Category Archives: lists

Adding to the Backlog – Three More PlayStation 2 Titles, Woo

I’m not out to collect every single PlayStation 2 game ever made, because they sure did make a whole lot of them, but I have a list of several titles that I missed during the console’s heydays and am genuinely interested in acquiring and, when the time is right, playing. Yes, playing, because I love games of varying ages, especially JRPGs from this specific era in the industry, for reasons I’m not totally clear on just yet. They don’t make them like they used to, and when they try, they don’t always succeed. Anyways, for a good while there, I was able to find some PlayStation 2 cases at my local GameStops, but they eventually needed more shelf-space for other things, like amiibos and virtual reality gear, and stopped stocking them.

Recently, at a comic convention last April, I was able to grab a working copy of Dark Cloud, which I once had and was actually the very first game I got for my system as a young boy with some steady income before being dumb and trading it in for something else. The game, not the system. I’m still rocking my original PlayStation 2 because I take good care of my stuff. Right, the last time I added a bunch of old-ish games in one solid lump was back in February 2016, with me stocking up on an astounding ten games for my collection; you’ll not be surprised to learn I’ve not tried a single one of them yet. Sigh. One day, when the world is full of free time and no consequences or guilt-laden clouds.

Over the weekend, while Melanie was taking a buttercream flowers class, I had an hour or so to kill in Somerville, NJ, and so I stopped in Retro Classics to peruse their wares. I’ve been in the store before, picking up PS2 copies of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and The Hobbit for my constantly growing assemblage of all things related to The Lord of the Rings, but the last time I went I forgot to bring a list and found myself second-guessing whether or not I had this or that copy of said title and was reluctant to make any purchases. It’s always good to be prepared, and this time I totally was.

Here’s what I got:

That might not seem all that exciting of a haul to you, but Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse is something I’ve never seen out in the wild, and my love for strange JRPGs from this era was too strong to resist grabbing a copy for around $15.00. Perhaps I now have more of a reason than ever to finally play through the first game, eating up those lengthy anime-driven cutscenes and e-mails and card-based minigames, knowing there is actually more to follow. The store also has a retail copy of Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra, but it was a little too pricey for me at the moment. You can see that I also nabbed Wallace & Gromit in Project Zoo, which pairs nicely with my case-less copy of Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit, and X-Men Legends so that I can go back to the beginning of when these comic book hero videogames became more RPG than mindless punching and optic blasting. I’m pretty pleased with the trio.

Anyways, that’s all for now. Alas, most of my list of desired PS2 games are really obscure beasts, like Summoner 2, Frank Herbert’s Dune, and Legaia 2: Duel Saga, and I just don’t think I’ll ever run into them at a store and I’m too timid to try and find them online for a “good” price and deal with trusting a stranger somewhere in the world to deliver on their promises. I’ll keep looking, but I won’t hold my breath. Because I’ll run out of air rather quickly. Until then, looks like I have some other things I can play. Y’know, when I find the time.

My E3 2017 wishlist because a boy can dream

It’s one of the best times of the year, with E3 kicking off this weekend, followed in a month by Awesome Games Done Quick. In short, time to watch a lot of livestreams. Either way, I’m always excited to hear about new developments in the industry, even if I ultimately never procure many of the new machines or play a majority of the big name games to come. It’s fun being in the know, and I love the nightly interview segments with a mix of industry peeps over at Giant Bomb. Still, I do have some desires for this year’s event, and they are as follows:

Borderlands 3

Look, it’s time. It’s beyond time. No one really got into Battleborn, so Gearbox needs to accept this and move on to the thing that retains a strong fanbase to this day–the Borderlands series. Specifically, the one where you collect a million guns and shoot them at cel-shaded enemies, not the one where you talk your way out of a bad situation into a worse scenario. I’ve been dipping my toes back into Borderlands 2 over the last few months, but a service built solely for these new consoles would be extra great, and I’d love to see something along the lines of Hitman contracts with new raid-like bosses to attack every few weeks instead of a lackluster DLC package.

Death Stranding

We already know this game exists, but I want more info on it. Especially since Mel and I have been working our way through Hannibal and I’m finding Mads Mikkelsen to be highly watchable as an unpredictable villain. I’m still curious if it’ll play like Metal Gear Solid 4 or be a completely different thing. I suspect Hideo Kojima really likes stealth action, so it’s a good bet, but he himself can be unpredictable. I don’t expect the narrative to be clear until the game is out and played through multiple times; I just want to know what the running around is like. Either way, tell us more.

The Elder Scrolls VI: Valenwood

Fallout 4 did not take hold of me and never let go. Instead, I played it, enjoyed a decent chunk of it, beat it, murdering a lot of people to my dismay, and have not really gone back to the thing. I’ve thought often about returning to Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, but that would require booting it up on my Xbox 360, and I don’t want to do that. I’d rather wait for the next installment. Which, maybe, might be set in Valenwood. I don’t know. Your guess is as good as mine, but Bethesda is hosting its own press conference again this year, so maybe we’ll get some updates about what is next from their blockbuster high fantasy RPG time-eater. There’s probably going to be a Doom sequel too for those believing that lightning can strike twice in the same spot.

