The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (2017)

The long awaited and highly anticipated new Legend of Zelda game was released a month ago, and I have spent a lot of time playing it. Breath of the Wild is being heralded as a masterpiece, and I completely agree with that sentiment. This game is extremely unique, especially when compared to its predecessors. Breath of the Wild has a massive and completely open world to explore, and that is what makes it so special. There is a level of freedom that is unheard of in any other video games, you can do anything at anytime, that is in part why I love this game.

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Most open world games allow for varying degrees of exploration and discovery, but ultimately restrict the player in one way or another. The main story, powerful monsters that block the way, or some areas require certain items to access, these are all methods that other open world games use to reign in the player to have them follow an expected path. Breath of the Wild throws all of that out of the window, you can go wherever you want and do whatever you want. Even the main story allows the player to tackle it in numerous different ways, you can even ignore it altogether and head straight for the final boss. There are so many creative solutions to any encounter in Breath of the Wild. Puzzles can be solved in dozens of ways, and there are numerous paths to get to any destination. Even fighting monsters allows for some innovative tactics through the use of the magical Runes that you acquire early on in the game. Breath of the Wild also allows for some creative use of the environment to gain an edge in fights. The fact that you constantly need to switch out weapons as they degrade and break forces the player to think on their feet and choose their weapons according to the appropriate situation. I am constantly surprised by new tricks, even dozens of hours into the game. Overall there is a lot of room for individuality and creativity in Breath of the Wild, it is a blast to just experiment with all the different ways to approach a single task.

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The world of Breath of the Wild is massive, and its filled with things to find. There are plenty of sidequests, monster encampments, towns and stables to be found. Most importantly are the shrines and Korok seeds, which both act as a form of progression. Every four completed shrines allow the player to choose between an extra heart or some more stamina, and every couple of Korok seeds the player can increase their inventory space. With 120 shrines and 900 Korok seeds, there are plenty of these short and sweet puzzles to be solved. These exploration related objectives are a method for the player to keep up with the scaling difficulty as the game progresses. This is the most difficult 3D Legend of Zelda game that I have played by a long shot. Many enemies have the capability to kill the player in a single hit early on in the game. These enemies require to you be prepared, have precise timing, as well as creative thinking if you want a chance at defeating them. Certain enemies are extremely punishing if you misstep, which I think is a welcome change to the previously easy Legend of Zelda series. There is so much to do in the land of Hyrule, if you are worried about the world being “big but empty”, fret no more because there is no lack of things to do in this game.

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There were many risks taken in the development of Breath of the Wild. The game does away with many traditional Legend of Zelda elements. Instead of using the Master Sword the whole game, now you use a plethora of weapons. Link can now wear a variety of different sets of clothing, all with different effects, rather than the green get-up we all know him for. There is voice acting for dialogue, which there has never been in a Legend of Zelda game. Traditional dungeons are swapped out for shrines and divine beasts. Link can now jump if you hit a button. Instead of memorable themes and melodies, the game goes for a much more atmospheric and understated soundtrack. All of these changes were huge risks as The Legend of Zelda series has been following a specific formula for a long time, and Breath of the Wild breaks the conventions. It has been six years between the release of Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild. This game was delayed multiple times to polish it, and I love Nintendo for making the decision to delay the release and perfect this game. Shigeru Miyamoto himself said a famous quote that I find applicable “A delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad.” Many risks were made during the development of this game and Breath of the Wild is all the better for it.

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The beauty and awe-inspiring nature of Breath of the Wild is unparalleled. From rolling hills of lush grass, to dense and foggy forests, to the shifting sands of the desert, to snowy mountain tops, to rushing rivers,  there is just so much atmosphere that I just had to sit back and take in. The games magnificent environments are only complimented by its beautiful art style. I could spend hours just walking around Hyrule doing nothing but admiring all the scenery. Everything is well animated and pleasant to look at. The survival aspect of this game is also quite charming. You can no longer just chop grass to get hearts and arrows. Now you need to collect resources to cook meals that replenish your hearts as well as giving special benefits. For arrows you need to visit the small towns in stables to replenish your stock which encourages the player to interact with all the non-playable characters (NPCs) in the game. The NPCs are charming and have some depth to them, even if their quests are simple. Instead of a woman saying “get me 3 dragonflies”, they tell you that their little sister loves dragonflies but the woman is too scared to get them herself. Just a minor narrative change like that makes all the difference. Throughout the game there are many seemingly minor things that enhance the experience drastically.

