Espresso Shot Review – Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition

Hello and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

As part of the Writer’s Raid collaborative effort started by the one and only NekoJonez to celebrate the Tomb Raider franchise, here is the second of my major contributions! Check out the hub here and be sure to check out the works from my other fellow bloggers on this amazing franchise!

Now, I’ve written about the first game and the impact that Lara Croft had on the gaming industry and on society as a whole and you can read up on it in the hub or check it out here. Today, I’ll fast forward ten years after the release of Lara Croft: Tomb Raider to talk about Tomb Raider: Anniversary Edition. I was quite intrigued about the game on its release, but as I was a broke university student at the time of its release, I was not able to get it. Luckily the game is now available on Steam at a reasonable price, so I made the decision to pick it up for myself.

I played the original Tomb Raider to death and while the game itself is incredibly dated and had plenty of frustrating moments, I enjoyed it still. So I was curious if the remake was either just the original game with a fresh coat of paint, or a completely new experience that uses the original game as a base and builds up from it? I’ll tell you in today’s Espresso Shot Review!

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Background

After the success of Tomb Raider: Legend, developed by Crystal Dynamics and published by Eidos, Core Design (the developers of the first six Tomb Raider games) proposed to develop a remake that would commemorate the tenth anniversary of the series. With Eidos’ permission, Core started work on the remake in 2005 and planned for it to be released in late 2006. The idea was to rearrange puzzles and the layout of levels to make it simpler for new players but retain the story and the overall flow of the game for fans. Lara too would have been updated to look closely to her appearance in Legend.

Midway into development, Core Designs was bought out by a developer named Rebellion Developments, known for the Sniper Elite and Alien vs. Predator series. The remake was subsequently cancelled after the sale, with the general assumption that Core didn’t want the game to be developed by third-party studios like Rebellion. Prior to and after the cancellation, some footage of the game was leaked, garnering attention from fans and creating the demand necessary for the remake to happen.

Eidos then requested Crystal Dynamics and Buzz Monkey Studios (who created the Legend port) to create the remake planned for release on June 1, 2007. Tomb Raider: Anniversary was first released for the PlayStation 2, PSP and PC. A Wii version was released afterwards which uses motion controls to solve puzzles or interact with the environment. Later, the game was ported to PS3 and Xbox 360, with the PS3 version released as part of the “Tomb Raider Trilogy” series, which included Legend and its sequel, Underworld. A Mac OSX port was also released a year after the game’s launch on console and PC. While the game was received well by critics, it only sold 1.3 million copies worldwide, making it the worst-selling game of the series. In the United Kingdom however, both the PS2 and the PC versions topped the charts on its release. Despite the low sales numbers, the game helped pave the way for more Tomb Raider games to be developed, culminating to the second reboot of the series titled Tomb Raider.

Story

The team brought on Core Design’s Toby Gard to work as the story designer. Crystal Dynamics stated that the story in the original game was sparse and one-dimensional but also desired for the story to fit in the new rebooted universe, so one of the main goals of the remake was to flesh out the story and tie it to Legend – that is Lara’s search for knowledge that her father sought, which eventually leads her to search for her mother. Gard also expanded upon the lore of the game and on Lara’s character, describing her as a woman with an unstoppable madness contained within a proper British lady. They also revamped several characters, with Larson undergoing the most change. His death late in the game in the Atlantis levels (written in as Lara’s first human kill) was written in a way to show players how far and what moral boundaries Lara would cross in order to achieve her goals – tying into the unstoppable madness I mentioned earlier.

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The story stays the same for the most part: Lara is approached by a man named Larson, who is under the employ of a rich industrialist named Jacqueline Natla. After introducing herself, Natla proposes a challenge for Croft – retrieving the three pieces of the Scion of Atlantis.

Initially, Lara is dismissive, but becomes intrigued when Natla dangles the fact that her father also sought after the artefact for the knowledge it possessed. This is where the story differs from the original, since in the first game, Lara was convinced to take the job based on the challenge and thrill it possessed. The rest of the story progresses in the same fashion, but with the original characters being more developed. Pierre, for example, is shown as a rival raider to Croft. He was more sarcastic and conniving than he let on in the original game, which made for an interesting character. His untimely death with the Centaurs at the end of the Greece levels was also different from the original, since Lara kills him off after a gunfight in the first game.

