Saturday, January 19, 2019

How I spent my time with video games in 2018

I don't know about you, but the 3DS has spoiled me as far as tracking the time I spend with games is concerned.

And let there be no doubt: I like tracking the time I spend with games.

Why? I honestly have no idea. I guess it's just pure curiosity--as in, I think it's interesting to see how much time I put into the games I play (especially ones I finish).

Anyway, because none of my other systems track play time like my 3DS does, I have to track it the old fashioned way--by keeping my eye on the clock as I play and then compiling the results in a text file after I'm done.

That's what I did to come up with almost all of the figures you see below, which represent how I spent my time with a variety of video games in 2018:

  • Sweet Home (Famicom)—12 hours, 10 minutes
  • Death Mark (Switch)—11 hours, 20 minutes
  • Space Dave! (Switch)—10 hours, 30 minutes
  • Luigi’s Mansion (3DS)—10 hours, 25 minutes
  • Undertale (Switch)—9 hours, 05 minutes
  • Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers (3DS)—7 hours, 15 minutes
  • Tobu Tobu Girl (GameBoy)—5 hours, 45 minutes
  • Creeping Terror (3DS)—5 hours, 00 minutes
  • Phantasy Star (Master System)—4 hours, 45 minutes
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)—4 hours, 30 minutes (plus 7 hours, 45 minutes from 2017)
If you'd like to learn a bit more about some of these games, by the way, click on the links above.

Also, do you keep track of how much time you spend with games? If so, share your 2018 stats with me via a comment.

See also: how I spent my time with video games in 2017, 2016, 2015, and 2014

Wednesday, January 02, 2019

My favorite games of 2018 that aren't Black Bird or Sushi Striker

In my last post, I declared Black Bird and Sushi Striker my absolute favorite games of 2018.

While wrapping up that write-up, though, I said I liked a handful of other 2018 titles nearly as much as that pair of headline-grabbers.

The seven games highlighted here represent the "handful" in question.

The Alliance Alive (3DS)--Earlier in the year, I was all but certain this Cattle Call-made RPG would be my game of the year. Then Sushi Striker came out. And Octopath Traveler. And Undertale And Black Bird.

In the end, The Alliance Alive didn't quite hold up as a "GOTY" contender. Still, playing through it was one of my most delightful gaming experiences of 2018, no question.

Why? For starters, I found its battles absolutely thrilling. That's mainly due to how its "awakening" and "guild" systems interact with and spice up these turn-based brawls, though I have a feeling they'd still be plenty riveting even without such embellishments.

The Alliance Alive wrapped me around its little finger for a few other reasons, too. Among them: its quirky cast of characters, its surprisingly varied--and oftentimes subtle--soundtrack, and its creepy "water devil dens" (optional dungeons, basically). (For more on these and a couple of other positive aspects of the game, read my post, "Five things that made it really easy for me to put more than 60 hours into The Alliance Alive.")

Given this title's association with and relationship to the much-maligned Legend of Legacy, I can't fault folks for passing on it. The fact is, though, The Alliance Alive is a far more accessible and straightforward RPG than that 2015 release.

As such, if you're up for embarking on a portable adventure and you're not opposed to whipping out your 3DS once more, I'd highly recommend picking up a copy of this Atlus-published (in North America) cart.

Dark Souls: Remastered (Switch)--If you had told me before I started playing it that this updated port of FromSoftware's tough-as-nails action game would be among my year-end favorites, I would've laughed in your face.

After all, it's not the kind of game that usually trips my trigger, as the saying goes. As a recent post of mine points out in its headline, I typically prefer cute games to gory or scary ones.

That may be true, but it's also true that it didn't take me long to become suitably impressed with Dark Souls' careful, stealthy gameplay. It helped, of course, that Remastered proved to be quite a bit less difficult than I assumed it would be.

Full disclosure: this is one of the few games included here that I've yet to finish. And not only that, but I have a sinking feeling I may never see its end credits. Even with my playthrough of it in an incomplete state, though, I consider Dark Souls: Remastered to be one of the true standouts of 2018.

Octopath Traveler (Switch)--As was the case with The Alliance Alive for a short while, I once assumed this highly anticipated Square Enix release would be my top pick for 2018.

You already know what happened after that.

I've got to say, though, if I'd made my "absolute favorite games of 2018" post about three rather than two titles, Octopath Traveler would have made the cut. (And if it'd been about four? The Alliance Alive would've been squeezed in, too.)

