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Breath of the Wild

So, here it is, the Legend of Zelda Breath of the Wild review literally no-one is waiting for…

I have what you might call a “boutique” gaming collection, if you were being generous. My games are bought to be played, rather than left in pristine condition for future generations. At this moment in time, spread across multiple locations and entirely from memory, it consists of the following:

  • Dreamcast, 30 or 40 games, mostly Japanese shooters and the common as muck Euro releases
  • Gamecube, 15 of the best Japanese imports I could find
  • Xboxes 360 and One, 10 years of XBLA, plus games with gold freebies
  • Playstations 3 and 4 Similar numbers, with maybe slightly more games
  • Various retro oddites including Colecovision, Atari, Sinclair and Amstrad
  • Various handhelds from Nintendo, Sony, NGPC, Wonderswan et al
  • Four arcade cabs, in various states of nearly-but-not-quite-working
  • One Wii-U, with Breath of the Wild

Anyone want to make an offer on the lot, apart from that last item?

What I think about when I talk about Videogames…

You’ll have noticed that I don’t actually play as many games as a gaming blogger probably should.

But that’s okay. Really. I’m not really here to play videogames, much as I’d like to, I’m here because…

Well, that’s a good question isn’t it?

What are  videogames then, and specifically what are they to me?

Videogames are escape, they’re a way to be somewhere, something, someone else for a while. That’s true of books, films and TV too, of course, but it’s also true of talking, thinking or writing about those things.

Videogames are reminders of simpler times, when actually all that I had to worry about was a particularly thorny room in Jet Set Willy – even if I didn’t fully realise that at the time. Discussing this stuff connects me back to my younger self, the portrait of the gamer as a young man.

Videogames are release. When life just gets too much, and all you want to do is punch something, hurt someone or just generally let go. Well, isn’t it better to let those feelings out on a digital fire-breathing imp than an actual living, breathing, human?

Videogames are fun. And there’s precious little of that in life sometimes. And thinking of fun things is almost as much fun as doing fun things.

Videogames are mental exercise, they’re certainly less soporific than binge-watching Buffy. I’m a programmer by trade, and the skills I learnt in Pac Man, Tetris and Civilisation are with me every day, even when I’m solving much less interesting puzzles involving fiscal futures.

Videogames are friendships forged through a shared experience. Honestly, some of my best friends are those I’ve met through a mutual appreciation of Robotron, Manic Miner or Zelda – although, oddly perhaps, we rarely play games when we’re together. We’re too busy getting on with the general business of friendship.

And of course, there are the friends who are no longer with us. The ghosts in my replay data and friend lists. High scores that can never be improved on and idiot AI replications of dead friends endlessly interrupting live sessions, a combination of sweet memories and bitter sense of loss.

So, you see, videogames and the conversations, friendships, occasional rivalries and general shenanigans that surround them are a major, perhaps THE major, constancy in my life. They are me, and I them.

Videogames? Just for kids? Yeah, right.

So, What’re ya playin?

I started a new job a little while back. It’s always an odd time – you don’t really know the people you work with yet, who’s good for a beer on Friday, what to talk about at the tea point, how much do I have to pretend to know about football in order to fit in, but most of all, for us, when to introduce the little secret of the dirty videogame habit…

This time round, I’d laid the groundwork a bit – I’d mentioned the arcade collecting in interview, arranged a few slightly geeky figures on the desk, conspicuously played the Vita at lunchtime, so at the Christmas meal, when asked what I did with my spare time (what fucking spare time? I’ve got kids) I casually dropped in that I played videogames. Job’s a good’un, done, time to move on.

“Oh, what are you playing at the moment?”

Ohshitohshitohshit. A loaded question, and one I never seem to have a good answer to. Like being asked who your favourite band is, or which films you’ve liked recently.

See, I don’t play that many games. Not really. The aforementioned split between work, partner, kids, parents, chores and every other demand of the early 21st Century doesn’t really leave much room for gaming.

I think about games a lot, I read about them and I even write about them. But how much do I play them?

See, the likes of Witcher, Skyrim and Fallout are right out of the equation – 100 or more hours of my time to complete the main stories would probably take me right up to the door of retirement. Even your Destiny, Titanfall and Battlefront, with their demands to be online at a particular time are tricky, fine games that they all are – hey, how about starting that raid at 11pm guys? Guys? Come back? Where are you all going?

Hell, complicated life stuff means that half of my consoles aren’t even plugged in at the moment. The Wii U is sat in a desk without a monitor (god bless that off-TV play) which means that I can plough through Zelda (again?) or finally finish off Pikmin 3, but the glorious Splatoon is no good. The Xbox and Playstation take rotations under the telly, but time reigns supreme. So many of the games that are worth playing on those are just timesinks. I mostly download the PS+ and Gold freebies and play Peggle. Or, if walking even counts then Pokemon Go is probably my most played game.

Not very cool really.

In answer to the original question, I muttered something about Red Dead Redemption and the conversation moved on. My secret is out, and I’ve found a couple of like minded people in the office to waffle on about the Nintendo Switch to. That’ll do.

But, must make more time for gaming… Not just talking about, writing or reading about, but playing. Having recently invested in a pair of grips, the Vita is getting a lot more attention – there are a lot of gems on Sony’s little device, let down mostly by the frankly dreadful ergonomics of holding the damn thing.

And yes, maybe try and find 100 hours or so to catch up on Witcher 3… I’ll come back to you in 2034 with my findings…

Pre-order

I do it every time a new console gets announced. PS4, Xbox, New (new) Nintendo 3DS, whatever… Head straight to Amazon and slap the pre-order in, get in quick to ensure the allocation and then head off and forget about it. That way I get to stay in my nice warm house and don’t have to queue up in the cold…

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Because this doesn’t look like fun…

Half the time, of course, I end up cancelling before the launch – sensibility rears its ugly head, life gets in the way, the kids need new shoes, the car blows up, whatever. Something happens and that £300 that I had earmarked for the new shiny thing gets used somewhere else.

