Friday, December 16, 2016

My favorite game of 2016: Pocket Card Jockey

How on earth could I name Game Freak's Pocket Card Jockey my favorite game of the year?

It was a pretty easy decision to make, actually. After all, I played this 3DS eShop game more than I played any other in 2016. Just as importantly, I enjoyed playing it more than I enjoyed playing any other game over the last 12 months.

As for what prompted me to play and enjoy Pocket Card Jockey so much in that time, that's not so easy to explain. Why? A lot of praiseworthy components are packed into the game, so summarizing them requires more than a quippy sentence or two. Still, I should be able to do it in a handful of paragraphs.

For starters, the best thing about Pocket Card Jockey--and the aspect that caused me to devote more than 60 hours to it in 2016 (and put just as many hours into the Japanese version, Solitiba, in 2015)--is its addictive nature.

Meaning, of course, it's one of those games--like, say, Tetris or solitaire or mahjong--that you pick up when you have a few free minutes, and before you know it you've sunk an hour or two (or more) into it.

Granted, Pocket Card Jockey is one part solitaire (golf solitaire, to be more specific) and one part horse breeding and racing, so I guess its addictiveness probably shouldn't have come as such a surprise. (To learn more about how this game plays, read my Pocket Card Jockey review from a few months ago.)

Another reason this title is so marvelously compelling: its soundtrack. I fully understand if you assumed a digital 3DS game filled with cards and thoroughbreds would feature subpar music, but that's far from the reality of the situation. You can thank composer Go Ichinose (of Pokémon fame) for that. The jazzy, catchy tunes he created for Pocket Card Jockey not only get you in the mood to play as long as your eyes--or, in my case, your husband--will allow, but they also worm their way into your brain to the point you'll likely find yourself humming them at the most random times.

Does Pocket Card Jockey look great, and is that also partially responsible for why I'm declaring it to be my favorite game of 2016? Obviously. The same can be said of its controls, by the way, which work well and put the 3DS' many input methods to good use.

At the end of the day, though, it's how developer Game Freak deftly combined all of the above-mentioned elements that made me choose Pocket Card Jockey as my favorite game released this year. Everything meshes so well you revel in the overall experience while playing it rather than obsess about--or even notice--individual components like graphics and music.

With all that out of the way, do yourself a favor and grab your 3DS, buy this game from the eShop (current price: $6.99--believe me, it's worth every penny) and give it a whirl. Oh, and read through my Pocket Card Jockey guide if you want to fill your trophy case.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A little heads-up about me, this blog and 2017

You may have noticed me grousing here and on Twitter about being busy and stressed out over the last couple of months.

As annoying as it likely was, there were reasons for the whining. One of them: my husband and I decided to sell our house. Another: we decided to quit our jobs.

Now we're preparing to head out on an adventure that will take us to a number of different US towns and cities and will take up most, if not all, of 2017.

Don't worry, this doesn't mean I'm killing this blog. On the contrary, I'll likely publish posts more frequently than I have in years. And not only that, but the content of those posts should be meatier--or at least more interesting and informed--thanks to the fact I'll probably play many more games than I have in years.

Speaking of which, I'm planning to introduce a couple of new columns or series to this blog in early 2017.

I'm planning to do a lot more of the above in 2017

Rather than aping my "Aural Gratification," "Manual Stimulation" or "Nice Package!" series, though, these will be more akin to my "Year of the GameBoy" posts. In other words, they'll focus on specific game systems. Can you guess which ones?

One downside to this soon-to-start 2017 sabbatical: I won't have access to all of my many systems or games for nearly a year. The bulk of my "collection" will be in storage while the hubs and I are on the road.

Still, I'm bringing a bunch of games and systems with me. Specifically, I'm bringing my Japanese and North American 3DSes, my DS Lite, my Japanese PSone (I think), my Vita and my WonderSwan Color.

I'd love to bring my PSP, but its pesky UMDs pose a serious problem for a guy who has to cram a year's worth of treasured gaming possessions into a medium-sized duffel bag.

Anyway, that's what is in store for me, this blog and my gaming habits next year. If you'd like to keep track of the non-gaming portion of this upcoming adventure of mine, by the way, follow me on Instagram.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Nice Package! (Hatena Satena, GameBoy Advance)

This obscure, Japan-only puzzler from 2001 was one of eight titles I included in my recent post full of #HudsonMonth game recommendations.

Why do I think people should play it? For starters, its gameplay is similar to that of the ever-popular Picross.

Also, the visuals and audio offered up by Hatena Satena are light years beyond what you'll see and hear in your typical Picross title. Need proof? Check out this "let's play" video of the game.

Another reason I think folks should play--or at least buy a copy of--Hatena Satena is that its packaging is stunning.

I'm especially impressed with its box cover, which can be seen in the photo above. My personal favorite element of it: the logo, which is so heavily stylized that it's nearly impossible to decipher.

I also like the cover's depictions of Hatena Satena's adorable, Super Milk Chan-esque cast of characters, of course--the part-alien, part-octopus protagonist, in particular.

Speaking of whom, his or her smiling face also can be found on the game's cartridge label.

The snapshot above offers a glimpse of Hatena Satena's instruction manual. Unfortunately, the majority of this booklet is filled with text and screenshots--much like the manual that was produced for a similarly overlooked (and sadly Japan-only) GameBoy Advance puzzler called Guru Logi Champ.

The back of Guru Logi Champ's box is a bit of a bummer, I've got to say. Why its artists and designers couldn't have continued the front cover's brilliance on the reverse is beyond me. I guess someone at Hudson decided the space had to be covered with explanatory text instead.

Have any of you played Hatena Satena? If so, please share your thoughts on it in the comments section of this post. Also feel free to share your impressions of Guru Logi Champ, if you've played that GBA puzzler.

See also: previous 'Nice Package!' posts about Guru Logi Champ and Hitsuji no Kimochi