2022

you and i may well be aware of the absolute deluge of indie and double a backed video games that wear childhood nurtured inspiration on their sleeves, titles like a hat in time or here comes niko all too proud to let players know a timeline absent of the gamecube would just as well be one absent of either title. but little did i ever expect a small studio to find themselves filled with inspiration and passion stemming from the absolute most boring fucking trite of video games: those that play themselves. you surely know of those i refer to--the last of uses and the bow raiders and the arkhams and spidermans and ghosts of assassins dogs ages. games that exist as some sort of hollywood mimicry in which high production values are, lol, valued far above anything else, far above the relationship between players and gameplay. games that push, push, push the player forward down the water slide--or really, those dark rides you can watch a defunctland on featuring garfield, because either way, passengers sit tight, see the sights, and leave.
and a large problem with these games lies in their tunnels stretching far, far too long--its passengers lose the novelty of garfield, and most finish climaxing should they have brought a partner aboard far before the eventual light flickers in.
well, the novelty of stray's cat protagonist is one that lasts twenty minutes, a span of useless contextual button presses for reddit and twitter gifs, and this is followed by a further three hours of cinematic slop to slog through. and then the game still goes (for those who have never heard of the sunk cost theory and/or those who, holy fuck, somehow like this shit), and it goes and goes and goes: down linear hallways, up linear walls, along linear paths disguised as well as a blanket disguises the couch. it's a particularly frustrating feeling to emerge into stray's city and find yourself met with all sorts of balconies and vents and roofs and rubble and be able to climb absolutely none of it save the sole path its designers intend.
are linear games bad by design? no. half life 2 is lovely. half life 2 is also not a game made up of multitudes of contextual button presses and cutscenes strung together by cutscene gameplay strung together by more cutscenes. when a chopper chases dr. freeman, the player is threatened and has to haul fucking ass. when completely nonthreatening silverfish chase the stray, the player holds forward, holds their arbitrary run button, the threat of danger not even remotely present, until the next cutscene appears. of course, these moments are broken up by hub world dickery filled with toothless robots who offer no whimsy nor intriguing in their empty words, and the same can be said for your personality-less companion no doubt boardroom blasted to ensure no player would grow weary (or attached).
let's stop dancing around it: stray is an abysmal video game. stray is a complete failure of neutered, paw holding gameplay that is less interested in giving the player tools to navigate its world and more in making sure the wittle pwayer doesn't stway from the wittle path ): and on that note, i wonder to fucking god if its qa players actually enjoyed the experience. were they having fun? were they giving honest feedback? were they actually playing? if i were stuck with this shit, i know i'd be trying to stay off the controller and on my phone as much as possible.
it's rare for a game to truly feel like its designed to waste and absorb your time like a robotic parasite, but stray nails it, let me tell you.
anyway, the star is for the hints of creativity. the half star is for the surprisingly excellent soundtrack from the... guy who did cave story wii of all things. huh.
play this if you don't like video games.