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I believe that no game is perfect, and Breath of the Wild is not an exception to that rule. It is extremely important to note the size of these issues, as most of them are nitpicks that I only discovered after dozens of hours of play. The first and most noticeable problem are the FPS drops. In graphically intense areas like villages or battles with many enemies, the FPS can and will drop. It happens often enough that it hurts the experience a little, but the vast majority of the time the game runs smoothly.  The first time in rained in Hyrule I thought it was atmospheric and beautiful. Then it kept raining, and raining, and raining. It feels like a third of the time in the game is spent in the rain. It is nice once in a while, but eventually it just gets dreary. The rain also stops you from climbing anything or using any fire related items, so that can slow the players progress by a significant amount. A little rain is fine, but I wish the developers had toned down the amount of rain in this game. There are a few small quality of life things that I would like to see, like faster cooking and faster animations of getting in and out of shrines. Issues like that are fairly minor but after many hours of playing the game I think I stopped caring about the shrine completion animation and I just wanted to skip it. Overall, I feel like while all of these are issues, they are fairly small and only noticeable after hours upon hours of play. In fact, all of these issues are fixable and I hope to see them resolved in future patches of the game.

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Breath of the Wild manages to capture a feeling of childlike wonder and amazement. I feel like this game will be talked about ten years from now and it will be a benchmark for phenomenal open world games. I loved every minute that I played of this game. It breaks conventions and takes The Legend of Zelda in a whole different direction, and I appreciate the risks that the developers took in making this game. The amount of delays, setbacks, and risks all paid off in a spectacular fashion in the experience that is Breath of the Wild. The amount of creativity, thoughtfulness, depth, and soul in this game is astounding. It has a few flaws that I would like to see fixed, but they are specks of dust on the masterpiece that is Breath of the Wild. I firmly believe that this will be remembered as one of the greatest games of all time. For these reasons I give The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a 10/10. I cannot recommend this game highly enough, and it is a must play for anybody and everybody.

Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (2000)

Majora’s Mask is the black sheep of the 3-D Legend of Zelda family. It was developed in a year after the massive success that was Ocarina of Time. Majora’s Mask uses the same engine and basic formula as its predecessor, but it takes a bizarre twist. There is no Zelda, no Triforce, and it does not take place in Hyrule. Instead, Majora’s Mask takes place in the doomed realm of Termina. The moon is set to crash into Termina and destroy everything in three days (about 54 minutes of real time). You are trapped in a Groundhog Day scenario, you must reset the three day cycle to prevent the moon from crashing into Termina until you gather the necessary items to save the world. Whether or not you like this game depends entirely on how much you enjoy this three day cycle mechanic. I personally thought it was a double-edged sword in many ways. I can appreciate the ambitious and unique aspects of Majora’s Mask, but I just could not get into it for a couple of reasons.

Majora’s Mask lives and dies on its three day cycle. Many people are scared away because of the 54 minute timer, but to be honest it was never a problem for me as I often used the Inverted Song of Time to triple the amount of time. Everything you do in Majora’s Mask is designed to be easily completed within those 162 minutes, so I had no issues with that aspect at all. That being said, there were many other issues I had with this system. First and foremost was the obnoxious saving system. The only way to permanently save the game was to reset the three day cycle, so I felt like I needed to play a solid two hours if I wanted to make any progress. Other games I can be satisfied by playing thirty minutes to an hour, but Majora’s Mask does not allow you that luxury and it forces you to play it in big chunks. Another problem I had was just the sheer repetitive nature of the game. When you reset the cycle, everything is reset except for your items which you keep. Due to this, there is just a lot of repetition and tedium in this game. My final issue with the three day cycle is more subjective but it was probably my biggest problem with this game. I felt like I was not making any progress. Resetting the cycle and watching all your work and time erased just felt demoralizing. There is no point of doing any of the side-quests or helping any of the characters when you know that your efforts are fruitless and ultimately amount to nothing. Of course you get a mask or some other reward, but I like to see how the world develops or how the characters change. Some argue this aspect was the entire point of Majora’s Mask, you are meant to feel helpless and like all your efforts are futile. While many may like this, I personally did not.

The other thing that makes Majora’s Mask standout in comparison to other Legend of Zelda titles is its lack of dungeons. It only had four main dungeons, while its predecessor had nine. To be fair, Majora’s Mask focus is not on the dungeons, but on its world and its side-quests. Still, dungeons have always been a core part of the Legend of Zelda experience and Majora’s Mask is lacking in that department. The first two dungeons were alright but nothing special. Great Bay Temple was conceptually interesting, but it was extremely frustrating to navigate. Stone Tower Temple was fantastic and one of the best dungeons in the entire series. All in all, if you enjoy Legend of Zelda games for the dungeons than Majora’s Mask is definitely not for you. The lack of dungeons is made up for with all the side-quests and the lengthy sections before each dungeon.

