The Legend of Zelda: Black and White – Part III

Welcome again to another installment of The Legend of Zelda: Black and White.

If you’ve missed the first two installments, you can check them out here:

Last time, Link and Midna discussed about the mysterious Sheik on their way back to the castle, and his supposed discovery of an ancient temple that may hold the key to Hyrule’s victory in the war against Ganondorf.

Sheik instructed Link to see him the following night to go over the full plan in more detail.  Before Link can think about meeting the Sheikah again, he needs permission from the Queen to take extended leave to pursue this quest. And so, he resolves to speak with his childhood friend in the morning, hoping to convince her that this mad scheme could be for Hyrule’s benefit…


Part III: The Queen

I awoke abruptly as one of Zelda’s attendants entered my chambers, opening the curtains to let the morning light in. She proceeded to drop off a basin filled with fresh, warm water and my cleaned chamber pot as I rose out of bed, groggy and exhausted.

I had slept fitfully, my mind racing about the Sheikah I met last night at Telma’s and the conversation I had with Midna afterwards. I knew, deep down that I had to see this ‘Sheik’ again tonight. He held a stick, dangled a carrot in front of me and I wanted it. I wanted to know more about this plan of his, what it entails and to determine if he’s on the up and up or if he’s as shady as Sakon the Thief. To do that, I’d have to convince the Queen and the Council to let me take a break. And honestly, I could use one… I’m still exhausted from the dismal mission I’ve just returned from.

On that note, I turned wearily to the attendant. “Hey, can I get an audience with Her Majesty before the council meeting today? I have updates to share with her regarding the war effort on the front lines.” And to boldly ask her for permission to solve a mystery that may save us all.

The attendant smiled at me. “Ah, what perfect timing Sir Link,” she said to me. “I was instructed to inform you that the Queen has requested an audience with you before today’s war council meeting.” She let out a girlish peal of giggles upon seeing my eyebrows shoot straight upward. “She is already in the audience chamber waiting for you, I will let her know that you will be seeing her shortly.” After delivering the message and shooting one last smile, the attendant left as quietly as she came in.

I sighed, a small smile creeping on my face. Goddess Hylia must be on my side today. I had hoped that this good fortune would mean that the Queen and I would be on the same page once I tell her about last night.

With that, I rose out of bed to get ready. After washing my face, I put on a fresh tunic, strapped the Master Sword and my shield on my back and adjusted my hat. Leaving my room, I headed for the Queen’s audience chamber. It was on the way to the small meeting room where we held the war council.

As I rounded the corner, I picked up the snippets of hushed conversation between two of the castle’s waitstaff. Pressing against the wall, I listened in.

“… you know she was not in her chambers last night? I had slipped in to drop some documents for Her Majesty when I saw that the sheets were not even disturbed,” one of them said.

“Oh yes,” the other one said in a heavy accent. Ordonian. “I saw her in th’ gardens as I was on my way to th’ kitchens to fetch something fer Master Rauru. She looked so forlorn, sitting there on th’ bench,” I heard her let out a tut in what I assume was out of genuine concern. “Oh that poor girl.”

“Hm yes,” the first maid replied, agreeing. “Even though she’s been queen for the last three years, her inexperience still shows… You’d think she would have had more time and opportunity to prepare for the role, but it seems that the Goddess Hylia had other plans, I suppose.”

At that point, I had heard enough. I strode out from the corner I was hiding out of. “Morning ladies, is Her Majesty in?” I asked, a little bite in my voice.

The two biddies separated faster than a pack of Kesse after shooting an arrow at them. “Y-yes Sir Link, she should be ready to see you now,” the first maid stuttered out, flustered at my sudden appearance.

Moving past them without a second glance, I entered the audience chamber. It was a warm and decorative space designed to make visitors feel comfortable. There were a set of cushy chairs in the centre of the room with a small table in between them. On my left was a refreshment table, on which a tray with a warm pot of tea and some cups and saucers lay on top. On my right was a large window providing a stunning view of Castle Town and the surrounding countryside, all illuminated with the orange glow of the morning sun.

Sitting in one of the chairs in straight-backed, regal manner and daintily sipping tea was the Queen of Hyrule and my best friend growing up: Zelda.

She had straight, honey-blond hair with bangs framing her porcelain oval face, a petite nose and piercing, violet-blue eyes that sparkled in the morning light shining through the window. That same morning light highlighted her radiant and flawless alabaster skin. She was wearing her favourite violet and lavender gown this morning with white gloves over her delicate hands. Her crown, a simple, silver band with some ornate designs and a few gemstones, rested on her head. As simple as it was, it suited her perfectly.

A smile graced her lips as I entered, the first I’ve seen on her since I left several nights ago. She was beautiful.

“Morning Your Highness,” I said to her, grinning. “Dressed for a special occasion today?”

She arched an exquisitely shaped eyebrow at me. “Whatever are you talking about Link?” she asked.

“Well, you only wear that dress for one of two reasons,” I said. “Either you’re setting yourself up to make a tragic announcement-”

Her eyes suddenly narrowed. I think I touched a nerve.

Quickly, I continued. “Or, you’re in a good mood today.”

Despite glaring daggers at me, Zelda let out a giggle. “Of course I am, you’re back after all,” she said to me. “And you will be happy to know I do have an announcement to share at the meeting today: I will be revoking your title as Hero of Hyrule-”

“Woah, wait what?!” Now, THAT touched a nerve. She wasn’t finished yet though, her polite smile transformed into a devilish grin, not unlike that of Midna’s.

“-On the grounds that you have an atrocious sense of fashion. I mean, honestly,” she gestured to the hat on my head. “Who wears a floppy green hat?” She made a noise of disgust.

I chuckled, realizing that she was only kidding around. Zelda may look quiet and reserved, but she’s a lot like Midna; feisty when agitated and quick to respond with a witty retort, usually at my expense. “Hey, give it some time, it’s an upcoming trend,” I said, crossing my arms. “All of Castle Town will be wearing floppy hats soon enough, I guarantee it!”

Zelda smirked, her nose scrunching up cutely. I wonder if she even knows that she does that? “Well then, maybe you should change your profession to fashion trendsetter, seeing as you’ll be officially retired from hero duties?”

“Yeah, wouldn’t that be nice. Link: the former hero-turned-clothier,” I snarked. “Please.”

“Do not roll your eyes at your Queen,” she said, testily. Hm, I thought I could resist that urge; eye-rolling is one of her biggest pet peeves. “I can have you exiled for that.”

She and I both knew that she’d never do that. She liked me too much.

I took the seat in front of her and slouched forward, my arms resting on my legs. I saw Zelda bite her lip, resisting the urge to correct me for the hundredth time about my poor posture. I honestly did it both to annoy her and to cheer her up. Damned if she needed some right now.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, all good things come to an end. After some time, Zelda placed the cup and saucer on the table in front of her and her eyes morphed from playful to serious.  “Your report, Sir Link,” she ordered, her voice level and measured.

I sat up straight – one tends to correct their posture when delivering bad news – and let her know what happened a few nights ago. How our guerrilla party tried to infiltrate one of Ganondorf’s largest camps to put a dent in his invasion force. How they were ready for us, ambushing our group the moment we entered their perimeter. And finally, how they brought out a new weapon that made us retreat, our tails between our legs.

“…I can’t explain it, Your Highness,” I said to Zelda shaking my head. “One of Zant’s followers from Twilight had this device that shot this… bolt at Barnes. The moment it hit him, he started to change, morphing into this horrific beast of darkness. It was then that I made the call to retreat. We all split up so we all wouldn’t be captured.” I sighed deeply. “That’s why I returned alone last night, separate from the other troops.” That, and I needed a stiff drink after barely escaping that fiasco.