This review contains spoilers

what a charming, heartfelt, unique experience this is.
what a beyond rushed, artificially extended, transparent experience this is.
wind waker is the ultimate yin and yang for me, an opinion born from my two 100% runs played back to back within the past eight months. i have been exposed to absolutely every single piece of brilliance the game has to offer just as much as i've found myself facing cracks of all sorts of varied shapes and sizes--it's often with wind waker that those cracks may as well be gloryholes for their size... at least the stall door it's cut from's so lovingly rendered and lit.
the moment the title screen opens, wind waker hits you with a mini presentation of the gorgeous visuals and models awaiting your adventure: good.
as soon as you leave your home island, an agonizingly boring "stealth" section slams you in the chest: bad.
the pace continues to suffer as the story brings you to peaceful windfall and as peaceful as a predungeon gets with dragon roost island: also bad.
the game brightens up once again with its first dungeon, followed quickly by a second island and too its dungeon: good.
under duress of deadline, the game tricks you into finding your third destination in tatters, the hero too late: badass.
this does not eventually lead to a dungeon but, instead, a quick cutscene inside a rock: bad.
our collectathon quest culminates in a tower of challenges and a peek at something much, much larger: good
then we fuck ganon's fort up: badass.
then we get to ride in the great sea with medli and makar on the boat: adorable
but we're riding straight to dungeons, and hitting [a] on either has them slowly chastise you for not picking up the pace: excruciating
triforce hunt: sure
the peek at something much, much larger was actually just a fancy hallway: no
boss rush final dungeon: what
easiest final boss in zelda history after: what.
but the cracks go deeper--it's the barely there existence of forest haven, how there's very little to do or see beyond moving onto the dungeon and on your way out. it's the existence of stealth at all, complete with wall peaks and barrel hiding, being absolutely worthless and unused. it's this fucking boat who drags out his dialogue as molasses as possible nagging the piss out of your tunic for every single possible little thing. when that old asshole bit it at the end, i didn't bat an eye. were i given the choice to slide ganon's domer right out of his stone noggin, i would've had my next target not more than a couple feet away.
perhaps the biggest issue of the wind waker is its flat, generic story full of flat, generic characters existing in a completely unique, captivating world full of unique, well-crafted designs. i mean, EVERYTHING has a great fucking design. and the silhouettes are so goddamn impressive--character and island alike. turn a model pitch black and i could just about identify every single one of them from posture alone. and these islands are filled with mystery and intrigue: a thin island scraping the air with its needle... a land shaped around the ocean's deadliest, an assembly of green topped minecraft blocks... but there's just not fucking much done with them. you pop in, do one of three generic mini-dungeon designs, and you leave with either a piece of heart (if you're lucky) or another worthless helping of rupees in a game where they're handed out like candy, in a game where there isn't anything at all to spend them on. no seriously, what are you meant to do with these besides buy bait, pears, and the occasional blue gatorade? yeah you're gonna dump a load into tingle's pants with all those garbled charts begging to be ungarbled, but every triforce chest is surrounded by rupee showering pots in the first place, so what the fuck does it matter?
you know, it seems like i'm endlessly dumping onto this game with reckless abandon, and that's because i AM dumping onto this game with reckless abandon--i have spent eight long, long months scraping up against every single inch of the wind waker, attempting to view every possible possibility of dialogue npcs could offer, attempting to scrounge up all available rewards this great sea could conjure up for me. and i did it twice. issues are unavoidable in doing so, and staying silent on annoyances and problems is a disservice to anyone who spends that long playing a game. but it's clarifying the wind waker's cracks that makes it extra special because, here we are--me writing, you reading--in a 4.5 starred review.
in other words--this game freaks it, and it freaks it all over the place. and yet, its strengths are so strong, its ambition so contagious, that the wind waker navigates the currents and waves its haphazard development and hypocritically miyamoto induced crunch creates... and finds itself successfully sailing out from the storm and onto calm waters. the secret to the game's success is found in its simple execution of grand ideas, aforementioned sailing its highlight.
i adore sailing. i love the distance and scale between islands, rendering complaints about long "waiting" times too silly for me. the time passed is a part of the experience, the time spent with king charting courses through white and blue. the experience is spotting a watch tower and parking king to stab its occupants--if bombing the shit out of them from below isn't an option taken, of course. the experience is finding you've inadvertently come across a sea chart's x, treasure soon to be yours. the experience is passing by enemy ships and deciding whether to wage war or spare them (and your time). the experience is passing by beedle and deciding whether to wage war or buy bait (and remember: one can very well do both). it's being chased by sharks and deciding whether to take them on or hope to outrun them. it's fighting against the wind to navigate a reef and win against its occupants. it's circling an island's coast in search of cartographers. it's heading dead straight for a circling of seagulls while deciding whether it's time for bombs, boomerang, or the arrows for a change.
the experience is sleepily making your way back to outset island, the moon finally dipping below the horizon and lighting your boat in the first few glimpses of morning.
and on that note, it's actually downright criminal how incredible the main hubs of the wind waker can look in sunset/sunrise conditions. you don't know what that's like, do you? that's because i'm almost certain it's impossible to see such without exploiting the game in some way. but it's incredibly worth it to find windfall bathed in the last of the day's light, to see dragon roost's shore as the sun greets valoo. these sights are intoxicating, and this is just again one of the many ways to praise wind waker's extremely sharp use of lighting, its fantastic models, its brilliantly simple colors.
every screen is an art piece.
dungeons are cool, too. they're all pretty piss easy and about as braindead as any ocarina of time dungeon that isn't the forest or water temple, and that's disappointing, but they each carry such strong aesthetics on their backs as well as offering unique enemy variety and puzzles that it's hard to forget any of them. it's also doubly hard to forget the dungeons given there's only, what, five of them? christ, lol. so i suppose if a dev's going to be rushed and must make the work done count, it's good they opted for tightening what they had versus thinly spreading a meager plate before their players. i don't think anyone would've appreciated a wind waker with twice as many dungeons half as much if they featured... half as much. still, i really wish they were harder. this aspect can't even stem from my eight months of continuous playing--the wind waker was outright one of the first discs i ever pressed into my gamecube, and even the young asshole who played then snored his way through everything that wasn't the wind temple. well, okay, the earth temple scared me, so i was wide awake for that one. it was still easy, though. spooky... but easy.
have i mentioned link's eyes yet? i've been kind of vaguely praising models and all, but our protagonist for this zelda's just the best. see something interesting? so does he. see something spooky? so does he. get scared of your fucking mind? so. does he. link and i were certainly not alone in the earth temple (also literally, since the bird woman was there). also, wait, i put medli in parentheses, but she's a really interesting example of something wind waker sucks and excels at i for sure have mentioned already: great models, terrible writing. medli's cute. damn cute. i crushed on her as a kid, but it was all in the design, and i was reminded of that with every playthrough as i'd be repeatedly exposed to her flat characterization and how pathetic it whimpers: she exists for other men. that's her character. medli exists to serve link, serve valoo, and serve komali. she plays the harp, but only because another woman who served their dragon freeloader told her to. half her dialogue concerns prince komali--her fucking LAST LINE in the GAME is about komali. and i think this wraps back around to a particular point of failure with the wind waker that's reflected in another nintendo classic: chibi robo. both feature lovely music, lovely gameplay, lovely art... and flat, dead, bonedry writing.
guess that's why i always loved the thousand year door a little more than this as a kid. but believe me, i still loved them both.
and i still do love this game! i wouldn't have spent eight months playing it if i felt any less so. i wouldn't have invested so much time and energy into a passion project completely built off the skeleton of what these devs poured their souls into with what little time they had. and god fucking damn do i wish they'd been given more time, but i'm thankful the wind waker released at all, and i'm thankful it became a cornerstone of my childhood. i played the game to such depths and scourings that i would return to the great sea just to create my own stories and narratives--i'd be running from some evil dude who's tracking me island to island, or i'd be running mail deliveries for the rito, or--what i'm trying to express is THIS is the extent to which i adored this zelda's gameplay and sailing, its aesthetics and presentation.
and i still adore all these things, and the faults may be several golfball sizes too large, but let me re-emphasize: the wind waker is the best stall door i've ever pissed next to in my life. and... wait... there's something etched into it that i can just barely make out.
"A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad."
oh, fuck off, miyamoto.

