Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) [Game Gear]

Hi all! Ryan from Games with Coffee here, fulfilling a promise I made in my recent update post to be more active. This will be a first in a series of re-posts from my work on The Well-Red Mage as the Hyperactive Coffee Mage.

Today, I’ll be sharing with you my very first #magecrit featuring Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Game Gear! It was a fun, albeit lengthy, write up. I delve into the development history of the Game Gear version, which ran parallel to the Genesis version and go in-depth with the mechanics (Arguably, the most thrilling parts of writing this review!)

Please enjoy, leave a comment and if you want more long-form gaming analysis featuring a bevy of talented writers, TWRM is the place to be!

With that, I hope you enjoy today’s featured piece! And remember to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

The Well-Red Mage

I will answer when you call me

I will never have to guess

Cause we are very special friends

Dear, My Friend by Brent Cash, Sonic Unleashed.

coffeemage “The following is a contributor post by the Hyperactive Coffee Mage.

In January 1992, Sega was on top, overtaking their rival, Nintendo, for the first time since December of 1985.

The company had put their faith behind a certain speedy blue rodent and he delivered, rocketing the game company to relevance and starting a console war that would define the gaming scene well-throughout the 90’s. Sonic the Hedgehog(which the Well-Red Mage extensively covered the origins of) was praised for its visuals, gameplay and music. However, a series is rarely successful by staying as they are. For the next installment, Sega and Sonic Team needed more than just redesigned levels, gameplay mechanics and a story; they needed an edge.

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Why Are There Crickets Chirping Here? (Or Why I’ve Been Quiet Lately)

Hey all, welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! How’s everything going? It’s been a while, hasn’t it?

For me, well it’s crazy. Work’s been busy, with new clients, new projects and tons of visits, reports and reviews to do. On top of that, I’m working on some really big projects on the writing front that I’m really excited about. One involves a certain Raider of Tombs by the Jonez of Neko’s and the other’s a huge, collaborative effort with Matt from Normal Happenings regarding Games That Define Us, so keep it locked on Games with Coffee and I’ll point you in the right direction on when these righteous collabs drop and where to find them!

In other news… I’ve been publishing several articles for The Well Red Mage, of which I am The Hyperactive Coffee Mage! I’ll be re-blogging them on here in the coming days, so as to make it look like I’m actually producing something :P.

I have been writing and trying to get content completed, but my job and its frantic and chaotic nature, plus my commitments to the collaborations I’m working on, being a parent to an 8-month old and a dutiful husband with lots of responsibilities have prevented me largely from making that happen, but I’m hoping that’ll change by October. Things should be dying down during that month (As I speak, I’m much more closer to clearing up my massive work backlog than I was earlier this week. It’s still massive though…) so expect the blog to pick up again soon. I got a lot of content that I’m itching to share, including the following:

  • I’ve been dying to get back into Path of Exile, so I’ve found enough spare time here and there to play and prepare Part 7 of my on-going playthrough series! I really missed writing these out and providing tips for players, so expect that to drop soon-ish.
  • Fall signifies lots of things; the changing of seasons, the start of school and colder weather. It also reminds me of Pokemon, which is the next Game Discussion I’ll be covering. I’ll be talking about the Poke-Craze that took over my family and friends and my stories revolving around the franchise. One story involves a Pokedex, a test and a bunch of limes. It’s a fun one for sure!
  • Fanfiction! Man oh man, ever since I listened to the Noire mix on TWRM Radio a couple months back, I’ve been so inspired to write stories. One in particular is this Fantasy/Noire-inspired Legend of Zelda fic called Black and White (Yeah, real original, I know). I’m gonna try real hard to finish this one. I surmise it’ll be divided into ten parts and I have a good idea of how the story progresses and ends. I’m hoping it’ll fit the tune of the Noir genre. Again, stay tuned! And check out the previous two chapters to get a feel of what it’s about!
  • I’ve got a bunch of awards to catch up with and questions within them to answer – 2018 was a huge year for accolades on Games with Coffee! I’ve been itching to get back in and answer some of these well-thought out questions, so that’s something on my to-do list…
  • I’m trying to lock in some more interviews for my ongoing Beans and Screens segment! That’s all I’m gonna write about that for now. If you wanna be a guest on the show, however, drop a line in the comments!
  • I’m also overdue for some music posts… I’ll get back to y’all about that too… (Methinks I’m over-promising a bit too much.)
  • Got a load of Espresso Shot Reviews to catch up on, including one recommended to me by The Well Red Mage himself. It’s literally out of this world.
  • And finally, I’ve got my FFVII x Sonic passion project to keep working on. Reading it over, I’ve noticed I have a lot of edits to do, but I’ll save that for when I actually finish this thing. Current stats: 11 chapters done, #12 is on-going and I’ve estimated that I got another 14 more to write before I can consider the rough draft completed.

So, that’s the update! Hope I got all my bases covered. Keep your eyes out on my Twitter and Instagram feeds for when the big collaboration posts go up, as well as whatever I mentioned above!

With that, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, clearing the dust off this site and reminding you, dear readers, to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See ya next time!

Disclamer: That header isn’t of my own creation: I found it here on the Steam workshop and I don’t have a clue as to where it truly originated from. Though, you gotta admit, it looks really good? Perhaps I should customize it to make it look a bit like me? Share your thoughts in the comments below!

The Legend of Zelda: Black and White – Part II

Good evening and welcome back to another installment of The Legend of Zelda: Black and White. We last left our hero, Link, meeting a strange, hooded man in Telma’s bar after a long and fruitless mission in the ongoing war between the Hylian Royal Family and the combined forces of Ganondorf and Zant. This man seems to have some information that could turn the tides and ensure victory in the kingdom’s favour.

Naturally, Link is wary of this man’s intentions, but the promise of a victorious end to a losing war is far too tempting to pass up… And so, Link makes the decision to hear him out. Is this a choice that could save Hyrule? Or, is it one that he may come to regret later on? Grab a mug and settle in dear readers for Part II. And remember:

Not everything is as Black and White as it seems…


Part II: The Walk Under Moonlight

What started with me going to the bar for a drink or two and some light conversation with Midna after a long, rough day of battle, turned into a lengthy talk with a hooded man who introduced himself as Sheik. He had just left the bar when Telma started to round up her regulars and send them on their way home. I hadn’t realized it was closing time.

As Midna was wiping down the bar counter, she sidled up to me. “Link, who was that guy? You know him from somewhere?” she whispered.

I downed my last drink of the night and relished the bitter aftertaste. ” I don’t know. I never met him until today,” I said, cocking an eyebrow at her. “You didn’t serve him?”

“No, Telma did,” she said, shaking her head. She then narrowed her eyes and gave me a flat stare. “So, you gonna tell me what’s going on, or not?”

She can be really demanding at times. I dropped my voice down, not wanting to be overheard. “That hooded guy? He’s Sheikah.”

Her eyes widened to the size of saucers. I guess she was more than a little shocked at that development. “Sheikah?!” she hissed, trying her best to keep her voice low. “I thought that the design on his trim looked familiar – standard Sheikan fair for sure. But weren’t they…” Here she noticed Telma drawing closer to the bar, so she leaned closer to me and dropped her voice back down to a whisper. “Weren’t they all wiped out by Ganon’s forces when the war began three years ago?”

Like I said before; Midna’s a shrewd one. “Yeah, that’s what I said to him too,” I told her. “He says he didn’t get them all, though.” I noticed Telma giving Midna a look that said ‘Back. To. Work.’

“Telma’s onto you, Mid. You better get back to closing up,” I said, gesturing to the owner. “We can talk more on the way back to the castle.”

Midna let another impish smirk cross her lips as she moved away to close shop. I honestly can say that she’s the only woman in Hyrule that can pull off that devilish look of mischief and still look gorgeous. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I stood up, buckled up my gear and bundled my cloak in hand. From the window nearby, I saw that the rain had died down and the skies were starting to clear. There was a half moon poking out from holes in the clouds, its pale light shining down on the streets below. The sparse light would make do for us to get back to the castle, I suppose.

I chatted with Telma for a bit and tried to wheedle some more info out of her on the mysterious Sheikah, but she knew exactly what I knew; nothing. He was here in one of the corner booths about an hour before I showed up when she served him. I already knew it was no coincidence; he was clearly waiting for me and wanted to tell me of his wild and crazy propositions to end this war…

A tug on my arm broke my train of thought. “Alright Link, let’s go,” Midna said to me, wearing a thick, black cloak to ward off the damp and chilly night air.

We bade Telma farewell and headed out into the alleyway. After reaching the main street, we turned right and set off northward, side by side. With the moonlight illuminating our path, I started talking at that point. Told her how he was waiting to talk with me, how he and a bunch of other survivors of the Sheikah race recently discovered an ancient temple that may possess a powerful weapon within. It’s sealed with a complicated lock that requires both an old Sheikah artifact and the Master Sword to open. He knows where the artifact may be located, but he needs my help for the second part, seeing that I’m the guy who pulled the sword out of its pedestal a few days after the war started. I didn’t know his angle, but he was fully convinced that I would be the perfect guy for this job.

“If you’re interested in learning more… Meet with me again tonight, in the alleyway in front of this establishment.” he told me before he left. “I’ll lead you to somewhere more private where we can continue our conversation…”

“This sounds like a huge gamble,” Midna said, breaking my train of thought. “There’s no guarantee that there’s something in that temple that will help our side, Link. Are you sure you want to do this?”

I stopped in my tracks and gave Mid a wistful look. She turned to face me, startled at my sudden halt. “Midna, let’s be honest: we’re on the brink of defeat,” I told her. “Ganondorf has our number, no thanks to Zant and I don’t want to lose. I can’t lose.” I spread my arms wide. “Hyrule is my home. I do not want to see it in the hands of a mad tyrant, so I’m gonna do it. I’ll go along with this crazy plan, open that temple and find out what’s inside it, gamble or no. I’ll do whatever it takes to protect my home.”

Midna smiled, but was different; it was more somber than her usual cheeky flair. “He’s right,” she said to me, softly. “You are a true patriot to your home.” Her eyes shimmered in the low moonlight. “This place has become my home as well, over these last few years… I don’t want it lost either, you know?”

I didn’t say anything. I didn’t need to, really; she said everything that needed to be said right there. I just nodded in agreement and we continued on our way.

We arrived at the castle shortly after and entered through the main hall. After climbing up the grand stairwell, we said goodnight and went our separate ways; she going up to the guest chambers while I headed for my own on the other side of the castle.

When I entered my room, a thought struck me: I had to tell Zelda about these events and convince her not to have the council send me on another pointless mission. I resisted the urge to groan loudly; the last thing the war effort needs now is another raiding party for Twili technology. I barely escaped by the skin of my teeth when we were discovered on the last mission…

Although… If what Sheik says is true, then we can kiss these fruitless raiding parties good bye once and for all. Hence, why Zel needs to know what’s going on.

Resolving to talk to her in the morning, I stripped off my clothes and gear and flopped on the hard surface that I call a bed. And as darkness crept up on me, I felt hopeful that things would turn around for the better.

I’d learn soon enough that things were going to be far worse than I could’ve ever imagined…


That sounds ominous… What do you think that means? If you’re curious to know, stay tuned to find out!

Disclaimer: Hey! Listen! I don’t own the characters and setting in this story, they are owned by Nintendo!

The Legend of Zelda: Black and White – Part I

Welcome to the first installment of The Legend of Zelda: Black and White! Inspired by the latest TWRM Mix, this was a sudden, crazy brainchild of mine that I started to flesh out as I was listening to it.

This story takes place in a time when Hyrule was embroiled in a bloody war that has gone on for long enough between the Hylian Royal Family and Ganondorf, who yearns to conquer the land for himself. Ganondorf had joined forces with Zant, a resident of Twilight who overthrew and murdered the Twili Royal Family, save for the last living heir who escaped to Hyrule.

