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Rogue Legacy and why I don’t like roguelikes

Nintendo – and every other seller of goods in the world – had a big ol’ Black Friday sale recently, which naturally included a whole bunch of eShop titles. But I didn’t buy any of Nintendo’s games. No, I spent my money on a couple of indie games, and finally purchased Starlink: Battle for Atlas, which I’ve been putting off since it came out. I only now cracked because the complete edition (with all DLC) was marked down ridiculously low.

But that’s not what I really want to talk about today. I want to talk about one of the previously mentioned indie games: Rogue Legacy. This game came out ages ago on PC, and I tried playing it a little, but my system just couldn’t bear the weight of its… 16-bit graphics. So I really was only able to get a tiny taste of what it was like, which did manage to stick it in my brain, prompting me to wishlist the Switch version when it was released many years later. And then I bought it once it hit an appropriately low sale price.

Playing Rogue Legacy again has really reminded me of why I gave up on roguelikes so long ago. There was a time when I was into them, mostly because Jeremy Parish said I should be, and I was more than happy to pour hours into game like Shiren the Wanderer, Izuna: Legend of the Unemployed Ninja, and Spelunky. Over time, though, I realized that I don’t much care for this style of game. Now, that’s not to say that I can’t appreciate a game that has roguelike elements, but at the end of the day, it’s just not a genre that I have much fun with.

I think it’s worth examining exactly why it is that I don’t care for these games, so let’s start with the most obvious point: Permadeath. This means that when you die, you start the game over again. No checkpoints, no saves. Back to the beginning for you. Better luck next time. This is nothing special, since this “feature” has been around since the days of Space Invaders. The difference, of course, is that roguelikes are typically adventures that have a set ending point, rather than just having you chase high scores. And I don’t mind it. It seems like a lot of roguelikes are actually very short to accommodate this rule, since it would suck hard to get 10 hours into a game only to die and lose it all. So we’re just going to scratch permadeath off the list of things that I dislike about the roguelike genre.

Digging a little deeper, we get to the next really big one: random world generation. Or at the very least, random dungeon generation. Also known as procedural generation, this tactic of letting the game design the levels for you have been every indie developer’s go-to design philosophy for the last few years. And in some cases, it’s fine. Minecraft would lose a vast majority of its magic if it were the same world for every player, every time. When developers design rooms and then let the game string them together, that’s not too bad either. I fell hard for Chasm last year, going to far as to declare it one of my favourite games of 2018.

But when the whole game is created by a random number generator with a questionable amount of logic to work with, things can go horribly awry. The premise of a different game layout every time you play can certainly seem appealing, but then you realize that it’s more likely to screw you over than anything. Maybe you don’t get any helpful items for like 5 floors/levels. Maybe the whole floor is spikes and there’s nothing to jump on so you can get across. Maybe there’s an invisible instant-death trap right next to your starting point and it’s just over. Nothing feels like more of a waste of time than losing runs to simple bad luck. I don’t mind losing because my skill isn’t up to snuff, or I made a stupid mistake. But losing because my hunger meter was empty and the game didn’t give me any apples to replenish it is very close to infuriating.

All that is to say that I will always prefer playing a game with human-designed levels. I want every tile or polygon to be there for a reason. I want to know that I have been allowed the proper resources to deal with the challenges I’m going to face. If I squander those resources irresponsibly? That’s on me. And I get that it takes more time and resources to hand-craft levels and dungeons, but I truly think the final product is consistently better when you don’t leave it up to a computer.

I’d also like to make an aside about those invisible traps I mentioned before. What kind of garbage is that? You step on the wrong tile and then suddenly you’re poisoned or seventeen monsters spawn around you? That’s just mean. Not fun. Nothing about that is fun. Nuts to you, any developer that uses invisible traps.

Another thing that drives me up the wall is “unidentified” items. Basically, you pick up this question mark item, and you need another item to identify it. Or maybe sometimes your character has to have a certain intelligence stat or something. I think that in a roguelike setting, these are really aggravating, mostly because they seem to be super common (or maybe it’s just my bad luck). It’s not so bad when you can go to a town and restock on magnifying glasses or whatever bauble it is that identifies things. But when you’re stuck hoping that these things will randomly spawn somewhere? Nuts to that. Just… all the nuts to it. Then when you finally identify the thing, it turns out to be a “scroll that causes paralysis to the user”.

Seriously, why do people like roguelikes so much?

Anyway, I guess those are my main gripes with the genre. So what was that one game that made me think about it in the first place? Oh right, Rogue Legacy. I generally do like Rogue Legacy, despite its lineage. But mostly for the things that separate it from the standard roguelike. For one, it’s a Castlevania-inspired platformer instead of a turn-based-RPG. That’s already a big win in my book. Not that I have a problem with RPGs, but platformers are my jam.

Rogue Legacy does make use of a lot of the usual roguelike elements. The castle you’re adventuring through is randomly generated every time you enter, and you lose all progress whenever you die. It doesn’t throw in any mystery items, which is nice, but items are barely even a thing here anyway. What sort of makes up for that randomness is that every time you die, you have to choose from three randomly-generated characters for your next run. Each one has a name, class, trait, and subweapon assigned… randomly. I feel like once I’m done writing this, I’m going to hate the word “random” more than ever.

Your guy/gal’s name is inconsequential. Their class determines their stat distribution and special ability. The subweapon is picked from a pool of maybe half a dozen, mostly based on classic Castlevania subweapons. Lastly, and most importantly, is the trait. Your character is given a trait (or sometimes two or sometimes none) that acts as a modifier for that particular run. If your guy is “nostalgic”, the screen will get a sepia overlay. If they suffer from gigantism, their sprite will be larger than usual. If they have vertigo, the entire game will be flipped upside-down. If they’re gay… I don’t think it actually changes anything. It’s a weird inclusion, but I think it’s an awkward way of trying to say that it’s perfectly normal to be gay?

The thing I like about this system is that you can always choose from a pool of three characters. You’re never stuck with a bad trait, and even if all three have traits you don’t like, you can choose the one that’s least offensive. It’s a way to include an element of randomness while letting the player still feel like they have a little say in how their experience unfolds. The game even tells you what each trait does before you pick it, and I really appreciate that transparency. Though in all honesty, some of the descriptions are less helpful than others. And it seems that sometimes you get a trait that isn’t listed on the character sheet… but usually it it’s one of the more benign, “funny” ones, like IBS or Coprolalia.

