Checkpoint 2/7/2022

I am taking a blogging class at my old community college. Online learning is a lot different, I barely caught any of it as I had finished classes shortly after the pandemic started. They were such a poorly thought out dirge back then. This class is so much smoother, and I like any class where I can actually use the knowledge.

The second half of this class is going to be about podcasting. I still don’t know how I feel about doing a podcast. I prefer either writing or live streaming. Podcasting seems like streaming without the social factor, the pressure and excitement of being live, and I just don’t know if I would be any good in that format. Comment what you think I should talk about on my experimental podcast!

The job search is a bit depressing. Trying so hard to nudge my way into writing about something that interests me. I am thinking about getting a seasonal part time job just to afford a proper streaming setup. But, that is also one more thing to have to consider when I move; something I’m already dreading. Streaming is just so important to everything I am trying to do, I am missing out so much by not doing it.

Onto what I have been playing. All these games have been on the Nintendo Switch. The first game I want to mention is a review you will likely see sometime in the future. Borderlands 2. This game came out ten years ago in September. It still holds us marvelously. The drastic difference in playing on Nintendo joy-cons versus any other controller is profound, however. I’ve been playing this game since launch, but never got into all the DLC. Borderlands 2 is one of the greatest shooters, if not greatest games ever, in my opinion.

Credit: Borderlands 2. Screenshots by me.

The next game I have been playing is a little bit of Saints Row 4, originally from 2013. This is when I need a sandbox with lots of neat tools. The story of the game is completely off the rails of how the series began, but it is keenly aware, and manages to be a respectable game in its own right. There is a series reboot in the works that has me quite excited. Saints Row is a third person, open world action series with a quirky sense of humor, and some cool super powers.

Credit: Saints Row 4: Re-Elected. Screenshots by me.

The final game I want to mention has also been taking up most of my playing time. Dragon Quest 11 S: Echoes of An Elusive Age. This is a turn-based RPG series I had never heard of until I saw this game on Twitch when it launched in 2017. After my deep love for Octopath Traveler, a turn-based RPG seen in past posts, I decided to let Square Enix impress me again. And impress me they have. I’m almost thirty hours in and absolutely loving it so far. The “S” edition comes with some really neat features as well.

Credit: Dragon Quest 11. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: Final Fantasy 8 (2019 Remaster)

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Screenshot by me. Picture from an in-game cinematic.

I first played Final Fantasy 8 when it released in 1999. I was only ten years old, and the complex JRPG was too much for my tiny brain to comprehend. Although, I did think it quite cool at the time. So, when I wanted a new turn-based RPG to play, I found the 2019 remaster on sale for $10. And after more than twenty years of gaming between then and now, I can tell you this game is every bit as inaccessible as it was when I was a child. The miraculous story telling does not save this convoluted mess from being just too off the mark to recommend.

The remaster, made in collaboration with Dotemu and Access Games, spruces up the visuals, making the graphics more sleek and prepped for HD. When FF8 came out, originally released by Squaresoft, it was top of the line graphics. The art style is interesting enough to entertain the eye most the time. I did not think the game was ugly, even being more than two decades old. There are a few other changes to the remaster. Quality of life upgrades like a 3x speed option, the ability to turn off random encounters and a mode that buffs you in combat.

Even with these buffs I had no interest in completing the final boss. What should be the pinnacle of the game in story and gameplay is actually a towering monument to this game’s failures. The game uses a combat system that adapts to your level, but these adaptations are extremely inconsistent and unhelpful. And what good is this system, if I still have to grind until there is absolutely nothing left to be gained?

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Game clip by me. Calling in a guardian to win the fight.

I used guides often, as finding out what to do next in FF8 can be hazy. Often resorting to walking up to every object in the room from every angle and mashing the ‘interact’ button until something happens. My guide showed me the correct way to complete the final boss, only to find that I don’t have the two very specific spells required to make this fight even remotely possible. There are super questionable mechanics throughout this game. The end boss just has features that boggle the mind as to why anybody would think this was fun.

Guides could only do so much without laying out every little detail of what to do, especially in a game designed to be highly open ended. The difficulty is raised so poorly. For almost the entire game, you can coast by on spamming your guardian spirits, something that wasn’t fun from the jump. And through being relegated to cheese tactics we are supposed to somehow gain not only an understanding, but an appreciation for how important it is to stack your characters as much as humanly possible. The game doesn’t make grinding appealing. It all seems like it is for nothing, until that one fight arrives where you can use that one random spell for max effect.

FF8 follows the exploits of a band of mercenaries, raised from youth for combat. Our heroes get hired out to support a rebellion against evil forces that seem faceless at first, but the situation becomes much more complicated and intricate as the tale proceeds. Squaresoft really flexed the story telling elements of their game building here. It is nearly worth playing just for the story. Nearly. There were a handful of fun fights in this whole game. Two of them didn’t come until the very end.

I’m not sure how this game ends. Which is a true tragedy, because I was really loving the story. The final part of this game just sucks all the joy out of the experience to a point where I feel like the closure of the plot could only be further insult. The first half of the game had some incredible plot dealing with issues like fascism. A beautiful love story unfolds as the game progresses. I suppose I will resort to watching a video of the ending of a game I played well over thirty hours, and I cannot think of anything sadder.

Credit; Final Fantasy 8. Screenshot by me. My favorite battle in the game.