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Overall, I liked these small story enhancements. They added plenty of depth and purpose that was sorely missed from the first game and it allowed Lara’s gritty and sardonic nature to shine forth.

Gameplay

Tomb Raider: Anniversary uses a mouse and keyboard set up and has controller support. I played the game using an 8Bitdo NES30 Pro controller, which is what I’ll be referring to throughout the writeup. Compared to the clunky tank controls in the original game, I found that Lara controlled more smoothly and naturally with this control scheme and I enjoyed how fluid and natural her movements were. One major difference between the original and Anniversary was how Lara traversed across outcroppings and cliffs. In the original, you could grab ledges and such and shimmy left or right, but you couldn’t leap to or back towards other ledges, unlike in the Anniversary edition. What I also liked was how most of the puzzles were revamped to make them more intuitive and easy to navigate. The first game’s puzzles had a lot of trial and error associated to them with a focus on item collection and switch pulling, but they are not as prevalent in the Anniversary edition and I welcomed that change.

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Along with updated climbing mechanics, Lara also retains the grapple rope introduced in Legend. Grappling and swinging to platforms was a very satisfying feeling for me and I wished this was introduced in the original game, since it would make things much more exciting. The wall running mechanics with the grapple could use a bit of work, like a visual cue to let players know they can jump backwards from the wall once they reached the apex of their run, but it’s not enough to write it off.

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Combat also received a massive overhaul. When faced off against enemies, Lara can either quick draw (best for small creatures, like rats and bats) or lock on (for all other enemies). When locked on, Lara will always face the direction of her target. After shooting an enemy for a period of time, it will get angry and start to charge at Lara; dodging at the perfect moment slows down time and causes two reticles to overlap. Shooting once they overlap and turn red instantly kills the enemy. This mechanic is called the adrenaline dodge and it makes combat very exciting. I only wish there was a better visual cue to initiate the dodge, but I suppose with enough practice I wouldn’t need it.

Another thing that was added to the game was the use of Quick Time Events (QTE), famously used in the God of War series. QTE’s are the game mechanic that you either loved or hated; in my case, I was indifferent to it. Had I played this when it first came out though, I would have said that I liked its inclusion.

What I really liked about the new combat system compared to the old one is that switching weapons is a breeze; no need to go into the inventory and select a weapon like in the old version. Anniversary allows Lara to quick-switch her weapons mid-combat by tapping left or right on the D-pad. This mechanism extends to healing as well; tapping up uses Large medi-packs, while tapping down uses the Small medi-packs. It’s a major improvement from the inventory navigation from the old game.

Tomb Raider: Anniversary pushes the player to prioritize item and ammunition management In the original Tomb Raider, Lara could collect as much ammunition as she could want without worry. In comparison, Anniversary limits how much ammo that Lara can carry, with the exception of her default pistols. This brings an element of strategy into combat; do you spend your ammo to get through an area quicker or save your ammo for when you’re surrounded? It also helps that there are plenty of ammo pickups tucked around in nooks and crannies in each level.

While I enjoyed the remade levels, my personal favourite was Lara’s House. In the original, her house was touted as a tutorial level designed to introduce gamers to Lara and her actions. The Anniversary edition overhauls the home to be a test of how well a player can manipulate puzzles. There are no enemies but there are eight artifacts for players to find. Finding them requires a sharp eye, a bit of reading and some thinking about how the puzzle mechanics operate. Plus, the music is relaxing to listen to (more on that below).

Artifacts and relics are hidden throughout levels and can be used to unlock extras in the main menu, like additional outfits, commentary and such. There is even a time trial mode. Beating time trials for all levels unlocks cheats that can be used in the main game, such as having all weapons, or having infinite ammo.

The only gripe I had was the camera controls, which were finicky at certain points, but I found that they didn’t affect my experience too much.