The major thing that Rogue Legacy does to deviate from a traditional roguelike is the fact that it lets you make permanent progress. While you lose your progress in the castle every time you die, you get to keep all the money you found, and that can be spent on permanent character upgrades. There are some that boost your base stats, some that unlock class upgrades, and some that do other things, like hiring NPCs that can give you even more power-ups.

While this may sound like it could be a little broken, Cellar Door Games did a really good job of balancing it. You lose all unspent money upon entering the castle, which keeps it from becoming a money grind to afford the next power-up. No, you’ve actually got to have a good enough run to collect all that gold in one go. So while you do gain passive bonuses over time, there’ s still an incentive to actually get better at playing the game. Even if you don’t collect a lot of money, there are permanent upgrades hidden in chests. So maybe all your run amounted to was finding a blueprint for a new set of boots, but at least you got that cool thing, and you get to keep it! Celebrate the small victories!

The problem with it is that since such a big part of the game is building your character up, there’s basically no way that you’ll be able to have a winning run early on. Bosses are much too strong, and even some of the regular enemies can ruin your day real fast if you haven’t made any significant HP gains. Absolutely there are crazy people out there who can do low-level runs, but that’s not for the common man. No, we’ll have to get in at least thirty or forty losses before a win even becomes viable. But I’m fine with that. I like the number-go-up of RPGs, and having to actually earn those numbers-ups with skillful play feels very satisfying.

The other thing that’s permanent is that when you kill a boss, it stays dead. This is a wonderful boon, as the bosses are already crazy hard, and trying to kill them all in a single run would drive me mad. Bosses give out a massive amount of money (and a fistful of permanent stat boosts) when you kill them, and while it would be handy to be able to farm them for that big payday, that’s probably exactly why they stay dead in the first place.

With all that said, I think that the permanent progression mechanics are what keep me playing Rogue Legacy when I would have quit any other roguelike long ago. Sure, you can have a really garbage run where you die before you can collect a useful amount of coin, but generally speaking, every run will provide you with a tangible reward. Maybe it’s something as small as a +10 HP boost, or maybe you just unlocked a new piece of armor that you can’t afford, but you still get to feel like you walked away with something. I know that enthusiasts of true roguelikes like to spout the “you learn something with every run” line, but that’s only a half-truth, because if you get killed by an invisible instant death trap 25 minutes into a run, you don’t learn anything. You can’t learn to avoid invisible, random trap. You could have done everything right and died because the RNG hates you. RNG never kills you in Rogue Legacy. It can stack a room against you by spawning a dozen projectile-shooting monsters, but you’ll never die because of something you could not have possibly accounted for.

I don’t know if any of this what I’ve just written makes any sense, but that’s the general gist of how I feel. I tried my darnedest to get into roguelikes, but for the most part, they just don’t gel with me. I need structure and dependability. A little bit of randomness can spice things up, but when an entire game leans on it, that’s just not for me. I’m glad roguelikes exist, because I think it’s an interesting genre, and I actually really like watching others play them on YouTube or what-have-you, but I just don’t have very much fun when I play them. Fortunately, we have games like Rogue Legacy that reign in the randomness enough to make something palatable to me.

TE’s Top Ten Video Games of 2018

The unthinkable has happened: I’m changing the format of my Game of the Year feature.

In previous years, I’ve always used the caveat “best games I beat in 20XX” as a way to extend my list beyond games released that calendar year. But in 2018, I actually played enough Very Good Video Games released in 2018 that I could make up a top ten (and more!) without extending beyond that time frame. This is a very poor paragraph, I think.

The point is, there were a lot of great games released in 2018, and it took me for-gosh-darned-ever to come up with this list. In fact, I had so much trouble even picking a top ten that I’ve decided not to number them. They’re all spectacular in one way or another, and it may be important to notice that six of them are 2D platformers. Just saying.

HOWEVER! I have maintained the rule that I must have beaten the game for it to qualify. Rest assured that Octopath Traveler and Dragon Quest XI would absolutely be included if I were to relax that particular rule.

That said, I now present to you, in no particular order, TE’s Top Ten Video Games of 2018!

Xenoblade Chronicles 2 – Torna: The Golden Country

I didn’t include Xenoblade Chronicles 2 on my 2017 GOTY list because I didn’t finish it in that year. I figured it would be a shoe-in for a spot on the 2018 list. But then I changed the format, and you’ll never know how much I enjoyed playing that game (Spoiler: LOTS).

Its expansion, however, did come out in 2018, and boy howdy did I ever play the heck out of it! Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Torna – The Golden Country is a prequel to the main game, set 500 (500?) years prior. This is a stand-alone adventure that takes everything that was great about XC2 and somehow makes it even better. The story is a little more grounded and personal, finishing with a spectacular finale and the longest ending of anything ever. The combat has been tweaked to be a little more engaging and streamlined. The sidequest log has been reimagined as a fun “fan club” of sorts for your party, to make doing those (requisite) sidequests feel more important. Most importantly, it’s a JRPG that takes only about 25 hours to finish, and that’s if you wring every little bit of gameplay out of it like I did. Fantastic game, and I’d love to see Monolith Soft do another smaller game like this.

The Messenger

What more can I say about The Messenger that I haven’t already? I typed up a massive review right after finishing it because I was smitten, and all those feelings are still applicable.

For the TLDR crowd, The Messenger is a retraux 2D platformer that takes inspiration from a plethora of classic games and mashes them all together in a neat, little package. While it starts out as a linear, level-based game where you play a ninja on a world-saving mission, eventually it opens up and allows you to freely explore the entire game world. I greatly enjoy the formula here, but what really makes it click is how tight the controls are. I can’t get over just how perfect it feels to play, and how you eventually get to feel like you’re actually a ninja – bouncing, grappling, and gliding across stages with style and ease. The Messenger is perfectly catered to my tastes in video games, and has earned a solid place as one of my favourite games of all time. Also the soundtrack is mmmmmmmmmm good.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Part of my rationale for not numbering my list this year is because no matter what else happened, Super Smash Bros Ultimate would land at number one. And even though it was largely because of my personal bias, I felt that was unfair to all the other excellent games.

