After two months of mashing at Zelda: Breath of the Wild, I’ve made pretty good progress… but I still have plenty of work to do to finish the game. Sixty six shrines complete. Two sub-bosses subdued and two more on the verge of confrontation. Many of the sub-quests quashed. Master Sword owned. Wardrobe polished (though not quite maxed.) And of course the entire map unlocked. I’m going to keep pushing, of course, because it’s truly one of the most amazing video games I’ve ever played. But two things: spring might actually be here (fingers crossed) and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch comes out this weekend… so… there will be some hard choice to be made.
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.
Claire and I have been picking our way through the splendid animation and storytelling of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch for what seems to be a couple years now. In fact, I think we started this epic game back in early 2013 and our adventures, while sporadic, have been ploddingly and deliberately driving us further into the game.
Up until recently, however, Claire has been mostly content to side-seat-drive. I bought her the strategy guide for the simple reason that she didn’t quite have the nerve to take on the controller. I guess she was afraid of the battles, admittedly frequently chaotic button-mashing fests if you don’t need or don’t know the more complex strategies available.
So, she’d sit right by my side, calling out baddie weaknesses or suggesting the next play we should make. And she was happy with that.
The thing about kids, though, is that they’re rarely content to sit by the sidelines and watch. Heck, we fought over whose turn it was back in our golden era of the Coleco Vision and NES console days. I wouldn’t have put up with it for long had my dad sat and played while we shouted out “go lefts” or “shoot nows” at him. I didn’t expect my turn to go on forever, either.
She worked up the nerve recently. Just as we reached that point in the game, the point that happens in most every RPG I’ve ever played, where the linear, hand-holding story turns into a more scattered “oh, look you can teleport around and do all the quests you missed” kinda game, she decided that she was going to have another go at playing by herself.
“Let me try.” She said suddenly, and there I was watching.
And she played: grinding, bashing, fighting, leveling up the characters, and proudly showing off her battle tactics to her old man in the form of various collected trophies and captured critters.
And now I don’t think I’ll be getting many more turns for a while.
I found myself playing Skyrim again on the weekend. (I’d blame my daughter whose cross-country-skiing-induced tantrum resulted in a two-hour time-out in her room, and left me on idle-and-frustrated guard duty… but I won’t. Any excuse, really.) I jumped back into my PS3 saved game, which apparently had been sitting ignored for roughly a full year between plays resulting in the observations that (a) I was sorely out of practice and (b) the skills I had nurtured in this particular play-through we deeply dependent on practice and I was essentially left starting from scratch. That’s okay, though… I still love you Skyrim.
#100happydays #dailyhappy (7/100) …geeking out with Final Fantasy VI on my phone on the train and on the couch.
It has taken the better part of year, but sporadically picking away at it, this jRPG on the Playstation 3 is finally starting to take root at our house.
That’s right, after logging nearly fifteen hours of sporadic gameplay over the past nine or ten months (summer doesn’t count!) the kid’s comfort level finally elevated to the point where she nabbed the controller and wanted to help move the game forward.
Grinding Ni No Kuni
I may have alluded to this game a couple times in that past year. One part modern role playing video game and one part Studio Ghibli anime film, all of it geared at a pre-teen demographic, the game caught my interest a while back and I picked up a copy so that Claire and I could share some proper gaming time together. With Studio Ghibli involved I knew there would be an awesome story layered below the pretty graphics, and while some of their stuff deals with complex themes, they don’t cross into the realm of crude or graphic… so, kid-safe.
We’ve been poking at it. We’d load up the game for an hour here or an hour there, and pick our way through the story. And it captured her. She was getting it, remembering key characters and important bits of the story as we progressed.
Lately, she’d sit with the strategy guide on her lap, a bit of an indulgent purchase I’d made to see if I could coax her out of her mostly-passively-watching state of involvement. She turned out to be a bit of an elegant strategist, making notes of enemy weaknesses and suggesting battle tactics whenever we squared off against a random baddie.
“No, Daddy! I’m too scared.”
But… always watching, never playing. No matter how often I tried to shove the controller into her hand: “No, Daddy! I’m too scared.” She say.
This past weekend something changed. I might have been because we’d cranked our level up to a point where battles were becoming routinely balanced in our favour. Or, perhaps she’d started to become more confident in how the game was played and that losing a fight didn’t actually mean anything bad was going to happen in the real world. Or, maybe the strategy book had planted enough raw data into her sponge-like head that she was inspired to put it to use. Who can say, but a moment arrived quite suddenly on Saturday morning after breakfast when she reached over and asked if she could “try fighting a monster.”