Visuals

One of the stated goals of the remake was to recreate iconic locations from the original game on a grander and more detailed scale while designing levels under modern gaming conventions. Large parts of the games original levels were cut out, including hallways, complicated and nonsensical puzzles and traps, to give players a clear sense of where to go. It was a smart move on their part as I found the levels in Anniversary easier to navigate than those of the original game. Some of the cuts were jarring; in particular I speak of the combination of the Cistern and the Tomb of Tihocan in the Greece levels, but I welcomed the change as in the original, the Greece levels dragged on for a while. Condensing two levels into one helped with the overall flow of the game. Overall, the levels look like they popped out of a movie set – in that they look alive and lived in compared to the dull aesthetic presented in the original game.

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When Tomb Raider: Legend was released, one of the criticisms was that the levels were too linear, so Crystal Dynamics addressed that by emphasizing multiple pathways and exploration in Anniversary, all while remaking the levels. Doing so allowed them to recapture the feeling and exhilaration of exploration from the original game.

Graphics-wise, Lara looks well detailed and her animations are fluid, in comparison to her first outing. A neat extra feature in the game allows for Lara to change into iconic costumes, from her Legend look, to her training look from tutorial level in the original.

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The enemies Lara faces are a lot more imposing and dangerous looking than in the original. I remember the bears, lions and gorillas being much smaller and less intimidating than the remade versions. The audio cues that go along with some of the encounters only heighten the danger associated with these creatures. I have to say that two of my favourite encounters has to be the T-Rex in Peru’s Lost Valley and the Centaurs at the Tomb of Tihocan – both being boss fights. They were both visually impressive to look at.

 

Audio

Audio-wise, the music was orchestrally scored, similar to the first game. Much of the original game’s soundtrack was remade, with a few additional tracks created to suit each area, all while sticking to to the symphonic style of the original game. Also similarly to the original, the audio relied mainly on environmental ambiance, with musical cues indicating dangerous or interesting/awe-inspiring locations.

My favourite track has to be the one played in Lara’s House. It’s a play off of the original Tomb Raider theme and it gives me the feeling that I’m solving a mystery within the house.

Replayability

There is a multitude of things to do in Tomb Raider: Anniversary after the main game is completed. You can return to levels to pick up missing artifacts and relics, undergo the time trials for each level and access the commentary, in which the developers talk about designing the game the levels and the ways they differentiated the remake from the original source.

The Last Drop

I really enjoyed this remake – it captured the spirit of the original game while removing its more frustrating and tedious parts. The game, in my opinion, was more than a fresh coat of paint, it was a transformation that helped to reinvigorate the series. However, the game is definitely not perfect; there are a few spots like the grapple sections that could’ve used some work, along with the camera. But overall, as a fan of the series, I have to say that Crystal Dynamics did a wonderful job remaking the original game. It added more depth to the story and fleshed out Lara’s character, which I appreciated.

4/5

4 out of 5

Tomb Raider – The Legacy of Lara Croft

Good day and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! As a part of my friend NekoJonez’s “Writer’s Raid” collaboration, today I’ll be talking about the first game of the Tomb Raider series titled Lara Croft: Tomb Raider. We’ll cover the history of the game, my experiences with it and I’ll be delving deeper into the enduring legacy of Lara Croft herself, one of gaming’s most iconic characters.

Background

Lara Croft: Tomb Raider’s development started back in 1993 by the now defunct Core Design, a British-based developer consisting of six people. The director, Toby Gard, was the individual credited for Lara’s creation; he initially started with a male character but then added in a female character to give players a choice on who to play as. Realizing that the second character would double the work required for cutscenes, Gard cut the male character and instead developed the female further, intending to counter the stereotypes surrounding female video game characters. He notes that Lara was inspired by Swedish songwriter/rapper Neneh Cherry and the comic book heroine, Tank Girl. He also cited Virtua Fighter as an influence, saying:

“It became clear to me watching people play Virtua Fighter, which was kind of the first big 3D-character console game, that even though there were only two female characters in the lineup, in almost every game I saw being played, someone was picking one of the two females.” – Toby Gard

Originally, Lara was to have a cold and militaristic personality and hail from South America under the name “Laura Cruz.” Gard and his team decided instead that she should be British and for her personality to be a combination of Indiana Jones and a proper, English lady. This expanded Lara’s character and showed players that she was more than some grave robbing adventurer with a knack for murdering vicious creatures using dual-wielded pistols. We’ll go into this a bit later.

