Wow, 2014 feels like a long time ago all of the sudden. That's when the original Shovel Knight (later dubbed "Shovel Of Hope") was released. I remember getting that game as soon as it was released and being really into it. Later I'd dub it one of 2014's TOP TEN GAMES and being excited for the expansions. Over the years I did play the expansions, and I wasn't as into them. And six years later, I was starting to wonder if maybe the original Shovel Knight wasn't as good as I had remembered.
Certainly it was possible that 2014 was still a time when an indie game like this felt like a big deal. But man, have you looked at the eShop lately? A flood of new retro inspired indie games hit on a near daily basis. You can't swing a dead cat without a hitting a Metroidvania for instance.
And so I booted up my Wii U copy of the Shovel Knight Treasure Trove and decided to revisit that original game. If you haven't played it, it's sort of a mix of Mega Man and Ducktales. And Super Mario Bros 3. And some other stuff. Let me explain...
The Mega Man comparison is because you've got a group of other knights (bosses) to battle, which can be played in differing orders. You play through their levels and then face the boss. So very MM in structure. Though you attack with a shovel. And you can pogo hop. So this feels very Ducktales. Also there's an overworld map that reminds of SMB3, and has little item shops and stuff. Also you can use currency found in game to upgrade your weapons, skills, armor, so this is a bit new-ish in game structure.
And I'm here to tell you that even in 2020, yes, Shovel Knight still holds up fantastically well. I played for a while and took out a few bosses. The levels are all well designed. Challenging, but not super frustrating. The boss fights are awesome - each with their own INTERESTING attack patterns. It's a real blast. And the game just oozes charm from its sprite work and NPC's to the fantastic music.
I also messed around with the Amiibo support for a bit - I am the proud owner of a Shovel Knight Amiibo. This... I wasn't all that into. You can make a "Custom Knight" but I found this cumbersome. It meant leveling up the Amiibo instead of buying upgrades, and it would ask you to save to the Amiibo after every level which was annoying, so I shut that feature off altogether.
At any rate, I'm having a great time revisiting this game. I love when I can go to my shelves and pull something I already own and get a bunch of enjoyment out of it.
I love when I come back to a game years later and find that it actually holds up as well as I remember it. Sometimes games like these are cool at the time, but somehow lose their luster of the years as other games eclipse them. But Shovel Knight is continuing to impress me, again. The level design is great, the music is great, the boss battles are great. I'm having so much fun.
I've got only one boss level left, and then it's off to the final gauntlet.
We got a pretty big snow storm, so we spent the day with our daughter making a snowman, sledding, and marathoning the Frozen movies. Good stuff. Plus shoveling. Real life shoveling. So it's only fitting that once she went to bed, and my wife and I were wiped out, I finished up Shovel Knight.
The final stages are great. They remind of the Wily levels in Mega Man, but whereas those often frustrate me, the ones here had a great pacing to them, with checkpoints generous enough to never make me give up. Instead, it feels like you need to just master each new section.
Then there's the boss rush at the end which was a blast, and then the showdown against the enchantress which is a pretty epic and awesome (but not overly difficult) boss fight in which Shield Knight helps you out.
It's a satisfying ending, and just challenging enough to make you feel like you accomplished something but never rage-quit inducing. In the end, this replay has just reminded me WHY I loved this game back in 2014. And I think I still do love it. It's really great.
I really like the Switch Online selection of NES and SNES games. Sure, it's not a HUGE collection. But it's at least interesting. It feels like it's a good selection of classics and oddballs. So I stumbled upon Shadow Of The Ninja, a 1990 NES game that I've never played.
What I know about Shadow Of The Ninja is that it's sort of like Natsume's take on Ninja Gaiden. So much so that Tecmos ended up getting the rights to the Game Boy sequel and just turning it into a Ninja Gaiden game proper. So in a weird way, Shadow Of The Ninja is kinda sorta a weird unlicensed spin-off. Or something.
Anyway, in the past year or two I have played a couple of the old Ninja Gaiden games and found that they don't hold up for me. I loved those games as a kid, but I just don't have the patience for them as an adult. Well, I can say that doubly so about Shadow Of The Ninja.
