Turn Based: Random Probability Genre

Hello all. This is a bit of an experimental article, so bear with me. While having a random argument online, SNES Master KI and I actually ended up being really intrigued with the topic and decided to use it as a basis for a new series of articles, written collaboratively through an online conversation. This isn’t exactly the first time I used this style of format, but this one was far more casual than my previous attempts. – Professor Icepick

Professor Icepick: The reason I believe that turn-based RPGs are luck-based is simple: many of the game mechanics themselves rely on random number generation. The amount of damage, the hit rate, the ability to dodge, all of these elements are often tied to random numbers, which while they take static statistics into account still comprise the majority of the gameplay. The player cannot willfully manipulate these elements in order to dodge an attack or do more damage at will, they are held to the whims of the machine itself.

SNES Master KI: Those elements are to some degree luck based, but they only affect a small percentage of the actual outcome.  A fight has to be extremely close in order for a critical hit or miss to determine the winner, preparing for this is part of the process in single player games.  Luck isn’t any more of a determining factor than it is in action games where enemy AIs aren’t 100% scripted.

Furthermore, in multiplayer turn based games (where battles being close is preferred) risk assessment is a vital part of the strategy involved, and plays into the mind games that are a large part of the experience.  Just like playing poker well is a skill despite the huge luck element, accounting for the random possibilities is part of the preparation and strategy in a turn based competitive game.

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Icepick: I like that you brought up the existence of multiplayer RPGs to help your argument. While most of these battles are generally only considered fair when character level is close, this seems to favor strategy over skill. In video games, skill is generally considered the great equalizer. After all, beating Symphony of the Night at max level isn’t impressive, but doing so with as low of a level as possible definitely is. In video games, skill is generally associated with deliberate instantaneous movement. Ideal planning is generally associated with “strategy”: important but separate from skill.

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KI: I would consider strategy to be a part of skill, I would define skill as anything under the player’s control.  Strategy is the core skill in a turn based game, and is still a part of the skill used in real time games.  Although it has to be done much faster, thinking several jumps ahead in a platformer is strategy and a vital part of the skill needed to play them.

Strategy and preparation aren’t the same element, if you gave someone who didn’t know anything about the Pokémon meta-game a tournament winning team, they would still lose spectacularly to an experienced player.  Preparation is what you do before the battle, strategy is what you do during it.

Icepick: Perhaps, but I think we can both acknowledge that there is a difference in what is considered an achievement in single-player and multiplayer games. Within the realm of single-player, there are three categories that are most commonly considered when discussing mastery of a game: the speed run, the no-death run and its more extreme counterpart, the no-hit run. While speedrunning is technically possible in single-player turn-based RPGs, there are no strategies that can absolutely guarantee a no-death run, let alone a no-hit run.

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Of course, there are exceptions.

There are far too many random variables involved in order to certainly, with a small measure of doubt, avoid taking damage throughout the entire game. This is especially prominent when we take random battles, a fairly common gameplay element in the sub-genre, into account. Matters are only exacerbated when random battles come with specific conditions — take for example, the “back attack”, where the player’s party is assaulted from behind by a random assortment of monsters. Again, I must ask, when so many elements of the gameplay are reliant on events that are literally random, skill, as it is traditionally classified when discussing video games, is substantially less prominent in the traditional JRPG than they are in pretty much any other genre.

KI: While no hit runs in most turn based games aren’t practical, they do have an equivalent.  Level 1 runs of turn based JRPGs are a common mastery goal, and through strategy and full understanding of the battle system they are usually possible.  Luck may mess up some attempts, but there is still immense strategy and preparation required.  Dealing with the luck element is just an added layer of risk management.

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As for no hit runs being impossible, that isn’t about luck.  Turn based games are designed around the idea that both sides get turns aside from massively one-sided battles where one side wins in a single turn.  There’s no luck aspect there, the player knows enemies will get to attack going in.

Icepick: Perhaps, however, if I may use a different genre as an example. In the early days of implementing online play into fighting games, many developers would attempt to handle input lag the same way they did in other genres: simply slowing down the game itself in order to allow the information to catch up. Later, rollback netcode – a method that involved “rolling back” the game’s status to the last time both players were in sync – was utilized to much greater effect. Unfortunately, both methods have one major flaw: at times, players often take one action, assuming that they are correctly in sync with their opponent, while in reality, they are out of sync and rolling back an allow their opponent to capitalize on their unwittingly bad decision. When faced with poor connections, players are often forced to make poor decisions due to a lack of information, effectively causing a change in strategizing within the game itself.

This same problem is generally the case in turn-based RPGs, meaning that players generally fight with both their literal opponents, but also the game’s mechanics in general. Maybe you have a perfect attack lined up to defeat your opponent, but you randomly miss. Then your opponent strikes back with a hit you could normally survive easily, but they score a critical hit on you, killing you in a single hit. You might argue that the way to avoid such a scenario would be to create a substantial advantage over future opponents by grinding to a much higher level, but in reality, that’s more of a timesink than proper strategy. If powerlevelling can be considered skill, then what about using cheat codes or paying microtransactions?

KI: Fighting games are built around quick and immediate reactions, while using prediction to counter lag could technically be considered a skill, it is one antithetical to the genre in question, which isn’t the case in turn based games.  Similarly to how fighting game style jumping would ruin a platformer, but is not a flaw in fighting games.

The issue with cheat codes and microtransactions is that they break the game’s balance or give one player an unfair advantage.  Paying for microtransaction style benefits with in-game currency or choosing skills from a skill tree that resemble cheat codes are considered completely legitimate.  The scenario where the luck based mechanic hands the battle to one player is unfortunate, but the ideal counter to it isn’t power leveling in a multiplayer game, it’s having better strategy and risk calculation to avoid such a scenario.  There are scenarios in other genres where an extremely close match essentially comes down to luck, such as two players searching for each other and hoping to spot their opponent first in an FPS or trying to predict what rock paper scissors style attack your opponent will use in a fighting game, they just aren’t as prominent because they happen so quickly.

Icepick: The difference between those instances of luck is that they are more dependent on things that were consciously manipulated by the players in the first place. Returning to fighting games, many fighting games’ metagames revolve around “tier lists” – effectively comparing the chances one character has over beating another one, with all other things being equal. Yet, this is not an exact science: many upset victories have been achieved by players who chose characters that logically had no chance against their opponent’s choice. Meanwhile, even in multiplayer RPGs, the ability to perform well generally comes down to character stats, elements that are generally set in stone before any competition even begins. While upset victories are also possible in these scenarios, even these can generally be traced back to specific choices made in preparation of the match.

This is also prominent in the JRPG’s ancestor: the pen-and-paper RPG. Stats are determined before the scenario even begins and dice rolls – literally considered one of the most basic elements of a game of chance – are used to fully determine the success or failure of the player’s actions. This is no different from the traditional JRPG: predetermined stats and abilities, complimented with a random number generator acting as a digital stand-in for a dice roll.

KI: Creating your team/characters is something in the players control, hence why I described it as preparation and strategy.  The dice roll is a luck element, but I contend that it is only part of the experience and strategy is still vital and the deciding factor the vast majority of the time.  Overcoming bad preparation is harder in a turn based game, but that’s fully intentional, since preparation is part of the game while a fighting game is working towards the ideal of every character choice being equal (even if that never happens in practice).

Icepick: In the end, turn-based RPGs often rely upon preparation, strategy and luck. There is nothing that relies upon instantaneous feedback in the traditional iterations of the genre. As such, I can’t really say they rely on skill, as from the origins of video games themselves, skill has generally been associated with a combination of quick reflexes and the knowledge of what needs to be done in order to succeed. While RPGs often employ the latter, there are only rare instances where the former are even remotely relevant.

KI: I still define skill as anything in the player’s control.  Turn-based RPGs don’t require every skill type found in other genres, but there are skill types they greatly surpass most other genres in (preparation).  I think this mainly comes down to a difference of opinion on the definition of the word skill as it applies to video games, so there isn’t really anything left to argue about unless we get into a definition battle, and no one wants to see that, at least a civil one.


So, in the end, we just essentially decided to agree to disagree. Who do you think was right: does beating a turn-based RPG rely on luck or is there skill behind it? Sound off in the comments section below. – Icepick

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Retrospective: Tekken

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Logo remastered by RingoStarr39

If Double Dragon II, Mega Man 2, Contra and Sonic the Hedgehog got me interested in video games in general, then the fighting game explosion of the 1990s cemented that interest into love. Street Fighter – specifically Street Fighter II – seems like the perfect game to do a retrospective on with regards to this genre: it’s currently celebrating its 30th anniversary, Street Fighter II led to the genre’s explosion decades ago and Street Fighter IV led to the mainstream resurgence we’re enjoying to this day. The problem with discussing Street Fighter is not only has it been done to death, but there are far too many iterations of the various games, to the extent where it becomes difficult to discern what’s a revision, what’s an expansion and what’s a sequel in many cases. It doesn’t help that, bare minimum, you’re dealing with at least 3 different flavors of gameplay, possibly even more depending on who you ask.