What do you want me to say? It’s Smash! And it’s better than it has ever been! Ultimate addresses pretty much all of my complaints with Smash 4: Classic Mode is (mostly) great again! There’s a huge, wonderful Adventure Mode! Snake and Wolf are back! …That was about it, actually. Ultimate has a lot of content to keep me playing Smash without the need for friends, and that’s what I wanted most. Quite frankly, it’s just nice to finally have a Smash on Switch. It was annoying to have to go back to Wii U when I needed a fix. Plus, being able to take it on the go is nice. Playing with a single Joy-Con actually isn’t all that bad a trade-off for always being able to get in some two-player action.

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

Again, this is a game that resonated so well with me that I wrote a full review immediately after finishing it. You can go ahead and follow this link to read that if you so desire, or you can just go with the paragraph below to get the gist of it

Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is another retraux throwback game, but this one is a direct homage to Castlevania III specifically, rather than classic games as a whole. The gameplay is basically exactly the same as an NES ‘Vania, and you have a party of four characters that are recruited along the way, each of which has different abilities and can be swapped in at any time. I know it makes me sound like a wuss, but one of the things I like most about this game is that it isn’t excruciatingly difficult. It’s not easy by any stretch, but I was able to beat it without liberal use of cheats or savestates. So that’s something. Oh, and of course I had a great time along the way. It’s a fun, colourful action game that really emphasizes all the best things about the classic Castlevania games.

Mega Man 11

Mega Man 11 is plagued by one of those things that really makes me angry at nerds. People who call it bad because “it’s not the same as the NES games” need a firm kick in the teeth. MM11 is a solid game, and shouldn’t be condemned for having its own identity.

But that’s enough bad vibes from me. This is supposed to be an overwhelmingly positive listicle! And wouldn’t you know it, I wrote a full review for this game as well! Only… I haven’t actually gotten around to proofreading and posting it yet. Coming soon! To start rattling off some of the key points, Mega Man 11 does a great job of making the series feel a little more modern. It has a wonderful, cartoony visual style (but less cartoony than Mega Man Powered Up!), the controls are rock solid, and the new cast of robot masters are some of the best and most charismatic in the series. The new “double gear” system adds an interesting new wrinkle to otherwise familiar gameplay, and Rush’s coil and jet modes are mapped to their own buttons! Horray! It’s not the best Mega Man game of all time or anything, but I had a darn good time playing it, and look forward to the inevitable release of MM12.

Spider-Man

Spider-Man has always been my favourite super hero. There’s never been any competiton. Despite that, I’ve skipped pretty much every Spider-Man video game since… Spider-Man 2 on GameCube, I guess? Seems like they’ve all been varying levels of Bad since then.

That all changed in 2018. The newest Spider-Man game, simply titled Spider-Man, was pretty much spot-on as far as what you need to do to make a good game featuring everyone’s favourite wall-crawler. You’ve probably heard people raving about how much fun it is to simply swing around New York, and they’re right! It’s great! That sense of freedom is nearly intoxicating, and 100% of the reason I never used the game’s fast-travel system. The combat is just about as good; while it can be mercilessly difficult, once you really get a handle on it, it flows so very nicely. It seems like many reviewers knocked the forced stealth missions where you have to play as Mary-Jane or Miles, but to be fair, they add some needed variety to the swing-fight-swing-fight formula. It’s also relatively brief for an open-world game; I think I clocked around 20 hours to get my platinum trophy. Excelsior!

GRIS

While I can appreciate “art” games from a distance, it’s not all that often that one actually clicks with me. There has to be something very special about it, and telling a story without words or taking the player on an emotional rollercoaster are not enough.

This is where GRIS comes in. GRIS does both of those things, and it does them well. It also does some platforming, though to a much higher degree than most art games. You have vanishing platforms, a swimming level (that’s actually really good), a level where you invert gravity… all the platformer mainstays, and some other stuff too. It’s pretty fun, and there are even extra collectibles hidden behind the more intense sections. But what GRIS does best is look good. GRIS is so friggin’ pretty, and looks like no other game I’ve seen. Perhaps at a glance, it might resemble other art games, but when you truly look at the watercolor style and the way that it moves, and how fluidly the main character is animated, you lose yourself in it. I don’t know that I’ll actually play GRIS again, but I saved a bunch of screenshots on my Switch, and I often find myself looking at them just to admire how beautiful this game is.

Monster Hunter Generations Ultimate

One of the greatest tragedies of human history is that I couldn’t include Monster Hunter World on this list of video games I really like. While it makes Monster Hunter better by adding roughly a million cool quality-of-life improvements, the overall feel didn’t quite gel with me.

And that’s why I have a Switch port of a 2016 3DS game on the list. To be honest, when I started playing Monster Hunter Generation Ultimate, I longed for all the little things that MHW did better, but as I got back into the groove, I realized that this is what I truly wanted. It’s a little more than a port though, as it adds several truckloads worth of new content to the original Monster Hunter Generations, including Valstrax, which is one of the coolest and most deadly creatures in the series. A silver dragon with jet engines on its wings. So cool! Plus, it adds the much-needed feature of playing on the TV to a previously portable-only game. MHW is excellent and I played it a ton, but I’d estimate that I put at least three times as many hours into MHGU, a game that I had technically already played for over 200 hours. …I don’t have a problem…

Kirby Star Allies

There are sometimes things in life that really don’t make sense, things that defy all logic and end up being the exact opposite of what anyone would expect them to be. But that’s a somewhat pessimistic way of looking at Kirby Star Allies.

The newest Kirby game is, by all intents and purposes, the same as the last three main series Kirby games. Oh, sure, it has a neat little helper system reminiscent of the best Kirby game of them all, but on the surface, it’s a stock-standard sequel. But there are also a ton of cool little things that make it unique. I wrote a massive article about some of them. And then you take a closer look and realize that very few games are made with such pure love for their franchise. While it’s not tagged as a special “Xtieth Anniversary” release, Kirby Star Allies is a loving celebration of Kirby’s long and prolific history. It’s a beautiful, creative game that spares no expense in being the best that it can be. Also, you get to play as Marx for the first time ever, which basically makes it my favourite game of all time.

