Content of the article: "A return to gaming in 2020: catching up on a missed decade."
Prior to this year, it’s no exaggeration to say that the only game I’d played in full since about 2010 was the original BioShock. Not really sure why I stepped away from gaming – probably just some usual combination of life getting in the way and dodgy prioritisation. Then, like many others, I became acquainted with a boatload of surplus indoor time this year, and chose to find my way back with an N3DS and a Switch. Turns out I really missed it. I’ve been slowly playing through a variety of titles I missed the first time around, as well as various others I’ve stumbled across along the way.
In compiling this list, I have learned that my gameplay times are crushingly slow, people have extremely strong opinions about the Paper Mario series and actually it turns out a really poorly specced PC was holding me back from gaming all this time. Would love to hear what others thought of this selection of games, especially those who hold dissenting opinions about my DNF list (I expect plenty in support of Xenoblade, lol). Be warned this is all through the lens of someone who is plainly just thrilled to be back in the fold and has zero concerns spending way more time than necessary to complete games! I suspect I have more patience and rosier-tinted glasses as compared to the average weathered gamer, so would also be interested to hear how my experiences stack up in the wider gaming context.
The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds
Total play time: ~30 hours
Zelda factored little in my adolescent years, and apart from renting OoT a handful of times for the 64 (and spamming bombs in SSB) this is pretty much the only Zelda experience I've had. It's kind of a blessing and a curse, from what I can tell: I have none of the hangups but equally none of the emotional connection that often seems to accompany the franchise. I really only played this because it had been given to me and came highly recommended.
But this was about as good as introductions get – sure, it helped that this was essentially the first console game I'd played in its entirety in over a decade, but the game is clearly exceptional by all accounts. It seems I love a good gameplay mechanic where it doesn't tip into gimmickry, and the wall merge system I found novel, baffling and satisfying without ever being too frustrating.
I obviously can't speak to the nostalgia aspect of it, but coming to it fresh was a charming experience. It's pretty hard not to be at least casually familiar with aspects of Zelda lore, and I liked that there weren't any lengthy cutscenes (looking at you, Ōkami) or tedious tutorials to slog through. The storytelling is a little naff but not distractingly so, and for me the pretty predictable ending was offset by the fun final boss battle. And you sure do feel good solving some of those puzzles.
I'm not yet game to branch out into the open world of BotW, but I'm pretty glad my maiden Zelda foray was this one instead. More games ought to allow one to become a painting.
Highlights: big bomb flower lols, boss battles that were satisfying / a great relief to complete
Total play time: 50:57:29
Completion %: 50/100 stray beads
I remember seeing promo material for this game back when it was first released and thinking the brush mechanic was dope – a hype disproportionate to the amount of PS2 I owned (none). So regardless I was probably always going to be predisposed to like this game.
This was the first game I finished on the Switch and I enjoyed it immensely. The art style is killer and helps it look great for a game of its age into the bargain, the brush mechanic and the puzzle element it introduces feels integrated rather than gimmicky, and the storytelling is rich and humorous. I know others have commented that the game is overly long, but I enjoyed being in the world enough that it never felt a slog. (This coming from someone who has played 100+ hours of Picross but…)
I will agree that the combat system was pretty whatever, though. I am a pretty rubbish gamer by conventional skill standards and even I found this game wildly easy, but I think that also speaks to my enjoyment of the game as an all-round narrative experience rather than pure mechanics. An additional dishonorable mention for having to fight Orochi no less than three times?! Sure, going back in time was a pretty neat narrative arc and I could forgive repeating the fight in that context, but by the Ark I was sure they had to be taking the piss.
Unlocking the additional skins gives this game some replay potential for me, especially the photorealistic wolf, laughable only in hindsight. The existence of about twice as many stray beads as I collected also means I may dip in and out in future, but mostly I have minimal desire to bring my dragon-head-whacking count up to 48. Nevertheless, a pretty inimitable experience, even if it took me a decade and a half to get there.
