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The Sinking City

Do you know Cthulhu? I’m sure that you probably do. He’s a very popular figure in nerd culture. But here’s the real question: do you know much else about the works of H.P. Lovecraft? Seems less likely, as while Lovecraft’s greater oeuvre is also popular with nerds, it’s not quite as ubiquitous as ol’ squid-head himself.

I’m no exception to that assumption. I have a giant tome of the collected works of H.P. Lovecraft, but I haven’t actually read a page of it. However! I do appreciate the mythos he created, and I’ve spent plenty of time engaging with other media that is based on said mythos. The most direct source would be the time I’ve spent falling down the rabbit hole that is the Lovecraft Wiki. But also people like to make video games that are strongly influenced by Lovecraft’s stories! Video games like The Sinking City!

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Vampire Survivors: A miserable little pile of unlocks

I randomly tuned in to a Twitch stream last week, because the notification on my phone said the streamer in question was playing “the new Castlevania game”. I didn’t know there was a new Castlevania game!!

There isn’t. It was… somewhat misleading. The game being played was, in fact, a $3 indie game called Vampire Survivors. To be fair, this game does rip a lot of ideas (and maybe even sprites) directly from the Castlevania series, but it doesn’t really play like them at all.

And me, I turned around and immediately bought the game and sank most of that evening into it. Then I kept playing it pretty much every day after that. But more on that later!

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Ys II: Another Video Game Review

First off, apropos of nothing, I’d like to vent a little bit about how friggin’ difficult it is to get a Wii U pro controller to sync up to a PC. I get it, I do. Nintendo sells their controllers to be used with their video game machines. But, it’s nice to play PC games with a high-quality controller too, you know?

Anyway! Ys II Chronicles+: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ The Final Chapter is another title that maybe in retrospect could have been simplified a little. Calling it “The Final Chapter” is overselling it just a bit when it’s part of a two-chapter series. Don’t even get me started on how it’s not actually the final chapter.

Title woes aside, however, Ys II is a very excellent video game! It’s just like the first one! Except it’s a whole lot bigger, and all of the issues I had with the first game have been addressed! Which is not really saying a lot, because I had like, two issues with the first game.

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Ys: A Video Game Review

I’ve played a lot of video games with stupid names. Boktai, Tactics Ogre, Irritating Stick, Dissidia: Final Fantasy. The list could go on, but I think we have a new champion here. Ys Chronicles+: Ancient Ys Vanished ~ Omen is one heck of a mouthful and basically says nothing at all about the game. Well, it sort of does, but do you think that someone who’s never heard of the Ys series before will have a hot clue how to parse it?

I mean, Average Joe wouldn’t even realize that the word “Ys” is pronounced “ease.” And even I only know that because I’ve been hearing people say it on podcasts for years now.

But that’s all besides the point. Ys is a video game. The first in its line, in fact! Well, not the one I played, though. I played the remade version of Ys. But I also watched a speedrun of the original version, and it’s actually surprisingly faithful to the original, while adding a bunch of extra stuff and making some little tweaks here and there. Not unlike the remake of the original Resident Evil. So I guess what I’m saying is, it’s more or less the “ideal” kind of remake.

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TE’s Top Games of 2020

2020, as I’m sure you’ve heard many times, was a heck of a strange year. And to cap it off, I’ve got a heck of a strange Top 10 Video Games list for you.

Longtime readers might know that I don’t always play by the same rules for this annual listicle. The rule for candidacy this time around is simple: It must be a game that I played for the first time in 2020. That is it. That is the one and only criteria that I’m using to decide which titles are eligible. I’ve also decided to do away with the “must have beaten it” rule, because it seems unnecessary.

My selection process was this: I made a big spreadsheet of every game I played in 2020 (total of 118), removed any that didn’t meet my specification (47), and then narrowed it down to 28 frontrunners. From there, I simply looked at the list and picked the ones that I had the most positive emotional reactions to while reading their titles. By some wonderful coincidence, that left me with a clean list of 10 games. Neat!

