2015: My Year in Gaming

Every year, I like to look back upon the games I played. While I’m getting pretty far removed from my time covering then working in the game industry, games are still a big thing to me.

In 2015, I played 86 video games: 44 on PlayStation platforms, 25 on Apple devices, 14 on 3DS, 1 on Wii and 1 on PC. I’m not going to list them. I hope you don’t mind.

I completed 22 video games in 2015. Those I will list, in the order in which they were completed: Continue reading


Super Mario 3D Land’s Lost Levels are Included

I bought a 3DS right around the price drop – late enough to get the better price, but soon enough to qualify for the bad-ass Ambassador Program. Since then, I’ve beaten several games on the handheld: Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones, Mario’s Picross, Legend of Zelda, Zelda 2: Adventure of Link, Metroid Fusion… As you may notice, those are all virtual console (or Ambassador) games. Before this week, I had only beaten one 3DS exclusive: The awesome puzzle game Pushmo (in my opinion, the sequel Crashmo – which I broke my no-game-buying ban to pick up – is not nearly as good).

Honestly, I’ve barely touched any of the physical game cards I own. Super Mario Land 3D (buy here) is the only one I’d spent more than a couple hours on. And I really like it. I admittedly haven’t been drawn in by any of the 3D Mario games – sacrilege I know – but this one is a great blend of 2D and 3D with bite-size levels perfect for a portable. Even still, it sat unplayed for over a year.

I recently went back to it, only to find that I was already on World 7. Though it had been long enough that I was pretty rusty – especially since the button config doesn’t match old Marios – I was still able to get through the rest of the game in maybe an hour, to see Bowser defeated and Peach saved once again (spoiler? Yeah right).

Mario Land 3D is definitely built to cater to less-experienced players. It does this thing where, if you die repeatedly on a level, it gives you a pity white tanooki suit that is even immune to attacks. Die more still, and you’ll get the beloved P-Wing from Mario 3. While I see how these could be helpful, I was a little miffed. Sure, I could decide not to use them, but it’s very tempting. I didn’t touch that P-Wing, though; that’s cheating! It’s not as bad as Ninja Gaiden asking to bump you down to Ninja Dog difficulty, but it’s still demeaning.

I felt like I saw everything the game had to offer, which was not unsubstantial even though I only logged 5 hours and 11 minutes by the time the credits rolled. The level design is very creative, not just utilizing the 3D as more than a simple gimmick, but also having fun with Mario tropes throughout the series. I did not get all the Yoshi coins, which show up 3 per level. You need some to unlock nonessential worlds and even some boss sections, but I always had more than enough on hand.

The game alludes to “special” stages post-completion, but I wasn’t sure I wanted to bother. A look at howlongtobeat, however, showed that my 5:11 completion time is an hour below the average, even for just completing the main story. I’m usually a very slow, methodical player. And if you look at those who beat the main game plus did more, there seems to be 4 1/2 hours of extra content. So I decided to check it out.

I’m quite glad I did. Gone is the babying of gifted items and other hand-holding aspects. The all-new special stages – there are at least 40 of them – are more difficult, more clever, and just plain more special than the original levels. For example, there are levels when you have a very short time limit, and have to grab clock power-ups to avoid timing out. It’s almost like that first 5 hours and 11 minutes was a tutorial.

Now, I’m getting my ass handed to me in part because I’m still a little rusty and also because I’m drawn to Yoshi coins. Falling to my death is the norm, and I’m down about 20 lives after getting through the first baker’s dozen of special stages (that just means I have a stockpile of 75 now instead of 95). Sure, I’ve uttered some swears – or alternates to swears like “fut nuckers,” which I literally actually said – but I’m having more fun. Perhaps I just like the challenge after the lack of it for the first Act.

It reminds me of the original Super Mario Bros. That game presented a modest challenge, in part because it was something we’d never played before. When I say “we,” I mean those of us old enough to have been kids when the NES came out and either had one or had a friend with one. I initially fit in the latter category, so my friend Daniel and I would join Bobby in his basement every day after school to play Mario. We’d slowly but surely get further every time; of course, there was no saving, so we’d have to start from 1-1 each day. It wasn’t until we found the 3-1 infinite life loop that we were able to triumph.

A few years later, Super Mario 2 came out. While I love that game to this day, it was not the actual sequel to Mario 1. That was a game that we wouldn’t see here in the US until Super Mario All-Stars for SNES, under the title “The Lost Levels.” It was essentially Super Mario 1 part II, only much harder. Stereotype says Japanese gamers are more hardcore than us, so they got it and we didn’t.

