I thought it would be interesting to chart two different parts of my gaming hobby on a weekly basis: what I’m buying, and what I’m playing.
Last year, I spent a lot on video games, and ended up with a big backlog that I’m still getting through. This year, I aim to be more selective at the cash register.
Here is how things looked for the first week of January:
- Alien Isolation: Deluxe Edition— Xbox One — $9.99
- Steam World Heist— 3DS — $19.99
- 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2— 3DS — $5.99
YTD TOTAL: $35.97
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain— Xbox One — 6 hours, 16 minutes.
- Steam World Heist— 3DS — 3 hours, 45 minutes
- Final Fantasy VI— iPhone — 3 hours
- Dishonored: Definitive Edition— Xbox One — 2 hours
- Super Mario 3D Land— 3DS — 1 hour, 14 minutes
- 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2— 3DS — 37 minutes
- Jet Pack Fighter— iPhone — 20 minutes
- Battlehand — iPhone — 15 minutes
- 3D Out Run— 3DS — 14 minutes
- Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain— Xbox One — 6 hours, 16 minutes.
- Battlehand — iPhone — 15 minutes
I made the best of the last few days of the holiday break by finally completing Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Xbox One). I had taken a long break right in the middle of the story, finding myself more drawn to Rise of the Tomb Raider and Fallout 4 for a few months. But it was easy to get back in the groove, and I am very glad I returned. The end boss is spectacular! He’s GIGANTIC, and fighting him makes you feel like you’re the star of a Michael Bay movie. It took me more than 60 hours total to get to him, so I do have to wonder how many players will actually see that killer content. I skipped all of the multiplayer base building stuff, as well as the online content. Kojima Productions lets you enjoy just playing through the single player content uninterrupted, if that is your preferred way to go.
Guilty admission: Prior to last week, I had never played more than 30 minutes of Final Fantasy VI. I downloaded this one because I was looking for a great RPG to have in my pocket to kick off the new year. It’s a steal for only $6.99 — there’s so much content to enjoy, and the story is stellar. This version is a bit controversial with fans, because Tose (a Japanese port house) reworked the graphics, making the game look like it was created in RPG maker. I miss the cute, chunky sprites of the SNES original. But the core content stands up. The game works great with the iPhone GameVice controller, so that was a big draw for me, too.
I decided to begin playing Dishonored: Definitive Edition as my ‘main’ game. I knew so little about it going in that I had no idea it was a period piece — I had thought it was going to feature a contemporary setting. Right now, I’m being as stealthy as I can, and I’m really enjoying the linear design. It’s a nice change of pace after spending so much time in MGS V’s big open world. The visuals show their age, but not enough to distract from the fun.
Returning back to the daily BART commute meant a greater focus on handheld gaming. I tucked my New 3DS XL in my pocket, excited to play some Steam World Heist. I had loved Steam World Dig, and this new one was being pitched as a totally new take on the strategy-rpg genre. Perfect — a game to tide me over until Fire Emblem Fates takes over my life next month. It’s very clever — the game is 2D side-scrolling, and it uses ricochet mechanics to maximize your control over the board. I dipped into few other 3DS titles as well: 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and 3D Out Run are blasts from the past that make great use of 3DS’s glasses-free 3D technology (Outrun is particularly mind-blowing). I never finished all of the Luigi stages in Super Mario 3D Land, so it was great fun to go back to that game for awhile, as well.
With Thursday came a raft of new iPhone games. Jetpack Fighter is a fun action game from Hi-Rez Studios, the makers of Smite. It’s easy to pick up, it’s skill-based, and it’s monetization is very friendly — the top-priced purchase is $14.99. I’m having a good time, and will probably play it a few more times in the coming weeks.
BattleHand (iOS) has terrific visuals, but it feels too much likeSummoner’s War to interest me in going further with it. I’ve been there, done that.
