Category Archives: video games

Favorite Games of the Decade (2010s)

It’s a new decade, blah, blah, blah.

Like my post about favorite books of the decade, the games list also suffers from the fact that I rarely play games as released. I’m incredibly behind on all the games I have to play, let alone want to play. Wait. Are those different?

My favorite games of the 2010s, be year published!

2010
Pac-Man Championship Edition DX

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What a game. I didn’t grow up in the arcades in the 80s or 90s, but I do love a few arcade classics. Pac-Man, obviously, has always been a lot of fun. However, it wasn’t until I watched a friend stream Pac-Man Championship Edition DX that I realized how fun the game could be.

It’s reminds me of Burnout 3: Takedown in it’s unrelenting speed. It’s like a rave inside a Lite-Brite. It’s pure adrenaline when being chased and taking those turns and it’s all euphoria when the tide turns and start devouring trains of ghosts. It’s one of the few games I’ve ever score chased. It helps that the maze has patterns and systems that are understandable but also quite vicious if you make a mistake. It’s too good not to stand out in the decade.

Runner ups
Alan Wake is the game I would have picked without Pac-Man. It really clicked (ha) with me and I thought the structure, setting and flashlight-based combat were brilliant.
VVVVVV is a little joy of a game that’s all teeth. Starcraft 2 is great, but I haven’t finished it yet. Same goes for Red Dead Redemption. Mass Effect 2 was a lot of fun, but I’m not as in love with that series as others.

2011
Limbo

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I played through Limbo in one sitting, in the dim light of my living room, while my wife napped. It was melancholy, it was dark, it was depressing. But, the need to move forward was there the whole time. The simple, shadowy graphics had personality to spare and they worked to pull out little, eight-legged surprises at the most inopportune time. The puzzles might not have been the hardest, but they left me feeling smarter than I am.

Luckily for my wife, she work up for the last hour of the game and now I have someone to share the burden of the ending with. The last moments left me with questions, but not ones I necessarily need answered.

Runner ups
Indie games with impactful endings were the name of the game in 2011, huh? To The Moon is one of the very few games to ever make me cry. Bastion looked and sounded gorgeous and had very cool, somber ending. The Binding of Isaac should gross me out, but it’s a lot of fun with a cool, Danny Baranowsky soundtrack. Portal 2 was no Portal, but it had some very high moments. Ultimate Marvel vs. Capcom 3 is a seizure of a fighting game at times, but there’s not enough X-Men. And Jurassic Park: The Game would be a biased pick and wasn’t really a game anyway…

2012
XCOM: Enemy Unknown

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A lot of games fighting for this year but no other game became such an obsession to me in this decade like XCOM: Enemy Unknown. I mean, how many times did I lose and then just restart? What games prompted me to choose Iron Man mode so quickly? It was addictive, yes, but unlike League of Legends or Hearthstone, it was fun the whole way through, even when merrily destroying all my hopes of victory.

The gameplay is what kept me coming back, but the world building and atmosphere were wonderful. It’s a universe I could keep exploring and I love that modern take on 50s science fiction throughout. And, goodness, did I let a lot of soldiers with my loved one’s names die. Maybe the sequel has taken most of the replay time from the first, but it’s not an either/or situation. I could go back to this first one, just like Roller Coaster Tycoon, Starcraft or Balder’s Gate, in a heartbeat.

Runner ups
Telltale’s first season of the The Walking Dead is another of the rare games to make me cry at the end. Maybe I’m becoming softer as I get older. Plague Inc. is one I’ve played through on the app and on PC just to relax, which makes me think I need counseling. FTL: Faster Than Light is near-perfect and is probably still my favorite rogue-like. It’s design is wonderful and I own the soundtrack. I wanted to start a new game of Mark of the Ninja as soon as I was done, which is a bit rare for me. It’s also one of the only stealth games I enjoy. Superbrothers: Sword & Sworcery EP was cool and weird, Dishonored was stylish and Spec-Ops: The Line was as interesting as it’s reputation claimed.

