Retro Review: Final Fantasy VII (Squaresoft, Sony PlayStation, 1997)

Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s, I wrote a number of video game reviews for independent websites focused mainly on import console gaming. I also wrote a lot of casual “email reviews” to my friends, and still do. Earlier today, while sorting through and consolidating old files on my PC, I ran into a bunch of them. I started reading a few, and was both filled with feelings of great nostalgia… and embarrassment! They’re a little painful to read, mostly due to my almost fanboy-like fervor (and ignorance) about gaming back then.

Seriously, it seemed like life and death stuff at the time, but I guess it’s easy to get into that mindset when you live and breathe it every day. I’ve chilled out since then, although I am no less passionate about video games. I guess I’m just better at letting the bad stuff roll off, focusing primarily on the good… and I’m much happier for it.

Anyway, the following is one of those aforementioned email reviews, which I wrote in March of 2003. They were always written in a casual tone, usually with lots of smileys, inside jokes, stream of consciousness ramblings, and references that nobody else would get, so I’ve done my best to massage a lot of that stuff out. Also, they’re full of spoilers, so if you haven’t played this yet, you might want to steer clear!

To give you some further context, in February of that same year, I started a Final Fantasy marathon of sorts, and before getting to Final Fantasy VII (FF7), I had completed the following, all for the first time:

Final Fantasy X
Chrono Trigger
Final Fantasy VI
Final Fantasy IV (fan-translated Japanese “Hardtype” version)
Final Fantasy V (fan-translated)

So I was fresh off of all the Super Nintendo 16-bit greats, and was about to embark on my second playthrough of FF7. I did play and finish it back in 1997, but had come away from it with lots of mixed feelings. Did those feelings change my second time through?

Let’s find out…



I can’t believe it’s been almost 6 years since this game came out. I still remember when my friend showed me the import FF7 demo disc, and of course, how my jaw literally hit the floor when I saw him cast Leviathan for the first time. That goes down as one of the great moments in video game history. Anyway, last night I finished up FF7, and right now, I’m listening to the soundtrack to try and get all my thoughts in order. I can already tell that this “review” is going to be all over the place and will be quite incomplete, since this is more of a “second time through” kind of thing, so please bear with me! It’ll probably come across as overly negative at times too, but please understand that I’m just being that way because this series is so important to me.

Anyway, before jumping in, I did breed my Black Chocobo and raced that sucker up to S Class, finally having the goods to go breed my Gold one! Once that happened correctly, I felt this huge wave of accomplishment sweep over me as I went searching around and got all the various Materia cave prizes. I smiled big when I saw that FF7 also had a Mimic skill in it, but that smile got even bigger when I finally got Knights of the Round (KOTR)! One of my coworkers gave me endless grief back in ’97 for not getting this summon, and then when I finally saw it, it made me want it even more.

I didn’t use KOTR until the end of the game, though. When I fought Jenova and then Sephiroth’s first form, I cast this spell on each of them, and they both died before their first command. I laughed, thinking about how incredibly cheesy that was, so when Sephiroth’s second form showed up, I actually just sat there for a little while, and waited for him to cast his Supernova spell. I forgot how crazy that spell was and how long it took to complete!

After he did that, I went for overkill and had Barret do a Quadra Magic Cure 3-All, had Cloud do his Omnislash Limit Break, and then had Tifa W-Summon KOTR twice, and just for the heck of it, had Barret Mimic her. Well, he was dead after the first KOTR summon, and my party had full 9999HP health a piece (gotta love HP Plus Materia). It’s funny, because even after getting every or almost every extra and secret thing in all the other FFs I’ve played this year, none of them compare to how insane KOTR is. I mean, it’s flat-out unfair, unless you’re going against the Weapons, but those are only optional. Even then, if you have 3 Mimic Materia (quite possible with the Triple-AP weapons), you can just keep casting W-Summon KOTRs all day long.

Nice that the option is there, I guess. KOTR is indeed the “prize of prizes” (I can’t recall anything even coming remotely close to their power), so I suppose it makes sense that if you invest all that time into the Chocobo breeding that you have the power to slice and dice for 13 8000-9999HP-All hits to your heart’s content! Are summons affected by MP-Turbo and Magic Plus Materia? I couldn’t tell after a while. If so, then that just adds insult to injury… enemy injury, that is!

Anyhow, with that being said, I’ve now seen just about all there is to see in FF7, and can now give my re-review that is based on a roughly 60-hour playthrough, as opposed to my hasty sub-40 romp my first time through. Plus, I can now come in with the knowledge gained from completing the other previous FF titles (4-6).

So, Materia… as opposed to before, it actually made a lot of sense to me this time through. All the other FF games gave me the “basic skills” I needed to make sense out of the system, and I found it a constant struggle (in a good way) figuring out which weapons and armor to use to maximize my Materia growth, while still allowing for good offense and defense. I really liked that aspect of it, and also enjoyed how Materia had to “grow” to get more powerful throughout the game. By the end, the Master Materia was popping out of weapons faster than I could keep track, which was pretty cool!

That gave me tons of money for buying the greens I needed for my Chocobos. I’d read about the W-Item duplication cheat, but avoided using it. While a lot of the offensive magic spells were useful for the first half of the game, I found that all I was using by the end were a bunch of HP Plus, MP Plus, Magic Plus, Counters, Slash-All, 4x Cut, W-Item, Quadra Magic, W-Summon, Restore/Heal/Revive-Alls, Mimic, and a couple summons thrown in for good measure. With all the various “Source” thingies, they were fast, strong, and Tifa’s Magic was pretty crazy, too. The other stuff was pretty much useless near the end since almost all status abnormalities were taken care of by Ribbons, and most of the L3 and higher offensive magic hardly did enough damage to make it worth the while.

I don’t think I even casted Flare or anything like that, either. Kept Haste and some of the skills like that just in case, but otherwise, most of my Materia would’ve better served Yuffie’s kleptomania. By the end, I just relied on pure brute strength, making magic practically unnecessary. Cloud was just nuts at the end, hitting so many times per round that my other characters hardly had any time to do anything. The toughest monsters were dead usually within one or two character commands. They just sat around taking damage and healing, using their ridiculous Limit Breaks when they had a chance. I remember complaining back in the day about how tough I thought the last dungeon was, but this time, it was so easy that I just enjoyed the scenery and figuring out how to get every item, like the very, very cool “Super All” Materia. Perfect for Tifa, my spellcaster! Basically, it was just fun mixing and matching, figuring out the best combos.

So that really enhanced my enjoyment of FF7‘s battle system. Initially, I thought it was unrefined compared to FF10‘s, but in actuality, it couldn’t feel more refined! I loved it, despite the initial annoyance of CD load times. Speaking of which, after a while, I didn’t notice them too much. Also, while the party was reduced to three members (from the previous games’ 4-5 members) — and that initially threw me off (didn’t remember only having 3!) — the ability to have up to 8 commands helped offset this quite a bit. If you equipped your party members the right way, you could have the equivalent of 6 members, which was cool. Couple that with Haste, and it literally was a 6-man team. As always, being able to see all the different weapons as you equip them, and then checking out all the great spell effects and Limit Breaks was great. By the time they’re at their L4 Limits with their Ultimate Weapons, it’s like, uhh, mowing a lawn… enemies don’t stand a chance, which is probably why Square needed to put in those cheap “insta-death” enemies like Scissors and Master Tonberis in the final dungeon.

Which brings me back to the issue of Summons. I remember when I first played FF7 that while I thought they were cool, I complained about the length of the summon sequences. I still think they’re awesome, but I actually take the complaint about length back. Even when taking into consideration how short these are in comparison to the ones from FF8-FF10, I have to say that I only used these summons maybe once or twice a piece throughout the entirety of the game. I cast Odin a couple times just to get his two variations (still one of the best!), and Bahamut Neo/Zero a couple times just because I think they’re so over-the-top and amazing, and of course KOTR, but otherwise, they were there just as primarily showcase pieces for if I ever wanted to see something neat… good for selling friends on the game, right?

I don’t have the patience to get the Master Summon Materia, so for me, the cost to cast most of these summons far outweighs the damage they inflict, especially if you’re good about managing your Materia. So, this time through, I had a much more enjoyable time messing around with summons, since I didn’t use them as an integral part of my combat strategy. Oh, and I’m still not sure what the heck Typhoon is supposed to do. I cast it a couple times but it never had any effect on the enemies I cast it on. Oh well! But yeah, the summons brought back so many memories… seeing the summons we knew and loved from the 2D Super Nintendo days being fully realized and pumped up in 3D was an indescribably amazing thing. Ifrit, Ramuh, Titan, Alexander, Kjata, Phoenix, Leviathan, Shiva, Hades, and all the rest… all those feelings of awe came rushing back as I played through FF7 again.

On to minigames and sidequests… hmm, where do I start?! So, here’s a game that integrates most of the minigames into the actual storyline, so it makes sense in the context of the narrative. It’s not just some random task that you have to do… good examples, of course, are the submarine hunt, the snowboarding, or the bike chases. All the better that you can play these later at Gold Saucer for prizes, and then they keep going with all the UFO games, the very cool roller coaster shooter, and then the two major minigames, Chocobo Racing/Raising and the Battle Arena. It took me a long, long time to go through the Chocobo process, but I had fun doing it, and you somehow feel attached to your birds, and letting them go to make room in your stables for others is kind of a sad moment! It’s really cool that this sidequest makes sense (in a Pokemon/Tamagotchi kind of way), but more than that, it makes sense in the context of the FF world. They’re infamous by now, but you compare this robust system of catching, taking care of, racing, and breeding Chocobos to the relatively shallow ones in other games, and it just goes to show how much time went into creating them.

The racing itself was just OK — simplistic controls and was more about “energy management”, like Japanese horse racing games — but more than anything, I think the Battle Arena was probably the most fun minigame! Your adrenaline gets going when you see the reels go around, and you’re telling yourself, “Man, please don’t land on Accessory Break… [long pause… deep breath… click!]… NOOOOO!!!!!!” Haha! I had a total blast in this area, and spent a lot of time here while my Chocobos were recovering from their wild mating sessions. It was cool figuring out which handicaps gave you the most BP, so trying to get the reel stopped on those was more fun than the fights. Crushing the enemies was just a breather between reel spins! Not to mention that everything Yuffie-related is optional, and you have a really well thought-out side area that you can do if you want. While I didn’t do any of the Condor Fort stuff aside from the final battle, I acknowledge that there’s just a lot of stuff to do in this game that can please just about anyone.

Anyway, if I had to summarize the game in one thought, it would be this: FF7 is a technical marvel and exhaustive in its play options, but in striving for such high goals, has lost its heart as a result. What I mean by this is that Square has taken the FF series and made it very dark… very cold. I was surprised by how negative and apathetic Cloud was throughout most of the game. Of course, you find out why at the end of Disc 2 (lies about joining SOLDIER, etc.), but when you compare him to past FF lead-type characters such as Cecil, Locke, Edgar, and Sabin, he’s pretty weak. All this time away from FF7 has allowed me to focus more on the characters themselves as opposed to just superficially saying, “Yeah, I liked Cloud… I mean, look at that sword!” or “Yeah, Barret and those guns!” The storylines for each of the characters was also a lot more shallow than they were in previous games, and even the more simplistic FF4 executed better on conveying emotion and feelings.

I don’t know if this was due to the translation, or the fact that most of the conversations and in-game cutscenes were packed with lots of unnecessary filler dialogue, but for the most part, while there was some good drama throughout the game, its quality didn’t match that of FF6, which I think is just the pinnacle of its time. In fact, I liked the secondary characters in the game a little bit more than some of your party members, my favorites being the Turks. This trio was pretty classic throughout, and I love how you kind of befriend them in the Wutai area… funny stuff that reminds me of some of those “crack a grin” scenes from FF4 and FF6. Overall, I enjoyed the cast of FF7 more evenly in a holistic sense than most FFs, but the extremes in terms of how much I liked (or disliked) them wasn’t as strong, so I didn’t feel that connection with any of them.

I also didn’t like the fact that Cid and Barret cursed in every other sentence (in Cid’s case, more than that)… I’m not offended easily, and while it might be considered realistic or edgy by some, it was distracting, and in my opinion took away from those characters. Edge cursed a few times in FF4 Hardtype, but it fit his character and he only did it occasionally. Here? It just seemed really gratuitous. Other FFs have proven that you don’t need profanity to get your points across.