LEGO james bond

Rest in peace, Roger Moore, my favorite 007, but maybe we can bring you back to life in LEGO form. There are still plenty of LEGO games I haven’t gotten to play yet, but if this thing became a reality it would move right up to the top of my priority list. Traveler’s Tales could either do like they did with LEGO Harry Potter and split this across multiple games, or, if they loved us even just the littlest bit, put out a super compilation of Bond’s best and coolest movies for us to play through. These have everything a LEGO wants: colorful cast of characters, cool gadgets and gizmos, enhanced vehicles, and globe-trotting adventures.

Picontier

I don’t remember when this “slow living miniscape RPG” was announced, but it was some time back. Immediately, it reminded me of Stardew Valley and Rune Factory, which is great, and it was destined for the Nintendo 3DS. It’s also now coming out for the Nintendo Switch. When that is, I do not know, but I love the retro look, and having this kind of experience on the go is really appealing to me. Hopefully we’ll get some more concrete coverage during Nintendo’s streaming hours. Or it’ll just be a tiny tidbit hidden in some press release that goes out after their Nintendo Direct vid.

Suikoden VI

This is never going to happen. I know that, you know that, Konami knows that. But still, a boy can dream. Is it too much to ask for a game with an empty castle that one can fill up with people they meet along their way to stop an evil thing from becoming the ultimate evil thing? No, Dragon Age: Inquisition–you do not do the job well enough.

Right, right. What games are you looking forward to hearing more about at this year’s E3? Speak up and share your wishlist in the comments section. Be sure to include Suikoden VI and get it trending on social media.

Games I’m probably going to get before 2017 ends

We’re inching our way towards the middle of the year, and so far, of the new games released for 2017, I’ve actually gotten a couple. Go me. Namely the re-release of Dragon Quest VIII: Journey of the Cursed King for the Nintendo 3DS and Night in the Woods, which I’m taking my sweet time playing. Other than that, a lot of the big AAA titles have come and gone and will most likely pop up on my annual list of games I didn’t get to play come the end of this year. Still, there are a few I’m keeping my eyes on and will probably get so long as the bank account doesn’t run dry. I don’t need many as my backlog is still ready to burst at any moment.

And now I’m going to briefly touch upon each one. Don’t be shocked when you see that most of them are for the Nintendo 3DS, also known as my beloved confidant.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

Mmm a new entry in the The Legend of Zelda series, and one that many, many critics seem to love. This is going to be my reward for finishing up the second chapter of Death, Divorce, and Disney, which has been a little tough to focus on these last few months as life moves forward. I don’t have a Nintendo Switch, so this will join my mighty collection of retail Wii U games, which includes Super Mario Maker, Wii U Fit, and whatever Mario platforming game the system came with that I’ve never bothered to try. What an honor, and what a difficult couple of months it has been trying avoid a lot of details about this game on the Internet. It’s already out in the *ahem* wild.

Culdcept Revolt

For something like four or five years, I’ve been carrying around a folded index card in my wallet. What’s on it, you ask? I’ll tell you–videogame names. Specifically, the ones to be on the lookout for either at used game stores or yard sales because, as my hair gets lighter and my brain heavier, the memory of all these funky titles is not as strong as it used to be. One title on that list is Culdcept, a turn-based strategy video game that shares some features with things like Monopoly and Magic: The Gathering. There was a PlayStation 2 version that I missed out on, but now there’s a new entry in the series for the Nintendo 3DS. I’m all about collectible card games, but digital is the way to go moving forward, so sign me fast. It comes out on August 29, 2017.

Ever Oasis

Ever Oasis is a new action-adventure RPG from the mind of Koichi Ishii, the creator of the Mana series. As you explore the desert and solve puzzling dungeons, you’ll gather resources to build up your oasis with the water spirit Esna. Allies will join your cause and use their skills to slay larger-than-life bosses. Your oasis is your kingdom, and you’ll get to choose which shops to build, stock their inventories, collect a share of the profits, and keep villagers happy by fulfilling requests. The graphics are colorful and cute, and the combat appears to have some depth to it other than mashing attack. It’s been compared to Fantasy Life, which is all I needed to hear. This will be out on June 23, 2017.

Miitopia

Look, I’m actually a big fan of the StreetPass game Find Mii–and its sequel Find Mii 2–which are mini-RPGs that require you meeting people in real life to make progress through each dungeon. In the end, you can earn new hats for your own Mii to wear, which is always fun. Anyways, Miitopia seems to be something like that, but now a full retail release that, I’m assuming, won’t rely entirely on StreetPass-ing people. I’m down with that. Sounds like you’ll cast these Mii characters in various roles across the kingdom, manage friendships, and give them jobs with distinct stats, abilities, gear, and a custom look. So, part Tomodachi Life too. The main quest is to defeat the Dark Lord and restore the stolen faces of the citizens of Miitopia. I’m so going to put my Shaq and Ron Swanson Miis to work. Miitopia drops on July 28, 2017.

Dragon Quest XI

This one is potentially unlikely, considering there’s been no announced released date for American shores, but I think we might hear something about that come E3. Japan gets it this summer for the PlayStation 4 and Nintendo 3DS, the lucky bastards. Something I’m super excited about for the Nintendo 3DS version is that graphically it features a different style than the PlayStation 4 version, showcasing 3D graphics on the top screen and 16-bit styled sprites on the bottom screen. Otherwise, it seems to maintain a lot of the traditional elements that make the Dragon Quest series both quirky and enjoyable. Again, no U.S. release date announced yet. I’ll let you know when it is slime to pre-order.

