Game 5 – Eversion (PC)

One thing that I have been concentrating on when it comes to playing my backlog is really getting into older games, specifically 4th Gen and sooner. There’s no real reason for that, it’s just because that’s the mood I’ve been in. But today I came upon this 2008 platforming game made by Guilherme S. Tows under the name Zaratusta Productions.

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I know Indie platforming games seem to have been popping up all over the place recently, and there isn’t any sign of them slowing down. Single-person developing teams are making their own games, using their own visions, and taking all the time they need to put  them out. And due to platforms like Steam, they have the ability to get them advertised and delivered to the public in a viable way. Whether or not you think this trend is a good thing is up to you, but many of the great games made this generation fall into this indie-platformer category.

Of all of these types of games I’ve seen and played, one thing that stays rather consistent is that they always seem to have their own “unique” twist. Each one seems to have it’s own “thing” that makes it stand out. Whether it’s a story twist, a unique gameplay mechanic, or just being much deeper than it shows on the surface, there has to be some kind of hook to separate it from the sea of indie platformers. Eversion’s thing is the ability to “Evert”.
ImageWhen you press the “evert” button on certain spots in the game…

Image…the game transforms into a slightly differently toned version.

The entire point of the game is to collect all of the gems on each level. You have an infinite number of lives to do so, should you die to the cute little enemies or fall into the water. When you evert to different versions of the world, the level foes from “1-1” to “1-2”, “1-3”, and so on. All the parts of the world change depending on the plane you’re currently on, including the music, color scheme, and most importantly how you interact with the environment.

ImageIn the second plane clouds can be walked on, while in the third plane, trees become wilted and can be walked through.

This is where the meat of the game lies, as all the puzzles are solved in this way. But where I really feel like this game shines and shows how it is truly unique isn’t really in it’s evert mechanic. It’s in it’s tone. The game makes a very deliberate attempt to pass itself off as an early 90’s platformer with vibrant colors and bubbly music. But as the game progresses and you delve deeper into the later planes, you realize that the game isn’t just rotting the flowers and taking the color away. The game is taking a shift for the darker.

ImageOnce you get thrown into an auto-scrolling level with no puzzle solving and the threat of some unknown darkness chasing you, something isn’t quite right.

Also of note, it is at this point that the music in the game takes a turn for the darker. The original bubbly theme turns to slower remixes of itself in the first couple of planes, but once reach this point it changes to a completely dreary theme that makes you miss all the bright pinks and blues. And it only ends up getting worse from there.

ImageGiant red hand enemies start appearing in the 5th plane, and are a completely unwelcome addition to the game.

It’s at this point that you start to really miss the way the game started out as. When you entered those first 2 planes, you thought they seemed dark and wanted the original happy-world back. But after you start to see things like this you would just be happy seeing a -2 or -3 plane again. The game does a good job of teasing you by letting you experience them for a moment before tossing you back into the insanity of the later planes.

ImageBy this point, the score-counter on the top of the screen is flickering through a bunch of random numbers, although you can’t see in this still picture.

The game is pushed into full-on horror mode by now, as what was left of the little platformer is gone. All flowers have turned to deadly spiked barbs. Smiling faces on blocks are deformed cowls. The music is less of a song as it’s a warped track that speeds up and slows down at random and isn’t pleasant at all. And that’s when the game goes into it’s darkest point.

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ImageShown: Not even remotely the game you started playing

At this point, the music is completely scrapped for a rapid and irregularly beating heart. Another auto-scrolling level, this one has a good degree of difficulty to it as you constantly dodging enemies and trying to outrun the wall of blood. After you reach the end of this level, you are transported into one last level. The last level is the only one that incorporates all 7 of the planes you’ve experienced at this point, and calls on you to remember the traits of each one in order to collect all the gems.

There are 240 total gems to collect through all the levels, and you can go back and re-do each of the stages at will to get them all. Finish the 7th level to finally beat the game and save the princess you were apparently after the entire time!

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But ending the 7th level without all the gems nets you the “bad” ending, while having all 240 will get you the “true ending”.

