It would be fascinating to take a peek inside of Edmund McMillen's mind, as the quirkiness of his first co-developed hit, Super Meat Boy, doesn't completely foreshadow the extreme (and somewhat glorious) infantile silliness of The Binding of Isaac, his second big hit (also co-developed). The game references Christianity in a very loose way that is sacrilegious to be sure, but so far removed from the source material that it's fairly inoffensive. Similarly, the game is also full of satanic references and scatological humor and fairly gory violence, but it's all so cartoony that it's entertaining rather than really disturbing.

The game is a roguelike that plays a lot like the 2D dungeons in the original Zelda games with the twin-stick shooting mechanics of games like Smash TV (in this game, the eponymous Isaac's tears serve as bullets). It's evolved from its humble Flash beginnings in 2011 and has been released in its "Rebirth" incarnation on all modern platforms. I played the Switch version, which includes all of the original's DLC, and apparently for Nintendo fans there are also 3DS and Wii U versions. The game is chock-full of items, although it's annoying that the game doesn't give you much information about how they work (although there are plenty of resources such as wikis to help you out online). Its level of difficulty is "old school" hard, but you can replay the same "seed" over and over again until you beat it rather than generating a different configuration every time. As with all roguelikes, because of the random generation some seeds are definitely going to be harder than others, and even the easier ones will take a fair amount of effort to beat. A large part of the game is learning enemies' behaviors and bosses' patterns, so your acccrued experience with the game does benefit you over time.

The game's extras take the form of daily challenges, unlockable characters with different abilities or handicaps, and extra floors with even harder bosses to challenge once you defeat "Mom", the first main boss. I started off not really liking the game much at first, but I got to like it much more as I got used to the mechanics and its unique aesthetics. It's kind of annoying having to look up the effects of everything, and a lot of them seem overly situational (i.e. not useful at all for a particular seed), but there's much more variety with the items than I had first expected. Because of the huge catalogue of items, there is a good amount of variety with the random generation, and a lot of replayability. I was happy to play a few seeds and move on, but I can see why fans return to the game over and over again. In the end I did have to tip my hat to the game and add it to my "greatest games of all time" for its unique personality, solid gameplay, and at times overwhelming number and variety of items. Not sure when I'll pick it up again, but it was definitely a memorable experience.

It should come as no surprise that even though I haven't been blogging, I've still been continuing to play Dance Dance Revolution games. I've been skipping around, so even though the last DDR game I blogged about was Dance Dance Revolution X, released on PlayStation 2 in 2008, I went back to where it all began, the original Dance Dance Revolution for PlayStation, which was the series' first North American home console release. I'd already played Konamix, the second PlayStation DDR game, and that one is based on the fourth arcade game's engine, whereas this one is based on the second arcade game's engine.

With that out of the way, there's actually not a whole more to say about this entry, even though it's the first North American home console release. The games in the DDR series are reliably consistent in terms of the gameplay (which, to be honest, doesn't change that much), and this game has some of the usual annoyances from these games. In particular, it's really annoying that you have to set the difficulty and scroll through all the songs every time you go into the main mode in order to get to the one you want, even if you just want to keep playing the same song continuously. Anyway, the difficulty can get pretty high (as in all the games), but the training mode is pretty much the same as always (i.e. pretty robust), so that definitely helps. Otherwise this is a solid DDR experience with a varied tracklisting and smooth gameplay, and you can't go wrong with even the first North American home console entry of a winning formula that has shown remarkable longevity. It's perhaps notable that this is the eleventh DDR game that I've blogged about, and that I'm looking forward to playing even more of them.

Dance more with these original Dance Dance Revolution links:
- GameFAQs has a nice (albeit not comprehensive) run-down of the DDR series.
- YouTube video with a nice preview of all the tracks in the game
- FAQs at GameFAQs

Wow. Has it really been five and a half months since my last post?? Work has definitely been crazy busy, but for the next few weeks at least I'll be trying to catch up on long overdue posts.

