Fez and the Metroid We Loved

There’s a lot out there about Zelda’s relationship with Fez, but during my first playthrough I was reminded of playing Metroid as a kid. The sounds and organic feel make it like you are participating in the existence of a living thing. Eery at least, loving at best.


An orange and yellow figure against a silver backdrop. Simple enemy, architectural example, arm cannon extended in a prepared posture. I was too young to finish Metroid, looking back I probably explored less than a quarter of the map. But when Gunpei Yokoi and co. designed Metroid 1, “completing the game” iterated on the vague definition of exploration, story, and wonder that had yet to be fleshed out in games. When I saw the box on the shelf I had to know what it was.

img_0028Story is a given now, the creative clans that tackle our humble technology with the financial and diversified force of a big budget film offer up whatever research says should be there. If it’s good, good, if it’s bad well, it’s a game, some story telling elements are hard to fit into a game. With cinematic cutscenes, narrative dialogue and a cast of characters pages long, sometimes it’s a wonder that a game is ever released.

Fez isn’t like that, Fez is more akin to Metroid 1 than Zelda 1, and more than both, Fez adds community and life without shoving it down your throat. The world is not averse to you. Ambient chatter, environmentally phased music, weather and idle critters, either are what they are or stand as slim slices of a thick puzzle piece. Every detail matters. There are no enemies, dying is like going out of bounds, check the ball and play on. Fez takes out everything that makes the difficulty frustrating. No super low health cap up front, none of the retro “impossible bosses.” Beating Fez is like dedicating yourself to seeing every exhibit in every museum in DC. Stare long enough and you’ll start to see things you didn’t see before, a blinking star, a pattern in the architecture. Like handling a Rubik’s cube, you turn and stare, turn and stare, until at last a piece of the puzzle is solved. That’s where the difficulty lies, Fez woos you, and only after you have fallen completely do you begin to see that you saw nothing before, and you start drawing strange shapes on scrap paper for your family to find and ask you “why?” Or worse, say nothing at all but add them to the pile they know you keep them in.



One of the first puzzles, these little dudes hang on the wall in a picture in an old man’s house. They represent a code, but they also add to the life of the place. He lives there and he has these pictures, family, students.


The poster of Zelda 1 hanging in Gomez’s room sets the tone. I realize that if Fez is a tribute to any game its Zelda but the longer I played the more I came to associate the atmosphere with the planet Zebes. Finding the bits and cubes I thought, “it doesn’t matter what’s hidden, everything else is stripped down, Gomez is a simplified Samus Aran.” Gomez is all that Gomez is going to be, the drive isn’t to find an ability laden suit of armor, the drive is to put the world back together for civilization. A home like place that wants you to chill and trust it. And like all of Samus’ powerups, the cubes you find unlock further parts of the world.

In Zelda the art and music come together to create the very earth-like world of Hyrule. The art and music in Fez complete an other-worldly picture. Lonesome but not alone. Close but obtuse. Zelda makes me feel like I’m in the woods where I grew up, Fez makes me feel like I’m  watching moon exploration footage, expecting some horrible something to come out from behind a grey silt hill. No other game captures the eeriness like Metroid. Fez, inadvertantly or not, nails that on the head. Something happened and Home glitched out and now its dangerous and we’re the ones to figure it out.

When I was eight years old and I rented Metroid and somehow found my way to the vertical white corridors and chozo statues, I felt like I was being watched. The place was very much alive to me, the whole thing, the tunnels and architecture, and my presence is either of no concern at all or greatly unwanted. Not quite threatened, not quite safe. That was the whole point, the sounds, the music, all engineered so that player, Samus, and environment phase in and out of each other, belong to each other and exist off each other. Fez conveys the same feeling but with warmth. With a creative flair more like a candy store than a hostile planet, you just want to look at it, and then maybe lick it.

A great game takes you away and holds you captive. It isn’t that World of Warcraft does it, Call of Duty whatever, or Mario, Art does it. And when a game realizes the art plateau its worth your love, its worth a touch of your existence.

