Category Archives: Fun
I have always enjoyed posting on my blog, but life over the past two years has really put a squeeze on my writing hobby. My output in 2019 was particularly poor with the only bright spot being that I managed to keep my Halloween writing tradition going with three posts with which I’m reasonably pleased. Changes in both my personal and professional life have incurred new taxes on my free time that mean I have less of it to devote to gaming and in turn both less inspiration and time to write.
While I can’t deny that I’m somewhat mournful of this new challenge to my hobbies, the changes I’ve faced in life over the past couple of years have ultimately been for the better, and I’m thankful for that. Going forward, I hope I can find a way to use my free time more efficiently and reinvigorate this blog as a hobby. With all of that out of the way, I have put together this long rambling post, where I talk in an abbreviated fashion about all the games and gaming stuff that became personal highlights of 2019.
Sega Genesis Mini
I picked up one of these around its launch a few months ago, and it’s been a ton of fun. A major function of games for me right now is to serve as a means of blowing off steam, and Genesis games are great at that purpose. During its heyday, Sega was really all about bringing the arcade experience into the home, and as a result, Genesis games often have a “pick up and play” quality that makes it easy to jump in for some action that can be as little as 5 minutes or as long as an hour. I own a few of the other classic consoles, and this is by far the one I’ve invested the most time in for that reason. I also plucked down the money for the wireless controller from 8bitdo, and it has been an excellent controller so far, well worth the money. (I have another 8bitdo controller that I use with my tablet, and it is also excellent. They make great stuff from my experience.) Hopefully, I will be able to write more about this machine in the future.
Super Mario Maker
This game also follows the theme of using gaming to blow off steam. I really enjoyed Super Mario Maker on the Wii U, and the sequel simply carries that game over to the Switch while adding some excellent new bells and whistles. While I’ve really enjoyed making levels on the Wii U, I haven’t really gotten around yet to making my own levels on Switch. I feel that the lack of an in-built stylus in the Switch makes level designing less approachable than on Wii U. I’ve really just been downloading levels to play when I have some spare time here and there. I haven’t picked up the game up for a little while now, but the arrival of playable Link complete with his own special abilities makes me want to go back.
Resident Evil 2
I’ve already written about this game for Halloween, but I just wanted to reiterate that it was probably the highlight of 2019 for me.
Assorted 3DS Games
Most people have probably completely moved to Switch, but I’m still clinging to my 3DS. I’m having a really hard time letting go. I think it’s mostly because the 3DS is more portable than the Switch, being smaller and having a more robust clamshell design that folds up to protect the important bits, which makes it easy for me to take along to play at lunch breaks or when I’m traveling. There’s also just a huge library of great games on the system that I haven’t managed to get around to yet, which means there’s always something new for me to play. Right now, the machine really just sort of lives in my backpack.
My go-to game for the past month or so has been Super Mario 3D Land, which is a game that I’ve beaten before, but makes for good replay due to the amount and creative variety of content. It’s honestly a bit mind boggling to me to play this game and see how well Nintendo translated the scope of a 3D Mario game to a handheld device. Throw in the fact that this game is sort of a spiritual successor to Super Mario Bros. 3 (my favorite Mario game), and I’ve come to realize that I’ve really underappreciated it for a long time. For this playthrough, I challenged myself to collect all of the star coins in each level, something that I tried but never accomplished the first time I beat it. In typical Nintendo fashion, the reward for doing such an above-and-beyond feat is incredibly basic, a simple star tagged to the save file, but I’m fine with that. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I’ve waded into the 3DS version of the first Luigi’s Mansion.
I bought Rage 2 completely on a whim around the time when it came out. All of the reviews at the time mentioned how mediocre the game was, and I have to concur. It does mindless action very well, but enemy variety, world building, and level and mission design are just let downs and leave the experience feeling like it could have been so, so much more. Nonetheless, I played the game all the way to completion of the story and cleaned up some of the larger optional side missions. I did enjoy what I played, and occasionally go back to do some of the open world missions that I haven’t completed when I just want to zone out to a game, because again it does mindless action very well, but it is not a game that I would put very high on my recommended list.