But in the case of Super Mario 3D Land, its “Lost Levels” are included right along with the regular game! The Reddit nation would probably call that move Good Guy Nintendo. I just call it more time with an old friend, and I don’t mean Daniel and Bobby.

— Justin Leeper (@StillManFights)

Comparing Zelda 2 & Dark Souls

In the last year, I beat two games known for being extremely difficult: Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link and Dark Souls. Only recently, though, did I really ponder their similarities. Let’s take a look at them individually then see how they compare.

Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link
1987, Nintendo, NES

The first Zelda is still considered one of the best games of all time. It was a vast nonlinear adventure filled with secrets, items, and dungeons. It even had an alternate version where dungeon locations had been changed. I have fond memories of this game, though I only completed it recently. But this story is not about the first Zelda.

Zelda 2 was anything but more of the same. It had an RPG-like overworld and included towns populated solely by NPCs. However, the actual gameplay was a 2D sidescroller. I for one was not amused. I had wanted more isometric, action/RPG Zelda, which I would not get until Link to the Past on SNES.

For one thing, Zelda 2 is very hard. You can’t expect item drops and fairy wells to keep you alive. You also can’t just stick your sword in front of you and mow down anything in your path. You will die a lot, especially in the 2D dungeons. There are many cat-and-mouse enemies that will give you a run for your money, as well as some with very erratic movement patterns.

Determined to finally beat the game using the 3DS version that came with the Ambassador Program – which awarded early adopters who purchased the handheld before the price-drop was official – I used sheer will, a couple FAQs, and the not-too-intuitive d-pad. Progressing past the major bottleneck area, I found myself really enjoying the game. It had all the exploration, secrets, and helpful items of the original – just using a different aesthetic. Kind of like Metroid going first-person in Metroid Prime.

Another thing was the ability to grind to level-up Link, thus making him stronger. I maxed out my stats well before I saw the final credits roll. I think, all told, it took me about 18 hours to beat the game. For reference, the first Zelda took ~9 hours to complete on 3DS. While I still wouldn’t call Zelda 2 even in my top four Zelda games, I now appreciate it much more.

Dark Souls
2011, Namco Bandai, PS3

Dark Souls is the sequel to Demon’s Souls, a PS3 exclusive from Atlus. I played it a bit, but became a little frustrated and probably had other games I wanted to play. Thus, I shelved it. Namco snatched up the publishing rights to the sequel, and it received a ton of awards. I didn’t end up getting it for some time – waiting for a price drop like the cheap bastard I am. I think I got it for $25 around 6 months after release. And I stuck to PS3 because I try to be consistent.

I had heard everyone talking about how hard the game was. I went in expecting to die a lot, and I did. I used a wiki to get me through some tough spots, and I admit I’d consult a FAQ to show me where to go next more than a couple times. However, even with a little handholding the game is a beast. Any enemy is capable of killing you. And when you die, it’s not respawn like nothing happened; you suffer some setbacks. Don’t get me started on the frogs that curse you. If afflicted, you’ll be at half hit points until you cure yourself. I stupidly accidentally struck the easiest vendor to buy a cure, so she wouldn’t sell to me.

The bosses are the biggest hurtle here. I remember a pair of bosses you fight simultaneously – Ornstein and Smough – that took me forever to defeat. You can bring in other live players to assist you, and even then I’d die time after time. Somehow, I never got too frustrated. I knew I could always go grind for a while – earning the souls that are used for currency, and then upgrading my weapon or trying to craft or find something new. It was a palate cleanser, if you will. Then I would return back with renewed vigor and increased ability. And probably die a dozen more times.

Combat was always compelling; I tended to go for weapons that swung slowly but kept enemies at a distance. The environments were varied, beautiful and dangerous. One very impressive thing was how almost every level tied into one another. You’d find shortcuts so you wouldn’t need to backtrack quite so far, or ways to completely change the topography of a section. It was a masterful example of quality level design, different than say the very wide-open sandboxes of GTA and Skyrim.

I’m unsure how long it took me to complete Dark Souls. I’d say anywhere from 55 to 75 hours. Amazingly, I beat the last boss on the first try – something I don’t think too many people accomplish. I ended up even playing a few hours of New Game +, just to kind of restart with my tough-ass character. I would put the game on par with Skyrim, one of the best games of this generation. However, despite both having knight dudes and dragons, they are very different games. Unlike Zelda 2 and Dark Souls. So let’s move on to that.

