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!

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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:

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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.

Espresso Shot Review: Golden Axe

Good morning, and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee.” It’s Espresso Shot Review time! Today, I’m looking at Golden Axe for the Sega Genesis – a game I’ve never even played before, surprisingly enough. I was introduced to it from a guest review on The Well-Red Mage’s blog and I decided to look into it myself. How did it fare in my eyes? Read on and find out!


Introduction

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Golden Axe is a side-scrolling, beat-em-up/ hack-and-slash action game. First introduced in 1989 in arcades, it was ported to the Sega Genesis (or Megadrive) and Master System of that same year. It’s been a part of several compilation titles, such as the SEGA Smash Pack and Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection and is presently part of the SEGA Forever collection of free, mobile titles available on iOS and Android.

Story

Taking place in the Conan the Barbarian-inspired land of Yuria, Golden Axe tells the story of three warriors who are tasked to save the King of the realm, his daughter and the titular Golden Axe from the Death Adder – A powerful warlord who threatens to kill the royal family and break the axe unless the people in the kingdom acknowledge him as their ruler. Each warrior however has their own motivations for defeating the Death Adder beyond saving the king and his daughter; Ax-Battler, the barbarian who wields a sword and Earth magic, seeks vengeance for his mother’s death. Gilius Thunderhead, an axe-wielding dwarf from the mines who uses Thunder magic wants the Adder’s head after his twin brother was killed by his henchmen. Finally, Tyris Flare, an Amazon warrior who specializes in longswords and Fire magic, will stop at nothing to pay back the Death Adder for the death of her parents.

It’s a pretty simple story that’s common for this era of gaming, but its nice to see that the characters also have their own reasons for fighting; it makes them look less one-dimensional and allows the player to empathize to their situation.

One complaint I have is that the in-game story doesn’t exactly match what’s listed in the instruction manual. In game, each character mentions that their friend, Alex, died in battle and that they will avenge him while saving the land. I would much rather have the game narrative to stick to the “avenging the death of loved ones,” plot instead of avenging some random dude named Alex.

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Who is this “Alex” you speak of, Battler? Aren’t you supposed to be avenging your mother?

Gameplay

Controls are simple in Golden Axe. The directional buttons move the character, the A button activates magic, the B button makes the character attack and the C button is the jump button. In addition, there are several moves that can be useful as you traverse the game. You can hit an enemy multiple times by mashing the B button, but it leaves you open from behind. If you’re in close while rapidly tapping B, you’ll pick up and throw the enemy, good for giving you some space when you’re surrounded. Double tapping left or right makes the character break into a run; hitting B while running initiates a dash attack, useful for getting the drop on an enemy. You can also use aerial attacks by jumping and hitting B while in midair. Doing a jump attack while running yields a more powerful attack that can one-shot or severely damage enemies, but it’s a bit tricky to pull off. Finally, you can use a powerful reversal attack by hitting B and C together, but it’s  hard to connect and leaves you open if you don’t.

In terms of gameplay, Ax-Battler is the most balanced in terms of strength, movement and magic, Gilius has great strength and speed but lacks in magic and Tyris’ strength lies in her magic, but lacks in physical strength and reach compared to the other two.

Each character’s magic meter has a different maximum level. Gilius maxes out at three, Ax-Battler maxes at four and Tyris maxes at six. Each level corresponds to the strength of the magic used, so, while it’s easy to max out Gilius’ magic, his strongest spell is much weaker compared to Tyris’ strongest spell. an awesome fire-breathing dragon used when her magic meter is at level six. To use magic, you’ll need to collect blue pots, which are only dropped by bag-carrying Thieves. You’ll have to smack them a few times to get the pots. You’ll sometimes run into these guys as you progress through each level, but at the end of each level you’ll enter a bonus round where you battle with at least one Blue Thief and sometimes a Green Thief who drops meat, which restores one bar of your character’s health.

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Hey! Give those back!

There are seven types of enemies, including boss characters, to be wary of, from henchmen who use maces and clubs to axe-wielding Amazonian women, skeletons who use swords and shields, giants wielding hammers and powerful, armoured knights. You can easily tell the difference in how strong they are based on their colour pallet.

They might not seem like much at first glance, but it’s advised to avoid being surrounded, because even the weakest of enemies can overpower you when they’re coming in from both sides, which happened to me quite often and resulted in me losing a lot of life. I would have liked the reversal attack to be easier to connect so I could get out of those jams without being overwhelmed. I also found that the enemies were a bit bland at times and I would have liked to see some more variety. I compare this to the TMNT 2: the Arcade Game port for the NES, where there were a TON of different flavours of enemies to fight against. I do like how the giants wielding hammers laugh at you when you’re knocked down.

