2019 Game Journal

Game of the Year: Holiday Specialtacular 2017: HitsmasLast year's journal was a lot of fun to do, so I'm going to keep it up. I hope to look back and see this record of my thought process and I'll see how it's evolved over the years. A feeling I'm sure people know that have kept some kind of written journal in their past. The closest thing I've ever had is my old sketch books.

My game goals going into 2019:

Play Return of the Obra Dinn! It was at the top of my list last year, and the game of the year talk I've heard these past few weeks have only reinforced that it's a game I must play. I'll keep my eyes on a Hitman 1 and 2 bundle and Chuchel in the coming year.

Red Dead Redemption II is a game where I was trudging through the snow, long after I got off that mountain. I'm not talking about walking speed. I was literally and figuratively knocked off of that horse over and over again. I got back on, only to find I lost my hides when I returned to the trapper to sell them. I've made it so far, I think it should be the first Rockstar game that I see the story through to the end.

I'm also a new owner of a PlayStation VR headset and I look forward to whatever experiences I have with it in the future. So far I've played around with some 360 video apps and played the Battlefront X-wing experience. As cool as it was sitting in an X-wing's cockpit, it didn't earn a journal entry last year. I hope I didn't spoil myself by with starting with Astro Bot and Moss. Surely we'll see more great VR games released in 2019. I know I'm not the only one who got a PSVR last Christmas.

List items

  • January 1

    This might be a Hitman 1 level, but I played it through the Hitman 2 launcher. As far as I'm concerned they are the same game, I'd like to play it all from the start in the Hitman 2 wrapper.

    I dabbled with the free Christmas Paris mission today. Still getting a feel for how to approach this game. I want to play it as proficiently as I see the Bomb Crew on the Hitsmas feature, but it requires a level knowledge and experience I don't have as a beginner. I spent some time in the menus and died a handful of times exploring. Hopefully I'll come back to it before it expires in a couple days. (EDIT: I didn't >.<)

  • January 6-26

    Lately I've been reading the Zelda Encyclopedia. While I find it stretches the mythology of Zelda farther than the developers care about it is a neat look at how the games have changed over the decades. It's been feeding my chronic nagging desire to 100% every Zelda game. Phantom Hourglass is near the top of that list, since I never completed it. So I dusted off 3DS and brought it to work. A system I have purchased 9 Zelda games for.

    My first impression is that it's a lot more talky then a remember. Something that bothered me about Okami when I played it last year. Probably a trend of an era when games were trying to develop stories before voice acting was widespread. It doesn't age well, there's since been a backlash against this type of story telling. I feel like I'm reading more than playing. People think Navi's bad, there's a fairy in this game that redundantly narrates everything:

    Cutscene opening the door to the first dungeon, followed by:

    "Now you can enter the Temple! We did it Link!

    Let's go face up to that power of darkness!"

    Just inside that door there's fire:

    "Ugh...So Hot...

    Oh, no! There are flames everywhere! You better not touch them...

    Don't go and burn yourself Link!"

    The touchscreen controls work really well, I could see something similar working on a mobile Zelda. I love drawing on my map, a feature that should have been in Breath of the Wild.

    I got my first taste of the timed dungeon that you return to througout the game. I recall quitting my original playthough because it gets tricky later in the game. We'll see how I do this time.

    February 3

    Despite my early complaints I mostly enjoyed my time with this game. It's full of clever puzzles that make use of the DS's unique features. Taking better handwritten map notes made the repeat visits to the timed dungeon manageable and satisfying. I also took careful notes of every chest I found to do my best at a completionist run.

    Unfortunately there's far too much tedious randomness to make it worthwhile to collect the final heart and all the ship parts. The heart is the most frustrating for me. It requires waiting forever for the right kind of fish shadow to appear on the map, then you get a CHANCE at finding the needed fish, PLUS they are much harder to reel in. I found 2 and failed both times over hours of play time. I beat the final boss and that's what matters.

  • January 7

    I bought this weeks before I got a PSVR because it was on sale for $5. Psychonauts 2 is my most anticipated game of 2019, so this was one of the top VR games I wanted to try. Not many developers are as dedicated to humor, expressive cartoon art, and inventive concepts like Double Fine are.

    The idea of hopping between brains is the perfect melding of VR and Psychonauts. To explore the world you swap perspectives with familiar characters from the first game, dimwitted labratory workers, and many animals. While it's relatively brief, there's a lot of environments from a hidden laboratory torture chamber to a wrecked deep sea school bus.

    It feels very much like Tim Schafer's point and click adventure games I fell in love with years ago from LucasArts. Only you look with your head and can use and array of physic abilities to interact with the world. The puzzles are simple, I got stuck only once, and that was my fault. I placed a key item out of sight and forgot about it.

    If you're a fan of Tin Schefer's style of humor and the absurd world of Psychonauts, as I am, you'll get a fun couple hours out of Rhombus of Ruin.

  • PlayStation VR Demos

    January 7

    Playing through the Playstation VR Demo Disk 2.0 that came with my headset gave be a better idea of the variety of VR games out there.

    Thumper looks rad, I already knew that, but it's especially cool in VR. I'm very bad and rhythm games and tend to avoid them. Playing through the first level I did manage to get in the zone breifly when I felt my hits align with the music. This demo helped me to understand the appeal of this genre. I really like the concept of putting a boss at the end of the highway, successfully timed hits are attacks and misses damage your space beetle. Still, I'm not convinced I won't fall apart when the game gets harder. Glad I played this demo, though.