Combining his vast armies with Twili technology, Ganondorf and Zant have pushed the Royal Family’s armies to the brink in the span of three years. Queen Zelda and her war council have tried to stymie the damage as much as they could with the help of the Hero Chosen by the Master Sword, Link, but he is only one man against an seemingly unstoppable force. Despite his valiant efforts, Hyrule’s losses only continue to grow and Link has become disillusioned, convinced that they are only delaying the inevitable.

A chance encounter with an enigmatic individual may change all of that with the promise of a swift end to this war. However, Link will soon learn that not everything is as Black and White as it seems…

I hope you enjoy this with coffee in hand, dear readers!


Part I: The Meeting

The cloud-filled night sky started to open up just as I entered Castle Town. It must have been past midnight when I finally got back as the town was pitch black, save for the few lanterns that barely lit up the cobbled streets. That’ll change once it comes down harder; the lights being snuffed out in the same way my blade snuffs the life out of an unsuspecting Moblin. Heck, I could even smell the acrid scent of ozone in the air. It meant lightning was coming and frankly, nobody would be crazy enough to be out here anyway, unless they were comfortable with flirting with electrocution. Then again, with my shield and the Master Sword thumping on the back as I trudged through the streets, I’m basically a walking lightning rod.

Strangely, death from above wasn’t weighing too hard on my mind. Rather, I was doggone tired and in need of a stiff drink. I was covered in blood and sweat and Goddess knows what else thanks to the latest mission that Zelda put me through. Or rather, that the council put me through. If it was Zelda’s choice, she would have told me to stay by her side, but when you’re the best weapon Hyrule has in a dirty war against Ganondorf with the fate of the land at stake, personal choices have to be put aside. She knew that. I knew that too. But I was still angry about that fact.

Pulling my cloak tighter to ward off the cold rain that was starting to intensify, I popped into a dive named Telma’s, just a ways down a sketchy alleyway that sometimes smelled of raw sewage on Castle Town’s south side. At first glance, it might seem like only the dedicated or desperate would trudge through the foul-smelling streets to come here. In reality, it’s a homey and warm place with a robust clientele and a welcome relief from the dreary weather, the depressingly empty streets and my own dark thoughts. The owner and I go way back and I kept telling her to move to somewhere more upscale and ritzy to drum up a bigger customer base, but she wouldn’t bite. She never told me why she preferred this location, but then again it’s none of my business, so I let it be.

As I enter, I don’t see her manning the bar – probably in the back doing inventory – so I dragged my tired body to the bar counter, removed my cloak and weapons, sat on the barstool with my head resting on my hands and began to brood while waiting for someone to serve me.

A sweet, impish voice snapped me from my reviere. “What can I get for you, Hero?” I felt an small smile break out as I lifted my head to see the speaker on the opposite side of the counter.

Ah, Midna. She’s a real doll alright. Vibrant long hair the same colour as a warm, summer twilit sky, eyes like sparkling red rubies and a killer smile with a frame to match. You wouldn’t know it by looking at her at the first glance, but she’s really a former princess from the realm of Twilight that was usurped by some maniac named Zant and banished here to live out the rest of her days in exile here in Hyrule. That very same maniac had recently allied himself with Ganon and provided him tools to aid him in the war that we’re slowly, but surely losing. Day by day, the losses keep growing and the victories we gained have become more and more hollow. The citizens were starting to be disillusioned with the war effort, but you wouldn’t see any of that with Mid; she always had that devil-may-care smile on her face as she bantered playfully with patrons, all while serving up hard liquor on the cheap. She was a real light in these dark times, irony aside. It’s one of the reasons why I liked her so much.

I knew she was no floozy who liked to serve drinks and flirt shamelessly though. During the daytime, she would be up in the castle, providing information to Zelda about her people’s technology and strategizing with the rest of the council on our next course of action. At night, she was here. It was her way to wind down after another depressing day – she could lose herself in the mundane problems of everyday citizens, rather than worry about her own.

Mid was smart, real smart. Some of the one-off patrons who stop by at Telma’s on a whim underestimated her, thinking that she was just some dumb broad to take advantage of based off her fun and outgoing personality. All it took was a vicious remark to shut down anybody idiotic enough to try and make a move on her and send them packing with their tails between their legs, never to come back. The regulars – myself included – have an ongoing bet to see how many guys she can scare off in a month. So far, I’m way off the mark.

I think I was staring too hard because Mid gave me one of her looks that could cut through steel. “Hey Link, you gonna order something or what?” she said, a little bite in her voice.

I shook my head. Classic Midna. “The usual, please,” I told her. She smirked, turned around and started preparing my drink. As I waited, I noticed someone sliding into the seat beside me from the corner of my eye with a drink of their own in hand.

The figure was small in stature and wore a hooded, navy blue cloak with white trim. On the trim were some red designs shaped like an eye of sorts. Its face was so obscured that I couldn’t tell if this individual was a man or a woman. Normally I would have ignored strangers like these, but something about this one made my skin crawl and not in a good way either.

The hooded figure raised its glass and inclined its head towards me. “Hello Link,” said in a smooth, controlled voice. Definitely male. “Lovely night we’re having.”

I wasn’t in the mood for idle banter. I was tired, I wanted a drink and I wanted to go to my chambers in the castle and sleep. “What do you want,” I asked harshly.

The hooded man wasn’t fazed in the slightest by my rude tone. He took a sip of his drink, placed it on the counter and turned to face me. “I’ll cut to the chase Hero; I have a proposition for you,” he said. “An offer that you’d be a fool to pass up on.”

I glared darkly at him. I wasn’t interested in what he was selling. “Get lost, I’ve no need for this right now,” I muttered.

“Not even if what I offer may ensure Hyrule’s salvation?”

My ears perked up at that. “What are you talking about?” I said, turning to face him.

At that moment, Midna came back with my drink and set it by me. She eyed the hooded man critically and then met my eyes for a moment before leaving to serve other patrons. It was a look that said “We need to talk when you’re done.”

I took a hearty draw from my glass, suppressing a cough from the stinging liquid before motioning him to continue. “Go on,” I said. “What information do you have that can save Hyrule?”

The hooded man chuckled softly. “A patriotic man, through and through. Let me tell you this, then: What if I told you that a weapon exists that can overpower Ganondorf’s armies? Would you seek it out?”

I didn’t hesitate. Hyrule couldn’t bear any more losses in this war. Heck, I couldn’t bear any more losses either, nor could I bear to see Zelda look more and more despondent as the days passed. We needed a victory, a decisive one. And even though something about this guy send my nerves on end, at that point, I thought I had nothing to lose by hearing him out.

“Absolutely. You have my attention now,” I told him.

I didn’t know it at that time, but that decision would come back to haunt me later on. And I wouldn’t realize it until the very last moment.


What do you think will happen next? Find out next time on Games with Coffee!

Disclaimer: Hey! Listen! I don’t own the characters and setting in this story, they are owned by Nintendo!

Beans and Screens – Daniel Flatt, The Mail Order Ninja Mage!

*This interview has been edited for clarity, but definitely not for conciseness…*

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Beans and Screens! I’m your host, Ryan.

Most times, shows like these start with me going through some sort of monologue, but there’s two problems: 1) Monologuing is not really my strong point (I tend to ramble) and 2) we don’t have the budget for it. So, let’s go right into today’s guest on the show!

He’s a father of two wonderful children that is happily married to the love of his life, a hardcore gamer who plays every system, an anime fan, martial artist and an avid reader, writer, and consumer of most things that can be defined as geeky. His 90 WPS typing speed allows him to churn out content at blazing speeds, of which I’m super jealous about! (Just kidding!). Combined together, they form a super geeky but amazing individual, not unlike the defender of the universe, Voltron.

He is the owner of the blog, Home Button Gaming, a fellow Mage, a sparkling conversationalist and a totally awesome guy to hang out and talk gaming with, please welcome to the stage, Daniel Flatt, the Mail Order Ninja Mage!!!

*Applause and cheers fill the studio as Daniel enters the stage wearing his Ninja Mage Garb. Despite his imposing height and build, he comes on with a good natured, goofy smile on his impressively bearded face. The studios lights reflect perfectly off of his polished bald head and accidentally blinds an audience member.*

*Daniel takes his seat on the couch amid the cries from the blinded audience member (“My eyes!”). He leans back and makes himself comfortable. The cheers start to die down as the interview commences*

Ryan: Welcome to the show! It’s an honor to have you here today to plumb the depths of your psyche. But first, anything to drink? Tea, beer, soda… Coffee perhaps?

Daniel: *Pats his considerable stomach* Just water for me, I’m trying to ‘drop the LBs’ as the hip young kids say nowadays.

R. Great! Just gotta dig behind my seat here, mini-fridge is behind it. *Digs up a bottle of water and places it on the table.* And this is the reason why we can’t afford a monologue!

Right, so besides the awesome intro I belted out, let’s get a little personal here: tell us a bit about yourself?

D. Whoa boy, that is quite the open question isn’t it?

You pretty much nailed the highlights about me, but I’m happy to reiterate. I consider myself a gamer and geek as self definition, but what defines me most is likely the fact that I’m a married father of two, as my children come first in everything I do. I’ve been dabbling quite a bit in writing again after a long hiatus from it, and am currently trying to bring more attention to Home Button as my primary gaming blog, since gaming is the hobby I’m most passionate about. I’d love to turn it into a career someday, but that is pie-in-the-sky kind of stuff.

I do have two other blogs though, one that focuses on all of my writing outside of gaming, and another that I just started that is designed to motivate me to lose weight. Outside of that I’ve started back to Tae Kwon Do after 17 years away, and in between all of that I’m juggling a full time job.

Not really an exciting life per say, but it certainly keeps me more than a little busy.

R: It definitely sounds like it! How you’re able to do all that with two kids is pretty inspiring. I have a son and he’s practically everything to me, so I can see where you’re coming from!

So, fun fact: I’ve also practiced martial arts! I was a blue stripe in Tae Kwon Do and a yellow belt in Karate! I had to give it up after I got married, but I try to keep practicing at home so I don’t get too rusty. Might I ask what rank were you when you left?

D: Awesome! It is always cool to meet a fellow practitioner. I never was really into sports growing up, but Tae Kwon Do was immediately satisfying to me on a number of levels. It is a long story really that involves a con-artist, but I only ever got my green belt certificate from Korea, even though I was higher than that.

Either way my son joined recently, and I guess my wife caught the longing looks I had when he was in class. One day I took him to the Dojang and they had a uniform ready for me, and my wife had paid for a full month. Call it a mid-life crisis if you must, but I must say it has felt like recapturing a bit of who I used to be.

I had to start over as a white belt because I forgot a lot of the forms, but coming up through the ranks with my son should be a memory he will cherish forever. I know I certainly will!

R: Wow that is so sweet of your family to do that! What I admire about martial arts of any kind is that it teaches modesty, perseverance, self-control and indomitable spirit and it’s great that you and your son can experience that together. It will make both of you stronger physically and mentally!

Now, regarding your blog, Home Button Gaming – what got you to start it and what’s the significance of the name?

D: I’ve actually worked as a very modestly paid part-time writer for video games before, but that was almost six years ago now, and I really missed it. I had disagreed with a lot that went on the site, and had always wanted to try my hand at my own site, but there was always some sort of excuse there.

Not to be a downer, but my father passed away suddenly in October of 2017, and after recovering from some of the shock I realized the cliche about life being horribly short was all too real. I found myself realizing I was sleep walking through life, using my age and children as an excuse to not try. Regardless of a chance to fail, I started writing again and doing Tae Kwon Do, things I used to love, but found reasons not to have the time for.