And here are my selections, presented in the order that I played them:

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FNAF Sister Location: A night-by-night review

Most of the games in the Five Night’s at Freddy’s series have been ported to the Switch over the last while, and as a huge fan of the franchise, of course I had to do a little double-dipping. While I own FNAFs 1 through 6 on Steam, I decided that I wanted to play Sister Location (FNAF 5) again, but from the comfort of my couch instead of hunched over a keyboard at my desk. Ironically, this is the only FNAF game that I’ve successfully played from start to finish, and thus had the least reason to purchase a second time.

Well, you could make a case for it when you consider that it’s also my favourite game in the “original” series. That was a big part of the decision. And also Pizzeria Simulator (FNAF 6) isn’t on Switch yet, and that one’s the closest competitor for the top spot on my list.

Anyway, the point is that even before re-buying and re-playing Sister Location, I’d been thinking about it a lot for some reason that I just can’t quite put my finger on. Playing it again will probably get it out of my thoughts for a while to come, but since it’s fresh in my mind, why not spend some time writing about it? I did say it was my favourite, after all. I ought to show it a little blog-style love.

So what I’m going to do is go through each night, and go through the main features of each one and what I think about them. What parts are strong, which parts are weak, and which parts drive me absolutely bonkers. Mild spoiler: there are two. That said, let’s mosey on into it.

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Kingdom Hearts 3D: Dream Drop Distance

The Kingdom Hearts franchise and I have a… complicated history. When the first game came out in 2002, I was in a very angsty teenage phase; I had little interest in anything Disney that wasn’t a theme park, and my passion for Squaresoft was burning out quickly. I was far from the target demographic at that point. I tried playing it a bit, but it never really clicked.

Two years later, somehow the card-battling sequel for GBA, Chain of Memories, grabs my attention. I fall hard for it, and wind up obsessively playing both the original game and Kingdom Hearts II when it releases in 2006. I was deep into the franchise at that point, totally immersed in the lore (despite/because of the fact that it was completely bananas) and then… I completely fell off and didn’t play any other KH games until the PSP prequel Birth By Sleep on a whim in 2013. I don’t even remember why I picked that one up, other than giving my PSP a reason to exist.

Very recently, I found myself eager to catch up on the series. What spurred this on? Well, I purchased a copy of Kingdom Hearts III for very cheap, and thought that I had better play any important games that I had missed along the way. The good news is that the only one I’d missed (that matters) was Dream Drop Distance for the 3DS. The bad news (as I would find out) is that I would have to play Dream Drop Distance for the 3DS.

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Top 10 Video Games of 2019

Here’s a fun piece of trivia for you: I played 99 different video games throughout 2019. If you averaged it out, that would mean I spent 3.69 days playing each one. That’s obviously inaccurate and meaningless, but it was a way to introduce the real topic: The Top 10 Video Games of 2019.

Like last year, I’m using more traditional criteria again: for a game to be given nominee status, I have to have beaten it, and it must have been released in the calendar year 2019. The fact that I have to have beaten a game to count it is harsher than most critics, but really, if I couldn’t be bothered to finish a game, would I have counted it anyway?

After whittling down the list of 99, I came out with a rather surprising 26 nominees. That’s actually a lot more than I expected. Mostly because I felt like I left a lot of big 2019 games unfinished. That said, TOP TEN, GO!

~ Honorable Mention ~
Monster Hunter World: Iceborne

Here’s the thing: as much as I enjoyed Iceborne, I don’t think it qualifies. It’s a 2019 release, and I beat it, but… it’s just a DLC expansion. I know that I make the rules, but I don’t know if I can allow this. I can certainly allow it an honorable mention, though!