- PlayStation NOW 3-month renewal —Vita, PS3, PS4 — $44.99
- Bravely Default —3DS — $39.99
- Danganrompa —Vita — $15.99
- Venture Kid— iPhone — $.99
YTD TOTAL: $137.93
- Bravely Default —3DS — 6h 23m
- Bravely Default Demo —3DS — 4h 44m
- Persona 4 Golden— Vita — 57m
- Super Mario 3D Land —3DS — 57m
- Battlehand — iPhone — 50m
- Dishonored: Definitive Edition —Xbox One — 34m
- Shovel Knight —3DS — 31m
- Steamworld Dig —3DS — 15m
- 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 —3DS — 11m
- Candy Crush Jelly Saga — iPhone — 11m
- Banner Saga— iPhone — 10m
- 3D Outrun —3DS — 8m
- Jetpack Fighter —iPhone — 5m
- COLOPL Rune Story — iPhone — 2h 22m
- Clash Royale — iPhone — 1h 3m
- Battlehand — iPhone — 50m
- Candy Crush Jelly Saga — iPhone — 11m
The free-to-paid conversion experience I had this week on Bravely Default (3DS) was unique, and very effective for a player like me. The demo of the game is actually a self-contained 5 hour RPG; none of the story content in the demo carries over to the full game. Instead, you are presented with seven increasingly difficult quests, which provide you with valuable items that carry over to the full game, should you choose to purchase it. I love this system, because it offers the key benefit of free-to-play — specifically, being able to try a product at length before purchasing — but then allows you to make a single purchase to buy the rest of the content in its entirety. I loved the demo, so converting to a paying player was a no-brainer.
Bravely Default is an unapologetic throwback, evoking the best of classic Final Fantasy while adding a unique and strategically rich set of new mechanics. The characters are charming, the aesthetic is beautiful (the 3D is a standout), and the pacing is perfect for my morning commute. As it turns out, this is the game that will carry me through to Fire Emblem Fates next month.
Persona 4: Golden (Vita) received some unexpected play time this week. I had been mulling over the frustration of being ‘stuck’ in a game that you had played for a long time. Last time I tried to make progress, I was totally confused by where I was, and what I was supposed to do. I managed to address that on this play window, and defeat a boss, to boot. Now I really want to get back to it, even though I don’t like the combat as much as the fighting system in Bravely Default.
Clash Royale (iOS) pulled me in for an hour this week, but it isn’t a long-term contender for my time. I appreciate its innovations: the synchronous PVP play is very appealing, the three-minute sessions are manageable, and the Twitch-style community replays are brilliant. The game is not as good or as graphically appealing as Vainglory—it’s a lot more expensive, too— but Clash Royale is a much better fit for the platform. This might be the first successful tournament-style game made specifically for mobile (Hearthstone doesn’t count).
Battlehand (iOS) on iPhone is solid— great graphics, accessible gameplay. It’s a bit too similar to other turn-based RPGS on the market, though. I didn’t think it would get more play, but it managed to pull me in for another hour this week. Now, I think it’s officially been sidelined in favor of COLOPL Rune Story and Brave Frontier. It just doesn’t hang with those games.
Dishonored: Definitive Edition (Xbox One), the game that was supposed to be my ‘big’ game for the next few weeks, got less than an hour of play — and that was the entirety of the week’s time playing on console. I LOVE the console experience, but on some weeks it’s hard to get to.
There were a few single-session iPhone games this week, too. I gave Candy Crush Jelly Saga (iOS) a spin — no surprise, it’s still not for me
Shovel Knight (3DS) got a little bit of time from me this week. I started over again, and I think that this will ultimately make its way into my 3DS commute mix. It’s just SO good. Steamworld Heist (3DS)only got one session this week, as did 3D Sonic the Hedgehog (3DS) and 3D Outrun (3DS). The games are great, but when I had the time to play on 3DS, my attention was locked onBravely Default.
I turned Banner Saga (iOS) on again, and was reminded about how beautiful the game is. I love strategy RPG, and I want to play that game, but I don’t see it getting any play until after I complete Fire Emblem Fates. Jetpack Fighter (iOS) got a final spin, but I think I’m done with that one for good. Good mechanics, but there’s not enough there to bring me back.
On the purchase side: I bought Dangonrompa (Vita) because it’s the first time I’ve ever seen it go on sale. I don’t have immediate plans to play it… but who knows, it might get at least one session this upcoming week. Bravely Default has already proven it’s value as a purchase, and renewing my PS Now subscription felt good. I like supporting the vision of a cloud gaming future… though, to be fair, I have barely touched the games on the service, given my backlog of other titles.