That’s not to say that there weren’t excellent scenes though, such as the one where Tifa and Cloud meet at the well to make his promise, or the date scene at Gold Saucer (which, of course, just underscores how annoying the “silent protagonist” approach can be). I also liked all the flashbacks to the early days of Nibelheim, the ones with Aeris’ parents, or the classic Seto reveal, when Bugenhagen tells Red XIII about his father and what he did to save and watch over Cosmo Canyon. That was my second favorite scene… and has one of the better musical pieces in the game. When the drums start up, I get goosebumps every time. Red XIII’s howl at the end and the tears falling from his father’s eyes are just the perfect cap to this scene.

And then there’s the scene, where Aeris sacrifices herself in the Forgotten City… for some reason, it was so much more powerful this time, and is one of the best scenes in any FF game, bar none. I love how you fight the Jenova monster with the somber piece of music still playing in the background (just like the Zanarkand Ruins in FF10). Masterfully done, and the following scene where Cloud lets her go is quite poignant. Great, great stuff! The one scene that I completely missed my first time through, was the waterfall area where Vincent’s backstory is revealed… I thought it was cool how they show that his ex-girlfriend is actually the mother of Sephiroth, their child conceived by her and Hojo of all people! I thought that was very, very cool, because all this time, I figured Vincent was just this weird fodder character. Even though he basically still kind of is a “whatever” character for me (I barely used him), I think this adds to his storyline immensely. It’s just too bad that it was so out of the way. I think a lot of people might’ve missed this… or maybe that’s just me trying to cover up the fact that I completely spaced on this the first time through!

Going back to Aeris, I do think one of the biggest missteps of FF7 is her death, and how unless you have a save set aside specifically for this, you’ll never see her at her full potential. I think I only got her L2-2 Limit Break by the end of Disc 2, so I never got to check out her later ones. I spaced on this, so I was pretty much stuck and couldn’t go back. Anyway, minor point since you can do all that stuff with other characters to some extent, but still.

Next, the ending. I didn’t like it the first time, and this time? Well, especially after playing through all the other games (particularly FF6 and Chrono Trigger), I think that this ending is still an utter disappointment. More importantly though, is that it’s executed extremely poorly. If I were to break it down to its core, it is somewhat similar to FF6‘s… your characters get on an airship and fly away. Haha! Seriously though, in FF7, you don’t even get the reward of spending any time with the characters afterwards. They kinda sit around, exchange a couple sentences, and then the Highwind comes in to save them. They hop on the ship to see Holy try to stop Meteor… that doesn’t work, and all seems lost. But then something mystical happens, and Aeris comes to save the day via the planet’s Lifestream.

On paper, I think that sounds like an awesome ending, but it happens so quickly, and the execution feels so rushed that you can’t help but feel a little empty after it’s over. On the flipside, I thought the credit scroll song was really good with its military medley of the character and classic themes. Very nice. The end of it however, lack any kind of finale/coda, so it ends on this really dull note, like someone missed the piano key or something. Again, compared to the musical finales in FF4 and FF6, it’s a letdown.

The rest of the soundtrack was quite good, but wasn’t as good as Nobuo Uematsu’s masterful FF6 soundtrack, or the benchmark Yasunori Mitsuda set with Chrono Trigger. He did, however, push into previously unexplored territory, by having full-on vocals for One Winged Angel, an idea he probably had in his head when he did the opera and final battle scenes in FF6, bringing them full circle with FF8‘s amazing opening FMV choral song and professionally produced end song using big-name talent.

Getting back to FF7‘s ending, so that “500 years later” post-credit sequence. Artistically, I can appreciate that the Lifestream saved the planet and that life endured (which is good), but it just takes the whole “big picture” approach to the extreme. After spending all that time with these characters, I wanted to have a little more time to share in their celebration at the end, and I was reminded of an old internet article that talked about the ending and what could have been. I could make up theories about budget/time constraints, but what’s done is done.

And one final nag… the fact that Sephiroth says nothing at the end of the game. He just sits there! Through none of the final scenes does he have any dialogue, and your characters just talk about getting rid of him to activate Holy. I didn’t even notice this when I played it the first time, but to bring up FF6 again, Sephiroth vs. Kefka? No comparison. One of the secondary bosses in FF5 (Gilgamesh) is a far more compelling and entertaining boss than Sephiroth at the end of this game. True, the confrontation with him when he’s in his God form (with One Winged Angel playing in the background) is a very powerful statement on its own, but man, it sure would’ve been nice if he said something… anything! Kefka’s end-of-game speech in FF6 is so darn good and really makes a big impact, so the lack of anything in FF7 takes away from the game’s climax.

Overall, I’d give FF7 an A-. It excels in almost all areas, above past and present FFs, and was truly instrumental in setting the stage and high watermarks for what we know as the modern console RPG. However, I thought the game lacked the heart and soul so wonderfully realized in FF4 and FF6, sacrificing narrative and character development for a robust world full of minigames, tremendous graphics, and technical refinements all around.


The Best Games I Played in 2014

Instead of trying to rank the games I played that were only released in 2014, I decided to take a different approach and include non-2014 games as well. Since I’m not the type of person who is always playing the latest and greatest (in fact, that’s rarely the case with me), I would have been doing a disservice to all of the amazing games I played this year had I not included them.

What I’ve done below is break down everything into A-, A, and A+ categories, and listed the games in the order in which I played them. That way the overall quality of the game speaks louder than the ranking, which seems to always be the main point of contention with internet lists.

Anyway, with that being said and out of the way, let’s get started!


Games Scoring an A-

Drill Dozer (Game Boy Advance, 2006) — This is a really fun puzzle/platformer from Game Freak, the company behind Pokemon. I wish they would experiment with non-Pokemon games more often, since I believe this and HarmoKnight (3DS) are the only ones they’ve done, and they’re both good! This game has nice, layered level design and terrific production value, but it has some awkward control issues in some stages that made them more tedious than they should have been. It has expressive animation and upbeat music, and is definitely the type of game that is just aching for a sequel.

Crashmo (3DS, 2012) — Speaking of sequels, this is the direct follow-up to the fantastic Pushmo, which is one of my favorite puzzle games on the 3DS. This one adds several new game mechanics that really switches things up, but Intelligent Systems didn’t do a whole lot with the game’s presentation, choosing to focus more on the puzzles and camera controls. It’s really challenging nd super-polished, but I didn’t stick with it through to the end like I did with Pushmo.

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune (PS3, 2007) — This was the second time I played through the first Uncharted, doing so this time to experience the story again and to collect all of the artifacts that I missed my first time through. Although its visuals suffer from some rough animation and lack of V-sync, it reminded me of why I fell in love with the series in the first place: it has lots of energy, the characters burst with fun conversational banter, and the story — although a bit ridiculous at times — is entertaining and keeps you going to the very end.

10,000,000 (Android, 2013) — This “match three” puzzle game really surprised me with its RPG-like leveling up system and combat, which made it feel unique in a sea of Bejeweled clones. Its simplistic 8-bit graphics are effective, but sadly, the whole experience is over within a few hours. Although a grind-fest would have made this wear out its welcome, I do wish that there would have been more content to keep me coming back for more. It’s still worth playing, though, and the fact that I completed it really says something, since I rarely finish mobile games.

The Room (Android, 2013) — Did I say I rarely finish mobile games? OK, well, I finished a few last year, including this one, which was very short, but of incredibly high quality. It has a dark, mysterious atmosphere, and while the puzzles aren’t that difficult, everything in the game world has a very satisfying, tactile feel, so I found myself really getting into it, and I didn’t stop playing until I had solved them all. A great paid app that has very nice graphics and sound design.

Broken Age: Act 1 (PC, 2014) — This is Double Fine Productions’ legendary Kickstarter success story. The original scope of what they wanted to do and what they actually ended up with were two very different things, but it’s a good example of how a modest start, huge support, and aiming for the stars can result in a very organic and open game development cycle. While they might be criticized for not delivering on their original vision, I think most people will agree that the end result was worth the wait, and supporters will be getting Act 2 for free when it eventually comes out. It’s a pretty simple, old-school point-and-click adventure game, but it’s made with love, and has some great voice acting, writing, art, and a cliffhanger ending that makes the wait for Act 2 that much more painful.

Batman: Arkham Origins (PC, 2013) — I played all three of the Arkham games last year, and out of those, I thought Origins was the “weakest”. I put that in quotations because it’s still a really darn fine game. It makes solid improvements to boss encounters, and I thought the story was pretty good too. I think it catches a lot of flak for not being developed by Rocksteady themselves, but I thought WB Montreal did a worthy job filling Rocksteady’s big shoes, and the vocal performances by Roger Craig Smith (Batman) and Troy Baker (Joker) do an equally good job replacing series veterans Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill. It’s more of the same, but that sameness is still very fun to explore and play. REVIEW LINK

Monument Valley (Android, 2014) — Criticized by many for being too easy and too short (and I can’t disagree with that, because it is easy and short), I instead chose to look at it as an example of good visual and audio design. In many ways, it reminded me of Thatgamecompany’s excellent PS3 title Journey, since it has a very solitary — but ultimately positive — feeling and outcome. Out-of-this-world colors, nice animation, and pathfinding that is almost too good, to the point where the game seems to auto-play at times. It might be over in about an hour, but it’s an hour well spent. REVIEW LINK

The Room Two (Android, 2014) — The sequel to The Room, this game took the ideas from the first game and made them bigger and scarier. I liked the more complex puzzle design, but the game felt less intimate and focused than the first game because of its expanded scope. Still, it’s a great example of a high-quality, premium mobile game experience. I can’t wait to see what Fireproof Studios does next. REVIEW LINK

Electronic Super Joy (PC, 2013) — I love difficult platformers, and this is certainly a tough one, without falling into masochistic territory. I love the retro visuals that pulse in time to the absolutely terrific soundtrack. It’s worth playing just for the music, if you like techno and its various sub-genres. It’s a little on the short side with only 40-some-odd stages, but getting all of the collectible stars will give even the most seasoned veterans a nice challenge. It’s really funny at times too. REVIEW LINK

Aban Hawkins & the 1001 Spikes (Wii U, 2014) — After Electronic Super Joy, I continued my platforming kick with this, which was a fun and super-challenging game to get through. It seemed almost unfair at first, but once I got the hang of the controls and the level design, I started to progress through it a lot faster. Some of the later stages almost broke me, but I made it through all the way. Unfortunately, there were lots of audio bugs, and at the time I played it, there was no second screen support, so it felt a little unfinished compared to what I’m used to. REVIEW LINK

LEGO City Undercover (Wii U, 2013) — Earlier in 2014, I finished my first pair of open-world games: Tomb Raider and Grand Theft Auto V. I had heard good things about this one, so with my interest in the genre high, I picked this up and jumped right in. What a game! Although it does suffer from some slow UI and performance issues, it’s still a great game with tons to do, lots of fun humor, superb level design, and some truly standout pieces of music. There are opportunities for improvement, though, so I hope that this becomes a series, because it deserves it. REVIEW LINK

Nier (PS3, 2010) — A strong recommendation from one of my friends finally prompted me to play this. So glad I did, because although the gameplay and graphics are pretty mediocre, Nier delivers characters, story, and music that I can only classify as best in class. It also contains what I believe to be one of the greatest implementations of a New Game+ system that I’ve ever experienced. Truly, the rough parts of the game are worth persevering through in order to experience the rest of it. REVIEW LINK

Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores (Android, 2014) — An in-app purchase for the aforementioned Monument Valley, this expansion takes the simple ideas of that original game and adds a nice layer of complexity based around perspective and order of operations. It’s still a rather short experience at about an hour or so, but its excellent art, sound design, and vibrant colors make a lasting impression on the player.


Games Scoring an A

Forza Motorsport 4 (360, 2011) — Over three years old now, and I’m still playing it. Maybe not as often as I did when it was new, but I love Forza‘s approach to career mode, with its fast progression and abundant rewards. Also, despite what the internet would have me believe about its lack of realism compared to Gran Turismo, I just prefer the feel of the Forza series. Plus, the car sounds absolutely kick its competition’s butt six ways from Sunday. No contest there at all. On the flipside, it lacks a truly robust photo mode, and I hate that it requires Xbox Live Gold just to share pictures, but it’s a great package with lots to do and great cars to drive. The Top Gear UK content is a lot of fun as well. As for the Rewind function and braking lines? I love them. Sue me!

The Beatles Rock Band (360, 2009) — It’s crazy to think that it wasn’t that long ago when plastic musical instruments were all the rage. Although I’ve been playing music games since the late-’90s when Konami’s Bemani series was starting to peak, I also got into the newer entries from EA and Activision. I think this Beatles installment is the best one in terms of production value, and its career mode is of surprisingly high quality. I played this quite a bit when it was new, but only played through the campaign mode last year. It’s a journey worth taking for any music or Beatles fan.

