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Another year, another pile o' games played. Last year I'd played more handheld games than console games, and although this year I played about the same number of games on handhelds and consoles, in terms of hours I played a ton on my 3DSes. I sunk a lot of time into a few games in particular, including two of my favorite games of the year, Hyrule Warriors on Wii U (not to mention getting sucked into its 3DS version, Hyrule Warriors Legends, and spending way too much time on that), and Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest on 3DS. Both of the Fire Emblem Fates games were enjoyable, and the games really refined the new mechanics introduced in Awakening, their predecessor. I also finally got into the Monster Hunter series and put a lot of hours into Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (also on Wii U). [Spoiler alert: I've actually also put many hours into Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate, and that will actually be my first review of 2017.]

In between those long games, I played a lot of short games, and Threes became the first smartphone game to crack my "favorite games of all time" list. I was happy to finally finish Pikmin 2, and was pleasantly surprised that I got immediately sucked into Pikmin 3, so much so that it actually is at the top of my favorite games I played this past year. Rounding out the notable accomplishments was finishing the last Art Style DSi game, the fantastic Art Style: Zengage. I also finally finished the second Phoenix Wright game and the next Mega Man game (#3). (In both cases it took me some eight years to accomplish these feats!) Also noteworthy for this past year was the release of Nintendo's first smartphone game, Miitomo, which I enjoyed and which I continue to dip into now and then, and the free DLC added to Animal Crossing: New Leaf, which I've played quite a bit of, but not quite enough to post about it yet.

Here's the summary of what my 2016 looked like gaming-wise (games listed in approximate descending order) with links to each game’s corresponding blog review:

HIGH
- Pikmin 3 (Wii U)
- Hyrule Warriors (Wii U)
- Fire Emblem Fates: Conquest (3DS)
- Threes (Android)
- Art Style: Zengage (DSiWare)

MIDDLE
- Pikmin 2 (GCN)
- Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS) (replay; previous 2012)
- Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate (Wii U)
- Super Mario Maker (Wii U)
- Hyrule Warriors Legends (3DS)
- LostWinds (WiiWare)
- Persona 3 (PS2)
- Fire Emblem Fates: Birthright (3DS)
- Toki Tori 2+ (Wii U Ware)
- Nintendo Badge Arcade (3DSWare)
- DDRMAX2 Dance Dance Revolution (PS2)
- DDRMAX Dance Dance Revolution (PS2)
- Five Nights at Freddy's (Android)
- Cut the Rope Free (Android)
- Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! (DS)
- BoxBoy! (3DSWare)
- SteamWorld Heist (3DSWare)
- Just Dance 2 (Wii) (replay; previous 2012)
- DuckTales (NES)
- Wii Sports Club (Wii U)
- New York Times Crosswords (DS)
- Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon (3DS)
- The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes (3DS)
- Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer (3DS)
- Mega Man 3 (NES)
- Dance Dance Revolution Extreme (PS2)
- Streetpass Mii Plaza Games: Set 3 (3DSWare)
- Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All (DS)
- Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition (3DS)
- Pokémon Picross (3DSWare)
- Steel Diver: Sub Wars (3DSWare)
- 10000000 (Android)
- Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival (Wii U)
- Soul Calibur II (GCN)
- Retro Game Challenge (DS)

LOW
- Pokémon Dream Radar (3DSWare)
- Halo: Combat Evolved (Xbox)
- Pokemon Rumble Blast (3DS)
- Castlevania II: Simon's Quest (NES)
- Thomas Was Alone (Wii U Ware)
- Scribblenauts (DS)

NOT RATED
- Miitomo (iOS)
- Wii Street U (Wii U)

Outside of games played, this year I also posted two lists (Favorite Miscellaneous Games, Part 1 (games released 1978 through 2003) and Favorite Puzzle Games), and I also posted two playlists of some video game music I like (the first in October and the other just a few days ago).

