19/08/2017

Sonic Lost World and Sonic Generations: A miss and a miss


I admit it: the Sonic game I really want to play right now is Sonic Mania, the homage-heavy, long-overdue, critically praised 2D sequel to Sonic&Knuckles. Alas, Vita and 3DS owners were collectively denied the joy of playing that game; and thus I have to make do with erzatz such as Sonic Generations and Sonic Lost World to quell my Sonic thirst on the 3DS. Those two games have been sitting in my collection for, like, forever; it's thus time to give them an opportunity to prove themselves — if only to be able to sell them for good money while the 3DS is still supported in case they turn out to be disappointing. And as you may have infered already from the title alone, those two games were indeed disappointing; and we'll see right away how they failed to dazzle and impress the Sonic fan in me.

First is Sonic Lost World, the spiritual successor to the ill-fated Sonic X-treme on the Saturn. Resurrecting games that failed to come to existence is a great idea on paper, but it can easily go haywire; after all, those games failed to make the cut in their time for a reason, and that reason may or may not involve unpractical gameplay concepts. And in the case of Sonic X-treme and Sonic Lost World, I'd be more than tempted to assume that the former was indeed shelved because its gameplay proved unsatisfactory and that the latter shouldn't have existed at all in its current form. I've read horrible, horrible things about Lost World's level design and control schemes — a couple of levels being singled out and branded as pure torture tools prone to make even the most seasoned and patient Platformer aficionado ragequit. I couldn't verify this assertion myself, though, because I quit before the end of the second level. I didn't ragequit, mind you; I just quietly put the console down, quietly took the cartridge off and quietly put it back into its box, never to be touched again — all that because I wasn't enjoying the ride.

Mind you, things started nicely enough, giving me good hopes that I could indeed like that game. The controls were sleek and precise, the aerial-based gameplay instantly clicked with me and spiraling up and down the long tubular zones was great fun. Sure, said zones were a bit too long for their own good, colours were a bit too dark for my taste, and the music was lacklustre; but I could perfectly live with that if the gameplay rocked. I cleared the tutorial and the first zone without too much hassle; then came the second zone, and I starting falling to my death. A lot. Those repeated falls conjured up horrible memories of Super Mario Land; and with that, the die was cast. I can tolerate tweaks to the classic Sonic formula quite good-naturedly, as my appreciation of Shattered Crystal abundantly proves; but having levels that are basically giant bottomless pits with a couple of platforms hovering around is where I draw the line. And mind you, those early levels are supposed to be easy and forgiving compared to later levels, which makes me think that there's no way in hell I could ever clear that game. I might as well save myself a couple of painful ragequits and spare a couple of good gaming hours by selling Lost World right away.

Then there is Sonic Generations, i.e. the game that nearly single-handedly made me purchase a 3DS back in 2011 — before I wisely decided that a DSi with Sonic Classic Collection was a better investment. This game is a self-celebratory monument of fan-service that tries its hardest to unite all Sonic aficionados under its banner and please older as well as newer fans — and fails utterly at it. The main issue lies in Generations' very concept, which is inherently flawed and a recipe for bombing. Offering flashy remade versions of old zones sounds like a Sonic fan's wet dream on paper; yet in practice, it's bound to disappoint basically everybody by sheer virtue of offering a limited selection of zones. It was pretty obvious that every single fan was going to be miffed that their favourite zones were not included and pissed off at the inclusion of some other zones they happen to dislike. Was I miffed and pissed off? Heck, you bet: I don't care whatsoever about the zones lifted from the 3D entries, but I would have killed to play remade versions of Flying Battery, Lava Reef and Dead Line — with a gloriously remixed soundtrack to boot. And was there really no better pick from the Rush games than Water Palace? How about Sky Babylon and its amazing theme track? And how about lifting Aquarium Park or Starlight Carnival from Colours, rather than the ultra-generic Tropical Resort? I could go on and on like that, just like probably every single Sonic fan that purchased that game. The only way to avoid such ramblings would have been to include every single zone created since the dawn of the series; and with a meagre seven zones for the 3DS version, the Sonic Team kinda missed the mark, if you ask me.

