Pokemon LeafGreen: The Charizard Solo Run

After 50 hours of Ultra Sun&Moon's bloated story and tutorial galore, I suddenly found myself craving some simplicity. What I wanted was a quickie Pokemon solo run, with as little narrative fluff as possible yet metric tons of grinding. The only entry in my collection that seemed to fit the bill perfectly was Blue and its endless rows of idle Trainers; but alas, I just couldn't see myself suffering through that glitchy mess again, even for the sake of grinding. But then came the illumination, as I suddenly remembered the existence of the FireRed and LeafGreen GBA remakes. I had never bothered hunting for them because of the battery hassle and the ever-present risk of landing a bootleg; but now, that pair suddenly seemed like the most desirable games in the world to my hungry gamer's soul. (Like pretty much every single game I covet, until the next one comes into the picture — but that's another story.) The gaming instinct had spoken, and there was nothing to do but cave in and order a copy of LeafGreen from a reliable seller. A couple of days later, the precious cartridge was mine and I dove into a Charmander solo run with gusto.

The next best thing to a Legendary.
I have to admit that Charmander's insane popularity amongst Pokefans always eluded me that is, until I roamed revamped Kanto with that first and most beloved Fire Starter of them all. Oh boy, is Charmander utterly, totally, ludicrously broken. He boasts ridiculously high stats, and has access to the most insanely enormous Move Pool I've ever had the pleasure of being granted access to. Moves were raining on me so consistently that I started making lists, in the hope of conveying the sheer enormity of that Move indulgence. First, here's the list of all the offensive Moves my Charmander wielded over the course of my run: Amber, Scratch, Mega Punch, Metal Claw, Flamethrower, Brick Break, Secret Power, Wing Attack, Slash, Return, Earthquake, Dragon Claw and Overheat. And then, here's the list of the Moves I could have learnt yet decided to renounce for various reasons: Mega Kick, Dig, Rock Slide, Seismic Toss, Dragon Rage, Fire Spin, Fly, Cut, Steel Wing, Fire Blast, Blast Burn, Rock Smash, Strength and Double-Egde. Pretty outrageous, ain't it? I never had access to that many Moves in a solo run ever, and I totally lapped up that insane Move pampering. Although I'm still not fond of the looks of the whole Charmander family, I'm definitely on board with the Charmander aficionados out there when it comes to the kantonian Fire Starter's battle prowess.

Mind you, little Charmy here is supposed to act as a hard mode of sorts for the Kanto games, being weak to the types handled by the first two Gym Leaders; but honestly, this famed hard mode was no sweat at all in my run. My Charmander learnt Metal Claw right before the Rock Gym; with Rock being weak to Steel and my Charmander being much faster than basically any Rock 'Mon, that engagement was easy-peasy. I got Mega Punch right before the Water Gym; a bit of extra grinding on route 24 and 25's Trainers, and I was pretty much set. As for the rest, well... Once I got rid of these two typing roadblocks, it was pretty much one-shooting till the end. The original Red/Blue games were probably a bit harder, since Metal Claw wasn't a thing back then; but I have no doubt that Charmander's high Attack and Speed, combined with the overlevelling inherent to running solo, could take care of the Rock Gym no matter what. Not that I'm planning to put that theory to the test, mind you: now that I discovered those amazingly good Gen I remakes, there's no way I'm ever going back to Blue.

As for my overall impressions of LeafGreen, they can be summed up in one sentence: The Gen Oners have a point. Indeed, when you peel off the glitches, cumbersome gameplay mechanics and graphical blotches of the Kanto entries, you suddenly uncover mighty fine games. LeafGreen delivers the essence of the Pokemon experience and does away with all the bloating and fluff that was added in subsequent gens: it's compact, straightforward and perfectly wholesome. It's a lovely, soothing game with a cute pint-sized world and a comfy vibe; and yet, it's not afraid of roughing you up all the way through. LeafGreen is probably the grindiest Pokemon entry I've ever played, with so many Trainers lounging around that I routinely ran out of PP when cruising between towns and as you may imagine, I lapped the whole thing up. I'm especially fond of the fact that most Trainers have at least 3 'Mons, and often up to 5; I just hate challenging Trainers only to discover that they have one measly Pokeball in their arsenal, which is something that happens way too often in recent instalments. (Why do you even engage me with your pet 'Mon, you amateur?) And after a slew of wishy-washy rivals, it was deliciously refreshing to be pitted against Gary and with dirty mouth. (I'm getting bored of friendly rivals in Pokemon: give me aggressive twats again, so I can rejoice in wipping the floor with them!) Last but not least, I just love the simple yet charming graphics, and most especially the stylized battle backgrounds, which in my opinion are much more unique and pleasing to look at than those figurative, 360-degree battle arenas the series has forced on us since X/Y.