Star Wars Jedi: Fallen Order
This has been my go-to game lately. Star Wars is something I’m not quite as passionate about as I was when I was a high schooler, but games like Jedi Outcast and Knights of the Old Republic remain among my favorites that I revisit every handful of years. So far, Fallen Order is shaping up to meet the high standards of those particular titles. I’ve heard this game described as Souls-lite as it has a combat system that is very similar to Dark Souls melee combat, although not nearly as tight or graceful, in addition to other borrowed elements like a bonfire-style save and recovery system and worlds that just sort of weave in and out of themselves in a similar manner to the lands around the Firelink Shrine.
I only have two major complaints about the game. First, the game is heavily focused on lightsaber combat with force powers as a supplement (there are no blasters that the main character can use as far as I know). For the most part it works fairly well, but the character can feel clumsy at times. This is particularly true since so many other elements of the game scream Dark Souls, but the melee combat just isn’t as tight as what an experienced Dark Souls player might expect. The second issue I have is the enemy variety isn’t that great. It’s mostly humanoids (usually stormtroopers) that carry various flavors of blasters or energy weapons and a handful of very basic Star Wars monsters. There’s nothing that really captures the imagination to the extent that the menagerie of grotesqueries that appears in the Dark Souls series does.
Those complaints out of the way, I still think the game is really cool. The planets the player visits are fun to explore, and they look incredible. If the game can keep up the momentum it has had so far, it may actually dethrone Jedi Outcast as my favorite Star Wars game.
This is a game I downloaded to my phone, and it’s been a good way to entertain myself when I only have access to my phone. In general, gaming on phones has usually felt like a wasteland to me because of the soul-destroying monetization schemes that are hard to escape. If you had told me a long time ago in a world before smartphones that people in the future would carry around computers in their pockets that were more powerful and had a faster internet connection than the computer I grew up with, my video game addled brain would have immediately started imagining all the amazing gaming possibilities that such devices would open up. And then if you had told me that all the games on these things would suck, I think my brain would break and my faith in the future of humankind would have completely shattered.
Grindstone is, fortunately, one of the too few mobile games that is actually worthwhile. A product of Capybara Games, who also made Critter Crunch and Sword and Sworcery, their house style is definitely on display here. The game is sort of like a match 3 game (e.g., Bejewelled) but with no actual matching. Instead, each level is a grid of differently colored monsters, and the player takes control of a Viking warrior that occupies one of these grid spaces. Enemies are defeated by running a line from the Viking character through consecutively adjacent monsters of the same color. The catch is that if the Viking lands on a space adjacent to an enemy that is readying an attack, the player will take damage. Enemies that are defeated are replaced by new enemies that fall from the top of the screen. Levels are usually completed when the player defeats a certain number of enemies.
While all of this may sound complex due to the haphazard way I’m describing it, it’s actually fairly simple once seen in action. The game has a huge number of levels that keeps this fairly simple formula interesting by introducing new elements such as special monster types, environmental upgrades, and unlockable abilities.
This is the kind of game that I’ve personally found is best for me to play in short, disciplined bursts. The game can be addictive in a way that reminds me of the rabbit holes that I’ve gone down in over the Picross series. Every time I complete a level, I have this impulse to start the next one, telling myself I’ll only play “just one more”. If I’m not careful, way too much time evaporates, and I’ve long stopped having fun and, at that point I’m really just chasing after a dopamine kick. It’s like gorging on a bag of potato chips. That first chip is super salty and delicious, which makes you want to eat one more. Then you eat the second and third chip which are a little less tasty due to your brain becoming numb to the repetition of flavor. But you keep eating because you’re chasing after the satisfaction that the original chip gave you. Eventually, you’ve found that you’ve eaten way too much, should have stopped a long time ago, and that momentary pleasure has given way to self-loathing originating somewhere deep inside the body. Just like the potato chip, it’s best not to let oneself binge on these kinds of addictive games. Play a level or two here and there and then just let it go.
Last but not least, not too long ago I managed to complete my long personal quest to complete all of the games in the Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy. The third game in the series has always been my favorite, and after having a tough time with Crash 1 and 2, I was pleased to find that Crash 3 is still mostly agreeable to me. I plan to write more very soon on both the surprises and disappointments that the Crash 3 remake delivered, as well as why it took me an incredible amount of time to actually finish.
The Wii U ended up being a surprisingly forward thinking platform for Nintendo. Although its central conceit of introducing second screen gameplay hasn’t gone very far, it managed to introduce a few exciting new series to Nintendo’s stable that pushed what we all thought the company was capable of. Games like Splatoon and Mario Maker marked incredibly successful forays into online multiplayer functionality and community building, while established series like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. received a long tail of support and substantial new content post-release.