As for her first adventure, bringing Tomb Raider to life was not an easy task. Programmer Gavin Rummery explained that the game was only possible by building it on a grid-like system. It’s the reason why squares, rectangles, slopes and planes are so integral to the gameplay, in terms of lining up for jumps, finding pathways through levels and even discovering secrets, among others.

Musically, the game was scored like a film, playing at certain times for dramatic emphasis, like finding secrets or during action sequences. For the most part, the only audio that was played throughout the game were atmospheric in nature, such as footsteps, Lara’s grunts the growls of animals, rushing waterfalls and the like. It made Lara’s journey far more isolating and increased tension within the player, forcing them to listen closely to see what may or may not be ahead.

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Tomb Raider was released for both the Sega Saturn and the Sony Playstation. Despite the game being developed for both systems, it was first released for the Saturn as a timed exclusive as part of a deal between Sega and Core. Timed exclusivity meant that the game would only be released exclusively on one console and would be released on other consoles after the exclusivity period expires. After its release, Core Design discovered that the Saturn version was riddled with bugs that would also affect the Playstation version. Since the game was a timed exclusive, the team was able to fix the bugs for the Playstation version. While three sequels were released for the Playstation, no subsequent titles were released for the Saturn.

Tomb Raider was critically acclaimed on its release in 1996. The cinematic approach with its gameplay and music combined with state-of-the-art graphics was a sight not seen in gaming until its release. Major publications, like GameSpot and EGM praised the title, with GameSpot calling it a potential Super Mario 64 killer, referencing the iconic Nintendo game released in the same year. Finally, Lara Croft, the Tomb Raider herself, cemented herself as one of gaming’s greatest icons, her appeal as a character and as a strong, independent woman captivating gamers and non-gamers alike.

The Legacy of the Tomb Raider

Lara Croft was considered a revolutionary when her first adventure was released. Her introduction changed the conversation about women in video games, in that their games can tell a story similar to or even surpassing that of their male counterparts at a time when female protagonists were scarce. Just like what Chun-Li in the Street Fighter series did for female representation in fighting games, Lara too was instrumental in ushering in a new age of games starring charismatic and strong female protagonists.

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Lara is a statuesque and athletic individual with brown eyes and auburn hair traditionally tied in a plait or a ponytail. Her standard outfit consists of a turquoise tank top, brown shorts, calf-high hiking boots, fingerless gloves, a backpack to hold various items and holsters for her arsenal of weapons, such as her iconic dual pistols. She is highly intelligent, having excelled in various scholarly pursuits and is fluent in several languages; useful for navigating the locales of where her next raid is going to take place. Unlike the stereotypical female characters gamers we were used to seeing before, Lara was not a woman to be trifled with, thanks to her no-nonsense attitude and her dry wit and it really showed itself in her first game.

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Throughout the campaign, Lara had to face insurmountable hurdles in recovering the fabled Scion of Atlantis. Examples include deadly traps that activate if Lara makes a wrong move, tricky puzzles that required logic, speed and a little luck to solve and a plethora of nasty beasts out to kill her, either for food or for sport. However, she faced them all, head-on and, most importantly, on her own. Lara required no help from anyone – male of female – to overcome the challenges in front of her. I believe that her strength, her determination and her perseverance in overcoming anything and anyone that stands in her way garnered her claim to fame more than her looks.

Culturally, Lara forged a path for more female leads in video games. Without her, we would never have had the opportunity to experience the stories of other strong and inspiring women, like Aloy in Horizon: Zero Dawn, Lightning in Final Fantasy XIII, Yuna in Final Fantasy X, Faith Connors in Mirror’s Edge and 2B in NiER Automata. Even video game heroines from established series, like Samus Aran from the Metroid series for instance, had their characters further fleshed out. Lara’s influence extended beyond gaming and into mainstream media: she currently has three live-action movies under her belt, has been featured on several hundred magazine covers, been involved in various print and television advertisements and has been a spokesperson for various causes. Furthermore, she has several Guinness World Records to her name, including most recognized female video game character and most official real world stand ins.  

Furthermore, even though the game was developed with a male audience in mind, Lara ended up garnering a serious female audience. Authors from several publications stated that the character appealed to women and drew them more into gaming simply because they see in Lara an emancipated heroine that they could emulate.