This review contains spoilers

while the initial transition from peaceful twoson or threebie or whatever number named town to whatever number named town's sewers is jarring in an intentional, well paid off way, its inability to stay committed to that changed voice is a huge point of failure that makes playing through the middle chunk of toby fox's halloween hack a tonally confusing slog. or in other words... it's silly, then it's dead fucking serious, then it's silly whoopsie grunty repeatus whacky hijinkal eat shit faggots megalovania immediately starts playing. experiencing this game's like you've got two tabs of a serious thriller and lighthearted comedy running and you're sort of just flicking back and forth between them arbitrarily. there are definitely ways to synthesize comedy and drama with more fluidity like contemporaries barkley, shut up and jam: gaiden or saints row 2 execute well themselves. or, lol, undertale itself--demonstrable proof of the value of putting yourself out there, accepting criticism, and then really sharpening up your work and concepts into something that reflects the ability you've since honed. you can see all these undertale-lite themes and ideas weaving in and out of the hack, so it sort of functions as an interesting capsule and demonstration of fox's writing level at this time. it also functions as a gore demonstration. like, he gets real visceral with how you kill enemies. the descriptions are so vivid that you don't even notice they're not animated.
this sort of writing is valuable--it's childish and immature in many aspects, but there's such undeniable potential for charm. it's written not like a voice that's putting in minimum effort or mechanically writing like a robot--it's a voice that's speaking because it's desperate to speak. and it's also apologizing for making the game so fucking tedious and overly difficult.
yeah... just flip on a level 99 and infinite health hack.

This review contains spoilers

i can't tell what i love most about david cage's latest incompetent masterpiece... is it the world ripped straight from deus ex: human revolution and bladerunner 2049 without the nuance or subtlety of either? is it the complete inability to followup on what should be meaningful choices? is it cage refusing to follow the rules of his own world while constantly making up new bullshit as he goes? could it be even the way the female protagonist's route is dead bottom the most boring, straightforward SHE IS WOMAN SHE IS MOTHER story within this genre possible, complete with a worthless twist? perhaps even the unbelievably heavy handed civil rights metaphors that cage himself vehemently denies?
i don't know. i just do not know. but let me tell you, cage is a thoroughly entertaining writer in ways completely unintended. detroit's just so fucking fun to play because of how drop dead serious he is at writing this pseudo-intellectual slop. i mean i just fucking love it, i don't know what else to say. it's incompetent writing in a way that's fun versus something bad but stale, you know? like icarus trying to fly towards the sun with a set of wings made from construction paper and mayo.
just for clarity, i'll tell you how my playthrough went. kara? tried my best to have her surrogate daughter hate her, but despite everything i did, they were simply inseparable. now, towards the very end you've got kara and revealed robo daughter walking towards the gas chambers, and you have ample opportunity to start stressing her the fuck out. so i did so, because i know the rules of this world: a robot gets stressed out... a robot explodes. i figured if the girl exploded, the surviving bots (including kara herself) could escape. so i build her up and up and up aaand... she hits 100%, runs over to kara, gets shot, and dies. consistency, cage. consistency.
as for marcus, i played him as an ultra pacifist to humanity with a mightier message at heart that valued less his android companions and moreso the overall goal. so what this meant was i had every human spared throughout the game, but i let my robobuddies die. it was pretty awesome seeing marcus give a speech completely alone, admittedly. what was hilarious was towards the very end, as humanity marched towards my peaceful marcus and co, that he began to sing. and they all sung, and they all sung the same song together. did i sequence skip the chorus recital chapter or something? taking a step back, i adore marcus's robo jesus deal where he can just tap the shoulder of an android and force them into sentience. and let's be clear: it is forcing. imagine you're asleep and someone suddenly wakes you up, gives you a gun, and says "start firing". and it's not like you have a choice now, because you're going to be found out for going deviant any day from here on out due to marcus' meddling. man, what a guy.
connor was the best, though. i played him as a completely soulless policebot dead focused on solving the case and not a scrap more. that meant he didn't give a shit about android lives, didn't give a shit about deviancy, and most certainly didn't give any ounce of tin can shit about hank. and what this resulted in, surprisingly, was a badass scene. connor ends up going deviant without actually going deviant, which is oddly... brilliant, as he sets up his sniper rifle in an attempt to assassinate the peace loving marcus, and he's stopped by the same police squad from the beginning of the game. connor proceeds to fuck. these guys. up. and it's brutal, and i love it. and cage doesn't do much with it at fucking all after--we get a choice to assassinate marcus at the very end with absolutely no followup. not even a final meeting with his creator or whoever the hell kept bitching at him to kill some androids. come on, man. and here i thought arkane games had no ending.
yeah, anyway, this is great and terrible. wish i played it drunk