So I started the blog back in January, with an ultimate goal of maybe making a career out of gaming in some form, though I knew it was probable that it would never happen. The surest way to fail though is to never try, so why not give it a shot? In the interim I love writing and sharing my passion on gaming, so I really couldn’t find a reason not to.

The name was simply wanting to find something that was related to video gaming, without being confined to one device. I believe in playing all the systems with none of the fanboy nonsense, and things like The Start Button were taken. However, nowadays every platform has a Home Button of sorts, and believe it or not their weren’t any gaming sites already claiming the name.

R: It’s interesting that you bring up your dad, he’s a subject of another question I have later on in this interview. I’m especially intrigued at your realization that you were coasting through life; not many people can admit that, so I applaud your self awareness. I’m also glad you made the decision to give writing another shot because without it, we wouldn’t be sitting here today and I wouldn’t have gotten to know such an inspiring fella! The term “Home Button” for some reason also makes me think of home and family itself and I like the focus on a family of systems and games as opposed to focusing on one console or one type of game. It’s very refreshing to see!

One of the things I like about your blog are your Photo Mode posts, they are very creative! *Turns to the audience* I have here some of my favourites if you want to take a look:

Pirate Brothers

A Journey Begun

A Champion’s Embrace

Lost Beauty

Reflected Glory

Adventure’s Bend

Mountain Mist

*Turns back to Daniel* So what made you want to start them anyway?

D: *Blushes a bit* I don’t know that I would say all of the inspiring bit.

One of the most wonderful things about gaming is its ability to transport us to fantastical worlds, or even places on this Earth we may not get to venture to. Just like spectacular views or stunning backdrops in real life I feel that these moments created by digital artists should be shared. Not only that, but each screenshot I take tells some story, and it is fun to go back through them like a digital journal of sorts.

I’ve always wanted to be a digital photographer of sorts, but before this current generation of hardware that took additional tools in order to do so. Now that sharing screenshots is built in to all of the current gen consoles, it became easier than ever to take shots of the wonders we see when playing through a game. Sharing them may be a little strange, because I can’t take credit for creating these wonderful moments. However, we can’t take credit for the beauty we see in nature either, we can just photograph and share it.

Photo modes especially in games are the most wonderful thing, because it allows me to move the camera, remove characters, and otherwise play with the shots. The coolest thing about sharing these shots I think is for people that may not have played the game, or may never play games period, to let them see the beauty inherent in some of these video games. It was nearly criminal that we didn’t get a photo mode in Breath of the Wild, but I did the best I could capturing my favorite places and moments in that game regardless.

I have something like 400 screenshots on my PS4, and over 2500 on my Switch. The Switch especially makes it so easy to capture moments, but because sharing them requires a little more work I’ve gotten a little lazy with it lately. The Xbox is pretty easy to share through their app, but to take a photo with out the Kinect takes some doing. On the other hand the PS4 has a lot of games that have photo mode, but sharing through their program is currently very difficult, so I hate to say that Photo Mode has slowed to a trickle lately.

Funny you should ask about Photo Mode though, I’m committed to uploading a ton of shots this weekend, so people should look forward to that coming back. I also have plans for some Photo Mode community events coming up, possibly even competitions, so people that are interested can look forward to that also. Sorry, that was a bit of a long winded answer! *Laughs*

R: No problem! I’m especially glad the Photo Mode posts are making a return! I loved the concept and it’s inspired me to pay closer attention to my surroundings in games just in case I get an opportunity to take the perfect screen capture. I’m stoked to hear that they’re may be Photo Mode Competitions in the near future! I’m definitely gonna sign up for one!

Another segment of yours that I enjoy is the Weekend Whatcha Playing. It always makes me consider to myself “Hm, what AM I playing this weekend?” *Strokes chin in thought*

Let’s talk about a few specific games now. You’ve recently got into a spat with the Well-Red Mage regarding the latest Pokemon release, Pokemon Let’s Go Pikachu and Eevee for the Switch. As I understand, your vehemence against the games was quite severe; care to tell us what got you so riled up?

D: *Smacks forehead playfully* Oh man, this was something of an embarrassment for me. To be honest, I had a knee jerk reaction to the original trailer. Funny thing is that I don’t really even play Pokemon, but I was really looking forward to something deeper on this iteration, as were a lot of fans. You remember earlier I said that I play all consoles? Well that is true, but I certainly favor experiences from Nintendo in a lot of ways. I have this strange thing with Nintendo that I don’t get with any other platform, and that is that I really want to like everything Nintendo does.

I was someone who owned a Wii and played pretty much every hardcore title they had on it, but I think they lost their way a bit chasing that “Blue Ocean” philosophy of creating new gamers with a more casual approach to gaming (i.e. Wii Music). What happened is that everyone bought one as the latest craze, but dropped it like a rock to move on to mobile gaming. You saw a lot of people buying a Wii, but with hardly any software attachment, which means people were buying the system and not buying games for it.

Nintendo went a long way to addressing some of that with the Wii U, but made other mistakes in marketing and in trying to tie it to the Wii. Those consumers had moved on, and the hardcore gamers that built their business were disgusted with them at this point. The Wii U is written off as a failure by a lot of people, but it had a ton of really good games, however it was too little too late for most people. That is why the Switch has done so fantastic, they refocused direction on the more hardcore gamer, while also having a concept that it is easy for more casual people to understand. You can take this console anywhere, it kind of sells itself.

Now here we had this trailer of something that is a clear play for more casual players and the cultural phenomenon that was Pokemon Go, and not at all the more hardcore Pokemon so many wanted. It makes perfect business sense as they can use this to possibly get new gamers interested in the franchise, but honestly how many people that downloaded a free app to be involved in a social movement are going to buy a $300 dollar device to get deeper in?

Either way I broke a cardinal rule, which is writing off something that clearly wasn’t made for me, not to mention judging a game I haven’t played by a trailer. I’ve since been informed by my daughter that we absolutely have to buy it, so that she can play her first Pokemon game. As a six year old she can’t read through the bigger games, so this is something she can drop in and out with Daddy. So maybe it is for me and my family after all.

I still can’t help but worry though about this direction meaning another move toward that “Blue Ocean” for Nintendo, after all we’ve seen it happen before, so it isn’t out of the question.

R: Gamers like us do get a lot of flak for writing off something before trying it. I recall in my youth that I would write off Mario games because they were too childish, not realizing that I missed out on some of the best platformers Nintendo had released! I do understand how you feel about Nintendo once again possibly shunning the hardcore crowd to draw in new gamers though. It’s a situation I hope Big N avoids this time around.

I also recall you were quite critical about the Nintendo Labo when it was first announced, but you made a full 180 upon trying it out with your kids. If you had the chance to go back to when you were initially critical about the product, what would you say to yourself? Do you think the same thinking should apply for the new Pokemon games as well?

D: In the case of Labo I think it was entirely on Nintendo and their withholding of a lot of information. I wasn’t extremely critical of it, I just wasn’t sure who the demographic was, and I was hesitant about the pricing. For some reason they never let anyone know the prices of replacements, if those replacements for the pieces would be available online, and for how much. In that case I assumed the worst, especially considering the cost of the initial starter packs and their refusal to comment on it.

On top of that so many people kept lauding how much creativity this would bring to the table, but this was far before we knew about Labo garage, which again they didn’t tell us about till far later. Without the garage I still think that the value proposition there is problematic, as these games are incredibly simplistic, akin to mobile games. The whole idea of learning and engineering wasn’t really ringing true, because after the initial build, then what?

Once they announced the garage I was on board, because I saw the potential there. I also should have accounted for the sheer Nintendo charm, and how much fun these things would be to build. Largely these pieces of cardboard now lie discarded in my house as I predicted, abandoned for deeper gameplay that is far more readily available, but they were novelty things that were worth the price for the experience alone.

As for Let’s Go, sometimes I get too caught up in the idea of what this does for the industry, so while I didn’t care personally, it is a worrying trend when companies push for the casual dollar. It almost never goes well for the end consumer, even when it does for the company making the money. I am still worried about how this will impact Nintendo in the future; especially since we know it will sell well just because it has the Pokemon brand on it.

Still, I need to learn to distance myself from industry impact when personally responding to news especially where Nintendo is concerned, and if the Big N fall on their face again just realize there is plenty out there that isn’t Nintendo to play. I love Nintendo, I’m extremely passionate about them and want to see them succeed, but they are a company that I’ve seen over and over take 2 steps forward and 4 back, so I’m very wary of things like Labo and Let’s Go.

R: That’s a solid answer. I too worry about Nintendo’s track record of trying to be innovative but falling on their faces (see the Virtual Boy). However I’m confident that the company will not forget it’s roots, given the lineup of games that coming out in the next few months. Which now takes us to E3… You have to agree this year’s show was pretty alright: great games, not so exciting conferences and presentations. You’ve written at length about each of the conferences, even going so far as grading their performance, but who would you say ultimately won this year’s event and why?

D: I agree with you ultimately, I think Nintendo are at a good place and the E3 lineup was very promising.

As for E3: the gamers won.

Ok, I know that is a lame answer. It is hard to say who “won” E3, because I felt all the big three did a solid job, and in this case it really came down to what games you like. If you look at all my articles side by side I gave Nintendo the best score, but I admit that is 100% my bias and my love for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

If we were grading for sheer excitement and fantastic pacing I would say Microsoft won, as they had exactly what people want from E3. However, they were a little light on exclusives we can play now, and I think they are getting ready for their next console, very similar to what Nintendo did the last year of Wii U coverage. We see how that turned out for them with Switch, so maybe Microsoft is conceding this generation in order to wow everyone in the next gen.

Sony easily had the most promising exclusives, if I had to pick a game of the show I would be hard pressed between Smash and Ghosts of Tsushima. However their pacing was really bad out of the gate, though they managed to recover and have a great show by the end. So really Microsoft put on the best conference, Sony had the best slate of exclusives present, and Nintendo had the ultimate version of one of my favorite franchises of all time.

I won’t leave you with a half way answer though, so I’ll go Microsoft. They clearly knew where they were at going in and they brought a stellar show of games. They might not have been all exclusives, but if we are talking about the sheer hype of E3 and how to put on a conference, they really did a great job.

R: “The gamer’s won.” That’s not a tacky answer, I also think it’s the truth! I mean as I once said, we are in a period of renaissance in the gaming industry. We have so many amazing games available to play in the next 6-8 months from this year’s showing and there’s virtually a great game for everyone. So it’s no stretch that we all win in the end! *Grins*

I agree that Microsoft’s conference was quite well paced. Sure, there were a lack of exclusives but the hype around a new console release in the next few years definitely made a buzz. I honestly thought Nintendo was the clear winner, simply because of the games that will be released in the near future. However, it’s as you said: we gamers are the clear winners!

Alright, I alluded to this question earlier, but now’s a good time to bring it to the forefront. I read a very powerful piece of yours surrounding the game Rime and your father’s untimely passing last year… It was extremely moving to read and I urge the audience to go and read it. You can find it here.

Daniel, I want to ask you, how difficult was this to write? I understand that you are still grieving over your loss, so I’m curious to know what inner strength allowed you to produce such a wonderful piece?

D: I’m not sure it was any sort of inner strength really. I should probably be in therapy or on medication, but in the meantime one of the very few things that makes me feel better is putting my feelings on paper, however sad they are. It is why I started a writing blog outside of Home Button, just to dump a bunch of my writing as a repository, like a digital journal. If someone reads it, great, but I don’t advertise or publish it at all typically.

Writing allows me to make my feelings physical in a way, not purging them, but getting them out in the opening. Once I write about something it is easier for me to dissect how I feel that way, so in a way it is a crutch I can lean on in these hard times.