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World of Warcraft: Questions about the Social Game

Tuning in for the Legion event. It’s hard to leave WoW, for some more so that others. The Legion event has promised enough drama for my beloved Azeroth to hook me back. Cata had me for awhile but I haven’t had a current max level character since then. I played MoP, I played WoD, but neither stuck.

The biggest reason is social. When I started playing I intended for it to be a solo venture. I didn’t know there was a monthly fee, and I wasn’t quite sure what an MMORPG was, nor that WoW was an MMO. Before WoW (Lich King) was Doom 3 so I was pretty much under a rock game-fan speaking. Not far in I made a few friends and without realizing it, they became why I played. I played a lot on my own but those people kept me hooked. Since Cata I haven’t had people to go back to, and Blizz killed the social game so I’m not sure it will ever stick like it did.

So many of us stop there, explaining that “Bliz ruined WoW and that’s why I stay away,” but I’d like to think there’s more to my absence than one facet that had nothing to do with my buying the game, and for months playing it. The Warcraft lore wasn’t something I knew anything about. I guess the real reason I stayed with it was that I really just wanted to play a part in the world. That was my motivation for starting it, immersion. Has WoW really fallen so far that it’s now lacking an immersive environment? Or has it just been done, and done, and done, just too much. Like fracking Law and Order.

Switching to Horde does a few things for me. It’s like a new game, I don’t know where anything is, I have to read the quests, look at battleground layouts, listen to them talk. There is a lot left to be seen, maybe this time around will be less of a blur. Tanking with a Demon Hunter has me paying very close attention.

Narrative Gurumin: A Fun House

I inch forward with this game. It’s fun while I’m playing it but I have to accept a few things about it. Some of the music is repetitive in a way I’m not into. This game isn’t going to challenge me in the way I’m used to. Giving it my attention is rewarding, it is fun, there are great moments. I know that if I would have found this game at the right time in my life it would be something I want to return to. Monster Party comes to mind so often that I just ordered it to play again. This game is quirky in the same way. Its memorable.


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(. . .) One of my favorite characters. The voice actors are great but I wish this was originally handled differently. All of the sounds, with the art and the voice acting give me that springy super charged energentic kids show feeling. Something I would want my daughter to play (She is).

I want to be able to sit down for a few hours with this game. Zelda games have that effect on me as well, like I have to commit to the world. I have to let myself believe its true, in a way.

Gurumin was suggested to me as an action platformer. As an action platformer it hits all the tic marks for something that could hold my interest. It’s something I wish I would have come across when I was young. As an adult the art and music don’t do it for me. Now that I’m through the beginning I expect the pace to pick up. I’m looking for a learning curve something like a Nintendo classic. 

For the most part that’s what I’m seeing. It’s a game that gives a lot up front in the tutorial-like beginning. I got the same encouragement from an NPC as I did from the publisher of the game. “Stick with it, it’s a deep game.” One of the most rewarding aspects of the game is that it respects your effort, storing up power in your weapon as you smash through enemies. I’m hoping the pace picks up a bit, cool as it was to go back through the beginning area as a now non-tutorial stage to clear. I want more and I’m confident Gurumin is going to deliver. 


Monster Hunter States of Play

I did a lot of research before choosing the 3DS, about games and how I wanted to play them. Monster Hunter stuck out because of how epic it sounded, because nothing seemed half done about it. 350 hours later I’m still very happy with the system, and the game. Although,  I’m stuck, the early G-Rank stuff stopped my progression and I put the game down, I would be back a few weeks later refreshed and having a new perspective on progression.


Monster Hunter SoP 1

Monster Hunter 4 Ultimate


When I have to put a game down I start telling people that game is hard, Mega Man 1, Zelda 1, any Doom. Monster Hunter is the first game that’s made me throw shit, as an adult. Dangerous when the game is played on a hand held. But the habits I developed to progress in the game remind me of only one other game, World of Warcraft.

My experience with WoW was first as a clueless Night Elf Hunter. I didn’t socialize, I didn’t look anything up, and I didn’t care to, I didn’t understand. I didn’t spend talents until level 60, no professions until way late, I hadn’t even ran a dungeon. I hadn’t found any, why would I. The game was a distraction from college, that was all. I was in the story.

