The Difference a Week Can Make

I started this week, not feeling low, per say, but without any high expectations. I had a couple of social plans which I was looking forward to, but nothing too special. In fact, I predicted that it might even be a little stressful due to a couple of factors.

But, at this point, I can say that it was an excellent week. I’d rather not talk too much about the details, as I will save that for a future blog post, but as it turns out, this week provided me with an amazing unexpected development which brings me so much closer to achieving one of my biggest goals in life. And not only that, but it is pretty life changing too – and for the better! Everything is coming together in ways that I never imagined and I’m so excited.

And what’s wonderful is that you never know when something like this will happen. For all I know, next week will contain equally exciting developments. When I look back at all the best and most exciting things that have happened to me, none of them really happened on a schedule. Every Monday morning when you force yourself out of bed and make your weary way to work, you could be at the start of a week in which everything changes for the better!

I know that may all sound very cliche, but it felt worth nothing, because I didn’t expect anything from this week and then it turned into a very significant turning point! I hope that your upcoming week brings you something similar.

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Starwing

When you think of the SNES, you probably imagine 2D side-scrollers and RPGs, but actually it was also a console on which you could find some of the earliest examples of 3D gaming, including Starwing, the first game in the Star Fox series.

You play as Fox McCloud flying through various levels in his Arwing spaceship – shooting at enemy ships and aliens as you do. I’m sure some people will play it and instantly think the game looks terrible – it is very primitive 3D and all of the ships are made up of untextured polygons. But to me, that just adds to its charm. It’s a very unique look.

I’m also very fond of the game’s 16-bit soundtrack. It perfectly captures the feeling of 90s sci-fi video game adventures and really gets me in the mood to play. The old sound effects for explosions and gun shots are also pretty great. I never played this game as a child, but it’s one of those games which has aged in such a charming way and embodies all the good things about retro gaming.

Each level is ‘on rails’ and your ship flies on forward by itself. You then move it around trying to avoid oncoming ships and their shots. Each level ends with a boss battle. It’s a simple formula, but it works – even the controls are alright. I’ll admit I lost on the first level a couple of times, but before long I got the hang of things and I found it all easy enough. Although that’s not to say that the later stages aren’t without their challenges. Also, while you can do all of the game’s levels relatively quickly, there are alternative paths to take, which encourage you to replay.

Overall, it’s a great game. If you like Star Fox and want to see where it started, you should definitely play this. It introduces Fox, Slippy, Falco, Peppy and all the rest and although there’s no voice acting, you still get all the comical interactions between them. It’s an excellent game, full of character.

Rating: 8.4/10

Buy it here.

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My Thoughts on Banjo-Kazooie in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

This week has been the week of E3 and there have been a number of exciting pieces of video game news and announcements. There were a lot of things I was particularly impressed by, but the thing that appealed to me the most was the fact that Banjo-Kazooie will be playable characters in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. It’s delightful for so many reasons.

First of all, I was particularly pleased with that way that they were revealed. Donkey Kong, Diddy and King K. Rool were all really happy to see them, which is satisfying for so many reasons. Banjo came from Diddy Kong Racing, so he is really a part of their world, but with Rare being bought by Microsoft years ago, the connection between the two is rarely acknowledged – some even going so far as to say it’s not legitimate. But I prefer to see the games of Rare as a shared universe and this trailer validates that view. Then there’s the fact that it was originally Duck Hunt Duo in disguise – a clever reference, perhaps, to people who previously suggested that their inclusion meant that Banjo and Kazooie wouldn’t be worth it due to being too similar (I love the Duck Hunt Duo, by the way.)

On a similar note, I’ve always held onto the belief that everything is eventual. People said that Banjo and Kazooie would never again have anything to do with the worlds of Nintendo, but I thought that was very short sighted. In time, everything ends up happening – especially in fiction. I always imagined that there’d be an emotional reunion between Diddy and Banjo in some way or form in the future – and now it has happened! This is something I’ve thought about for well over a decade and its marvellous to see it fully realised.

Secondly, it’s just so nice to see Banjo and Kazooie back and fully animated in 3D again. It’s been almost a decade since they last had a proper appearance and, yes, there have been things like Minecraft where they’re technically there, but none of their personality seeps through whatsoever. As a big fan of them and their series, I am pleased to see them being put to good use.

Finally, I think Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is a pretty great game. The previous two games in the series had felt somewhat lackluster to me and I was starting to lose interesting in the series, but this one was much more enjoyable and the addition of Banjo-Kazooie is something which will make me enjoy it even more. I’m glad they were added to this Smash Bros. and not the previous one.