2013
Thomas Was Alone

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Thomas Was Alone
is another single-sitting game that grabbed me by the heart and didn’t let go. The puzzles were never too difficult and the story dragged a bit at the end, but it was like an indie science fiction movie in game form. Bouncing around as a square was weirdly satisfying.

And it has to be said how effective Thomas Was Alone is at giving these basic blocks and shapes personalities. It’s almost Pixar-level. The fact that I cared so much for Thomas and his friends, and how upset I was near the end and how excited I was during the credits, says a lot about Mike Bithell’s creation.

Runner ups
Metro: Last Light, and it’s previous title, are games I would have eaten up as a teenager. As it stands now, they’re still well made games with an interesting world to explore. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons didn’t make me cry but it did effect me quite a bit and it’s single player coop structure was interesting more often than frustrating. I liked Batman: Arkham Origins more than Arkham City. And the 2013 Tomb Raider was mostly fun except for when it was tearing Lara up to shreds.

2014
Shovel Knight

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I’ve played a few NES-inspired games, Alwa’s Awakening, The Messenger, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon, Necrosphere, ect. ect. But Shovel Knight does it best. Fully aware that technology and gameplay styles have moved on, Shovel Knight plays like how we remember the original Nintendo. More fun than difficult, more forgiving than relentless. More rewarding than fleeting.

The graphics do things the NES could never have dreamed of but it always looks right perfectly in line with the tone. The level design is great, harking back to the best of 8-bit platformers without ever feeling derivative. And it’s story is charming too, helped along by a pitch-perfect soundtrack.

Runner ups
I think I enjoyed the actual combat and gameplay options of Transistor more than Bastion. Shadows of Mordor was what I had thought the original Assassin’s Creed was supposed to be. Ultra Street Fighter IV is awesome. Wolfenstein: The New Order is a fascinating game, but hits a bit too close to home these days.

2015
Rocket League

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There’s some cynicism to be had with Rocket League and it’s microtransactions. And the fact that I’m not great at it. But, it’s such a pure, arcade concept that, at it’s core, it’s almost the truest concept of video games. It’s soccer with race cars, what else do you need?

It feels like that very concept would have been right at home on the NES, with the Super Dodge Balls and the Punch-Outs. It helps that the matches go by quick, that my skill really seems hindered by my time with it and the more I play it, the better I get and the more fun it becomes. It’s never a slog, it’s always colorful and it’s just a hilariously high-octane game.

Runner ups
Ori and Blind Forest would be the more traditional winner this year. And it was gorgeous and exciting. Crypt of the Necrodancer is a lot of fun but I suck at it. I was addicted to the campaign of  Prison Architect but haven’t returned to it much after. And SOMA has an ending that will stick with me until the day I die.

2016
DOOM

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Oh, DOOM. What a beast. I don’t love gore and overly brutal violence…I used to be able to say. No matter how many times I was horrified by DOOM‘s glory kills, I still laughed like a maniac after every one and went on to the next as quickly as I could. I’ve spent so many years ducking behind corners and crouched behind various forms of cover, I had forgotten the pure joy of running circles around an enemy, unloading clip after clip, until he was dead in a glorious mess of guts and health drops. And that beautiful double jump made me feel like Mario with a chainsaw.

I never once was bored with DOOM and I wanted to start it all over again as soon the credits rolled. This game is so shark-like in it’s focus to keep moving, to keep feeding, it can’t help but become the new apex predator of first person shooters.

Runner ups
Firewatch was as good as it was probably because it was as short as it was. For pure Dungeons and Dragons brutality, Darkest Dungeon is a game I feel surprisingly competent at…until a complete party wipe. Stardew Valley sort of wrecked me as a person. Overcoocked is another little game that knows what it wants and how to get it. Part of me also wanted to give the award to XCOM 2, but, as good as it is, it didn’t have the same effect the first game had on me. And, if this was an award for most time spent with, Civilization VI would take home the gold.