Mind you, Generations is a perfectly serviceable game with glossy graphics, sharp controls and a lovely celebratory vibe, and I polished it off nearly entirely, omitting only the irritating final boss; yet as decent as it is, there is no chance I'll ever touch it again. It's just too bland, too stingy and overall too unsatisfactory. What's the point of rushing through a measly selection of zones when I could just as easily replay the original games? Not to mention that the 'modern' 3D stages make me feel nauseous and that the Sonic Team managed to squeeze in a corny story that tries — and laughingly fails — to rationalize the presence of the two gameplay styles instead of letting zones flow and fans enjoy the game for the shameless fan-servicey treat it is.

With Generations and Lost World being dismissed as unsatisfactory instalments and on their way to the closest second-hand shop, I now find myself in the very weird situation of being able to bandy Shattered Crystal as my favourite 3DS Sonic entry. But hey, that's Sonic Team's fault for releasing experimental and half-hearted games instead of building upon the series' strengths. The DS entries did a great job at restoring the series' former glory; so why not expand on them, instead of resurrecting a dead unfinished game and wallowing in selective fan-service? Where is the third Rush instalment or the sequel to Colours, for instance? Heck, just because the 3DS has '3D' in its name doesn't mean that all games released on it have to go for full 3D, as the Boom subseries cleverly figured out. And now, if you'll excuse me, I have to curl into a ball in a corner and come to terms with the fact that I'll probably never get to play the flashy, shiny and lush Sonic Mania. Or will I? After all, I still didn't write off the Switch entirely, now did I? Maybe I'll play that game in a few years after all, if I follow my own plans and invest in a Switch towards the end of the system's lifetime. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

13/08/2017

Fire Emblem Awakening: Smooth sailing


A couple of extra hours of play under my belt since my last post, and I'm still enjoying Awakening quite a lot. The ennui that viciously gripped me during my Fates playthrough is nowhere to be felt now, and I sure hope that things will stay that way until the end. I finally decided to stick with my female avatar, leaving an hypothetical male run as an option for future runs; and while I was at it, I got my claws into Chrom and made him my avatar's husband. I seriously doubt this romantic move will unlock anything interesting, but better safe than sorry. It's not like there were a lot of interesting bachelors anyway; the female characters are definitely more alluring, and I'll sure have a hard time choosing my mate when I replay the game with a male avatar — although I've already set my sights on a couple of ladies. But I digress; let's move back to my current playthrough and its unexpected developments.

Or maybe not so unexpected; because let's be honest, Fates had already pulled the exact same trick on me — and I fell for it once again like the FE debutant I am. I'm obviously referring to both games' propensity to offer powerful new units on a silver platter as chapters go by, prompting the player to ditch their overpowered old units without a second thought to focus on the flashy newcomers. That's how I found myself dropping newly wedded Vaike and Sully as well as Lon'qu and Lissa when Libra, Tharja, Gregor and Nowi joined my force. I feel a bit guilty about virtually abandoning the former on the highway after they served me so dutifully since the beginning of my run; but hey, what else could I do? The new units are just ten times more colourful and entertaining, and they are incredible assets on the battlefield to boot. And with Libra joining the fold, I now have three Healers on my hands, and that's definitely one too much. I love Maribelle too much to let go of her, and Libra is such a perfect embodiment of multitasking that I cannot think of parting with him for the life of me; so Lissa has to go, despite the fact that she's one of the main players in the story. And if Lissa goes, so does her husband Lon'qu — heck, the guy has a ridiculously tiny move range anyway. As for Sully and Vaike, they were always pis aller units that I used to fill up my force, so I certainly won't miss them too much.

Having said that, I'm a bit miffed by Fates' and Awakening's propensity to force planned obsolescence on the player by making newer units more attractive than older ones — or rather, I'm miffed by my own propensity to fall prey to that trick and lavish time and energy on units that I don't really fancy and won't keep in my roster till the bitter end. That's a full-blown case of sunken cost fallacy if I ever saw one; yet I cannot help but being salty about all that lost XP that could have been used to power up my absolute favourite units. Now, my own naivety and lack of insight in all things unit management are perfectly forgivable given that I'm still a complete FE noob; but let me tell you, I won't be one forever. I'm currently experiencing burgeoning yet irrepressible impulses to play it my way, taking a page from my own serial solo runner book and focusing exclusively on my very favourite units, even if that involves taking less characters along for the ride than the game actually allows. My next run of a 3DS FE game is definitely going to follow that pattern, and I'll bend the genre to my tastes and make it ten times more enjoyable in the process.