First off is Swap This!, a little release by Two Tribes, a developer I've been a fan of who were behind the Toki Tori puzzle games (most recently Toki Tori 2+ a try a few years ago, and more recently, the adventure space shooter Rive. Swap This! is a much more modest affair. It was originally a mobile phone release dating from January 2011, and its Switch incarnation was released in November 2018. The developers revealed in an AMA about the game on Reddit that the game is "a further developed version of a minigame in our Nintendo DS game Rubiks World", a release that I've dipped into a bit just because it was developed by them but haven't played much.

Anyway, on the surface the game looks like a typical match-3 puzzler, which generally fall into three camps: the deliberate combo-based type of puzzler like the Tetris Attack, aka Panel de Pon series, the more frantic, busy match-3 of a game such as Meteos, or the more mindless, luck-based mechanics of a game such as Pokemon Shuffle. In its main mode Swap This! definitely falls into the "frantic match-3" mechanics, although it does have a basic chaining system whereby after you've made a match you have a short amount of time to continue making matches. The game includes typical modes such as time attack (get the highest score you can in a limited amount of time) and stages, and the untimed puzzle mode tasks you with clearing a board with a finite number of moves.

All in all this was an enjoyable puzzle game, but in a very crowded sea of similar games this isn't one that's likely to make a splash and hold anyone's interest for that long. The visual design and general persentation isn't nearly as memorable as their other, more-recent games, and by appearing on Switch the game has to uncomfortably manage the dual personality platform. The game is clearly much more at home in handheld mode with touch controls, but it does include a controller-based TV mode as well, although with no difference in how it plays or how it's scored (you'd think it would keep a separate set of scores for what is clearly a big disadvantage in terms of input modes). Despite the mobile-like price point (the game can be picked up for a couple of bucks or less as it's often on sale), it's perhaps telling that the game got higher scores in its mobile incarnation than its Switch release as it makes more sense for the former. Enjoyable for a while, but not a keeper unfortunately.

 

Yes, I'm still alive! Even though it's already mid-February, I'm finally getting around to posting my look back at 2018. I've been super busy with work the past six months, so I haven't been able to keep up my previous one-game-a-week pace, or even blog that often. Things will gradually settle down (hopefully), but in any case I had a little bit of a breather so I thought I'd take a stab at catching up on things a bit.

Looking over the games I played in 2018 I'm pretty pleased that I finally got through games I've been trying to bring myself to finish for ages, such as SimCity (SNES), Heroes of Ruin (3DS), Pokemon Dash (DS), Minecraft (Wii U), and F-Zero X (N64), amongst others.

There was only one game that made it to my "greatest games of all time" list, and that was Shantae: Risky's Revenge (PC). I was feeling a bit generous in adding it to my list, but the game was such a big step above the original GBC game and so polished and fun that I didn't mind giving it that seal of approval. The other game I have to mention as a big highlight of my year was Fire Emblem Heroes. The game just hit its two-year anniversary, but despite all odds it continues to be my most-played game. Although accomplishing all the game's missions can be a grind at times, the steady rollout of new characters, features and modes, and Fire Emblem fanservice has kept me engaged the whole year. I'm not sure how things will progress through year three. The new storyline that started recently (book 3) takes the series in a unique direction in terms of aesthetic and tone, so I'm looking forward to seeing where that goes.

Here's the summary of what my 2018 looked like gaming-wise (games listed in approximate descending order) with links to each game’s corresponding blog review:

HIGH
- Shantae: Risky's Revenge (PC)

MEDIUM
- Super Smash Bros. Ultimate (Switch)
- Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)
- Yo-Kai Watch (3DS)
- Bonza (Android)
- Code Name: S.T.E.A.M. (3DS)
- F-Zero X (N64)
- Bit.Trip Beat (WiiWare)
- Minecraft: Wii U Edition (Wii U)
- Ketzal's Corridors (3DSWare)
- Bravely Default (3DS)
- Contra Rebirth (WiiWare)
- Stretchmo (3DSWare)
- Yoshi's Woolly World (Wii U)
- Dance Dance Revolution X (PS2)
- Newer Super Mario Bros. (Wii)
- Just Dance 3 (Wii)
- Pac-Man 256 (Android)
- 1-2 Switch (Switch)
- Mario Bros. (NES)
- Wario World (GameCube)
- Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time (DS)
- Tetris 2 (NES)
- Karaoke Revolution (PS2)
- Dragalia Lost (Android)
- Lightbot (Android)
- Pokemon Dash (DS)
- Zen Pinball 3D (3DSWare)
- Belladonna (PC)
- Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure (3DSWare)
- Astro Bears Party (Switch eShop)
- Final Fantasy Adventure (GB)
- Heroes of Ruin (3DS)