So where does that leave us? I kind of fell out of Mortal Kombat between its original foray into 3D and the spectacular reboot. There are way too many games in the King of Fighters franchise to write a coherent article on. I’m barely versed in Guilty Gear and Blazblue’s story can be a little incoherent at times. Why not Tekken? What Street Fighter II did for me with 2D fighters, Tekken 2 did for me with their 3D counterparts. Since then, I’ve been a fan of the series: I even owned a VHS tape of “Tekken: The Motion Picture”, a movie that butchered the story of the first 2 games not unlike Mortal Kombat’s first live-action film. As such, I’m fairly well versed with the franchise in general, though admitted I’ve had my peaks and valleys when it comes to the series. Best of all, the latest game in the series – Tekken 7 – is set to hit Western shores via console today. As a bonus, Tekken will be releasing on PC (via Steam) for the first time ever with its latest entry. So, let’s look back on how we got here and delve into the grand history of the King of Iron Fist Tournament. I’ll be sticking with the mainline entries in the series: don’t expect anything on ports, spinoffs or the movies, live-action or otherwise – not even the free-to-play Tekken Revolution, which has been taken down in preparation for T7’s release. Those fall outside of my field of expertise and for the most part, the Tekken fanbase would rather disavow their existence anyway.

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Rising Fun: Dawn for Japanese Games

The second half of the 80s and entirety of the 90s were a golden age for Japanese games.  From the moment Super Mario Bros. revived the American console industry, Japanese games absolutely dominated consoles.  While there were some exceptions, the vast, vast majority of good console games came from Japan during the third, fourth, and fifth generations.  Even the most prominent exceptions were made by western developers that were working with Japanese companies: Naughty Dog, Insomniac, and of course Rare.  Things started to change in the sixth generation, games like Halo, Grand Theft Auto 3, and the rising Tony Hawk series were critical and commercial successes, something very few western console games had achieved before that point.  Japanese games were probably still bigger or at least equal at that point, but it definitely wasn’t the absurd level of domination they previously held.  This was, of course, a good thing: there’s no reason for one country to dominate the way Japan did at one point.

 

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And thus Japan conquered console gaming overnight.

 

In the seventh and eighth generations, however, things started to become unbalanced in the other direction.  Several Japanese companies went into slumps at the same time, while western mega-publishers increased their dominance.  This led to an attitude in the 2010s that Japan was becoming irrelevant to the gaming industry.  I was not happy about this, but it would be fair to ask why when I was fine with how things were in the 90s.  Well, I have a few reasons.  For one, there was a fair amount of nationalistic gloating, treating this as “revenge” and calling the Japanese gaming industry a failure for not being able to match the combined output of two continents.  There’s also the fact that the fading Japanese companies had made so many great games in the past, and losing something is a lot more painful than never having it to begin with.  And while this may be too subjective and in the moment to use as a reason, I would much rather have 90s Capcom, Konami, and Squaresoft as the dominant publishers instead of companies like EA, Ubisoft, and Activision.  I’m not saying we need to go back to Japanese dominance, but all game producing regions making great games is the optimal situation and always will be.  I just want Japanese games to make a comeback for their own sake.

 

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Market Combat Evolving.

 

That seems to be what’s happening.  After many years of turmoil, Japanese-developed games are making a substantial comeback in 2017, in both the released and upcoming categories.  This year we’ve already seen Resident Evil 7, Yakuza 0, Gravity Rush 2, Nier Automata, Nioh, and Persona 5; quality releases that have mostly seen a good deal of commercial success and attention from the gaming community.  Looking ahead, we have Sonic Forces, Tekken 7, Tokyo Xanadu, Ys VIII, and Marvel vs Capcom: Infinite as some promising 2017 releases.   Compared to the past few years, this is a huge upturn in quality Japanese games.

Going beyond a simple games list, many of these games represent once mighty Japanese publishers and developers showing signs of recovering from their slumps.  Capcom finally made a Resident Evil that was well received, Team Ninja made their first well liked game in who knows how long with Nioh, Sega has two promising Sonic games coming out this year (although one is technically by western developers) – there are decades that would kill for that amount – and Square Enix has brought an underrated series into mainstream success while giving Platinum a chance to shine simultaneously with Nier: Automata.  Series that never had a huge western presence, such as Persona, Ys, Yakuza, and the aforementioned Nier/Drakengard also seem to be getting more attention than they previously did, which is great for the Japanese gaming industry.  The light of dawn may be starting to break through the cynicism that has clouded the concept of Japanese games in recent years.

 

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Looks like JRPGs don’t have cooties anymore.

 

There are two major Japanese publishers I consciously avoided mentioning up until this point.  One of them is a hugely conspicuous absence considering who is writing this article.  Why have I waited until now to say anything about Nintendo?  Because I like building things up before playing my strongest card.  Nintendo is in their own league among developers, and I’m don’t mean because they’re my favorite, their situation as the primary developer for their systems puts them in a very different position than the third parties I’ve covered.  Nintendo has always been prominent as a software publisher, even during the Wii U days their games sold millions with absurdly high attach rates that annihilated the best selling games of other systems with a low userbase.  However, Nintendo’s health is often measured by their console’s sales, and that has certainly not been going well in recent years.

Then it was like someone simply flipped a Switch.  Seeing what happened when they tried to copy their competitors with the Wii U, the Nintendo Switch is showing all indications that it recaptured the lightning bottled by the original Wii.  With the system selling out every shipment it makes almost instantly (and this is in March and April) and a non-pack in game managing to attain an unprecedented over 100% attach rate in at least one region, we have plenty of reason to believe that Nintendo’s console division is back on track.  And they’re definitely contributing to Japanese games making a resurgence in 2017.  This year we have or are scheduled to get The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, ARMS, Splatoon 2, Xenoblade 2, Fire Emblem Warriors and the game that means so much to me it was my most anticipated game of 2017 based on a six second “tech demo”, Super Mario Odyssey.  Breath of the Wild, the only one released so far, is one of the highest rated games of all time and would single handedly make this a better year for Japanese game reception than some of the last few.  Nintendo is back, and they’re ready to lead the charge in the Japanese game resurgence.

 

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Mario is back, and he’s not alone.

 

And what was that other company I avoided mentioning?  Well, it’s one that’s pretty easy to ignore, if the bitterness doesn’t get you, at least.  Konami, tormentor of employees, bane of Kojima, the Japanese EA.  No other Japanese publisher fell as far as Konami, but even with them, there is a glimmer of light this year.  Super Bomberman R is one of the more prominent Switch launch games that isn’t Zelda, and has been selling amazingly well for such a niche game.  Konami has publicly announced plans to revive more dormant franchises, as opposed to fleeing video games to make pachinko machines.  The slightest bit of hope for Konami is a miraculous step forward at this point.

 

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This game existing at all is a frigging miracle.

 

So, with the games released and announced in 2017, I think it’s safe to say that the sun is rising again for Japanese games.  Again, I’m not asking for western console games to go back to their dark age.  While I generally prefer Japanese design philosophy, western developers (many of whom grew up with games from Japan’s golden age) are perfectly capable of using it, and both sides can learn things from the other’s games.  Gamers benefit from as many developers as possible making great games, no matter what region they’re from.  With E3 fast approaching, we will hopefully soon have even more games to look forward to from Japanese developers and proof that the revival trend will continue in 2018 and beyond.

Retro or Reboot?: Pocky & Rocky

If there are any regrets I’ve had while writing articles for Retronaissance, it would simply have to be the fact that I’m overzealous when deciding to begin new series. It’s not to say that I don’t like the concept of writing multiple pieces based around a single cohesive theme – quite the opposite, in fact. My problem is that I always seem to decide to start them off with only an idea or two to explore. I always sort of take my ability to come up with new ideas that relate to these categories on a whim for granted, but in reality, coming up with topics that I deem both suitable and interesting is a difficult undertaking. As such, I would often exacerbate the problem: introducing more series with the expectation that they’d be easier to write for. Sometimes this ends up working to my advantage – I’ve got quite a few concepts lined up for a few existing series – but when it doesn’t, it only adds to my guilt. As such, I’ve decided that this year, I’m going to try to restart a few of these abandoned series – or at the very least, give them proper follow-ups – and what better place to start than with good old “Retro or Reboot”?

It’s been a long time since I’ve written one of these articles, so it’s only fitting that I review exactly what Retro or Reboot entails. I’ll be looking at a series – with a minimum of two games – that has fallen victim to a significant hiatus. In the past, I’ve considered only games that haven’t seen a new release since the sixth generation (the days when the PlayStation 2 ruled the gaming world), but since the present generation has finally come into its own, I’ll amend this to involve anything that hasn’t been revived since the seventh generation: Xbox 360, PS3 and the Wii. Anything newer than that still has a chance to be revisited after all. Generally, I’ll favor series that only managed to exist during a single generation – it’s just easier to find a cohesive theme when you don’t have to worry about deviations like the 3D Castlevania games or the 2010 reboot of Splatterhouse when considering a franchise’s core concept. I also tend to prefer older franchises, simply because I’m more likely to be familiar with them. In the end, I craft two proposals to revive the franchise: one retro-themed proposition which simply tries to maintain as much of the originals’ concepts as possible and the other a total reboot that tries to reimagine the series with modern conventions. Of course, both proposals can be best described as fantastical pie in the sky wishing, but these are meant to be happy articles, soul-crushing reality be damned!

