Undertale is a game that has gotten tons of hype (even getting recognition from Nintendo in the form of being included in Smash Bros. as a Mii costume!), so I was interested in checking it out. I'm not a fan of really long, drawn-out RPGs, but this game is pretty compact and doesn't wear out its welcome (my very chill playthrough took around ten hours, I think), although somehow it still ends up feeling a little short. Part of that may be that it's very linear and you don't revisit any previous locations at all, and also the areas are all very basic with not much in the way of puzzles or challenges. You also don't level up in the same type of a way as a traditional RPG, so it's a little hard to gauge your progress.

The game's offbeat take on the RPG genre is apparently heavily indebted to an "anti-RPG" game released in 1997 called Moon, which was made by a Japanese indie developer (before indie development was even really a thing). Like Moon, Undertale has you questioning the fact you're battling your way through a peaceful kingdom of so-called monsters. The battle system in Undertale is unique in that although you select commands in a traditional RPG fashion, you respond to enemies' attacks by dodging them in a bullet hell-like setup. When confronted by two enemies of different types you have to deal with both enemies' attack patterns simultaneously. It sounds complicated, but it actually works really well, and is one of the highlights of the game. I think a lot of people have been drawn to the music, retro graphics, quirky characters, and quirky writing, and I enjoyed all of those elements, although the writing was occasionally a little too self-referential and cutesy for my taste. The other main highlight for me, however, is the ending, which comes a bit from left field and is very memorable.

The game also has some replayability in the form of alternate endings, some of which would really require you to use a FAQ to get through, but I don't have any interest in exploring those. The developer, Toby Fox, has put out the first part of the follow-up to the game, called DELTARUNE, as a free demo. I tried it out, but it seemed just like more of the same (although I like that he's remixed a lot of the same characters), so I'm not particularly anticipating its release. Maybe by the time it rolls around I'll be more interested in it, but for now this was an enjoyable game that for me didn't quite live up to its hype.

The Pokémon Company continues to milk their cash cow and churning out new Pokemon spin-offs. The latest Pokemon puzzle game is Pokémon Café Mix, released this past June and available on smartphone and Switch (in touchscreen/handheld mode only). I have to say I wasn't looking forward to yet another mobile game to have to log in to daily, but this game has actually kept my attention pretty well. Unlike most other puzzle games that involve connecting adjacent pieces of the same type such as this game's predecessor Pokémon Shuffle, which was a pretty average match 3 type of game, Pokémon Café Mix uses physics mechanics and you can drag pieces around like jellybeans in a jar in a fairly realistic way. I was worried that these mechanics would be too non-deterministic to be enjoyable, but they actually provide a good change of pace compared to most other puzzle games.

The art style is cutesy but inviting, and you can recruit cute versions of Pokemon, each with their own special abilities (although most of them are pretty similar). Each stage has you solving a puzzle in order to make a cute Pokemon-inspired dish, and gimmicks in terms of stage hazards pop up at a regular pace (e.g. honey blocks which spawn an additional honey block every turn that they're not cleared and sugar blocks that require several elements to be cleared next to them before they disappear), and although I haven't spent any money on the game I've made continuous progress. The times I've gotten stuck I've been able to use items that I've saved up, and the game has added a few new, worthwhile features since it debuted. One is a way that you can play extra levels beyond the regular progression in order to earn stars to increase your friendship with Pokemon a little more easily. Another is the limited-time appearance of new Pokemon to recruit. A couple of months ago they also added a team mode where the stars you earn contribute to a team goal of earning items and recruiting a limited-time Pokemon. Overall I've been pleasantly surprised at how this game has turned out, and I've been fine with getting roped into playing it in order to get the limited-time Pokemon. I'm not sure that I'll ever need to spend any money on it, but five months in it's been an enjoyable experience so far.

It's hard to believe that Grand Theft Auto III was released on PS2 more than 19 years ago. Having played the original Grand Theft Auto just prior to playing this one the core gameplay of driving around to do missions felt familiar to me from the 2D games, but the shift to three dimensions definitely makes the game much more compelling. Almost two decades later the violence seems relatively tame and the open-world aspects don't pack nearly the same punch, but I can see what the initial mass appeal of the game was.