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Quit laughing at me, you bastard…

Boss fights either pit you against a gauntlet of enemies, or you fight against the Death Adder himself at the very end. What’s interesting is that for the home console version of the game, they added two extra levels and a new final boss – the Death Bringer, mentor to the Death Adder.

Another feature that made the game interesting is the use of creatures as steeds. Enemies usually ride these, but they can be easily knocked off with a well-placed kick. There are two types of rideable creatures – a Chicken Legs who attacks by swiping its tail or a Dragon who can either spit fireballs or breathe a jet of fire that incinerates your foes. The creatures are really fun to use, but if you are dismounted more than three times, it runs away. A minor annoyance, but it’s fair; the creatures would have made it all to easy to beat the game.

Speaking of which, the difficulty is not too bad compared to other beat-em-ups, which is a good thing because it allows for anyone to pick up and play it without becoming too frustrated. It’s also pretty short, at about eight levels, meaning it won’t take more than a few hours to fully complete it.

Visuals

While the graphics are dated, for a game that’s almost 30 years old, they aren’t that bad looking. The playable character sprites have a fair amount of detail in them and their animations are pretty fluid.

I do like the environments, they really elicit a medieval-fantasy like feel.  I also like how there’s a day to night transition right before a boss fight, it makes the game feel more alive and the stakes more dire.

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Sunset Showdown!

In stage 4, your battles take place on the back of a giant eagle, which I though was pretty cool! Though, I had to wonder, “How does a pathway exist on an eagle?” Also, “Why are there skeletons burrowed in this poor eagle’s back?”  It somewhat didn’t make sense, but hey, who am I to complain?

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That must take some serious pruning to maintain…

I didn’t like how some of the enemies looked; again, they looked a bit bland, but from the animation standpoint, at least they didn’t move as blocky as they looked.

Sound

I found the music and sound effects to be a bit on the tinny side, but still enjoyable nonetheless. Stage 1’s music really set the tone for the game – it gave off an “I’m storming your stronghold and taking you down, if it’s the last thing I do!” kind of feel, which was pretty rad.

The death screams were somewhat hilarious, but they started to grate on me a little bit, especially after hearing my character die again and again (Beat-em ups aren’t my specialty). It didn’t stop me from enjoying the game though!

Replayability

With three characters to play as and each differing in magic, reach and speed, there are some opportunities to replay the game. The story doesn’t change for each character however – it’s still the same.

On top of the arcade mode, which you can play with two people, there is a Beginner mode, consisting of the first three stages with easier enemies, perfect for those who are either new to the series or need a refresher on how to play. Also, there is The Duel mode, where each round pits you against different types of enemies and the goal is to survive for twelve rounds. Each duel is also timed – if you don’t win in the allotted time, you lose one bar of energy.

It’s quite challenging, considering the fact that you can’t use magic at all in this mode; you’ll have to focus on weapon skills if you are to succeed. If you’re playing with two players in The Duel mode, you fight against each other instead.

Conclusion

Golden Axe’s cast of characters, use of powerful magic and rideable creatures help make the game stand out over many others in the genre. But the low variety in opponents and their blandness, coupled with the fact that it’s easy to become surrounded and a lack of a proper reversal technique hurt it in the long run. Nevertheless, it’s still a fun game to pick up and play, especially for two people!

3.5 out of 5

3.5 out of 5

Espresso Shot Review: Sonic Mania

Good morning and welcome to another edition of “Games with Coffee!” Today, I’m introducing a brand-new segment I call “Espresso Shot Reviews.” Put simply, I’ll be reviewing games both old and new and will give my personal opinions on them, as well as a rating out of five. Each review will be short (less than 1000 words), but packed with intensity and detail. It’s like an espresso shot, hence the name.

Today’s review will be on Sonic Mania, released on August 15, 2017 for PS4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch and August 29, 2017 for PC. I’ll be going over the story, gameplay, graphics, music and replayability (or replay value).


Developed by Christian “Taxman” Whitehead in partnership with PagodaWest Games and Headcannon and published by SEGA, Sonic Mania is a 2-D sprite art, physics-based platformer. It’s a tribute to the old-school, 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog games of yore and was released in celebration of Sonic’s 25th anniversary.

Sonic Mania - Title

Story

Hot off the heels from Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Dr. Eggman and five of his Egg-Robo’s have returned to Angel Island and extracted a strange gem called the Phantom Ruby. When Sonic and Tails catch up to the mad doctor, the gem’s dimension-warping effect sends both heroes, along with Knuckles, to Green Hill Zone. The gem also had an effect on the Egg-Robo’s; transforming them into the much tougher Hard-Boiled Heavies. The heroes must now travel through twelve zones spanning multiple dimensions, retrieve both the Phantom Ruby and the Chaos Emeralds and defeat Eggman and the Heavies before they conquer the world.

