Monthend Video Game Wrap-Up: August 2018

You know, I think I’m really starting to get the hang of this “just stop playing games that you aren’t having fun with” thing. It’s an amazing time-saver! At least, unless the game in question is a Mega Man X game…

~ Game Over ~

Mega Man X4 (Switch) – While I do think it holds up fairly well on a high level, it really makes me long for the gorgeous pixel graphics of the SNES games. What can I say? I’m old.

Super Dungeon Bros (PS4) – At first I thought “This is kinda like Gauntlet! Sweet!” But it’s not the kind of game that’s properly balanced for single-player, so I gave up and deleted it.

Mega Man X Legacy Collection (Switch) – X Challenge is indeed a challenge, as I needed to keep the difficulty firmly on Easy to make my way to the end. (Spoiler: It’s crazy broken.)

Mega Man X4 (Switch) – The previous one was an X playthrough, this one was a Zero run.

Mega Man X3 (Switch) – Another run to gather up some stray “hunter medals” (achievements). Also this time I got the gold armor and Z-Saber, so Kaiser Sigma wasn’t impossibly hard.

Mega Man X5 (Switch) – Despite having pretty good memories of if, I kind of can’t stand Mega Man X5. Imagine that!

Batman: The Telltale Series (PS4) – While I really liked it, I couldn’t help but feel like I would have enjoyed it more as a straight-up animated mini-series instead of a “game.”

Mega Man X5 (Switch) – I played it again to go through Zero’s story. Why? Masochism.

Mega Man X6 (Switch) – This is generally considered to be an absolute trash fire of a game, but after this playthrough, I’ve come think it’s actually quite a bit better than tedious ol’ X5.

Legend of Kay Anniversary (PS4) – I got this in a bundle last year, and it seemed like it would be a nice, breezy adventure. It is those things! But it is also hella boring, so I deleted it.

Mega Man X5 (Switch) – I needed to see all three endings to earn a hunter medal…

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Bloodstained: Homage of the Year

I’ve been a huge fan of Japanese game developer IntiCreates for years. Since Mega Man Zero’s release in 2002, to be exact. And while I do have an appreciation for their more modern games (aside from the fairly gross Gal*Gun series), I feel like their true calling is in the retraux scene. Note my love for the recent(ish) Blaster Master Zero and Mighty Gunvolt Burst.

Mighty Gunvolt Burst, in particular, was nice because it was an impeccable stand-in for a new Mega Man game in a time when it seemed like there wouldn’t be any more new Mega Man games. And then, seemingly out of nowhere (because I’m terrible at paying attention), they come out with this brand-spanking-new game that looks exactly like an NES Castlevania. There’s something I never knew that I wanted so badly.

I backed the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, so I should have been fully aware that the “teaser” retro throwback game, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, was coming. But I mostly just shuffle any emails from Kickstarter into archive folders these days, unless they obviously contain a download code of some description. So Curse of the Moon came as a delectable little surprise to me, and I could not be any more pleased with it. It is exactly what I want from a 2D platformer that wears its inspiration on its sleeve.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon takes place in an alternate timeline from that of the “main” Bloodstained game. And by that, I mean a world where Castlevania stopped evolving from its NES roots and remained a tough-as-nails stage-based platformer. If you look at Curse’s graphics and compare them side-to-side with, say, Castlevania III, you’d be hard pressed to find any evidence that they’re different games. Oh, sure, the art style varies a little, but on the whole, there’s no mistaking where Inti Creates took inspiration from.

The gameplay is also very much in line with Castlevania III, sending you through a number of spooky stages to vanquish demons, all the while recruiting a team of friends, allowing you to swap between characters on the fly. Each party member in Curse has the requisite unique abilities and attacks, but all of them maintain the age-old Castlevania crutch of not being able to change direction mid-jump.

One of the things that makes Curse unique is the way it handles replays. First of all, you’re given access to an ability to go back to previous stages at any time. This allows you to search out any power-ups you missed, or maybe make different choices, as it also undoes any recruitments that you’d made. There are also a handful of different endings based on those choices, and two unlockable alternate game modes which serve as New Game +es to a couple of those endings. So there’s really quite a lot of reasons to play through multiple times. And there’s a Boss Rush mode as well, for those who have the stomach for such things.