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Getting the true ending also unlocks one final level as well as one final plane. For those that are adventurous enough to go see what it looks like, you can download the game through his site for free here. The game is also available on Steam for $5, in HD with achievements, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I think this game has plenty of things that make it “unique” among the recently popular genre of indie-platforming. It takes maybe an hour to beat the whole thing, and it’s worth a look.

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Game 4 – Mega Man 3 (NES)

Whenever I hear the topic of Mega Man come up, it most often comes down to everyone agreeing on how great Mega Man 2 is, and after that everyone seems to have their own favorite. Some people prefer one of the other NES staples (1-6), while some people just love the SNES games (Usually 7 or one of the Mega Man X games), and even others think Mega Man Legends is the way to go. I know others that even say that the new ones, 9 and 10, have improved the games enough that they should be considered among the best. The interesting thing is that there’s a good argument to hold up for all of these games. I consider the Mega Man fanbase to be one of the most tolerable, as I don’t find that people really dislike many of the games, except maybe some of the spin-offs.

But still, there is this kind of agreement between fans that Mega Man 2 is this crowning achievement. Even if they have another game that’s their favorite, people tend to say that 2 has some of the best music, most iconic stages, and some of the best weapons.

ImageThey take forever to run out, go through enemies, are spammable, and half the bosses(including Metal Man himself) are weak to them. Metal Blades are the shit. 

Hearing nothing but good things, I played Mega Man 2 a while ago, and I’d have to say it lived up to the hype. It’s a fantastic game, and a solid entry to the series as it lays the groundwork for the many games to follow. The improvements over the original are astounding. I’ll probably dedicate it’s own post to it eventually, as it’s plenty deserving of one. But it’s just the backstory to the next game I decided to break out. Taking 2 as the starting point, and not wanting to take a step backwards in the series quite yet (I’ll save the original for when I’m feeling a bit more nostalgic), I popped in the next game in the series.

Mega Man 3, released in 1990 (2 years after Mega Man 2), doesn’t do too much to change the success that preceded it. Really, MM3 looks very similar to MM2, compared to the sharp contrast between MM1 and MM2. But although the gameplay is so similar, there are plenty of neat things they added into MM3 that really expand upon the series. The first very noticeable thing is Mega Man’s new ability to slide. This in itself vastly changes the way the platformer is played. It’s interesting playing any Mega Man after this, considering that sliding is just another part of the game. But when you go back and play MM2, it really makes you miss it. Dodging attacks is much easier, and it gives you a sense of satisfaction with how smooth it works into the combat. Another noticeable addition is Mega Man’s robot dog, Rush. Again, he seems like a staple of the series now, but he’s missing from MM2 in favor of the simpler items. Although I can’t say it really adds any more abilities the items didn’t already have in MM2, but it doesn’t hurt to add some extra fluff. Especially considering how light on story a lot of these NES-era games were. Speaking of adding fluff, the biggest fluff addition in MM3 comes in the form of the introduction of Proto Man, Mega Man’s prototype brother who appears in the game as a mini-boss in multiple stages.

ImageProto Man is introduced as a type of rival to Mega Man, who helps him by training him through fighting.

Beyond actual new additions to the gameplay as compared to MM2, the game just…feels a bit different. You can see MM3 as the point where you start to see some of the…uniquely themed bosses and stages implemented. I guess you could consider the previous robot masters to be boring or generic by comparison, but that’s all personal opinion. Air Man, Heat Man, and Metal Man (and their stages) seem a lot more normal and realistic than Snake Man and Top Man.

ImageSnake Man’s stage is made up of very smug-looking snakes.

ImageWhile Top Man’s stage has dudes that, well, throw very dangerous tops. At least the snakes on Snake Man’s stage spit some kind of energy rounds.

ImageTop Man himself also happens to throw tops. It’s a thing. You don’t get the ability to throw tops as the power from him…

Image…but Snake Man makes up for that by giving you the ability to throw snakes.

But it’s easy to concentrate on the weird. Even with a couple “uniquely themed” bosses, MM3 has some good ones as well. I was personally a fan of Magnet Man and Shadow Man. Although I will say that Magnets run out WAY too quickly (You only get to shoot a total of14 before you run out). But they’re cool while you get to use them. As for Shadow Blades, they’re probably the equivalent of Metal Blades from MM2, but not quite as good.

