In the Summer of 1996 I was 15 years old. One afternoon I wandered into the local Blockbuster (RIP) to browse the used video games they had for sale. That's where I first crossed paths with Super Mario 64 (and the Nintendo 64 for that matter), which was prominently displayed on the large demo machine near the entrance. At this point I had already developed a bias against 3D video games, not because of some perceived, inherent inferiority to two dimensions, but because in their pioneering state they were so aesthetically unappealing. I saw them as a new phase in gaming that simply wasn't ready for consumption. So when I approached the demo and lifted the Nintendo 64 controller I did so somewhat begrudgingly. It took about 5 minutes before I was hooked. Once it arrived at my home I devoted a weekend to acquiring all 120 stars, my eyeballs glued to the screen.
24 years later I revisited SM64 on the Nintendo Switch. Quite quickly the mechanics and acrobatic maneuvers came back to me. And while the blurry textures and blocky world looked even blurrier and blockier than memory, the dated piece that made me cringe and grumble the most was the camera. Back when 3D games started, solving for the camera was always a hot topic, and was so for years. In so many of these early 3D games the camera would collide with walls, zoom in and out unexpectedly, and unhinge left and right as the player traversed through the world. It was a time when providing two camera styles plus the ability to zoom in and out was considered groundbreaking. It made me wonder: If it wasn't for my nostalgic ties to SM64 would I have tossed this relic aside?
While the camera is clearly the worst aspect of SM64, it's the combination of the camera and the looseness of Mario's movements that cause the most pain. This is a platformer, albeit a more open world version of one, and with platforms comes pits. What this translates to is countless perilous moments where I am on the brink of reaching my goal just to end up slipping off a narrow, jagged polygon. I suspect I died just as much 24 years ago as I did with this recent play-through, but the difference is that way back then I interpreted these moments solely as challenging, whereas today I see them as both challenging and frustrating.
Camera and slippery Mario aside, this game is still extremely playable. It's such a delight to control the ninja flipping Mario and to collect stars within the expertly crafted levels. The designers smartly placed a variety of challenges in each course, and while they hint to what star to search for next, they left it up to the player to discover them in the order that they please. And each environment has its own special flare and theme, so moving between courses always feels fresh.
Next up I have Super Mario Sunshine and Super Mario Galaxy. I'm told that the former has similarly frustrating camera and control problems, and since I have never played either of these games this will be an interesting test to see if I have the patience to play SMS all the way through. Here we go.
Metroid: Rogue Dawn is the unofficial, fan-produced prequel to the original Metroid. Unlike most ROM hacks (ugh, there's so many bad Castlevania ones...) this is a high quality experience that takes the foundation it is built upon and expands on it greatly.
Before I get into the details that make this such an excellent game and expansion on the Metroid world, first let’s look at the physical release that I opted for. Purchased from RetroGamesRemastered, an operation that produces physical releases of ROM-hacks and retro gaming rarities, the Metroid: Rogue Dawn print has everything you need to feel like you are back in the 1980s opening a fresh, crisp Nintendo game. Here’s what’s included:
It’s even shrink wrapped so you can feel like it just came off the shelf at your local Toys"R"Us (RIP). The map provides you with the opportunity to take notes for places to revisit, or if you are like me and can’t stomach the thought of defiling the glossy fold out, it’s something you can scan and print copies of before you scribble on to your heart’s desire. The manual is short and sweet, with details on the story, items, and some helpful tips.
As for the game, the attention to details shines:
Sadly, the days of Nintendo Power are behind us, where we would seek out hints and tips for NES games. Sure, there's this thing called the internet now, but for a niche ROM-hack like this I didn't see a ton of helpful information published out there. So, without spoiling anything, here are some strategies I found to be quite useful:
This is a must play for any NES fan. For those that grew up with the NES it will instantly transport you back to your childhood, regardless of if you have a physical copy or not. Next on my list is Another Metroid 2 Remake.