Another thing that separates Curse from its inspiration is its level of difficulty. On the normal mode (Veteran), it’s exactly like a less sadistic version of Castlevania III. Tough, but fair. And never makes you want to chuck a controller across the room. I cleared the “hard path” on Veteran without any Game Overs, so hooray for me. The Casual mode takes it one step further by eliminating the knockback you take when you get hit, and also giving you infinite lives. Veteran mode refills your stock of lives on every stage, too, so it’s not like Game Overs are going to be much of a problem either way. Personally, I felt that the game was even a little too easy, but having recently played through Castlevania III for the first time (and nearly lost my mind doing it), I’m definitely not going to complain about it.

The last thing that really makes Curse stand out are the bosses. While it will otherwise hew very close to NES standards, the amount of colours and spectacular effects on display in the boss fights would likely make an actual NES explode. They are beautiful and fantastic, and generally very fun, with clever gimmicks. The only thing I don’t like is that every boss has a final desperation move that they execute just before death, and these are very difficult to anticipate and dodge. I mean, it’s an awesome touch, but kind of a cheap way to screw you over if you only won by the skin of your teeth. (Note: Upon further investigation, the bosses’ final attacks only seem to do one pip of damage; not especially dangerous.)

At the end of the day, I’m going to tell you “Hell yes play this game!” Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a fantastic throwback to the good ol’ days of Castlevania, but without that nigh-impossible level of difficulty. It’s made so that you can reminisce but not have to worry about getting frustrated to the point of a rage-quit. While it’s going to be a very different kind of game, I’m now more hyped than ever for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

Mega Man X5: The Tragedy of Dynamo

I’ve recently made big, long, rambling posts about the first four games in the Mega Man X series, and continuing my vision quest through the series, I’m now done with Mega Man X5. Some might say that this was the last good one. Sadly, I can’t agree, as Mega Man X5 is actually the first outright bad one.

While the games in most Mega Man series get better for the first few sequels and then start dropping off, I’ve noted many times before that the Mega Man X games degrade with each subsequent title. The edges get a little rougher, new features that don’t work right get stapled on, and the purity of the action platformer vanishes into an over-ambitious mess. Mega Man X5 is where it all begins to come to a head, and it’s especially tragic, because this was supposed to be the series’ grand finale.

This is somewhat appropriate, as X5 in and of itself is a tragic story; a tale of two bestest-buddy robots desperately fighting against the odds to survive. Throughout the previous four games, the groundwork had been laid for the final climactic showdown between X and Zero, forced to fight each other because no matter how hard they try, they simply cannot escape their destinies. And then that big fight is massively underwhelming and you’re left thinking “that was it?” and you have to fight all the Mavericks again and a few forms of Sigma, like always. Oh well!

But besides the lack of payoff for the decade that built up to it, there are so many other problems with Mega Man X5. The first, and most egregious, is that the game has the absolute worst pacing. Remember how revolutionary Mega Man X felt when compared to the original series, simply because it was made faster and more action-focused? Yeah, that’s been lost to time. X5 is dreadfully slow on all fronts. Cutscenes are long and can’t be skipped. You’ve got Alia giving you “advice” several times each stage (and can’t be skipped). Tidal Whale’s stage is the slowest and most tedious autoscroller to ever exist, and you have to play it at least three times to collect all the power-ups. All the bosses in the fortress stages have a life bar nearly as tall as the screen. It’s madness, I tell you!

And even after all that, the game isn’t all that much fun. Good level design is lacking in most cases, with most obstacles meant to stop you in your tracks, which just hurts the pacing even more. Cheap kills are scattered about, from blind jumps onto spikes to surprise enemies that will absolutely knock you into a hole because there’s no way to know they were coming. The game is fairly generous with its checkpoints, but that’s no excuse for the number of “gotcha” deaths to be more than zero. The game can also be a bit buggy, with questionable hit detection, and one case where I just spontaneously exploded for no discernible reason.