Zelda placed a hand on her forehead, massaging the temples with her thumb and index finger. “Link, this is the third failed raid in this month alone,” she said. “And now, it seems that the country’s enemies have a new weapon at their disposal. Based on this, I cannot approve of any more of the council’s raids – I will have to veto the next one.”

I’ll admit, I lit up when she said that. The raids were totally ineffective and I would be glad to never do one of those again. I held my tongue though as she wasn’t finished yet.

“But this presents an even greater problem,” she continued, looking directly at me, her brows creased in worry. “With this new development, there is likely nothing to stop Ganondorf from invading the castle. With little options available to us and more bloodshed expected soon… I may have to consider the possibility of surren-”

“No.” I cut her off. One normally doesn’t cut off royalty, but now was the perfect time to. “I’m sorry to interrupt, Your Highness, but we do have another option available to us,” I said.

And so I proceeded to tell her about last night, the meeting with Sheik, his discovery of the ancient ruins where powerful artifacts may be housed in and the keys required to open the sealed door. The more I spoke, the more I could see the gears turning in Zelda’s head, her mind going over the details, the logistics and the optics. Finally, I stopped speaking and waited for her to process everything.

The wait seemed to go on for hours and the longer the time stretched, the more Zelda’s brows furrowed. I was half convinced that she would call me crazy and disregard the whole thing as a hoax to get her spirits up.

But then she said something that I didn’t expect.

“Let us do this,” she told me, picking up her cup and saucer, taking a sip from the now lukewarm tea and then placing it back on the table. “It is an asinine plan, one built on the unlikely chance that there is anything that we could use to win this war and it is not guaranteed that whatever we find in this shrine will be useful, but…” she sighed, her eyes filled with desperation and a glimmer of hope. “It is likely the best and only chance we have to save our kingdom.”

My eyebrows rose so much they might as well have been stuck like that. “Y-you’re sure, Zel?” I asked her stupidly, still in shock about her decision. I flinched as she gave me the most severe look I’ve ever seen. And boy, have I seen plenty.

“I am sure!” she replied forcefully, the calm veneer of royalty dropping. “I will not be the Queen that allows that tyrant Ganondorf to take over this kingdom! So, yes Link, we are doing this!”

She heaved as her body shook with barely repressed rage, her shoulders bunched up and hands balled into fists tightly against her body. Slowly, her breathing settled, her body relaxed and the calm, neutral expression required of the crown returned.

I however, sat in shock. In all the years I’ve known her, I’ve never seen her this angry. Maybe the fact that she had ascend to the throne following her father’s death, coupled with the war that broke out immediately after has finally taken a toll on her? Or maybe, this ongoing war and our countless losses were finally starting to get to her? Either way, I was starting to get worried for her. I wanted to reach out to her, hold her and tell her sweet nothings, to let her know that things will be OK, so long as we were together. I wanted to tell her how I felt about her, after years of repressing them due to our differences in rank and status.

I wanted to tell her how much I loved her.

I held my tongue however. Now was not the time to express my desires. It was time for action. Romance could follow afterward.

A knock on the door broke my current train of thoughts. A maid entered and curtsied to the queen. “Your Highness, the council is ready for you and Sir Link,” she said.

Zelda nodded. “We will be there shortly,” she responded. “Tell them to give us a few more moments.” The maid bowed and left the room to relay the message. After she left, the Queen turned to me.

“Link, who else is aware of this ‘Sheik’ individual?” she asked.

“Just Midna,” I said. “She was working the bar yesterday when he talked to me. I also told her the whole story.”

Zelda nodded. “Good, let us keep it between the three of us,” she said. “I do not want to bring false hope to the council. Now, you said Sheik wanted you to meet him tonight?” She tapped her chin in thought. “I also surmise that this quest will require some travelling around the kingdom?”

“Yep, to both things,” I said.  “So I’ll need an excuse not to do any missions during that time.”

“Yes, that is true,” Zelda said, frowning. A sudden, sly smirk crossed her face shortly afterward. “And I think I may have the perfect cover story to allow you to partake in this quest.” She rose from her seat, straightening out her gown.

“Come, Sir Link,” she said regally. “Let us go and address the council.”


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

Espresso Shot Review: Severed (2016) [PSVita]

Good afternoon and welcome to the first edition of Games with Coffee for the new year!

Yes, I’m back after a couple of months off. It’s important for Mature, Distinguished Gamers to take a little R & R every once in a while and boy, did I need one. That’s not to say I wasn’t busy; nay good friends, I’ve been working away on new content that I can’t wait to share with you for the coming year! 2019 is sure to be an exciting one, filled with new games, new stories, new interviews and (of course) more coffee.

Speaking of which, let’s get to our subject.

Today, I’ll be taking a look at a quirky, touch-based game that originally was released on the Playstation Vita, before being ported to other platforms like Android, iOS and even the Switch. It consists of hack and slash mechanics and RPG elements revolving around using the severed remains of your enemies to level up and get stronger. It’s set a land heavily steeped in Mexican influences, with labyrinth-like environments filled with terrifying monsters, secrets and hidden areas to find. Finally, the game presents a captivating, mature story starring a strong-willed female protagonist armed with a living sword, suffering from severe losses in both the familial and physical sense. From Drinkbox Studios, this is Severed.

H2x1_NSwitchDS_Severed_image1600w

Background

Severed was developed by Drinkbox Studios, a Toronto based developer known for the popular Guacameele! games. Originally pitched during an internal game jam by concept lead Augusto Quijano, Severed was initially released for the Playstation Vita, before being ported to other platforms.

It was met with high praise from critics and has won several awards, including 2016’s Apple iPad Game of the Year and the Canadian Videogame Awards for Best Musical Score.

As of now, the Playstation Vita is officially dead. I figured that to celebrate this underrated handheld, I would shine a spotlight on one of the system’s most interesting indie games. So, let’s get into it.

Story

Severed tells the story of a girl named Sasha, living with her family in small farmland with her mother, father and brother. One day, Sasha mysteriously finds herself in a strange, parallel version of her home, alone, with the stench of death surrounding her. Entering the ruins of her home and looking into a mirror, she discovers that she had her right arm mysteriously cut off, a bloody stub of a limb being the only thing that remains.

severed-sasha-intro

The mirror reflected another figure behind her. Turning around, Sasha briefly encounters the Stranger – a skeletal, alien-like being who gives her a living sword to protect her from the monsters she would encounter in this world. He instruct her to find her family, taken away by a monster only known as the Dragon, before promptly disappearing and leaving Sasha on her own. Now, she must journey through three sprawling areas to recover her family and escape from this world before the Dragon finds her.

big-toothed-monster-severed-110216

Severed’s story is told through Sasha’s perspective and is very metaphorical in its presentation. Sasha is desperate to find her family, even if it means cutting through and killing everything in her sight to do so. With every enemy that she cuts down, she uses their severed remains to strengthen herself. This is especially prevalent with the bosses, as she gains a new ability after cutting out a body part of theirs and then wearing the dismembered piece as part of her armor. However, the more progress she makes in her journey, the less human she looks and acts until she’s barely recognizable at the end of the game.

severed

At the onset, Sasha feels hopeful from the Stranger’s words that her family could be found. Upon finding each member of her family however, she discovers to her horror that they are already dead; their bodies in a state of decay with some sort of fungal/coral-like organism growing out of them. With each member she returns to her home, her rage and hopelessness only grows until she reaches the Citadel, the third area of the game. Here, two important plot points happen.

First, after reaching the top of the tower, Sasha reunites with her mother’s body only for it to be taken away from her by the Dragon. It then steals her other two family members, creates a portal within the mirror in her home and dares Sasha to come get them.