MY GOODNESS this game is just kind of annoying to me. First off, you have just one life in this game (and five continues). If you die, you have to start the level all over again when you continue. Oh, and your lifebar does not replenish between levels. Yikes.
The good stuff is that the game looks cool-ish; the weapon upgrades are kind of interesting (though have limited uses); and the music is solid. But dudes, the game just feels so cheap and difficult to me, I couldn't get into it at all. I honestly gave up when I went through all my continues in level 1-4. That's sad.
Mario Kart 8 may well be the best in the series, but Double Dash will probably always be my personal favorite. While the original Super Mario Kart was one of the most defining games of my SNES library back in the day, and I had a good time with my buddy's copy of Mario Kart 64 (mostly for battle mode), it was Double Dash that really felt like a total perfection of the kart racer genre to me.
Sometime after college I had taken a bit of a hiatus from gaming (which seems weird to me now, looking back). But for my birthday in 2007, my wife got me a Gamecube and a stack of awesome games to go with it. As such, I have a ton of awesome memories tied to rediscovering the Gamecube's library. The two biggest memories though would be finally tackling Zelda: The Wind Waker, and of course, the many nights my wife and I spent playing Double Dash.
Gosh, it seems like forever ago. We were in our twenties, just married, living in a one bedroom apartment. Our big Friday night tradition was hitting up a salad bar, then perusing Blockbuster (oh man, remember Blockbuster?) and then going home to eat and watch a movie, and probably drink cheap beer. And many a Saturday night at the time we'd find ourselves playing Double Dash (and still drinking cheap beer, probably).
The years since have seen lots of other Mario Kart entries. And eventually we got to Mario Kart 8, which is an undisputed masterpiece. One we love. The years since have also seen so much happen to us. I mean we're like legitimately grown-ups now with a house and a baby and some cats and a whole lot of responsibilities. Sometimes we even drink expensive beer.
So while we could play Mario Kart 8 quite easily - it's sitting right there on the shelf, after all - there is a certain quaint simplicity to going back to Double Dash. It's a smaller game. It's not in HD. And my goodness, it can feel like a time machine back to simpler times.
Nowadays our game night together is on Tuesday nights. And it fits somewhere between after the baby goes to bed, and we're done cleaning up and getting things ready for the next night; and y'know, being too tired to play games anymore. Sixty to ninety minutes a week I'd wager. But it's sixty to ninety quality minutes.
You really can't go wrong with Double Dash. And I guess I can almost understand why some folks are so keen to stick with their copies of Smash Bros Melee even though Ultimate exists now. We've started a fresh memory card save, and are going through all the circuits with the intention of unlocking everything. It's a fun time machine, this one.
After playing through Shadowgate Classic, I was still on an adventure game kick so figured I'd dig further into my GBC library. Classic Creep Capers is a game that I have a unique attachment to. And yet, I haven't played it in nearly a decade so thought this would be a good time to dig it back out.
If you're not aware of this game, then you should hear me out. Yes, it's a licensed game. Yes, it's a GBC game that has NOTHING to do with the console version. And yet... all of this works in its favor. While Youtube videos of the N64 game make it look rather forgettable to me, the GBC is totally special. It's based on an actual Scooby-Doo episode, but more importantly, it is a completely unabashed homage to Maniac Mansion.
Yep, this is a game in which a bunch of young kids go snooping around a spooky mansion and meddle with a mad scientist. It also has a wicked sense of humor. Sounds familiar, am I right?
It's an awesome game to say the least. It's got my vote for one of the finest GBC hidden gems (of which there are many - the GBC is a truly under-loved system). The graphics are great, the writing is funny, and the gameplay is solid if you're a Maniac Mansion fan. It's not super hard or super cryptic. And really, it can be tackled in a few hours if you're willing to experiment.