Never were deeper words of love spoken.
And since I've been referring to my favourite units over and over, I might as well introduce them right now. We have the Miriel/Frederick pair, two powerhouses with a really lovely and totally believable love story; and then we have my absolute little darlings, the Ricken/Maribelle pair, whose love story is so sweet and utterly perfect that it made me all mushy inside. Ricken is ridiculously strong despite his tiny stature and young age; and while Maribelle is not that useful on the battlefield, the idea of parting with her just tears my heart out. Then you have the quatuor I mentioned earlier, which made quite an impression, as well as new arrival Anna, which I may or may not intregate into my force depending on her performances on the battlefied and on the evolution of my feelings towards her. I mean, I was initially quite fond of Panne and Cordelia before their mediocre fighting performances and transparent personalities prompted me to ditch them without a second thought.

With that said, I'll see you soon with more Awakening reports, dear fellow gamers! There will be blood and romance, new recruits as well as new romantic developments. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

05/08/2017

Pokemon Black: The Venipede Solo Run


Until very recently, I was under the impression that I still had to run solo with a great many Pokemon Types; but lo and behold, it turns out that I've actually covered most of the Type spectrum — all the more so if double Typing is taken into account — and that the Types I've not dabbled in yet can be counted on the fingers of one hand. The 'Mon du jour, i.e. vividly coloured, blasé-eyed Venipede, is taking me not just one, but two steps closer to full Type coverage with his double Bug-Poison typing. I've been fond of Venipede ever since I encountered him on the Route 6 bushes in Kalos (and I'm not the only one, since a Venipede run was endorsed enthusiastically by faithful readers Sieg and Kumiko). There's something endearing about that garish insect that I just can't explain with words; and while his middle form is a bit, shall we say, inexpressive, his gigantic final evolution manages to be all at once baddass, hilarious and adorable. What's not to like about a nonchalant giant magenta centipede, seriously?

My Venipede and her evolutions — collectively known as Venin — did a stellar job on the battlefield, despite rocky beginnings. The main issue was Venipede's and Whirlipede's low Attack, which made one-shooting opponents a distant dream; fortunately, I was helped on the offensive front by my Venin's awesome ability Poison Point, which helped me eliminate more than one assaillant. As soon as my foe was poisoned after a hit, I would spam Protect and let the poison do its work and dispose of the obstruction for me. That sure is a roundabout way to win, but it certainly did the job; however, Poison Point's magic became virtually unecessary after Venin crossed the ultimate evolutionary threshold, gaining sky-high Attack in the process. I got hold of a couple of neat Moves throughout my run; and by the time I reached the late stages of the game, I was pretty much set on Poison Tail (Poison), Bulldoze (Ground), X-Scissors (Bug) and Facade (Normal). The latter was more or less a pis aller: I wanted my beloved Return, but alas, I didn't find it during my run, nor did I find a more powerful Physical Poison Move than Poison Tail. Nonetheless, that Move quatuor was more than powerful enough to wreak havoc on the battlefield — at least, it was so until the first Elite Four showdown and rolling of credits.

I'll be blunt: even after three runs of the Black/White pair, I still find the forced double Elite Four showdown just as hard to swallow as when I was first confronted to it. In fact, I find it even harder to swallow after having been acquainted with the awesomeness of Black and White's direct sequels, the Black 2/White 2 pair — a.k.a. the games that single-handedly made me fall head over heels in love with generation V. Compared to these sequels' swift, smooth and near-perfect pacing, the pacing of the prequels sucks, with their abrupt ending, overblown postgame and Elite Four force-feeding. Technically, everything that happens after beating N belongs to postgame territory, since we get a credit roll after that victory; and yet, beating the Elite Four a second time triggers another credit roll while at the same time not ending the game for good, which is the clumsiest setting ever. How many postgames does this game have, exactly? I'm also not fond at all of the massive difficulty spike that occurs after the first rolling of credits, which I deem totally uncalled for. I swear that Moves that could one-shoot opponents with ease before the fight against N were suddenly rendered unable to knock out anything cold after the credits rolled, and that seriously hampered my ride. Let me enjoy my overleveling in peace, dang it!