Darkwood is a top-down perspective, horror video game where the protagonist is stuck in a creepy forest of which there is seemingly no way out. He must explore and scavenge for goods while battling horrific creatures. Shelters provide some protection from the demons of the night, and mysterious characters offer clues to his escape.
Whereas shelter-in-place is something we are all too familiar with in this COVID world we are forced to exist in.
I found some striking similarities between this game and our current landscape:
I’m only on chapter 2 so I suspect more parallels will unveil themselves later. Stay safe out there everyone.
This is Moon:
Recently I picked up a handful of Game Boy and Game Boy Color games, as I was in need of games I could quickly pick up and put down while juggling a newborn. While I had an original Game Boy as a child I had only a couple of games, making this unexplored territory for me. After playing each I commemorated my experience with a haiku. Some snarky, some celebratory, and others simply about the mood and impression the game imprinted on me.
Baby Luka joined the world on July 16th, 2020. Leading up to his birth we prepared. We read books and articles (especially my wife), we learned from our friends, and we got the house ready. Everyone tells you that no matter how much you prepare you have to learn on the job, especially because every baby is unique. This is absolutely the truth.
Six weeks into our journey I am reflecting. This is my way to both remember this moment in time and guide others so that they can be just a little more (mentally) prepared.
I won’t tell you about particular techniques like the 5 Ss or other principles and tactics. There’s plenty of well-documented materials on these subjects already out there. And while I will argue that no amount of books will fully prepare you I do encourage you to read up so that you have a base level understanding. I personally found the courses and books to be informative.
The stuff they say you need and the stuff you later discover
There’s so much stuff that people say you need and we did extensive research prior to our birth date so that we could have the house armed and ready for the little terrorist. We were lucky to receive a ton of hand-me-downs and gifts, and our friends and family helped us understand how all the various tools work.
First, here are all of the items we had ready before the baby arrived:
When it comes to free stuff, besides hand-me-downs we also received a ton of goodies from the hospital. Make sure to bring an extra bag with you, kind of like what Michael Scott did on The Office when he went to on his business trip and brought an extra suit case just for souvenirs. Here’s some of the great stuff they hooked us up with, much of which you will want to get if you aren’t as lucky:
So we looked prepared, right? Well, there’s more stuff we later discovered we needed (or at least very much wanted). Here’s the list:
The falsehood of sleeping when the baby sleeps
You’re going to receive a lot of advice that won’t always pan out. Take it all in and recognize that not everything will work in your favor. And likewise keep in mind that something that works one day won’t necessarily work the next. You’ll experiment in search of the holy grail just to discover that there is no perfect recipe. This isn’t a mystery to be solved. This is a marathon. This is about endurance.
People will tell you to sleep when the baby sleeps. That this is your chance to make up for all those interrupted moments late at night. What they won’t tell you is that it’s not as simple as “baby sleeps, so I sleep”. In reality, babies grunt a lot when they sleep, so at night when you sleep near them, your quality of sleep will decrease. Plus, if you’re like me, that sound machine that soothes him will have the reverse effect on you.
When it comes to you trying to nap during the day, even with two parents working full time to serve the tyrant king, you can’t expect to always be on break when he goes down because while you were spending all that time cleaning, feeding, changing, soothing, and agonizing over the baby, a multitude of chores have amassed. So you scramble. You clean all of the bottles, empty the diaper pail, toss in a load of the baby’s soiled laundry, scrub that spit up from the couch, and reset the pumping station. And that’s just the baby’s stuff. There’s plenty to still do for the house. Perhaps the house is in disarray and you accept this as a temporary state of turmoil. Even still, you need to empty the dish washer, get groceries, satisfy the grand parents with photos texted their way, feed yourself, use the bathroom, and, if you are lucky, try to squeeze in some exercise. All this is to say is that his down time does not 100% equate to your down time, so mentally prepare for this. And if you are like me and my wife, telling your brain to shut off for a nap, despite how utterly tired you may be, holds no guarantees.
