Metroid Dreadcast

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Metroid Dreadcast
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Episode 026

A review with Danh Hoang

In early January 2022 Danh Hoang loaned me a copy of Nintendo’s latest entry in the Metroid series. Metroid Dread is a direct sequel to the Metroid Fusion game originally released on the Gameboy Advance 20 years ago.

Nintendo seems to have kept the fire alive for linear 2D Metroid games. Which now features texture rich 3D backgrounds, challenging new enemies, and combat techniques not seen on those original entries. Mercury Steam continues to be a skilled caretaker of the software production tasks. They previously developed the 3Ds reimagining of the Gameboy title Metroid 2, Metroid: Samus Returns.

There is a lot more of Samus Returns in Dread than its “chronological” predecessor, Fusion, but the game emits the dreadful atmosphere from earlier entries. The parry combat ability first introduced in Samus Returns, is a huge component of the experience in Dread. You use it to thwart nearly all smaller aggressors and bosses alike.

If there is one criticism to be leveled at the shiny new title, it would be load time. Even with the speed of static memory cards, failure to escape a pursuing E.M.M.I., falling victim to other obstacles on planet ZDR, or taking a transport to one of the sectors will net you a fairly lengthy load time.

This does end up being a bit of a frustration with certain areas where one mistake will land you in the dreadful grasp of the game over screen.


TLDR

Metroid Dread is not only a well designed, challenging edition to the series but it attempts to push the narrative arc of Samus in a new direction. If you are a long time fan of the series you may find some of the new choices in combat design frustrating. But if this is your first adventure with Samus, you will be thrown into a world with more developed lore than you are expecting and a host of secrets to be uncovered.

Recommend buying and playing at least once 👍


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IllustrationEvan McIntyre

20 Games with Evan Part 2

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20 Games with Evan Part 2
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Episode 025

Part Two

Continuing this series of recordings with my friends and family on the topic of the only games they need to play ever.

This prompt was inspired by a friend’s comment to me, “you only have time for like 20 games in your life.” And I think in a lot of ways that is truer the older I get.

Evan and I wrap our interview, and roll through the second half of this list of greatness in art and digital story telling.

Evan’s list in its entirety below, but this episode deals with titles 10-1

  1. Mega Man 2
  2. Super Mario World
  3. Zelda: A Link to the Past
  4. Earthbound
  5. Chrono Trigger
  6. Castlevania SOTN
  7. Silent Hill 2
  8. GTA Vice City
  9. Metal Gear Solid 3
  10. Shadow of the Colossus
  11. Fallout 1
  12. Elder Scrolls Morrowind
  13. Minecraft
  14. Dark Souls
  15. Lisa the Painful
  16. Bloodborne
  17. Stardew Valley
  18. Red Dead Redemption 2
  19. Death Stranding
  20. Witcher 3

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IllustrationEvan McIntyre

20 Games with Evan Part 1

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20 Games with Evan Part 1
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Episode 024

Part One

Continuing this series of recordings with my friends and family on the topic of the only games they need to play ever. It’s a challenge to compress years of gaming into a list of the Only 20 to play.

You can think of it as a desert island list or if you had to erase all other gaming experiences, which ones would float to the top? Which games had stories, mechanics, or memories so affecting for you that you could distill all of your digital amuse-tainment value to such a list.

This prompt was inspired by a friend’s comment to me, “you only have time for like 20 games in your life.” And I think in a lot of ways that is truer the older I get.

Evan’s Best

Evan is a brilliant illustrator and friend, and his enthusiasm for the medium has me reconsidering my positions and experiences all the time. Evan was one of the masters that brought me through my first Fromsoft game, Bloodborne, and on our times co-opping through the haunted nightmare-scapes of the late game were hilarious and harrowing.

Evan’s list in its entirety below, but there will be a second episode to in which we discuss items 10-1. This episode deals exclusively with 20-11.

  1. Mega Man 2
  2. Super Mario World
  3. Zelda: A Link to the Past
  4. Earthbound
  5. Chrono Trigger
  6. Castlevania SOTN
  7. Silent Hill 2
  8. GTA Vice City
  9. Metal Gear Solid 3
  10. Shadow of the Colossus
  11. Fallout 1
  12. Elder Scrolls Morrowind
  13. Minecraft
  14. Dark Souls
  15. Lisa the Painful
  16. Bloodborne
  17. Stardew Valley
  18. Red Dead Redemption 2
  19. Death Stranding
  20. Witcher 3

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IllustrationEvan McIntyre

Only 20 Games with Rob

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Only 20 Games with Rob
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Episode 023

This is a series of recordings with my friends and family on the topic of the only games they need to play ever. The challenge here is compress years of gaming into a list of the Only 20 to play.

