Dale's Top 36 Gaming Experiences of 2018

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Greetings dear readers and welcome to my annual top gaming experiences/moments/favorite games I played in 2018 that may or may not have released in 2018 round-up!!! Consider this my personal greatest hits compilation of my year in videogames that was 2018! Buckle up buck-a-roos because I am going to take you on a several thousand word journey as I count you down my handpicked top 33 gaming ‘experiences’ of the year! This is not going to be any other ordinary quick scroll through of listed top games of the year because almost anything I did gaming related qualifies for a ‘experience’ in 2018. That experience could be my overall time I invested into a certain game or series of games I decided to lump into one list item, or it could be a certain other piece of gaming memorabilia, news item that really struck me or a memorable gaming session with friends and family that makes it perfectly eligible for the list!

So if you have not by now then use your favorite bookmark app (I recommend Pocket) or ‘control + d’ to manually bookmark this page to revisit this feast of words because it is going to take some time to consume! For optimal experience I highly recommend a big cup of coffee and blaring one of those 10-hour YouTube videos of ambient rain because that is exactly what I did to craft this beast! Speaking of YouTube videos I linked to a whole boatload of them throughout the rankings from trailers for most games I discuss and moments that really popped for me if you so desire to click them for a reference to the corresponding footage. If you managed to finish this monster and dare to seek out my similar takes on previous years of gaming experiences then I triple-dog-dare you to check out my write-ups for my best of 2017 and best of 2016 gaming spectaculars. Enough with this intro, to the list we go!

Part 1 - Rankings 36 through 31
Part 2 - Rankings 30 through 24
Part 3 - Rankings 23 through 18
Part 4 - Rankings 17 through 14
Part 5 - Rankings 13 through 10
Part 6 - Rankings 9 through 4
Part 7 - Rankings 3 through 1

PART 1 - RANKINGS 36 THROUGH 31

36) Telltale & Prima RIP

I hate to kickoff this list with a downer, but that is why this is at the bottom of the list. The saga of Telltale announcing its closing in 2018 was quite the affair with all the misguided reactionary hoopla. It initially leaned towards fan outcry of Telltale now being unable to finish the final season of its acclaimed Walking Dead line of episodic games it was in the middle of releasing getting more attention over the developers who lost their jobs and benefit plans. Things were getting heated in the wrong ways real quick, but there was a modicum of redemption with fellow videogame developers reaching out and picking up many of the laid off and publisher Skybound Studios picking up the rights for the remaining episodes of the final season of The Walking Dead and following up that announcement with good news of Skybound being able to re-hire most of the original developers who did not already land jobs elsewhere.

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I feel I wronged Telltale this year by having 2018 be the first year in several years where I did not complete a season of a Telltale game. Tales of the Borderlands and both seasons of Batman are in my massive ‘want to play’ stack, and now with The Walking Dead being on its way to being concluded I now feel obligated to pick up where I left off after finishing season two a few years ago.

Prima closing up surprisingly resonated with me. They have been the constant major publisher of videogame strategy guides for what seems like an eternity. Part of me is surprised Prima hung around this long with how easy it is to reference GameFAQs and other online guides, wikis and YouTube playthroughs for free in an instant. I prefer to go that route too, but I would occasionally pick up a Prima guide and would prefer their more detailed layouts and maps when playing Fallout 3 and Skyrim than compared to what an average text GameFAQs guide can offer. I will also give a shoutout to their supplementary NES & SNES Now You’re Playing Power/Super Power guides/nostalgia books that launched alongside the NES & SNES Classic. Both feature lots of vintage scans from Nintendo Power alongside new interviews with developers, pro speedrunners and creators of fan art, music and website communities. When I heard of their closure I went out and ordered Prima guides for other Bethesda games like Fallout 4 and New Vegas. When I went to file them away I hung my head in shame to see I already procured the Fallout 4 guide awhile back, so now I have two copies of that one. Backup copy! There will still be other specialty strategy guide publishers (major props to FanGamer’s guides!), but none with the presence or outreach of Prima established.

35) Non Virtual Boy VR

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Last year in the round-up I stated how I have too many reservations about getting on board with the VR craze that has swept up a segment of the gaming world and that I will stick with my Virtual Boy for my VR needs. My Extra Life friends Chris and Lyzz have a Playstation VR headset and had me try it out at their place in 2018 and after trying out a couple games in PSVR…..I was impressed, but still not sold on it overall. I played one or two of the mini-games on the PSVR Worlds mini-game collection that came with the peripheral. I then played about a half hour of London Heist. That experience was a memorable one as I got to admit it was cool looking around the gangster hideouts while being tied up and taking in the unique 360 camera of my surroundings that is only possible in a VR experience. The gameplay was on the money too in some shooting gallery segments and eventually a car chase portion that was the highlight of my time with London Heist.

I was relieved I did not suffer from any of the motion sickness I heard wide varieties of minor and severe reports of from VR players. Then again I only played PSVR for only an hour. I have kept up with the games hitting PSVR since its launch and in its first couple years it has built a library of several games that appear to hold their own as premiere VG single player experiences with bonafide hits such as Moss, Astrobot and Farpoint. After some legit hands-on time with PSVR I will maintain my reservations on VR in general. The price entry point is way too high and I would rather spend the money needed for starting off a proper PSVR experience in upgrading my PC instead. It requires a lot of cumbersome setup, it is a safety hazard by completely blocking off your surroundings and finally after playing for a mere hour my face felt like it was sat on for many more hours after removing the headset. I may try out VR down the line at friend’s places or wherever I run into it at and will likely enjoy my time with it, but as far as owning VR goes I will continue to be happy with my Virtual Boy and reliving the complete Virtual Boy experience in 2019 with Jeremy Parish’s Vitual Boy Works line of videos.

34) Hadoken 2018

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Last year’s list I ran down what was popular among the numerous fighting games my friend Chris and I played online throughout the year. We continued that trend on and off throughout 2018, almost always on Saturday mornings while taking brief breaks to cycle loads of laundry. I finally had my first serious, long overdue sessions of Mortal Kombat X and had some great practice rounds doing a few arcade ladders before throwing down online with Chris. I really need to go back and plow through the storyline I love so much out of those Midway fighters before the sequel hits later this year. Tekken 7 was another popular one among us and I loved its slow motion attacks that kicked in on the closing strikes of battles. It was the most fun I had with Tekken since the Tekken Tag 2. Props to Namco for adding my favorite Tekken mini-game, Tekken Bowling as DLC! It is as sweet as I remembered, but Chris and I were seriously bummed there is no online play for it. Street Fighter V was getting fleshed out throughout 2018 with a ton of DLC with its season passes and I grabbed the first two seasons when they were on sale to try out the new characters with Chris a couple of times.

If you do not have it already on last-gen systems, I still would recommend Ultra Street Fighter IV as it collects nearly all the DLC characters and costumes and goes on sale digitally frequently. It was a hit revisiting with Chris, but the surprise SF hit among us online was Street Fighter 30th Anniversary Collection. Aside from collecting 12 of the earliest SF games, it made four of them online and Capcom had a slick online lobby system to make it quick and seamless to jump from playing one version of SF to another. Chris and I got lots of fights in throughout the year and I also did about 20 fights in online ranked lobbies against random opponents in hopes of getting just one win to get a trophy. That proved to be a brutal endeavor as my assumptions of my meek hadoken skills hoping to get lucky once were foolish as I lost every time (thought a couple of times I won once out of three…yay?). The worst was when higher skilled opponents would sit there and wait for me to come at them before schooling me with counter attacks. That happened even worse in Mortal Kombat X online against randoms, but as they say, practice makes perfect.

33)Mass Effect Andromeda Novels

I have seen nobody talking about these…probably because of how lackluster Mass Effect Andromeda was received. I was a huge fan of all four novels published concurrently alongside the original Mass Effect Trilogy and they helped fleshed out the story between games and gave a ton of back story to characters I was thrilled to see finally appear in the third game. I had no idea publisher Titan Books were releasing novels set in the Andromeda universe until about a year after the first one hit. Just a few months ago they released the third of the planned four books set in the Andromeda timeline.

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I finished the first two books and enjoyed both of them. I gave more thorough reviews on my GoodReads account and will link to them here. For the quick breakdown though Nexus Uprising deals with a crisis of the Nexus mothership arriving at Andromeda attacked by a mysterious ‘scourge’ and the hysteria that results with its limited crew in charge of a ship barely hanging onto survival. Nexus Uprising leads right into the start of the Andromeda game. Initiation has a new Andromeda recruit fresh off her seven years of Asari training traveling for one last mission before journeying to Andromeda where the new recruit encounters a hostile VI/AI in a facility she must now survive and rescue as many survivors along with her. The latest book, Annihilation, I am only halfway through and I regret to report that I am just not feeling this one.

Annihilation explains why about a third of the original Mass Effect races are not in the Andromeda game as it goes into detail why they all took a separate ship there that wound up having a disastrous journey. I enjoyed the peripheral races in the original games in nice little spurts, but having a book focusing entirely on the volus, elcor, drell and a couple other races so far has been a slog to get through. I will keep my fingers crossed it picks up in the second half.

32) HDMI Cables for Retro Consoles

The past couple of years have seen an emerging trend of either having deluxe HDMI conversion kits for older systems to display at their proper resolutions on newer TVs or having third parties re-release older systems like the NES and SNES with new HD capabilities. Those are great options to have if you want a pristine picture on your HDTV for retro gaming goodness, but they cost a premium and 2018 saw manufacturer Pound release their HDMI cables for SNES, Dreamcast, Xbox and PS2 all for around $30 each. I picked up the Dreamcast and PS2 cables, but have only had time to test out the DC cables so far. I dug out the Dreamcast and tested out several games with regular cables and then the Pound cables and noticed a definite improvement in the graphics! They no longer have that washed out ‘muddiness’ look when I would ordinarily run a SD system on a HDTV with composite/RCA cables. There was a minor caveat where I noticed a minor background graphical effect in menus and only when I took the time to squint and stare during gameplay, but other than that this was a much affordable alternative. I found out about these from YouTuber, MetalJesus and you can see his coverage of it by clicking here with plenty of before and after comparisons to see if they may be what you are looking for.

31) Father’s Day Gaming

I have nostalgic memories of the many long gaming sessions I had with my dad and siblings while spending weekend visitations with him. We went all the way back to the original Pong and Atari 2600 in my childhood years through the NES, SNES and finally N64 during my high school years. While I have wonderful moments of many games with the family in each era the N64 years were the ones I cherished the most because of the ease of four player multiplayer with its four controller ports which was perfect for my dad, my brother Joe and either my sister Ann or another friend that would be over to helm the fourth player spot. Almost a couple hours of every visitation during that time we played countless hours of competitive N64 multiplayer.

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That was many years ago though since we regularly played, and while thinking of ideas for what to do for Father’s Day this past year instead of going out for dinner and catching a movie like we would usually do I threw out the idea of staying in and having pizza and doing an N64 gaming day. I was delighted to hear my dad and brother were both up for it and thank goodness the games still held up and were just as much fun to play as they were around 20 years ago. My dad loved New Tetris and was a total pro and would be in a trance when he used to play it all the time so I was mighty curious to see how well he remembered it all these years later. We were all a little rusty, but we all got back into the rhythm of things after a few minutes and it was like we did not miss a beat. I am always disheartened to hear New Tetris get overlooked when I was hearing multiple discussions of past great Tetris games when Tetris Effect took the gaming community by storm in 2018. New Tetris was the first 3-4 player console Tetris game and also the first home console game to debut the incredibly handy ‘hold piece’ which is why New Tetris ranked right up there with Tengen Tetris, OG GameBoy Tetris and Tetris DS for my favorite versions of the legendary puzzle game.

We also played a hefty amount of Mario Kart 64 and GoldenEye 007. I have heard the countless debates over the years, and I will forever contest the N64 Mario Kart as the pinnacle of the series. I have also heard the many people proclaim that GoldenEye is an outdated mess all these years later. Every two or three years I bust out GoldenEye and the same thing happened here as before, after a few minutes of adjusting to the graphics and controls the game had its hooks in us again and we were having intense rounds of deathmatch with muscle memories suddenly kicking in of our favorite map and weapon presets. The three of us went on to have many rounds of fun blowing the crap out of each other! I have been watching Giant Bomb’s line of recent Die Another Friday videos where they try and run through the campaign in Perfect Agent difficulty. Instead of the expected jokes about how dated the graphics were I was relieved to see that most of the GB crew eventually were legit surprised at how fun GoldenEye still is.

PART 2 - RANKINGS 30 THROUGH 24

30) Videogames in Theatrical Form

Longtime followers of my work may recall my podcasting days where my co-hosts and I would go out of our way to track down and cover almost every major and obscure videogame licensed film that hit theaters or direct-to-video. Minus a few exceptions, they were usually painful experiences. Even though my podcasting days are behind me I still like to keep up the tradition of catching any new film that hits the theater or video that is based on or around videogames. 2018 I managed to catch four new films that fit the criteria. The new Tomb Raider featuring Alicia Vikander as the one and only Lara Croft was solid, but nothing spectacular. It had a handful of memorable stunts and captured a few of the moments I recall from the acclaimed self-titled reboot game in 2013 so on the videogame film curve I would categorize that as a ‘win.’ Rampage featuring The Rock totally surprised me how they were able to get a fun movie out of a straightforward arcade smash-em-up from the 80s. Within a half hour I was feeling for the monsters and Rock’s connection for them was surprisingly powerful. Really good stuff that you should not dismiss!

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Looking back on Ready Player One several months after its release I can safely recommend it. I loved the book when I read it shortly after its release several years ago and I was somewhat conflicted coming out of the film. This is because of how far it strayed from the book yet essentially maintained a similar over-arching plot on how a world full of gamers playing the same VR game are tracking down the creator’s hidden ‘easter egg’ in order to inherit his riches and become his heir. Avid game player I am I could not help but keep my eyes peeled for as many as ‘blink-and-you-will-miss-it’ cameos from the beloved mascots of videogames and pop culture from over the years. After hearing how the author wrote the screenplay and gave his seal of approval for the changes I eventually was won over by them especially since the changes were entertaining and since the film came out only four or five years after the book it could have been a slog to see the movie play out 100% the same.

To close off 2018 a few weeks ago I took two of my many nieces and nephews to see Wreck-It Ralph 2: Ralph Breaks the Internet. That was a unique experience because my middle-school aged niece and nephew were ecstatic to point out a couple of YouTubers they follow that have cameos in the film. The sequel had a similar structure to the first where the first 20-ish minutes circle around Ralph and Vanellope loving life in their arcade they reside and visiting other arcade classics of gaming lore. I love how Tapper got a lot of love in the film with Ralph and Vanellope making that game setting their late-night watering hole of choice! Eventually though their arcade gets hooked up to WiFi and it was fun seeing Ralph and Vanellope take a journey in Disney’s CG version of the Internet with lots of real-life companies like Google, Amazon, etc. having their own fun representations in the film. This sequel was a big hit with me and once I got past the welcomed videogame references in the first 20 minutes I enjoyed Wreck-It Ralph 2’s overall plot exponentially more than the first film.

29) Yippee-Kay-Yay-Mutha…..

For readers of this blog who may or may not also keep up with my film reviews here, I recently reviewed Die Hard in honor of it being a Christmas film classic (yes, I am one of those people). It should go without saying that Die Hard is one the all-time greatest action films, and after watching it again a few weeks ago I recalled how there were a few PSone and GameCube games I had vague memories of fairly decent receptions at the time and after discovering how low they were priced on eBay I decided to take a chance on them. I loved the arcade game, but do not own a Saturn so I did not hunt down that version, but got the two PSone Die Hard Trilogy games and Die Hard: Vendetta on GameCube. I have not had a chance to play them yet, but I have since watched a few entertaining Game Informer Replay videos on them revisiting these ‘gems’ to varying degrees of quality all these years later that will suffice for now until I get around to them. Here are a few links so you can check them out and do the same!

28) ….And Raging Justice….For All

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I referenced in these round-ups before how every few years my friend Matt and I would marathon several random beat-em-up classics usually consisting of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and X-Men variety. The last time we did that was around 2015, and the current gen systems have been flooded with a quality amount of re-releases of classics and obscure releases and all-new installments in the genre that we have been neglecting for far too long. Just a couple weeks ago Matt and I finally got around to playing through one of them on the PS4 called Raging Justice.

It had a similar look and feel to Final Fight, but with a slightly pastel-esque touch to the graphics that made the late ‘80s punk ooze right out of the game! The story had all kinds of goofy street punk gang warfare that we both ate up and we were really gelling in our playthrough and we were surprisingly not eating up that many lives. As a matter of fact we only went through one continue between both of us! After plowing through it within two hours we made a list of other similar new beat-em-ups that hit PS4/XB1 over the years so hopefully we will do better at sticking with this genre in 2019.

27) Now You’re Playing With a Power……ed Up NES/SNES Classic

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If you do not want to go down the route listed above by hunting down HDMI cables for a system you do not own or a pricey HD-capable 3rd party version of a NES/SNES than there are a couple of grey-area alternatives. I talked about the RetroPie in last year’s round-up, so this year I want to focus on what people are calling ‘modding’ your NES/SNES Classic. I am not going to give you a step-by-step breakdown, but a quick Google/YouTube search will point you in the right direction. Once it is done you can add up to as many games that will fit in the Classic’s internal memory. If you stick with just NES games you can fit a majority of the NES’s library on the internal memory, SNES game sizes are noticeably bigger and if only going that route with ROMs you can fit roughly 200 of them on there…..that is if you in good faith own the original copies.

There is a nice benefit to the NES/SNES Classic compared to the RetroPie and that is a friendlier user interface complete with upbeat background music and the ability to upload your own box art which ostensibly delivers the nostalgic sensation of browsing the shelves at a videogame rental store and thus is more appealing than scrolling through a large text box of games on a RetroPie. Since the NES/SNES Classic is HDMI it provides an excellent HD picture for these classic 8 and 16-bit games. This resulted in busting out both the NES & SNES Classic several times throughout 2018 for some free spirited gaming nights.

26) Tabletop/Pen and Paper Madness

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I referenced last year how I started to get into semi-routinely board game nights with my friends Derek, Ryan and Brooke and we managed to keep the board game nights churning throughout 2018. Derek & Brooke have amassed a hearty collection of board games and we were able to rotate a fair amount of games from last year and new ones to try out this year. One of the board games we revisited often was Betrayal at House on Haunted Hill, and they release a spin-off called Betrayal at Baldur’s Gate we were all eager to try throughout the year. We finally busted it out on a day where my brother was able to join us and it was a great medieval themed take on the original game that did not disappoint. Another new board game we tried out was Elder Signs. Thank goodness Derek, Ryan and Brooke are awesome tutors because the game had an elaborate setup with many pieces and by about halfway through our session I was familiar enough with the play style that yielded a fantastic end to that round when all of us were able to mount an insurmountable comeback that resulted in an unlikely, thrilling win for us all!

Shifting from tabletop gaming to pen and paper gaming, I have always been a fan of the SNES/GEN versions of Shadowrun. I always knew a group of friends that have been roleplaying the pen and paper RPG it is based on for quite a few years now and they reached out before to get me to play, but with my gonzo work/sleep schedule I knew it would be impossible to routinely play with them every week. I still had that itch to want to at least give it a honest try all these years later so I reached out to them and asked if I was able to commit to playing at least once a month with them and if they would they find a way to squeeze me in? Thank goodness they found a way to create random characters and place me into their campaign for the three times I made it out there to play with them. Mike is an awesome storyteller and ran a fun campaign, and I will also give props to Justine, Ron & Robb for being very welcoming and tolerant of my noob-ness and by being quite gracious sharing their infinite Shadowrun wisdom unto me. Unfortunately I fell out of the routine of playing with them after a few times, but I am glad to finally tried it out after all these years and would be down to make random cameos in their future sessions.

25) Kicking that Early Access Bug

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I am going to cheat a smidge on this one because in December of 2017 through 2018 several games I invested lots of time into and/or have been majorly anticipating finally left Steam Early Access (SEA) and got official releases. Some went onto have official releases on console of well. Gang Beasts has always been silly goofy wrestling/brawling fun with creatures made of a silly puddy-esque substance and it was fascinating watching that game evolve over the several years Gang Beasts was in SEA until its official December 2017 release. I had fun times with friends in that game, and especially witnessing countless Giant Bomb sessions of its madness. FirePro World was another wrestling game that came out of SEA in December of 2017, but it was only in SEA for several months…not years. I have loved previous FirePro games for their faithful representation of a wrestling match and endless customization options, and was thrilled to see it get a physical PS4 release which wound up being the first physical wrestling game I picked up since…..wow…WWE 2K14.

Road Redemption was another game that spent a few years in SEA and I was stoked that it finally got an official release in 2018, with later digital versions that hit PS4 and XB1 in the following months. I raved about it before in previous year-end round-ups, and it is long overdue to finally have a motorcycle combat racer that is finally worthy of being deemed a successor to the heralded Road Rash series. There is a lot more to Road Redemption than being a Road Rash clone, so stick with it as its bizarre rogue-lite nature of its career mode and bonkers weather and weaponry will unleash mayhem you likely did not anticipate coming in. Distance is another driving game that was in SEA for far too long, but after four years Distance emerged a fleshed out release. It is a driving game like nothing else, and the best way I can sum it up is a ‘trippy neon platforming Trials-esque’ driving experience. Its standout feature is a platforming ‘adventure’ mode which was rebuilt for the official release and went on to add so much other tracks and customization features since I last played Distance in SEA that I hope my meek PC can still handle it when I eventually revisit it!

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Not done yet because two more driving games trapped for years in SEA also fully released in 2018. Jalopy is another adventure-esque driving game where you take your uncle on a trek across Eastern Europe in the family’s run-down lemon of a vehicle that needs constant attention and repairs and not to mention other tomfoolery the duo stumbles into amidst their travels. I have had my eye on Jalopy for awhile and was relieved to hear when its long SEA cycle also concluded. Finally, Bugbear’s project formerly known as Next Car Game released in 2018 as Wreckfest. It is the spiritual successor to Bugbear’s FlatOut line of demolition derby racing games that I have so many fond memories of. Wreckfest looks and feels like a current-gen FlatOut and I was glad to see it retain its excellent physics engine the series was known for. I was bummed to see the console release get a delay into the second half of 2019, but for those with capable PCs, Wreckfest is fully out now to consume in all its destructive glory!

I do have two quick honorable mentions for this category. Super Indie Karts is an adorable Mario Kart-clone featuring mascots from many hit indie games as drivers that has also been in SEA forever. The developer keeps regularly adding content though and it just released a fresh batch of tracks and drivers (featuring the not-so-indie ToeJam & Earl) to the build a few days ago. I have nothing but super-fun memories of my time with Super Indie Karts so I hope it gets its long-awaited official release in 2019! Finally, while Shaq-Fu 2: A Legend Reborn never was officially in SEA when Shaq accidentally leaked it out in an offhanded interview four years ago shortly before its Kickstarter campaign premiere, it feels like it never left there once the game released to worst game of the year-caliber reception. I own two copies of the 1994 original Shaq-Fu, so I felt obligated to purchase the sequel when I recently stumbled upon it in the clearance bins for $6 just a few months after its release.

24) Good ‘ol Fashioned Videogame Couch Multiplayer

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I will also give a quick mention to the videogame nights I was glad to be a part of with Derek, Brooke and Ryan! While 2018 saw us hit up more board game nights we managed to sneak in a few couch videogame multiplayer nights of some old favorites like Sony’s take on the JackBox Party Pack that is called That’s You where the four of us chuckled away the night at its irreverent trivia and doodling nonsense on each other’s faces. We also mixed in a couple other games into the rotation throughout the year. I heard great things about Towerfall before, but finally playing it was a rush and a half with its fast intense bouts of bow-and-arrow deathmatches with sudden death animations that left us in stitches!

Derek introduced us to the bonkers four player game called Ultimate Chicken Horse where users play several quick rounds trying to reach a goal but insert random objects of torture between each round that makes getting to the goal near impossible by the end of the game. It was a big hit with our group. Finally it will behoove me to include the crazy night we had with the 360 game, Cloudberry Kingdom. It is an absurd runner game filled with all kinds of deathtraps just waiting to obliterate our adorable avatars. Cloudberry Kingdom has literally hundreds of levels, and as expected each one got procedurally more nuts but was still a blast to attempt to complete! After a couple hours of the madness and many attempts on one particularly troublesome stage we all had this priceless defeated look on our faces after we finally finished it and we all knew in that instant that we were DONE with it for the night! What a fantastic runner I hope we get to revisit again one day!