Chasm

These days, the indie games scene basically works in two genres: roguelikes, which I can’t stand, and Metroidvanias, which I have gotten a bit sick of. Not for the sake of there being too many, but rather because I find it very hard to find any that click with me like their namesakes.

And that’s where Chasm comes in. Chasm, to put it bluntly, strives to emulate the basic feel of the exploration-based Castlevania games. And I think it does a splendid job of that! Playing it often brought back fond memories of playing through the GBA ‘Vanias. But it also does more! Like how the maps are partially randomly-generated to keep replays interesting. Or the very satisfying subquest of having to save all the town’s residents to re-open their shops or get helpful rewards. I’ve already played through it twice, and think that’s saying a lot in a world where it seems like the time that I spend playing video games is continually dwindling.


Hororable Mention:

Metal Gear Solid V

Alright, so, I have to make an exception. Because Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain is probably one of my favourite games of all time. It deserves a blurb. Yes, it’s very obviously unfinished and can be very rough around the edges, but I don’t think I’ve ever played something that satisfies me so completely. You are constantly unlocking new toys to play with, there are billions of options for how to handle any given situation, a grinding loop that’s weirdly addictive, and an asynchronous multiplayer mode that simultaneously drives me batty and makes me want to excel at it. Easily one of the best games that I’ve played this year, and (probably) the best game that I didn’t play in 2015.


And a bunch of runners-up :

They can’t all be winners, so here’s the list of video games that were up for consideration, but didn’t quite make the cut. I thoroughly enjoyed them all, but didn’t quite go head-over-heels for them. While they may not have been the cream of my crop, they all have something unique and special to offer, and are fully deserving of at least a little attention. Please give them a hand!

  • Into the Breach
  • Pokemon Let’s Go
  • Part Time UFO
  • Shantae: Half-Genie Hero – Pirate Queen’s Quest
  • Wario Ware Gold
  • Agatha Knife
  • Monster Hunter World
  • Picross S2
  • Iconoclasts
  • The Missing: J.J. Macfield and the Island of Memories

And that’s it, the article is done! There’ll be another one next year!

The Messenger

The Messenger opens with your unnamed ninja character being given a scroll by a mysterious hero of legend. Your goal from that point on is to trek across the world and deliver said scroll to a group of monks at the top of the highest mountain peak, thus fulfilling an age-old prophecy and ostensibly pushing back the invading forces of Hell.

The reveal of what is contained on the scroll is hilarious.

And that’s the kind of game The Messenger is. It’s a 2D action platformer that stars a ninja out to stop the destruction of his world by demons, but also it takes every opportunity to joke around and keep the adventure a little more light-hearted. This retro-styled throwback game takes plenty of inspiration from games like Ninja Gaiden and Super Metroid and even takes a few cues from the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles on the NES. While I’m sure it’s only coincidence, it also feels and plays remarkably similarly to Ninja Striker on 3DS. That’s a compliment, too, because I very much adore Ninja Striker.

Continue reading The Messenger

Remembering the Cottage: Part 2

Happy Canada Day! To celebrate, let’s go way back and take a look at something that was an integral part of Canada Day for me for many years. Yes, that’s right, it’s finally time for the long-awaited Remembering the Cottage: Part Two

I have been slowly writing this article since 2007, which is not the longest that I’ve ever procrastinated on writing something, but it is a concept so close to my heart, so important to the foundation of who I am, that I feel terrible for not having finished writing it at some point in the last eleven years. During that time, many details have certainly been forgotten and memories jumbled up, so this is definitely not going to be as historically accurate as it should be.

To help illustrate, in the time since I posted Part One: two generations of Nintendo consoles passed; Obama’s tenure as US President began and ended; smartphones replaced flip-phones and human-to-human contact; I purchased two homes; I met a girl who I dated, married and divorced; and I bumbled my way into a job that eventually led to what darn well better be my career at this point.

I don’t know how long this article is going to go on for, but if the previous part is anything to go by, it’ll be a whopper. You all know the story anyway, and if you don’t, maybe go check out Part One and then come back. So let’s just skip the formalities and head right in, yes?

Continue reading Remembering the Cottage: Part 2

Top 6 surprises in Kirby Star Allies

Before Kirby Star Allies was released, I wasn’t sure if I was really going to buy it or not. Kirby has always been one of my favourite Nintendo mascots, but the last three main-series Kirby games have been basically the same game with a new gimmick and different sub-games. And honestly, you can say that about most of the series in general. But Star Allies’ big hook is that it is a multiplayer-focused game (very similar to Return to Dream Land), and me being more of a lone wolf, I didn’t see a ton of appeal there.

Obviously, I did end up buying the game in the end, because that’s what I do. And I turned out to be pleasantly surprised with the result! While the core gameplay remains faithful to what you’d expect from the Kirby series, HAL turned the formula on its ear just enough to make Star Allies feel like a fresh take on Kirby. So today, I want to take a quick look at five of the things that surprised me the most about Kirby Star Allies.

Continue reading Top 6 surprises in Kirby Star Allies

Easter 2018: The Quest for Peeps!

The month of April is coming to a close, and that means that Easter is already a month ago. Easter happened to land on April 1st this year. Kind of falls in a weird place this year, doubling up with April Fool’s Day. It’s a little weird to think about which one may be bigger at this point. IRL, Easter is the clear winner, but if you go online, you’ll find many more April Fool’s pranksters than pastel bunnies and eggs. And since more and more people basically live online all the time…

Anyway, Easter really gets me thinking. Thinking about nostalgia. Because it always brings me back to that time I wrote an article about Easter goodies. Reading that article, in turn, makes me nostalgic for and want to play Pokémon Colosseum. Or, at least moreso than usual. You can safely assume that at any given moment, I am probably thinking about Pokémon Colosseum.

But those things are mostly irrelevant. There’s one other thing that Easter always gets me all riled up about, and that thing is Peeps. Yep, good ol’ Marshmallow Peeps. The chick-shaped marshmallows that you will gleefully stuff into your mouth even as they wordlessly plead with their little sugar eyes for you to spare them. Truth is, in my advanced age, I don’t even really like Peeps all that much anymore. Used to love ’em. Used to hold the record for most Peeps eaten in a sitting (among certain circles). Actually I still like Party Cake Peeps, but I’ll eat anything with that fake birthday cake flavouring. Like, I can’t stand most seafood, but if you somehow masked the flavor with fake birthday cake, I’d be gobblin’ up all dem fishies like nobody’s bidness.