I love turn-based RPGs, and I deeply wanted to love FF8. I had such high hopes that I would come back to this game after twenty years and finally appreciate its glory. This just isn’t how it went down. All the way up to the end boss I was in denial. The more I leaned on the remaster enhancements like 3x speed and combat buffs to get me through boring phases, the more I knew I wasn’t really enjoying myself. These upgrades are the only way I could potentially go back and beat the final boss, but even then it would be such a slog it doesn’t seem remotely worthwhile.

I also bought Final Fantasy 9 on sale, which I dabbled with as a kid as well. I’m again hoping for great things, I won’t trash the follow-up just because the predecessor was ugly and weak. That may be a while down the road however, my next turn-based RPG will be something away from the Final Fantasy series just to keep things fresh. I recently bought both South Park: Stick of Truth and Dragon Quest 11 on sale so I will likely give one of those a shot for a time.

It pains me to say I cannot suggest Final Fantasy 8. While if you like masterfully crafted stories you may find some enjoyment, there are so many flaws in this game and they feel relentless. The difficulty curve, the atrocious quick-time events, the sloppy combat system, there is so much chaining FF8 down and keeping it from being special. I think if they ever give it the full remake treatment like they are Final Fantasy 7, it could definitely breath some new life into the corpse. I just think it unlikely. If you’re looking for a top tier turn-based RPG, go into my Archives and check out the Octopath Traveler review.

Credit: Final Fantasy 8. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: Bulletstorm (2019 “Duke of Switch” Edition)

Credit: Bulletstorm. Screenshot by me. Taking in the view after a checkpoint.

Happy New Year! I picked up several games in the Nintendo eShop “Black Friday Sale.” One of those is the 2011 first-person shooter Bulletstorm, from Polish developer People Can Fly in collaboration with Epic Games. Bulletstorm is a wildly over-the-top sci-fi tale of a disgraced special forces team, who get stranded on an alien planet overrun with maniacs, while trying to pursue the general responsible for making them unknowingly do atrocious things. I got the game for less than $10 on my Switch, and there are remasters available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.

The story is full of extremely crude humor and is weak overall. The plot is not what keeps you playing Bulletstorm. That would be the gameplay. To buy ammo and upgrades for your weapons at checkpoints, you will need to execute sophisticated and skilled kills on your enemies. You get points for doing things like killing two enemies in one pull of the trigger, headshots, kills while under the influence, all kinds of things. You can spend those points at shops.

This is an enormously satisfying gameplay loop. You are discovering new ways to kill all the way through the end of the game. After completing the main story you unlock “Overkill Mode,” where you can have all the guns from the beginning, instead of only three at a time and picking them up as you progress. I’m sure I will come back to this mode at some point and find even more ways to take out enemies.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Game clip by me. A segment from a first attempt at a brutal endgame sequence.

This game is not without its flaws. They are many and some troubling. In particular, for me, is the sniping. The sniper rifle is so jank, an absolute torture to use, and it seems like the developers realize this because it is the only gun that has sections where you are literally forced to use it. There are quite a bit of bugs, especially for a remaster. The lack of a jump button hurts more than you might think. You are often forced to scale obstacles, but the command, and point of interaction for these obstacles are often inconsistent. Some enemies are less fun to fight.

The Nintendo Switch, “Duke of Switch” edition is the same remaster with one fairly interesting bonus: you can swap out your character for Duke Nukem at anytime. Everything else in the game is the same except Duke Nukem is now swapped lives with Grayson Hunt and trying to get through the events of Bulletstorm, with unique and often hilarious voice lines performed by Jon St John. It may seem like a minor boon, but as I said the story and humor of the game itself is a bit stale, so being able to swap in Duke perks up the experience a bit.

This remaster looks wonderful. Environments are interesting, crisp and filled with lethal treasures. From giant cacti to kick enemies into, to grand waterfalls and cool sci-fi tech. The guns look cool, and there are a good amount of them that all do different things. I particularly enjoyed the pistol, which has an alternate fire that shoots a firework. Some animations were a bit odd, and levels do become a little repetitive. There is not much to be said for the soundtrack, battle and cinematic music is solid, just not particularly memorable.

I beat the campaign in slightly over ten hours. This felt like enough. I honestly believe it was dragging on by the end due to the nature of the story becoming tiresome. It was plenty of time to get satisfaction out of the combat. It gave me time to be creative, while also peppering in more scripted sequences. The more heavily scripted the sequence, however, the more hit or miss it tended to be. At times this felt more like a situation where I was being forced to endure the game, and less responsible for my own fate based on my skill and creativity. As I said before, the Overkill Mode does spice things up enough to make me interested in playing through this again, even if only somewhat.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Game clip by me. Early gameplay. You see the “leash” used here.

Throwing things around is a key mechanic in this game. Whether mega kicking enemies or explosives away, whipping them at yourself or in the air with the “leash,” or sliding endlessly until you hit an enemy and send them flying, shaking up the scene in Bulletstorm is the key to victory. The game insists you be ruthless. Your ability to maximize your score, while also balancing your own health and managing enemies will determine your triumph or defeat. I only really got stuck on a few parts, excluding the agonizing sniper sections. Movement is helpful, but cover is better and should be your first choice, unless you’re really feeling ace this battle.

Bulletstorm is a neat game that is worth playing. I just wouldn’t pay too much for the experience, as it is deeply flawed. I’m glad it got the remaster treatment, as I played this when it initially came out and enjoyed it then as well. I slogged through the low points then the same way I did now, by being so rewarded by the high points. It is campy, simple fun that gives you virtually everything you could want from an FPS. Even if just an average game overall. There are so many gameplay options, and they were smart to focus on the mechanics for a game of this type.