Now, I can appreciate how GameFreak tried to break the mold with these games. The idea of making the resident Champion fail and be beaten by N, only to make you the Champion in all but name when you wipe the floor with the latter, was a really innovative idea that introduced a welcome modicum of drama in the franchise. Having you fight the Elite Four a second time to become the official Champion once the Team Plasma menace is more or less eradicated was also a thrilling challenge, and so was the scouring of Unova and hunting of the remaining Seven Sages led by Looker (which, for the record, I have yet to endurtake). All this was really neat and exciting on paper; but unfortunately, the execution is flawed. The first rolling of credits comes too early in the game and way too abruptly, leaving all at once too many places to explore and a sour feeling of unfinished business; and the unneeded difficulty spike that ensues makes the task of exploring said places and finishing said business all the more tedious and wearying. Reaching the Elite Four the second time around is busy work, and I have no qualms about admitting that I did it solely to get a celebratory post-victory snapshot with my Venin and that she gobbled more dope than a Tour de France rider in order to be ultimately featured on said snapshot. Lazy and vain gamer is lazy and vain!

But hey, the first part of that run was pure delight, and it was a satisfactory experience overall. Having said that, I'm not too sure I will replay Black and White too often after that, lest they host an exclusive 'Mon I really want to run solo with. Black 2 and White 2 are so much more polished, so much more rewarding and so much better overall that I declare them henceforth my reference games and go-to entries for generation V. And with that Venipede solo run under my belt, I'm now inching closer to full Type coverage. Ground, Ice, Electric, Dragon and Fairy 'Mons, you're next on my To-Run-Solo-With list! Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

30/07/2017

Fire Emblem Awakening: Taking it easy


So I'm playing Fire Emblem: Awakening these days, and I'm doing so in the most casual way possible. I found out that this game lends itself really well to very short playing sessions and is just the perfect game to fiddle with when you're stuck performing mundane, unescapable tasks — for instance, I polished off a battle the other day while I was cooking pancakes and it was a much welcome and pleasant diversion. Since then, I've been snatching ten minutes here, fifteen minutes there, for a total play time of roughly three hours. Playing Awakening in such a disjointed way obviously makes the task of keeping track of the story a tad harder; but I'm handling it well so far, mostly due to the fact that Awakening's story is more streamlined and less convoluted that Fates' one. And since I'm mentioning Fates, I must insert a disclaimer before going any further: since Fates was my first ever Fire Emblem game, my writing about Awakening is going to be brimming with Fates comparisons. With that said, on with the show!

To be honest, this game has a lot going for it. Apart from its aforementioned player-friendliness and streamlined story, I'm totally in love with the art style used in cutscenes, and I really dig the fact that the action flows without pause and that I don't need — at least so far — to waste some time taking care of headquarters and effectively playing a browser game in disguise. I'd much rather be prowling the land with a limited team of characters — although if Fates is any indication, I'll probably end up with a full regiment by the end of my playthrough. I also find quite interesting that my avatar is not the main hero of Awakening, but rather an observer of sorts that finds themselves embroiled in a conflict that seemingly doesn't concern them. Of course, if the opening cutscene is any indication, it will probably turn out that my avatar is deeply linked to Awakening's events after all and that their amnesia is due to time travel or something similar. But hey, let's play and see! I'm just here to enjoy what the game has to offer, from the smooth no-casualties battles to the striking no-feet character designs.

On the negative side, I could mention the fact that the cast is painfully transparent: they feel like unpolished beta versions of the colourful Fates cast, and the fact that they are all dressed in drab garb certainly doesn't help. The most interesting character, apart from my own avatar, has to be Chrom; but he's still dull and unremarkable compared to, say, a Kaze or a Silas. And since I'm mentioning Chrom, I'm pretty miffed that Awakening is actually sneaking in some romantic innuendos between him and Sumia. How dare you, game? As the resident hero and face of Awakening, Chrom should be my avatar's exclusive turf, period. I was planning to bag him up from the very start in the hope of unlocking interesting narrative developments; now, I feel like a homewrecker of sorts doing just that, and that's totally your fault, IS. To add fuel to the fire, those romantic innuendos between Chrom and Sumia are ten times more romantic and touching than the support conversations between the former and my avatar, which revolve solely about bumping into each other in the steam tent and thus forming a bond thanks to the shared experience of having seen the other naked — jeez, kill me already. Now that I think of it, Sumia is really lovely, and I sure would love to snatch her away from Chrom. Hey, maybe I'll just restart the game with a male avatar; I can afford to lose three hours, and I'm starting to get the feeling that Awakening's story would work out better with a male avatar, just like I got the feeling that the Fates story would work better with a female avatar back in the days. And if the chemistry between Chrom and my avatar — or complete lack thereof — is any indication, I won't miss on a lot of character and narrative developments anyway.