2017
Nioh

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I haven’t played Dark Souls or any game by From Software, but I doubt I’ll enjoy them as much as Nioh. It’s not just that the game is brutal and mean, it’s that it’s big and dumb as well. It’s all the messy samurai films we love, with a dash of Onimusha and a whole lost of dodging.

It might be more style over substance in some places, but I do so love the style. It wasn’t a short game, it took me quite a while to play through the main campaign. But, I always looked forward to starting up a new session. The heartbreaks of losing all your orbs can be too much to bear, but that’s why we fall. So we can learn to pick ourselves back up again and kill a whole bunch of demons until we have all their orbs.

Runner ups
Another Souls-like game, Hollow Knight which has one heck of an oppressive atmosphere that became a bit to claustrophobic as I went on. Other runner ups to the runner ups are Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, for being the first Mario Kart since Double Dash that I’ve enjoyed and Alwa’s Awakening for that last dungeon.

2018
Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon

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I sort of hate giving Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon the win because I already gave it to Shovel Knight and the do a similar thing. They both recreate the 8-bit NES games of my youth, but how I remember them as opposed to the brutal reality of it all.

And, yet, Bloodstained: Curse of the Moon is a different game with different goals. The character switching is fun and adds a new dynamic to each level. The bosses are annoying and I am filled with a justified rage when I destroy them. The music is sweeping and romantic in it’s chiptune purity. It’s more of an adrenaline rush than Shovel Knight and I was so addicted to those endorphins that I started the higher difficulty immediately after finishing the first playthrough.

Runner ups
I didn’t think you could update the real time strategy genre until Northgard brought in 4X-elements and slowed things down a bit. Leaving early access and officially coming out in 2018 was Dead Cells, which is great and one I’m going to be playing for a while. And, like Civilization VI, Jurassic World: Evolution gets and award for time played. But, again, I’m biased.

2019
So, this is what I mean by behind the times. I didn’t play a single game that was released in 2019. And, even knowing myself, I’m a little shocked. No indie games, no quick little arcade titles. I didn’t play anything!

And there’s so much I want to play! Outer Worlds, Outer Wilds, Disco Elysium, Control, Star Wars: Fallen Order, Fire Emblem: Three Houses, Void Bastards, A Plague Tale: Innocence, Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night, there’s so many…

OH WAIT! Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark officially came out in 2019! I played that! Hey! It wins by default!

2019
Fell Seal: Arbiter’s Mark

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Also, I replayed The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past this year. Any year that game is played it’s the best of the year.

 

Let’s Play – Dead Space

dead-space-gen-packartDead Space, both the first game and the series as a whole, is one I figured I would ignore forever. I don’t love horror, especially horror based on gore and gross monster designs. I prefer creepiness without the gore. But, for five dollars, and a better understanding that the games might be pretty good, I decided to try out the first entry.

I still wasn’t thrilled with the body horror, especially…the babies. However, it wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be. Most things are enshrouded in shadow and I was so busy shooting anything that jumped out at me, I didn’t have too much time to get grossed out. It still happened, mind you, but I made it out alive.

One thing I learned is that people have strong feelings about these games. I met fans of the series, of the lore and backstory. It almost seems like a modern Doom to some people, though the gameplay is nothing like that series in terms of speed and action. I doubt my own experience will ever go past the games, but it’s interesting to hear from the other side.

The weapons are interesting and definitely unique. Of course, I found two that I tend to stick with throughout the game. There’s little in the way of ammo, though, which I’m not a fan of. I get the suspense that supposed to come with that, but I’d prefer to have the ability to defend myself. My skills at these games are a handicap enough!

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Unlearning the head-shot is tricky. I know it should do the most damage, but in Dead Space, you’re supposed to remove the limbs of the monsters. Suddenly, I’m aiming for arms to stop attacks, legs to slow them down, the head is the least of my worries. One thing I did appreciate is how scary the boss fights were. Either they were massive or just plain vicious. Plus, there was often a creative way to take them out, such as freezing them where they stand.