Rime was a case of something at the exact right time, as if the universe conspired to have me experience the message at the time when I needed it most. When I had completed the game I felt sorrowful, of course, but I also felt a deep sense of a calm I hadn’t felt in months. As a light spoiler the game is about death, and the sorrow of losing someone you love. Acceptance seems like such an easy thing, after all how can you not accept the reality of a situation? However, the truth is that everything I did from then on I would only compare against when my father was alive. I kept asking myself how this happened, why it happened, replay the situation over and over again hoping for a different outcome that obviously would never come. I couldn’t believe or accept he was dead, it was easier for my subconscious to deny the trauma in a way.

R: It’s good that you did share it. I personally resonated with the post and it was the first one I thought of when my wife’s grandmother passed away recently. It helped me to understand that writing out your feelings is a critical tool to aid in the recovery process after losing someone close to you. It’s a great piece and again I urge you members of the audience to check it out!

Now let’s get back to a lighter subject: your kids. So, you’re a gaming dad with older children: a little daughter and a son approaching his teen years. And I’m a gaming dad with a 5 month old who shoves everything at arm’s length into his mouth, regardless of whether it’s edible or not. Seeing as you have been in the fatherhood game for some time and have experienced the highs and lows that it brings, what kind of advice, tips or wisdom would you be willing to share with fellow gaming dads who have younger children, like myself for instance?

D: Gaming with children presents its own joy that can also be a burden at times. At first my kids were happy holding a controller that wasn’t plugged in, but they swiftly came to understand that did nothing to control the character on the screen. Since they want to always mimic their parents, they really want to game with you, and I decided to embrace that instead of discourage it.

One of the great things about being a gaming dad is that is you can relate with the things your children love more easily. I’m always the cool Dad at any of my son’s friend’s birthday parties , because I can talk Overwatch, Minecraft, or Fortnite with the best of them. My daughter fell in love with gaming also, let me tell you that she plays a pretty mean Charizard on Smash Bros. for the Wii U, and can name nearly every Nintendo character I have an amiibo of, and I have a lot of those.

On the other hand you always want to be careful not to allow them too much video game time, and of course it is something where you’ll have to defer your violent video games to later in the evening after their bedtime. We have a rule of one hour a day of gaming time in my house, but they can lose minutes or gain minutes depending on certain behaviors. Also, playing with Dad doesn’t count towards their game time, because I can cheat like that since I’m the father.

There are some games I recommend especially when your child is younger. My personal favorite to start my kids with was Kirby’s Epic Yarn, because they can easily bubble up or fly with no issues, and you can pull them along with you if they don’t have the skill to tackle obstacles early on. The new Kirby Star Allies game is good for that too, as there are 3 other companions in total, and so there is never an impetus on your child to do extraordinarily well.

I also have raised my kids on Little Big Planet, because you can search literally anything on there. Kid’s interests change so rapidly when they are young, and they always get a thrill seeing their favorite thing represented in game form. A lot of them are poorly done, but playing through them with your child is a lot of fun. My son made a lot of progress learning his alphabet when he was younger thanks to a cool level someone made in Little Big Planet 2.

Either way I don’t like the idea lately that gaming is something that is bad for children, because like anything it just needs to be moderated and not used as a free babysitter. However, gaming has brought my family closer together, taught my children the idea of friendly competition and good sportsmanship, and affects their strategic thinking as well as their hand-eye coordination. Worlds like Minecraft especially give children a sense of ownership and agency that, since they are young and being guided so much, they may not get a lot of in their lives. It is a huge benefit to confidence and creativity.

R: Well done! It’s awesome that you and your kids are able to bond so well thanks to video games. And I totally agree that, in moderation, gaming can really foster creativity, sportsmanship and critical thinking and problem solving skills. Not to mention hand-eye coordination can be extrapolated to other fields, such as team sports or (in our case) martial arts. I’m really excited to bring gaming to my own son when he’s old enough and I feel like Kirby or even Yoshi games will be an excellent introduction to gaming.

Also, I didn’t realize that games like Little Big Planet could be used as an educational tool!? That’s fantastic! I assume that this can also work with other level editor games, like Super Mario Maker and Minecraft.

I will definitely use your arguments to make my case be heard with my wife! She’s not overly fond of gaming, but I feel that your experiences really codify a great example of how to be a gaming parent.

So, tell me Daniel, what’s coming down the pipeline for Home Button Gaming? Any upcoming projects or collaborations we should keep an eye on?

D: As I mentioned earlier I plan on doing a lot more to insure that people see Photo Mode at least three times a week again, because it appeared to be such a popular item that I feel bad it fell by the wayside. In addition I’m excited by my new set of articles called +1 to Joy, where once a week I discuss something that I love. The great thing is that this doesn’t have to be only video games, so if people want to learn more about me or maybe discover some cool book series or TV show that will be the place to do it. In addition it just lets me bring a little more positivity to the video game space, as well as remind myself all the wonderful small things I am grateful for.

I also contribute as one of the venerable Mages to The Well Red Mage with regularity, and have been doing a series of interviews with the Mages. So far I’ve interviewed the admin of the site, Moses, and this incredibly talented coffee addicted individual I can’t quite remember the name of right now. *winks at audience*. People can look forward to much more of those coming in the future, and just recently, I was featured on The Well Red Mage in the 30 Day Console Challenge where we rank the 7 best games of the system as we see it.

If we are talking big future plans I want to establish a podcast and a YouTube channel, but those things are pretty far down the road, as I have little expertise in such things.

R: Wicked! Looks like there’s a lot going on in the near future! I especially excited about the +1 to Joy articles, I feel we as gamers all need some more positivity in our lives, so this is a wonderful initiative!

*Turns to the audience* If you all want to see some of Daniel’s interviewing chops, definitely check out his talks with Moses from The Well-Red Mage and with this truly mysterious Coffee addict… Who seems rather familiar, don’t you think audience? *Grins maniacally*

*Turns back to Daniel* Right, now final question before we hit the lightning round: 90 WPS. How in the name of the Coffee Gods are you able to type so bloody quickly? *Laughs*

D. *Laughs* I have no earthly clue really. I took typing in middle school, and have been jamming away ever since. I think when we finished class I was at 50 WPM in middle school, and I guess working in admin the last 13 years or so combined with writing on my off time has jacked that up tremendously. It isn’t something I brag about at parties or anything, but it certainly helps with pumping out content when writing and at work.

R. I theorized that your typing skills were developed through some secret and ancient ninjutsu training, but I like your answer better. *Shrugs* Still it’s an impressive accomplishment! I mean the fastest I can type is barely over 65 WPM… And that’s not taking into account me being distracted either with games by or drinking coffee!

OK! So it’s time for the Lightning Ninja Round!!!! *Pulls out a percolator, a bag of coffee grounds, a filter and some water.* In the time it takes to brew a coffee, you will answer the following questions! Each answer yields a point, but like the show “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” The points don’t really matter much. *Starts preparing a brew.* And I was also craving more coffee anyways, hence why the percolator is the timer. Now, onto question 1!

If you were ever in a jam and needed a giant-ish robot to bail you out, who would you choose between Optimus Prime, a Gundam of your choosing or Voltron? No need to give me reasons why! *Grins*

D: The defender of the universe of course. Voltron, no question.

R: All time favorite anime of any era?

D: Oh man, that is a tough question. Rapid fire off the top of my head? Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood. This answer shall come to haunt me as I change my mind daily.

R: Can’t take it back! Next: Pick two of three: PS4, Xbox One, Nintendo Switch.

D: Diabolical question. Switch and PS4.

R: Ooooh tough choices. Next: Favourite Splatoon Loadout?

D: I’m an Aerospray man myself, with curling bomb special. I’m starting to tinker with Brush and Baller though.

R: Nice! I do like the Aerospray, but I hardcore rep the Dualies with the Tenta Missile special. It’s such a great combo *Grins*

Next: What recent game have you played frustrated you to no end?

D: Ni No Kuni 2 actually. I want to play it so bad, but I’m having to grind to proceed and I hate that in a game.

R: Hmmm… I recall you mentioning that in our various, magely conversations. *Winks.*

*Checks the percolator.* Got time for one last question: What game have you started that you were really into initially, but can’t get around to finish it?

D: There are way many of these than I care to admit, but the first one that leaps to mind is Halo Wars 2. I played it, I adored it, but the gaming calendar was so packed I just fell behind. *pulls out phone, holds receiver towards mouth* Hey Google, remind me to install Halo Wars 2 when I get home…Again.

R: *Laughs hard, tears start forming on the corners of my eyes* Oh-ho-ho man! That was good! Hopefully you’ll get it installed this time! *Percolator dings* And just in time too! Coffee’s done and so’s the Lightning Ninja Round! You did well!

And thus, another day, another episode completed! Daniel, I want to thank you so much for joining and sharing your story with us. We were really happy to have you here today! *Audience claps and cheers raucously*

D: *Smiles and waves at the audience* It has been a real pleasure. My job here is done.

*Daniel tosses down a smoke pellet to escape in true ninja style, but it is apparently a dud as it gives off no more smoke than a cheap 4th of July smoke bomb. It barely curls around the ankles and certainly doesn’t obscure him in the least. He shrugs and dashes from the stage awkwardly, his arms out behind him in a dorky approximation of a ninja run.*

R: …Daniel Flatt, the Mail Order Ninja Mage everybody! And join me on the next episode, of which I will host a secret and special guest! Until next time, this is Ryan from Beans and Screens, signing off! See ya next time!

Espresso Shot Review – Alundra

Good morning and welcome back to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Today, I’m talking about a game that’s both close to my heart and one of my favourites for the original PlayStation (PS1) era – Alundra! It’s an underrated gem that’s similar to Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda, but with tougher puzzles to solve, lots of platforming elements and a great story with a compelling cast of characters that focuses on humanity, religion and the power of dreams.

I was introduced to the game back in 1998, in the sixth grade. I rented it at the same place where I rented Final Fantasy VII for the first time and I was surprised at the open, vibrant world and the quirky cast of characters that occupied the modern-looking village of Inoa. The game was much more challenging that I realized; the puzzles required a lot of thought to figure out and I needed to read the clues a couple of times until I could figure out the correct solution. One memorable puzzle in a crypt required me to speak to five spirits in a particular order. It stumped me, even after my rental period ended. Determined to solve the puzzle, I was led to a site called GameFAQs.com (formerly known in 1998 as gamesages.com and currently bought over by Gamespot) where I took a post-it note and wrote down the sequence: 3, 2, 4, 1, 5. That post-it note sat on my bedroom mirror for roughly 7 years until I eventually lost it.

This game had such an impact on me that I used it as a premise for (yet another) fanfiction-turned-creative writing assignment. I should mention that this particular assignment was part of a standardized test given to all Ontario students in the sixth grade. Needless to say, I bombed spectacularly. It was a terrible piece of writing (I think I threw in a spatula or something… I don’t know why), but I still had lots fun with it.

After the rental place shut down in the beginning of the 21st century, I was certain that I lost the opportunity to complete the game. While I spotted it in some niche gaming stores here and there, I didn’t have the money to pick it up for myself (I was but a somewhat humble, yet very broke high school student at the time).

All that changed when I got my PS3 and saw it was on the PlayStation Network, over a decade later. I instantly snatched it up, intent on finishing what I started. After getting past the crypt dungeon, I had discovered that the world Alundra and company inhabited was much darker than I realized. And once I finished it, I felt that I stumbled upon a masterpiece that was on par with games like The Legend of Zelda.

But questions remain here in 2018, what with the release of blockbuster games like God of War and other similar adventure games made by indie developers: does this feeling still hold true? Can this game be considered a masterpiece almost 20 years after its initial release? Top up your brew because I will attempt to answer these in the Espresso Shot Review:

Background

Box Art

Alundra was developed by Matrix Software and published in North America by Working Designs. Matrix Software, established in July of 1994, was partially made up of former employees of another developer called Climax Entertainment. This point is important to make, as Alundra itself is considered a spiritual successor to a little-known Sega Genesis Action/Adventure game made by Climax called Landstalker. Landstalker’s isometric views, multi-leveled platforming and puzzle mechanics and storyline were the blueprints that gave Alundra life, although the isometric view were ditched for the more traditional top-down view.