After months I finally met people out in the world that questioned my play and enlightened me. Weeks later I was raiding, and then raid healing. That’s when I started playing 20 hours a week at least. Paying for play time changed the way I thought about my time with the game. Every experience had to be the fullest. Raiding all the time wasn’t satisfying, questing all the time had lost its lustre, but I still loved it all, even fishing for gods sake. I handled what was becoming burnout by defining play modes. Some days I felt like raiding, crafting, fishing, PvP. So I started thinking ahead, I knew we’d be raiding at night, so I farmed in the morning.

My play grew two branches, progression and support. There came point in Monster Hunter when I was playing so much that I had to spend time supporting my progression. At my most obsessive I would multiply items in the car doing the 1 star steak delivery quest for the 20 or so items I use all the time. I got tunnel vision and forgot the complexity of it, the depth that made me love it. It made me remember the thrill of an upgrade, or the completed set. Instead of bashing my head against the difficulty curve I take a side route and build a new hammer. Get guuder with daggers. Play a hunting horn at all.

Coming back after months away I can see when I started to fade. Early on I wanted to do all the quests, but after completing the offline campaign, early into the high rank stuff I started skipping things and playing only to unlock the next tier. I obviously love this game, so even as I was burning out, and knew I was trying to put it down, I knew I would come back.

When I did pick it back up I fell in love with everything again, all the sounds even. It felt so much like my long break from WoW. No one should be embarrassed by what they chase down the rabbit hole, but at some point, after the hundred and howevermanieth death chasing the 2% Meat Boy achievements, or wiping non-heroic Lich King even after all the nerfs, up until a few weeks before Cata drops, a person may start to reconsider their definition of fun.


Monster Hunter SoP 2

Legion’s on 8/30, Horde side, Emerald Dream


I’ve tried to go back to Wow, I don’t know why, the magic of that experience is well into the sunset (though new magic is not out of the question). Monster Hunter is closer to the high that I am looking for, with WoW I loved raiding, but burnt out on groups that were never going to have anything on farm. It doesn’t matter at all anymore, I spent too much time beating my head against the math and coming up short. Biggest lesson learned, as Legion is about to drop and Monster Hunter Generations is a fresh DL on my 3DS, is that time does a lot to invigorate nostalgia along with your game.


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Busted Hell Hunters Down

I wish I could track stats more specific to individual quests to see what resources it took to bring this Molten Tigrex down. For each run I bring Mega Pots (and pots and honey to make more Mega Pots), stones and steaks, and also Demondrug, Armorskin, Max Pots (though on this quest they give you two), Deodorant (for the love), traps, and mats for more traps. Molten Tigrex (MT) doesn’t stay trapped long though, traps were more for those perfect moments when I’m loaded up and sharp and MT is enraged, I’ll try to trap and get a nose shot with the big attack (but somehow pay for it).



Busted Hell Hunters down, feels so good to have all these checked.


For a long time I switched to  Charge Axes, Arachnoscythe, from Dear Rose for the sharpness, which still didn’t make it happen. It was the Dominisect that did it. I’ve always like the Seltas Queen weapons. Sharpness was a pain to deal with but the extra damage was enough to make it happen.

After so many encounters my most fine tuned insights are about patience and practice. I realized that I was making it 15-20 minutes into the fight, MT is drooling and flopping around, I pounce and push it to enrage and then I die quickly. I felt like I had to push it because I was “running low” on resources, pots, deodorant. First off, I really wasn’t, but after burning through the ebb and flow of attack and dodge, after 20 minutes or so I was anxious and it was caused me to misstep. Like a live band, sometimes its hard not to speed up, things get a little scruffy.

Another insight has to do with practice. Before I downed this boss I had just spent 20 minutes dying. I play so often that I normally only try a challenging quest once so I don’t get frustrated. That day I did it back to back, I had been building up to it and I felt good about trying it one more time. I still got carted twice but focused practice let me stay ahead of him. MT’s body language gives up his attacks, often enough I could guess where he was going to finish his attack and land harder hits without taking damage or contracting blight.

