I'm a pretty big Pac-Man fan ever since the days I would spend my precious tokens on the Ms. Pac-Man machine at the local arcade. Last year I'd played and enjoyed Pac-Man Championship Edition on XBLA, and recently I've been playing the smartphone game Pac-Man 256.

The game is co-developed by Hipster Whale, who created the successful Frogger clone Crossy Road. I spent a bit of time with Crossy Road to see if it offered anything more than being a Frogger clone with retro graphics, and it doesn't at all, which is a pity. But that makes Pac-Man 256 all the more enjoyable, because Pac-Man 256 combines the Pac-Man games with Crossy Road and adds in new elements that serve to make it a fun experience.

Like every Pac-Man game, in Pac-Man 256 the main goal is to eat dots and defeat ghosts. Pac-Man 256 ramps up the action by incorporating auto-scrolling which forces you not to linger in an area for long, and also by giving a big bonus if you're able to eat 256 dots in a single unbroken chain. This turns out to be pretty challenging, as easier routes through the maze will invariably have a gap in them that will break your chain, as will backtracking to collect fruit (which gives you an often sizable bonus multiplier) or a power-up. The power-ups make the game feel like more than just another Pac-Man game, and there's a good variety, even though many are similar. You can use in-game coins to level up the power-ups, which make them last longer and earn you more points for defeating ghosts while they're active.

The game was and still is free to play, but it was initially released with more restrictions. Currently the game is much less restrictive and you can play as many times as you want. You can spend real money to buy coins which you can use to level up power-ups or change the skin of the game or continue once if you lose a life. As with most free-to-play games, you can earn coins at a slow pace for free by collecting the ones lying around on stages or completing simple missions such as "eat a certain number of cherries". There are some ads in the game, but they're not that intrusive. The game is played with swipe gestures on a touchscreen, which I usually dislike, but the controls are precise enough for the casual pace of the game. The fact that the variety of ghosts behave in clearly recognizable ways helps make the game more fun as well.

Pac-Man 256 has gotten high acclaim, and it's well-deserved. The gameplay is well thought out and a unique twist on the classic formula, and the visual design is great (the sound design is also particularly noteworthy). It's definitely more satisfying to clear a single Pac-Man board as in the classics than to "endlessly munch" as in this game, but Pac-Man 256 is still a game that I'll be coming back to in the future in order to finish unlocking the remaining power-ups, earning coins to level them up, and chasing my next high score.

I've been super slow about playing through the Bit.Trip series. I'd had mixed feelings when playing Bit.Trip Runner, but I'd played a little of Bit.Trip Beat in co-op mode not too long ago and was reminded that I needed to get back into it.

Although the game debuted on WiiWare, Wii's downloadable service, Bit.Trip Beat is way more enjoyable in its appearances on subsequent compilations. As before, I played it on the Wii compilation, which adds additional difficulty modes (easy and hard) for every game, as well as challenges and unlockable art, etc. The games were designed to be quite difficult, and even the easy modes aren't a total pushover.

If you're not already aware, Bit.Trip Beat is often described as a combination of Pong and a rhythm game, but as with Bit.Trip Runner the musical aspect of the game is more a feature that will help you with the gameplay, rather than something you have to be really conscious of. Beats come in the form of bits that travel from right to left, and you control your paddle on the left by holding the Wii Remote horizontally and rotating it on its long axis. The control scheme works extremely well and is a large part of what makes the game so enjoyable, and the Wiimote is sensitive enough to keep up with the game even when things get hectic.

The game starts off with you having to keep track of just one bit at a time, but pretty soon you'll be fending off waves of bits, many moving in unique patterns. Some of the bits' patterns seem a little unfairly complex. This and the game's high difficulty wouldn't be an issue, if the stages themselves weren't so long. Each stage is about fifteen minutes long, and it's incredibly frustrating to have to play through the majority of the stage over and over again only to get tripped up by something near the end of the stage. In fact, in this retrospective feature at NintendoLife the developers even admit that they "wish that we’d come up with some sort of checkpoint system".

The game's retro visuals and chiptune soundtrack go perfect together, although as with Runner, when things get busy on screen the background can get really distracting. The way Beat progresses is also pretty satisfying. Instead of having a set number of misses, you have two meters. One keeps track of the beats you hit, and one keeps track of your misses. If your hit meter fills up you go into "Mega" mode, where a multiplier increases your score. If your miss meter fills up you go into "Nether" mode, in which your two meters are reset and if your misses outnumber your hits then you get a game over. It's a little annoying that when you're in Mega mode your misses meter doesn't reset every time you fill up the hits meter, but otherwise it's a nice mechanic and a good way to reward good players with a multiplier while not overly punishing for mistakes, i.e. not requiring perfection.

Boss fights are underwhelming, but I suppose it's just as well that they're easy since the stages themselves are so difficult. The main complaint of the game at the time was that there are only three levels, but with three difficulty levels and several follow-up games with similar mechanics it's less of an issue nowadays. I enjoyed playing this game and the core idea is pretty brilliant. The levels feel too long and get a bit repetitive which prevents me giving the game top marks, but it was a gem on WiiWare for good reason and it still holds up today.

One of my favorite racing games of all time is F-Zero GX for GameCube, and although I've dipped into its predecessor, F-Zero X, for N64 several times, it was hard to regress from the perfection that was F-Zero GX.

I finally sat down and played through the three main cups (Jack, Queen, and King) and tried out the three main different difficulty levels (Novice, Standard, and Expert). I was relieved to see that the game is much more like F-Zero GX than the original SNES F-Zero game. F-Zero X introduces a whole batch of new drivers, vehicles, locales, music, and modes, and although the graphics are indeed pretty bare, the game runs completely smoothly and does provide a great sense of speed. So it's an improvement on the SNES game in every way, except for the fact that each cup is six tracks instead of five (although each race is three laps rather than five as in the original).