Everyone loves to talk about the complexity and interesting world of Majora’s Mask. The three day cycle allows for some complex interactions. Every character has a schedule that they follow and talking to them at different times during their cycles will yield different results. For example, if you talk to the old woman at the bomb shop on day two or three she will tell you how she was robbed on the night of the first day. Logically, you reset the cycle and save her from getting robbed and she gives you a reward. The quests are all interconnected as well. Following the previously mentioned side-quest, if you help the old woman then you will not be able to do a quest involving the thief later on in the cycle. Many of the of the side-quests utilize the three day cycle to help you figure out the solution and it is interesting to see how all the characters plots are interwoven with each other. Unfortunately, a couple other side-quests were not as well crafted as the others. Many of them boiled down to just talking to the character at the right time, or talking to the character and wearing the correct mask. I felt like some of the side-quests just wasted my time. The famed Anju and Kafei quest is about 45 minutes long and you need to complete it twice if you want both rewards. The quest involves a lot of just sitting around as you wait for the characters to get to the correct part of their schedule for you to interact with them. Overall, some of the quests correctly utilized the three day cycle, and others I felt like just wasted my time.

I feel like Majora’s Mask is a game that many people love, but others find it exhausting. I fall into the latter camp, it is my least favorite Legend of Zelda title that I have played so far. I can appreciate the creativity and the uniqueness of what Majora’s Mask achieved, but I just did not like it. I feel like you need an exceptional amount of patience to put up with all the tedium and repetitiveness that is in this game. If you are interested by the prospect of the three day cycle, impending doom, and themes of hopelessness and regret, then you will probably love Majora’s Mask. If you are more of a gameplay and action oriented person, I would recommend steering clear of this game. Overall, I understand what it was going for, but Majora’s Mask just did not click for me.

Inside (2016)

Six years have passed since Playdead released their first game, Limbo, which I talked about here. Playdead’s new game, Inside, follows the same formula as Limbo. They are both very moody, dark, and disturbing puzzle-platformers. I was a little hesitant going into Inside even though it received fantastic reviews because in my opinion Limbo fell a little flat. After playing Inside, I can safely say it greatly improved upon the preexisting formula from Limbo. Overall, the strengths and weaknesses of Inside seem to mirror Limbo with some improvements. However, most importantly Inside has introduced a stunning narrative element. I am going to keep this review spoiler-free, as Inside has a lot of mystery and intrigue that I do not want to ruin for anybody.

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The most memorable and impressive element in Inside was its ability to tell a gripping story without any dialogue. You are dropped into a surreal and dystopian world with no idea what is happening or what your goal is. You quickly progress from area to area, watching what is happening in the background, until you start to piece together the plot. I loved the fact that you have to draw clues and hints from the environment instead of a story just being read to you through dialogue. Even if you pay close attention to everything that is occurring around you, a lot is open to interpretation. The game is purposefully ambiguous and leaves plenty to your imagination to piece together and figure out. The dimly-lit world and art style of Inside serves to compliment its central themes. The underlying motif of the game is all about control and conformity but how it is interpreted is all up to the player, and that is the beauty of Inside.

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While Inside did a great job with its environment and story, it suffered similar issues to its predecessor, Limbo. Both of these games suffer in the gameplay department. Inside still has a few of those trial-and-error puzzles that plagued Limbo, but thankfully they have been significantly reduced. The bigger issue for Inside was its lack of difficulty. There were many different puzzle elements and concepts which kept the game interesting through the means of variety, thankfully. The game would introduce these creative new elements and spend awhile doing simple puzzles to let the player get a hang of the new element. Then they would drop the element and move onto something else entirely. Nothing seemed to move past the basics, and the game infrequently combines elements to make for more complex puzzles. I never felt like the game was getting progressively more difficult and complex, as a puzzle game should. The gameplay was not bad, it just got a little dull and slow after awhile.

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Ultimately, Inside was a great little game. It only takes three to four hours to complete, but it is an extremely memorable experience. The depressing and cryptic world of Inside is unforgettable. It is beautifully crafted and animated, and its commentary on control and conformity is phenomenal. I would definitely check out this game if you are into moody, mysterious, and ambiguous stories. If you are into more fast-paced action or gameplay oriented games, Inside is probably not for you. For these reasons, I am going to give Inside an 8/10. It was a strange little game, and I really enjoyed it.

Limbo (2010)

Limbo is a puzzle-platformer from the Danish independent developers: Playdead. The game is dark, mysterious, and horrifying. A young boy is tossed into a hostile world, and the player must navigate deadly puzzles and environments to escape. I thought the gameplay was alright, but it did have quite a few issues in that department. However, Limbo really shined in its atmosphere and its visuals.

