On My Radar – Pokémon: Let’s Go, Pikachu!

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Beyond the updated graphics and the Poké-ball throwing, I wasn’t interested until this moment (1:01):

Co-op!!!!!!!!!! I’m in.

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Oxenfree

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Looking back, I feel bad for my dad. I think he was used to nice things like his stereo system. Nice things that us kids always managed to break. I think we broke his turntable first, but my memory is a tad fuzzy. What I do remember though is the green glow of his Pioneer radio tuner. There was something magical about that soft glowing dial that brought music and voices from afar.

Title: Oxenfree
Developer: Night School Studio
Platform Reviewed On: Nintendo Switch

A group of teenagers head to an island to party for the night. Just a small get together really. They bring along a handheld radio, you know, just for fun. And maybe also because tuning the radio to specific frequencies causes weird things to happen.

The evening soon goes to cosmic horror hell. Oxenfree starts dropping hints of:

  • A submarine crew who died off the island’s coast…
  • A scientist who was researching radio frequencies…
  • Environments that react to specific radio frequencies you tune in to with your radio…

Friends start going missing. You soon do not know where reality begins and the isolated island nightmare ends.

.: SPOILER ALERT :.

I played this game without knowing much about it. I’m happy I did. And I won’t ruin that for you. What I will spoil is that there are multiple endings to this game. Endings based on specific dialogue choices you make. Oxenfree is all about a constant flow of conversation that feels inconsequential. But surprise! Your words do matter and do affect the outcome of the game.

Do you want the super happy ending? The ending where whatever is happening actually ends? You have to pick the right grouping of dialogue choices.

By the end of the game, I doubted whether I had actually finished Oxenfree. Even after the credits rolled, I didn’t trust the game due to how much it had messed with me. The game reinforces this feeling of unease as the credits finish rolling and Oxenfree loops back to the main menu:

“Continue on the same timeline?”

The same timeline? What is this? I was so confused and yet felt like I could kinda see the breadcrumbs the game had left me. My confusion led to a Google hunt. That is where I learned that dialogue choices are a huge key to this game. HUGE! So much for choice.

I’m happy with the time I spent with Oxenfree. I feel a little ripped off by the way it all ends… but I also like endings that are not all neat and sorted out. Life is a lot like that.

The Nintendo Switch was the perfect system to play this game on. Nothing like laying in bed, headphones on, being creeped out by forces who just want to live. No matter the costs.

3/5 – Best use of a handheld radio gameplay mechanic. Love the way the Switch’s rumble felt as I spun the radio dial. In the end, I wish the game had telegraphed more how important conversation choices are.

Unwritten Rules: The Ability to Pause

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Our dishwasher went out about a month ago. That same weekend, my weed eater engine decided to freeze-up, and I discovered that I owed the government money. Needless to say, I found myself feeling overwhelmed by brokenness tossed with a side of bureaucracy.

In pulling out the dishwasher to measure for a replacement, I discovered that the washer was directly plugged into the house’s electrical system. A direct electrical connection, I Googled, was a normal way of wiring dishwashers twenty years ago. Who knew? But in our modern day, the dish cleaning device is supposed to be plugged in to an electrical outlet. Something goes wrong with the dishwasher, no need to panic. All one has to do is unplug the washer and move on versus making a frantic trip to the breaker panel.

I mentioned my dishwasher dilemma in small group this past Sunday. One of the guys told me that he could help. So this past week, Brian came over and helped me wire a new electrical outlet so that I could plug the new dishwasher in. In the course of the evening, after we had finished installing the outlet, I grabbed the Nintendo Switch to show him.

As we were talking, I said something I realized I needed to write down here and share. This is one of those unwritten rules I have:

As a husband/father, who plays video games, I have to be able to immediately pause or quit a game at a moments notice.

This unwritten rule means that the games and the systems I play them on must fit the criteria of being able to pause, save, and quit on demand. I have learned:

  • To avoid gaming genres built on needing excessive amounts of time to advance/play (the MMO genre).
  • To embrace gaming systems that feature a sleep or suspend feature/button.
  • To play games that feature short core gameplay loops (the main activities that structure a game, that a player repeats over and over). These types of games allow me to feel like I have progressed/accomplished something with my gaming time.

