Tomb Raider – The Legacy of Lara Croft

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

Background

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Legacy of the Tomb Raider

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

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

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

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

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

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

Controversy

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

The Last Drop

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

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

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

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

A Quest to Catch ‘Em All – Pokemon

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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The aforementioned Entei card in question.

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

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

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Ahh… Good times.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 (1992) [Game Gear]

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

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

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

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

The Well-Red Mage

I will answer when you call me

I will never have to guess

Cause we are very special friends

Dear, My Friend by Brent Cash, Sonic Unleashed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Crash Team Racing

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

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

6. Rayman

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

5. Xenogears

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

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

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

4. Parasite Eve

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

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

3. Soul Edge/Soul Blade

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

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

2. Tomba!

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

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

1. Alundra

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

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

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

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

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

Reflecting on Death Through Gaming

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Presenting The Ultimate Emulation System – The RetroPie!

Salutations! Welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee!

Today, we’ll be talking about a wild addition to my gaming repertoire; the RetroPie! I’ll also mention the controllers that I’ve equipped onto this versatile, little system. So, without further ado, let’s begin.


What is a RetroPie?

RetroPie is an OS that can be loaded onto a Raspberry Pi – basically an inexpensive microcomputer – and transforms it into a retro gaming emulation machine! RetroPie can be loaded as its own OS or it can be overlaid on top of an existing full OS. In my case, I loaded it up on a Raspberry Pi.

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To put one of these bad boys together, you’ll need the following:

  • A working computer to download the software, games, and the like.
  • A Raspberry Pi 3 (Model B or higher is recommended)
  • A power source for the Pi (must be rated at 2.5 amps)
  • a Micro SD card (16 GB minimum, but I use a 32 GB card)
  • A USB-capable controller or keyboard
  • A 16 GB minimum USB stick (I recommend getting a fresh stick, but reformatting an old one works too)
  • A Micro SD to USB adapter
  • An HDMI Cable
  • A HDMI compatible screen
  • A case (completely optional, but good to have nevertheless)

Installing RetroPie on the Pi computer is not too difficult to do – just follow the steps listed here.

Pro tip: once the software is written onto the MicroSD card, your computer may tell you that it can’t read the device and will recommend to format it. DO NOT FORMAT IT! Just remove it once the writing process is complete and insert the SD card into the Pi. This happened to me a couple of times until I figured that out.


What Games Does RetroPie Play?

In a nutshell, practically all generations of consoles and games up to and including the original PlayStation. There are emulators that can play beyond that system, but the Pi isn’t powerful enough for them to work properly.

In general, a majority of games are compatible with the emulators on the system. In other words, I’ve yet to find a game that doesn’t play perfectly on here.

There are also some homebrew games and ports available to play, such as Duke Nukem and Doom. These can be found through the Manage Packages option on the main RetroPie menu.

Getting the games into the Pi is as simple as inserting a fresh/formatted USB stick into the Pi and taking it out after it creates all the directories on the stick, which usually takes a few minutes. Next you insert the stick into a computer, copy your games into the respective console folders and put the stick back into the Pi. If all goes well, you should see a list of systems appear on the main menu of the RetroPie interface, which will contain the games.

Options and RetroArch

Once you launch a game, you can access a list of options that allow you to modify the screen resolution to fit your screen or change the default emulator for the game, among others. This is done by pressing any button before the emulator starts.

RetroArch is a front end that’s accessed while the emulator is running and provides options to save and load states, modify control configurations and adjust settings. The default command to access this menu (assuming you’re using an SNES controller) is Select + X.


What about Controllers?

Thanks to the Pi’s Bluetooth capabilities, you can easily use wireless controllers to play your favourite classic games! While you can connect PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and Xbox controllers to the system, I find that the perfect controllers to use are the ones by 8bitdo.

I have the SNES30 (or the SN30) Bluetooth controller and it’s a BLAST to use! The controller feels exactly like the Super Nintendo controller, down to its weight, the feel of the buttons and grip.

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The setup is a bit of a chore, but once it’s all done, you just turn on the system and the controller and you’re good to go!

If wired is what you’re looking for, you can use a USB wired controller or, if you have some classic controllers lying around, a USB to (insert console here) converter also works great!


Where Can I Get All This Stuff!?

Luckily, you can get a complete Raspberry Pi kit on Amazon for a relatively modest price. Either check Amazon.ca or Amazon.com.

As for the case, there are plenty to choose from! There are even some cases that look like classic consoles of yore! The one I used is this one – the transparent, seven-layer construction is stylish, it comes with plenty of heat sinks and it has a fan that you can connect to the Pi’s GPIO board to keep the unit cool. It’s very useful!

Amazon also has a plethora of controller options available. You can also find wireless controllers, including the popular 8bitdo controllers, at any electronic big-box store or gaming stores, like Best Buy (CA) or GameStop/EB Games for example.

As for games, well emulation is still a very gray area in legal terms. I won’t tell you where you where explicitly you can find any, but Google is your best friend in that regard.