Second, Sasha reunites with her severed arm within the Citadel; now an autonomous, multi-coloured appendage which gives her enough power to possibly defeat the Dragon. Yet, during the final battle, it’s revealed to her that the Dragon has influence over the arm, as the arm rebels against her at random moments throughout the final battle. This suggests that that the creature had a hand in it’s creation (via its removal at the start of the game) and has possibly shaped Sasha into what she was at that moment; a creature of rage and despair.

In order to free herself from those feelings, Sasha makes the decision to re-sever her right arm. The Dragon then swallows the arm and mutates into its final form; a terrifying, multi-headed beast. After finally slaying the Dragon, Sasha removes all the armor and severed pieces of monsters that she had accumulated and gives her family a proper burial. The Stranger appears and tells Sasha she has a choice: stay in this alternate realm or return to the real world. The ending is then left to the player’s interpretation as the game cuts to the credits just as Sasha moves.

There’s very little dialog within the game and much of the story is left to player’s interpretation, but the visual style of the game does a really great job in portraying the environment that Sasha currently inhabits on her quest, which I’ll discuss later on. Along the way, she encounters only two other individuals that are not out to kill her: a friendly two-headed crow and an overly-paranoid old woman holding a dark secret. Literally.

severed-suffering

Overall, the story is very dark, but it captures the essence of what it must feel like to go through a heavy loss and what it would take to move on. It’s also short; clocking in at roughly eight to ten hours total, so it’s great for those who don’t have a lot of time on hand to play. I also like how the story requires a lot of player interpretation to get the gist of what it’s all about.

Gameplay

The decision for the game to be heavily touch-screen based was met with some criticism from other publications, but ultimately I felt like it was the right choice. Controls for the game utilize both the thumbstick/D-pad and the Vita’s touch screen. The D-pad is used to move Sasha while the touch screen is used to perform several actions. For left handed players, the face buttons can be also used to move the character.

Tapping objects on the screen allows Sasha to interact with them, whether it be eating fruit to restore health, picking up dropped items, reading signs, examining things or talking with NPC’s. Sasha can also slash things on the field to reveal hidden objects and secrets or break objects to reveal their contents.

Encounters are fixed and denoted by a black and white wisp on screen. Approaching and touching it starts a battle where Sasha must kill the creature in front of her. Swiping the screen makes Sasha slash in the direction of the swipe and is her main form of attack when she encounters enemies. As shown in the game’s tutorial, the longer the swipe, the more damage is done, so the player must make sure to make long, sweeping slices back and forth against enemies in order to deal tons of damage. Later in the campaign, Sasha gains the ability to charge up her slash by pressing down on the screen for a short time until the charge is ready and then slashing in the direction of choice. This can be used both on offense and defense, as some enemies have attacks that can break through a normal parry.

Severed-Switch_08-08-17.jpg

Enemies don’t just stand there and take the punishment though. A circular meter is associated to each monster. When it fills up, the monster will perform an attack. The meters fill up in two ways, depending on the enemy: one type of meter fills up constantly and a second type decreases as Sasha attacks. When an enemy is about to attack, it displays a tell of sorts; an animation that shows it’s about to attack and in what direction (horizontal, vertical, diagonal, etc.). When that happens, the player can execute a parry to block and avoid damage by swiping in the direction of the attack. So, if the enemy’s attack is going horizontally from left to right, the player must swipe horizontally from right to left in order to parry the attack. This attack and parry mechanic allows for fast and frantic combat.

severed-screen-03-psvita-us-21apr16

The training wheels come off after clearing the first area, the Domain of Crows. Enemies from that point on have buffs that affect many stats, such as Attack Up, Defense Up, Health Regeneration and the like. Luckily, Sasha gains a few abilities along the way that help make battles much easier, like the Blind spell (stuns enemies) and Devour ability (steals buffs).

download (1)

 

Also, some encounters spawn multiple enemies, up to four at a time. Tapping on a direction on the D-Pad in battle will allow Sasha to face whatever enemy is associated in that direction. Each of those enemies will either attack or charge up their attacks in real time, so the player must be aware of when to strike, what enemy to attack, when to defend, when to stun enemies and what buffs to steal in order to survive.

The Focus Meter is at the top of the screen, represented by Sasha’s sword. As she attacks, the meter slowly fills up. The meter fills up faster as you keep chaining slashes, but the multiplier resets if you are hit. Parrying attacks sustain the multiplier though. When the meter is full and the enemy is defeated, the game enters what’s called Severed Mode and is the main mechanic where the game derives its title from.

severed-screen-04-psvita-us-21apr16.jpg

In Severed Mode, the enemy is briefly suspended in midair, its limbs splayed out with markers showing where to cut. Cutting through these markers allow Sasha to pick up the remains and use them to enhance her skills through the Skill Tree in the menu screen. Players have to be quick to sever as many limbs and parts as possible, as there is a brief time limit before the monster disappears permanently. The game offers plenty of opportunity to gather parts though, so there’s no need for the player to worry about not gathering enough parts to enhance skills.

severed-upgrade

The skill tree is a big part of enhancing the Severed experience. Skills require severed parts of monsters, such as arms, eyeballs and such, to acquire. They range from basic attack increases to improving efficacy of special abilities. Skills are practically a requirement to progress further in the game, as the battles only get more and more challenging. New skills also unlock when Sasha gains a new ability to use.

Sometimes, players won’t have the parts on hand to improve on a certain skill. In this case, they can transmute small components called giblets to create the part they need. Giblets are found virtually all over the map in breakable objects that Sasha can slash open on the field.

Health and Mana (used for abilities) can be increased by collecting hearts and brains. Sasha must find five Heart Pieces or Brain Stems and then devour them to gain the upgrade. It’s a visceral and interesting way for a character to increase their life or magic.

Out of battle, there are many puzzles that Sasha has to solve in order to progress further in the story. Some include finding crystals, hitting a gong to open or close doors, travelling to parallel dimensions even creepier than the realm she currently inhabits and the like. The puzzles are fair to the player; not too hard, but not too easy at the same time. There are also plenty of secrets and hidden passages to find. Some of them require some exploration within the room to open, some require certain abilities, while others require having a certain item in your possession (Such as the Mask of Birds or the Jaws of the Cryptolith) and touching a symbol on the wall to open a passageway to the secret.

One criticism I have about the gameplay revolves around how uncomfortable it felt playing on the Vita. After a prolonged period of time, I found that my left hand ached as I held the system while using my right finger to swipe. The ports released after the Vita version addressed this by making the game fully playable through the touchscreen. I’m unsure of what Drinkbox did for the Switch version, but I would like to think they learned from the Vita version of the game.

Beyond that, the gameplay itself is very tight and engaging. The difficulty curve feels natural; there doesn’t seem to be any point within the game that the difficulty spikes up intensely during the main story. There are some difficult battles, yes, but many of them are optional and are not required to complete the story.

Visuals

Despite the dark and depressing atmosphere presented in game, Severed has a striking artistic style, to the point where it looks like it was drawn on paper. The visuals are colorful and bright and the backgrounds are look fantastic.

severed_screenshot_11

The enemies look like something out of a horror film, with multiple, grotesque limbs, jagged teeth and quivering tendrils. Speaking of which, the enemy animations are incredibly well done. Everything, from the way they move their limbs, to the slight twitches they make when they are stationary, looked so polished and fluid. I was very impressed.

The bosses also look incredibly well done. Not only were they difficult to defeat but they looked fearsome as well.

The most visceral image in this game though is when Sasha sees herself in the mirror at the beginning of the game, her arm freshly cut off. It’s a haunting image that really sets the tone for the rest of the game.

Audio

The soundtrack certainly fits with the game’s atmosphere. Home is a very poignant theme and reminds me of the feeling of loneliness and despair, while Death (the theme when you see The Stranger for the first time) evokes a foreboding feeling, like there’s something underneath the surface as he explains what Sasha needs to do to leave the alternate world.

