Thursday, December 30, 2021

One sentence about each of the 21 games I finished in 2021

I somehow managed to finish 21 games this year. I say "somehow" here because for all of 2021 it felt like I played fewer games than I did in 2020.

Actually, it's possible I did play fewer games in 2021 than I played in 2020. And I surely spent less time with the games I played in 2021 than I did with the games I played in 2020, as my next post will make clear.

As for this post, it features—as the header above hopefully suggests—one-sentence "reviews" of each of the 21 games I completed this year.

Also, they're organized according to when I completed them. So, Shiren the Wanderer 5+ was the first game I "beat" in 2021, while Umrangi Generation Special Edition was the last.

Shiren the Wanderer 5+ (Switch)

I didn’t realize just how much I’ve always wanted to pillage towers at extreme threat of violence and even death until I dug my teeth into this beautifully complex roguelike.

Captain Toad (Switch)

Captain Toad is a cute and (mostly) chill puzzle-action game that I can honestly say I enjoyed more than I've enjoyed any of the proper Mario titles that have been released over the last few years.

Princess Debut (DS)

A fluffy and rather childish otome game that features a barebones rhythm component—via simple ballroom dance sequences—and attractive, manga-inspired art.

A Kappa’s Trail (DS)

An instant-classic, hidden-gem, touch-controlled, puzzle-action game from some of the same devs who gave the world Mother 3, Magical Starsign, and Fantasy Life.

Pikmin 3 Deluxe (Switch)

Exploring the game’s beautifully realized environments while capturing towering "enemies" and corralling similarly giant pieces of fruit is great fun; doing all of those things while watching a clock tick toward zero is not.

Bravely Default II (Switch)

Yes, it’s yet another RPG about those damned “four heroes of light,” but this one tweaks the formula, gameplay (the battles, especially), and aesthetics just enough to make it all seem fresh and exhilarating.

Gnosia (Switch)

I started this game expecting it to be little more than Raging Loop set in space, but what I got was an addictive Werewolf simulator with a thrilling drip-feed story—the opposite of RL’s, basically—and a swoon-worthy OST.

Poison Control (Switch)

Poison Control is a curious and snappy mashup of a dungeon-crawler, a third-person shooter, and Taito's classic quartermucher Qix, all set to a surprisingly dark assortment of stories and a subtly brilliant soundtrack.

Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk (Switch)

Come to this dungeon RPG for the 40-member parties (kind of, but kind of not), stay for the in-the-end-touching story and the interesting traversal elements.

Famicom Detective Club: The Missing Heir (Switch)

An attractive and captivating whodunit that occasionally frustrates due in large part to a clunky interface that sticks a little too close to its late-1980s roots.

Famicom Detective Club: The Girl Who Stands Behind (Switch)

Another modern remake of an old adventure game that originally graced the Famicom Disk System, though this one is more suspenseful and has a slightly more appealing setting and story.

Ripened Tingle’s Balloon Trip of Love (DS)

A point-and-click game starring everyone's favorite emotionally stunted oddball, Tingle, and sporting a story that's a silly riff on The Wizard of Oz; believe me, it's every bit as great as it sounds.

Gravity Rush (Vita)

Although its increasingly nonsensical story and always-aggravating combat regularly attempted to take my attention away from it, I don't think I've ever felt more like I'd stepped into the shoes—or spandex jumpsuit—of a superhero than I did while playing this gorgeous "gravity action" game.

Tearaway (Vita)

Tearaway is a breezy, Kirby-esque platformer that makes impressive and creative use of the Vita hardware and, as such, feels more like an amusement-park ride than a video game.

Airship Q (Vita)

Take Terraria, make the protagonist a cat, add a save-your-catnapped-sister story, and toss in a few honest-to-goodness, pull-your-hair-out-by-the-roots moments of jank-prompted frustration, and you have Airship Q.

Deltarune Chapter 1&2 (Switch)

This Undertale follow-up may or may not be a better game than its predecessor, but either way, it's a joy to play thanks to its wall-to-wall witty and silly text and its decision to fully lean into bullet-hell gameplay.

Mon Amour (Switch)

If you've ever wondered what Flappy Bird would look, sound, and play like if the creative geniuses at Onion Games (Black Bird, Dandy Dungeon) had made it, here's your answer.

Dungeon Encounters (Switch)

It's best to ignore how Dungeon Encounters looks, especially before you actually play it; instead, think of it as a minimalistic, top-down Etrian Odyssey that has you solve riddles to find new abilities, party members, treasures—even the final boss.

SaGa Frontier Remastered (Switch)

Although the stories that hold SaGa Frontier together are on the simple side, every other element of this Japanese role-player is out of this world: the eye-popping array of party members, the exotic enemy designs, the extraterrestrial locales, the electrifying battles, and—last, but certainly not least—the extraordinary soundtrack.

Liquid Kids (Switch)

This side-scrolling Bubble Bobble—basically, though the protagonist is a roly-poly platypus rather than lime-green dinosaur—is an arcade game through and through, with cheap deaths around every other corner, but it's also a blast to play thanks to how fun it is to throw "water bombs" everywhere and at everything.