There’s another factor: the baby doesn’t always sleep on its own, particularly in these early months. The first 3 months of life are what are known as the 4th trimester where the baby is most at peace when you emulate womb like conditions. When it comes to sleep during the day, this may mean that he just wants to be held. Since it’s unsafe to sleep while the baby is attached to you this means you might as well use the time to get those previously mentioned chores done. Thankfully there is a cheap and effective device to make this a hands-free operation, and that’s the Boba Wrap. For us it works like magic, as it essentially mimics the womb which makes the baby king very pleased. Very pleased indeed.
I’ll keep this brief, as there’s just too much to say here and the journey isn’t over yet. Long story short, our baby is an inefficient eater. He takes far too long to get full, is a fussy eater, and the advice we received from various professionals would fall flat time and time again. We ended up having a tong-tie procedure performed that may or may not have helped a little.
We received lactation consultation over the phone, email, and Zoom, due to COVID-19, and needless to say this is a service that can only go so far via virtual means. After hitting many dead ends we finally were able to find an in person LC, though we remain to see if their advice will reap any benefits.
The good news is that our baby is growing. We just have to feed him longer and more frequently than one should, which is frustrating for both the parents and the baby.
I’m sure I have more to say. I just can’t remember or think clearly any more. My brain is mush. Even now I write this as quickly as possible as the time-bomb ticks in his stroller that we were too scared to take him out of prematurely.
Despite the complaints it is worth it. You will be frustrated and exhausted, and then out of nowhere he will surprise you with a smile that will melt away all of your anxiety.
My top advice is to be patient. Be patient to your partner, to your baby, and to yourself. A wise man once said “Take care of yourself, and each other”.
Good luck out there.
More quick reviews.
I usually don't think to capture a screenshot when deeply immersed in a game. From time to time, however, something strikes me enough and I hit that capture button. Here's just a few of my favorites.
The Last of Us 2 is an incredible narrative masterpiece. It’s difficult to put into words the range of emotions that this experience whipped me through, and how it left me feeling scene after scene. I gasped, jumped, smiled, and cried. I found myself hating then empathizing with characters, and likewise, completely siding with others to later question their motives. By the time I came out the other end, the deeply complex character motivation was grounded to my core, and I took on the burden of their affliction. I felt battered and scarred, identifying with characters for the deep pain of their experiences. It’s easily one of the absolute best narrative experiences I have come across.
The writing was extremely clever. They inserted parallels in a way that only enhanced the story, never cheapened. They artfully employed “show, don’t tell” in a way that unveiled information in the most engaging rhythm. And while I was a little hesitant at first to be playing as Abby in the second half, I came to realize this wasn’t just to tell the other side of the story, but to have you feel how complex the situation and people are in this series of painful events. It allowed me to go from initially hating Abby to just feeling hollow and sad for everyone.
As for the gameplay, I found the enhancements and additions to the original title to be sufficient. Yes, it was similar. That’s ok. The prone position added a new dynamic to stealth that I enjoyed, some new weapons kept combat feeling fresh, and hand to hand fighting (and dodging) felt gritty and real.
The environments were truly magnificent. The Naughty Dog artists and designers continue to blow my mind. The joy of gazing on the environments, by itself, is enough reason for a second play through.
And then there is the polish. I always felt immersed into this world. Sure, you can tell it’s linear and “level based” when you run up against the edges of the environments, but there isn’t not much to be done about that.
In the days that followed my completion of this experience I continue to ponder the story. A true sign of a great work of art is when you have a lasting impression. It’s that feeling of when you walk out of the movie theatre and you spend hours rehashing what you just witnessed, and consider the deeper messages. When it comes to The Last of Us 2, there’s a ton of narrative elements one could parse out and overanalyze until the (real) world ends. Here are a few stand outs that really struck me:
Do you enjoy video game reviews but hate to read? I have you covered with these quick snippets. Enjoy.
Want more? Check out the previous sets of rapid reviews:
Brian Riggsbee lives in San Francisco CA. He enjoys gaming, writing, creating art, practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, chasing adorable dogs, and spending time with his wife and boy.