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Charming and clunky with a standout soundtrack, EarthBound Beginnings is definitely a product of its time.
The first few hours playing this game were spent adjusting to gameplay mechanics from a 32-year-old game. On top of that, the relentless random encounters only exacerbated my frustration. Progressing through the story felt obtuse at times, but often that led to wandering into silly side quests. What shone through were the laugh-out-loud story beats and infectious tunes in and out of battle. The final sequence was simple and spectacular.
I wanted to go back and prepare for the release of Deltarune Chapter 2, but maybe I went TOO far back?
What more can I say about EarthBound? This game stinks. It's goofy and subversive. Its dated inventory system means I have to shuffle items around every so often. Its soundtrack swirls together so many genres and song samples. It's a JRPG fever dream whose DNA can be found in so many indie games today.
It's strikingly similar to its predecessor, yet it improves in practically every aspect. Its cast and locales are unforgettable, with a visit to Lumine Hall being a personal favorite. Its final sequence is truly haunting, making me feel small and powerless. As the battle unfolded, it captured the hope and inspiration that can blossom during adversity.
Given how Mother 3 is actually my favorite game of all time, I'm not sure why I never got around to playing EarthBound until now. It's criminal how little attention Nintendo gives this franchise nowadays. Both EBB and EB have official English releases, yet they remain virtually inaccessible outside of out-of-production hardware. Someday this series will get its proper revival, right...?
It Takes Two
An incredible co-op game that not only stands strong on its own terms, but also plays as a love letter to the multitude of games that inspired it.
Right from the start, the game moves at breakneck speed through new set pieces and mechanics, and never leaves time for a dull moment. It especially shines in its open-area sections, which are stuffed with hidden minigames, interactive objects, and silly banter between the two characters. The game has a sincere heart to it, with some scenes making me laugh out loud, tear up, or even both. While the overall story leaves a little to be desired, it's still able to string together a series of truly unforgettable moments.
I had the joy of playing It Takes Two with my partner to celebrate four years of dating. One of our first video gaming moments was playing the co-op campaign in Portal 2. And while personally Portal 2 reigned supreme for co-op multiplayer, It Takes Two deftly usurped the throne. This games deserves every bit of praise it gets.
This game is incredible. Where EarthBound could be broadly described as an upgraded EarthBound Beginnings, Mother 3 deftly deconstructs the suburban sci-fi series. Its main character isn't destined by prophecy, but is thrust into the unknown by tragedy. The Podunk hometown is now the scene of a utopia-turned-dystopia. The world-ending threat isn't some otherworldly being, but rather the monsters created in the wake of unchecked greed and power.
And in every other aspect, Mother 3 is a direct improvement from its predecessors. The script (which has been expertly translated) weaves togethers a cast of characters, each with their own nuanced story. The soundtrack is iconic and dizzyingly large, meaning neither quality nor quantity was sacrificed. The gallery of enemies are goofier and more menacing than ever. I mean seriously– a Cattlesnake?!
Mother 3 is a heartbreaking tale that touched my heart, made me laugh, and brought me to tears. And more than a decade later, this is still my favorite video game.
This review contains spoilers
(spoiler warning just in case)
At first blush, Undertale is a silly little game that honestly looks a little crappy. But the more I played around in its world, the more it came alive. It didn't break fourth wall, but rather it slowly dissolved it and brought me in. Undertale played jokes on me, taunted me, and dared me to delve deeper. At times I thought I had outsmarted the situation, but the game was always one step ahead of me. It may be trite to say, but I've never had a more unique gaming experience in my life.
And of course, everything else about the game is noteworthy. Its graphics are often deceptively amateurish, which only leaves room for more expressive and tender scenes to shine. The branching plot allows characters to react to different scenarios, making them feel alive and genuine. And of course, the music is incredible and full of bangers.
It's been satisfying to reach the end of Undertale as a coda to my recent playthrough of the Mother series. It's amazing to see how the DNA of this series has lived on and inspired dozens of other game devs. While the Halloween Hack was an honest but flawed attempt at capitalizing on the series, Undertale takes the influences and deftly makes its own thing: an amazing game for people that love games.
On the (w)hole it's a pleasant turn-your-brain-off experience, but its gameplay never really dug deep enough and was already over before anything could sink in.
It's got a nice visual design and soundtrack, and at its best reminded me of the Katamari series. Despite its own description, I wouldn't say this is a "puzzle" game in that you have to really think about what you're doing. "Story-driven" is a stretch too, and the character dialogue often interrupted the flow of gameplay. I wish levels were a little longer and had more open spaces to let the player goof around and wreak a little more havoc.
Deltarune: Chapter 2
Okay, this game rocks. The writing's great as always, the music's great, the fights are great. It feels a little weird that a few elements from Chapter 1 were rewritten, but other elements return in surprising and fun ways. Overall, Chapter 2 is a direct improvement in practically every way. It's just a fun, well-written, bite-sized experience that I've played through three times already.
This review contains spoilers
An amazingly introspective gaming experience.
While I'm sure The Witness can be interpreted in any number of ways, what especially resonated with me is the idea of perspective. "We shape clay into a pot, but it is the emptiness inside that holds whatever we want." Is the player lost on this island? Is the goal to solve as many puzzle panels it takes to beat the game? Or is it the ambling and exploration that gives this journey its meaning?
On the surface, The Witness is simply a series of puzzles on panels. These puzzles alone could've easily been a mobile game that you'd finish in an afternoon, but its island setting allows the game to take these puzzles to impressive lengths. I was initially frustrated at the game's lack of explicit direction, and even considered abandoning the game at one point (seriously, I don't think I would've ever figured out what the asterisk symbol meant on my own.) It was the epiphany of finding the way forward that hooked me, making me scour the island for more puzzles to put what I just learned to the test.
For such a simple concept, the complexities grew deeper and deeper. Puzzles often started as tutorials, only to pull the rug out at the last step. Now there's a branch in the way of the puzzle. There's a lone panel out in the desert. You're in a garden maze with seemingly no exit. It wasn't until I changed my perspective in those situations that I could see the solution.
Soon my eyes were tuned to find these puzzles anywhere – and they were everywhere. From the tower, I could see a circle on a dirt road. On the boat was a circle. The sun above me, an omnipresent circle. While finding these puzzles was often happenstance, the real puzzle was finding the right perspective in the situation.
The Witness can be obtuse and aimless at times, but it almost feels meditative in a way. I suppose this is the longest review I've written, but the game warrants this kind of discussion. I highly recommend it.
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