This article’s topic is Pocky & Rocky. Developed by Natsume, the P&R series is a perfect example of the shoot-‘em-up sub-genre colloquially referred to as the “cute-‘em-up”. The games play similarly to a specific style of shmup where players are capable of freely roaming the stage at their own pace – other examples with similar gameplay include Zombies Ate My Neighbors, Commando and Shock Troopers. Some time ago, the Nopino Goblins went on a rampage. A young Shinto priestess named Pocky managed to put an end to the mayhem, restoring the peace. One day, a Tanuki named Rocky came to Pocky’s temple, asking her for help. The goblins had lost their minds and began their rampage anew. The two team up to find out just why the spirits run amok once more. The second game involves the harvest festival, attended this year by Princess Luna – not that one –  the princess of the moon when she is kidnapped by a gang of demons, led by an oni named Impy. This time, Pocky and Rocky are joined by two new partners, Bomber Bob and Little Ninja. While I personally didn’t own a Super Nintendo when I was a kid, my cousin did and he had both games, so I have fond memories of them from my childhood. Years later, I got to play them again and they definitely held up. Unfortunately, the games haven’t been re-released since: Natsume expressed interest in putting them on Nintendo’s Virtual Console service, but they claim that Nintendo wasn’t interested in releasing any titles from that platform.

Retro

The funny thing about this is that I’ve already got a perfect framework to base the entire concept around. Recently, Natsume did an enhanced port of Wild Guns: Reloaded – currently on the PS4 and coming soon to PC via Steam – which took the original game and rebuilt it, optimizing it for larger resolutions, adding new characters and stages and beefing up the multiplayer to allow for up to 4-player cooperative play. With such a product already existing, why not expand on its core concept with another classic Natsume game? I normally try to title these concepts and this time around I actually have a perfect title: “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection”. You know, because the enemies fought in this game are mostly various spirits and other creatures generally associated with the afterlife? Besides, the series hasn’t been active since the Game Boy Advance days – so I think that constitutes “Resurrection” in the title.

Speaking of, that brings up a potential issue with the entire concept. You see, the Pocky & Rocky games are actually sequels in a series of games that were originally created by Taito. Known as “Kiki Kaikai” in Japan, the series originated in Japanese arcades in 1986. Here, the character we know as “Pocky” was referred to as Sayo. Taito would eventually release the game on both the MSX2 computer and the PC Engine and even develop a remake for the Famicom Disk System. After that point, the games that would become the Pocky & Rocky games were developed by Natsume who also published the games in both Japan and North America. These two games improved the gameplay of the series significantly: the original Kiki Kaikai games were slower affairs with stiffer controls. They were also the first games in the series to allow for simultaneous multiplayer play: the previous games in the series only allowed 2 players with alternating turns. The only direct follow-up to these two games was a Game Boy Advance game developed by a third company, Altron. This game was published in the West as “Pocky & Rocky with Becky”, including a third character – “Becky”, Pocky’s nigh-identical friend who first appeared in the Famicom game – though the gameplay itself more closely resembled the original arcade games, to my dismay.

There was another attempt at licensing the Kiki Kaikai name for another title – but by this point, Taito had been purchased by Square Enix which led to an argument over the rights to the name of the game. The game would eventually be released as “Yuikinko Daisenpu” – or Heavenly Guardian as it was known in North America – and is clearly meant to be a spiritual successor. This begs the question: would Natsume be able to make a new game in the Pocky & Rocky series? After all, they re-released the GBA game with little problem, but would Square Enix be willing to license the rights to Kiki Kaikai for a worldwide release or would Natsume have to perform some kind of trademark wrangling in order to get a new game made in the first place? Given the fact that Square-Enix has previously tried to license out the rights to various Eidos properties, allowing independent developers to make pitches for new games in those franchises, I think that there may be a chance that they may be more open to licensing out the property, especially to a former collaborator like Natsume.

The funny thing about this concept is that I’d argue it would work even better with Pocky & Rocky than it did with Wild Guns. They have two games to work from, as opposed to one, offering a wealth of existing content to delve from – after all, both games were pretty much built with the same game mechanics in mind, so utilizing the stages from both games under a shared framework should be completely possible. Throw in some additional brand new stages on top of that like Wild Guns: Reloaded did, and you’ve got a perfect retro revival on your hands.

I’d argue that the gameplay should resemble the original games as closely as possible, but by the same token, take into account various advances we’ve seen in video games since the SNES days. Of course, there were some slightly different mechanics between both P&R games: the single-player in the original allowed you to play alone, while the sequel gave you an AI partner of your choice, that could be thrown as a bomb attack for massive damage or taken control of, offering Pocky an additional hit point. The first game gave each character a health meter and allowed them to power up their shots in two ways – either a spread shot or a flaming shot which did more damage. The second game depicted Pocky’s health via her clothing, allowing her to don additional armor for an extra hit point and added new power-ups like bunny ears that enhance Pocky’s speed and a flashing block that would allow her to switch out her partner for a different character, including those that could be unlocked by finding them while playing the game. Due to these improvements, I would suggest using the second game as the revival’s basis, but offer two different single-player modes: one with a partner (representing the second game) and a solo mode (for those that preferred the first game). Better yet, in the former, you’d be able to choose any of the partner characters as your main – which could allow Pocky to act as a partner character. I originally considered adding in an alternate control method – one akin to twin-stick shooters – before I quickly realized that this would completely break the balance of the games. From the series’ conception, players have only been able to aim in the direction they’re moving, a mechanic that is of the utmost importance when enemy placement is considered. As such, I’d have to insist that Natsume maintain the original control scheme from previous games if they decide to take this route.

Obviously, a multiplayer mode is a must. In fact, keeping in line with single-player mode, there should be individual modes relating to both of the previous games. The first game gave each character their own unique health and extra lives, while the second game only allowed the second player to play as Pocky’s partner – only capable of taking a single hit of damage, but having an infinite set of lives, not unlike the Sonic & Tails mode in Sonic 2 and 3. I’d also suggest adding a 4-player mode (based on the first game’s multiplayer), just like the one found in Wild Guns: Reloaded. This time, however, I’d say that Natsume should try to balance the difficulty levels based on how many players are playing at a time – as the game constantly being balanced for 4 players was the chief criticism I heard levelled at Wild Guns. I’m probably a bit biased, but I’d also love to see an online multiplayer mode in addition to the classic couch co-op mode found in Reloaded. Of course, considering how small of a company Natsume is, a mode like that might be a massive undertaking – but it would be a nice touch all the same.

The graphical style is a simple decision: just use the same graphics from the old SNES games, like Wild Guns: Reloaded did. Upscale the graphics so that they look good at the higher resolutions modern platforms can display, but keep the character to playing field size ratio intact, while rendering the game itself in widescreen. Fortunately, the shift to widescreen shouldn’t have as much of an effect on the game as it did with Wild Guns, just due to the difference in genre. Likewise, the sprite work found in both games is similar enough that they should be easy enough to incorporate into a single title and any new artwork should be drawn to match the existing style.

Ideally, I’d want P&R: Resurrection to include both original games in their entirety: storyline, stage progression, boss fights, effectively acting as both an archive of the original games as well as their evolution. On that note, I’d love to see a “third” story added to the mix – with an all-new assortment of stages, as opposed to the few new levels thrown into Reloaded. In addition, throwing in a sort of “remix mode” that would throw a random assortment of levels from all three scenarios would be another awesome bonus feature that would certainly add hours of replay value.

Reboot

The first issue with trying to conceive a modern take on Pocky & Rocky is simply that it’s hard to think of a modern genre that could easily represent it. After all, the classic beat-‘em-ups of the golden age of arcades clearly share DNA with modern character action games, and even the shoot-‘em-ups of yore could easily be turned into rail shooters for big-budget releases today. However, what of the run-and-gun variant of the shmup? After all, part of the appeal there is having full control over the playable characters, while both standard shmups and rail shooters both rely on the screen scrolling constantly, pushing the player along designated paths. A better question: what’s the modern equivalent of a cute-‘em-up? In spite of the second game’s “Angry Kirby” packaging, the in-game graphics still maintain a light-hearted appearance. The Bomberman: Act Zero treatment clearly isn’t going to work with this one – granted, it didn’t even work with Bomberman in the first place.

My basic concept involves a lot of genre blending. Off the top of my head, I can’t really think of any game that plays particularly like this – if anyone does, let me know in the comments – but essentially, it’d be a cross between an action game and a twin-stick shooter, essentially using some elements from a third-person shooter to bridge the gap between those two disparate genres. Essentially, we’d be looking at a game that offers quick mobility, emulating that of the SNES games – you could even incorporate the slide as like dodge maneuvers common in the action genre – but also allows for easy shooting controls. Ideally, the second stick would be used to both direct and aim Pocky and Rocky in a 3D environment, while either a face or shoulder button would be used to fire shots. Likewise, the items used to deflect enemy shots – Pocky’s “magic stick” and Rocky’s tail – would likely be expanded upon, expanding on what the melee attacks both characters were capable of in the previous games, while being sure not to overshadow the long-range attacks.

Originally, I considered basing a reboot of Pocky & Rocky on a third-person shooter. The problem with that is that games of this genre generally have clunky controls, which would be incredibly counterproductive when trying to translate a game like Pocky & Rocky into a modern design. After all, even among run-and-gun/shmup hybrids, both P&R games had remarkably responsive controls. The only game I could think of that even came close to what I was trying to achieve was Red Dead Revolver – itself originally conceived as a modern reboot of Capcom’s Gun.Smoke – but a modern take on P&R would require a much smoother and arcade-like interface. This led me to consider contemporary genres known for their responsive controls – and the action genre struck me as the best choice. Likewise, shooting is much more complex in the third-person shooter genre, so a simpler design choice was necessary and nothing is simpler than twin-stick aiming.