I enjoyed this fight but it was one I was stuck on at a serious plateau, so I’ve never tried it again. During the hunt though I took it at pace and respected it, it was cool to get it done.

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Shovel Knight and the Rescue from Death and Boredom

Shovel Knight 6I don’t remember how I heard about Shovel Knight. It was one of the first games I downloaded with my new New 3DS XL, one of the first games that I stuck with through to the end after a long break from anything that wasn’t World of Warcraft. The whole time thinking about older games, how they  could be different, still relevant, Mega Man, Caslevania, Earthbound.

However many console generations we’ve seen, there were only really two phases for a long time, the arcade cabinet phase, and then everything else until the Nintendo 64. Until then things we’re only getting prettier, taking advantage of updated color pallettes, an infinite horizon, so from like what, ’83 to ’96, we were reiterating that first anthology of solid gold games. Shovel Knight strikes that chord.

I kept waiting for there to be distractions. My time watching from a distance taught me that boredom and microtransactions awaited my return to games. It took a couple years for me not to expect cheapness and scheming. Shovel Knight never delivered when I was at my most cynical and that plays a big part in my love of the game. There is a gentleness about the way it reminds you why you’re drawn to games in the first place. Whatever it is for you, it takes you away to a time of less worry, and more time. Or it doesn’t and all these badass mechanics are fresh to you, at which I am envious. There will be no distractions for you, maybe frustration at the save system, the money situation, the expansion, but no distractions.

My first play through set me on a path of discovery. The “Indie Game,” a single Human Mind crafting through the deft use of fine tools a dream space for us to enter into whenever we want. Super Meat Boy was my other foray into what now is Indie Games so it was natural for me to dive head first in search of other solid visions. The gamespace is ripe with single minds colluding to create something only they know should exist. There was never a moment that led me to distrust the game. Every ability and upgrade fit into the springy play to teach me to take my time, and death hurts. You’ll end up with high hopes for the end of some levels, to leave with very little compared to what you came in with. That’s the joy of it. It keeps you focused on improving without causing shaking fits.

I dipped into the Plague Knight expansion knowing I wouldn’t see it through. But having played through the original and waiting for it, I had to see a little. In that spirit I finally downloaded Shovel Knight from Steam to play through again and start the NG+. So many of the games I have played are because I played Shovel Knight, I wanted to write through my impressions of the hard mode in anticipation of expansions based on all the other characters in the game. Shovel Knight is what Comcept meant to do with Mighty No. 9. Yacht Club set the bar higher than Mega Man’s own creator. All that’s left to see is if their endurance holds up for the next decade and a half.

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Narrative Gurumin

Gurumin18When I see games I like I try to find out as much about the people that made the game as possible. Before I decided to take writing about games seriously, I’ve needed to know where things come from. As part of that, I reached out to the people that make and publish Gurumin, because I saw the Steam release and wanted to play it. They responded saying they liked helping people write interesting things.

I wrote back and said, ok, I want to write about games, so I’m focusing on things I wouldn’t normally focus on. I’m playing your game because I think it’s something I missed, that may have changed my attitude about Japanese games (the original release was years ago). They just don’t sit with me, they’ve never done it for me. Don’t get me wrong, my first baptism was Super Metroid, and then The Ocarina of Time, and there was Mega Man. That was it though, and it was only the first few Mega M[e]n that really did it for me, after 4 it just didn’t hold my attention the same.

“Bearing the above in mind, and thank you for your time, what’s the one thing you would tell me about this game, before I let myself be immersed in it?”

Gurumin 17

I wasn’t sure I would get a response to such a loaded question, its a lot to answer, but I did get a response…”Gosh.. first off, Japanese Games cover such a wide area it’s hard to generalize. Also, frequently they are distorted by bad translation – that’ something we work really, really hard to avoid. As for Gurumin, I’d guess the big thing I’d say is go deep, because there is much more there than meets the eye. It’s a pretty hard core Action RPG/Adventure that just happens to be wrapped in a cutesy package. Good luck!”

He even left his name, which, as a pretty random conversation with the company on Twitter, I thought was cool.