PART 3 - RANKINGS 23 THROUGH 18

23) Wanting More Time to Dedicate to 2018’s Top Indie Games

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There are a few websites and podcasts I follow that have tons of game of the year coverage, and it is a great place to get a reminder of those indie games that slipped through the cracks and I completely forgot about or neglected throughout the year. I heard enough praise about three of them that seemed up my alley and before the end of the year I was able to put in a 20-30 minute session with each of these. I wish I had more time for each, but my initial impressions were high for all three and I know I will put more time into them throughout 2019. Yoku’s Island Express is a hybrid of a pinball game and a MetroidVania that somehow delivered on both fronts as I unlocked more paths through an island by flipping my character and ball through a variety of colorful environments. My love for both genres makes me want to return to it ASAP.

Minit is a roguelite RPG with an dastardly hook where each session has a one minute timer, but you retain all the items collected on each session that unlocks other paths on the map. I did about 20 sessions and as I got familiar with the game world I already was starting to plan my next steps ahead for my next minute run. Many jovial curses to the developers who intentionally programmed the NPC W-H-O-T-A-L-K-S-T-H-I-S-S-L-O-W to keep me in a nail-biter of a moment to hit the next checkpoint with literally a single second to spare! The last indie game I snuck in some time with was the Super Meat Boy-esque platformer, Celeste. This comes from the same developers who made Towerfall that I just got done shedding some love for above. The instant restarts and checkpoints make its fair-yet-punishing platforming worth the challenge to get through and I can already see its addicting ‘just-one-more-try’ instant respawns reminding me of the longer-than-intended sessions I had with the Trials games and I look forward to them in Celeste! I am only about a half hour in, but have heard nothing but the best of acclaim for its narrative about overcoming personal struggles to make it to the top of a mountain!

22) Fans of Gamers Who Crave Limited Runs

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I imagine you have heard of them before, but if not then both Limited Run Games and FanGamer have both been great sites I have been persistently coming back to for primarily physical copies of smaller indie games and top-tier quality gaming memorabilia. I am happy to see Limited Run expanding in 2018 by finally starting to publish games on Switch and landing their more anticipated games in a limited window preorder program so everyone has a shot at getting a copy. It was also encouraging to hear that some of their games will be shipping in smaller quantities to Best Buys across the country so people who do not order their games online have a shot at getting some of their titles the traditional way. Some of the titles I ordered this year from them that I was stoked to get physical copies of include Late Shift, Read Only Memories and Golf Story. That is right, I do not own a Switch yet but ordered Golf Story because I loved the GBC/GBA RPG takes on Mario Golf that Golf Story is the spiritual successor of and I kept hearing how it hits all the right notes for fans of those handheld classics. I anticipate I will get a Switch within the next year pending the inevitable smaller redesign of the system. My only qualm with Limited Run now is with their growth their shipping times have significantly increased. I recall my first few Limited Run games I ordered taking 2-4 weeks to ship, now the last several I got all took 3-5 MONTHS each. Step it up guys!

I will also tip my hat to FanGamer for their plethora of must-have merchandise. I loved their meticulously detailed strategy/companion guides for Earthbound and Mother 3. It is awesome they are collaborating with Jeremy Perish to publish deluxe hardcover books of his transcripts for his excellent Works line of anthology retro gaming videos. FanGamer has a ton of artistic shirts, posters and other memorabilia for many top-rated indie games. I ordered my first shirt from them recently with this design that perfectly captures the spirit of WindJammers. I am also perplexed with their sudden infatuation to the classic run-and-gunner, Sunset Riders, FanGamer recently obtained the merchandising rights for. They celebrated the occasion with a unique cosplay promotional video that almost convinced me to order their Sunset Riders branded wallet….almost!

21) 25 Years of the Real-est Interactive Multiplayer in the Room!

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Guys, the 3DO is a pretty neat system! Seriously! Of course I did not spend the obscene $700 when it first launched 25 years ago, but I got it for a bargain in 2007 and went on to hunt down many games that I always wanted to try for the platform. Not all of them were winners, but there were several that wound up as worthy inclusions in my library. My recommended games for the 3DO include the awesome party game Twisted, its mascot platformer Gex and the original Need for Speed. 3DO also has excellent versions of Super Street Fighter II Turbo, Family Feud, Madden and arguably the best version of the classic motorcycle racer, Road Rash!

Nearing its 25th anniversary and just in time for Halloween, the good people at Your Parents Basement Podcast invited me on to guest host and commemorate one of the 3DO’s spooooop-iest games, the Tia Carrere FMV thriller, The Daedalus Encounter! I busted out my 3DO from the closet and booted up my old save and came pretty darn close to finishing it before the puzzles got to be too much of a brainbuster for me! Riveting times were had breaking down and dissecting the game with the YPB crew which you can check out and download here.

20) Shmuppreciation 2018

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One of my favorite podcasts I have been a listener to for over 13 years now is Super-the-Hardest. They use to be primarily videogame-centric, but have since evolved over the years to focus on whatever topics pique their interest such as craft brews, board games and jamming out to vinyl records! One of their longest traditions has always been dedicating March to shmup/space shooter games. I am not a pro shump player by any means, but always am down to pump in a few credits and blast away for as long as I can survive.

They have a small, but tight-knit forum community I have always been a part of and when March hit the hosts were asking there if anyone was playing any shmups yet. A couple days went by with little response, and knowing how big shmup-month was for that community in previous years I was suddenly inspired to start up weekly high score chases on the forums there with the focus this year being on three random NES shmups each week. I tried to have a consistent rotation of the three games being one common/popular shmup such as Gradius & 1943, another lesser known domestic release like Alpha Mission & Zombie Nation and finally a imported Famicom game that never saw a stateside release with picks this year including Parodius Da & Gradius II. At least a few us participated each week posting our scores and exchanging tips and breaking down how good/awful that week’s selections were. It was a heck of a month and somehow I managed to keep up posting selections each week and got in time with every game! No idea if I will do it again for 2019, but if I do I think it may be time to upgrade to 16-bits!

19) The 3DS Soul Still Burns!!

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I somehow managed to sneak in an hour of time into my 3DS each week. I was ecstatic to track down an English translation for Ace Attorney Investigation 2 that never saw an American release. I loved the first game and always wanted to play the follow-up and got most of the way through the first case. I finally played my first Fire Emblem game by putting in several hours into Fire Emblem Echoes. Hearing that Echoes was a good entry point for the series having played Advance Wars many years ago the gameplay was not that difficult to pick up. It has that same addicting strategy gameplay as Advance Wars, but with a medieval theme and a far richer narrative than what I recalled from my Advance Wars days. Just the couple of sessions I had with Echoes I was already starting to get attached to the cast.

Hotel Dusk and its sequel, Last Window are my favorite DS games. They are mystery visual novels, and when I found out earlier in 2018 that some of the developers at Cing who worked on those games went on to make a bite-sized spiritual successor to it on the 3DS eShop called Chase: Cold Case Investigations - Distant Memories I knew I had to get it. I bought this around when it released in 2016 and neglected it until John from the Super the Hardest podcast recapped it earlier in 2018 and inspired me to pick it up. It is essentially a more stripped down version of Cing’s earlier games as it revolves around two detectives interviewing suspects for a hospital blast. Graphics and style remind me of Hotel Dusk and the lead detective in Distant Memories looks quite similar to one Kyle Hyde. It was a decent little visual novel that can be finished in less than three hours, and I hope it gets a follow-up, but it appears this one came and went because I have heard nothing since.

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I finally started up Theatrhythm 2: Curtain Call. In case you missed out on it before it assembles the protagonists from past Final Fantasy games and makes a fun battle system/rhythm game of over 100 songs from the rich history of Final Fantasy soundtracks while somehow fitting in a intricate narrative too. Wish I had more time to get into it and I think I will have to restart it I manage to deep dive into it because I spent the bulk of my 3DS time once again this year with Dragon Quest VIII. My save file is currently approaching 110 hours in DQVIII. However, the last 15-ish hours have been spent grinding from levels 40-65 for most of my party members for the final boss. To say the boss is a pain is an understatement. I failed multiple times at vanquishing him, thus the hours at grinding away. I will never forget my time with DQVIII, but am looking forward to finishing it on one of my next sessions so I can finally put more time into other games. The 3DS still had a strong 2018 from Nintendo published games and I wound up picking up Captain Toad, Detective Pikachu and WarioWare Gold which I desperately want to dive into!

18) ‘Get Ready for a Cruise Missile!’

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I use to play a ton of sports games until several years ago. I took a long hiatus from them to focus on more narrative-driven games. Madden NFL ‘18 premiering its story mode dubbed ‘Longshot’ got me curious at giving the acclaimed football series another go for the first time in five years. I surprisingly dug Madden’s take on a story mode and loved playing as the fictional Devin Wade working his way through the reality show challenges and playing in flashback high school games with lighthearted local announcers providing the unintentional best sports commentary out there. Longshot also had a well-rounded cast filled with some surprising moments I never thought I would get invested in such as getting them sports feels flowing for the Longshot acoustic sing-a-long! The story mode only took a few hours to play through and even if you are not a fan of football games I would recommend giving it a shot as the football parts are few and far between and the story mode is primarily QTE/mini-game focused.

Story mode aside, I managed to play a few rounds online against my friend Steve I use to play countless sports games with over the years and it felt good to reignite that rivalry. Madden still plays as good as I remember, and one thing I want to point out from the core game is the new NFL commentators they brought in for ’18 & ’19 with Brandon Gaudin & Charles Davis easily being the best announce team in Madden history that added a ton to the presentation unlike any Madden announce team before them! I did pick up Madden NFL ‘19 recently because it has ‘Longshot Part 2’ which promises to conclude the storyline for Devin Wade and his buddy Colt Cruise, but other than a couple rounds online with Steve again I have yet to dive into it. After catching a couple scenes online I am psyched to see how Longshot concludes and plan on blitzing through it around Super Bowl time like I did with part one in 2018.

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If you are not a fan of sim-football and prefer arcade style action in the vein of NFL Blitz than I will instead point you towards Mutant Football League which I played nearly a full season of off-and-on throughout 2018. It is the spiritual successor to EA’s awesome Mutant League Football on the Genesis, and part of me is still surprised how the team did not get a cease-and-desist from EA with a slightly altered name change and bring over so much of the look and feel of the original game. It modernized all the things I loved from the first game with a game engine that plays like a amped up version of Blitz, and retains classic elements of the Genesis game like being able to kill your adversaries in all types of gruesome ways and introducing awesome powered up attacks that can be used once per half to up the brutality. And yes, you can still bribe and kill refs! I was a little bummed Mutant Football League did not get that much of a buzz when it finally released because it had a successful Kickstarter campaign and a follow-up to the Genesis game has been long demanded in the sports gaming circles I follow. A physical copy released later in the year with a new Franchise mode included so hopefully that will bring some new eyes onto the game. If you want more over-the-top arcade-like gameplay out of your football games then by all means give Mutant Football League a try!

I also got really into my first basketball-sim in many years. I dabbled with a couple arcade-hoops games over past couple years and really dug the Neo-Geo Arcade Archives re-release of Street Hoop on Xbox One, while the free-to-play Xbox One hoops game, 3-on-3 Freestyle…..not so much. I always stuck with NBA 2K games as my NBA sim of choice since their debut on Dreamcast and picked one up every couple years and played them regularly through 2K11. Early in 2018 however a super cheap digital sale on NBA Live ‘18 convinced me to give it a shot. I have solely been playing its create-a-player story/career mode ‘The One.’ I have been digging it and loved the first several games I played in ‘The One’ proving my worth in street games of 21. Every few games there would be these hilarious FMV updates from a First Take set with Stephen A Smith and Max Kellerman being over-the-top versions of their already over-the-top personalities which convinced me that my created player was going to dominate the street leagues and become the #1 draftee in the NBA….it did not turn out that way, but I am having a blast so far proudly representing the Timberwolves while dishing out far too many three-point attempts than I should be.

Love him or hate hime, Stephen A Smith has always been entertaining with his sports analysis as seen in this video above collecting his best moments. Unlocking more analysis videos from him covering your created player's career in 'The One' mode in NBA Live kept me coming back to it.

PART 4 - RANKINGS 17 THROUGH 14

17) The End Day is a Lie!

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I was going to say a couple entries earlier when covering all those NES shmups that I have not played that much NES in years, but that statement would have been false because mere weeks before that I played through the entirety of the post-apocalyptic, action-RPG Crystalis on NES! It was the featured game on the first of two Your Parents Basement podcast episodes I guest hosted on for 2018. I picked up both the NES and GBC versions a couple years ago after hearing countless years of love from the staff at GameCola about it. I managed to play through most of it by the time we recorded that YPB episode and finished it off a few days after that. All these years after its original release, Crystalis is still a fun action-RPG to plow through. I loved the accessibility of the combat, and while the options to choose from to level up seem quaint now, I can imagine how they were top of their league at the time.

After beating the NES version I put an hour into the GBC port to see how it held up. I heard the GBC version get a fair amount of slack over the years, but from my initial time with the handheld port it seemed noticeably cleaner and had some useful tips at the opening town that would have benefitted my first time through. I had a great time sharing my experience with the YPB crew and if you are interested in hearing our takes on SNK’s 8-bit RPG then click here to check out that episode. It seemed only fitting that the NES original got its first retro re-release later on in 2018 on the SNK 40th Anniversary Collection on Switch.

16) Pinball Quest 2018

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Welcome to my yearly blurb all about feeding my addiction to videogame pinball. In case you skipped around this year-end round-up (I do not blame you!) I will refer you to entry #23 for some quick thoughts on Yoku’s Island Express. I only got a few rounds of my favorite PC-exclusive pinball game, Hyperspace Pinball in 2018, and the last time I played it a couple weeks ago I had a great run and was briefly ecstatic until the leaderboard indicated I missed my personal high-score by a smidge! I also gave a couple runs to what appears to be a mobile pinball game ported to Xbox One in Quantic Pinball. It is a fine little pinball game, but its mobile roots are too apparent and not many upgrades are present to make the console release feel warranted.

2018 was a strange year for Pinball Arcade. I wanted to make the switch to primarily playing it on PS4 in 2017, but that proved difficult upon discovery of my dozens of tables I purchased on PS3/Vita not being import-able to the PS4 version like I was able to for the dozens of tables I acquired for Zen Pinball 2 to work on Pinball FX3. So that meant I would have to buy the tables all over again. I held off for a long time, but I wound up spending roughly $200 on all of the DLC for it upon hearing midway in 2018 all of Pinball Arcade’s collection of tables under license from Williams/Bally would no longer be supported for purchase with only a few weeks notice to be able to buy them and add them to your Pinball Arcade library. Plopping down around $200 all at once for that DLC was a punch in the gut, but ultimately I do not regret it because there are some minor, but noticeable enhancements to the visuals on the PS4 version of Pinball Arcade and it has a slightly cleaner feel to the gameplay too. Additionally the developers at Farsight now have a separate game called Stern Pinball Arcade so the newer Stern tables have a flashier place to reside. I perfectly understand the idea to make the Stern tables pop more on their own platform. The Stern tables purchased theoretically work in both Pinball Arcade and Stern Pinball Arcade, but doing so requires reactivating the purchased license in the clunky Playstation Store interface and it once lead to me to inadvertently purchasing the same table twice.

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A couple months later I was stunned to find out that Zen Studios gained the license for the Williams tables and by the end of the year would have their first seven tables from the Williams/Bally collection available for download to Pinball FX3 (PFX3). I have mixed feelings about this. I do like Zen’s optional upgraded graphical enhancements to the tables, but the overall physics for the ball movement does not feel like the authentic movement that Pinball Arcade faithfully represented. There is an option in Pinball Arcade for ‘classic mode’ which kind of slows down the speed of play and leans the gameplay to marginally feel like an authentic pinball experience, but it simply does not cut it overall. Hopefully Zen can take the feedback and continue to improve in future DLC tables.

Gripes on the Williams tables aside, I enjoyed the rest of my time in 2018 with PFX3. I have heard the criticism for Zen Studios’ unrealistic style of pinball, but I have always been a fan of theirs and feel there is room for both authentic digital pinball from Pinball Arcade and faster physics with the more fantastical tables from Zen. I finally started to grasp PFX3’s initially intimidating ‘mastery’ system of each table. The mastery system is topping off essentially an experience meter for each table by achieving score goals in each gameplay option available and maxing out several stat meters. I did this for The Infinity Gauntlet, Back to the Future and almost all the way for Medieval Madness. I also got into the weekly online scoring ‘matchup’ league play where PFX3 randomly picks four tables and scores posted by three random players in three skill levels for three minutes of play each week. By toying around with trying to master tables and online score chasing in matchup play it lead to a lot more time invested in Pinball FX3 compared to 2017.

15) Sega Channel 2018

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In the summer of 1996 I spent about five or six afternoons a week at my friend’s place playing Sega Channel. No memories of it? Here is some vintage archival footage of its menus of the Sega Channel experience. It was Sega’s sweet-at-the-time service where in coordination with cable companies from 1994-98 you would pay $15/month to have a rotating monthly selection of 40 games playable from a special cartridge that hooked up to the household cable line. Games would download to a temporary internal memory on the cartridge from the cable line over a minute or two and save states were also available. It was the current Netflix streaming of gaming and was way ahead of its time. It was also how I discovered countless Genesis favorites I hunted down at local shops and online after I got my first job a few years later.

It took 20 years after Sega Channel shutdown to get a faithful reincarnation of it, but only far better in every way. GameTap sort of brought it back to the PC for the few years it was around in the 2000s. However, Xbox brought it back in full force with its excellent Game Pass service for Xbox One it introduced in 2018. Instead of 40 games available to play each month there are 100+ rotating games for Xbox. Add on Microsoft’s bold move of making all their first party games available on Game Pass on day one of their release and it would be insane not to recommend it, especially for new Xbox One owners. I actually am that insane though and do not have it because of my massive backlog and lack of time to commit. However for new Xbox One owners and/or game players on a budget like students or parents looking to save lots of money getting games for their kids they would be in an ideal position going with Game Pass and a Games for Gold subscription which additionally nets ownership of four games each month to their Xbox games library.

14) Ride or Die

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Like pinball games, I also have a yearly blurb on my experiences with racing/driving games for the year. I felt my year in driving titles slightly nudged out my pinball times, thus it being a couple notches higher ranked. If you dear reader are randomly bouncing around this list then I will refer you to entry #25 where I touch on driving games coming out of Steam Early Access such as Road Redemption, Wreckfest, Distance, Jalopy & Super Indie Kart. There were a few driving titles I dabbled this year in that I wish I had more time to plug away at. As you will see later in this round-up, I am a nut for the Sega 80s arcade driving titles like Hang-On & OutRun, and the PS4/Switch release of Horizon Chase Turbo is the best spiritual successor to that type of racer I have seen over the years. They brought on the same composer from those games and the visuals have a nice modern HD look to them that capture the spirit of those 80s greats. It has been a great while since I played a snowmobile racing game and Ski-Doo Snowmobile Challenge was a limited, but fun budget title racer on PS3 that reminded me of a fond time when all I wanted was a no-thrills career mode with a few dozen races and simple stat upgrades to deal with in a career mode. Drive!Drive!Drive! was the final racer I put some minor time into, and that was an extraordinary title where I would have to bounce around multiple cameras to control simultaneous races.

At the beginning of the year I was wrapping up the last dozen or so races/events in the 360 version of Forza Horizon 2. I had another good time with it like its open-world predecessor and took advantage of that rewind button to avoid retrying the same track over and over, but looking back I preferred the experience of the first FH more as the sequel seemed more of the same, but in a less spectacular backdrop. Friends are telling me to skip three and jump to the new fourth game in the series getting a lot of buzz online now, but the third game has that tempting Australian outback setting I froth to explore and on top of that the unique Hot Wheels DLC pack I heard nothing but superb things about. So I will continue to be extremely behind on that series and plan to jump into FH3 later this year.

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I went on an odd Monster Truck binge in 2018. The Xbox One digital store had Monster Jam: Crush-It available for dirt cheap one week, and having a modicum of nostalgic memories of past entries in the long running budget title series I wound up taking a chance on it. After spending far more time than I should have with it, ‘budget’ is a generous description for Crush-It, because this racer is full of absurd physics, bizarre collision detection and endless other bugs. After a ton of bugs causing too many rage-inducing moments I beat enough tracks and finished all the challenges to make Crush-It of all games to have the dubious honor of being the first Xbox One game I unlocked the full 1000 gamerscore in. After wrapping up my time with Crush-It I stumbled into picking up a copy of Monster Truck Madness 64. Microsoft was developing the series at that point on PC for awhile, but ported it to N64 and had a pre-GTA Rockstar Games publish it for them. Unfortunately the Rockstar branding could not have saved MM64 as it too was also rough around the edges with terribly loose steering that had me dreading every corner. It did feature the nWo muscle trucks at the time though that brought back memories of the old WCW Motorsports advertising.

The racing game I put the most time into in 2018 was The Crew. Not the sequel that came out later in the year, but the original game. I got around halfway in it via staggered play over the previous year or two, but with the release of the sequel approaching I grinded away in the couple of months leading up to its release to finish the avenge your brother’s death storyline which I actually kind of dug. There was a surprisingly gripping cinema building up to campaign’s final race where I was legit getting behind protagonist Alex Taylor. I had fun just messing around and cruising around UbiSoft’s condensed open-world of the continental United States and tracking down their take on iconic landmarks. I messed around a little here and there with their instantaneous online coop/versus multiplayer reminiscent of Test Drive Unlimited, and had a few fun online moments but I enjoyed most of my time in the single player. Gameplay wise it is not five stars by any means, and I would prefer Forza Horizon any day, but there was something about the gritty underground nature of The Crew and its car-culture-gang-warfare story that kept me sticking with it. I eventually picked up the sequel recently on a bargain bin digital sale for the ultimate season pass edition being 60% off so who knows, I likely see myself in 2019 playing The Crew 2 and Forza Horizon 3 concurrently at my regular on-and-off pace.

PART 5 - RANKINGS 13 THROUGH 10

13) Spoooooky Gaming

For Halloween I brought up to my board game/videogame night friends Derek, Brooke & Ryan about doing a spooky gaming marathon. They did me one better and recommend I bring over my copy of Hidden Agenda on PS4 to binge through that I have been occasionally throwing out for an option over the previous months. Hidden Agenda kind of snuck under-the-radar towards the end of 2017 as it came from the same team that made the critically acclaimed teenage spooky thriller, Until Dawn. This is another spooky-thriller, but designed to be played with your friends and finished in one session within three hours. It is a game that requires a smartphone app to play, and luckily it came close, but did not deplete our entire charge by the time the credits rolled. The app had some clever functionality that kept tabs on case notes and presented us with options to vote on which way to take the story next like having to choose which part of the case to investigate, or which path to split off into. While the story was a little all over the place it managed to get us riled up and jumpy a few times, and was still a blast to play through in its entirety in a single night on Halloween weekend. Now I need to replay it on my own to have complete control over the story so on my calendar this October I am going to write a big reminder to replay Hidden Agenda and finally bust open and plow through Until Dawn.

12) Back-to-Back!!!

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I have been avoiding most co-op gaming that cannot be finished in a single session like Hidden Agenda for a few years now due to lack of time to finish lengthier co-op games. I made one exception this year where my same friend Matt and I met up twice to persevere through A Way Out. It is a coop game clocking in at around a whopping six hours. That is a lot for me nowadays. Matt and I absolutely loved our time with A Way Out. Spending the first couple of hours getting to know the prison system and plan our escape was a rush and it reminded me of the equally awesome first few hours of Xbox’s Chronicles of Riddick. Crawling up the air shaft with that back-to-back mini-game will go down as one of my favorite moments in co-op gameplay.

The plot I found myself getting into where two would-be fugitives found themselves teaming up to escape prison and get back to their loved ones. It kind of disappointingly unravels in the final moments with some bold narrative choices the developers made that I am still processing in my mind on how I feel about the final hour of play. The ‘must talk to everyone’ extremist in me was addicted to talking to nearly all NPCs and have brief choice-based conversations with all of them. The developers at Hazelight Studios cram in diverse gameplay throughout with plenty of exploring, interrogating, QTE segments, platforming, gunfights, intense car chase sequences and a big highlight being a hospital chase sequence where A Way Out seamlessly bounces back and forth between the two characters as they get split up and must evade the police. If you are looking for something fresh and different than the infinite amount of co-op shooters available, then give A Way Out a chance.