i'm not really sure if the writers involved with this project--of which there are five of--even like or understand video games. and i say this in the sense that life is strange: true colors doesn't seem interested in the player nor their agency, nor their decision making, nor their interest or interpretations of characters. and i say all this because never before has there been a life is strange where your choices are a game of "well, what's the LEAST embarrassing of the two?", where your choices are "alex says something vapid and stupid" and "alex says something vapid and stupid but with a smile".
and alex, good lord, is the wet blanket protagonist of all wet blanket protagonists, a player stand-in that doesn't really even work considering how you may want her to act or speak doesn't matter because it doesn't align with how the five writers want her to speak. am i making sense, here? if the first life is strange player, for instance, did not like a character, that player was given the tools to express it. everyone is soft and spongy in true colors, speaking in mounds of references and absolutely terrible, bog standard romcom slurry. and what a cast this is--you know, there's nothing wrong with the slow paced slice of life approach that i keep seeing nowadays from western companies and studios, but it seems they all forget that these SOL attempts require a main ingredient: lovable, interesting casts. and who the hell am i supposed to latch onto when everyone spouts out that same aforementioned slurry, where every line is right on the edge of irony poisoning and extreme self awareness? how am i supposed to connect with generic indie rock loving hipster girl alex whose offered observations could not be any less boring, any more forgettable? i can't remember a single line she's offered about her environments save for the very, very dry references to REAL BAND here and REAL BAND there and REAL MOVIE here and... so forth, and so forth like a marvel convention equivalent of a mixer.
i made the claim that these writers don't like or understand video games, and it's based on all i've written thus far and just three more points. ONE: nearly everything feels set in stone, as if the game is a compromise to the writers to tell their otherwise straightforward forgettable young adult novel i had to suffer through many of in college. TWO: you're given a power to read the thoughts of others, but this is heavily limited to very, very, very few characters, the majority of NPCs seemingly unable to give you anything, as if they aren't there, as if the writers did not want to push themselves just a little bit more to add some flavor to this lifeless mess. and THREE: why the fuck can't you land in the minecart in that arcade game? come on, now.
i just can't find a single positive trait in this. the graphics are fine, the soundtrack may or may not even exist because i don't remember any of it. the voice acting is a medley of first takes. the actual "gameplay" sections impose without merit. the choices have never been more meaningless. the consequences have never been more toothless. the observation mechanic has no real development for what it is. the flavor text is lifeless. the characters are lifeless. the story is lifeless. the developers' ambitions are lifeless, and this game may as well not exist at all for all it isn't: no teeth, all gums.

and i thought ddlc was obnoxious. wonderful everyday is an abysmally written shock factor focused cheese-fest that thinks itself smarter than what its philosophical sludge mouthpieced through cartoonish characters genuinely is. wrap all that up with some irony poisoning, pretentious characters, too much self awareness, and pure honest-to-god ego-stroking... and you have this visual novel. sit through four hours of trope jokes and time wasting to sit through another four of chunibyo philosophy and contrivances. dialogue that could be said in three messages are spent on thirty. the game actually thinks you've invested in its characters. if it's supposed to get better, eight hours is a poor cost of admission and i won't spend another minute.
what a frustrating read.

2022

aggressively boring visuals meets aggressively generic rtx lighting meets aggressively generic soundtrack meets aggressively simple wait-and-see gameplay meets gorgeous, charming in-game instruction manual that outshines legitimately every other soulless aspect of this adventure meets aggressively tedious backtracking meets aggressively cowardly lack of writing, dialogue, and environmental storytelling whatsoever meets aggressively cute gator enemy meets aggressively one-note enemy designs otherwise meets thirty fucking dollars.

play along with the ride and it all makes sense. try to go against it and your character will devolve into some sort of deranged schizophrenic who just does things arbitrarily. the illusion of choice couldn't be more annoying, but you know what's even worse? the complete absence of a fastforward/skip button. these scenes once is enough--twice and more and i'm done.