So, there you have it. All the tools you need to build your very own retro arcade system! Whether you’re looking to play the finest offerings of retro gaming for the first time or the millionth time, the RetroPie is probably the best option available, in my opinion.

With another edition concluded, this has been Ryan from Games with Coffee, off to play some Mega Man X on my own RetroPie setup and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

God of War (2018) [PlayStation 4] – First Impressions

Good morning and welcome to another edition of Games with Coffee! It’s the weekend, and what better way to celebrate than to brew a cuppa and play some games first thing in the morning? Well, that’s what I’m doing at least, after feeding my Mini-Me of course.

So, a highly anticipated game was released last Friday, April 20th. There has been much talk about it over the last several months since its announcement and… I’m sad to say that I haven’t picked it up yet. Of course, I’m talking about the unfathomably amazing Nintendo Labo! It’s cardboard that you build and play with using the Switch and judging from the initial reaction from my fellow gamers, it’s fantastic, easy to use and so much fun!

Alas, that’s not what this post is about, because on that same Friday, another highly anticipated game was released and is the one I picked up. That game is God of War!

(Spoilers for God of War III)

The series’ developer, Santa Monica, announced the game at 2016’s E3. It is the sequel to God of War III, where our erstwhile embodiment of rage and vengeance, Kratos, finally exacted his revenge against his father, Zeus, only to discover that he was a pawn for the goddess Athena (not you Athena, the other Athena). Athena desired the power of Hope that she had put in Pandora’s Box after Zeus sealed the evils of the world long ago, as she told Kratos that only she could use that power properly. She explains that when Kratos reopened the box and unleashed the evils back into the world in the first game, that power of hope was transferred to him, giving him the strength to overcome his many obstacles, such as defeating Ares, changing his fate after being betrayed by his father, Zeus, and eventually defeating him at the end of the third installment.

Kratos realized that to undo all he had wrought in his mad quest for vengeance, he needed to sacrifice himself and return the power of hope to the people of Greece. To that end, he impaled himself using the Blade of Olympus, releasing the power instead of giving it to the goddess, who left the warrior to die, disgusted over his decision. Post credits, we find Kratos’ body gone; the blade discarded to the side and a trail of blood leading into the churning waters below, his ultimate fate unknown.

(Spoilers end here)

The latest installment of the series shows that Kratos is alive and well, years after his conquest of the Greek gods, and living deep in the Wildlands with a wife and son in the Norse realm of Midgard. He’s also sporting a wicked beard.

The demigod lived a life of solitude with his new family until his wife’s untimely passing. It is here that Kratos’ latest adventures begins, as he promised his late wife that he and his son shall scatter her ashes at the highest peak in Midgard.

But an even greater challenge awaits the former God of War; being a parent to his son, Atreus.

After spending a week in The Nine Realms, I have to say that I’m incredibly impressed. Granted, I haven’t gotten very far in the game, but I’m enjoying my experience nonetheless. Four things stood out the most for me: Combat, Exploration, Story and Characters.

Combat

Combat in the game is vastly different from previous God of War games. The weapons that were ubiquitous in the earlier series have gone, replaced by a runic axe called the Leviathan Axe, imbued with the power of ice and given to him by his wife before her passing. It’s one of the most fun weapons I’ve ever used in this type of game! The neat part about the axe is it’s Thor-like ability to return to Kratos’ hand. You can arm the axe and throw it at enemies or objects and then recall it to your hand using the Triangle button. When the axe is thrown at enemies, Kratos can still defend himself using his fists and shield. Despite being weaker, these attacks can build up an enemy’s stun gauge enough that he can perform a finisher, a staple in the series. The battles themselves can be pretty tough and will require a combination of melee combat and axe throwing to get through them.

Another returning staple is the Rage of Sparta. When activated, Kratos becomes enraged and simply uses his fists to inflict massive damage to anything around him. As he pummels his foes, his health regains slowly, making it tactical to use in case you can’t find any healthstones (used to heal Kratos this time around). It’s very fun to use, but should only be used in a pinch.

Magic in this game is achieved through the use of Runestones, which can be equipped on the Leviathan Axe. There seem to be lots of spells to use. Magic has a cooldown period before they can be used again, which can be affected by Kratos’ Cooldown stat.

Kratos’ son, Atreus, is more than just a tag-along character – he actively assists his father using his bow to inflict stun damage, or can jump on an enemy and distract it long enough for Kratos to get in a combo or finish it off. He also warns Kratos of any hazard, allowing the player some time to react accordingly (either by blocking or dodging).

Finally, Kratos earns experience from every foe he and Atreus defeats, which is used to purchase skill upgrades, much like the Red Orbs of the previous games. It definitely give the game an RPG-like feel.

Exploration

A significant departure for the series is how open the world is, compared to the linear feeling of the previous games. I really like this change a lot! There’s a lot to see and do in the game. Atreus also provides a lot of context for the Norse world and its mythology, something that Kratos (and the player by extension) has little familiarity with.