On the other hand, it’s hard not to look at Wii U as a low point for the company, especially after the obscenely successful Wii. Some of Nintendo’s best series have gone missing or fell flat on the machine. No Metroid, no Animal Crossing, a lackluster Paper Mario game, a Zelda game delayed all the way to the launch of its successor, a Star Fox title that baffled a lot of gamers, sporadic and inconsistent Virtual Console support. The Wii U has definitely had some high-highs, but also some low-lows.
In the end, I enjoyed the Wii U, even if it did sit idle for months at a time. Now with the Switch finally out in the wild, I’ve decided to highlight my favorite 5 games of the Wii U (in no particular order).
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker
Captain Toad was a smaller Wii U title that doesn’t get as much credit as I think it’s due. This game is a spin-off of the Captain Toad levels from Super Mario 3D World, but I think it actually managed to be something far more interesting and imaginative than the those small bonus stages in its progenitor. Treasure Tracker differentiates itself from 3D World by focusing on puzzle platforming that tasks the player with getting the main characters (Captain Toad and Toadette) across small 3D levels without the ability to jump. The game displays a huge range of imagination across its many tiny but dense levels, similar to the kind of creativity and diversity that you would find in a mainline 3D Mario game.
Super Mario 3D World
Although I think I prefer the Super Mario Galaxy games, Super Mario 3D World (and Land on the 3DS) are undeniably great Mario games. While the sidescrolling New Super Mario Bros. series has gotten stale, 3D World lives up to the imagination and inventiveness of its 3D Mario predecessors. The simple fun and wonderment of this game was a huge source of brightness in my life when I originally played it. I wish I had more thoughtful things to say about it, but it’s just pure, uncompromised Mario goodness, the kind of which is a reminder why this character has been the de facto mascot of gaming for over 30 years running.
Super Mario Maker
I liked the first two New Super Mario Bros. games, especially the Wii one, but like a lot of other gamers, I thought the series quickly started to stagnate, with the 3DS and Wii U games being less than inspiring. I was beginning to think that classic sidescrolling Mario had run its course again, but then came one of the most impressive games I’ve played in many years, Super Mario Maker. For a company as stubborn and old-fashioned as Nintendo, Mario Maker was a huge surprise with its focus on online community and user created content, two things Nintendo rarely exhibits an interest in. I had a ton of fun playing community levels, but also I was surprised at how much my imagination was stoked while creating my own levels in the editor.
Mario Kart 8
Mario Kart 8 may very well be number 1 amongst Mario Kart titles for me. I think in trying to tone down the chaoticness of Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7 ended up feeling rather boring and uninspired. Mario Kart 8, on the other hand, managed to find the perfect balance between creatively-designed courses and combat and well-balanced racing challenge. Also, building on what I said about Super Mario Maker, Mario Kart 8 was surprisingly modern and forward-thinking for a Nintendo game and featured a competently designed online mode and DLC packs that actually provided substantial content to the game.
Super Smash Bros. 4
I often drag the Wii U home for the holidays to see family, because we typically plug a lot of time into Mario Kart together (as we did with the Wii before it). All that changed, however, after I introduced Super Smash Bros. 4. At first, my sisters were really unsure about this mess of a fighting game, but it didn’t take long for them to get hooked. Featuring a ton of great characters from across Nintendo’s history, like Bowser Jr., Ike, and Little Mac, but also a few not so great characters, like Villager and Dark Pit, Smash Bros. is an amazing gift to Nintendo fandom, but also just a fundamentally good game for friends and family from one of the few companies that still puts a lot of effort into high-quality local multiplayer games.
Well, after writing this list, I’m suddenly realizing that it’s basically all games featuring Mario or the Mario universe. Of course, there were a few non-Mario games that I came close to adding to the list, namely Splatoon deserves credit. The two Zelda remakes (Wind Waker and Twilight Princess) were also pretty good, but I would rather not count remakes in a list of like this. The releases have been thin over the years, but I’m hoping they’ve been saving up for the Switch. Definitely, I’m excited for Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Splatoon 2, and I’m curious about ARMS. Even though the Wii U had its troubles, I’m cautiously excited for Switch. Nintendo has its ups and downs, but they’ve always managed to maintain consistent quality over an impressively long history.