They said of the game “everybody is here” and I really agree with that now. As a child, I wanted to see Donkey Kong, Banjo and Mario characters coming together and now I have a game that has all of them. But not just all of them – also characters from just about every other game I loved back then. Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask were two other favourites of mine – and Young Link, the star of them, is included. You can be Bowser – as a kid, I always wanted a game that let you control him. Wario Land 2 was another favourite and Wario’s there as well. We’ve got various Pokémon, particularly from the first generation, which captivated me so much when I first played it. Super Castlevania IV is another one of those games I have a lot of sentimental memories of – and now Simon Belmont is playable. I could go on. Not only are all of the video games of my childhood now represented, but also those of my adulthood and I can’t think of anything else that brings together so many of the things I love in one place, especially not in such an enjoyable way.

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Super Mario Odyssey

As much as the quality of the series remained relatively high, I have to say that by 2017, Mario’s games had started to become a little predictable. Sure, there’d be a new power-up or something like that, but you’d know what you were in for with each new instalment. Standard platforming fun around the Mushroom Kingdom which you’d grown to know so well over the years. There were never any really exciting surprises, but it was nice, comfortable and familiar. This all changed with Super Mario Odyssey.

Yes, once again Bowser has kidnapped Princess Peach and you have to travel across the lands in order to rescue her, but this time it’s a very different journey. Instead of simply kidnapping Peach, Bowser actually wants to force her to marry him this time and so has steals artifacts from all over the world. As you chase after them and retrieve these items, you head to many corners of the world into which Mario has never ventured before.

But before I get into the worlds that Mario explores, I need to tell you about an important new character: Cappy. Mario’s iconic hat is destroyed in the opening of the game, only for him to then team up with a spirit called Cappy who merges with his old hat. Cappy gives Mario the ability to throw his hat like a boomerang and use his hat in lots of other cool ways – most significantly, he can now throw his hat onto enemies to take control of them.

The ability to ‘capture’ enemies like this, provides a huge amount of variety in gameplay. You can posses a tyrannosaurus rex and go on a rampage, you can possess a Para-Goomba and fly around the stage, you can possess a Cheep-Cheep to explore the ocean without the need for air, you can possess a Bullet Bill and launch yourself into cracked walls to destroy them. There are quite a lot of things you get to possess and it’s really fun to get a feel for playing as all of these different creatures. Later in the game, this is used in some really significant and amazing ways – I’d not like to spoil it, but I was so excited when I first got to these bits…

On top of the new abilities that Cappy brings to the table, you get to explore huge, beautiful worlds quite unlike anything we’ve seen in the series before. There are expansive desserts, open forests, frozen landscapes, beautiful beaches and even a realistic city. It’s not one big open world, but instead you fly between them in a ship called the Odyssey. Each world is filled with Power Moons which you get by completing various tasks and these moons power the Odyssey, so the more you have the further you can fly – opening up more worlds. You can also buy souvenirs along the way to decorate the interior of your ship.

What I like so much about this game is that each world really feels like a ‘world’. You’re not just avoiding enemies and jumping across platforms to reach the end of an obstacle course, you’re exploring locations with a history behind them and interacting with a cast of wacky characters who are just getting on with their lives. It all feels so much more immersive and I love the excitement that exploring these places provides.

My favourite is New Donk City – this is the realistic city I mentioned above. It looks a lot like New York City and is full of references to the Donkey Kong series. There are streets named after Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong and even King K. Rool. Most excitingly, Pauline herself is mayor of the city and it’s implied that this city may even be the location of her kidnapping by the original Donkey Kong all those years ago… it’s a real treat for the fans.

And this whole game is full of delightful references for fans of the series. One other new feature is that Mario is now able to change his clothes. There are so many outfits to unlock and just about every one of them is a reference to one of his past adventures. I was particularly excited when I saw that one of his outfits was a reference to the game Qix – you may never have even heard of it, but it nicely highlights how comprehensive they were in choosing the outfits!

In the past, Super Mario 64 DS had been my favourite 3D Mario adventure. I thought that would probably always be the case, because it had nostalgia on its side, but it has finally been dethroned. This is the Mario game I always wanted. It has a lot in common with games like Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie and as I love them enormously, it was no surprise that I loved this too. I think what really says a lot, is that this is a game I can happily play just walking around the levels and doing nothing in particular. Only the best of the best can achieve that.