Looking ahead, I have several games that I'm just about ready to finish off, so I'll have plenty to post in the new year. Now that I've taken a bit of a break from Fire Emblem I'm looking forward to finishing the third part, and also dipping into the DLC. I'm also looking forward to playing Pokemon Sun/Moon and finishing some other games and series that I've had on my "to play" list for far too long. Of course I'm hyped for the release of the Switch in March (and particularly hyped for the possibility of some new characters sneaking their way into Smash Bros.), although I'm still not sure how much I'm going to be into the new Zelda game. And 2017 should also see the release of Nintendo's next mobile games, for the Fire Emblem and Animal Crossing series, and it will be very interesting to see how their unique take on mobile continues.

That's it for another year in review. As always, thanks as always to anyone who’s stumbled across my little patch of cyberspace and found it even mildly diverting, and welcome to another full year of video games at the Intergalactic Video Game Academy! ;)

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I played 2048 a couple of years ago and I enjoyed it, although it seemed pretty basic and rather luck-based. At that time I'd read up on the game it was based on, called Threes. The two seemed pretty much the same in that the core gameplay is identical (pair up tiles to combine them and try to get the highest tile (and score) possible), so I didn't feel the need to rush and track down the original. But now having played both, it's clear that 2048 is an imitation of the real thing.

Threes is extremely polished and fun to play just on a visceral level. The presentation, sound effects, and background music are great, and the game shows you which tile is coming up next, which completely changes the way you approach it. I don't know how much the order of the tiles given to you is the same in both games, but the pacing of Threes seems way better. Basically tiles come in cycles of three main phases: 1 and 2 tiles (the lowest level), groups of 3 tiles, and every once in a while a higher tile that is selected from a set (e.g. 6 12 24) but is random. This pacing is clearly well tested and thought out and balanced, and the game has a really nice progression where in the first phase the board fills up quickly, but then they get cleared out in a satisfying way.

It's easy to waste hours playing Threes, and it's too bad that I recently posted my list of Favorite Puzzle Games of All Time, because somewhat to my surprise, Threes has earned a spot on my list. It's another super elegant, addicting, fun, and satisfying game, and it's currently free on Amazon's App Store, so there's no reason for puzzle fans to not pick it up and try it out.

Still-relevant links can be found on my post about 2048.

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Despite many, many attempts, it's taken me six and a half years to finally finish Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney - Justice for All, the second Phoenix Wright game (on DS). Although I appreciate games that have more of a narrative and I'd enjoyed the colorful characters and wackiness of the first game, I just find the pace of the games to be soooooo sloooooow. If there were options to speed up the pace of the text display that would help a lot (you can fast forward through text, but only after you've endured its glacial place once). The game mechanics are still effective, but as is par for the course for games of this genre, the game's skewed logic can be maddening; there were quite a few times when I was left just blindly guessing which item I was supposed to present next. The triggers to get the next thing to happen, whether it be while investigating or in the courtroom, also oftentimes seem completely arbitrary, e.g. you'll have to revisit an area you've already been to in order to get a character to appear.

For the most part the frustrations weren't much worse than the first game, but I did wish there were a little more in the way of innovation in this sequel. The game adds a new element to the investigation portions called "Psyche Locks" which are basically the same as the courtroom mechanics in that you scrutinize a characters' claims and present contradicting evidence. These make investigations a bit more active, but otherwise there wasn't much that kept me engaged, other than some new endearing characters and some reveals of Phoenix's frenemy Miles Edgeworth's backstory and a development of the relationships between Phoenix and characters introduced in the first game.

I don't have high hopes for the third entry in the series as it seems like it will be more of the same, but I'm not dreading it either. The series may not be among my favorites, but the games I've played so far are enjoyable overall. I ended up feeling like I would enjoy Phoenix Wright more as a manga or anime series, but for now I'll stick with the games and hope that the third entry has at least some surprises in store.

Still-relevant links can be found in my post about the first game in the series.