Unfortunately, my play through tonight was hampered by a nasty little bug of sorts. See, I got about halfway through the game, which wasn't too difficult for me as I've beaten it multiple times in the past. However, my GBA SP battery hasn't been holding a reliable charge, so when I put the game down to take a break I made sure to take a picture of the save code (yeah, save code, no battery on this one sadly). When I came back to the game and inputted the code it told me that it was correct, and yet, I was missing a BUNCH of items from earlier in the game.
These were important items - ones I'd need to proceed further. Like the sausage from the fridge that I'd need to freeze in the lab to make a new leg for the stool (which was also missing from my inventory) so I could reach the lights to divert the robot Shaggy so I could steal the key to the cell holding Fred. See? I told you this wasn't my first rodeo. But sadly, I'm just not in the mood to restart after losing my progress.
The funny thing is, this struck a chord of deja vu in me. I'm fairly certain I had similar issues with the game back when I last went through it and had to Google for a better, more accurate save code. Hmm. Anyway, I'm just not in the mood to do that again. But I can tell you this - if you're willing to plow through the whole thing in a single session (which realistically shouldn't take you more than two to three hours) then you're in for such a solid treat. Creep Capers is an excellent gem oozing with charm. And let's face it, we could all use some more Maniac Mansion homages in our lives.
I've been a fan of adventure games since I can remember. When I was young, the concept of Dungeons & Dragons really struck me, but since I only knew a few kids willing to dive in with me, I didn't really get to play it the pen and paper classic all that often. Which led me to seek out video games with similar themes. I remember that scene in Big where Josh plays a computer game - it's Colossal Cave Adventure if I recall correctly - really made me wish I had such a game.
Some years later I obtained a copy of Maniac Mansion on NES and while it eschewed the mazes and monsters (if you haven't seen Mazes & Monsters, go watch it now!) and instead favored a kind of weirdo aliens and punk rock aesthetic, the hooks of adventure gaming were well within me. I'd go on to seek out other such classics - namely The Secret Of Monkey Island - and eventually many years later the works of Telltale games.
But all of this is just background. I've never REALLY played Shadowgate. I mean, I know I dabbled with my friend's copy on NES back in the day, but I don't remember getting too far. And having recently re-read my copy of HG101's guide to adventure games, I decided to snatch up a copy of the GBC port and finally rectify this. Also, I thought I should take a break from Dragon Quest XI after a nearly two week binge. What can I say, I like to keep things fresh.
Re-titled Shadowgate Classic, this GBC port is very similar to the version of Deja Vu we saw on GBC. It looks really good - much more colorful than the original NES version. And it sounds great - seriously, I went to bed with the low torchlight song in my head. The menus and navigation can take a little time to get used to on the cramped screen. But overall, it's a solid port and runs a little cheaper than the NES original.
That said, Shadowgate is also OLD SCHOOL. Like it comes from the game design philosophy of "just try everything until something works." Maybe partly this was to make up for how small the castle actually is. Sometimes things made sense, but sometimes I'd feel stuck. I feel no shame for consulting a walkthrough (often) throughout my play through. I suppose in my younger days of near unlimited time, I'd have relished spending a week with this game. But right now, I wanted more to experience the game which meant seeking out answers when I needed them.
And to be honest, there's some spots where this really saved my sanity. I wouldn't have guessed to pick up the shield in the dragon's room after he had killed me when I tried picking up the torch, and again when I tried picking up the spear. I'd have had no idea that after dropping the sphere into the lake to freeze it that I should drop a torch onto the ice to unfreeze the sphere so I could take it back. I'd have had no idea that only the spear could kill the troll - I'd probably have just assumed he was unkillable if I failed to kill him with my sword.
The spell system is equally confusing as there's no real description of the spells, so again you just need to TRY using them in random places or else have a guide at hand. And that last battle against the warlock is easy in execution, but I don't know how I'd have known to use the various items in my inventory on each other to make a special warlock killing staff. So again, just really old school design philosophy.
But none of these are COMPLAINTS really. Shadowgate is a pretty awesome game. The NES was home to some quality adventure games, and Shadowgate is up there (Maniac Mansion still rules though). I'm glad I got to experience it and actually see entirety of the castle. Good times.
