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: NES Remix 2 (Wii U eShop)

Sorry about the lack of a GHG update yesterday. I set out to finish the main portion of this game, and finish it I did. Finally!

Anyway, if you’ve been following the blog or my social media posts over the past couple weeks, you know that I’ve been putting a lot of time into this game. How much is a lot? I just checked my Daily Log, and yeah, I said wow:


At nearly 43 hours in — and I still don’t consider myself done with it — this little $15 eShop title absolutely consumed me. It was really just supposed to be a slight distraction between bigger games like Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Nier. Instead, it became one of the most memorable, challenging, and competitive games I’ve ever played.

Now, for those who haven’t played either of these games yet, they are essentially a collection of bite-sized challenges built off of classic NES games, such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Dr. Mario, Kirby’s Adventure, and Metroid. There are also lesser-known ones thrown in there as well, such as Wrecking Crew, Wario’s Woods, Pinball, and Clu Clu Land.

Each of these games has a variety of different challenges to complete, many of which have time and life limitations. Additionally, separate sub-challenges may be involved that require you to get through different types of obstacles within each title. All of them have a hidden running timer that records how long each one takes, and depending on your time, you are awarded 1-3 stars. If you do particularly well, you get a rainbow 3-star.

Acquiring those rainbow stars don’t really do anything, and they are there mainly for personal satisfaction and bragging rights. You can experience 100% of what both games have to offer by simply getting 3 stars on all of the stages.

Additionally, there are Remix and Bonus stages that can combine elements from multiple games, have enhanced graphics, and change up gameplay mechanics and level structures from what you may be used to. All stages, remixed or otherwise, run the entire range in terms of difficulty. Consider the original game challenges a warm-up for these.


I really liked 2013’s NES Remix, but it wasn’t quite as compelling and enjoyable as its sequel. While game selection certainly plays a part in terms of perceived quality, NES Remix 2 introduces some key improvements that elevate the experience.

My favorite new feature is that your best playthroughs are all recorded, as are those of other players within Nintendo’s Wii U/3DS social network, the Miiverse. This not only lets you share your best times with others, but you can now watch all of those really fast runs from the many talented players out there. While I would recommend figuring out how to best navigate each challenge on your own first, I think it’s a lot of fun seeing how other players achieve such incredibly low times. This helped raise my game considerably.

Contrast this with how it’s done in the first NES Remix, where you can see other times, but not how they were achieved. It gave you a time to aim for, but you had to go onto something else like YouTube to actually see them. Integrating it all into the game itself is an inspired touch.

I’ve noticed that the community is much tighter for NES Remix 2 because of this, even though both games are part of the same collective group. I’ve had a blast sharing my times, along with a slew of doodles I’ve done to go along with them, like these, which I drew for Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Kirby’s Adventure, and Super Mario Bros. 3:




One thing the NES Remix games lack — and the sequel is no exception — are true leaderboards. The only way to see other players’ times is if they manually post them to the Miiverse. If not, you won’t see them pop up while in-game.

This is too bad. Hopefully if we see future installments, this is something they can add, because it would be great to see how your scores truly stack up against the rest of the world.


Speaking of leaderboards, however, one of the new modes — Championship Mode — does include rankings. This mode, inspired by the 1990 Nintendo World Championships, combines three challenges from Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, and Dr. Mario. You have a little more than six minutes to get through the three games, and much of your final scores comes down to how well you do in Dr. Mario.

The neatest thing I noticed going from the main game’s challenges to Championship Mode is how the skills you learn there translate over. I actually felt like a much better player at all three games as a result. It’s a lot of fun, and after a few tries I’ve already worked my way up into the top 25. I have a long ways to go before I come close to catching the leader, though!


The other new mode in NES Remix 2 is Super Luigi Bros., which is a remixed version of Super Mario Bros. Inspired by stages from the first NES Remix, you take Luigi from right-to-left, along with Luigi-esque physics that really change the way the game is played.