The game also introduces the ability to boost continuously from lap two on at the expense of your shields, and the ability to attack rivals. In this game attacks are more awkward to execute than the GameCube game (requiring multiple button presses instead of one), but they're still fun to do. The AI is much better in this game than in the original, and rival racers don't relentlessly attack you. There's a satisfying trade-off between boosting and having enough shield to survive bumping into the track barriers and other drivers, and there's a lot of nice variety in the tracks. The tracks with sections without barriers can get to be fairly frustrating on higher difficulty levels, though.

Basically the game feels like exactly what it is: a fun and enjoyable precursor to F-Zero GX that is inevitably overshadowed by that game's greatness. I've never been that into racing games, and as I've gotten older I've gotten even less inclined to play them as much as you need to in order to fully memorize all the tracks, but I enjoyed my time with F-Zero X and wouldn't mind picking it up again at some point.

The Dr. Mario series is another one of those Nintendo series that I continue to chip away because I'm a completist rather than because I'm a fan. I like puzzle games in general, but the core gameplay in Dr. Mario is a bit too finicky for me, due to the relatively high difficulty in setting up long combos. I enjoyed the Wii U entry, Dr. Luigi, which introduced new ideas for the first time in the series' history. The latest entry, Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure, for 3DS, adds power-ups for the first time.

The power-ups, which are activated by filling up a meter, are pretty standard fare for puzzle games and include bombs, items that clear a single row or column, and items that trip up your opponent. Aside from the power-ups, the gameplay is identical to Dr. Luigi, and you can play with the regular Dr. Mario pills (two pieces joined together) or the Dr. Luigi pills (four pieces joined together). There's a brief mission mode with 50 stages that basically serves as a sort of extended tutorial, and you can play the Dr. Mario or Dr. Luigi modes in classic mode (where each level requires you to clear a preset number of viruses), or endless mode (viruses are continuously added from the bottom of the level). There's also a vs. CPU option for each mode, although high scores aren't recorded in that case. Lastly, the game includes the "Virus Buster" mode as well, which is the touchscreen version of Dr. Mario that first debuted in the Brain Age series.

As seems to be more often the case than not with Nintendo series, Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure evolves the series in baby steps and isn't a particularly compelling game, especially if you've been playing every entry up to this point. The game feels very basic, and the user interface in particular seems extremely plain and a definite drop from the presentation of Dr. Luigi. Long-time Dr. Mario developer Arika has created another serviceable but forgettable entry in the series, and this entry gives every indication that Nintendo is content to let this series mosey along with an entry released on every platform but with minimal development effort, which is a pity.

Don't phone in these Dr. Mario: Miracle Cure links:
- Apparently Virus Buster is the only mode in the game that has levels that go over 20
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Entry at mariowiki.com

Heroes of Ruin for 3DS was released in the summer of 2012, a year and a few months after the system's launch, although it feels more like a launch game than that timing would suggest. Even six years later the game remains one of the few dungeon crawler multiplayer types of games for the system, and although there are some good things about it, the game feels extremely basic overall.

First, the things the game does well. The game lets you pick from four different character classes that all feel distinct, and you can customize their looks to some extent (hair, colors, etc.). I played mostly as "the Savage", a muscular brawler type, although I also played around a bit with the Gunslinger, who specializes in long-range attacks. The other two classes are the Vindicator (knight with high defense) and the Alchitect (basically a mage). Combat is fluid, and although you can't change your class in a single playthrough, the game does provide you with four save files so you can easily try out all four classes.

The character's attacks and special attacks are decently varied, and on every level-up you can customize your stat increases a bit by distributing points for attack, defense, and specials. Level-ups also provide you a point you can spend on powering up a special move or learning a new one, although with the level 30 cap there aren't enough points to unlock and power up all the specials.

The gameplay loop itself is extremely basic. You'll be spending the bulk of your time traversing extremely generic semi-randomized dungeons comprised of long corridors and dead-ends. Although there are ostensibly several different locales (e.g. forest vs. caves), they all feel exactly the same. The story is extremely generic, and it's told mostly through chatting with characters with mostly voiced dialogue and through 2-D cutscenes (made a little more lively via the game's stereoscopic 3-D effects). There are a number of generic optional sidequests that are mostly fetch quests (e.g. "get 6 of this item drop"), and there's also a steady stream of loot in the form of enemy drops and treasure chests, although it's annoying that most of the equipment you come across will be for a different class than your own since it's random. You can also buy weapons and armor in the town that you visit between forays into the dungeons, and equipment is ranked according to their rarity, mostly based on if they have built-in buffs (such as giving a status effect to the enemy) or not.

All of the extra equipment you accrue and special skills you unlock end up being pointless because the game is ridiculously easy. Health potions and potions to restore your special attacks are everywhere, and I pretty much never had to formulate any strategy around combat. The game supposedly scales the difficulty based on how many other people you're playing with, but I didn't notice any difference in the difficulty between playing solo or with two to four people online. It's quick and easy to join a game or have friends or random people join yours, but without any challenge or variety the game gets old really quickly. A difficulty option would have benefited the game tremendously, especially if coupled with a new game plus mode. It's a shame, because the core combat and dungeon crawling is decent, aside from the drab dungeons. As it is I would only recommend the game to people who are looking for a multiplayer online 3DS game, particularly if you're playing with pretty young players.

A few basic Heroes of Ruin links:
- Typical review, at Kotaku
- A more complimentary review, at NintendoLife
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Entry at howlongtobeat.com