Pokemon White 2: The Emboar Solo Run

Summer is the ideal time to play Pokemon as far as I'm concerned. Never mind the fact that I spent two months glued to Sun and Moon just a couple of weeks ago; the gaming instinct wants what it wants, and it wanted some furry action. And so I dug up my still unplayed cartridge of White 2 from my precious collection and started yet another solo run. My initial plan involved an Flareon solo run, since both Eevee and the Fire Stone can be obtained quite early on in White 2; but destiny and my ever- dependable gaming instinct had other plans in store for me. See, I chose Tepig as my starter as a half-joke, naming him "Bacon" to understrike the humorous charge of that move; but as I played the game, I became unexpectedly attached to the piglet. He doesn't look half as bad as rumour has it, and he certainly packs a punch and rocks on the battlefield. When time came to recruit an Eevee and get the Fire Stone, I was so enamoured with the porcine starter that I couldn't bear the though of dropping him; and that's how my Eevee solo run was shelved and became a de facto Tepig solo run.

And my, what a great run it was. The pacing was amazing, brisk and sharp without feeling rushed; and the leveling-up speed was out of this world. I reached Lv. 30 after barely 3 hours of play, folks! Now that's how I love my Pokemon solo runs to be: fast-paced and with lightning-fast leveling-up. Clocking at 14:30 hours, my Tepig solo run was probably one of my shortest Pokemon solo runs ever; but there was still plenty to do during that time. I loved the fact that I got to tackle Unova in a completely different order from the one that was imposed in Black and White; that gave me a totally new and fresh vision of the region and make me feel like I was playing a different game that still felt pleasantly familiar. It was also a great idea to leave some towns out of the mandatory path, to be explored at leisure during postgame; it made the game more compact and the pacing swifter. All in all, I felt like I was cruising a brand-new Unova, glossier and shinier than the original, like a fresh doughnut covered with glaze. (Look at me, trying to sneak in an all-American metaphor to square with the Unova setting. This has totally nothing to do with the fact that I've been introduced to the heavenly Original Glazed Doughnut by Krispy Kreme lately and have been obsessed with it ever since, oh no.)

My lovely little Bacon did a great job in all things fighting, one-shooting his way to the Elite Four and generally treating all other 'Mons like insignificant obstructions. He was Lv. 91 when I finally reached the Champion; and suffice it to say that the whole Elite Four showdown was a mere formality. Bacon managed to one-shot most of his opponents, including the Champion's six 'Mons. Poor girl didn't even get to use a Max Potion or a Full Restore! But hey, my Tepig-turned-Emboar was just too formidable. For the record, my move pool during the second half of the game was Arm Thrust (Fighting), Return (Normal), Bulldoze (Ground) and Flamethrower (Fire); an efficient and varied quartet that allowed me to take care of pretty much all battle situations. I didn't bother taking Nature into account this time around — heck, I didn't even bother checking my Tepig's Nature. Experience has taught me that as far as Starters in older generations are concerned, Nature doesn't matter that much; these guys will always get an overwhelming edge in solo runs regardless of their Nature.

Only one thing rubbed me the wrong way in that otherwise delightful and fulfilling run, and that thing can be summed up in one sentence: my Trainer is a total PUSHOVER. Absolutely everybody in that game is bossing me around: Hugh, Alder, Professor Juniper, Colress, Cheren, and even airhead Bianca. Heck, even my own mum is sending me on the road after a couple of expeditive questions with the words "your course of action has been set" as an goodbye. Wait, set by whom? Don't I have a say in the matter? But that's only the beginning: Hugh, my supposed rival, treats me like a mere tool to serve his own purpose. He doesn't even see me as a genuine rival: sure, he fights me, but to quote his own words, that's only to make sure that I'm 'strong enough to back him up'. Back. Him. Up. Huh, excuse me?! Am I not supposed to be the bloody hero here? Is that game not supposed to be about me and my epic quest to Catch 'Em All and become the strongest Trainer that ever lived?