The point I’m trying to make, is that even though I’m not crazy about Peeps anymore, they are still an integral part of Easter for me. Significantly moreso than any other Easter-themed candy. Maybe not quite as important to me as getting together with the extended family for brunch or dinner or whatever, but an Easter is not an Easter without Peeps. And so, as a grown man with no romantic prospects to buy me sweets, each year I must set off on my own personal journey in search of Marshmallow Peeps.

Little did I know the trials and tribulations that 2018 had in store for me.

My quest technically began all the way back in late February, when you could begin to see the reds and pinks of the Valentine’s day goods transition to the pastel blues and yellows of Easter. I could hear the siren song of the sugary sweets. On many of my weekly grocery trips to Wal-Mart, I was tempted by those attractively soothing colours to peruse the holiday candy, but declined the call because it was just a little too early still. On the first weekend of March, I finally broke and dove headfirst into the Easter section. I came out empty-handed, as there wasn’t anything weird or new enough to grab my attention. I did note, however, that they had not yet put out any Peeps. How unusual…

Week after week I looked, shocked ever more at the concerning lack of Peeps on the shelves. What was happening? Did Wal-Mart and Just Born have a falling-out? No, that can’t be it; they still sell Mike & Ike’s. A Peeps conspiracy? Had the Canadian Junk Food Police finally cracked down on the cutest confection? Perhaps I was looking in the wrong place. While the seasonal corner seemed like the best spot, I began to check islands, end caps, and the candy section, but it was all to no avail. Wal-Mart had failed me. [Insert shocked gasp]

Much to my chagrin, I was going to have to… shop around. I am an old man in heart and soul, and as such I value tradition and routine more than anything. So I hate having to look at other places for things I should be able to get in the place I normally go to. But Easter was quickly approaching and desperation was setting in. I had to find Peeps, and it had to be soon.

My next destination was Dollarama. There was no way they could fail me, right? It’s my go-to for cheap holiday decorations and such, it would surely come though for my Easter candy needs. Alas, even Dollarama lacked the Peeps that I needed. Notably, Dollarama did have something that no other store had: fake Peeps. Or, I mean, close enough, right? Marshmallow bunnies sprinkled with (more) sugar an lined up neatly in racks. I haven’t seen a Peep in the shape of a bunny for years, but I know they’re a thing. So I cut my losses here and went home with Fake Peeps Bunnies in hand, two dollars and fifty cents poorer. They may have been fakes, but at least they would (ostensibly) sate my hunger for Peeps and save me the trouble of shopping around to other stores looking for the real deal.

Let me tell you, friends, don’t ever buy Dollarama’s Fake Peeps Bunnies. These are, by a wide margin, the most terrible marshmallow candies that I have ever had the displeasure of ingesting. And it’s not really so much that they taste bad, because they’re really bland but True Peeps are pretty bland as well. What puts these over the edge is that they are solid. It’s like trying to chew through a really thick taffy, more than a marshmallow. ‘Mallows should be soft and fluffy. These are decidedly not. I could feel my teeth and jaw straining while trying to masticate these awful, awful bunnies. And they just wad up into one big, solid mess, too. It’s a candy disaster.

You know what? Yeah, I’ve changed my mind and decided that they do taste especially bad, too. Just out of spite. Because I’m not a real writer or journalist or whatever and I can do that. At first it’s not too bad, but then you really get in there and suddenly the taste of dust overpowers anything else that might have been. It’s all bleccch up in there. Do not want. Do. Not. Want.

In retrospect, it may also be that these Fake Peeps Bunnies were just a decade old and nobody cared enough to notice (myself included). I don’t know. There’s no way to know. It’s a mystery that will persist until the end of time. Or until I go back to Dollarama and see if there’s any sort of expiry/best before date printed on the box. But we all know that’s not happening.

The other really big mystery here is that if they were so bad, why in the heck did I eat them all?

Moving past the insult and injury to my mouthparts in general, this story does have a happy ending! And incredibly happy ending! The weekend before Easter, my parents went on an impromptu day trip down to the good ol’ US of A. Also known as the Junk Food Capital of the World. Of course I didn’t think to put in a request at the time, but surely they would have been able to find scores of Peeps down there. And Peeps they did find! Not only Peeps, but Weird Peeps! And Cookie Peeps!

Possibly my favourite thing of all, is the package of Peeps Oreos that has been immortalized above. Just look at its splendor as you revel in the fact that there are Oreo cookies out there that are filled with the melted and mashed-up bodies of marshmallow chicks. Looking back, I probably should have done a more thorough examination of this package, but it was late and I was much too interested in shoving as many of these Oreos into my face as possible. I am obviously a sucker for junk foods, and even regular Oreos will drive me into a frenzy. When you present me with some kind of wacky gimmick Oreos? I lose even that last shred of control.

Peeps-themed Oreos are… I want to say terrific, because that’s what they should be. But they aren’t really terrific. In reality, they taste almost exactly like plain ol’ Oreos, but with just a smattering of marshmallowy flavour. I’m sure if you ate them blind, you wouldn’t be able to tell the difference. But you’re (probably) not blind! So you can see that beautiful purple goo in the middle, and that’s what makes these really special to me. I know it’s shallow, but I am shallow, and I really just love that look. If you could swap out the standard brown Oreo cookie bits with Golden Oreo cookie, these would be the ultimate snack. Not only would the visual appeal be increased beyond the threshold of comprehension, but Golden Oreos already taste a million times better than the regular ones. You throw in that little wisp or marshmallow flavour? Fuggetaboutit.

Joining the Peeps Oreos are not one, but three boxes of Mystery Peeps. I am only hyperbolizing slightly when I say that I was bouncing off the walls from excitement when I laid my eyes on these sweet babies. OH, the packaging, SO LOUD. OH, the Peeps, SO WHITE. Traditionally I roll my eyes and scoff at junk food with this stupid “guess the flavour” gimmick, but… Wait, no. That’s someone else. I always jump in headfirst when I see junk food with this stupid “guess the flavour” gimmick. Usually the flavour ends up sucking, but there are three different kinds here! One of them was bound to be good! Law of averages!