    The first few times I tried Eve: Valkyrie it placed me in the backseat of the fighter. Until I figured out you need to hold options to recalibrate the camera. Seemed like a better executed take on the Battlefield X-wing VR exerience I tried, but the demo was so short, I didn't get much of a feel for it.

    Star Child was beautiful, but also ended abruptly. Tiny Trax seemed like a slightly better implementation of one of the worst stars in Mario Odyssey. Battlezone's tank controlled well, but there doesn't seem to be much else to it. Rez Infinite had a neat look, but I'm not sure I need to see more of it. The Persistence didn't hook me.

    The rest required PlayStation move to play. I'm tempted to get them just for job simulator.

    I also played a Tumble VR demo and it was my favorite I tried today. I loved playing with wooden blocks as a kid. This game is about stacking them, blowing up towers and puzzles. There are blocks made of different materials that behave differently. It was fun figuring out how to efficiently blow a tower and make the pieces fly as far as possible, there's more strategy than it sounds like.

  • January 27

    I have a long history with this game. My earliest memories include playing both NES Zelda games at friends' houses and never really understood them. I didn't become a Zelda fan until OoT and owned versions of the NES games on GameCube, NES, and Wii U, but never made much of a dent in them. I only beat Zelda 1 recently, in the months anticipating BotW in 2017. My recent triumphs with Mario Bros 3 and Phantom Hourglass have inspired be to give it my all now that it's on The Switch.

    I can tell this will be the hardest challenge yet. The Switch's suspend point feature won't be as helpful as it was with a straight forward game like Mario. It's very much a rogue like, after my 3 lives are spent I have to start from the beginning, keeping my items, but loosing all the XP collected. The primitive enemy AI isn't very forgiving and I have to play very well, or get lucky, to avoid taking too many hits.

    After playing for my first day I discovered the random battles get much more brutal after exiting the cave on the way to the second dungeon. I have the candle, the glove, and figured out how to use magic, but I still have a long way to go.

    February 22

    Welp, I defeated Dark Link and got a Triforce! It took beating 6 of the 7 dungeons without the healing spell I should got early on. Then replaying two of those dungeons. One, I accidentally overwrote my save. The other I beat the boss before getting the item. I also had to play the last dungeon twice (burned the extra life on the first run) because I didn't have enough magic power to beat the second last boss. But after farming 5 levels I came back and I saw the credits!

    Enough complaining. It may not have aged well, but I can see the early DNA of the series here. This is first time we see towns, each the namesake of future Zelda characters. Clues from townsfolk, while often obtuse, build on the blind searching from most of the first game.

    The items obtained in each dungeon that unlock areas of the world are a step towards the multi-use items we know from Link to the Past that went on to define the series. Zelda 1 had some of that, but the more complex overworld here feels more modern.

    Up and Downward thrusts improve combat a lot from the basic attack. Even if an enemy is immune it can be useful to hop on and over it.

    I'm glad I finally illuminated my biggest blind spot from my favorite game series. It feels like a real accomplishment scratching it off my list. I'm amazed at anyone who beat this on an NES without suspend points.

  • February 1-2

    I'd been looking for some move controllers to compliment my PSVR headset for a little while. Finally found some and decided A Fisherman's Tale would be the first game to try them out with. Recently the GBEast crew took a rather lengthy look and I was impressed. Unfortunately I already knew how to solve the puzzles for half of this short game thanks to that preview.

    I love the story and characters of this game where you solve puzzles by placing or removing items in rooms that feature small model of your home. As you simultaneously play as a large or small version of yourself and these items that retain their relative size.

    I think there's a solid core to this charming game, but it could have used some more polish. Perhaps turning off collision on objects I'm currently holding would have prevented many moments of frustration. Particularly on a late chapter that confusingly changes the rules of the game. I'm not sure if I solved the puzzle correctly or found a buggy exploit.

  • February 3-7

    A short story, but it satisfies the "I am Batman" fantasy pretty well. Collecting all the Riddler and PSN trophies made it worth the money for me.

    But, boy, you could tell this was early VR. The calibration recommends you stand and was so highly specific I had to flip over my couch to make room. Because of the standing I got VR motion sick for my first time due to my head darting around looking for secrets. Sitting in my swivel chair and actually moving my body as I look is the preferred method.

    It's no exaggeration to say the target practice with the move controller is some of the sloppiest gameplay I've had the displeasure of experiencing. The terrible auto aim would seek out the wrong targets from across the entire play area, despite looking like it was on track for the correct target for a few seconds. Other times I'd send a barrage of batarangs at my target, narrowly missing nearly a dozen times in a row!

    Sloppy controls aside, I love Rocksteady's environmental puzzle design. They've taken that spirit of from mainline series and translated it in this light game focused on the world and puzzles.

  • February 7 - 19

    There's been a lot of love for the Resident Evil series in the air lately. The RE2 remake is hot right now. I fell off the remake for the first again game just a few months ago. I spotted RE7 on sale, the more appealing option than the returning to RE1. I've heard enough praise about RE7 since release to put it on my radar. I didn't recall it being as well received at release.