The graphics probably wouldn’t need to be all that complex – and any major release out of Natsume would likely lack the budget for anything ornate – so instead, I’ll discuss the type of art direction I’d like to see in this “big budget” reimagining of one of the cult classics from my childhood. First, I’d rather see an over-the-shoulder camera as opposed to the classic overhead view. If they wanted to retain the overhead view, they’d be better off going with the retro-themed revival. Besides, it would be interesting to see the world of Pocky & Rocky from a more direct angle. As for the game’s art style, I think the game should be done in 3D with cel-shaded graphics. I’m torn about how the art direction should take form beyond that point: either a colorful anime style or a graphical style evoking traditional Japanese paintings (not unlike Okami) would work for me.

As for potential developers, I’m kind of at a loss. Natsume doesn’t really have too many partners that they can commission to develop something like this and the project’s scope is also likely beyond the capabilities of their internal teams. As usual, my gut tells me Platinum Games would be a perfect choice, but given the caliber of publishers that have hired them in the past, they’re likely outside of Natsume’s budget. The best I can think of would likely be some random indie developer. The only team that really comes to mind would be The Game Bakers, the team behind the sleeper hit Furi – a game with an even faster pace than what I would expect from a Pocky & Rocky revival. Having said that, I’m almost certain that there may be some Japanese indie dev I’ve never heard of that would be a perfect fit for this concept.

It feels good to write another one of these and I’m happy to say that I’ve got even more ideas for Retro or Reboot in the pipeline. What did you think of these ideas? Would you rather see “Pocky & Rocky: Resurrection” become a reality or does a more modernized take on the series excite you more? Do you disagree that Pocky & Rocky is worth reviving in the first place? Do you have an even better idea for either concept? Are you also excited that Wild Guns: Reloaded is coming to Steam this year? Feel free to let me know in the comments.

The Elements of Gameplay

In my previous article, I dissected the meaning behind several essentially identical terms used to judge games, terms that I hate.  I condensed them under the label of “soul,” and argued that if a game actually had a soul, it would be its gameplay.  I realized that just labeling the real important part of a game as gameplay could sound kind of like the copout I accused the term soul of being.  What exactly is gameplay, anyway?  Well, I’ve actually given that quite a bit of thought, and pinpointed five clearly defined (if often subjective in terms of quality) parts of a game that combine to form that seemingly sacred concept of gameplay.  I’ll be going over each one, so let’s start putting together this Megazord known as gameplay!

Control

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Let’s start with something simple, but vital to every game, arguably the primary thing that defines something as a video game.  Control is one of those things where it being good means you never think about it.  You’re not thinking about the controls when you’re steering an airborne Mario past obstacles or circle strafing demons as Doomguy, but if those games had bad controls you sure as hell would be.  Control is the link between the game and the player, good control adds more to immersion than all the graphical touches and flavor text in the world.  Bad control, on the other hand, will haunt a game no matter how much it excels at the other elements of gameplay.  Control sets the tone for a game: some of the other elements have to be designed entirely around the controls.  One game’s perfect control could ruin a different game, and that could easily go both ways.  Control is the vehicle that the other elements of gameplay ride in, and if it crashes, the entire game goes up in smoke.

Content

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You’re playing a modern retail game that does everything perfectly.  You’re completely absorbed by the gameplay, the first two hours made you fall in love and you can’t wait to see what’s next… CREDITS!?  I think we’ve all felt the painful sucker punch of an unexpected credits sequence.  No matter how a good a game is, er, was, if your $60 purchase ends after two hours it’s probably going to lower your opinion of the experience.  Content is probably the most objective element of gameplay: the amount of levels, missions, secrets, etc. in a game can’t be changed by someone’s opinion.  The objective nature of both what content is and how much an individual game has makes this a simple but important factor when it comes to gameplay.  While content doesn’t really affect the core gameplay experience directly, the truth is quantity does matter to some extent, and I think how long you get to enjoy a game is pretty important.  I mean, what are you going to do after you finish a game, just start it over again?  Wait, maybe you will…

Replay

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I debated on whether to combine this element with the above.  It was tricky because while content and replay serve a nearly identical function, the abundance of one often leads to the lack of the other.  These two elements are the only ones on the list that can almost totally replace each other.  Replay value is the other side of content’s coin.  Content is how much you get out of a game before the credits roll, replay value is whether you want to go back and play the game again after that happens.  The line can blur at times, what does going back to earlier levels for a better rank, with the option to do it before or after you beat the game, count as?  What about looking for secrets needed to unlock the real final level/ending after you saw the first ending?  How the hell do you define when a multiplayer game is being replayed?  Replay can also have a purer form, however.  A truly great game will be fun to play again and again even if you’ve seen everything in it.  If you feel compelled to go back to a completed game again and again over the years, it has truly achieved great replay value.  Replay value is what makes a game immortal, how can it not be part of a game’s soul?

Challenge

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If Content and Replay can make up for each other, Challenge completely inverts that and must fight with itself to reach the correct balance.  A game being too easy makes it boring and pointless.  A game being too hard makes it frustrating and stressful.  To have great gameplay, a game has to use the spice known as difficulty and the sweetener known as mercy in just the right amounts, creating just the right amount of Challenge.  Checkpoints should be placed thoughtfully, difficulty spikes and breathers have to show up at the right times, puzzles have to take effort to solve without throwing the player into a pit of despair that only looking up the solution can rescue them from.  The game must somehow appeal to players of different skill and experience levels in the same package.  A game’s difficulty level may not be the most subjective quality about it, but whether it’s the RIGHT difficulty level is going to cause fistfights.  This is where Challenge versus cheapness comes into play, and games should make sure they only rely on challenge, no matter how many people online define cheapness as “any challenge above my personal skill level.”  If you thread the needle just right, however, you’ll contribute something to gameplay that adds a dimension to the experience which other artistic mediums can’t compare with.

Design

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And now we arrive at what I personally consider to be the most important part of gameplay.  I was originally going to call this element Level Design, but in addition to preferring that every element was one word, there are a few genres where that name wouldn’t fit.  Level design is mostly a cosmetic feature in genres like fighting games or Tetris-style puzzle games, after all.  In the end, there are a lot of terms you could use for this element depending on the genre.  Level design, fighting engine, competitive balance, course layout, it goes on.  At its core, this element is a game’s unique and personal layout, the thing that makes an individual game that specific individual game.  You could mess with the other elements in a game and it would be a variant or fragment of the same game, but Design makes it a new game. All of the other elements are intimately connected with design in every aspect.  The most subjective element when it comes to quality by far, Design is truly the core of the soul, the thing that defines the individual.  Whether it’s designing the level, placing enemies, balancing combat, thinking up puzzles, or deciding how far to go with realism, Design is the most important part of gameplay and by extension the most important part of game.

By Your Powers Combined

So there we have it, the five parts of a game that I believe make up that ideal known as gameplay.  Whether you want to think in terms of Power Rangers/Captain Planet/Avatar/My Little Pony or whatever, they have been assembled and Gameplay, the soul of a game, has been formed.  So, if you ever want to argue with someone bashing your favorite game for lacking “soul,” you can use gameplay as a counterargument, and you can use these elements to define gameplay.  Maybe I’ll write something about the anti-elements at some point, but for now I’ve said all I want to.  See you next time, and remember that gameplay puts the soul in console, wait, gameplay is the only consoulation for… no, don’t be con-souled about the soul of… never mind, just go.

 

Striking at the Soul

Over the years I’ve come across many terms that I hate seeing applied to games.  Soul.  Magic.  Heart.  Charm.  Spark.  So it looks like it’s time to do another list, all of these terms deserve to be categorically addressed so I can explain exactly why they are not valid ways to judge games.  Let’s get right to it: time for the intimidating task of dissecting five different concepts in one article.  Let’s get started!

Magic

What it means:  Magic, when applied to games, is a catch-all term for an indescribable feeling you get from a game.  Something you can’t describe, but you just KNOW it when you see it.  Something that supercedes any part of a game you can actually give a supportable opinion on.  Magic is different from the other terms because, because…

Wait…

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All of them are the same freaking thing! 

Yep, the list was a fake-out.  These (and probably many more) terms are all functionally identical, and it’s that concept that I want to argue against, in all of its guises.  There are two main things that the various terms (I’m just going to use soul for the rest of this article) are actually describing, and neither are good reasons for judging a game.  Let’s get to the real dissection!

Aesthetics

You know how some people judge games on their technical or budget merits?  How many polygons there are, how much wide open empty space the draw distance can show at once, how expensive the voice actors were?  Well people who care about a game’s soul would never do that.  Why?  Because it’s not petty ENOUGH!  It’s the little things that make a game great: little touches in the background, the exact right amount of comedic quirk in the dialogue, whether it’s a sequel or not.  Judging a game by the graphics as a whole makes you shallow, but judging it by dissecting minor details of the graphics makes you deep.  Maybe an 8-bit art style could have potentially passed your metric for the game having enough “soul” in its look, but you’re still judging a game for how it looks, and no euphemism is going to change that.

 

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This is what letting games be judged by soul gets us.