All that aside, I think that Iceborne is really great. It adds a ton of value to Monster Hunter World, though it also has a price tag to match. There’s a whole new campaign, with tons of new monsters, and just as many new features. I already wrote a whole article about this one, so you can go and check it out. Iceborne is a little more difficult than I would like in my old age (it is called Master Rank, after all), but it was a lot of fun to dive back into MHW for a while.

~ 10 ~
The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening

You know it’s a weird year when a Zelda game shows up on the bottom of my top ten list. There’s a reason for that, though. This Link’s Awakening is more or less a carbon copy of the Game Boy original. Yes, it looks and sounds different, but it’s almost exactly the same otherwise. And that’s fine, because the original is my personal favourite Zelda of all time, but I still would have liked to see a little more new/changed content.

Let’s put that behind us and talk about why I like this game. Link’s Awakening is my favourite Zelda for a reason: It’s got one of my favourite worlds ever. For my money, Koholint has more personality per square inch than any other Zelda. No part of the island seems sparse or boring, everything has a place and a purpose. The dungeons are probably my favourite set in the series as well; they’re all complex but very rarely tedious. Plus, it’s just completely weird, and I love that. Oh, and I guess the remade graphics and music are pretty astounding, too.

~ 9 ~
Pokémon Shield

True story: Pokémon Shield was under contention to get on this list for a long time. It was actually going to be number ten, and might have been ousted by Iceborne if I hadn’t relegated that to an honorable mention. But then I remembered that Max Raid Battles exist and suddenly it became a lot easier to place those last few titles.

Pokémon Shield (and Sword) are… They’re very standard Pokémon games. While they’re the first HD games in the series, they still feel a lot like handheld games. There’s the Wild Area, which is completely open and cool (and super laggy when you’re online), but the rest of the game is very constrained and limited. However, the new Pokémon introduced for generation VIII are generally really great, and the previously mentioned Max Raid Battles are super fun. Pokémon’s campaigns are usually very easy, and I’m not hardcore enough to stand a chance in mulitplayer battles, but Max Raid Battles split the difference by letting you and three other trainers (CPU or human) fight it out against a single super-powered Pokémon. It’s literally the only time in any Pokémon game that I go into a battle not knowing whether I will win or lose and I am so thankful for that. Sadly, I’m sure it’s a one-time feature and will go away next generation, so I’m going to really enjoy it while I can!

~ 8 ~
Yoshi’s Crafted World

There has been some contention online regarding where Yoshi’s Crafted World places in the ranks of Yoshi games. Lots of people seem to think it’s better than Yoshi’s Woolly World. I think those people are absolutely nuts because everything about Woolly World is excellent. But Crafted World is still a very good Yoshi adventure.

In a very general sense, Yoshi’s Crafted World is exactly what you’d expect from Yoshi: walk around, eat up enemies, chuck eggs at things, and find secrets. Only this game has a really creative and well-executed theme of being made entirely of crafts. Everything looks like it was assembled out of household objects and stationery. Not only is the aesthetic unique and enjoyable, but it also allowed for the designers to come up with all sorts of fun new stage gimmicks. Even the boss battles are all designed around what kind of material each boss is made out of. There are a few things that hold this game back from excellence (bad soundtrack, tedious collectibles), but I genuinely enjoyed the time I spent with it.

~ 7 ~
Dragon Quest Builders 2

When I played the first Dragon Quest Builders, I didn’t really feel it right away, and let it sit for like two years before picking it up again and beating it. When I played Dragon Quest Builders 2, I basically did nothing else with my free time between the start and end of it.

DQB2 is an incredible game. If you need a quick primer, it’s a Dragon Quest game that plays sort of like Minecraft instead of your typical JRPG. The first game is great as well, but DQB2 improves on it in basically every way and stands as a shining beacon of pure delight. What I really appreciated about it is that it does something that few games do: it makes NPCs feel important. For one, DQB2 gives you an AI partner who will help you collect materials and slay monsters. More importantly, building up the towns on the game’s islands will increase their populations. The people who move in will then have needs and wants of their own, but many of them will also contribute to the town by cooking, crafting, or fighting off invading monsters. Each town also has a major construction project central to the plot, and ultimately all the townspeople will rally together to help build it under your guidance. It’s really satisfying and provides a unique sense of community that you don’t typically get from single-player games. Oh and also it’s just really fun to be able to explore a Dragon Quest world in a more adventurey style. More, please.