And next thing you know she’s been planted on the couch for over half-an-hour on a very chilly stay-inside-sorta-day, just happily level-grinding up our characters. All by herself, and bragging about how great she is at it, too. Then suddenly I realize the implications: I get to be the guy who’s begging for a turn while my daughter has all the fun.
Once more it is June. Again. And again I embark upon that epic effort of daily blogging, take three, wherein I call upon myself for a kind of rambling focus, picking from a list of daily topics, and with neither planning nor advance writing, strive to pepper this blog with the free-thought, free-writing wonder that is another one of Those 30 Posts in June. Today, that post just happens to be:
June 24th // Something You Want To See
1. Some ripe berries on any of the bushes in my backyard.
3. All my running pals cross their own finish lines this summer.
4. A few more good movies. We haven’t been to the theater much lately.
5. Your photos. You haven’t been sharing much lately, have you?
6. More of that RPG game I’ve been playing with Claire. My fortune (smirk) for some free time!
7. Various friends and their new(ish) kids. There’s a list that just keeps getting longer.
8. A really nice sunset. They’ve been quiet rare this year… so far.
9. An evening nice enough to set up a tent in our backyard for a campout.
I game, therefore I am: But — you know this — the last thing the web needs is another gamer review blog. And, seeing as how I’m about three years behind on my gaming anyhow, who’s going to read it? 8-Bits-Short is a (new) series of snippet-posts, glimpses into the gaming life of this part-time video gamer a’la-dad-indoctrinating his daughter on his love of button mashing and pixel pushing. Share & enjoy…
I was sick for a couple days last week. Sick to the point where all I wanted to do was sleep and sit on the couch playing video games.
I slept mostly, but between naps I found myself getting deeper and deeper into the world of Terraria. Fair enough: MY world of Terraria. Yet another proceedurally-generated dig-for-resources game, I’ve been lately intrigued by this little game for two reasons: (a) it works on my PS3 and I can thus play it on the couch and (b) there is a bit more of a plot — and event-driven plot, yes, but still a plot. Claire has been enjoying watching me dig mines and slay zombies, and if that sounds a lot like Minecraft you wouldn’t be far off.
Terraria is Minecraft in two (layered) dimensions, with a bit of convoluted complexity that scared me off at first but has endeared me to it ever since I figured it out.
Rolling Old School: Katamari Damacy
Playstation Network surprised me the other day when I realized that the original Katamari game, Katamari Damacy launched for PS2 a number of years ago, was suddenly available as a “classic” download from the PSN store. I’d played but never owned the original, and I can’t even begin tell you how many hours I burned up on the couch rolling up virtual objects over the years.
Picking up a copy and downloading the (gulp) three-gigabyte install was a no-brainer, and Karin and I found ourselves with an evening of pass-and-play late last week, rolling our way through some retro-memories.
Role Playing: Ni no Kuni
I’ve been looking for some way to engage Claire deeper into a game than I have been with all these one-off platformer and construction games.
I mean, I love Minecraft as much as the next guy, but I spent many of my formative years digging through RPGs and story-based games, and I think my deep affection for video games are hidden in the likes of Final Fantasy and Ultima, both VII oddly enough. I came across a modern take on the RPG in a game called Ni no Kuni, and it caught my interest because — another little daughter-indoctrination process I’ve embarked upon — I’ve been systematically working Claire through the Studio Ghibli animation catalog… and Ni no Kuni was a partnership of Studio Ghibli and Level-5, and it looks — just looks right now — like it might be a good intro-RPG for a nearly six-year-old who’s got a bit of a taste for Japanese animation.
Now I just need to wait for Amazon to deliver it!
Monday night and the event pings into reality once again. I abandon my wife to play Lego Harry Potter on the PS3 upstairs and descend into the dungeon that is our basement to fire up the Steam and check in on the meeting.
I suppose my lamenting post on the art of solo gaming last week might have come on a little strong: it is one of those things that happens when one sits down to write at night after a long weekend of big meals and family gatherings. Tones tend to get a little sharp. Meanings sneak in between lines. Or people just ignore your pansy-ass whinging and get on with their lives.
Either way, the result was that my suggestion of some Magicka came to pass as Mr. Big Red appeared in my chat window and we launched into the game.
Magicka, when it works, is pretty much just awesomeness encapsulated in a bite-sized indie gaming package. I write “when it works” because every time we’ve played this particular nugget of epic joy, said epic joy has been preceded, interrupted or otherwise frustrated by the buggy-goodness that is this product. But more on that later.
…get my fingers used to the uniquely clever, but distinctive and sometimes frustrating control scheme.