 

Why would anyone believe in this double standard?  I’m not convinced that many genuinely do.  The fact is, saying a game is bad because of its graphics is going to make a lot of people disregard your opinion, which in my magical and soulful special spark of an opinion is justified.  As someone who still regularly plays games from earlier console generations, defends Nintendo for focusing on gameplay over writing and story in many of their series, and gets very annoyed by being told my systems of choice are inferior to the “master race” because the graphics aren’t as good, I obviously don’t approve of judging games by their graphics.  So I don’t like it when people ostensibly on my side do the exact same thing but insist that it’s actually about “soul.”  If you care about aesthetics to the point where a game not meeting your expectations in them can ruin the experience for you, I’ll have a much easier time agreeing to disagree if you don’t use vague and frustrating terms to hide it.  But maybe it isn’t really the artistic merit that the game is really being judged on, quite often it’s really…

Nostalgia

Yep, it’s come to this, the big N.  No, not Nintendo… well, a lot of the time they are the ones this is being used against, but that’s not the point.  It’s not a coincidence that sequels and recent games are so much more likely to be derided for having an insufficient quantity of soul.  Nostalgia is a powerful force.  I’m not going to claim to be immune to it: in fact I’m hyper-sensitive to it and develop it much faster than most people (I’m listening to a song that brings back memories of 2014 as I type this sentence).  I’ve certainly replayed many games that in no way merit ever being touched again because they gave me nostalgia, I’m still looking for my floppy disc of Dino: Lost in Bedrock just because it’s a different version than the one you can find online.

 

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This has great nostalgia for me, do I have claws for claiming cat puns and terrible controls are soulful?

 

So having nostalgia is fine, enjoying things just because of nostalgia is fine.  But you have to be aware of what you’re doing, and more important, don’t judge new games on how much they appeal to your nostalgia!  If you want to pick up a game because it’s pandering to your nostalgia just right, go for it, but don’t judge newer games as a whole because they don’t accomplish the impossible task of giving you the same nostalgic feeling a game you played in elementary school does.  It is not the game lacking soul that makes it feel less magical than the 20-year-old previous installment did, it’s the fact that you were 20 years younger back then.  Not understanding your nostalgia cravings is just going to lead to disappointment and despair, and bashing every new game in a franchise because of that makes you annoying, okay? So stop it.

So what would it be?

So if games actually did have souls, what would the soul be?  What is the core of a game, the element that really makes it special?  If you took away all the extras and aesthetics, what would be left to define the pure essence of a game?  How long am I going to insult your intelligence by building this up when it’s blatantly obvious that I’m going to say the answer is gameplay?

 

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The gameplay in this is more soul than you’d find in any pixel art walking simulator.

 

Yes, if we were to say games actually have a soul, it would clearly be gameplay.  In addition to being the most important part of a game, gameplay ultimately leads to the things that are wrongfully called the soul of a game.  A game being good in the first place will be a major contribution to how much nostalgia it eventually produces, right?  And the positive associations a game gives you thanks to its gameplay are what lead to the little aesthetic touches and quirks that people mistake for soul.  If Bubsy was a platforming masterpiece, I firmly believe Bubsy’s annoying puns would be iconic and loved in a somewhat ironic way like the dialogue in Star Fox 64 and Resident Evil 4.

So that’s my rant for the day.  Week, months, whatever I procrastinated it to.  I hope I’ve made some points about what a game should and shouldn’t be judged by, or at least gotten people to find better terms for what they use to judge games.  A thought occurred to me as I was writing this, it wouldn’t be hard to argue that I was using gameplay as just as much of a vague catch-all in this article as the terms I railed against.  Going into detail about what I consider gameplay, though, would take up an entire article of its own… so that’s what I’m going to give it.  Stay tuned!

 

First Impressions

These past few months, I’ve been working on a couple more retrospective articles not unlike the one I wrote for The Legend of Zelda back when Breath of the Wild launched last month. In addition to writing a far larger than average article, I’m also left researching various things, simply to jog my memory for games I haven’t played in quite some time, so I’ve had little time to write much else aside from a post on my side blog and another list in what’s quickly become my April Fools tradition. The one upshot to all of this is that I was running low on topics to write about outside of said retrospectives and in the process of writing them, I’ve had time to think of new topics to write on. In fact, the topic for this very article was inspired by a trend I noticed while writing one of the retrospectives.

Effectively, I was researching the fan reception of one of the games I was writing for – a game that I specifically remembered being considered the worst of its series – and found that, unsurprisingly, the game had its own set of fervent defenders. Some of the people defending the game in question made the argument that it was, in fact, the first game in the series that was truly the low point of the series and that most people gave it a pass simply because it was the first game in the entire franchise – and therefore, was owed a great measure of respect, as the series itself wouldn’t exist without it. Obviously, the argument raged on after that, but I must admit the statement gave me pause. I’d felt this way about the originators of various other classic series: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, MegaMan …the list goes on. Yet somehow, an obscure flame war on some internet forum actually made me reflect upon it. Many fans of video game series do generally afford the first games of the franchise in question a greater extent of leniency than all other games in the series.

I mean, the reasoning is understandable. Being the first release in a series means that not only have the basic gameplay mechanics not been completely established, as the games that start series generally end up being far more experimental in nature, simply because they were often developed as stand-alone titles in the first place. As such, it’s dishonest to compare them to their sequels: after all, most sequels tend to build on whatever framework the original had. You know the old metaphor, “dwarfs standing on the shoulders of giants”? Same basic principle here – the clear majority of video game sequels wouldn’t be able to reach their level of quality without learning from both the mistakes and successes of earlier titles.

Of course, that leads to the major question at hand: do we overcompensate when it comes to discussing these first games? It does seem entirely possible that when looking back at the games themselves, especially in the case of longer-running series, we’ll often forgive bizarre design choices, stiffer controls, blander level design and other short-comings, simply because they were the originators of their respective franchises. Of course, this is particularly evident in series where there is a designated black sheep – a later game in the franchise that is despised by the fanbase in general, no matter how many lone wolves claim that they actually liked it, either due to contrarianism or genuine love for the game in question.

The weird thing about this is that this level of protectionism only seems to apply to the first game in the franchise, as opposed to earlier games in general. It’s as if, by the time the second game rolls around, every aspect had better be perfected or else the game itself is considered garbage. Take the second Ace Attorney, for example – despite the fact that we only received the enhanced port of the first game, people judged the second game far more harshly. As such, people would ignore the improvements Justice for All made compared to its predecessor’s gameplay, such as increased complexity, a higher difficulty level and the addition of the “Psyche Lock” mechanic.  Instead, most player reactions concentrated on the game’s flaws, particularly some story elements that were not considered on-par with those of the first Ace Attorney. You’ve also got to consider many cases where the second game was a complete departure from the first game’s base concept, though this will often yield softer criticism than incomplete refinements of existing formulas. Yet, in other forms of media that gravitate towards a more serialized approach, missteps in the process of development are generally more easily forgiven. Why then are video games so different?

Is the reason for this standard practice merely consideration for the game’s age and relative simplicity compared to its follow-ups or is there more to it? Could nostalgia play a role? The fact is that while there is a case for nostalgia being attributed to some cases of blatant protection – Legend of Zelda, Virtua Fighter and Metroid all come quickly to mind – this isn’t particularly a rule of the case. I mean, I honestly doubt that many people attribute any lasting nostalgia to games like the original Tekken or Bomberman, but even new fans of a series avoid scrutinizing these early iterations harshly. On the other hand, there are cases where there are objectively worse games later on in the series, which kind of muddies discussion about the first game’s flaws – it’s kind of difficult to pick apart a game if one of its successors is obviously flawed in ways even the original managed to avoid.

This phenomenon is particularly strange when you consider video game genres and sub-genres in general. While the first game in a beloved series will often be given a pass for their various shortcomings, the same is not always true for games that originated entire genres. For example, Pac-Land could be said to be one of, if not the, earliest attempts at creating a side-scrolling platformer, but doesn’t receive nearly as much love as the original Super Mario Bros., which popularized the genre in general. The same can be said for Karate Champ with regards to the fighting game genre: it’s generally viewed as a curiosity as opposed to hailed as a legitimate game, despite creating many of the conventions the genre enjoys to this day. Likewise, I’ve heard few discussions of the history of RPGs mention the Atari 2600’s Dragonstomper, perhaps the earliest example of the genre appearing on home consoles. Most discussions favor discussing Dragon Quest, or worst case scenario, the original Final Fantasy. This would seem to imply that age is not the only factor that causes people to be protective of the first games in these series, likely because these games are so obscure, they aren’t really under attack either. Still, it feels a bit hypocritical that if earlier games are considered important, these trailblazers aren’t afforded the same privilege.

While writing this article, I also considered if there were any major examples of series originators that missed out on these protections. I racked my brain, trying to think of multiple examples, but in the end, I could only think of one: the original Street Fighter. For the longest time, most people’s knowledge of the series started at “Street Fighter II” and for some reason, no one ever seemed to question what had happened to Street Fighter “One”. I’m not sure what people thought – maybe they figured that the “two” was referencing that there were two fighters in a match? I’m not entirely sure. Basically, back in the 90s, if someone mentioned “Street Fighter”, you knew they were talking about SF2, period. Of course, I had limited knowledge of the original Street Fighter game – but that came in the form of a port that managed to be worse than the original in every respect. These days, however, knowledge of the original 1987 arcade game is a lot more common, albeit tinged with copious amounts of vitriol. I’d probably argue that it’s almost a comedy of errors that Capcom still celebrates the franchise’s anniversaries on the original Street Fighter’s release date. Nonetheless, perhaps it’s the fact that it isn’t afforded any respect that made Street Fighter stick out in my mind: at best, I’ve seen people request characters that are forever tied to the game reappear in later titles as fully playable characters, as they are considered concepts too good to be left as unplayable characters in a game no one likes.