There’s so much more to complain about, but I feel like these are the new issues for me; things that hadn’t impacted me quite as much when I played this game as a teenager. They’re the problems that I can’t deal with in my old age. There’s also the fact that X5 has a bunch of tacked-on systems that I’ve been trying to read up on but still don’t fully understand, which is never a good sign. Again, it’s a tragedy, as X5 was supposed to be a massive celebration of the whole series that wrapped it all up. There are so many loving references to all things Mega Man, but there’s just too much cruft there, which bogs it down and keeps it from being the epic finale that should have been.

Once More Unto the Hunt, Dear Friends

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate is out! Officially released on Tuesday, I was hoping to stay up slightly too late to play it on Monday, since it was supposed to go live on the eShop at 11PM. But it didn’t quite work out that way for some reason, and actually went live at 2AM. I like to think it was Capcom/Nintendo helping make sure I went to bed on time.

The point is: there’s a Monster Hunter on Switch now. Life is perfect.

I’m not entirely sure what else to write about this. I never expected Capcom to actually localize this game (because why bother when Monster Hunter World is already raking in mad skrilla?). To that end, I hadn’t ever really dug deep into what kind of new things they’ve updated it with. There’s the cover monster, whom I know only as “Jet Dragon.” I have actually (and unsuccessfully) hunted him before, via the demo of the Japanese version that came out like a year ago. I also know vaguely of the new final boss who I think is a giant mantis that pilots a mecha made of scrap. Not unlike the old final boss who is a squid that wears power armor made of skellingtons.

Monster Hunter has gotten weird.

Watching the intro movie, it seems that my old nemesis Barioth has returned as well. My short playtime thus far has not revealed any other additions to the monster roster.

Oh, it’s important to note that this is an enhanced port of Monster Hunter Generations. You know, that 3DS game that I’ve already poured like 200 hours into? If it were a vanilla port, I’d probably skip it. This Ultimate version, however, adds (presumably) a bunch of new (and returning) monsters and also G-Rank hunts. Maybe other things, too? In theory, that means it has roughly 50% more content (quests) than the base game, and that new content will be ultra-mega-hard. Which is great!

The huge twist with this release is that you can import your progress from the 3DS game to give yourself a head-start and jump right into the new content (assuming you’re that far). I was absolutely torn on this feature. On one hand, it would be nice to bring over all the hard work I poured into MHG. On the other hand, I kinda want to go through it all again, because it’s fun! This is one of those Tough Life Decisions that adults warn you about when you’re growing up.

In the end, since I first launched the game while on the bus to work, I had no access to my 3DS and started a new character. I can always import good ol’ Jenna at some other point in time, should I feel the need. For the time being, I will move forward with Velvet, who I named after the protagonist of Tales of Berseria because I was drawing a blank on more interesting names. I would like to mention that I find naming characters in this kind of game intensely stressful. It would be so much easier if I’d just play as a male character…

And so that’s that. I don’t think I’ll have much else to say about MHGU. It’s Monster Hunter. I love it. I will play it obsessively until December 7. Some old song and dance.

Nindies Showcase – Summer 2018

This morning, Nintendo streamed a commercial about upcoming indie games for Switch. It’s not really too important to me, because indie games don’t fit into my budget anymore. Still, I watched it like a good little consumer whore. Here are some vague impressions on the video games that were showed off, because these mindless lists are so easy to write as compared to expressing perceptive and insightful thoughts.

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Through the Good Half

As you may expect, I have been playing the Mega Man X Legacy Collection somewhat obsessively lately. To that end, I have beaten X2 through X4 and also the bonus X Challenge mode. And I have some things to say about these games!

Let’s start off by noting the less obvious: I almost never replay these games. It’s always the original Mega Man X that I go back to, so I’m not nearly as familiar with the rest of the series. As such, I had to do a lot more goofing around in them, looking for hidden secrets and trying desperately to remember which weapon works on which boss. Sometimes it worked in a game’s favour, sometimes not so much. How did it all roll out? Let’s take a look!

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My Opinion Has Certainly Risen

Rise of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles doesn’t officially start airing until September, but I guess you can already watch a few episodes on the Nickelodeon app or something? Anyway, those episodes are all available online, and so of course I immediately watched them all.