11) ‘This is a No-Smoking Flight!’

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If you do not recognize that quote it is from the adorable master of cooking eggs, Sunny, at the close of one of the numerous lengthy cutscenes that Metal Gear Solid 4 was known for. The ending cutscene is literally the length of a movie, and the cinemas between each of MGS4’s acts are right around an hour each and I would not want it any other way! MGS4 was the first MGS game I finished nearly 10 years ago and I decided it was only appropriate to revisit it after finishing the first three MGS games in the past couple of years. I got so much more out of MGS4 this way by actually getting the countless past references to the core trilogy of games this time around. I loved that MG4 also had memorable debuting characters like the aforementioned Sunny and the soda-chugging gun-runner, Drebin! Since I last played MGS4 Konami has also patched in trophies so it was worthwhile to hunt down those and look into some that swayed me to approach gameplay in a different fashion which yielded a refreshing second go-around.

After finishing MGS4, I continued my ritual of view that installment’s complete gameplay commentary from Dan and Drew at GiantBomb to get essentially a third playthrough experience out of MGS4. I did not make major progress in the rest of my Metal Gear quest otherwise throughout the year. I did get a little ways into MGS5 at the beginning of the year, but then felt compelled to drop it and play through MGS4 before it instead. That was probably a wrong decision in hindsight, but at least it gives me an excuse to restart it and experience one of gaming’s grandest opening missions yet again. I did pick up the GBC version of Metal Gear Solid last year for a decent price at a local retro shop, so if I ever do finish MGS5 I would like to play the GBC title along with the MSX versions of the original two games.

10) Better Late than Never

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I have no idea why I held off seven years on getting around to the highly-touted Saints Row the Third, especially after loving the first two games and finishing them in quick fashion right around their release. The third game in the open-world crime action series upped the zany factor the series debuted in the second game with some of its activities by introducing all kinds of over-the-top elements in the story missions and into the weapons, upgrades, you name it. Here are a few examples so you can see for yourself. Saints Row the Third gave the franchise its own satirical identity when before it was only a pretty solid GTA-clone.

Waiting seven years to get to this classic made certain parts of the graphics seem a little long in the tooth, but for the most part the visuals and core gameplay held up nicely. Experimenting with the huge variety of weapons and vehicles available made cruising through the open world a lot of fun. Same goes for the series trademark offering of mini-game ‘activities.’ The developers at Volition pushed every button to get the most out of that M rating to make its missions standout like no other as they go in places you will not believe. I went on to play both pieces of the story-based DLC content which take the Saints in filming their own Gangstas in Space movie and chasing down an evil mutant clone of series mascot, Johnny Gat. If you missed out on this landmark achievement in open-world gameplay then consider this synopsis somewhat timely since THQ Nordic will be releasing Saints Row the Third later this year on switch.

PART 6 - RANKINGS 9 THROUGH 4

9)Discovering my Favorite Gaming Blog

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Early in 2018 I was scouring the webs digging up info on the must-have import games for the Super Famicom/SNES. I came across this top 50 list ranking the most obscure SNES imports from a blog called RVGFanatic. It is a blog primarily dedicated to covering SNES/Super Famicom games, but also has the occasional feature covering a game on another system or a random personal life story. The site has been around for over a decade and RVGFanatic continues to publish a few new entries a month. His writing and coverage reminds me of the writing style dominant in gaming magazines from the 90s and RVGFanatic stated in various articles that was his intention with the design in the blog.

I spent a good chunk of the year revisiting his site and perusing the archives there because there is an earnest quality to his writing that captures the sheer joy of growing up with those games. He manages to be both reflective and current with his writing recognizing pros and cons the games have been known for, while also recapturing the experience of playing that game for the first time. A prime example of this is his recent review of Clay Fighter. It perfectly encapsulated my memories of the much hyped fighter looking wicked cool with its revolutionary graphics which helped hide its haphazard gameplay. His occasional personal blogs were metaphorical page-turners too as I related with him perfectly to his excellent write-up of rental store memories as well with his piece on wrestling nostalgia of the Hulk-a-Mania years of the then-WWF. I can recommend so many more of his articles and reviews, but instead I recommend you dive in and get lost in RVGFanatic’s archives like I did!

8) My Handpicked Top Gaming Videos of 2018

I have been scouring the YouTubes and GiantBombs throughout the year and have some of my highest recommendations of my favorite videos to add to your watch later q! Without further ado, here are my top picks of 2018…

GiantBomb's Die Another Friday series where they play through Goldeneye 007 on its toughest difficulty was priceless all the way through!

GiantBomb - Die Another Friday| Winter Games 2018 | Gaiden the Ring & Get in the Ring| Mario Party Party 11 | Quiet Man Quick Look | Wreckfest Quick Look | Detective Pikachu Quick Look

Jeremy Parish ‘Works’ Videos - Too hard to pick just one all of them are so informative and comprehensive. Pick a system of Works videos from the playlists indexed here

MetalJesus - Game Pickups with Reggie | Vinyl Record Pickups | Wii and PSP Hidden Gems |PS2 Hidden Gems

Gaming HistorianStory of Punchout | Story of Tetris

Norm Caruso did an unbelievably excellent job with his production values and in-depth research breaking down how Tetris came to be and is a must-watch for anyone who has the slightest craving for gaming history.

Game SackStar Trek Games

Up Up Down Down - E3 Live – Elite vs New Day Street Fighter V Challenge | Edge and Christian NHL 95 Faceoff

No ClipHistory of Bethesda

AVGN - Earthbound | Home Alone games with MaCauly Caulkin

Same Name, Different GameFirePro Wrestling | Punisher | Street Fighter Alpha

Classic Gaming Quarterly - Let’s Read TurboPlay | Nintendo Power | Game Pro | Official DreamCast Magazine

Scott the Woz - Wii Ware Chronicles | Devils Third | Madden NFL 08

Same Name, Different Game has some fine breakdowns of various versions of the Punisher back from the 8 and 16-bit era.

That list there is days full of quality videos to last you throughout 2019, I hope you dig them as much as I did!

7) Videogame Vinyl

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How the hell did I go down this whole!? I recall first getting clued into the world of emerging videogame soundtracks on vinyl from this music primer episode of Retronauts. Later in 2017 a friend gifted me his old record player since he recently upgrade along with a couple records. Since I had the record player in my possession I figured I had to had to track down a just a few records for it and I heard good things about soundtrack vinyls from Mondo and I went and ordered several records from them. That was the first domino tumbling right there, and from that point it was inevitable to prevent the rest tumbling after them.

Throughout 2018 other websites I follow like Limited Run, Data Disc and FanGamer started to offer videogame OSTs on vinyl and I made several more purchases throughout the year. I do not have hundreds of vinyls mind you, but I finished the year with around 15. I made sure to track down some iconic videogame soundtracks like a few from the Castlevania series, Earthbound and Snatcher. There were also a few oddballs that still boggle my mind why they got a vinyl release like Windjammers and Mortal Kombat I & II that I convinced myself I had to have. I am not buying these to sit on the shelf though as I have been getting some quality use out of my record player jamming out to soundtracks while cleaning the house and doing DDP Yoga three times a week.

6) Hey-a Fellers

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It was practically impossible to avoid getting sucked up by the whirlwind of hype in the months leading up to Red Dead Redemption 2’s release. I also loved its predecessor so much that I knew I had to be there day one to be in on the conversation going around the gaming press zeitgeist about RDR2’s opening acts. South Park got in on the RDR2 hype train too with a couple episodes where the whole town is addicted to it. Rockstar does not disappoint with their narrative and audio/visual presentation. I will not bore you with the details you have likely read elsewhere by now, but rest assured the open-world, cast, narrative, visuals and especially the score and voice acting is aces all around!

Not all is aces though as RDR2’s multi-faceted control scheme has been divisive among many in the gaming media. Bottom line, there are too many functions for every button on the controller, and at points I completely forgot certain controls and had to do a quick online search for a refresher on how to do specific abilities like dual wielding and changing coats. Those gripes quickly washed away after extended sessions with RDR2 where I cannot help but get immersed and lose myself in the world. I spent so much time looking forward to getting distracted by whatever quick instant side mission or event that popped up traversing to my next checkpoint. According to my progress I am 36% the way through RDR2 after what seems roughly that many hours in the game, however I am only in chapter two because I keep having so much fun clearing out whatever side missions get accumulated in my checklist. I easily see many more hours to come in RDR2 throughout 2019.

5) The Hidden Beauty of Shield Snow-Surfing!

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2017’s #1 pick, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild took up so much of my playtime in 2018 that it managed to eeek its way into my top five of 2018! There is simply so much to explore, see and do and I am insane at refusing to take advantage of fast travel due to fear of missing out on seeing cool stuff. The photo I attached here showing my 133 hours of total play time was taken shortly before Halloween and I have put at least several more hours in since then. I will give a shoutout to my co-worker Mike who has been awesome to trade tips and stories with since Breath of the Wild’s launch. He gave me a ton of great pointers and his advice has made my experience with BotW a better one! Mike filled me in all about the wondrous technique that is shield surfing! I later discovered more about it when my random traversing lead me to a corner of the wintry mountainous region of the map where I was taught shield surfing and how that lead to the thrills surfing through the snow blanketed mountains of Hyrule.

I have made so much progress this year! I am down to needing to unlock only two more parts of the map where my one last divine beast to conquer lies before finally taking on Hyrule Castle and Ganon! I loved my time in the Lost Woods and Lomei Labyrinth Island that was a hoot to find my way out of. I finally got the Master Sword. I took some stabs at the DLC trials for the Master Sword which is reminiscent of the extremely tough-but-fair challenge that is Eventide Island. I failed after several attempts, but would like to conquer them to increase the Master Sword’s power! Speaking of DLC I waded around with a handful of the DLC quests available and unlocked the Korok mask from the DLC quests which looks funky as hell, but it has helped me amass at least triple the amount of Korok Seeds I would have found on my own. I want to jump into the DLC quest that unlocks the ‘Master Cycle Zero’ (aka Hyrule Motorcycle) as footage I have seen so far looks straight-up rad cruising through Hyrule in their trippy looking hot-rod. Mark my words, Breath of the Wild, in 2019 I will finally finish the core quest and vanquish Ganon and unlock the Master Cycle Zero!

4) Eeeeeeelsss

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Oxenfree was my game of the year in 2016. I loved its art style, mysterious narrative and especially its script where the teenagers would one second be trying to solve this multi-layered mystery on an island and the next have a heart-to-heart chat about stereotypical teenage drama. Night in the Woods was receiving a lot of the same buzz over it also being a Narrative Exploration game with a relatable 2D art style and similar plot hooks to the point that among the gaming press it was generating buzz of being 2017’s top Narrative Exploration title. After looking into Night in the Woods I could not help but be reeled in by its plot where a failed college student drops out of college two years in and returns to her small podunk town of Possum Springs to try and recapture her days of chilling with her high school friends but only for them all to be later caught up in local town superstitions proving not to be so superstitious.

As attractive as the plot was I could not help but, I would not say be turned off, but rather mystified about the decision to go with humanoid-structured animals representing all the characters. First impressions watching initial gameplay of Night in the Woods made that choice in character style difficult to suspend my disbelief and maintain my focus on checking out the game. I am not saying that is a bad thing, I am simply stating that is what was perplexing my mind. There must have been others who felt similar to me because there was also a harsher vocal contingent who was upset with people avoiding the game due to the art style who wrote a few articles stating that if you were avoiding playing this because of animals as characters than to F off. That led to me not wanting to get caught up in all that hoopla so I decided it was best to avoid that controversy.

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It was only around game of the year time at the end of 2017 where I heard friendlier supporters of the game rally behind it with high praise that convinced me to give it a chance and start it up at the beginning of 2018. I am relieved I did because Night in the Woods is a kickass Narrative Exploration game! The writing is right up there with Oxenfree as all the characters captured that local post-high school angst and rebellion of trying to make it in the real world and things not quite working out. I settled into a convenient routine of daily life gameplay where the player character Mae would check in with her parents and of course with me being me, make sure to talk to every local I would come across because they had something different to say every day! The dialogue for every major and minor character was so spot on that it made going out of my way to talk to everyone worthwhile and random spots in town had special one-time moments going in with periphery characters that if I did not check out I would have completely missed out on such as a poetry reading contest, breaking light bulbs behind a corner store and checking out the stars with your old teacher.

There are a lot of singular moments that really stuck with me in Night in the Woods. Every day in the game you are presented with the option of going out on a side-adventure with one of Mae’s two best friends Gregg or Bae. I chose to do all mine with Bae so if I do get around to playing through this again I will do Gregg’s side stories on my replay to have at least a little bit of new content playable in each day of gameplay. Bae has some priceless moments with Mae where the two have serious chats about their most personal feelings that few other games I have seen dared, and they also have some priceless lighthearted moments where the two get mischievous in a dilapidated mall, complete with a mini-game on trying to steal from a Hot Topic-esque store. The most hard-hitting moment that I vividly recall was when Mae’s mom has a bad day and does a 180 heel turn on her daughter! It hurt so much! Mommmmm!!!!

I was thinking once Night in the Woods was going to focus more on the supernatural mystery it would take away from Mae’s personal drama that was so irresistible to get caught up in. Thankfully, that was not the case as it was doubly entertaining to watch Mae’s crew come together and discover the truth behind the superstitions plaguing Possum Springs. As you can tell I got so into Night in the Woods’ page-turning narrative that within about a half hour of starting the thought of the characters being animals did not cross my mind, and looking back on it the designs of the animals corresponded appropriately to the personalities they were representing. Minus the handful of over-ambitious dream sequences that were a little bit of a chore to get through and I might have given this a nod over Oxenfree. That split hair aside, Night in the Woods is a spectacular Narrative Exploration game and hangs in the upper elite tier of them with Oxenfree, Firewatch and Gone Home so if these games are up your alley make sure you do not make the same mistake I did and hold off on Night in the Woods for this long.

---YouTube Break #6---

PART 7 - RANKINGS 3 THROUGH 1

3) Returning to the Midwest Gaming Classic

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From 2007-2013 one of my favorite times of the year was attending a local retro game expo, The Midwest Gaming Classic. Many great times were had there hunting down retro games, hanging out with an awesome forum community I once frequented, classic sessions of late-night karaoke and checking out tons of arcade machines and game consoles set up on free play. Unfortunately the timing of it always fell in a rough time of the year for me and it grew increasingly difficult to make time for it each year until it came down to where I had to stop going for four years. I was not going to make it this year again until a couple of my online gaming friends who I hung out with at MGC before and still keep in touch with asked if I was making it and that convinced me to pull some strings at work and manage to split up some vacation days I had coming so I was able to make the 12-hour drive out to Milwaukee and back home with a couple hours to spare before my first shift back at work.

Bear with me as I give yet another shoutout to Glenn and Jeff for reaching out and asking me about MGC because it resulted in an awesome weekend with some wicked weather to dance around to make it there and back. Wound up hanging out and touching base again with tons of great people I had not seen in four or five years. We had a blast hanging out late night after the show playing SNES games on a projector until we were zombies and watching the spiritual successor to King of Kong in Man vs. Snake. It also helped that MGC has moved to a bigger and nicer venue from the last time I went with room to grow. It was like MGC got revitalized by having adequate room for the mammoth vendor halls, game museum, free play arcade and conference rooms for speakers and panels. I caught a few panels on retro gaming and hung out with On the Stick’s Joe Drilling talking wrasslin’ and retro gaming after his panel. I succeeded in my game hunting quest in the vendor hall to hunt down the last couple of NES PowerPad games I did not own, and accidentally came across a homebrew bag toss game I never heard of before called Tailgate Party that I picked up to complete the collection. It proved to be a epic time that I was barely able to pull off at the last minute, but I do not regret it because it was yet another classic MGC weekend for the ages!

2) Forklift Races

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It is kind of hard to place how much I love both Shenmue I & II. I got a theory from 1997-2000 for people who played either Final Fantasy VII, Metal Gear Solid or Shenmue fresh off their release. For those three games, people would be so blown away by their then-groundbreaking new standards set for their cinematic cutscenes and ambitious narratives that they would remain forever loyal to that particular game and swear by it forever no matter how credible the negative criticism is out there for those games. That is exactly what happened to me with Shenmue as it was the first of those three games I played, and I have seen people react in near-identical fashion to the other two games. I am aware of the criticism for Shenmue and I will not deny it, but there is so much else going for it that won me over that it made me overlook it and enabled me to have one of the best single player experiences in a game ever.

These last few years I was getting the itch to replay the original Shenmue when the Kickstarter was announced and funded in record time for Shenmue III. I was pleasantly surprised Sega quietly announced they were releasing a HD remaster of the first two games for current platforms to cash in on the upcoming sequel. As soon as the remaster collection hit in the summer of 2018 I dropped all other gaming and cruised through the first Shenmue within a month. I was initially trepid that the unique controls would be so outdated that Shenmue would be near unplayable. It was indeed a clumsy control scheme to get reacquainted with for my first 10-15 minutes, but after that I was whisked away back to 2000 again when I first experienced Shenmue and I was reminded how much I loved the setting of Dobuita. There are plenty of cheesy characters filled with so-awful-its-great voice acting that it was a treat reliving it all over again.

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Like Night in the Woods I developed a regular daily routine while in the process of hunting down clues to find out more on who killed Ryo’s father so he could avenge his death. I would start off the day going to the local corner vending machines and grabbing an iced coffee and capsule toy. Ryo has got to have his morning coffee with the absurdly drawn-out drinking animation every morning like any other ordinary person! I would talk to as many regular shopkeepers I would about finding the latest clue and occasionally would have to battle off some street thugs for information or chase them down in a QTE sequence that Shenmue helped institutionalize among games. A guilty pleasure was visiting You Arcade nearly every in-game day for a round of a perfectly emulated version of Hang-On that I kind of was starting to ‘get gud’ at the checkpoint-based racer by the end of Shenmue. Eventually I got Ryo his infamous job driving forklifts as the plot came to a boil with Ryo hot on the tail of his father’s killer! Every day at work started off with a forklift race that had a catchy theme song I made up lyrics to nod along with for momentum. There was an achievement for winning a race…..it was the only achievement I failed to achieve! The penultimate 70-man mega-battle leading up to the final boss fight was a rush and a half to experience all over.

Again, there was some outdated controls and other quirkiness that was noticeable, but it did not get in the way from my unabashed love for the series resulting in my replay of the orginal Shenmue being my second best gaming experience of 2018! I cannot recommend it for everyone as I have seen the nature of that game rub some people the wrong way and my only answer for that is Shenmue is not for everybody. My spirits were riding high after finishing it that I started watching GiantBomb’s endurance run of it recently, and I went out and tracked down the vinyl OST for Shenmue and additionally the vinyl OST for Hang-On as well. Yup, I am kind of into Shenmue just a hair or two. I did not start up Shenmue II yet off the remaster set and plan to plow through it before Shenmue III’s currently planned August 2019 release.

1) Oh my God, You Killed Connor!

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After 16,000 words we are finally here at #1! I know Detroit: Become Human has some hot-button controversies around it and if you decided to avoid the game I get and respect that. With that out of the way let me start by saying I have been a huge fan of Quantic Dreams going back to Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain. I even dug Beyond: Two Souls regardless of that title getting messy at a few points. I know each game has their fair share of nitpicks, but the thing Quantic Dreams nails is how they branch out their stories with its multitude of choice-based gameplay having actual impactful results in the narrative. This is not like most Telltale games where the greater arc stays the same, but the journey is slightly altered. No, characters can abruptly die when presented with a sudden major decision or major paths can be altered to skip entire levels. That is what I loved about Quantic Dreams’ games is these major chances they take on their games and Detroit absolutely kills it in these departments. Quantic also lives up to their past precedents set by moving the bar for Detroit being a true technical marvel and one of the best looking games this generation of consoles. This is coming from a person playing on a slim PS4 and not a 4K Pro system so I can only imagine the improvements if I were to play on a 4K setup.

Like Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, Detroit follows the story arcs of several characters. All four are androids at different states of becoming ‘deviant’ and thinking for themselves. Each character path has major moments where I had to pause the game and think over the imperative decision I was presented with. Quantic Dreams is clever at masking some choices as right or wrong that created some moments that I will never forget. Android Detective Connor and his human partner Detective Anderson were my favorite characters to follow throughout the game. Connor can get killed off like other characters in the game, but unlike other characters he is always instantly replaceable from the agency. I did not know that when my Connor perished in a jaw-dropping way I did not see coming. I instantly debated on rewinding my last save to play it differently, but I sternly stuck to my decisions the whole game no matter how they played out. I was relieved to see Connor come back and continue his love/hate relationship with Anderson, and eventually became amused by the inadvertent ways my decision making kept getting my Connor killed.

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The other characters all had nearly equal major moments to get behind with a few examples such as saving a daughter from her abusive father in one of the most intense escape sequences in Detroit, rescuing a bunch of experimented androids from a psychopath, leading a android-rights revolution to trying to stealthily escape from the madness to the Canadian border. Quantic Dreams always has had Quick Time Events (QTE) button prompts handle the majority of their gameplay, and they have evolved it with each of their games to have the best implementation of QTE in gaming. Minus a few key moments they almost never result in a instant game over if one QTE prompt is missed and there usually is a few chances to correct a mistake in order to recover and win the scene…or you can intentionally fail and flub through a fight or chase scene like a dummy to hilariously disastrous results.

Depending on how you succeed through the prompts and the narrative based decisions made results in an ostensibly infinite amount of endings for each character. Quantic Dreams introduced a remarkable new feature at the end of each scene where a branching tree of decision options is displayed showing the choices made and blank boxes representing other options available and the percentage of the connected PS4 users that picked each option. From this same dialogue tree box checkpoints can be selected to pick up right from there in the gameplay scene to change a decision you were unsatisfied with. After finishing Detroit within two days I took advantage of this and hopped into one key part of the plot where Connor is presented with a choice that essentially gets the ball rolling for the final two-to-three hours of gameplay. I replayed that final chunk of scenes three more times within a week to see big differences in the endings for each character. Some did not survive, others endings all my characters made it to the end while others wound up skipping out on some of the most pivotal scenes in the entire game based on earlier decisions. I knew two other coworkers who were on the fence on picking up Detroit who were fans of Quantic’s previous games and I insisted on borrowing out my copy and we later went on to thoroughly breakdown how we handled key decisions and our various endings. It is insanely rare for a game to cause me to replay it multiple times that soon and that is saying something special about Detroit: Become Human and why it is my #1 gaming experience of 2018.

---The End?---

My word tally count is now tipping over 17,000 words so I think I better end this. It took me nearly 10 days to write this, and I do not blame you if it took that long to read it. That said I hope this proved to be a best of the year list/round-up like no other you experienced! Once again, if you liked what you read and want more of my end of the year ramblings then I will refer you to my best of 2017 and best of 2016 top gaming experiences features.

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So until next year…..oh wait I almost forgot it would be inappropriate of me to suddenly end this without rewarding you with a few YouTube recommendations! I failed in unearthing my all-time favorite SNL sketch of Sports Center with Ray Ramono and Tim Meadows, so this sketch on the origins of the iconic NBA on NBC Theme will have to suffice. Need a refreshing beverage after getting through this list; Dusty Rhodes has the answer for you! These sparring kickboxers needed some beverages after getting bombarded in their training session by a acapella group. Mr. Worf wants to drain his sorrows in other beverages after witnessing this montage of his fails. Finally, here is a nice compilation of background music for your home with the top 100 ranked N64 songs of all time.

Ok that is seriously it for 2018, thank you again everyone for riding this out with me!

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30 Years of TurboGrafX-16 & 25 Years of 32X - A Lethal Flashback Special!

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Greetings and thank you once again for joining me in another anniversary retrospective! I know we are in the second month of 2020, but please indulge me and pretend it is still 2019 so I can say this is officially a piece commemorating the 30th anniversary of the North American launch of the NEC TurboGrafX-16 and the 25th anniversary of North American launch of the Sega 32X! Yes, this is the two-for-one anniversary special! I have been neglecting this for too long and wanted to have this up before the end of 2019, but I think I was a wee burnt out with my tomes I crafted for my other three flashbacks I posted throughout this past summer. I have good faith this will be a shorter piece because even though I have a history with both the TG16 and 32X, my experiences with them are both greatly after their original launches so I do not have those twee childhood memories of the 32X and TG16 as I did with the GameBoy and Genesis. Regardless, I do cherish my time with both ill-fated systems I will be covering today, so let us kickoff with the system that came out first, NEC’s TurboGrafX-16 in 1989.