Marvel Heroes Omega

I have a bunch of the Marvel Ultimate Alliance and X-Men Legends games in my collection, still untouched. However, I did play a ton of Diablo III: Reaper of Souls on the ol’ Xbox 360 and really enjoyed the changes for console. Marvel Heroes has been heading in this direction for a good long while, and while it is free on PC, I’ve not been able to devote the hard-drive space to it. So I’m looking forward to the free-to-play version called Marvel Heroes Omega on Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Me thinks I’ll be going with Squirrel Girl because no one is better than Squirrel Girl. That’s just a hard fact, deal with it. This is tentatively scheduled for release in Spring 2017. Hey, that’s kinda now-ish.

And that’s all I can think of for the foreseeable future. Granted, E3 draws near, and I’m sure there will be some surprise reveals for the holiday season that I might be interested in. I’m not expecting Elder Scrolls VI or Disney Magical World 3 any time soon, but maybe something else might look interesting enough to keep a sliver of my brain occupied until it is released. We’ll see. I’ll say it again, that I really don’t need any more games to play. Oh, also, I still wanna check out both LEGO Worlds and LEGO City Undercover. Sigh.

What games do you plan to still pick up in 2017?

Minigames that deserved more of my time

xenosaga-card-battle-minigame

It’s bad enough that there are somewhere in the upward hundreds of games in my never not growing collection that I haven’t touched and probably won’t for a good while, but then there are more than a handful of videogames with smaller games inside them that I have only skimmed the surface of, unable to devote more time to them, with my core focus on seeing the bigger picture draw to a close. I just hit this very moment in Night in the Woods with the game’s small yet mighty pixelated dungeon crawler Demontower, which is clearly taking cues from Dark Souls and requires a lot of focus to be successful in.

These are commonly called minigames, and some of them certainly dance on the edge of mini and major. I’m not here to argue semantics, nor am I referencing those slivers of gameplay in the Mario Party series. I’m here to dream a little dream, one where I get to dive oh-so-deep into these things, as many of them are definitely large enough to lose a good chunk of life and time into.

So here’s a bunch of minigames that truly deserved more of my precious hours, and I don’t know if they’ll ultimately ever get that pleasure. Spoilers and no surprises from me on this reveal: two of them are card-based.

“XENOCard” from Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht

xenocard-hqdefault

Sometimes I think I want to write about Xenosaga Episode 1: Der Wille zur Macht simply so I can use its full title. It really is a beautiful thing. The sequels, which I alas do not own and probably never will due to their steep prices on Amazon, up the ante immensely. Really, look now: Xenosaga Episode II: Jenseits von Gut und Böse and Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra. My oh my oh my.

Anyways, in Xenosaga Episode I, besides getting hot e-mails and a robot lady to battle by your turn-based side, you can play a card game called, as far as I can tell, Xenocard. The goal is to achieve victory by forcing your opponent to run through his or her entire deck, leaving them with no remaining cards. You can attack your opponent’s deck in a number of ways, forcing him to lose cards. At the same time, you must take protective measures for guarding your own deck from quick depletion.

It’s surprisingly complex–I mean, just look at the interface layout above–and not too different from things like Magic: The Gathering though I never got too far into the game to play a whole bunch because, for those that don’t know, there’s a lot of long cutscenes to sit and watch and not interact with, and so I most likely put this aside for something a little more engaging. Maybe one day I’ll return to the world of…Lost Jerusalem (Earth). Maybe.

“Insectron” from Rogue Galaxy

rogue_galaxy_us6

Man, did I love Rogue Galaxy. That’s a statement, not a question. It’s a Level-5 JRPG from the PlayStation 2 days that does all the Level-5 things you now come to expect of the company, and it’s a fun, often silly, sometimes serious, take on all things Star Wars. However, I spent far more time feeding items and weapons to a magical frog-thing to make better gear and creating Rube Goldberg machines in the factory than I did with the game’s “Insectron” minigame. Insectors are small insects that you can catch at various places throughout the galaxy. Basically, this universe’s version of Pokemon, but buggier. The purpose for catching them is to make a team that can win battles against other opponents at the Insectron Stadium.

There are two parts to this massive sinkhole. First, you have to collect the insects. Unfortunately, the probability of catching an Insector is random. You have to find a good location, place traps or cages, fill them with bait, and then wait until you hear a specific sound indicating something’s happening. If you want even better Insectors, you’ll need to invest serious time into breeding. Next, you can begin to raise your collection, upping their ranks and feeding them special items to grow specific attributes. You can see the seeds of Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch‘s familiars here.

Once you are satisfied with your team of Insectors, you can start battling. The battles at the Insectron Championship are done tournament-style. Win five matches to advance through one rank, then rinse and repeat. Insectron matches are 5-on-5 battles, and one of your team’s five Insectors is labeled the King. If you defeat your opponent’s King, you win. However, the Insector designated as the King is limited to only moving one space at a time. I think I attempted a few battles, but, having only used a sliver of the untrained Insectors I did manage to catch, did not get very far in the tournament and left the whole thing behind to see Jasper Rogue’s story draw to conclusion.