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Even though I'd obsessively played Hyrule Warriors just over six months ago, I picked up the 3DS version, Hyrule Warriors Legends, pretty soon afterwards. I hadn't been planning on playing it that much, and for a while I just dipped into occasionally to slog through some of the story missions. For people like me who have already poured tons of hours into the Wii U version, it was more than a little daunting to have to start back at zero. But more than that, there was a definite problem with pacing in that the new Linkle stages are few and far between: they're spread out throughout the story mode, so you can't just play them all from the get go. Similarly, the new Wind Waker stages are tacked on to the very end of the story mode, which was also disappointing. On top of that, you can't really dive deep into Adventure Mode, the real draw of this game and the Wii U game for me, because although Toon Link and Medli are unlocked from the beginning, you can't bulk them up with badges until you get to the Wind Waker stages, which makes tackling missions featuring them not really worth it. It's also disappointing that the adventure mode maps only unlock after you beat the previous one, but it makes sense in terms of setting the pace of this version of the game.

So there's a lot of delayed gratification until you do get through the end of story mode. Once I'd gone through all that, then playing through the Wind Waker stages and unlocking all of those new characters was pretty fun (as are the other two new characters, Linkle and Skull Kid). That Wind Waker content also includes two new stages and two new bosses. The game does have some twists on the gameplay seen in the Wii U version, the most obvious being the abilities to switch between characters in some missions, and to warp to different parts of the map. There are also the "My Fairy" features, which are kind of fun. In that you outfit your fairies with clothing to boost their elemental abilities, and you feed them to unlock special abilities, the most useful of which by fair is the one that restores the health of an allied keep. The fairies also enable you to use a ridiculous magic-based nuke attack that clears out scores of enemies in one blast. The downside is that it makes the focus attack abilities (the previous sole use of magic) much less useful, and a lot of missions become way easier than they were before. Also, food drops end up competing with weapon and material drops, which is a bummer as getting good drops tends to be low probability anyway. It's also disappointing that you can only hold nine fairies at a time, which makes it sort of pointless that there are five fairies to find in every adventure mode map.

I ended up getting completely sucked into the game and playing it obsessively, and I'm up to 65+ hours with all characters and level 1 weapons unlocked, and a big chunk of the first adventure map missions completely done (highest rank and all items collected), and the first section of the second adventure map completed. Speaking of which, the second adventure map, which is based on Wind Waker, mostly consists of "defeat X enemies" missions, so it feels fairly repetitive. I found it was best to mix things up with the story mode (which has the warp mechanics) with the first adventure mode map (which doesn't include the warp mechanics). Linkle's main weapons (the crossbows) adds a new unique mechanic to the game, but the other new characters don't feel that unique.

I played on a New 3DS XL so I can't say anything about people's complaints about how it runs on a regular 3DS, but it worked pretty well, despite feeling rather cramped, with very rare slow down. Lana's summoning gate weapon gets downgraded to just summoning a sphere for its attacks since the 3DS didn't have the horsepower to summon fully animated monsters as in the Wii U version, but otherwise it didn't feel like there were many concessions from it being ported from the Wii U version. The game feels easier overall, in part because the first adventure mode map only unlocks level 1 weapons, and also because of the new mechanics, such as warping and the fairy nukes. It's nice to have a portable version of the game, but I am looking forward to playing the Wii U version on an HD screen again.

I feel less compelled to get the DLC for this version of the game than i did for the Wii U game. The Wii U DLC (all of which is included here) introduced a lot of fun new characters and weapons and adventure mode mechanics, whereas I'm not very excited about the 3DS DLC content, aside from Marin from Link's Awakening. I'll probably get it eventually, but I hadn't played with the Wii U DLC characters much before, so I enjoyed spending time with them. I continue to be astounded at how many hours I've poured into these two games despite the repetitiveness of the gameplay, but I'm glad I can finally set this game aside for now so that I can finish other games that have been begging me to play them for ages. We'll have to see how long I can hold out before getting sucked back into the world of Hyrule Warriors and Hyrule Warriors Legends...

Don't delay with these Hyrule Warriors Legends links:
- Some relevant links can be found in my previous post about the Wii U version
- The official site includes some wallpapers
- Launch trailer
- Entry at zeldawiki.org
- Interview with the producer on Marin's inclusion
- FAQ on GameFAQs
- Review at NintendoLife

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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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