Matrix Software, in particular, is well known developing remade ports of the Final Fantasy series, starting in 2006 with the Nintendo DS remake of Final Fantasy III. It’s interesting to note that while they made their start in the action-adventure genre, they ended up developing ports for popular, classic RPG’s. Alundra was the company’s very first game, which took the better part of three years to develop and was released in Japan on April 11, 1997 and in North America on December 31, 1997.

Story

Alundra tells the story of the titular adventurer travelling to Inoa Village, in the land of Torla. He is summoned there at the behest of a mysterious figure who appeared in his dreams, begging him to help the residents overcome a malevolent force. While en-route to Torla, a sudden, violent storm scuttles the ship he’s travelling on, leaving many individuals dead and Alundra on the Torlan coastline, unconscious.

ON the shop

He is found and nursed back to health by Jess, Inoa’s resident blacksmith and a good-natured man, who fills him in on the situation. Since the King forbade the worshiping of idols some five years ago, the people of the land had lost their ability to create. In return, they found that they had the ability to control their dreams. Soon enough, those dreams warped into twisted and horrifying nightmares whose effects manifest in the waking world, affecting the villagers in a myriad number of ways. One resident – Nadia – causes explosions when they sleep, so she is forced to stay awake, losing her sanity all the while. A child named Sybil has prophetic dreams of the future while awake and she shares these with Alundra, giving him clues as to what he should expect from his journey.

Soon after Alundra is rescued by Jess, an elderly resident of Inoa –  Wendel – is stricken with a nightmare. Alundra is then introduced to Septimus, a scholar who relocated to the village to investigate the nightmares. After travelling to the scholar’s teacher’s house near the village and obtaining a tome for Septimus, Alundra learns of his true heritage – that he is a Dreamwalker of the Elna Clan, gifted with the ability to enter and influence people’s dreams, most times for the better. Using that power, Alundra starts to defeat the demons that haunt the villagers nightmares. However, despite his valiant efforts, some villagers still end up dying.

Jess 2

It isn’t until after the first few villagers pass away that Alundra finally meets the mysterious figure he saw in his recurring dreams. The figure introduces himself as Lars, who tells him that his true enemy is a being named Melzas – a demon who desires humanity’s destruction. Despite being sealed up in a lakeside palace by Lars and six others, he can still influence and control people through dreams and worship. Lars instructs Alundra to gather the seven crests held by the guardians that keep the seal of the palace intact, enter it and destroy Melzas once and for all before he truly awakens and brings ruin to all.

However, it appeared that Melzas was a few steps ahead of the Guardians before Alundra arrived. The demon employed the white-haired monkeys known as the Murgg to infiltrate and steal the crests, thus hastening Melzas’ reawakening. As the plot starts to thicken, the Murgg have managed to steal two of the seven, meaning that Alundra would have to work double time to hunt down the remaining five and find a way to regain the two that were stolen.

Melzaz

Midway through the game, another Dreamwalker named Meia arrives in the village. Initially cold towards her fellow clanmate, she warms up to him after he learns of her tragic past and actively assists him in saving the villagers from Melzas. She’s also a great foil for Septimus; her sardonic outlook on life counters that of the scholar’s eternal optimism and makes for interesting conversation.

Meia

The story makes many dark turns as it progresses and the game is not afraid to kill off the odd character or two. Some deaths were shocking to behold, specifically, those where a child and a character central to the plot were murdered. The villagers are affected greatly by these deaths, their conversations changing as the game progresses, up to the point where they become despondent enough to place the blame solely on Alundra. Although it’s not without some influence.

Enter the priest Ronan. Religion plays an important role in the game, in that the priest and his disciple, Gilles, are highly circumspect of Alundra and his miraculous dreamwalking powers. He preaches to the villagers to reject the notion that Alundra is a savior and instead reaffirm their faith to their god, which the player eventually learns is Melzas himself. Through Ronan, Melzas attempts to discredit Alundra and turn the villagers against him by pointing out that those he attempts to save usually end up dead and that everything was fine until he showed up. Ronan’s descent into madness and fevered devotion to his false god are what makes him both so reviled and so interesting as a character. He’s killed innocent people to satisfy the status quo, rejects all notions that his faith is so badly skewed and truly believes in Melzas’ twisted message of salvation, so much so that he’s willing to sacrifice his own humanity for that cause. He makes for a very interesting villain.

One last note in this section: the English translation of the game’s script is incredibly quirky and entertaining to read. Characters exude plenty of charm and some of the things they say are hilarious to behold.

Gameplay

Alundra is an action/adventure platforming game displayed from a top-down perspective, similar to the The Legend of Zelda games. The character can move in all directions, jump, attack with a weapon, execute a dash and shoulder charge and use equipped items, like recovery herbs, bombs and capes and magic items.

Platforming in this game can be an exercise in patience since it’s sometimes difficult to judge both how far Alundra can jump and the distance between platforms themselves. To add to that, platforms can be hidden behind objects or backgrounds, meaning that the player must investigate every nook and cranny to advance. One area in particular that frustrated me to no end was an underwater section, where the water physics affected the timing and length of my jumps. I would over or underestimate the length and timing of my jump to the next platform and fall to the bottom level, where I had to maneuver through a maze to find a bubble to get back to the upper floor in order to try again.

Two things make this game stand out. The first being the fiendishly difficult puzzles. There is an enormous variety of puzzles to solve in this game, including pushing ice blocks, stepping on or flipping switches in a particular order or arranging items in a certain order. Many puzzles require close reading of the clues in order to solve, such as the puzzle at the crypt entrance, where a spirit tells you to speak to five coloured spirits in order from most revered to least. Another example is stacking a set of symbol blocks in reverse order, which the clue mentions briefly. For the majority of the time, however, it’s a word or a phrase that is overlooked that’s the main cause of confusion for solving these puzzles. Some require a combination of timing and thinking outside of the box to solve as well and some solutions, especially in the final dungeon, span multiple rooms and may require solving smaller sub-puzzles to advance further. I’ll be honest, I needed a guide at some point to solve some of these.

The second is the amazing dungeon design, especially the Dream Dungeons. Each of these dungeons are specific to the character affected and alters the dungeon mechanics to reflect that character’s personality. Take for instance Elene, who suffers from disassociative identity disorder or multiple personalities. Her Dream Dungeon is actually four mini-dungeons that reflect the four personalities Elene possesses. Another great example are the identical twins, Nestus and Bergus, whose connection to one another allows Alundra to travel between both brothers via their dreams. This reflects on their dream dungeon, where everything is a mirror image of each other! It’s quite well done.

There are three collectibles, of which two are vital to your quest. They are the Life Vessels and Magic Seeds. Life Vessels permanently add a point of health to Alundra’s HP, which maxes out at 50 HP. The Magic Seeds increase Alundra’s magic ammunition, to a maximum of four uses. Gilded Falcons are optional collectibles, but they allow Alundra to access special items and additional Life Vessels once you’ve obtained enough throughout the game.

Gilded Falcon

One complaint I have is that some areas become inaccessible later on in the game, meaning that constant exploration is needed to avoid missing collectibles, like Gilded Falcons and Life Vessels. This is especially apparent in the Dream Dungeons, since you can’t reenter a dream once it’s over. It’s an annoyance, albeit a minor one really.

Alundra_Life_Vessel_1b

Alundra has access to a variety of weapons, each required to accomplish a certain action. Along with his sword, he also uses a Flail to break blocks, a Crossbow to activate switches from long range and the Fire and Ice Wands to both solve puzzles and deal elemental damage. The Sword and the Fire and Ice Wands all have access to a charge attack when you get them (Alundra starts with a dagger with no charge attack), while charged attacks for the Flail and Crossbow are obtainable once you pick up their upgrades. Alundra also has access to spells of the four elements: Fire, Water, Earth and Wind. Each spell can be upgraded (from scroll to book) and they’re ridiculously powerful, to the point where they’re game-breaking.

There is also a secret, incredibly powerful sword called the Legendary Sword that can only be obtained if the player dies multiple amounts of times. This is akin to an easy mode combat-wise, because it one-shots virtually every enemy and makes Alundra absolutely unstoppable. Getting the sword does not make the puzzles any easier, I’m afraid.

Alundra also has access to armor, which reduces the damage he takes from enemies. He starts with basic cloth armor and can obtain upgrades as the story progresses. His boots are also upgradable; each new pair increases his jumping ability, grants him the ability to swim and allows easier travel through difficult terrain, like sand and shallow water. Two of these are required to complete the game while the final and ultimate version of the boots is a missable item.

There are a lot of enemies in the game. One thing I’ve noticed is how much endurance even the simplest of foes have. The Pukas and Slimes (similar to the Zols in the Zelda games) basically take five hits to beat at the start of the game and they’re found all over the land. There are ogre-like warriors called Gragg, monkey warriors named Murgg, mud golems, reapers, Lizardmen, Evil Trees, Mummy Guardians, you name it. Some of the most interesting monsters are found initially in the Nightmare dungeons, like Soul Devourers; odd, Lovecraftian monsters with tentacle-like appendages that extend from their abdomens and that can teleport all over a stage.

I find that some enemies, like the Sand Worms and the Bug Bags, are supremely annoying to deal with or hard hitting for the stage of the game that you fight them in. Sand Worms make an annoying squelching sound whenever they appear and disappear, which aggravates me to no end. Furthermore, once hit, the worms immediately enter the ground again. Bug Bags can surround you, take off a chunk of health and they can absorb a large beating before dying off. Plus, they leave behind residual bugs that do contact damage once defeated, which only adds to their annoyance factor. Lizardmen are also tough fighters to attack and defend against; they are quick with their shields and have a powerful dashing attack, which makes for a challenging set of foes.

The first two or three bosses are not very impressive to start with. This changes after the Coastal Caves – the boss here is an water demon with various area-of-effect attacks and is a challenge to defeat. Subsequent bosses afterwards require certain strategies to defeat. The Giant, Nirude, is an interesting fight in that you don’t fight at all; you have to survive his onslaught long enough to prove your worth. My only gripe is the last few bosses in the game. Apparently, because your weapons at the later stages of the game are so powerful, the game’s designers nerfed their effectiveness against some of the late game bosses, including Melzas. Regardless of what weapon you use at that stage, it will take roughly 30 to 60 hits to defeat these powerful foes. Magic is an exception in that they are much more effective than standard weaponry alone.

Visuals

Alundra is a very pretty game to watch. At the time of its release, 2-D graphics were slowly on the outs, replaced by flashier (and blockier) 3-D polygonal models. It’s in the present time however, with the resurgence of retro graphics in indie releases, that Alundra’s visuals really shine forth. The level of detail and polish on the sprites and backgrounds are stunning; shadows, colours, textures effects and the like really brings the fantasy elements of the story to life. They are charming to look at.

I really liked the design of Inoa Village: It has a nice, modern look to it and it appears  like a pleasant village to stay in, despite the fact that the residents are plagued with violent nightmares. It somewhat reminds me of Kakariko Village in Breath of the Wild, minus the Asian influence.

Inoa Village

Visually speaking, Alundra is a red-headed version of Link, elf ears and all. The only differences are that he doesn’t wear a hat or green clothes and that he can jump. Nevertheless, Alundra’s animations and actions look very smooth.

The only complaint I have is in regards to the platforms. Alundra’s visuals sometimes makes it difficult to gauge your distance between platforms; you’re either over or underestimating the distance between ledges, pillars and overhangs. In any case, it’s only a minor annoyance.