Although this SaGa-esque role-player has its share of issues (learn about them in this write-up on the "10 things I'd change about Octopath Traveler if given the chance"), it's still squarely a "my cup of tea" title.

What does that mean? For one thing, it means it brings to mind some of the classic JRPGs of my youth, like Final Fantasy IV, V, and VI. But it also means it's a bit weird--à la, say, SaGa Frontier. And it means it offers up some modern flourishes, too.

That hardly does justice to just how ambitious, affecting, and arresting Octopath Traveler is, however. It's filled with so many exquisite details that unpacking all of them here would be impossible. I tried to do so in another post earlier this year, though--"10 things I adore about Octopath Traveler."

Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! (Switch)--My interest in the Pokémon series has dropped so low in recent years that I barely even thought about pre-ordering Let's Go before it hit digital and retail store shelves in mid-November.

For whatever reason, though, I had a shocking change of heart right after it dropped. Boy, am I glad I did. Following a rough--or maybe I should say yawn-inducing--start, I fell deeply in love with this title's vibrant world, adorable creatures, and jubilant soundtrack.

I fell in love with its snappy battles, too--which may surprise those of you who are used to complaints being leveled at this area of the game.

You know what else impressed me about Let's Go? It never drags and doesn't overstay its welcome. That's something to crow about in an age when most role-playing games do whatever they can to keep you playing for 60, 80, even 100 hours or more.

Want to read more about my experience with this Switch title? Check out this recent post: "How Let's Go renewed my interest in Pokémon."

Shin Megami Tensei: Strange Journey Redux (3DS)--A little something you might not know about me: I'm a real apocalypse buff.

Specifically, I love reading apocalypse novels. (Though I enjoy a good apocalypse film now and then, too.)

So why did I wait until Redux's release to hop aboard the Strange Journey train? Because I had no idea an apocalypse was at the heart of this Shin Megami Tensei spinoff. In fact, I only decided to check it out after a Twitter friend compared its story to that of Annihilation.

You know what? That person was right. Strange Journey Redux's vibe is very similar to the one that permeates Jeff VanderMeer’s blockbuster. In other words, it's bleak, unnerving, suffocating--and kind of awe-inspiring, too.

Combine that with the game's innovative battles (you can chat up enemies and entice them to join your party if you're a sweet-talker) and impressive soundtrack and you've got a dungeon-crawler that's well worth exploring in either its original or updated form.

Space Dave! (Switch)--This Space Invaders clone is right up there with The Alliance Alive, Black Bird, and Sushi Striker as candidates for the title "most painfully overlooked and underappreciated game of 2018."

In my humble opinion, of course.

Actually, comparing Space Dave! to Black Bird is especially apt, if you ask me. Both of these 2018 releases take inspiration from some bona-fide classics and then turn that source material into something spectacularly unique.

If you're waffling between the two titles, by the way, I might recommend you check out Space Dave! first. It's typically half the cost of Black Bird, and it's decidedly more approachable than Onion Games' offering.

It's also a meatier experience. I've yet to encounter its credit roll despite putting more than 10 hours into it, for instance. Which isn't to suggest that's the goal of this game (it's more of a high-score affair); rather, it's to suggest you'll see a whole lot more than four "boards" while playing Space Dave!

For more on this Jason Cirillo-made shmup, see this write-up of mine: "A few thoughts on Space Dave! now that I've put nearly 10 hours into it."

Undertale (Switch)--I'm kind of embarrassed to admit this now, but here goes anyway: one of the main reasons I never put more than about an hour into Toby Fox's much-ballyhooed RPG before I got my hands on its Switch port was its cult-classic status irritated me.

Thankfully, those irrational feelings of annoyance didn't get in the way of me playing this iteration of the game right through to its credit roll.

As those of you who've completed Undertale might expect, I've since slapped myself silly for passing on it for so long. If I were forced to use just one word to explain why I responded to the experience in that way, I'd go with touching. So many people have compared Undertale to EarthBound that I was prepared for it to be wacky. But I had no idea it'd be so poignant.

Between that aspect of this game and its brevity, you can bet your sweet bippy I'm going to play Undertale again and again in the coming years.

Sunday, December 30, 2018

My favorite games of 2018: Black Bird (Switch) and Sushi Striker (3DS)

I know what at least a few of you are thinking right now: you put more than 100 hours into Octopath Traveler and published numerous posts about it, but didn't pick it as your favorite game of 2018?

Nope, I didn't.