Admittedly, I haven’t played through the entirety of this mode yet, since it’s not all that interesting to me. Championship Mode is, in my opinion, by far the one that is the more addicting of the two.


NES Remix 2 feels a bit easier than the original game. It might be because the games control better for the most part, but I do think they were much more lenient with star requirements this time around. I think this is fine, because the heart of the game is continuing to whittle down and refine your times as much as possible.

If you play the game this way, you’ll obtain all the rainbows relatively easily, but even if you want to just semi-casually 3-star everything, you shouldn’t run into too many issues. This keeps things fresh, moving the whole experience forward at a good pace.

NES Remix 2 is a great game. It represents one of the best values to be found on the Wii U eShop, and is one of my favorite games of the year so far. Highly recommended.

  • Graphics & Presentation: A-
    Beautiful 8-bit sprites with subtle updates in the Remix stages, such as colorful, painted backgrounds. Improved Miiverse integration and newer games give it a more polished feel than its predecessor.
  • Music & Sound Effects: B+
    Clear audio, remixed music, and one particular Super Mario Bros. theme late in the game is especially memorable. The Game Over and Miss sounds are the same as before, though.
  • Gameplay & Controls: A-
    Newer games means mostly better controls, with a couple titles like Wario’s Woods and Zelda II feeling more slippery than they should. Tons of content rewards throughout keep you coming back for more, and additional game modes provide even more to see and do.
  • Value: A+
    If you play to chase high scores, this will keep you occupied for many, many hours. $15 is a bargain for this much gameplay.

Overall: A



The Nintendo Wii U: The little console that… might?

20140604_wiiu_logo_smIt’s tough being a Wii U owner. We’re faced with a constant barrage of doom and gloom from internet haters, industry analysts, and all facets of the press. It’s not unfair, and in fact, it’s entirely justified. The Wii U represents one of Nintendo’s biggest missteps, having only moved about 6 million units worldwide as of the end of March 2014. Having been on the market for 1.5 years already, those aren’t exactly numbers to be proud of.

Taking a look back at its history, it’s easy to see why:

From its unveiling in 2011, you could tell something was wrong. Very wrong. For starters, the name. While the Wii was initially a strange and silly sounding console with funky controllers, at the very least, it was interesting and made you wonder what it was all about. Plus, you immediately understood its brilliance the first time you played Wii Sports. That aha! moment is what helped make it such a phenomenal success. The Wii U? Not only does it sound awkward and unoriginal, but with a big touchscreen integrated into an even bigger Game Pad controller, my first thought was, “May we all have deep pockets for when that thing breaks.”

The screen itself was also revealed to only be a resistive, single-touch type like the DS and 3DS, so it was perceived as being old technology right out of the gate. Multiple Game Pad support, wireless range, battery life, and other concerns were brought up almost immediately, so it was raising more questions than it answered, revealing one limitation after another as time went on. At the very least, the console would finally mark Nintendo’s long-desired step into HD.

20140604_psvitaThere was a lot of buzz surrounding Sony’s upcoming PS Vita handheld around the same time, which sported all sorts of cool technologies like multi-touch and a beautiful OLED display. While the Vita has its own share of struggles today, at the time it was easy to look at the two company philosophies and not see the Wii U as anything but inferior to its contemporaries, or at least the product of a company slightly out of step. The 3DS had a slow start in 2011 as well, so confidence in Nintendo wasn’t exactly at an all-time high. I wasn’t sold on the need for stereoscopic 3D, nor was I convinced that the Wii U’s tablet/console hybrid was what anyone needed either.

I stayed positive, though, and brushed it all off as early, reactionary hyperbole. I figured we’d see the goods at E3 2012.

Heading into that Nintendo press conference, I — along with the rest of the collective gaming world — really wanted to see Nintendo come out swinging. Show us that any worries were unwarranted and that this thing was going to make the PS4 and Xbox One look like derivative, same ol’ same ol’ consoles. This is where the real magic would be, right? With the next Zelda, Mario Galaxy, Metroid, Mario Kart, and Smash Bros. in the works with great third-party support and exclusives, the Wii U would continue in the footsteps of the Wii’s great success!