Enemies also look visually appealing, in the sense that they look tough and intimidating. The bosses from the Coastal Cave and beyond are also particularly impressive looking. The bosses in some of the Nightmare dungeons are truly terrifying, including one that attempts to suck you into its gaping stomach like a grotesque version of Kirby.

Kirby boss

Audio

I personally adore Alundra’s soundtrack. The theme for Inoa Village is one that stuck with me for years before I replayed the game and is one of my favourite tracks. It’s upbeat and catchy nature juxtaposes against the despair of the villagers, creating an interesting contrast.

The Wind That Shook The Earth is Alundra’s overworld music. It really captures the spirit of adventure and exploration, in that it’s powerful and epic and has the propensity of making me smile whenever I hear it. I honestly can’t get bored of listening to this song.

Alundra also has some great dungeon music. The House of Tarn, which you hear in a couple of dungeons, is a tense and mystery-filled piece that makes me feel like there’s something lurking in the dark corners of the dungeon. The generic Nightmare dream dungeon music really reflects the nightmarish feeling that Alundra encounters when he enter’s the villager’s dreams.

My personal favourite song in the game is the first one you hear when you start a new game: the track that plays when you’re on the ship, heading for Torla. It really makes one feel that they are travelling to a foreign land and starting a brand new journey. I love it.

The SFX in the game are also pretty good and remind me strongly of The Legend of Zelda, specifically Ocarina of Time.

Replayability

This game is pretty long, clocking in at over 20 or so hours of solid gameplay, possibly 25 if you’re a first time player thanks to the brutally difficult puzzles. After beating Melzas, there’s not much to do post-game – you could try your luck in the secret casino area? That’s assuming you picked up the Secret Pass in Inoa Village. You could try your hand at hunting down all 50 Gilded Falcons (Good luck with that…) and trade them in to get an extra special item that virtually makes you all but invincible. I’d play this game again and again because of how great this story is, but that’s my personal opinion. (To date, I’ve replayed it about six times now – I’m currently in the middle of a playthrough as I speak!)

The Last Drop

Pros:

  • Beautiful visuals and sprite art.
  • Interesting and intelligent dungeon design.
  • Quirky characters and a great story.
  • Open world exploration with lots of hidden secrets and collectibles.
  • Soundtrack is well done.
  • Boss fights are challenging and engaging.

Cons:

  • Brutally difficult puzzles, some which may require a guide to solve.
  • Developers nerfed the damage done to some of the end game bosses since Alundra is incredibly powerful at that point of the game.
  • Platforming can be tricky and frustrating at times.
  • Some enemies can be downright annoying to deal with (eg: Sand Worms, Bug Bags, Lizardmen, etc.).
  • Lots of missable items that requires paying close attention to detail in dungeons and/or backtracking throughout the land at every opportunity.

Alundra is truly one of the PlayStations’s Hidden Gems; a game that you come across at random, but yet leaves a lasting impression on you after you play it. Even though the puzzles and platforming elements can be on the difficult side at time, it’s story, combat, open world and quirky dialogue more than make up for it. If you’re a fan of open world adventure games or of the Legend of Zelda, this game is definitely for you!

4.5/5

4.5 out of 5

Beans and Screens – Link and Zelda!

Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to another edition of Beans and Screens! I’m your host, Ryan.

On today’s episode, we have two guests joining us, but only one of them will do all the talking! Fresh off of saving Hyrule from Calamity Ganon in the epic, Breath of the Wild and here to talk about their latest exploits, they are two of the industry’s biggest icons. Please welcome the Princess Queen of Destiny, Zelda and the Hero of the Wilds, Link!

*From the side of the stage, two Hylians walk out to the applause and cheers from the audience. Both wave and smile politely as they make their way to the couch.

The man, no older than seventeen in age, is dressed in a blue tunic emblazoned with intricate, light blue designs, with loose beige pants and brown, traveler’s boots. On his arms are worn leather gauntlets and on his waist is a Sheikah Slate, bouncing lightly against him with every step. Strapped to his back is a sturdy blue and silver shield adorned with the Hylian Royal Crest and the Triforce. Behind it, safely tucked away in its sheath is the Blade of Evil’s Bane – The Master Sword – it’s indigo hilt gleaming in the studio lights. Even while smiling at the crowd, his sharp, piercing blue eyes sweep the room, scrutinizing everything and identifying all possible threats. His dirty blonde hair is tied up in a loose ponytail.

Walking alongside him is a woman of the same age, a few inches shorter than the man. She wore a long sleeved blue garb similar to the man’s tunic but with black and gold accents, along with beige tights and riding boots. Her long, honey blonde hair is tied in a loose ponytail, gently swishing to and fro as she walked. She projected an air of confidence and poise befitting that of a ruler and yet in the peaceful blue eyes that scanned the crowd elatedly, there lay a shimmering, vast trove of wisdom and knowledge deigned from countless years of study. Tucked under her arm was a weathered tome with bits of paper sticking out; likely notes and scribbles from her research that she haphazardly added in.

They both reach the couch and take a seat, the male unbuckling his sword and shield, placing it nearby, his fingers dancing on the hilt. The woman sits beside him, her shoulders square and back straight, her hands clasped on top of the book in her lap. The audience’s cheers and claps die down as the interview begins.*

Ryan: I’m so glad you two were able to make it! Was the journey hard? I understand that realm travel is a bit on the difficult side, correct?

Zelda: Oh no, it was very little trouble. While being able to use the Triforce would have made things much easier –

Link: *Nods*

Z: – We did have a little help from one of the three Dragons that circle our land. They deemed that it was the least they could do, as they were very grateful for our efforts in stopping Calamity Ganon.

L: *Frowns* Hrmm…

Z: Oh, cheer up Link! At least this time Farosh was not trying to electrocute you. Although, you did have it coming; you kept troubling the poor beast for its scales, claws, fangs and horns!

L: *Rolls eyes, crosses arms* Hmph.

R: *Laughs* OK you two, settle down. So let’s get to it: Ganon’s been defeated, your kingdom is in ruins: what’s the plan, Your Highness?

Z: Ah, great question! Well, despite the castle and the town being in ruins, the rest of the kingdom is intact, thank the Goddess. The plan is for us to rebuild with the Gorons, the Zora, the Rito and the Gerudo and bring Hyrule back to its former glory. To do so, I must form a council with representatives of the four races and start building up a government, fairly similar to what we had a hundred years ago. I hope that through cooperation with one another, we can strengthen ourselves for when Ganon reawakens. Another thing I would like to investigate is how it was even possible for Ganon to take over and corrupt the Divine Beasts and Guardians so easily. I have spoken to some of the Sheikah about this and I am hoping that they will have some theories to present once we return to Hyrule.

However, one of my grandest desires is to let the lands beyond our own know that the people of Hyrule have emerged victorious against the war with Ganon and that our borders and shores are open for newcomers to visit and live in. Despite how vast Hyrule is, my time with the Triforce has shown me how isolated our land has been. I want to change the notion that we are an insular country and expand our horizons, invite new talent, bring in new cultures and create new experiences for both current and future residents that will only make our land that much stronger. *Audience claps and cheers ecstatically*

R: That’s a bold proclamation there, your Highness!

Z: *Grinning amid the applause* Oh please, please call me Zelda. And yes, it does sound highly ambitious, but I am confident that we will succeed. In fact, before we came onto the stage, Link and I were approached by a rather enigmatic individual.

L: Ah. *Nods and smiles*

Z: He has invited Link and I to represent Hyrule in a vast fighting tournament spanning many lands. While Link jumped at the opportunity to test his skills without hesitation –

L: Hyah! *Grins confidently*

Z: *Continuing on as if Link didn’t interrupt* – I, on the other hand, am more of a researcher than a fighter and thus declined the invite. To that end, this individual told me that it would not be a problem. Instead, he would ask one of my previous incarnations to join the tournament!

R: Woah, hold on, that’s crazy! Who is this guy?

Z: *Taps a slender finger on her chin, her head tilted to the side and eyes looking up in thought* Hmm… well he did not give me his name. *Turns to face Link* Link, were you able to record an image of him on the Sheikah Slate?

L: *Shoots Zelda a beaming smile* Uh-huh!

R: Well then, show us!

*Link removes the Sheikah Slate from his waist and activates it. Going into the photos, he scrolls down with his finger until he finds the image he seeks. He turns the Slate towards me. I recoil back in shock.*

R: What!? No way, that’s Masahiro Sakurai?! *Audience whoops and cheers* Masahiro Sakurai, hah! Now I understand! He’s invited you and your previous incarnation to join other battlers in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate! That’s amazing!

Z: Really? Is that what it is called? It is rather an odd name, but nevertheless I am glad for the invitation. Link would be an excellent ambassador for Hyrule in this regard since he is our land’s Champion; I am certain he will bond well with the other fighters.

On top of that, this ‘Sakurai’ individual had asked me if the Great Plateau Tower could be used as a battleground. Mulling it over, it would be a boost to local tourism – the view from that particular tower is spectacular – so I heartily agreed. My only concern about this tournament is for my friend Link; I do not want to see him to get severely hurt.

L: *Turns to her and gives her a reassuring smile*

Z: *Turns to him and smiles back* Oh, I know you will be fine, but I do worry about you.

L: *Grins* Hah.

R: How… are you doing that?

Z: *She blinks before whipping her head around to face me, a startled expression on her face* Oh! Oh this? Well, our connection between one another during Link’s travels around the realm had allowed me to truly understand him. He speaks little, but his actions and gestures give away what he would like to say.

R: Hm… Wish I had that same connection with my wife. But I guess that’s what happens when you’re linked through destiny and a magical godly artifact. Anyways, back to our discussion: Besides the fighting tournament, what else do you have planned for Hyrule’s grand comeback?

Z: Throughout Link’s adventure, he has discovered many forgotten ruins that were buried long before Ganon awakened a hundred years ago. Age estimates have come in from between centuries to millennia, so that has me quite thrilled at the prospect of discovering more history about the land! What I would like to see happen is for tours and expeditions to occur within these lost ruins and monuments to the past. I dare say that both the local and foreign populations would benefit greatly from the knowledge and appreciate the history and heritage of the land, should they choose to pursue it. *Applause*

R: Hm, indeed. It’s always interesting to learn about the history and culture of another land. Speaking of history, Zelda, could you take us back one hundred years before Link awoke. Tell us, what were you feeling right after you placed him at the Shrine of Awakening?

*Zelda bows her head and her hands tighten up in her lap. Link places a gentle hand on her shoulder before glaring daggers at me.*

Z: *Whispers softly to Link* Link it’s OK. *She lifts up her head to face me, giving me a saddened but gentle look* To be honest, I felt dread and anguish. Dread that I could not hold back the unstoppable power of Calamity Ganon. Anguish over the loss of Hyrule’s Champions – the tamers of the Divine Beasts – … as well as my father, the King. I nearly… *she pauses for a brief moment to compose herself, her voice trembling slightly* I nearly lost Link, who had so valiantly protected me.

However, I knew that there was a sliver of hope remaining. Link was not lost, only injured. The Shrine of Awakening, while experimental, would be the key to restoring him to full strength. I knew that he would awaken and I knew he would do whatever it took to help me defeat Ganon. What I did not count on was… his memory loss.

*Link’s eyes move to the side and downward, his mouth set in a grim line.*

R: Memory loss?

Z: Yes. Amnesia is an unfortunate side effect of using the Shrine of Awakening.

L: Oh! *He snaps out of his funk, pulls up the Sheikah Slate and shows me a set of pictures.* Aha!

R: What’s this?

Z: Oh yes! It seems that there was some residual data left over on the device; pictures that I took before the Calamity. It became corrupted over the hundred year period, but after the data was repaired by the Sheikah, Link traveled to each of the spots where we took the photos and it seemed to trigger some of his lost memories! So, while Link had amnesia, it was not as permanent as I feared. *Applause, some cheers ring out*

L: *Link nods happily.*

R: That’s good to hear Link! Zelda, I have one last question before we turn to our silent hero here: What research are you thinking of looking into next?