Umurangi Generation Special Edition (Switch)

If Gnosia is a Werewolf simulator, Umurangi Generation is a document-the-end-of-the-world-using-a-DSLR-camera simulator—and a damn good one, at that.

Friday, December 24, 2021

My favorite games of 2021 that weren't actually released in 2021

Although I played and loved a lot of games this year that were actually released in the last 12 months, I also played and loved a lot of games that came out before 2021.

In particular, I played more Vita games in 2021 than I have in yearsthree of which are highlighted below. I also played a handful of DS games.

A Kappa’s Trail (DS)

This Nintendo DSiWare game is a breath of fresh air for several reasons, though the most noteworthy are that it makes full use of the DS system's touch screen (in fact, the machine's directional pad or face buttons are disabled during play) and it forces players to figure out what to do right from the word go.

Granted, I'd hardly call this digital release one of my favorite games of 2021 if all it offered were a lack of handholding and slick, stylus-centric controls. On that note, A Kappa's Trail is also quite a looker, no shock given the wizards at Brownie Brown (of Mother 3 and Magical Starsign fame) made it. Its lead-a-big-headed-kappa-to-the-end-of-each-winding-stage-while-avoiding-myriad-pitfalls-and-perils gameplay is unique, too, not to mention tense, thanks to the creepy disembodied hand that slowly stalks you and threatens to cut short your otherwise jaunty journey.

Don't worry, the latter isn't overly off-putting; instead, it injects the game with a welcome dose of drama that elevates the experience beyond "pleasant but boring."

Airship Q (PC/Vita)

When I imported my copy of this game many moons ago, all I knew about it was that it was supposed to be Terraria with cats. In reality, that description isn't entirely accurate. Airship Q is a far more straightforward title than Terraria, though this doesn't mean it's constricted. On the contrary, it's as open as you could hope for it to be; however, there are times you'll be forced in a particular direction to advance Airship Q's rather meager story.

Now to throw some cold water onto this little "review": Airship Q is a bit janky. In particular, its block- and physics-based world regularly does its best to spoil your progress and fun by trapping your craft or keeping you from reaching your intended destination. This usually induces laughs rather than rage, but don't be shocked if it causes the occasional fit. It shouldn't prompt you to huffily pull the plug on your playthrough, though, or at least it shouldn't if you do like I did and think of this aspect of the game as charming instead of irritating.

Gravity Rush (PS4/Vita)

Gravity Rush is one of those games that are filled with brazen, brilliant ideas that never fully gel. The characters (Kat, the protagonist, especially) and steampunk-ish setting fascinate, and its soundtrack alternatingly soothes and soars. Speaking of soaring, dashing and falling through the air as the aforementioned Kat is one of the more exhilarating experiences I've had in a game in eons.

Dashing and falling into one or more of Gravity Rush's low-key nightmarish enemies, on the other hand, tends to be tiresome rather than breathtaking, and it didn't take me long to both dread and even detest such tussles. Fulfilling the game's many missions gets old quickly, too, though not as completely as its battles.

Perhaps appropriately, the story in Gravity Rush veers wildly between riveting and ridiculousalmost like it exists to meld the game's positive and negative attributes. It leans toward the former more than the latter, though, and that was enough for me.

A ringing endorsement, right? Maybe not, but the fact is I'm still thinking of my time with Gravity Rush, and I'm also already contemplating taking another stab at it. In other words, its pros outweigh its cons, or at least they did for me. Considering how bold Gravity Rush is overall, putting up with its handful of quibbles isn't such a difficult task.  

Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk (PC/PS4/Switch)

I avoided starting Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk for ages because screenshots of it intimidated me. Specifically, the number of party members depicted in said screens got me thinking this dungeon-crawling RPG would be far too convoluted for my feeble brain. After finishing and putting more than 75 hours into it, I'm glad to report it's not. In fact, its multi-character battles are far more conventional than initial impressions suggest.

Which isn't to say Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk is traditional to a fault. It actually offers up several innovations that make it seem surprisingly fresh. Two standout examples: you can jump over pits while exploring its many maze-like dungeons, and you can break through walls to examine previously inaccessible areas.

Building and customizing your party, which can eventually include as many as 40 members (each of whom are puppets, not humans), provides a similarly unique thrill. Unfortunately, it's a bit too deep to delve into here. The game does a decent job of explaining it as you go along, thankfully.

Another area in which Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk excels is its story. Hell, a dungeon role-playing game having anything more than a barebones backstory is worth noting, but the one included here wouldn't be out of place in your typical JRPG. That it ends up being rather poignant only adds to the allure.

Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love (DS)

Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love is such a bizarre mashup of ideas that I'm frankly amazed the powers that be at Nintendo greenlit its development. It's a point-and-click game that stars everyone's favorite jumpsuit-wearing oddball, Tingle, and sports a story that parodies The Wizard of Oz.

Actually, there's more to Ripened Tingle's Balloon Trip of Love than just pointing and clicking. You solve puzzles, complete mini-games, and even woo some ladies, too.

Whether or not you tend to enjoy this genre, it's worth checking outin large part because it was developed by the talented crew at Vanpool, an offshoot of the renowned Love-de-Lic (known for cult classics Moon: Remix RPG Adventure and UFO: A Day in the Life).

Spelunky (PC/PS4/Switch/Vita)

Admittedly, my obsession with Spelunky began after I bought the Switch port that released this past autumn. I quickly moved over to the Vita version, though, and that's where I spent most of my time with this masochistic title.

That I enjoyed it enough to play it for more than 20 hours is a near-miracle, I must say. This type of platformer has never been my cup of tea for all sorts of reasons I won't bore you with now. What's different about Spelunky? For starters, I feel like I'm at least slightly more in control of my destiny while playing it than I do while attempting similar efforts. Also, dying in Spelunky rarely devastates me. And even when it approaches doing so, I still typically end up laughing at the comedic cruelty of it all before moving on to just one more run.

If you're wondering why I or anyone else would willingly go through such hell over and over again, well, my only answer is that I like the challenge of it. Success, at both the individual stage and overall game level, always seems within reachif only I could do this next time, or not do that. It's easy to blame yourself, rather than the game, for failing, though never so harshly you give up and move on to something less taxing. 

Friday, December 17, 2021

My favorite games of 2021

Although I played a lot of games in 2021, only about half of them were actually released this year. And even then, most were far from the AAA efforts that tend to fill similar GOTY write-ups. 

Still, I hope those who read this post will enjoy the thoughts I share below on what I consider to be my favorite games of 2021.

Something to consider as you scroll: I've sadly yet to experience a good handful of 2021 releases that I expect would've made this list had I gotten around to playing them. Among the games in question: Fuga: Melodies of Steel, The Great Ace Attorney ChroniclesNEO: The World Ends with You, Undernauts: Labyrinth of Yomi, and Voice of Cards.

Bravely Default II (PC/Switch)

You're probably already aware that the character models in this Bravely Default sequel are less visually appealing than their counterparts in the original. Bravely Default II's soundtrack doesn't hit the same highs as the previous game's either. 

Even so, I found Bravely Default II to be enormously compelling. The claymation-inspired, diorama-esque world is a joy to race around, and its battles exist somewhere within the same exhilarating realm as those found in the first Bravely Default and the oft-similar Octopath Traveler.

The cherry on top of this sadly divisive RPG: the bonkers story, which becomes more and more compelling--not to mention bizarre--the deeper you delve into it.

Deltarune Chapter 1&2 (PC/PS4/Switch)

I dragged my feet on plunging into the first two chapters of Deltarune until late this year because, frankly, I couldn't fathom how they'd even remotely reach Undertale's splendorous heights. Boy, was I wrong. I don't know that I could declare Deltarune chapters one and two to be better than the whole of Undertale, but I also wouldn't argue with anyone who makes such an assertion.

For me, the main area in which Deltarune bests its precursor is combat. Battles in Deltarune have more depth and are more strategic than those in Undertale. I also found them more fun, truth be told. I can't quite say the same about Deltarune's characters, story, or soundtrack. In particular, Queen and Lancer pale in comparison to their Undertale counterparts, Sans and Papyrus, though the former are by no means duds.

Whatever. All I know is I'm itching--desperately--to play Deltarune's remaining chapters, however many Toby Fox and crew decide to release into the world. For me, that makes the whole "which is better?" discussion moot. At least until the next time I play through Undertale (wink wink).

Dungeon Encounters (PC/PS4/Switch)

Dungeon Encounters offers up a terrible first impression, looking like one of Square Enix's lowest effort titles ever. Give it a whirl, though, and you're sure to realize, as I quickly did, it's a minimalistic Etrian Odyssey viewed from a decidely different perspective.

Even that sells this digital RPG short, though, as I enjoyed playing Dungeon Encounters more than I've enjoyed playing any Etrian Odyssey title to date. I also managed to finish Dungeon Encounters--something I've yet to do with Etrian Odyssey's many releases.

Why? The sense of mystery and exploration is strong in Dungeon Encounters. Not only do you map out floors of a dungeon, but you solve riddles to find new abilities, party members, treasures, and even the final boss. Also, the game practically begs you to break it in various ways. Once you've acquired certain abilities, you can jump around the 99-floor dungeon nearly at will. As you might expect, there's a risk-reward element to this play style, but that's yet another feather in Dungeon Encounters' cap.

All in all, if you're usually an RPG fan and you're up for tackling a tough one (though not unfairly so) that dares to stray from the norm, give serious consideration to Dungeon Encounters in 2022.

Gnosia (Switch)

Raging Loop was among my favorite games of 2020. One of the main reasons I loved Raging Loop so much was that it deftly blended aspects of the social-deduction game, Werewolf, into what is otherwise a spooky visual novel.

Gnosia also incorporates aspects of Werewolf into its gameplay. It's not a VN, though. Rather, it's more of a Werewolf simulator. The end result is every bit as gripping as you might expect if you've ever experienced Werewolf in some form or fashion. If you haven't, the gist here is that you're on a spaceship with a slew of extremely colorful characters (literally and figuratively) and you need to suss out which are Gnosia, alien-like creatures who will, without intervention, kill all humans aboard.

The thing is, you don't play through Gnosia just once. You play through it many, many times. A single loop may take as little as a few minutes or as long as a quarter-hour or more. While working your way through a particular loop, you'll regularly encounter event scenes that expand one or more characters' backstories. Only after you experience all of these scenes can you access Gnosia's true ending.

Really, though, the ending is the icing on this pixelated piece of cake. The real joy comes in the journey to that point--getting to know your crewmates, using what you glean there to your advantage (or their disadvantage), and figuring out what you need to move the overarching story toward its satisfying conclusion.

Mon Amour (PC/Switch)

After I played Onion Games' Mon Amour for the first time following its release, I thought, "this is cute, but I probably won't spend much time with it." I returned to it the next day, mostly to give it a quick second chance before moving on to something more my speed. Instead, I got wrapped up in its silly quest to rescue Princess Mona and her multitude of servants. I intended to only save a few of the latter, but by the time I'd done just that, I was hooked--or at least I was hooked enough to continue on rather than prematurely pull the plug on my Mon Amour adventure.

I'm so glad that happened. Because that's when I discovered there's more to this little gem than its Flappy Bird-ish gameplay, plethora of rescuable "mon-a-girls," and appropriately zany soundtrack. Notably, it's surprisingly strategic once you realize how your actions affect the playfield. With that knowledge in mind, you'll likely have as hard a time as I did putting down Mon Amour until you've saved every citizen, climbed the high-score list to an acceptable degree, or both.

SaGa Frontier Remastered (Mobile/PC/PS4/Switch)

I've been enamored with SaGa Frontier since first laying eyes on Japanese screenshots of it in some old gaming magazine or other in advance of its late-1990s release. For me, it was far closer to what I wanted from Square Enix (then Squaresoft) during the 32-bit era than Final Fantasy VII was.

I'm even more appreciative of what SaGa Frontier brings to the table today, thanks to the fact that it's now portable and sports a cleaned-up--and thus less confusing--localization. As it always was, SaGa Frontier remains thrillingly exotic, with locales, characters and battles that inspire awe while also getting the eyes popping and blood flowing.

True, SaGa Frontier can be brutal, with death lingering around nearly every corner. But even that is a positive, in my mind--considering how common it is for battles in RPGs to feel yawn-inducingly superfluous.

Thursday, February 11, 2021

Captain Toad and chill (or, move over Animal Crossing, this is the relaxing game I want and need in these difficult times)

So many people found solace in Animal Crossing: New Horizons last year. I was not one of them.

I expected to be one of them, of course. Not only have I enjoyed every previous entry in the Animal Crossing series (with the possible exception of Wild World), but I've returned to the GameCube version at least five times since my first obsessive playthrough eons ago.

There's no point in me prattling on about why I didn't gel with Animal Crossing: New Horizons; all I'll say for now is that it felt too much like busywork this go around.

With New Horizons tossed into the bin as my go-to "chill game" for 2020, I set out to find a suitable replacement. A Short Hike could have been it but it was too, well, short. Moon seemed promising as well, but it was a bit too somber and emotional to fill this particular role.

I guess I should have known Captain Toad might fit the bill. Nintendo is well known for concocting such non-threatening offerings, after all. Still, I assumed it would be more like one of the company's three-dimensional Mario titles—generally mellow, but with a slight edge.

Although Captain Toad shows some teeth near the end, the bulk of the experience is the definition of relaxing. You, plopped into Toad's shiny little shoes (and, later, Toadette's), shuffle and waddle around each cuboid stage in search of three diamonds and a single gold star, the latter of which doubles as an exit.

There are coins to grab, too, as well as doors to unlock and open—even chunks of earth and brick to lower or raise.

Oh, and there are enemies! How could I forget them? You can pluck turnips out of the dirt and weaponize them against the game's adorable baddies, but you can also sneak by them.

That's probably why they momentarily slipped my mind; for the lion's share of my Captain Toad playthrough, I ignored the Shy Guys, Goombas, and Boos that sauntered around each level with me whenever possible.

Given that, I can't help but wonder why they're even there. Or why Nintendo's developers didn't allow players to flip a switch and remove them, if that's what they fancied.

Maybe the company's bigwigs demanded (or at least strongly suggested) that Captain Toad needed them to be considered a proper game? Or maybe they (or, more likely, the devs themselves) thought they might provide an entertaining distraction from the rest of this rather low-key adventure?

Whatever the case may be, the majority of Captain Toad has such a tranquil vibe that it shocked me—in the most pleasant of ways, of course.

Note, however, that I said "the majority of" Captain Toad is tranquil. For reasons I still can't quite comprehend, the game veers in a decidedly stressful direction just before its end credits.

We're not talking Dark Souls territory here, naturally, but things do get a lot tougher. I had several "sweaty palm" moments during this portion of the game, which confused and even annoyed me a tad.

Honestly, I wish the folks who made Captain Toad had saved these slightly more taxing stages for the post-game. 

I would've preferred the main campaign to be a fully laidback experience, rather than one that suddenly ramps up in intensity at the last second.

Oh, well, at least the best part of it proved to be perfectly chill. That's more than I can say about nearly every other game I've played in the last year, so I'll forgive this lone misstep.

Have you found any old or new games particularly relaxing in the last year? If so, please tell me about it in the comments section below.

Monday, February 08, 2021

Manual Stimulation: Alien Syndrome (Game Gear)

I don't know if I've made this clear here, on Twitter, on Facebook, or elsewhere on the internet, but I adore Alien and Aliens

I'm specifically talking about the classic horror and sci-fi films, of course; not the, uh, beings from outer space in general.

I mention that because it should go a long way toward explaining my attraction not only to the 1986 arcade version of this game, but the boiled-down Game Gear port from 1992 I'm highlighting in this post.

After all, there's little denying Alien Syndrome was heavily inspired by James Cameron's classic 1986 sci-fi action film, Aliens.

This isn't to imply Alien Syndrome offers nothing new or unique. The enemies and especially bosses it throws at players are a world away from the ones found in the aforementioned flick.

To be honest, the low-level aliens you fend off in this Gauntlet-esque, run-and-gun shooter tend toward the lackluster. Thankfully, the end-of-stage guardians more than make up for it.

This version of Alien Syndrome isn't a straight port of the quarter-munching original, by the way. According to the intro, the Game Gear version a follow-up set five years in the future.

I can't say that's immediately noticeable while playing the portable iteration, but it's a nice bullet point all the same. 

Something else that's worth noting about this release is its brevity. The game offers up just four stages. Successfully finishing them is no easy feat, though, so at least there's that. Still, few are going to describe Alien Syndrome for the Game Gear as a meaty experience.

Most who play it are likely to call it a tense and thrilling experience, though. It absolutely nails that aspect of the source material. As such, playing through it again and again—or at least more than once—is joyful rather than annoying.

Have any of you played the Game Gear port of Sega's Alien Syndrome? If so, what did you think of it?

Thursday, February 04, 2021

Manual Stimulation: Bubble Bobble (Game Gear)

The Sega Game Gear port of Bubble Bobble may be my favorite home version of Taito's arcade classic.

Which of course means it's also one of my favorite Game Gear titles.

In fact, I love Bubble Bobble for Game Gear so much that one of my "bucket list" wishes as a games writer is to interview the folks who developed it so I can learn why they made some of the intriguing design choices they made. 

(Seriously, if you know anyone who used to work for the now-defunct, South Korea-based Open Corp and you can put me in touch with them, please let me know.)

Why am I such a huge fan of this portable iteration of Bubble Bobble? The main reason is that its Bob, Bub, enemy, and item sprites are the usual size, but its backdrops look as though they've been zapped with a shrink ray.

The result is that this Bubble Bobble port gives off some serious Godzilla vibes. As in, Bub and Bob—as well as their enemy combatants—tower over the surrounding environment. It feels strange, yet also thrilling.

It alters the gameplay quite a bit, too, which I'm sure will irk some Bubble Bobble lifers to no end. Personally, I like how it switches things up—even if it does obliterate the few strategies I've developed for other, more traditional versions of the game over the years.

Anyway, enough about the game itself. This post is supposed to be about the instruction manual that was packed inside copies of this small-screened take on Taito's seminal classic, so let's talk about it.

If you scroll back up a bit, you'll see the Bubble Bobble Game Gear manual kicks off with a two-page comic. Sure, it employs an art style I'm not a huge fan of, but it's still pretty sweet—if short.

Sadly, this booklet isn't as crammed full of lovely illustrations as I think it should be. Still, it includes enough of them that you're unlikely to feel let down at the end. 

Monday, February 01, 2021

11 games I want to return to in 2021

Although I've focused almost entirely on playing "new to me" games—you know, ones I've never played before, like the 11 games I highlighted in my previous post—over the last few years, in 2021 I'd like to return to a handful I put some time into previously.

The following games are the first that came to mind when I started this little exercise a couple of weeks ago. Will I actually circle back to all of them by the end of this year? Your guess is as good as mine. I'll give it my best shot, though, that much I can promise you.

ClaDun x2 (PSP)

I've had dungeon-crawlers on the brain the last few months, so I guess it shouldn't surprise me that this peculiar example of the genre popped into my head as a possible replay contender this year. One of the main reasons I'm thinking of revisiting it is that, while I recall enjoying both the first ClaDun and this 2011 sequel, I can't remember much else about them. Also, both are easily accessible via my sadly ignored Vita, so giving the latter a second chance in 2021 would allow me to spend some quality time with both of Sony's handhelds, in a manner of speaking.

Dillon’s Dead-Heat Breakers (3DS)

I put more than seven hours into this weird Dillon's Rolling Western sequel-slash-spinoff a couple years ago. The funny thing is, I only half-enjoyed the time I spent with it then. I found the grungy, post-apocalyptic setting fascinating and the high-speed race-battles exhilarating, but I also found the overall gameplay loop disappointingly repetitive. Here's hoping the former aspects far outweigh the latter one when I return to it (and maybe restart it) sometime soon.

Final Fantasy Tactics Advance (GameBoy Advance)

I played through and thoroughly enjoyed Final Fantasy Tactics A2 in 2019. I did this despite the fact that I had yet to play its predecessor. Why? To be frank, I wasn't up for playing a game on my GB Micro or DS Lite at the time. Playing Tactics A2 on my trusty 3DS seemed miles more appealing. Considering how much I adored A2, though, I feel it's imperative that I get off my butt and check out the original FFT Advance ASAP—and that's exactly what I'll attempt to do over the next few months.

Half-Minute Hero (PSP)

Here's another PSP game that I remember playing at least a little of sometime in the past but can barely recall any details. Other than it looking great and offering up a curious variety of gameplay styles, I mean. So, I'd say it's ripe for a second—and more extensive—look, wouldn't you agree?

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Switch)

I have a surprisingly spotty history with The Legend of Zelda series. Although I completed the first game and A Link to the Past and believe both to be unquestionable classics, I've struggled to finish the numerous sequels that followed in their footsteps. Breath of the Wild is a different beast, which I discovered when I put about 10 hours into it back in 2017 and 2018, but that wasn't enough to keep me from drifting away from it eventually. I'll try to combat that should I succeed in circling back to it in 2021.

Loco Roco (PSP)

Loco Roco seems like one of those games that would be my cup of tea. Yet I've only ever played a few minutes of it. I'm sure most of the blame for that can be aimed at my general lack of interest in the PSP when it was still lighting up the sales charts. Well, I'm much more open to Sony's first handheld these days, plus I have a feeling Loco Roco's length will fit right in with my current interest in games that don't take long to finish.

Lord of Magna (3DS)

I bought Lord of Magna some time ago with high-ish expectations. Its cute-colorful aesthetic appealed to me, as did its bowling-esque battles. Or at least its battles intrigued me—to be honest, I wasn't sure I'd find them enjoyable. I did, though, which makes me wonder why I walked away from it after devoting just a couple of hours to it last year. I guess I'll find out if and when I return to it this year.

Monster Hunter Stories (3DS)

Part of me is nervous about returning to Monster Hunter Stories in 2021. The reason: a sequel that looks to improve on the original in every way is set to be released for the Switch this summer. And as a recent post of mine makes clear, the Switch is my preferred place to play games these days. Plus, I don't want to risk the original burning me out on the formula before I get to the sequel. Given all that, it might be wise to consider this the most "possibly maybe" entry on this list.

My World, My Way (DS)

Unlike most of the other aborted games highlighted here, I have no problem recalling why I failed to finish My World, My Way when I first started through it in 2015. You see, I played it as part of a short-lived series I called "A Decade of DS," which involved me spending a week with a game and writing a blog post about my experience with it before quickly moving on to another title. I always meant to come back to this odd, Atlus-published (in North America) RPG at a later date, but never did. So, I'll try to make a point of it in 2021.

Sakuna: Of Rice and Ruin (Switch)

Like a lot of folks, I snapped up a copy of this indie darling as soon as I could last fall. I promptly booted it up, put about an hour into it... and then dropped it in favor of another game. (Paper Mario: The Origami King, I think?) I didn't drop it because I hated it, mind you. I just wasn't in the mood for a side-scrolling hack-and-slash title at that moment—even one with a rice-harvesting component. I'm confident I'll be more keen on such an endeavor when I boot it up again in the near future.

World of Final Fantasy Maxima (Switch)

I had a blast with World of Final Fantasy Maxima while playing it for a little over 26 hours two years ago. It can be odd and even ugly, but overall I found it to be refreshingly unique and addictive. As is too often the case for me, though, a vacation stole my attention from it, and after I returned home, rejoining its convoluted story daunted me. Normally I'd just start over, but there's no guarantee doing so would produce a different result. As such, I'm planning to grit my teeth and force myself back into Maxima's world. I can always turn to GameFAQs or YouTube if I find myself helplessly lost.

Thursday, January 28, 2021

11 games I want to play in 2021

I played a lot of games in 2020—44, at last count.

The vast majority were Switch games, though I played several 3DS and DS games, too.

In 2021, I want to branch out a bit. Specifically, I want to add at least a few PSP and Vita games into the mix—with the ones highlighted below leading the way.

Boku no Natsuyasumi Portable (PSP)

I've been itching to play this distinctly Japanese life sim since I first became aware of it ages ago. Actually, I've owned a copy of the original PS1 release for years now—I've just never played it. I'm hoping this portable port will prove a bit more attractive in that regard.

Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings (DS)

This Final Fantasy XII spinoff is one of those DS titles I've long wanted to experience but have also long dragged my feet on purchasing and starting. Why have I waited until now to try Revenant Wings? The main reason is that I've never had the best grasp of its gameplay, and that's made me a more than a tad wary of it. 

Hades (Switch)

I've spent a lot of time with roguelikes in the last few months—first via Void Terrarium, then via Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate and Etrian Mystery Dungeon. Am I really in the mood for more of this genre after all that? We'll find out shortly after I start Hades.

The House in Fata Morgana (Switch or Vita)

Visual novel fans on the internet have hyped up The House in Fata Morgana since an English Windows version released in 2016, and probably even before that. Thankfully, that hasn't impacted my expectations of the game, as I know next to nothing about it. Fingers crossed I dig what I eventually encounter.

Labyrinth of Refrain: Coven of Dusk (Switch)

I have a great track record with Nippon Ichi Software-made games, so my hopes are high for this first-person dungeon-crawler. This is despite the fact that I'm hardly the biggest fan of into-the-screen RPGs—my mostly positive experiences with the Etrian Odyssey series notwithstanding.

Magical Starsign (DS)

Despite the fact that I've always adored the look of games made by Brownie Brown (now known as 1-Up Studio), I've only played a couple of them. And even those games, Mother 3 and Fantasy Life, were collaborative efforts with other developers. So, Magical Starsign will be my first real taste of this seemingly talented dev's abilities. Fingers crossed I like its gameplay as much as I like its aesthetic.

Poison Control (Switch)

Truth be told, I pre-ordered this game simply because it's coming from Nippon Ichi Software. OK, and because I previously asked the company to bring it to our shores. A few times. I only barely understand how it plays, and what I understand makes me think it might not be my cup of tea. I'm sticking with it anyway, though, as I loved Lapis x Labyrinth and Void Terrarium after being similarly unsure of them early on.

PoPoLoCrois (PSP)

I've heard that this PoPoLoCrois game is a kind of a mess, as it combines chopped-up versions of the series' first two releases with a connecting interlude. Normally, that would bug me. Since I'm mostly uneducated on these titles and so won't know what I'm missing, though, I'm barely bothered.

Project X Zone (3DS)

Don't bother telling me that this game is a dud. I've heard it all before—though I've also heard a few folks say they had a blast it. I recently bought a copy of Project X Zone based on my possibly delusional belief that I'll side with the latter group of fans. I mean, how could I not, with a cast that includes Arthur, Chun-Li, Ulala, and Valkyrie?

UFO: A Day in the Life (PS1)

Without trying to sound snarky, most of the games made by the crew of now-defunct Love-de-Lic have similar vibes and stories. That's fine by me, as I adore two titles fitting that description, Chulip and Moon. This 1999 offering sounds even more intriguing, though, thanks to its star—a super-cute, photo-snapping UFO.

What Did I Do to Deserve This, My Lord!? 2 (PSP)

Yet another PSP game that I always meant to buy and try but also always overlooked in favor of other titles. Like Final Fantasy XII: Revenant Wings and Poison Control, I'm a little iffy on its gameplay, but I'm sure to enjoy at least one of these games, so why not this one?

Are there any particular games you want to play—old or new—between now and the end of 2021? Tell me all about them in the comments section below.

Monday, January 25, 2021

How I spent my time with video games in 2020

It's starting to feel like at the end of every year I either say I played more games than the year before or I spent more time with games than the year before. (See my 2019 write-up for evidence.)

For 2020, both statements are true. Big surprise considering how locked down everything was last year, right?

Speaking of surprises, it may surprise some of you to learn that Animal Crossing: New Horizons wasn't the game I played most in 2020. In fact, I didn't even put 100 hours into it. I gladly poured hundreds of hours into previous entries, so bouncing off this one so quickly shocks me, too.

Not at all shocking to me is that I spent more time with SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions than I did with any other game last year. Even after I finished this most recent SaGa sequel, I didn't want to stop playing it. And although I nearly started a second playthrough right away, I convinced myself to move on to something else (The World Ends With You, I believe) before that happened.

As for the rest of my most-played games of 2020, feast your eyes on the following stats:

  • SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions (Switch) — 97 hours, 40 minutes
  • Animal Crossing: New Horizons (Switch) — 95 hours, 30 minutes
  • Pokémon Shield (Switch) — 80 hours, 55 minutes
  • The World Ends With You (DS) — 39 hours, 15 minutes
  • Shiren the Wanderer: The Tower of Fortune and the Dice of Fate (Switch) — 36 hours, 00 minutes
  • Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch) — 34 hours, 15 minutes
  • Void Terrarium (Switch) — 33 hours, 35 minutes
  • Raging Loop (Switch) — 29 hours, 50 minutes
  • Deadly Premonition Origins (Switch) — 29 hours, 15 minutes
  • Animal Crossing (GameCube) — 22 hours, 50 minutes
  • Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers (Switch) — 22 hours, 15 minutes
  • Heroland (Switch) — 20 hours, 30 minutes
  • Moon (Switch) — 19 hours, 05 minutes
  • Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories (Switch) — 17 hours, 15 minutes
  • Kirby Mass Attack (DS) — 13 hours, 20 minutes
  • Clubhouse Games (Switch) — 12 hours, 40 minutes
  • Hey! Pikmin (3DS) — 12 hours, 35 minutes
  • Again (DS) — 12 hours, 20 minutes
  • Super Princess Peach (DS) — 11 hours, 50 minutes
  • Mad Rat Dead (Switch) — 10 hours, 20 minutes
  • Alice in Wonderland (DS) — 7 hours, 20 minutes
  • Yomawari: Night Alone (Switch) — 7 hours, 05 minutes
  • Time Hollow (DS) — 6 hours, 30 minutes
  • Part Time UFO (Switch) — 6 hours, 05 minutes
  • Cruel Bands Career (Switch) — 4 hours, 35 minutes
How did all of you spend your time with games in 2020? Feel free to share your own play-time stats, or simply list your most-played titles, in the comments section of this post.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

One sentence about each of the 24 games I finished in 2020

I began 2020 intending to review every one of the games I finished during the year. Although I did that—to a point, via this post and this post—until the end of June, I completely dropped the ball after that.

I'm going to try to make up for things here—although, again, only to a point. Instead of writing multi-paragraph reviews of each of the 24 games I finished in 2020, I'm going to devote just a sentence to them.

Here are the blurbs in question, which I've organized according to when I completed them. (Alice in Wonderland was the first game I beat in 2020, while Paper Mario: The Origami King was the last.) 

Should you want additional details on any of these games, let me know in the comments section of this post. Or hit me up on Facebook or Twitter.

A unique, touch-controlled Metroidvania that's far more challenging than its awesome, adorable art style implies.

Detective Pikachu (3DS)

This Pokémon-themed adventure game may be aimed at kids but adults can enjoy it, too—as long as they don't have a deep-seated hatred of Pikachu, of course.

Heroland (Switch)

Made by folks who previously worked on Fantasy Life and Mother 3, Heroland is a theme-park-based, board-game-esque RPG with a superb soundtrack that intrigues until it overstays its welcome.

A beautiful, blissfully short side-scroller that does a surprisingly brilliant job of combining the Pikmin series' characters and controls with thoughtful platforming action.

Pokémon Shield (Switch)

I loved Pokémon: Let's Go, Eevee! when I played through it in 2018, and I loved Pokémon Shield even more when I played through it last year—thanks mainly to its charming, Pokéfied British setting, slew of appealing new 'mons, and thrilling "Wild Area."

Raging Loop (Switch)

A terrifyingly engrossing visual novel that features "Werewolf"-inspired gameplay and a Groundhog Day-ish looping story.

Deadly Premonition Origins (Switch)

One of those "greater than the sum of its parts" games, with the positive parts of Deadly Premonition Origins being its quirky, compelling characters, WTF story, and weird soundtrack, and the negative parts being its "please don't make me do that again" combat and QTE segments.

Disaster Report 4: Summer Memories (Switch)

I've never had to live through a natural disaster myself, but I kind of (only kind of!) feel like I have thanks to this adventure game, which is harrowing not just because of drama and trauma it puts you through, but because of its iffy graphics and even iffier frame rate.

SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions (Switch)

Another RPG that's shockingly similar to a board game, SaGa Scarlet Grace: Ambitions offers players a wide-open world, a minimum of direction, a ton of potential party members, and a predictably sublime OST.

The World Ends With You (DS)

A dual-screened action RPG that makes full use of all that acreage during its thrillingly chaotic battles, supported by some of the most stylish visuals around and fabulous, pop-tastic soundtrack.

Void Terrarium (Switch)

One part post-apocalyptic roguelike, one part human Tamagotchi—all set to an appropriately (and enjoyably) industrial OST.

Mr. Driller Encore (Switch)

Mr. Driller goes to a theme park and adds some much needed depth and variety to his eponymous series' previously straightforward race-to-the-bottom-of-the-screen gameplay.

Moon (Switch)

A melancholy "anti-RPG" that sends you into a game world to clean up the mess of an unhinged hero by saving the souls of slain creatures and helping its human inhabitants in various ways.

A Short Hike (Switch)

If you've ever dreamt of exploring—by land or sky—a mountainside getaway as an anthropomorphized bird and at your leisure, this is the game for you.

Destiny Connect: Tick-Tock Travelers (Switch)

A touching, vaguely EarthBound-esque RPG that lets you time travel and tackle mechanical foes with the assistance of a robot that can transform into a boxer, cowboy, and more.

Kirby Mass Attack (DS)

Using your DS' touch screen to control up to 10 Kirbies through a series of side-scrolling and puzzle-filled stages is cool; if only it were more fun.

Part Time UFO (Switch)

Leave it to the masters at HAL Laboratory to create an instant classic that combines a claw crane, a balance-puzzler, and the most sickeningly sweet soundtrack you've ever heard.

Yomawari: Night Alone (Switch)

Yomawari proves that survival-horror games don't need to be remotely realistic to be fully and properly unnerving.

Super Princess Peach (DS)

Forget what you've read about this vivacious platformer; in my humble opinion, Super Princess Peach is every bit as good as your average Kirby, Yoshi, or even Mario side-scroller.

Bubble Bobble 4 Friends (Switch)

Take the Bubble Bobble that started it all in 1986, replace the simple-yet-snazzy backdrops with ones that are simply boring, remove all the character from its kooky cast, and make the overall experience more awkward as well as less enjoyable, and you've got 4 Friends.

Mad Rat Dead (Switch)

Come for the move-to-the-beat platforming action (and the amazing OST that coordinates it), stay for the surprisingly touching tale of a dead lab rat who just wants to relive his final day—OK, and exact revenge on the scientist who killed him.

Time Hollow (DS)

Anyone who had a blast playing through Hotel Dusk: Room 215, Ghost Trick, or any of the Ace Attorney games should give this similar offering from Konami a go ASAP.

Again (DS)

This CiNG-made point-and-click adventure game isn't quite as great as the company's other DS efforts—Hotel Dusk, Last Window, and Trace Memory—but it's close enough to be well worth your while if you dug those titles.

Paper Mario: The Origami King (Switch)

The Origami King gives me hope there's still some life left in Nintendo's depressingly inconsistent Paper Mario series, though I wouldn't mind at all if the next sequel's turn-based battles were more traditional than tactical as they are here.