let's lay it all flat: paper mario: the thousand year door has much less interesting level design and enemy variation than its predecessor on the n64. while paper mario 64 goes all in on a diorama aesthetic, ttyd's stylistic choice is the stage, the drama, the theater, and the long rectangular hallway design that reflects such, as if it's all continuously moving before a curious audience. i appreciate this, but much less so do i when backtracking is so prevalent--it's like the worst aspects of shy guy's toybox and flower fields back for round 2. and let's be clear--i'm not complaining about the backtracking in, say, chapter 4, because your circumstances differ (almost) every journey. but it's that last backtracking, and it's the backtracking in chapter 2, and it's the monumental one all done for a piss-take towards the end, and it's everything else--it's cruel and stupid, a transparent attempt at lengthening out the game. and with the enemy designs, it's disappointing to face so many recolors when even paper mario 64 was able to pull out some unique final creatures to spar with in its finale.
and on one more negative comparative point: ttyd is so fucking easy. like, leaps and bounds easier on the player than paper mario 64 is, although i hesitate to describe whether or not this is a legitimate problem. why? well, a lot of the ease of access to ttyd comes in the form of skillbased timing--press well and defend against attacks, but press perfectly and you'll completely negate damage. that much is all on the player and an interesting way of forgoing standard jrpg grinding. but then there's just general cheese, like power punches and charges and multibonks. and then there's fucking danger mario, although that's hilarious so whatever.
... lots of negatives, right? and yet, 5 stars. paper mario: the thousand year door is one of the few examples i can point to where a game's writing and aesthetic can more than make up for its faults, where the story progresses with a great flow and rhythm, complemented by well spoken characters not content to stay in the background like mario's 64 bit partners. the game's easily my biggest writing inspiration: when characters speak, i pay attention because it's always funny or interesting. when the plot develops, it does so with simple, tangible consequences and causes and effects. when new chapters start, there's such an indescribable amount of excitement that wells up within wanting to know just what could be in store next... and how can it disappoint when locations vary from wrestling goons at an arena in a bid to win the champion belt or leading a revolution within a massive tree against its invading occupants or solving agatha christie novels aboard a train in a doubling down of shiver city from paper mario 64?
that last bit is important, because something i've noticed between replays of these two initial paper stories is a series of parallels: thousand year door does so much of what 64 does, but grander. both games see mario sailing to an island, but one has it off the back of a whale you briefly meet before while the other has you paired up with a crew you've assembled, then besieged by ancient spirits and shipwrecked onto what is ostensibly deserted. both games see peach baking an item, but while 64's is a cake, ttyd's is an invisibility potion to help her infiltrate the head office of the head goon of the head terrorists, dude. they both have trains and trainrides, murder mysteries and penguins, a goomba who'll prattle off about every npc and location in the game... but ttyd does it better.
aesthetic's incredibly unique, too, and also a big inspiration on myself. while 64 could best be described as a binary tool heaven a la mspaint, ttyd is the now defunct macromedia flash 8, every character a saturated in color motion tweened black outlined standout. combat felt stiff in 64, but ttyd contrasts such with the smoothest you could ever anticipate. and the designs! 64 has a goomba with... a hat. and a koopa with... a scarf. and a bobbomb that's... pink with angel wings. exciting. thousand year door has a goombella decked out in archeological gear, a koopa covered in bandaids and casual wear, and a sea-salty bombomb donning an admiral cap. pretty fucking stark.
also the music fucks an insane amount.
no need to worry about spoilers, but goodness, ttyd concludes so satisfyingly. it's a story you can tell was thought out right from the start, and the way it reflects all your journey up to its ending... yeah, that's ttyd for you. a game with something to prove, a sequel that wanted to not only build off the foundation of its predecessor but carve out an entire world for itself. that's ttyd for you. oh, but also, some villains should never be forgiven, you know. not everyone changes. anyway...

i like waking up in the morning and typing in the first word that comes to mind. fun and simple and i get to have a daily dick measuring contest with my friends, but i can't type in "whore" anymore so that's pretty gay all considered