Z: *Taps a finger on her chin* Hmm… I suppose I would like to take an in depth look at my bloodline and heritage, including how the power of the Triforce is activated in the female line of the royal family. It seems to me that prayer and study are not enough to activate the power – there also must be some distress involved, such as when I jumped in to protect Link from a Guardian, knowing full well I would be killed myself. That is only a hypothesis at this point and it would be hard to test that out in the real world… but I must find out, at least for my successor’s sake. *Eyes widening suddenly, she opens her notebook, pulls out a pen and scribbles down some notes in it before closing it and placing it back in her lap.* I apologize, I wanted to make sure I had this in my notes. Being both a ruler and a researcher is extremely hard work and sometimes I forget things that I think about, so I must write my thoughts down or else I would never get to investigate and probe them for answers.

R: Not a problem! Sometimes, with so much going on in our lives, it’s good to keep things written down, it helps to keep you on track of things. *I turn to Link* Now Link, I understand you’re not much of a talker, but I’d like to ask you a few questions about your adventure.

L: *Link pauses for a moment and thinks it over. He nods slowly in acceptance.* Hm.

R: Great! Now, Mr. Hero; I heard you had to do some disguise work to get into a certain city? Care to tell us about it? *Zelda breaks out in a fit of sniggers while Link looks at me darkly*

Z: Oh come on Link, you knew this was coming! I’ll tell the story actually; In the Gerudo region, men are strictly forbidden from entering the capital city. Gerudo City’s population consists solely of women and Link needed to enter the city to gain information to conquer the Divine Beast, Vah Nabooris. So, in order- *she starts cracking up* In order… to… *starts to laugh, but composes herself.* Ahem! Whew! In order to get into the city, he had to dress like one of the Gerudo! *bursts into laughter, along with the audience*

*Link looks at Zelda glumly as she laughs harder, tears starting to stream from her eyes.*

Z: *Laughter starts to subside after a few minutes* Come now Link, we only jest. If you had not dressed like a girl, Hyrule would still be under the thrall of Ganon.

L: Mm. *He nods, a small smile on his face.*

R: She’s right you know! It’s a heroic cross-dressing moment!

Z: Oh wait, I have another story to add in here; once in the past, I was doing some research on the local flora, when I spotted a Silent Princess – my favourite flower – and spoke about its decline in the wild. Link was sitting nearby, listening to me talk in his usual stoic self, when I happened to spot an extremely rare amphibian specimen, one that could potentially augment certain abilities if ingested. I caught one and… well tried to force him to eat it. *Grins*

R: You forced him to eat a frog?!

L: *Frowns*

Z: *Giggles* Funny enough, he ate it too! And he got sick in the process: Turns out that the frog I gave him was the wrong one… I felt terrible after that. However, Link forgave me after he recovered, never blaming me once. That’s the kind of person he is.

R: Well, I can certainly take a page out of his book. Having the capacity to forgive is an important quality to have. OK Hero, let’s move onto some more serious question: You journey was a very isolating one and you were given very little support in it, so what was it that kept you so motivated?

L: *Link strokes his chin for a moment, before pointing to Zelda. She lets out a light blush. Audience lets out an “Awww…”*

Z: Oh Link… That is very thoughtful of you.

R: Aww, isn’t that sweet, everyone? That answer can warm even the most frozen of hearts… Well, except Ganon I suppose… Anyhow, Link, here’s a two-parter for you: One, how are you feeling now that your quest is over?

L: *Let’s out an exaggerated, relieved sigh, followed by a smile.*

R: Hm interesting… And two, how are you feeling about the upcoming Smash Bros. Ultimate tournament?

L: *Narrows his eyebrows and looks determined* Hyah!

R: Looks like you’re pumped and ready to win this! I wish you good luck! Last question Hero before we finish things off: What’s the coolest or most amazing thing in your arsenal right now?

L: *Suddenly shoots an excited, yet maniacal grin.*

Z: *Places a palm on her head exasperatedly.* Oh Goddess Hylia help us… You have opened the proverbial floodgates.

*Link again whips out the Sheikah Slate and stands up. He holds it upright and taps on the screen. A blue circle appears on the floor, just in front of him. He taps the screen again and suddenly, a strange machine appears in the studio! It looks like a dirt bike designed with a stallion in mind and features the same architectural details as the four Divine Beasts. Link outstretches his hands as if he’s dramatically unveiling it. He looks to Zelda expectantly.*

Z: * let’s out a deep sigh and deadpans* Behold, the Master Cycle Zero, the Divine Beast of Champion Link.

R: Woah, now that’s cool! Can I take it for a spin?!

L: *Gives me his darkest stare yet. It’s almost as if he’s saying “Don’t push your luck.”*

R: *Relents* Alright, alright, jeez… Oh well, at least I tried! Well, Link, Zelda, it was truly a pleasure having you here in the studio: Link, we’ll see you again in Smash Bros. Ultimate, hopefully with Zelda here cheering you on! Best of luck in the tournament!

*Link recalls the Master Cycle Zero. He stands up and buckles his sword and shield. Amidst the raucous applause, Zelda stands and shakes my hand, followed by Link. Together, they walk off the stage into the backstage area, waving to the audience as they depart.*

Link and Zelda everybody! So, that’s today’s episode, but join me for the next one, because I’m welcoming my first blogging guest on the show! I’m keeping his identity a surprise and I’m telling ya, this interview is gonna be a fun one filled with lots of Ninja-like surprises! Stay tuned for when it drops!

And so, to my dear audience, I bid you farewell! This is Ryan from Beans and Screens, signing off and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Console Challenge Day 11: Top 7 Hidden Gems for the PlayStation (PSX)!

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Today, I’m listing the top seven hidden gems of the PlayStation era! This is a sister article to the one I wrote for The Well-Red Mage on the top seven all-time best games of the console. Check it out here.

The PlayStation had an enormous library of games, some amazing, others… not so much. However, there are a great deal of games for the console that many people have missed out on (besides the one’s I’ve deemed the best on the system) and it’s a downright shame they haven’t received enough attention. So, my mission today is to rectify that mistake and share these top seven hidden gems! Grab a coffee and get comfortable as we start the countdown with:

7. Crash Team Racing

What do you get when you combine the craziness of Mario Kart with a really good story mode? You get Crash Team Racing! Literally the best part of this game is the aforementioned story mode, where you have to race around tracks to earn trophies and defeat bosses in order to proceed to the next hub area and eventually get the chance to race against Nitrous Oxide, an extraterrestrial racer who wants to turn Earth into a parking lot!

There’s a bunch more things to do once you best him though: you can revisit tracks to earn CTR tokens and open the Gem Cup Challenges or you can also try your hand at earning Relics through Time Trial mode. Earning the Gems and Relics and challenging Oxide once more earns a neat and hilarious post-credits montage of what each character is up to, post-game. Highlights include Crash getting a movie deal with Universal Studios. Beyond that, the driving mechanics are fun and fast-paced, the dialogue is great (“TINY SQUISH PUNY CARS!” Classic.) Last but not least, there are plenty of hidden secrets to discover, including secret characters that can only be obtained through the time trial mode! I’d really love to see CTR remade or remastered with online capabilities!

6. Rayman

If you’ve played Rayman Origins recently, you may recognize the name and the character. Rayman, a 2-D side scrolling platformer, is the first game of the series and featured the titular character on a quest to both recover the Great Protoon and rescue the resident Electoons from the sinister Mr. Dark. Despite the vivid animations, the whimsical visuals and it’s charming soundtrack, the game is a lot tougher than it appears to be. Despite the difficulty, Rayman gains new abilities, like hanging off ledges, improved punching ability and gliding, as he progresses. Further, to access the final area of the game, Rayman must find all the Electoons in every level, with some found in tricky, hard to reach areas requiring a slew of abilities to access and which can really test one’s patience. It’s a great platformer and a wonderful way to explore the origins of the character.

5. Xenogears

From the publisher of the Final Fantasy series comes an interesting RPG that deals with plenty of issues, such as disassociative identity disorder, religion, war, love, death and reincarnation and the rise and fall of civilizations. Oh and Giant Robots. Can’t forget about those.

Xenogears’ story is vast, epic and a bit of a convoluted mess. However, it’s a great mess to get lost in. For instance, one of the main antagonists is the protagonist’s darker persona; a highly destructive individual named Id, many characters have hidden agendas or buried secrets and three of the game’s primary characters (Fei, Elly and Miang) undergo constant rebirth and reincarnation as the Contact, Anti-type and the Complement respectively. One of those incarnations (the Contact no less) discovers the cause of the cycle of death and rebirth that binds his and Elly’s souls (an all-powerful, sentient alien artifact), becomes evil and disillusioned, learns how to transfer his consciousness to various bodies (thus freeing the Contact to reincarnate to his next body) and finally becomes a seeker of power with desires to end the world, complete with a slick catchphrase (“Doth thou desire the power?” Awesome.). These are just some of the many side stories that happen all at the same time.

Oh, and lest I’ve not stressed this enough: GIANT. ROBOTS. Because, as both Gundam and Neon Genesis Evangelion have demonstrated, giant robots make everything better!

4. Parasite Eve

Another inventive game from the folks at Squaresoft, Parasite Eve is actually the sequel to a Japanese novel of the same name written by Hideaki Sena. Parasite Eve is an action RPG with horror elements set in Manhattan, on Christmas Eve in 1997. It stars a rookie cop named Aya Brea, who attends a Broadway show featuring an up and coming opera singer named Melissa. Midway through her solo performance, the singer’s fellow actors and members of the start to spontaneously combust. The singer escapes in the chaos and Aya pursues her only to see animals like rats and birds horribly mutate into gruesome creatures, right before her eyes! After finally catching up to her, Melissa suddenly mutates into a being calling herself “Eve.” Declaring that mitochondria have begun to rebel against their host cells, she awakens a power within Aya that forever changes her. Over the next six days, Aya chases Eve across Manhattan and attempts to stop her from giving birth to the “Ultimate Being,” all while learning about her mysterious new powers and a supposed connection with her long-dead twin sister, Maya.

Parasite Eve is Squaresoft’s first Mature rated game and with good reason: the visuals and subject matter are quite disturbing. However, the narrative is gripping and the action-RPG combat mechanics are very well done. The game also makes great use of horror elements, like the use of foreboding silence and jump scares, to make the player feel on edge about what will happen next. Plus, Aya is a total badass who faces all challenges head on, no matter how gruesome it gets, much like Samus Aran and Lara Croft. Parasite Eve is a wholly underrated game and one that definitely deserves more recognition.

3. Soul Edge/Soul Blade

From the makers of Tekken comes this fantastic weapons-based fighting game! Set in the 16th century, nine characters from different countries and versed in various fighting styles set off to find a tenth individual who is purported to hold Soul Edge – the ultimate weapon. To some of the characters, it’s a weapon of salvation and to others, it’s a weapon that must be destroyed due to its evil nature. It’s the first game of the Soul series and is the prequel to SoulCaliber – one of the best fighting games ever made.

The PlayStation port of this game (which was originally released in arcades) came with a whole slew of extras. It introduced a story mode in Edge Master Mode, where the player follows a character’s journey to find Soul Edge while fighting opponents under certain conditions and handicaps. Defeating opponents yielded tons of really cool weapons with various stats and special effects which could then be used in all other game modes! On top of that, Soul Edge boasted three soundtracks: the original, an arranged, orchestrated variant and the Khan Super Special Soundtrack, which was exclusive to the PlayStation edition. To top it all off, this edition included a third alternate outfit for each character and five secret characters including the final boss, Soul Edge. Seriously, that’s a lot for a fighting game! Sadly, you can only play it via a physical copy or through emulation. I don’t understand why Bandai-Namco hasn’t released this digitally yet. It’s an absolute travesty.