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I quite liked the unique art direction in Limbo. The entire game is made up of black and white silhouettes and it solidifies the dark and dingy atmosphere. The world’s hostility is apparent from the start: everything is trying to kill you. Giant spiders, terrifying machinery, mind-controlling parasites, and other children are all trying to hunt you down. There is no music, only ambient sounds that could send a chill down your spine. Watching your character get impaled by a giant spider and flung across the sky just about sums up what this game has in store for the player. The atmosphere and visuals melded into one creepy and disturbing experience.

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The gameplay of Limbo fell a little flat in my opinion. It was a puzzle-platformer, but neither the puzzles nor the platforming were really anything special. The platforming required quite a bit of precision, which is fine, but the character himself is quite awkward so it can be difficult to judge what jumps are possible and what jumps are not. The puzzles had a decent amount of variety which I enjoyed and there were quite a few great puzzles.  Unfortunately, most of the puzzles just ended up being trial-and-error. Often times the puzzle boils down to: “What does this switch do? Oh, it kills you unless you move that box to a specific location beforehand”. There was really no way of knowing how to solve many of the puzzles without dying first. This was really unfortunate as the whole atmosphere of the game was supposed to be disturbing and horrifying, which it was until I figured out that I just needed to run head first into everything and die to make any progress. Things tend to be a lot less scary when they go from “Oh god how do I stop this from killing me?” to “Well I have to let it kill me before I can see the solution”. Luckily, there were plenty of well-placed checkpoints that kept deaths from heavily impeding on progress. The other issue I had with the gameplay was it was just… slow. The main character walked slowly, death scenes (as plentiful as they were) were drawn out, and a large chunk of the game was just pushing around boxes and climbing ropes.

Overall, I think Limbo was alright. For a quick three to four hour game, it does a great job of setting the mood and being memorable. Thanks to its art direction and its atmosphere, Limbo was certainly unique. There is also a sort of beauty in the game’s overall simplicity. I just wish the gameplay held up a little bit better. If you are into moody and dark games, then I would definitely recommend Limbo. If you are looking for great puzzles or platforming, I would look elsewhere.

Firewatch (2016)

Firewatch is an indie title developed by Campo Santo. It is set in the Wyoming wilderness and the main character, Henry, becomes a fire lookout. The game revolves around its beautiful scenery and compelling narrative instead of gameplay and action. I was nervous about how good the game could be when the only real gameplay is just walking around in the wilderness, but I believe it worked out alright. I am going to try to avoid spoilers in this review, as the story is all that this game has and it would be a shame if I were to ruin it for somebody.

The game is about the main character, Henry, and how he isolated himself after his wife develops dementia. He becomes a fire lookout in the middle of a national park, and his only form of human contact is talking with his supervisor, Delilah, over the radio. As the player walks around the park doing mundane tasks you are constantly in conversation with Delilah. The dialogue is witty, humorous, sometimes somber, and most importantly it all feels real. Many games struggle in this regard, conversations often feel robotic, but not in Firewatch. The conversations that the player has could actually happen in real life, and this aspect is further strengthened by the excellent voice acting. As time passes in the game Henry and Delilah stumble upon a mystery and they take it upon themselves to unravel it. Overall this was very compelling and kept me hooked the entire time. The mix of exploring the wilderness, conversing with Delilah, and pondering the mystery kept my brain busy.

Though the narrative and story-telling is where Firewatch shone through, there were also a fair amount of issues with the game. The controls were a bit clunky and tough to get used to, and the game was inconsistent when it comes to what you can traverse and what you cannot. Sometimes you can climb up giant rock faces, other times you cannot even step over a pebble, this occasionally got frustrating as I explored the park. While these issues were minor, there were much bigger problems. Although I really liked the narrative, I wish it was tacked onto more actual gameplay. Firewatch plays itself: you cannot do anything wrong, all you do is walk around, and none of your choices matter. I just want a little more sustenance, because it felt like I was watching a TV show or movie instead of being an active player in the game. My other big issue with the game was the ending. I was extremely disappointed in the way the game ended. I know the old cliché “It is about the journey, not the destination”, but in this case I felt the destination completely invalidated the journey. It felt like the entirety of the game was building up many different plot lines, but most of them just went nowhere. The ending just left a bitter taste in my mouth, after completing the game I was left thinking “That’s it?”

If you are intrigued by the aspect of just enjoying the scenery and narrative of a game, then Firewatch is a great game for you. Unfortunately, if you want anything more than just walking around you are going to be disappointed. Also, if you are planning on playing this game, just prepare your self to be let down by the ending. All in all, I did enjoy Firewatch despite its shortcomings and I thought it was a neat little game. I am going to give Firewatch a 6/10. Its narrative and story-telling are top-notch and other developers should attempt to model it. I just wish there was a little more to this game.