While I was as wary as anyone when the Rise character designs were initially revealed, I came around on them pretty quick, appreciating the unique look that Nick is bringing to their second TMNT series. I’ve been following the little previews on social media, and I loved the new theme song since my first listen. Now that I’ve actually watched the show? It’s really great!

As per usual, there are many loud detractors online, being complete dicks about this new iteration of the TMNT. While some of the more mature folks raise perfectly valid points (the animation style is not my favourite), the bellyaching mostly boils down to “this is different than previous TMNT” which, in my opinion, is ridiculous and stupid. And I can’t stress that enough.

Of course it’s different. Rise is a new show with a new target demo in mind. This is one of the things I hate most about when a franchise lives long enough to see a remake or a reboot: so many fans think it should just be the same thing over again, but new. But what would be the point of that? If you’re just going to rehash the exact same thing, why even bother? And to the angry fan: why be so pissed off about a change to an established property? The old series that you love and cherish (clearly a little too much) is still there for you to enjoy. Nobody’s taking that away.

Change is constant and inevitable. Especially in the world of consumer media, it’s absolutely necessary to stay relevant. And while not every change ends up being a winner, at least it means that there are creative people out there who are willing to try new things. And you know what? A lot of the time, changes can work out just fine, as long as you’re open-minded enough to give them a fair shot. It seems so dumb to me, to be so pointlessly butthurt over something so trivial, when you could instead just go with the flow and have a great time.

But enough of that tangent! I do really like Rise of the TMNT! I would have liked the animation to be a little smoother, but it’s a really fun show that does a great job of reinventing the Turtles. They’re all different species this time! That’s awesome! NEW APRIL KICKS BUTT! The villains are all new instead of leaning on the Shredder yet again! One of the early baddies is an animatronic bear, which is absolutely something that will resonate with a modern audience. I’ll admit that the show’s style is maybe a little more in-your-face than I would like, but I still think it’s doing a great job of walking the line between action and comedy. Specifically, Donatello is deadpan gold this time around and I love it. The “Repo Mantis” episode gives us a rare focus on Donnie and Mikey and it is absolute beauty from start to finish.

With all that said, for a show that I was very unsure about at first, I am now 100% on board with Rise, and I cannot –cannot– wait for more episodes.

Smash Bros Direct 8-8-18

Yesterday, I witnessed evidence that we indeed live in the brightest timeline. But we’ll have to build up to that.

Among other things, yesterday was the day that Nintendo aired a big, beautiful Nintendo Direct focused solely on Super Smash Bros Ultimate. Despite the fact that I’m already 100% on-board for the new Smash, I was a little bit concerned about what could be revealed in this presentation. You know, given some of the more questionable design decisions in Super Smash Bros for Wii U. But it all turned out great! Everyone is here and everything is great!

I won’t ponder everything that they showed off, but I am going to discuss some of the things that I found the most interesting and/or hype-generating.

Castlevania – So the Direct starts off by revealing that Simon Belmont is now a fighter. Okay, cool. That’s literally all I needed. A++ presentation. Thank you and good night.

Then they go on to show off this sweet new Dracula’s Castle stage, and that Richter Belmont is also going to be a playable fighter, as an Echo of Simon. Okay! Super! Really, you had me at Simon. Then they show off all the cool monsters that will appear in Dracula’s Castle, and that Dracula himself will show up and do the traditional Dracula boss fight from all those Castlevania games that he’s in. Guys really you have done a wonderful job. THEN they show how there are going to be over 30 music tracks from the Castlevania series in the game. Also there’s going to be a Death’s Scythe items that instantly kills fighters with high enough damage, and Alucard is an assist trophy character.

I’m dying now. Dying of happiness. Castlevania is one of my favourite video game franchises and it just invaded Super Smash Bros in a major way. Thank you, Mr. Sakurai, for giving me this. Simon is going to be my new main. Sorry Ike, but there’s a new beefcake in town.

But! The cherry on top here is that when they showed off all the monsters that can appear in Dracula’s Castle, there was a shadow that was noted only as ?????.