    It feels very much like a modern take on Resident Evil 1. It propels you forward at a much faster clip. Checkpoints and no restrictions on the number of saves makes it much friendlier. Yet ammo scarcity and tough enemies still make it feel like a survival horror. Zombies are now swamp things and the big bads have personality. You will explore and backtrack throughout a greater variety of environments, but it all takes place in one isolated area.

    Running and hiding from the terrifying, invulnerable family members works well in the world. Only, there's one boss fight in I had a lot of trouble with. I didn't feel like had a grip on fighting "Daddy" in a closed area in a first person game. If I turned and ran he was so fast it felt like he magnetized directly behind me. Not so much in an effectively scary way, it just felt kinda buggy and frustrating. His openings felt tiny and unclear after supposedly stunning him. Thankfully each encounter was very different and I never had too much of a problem outside of that fight.

    My favorite parts of the game were a handful of escape room style puzzle scenarios. The DLC expands these by reusing environments from the main story. Creative puzzles presented with the same cinematic flair of the main game. Sometimes there were multiple ways they could be solved.

  • February 23 - March 8

    The final NES Mario I needed to complete. I've been knocking out these lifelong regrets left and right thanks to NES online. A few stages in I realized I haven't seen most of this game, unlike the other two.

    The rules are so different in this game. Mario's thing is jumping on fools to take them out! Not riding them, picking them up and throwing them. I should note that I played the whole thing as Toad. Out of tradition, but also because Luigi and the Princess have jumps that I always found hard to control.

    While not as inventive and varied as Mario 3, I was surprised by the clever implementations of this game's unique mechanic. Like riding enemies across obstacles and I never knew there were so many ways to kill a Birdo (Ostro according to the credits.)

  • March 9-14

    I would have finished this game sooner, but I've been busy moving lately. I'm proud to say I've set up all my old consoles that were in storage before, but I haven't had much time to play games.

    The art in Old Man's Journey is what stood out when deciding to buy something new on my Switch. It's the strongest element of this game. It's minimal story is told entirely through beautiful animated vignettes that are the reward for completing each leg of the journey.

    The puzzles were also very simple. It's not particularly difficult, but I found it could be frustrating. Moving hillsides to navigate the world is a novel idea, but I wish it communicated better how far a hill could move. It's also a one button game too often the character would move when I wanted to interact with the world.

    At the end of the day these problems were minor. This is a game about enjoying the calm scenery while an old man quietly reflects on the life he lived.

  • March 16 - April 13

    This is the first Kirby game I've invested a decent amount of time with. As a Nintendo fan this series has been a shameful blind spot for me.

    Kirby's Adventure has been a fun game to discover. This pink ball's unique floating, eating and power stealing abilities create gameplay variety not found in most platformers of the time. Although you can curiously fly by entire sections of some levels without any resistance.

    This 1993 game feels much more modern than most games games on the NES. The ability to return to completed levels is appreciated. It's not without some obtuse puzzles. But maybe I'd have more patience to explore certain paths if it was 1993 and this was one of a handful of games I owned.

    I've reached the sixth world and I have a few other games dividing my attention at the moment. I'm unsure if I'll complete Kirby's adventure, although I've enjoyed my time with it.

  • March 23 - April 11ish

    As a fan of Rare's N64 collectathons I was naturally currious about Yuka Laylee, even after hearing it wasn't great. I figured 50% off was the right price.

    It definately succeeds in being evocative of Banjo Kazooie particularly. I love that the presentation, and much of the design, echoes my childhood memories. Ultimately it just makes me want to revisit DK64 rather than continue playing.

    The choices made to update this style of game leave much to be desired. The insistence in devotion to the old games makes the design feel antiquated in some ways. In others it falls short of the elegance I remember of those Nintendo games.

    It's easier to get lost and loose your place in these large levels. There's a feature that expands the worlds and makes this issue worse.

    The multiple resources and upgrades could be streamlined aswell. It's fun that they unlock some abilities with a variety of achievement style goals. When you can only equip one at a time it becomes work and I loose interest.

    Now I would like to take out my N64 and see if my memory of DK64 holds up to the standards I'm comparing Yuka Laylee to. Maybe back then I would have enjoyed it. When I had the time to devote to give this game a better chance.

  • April 5-10

    As I kid I remember loving solving deductive riddles. Where you'd be given clues and you'd find the solution by process of elimination. I wish I could recall where I found these, maybe school or Highlights magazine. Return of the Obra Dinn is like a big, detailed and way harder one of those.

    It's super satisfying to scrub through the memories of the dead members of this doomed ship's crew to put the pieces together. Until later when it becomes tedious and I relied too much on guess work. I would have appreciated a few more clues and a better interface for revisiting discovered memories. Maybe they were there, but I missed them.

    In some ways this game reminds me of Majora's Mask. In that a story is told through puzzle solving as you discover where characters fit along a timeline. Although the broad Strokes of Obra Dinn's story is told relatively quickly.

    Exploring the Obra Dinn to uncover the intriguing story in reverse grabbed my attention from the start. There's a wonderful detail and a feeling of authenticity to this ship and its crew. There's great contrast in telling a fantastical story of human drama and the supernatural through the mundane lens of an insurance investigator.

    The 3D world filtered through a pixelated retro PC graphical style is neat too. Although sometime I wish I could make out the details better.

  • April 27 -

    I'm amazed by the power of the tools in Dreams. I've worked with development tools like Unity, Unreal Engine, and Z brush. This takes concepts like visual scripting and intuitive virtual sculpting and puts it in a package that anyone could try.