At the end of the day, LeafGreen is the game that made me fall head over heels in love with Kanto so much so that I promptly ordered FireRed, as well as a GBA link cable to trade 'Mons and expand my solo run horizons. But those are stories for future posts, dear fellow gamers; for now, I'll wrap things up by saying that my Charmander solo run of LeafGreen was one of the most excellent runs I've ever had with a Fire Starter. It was just as hectic, intense and satisfying as my Tepig solo run of White 2, with the added benefit of a huge Move pool. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Nintendo Switch: Two months, second thoughts - The software side

Welcome back, dear fellow gamers, for the second part of my Switch rant. After covering my (numerous) hardware issues with the system, it's now time to delve into the software variable of the disaffection equation. To put it simply (and a tad pompously), Nintendo's newest offering doesn't fit gracefully into my collecting and gaming ecosystem. This might sound a bit vague; so let's go into details, dear fellow gamers. 

—Although the prospective Switch lineup had me all hyped up for a while, I'm starting to realize that the Switch's brand of gaming isn't bound to add anything unique and valuable to my gaming regimen. From what we've seen so far, the Switch will offer two types of titles: sleek, HD home console-ish games à la Xenoblade 2, and low-fi, budget games à la Lost Sphear. The former is not my cup of tea, like, at all. It's not secret that I'm a retrogamer at heart and that I mostly despise modern gaming and its obsession with bloated open worlds, plasticky HD and boring hyper-realism and sure, I love Xenoblade 2 to pieces; but that's despite its home-consoleness, not because of it. As for the latter, I already have it, like, by the truckload. My collection is full to the brim with all sorts of nichey, budgety, low-fi games, and I simply have no need for more at that point. Sure, The Lost Child looks like something I'd like to play; but how is it any different from my vast array of Vita first-person dungeon crawlers? Spoiler alert: it's no different at all, because this is actually a Vita port. Mind you, this is part of an even bigger problem: one year after the system's release, Switch gaming hasn't managed to carve its own niche and is still entirely derivative. See, I own five true-blue handhelds, and they all offer their own distinctive brand of gaming; the Switch, on the other hand, seems content to emulate other consoles and bring nothing original to the table. Just look at the current library: WiiU, 3DS and Vita ports, indies already released on other platforms, and 'HD' games that would have been perfectly at home on the PS3. Sure, I said I wanted a successor to the Vita and the 3DS; but I didn't mean a copycat that would churn out the exact same games, thank you very much.

—The average Switch game is too pricey for my taste. Sure, I kinda expected high prices, since the Switch is an hybrid console; but seeing those inflated price tags in shops really drove the point home and made me balk at the prospect of purchasing metric tons of Switch games. On top of that, I'm very much reaching my spending limits when it comes to games, mostly due to the way my collecting unfolded. I started collecting for the DS and the PSP and was spoiled rotten by cheap second-hand games; then came the 3DS and Vita with brand-new titles, making my collecting endeavours more pricey and tedious. Now, the Switch is coming with even pricier games, and let's face it: I'm not ready to swallow yet another increase in prices and tediousness. At this rate, I'd rather keep collecting for the 3DS and Vita at a slower, more relaxed pace because let's face it, those systems still have some gaming goodness to offer.

—As the proud owner of GBA, DS, PSP, 3DS and Vita systems, I have access to three generations of handhelds already even four, if you count the handful of Game Boy games I own. This seriously undermines what could have been one of my main motivations for building up a Switch collection, namely the prospect of playing the newest entries of my favourite series. With my precious collection containing series that span two to four generations of handhelds, I have very little need for more instalments. Sure, I'd like to play the Switch Pokemon games; but if I had to make do with the games I already own till the end of time, I honestly wouldn't mind at all. I would mind all the less as I love my gaming on the retro side and tend to replay games on the long run.

