Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

2020: Year of Halo – Part 3: It Was All A Blur

It… might actually happen. We’re now over halfway through the year, and somehow also over halfway through the Master Chief Collection‘s chronological rollout of PC-optimised Halo games. As the rest of the gaming industry attempts to navigate the pitfalls of 2020’s justified uncertainty, Microsoft continues to drop its tantalising sci-fi FPS breadcrumb trail. And so at long last, sixteen years after the fact, I have finally finished the Halo 2 campaign.

But for goodness’ sake, dear reader, let’s not undersell this; sixteen years after the fact, I have finally played Halo 2.

If 2002 was an exciting year marked by the seemingly limitless possibility of a new console generation – where even Nintendo fanboys could marvel at the possibilities of a company like Microsoft joining the console war – 2004 was defined by entrenched teenage loyalties for yours truly. I won’t hesitate to admit that I have no memories of any hype around Halo 2‘s initial release – When I wasn’t dealing with high school drama I was too busy immersing myself in what would become three of my favourite games of all time: Tales of Symphonia, Pokemon Leaf Green and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. My brother also got a PS2 that year, with two controllers and the original Star Wars Battlefront to boot. I had more than enough to chew on, and my friends at the time weren’t exactly Halo superfans.

And so years later, when I found myself in the Microsoft ecosystem thanks to my very own Xbox 360, the reverence I discovered for the second Halo game came as a bit of a shock. But I still didn’t dive in, because Halo 3 was already out and, well, we’ll get to that. Long story short, in 2020 I still knew much less about Halo 2 than I thought I did, and most of my experience playing the game felt wonderfully fresh as a result.

That is, when it worked.

Yes, this post arrives perhaps a month or two later than I wanted because for far too long I could not get a co-op game running with my Combat Evolved partner. No matter how many fixes we googled, what settings and configurations we changed, those first few weeks after Halo 2 launched in early May were beyond frustrating. We could play competitive multiplayer, but not campaign. When life (and other videogame releases) got in the way, we benched the idea until one day in late July, when our schedules aligned and at long last, I was able to take one of my favourite screenshots of the year so far:

I don’t know how much of this was due to my heat-of-the-moment decision to buy Halo: The Master Chief Collection on Steam after uninstalling the repeatedly disappointing Game Pass version, and how much was just months of game patches bearing fruit. All I know is I’ve never been happier to see the face of another Master Chief. Anyway, onto the game itself!

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The Great & Perilous Era of Long-Life Nintendo Games

The morning sun peers over the horizon, rays painting the sky and illuminating the dew on the tree leaves. The birds stir and my alarm shakes me from my sleep far too gradually, considering it’s the weekend. I reach bleary-eyed for the glasses next to my bed, stretch slowly and pull my Switch Lite off the charger. I take it out of flight mode and boot up Animal Crossing: New Horizons, with the volume just loud enough to let the gentle grooves of the soundtrack tell my ears it’s a new day. Isabelle greets me with typical cheer and updates me on the status of my town. There’s Nook Shopping to be picked up, rocks to be struck, fossils to dig up, weeds to pull, villagers to talk to, beaches to comb, a fresh catalogue to peruse. I get stuck in.

Half an hour later, when I’ve done all the tasks that can’t wait until tomorrow, I swap out to Pokemon Shield. All the dens in the Wild Area have been refreshed, after all. So have the Watt Traders. Yesterday one of them had the Substitute TR, which I hadn’t ever seen in the game before, so I have to check them all. I’ve checked the Wild Area News and there are some rare spawns to check out. Plus a new online battle season just started and I only need two or three wins to get into the next tier, securing myself enough BP to buy that Choice Band to help my Barraskewda hit like a missile. So I ride around for a bit, scoping out the daily updates, jumping into a few online raids and a quick battle. I try to brush aside the guilt that I still haven’t finished that new Fire Emblem: Three Houses DLC story and briefly entertain the idea of logging into Super Smash Bros Ultimate to clear a Spirit Board or two – I still need to check out that Trials of Mana crossover after all. But I need caffeine, so I get up.

Such is a normal day in this year of 2020. And as a lifelong Nintendo fan, it feels a bit strange.