    I'm particularly impressed with sculpting using the move controllers. Although clumsy and hard to wrap your head around, the motion controllers offer something a step closer to real life sculpting in 3D space. I love how quickly I made a D.Seuss landcape using the soft sculpting tool.

    I've only played through the first set of tutorials. I really enjoyed them. One favorite is basically a 3D colouring book. Drawing with the move controllers is, surprisingly, not bad.

    There is amazing work being done in the community, but I've hit a wall. As a often do with ambitious creative projects, I don't know what to make. I hope I'm not finished, but I fear I've move on to other games. Maybe I'll return for more tutorials, once they are added, at the very least.

  • April 28 - May 25

    I bought this game 2-3 weeks before touching it and it took me nearly a month to finish. This is not the game's fault. I seem to have fallen out of the habit lately. Perhaps it's a combination of factors.

    It's an intimidating task, choosing what small games are worth my time. The lack of compelling upcoming big releases leaves me less excited about games in general. Plus, my lifestyle has changed in the past few months since moving.

    Personal journal time over now onto the game...

    I love the elegance of The Gardens Between. You simply move forwards, or backwards and occasionally interact with the environment. It's full of inventive visual flourishes as these two childhood friends playfully alter time while exploring. Each impact the gameplay in unique ways.

    My only complaint is that it's fairly easy. I breezed through the first couple levels without a thought, hit a few snags later on, but never had much trouble. I was still satisfied by the experience. The draw is the charming aesthetics, novel time mechanics and nostalgic story.

  • May 20 -

    It's unthinkable that I would miss a mainline 3D Mario, but I did. I spent years frustratingly trying to complete the first Galaxy and never got around to it. I bought Galaxy 2 a while ago with the goal of playing it once I finished the first, but I finally released myself of that burden.

    I thought the sequel would be a fresh start. It seemed to address problems I had with the first. Like having a world map instead of a tedious to navigate overworld devoid of the fun exploration and discovery of the previous 3D Marios. This place compounded my frustration during regular returns to Galaxy 1 over the past decade or so.

    Ultimately my biggest issue with the core conceit of the Galaxy games. It's rewarding exploration more than challenging platforming that I want from Mario more than anything else. Still, I have enjoyed plenty of pure platforming games.

    While there is fun to be had with the variety of creative platforming challenges, it is a Mario game after all. Galaxy 2 still has the terrible, restrictive camera that the first had. An issue that Super Mario 3D World fixes, a severely underrated game, and superior to either Wii game, in my opinion.

    The bad camera combined with the Wiimote make the game feel more imprecise than a Mario game should. Plus I hate that speaker!

    This paragraph is for saying nice things about the game. It's not a bad game, just poor for a 3D Mario. Skating is a fun thing to do on ice. The cloud suit is neat... but I don't like the bee suit! Okay, I have history a with these games... time to wrap it up.

    My return to Galaxy 2 has been a mixed bag. Some days are enjoyable, others are nightmarish. I've moved on to Outer Wilds, but I'll keep myself open to returning to this casually. I don't want to get wrapped up in the pressure of getting every star, like I did the first game. I'll stop playing when I stop having fun.

  • June 1 -

    Baba is you is super fascinating. Having the game play be about changing the way the game's logic works can lead to some very cool situations and baffling new types of puzzles. Becoming a wall and moving as an entire building to the goal is an amazing feeling.

    Much of the time it's too baffling. I would spend, what seemed like forever banging my head against each level, until I couldn't stand the thought of returning to it. Sometimes it can be something super simple I didn't think of. after overthinking by trying most convoluted solution with no success. Although, it can be incredibly satisfying when you do find that solution.

    At this point I haven't finished the game, and it's been a while since I've touched it.

  • June 4 - July 2

    Outer Wilds is a transcendent game, and my favorite of the year! A completely open solar system to explore where you have everything you need to beat the game (except knowledge) from the beginning. There's no combat, but a constant sense of danger.

    You acquire this knowledge like an archaeologist by exploring the varied worlds and reading the writings of an ancient race. There's a lot of reading. One of the complaints I have is, I wish it would mark previously found writings. Although there is a case to be made that rereading and entry later in the game, after you have learned more from other worlds, will make more sense.

    I was also very frustrated for long periods of no progress. It's easy to miss information in areas you've explored. I wish there were a tiny bit more clues, but it's a tricky balance to make considering how every player will have different information for most of the game.

    Perhaps the most amazing thing is how deep the rabbit hole goes. There's an incredible amount of variety and creativity to the design of each of the worlds. A lot of thought went into the story of this ancient race and their technology. My fascination with their story and the space they once lived drove me to uncover the next secret.

  • June 27 -

    While playing Blossom Tales makes no attempt to hide that it's very much a Zelda fan letter. That's the reasons I bought it, and Zelda has one of the best formulas in games. But, it draws some unfair comparisons. While playing I would wrestle between how it falls short of a Zelda game and appreciating the things it does differently. Mostly the former.

    The world is large and fairly empty when compared to Zelda, it isn't fun to explore in the same way. The game is full of NPCs and building that look very similar, making it difficult to find where I need to go to return a quest. Dungeons are relatively light on puzzles and very linear.

    I'm not sure if I'll return to it at this point, but I haven't bought a new Switch game yet, so it's very possible.