“Triple Triad” from Final Fantasy VIII

tripletriad

2016 was the year that I finally saw Final Fantasy IX from beginning to end. To do this, I had to sacrifice the desire to go after every side quest, as well as the dream of being the legendary best Tetra Master player in the world. This meant I mostly just collected the cards and moved on with the adventure. I also ignored other minigames in Final Fantasy IX, such as Chocobo Hot and Cold and finding all those medallion coins. It’s fine; I’m fine. That all said, of the handful of Final Fantasy games I’ve played, I think I’d prefer to go back to Final Fantasy VIII and study up on all things Triple Triad, if given the time.

In Final Fantasy VIII, you could go up to a random NPC, press the square button, and maybe find yourself in a card game. As always, the goal is simple: capture as many of your opponent’s cards as possible by making sure you place higher-ranked cards adjacent to an enemy card. Easy enough, but the rules are what make this game deceptively tough and addicting, especially considering those rules can change depending where you are geographically in the game. More or less, it’s a modified version of Tic-Tac-Toe, played on a 3×3 grid. Players take turns placing a card down, and each card contains a “compass rose” of four different numbers (1-9, with “A” representing 10). Higher levels contain higher numbers, and these stats determine whether you’ll take the adjacent enemy card as your own or lose to its strength.

I remember wanting to simply collect all the character-specific cards, but then realizing I’d have to risk a lot of my collection to get them. Big ol’ boo to that. Also, the fact remains that disc 3 from my PlayStation 1 retail copy is still gone, given to a “friend” to borrow and then move away with, so I’ll never acquire that full digital collection of friendly faces like Selphie Tilmitt and…well, really, there’s only room for Selphie in my heart. Maybe Quistis Trepe. Evidently, you can play Triple Traid on some smartphones, but probably shouldn’t.

“Spheda” from Dark Cloud 2

dc2-073

I think about this fact from time to time: despite getting to the last chapter, I have not yet beaten Dark Cloud 2. This probably needs to be remedied at some point, but I don’t know what is more daunting–loading up my years-old save and having a forgetful go at it or starting over fresh. I mean, yeah, I did miss a few photo opportunities early on during some boss battles. Well, I’m not here to talk about that, though it is just one of a few minigames or side activities you can take on in Dark Cloud 2, brushing shoulders with fishing and rebuilding towns, as well as Spheda.

What is Spheda? Glad you asked. It’s basically playing golf to repair time distortions. Mmm-hmm. You read that correctly. In short, the only way to fix these time distortions is to get a colored sphere back into the distortion hole, and you do that by whacking it around a cleared-out dungeon like you are playing mini-golf at the boardwalk during the summer. Except you do want to go off the main path and bounce the ball around corners. Each time a distortion is successfully closed, you’ll get a treasure chest containing valuable items. In addition, the player receives a medal, which can be traded to Mayor Need for, you guessed it, other items. Yay for items.

I’d have to load up my save to confirm this, but I think I was successful on one–and only one–round of Spheda. It’s hard. You only have so many shots to get it into the time distortion, and the dungeons are long and windy, with many sharp turns. I remember hitting the ball to be no easy task either, considering this is a JRPG and not a golf simulator. I wonder if I’d have more patience now to learn the ins and outs of this or if the loot is even worth all the effort.

“Cops and Robbers” from Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves

sly31

I believe I played “Cops and Robbers” exactly once, with an ex, while waiting for my father to arrive for a visit. Because I used to document my life extensively, I can tell you it was around the time of this comic strip. The objective of this minigame in Sly 3: Honor Among Thieves is simple: get five points. One player controls Inspector Carmelita Fox, and the other steers that sneaky devil Sly Cooper. There’s only one map to play on, in Venice. Basically, Carmelita gets a single point every time she takes out Sly, and Sly gets one point every time he takes out Carmelita, as well as one point for every piece of loot he retrieves and takes to a designated drop-off area. Clearly, Sly has more options, but all Carmelita has to focus on is zapping him with her shock pistol.

To mix up the fleeing and pursuing, floating stars are sprinkled around the main section of the city. These provide either character with a power-up that can be used one to five times before a meter depletes. Each player has access to a compass that reveals where your opponent is. I remember it working well, though I have stronger memories tied to the mode where you are flying biplanes around. Oh well.

There’s also a whole treasure map aspect to eat up, which allows Sly to utilize clues, such as “stand before the statue’s gaze, to begin your walk along the treasure’s maze,” that eventually lead to the objective, which in most occasions is treasure. It’s fun and gives me confidence that I could probably star in a remake of The Goonies if asked. No one’s going to ask.

Well, that’s all I can come up with at the moment though I guarantee I’m missing other standout examples. Like “Feitas” from Suikoden V. And “Tombstones” and “Rage Frenzy” from Rage. Grrr. See, told you there’s plenty more.

Anyways, what minigames did you only barely touch and regret not fully experiencing? Well, maybe regret is too strong a word. Either way, tell me about them in the comments below. I want to know.