So, despite my misgivings, I will be playing the second game at some point. I hear it’s more action over frights, and that might be better for my tastes. Give me ammo and targets, I’ll do the rest!

Poorly.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Let’s Play – Batman: Arkham Origins

9d324ebc4ac8201e609b33c3325d8134-batman-arkham-asylum-batman-arkham-originsBatman: Arkham Origins was a pleasant surprise. I had heard mixed things about the game, especially since it was made by a different developer. Some critiqued how scaled down it felt from Batman: Arkham City or the lack of marquee villains, like the Scarecrow or Poison Ivy. What I found, instead, is a game that was closer to what I liked about Batman: Arkham Asylum, both is size and tone.

Arkham Asylum had a focused story with a dark atmosphere, that also made the player feel claustrophobic. Batman wasn’t trapped per se, but he had to go deeper into the worst place in the world, sort of like the aggressively lonely catacombs found in Tomb Raider Anniversary. With it’s mixture of eclectic villains, crumbling architecture and plot twists, Arkham Asylum had all the makings of a classic Batman story,  in any medium.

batman-arkham-origins-nvidia-physx-comparison-2-offI found Batman: Arkham City to be bloated and nowhere near as intriguing as the first game and I thought I was done with the series. But, Arkham Origins brought the scale back and refocused the story, with villains that work well in the same plot. The smaller scale of Gotham City means less flapping around with no purpose. The streets themselves are emptier than in Arkham City, but the game is set during Christmas Eve and it helps contribute to the feeling of being alone on the holiday. In fact, I played it over the Christmas season for that reason, as the snow and frequent use of Christmas tunes makes this game one of the best holiday titles out there. Combine this with Batman Returns and you have a pretty great Christmas lined up!

The stealth, gadgets and combat all function as they have in previous games. Detective mode is a bit dull, as it has been throughout the series. But all the different gameplay elements work together to make something easy to play and enjoy. I’m not great at big fights in the game, but I can feel great with the mechanics. And, I’m left to wonder why Batman doesn’t have those electric gloves all the time.

2236806-gsm_169_bao_deathschallenge_092513_320I know not everyone enjoyed this entry in the series, but I found it to be my second favorite of the three I’ve played. It has real boss fights against villains I was happy to see, such as Firefly, Deathstroke and Deadshot. Heck, this game even reminded me of why Bane is such a great foe for Batman, as the character and his troupes are accurately translated from the comics, much better than in The Dark Knight Rises. Plus, I’m a big sucker for a strong Batman/Joker conversation.

In fact, I enjoyed this prequel so much, I finally purchased Batman: Arkham Knight, a title I have been avoiding due to my lackluster response to Arkham City and the PC port in general. We’ll see how that fares to my disdain of large open worlds, as Arkham Origins reminds me of how much I prefer focused, story driven games. And the viewers that stopped by all seemed to have a soft spot for this title, many of them feeling this game get’s underrated. I’m right there with them now.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – Blood of Elves

blood-of-elves-coverI skipped reviewing Sword of Destiny for a few reasons. First, it’s similar to The Last Wish and everything I said about that book still stands for the sequel. It’s still a collection of short stories that are a bit more structured than the first book, in that each short story revolves around Yennifer in some way or another. The second reason I didn’t give that book a full review is because I went straight into the Blood of Elves. It was late and I finished Sword of Destiny and, without sleeping or taking a break, I opened the first chapter of the next book.

Besides the fact that the previous books were great reads, I was also curious as to how Andrzej Sapkowski would do writing The Witcher books in novel form. The character of Geralt works well in short form, with his different adventures and meeting new people around Sapkowski’s well-thought out world.