Similarities Between The Two

Difficulty: Zelda 2 and Dark Souls were widely recognized as being among the most difficult games of their generation. And neither one’s honeymoon period lasted long. Death Mountain hits hard and fast in Zelda; getting through the Undead Parish will make you sweat in Souls. And neither has a very sympathetic “game over” screen.

Polarizing: You’ll find people who would rate these games a 10 without batting an eye. Then you’ll find people who crinkle up their noses at the mere mention. Maybe it’s the difficulty that does it, or reality not matching their expectations. I admit I was in the crinkle-nose category on Zelda 2 for many years.

Openness: Both games kind of drop you into a wide area and let you forge your own path. Zelda is a bit more straightforward, but there are still plenty of corners to check out if you aren’t feeling a particular dungeon. Of course, this also means you may find yourself lost rather often in either game.

Grinding: Some of that famed (or reviled) difficulty can be alleviated by strengthening your character through grinding. It may take some time, but you can level-up to become better equipped for the challenge that lies before you.

Vague Narrative: In Zelda, it’s “save the princess.” In Dark Souls, it’s “liberate the undead world.” You meet friends and foes, but there’s never much of a story arc. You can either fill in the blanks yourself, or just focus on the challenge and excellent gameplay.

Shortcuts & Backtracking: Both games require you to head back to areas you’ve already conquered. However, you don’t always have to take the long, dangerous route. Shortcuts open up at opportune times, showing high-grade level design in both games.

Combat Balancing: In neither of these games can you just spam attack and survive. You’ll need to play defensive often, and pick the right time to counter. The “regular” enemy in your path can make you die if you’re not careful.

Hopefully, I proved my point. These are two amazing games. If you dug one, you’ll probably be a fan of the other. Fortunately, there are lots of options toward playing either one. Dark Souls is available on PS3, Xbox, and PC. Zelda 2 is on cartridge for NES and GBA, on disc for GameCube on Legend of Zelda: Collector’s Edition, and via download either on Wii or 3DS. If you have anything to add, like other reasons they’re similar, please comment.

I Played 110 Games This Year (A List)

I like to track things in my life: weights lifted, events experienced, and just about everything related to my video game collection. Last year, I added a listing of every game I played that year. Of course, I made one again this year. On the off chance someone cares, I’m publishing the list, along with (exactly) 8 words on each one. Enjoy, and have a happy and safe New Year!

1. Mega Man 2 (NES) – An NES fave played for music video footage
2. Super Paper Mario (WII) – Played last in ’07, came back to beat
3. Mario Kart Wii – Another lost relic I dusted off and replayed
4. Def Jam Rapstar (360) – I was ranked #5 on “Can’t Truss It”
5. 1000 Heroz (iPhone) – I literally played this iPhone platformer every day
6. Bastion (360) – I like indie games that you can download
7. Batman: Arkham City (360) – Not quite Asylum, but darn good. Excellent story
8. Binding of Isaac (PC) – I’m a naked baby, armed only with tears.
9. Dead Space HD (iPad) – High hopes for my first iPad exclusive. Nope
10. Dungeon Raid (iPhone) – My favorite match-3 game ever. Still a go-to

11. Flight Control HD (iPad) – Another iPad exclusive I didn’t play too much
12. Jetpack Joyride (iOS) – Played on both iPhone, iPad for great fun
13. Kirby Epic Yarn (Wii) – Still haven’t beaten this adorable platform game yet
14. Mario vs. Donkey Kong (GBA) – Thanks, 3DS Ambassador program, for this 22 minutes!
15. Portal 2 (PS3) – If only Kate would finish co-op with me
16. Puzzle Agent (iPhone) – It’s Professor Layton meets Fargo. I beat it
17. Skyrim (360) – On 02.06.12, my epic 280 hour quest ended
18. Super Mario Land 3D (3DS) – Deserves more than the 5 hours I’ve played
19. Uncharted 3 (PS3) – You ever beat a game out of spite?
20. WELDER (iOS) – I like word games; just not this one

21. Angry Birds: Space HD (iPad) – This definitely rikindled my love of Finnish fowl
22. Aces Cribbage (iPad) – I like cribbage. Got a problem with that?
23. Bioshock (PC) – Crapped out on 360, gave PC a try
24. bit.trip Complete (Wii) – Man, was I NOT into this game collection!
25. Chu Chu Rocket (iPhone) – Ended up really liking this Dreamcast puzzle game
26. Don’t Run With A Plasma Sword (iOS) – Another “runner” style game. Okay but not memorable
27. Dungeon Village (iOS) – Kairosoft makes awesome titles, including this one here
28. Fairway Solitaire (iPad) – Of course golf and solitaire would mix, silly
29. GP Story (iPhone) – More Kairosoft. I like cars that go vroom
30. Homefront (360) – Only military console FPS I played in 2012