Bravely Default Demo (3DS, 2014) — I can’t remember the last time I put dozens of hours into a demo, but I certainly did with this one. In terms of giving the player a nice taste of what’s being offered in the full version, Bravely Default‘s downloadable demo delivered, with several job classes to master, a good chunk of quests to complete, and lots of addictive combat. Plus, you can transfer data to the full game, which is something that more demos need to do. Great art and music, too. I have yet to start the full version, but plan on doing so in 2015.

The Last of Us: Left Behind (PS3, 2014) — It’s a brief and relatively easy experience compared to the main game, but it’s one of the best examples of story-based downloadable content. It delivers fully on the promise of fleshing out an important piece of Ellie’s backstory, to the point where the events that occur in the DLC fundamentally change key sequences throughout the main campaign. It’s done with a level of care and realism that is rarely seen in games. It’s a wonderful achievement that I look forward to experiencing again in the Remastered PS4 version.

Tomb Raider (PC, 2013) — A fantastic action game that marries an open-world structure with some of the best aspects of the Uncharted series. It’s a lot of fun to play with tons of things to discover and collect. Great graphics and good voice acting for Lara herself. The rest of the cast is just so-so, and is diminished even further by the amateurish and completely over-the-top story. This was the first open-world game that truly drew me in, though, and kept me going until I achieved 100%. Lots of nice touches throughout, and I can’t wait for Rise of the Tomb Raider, although I’ll need an Xbox One first.

Thomas Was Alone (Vita, 2013) — This was a freebie with my PlayStation Plus subscription, and while I didn’t think much of it at first, it quickly grew on me, and by the time I was at its final stages, the game had totally won me over with its touching story and characters. Those characters themselves are (at least visually) nothing more than squares and rectangles, but the narrator injects so much life and personality into them that you can’t help but care for them deeply. The commentary track from creator Mike Bithell is the perfect icing on the cake, and provides a ton of insight into the development of the game and its inhabitants.

Tearaway (Vita, 2013) — From Media Molecule, creators of the LittleBigPlanet series, this was the first retail game that I played on Sony’s struggling handheld. It’s absolutely wonderful, with characters and a world created almost entirely out of pieces of construction paper, and uses the Vita’s various functions (most notably the rear touchpad) in fun and unique ways. It loses its way slightly with some of the Trophy-based tasks, which brings to the surface some of the game’s control quirks, but the package as a whole is undoubtedly one of the best games on the system, and it will be interesting to see what the PS4 update (Tearaway Unfolded) is like. REVIEW LINK

NES Remix 2 (Wii U, 2014) — Audiences are split on the NES Remix series, but I love them. They speak to the arcade high score chaser that was apparently dormant inside me until I started playing these games. They are fun, bite-sized challenges that make you think about old games in new ways. Getting the highest rainbow star ratings on each one is a decent challenge, but matching or beating the lowest times on the Miiverse is something else. It’s highly addictive, and the online component is quite nicely integrated. It’s a very good improvement over the original NES RemixREVIEW LINK

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, 2014) — This is the first in the series since the original Super Mario Kart on the SNES that I have truly had a blast with. Great track design, catchy music, and fun local/online multiplayer. Its DLC is also a very good example of how Nintendo produces some of the best and most consistently high-quality content in the business. I only wish that Nintendo would add a proper campaign or story mode to this series. I know that the majority of players just want to race online, but adding in something more for the single-player crowd would push this series over the top for me.

New Super Luigi U (Wii U, 2013) — Designed as DLC for New Super Mario Bros. U, this is yet another example of how DLC should be done. NSLU takes the stages from NSMBU, cuts the timer down to just 100 and throws in a bunch of new hidden Luigis, stars, exits, and challenges. If it weren’t for the recycled world map and assets, you would swear you were playing a completely new entry. It’s definitely worth playing, as is its parent game, which in my opinion is the best of the New series of Mario titles. REVIEW LINK

Portal (PC, 2007) — This year marked probably the fifth time I’ve played through Portal, and it remains as good as it was the first time I went through it. Sure, the puzzles are easier just because I’ve solved them before, but the dialogue from GLaDOS is still as hilariously terrifying as ever, and the atmosphere remains solitary and unnervingly claustrophobic. I decided to play through it again since I was trying to train myself to play with mouse/keyboard right-handed, but I gave up. I finished the game anyway, just because.

Pokemon X (3DS, 2013) — The first Pokemon game I’ve ever completed! I had actually tried to play through the game earlier in 2014, and made it pretty far in, but it just didn’t hold my attention. With a friend’s son getting Pokemon Y for Christmas, I decided to start over in order to catch some fun Pokemon he might want. Well, something clicked and I got totally hooked. The rest is history as I’ve blasted through two more games and am a trading card fanatic. This game has a cute story, fun world to explore, terrific music, and the metagame aspects for secrets, breeding, training, and other strategies are insanely vast. There are some annoyances with breeding and how grindy some things are, but this still represents one of the best values in handheld gaming. 100 hours in… and counting. REVIEW LINK


Games Scoring an A+

Super Mario 3D World (Wii U, 2013) — This is Mario’s first 3D outing on console since 2010’s spectacular Super Mario Galaxy 2, and it’s a memorable one. Although purists have derided both it and the Galaxy games as not being another Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine, I think it holds its own just fine, and is totally fun from beginning to end. Speaking of the end, the last level will test even the best players with one of the most challenging final stages of the series. Graphics are beautiful, music is a cut above the New series (but a cut below the Galaxy games), and the controls are buttery-smooth and responsive. This game also contains the first batch of Captain Toad levels that eventually would inspire a full retail game.

The Last of Us (PS3, 2013) — Sublime. This, more than any other of the PS3/360/Wii generation, successfully combined a touching story, consistent characters, fun gameplay, awe-inspiring visuals, and a beautifully melancholy soundtrack to deliver one of the — if not the — best overall experiences in recent memory. Are there flaws? Sure. Performance can take a hit, I had a couple soft crashes here and there, and some of the collectibles are incredibly obscure, but they don’t hold the game back. Easily one of the best ever made, and absolutely essential for anyone who appreciates the craft of games as a vehicle for refined and engaging storytelling. It’s a game that stays with you long after you’ve turned your console off.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves (PS3, 2009) — I don’t know what happened at Naughty Dog between the first Uncharted and this one, but they definitely went Super Saiyan with Uncharted 2! It’s a monumental improvement across the board, from its technology and jaw-dropping set pieces to its storyline and atmosphere. Visually, the game is a stunner, with major improvements to animation, scenic depth, and texture quality. Combat and gunplay have never been Uncharted‘s strongest areas, but they get the job done and can be highly rewarding for those who play online. This is my second time through Uncharted 2, this time playing it to get all of the collectibles. A superb experience, five years later.

Grand Theft Auto V (PS3, 2013) — I’m rather ashamed to admit that I’ve never finished any of the GTA games. That is, until this one. I’ve never cared for the series, mainly because the controls never felt good to me, but Rockstar got things pretty right with GTA5. I fell in love with the game pretty early on, and it wasn’t even because of one of the three main characters. It was Franklin’s friend Lamar, voiced with hilarious verve by Slink Johnson. The scene is clear as day in my mind as they’re at the car dealership with Simeon… and the rest is history. The game was entertaining from beginning to end, with the multi-day heists being one of the game’s highlights. Beautiful graphics, terrific banter between the characters while driving, funny gags all over the place, and like most open-worlders, so much to do that it could take months of solid play to 100%.

Batman: Arkham Asylum (PC, 2009) — I had tried to start this twice in the years prior to 2014, but never did get too far either time. Not sure why, but this year, it stuck, and stuck hard. This is an instant classic, with a very smooth and intuitive combat/combo system that quickly becomes addictive. Chain hits together and finishing thugs with the big hits are satisfying in the best bone-crunching way. The voice acting is top-notch across the board, employing two series greats, Kevin Conroy and Mark Hamill as Batman and Joker, respectively. One of my favorite aspects of the game was the various recordings you find throughout, which fleshes out character backgrounds and lore of the Batman world. As a relative newbie to the franchise, these were very helpful and got me into it. This is a must-play for action and comic book fans.

Batman: Arkham City (PC, 2011) — Immediately after finishing Arkham Asylum, I jumped into this. Taking the ideas of Asylum and expanding them into a larger, more traditional open-world structure made for one of the best experiences with so much to do. Some may argue that it’s more of the same or isn’t focused enough, and that’s fine, but it doesn’t stop it from being one of the best games out there. One of my favorite passages from the game involves Mr. Freeze, whose name unfortunately conjures up images of Arnold Schwarzenegger from the 1997 fiasco Batman & Robin. Mr. Freeze’s story here is touchingly told, and cements him as one of my favorite Batman characters. The ending gets crazy over-the-top (and not in a good way), but the game is still ace. Arkham Knight this year!

Shovel Knight (PC, 2014) — Speaking of knights, Yacht Club Games’ Kickstarter success story was easily one of the best side-scrolling platformers I played in 2014. Its visuals and music exist somewhere between 8-bit and 16-bit, with fluid animation and a soundtrack to die for. The game — at least during its first playthrough — skews a little on the easier side, but there is so much to discover that it’s good that the developer took this approach. The entire package just oozes high quality, with a unique risk/reward continue system and a story that is surprisingly heartfelt. I loved every minute of this game, and all I can say is that I hope we get a sequel.

Volgarr the Viking (PC, 2013) — Perhaps the biggest surprise of the year for me was this game. The result of another successful Kickstarter, Volgarr is a hardcore side-scrolling action game that can seem overly punishing, but if you stick with it, you’ll discover — like so many others have — how amazing it really is. The controls seem stiff initially, but that’s only because they are 100% predictable, so once you accept that, it makes learning and traversing each stage much easier. I died so many times, but when I finally beat the game, it felt like the greatest thing ever. The animation is really good, as is the soundtrack. The backgrounds? They’re just OK, but they don’t detract from what is otherwise a definitive arcade-style experience.

Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, 2014) — If I was forced to pick, this would be my overall Game of the Year. Developed by Platinum Games, it’s a small miracle that we even got this sequel in the first place, so props to Nintendo for helping make it a reality. The first Bayonetta was a good game that I enjoyed quite a bit, but the sequel just trounces it in every way. Its vibrant visuals sparkle, and lack of screen tearing gives the game a nice visual polish it lacked on the 360 and PS3. Combat feels faster, smoother, and more impactful than ever, and the worlds are full of secrets, challenges, sweet music, and gorgeous vistas. The story is your typical action game nonsense, which is unfortunate, but Bayonetta 2 doesn’t suffer because of it, and triumphs on all of its other strengths. This is the action game of this generation so far. You need a Wii U to play it, but to be perfectly honest, I have to say it’s worth it.


And there you have it.  All of the best games that I played last year. Agree? Disagree? Have favorites of yours that you want to recommend? Please leave them in the comments — I’d love to hear from you!  Thanks for reading, and here’s a toast to the games of 2015!


Review: POKEMON X & Y (Nintendo 3DS, 2013)

pxbox[Note: This review refers to Pokemon X since that’s the version I purchased, but the content applies to both.]

When Pokemon Red & Blue came out for the Game Boy in late 1998 here in the US, I paid very little attention. I was in full-blown “It better be like Final Fantasy VII or I don’t care!” mode, which in hindsight is pretty sad to think about, but that’s the honest truth about my mentality back then. Shiny objects and everything. OK, maybe “shiny” isn’t the best way to put it in the context of Pokemon, but you know what I’m saying.

poke_blueAnyway, the Pokemon craze was absolutely insane in the years to follow, with not just the games, but the anime and trading card game acting as the other two major franchise tiers. South Park, which was extremely popular at the time as well, did the hilarious and all-too-true episode Chinpokomon as their own commentary on Pokemon and fads in general. Only this fad never went away. Years later, Pokemon‘s popularity remains high, and you can even “catch ’em all” in Ubisoft and Obsidian’s South Park: The Stick of Truth (2014), underscoring Pokemon‘s continued demand and pervasiveness.

Pokemon Yellow — a significant overhaul of Red/Blue, featuring Pikachu and a visual makeover to reflect the look of the wildly popular anime — came out in 1999, and even though my younger sister was the furthest thing from an RPG player, she purchased it. She didn’t play it much, preferring Pokemon Pinball instead, so I inherited it shortly thereafter. I loaded it up, played it for about 30 minutes, and shelved it. I remember thinking, “You gotta be kidding me with this garbage.”

The years passed… history became legend, legend became myth… being older and more open-minded, I decided to give the series another shot in 2009 with the release of the HeartGold/SoulSilver (HGSS) remakes. I had just earlier that year fallen in love with the Dragon Quest series, after having finished the fifth installment’s remake on the DS. I figured the same thing might happen to me with Pokemon.