in a way, i feel very spoiled by having played paper mario the thousand year door first in the same way i felt spoiled playing saints row 1 after having ventured through its sequel in which every single concept was built upon to soaring heights, because that's exactly what's going on here. paper mario 64 lays out strong concepts: a battle system that, despite being turn based, feels very involved and greatly rewards strategy just as much as it does reaction time and timing. an aesthetic that celebrates simple, cel shaded art displayed on various dioramas atop dioramas. writing that isn't afraid to get cheekier than mario ever has before.
but all of these named concepts are half baked, its sequel completely forcing paper mario 64 into its shadow given its sequel's focus on mastering that combat, mastering those dioramas, mastering that cheek factor. let's examine each point closely.
paper mario's gameplay is simple but effective. you've got your health, a pool of special action points, some items masquerading as stars, and then the combat itself which exemplifies small numbers... 0's, 1's, 2's, and so forth, thank god. time your actions and you'll deal more damage, time your blocks and you'll lower the consequences. but it isn't the most rewarding: badges are gimped at the paltry 30 point cap, limiting your toolset, and that toolset itself is a little ridiculous when some badges are retired by "improved" versions of themselves (compare charges and power smashes/jumps) and others being just point hogs (why in fuck is a 20% chance to dodge a whopping 10 points total? that's a THIRD of your entire badges!). and of course, there's no way to fully negate damage with perfect, precise timing--a very, very satisfying improvement made in ttyd.
paper mario's locations and locales are... just alright. they follow the "mario format" so to speak: grasslands, desert, forest, jungle, ice world--but not completely. the grasslands and desert are ho hum, but that named forest is actually a pitch black one with twists and turns that leads to a haunted mansion which leads to a dried up gulch which leads to a stealth mission within a large manor.... and that's pretty incredible. there's also a miniature world mario visits, which conceptually is cool, but in action turns out to be a backtracking hell (something ttyd did not learn from, unfortunately). but beyond these two, the locales mario visits end up being about as bog-standard as they come (minus a murder mystery...). they're by no means boring, but they're foundation laying, and what is built upon them in ttyd is....
anyway, the writing. i don't really know what's going on here. there are moments where it's hard to hold back laughter at just the absurdity of a moment, such as a flower pointing out her assaulting miscreants and choosing to randomly include a passer-byer with comical timing, but then there's also a diary kept by your brother where most of the entries lack any sort of punch at all, and you wonder why they even bothered. who's at fault here? the japanese devs? the american localizers? it's strange how half of paper mario 64 can make you smile and the other half can leave you with a straight face. your partners also get it the worst, here--they have nearly zero personality aside from their introductions. you can sort of tell as you play through that the writers get more into the groove and start handing out unique lines, but it's a little late on the delivery. of course, not to worry... ttyd doubles down on it and spit-shines the writing into absurd heights.
while i've spent the entire review denigrating the experience and offering its sequel as a worthier play, by no means would i ever suggest anyone skip such an interesting first entry in the paper mario series. it's definitely good! it's very good! but the shadow it lives in is massive, and perhaps paper mario 64's worth playing if only to see what improvement from game to sequel can truly be.
... oh, but that shouldn't be the last note to leave on, actually. i know what you want to read: what did paper mario 64 do BETTER than ttyd? and actually, a few things. there isn't a single chapter in the sequel better paced than pm64's island chapter. the reoccurring rival of an egg shelled turtle is enormously endearing and his absence in ttyd is missed. the binary art is also very endearing, although the flash 8 presentation of ttyd is by no means bad, either--just different. the soundtrack, helmed by koji kondo, is phenomenal of course, although ttyd's is no slouch, either. and i absolutely adore those fanmail letters mario can receive, complete with original art and everything--such a concept is sorely missed in paper's sequel.
but, ah... yeah. that's it. it's a great game, and then you play ttyd, and suddenly it becomes demoted to "pretty good". this is by no means a bad thing--i thought about this earlier with artists who create landmark albums despite having previous, great entries. said landmarks do not delete the existence of what came before and, in fact, it's worth checking out to every fan of the artist to explore the discography beforehand... because it preps the appetite for a feast not too soon after.

"if you can't slam with the best, jam with the rest"
there's a million words i could write about the million b-balls dribbled dunked and slam jammed throughout the brief 4-6 hour adventure of barkley and his crew of basketball renegades but the simplest i can write is this: if you have an absurd concept, you need to see it through. riding off the name alone a la kanye quest is a surefire way to make an ass of your lazy self. barkley, shut up and jam: gaiden goes all the way, and it does so with a level of ambition in its writing that shines past its asset rips, and does so with gameplay where diabetes is a status effect, and does so with humor so deadly funny, barkley's practically a litmus test for weeding out those who have a charred black heart and those who don't.
in a world where great stories are a rarity, barkley gaiden will stand the test of time. because they went all the way.
all the way.

