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I'm near the end of a few games, but rather than rush through them I thought I'd finally get around to my second post in my series of favorite games of all time (the first post, from March (!) is here). Unlike the first post, which was just miscellaneous games, this one is thematic and is my list of favorite puzzle games. As before, this isn't meant to be comprehensive as it's impossible to play all the great games out there, but these are ones I've come across in my game playing journey and that I've found to be indispensable.


Intergalactic Video Game Academy's Favorite Games of All Time: Puzzle Games

Art Style: Aquia (DSiWare, 2008). I'm starting off my list of favorite puzzle games with three completely distinct puzzle games in skip Ltd.'s amazing Art Style series. The Art Style games are all unique and supremely polished and mathematically elegant, and Aquia is a great example. I usually prefer my puzzle games to have combo mechanics, and on the surface the game looks like a simple match 3 type of game. However, the steady progression of new elements is deeply satisfying and the Lumines-like presentation is top notch. I played this addictively for hours when I first downloaded it, and I'm happy to say it wasn't the only great game in the series.
Art Style: Boxlife (DSiWare, 2009). To me one of the most amazing things about the Art Style series isn't just how uniformly great all the games are, but how different they are. Boxlife is a sort of tangram like experience, where you take on the role of a factory worker tasked with cutting up the board into pieces and then folding them into boxes. The game is the most charming game in the series and an incredibly charming game in general, and as with the other Art Style games its presentation is supremely polished. As with the best puzzle games it's easy to pick up and hard to put down, and it also has a satisfying progression in difficulty. At the time I wrote, "the pixel-perfect precision of the controls really make this an experience as opposed to just another puzzle game", and as with other games in the series it's hard to imagine it succeeding at all on most other platforms. Although it gets maddening at the very end (the most difficult part of the game), the majority of the experience is a lot of fun. Another definite recommendation.
Art Style: Zengage (DSiWare, 2009). This was the last of the DSi Art Style games that I played, and I was surprised that it ended up also being one of my favorites. This game is designed to be a more serene experience (to start with anyway), and the first part of the game feels rather like playing a 2-D version of a Rubik's Cube. As someone who has never been very good at Rubik's Cubes (or interested in being good at them), it took me a while to warm up to the game, but soon the game shifted focus to be more on mastering the various new mechanics that are introduced, such as tiles that can't be moved. As with the other games in the series, this game feels very compact and doesn't have a ton of levels, but the experience is still extremely polished and satisfying. Another great puzzle game from skip Ltd., and here's hoping that the series gets the recognition it deserves at some point in the future.
Tetris (Game Boy, 1989; originally 1984). Moving on to other puzzle games, of course Tetris, the grandpappy of them all, would have to be on my list of favorites. I continue to play various iterations in the series, but the original is still a classic, despite being in greeny black and white. This is one of those games that needs no intro, as anyone who's every picked up any version of it knows how incredibly addictive and fun it is. Very few puzzle video games have become part of pop culture, but this one deserves all the recognition it's gotten over the years. Elegantly simple, hugely influential, and still just as enjoyable as it ever was.
Tetris Attack (aka Panel de Pon, aka Puzzle League) (SNES, 1996; originally 1995). The success of Tetris quickly led to all sorts of similar games, but Tetris Attack helped push the genre forward. Other games had introduced combo systems, but Tetris Attack took combos to a new level where you don't just set up chains and let 'er rip, you can actually keep a combo going by quickly maneuvering blocks into place as other ones are falling. Masters can clear entire boards in one move and create absurdly long chains. I certainly can't count myself among that elite crowd, but I do feel like every time I pick it up my skills improve. This is another one of those games that gets rereleased regularly (the most recent being a surprise inclusion in the Animal Crossing: New Leaf update), but the original version (outside of Japan, anyway) is still one of the best iterations and features a cute Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island setup.
Pushmo (3DSWare, 2011). You'd think by now that it would be hard to come up with a great puzzle title, but Intelligent Systems makes it look so easy. Pushmo is unique in that it's a puzzle game in which you move a character around the 3-dimensional board. In this case you're tasked with helping the main character, Mallo, climb to the top of the level by pushing and pulling parts of it to form staircases. It's a wonderfully creative idea and a lot of fun. It made great use of the 3DS's stereoscopic capabilities, and is one of the few puzzle games that has great user-creation features as well. Its sequel, Crashmo, is also a great game, and although I keep forgetting to try out its follow-up, Stretchmo, I'm definitely looking forward to it.
Toki Tori (GBC, 2001). I'm not entirely sure where I heard about Toki Tori, but as a fan of The Adventure of Lolo, this was an easy draw. The game is superbly designed, and although the number of game elements is very small, the variety of puzzles is surprising and very satisfying. The presentation is fantastic (the main character is very endearing), and the difficulty progression is spot on. I'm looking forward to playing the game's remake (some day...), and athough the sequel is less polished, it was also still a lot of fun.