Oh, how wrong I was.

20140604_nintendoland_e3_2012It was painful to watch. So excruciatingly bad that I would tune out to look at Twitter and the gaming forum responses instead. I had a hard time believing what I was seeing and hearing, but there it was. They tried pushing the concept of “asynchronous gaming”,  a strange term that Nintendo attempted to sell via Nintendo Land, the centerpiece of their press conference. To me, it looked like a simple collection of mini-games, more akin to early, internal tech demos, rather than a fully realized $60 premium game. There were a few glimmers of hope, but when the great Shigeru Miyamoto comes on stage and all he has is the gentle Pikmin 3, you can’t help but feel deflated.

Their poor, disjointed showing at E3 set the tone for the months leading up to its launch that November. When you think about it, the original Wii got just about everything right, including an incredibly strong E3 showing. At launch, it was only $250, and came with the game that everyone wanted: Wii Sports. They even had a Legend of Zelda game in the form of Twilight Princess. If you wanted an Xbox 360, that was $300-400. A PS3 would set you back $500-600. I don’t think either competitor included a pack-in game. Also, since HDTVs still weren’t at impulse-buy prices, the Wii’s 480p video output wasn’t a deal-killer, although it would become one of its major and most criticized Achilles’ Heels in the years to come.

The Wii U, on the other hand, got just about everything wrong. Nintendo already had everyone baffled, but they clouded things up even further by releasing separate Basic and Deluxe Sets. Both were more expensive than the Wii at $300 and $350 a piece, with the Basic Set omitting a number of bullet points, including the pack-in game.

20140604_wiiu_2They should have just made one set — the Deluxe Set — priced it at $300, and that way everyone would get Nintendo Land in the same way that every Wii owner got Wii Sports. It’d be a title that would showcase the capabilities of the system in a family-friendly way. Parity would also be ensured for all owners.

Adding some poor timing to the mix, Nintendo raised their game prices on the Wii U to match those found on competitor systems, which they similarly did on the 3DS. They had a nice advantage with the Wii, with games selling for at least $10 less than they did on the PS3 and 360. Now, that price advantage was gone.

Not impressed with or interested in any of the launch titles except for New Super Mario Bros. U, I did a big thumb’s down and steered clear of the Wii U throughout most of its first year. I had more than enough to play on my other systems, so I was content just sitting this round out.

20140604_wiiu_3But then along came The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD. Seeing it again and hearing about how Nintendo was integrating touchscreen functionality, tweaking the gameplay, and making a number of changes to improve its overall pacing really piqued my interest. It sounded like they were addressing every issue I had with the game back from when I played it on the GameCube. I also found out that they would be releasing a Legend of Zelda-themed Game Pad adorned with gold artwork and Hylian script, all part of a Deluxe Set bundle priced at $300. Curious how things like that will tap right into your gamer DNA.

My mind quickly did the math: OK, $300 for a Deluxe Set with the $50 game and sweet Game Pad makes it a $250 console. Some extra freebies through Club Nintendo and the Digital Deluxe Promotion, and that makes it cheaper than the Wii. What a no-brainer!

20140604_wwhd_allSo, just like that in September of 2013, I went into my local Target and bought a Wii U. It always feels great buying a new console, doesn’t it? Walking out of a store with that nice, hefty box under your arm makes you feel like you’re in the opening credit sequence of Reservoir Dogs

It’s funny how one game will do that to you, though: turn the tide in your mind, even though nothing’s changed about the situation. I thoroughly enjoyed The Wind Waker HD, and it was a nice coincidence that the first game I played on the Wii U would show me that yes, the Game Pad’s touchscreen can truly make a game better.

20140604_wiiu_1Since then, I’ve purchased several other games for the system, including New Super Mario Bros. U, Lego City Undercover, The Wonderful 101, Pikmin 3, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, and Super Mario 3D World, a game so good that I gave it an A+ back in JanuaryNew Super Mario Bros. U was also a big surprise, since I was not expecting much out of another entry in the “New” series, but it was also a fantastic, highly polished, and challenging game.