However, with accolades also comes controversy and Lara’s introduction to the gaming industry sparked quite a bit of it over the years.

Controversy

Much of the controversy surrounding Lara centers around her looks. Lara is an attractive, tall and buxom woman and has been described as a sex symbol because of those traits, despite Toby Gard originally intending for her to be “sexy only because of her power.” Critics have argued that Lara reinforced unrealistic ideas about the female body and that she was developed as the embodiment of male fantasies. That latter point fueled rumors in print magazines and the internet about a potential code to remove her clothing; it was revealed that there never was one in the first place. There was, however, an unofficial patch that could be used on the PC version known as “Nude Raider” that was used to remove Lara’s clothes. Eidos eventually shut down the website hosting the patch, but the damage was done nevertheless and it remains as an infamous footnote in her history. Further criticisms include that the character was developed in a way to make male gamers feel like “chivalrous protectors” who were trying to protect Lara from harm and that her character’s appearance does nothing to detract men from the notion that women are sex objects.

The Last Drop

I’ve first started playing Tomb Raider in 1998, right around the time that puberty hit. I’ll admit, I had a huge crush on her when I first played the game; she was extremely attractive, not just in looks but in attitude as well. However, I’m sad to say that at that young of an age I felt that I gravitated more to her looks than to her character, which was in line with the criticisms noted above. As I grew older and more mature, I revisited the character and found that I resonated more with her spirit, her determination and the fact that she could do such impressive feats of physical and mental strength. She was really like the female version of Indiana Jones (a character that I rather enjoyed) and I found myself wanting to learn more about her, beyond the original versions (which I found to be a bit one-dimensional). To that end, I’ve picked up Tomb Raider Anniversary – a remake of the original taking place in the rebooted world of Tomb Raider: Legend and the recently rebooted (again) Tomb Raider (2013), an origin story featuring a more realistic depiction of Lara. I’ve played through the majority of the Anniversary edition and I’ve yet to play the Square-Enix reboot, but I’m looking forward to it.

I do want to argue that, despite the various criticisms surrounding her, Lara represents a step in the right direction towards more female representation in video games. As a guy myself, I personally want to see more stories of women in gaming, as their stories are just as important (and in some cases, more important) than the stories of overly-masculine, broody and square-jawed males (think Joel, Nathan Drake, Cole MacGrath, etc.) that have been the focus for the last decade or so. I, for one, feel like the future of women in gaming is a bright one, all thanks to Tomb Raider and one Lara Croft.

Hope you enjoyed this introspective into Lara Croft: Tomb Raider! If you want to delve further into the Writer’s Raid, I suggest you check out the hub at NekoJonez’s blog for the full list of other posts written by other amazingly talented bloggers!

With that, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Adventure Map | The Games That Define Us

Ladies and Gentlemen, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, welcoming you to The Games That Define Us!

Brought to you by Matt from Normal Happenings and starting from today, November 1st until December 4th, this ambitious collaboration brings together over thirty amazingly talented bloggers from all different walks of life to talk about the games that have made a massive impact on their lives and that were instrumental in making them who they are today. Yours truly is a part of this awesome effort and my contribution will be up on the 12th of November. I’m personally proud and stoked to be a part of this project and to be among such phenomenal, talented writers. So, thanks goes to Matt for letting me jump on this collab!

Go bookmark the Adventure Map in the link below – your personal roadmap to all the awesome content – and check back every morning, where a new writer will share their experiences with their chosen game. Day 1 features the amazing Iiago from Mr. Backlog and the game, The Bard’s Tale. Each post will also have a carefully curated playlist that I highly recommend listening to while reading.

What are you waiting for!? Grab a mug, brew your favourite blend, sit back and enjoy The Games That Define Us!

via Adventure Map | The Games That Define Us

A Quest to Catch ‘Em All – Pokemon

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! May your brew be strong and super effective against lethargy!

October is nearly over and I have to shake my head in disbelief at how fast time is flying this year. Between being involved in many collaborations with my fellow bloggers, joining the team at The Well Red Mage as The Hyperactive Coffee Mage and helping to raise a little baby boy, I’ve failed to notice the temps getting cooler, the nights getting longer and the winds of change blowing, all of which has left me feeling both nostalgic and a little melancholic. These feelings only evoke themselves in the fall, as it reminds me that school has begun. And that Winter is Coming.