I would say if you like first-person shooters that don’t take themselves too seriously, try to find this one on sale. It will be a similar experience whichever platform you enjoy them on. I even liked the Switch version, which again, comes with the Duke Nukem mod. The remaster on other platforms is called the “Full Clip” edition. I know I was rather critical of this game, but don’t let that discourage you from finding Bulletstorm for a good price somewhere.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Screenshots by me.

Checkpoint: December 17, 2021

Instead of trying to pick out one game to review before Christmas, I thought I would do another Checkpoint blog to give you an idea of what I’ve been playing, and some insight into my life. I’m excited for the holiday, as I will have the opportunity to see all of the important family. One of my brothers who lives a couple hours away is bringing his new dog, Kazak, to visit and I’m looking forward to seeing him. I think his wife will like the gift I got her in our exchange a lot.

The approaching new year brings introspection. I am so much better off now than a year ago. I am in immensely healthier physical condition, emotionally I am balanced and mentally I am doing as good as ever. My therapist pointed something out that I thought we were a lot further away from, but being honest and forthcoming about my feelings as I felt them got me the progress I wanted. It made me feel great.

Now that I have gotten so much physically healthier by dieting and swimming three times a week, I am getting back into a rhythm of doing things. I think I may sign up for a class at the local community college from which I graduated, studying blogging and podcasting. I have a healthy start on my blog here, but podcasting would be fun to explore. I can think of various ways to tie in gaming to that sort of medium, and have fun with it. It is only a month class, and fairly cheap.

Still not even a nibble on the job front. I anxiously job search throughout the week, hoping something new will pop up. I so deeply hope I can find gainful employment soon. I hate my life feeling like it is on pause, which is why I’ve tried to take control how I can lately. I am starting to feel like I’m hoping for too much out of a job. I wish I had more guidance, but it is such an evolving market. And I have such a distinct voice that I want to be heard. I think I could not only be a valuable asset as a writer, but as an overall personality. My mental health insights into gaming are so needed in the space right now, and I just want to opportunity to be what I know I could be.

Now, let’s get down to games. The biggest game I have been playing is the game I most recently reviewed: Octopath Traveler. I highly recommend you go read this review if you have any interest in a masterfully crafted turn-based RPG. I was a bit over fifty hours in, with one out of eight campaigns complete, when I wrote my review. I have now played over ninety hours, and beaten all eight campaigns. They were each an absolute delight. Individually unique and relatable. The lore of the world and stories is so rich. I truly cannot say enough about my love for the experience I have had with this game, and there is still much I haven’t seen.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshots by me. Ending frames for each character in the order I beat them.

Another game I have been playing that is just stupid fun is Bulletstorm. Originally launched in 2011, there has since been a remaster, which I picked up for about $9 on the Nintendo Switch Black Friday Sale. One of several games I picked up with an early Christmas present in the form of a $50 Nintendo gift card. Also available on PlayStation, Xbox and Windows. Bulletstorm is a first-person shooter from People Can Fly and Epic Games. The brains behind this beauty are responsible for the hit series Gears of War, and that same attitude comes through here. You refill supplies at stations by spending points you get for respectively awesome kill methods. Kill with skill, they say. So bonus points for headshots, environmental kills, etc. Not a perfect game by any means, but fantastic fun factor. The over-the-top style works when it does, but as this game experiments heavily, it won’t always turn out well, unfortunately.

Credit: Bulletstorm. Game clip by me. This game is full of cinematic action sequences that often feel like an amusement park ride. Here I use only some of the powers with which I am equipped. There are an incredible amount of kill variations.

The other game I will mention that I have been playing is Subnautica. Available on Mac, Windows, Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch, and launched in 2018 by Unknown Worlds Entertainment. I also picked this one up on sale, after seeing it extensively on Twitch. It just looked like the perfect exploration and survival game. Just you, crashed and stranded alone, on an alien planet in the middle of a vast ocean. Build the things you’ll need to survive, from oxygen tanks, to salted fish, underwater bases, vehicles and more. Your goal: get off the planet. Subnautica has a brilliant way of unfolding that always has you upgrading. The feeling of being in an alien ocean produces so many emotions. Joy, terror, curiosity or even just generally being disoriented. There’s treasure everywhere you look, even if only for the eyes and ears.

Credit: Subnautica. Screenshots by me. A few images of a vast and diverse ocean.

I will be back with more content soon. Perhaps more reviews, including games you saw here. Or, maybe more posts similar to this one. If I take the aforementioned class, I may be doing even more interesting things. So, follow me everywhere you can find SchizophrenicDerek.

Overdue Review: Octopath Traveler

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. A mixture of old and new graphics, in a style known as “HD-2D.” I cannot capture videos from my Switch with this game, sadly, so only screenshots for this review.

If you read this blog regularly, you know I never pay full price for a game. Still, $60 seemed like a worthy price after playing the three hour trial version of Octopath Traveler. I played it on the Nintendo Switch, which it originally launched on in 2018. It is also now available on multiple PC platforms and Xbox including with Game Pass. It is a turn-based role-playing game done in the spirit of Super Nintendo classics like the Final Fantasy series. A strong sign I was in for something good was it being developed by Square Enix, the company that created Final Fantasy. After a bit over fifty hours, I have scratched the surface of this game and had an absolute blast throughout the journey.