Dishonored 2 (2016)

For me, Dishonored 2 was highly anticipated title as I loved the original Dishonored that came out back in 2012. I personally feel that Dishonored 2 does a fantastic job at continuing what made that original so great. Dishonored was all about having different ways of tackling every mission and scenario, and Dishonored 2 runs with that idea. It expands the player’s tool set and options to the point where every single person that plays this game is going to have a different experience. There were a few issues with the game, but a lot of the problems are pretty minor when compared to what makes the game so fun.

In Dishonored 2, you have the option to choose between two different characters to play as. Each character as a unique set of supernatural abilities that you can play with and upgrade by collecting Runes. The player also has access to a very wide variety of tools and weapons at their disposal such as sleep darts, stun mines, a pistol, explosives, and so on. These tools are also upgrade-able through black market shops hidden across the world. On top of all of that, you have the option of being stealthy or chaotic in your methods. You can go into any scenario guns blazing as long as you are prepared for a fight, but you can also sneak past any unsuspecting foes and complete the mission in a more stealthy manner. Also, you have the option of using non-lethal methods to dispose of enemies, or you can kill enemies if you so choose. The combination of all these different aspects makes the game feel like a sandbox. Every scenario you walk into, there are dozens of different ways to tackle it. I personally played using non-lethal tactics and all the while never once being even detected by an enemy. I viewed every room as almost like a puzzle of how to use my limited resources to never be seen and to never kill anybody. Of course, this variety in options is only possible if the level design matches in the amount of paths you can take. There would be no use for all these fun new toys without a playground to use them in, luckily Dishonored 2 delivers just that.

Every level in Dishonored 2 is giant. There are numerous routes and paths that is available to the player to get to any desired point. In every room there are cleverly placed objects to hide behind. There are numerous walkways and surfaces to get on top of or even under to perhaps tackle a challenge from a different angle. Catwalks and back-alleys are scattered through every mission if the player wants to take a more stealthy and less direct approach. Due to these level design choices and the amount of tools and options at the players disposal, Dishonored 2 has a ton of variety and replay-ability. On top of just cleverly designed levels, every mission was extremely unique in both concept and execution. From run down research institutes, to lively palaces, to witches hideouts, Dishonored 2 has it all. My two personal favorite levels were both brilliant in design and execution. The Clockwork Mansion is a mansion filled with gears and mechanisms that at the flip of the switch can turn any room into something completely different. Hitting the switches throughout the mansion was very fun as I watched the level transform. It is also possible to get inside the inner workings of the house and sneak through it in that manner. My favorite level however was Stilton’s Manor, as it very cleverly implemented time travel to change the level from an overgrown mess to a well-guarded and pristine estate. Switching back and forth between these two versions of the manor was necessary to progress through the level. These ever changing and evolving level designs were among my personal favorites, but all the other missions were extremely fun as well.

Despite everything that Dishonored 2 does right, it does have its set of flaws. Most importantly, for many PC users the game does not run properly. Hopefully the developers can get this issue sorted out as soon as possible, but two months after the release I am still hearing of issues concerning the poor performance on PC. Luckily I did not have any performance related problems, but there were also a few other issues that I had with the game. The overall story was just mediocre. It plays out similarly to the original Dishonored: the queen is overthrown and you must retake the throne by eliminating the usurper’s associates in one way or another. The usurper and her associates are the main enemies and villains of the story but you rarely ever see them or hear of them outside of their particular missions. I never really cared about any of the characters as you so rarely interact with any of them. Overall the whole story just felt loosely stringed together and it seemed like it was just the vehicle to connect all the unique and interesting level designs together. The cool thing about the story is that there is a large set of different endings depending on who you leave alive and who you kill and how much overall chaos you have caused. My only other complaint with the game is at times there was a bit of backtracking. There were many levels that required you to walk all the way back to the starting point just to complete the level. It just feels like every level should have an exit point near the end, instead of having to walk all the way back to the start after completing the main objective.

All in all, Dishonored 2 was pretty great game. Just the sheer amount of options and tools available to the player is a breath of fresh air when so many games play so linearly. The amount of creativity and thought that went into every mission is remarkable. Many of the levels were extremely memorable and jaw-dropping. Unfortunately the PC performance issue exist so just be weary if you are thinking of purchasing this game on PC right now. Other than that there were only some minor issues with the game overall. Due to all of these aspects I give Dishonored 2 a 8.5/10. Just think of Dishonored 2 as a giant playground, and you can do whatever you want, that is what makes it so fun.

Doom (2016)

In an age where video games have a heavy focus on the narrative aspect, Doom hearkens back to the days where it was all about the action. It was a refreshing experience to load up the game and immediately jump into the action. I thought killing hell-spawn would grow old after a couple of hours, but the constant additions of new enemies, weapons, and upgrades kept the game feeling fresh throughout. These factors combined with the overall polish made Doom extremely entertaining. While I really enjoyed Doom, I do not think it is for everybody.