As with the original, in Grand Theft Auto III you can go up to any car that you want and steal it, and in this game there's a good variety of options including taxis (providing a Crazy Taxi-like mode), ambulances (which also provides a change of "gears"), and some huge rigs. As in the original, you can also go on the crime spree of your dreams and run around shooting anyone you want. Unlike the original in this game there is a story, and it involves rival gangs and working your way up the ranks. The story and characters are pretty stock and not particularly memorable, and the missions that I got through didn't have a ton of variety either. Also, as in the original, cop chases usually don't usually go well and are kind of annoying, but there aren't really any penalties for dying or getting busted, which alleviates some of the tedium of having to repeatedly retry some of the more finicky missions, some of which require try-and-die memorization. There are some minor combat options on foot, which are kind of slow and annoying, but the main focus of the game is definitely on the driving.

As someone who greatly prefers plot and characters to open world games I wasn't particularly drawn into Grand Theft Auto III, and I didn't find the realistic cityscape or the gang life compelling either. I can't really say I have much interest in trying out any of the other games in the series, although I can appreciate this game's historical significance. The entry on DS was one of the few in the series that have appeared on a Nintendo console, and it got great reviews even though it featured a return to a 2D top-down perspective. I'm a big fan of Nintendo's handhelds, including the DS, so I'll definitely have to give that a spin at some point.

I remember being caught up in the hype around Super Mario Bros. 3 and playing it obsessively when it released back in 1990, and I have vague memories of being similarly hyped for the movie The Wizard. In the days before the Internet the movie provided a glimpse of one of the most highly anticipated Nintendo releases ever, so despite its weak plot the movie did fairly well at the box office. I'd been putting off having to spend time with it, but my curiosity won out and I finally watched it not too long ago.

The movie isn't terrible, but it's definitely not much more than a movie-length commercial for the NES and Universal Studios. There's a "pinball wizard" type of main character, Fred Savage and Christian Slater as his half-brothers, and a feisty "wise beyond her years" love interest. The actors take a definite back seat to the gameplay that is shown which includes bits from popular and now-classic NES games (many third party) such as Ninja Gaiden and Double Dragon. The obscure accessory the Power Glove also makes an infamous appearance accompanied by a now-classic quote, "I love the Power Glove. It's so bad."

Thirty (!!!) years later, the movie does tickle the nostalgic parts of my brain, and overall it wasn't a complete waste of time. The movie's climax is the "Video Armageddon" tournament in California, and the Super Mario 3 footage is still satisfying to see. It's also fun to review the long list of video game related goofs in the film. It's been fun to see Nintendo themselves put on their own "Wizard"-like video game tournaments in more recent years, and although I don't think I have any need to ever see it again, The Wizard is definitely a must-watch for Nintendo fans, if just for its historic significance.

Having finally spent time with Crazy Taxi, I felt like I could finally give the Grand Theft Auto series a fair shake. As you might guess, I started with the very first one on the original PlayStation 1, even though it wasn't until the third one that the series really exploded.

The first two GTA games differ from the majority of the series in that they feature a top-down view. The game has you driving around fictional cities running missions for some unspecified criminal organization, with the goal of reaching a certain number of points in order to progress to the next level. I had a fairly guilty kind of fun creating mayhem by running over pedestrians, stealing any car in sight, and shooting anyone I wanted, but any enjoyment didn't last for long. Evading police was a chore; the lack of a map was annoyhng and meant I was often wandering around in circles; and the time limits on missions were a drag. Even finding missions was a pain, and sometimes executing them correctly was hard to figure out. Apparently many of the missions get walled off if you mess up one, which is also a bummer, but that goes with the arcade-y, high score nature of the game.

The game doesn't have any sort of plot, and I didn't enjoy the gameplay enough to really care about trying to chase high scores, but I can see how this was the beginning of a successful franchise. I can see how the amorality and anarchy of it would be appealing to certain demographics, and the open mission-based structure of its hugely popular follow-up, Grand Theft Auto III, cemented open world games as a key modern-day video game genre, but there wasn't much that I found appealing personally. I did spend some time playing GTA3 recently as well, so more on that next time.