Rating: 9.8/10

Buy it here.

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The Joy in Order

I’m writing today’s blog post much later than I had planned to do so, and do you know why? It’s because I started making a spreadsheet. I was having so much fun, I simply could not draw myself away to start writing a blog post – and the funny thing is, I like writing blog posts!

For a while now, I’ve felt like this website needs better archives for things – especially its reviews. You may have spotted that I have posted updated archive posts for each of the different video game franchises I’ve reviewed. On all of those, I’ve made a table which shows the year the game was released, the title and the score I gave it (along with a link, of course.) Just before bed last night, I had a great idea: why not make a huge table which lists every book that I’ve reviewed here? The excitement of the idea almost kept me from sleeping.

So today I started making this table. Adding the title, the author’s name, the year of publication, the type of book (e.g. novel, anthology, etc.) and finally my score. I have to say, adding a new thing onto this table was like eating out of a box of chocolates. “I’ll just add one more,” I’d tell myself, only to still be doing it half an hour later. But that’s where my comparison falls flat – it’s hard to stop eating chocolates, but eventually my stomach hurts from eating too much and I have to stop – but when it comes to updating a spreadsheet, nothing ever starts hurting, I love doing it and I can never stop. I never have to.

Eventually, I just had to close the tab, because it was getting late and sooner or later I’d spend so much time listing books I’ve read that it would cut into the time I have for actual reading! But it’s interesting, isn’t it? Why is it so satisfying to list things on spreadsheets and make lists? I can’t really explain. I guess, in a way, it now makes all reading activities feel like part of one big over-arching interconnected task, which is quite appealing, but generally speaking I struggle to explain the raw animalistic thrill I get from making spreadsheets and lists of things.

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Pokémon reviews:

Nintendo’s hugely beloved and insanely addictive RPG series, based around catching and training a myriad of fantastical creatures.
YearGameScore
1998Pokémon Red Version & Pokémon Blue Version9.6/10
1998Pokémon Yellow Version9.6/10
1999Super Smash Bros. ¹6/10
1999Pokémon Snap8.9/10
1999Pokémon Gold Version & Pokémon Silver Version9.7/10
2001Super Smash Bros. Melee ²9.5/10
2004Pokémon FireRed Version & Pokémon LeafGreen Version9.6/10
2008Super Smash Bros. Brawl ³9.5/10
2008My Pokémon Ranch8/10
2010Pokémon Black Version & Pokémon White Version9.5/10
2013Pokémon X & Pokémon Y9.1/10
2013Puzzle Swap7/10
2014Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS8.9/10
2015Pokémon Shuffle8.3/10
2015Super Mario Maker9.4/10

Connected Series:

Footnotes:

  1. Pikachu and Jigglypuff are playable characters and there is a stage based on the series.
  2. Various Pokémon are playable and there are multiple stages based on the series.
  3. Various Pokémon are playable and there are multiple stages based on the series.
  4. Xerneas and Yveltal appear in one of the game’s puzzles.
  5. Various Pokémon are playable and there are multiple stages based on the series.
  6. Various Pokémon are playable via Mystery Mushroom.
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Starting a New Book

Vigilant readers may have noticed that it has been quite a while since I last posted a book review here. There is a reason for this. I have three books that I’m reading at once: one actual book, one on my Kindle and one on my 3DS. Having three on the go at once is quite useful, because it means that if one of them isn’t that great, I don’t grow tired of reading entirely, because I can focus more on one of the other two, while slowly making my way through the more boring one so that it still gets read.

However, as foolproof as this system may sound, I very recently discovered that there was a possibility I had never considered: what if I end up reading a boring book on all three platforms? Well, I know the answer to that question and it’s this: I end up reading much less and then am unable to keep up with my bi-weekly book reviews. Once I start a book, I always make sure to see it through to the end – which is good and bad. Sometimes my opinion of what had initially seemed boring turns around as I come to the end, but other times I find myself slogging through an unenjoyable book with no payoff. Ulysses by James Joyce is a good example of this.

Anyway, the good news is, I finished a book today! I started something shortly after and right away, I loved it. I want to read beyond the designated reading hour I had in the day and it felt so good to feel that way again, because after spending so long with unengaging books, it was something I hadn’t felt in quite a long time. It’s a shame because that’s actually a pretty great feeling and I missed it… but I guess now I appreciate it all the more! Plus, it helps because my renewed enthusiasm for reading in general means that I can more easily make my way through the more boring books – which probably doesn’t make sense to non-readers, but think of it like this: bad books are not good exercise for the brain’s reading muscle, but good ones are, so now my reading muscle is being exercised properly again and I can make more progress with everything.