—Last but not least, I have to listen to the voice of reason for a change. My precious collection is already absolutely massive as it is; so massive, in fact, that there's virtually no guarantee that I can even manage to play all the games I own before I lose interest or kick the bucket. Common sense dictates that I should stop the bullsh*t and focus on the games I already own instead of purchasing even more games I'm not sure I'll ever play and for once, I'm actually in the mood to humour common sense. Mind you, that sudden burst of moderation and self-restraint is very much helped by the fact that my collecting drive is nearly extinct after five years of frantic collecting.

All in all, my software issues with Ninty's newest piece of kit can be summed up in two words: diminishing returns. The Switch simply cannot bring me as much joy, satisfaction and fulfillment as its predecessors, neither on the playing side nor on the collecting side. Now, does this mean that I'm planning to give up on the Switch entirely? Not quite. I will purchase Switch games in the next years allright; but I'll be much more careful when doing so. I'll stop taking chances on anything ressembling an RPG and invest solely in games I'm 100% sure I can enjoy; and I certainly won't put together a huge Switch collection. In fact, I'm not even approaching the Switch as a collector, but rather as a gamer who wants to play a good game once in a while and leave it at that. Heck, I may even step as far as to resell used Switch games to get funds for new ones. I had reservations about the Switch at first and saw it as yet another clunky and overly complicated Nintendo home console, then I was seriously hyped up about it and saw it as the saviour of handheld gaming; now, after getting my paws on it, I see it as a mere regular gaming system, which happens to have little to offer me. I'll thus keep enjoying my vast soon-to-be-retro collection, with a Switch game as a diversion every now and then. There you have it, dear fellow gamers: my own personal Switch epopee, a.k.a. To the Switch and Back. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Nintendo Switch: Two months, second thoughts - The hardware side

It's not secret that I bought my fair share of consoles over the course of my gaming life. That mass of consoles can be roughly divided into two categories: the much-wanted systems that ultimately failed to meet my lofty expectations, and the not-so-wanted systems that ultimately exceeded my meagre expectations. The latter category contains luminaries such as the Game Gear, a.k.a. my former Favourite Console Ever, the Vita, a.k.a. my newest Favourite Console Ever, and the DS and PSP, a.k.a the kings of portable RPG that masterfully blend the best of both retro and modern gaming. In the former category, we have the Game Boy, which I loved yet also came to resent because of how high-maintenance it was when it came to lighting conditions; the GBA, which I cannot play without getting some horrid hand cramping; the Mega Drive, which failed to give me the same sweet intimacy as handhelds; and, last but not least, the Switch.

It pains me greatly to admit it, but my initial love for the Switch is unfortunately wasting away. I though I had gotten my hands literally on a winner of a system and yet another first-class addition to my already respectable collection of handhelds; but alas, all the things that seemed so appealing when I was longing for the Switch from afar proved to be less than dazzling when seen up close. As the title implies, there are two sides to that coin of disaffection; let's start with the nitty-gritty of my hardware issues with the Switch, dear fellow gamers. (Also, because I can't be bothered to take pictures of my Switch, those posts will be adorned with XC2 screenshots.)

—The matte plastic used for the back of the Switch's tablet is literally the worst plastic I've laid my hands upon on any console, ever. It's like Nintendo went out of their way to handpick the material that would gather the most finger grease. I don't have particularly oily fingers, and I never snack when playing; and yet, after a mere two months and less than 200 hours of use, my Switch is already adorned with big fat greasy stains on all the places that come into regular contact with my fingers. Needless to say, all that unwelcome greasiness looks and feels utterly gross. Now of course, the Vita and the DS are also prone to grease staining; but rubbing the offending spots usually leaves your console clean as new. Not so with the Switch: you can rub all you want, the grease just. won't. bulge. This means that alcohol-based cleaning solutions are probably needed, which could be fatal to my Switch's coating not to mention that I have better things to do than put the thing through a special cleaning therapy every couple of weeks. And then we have the analog sticks: instead of gathering grease, they gather every fleck of dust, dead skin or random crap that happens to be on your fingers; and once again, once something is stuck there, good luck wiping it away. This whole situation is just infuriating, and it boggles my mind that such materials were chosen and used for the Switch.

—The Switch feels too fragile for my taste. Mind you, I'm not saying that just because my Switch's left Joy-Con happened to be a bit loose right out of the box; that fragility issue is inherent to the system's design. Joy-Cons are bound to get loose over time no matter what, until playing becomes really uncomfortable or (worse) connectivity simply stops working entirely. This means that the Switch might become unplayable on the long run simply due to its very design; and after a whole lifetime spend playing systems that were designed as monuments of solidity, that sudden reversal of gaming fortune really stings.