Not far into the game, by which I mean after the introductory stuff that doesn’t give you much control, there is depth. The longer I spend with it the less the cutesy package matters. At first I expected something like any 3-D Zelda, and at first Gurumin met that expectation. Further into the game, into the first “level,” it feels as much like a current Mario 3-D title. Each area has a definite beginning and end, with definite borders. It feels enough like a 3-D platformer that I kept thinking of games that were not open world, which I was for whatever reason expected.

A maybe lesser known comparison that crept up while I was playing was Monster Party. Both Gurumin and Monster Party are just weird, I thought of how a kid would remember this game if they encountered it at the age I encountered Monster Party and I think they would remember it similarly. Reflecting on games that had an influence on me there was always art I couldn’t remember where it came from, a feel, or texture. I was watching something on YouTube and finally found that it was Monster Party, so much about that game stayed with me.

I’m committing to seeing Gurumin through. For so many reasons I want to finish it, and I definitely have criticisms, but there is definitely more to come.

An Hour of Ori’s Definitive Edition

I played through Ori and the Blind Forest about a year ago, took 26 hours to do it, and did so on purpose. I took time to master every skill, shooting from owl to owl to owl in the air to grind out ability points and get better at a skill I knew I hadn’t figured out yet. It was like Super Meat Boy all over again, so I started playing that too. Turned on by the platformer precision I went on to put 76 new hours into some of SMB’s less friendly achievements.

When Ori’s definitive edition released I wasn’t ready to dive back in. After the first hour  into it I knew why, Ori and the Blind Forest is a super heavy game. The music  is drama full, story, heavy. Everything that comes together to make this game amazing also makes it hard to come back to. I remember after 26 hours of the original, the title screen music had a significant impact on me. To be clear, I am not complaining, the early Metroid games had the same effect on me, but I recognize those games as reasons I still play today, and still have active save files on my 3DS that I play in little chunks often. All this is to say, know that you are in for an experience, the game will do something unavoidable to you if you put time into it. It will leave a mark.

With a heavy texture, also comes some of the  finest physics of any game I’ve played. Ori isn’t like Super Meat Boy, but is inspired by Super Meat Boy. SMB is full of sharp edges and stark contrasting color, even the music is precise like a chainsaw. Meat Boy flys like a sniper rifle, Ori is like an HD Monet port that looks and handles like x-art and Disney got together to carress our feelers, emotionally, physically, conceptually. Ori is graceful, and seems to sink into and grab a hold of the world.  On a finer level you can make Ori gorgeous, transitioning over obstacles with the rhythm of his bouncing and the way the flora moves with him (word is, “Ori” is normally a boys name).

Again, I am taking my time. Heavy as it is it didn’t take long to shift gears back into the story. About an hour in I found an addition to the map, by the time I found it I had forgotten new content had been added. The impatient part of me expected more up front and I had resolved myself to just let it happen when I stumbled on Black Root Burrows. I was suprised to have recognized the change, the map was more familiar to me than I realized.

My love for this game is obvious, I’m re-rolling after taking my time with the original. This time around I think I’m going to add a touch of strategy to the wrecking ball tactics that fueled my first play through. The controls are so in time with the environment it didn’t take any time to sync back up, finding the wall climb and the charge burst trees, it all feels so natural.

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An Hour of Dark Souls

So much hype was made over Dark souls III at launch that I had to download the Prepare to Die edition of the original. Hearing all the buzz about it being super hard, I assumed it would be something like Monster Hunter, difficult but rewarding. The leet language I’d heard out of some players lead me to believe it to be a game of skill, secret knowledge treasured like it was Zelda in ’85. Quick YouTube searches for noob tips warned me to steer clear of spoilers.

As a child of the 80’s I expected all of Nintendo’s games to grow up with me, only to find that Nintendo always has plans of its own, and each release was more childish and curated than the last. Secrets were hinted at by crumbling walls. Boss weak points all but painted red. I agree with Derek Yu, that Dark Souls has taken up the mantle left by an older Zelda. By the time Ocarina came out, it was what we wanted stylistically, the first vibrant 3-D world we took seriously, but Navi wouldn’t stop trying to hold my hand.The immensity of it, and the timing of its release, demands top marks, but after time and perspective it starts to come off like a big open world chock full of curated events. A perfect blend of old and new, which for Nintendo means reminding long time supporters of a time when things were innovative and challenging, but rounding off the edges so that all that’s left is Disneyland.