And the infamy doesn't stop here, oh nooo. Professor Juniper doesn't even have the decency to invite me to her lab and treat me to pats on the back and words of encouragement like basically every other Pokemon professor since the dawn of the series; instead, she sends her assistant Bianca to boss me around. Erm, could you actually care less about my endeavours? I met Professor Juniper once throughout the whole game, only to have her throw a few vague words of praise at my face and then run away like she couldn't bear the thought of being seen with me. Then Hugh bossed me around some more, always sending me on the front line while he stayed safely on the rear, only to pop up as I was about to polish off a dungeon and claim all the glory for himself. Oh, and don't even think of tackling the Elite Four before Hugh allows you to do so: never mind the fact that you have reaped all eight Badges, you have to help him reach his goal first. Because, you know, he's apparently the bloody Hero here, not you. Cherry on the humiliation cake, people routinely compare you to 'that great Trainer from two years ago', who is none other that the Black/White Trainer. A Trainer who got the privilege to be the Hero of their own game, unlike you. Looks like the '2' in the game's title refers to my Trainer's station in life just as much as to the fact that this game is a sequel, indeed! Seriously, I felt more like a bellboy than like a Pokemon Trainer in White 2, and I didn't like it one bit. That game didn't revolve around my heroic personal quest like all other Pokemon entries; it revolved entirely around the stories and endeavours of NPCs, with me at their beck and call, slaving away to serve their objectives. Sheesh, I guess I should be glad this bunch of bullies even allowed me to tackle the Gyms and the Elite Four at all instead of keeping me on a leash or something. 

Playing second fiddle aside, this was a jolly good solo run that helped me reassess the fifth generation as a whole and its Starters in particular. I dismissed them as first glance; but as time goes on, I find them more and more interesting. I was already quite fond of Oshawott, and Tepig has become a new favourite over the course of that solo run; and I have to admit that I'm now genuinely interested in tackling a Snivy solo run. Oh, and my initially planned Eevee solo run is not forsaken, obviously. I still crave some Pokemon action after this delectable Tepig solo run and I have yet to play Black 2, so expect at least one more run report very soon. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


R-Type: Too little, too late

The face that launched a lifelong longing.
Just like Super Mario Land, Balloon Kid and Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle, R-Type belonged to the first wave of games released on the Game Boy. I remember encountering some promotional material that featured a screen capture of the first boss and becoming curiously enthralled by this image; so much so, in fact, that staring at that tentacular creature created a deep longing to play R-Type in my young soul. Alas, that was not meant to be: for some unfathomable reason, R-Type was never available in the local game stores and I never encountered anyone who owned it. And so was Irem's famous horizontal shooter the first game to join the list of Games That Passed Me By, a list that was soon to grow to epic proportions. But I digress.

Anyway, since my collecting endeavours are partially fuelled by a desire to make up for lost time and (re)discover potential cult classics that I missed out on or didn't get to play enough, it was perfectly natural that I would purchase a copy of R-Type at some point. I wanted to play that game at long last and see if it was the fascinating and riveting game young little me thought it was at the time. The answer? Yes and no. While there's no doubt that I would have lapped up R-Type in 1991 and would have played it over and over again until I managed to eradicate the last boss, I simply can't bring myself to try to reach said last boss nowadays. Heck, I can't even bring myself to play the damn game at all, period.

As you may imagine, these conflicting perceptions can be solely blamed on the gameplay. R-Type is an arcadey game with an unreasonable difficulty level: four lives, two continues, no saving system and last but not least, a spacecraft that explodes at the slightest contact with foes, bullets, and even the ground or the ceiling. What is that ship made off, cardboard? And I'm supposed to obliterate the evil Bydo Empire single-handedly with such a crappy piece of kit? Not only is R-Type unreasonably difficult, but it is also a pure Die-and-Retry game that requires perfect knowledge of the level layouts to be navigated. Add to this a clunky and slow control scheme, and you get a game that's way too hard for its own good and bound to scare away any gamer who's not a complete masochist. Now, young me would have taken up the gauntlet without batting an eyelid; but older me knows that clearing that game is a lost cause and that there are more rewarding games out there. And that's precisely the core issue with R-Type: this game is not rewarding at all unless one pours countless hours of play into it. The punishing difficulty and unsatisfying controls rob the potential player of instant gratification, and the arcade, no-saving nature of the game prevents any sort of delayed gratification from occurring. The only way one can enjoy R-Type is by playing it until they know it like the back of their hand, after which they may derive some gratification from being able to navigate the game unhindered.