The environment is very puzzle driven and reminds me strongly of the Legend of Zelda. Kratos and Atreus must work together to solve them; the father using his vast strength and axe and the son using his small size and light weight to fit into passageways and vault upwards to higher ground. The axe has a significant feature in that it can freeze objects when thrown. This is necessary to navigate puzzles where bridges or ceilings need to be locked in place to proceed, much like the Stasis rune in Breath of the Wild.

Like with its predecessors, secret areas hide chests filled with hacksilver or resources (used to purchase equipment and upgrades), Enchantments and Runestones, among others. There are also locked chests that can only be opened with Kratos throwing his axe at the ruins associated with the chest. The environment also has tons of breakable objects in which you can obtain spare hacksilver or reveal hidden passages.

Story and Characters

What I love the most about this game is the character development. Gone are the days of rage of vengeance that fuels Kratos; instead, he has a more quiet, stoic presence about him. He is also a man in mourning as his second wife, Faye, passed away to start the game. You can see the stoic mask drop momentarily in the opening scenes as he’s about to cut down the last tree for the funeral pyre, which I liked.

Through out the game, Kratos is at a loss on how to approach his son, Atreus, given that he both had no proper father figure growing up and that his warmongering, Spartan upbringing was the only thing he had ever known. He is very cold towards his son, addressing him as “Boy” and distancing himself from him. There are times that Kratos wants to reach out to him in comfort, but he hesitates, unsure of what to do in these situations, only to retract into his shell. I feel that Kratos can see his own vulnerabilities in Atreus, which is why it’s hard for him to reach out.

I really like this direction for the character, it shows that he has more of a human side that we all realize.

As for Atreus, he isn’t an annoying sidekick. Rather he sounds incredibly genuine. His quick wit and childlike innocence is an excellent foil to the brooding Kratos. He also provides his father valuable knowledge about the Nordic gods and the realm itself. Atreus is also helpful in battle, warning his father of dangers he cannot see, assisting him in general and adding research notes on the enemies they face, along with strategies. There’s also hidden depth to him, in that he doesn’t know his true nature as a demigod. His godhood manifests in strange ways, such as his mysterious illnesses mentioned in passing and bouts of unbridled rage.

I love mythological history and I appreciated the efforts Santa Monica made with adapting Greek mythology to Kratos’ story. It looks like they took a more in-depth approach with the Norse mythology, given Atreus’ vast knowledge of The Nine Realms. I personally can’t wait to see how Kratos and his son fit into the grander scheme of Odin and his pantheon of gods.

Right from the start with the appearance of The Stranger, it seems like the gods don’t take kindly to strangers in The Nine Realms. It also seems that both father and son will be drawn into the affairs of the gods on their journey up the mountain.

The best part so far? Meeting the World Serpent (Jormungandr). I thought the Titans from the previous games were huge, but the massive snake takes the cake.

Image result for world serpent god of war


So, that’s it for this edition. What do you guys think about God of War? Let me know in the comments below!

This has been Ryan, getting lost in one of my favourite mythologies and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

Final Fantasy VII: How the Game and its Protagonist Changed My Life Forever

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” May the delicious brew in your favourite mug give you +1 in both your wakefulness and energy stats!

Today’s topic is a very special one for me: 20 years ago, on September 7, 1997, Final Fantasy VII was released in North America. I don’t need to explain how much of an influence this game had on its release; from graphics, to story, to cinematics and gameplay, you can argue that this installment revolutionized and popularized the RPG genre for years to come.

For me though, my love affair with this game and the series started roughly two months after its release. November, in the year 1997 was when I rented and first played Final Fantasy VII. I still remember it like it was yesterday…

(Oh, by the way, MAJOR spoilers for the plot of Final Fantasy VII)


The neighbourhood where I grew up in was still in development in 1997, with the suburban sprawl ever creeping up northward into the farmlands. In the year before, a brand new strip mall opened up, which was a ten minute walk from my home. It had the usual stuff, like a grocery store, a dollar store, some fast food joints and other small retailers, but what made it different was an independent video rental store called “Ambassador Video,” where an enormous selection of movies, music and video games were available to rent. Now, this video store was replaced by a sports bar sometime in the early-2000’s, but at the time, it was THE place to be at for a kid.

On a cold Friday night in November 1997, my parents let my brother and I rent a video game as a reward for doing well in school that week. The two of us argued for a few minutes about which game we were going to take home, before settling on Final Fantasy VII. The moment we got home, we booted it up and were blown away at how amazing it looked.

The first thing about FFVII that differentiated it from games that I played previously was how it started. No tutorial level, no sitting down with the King and him explaining your quest and no cheerful, happy environment. I was instead thrust into the action in a dark, gritty metropolis, my character jumping off of a train and beating down soldiers armed with machine guns with his giant sword. Following a man with a gun for an arm up the stairs leading to the surface, the spiky-haired individual spoke to a group of three people, huddled in front of a large metal door. The one in the headband asked for his name. His response, in a cool, collected tone:

“…Cloud.”

And it was all it took for ten year old me to declare that he was the coolest dude in the universe.

