By repeatedly demonstrating different ways of winning.
If ever I had a moment of fire-hot regret for my hasty and impulsive pre-order purchase of Nintendo Switch earlier this month, those feelings have long since been quenched by my time in the overrun kingdom of Hyrule, the open world wonder that is the basis of the game The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.
I could probably be content at that.
This is my new favorite game.
Most games that I’m playing “right now” are in some way held high in my esteem, true. Most games that are locked by your focus are considered at least marginally “favourite” else you probably wouldn’t bother playing them, I recognize that.
But this one, somehow stealthily and unexpectedly, quickly moved into the coveted category of “The Top Five Games I’ve Ever Played”™ …and now I’m juggling the thoughts in my head of what else would rank so dearly for me. Skyrim fits into that list. Final Fantasy VII has held a place in my gamer’s heart for a couple decades. Stick a generic MarioKart title in there (for the nostalgia factor) and the fifth slot would probably be a rotating, ever-battling list of hot titles that have peppered my gamer’s history rising and falling with the waves of eclectic moods and memories that flit through my life.
But then I was sick all weekend with the sinus cold to rival all sinus colds and so spent (modestly) a solid twenty of my waking hours immobile on the couch, cuddling a box of kleenex and multiple cup of hot tea, useless to most any chore save for the flicking of my my fingers on a pair neon Joycons… and so Link’s adventure through this unbelievably immersive world had a good-and-proper opportunity to sink into the depths of my soul and take root.
This is my new favorite game.
I could gush about the technical achievement of creating a uniquely broad game with a rich and immersive physics engine. I could wax poetic on the satisfaction that comes from building to a level of skill that feels as more earned than merely grinded. I could ponder the nuances of how valuable the tapestry of a carefully balanced yet seemingly unpredictable world set against an implied deep history sets a story of patient urgency into a subtle motion that compels the play to peek around every corner and climb every cliff and nudge every stone. I could.
I could also gripe about the deficiencies. Yes, the voice acting is mediocre. The rain conveniently seems to drizzle down on me whenever I find an alternative route that involves a long cliff climb versus fighting a powerful baddie. And some of the characters seem to be silly, cringe-worthy & tacky archetypes pulled out of some anime fever dream.
But even that is just small forgivable things in the context of everything else. It’s the 2% mediocre contrasted against the almost perfect 98% rest of it that is so damn good I can generously overlook the if onlys.
This is my new favorite game.
I know that many of my readers are not gamers. I know that many of my readers find the idea strange of someone being drawn into a multi-hour interactive story like this.
The world of video games can definitely be one overflowing with violent, shallow experiences that seem trite and burdened with a conflict to elevate the game aspects above a tacked on story. But occasionally there comes a title that is so much more than just shooting guns or kart racing or candy crushing: occasionally there is a game that compels you to enter a world that is layered with, yes, some of those things, but that also works very carefully to build steps above it to tell a story about a world and a place and a group of people that is, in a way that manifests from the drivel games with awesome graphics and photo-realistic blood spatter and ends up instead as good as any great cinematic experience, as good as Game of Thrones or Breaking Bad or even rivaling the merit of a compelling novel, all this in that it transcends the medium to entrance your mind and heart.
It’s just a game, but a game that leads to something that might even be considered –dare I suggest it– art.
So, yeah… this is my new favorite game.
It’s been about a week since the Nintendo Switch was released and (apart from a weekend ski trip we took IMMEDIATELY after unboxing the darn thing) about a week that we’ve had one plugged into our media ensemble.
At this point we’ve bought just three games: SnipperClips (a kind of two-dee puzzle game like you might find in an iPad app that Claire paid for with some money she earned), 1-2 Switch (a get-off-the-couch and shake your booty… a little too much and too literally sometimes that Claire loves) and Zelda…
And it’s a good thing that we’re having an epic mid-March cold snap (minus 25 Celsius anyone?) because I’d probably feel a little more guilty about the fifteen or so hours I’ve put into this game in that aforementioned single week.
First of all, some housekeeping.
1) The console is pretty cool and we haven’t had any of the technical fubars that seem to be haunting social media. No dead pixels. No screen issues. No connectivity issues. It works fine.
2) The console is not perfect. For example, it has no web browser… to which you say, so what? To which I say, just trying signing into one of the thousands of wireless hotspots around town without a web browser. At Starbucks to play something: Click “Accept” to… oh wait. Ain’t gonna happen. So that needs to be fixed.
3) The only way I currently have of extracting screenshots from the Switch is by tweeting them to myself, so if that annoys you ignore my twitter for a while because I’m going to be spamming it with screenshots… which are dumb-simple to grab as your playing.