ImageShadow Blades can shoot in all directions just like Metal Blades from MM2, which proves to be useful throughout the game.

One thing I really loved about this game, though, is after you defeat the 8 robot masters. You don’t just go directly to Wily’s Castle to defeat Wily like you did in MM2. First, you end up going through alternate versions of 4 of the stages and fight 2 robot masters in each. Except instead of fighting the same robot masters you encountered before, you find the Dark Lord, who channels the powers of each of the 8 robot masters from MM2 to fight you with. So you get this great sense of nostalgia coming off playing MM2, where you get to fight them all again. I think that MM2 has one of the best groups of robot masters of any game in the series, and it’s really cool seeing them all again. It’s also interesting to compare how much easier the fights are just because of the ability to slide to dodge their attacks. It gives an even sharper comparison of how much the mechanic was missed in the game before.

After these 4 stages, the game transports you to Wily’s Castle like normal, and you trek through 4 more stages, fighting unique non-robot master bosses in between. Although I’m not trying to make a spoiler-free blog here, I’m also not trying to ruin the final bosses and endings of games, either. Also, I don’t have any screenshots for anything beyond the first 8 stages. So there’s that.

Overall, I really enjoyed myself with Mega Man 3. It really feels like a proper sequel to an already great game. It defines itself plenty by doing things the 2nd never tried to, all the while staying true to the things MM2 fixed in the series. I wouldn’t be one to say it’s an overall better game, but there are some people that would. And I’m okay with that.

Because really, every Mega Man game is going to come with things you like and things you don’t like. There are going to be bosses that seem a bit wacky, and ones that feel more normal. There will be weapons that are useful throughout the game, and ones that you never even try to use because they don’t really have a use. That’s Mega Man. That’s what you expect. I really don’t believe that any Mega Man game is perfect. There is going to be one that is your favorite. It may be the one you played first, or the one that has the coolest boss. It might be the one where you get the most fun weapon to use. But really, every game has parts that you can pick out that are like that. Each game in the series has a best boss, a best weapon, a best stage, and a best song. So it makes sense why so many people can look at a series with so many different games and be okay with all of them. There’s something appealing in all of them. And they know that their own favorite may not be rational, but there’s something in it that just makes them love it more than anything else. And it’s the same for every other person who plays and likes the series.

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Game 3 – Kirby’s Dream Land (GB)

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In 2003, Masahiro Sakurai left HAL Laboratory. For more than a decade he worked at the developer making a name for himself as the main creative designer of the Kirby series, as well as the Super Smash Bros. games. He sighted the main reason for leaving being pressure to make sequels to his games. He left the company with whom he made his entire reputation as a way of saying he was tired of the sequelization of the video game industry. Following true to his promise to make unique games, he founded his own development company, Sora Ltd. His first project saw him working with fellow game designer Tetsuya Mizuguchi on Meteos, a new title for the DS in 2005.

ImageMizuguchi (creator of Rez, Space Channel 5, Lumines, etc), seen here looking smug as fuck

Sakurai with Sora Ltd. continued to release games, albeit at his own pace, that were generally received well. Recently, a few weeks ago, he announced the end of Sora Ltd. as a development company. Today, he is working on the 4th iteration of the Super Smash Bros. series, working with Namco Bandai. He is still known for his drive to create games in a unique way, although he hasn’t seem able to escape creating the sequels which caused him to leave HAL in the first place(though you could argue that he still tries to make them as far from the originals as he can). I’ve always loved him as a developer, and can honestly say I haven’t played a game backed by him that I didn’t like. So I knew that someday I would have to face the fact that I had never seriously played a true Kirby game, the namesake by which he got his start into the industry. It’s not of my own accord, it just wasn’t a series I ever followed, and it can also didn’t help that Kirby as a franchise has been overshadowed by Mario since it’s release. And no where seems a better place to start than the very beginning of the franchise.