Image result for cloud strife

Seriously, spiky hair, giant-ass sword AND badass demeanor? Triple threat right there, folks (Image from Final Fantasy Wiki)


Cloud was the kind of guy I wanted to grow up to be. He was strong, cool and calm under pressure. He was so confidant in himself, even when things were going downhill for him and the gang and he was also determined to find and defeat Sephiroth, his hero turned mortal enemy. There were days during the dark times I was being bullied and made fun of for being so different, that I thought, “Man, I wish I could be like Cloud… He wouldn’t have put up with this.” But my perception of the hero changed after I experienced, what I believed were, the two most pivotal points in the game.

Here’s a question to throw at you guys: Do you remember where you were when you played through Aerith’s death? I was sitting in the living room with my brother on a summer night, our parents were out at a party and he and I were going through the City of the Ancients, hunting down Aerith. When Cloud and the gang caught up with her, I thought “Yeah, this is good, everything is good!” I didn’t expect what happened next.

Suddenly, we saw Cloud draw his sword and I started to freak out a little bit. Here he was, spazzing out, slowly approaching the flower girl with sword in hand and no matter what I did with the controls, I couldn’t get Cloud to stop. The same thing happened at the Temple of the Ancients, but I thought it was a one-off (or two-off?) deal. It took a while to understand, but after Sephiroth murdered Aerith in cold blood, I realized the hero that I idolized wasn’t who I thought he was. He did nothing, couldn’t do anything because, like JENOVA said to him after the battle; he’s a puppet controlled by Sephiroth.

Fun fact: I died immediately at the hands of JENOVA: LIFE. I had the controller in my hand but couldn’t do a damn thing about anything; Aerith was gone, Cloud was no hero, Sephiroth was winning and I didn’t understand it. I actually stopped playing for a week until I mustered up the courage to redo that dreadful event, beat the boss, watch the impromptu funeral and continue on to the next bombshell: that Cloud really wasn’t “Cloud” after all; his memories of all of the defining moments of his past, including the incident five years ago and him being a SOLDIER, were are all screwed up.

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And after that reveal, he went and gave his mortal enemy the key to their destruction. Dick move, Cloud.

Cloud redeemed himself in my eyes after Tifa, his childhood friend, dug up the truth of the events that occurred five years ago, while she and Cloud were both in the Lifestream. The reason why Cloud wanted to be in SOLDIER, was to be noticed by others, particularly by her. He was always alone, had no friends growing up and was always picked on for being different. He thought himself weak, that he could never belong because he never liked his fellow peers and was always looking to prove himself both to the villagers, who looked down on him, and to Tifa, whom he harboured a major crush for. In essence, the true Cloud was exactly like me; I was also alone, had very little friends growing up, was weak, disliked the people around me and was picked on for being so weird and different. Because of that, I felt that I related to him more than any other character in any story I’ve read or video game I’ve played.

In truth, Cloud never made it into SOLDIER – he was just an infantryman, a weakling, in his own words. But that same “weakling” took on and fought off the greatest and most powerful swordsman the world had ever seen, was subjected to brutal experiments that included having alien matter injected into his body, suffered a major identity crisis thanks to said alien matter, was poisoned twice (the first during the experiments, the second after giving Sephiroth the Black Materia) AND through all of that, he regained his sanity, defeated his nemesis (for the second time, I might add) and saved the world with his companions. I realized then that Cloud Strife wasn’t cool because he was strong and tough, he was cool because he survived the ordeals of his past and rose above it. It showed that I could do the same; that I could rise above the teasing about how odd I was and my own weakness and be better.


When I first rented the game, consoles like the Playstation never had those fancy, internal hard drive storage to save our games on; we had to rely on old-school storage devices called “Memory Cards,” which were bought separately from the console. My parents wouldn’t have known that a Memory Card was required to save the games; they thought it would be saved directly on the console itself. So, during the course of the seven day rental period, I played the beginning part of Final Fantasy VII over and over again. When I died and got Game Over, I didn’t mind because I got to experience the awesomeness of Cloud and the gang once more from the very start. The farthest I ever got without a Memory Card was rescuing Aerith (Aeris?) and seeing the horror of a headless Jenova in the Shinra Building and it took me a whole day to get to that point, after dying and restarting several times.

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This headless thing, along with the spooky “Who Are You?” theme playing during this sequence, freaked me right the hell out as a kid. It still does to this day… Scary… (Image from Final Fantasy Wiki)

My dad finally asked me on the last day before the rental period was up why I kept starting from the beginning after noticing the “Continue” option on the title screen and I told him I can’t save the game because I had no Memory Card!

And so my mom went to the store that very same day and bought me my very first Memory Card.

After several months of on and off renting, we finally got a copy of the game for ourselves, which we picked up at a flea market. Too bad though that we bought a lemon of a game; the third disc was so heavily scratched that the game would end up being unplayable at some points. To top it all off, my little brother was kind of an idiot and sold off our “Chocobo Lure” Materia by accident late in our adventure and saved the game, meaning no Gold Chocobo to pick up Knights of the Round and no easy way to defeat the Ruby and Emerald Weapons. I still pick on him to this day about it.