Grinding Down’s 2017 gaming resolutions

gd-2017-gaming-resolutions

This is always dangerous, making promises. I’ve done it in the past here on Grinding Down, only to burn myself and those written words when it, for instance, ultimately, took many more years for me to beat Final Fantasy IX. Still, it’s always good to have goals, something to reach for and hopefully achieve after putting in the hard work, and, at the very least, these empty checkmark boxes give me direction, a place to go when I’m not sure what to do next. I’m not saying I’ll be successful on every account below, but I am willing to try. For all we know, 2017 could be the year of our very unmaking, and I might as well go down fighting for a cause, trivial as some of these may be.

Right. Allow me to highlight some future gaming goals…

Suikoden III

It’s always been my intention to play (and replay) the entire Suikoden series from start to finish to get to the games I’ve never touched yet, specifically Suikoden III, Suikoden IV, and Suikoden Tactics. Actually, now that I think about it, I don’t believe I ever saw credits roll on Suikoden V, but I do have a memory card save…somewhere. I got through replaying the first two games rather quickly, but then moved on to other non-Konami adventures after that.

For 2017, I’d like to get back to collecting them 108 Stars of Destiny, especially after finally playing some Dragon Age: Inquisition last year and seeing a few strong connections between the two. The roadblock is that I want to finish up everything for Dragon Age: Inquisition first before moving on to another large, time-demanding RPG. I just became friends with Dorian and am looking to move things forward romantically with Blackwall before tackling many more side missions. It’s probably going to be awhile.

So, I did play a bit of Suikoden III a few years ago, but my PlayStation 2 copy seems scratched up and unreliable. Thankfully, during some past PSN flash sale, I purchased a digital copy for the PlayStation 3, which means I really have no excuse now. It’s installed, ready to go. The real question is, as always, what to name my castle once I acquire it.

Earthbound

I’m not sure what it’s going to take me to finally start playing EarthBound. I was hoping buying the game, for more or less zero dollars thanks to Nintendo Club’s closing back in May 2015, was a solid place to begin. Alas, nope. I haven’t loaded it up once. Honestly, having this game available on the Wii U gamepad and not actually a Super NES locked to a TV should make this process even easier, considering I can take the experience with me into bed (hey now) before the Sandman visits.

However, that would mean I’d have to put down my Nintendo 3DS for some time, and with Disney Magical World 2 taking up all my pre-sleep time and Pokemon Moon waiting in the wings–as well as the remake of Dragon Quest VIII waiting even further in the wings–this might not happen just yet. Maybe by Spring 2017. I mostly wrote that to both give myself some breathing room, but also a starting point to stick to. This one’s for you, Iwata.

Steam backlog

At the time of writing, I have 362 games in my Steam library. Yeowza. Granted, many are not installed, and not all of them are huge, triple A titles that can’t even run well on my struggling-to-breathe ASUS laptop. Many have not been played at all, in fact. See, I have a bad habit of downloading just about every free thing released on the platform, as well as gobbling up indie bundles for real cheap to bloat this thing out even more. It’s gotten to the point that, when I do finally occasionally scroll through the list, I can barely remember where some of these titles came from, and then I freeze in fear, unable to decide what to try next, eventually settling on something safe, like AdVenture Capitalist or another unsuccessful run in Runestone Keeper. This is a problem.

I’m not here to make any kind of crazy schedule, like trying to play X number of games every week. That’s not going to gel with life. I am, however, here to make an effort, and make that effort known. I’m going to start small, using HowLongToBeat to help identify the not-so-big-timesinks and start whittling away from there. My problem, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this, is that I always want to experience as much of a game as possible, that I can’t remove it simply after beating it if there are, for instance, collectibles remaining to find or extra challenges that could be accomplished. I need to work on that. I need to accept that not every game needs to be squeezed dry, leaving nothing behind but a colorless husk. For 2017, I need to let go more often.

80,000 Gamerscore

This seems more than doable, especially considering that I jumped 10,000 Achievement points in the matter of six months last year. This goal also feeds into the constant sub-goal of clearing up hard-drive space on my consoles and removing finished games, as I continue to download those freebies every month, but not do much else with them except wonder when I’ll find the time. I’m looking to polish off Earthlock: Festival of Magic real soon, as well as a number of those single introductory episodes from Telltale’s numerous adventure gaming series, which will probably help make a good step forward towards this next milestone.

Create something one might call a game or experience or waste of time

Now, I know nothing about programming and code and how to submit something for certification with the big console-makers. It takes me upwards of three minutes to remember how to hyperlink something using HTML when the button doesn’t work here on WordPress. That’s fine. I’m not looking to do all that and beyond. This can obviously be argued, but: I can draw, I can write, and I have ideas.

And so, I want to create something. An experience, with emotions and mood and meaning and jokes, maybe stuff to click on, a puzzle or two or twist you never saw coming. Something interactive. Which leads me to think that a piece of interactive fiction is a good starting area. I plan playing a few pieces of interactive fiction soon, which will hopefully help bring the inspiration juices to a boil (ew gross). The trickier part would be deciding what story to tell, y’know, from the hundreds bouncing around in my brain every day.

Well, there you have it. Five things make a post. Two named games to finally dive into, a whole bunch of things within my Steam library, a larger Gamerscore, and something creative. We’ll stop there, as any more goals will just tip the boat over.