The music within the areas of Severed are divided into two types: Exploration and Battle. Exploration music seems to be influenced by Mexican/Central American sounds, with plenty of drums, bells, chimes and the like. The Battle themes however are grungier, remixed versions of the Exploration music. They fill the original with guitar riffs and more percussion to increase the tension while fighting.

One of the best songs in the game is when Sasha returns to her home at the end of the game. It’s a haunting track filled with despair and accurately reflects how Sasha may have felt at the very end after the Dragon stole her family. It’s a great setup piece for the final battle.

Replayability

To be frank, Severed is a fairly short game with little to do once completed. The most a player could do is take on the optional and highly challenging battles in hidden rooms within the three main areas. Defeating the enemies under special conditions yield special items called Mementos which serve two purposes – powering up Sasha and changing some of the final scenes in the game’s ending.

However, this game is one of those titles that’s easy to pick up and replay at a moment’s notice, due to simple nature of its control scheme. I’ve replayed it already a couple of times since and I found myself changing my strategies when fighting and severing limbs on each playthrough – trying to do one full swipe to sever all limbs instead of doing quick, individual swipes, for instance.

The Last Drop

Severed is one of the most interesting games I’ve played in recent years. It really takes advantage of the Vita’s touch-screen/direct control dynamic and presents a very compelling story that’s tied together with some solid gameplay. It’s short, but had it been any longer, I don’t think I would have enjoyed it the same way I do right now. It’s definitely a game worth checking out if you are able to.

ResizedImage820615-Photo-Dec-12-11-33-24-PM

Pros:

  • Tight gameplay mechanics that combine elements from Action and RPG games.
  • Uses the Vita’s touch-screen effectively.
  • Beautiful visuals.
  • A great story centered around loss and grief.
  • Has a great lead character, whose silent nature belies an fierce spirit that’s relentlessly pursuing a way to save her family

Cons:

  • It’s fairly short, but this is only a minor issue for me.
  • Not much to do once you’ve neared the end of the story/not much post-game content.
  • Holding the Vita can be awkward and uncomfortable after prolonged periods of play.

Score: 4/5

4 out of 5

A Year in Review [2018]

Hi all! Welcome to the second year-end edition of Games with Coffee! It’s December 31st; the final day of 2018 and what a year it has been folks. Much has happened in the span of twelve months since I wrote my Year in Review, so I’ll do my best to condense the highlights. So, let’s begin where all years and stories begin:

At the beginning.


January

Probably the biggest, most important thing that happened this year was the fact that I became a father on Friday January 12th, 2018, at 8:02 pm. Yes, on that day, yours truly became a Mature, Distinguished Gamer Dad to a baby boy name Arjun Ryan Cheddi. A couple of fun facts about my little guy’s entry into the world:

  • He was born in the middle of a really bad storm: it started with regular rain and as the temperature plummeted, the rain turned into freezing rain and finally into snow. By the time we rolled into the hospital at about six pm or so, we were already at three inches of snow and counting.
  • From the time my wife went into contractions to the time he came out: almost six hours. He wanted out really quickly.
  • Speaking of which, between the first examination when we arrived at the hospital and the second, he went from head first to feet first (breach) and facilitated the need for a C-section. The surgery was the scariest moment of my life.
  • He was born weighing four and a half pounds; grossly underweight. The medical team taking care of us at the time put him in the NICU and spammed Cure (AKA IV needles and formula) to get him back to a proper weight. We spent two or so nights at the hospital, but I swear it felt like months…

I joined Twitter earlier and posted some of my exploits when my little buddy was born. The reception I’ve received was wonderful and I thank each and every one of you for making the wait much more bearable. Another thank you goes to Nintendo and the Switch. Super Mario Odyssey and Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild both made things much more bearable as the wife and I waited to see how our son would be fairing.

The first few nights after becoming parents were hard on both of us, but luckily my in-laws let us stay at their place while we got our bearings straight and while my wife recovered from the surgery. We spent the better part of three months there and a lot of other important things happened during that time.

Another great thing that happened was that Games with Coffee received its first award! So that was also quite wild! I have to give a shout out to YahariBento for the nom; hope you’re doing well buddy!


February

February was the month where I participated in my first blogging collaboration! Ian from Adventure Rules held a Valentines day collab, where myself and nineteen other bloggers signed up to be randomly assigned another blogger, read their blog and talk about the wonderful things that they write about. What I loved about this was that it wasn’t limited to just gaming; this event brought out all kinds of writers writing about all kinds of subjects.

Case in point, I wrote a post about my secret Valentine, Debi from Womb 2 Cradle n’ Beyond! Her blog talked about her struggles with conception before giving birth to twins. She continues to write about her experiences with her new children and provides little hacks and such to make the parenthood job a lot easier. Hope you’re doing well Debi!

February was also a big milestone for me as I signed up to become The Hyperactive Coffee Mage on The Well Red Mage!

HyperactiveCoffeeMage.png

My first post would not debut until April, but joining this group at the time I did changed my life for the better. It was here, hanging out with the Mages and Warriors of Light on the Discord Mage Chat that I truly understood what community meant. Beyond video games, we talked about family, friendships, work and other important discussions. Red Mage and I have had a few personal discussions about parenthood when I first signed up that I truly and wholeheartedly appreciated from him. So thanks fearless leader, let’s make 2019 truly magical!


March

Work-wise, March was the start of how things could get extremely busy extremely fast, especially when you’re down a team member. Balancing this, writing on my blog, starting up as a Mage, being a part of a clan in Clash Royale, my Quest and being a dad to my almost three month old son at the time was truly a test of how to prioritize my time.

Sadly, I didn’t really pass it. I got booted off my old Clash clan, but joined another one shortly after learning that a good deal of co-workers were on a clan of their own. I stayed there for some time, until the new overhaul came into effect, but I’ll get into that a little later.

Also, I had to give up most, if not all of my Quest resolutions that I worked tirelessly on back in December. That stung the most. The important thing here was that I learned that I needed to reduce my priorities and be more flexible to change. I was supposed to write a post about this, but… Well, let’s just say that parenthood makes you forget about things until the last minute (ie. now for instance!).

This wouldn’t be the first time that the ebbs and flows of my work would affect my life. To be honest though, I enjoy it. I love what I currently do at my job. I feel that I’m thriving better here than I ever had at any other job prior to this one, so I’m super thankful to work where I am today. I’m also happy to say that having a beginner’s mindset throughout this time has helped me out tremendously. I recommend taking a look at that link if you’re having a hard time at work.


April

A quarter of the way through. April was a busy time for me. My wife, my son and I recently resettled back into our house and set up a night time routine for the little guy which was definitely starting to work well.

I also celebrated my blog’s first anniversary by starting up a brand-new feature: Beans and Screens! It’s an ongoing series set in a talk-show format where I interview guests and let me tell you, it’s a lot of fun to do! My first guest was my alter-ego, The Hyperactive Coffee Mage, who actually interviewed me! I shared a couple of things about myself that I’d normally not share to others outside the Internet. You can check it out here.

Along with that was the debut post on TWRM! My first long-form review was about Sonic the Hedgehog 2 for the Game Gear and I had so much fun writing that up!

I also continued my write ups about my experiences with Path of Exile. I really like this game, the only problem I had was getting time to play it. Unfortunately, Part 6 is the last one I’ll be doing for some time until I get more of an opportunity to play and write about this massive game. Fortunately though, PoE is coming to PlayStation 4, so there’s something to look forward to!

Finally (and this is most important), I picked up and started playing God of War for the PS4. I didn’t know it then, but this game would mean so much to me when I finished playing it.