In a nutshell, R-Type comes 25 years too late into my gaming life. Its exacting and unforgiving gameplay would have been perfectly acceptable in 1991, both for me and for the gaming scene at large; however, both me and the gaming scene simply cannot accept such a grueling and punishing game in 2017. R-Type is interesting and relevant as a piece of gaming history; but as a game, it's better left in the depths of the Game Boy library and the early '90s where it belongs. Playing that game taught me one crucial thing: gaming fashions come and go and there's a time for every type of gameplay, and some games must rest undisturbed lest they give the unsuspecting played a massive culture shock. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Collector's delight: My (second to) last special edition

As I mentioned before, I'm getting a bit burnt on collector's editions; hence my decision to stop purchasing these alluring yet ultimately disappointing items. I'm not planning to fork out an extra buck for the upcoming special editions of Culdcept Revolt and RPG Maker Fes; instead, I'll wisely go for regular copies with no dust-collecting memorabilia included. However, despite my vows to stop lavishing money on these space-consuming packages, I lately found myself purchasing one Special completely out of the blue, and for the most unlikely game ever. What I purchased is none other than the Japanese special edition of Ore no Shikabane o Koete Yuke 2, better known as Oreshika 2.

There are two reasons for that unlikely and unexpected purchase. The first is that this package was dirt cheap; since the game was panned by many a Japanese player, affordable Japanese copies are abundant — including copies of this special edition, which are trending around 40-50 bucks. The second and most important reason is that this Special is incredibly well curated. Granted, its contents don't fulfill my ultimate criterion for the purchase of collector's editions, i.e. to improve on the game experience and/or add something significant to the gameplay; but on the other hand,we're dealing with items that are actually useful for a change, and quite gorgeous to boot. No dust collectors here: what we have is a hand strap, a (very large) cleaning cloth, a pouch and a set of skins, all boasting really lovely patterns. In a word, a full set to pimp up your Vita and make it the ultimate Oreshika machine.

Not only is it rare to find such a cohesive and carefully chosen set of items in a collector's edition, but said items are also arranged quite neatly and orderly. They are actually housed in a separate box, each one having its own little compartment; that separate box inserts smoothly into the main box, with the game itself nicely nested on the side. This is a nice change from most special editions, in which items are either thrown willy-nilly into the box or squeezed into it to such a point that it's nearly impossible to slide them back in once you took them out.

As a whole, this is a Special that was obviously crafted and put together with love and care; and just for that reason, it's perfectly worth owning. Sony went the extra mile to offer original collectables instead of sticking to the old OST or flimsy 30-page artbook seen in virtually every collector's edition under the gaming sun, and that effort must be praised. I'm quite content I got my paws on this Special — which, as I mentioned in the title, is not going to be my last, but rather my second to last collector's edition. Before I stop purchasing these overpriced collections of memorabilia for good, I absolutely want to make mine the special edition of Ys: Lacrimosa of Dana, which is shaping up to be a thing of beauty and a Special totally worth purchasing. Until then, I'll gladly stick to regular editions and rub my hands at the thought of all the money I'm saving. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Balloon Kid: Gone with the wind

Balloon Kid was not my Xth Game Boy game; instead, it belonged to my sister, who undoubtedly bought it based on its cute premise. A game starring a little girl floating around and collecting balloons had to be adorable and heart-warming, right? Heck, NO. A million times no. Forget Balloon Kid's lovely gameplay proposition: this is an exacting and nerve-racking Platformer that packs all the nastiness and viciousness of Nintendo Hard NES games and sneaks it into the Game Boy under the most misleading kawaii guise imaginable. Just like her namesake, Alice is in for a most unpleasant trip  and so is the player who controls her. Or tries to; but more on that very soon.