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Launch is Not the End

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We stand at a familiar junction. Barring any unforeseen delays (or indeed foreseen, given the current worldwide landscape), we stand at the dawn of a new videogame console generation. We now know that on both sides of the blue/green divide the games optimised for this new generation will not just be enhanced by lightning-fast solid state storage drives, but require them in order to run at all. If spending the extra money and effort to “down-port” a new PlayStation/Xbox game to the Nintendo Switch was already a tricky proposition, it’s about to get several times more difficult. Nintendo has an absolutely gigantic head start when it comes to mind-share and third-party allies compared to where they were at the start of the Wii U era, but they’re about to face a similar problem. Until they are ready to phase into whatever piece of hardware comes next, the Big N is going to need to be a whole lot more self-sufficient.

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2020: Year of Halo – Part 2: Co-op Evolved

They did it. The world is going crazy, but the mad lads at 343 Industries got another Halo campaign out on the PC in 2020. We are one step closer to achieving the Year of Halo.

The original Halo: Combat Evolved is – surprise surprise – hugely nostalgic for me. I had a friend who got the game Day 1 alongside four controllers at the 2002 launch of the original Xbox. I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time, but I was definitely jealous. As a Nintendo kid by trade I was already well used to console launches boosted by games in well-known franchises, so the Xbox came in with a definite disadvantage; but Bungie’s Halo was just so ridiculously polished that playing it made you quickly forget its status as a series debut. Halo didn’t originate twin-stick FPS controls, but it refined them and brought them into the mainstream; the jank of Goldeneye and Perfect Dark would never be convincingly disguised again. The splitscreen multiplayer experience on Blood Gulch is now legendary. I don’t think it’s that controversial to call Halo: Combat Evolved one of history’s greatest console launch titles.

But despite three or four attempts over the decades, I have never surpassed the second level of the first Halo campaign. The notoriously minimap-free level design has tripped me up on more than one half-hearted occasion over the years. That finally changed early last month, when I lined up a Halo-loving mate for another tilt at the campaign that started it all – now with yet another new coat of paint and a handy suite of fresh features on the mighty PC. Thanks to all manner of spicy technical difficulties, it would eventually take us almost two months to get it finished. But before we began, it was time to play some Halo multiplayer again at last.

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2020: Year of Halo – Part 1: A Bit of a Reach

Late in 2019 Microsoft did something rather devious – After a considerable period of drawn-out hype, the storied partnership between 343 Industries, Splash Damage and Ruffian Games bore its first meaningful piece of fruit for PC gamers; Halo: The Master Chief Collection took its first steps onto the wild plains of the personal computer. This was devious, of course, because it came roughly a year before the purported due date of the next Xbox console, and Microsoft has made a real point of saying that Halo Infinite will launch on the same day. What’s more, while only Halo: Reach is out on PC now, the remaining four-and-a-half Halo games are slated for staggered release over the course of 2020. Rarely has a pre-release run of hype dominoes been so tantalisingly lined up.

Ladies and gentlemen, we have ourselves a year of Halo.

Now I have only finished one Halo campaign in my life – ODST – and only because it was a mostly irrelevant sub-story. I’ve been playing Halo games for a long time, but the lore and plot hasn’t ever really had a chance to grab me. One of the reasons I was so readily able to rank Halo 5 so high in 2015, after all, was my complete disinterest in its campaign. To me, Halo has always been about the presentation and the multiplayer.

But with such a ready-made setup, I will likely never have a better chance to get into the main story of gaming’s most famous contribution to the sci-fi canon. The motivation just wouldn’t be there otherwise. So, Halo: Reach, here we go; it’s time at last for me to finish your campaign.
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Best of 2019: Top 15 Games

Your mileage may vary on 2019’s strength as a videogame year. As I daresay my consoles list would suggest, that mileage will probably depend on whether you have a Nintendo Switch, but not just because that console enjoyed more exclusive new releases than any other this year. Much like the improved Xbox Game Pass, the Switch offered a raft of opportunities for time-poor players to enjoy older games in a new form. This definitely contributed at times to a feeling that I was helplessly drowning in stuff to play, but I do have friends who look back on 2019 with more laid-back attitudes and shrug. It wouldn’t have helped that the heavy-hitting North Americans largely sat 2019 out, taking up only two slots on my list; this was a year utterly dominated by Japanese and European developers, after all, with a strong line-up of perfectly toasted indie treats along for the ride.

To help me cut down this list to a usable 15, I always use the same rule: A game can make it on if I played it for 5+ hours or finished it (whichever comes first), unless it’s a multiplayer-focused game; then I just need to have played it once. I feel like this has always served me well as an indicator that I’ve given a title a fair shake, but it once again disqualifies a bunch of fantastic games that make me wince just typing them out: Luigi’s Mansion 3, Man of Medan, The Outer Worlds, Devil May Cry 5, Baba is You, Gears 5, Star Wars: Jedi Fallen Order. If you don’t see a game either on the main list or in this paragraph, you can safely assume I just did not rate it highly enough or lacked the interest / awareness to try it.