31. Journey (PS3) – Beautiful. Innovative. Short. Kind of like my wife.
32. Infinity Blade 2 (iOS) – I decided I don’t like Infinity Blade much
33. Mahjong Towers Touch (iPad) – Shanghai. Nabisco World. I dig these tile pushers
34. Mass Effect: Infiltrator (iPad) – Liked this way better than Dead Space iPad
35. Metroid Fusion (3DS) – Loved on GBA, played again on Ambassador Program
36. Pac-Chomp! (iOS) – A fun twist on Tetris Attack style puzzlers
37. Persona 3 FES (PS2) – First Persona I played since original on PSone
38. Rock Band Blitz (360) – Harmonix relives the majesty of my beloved Amplitude
39. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins (3DS) – Mario Land 1 didn’t really feel like Mario
40. Swordigo (iOS) – Played a couple minutes; only remember it’s ugly

41. Jamestown (PC) – I love shmups. This one isn’t crazy difficult
42. Temple Run (iOS) – I recall LeBron James loves it. I’m ambivalent
43. NFL Flick Quarterback (iPad) – Cool concept to get behind the QB’s helmet
44. Portal (PC) – Loved it on console and tried on Steam
45. Real Racing 2 HD (iPad) – There’s a theme here, with meh iPad games
46. Rock Band Reloaded (iPhone) – Rock Band is pretty decent on iPhone, too
47. Catherine (PS3) – Sexy, mature game about climbing towers in briefs
48. Katawa Shoujo (PC) – Visual novel about dating handicapped schoolgirls. It’s true
49. Russian Dancing Men (iOS) – Rhythm game which features the infectious “Amazing Horse”
50. Contra Rebirth (Wii) – Sure, I’ll try a cheap, easier Contra game

51. Pushmo (3DS) – Probably my favorite 3DS game. Haven’t bought sequel.
52. Wooords (iOS) – Make many words with colorful fridge magnet letters
53. Rayman Origins (PS3) – Beautiful and intuitive. Only played a short while
54. Antrim Escape 3 (iOS) – One of those “escape the room” puzzle games
55. Bugdom 2 (iOS) – A very poor knockoff of Banjo Kazooie type
56. Falling Fred (iOS) – You fall. As Fred. Until you kill him
57. Mario Kart 7 (3DS) – This formula has yet to get old yo
58. Mole Cart (iOS) – Let’s rip off Mario Kart cuz we’re China!
59. Starfox 64 3D (3DS) – Sadly, I have only played a couple minutes
60. League of Evil (iOS) – Fun Meat Boy style platformer on iPhone/iPad

61. Mass Effect 3 (360) – Ended with a wimper, but what a series!
62. NBA 2K12 (360) – Love me some Visual Concepts hoops, says I
63. Dark Souls (PS3) – Games don’t get much better than this one
64. Epic Mickey (Wii) – Kinda disappointed by the filler in this one
65. Parasite Eve (PSP) – Didn’t play on PSone, but it’s darn good
66. Final Fantasy VII (PSP) – I still have yet to beat this classic
67. Mega Mall Story (iPhone) – Another fine Kairosoft effort. Build your mall, y’all
68. 10000000 (iPad) – Puzzle and RPG join with hip retro graphics
69. Batman: Arkham City Lockdown (iPad) – Infinity Blade knockoff. I’m burnt on Infinity Blade
70. Dynamite Jack (iOS) – Overhead stealth. Gotta go back to this one

71. Lollipop Chainsaw (360) – Not as endeering as it should have been
72. Pizza vs. Skeleton (iOS) – Roll over bony bastards as a large pizza
73. Fire Emblem: Sacred Stones (GBA) – No game was played more on my 3DS
74. Bad Piggies HD (iPad) – Creating suicide machines didn’t do much for me
75. He-Man: The Most Powerful Man in the Universe (iOS) – Dripping nostalgia, trace elements of fun. It’s okay
76. The Room (iPad) – Solve your way through a giant safe. Maybe
77. Twist Pilot (iOS) – Console dev superstars: Don’t phone in iOS games
78. Driver: San Francisco (PS3) – Very creative driving game with some design issues
79. Puzzle Craft (iPhone) – Close to a Facebook game, I completed anyway
80. Terraria (PC) – Sorry, but video games need more than digging