At the ripe-old age of 19 years old, Sakurai headed his first project. He created something completed new. A new character in a new world, he created 1992’s Kirby’s Dream Land for the Game Boy. It’s kind of amazing to me that at such a young age, Sakurai was trusted to be the director of a completely new game. It almost gives hope to aspiring young game developers, myself definitely not included in that. I play games, and I have no want to make them.

And play it I did. It’s no secret that platformers ruled the game industry at this point in time, although one could argue that this was around the turning point where RPG’s started to gain a lot of steam. Still, among the thousands of platformers that existed at this time, this feels very smooth. I know I don’t have a lot of experience with Kirby games, but what little I’ve played of more recent ones, the controls are just as tight here as they are later in the series. I look forward to seeing the differences more in depth as I continue through the series, but I feel like this was a huge first step for the franchise.

Something I didn’t realize, is that the iconic ability of Kirby to copy abilities of enemies is missing from this game. Looking into it, that didn’t come about until the NES release of Kirby’s Adventure. Overall, the game takes a very simplistic approach. The bosses are fun, although they all follow a very similar pattern of tossing out some item or enemy for Kirby to suck up and spit back at them.

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The game is made to be approachable and easy, so it doesn’t take more than an hour to beat. Which fits into the standard of the time, which is just fine. At the end you go through a quick boss-run of all the bosses you’ve encountered before you fight King Dedede. I will say that Dedede doesn’t follow the same kind of pattern as the other bosses, and was a bit more of a challenge, which was nice to see.

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Overall, it’s obviously simplistic on purpose. Sakurai created the Kirby character, as well as the world, to be cute and cuddly. It’s definitely a Game Boy game, but at 22 years old I still enjoyed the simple platforming and listening to the upbeat music. So that counts for something, right? I mean, there’s more to this than just nostalgia, although I’d be lying if that didn’t play a big part of it. But really, isn’t that why I’m going through all these games in the first place? I would also like to take this time to show my appreciation for games that thank the player at the end of it. There’s just some sort of joy I find in it; it never fails to put a smile on my face.

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Also, appreciation for New Game+ in games. That’s cool too.

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Game 2 – Super Mario Land (GB)

Gunpei Yokoi, for those unaware, was an instrumental part of Nintendo in it’s early years following the success of the NES and revival of the video game industry after the Crash in 1983. One thing that’s always interested me was looking at how that crash came about in the first place, and what had to happen to get out of it. It’s almost a scary thought that many trends we saw in the early 80’s that led to the crash are similar to the ones we’re seeing today.

The biggest thing most people blame the crash on was a flood of cheaply-made and low-quality games into the market. With the rise of indie games and developers we’re seeing an abnormally high amount of cheap games that sell well. Now, I have no issues with indie games, but the interesting part is how it affects bigger developers. Realistically, it doesn’t make sense for big companies to fund high-budget projects anymore, unless they can trust that they’re going to sell well. Which basically confines them to the same yearly sequels they’ve been coming out with for a while now, causing them to over-saturate the market. They’re still selling plenty of copies of Fifa and Call of Duty, but complaints rise every year. But why would a publisher fund a huge project on an unproven idea? It’s asking to lose money. Yet cheap mobile and indie games sell, and have comparability little cost. And it doesn’t help that console gaming trends are on a steady down-turn, while mobile gaming is increasing at a staggering rate of 35% a year. I feel like it’s only a matter of time before we see so much shovelware that we end up in a large scale version of the 1983 crash.

Gunpei Yokoi, who died after getting hit by a car in 1997, had a philosophy when it came to design and video games. He called it “Lateral thinking with withered technology”. He believed that it didn’t matter that you were pushing the limits of technology, or using the latest processors. He believed there was something to be said of simplicity, as long as the execution was there. He wanted quality of gameplay over graphics. That being said, in 1989, after working on games such as Kid Icarus and Metroid he created and released the first Nintendo Game Boy, along with one of it’s launch titles, Super Mario Land.

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The interesting thing about the original Game Boy, is that it wasn’t the most up-to-date technology. It was Yokoi’s philosophy in physical form. He chose to have a simple device that was easy to hold, easy to use, and had a longer battery life than the stronger handhelds of the competition. And he was repaid by the community as being the best selling console of all time, until the PS2 eclipsed the mark in 2007.