  • July 4 - 10

    I got lucky with my timing for Xbox Game Pass. Got my $1 month for Outer Wilds, but with the E3 announcement of the Ultimate pass I got another back to back month for $1. I've played a bit of Void Bastard, Sea of Thieves, Metro 2033, Metro Exodus and Observer but not enough for an entry here.

    I did finish Shadow of the Tomb Raider, though. This game was just fine. I really loved the first game in this trilogy for but I wasn't quite as into the second game. Shadow continues a trend of diminishing returns. Unlike the other games, I didn't go back to collect everything, when I was done I was done.

    I enjoyed exploring the world, climbing and solving puzzles, but I don't remember combat being so frustrating in the other games. Maybe I didn't use consumables enough, but Lara would die really fast, enemies came out of no where, weapons were weak and aiming was rough. I found upgrading weapons to be tiresome, but I did it because I had to burn my resources.

    Going in I was interested in this game in particular because I thought it would comment on video game protagonists and the people they kill. Turn the mirror on Lara, maybe she is the bad guy. It does touch on this, and I enjoyed the story, but I hoped they might go harder in this direction.

  • July 22 - 26

    Superhot delivers on its premise, a Matrix simulator. Dodging bullets in slow motion is a blast and it feels great. Except when I'm hit by bullets going off screen and I totally feel like I dodged them.

    There isn't much fat on this gameplay it puts you right in the action. Featuring very compelling situations you're put in the middle of to fight your way out. One of the most satisfying was in an elevator with three people point blank with pistols and, waiting for you when the door opens, two more with a shotgun and machine gun. There was no room to make any mistakes. I had force the enemies to shoot each other and throw a weapon to stun one of the gunmen outside.

    What I wasn't expecting is the story, it has fun with the concept of free will using the game itself as a metaphor.

  • August 3 - 11

    I had no idea what to play next. I was waiting for Wolfenstein Youngblood, but reviews were too luke warm to buy at full price. Xbox game pass was about to expire and I wasn't sure if I should renew it or not. I ultimately decided to buy The Last Guardian and Watchdogs 2 on sale for PS4.

    I bought both ICO and Shadow of Colossus for PS2 years ago, but didn't play much of them. Not the fault of the games, but how I bought the console after its time with too many games at once. I didn't devote a significant amount of time to any of them because I was occupied with WoW and Xbox 360. I never fell into the hype of TLG, not being a fan of those previous games, but they had my respect and wish I gave them more time.

    There's a lot to like about TLG. It's beautiful! The world feels very organic and it full of gorgeous vistas when out in the open. I love how natural the animations look on Trico and the Boy, less so how they feel to play.

    There's some very inventive puzzle solving as you navigate the world with your giant bird-cat-dog. The world is lifeless with very little music and not much in the way of story telling until late in the game. I can respect this choice to a degree, but it wore on me to the point where I didn't play for a few days. It would be more tolerable if the game was shorter.

    My suggestion to improve the game's length is to MAKE TRICO PLAY WELL. He straddles the line between the natural behavior of a poorly trained animal and awful AI, leaning towards the latter. It's not charming watching the beast stare at the place I commanded him to jump to for 15 seconds, then turn away, then look back, then walk in the other direction. Other times he'll jump to a place I gave up on when I'm not riding him.

    I'm glad it's over now.

    That said I'm happy I played to the end. The story takes its time to get going, but the moving relationship between the pair is grows to a powerful conclusion. It has a lot to say about anger and compassion, despite having very little dialogue.

  • August 11 -

    While Watch Dogs 2 has some neat things to say and unique mechanics revolving around technology I can't say it ever hooked me. Playing it with stealth was okay early on. As I entered more difficult eras I found I was increasingly hampered by not having the right upgrades or a powerful lethal weapon. Maybe I could have better utilized the gadgets I had, but I could never get on a handle on how to use them efficiently. Also, I couldn't understand why an enemy would call in reinforcements from the other side of the map at the drop of a hat. I had more fun exploring the city to find upgrades and with side operations than the big combat orientated story missions.

    Watch Dogs 2 is not a bad game, but I was taking long breaks in playing it and felt like I needed to force my self to play. Once I was finished getting completely sidetracked with Donkey Kong 64, a game I was much more excited to play, I gave it one more chance. I struggled, but managed to complete a particularly hard mission. I like the characters, was interested in continuing with the story, and could have explored more of the world. Yet, ultimately I decided I wasn't having enough fun to justify completing the game.

  • August 23 - 30

    Perhaps an unpopular opinion, but I've always liked Donkey Kong 64 more than the Banjo games. In no small part due to the fact that I played it before any other Rare N64 platformer. I've been replaying it lately, inspired by Burgle my Bananas, and there's more to it than that.

    While it shows its age, I have found myself addicted to exploring these handcrafted worlds. I find them much more thematically cohesive than Banjo. You play as a bunch of Apes searching for bananas. I love that the additional characters make the world feel layered. It gives me a reason to want to return to uncover the secrets in every corner.

    The reward comes from exploration. I loose interest in the poorly designed mini-games after trying too many times. I appreciate the variety, but they could benefit from a bit of polish. There are more than enough golden bananas to advance. I put myself through the bug races and slot machine games 20 years ago, I don't need to collect 201 again.