In fact, the music of Final Fantasy, particularly VII, was one of the main reasons my brother and I became close to one another. Back then, we were always at each other’s throats; he was the favourite and I was the oddball, so we didn’t get along well. Over time though, thanks to a growing love of RPG’s, the music behind them and both of us being exposed to band class (we’re both kind of musically inclined), we bonded. About five or six years ago, I took him to the Final Fantasy: Distant Worlds concert in downtown Toronto and it’s one of the my most cherished memories.

If you read my previous post, you’ll know that I’m writing a fanfic using the FF VII plot as its backbone, which I’ve been working on for the last ten plus years. It’s an ongoing love letter to the game, to be honest. On top of that, I picked up two collectible figures: one of Cloud with the hardy-Daytona bike, before he modified it to the Fenrir, and another of Cloud in his Advent Children outfit.

20 years later, the story of Final Fantasy VII, its complex cast of characters, its themes of life and overcoming your past and its music are still a reflection of who I am as a person. Despite playing the other games in the Final Fantasy series over the years, VII was still the game that had the most impact. I can count on both hands the number of times my wife has rolled her eyes at me whenever I talk about Cloud or Final Fantasy in general – she knows all too well about my obsession with the series. I definitely think that this game has been an incredibly positive influence on me, and with the upcoming remake being released soon, I can’t wait to dive back in and experience it all over again.


And that’s it for today’s edition! Any fond memories of Final Fantasy VII or any other installments of the series? Let me know in the comments below! Stay tuned for the next edition, where I’m back to Path of Exile, along with hardware and gaming reviews, just in time for the holidays!

With that, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!

The Nintendo Switch: Does It Live Up To The Hype?

Hello everyone and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” Happy Video Games Day!

So, as you probably know, either through my recent posts or from my Instagram feed, I got a Nintendo Switch for my birthday! Today, I want to share with you the system itself, my impressions on Nintendo’s latest console after a couple months of owning it and if it lives up to the hype it generated from its announcement almost a year ago.


The Back Story

The Wii-U was a major failure for Nintendo.

Since it’s debut in November 2012, the Wii-U failed to capitalize on its predecessors massive success. Despite delivering innovative technology in the Game Pad, the additions low battery life, the lack of third party support from developers and lack of clear goals for the system had led critics to believe, at the end of its production, that the system was nothing more than a glorified Wii with a controller/touchpad hybrid.

Now, I’m not knocking down the console or anything. My brother has it and it’s not a bad system, all things considered. The Wii-U’s had some big hits, including Super Mario Maker, which allows the player to create their own Mario levels and the latest installment of the ever-popular Super Smash Bros. series, which included the return of fan favourites, such as Sonic, Dr. Mario and Zero Suit Samus, along with newcomers like Mega Man, Pac-Man and Little Mac from Punch-Out. On top of that was the underdog inky shooter game Splatoon, which was a rousing success. And let’s not forget about the ever-enduring Mario Kart series, of which it has reached its eighth installment. There’s were some not-so-great games, like Star Fox Zero, which was lackluster due to its odd control scheme and its focus on re-imagining the series. And the fact that third party development focused their efforts on developing games for the latest Sony and Microsoft console releases didn’t help its case. Overall though, there were some good games, but good first party games don’t make a successful console, considering that the Wii sold more in its first year than its successor could in its entire lifetime.

So, Nintendo did what most don’t: re-innovate, re-structure and re-imagine what a console should be. Using what they learned from the Wii-U’s Game Pad device, coupled with their dominance in the handheld gaming segment (the 2DS/3DS has effectively monopolized that market), their vast experience with motion controls and lessons learned from their previous missteps, they unveiled the Nintendo Switch.


The System

The Nintendo Switch, a hybrid between a console and a handheld system, was announced in October 2016 and released on March 3, 2017, along with its launch title: The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The main unit is a tablet-like device, with two housings on each side uses for its main control inputs, called the Joy-Con’s. The system comes with two Joy-Con controllers, a dock, an AC adapter with USB-C input, an HDMI cable and two straps for the Joy-Con’s.

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Pay no attention to the nose, glasses and forehead on the screen…

The console itself is a tablet with a capacitive touch screen. On the top of the unit is the power button, volume up and down, a 3.5 mm audio jack and a cartridge slot for games. The back of the unit has a kickstand, used to set it on a surface and a micro-SD card slot, housed underneath the kickstand. On the bottom is the USB-C charging input and the intake vents. The display is 6.2 inches wide, corner to corner and displays at a resolution of 1280 x 720. When docked, the console’s display resolution bumps up to 1080p. The system is powered by an Octa-core processor clocking in at 1.02 GHz, has 4 GB of RAM and uses the Nvidia Tegra X1 as its system-on chip (basically, a jack-of-all-trades chip made up of many components that perform an array of functions). There is 32 GB of internal storage in the unit, but with the micro-SD slot, that capacity can increase up to 2 TB. The battery life on the unit averages about 3-4 hours per charge.

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Behold! My (tiny) library of games!