Starting a new, good book after finishing a chore of read feels amazing – even better than starting a good book after a good book would do. That’s one nice role that boring books play. Sadly, the bad news is that the boring book I finished was just one of the books of The Bible and I’m not going to review them individually, just one of the whole thing, so I’ll still be book reviewless for a short while!

Still, it’s great to be enjoying reading again! Its like reuniting with an old friend…

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The Legend of Zelda reviews:

Nintendo’s amazing action adventure fantasy series. One of the best and most beloved gaming franchises of all time.
YearGameScore
1986The Legend of Zelda8.6/10
1987Zelda II: The Adventure of Link8.4/10
1991The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past9.2/10
1995Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest ¹10/10
1996Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars ²9.4/10
1996Donkey Kong Land 2 ³9.3/10
1998The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time9.5/10
1999Super Smash Bros.6/10
2000The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask9.5/10
2001The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons9.1/10
2001The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages7.9/10
2001Super Smash Bros. Melee9.5/10
2002Super Mario Sunshine9/10
2002The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker9.4/10
2003WarioWare, Inc.: Minigame Mania8.9/10
2003Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga8.5/10
2004WarioWare: Twisted!9.3/10
2006Tetris DS ¹⁰9.4/10
2006The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess9.4/10
2007The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass8.9/10
2008Super Smash Bros. Brawl ¹¹9.5/10
2009PiCOPiCT ¹²N/A
2009The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks8.9/10
2011Puzzle Swap ¹³7/10
2011The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D9.6/10
2011The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword9.2/10
2012Nintendo Land ¹⁴8.7/10
2013The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD9.4/10
2013The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds9.4/10
2013NES Remix ¹⁵8.3/10
2014Hyrule Warriors9.4/10
2014Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS ¹⁶8.9/10
2014Mario Kart 8 ¹⁷9.6/10
2015Super Mario Maker ¹⁸9.4/10
2016Nintendo Badge Arcade ¹⁹9/10
2017The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild9.9/10

Spin-offs:

  • Tingle

Connected Series:

Footnotes:

  1. Link has a minor cameo.
  2. Link has a minor cameo.
  3. Link has a minor cameo.
  4. Link is a playable character and there is a stage based on the series.
  5. Link, Young Link, Zelda and Ganondorf are all playable characters and there are some stages based on the series.
  6. The Running Man appears (disguised) as a non-playable character.
  7. Link has a minor playable cameo in a microgame.
  8. A Stalfos has a very minor cameo in a mini game.
  9. Link has a minor playable cameo in a microgame.
  10. Link and other characters and elements from the series appear in various game modes.
  11. Link, Toon Link, Zeda and Ganondorf are all playable characters and there are multiple stages based on the series.
  12. The Legend of Zelda characters appear once certain levels are beaten.
  13. Zelda characters appear in several puzzles.
  14. A new game, The Legend of Zelda: Battle Quest, is included.
  15. Elements from the original Legend of Zelda are remixed into new scenarios.
  16. Link, Toon Link, Sheik, Zelda and Ganondorf are playable and there are two stages based on the series.
  17. Link is a playable character and there is a race track in Hyrule (via DLC.)
  18. Several characters from the series are playable via Mystery Mushroom.
  19. To celebrate the series’ 30th anniversary, a set of badges depicting characters from The Legend of Zelda interacting with other Nintendo characters was released.
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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

With a lot of long-running video game franchises, we really love the instalments we play as children and consider them our favourites. We then enjoy the games which come later, but never feel like the later games reach the heights of the earlier ones. This happens with me quite a lot and was certainly the case with the Zelda series. My number one favourite was either Ocarina of Time or Majora’s Mask and I honestly thought that was always going to be the case – in part, due to nostalgia. With this in mind, what I’m about to say is quite a big deal: Breath of the Wild is my favourite Zelda game.

But I have to admit, I wasn’t won over right away. When I first started playing it, I was overwhelmed. I was kind of having fun, but I thought to myself “This doesn’t feel like Zelda. This is too open. I don’t know what to do or how things work. This is unfamiliar and I’m not sure I’ll get used to it.” I see a lot of people whose final thoughts on the game are similar to my first impressions, but I am pleased to say that my opinion soon turned around.

