Category: Feature

Of 2016: The Dailies

Of 2016: The Dailies

I barely touched a “daily login bonus” in 2014, I got sucked into a few of them in 2015 but in 2016 I became a connoisseur of the one-day-at-a-time slow-grind to completion. I’ve been juggling at least 2 of them at a time for most of the year, some returning favorites from 2015 and some brand new.

Nintendo Badge Arcade (Nintendo 3DS)
By the end of 2015 I was bragging about collecting a measly 100 badges in Nintendo’s free-to-play claw catcher “game” but by springtime 2016 I was at nearly 400 of the frivolous stamps. My devotion trailed off pretty hard after that but good ol’ Badge Arcade and its patron saint, Arcade Bunny, still deserve a nod for 2016.

Spelunker World (PlayStation 4)
Also worthy of note is Spelunker World. While I ditched the Japanese version entirely in 2016 I was still going pretty hard on it every day through May once they opened up 25 new stages, the game’s finale and a new character.

Guitar Hero Live (PlayStation 4)
Another 2015 title that I was hot and heavy on early in 2016 was Guitar Hero Live. For those jumping from last year’s recap you can rest assured that my daily login bonuses did start tracking and by May I’d maxed out all of my stats. I continued to  load it up almost every day for a few more bonus coins and to see what new songs would pop up in the always-on GHTV mode. And honestly, I was expecting Activision to announce the end of the service at any moment but it kept up through the year.

Ace Combat Infinity

Ace Combat Infinity (PlayStation 3)
In July I spotted a 500gb slim PS3 on Craigslist that I transitioned my Delisted games to. I also wanted to check out Ace Combat Infinity because it’s been kicking around since 2014 and I thought, for sure, it would be going away soon. Just like Spelunker, Infinity is full of esoteric upgrade systems, consumable currencies and endless grinding up the numerous tiers of the aircraft tree. Naturally, daily logins dole out bonuses and if you manage to make it to the 10-days-in-a-row mark you end up with a few nice rewards. They even throw you some hefty currency packs if you meet the 10 days before they reset the counter which makes it feel like you’re getting one over on them. It’s also a fantastic Ace Combat experience that only feels better and better as you improve your stable of aircraft.

Big City Stories (PlayStation 4)
Finally, a real 2016 release! I’d been checking in daily since the game’s rocky launch in late August but not for the typical bonuses. Big City Stories is like “SimCity lite” and it’s all about timers and renewing resources. I wasn’t about to get up in the middle of the night when I had a fresh batch of workers to start a new building but it did keep me checking in every day for months. It’s also the only free-to-play game that I spent money on in 2016. I eventually bought their $10 pack of gold coins to generate workers at double the speed. Otherwise I’d still be grinding towards Level 50 and while the game is fun and satisfying, it’s not that fun.

Let it Die

Let it Die (PlayStation 4)
Lastly, right at the end of the year, was Let it Die. It turns out the only way I can finally engage with a Suda 51 joint is when it’s a free download. With no monetary investment (and practically no knowledge of it ahead of time) I dove into its mysterious and terrifying world described as “Dark Souls meets Free-to-Play”. Sure enough, the game is chock full of convoluted systems, upgrade paths, consumable resources and currencies you can buy with real money.

Every day offers up a sparkling box to rip open for a free reward (sometimes invaluable, frequently junk) and a chance to see who raided your inventory. At first it was frightening to think players could rob me blind and it motivated me — as I’m sure it was designed to — to level up my roster of defenders as quickly as I could. Turns out, the losses aren’t extreme and now I keep coming back to push my way a little farther up the Tower of Barbs’ 40 floors. Unless something major absorbs me in 2017 I’ll probably still be working on this one well into the year.

Of 2016: The Best Old Games

Of 2016: The Best Old Games

I am totally fine relying on PC emulators to play old games but my friend Rich made a strong argument for original hardware this year. Rather than stockpiling physical copies of every game ever made he’s invested in the homebrew carts that play ROMs on their respective consoles. So one SNES cart gets you nearly every game running on the actual hardware. It really impressed me with the vintage consoles like the Odyssey 2 and especially the Fairchild Channel F with its amazing controller. The best of the bunch were Dodge-It, Video Whizball and Hockey, each offering wild spins on Pong thanks to the Fairchild’s crazy controls.

Of 2016: The Best Old Games

Back to emulation though, I’ve had a half-finished GameEX setup on my laptop for years but it wasn’t until Jeff got me into the RetroPie that I came to appreciate the all-in-one solution. Sure, I got distracted for a while — making a custom theme and continuing to hunt for quality box art — but I still spent a bunch of time with a bunch of games. Cadillacs & Dinosaurs kicked off my Brawl ‘em All series. I livestreamed Castlevania: Bloodlines while devouring gross jelly beans and followed it up with a proper playthrough of Cyborg Justice. I finally played more than the first stage of Ninja Cop and I only cheated a little bit in Boulder Dash while recording a fresh version of its soundtrack.

It’s also been great with the nephews at Thanksgiving and Christmas. The modern Ninja Turtles are a little different but I was surprised how much middle ground we could share playing the original TMNT arcade game and Turtles in Time. X-Men Arcade was another favorite and I finally got to finish Spider-Man The Videogame after 25 years!

If I had to guess which retro game I’d get most hooked on though, it definitely wouldn’t have been California Games for the Atari Lynx no less. In my defense, it’s a total nostalgia hit as I had a Lynx growing up and on the RetroPie it was under ‘A’ so it was one of the first things that came up when I was repeatedly testing. Really it’s the BMX mode that I love. It’s primitive but more than any other version of the game it feels almost like Trials. Seeing your rider wipe out and skid alongside the bike, sometimes down huge hillsides, is painful and hilarious and just as satisfying as landing a quadruple backflip.