Octopath Traveler uses an aesthetic known as “HD-2D;” a mixture of pixelated retro and more modern graphics. It is such a unique and charming art style. The adorable old-school sprites, detailed set pieces that aren’t over-repeated, cool enemies, satisfying skill effects such as calling in lightning to strike your foes, and certain environmental effects with modern graphics, like water. I’m always excited to boot this game up, in part because of how pleasing it is to the eye. The visual art style makes even the map something at which to gaze.

The soundtrack should not go unmentioned, either. Modern orchestral arrangements paint the backdrop with extraordinary elegance and inspiration. The music enchants every mood. As you explore the vast game world and it’s many corners, you’ll hear a wide variety of songs well peppered in. The game has many epic boss fights, which when you pull off a valiant triumph, the victory music truly suits the moment. Although while grinding for higher levels, at times I would enjoy putting on some of my own music to spice things up. The limited voice acting is performed with enthusiasm that enhances the experience.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. A quick glance at the basics of turn-based combat. Refined and intuitive.

When you first start Octopath Traveler, you choose from one of eight characters based on some loose information about them, who is now your protagonist. It is worth noting that once you choose your first character, they are the only person you cannot remove from the party until you finish their campaign. After you complete their first chapter, the world is yours. The other seven characters are out there for you to recruit by playing through their first chapter. You can complete any of their stories in the order you desire. I have only completed my protagonist’s plot, but I have been advancing several plot lines as they are all interesting. It is also nice to do some lower level story missions between grinding sessions as you advance your protagonist.

The eight characters by class are: Scholar, Cleric, Merchant, Dancer, Warrior, Hunter, Thief and Apothecary. I chose the Scholar as my protagonist and I am very happy with that decision. Cyrus, the Scholar, has powerful magical attacks that can deal massive damage to foes. He can also analyze the enemy to uncover their weaknesses and their health points. Enemies are weak to certain attack types, and delivering a certain number of blows to an enemy’s weaknesses breaks their guard. This opens them up to taking significantly more damage and makes them unable to perform any action for a short time.

The biggest complaint I hear about Octopath Traveler is all the grinding that is necessary. With eight characters and only four allowed in your party at a time, you will be dedicating an unbelievable number of hours getting everybody up to the levels you need them to build your party for respective chapters. Personally, I enjoyed grinding in this game as I never have in an RPG before. I’ve always been a fan of turn-based combat, and here it is done with near flawless execution. You feel stronger as your level increases.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me. A feast for the eyes and ears awaits.

My Scholar was level 59 when I finished his campaign. This was almost fifteen levels over the recommended level for his final chapter, but the bosses are not for the trifling. Even at my level, the final boss took masterful strategy and a little bit of luck. The final fight took forty-five minutes, minutes that moved at a blistering pace, even during a turn-based engagement no less. I was very happy with how his tale wrapped. Each character is so special in their own way, I simply can’t wait to go back and complete more story arcs. They all tell a quality story, so far.

This will be a game that ranks highly with me, I must say. One of the most engaging and fun RPGs I have ever played. No exaggeration here, this is one of the greats. I often times have a hard time getting into RPGs enough to finish them. I found Octopath Traveler more accessible to me. The battle system isn’t overly stymieing. The more you do it and experiment, the better you will become. Another reason I didn’t mind grinding. You get a feel for individual class’ strengths and weaknesses, as you upgrade equipment and abilities into endgame. With lots of ways to build your party.

Numerous fond memories are being formed as I play. The graphical style, the music, the gameplay, everything comes together and you see the result. A perfectly balanced game, if overly focused on grinding for some players. Presented in a manner I will call genius. They created a rich fantasy world that will keep you returning, no matter how much time you have to sink in during a particular session. Maybe you just flip it on and grind some experience points and money for an hour. Or you could put more serious time in.

If you already have Xbox Game Pass for console or PC, and you like RPGs, especially turn-based, be certain to put this in your download queue. If you have a Nintendo Switch, there is a three hour demo available of the full game, from which if you then buy it you can continue from the demo save file. As I said at the beginning, I paid $60 and I regret nothing. I’m sure when I wake up tomorrow, this may very well be the first thing I boot up and continue focusing on other campaigns. Octopath Traveler is unforgettable.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshots by me.

EDIT: I have now put in almost one hundred hours into this game, and beat all eight stories. Still, I hunger for much more. There are still side missions, epilogues and more to delve into. Each campaign was very much enjoyable. Of the seventeen games I reviewed this year, Octopath Traveler may be my favorite, no small achievement. It is so satisfying in all its aspects. The soundtrack has been in my playlist non-stop. Absolutely check this game out if you like RPGs.

Checkpoint: November 18, 2021

This month has been a busier than normal time for me. I have finally, after losing thirty pounds on my diet, gotten back into exercising three times a week. I started swimming with an adult swim league right by my house, and being back in the pool feels better than I could’ve imagined. Every practice I become measurably stronger as I slowly regain my strength. I gained over forty pounds when I started taking anti-psychotics, and was out of the gym for years. It will be a journey, but one worth taking to be strong again.

Also, my friend whom I graduated Mount Mercy’s Journalism program with is moving to Denver at the end of the month, so we have been spending as much time together as possible as he prepares for his transition West. We had amazing sushi tonight at my favorite local place. His new rap album just came out under the name Royalty Klub, and drips style and attitude. I’m excited for his future. Myself, I’m still searching for gainful employment.