You know what that is? It’s friggin’ Dracula-Kun! Yes, the main character of the Castlevania parody series Boku Dracula-Kun -also known as Kid Dracula or Baby Alucard- is in Super Smash Bros. I could never have even dreamed of something so wonderful happening. There are only two other things in the world that could make me this happy, and one has absolutely nothing to do with video games. So yes, I’m pretty damn stoked on this new Smash game.

Shovel Knight – Shovel Knight is in Smash too! Oh, happy day! …but he’s just an assist trophy? Oh… Well that’s a little disappointing. But Shovel Knight is still in Smash! He’s now officially reached the Legendary tier of video game characters. Did you know that Shovel Knight is my favourite anything of everything?

Chrom and Dark Samus – Two popular characters that I don’t really have much of affinity for, being introduced as Echo fighters. Chrom seems to be a faster version of Ike, which is… I’ve always been fond of Ike the way he is. He’s so immensely powerful that I don’t mind the lack of speed. And Dark Samus… whatever. She’s cool, but I’ve sadly grown out of Samus. She was my main in Smash 64 and Melee, but those days are behind us.

Stages – New Donk City Hall is the other new stage that they showed off in this Direct, and it looks pretty sweet. What really needs to be mention is that there are 103 stages in Smash Ultimate. One hundred and three. That… that may be too many. I already had a tough time picking a stage from Melee’s 29 options. Probably I’ll just pick Dream Land from Smash 3DS all the time because that’s the best stage ever. Oh! But there’s a stage morph option now that makes the game flip between two stages, which is neat. I would love if it could just morph into anything at any time, but I can see how that might be unfeasible.

Final Smash Meter – This is a feature that needed to be there from the point where Final Smashes were first introduced (Brawl). Instead of breaking a Smash Ball, a meter builds during the fight, and when it fills, you get a Final Smash! It’s less powerful than the Smash Ball version, but that’s okay! This is how every other fighting game with equivalent super moves works, so it’s weird that Smash Bros hadn’t incorporated it until now.

I would like to take a little sidebar here to reiterate how brilliant the Fake Smash Ball is. I love it.

Monster Hunter – Smash 4 had a couple Monster Hunter costumes for the Mii Fighters as DLC, but Smash Ultimate is ramping it up a bit with… Rathalos? Just Rathalos? Apparently he appears as a boss, and also an assist trophy, but they didn’t really elaborate on anything else. The stage on which he is a boss is clearly based on the Ancestral Steppe map from Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, but they didn’t call it out at all. And does that mean that there will be a Hunter as a playable fighter? Really, the Rathalos clip just left me with more questions than anything. Regardless, I am jazzed that Monster Hunter is now officially a part of Smash.

Other stuff – The menu seems to be… slightly better than Smash Wii U’s awful mess? It still looks like a big mess, but at least it’s laid out a little better. I can still see myself getting lost trying to find anything that isn’t the main Smash mode, so that’s not great. I’m curious about the mystery mode that they censored out for this video, but not so much that I feel the need to speculate. And: It looks like they fixed Classic Mode! It’s just like it used to be in Smash 64 and Melee, but tailored to each character! It remains to be seen if it’ll be fun again or not, but it’s looking good so far! Hopefully that dreadful Master Fortress has been trashed.

King K. Rool – I’m all for adding more villains to Smash (because you can only have heroes beat each other up for so long), but I personally don’t give a single flip about K. Rool. Here’s a third Donkey Kong series character that I’ll never play as. Where the heck is Dixie already? K. Rool’s reveal trailer was absolutely the best thing, however.

Lastly, for your viewing pleasure, an embedded video of the presentation I just typed over one thousand words about:

Bloodstained: Homage of the Year

I’ve been a huge fan of Japanese game developer IntiCreates for years. Since Mega Man Zero’s release in 2002, to be exact. And while I do have an appreciation for their more modern (for the time of release) projects, I feel like their true calling is in the retraux scene. Note my love for the recent Blaster Master Zero and Mighty Gunvolt Burst.