I keep a Google Doc with a list of upcoming games of interest each year. And on that Doc, I've had Dragon Quest XI listed for quite some time. It seemed like one of the "big ones" for 2019. I guess because it was a new DQ game that was coming to console rather than just 3DS. And also because unlike the previously released PS4 version, the Switch edition would offer up a full 2D retro mode, which looked amazing when it was announced at the Nintendo Direct a few months back.
Generally speaking, if I'm already interested in a game, I don't bother with a demo. I tend to want to just wait for the full release. But this time was different. See, DQ XI's demo is estimated to be around ten hours long. And here's the thing: I'm not actually a huge DQ fan. I played the original game a ton as a kid, but only dabbled with II and III on GBC later. I played V just this year on DS but lost interest after eleven or so hours. And VIII - often considered the best in the series - I tried starting twice over the years and lost interest VERY fast. So here's the thing; as generous as a ten hour demo is, it's totally possible that that's all I'll need of this game.
I have to admit up front that I'm a much bigger fan of the Final Fantasy series. You can argue that the DQ games are 'better' games with 'better' stories, but I don't know. Something about the varying quality of FF has always just struck me as more interesting and unique.
The other big thing I need to admit is this: I don't care for the art in most DQ games. The way the characters look? Not for me. It's that same artist that made Dragon Ball Z right? Yeah. I'm not into that look. At all. Which says nothing about how the game plays, but just saying.
Anyway, I've played MAYBE 40 mins of the game so far and I'm mixed on it so far. The world is really pretty. The slimes are super cute. Unfortunately, the 2D mode is absent from the demo so that kills that for me. But it seems... alright. A little too talky right now, which is making it really slow to get going. Essentially, it's been walking in a straight line through some caves and fighting two or three slimes at a time. Fairly boring. And the leveling is slow.
I'm sure it picks up as there are fans out there who I know that have gushed about the PS4 release and put in over a hundred hours. So we'll see.
For some reason I decided to fire up that DQXI demo again. And y'know what? I'm glad I did. I'm about two hours in now and it's actually picked up quite a bit and is a way better game than my first impression gave it. Granted, I went in with low-ish expectations and only had played about thirty minutes. But still.
What I found interesting was this - there's the usual trope of like "you're the Luminary" and you need to go talk to a king or whatever. You know the old cliche in RPG's of how you're the "chosen hero" or whatever? But when you get to the king he's like "no! Dude! The Luminary is a bad omen! You gotta die!" I'm paraphrasing. But I don't know, turning that trope on its head seems interesting.
Setting up tactics and letting the battles play out makes grinding feel brisk. I'm level 5 now. And I've got a second party member, Erik. So yeah. I'm enjoying it more now. I think I'm gonna do some grinding for new gear for a bit. I might even do some side quests to make this demo last. Apparently the demo is about ten hours or so, and we'll see how much fun I can get out of it without paying $60.
After spending some more time with this demo, I have to say that Dragon Quest XI is so good that it's actually making me retroactively like the DQ series even more as a whole. The more I think about it, yes I was more into Final Fantasy on NES than I was Dragon Warrior... but Dragon Warrior has enough nostalgia for me that I rebought the game TWICE - on both GBC and again on the Switch eShop. And while playing Dragon Quest V and Final Fantasy IV on DS back-to-back was borderline stupid, I had a lot of fun with DQV - and I'll always remember that game as something I played in waiting rooms while bringing my wife to doctor's appointments when we were expecting our daughter.
Yes, the more I play DQXI, the more I'm thinking about the series as a whole. The more I want to look into the rest of what I've missed. There's something about this game sort of being the PERFECT Dragon Quest game that's made me appreciate the series. And that's a good thing.
Even the art style. For years I've talked about how I don't care for the art. I'm not a fan of Dragon Ball Z, so I've always been turned off by the look of the DQ games and Chrono Trigger and so on. But all the sudden, it's like it makes sense here. The DQ games are a very manga take on the very western Dungeons & Dragons tropes. All the sudden that makes these monsters and heroes look more charming to me with that in mind.