81. Dishonored (360) – The muse for this entire blog. Hells yeah
82. Spelunky (PC) – Instead of buying on XBLA, free PC download
83. Punch Quest (iOS) – Really like this runner with a brawler soul
84. Street Fighter X Tekken (iPad) – Not a bad fighter for being on iPad
85. Quantum Conundrum (360) – Gal behind Portal does something Disney-esque. Still playing
86. The Walking Dead (PC) – Yes, I bought this on Steam’s Black Friday
87. Sonic Generations (360) – Mixes 2D and 3D Sonic, and mostly succeeds
88. Asura’s Wrath (PS3) – This dude is pissed! It’s like we’re twins
89. Quiet, Please! (360) – Endearing little indie adventure game on Xbox 360
90. Rayman: Jungle Run (iOS) – Pretty, playable and perfectly suited for portable pleasure

91. XCOM: Enemy Unknown (360) – Jumped off wagon with this, but so good!
92. Grand Theft Auto: Vice City (iOS) – Freaking Vice City! The whole game! On iOS!
93. Extinction Squad (iOS) – Like those old Nintendo LCD games, but funny
94. Super Mole Escape (iOS) – Like Doodle Jump, but in reverse. Make sense?
95. Robot Wants Kitty (iPhone) – Metroidvania game where a robot wants the kitty
96. Waking Mars (iPad) – Intriguing, attractive game. A bit bland so far.
97. Angry Birds Star Wars HD (iPad) – 2 played out properties, but still really fun
98. Party Wave (iOS) – Surfing game by the dude behind Final Fantasy
99. Fast Fast Laser Laser (360) – Indie game blending Bomberman with guns and swords
100. NBA 2K13 (iPad) – Don’t own it on console, just iOS. Decent

101. Karoshi (iPhone) – This platformer/puzzler’s goal is to kill yourself
102. Slydris (iOS) – Tetris or Lumines, but without needing to hurry
103. Tiger Woods 2012 (iPad) – Robust golf game to take with you anywhere
104. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 (iPhone) – Oh FPS and iPhone. You shouldn’t be together
105. The Curse (iOS) – Variety of puzzles and a creepy villain’s taunting
106. Penny Arcade: Rain-Slick Precipice 3 (iPad) – Impressive old-school RPG that I’m definitely hooked on
107. Beat Sneak Bandit (iPad) – Rhythm based sneaking is a pretty neat concept
108. Sonic Jump (iPhone) – Elevates the Doodle Jump genre immensely. Free now
109. Wordament (iPhone) – Boggle with a leaderboard and Xbox achievement tie-in
110. Mutant Mudds (iPhone) – The 3DS action/platformer is now smaller and cheaper

XCOM? Fire Emblem!

I’m glad Dishonored was my final game purchase for the next year. I was able to get in several hours with it this weekend. I’ve given up attempting to just KO or avoid enemies. I like exploring too much, which means contending with more bad guys. But now that I have a special power where assassinated people turn to ash, at least I don’t have to worry about hiding bodies.

With the XCOM hype, I find myself wanting some tactical strategy goodness. Enter Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones. I reviewed this for X-Play back in the day – which is apparently no longer on their site – and I really enjoyed it. It was one of the Ambassador games on 3DS, which means I don’t even have to dig it out of the big box o’ GBA games to play! And playing this gets me off of my iPad and Angry Birds Space HD, which I’d developed a not-too-healthy obsession with as of late.

Fire Emblem is a rather traditional turn-based tactical RPG. Its main gimmick is that once someone dies, they’re gone for good. This adds weight to every loss. For example, I met up with a former knight, long retired to raise his son. The son talks him into having them join us. Two battles later, the kid gets hacked in half by an enemy. Oops. Maybe Dad was right after all…

Now, technically, I could probably close out the game, and restart the chapter. But battles are pretty darn long. Instead, I just… uh, avenge his death. Yeah, that’s it. And there’s usually enough characters that you’re leaving a few in the tent before you fight. At least so far.

Now, Best Buy has a great deal for those of you who aren’t on a game-buying ban: Buy 2 games, get 1 free! This means if you buy XCOM and NBA 2K13, for example, you can get Max Payne 3 for free! Those are all games I don’t own, which are on my wishlist Excel. You all keep an Excel spreadsheet of your games wishlist, right? With priority rankings and a desired price for each one? Of course you do!