There has been gaming this month, however, I must say. Spending my time between several games, as I always do. One game has demanded forty hours of my attention since I bought it on Nintendo Switch. I felt lavish paying $60 for a game. You may have noticed most, if not all, of the games I review are never full price. But, this game came with a demo I played and loved so much I felt confident in the purchase.

The game is Octopath Traveler on the Nintendo Switch. It is also available on Xbox Game Pass, Microsoft Windows and Google Stadia. It is a turn-based RPG with the spirit of the 16-bit era classics. Developed by Square Enix, with the assistance of Acquire, I couldn’t imagine this game coming from a better place. I have had the best time with it so far, but as much as I have played, I can tell I still have a very long road ahead. This review may not even come this month, but the game continues to occupy my gaming focus. A blend of retro and modern makes the gameplay and graphics of Octopath Traveler a game not to be ignored.

Credit: Octopath Traveler. Screenshot by me.

I also started playing Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3, available exclusively on the Nintendo Switch. I found this one for the excellent price of $40 at the local game store, where I had almost exactly the amount of trade-in credit to buy the game. Ultimate Alliance is a top-down perspective, four-character brawler that comes ten years after the last entry in the series. Although there is a 2016 remaster of the first game. There are a wide bevy of characters to choose from, but wise balancing or min-maxing will have you adjusting at the frequent checkpoints to prepare yourself for what is ahead. I haven’t played this game but several hours, as Octopath Traveler seems to come first.

Credit: Marvel Ultimate Alliance 3. Game clip by me.

Another game I have been playing I originally discovered on Twitch, Cultist Simulator. Developed by Weather Factory, an indie company, this quirky single-player card game is perfect to throw as little or as much time into as you want. You pick a starting theme for your deck and try to start a cult. It is really hard to say more, you really need to see for yourself. The game is all about revealing hidden knowledge, both in the canon and as a gameplay mechanic. The game offers guidance, but the only real ways to victory are trial and error, exploration and using what you have learned. Cultist Simulator was $20.

Credit: Cultist Simulator. Screenshot by me.

To be honest, I’m not sure any of these reviews will come this month. Call it the “Octopath Traveler Effect.” I just wanted everyone to know what I am up to, and that I am in good health and spirits. I will be seeing lots of family this holiday season as I just received my COVID-19 vaccine booster. If you’re gift giving this season, check out the games I’ve already played for great games you can get without spending a fortune. Also, as supplies are scarce at this time, maybe creative gifts are going to be more common!

On top of my Christmas wish list is more of the Truff hot sauce my sister-in-law Julie got for me as a surprise gift some time ago. She got me the three pack sampler of their black, hotter black and white truffle hot sauces. I loved them all, and it is impossible to pick a favorite. I loved the “Hotter” on tacos and fried chicken. The classic black truffle hot sauce was delicious on pizza and mac & cheese, for starters. The white might have been my favorite, I put it on anything I would normally put hot sauce on, like eggs. The white truffle is only seasonal and hence more expensive, unfortunately.

Overdue Review: Luigi’s Mansion 3

Credit: Luigi’s Mansion 3. Screenshot by me. Riding the elevator with my trusty ghost dog, Polterpup.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 came out on Halloween, 2019. Perfect timing for this child-oriented spooky adventure. Although the scares and story are intended for children, the gameplay and atmosphere can very much be enjoyed by players of any age. Developed by Next Level Games, Luigi’s Mansion is relentlessly clever while hitting so many high notes with such a simple premise.

The game starts as Nintendo favorites Luigi, Mario, Peach and crew make their way to a luxurious hotel, after receiving a mysterious invitation. As their vacation turns to horror, it falls on Luigi to use his ghost vacuum and its many tools to rescue them all, by climbing the floors of the hotel. Each floor is a series of battles and puzzles that culminate in a boss fight that gives you the elevator button for the next floor.

This simple design is elegant and keeps the game going in a way that builds excitement as buttons become bigger and bigger trophies after fighting increasingly difficult stages. You will use all your tools often, and your wits will absolutely be put to the test at every turn. There are some smart puzzles, but none that are insurmountable. Boss fights will be the bigger test.

It is good there is a lot of cash in this game and not a lot to spend it on, because what you can buy: extra lives, are invaluable. You can always go back and load an old save if you don’t have extra lives, the game saves frequently. This can be the better option sometimes, but using an extra life keeps you exactly where you were playing so it can be nice to save those for when you really need them. For example, on a tough boss.

Credit: Luigi’s Mansion 3. Game clip by me. Fighting a hallway full of ghosts.

I beat the game in about fifteen hours, and I would expect the same from you unless you’re a younger player. Kids would love this game, it is a fantastic way to introduce them to different kinds of games such as horror, with friendly familiar and faces along the way. The game is normally full price at $60, but I found it for $50, which is why I am reviewing it for Halloween. That may seem expensive for how short the game is, but it is at least a high quality experience.

Every floor in Luigi’s Mansion 3 is unique. There is quite a lot of attention to detail as each floor’s theme comes to life. It is hard to pick favorites. Among them would be Fitness Center including the pool, Tomb Suites set pieces like the sand or the pyramid, or The Dance Hall. The Master Suite was tremendous fun and quite the challenge, a real satisfying climax to the game.