May

May was a very sad time for my family. My wife’s grandmother, her Aaje, passed away after a short bout of cancer. She had health problems earlier in the year, but they didn’t exacerbate until closer to the end of the month. On May 28th, she passed away, but she was able to pass peacefully with her dying wish fulfilled: to live long enough to see her great-grandson, AKA my little guy.

I used several examples from gaming to help cope with this loss, as I discussed here. I was very sad when she passed; she considered me her grandson, despite me only being related to her through marriage.

May was also the month where a huge Clash Royale overhaul happened. Gone were the old Clan Crown Chest (say that three times fast) events. What replaced it were Clan Wars. Basically, it’s a new mode that encourages participation and teamwork from all members of a clan. There are two phases to a war. Phase one is the Collection Day, where clan mates participate in battles to collect Clan Cards. Winning battles nets you more cards for the clan. Phase two is the War Day, where five clans battle one another using the cards they’ve collected in the Collection Day phase to gain victory medals. This is where teamwork within your clan is paramount as you work with your clan mates in practice battles to determine the optimal deck to go into your final battle with.

The more medals won, the higher your clan’s rank at the end of the war. At the end of the war, Clan War Trophies are awarded, similarly to regular ladder battle Trophies. First place earns 100 trophies while last place loses 100. It’s a dynamic, exciting way to interact with the clan and makes working with a clan more meaningful. It was here in this month, after being kicked out from my latest clan that I joined the Pantheon – a group of ten clans. I started in one and then transferred to my current clan, aptly called KRATOS. Honestly, they’re the best bunch of clan mates I’ve ever had the pleasure of battling with!


June

Halfway into the year, June turned into one of the busiest months of this year. Work was ramping up and I participated in a new collaboration with the Mages, where I listed the top seven best PlayStation (PSX) games! I followed up with seven other PlayStation Hidden Gems to compliment this list! Check it here!

I also had the pleasure of having a massive discussion with the Hopeful Sega Mage (Previously known as the Hopeful Handheld Mage) about the upcoming Sega Ages collection! It was a fun talk between the two of us that you can take a look at here.

June was also the month when I finished playing God of War. It was the first game that I’ve beaten since I became a father and I felt profoundly changed by it, thanks to the interactions between Kratos and Atreus.


July

July marked the half year we’ve had our little buddy in our life. It also marked my 31st year on this plane of existence. I celebrated both of these milestones by getting my first tattoo:

20180706_192219.jpg

This design was special to me for several reasons: The Hylian Shield from Ocarina of Time was my favourite shield design from the games and I’ve always wanted it on my arm. It represents my desire to protect the people important to me. Along the edges on the top though, I put two other things on it: My son’s name in Norse Runes and his birthdate in Roman numerals. I was inspired to use the Norse runes by God of War and its take on fatherhood, while the numerals were an awesome take on immortalizing the date of my son’s birth. I have to shout out to my tattoo artist, Steve from KLA Ink for putting this together for me!

Meanwhile, July remained to be a busy, busy month. I wrote a review for one of my favourite games on the PlayStation: Alundra! I also had a few interviews on Beans and Screens featuring Link and Zelda from Breath of the Wild and with my good buddy and fellow mage, Daniel Flatt, the Mail Order Ninja Mage! Both were great interviews!

And finally, July saw the release of a new fanfiction: The Legend of Zelda: Black and White! I’ve written up both parts one and two and they were inspired by the Noire TWRM Radio mix! Check out both and stay tuned for further installments!


August

August was the least active this blog has ever been since its inception. I joined in on two collaborations: one was the Writer’s Raid by NekoJonez, a really good friend I’ve gotten to know quite well throughout the year. The second was the massive Games that Define Us headed by Matthew from Normal Happenings. Both of those released in November, but I was hard at work at writing those up.

I also put up my latest long-form #magecrit of Soul Blade, one of my favourite fighting games for the PlayStation. Check it out here!

August was also the month when my little guy used rolling as his primary mode of transportation. He would roll around until he got stuck, roll onto his stomach and then rotate until he finds a direction he wants to roll in. He was basically Tank Baby and it was so cute!


September

Both August and September were busy months, with September being the busiest, at least in terms of work. My job kept me busy in the summer months leading into fall and winter. Coupled with the fact that I was knee-deep in collaboration work I was left with little time to write on my own blog. I did end up catching up on a lot of great games I picked up from April onward, like Octopath Traveller on my birthday, Splattoon 2, Stardew Valley and Shovel Knight, Mega Man X Legacy Collection and others. September was a hardcore month for me in terms of getting games completed! This also included Tomb Raider Anniversary, which was my entry for the Writer’s Raid collaboration.

The biggest contribution for September was the Hyper-Ninja God of War Spoiler-Filled Discussion! Truthfully, this was supposed to go out since July, but I procrastinated with posting it. Nevertheless, this was a doozy of a post and filled to the brim with spoilers from the game, go check it out (if you’ve beaten it, of course!)

Last but not least, I was a guest on a podcast! Specifically Mage Cast by the Well Red Mage. Myself, Red and our musical jazz master of a mage, The ABXY Mage discussed Earthbound in its entirety and I learned a few things about the game during our discussion that I’ve never realized or overlooked in its entirety! Go check it out!


October

October was my half-assed attempt to catch up. I did end up writing up a post on Pokemon and growing up with the series. That brought up a lot of good memories with my brother and best friend Anto as I was writing it.

On top of that, I (in my infinite wisdom) decided I wasn’t busy enough, so I tackled a review of a game I’ve never played before: Another World for the Nintendo Switch. Easily the fastest review I’ve ever written on TWRM, I had to say, I really enjoyed playing the game! It has a definite impact long after you’ve beaten it; in fact, I’m still thinking about it right now…

October was also the month that I took my first family vacation. My little buddy really liked Jamaica. It was also very relaxing for myself as I got in some good writing, the aforementioned Another World review included.


November

And here we have the biggest, busiest month of this year. November saw the release of The Games That Define Us: a collaboration of over thirty bloggers who each shared a game that truly impacted their lives for the better. Working with these individuals was a true, true blessing, similar to that of working with the Mages. These pieces need, NEED to be read! In fact, I have to declare that The Games That Define Us is the collaboration that defines 2018 in general. Gamers of all shapes, sizes, nationalities, genders and backgrounds coming together in the spirit of harmony and community to share their feelings on the games that truly helped them be their best selves.

If you guys from TGTDU are reading this, I love you all! I can’t wait to work with you guys again in some way, shape or form!

By the way, my contribution was no big deal compared to the others. The Game That Defined Me was, of course, Final Fantasy VII. But the thing is, it’s only one of four other games that define who I am as a person. I’ll be writing about these other three games in follow up posts throughout next year!

The next collab released was the Writer’s Raid by my good friend NekoJonez. He got together a crack team of writers, including my good friend, the ABXY Mage and we shared our thoughts about the venerable gaming icon, Lara Croft, and the games that she starred in. My contributions included the Legacy of Lara Croft, spanning from the original Tomb Raider and beyond and an Espresso Shot Review of Tomb Raider Anniversary. Go read these and then head to the hub to read up on other entries!

Baby-wise, this was the month where my little warrior child transitioned from rolling to army crawling. All I needed now was a baby-sized Sneaking Suit, a bandanna and a cardboard box and I would have a mini Snake.

*looks up baby-sized Sneaking Suits on Google*

November also saw my return to Mage Cast, along with The Mail Order Ninja Mage, Daniel Flatt as we three mages talked about (arguably) the greatest Zelda game ever: Zelda II Breath of the Wild. This was a fun podcast to record and even more fun to listen to at the end of the day, so go listen to it. Like, right now! Do it!