This review was written before the game released

i'm trying to think of when exactly i heel-turned on the pokemon series... i cut my teeth on third and fourth gen, returning back in time for gamefreak's arrival onto the 3ds with x and y, and the cracks certainly showed then, but nothing could have been more damning than the release of omega ruby/alpha sapphire, its absence of the beloved frontier explained away in an interview citing "well, who the hell finishes these games anyway?" and that sort of blew my mind, hearing a game director outright handwave inattention to the delivery of their own product with "oh, who cares?"
inattention... is certainly one word that comes to mind when playing pokemon legends arceus. the entire game feels cobbled together from breath of the wild's sloppy seconds, some mmo styled fetch quests and tasks, and youtube videos of pikachu running through an unreal engine wheat field, comments repeating one another with "THIS is the game eight year old me dreamed of playing!"
well, dream bigger.
here's the gameplay: you, the player, enter a map from rust with unloaded textures. in this ugly mess of morrowind bump mapping, you run around and collect resources. of the many things you can make with them, a pokeball is one, and that is how you'll build your team. once you've lobbed enough of the things at unsuspecting wildlife (or suspecting because you ran full steam ahead and threw the damn things like mad), your new goal is to train the team and fill out the pokedex... in addition to completing story beats, of course.
but let's talk pokedex. capture a 'mon and move on, right? wrong. capture 5 of that mon. kill 7. see it use 'ember' four times, and so forth. you do this for every single pokemon, these series of menial tasks designed to give players SOMETHING to keep them in their far cry 2 usermaps long enough so that they don't run through the game too quick. and you have to do this, by the way--the pokedex acts as gym badges do in the mainlines, each badge ("rank") allowing you to use higher leveled pokemon. don't give a shit about screwing around with budews and geodudes? well you better, and you better do it often lest you lose control of your own pokemon.
how about the battles? it's funny--i feel like the initial trailers made combat seem more involved than it really is, which is... your standard turn based affair, really. there's some reworked 'speed' stuff going on, but it's genuinely whatever you're used to from the mainlines with the strange addition of being able to walk around and harass the poor beast you're fighting (or, rarely, its trainer). it's fine, too--don't mess with what works. it's actually fantastic how smooth the transition is in and out of battle, too, a player in legends being able to cut through five starly in the same amount of time a bdsp player might take with just one. this begs a question, though: why no multiplayer? huh? it's the same battle system as anything else, so what's the excuse? why can't i go fight my friends with the shiny zubat i nabbed? gamefreak can't handle seeing me run around in an arena crouching really fast in front of the opponent?
let's get back to the map, again, where all these battles take place. there's not much going on in them. the moment you exit the city hub's gates and find yourself with newfound freedom (after an hour of excruciating tutorial), you see.... virtually nothing of interest. there are some poorly rendered trees out in front, and some... rocks to the left. some grass. there's mountains in the distance, but don't be deceived--this isn't an open world game. you aren't climbing that mountain. you're certainly welcome to piddle about around them, though, the only 'reward' for exploration ever being just finding large pokemon every so often (at turkey leg dangling higher levels, too). for all the ideas nipped from botw, creating intrigue in landscape design isn't one of them. it's just your very, very painfully average set of bump maps with repeating water textures, repeating dirt textures, repeating rock textures--
it's an ugly fucking game, is what i'm trying to get at.
"graphics don't matter!" graphics matter. they aren't the end all be all, but a book in light grey print on pages sopped with coffee certainly presents a more unenjoyable reading session than you'd like. it's questionable why the game is in this state at all, barely steps past the original alpha trailers. this is the part where i must iterate and reiterate: pokemon is THE most profitable media property in the world, eclipsing genuinely anything you or i can think of. gamefreak and the pokemon company bring in over 170 million dollars annually--so where the fuck has it all gone?
well, i can make a guess: straight into exec's pockets. these games hardly matter when the pokemon company's biggest source of income stems from merchandise of all things, so here's the position pokemon legends found itself in at gamefreak: the studio wanted to make a nintendo-hire-this-man type game, they were told "sure, and you'll do it in two years!" to which someone probably complained, asking why so little time, how they'd have to dramatically cut down the scope and intent, to which they were probably told "so?" among "it'll sell regardless" and maybe even "no one finishes these damn things anyway."
and that's where gamefreak found themselves, having to create a scope actually manageable. it has its good little bits that the team knew they needed to get right, like going in and out of pokemon battles, qol changes making managing a team easier than ever (choose when they level? choose their names after? hell yeah), and even the brief interest of just hearing a faint, familiar pokemon cry quite near you... but it all takes place in these ugly, lifeless worlds sorely lacking trainers, sorely lacking cities and towns and settlements at all, sorely lacking actual level design and creativity and care.
so maybe it isn't inattention. in all honesty, gamefreak probably did the best they could given the time they had and the ideas they wanted to work with, and they knew the shit that was bad... was bad. the end result is a barely fun gameplay loop with tried and true designs smothered in mediocrity, in fetch quests and genshin tasks, in a lack of art style and cohesion, in sandboxes that fail to justify themselves, in a story that i wanted to spend a paragraph writing about but what the fuck ever, it's a pokemon story, that shit was always going to be bad.
let me wrap this review up by describing the (spoiler free) circumstances leading up to deciding i'd had enough. i did my fair bit of exploring and leveling up, and it got very old very quick, so i plowed ahead with the story and ended up at a boss fight with baby's first dark souls mechanics on display--one i ended without even using a pokemon. this granted me access to a new area, and it was there that i found the same ugly level design but with 50% more brown. i hightailed it to a ruin (which was a large, square, empty box) and met a character who hated my guts. i found three bandits after a hyped up cutscene all to just face one level 23 pokemon, and then i returned to the ruin character who now suddenly loved me as a result, her character arc completed in the span of 5 minutes, and i then realized that if i wasn't playing any longer for the exploration, and i wasn't playing for the gameplay, and now i didn't even care enough to play for the story... then there just wasn't any reason to play a minute more.
gamefreak could've done better--even if you end up playing and loving legends, you may still find yourself agreeing with that sentiment. but they won't do better, and they won't have to when these games sell the incredible gangbusters amounts that they do. the pokemon company knows this, and that's why gamefreak's never going to get the dev time they actually desperately need. so long as half baked $60 early access crap like this is peddled out and sold in the millions, nothing will ever change. in other words...
should you buy pokemon legends, you aren't supporting a brave new direction to take the series. you're supporting a grindhouse dev studio forced into mediocrity, and that's the direction they've gone for the past decade, and it'll be the same till they or this series dies. just don't forget an arceus plushie on your way out.