What I found is that Sapkowski didn’t change format entirely. Blood of Elves is a novel, yes, but the chapters are written akin to his short stories, with time gaps between them and not much thematically shared. Doing so allows for longer, more intimate looks into the world and Geralt, but it doesn’t create a strong continuing narrative or sense of plot. In fact, having read it all, I’m still not entirely sure where it was all going other than some people are after Geralt’s adopted daughter, Ciri.

In some ways, tries to be both a collection and a novel and both formats suffer for it. Without the connective tissue between chapters, it comes across as if the reader has missed key information between them. Without the varying adventures, the single plot thread shows it’s weakness. While I was hooked at the opening chapter with Dandelion and the training of Ciri, the book lost me quickly after that.

The previous books were interesting because of their world building, yes, but it was also how Sapkowski took classic fairy tales and myths and played around with them. The world is interesting and well-realized, but switching gears to focus on the political side of things doesn’t make for the most entertaining read.

The time we spend with Ciri and her training is great, but that’s because it’s focused and dabbles in that monster hunter lore. I wanted to see more of Geralt and Ciri together, training and going on adventures. That’s not what I got and I wasn’t convinced that what I was reading was necessarily better than that, either. I’m glad I read the previous books, because Blood of Elves relies heavily on the character connections that were introduced and explored beforehand. Alone, I don’t know if I would have liked the book much at all.

I will be reading the rest of these books, but the steam I had has been lost for the moment.

Let’s Play – 2008’s Prince of Persia

163880-prince-of-persia-windows-front-cover2008’s Prince of Persia is no Sands of Time, but, despite that grievous flaw, it’s still a fun game.

I know it has simple controls compared to previous games and that it doesn’t require the amount of “skill” some might desire, but, that doesn’t stop it from being enjoyable. Wall running, leaping, sliding and climbing are all solid and the character animations make everything seem smooth. It’s more of a ride than a full-blown game, but it’s quite the ride. Elika is a nice contribution to this game. I like her character and her powers make for some interesting free-running and a good excuse for the no “lives” system.

The graphics, by the way, are so, so pretty. The cel-shaded style allows for crisp colors and well drawn environments. One of the first things I did when I started playing was just stop and take in how beautiful the world looks inside this game. I just wanted to drink it all in. Then, to my surprise, the whole world falls to darkness and is corrupted with goo that looks like Venom in symbiote form.

970804-princeofpersia2008_12_ydccIt’s satisfying to go to new lands, battle the corruption and clean it out. Watching everything return to color and sunlight makes the game have a sense of progress, something I haven’t seen since Metroid Prime. It was calming to run around a cleansed level and collect orbs. Really, the game is fun to play because it’s so nice to look at.

And then, as the game goes on, you stop needing orbs. Once you don’t need orbs, you don’t need to spend time in cleansed areas and you go straight to another corrupted area and soon you realize the game has become less of a graphical joy and, somehow, less fun to play.

The final boss is exciting, the ending is frustrating and I never had a chance to play the DLC epilogue because it was never released for PC. I enjoyed my time with the game, think it’s worth checking out, but probably won’t come back to it, especially with Sands of Time out there.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Let’s Play – Star Wars: Republic Commando

mv5bzjnjntg4mjetytq1ms00zmfilwjlotktodhlzjqyngnjmde4xkeyxkfqcgdeqxvymzyyodu2ntu-_v1_Star Wars: Republic Commando is often mentioned as a game that never received the sequel it deserved. But, perhaps, it’s not played often enough for people to understand, “Oh, right, it’s not that fantastic anyway.”

For one, it’s a short game. It took me three sessions to complete it and that’s mainly due to the fact that I’m no good at games. Also, as is often the case, I thought I had less time left, and by the time I realized that wasn’t the case, I was too close to the actual end to quit.