The ability to pause at a moments notice, allows me to feel less frustrated, when I need to suddenly divert my attention to what is going on around me. Communicating, hopefully, to my family that they are important (because they are!) and worth me being present and available for.

Zelda and the Art of Distraction

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Wyatt wanted to play RollerCoaster Tycoon last night. So I got him set up on the computer, pulled up a chair alongside him, and grabbed the Nintendo Switch along with Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Figured that I could make some progress in Zelda while letting the boy learn how to control/use the RollerCoaster Tycoon toolset. Win/win, right?

For awhile now, Wyatt has been dumping hours into Zelda, slowly beating each divine beast before me. Then, when I’ve sat down to play on Sunday afternoons, he’ll sit there and guide me. Later on, never failing, to remind me that he helped me.

“You didn’t beat that by yourself, I helped you.”

Deep in my 36 year old heart, I knew that I could not allow such a thing to continue. A 9 year old boy would not best me in a game, not yet anyways. I had just beaten the Zora and Ruto divine beasts, with Wyatt’s help. In his game, Wyatt was off chasing the beast out in the desert. So I decided to tackle the only beast he hadn’t gone after yet, the beast of Death Mountain, Vah Rudania.

A combination of wanting to play smart mixed with a smidgen of desperation to get ahead of the boy, led me to consult a walkthrough. I wanted to know exactly where Vah Rudania lay. The quick consult made me decide to plot a course to Goron City and set up a basecamp there. The walkthrough mentioned fire armor and a guy needing me to collect lizards for him. I warped into a tower, took a flying leap, and glided towards the lizard man. 10 lizards collected later, I had me some fire armor for protection against the volcanic environment.

All the while I’m navigating Death Mountain, Wyatt is engrossed in RollerCoaster Tycoon. He had no clue that I was pushing further into Zelda than he is currently. The only problem I face now is maintaining the momentum. Face it, I’m competing against a 9 year old who plays video games much more than me. He’ll probably get ahead of me in the long run, but I’m not giving up. I have a beast to slay!

Kirby Star Allies

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Wyatt and I recently finished playing Kirby Star Allies on the Nintendo Switch. Per standard Kirby game mechanics, Kirby has the ability to steal enemies powers. In Star Allies, Kirby goes a step further and becomes a thrower of hearts. Throw a pink heart at an enemy and they become your friend/party member, for life.

So here are Wyatt and I, adventuring across the HD candy-coated world of Kirby. We are the buddies of co-op. The ultimate father and son duo to take on the evils of Dreamland.

“Wyatt, slow down.”

“Wyatt, we just missed a puzzle piece.”

“Wyatt, why did you just die? How could you have done that?”

A chunk of our playtime consisted of Wyatt mixing powers, trying to see what Kirby powers he could create. This power mixing killed the flow of gameplay and DROVE ME NUTS!
How Kirby Power Mixing Works:

Let’s say Kirby steals the powers of a warrior. Now the pink puffball has a sword. If you have a party member that has ice, fire, or lightning powers, you can call them over to buff your sword. Your standard sword is now the Ice Sword of Doom or the Fire Ball Slicer from Heaven. In Kirby Star Allies, friendship is all about the perks.

Kirby Star Allies must be about driving your dad crazy.

It wasn’t until I started listening to myself speak to my son that I noticed I was freaking out.

So I adjusted my tone.

I listened to myself get upset over missing secret doors and passing up on puzzle pieces.

So I changed my expectations.

We started having fun.

Snow levels became a chance to sing terrible Frozen “Let It Go” parodies.

Running past puzzle pieces were a moment to become super silly and let things go.

Kirby Star Allies was a $60 reminder of what co-op gaming with my son looks like. A reminder that I need to chill, play, and allow myself to have fun.

Thank you, Kirby, for the gentle reminder.

4/5 – A perfect game to co-op with someone you love.

Title: Kirby Star Allies
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Platform: Nintendo Switch
Reviews on: Nintendo Switch
MSRP: $59.99