Parentheses indicate where I played each game.

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VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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15. Rage 2 (XBO/PC)

2019 was positively laced with games that one might call 7/10 experiences; titles that do plenty right but have a noticeable permeating flaw or simply don’t do much to distinguish themselves (see the honorable mentions for a few examples). Many count Rage 2 among these, but I feel like it’s got plenty enough going for it to carve out a unique voice. The environments – especially outdoors – are absolutely stunning at times, thanks to Avalanche’s gorgeous Apex Engine; the popping colours in the most intense firefights are instantly identifiable to this game; and the gunplay is well fitting of Doom developers Id Software. Rage 2 was knocked by critics and audiences for repetitive open world design, but I often feel like modern criticism is too quick to undercut the importance of well-designed movement flow. Actually playing Rage 2 feels amazing moment-to-moment, gun-to-car, which is the main reason it makes my GOTY list in 2019.

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Best of 2019: Top 10 Gaming Moments

Videogames are made up of tiny moments, each one hopefully engineered to keep you engaged in the overall experience of playing. But some unique slices of game design or scenario writing stand out from the smaller ones around them, sticking in our minds because they differ so wildly from our expectations, or because they encapsulate everything that’s great about a game in one neat package, or because they’re just fun to go through. Some moments are carefully set up by the developers; others completely unplanned, based on happenstance and/or the involvement of additional human players.

These are my ten favourite moments in 2019 video games.

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VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

THERE ARE SPOILERS ON THIS PAGE!

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10. Out of the Blue – Apex Legends

It wasn’t as if we didn’t have any games to play at the start of February this year. But with barely a week gone since the year kicked off with Resident Evil 2, Kingdom Hearts 3 and Wargroove – each a big deal in its own way – EA decided the time was right to drop a new, free-to-play shooter with next to zero pre-release marketing or hype. Apex Legends represented a new step for developer-of-the-year Respawn Entertainment, previously of Titanfall fame; but diving into the game with a few friends on day one revealed a tasty basket of unexplored ideas in the battle royale genre that made it clear why EA had such confidence in the risky strategy. Using respawning pods, taking ziplines and especially the near-endless slope sliding were all a heap of fun, and they even let Apex take enough of the Fortnite and PUBG audience to rule the roost for a few months.

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Best of 2019: Top 4 Game Consoles

Yeah that’s right, I can’t keep up this PS Vita charade anymore – We’re doing just four this year. That extra listed item will be added onto a list near the end of this whole shebang.

Shades of 2012 flickered throughout this past year in console gaming. As the calm before the inevitable year-long media storm awaiting us with the upcoming next-gen console battle, solid exclusives were still around but the burden of true momentum fell to consoles outside of the typical main two. While in 2012 those alternative consoles were the Vita and the, uh, Wii U, 2019 had an alternative that was more than capable of picking up the slack. And yes, I know that this year was also a fascinating year for PC gaming, but this list has always been console-focused. Sorry.

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VR BEST OF 2019 DISCLAIMER

This list represents my opinion only. I am not asserting any kind of superiority or self-importance by presenting it as I have. My opinion is not fact. To agree with me 100% is rarer than an EA game without microtransactions. Respectful disagreement is most welcome.

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4. Nintendo 3DS

(LAST YEAR: 4th)

It’s a bit weird – The 3DS well and truly stomped the PS Vita throughout its life, enjoying many more years of strong sales. But the PS Vita took years to properly die, kept on life support by a huge discrepancy in market interest between Japan and the west. Meanwhile here we are, a mere six months after the 3DS’ last major release, and the Nintendo handheld feels so definitively finished that the mere sight of one may give Tetsuya Nomura cold sweats. Nintendo has given their classic line that they will continue to support the 3DS, and sure, there are still firmware patches coming out. But the game front has been dead-silent since June.

So this appraisal is pretty much about 2019’s first half, when the Switch Lite was little more than an ill-defined rumour circulating the internet. Since we got Yokai Watch 3 at the end of last year in Australia, that means just four big games – two remakes and two new ones heavy on referential content. Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story got a full remake with extra content and that game remains an absolute gem, so if you didn’t play it initially you were in for a treat. Likewise for the surprising appearance of Kirby’s Extra Epic Yarn. Etrian Odyssey Nexus kept the flag flying for a franchise that has arguably had its golden age on the 3DS, then Atlus did that thing they love to do and released a game on a portable at the last possible moment. The date: June 4th. The game: Persona Q2, an adorable series crossover event with striking art and rewarding dungeon-crawl gameplay. And thusly did the 3DS say goodbye.