You can think of it as a desert island list or if you had to erase all other gaming experiences, which ones would float to the top? Which games had stories, mechanics, or memories so affecting for you that you could distill all of your digital amuse-tainment value to such a list.

This prompt was inspired by a friend’s passing comment to me, “you only have time for like 20 games in your life.” And honestly I think in a lot of ways that is true.

What’s the best.

Understandably this list is subject to change…maybe but for now Rob is my first guest and his list is nothing short of surprises. As we share a history of playing games together, it’s interesting to me to see where we diverge in taste and the reasoning behind that.

1. Mario Sunshine
2. Castlevania Symphony
3. Final Fantasy 7
4. Diablo 2 online
5. Zelda: Breath of the Wild
6. Elder Scrolls Skyrim
7. Just Cause 3
8. Metal Gear Solid V
10. MW 4 / BLOPS2
11. Destiny 2
12. Portal
13. Minecraft Mohjang Edition
14. Dragon Age Inquisition
15. Mario Kart
16. Transistor
17. Bioshock 2
18. Final Fantasy Tactics
19. Hades
20. Deep rock Galactic


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IllustrationEvan McIntyre

Review: Ghost of Tsushima

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Review: Ghost of Tsushima
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Episode 022

Ghost of Tsushima is a masterpiece. The gameplay was an amazing refinement of previous open world adventure games, the writing gives you a sense of belonging seldom seen in its genre, and the scenic environment design is a feast for the eyes and salve for the heart. Buy it now. Own it forever.

A review summary

SuckerPunchStudios blew away all of the expectations I had for Ghost of Tsushima, here to for I shall refer to as Ghost. I was already a fan of their work starting from Infamous First Light, a shorter stand alone title set in the neon glow of Seattle after the events of Infamous Second Son. The studio’s ability to make a unique IP with fun mechanics and polished movement was a clear foundation to build something new.

Upon seeing the first few trailers, I had some initial doubts as to whether Ghost could be genuinely engrossing. I am happy to say I was wrong. And beyond wrong I was utterly overwhelmed with my miscalculation to the point of delight.

Without a final nudge from a dear friend of the show, Josh Hunt, who remarked that this was definitely, “a Zach Meyer-ass Game!” I may not have had the pleasure of entering the samurai movie buff’s favorite setting. To fight a hoard of invaders, right wrongs, write poetry, take in the sights, and enjoy fast paced sword fights with a myriad of artificial rivals shouting and slicing their way towards me. It was indeed as he said.

Another aspect of Ghost that lands so well for me, is the way the story and choices are presented to Jin. To what extent the decisions you make play out to effect the outcomes but there was a clever writing trick involved that sucks you into being the good guy at every possible moment, only to see some of those decisions thrown back at you. Occupants of Tsushima are not always completely honest in their calls for help. Some of their stories are deliberately manipulative in a way that good story tellers snag you with.

I would also be remiss if I did not mention the incredible landscapes and photo mode tools available in Ghost. In a year of lockdown with the Covid-19 Pandemic creating uncertainty, grounding flights, and keeping folks at home, the digital Tsushima islands were a beautiful escape. They provided all the seasons, conditions, and amenities that a traveller yearns to see. The photo mode became a place for me to really drink in the sights and post too many pictures or postcard style screen captures to the main Twitter feed.

From Rolling hills and sandy shores bright and vibrant with the sun, to the snowing desolate mountains of the north, and nearly every point in between, Tsushima felt like a place were I could go and rest and enjoy…while running from Mongol warlords.

Ghost of Tsushima – on Playstation


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Review: The Outer Worlds

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Review: The Outer Worlds
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Episode 021

It may come as no surprise that my brother Rob and I have some shared taste in the world of Video Games. As it happens he and I both wrapped up an initial play through of the Outer Worlds by Obsidian Games’ Special Division. On a scale of Buy, Try, or Skip: We unanimously put this game in the Buy category with a small asterisk, try to buy on sale 😉

A review summary

Private Division is the team of writers designers and developers that built The Outer Worlds most of whom are members of the same team that worked on Obsidian’s Fallout New Vegas, a game that has been praised for its gray morality scale and multi-optional approach to quest narrative solutions.

