Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review: Golf Story

Everyone is the hero of their own story, but no one believes in your Golf Story protagonist. The plucky hero dreams of golf glory, and despite conquering different courses, no one is convinced of his talent. It’s great. Far too often NPCs swoon in awe of a game protagonist, and it’s refreshing (and funny) to see so many characters brushing aside your golfer.

Indie games often attempt to impress gamers with humor, and that humor often comes across as forced. Golf Story doesn’t fall into that trap. There are disc golf weirdos, the uninspiring coach makes awkward sexual advances toward his crush, and I love the rival Lara. She’s April Ludgate with the aggression meter cranked up, constantly throwing shade. The plot of Golf Story is nothing special, but the game’s bright environments, fun tone, and colorful characters make it a lovely little world to visit. Oh yeah, and the golf is real fun too. The game mechanics should be familiar to anyone who has every played Mario Golf or Hotshotz Golf. Adjustable attributes like power and spin combined with special golf clubs allow the player to make tactical choices. The gameplay is just the right amount of goofy. Golf balls can be carried off by moles, and they can bounce high off of ice, but piranha plants don’t block your shots.

If there’s one feature missing from Golf Story, it’s more versus challenges. Playing against a score card isn’t nearly as fun as beating individual players (especially if they’re talking shit). In one competition you’re forced to pair with an elderly man for a two vs. two game, and he sucks. But compensating for his weak shots makes the victory all the sweeter. One other critique – most golfers you play against commit regular errors, making the game easier than I’d like.

Side mission lists in a game can be annoying or overwhelming, but I would have liked one in Golf Story. I didn’t want to miss any of the fun. Golf Story is part golf simulator, part RPG, and an all-around enjoyable adventure. I’m highly anticipating the Sports Story sequel. I hope Lara shows up for it.

Product Reviews · Video Game Reviews

Product Review: Nintendo Switch

In 2018 I wrote a review for Breath of the Wild that included this statement: “I don’t care about the Nintendo Switch’s portability (I prefer using a TV screen), and I probably won’t buy more than a handful of games for the system.” Times have changed. In the past few months I’ve played through half a dozen Switch games (Golf Story, Inside, Super Mario Odyssey, and so on), and I’ve completed most of those with the Switch in portable mode. The Switch is a kick ass console.

I still enjoy playing games on a big screen, but the convenience of picking up the console and playing in different rooms can not be understated. In portable mode it’s so easy to jump into a game like Bad North and defend a couple islands before putting the console to sleep with the push of a button. I didn’t think the joy-cons would feel very comfortable, but I have no problem with them; the Switch batteries always drain before my hands complain. So yeah, the console’s battery is not great, only lasting two to three hours. That’s why I said it’s great to take it to different rooms in a house, because the dock is nearby for a quick charge. A console like the 3DS is better suited for longer travels.

Most games nowadays are available across multiple platforms, so the console wars are much less of an issue than they were 20 years ago. Cutting edge graphics are the least of my gaming concerns; Sony and Microsoft can keep that war raging. The Switch graphics look good to me, and when it comes to exclusive titles, Nintendo has the one-two punch of Mario and Zelda. That’s a tough combo to beat. I’m also a big fan of the Switch pro controller – it’s almost as good as an Xbox controller and better than a Playstation controller. I’ll keep supporting Sony so long as they keep making excellent Spider-Man games, but my heart is with Mario and his pals.

The new OLED Switch screen looks fantastic, but I’m in no hurry to upgrade. My original gray and black model is a solid piece of hardware, which makes sense considering Nintendo’s history of building long lasting, durable products. The Lite model seems like a misstep, though. The Switch is a beautiful marriage between Nintendo’s home consoles and portable consoles, so why limit a gamer to just half the experience? After I’m done with this review I’m going to wake up my Switch so I can continue battling pixelated vikings. And after that the e-shop has much more to offer. Considering the quantity and quality of games available (including historic classics with the online membership), the Nintendo Switch may be the best console ever made.

Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy VI

I regret missing out on Final Fantasy VI back in my SNES days. I would have fallen in love. Some of its story beats are familiar now, but that doesn’t take anything away from its status as one of the best titles in the series. If this were in fact the “final” fantasy released, the franchise would have gone out on a high note.