when it comes to failing in a video game and trying, trying again, it's easy for me to reach for the quickload key to avoid repeating already made progress. anything less feels like a head against the wall, a repetition so repetitive i'd rather repeat uninstalling the game. over-exaggerating obviously, but it's easy to crutch saves to keep the flow going, and this is a reason why rougelites and like--even prey's mooncrash--are so fearsome to me. this is also a reason why deathloop initially put me off, a full fledged project built off said prey dlc. no quicksaves, no quickloading, and you're going to see these levels a whole, whole lot...
and it works brilliant.
deathloop offers you four distinct playgrounds, each filled with npcs set to schedules and routines for you to observe and plan around. and when you disturb them? you can't go back on your word, so you either take a stand and empty some clips or bail and haul ass to the complete other side of the map. it can feel frustrating entering unfamiliar territory and constantly getting caught by surprise... just as much as it can feel rewarding to weave through learned territory to the degree it becomes colt's proving ground.
colt's the main character by the way, and he and primary antagonist julianna spend much of the game bickering across the radio and trying to kill or escape one another during gameplay. players can control julianna, by the way, in a form of dark souls-esque invasions less about dueling (and taking advantage of inexperienced players) and more about cat-and-mousing (and taking advantage of inexperienced players). the feeling is intoxicating for a well played arkane player. with the dishonoreds, thiefs, and deus exes under my belt, i take a lot of pride in the ways i stalk unsuspecting players, distracting them and rerouting them and waiting on them until suddenly my blade's in their back. i also take my fair slice of humble pie when a julianna invades my own world and drops every peg in my leg... three times, too.
right, you get three lives in a loop, and it allows for a fine sweet spot of allowing for experiments and punishing strings of one too many failed. and you'll want to experiment: colt's got a lot of tools ripped from arkane's previous work in addition to some fun new ones, and there's a lot of ways to traverse levels through combat, stealth, and somewhere inbetween. it's not perfect, though... ai is at a bizarre level of simple where you can get away with a lot more than you think just as much as you can suddenly have the entire half of the map zeroed in on your location because you stepped on a fucking rock wrong. and when you see enemies, you're going to want to mark them: this works half the time, and every mis-click or mis-mark will... get rid of the ones you actually got successfully marked. yeah, you'll want a sniper, and don't even try doing this shit through a fucking window for whatever reason.
but you'll keep fucking pushing through it, and not just because it's fun... you want to know what's going down with the fucking story. also, the fucking story sucks. deathloop features a cast of just 9 fucking characters and every single one of them fucking sucks. dialogue is fucking wretched. these characters fucking talk like they're trying to out-quip or out-annoy each fucking other, and the personalities themselves of the fucking targets could not be any fucking duller. i'm having a tough time caring about the fucking drugged out painter who slurs words or the fucking party owner who sounds like a prissy yuppie, and it's a fucking shame because it could be so much fucking cooler than it fucking is. also, i wish they fucking swore more if i'm fucking honest because i love when characters fucking swear over and over and over and fucking over and fucking over and fucking over like they're a fucking sixth grader let fucking loose onto the fucking internet with un-fucking-supervised fucking access. goddamn.
sorry had to get that out of my system--the dialogue really is wretched and the ending, in classic arkane fashion, won't deliver on anything either because of course it won't, it's a classic arkane game. these fools know how to create masterclasses in game design and generate incredible intrigue in their narratives only to fumble the fucking ball legitimately every single time. with how fast and done these games' endings always are, arkane's next project may as well have the player just walk up to a button that says "PRESS HERE TO END GAMEPLAY AND ROLL CREDITS".
and while all that's unfortunate on the writing end, it's not something i expect out of an arkane experience: i look for damned good imsim shenanigans and gameplay that rewards planning and experimentation. deathloop is damned good imsim shenanigans, and deathloop is gameplay that rewards planning, experimentation, trial and error and successes and failures and wins and losses and personal, weighty progress. it's not about the destination even if that certainly docks it a few points: deathloop is about tools and rules, and how you break them from loop to loop to loop. and it's damned fun. or fucking fun. fuck.

i'm still not over my copy of ghost trick being stolen by my ex. you seen how much these bad boys go for now on ebay? i bet she didn't even play it.
... anyway, ghost trick is one of those games that can best be described as "near perfect", or even outright "perfect" if you're a backloggd mutual of mine, apparently. and the game makes a solid argument for both: crisp animations, sharp art style, charming portraits, catchy bgm, captivating story, and a simple to understand gameplay system all combine to form one good ass goddamn video game. but there are little issues.
the prison segment trips up a lot of players. and, fair, it can be a leap to just assume you can do a certain maneuver (though a character beforehand lampshades the mechanic--sorry, i'm trying to tiptoe as carefully as i can to avoid spoiling). the fault in this part is a time wasting punishment for "losing", and that gets old. there's also a bit of the game where you obtain additional "powers" to use, but... they kind of freak me out, mentally. like, i'm barely holding myself together here working with the physics and know-how of just sissel himself, now i have to--oh man.
the story is just sublime, and character interactions are chock-full of soul and humor in just about every segment--except the main antagonist. he's so cartoonishly over-the-top, it's honestly grating given how interesting everyone is around him. there are better ways to establish an evil presence than maniacal saturday morning villainy. also, there are a few minor story beats that happen throughout that are.... very convenient, or sometimes completely unexplained (seriously, what is up with being called out? what was going on there? again, spoilers...)
but this isn't a 2 star review. it's 4.5, and that's because the complaints i've offered are minor. ghost trick grabs hold of you from the start with its intoxicating atmosphere and unique gameplay loop, and it just won't let go--not until you've discovered the phantom truth. of the detective. of the phantom detective. using ghost tricks. on the DS. unless you're my ex.