Which isn't to suggest I disliked Octopath Traveler. On the contrary, I loved it. Sure, a few aspects annoyed me here and there, but those flaws did little to keep me from thoroughly enjoying its sprawling adventure. (Read my write-up, "10 things I adore about Octopath Traveler," for more on that particular subject.)

As much as that SaGa-esque RPG delighted me, though, it wasn't one of my two favorite games of this year. That honor belongs to Black Bird for Switch and Sushi Striker for the 3DS.

What's so special about this pair of titles? Here are a few thoughts:

Fabulous Black Bird fan art by @croppar

Black Bird

This Onion Games release doesn't provide the most appealing of first impressions. Before you've actually played it, it looks like little more than a "dark" Fantasy Zone rip-off that costs $20. Thankfully, Black Bird is far more than a simple clone of Sega's classic looped-level shoot 'em up.

First, there are the bullet-hell elements. These are most obvious during the game's four boss fights, but they're woven into the stages that precede them, too.

Illustration counting down to Black Bird's release,
by @momenko774
Also, there's its score-attack focus. In other words, the point while playing Black Bird isn't to finish its small handful of levels. Rather, the point is to improve your high score and climb the worldwide leaderboard.

To accomplish that, you have to wrap your head around and come to grips the game's many systems--bombs, combos, collectible gems, and more.

Finally, there's Black Bird's soundtrack. It deserves all the praise that can be heaped upon it simply for being so sonically impressive and interesting. (One minute it's marvelously vaudevillian, the other it's otherworldly operatic à la "that scene" in The Fifth Element.) That's not all it brings to the table, though. In addition, it times the introduction of most enemies to the backing tunes in a way that's reminiscent of--if not as interactive as--ASCII's Otocky for the Famicom.

Curious to learn more about why I love Black Bird so much? Check out this post of mine. Also, if you need some help conquering this curious shmup, scroll through my "10 Black Bird tips, tricks, and tactics" write-up. And maybe this one, too: "How to beat Black Bird's final boss in 'True' mode"

Sushi Striker's protagonists, by @meshi3

Sushi Striker

I guess you could say it took me a while to warm up to this indieszero-developed title.

Actually, I was gaga over it after Nintendo unveiled it during E3 2017. After playing the demo the company made available via the Switch eShop early this year, though, my interest in Sushi Striker nearly fell off a cliff. It felt far too frantic for my liking. And it seemed to lack the kind of surprising depth and strategy I usually look for in puzzlers.

Still, I wanted to support its release, so I kept my pre-order for the physical 3DS version of the game.

After putting a couple of hours into the cartridge that made its way to my doorstep in mid-June, I was glad I did. For starters, the final product quickly proved to be a lot less superficial and straightforward than the demo suggested would be the case.

Celia, possibly my favorite Sushi Striker character,
y @carmeladansen
Also, a few of the components I wasn't sure about while playing the demo's three measly stages--the characters, the cutscenes, and the soundtrack being prime examples--displayed their true, eye-popping colors in Sushi Striker's full form.

To learn more about this game's many positive attributes, read my post, "Five reasons I've fallen head over heels in love with Nintendo's Sushi Striker."

Not in a reading mood? Maybe this'll sway you to at least consider picking up a copy of Sushi Striker sometime soon: I devoted more than 51 hours to the 3DS iteration before tearing myself away from it. (And after finishing its lengthy story mode.)

Oh, and I enjoyed the experience so much I bought it for my Switch, too.

So there you have it: my absolute favorite games of 2018. That's not to say I hated every other title I played this year. In fact, I liked a handful of them nearly as much as this pair. Which ones am I talking about here? I'll spill the beans in my next write-up.

In the meantime, what were your favorite games of 2018? Tell me all about them in the comments section below.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

13 games I'm looking forward to playing in 2019

The 2018 version of this post I published earlier this year focused entirely on Switch games.

This year's version offers a bit more variety. Not only does it include a few 3DS titles, but it features some for Vita, too.

Are the games discussed below the only ones I'm looking forward to playing in 2019? Of course not. I can think of a few others--like Etrian Odyssey Nexus, the Switch port of Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age, and even The Princess Guide--just off the top of my head.

Plus, there are still a bunch of 2018 releases I'm excited about sinking my teeth into over the next 12 months, such as Katamari Damacy Encore and Yo-kai Watch Blasters.