    It can sometimes be tedious due to the abundance of character specific items, but most are not necessary to progress. I found myself getting all the small bananas faster than I anticipated. The scope of these levels aren't like open world games today, an attentive eye will find the majority just by exploring each area. Every space is in service of creating an compelling play space, rather than a realistic world.

    What keeps bringing me back is the thrill of discovery. I need to know what's locked behind that door... or how do I find the room on the other side of this window?

    All that said I got pretty sick of this game at the last couple levels. The mini-games could use a lot of balancing. Mostly they are either incredibly easy or impossibly hard.

    Still... as of writing this I am tentatively stating I'm finished with this game. No promises I won't return to find what few remaining secrets remain.

  • September 2 -

    Sadly Guacamelee 2 never really hooked me. It looks and feels exactly like the game I fell in love with years ago, but I already played that game. I couldn't find the motivation to play through a difficult platformer/brawler when there is so much else out there to play right now.

  • September 5

    I'm excited about Super Nintendo games on the Switch. This format is great for discovering these old games I wouldn't have bought on the Virtual Console on past Nintendo systems.

    I only had a brief and vaguely remembered experience with Star Fox back in the Super Nintendo days. I'm most familiar with Star Fox 64, and it was fascinating to see how much of that DNA existed in the original game.

    I only played through a single path in essentially one sitting, but I think that's enough. The controls are difficult to master and I needed to abuse the new rewind feature to get through it. I'm glad I did, the 3D graphics are still cool. I enjoyed a few of the bosses, although some stink. My favorite level does a great job of capturing the feeling of flying inside the Death Star and blowing up the core.

  • September 14 - 22

    "It's a LONG story, but things ain't been good, John."

    Arthur Morgan says to John Marsden after he frees him from prison. This line of dialogue rang true to me. It has always been at the back of my mind to return to RDR2 and finally complete this game since I abandoned it back in December. I thought I was much closer to completing this slog, however.

    It began as a chore, but I soon realized I was in for the long haul. Not a quick sprint to the end, as expected. As before, I found some joy in side activities like studying animals, stranger missions and exploring the world.

    The story has moments of excellence, but it's bogged down with drawn out shooting sequences against an endless army of badguys. A baffling design choice, considering I'm hard pressed to think of a game with worse shooting. Enemies are difficult to spot, guns take forever to reload, snapping to cover rarely actually covers you from enemy sight, and often putting 3-4 bullets in an assailant's head or neck don't down them.

    Like these outlaws I find myself wondering if any of this was worth it. I was drawn back, driven by pride, to complete my senseless mission. I didn't consider the toll it would take on those I love. Well... now I can say I finally beat a Rockstar game... besides LA Noire.

  • September 21 - October 7

    Link to the Past is one of the all time great games. It wrote the recipe that the following Zelda games would riff on for the next 20 years. Including my, carved in stone, favorite games of all time.

    My first time seeing it was at the older neighbor kid's house. Despite not really getting the NES Zelda games, I thought this one looked especially interesting. They wouldn't let me play and I wouldn't have my chance until I found a SNES cart at a flea market a decade later.

    In that period I fell in love with the Zelda series starting with Ocarina of Time. Link's Awakening was my first 2D Zelda. Not counting the times I played the NES games at friends' houses. It remains my favorite 2D Zelda, and that's the lens I've always seen LttP through. The Game Boy Zelda benefited from lessons learned during the development of its predecessor.

    Technically, this Switch playthrough was my first time finishing LttP. I got 100% except for beating Ganon on the SNES. I've started new games many other times, on the SNES and Wii U, but not necessarily with the intent to complete it. With the release of Link's Awakening and SNES on the Switch, it felt like I was over due for another real go at it. I will get the new Link's Awakening, but the high price is not very enticing at the time of year NEW games are starting to come out.

    Yet there are pros and cons to the ways Zelda has been streamlined over the years. The rules are much less defined in Link to the Past. Secrets are more secret, making exploring both more intriguing and more frustrating. I had to search online to find out one item reveals hidden pathways. There's a complexity and freedom to exploration that was somewhat lost in later games. Warping from the Dark World to the light at any time, even if it's at at akward spot, it'll warp you back to try again.

    On the other hand, some enemy types are just cheap bastards. Very often they don't give you an opening, or and moment of relief. Unless you have the exact right item equipped at the right time you too often can't help but to take the hit. It's more challenging, but sloppy in the way it's handled by today's standards.

    In conclusion, A Link to the Past is a stone cold classic. I love it, and I'm sure I'd love it even more if I had better SNES games at the time. It was a landmark game when it came out, but it's slightly faded when compared to other Zeldas due to how late it came in my personal history.

  • September 22 - 29

    Geese swarm by the dozens in the large grassy school and park fields where I live. This game stars the most cuddly, adorable goose I've ever met. It's for the best because they exchange the endless pellets of bird shit for a bigger brain. They sure got the nuisance down, but this bird is a schemer.

    I had a brief, fun time with Untitled Goose Game. There's great variety in the mischief to get up to by simply moving these poor people's things around. I particularly like the area that pits two neighbors against each other.

  • September 23 - October 2

    The Oldest House is a place with an uncertain dreamlike reality. A world that forces us to question our preconceived notions on what the world really is. An important lesson today as the meta culture breaks down and our own individual communities wage war with each other online. Yet Control doesn't shy away from being fun, pulpy and outright silly. The perfect tone for me.