It’s short because there isn’t a lot of variety. Enemies repeat so often that you forget in you’re in a diverse galaxy like Star Wars. There’s a total of three campaign maps, which don’t have that much to look at as you go along. The middle chapter is on a enemy ship and the corridors all start to look the same. There’s enough mechanics in the combat and travel to keep things interesting, but it’s not a deep game in terms of assets.

screenshot11I’ve been reading a lot of retroactive reviews with people commenting that this is a very Star Wars-ian video game, that benefits from having little to do with Star Wars in general. I’d disagree with them, as I found the lack of connection to films to exemplify the mediocre shooter. Combat-wise, it’s solid. But, again, the lack of variety kept me from getting fully engaged. It’s also surprisingly difficult, which is a positive or negative depending on who’s playing. For myself, I’m not great at shooters anymore, but this came across as cheap a few times. Those Geonosians with laser staffs are terrible and ruin any level.

Also, the heck is up with all the teases? How is General Grievous not the final confrontation in this game? The whole last campaign is sightings of the guy and mentions that he’s on his way and the last moments are just blasting a ship with a turret. Anti-climatic almost seems too kind. The game just ends, with a cliffhanger that comes across more as if the developers just  ran out of time. I don’t know what that story is, but there’s not much of one in the game.

106104-star-wars-republic-commando-windows-screenshot-wookies-areWhile streaming, I did meet some people that like this game or just wanted to talk about Star Wars, but not as many as I thought. It seems like this title has a decent reputation but, even with The Last Jedi out, I was the only one streaming this game. I suppose most people were sticking with Battlefront or Knights of the Old Republic. Strange, because this game always shows up on “Best Star Wars Game” lists.

I should say, on the positive side of things, this game does have likable personalities in it’s Commandos. Each of the squad members that make up the team are limited in depth, but have lines of dialog and skills that keep them interesting. Even the leader, the character you play as in the game, has enough personality to want to stick with him for awhile. Just, maybe not the whole game.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Let’s Play – Dragon Age: Origins

dnuk-ryvqae_y_fIt’s been a while since the last Let’s Play post. You know why? Because Dragon Age: Origins is a freaking long game, without any DLC or Awakening expansions. I can’t remember the man I was before I started playing this game.

This game is up there with The Legend of Heroes: Trails in the Sky as one of the longest games I’ve streamed. And I didn’t even love it! I liked it, for sure. I wouldn’t have kept coming back to it if I didn’t like it. Well, maybe I would have. That’s what streaming games does to me! I have to finish games, even if I don’t love them. I can’t let people think I’m a quitter!

Actually, unrelated to the game, but I’m not sure how much gaming I’d do these days if I wasn’t streaming them on Twitch. I played plenty of games offline but it was less consistent and I would be off and on with it. Now, I stream because it helps me sleep better at night afterwards and because I get to be “on” and scratch some creative itches.

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It definitely helps with a game like Dragon Age: Origins. Games this long can get monotonous if not for the regular AND random visitors who stop by and liven up the room. When I was making my through the Deep Roads in Orzammar, their length and repetitiveness were starting to melt my brain but then someone would start talking to me just at the right time. They saved my life!

And, as Murphy’s Law would have it, I received my first raid! While turning in quests! And leveling up! Nothing like reading over skills and checking my journal as the viewers come pouring in from another streamer!

Back to game.

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I wasn’t absorbed into the world of Dragon Age: Origins like I had been in other Bioware games. This wasn’t like Baldur’s Gate, which I was obsessed with  while at and away from the computer. I found the art design to be rather ugly and not in a purposeful way. Sure, it’s a beat up world, but I was never interested in the aesthetics. It was nice to get to the forest with the elves and werewolves, because it added some much needed color to the experience, but even the designs in that area left me wanting.

The story didn’t do it for me either, not like Knights of the Old Republic or Mass Effect. I liked the characters and they ended up being my favorite part of the game. I liked just spending time in camp and talking to them, trying to get Sten to like me or woo the witchy Morrigan. I don’t know if that makes for exciting streaming, but it was when I was having a more pleasant time. I didn’t find myself attached to my character the way I have before in these types of games. I chose to play as a Noble Dwarf Warrior and my origin was entertaining for a while. But, outside in the wild, I never connected with him. I don’t know if it was the choices presented, or how much of the story was focused on the NPCS, but it never felt like my story.