Maybe the true reason for handling the first game in a series so gently is less due to hostility towards follow-ups, but simply done with the purpose – subconsciously or otherwise – of making sure that these games don’t end up like the original Street Fighter. In the end, these games definitely hold an important place in the history of not only the franchises they started, but in the case of some particularly old series, video game history itself. I guess when you take that concrete level of importance into account, it’s easy to see how an attempt at treating these gaming giants with well-earned respect can quickly go overboard – nostalgia filter or no. Likewise, bashing a game simply because the ones that followed it improved on the formula isn’t particularly fair. However, by that very same token, holding a sequel accountable for “not doing enough” to improve on its precursor by criticizing it excessively doesn’t strike me as the proper response either. In the end, I guess it’s just better to keep a firmer grasp on context in general when documenting a series’ evolution, regardless of medium.

Top 10 Games I Want Ported FROM PC II: The Secret of the Ooze

Last year, I decided to change things up when it came to my long-running series of PC port wishlists by doing a list of games that would be great games currently available on PC, but not consoles. I have to admit, I actually had a lot of fun doing it – looking back on lesser-known games that were only available on PC just struck me as a much less futile endeavor than constantly mooning about games that might never get re-released in any format, let alone on PC. At least with PC, there’s always an odd chance that maybe at some point, one of the console manufactures will stumble across one of these obscure gems and decide, “Hey, this could work well on our system” and pay someone to port it to their current platform. Considering the sheer length of your average PC game’s shelf life, I’ve got plenty of material for future lists: I’m even considering making this into a yearly tradition.

First things first, let’s go over what’s been announced since the last time I discussed this – both in terms of console releases and PC. Considering the topic of this article is focusing games being ported from PC to console, that seems like the logical place to start. As I already mentioned, both Ys Origin and Kero Blaster were announced for PlayStation consoles back in December – since then, Ys Origin released on PS4 in February and is expected to hit the Vita on May 30th. Kero Blaster still lacks a release date, but another game being handled by the same publisher (Playism) that didn’t quite make the list – Momodora: Under the Reverie released on March 16th and 17th on the PS4 and Xbox One respectively. Likewise, a game I originally intended to include on this year’s list: Pocket Rumble will be released on Switch sometime in the near future. Ironically, I would’ve suggested putting it on a Nintendo platform anyway, simply due to the lack of fighting games on the platform and the low-definition graphics seemed like a better fit for Nintendo’s core audience. An even bigger surprise came less than a week before this article was set to post: Lethal League is hitting both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on May 10th, adding another win to what I had originally intended as a joke article.

Fortunately, time has been kind to the PC platform as well. First and foremost, when NIS America announced their obtained the localization rights to Ys VIII: Lacrimosa of Dana, they also announced a release on Steam. This news is particularly inspiring, considering it comes hot off the heels of the fact that the Steam version of fellow Falcom title Tokyo Xanadu – being localized by Aksys Games – will be based on the PS4 release, Tokyo Xanadu eX+. Both games are expected to release late this year and I cannot wait for both games. The only thing that could make me happier would be PC ports of the 2 modern-era Ys games currently missing from PC – and XSEED did mention they had some big PC news coming up soon, so I guess I’ll keep my fingers crossed. Other good news include de Blob making its way to PC on April 27th, courtesy of the good folks at THQ Nordic and Blitworks. To make matters even better, Blitworks may have also leaked the existence of a port of the game’s sequel, which means that soon we could have the entire duology! Finally, Arc System Works teamed up with FK Digital to bring Chaos Code -New Sign of Catastrophe- to PS4 and Steam with a new online mode. Not to mention they confirmed that the “REVELATOR 2” upgrade for Guilty Gear Xrd will be hitting Steam alongside the console versions. It’s encouraging to see how ASW has embraced PC gaming. O

With those musings out of the way, let’s get onto the actual meat of the article: the next ten games I’d like to see ported to console from PC. Same rules as last time – we’re mostly going to be looking at relatively recent PC games, specifically those released during the seventh and eighth generations of video game consoles, that have not appeared on home consoles by the time this article has been posted. I’ll also be discussing which platforms I’d consider the best choice for these games if they do actually manage to make it to at least one platform.

Carrie’s Order Up!

Best described as a cross between Pac-Man and Tapper, Carrie’s Order Up is a fun little throwback to old-school gaming with graphics I’d liken to a lost Neo-Geo game. Players take on the role of Carrie, a crab waitress trying to raise enough money to keep the restaurant where she works afloat. The gameplay is simple enough: customers come into the restaurant, usually ambling around looking for the perfect seat; they place their orders which are made by Carrie’s coworker Calcia and Carries brings them to the right customers to keep them happy. But watch out! Once Carrie gets started, she doesn’t stop and bumping into customers is a big no-no. Fortunately, she can twirl to bypass customers, but using it too much leaves her dizzy. Plus, if the customers aren’t served in time, they’ll also leave angry. The game’s a mere $3 yet offers a great value at that price: in addition to the standard arcade mode, there’s an endless mode and tons of other unlockables.

Best Platform: I’d have to give this one to the Switch, no contest. The cutesy aesthetic coupled with the classic arcade-style of gameplay seems like a perfect recipe for getting lost in the shuffle on Sony – and I doubt Microsoft would ever want to pursue this style of content. Meanwhile, I could see Nintendo advertising this as one of their “Nindies”, perhaps not enough to receive a special announcement in a direct, but definitely a dedicated section in one of their sizzle reels.

Xanadu Next

Okay, now if you want to get technical, Xanadu Next has technically already been on home console – in fact, it was the first time it was available in English. Unfortunately, the system in question was Nokia’s N-Gage and from what I’ve heard, that port wasn’t exactly representative of the original PC game. From what I’ve heard, Xanadu Next has been described as a cross between Metroidvanias, Diablo and Falcom’s own Ys series. There’s no doubt in my mind that console gamers would want to get their hands on that kind of action.

Best Platform: PlayStation 4 and maybe the Vita, if it hasn’t died at that point. Falcom’s had a poor track record with Nintendo-original releases – ranging from as far back as Ys III on the SNES all the way to the ports of Ys I & II on the DS. Given the fact that Falcom gave up on their history of PC gaming to survive in Japan’s console-centric market, a tryst with the Xbox brand is laughable. No, just like Ys Origin before it, I could see Xanadu Next on Sony platforms – I’m just going to assume it won’t happen until after DotEmu has backported all of the Ys games currently available on Steam back to PlayStation all over again.

Super Killer Hornet: Resurrection

Here’s another game where I’m technically cheating by including it: both the original Super Killer Hornet and its remake appeared on the Xbox Live Indie Games service. However, given the fact that XBLIG is set to be taken down later this year – not to mention the fact that it wasn’t that big a priority for Microsoft in the first place – it seems like now would be a good time to try again. SKH:R is an odd mixture, focusing equally on fast-paced shmup action and mathematics. You see, power-ups like score multipliers, options and shot upgrades are tied behind completing simple math problems: first you collect a number with an operator, then a second number to complete the formula, then you’re given the choice of three answers. Answer correctly and you get upgraded. It may sound boring, but the game gets hectic pretty quickly considering this is all happening during a typical shmup.

Best Platform: This one’s going to be difficult. On the one hand, the game does have history on the Xbox brand, but it’s not exactly a stellar one. PlayStation has apparently tried to encroach upon Xbox’s former status of best console for shmups, but I’m not sure if they’d go for something quite like this – granted, the graphical style might be right up their alley. Nintendo, on the other hand, might be open to this unique title – so I guess I’ll give it to the Switch by default, though I wouldn’t count out a PlayStation release as well.

The Wonderful End of the World

I think the best way to describe The Wonderful End of the World would be if Katamari Damacy were less Japanese, made on a smaller budget but at least 90% as quirky. Made by the good people at Dejobaan Games – who have also brought us such games as AaaaaAAaaaAAAaaAAAAaAAAAA!!! A Reckless Disregard for Gravity, Drunken Robot Pornography and Tick Tock Bang Bang – The Wonderful End of the World takes place, well, exactly at that point: a demon with a fish for a head is going to eat the world and all that inhabits it. Fortunately, you’re thrust into the role of a puppet that can absorb anything it touches – and everything you absorb only makes you bigger. You’re in a race against time to save as much of the world as you can before it’s all over. A short game, but a fun one all the same – probably my favorite of Dejobaan’s entire library, even if it’s not their most popular title.

Best Platform: Another hard choice. Dejobaan hasn’t really strayed from PC and mobile development throughout their existence. I’d imagine that Sony would probably be happier to prod Bandai Namco to make a new Katamari game and this game doesn’t really seem like the kind of Microsoft would go out of its way to put on Xbox. Nintendo’s Switch just strikes me as a the most viable option by default, just because I think the game’s quirkiness would be a good fit. Honestly, if Dejobaan were to start releasing games on console, I’d wager they’d probably go for something a little more contemporary.