The release of Smash Bros. may have caused it to feel like a distant memory, but just a few weeks ago Mario Kart 8 received a pretty amazing DLC upgrade. Although it included some additions to the character and kart roster that I felt were kind of lackluster, it did introduce 8 awesome new courses (and the tracks, of course, are the true stars of the Mario Kart series). There is one final DLC pack announced for May (which seems like an oddly long time table to me) with little known about the next round of tracks that will be introduced, though the three new racers have been announced. It’s a somewhat reasonable guess that at least one track will be Animal Crossing-themed, as Villager and Isabelle are announced crossover characters. Since thinking about the future of Mario Kart always gets me excited, I’ve compiled a short list of things I’d think would be cool for the next round of tracks.
1) Wave Race
The first round of DLC had F-Zero (Mute City) and Excitebike themed tracks, so it doesn’t seem far-fetched to me that Nintendo might prepare appearances of their other racing franchises. I’ve always had a heavy fondness for Wave Race ever since the N64, but I also feel like it might not be the most appreciated of Nintendo’s series. Even when compared to F-Zero, a series which hasn’t seen a proper release in a long while, it just doesn’t receive nearly the same level of attention. I would like to see Nintendo give the series at least a respectful nod, as they did with the Mute City track. Unfortunately, I think this is somewhat unlikely for a few reasons. First, it’s a little challenging to create a Wave Race-based track in MK8, because you don’t really race on the water in MK8, rather you race under it. Maybe they can set up the track so the hover wheels are triggered over water (sort of Jet Moto-style), but that leaves me to wonder then if the Mario Kart 8 engine is set up to handle the wave-physics that Wave Race is based around. Also, the style of Wave Race is more grounded in reality than the fantastical and whimsical settings of MK8 and F-Zero. Therefore, despite my enthusiasm for Wave Race, I’m conflicted as to whether the two series would really mesh well together.
Pilotwings, although not a racing series, I think could actually work a little bit better with MK8 than Wave Race. I’ve no experience with the SNES game, but I thought the N64 game has always been a bit underappreciated. I also really like the breezy, high-flying, flat-shaded aesthetic of Pilotwings Resort and the Pilotwings-stage in Smash Bros, which I think could make for a visually stunning MK course, similar to what they did with Excitebike. I’ve always felt the Mario Kart 7-inherited parachute mechanic is lacking in substance and really just serves to extend the scale of the courses. Perhaps a track with multiple parachute segments that utilize PIlotwings elements could prove fun? I’m thinking things like boost rings and bullseye targets in the landing areas that provide some sort of benefit if hit.
3) Mushroom City
One of the most interesting tracks from Double Dash, I’m a bit surprised Mushroom City hasn’t already made a reappearance in Mario Kart. In addition to the heavy traffic, Mushroom City’s main draw is its convoluted layout, allowing players access to diverging paths and junctions as they race through the city. Actually, a new city-themed track made from the ground up for Mario Kart 8 might be more interesting. The improved hardware could allow for an even more sophisticated and maze-like city, and randomized traffic patterns could provide impetus for players to switch up the paths they take through the thoroughfares.
4) World 4 – Giant Land
I’ve always thought World 4 from Super Mario Bros. 3 could make for an interesting track. I’m imagining a track where players have to focus on avoiding the giant-sized versions of common Mario enemies such as koopas, goombas, piranha plants, Sledge Bros., etc. Also, perhaps there could be some sort of mechanic where racers could go through some sort of doorway/gateway (kind of like in the original World 4) and become big themselves. The giant-sized racers would have an advantage in that they could trample smaller racers, but the smaller racers would have an advantage in that they could access certain shortcuts that the giant racers wouldn’t be able to fit through. A cool idea I think, although maybe a little gimmicky.
5) Kirby’s Air Ride
Oh goodness no….just kidding…….just kidding….
5) Wario Colosseum
I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one. I include it purely out of how much I enjoy it. The XXL-sized Double Dash track was a favorite of mine, and I’d like to see it make a comeback.
All in all, regardless of what we see appear in the final content package, this first round of DLC gives me faith that Nintendo will deliver quality. The only track I think I distinctly dislike is Excitebike. The simplistic oval Excitebike track seems like a low hanging fruit for the development team that Nintendo dressed up in nostalgia to avoid complaints. I seem to be against the grain of popular opinion, though, since it always seems to get a lot of votes online.