Animal Crossing (Switch)--It's appropriate that this 2019 release should come first in this alphabetically ordered post. The reason: it's probably the one I'm most looking forward to experiencing next year. I've long harped about the fact that I prefer the original Animal Crossing above all of its successors, but that doesn't mean I abhor those follow-ups. On the contrary, I put a ton of time into City Folk and New Leaf. I expect to become just as obsessed with this upcoming sequel after a copy of it is finally in my hands.

Chocobo's Mystery Dungeon: EVERY BUDDY! (Switch)--Something else I've trumpeted here and elsewhere for years: I adore the original version of this game. That would be Final Fantasy Fables: Chocobo's Dungeon, of course. In fact, I might go so far as to call it my favorite Wii game. As such, I'm absolutely champing at the bit to start my way through this enhanced remaster, which is hitting both digital and retail store shelves in Japan on March 20.

Destiny Connect (Switch)--When the folks at Nippon Ichi Software first pulled back the curtain on this PS4 and Switch RPG, I was of two minds about it. On the one hand, I loved that it harkened back to certain role-playing games from the late 1990s, like Sting's Evolution for the Sega Dreamcast. On the other hand, its art style looked like one that could be either delightful or dreadful in motion. Thankfully, the latest Destiny Connect trailer suggests the final product--due out (in Japan) on March 14--is more likely to fit the former, rather than the latter, description.

Dragon Quest Builders 2 (Switch)--Although I'm not even close to finishing the Switch port of the first Dragon Quest Builders, I devoted almost 20 hours to it in early 2018. And I previously put about 12 hours into the Vita iteration. You might think that would keep me from even thinking of wasting my money on this sequel (how could I when I've yet to complete the original?), but you'd be wrong. In fact, I can't wait to see how Dragon Quest Builders 2, erm, "builds" upon its predecessor. Here's hoping those improvements push me to play this one until I reach its end credits.

Dragon Quest XI S (Switch)--Full disclosure: I bought the Japanese 3DS version of Dragon Quest XI at launch. The cartridge has never left its beautifully covered case, however. So why am I picking up this long-in-the-works Switch port? Because I want to experience its sprawling adventure in English, for starters. Also, at this point, I'm far more likely to play a game on my Switch than I am to play one on my Japanese New 3DS.

The House in Fata Morgana (Vita)--I've heard nothing but praise in regard to this Novectacle-developed visual novel since an English PC version launched back in 2016. To be honest, that's about all I know about it--other than its supposedly intriguing tale spans a number of centuries, let alone decades or years. I'm always up for a good visual novel, though, so when Limited Run Games announced it was prepping a physical release of The House of Fata Morgana for Vita in early 2019, I decided I'd add it to my lengthy to-buy list. Seems like a worthy swan song for Sony's sadly ignored handheld, don't you think?

Kirby's Extra Epic Yarn (3DS)--Speaking of swan songs, it seems like this portable port of my absolute favorite Kirby game (yes, you read that correctly) may be just that for Nintendo's 3DS. Although I would've preferred to traipse through Extra Epic Yarn in the the run-up to the holiday--for whatever reason, I think of it as a Christmas-y game--I know without a doubt I'll play the hell out of it no matter when it's released in 2019. For more on why that is, read my post that compares the original Kirby's Epic Yarn with Donkey Kong Country Returns.

The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince (Switch)--You might assume I'd choose the Vita version of this puzzle-filled side-scroller over the Switch one. After all, I own similar Nippon Ichi titles like htoL#NiQ, A Rose in the Twilight, and Yomawari for Sony's put-out-to-pasture portable. To be honest, I'd probably make the opposite decision if NIS America sold boxed copies of the Vita release of The Liar Princess and the Blind Prince. Since that doesn't seem to be in the cards, I'll be getting the standard Switch iteration of the game.

Pokémon (Switch)--My most recent post lays out how Let's Go renewed my interest in the Pokémon series. I know that doesn't ensure I'll similarly love the next mainline game, due out sometime in 2019, but I'm planning to give it a shot anyway. I just hope I don't find its larger cast of characters and additional gameplay elements to be as overwhelming as I've found them in previous entries like Pokémon X.

Romancing SaGa 3 (Vita)--Here's another upcoming release that I probably should purchase for Switch rather than for Vita. But I've already got the Romancing SaGa 2 semi-remake that dropped in late 2017 taking up space on my precious Vita's home screen, so it seems only right that this similar reimagining of Romancing SaGa 3 would join it there. Assuming Square Enix bothers to publish a Vita version in English, of course. And if it doesn't? I may pick up both for Switch.

