homing ranged attack, and cool razor hoop thingy melee attack. I like her. Though, of course, she feels less classic-vania.
The controls ARE clunky, though. And part of that is probably due to my lack of N64 nostalgia. I've been using a classic stock wired controller, and it feels rough on this one. I need to pick up one of those Brawler 64 pads, I think. I feel like that would help modernize the feel of N64 games for me. I do have a Hyperkin wireless pad, but I don't know. It feels a bit cheap/light, and it's always in need of a recharge.
I'm so so rambling here. But it's probably because I can't figure out quite how I feel on this one. I played for like two hours and... well, I was impressed at certain things. The tone of the game is good. And I like that it uses actual levels - again a bit of a classic NES throwback. But my big issue here is that the game heavily relies on platforming and N64 3D platforming is just not great for me. It feels very much like this game is a failure for me, as a gamer. And yet, I WANT to like it and see the good things in it. I'm just dying so much because of stupid platforming issues and it's frustrating me and making it hard for me to push on.
So that's where I'm at. I kind of don't like it enough to keep going. Yet, as a Castlevania fan there's things here that I like and feel like I want to hang on to the cart. I guess I'd put it in the sort of mediocre tier of CV games. For whatever that's worth, because I still think a just-okay CV game is better than something else. Or whatever.
For every game like Slay The Spire or Mini Metro (both brilliant games) that I find thru Metacritic, there's another Fez and Gunman Clive. Which is to say, games that I understand why they might appeal to someone - but such high praises? Eh, they just don't really click with me. At all.
I downloaded Gunman Clive while perusing Metacritic last week and realizing the HD collection was only like $2 on the Switch eShop. But after playing for an hour or so, I just... stopped. Do you ever feel like you're playing a game because it's well regarded, but not because you actually want to play it? Maybe you don't. Maybe you're not insane like me. But that's where I was at.
Look, Gunman Clive is a good looking game and has some neat ambient music. It pulls from its inspirations for sure. But I don't know. Sometimes I get to a point where I'm like, how many of these kinds of retro throwbacks can I play before I stop enjoying them?
A good example is Shovel Knight. Or Shantae even. These are games that I KNOW where they came from. I get the DNA. And I do enjoy them. This one, though? I don't know. It's got that neat sepia tone thing going on. And it looks legit hand-drawn. I like that. But I started to feel like okay, here's the Mega Man part, here's the VVVVVV part, here's the Super Meat Boy part, and so on.
Nothing felt particularly unique to me. Just bits and pieces of games I already like. Mixed with bits and pieces of games I already don't like.
This is the chain of events as I remember them...
1987, Christmas - I receive a NES at my dad's house.
1989, Christmas - I receive a Game Boy at my dad's house.
1989, Summer - We get a NES at my mom's house.
I'm almost certain that my mom got me a NES for her house because I had showed her Tetris on my GB and she was hooked. The NES meant she could play Tetris. Plus, my Nintendo Power subscription came with a free copy of Dragon Quest, so now we had two games. Plus, the console came with Super Mario Bros, so three really. And our fourth game? Vegas Dreams.
I have no idea where that one came from or why we had it. But if I had to guess - my stepfather a the time probably wanted it. I mean, a casino simulator? In a house with three kids under 10? Maybe not the wisest choice. But whatever. It was the late 80's. Things were different back then.
At any rate, we all played Vegas Dreams. A lot. It was neat. There was gambling and bits of what we'd now call visual novel stuff thrown in. I mean, brief. It boiled down to making quick decisions to lend money or not, but it was an interesting game.
Developed by HAL Labs, Vegas Dreams was a bit more than your standard table game simulator. It had an actual plot. And a goal - like a legit win condition. It was cool.
Vegas Stakes is the sequel on SNES, and it feels more like a deluxe revision of the original game rather than a true sequel. All the original stuff is there, but it feels bigger. There's more casinos. There's friends that hang out with you. It's not super deep, but it's fun as heck.
I've spent most of the past week losing money in Vegas Stakes. I've restarted my game five or six times because I'm not good. The one night I spent in a real casino (my brother's bachelor party - so yeah, I guess Vegas Dreams totally debased him), I spent the ENTIRE night at the blackjack table. Well, Vegas Stakes is the same deal mostly.
I don't like pure games of chance. So craps, roulette and slots mean nothing to me. But blackjack? I'm in. I once played Red Dead Redemption, and the majority of my time with that game was playing blackjack.
This week I've been dabbling with poker, too. Which meant finally learning how to play poker. I'm 40 years old. This is embarrassing . But I think I get it, and I'm horrible. At any rate, it's been fun spending a week at a virtual casino. I'm going home broke - I've lost the $1,000 I came in with. But I had a good time. Oh, and the actual SNES cart only cost me $2. Not bad.