Combat in Luigi’s Mansion is unlike anything I have ever played, having never played one of the previous games. It mostly consists of figuring out how to disarm ghosts, then suck them up into your vacuum and start slamming them around. Slamming is an immensely joyous thing. Not only is it fun to smash them into furniture and other enemies, but it is such a unique way of bringing down their health once you’ve started sucking them up. There is a fixed third-person camera angle that lends a level of needed simplicity to the game. Luigi’s Mansion 3 adds a mechanic of creating a gelatinous clone of yourself named Gooigi, who can help you do things you either cannot do, or cannot do alone. These mechanics stay fresh and fun until the end of the game.

There are loads of collectibles in the game. Each floor has a number of gems that can be found with vigorous searching, and once you’ve beaten a floor’s boss there is a hidden enemy you can find. This may keep you playing if you like solving riddles or digging up things you missed on the game’s interesting and diverse levels.

Credit: Luigi’s Mansion 3. Screenshot by me. The haunted hotel setting for Luigi’s Mansion 3, The Last Resort, is a rich game world.

Graphics and sound design are what you would expect from a game Nintendo is playing so close to the chest. The game looks great on the Switch, with lots of cool visual effects and stage design. The simple camera angle doesn’t mean the eye or mind aren’t engaged. Music and sound design are excellent. Loads of original songs that suit the atmosphere. Warm and engaging, yet a layer of spookiness throughout.

There is a certain undeniable charm to this game. Luigi’s constant fear and reluctance, yet he always presses onward. He is so lovable, for a character that never really had his own thing. He was always just green Mario. Now he has a claim of his own, a game series that is as adored as it is one of a kind. The ghost encounters never got stale for me, and every boss fight was a unique mountain to climb. There are various multiplayer modes, including a coop mode where one player plays as Gooigi, and I can imagine this being incredibly helpful at times.

If you can afford it, I highly recommend playing this game. If you’re still looking for fun games to play on Halloween, this might not be the spookiest, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a great time. The mood is there, the gameplay rewarding and original. You will go from vacuuming the drapes off the wall to juggling hordes of enemies in no time, and the challenge will rise brilliantly with you. New enemies will be peppered in, and no stage will drag on tiresomely.

I loved Luigi’s Mansion 3. It’s unique charm and intelligent delivery make it a prime choice for your next Switch game. I enjoyed it on handheld mode, but docked is the best way to play this game. You will want to soak in all the details as much as possible. I’m not sure I will be playing this a second time, which is a little disappointing, but as I said before this is still a premium experience. So, look for it on sale wherever you buy games, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is sure to please.

Credit: Luigi’s Mansion 3. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: Resident Evil 4

Credit: Resident Evil 4. Screenshot by me. A look at some of the scenery in RE4.

Spooky season is here! It is October, meaning Halloween is upon us. A favorite holiday. I love costumes, parties, copious amounts of candy, and of course horror movies and games galore. I thought I would kick off the Fall season with a classic I have only seen bits and pieces of: Resident Evil 4. Originally released in 2005 on the Nintendo GameCube by Capcom, it has since been ported onto about every system imaginable, with a VR version in development now. It is easy to see why this game has prevailed for seventeen years. A marvelously well-crafted classic.

The Nintendo Switch seemed like the fitting place to try RE4. And I would say that decision was ultimately a good one. I enjoyed it mainly docked on the TV, but in portable mode too. I got the game for $20 in the Nintendo online store, and I feel like I got my money’s worth. There is a lot to revisit in this game, should you choose to go back and play again after beating the campaign. And you will indeed want to revisit. While the control system felt odd and dated at first, I quickly settled into the over-the-shoulder tank controls for a high-action shooter game with horror elements.

That is an accurate description of RE4’s genre. It is an action game first, horror game second. You will often forget it even is a horror game, with how caught up in combat you become. Fights can be overwhelming or involve puzzles that in context make them a thrill. There are other horror elements, like visual style and thematic bits, but there is no denying this set a tone apart from the first three Resident Evil games. This is not a bad thing, at all, because Capcom did so excellently to create something special.

Credit: Resident Evil 4. Game clip by me. A very early encounter. Still mastering the controls in this clip, but it does show the struggle of the tank controls.

When I first set out in RE4, I was welcomed by a rural European village, also in Autumn. The washed-out tones deceive you with a simple look, which is also dreary and bleak. Playing as super-cop Leon Kennedy, my mission to save the United States President’s daughter. Simple things become difficult as you struggle to protect Ashley Graham. You are met by hostile villagers, at first, but as the plot unfolds new enemy varieties are brilliantly introduced. Besides basic enemies, bosses are cool. Bosses offer unique challenges you will be stymied to overcome.

The game has much more to offer visually than a simple palette laid out in the beginning of the game. The castle stages are intricately detailed and adorned with rich artwork and features. There is a clear progression of scenery as chapters progress. Audio design is both gnarly and satisfying. The burst of a head after a well-placed headshot, the distant respiration of a terrifyingly formidable foe, or the solid voice acting are all examples of good sound design.

I do have complaints about RE4. The biggest, some may not find too terrible. That is, it is almost impossible to play this game without some sort of guide. Most of the puzzles are solvable, with one exception I spent too long trying to figure out. But some of the fights were so near unwinnable it is ridiculous. The fight with Krauser I had basically nothing to fight him with, but a handful of pistol bullets. Thankfully, there is a community for this game online that found a cheese technique that I was able to use to finally beat him after trying with nothing forever. I came so close to stopping the game during this sequence, but it was so near the end I am glad I found a way.