Camera Obscura

I’m a huge fan of platformers – from the twitchy ones that require perfect hand-eye coordination and reflexes to the puzzle ones that force you to rack your mind. Camera Obscura is clearly of the latter camp, but it’s got some unique mechanics: players take on the role of a lone photographer scaling a ruined tower, the failed work of a long since passed cult planning to reach the sun itself. On your trek, you’ll have to face off with wild animals that have taken refuge in the abandoned obelisk, as well as crumbling architecture and traps left behind by the structure’s creators, armed with nothing but your trusty camera. However, this is no ordinary camera: it’s capable of creating afterimages of the world around you – allowing you to bridge gaps, climb ledges, create floating platforms and ever crush deadly monsters between objects in the real world and your copies. But will this ability be enough to scale the tower’s 57 floors?

Best Platform: Once again, I could see this working best on the PlayStation 4, though I wouldn’t rule out releases on the other two consoles. The puzzle elements are a pretty solid match for Nintendo or Sony, but I feel like Sony would probably jump on this one before Nintendo, simply due to the grungier take on pixel art present in the graphics. While Microsoft did get their hands on Fez and Braid – both noted as inspirations for Camera Obscura in its own Steam page – before anyone else, they just don’t really seem like they’re going out of their way to bag pre-existing indie games at this point, preferring to finance their own.

Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge

Perhaps this is a bit of an odd choice, but we’ve seen games of this style released on home consoles both in the past and fairly recently. Starting life as a direct remake of an old computer game called Phantis developed by a little-known company call Dinamic Software, Ultionus: A Tale of Petty Revenge absolutely oozes early 90s western PC game. Players are thrust into the role of heroine Serena S who is inspired to strike revenge on a dangerous alien planet …because someone trolled her on the internet. The gameplay in each level is split into two phases: a side-scrolling shmup inspired by games like R-Type and a side-scroller run-and-gun not unlike the Turrican games of old. Considering its classic artstyle was handled by Andrew Bado, a former alumnus of WayForward and Gameloft and its soundtrack was provided by the incomparable Jake “virt” Kaufman, Ultionus not only feels like a classic ‘90s Amiga throwback, but looks and sounds like one too.

Best Platform: I’m going to have to go with PlayStation this time around. As a similar Amiga exclusive, Psygnosis’s Shadow of the Beast received a remake on PS4 not that long ago, there’s at least precedent to allow something like this to hit the platform. Also, given the fact that main character’s design is brimming with fan service, it might be better suited for Sony’s platform simply due to the perceived maturity of the game’s design in general.

Terrian Saga: KR-17

Another game clearly evoking the spirit of early ‘90s PC games, KR-17 is somewhat evocative of western retro platformers like Commander Keen, the old Duke Nukem games and Jack Jackrabbit. Boasting over 60 levels across 9 worlds, varied level designs, a storyline that’s interesting without bogging everything down, mind-bending puzzles and precision run-and-gun gameplay, Terrian Saga delivers an impressive package at a reasonable price point.

Best Platform: This time, I’m a bit torn. On the one hand, this game seems to have “Nindie” written all over it, with its clear retro style, relatively family-friendly tone and its tendency to achieve “Nintendo hard” levels of difficulty at times. On the other hand, the game’s developer is currently working on getting their next project on both PlayStation and Xbox in addition to PC. I guess because of that, I’d give the edge to PlayStation 4, but I could definitely see this game doing quite well on the Switch too.

Devil’s Dare

If there’s one type of game that never really managed to adjust to the death of arcades, it would have to be the humblest of video game genres – the beat-‘em-up. An entire genre built from the ground-up for the sole purpose of bilking the young and young-at-heart out of entire GDPs worth of quarters, the transition to the console era didn’t do the genre any favors: games had to choose between unlimited continues – which defeats the entire purpose of the games – and a set number of limited continues, which just leaves me disappointed. Devil’s Dare thinks differently: opting for a perma-death mechanic instead. Continues cost in-game money, which can be obtained by performing well. Run out of continues, and the game deletes your save. It’s an interesting concept in my book. Even if the rest of the game’s components aren’t quite the pinnacle of the genre, I think it’s still worth sharing with a wider audience.

Best Platform: I’d honestly be willing to go with the Xbox One on this one, simply because of the game’s gritty yet retro tone. I’d recommend a slight overhaul of the base gameplay and that kind of an undertaking might make the effort to port Devil’s Dare to new platforms more of a Microsoft-friendly project, simply due to their obsession with “getting things first”. Label it as “Devil’s Dare DX” or something along those lines and I’m sure the folks at Xbox would lap it right up.

Owlboy

Developed over the course of nearly a decade as a love letter to old-school platformers, Owlboy dubs itself a “hi-bit game”, due to the fact that it recreates the classic look of 16-bit games at a much higher resolution and with much more fluid animation than what was possible back when 2D pixel art was the apex of its popularity. Players take on the role of Otus, a young anthropomorphic owl. Unfortunately, he struggles with living up to the expectations set for him, because he was born mute. When sky pirates show up, things only get worse and Otus must set off on an adventure. Fortunately, Otus has friends in the form of various Gunners, whom provide him with cover fire while in flight.

Best Platform: This is perhaps the most difficult decision of them all, but I’m going to have to give it to the Nintendo Switch. While you’d think that the fact that the game was built in XNA would make it a shoe-in for Xbox, you’ve got to remember that Microsoft discontinued the service and it isn’t compatible with the Xbox One. Likewise, while PlayStation would likely want to pursue getting this title, much of the game’s inspiration comes from various Nintendo properties, including Kid Icarus and the Tanooki Suit in Super Mario Bros. 3. It’s also fair to bring up that D-Pad Studios, the game’s developer, did consider console ports back in 2013, when the game was still in development – not to mention the fact that ports to both Mac and Linux were released this year – so who knows just where this gorgeous game might end up in the future?

Environmental Station Alpha

Developed by small Finnish studio Hempuli Oy, Environmental Station Alpha is a Metroid-like, pure and simple. It boasts a minimalistic pixelated artstyle, ambient music and solid, yet simple gameplay. Alas, it’s still a Metroidvania – and we’ve reached the point where the independently developed Metroidvania has become a cliché unto itself. Still, when Tom Happ – the man who single-handedly developed Axiom Verge, the last Metroid-like indie to escape being deemed “unoriginal” – says that ESA is worth checking out, I’m not going to argue with him.

Best Platform: The Switch or possibly the 3DS, no question. This game totally evokes the look and feel of a Metroid game and Nintendo would be foolish to not at least try to get their hands on this game to quell that particular fanbase’s hunger. I’m fairly certain that a significant portion of both the PS4 and Xbox One’s core audiences might be turned off by the primitive graphics – though, Vita fans will beg for just about anything.

There you have it, 10 PC games I’d like to see ported to consoles. No honorable mentions this time – might need to save those games for next year after all. I already own every game on the list, but of course, that’s not really the point of this list – it’s less about getting the games myself and more about sharing them with a much wider audience. You know, better to give than to receive and all that mumbo-jumbo. Having said that, it was probably more fun to do this article than the last one: I had already blown through most of my obvious choices last year, so searching for new games that weren’t already on console was pretty fun. Not to mention the fact that actually seeing some of those titles I picked last year getting console ports – that definitely made things more exciting this time around. I wonder which (if any) games will make it over out of this batch. You know, aside from Pocket Rumble, considering that got announced before I started writing this article.

Respect the Unexpected

Sometimes when you look back on a game after the fact, you realize it wasn’t as good as you made yourself believe when you first got it, or you realize it was actually a lot better than you gave it credit for.  Those games aren’t the focus of this list.  This list is for games that instantly changed my strong preconceived notions as soon as I played them.  It can either be a game I went into with hype that was instantly deflated, or a game that I expected to hate or at least be indifferent towards that I ended up liking.  I have three examples for both types, and I’ll be alternating between negative and positive.  Since I always like ending on a positive, I’ll let the negative examples start the pattern.  Let’s get started!

Mega Man X6

What I Expected

I really, really love the Mega Man X series.  I would consider the first three games to be my favorite trilogy in all of gaming, and the original Mega Man X is one of my favorite games of all time.  The first four X games are my four favorite Mega Man games of any type, and Mega Man X5 is a step down but still a great game that I have played through dozens of times.  So, it should go without saying that I had very high expectations going into Mega Man X6, it looked like just a level pack for MMX5, but I was fine with that.  Two console MMX games in the same year seemed too good to be true, but really, what could go wrong?

mmx6

What Actually Happened

I’m still not sure what the hell happened with Mega Man X6.  MMX6 isn’t a lazy level pack, that would be so much better than what we got.  No, X6 is a train wreck that seems to go out of its way to make as many stupid, frustrating level design choices as possible.  Levels range from the same tedious and frustrating mid-boss fought four times in a row to nightmarish extended dashes to safety as a one hit kill ceiling tries to crush you.  Bosses are just as bad.  Even the story is terrible.  I beat X5, X8, and even the infamous X7 on the day I bought them.  I didn’t force myself to beat X6 until over six months later.  I could tell something was wrong right away, and to this day I don’t understand what happened.  This isn’t the result of greed and laziness, it’s a calculated attempt to twist one of the best gameplay systems there is into a horrible parody of itself.