If I were to try and make a list of Top 10 NES games of all time... I'd probably agonize over it for weeks, then finally proclaim said list, only to immediately feel like I botched it. BUT, my point is this - if I were to hypothetically make such a list, Maniac Mansion would without doubt be on that list. This game just means so much to me. It was my introduction to the point-n-click adventure game genre. An introduction I had a pretty young age. And as such, it remains my measuring stick for any game in the genre.
Over the years, I've played the PC game and its fan remake. I've played Day Of The Tentacle. And I've played MANY other adventure games (including my beloved Secret Of Monkey Island, which... why isn't that on Switch yet?). I'm definitely a fan of the genre.
There were definitely concessions made to get Maniac Mansion on the NES. I'm talking hardware restrictions; input restrictions; and well, Nintendo of America's strict content guidelines back in the day. Yet, FOR ME, this is the definitive version for no other reason than it's the version I first played and fell in love with.
After a tough week at work, and while dealing with some pretty big home projects, I really needed some kind of comfort food game to plop down with. So... here we are. Revisiting the Edison mansion for the umpteenth time. I fired the game up not with the intention of like BEATING it so much as to just have the comfort of messing around in a game world I adore.
So I just kind of did that - messed around for a couple of hours. Reminding myself of all the cool little details. Watching the "Mark Eteer" TV commercial, chatting up the tentacles, and so on. Everything about this game remains brilliant. Though it didn't hit the NES until 1990, it was first released on PC's in 1987. And it's just so ahead of its time with the various cut-scenes and interesting characters and all the fun little things you can discover.
I don't need to beat this game right now. I've done that before - many times. All I needed was to relax and remind myself why this game rules so much. And I've done that.
I've never really been interested in the Saints Row games. To me, they always looked like GTA knock-offs. Not that that's a bad thing. I mean, I absolutely loved GTA5 on Xbox One. I played so many hours of that game. I explored and screwed around with it for weeks, eventually playing through the campaign when I was finally ready to stick to the story. It was great.
But alas, I no longer have my Xbox One. And we don't have GTA5 on Switch. Of course Rockstar and Nintendo haven't had the best relationship. They did port LA Noire to Switch, though I don't think it sold like hotcakes. And GTA5 and MGSV are left to be my two big Switch wish-list ports.
But I recently read through the book Wrestling With Pixels, which brought up an interesting story about Hulk Hogan playing a key role in Saints Row: The Third. Apparently, he plays a wrestler of bygone years - not unlike himself in real life. It sounded intriguing. And to be honest, this one was always on my back-back-burner, given that CheapyD is in it, and I've been a faithful listener of the CAGcast for well over decade now.
I've had a busy work week, though. I was on vacation last week, so now I'm playing catch-up, which means working after my daughter goes to bed, and cramming in some gaming before bed. Or rather, staying up later than I should so that I'm dragging the next day. But whatever.
So anyway, I'm only a couple hours into Saints Row: The Third, but I'm having a good time.
The opening mission was manic. It involved a bank heist gone wrong, lots of shooting, and dangling from a helicopter. Then I made my character, which I basically just modeled after my wife, because I'd prefer to look at a cute redhead when I'm mindlessly jacking cars and shooting waves of dudes.
The next mission was insane with literally free-falling from airplane to airplane. I can't even explain.
Then I went off and explored this city. And... it's good. It's not GTA5 good. It feels like a more budget version of Rockstar's world. But as the only option I have on Switch... I'm good with it. I've done a few missions, robbed some cars, went aimlessly driving, participated in a Hunger Games style gameshow, upgraded my skills, called CheapyD and just overall screwed around. Not unlike my time with GTA5.
So far, this game shows promise.
I've done a lot of weird stuff in this game. I've used tanks to rack up as much damage as I could in this city. I've fought along side a giant naked man. I've broken into an S&M club. It's like... grand thefting autos is pretty small potatoes here.
Look, Saints Row pretty much is a parody of GTA. It doesn't take itself even remotely seriously. It's dumb, sure. But it's dumb FUN for sure. It's like, even if this game is one big joke, the player is certainly in on the joke. Heck, you don't even name your charter. Instead, she's just referred to as Playa (or sometimes, "the boss"). It's all pretty self-aware, and I can dig that.
I realize this is broken record stuff, but if GTA5 was on Switch, I'd be playing that and probably wouldn't bother with Saints Row. But given that Saints Row is my only outlet for this kind of stupid open world on Switch, I have to say, it's a perfectly fine alternative. It's well made, idiotic, and completely insane. I'm treating it like a gaming sorbet, which is sometimes necessary. We don't always have the mental ability to play classic after classic. And as long as the sorbet is fun, then why not?