School… well it wasn’t fun for me, but one crazy phenomena that made it much, much better was the very subject that I’ll be sharing about today – Pokemon. Yes, the very same thing that started out as a fad, blew up into a phenomenon and has now become something of a cultural staple around the world. People can come from different countries and speak different dialects, but I can guarantee at least seven times out of ten that when you mention Pikachu or any other popular Pokemon in passing (Alliteration!), they’ll understand exactly what you’re talking about.

So, let’s rewind back 20 years ago, back in ‘98 when the series was starting to pick up and become more popular.


In 1998, I was about to enter middle school. I was leaving behind the old, dilapidated elementary school where I spent grades one through five in and entering a brand spanking new school, complete with new faces and hopefully new friends. At that time, I was hopped up on meds like Ritalin and going to therapies and such, so… long story short, I didn’t really make any friends and middle school ended up being the least enjoyable years of my life. But just before the school year started, I saw a commercial on an American channel (Kids WB if anyone remembers Saturday morning cartoons!) showcasing this new series called “Pokemon.” Now, the only other anime series I’ve watched before that was Dragon Ball Z, and that came on sporadically (until mid-1999 when anime became much more mainstream), so when I saw this show and the cute little yellow mousey thing that was Pikachu, I knew that I had to watch it. Unfortunately, I had to sleep over by my aunt’s house that weekend (which was the weekend before school started) and she didn’t have the channel that it was airing on. So I missed the first episode and the subsequent Ho-Oh reveal, and it was all everyone talked about during that first week of school. Well, everyone except me of course.

It was during that first month of school that I found out that there was a game associated with the anime! Pokemon Red and Blue were released at the end of September in North America and that, combined with the anime, was when the Poke-craze truly began. I was again continually out of the loop as I was the only person who didn’t have a Game Boy at the time… but it didn’t stop people from talking about it. I recall there were two kids on my bus ride to school who (I think) were pretty nice to me. They had a binder filled to the brim with everything Pokemon related, including a chart listing the strengths and weaknesses of each Pokemon type and each morning, I’d sit with them, go over the binder and they would quiz me on Pokemon types. So they would ask me, for example, “What type of move is super effective against Bug type Pokemon?” or “List the weaknesses of Dragon type Pokemon,” things like that. At that time, I wasn’t sure if they were genuinely being nice to me or trying to make me look bad so they could be smug about it (I wouldn’t know, I was extremely paranoid about others thanks to my meds…) but that was only the first of many times I would have been quizzed about the series’ nuances.

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Eventually, I got a Game Boy of my own that Christmas with The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening packaged with it (another game for another time…), but it would be my little brother, Shane, who got Pokemon Blue and started playing it. He was the bigger Poke-nerd between the two of us, but I still got my fair share of Pokemon action after he let me start a new game. I remember starting out with Charmander (because Charizard, duh!) and having a hard time because of the first two gyms (Fire isn’t great against Rock types and are weak against Water types), so I learned off the bat that this game didn’t play around. Once I figured out how to take on those two, the remaining gyms were not so bad.

I eventually fell into a comfortable routine: watch the anime on the weekends and play the game when I got a chance to. Thanks to the Internet and word of mouth, I learned of the Missingno Glitch, which Shane and I exploited for infinite Master Balls, Nuggets and Rare Candies. We also did some hardcore cheating through the use of a GameShark – a device that modifies the code within the game . Using it, we filled up the game’s Pokedex just to see what would happen, which turned out to be nothing substantial.

After ’98 and onwards, the Poke-craze only grew stronger and stronger. My brother, my best friend/cribmate/brother from another mother Anthony (Anto) and I got swallowed up by new versions of the game, toys, board games, comic books, movies and trading cards and it was a pretty good time.

Speaking of trading cards, any of you guys remember Pokemon Cards? Like everything Pokemon related, they were all the rage back then. I remember my deck being a hodge-podge of cards made up of people’s leftovers and some of the movie-specific special edition cards. I remember having multiples of the Entei movie card, though it wasn’t really that great compared to other Legendaries. Now I’m thinking whether my collection of cards has any value… Hey, a guy’s gotta get coin to get games, right? What better way to do that then to sell off some (potentially valuable) Pokemon cards?