It didn’t. Much like Yellow, I played it a little bit, but I didn’t like the slow pace, the battles seemed so simplistic, and yeah, I guess I just didn’t “get it”. Onto the shelf it went, and I ended up selling it a few years later in 2013, complete with its Ho-Oh figurine. I made quite a profit, but I would soon realize what a mistake that was.

There was always something about Pokemon that compelled me, though. I would occasionally wonder what the franchise’s “secret sauce” was, and why it was lost on me. I would go on to buy both Black and White in 2011, since I thought it would be fun to play, battle, and trade with my wife, but that didn’t happen either. I actually don’t think we even opened them, and I once again sold them to the highest bidder.

But then along came Pokemon X/Y in 2013. It was touted as being the first mainline Pokemon game to have fully 3D graphics, which in the context of games in general, sounded rather silly to me. I was like, “So what?” Being the ever-curious person that I am, though, I ended up buying X rather early on in its release cycle, but it too sat around for nearly a year before I started playing it this past December.

95 hours and counting later, all I can say is, “Why in the world did I wait so long?!”


Pokemon X is a wonderful game, and it’s one of the best games I played in 2014 and continue to play in 2015. Although it took me some time to get used to the French-inspired region of Kalos’ inhabitants being super-friendly and helpful all the time (honestly, how often does this happen in games?), it won me over with its charm and beauty shortly thereafter.

The world itself is vibrantly rendered, with the human characters modeled in a slightly super-deformed style with big, expressive eyes and colorful outfits. They are outlined in a distinct, cartoon style, making the game feel like a living, breathing anime. Subtle, but effective touches like seeing the wind gently blow through blades of grass, the shadows of clouds slowly crawling by overhead, or reflections in crystal-clear bodies of water, all give the game an almost Hayao Miyazaki-like sense of observation and being one with nature. Game Freak did a fantastic job in making Kalos feel like a part of the world you not only want to spend time in, but also go out of your way to treat well.

Character animation is also very nice. The player will kneel down to talk with small children, which I thought was the coolest touch that is rarely seen in other games. An animation of you picking up items and putting them in your bag also plays, which is a good detail, but it could be argued that animations like this tend to slow things down, which I have noticed in other games like Dragon Quest VIII.

It didn’t bother me here, though. Pokemon is at its best — at least while playing through the main story — when you take your time in each area, exploring and learning them thoroughly, and just losing yourself in the world and its culture. Because the scenarios tend to be very positive, I rarely felt stressed out or angry playing it. The more I dug in and explored, the more I was rewarded by helpful people giving me new items, finding hidden ones, and learning about how the various game mechanics function.

You aren’t hit over the head with lengthy tutorials, either. Gameplay and control hints come in the form of entertaining “shows” on TV, NPCs, signs that are peppered around each area, and the player’s own exploration and experimentation. It’s a great way to educate the player without forcing them through a boring opening tutorial.


The story in Pokemon X is understandably light compared to many other RPGs, but I really enjoyed that aspect of it. There are scenes that will bring a big smile to your face (if you play as the male protagonist, how can you not love Shauna?), interspersed with interesting and thought-provoking passages about war and humankind’s relationship with and the destruction of nature. Again, the Miyazaki influence here feels quite strong.

The numerous Pokemon themselves are at the heart of the franchise, and as each encounter with a wild Pokemon occurred, the more I was drawn to certain ones over time. I didn’t think I would care all that much for them, since the over-exposed Pikachu is the poster “mon” for the entire series and seems to get all of the attention, but boy have I become opinionated about my favorites!


The Pokemon designs themselves are seemingly simplistic, but upon closer inspection are so aesthetically pleasing that they can’t help but be instantly likable. I chose Fennekin as my starter, but as she evolved into her other forms, I found myself feeling disappointed with her, so I switched her out with some of the others, taking a liking to Froakie and later Amaura. I think it’s great that the series allows for so many different styles and favorites. For every person who thinks Bulbasaur is worthless, there is someone who simply adores it. I’m sure my opinions on each Pokemon will develop further as I start watching the anime. I love their designs, so I think it will be terrific to know more about their individual stories.

I realized several hours in that Pokemon X‘s monster designs are really what I enjoyed the most. Again, I’m reminded of the aforementioned Dragon Quest series, with its fantastically original monster designs, fast-paced battles, whimsical storylines, and deep job systems. Although I will be reviewing Pokemon Yellow in a future update, what I will say now is that much like Dragon Quest, it’s interesting seeing how little has changed about the series’ core gameplay, giving players an immediate feeling of comfort and familiarity. I like that.

pxmegablastoiseBut that’s not to say that there aren’t significant changes, and a major addition to the formula are Mega Evolutions, which allows certain fully evolved Pokemon like Blastoise to become Mega Blastoise, with boosted stats, different abilities, and a bold new look. They’re pretty impressive to look at, and they can be part of a good Trainer’s strategy since certain Mega Evolutions can change that Pokemon’s type as well. They’re an interesting addition that I’m sure helps freshen up traditional matches, since you can only have one of them in your party at a time, and their use comes at the expense of not being able to hold what could arguably be a more useful item.

General combat in Pokemon X is easy to learn, but difficult to master, and is especially satisfying when levels between combatants are equally matched. Unfortunately, if you take your time playing through Pokemon X, that will rarely be the case, and you’ll likely find yourself extremely overpowered rather quickly, meaning you can simply use brute force to one or two-hit KO most Pokemon, without having to rely on super-effective moves or complex planning. I think this does a slight disservice to the player, since strategy often takes a backseat to pure power.

It’s still a robust rock-scissors-paper system, though, where certain types are effective/weak against others, special moves can boost/drop stats, items can create major advantages, and status effects have real consequence. When’s the last time you played an RPG where status effects like being poisoned or paralyzed linger after battle? It’s not too common anymore in modern games.

The combat graphics are done extremely well, with colorful environments and smooth animation. Each Pokemon has unique fighting animations and sounds, and now I understand why the shift to 3D was such a big deal for fans. They really do look fantastic, and faithfully bring the classic 2D sprites to life. I was tempted to turn off the battle animations, but they look so good that I left them on throughout the whole campaign to see them all in motion. Pokemon have cries that are almost as instantly recognizable as the way they look, which I think is pretty unique. I don’t know why, but that floppy Magikarp’s cry gives me the heebie-jeebies.

froakieWhile combat is one thing, catching Pokemon is another. I like the battles in Pokemon X, but the real thrill for me was running into a new, rare Pokemon that I hadn’t seen before, and figuring out how best to catch it without knocking it out. There are moves that make this a lot easier, but it’s also fun and interesting to swap in different Pokemon that will do just enough damage to allow the player to catch them successfully. There are also a myriad of different Poke Balls that can further increase your odds of capture, and combining different techniques can create scenarios where catching them is as easy as 1… 2… 3… click!

Music is another area of Pokemon X that surprised me. I was expecting something light that would fade into the background, but I was pleasantly surprised that it was so memorable and varied. Tracks like the inspired Gate Theme, which most players will only hear for a few seconds going from route to route, is one of the better songs I’ve heard in some time, certainly in recent memory on the 3DS. The theme for Route 19 is also terrific, exuding a real sense of adventure and discovery. There’s something about it that has a little bit of that Disney magic.

The touchscreen interface works great, with the bottom screen used for things such as menus, inventory/Pokemon management, training, battle commands, online interactions, and minigames. It’s nice to be able to directly access features with the touchscreen instead of having to press a button to open up a menu every time. It’s something I’ve come to really appreciate on the 3DS and Wii U.

Speaking of online functionality, it’s absolutely great for trading. Wonder Trade, which allows you to deposit any Pokemon into the online space and get a random one back from another player, is both frustrating and amazing at once. Frustrating because you’ll shake your head after receiving your umpteenth Bunnelby and Zigzagoon, but amazing when you get a rare Pokemon, a starter with great stats, or even an incredibly rare shiny for no other reason than to make your day awesome.

chespinThere is also the Global Trade Station (GTS), where you can seek out specific Pokemon with some custom conditions if you wish (like gender, level range, etc.) by putting up your own offers and vice versa. This is a great way to help fill up your collection, especially if you are trying to complete your entire Pokedex (an index of all the Pokemon you have seen and captured/held), or if you are more ambitious, a Living Pokedex. I have yet to 100% my Kalos Pokedex, so I’m nowhere near those levels of commitment. Yet.

You will run into lots of people if you decide to go online. You’ll see your friends, make acquaintances through trading, or see a steady stream of passer-bys. Interactions are not intrusive, and you can decline offers to battle or trade if you prefer. If you get a particularly nice Pokemon during a trade or have a fun battle, you can give them a “Nice!”, which is like a Reddit Upvote or Facebook Like, or you can bestow upon them various O-Powers, which will do things like increase their odds of capturing Pokemon, make items in stores cheaper, gain more experience in battle, and other nice boosts. The O-Powers consume less if you use them on other people, and they also level up the more you use them, so the game does a really good job of encouraging the player to share them with other Trainers.

Pokemon X‘s metagame — or using resources outside of the game itself for greater benefits within — is an area that is so vast and detailed that you could teach a course just in Pokemon mechanics and strategies. There is just so much you can do. Not even including the battle strategies and tactics themselves, Pokemon Trainers can choose to breed for hidden abilities, passing on special moves, getting specific natures, maximum individual values (IVs), baby Pokemon, or using what is known as the Masuda method to obtain shiny versions of specific Pokemon. The time, effort, and attention that effective breeding requires is surprisingly rewarding, although simply breeding for shiny Pokemon is a surefire cure for insomnia. It just isn’t fun, but yet I still keep trying.


I do wish that the entire breeding process was more streamlined. As it stands, Trainers start off by riding their bike back in forth in front of the Pokemon Day Care (where you drop off 1-2 Pokemon to level up and/or breed), collect the eggs, fly to and ride around in a circle in the game’s large hub city, wait for the eggs to hatch, check their moves/abilities/natures/items, fly to another city to have their IVs checked, mark those with the in-game PC, fly back to the Day Care, replace breeding Pokemon if necessary, swap items around, and repeat. Since you can only carry 6 eggs at a time, this process becomes very time-consuming. It would have been great to have a round area to ride right in front of the Day Care, as well as having an IV assessor there as well. I haven’t gotten that far into Alpha Sapphire, so I’m curious to see if any of this has been addressed.

Other annoyances include the somewhat lengthy battle intros, and if you’re power-leveling a party of low-level Pokemon, be prepared to sit through a slow, seemingly endless stream of individual “level up” notification jingles, while managing newly learned moves, which after a short while always have to either be dropped or replace an existing move. It’s the Pokemon way, though, and it’s fascinating that Game Freak has, for the most part, stuck to their guns: You get 4 moves per Pokemon, and that’s it.

The 4 moves thing seems terribly limiting at first, but it’s also what makes Pokemon incredibly deep and strategic, despite its surface simplicity. You have to consider the move types, how they play to that Pokemon’s strengths/weaknesses/stats, their accuracy, possible status effects, recovery rounds, and other factors. Not carefully taking these into account can put you at a huge disadvantage, especially when battling experienced human Trainers. You don’t have to worry too much about the in-game ones, though. They’re not very smart.

tyruntWhile not without a few flaws, I had — and continue to have — a fantastic time playing Pokemon X. The main storyline is full of simple charms and some memorable characters, battles are fun, discovering and catching new Pokemon is exciting, and there is a lot to do after the credits, some of which are outlined here.

If you’re into breeding and training a top-tier team, the game hasn’t truly begun until its postgame starts anyway. Pokemon X is not just an incredibly well-made game, but it represents a deep and pure RPG experience that can be played as casually or as hardcore as you want, making it one of the most accessible and rewarding experiences for players of all ages. Highly recommended.

Overall: A



Backlog Blitz: The Games of December 2014 & Final Results!


The actress Cate Blanchett once said, “If you know you are going to fail, then fail gloriously.” I can think of no better way to describe what happened to my so-called Backlog Blitz progress during the final month of 2014. It was truly epic how terribly I did, and how temptation, great deals, and falling in love with a popular monster collecting franchise got the better of me.

Before I get to December, though, I have to say that 2014 was a great year! I have very few regrets about what I bought and played. It’s a bit frustrating to realize that I can’t seem to stop myself from buying more games than I finish, but I do think that outside of blazing-hot deals and inexpensive PC bundles, I’ve remained pretty selective about the titles I buy and play. I hope to keep that trend going into 2015.

Anyway, here are a few statistics from this year:

  • I bought a whopping 87 games and bundles, which averages out to 8 purchases totaling $118.05 per month. Total spend for the year was $1298.60. That’s the equivalent of about 2 console or 3 handheld games at full price per month, which isn’t too terrible. Could definitely be better, though!
  • I played and finished a total of 63 games, so a little north of 5 per month. My best month was January, when I somehow blasted through 13 titles. Not sure how I did that, but I must have been very motivated. There were some really good ones that month too, including Super Mario 3D World (Wii U) and The Last of Us (PS3). The total value of what I finished was $1003.00, which put me -$295.60 in the hole.
  • Total play time was approximately 1051 hours, which comes out to about 3 hours per day. Since I spent a sizable amount of the year working on this blog and my YouTube channel, I’m not surprised that this number isn’t higher.
  • The average rating for all of the games I finished was an 8.9 (B+). Of those, 35 games scored in the 9.1-9.9 range (56%), 21 from 8.1-8.9 (33%), and 7 were a 7.9 or below (11%).
  • Overall, I finished -24 for the year, which is almost as bad as my 2012 embarrassment of -36! I only have myself to blame though, and as you’ll see below, December basically accounts for that entire deficit.

For 2015, I’m trying a couple different things:

  • I won’t be wiping the slate clean like I’ve done in the past. I’ll instead start at my -24 deficit, which I hope will keep me more honest and focused on playing what I already own instead of being tempted by deals, new releases, and delusions that I’m doing better than I actually am.
  • I’ll now be tracking what I sell. It makes sense to me that if I end up selling a game, that I should keep a record of that, as well as how much I earned from the sale. I think it will be interesting to see the month over month net.

Otherwise, everything else will remain the same, and I’ll keep the monthly updates coming.

Finally, here is a breakdown of what I bought and played during the final month of 2014. As I mentioned above, this is a long list! Here we go:

Games Purchased in December (24 titles, $466.60 spent):

  1. Mortal Kombat: Komplete Edition (PC) — This one was so cheap via the Brazilian site Nuuvem that I couldn’t pass it up. I haven’t really played a Mortal Kombat game since Mortal Kombat Trilogy on the original PlayStation, so this will probably be a shocker when I finally get around to installing and firing it up!
  2. Metal Gear Solid: Legacy Collection (PS3) — I had no idea this was even a thing until this year, and it must have been a limited run or something, because it quickly became expensive to buy new. Fortunately, I won a new copy on eBay that somehow avoided any auction sniping. This is another series I gave up on relatively early on after Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty on the PS2.
  3. Valiant Hearts: The Great War (PC) — I finally got around to picking this up. I’d meant to back in June when it first came out, but I wanted to finish Ubisoft’s other UbiArt Framework game Child of Light first. While that didn’t happen until December, I still made good on my promise.
  4. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker (Wii U) — The Captain Toad levels from Super Mario 3D World were fun and nice breaks from the main game, so it was great to see Nintendo take those ideas and turn them into a complete game. I haven’t played it yet, but I plan on making it one of my firsts for 2015.
  5. Pokemon White Version 2 (DS) — Part of a great holiday sale, I got this one on the cheap. Although most players will say that Pokemon Black Version 2 is the better of the two, I’m still fairly new to the series, so I doubt that I’d notice any difference.
  6. Persona 4 Arena Ultimax (PS3) — Another good online deal that I didn’t want to pass up. It doesn’t help that I still have yet to play the first Persona 4 Arena, but that’s beside the point! These games look great, and I’m very eager to see how they complement their RPG counterparts.
  7. The Wolf Among Us (PC) — I’ve heard really good things about this episodic adventure game from Telltale, and even though I know nothing about the Fables source material, I’m still looking forward to checking this out!
  8. Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (3DS) — This one was a total impulse buy based on some impressions I was reading on NeoGAF, which is always a dangerous thing to do. I used to be a big fan of first-person dungeon crawlers on our family’s Apple IIe, and with this one being described as the most accessible of the series so far, I figured I’d give it a try.
  9. Bundle Stars: Killer Bundle (PC) — Another solid offering from the UK-based Bundle Stars, this one includes: S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, Demonicon: The Dark Eye, Pixel Piracy, Year Walk, Alone in the Dark, Albedo: Eyes from Outer Space, Kraven Manor, FATE: The Cursed King, Loren the Amazon Princess, and Real Boxing. Even having worked at THQ for much of my career, I somehow didn’t have a Steam copy of S.T.A.L.K.E.R.!
  10. Rage (PC) — I really didn’t have any interest in this first-person shooter from id and Bethesda, but those 75% off Steam holiday sales tend to generate interest rather easily. I haven’t played an id game since Quake III Arena (man, those were the days, weren’t they?), so I’m sure this will feel nostalgic no matter what.
  11. Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition (PC) — Another rock-bottom Nuuvem deal that appeared around the holidays, I’ve been eyeing this one for a long time, so I finally pulled the trigger. I’ve heard very good things about this game, and I’ve read it described as a game that betters Grand Theft Auto in some ways, so I’m definitely going to play this sooner rather than later.
  12. Pokemon Black Version (DS) — December was the month that I finally fell head over heels for the Pokemon series. While I had purchased (and sold) several other Pokemon games over the years, including Yellow, HeartGold, and Black, after pouring tons of hours into Pokemon X, I was on a mission to re-buy one title from each generation that I had missed or sold. I decided to get this one to complement the previously mentioned Pokemon White Version 2.
  13. Pokemon HeartGold Version (DS) — Nothing much to add here, but I will say that buying Nintendo games in cardboard boxes like these on the internet is a stressful thing to do. Sometimes shippers will roll the dice and put them in padded mailers, but others will box them up safely. Thankfully, Pokemon collectors take this stuff seriously, so this arrived in a nice box in near-mint condition. That helped ease the sting of me having just sold this game earlier in the year.
  14. Pokemon Platinum Version (DS) — I know very little about the Generation IV Diamond and Pearl games, but after reading about Platinum‘s changes, I decided to just stick with this one for now. If I like it, I might go back and pick up one of the others, but I’m finding it increasingly more difficult to play the older games after experiencing Pokemon X and Alpha Sapphire.
  15. Bundle Stars: You Don’t Know Jack Classic Bundle (PC) — My wife and I enjoyed playing the recent You Don’t Know Jack on the PS3, and I remember loving the original, so these might be fun to go back to, since they’re sure to be hilarious time capsules of pop culture from their respective release years. This bundle includes 9 games total, including the sports, TV, and movie installments.
  16. Dragon’s Dogma: Dark Arisen (PS3) — This is another title that regularly gets referred to as the best action RPG on the PS3 on several gaming forums, and with it being so inexpensive right now, I figured this would be a good time to get it in the queue. I really don’t know much about it, so I’m going into it with little-to-no expectations.
  17. Crimzon Clover: World Ignition (PC) — I used to be a huge shoot-’em-up player. It was probably my favorite arcade genre, with series like R-Type, Raiden, and Gradius eating up tons of my quarters over the years. I got really into the “bullet hell” shooters from Cave as well during the 2000s, and while I’m probably extremely rusty at them at this point, they’re a style of game I’ll usually support with my dollars, only because they’re a bit of a lost art, cherished by those disciplined enough to master them.
  18. Astebreed (PC) — Purchased at the same time as Crimzon Clover, this is another PC shooter from Japan, and contains both vertical and horizontal shooting elements. For some reason, the name bugs me, but the gameplay is supposed to be really good, so I suppose I can let that slide. I’m joking, of course.
  19. Lost Odyssey (360) — Often referred to as one of the most underrated games on the Xbox 360, I decided to pick this up before it gets more difficult to find. It’s funny to see a game delivered on 4 discs these days. That used to be pretty common back in the original PlayStation generation, but outside of PC games, I can’t remember the last time I saw a game come on so many DVDs!
  20. Transistor (PC) — From the same crew that developed the most excellent Bastion, this one somehow passed me by upon its original release back in May of 2014. Just about every game on PC saw some great discounts over the holidays, and this one was no exception. I actually know very little about this game’s style, so I can’t wait to play it.
  21. The Humble Noodlecake Mobile Bundle (Android) — Surprisingly, this was the only bundle from Humble that I bought in December. I put in the $8 asking price to unlock everything: Polymer, Glorkian Warrior: The Trials of Glork, Pumped BMX 2, Super Stickman Golf 2 Premium, Devious Dungeon Premium, Tower Dwellers, Mikey Boots, The Blocks Cometh, Flappy Golf Premium, Mage Gauntlet, Box Cat, Wayward Souls, and Wave Wave v2.0. Will I play any of them? That remains to be seen.
  22. Escape Goat 2 (PS4) — My wife generously bought me a PS4 for Christmas, and this little puzzle platformer was my first purchase. Having seen a lot of positive impressions of it, as well as it being on sale for PlayStation Plus subscribers, I decided to take the plunge. It has a simple premise and a nice aesthetic.
  23. Pokemon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition (Game Boy Color) — I wasn’t sure about going back this far in the series, but I decided to do exactly that after finishing Pokemon X. It was a bit pricey, and it makes me wish that Game Freak and Nintendo would put some of these old Pokemon games up on the 3DS eShop.
  24. Wolfenstein: The New Order (PS4) — I thought that this would be a completely forgettable game, but people who have played it have been pleasantly surprised by its quality. I’d all but written off the Wolfenstein series long ago, but it looks to have made a return to form, which is great to see for any long-running franchise.

Games Finished in December (6 titles, $51.00 value):

  1. Titan Attacks! (PS3, 1 hour) — A PlayStation Plus freebie, I was looking forward to this, but I found it to be a tedious and rather boring Space Invaders clone. I much prefer the Space Invaders Extreme series on the DS and PSP. It has a decent power-up system, graphics, and audio.
    Overall: C
  2. Nier (PS3, 25 hours) — It took me nearly half of 2014 to finally play through this, but it’s a game that has arguably the best story, characters, and soundtrack of any game from the 360/PS3 generation. The single-player MMO style gameplay is pretty good, and it borrows elements from many different genres and popular franchises. Some elements are rough, but it’s a unique experience that shouldn’t be missed.
    Overall: A- (REVIEW LINK)
  3. Rogue Warrior (PC, 1 hour) — I played this as a bit of a joke since it was my lowest Metacritic-rated game in my Steam library. It’s a terrible game that just feels disrespectful to both its content and players alike. It’s too bad that Bethesda’s name is on this. About the only good thing I can say about it is that it has built-in gamepad support.
    Overall: D-
  4. Child of Light (PC, 10 hours) — This is a beautiful UbiArt Framework RPG that is certainly impressive to look at and listen to, but it’s equally impressive that this came from a big publisher like Ubisoft. It feels like an indie game, which is a good thing. I wish it didn’t have the rhyming dialogue, which seems forced most of the time and undermines the emotional impact of the story, but the combat is pretty fun, and the world is a joy to explore. The game is very short though, so I hope we get an even more expansive sequel.
    Overall: B-
  5. Pokemon X (3DS, 95 hours) — This will be the Pokemon game that will be forever credited as the one that sent me careening headlong into this massive universe of a franchise. Many longtime Pokemon players have called this the worst in the series due to how easy it is and its lack of post-game content, but whatever; I enjoyed it immensely. The main game was indeed pretty easy, but for me, that’s OK. I got lost in the metagame, learning about IVs, EVs, hidden abilities, natures, and elusive Shiny Pokemon. I wish combat moved at a slightly brisker pace, and breeding and hatching could be more streamlined, but overall, this is a great RPG with an incredible amount of charm and wonderful music. I’m still playing it, even though I’ve started Alpha Sapphire.
    Overall: A
  6. Monument Valley: Forgotten Shores (Android, 1 hour) — A $2 add-on to one of my favorite mobile titles from earlier this year. This installment expands upon the solid ideas established in the first game, and while it is still pretty easy, it’s not as easy as the first game, with some puzzles taking several tries to figure out. Beautiful visuals and sound design round out a memorable, but short experience.
    Overall: A-

So there you have it! 2014 is now over and we’re nearly halfway through January. Thanks for making it through this entire update, and be on the lookout for the next one, which will be my Games of the Year!


Review: Nier (PS3, 2010)

I know it’s cliche to say, “Never judge a book by its cover,” but in the case of Cavia and Square Enix’s action RPG Nier, that phrase has rarely been so applicable. Originally released in April of 2010, Nier was met with lukewarm review scores in the 60-70% range, and for the most part, flew under the radar of most gamers. After I’d come off a rather bitter first encounter with Square Enix’s own Final Fantasy XIII the month prior (that game has yet to win me over), Nier simply didn’t register any interest from me. One look at the game case and I thought, “Here’s another generic action game with bad-looking art.”

Fast-forward to July of 2012, and by that point, I had been seeing a lot of people online referring to Nier as their favorite game of the PS3 generation, and I had friends at work who suggested I play it. That certainly piqued my interest, as these were a the same folks who had championed titles like Advent Rising, God Hand, and Psychonauts, and although I still wasn’t all that interested in it, I decided to pick it up. It was only about $17 at the time, so the risk was low. However, as is the case with many of my purchases, it sat on my shelf in the shrinkwrap, and it wouldn’t be until two years later in July of 2014 that I would finally crack it open and give it a shot.

20150106_nier_2Initially, I didn’t really get it. I thought the graphics were dull, with washed-out colors and too much bloom. World geometry seemed simplistic, in-game animation was rough, and the story, at least at first, seemed like every other “father trying to save their daughter” plot. The controls and combat, while serviceable, weren’t anything special either, and certainly weren’t at the refined level I was used to with other action games like God of War, The Legend of Zelda, or Bayonetta.

Quests were of the basic fetch and collect-a-thon varieties, complete with annoying, time-consuming rare drops and a repetitive — but easy to master — fishing minigame. About the only thing I did love right out the gate was Nier‘s soundtrack, which is arguably one of the best ever created. Anyway, I played it for several hours, reached the ocean town of Seafront, and once again shelved it.


After receiving a steady stream of encouragement from one of my friends to keep on playing it, I finally returned to it 4 months later in November. It took me some time to get back into it, and although I found myself enjoying the game’s characters, story, and music, the game itself just wasn’t doing much for me. It’s good, but far from great. Nier is a game that’s difficult to define, but I’d say at its core, it’s a single-player MMO with action RPG gameplay. There are many other genre and series influences throughout, most notably those from bullet hell shoot-’em-ups, which plays a big part of Nier‘s combat and excellent boss encounters. I found myself smiling on many an occasion as I was reminded of games like Resident Evil and the classic text adventure games from Infocom.

The action is pretty stiff, and Nier himself has one of the most bizarrely awkward jumping animation cycles I’ve ever seen. He puts his all into it, that’s for sure! Combat feels simplistic and not all the fluid, but experimentation over time yields a system that is adequately diverse, with a good mix of melee and magical attacks, combos, different weapons that can be upgraded and augmented with a unique stat-boosting word system, cancels, deflections, and evasion techniques. While I was getting destroyed early on by enemy mobs, by the end of the game, I was getting through most encounters without taking a single hit. Taking down larger enemies is also quite satisfying. Nier‘s combat won’t win any awards, but for the most part, it feels good, and you’ll likely seek out combat more often than avoiding it.

20150106_nier_3The world of Nier is a rather hazy place. Most locations employ a foggy, dream-like overexposure effect that is meant to make areas feel more atmospheric, but this instead comes across as a technique meant to obscure the game’s mediocre graphics. While the world art and detail are decent, Cavia did a particularly nice job on the characters and the menacingly intimidating bosses you fight throughout the game. These designs are unique, beautifully animated, intuitive to engage, and very memorable.

As mentioned earlier, Nier‘s soundtrack is amazing. Although I haven’t played a lot of RPGs over the past decade, I’d say this is easily one of the best I’ve heard since Yasunori Mitsuda’s stirring compositions in Chrono Cross. The tracks are melancholy, haunting, ethereal, easy to listen to outside of the game, and are as close to perfect as can be. Music is truly one of Nier‘s standout features, elevating the overall experience, and should not be missed if you’re a fan of high quality music.


Voice acting in Nier is also surprisingly good. While there are some characters that do a better job than others, I think that for the most part, lines are delivered with the right amount of emotion and realism. Although the story and world tend to be pretty bleak — as most post-apocalyptic environments tend to be — the dialogue is peppered with excellent humor, fantastic banter while exploring and going on quests, and most importantly, lots of heart. Characters treat others like real people, their actions are consistent, and you quickly fall in love with the entire cast, which is a commendable feat in a sea of games where most characters are expendable or boring shells designed to push forward superficial, contrived narratives. As a result of Cavia’s careful writing and scenario planning, the inhabitants of Nier feel completely three-dimensional, giving their actions and fates true weight and consequence.

As a result, Nier‘s overarching story truly separates it from most other games, and in my opinion, is what makes this an absolute must-play. Employing a uniquely abbreviated New Game+ system, multiple playthroughs are not just there to allow the player to complete unfinished quests and collect Trophies, but they expand upon the core story in ways that will change the way you view all of Nier‘s events, both past and present. Giving the player these new, different perspectives blur the lines between good and bad, right and wrong, and even accepted gameplay and genre conventions that we take for granted. The first playthrough is a solid and memorable one, but subsequent playthroughs make Nier lasting and unforgettable.


In closing, Nier is definitely a game that is greater than the sum of its parts. While its visuals and gameplay are rough around the edges, it is all tied together by a story and soundtrack that are without a doubt among the best I have ever encountered in my 35 years of gaming. Highly recommended.

  • Visuals: B-
    A competently realized world with lots of unique landmarks, nice character art, and smooth cutscene animation. World geometry is pretty simple, and in-game animation is stiff. Framerate frequently drops below its 30fps cap.
  • Sound: A+
    One of the best soundtracks I’ve ever heard, with very good voice acting. The audio side of Nier is one of its highlights and isn’t to be missed.
  • Story: A+
    What starts off as a seemingly straightforward plot turns into one of the most memorable and original stories to grace a video game. Getting all of Nier‘s endings is worth it, no matter what the cost.
  • Gameplay: B-
    Decent combat and typical MMO-style quests abound. Lots of running back and forth going through the same areas to collect materials, deliver messages, get items, and complete different quests. A good variety of game genres are represented, but if you don’t like oldschool shoot-’em-up style dodging, some areas and encounters could prove frustrating. Lots of distractions for those who seek them, including weapon collecting, forging, crop harvesting, fishing, and time attack challenges.
  • Controls: B
    The controls are responsive and can be customized, but there are some quirks with hit detection, slow ladder climbing, awkward jumping, and some frustrating camera angles.
  • Value: A
    It takes about 25-30 hours to complete a first playthrough, with subsequent New Game+ sessions taking a few additional hours a piece. Platinum chasers will have their hands full with some extremely time-consuming requirements, which can boost total playtime to over 70 hours.

Overall: A-



Review: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS, 2013)


2013 was the Year of Luigi, and with it came several games that put Mario’s oft-forgotten twin brother front and center. Much like the Left Behind DLC for The Last of UsNew Super Luigi U on the Wii U was an amazing example of what companies are capable of when they dedicate some real time and effort into their DLC projects, and it was one of the best titles that I played this year. I gave it an A in my review, and it’s a game that will challenge and delight any side-scrolling platformer fan.

While there have been other less prominent outings for Luigi, including Super Luigi Bros., which can be found within NES Remix 2, and the eShop exclusive Dr. Luigi, the game that most people will remember from Luigi’s year in the spotlight is this game: Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (from here on out simply referred to as Dark Moon).

Developed by Next Level Games, who was also in charge of the excellent Punch-Out!! on the Wii back in 2009, Dark Moon quickly became one of the most anticipated games on the Nintendo 3DS. Being a fan of the GameCube original, I was very excited to see what kind of a difference twelve years would make.

20141119_luigis_titleThose years have been kind, because for the most part, Dark Moon is a success. Luigi carries around an upgraded vacuum known as the Poltergust 5000 (formerly the Poltergust 3000) — invented by Professor E. Gadd, developer of F.L.U.D.D. from Super Mario Sunshine — which among other things is used to collect ghosts, treasures, and pull drapes off of curtain rods. It can also function in reverse to roll up carpets, turn fans, and launch projectiles through the air. He’s also outfitted with a flashlight that can momentarily stun ghosts and open locked doors. One of the neatest additions to Dark Moon is the Dark-Light Device, a black light of sorts that can reveal invisible objects, hidden ghosts, and other clues.

Your Poltergust 5000 can be upgraded throughout the course of the game, but you’ll have it maxxed-out long before you reach its end. At first it feels like it all happens too soon, but you’ll quickly learn to appreciate this as it makes the act of catching ghosts and beating missions much easier and a lot of fun. Another new feature is the Surge mechanic, which rewards you with better treasure based on what Surge level you’re in when you capture a ghost. It’s very strategic and is an important timing skill to learn in order to get the best rankings.

Players are ranked from 1 to 3 stars on their performance in each mission, which takes into account how much damage you sustain, how much treasure you find (getting good at Surge timing really helps out here), and how quickly you complete them. I found the final component — the time one — to run counter to the spirit of the game, which encourages exploration of every nook and cranny of each mansion. I felt like I needed to memorize where all of the best treasures and ghosts were found in order to get each mission’s best 3-star ranking. For some of the longer missions, this became more trouble than it was worth, and while I found every Boo, I stopped short of 3-starring every stage.

20141123_dark_moon_amethystSpeaking of stages, yes, the singular mansion of the first game has been ditched in favor of several different ones, each possessing their own unique look, inhabitants, obstacles, puzzles, and other challenges. Each mansion is broken up into several distinct missions which have individual objectives to complete, including puzzles, collecting ghosts, finding rare gems, and capturing hidden Boos, which unlock extra levels in each mansion if you find them all. This gives the game a lot of replayability, and it will have completionists reentering missions multiple times to find everything they missed.

It works, but I would have preferred a more integrated structure, since the back-and-forth one in Dark Moon leads to a lot of loading screens, lengthy dialogue scenes between you and the Professor, and it slows the pace of the game down quite a bit. The stages themselves, however, are beautiful to look at. While the 3DS struggles to maintain a solid framerate, which can be anywhere from sub-20fps to 60fps, they are well-constructed, atmospherically lit, and contain all sorts of interactive objects. The 3D works particularly well, since so much of Dark Moon relies on the player being able to detect and locate ghosts in 3D space, so being able to see if a ghost is in front or behind you is critical.

Luigi himself is wonderfully animated, and you get a believable sense that he really doesn’t want to be there! He’s the reluctant hero, and that comes across in his nervous vocalizations, terrified facial expressions, and hesitant body language. The ghosts that you encounter throughout each mansion are distinct, fun to defeat, and really stand out against the mansion backdrops. While most of them are pretty easy to figure out, they can become downright diabolical when they start working in groups against poor Luigi.

In terms of controls, they’re pretty good, but because there is no standard dual-analog control for the 3DS, you have to physically be facing a ghost in order to shine your flashlight at them or use your vacuum. In more heated encounters where you are against several different enemies at once, the control scheme can become a hindrance and a noticeable limitation. There are also buttons you have to press and hold to run, look up, and look down, so there is definitely a steeper learning curve with Dark Moon‘s controls than most Nintendo games. It makes me think that it would be amazing to see a Luigi’s Mansion game on the Wii U.

The music in Dark Moon is understated, but quite brilliant at the same time. It’s more ambient than the typically melodic fare of Nintendo titles, but it suits the game’s mood perfectly, and the first time you hear Luigi humming along to the music while you’re exploring is one of those moments that elevates the soundtrack from just “being there” to selling it as a truly integrated and necessary component to the experience.

Speech is limited to short phrases and in the case of Professor E. Gadd, unintelligible gibberish that sounds oddly similar to the Ewoks from Return of the Jedi. In-game sounds are nicely done and provide each environment with creaking floorboards, clanging chandeliers, and other spooky noises that bring each mansion to supernatural life.

Each mansion culminates in a boss fight, and while some of them intelligently blend the action with inspired puzzle design, others are simplistic or overly long and tedious. One in particular, which happens about halfway through the game, can be a test of one’s patience, and ultimately feels out of place. Plus, if you lose a life, you have to do it all over again from the beginning, and most of the boss stages have an introductory area that you need to get through first before the fight begins, which adds a little insult to injury.

The game also contains several escort missions, where you have to rescue various Toad Assistants and get them through different obstacles to the exit. While I generally don’t like escort missions, I found these to be a lot of fun and had me thinking about each stage in different ways. I think Dark Moon is at its best when it challenges you with its puzzle design, rewarding the player with satisfying “Aha!” moments. If another Luigi’s Mansion is made, I would love to see more cooperative traversal missions like these.

dark_moon_3_starDark Moon‘s campaign mode will take most players around 10-15 hours to complete, and likely at least double that to 100% it. Not only that, but a new multiplayer mode known as the ScareScraper is almost an entirely different game in itself, with different modes and challenges that encourage teamwork with other players. It’s a fresh new way to experience the Luigi’s Mansion formula, which when you consider that the series is known so much for its single-player qualities, this really stands out as a highlight.

All in all, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon is a worthy follow-up to the 2001 GameCube original, with a wealth of content, variety, and replay value. While there are some things about it that I didn’t particularly enjoy, such as the overly heavy focus on collecting, level structure, certain boss encounters, and an inconsistent framerate, it is one of the more unique titles to be found on the 3DS, and definitely worth a look if you’re in search of a more challenging and cerebral experience.

  • Visuals: B
    Nicely modeled environments, colors, and excellent character animation. However, an inconsistent framerate and dull menus tarnish its overall visual presentation.
  • Sound: A
    A wonderfully atmospheric soundtrack with solid voice samples, crisp sound effects, and a wealth of convincing environmental audio bring each mansion to life. Headphones are definitely recommended!
  • Story: B-
    Nothing groundbreaking, but the simple story about recovering the Dark Moon pieces and returning the ghosts to their former state keeps things interesting enough through to its end. The dialogue sequences are numerous and overly lengthy at times, though.
  • Gameplay: B
    There is a lot to do in Dark Moon, and the game gets a lot of good mileage out of a few well-defined systems. Exploration, discovery, puzzle-solving, and escorting NPCs are all very satisfying. Mission structure makes things a little slow, however, as it breaks up the overall flow of the game. 3-star requirements tend to be vague, and some boss encounters feel like they could have used another design pass as well.
  • Controls: B+
    Controls are responsive and are surprisingly robust and natural in most situations once you get used to them. Capturing ghosts feels great, but without dual-analog on the 3DS, certain encounters and situations can be more frustrating than they need to be.
  • Value: A
    Completionists will have their hands full finding everything and obtaining all 3-star rankings, and the ScareScraper multiplayer mode is nicely integrated and will keep players coming back for more.

Overall: B



Backlog Blitz: The Games of November 2014


November can be a painful, evil month for gamers. With publishers wanting to take advantage of the holiday shopping season by getting big titles out to market, and retailers offering deep discounts on even the newest games, giving in to temptation is easy. And give in I did, as weakness overcame me this month on a number of hard-to-resist deals and new releases.

Anyway, even though I dropped quite a bit this month — and recovery in December looks bleak — I still managed to finish several games, including my pick for Game of the Year.  I was a bit bummed, however, that my spending total was the highest it’s been since January. The format, as with previous updates, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-10, $195.75 spent):

  1. MW_WII_CVR SHT_3MadWorld (Wii, $10.00)
    After getting into the Bayonetta series from Platinum Games, I began picking up some of their other games. Last month it was Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, and this month it’s this stylish black and white action game for the Wii. I know close to nothing about this game, but I’m guessing it was highly influenced by Frank Miller’s Sin City. I’m looking forward to checking it out after I’m done with The Wonderful 101.
  2. The Humble Jumbo Bundle 3 (PC, $5.75)
    The folks at Humble Bundle continue to offer up some of the best deals in gaming, to the point where it’s almost criminal. This particular bundle contained the following titles: Always Sometimes Monsters, Blackguards, Euro Truck Simulator 2, Full Mojo Rampage, GRID, GRID 2, Half Minute Hero: Super Mega Neo Climax Ultimate Boy, Insurgency, KickBeat Steam Edition, and Tesla Effect: A Tex Murphy Adventure. I’ve heard so many good things about that Euro Truck Simulator series, so I’m curious to check that one out soon!
  3. WiiU_HyruleWarriors_BoxartHyrule Warriors (Wii U, $51.00)
    I have to admit that this was one of my more haphazard purchases of the month. I’ve been on a third-person action game kick recently, and the thought of playing one featuring a bunch of Legend of Zelda fan service seemed like reason enough to pick this up. Something tells me that this will be much cheaper soon, just because it’s one of those games on the fringes, but oh well, I’ve heard it’s good fun with near-limitless content.
  4. Bundle Stars: Lego Super Heroes Bundle (PC, $15.00)
    Bundle Stars is another bundle provider who puts out some really nice collections from time to time. I really enjoyed Lego City Undercover on the Wii U earlier this year, and so I’ve been looking for a reason to check out more games in the Lego series. This appeared last month and included the following: Lego Batman, Lego Batman 2 DC Super Heroes, Lego Marvel Super Heroes, Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Asgard Pack DLC, and Lego Marvel Super Heroes: Super Pack DLC. It’s not that inexpensive in bundle terms, but it’s still a good deal at about $5 per mainline title.
  5. ssb_wiiu_boxSuper Smash Bros. for Wii U (Wii U, $60.00)
    Nintendo strikes again with their big release for the holidays. I’ve admittedly never been much of a Smash Bros. fan or player, but this one seemed a lot more interesting to me, and given that it’s been a long time since I’ve played any sort of fighting game, I figured now would be a good time to ease myself back into a genre I once loved in the early/mid-’90s. I also picked up a Yoshi Amiibo, which you can check out in more detail HERE.
  6. The Humble Crescent Moon Games Mobile Bundle (Android, $8.00)
    Humble got me not once, not twice, but three times this month. This second one contained so many games that I have no idea where to start. At this point I feel like a collector of Android games since I rarely ever play them to completion. This bundle contained: 2-Bit Cowboy, Aralon: Sword and Shadow, Blocky Roads, Clash of Puppets, Exiles: Far Colony (Alpha), Mines of Mars, Neon Shadow, Paper Monsters, Pocket RPG, Ravensword: Shadowlands, Relic Rush, Shadow Blade, Siegecraft Defender, Slingshot Racing, Space Chicks, The Deer God (Alpha), and Topia World Builder. Whew! 17 different titles in total. I think my Android library is about to eclipse my Steam library, which is a little scary to think about.
  7. Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call (3DS, $20.00)
    Black Friday is always a day where I like to stay home. I just don’t like crowds who are going nuts over cheap, no-name TVs and throwaway DVDs. This time, however, I wandered out later in the weekend to see what was left, and this was one of them, which was about the going price at most of the online retailers as well. Living in Oregon means no sales tax, so it’s nice to get things for the actual advertised sale price. I put a decent amount of time into the first game, but plan on really sinking my teeth into this pseudo-sequel.
  8. diablo_3_ps3Diablo III: Reaper of Souls (PS3, $15.00)
    This is the other Black Friday weekend deal I picked up, which was an even better deal than Curtain Call at a very nice $25 off. Perhaps this is a bit of a shocker, but I’ve never played any of the Diablo games on PC. I’ve heard very good things about the console port, so I’m very excited to finally see what this is all about.
  9. The Humble Weekly Bundle: Zen Studios 2 (PC, $6.00)
    I love pinball games, with Zen Studios’ Plants vs. Zombies table is one of my recent favorites. This second pinball table bundle from them is full of good stuff: Base game and Civil War Table, Captain America Table, Excalibur Table, Deadpool Table, Doctor Strange Table, Mars Table, Marvel Pinball Vengeance and Virtue Pack, Star Wars Pinball: Balance of the Force Pack, and Star Wars Pinball: Heroes Within Pack. I like what I’ve played of the past Star Wars tables, so I’m hoping the ones included here maintain that level of quality.
  10. Sega 48-Game Mega Arcade Pack (PC, $5.00)
    This was part of a Black Friday deal on It’s been priced this low before, but not for a while. Not a bad deal at all given that it’s normal price is a very steep $70. These games have been part of past collections, but the emulation used in Steam seems quite good, and includes some decent visual options and save states. Included are the following: Golden Axe, Altered Beast, Comix Zone, Ecco the Dolphin, Gain Ground, Shinobi III: Return of the Ninja Master, VectorMan, Crack Down, Shadow Dancer: The Secret of Shinobi, Space Harrier II, Alex Kidd in the Enchanted Castle, Bonanza Bros., Columns. Ecco Jr., Eternal Champions, Fatal Labyrinth, Galaxy Force II, Kid Chameleon, Ristar, Super Thunder Blade, Alien Storm, Bio-Hazard Battle, Columns III, Sword of Vermilion, Virtua Fighter 2, Ecco: The Tides of Time, Decap Attack, Flicky, ESWAT: City Under Siege, Golden Axe II, Alien Soldier, Gunstar Heroes, Landstalker: The Treasures of King Nole, Light Crusader, Shining Force, Shining Force II, Shining in the Darkness, Streets of Rage, Streets of Rage 2, Wonder Boy III: Monster Lair, Sonic 3D Blast, Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine, Sonic Spinball, Sonic the Hedgehog, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, Sonic 3 & Knuckles, ToeJam & Earl, and ToeJam & Earl in Panic on Funkotron. Sadly missing is the fifth Genesis pack, but at this price, it’s impossible to complain without sounding ridiculous.

Games finished (+3, $104.00 value):

  1. TF2-EApcSLP03Portal (PC, $10.00, 2 hrs.)
    For some reason, I got it in my head that it might be a good idea to “train” myself to play mouse/keyboard games right-handed. As a southpaw, I’ve always had to rebind my controls every time I want to play something like a PC FPS. It’s not that big of a deal, but it’s just annoying enough that I will usually go the lazy route and play with a gamepad. While it was going OK, I realized that I rely on my left-handedness too much for other PC-oriented tasks, like Photoshop and other art/drawing applications, so I decided to stick with what has worked for me all of these years. I was going to help train myself with this game, and although I didn’t play it right-handed, I went ahead and played through the entire thing yet again. It’s still one of the most tightly constructed FPS puzzle games, but wow is it short if you know what you’re doing!
    Overall: A
  2. Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, $60.00, 20 hrs. and counting)
    As I mentioned in this post’s intro, this is my Game of the Year, and I played some excellent games this year. Problem is most of those games came out in 2013 or earlier, such as Grand Theft Auto V, Batman: Arkham Asylum, The Last of Us, Super Mario 3D World, and Volgarr the Viking. I can’t get over how beautifully executed this game is, and it will be remembered as one of the best games on Nintendo’s most challenged console to date.
    Overall: A+ REVIEW LINK
  3. luigi_dark_moon_boxLuigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS, $34.00, 15 hrs.)
    This game took me forever to finish. I started it back in June, but for some reason, it never really hooked me. I appreciated it for what it was and for how it improved upon the GameCube original, but there were aspects of its design that I felt held it back from being a truly great and classic Nintendo title. Still, like the works of Studio Ghibli, even a “just OK” game from them is better than what most other companies produce, so it still managed to be a memorable adventure with lots of replay value for those who like collecting stuff and racing against the clock.
    Overall: (Review Forthcoming)

And with that, we head into the final weeks of 2014. It’s been a fun journey filled with some of the best games I’ve ever played, with some big ones set to hit in 2015, including the next Legend of Zelda, Batman: Arkham Knight, and Uncharted 4. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Time to start saving up those pennies! Have a great weekend and see you next time.


Review: Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, 2014)

I’m just going to get this out of the way right now: Bayonetta 2 is my Game of the Year for 2014. No other title in recent memory has captivated and entertained me as much as this one has, and that’s saying a lot since (a) I only started playing the Bayonetta series about a month ago, and (b) I usually don’t care for third-person brawlers like God of War and Ninja Gaiden.

Not only that, but I didn’t really love the first Bayonetta, either. Yes, I gave it a B+ in my review, and I enjoyed its style and deep combat system, but there were a number of things I didn’t like, including the lengthy on-rails shooter stages, boring mini-games, flat colors, and endlessly wordy cinematics. While some of those things have carried over to its sequel, they’ve been stripped down and polished to a brilliant shine, resulting in a game that delivers a perfectly paced experience from the heavens. Or hell, if you prefer.


The fact that we even have Bayonetta 2 in our hands is a bit of a small miracle. With Sega not able to take care of publishing duties this time around, Nintendo was the only company willing to step in and take a chance on it. Announced as a Wii U exclusive back in September of 2012, it immediately angered Xbox and PlayStation supporters. I remember being floored by the announcement, at first confused by the Wii U being its one and only home, but then excited that Nintendo did something that surprised so many people. As a company known for publishing mostly their own E-rated games, having the sultry Bayonetta grace their new system definitely made a big impact. Most importantly, though, it gave the Wii U a serious action exclusive that can’t be played anywhere else.

Over two years have passed, and the wait was so worth it. From its opening moments, Bayonetta 2 exudes quality. The first thing that jumps out at you is the new, brightly vibrant color palette, replacing the dark, muted tones of the original. Everything pops and shines beautifully, with stylish cinematic sequences and an in-game framerate that does its best to maintain 60fps. It drops regularly due to the sheer amount of on-screen detail and chaos, but in my opinion, it’s not bad enough to be a detriment to gameplay.


There is no screen tearing or v-sync issues to be found here, which was one of my biggest gripes with the first game’s graphical presentation, even with the superior Xbox 360 build. As a result, each frame of Bayonetta 2 is complete and an absolute treat for the eyes. The same qualities carry over to the free version of Bayonetta that comes packed in with its sequel.