Well, I'll ponder that option in the next days; and at any rate, I'll see you soon with more Awakening goodness, dear fellow gamers. I can safely state that for now, I like Awakening much more than Fates, despite the dull cast and disappointing interactions between my avatar and the game's resident hero. Now that I think of it, my aborted romance with Azura in Fates was also quite lacklustre; maybe it's just a better idea to woo secondary characters than to make a pass at the cover character in Fire Emblem games. Until next time, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

22/07/2017

Pokemon X: The Skitty Solo Run - Epilogue


I'm writing this post fresh from my Elite Four victory with Delcatty, a victory that was as unexpected as it was delicious. The fact that I can brag about being the Kalos Champion in my Skitty Solo Run of X can be attributed solely to Sieg, who judiciously reminded me of the existence of the TM Hidden Power in the comment section of my first Skitty solo run post. Hidden Power being a Move that's not affected by bloody Normalize in Generation VI, that meant that my Delcatty could effectively get her paws on a surefire way to get rid of Ghost 'Mons — providing, of course, that her Hidden Move Type wouldn't be Fight, which would be the worst stroke of bad luck ever. It turned out that my Delcatty's Hidden Power Type was Steel, which delighted me since I've not been using Steel Moves since my Piplup solo run of Platinum. Little did I know that Steel was possibly one of the worst possible Hidden Power Types in the context of my run — but more on that very soon.

The Hidden Power hack worked beautifully, and I was at long last able to wipe the floor with Ghost 'Mons; and boy, did it feel vengefully good after a whole run spent avoiding them, cowering at the though of encountering them and being gripped by dread when getting stuck in a battle against them. They still managed to be a bit of a hassle, mind you. Hidden Power doesn't hit that hard to begin with, and my Delcatty's Sp.Attack, while being respectfully high, was still much lower than her Attack; as a result, one-shooting Ghost 'Mons was but a distant dream that never materialized — all the less so as my Delcatty has already hit the big 100 level-wise when she learnt Hidden Power. Still, I could at least progress unhindered and reach the Pokemon League to engage in what would turn out to be one of the most challenging and nerve-racking Elite Four showdowns of my gaming career.

Trembling yet? Oh yeah, you should.
Oh boy, that Elite Four showdown. The least I could say about it is that it had a serious case of mood swings. Either I was one-shooting opponents at the very first turn or I was sweating and struggling and toiling for minutes on end. To ensure a smooth progression, I stuffed my Delcatty with Battle Items at the beginning of each face-off, and that worked nicely enough; however, I had stupidly forgotten to stock up X Sp.Atk, and that oversight would prove lethal against the Elite Four Ghost 'Mons. Because indeed, my Delcatty was pitted against more than just one Ghost 'Mon during that showdown: there were three of them, and they were all a pain in the butt. Chandelure and Gourgeist took a million turns to faint, with Hidden Power only taking a small chunk of their life bars at a time and their Trainers healing them at least twice in a row and ruining all my arduous efforts. But as annoying as these two Ghost obstructions were, they were small fry compared to their colleague: Aegislash, a.k.a. The Most Tedious Elite Four 'Mon I Ever Fought and Delcatty's Absolute Bane.

I never thought much of Aegislash, but that disparaging point of view certainly changed radically after facing him with Delcatty in the X Pokemon League. That fight necessited two attempts and nearly made me tear up with sheer frustration and powerlessness; and when I finally managed to wrap things up, it was after fifteen minutes of arduous fighting. Let me tell you: never had I been that relieved to wrap up a Pokemon battle. I let out a huge sigh, threw my head back and beamed in sheer relief, fervently wishing never to encounter an Aegislash again. Ever. Because my, that 'Mon was the biggest nuisance ever and a monstrous challenge to overcome. And I don't play Pokemon solo runs to have it hard: on the contrary, I play them to make things easy, mellow and smooth. I run solo to bask in the thrill of one-shooting my way through regions, drinking in the sights and chatting with NPCs without having to bother about recruitment, training, breeding and fighting strategies. I obviously relish the occasional challenge during my Pokemon solo runs; but oh gosh, was Aegislash a giant, tough bite to swallow.