Playing with a guide is nothing new to a lot of gamers, but I like to beat a game and know that I beat it. That being said, I don’t think playing with a guide impacted my experience too dramatically. Most of this game is the combat, with which I used no help outside of the few times I was forced to, as described before. These handful of times take points away from the game due to their nature of being situations where I just had no options. Still, there were a lot of things I learned for myself that I could apply if I were to start a new game.

Credit: Resident Evil 4. Screenshot by me. Experiment gone nasty. Resident Evil 4 focuses on mans endeavors gone awry. Biological terrorism, greed and more dark themes.

Resident Evil 4 took me about thirteen hours to complete on Normal difficulty, between Easy and Normal starting difficulties, with Professional added later. I would suspect you would finish in around the same time, however you play. There are a lot of options on play style. Shopping at the merchant means choosing which guns to buy, modify and upgrade. Randomness will play a big part in what goes down. The game has a difficulty adjustment system, which adjusts aspects of the game like items and enemy aggression, based on how well, or how poorly, you’re playing.

Although I can’t really call it a fully fledged horror game, Resident Evil 4 was the perfect way to start the season. I’ve long heard this a fan favorite, not only among Resident Evil fans, but just generally among gamers; this game is typically held very highly. I can finally see why. When RE4 aims at its mark, it finds it. There may be moments it feels dated, but it still holds up unbelievably. Especially for a game that is as old as this one.

Pick up Resident Evil 4 on whatever platform you have, and I’m sure you will have an experience much like mine. Horror and action in a blend that came be a tremendous inspiration to future Resident Evil projects, and other games. I have only played one other Resident Evil, RE6, which I did enjoy. After this game, I am much more inclined to continue digging through the series. There are a bevy of them to choose from, modern and old-school. Looking forward to choosing my next game to help me get into the Halloween spirit!

Credit: Resident Evil 4. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: BioShock Infinite (2016 Remaster)

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. Columbia is a dystopia in the clouds with an alluring facade.

I bought the remaster set BioShock: The Collection on Nintendo Switch for $20, and have recently been running back the series here on my blog. What we have found so far is an innovative blend of first-person shooter and role-playing games, in adventurous settings. BioShock Infinite is the third game in the series, and as with series tradition, takes bold new steps. All the while, remixing and revisiting concepts that have made the series popular. Originally made by Irrational Games in 2013, with the remaster by Blind Squirrel Games, it is easy to see why this is so many people’s favorite game in the series.

The first two BioShock games revolve around an underwater city known as Rapture, but Infinite takes us to a dystopia in the clouds, to a flying city known as Columbia in 1912. You, Booker Dewitt, are to journey to this place and recover a girl in order to pay off an enormous debt. From the outset Booker is the lovable roguish type. He has quite a personality for the playable protagonist of a series that has historically had voiceless heroes.

Of course, nothing goes so easy as he hoped, or this wouldn’t be much of a story. In the plot department, this may be regarded as the strongest of all three BioShock games. It is full of twists and turns that leave your head spinning, and just when you feel like you couldn’t be more puzzled, things change again. I sat through the credits of the game just contemplating how the ending is possible, and what it means. This is an iconic game story, in line with the importance of the first BioShock.

A strong story is supported by frenetic, stimulating action sequences. Gun fights in Infinite are delightfully hectic, an ebb and flow of chaos and control. All weapons feel worthy. I love that they kept the ability to have action skills in one hand and weapon in the other, it keeps the combat pacing so quick, and makes you so powerful. I have heard people say that BioShock 2 has the best gameplay in the series, but in my opinion Infinite is better if not at least close. This game has my favorite action skills of the series.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Game clip by me. Fighting a wave of enemies. I use two vigors here, one that launches enemies in the air, and one that turns machines to my side.

Action skills that were once called plasmids are now vigors, and while you can carry all of these to swap between at once, which is terrific, you can only carry two guns in this game. This will have you scavenging for weapons and ammo during combat, but for the most part this is made doable and actually fun. It forces you to make choices about weapon balancing and resource management. The penalty for death is still minimal. Go to a respawn point, enemies get some health, you pay a small fee but that is it. I honestly died my share of times playing on Medium difficulty, out of Easy, Medium and Hard.

There is a rather rich diversity of enemies, without there being so many that their different weapons become too much to manage. Meaning that without overloading the game with different weapon types, you see more ammo you want. Corpses can also be looted for ammo beyond what drops in their gun. There were times I felt overwhelmed by my obstacles, but the key was always good shooting, resource management and wise vigor application. The vigors in this game are awesome. Each has unique and creative effects that can be useful in more than one way. It is hard to pick a favorite action skill in Infinite, they are all neat.

The remaster looks stellar. The attention to detail I have come to expect from BioShock is very much present. There are constant moments where you are reminded that you are in a city above the clouds. As the platforms that hold Columbia together shift it gives you the sensation of not being on solid ground. I love the satisfaction in blasting off pieces of enemy armor to let me know I am making progress on fighting them. The art within the game does so well to convey the emotions of the game while pleasing the senses.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshot by me. Combat in Infinite is intense.

I have only a handful of minor complaints about BioShock Infinite. The biggest is the guide arrow. You press a button to make guide arrow appear, but it only appears for a fleeting moment and you have to actually find it and see where it is going before it disappears. It is just an annoying system that could’ve been improved. I also wish there were more resources available for upgrades. There are a lot of options for your arsenal in this game, but resources are not overly abundant, so it is best to focus on what is most practical for your fighting style.