FFVI has a large, lively cast of characters, and two women – Terra and Celes – are arguably its most important protagonists. Terra is the only human who possesses innate magical abilities, and Celes holds the fate of the world in her hands at multiple points during the game. Unlike games like Final Fantasy VII and VIII, this game doesn’t depend on one main (and moody) protagonist to drive the story forward. FFVI is truly a team effort, and I had a tough time ranking my favorites heroes. For the record, my A-team ended up being: Terra (magic), Locke (strength), Celes (magic), and Shadow (strength).

Though I’d heard some information about FFVI before playing, I had no idea about its plot twist. Halfway through the game the unlikely band of rebels confronts the big bad Kefka, and they lose hard. The world is ripped apart, the heroes are scattered, and society as a whole barely survives. It’s such a dark time that one of the main characters attempts suicide. The World of Ruin reminds me of a post-apocalyptic novel setting, and its dark pall is nicely offset by moments of levity and love between the family of characters.

Not everything is perfect in FFVI. Though the characters are nicely varied, the Ultima spell is so powerful it makes all the other spells obsolete once it’s learned. Spamming one spell is not nearly as fun as learning an enemy’s weaknesses and exploiting them. An easy way to circumvent the issue would be to limit a character to using Ultima once per battle. On the flip side, the summons (which can only be used once per battle) are much too weak. Also, the characters only level up if they’re in the battle party, so it’s easy to allow less desirable characters to stagnate.

This is a definitely an RPG that benefits from at least two play-throughs. The plot’s not overly complex like Final Fantasy Tactics, but after reading up on the game (once I completed the story), I discovered plot points I didn’t even realize. Shadow’s connection to another character went right over my head. And Kefka sneaks into his role as the primary antagonist, graduating from unbalanced mage to world breaker. I didn’t expect that at all, and I should have taken him more seriously as a threat. He is, so far as I know, the only Final Fantasy character to succeed in his mission by becoming a god and taking control of the world. Really, even if you discover every secret the first time around, the story and characters are worth revisiting.

I completely understand why this is so many people’s favorite Final Fantasy game. It laid so much groundwork for future installments, and because of its gorgeous pixel art, excellent music, and timeless story, it’s aged very well. It’s a dark game, abound with themes of survivor’s guilt and depression. But like I said before, it’s a serious game that doesn’t take itself too seriously. The characters can act quite silly, and even Kefka can be entertaining when he’s not completely horrifying. It’s refreshing to follow earnest heroes who are trying their best, as opposed to seeing characters attempting to rally around a bad boy who thinks “…whatever” is a proper bit of dialogue. Sorry, Cloud. Not sorry, Squall.

Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review: Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

I thought I knew a thing or two about Super Mario platforming. I’ve played all the greatest hits, from the original Super Mario Bros. to Yoshi’s Island. But somehow Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 always eluded me. Sincerely, why didn’t anyone ever tell me how good this game is? It’s much better than Super Mario Land and is likely superior to Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. Finally, after years of injustice, I bought the game and a Game Boy from GameChanger Mods so I could pillage and plunder as the dastardly Wario.

There’re a few things that make Wario Land interesting. Wario is a Gordon Gekko type gobbling up coins so he can build himself a new castle (unlike Mario, who is always “saving” a princess who clearly wants some space). Valuable treasures are cleverly hidden in certain levels, so exploration through backtracking is essential and much different from other, more linear Mario games. Finally, it’s just fun to play as the bullish Wario. Knocking down creatures, grabbing them up, and flinging them across the screen is always satisfying.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but Wario Land occasionally challenged my skills, and a couple boss battles left me wondering how to defeat them. That’s not a bad thing; on the contrary, I appreciate the tension of running low on lives.

I’d recommend Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 to any Mario fan, which is pretty much everyone in the world. I loved having a reason to play my new chunky Game Boy, and the game is excellent, so I didn’t miss the lack of color at all. I know I’m very late to the party, but now I know how good it is to be bad. And fat. Wario is a pudge.

Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review: Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions

In early 1998 my brother and I had a debate over which video game earned the championship belt between two heavyweight contenders – the RPG Final Fantasy VII and the strategy RPG Final Fantasy Tactics. In the years between then and now, history has decided for us. The Final Fantasy VII universe has accumulated spin-off titles, an anime feature film, and it is being remade as another big budget production. Meanwhile, Final Fantasy Tactics remains relegated to the past, for the most part. I tried playing one of the Game Boy Advance spin-offs, but it paled in comparison to the original.

I haven’t played every Final Fantasy game. Seriously, who has the time? But I’ve played enough to feel secure in saying Tactics has to be one of the best Final Fantasy games, and overall it’s one of the best video games released during the original Playstation era. Final Fantasy Tactics: The War of the Lions is more of a re-release than a remake, but its improved translation fixes one of the main flaws of the original game. The battle system is still a bit overcomplicated for me to fully account for every detail (for example, characters’ zodiac signs affect attack damage), but in this case I’d rather the game be more complex rather than less.

The Tactics story itself is quite dense and hard to follow. The sense I had playing it the very first time was, “Man this is epic and cool but I don’t remember who that guy is and I don’t know who is betraying who.” Following the story is still challenging, but I liken it to reading a novel that expects you to pay attention and use a highlighter if you need to help yourself. The main character Ramza is a naïve highborn child who sheds the scales from his eyes as he grows, and his friend Delita is one of the most intriguing characters Final Fantasy has ever produced. He grows much faster than Ramza, playing the political game and using people so that he’s never used as a pawn again. Whereas many Final Fantasy games focus mainly on fantasy adventure, politics factor heavily into Tactics. The marriage of fantasy and politics sounds like a winning combination, doesn’t it? It’s no wonder Game of Thrones caught on like wildfire.

All this writing and I haven’t yet mentioned the combat. Unlike many RPGs, a button masher this is not. Units are moved across a map like chess pieces, placed strategically to inflict higher damage while avoiding attacks from opposing units. It’s addicting gameplay, and matches can extend to half an hour or more. Watching your black mage inflict a death blow just before a ninja is about to strike her down is one of the many small victories experienced on the Tactics battlefield. And thanks to the excellent job system, that same black mage can be transformed into a time mage, a monk, a geomancer, or whatever else you like for the next match. One of the only gripes I have with The War of the Lions is it includes special jobs that require absurd amounts of experience to attain.

I love Final Fantasy Tactics, and The War of the Lions is the best way to experience it. Anyone who enjoys RPGs, epic stories (seriously, I love the church vs. state vs. demons story so much), strategy games, board games, and anything awesome needs to play it. There’s no excuse either, because you can now play it on your phone like I did. Also, Delita is a character who deserves to be mentioned alongside heavy hitters like Cloud Strife. If that’s not enough of a selling point, Cloud also sneaks his way into Tactics as a playable character. There truly is no reason not to play this game.

If you’d like to know more about the game, or if you have already played Final Fantasy Tactics and want to take a trip down memory lane, here’s a great retrospective review by Resonant Arc.

Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review: Spider-Man

Marvel's Spider-Man_20190201221533

Just like I got a Nintendo Switch strictly to play Breath of the Wild, I bought a Playstation 4 to play Spider-Man. In fact, I managed to snag the red PS4 special edition with the huge white spider logo slapped on it, and it looks slick. After spending hours completing every side mission and churning through the DLC, I’m happy to say that Spider-Man took the best parts of the classic Spider-Man 2 game (released way back in 2004) and improved on its weaknesses.

Spider-Man is a combination of Spider-Man 2 and the Batman Arkham games sprinkled with familiar, sometimes boring side missions copied from games like Assassin’s Creed. Even if some of the side missions aren’t exciting, web slinging around New York is enjoyable enough to forgive bland missions. Seriously, launching Spidey through the air and threading the needle through tight spaces at high velocity is terrific. Similar to the web slinging, the combat is fluid and varied. I never blamed the game when I failed in a fight, and when I fell into a good rhythm the streets of New York would be littered with webbed up criminals.