Gameplay

Gameplay-wise, Sonic Mania plays exactly like the originals. Each level (Zone) is divided into two huge Acts chock-full of quarter pipes, loops, ramps, springs and other things to help Sonic and company get around. Obstacles abound; from Badniks to spikes and traps, to bottomless pits and crushing objects, there are plenty of things to be wary of.

The twelve zones consist of eight popular zones from the first four Classic Sonic (Sonic 1-3 & Sonic CD) games and four new zones introduced to the series. The first Act of each classic zone is a combination of that zone’s original first and second Acts, while the second Act remixes elements from the original zone with features from other classic levels and adds new elements to spice things up.

The four new zones are inspired by some of the series’s most iconic levels. They also presents a theme derived from SEGA’s history as a publisher. Examples include the Streets of Rage aesthetic combined with Casino/Carnival Night Zone elements in Studiopolis Zone and the Shinobi-inspired second act of Press Garden, which also brings forward elements from Ice Cap and Mushroom Hill Zones.

Each act contains multiple paths to traverse through, encouraging the player to either find the fastest path through each level or explore to find Large Rings – entrances to a special stage where a Chaos Emerald can be earned.

Large Ring

While I enjoyed the selection of classic zones, I would’ve liked to see more new zones added to balance things between old and new.

Bosses are encountered at the end of each act and require different strategies to win. Most fights were fun but I felt a few bosses, such as the ones in Hydrocity Acts 1 and 2 and Studiopolis’ Act 1 boss, were a bit tedious, while Mirage Saloon’s Act 1 boss was just too easy. My favourite boss fight was Metallic Madness’ Act 2 boss – the miniature theme was extremely creative.

Metallic Madness Act 2 - Boss

In addition to the basic moveset (run, spin attack, spin dash and jump), the three characters also have their own special moves and properties. New to Sonic’s arsenal is the Drop Dash – used in midair to drop down into a spin dash. It’s useful for gaining momentum after a jump, or to strike a Badnik that can’t be jumped on without losing your momentum. Tails’ flying ability makes a comeback, with Sonic able to command Tails to fly him up to new areas and Knuckles keeps his gliding, climbing and wall breaking abilities. He doesn’t jump as high as the other two, however.

Rings are essential for survival – you lose a life if you’re not holding any in your possession. Collecting 100 rings nets an extra life. Power ups include the elemental shields from Sonic 3 and the Hyper Ring from the obscure Knuckles’ Chaotix game, along with staple items, like the Power Sneakers and Invincibility.

Graphics and Art

What I enjoyed the most about Sonic Mania is how animated everything looks, thanks to the game running at 60fps. From how fluid each of the player characters moved, to the little details in the environments and the colours in each zone, the game’s high-quality pixel art exudes plenty of charm. I noticed no slowdowns or lag when I was playing it on the Switch.

I especially loved the art direction for the new zones. Studiopolis and Press Garden stand out the most for me, because of how breathtaking the visuals look between Acts 1 and 2.

Music

Music has always been a strong point for the Sonic series. The music was done by Tee Lopes, who I think did a really good job remixing the classic zone tunes. The audio for the new zones are catchy and upbeat until you hit the last zone, which threw me off a bit due to its brooding and serious tone.

Chemical Plant Act 2, Press Garden Act 2, Studiopolis Act 1, Stardust Speedway Act 1 and Mirage Saloon Act 1 as Knuckles are my favourites to listen to:

The boss tunes are also great earworms; the boss theme for the Hard-Boiled Heavies, along with the Eggman Boss theme (Ruby Delusions), are some of the best boss themes in the series.

Replayability

There are lots of replay options available after beating the game. You can try your hand at Time Attack mode, or settle differences with friends through Competition mode.

In-game, hitting star posts with more than 25 rings in possession opens a portal to the Blue Spheres minigame from Sonic 3. Beating the stage earns a medal, which unlocks a variety of new playing modes, including the use of Sonic’s old Insta-shield, Debug Mode or the &Knuckles mode, which adds the echidna as a partner character.

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For a special surprise, finish the game as Knuckles & Knuckles. It’s hilarious!

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While there could have been more original zones and less tedious/more challenging boss fights, Sonic Mania nevertheless celebrates the best of the character to great effect. It’s a perfect example of how enduring Sonic is after 25 years and how he’s still going strong.

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4.5/5


How’d I do? Let me know in the comments below! Coming up on “Games with Coffee,” I’m back in Wraeclast with more Path of Exile, and I’ll be sharing my favourite remixes from OverClocked Remix! Stay tuned!

With that, this has been Ryan, reminding you to Keep Gaming and Keep Brewing! See ya!

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!