I quickly tore into the first box and gave it a big ol’ whiff, instantly recognizing the sweet smell of root beer. But I passed the box to my brother and dad, and my dad immediately disagreed with my assessment and said they smelled of toothpaste. I cocked my head to the said and took the box for another sniff. Weirdly enough, I could absolutely get the smell of minty toothpaste coming off of them. But I could still smell the root beer as well. What’s the deal? Do these two things have similar scents and I just never noticed? How could this be? I could have pondered this mystery longer, but instead I mashed a Peep in my face. Weirdly enough, the toothpaste/root beer Peeps had no flavour. Other than “regular marshmallow” I mean. Not even a bit. I want to say it was a big let-down, but I honestly didn’t really even care.

We had a quick consensus on the second package: Lemon. Though my dad went the extra mile and said they smelled like floor cleaner. So, artificial lemon. Yeah, that’s a fair assessment. These Peeps actually did have flavour, which should have been disappointing again because I’m not big on lemon. But it was a very light taste, and was really just the perfect amount of lemony to make it tasty, while not so strong as to turn me off.

The final box was by a wide margin the strongest in both scent and flavour. We waffled a bit between strawberry, raspberry, and wildberry, but eventually agreed that the best descriptor would be blue raspberry. That said… there’s not much else to say about them. These were the most delicious by far. But, obviously. I’m a big sucker for most berry flavours. It’s worth noting that since this is the Social Media era, the packaging of these Mystery Peeps encourages folks to go on Twitter and make guesses as to what the flavours are. We checked it out briefly, and it’s exactly what you’d expect; a fine mélange of guesses the same as ours, guesses that are astoundingly off, and responses that are obviously people just trollin’.

I wish I had some way to end this on a bit of a stronger note. It sort of just fizzled out there. I mean, obviously, I would say that the Berry Peeps and Peeps Oreos are absolutely worth buying if you were to stumble across them. If nothing else, buy them to give to me as a gift. A “Happy Monday” gift, because I really don’t want to have to wait for next Easter.

A dino-sized review: Monster Hunter World

I’ve been playing Monster Hunter games for almost eight years now, and as time goes on, I only find myself more and more enamored of the series. Maybe that’s a little weird considering how little it has changed over the course of the last decade, but you know what they say – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

Monster Hunter has actually developed very similarly to the Pokémon series of its lifetime. Each game contains the same core gameplay mechanics, and every sequel refines a few mechanics, sands down some rough patches, and maybe throws in some weird new distraction that can be helpful if you take the time to use it. Where the bigger differences lie are in the new worlds to explore in each game, and the new stable of monsters that come around with each generation.

However, times are changing, and so are the things that we thought we could expect from a new Monster Hunter game. Two years ago, Pokémon Sun and Moon changed up the Pokémon formula in some very drastic and surprising ways, and now with Monster Hunter World, Capcom has proved that they don’t have to stick to the rigid formula that we’ve seen in every MonHun game that came before it.

Now that I’ve said that though, I’d like to note that the core gameplay loop is the same: Take your big weapons, find a big monster, kill it, and use its fangs and scales to fashion bigger weapons to fight bigger monsters with. Repeat ad infinitum with bigger and stronger monsters. This can’t change, or else it just wouldn’t be Monster Hunter. Obviously. But everything that’s wrapped around this core concept has seen a change that ranges between mild tweaking to a complete overhaul.

Continue reading A dino-sized review: Monster Hunter World

TE’s Top 7 Games Beaten in 2017

Hello! 2017 is over, so like everyone else on the internet, it’s time for me to do a “Top X Y’s of 2017” list. Video games seemed fitting this year, because 2017 was like the best year for video games ever. And I chose to do 7 because 17 is way too many and 10 is too mainstream.

If you’re new here, how I do my year-end lists is different from most. In the case of video games specifically, I don’t choose from games released in the year, but rather from the pool of games that I’ve beaten during the year (that said, 5 out of 7 are 2017 games). This is partially because I split my time fairly evenly between new releases and retro games, and partially because I like to go against the grain. Also, games that I’ve beaten before are excluded (or else the list would just be Mega Man X and Shovel Knight over and over).

Preamble complete! Back to adventure! …I mean, article!

This is easily the one that sticks out as the weirdest of the group. An action-heavy road-trip rogue-like? Actually, it may even stick out as one of the weirdest video games period. Or maybe not, because there’s all sorts of insane junk on Steam these days.

More to the point, Death Road to Canada is about, well, a road-trip to Canada in a world where zombies have taken over. Maybe not the most compelling or unique tale, but that’s not the real meat of the game. During your travels, you will have to stop off at various locations, like abandoned apartment buildings and grocery stores. Here, you will face down endless hordes of zombies while searching high and low for supplies. You’ll be able to use nearly anything you find as a weapon, and sometimes you’ll even pick up other survivors to join your pilgrimage.

That’s nothing especially new; in fact it feels a lot like a 2D version of Dead Rising. What sets Death Road apart is the RPG bits in between action sequences. It works almost like a choose-your-own-adventure, in that you’ll be given random events along the road. Maybe you run into a band of thieves, maybe one of your party stumbles across an angry moose, maybe you decide to stop off at a mini-golf course. Often, you’re given a choice of how to deal with these situations, and depending on your choices, you could end up with extra supplies, or someone leaves the group because they were blamed for a particularly nasty fart, or your entire team ends up dead in a flaming car wreck. These events give the game a very unique flavour, especially since all the while, your band of travellers will be making snarky comments to and about each other.

There are so many variables at work in Death Road to Canada, so many events, weapons, game modes, weird random jokes and randomly-generated characters, that you could play it for weeks upon weeks and not see everything. The amount of content is only made that much sweeter by the fact that the game is always fun. Smacking up zombies and finding treasure is always a great time, even when you’re under pressure by a particularly thick horde or a looming nightfall. Survival in the face of impossible odds is the greatest feeling, and what’s even better is that there’s a two-player cooperative mode that lets you and a friend tackle the trip to the Canadian border together.