That said, how about y’all? What are you looking forward to accomplishing in 2017? It need not be related to videogames. Perhaps you are finally ready to start cleaning up that garage full of clutter (hi, Dad!) or want to exercise more or get into knitting. Either way, let me know in the comments. I like knowing.

My five favorite games in 2016

gallery-1469463179-dustin-strahnger-things

According to my “2016 completed games” tag here on Grinding Down, I finished 83 games in 2016. That’s…a lot. Certainly the highest amount I’ve seen since I started tracking all this nonsense. Yes, yes, many of these games one might consider tiny and small and not worth counting, but it’s my life, my mind, and anything that sparks my attention and holds it for more than a minute or two is worth calling a game, as well as worth seeing through to completion. Now, many of these games that I beat in this year of the monkey were not released in the last twelve months, such as Final Fantasy IX, Read Only Memories, and Costume Quest 2. Also, of the five below, I’ve only actually beaten numbers five through three, but that won’t stop me from lovingly praising the top two entries. Can’t stop me now.

Before all that, some honorable mentions. Gears of War 4: You are all right, a bit straightforward, and I’m finally getting better at the multiplayer, but I really don’t like how serious everyone takes the game, which often makes it not very fun to play (see, I like playing games to have fun). If you want something weird and artsy, give Karambola a bite. Devil Daggers is cool as hell, probably because that’s where it was spawned to begin with, but I’m total rubbish at it. Shout outs to Earthlock: Festival of Magic, a throwback RPG that I’m surprisingly spending a lot of time with this last week. Lastly, The Average Everyday Adventures of Samantha Browne is a great freebie that will likely resonate with those that suffer from social anxiety, like me. Remember, it’s an honor just to be nominated.

If you’re wondering why something is missing below, some dear game you hold close to your heart and swear up and down made 2016 all the better by existing, chances are I just didn’t get to play it this year.

Here we go. The last list of the year…

5. Tom Clancy’s The Division

the-division-ps4-beta-1

Tom Clancy’s The Division is a game I never expected to find myself playing. Honestly, I picked it up because a friend from work was getting it and wanted to play together. This is a rare happening, where I get to play a videogame with another human being that I know. I couldn’t resist. It’s a cover-based shooter with loot in a snowy, disease-laden New York City, which, despite that, looks amazingly pretty thanks to all the Christmas decorations left up. Getting through the main missions and to the endgame stuff was pretty easy, and I found myself obsessed with collecting all the collectibles, which had its ups and downs.

Unfortunately, that endgame stuff, as well as the Dark Zone in general when not safely traveling in a group, were not entertaining to me and didn’t keep me around for long afterwards. Nor did the Underground DLC. However, Ubisoft and the game’s developers have seemingly been working to fix a lot of the game, and my few attempts at the Survival DLC so far have brought me back into the fold, excited to craft a scarf with better cold resistance. It’s not a perfect game, but there’s something to it, a looty loop I can’t turn down.

4. Even the Ocean

even-the-ocean-top-5-gd

For many this year, the biggest surprises were things like Doom and Hitman, old games made new and modern. Well, I didn’t play those. For me, the biggest surprise of the year was Even the Ocean…mostly because I had no idea what it was until I saw a trailer and then immediately contacted the developers for a review copy. The story is grand, telling the struggle of Aliph and her quest to fix a bunch of power plants to stop the foretold invasion of flood-bringing monsters.

The game is a mix of narrative sections and platforming sections, with each area highlighting a new twist on Aliph’s abilities and the ways to balance her energy levels. What’s super amazing about the whole thing is its openness–you can tackle most of the power plants in any order, and you can play the game just for the story, just for the platforming, or a combination of both. There are even further options in the menu if you find the platforming too challenging and need some extra help. There’s a lot of love and care in Even the Ocean from Sean Han-Tani-Chen-Hogan and Joni Kittaka (y’know, Analgesic Productions), and it more than shows in every character interaction, design choice, and piece of music.

3. LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens

lego-star-wars-the-force-awakens-top-5-gd

LEGO Star Wars: The Force Awakens is glitchy and broken in a few spots, but that never stopped it from being fun. Frustrating, for sure, but always fun when it was working. I guess that’s something that can ultimately be said of every LEGO release from Traveller’s Tales. This is a game that I mostly played with Melanie, and we ate it up in pieces throughout the year, finally completing all the DLC add-on missions and last remaining Achievements back in November 2016. As always, there’s a ton to do and collect, and the cutscenes are more enjoyable than ever, full of the usual charm and goofiness, but even show off some details not explained in the film. That said, I still hate racing side missions in these games, and throwing in floaty spaceships didn’t make them any better.

2. Stardew Valley

stardew-valley-top-5-gd

I have not experienced a full year yet in Stardew Valley, having last played somewhere in the middle of in-game winter. Winter is rough. There’s less to do when it comes to your farm, and I didn’t prepare ahead of time for this. The good news is, one, that it doesn’t matter, because the 31 hours I’ve played on Steam leading up to this standstill were amazing and some of the most addicting gameplay I’ve ever experienced. Two, I plan to restart the game very, very soon on Xbox One, keeping the incoming winter season in mind from the start, but otherwise doing much of what I did before, such as wooing Maru and focusing heavily on digging deep into the mines for rare gems.