Highlights: the dang art style, drawing an emoji face for my demon mask and seeing it show up again in Sei-an City
Paper Mario: Sticker Star
Total play time: ~30 hours
I can understand the criticism of this game: the combat system sucks and makes traversing through the world often not very fun, the characters are unmemorable, the necessity of having certain stickers to win certain fights is infuriating, the plot is generic, the lack of levelling up is nonsense. None of that stopped me from enjoying this game, though! Take that! As always, this was probably helped immensely by the nostalgia I carry for the original Paper Mario on the 64 and the fact I hadn’t really had any other Mario games to compare it to for a long time.
The super vitriolic abuse it seems to cop online feels a bit disproportionate but. From poking around the series, it looks like one that people are particularly vocal about, with the only correct answer being “TTYD is the best game in the series and all other future titles will be held against this specific benchmark”. Honestly I’m just glad I played this game without the knowledge of what the gaming community thought of it, because I don’t think this is a genuinely bad game.
Kirby: Planet Robobot
Total play time: ~20 hours
Completion %: 81%
Evidently I rather enjoy the cute-thing-in-a-mech-suit genre, between this game and Gato Roboto. But I have very fond memories of playing The Crystal Shards and am a Kirby main (lol) in SSB so I could probably be coerced into playing literally any Kirby game. I don’t have too much to say about this game; I think anyone familiar with the franchise will understand pretty much how it plays, but the mech suit mechanic is a heap of fun, with copy abilities possible both in and out of the suit.
There were some little details that I thought were quite fun: the collection of stickers that you can use to decorate your mech was bonus entertainment, the variety of gameplay styles in the final boss battle, the remote control Kirby in the casino levels. It looks great, it’s charming, and as mentioned, I like an idiosyncratic feature that isn’t gimmicky, and I think the mech suit ticks that box. I picked up Extra Epic Yarn off the back of this, too – it just looks so dang sweet.
What the Golf?
Total play time: 08:24:56
Completion %: 97%
Total strokes: 11656
Games I subsequently want to play: Superhot
If there ever was a time for escapism, the middle of a pandemic seems to be a pretty good candidate, and I am certainly guilty of using this game as a bit of a feel-good salve. But what the golf, it was a grand old time, and I think we can all use the laughs it provides. I bought the game off the expectations set by the trailer and was happily not disappointed.
This is a pretty straightforward game by all standards: simple overworld, three levels per stage, emphasis on silly in "silly physics". It feels like the schtick should get old pretty fast, but there's enough sly nods and references (and straight-up gameplay duplication) to keep it fresh and consistently funny. Caveat: pun disdainers avoid.
It's the perfect game to dip in and out of – none of the stages are particularly long, and while some of the par/crown levels can be a bit frustrating, you're not at all forced to complete them in linear fashion. Nevertheless, I played this game in pretty lengthy stints, so the format isn't a barrier in that sense either.
I know this is a fairly new game to the Switch, but it's been out on PC for a while it seems. I bought it only having seen it in the eShop, so if there was a hype train, it did not make a stop at my station.
Highlights: the Superhot levels, WHAT?, the constant anticipation of what a button press would do in a new level
Ori and the Blind Forest
Total play time: 14:44:46
Completion %: 96%
Total deaths: 488
It’s something of a classic, and evidently with good reason – I think I would have played this game for its art alone, but of course its reputation has since come to precede it. It runs really smoothly on the Switch, and the platforming is tight and enjoyable. Not sure how common it is in the wider world, but I really liked the save mechanic – as a chronic saver, I rather appreciated being responsible for setting my own save points, especially when it came to some of the more challenging sequences. I expected to struggle a lot with this one but I found the challenges fair, even the escape sequences, much as I may have wanted to burn down the Ginso Tree on the first few attempts.