Doom was extremely well made, but there was nothing really groundbreaking or super innovative about. To me it was just a modernized version of the classic Doom from 1993. That is fine if you are satisfied with just moving from room to room killing hordes of enemies, but many players want a little more from games these days. I could see how people may feel that it is repetitive or a worn out concept. Doom is all about one thing, but it does that one thing very well.

There is a level of polish on Doom that indicates that it was heavily tested before it was released. I played on the hard (ultra-violence) difficulty and nothing about the game seemed unfair or unjust. The arenas were intelligently designed to flow and never feel stagnant. Items and power-ups were placed strategically throughout the rooms, and all the different enemies were manageable once I got the hang of it. With the amount of different enemies in the game I expected at least one of them to be frustrating, but they all had clearly defined strengths and weaknesses. What really makes Doom great is the speed at which it is played. The game forces you to move around the arenas that you fight in, which is definitely refreshing after playing military shooters in which you just sit behind one piece of cover for an entire battle. In Doom, if you stand still for more than a couple of seconds you will be overrun. As long as you keep on the move you will be able to dodge most of the damage coming from the demons, and you can constantly refresh your ammo, armor, and health with items scattered across the maps. Also the glory kill system was great at incentivizing fast paced gameplay: executing low-health enemies at melee range would have them drop health and ammo. I needed to constantly utilize this mechanic to keep my health and ammo topped off. You need to keep on the move to have a hope of surviving. The constant action kept the game very intense and energetic. This was complimented by the soundtrack and how it matched the mood and intensity of the game.

While in between action packed arenas Doom did have some other things to offer that did not involve slaying hell-spawn. There were plenty of hidden nooks and hallways to find secrets. Finding these secrets was actually rewarding, as they allowed me to upgrade my weapons and suit to be better prepared for future encounters. There were even some mini-games that would allow me to equip special power-ups. The weapon upgrade system was pretty great as well. Every weapon had two unique upgrade paths, for example the shotgun could be upgraded to have a grenade launcher or have a tighter spread of bullets. You could further power up these upgrades and you could switch between them at any time to fit a particular situation. To earn tokens to upgrade these weapon systems there were certain tasks to complete in every level, like glory killing five enemies or killing two enemies with one bullet. You also earn upgrade points just by killing enemies, so there was always a sense of progression as I quickly powered up my character and his arsenal of weapons.

All in all, I really enjoyed Doom for what it was. I loved the constant action and just bad-ass feeling of the game. I also enjoyed taking a breather in between arenas to explore and find secrets and upgrades. Doom is really good at what it does, which is being high energy arena shooter focused on taking on hordes of hell-spawn.  Do not expect anything groundbreaking or anything that is not blasting through swarms of demons. For these reasons I give Doom a 8/10. It is a really great action game, but that is all that it is.

 

Sansa’s Lemon Cakes

I recently tried the Elizabethan Lemon Cake recipe out of A Feast of Ice and Fire and they came out extremely dry. So I made some modifications to the recipe and I figured I’d share what I did. This recipe is quick, easy, and delicious. These Lemon Cakes are modeled after the ones that Sansa loves so much in Game of Thrones and A Song of Ice and Fire, albeit they are more like cookies than cakes. This recipe makes about 16 Lemon Cakes.

Ingredients:

Dough:

2 cups granulated sugar

6 tablespoons butter

1 egg

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup milk

1/2 lemon, juiced

2 lemons worth of zest

2 1/2 cups flour

Icing:

1/3 cups confectioner’s sugar

1 tablespoon milk

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Prepare 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Melt the butter and combine with the granulated sugar. Add in the egg, egg yolks, and milk and mix thoroughly. Grate the lemon zest into the batter and juice half of a lemon into the mixture as well. Stir until everything is completely combined. Add in the flour and mix until it becomes a consistent dough. Form balls of dough about 1 inch in diameter and spread them across the baking sheets. The dough might be a little sticky, but if it is too sticky to handle add in a little bit more flour. Bake in 350° F oven for about 16 minutes.

While they are baking, make the icing. Combine confectioner’s sugar and milk and mix until it becomes thick. After the cakes come out of the oven, let them cool for about 15 minutes. Brush on the icing after the cakes are cool, if you are bit more artistic than I am you could drizzle the icing on to make some pretty designs. Let the icing setup on the cakes for about 10 minutes and they will be ready to eat.

 

 

 

 

Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (2004)

Echoes is the second game in the loved Metroid Prime trilogy, and it continues to build upon what is loved about the franchise. Echoes remained true to what the original Metroid Prime was, but at the same time it had plenty of new features and it created a memorable experience. Some of these new features and changes were welcome additions, but others did fall flat. Echoes was a fun game, but unfortunately there were many nagging issues that makes the game so much less enjoyable and inferior to the original Metroid Prime. That being said, there were plenty of enjoyable sections and pieces that make Echoes a game worth playing.

