Old Disappointments Revisited: JRR Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Volume 1 (SNES)

Over the past decade or so, I’ve tried to play every SNES RPG I can find, even if I don’t beat them all. I played most of them at some point via rentals, and I have fond memories of many of them (even Lagoon). Over the years, I have built my collection to include as many as I can reasonably justify (ex: I might pick up Brain Lord, but I’m probably not getting Dragon View). Even the most mediocre of these games has had some redeeming quality, but I’m here today to tell you about one that really doesn’t. J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, Volume 1, which should probably have been named “Volume 1 of 1” in retrospect, really doesn’t have that much going for it.

The good news is that it looks good enough.
 →  Read the rest

To Play or Not to Play Diablo 2

I have played a lot of Diablo 2 but for unknown reasons, I can’t stop thinking about the rerelease. In an effort to convince myself not to get it I have outlined a list of arguments and then, in completely self-defeating fashion, counter arguments, aka reasons why I should just get the damn game.

Why I shouldn’t play Diablo 2: It’s old

Diablo 3 is a better game and makes its predecessor feel dated and less awesome.

Why that argument doesn’t hold up: I didn’t like 3

Pretending for a minute I don’t routinely enjoy older games, I can entertain this position specifically aimed at Diablo style click-heavy ARPGs. OK, I am done entertaining. I played Diablo 3 close to launch and did not have a great time. Some of my negative feelings stemmed from the digital key reader my friend needed in order to even play the game, some were based on tired old arguments about aesthetics, and the rest comes from a legitimate feeling that the game simply wasn’t up to snuff. →  Read the rest

Not Finishing: Forza, Hitman, and TMNT

I’m still taking advantage of Game Pass here and there, playing bits and bobs of various titles when the mood strikes.

No, seriously, I’ve started and stopped a whole bunch of different games. And it feels …. great?

It’s been happening a lot to me over the last year or so. I’ve gotten so much better at putting down a game once I’m no longer enjoying it, or when I feel like I’ve seen enough.

It’s not necessarily something I do consciously. Sometimes I stop playing a game for a week or so, and rather than add it to the mental checklist of “games you need to go back to and finish,” I eventually realize that I’m just done with it, and proceed to uninstall. This is very much a good thing – that mental checklist used to cause me more stress than I care to admit, and that’s just not something I need anymore. →  Read the rest

Please Finish Your Games Before Dying

Due to one part being bad with money and one part psychosis, I have over 100 Switch games. Many are smaller (and were thankfully cheaper) indie games that are probably shorter than a dozen hours, but the catalog still adds up to a huge time investment. At the rate I play, maybe a decade’s worth of games. Perhaps I should stop playing, “browse the eShop deals section and buy random shit,” and focus on something with better game mechanics, like this Live-A-Live demo with huge sections of nothing but listening to people speak at me.

If games stopped coming out, would you have enough to last the rest of your life? There are a few factors at play – how old you currently are, how long you’ll live, your ability to get your hands on old games, and your willingness to play old stuff. →  Read the rest

Tux and Fanny – A Review

Listen. You think you’re cool enough to be into Tux and Fanny? You’re probably not. Me neither.

But I will tell you all about it. This shit is wacky af. It starts with a soft spot for me, these two pixelated bamas want to kick around a soccer ball in their front yard.

Where do they think they are? PG County? I love it.

I easily (and purposely) get distracted by a million other side quests. Just to give you a spoiler alert, I loved this game. It made little sense, but rarely disappointed.

To set the scene, you are a weird Gumbo-like ?alien? living in a house with your bestie/alien brethren.

Sweet side note of this game, you can alternate between playing Tux OR Fanny, I know! Mind blown!, or a random punkass cat or meddlesome flea. →  Read the rest

Retro Games, Presentation, and Gatekeeping

For those of you who are white collar workers, imagine the following scenario. It’s happened to me more than once in real life, and perhaps it’s happened to you too …

A new bit of jargon recently crept into your industry. For now, let’s just make up a word, like … “scropely.” 

Everyone starts to use it, slowly at first, but it quickly builds momentum. At first you think you understand what scropely means, but then a few people use it in a new and seemingly contradictory way. Now you’re back to square one.

At some point you’re in a large meeting. The new jargon is being tossed around freely – everyone is talking about how something is or isn’t scropely. At some point it’s your turn to talk, and you bravely (or foolishly) state:

“I’m not sure about you folks, but I honestly don’t know what it means for something to be scropely.” →  Read the rest

“Revived” Franchises and Kickstarters

It’s no secret that I like Suikoden a lot.  Even the bad ones.  The series’ spiritual successor the Eiyuden Chronicles: Hundred Heroes got yet another trailer recently.  The creators are mostly saying the right things, indicating they’re focusing on things that Suikoden did differently from most games – having a large cast, involving that cast in the story (appropriately), and a relatively realistic and political scenario.