Yup, these are the issues of Game Players I dug out of the closet and took poor quality cell phone pics for proof of where I first remember reading about the TurboGrafX.
Yup, these are the issues of Game Players I dug out of the closet and took poor quality cell phone pics for proof of where I first remember reading about the TurboGrafX.

Even though TG16 launched in America in 1989, I do not recall seeing it in stores or hearing about it until 1994 when I got my first videogame magazine subscription to Game Players. Yes, I still have those 1994 issues of Game Players in my closet and if I can find the right issues I will attempt to paste in a semi-decent cell phone shot of the pages that referenced the TG16. If memory serves right, I believe there was a spread video pinball games that highlighted both Crush pinball titles for TG16, and another column highlighted TG16’s Ys Books I and II for being a revolutionary RPG title with its then-unprecedented cutscenes and voiceovers. I also discovered about TG16’s mascot, Bonk when reading a review in GP for the NES port of Bonk’s Adventure.

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By consuming other gaming press media over the following years I eventually learned what happened with the TG16 and its CD add-on in America and how they did not fare as well as they did in Japan and quickly faded out within a year or two after the SNES launched in America. I never had a friend that owned the TG16 growing up, nor do I recall a store kiosk having any set up for play in my middle-of-nowhere hometown. I cannot remember even dabbling with hunting down TG16 emulators since I never saw the games out in the wild for sale at my local shops to peak my curiosity. So I believe the first time I played a TG16 game was when the Wii launch in 2006 and also debuted at its launch the Wii’s downloadable classic games for its ‘Virtual Console’ channel. The TG16 was one of the supported platforms and I recall downloading the hit multiplayer game, Bomberman ‘93 around or shortly after the Wii launch making it likely the first official TG16 game I played.

Here is footage of Keith Courage in Alpha Zones, the pack-in launch TG16 platformer that could not compare to the likes of Mario and Sonic......

Aside from playing my first TG16 game in 2006 on the Wii, 2006 was a big year for learning a lot more about the system thanks in part to one particular podcast. Apple debuted podcasts in 2005 and other MP3 players quickly supported them too. I sampled countless gaming podcasts, but one I quickly got turned onto towards the end of 2005 was one Team Fremont Live. That podcast is still around to this day, but underwent a couple name changes and is now known as Super-the-Hardest. I quickly became a fan of the three hosts, John, Moe and Hilden and loved their take on videogames. They had frequent retro gaming segments on the show and the trio frequently waxed nostalgic for their TG16 memories. Over the years consuming their podcast and participating in their forums my knowledge for the system exponentially expanded! If you currently dig through the Super-the-Hardest archives or check out these links, you will find a wealthy amount of TG16 articles there to learn a ton about the platforms and their recommended games.

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The then-Team Fremont Live hosts lived about a five hour drive away from me, and they had on open invite community event in the summer of 2006 where I first met them in person and gamed and drank the night away with them and their fellow community members. It was an awesome time, and in January 2007 they hosted another community event for their first ever year-end awards, ‘The Darryls!’ I remember meeting up with the three hosts the night before the event for a ‘packing party’ where we drank all night again and quickly got stone cold sober, literally, as we packed up the van with recording equipment in the middle of a January Midwest night of biting subzero temps! The Darryls transpired the next day and I got reacquainted with many community members again and there were several TVs set up with various games to play for everyone in what ended up being another memorable night with the TFL community.

John, Moe and Hilden did a special presentation later on in the night for their 2006 best of game awards and did a contest drawing towards the end of the night that I was the lucky winner drawn. My prize was a TG16 system, complete in box and with a copy of the original pack-in game, Keith Courage in Alpha Zones! I was blown away and stunned the prize was going to be a system! That pic at the top of this article is indeed me being the proud new owner of a TG16! Keith Courage was a decent little platformer, but I would never become that skilled at it and would peter out of lives by levels two or three and regret never taking the time to master that game.

....instead Bonk wound up as TG16's hit platformer series that spawned a trilogy on the TG16

Thanks to listening to many hours of TFL at that point however and through other online research over the years I knew which games to hunt down. Luckily in 2007 and for the next few years TG16 releases remained affordable to hunt down as most games save for a select few went for under $20. I tracked down a far superior platformer in Bonk’s Revenge. Its vibrant visuals, challenging-but-fair platforming and adorably gruff mascot Bonk blew Keith Courage away and looked graphically on par with the other 16-bit platforms. World Court Tennis initially appeared as another run-of-the-mill tennis game, but diving into ‘Quest Mode’ provided an in-depth medieval narrative complete with an RPG-esque overworld and random tennis battles!

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I looked into getting the CD add-on, but from what I gathered it sounded like the add-on attachments had a high faulty rate by 2007 and were not worth the risk. Even with those drawbacks I regret missing out on the TG-CD games and only had the chance to dabble with a handful off of other collections and Virtual Console over the years. Fighting Street (aka the original Street Fighter) had its only American console physical release on the TG-CD, and I did not get a chance to play it until a Capcom released a arcade hits collection on the original Xbox. Ys Books I & II was a revolutionary RPG for what its cinemas and voiceovers debuted to the market, and it was not until the Wii Virtual Console that I finally had a chance to experience the original version. Turbo Technologies brokered a bonkers deal with EA to bring a little known version of Madden to TG-CD that I would have played the heck out of compared to the other gridiron game on the platform I will touch on shortly.

The TFL crew were big fans of shmups (aka the original ‘shooters’) and I recall them being high on Blazing Lazers and I wound up spending many hours trying (and failing) to vanquish that space shooter. Already being a diehard fan of videogame pinball in 2007, both Alien Crush and Devils Crush were among my first TG16 purchases. They were both fantastic multi-layered pinball titles, with several screens of verticality to flip the pinball through and vanquish enemies and mini-bosses away on the playfield. I loved both games, and if you want a current rendition of that then I highly suggest tracking down the recent release of Demon’s Tilt that is available on most current platforms. Demon’s Tilt is essentially a modern take on the Crush games, but on crack with amped up visual effects since it is capitalizing on the horsepower of modern systems.

After accumulating these several titles I would make it a habit to add one or two more a year at an annual retro videogame expo I regularly attended in Milwaukee called the Midwest Gaming Classic. John, Moe and Hilden would also attend MGC most years around this time and I would make it a point to track them down at some point during the convention and get them to recommend me a TG16 for under $20. There recommendations never failed, and this was how I discovered NEC’s answer to Ikari Warriors (Hey, I was a huge fan of the NES game!) in the superior Bloody Wolf, and the quirky platformer, JJ and Jeff. The yearly MGC pick-up was how I finally procured a copy of the gore-slasher-fest that is Splatterhouse. I would also chance random games that caught my eye for the TG16 and did not go for that much. I loved my 8 and 16-bit sports games and took a shot on TV Sports Football, and it was a decent adaptation of the gridiron, but did not measure up to the many other football titles on the other 16-bit platforms.

Acclaimed wrestling game franchise FirePro first started on the PCengine in Japan, here is footage from the second game in the series.

The same can be said for the TG16’s sole American wrestling game, Battle Royal, it was an OK videogame grappler, but nothing that held my lasting attention. However, the excellent FirePro Wrestling series got its start on the platform as Japan-only exclusives, and I will give props to my former podcast co-hosts Chris & Lyzz for grabbing a copy of FirePro: Second Bout for me at MGC one year I could not make it. The FirePro games have evolved into the pinnacle of 2D wrestling games over the years, and it is fascinating to see how it started on the PC-Engine in Japan and even in FirePro’s earliest installments it was already a class above the competition.

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While both of these wrestling games went for under $20 by 2012, the next year when I returned to MGC in 2013 TG16 game prices inflated exponentially. For proof I was looking up some old MGC photos from my pictures library, and found some photos of Chris & Lyzz’s 2010 MGC loot-haul laid out on their bed. As you can see they picked up a TG16 and several games, if you zoom in on the photo you can see most of their games went for under $20. I have no idea what brought on the sudden demand, but a vast majority of TG16 games started going for around $50-100 within a couple years and that was without jewel cases and instructions!

For this piece, I contacted Chris and Lyzz for their memories of picking up the TG16 and their favorite games they have played since, and Chris responded back with the following: ”I can't remember much. I just remembered that I liked Bonk’s Adventure and Fantasy Zone. Bonk’s Adventure because of how much I used to like side scrolling games and that is the only game that I wanted to play at the time that didn't come out for the NES/SNES/GEN. Fantasy Zone because of the sheer weirdness factor of it.”

2009 marked the 20th anniversary of the TG16 launching in North America and I wanted to do something special to commemorate it. I was in the midst hosting my own videogame podcast, On Tap, at the time and invited John, Moe and Hilden to come on for a special TurboGrafX anniversary episode! It was a delight to have them on the show and have them take us all to school with their master’s degree knowledge of all things Turbo and reminisce about the TG16 for an hour. I recently dug that episode out of the archives and uploaded it onto my YouTube channel and will embed it below for your listening pleasure!

This is a special TG16 20th anniversary podcast I recorded 10 years ago! Add it to your queue to listen to for more TG16 wisdom!

I would bust out the TG16 once every year or two until several years ago when the WiiU became my virtual replacement. The WiiU started supporting the TG16 by uploading a ton of the TG16 library to the WiiU version of the Virtual Console in 2016 and uploaded nearly a game a week from mid-2016 until early 2018, well after the launch of the Switch. I sold my Wii after owning it for only a year and only owned a few TG16 games for it, so this late infusion of TG16 titles on the WiiU caught my eye (and other Retro enthusiasts too). This culminated in about 50 TG16 games hitting the WiiU by the end with even a few former Japan exclusives among them….and I bought all of them! The original Wii Virtual Console that is backwards compatible on the WiiU remained open until early 2018 to purchase their TG16 games too which I used to acquire other acclaimed TG16-CD games not available on the WiiU like Castlevania: Rondo of Blood and Ys Books I and II.

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A few times a year I fire up my WiiU and pick a few random games to play from my many Virtual Console purchases. It was this way I finally got around to trying out the Legend of Zelda-inspired Neutopia and having a fun night with a couple buddies hack and slashing away in Dungeon Explorer. I also got to take in the ridiculously huge sprites of the brawler China Warrior and finally experienced TG16’s take on Outrun in Victory Run. The WiiU surprisingly wound up a gratifying legit alternative to the now-absurd asking prices for used TG16 games, and a convenient way to make TG16 games appear on a HDTV without the fuzziness that happens when I plug an SD system into a HDTV.

In a few short weeks a new way to experience the TG16 will be launching in America with the arrival of the TurboGrafX-Mini! It is launching as an Amazon exclusive so do not be on the lookout for it in retail stores right away. It has over 50 games, about half of which are Japanese PC Engine versions. If you want something more physical than pick and choosing which games to download on the WiiU, the TurboGrafX-mini is an ideal way to start discovering most of the top titles for the system!

While I never knew of the TG16 during its active North American lifespan or got a chance to play it until this century, I still have priceless memories of discovering hit titles exclusive to that system that stood out in a way unlike anything else on its 16-bit competition. The 32X is a whole other beast though. I remember being a furious 11 year-old upon its release in 1994. I vividly recall the hype in Game Players for it and even 11 year-old Dale thought Sega was out of its mind for releasing a $150 add-on for the Genesis merely several months before the Saturn when Sega already had plenty on the market to tide them by with the Genesis, Game Gear and SegaCD. A wee shy of 50 games only came out for it in the little over a year games were published for the 32X, and nearly half of them were marginally enhanced Genesis titles. From reading mags during its lifespan and hearing other gaming media reflect back on it throughout the years I gathered the add-on had a handful of standout exclusives, but was largely forgettable and not worth tracking down, and I hand no plans to do so, until….

Living proof of the speculated demon that is Sega's Tower of Power!
Living proof of the speculated demon that is Sega's Tower of Power!

…In 2009 a co-worker was about to get married and was parting with his gaming collection to raise funds for the wedding/honeymoon. He knew me as an ardent game player and gave me a print out of what he was selling and his asking prices. This was still a couple years before the big retro used game boom I described above, because around same time a couple years later 32X game prices jumped just like TG16 games. Still, I noticed most of his prices were at the higher end of most eBay auctions when I researched them online. I did not have a SegaCD or 32X in my collection at the time and there were at least a few exclusives on both systems I always wanted to try, and with the funds going to a good cause I made an offer for those systems with about a dozen games in the middle range of what he was asking for and what other asking prices I saw online at the time. I want to say I paid roughly $200 for the lot.

I loved the port of Virtua Fighter on 32X and this video shows how the 32X version holds its own against the flawed launch Saturn version

I got about six or seven games for 32X from my co-worker and later tracked down three or four more over the next year or two to get the other 32X games I wanted. I had a couple up-ports/’Remasters’ from the Genesis for 32X like Toughman Contest and WWF RAW. Toughman Contest was EA’s gritty take on Punch-Out that I was a big fan of, and it got a big endorsement from toughman hot-shot at the time Butterbean. The 32X version did not add too much other than lightly touched up graphics and framerates. The 32X version of RAW though had a couple extra weapons at ringside to bash adversaries away with and its own exclusive wrestler, the masked Kwang, who later on went to be better known as Savio Vega in the WWF throughout the 90s. Unfortunately the gameplay for those old Acclaim 16-bit games had those tired button mashing grappling meters that killed your thumbs and was a few entries old at that point so it did not get too much playtime from me.

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A 32X version I did enjoy was of Doom, and for a few years it was the only version of the iconic first person shooter I owned until a version hit download on 360 a couple years later. I was a big fan of Sega’s early polygonal titles, Virtua Racing Deluxe and Virtua Fighter on the 32X. The launch Saturn version of Virtua Fighter was notorious for being a buggy mess, and the 32X version that released a few months later surprisingly had a smooth framerate and played as crisp as I recalled in the arcades. Sega somehow against all odds managed a port of Virtua Fighter on the Genesis, but had a somewhat cleaner version with exclusive tracks on the 32X later that year. I loved me some Virtua Racer and if I ever get a Switch one of the first eShop downloads I plan on getting is the recent touched up remake of Sega’s first polygonal racer M2 developed last year. Finally the last upper-tier quality game I have in my 32X library is Sega’s arcade port of Star Wars Arcade. It only had the three missions of the arcade that boasted dog-fighting missions on the Death Star and a Super Destroyer, but they were quick mindless, pick-up-and-play blasting fun.

I do own all five ‘Sega CD 32X’ games that come on discs for the Sega CD, but require the 32X in order to load. All five of these games are FMV-based games from Sega and Digital Pictures and all have releases on the SegaCD already, but the 32X CD versions have slightly better resolutions and framerates thanks to the added power from the 32X. None of the five games are all that fun regrettably. I have awful memories of the clunky controls in one-on-one basketball in Slam City with Scottie Pippen and never getting a good memory for the order of camera patterns in order to succeed in Night Trap. I guess Corpse Killer was a semi-decent on-rails light gun shooter with digital characters similar to Area 51 of that same era, but with far cheesier acting and implementation. Both Night Trap and Corpse Killer recently got touched up remasters on the PS4 for those brave enough to see how they hold up today.

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There were a few other 32X games I wanted to track down, but I neither saw them in the wild, had negative buzz or at that time were already going for a bit more than I preferred, and are selling for outrageously more today. I always heard good things about Knuckles Chaotix being a decent substitute for a Sonic-style platformer on the system, but that one always escaped me. I loved the World Series Baseball games on Genesis, and the 32X got a slightly up-res’d version of the ’95 release, but it had such a low print run that it is one of the higher selling games of the 32X library. I liked the original 80s version of the arcade shmup, Zaxxon and was bummed to see the polygonal 32X follow-up get panned with negative buzz which kept me away from that version. Finally, the comic book game nerd in me always wanted to own Spider-Man: Web of Fire, but with it having a low print run being the final the 32X game, and combined for being an awful game to boot were a lethal combo to keep me away from it for good.

That wraps up this two-for-one flashback anniversary special on the 32X and TurboGrafX-16. What were some of your favorite games or memories of those systems? Feel free to comment about them below or reach out to me on Twitter @Gruel. I guess combining my memories of both systems went on for a bit longer than I anticipated, but I managed a modicum of brevity by being about a 1000 words shorter than my gigantic Dreamcast special.

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30 Years of GamBoy: How I Persevered Through the 90s with Nintendo's Brick at my Side!

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Over the past couple weeks social media has been buzzing with tributes and testimonials for the legacy of the GameBoy on its 30th anniversary of its Japan launch and fast approaching North American launch in 1989. There was also that pic a couple weeks ago of Chris Evans and Scarlett Johansson playing linked two player Tetris that went viral that sent waves of nostalgia down my spine! Like countless other 90s kids I had a devout affection for the GameBoy’s (and its 1998 Color update) enduring legacy into 2001 when its true successor, the GameBoy Advance launched. So it is time to lay out my history with the little gray brick that could, but before I do I would be remiss if I were not to point you towards someone who has been doing phenomenal work chronicling the GameBoy’s history first. Retronauts host, Jeremy Parish has been painstakingly crafting videos detailing every GameBoy release for America and Japan in chronological order and currently is nearing the end of covering games released through 1990. So if you want to catch up and find out about the early hits and likely a plethora of titles you have never heard of before, then click here to dive in.

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Unlike a lot of the excellent retrospectives I have been reading these past couple of weeks, minus a couple exceptions, I did not play that many of the AAA GameBoy titles from Nintendo. I was a sucker for licenses from my favorite sports leagues and watered down ports of the latest console games as you will later read about. It was not until I much later got the Official GameBoy Player’s Guide with my first Nintendo Power subscription a few years after I got a GameBoy that I realized what were the key titles for the system. However even after re-reading that bible of GameBoy knowledge multiple times I was adamant on avoiding the powerhouse first party titles like Super Mario Land, Metroid II, Link’s Awakening and Donkey Kong in favor for eye-blinking double take titles you will discover in a bit. My childhood preference of games went against the grain to say the least. With that out of the way, let us flashback to 1993….

I remember begging my parents for a GameBoy for Christmas in 1993 when I was 10. I cannot specifically remember why, but after ruminating about it I pinpointed it down to the fact in 1993 I still had a NES and my parents understandably did not want to budge on dropping $200 for the 16-bit upgrade. The GameBoy was at its height of its popularity at this time and advertisements for the green and black handheld dominated my Saturday morning cartoon lineup. The GameBoy launched at $90 in 1989 so by 1993 I think it was going for around $70 which seemed like a much more realistic sell to my folks at being my one-and-only ‘Santa’ gift for Christmas.

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Also around this time I was going through serious pro-wrestling withdrawal. From about 1988 until early 1993 I was an avid WWF kiddo. Big Bossman and The Rockers were my favorites, and I have fond memories of braving the classrooms of Catholic school with my Big Bossman tennis shoes. However, growing up with three other siblings who detested the squared circle made it a battle for control of the household’s sole television. Eventually, the numbers game caught up and I got so use to being bullied out of getting my weekly then-WWF fix that I went nearly three years from early ’93 until late ’95 not watching my favorites on the airwaves. The only other way at that time for me to get my dose of wrestling at home was in the mostly mediocre-to-horrible wrestling games on NES. I played far too many hours of duds like Wrestlemania and Steel Cage Challenge than any kid should have, and double that for the decent at best grapplers on the system like Pro Wrestling and Tecmo World Wrestling.

Enter 1993 and Royal Rumble for the Super Nintendo and Genesis. I lost track at the number of times I would play that game setup on free play at store kiosks. I was dazzled by Royal Rumble’s superior 16-bit graphics and standout feature, the Royal Rumble match that saw up to six wrestlers in the ring at once trying to throw everyone out and subsequently replaced with a fresh combatant until the game went through its entire 12-man roster. It seemed as close as it was going to get at the time to the insanely awesome Rumble match in one of my all-time favorite arcade games, WWF WrestleFest. Being able to participate in the chaos of the Royal Rumble match with a controller after endless hours of only one-on-one and tag team matches on various NES games was mind-blowing to 10-year old Dale. All the gaming magazines at the time were echoed my sentiments and gushed with glowing reviews which only served to exacerbate my demand.

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Again I pleaded for a SNES and a copy of Royal Rumble for Christmas and again I was denied courtesy of its tall asking price. It was then I went with the aforementioned plan b for the GameBoy. Also hitting NES and GameBoy in 1993 was WWF King of the Ring. King of the Ring sported inferior 8-bit graphics and had a smaller roster of wrestlers and no awesome Royal Rumble match to play, but it did have the not-so-great King of the Ring tournament to play which was only a series of one-on-one matches, but most importantly it would be portable and I could play it anywhere and not have to worry about battling for control of the TV with my siblings to play it. Looking back now those were the catalysts to relentlessly ask my parents for the GameBoy.

Growing up with divorced parents meant celebrating most holidays and birthdays twice. I got to celebrate Christmas first with my dad a few days before the actual date of Christmas and was elated to unwrap and discover my very own GameBoy with a copy of its killer-app, Tetris! Over the next couple of days I played an un-healthy amount of Tetris. ‘Gee, if this block-puzzle game I barely heard of before is this awesome, imagine how good the wrestling game would be’ naïve me daydreamed of at the time. However, before I could get to that moment, something unexpected and terrible transpired!

On Christmas Eve I was with my family that night going to church for its annual Christmas Eve dinner gathering. To get through the night of being with my family I brought my new electronic best friend with me and snuck in as much Tetris as I could between bites. After we wrapped up and my family got back into the car to go back home my GameBoy was not as snugly tucked into my pocket as I thought and as I shut the car door my GameBoy slid out of my pocket and collided with the blunt force of me shutting the door onto it. As you can see in the screenshot here, the incident caused about 95% of the screen to get cracked and impossible to see and I balled my eyes out that entire night. Kids, do not bring your GameBoy to church or God will strike down upon you when least expected!

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To make matters worse on Christmas morning the next day I opened up a copy of WWF King of the Ring for GameBoy from Santa. I plugged it into my cracked GameBoy and was stunned to see it still worked and played the music and it would display the miniscule amount of graphics that were possible in the tiny corners of the GameBoy screen that were not damaged. I must have begged my parents for days to see if they could get the GameBoy replaced or returned or something. I feel horrible now for how irritating I must have been at that time. To my surprise, my mom came through a week or two later and got me a new GameBoy. Once again I was thrilled and beyond belief of how those past couple weeks played out, but from then on I was extra careful with my GameBoy and to this day I still own both my busted and replacement brick GameBoys.

For a few months all I had was Tetris and King of the Ring. I loved Tetris and even found a classmate to link up and play two player with a few times and it remains in my GameBoy library to this day! However, even with my childhood adoration for wrestling I could tell King of the Ring would be nothing more than a middling wrestling game and nothing compared to its 16-bit brethren (though it did have some rocking wrestler chiptune entrance themes). At this point a few months into 1994 our local videogame shop was a place called Tiger Play, which was essentially a modern day GameStop that bought, sold and traded new and used games. It was the same store where I persistently requested to put Royal Rumble for play in its kiosk to the chagrin of the employees. I have no idea how they tolerated me back then. I decided it was time to part ways with King of the Ring and trade it in for something else.

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In early 1994 Mortal Kombat fever was running wild with the sequel dominating arcades and the home release being super popular with all my classmates. Mortal Kombat did not come out for NES, but it did for GameBoy and the now much wiser 11-year old Dale thought the GameBoy version would be just as good as the SNES, but only not in color and was thrilled to hear Tiger Play would happily do a straight-up trade of King of the Ring for Mortal Kombat. Right away I could tell something was not right to discover it was missing Johnny Cage from its roster and it ran a significantly slower framerate. I still remember having to ever--so—slowly--like--this input the button sequences for the special moves in order to get them to work. Even worse, facing Shang Tsung on there was super cheap because he would automatically cast a projectile when one input away from pulling off a special move so I had to learn to beat him without special moves which took forever, but I eventually pulled it off. The GameBoy version of MK did have one thing going for it over the rest and that would be it was the only version of MK that let you play as Goro! Goro was unstoppable, but even with that trump card, the handheld MK was pretty lousy, but I forced myself to get some enjoyment out of it before marching back to Tiger Play a few months later and trading MK in for Bo Jackson: Baseball and Football. Turns out ‘Bo Knows…’ how to endorse subpar sports game, but the sports nut in me played that to death for a couple years because Tiger Play closed its doors around this time and it would be a few years until our town got another videogame store.