About half the size of the Wii-mote, the Joy-Con’s can either be used together as a single player controller, or individually for single or multiplayer games. Each controller has an analog stick, four face buttons, a plus button and the home button on the right hand controller and a minus button and a capture button on the left hand controller, and two trigger buttons on the top (The L/R and ZL/ZR buttons).

Whether the Joy-Con’s are held in each hand, attached to the system for “Handheld Mode” (more on that below), or slid into the Joy-Con Grip, the control scheme is analogous to that of the PS4 and Xbox One and is how most AAA single or multiplayer games (like Breath of the Wild, Splatoon 2 and the upcoming Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim) are played.

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It looks like a puppy with odd eye placements… and now you cannot unsee that image. Enjoy!

When turned on its side, the Joy-Con’s button layout looks and feels similar to that of Nintendo’s best selling console, the Super Nintendo. There are two additional trigger buttons on the top (SL and SR), which are more easily accessible by sliding in the hand straps provided with the console. This control scheme is used mainly for multiplayer games like Mario Kart 8 Deluxe or the upcoming Pokken Tournament DX, but can be used for a few single player titles as well.

 

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Pro-tip: Hit the SL and SR Buttons together to use the controller on its side.

Each Joy-Con is equipped with HD Rumble, a feature that simulates realistic vibrations, like feeling several cubes of ice clinking in a glass, as shown in the technical demonstration. Along with the rumble feature, the motion controls of the Wii have also been integrated into the Joy-Con’s and are primarily used for motion controlled games, such as the Wii Boxing-inspired game, ARMS and the party game, 1-2 Switch. Motion controls are also featured in Breath of the Wildas well, in that you can aim your bow by tilting the controller (or the unit itself when it’s in Handheld Mode). The controls are also used to solve a few motion-based puzzles in game.

A Pro Controller is available to further mimic the traditional console gaming feel. For those who are looking for a more budget-friendly option, the wireless controller company, 8bitdo recently released a firmware update for their NES30 Pro controller, allowing it to work on the Switch.

The Nintendo Switch can operate in several modes, depending on your situation. Attaching the unit to the dock puts the unit in “TV Mode”, allowing it to operate like a traditional console. The dock itself is compact and minimalist in design, compared to the bulkier PS4 and Xbox One systems. The HDMI and power inputs, along with a USB 3.0 port, are located on the back of the dock and are kept hidden by a panel, with an opening to allow the power and HDMI cable wiring to come out. It results in a clean, wire-free look that adds to its minimalist design. There are also two additional USB ports on the side of the dock.

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Simplicity, thy name is Switch.

Slapping the controllers onto the side of the tablet and removing it from the dock “switches” (Ha!) the console to “Handheld Mode,” where the console behaves as a handheld device. Games played in Handheld Mode are the same as in TV Mode, with the exception of graphics resolution (no 1080p in this mode), meaning that games like Breath of the Wild can be played on the go.

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On-the-go gaming has never looked so good.

Finally, popping out the kickstand, placing the console on a surface and taking out the Joy-Con’s enables “Tabletop Mode,” which can be used either for single player game play, or more commonly for local multiplayer gaming away from a dedicated screen.

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Woo! Sonic Mania! I asked my wife to pick up the other Joy-Con and play along with me as Tails… She said no… 😦

That’s all the technical mumbo-jumbo out of the way. (Phew!). Now, you’re probably asking, “Thanks for that boring lecture, professor, but what do YOU think of the system so far?”

Good question. Here’s my answer.


The Verdict

After about two months of owning the system, I can safely say this with as little bias as possible: Nintendo did pretty well here. The system is incredibly unique in the sense that you can play it at home on the TV and on the go. It’s like having two systems in one! These days, I’ve been playing it solely in Handheld Mode and it’s been a great experience so far. Playing a full-fledged Zelda game on a device roughly twice the size of my smartphone has never felt so fulfilling.

I honestly don’t gripe about the battery life on the Switch when it’s in Handheld Mode. Three to four hours is plenty of time for a mature, distinguished gamer to play in bed while their significant other sleeps beside them, though I usually play for about an hour or two. What I love about the system is how quickly it boots up from sleep mode, the Switch’s “Off” setting, similar to that of the PS4’s “Rest Mode.” I press the power button on the top of the system or the home button on the Joy-Con’s/Pro Controller and the system boots up immediately and I’m back in the game while my wife’s asleep. It’s incredibly satisfying.

I also think it’s cool that Nintendo designed the system in a way that a second controller for two-player games comes included right out of the box. Highly useful for when the wife and I want to play Mario Kart (One of the few games she’ll actually play with me when I eventually get it!). For games like ARMS though, you’ll need a second set of Joy-Con’s to play locally.

Switching from TV Mode to Handheld Mode and back again is seamless. There is no discernible delay when the system switches between modes, which, again, is very rad.

There were a couple of things slightly affected my experience. One was the small game library available right from the start, even several months after release. When I first booted up the system, the Nintendo e-Shop had a whole bunch of downloadable titles, along with digital copies of their physical releases, but nothing really stood out to me in the store, besides Mighty Gunvolt Burst. That might change as the holiday season rolls around. (Correction, it has: Sonic Mania dropped a couple weeks ago. I picked it up and it’s AWESOME!)