    Control's world building and story are its greatest strengths. It's full of hundreds of collectible documents, many are fascinating to read and further deepen the fascinating world. I felt the need to read them all, something I don't usually do, but the volume of reading is staggering. It felt like it got in the way of playing the game.

    As a Metroidvania, Control rewards you for exploring its intertwined world. Yet it has one of the most confounding map designs I've ever seen. It was the cause of a lot of wasted time trying to make my way.

    Besides documents the collectibles were materials and upgrades. Incremental stat upgrades that weren't worth the constant inventory management.

    The core of combat is fun for most fights. But it can become chaotic and infuriating. Most of my deaths came suddenly from some unseen enemy striking off screen.

    Overall I enjoyed my time with Control. I fell just short of getting the achievable platinum trophy because I got fed up with the combat.

  • October 2 - 9

    I figured I'd dig through my Steam backlog while I wait for The Outer Worlds rather than buy something new. Hack 'n' Slash has been floating near the top of that list for years. I'm a sucker for Zelda and Double Fine, but I never even launched this game before now. While the concept is genuinely interesting, it didn't look terribly polished or fun to play. I was right on both accounts.

    The ability to hack the properties of any object in the game was facinating to me. It allows for some fun, creative solutions. Like setting a guard's alignment to good, damage crazy high and let him take out the other guards. It's also incredibly easy to break the game by spawning too many objects.

    I was suprised at how deep it gets. See object names and collision boxes with a magic hat is a great way to provide insight to game development in a fantasy setting. I found myself getting frustrated and looking up solutions too often once it got deep into deciphering code. Despite its short playtime, I decided to stop playing. I wasn't far from the end, but I just wasn't enjoying it.

  • October 10-20

    This game, in concept, is my jam. A small, hand crafted island to explore without combat to get in the way of the discoveries. With a cool, charming art style and compelling traversal mechanics. For the most part A Short Hike is successful.

    It reminds me of when I would explore the woods by the ocean as a kid. Only if I could fly! The writing is okay, a little too saccharine for my tastes. It could use more humor like, my favorite moment, when a frog boy builds his own sandcastle city, but looses the mayoral race. The Canadian team puts a little patriotic nods in here and there that I appreciate.

    What kept me from 100%ing this game was a frustrating and rigid camera. It's always pointed at the character, so you can't see where you're going. It was easy to get lost in this game without a map and this camera. It would also automatically make major camera changes while I'm climbing or gliding, throwing me off completely.

    During my second, and final, play session with this game I finished the story and continued to play for a little while to finish selected quests. My total time with the game was 2 hours. I was in a paradoxical position of not wanting to put the game down because I knew I was never going to play it again. It's a good time for it's length, but I'm glad it wasn't any longer.

  • October 17 -

    I loved playing this game as a kid at my friend's house and own the GBA version on Wii U. Like the Wii U version, I started with the intent of completing it, but I've fallen off. I adore the art style and admire the sheer variety of ideas they throw into each level. Yet something about the pacing of the game play makes it feel a bit sluggish and dated. I still may return to it yet once I'm no longer distracted by other games.

  • October 24 - November 9

    Outer Worlds is a fantastic satirical vision of a colonized solar system ruled by bureaucracy. A lot of people are going to go into this game with the assumption that corporations are the bad guys and those standing against them are good. With the exception of one character, people aren't presented as wholly evil. There are shades of grey everywhere.

    It's possible to pick a binary side with each major decision in the game, but there is always the option to compromise. Early on in the game I nearly missed the third choice, but when I discovered it was a revelation. I played the remainder of the game choosing the mutually beneficial solution. Usually it was more work, but it was satisfying knowing I was working towards a better future for the colony. Every group of people, that is, sometimes not every individual could be convinced.

    Playing on normal the combat was trivial, but I was playing for the story and didn't mind. There was fun to be has with the shooting, but the inventory management became a chore. Fortunately it's fairly easy to get around and combat sequences aren't over long and are often avoidable.

    I adored the colourful humor of Outer Worlds. They commit to it. A cleaning robot that dispenses nothing but corporate catchphrases as a full companion character is brilliant. Although my favorite companions were Parvati and Max. One was a timid, self loathing mechanic that you help to find the courage to love. The other was a religious leader on a quest for knowledge and an anger problem that he comes to terms with.

    The religions in Outer Wilds are scientific, but only partially right and ruled by dogma. In keeping with the overall theme. Just like in the real world, we're all just trying to do what we think is best. If we do away with snap judgement and listen to each other we can work towards a better world for us all.

  • November 8 - December 5

    While I've enjoyed each Luigi's Mansion game, this is the best yet. The first felt very brief, but had a solid core. The second game was an improvement, but compared to this latest game, it is less focused. That's fair, because there aren't many games that are so tight structurally as this one. 15 floors, none overstay their welcome.

    Each rethink the game just enough to make the game constantly feel fresh.

    The only time it began to feel a little tedious what due to my own compulsion to vacuum everything up. That's because secrets could be hidden anywhere, the game is packed full of hard to spot puzzles that could reward gold or a coveted gem. Needless to say, I got them all and had a great time searching for them.

    Aiming Luigi's vacuum is a pain, especially during combat. Each boss fight is enough of a challenge to puzzle over solving how to harm them for a while, but not to the extent that I would die too often.