LOW
- Human Resource Machine (PC)
- Galaxian (Arcade)
- Bit.Trip Presents... Runner2: Future Legend of Rhythm Alien (Steam)
- Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles in Time (SNES)
- Fortnite (Switch)
- SimCity (SNES)

NOT RATED
- Crossy Bird (Android)

This past year I had two non-game-review posts, one on the enjoyable Power Pros Podcast, and the other on the first volume of the Splatoon manga.

In terms of stats, I played quite a bit on 3DS (full games and downloadable), but otherwise I did a pretty good job of dividing my time between different genres and old and new games. Looking to this year, I'm definitely looking forward to the release of Fire Emblem: Three Houses, the first console Fire Emblem game since 2007's Radiant Dawn, and the recent Nintendo Direct has reassured me that there's plenty more to look forward to in 2019 as well.

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! ;)

I'm quite a bit behind, but before I wrapped up my thoughts on 2018 I did want to squeeze in one more review, namely, the titanic Super Smash Bros. Ultimate for Switch. The game is obviously massive, featuring every single fighter from the previous games plus a number of new ones, and practically every stage and item as well.

There are some tweaks to the other modes (which of course must play second fiddle to the pure bliss of the core smashing experience), but the most notable addition is "spirits", which are featured front and center in "World of Light", this iteration's adventure mode. Spirits function much the way that stickers did in Super Smash Bros. Brawl in that they offer bonuses (e.g. immunity to fire hazards) but you're limited to a small number active at any one time. The spirits feature beloved artwork from the whole of not only Nintendo's history, but the featured 3rd parties as well, and you win a spirit via a battle with special twists. The spirit battles themselves are in general fun nods to other games, although, as you might imagine, some of the gimmicks are more frustrating than fun. The "World of Light" mode itself is huge and features tons of spirits, maps to explore, as well as more-involved "dungeons" that evoke famous environments from other games (not to mention a satisfying number of fun boss fights). Nintendo has also been presenting special limited-time events similar to Splatoon's Splatfests in which certain spirits appear more often (for example, Fire Emblem characters). Already three new Spirits have been added to the game via these events, and as long as they don't occur too often, these should be a nice way to keep drawing completists back to the game.

Classic modes also gets a nice shake-up in that each character has a unique sequence of fights to battle through. There are a couple of new tweaks to regular local versus mode, such as the addition of the ability to save custom settings and also to set up a series of bouts where you and your opponent select a team of unique fighters to use as your stock lives (rather than all the stocks being the same fighter as in a normal match).

The new characters aren't super unique, but they're worthy additions. The inclusion of "echo" fighters that are little more than costume changes seems a little unnecessary. Still, Daisy as a Peach clone is better than no Daisy at all, so I guess I should be grateful for what we did get. The game includes all the DLC from the previous title, and we have new DLC to look forward to throughout this year.

Every Smash Bros. game has a lot to live up to, and even though Ultimate was presented as more of a "deluxe" version rather than a completely new iteration, it absolutely feels like a complete and deep experience. When a new Smash Bros. game gets released I always wonder how the series can continue to grow, and with the last few really iconic video game characters like Simon Belmont and the Inklings finally joining the fray, I wouldn't mind the series taking an extended break so I can make some progress in gaining aptitude with even a fraction of the game's huge roster. Either way this is a game that's going to be in regular rotation for a very, very long time.

Smashing Super Smash Bros. Ultimate links:
- The official site has tons of info about the game, and has a videos section that includes all the Smash directs and the new fighter intro videos
- Guide to the various ways you can unlock all the characters
- Just for fun, cool GIFs of a guy recreating various victory animations from the game
- Review at NintendoLife