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I need to do a separate Bioware post sometime, because their older games really have affect me as a gamer. That might be why I was disappointed with Dragon Age: Origins. I had originally thought it looked like a bland version of Baldur’s Gate and, after playing I felt justified in that fear. A lack of loot, a world that felt small and art style I found unappealing kept me mostly liking the game but never falling in love with it.

I doubt I’ll check out the Awakening expansion or the sequels. Once again, Bioware had strong world building on display, but I didn’t care much for the world itself. The history and ways of the Grey Wardens were intriguing, but, of course, the main character ends up being the last of them, so that doesn’t go very far. I enjoyed streaming this game, but I don’t know how much fun I had playing the game.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – The Last Wish

51ehtkvll5l-_sx336_bo1204203200_I had planned on playing The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt without going through the first two games. That proved to be too much for my completist heart, so I grabbed those games cheap on Steam. But, then, surprising myself, I found I couldn’t even start the games until I read the books. I don’t know why, this would have never happened when I was younger.

Here I am, then, reviewing The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski. A collection of short stories that was originally published in 1993, the book tells of the many adventures of Geralt, a Witcher. Witchers are hired to deal with monsters, though the public doesn’t love them. They’re a necessary evil and that makes someone like Geralt an outsider.

Each story tells of a different experience Geralt has dealing with either monster or man. Some of the stories are dark twists on classic fairy tales, such as The Beauty and the Beast. While that might cause eye rolling normally, as the “fairy tale but…” genre is running on fumes, it actually comes across fresh in this collection, even while being twenty years old.

What makes this book so readable is that Geralt is a fascinating character. Yes, there’s that classic lone wolf element about him, but he has more depth than just being gruff. In the few stories that make up The Last Wish, we see the Witcher as pragmatic, selfish, angry, compassionate, melancholy and vicious. He’s not a closed off tough guy, even though he has a thick skin. His friendship with Dandelion is actually rather touching, as it doesn’t appear Geralt gets anything out of it other than companionship.

The style of short story works well for The Witcher, as he goes from job to job. In a collection, we get to see the different types of monsters Geralt deals with, as well as the different lands he travels across. I’m interested to see how the style changes when I get to the full novels. It also makes sense that the Witcher was turned into a video game, as it seems ripe for side-quests.

The translation of these stories does a great job. The writing comes across relatively modern and I’m not sure how much of that is the original text. I never found the book to be dense, though sometimes the action could go on for a little too long. Maybe that’s why some people like reading these books, but I tend to find sword and magic combat to be a dull read. I was much more interested in the stories surrounding the world or the lives of the monsters Geralt is sent to hunt. Even the politics are interesting, mainly because each region and member of royalty acts different and unique.

I think, even if you had no interest in reading a new series, or playing the video games, that The Last Wish is easily recommendable. The frame story is self-contained, the tales throughout are quick reads and entertaining. On my own end, I’ve already bought the second anthology and plan on reading the main series. After reading this book, I think you might follow suit.

Let’s Play – Tomb Raider: Anniversary

tomb-raider-anniversary1After SOMA, I needed something easy going for my next game. What happens, you see, is that after I play a big, modern game with an emotional wrenching story with limited game play options I tend to need something that’s more traditional. I need a jump button. The power of a jump button should not be dismissed.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary has a jump button. But also a grappling hook. And nerve-wracking swimming. And unlimited bullets. It’s a reskin/reimaging of the first Tomb Raider game, which is a game I never played. I did, however, play Tomb Raider: Legend, which was a beauty of platforming when it was released. Anniversary uses that engine, though it’s never as pretty or impressive as that reboot.