Even years after his death, you still see Nintendo’s ideology strongly aligned with his. The DS and Wii followed the same principles, simpler and easy to pick up. Embracing creativity of games instead of strength of graphics and technology. And they have once again paid off as the Wii has outsold the console competition, while the DS’s 151.5mil units sold is currently just shy of the current best-selling PS2’s 153.1mil units. Argue what you will on quality of games on either system, or personal preference, but as far as appealing the the market Yokoi’s strategy has seemed to hold true.

My interest in Yokoi has lead me to deciding that I need to play Super Mario Land. I remember borrowing it from a friend when I was younger, but I never got to really sit down and play it all the way through. So begins my playthrough.

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I’m going to be honest here. I’m no graphics whore, and I love me some classic games. Hence me going through them here. One of the greatest things about the original Super Mario Bros. games was the tight platforming controls. It was almost unheard of at that time, but everything just felt so smooth. When you died it was very clearly your own fault. No one missed that jump but you. But in Super Mario Land the platforming feels…a bit choppy. Mario doesn’t jump and fall as smoothly or predictably as in the first 3 NES titles that came before this. It doesn’t bring the entire game down, but it feels a bit like something that could have been worked on a bit more.

I did enjoy, however, how refreshing the areas felt. There are 4 worlds in total, so it’s definitely a great deal smaller than the NES games (especially considering this came just after Super Mario Bros. 3 and it’s huge world), but what worlds there are feel completely different from a normal Mario game. This is also helped with enemies unseen in Mario games until this point, and even after.

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Really, even with subpar platforming (compared to other Mario titles, compared to most platformers of age it still plays very well) it doesn’t really detract from the game as a whole. Maybe it caused a couple deaths, but nothing terrible or rage-inducing. Another part I really enjoyed was the side-scrolling shooter segments, which happened twice in the game. Both of which ended in fun boss battles.Again, it’s just a refreshing thing to see in something that’s really a smaller package, but Yokoi wasn’t afraid to be creative with it. In the end, it took about an hour to beat it all. Maybe a bit less. Still enjoyable, and I feel did a great job of setting the standard for Nintendo’s franchises that would make their way to the handheld, like Metroid II and Link’s Awakening.

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So as this current generation (the 7th) comes to a close, and the major companies start to unveil their new consoles and products, I can’t help but wonder how close we might be to the next major video game crash. Maybe we need a crash to take a step back and re-evaluate the industry. Maybe we need another Gunpei Yokoi with a different outlook on the way games are made to turn things around again. I’m not saying Super Mario Land is the game we need to save the industry. It’s just a game. Fun, and worth it’s time, but that’s it. But maybe a we need something refreshing, something that concentrates more on lateral thinking than stronger processors and graphics cards.

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Game 1 – Bad Dudes (NES)

In 1989, Data East (who would go on to make Shadowrun on the SNES), ported their arcade game “Bad Dudes vs. Dragon Ninja” to the NES. This is one of those games that’s been iconic less for how good of a game it is, and more of because of how ridiculous the story premise is. As explained by the opening slide:

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The game immediately questions your badass-itude. You pick to play either Blade or Striker, who are essentially exactly the same except for different color schemes. So really it comes down to who’s name do you think is more badass, and that’s Blade by a longshot. So I get dropped into the game to fend off a seemingly endless onslaught of ninjas.

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I’ve never really seen much of the gameplay of Bad Dudes, mostly because any time anyone ever talks about it, it’s talking about the premise of the game instead. It plays reminiscent of a lot of beat ’em ups from that era, Double Dragon comes to mind. It has a very paced feel to it. You get to a point where you can pretty much anticipate where enemies are going to pop out, and it’s really just a timing game as you deal with the same enemies. It’s very methodical. I died the first run through, but once I got it down I breezed through the rest of the game pretty quickly, maybe an hour. The bosses were pretty fun, I thought. Also, this theme that played on stages 2 and 5 was pretty awesome.

In the end, after a boss run re-fighting all the bosses from the previous stages, you finally kill the Dragon Ninja before he takes off with the president

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I thought the final boss was one of the easiest in the game, which was kind of disappointing. Either way, the president is saved.