And finally, I helped usher in a new age of TWRM in the form of Instagram. Yes! Yours truly is the administrator for the The Well Red Mage’s Instagram account! The plan is to regularly post thrice a week with content featuring our Mages, our content and what we’re all playing over the weekend.


December

Alas, from the end of November into December started the biggest and maddest rush for work yet. It was year end for most companies and that meant lots and lots of requests to get things finished so that people can get paid. This, coupled with new jobs and such put a real damper in write ups for the blog, here or otherwise. It also killed any chance I had to complete any stories that I’ve either been working on during the year or have started back in summer.

With collaborations, trying to catch up with my own content, keeping up with the massive workload and making sure I had enough room for family time, it then occurred to me that I evidently took on more than I could chew. Thus, I’ve made the decision to lay off a bit on collaborations and posting on the blog altogether until after March of 2019. I want to focus a bit on getting some content prepared ahead of time and to get some headway with my stories. I promised myself I’d get my Final Fantasy VII-inspired Sonic story finished and I’m gonna make do on it, somehow.

In the meantime, I finished up my second annual Last Minute Christmas Guide, split into two lists. These gifts are good suggestions for the new year as well, so go check them out if you ever need gift ideas for someone next year!

And as of now, my little Arjun has three whole teeth and is crawling like a cute little boss. My god, he’s gonna be a year old in two weeks time! It’s gonna be amazing to see this little kid grow. It’s like my love for that mini-me grows every second of every day.

Fatherhood has, so far, been the most rewarding thing to happen to me and it’s something I’m determined not to take for granted.

Which now leads to today. As I said earlier, I’m now on hiatus from today up until March 1st. My hiatus might be longer, depending on the rhythm I’m on during my time off, but I’ll keep everyone posted. I’ll still be working the TWRM Instagram account and promoting content on Twitter and such, but you won’t hear from me for a bit.

As for what to expect for next year, definitely more Espresso Shot Reviews. I’ve had a blast playing tons of games (my latest obsession is Smash Bros. Ultimate!) and I want to get into the groove of reviewing games. It’s quite fun actually!

More Beans and Screens are upcoming! I have some interviews secured and with the time off, I should be able to get some solid Q & A’s in.

More personal stories! Maybe! I’m still debating it actually. *Grins*

More music posts!

Definitely more advice columns! Living as a Mature, Distinguished Gamer is not an easy path to live, but I’m hoping to share some advice for those who want to walk that path.

Most importantly, more actual stories. I want to fully finish, edit and post up the first part of my FFVII/Sonic fanfiction this year. The title: Mobius VII: Escape from the City. This has been a decade-long endeavor for me and for me to finish this off and put it up for public reading would truly be a blessing. I also have the rest of my Zelda fanfic to write up. I’m hoping that the climax and ending will make my readers react the way I want them to. *Laughs*

And then there’s my magnum opus: an original story that’s been in the world building stage since I was fifteen years old. It was only a few years ago though that the ideas finally cohered together into something that I wanted to write about. I’m going to take the time in 2019 to work on this story, get the plot, the characters, the setting and the magic system (it’s a fantasy story) to the point where I feel that I can finally put pen to paper and start writing. It’s exciting and scary at the same time and I’m looking forward to it.

To close off, I want to send a huge, huge shout out to my friends the Mages and Warriors of Light on the Mage Chat. Shout out to The Well Red Mage for being such an awesome dude to hang out and work with. Shout out to Matt from Normal Happenings, Ian from Adventure Rules and NekoJonez for the excellent collaborations. And finally, shout out to you, the reader. Without you guys reading my posts, writing comments and promoting my work, I would be naught but a blip on this vast ocean of gaming related blogs. I love you all and I wish you all the very best in 2019.

With that, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, wishing you all a happy and healthy new year. See you all in March.

The Second Annual Games with Coffee Last-Minute Christmas Shopping Guide! Part 2: Stuff!

Welcome to Part 2 of the Second Annual Games with Coffee Last-Minute Christmas Shopping Guide! It’s only a few more days until the big day, so if you’re stuck on what to get or need some inspiration for gift giving, you’ve come to the right place!

If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to check it out!

Continuing on from my previous list, Part 2 will cover apparel, accessories, trinkets and other recommendations that would be great to give this holiday season, if you haven’t already went and made your purchases! As I mentioned earlier, I won’t be providing links, just ideas on what to get for your favourite person this holiday season.

Warning: Shameless Plug Incoming!

Once you find that perfect gift or gifts, chances are you’ll need to wrap it up and put a neat little gift tag on it, right? Well, instead of some generic, boring tags you can find at the store, why not print out a set of really spiffy, hand-lettered tags made by my awesome wife, Usha from the blog Lettering by Usha!? For a paltry sum, you can get a PDF copy of a set of beautifully designed printable tags that you can print out, cut up and attach to your gift! Tags like these make a gift that much more personable, so when you’re done with this list, click here to get to her Etsy shop and pick up a set today!
End Shameless Plug!

And now, onto the list!


Apparel and Accessories

Alright, let’s face it: sometimes you just wanna wear and show off your favourite gaming series. From casual to professional and everything in between, I’ve got a few gift suggestions for the Mature, Distinguished Gamer.

*Note that several of these items are available for purchase on ThinkGeek, however they’re note sponsoring this post.*

Socks

Dress codes in professional settings can be a tad restrictive, but it doesn’t mean you can’t show off your gamer pride in some ways! And one of the best ways to do that is by wearing an awesome pair of socks, like these ones:

Image result for mega man socks

Eye-catching and comfortable!

Socks are one of those items that you need (unless you live and work on the beach, then no socks for you!), so why not make it fun! These Mega Man socks aren’t the only ones available though; you can find a whole slew based on your favourite series or characters online! For example:

Image result for metroid socks

Metroid: Samus Aran Socks

Image result for metroid socks

(Clockwise from top left) Super Mario, Mario Kart, Metroid, Legend of Zelda, Super Nintendo-motif.

Image result for halo socks

Halo Casual Crew Socks

Image result for God of war socks

There are even God of War Socks!

The choices available are only as limited as your search terms on Google or Amazon!

T-Shirts

For Casual Fridays, weekends or anytime in between, nothing beats a T-Shirt. Again, there are tons available, but here’s some ideas to choose from:

Image result for super mario t shirt

Princess Peach T-Shirt

Image result for Zelda t shirt

“Scarface” Legend of Zelda Shirt (I have this one, it’s awesome!)

Image result for Zelda t shirt

Divine Beasts Women’s T-shirt

Image result for shovel knight shirt

Shovel Knight Shirt

 

Sweaters and Hoodies

Still on the hunt for an ugly Christmas sweater? Here’s a few suggestions:

Pokémon Winter Sweater

Pokemon Ugly Sweater

Pokémon Pikachu Holiday Sweater

Pikachu Ugly Sweater

Ugly Christmas Sweater: Nintendo (S)

Legend of Zelda Ugly Sweater

Hoodies are also a great choice to get. Who doesn’t want to feel warm when it’s -30 degrees Celsius outside!

Kingdom Hearts Evil Heart Hoodie (MD)

Kingdom Hearts Heartless Hoodie

Mass Effect N7 Long Vinyl Ladies' Cowl Hoodie

Mass Effect N7 Hoodie

Space Invaders Sleeve Print Hoodie

Space Invaders Hoodie

Wallets & Watches

If you’re eyeing some wallets, here’s some ideas for you!