- Mario & Luigi Paper Jam— 3DS — $39.99
- Shovel Knight Amiibo— Nintendo — $15.22
- 3D Streets of Rage 2–3DS— $5.99
- BoxBoy!— 3DS — $4.99
- Dungelot: Shattered Lands— iPhone — $3.99
YTD TOTAL: $208.11
- Bravely Default— 3DS — 6h 49m
- Mario Golf: World Tour— 3DS — 6h 44m
- The Legend of Zelda— NES — 3h 4m
- Dungelot: Shattered Islands— iPhone — 2h 15m
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze— WiiU — 1h 8m
- Shovel Knight— 3DS — 32m
- Mario Kart 7–3DS — 29m
- Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam— 3DS — 28m
- Boxboy!— 3DS — 8m
- 3D Streets of Rage 2–3DS — 3m
- Colopl Rune Story – iOS — iPhone — 3h 2m
This has been the week of Nintendo for me. The 3DS absolutely dominated my playtime. Bravely Default (3DS) started strong, taking up most of my attention during the three-day weekend, but my time investment fell off sharply by mid-week. The visuals are gorgeous, but the story is a bit flat, and there is a lot of repetition in the gameplay… maybe too much for my taste. I’m still going to carry on, but something incredible better happen soon, or I’ll be done.
The #2 time sink came as a complete surprise to me — I turned on Mario Golf: World Tour(3DS), which I hadn’t touched in more than a year. I managed to play through to an end credits scroll. I was delighted to see that there were a set of courses that I had paid for back in 2014, but had never downloaded. It made an old game feel brand-new! The game’s structure is very strange, splitting its focus between a realistic Mii-mode and a “Quickplay” mode that lets you control the Mario characters. This disconnect is what made me churn out of the game in 2014; I still don’t like the setup, but with patience applied, I better understood it, and was able to navigate to the title’s more interesting courses and challenges.
#3 was a blast from the past that has been tempting me from the options screen on my 3DS and WiiU for awhile — the original The Legend of Zelda (NES) from 1986. I played through the first three dungeons in a single shot on the 3DS — and then did the same on the WiiU. The music and chunky 8-bit sprites turned me into a twelve-year-old all over again. This is the power of nostalgia — the game holds up really well, but beyond the fun of the core experience, it allows me to channel a simpler time in my life. My kids are now forming a love of video games based on their experiences with Nintendo products, and I hope they will look back on Splatoon (WiiU), Pokemon Sapphire (3DS) and Fantasy Life(3DS) with a similar level of nostalgia in 2046.
COLOPL Rune Story’s (iOS) playtime was limited to Friday and Saturday. I’m done with it now. It was entertaining, but it just doesn’t hold up to either Bravely Default (3DS) or Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS), so I don’t have time for it. I know that they are different platforms, but I carry both a 3DS and an iPhone wherever I go, so both compete directly for my time. Still, I’m glad I plunked some hours into COLOPL Rune Story— it is reassuring to see that games can be successful on iPhone without energy meters.
Dungelot: Shattered Lands was the Editor’s Choice pick on the App Store. I love when they highlight premium games — those games never disappoint. This is by far the best iOS game I’ve played so far this year… the mix of Rogue-like mechanics and Minesweeper is clever, intuitive, and fun.
I limited Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze (WiiU) to a play-through of the first world. It’s really, really good. I want to put more time into it, and I’m sure I will, since it’s so easy to play on either the TV or the WiiU controller. This is one that I had bought day one, never finished, traded in for store credit, and missed dearly — so I bought it again during a holiday sale digitally. I’m glad it’s back in my catalog.
Shovel Knight (3DS) got some playtime in part because I was able to find the Amiibo figure at GameStop. This is another one of those games that works well for bite-sized play… I can enjoy one stage every few weeks and still feel like I’m making meaningful progress. It’s the perfect type of game to have “in the mix” with other games on the go. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) works in a similar way… I come back to that one every couple of months for short bursts of fun.
Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam came out at the very end of Thursday, so I haven’t put much time into it yet, but what I’ve experienced has been charming. Its action-focused turn-based gameplay is a blast. I also love how narrowly focused it is on the tastes of the most core Nintendo fans. The meta story will resonate best with those who have played a lot of both thePaper Mario and Mario & Luigigames.
I heard about Boxboy! (3DS) during Giant Bomb’s GOTY deliberations, which convinced me to check it out. It’s fun in the same way that Pushmo (3DS) is, with a more spartan visual style. It’s black and white, with no 3D effects (that I have seen thus far). 3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS) is something I’ve been itching to pick up for awhile now. It’s the perfect candidate for a 3D conversion, and M2 has done a fantastic job with the port. This is really a special release; it’s right up there with 3D Outrun (3DS) and 3D Gunstar Heroes (3DS).