Umihara Kawase Fresh! (Switch)--Much like Destiny Connect, I've been on the fence about this title since it was revealed. In part that's because I thought early screenshots of it looked a bit too mobile-game-ish. It's also due to my rather ho-hum response to Sayonara Umihara Kawase. I'm still not sure I like the aesthetics of Umihara Kawase Fresh!, and I'm also not sure its gameplay will entice me the way earlier efforts--Umihara Kawase Shun being a notable example--have, but that won't keep me from adding it to my ever-growing pile of Switch games in 2019.

Work x Work (Switch)--If you follow me on Twitter, you may have seen me mention that I've owned a Japanese copy of this intriguing RPG since it came out in early October. Surprisingly (or not), I've yet to even pop its cart into my Switch. My goal is to do just that after the holidays, but don't let that fool you--it's extremely unlikely I'll play it long enough to finish it thanks to the language barrier. Which is why I'm desperately hoping someone announces a 2019 English release of Work x Work pronto.

Yo-kai Watch 3 (3DS)--To be totally honest, I'm not entirely sure why I pre-ordered this game as soon as I was allowed to do so. Although I had a great time with the first Yo-kai Watch, I completely passed on its sequel and spin-offs, I've been curious about Yo-kai Watch 3 since I learned it changes up the series' battles a good bit. Plus, it'll provide a nice excuse to put away my Switch and pull out my 3DS in early 2019.

Are you looking forward to playing any particular games in 2019? If so, let me know which ones in the comments section of this post.

Saturday, December 22, 2018

How Let's Go renewed my interest in Pokémon

When Pokémon: Let's Go was revealed earlier this year, I paid it no mind.

My lack of interest had nothing to do with me being too cool, hardcore, or even old, mind you. Instead, it had to do with my, erm, "complicated" relationship with this long-running series.

You see, although I've bought a lot of Pokémon games over the years, I've barely played--let alone completed--most of them.

A few cases in point: before Let's Go, the only Pokémon title I ever "beat" was Red. I got close with Black, but became distracted as I approached its finale. All the rest, though? Well, I put about seven hours into X, and maybe four into Diamond and Emerald. Meanwhile, my copies of SoulSilver, Black 2, and Moon all remain unopened and unexplored.

Now my initial shoulder-shrugging in regard to Let's Go makes a lot more sense, right?

The thing is, although I was frosty toward this Switch remake at first, I thawed on it shortly after copies finally hit stores. Why? Glowing word of mouth, to be frank. Plus, screens and video footage of the game made it look like a lot of fun.

So, after a bit of hemming and hawing, I handed 60 big ones to the evil superpower known as Amazon for a copy of Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! and then (impatiently) waited for it to arrive on my doorstep.

Based on all of the above, you might assume the first few minutes I spent with this title were the gaming equivalent of love at first sight. They weren't.

In fact, after putting about an hour into it, I was wondering what on earth I'd done in buying it. I found it boring and slow. Honestly, if I hadn't spent so much money on it, I would've popped its cartridge out of my Switch and never looked back. Because I did drop a wad of cash on it, though, I stuck with it. A few hours later, I was all but smitten.

I can't point out to you the exact moment when my opinion of Let's Go, Eevee! changed, sadly. All I know is that I began one play session with a yawn and ended it with a grin splashed across my face.

That grin stayed in place for most of the next 40 or so hours I spent with the game, too.

I "blame" its charming cast of characters--the eponymous monsters, especially--for most of the pain I endured as a result of that days-long smile-fest, by the way. What can I say? There's just something about how the original 151 Pokémon creatures are depicted here that makes me happy.

The same could be said about the new, Pokémon Go-ish capture mechanism. A lot of people despise it, I know. I adore it. In the past, I often found the "wear 'em down until they're just about to faint" aspect of this series' random encounters to be draining. That's no longer an issue here.

Also, combining that aspect with wild Pokémon that are visible on the overworld map makes progressing through the game a breeze.

Are those three components really enough to change someone's mind on this series? I can't speak for anyone else, but for me that's certainly been the case--much to my own surprise, I have to admit.

Will my renewed interest in all things Pokémon (or at least some things Pokémon) remain strong if the mainline game that follows in the footsteps of Let's Go in late 2019 drops either or both of these last two bullet points from the back of its brightly colored box? I honestly don't know.

I can assure you I'll approach it with an open mind, though. And who knows? Maybe I'll walk away from it 50 or so hours later (as I did after I finished Let's Go recently) feeling like I got my money's worth from the purchase--something I've rarely been able to say about Pokémon games.