Die, you stupid fish.
"Platformer" is too simplistic a term to describe little Alice's aerial adventures, actually. Just like fellow 1990er Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle, Balloon Kid is a game that blends several playing styles and is unafraid to experiment with gameplay mechanics. If there were ever such a thing as a hardcore Platformer without platforms, then BK is that game: it requires an insane amount of focus, sangfroid and precision to be navigated properly, which ironically makes it a somewhat unfit proposition for its kiddy target audience. It's also a weird floating/hovering simulator that requires constant player input. Alice doesn't fly on her own and sinks like a stone lest the A button is diligently pressed; then, constant height and speed adjustments must be made to make her go beyond obstacles. The game's physics are extremely consistent and cohesive and are actually quite stellar for the time; but they are also really hard to master, all the more so as they can be counter-intuitive even to the most seasoned Platformer aficionado. Alice is floating around, which means that there is a certain inertia at work in all her moves; and that parameter must be taken into account at all times, which generally involves a high degree of move planning. BK also packs a distinctive Die-and-Retry flavour: level layouts are always the same, down to enemy placements, and they must be learnt by heart to be navigated safely. There are also more random and outlandish gameplay elements at work, such as the highly unusual right-to-left scrolling (I don't think I ever encountered another Platformer that makes the player crawl levels that way, and that scrolling sometimes feel downright counter-intuitive), the fact that screen boundaries act like physical objects and can be used to rebound or the fact that bosses must usually be beaten by resorting to Alice's seldom-used ground move pool, whose physics are downright wonky.

Balloon Kid is also the most striking illustration ever of the "Perfect And Encompassing Level 1 That Makes All Subsequent Levels Pointless" (a concept that can also be found in the original Sonic and its lush Green Hill Zone); in fact, I seriously suspect that BK single-handedly created that very concept. The first level of that game is a monument of wholesomeness and heart-warming perfection, with whimsical graphics, a lovely and highy evocative theme track and a pitch-perfect balance between challenge and fun. This first level is the one that draw me back to the game time and time again as a kid; had BK started right with its gloomy second level, I'm not sure I would have bothered replaying it even once. Now obviously, that first level is also a big fat lie, because it's in no way representative of the game as a whole; and yet, it somehow feels more perfect and fulfilling than all the other levels combined. Talk about burning all your ammo before the fight even starts.

Although BK is a very good game for its time and the hardware it was released on and still holds up pretty well to this day, it suffers from a variety of shortcomings that prevents it from reaching a cult classic status. For one thing, it's painfully linear and streamlined, with little room for gameplay variety and improvements. I blame this linearity solely on the automatic scrolling; the presence of such a feature implies that no matter how well the player masters BK, playthroughs will always last roughly the same amount of time and unfold in the exact same way. Player performance has virtually no impact on the game beyond making sure that the last boss will be reached, and that destroys most of BK's potential replay value. Then, there is the burning issue of the gameplay being skin-deep only: once you peel off BK's difficulty, which is sometimes so insane that it makes the game look like a parody of Nintendo Hard NES games, you're left with very little to sink your teeth into. At its core, BK is really nothing more than a giant, glorified QTE: you're at the game's beck and call, floating around in a virtual gameplay void and trying to stay alive by working your way around a vast array of fixed hazards. And once again, there is very little replay value to be found once you've successfully learnt to circumvent said vast array of fixed hazards.

Despite BK's lack of depth and infuriating difficulty, I found myself purchasing it not once, but twice over the course of my gaming career: the first time was when I was a teenager and wanted to own my own copy of the game and try my hardest to finish it (for the record, I failed), and the second time was a couple of years ago for collection's sake. I can polish off Balloon Kid without too much hassle these days, although it's far from being a personal cult classic; but I still deem it highly valuable as another snapshot of 1990s gaming with an interesting potpourri of gameplay features and a widely unusual gameplay premise. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Nintendo 3DS: Is this love again?