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My Top 20 Favourite Pokemon

As of right about now I’ve been playing Pokemon for 20 years. Out of the 809 Pokemon currently available in a Pokemon game at the time of writing, these are my 20 personal favourites (with another 20 honourable mentions for good measure). The list can and will change, but it’s been coming long enough, it’s easy to understand, it’s Pokemon hype season, let’s go.
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20. Tentacruel

There are all kinds of reasons why a Pokemon might make anyone’s personal list and I’m no exception. As someone who started with the first generation in the late 1990s, when I was all over the games, trading cards and anime, Tentacruel didn’t really stand out for me initially. Evolving from the extremely annoying, common-as-salt Tentacool, its only moment in the spotlight came in that one anime episode where Team Rocket forced a gigantic one to appear and wreak havoc.

But fast-forward a decade to my period of highest engagement with the main series Pokemon games, when I would put in literally hundreds of hours breeding, training and battling Pokemon teams with my friends across Pokemon Black, White, Black 2 and White 2, and Tentacruel started to become a real staple on my roster. In just about any competitive game or sport my default strategy is to slow down the game and play defensively, controlling the pace where I can, and Tentacruel used to absolutely excel in that role. Throwing down some Toxic Spikes, burning attacking threats with Scald, and healing off damage in wet weather with the Rain Dish ability and some Black Sludge was never not satisfying for me. I’m sure my friends hated it though.
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19. Lycanroc

A recent addition, Lycanroc was always going to have a decent chance at standing out from the Sun and Moon crowd thanks to its heavy presence in the marketing and its three amazing form designs – one of which served as a promo for the two Ultra games – but its refreshing niche as one of the only properly quick Rock-type Pokemon around makes it a lot of fun to use in battle.

I rarely double up on Pokemon between playthroughs unless I have a good reason, but after putting nearly 50 hours into Sun‘s Battle Tree alongside a Midday Form Lycanroc, grinding for Battle Points and trying to beat the secret boss Red, I didn’t hesitate in adding the Dusk Form Lycanroc to my Ultra Sun team a year later. That +1 priority Accelerock move is too rad.

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PokeMagnifique: Returning to Kalos Six Years On

So the Pokemon series is set to resume regular programming in a matter of days with Pokemon Sword and Pokemon Shield. At long last, we will be treated to a region based on the United Kingdom, with all the rich historical and cultural inspirations that implies. This has poured petrol on the never-quite-dead embers of the theory that someday Game Freak will let us return to the Kalos region, based largely on the south of France and made famous by 2013’s Pokemon X and Y. After all, England and France have a long and, ahem, storied history together, and to this day Kalos is the only region to star in just a single main series Pokemon game release…

Now I don’t actually believe for a second that Sword and Shield will be the first games in a almost two decades to give us a full prior region to explore on top of the fresh one. But I do believe there might be some significant Kalos references in there. Of more importance, lately it seems that something inside me will break if I don’t play a Pokemon game every half-dozen months or so. In fact, since the dreaded 2015 – the only year without a new main series Pokemon game in the last decade – I have done at least two full Pokemon playthroughs per year (Yellow and Sun in 2016, then Red, Silver and Ultra Sun in 2017, followed by Crystal and Let’s Go Eevee last year). And I still don’t feel like I’m ready to say goodbye to my 3DS, even if Nintendo definitely is.

mmmm, 240p

Long story short, I decided to pick up Pokemon Y all the way back in April of this year and give Kalos the second go-around that I’ve given every other Pokemon region by default thanks to customary re-releases over the years. It’s been long enough and my Pokemon-playing habits have changed a great deal since October 12th, 2013, when I picked up Pokemon X for the first time. This could be a bit of fun, I thought. Cue a few months of on-and-off playing, a few more months of on-and-off writing, and a whole lot of fresh perspective. Here are my unsolicited thoughts.
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The Best Nintendo Switch Accessory? The mClassic and You

Notice any difference between these two Banjos? Maybe around his backpack strap, necklace and jawline?

The image on the left is a shot taken with my phone camera pointed at a monitor running Super Smash Bros Ultimate in 1080p on the Nintendo Switch as usual. The image on the left is the same setup, but with an attached mClassic dongle switched to the ON position – also in 1080p.

What’s this, you ask?

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