~ 6 ~
Luigi’s Mansion 3

At their core, the Luigi’s Mansion games are very simple. Go here, suck up ghosts, go to next place, suck up ghosts, repeat until win. But what really makes them shine are all the little details in between those basic steps. And Luigi’s Mansion 3 absolutley nails those moments.

The first thing you’ll see when booting up Luigi’s Mansion 3 is a surprisingly long cutscene of Lugi, Polterpup, and all the rest going to a grand fancy hotel. Please note that the visuals are incredible; it is significantly better looking than any video game in the Mario franchise has a right to be. It’s also important to note that the characters are absolutely bursting with personality, everyone has these fun little character quirks and they’re all so entertainingly cartoony. There is a constant stream of gags that are consistently funny. All of these things persist for the duration of the game, and make it probably the single most charming video game I’ve played all year. That’s not to discount the gameplay by any means. While the ghost-to-ghost suck-’em-up business is repetitive and does get a little tiresome after a while, the boss ghosts were refreshingly unique, and I was constantly engaged by all the little environmental puzzles scattered throughout. Spoiler: the real reward for finding all the collectibles is the sense of satisfaction you get for figuring out how to collect them all.

~ 5 ~
Blaster Master Zero 2

Blaster Master Zero was one of my favourite early Switch games, a classic 80’s title that was thoroughly refined to make it more dynamic and playable. So when I heard that IntiCreates was making a sequel, I almost literally jumped out of my chair in joy.

You have to wonder, what could they do to make Blaster Master Zero better? Well, this sequel is really more of an “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it” kind of thing. The game is generally the same as before: a side-scrolling exploration platformer with top-down shooter levels mixed in for flavour. The one major refinement is the world map: now you don’t have to truck through every single area when you need to backtrack; you just choose a planet from a menu and you’re off! And that’s the other thing that really stood out to me: around each world are tiny little plantetoids that each host their own challenge stage. They’re all quite short, but tend to be tougher than anything on the main path, and it’s a lot of fun to figure out and conquer them all. Otherwise, BMZ2 is basically more of the same, and in that case, that’s a very good thing. Except for the waifu robot and plant woman with literal giant melons. Could’ve done without those.

~ 4 ~
Tetris 99

Everything on the list up until this point has been pretty well on-brand for me. They’ve literally all been sequels (and a remake) in long-running franchises that I’ve been crazy about forever. So here’s something a little different. A little.

Sure, you could call Tetris 99 a sequel. But that’s not the point. The point is that someone (Nintendo) finally made a Tetris game that has truly made me excited about Tetris. And how did they do it? By turning it into a battle royale game, where 99 players square off to see who will be the last one standing. It’s unexpectedly brilliant, and while I don’t put aside nearly enough time for it, I always have an absolute blast when I do sit down with it for a while. It’s got that insidious “just one more round” thing going on, where I always want to play another match because maybe this will be the time where I finally win. Did I mention it’s free to play? Sure, you can pay some money for a couple extra modes, but all the important content is free (though you do need a Switch Online subscription), so there’s really no reason not to play. All that is to say, while Tetris 99 is the game I’ve spent the least time with on this list, it’s made an absolutely huge impression on me and I’ll definitely keep going back to it until the servers die.

~ 3 ~
Fitness Boxing

If Tetris 99 is the game I spent the least time with, maybe I ought to talk a little about the game I spent the most time with in 2019. Well… is it really even a game? Certainly it has some game-like elements, but really it’s more of an exercise app. And yet here is, at Number 3.