Something peculiar and unexpected happened lately: the 3DS crawled back in my good graces, slowly but surely. In fact, I don't think I've ever loved the system as much as I love it right now: I'm immensely hyped up about games to come and I found a renewed interest for my 3DS library, which I want to explore and enjoy at leisure. This could be due to the mere-exposure effect: as a new — and not immediately enticing as far as I'm concerned — piece of kit is coming, the older and more familiar console suddenly seems much more reassuring and attractive. Or it could be due to my uncanny passion for systems that are about to go retro; but whatever the reason, I am indeed smitten with the 3DS like never before.

And why wouldn't I be smitten, after Nintendo announced the imminent release of two shiny and brand-new models of 2DS? The collector in me leaped in joy when discovering these two sleek beauties; needless to say, said sleek beauties buried my resolution to stop purchasing more 3DS iterations on the spot. I must get my paws on this pair when they reach European shores, all the more so as they are deliciously unexpensive and look temptingly comfortable to play.

To my utter joy, these revamped 2DS won't come alone, as a number of appetizing game offerings are slated for release in the months to come. We already had the newly released Story of Seasons: Trio of Towns, the soon-to-be-released Fire Emblem Echoes and the to-be-released-at-some-point Fire Emblem Heroes to scratch our 3DS itch this year; but along them is coming a bunch of unexpected, last-minute localizations. RPG Maker FES, Culdcept Revolt, Yo-kai Watch 2 and Monster Hunter Stories are all on their way to our shores, and I'm totally thrilled about them. Ever Oasis has a definite release date at long last, and Dragon Quest XI's international unleashing shouldn't be too far either. Heck, I wouldn't be surprised if 2017 had more 3DS localizations in the pipeline than 2016 despite the recent arrival of the Switch!

Even better, some mouth-watering 3DS games are being developed as I'm writing this very post. Those coveted games are Etrian Mystery Dungeon 2 (roguelikey dungeon crawler goodness!), Shin Megami Tensei: Deep Strange Journey (more dungeon crawler goodness!!) Layton's Mystery Journey, Radiant Historia: Perfect Chronology and The Alliance Alive. I'm particularly pumped up about that last game, which is being pitched as a "new classic RPG" and  a "spiritual successor" to The Legend of Legacy one of 2016's highlights as far as my gaming resumé is concerned. Needless to say, I'm ridiculously hyped up about all these games and I pray daily for their localization. And if they don't come to our shores, then be it; they'll be fodder for my Japanese 3DS, because there's no way I'm letting these gaming nuggets pass me by. Heck, I don't think I've been that excited about prospective RPG releases since the beginning of the 3DS era.

This situation is all the more delightful as it is totally unexpected, especially in light of the way previous Nintendo systems exited the gaming scene. As the Switch made its grand debut, I fully expected Nintendo to ditch the 3DS line-up like a stone and developers to flock en masse to the shiny new machine; but lo and behold, the Big N is instead treating us to a brand-new model and developers are crafting exciting games as we're speaking! This is definitely a first for a Nintendo system as far as transitions from one console generation to the next are concerned, and one could actively speculate about the reasons behind such a situation. Does Nintendo want to pamper 3DS aficionados and thank them for their unwavering support? Are developers still uncertain about the long-term prospects of the Switch? Does everybody think there is still good money to be made with the 3DS? All of this at once? It doesn't matter to us portable aficionados, really: what matters is that the 3DS is still alive and well and exciting games are coming our way. With such a thrilling 3DS release schedule ahead of us, I have renewed hopes for a future localization of Etrian Odyssey V, or even a possible Untold remake of Etrian Odyssey III. Bring it on, Atlus!

Here's to a glorious year for Nintendo's dedicated handheld, which is pleasantly defying expectations and proving to be a survivor indeed! I sure hope you're as thrilled about these unexpected 3DS developments as I am, dear fellow gamers, and that you have as many games — and maybe even a shiny new 2DS XL — on your Coveted Games List as I have right now. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!