But enough fluff; let's get to the point and peel this most arduous battle against X's resident sword 'Mon. That formidable opponent had a deadly card up its sleeve: the Stance change, which makes it swing between being an mortal offensive powerhouse and a impenetrable defensive fortress. Oh, and did I mention it's resistant to Steel? Yep, the same Steel my Delcatty's Hidden Power TM belonged to. Here's how things unfolded: I was basically stuck in a vicious circle of trying to hit Aegislash when it was in the offensive Stance and healing from its destructive blows when it was in the defensive Stance, all this complicated by the fact that Stance changes are totally random. But wait, there was worse: prior to the fight against Aegislash, I had faced Klefki, which had left me with a nasty souvenir as it went down: a full-blown case of Torment. So on top of having to deal with Aegislash's random Stance changes, I had to juggle between Moves to be able to use my precious Hidden Power. Needless to say, a lot of blows went down the drain during that fight. Of course, Wikstrom healed Aegislash as I was about to finish it, forcing me to restart the whole process over again. That torturous fight's only saving grace was that I had miraculously hold onto three X Sp.Atk. until that point, which my Delcatty gobbled avidly and which undoubtedly played a huge part into making that fight winnable at all. I struggled and toiled and soldiered on through the pain and the drawbacks, and I finally managed to throw that cursed sword back into its pokeball. And I'll be damned if this wasn't my hardest Elite Four fight ever.

But you know what? All these hardships made my ultimate Elite Four victory all the sweeter. Ghost 'Mons were a huge thorn in my side during my whole Skitty solo run of X, and to manage to overcome these pests and thumb my nose at them was well-deserved payback. Needless to say, being able to salvage my run and snatch a clean victory from adversity's jaws was also immensely satisfying; I never like to give up on Pokemon solo runs, especially when they're going smoothly and chances of success are high. A big shout-out to you, Sieg, for the inspired suggestion that ultimately allowed me to wrap up this solo run! Having said that, I still want to tackle a solo run of White 2 with a Cute Charm Skitty; but maybe I'll warp things up a trifle to make said run more interesting, for instance by not making my Skitty evolve into Delcatty. My, wouldn't that be a blast to beat the Elite Four with a cute pink kitten? Until then, thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

16/07/2017

Five totally random gaming anecdotes


Let's face it, dear fellow gamers: we all more or less play the same games, but what make our own gaming career unique is the mass of entertaining and distinctive little events that unfold around our playing. Without further ado, here are five random anecdotes lifted from different eras of my gaming life. Enjoy!

What the heart wants: 2014 marked the absolute peak of my collecting endeavours, as well as the release of Selena Gomez' single "The heart wants what it wants"; and as unlikely as it may seem, these two events are correlated in my gaming life. It so happened that one fateful day, as I was browsing the internet in search of games, the radio played Selena's freshly released forlorn love call; and upon hearing the song's chorus, I couldn't help but laugh at how perfectly the lyrics fitted my current situation. There I was, hunting for games despite the fact that a backlog the size of the Mont-Blanc was waiting for me — because, you know, the heart wants what it wants. After this episode, the song became my official Game Hunting Song for a couple of weeks, and I played it every time I looked for and purchased games online. To this day, hearing the song still stirs up memories of browsing through Ebay and Amazon pages along with a sweet, aching longing for games I didn't own yet.

Missing memories: I owned three consoles over the '90s: a Game Boy, a Game Gear and a Mega Drive, none of which I still own to this day. But while I can remember perfectly how I parted ways with my beloved Sega duo, I'm totally unable to conjure up memories of how my no less beloved Game Boy exited the scene. This is the weirdest thing ever, especially considering how extensive and precise my memories of the system are: I remember every single Game Boy game I bought or borrowed — up to very the last one, a broken mess of a game called Titus the Fox that made me give up on the console entirely. This was in 1995; and I have no memories at all of playing my Game Boy or even handling it beyond that year. Now, 1995 is also the year I got my Game Gear; and I reckon that the two events are actually linked. Although I have no memories of it whasoever, I'm pretty sure that I sold my Game Boy and its game library after the Titus the Fox debacle in order to get the necessary funds to purchase my Game Gear. That sure would explain neatly why my Game Boy seems to have disappeared from the face of the Earth after 1995 and how I was able to treat myself to a brand-new Game Gear despite the fact that I was still an idle teenager at the time.