Another thing was the internal storage space. 32 GB may seem quite sizable compared to that of the PS Vita, with its 1 GB internal storage, but when you look at the size of some of the downloadable titles, plus the fact that you can save screenshots directly to the device, that storage can get eaten up pretty quickly. It’s a good thing I had a spare 32 GB micro-SD card lying around to expand my storage capacity!

Finally, while it’s not a huge deal for me, I’m sure many people are a bit miffed that the Switch doesn’t play at native 4K resolution, unlike the PS4 Pro and and the Xbox One X. Truthfully, having the system run on 4K resolution at 60 frames per second isn’t a priority for me: I’m more concerned about playing good, quality games and I’m quite happy with the Switch’s native resolutions.

Overall, the Nintendo Switch was built for the mature, distinguished gamer in mind, giving the user free range on wherever they want to play it and presenting it in a compact, minimalist package. Whether it’s on the TV, in bed playing in Handheld Mode, at a friend’s place playing in Tabletop Mode or whatever the case may be, the Nintendo Switch has lived up to my expectations and thus, I declare that the hype surrounding the system was well justified, although that’s just my opinion. With the upcoming holiday season approaching and the games being released in that period, I believe that Switch and the Big N itself are well positioned to make a significant comeback after the stumbles with the Wii-U.


So that’s it! What do you guys think? How’d I do? Gimme some feedback in the comments below! (I need those like I need a strong cup o’ Joe, know what I’m sayin’?). And stay tuned for the next edition, where I continue my playthrough of Path of Exile with my Witch, Rhuki! (Who’s a total badass IMO). Plus, coming after that is my brand new segment – “Espresso Shots!” I cannot wait to share this with you!

And with that said, this has been Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” wishing you a Happy Video Games Day and reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See ya!

Clash Royale: Decks, Tips and Tricks to Help Conquer the Arena

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” Hope you’ve got you’re game face on, because today I’m going to share with you some tips, tricks, decks and strategies on my favourite mobile game: Clash Royale!


If you haven’t realized it already, Clash has kind of become an obsession of mine. These days however, I’ve been in a love-hate relationship with it. Partially because I’ve been on a losing streak of late, partially because I’m hovering between arenas due to said losing streak and mostly because I get matched with opponents that completely decimate my deck strategy…

The good thing that’s been keeping my spirits up is the new 2v2 Mode, introduced over the summer! This mode works like a tag-team match: you and a clan member (or a random person) vs. another pair of battlers. First pair to destroy the other sides towers is the victor! Naturally, four people sharing an arena gets incredibly chaotic and that chaos can either help or hinder you based on your’s or your partner’s actions. It’s a great addition to an already good game and I recommend that you try it when it returns this week! It’s especially fun when you and your friends are in the same clan together; best friends sometimes make the best teammates!

Despite my frustrations at Clash, I’ve discovered a couple of tricks and made a few awesome decks to both help keep me in the win column and to help my clan with the weekly Clan Chest and 2v2 events. Without further ado, I’ll start off by sharing a couple of my favourite decks and strategies to use them.


My Favourite Decks and Strategies

Going from Arena 7 (Royal Arena) to Arena 8 (Frozen Peak) was a slog for me. My go-to deck with Lava Hound and Balloon (LavaLoon) just wasn’t cutting it, so I needed to make a new deck.

Sometimes, special chest offers appear in the shop. If you have gold or gems to burn, this would be a good opportunity to use them. In one case, I opened up a Legendary Chest, which can contain a Legendary card from any Arena and lo and behold I got the Lumberjack!

This guy is a badass: swings hard and fast and leaves behind a Rage effect (increases attack, movement and summon speed) when defeated.

And so (with help from the online deck building database), I built a deck around the Lumberjack and Balloon that can be described as insanely fast and extremely defensive.

Do you see that average?!

Brings new meaning to the phrase “Fast and the Furious”

The main strategy entails the use of the Ice Golem as the tank, followed by the Lumberjack placed behind the Golem to get to the tower. Once there, I summon the Balloon; the Lumberjack at this point is either nearly dead or all dead, at which he drops the Rage bottle, speeding up my Balloon and finishing off the tower before the opponent can counter.

Speaking of counters, I employ the use of my trusty sidekick: the Fireball as well as the Zap card. Defensive counters include the use of Skeletons (not the army, just the four three of them), the Ice Spirit and Ice Golem and the Minions. All in all, this deck clocks in at an average elixir cost of 2.8, meaning that I can cycle through cheap cards to build up my defense while waiting for the right opportunity to launch my counter-attack.

It’s not without its weaknesses though: The Executioner’s axe throwing can really mess up this strategy in a heartbeat. Plus, with no buildings to protect my towers, I’m potentially leaving myself open to the dreaded Hog Rider (the name and high-pitched cry of “Hog Riiiider!” may not inspire much dread, but he’s OP for a good reason: he decimates towers with ease). Finally, while this deck is speedy, it still requires a bit of patience and great timing to use; jumping the gun will result in you getting annihilated very quicky, so if patience is not part of your play style, then this deck isn’t for you.