Stardew Valley is the epitome of the “just one more…” mantra, with the unit here being day. In this open-ended, country life RPG, you have inherited your grandfather’s old farm plot and given up working in a corporate office. That’s the start of the game, and you decide where to go from there. You can attempt to fall in love and marry a local villager or work to restore the community center. Do not support the Joja Corporation. There’s also events every season to partake in, or you could simply wake up every day, water your crops, pet your cat, and hang out on the farm until the sun sets, doing it all over again the next day. It really doesn’t matter how you play, as it is all rewarding. This is backed by a stellar soundtrack that perfectly matches every time of day, every season. Also, the sound effect when you collect an item is pure bliss.

Even the Ocean was made by two people, and Stardew Valley was made by one, Eric Barone (@ConcernedApe). I find this beyond impressive, to the point that it hurts my brain. Everything you’ve heard about Stardew Valley is true; it’s a game you play now to remember fondly later.

1. Disney Magical World 2

disney-magical-world-2-top-5-gd

This might seem like it is coming out of left field, or it may be no surprise at all to those that know me, but yeah, Disney Magical World 2 is my favorite game of 2016. Naturally, I’ve had a post in the works for this one for a couple months now, but haven’t had the chance to put all my thoughts into words and hit the publish button. You also might remember that my favorite game of 2014 was Disney Magical World.

With the sequel, not too much has changed, and I’m more than happy about that. Since getting the game in October, I’ve put over 40 hours in it and have no plans of stopping now, despite only having three more stickers left to acquire. You still move between themed worlds, tackling missions for specific Disney characters and collecting a vast number of ingredients/materials, all of which feeds back into making food for the café, creating ace ensemble outfits, and crafting countless amounts of furniture. There’s also a garden to tend to, and your own house–really a single room–to decorate. Mine’s mostly green. Gone are the collectible cards full of nostalgic art, replaced with pieces from a larger picture puzzle that allows you to interact later in a special area for bonus “like” points…I’m not a huge fan of this switch, but it is a minor element that can be nearly ignored if desired.

Disney Magical World 2 is a fantastic portable game. I pick it up and play for twenty, thirty minutes, and always have something to do. I don’t follow the same pattern each time, but it usually goes like this: run to the café, collect money, load it up with more food to sell, run to main street and see what the lady with the stall is selling (it changes multiple times throughout the day), purchase a new outfit or make some furniture, run around the map and collect puzzle pieces or see if there are any quick material-gathering missions to do, accept a story mission or two, and, lastly, return to the garden to pull up any finished crops and then plant new ones. Phew. This is not the same every time, but more or less my plan of attack. I have some story missions left to do in the Alice in Wonderland, Little Mermaid, and Lilo and Stitch worlds, but I’m trying to save them, really make this last. Besides, even after all the time and work I’ve put into it, I’m only at 33.51% completion.

So far, the in-game world of Castleton has changed for Halloween and Christmas, with the next scheduled event happening on April 1. I was hoping to see something earlier than that for either Valentine’s Day or St. Patrick’s Day, but, regardless, I’m looking forward to spending more time with Disney Magical World 2 in 2017. I wonder if I’ll have rung it dry of content by the end of the year.

The Top 10 Videogames I Didn’t Get to Play in 2016

gd-top-10-games-didnt-play-in-2016

2016 is certainly a tough year to summarize. When I really sit and think about it, several things flash before my eyes, many of which I wouldn’t describe as good. I’m not going to name them. They don’t need naming, and I know Hermione Granger once said, “Fear of a name only increases fear of the thing itself,” but I’m worried. Deeply concerned and cautious, scared for those that are living in true fear. I’ll be okay, but many others won’t. Also, losing David Bowie, Alan Rickman, and Sheri S. Tepper sucked. Still, one area that seemed to shine and press onwards, at least to me, was videogames, and I’ll never turn down the chance to disappear elsewhere for a time being. That said, I still didn’t get to play everything that came out this year, hence the list.

Once again, because I am the biggest fan of this ol’ feature of mine and love reveling in the games I haven’t played, dreaming of the days when I will get to them, here’s a short bullet list of the previous entries for this annual Grinding Down event:

You could even make a game out of those old posts and try to discover, based on what is visible on Grinding Down, which games I’ve finally gotten to and which ones are still lost in the haze that is other games in my collection yelling at me simultaneously for attention.

All right, on with it…

10. The Witness

the-witness-10-930x523

Perhaps I should actually finish Braid before I even attempt The Witness, not that the two are, as far as I know, connected in any tangential way. Here’s the rub: I already know how Braid ends, its twist, the reason it is more about the journey and not the destination. I would just need to soldier through the remainder of its puzzles to see it for myself. After that, yeah, I can move on to line and environmental puzzles on a mystical, magical island brimming with color. It sure does look pretty, but I do worry that my brain might not be up to snuff for some of these trickier areas excitedly whispered about when the game was released at the start of the year.

9. Dragon Quest Builders

dq-builders

I like Minecraft, and I love Dragon Quest. Thus, this fusion of the two, this Dragon Quest Builders, sounds absolutely wonderful. It’s got style and charm, with a fun story to tell that is evidently directly connected to the very first game. Alas, I don’t have a PlayStation 4.