4) The other two games are fine… not awesome, but interesting enough to get some play time. I’m waiting for a couple other releases this summer –MarioKart 8 and Splatoon which I’ve pre-ordered– but for now Claire is happy enough with her games and she’s even dabbled in Zelda a bit too.
So, yeah… Zelda.
On the one hand it draws you into the exploration of this massive world, a world which I’ve just barely glimpsed a fraction of, and tempts you to reach just a bit more… a bit more… one more hill… BAM! Something shows up and electrifries your brain before you can turn around to see what creepy is looming over your dissolving corpse.
Like that. There’s no XP. There’s no grinding. There’s no leveling up. At least nothing obvious. Like other Zelda games I suppose, but I don’t feel all that improved in my skills after all this playtime. You just acquire more health and stamina, and then after a particularly draining fight you’re standing beside a river in the middle of nowhere with no weapons –because they all broke in the battle– no more arrows –because you used them all– and a blood moon rising because the game just wants to mess with you a little more. So you teleport-travel the hell out of there and go back to the town where you try to pick up the pieces of your adventure seemingly no better off than the day you stepped from the tutorial screen.
Overall, as the first time I’ve stood among the console early adopter set, I’m excited to part of the mid-release culture of game, exploring it along with millions of other people instead of three years from now from a bargain bin.
The gaming review sites gave The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild an average Metacritic score of 98%… which is like saying that this is the best damn game you’ll ever play, probably, because it will suck in your soul and consume every waking and dreaming thought until you wake up in the middle of the night haunted by the howl of a silver bokoblin climbing in your bedroom window…
…or something like that. I mean, I’ve heard.
I wouldn’t say that my favourite video game franchise is Zelda, but over the last thirty years I’ve played a solid third of the eighteen or so titles in the series on various consoles dating all the way back to the NES.
Twenty-seventeen is set to go down at our house as the year of Nintendo. I’ve owned a total of three Nintendo consoles (not counting our replacement Wii) over the years —soon to be four— and two of those four will have been acquired in the first three months of this year. And while I picked up a copy of a cute little game for Claire (which six weeks later she’s still obsessed with) my indulgence on the 2DS/3DS console I bought shortly after Christmas, was a Zelda game.
…and I’ve been playing through it at a respectable clip when I can squeeze a few hours in between parenting duties, work, runs, violin practice & sleeping on the couch after a long, exhausting day. It’s a good little game, but hearkening back to my NES/Zelda memories, it’s a very-small scale RPS-meets-puzzle solving game that seems quite strictly entrenched in the entertaining, but old-school RPG-on-rails formula of the nineties.
The thing is that I spent a good three years picking away at Skyrim, and that technically fits into the same genre as most of the Zelda games, but even now that I’ve been spoiled buy that experience the open-world sandbox nature of that game seemed so vastly different experience compared to the RPGs I’d played in my youth that I struggle to even compare them.
I’ve already regaled you with the story of why and how I’ll be acquiring Nintendo’s newest console in a short two weeks, but I didn’t mention that one of the two games I’ll be getting with it is the newest Zelda title — The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — a game that in pre-release reviews is shaping up to be a bigger-and-crazier-than-skyrim open-world indulgence of not-your-grandparent’s-zelda experience.
To say that I’m more than a little stoked is a fair assessment, particularly since as a day-one adopter of a new game (which I rarely am these days) it will be weeks before the trolls crush it or ruin it or just spoil it online. Sure, it might suck. But it also might be the most amazing installment of this RPG series ever. Or it will likely just be good, which is basically what you want when you queue up to spend a hundred hours of your life absorbed into any video game world… and maybe I’m becoming a Zelda fanboy after all.
Either way, I’m primed for some quality time with this classic franchise and I’m sure I’ll have some old-guy-gamer thoughts on it in a month or two.
We’ve had a bit of a trial-by-frustration in the video game console department lately. A few months ago our Wii broke. Well, the optical disc broke. And since we have a nice little stack of games for it we decided to upgrade with a Wii U console so that we could play our games again… because it was backwards compatible. But then, apparently, Wii U has been discontinued and even tho I spent hours surfing online stores and cruising electronics stores, I wasn’t able to find a Wii U for sale. So, instead, I ordered a refurbished Wii (the original one) from eBay. Which arrived, and it it kinda works, but it’s old and Nintendo has always been locked down so now basically we have two Wiis hooked up: one to play stuff we downloaded and one to play discs. I’d given up on anything newer because when I went to check out the Switch it had sold out online in about twenty seconds and pre-orders were neigh-impossible to find in real life… and I’ve never been much of an early adopter anyhow. Except… by some odd confluence of chance and opportunity I found myself in a line up one morning while out on my coffee break –queued up in front of a we’re-not-doing-the-early-thing late-opening store in the downtown core– a few hours after writing this post about giving up on next gen consoles. Twenty minutes later I had a receipt in my wallet for a pre-order on a new Switch console. So, that happened. And of course Claire is giddy with anticipation. So… did anyone else jump into the latest Nintendo fray? Or am I the only sucker out there?