This particular adventure came in three rounds, the first of which was just me getting in a few minutes of refresher, solo play (while I waited for Red to put his kid to bed, or get a beer, or something) to get my fingers used to the uniquely clever, but distinctive and sometimes frustrating control scheme. All movement of your dude comes through mouse clicks, and the typical movement controls for almost every other game of this sort is usurped by the spell-casting QWERASDF-shuffle that is the player’s burden to memorize else feel the wrath of ineffectual puffs of virtual spells gone soft during the moments of truth, or other multiples of baddie attacks.
I had ten minutes to myself before the server randomly disconnected me and I found myself staring at the load screen for another play.
By this time my partner in comedically-driven destruction had reconnected and was pinging me to join his private, hosted game. *wink-wink* It took a half-dozen tries, but we finally got linked up. This was the second round, a round wherein we managed to play through the first level of adventure mode while only mildly destroying each other, but where I was left with in a soundless void and the game SFX and soundtrack evaporated into an eerie, frustrating silence. The voice chat was coming through fine but the sweeping score and funny-gibbering magicka-speak were a no show. Of course, upon finishing the level and upsetting the under-demons of the Magicka servers somehow, we were once again randomly disconnected and dropped back into the lobby.
Round three? By this point we were an hour and a quarter into the weekly scheduled event and I, nursing a day-old head-cold and a pot of hot tea, was pretty much more interested in finding my pillow than a dueling arena. But we loaded up the challenge mode anyhow and played a handful of pathetic rounds of wave-based trolls and spider attacks, my effort turning into a kind-of cower-in-the-corner and button-mash electric bolts (healing myself and scorching the baddies simultaneously) style of play that isn’t exactly skill-based. But the game soundtrack had re-appeared in this incarnation, so it wasn’t anything close to a bust.
Next week? As always, it depends on the turn-out. If you would like to join up, leave a comment and we\’ll add you to our Steam group.
I’ve been playing a fair share of role-playing video games lately. RPGs. And actually, I’ve primarily been swapping between two right now — Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim on my desktop and Fallout 3 on my PlayStation — but have dabbled in a bunch of others in recent months and years, too.
RPGs are the types of games where you take on the “role” of the central protagonist of a vast and interactive story. This is different from a first person shooter (FPS) game because — even though they look very similar on the surface, the third-person over-the-shoulder view of a character running around and fighting critters or baddies — in an RPG the character is not a mere static set of statistics to improve your chance at succeeding at a round of gameplay, but rather the ever-changing, purposefully-growing, centrally-driving force behind what happens within the game.
An analogy? Pizza. An FPS pizza is a delivery pizza; You order it, it arrives at your house, you pay, and then you eat it. On the other hand, an RPG pizza is a bag of flour, a can of tomato paste, cheese, toppings, an oven, and a lot of spare time; You mix it, stretch it, build it, cook it, serve it, and then you eat it. The end result is the same — you get to eat a pizza — but how much you enjoy that pizza depends on how you want to get from point “A” (wanting a pizza) to point “B” (eating a pizza.) Me, I usually like cooking my own pizza. And in gaming I enjoy building my own character, leveling up, and playing through a narrative… before I get to blast something to smithereens.
Some people just like to blast something right away.
The reason I bring this up however is not to discuss pizza.
It’s been a while since I attended one of our Monday Night Games Nights. Let’s use… uh… summer as an excuse.
But last night Chris gathered a few of us together for an altogether-satisfying, nearly three-hour round of Magicka bleeding well into the hours somewhere between past-my-bedtime and not-quite-midnight.
It’s been six months since I played that particular game and for the first hour, give-or-take, my chops were still a little rusty. Unlike the typical WASD control-scheme employed by most every other PC game these days, Magicka makes use of those same keys plus QERF to control spell combos that are then launched through various mouse-clicks. The mouse itself is your movement control. The short-of-the-long is that I spent the first hour or so attempting to control my dude through the whole WASD key-scheme, and instead found myself blasting Chris with bolts of lightning or gusts of fire, while simply trying to navigate the map.
It was messy.
To give you a sense of perspective on our (both of us were rusty) initial lack of gaming finesse, after stepping into Adventure mode and starting at the very beginning, we were dropped into the initial Level Zero or tutorial mode. We were defeated. The tutorial did us in on the first time through. How sad is that?
But, a few hours and a half dozen memorized key combos later (QFASAspace = ThunderBolt or WAspace = Revive your Teammate) we had played through enough thinly veiled Star Wars and Star Trek references to send us all packing off to bed like the responsible middle-aged parents we all are. And with winter looming so closely on the horizon, those soon-to-be Monday evenings promising nothing more than long cold evenings shuttered in our respective houses, I think gaming season may be back in style.