After that brief flirtation with trading games in I would only receive two games a year for GameBoy from 1994 through 1998 shortly before I got my first job and could afford my own games then. At that period in my life those two games a year meant everything to me. As hinted above, I was still drawn towards games based on my favorite licenses at that point and Bart vs. the Juggernauts was one of my early games I received as a present. The mini-game collection featured a lot of hair-pulling cheap controls, but I forced myself to stick with it and lit up when it became one of the first games I ever finished. A much better game I got as a present that I also finished was Donkey Kong Land. I have no idea how Rare was able to get graphics that seemed somewhat comparable to the SNES Donkey Kong Country, but I remember loving playing it, but being bummed at its lackluster ending of only ‘congratulations’ with no accompanying DK crew victory graphic. At least Bart vs. the Juggernauts had a wicked ending with Bart getting rewarded with his very own ‘Truck-a-Saurus.’

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I learned my lesson from Bo Jackson and MK to do my research for better games on the GameBoy….actually no because I kept asking for more fighting and sports games for Christmas and birthdays, but at least getting varying degrees of better ones this time. The original NFL Quarterback Club on GameBoy I had a ton of fun with. It only featured the ‘Quarterback Club’ mini-games, but no actual game of football that was playable in its console versions. That was not a problem though as me and my siblings had a surprising amount of fun alternating back-and-forth with the various QB drill mini-games available and I could not help but crack up that my sister only played as Jim Kelley because of how close it sounded to ‘Jim Carrey’ who was wildly popular in the mid-90s. NFL Quarterback Club ‘96 was only actual football and no mini-games, but that was fine because it featured a far better handheld rendition of football compared to Bo Jackson and even a season mode with password save option! Yes, I still have my passwords saved inside the instruction manual

Ken Griffey Jr. Presents: MLB is an awesome port of the SNES original and blew away the baseball from Bo Jackson. It had a battery-save season mode along with the ability to trade players with no restrictions so I created my team of all-stars and rocked through an entire season throughout many family car rides. Mortal Kombat II is a huge upgrade from the first portable version, and while it also had a scaled back roster it did feature more precise gameplay, more friendly controls to pull off special moves and fatalities and a stable framerate resulting in me not trading this one away and playing it way too much.

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That wraps up all the games I got as gifts and by the time I got my first job the GameBoy Color hit the market so I eagerly picked that up. There were a couple classmates over the years I met where we borrowed games to each other. I did not discover many new gems that way as most kids were also picking up the dreck of LJN licensed games and I could one can only tolerate so much out of WWF RAW, Fist of the North Star and Home Alone on GameBoy before getting out of the game borrowing market. I managed not to get swept up in PokeFever as I was just a couple years older than that targeted demographic. I did pick up Pokemon Blue shortly after its release after reading about the hype for it and got a little ways into it before my younger brother noticed me playing it and asked to borrow it around the time it was blowing up with younger kids so I did not mind letting him hold onto it until it for his GameBoy until he remembered to give it back to me about ten years later.

Since the GameBoy Color was only on the market for a few years I will not meander on as long about it. With that said, the GameBoy Color far surpassed the meek GameBoy in every way with the exception of not having a backlit screen. Other than that, it was smaller, fit more comfortably in my pocket, took two less batteries and well….the addition of color! Yes, I picked up a few too many sports and wrestling games on it again that were mediocre at best, but I did have a lot of fun with some enhanced NES re-releases on there with Super Mario Bros. Deluxe, the first three Dragon Warrior games and Micro Machines 1 & 2: Twin Turbo. For original titles my favorites were Mario Golf and Mario Tennis. For people familiar with the recent Golf Story on Switch Mario Golf is a lot like that where it is a sports-RPG hybrid where it has a fairly in-depth narrative at attending a golf/tennis academy to become the best player and being able to take lessons and play mini-games to level-up and prepare for the tournaments. Super Mario Bros. Deluxe had a lot of fun extras and even a two player competitive mode to see who can finish a stage first that I absolutely ate up.

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A couple years ago some unearthly thing got me craving the basic, watered down platformers that dominated GameBoy and I hunted down the five Turok games released for GameBoy platforms and I played through the entirety of the first one on the original GameBoy and had a somewhat decent time with it. I did not play it on the actual GameBoy, mind you but instead on my TV courtesy of the Retron 5. I should mention I am a proud owner of the Super GameBoy, GameBoy Player and Retron 5 which made it convenient to bust out these portable games at a much friendlier resolution and not have to worry about the GameBoy’s non-backlit screen. In honor of the 30th anniversary last week I popped in the GameBoy Color version of Turok 2 and played a couple levels into it. For as weak and watered down most handheld versions of console games were, there was something about it that kept me coming back to them.

The GameBoy helped me through my childhood, too many family trip car rides to count and several summers on a farm. I probably had an unorthodox library of games for my GameBoy compared to the average owner who probably owned a majority of vastly superior games released by Nintendo, Capcom and Konami. What can I say, I was too young to realize what to ask my folks for. No matter how strong or weak each game wound up, I made sure to get the absolute most out of each game. Thank you Nintendo for releasing and supporting the GameBoy well after you should have throughout the 90s and enabling me to enjoy games anywhere! Thank you to everyone who got through this indulging my childhood memories of portable gaming with me! I hope you all have just as many great childhood handheld system gaming memories as I did whether it was on GameBoy, GameGear or later generations like GBA, PSP, DS, mobile, etc.

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20 Years of Dreamcast: Thinking About the Dreamcast’s Legacy for 20 Years!

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Where were you for quadruple nine, AKA September 9, 1999? That was the marketing friendly launch date of the Sega Dreamcast in North America, which will make it 20 years old. Such a landmark anniversary inspired me to craft another gaming reflection piece here looking back on my memories with the Dreamcast over the years. If you missed my similar anniversary articles earlier this year for the Genesis and GameBoy please click here to get caught up.

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The first thing that comes to mind all these years later of the Dreamcast is that it ended up the first system that released when I had a job and could afford it entirely on my own. I got my first part-time high school job mere days after turning 16 about a half year earlier in 1999 and was fine picking up the occasional new game for our family’s N64 during that timeframe. However, around August of 1999 the first issue of Official Dreamcast Magazine (ODM) hit newsstands and it really popped compared to other gaming magazines. It was the first oversized gaming magazine that I can recall and they crammed in tons of news, special editorial features, previews and reviews in every issue and not a millimeter of page-space seemed wasted. It also had a bright colorful art scheme consistent throughout most issues compared to its competitors and in hindsight it was the ideal color scheme due to the unorthodox lineup of eye-popping bright games like Jet Grind Radio, Space Channel 5, Sonic Adventure and Samba de Amigo to name a few. I will give props to YouTube channel Classic Gaming Quarterly for doing a excellent page-by-page revisiting of that awesome first issue several months ago which was the catalyst for me re-reading the first four issues earlier this year. Those issues hold up splendidly and if you run across scans of any I highly recommend giving them a look-see as they perfectly encapsulate everything that made the Dreamcast as fondly remembered as it is today.

That special preview issue of the Dreamcast sold me on the system with its hype of being the first 128-bit system on the market and how Sega would change gaming with its new GD-ROM disc format, interactive VMU memory card and by introducing online play with its built-in 56k modem the following year. It also had thorough previews for nearly the whole launch lineup. If you recall my Genesis write-up, I was not much of a Sonic fan and that issue only had reviews for Sonic Adventure and House of the Dead 2. I had good memories of the first HotD light gun arcade game and that review got me amped up for the sequel. By the time I was done perusing that issue of ODM a few times over I was hell-bent on getting a Dreamcast and a copy of HotD2 at launch.

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As the Dreamcast launch approached I was legitimately unaware of being able to pre-order games or it was officially a available service yet at our local Software Etc. in the mall. I inquired there frequently when they were opening on launch day it turned they were opening early that day an hour or two before I was supposed to be at school. I convinced my dad to give me a lift there and arrived there an hour early to secure getting a system. There was only one person ahead of us and I presumed getting a system at Software Etc. in 1999 would be comparable to lining up at any other department store and getting a new product on a first people at the front of the line basis. That turned out to be the case for Dreamcast (though I do remember them instituting pre-orders the next year for the heavily anticipated PS2 launch) and I was thrilled walking out of there as planned with a Dreamcast and HotD2!

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Software Etc. did not get any VMUs however and thankfully my dad checked out other stores on his lunch breaks and was able to procure me one from KB Toys. Only other problem was there were no light gun peripherals available for the Dreamcast at launch. Sega did not release their own model in America due to the controversial Columbine shootings earlier in the year, and third party models were still two-to-three months out from being available. I could play HotD2 with a controller, but I refused to accept that as an option and for the first few weeks after the Dreamcast launch I was content on playing the included demo disc and checking out games like Sonic Adventure, Hydro Thunder, Soul Calibur and Power Stone over at a friend’s place.

Finally after a few weeks of that I was fed up of waiting for the light gun to hit and I took a chance and picked up Sega’s NFL 2K since I was always into football games and still sticking with older pigskin games on the N64 and playing a ton of Madden NFL ’99 in near weekly sessions on another friend’s PSone. I was instantly blown away by NFL 2K’s revolutionary leap in graphics and gameplay at that point. It had bar-raising production quality with TV-caliber replays, camera angles and insanely impressive announcer commentary which made it feel like the first football game to come off as an actual telecast. I can still pinpoint my mom walking in on me playing and doing a double take and asking if NFL 2K was real or not. NFL 2K got a ton of play in single player and in local multiplayer against friends over the next year.

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For the rest of 1999 I checked out every demo included with each issue of ODM and it lead to me checking out Sega’s other sports offerings and playing a ton of NBA 2K and even a fair amount of NHL 2K. Worms Armageddon ended up being a surprise hit with friends and I loved going nuts with its Banana Bombs and Holy Hand Grenades. For Christmas of 1999 I got NBA 2K and Toy Commander. I eventually came across a light gun too and played through HotD2 several times through with a friend. Toy Commander was another lost gem on the Dreamcast I spent hours with devouring its single player missions and the local vs. multiplayer deathmatch was also fun for its time. I loved using the pressure-sensitive triggers on the Dreamcast controller to shoot free throws in NBA 2K, and speaking of the controller I am surprised there seems to be a lot of widespread disdain for peripheral. Sure, it was a little bulky, but nothing compared to the original Xbox ‘Duke’ controller or the unique ergonomics of the N64 controller. I loved the thumb-stick and directional pad, and the rest of the button layout was nearly identical to a SNES controller.

If I should be nitpicking about some of the Dreamcast’s features it would be about the side effects of the painfully low battery life of the VMU. For those unfamiliar, it was Sega’s innovative memory card that also had a mini black and white LCD screen that would display gameplay tips, stats and other options and also could be unplugged from the controller to play bonus mini-games included with supported games. Unfortunately the VMU had an infamously low battery life and within a few weeks the included watch batteries would drain and would result in a notoriously loud beep from the VMU when powering on the system to indicate it was time to replace them. Additionally, the Dreamcast also had a painfully loud hard drive whenever loading game data. After awhile however I got use to the grinding hard drives and perpetual beeps and passed it off as Dreamcast’s catchy marketing slogan ‘It’s Thinking.’ As the years passed and new owners complained about those noises it sort of became a hazing-esque right of passage to them first experiencing the platform.

2000

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While I was putting together an outline for this piece I was surprised to find out how much of a bummer a first half of 2000 I had with the Dreamcast. Aside from still getting lots of long-term fun with the aforementioned sports titles, almost every new game I picked up was a letdown. I never played a Resident Evil game before, but friends and classmates loved it and I saw a ton of buzz for the upcoming exclusive Dreamcast title in the series, Code Veronica, in ODM so I got it for my birthday shortly after its release. I popped it in and was completely unprepared for its tank controls the early Resident Evil games were known for and I completely stumbled around like a buffoon and could not get past the first zombie. After several attempts I pleaded with my mom to take it back to the store and exchange it for something else. After that I tried renting games more often and was disappointed with World Series Baseball 2K1 and Sonic Shuffle. The former had excellent past entries on the Genesis and Saturn, but the first Dreamcast baseball game released without the ability to control the fielders and it felt like half the game was missing. I knew Sonic Suffle was developed by Hudson Soft who also made the first couple Mario Party games I played a ton of and was excited for the Dreamcast rendition of the party game, but was stunned it was plagued with countless loading times for every turn and mini-game that soured the experience.

The last big disappointment of 2000 for the Dreamcast was WWF Royal Rumble. At the time it was going to be the first exclusive Dreamcast wrestling game and I was nonetheless psyched for it. I disregarded EGM’s low review scores for them not ‘getting’ the game and presumed I would have a fabulous time with it. I came to find out later on it was a port of an arcade game I did not see available anywhere which is why it surprised me with its low amount of wrestlers on the roster and modes of play available when stacked next to other titles. After plowing through all the single player content in an afternoon I was overwrought about how the game turned out. I did wind up getting some decent value out of Royal Rumble down the line with friends in multiplayer Rumble matches, but out of the gates as the sole Dreamcast exclusive wrestling game it felt like a Kirkpatrick-esque punch in the stomach.

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After those four disappointments 2000 wound up getting redeemed for the Dreamcast with a flurry of much better titles. I enjoyed playing Soul Calibur over at my friend’s, but was not head over heels for it like many others. A fighting game I did feel that way for however I took a random chance on in the summer of 2000 with Marvel vs. Capcom 2. I instantly loved its unforgettable music, chaotic three-on-three tag battles and the accessible hyper combos that did not require master precision to pull off. The game was a regular in my rotation with friends and for a couple months we held routine tournaments in my first apartment with my roommate and neighbors. It lead me to playing a ton of another Capcom fighter that same summer in Power Stone 2, which was vastly improved over the original and felt like a 3D version of Smash Bros. with simultaneous four player battles and constantly evolving stages.

Demolition Racer: No Exit was a surprise hit I put way more time than I should have into it. I love demolition-derby racer games, and No Exit had a ton of tracks, demolition derby events, thrashin’ metal soundtrack and many unlocks that kept me coming back to work my way through its extensive career mode for a good three-to-four years after release. It ended up as my surprise favorite driving game on the system which is absurd compared to other first-party driving hits that did not land on my radar until many years later like Daytona USA 2001, Sega Rally 2 and Metropolis Street Racer. The awesome port of the arcade hits Crazy Taxi and 18 Wheeler had faithful home Dreamcast ports, but I played a ton of both in the arcades and got my fill of them at home with a rental. I think it is safe to say I am not alone in Crazy Taxi turning me onto Offspring and being one of the few games to make product-placement seem cool with driving like a lunatic to escort passengers to get their KFC and Pizza Hut fix. I was so bummed out to see the later 360/PS3 re-release take out the product placement and replace the Offspring’s tall licensing price soundtrack with licensing fee-friendly indie bands.

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The other surprise hit of 2000 was Virtua Tennis. I tried it on ODM’s demo disc and it wound up being surprisingly fun and easy to pick up and play. Jim Courier I now associate as being the man who dethroned Jimmy Connors in his last gasp at coming close to winning a major in the early 90s and being the only American character to play as in Sega’s game. The demo wound up being hit and created buzz online about it and a quick fervor spread about it being the cannot miss Dreamcast game of the summer. Virtua Tennis was impossible to find in stores so that caused me to create an account at ebgames.com and how Virtua Tennis was the first game I ordered online.

After those two games saved the year for Dreamcast, the next installments of NFL 2K and NBA 2K released which I instantly purchased and played endless hours of with friends. The 2K1 versions of both games added franchise modes and online play finally debuting for the system. I played about several rounds of both sports games online and tried to master typing out ‘good play’ on the keyboard peripheral. The games played decently, but I could not help but notice semi-constant lag over the 56k modem so after several games I stuck with my routine local multiplayer with friends.

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What was being advertised as the do not miss hit for the 2000 holiday season was Sega’s much anticipated open world adventure, Shenmue. ODM and websites put a ton of hype for Shenmue leading up to its release and how Sega was putting a huge budget into it and how it was the first part of a mammoth saga, but I was not initially feeling it and that style of game seemed a bit outside my wheelhouse at the time. Shortly after its release however, I saw a used copy marked down surprisingly low at a local rental store and decided to chance it. I was shocked by its quality of graphics and cinema cutscenes for the time and before I knew it I found myself getting immersed in the open-world and having the freedom to talk and interact with nearly any major or minor NPC and their own so-bad-its-good English voiceovers. I understand Shenmue is not for everybody and its unique controls resulted in a polarizing reception for the game, but I burned through that game within a couple of weeks and loved every minute of it. I revisited it last year when Sega released HD ports on the Xbox One and PS4 last year, and after getting used to the controls I instantly got wrapped up in it again.

1-31-2001

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2001 kicked off strong for the Dreamcast with ports of PC FPS hits of Unreal Tournament and Quake III both launching around the same time with online play. ODM and websites hyped up 2001 for being a big year for Dreamcast games supporting online play. I tried out those pair of FPS games at a friend’s and had a blast with them and was looking forward to the rest of 2001 for the Dreamcast even though at the time the PS2 was out for a few months and had a lot of people’s attention. Unexpectedly, towards the end of January crazy rumors started popping up about the PS2 slaughtering Dreamcast in 2000 holiday sales so bad that Sega would be discontinuing support for the system early. I immediately dismissed the rumors as ludicrous as it seemed whacked for a publisher to stop supporting a system under a year and a half after release. Sure enough however on January 31, 2001 news broke with Sega stating they would only support the Dreamcast with games for the rest of 2001 and would transition into a third party publisher role in 2002 going forward.

I was devastated with the news as a huge Dreamcast fan and continued to be bummed throughout 2001 as many anticipated Dreamcast games like Half-Life, Rez, Castlevania Resurrection, Headhunter and Tribes got cancelled and/or switched over to becoming a PS2, Xbox and GCN release. Sega and a few loyal third parties like Capcom released a steady stream of games throughout 2001 and I did get a lot of enjoyment from some of them like the addicting arcade-driving sequel Crazy Taxi 2, a decent but forgettable arcade FPS title Outrigger and a few more light gun games like the excellent HotD2 follow-up from the same developers but in a secret agent setting called Confidential Mission, the peculiar Japanese horror themed light gun shooter Death Crimson OX and the delightful surprise remaster of the original Virtua Cop tucked inside Sega Smash Pack to tide me through 2001 for Dreamcast. Sega said they would be porting their next wave of sports games to other systems a few months after their initial Dreamcast release in 2001 so I held off on them that year.

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I was saving my last surge of Dreamcast fandom for what the gaming press was heralding as the swan song for the Dreamcast in Shenmue II. About a couple month before its American release however Sega stunned its fans by announcing they were cancelling the American version and making it an exclusive to the Xbox a year later with touched up graphics and adding in English voiceovers that were not originally going to make their return. The Shenmue fanboy in me was furious, but I found relief in ebgames.com capitalizing on the situation by offering the European version of Shenmue II that did not get cancelled for sale along with a boot-disc to get it to play on American systems. I spent the first several weeks of 2002 gleefully playing nothing but Shenmue II. I convinced myself it blew the original away due to jumping through extra hoops to acquire the sequel. The follow-up is a noticeably larger and longer experience and contains some noticeable gameplay improvements; upon currently replaying it on the previously mentioned HD bundle on Xbox One/PS4 I am going to have to go back to siding with the original being superior due to its more immersive setting and my love for driving forklifts. I hope to finish replaying the sequel in time for what is one of my most anticipated games ever in the long awaited third Shenmue game currently slated to be released this November a whopping 17 years after the original release of the second Dreamcast game.

Speaking of imports, Shenmue II was the first game I ever imported, and the second game was another Dreamcast game in FirePro Wrestling D. I heard so much acclaim for the FirePro games in Japan about them being the ultimate 2D wrestling games. After tracking down a guide online I relentlessly jotted down detailed English translations of all the menus and discovered a game save that translated all the wrestler’s names and attires into their English counterparts. I wound up playing a ton of that classic entry in the series on the Dreamcast. I am constantly nagging myself to open up my copy of the latest entry, FirePro Wrestling World that recently hit PS4 last year. I regret not importing more Dreamcast titles in the later years because games kept regularly coming out for Sega’s last system in Japan for several more years. Eventually most of them made their way to America on other systems in the following years, but for those that took advantage they got a one-to-three year head start on gems like Ikaruga, Rez, Rent-a-Hero and Capcom vs. SNK 2.

Post-2002

I also regret not making time to sink my teeth into the then-exclusive RPGs on Dreamcast. My former podcast co-host Chris picked most of them up so I was able to check them out at his place and play some of them on demo discs. Skies of Arcadia intrigued me with its sky pirates setting and I eventually picked up the GCN re-release. Ditto with the pair of Evolution RPGs that later were bundled together on the GCN. Grandia II I recall having a kind of more involved battle system that popped out to me and if I owned a Switch I would likely be acquiring the HD up-ports of the first two games that just released on there. I did enjoy demos of action RPGs Silver and Record of Lodoss War and finally tracked down both games last year and played about an hour of both way after the fact. The one I did put a lot of time into later on was Phantasy Star Online on the original Xbox. I loved being able to play that game in four player split-screen and I had a few friends over for several marathon sessions of its addicting action-RPG combat into the wee hours of the night.

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The Dreamcast unofficially lived on for the next couple years well into the PS2/Xbox/GCN era with some of its key games that got cancelled and sequels getting re-released on those systems. Sega released their 2K sports line for a few years on all three systems before selling sports developer Visual Concepts and the 2K branding to Take-Two in 2005. The heavy duty competition from 2K Sports titles only helped fuel EA Sports to step up their efforts for better sports titles from both companies for the past 20 years. The Xbox got some heavy hitters in the form of Panzer Dragoon Orta, Shenmue II, Crazy Taxi 3, Marvel vs. Capcom 2 and Gun Valkyrie. The PS2 landed Rez, Headhunter, Half-Life, Tribes, Grandia II and Resident Evil: Code Veronica. The GameCube received the four player port of Phantasy Star Online well before the Xbox version and later an exclusive third chapter in addition to Evolution Worlds, Skies of Arcadia Legends, Ikaruga, Chaos Field and enhanced deluxe versions of both Sonic Adventure titles.

Aside from Dreamcast living on with those games on the next wave of systems I still busted out my Dreamcast regularly for the next several years. It was my favorite way to play Marvel vs. Capcom 2 for many years and as mentioned above I kept revisiting titles like FirePro Wrestling D and Demolition Racer for quite a few years too. The homebrew/indie scene was alive and well for the Dreamcast and is still going to this day. Goat Store had a couple high-profile indie releases with Feet of Fury and Irides that I both acquired. The former is the only dance-pad game I know of for the system and while I do not own a dance-pad I did put some time into it with its support for the Dreamcast keyboard. Irides: Master of Blocks is a fun Lumines-inspired puzzler on the system. Since it is the 20th anniversary of the platform, I took a chance a few months ago and Kickstarted an upcoming driving game set to hit at the end of this year that peaked my interest in the form of Arcade Racing Legends. Here is hoping to its success!

The End?

When I think back to my own personal favorite moments and experiences with the Dreamcast there are a few things I will chalk up to its legacy. I consider it to be the first system to prove that online gaming was viable on consoles and paved the way for it to really take off a couple years later on the PS2 and Xbox. I will also remember it for its local multiplayer games being a big hit with my friends and I for its wide array of fighting and sports games for two players as well as many games taking advantage of the four controllers with quite a few party games and driving games especially supporting four players locally. I consider it the last hurrah for the arcade ports, as the late 90s were the final successfully years of arcades in America and Sega, Capcom, Midway and Konami took advantage of Dreamcast’s Naomi-based hardware making it developer-friendly to convert their arcade titles to the system. A majority of the games I listed above are arcade conversions.

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These last two are big ones for me personally. First is how Sega stepped up big time with their blockbuster first party sports games on the Dreamcast and gave the impression of how they scared away competition from EA Sports releasing their games on the Dreamcast. Finally, I will remember the Dreamcast where Sega took chances with a plethora of new, unorthodox IP. It seemed every few months a new original Sega IP hit the system from successes and cult-hits like Jet Grind Radio, Samba de Amigo, Space Channel 5, Crazy Taxi, Skies of Arcadia and of course Shenmue to fascinating curiosities such as Floigan Bros., Alien Front Online and the bizzaro-Leonard Nimoy-narrated journey that is Seaman. Combine everything from these last two paragraphs and that is why I feel it is safe to say why I and likely many others revere the Dreamcast as much as we did for the years it was active in its all too short lifespan.