This 60’s pulp sci-fi fever dream wears its influences on its sleeve and doesn’t have any problem being self-aware while doing so. One thing that cannot be denied about the title, is the overall charm in nearly all of the dialogue. Many of your options in game dialogue are pulled/influenced directly by the statistics that you have built your character from.

There is a lot of wise cracking snark and political critiques about how a universe of corporate overlords would be a dystopia run by despotic and largely idiotic bureaucrats that are barely able to organize the means of production.

Disrupting these cold machincations with all manner of leverage, especially the “science” oriented weapons, makes for some clever engagements, familiar puzzles, and occaisional annoying spikes in monster

The Outer Worlds – on Steam.


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Guest – Rob Meyer

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Divinity: Original Sin 2

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Divinity: Original Sin 2
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Episode 020

tldr;

Over the course of approximately 120+ hours, my brother Rob and I dove head first into Larian Studios second entry in their Divinity series. We pulled four heroes through the Rivellon on a quest to command the source and ascend to divinity. On a scale of Buy, Try, or Skip: I landed at a Try, and Rob landed in-between Buy-Try.

A review summary

Do you like to play Dungeons & Dragons, tactical RPGs, or make a custom character class, like a Theif-Necromancer (Theifromancer)? Do you like a world with multiple branching paths, steep learning curves, and different ways to solve problems, that largely result in you having to fight if I am honest?

If most or all of these things scream YES to you than Divinity 2 is your jam. And thankfully, you have access to it on nearly every platform from PC to Switch. We rocked through it on Steam with a few quality of life mods in the final 8-10 hours of play, but we both agree, it would be worth while to install a few to maximize your enjoyment.

While much of the game was difficult and some of the systems could have been explained better, we made it through and would overall recommend people to at least try it out.

We are looking forward to seeing what Larian does next.

Divinity: Original Sin 2 – on Steam


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Red Dead Redemption 2 – Review

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Red Dead Redemption 2 - Review
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Episode 019

Transcript

In April of 2020, I finished a play-through of Red Dead redemption 2. I know I’m terribly late to the party but this review is partly my thoughts on the game itself, and partly what I would have done to change it. 

I’m a huge fan of open world games and if you’ve been listening to this podcast for any length of time you know that I play a lot of them. I’ve played the Ubisoft ones, the Rockstar ones, I even play CD projekt ones. And each company’s design teams have a philosophy and a style that’s unique. They all seem to focus on different mechanics to enhance the experience of your virtual chore list.

Rockstar seems to be chasing the idea that they’re making a movie that you play through. Something more cinematic that guides the player actions, more than its contemporaries. For me, Rockstar adopted this approach to game creation around the time of Grand theft Auto 4’s release.

Based on the scale I use of 0 to 3 points for games I would say that Red Dead Redemption 2 for me lands at a solid one. I will be spoiling the plot of the game but not yet first I need to talk about some of the details of the mechanics and design that are really great the things that I appreciated about the game. 

Setting the table in the old west

It’s clear from the moment you start playing the game that Rockstar really loves westerns. Searching for your lost wounded companions in the snow capped mountains looking for shelter to recover lick your wounds and wait for the blizzard to subside so that you can move down away from this Rocky icy prison,Rockstar waste no time introducing you to the cast of characters the basic problems and the systems that you can use in the game.

A ton of care and craft has gone into everything from the catalogs in the general stores when you’re purchasing supplies to the feed and horse manicuring that become a strangely addictive mini-game in and of itself. 

The towns are organized around the hotel, the post office, the general store. How the main street is where all the respectable businesses are and the back streets are where you’ll find your junk salesmen and hawkers.

Backroom card games, drunks stumbling along in the street, hunger cold and heat all create a really immersive vibrant and seemingly complex world to adapt to. 

But this is a video game after all, everything from The wanted system to the train schedules are programmed and exploitable. But this is no way diminishes the fine polish and obvious care that was taken when building each and every one. 

Aside from these mechanical wonders, the music is absolutely mind blowing. Every instrument the dynamic responses to player inputs such as galloping leaves you breathless in Wonder at how much effort it took to construct such a thing. Literally I could listen to the game for hours.

I would be remiss if in this criticism I didn’t point out the fact that it is a genuine technical marvel. And to my tastes, the best version of RDR2 you can play is the online experience. It allows you to rely on and enjoy the crafted world and all of it’s systems freely in a way that the main campaign doesn’t really require you to.

I recall upon starting up the online experience for the first time in landing in a snowy landscape I was unable to do much except for run from shelter to shelter as hyperthermia chased me across the snowy barren plains. 

This feeling of tension, insecurity or vulnerability was such an earned thing that even through my frustration I felt that it was a brilliant component to their game. 