There’s no doubt that this is the real wildcard entry on this list. It is in fact an exercise program of sorts, and more often than not I dreaded having to boot it up. But hear me out, there’s one thing about it that really makes it stand out from the rest: it worked for me. Fitness Boxing has been out for over a year now, and I am still using it regularly. Less now than I did through most of 2019 because reasons, but it still gets loaded up once or twice a week. Maybe it has more to do with my mindset for exercise being better than ever before, but I’m giving the software at least partial credit here. I still hate exercising, but I’ve found that (shadow)boxing is really my thing. It’s the exercise I hate least, and I find it engaging enough to keep me coming back consistently. I may not always be having fun while using the software, but Fitness Boxing has definitely helped me become happier on the whole by playing a huge role in improving my physical fitness level. Though it could really use a DLC pack to help freshen it up a bit.

~ 2 ~
Shovel Knight: King of Cards

Looking back, I am completely puzzled by the fact that I didn’t include Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment on my Top 7 list for 2017. It is, to this day, my favourite chapter in the Shovel Knight Treasure Trove. Perhaps I should have made that a Top 8 list?

So that was a weird tangent. I’m talking about the Shovel Knight campaign that came out in 2019, here. King of Cards! It’s really good! In fact, it’s excellent! While it doesn’t quite satisfy the same way that Specter of Torment did, it’s definitely my second-favourite, which I suppose makes it perfect to be slotted in at spot #2 on this list. To justify this placement: let’s talk gameplay. King of Cards is a 2D platformer like all the other Shovel Knights, but he’s got a unique tackle-and-bounce move that makes it feel appreciably different. It’s a bit hard to wrap your head around a first, but once you get going, it’s makes for silky-smooth gameplay that I’m sure would be an amazing speedrun to watch (spoiler: it is). Couple that with dozens of micro-stages, each with their own gimmick to test King Knight’s abilities, and you’ve got an absolute master class in game design. To top it all off, this is by a wide margin the most entertaining story in the Shovel Knight oeuvre. It’s legitimately funny, and I couldn’t help being totally charmed by King Knight, despite the fact that he is an insufferable dick.

~ 1 ~
Resident Evil 2 (2019)

And so, on this list that is almost entirely made up of sequels and remakes… Of course we have a remake of a sequel at the tip-top.

I know that you’re not going to believe it, but the honest truth is that I just don’t get especially excited about very many video game releases any more. But RE2 Remake was an exception. A huge exception. I was so very eager to get my hands on this game, and I was so very relieved when it turned out to be pretty much all I could have wanted. This is more a re-imagining than a straight-up remake, changing a few story beats here and there, messing with the locations of items and the way you progress. The gameplay also changed dramatically, going from static camera angles to the over-the-shoulder view that RE4 pioneered. Despite that, it doesn’t feel like it’s morphed into an action game, as the zombies are still generally slow and most players are going to find that ammo isn’t quite plentiful enough. I like just about every change made to this game, which is an amazing feat since the original RE2 is my sentimental favourite in the series. Capcom did a fantastic job reconstructing a classic video game, and I really hope that the magic works just as well when the RE3 remake releases this spring.

Tim Horton’s Dream Donuts!

As I mentioned in a previous post, I recently gorged myself on three donuts in a single day. A single sitting, even! Despite all my recent efforts not to be, I am still a food monster at heart. I suppose it’s just not something that a person can get away from.

Just know that my gut took this trio of bullets for you, dear reader.

I made this “heroic sacrifice” in the name of being able to provide a timely (they’ve only been out for like two weeks as of today) review of all three of Tim Horton’s new Dream Donuts. While I don’t have any solid evidence to support this claim (and I’m not walking down the street to Tim’s), I assume that these fancy-looking new donuts are around for a limited time only. Hence why I didn’t have time to waste eating them all in a more reasonable timeframe. If they do turn out to be permanent additions… well that’s just egg on my face, then.