Yoshi Flap Wallet

Yoshi Flap Wallet

Kingdom Hearts Sora Wallet

Kingdom Hearts Sora Flap Wallet

Kingdom Hearts Fandom Wallet - Exclusive

Kingdom Hearts Fandom Wallet

Atari Black Katakana Wallet

Atari Black Katakana Wallet

Nintendo Mario World Wallet

Super Mario World Wallet

Shadow of the Tomb Raider: Wallet

Shadow of the Tomb Raider Wallet (Also available in a large format)

NES Controller Zip Wallet

Nintendo NES Zip Up Wallet

Watches are also a great gift to give for this holiday season! Here’s a few ideas:

Legend of Zelda Leather Watch - Exclusive

Legend of Zelda Men’s Watch

Pokémon Pokeball Watch

Pokemon Pokeball Watch

8-Bit Hearts Watch

8-Bit Hearts Watch

8-Bit Watch

8-Bit Watch

Fallout RadGlow Watch - Exclusive

Fallout RadGlow Watch (Looks pretty neat!)

Nintendo Mario Watch - Black

Nintendo Classic Mario Watch

Sonic Hedgehog Watch

Sonic the Hedgehog Watch

Toys and Collectibles

Have some young’uns in your life? Or just a collector yourself? Then behold some ideas for you!

Amiibo - Ridley

Look at him, standing there all menacing-like…

Amibo

The collectible that does more than collect dust on the shelf, it can unlock a wealth of content in compatible Nintendo games. For instance, in Smash (referenced in my previous post), using an amiibo unlocks a figure player to use and level up. Young and old, amiibo make the perfect stocking stuffer for your favourite person!*

*Just make sure they own a Switch or any other compatible Nintendo system first…

Nendoroid - Kratos

Kratos as you’ve never seen him before!

Nendoroids

Nendoroids are representations of your favourite gaming, anime and pop culture characters chibi-fied. These cute collectibles are highly poseable and come with a wealth of accessories so that you can recreate your favourite scenes! An excellent, albeit pricey, present to give!

Hasbro, makers of board games aplenty, seems to have a pretty good relationship with gaming IP’s of all kinds. Hence why you see icons like Mario slapped on Monopoly all the time. I haven’t had a real opportunity to play any new board games, so I can’t put forth any recommendations on that front.

Books

However, I can recommend a couple of books! For instance:

Image result for norse mythology neil gaiman

Neil Gaiman’s Norse Mythology is a great companion to anyone playing God of War. It provides backstory to the many characters you see in the game and provides some context to some of the tales you hear from Mimir. I highly recommend paring this book with the game.

Image result for little red book of writing

The Little Red Writing Book is a great gift for the writer (or blogger!) to give this season. It’s got a Well Red Recommendation from the Well Red Mage himself. (I’m totally coining that one Red!). This book helped me a lot in terms of my writing, both here and on my fictional works, so it’s on my recommended list.

And now for a couple books that may seem out of place on a list like these, but here me out:

Image result for code of the samurai book

Image result for how to live like a gentleman

If anyone you know is looking to make some changes for the new year, I recommend these two books. The Code of the Samurai and How to Live Like a Gentleman are books that have helped me become a Mature, Distinguished Gamer over the years and I find myself re-reading these on occasion.

And last but certainly not least:

Coffee Mugs

Of course on this list we can’t forget about coffee mugs! Here’s a few to look for:

Zelda Heat Changing Mug

Legend of Zelda Heat Changing Mug

Super Mario Turtle Mug

Super Mario Red Shell Mug

Spyro the Dragon 3D Sculpted Mug

Spyro 3-D Mug

PAC-MAN 20 oz. Sculpted Ceramic Mug

PAC-MAN Mug

Super Mario Group Photo Mug

Super Mario Group Picture Mug

Crash Bandicoot: Crash Mug

Crash Bandicoot Mug

Come To The Dorkside Mug

Come To The Dorkside Mug

Game Boy 16oz Heat Change Molded Mug

Game Boy Heat Changing Mug


And there you have it! All the ideas you’ll need over the next day and a half to get you shopping done! But don’t think these are only good for Christmas; you can pick up these items any time during they year as a gift for any occasion!

So, good luck on your shopping everyone! This is Ryan from Games with Coffee reminding you to stay safe during that mad rush, enjoy the holidays and the food and gifts they offer and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

See you at the end of the year!

The Second Annual Games with Coffee Last-Minute Christmas Shopping Guide! Part 1: Games!

Hey everyone! Welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

With Christmas just around the corner, I’m once again creating a list of last minute gift ideas that will be sure to please the cherished gamer in your life!*

*Results may vary.

Unlike last year’s list, I’ll be splitting this entry into two lists. The first will be solely about games and the other will be for gaming and pop culture merch (apparel, toys, collectibles, etc. ). Also, I won’t be supplying any links: I’m just here to supply the ideas to either jump start or help complete your Christmas shopping! The items I list here and in the next entry should be relatively easy to find/procure (Google and Amazon will be your best friends during this harrowing time…)

Warning: Shameless Plug Incoming!

Once you find that perfect gift or gifts, chances are you’ll need to wrap it up and put a neat little gift tag on it, right? Well, instead of some generic, boring tags you can find at the store, why not print out a set of really spiffy, hand-lettered tags made by my awesome wife, Usha from the blog Lettering by Usha!? For a paltry sum, you can get a PDF copy of a set of beautifully designed printable tags that you can print out, cut up and attach to your gift! Tags like these make a gift that much more personable, so when you’re done with this list, click here to get to her Etsy shop and pick up a set today!

End Shameless Plug!

Now, onto the list!


Nintendo [Switch]

Games-wise, the Big N’s second year post-Switch hasn’t been as exciting as the first year’s, but nevertheless, the Switch has a solid lineup of games. Surely, you’ll find the perfect one for that special someone in your life, but how’s about I provide a few suggestions?

Two of 2017’s best games are still perfect gifts to give to someone looking for a deep and riveting adventure to immerse themselves into! Super Mario Odyssey presents a fun, light story about Mario and his top-hat looking buddy, Cappy, as they journey through each kingdom to stop Bowser from marrying Princess Peach and rescue both her and Cappy’s sister, Tiara. Odyssey shows off the best that Mario platforming has to offer, borrowing heavily from games such as Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy. 

Breath of the Wild on the other hand, is one of the best Legend of Zelda games released in a long time. You can hear myself and my good friend, The Mail Order Ninja Mage (Daniel Flatt) talk highly of the game on The Well Red Mage’s podcast, Mage Cast. I’ll let you listen to that to tell you just how good of a game it is.

Splatoon 2 is also a great choice for the consummate FPS gamer owning a Switch. It operates differently than traditional shooter in that the focus is on inking turf for your team as opposed to blasting everything that moves. There are all kinds of modes to play and practically all of them focus on teamwork.

https___blueprint-api-production.s3.amazonaws.com_uploads_card_image_494417_b0f6b3bb-6f60-4840-92ca-25aff8165188

Super Mario Party is also a great game to get this holiday season for family get-togethers. Like Smash, it’s the best version of its series released in recent years as it goes back to its roots and shows just how great Mario Party is. A definite holiday classic!

Image result for super mario party

If you’re aching for a JRPG with a classic, Final Fantasy feel, look no further to Octopath Traveler! I adored this game so much; eight separate stories focusing on a character’s particular struggle, fantastic battle and job systems and a beautiful graphical style that I hope is used more often in RPG’s of this caliber. Honestly, this should have won awards for Best RPG, but I digress.

Image result for octopath traveler

Seriously though, let’s get to the biggest game being released this holiday season: Super Smash Bros. UltimateUltimate is THE game to get this holiday season for anyone who owns a Switch. Don’t take my word for it, just talk to everyone about the hype this game has generated. Also talk to me about it because this game is off the CHAIN! The venerable multiplayer fighting series where fighters knock their opponents off-screen to win is the biggest iteration ever released, with over 70 characters, 100 stages, tons of game modes and endless hours of entertainment. Definitely, definitely recommended to get for Christmas!