Virtual Console offerings have been pretty good so far, too. The standout in my mind is EarthBound — its first time available since the Super Nintendo days — which is an all-time favorite RPG of mine. It’s not to be missed. Super Metroid, Contra III: The Alien Wars, Super Castlevania IV, and others round out a slowly growing oldschool library.

Which brings us to today. With Mario Kart 8‘s release, and Nintendo’s aggressive promotion of it — including an excellent Deluxe Set bundle and a terrific free game offer — this might be just the thing that helps bring life back to the Wii U. Some major next-generation titles, including Rocksteady’s highly anticipated Batman: Arkham Knight, have been delayed until 2015, leaving PS4 and Xbox One owners with a dwindling selection of games for the rest of the year. Mario Kart 8 moved 1.2 million units during its first weekend. When you consider the number of Wii U consoles that were out there earlier this year, that’s a number Nintendo should be proud of.

So who knows? Even though I’ve been grinding this axe for a few years now, I do it out of my love and respect for Nintendo and what they’ve done — and continue to do — for us, the players. I wish them the best of luck, and hope that Mario Kart 8 is only the first in a steady stream of right moves for the Wii U.


The Apple //e, Part 3: Quest for 16 Colors

The Apple //e might have been the most popular computer in the mid-’80s, but it certainly wasn’t the most technologically capable when it came to gaming. Armed with a standard array of 7 colors in high-resolution mode (jokingly referred to as the “Big Seven” in development circles), it was only slightly better than the paltry 4-color CGA spectrum on IBM computers.

Its built-in speaker didn’t exactly set ears ablaze either with its output, and while multi-voice sound was achievable, it paled in comparison to the audio heard through the Commodore 64’s legendary SID chip or the equally excellent, but perhaps lesser-known POKEY chip in Atari’s 8-bit computers.

Games on those competitor systems blew my mind back then, and it would be depressing playing games like M.U.L.E.Ghostbusters and Moon Patrol on my friends’ computers and then come home to the weaker looking and sounding versions on the Apple.

While we would never get a Mockingboard sound card either — and let’s face it, very few games actually supported it — we did get an Extended 80 Columns Card, which gave it 128K instead of the standard 64, and enabled support of 16-color high-resolution graphics, a holy grail of sorts for Apple games back then.

That doesn’t mean that the Apple didn’t have great games, though. Quite the contrary. It’s just that they didn’t look or sound as good as they did elsewhere, especially when it came to action and arcade games.  I know the saying goes that graphics shouldn’t be the main focus, but I don’t think you can debate that they can only help if they’re done well.


The first game I ever played with the Apple’s enhanced graphics was Penguin Software’s 1984 adventure Transylvania, based on the original non-enhanced version from 1982. For some reason, this game — along with Oregon Trail and Carmen Sandiego — was commonly found in elementary school classrooms, despite its somewhat graphic nature and adult themes. It did “teach” map navigation, comprehension, and problem solving, but we all played it for the cool graphics. It was also fun to watch out for the menacing werewolf, who would always appear at the most inopportune times.

In hindsight, the enhanced 16-color version doesn’t really look that good, held back mainly because it was based on an older game, but it did have a very ominous, new title screen, complete with an animated splash of blood, so props to Penguin for that.


Around the same time, I got what would become one of the most famous games of all-time, Sierra’s King’s Quest (1984). This one was a life-changer for me, since at the time, playing it was the equivalent of being transported into an animated storybook or movie. It totally shifted my view of what a computer game could be. Your character Sir Graham was drawn and animated beautifully, the colors were rich, each scene had a wonderful sense of depth, and the simple act of moving Sir Graham around objects and behind buildings in each area was really advanced stuff back then.

One of my best memories about King’s Quest was how each scene was drawn.  The Apple wasn’t a particularly fast computer, so each image looked like it was being drawn on the screen by hand, filled in with color, and additional details would be splashed on the end. Seeing each one come to life like that was a treat.

The text parser was also intelligent, and for the most part, understood plain English, compared to other more simplistic graphic adventure games that only accepted two word inputs. This also helped give King’s Quest a more natural and organic feel, and it made a strong impression on people who played it. I re-bought this series a few years ago on, and while certain aspects of it don’t really hold up that well — like obscure puzzles and vague pathways — it’s still a wonderful game full of humor and adventure.


It wasn’t all gaming, though. Broderbund’s Dazzle Draw (1984), a computer art program that would later lead me to Deluxe Paint II Enhanced and beyond on the PC, was fantastic. I didn’t have a drawing tablet like a Koala Pad or anything, so I tried my best using a Kraft analog joystick. It was far from refined, but I thought it was just so cool to be able to have drawing tools like this on our computer. It also had a menu system that mimicked the feel of a Macintosh, so that made the entire package feel very premium and professional.

I still have my drawings on a 5.25″ floppy disk somewhere in storage. If I can find them, I’ll share them in a future post.


Like I’ve said once or twice before, Broderbund’s output on the Apple was impressive, not just in terms of quantity, but they set very high quality bars too. Dan Gorlin’s Airheart (1986) represents the pinnacle of Apple action games for me. I was already a big fan of Choplifter, but Airheart took things to a whole new level. Not only did it sport gorgeously immaculate 16-color graphics, but the animation quality was absolutely stunning. The first time I loaded it up, I couldn’t believe what I was seeing!

Not only was the art and animation fluid and cinematic, it was also really funny and full of great little details. From the way your character would slip on his backpack to the realistically flowing robes on your “guardians”, they showed just how much Dan Gorlin cared about the look of this game. It also conveyed an impressive sense of depth as you sped over and under the sparkling ocean, your character shaking water from his head after surfacing.

One of the most unique features was how each enemy would cause a different type of end for the player. You didn’t simply blow up, but if you got hit by a bubble, you would struggle inside it trying to escape until it eventually exploded, taking you with it. Or you’d get trapped by a vacuum-like enemy, which would ingest your ship, but eject you out, leaving you to endlessly swim to your demise. All of these touches made the game such a treat on the eyes, and is one of my all-time favorite Apple games.


Wings of Fury (1987) was another Broderbund game that required 128K to run. While it had the 16-color title screen pictured above (which really isn’t very good), the game itself ran in standard 7-color high-resolution mode, which for me was pretty disappointing. The game was lauded for its realistic physics and gameplay, but I was never able to truly get the hang of it, and only played it a handful of times before moving on to something else.

It reminded me of Star Blazer, Choplifter, and other side-scrolling Apple shooting games, but its focus on realism and slower pace made it less fun for me when I was younger. I’d be curious to try it out again now to see if my opinion has changed. It did have some novel ideas like a view that would go super-wide as you gained altitude, a pseudo-3D terrain map HUD, and a flight model that made your plane feel nice and weighty.


Next up: New World Computing’s Might and Magic II: Gates to Another World (1988). New World had already shown players that it could produce a beautiful-looking RPG with the first Might and Magic, but this one took the series’ graphics to new heights on the Apple. The title screen alone made my jaw drop, and the huge in-game animated graphics were a revelation. Compared to most other RPGs at the time, this was the undisputed visual king.

I played it a lot, but I don’t remember ever finishing it. That was pretty common for me back then, as I would often get frustrated with traditional computer RPGs and either quit or start using things like hex and characters editors to cheat. Anyone remember The Bard’s Tale Workshop?


Finally, Interplay’s Dragon Wars (1989) took the successful formula and look of The Bard’s Tale series and gave it a fresh coat of paint. I admittedly did not put a lot of time into this game, even though I do remember it being very good. 1989 was a pivotal year for me, since it would see the release of the Sega Genesis, me getting my driver’s license, and our family’s first IBM-compatible PC: a 386/33 with VGA graphics and a SoundBlaster.

My eyes and ears would be ill-prepared for what I would play next.