I’m a little worried, though, because past crowdfunded games that focused too much on recapturing an existing series’ magic lost sight of being their own thing, and end up being known as inferior copies.  Mighty No. 9 is probably the most notorious, but it’s definitely not alone in this.  Been there, got the t-shirt, still wear it ironically (probably), but honestly haven’t played the game.  →  Read the rest

Nier Automata is No Nier Gestalt

Folks, I tried to play Nier: Automata. I really did. But I don’t think I have it in me to finish it.

As someone who counts the original Nier as one of my favorite gaming experiences of all time, I’m as disappointed as anyone that the sequel to that experience fell short, but that’s the way the cookie crumbles.

Here now are some of the problems I had with the game:

The Intro is BS

The introduction to the game can take up to 40 minutes to get through. At no point during those 40 minutes are you allowed to save the game. If you die, you start all over again.

The saving grace is that you can adjust the difficulty at any time, so there’s nothing stopping you from dropping to easy mode just to breeze through it all (easy mode lets you “auto battle,” where the game will automatically dodge and pick the best attacks for you). →  Read the rest

The Future of Games I Care About: A Brief Overview of Crowdfunding

In early 2012, Double Fine launched a Kickstarter campaign for a then unnamed point and click adventure game meant to be reminiscent of studio founder Tim Schafer’s work on LucasArts classics Day of the Tentacle, Full Throttle, and Grim Fandango.  Kickstarter had been used to fund video game projects before the Double Fine Adventure campaign, but they were mostly smaller projects offered by developers with less of a reputation.  

In the intervening decade the template of high profile Kickstarter campaigns from well known developers has become familiar to onlookers.  Often a team or individual who built a reputation making games in a specific genre that has trouble getting funded by publishers in the current market (point and click adventure, shmup, isometric RPG) revisits that genre by turning to Kickstarter for initial funding and potentially to prove to deeper pocketed publishers that there is sufficient enthusiasm among fans to make the concept viable.  →  Read the rest

Waiting for Arc the Lad – PlayStation RPG Memories

In the early months of 1995 my friends and I poured over every drop of PlayStation information we came across, whether it be a magazine ad with Polygon Man telling us the system was more powerful than god, Sony suggesting we were UR NOT E, or the giant cardboard cutout of whip wielding Sofia at the local Palmer Video that still managed to be half an hour away. The older consoles were looking less appealing by the day (thanks, Vectorman), especially when compared to generation-defining beauty such as the widely advertised Battle Arena Toshinden (Sofia wore leather, you see, which really pops when rendered in cardboard).

By the midpoint of the 90s my friends and I were all 13 and desired a higher caliber of digital entertainment regardless of platform – the RPG. →  Read the rest

Review – Tyranny

Not long ago – it feels like yesterday – I put Tyranny on my New Year’s resolution list.  It’s still 2022, right?  I’m happy to report that I completed Tyranny.  I’m not sure I’m happy that I chose it for my list.  It looks unique, and starts out feeling different from other CRPGs, but by the end it feels like a reskin of other games.

Tyranny starts out on a high note – the animated style of the narration and Conquest portion of character creation mesh to give a very different feel from the typical beginning of a CRPG.  The backstory (fleshed out in Conquest), in which you are effectively middle management for the conquering despot Kyros, also feels fresh.  Not enough games have you start as middle management, assigned to a failing project and expected to turn it around.  →  Read the rest

Awful Boss Fights

What do Wolfenstein: Young Blood and Halo: Infinite have in common? If you guessed that they’re both mediocre games, you’d be right, but that’s not what I was thinking of.

No, what I was thinking of is that they both have similarly terrible final boss fights.

The basic rules of each fight are as follows:

  • They both take place in a vaguely circular arena. You’re exposed if you go into the center, but you can find some protective walls if you move toward the outer edges
  • The boss flies and/or teleports around hurling projectiles at you, some of which can be difficult to dodge when you’re also trying to shoot back
  • Multiple waves of enemy mooks spawn in to try and distract you
  • The boss has multiple phases

It is uncanny how similar (and similarly terrible) these fights are. →  Read the rest

The Quest to Make Everything Playable

I have been on a long, expensive, two pronged quest to (1) make all games playable with original hardware (2) on my modern television. The two huge caveats are that it may all stop working at some point when the HDMI standard is replaced by something good, and “all games” actually means a lot of games, not “all games” as you would reasonably infer by my choice of the words “all games.” I covered some of my journey setting up old consoles for my OLED months back, so it is time to discuss the game portion. I will spoil it for you now – the answer is piracy.

Just joking, obviously I have cartridges and CD/DVDs for anything I have in ROM or ISO form because I deeply respect copyright law. →  Read the rest

Gamifying Exercise – An Exercise in Patience

Like a lot of middle class white collar workers, I should exercise far more than I do. It’s a  challenge that my spouse and I have been trying – and failing – to conquer for years now.