The basic concepts and gameplay of Echoes are the same as the original Metroid Prime. You explore an alien planet, collect upgrades, kill hostiles, defeat bosses, and learn what has been happening on that planet. There is an interesting twist though, the planet of Aether has been split into two forms: the Light Aether which is just the normal planet inhabited by alien Luminoth, and the Dark Aether which a dark and dangerous version of Aether inhabited by the Ing. The Luminoth and the Ing are at war and you must help the last few Luminoth by restoring energy to their temples and defeating the Ing. The split worlds concept was great;  I believe travelling in between these two worlds and seeing how different each room or area was was definitely interesting. I did have some issues with the Dark Aether though. Such a large chunk of the Echoes was spent in the Dark Aether, but it was all the same. Regardless of what part of the world I was in, everything was black and purple, and the same couple of enemies were reused ad nauseum. Another frustrating feature was how the air was toxic so you have to quickly move between protective bubbles. This is meant to show how hostile and dangerous the Dark Aether is, but unfortunately it just gets frustrating after awhile. In a series like Metroid players should not be punished for exploring the world, but the poisonous air does exactly that. Travelling between the Light Aether and Dark Aether was a good concept, as it did allow some extra depth when exploring the world, and it also allowed for some inter-dimensional puzzles; I just wish the Dark Aether was as well fleshed-out as the Light Aether was.

One of the biggest draws to the Metroid Prime series is the atmosphere and the environments that are created. Echoes continues this trend as it had some fantastically unique areas. The game really builds interesting landscapes such as the ruinous and hostile Agon Wastes, or the rainy and dreary Torvus Bog. Sanctuary Fortress is possibly one of my favorite video game areas ever, the autonomous citadel filled with robots and defense systems was really a joy to explore. The music and visuals created cohesive environments that I could just sit back and admire. The logbook entries, the enemies, and the bosses also matched up to what the environment was to further immerse the player in the experience. Seeing a giant broken down robot in the Light Aether become possessed and hostile in the Dark Aether is just an idea of the cohesiveness and how the two worlds were designed with each other in mind. Also, Aether actually feels like a war torn planet. There are dead Luminoth and Federation soldiers strewn across the world. Aether really feels like it is in ruins and you are the one to save it.

My biggest gripe with Echoes was the quality of the enemies. While the original Metroid Prime did have some enemies that were frustrating, they were not near as bad as some of the enemies in Echoes. Rezbits, Grenchlers, Hunter Ing, and the Boost Guardian were all particularly annoying. They had tons of health that took awhile to burn through, but they also frequently went invulnerable and just forced you to wait to shoot them. The worst offender of this however was the Dark Pirate Commandos. They are like the Chozo Ghosts from Metroid Prime but on steroids. They dash around the map, turn invisible, have tons of health, but the worst part is that they lock the doors so you are forced to fight them if you want to progress. In general, most of the enemies in this game just have too much health. Despite the frustrating enemies, I think most of the bosses were fantastic. They are a great mix of standard combat as well as puzzle solving.

With a new world, comes a new set of upgrades for Samus Aran. There a quite a few changes just at the start of the game. The Scanning Visor was made much easier to use, as now all scan-able objects are highlighted colors to show if they are used for progression or just informational, and if the object is green that means that it has been scanned previously. Samus also gets to keep a few things like the Charge Beam and the Morph Ball at the start of the game. I liked this as I had grown accustomed to using these features a lot throughout the first Metroid Prime, so I appreciated the fact that I did not have reacquire them. The new set of beams are the Dark Beam, Light Beam, and Annihilator. I did not get much use out of them as they unfortunately have limited ammo that you need to replenish. I really did not want to play around with them too much in fear that I would not have enough ammo for an enemy or door that required that specific beam.  The ammo system for the different beams was really frustrating as it discouraged using the beams unless it was necessary. The Annihilator was really fun to use but I barely got to use it as it comes at the very end of the game and it is extremely expensive to use.

All in all, I feel Echoes is a good sequel to Metroid Prime as it continues to use most of what made it such a standout game. There were a number of nagging issues that plagued the game like the bullet-sponge enemies, repetitiveness of the Dark Aether, and the restrictive beam ammo system. Despite that, the environments were certainly memorable and fun to explore. Most importantly, Metroid Prime 2: Echoes does attempt to try new things but manages to keep the spirit of the original. While a few of these new ideas did not work out, others worked great. Overall Echoes was a fun game, even if there were a a couple of frustrating issues.