8. Inside

inside

If Inside follows the same path as the developer’s previous creation Limbo, then it’ll be given out for free, multiple times, on every platform imaginable in just a few years. I can wait.

7. Samorost 3

samorost-3-maxresdefault

Man. I feel bad. Samorost 3 is really something I wanted to play this year, and I even went back and finally played the first Samorost in preparation for a world of weird, quirky things, starring a tiny man in white pajamas. I watched the Giant Bomb Quick Look for the game and was pleased by what I saw…but then never sealed the deal. Not really sure what happened. Hopefully I can rectify this problem early into 2017 as Samorost 3 is probably the best world to escape to if you want to forget what reality is actually like and just want to solve an obscure, mechanical puzzle by clicking on everything.

6. Firewatch

firewatch-e3-5

So far, I’ve not been spoiled for Firewatch, but that’s likely to be undone as I listen to more and more Game of the Year podcasts and read up on many numbered lists. I guess that’s okay. I’m a huge fan of Olly Moss and his art, and when you combine that with adventure-esque gameplay mechanics, jerk teens, the mystery of what’s hidden in nature, and a lot of dialogue from Chris Remo, Jake Rodkin, Olly Moss, and Sean Vanaman (hi, three-fourths Thumbs!)…sigh. Many of us were asking for so long what is Firewatch. Turns out, it’s one of the top 10 games I didn’t play in 2016.

 

5. Doom

doom-review-0008-1500x844

Now technically I did play Doom this year, but only the first level. Several times in a row before determining that yes, this is great fun and something I look forward to playing more of whenever that day arrives. Alas, it didn’t arrive in 2016, but maybe that’s okay. The game isn’t going anywhere, and 2017 seems like a really good year to wallow in the glory kills of cult-like beings and a demonic invasion from Hell. I probably won’t touch the multiplayer, but it seems like the general consensus is that the main campaign is plenty meaty enough to satisfy the trip below.

4. Oxenfree

oxenfree-hspoov9looplvnwggpoj

Oxenfree seems neat. It’s a supernatural mystery graphic adventure with style and drama-driven teenagers. I bet it’s my thing. Evidently, the game is on sale for about $4.99 right now for the holidays, but my Xbox One, besides deciding to not show my pins anymore, has decided to refuse me access to the store. I click and click and click, all for naught. Fine. Don’t take my money, Microsoft. I’ll go buy a sandwich instead. Sorry, Oxenfree devs.

3. Deus Ex: Mankind Divided

deus-ex-mankind-divided-screenshot-06_2048-0

I’m still working on my no kills on the hardest difficulty setting quest for Deus Ex: Human Revolution, and until those Achievements are popped, no future Adam Jensen for me. That said, I’ve heard that Prague is a lot of fun to explore, the sort of introductory hub space one can spend far too long in, like the Hinterlands in Dragon Age: Inquisition. Truthfully, I’m down with that. Let me live in a world and never leave. Even if that world is full of heavily prejudiced people towards humans augmented with artificial upgrades.

2. No Man’s Sky

no-mans-sky-maxresdefault

As previously mentioned, I don’t have a PlayStation 4. However, I do have a laptop, and this laptop can run some indie games on it, as well as a few bigger games with all the settings turned down low. Such as Red Faction: Armageddon. It’s not ideal, but I make it work. At one point, on Giant Bomb‘s Unprofessional Fridays, they played No Man’s Sky on its lowest settings–resolution, textures, everything–and, to me, it didn’t look terrible. It looked like something I could do to experience one of the biggest launches of the year. However, I never took the bait. I held my breath and listened to those that played the game, hearing both their praises and criticisms. Exploring planets and collecting data on plants and alien life is certainly my jam, and I’m okay with this not actually being more than that. Regardless, I think I’ll wait and see how No Man’s Sky evolves over the next year as the developers update it to match more of what they originally promised.

1. Hitman

hitman-2

In 2016, I played Hitman: Absolution and rang just about every inch of content from it, getting all the evidence, costumes, and most of the in-level challenges. It wasn’t all that tough. I left one Achievement unpopped, the one for beating it on the professional difficulty. No thanks. I had an okay time with it, but Hitman: Absolution is the exact opposite of IO Interactive’s Hitman (2016). My history of the series has been documented on Grinding Down, but this new entry, which everyone thought was going to be a disaster due to it being served up episodically, seems so wonderfully open that you can truly play however you want. Except using guns. That’s the big difference. For a number of levels in Hitman: Absolution, I hid behind a corner and shot every enemy to death until there were no more people searching for me; that definitely can’t be done in the new game, and that’s a good thing. Hitman is about sneaking around in the open and using the environment to your advantage, with the occasional chokehold or push off a ledge. I hope to play it in 2017, but I am somewhat saddened to have missed out on all the elusive targets along the way,

Well, there it is. And here we are. You may notice some big name, triple A titles missing from the list, such as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Titanfall 2, and Overwatch. It is true that I also did not play those this year, but the twist is that I had no desire to play them compared to the ones listed above. Twist.

While I have your eyes and ears, what games did you miss out on this year? Share below please. And don’t worry. There’s always 2017 for them, unless of course Drumpf actually decides to play nuclear war with every country ever, and then I guess I’ll just devote my free time to the upcoming Fallout: Old Jersey, to better learn how to survive in a proper wasteland.