Although high end graphics are usually secondary to me when it comes to video games, Spidey looks amazing in this game. It’s clear that the designers took pride in crafting every costume, and I even found myself using costumes I don’t care that much about (Scarlet Spider, Secret War) because they look so cool in-game. The only problem is there are so many impressively designed suits and I could only wear one at a time.

I knew webslinging would be fun, but surprisingly, the story is the most impressive part of Spider-Man. Like the classic Marvel comics, Peter Parker has to balance crime fighting, finances, and family obligations. Mixed in with old tropes are new versions of Mary Jane and Aunt May (the best we’ve ever seen), sympathetic villain Martin Li, as well as a good kid named Miles Morales. There’s also Doctor Octavius, Peter’s mentor, who might be the most fleshed out villain I’ve ever encountered in a video game. The characters drive the story and inject it with life.

When I was about halfway through Spider-Man I realized something: this feels like being in a comic book! Whether I was slinging across the Upper East Side to meet Aunt May at the community center or dodging Electro’s blasts hundreds of feet in the air, I was immersed in the game and felt like the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. One of the only real flaws I found is in the title. “Spider-Man” is good, but adding an adjective like “Sensational” would be more fitting.

Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I haven’t played a new Zelda game in years, but the overwhelming positive response to Breath of the Wild was too much for me to resist. I don’t care about the Nintendo Switch’s portability (I prefer using a TV screen), and I probably won’t buy more than a handful of games for the system, but boy does it feel good to be Link again.

The big draw of Breath of the Wild is the open world full of mountain peaks to climb and enemies to slay. But what really sells the world is its sense of history. There are desolate ruins that speak to the violent past of the beautiful land, and forgotten leviathan skeletons are wondrously alluring. There are plenty of shrines to uncover and conquer, and some of them – especially those involving riddles – provide a welcome challenge. Link’s essential abilities are available early in the game, so the player’s only limitations are lack of skill and imagination. I’m not necessarily skilled or imaginative, and I experienced satisfaction in returning to confront monsters that had once made me flee in fear.

Although most of the story is still delivered through text and Link remains woefully silent, Breath of the Wild also uses voice actors to flesh out the story and create bonds between Link and his allies. Zelda is more of a rounded character in this game; she’s idealistic, bratty, courageous, and hampered with self-doubt. Maybe someday Link will follow suit and be more than a mute hero.

At the time of this writing I haven’t yet completed Breath of the Wild, but I’m happy to say it feels like returning to Ocarina of Time on a grander scale. I do have minor quibbles with character pop-in and the short handful of dungeons. Overall though, Breath of the Wild is an incredible adventure, and it’s easy to see why Zelda fans fell in love with it.

Video Game Reviews

Video Game Review: Stardew Valley

Stardew Valley

It’s been a long time since I’ve committed to playing a video game.  But somehow I’ve dedicated dozens of hours to building up a farm, interacting with neighbors, and exploring caves in Stardew Valley.  The first time I saw footage of Stardew Valley, I immediately thought of Harvest Moon, a fun farm simulator I played as a kid.  Stardew Valley feeds off of that nostalgia while building its own world.

The game doesn’t waste time with a long setup.  Fed up with corporate drone life, the protagonist moves to the quaint little town of Stardew Valley and inherits his (or her – you can customize your own avatar) grandfather’s farm.  After some quick introductions, the game allows the player to pursue his own ambitions.  On any given day the player can harvest crops, chop wood, go fishing, give gifts, feed barn animals, forage wild berries, pursue romantic interests, battle giant blobs, mine ore, and on and on.  What’s more, the game doesn’t push the player to engage in any one activity.  Rewards await those who explore everything Stardew Valley has to offer – keep a look out for Zelda-esque puzzles – but the game world is what you make of it.

Stardew Valley is a labor of love, and it shows.  The music is enjoyable and varies depending on seasons and settings.  The history of the land slowly unravels as books and artifacts are discovered.  One of my neighbors, an aspiring writer, once asked me about my favorite type of book.  I told him I liked science fiction.  Weeks later he invited me to a book reading for his sci-fi novel.  As I said, the game world is what you make of it.  And it’s a wonderful world.