How did Super Mario Odyssey, possibly my most hotly anticipated video game of 2017, end up only at number six? To be fair, it was nearly impossible to actually rank these last seven games, but what set them apart is that every game that ranked higher made me feel something. They hit nerves, toyed with my emotions, frustrated me the best ways, and truly absorbed me. The only thing that I felt throughout Odyssey was “WHEE! I’M HAVIN’ A GREAT TIME!” Which is still great, of course, but it probably won’t really register as an especially strong memory for me.

That said, if I were ranking the games completely objectively, I’d likely slot in Mario at #2, so.

Let’s start again. Super Mario Odyssey is amazeballs. I don’t like to use that word, but I literally can’t think of anything else that quite perfectly describes how excellent this game is. It is the purest example of what I think a video game can and should be. It’s a massive, glorious adventure into worlds that toys with your preconceptions of what Mario levels should be and what kinds of challenges you’ll face in said levels, and it never stops being fun. It never stops being suprising and exciting, and I absolutely cannot wait for the inevitable DLC kingdoms.

I think the most important aspect of the game’s appeal is its unexpected simplicity. And to that end, I would like to direct you to the video at this link. It is a wonderful analysis of Super Mario Odyssey’s mechanics, and how even though they are simple, they can lead to endless possibilities and countless hours of fun. Go on, drink the Kool-Aid.

If Super Mario Odyssey fell behind the rest of the pack because it “only” made me feel pure elation, Resident Evil 7 edged it out because it made me feel absolute terror. It made me feel some other things too, like complete despair and a desperate need for more hours in the day, but mostly just the terror.

To properly describe that, we need to start at the very start. Specifically, the initial reveal of the new gameplay style. After the mostly despised Resident Evil 6, Capcom had to seriously re-think what they would do with the main series going forward. Their solution was to dial it back to a smaller-scale story, focus more on horror than action, and put the player in a first-person perspective. I was highly wary of this at first, but it turned out for the best in all the ways. I absolutely consider RE7 to be up there with RE2 and RE4 as one of the best games in the series.

I’ve written about this game several times before, but I guess it’s worth summing up again. RE7 is a horror masterpiece. Most of the game is spent quietly sneaking around spooky environments, hoping that monsters aren’t going to pop out and murder you. They inevitably do, and it’s much, much worse when those monsters are replaced by stalkers who will relentlessly prowl around, looking to find and kill you. The story is much smaller in scope than the last few main games, putting you in the shoes of a man looking for his assumed-dead wife in a creepy swamp mansion. Of course, there’s more to it than that, and the fun twists and reveals are very impactful, and very much in the classic Resident Evil style.

I also want to make a small mention that RE7 has some of the best DLC I’ve paid for. The two “banned footage” packs contain alternate game modes like an escape room and an ultra-hard remix of the Baker mansion. I haven’t played the second pack yet, but I got a real kick out of the first one. Two new story episodes were released right at the end of the year, and I haven’t made time to play them (or even room on my PS4 to download them), but one stars the one and only Chris Redfield, so I’m very eager to give it a go in 2018.

I’ve already written a huge spiel about this one, so maybe give that a read and then come back to check out the rest. If you need a TLDR, here are a the main bullet points:

  • A great evolution of classic Mega Man gameplay
  • Generally excellent boss battles
  • The game that Mighty No.9 should have been
  • Insanely thorough weapon customization features
  • Eight playable characters (though five are paid DLC)
  • Tons of extra content (collectibles, achievements, modes)

Honestly it was an incredibly difficult choice whether to include this or Hollow Knight as the 2D platformer on the list. They both really deserve it, but I am biased toward run-and-gun action. If this were a Top 8 list, however, rest assured that the extra spot would belong to Hollow Knight.

Like Mighty Gunvolt Burst, 2016’s DOOM washed over me like a wonderful wave of nostalgia; a terrific modernization of a classic franchise. Both are shooters -albeit of a different perspective- that build on their inspirations, though their modern incarnations couldn’t be more different. While IntiCreates took the retraux road, Bethesda brought DOOM fully into the current generation of gaming with all the fancy bells and whistles.

But bells and whistles are where the upgrades ended. Sure, the game looks gorgeous, gives you permanent power-ups, is rendered in full 3D and has all sorts of nonsensical DLC packages, but at its core, DOOM is still DOOM. It is pure and simple, unlike the vast majority of modern shooters. You won’t see any cover mechanics or regenerating health or annoying attempts at realism here. Doomguy can carry all of his guns at once, and never has to reload. Doomguy jumps like a video game character and can clamber up ledges. Doomguy can collect crazy powerups like Berserk, which imbues him with the strength to smash even the largest monsters to giblets with just his fists. It is my perfectly idealized first-person shooter.

I think that what really sold me on DOOM, however, is that as much as it feels like classic DOOM, it also feels strangely reminiscent of Metroid Prime. The game is segmented into stages, but each one is a massive area full of secrets that can be freely explored. There is a ton of verticality in every level, which I think is what really makes it feel like Metroid; you’ll be hitting the jump button just as often as the shoot button. Combat isn’t about hiding behind cover and taking careful potshots. You need to constantly be moving, because the enemies will follow you relentlessly and trying to hide will only get you pinned down and killed. Fighting is fast and active; every encounter is legitimately thrilling, and there is a very real threat of being killed at all times. It’s just got a really nice flow that Call of Duty and Halo have never nailed.

Literally the only thing that I didn’t like about DOOM was the bosses. While they are a tick above classic DOOM bosses, they still brought the game’s pace to a screeching halt by being significantly harder than anything else the game throws at you. But everything else was perfect! The lightning-fast combat, the focus on exploration, the adrenaline-pumping glory kill system, the sweet weapon modifications, and let’s not forget the bumpin’ death metal soundtrack! Yes, DOOM was a very strong contender for the #1 spot on this list, and I thoroughly regret having waited so long to play it.

I’m not really sure where to start here. I think we all know by now that the original NieR is one of my favourite games ever, on the strength of its characters, narrative, and soundtrack. The gameplay is all about deconstructing video game tropes, and the true ending contains a twist that you just don’t see in mainstream games (or any games that aren’t NieR, for that matter).