Honorable Mentions:

That's it for now. We'll have to see what other puzzle games make it onto my list in the future. ;)

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For my "exertainment" gaming I've been taking a break from the Dance Dance Revolution games and I went back to the Just Dance series for a change, in particular Just Dance 2 on Wii. I'm surprised it's been some four and a half years since I first posted about the game. Reading my old post I'm surprised I spoke so positively about it, because although I did have a very positive impression of the game overall, I did have some frustrations with it as well.

Perhaps my surprise is due to my current experience coloring my judgement of the game, though. This time around I focused on getting the highest rank (scores over 100k = 5 stars) in the songs I played, whereas last time I'd been content just to get the 4 star ranking in all the songs. Getting the highest rankings generally takes a lot of trial and error, even when you've adjusted to the fact that the game doesn't want you to match the hand movements of the on-screen choreography; instead you're expected to keep your hand as a fist holding the Wii remote. There were quite a few songs where even after many repeated attempts I was still unable to figure out how the game wanted me to perform some of the moves. The game categorizes songs into three levels on the "sweat" meter, and oddly enough getting the top ranking on the sweat level three songs is way easier than on the sweat level one songs. The reason is because there are many more movements, so if you can't figure out what the game wants you to do for one or two sections you can still make up the points in the other sections. For the lower sweat level songs you really have to be able to get "Good" or "Perfect" ratings on pretty much all the moves, and there's little room for error. This requirement for perfection is frustrating in games in general, and pretty darn frustrating in this game in particular.

That said, the game was still fun overall, and so far I've been able to get the highest ranking on just over half of the game's 44 songs. This time around the choreography didn't bother me as much as last time, i.e. it either wasn't quite as cheesy as I remembered, or my tolerance for cheesy choreography has increased. It surprised me that the most recent iteration, Just Dance 2017, was not only released on Wii, a system that hasn't seen a game release in quite some time, but that that version of the game was the best selling of all the platforms it was released on, at least for its first week. I enjoyed my time with this game enough this time around that I actually picked up its immediate sequel, Just Dance 3. I'm really not expecting much from it in the way of innovation, but at least it'll be nice to have a new set of songs to sweat to (and look like an idiot to, haha).

Just dance again with these Just Dance 2 links:
- Some relevant links can be found in my previous post about the game
- Review at IGN
- Entry at Metacritic

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I'd been super impressed with how polished and enjoyable Image & Form's 3DS release Steamworld Dig was, and so was keeping tabs on their follow-up, Steamworld Heist. The game is set in the same universe as Dig, but has completely new gameplay. Heist is a 2-D strategy game, but the view is like a side-scroller rather than the typical grid-based top-down view of games like my beloved Fire Emblem series, etc. The game is as polished as Dig, and in it you command an army of sharp shootin' steambot space pirates (who can also get up close and personal with melee attacks). The gameplay involves gunfights across various space vessels (many of which are procedurally generated), and there's a slew of weapons and items to equip. I tended to go for the weapons with laser sights, because with them it's much easier to pull off tricky ricocheted shots, but there are a number of other worthwhile weapon types as well.

The steam mechanics recall the sadly ignored Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (by Intelligent Systems and also for 3DS), but the they definitely don't feel redundant. Both games feel less precise than the more-traditional strategy games in that you have to not just position yourself correctly, but also execute your attacks with good aiming and timing. Heist has the added issue that you don't have all of the info about the enemies' movement ranges, etc. at your disposal, but otherwise the game mechanics work pretty well.