- Final Fantasy Explorers— 3DS — $29.99 (retail $39.99, used GameStop store credit)
YTD TOTAL: $238.11
- Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam— 3DS — 10h 36m
- Final Fantasy Explorers— 3DS — 4h 19m
- 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2— 3DS — 1h 24m
- 3D Streets of Rage 2— 3DS — 1h 8m
- Crashlands— iOS — 39m
- Mario Kart 7— 3DS — 36m
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze— WiiU — 34m
- Dungelot— iOS — 32m
- Vigilante— TG16 — 15m
- Ultra Street Fighter I V— PS3 — 12m
- Devil’s Crush— TG16 — 10m
- Donkey Kong Country— SNES — 7m
- Magician Lord— NEO-GEO — 6m
- Punch-Out!!— NES — 3m
- 3D Out-Run— 3DS — 2m
The biggest surprise on this list is that there is nothing from Xbox One or PlayStation 4. That is certainly not representative of a trend… though on busy weeks, it’s definitely easier to just turn on the 3DS. It allows me to continue on with full-featured console style games wherever I happen to be.
I love a good RPG, and through the start of the year, 3DS is the place to be for fans of that genre. I pumped more than 10 hours into Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam (3DS) this week, which I’ve been enjoying immensely. I love the action-oriented battle system, and thus far, the game has been challenging enough to keep my interest. Sure, the Toadstool hide-and-seek stuff can get a bit tedious, but those sequences don’t come up too often. I just love this world, and while the idea of bringing the paper and traditional worlds together doesn’t equate to big belly laughs, it’s consistently amusing.
I have more mixed feelings aboutFinal Fantasy Explorers (3DS). On the one hand, it’s a pretty smart simplification of the Monster Hunter formula. Crafting is easy, and you feel powerful very quickly. On the other hand, it’s very repetitive, and strangely, it doesn’t use the system’s 3D functionality. Why Monster Hunter IV can swing stereoscopic imagery and this less-polished looking game can’t, I’ll never know. I haven’t played any of the online content, which is where the real fun is likely to reside, so I reserve further judgment until I seek a random party of adventurers to play with.
M2 is best-in-breed when it comes to porting classic games in 3D. I completed a full play-through of 3D Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (3DS). The game remains one of my all-time favorites, but I had forgotten how punishing the very end of the game is. You are put through the ringer against Metal Sonic, and if you somehow manage to beat him, you then move on to fight Dr. Robotnik’s mech — with no rings. I was only able to persist to the credits because of the magic of save states. 3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS) also ages well… it’s a lot better than Final Fight. I could not complete the game on a single playthrough, on ‘normal’ using nine lives and three continues. I aim to try again this week. 3D Outrun (3DS) and Mario Kart 7 (3DS) also got some play time, cementing the 3DS as the primary platform for my game time during this week.
Crashlands (iOS) is another big winner on the iPhone. It’s a premium scavenging title that’s dense, great to look at, and funny as hell. I only had one session, but that stretched to 39 minutes, and it was enough to convince me that this will be worth playing when I have more time. I continued to playDungelot (iOS) as well… it is my new game of choice when I have only one hand available for playing.
Digging further into the retro-styled Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (WiiU) encouraged me to crack open my vault of real retro games. First, I went back to the original Donkey Kong Country (SNES), and was blown away by how contemporary the title still looks. Then, I did a quick tour of Magician Lord (NEO-GEO), which used to cost $200 in retail stores; Punch-Out (NES), just to see if I could finally beat Mr. Dream (I couldn’t); Vigilante(TG16), which looks a lot better than Kung-Fu on the NES, but somehow isn’t as fun; and Alien Crush (TG16), a nearly forgotten gem from the 90’s.
Finally, I validated my rustiness at playing as Ryu in Ultra Street Fighter IV. Fun, beautiful game, but since I have that available for ‘free’ via PlayStation NOW, I’m not sure I feel the need to rush out and buy the new one.