Pokémon Sun and Moon (2016)

Pokémon Sun and Moon are the most recent addition to the famous franchise. Sun and Moon take the player to the tropical islands of Alola which was a refreshing experience. As a whole, these games make some big changes to the series that I believe were desperately needed. The past couple of years the series has been getting stale; Pokémon has recently celebrated its 20-year anniversary and in twenty years the games have remained the same. Of course there has been some nice changes over the years, but the basic formula has been the same. Sun and Moon do a great job of breaking the stagnation and in my opinion they are the best Pokémon games in awhile.

The innovation is apparent from the start of the game as the region of Alola is a chain of tropical islands, which is radically different than any of the other six regions. Instead of Pokémon gyms and collecting badges, the player must complete various trials. These trials can be anything from searching for hidden items, playing spot the difference, or listening for a specific sound. The only similarity in these trials are the Totem Pokémon which are exceptionally powerful Pokémon that the player must battle. There is also a Kahuna on every island, a trainer chosen by the guardian deities of the islands, that the player interacts with and eventually has to battle. Another big innovation was the addition of regional variants of different Pokémon. These are variations of classic Pokémon with changed types, abilities, and appearance. I believe this was a very clever idea as it allowed Game Freak to make some tweaks to some older Pokémon to make them stronger and more appealing to use. It also added some great variety and it was interesting to see how different Pokémon adapted to Alola. Outside of regional variants, most of the new Pokémon introduced were also well designed and had some new abilities to play around with. The change of format in the games was a huge step forward and it allowed for a lot more creativity and variety.

When it comes to variety, I believe that the Pokémon series is held back by its desire to keep using the same couple of Pokémon in every scenario and game. This is by far my biggest gripe with the series and this game as a whole. It is incredibly frustrating that there are over 800 Pokémon in total and yet every game is plagued by the same couple of species. Every ocean is overflowing with Magikarp, and every cave is filled with mostly Zubat. This has being going on for years and I would really appreciate seeing some other Pokémon. I am fine with the occasional appearance of Pokémon from Generation I, but as a long time player of the series it gets extremely tiring and boring to see the same couple of Pokémon all the time. I would just like to see more Pokémon from Generations II-VII. There are also a couple of minor issues that I had with this game. The first being that frame rate does tend to drop when in chaotic battles. There is also the issue of strange move-set and evolution complications that were probably unintended by the developers. For example Kadabra does not learn a damaging move until level 28. Or the fact that many species of Pokémon do not have the ability to evolve until right before the end of the game. There were also a couple of big level spikes at the end of the game, going straight from a level 45 Totem Pokémon to a trainer with five level 50 Pokémon is kind of strange. The tutorial was also a bit lengthy and could have been slimmed down a bit. Lastly, leveling up Pokémon in the post-game is a painful process. Overall I feel most of these issues were pretty small but they do add up and hurt the quality of the game a little bit.

I cannot talk about Sun and Moon without mentioning the story quality. The past couple of generations Pokémon has had a larger focus on the story than it has in the past. I was not a huge fan of this approach in Generations V and VI as I just did not care much about the stories being presented. In Sun and Moon I believe this narrative-heavy approach was executed much better than it was in the past. This is mostly due to the constant interaction with the games characters and their lively dialogue. Characters such as Kukui, Hau, and Lillie are actually memorable and likable. Even the supporting and side characters were great; the hilarity of Team Skull and their ridiculous antics were certainly a welcome addition to the game. While I did enjoy more interaction with the characters, it did have a drawback. I felt a little overwhelmed and occasionally frustrated with how often my adventure was put to a halt to read some dialogue. There just was not enough time in between these story interactions and it made the game just feel slow.

There were a number of small changes in Sun and Moon that improved the experience. The new Pokédex made it easy to use the map and see where to catch different Pokémon. The battle interface was also greatly improved as it allowed the player to see more detail for each move. Poké Pelago was nice addition that made it easier to grow berries, collect items, and hatch eggs. It also lets the player interact with Pokémon that they have caught but are not currently using. The game also had a fairly good difficulty level; I turned the Exp. Share off and the game provided a couple of decently challenging battles. The PC storage system was also streamlined and made a lot simpler to navigate. One of my favorite changes was the disposal of Hidden Machines and their obnoxious existence. Overall these small changes really improved the game and I hope they keep these features in future generations.

Pokémon Sun and Moon brought some desperately needed innovation to the otherwise stagnant series and it was really a refreshing experience. There were some issues like lack of generational variety, the overall slow pace, as well as a couple of minor issues, but it is much more important to me that the series finally took a step out of its comfort zone and attempted to create a new experience. I am going to give Pokémon Sun and Moon a 8.5/10 as it breathed new life into the series. The region of Alola was unique and enjoyable and it felt like a breath of fresh air after years of stale and repetitive games. Sun and Moon for me are the best Pokémon games in years.