This is the most open the series has ever been and it does take some getting used to. The first game was pretty open, but it still required you to collect certain items to do certain things and had general order to it. With Breath of the Wild, you could literally head straight to the final boss immediately after the tutorial. It would be ridiculously hard, but it’s possible.

At it’s core, the game is all about getting Link ready to face Ganon. You explore the lands and do everything you can to make yourself stronger. Maybe you try and find really strong armor, maybe you try and find the strongest weapon, maybe you create lots of potions so you can endlessly heal yourself, or maybe you do the game’s dungeons so that you can unlock powerful magic.

There are lots of things you can do, all of them geared around making Link stronger. There are ‘shrines’ hidden around the world and if you find one, you’ve got a small challenge to complete (some simply fighting an enemy, some complex puzzles) and the reward for doing so is a Spirit Orb – Spirit Orbs are exchanged for an increase to your maximum health, or an increase to your maximum storage.

You can also follow the path of the main story, which has you entering the four Divine Beasts in order to rid them of evil. These are four giant mechanical monsters and their insides are dungeons. Getting to them involves working with different groups of people, including the Gerudo, Zoras, Rito and Gorons. It’s nice that all of the main groups play an equally important role in the story.

Whatever you decide to do, there’s a whole fully fleshed out world to get to grips with as you do it. You can harvest vegetables and learn how cooking works, harvest other resources and learn how to make potions. You can even figure out how to tame horses and other creatures. But you’ll probably spend the most time experimenting with the physics – you can interact with the world by creating pillars of ice out of water, freezing items and enemies in time, creating bombs and moving things with a magnet. This allow for near endless possibilities.

I think what I love most about Breath of the Wild, is how beautiful and immersive its world is. There are times where I’d literally stop moving so that I could take in the scenery and listening to the ambient sounds of nature. Often there isn’t even any background music, just wind blowing, birds singing and insects chirping, but when there is it’s some wonderfully minimalist piano pieces. Just walking around and exploring is so relaxing. What makes this even more amazing is that you can literally go anywhere (other than past invisible walls at the far ends of the massive map) – you can look to the horizon in every direction and you can explore every inch of the land you can see.

There’s so much to see and so much to do. As well as the shrines that are hidden everywhere, there are mini-bosses scattered all around, ruins and treasures to discover, people in peril to protect, Great Fairies hiding away, towns and villages to discover, the remains of iconic locations from previous games in the series, forests and fields full of wildlife, mountains to climb, rivers to sail, resources and vegetables to gather and cook and so much more.

Overall, I’ve gotten 160 hours out of this game so far and I can’t remember the last time a game provided me with that much entertainment. Beyond the main game, you’ve also got DLC, which expands upon the story – it doesn’t continue the story, unfortunately, but adds more to what you have and provides lots of enjoyable new challenges and items to gather. Considering I loved all of it so much, I was happy to pay to extend my time with it.

If you’re an unsure Zelda fan, I recommend giving it a try or sticking to it. I realise my initial negativity was just a reluctance to accept change – but everything must change and this is definitely a change for the better. If you’ve never tried the series before, this would be a great place to start! I envy those who haven’t played, because I would so love the opportunity to discover Hyrule all over again.

Rating: 9.9/10

Buy it here.

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The Magic of Life

I’m friends with a lot of writers and I have to say, that in general, I really like to spend my time and form bonds with people who write. Don’t get me wrong, some of my very best friends are non-writers and my relationships with them are no less valuable, but there’s a distinct quality in writers that I like very much indeed.

The distinct quality I am referring to, is the ability of writer’s to see the magic of life. And I know what you’re thinking: what a load of cliched nonsense. What am I? An inspirational quote on Facebook followed by ‘share if you agree’? And as much as it is a bit cheesy and not something which is true in all cases, it is something that I’ve observed in a number of people.

I find that writers are more likely to appreciate the beauty and poetry of places and situations. They tend to appreciate sentimentality – especially when I find creative ways to express it, which is good because I love doing that. Social events with writers are ‘adventures’ and they tend to make sure that you share unique experiences with them – they tend to make nice gestures too. You also have the unique opportunity of seeing how their minds and thoughts work, when you get to read some of what they have written.

The fact that they see the magic of life, helps me to see the magic of life too and I feel like it’s two parts of a circuit; I am a writer myself, after all. I think when we come together, we bring out the creativity in one another, provide each other with the opportunity to bounce ideas around and really let our ‘writer’ personas let loose. Writers are wonderful and I’m glad to know so many of them.

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