I’m not going to go into detail about why it’s challenging. Anyone with a modicum of empathy, with a modicum of experience with the stressors of modern life, and who isn’t an Instagram fitness influencer will understand that finding consistent time, motivation, etc. with which to regularly exercise is easier said than done for a whole lot of people (and if you have established a successful routine, it was probably really challenging to do so, regardless of what Survivorship Bias might tell you).

(For better or for worse, I’m also not one of those white collar workers who is obsessed with endurance sports because it’s the only way they can feel alive in their otherwise soul sucking existence. →  Read the rest

Gacha by the Nostalgia – Fanservice, or Predation?

I’ve played Gacha games – only four or five total – off and on for years.  I’ve rarely spent money on them, but I know they are – by design – predatory.  I find them relaxing and they offer just the right level of engagement for 10-30 minutes a day – sometimes more, sometimes less.

On some level, I know it’s a bad idea to play them.  Having played for years, I know the feeling of spending all your “free currency” on summons and getting nothing of value (where value can mean either a useful unit or a favorite unit).  It was tempting to spend real money – maybe $5 or $10 – to “support the game” and try for one last chance to get something good,but I managed to resist the temptation.  →  Read the rest

What to Do with my Apple II

I have an old Apple II. I got it years ago at an antique store, for much less than the seller could have asked. The only problem is that it was just the Apple II, without any disk drives, and no software. That means I could do absolutely nothing with it.

Eventually, some family members got me a (single) disk drive and a copy of Apple DOS for Christmas. I eagerly plugged it all up, only to have it go up in smoke. Turns out that when the power supply gets old enough, it can’t really handle the extra power draw from the floppy drive(s). I don’t think I’ll ever forget the sight of blue smoke (or the smell of it) coming from inside the box.

So now I have a broken Apple II. →  Read the rest

Maximum Spoilage: Inscryption Loses its Edge

The Maximum Spoilage series of writings is focused on discussing aspects of a game that would spoil said game to any normal person. Please continue reading at your own riskryption.

Inscryption is a great game that perhaps begins with more greatness than it ends. If you have any interest in playing, and you should, I would really not read this. Anyway, after being forced to “Continue” a game from the top menu when you start the game for the first time, you realize your character is playing a card-based board game under some duress. The game is legitimately unsettling when it dawns on you that you’re a prisoner and the in-game game you are playing likely has mortal consequences. The Frog Fractions-esque ability to step away from the board game – where you play the in-game board game – and examine your gloomy confines, all while your captor remains invisible sans his eyes, lends the game an ambiance of true horror. →  Read the rest

My XCloud XPerience

As part of my recent foray in Game Pass Ultimate, I was able to test out Microsoft’s XCloud streaming tech.

To be honest, I didn’t even know it was available on PC. I don’t think MS did a great job with messaging about XCloud. Based on my (admittedly limited) perspective, I think it was originally only available on a handful of mobile devices, and then went into limited beta testing for PCs. I’m honestly not sure when it became generally available, but whatever. It’s here now, so let’s check it out.

But First, Stadia

I have some previous experience with Google’s streaming service, Stadia. I played Assassin’s Creed Odyssey as part of their initial beta test, and I also played Destiny 2 for a few nights back when they had a free trial period in the height of COVID. →  Read the rest

Some Itch.io Game Reviews

Around a year ago, I joined a fortnight-ly Itch.io game club after picking up the Palestinian Aid Bundle.  The club leader would post a (semi-curated) random game, and everyone would play through it.

The large itch.io bundles are perfect for buying entirely more games (and sprites, and rulebooks, and engines) than you need, while feeling like you’re helping to make the world a less terrible place.  It’s the perfect way to build up a crushing, overwhelming backlog and get some unusual games without a large investment.

Here’s a sampling of the games I played and enjoyed from the bundle:

Closed Hands 

This is an interesting visual novel about a terrorist attack in the UK and political/social reactions to it, told from five different perspectives.  The timeline varies by perspective, and each perspective is (typically) linear in one direction or the other, so you have a fair amount of freedom about whether you want to go forward or backwards in time.  →  Read the rest

Thoughts on GamePass Games like Wolfenstein: Youngblood and More

Microsoft must really want people to buy Game Pass subscriptions. Not only do they keep putting it on sale (sign up for 30 days for only $1, even if you already previously subbed!), but they keep allowing for all sorts of hacks that allow you to extend a Game Pass sub for less than face value.

In fact, they’re not just allowing it, but enabling it. If you buy three months of Xbox Live Gold, you can convert it into 50 days of Game Pass Ultimate. So when I found a place selling 3-month codes for Gold for only five bucks, I managed to land myself a little more than half a year’s worth of Game Pass Ultimate for less than the cost of a single month.

Sounds like a dream come true, except it’s not. →  Read the rest