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HA! HA! HA! HA!

Introduction, My story

As I’ve grown older, I’ve come to the realization that my childhood obsession with video games has all but died. Before I would spend all my free time doing nothing but playing whatever I could get my hands on, and what time I wasn’t playing I usually spend wondering when I could again. This made school rough for a while, and contributed to how lazy I was when it came to my schoolwork. Once I got old enough, I knew that games had to take a backseat to my future and I all started to wean myself off of them and onto homework. Really, it was a complete change in my life, and I never even noticed it. I always just assumed I loved playing video games, but I just never had as much time for them. There was this sense that I would always come back to playing them when I had some free time again. But that time never came. Life moves on, regardless of if you want it to, and no real chunks of free time came again.

Fast forward a few years and I had decided to join the military. An interesting career move, to be sure, but it was my best option at the time. Once I got settled into my new military lifestyle, an interesting development occurred. I had free time again. A lot of it, in fact. I got stationed on a remote island and found myself with almost all time not at work, being completely free. Now, at this point I was pretty excited. I was expecting myself to get back into playing video games like I loved so much as a kid. My backlog of video games had grown a lot. Having a new, solid job allowed me to buy more games but allowed no time to play them. Of course this would be a great time to finally get to all these great games! It was at this point in my life that I realized that I had reached that complete change in my life I mentioned earlier. I only then realized that I had, in fact, fallen out of love with playing video games. As I popped one game in after another, I came to see that none of them could hold my attention. I just couldn’t bring myself to sit down and play the same game for multiple hours a day. Never again would I rack up 400+hour gameplay times on any game. I just wasn’t having a good enough time playing them. I could hardly say I liked games, at that point. I mean, I was playing all these new(maybe a few years old, but new to me) games that had received plenty of awards and accolades. But I just wasn’t having fun.

So I stopped playing them. But there was always something about them, something about games, that I still loved. Even if I wasn’t going to ever play a game again, I still loved at least researching them. Finding out about new games, how they got reviewed, what people are saying about it. I loved watching trends in games. Watching trends in genres, and in styles of games. Analyzing why Game A is selling well, or Game B isn’t. Following developers and publishers. As little actual gaming I was doing, I craved information as if I was. It was on that remote island that I realized that I didn’t actually like playing games(and hadn’t really for a few years) as much as I liked following the industry and journalism about them. 

Life moved on, I eventually left that island and am now settled happily in Seattle, WA. Since I’ve moved here, I continued my search into video game journalism, following trends and the industry. But I’ve decided that there are a lot of games I still have. And a lot of games I continue to buy. A lot of which I’ve never played at all. So I documented all of them. I put them in a chart and saw what had actually happened over the last 5-6 years of my life in regards to getting behind on my games.

The results were staggering. I had over 350(and growing) games to my name, yet I had beaten about 15% of them(most of which were beaten when I was a kid). I had seriously played less than 25%. That meant that over 75% of my games were either untouched, or I popped in for maybe a few minutes, and quit it. My 14-year-old self would strangle me. I remember playing the hell out of every game I had, because I was too poor to just buy a better one. It didn’t matter if I loved it, or it was just okay. I played it completely. And now I had this giant backlog of games, lots of old and some new, that many claimed to be the greatest ever made. Games that make up Top-100 lists all over the world. Games that I would have squealed over to play as a kid, but never got the chance. Games people have sunk hundreds of hours into and loved every minute of it. They were all in my hands, but I never cared. Even when given all the free time in the world, I still chose to just leave them there.

So here I am today. In Seattle, with still plenty of free time(although not as much as on that island), and I’ve made the decision that I need to go back and play these games. Most I know a lot about. Games that are the firsts of their franchises. Games that are considered the bests of their franchises. Games I’ve heard everyone talking about and referencing, but never played. Some I’ve hardly heard of. Most are iconic, some because they’re so amazing, some because they messed things up so badly. But they’re all fun. There’s a reason people still talk about them, and as much as I’ve read on them, I’m going back to find out exactly why. And I’ve decided to document it all here. So at the very least, I can go back and show myself that I do still love playing games.

 

-Jonathon