Feels like most people who’ve had an eye on it have played it by now, and there’s plenty of reviews out there for those on the fence to decide either way, but personally I’m very glad to have played and finished it. I’ve since been told that both the sequel and Hollow Knight eclipse this game, though I do have some idea of what to expect from both. Now if Will of the Wisps could just get a Switch port…
Total play time: ~3 hours
I’d been wanting to pick this game up because a friend of mine had a hand in its creation, but I kind of could not have picked a worse time for it. Without spoiling anything, the premise of the game is being stuck in a very boring corporate dystopia, and a lot of the gameplay revolves around the repetition of your daily routines. Obviously this kind of experience can already be a little harrowing at the best of times, but in the middle of a global pandemic where time feels completely immaterial it was often a bit much.
Certainly the gameplay won’t be for everyone; there is a lot of walking around in this game, and you can interact with various depressing billboards and your smartphone in ways you think might have some kind of a purpose but ultimately formally contribute nothing to your game – so in that sense, it’s kind of a bang on expression of its premise, though its messaging can be a little on the nose at times.
If you’re into the visual style and can get down with the premise, this is a unique gaming experience which is both lovely and deeply unsettling at times. If you’re at all curious, the website gives a fairly clear mission statement of the game.
Total play time: 05:23:28
Completion %: 78%
Short and sweet, this one, and looks and feels great. I’d never really picked myself as one for metroidvanias, but this game came onto my radar after Ori and I was looking for a shorter, punchy game in a similar style, and this delivered on expectations.
As mentioned, I’m kind of crap at games, so the difficulty for this one felt about right for me. There were a handful of times the boss battles threatened to tip into frustration, but mostly it was just my timing being off (second stage of the mouse battle in the heater core comes to mind) as well as in the earlier parts of the game where I had just been lax in picking up healthkits.
I’ve seen some complaints about it being too much of a Metroid clone, but you can’t get down with that criticism if you’ve never played Metroid *taps head*. Its short length seems to be another frequent comment, but if you’re going in with expectations suitably managed then I think there’s not too much to fault otherwise. But of course this is coming from someone who has played basically no metroidvanias in their life lol.
And finally, my DNF list:
Katamari Damacy; abandoned after ~4 hours
Heartbreaking for this to be on my list, but I am part of the small percentage that gets enormously motion sick from this game. A huge shame, because it’s one of those games I’ve wanted to play for literal decades now – I pushed through the first couple of levels but I just can’t make it work for me. The theme song has nevertheless taken up plenty of real estate in my brain.
Xenoblade Chronicles 3D; abandoned after ~2 hours
This is probably a contentious choice to have on a list like this, though I clearly haven’t really given this a fair shake either. I think it’s probably partly to do with the learning curve of its rather involved format? Thinking of swapping this version out for the Switch one instead in the hope that might make it a bit more accessible to me.
Where the Water Tastes Like Wine; abandoned after ~2 hours
The premise of this game is great, and I like its rather non-standard approach in defining what a game should look like, but it just plays so goddamn slow. I found travelling across the country extremely frustrating – none of the options were really any good – and it’s unfortunate because that makes up far and away the largest part of what you spend your time doing in this game. The voice acting is also great, but it never takes anywhere near as much time to scan the dialogue as it does to read it aloud, so most of the acting gets lost behind an A button mash anyway. I want to love this game, but I just never find myself wanting to reach for it.
Child of Light; abandoned after ~2 hours
Call me petty, but I just could not manage to get past this game’s unbelievably naff rhyming dialogue. It made me want to skip through all the cutscenes and gave me no desire to attempt to follow the story. I thought the battle mechanic was quite interesting and enjoyable – not sure if this is common to other games in the genre, but it was new to me – but between the dialogue and an art style I didn’t really care for, this one’s been left by the wayside.
Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap; abandoned after 01:48
I played the original Wonder Boy on a Sega Master back in the day and figured a remake of another game in the series might be fun, but I couldn’t really get into this one. Felt like it was going to be a bit grindy for my tastes. I do think it looks great and switching between the art styles is cool, but I don’t think I’ll be doing much more than dipping in and out, if even that.
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- Last night I finished my eight month journey through the witcher franchise!
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