2. Tomba!

Number two on the list is this colourful, zany and fun platformer starring a pink haired wild boy named Tomba! It reminds me a bit of Zelda II and Metroid in that there’s a heavy emphasis on exploration and backtracking. There’s a whole slew of items and tools available at Tomba’s disposal to use in his quest to recover his grandfather’s bracelet, which was stolen by the Evil Pigs; greedy, treasure-loving piggies who’ve been terrorizing the local populace. On top of the main quest, there is a whole bunch of side quests to pursue that yield rich rewards, like extra lives and power ups and even access to new areas. What’s especially interesting is, like number six on the list (Rayman), that behind the cute and funny visuals, there are plenty of difficult platforming sections which require patience and a degree of trial and error to figure out.

As we round out the top seven, there’s one game on this list that’s both incredibly amazing and frustrating, requiring more patience than a saint to complete. However, this game is one of my all-time favourites for the system and is hence on the number one spot on this list of hidden gems:

1. Alundra

I honestly have gushed enough about this game on Twitter and for good reason: if there was a poster boy for the term “Hidden Gem,” this game would be it!

Take the gameplay of the Legend of Zelda, add in platforming mechanics, a story darker than Majora’s Mask (complete with discussions on religion, death, depression and nightmares that can really kill you), the ability to walk through dreams, an intricate dungeon design with puzzles that are guaranteed to obfuscate and befuddle the most brilliant of minds and a stellar cast of characters who reflect on their reality with a combination of abject horror, dark humor and apathy. That is Alundra in a nutshell. It’s quite difficult to complete thanks to the difficult puzzles, but the game’s story is great and the writing is well done! And while Ronan is no Sephiroth, he’s still an interesting villian in that he impedes Alundra’s quest at the orders of his “God”, even if it means he has to do unspeakable things, like murdering innocent people, including children. It’s also the subject of my next review (insert shameless plug here).

So there you have it! My top 7 Hidden Gems! Do you agree? Disagree? Have some games to add to this list or replace? Drop a line in the comments below!

Big thanks to The Well-Red Mage for issuing the challenge and for letting me join in on the fun! You should definitely check out the other console entries written by my fellow mages and other writers, they’re worth the read!

Until next time Mature, Distinguished Gamers, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Reflecting on Death Through Gaming

“At times of strife and anguish, we turn to our craft in the hope that it will light our way forward.” – Unknown

Good day and welcome back to another edition of Games with Coffee.

It’s a sad time for my family as my wife’s grandmother, who we all call Aaje (pronounced “Aah-gee”), had passed away from cancer this past Monday, May 28. What started as an exam two weeks prior to investigate problems in her digestive tract, ended with a diagnosis of terminal colorectal cancer and her subsequent decline in health until her passing in palliative care.

My wife, Usha, was incredibly close to her Aaje. Growing up, she lived at her house with her grandfather, who they call Aaja (pronounced “Aah-jah”). It is there that they both instilled within her a love of the creative arts, the importance of getting a good education and a strong desire to live good through the tenements of Hinduism and our many Gods. Ush would have long, storied conversations with her grandmother on the phone almost every day; sometimes multiple times in one day! Whenever she called, I always made an effort to say hi, to which she would reply, “Hi Beta (Son)!” and then ask how I’m doing, despite still talking with her granddaughter. And this was all despite the fact that she suffered a stroke over 15 years ago that handicapped her physically. Luckily, her mental faculties were intact and so, Aaje was able to share with her grandchildren (and myself, by extension) stories about her life living in Guyana, owning a store, getting married at an early age, being involved with the Arya Samaj church (a sect of Hinduism) and the sacrifices she and her husband made to get her children a good education in Canada.

Aaje was an incredibly strong woman, who raised incredible children and grandchildren and inspired those around her. I’m lucky she also considered me a grandson of her own, despite not sharing any blood relations with her. Her kindness, straight-forward nature and her love of gardening are what I’ll remember the most about her. She would always ask me how my vegetable garden is doing and if there’s anything ready to harvest and eat. It makes playing games like Stardew Valley hard now, because I could always hear her voice in the background telling me to water my plants or put fertilizer so I can get more from my crops. I’ll miss that greatly.

Her dying wish was to hold her first great-grandchild – my son, Arjun – so I’m comforted by the notion that her wish was granted in the end. Having her not see my boy enough, however, is my greatest regret. My wife, Usha, always told me that once she could see her first great-grandchild, she could pass away without regret, but still, I feel sad that she didn’t get to see him enough.


On the ride to work on Tuesday, the day after she passed away, I was listening to the God of War (2018) soundtrack. As I listened, I reviewed certain scenes in my head and then correlated them with my current situation. God of War deals with the passing of loved ones and the journey one goes through to fulfill the last rites of the dead. Much like the events in the game, Aaje will be cremated as per Hindu customs and her ashes scattered, either in a body of water or possibly in her home village (it’s not 100% determined yet). As I was thinking about that, it made me appreciate the game more, as Kratos and Atreus grow both as individuals and as father and son through Faye’s passing. With that said, I also believe our family will grow from this death and be stronger for it. The song that really struck me was “Ashes,” it is a very powerful piece in the soundtrack and I teared up a little because of it.

Prior to the news of her passing on Monday, I had this strange feeling that something was wrong: my throat and chest constricted and a feeling of foreboding washed over me When I got the call about half an hour after, I felt three things: Relief, since she was no longer suffering. Sadness, because she passed. And a spark of inspiration, which is how this post came to be. Prior to this, I haven’t had the same appetite I usually have for writing, because I was concerned both about Aaje’s health and Usha’s well-being regarding the situation. The day after she passed though, I suddenly had the urge to write. It reminded me of the events in one of my favourite games for the original PlayStation (and the subject of my next Espresso Shot Review): Alundra. In the game, Jess the blacksmith had the sudden urge to create something, usually an item or weapon to help Alundra, whenever someone in the village died suddenly, either from the nightmares or from an incident. That was the feeling I had when I started writing this down. I had some way to connect gaming to how I’m currently feeling about this death, and in a way, it’s helping me to process it all. It’s strange too how the Requiem theme from Alundra also runs through my mind during this time:

Tomorrow, Thursday May 31st, is the funeral and my last chance to say goodbye before she’s physically gone forever. As I sit here alone with coffee in hand (it’s just my boy and I at the house; everyone else is at the viewing) and think about what I should say, I realize I said everything I needed to here. So, all I’d have left to say here is…

Goodbye Aaje. We love you. And may the Gods grant you respite.

Mystery Blogger Award!

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Rejoice my friends, for the blog has been nominated for the Mystery Blogger Award! I’ve received this honour from Athena of Ambigaming; a wonderful individual who explores gaming through the lens of psychology, sociology and theology and who has set up the awesome Year of the RPG event for 2018! Thanks so much! I’m so flattered!

The Mystery Blogger Award was created by Okoto Enigma as a way to recognize individuals who create and share unique and interesting content that inspires and motivates others. Thank you Okoto for creating this award!

Now, for the rules:

  1. Put the award logo/image on your blog
  2. List the rules.
  3. Thank whoever nominated you and provide a link to their blog.
  4. Mention the creator of the award and provide a link as well
  5. Tell your readers 3 things about yourself
  6. You have to nominate 10 – 20 people
  7. Notify your nominees by commenting on their blog
  8. Ask your nominees any 5 questions of your choice; with one weird or funny question (specify)
  9. Share a link to your best post(s)

Three Things About Myself*

*Other than what I’ve revealed recently in an interview with a hyperactive, coffee mage…

  1. I’m a Lego enthusiast. Growing up, I collected over a dozen sets, mainly from Star Wars. I almost had a complete collection of the Rebel fighters (including the Millennium Falcon), but I had stopped collecting after I hit my twenties. I’ve recently got back into collecting thanks to my older cousin. Lego was part of the reason why I went into engineering in the first place.
  2. I practice martial arts, specifically Taekwondo. The highest rank I’ve reached was blue stripe, but my training stopped because my master retired from teaching… To this day, I try to keep my skills honed in case I get an opportunity to continue my training and earn my black belt!
  3. I love to bake. I’m famous within my circle of family and friends for making really good New York Style cheesecakes, but I’m also enjoy making other cakes, cookies and loaves. I’m constantly experimenting with new recipes and finding ways to perfect or improve on old ones.

Q & A with Athena

Athena: What video game has had the most profound impact on you as a person?

GWC: Short answer: Final Fantasy VII. As for the reasons why, you can check out my write up on how Cloud Strife made such a lasting impression on young me and how the game shaped me into the person I am today.

Athena: If you could see a remake (or a remaster) of any game, what game would you choose?

GWC: Seeing that Final Fantasy VII is in process of being remade, I’ll pick a different game! I would really love to see Super Metroid remade in the same style as Metroid Prime. Barring that, a full Metroid Prime trilogy remaster for the Switch would also be welcome!

Athena: Of the games you’ve played, which one has the most profound story?

GWC: There are so many to chose from… it’s hard to make a decision here. Know what, I’m gonna go with Alundra. While the gameplay is similar to the Legend of Zelda but with much harder puzzles, the story is what makes it different. It’s darkly humorous, well written and touches on a lot of subjects including dreams, religion, mental illness and the depths people will go to maintain status quo.

Athena: What’s a fun game that makes you happy?

GWC: Classic Sonic the Hedgehog. I feel a sense of freedom and happiness whenever I run through levels at top speed. Sonic Mania has helped to recapture that feeling lately.

Athena: If you could only pick one brand of gaming system to use for the rest of your life, what would it be?

GWC: By the Gods, this one’s a hard one… I’m gonna say… Sony. I have so many memories associated with the brand; it’s been by my side in good times and bad. So yeah, Sony is the brand I’d pick.

The Best of the Bunch?

I consider my first game review to be my best post, because it was my very first review of a video game and I felt that I did a pretty good job with it.

In terms of views, my answers to The Well-Red Mage’s question on what my favourite video game was for every year I’ve been alive. That was a fun one, since I even added in my favourite tune for each of my selections.

Speaking of The Well-Red Mage, my first contribution to the site (of hopefully many more!) is another personal favourite of mine.


My Chosen Nominees

By the power vested in me by the Caffeine Gods (and also taking a leaf out of Seto Kaiba’s playbook from Yu-Gi-Oh Abridged), I nominate the following five blogs as my chosen:

  1. Home Button Gaming!
  2. Sheikah Plate!
  3. Shoot the Rookie!
  4. Double Jump!
  5. And last but not least, Deconstructing Video Games!

Question Time!

So, to my chosen, I ask thee the following:

  1. Huzzah! You’ve been knighted! However, the only weapons available to you are a set of tools found in a garden shed. Which one would you choose and why?
  2. While adventuring, who would you have as a sidekick/animal familiar to join you and why?
  3. After a long day of adventuring, you settle down at the campfire and drift off to sleep. In your dreams, a specter appears and asks you “What is thy ultimate Quest in life?” How do you answer?
  4. But alas! Your dastardly rival has appeared the following morning, hellbent on putting an end to that very Quest! Do you fight, flee or reason with this individual?
  5. Returning to reality, what game would you want your significant other to play?

You can answer directly in the comments or in a separate post. Whatever tickles your fancy!


That’s it for this edition. Be sure to tune in next time, where I answer some more questions! The reason being that, in addition to this award, I’ve been nominated for three others! I’m stoked about answering these and nominating other, fellow bloggers in the process!

Also down the pipeline is an Espresso Shot Review of an underrated PlayStation game that’s also one of my favourites of all time! What that game is, I’ll keep as a surprise for now! Keep an eye out for it!

So, humbled by this nomination by my good friend Athena, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!