It’s important to note that I qualified the Dream Donuts as “fancy-looking”, because at least 70% of their appeal is in the marketing. I’m going to give you the big spoiler right here: these are stock-standard donuts with a little extra zazz added to get you to pay a premium for them. And people wonder why I have such a sour opinion of marketing in general.

Let’s start where I did: The Chocolate Truffle. This is literally just a double chocolate donut (which has been on the menu since the Stone Age), which is a chocolate cake donut with chocolate glaze. What makes this one cost a dollar more than the standard edition? There’s a floof of chocolate fudge icing in the hole now.

In the Chocolate Truffle’s defense… double chocolate is probably my favourite regular donut from Tim’s. None of them are very good, but at least this one has twice as much weak chocolate flavour, and I prefer the texture and density of a cake donut. The added fudge icing is also a nice little bonus, because it was actually packed with flavour and made the whole experience all that much better.

This is all said with the caveat that my Chocolate Truffle was not prepared as advertised. I only learned this after the fact, but this Dream Donut is supposed to be sliced lengthwise (like a bagel) and smeared with more chocolate frosting in-between (like a bagel). One one hand, I feel like this extra step in preparation would have more fully justified the premium price of the donut. On the other hand, I still had two more donuts to eat after this, so I’m okay with having missed out on all that extra sugar. So it was a flub and Tim’s should be rebuked for it, but it didn’t actually bother me personally.

Moving onto the Strawberry Confetti donut, we have what appears to be just another vanilla dip, but with the pink turned up to 11. Actually, that’s only partly true, because the vanilla icing is actually strawberry. The assorted varieties of sprinkles are very aesthetically pleasing to me, and that floof of icing in the middle is… well, I don’t feel strongly about it either way. I guess the donut would look incomplete without it.

Strawberry Confetti is my personal favourite of the Dream Donut trio, mostly because it’s the most pleasing to look at. Since Tim’s entire catalog of donuts is pretty bland as far as flavour goes, aesthetic appeal is really what you’re buying them for. I did enjoy that the icing was strawberry-tinged, which also adds some points. Though I’m docking it the same number of points because this should have been filled with strawberry jam as well, but that’s not the case. Huge missed opportunity there.

Lastly, and most definitely leastly is the Dulce de Leche. Already I’m not a fan of this, because how am I supposed to like something that I cannot pronounce? Here we have a typical filled donut from Tim’s: yeast donut with sugar sprinkled on the outside, and a glob of goo in the middle. Dulce de Leche changes it up by making it cinnamon sugar on the outside, then adding the signature floof of icing on top.

Aside: To anyone who knows things about food: What is the icing glob on top called? I don’t have a hot clue, so I’ve been calling it a floof, but I’m sure there’s a real word for it. I would really like to know the official term, even though I’ll surely forget it within a matter of minutes.

Back in topic: Dulce de Leche is no good. You would think that the cinnamon sugar would win me over, since it basically turns this otherwise boring donut into a ginormous mini-donut. And it is almost exactly that (it’s not a cake donut, so…) for the first couple bites! But then you hit the floof, and it tastes weird. Then you hit the mysterious glob in the middle, and it tastes even weirder. And the two weird flavours combine their powers to just completely overwhelm the pleasant cinnamon sugar and ruin the donut completely. Sad face.

Because I had no idea what “dulce de leche” means or even what flavour it was supposed to have, I actually did a tiny amount of research on this one. Dulce de leche, in fact, is sweetened and boiled milk. It’s supposed to be reminiscent of caramel, but not actually caramel. Well, no more wondering why it was so underwhelming.

It’s probably obvious to you by this point, but I really wouldn’t recommend hustling down to your local Horton’s to get you somma these. While they’re jazzed up a bit more than usual, they’re still just Tim Horton’s donuts, and thus not really worth spending money on. If you really need to buy one, I’d say the Strawberry Confetti is the way to go. I’m also saying that from the perspective of someone who really likes how explosively pink it is, and would rather keep one around as a decoration than actually eat the thing.