I went into NieR: Automata expecting more of the same, and I was not disappointed. It started up with a world that prompted so many questions; the far future of Earth where the last remaining humans live on the moon while their android army battles the mechanical forces of alien invaders back on the planet. Only, after a few hours, you start to wonder why you never see any humans or aliens. It’s a typical Yoko Taro game, with plenty of haunting themes and so many events that exist just to punch you in the gut and break your heart. It’s an examination of the nature of people and why we’re so friggin’ obsessed with violence and war. My advice to any considering playing this game is to not get too attached to any of the characters. Especially not any of the more immediately lovable ones.

Like NieR before it, Automata likes to toy with genre and perspective, but not nearly as much as the original game did. There’s no top-down Diablo-style level. There’s no text adventure segment to the game. Fishing is significantly less complicated and not at all important to your quest. But by focusing on two genres (third-person action and shoot-em-up), Platinum was able to polish up the gameplay to a level far surpassing that of the first game. That and it’s really nice to see those two particular genres mashed up, as it’s a very uncommon combination in our modern world of genre-bending indie games. The dappled-in RPG elements are a nice touch, too, as the androids’ chip system makes way more sense that Nier’s word system ever did. I just wish that they hadn’t felt the need to make it more like Dark Souls by having to recover your body if you get killed.

What separates it from the original NieR and its sister series, the Drakengard games, is that it actually isn’t completely hopeless. After all those hours, when I finally finished Ending E, I found myself tearing up in joy, at the beauty of what was happening on screen in from of me. And that song, Weight of the World; I still get a little misty-eyed when I listen to the “complete” version, and I listen to it quite a lot. The soundtrack in general is just phenomenal. The original NieR’s soundtrack might be one of the very best in video games, and Automata’s is absolutely up there too. It’s maybe not quite as good, but it’s still unbelievable. There is so much feeling baked into every track, and you really just don’t get music like this in… anything, really.

Of course it’s the new Zelda game. I mean, come on now.

What really makes Breath of the Wild extra special is that it’s probably the first game since Xenoblade Chronicles X that I’ve really gotten lost in. Like, the “I came home every day and just played until I fell asleep” kind of lost in it. It was my second life for a solid month, and continues to be something that I think about even when I haven’t picked it up in a while.

It wasn’t until only a couple weeks ago that I started hearing that a lot of folks, even fellow Nintendo fanboys, aren’t too keen on the game. And, you know, I get it. I really do. It’s so vastly different from every other Zelda game (except maybe the first) that I can see why people wouldn’t dig it. But I really, really do. I love that openness, that lack of direction. Zelda games have been so linear for years now that it’s nice to finally have a game that absolutely feels like Zelda, but lets you do whatever you want whenever you want. I think what really seals it for me is that I can just enjoy the world for itself more than most other video game enthusiasts. I don’t need a little trinket as a reward every few steps. For me, the importance of the journey far outweighs whatever is at the destination.

The vast world is only the main draw, though. All the little things within it are gravy. Fighting monsters is always fun and varied because your stock of weapons is constantly changing. The shrines are almost all very fun little things to find and solve (but the motion-control shrines can frig right off). The divine beasts are shorter than the more complex dungeons of games past, but I found them to be very cool little jungle gyms to play around in. Truth be told though, I still haven’t even beaten them all. Towns mean more than ever now that there are real sidequests and shopping is a much bigger part of the game. And honestly, just poring over the in-game map to try to find all the little references and cool geography is like a smaller game unto itself.

If there is one thing that I could change about Breath of the Wild, I think I’d like for there to be just a little more randomness to it. Like in Skyrim, how a dragon can come out of nowhere to wreck your day. I’m not asking for a lot, just a little something so that even once you’ve spent your entire life exploring every nook and cranny of Hyrule, there’s still something that can surprise you once in a while. Though I think that may be exactly what Master Mode is for. I still haven’t given it a try.

Breath of the Wild isn’t perfect. Of course not. But it’s easily the most impactful game that I’ve played all year. Some day, when there aren’t five billion other games to play, I really hope to finally get back into it and check out all the DLC. I hear that the extra story content is really quite good. Maybe that’ll be my game of the year for 2018.

A short review of the Mega Man X series

Capcom recently revealed that they’re working on Mega Man 11, which is due out late next year. I have a lot of different opinions about that game, but that actually wasn’t the thing that I was most excited about. Capcom is also finally going to be bringing the two Mega Man Anniversary Collections to Switch, as well as every Mega Man X series game. That’s nineteen Mega Man games on Switch next year. I’m going to be so happy.

All that said, I think what pleases me most is that I’ll be able to get all of the X games together in one spot. Oh sure, I have the X collection on GameCube, but a) that’s not portable and b) it’s missing X7 and X8. Probably something about bad porting quality too? I don’t know. The point is, today I want to talk exclusively about the Mega Man X series and what makes each game special.

Before I start, I’d also like to point out that I haven’t played most of these games in a decade or more, so I’m coasting on memories here. Some facts may be mixed up or flat-out wrong. Enjoy!

Continue reading A short review of the Mega Man X series

8 Teenagers, 1 Ski Lodge – Until Dawn

*Please note now that Until Dawn is a story-driven game and I am about to spoil the hell out of it*

I have been meaning to cancel my PS+ subscription for several months now. Originally, I only signed up for it so that I could play Day of the Tentacle Remastered for free and get a deep, deep discount on TMNT: Mutants in Manhattan. Day after day in June, I kept telling myself to turn off the auto-renewal. And then July 1st came around and I got the email saying that Sony had charged my credit card for another month. Rats!

But this worked out nicely for me in the end, because one of July’s free PS+ games is Until Dawn. I had no idea what it was before seeing it in the PS+ menu, but the description sold it as a horror adventure game (which is 100% in my wheelhouse), so I decided that I might as well take advantage, as my $11 was already spent.

When I began playing the game, it immediately became clear what was going on: a bunch of sexy teens are for some reason caught in a secluded ski lodge and would be killed off one-by-one. Well, that’s maybe generalizing a little too hard. The game has plenty of surprises tucked away in its sleeve. Its gameplay, for instance. You wander around, waving your flashlight at things, occasionally stopping to look at a point of interest or pick up clues. Then spooky things happen, and you slowly unravel the greater mystery. Also you occasionally stop for brief interludes in which you are talked down to by an arrogant psychiatrist and asked to complete simple tasks that will vaguely influence things you see in the game. Sound familiar?

Continue reading 8 Teenagers, 1 Ski Lodge – Until Dawn