Collecting karma: In 2013, I imported a second-hand copy of Children of Mana for the DS for a couple of euros. Upon opening the box, I discovered that it contained an unexpected guest: in the GBA slot was nested a pristine copy of Pokemon Emerald in all its shiny and transluscent glory. The former owner of my Children of Mana copy had obviously either forgotten it or put it there to get rid of it, and I pondered what I should do with that surprise gift. And since I neither owned a GBA nor knew the Pokemon series at the time, I seriously considered tossing it away. Tossing. It. Away. A nearly brand-new copy of Pokemon bloody Emerald. I very nearly did it, and I shudder at the thought that I could have thrown away such a valuable game in such a careless way. But wait, I hear you say, couldn't that complimentary Emerald copy simply be a crappy bootleg that its owner didn't care one bit about? Well, this possibility obviously came to my mind after I became acquainted with the series, and I put the cartridge through a thorough examination. And guess what? This is the real thing. It's a totally authentic and legit copy of Pokemon Emerald, and I got it virtually for free. This was my biggest gaming stroke of luck ever, a splendid gift from the Universe; and it certainly repayed me beautifully for these early collecting stages when I found myself routinely paying way too much for games because I didn't know better.

Games before consoles: When the Vita was released, its "AAA games on a portable console" selling motto made me write it off as a system that was not tailored at all to my gaming needs and tastes. But at some point in 2014, I saw a trailer for New Little King's Story and my interest in the system was suddenly piqued. I set out to purchase a brand-new Vita; but to my utter dismay, there were none available in my area. However, a shipment was expected at some unspecified date in the near future; so I could rest assured that I would indeed net a Vita sooner or later. My collector instinct was fully awakened though, and I needed to unleash it and let it soar without delay; and that's how I found myself hunting for good bargains on Vita games on the internet while not even owning the console yet. And it so came to pass that when brand-new Vitas finally graced my local game store with their much-awaited presence, I already owned half a dozen of Vita games. But the story doesn't stop here, oh no: it took me one more year to play my very first Vita game  which, for the record, was Sorcery Saga. And guess what? I absolutely hated the Vita upon first play. The analog sticks felt utterly foreign, the screen was way too big, the graphics were too sleek and polished, and the console left such a bad overall impression on me that I turned it off and put it right back in its box with a lot of huffing and puffing. Good thing I picked it up again a week later and managed to overcome my initial repulsion, or I would have missed on what turned out to be one of my favourite handhelds of all time  as well as on a ton of stellar games.

The rearguard: I happened to be part of the very last bunch of subscribers to the now defunct Official Nintendo Magazine UK: I subscribed in early 2013, only to see the magazine bail out in october 2014, a mere year and a half later. To see that publication edge closer and closer to its unavoidable retirement was quite an eerie experience, I must say. In true Nintendo-ish fashion, the publisher and writing staff didn't mention that ONM was slated for execution before said execution was nearly upon us subscribers; but one could feel that something was fishy many months before we were actually notified that our subscriptions were cancelled. The magazine's content was incredibly poor, with safe and boring interviews of Nintendo developers and dull previews and reviews of big titles that were published again and again under a slightly different form each time. There were no in-depth analyses, no retro features, no cutting-edge and informative interviews; in a nutshell, there was none of what I actually expected to find in a magazine devoted to Nintendo consoles and games. But when the list of staff members and contributing writers started shrinking literally every month, I knew that the writing was on the wall. I certainly didn't regret the magazine's half-baked and snooze-inducing content in the slightest; on the other hand, it was a bit of a nasty blow to be ousted from my own subscription. I had already missed out on the most famous gaming magazines of the '90s; and now that I could finally bask in the joy of being a gaming magazine subscriber, that long-awaited joy was taken from me after barely one year? Sheesh, talk about the Universe not wanting me to read gaming publications. Good thing I managed to unearth other interesting and  most importantly  thriving gaming magazines and to get a good subscription pool after that.