    Luigi's Mansion 3 is a good time, one of the best games I've played this year.

  • November 14 - 22

    A new Star Wars third person action game with metroidvania elements! Of course I was looking forward to Jedi: Fallen Order, no brainer day one perchase. I wasn't anticipating how much Dark Souls DNA it would have. I've played about 20 hours between Dark Souls and Blood Borne. The combat difficulty drove me away, but I've always wanted to return because I love the nonlinear world design. Fallen Order is the perfect balance for me.

    This has the most satisfying world I've explored since Outer Wilds. Like Metroid, it reveals what sections of the map still have secrets to find. This allows for a satisfying checklist feeling to focus exploration and minimize looking for outside help online. But it doesn't hold your hand, it's easy to get lost in these large worlds with one way paths and no fast travel.

    Combat is also very Dark Souls and very Star Wars. It's a blast taking out a standard Stormtrooper with a single slash or by deflecting one blaster bolt right back at them, just like the movies. I never quite got the hang of Parrying and can get frustrated by the animation priority. Still, it was never too much for me to handle at the default difficulty.

    The story is very well told. Very much inspired by the moral complexity of The Last Jedi. Your companions are great, especially the adorable BD-1 droid buddy. As a huge Star Wars nerd I loved constantly customizing my lightsaber each time I got new parts, despite not really paying noticing it during gameplay.

    Unfortunately this game suffers from some technical issues and lack of polish right now. It crashed on me a total of 4 times. 3 of them within 30 minutes of each other. Some puzzles are difficult because they rely on physics, like throwing items with the force and no aiming mechanic. One boss fight was a literal fight with the camera because of the size of the boss. These issues weren't enough to sour me on the game, but I hope they get fixed.

  • November 22 - 25

    I had no intention on playing this game, but when I saw it on sale for 70% off I remembered that people seemed to like this one. I played some of the first game and have always been curious about this series as an animation fan. I sprung for the bundle that included the full remastered series, but thought maybe I could start with the third game. As the best playing in the series I thought it could have been an ideal entry point. I knew these games have a complex backstory, but I thought maybe I could appreciate the Disney worlds on their own.

    After completing the first world I knew I was wrong. The story telling in the Hercules world was shallow, echoing the movie, and still heavily referenced the story of the past games. Outside of the Disney themed worlds they can't go a sentence without referencing an endless number of characters and events I don't know.

    Maybe next year I'll find the time to go back to the first game. There's a flow and spectacle to this game that is intriguing enough. Although, Epic Mickey might be the better Disney fan service game for my tastes.

  • November 25 -

    I felt so rushed to buy Kingdom Hearts III before that sale expired, I didn't realize PSN's Black Friday sale started the next day. I managed to get Resident Evil 2, the game I really wanted, at a 70% discount too.

    Perhaps, unsurprisingly, I fell off pretty hard from this game. I could never get through The first Resident Evil remake, despite my best efforts. This game really doubles down on the survival horror. Enemies are virtually invincible, giving very little reprieve from the relentless tension. The satisfaction for these games, comes from clearing a room and knowing it's safe to explore for the moment, with an allowance for the occasional jump scare. My interest in these games leans far more to the exploration part, rather than the ammo scarcity and unkillable enemies.

    I really intended to come back every time I put this game down, but it became difficult to gather the will to return.

  • December 8 - 24

    Link's Awakening has long been my favorite 2D Zelda. I played the Game Boy Colour version soon after playing Ocarina of Time. I've played it multiple times since on GBC and 3DS. There wasn't any doubt that I was going to play this Switch update, but I wasn't happy with spending $90 (Canadian, after Tax) for this remake of a remake of a Game Boy game.

    The graphics are great. Seeing colorful 3D versions of the sprites I know so well is a wonderful novelty. The hand drawn, cross hatched opening and closing cutscenes are the look I've wanted Zelda to try for years. I wish Nintendo would embrace 2D art more often for their 2D games. Although, I am thankful this homage to the concept/promotional art of the early 90s in this game, even if it's a small part of it.

    The new features are underwhelming. The dungeon maker is okay as far as it takes to get the rewards, but I don't want to play it further and I miss the photo booth. They also give the crane game realistic physics and more items to collect from it. This is good if you like real world crane games, but I sure don't.

    Replaying A Link to the Past earlier this year was a good opportunity to compare the two. ALttP may have been the game that defined the formula that Zelda games would hang their hat on for the next 25 years, but LA streamlined that formula to create the more fun game. Particularly with combat. ALttP has Link bumping into enemies all the time and taking unavoidable damage too often. The trade off is LA feels much more breezy and less substantial than it's SNES predecessor. I felt that way partially because I played the GB game first and more often. Yet, I returned to it so often because it was so easy to play.

  • December 29 -

    I am normally not attracted to strategy/tactics games. Talk about the elegance of Into the Breach's design drew me to it. I heard it described almost like a puzzle game. I picked it up on sale for the Switch along with two other games.

    I've very much enjoyed my short time with it so far. The rounds are brief and I love the simple combat. It has me thinking of ways I could improve as I spend more time with it. Each match is kind of like a game of chess.

    I find it difficult to focus with run based games. I am usually a goal orientated player. With games like this you have to play for a long time for the sake of playing to hone your skill and progress is slow.

    As I type this I've moved on to Ape Out, but I hope return to Into the Breach more in 2020.