Retro Achievements are a wonderful and weird creation!

The RetroPie also led me to discover Retro Achievements which is exactly what it sounds like. People have hacked Xbox style Achievements into ROMs complete with varying point totals, pithy descriptions and little icons. The functionality is still a little wonky (sometimes you load up a game and instantly unlock everything) but it has the added bonus of keeping a play log of every game I touched. When you have instant access to 12,000 different games over a span of 30 years it’s great to have someone keeping track of what you’ve already seen! Finally, for Christmas I got both of the Atari Flashback collections on PlayStation 4. Just as with Sonic’s Genesis Collection the Trophies have given me reason to play some of my favorite old games in ways I’d never attempted before.

The greatest real-world retro find for me in 2016 was Hogs of War. The game was originally a budget title from Infogrames that I got for free to review. But once I sold it off back in the early 2000s the price skyrocketed and I’d been on the hunt for a reasonable copy for the last several years. I finally spotted it at a flea market in February and even got a little break on the price.

I really didn’t set off down the Retro path on purpose but as modern gaming waned for me in 2016 it looked like a much more interesting and entertaining route. I discovered and learned so much more about gaming’s history in 2016 and I don’t see myself getting any less absorbed by it in the new year.

My Annual ‘Of 2016’ Recap Begins Today

GameLuv's 2016 Recap Begins!

It’s been coming on for the last few years but never has the gulf between new releases and old games been as wide as in 2016. Back in 2011 I was all about playing new releases and grabbing them on the cheap. Almost everything else was only “old” by a year or two thanks to GameFly and PlayStation Plus or Xbox Live freebies. I hit a perfect balance of new and old in 2012 and spent the next two years playing catch up on modern oldies over full priced new releases. Those were also some of my most active years, playing 120+ games annually. 2015 is when I started to slow down, playing only 98 games in the year, most of which were once again recent releases, not retro games.

2016 has brought me closer than ever to being a retro gamer. The explanation is two-fold. On the modern front, AAA new releases have never been more boring to me. I simply passed over the ones that looked interesting, waiting for them to be freebies down the line or on deep discount in 2017. Meanwhile, the new games I spent the most time with were of the free-to-play or repeatable variety. Spelunker World, Ace Combat Infinity, Starbound, Big City Stories, Dragon Quest Builders, and most recently Let it Die. Be it building worlds of my own imagining or having an amazing run to bring my character to new levels, I stuck with a small handful of games through most of the year. 97 in total, for the record.

Oh glorious Old Games

At the same time all kinds of things called me to the Retro side. My renewed attempts at a social life in 2016 introduced me to Rich’s assortment of old consoles. That Fairchild Channel F, it’s so amazing! In the Summer Jeff fell down the RetroPie hole, dragged me in and then climbed out and onto Pokemon Go. Finding myself in that hole I figured I’d see how far it went and, you guys, it goes so far.

In making my own theme for the RetroPie I scrutinized every console and platform with a focus I’d never given them before. Instead of sticking to my established favorites I stood back and finally looked at things from a global and historical perspective. I started listening to Retronauts and I engaged even more with the amazing #retrocollective community on Instagram, putting aside my jealousy and really admiring their collections.

Fueling both the old and the new in 2016 was Regardless of quality, games are more ethereal than ever before and it’s disheartening to see them disappear. It takes an objective point of view to dig into these frequently maligned titles and it led me to a new appreciation of, well, every aspect of gaming. So maybe I only play thirty games next year or maybe I play a hundred and thirty really old ones. However the numbers shake out I know it’ll be a more rewarding and enlightening year in gaming than I’ve ever had.

And so begins another round of year end recaps, starting today with my Best Old Games of 2016.

Here’s the art that might have inspired Miyamoto’s “Samurai Mario”


The artwork that inspired Miyamoto's Samurai Mario t-shirt?

There’s a ton of speculation in places like the Nintendo Switch subreddit about just what was going on with Miyamoto’s “samurai Mario” shirt on Jimmy Fallon. I haven’t had time to read through much of anything outside of Polygon’s post on this mysterious Tease-Shirt but at first sight the above is all I could think of.

It’s from one of the final Club Nintendo rewards before the service was shut down in lieu of My Nintendo. It’s probably the classiest thing they ever produced for the U.S. and, ironically, it’s full of Mario & Co. in traditional/mythical Japanese attire. The samurai outfit isn’t quite exact to Miyamoto’s shirt but the designs for the calendar (which was potentially conceived 2 or more years ago) may well have been the inspiration for whatever is coming.

I’ve got no fully formed theories to throw out there, I just wanted to share this fantastic artwork since that shirt reminded me of it. Click to take a much bigger look at it.

Yes, I’m posting about Dead Star again (the music this time)

Alright, alright, I think this is my final post about Dead Star. After recording some final rounds and the tutorial with the default volume mix I went back to capture what I could of the game’s great, but short, soundtrack. Unfortunately, there was no way to access the Escape Run mode after the servers went offline so there are a couple of tracks we may never hear again without YouTube commentary and sound effects blaring.

What I was able to grab were seven tracks including the theme song that’s most familiar to players as it swelled and simmered in the background of all the menus. There are four in-game themes that were tied to several of the different maps. For those I simply named them after the first map I encountered them in. A little more on the subtle side are the Training theme and the Credits music that dial down the pomp of the main theme.

As a videOST I edited each track to some footage from the game, mostly me performing poorly against max leveled veteran players in the final days of the game. Take a listen above or load up the playlist or rip the music from the videos… whatever it is you kids do to listen to music these days.