But TLDR; this is not a review of RDR2 online, this review focuses on the main campaign which I believe suffers from the lack of an editor’s touch. 

Starting here I’ll begin to spoil aspects of the story and what I believe to be the critical issues with the game itself. 

A great YouTube game reviewer who goes by the handle NakeyJakey, has a lengthy review that definitely identified some of the things that I felt were wrong with the game and although I don’t agree with all his points or even the metaphor he chose to relate his point, I think most of our thoughts are shared in terms of what Rock Star thinks is fun and what I think is fun. 

If you don’t know

If you haven’t played the game yet the basic plot relationship with and to a band of outlaws who are running from a group of government agency law officers known as the pinkertons led by a charismatic and morally compromised patriarchal figure Dutch who is also a known villain in the original game that came out on the previous generation of hardware. 

Throughout the game you’ll be working to keep the gang safe, earn money, and deal with the consequences of other people’s actions at the behest of Dutch. 

Now that we’ve dealt with all the simple stuff from here on in it’s going to be spoiler Central. 

I have two points that made the game unsatisfying for me:

  1. Most of the game play systems aren’t consequential even though I am forced to use them initially.
  2. The Loyalty arc for Arthur, doesn’t ring true for me.

Systems without consequence

My first criticism of the game has to do with the emphasis on these interesting gameplay systems that initially are your means of survival and income but then immediately become forgotten after your first Big heist. 

When you get to your first real base camp after leaving the mountains, you are compelled to hunt and sell animal parts in order to gain enough income to start replenishing the camp and your own supplies. money seems very hard to acquire and everything seems expensive in the early stages of the game. But after one robbery you start to see how easy money can be made and how inefficient and ultimately empty the hunting and bounty system is for you as a player. 

This goes into one of my first axioms in entertainment which is please respect my time. Don’t make me hunt and bounty for 4 hours only to essentially abandon these as a needed form of income for the rest of the playtime.

Ditching Dutch

My second major issue with the game has to do with the relationship between Arthur Dutch and the gang. When discussing this part of the story, the writing and how the characters react with a friend of mine, he offered up the observation of the game wanting to tell a story about the cult of personality and the difficulty for people to break away when they feel a sense of loyalty to others. 

As someone who played the first title, I already know something that the other characters in the game don’t know. I know that Dutch is not a good person. and try as the writers might to get you to empathize with some of duchess’s decision making or even occasionally allow him to make good decisions, I know that in the end his ego or selfishness or something will ultimately drive a wedge in between you and everyone else. 

So knowing this it was very hard for me to at all like or trust Dutch as a player which means that playing as Arthur a person who claims to trust Dutch almost implicitly was very very jarring. I have empathy for Arthur but it was like watching a slow motion car crash. I know that the car crash is going to happen and I’m just waiting for Arthur to come to a realization that this person is not good for him and will ultimately hurt everyone. 

And I feel like the game doesn’t make that transition in any subtle way. Arthur is a deeply complex and interesting character he is strong and quiet and compassionate and ultimately he is the big brother to everyone he comes in contact with. Fiercely loyal and occasionally willing to bend his own morality to help someone he feels will benefit for it. 

However given that, once Micah’s characters are introduced to the story I feel like the game doesn’t try to mask Dutch’s weakness to influence at all. He very clearly respects people who are powerful or bold or even foolhardy. Even if you forgo the fact that Micah is an agent working for the pinkertons, his influence on Dutch seems ludicrous compared to Arthur whom Dutch seems to frequently say is the favorite.

And this is basically where the game started to lose me and just continued as every mission became a weird contention between duchess foolishness and idealism which is more like selfishness masked by grandiose self-delusion. Arthur has to complete a task that is supposed to get us to that next safe place that duchess found for us and it turns out surprise surprise that that place and the thing that Dutch wants you to do is not safe and is going to get everyone killed. 

It’s not until very late in the game that people start to rebel and Dutch’s true colors are revealed but even as this is happening Arthur seems to be unreasonably willing to forgive duchess crimes against the group and sometimes against Arthur. 

There are many small and medium-sized characters whose missions and locations are fun but ultimately run a ground because in the back of my mind I know I have to deal with Dutch and Micah in the future. 

However the post game game is probably one of the better parts of it. After the main story resolves between Arthur Micah and Dutch, you pick up with John Marston. The protagonist of the original game and is the only significant member of the gang trying to part ways, but is constantly being forced back in by Dutch. 