Image result for super smash bros ultimate

If online Smashing or Turf Inking is high on your special person’s priorities, consider picking up the Nintendo Switch Online subscription. Not only is it required to play online, but a subscription comes with access to a ton of old school NES games! Win-win.

Image result for nintendo switch online

 


Sony [PlayStation 4/ Vita]

PlayStation 4 has had a banner year this 2018 with its list of exclusives. My biggest pick to get for the holiday season would be God of War, recent winner of Game of the Year at The Game Awards. God of War continues the story of the Kratos, former Greek God of War, who lives in the harsh, cold wilderness of Midgard, one of the Nine Realms in Norse Mythology. He had cast aside his old life and settled down with a wife and son up until his wife’s death. Her final wish was for Kratos and his son, Atreus, to climb to the highest peak in all the Nine Realms and scatter her ashes. And while that is the main objective of the story, the majority of the game tells the story of the bonds between father and son and the trials and tribulations they both endure throughout their journey.

Image result for god of war 4 images

Another must-get exclusive on the list is Marvel’s Spider Man. Easily one of the best Spider Man games in a long time, Spider-Man continues Peter Parker’s story as the web-slinging superhero. It’s a game that’s on my radar to get for Christmas (*wink wink!*). From what I heard, the web-slinging mechanics are as good or better than the ones in Spider-Man 2 [PS2] (which I played a ton of!). Grab it and check it off your Christmas List!

Image result for spider man ps4

 

Want some more suggestions? Pick up Guacamelee! and Guacamelee! 2; Both are excellent games to play!

Image result for guacamelee

Ni No Kuni 2 is a great choice as well for the RPG fan!

Image result for ni no kuni 2

Yakuza 6 is great for those who are fans of Action-RPG’s and badass ex-Yakuza bosses.

Image result for yakuza 6

Detroit: Become Human is an excellent choice for those who love narrative-based gameplay.

Image result for detroit become human

The remastered Shadow of the Colossus is a masterpiece that can’t be missed.

Image result for shadow of the colossus

And last year’s fantastic exclusives, like Horizon: Zero Dawn, are also excellent gift ideas to give as well.

Image result for horizon zero dawn

There’s a fairly good chance that the majority of these aforementioned titles will be available for free on PS Plus, so why not get them a yearly subscription for them?! PlayStation Plus grants members access to multiplayer games, allows for free pick up of select games monthly and let’s players in on exclusive sale prices for games. A great gift idea IMO!

Image result for playstation plus

 


Microsoft [Xbox One]

Xbox fans! Don’t think I left out you out of the loop! I don’t own one, but I know of many people who own the Microsoft system who have suggested some solid games to gift, like Sea of Thieves

Image result for sea of thieves

Forza Horizon 4

Image result for forza horizon 4

Sunset Overdrive

Image result for sunset overdrive

Gears of War 4

Image result for gears of war 4

Halo 5: Guardians

Image result for halo 5

and Rare Replay (My biggest recommendation due to all the great Rare games available on the compilation!).

Image result for rare replay

Another recommendation put forth to me is a game called RecoreIf your gamer is a big fan of old school gaming, this would be a good choice to get as well.

Image result for recore

And finally, the best gift that should be in every Xbox One gamer’s stocking is the XBox GamePass. AKA the “Netflix of Video Games,” GamePass grants Xbox One gamers access to a huge catalog of games all for a monthly subscription fee.

Image result for gamepass

With exclusives done with, onward now to third party/cross-platform games!


Third Party/Cross-Platform

Beyond the above exclusives, there are a ton of of other games to pick up, from third party games developed by well-known studios to indies that have made quite the impact.

Moonlighter is one of those indies that I want to pick up and was recommended to me by The Well Red Mage.

Image result for moonlighter

CelesteI’ve recently played and I absolutely adored it! The game easily deserves the nods it gained for The Game Awards, especially the big win it earned for Best Independent Game.

Image result for Celeste

I recently started playing Undertale and it operates more as a thought experiment with RPG mechanics; it’s quite interesting, despite it being the older one in this list.

Image result for undertale

Dead Cells is also high on the recommended list, as are other Metroidvania’s like Axiom Verge and a game I’m recently playing (for free this month on PS Plus): Iconoclasts.

Image result for dead cells

Image result for axiom verge

Image result for iconoclasts

Once again, I’m recommending Stardew Valley to pick up;  a relaxing farming simulator that’s incredibly engaging. A multiplayer patch is about to drop on the Switch any minute, so it makes it worthwhile to pick up!

Image result for stardew valley

Along with that is Shovel Knight; an excellent platformer whose title character is an Assist Trophy in Smash.

Image result for shovel knight

SNK released a 40th Anniversary Collection of games, which includes titles like King of FightersMetal Slug and Crystalis.

Image result for snk 40th anniversary collection

Capcom also joined in on the action, releasing the Mega Man X Legacy Collection 1 and 2, consisting of the first eight Mega Man X games.

Image result for mega man x legacy collection

Activision published the Spyro: Reignited trilogy; the first three Spyro games remade from the ground up in glorious HD.

Image result for spyro reignited

Even Sega got in on the retro re-release train, bringing out (yet another) collection series called Sega Ages – older titles given new life thanks to new modes and online leaderboards. The Hopeful Sega Mage and I had a lengthy discussion about this new collection that you can check out here.

Image result for sega ages

Dragon Ball FighterZ is one of the best Dragon Ball Z fighters since Budokai! I definitely need that one in my life, and it’s one I recommend as a gift!

Image result for dragon ball fighterz

If assassinations and exploring Ancient Greece are your thing, go check out Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey! Highly recommended to me to play, so I’ll recommend it to you as well!

Image result for assassin's creed odyssey

SoulCaliber VI seems to be a return to form for the series (I haven’t played it yet – gave up after IV which I loved…), so that might be a good gift to get?

Image result for soulcalibur vi

Starlink: Battle for Atlas is one of the best spacefaring shooters I’ve played in recent memory. A combination of Star Fox, Skylanders and No Man’s SkyStarlink allows players to explore a bunch of different, visually stunning planets and liberate them from the Legion, all while giving the ability to hot-swap virtually every component on their ship with different pilots, ships, wings and weapons depending on the situation. Unlike most other Toys-to-Life games, Starlink allows players to purchase and download new weapons, ships and pilots without the use of the toys themselves. Arguably, the best part of this game is the additional Star Fox content for the Switch! With the Switch version, you get the Arwing, Fox McCloud as a pilot and a set of weapons, with an additional pilot and ship available digitally. On top of that, Team Star Fox has its own story mission that runs parallel with The Starlink Initiative; find Wolf O’Donnell, who’s fled Lylat after Andross’ defeat. It’s a great addition to the Starlink story!

Image result for starlink battle for atlas

And finally, I cannot forget about Rockstar’s Red Dead Redemption 2. If there was a game that was as highly anticipated as God of Warthis would be it. Set in the backdrop of the eve of the American West era, it weaves together an incredible story revolving around one last heist. Or so I’m told (I haven’t played it).

Image result for red dead redemption 2


And that’s Part 1 of the list! For more gift ideas, Part 2 is right behind this one, so go and check it out here!

With that, this is Ryan from Games with Coffee, hoping that your quest to get the perfect Christmas gift is successful and always reminding you Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

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!

download

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.

Tomb Raider_ Anniversary 2018-11-10 1_45_36 AM.png

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.

Tomb Raider_ Anniversary 2018-09-19 1_28_35 AM.png

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Tomb Raider_ Anniversary 2018-11-10 1_59_30 AM.png

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.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

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.

Tomb Raider_ Anniversary 2018-11-10 1_49_53 AM.png

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.

header

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.

cover-image

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.

tomb-raider

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.

Image result for pokemon type chart gen 1

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?

Image result for entei pokemon card

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.

Image result for tiger pokedex

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