I didn’t quite squeeze into the eighteen second window between when the Nintendo Switch online pre-sale started … and then ended this morning, but I reconciled to that fact by reminding myself I tend to be a late adopter of gaming systems anyways, and even moreso these days.
In fact, a short six years after the system debuted, we finally upgraded my classic GameBoy from 1998 and bought a 3DS last week. (Well, actually it was a 2DS, but that’s virtually the same thing but without the 3D part.)
Claire considers the purchase a power move by an awesome dad. Other household opinions have varied.
The system came with Mario Kart 7 bundled, which is a fun time-waster and has got some retro-familiar fun in the form of classic tracks and nostalgia dripping from the experience in more ways than I can inventory here.
But I picked up a couple of used titles (the benefit to late adoption is of course second-hand content on the cheap!) in the form of a couple more more-in-depth games.
For Claire, I channeled my years of observing her interest in sandbox, toybox, world-building games and scored a game just for her that is probably just a little too on the nose and in her wheelhouse. Tomodachi Life is summed up the product page with this blurb: “What happens when friends, family, and celebrities become Mii™ characters and live together on an island? Tomodachi Life happens! Start by creating Mii characters and customizing everything about them. Have fun recreating your best friend, your favorite actor, mom and dad, co-workers…whoever! Then watch as they rap, rock, eat donuts, fall in love, break up, go shopping, play games, and live their crazy Mii lives.”
Needless to say, she is obsessed, and I’ve already lost track of the number of G-rated but slightly-WTF? things that she’s blurted aloud in response to what she’s seeing on the screen. Either way, it’s so much better than her just watching Fuller House on never-ending loop.
For myself, and with a wide range of titles to select from, I found myself oddly intrigued by a game that is probably a little bit too far down the cutie-pie scale for a 40-year-old guy to be playing, but (a) I was trying to find something Claire might eventually play too, (b) the game beneath the cartoon skin is actually pretty in-depth and (c) I’m too old to care what you think about what kind of cutie-pie games I play. I picked up a used copy of Fantasy Life (yes, I realize both game titles end with the word “Life”… weird) and have been enjoying it exactly as much as I expected from the various bits of research I did prior to my purchase.
The game is a blend of RPG, life-sim, & resource management game. One reviewer put it as: it’s a mashup of the Elder Scrolls and Harvest Moon/Stardew Valley, all as if painted by Studio Ghibli. That’s not a completely accurate explanation, but close enough. And mindless enough to make me lose a few hours of cold winter seclusion in a tiny little handheld screen. Maybe I’ll do a fuller review later, but so far I think I’ve got my twenty-bucks worth out of the game.
As unlikely as it is that I’ll actually find a more modern console for our living room in the coming months — the PS4 hits the wrong demographic for our house, the Wii U is out of production, and the Switch will be damn near impossible to find for the next year — for now the 2DS will need to satisfy the gaming itch.
We’ adults would need to actually go to bed at a reasonable time on Christmas Eve, rather than staying up waaaaay past midnight drinking and playing board games.
Warning. I’m about to get a little Abe Simpson here.
Y’know… Back in my day…
It’s only been a short twenty-five years or so since I was that kid hiding out in the basement with my sibs or my friends playing those now-classic video games that shape the memories of my youth.
For context, we had this at-the-time-awesome and state-of-the-art Intel 386 desktop machine, with a VGA monitor and a whopping “you-ll-never-need-anything-bigger” 80 Mb (yeah, that’s not a typo: MEGAbyte) hard drive.
And we loved to play video games on it. No kidding, huh?
Part of the effort to actually play games went something like this:
1. There was no Internet. At least, it wasn’t something that was remotely on our radar as a thing. And it definitely would not have had anything to do with video games. Everything we knew about games came from recommendations or visits to the video game store or most likely: expensive magazines from the bookstore. So, after seeing a scattered collection of printed glossy screenshots in a magazine, pondering the glory of that game for weeks or months, saving our pittance of an allowance, we then needed to convince our parents that a trip to the mall was in order.
2. There were precisely four places in town to buy video games. The video game store at the mall was my preference because they had the best selection, but you could also find a small selection at Radio Shack or London Drugs. If you were really desperate, the little hole-in-the-wall store where we bought our computer system had a couple games mixed in with their copies of Windows 3.1 and WordPerfect.
3. We’d bring the game home, crack open the box, extract a small heaping pile of 3.5 inch floppy diskettes which were numbered for efficient installation, and usually some other goodies like a manual, a cloth map, a paper gadget of some kind that served as copy protection, and a few advertisements. The experience was much more like cracking open a new board game these days, with lots of parts and rules and that anticipation of getting things set up.
4. We’d boot up the computer (because you didn’t just leave it on all the time, c’mon!) and quickly realize that there was not enough hard drive space to install our new game. So we’d spend a good 30 minutes to an hour uninstalling (or usually just deleting the files with DELETE *.* command) of at least one or two other old games (or various files) that were not going to be interesting in the foreseeable twenty-four hours.
5. Presuming all went well in the effort to locate some hard drive space, the installation would begin. This was an epic ceremony that involved feeding a new disk into the drive every five to ten minutes and watching the command feed or the progress bar churn through the copy process. Most games had four to five disks. One, I recall, had a number in the teens. That was an afternoon project.
6. When the installation was complete, it was time to cross our fingers. You’d get into the DOS prompt, type the command to run the game, and hope. It was a 50/50 prospect that the game would run. Sometimes it would just flop you back into DOS prompt with a cryptic message about memory allocation, or a graphics setting, or an incompatible something, in which case the real game would be pouring over the MS-DOS manual for hints on how to edit the config files to redistribute system resources in a way that the game liked. If you were unlucky, this might mean hours of effort and countless reboots as you tweaked the config files, all the time hoping you didn’t break anything crucial. It you were really unlucky it meant convincing your parents to buy a new piece of hardware for a couple hundred bucks… and then you were waiting weeks or months for that to happen.
7. And then maybe, just maybe the game would load. And remember when I mentioned those goodies, like that copy protection gadget? The game would ask you to prove you’d actually paid money for the files by forcing you to look something up in the manual or turning a paper wheel that aligned with a secret code or locating the name of a city on that cloth map you’d been studying in the hours since you’d first optimistically opened the box.
I bring this up for further context because today, in late 2016, twenty-five years later the teenage me would be in awe of the current process to play a video game. Currently my effort to play a game goes something like this:
1. Yesterday morning, as I’m walking up the stairs and out of the underground from the LRT my phone connects to the internet again and in my inbox an email appears. Steam has sent me a message letting me know that “A game in your Wishlist in on sale.” I think “Oh, four bucks, that’s a pretty good deal.” So as I’m riding the escalator I click the link.
2. The Steam app on my phone opens up while I’m standing in line to buy my coffee before work. The line shuffles a little closer to the front, and meanwhile I click the virtual button on my phone, add the game to my cart, and then click another button to complete the transaction. Five seconds later I get an email thanking me for my purchase.
3. I order a black-one-sugar coffee, pay for my drink, and then stand to the side to wait for them to pour it. The Steam app asks me if I’d like to remotely install the game and shows me that my desktop is running back home in my basement. I click ok.
4. The lady calls that my coffee is ready, and as I pick it up (and just before I turn off my phone and slip it back into my jacket pocket) I get a confirmation from the app that the game has been installed and is ready to play.
Sometimes I want to just stand on a street corner and shout out loud: “Welcome to the future folks.” (As an added bonus, Claire would be so embarrassed.)
I’ve been playing this little indie game called Factorio.
Think SimCity meets Minecraft.
In essence, you’re handed an undeveloped procedurally generated landscape peppered with a few basic resources and barely a handful of tools. Through a series of activities like mining and refining, you build progressively better tools and faster technologies, ultimately leading to researching, improving, and building towards the end goal of producing enough material and technology to launch a rocket into space.
The interesting part is that while you can manually craft and transport resources around from machine to machine, the spirit of the game encourages you to creatively link your machines by conveyor belts, transport machines, and carefully planned power grids. You need to build pipes to bring in water and oil from where they are found half way across the map, link your coal production via a self-powered belt to fuel you power generators, and twisting and wind complex layouts of mining equipment and grabbers and refining smelters and little production units to build increasingly complex resources in an attempt to fully automate your creation.
In effect, you’re piecing together an insanely complex machine that is so delicately balanced that pulling a switch on one end of the map can result in a cascade of effects that completely stops everything on the other.
It’s way too easy to lose a few hours of your life in the micromanagement of the (literally) hundreds or thousands of moving pieces.
I think I might be ever so slightly addicted.
With the brutal cold weather in December that’s a long list, but I think my latest addiction is an indie game called Factorio.
Noticing that Civilization VI was recently released reminded me that I hadn’t really played enough Civilization V to appreciate that fact. I spent some time fixing that last night.
There is this addictive little title I found on Steam called Stardew Valley. I bought it for Claire (and she likes it) but I spend more time playing it than she does… admittedly.