Fixing Dutch Arthur and Micah

Aside from cutting out chunks of the game such as the section where you’re on the island in the Caribbean which I believe is Cuba or something similar, the thing that I would change the most if I were rewriting it would be to alter how Arthur reacts to Micah’s addition to the gang. 

Post jailbreak, the tension that is expressed by the members of the gang and Arthur should play out as a slow tug of war as Micah’s influence grows the gang starts to split between Arthur and Dutch as a leader. 

There is some hinting of this close to the end of the game but it’s not well paced until everything implodes. 

I’m not saying the game shouldn’t have lost or deal with bad or abusive family Dynamics or any of these other ideas that are trying to be expressed in the game’s writing, but at some point I was tired of seeing the writing on the wall and I wanted someone who seems so reasonable like Arthur or some of the other side characters to make a decision to start breaking with Dutch and have their be a contention. 

If the game slowly started to break into two halves then there would be a war between them. Dutch could attempt to win people back and Arthur could be a great leader and provider and convince members of the gang to stay with him which would allow you as the player to genuinely influence the party’s size and success based on how you are taking care of them. 

This would better allow you as a player to have a reason to engage with the other gameplay systems they introduced to you such as the camp improvement to-do list, hunting, fishing, and bounties. It makes these systems meaningful in the story because you would be using them as a way of keeping the party healthy and out of trouble. 

This would also allow the robbery or outlaw system to feel more like a risk/reward. Robbing trains would be lucrative but it would create opportunities for harm to the gang which would affect their loyalty to you. etc..

I think this would have made for far more engaging and gratifying as an arc. Plus you could employ a branched ending that still leads to the story arc with John and his family. If Arthur’s gang wins at the end, then John only faces a few remaining enemies. Or if Arthur’s camp is overtaken by Dutch, then John has leave just like he did in the main story. In fear.

In closing

Red Dead Redemption 2 ultimately left me feeling disappointed. Partly in myself. What must have been a monumental creative effort just didn’t stick the landing for me. I like it when studios build interesting interconnected worlds that feel lived in which Red Dead certainly has a lot of life. I just wasn’t a fan of the yarn they spun with the interesting lives of the Van der Linde Gang.

It’s an uncompromisingly beautiful, character driven vision of the American west that delighted me in it’s aesthetic but in it’s story I could not find purchase.


Thank you for making it to the end of the review. Looking forward to your reactions to my review, please @betweenplayers on twitter or drop me an email howdy@betweenplayers.com

See you next time.


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IllustrationEvan McIntyre

Borderlands 3

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Borderlands 3
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Episode 018

Summary

The Borderlands series is near and dear to my heart. And my brother Rob and I took some time to dig into the parts of the game that we found awesome and what wasn’t so great. We played Borderlands 2 for countless hours and between all the expansions we were ready to be on the latest chapter of the Vault hunters.

A little more than a year ago we waited for Borderlands 3 to open up for purchase outside of the Epic store, which in general as a PC casual, wasn’t the worst thing and we don’t have anything against multiple launchers, but we are pretty embedded as Steam users.

On this episode of the podcast, we discussed the Story, Audio, Graphics, and Gameplay mechanics that we enjoyed during our 35~hour play-through of the main campaign. On the whole we enjoyed the gameplay and the possibilities that this title opens up for the Borderlands universe. No longer tied to Sanctuary we are free to explore a vast universe of vaults and monsters as a Flak and Amara.

Overall we recommend picking up the title, and are looking forward to playing through the expansions this fall.


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Guest – Rob Meyer

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Final Fantasy VII: Remake

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Final Fantasy VII: Remake
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Episode 017

Summary

Final Fantasy is so apart of the cultural zeitgeist that it can be hard to talk about it with fresh appreciation. Danh and I come from slightly different experiences with the Final Fantasy VII, but our reactions are nearly the same to this revision. There are changes from the source story that aren’t insignificant. For every element in the game that received a visual or audio upgrade, there seemed to be a corresponding extension or game-play addition.

It’s been some 20 some years since I played the original Final Fantasy VII. So many of the memories and emotions I felt while playing the “Remake,” were different for Danh as he was just getting into the original on Nintendo Switch. One really interesting thing about the Switch edition is the ability to play in “God Mode,” which allows you to play the through battles and the story without the need to level.

Square Enix has delivered a truly eye-ball achingly good looking game. There seems to be an enthusiasm to make something familiar and yet somehow new. The sound track is also second to none. And at this moment is most financially accessible on the Google Play Store.


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GuestDanh Hoang

IllustrationEvan McIntyre