The Switch painfully lacks compactness and elegance. It just doesn't feel like a solid, real handheld probably because it's not a true-blue handheld. For all intents and purposes, the Switch is but a tablet with two controllers stuck on the sides; it's a weird and unappealing mix of different parts that doesn't feel like a wholesome gaming system. The handheld aficionado and veteran in me just cannot fancy that big, blocky, disjointed mess of a console that lacks all the grace and solidity of a genuine handheld. On top of that, the Switch is simply too large and heavy not only for my own taste, but also to qualify as a genuine handheld. Sure, you can carry it around; but you can carry your laptop around as well, and yet you'd be hard-pressed to call it a portable gaming system.

—The Switch has a way of getting uncomfortably hot during long playing sessions, especially on the right side. I even had to give up on playing a couple of time and let the system cool down because it was simply getting too hot to hold. Needless to say, it's all but impossible to play the Switch when it's charging, as it gets even more searingly hot.

—The Switch's battery management is pure hassle. It's already annoying enough that the Switch has such poor battery life, forcing me to charge it literally every day; but that's not even my main battery-related issue. No, my main issue lies in the darn annoying Sleep Mode. Because the Switch cannot be completely turned off unless you go through a complicated and utterly unintuitive process, most of us will simply put their Switch in sleep mode and call it a day. But wait, there's a catch: sleep mode keeps draining your Switch's battery, and rather fast at that. So you didn't touch your Switch for a week after fully charging it? Too bad, now it's empty! Just say goodbye to your planned gaming session and go charge it again, sucker. (Yup, this is totally first-hand experience.) So, the GBA, DS and Vita can hold battery power for weeks on end, even months; but the Switch has to be kept on a constant charging diet? Not too convenient for an 'hybrid' console, methinks.  

Last but not least, I have a more general beef with the Switch, one that's entirely based on my collector's instinct: I feel that the Switch was not designed with longevity and perennity in mind, which is an absolute first for a Nintendo portable console and maybe even for a Nintendo console full stop. I've handled and played every single Nintendo handheld, from Game&Watches to the 3DS, and I could always genuinely feel the sheer solidity and robustness of those systems: they were designed to last years and endure enormous amounts of abuse from careless hands. The Switch, on the other hand, doesn't ooze solidity and robustness at all, but rather feels like a fancy toy that's bound to break before you're through with it. As a collector, I very much have an issue with that approach. I just don't want to invest my funds and affections in a console that was so obviously designed as a disposable, one-generation-only piece of kit something to be picked, played, used until it breaks and then ditched and forgotten as the newest piece of kit enters the picture. Granted, that approach has been running rampant on the home console scene for some years now; but I always thought (and hoped) that Nintendo would stay away from it and keep treating us to consoles designed to last. Alas, it seems they've been contamined at last by the industry's dirty built-in obsolescence ways.  

At the end of the day, I think reality simply caught up with me. As a handheld aficionado, I really wanted the Switch to inherit the 3DS and Vita's legacy and perpetuate the strong, long-running Nintendo handheld tradition; but alas, it seems that this dream scenario is not meant to be. The Switch is a home console after all; and like all current home consoles, it's flimsy, fussy and not designed to last. Well, fine; I was fooled once, but I won't be fooled twice. There won't be extra backup Switches for me; I'll use my current Switch until it dies, and then it's game over literally. But what about all those Switch games you were so excited about a few weeks ago, you may ask? Don't you want to collect them? Well, about that... Things have changed, shall we say. But that's a subject I'll cover in the soon-to-come second part of that Switch rant, dear fellow gamers. Thanks for reading, and be my guest anytime!


Not feeling it

Blame it on the messy weather, the bombardment of mind-blowing gaming news or the approaching summer, but I've been kinda dazed and lazy these last days. So dazed and lazy, in fact, that I cannot find the drive to blog for the life of me. Playing them games is hard enough, with my current playthroughs feeling like slogs; but writing about them seems damn near impossible right now. I have post subjects lined up, but I just cannot bring myself to sit in front on my computer and write a word. I spent the last few days trying to coerce myself into writing, but to no avail; as a result, I decided to call it quits and take a couple of days off. I'm just gonna lounge around and wait for my writing mojo to come back. See you soon for more gaming goodness, dear fellow gamers!