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The aforementioned Entei card in question.

I think it Christmas time when I was in the seventh grade (which I absolutely loathed) that my brother and I got these Pokemon beanie-plushies. My brother got a huge boxload of Pokemon beanies, including the ones that were offered as a promotion by KFC, while I got a Pikachu beanie-plushie. That plushie has been with me from that time all the way up to when I got married and I still have it to this day, stored in a memory box with a plushie Sonic and a plushie Veemon. Those three are my cherished treasures.

On that same Christmas, we got the old-school Pokedex. You know, the one that looks exactly like Ash’s from the Indigo League seasons in the anime? It was an awesome device in that you could look up a Pokemon either by its name or its number in the registry and it would pop up the same information you would see in the game, like height, weight, type and even a set of moves common to the Pokemon. What Anto, Shane and I decided to do with this gadget was to quiz each other about Pokemon and use the Pokedex to fact check. It was a silly, albeit fun game and one that I was absolutely dreadful at.

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Ahh… Good times.

I’m not going to go into specifics, but I was terrible at memorization. I still am forgetful from time to time in the present day, but as a kid, my ability to memorize things was horrible. And the thing with the Pokedex game was that it was heavily memorization based. So basically, I sucked at it. It was so bad that it came to the point where I was literally fed answers and I still bombed. One day as we were playing, Anto and Shane gave me an ultimatum: If I answer the next Pokedex questions correctly, they both would eat a whole lime. If I failed, then I had to eat the lime.

Guess what happened? I failed and had to eat the lime. It really wasn’t that bad actually, probably explains why I like lime-flavoured drinks though. Pro tip: Don’t mix limes with coffee, I’ve tried it, it’s kinda gross.

Besides the Pokedex game that we made up, one game that was also memorable was Pokemon Stadium for the Nintendo 64, where Shane, Anto and myself treated it almost like an Olympic sport. When it came to battles, we developed rules of our own that we all made sure to follow. Some examples were that everyone had to leave when it was someone’s turn to pick Pokemon, or no Legendary Pokemon allowed and for the most part, battles were fun, frantic and furious. Really though, the mini-games were where we spent the majority of our time playing. Shane was good at button-mashing and memory games, like the Dig! Dig! Dig! and Clefairy Says games, while Anto was king of the Ekans Hoop Hurl and the Rock Harden games. I myself was pretty good at most of the other mini-games, well, except for the memory game and when Anto’s baby brother, Dyl, was big enough, he joined in on the action. I found that the great equalizer in all our matches was the Sushi-Go-Round game. It was a game that all three (four) of us were good at and it was sometimes the deciding factor in our matches. We haven’t broken Pokemon Stadium out in the longest time… but I hope to see it be a part of the rumored N64 Classic? It might be enough of an excuse for me to get it.

Out of all of the Pokemon games however, I personally loved Pokemon Gold. Easily the best out of the series because you could return to the Kanto region and go through the Indigo League, culminating with a final battle with the original trainer from Red/Blue! I mean, how awesome was that?! It was an epic moment to be battling against that trainer and his high-level Pokemon. I also adored Pokemon Ruby. I remember having a team which included a Blaziken and a Gardevoir, my two favourite Pokemon of the whole series. I don’t remember who else was on that team, but I can tell you that those two Pokemon were the most memorable out of the bunch. Meanwhile, I kept playing the main series games but stopped after Diamond & Pearl. The repetitive nature of the games was becoming more of a chore than the joy it used to be, so I hung up my belt full of Poke Balls and called it a day. Though, with the upcoming Pokemon Let’s Go games, followed by a new, untitled Pokemon game being released in 2019, I may brush the dust off that belt, suit up, find a Ralts and jump back into the fray?

So, that’s my story with Pokemon. It feels kind of lame to end on this note, but I couldn’t think of a decent way to conclude this. But I’ll ask you this: What was your experience with the series? Your favourite moments, your favourite team, or even your favourite Pokemon? Let me know in the comments below.

With that, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee,reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing. See ya next time!

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.

View original post 4,969 more words

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 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