Now that you've been reading these anecdotes and hopefully enjoying them, I have a favour to ask of you, dear fellow gamers. See, what I enjoy even more than pondering all the little quirks of my gaming life is to learn about the little quirks of other gamers' gaming life. You guess where I'm going with that, I'm sure: I'd like you to tell me some gaming anecdotes of your own in the comments, dear fellow gamers. Numbers don't matter; just feel free to tell as many or as few stories as you wish, and I'll read them all with great delight. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!

09/07/2017

Pokemon X: The Skitty Solo Run


Skitty is the mysterious 'Mon that nearly single-handedly made me give up on my planned Eevee solo run. When I encountered him in Castelia City, I was instantly reminded of my delicious playthrough of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky and the great time I had had handling this lovely pink feline, and I wondered why the idea of tackling a Skitty solo run had not dawned on me earlier. The time was more than ripe to address this oversight, and I decided to do so in Pokemon X instead of White 2/Black 2. For one thing, I was getting a teeny-tiny bit tired of cruising Unova; for another, Skitty appears right after the first Gym in X and I wanted to cruise with him as early as possible; and last but not least, I was dying to pet and feed the adorable kitty into oblivion in Pokemon-Amie.


I was expecting that run to be business as usual, but things didn't exactly unfold as planned. Skitty is great solo run material on paper, with balanced stats and a decent offensive Move pool that guarantees an efficient Type coverage. I was struggling a bit in the early stages of the games — the first fight against Lucario being an especially gritty point — but the discovery of a Moon Stone and my Skitty's subsequent evolution into Delcatty gave me a welcome stat boost and some much-needed room in all things fighting. I was set for a smooth ride, or so I thought; but the game had other plans for me. I started sensing something was amiss when none of my Skitty's Moves was able to scratch a random Ghost 'Mon. Now, I fully expected Return and Wake-up Slap to be unefficient; but Dig and Feint Attack? By all accounts and to the best of my knowledge, these last two Moves should have taken care of Ghost 'Mons allright, and yet they were entirely useless, making my Skitty powerless and unable to dispose of Ghost 'Mons. At first, I could rely on my crew of HM slaves to take down these irritating ghostly obstructions; but as the game progressed, these HM slaves became underleveled and I had no choice but to swiftly run away from random battles and carefully avoid all Trainers armed with Ghost 'Mons. This was manageable, if only a tad irritating; but it didn't explain why my Ground and Dark Moves were suddenly unable to pummel Ghost 'Mons into oblivion.


It took me a while, but I finally uncovered the very logical reason for my Skitty's powerlessness against the Ghost crew; and that reason is none other than the Normalize ability, which transforms all Moves into Normal Moves. While this gives a welcome boost on the battlefield thanks to the STAB, it also makes the Normalize version of Skitty a genuinely unfit candidate for a solo run — the first I've encountered since I started soloing Pokemon games, en passant. Because indeed, Skitty comes in two versions ability-wise: the one with Normalize, and another with Cute Charm. It was my bane to get a Skitty with the former; had I gotten a Skitty boasting Cute Charm, I would have blasted through the game without noticing anything. And I would now be crowned Champion instead of stalling at the entrance of Victory Road.


Because indeed, I didn't reach the Elite Four. By the time I polished off the eight Gyms, my Skitty's lack of bite against all things ghostly had grown into a regular and unavoidable issue: at that point, I was basically unable to dispose of Ghost 'Mons, be it with Skitty or my HM slaves. I didn't want to tackle the Elite Four without a fair bit of checking, knowing that a mere single Ghost 'Mon could stop my Skitty dead in her tracks. And lo and behold, it turned out that there was indeed a Ghost 'Mon in the Elite Four roster: Chandelure, a dual Fire/Ghost 'Mon handled by Fire Trainer Malva. That put an end to my lofty Elite Four dreams, and I gave up on my run after roughly 17 hours of play. Now, if I ever tackle a Skitty solo run again, I'll obviously make sure that I recruit a creature with the Cute Charm ability. I'd like to cruise Unova with a Skitty, if only because I like the kitten's sprite in White 2/Black 2; so a Skitty solo run redux is not entirely out of the question. The lovely feline didn't get to prove herself fully, and I want to let her strut her stuff on the Elite Four grounds. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!