Mighty Gunvolt Burst, in particular, was nice because it was an impeccable stand-in for a new Mega Man game in a time when it seemed like there wouldn’t be any more new Mega Man games. And then, seemingly out of nowhere (because I’m terrible at paying attention), they come out with this brand-spanking-new game that looks exactly like an NES Castlevania.

I backed the Kickstarter campaign for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, so I should have been fully aware that the “teaser” retro throwback game, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, was coming. But I mostly just toss any emails from Kickstarter into archive folders these days, unless they obviously contain a download code of some description. So Curse of the Moon came as a delectable little surprise to me, and I could not be any more pleased with it.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon takes place in an alternate timeline from that of the “main” Bloodstained game. And by that, I mean a world where Castlevania stopped evolving from its NES roots and remained a tough-as-nails stage-based platformer. If you look at Curse’s graphics and compare them side-to-side with, say, Castlevania III, you’d be hard pressed to find any evidence that they’re different games. Oh, sure, the art style varies a little, but on the whole, there’s no mistaking where Inti Creates took inspiration from.

The gameplay is also very much in line with Castlevania III, sending you through a number of spooky stages to vanquish demons, all the while recruiting a team of friends, allowing you to swap between characters on the fly. Each party member in Curse has the requisite unique abilities and attacks, but all of them maintain the age-old Castlevania crutch of not being able to change direction mid-jump.

One of the things that makes Curse unique is the way it handles replays. First of all, you’re given access to an ability to go back to previous stages at any time. This allows you to search out any power-ups you missed, or maybe make different choices, as it also undoes any recruitments that you’d made. There are also a handful of different endings based on those choices, and two unlockable alternate game modes which serve as New Game +es to a couple of those endings. So there’s really quite a lot of reasons to play through multiple times. And there’s a Boss Rush mode as well, for those who have the stomach for such things.

Another thing that separates Curse from its inspiration is its level of difficulty. On the normal mode (Veteran), it’s exactly like a less sadistic version of Castlevania III. Tough, but fair. And never makes you want to chuck a controller across the room. I cleared the “hard path” on Veteran without any Game Overs, so hooray for me. The Casual mode takes it one step further by eliminating the knockback you take when you get hit, and also giving you infinite lives. Veteran mode refills your stock of lives on every stage, too, so it’s not like Game Overs are going to be much of a problem either way. Personally, I felt that the game was even a little too easy, but having recently played through Castlevania III for the first time (and nearly lost my mind doing it), I’m definitely not going to complain about it.

The last thing that really makes Curse stand out are the bosses. While it will otherwise hew very close to NES standards, the amount of colours and spectacular effects on display in the boss fights would likely make an actual NES explode. They are beautiful and fantastic, and generally very fun, with clever gimmicks. The only thing I don’t like is that every boss has a final desperation move that they execute just before death, and these are very difficult to anticipate and dodge. I mean, it’s an awesome touch, but kind of a cheap way to screw you over if you only won by the skin of your teeth. (Note: Upon further investigation, the bosses’ final attacks only seem to do one pip of damage; not especially dangerous.)

At the end of the day, I’m going to tell you “Hell yes play this game!” Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a fantastic throwback to the good ol’ days of Castlevania, but without that nigh-impossible level of difficulty. It’s made so that you can reminisce but not have to worry about getting frustrated to the point of a rage-quit. While it’s going to be a very different kind of game, I’m now more hyped than ever for Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night.

I hate healthy eating

You know what? I friggin’ hate yogurt.

But this is no surprise to me. I’ve never liked it ever since I was a kid, and I still don’t. Regardless, I’m eating the stuff nearly every day now, having replaced my daily sandwich with a cup of plain Greek yogurt and blueberries, but it’s not getting any better. It’s not growing on me and I am not acquiring a taste for it.

Eating healthy in general blows. Maybe it needs more than a month to take, since I’ve made a pretty massive shift in my eating habits all at once, but I’m already sick of it. Replacing candy and chips with nuts and legumes is presumably good for me, but I haven’t lost a pound and I don’t feel any better either physically or mentally. All I feel is the salad-shaped hole in my life that used to be filled with junk food.

I’m highly considering going back to processed junk and fast food. It’ll probably be way easier just to learn to accept being fat and out of shape.