Speaking of that pack-in, it’s not just a simple port, and includes extras like the Japanese language track, Nintendo-themed costumes, faster load times, easier difficulty settings, and better performance. By all accounts, it’s the definitive version of Bayonetta until a possible remaster is ever developed. The inclusion of the original game not only adds value, but is also helpful for Wii U owners who have never played the first one, giving them an opportunity to see how it all started, and provides a baseline on which to compare its sequel.


And make no mistake, Bayonetta 2 is superior to its predecessor in every conceivable way.

Gameplay is sublime and feels even better than the first game. It’s the core of what the series is known for, and Platinum Games has taken what worked so well nearly five years ago, and has made it feel even more responsive, exciting, and fluid. New features such as the Umbran Climax, which takes Bayonetta’s attacks and powers them up like a string of fighting game super moves, gives encounters an even more impactful and visceral feel than before. They’re so crazy that they can sometimes obscure the action, so be careful: They can be a double-edged sword if you are playing to achieve perfect playthrough status.


Controls are intuitive and responsive, with a heavy focus on dodging enemy strikes. Well-timed dodges will make the player enter what is known as Witch Time, which will slow down the action, temporarily make Bayonetta invincible, and allow her to build up her score and combos. The Dodge Offset technique also makes a return, which allows you to continue a combo string even after you dodge, as long as you’re holding down an attack button. Additional moves, weapons, items, costumes, and accessories can be purchased from your pal Rodin, found, or alchemized to further deepen your already robust arsenal.

The Angel Attack minigame has been completely removed, and the drawn-out driving and flying stages have been replaced by shorter, more focused sequences, one of which conceals Bayonetta 2‘s most famous Nintendo easter egg.


Long-time fans of Platinum Games will be right at home with the scoring and ranking system here. Most of the game’s Chapters are broken down into multiple Verses, and each Verse is given a rank based on your combo, time, and damage results. Achieving a full combo, fast time, and zero damage in a Verse will result in a Pure Platinum ranking, the game’s highest award. For hardcore players, getting Pure Platinum across all of the game’s difficulties — including the highest Infinite Climax setting where Witch Time is disabled — will be the ultimate goal.

For many other players, experiencing the game’s story, characters, enemies, and environments will provide more than enough entertainment. While the story itself will give continuity error and plot hole seekers a lot to sink their teeth into, it does a decent job of building characters relationships and motive. Unfortunately, like Bayonetta 1, many of the cinematic cutscenes are still overly wordy, and more often than not, I found myself rolling my eyes at the awkward dialogue and unnecessary exposition, complete with forced cursing.


On the flipside, the action cutscenes are stylishly executed and a lot of fun to watch. They are all done in-engine, with the more highly detailed models rendered in 30fps, and gameplay versions output in 60fps. Quick Time Events (QTEs) are still a part of these sections, but they have definitely been toned down from the first game, and feel less intrusive as a result.

As before, sound effects play a big part in Bayonetta 2‘s gameplay, and in conjunction with bright visual indicators, cue the player in on when an enemy attack is being delivered, prompting you to dodge. Some of these attacks are easy to avoid, while others require near-superhuman reaction times. Focusing on these is key to Pure Platinum rankings, and your survival in general. One of the most rewarding feelings in this game is focusing through all of the insanity around you, and in a zen-like way, successfully finishing a Verse perfectly.


The music in Bayonetta 2 is as atmospheric and kinetic as the game itself, and like its predecessor, delivers a memorable selection of tunes that span a number of different styles. One of the highlights is a great upbeat version of “Moon River”, which is simply a perfect song selections for Bayonetta. Unlike “Fly Me To The Moon” from Bayonetta 1, “Moon River” is sparsely used, having a greater impact when you do hear it.

In closing, I had a blast with Bayonetta 2, and continue to do so, weeks after finishing it. There is just so much to do, find, collect, and conquer here, and it will keep action fans busy for a long, long time. It’s not only one of the best action games to be found on the Wii U, but is without a doubt one of the best action games ever made.

  • Graphics & Presentation: A-
    Vibrantly beautiful colors are a major improvement over the first game. Animation and special effects are big and impressive, including the new Umbran Climax and returning Climax finishers. No screen tearing, but performance overall is a bit worse than before. Story is OK, but like Bayonetta 1, it won’t be winning any writing awards.
  • Music & Sound Effects: A
    An excellent soundtrack brings the world of Bayonetta 2 to life, with lots of variety and different styles. Sound effects are helpful and impactful, and both English and Japanese voiceover tracks are included, even though the dialogue itself can be very long-winded.
  • Gameplay & Controls: A+
    Perfect, responsive, and refined controls make this one of the most exciting and intuitive games I’ve ever played. Lots of secrets, collectibles, post-game challenges, and online play will put the most experienced players to the test.
  • Value: A+
    The first game is included for free, and not only completing, but mastering all the game’s difficulty settings will take any player a very long time to achieve.

Overall: A+



Unboxing Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and the Yoshi Amiibo

Yikes, it’s been a while since my last update, so I sincerely apologize for letting the GHG blog go a bit stale lately. As I’ve mentioned a few times, my focus has shifted a bit to producing video content on YouTube. Between that, trying to get through games in order to provide raw content for those videos, and writing daily pieces on the blog was simply too much for one person, and I’m still a one-person team at the moment. Some things are in the works to help ease the workload, but those things take time, so for now I’ve just been going with the flow and not worrying about it too much!

In any case, this past Friday saw the release of Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and the first wave of Nintendo’s Amiibo near-field communication (NFC) figurines, first announced and shown at E3 2014. I was skeptical — and remained so for a long time — seeing it as Nintendo being late to the party on the Skylanders and Disney Infinity playable figurine market, and giving critics one more reason to hate them for not announcing Super Mario Galaxy 3 or a new Metroid.

Not being a fan of the Smash Bros. franchise didn’t help, but as time passed, footage was shown, and features revealed, my interest level skyrocketed. By the time early November rolled around, I had the game and a Yoshi Amiibo preordered. Yeah, I’m weak that way.

While I’m still getting used to the game itself, I wanted to share a collection of photos I took of the game and the Amiibo, as well as comments about each. I hope you enjoy them!


Bright and colorful front cover, using the standard Wii U blue case color.


Front cover logo detail.


Back cover and spine with Super Smash Bros. circular logo.


Back cover detail. It’s a bit messy, but shows the roster and some of the new features.


Close-up showing supported controllers, including the new Wii U GameCube controller adapter. The 3DS can also be used.


Inside of the case, a relatively thick, full-color manual is included, although they tend to get mangled by the extra disc holders along the spine.


Printed on the inside of the game’s front cover is the Club Nintendo registration code.


Inside the manual is a guide to basic commands, as well as a list of the fighters and their move set. Since I’m new to Smash Bros., I was surprised to see that commands are identical across all of them, although the moves obviously vary depending on which fighter you choose.


Close-up of one of the manual’s move set pages.


Game disc has nice art and the usual high quality Nintendo printing. Gotta love those smooth, rounded edges on Wii U discs.


The Amiibo packaging is pretty standard stuff with a cardboard backing, clear plastic display holder, and cardboard Amiibo base insert.


This particular Amiibo figure looks good. Bottom of packaging is relatively flat for convenient in-box displaying, too.


Closer detail of Amiibo packaging. Where the plastic meets the cardboard backing is wavy and not very attractive.


Back of packaging. Nice that it’s themed for the Amiibo inside and not just generically across all of them.


Another shot of the back packaging. Poor Diddy Kong!


The infamous metallic protective piece that prevents users from scanning/using Amiibos while they are still in the packaging. I don’t mind this, but I know that this irks some collectors who like their stuff to be “NIB”.


Nice detail on the actual figurine with good color, motion, and sculpting. At $12.99 each, they are competitively priced with the offerings from Skylanders ($9.99-$14.99) and Disney Infinity ($12.99).


Close-up of Yoshi’s bulbous snout.


A shot from above.


More detail of Yoshi’s shell and tail.


They did a really nice job on his eyes.


Gold and black Amiibo base with Super Smash Bros. logo on it. It’s interesting that they are themed this way since they will be used for current and future titles not part of this franchise.


It’s worth noting that this is one of several Amiibo that do not have clear or colored translucent support braces. I think that for the most part, those supports look terrible, so I do prefer ones like this, Kirby, and Pikachu.


Another shot of Yoshi’s tale. Notice the somewhat sloppy painting errors.


There are even more splattery painting problems underneath his right arm. This is the side you see the most, which is unfortunate and slightly disappointing.


Underneath the base, showing the Amiibo logo, part number, and other information.

For the most part, I’m happy with the quality of the Amiibo figurines, and the game looks and sounds beautiful. I’m definitely looking forward to digging into it more this weekend. Happy Thanksgiving everyone, and for those braving the store crowds, may the Black Friday odds be ever in your favor.


Backlog Blitz: The Games of October 2014


Oh, the holiday season. It’s that time of year when companies do everything they can to get their big releases out in time for Black Friday. It’s also when outlets like Steam, Humble,, and Bundle Stars bring out the big guns, unveiling deals that for even the most resistant of shoppers, make bulk purchases irresistible.

October turned out to be an OK month. I still slipped a little bit, but managed — just barely — to stay in positive territory. We’ll see if that holds in November, but the outlook is grim. Anyway, the format, as with previous updates, is Game Title (Platform, Purchase Price, Play Time).

Games purchased (-4, $78.25 spent):

  1. The Humble Mobile Bundle 9 (Android, $3.25)
    Another month, another Humble bundle… or two. This one included the following titles: Bardbarian: Golden Axe Edition, Devil’s Attorney, First Strike, Leo’s Fortune, Mountain, Neuroshima Hex, Out There, So Long Oregon!, and Syberia. I had just purchased Leo’s Fortune the month prior, and now here it is included in this bundle. Oh well, that’s OK. It’s a wonderful, high-quality game, so I don’t mind double-dipping on it.
  2. Bayonetta 2 (Wii U, $60.00)
    One of the most highly anticipated games on the Wii U, it was exciting to finally see its release! From Platinum Games, who also did The Wonderful 101 on the same console, this game received some of the highest scores last month from gaming outlets, including a number of 10 out of 10s. I’m about a third-way through it, and it’s every bit as good as everyone says. It’s a stunning game that improves upon the original in every way except maybe its story.
  3. Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Xbox 360, $9.00)
    Another game from Platinum, I decided to pick this up on the cheap. I don’t think it sold all that well, being such a departure from the Metal Gear Solid series, but as an action game, it has received very good scores. After enjoying the first Bayonetta as much as I did, I went on a small shopping spree to pick up some of their other games like this one.
  4. The Humble Indie Bundle 13 (PC, $6.00)
    Any “Indie” titled bundle from Humble is usually a big deal, and this one was no exception. It included a number of very high-profile indie games including: Teleglitch: More Die Edition, Tower of Guns, Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet, OlliOlli, Amnesia: A Machine For Pigs, Jazzpunk, Risk of Rain, The Novelist, Eldritch, and Tales From Space: Mutant Blobs Attack.

Games finished (+3, $26.00 value):

  1. Don’t Move (Android, $1.00, 2 hrs.)
    Excerpt from my review: “Do you need a game to be fun to feel satisfied when you reach the end? Does a game need to be challenging in order for you to enjoy it? Is variation in gameplay and locations key to keeping you interested in a title? Don’t Move will make you ponder these questions and more, long after you reach its Game Over screen. For something to make me think about games like this is a sign of something worth looking at, no matter how painful the experience was to get there.” Overall: B
  2. Lego City Undercover (Wii U, $5.00,  45 hrs.)
    Excerpt from my review: “The world is a pure joy to explore, and the controls are solid. Some platforming and judging of distance is vague, but with unlimited lives and convenient retry features, it’s rarely an issue. Grand Theft Auto could learn a thing or two from this game’s flying controls, which are wonderful. Tons of gameplay variation and abilities will keep you going long after the credits roll.” Overall: A-
  3. Bayonetta (Xbox 360, $20.00, 15 hrs.)
    Excerpt from my review: “Bayonetta is one of the best pure action games I’ve played in a long time. Its combat system is highly satisfying and possesses splendid depth. Although there are frustrating aspects, including gimmicky minigames, instant-death quick time events, performance issues, and a glut of unnecessary cutscenes, the foundation is rock-solid, and is a game that action fans should not miss.” Overall: B+

As I hinted at above, November is looking ugly. With good deals and big releases like Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, it’s likely that November will be the first month that will see me falling into negative territory. Oh well, it’s worth it! See you next time and have a wonderful holiday season.