Doom (1993)

What I Expected

I am a console gamer, I have been ever since I stopped being forced to subsist on Hi-Tech PC games, and I always will be.  So, Doom being a PC originating series that only got inferior console ports for most of its existence put up quite barrier to me getting into it.  I wasn’t all that into first person shooters to begin with, so I didn’t feel like I was missing out on much, a mid-90s western PC series didn’t sound like it was going to offer much.  I tried the famously arcade like and over the top Serious Sam games via their console compilation, and enjoyed them.  I decided that it was worth trying the Doom compilation, three games and several expansion packs for around $10 made the risk exceptionally low, so why not?  But I wasn’t expecting that much out of it, especially the original Doom and its very direct sequel.

doom

What Actually Happened

Damn you realism, damn you real guns and human enemies, and damn you every mid-90s magazine dismissing all FPSes as worthless “Doom clones.”  I love old style FPSes.  The varied weapons, the enemies with attacks you can directly dodge, the fast movement and lack of reloading, the creative level design, Doom is everything I wanted in the genre but didn’t know until I played it.  The modern console remasters of Doom and its sequel have everything the PC versions did, and I love them.  Doom and its level pack like sequel are probably my favorite western developed games of the 20th century, and easily my favorite PC originating games of all time.  By extremely good fortune, I got into the series just a bit over a year from the phenomenal DOOM 2016, which I have raved about at length in previous articles.  Doom expanded my horizons in a wonderful way.

Twisted Metal (2012)

What I Expected

I was fascinated by Twisted Metal 2 years before I owned a PlayStation, the characters and concept were very interesting to me and I read all I could about it in game magazines.  My instincts correctly blocked any interest in Twisted Metal 3 and 4, but I eventually got to play TM2 and I liked the gameplay just as much as the characters and concept.  Twisted Metal Black rekindled my interest, even though I once again didn’t have the system it was on when the game was released.  I eventually got it and loved it even more than Twisted Metal 2.  Then the series just disappeared, despite the acclaimed revival.  There was nothing but a decent PSP game for a decade, but then hope came, another reboot of the series.  Not having stories for each car was a big negative, but maybe the unified story mode could make up for it, and the important part was getting more of that signature gameplay, with online I could use!

twistedmetal2012

What Actually Happened

989 rose from the grave and cursed Twisted Metal 2012.  That’s my best guess, anyway.  For one thing, the “real story mode” was actually just three traditional driver stories (previous games had 4-5 times as many, for reference) glued together, ranging from decent to an idiotic pun ending.  But that’s not the worst part.  The controls were extremely slippery and mocked me by putting in the classic style that I wanted to use but making it unplayable with a small change (Human biology trivia: we only have two thumbs.  Do not demand we use both analog sticks and face buttons at the same time).  And the “story” mode put in absolutely atrocious and mandatory checkpoint race missions that the controls made into pure torture.  Assuming this doesn’t kill the series, the next reboot needs to be much, much, MUCH better.

Knack

What I Expected

Knack has been a running joke ever since it was announced alongside the PlayStation 4.  A generic PS1/2-era platformer with a character getting bigger gimmick, this was what Sony chose to showcase their new console!?  Sony giving digital copies away with PS4s and not bothering to tell the people who bought the systems just made the game more of a laughing stock.  While I didn’t think the game looked horrible, it seemed like it focused on mindless combat with minimal platforming.  I had little desire to play it unless I could find it for really cheap, and even then it would mainly be so I could make fun of it while streaming it.  Well, the game was $5 on a PSN Flash Sale, so I jumped on it.  While in my Skype group chat I started the stream, ready to laugh at the infamous Knack.

knack

What Actually Happened

My thoughts upon starting the game were that the controls were actually very good.  Combat was pretty solid, much better than I was expecting and actually a significant challenge on hard mode.  Good enemy variety.  Wow, the levels are really long, and there are a ton of worlds.  I thought, “Maybe people were too harsh on this game, or maybe it all goes to repetitive hell soon”.  It didn’t.  The levels and enemies stayed varied throughout the game, the platforming wasn’t too frequent but there was enough to add variety to the combat.  The combat was fast paced and reminded me of classic beat-em-ups, specifically Turtles in Time for some reason (my favorite game in the genre).  Knack… Knack is a hidden gem.  It’s not a masterpiece, but it’s a very solid game that definitely kicks the crap out of PS4’s other 2013 and 2014 exclusives.  I’m genuinely anticipating Knack 2, which looks like a significant improvement on what turned out to be a solid foundation.  Give this game a chance: the fact that it’s getting a sequel is a miracle.

Grand Theft Auto III

What I Expected

If you’ve been following my articles, you probably saw this coming a mile away.  But if you haven’t, this is probably a pretty big surprise.  The first two negative example games are hated by most people, but not Grand Theft Auto 3.  This is considered one of the most influential games of all time, it basically started a genre and just look at how much you can do!  Being under 17 and having just recently convinced my parents to let me play M rated games when GTA3 came out in 2001, I decided not to push my luck and ignored it while everyone raved about it.  Years later, I finally picked up the game, my first GTA.  Having heard everyone rave about this game for years and intrigued by the length and scale of the game, I had pretty high hopes when I started.  What could possibly go wrong?

gta3

What Actually Happened

Did you realize that I was referencing Bubsy there?  Now don’t worry, I’m not going to be a hyperbolic hater and say Grand Theft Auto 3 is comparable to Bubsy 3D in quality.

…But it is about as good as the original Bubsy.  Now before you tear into me and I retaliate with my story about how I missed out on a genre I really enjoy for years because everyone insisted GTA was the pinnacle of it (the first good GTA game is Saints Row 2), let me go over everything GTA3 does wrong.  Horrific aiming system, absurdly harsh penalty for dying that means you basically have to load your save every time that happens (and save points are NOT frequent), having to drive back to the start of missions every time you want to try again, needing to track down hidden packages that could be absolutely anywhere in the entire game if you want to mitigate that penalty for dying, this open world game from 2001 not having a freaking MAP.  Trying to actually play this game for any purpose besides mindless chaos is a nightmare, and the game still makes said chaos a pain in the ass to accomplish.  The consequences for dying or being arrested being so harsh goes completely against the “freedom” this game supposedly gave players.  And while future GTAs would fix some of the problems from this game, several gigantic ones stayed around until Grand Theft Auto V in 2013, the first game in the series I actually like.  And it would have been so easy to fix these problems (the HD remaster of San Andreas fixes enough to make it enjoyable), but no one seemed to care about them in any way until Grand Theft Auto IV’s fan backlash.  Sorry, but I think GTA3 is a genuinely bad game and probably the most overrated of all time.

Tetris Attack

What I Expected

Puzzle games seemed inherently boring to me when I was new to gaming.  Doing nothing in a game but rearranging blocks seemed completely pointless.  I was aware of Tetris because everyone on the planet is, but I had no desire to play it, similar games, or games that I would later discover only had its name slapped on them for a marketing gimmick (you know, we’d probably have this game on Virtual Console if it was called Yoshi’s Puzzle League).  I never would have chosen to play Tetris Attack, but Blockbuster had a promotion where renting it came with a free other game rental of your choice, so there was no reason not to rent it.  And since I had the cart, why not give it a quick chance?  But aside from the Yoshi’s Island setting, I wasn’t expecting to really enjoy anything in the game, it would probably be a more colorful Wordtris.

tetrisattack

What Actually Happened

Literally the second I started playing I loved it.  I could go on about why Tetris Attack is the best puzzle game of all time, going into how the mechanics fix a massive flaw inherent to almost every other competitive puzzle game, but that wasn’t what I was thinking when I played the game the first time.  The intuitive and addictive base gameplay is what drew me in when I thought I hated puzzle games.  The competitive mode gave things a fighting game feel that I loved.  There was just something so inherently satisfying about the game, I don’t remember exactly what I identified it as on that day over 20 years ago, but I know my love was instantaneous.  My horizons were expanded that day, and Tetris Attack has remained one of my favorite games on my favorite system without ever wavering.  That moment where a game connects with you instantly and against all your expectations is something that can’t be fully recreated at both my age where I have played so many games, and in the age we live in where you can easily watch videos and read all you want about every game before you play it.  There’s a magic in my first encounter with Tetris Attack that I will always remember.

So, there you have it, six games that flipped my perception of them upside down within the first play session.  Aside from my personal reminiscing, the takeaway from this article I want everyone to have is that you can’t really know what a game is like until you play it.  Even with games where my expectations weren’t so radically shattered, nothing except ruining the game by watching a full playthrough can really let you know what a game is like before you play it.  Always be prepared going into a game, it might be a tragic disappointment, but it could also be a magical moment or great surprise that you never saw coming.

 

Retrospective: The Legend of Zelda – Part I

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Welcome to the first in a sporadic series of retrospectives I’m planning on doing. Considering that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild releases today, it seems only fitting that I start with the Zelda franchise. This is, by no means, a complete look back on the entire series. While I do plan a follow-up in the future to round out the remainder of the series, as of right now I’ve only played through many but not all of the Zelda games. In addition to the ones listed below, I’ve also managed to play Skyward Sword and A Link Between Worlds. So, given the fact that I’ve played what could potentially be considered the first half of the Zelda franchise – a bit less, honestly – I figured I might as well cover my thoughts on the franchise’s early days in honor of its latest release. Continue reading