After reaching Jungle Arena (Arena 9), I found that my LumberLoon deck wasn’t cutting it either (Mainly because players with Executioner’s kept cutting me down to size…). However, I got lucky and won a Legendary Chest from battling! It took a whole day, but I recieved this sneaky beauty upon opening it:

Hellooooo Thief!

With help from my brother from another mother, fellow clanmate and favourite 2v2 partner, Anthony, (who is also my go-to person regarding Clash), I built myself an awesome, winning deck centered around the Bandit, Battle Ram and the Witch:

The Dream Team

Depending on what cards I start out with, I lead off with the Witch and the Knight in the back, the Knight acting as both a tank to protect my Witch AND a way to invest elixir. Reading the situation on the other side of the field, I either counter attack with my trusty Fireball, Minions or Tombstone while I regroup my forces, or drop the big guns with the Battle Ram and Log, followed closely behind with the Bandit, who acts as cleanup. This deck is quite versatile, but again, requires patience and the ability to read the opponent’s battle strategy in order to counter.

If my Knight or Witch isn’t in my starting lineup, I either play defensive by using the Tombstone or the Bandit or go on an early offense with the Log and Battle Ram. Sometimes, these moves can completely occupy my opponent’s attention, leaving me free to set up my strategy above.

Even winning decks like this one have their weaknesses: in my case, the Baby Dragon (especially at higher levels) can be a troublesome pest. Also, I notice a lot of players in later arenas throwing down the Golem card in the back and waiting until it reaches the bridge before launching a full-on assault. This deck makes it difficult but not impossible to defend against such a push. Again, the Hog Rider is a threat, along with the aforementioned Golem. Their effects can be mitigated by the Tombstone and other support units.


Additional Tips and Tricks

In my current deck, using the Knight as an attacking tank reduces the effectiveness of a lot of popular cards used in the meta, such as Executioner, Valkyrie, Witch, Bandit and Ice, Electro and normal Wizards (all three are my arch-nemeses). This is especially apparent when he’s backed up by the Witch or Bandit or support cards like Minions and spawning buildings like Tombstone. Sometimes a tank that can attack troops can be more effective than a traditional tank, such as the Giant – keep that in mind as you build and develop your deck strategy.

Also, another tip I have is to have faith in your troops and your towers.

Believe in the Heart of the Ca- Oh wait, wrong series. (Image from Kokorononaka)

I’m sure you’ve made the following mistakes as well: dropping several troops to dispatch one enemy attacking your tower, or dropping support troops just as one of your guys takes out a tough unit. While it may look like you’re up in the numbers, you’re actually suffering a net elixir loss (you’re opponent will have more elixir than you do), meaning that if he or she starts a big push, you may not have enough elixir to counter it.

Instead, drop a single unit and let both it and your tower take care of the enemy, unless it’s a big push. If your opponent drops another unit, play something you’re confident will effectively counter it and let it be. It’s a good way to save up your elixir without wasting it.

A caveat to the above is to try and use cards that have a lower elixir cost than then the card your opponent plays. A good example would be if your opponent plays the Minion Horde (5 elixir cost) and you counter with the Fireball (4 elixir cost) or Arrows (3 elixir cost). Thanks to the effective counter, you would now have one or two more elixir than your opponent would. Even the Knight and Bandit in my deck, or other cards such as Mega Minion or Valkyrie, can effectively counter some of the more powerful cards, like the Wizards or Elite Barbarians for instance, and save you elixir while doing so. It’s therefore very important to keep costs in mind while battling in order to maintain a positive net elixir gain.

My final tips for this post are to pay attention and keep a mid-cost, mid-damage spell card in handy. Towards the end of a match, all kinds of craziness will ensue; your opponent will try to make a big push or defend your own push, while you will try to do the same. Somewhere along the way, one of your troops may break through and start wailing on the enemy tower, bringing it down to between 200-300 hitpoints before they die; perfect range to launch a couple of spell cards and end the match. At this point though, you might not be paying attention because you’re focusing all your efforts into defending your own tower. You clear the field using a Fireball or Lightning, hoping that will stop that push only to find that your opponent drops a surprise attack on the other side of the field or uses a Lightning of their own, leaving you unable to counter and costing you the match. You’d take a look at your opponents tower and kick yourself, because you could’ve ended the match thirty seconds ago.

It’s happened to me more than once.

The moral of the story here is to both monitor your opponents remaining health and to have a spell card or two handy to end the match. It makes a big difference having a clutch spell card that can either keep you in the game for the overtime match, or grant your victory.


So, there you have it! With these decks, strategies and tips in your arsenal, you’ll dominate the arena for sure! If you got suggestions on further tips or decks/deck strategies you’d like to share, drop a line in the comments below.

On the next edition, I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the Nintendo Switch and I’ll tell you if the hype generated in the last six months since its release has lived up to my expectations of the system.

For now, this is Ryan from “Games with Coffee,” reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing!