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?