An Hour of Dark Souls 1

Thought for sure this would be the first Dark Souls boss to eat my face, only to “get stuck” at the Black Knight in the Undead Burg, which I thought was a boss but is not, loving the noob experience.


When I started Dark Souls I thought thats what was going on, but in death. Hints on the floor I didn’t realize were left by other players, clear warnings of danger, I suspected critics had stumbled again like with Ocarina, where enough of what they want to see is done with perfection that the momentum of goodness carries through the whole review. But that is not the case, as I found with the first troll. I had all the information so they set me free and I died. My Monster Hunter reflexes helped, but the enemies seem more intelligent. By the time I got to the Undead Burg I understood why people put the game down for good. Already though, I could feel myself sinking into the controls, wrestling with each experience and realizing I was enjoying the difficulty. Dark Souls isn’t hateful like the programming of Castlevania I, but more a broadsword slice through the heart with love. The game is a confident coach that knows what it can expect out of its players. I’ve been as far as the Black Knight in the Undead Burg and I feel like I wouldn’t have these challenges in front of me if I wasn’t able to pass them. For FromSoftware its a respectable, “You’ll have to do better,” with a very clear YOU DIED, and time to think about how you screwed up before it makes you go back and do it again.

Wax on . . . wax off . . .

I heard on an IGN show someone say Dark Souls is Zelda in hell, that if Miyamoto had been terrified of, instead of fascinated with the caves that inspired Zelda, he might have made something like Dark Souls instead. It’s like the Zelda that grew up with us, the Zelda so many of us were imagining while farming Rupees on an NES.



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Shovel Knight: 20 Hour Review

Shovel Knight continues to charm after a playthrough on my 3DS, half way through NG+, some Plague Knight, and now replaying for this, to write about it. I was attracted to the game shortly after getting my 3DS, the first games I downloaded were all NES classics and Shovel Knight seemed to have enough of that mold still unbroken that I would be into it. Making a short review shorter, get this game if you like classic platformers, whether you are just getting into the genre or are for whatever reason nostalgic, this game will certainly scratch that itch; at around 12 hours completion time on a first play through it won’t have you questioning the value of your time, or it could, more on that below. Do not buy this game if the trappings of the 80’s aren’t your thing. If Mega Man is too cutesy or pisses you off, and Mario 3’s level design is too tedious for you, Shovel Knight will not be for you either.


Shovel Knight Logo

Shovel Knight, one of the best.


Yacht Club is doing several things right, chief among them, difficulty. Shovel Knight is a mechanics heavy, player vs. level game. The boss fights are interesting but probably won’t be standout experiences. They fit the level well in that most of the time the difficulty spike isn’t too great in comparison to the level, mini bosses included, that you will face on your way to the boss. Enemies are introduced in Super Mario fashion, but the levels are more complex. There is an early way to increase the difficulty , rewarding you with more gems than you would normally collect to use on upgrades. Integrated save points in the form of clear orbs encased in the end of a stake can be passed by to save your progress or shattered for a reward that increases with each check-point you break. After the 6th check-point the reward is well worth it if you can manage to stay alive through the whole level. Even if you do die though, and die repeatedly, yes it will hinder you, but only just; you can recover what you lose when you die. It works out so that you have to die several times for it to really set you back. It will happen though, as you progress, the Plague Knight’s level had me frustrated after a few attempts.

This game really is one that you should play, if not only for a glimpse into the creative minds of people who are preserving nostalgia right. Shovel Knight is deep, once you complete the game, starting the NG+ will give you what you need if you want an increased challenge. All of this with no mention of Yacht Club vowing the release of several expansions this year featuring playable bosses from the original game. Shovel Knight is solid, and the developer is committed; after purchasing for 3DS and Steam, and the Plague Knight expansion, the Shovel Knight franchise has been worth the money.

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