Anyway, Anniversary! Is it fun? Sometimes! Other times, boy, is it frustrating. It can be buggy, which means that my live stream was sometimes me looking at my phone for tech help. That bit where the game wouldn’t register Laura grabbing the ledge high above a death fall until I switched the V-synch? Yeesh. But, other times, it’s darn impressive with it’s platforming. It made me want to play more games like that, not the collect-o-thons that Mario 64 wrought upon us.

Even though I didn’t play the early Laura Croft games, it made me nostalgic for games of old. It reminded me that I miss the days of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time or Maximo: Ghosts to Glory. Luckily, I still have Tomb Raider: Underworld, which I’m looking forward to after the slightly archaic nature of Anniversary. Glad I played it, met some viewers who had good feelings about the series and it delivered on the “game” sensibilities I needed after SOMA.

You can find this stream and other videos here or watch live at my Twitch channel!

Book Review – Console Wars

18505802Books on the history of gaming are culturally important to my own life. Genealogically, I’m a mutt with little foundation. My family and myself have no real traditions or history we share beyond our own generation or two. I’m Italian but I don’t have a a deep identity in it. But, as a gamer, I have a history, music, traditions and my own self-perception is very much rooted in tabletop and video games.

When I read a book like Console Wars, it’s partly me accepting that this culture is bigger than myself and there’s elements to learn about. I felt that connection when reading Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, that this part of my life has been going on for longer than I’ve been around and there’s names and history that are important to it all.

Blake J. Harris’ Console Wars taps into that, except this was a history I experienced. Harris follows the war between Nintendo and Sega; how Sega fought for and won it’s place in the market and how Nintendo fought back. Both companies make mistakes along the way, sealing certain fates for themselves.

One factor that makes this book fascinating is it’s focus on the differences between the Japanese and American sides of each company. While Nintendo was more focused on having like-minds, Sega was much more divided. Sega of Japan rarely agreed with SOA and these arguments and differences would prove to be the companies downfall. Even with Sega earning it’s place in the market, it’s lack of strong leadership would have it go on to follow the success of the Genesis with multiple consoles with little individual identity.

Nintendo, on the other hand, had a direct and strong hand when it came to it’s leadership. So much so that some employees began to chafe against the lack of freedom. Whereas Sega of America was throwing everything against the wall to see what stuck, Nintendo was nailing their decisions to the plaster, even as the wall was crumbling to the floor. The desire to avoid direct competition due to tradition and lack of respect for it’s rivals led Nintendo to lose a few loyal employees, but also to the creation of Donkey Kong Country and Rare’s rise as a second party. It also was responsible for the Super Mario Bros. movie and stabbing Sony in the back when it came to CD technology, so not all good things.

The book is written in prose, using the facts and history to tell more of story than real life might have been. The dialog is where this technique is a hit-or-miss, but the rest of the book is a compelling read, with great insights into the two companies and their respective employees. This style might not be for everyone, but if you’ve read the aforementioned Empire of Imagination or Masters of Doom, you’ll be right at home. This isn’t the text book tome that was David Sheff’s excellent Game Over, it’s edutainment and a turn pager.

Reading about Sega’s marketing plans, Nintendo’s resistance to fire back, Sony’s frustrations with entering the market and the whole industries growth is highly entertaining. There’s a lot of egos on display and hindsight gives the reader a one-up on the players in this book. The most frustrating part of this book, for myself, is that it ends just as things are getting really juicy. The Sony Playstation has just entered the market, Nintendo is about to release their 64-bit console and we all know what happened to Sega soon after. I wanted an account of the next war, of the Sega Dreamcast and Microsoft getting ready to enter the fray.

But Console Wars is a dense book as it is and I’m sure someone is preparing a book on the stage that followed. If you’re interested in the history of video games, Japanese business practices, the thought process of marketing, 90s culture and the whole Sega vs. Nintendo fight, I highly recommend this book. You might have to get past any hangups over the style of writing, but, once you do, you’ll find this to be a great resource.