The game is divided into three worlds, and I got through the first world pretty quickly and without a lot of effort. I started playing around with using other characters (each with their own character-specific abilities and bonuses) and making use of the adjustable difficulty settings and so was enjoying the game more, but the strategy doesn't change much at all from map to map. The game isn't as immediately gratifying as Dig and things started feeling repetitive even before the halfway mark. There are gameplay goals to reach in every level (pick up all the loot, no deaths, etc.) and they give incentive to replay levels, and there's a built-in level cap so you can't grind to breeze through the harder levels.

All in all I enjoyed my time with Steamworld Heist, but despite its polish in both presentation and gameplay it didn't hit the heights of Dig. The game is coming out as a physical disc for Wii U with the DLC included and the remastered Steamworld Dig in a little more than a week, which is nice to see. I may pick this up again at some point, but this is case where I was happy to play this game, but I'm more looking forward to seeing what the developers come up with next.

Pull off these Steamworld Heist links:
- Official site
- Official trailer
- DLC trailer
- The game is also available on Steam
- Guide, on Steam with details on collecting all the hats and weapons
- Page on Miiverse
- Review at NintendoLife

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I generally don't pay that much attention to smartphone games since they tend to be pretty disposable, but when I started noticing kids wearing Five Nights at Freddy's t-shirts (not to mention the huge amount of other merchandise, including toys, figurines, board games, and even books!) I figured it was probably time to find out what all the fuss was about. I'd also seen Star Fox Guard compared to it, which was another motivation for checking it out. I picked up the Android version, although it's also available on iOS and PC, including Steam.

I wasn't expecting much, so I was pleasantly surprised that the game is actually well designed. You're tasked with keeping watch over security cameras and not get attacked by a group of possessed and bloodthirsty animal mascots, and the gameplay is simplistic but addictive, and the setup is fun. The story, such as it is, is entertaining, and the graphics and sound effects are also good (although the jump scare when you lose is rather too loud, especially since you'll be seeing it a lot). The game goes by at a decent pace for the first four nights, but even though I felt like I had more or less mastered the game mechanics, the fifth night seemed too luck-based and I ended up having to abandon it. I enjoyed the rest of my time with the game, though, and I really enjoyed the uniqueness of the game, so it didn't drop in my esteem too much overall. It seems like the follow-ups add more variations to the game mechanics at the expense of simplicity. I'm not too interested in checking them out, but I have a free copy of the second game so I'll probably play through that one at least... eventually!

Two nights of fun with these two Five Nights at Freddy's links:
- Entry on Wikipedia
- According to an analysis by YouTube the game is one of the most popular video games around the globe

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One more 3DS game! Being a Nintendo completist can be a chore sometimes, and Pokemon Rumble Blast for 3DS is a case in point. I played the first game in the spin-off series a few years ago, and even though I found it to be completely mindless and insipid, I figured it was time to slog through the next entry.

The 3DS entry is basically the same as its predecessor, except that instead of being limited to the generation I and IV Pokemon, this game lets you catch all of them (up to the point it was released, anyway). As before, The Pokémon Company's take on a beat 'em up is completely mechanical and uninspired, with levels of two types: linear paths to a single large boss 'mon, and arena "free for all" brawl challenges. The environments are basically interchangeable (although they did add a couple new ones, like a castle setting and a treetop setting, for a very slight change of pace); the attacks aren't particularly distinct; and the toy Pokémon are still blocky and generally unappealing. This time around there's a modicum of a story and various town hubs (although again, they're bland and pretty much interchangeable). The arena challenges to mix things up a bit, as they have different requirements for entry (e.g. only use Pokémon of a certain type are allowed), but otherwise they too are pretty mindless and same-y.

Only the youngest and/or most die-hard of Pokémon fans are going to actually want to pour in the hours required to "catch 'em all". The Pokémon Company followed this up with a Wii U downloadable game focused solely on arena battles, and the free-to-play Pokémon Rumble World, also on 3DS. I've played both, and Pokémon Rumble World is easily the most engaging of the lot, but that's really not saying much. I'm sure I'll get around to playing both of those and giving them a closer look eventually, but for now I'm happy that I get to cross this one off my completist list.

Shake these Pokemon Rumble Blast links:
- Official site. Includes a complete listing of where to find every Pokemon in the game.
- Entry at Bulbapedia, which includes passwords
- Entry at howlongtobeat.com
- Page on Miiverse
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry at Metacritic

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