I have rambled, ranted and raved for over 4,000 words now and want to thank you dear readers for sticking with me to the very end of this trip down memory lane. I apologize for the length of this piece, but I had to get it all out of my system. If somehow you want more Dreamcast love and want to keep this Dreamcast nostalgia train rolling I will link you to two prior pieces I did on the system. The first is a special 10th anniversary flashback on the Dreamcast where I breakdown 15 forgotten facts about the Dreamcast. I touched on a few of them here, but there are several more obscure factoids you can discover by clicking here. The other is my former co-hosts and I doing a special Dreamcast retrospective podcast on my old podcast you can listen to by clicking here.

My Other Gaming Flashbacks

GameBoy 30th Anniversary

Genesis 30th Anniversary

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BONUS OVERTIME: Random Dreamcast quick bits I neglected to include above!

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Oh man, I wish I would have remembered to touch on a few more gems I dug on the Dreamcast. I forgot about the oddball arena-based fighters that were fun rentals back then like Spawn: In the Demon’s Hand and Heavy Metal: Geomatrix. There was also the crazy keyboard version of HotD2 that hit in 2001 called Typing of the Dead! It was a super fun way to master your home row skills while massacring zombies! Sega released a remaster of it on Steam a couple years ago so give it a look-see! I remember trying to hunt down the low-quantity released broadband adaptor for the Dreamcast in 2002 on eBay but sellers were marking them up in ‘Dreamcast Online Ready’ bundles for absurd amounts. 56k web browsing with the Dreamcast was admittedly a slog, but it worked and was a slick way to upload and download game saves and made me feel I was swindling William Shatner by not falling for his WebTV commercials from that timeframe. Hydro Thunder I played a bit at a friend’s and to this day even though it was a fun on its own merits arcade boat racer the thing I recall most fondly about it was the over-the-top announcer saying the game’s name on the title screen and exclaiming ‘Dam the Torpedoes!’ at specific moments.

I wanted to get Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2 so much for Dreamcast after hearing all the GOTY-caliber buzz and wanting to experience it with better graphics, but after spending weeks not finding it in stores around town I wound up settling on purchasing the PSone version even though I did not have that platform at the time and brought it over to my neighbor’s place for many throwdown sessions of Trick Attack multiplayer and HORSE. No regrets! There was something about Next Tetris: Online Edition that was off that did not get it to live up to the fun I was having in multiplayer over on the N64’s New Tetris and Tetrisphere. I wanted to like it, much like I did with launch title Trickstyle because of its futuristic extreme sports nature with a bunch of unique tricks and competitions to take in, but its un-intuitive controls left me getting my fix with solely the demo. Brighter days were ahead for Trickstyle’s developer, Criterion Games.

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Apparently sim F1/Indy/Cart games were a hit on the Dreamcast for its brief lifespan with multiple entries from Sega and Ubisoft. Even the notorious LJN publishing label got resurrected after being dormant for several years with its retro F1 game, Spirit of Speed 1937. It is a good thing I never came around to them with the many other stellar driving games available. I remember loving the Ready 2 Rumble Boxing demo and thought that franchise would be around for years, but one quick sequel later and an out of nowhere Wii version years later and it has been AWOL ever since. EA’s Facebreaker seemed like a worthy spiritual successor, but that one came and went even faster.

Even though EA did not release anything on the Dreamcast I still checked out a few other third party sports games from Acclaim, Midway and Konami and had great times with NFL Blitz 2000 and digging NBA Showtime and its brilliant use of the NBA on NBC theme song. Crap, I forgot to touch on the last pair of Sega’s polygonal arcade brawler ports that were good weekend rentals for their day in Dynamite Cop and Zombie’s Revenge, but I will forever be a Die Hard: Arcade man for life! I tried to give Sonic Adventure an honest shot, but lost interest quickly after being wowed by its opening stage and that damn whale flipping all over the place after Sonic in its 128-bit glory. I will not get into the details here, but if you are up for an ill-fated timing story, then look up the details on the cancellation on what was supposed to be one of the last Dreamcast games originally scheduled to release towards the end of 2001, Propeller Arena.

Ok ok, now I am finally done and think I covered every nook and cranny of my Dreamcast experie….awwww shoot I forgot to tell you guys all about Sega Swirl! Wait, where are you going? Come back, come baaaaaack!

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30 Years of Genesis: Going 30 Years Playing No More Than 30 Minutes of Sonic

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I remember first encountering the Genesis while spending either Thanksgiving or Christmas 1991 over at my older sister and brother-in-law’s house. I was only eight at the time, and remember being perplexed at the black gaming box and the thought that there could somehow be other systems than the good ‘ol NES. I did not subscribe to any gaming magazines at this point and I think I was still about a year away from experiencing Sega’s deluge of combative commercials against the SNES. During that holiday season of ’91 I recalled playing the first Streets of Rage on the Genesis with my little brother nonstop the couple days we were there. I remember being blown away by how superior it was graphically to what I experienced with other NES brawlers before like Double Dragon. We only got up to the stage where we faced off against the dueling karate sisters who kept whooping us and neither my brother nor I had the skills at the time to get past.

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The next year or two the only times I recall playing the Genesis were at my sister’s for the holidays or the occasional store kiosk. I remember my brother-in-law picked up other games we played regularly like ToeJam & Earl, Buster Douglas Boxing, Toxic Crusaders and PGA Tour Golf. I dug all of them, especially ToeJam & Earl where I had no idea what was happening half the time with its unorthodox level structure and item pick-ups, but loving the co-op gameplay, stylish graphics and its funky beats at the time. Brief memories of store kiosk play from the early 90s consisted of being horrible at the original Sonic the Hedgehog because it was too fast for my childhood noggin’ to comprehend. I also recall being confused at early editions of Madden Football at store kiosks because when I would press buttons to hike the ball ‘Audible’ would appear on screen and then eight or nine-year old Dale had no idea what that meant compared to easier pick up and play NES pigskin games I was conditioned to.

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Until Christmas of 1995 I probably played no more than about 10 Genesis games all together. I was more aware of the system by that time thanks to reading magazines more regularly at that point and hearing from classmates who had the system, but until that point I was pretty loyal to my NES still (I did not get a SNES until late ’96). For the Christmas season of ’95 my best friend at the time who coincidentally lived three blocks away from me, Rich, received a Genesis and that was when I got a lot more hands-on time with its extensive library of titles. Rich and I shared a lot of similar game interests which at that time was a ton of sports games, fighters and action/brawlers.

For the next several months I was over at Rich’s for countless sleepovers and going nuts with fighters like Mortal Kombat II and Evander Holyfield’s Real Deal Boxing. Real Deal Boxing blew away Buster Douglas Boxing with more authentic boxing gameplay and an insanely thorough career mode where we would take a created boxer and move him up the ranks as champion until his skills gradually weakened with age to force his retirement. We absolutely ate up the sports games at that time. We played what seemed like an infinite amount of Madden NFL ‘97. A much wiser 13-year old Dale was no longer befuddled by the intricacies of Madden and we had so much fun with it. We would create many players to deck out our teams and keep running blitzes to try and injure the players because there was an intense bone-breaking injury sound effect that we ate up. It was like the equivalent of Favreau and Vaughn going nuts in Swingers when they made Gretzky bleed in NHLPA ‘93.

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Mutant League Football was another favorite of ours that made that injury sound effect in Madden child’s play. EA also made MLF and it was the equivalent of NFL Blitz at the time with larger-than-life mutants and animals literally killing each other on the field with over-the-top hits. It was possible to force a team to retire due to killing off too many of its players which was always our desired objective! If you have not played its spiritual successor follow-up, Mutant Football League on PS4/XB1 I give it the highest of recommendations because it perfectly capture the sensation of the Genesis game while bringing it up to contemporary standards.

We also played a lot of EA’s violent driving game, Road Rash II. Being able to race motorcycles and knock out your competition with chains and nightclubs while trying to evade the cops seemed revolutionary when playing it for the first time! We later discovered EA’s take of Road Rash on rollerblades in the awesome rollerblade stunt/racing game Skitchin! Fun fact about Skitchin’ is that the competitors you race against have gnarly nicknames like ‘Thrasher’ and ‘Jackal’ and thus in ’96 was the origin of how I came up with what wound up as my online handle but at the time was my radical Skitchin’ username, ‘Gruel’ to blend in with the rest of the pack and have stuck with it all these years later!

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After spending several months devouring a good dozen or so Genesis games with Rich, it did not compare to the summer of ’96 when Rich signed up for the Sega Channel! I remember it launched in 1994 and seeing commercials for it at the time where it seemed too good to be true where for about $15/month would net the user a Genesis cartridge that would connect to a cable line and get the Genesis online streaming access to a rotating 40-50 Genesis games a month. That is right, decades before services like OnLive and Playstation Now, the Genesis did streaming gaming back in ’94 and it worked like a charm! Check out this pristine archival footage of the menus to see how it all worked. Sega Channel essentially was what Xbox Game Pass is today, and I am surprised to hear how little it is discussed when people reminisce about the Genesis.

We discovered so many new games this way and for that entire summer I was over at Rich’s about three to four days a week binging on Sega Channel games until Rich’s dad got on my case because I was over so often. I remember discovering new sports games on there like the innocuously titled Super Volleyball that we became somehow addicted to and the surprisingly awesome Tiny Toons ACME All-Stars that had its own killer spin on arcade basketball and soccer that it played like NBA Jam but filled with crazy Tiny Toons power-up attacks. Sega Channel is what additionally exposed me to co-op games like General Chaos, the Streets of Rage sequels and Gain Ground and classic single player games like Shadowrun, Comix Zone and Vectorman that Rich and I took turns trying to keep progressing through. Sega Channel also was my first exposure to the classic Bomberman franchise with many nail-biting rounds played of Mega Bomberman!

It came as no surprise to me when I finally bought a Genesis a few years later in 1999 that the first games I hunted down for it were those same games I first discovered on the Sega Channel! In April of 1999 shortly after I turned 16 I got my first after-school job and after a few paychecks I went to Wal-Mart to determine what should be one of the first games to buy on my own! This was around the time when Majesco re-released the third, mini-sized Genesis model at a discount price of around $30. I was legit stunned at that price for a brand new system, even if it was for a ten-year old platform at that time I could not help but instantly snatched it up!

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If you read my GameBoy special from several weeks back you will recall my lamenting over its lackluster wrestling games compared to the superior ones on the 16-bit platforms. On Genesis, Rich and I played way too much Royal Rumble on the system. Other wrestling games I picked up for the Genesis over the years was the inferior predecessor to Royal Rumble in Super Wrestlemania. While I had a blast with Rumble way back when, it regrettably does not hold up well all these years later with its over-reliance on a button mashing grapple meter that obliterated thumbs that I have no idea how I tolerated at the time. Saturday Night Slam Masters was a unique wrestling game from Capcom. It is essentially Street Fighter II in a wrestling ring, complete with victory taunts, Mike Haggar from Final Fight in its roster and even has a few wrestling moves sprinkled in! I loved how they had over-the-top laser light entrances and larger-than-life character sprites at the time, and I recall enjoying the Genesis version more than the SNES. There was nothing else like it since, and on occasion I will still throw it in every couple of years. I continue to hope one day Capcom will release its sequel, Ring of Destruction in a random collection of arcade games because it never got a home port all these years later.

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I mentioned some of my favorite sports games for the system above, but it really needs to be emphasized how big sports games were on the Genesis. Both Sega and EA pumped out a seemingly endless line of sports titles for the system. I remember getting into silly speculation with Rich over how much extra memory that yellow tab on the EA carts allowed EA games to play better. For hoops titles I got my NBA Jam and Live fix on SNES, but on the ‘ol Genny my go-to basketball games were the oft-forgotten NCAA skinned version of Jam in College Hoops. I occasionally also threw in the hand-me-down street ball version of NBA Jam in Barkley Shut up Jam. I loved Madden, but Sega’s Joe Montana line of gridiron games were just a notch or two below too. For baseball, Sega’s World Series Baseball titles were in a league of its own when it came to gameplay and presentation with its larger-than-life hitter/batter perspective. For hockey EA’s NHL line was/is legendary! About four or five years ago my friend Derek gave me a ring to come over for some impromptu random gaming and he never played much Genesis before so when he got over I had the Genesis hooked up and laid out all my games for it and of that night we had the most fun playing a few rounds of NHL ‘94. At that point it was a 20-21 year old game and it still held up as one of the best hockey games of all time.

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For brawlers I loved the Streets of Rage games, but I think it is my secret shame that I have yet to complete a single one. That must one day change! I did love the exclusive Genesis TMNT game, Hyperstone Heist! It was right up there with Turtles in Time and every couple of years my friend Matt and I make it a ritual to plow through that game. After many attempts we also conquered the Genesis port of the awesome arcade brawler, The Punisher! It does not have as friendly of a continue system as Hyperstone Heist so Matt and I had to learn to play a little more conservatively and not rely on mindless button mashing. It felt gratifying to have all that hard work pay off and beat The Punisher….until we got a copout ending screen of text saying ‘Now play like the Punisher and try hard difficulty.’ We did not, but I wound up looking up the ending several years later and at least Capcom made it worth your while because it had a far more intricate ending than many other brawlers at the time. The one Genesis brawler that always had our number was Captain America and the Avengers. It is a lot of fun to play, but it does not allow that many credits and by setting ourselves up with the max lives and continues that game was still a beast, and even playing conservatively and having so many attempts we only managed to make it to the final boss, The Red Skull, only once.

Let us fast track to about a little under 10 years ago when a co-worker approached me about being interested in buying his Genesis/Sega CD/32X along with a couple dozen games. He was saving up to pay off his upcoming wedding and he gave me a list of everything he had along with prices for everything he wanted going by what he saw off eBay auctions. I did some price researching of my own and made him an offer of around $250-ish for the ‘tower of power’ and about 20 games combined for all three systems. Looking back I accidentally lucked out with that offer because it was only a couple years later when 8/16-bit prices on the used market took a huge jump. I never had a must-have desire for a Sega CD or 32X, but there were always a couple of games I wanted to play on them that I eventually hunted down. I liked the versions of WWF RAW, Doom, Virtua Racer and especially Virtual Fighter the most out of my dozen 32X games. I recall as a then 10 and 11 year old being disgusted by early polygonal console games like Star Fox and Virtua Racer and was more on board with FMV games being the future, but remember being a little taken aback by Virtua Fighter indicating that there may be something to these 3D polygons. The 32X version is a surprisingly faithful version to its arcade counterpart.

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I need to dive into my SegaCD games more one of these months. I hunted down all the must own titles for it like the Working Design RPGs, Shining Force CD, enhanced versions of Amazing Spider-Man and Batman Returns and Snatcher which I hope to one day knock off my gaming bucket list. Regrettably now my only SegaCD games I invested a decent amount of time into are WWF Rage in the Cage (essentially Super Wrestlemania but with some FMVs and a bigger roster), Slam City with Scottie Pippen (a abysmal FMV-based street hoops title) and the underrated SegaCD exclusive brawler, Prime. I am a huge Ultraverse comic nut and I ate up Prime on SegaCD since it was the only game released featuring characters from that comic book line before Marvel acquired them and cancelled all their books within a couple years (yes, I am still bitter over it). It is only one player, but Matt and I spent a few attempts taking turns at beating levels until we finally vanquished it. We even had an attempt thwarted when Prime was loading the final boss battle when a flipping blackout halted our progress! As memorable as that moment is I will instead forever associate Prime with its unrivaled and unforgettable opening theme music (seriously….give it a listen!).

I need to give a shoutout to the official handheld Genesis, aka the Nomad! My brother surprised the hell out of me one year with it for a birthday present. My favorite Nomad memory is my brother getting hyped for getting his own version of Genesis Shadowrun and I told him I would come over and bring my Nomad and my version while he played on his television and we could both start off our own new game and exchange tips and hints in a friendly rivalry type of way. I think my brother must have gotten the Genesis version of Shadowrun mixed up with the completely differently designed SNES version because he tried to run around aimlessly and gun down everything which is not how you want to play the Genesis version. We were planning that day out for weeks and I remember being stunned after about 15 minutes when I was starting to sink my teeth back into Shadowrun’s cyberpunk action-RPG brand of awesome when my brother out of nowhere went ‘screw this, let’s play something else!’

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As I wind down I want to give many thanks to Sega for keeping the Genesis relevant throughout this century with its gratuitous re-releases of physical and digital collections. I have no idea why, but I keep on buying them for the convenience of having them for the latest system. It started with the Sega Smash Pack on DreamCast seeming like a killer value in 2001 for 12 games for $40. Then a few years later on PS2 I snatched up Sega Genesis Collection which seemed like an even better value with just over 30 games for $30! Then in the 360/PS3 era along came Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection which offered 40 games for $30!! Sega also sold a lot of the games ala carte via each console’s digital storefronts. Then last year we got Sega Genesis Classics on Xbox One/PS4 with 50 games for $30!!! The last several years Sega also has been licensing out to At Games to release their own pre-programmed Genesis mini console with dozens of pre-installed games. I held off on getting those after hearing how awful its emulation and shoddy production quality is, but after hearing how Sega finally decided to manufacture their own Genesis Mini themselves this fall and handed off the emulation duties to the acclaimed emulation studio M2, I could not pre-order fast enough! I have no idea why I keep deep diving down this well, but hats off to Sega for keeping me coming back again and again!

Similarly with my GameBoy flashback piece, I had an unorthodox experience with the Genesis. I was not a hardcore Sonic or Phantasy Star player like the average Genesis owner. If you ask me any day of the week my answer to what my favorite Genesis game is, it could be either The Punisher, Madden NFL ‘97, Shadowrun, Hyperstone Heist, NHL ‘94 or Skitchin’. That is another thing that made the Genesis great was its mammoth library of diverse titles so there was no doubt something for everyone! With that I will put the kibosh on this look back of my favorite moments with the Genesis as I anxiously await for my pre-order of the Genesis Mini to arrive in a few months!

Want more Genesis Love from me in Audio and quasi-video form?

I was looking through my hard drive archives and a decade ago while I was still doing my videogame podcast, On Tap, we did a special 20th anniversary special on the Genesis where my co-hosts and I reminisce about the Genesis. I went ahead and uploaded it on YouTube so if you want even more Genesis takes then click here to give it a listen!

Also recorded throughout 2009 from the On Tap archives was installments from our history of comic book videogames series. In this next episode I uploaded to YouTube is the second part of series where we breakdown every single comic book licensed game on the SNES and Genesis! My co-host Matt and I did thorough research for this episode and played almost nearly every single comic book game from this era in preparation for the episode to give the most up to date research and to see if these games (of which a vast majority are beat-em-ups) still hold up. Click here to give it a listen!

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Dale's Top 21 Gaming Experiences of 2017

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Howdy, everyone! Welcome to my first blog of 2018, and what better way to kick it off than reflecting back on my top gaming experiences of 2017! I had a blast with my top 11 gaming experiences blog from last year, which was really more like 30-40 moments condensed down to 11 entries. I did a similar thing for this year, but for a whopping 21 entries instead. That is nearly double the fun! Just be forewarned, this is a doozy of a read, so without further ado, let us get onto the list!

21) End-Label-Fever

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My buddy Matt introduced me to unofficial N64 end labels that were available online. I became immediately envious and ordered the complete set off Etsy and promptly applied them to all my games. I am still befuddled to why Nintendo never had them to begin with.

20) Quantities are Limited!

I ordered several games from Limited Run throughout 2017. If you are unfamiliar with Limited Run, they publish physical versions of former digital-only PS4/Vita games, but true to their name in small print runs that you have usually only several minutes to order online as soon as they are available or you are out of luck. Thankfully I had no problem getting my orders in on them and I was stoked to get the physical versions of games I was super into such as Oxenfree, Firewatch, Windjammers and Read Only Memories.

19) A Certain NES Guide Book

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Past few years I have gotten into YouTuber Pat Contri’s work a bit. I first found out about him on an AVGN guest spot, and have been keeping up with his podcasts and videos since. A couple years ago he released a mammoth tome dubbed The Ultimate Guide to the NES Library and as the title eludes it tries to be the ultimate guide by reviewing every American, Europe and Australlian release for the NES and have a bunch of bonus columns and features to round it off. I try to read two-to-four reviews before bed at least a few days a week and I have been doing that for just over a year now. I have found out about a ton of NES games I have never heard of before or knew very little of, plus it was interesting to find out their takes on the games I grew up on. This has lead to me tracking down a few NES games throughout the year such as Roundball, Crystalis and Indy Heat to name a few. I still have a ways to go and am only up through Rolling Thunder on the reviews as of this writing.

18) Mmmmm….Pie

The last couple years I have been hearing a lot of buzz about all-in-one emulator machines known as RetroPies. Questionable legalities of the device aside, they have risen in popularity this past year and I inevitably stumbled into playing a couple variations of it at various places throughout the year. One person had a custom arcade cabinet with it installed and we tore it up playing countless arcade fighters and brawlers on it. Another time another friend and I went out of our way to search for obscure versions of Street Fighter ports and had a decent time experiencing the original Street Fighter and surprisingly decent versions of Street Fighter Alpha on the GameBoy Color and Street Fighter Alpha 2 on the SNES.

I told one friend my joy last year experiencing the import-only arcade release of Ring of Destruction, and sure enough we found it and slaughtered each other for quite a bit on it. The best RetroPie moment was finding an English-patched version of Super FirePro Wrestling Premium on SNES and the worst was when playing a RetroPie for the first time for whatever reason the first game of the several thousand available on it I decided to play was Shaq-Fu, a game I already own…two copies of…don’t ask.

18) The Return of Bimmy & Jimmy!

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I was surprised with the out of nowhere announcement and quick release of Double Dragon IV at the beginning of the year. I am presuming the 16-bit Super Double Dragon is no longer cannon. Got a chance to play it with Matt shortly after its release and I loved how it captured the NES feel of the classic 8-bit brawlers and we had a good time with it until we hit one of the final levels. That level was filled with mazes of mind-boggling auto-scrolling ramps and pillars that pop down from out of nowhere and instantly kill you much in the same vein as that godawful N64 Sub-Zero game, but worse! It was an instant turn-off to an otherwise fine co-op brawler. Limited Run had a nice collector’s edition of it up for sale recently but those memories of those nasty pillars and ramp sequences convinced me to stay away.

17) Now You’re Playing With Super Power!

I loved the NES Classic in 2016 and in 2017 I had to make sure to line up in stores a couple hours ahead of opening to procure the inevitable SNES Classic. While it has nine less games compared to the NES Classic, the quality and scope of those 21 SNES games is far greater than the ones featured on NES Classic. Finally experiencing the previously unreleased StarFox 2 was a treat and I made sure to first play the first game I owned for my SNES 20 years earlier in Street Fighter 2: Turbo. Me and my friends Derek and Ryan had a ball taking turns to see how far we could last in the unbelievably-hard Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (it was not all that far). A couple months later I got my brother one for his birthday and we spent many hours failing to make significant progress in the brutally-tough-yet-super-fun Contra 3. I believe we only got to the third level. One day we shall conquer it, and one day I will sit down and take the time to get through EarthBound!

16) Them Damn YouTubers!

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I mentioned YouTuber Pat Contri earlier and I think 2017 has become the year where I routinely started to follow several YouTube videogame personalities. Before I primarily stuck with the crew at GiantBomb for most of my online gaming-related videos and still do for most of them, but I like mixing in a little variety from several other YouTubers. I will give a shout out to Pat Contri again for his many podcast excerpts that entertain me, as well as James Rolfe and his Cinemassacre crew for the always-excellent AVGN videos and let’s play streams he posts with his co-host Mike Matei. Gaming Pick-ups and hidden gem list rundowns sound kind of blah on paper, but the man known as ‘Metal Jesus’ and his wide array of mostly likeable guest hosts find a way to make them entertaining and I cannot help but watch nearly every video he posts on his channel.

I have been following Jeremy Parish’s writing and Retronauts podcasts for well over a decade and have been a huge fan of his Works line of YouTube videos chronicling countless GameBoy, NES and SNES games. They are exhaustively researched and well-produced and filled with tons of facts and behind-the-scenes info that your average online review likely would not have. Finally I will give a shoutout to two more retro-themed gaming channels, The Gaming Historian and Classic Gaming Quarterly. Both YouTubers do deep dives into gaming’s past and put a lot of work into their videos and as a result they do not have as frequent videos as other channels, but their quality makes up for the quantity. I am beyond belief, but my hat is off to the host of CGQ for making his ‘Let’s Read’ videos where he highlights and notates tidbits from his favorite articles of old-school gaming magazines and somehow makes them must-see material!

15) I AM TUROK!