I'm still a bigger fan of Final Fantasy as a whole. But part of what draws me to that series is that it's kind of a mess. There's some baffling decisions and some truly bad games and that can make for interesting exploration. Will this be a good Final Fantasy or a bad one? Dragon Quest on the other hand, I mean DQXI is a SLOW burn for sure, but the writing is insanely good. The pacing is quite obviously intentional.
I'm really glad I've given this game another chance. It seems like the kind of game I could play 'forever.' Like Breath Of The Wild, it's the sort of game I might play in thirty minute spurts for months. Or I might binge several hours during a storm. Or I might drop it for months and then come back to it fully invigorated. I think this might be the most perfect DQ entry - even for someone who's played a few of them in the past but took them for granted.
Okay, so Dragon Quest XI is turning out to be one of my favorite modern JRPG's in a long time. I think the last one I got this into was Octopath Traveler, but that felt like more of a throwback. THIS is like a truly modern take, and versus a lot of the stuff I've played such as recent Final Fantasy entries or Shining Resonance Refrain, THIS game blows that stuff out of the water.
The world is huge - along the lines of BOTW. Probably bigger even. And yet things are thrown at you at such a pace that everything feels just right. I was three hours in when the crafting mechanic was introduced. At first I rolled my eyes. I hate crafting in games. And yet... AND YET it's so good that I actually spend time trying to perfect the stuff I was crafting. They've streamlined everything here. Don't have enough found-crap to craft what you want to craft? No problem! Just pay for the ingredients. THANK YOU, SQUARE ENIX. Thank you.
And even the tropey stuff is well thought out. We got back to Cobblestone, our hero' s hometown and everything looks normal except nobody remembers me. Guess what? It's a fever dream. The village was burned to the ground in our absence and we're talking to ghosts. All of this revealed with trippy VHS artifacting. It was awesome.
I love this game. I love that it reminds you what you last did when you fire it up so you don't forget where you were in the story. I love that you can find in-menu what your goals are for each quest. I love the battling. I love the gigantic world. I love the freedom. I love that I'm four hours into a demo and that's not even half. A physical copy of the game is on my wishlist now. I'll be happy to pick up a copy once the demo has run its course.
Well, I finished the demo which is kind of a bummer. It took me under six hours to get through the demo, although I didn't do any side quests. As it stands, Dragon Quest XI is one of the best RPG's I've played in a long time. And I look forward to delving back in once I pick up a retail copy.
Nearly ten months after playing through the big demo, I've just now fired up Dragon Quest XI's actual cartridge which has been sitting on my shelf for a while. I don't know, something about the Thanksgiving holiday made me feel like playing some quality dungeony, dragony RPG.
I was worried that I'd forget what was going on from when last I played, but thank goodness there's a little recap when you fire up a save.
Soon enough I was transported to an area in which I was in a 2D world. And then I went off on a quest that was... OMG... I recognized where I was. I was in a village from the original Dragon Quest. Absolutely stunningly brilliant, this game. After that I met a prince and pretended I was him to win a horse race and impress his parents and the village, and then we set off to kill some big mythical creature that he was too scared of.
In the few hours I played last night, I was immediately reminded just WHY I loved the demo so much. And man, really this few hours even raised the bar on that demo. This game is incredible. Easily my favorite Dragon Quest game (though I haven't played all the mainline games yet admittedly). But wow. This isn't just a really good DQ game, it's one of the finest, most well crafted JRPG's I've ever played. This game feels like a defining RPG of the generation.
I've been playing DQXI all week while I've been on Christmas vacation. It's become a before bed routine to bang out some progress. I've seen mermaids and demons trapped in paintings and ice witches and you name it. This game does an incredible job of throwing a million things at you all while keeping the pace brisk.
I'm not sure how close I am to the end of the main campaign. I've seen the great tree fall if that's any indication. But I have so many superlatives to lob at DQXI already. It's one of the best Dragon Quest games I've ever played; one of the best JRPG's I've ever played; one of the best of this generation; of the Switch's library; etc, etc etc.