It doesn’t matter, I’m still in the game. Quite often these days, what with kids and cars and life and work and love, the anticipation phase is the only time I really get involved with a new console – for those few weeks, whether I eventually buy in or not, I’m in the same boat as everyone else. I can read the reviews, look at the preview videos, dream about the possibilities and no-one can take that away from me.

So, of course, this is a roundabout way of talking about the Nintendo Switch.

At the time of writing, the pre-order is still in, albeit having reduced down to a single game (no prizes for guessing which one). Yes, Splatoon 2 looks like a shoo-in later on this year, and yes I’ll probably stump up for Mario Kart (again) next month, but right now, 1-2 Switch just looks like the pack in game that never was and nothing else really grabs my attention. Maybe that will change.

But one thing strikes me about the Switch and it’s the reason why that pre-order is hanging in there, with one week to go…

VR.

The switch could be the Trojan Horse that finally makes VR mainstream.

It’s as simple as that in my mind, I really want a VR system that actually works, but existing systems are all tethered by wires, need ridiculously expensive hardware (even the PS4/VR solution would come in at close to a grand from a standing start) or just make too many compromises with controls.

A Google Cardboard style headmount for the Switch could be The One. The console itself is already wireless and standalone, the Joy Grips would be perfect for VR (motion controlled, haptic feedback, independent left and right, small enough to hold in a fist) and the only thing missing would be a positional sensor (like, for instance, the original Wii/Wii-U motion bar). Nintendo have form and they have 90% of the hardware solution in place…

So, yes, all conjecture at the moment, but in the mean time the base proposition of seamless movement from home to handheld is a good fit for my current gaming.

So my pre-order stays in.

A good walk, spoiled?

Ah, Golf. Game of kings and gentleme…

No, hang on, that’s not right. I’m here to talk about videogames.

Specifically, it it’s not obvious by now, Pokémon Go.

I, like the vast majority of us, downloaded this several months ago now and have pretty much “played” it every day since. Even if it’s just sitting in my pocket ticking away the miles while I walk to Starbucks at lunchtime.

It’s compulsive in many ways, the early game is certainly compelling, with new Pokémon around every corner, and the tantalising upgrade path there for all to see. But this much you know. It then gets massively dull, again as you know, as the corners of your Pokédex (or whatever the hell it’s called) slowly fill in and you’re left with rarer and harder to obtain monsters (I’m going to stop typing Pokémon because that accent is doing my head in) to fill in the gaps. Of course, by now, I’ve got hundreds of kilometres beneath my trainer’s feet, and I could even argue that by gamifying my daily walk, it has even contributed positively to my general health, weight and fitness. And with so much time, and mileage, commited to the game I’m not going to give up now. Not until I evolve that bloody Machoke anyway.

But, really, it’s a shit game. There’s simply not enough to it to make me want to play – other than the core notion of collecting ’em all. The upgrade/evolution path is just dull – with one single exception that I have found, a monster upgrades to another bigger monster and that’s it. The gym battles serve no particular purpose aside from being the only free way to amass the in-game coinage. Catching wild monsters is a random challenge – I guess aligned to your trainer level at a push. Just dullness heaped upon dullness heaped upon dullness.

Would it have hurt to make the evolutionary paths a bit more interesting? To allow you to upgrade monsters quicker via gym battles? To actually have some game elements in there somewhere? Or would that have simply broken the core Pokémon-ness of the game?

Maybe I should take up Golf after all…

Super Hexagon

 

What do we mean when we say that something is Perfect?

To me, it’s the idea that something simply cannot be improved – that adding, changing or taking away any part of it would only make it worse. That changing a single frame, a single word, a single note would destroy it utterly.

So, what is perfect? How many perfect anythings – films, games, books, songs or other works of art – are there? It’s a small list. Some Like It Hot? Voodoo Ray? The Mona Lisa? Mario 64?

Super Hexagon is perfect.

It’s simple enough that a five year old can understand it. You move, if you hit anything you die, and that’s it.

It’s hard. But it’s never unfair – if you die, it’s your fault. There are no invisible bullets, no unfair behind the screen intelligence artificially extending game play by throwing a curve ball at you. Everything you need to survive is there, on the screen with you and if you miss it, if you don’t see something you have nothing to blame apart from your own reactions, and your own poor planning.

It trains you. When you first pick it up, you will die within five seconds, convinced that no human brain can survive the audio visual onslaught. 60 seconds feels like an impossible dream and that this is all some elaborate joke, like a more stylish Flappy Bird. And then you begin to learn, your brain keys in to the nuances of the game, you learn the patterns, your fingers move on their own and 30 seconds, 45 seconds, 50 seconds goes by and then, BOOM!, you survive for a minute and it turns up the pace again. You move on to the harder modes and you start to survive them too.

It makes the impossible seem normal. Go back to “Hard” mode after working your way up to 30 seconds or so on Harder or Hardest and… It’s slow. This was something that a mere two years ago seemed to be impossibly fast, and now you have all the time in the world?

I first wrote this review years ago, and it still stands today. I have poured more time into this, in five second bursts, than most of you have ploughed into Fallout’s 1 through to 4 combined. I still haven’t beaten all six modes; and I may never do so, but I’m getting there. Hard and Harder are done, and I’m up in the 30-40 second range in Hardest, Hardester and Hardestest, so the end is in sight. And I still love every second I put into it.

If you play games, you should play this.

If you make games, you should play it until your nose bleeds.

Just get it played.