Last year I mentioned how I got a Retron 5, a handy device that allows you to play several retro game system’s cartridges on an HDTV with clean visuals like how I remember them instead of the dreadful fuzziness you get when hooking up old-school systems on HDTVs with the older composite cables that came with the system. I finally finished my first game using the system in 2017, and the game that got that honor was the long forgotten GameBoy….gem….Turok: Battle of the Bionasaurs. It came out alongside the more popular N64 game and was a simple 2D side-scrolling action/platformer game. If you are wondering why that random GameBoy game it is because I spent several summers on a farm with nothing but a GameBoy growing up so these no-frills basic platformers resonate with me in a unique way.

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The Retron has the ability to download an exhaustive vault of Game Genie/Action Replay codes onto an SD card from their website and that came in handy here or else I stood no chance of beating this game. Even though the infinite health made dealing with enemies a breeze, the limitations of the GameBoy’s screen made platforming a bit of a hurdle than I intended so I still died plenty of times, and if it was not for taking advantage of Retron 5’s save-state feature I definitely would not have finished it. I have all the other Turok games on GB (there are five of them!) and eventually would like to get through most of them as these simple watered-down GB conversions are nice little pallet-cleansers to start off a gaming session.

Speaking of the Retron 5, Hyperkin released an adaptor for it this year allowing it to play Master System and Game Gear games. I picked it up, but kind of regretted it afterwards as it took a few hoops of downloading and applying updates/patches from Hyperkin’s website in a particular way until a couple hours of trial-and-error got it to finally work. I do not believe the effort was worth it though because I have no Master System games and only six or seven Game Gear games. I did make sure to play quite a bit of Game Gear Road Rash immediately afterwards for my troubles. Hey….if I were to track down just five Master System games what would you recommend? Tweet me your picks!

14) The Year of VR….No, Not That VR

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I keep hearing about how Playstation VR, Oculus and HTC’s virtual reality sets that came out over the last couple of years have legitimized VR and brought it up to par with core console based gaming. However, I am just not seeing it. The price point is the primary deal breaker for me, and then factoring in the space factor for all the cables and some games that require you to move around is another major deal-breaker too. This past year saw some AAA console games get their full single player mode available in VR like Resident Evil 7 and Skyrim that I would not mind checking out one day, but most of what I see that is playable out there seem like decent little mini-games and shooting gallery variants, but not worth the barriers to invest into a proper VR setup. If you have it and enjoy it, that’s awesome, but I simply cannot justify crossing that line.

That said, I still have the original VR monstrosity that is the Virtual Boy and 2017 was THE year it became active again! I was missing the AC power adaptor hub for my Virtual Boy that I misplaced long ago, and I searched for them on eBay and they were surprisingly affordable there, as was a replacement tripod for the Virtual Boy. I also picked up a few more VB ‘gems’ such as Virtual League Baseball, TeleroBoxer, Galactic Pinball, Vertical Force and Wario Land to increase my mammoth VB library to nine games (that is more than half of its complete library, seriously!). I tried a few of them out and was surprised at my lack of TeleroBoxer skills that I need some severe practice at. VB does have a fine pinball game though and I would like to set aside time to finish Wario Land one day because it is one of the few legit quality games on the platform. Suffice it to say, the good ‘ol Virtual Boy will likely be my sole VR system for the forseeable future.

13) Pinball Gaming Love

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Like last year, I played a healthy chunk of pinball games. This year it was primarily Zen Pinball 2 and I kept up with its final round of new tables and tried my best to attain each table’s trophy/achievement. I probably put way too much time trying to get that pesky Rogue One trophy. I put in some time into Pinball Arcade and Hyperspace Pinball, but not nearly as much as last year. I really need to put more time into the former because I just got caught up acquiring its latest season of tables and have yet to try any of them out. It is a shame that unlike the Zen tables, purchasing Pinball Arcade tables on PS3 does not carry over to the PS4 version so I am stuck playing them on PS3.

I did do the upgrade a few months ago from Pinball FX2/Zen Pinball 2 to Pinball FX3 and am still coming around to it. Zen thankfully allows my PS3 purchased tables to carry over into the PS4 version! I think I am finally getting use to PFX3’s new unlockable upgrades system, but there seems to be a bit too much optional mini-modes available in order to ‘master’ each table. I will give Zen props for making their latest two tables free in honor of the 10 year anniversary of the first Pinball FX. I imagine I will conform to its various new extras and features soon enough, but not as quickly as I thought.

12) Twin Cities Gaming – Part Two

Last year I mentioned how I went to the Twin Cities to visit a couple friends where we engaged in all sorts of gaming awesomeness, and I continued the trend again this year. I first visited my friend Tyler and while checking out the Mall of America we caught a glimpse of this VR Arcade/theme park there that had all kinds of ambitious sets rigged up. We did not test any out, but just surveyed the area to get a good idea of how to plan out a day there next time we return. We did stop in one of the other traditional arcades in the Mall of America however where I finally discovered in the wild one of the Mario Kart GP games that Namco develops. There have been a few iterations of these over the past decade and I believe the version we played was Mario Kart Arcade GP DX. The version we played had a sweet two-player setup that held its own with the latest home versions, and I was delighted to see it bring back some of the two-player co-op features not seen in the series since Double Dash.

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I made another trip to the awesome Up/Down Arcade with my friend Dick while I was in the Cities and I was thrilled to see they had just as many awesome 80s and 90s arcade units there as it had last year. We also checked out a pinball bar called Tilt Pinball Bar. It was much smaller compared to Up/Down, but still contained everything I wanted out of such an establishment with a good variety of around 25-30 tables from all eras. We spent a good couple hours there competing for high scores while enjoying a brew and I finally got a chance to play the authentic versions of tables I put countless hours into their digital versions in Pinball Arcade with tables like Champion Pub being a thrill to finally play in reality!

11) First Rule of Fight Club…

I have neglected online multiplayer on Playstation since Sony started charging for it on PS4. A couple months ago I relented and picked up a three month card because of my friend Chris who I use to semi-regularly play online PS3 fighting games with. Since I activated the subscription we played on three out of four Saturday mornings and had some great sessions in a variety of fighting games. Neither of us are EVO-quality vets by any means, but we kind of have a vague idea of what we are doing out there and are both along the same skill level. We played a ton of Marvel vs. Capcom Infinite, Street Fighter V and Injustice 2. I dug all three games, and Chris and I talked a lot of friendly smack while we mashed away on buttons relentlessly.

10) Reviewing my first game since 2011…kind of

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I adored the first two Syberia games that hit PC/Xbox in 2003/04. I loved their story, atmosphere, cast and writing. While its adventure-genre standard puzzles it featured had me referencing guides online, I did not mind because I had to see what was next for the affable heroine, Kate Walker. I somehow missed the announcements leading up to the third game and was surprised to see it on shelves one day early in the year and I immediately grabbed it without question. That turned out to be a mistake because Syberia 3 is a near-unplayable mess filled with countless glitches and bugs that were previously not part of the franchise’s pedigree. I have no idea how this got the stamp of approval for release. I saw Syberia 3 went on to have more patches and updates after I finished it so hopefully it is not as much of a hot mess as it was when I played it during its first week of release.

I wrote a lengthy post chronicling my troubles with the game on a forum I frequent online. Once I realized I rambled on for a quite a bit about the game that it nearly resembled a review, I tweaked a few spots in the original post and made a couple other minor addendums to cover most of the bases of the game. I then submitted it with the lowest score possible to my GameFAQs profile (I am not a fan of how they converted to its five hearts rating system). I have not done a video game review in several years since I switched to focus on reviewing movies on this blog. That said, if you want to see a more detailed account of my disappointment with Syberia 3, then click here to see my first video game review since 2011.

9) Beating my first Mega Man game at Extra Life!!!

On my top gaming moments blog last year I recounted how Mega Man 2 became the first game in the series I put serious play time into by beating three stages in it during the annual 24-hour Extra Life charity drive I participate in every year. I beat a few more stages since then, but still had a few more to go and it felt fitting to finish the game off at the next year’s Extra Life! That is exactly what I did, and boy did I feel like an idiot doing so with my lackluster Mega Man expertise. While I still enjoyed my time with the game, I had to exploit save-states for every few screens of progress. I had no idea there was a huge labyrinth of levels leading up to the final encounter with Dr. Wily, which included finishing off all the previous bosses again one more time. I was only anticipating spending another couple hours with the game when instead it took me about five to six hours to finish it off. I still loved every moment of it and want to at least finish off a couple more games in the series someday. I hear that Mega Man 3 is even better than Mega Man 2 so I should at least play that one….right?

8) Off to the Races

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Just like last year I played a ton of racing games off and on throughout the year. Like pinball games, starting off a gaming session with 30-60 minutes knocking off a few races of progress before I move onto something else is ideal for me. I played way too much Konami Krazy Racers on the GBA Virtual Console on WiiU. It is a fun little kart racer featuring a unique cast of side characters from various Konami franchises. I also played a ton of Fast Racing Neo on WiiU and loved its take on F-Zero/Wipeout. Before the Switch version of Mario Kart 8 launched earlier this year I got in a few more online sessions on the WiiU version since I imagined most of the player-base flocked to that version upon its release. I am still surprised at how well that version runs online with my wi-fi setup.

Other racing games that dominated my time this year were The Crew. I am not really engaging in much of its online content and trying to romp through its story mode, but I do like its take on using the USA as an open world hub. The spiritual successor to Road Rash that is Road Redemption finally came out of Steam Early Access a few months ago and I enjoyed a couple loops through its career mode with my brother. TrackMania Turbo is a fun time-trial based racer oozing with style that has me itching for those perfect runs. JoyRide Turbo is an inferior racing game also with ‘Turbo’ in its title. It is a port of the Kinect-racer on 360 that hit XBLA a year or two later with standard controller gameplay added, and it is ok, but eventually it wore out its welcome. It is not as terrible as Beach Buggy Racing on Xbox One, a budget kart racer for the platform with very loose controls and gets my nod as least enjoyable racing game I played in 2017. Finally, I have been playing a lot of the 360 version of Forza Horizon 2. I loved the first game and its festival/party atmosphere it introduced to the spinoff series and the same applies to the sequel. I am almost done with most of the races in the career mode and after that I can finally move on to the third Horizon which I hear nothing but amazing things.

7) One Game in One Day!

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I have referenced here before how I am down with the genre of games known as ‘Walking Simulators’ with much love from me to prior hits in the genre like Oxenfree and Firewatch. Games in this genre cater towards me because they usually have powerful narratives that can be finished in a couple sittings. I wanted to finish one more game before the end of the year so on December 30th I started and finished another popular game in the genre that hit earlier in 2017, What Remains of Edith Finch in about four hours. The game did not disappoint as it focused on the last surviving member of a cursed family revisiting her childhood home and each through an interesting series of flashbacks she experiences each family member’s demise. I enjoyed most of it and absolutely loved its atmosphere exploring the mysterious house filled with literally thousands of books. The big focus of the journey though is reliving those 10-12 flashbacks and they scale all over the place from enthralling, to vague, to underwhelming and head-scratchingly dull. I still very much enjoyed my experience with it, especially since it was one of those rare times where I can plow through a game in a single sitting, but I would rank it a notch or two under Oxenfree and Firewatch.

6) Pound-Town!!

On last year’s best of blog I dedicated an entry to my awesome couch co-op gaming nights with friends Derek, Brooke and Ryan, so I will continue that trend this year. We started off the year rotating in and out a lot of our usual favorites but sticking more and more to the social party games featured in Jackbox Party Pack. About halfway into the year another Jackbox-style game hit the PS4 that was a hit with our group called That’s You and it incorporated more unique ways of getting the smartphone in the mix in its games compared to the Jackbox use of the smartphone.

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About halfway into the year however we started to play more and more board games. We got a few in the mix in 2016 but 2017 was the year board gaming took off for us. A couple board game/hobby shops opened up in town over the last year or two and it resulted in our group trying out tons of new board games. I must have tried out nearly a dozen tabletop games and some of my favorites were Five Minute Dungeon (a super quick card based version of DnD), YamSlam (think Yahtzee meets poker) and another game I forget the name of where you where a headband and put a card on it while your teammate gives clues to the answer like in the classic game show, $25,000 Pyramid.

While we are on the theme of board games this entry I will give a shoutout to Matt and the few rounds of Othello we got in over recent years (new version out on Switch!). Another night Derek and I joined my brother and friends Mike and Justine for an epic night of the board game Zombicide. I have played that game before and do enjoy it, but that game makes rounds of Risk seem like a sprint and you need to dedicate at least several hours to finish a game. Luckily, Mike is a seasoned pro at the game and breezed through its elaborate setup. Somehow, someway we managed to finish a whole game in about five hours, and it was a blast. I feel bad for my brother because he was the only one in our group that did not survive the zombie horde that night.

5) More Love for the 3DS

This is another themed entry I am carrying over from 2016. I continue to try and get in a couple hours of handheld device gaming a week on my 3DS. 2017 saw me finally finish Phoenix Wright: Spirits of Justice after a whopping 68 hours!! It easily surpasses Dual Destines as the superior 3DS installment of the franchise as it finally opens up Apollo’s background and it gets all the ace attorneys involved from the Wright Anything Agency and brings back fan favorite Maya back into the fray after a lengthy absence from the series. I am now all caught up on the latest games in the series…in America anyways as I hear Japan is getting spin-off exclusives I am envious of.

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The other 3DS game I put a ton of time into this year was the remaster of Dragon Quest VIII. It originally hit PS2 around 15 years ago, but this version makes some added benefits for on-the-go gaming like quicksaves and auto-combat which I greatly appreciate. I always liked the Dragon Quest series of RPGs for being simpler, easier to pick up RPGs compared to the average Final Fantasy, and I am digging its art style, score and whimsical narrative thus far after around 30 hours in.

One last game I finished on 3DS is Find Mii and that is a Street Pass Plaza game contained with the 3DS UI. It took forever to finish because to advance in it you need to earn coins via carrying the 3DS around with you in sleep mode to beat simple monsters in a straightforward dungeon layout. There are quite a few monsters to conquer though and it took me banking up many coins to hire countless temporary heroes to defeat in its many dungeon rooms and after nearly three years of off-and-on gradual progress I finally finished it. Huzzah! 2017 saw a far more advanced version of Find Mii released on the 3DS called Mii-Topia which I understand is more of a full-on RPG compared to the intentionally basic design of Find Mii. I think Mii-Topia released shortly after I finished Find Mii and I kind of impulse-bought while on my rush of finishing Find Mii so who knows when I will get to it.

Speaking of the 3DS, my brother Joe and I went in together and got my nephew Carter a 2DS for Christmas. Joe got Carter into Pokemon at the beginning of the year by exposing him to the cartoon and the world of Pokemon cards. He is now a devout PokeKid! He never played any of the games though, so I we got him a 2DS and I loaded it up with Virtual Console rereleases of Pokemon Yellow, Pokemon Trading Card Game and Pokemon Puzzle League and I made sure to download and install a super-sweet Pikachu theme on the system for him too. When he opened it up on Christmas Eve he gave both us the biggest hugs!!! So worth it!

4) Kept You Waiting?

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Just like in 2016, I played a good amount of Metal Gear Solid. The first few months of the year I dedicated to trying to finish off Peace Walker. I say trying because I got the first ending to the game, but it seemed premature due to the gameplay style and sure enough after looking up online there was a true ending to unlock that involved beating many more boss fights in a specific fashion that is too particular to explain here in order to truly finish it. I spent way too much time going down this route before ultimately giving up and moving on. I still had a blast with the game and since it did not have a difficulty level setting I guess you can say I did ‘beat’ it on its default difficulty level instead of setting it to ‘very easy’ like I did in prior entries.

I needed a break from the franchise after that fiasco for a few months so it was not until the end of summer that I picked up and played through all of the prologue to Metal Gear Solid V that is called Ground Zeroes. It is like the introductory mission to MGS2 and MGS3 that is a couple hours long and sets up the rest of the game, but it was released nearly two years ahead of the main game. It picks up right after Peace Walker which is why I invested so much time in attempting to see that through. I loved how the new game looked on the current gen with stunning graphical effects that make the series stand out above all other AAA games, and its cutscene production is in a league of its own with a gorgeous set piece that sets up the proper full MGSV experience that came out in 2015, The Phantom Pain.

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A couple months later I finally started The Phantom Pain. The introductory stage is an experience I will never forget and is more like an hour and a half movie that introduces you to the core controls while Konami takes you on a visual effects smorgasbord with easily one of the best produced opening cinematics I have ever seen, and that is saying a lot not just for the franchise but for games in general. Even if you are not that familiar with MGS universe and lore, please click here and take the time to watch The Phantom Pain’s opening hour play out to see a new level of production caliber that games have rarely achieved. That hour and a half or so of gameplay is what I finished off the Extra Life marathon with, and I was glad to rock a pair of surround sound gaming headphones to it because just as much care was put into the audio as in the visuals and it all combined for my eyes being glued to the screen the entire time.

I have only had time to play about four or five hours more of it since, and I am glad I played Peace Walker because it looks like it is carrying over that game’s ‘Mother Base’ central command hub that took a bit of adapting to and I will not be going in to that interface blind this time around. This is a huge departure from previous MGS games as the gameplay is changed up big time and now takes place primarily in an open world. I am still getting use to that part, but I am loving the little I have played so far as The Phantom Pain continues to open up with so many options available at Snake’s disposal. I do miss the traditional codec calls, but I understand why Konami switched it up for this game. Speaking of Snake, I thought I would never accept Keifer Sutherland replacing David Hayter as Snake’s voice but after that opening played out I did not second guess it again.

One last thing about Metal Gear! I referenced earlier how the crew at giantbomb.com are my go to crew for gaming based videos. They occasionally do full play-throughs of games with a second person on hand for commentary, and over a couple years from 2004-06 they went through almost all of the core Metal Gear games. Giant Bomb called the series ‘Metal Gear Scanlon’ because their video-guy Drew Scanlon was playing through the Metal Gear games for his first time while resident Metal Gear expert and published author, Dan Ryckert on hand to lend his Metal Gear expertise. During the course of 2017 I watched their playthroughs for the first three Metal Gear Solid entries. They were a riot to have on in the background and watch in chunks here and there. Here is a link to a few highlight packages from their sessions for those who are interested.

3) Mmmmm….Fresh Meat

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I have an odd history with the Diablo series. I love hack ‘n slash RPG games, but I have never finished one in the premiere franchises of the genre from acclaimed developer Blizzard. I played a bit of the first chunk of the debut game right around its release on PC, but then my brother Joe started it up and he had more time to dedicate to it than I did so I wound up occasionally watching him play it from time to time instead. The exact same thing happened with the sequel and I saw Joe play that game nonstop for at least a few years. I played the opening couple of missions to the long awaited Diablo III shortly after its release in 2012 at a friend’s but held off picking it up hoping for a console release instead. I was thrilled when it hit console’s the next year and I picked it up on PS3 and Joe and another friend joined us for a few awesome couch co-op sessions of it and we got nearly halfway through the game until it became difficult to arrange nights for all three of us to meet up and continue and eventually the game fell into my gaming backlog abyss.

Fast forward four years and Joe and I picked up our routine, bi-weekly Sunday morning gaming sessions that we use to do all the time until a few years ago. You want to know how long it takes to finish Diablo III and its expansion act when you only have time to commit about three-to-four a month to it? Turns out it takes roughly five months to finish it that way, but it was gratifying to finally cross finishing a Diablo game off my gamer bucket list. I am also mighty thankful that Blizzard made the normal difficulty a relative cakewalk for people like me who do not have ample time to set aside to master the game. We did not lose a single life until we got to the final boss, and even then we finished him off on our third try, and it felt so good! Joe-berg I apologize again for making you sit through all the story and dialogue sequences, I know you want to just keep on hack ‘n slashin’, but you know I gots to absorb that Diablo-lore!

2) Is This Really A Thieve’s End?

When I hosted my videogame podcast that ran from 2005-2013, Sony’s top-of-the-line action/adventure Uncharted games would always rank high on my year-end game of the year lists. Hell, I even dug the Vita entry, Golden Abyss too! I got my PS4 towards the end of 2016 and it came bundled with the fourth game of the series. I wanted to play it right away, but did not want to nickel-and-dime my way through the game like I do for most games nowadays.

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I held off on playing the latest version I heard so much praise for until I requested a week off from work in April this last year when I had a few other things going on in that timeframe I needed time off for. During that time I made sure to set aside nearly two hours a day to make decent headway in that game, and I am glad I did because Uncharted 4: A Thieve’s End is the longest game of the entire series and it took me nearly 20 hours to finish. It took me that long because I did what I always do every time I play through Uncharted and took my time to soak in its lush and beautiful environments while I explored off the beaten path for the game’s trademark hidden treasures.

Uncharted 4 ranks right up there with the second game as my two favorite games in the series. The core gunplay and stealth mechanics I had some issues with before got tweaked and are far more enjoyable this time around. This is the first time in the series I did not mind playing stealthy for a change in certain areas. The platforming is just as masterful as ever as I took in every climbing, rope-swinging, and rock-sliding path that was bestowed upon protagonist Nathan Drake. The vintage set piece chase/interactive cinematics are just as impressive as the past few entries as well. I loved the introduction of Nate’s brother Sam to the cast and he perfectly blended into the series. There was one twist with him later on in the narrative that did not get fully explained that kind of rubbed me the wrong way, but other than that the story lives up to the brand’s high standards. Definitely do no skip out on this entry in the series!

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Later on in the year a spinoff Uncharted came out subtitled Lost Legacy. It made the bold move of not having Drake as the protagonist and instead casted Drake’s partner-in-crime Chloe from Uncharted 2 & 3 and antagonist Nadine from Uncharted 4 as the two stars. Playing with these two and an open-ended stage that took up a major part of the second act of Lost Legacy combined to significantly change up the core Uncharted gameplay. I approached parts of this game differently than previous installments while still experiencing the aforementioned top-of-class production values from the series. While I hope it is not the final Uncharted game in the series, I hope the series goes on a mini-hiatus for the time being after six awesome entries within 11 years.

1) Zelda + Elder Scrolls = GOTY

The hype leading up to the latest Legend of Zelda game in the series that hit in 2017, Breath of the Wild was impossible to avoid. Nintendo finally changing up the core formula of a console based Zelda for the first time since Ocarina of Time and going to an open-world format was something I had to be there day one for. I still recall playing the first five hours of Breath of the Wild and being fully immersed with its its new levels of open-ended gameplay previously unseen in the series. I instantly fell in love with its world, and for its first several hours of gameplay I felt I was playing something truly special. The only times I felt this way before about a game were for Grand Theft Auto III, the first Halo and the first Uncharted. That is elite company to reside with.

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Minus a couple short breaks to focus on other games, I have been consistently playing Breath of the Wild since its release and have invested nearly 100 hours into it. Despite that I have yet to finish it and have only vanquished two divine beasts so far because I love losing myself exploring its world. I rarely make use of fast travel points and I never use horses for fear or running past and missing out on hidden areas/secrets in the game. It took me several hours over many attempts to finish the mystical Eventide Island and I did not mind its grueling challenge to figure out how to overcome the unique predicament that island starts Link off in.

I remember the thrill of finishing off my first ancient machine and defeating the formidable foes that are the Lynels. I did not mind the weapons breaking frequently since it inspired me to mix up my weaponry and try out weapons I would not have otherwise and there are always a constant flux of weapons available. Somehow, someway, Breath of the Wild is the first game to get me into crafting, something I detested in games prior. That jingle it plays when you make a super zesty dish with bonus attributes is an awesome feeling. I am playing this on the WiiU and my only gripe is that it did not have the option to use the gamepad for inventory management. I guess the rain was a minor hindrance too since it prevents climbing, but those minor two gripes aside did not bother me to invest all this time into it throughout the year, and probably just as much time going into 2018 too. This is easily the best time I have had with any Zelda game ever.

Until Next Year….

Phew, thank you for sticking with me throughout this novel of an entry. This was quite the adventure to write, and I give big ups to you if you got through this in its entirety! See you next year for my top 2018 gaming experiences! As a little bonus, if you are not tired yet of clicking through all the supplemental YouTube videos linked above, here is one more that always manages to crack me up when I need to get myself out of a funk, so please click away and enjoy!

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Dale's Top 11 Gaming Experiences of 2016

Greetings! It has been awhile since I did one of these top 10 of the year lists. It felt right to place my list on my long dormant Giant Bomb blog where a few of my past lists reside and because I always enjoy the wealthy amount of game of the year content from the Giant Bomb crew each year. This is not a ‘Top 10 games of 2016,’ but more of a ‘Top 10 Experiences’ of 2016.