JANUARY 28-FEBRUARY 4
YTD TOTAL: $238.11
- Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam —3DS — 5h 19m
- Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze— WiiU — 3h 28m
- Dishonored: Definitive Edition —Xbox One — 2h 2m
- Final Fantasy Explorers— 3DS — 1h 28m
- Mario Kart 7 —3DS —51m
- Mario Kart 8 —WiiU — 34m
- 3D Sonic the Hedgehog —3DS — 25m
- F-Zero: Maximum Velocity— GBA — 24m
- 3D Streets of Rage 2 —3DS — 13m
- Super Mario Bros— NES — 8m
- Wario Ware, Inc: Mega Microgames!— GBA — 3m
- Punch-Out!! —NES — 2m
It’s been a busy week, so I haven’t had a lot of time for gaming. But I still managed to push forward inMario & Luigi: Paper Jam(3DS), which continued to deliver an entertaining story. The action mechanics really set it apart from other turn-based RPGs, adding a layer of mastery that is very satisfying. I’m mystified by the 5.9 score that IGN gave the game… that assessment must have come from having to play the game in gigantic gulps. When I was in editorial, I always found this to be the biggest challenge in reviewing games. You want to be thorough, to see all of the content in the game. But you have a deadline, which means that you have to blast through the content at a pace that won’t represent how people actually consume the title. I am really enjoy playing this one in 38-minute spurts (the length of my BART commute), but chugging hours at a time would not serve the experience well.
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze becomes an easy go-to when I sit down on the couch next to my wife and pick up the WiiU pad. Almost all of my playtime is off-screen, in one-or-two stage sprints. I know exactly what I’m getting when I turn it on. I’m reasonably challenged, and I’m constantly impressed by creative design of the stages. One thing that strikes me is that I’m playing stages that I had completed two years ago, but I don’t remember them. At all. In most cases, you could have told me that this was a totally new game, and while playing, I’d believe you. This speaks to either the ability of games to remain fun over multiple play-throughs, or to problems with my memory — not sure which.
I picked up Dishonored: Definitive Edition (Xbox One)again, after having hung the game up for more than a week. I made the mistake of picking up mid-stage. I was under-equipped, stuck in the middle of a fight. This left me disoriented and frustrated. In the two hours that I played, I was ultimately able to complete the mission, but I was really struggling to use stealth effectively. There were weird bouts of slowdown — as if I was stuck in perpetual bullet-time. And unfortunately, this game just does not age well graphically. The characters look stiff, and the backgrounds look low-poly. Load times were frequent and distracting. It was not a fun session. I’m going to give the game one more try, but if I have another bad experience, I’ll be done with it for good.
Not much more to say about Final Fantasy Explorers (3DS) this week. I still have not tried it in multiplayer. I’m still not deeply impressed with it visually. But it is fun to play on the go, providing a steady drip of accomplishments without having to put in too much effort. Honestly, I think I’d be playing more if I wasn’t having such a good time with Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. If you are playing this one, and are looking to partner with somebody, let me know.
Mario Kart is the ultimate evergreen title, as fun to play on 3DS as it is on WiiU. I’m always a bit bummed by a seeming lack of content when I buy them, but then I find myself playing for years. When you only have ten minutes to spare, few games satisfy on this level.
The rest of my game time this week was devoted to quick slices of retro games. I’m playing 3D Sonic the Hedgehog (3DS) With the intention of finally grabbing all of the Chaos Emeralds from the bonus stages — a feat I’ve never accomplished, despite playing through the game countless times. I’m cheating to do this, of course. I’m creating a save state every time I get to a bonus level. But just once, I want to get to the end without Dr. Robotnik laughing at me, juggling the pathetic number of Chaos Emeralds I managed to secure. F-Zero: Maximum Velocity(GBA) was one of the Ambassador’s Games that I had never bothered to open up on 3DS — thought I may as well give it a spin. It doesn’t age well, but it does bring back fond memories of the GBA’s launch day. And it’s nice to be able to play it on a fully lit screen.
I was given the recommendation to try playing 3D Streets of Rage 2 (3DS) on ‘Easy’ with 9 lives. I started down that path, and it was a great suggestion. The game remains fun, but now, it no longer feels impossible to beat. As a kid, I would never have allowed myself to set the difficulty down to the lowest level. But nowadays, playing on ‘Easy’ helps me get the nostalgia sugar rush I’m craving more quickly, and somehow, my pride stays intact.
Super Mario Bros. (NES) is always fun to pop in, even if only to play through a single world. Whenever that theme kicks in, I’m a sixth-grade kid all over again. I remember being amazed by WarioWare Inc: Mega Microgames!(GBA) the first time I played it; fellow Ziff-Davis editor Chris Johnston introduced me to the game. It’s an outstanding creative accomplishment, and stands as one of my all-time favorite Nintendo games. It’s really, really funny, too. Punch-Out!! (NES) only got a few minutes, but I had to try to beat Mr. Dream just one…more…time. I got further, but he still kept knocking me out in the first round. Damn you, Mr. Dream.