I understand the player must face scarcity to make meaningful choices sometimes. It does give me incentive to play the game again. I would like to see what other weapons or powers would be like if I had focused on them instead. Also, I would enjoy playing through again to experience the story once more. Knowing how it ends, I wonder what signs or meaningful moments I may have missed. In addition to playing through again, I may give all three BioShock games a run through their DLCs.

BioShock Infinite is a remarkable game. The action and story bring together all the best you would come to expect from the series, even delivers beyond the promise. What a wonderful way to cap off the trilogy, buying the remastered collection is an easy buying decision. What makes it irresistible is the low price BioShock: The Collection is being offered. As I said before, I got it for $20 on the Nintendo Switch, but it is available on any platform for around this price. If you want to experience a piece of gaming history, you would be completely foolish to overlook this series, especially with the fresh coat of paint it has received. I spent about ten to fifteen hours with each game, an incredible value any way you splice it.

Credit: BioShock Infinite. Screenshots by me.

Retro Review: BioShock 2 (2016 Remaster)

Credit: BioShock 2. Screenshot by me. The sequel improves on the formula of the highly successful original.

In a direct follow-up to my BioShock review, comes the sequel. BioShock 2 comes to us from 2K Marin in 2010, three years after the release of the first game. It takes place in the same universe as the first game, even the same underwater dystopia of Rapture. The sequel improves on the concepts first dreamt up in BioShock and gives us a fresh story in a world that fans were dying to return to. The pressure is up in BioShock 2.

All the best things from the first game return. The one thing that seems to have been left behind is the sense of survival horror. This is not a bad thing, the action in BioShock 2 is amazing. Rarely are you doing something that isn’t fun. The wrench melee weapon has been scrapped for a massive drill arm as we step into the shoes of the notorious mini-boss: Big Daddy. Our quest, save our Little Sister and escape Rapture.

The action style of BioShock 2 makes sense over the horror adjacent themes of the first game. In the first game, you were totally alien to Rapture. Both as a character and as a player. In the sequel, we are veterans as players and our playable character is one of the meanest things walking around the city. Developers also reached a place where they found how to make gameplay more coherent. It is an all-round more solid structure.

The first-person shooter/role-playing game hybrid is streamlined this go round. Instead of equipping weapons and plasmids, or action skills, separately, you now have plasmids in your left hand always and weapons in your right hand always. This makes you much deadlier, and while I wonder where this feature was in the original, after having just played it I know the first game doesn’t suffer.

Credit: BioShock 2. Game clip by me. Fighting a tougher enemy.

The story lacks as the game dredges on in this game, I feel. Whereas in the first game each level felt like it had a theme and a good reason why we were there. The sequel’s story serves as a mechanism for an above average FPS, but the first game’s story left more to be desired. Perhaps the magic of the first game is an unrealistic expectation. And the final levels of this game are indeed thrilling.

The moral choices in the game are more significant in BioShock 2. Choosing the fate of story characters in a way that is meaningful as well as the return of the decision whether to “Harvest,” or “Rescue” Little Sisters. But this time, the rewards of rescuing are clear from the outset and more significant. Once you take down her Big Daddy, you can escort the Little Sister to up to two locations where you must guard her while she performs an action that generates a lot of attention. You can rescue the Little Sister without doing any escort missions, if you choose or are low on resources, but the rewards are heavy and there is fun to be had in doing.

I encountered some bugs while playing this remaster. Disappointing, since I would hope the game had received all kinds of TLC while being remastered. Twice I had the game crash while saving, which wiped the save file I was on and the one I tried to save into. For this reason, I always keep multiple save files stacked in case I need a surprise back-up. You should get in a groove of saving often in this game, you can do it from the pause menu anytime and can have multiple save files. So, there is no reason not to. Especially when resources are scarce, as you will often find.

Credit: BioShock 2. Screenshot by me. Rapture returns, with some improvements.

Rapture looks beautiful in the remaster. The world is deeply immersive, with many familiar assets from the first game. Fans will feel right at home, and actually get to venture out into the ocean this time, as Big Daddies’ armor allows them to exist deep underwater. Environments are well textured with details. Levels feel laid out well and reward exploration with loot, eye candy and fun.

One benefit of success that the BioShock sequel feels is music, which makes me wonder why other sound mixing has such a glaring issue. When performing Little Sister escort missions, if an enemy interacts with the Little Sister, her shriek comes out at a level that will have you jumping for the volume control no matter what stage you had felt comfortable playing. This is such an obvious and easy thing to fix, it really kept me from playing louder and being more immersed.

BioShock 2 was a fantastic experience. I beat it in about fifteen hours, and rarely was there a time during that which I was not enjoying myself. Developers 2K Marin, and remaster developers Blind Squirrel Games deliver a stellar successor to a bold, pivotal FPS. I played on Medium difficulty, out of Easy, Medium and Hard. I felt this was probably the best way to enjoy it. I was very much challenged, but I also got to feel like I explored as many facets of the RPG system as possible. Gunplay was very rewarding, even on Nintendo Switch.

I would recommend BioShock 2 if you played another BioShock, and want more. BioShock 1 is not necessary to playing the sequel, though it resonates heavily. If you like shooters, you must check out BioShock: The Collection. After picking up the BioShock remastered collection on the Switch for $20, it has already been an insanely wise purchase even only two games in. BioShock Infinite is last and takes us to a dystopia city in the clouds. Looking very much forward to rounding out the series.

Credit: BioShock 2. Screenshots by me.