As you will see, a lot of my games listed will be from prior years. Also you will definitely notice I cheated on most of my entries and included multiple games on most entries. I tried to make each number on my list a theme for each experience, so I hope that suffices for you. If you take a liking my ramblings, please check out my movie blog where I recently ran down my favorite and worst movies from the past few years. I may post this on my movie blog as well since I have a ‘Top 10’ label there too, so if you are reading this blog there, greetings again!

*Edit* I saw after I finished editing this I screwed up my numbering and actually had 11 items, not 10, but it is too late now to remove an item after working on this for so long, so onward with my top 11 experiences of 2016!

11) Finally acquiring current gen consoles

Yes, that is right, three years they debuted I finally picked up both PS4 and Xbox One. My gaming backlog grew out of control because I do not have nearly enough time to game as I use to so I wanted a few years to get caught before I got the current systems. I first jumped on the Xbox One shortly after they released the S model in September and caught a good sale on the 2 TB version that knocked off $100. It took me six weeks though to get around to hooking it up and playing it however, but I have gamed a fair amount on it since.

The PS4 I got a couple months later on Black Friday weekend when retailers were having big sales on the Uncharted 4 500gb bundle, and I was able to stack a couple other discounts to get it for $190. An awesome friend gifted me a 2 TB hard drive for Christmas shortly thereafter. I have since hooked it up and got all my cross buy games from PS3 and Vita transferred over, but have yet to find any time to play a single game on it because of all the other games I am trying to catch up on. I think one of these weekends I should do nothing but binge on Uncharted 4 because it is one of my favorite franchises and it is a crime that I have yet to play the latest installment.

I also want to squeeze in here two other platforms that kind of meet the criteria of this subject: the Retron 5 and the NES Classic. The games I have tested out on the Retron 5 have worked great on my HDTV, and results in my classic games running flawlessly in HD, with none of the fuzziness that would result from hooking up my classic systems with RCA/composite cables into an HDTV. Like everyone else, I hate the Retron 5 controller, but am thankful the Retron 5 is compatible and works well with my classic controllers.

The NES Classic I lucked into getting one morning right when a retailer opened and I was not even looking for it, but happened to hear the store had them. I brought it over to play with the family after Thanksgiving dinner and it was a big hit that night. My brother-in-law kicked my ass in Tecmo Bowl that evening. Later on I let my six year-old niece, and eight year-old nephew play the system for a bit and took in their reactions to experiencing classics like Bubble Bobble and Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time. I have since busted out the NES Classic a couple more times with my nephew and we made a lot of progress in Bubble Bobble since, and have also had good times playing the original Super Mario Bros. and Donkey Kong with him. My nephew loves Minecraft and other tablet games, and I feared him playing these older games I grew up with would not jive with him, and I was delighted he took a liking to many of them.

10) Arcade Racers!

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I love me some arcade racing games! Racing and pinball games are the perfect way to start off a gaming session. I like to invest about 30-45 minutes and knock off a few races from a career mode before moving on to whatever game I am working on in my backlog. Going through my gaming journal I realized I have invested significant time into five racing games in 2016, and have completed the career modes in three of them. I first finished off Blaze Rush, an excellent downloadable racing game that is essentially the old school Micro Machines games, but with crazy weapons. The career mode is filled with a ton of variety, and while I had a few hair pulling moments trying to win certain races, I very much enjoyed my time with it.

Toybox Turbo is from Codemasters, the same people who made the aforementioned Micro Machines games and this is a contemporary follow up to them from a couple years ago. You still race in crazy environments like kitchen tables and workbenches, and the racing is still as quick and fun as the 8-bit classics. The third career mode I finished in 2016 went to Dirt Showdown, also from Codemasters. This is an arcade spinoff from the sim-heavy Dirt rally racing games, and Showdown is more of demo-derby racer in similar fashion to Destruction Derby and Flatout. I love that style of racers, and they do not make enough of them! Dirt Showdown is a welcomed addition to the genre, and I had a blast doing both races and last man standing demolition derbies! It is pretty fun, but not quite perfect, but establishes a good foundation I hope Codemasters builds on with future sequels.

Road Redemption is the contemporary take on Road Rash I have wanted EA to make for many years. These guys are getting it right, but it is still in Early Access on Steam so the developers are constantly building upon it. It controls how I would imagine a Road Rash game would evolve into today, and they thankfully took out having to run out back to your cycle so you can get back into the race quicker. I had some friends over for four player couch play, and we had a blast and it convinced them to get it too. If you have played old school Road Rash give it a look! Mantis Burn Racing is another Steam game I put a decent amount of time into that offers up a similar isometric perspective and has a good arcade/sim hybrid feel to it complete with drifts and turbos. It recently hit consoles so give it a look there too. Finally, I have lately been making a lot of progress into Sonic All-Stars Racing Transformed. Sega really stepped up their game with their second kart-style racer a few years back. I really dig how the karts morph into planes and hovercrafts during the race and how some tracks transform during the race to keep me on my feet. The roster features a ton of Sega favorites and the racing feels great and is right up there with Mario Kart!

9) Pinball!

Anyone who knows my gaming habits knows I am a pinball nut. Ever since Pinball FX on 360 I have spend countless hours on various pinball games. As I stated in the previous entry this is another one of my go to games to start off gaming sessions with. In 2016 I played a lot of Pinball Arcade, Zen Pinball 2 and a little known indie game on Steam called Hyperspace Pinball. I love nearly the entire Zen 2 roster of tables and spent a good chunk of the year trying to replay each table on my PS3 at least a couple of times. I am all caught up now with the exception of the recently released Bethesda pack that offers up tables based on their Doom, Skyrim and Fallout properties.

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Alternatively, the real life translations in Pinball Arcade are also up my alley, and I always find myself coming back to tables in attempts to best previous high scores and knock off all the preset goals for each table. I recently busted out the spinoff Stern Pinball Arcade disc on Xbox One, which offers up a couple exclusive tables that are not yet in the standalone Pinball Arcade hub and have been eating that up a lot too.

Hyperspace Pinball is an under-the-radar game that got buried in the plethora of indie games on Steam and it is unfortunate that it has gone ignored for this long. It features simple-yet-groovy futuristic graphics and a very fitting soundtrack. The primary mode is like a addicting version of pinball-meets-Asteroids and every several levels there are unique boss battles to vanquish. It took several runs before I got use to the physics of this pinball game, but once I did I was glad I mixed Hyperspace Pinball into my rotation.

8) Road Trip gaming!

This past October I went on a week long road trip to hit up some attractions I have always wanted to see and hang out with some friends who have moved out of town over the years. I visited my friend, Dick in the Twin Cities. We have a history of playing many hours of our favorite wrestling game, WWF No Mercy together and we could not resist busting it out again. We had some intense matches where we teamed up against the computer on expert difficulty, and then a few more grueling one-on-one encounters. Later that day, we checked out an game shop that had an arcade machine with a ton of games built in and one of them was for a Japan-exclusive sequel to Saturday Night Slam Masters I had no idea existed until that point. Slam Masters was Capcom’s take on wrestling meets Street Fighter II, but the sequel, Ring of Destruction, is a straight up fighting game that plays as good as any Capcom fighter back in the day.

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After that, we traversed to a recently opened arcade in the Cities called Up/Down, which is an arcade bar loaded with arcade and pinball games and has a full service bar. All the hits from 80s and 90s I grew up with were there such as classic brawlers like TMNT, X-Men and Simpsons to the hits Midway dominated the 90s with like NBA Jam, Mortal Kombat I-4 and NFL Blitz. There was even old school Nintendo games like Excitebike, Donkey Kong and a version of Fix-It Felix straight out of Wreck-It Ralph I had no idea was a thing until I saw it with my own eyes. There was also around a dozen pinball tables there, with a good mix of classics like Funhouse, Terminator 2 and Adams Family to more recent Stern releases like Ghostbusters and Metallica. I guess this is a slowly expanding chain, so if you happen to run across one, make sure to check it out as you will be guaranteed hours of fun.

The next destination on my road trip was to visit my brother in a smaller town a couple hours outside of the Twin Cities. I had a great time hanging out with him, and like my friend in the Cities, we also have a history of beating the tar out of each other in WWF No Mercy. After telling my brother about experiencing the awesomeness of taking on expert level AI opponents in tag mode and proceeding to have another close match with the AI where we emerged victorious, we proceeded to take on each other in about 15 one-on-one matches. I consider myself a pretty darn good No Mercy player and can hold my own with any other seasoned player, but for whatever reason my brother has always had my number and is the only one I know that can outplay me (that link is a clip of us squaring off in a tournament final from several years ago for proof!). Of the roughly 15 matches we played, I only had one victory out of them all, and I made sure to savor every moment of it!

7) Awesome Local Coop!

This is where I will give a shoutout to my local friends in town, Ryan, Derek and Brooke! Last few years we have had recurring couch multiplayer game nights every several weeks! I always look forward to them, and we are constantly rotating in old favorites like Mario Kart: Double Dash, Mario Party and TimeSplitters: Future Perfect with newer games for a constant fresh variety of multiplayer goodness. I will give props to some of my favorite moments I had with them this year. One awesome early multiplayer night in 2016 involved a NES theme night, and me busting out my four player adaptor which led to many hours of Gauntlet II and Super Off-Road fun.

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For a couple weeks we were into slaughtering zombies and we played through a couple levels of Left 4 Dead 2. I forgot how awesome and frustrating that game is as I experienced both soaring highs when our teamwork was flawless and devastating lows when we ran into trouble a couple of times. Either way, it was still a blast re-experiencing Left 4 Dead 2 for the first time in years. That led us to a couple days of long sessions of Dying Light. I loved the first Dead Island and this game is from the same developers and plays just like it, but mixes in an awesome parkour system. That resulted in all kinds of crazy running dropkicks and being on the lookout for next great weapon that would turn up in our endless piles of loot.

Just a few weeks ago we had another great session where we played Drawful and Fibbage out of the Jackbox Party Pack. Both are awesome social party/trivia games from the same people who made the also-excellent You Don’t Know Jack. These games make great use of cell phones as controllers so anyone could play, and we had way too much fun guessing at what the heck we were drawing in Drawful. It brought back classic memories of staying up all night in another similar multiplayer game on the DS, LOL!

We followed that game up with a random game I got for Xbox One since I heard so much good buzz about it online called Overcooked. This simple four player Root Beer Tapper-meets-cooking game featured some of the most fun I have ever had in a multiplayer game. When your teamwork is firing on all cylinders it is a blast, when it is not it led to us playfully shouting at each other until one point a few of us had to drop the controllers because we were uncontrollably laughing so hard. It was a moment I will never forget. There was one other multiplayer night between us that usurped these moments, but I will save it for later.

6) Extra Life 2016

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Extra Life is the annual 24 hour gaming event where we game for a day straight in order to raise funds for our local children’s hospital! These last two years I traveled down to my friends, Chris and Lyzz’s house to game for 24 hours straight. I always attempt to beat WWF No Mercy’s 100-man Survival mode, and just like all previous attempts, I failed about halfway through. There were two main takeaways from Extra Life 2016. One of them was binging through Gears of War 4’s campaign from start to finish during the 24 hours. I love me some Gears, and Extra Life happened not to long after I picked up my Xbox One, so Gears 4 ended up being one of the first games I played on it. I had to take a break halfway through Gears 4 because I signed up to run a local 10k in the area, which was actually a nice breather to get out of the house and get some exercise and fresh air! I came back revitalized and had a great time playing nonstop until I finished.

Chris and Lyzz were playing their own Gears 4 campaign in split-screen coop and we both did our best to look away from each other to avoid spoilers. Turns out you cannot have a split screen system team up online with another player on their own, but we found a way to get through it on our own without spoilers! Gears 4 turned out awesome as expected, and was a return to form after the experimental game in the series that was Gears Judgment.

The other game I played later on in Extra Life I want to make sure to recognize is Mega Man 2 off the Xbox One Mega Man Legacy Collection. I never gave a Mega Man game a serious chance before. I recall trying to play the first one a couple times long ago and getting frustrated many times and not beating a single stage. In the Legacy Collection however, it has save states which I made sure to exploit to the fullest. I was saving every screen or two in Mega Man 2. I decided to start on that one since I usually hear that is the best, and it had a firm, but fair challenge level to it. I died many times, but wanted to try out different techniques in order to progress and beat each boss. I did not finish the game, but did complete three stages, which will go down as the first three levels I ever finished in a Mega Man game! One day I will return to at least finish Mega Man 2, mark my words!

5) Firewatch

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After finishing Dear Esther and Gone Home a couple years ago, I have become a huge fan of the genre that has become known as the walking simulator! Firewatch hit out of nowhere early in 2016 and became a much talked about indie game throughout the year. I finally played it towards the end of the summer, and relished every hour of the six or seven hours it took me to finish. The graphics are superb and perfectly capture the solitude and beauty of being a fire ranger in the vast wilderness. I could get lost out there forever, and spent many moments just pausing in the game and taking in the sublime surroundings. The score is not always present, but knows when to kick in to amplify the moments that need it.

I could not help but get immersed in the narrative between the two fire rangers, and the mystery that the two found themselves in as the summer unraveled. Reading other game of the year reactions in recent weeks I found myself in the minority that liked the twist towards the end and was not thrown for a loop by it. I really loved the final days in the game, and it all culminated in an impactful moment for me when I could tell my summer with Firewatch was coming to an end. I got lucky and managed to get in on the Limited Run release of the physical copy of the game on PS4, and look forward to replaying it sooner than later with the newly added developer commentary.

4) Objection, dedicated handheld gaming is here to stay!

I try to dedicate a couple hours a week to traditional handheld gaming. I am not talking smartphone games, but good old fashioned DS/Vita/3DS gaming! I grew up playing a ton of my various versions of the GameBoy and still try to cram in a little bit of the current stuff too. I am a huge Ace Attorney fan and spent a good chunk of my 2016 handheld gaming getting caught up in the series. I finished off Ace Attorney Investigation: Miles Edgeworth early on in the year, and spent a good chunk of 2016 gradually chipping away at the first 3DS entry in the series, Dual Destinies. The last couple weeks I finally put my first few hours in the most recent release in the series, Spirits of Justice.

If you have played one Ace Attorney game before you know what to expect, and that is a ton of crazy over-the-top characters you meet investigating crime scenes and cross examine on the witness stand as you try and clear innocent names from murder cases. There is a ton of reading involved in these games which is why they take forever to get through at my rate, but they are worth it in the long run to me since I find myself craving what kind of adventures the Wright Anything Agency are getting themselves into next.

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There was one other non-Ace Attorney game I snuck into for a few hours at a time in-between my travels in and out of the court room. That game was the PSone version of Final Fantasy VII on the Vita. I have started FFVII a couple times before, but never made serious progress in it, and I guess I did not make a ton of progress in it this year either, but barely set a new record for time and progress! I originally was trying to keep up with Game Informer when FFVII was a part of their Game Club feature, but quickly fell behind. I came back around to FFVII in December for a few more hours, and am glad to say that I finally got out of Midgar and into the overworld for the first time in FFVII! I went on to get through the portion of the game in the village of Kalm, and then failed a few times at trying to kill off that big serpent by the Chocobo farm outside of Kalm. I think I need to grind by there for a bit in order to proceed. While I know I am nowhere close to finishing the game, I plan to periodically pick it up and eventually beat it in 10-15 years!

3) Nintendo Sixty-Fourrrrrrr!!!!

If you have somehow stuck with me through this dreadfully long top 10 blog, you might recall that I stated I had one other awesome local coop gaming night I wanted to elucidate on later. That brings us here to where my brother was visiting from out of town and he joined me, Derek and Ryan for an N64 themed night of gaming. I knew Derek and Ryan had a bunch of N64 games, and I brought a bunch of my favorites to play also. I was a little taken aback when Derek asked me to bring the N64 wrestling game I loved so much because I did not associate Derek and Ryan to be much of wrestling game fans before. Turned out that WWE 2K16 was a recent Xbox Live Games for Gold free game of the month and both of them spent a bit of time suplexing and powerbombing the heck out of each other in recent weeks and wanted to give the N64 game I raved about the most a whirl as a result.

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Derek and Ryan picked up the controls for WWF No Mercy in no time and we spent at least a good hour tearing each other up in intense tag team and Royal Rumble matches. I am still befuddled that Derek and Ryan had a legit good time playing wrestling games that night, and it will probably be the only night that will ever happen with them, but I will forever remember it! The night did not end there because we went on to spend hours in other four-player hits like NBA Hangtime and New Tetris. I was surprised New Tetris went over as well as it did, but the timeless puzzle game was the right breather we all needed after some heated rounds of basketball and wrestling. It would not be an N64 night if we did not bust out the Giant Bomb favorite, Mario Party 2, and we proceed to complete a 20 turn game where everybody won!

The highlight of the night however was breaking out the original console FPS multiplayer hit, Goldeneye 007. I have read many times online how this game does not hold up in modern times, but I beg to differ! Play it on a big TV and play for at least 10 minutes, and trust me, you will be conditioned to like it was 1997 all over again! That is what happened to us that night. Sure the graphics are obviously last-century, and there is a bit of slowdown in four-player split screen when the explosions start rolling, but if you are on a big screen TV after about 10 minutes, you get use to it because the core gameplay is still that damn good. We played all kinds of variants including old favorites such as Grenade Launchers in the Temple, Rocket Launchers in the Complex, Proximity Mines in the Archives and a random map incarnation of Slappers Only with Golden Gun rules so that each slap meant instant sweet death! These five games for about five-to-six hours that magical night combined for nonstop greatness and hands down my favorite multiplayer game night 2016!

2) MGS 2/3/Peace Walker

Since the fall of 2015 when Metal Gear Solid V released. I swore to myself I will get around to playing through all the Metal Gear Solid games in order. Up until that point I only finished MGS4 and gave up on MGS2 after just a couple hours. I somehow have found myself still determined to meet this goal as I plugged away and finished The Twin Snakes GameCube remake of the original MGS by the end of 2015. Throughout 2016 I managed to finish MGS2 and MGS3 and got through around the first 15 story missions of Peace Walker off the HD Collection on PS3. I even dabbled a bit with the first hour of Portable Ops through backwards compatibility on the Vita, but decided to stick to playing on consoles and moved on to Peace Walker instead.

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So what do I make of the series thusfar? I have absolutely enjoyed the core three games immensely so far. I am probably playing these games completely wrong, but I played through all three MGS games on very easy difficulty. I have no shame, but for what it is worth I try to play stealthy, and if I blow my cover and fail to retreat that is when I bust out the AK-47 and go guns blazing. That works OK most of the time for me in very easy. In Peace Walker there is no difficulty setting so that involves a bit more trial and error, but thankfully that game’s missions are shorter since it was originally designed for the PSP so failure does not mean a ton of backtracking there.

I really enjoyed my time with the first MGS, and the updated graphics on the GCN made it much more pleasant on the eyes. By the time I finished it, even all these years after its release I could tell I finished something special. Playing as Raiden did not bother me in the sequel….unless it came to saving which sometimes resulted in a few raised eyebrows. It still had the same unique, great gameplay as the original, and managed to tell another memorable chapter in the MGS universe. That said, I still rank it at the bottom of the core trilogy I liked the least, but not by as much one may think.

I am probably going to give the slight edge to MGS3 to being my favorite so far. The gameplay seemed to have hit its stride there by finally giving the ability to move and shoot simultaneously, and I actually did not mind the healing/wound treatment system in MGS3 either. The Cold War-era story is probably what I will give the nudge to me liking MGS3 the most. Each MGS game got to gradually become more bonkers in nature, and wrapping the Cold War narrative around it seemed like a perfect fit. I also loved the boss battles the most in MGS3, especially the final battle with ‘The Boss’ and the beauty with how it is presented in MGS3 will easily rank as one of my favorite moments in videogames.

1) Oxenfree

When it came down to it, I only finished three games in 2016 that were released that calendar year, and Oxenfree was one of them. It is a walking simulator like Firewatch, and also like that game the small development team at Night School Studios has members that worked on the critically acclaimed first season of The Walking Dead from Telltale Games. Unlike Firewatch though, Oxenfree has far simpler 2D graphics that are watercolor-esque in nature. Do not let these simple looks deceive you, because the narrative that surrounds these four coming-of-age teens out for a night of fun on an island quickly transforms into a night of sci-fi spookiness that I will never forget and left me wanting a sequel ASAP.

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I am heads over heels for the script and dialogue that unloads throughout Oxenfree. One moment the cast is trying to come together to figure out the grand mystery of this island, then the next they are taking quick asides to find out more about their personal lives that encapsulates the everyday life of teenage drama. Night School Studios make tremendous use of certain camera tricks and jump cuts that do not necessarily equal out to jump scares, but sure as hell something close that had my skin crawling with goosebumps as the adventure played out.

There are several pivotal decisions that will affect gameplay, so naturally I had to play the game a second time telling myself no matter what I am going to play the game differently. A lot of the dialogue choices in the game have positive, neutral and snarky response options so I spent a good chunk of my second playthrough being a snarky jerk and it was fascinating seeing the responses I would get in return. When it came down to bite the bullet in the end and make one of the big game-changing decisions, I had to pause the game and step away from it for a few minutes to think it over. Even after doing that, I could not go back on my natural instincts and I went with my original decision in one of the most frantic moments I had in playing videogames.

Shortly after I finished Oxenfree a second time I was caught off guard by the developers patching in a remixed mode for people who have finished the game that offers up a slightly new gameplay experience. These changes were minor, but they did add a few new wrinkles throughout gameplay and the dialogue would unexpectedly change at random intervals to keep me constantly alert to see what tricks Oxenfree had up its sleeve next. I think it goes without saying if a game can manage to convince me to finish it three times within a year, especially at a time when I have just a fraction of the time to game than what I use to, then Oxenfree easily walks away from 2016 as my favorite videogame experience of the year! Limited Run has a physical release for PS4 set for later this month, and you can bet your booty that I will be attempting to pick up a copy and experience this game a fourth time!

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July's Gaming Progress - Fallout 3, Penny Arcade, Sam & Max...

July was also a busy month for games. I plowed through Homefront, which I made the unfortunate mistake of playing through after beating the far superior Call of Duty: Black Ops. Finally TreyArch can say they made a Call of Duty campaign that can hold their own against Infinity Ward's best efforts. Homefront was ok, but did not live up to the blitzkrieg of media hype that THQ subjected us all too.

I got back into adventure games this month and finally beat the first episode of Penny Arcade after chipping away at it the past few months for a total of around 13 hours. I also finished the very first episode of Sam & Max, which was a much more manageable two to three experience and started the first Puzzle Agent on PC recently also. I started and finished the retro-RPG, Breath of Death VII that came out a couple weeks ago in about six hours. It is an ode to 8 and 16-bit RPGs, with many references to the great RPGs of those generations, and is well worth checking because it only goes for a buck off the 360 Indie Games Marketplace.

Finally, that Fallout 3 itch came crawling back and I finished The Pitt and Mothership Zeta DLC packs. Both took around three hours, with a little more time spent in the Pitt because I got addicted to Ingot hunting. Both experiences were pretty short, but the Pitt was still good 'ol Fallout fun, and while Zeta I give props for being something different, it just tried to play too much like a regular FPS, and Fallout 3 is anything but.

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Check out my podcast's upcoming 5 Year Anniversary Show!

 Can you believe it, a week from now will mark 5 years of my podcast, Videogames On Tap stinking up the podcast scene! And what better way to celebrate 5 years of On Tap than by wrapping up our massive Games of the Decade Special. We still have plenty more categories and listener categories awards to run down, as well as our own personal top 20 games of the decade. Be sure to listen live as we will be giving away point cards throughout the night. We plan on starting the show on Thursday, February 10, at 6pm Central, 7pm Eastern!!

If I can figure out how to take calls live via Skype, than we will try and get listeners to call in also! So please join us live on February 10, and bookmark the following Ustream Channel below!

On Tap UStream Page - http://www.ustream.tv/channel/videogames-on-tap
 
And to check out our archives of our past five years of videogame podcasts check out our homepage at www.ontappodcast.com

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Zeno Clash, anyone playing this on XBLA?

It is a pretty beefy XBLA release with a decent 7 hour campaign and a bunch of bonus challenge rooms that can be tackled over Xbox Live. I was only able to beat two of the nine challenge rooms on my own and I am under the impression the game did not sell terribly well because even letting custom match sit idle in the background on my 360 for quite a while no would join my room. So if anybody else has this can they please give me a friend request so we can knock out the rest and get some gamerscore?

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