Obscure Gaming – Neopets: The Darkest Faerie (PS2)

Box Art for the Game.

Just as a disclaimer before I start talking about this game, there is a specific reason I labeled this as an obscure game. Though game media outlets have ratings and reviews associated with this game, many players overlooked this game due to it being labeled as “Neopets” and has a cult following of fans to this game. This game was part of my childhood and I felt like making an article about it. However, that doesn’t mean I won’t give total praise to this title as I try to make these posts as fair as possible. Without further adieu, let’s dive into this title.

Gameplay of Tor showing of some of the combat in the open world.

The story that this game follows is from the perspective of Tormund, or Tor, who is a young Lupe whose dream is to become a knight, and Roberta, an Acara training in the magical arts and the niece to the King of Brightvale. Together their job is to prevent the recently awakened Darkest Faerie before she thrusts the world into eternal darkness. The story that the game follows is rather interesting despite some holes and inconsistencies in the cutscenes, i.e. some items and equipment are changed frequently and sometimes armor you obtained earlier is used instead. Gameplay follows the standard conventions of action-adventure games and sometimes feels more like a clone of The Legend of Zelda. The two characters have different sets of equipment and work better for different combat situations. Tor, as a sword fighter, works better for close range combat, while Roberta works better for mid to long range combat, as she uses wands that fire blasts of magic. There is a system of elemental magic, known as Motes, that can be equipped to weapons, shields, and armor. Each element was strengths and weaknesses to the various types found in the game, such as fire vs. water, light vs. dark, and air vs. earth. The other component that this game features is the use of Petpets, little creature that you feed and follow you around the game world. Their function serves to provide special abilities to aide the player, such as health/magic regain, attack boost, etc.

Image Showing Roberta in Combat.

All of these elements sound very interesting and provide the player with an array of options to customize their characters, but this game does have it’s shortcomings. There are a variety of bugs, exploits, and glitches that can be found throughout the game world. Background music will cut off every so often, treasure that you find is sometimes not counted, certain NPCs can’t be talked too after a certain point, and players can bypass water death triggers during a single frame of the jump attack animation. Though these all sound bad, it actually adds something extra to the gameplay experience. Many of these exploits make for interesting speedruns and one of the glitches allows players the opportunity to reach an unused level, which is almost complete despite some textures and collision either not loading or missing entirely. I feel like the game was very ambitious for what the developers wanted, but somethings feel short of their expectations. However, that doesn’t mean that the game is any less fun and enjoyable in the combat, side quests, and open world you are presented.

The open world of this game is pretty impressive and fun to explore.

Though this game may not be game of the year or game of the decade, it still a fun game from my childhood that I boot up every so often. There are many games that people love to play despite what critics and other players have to say, but at the end of the day as long as you are having fun playing a game, the point of the video game has been achieved.

Great Games – Portal

Valve has always been known for the high octane, shooter library that started with Half-Life and progressed to mods becoming standalone titles, such as Team Fortress and Counter-Strike. However, when Valve unveiled the Orange Box in 2007, it came with the addition of a genre that took the Valve fan base by storm. Portal itself was definitely an unexpected change for Valve as going from their current formula to this puzzle-platformer was unexpected. However, the way that they executed this game, it’s mechanics, and the story it follows eased the minds of long time fans and cemented Valve as a diverse game company.

Example of the game’s Portal Gun and the portals it produces.

One of the things that stands out the most about this game is of course the concept of portals to solve puzzles and navigate the levels. This was one of the more interesting ways to create level design centered around this concept and implement this into how the story fits into the Half-Life universe. The physics engine was really what got me interested when I played through this title, as the need for constant redirection of your momentum to cross gaps or even fling the player to the end of each test chamber was both fun and exhilarating. The art direction that was chosen for this game really added to that sense of isolation and hopelessness. Test chambers having stark white tiles, the various scientific equipment, and the fluorescent lighting gave the atmosphere that factor of changing a person’s mood. Whether or not these were determined by choice of color theory design or the game’s story is debatable, but it stills feels unique. The story design itself is rather short, but it is very well written. The interactions that you have with GLaDos and her ability to make you feel insignificant as you progress feels so nature and the ending gives that sense of it being earned, rather than a given outcome.

One of the various Test Chambers found in the game. Take note of the art design and the way it shapes the environment and atmosphere.

Portal was definitely a game that shows the length of what good game design can be and new ways of considering how to shape your levels based on game mechanics. The other thing that I must point out is how well this game has the ability to incorporate humor into the story and dialogue. Most games that try this approach end up sounding dry and forced as developers are trying to lighten the mood for players. However, the way that Portal depicts it’s humor is more in a dark sense and the way that it executes through GLaDOS makes it work well, one of the few rare examples. I give lots of credit for this game and it’s writing, which it deserves. I decided to just make this posting about this game in particular and not the series as a whole due to the impact that it had on launch for Valve and Portal 2 feels like it needs a separate posting.

Honestly, this game is definitely one to play for anyone who is studying game design and development. I played this game once for the game, but went back to study it further for my own research regarding this topic as there is much that can be learned from this game. If you ever have the opportunity to pick up a copy of this title from a game store or Steam, play this game and you won’t be disappointed, unlike so many that didn’t get that cake GLaDos promised.

The cake is a lie, unlike the design and story of this game.

Series-ous Talk – Mario

No Series is more recognizable than this Nintendo poster child. Some of the most memorable titles in Nintendo’s lineup has had the name Mario associated with it. Such a franchise, that has the ability to spawn various genres from racing to party games, even adventures staring side characters, deserves some discussion.

First and foremost, the popularity of the original Super Mario Bros. gave rise to the platformer genre in video games. Thought there were games that came before, this Famicom/NES title helped in shaping the conventions of what platformers should aim to achieve: adventuring through a level and providing an immersive experience for players to enjoy. When compared to games like Pong, whose main objective was to achieve the highest score, Super Mario Bros. had the advances of power-ups, unique enemies, different worlds, and of course platforming puzzles. The success of this game did help bring confidence back into the prospect of video games in North America following the Video Game Crash of 1983, but what it did beyond that was cement Nintendo as a force to be reckoned with.

World 1-1 of the original Super Mario Bros, one of the most iconic levels in video game history.

Each console that Nintendo has released since the Famicom/NES has had some type of Mario game that appeared. Each generation of Mario game to release redefined the series and the themes surrounding it. Super Mario World, Super Mario 64, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Mario Galaxy, and Super Mario Odyssey have all been unique to the franchise through their game mechanics, art styles, stories and lore, but they continued to keep the platforming as an integral part of the series; they never forgot their roots. Until a few years ago, I had never picked up a Mario game in my life due to me growing up with Sonic of the Genesis (that’s a story for another day, however). I immediately took an interest in the game design, aesthetic, characters, and the challenge that each game brought to the table. Many people view these games, including Super Mario 64, as works of art and I can very much vouch for these statements. The time and dedication that Nintendo has done to create these games to be at the highest caliber is truly remarkable. Even though they don’t have the latest graphics, most powerful consoles, or online gaming services (I’m sorry, but it’s true), Nintendo has done the one thing that should be the outset of any video game: it’s fun to play.

Screenshot of Super Mario Odyssey, the latest entry in the franchise.

To anyone out there, who hasn’t played a Mario game, I ask that you give these games a try and see for yourself how this one plumber set the stage for all of video gaming.

Hidden Gems – Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color (PS2)

Cover Art for the North American Release.

I have been interested in writing this article for awhile, especially using this new category type I wanted to dub Hidden Gems. The focus of these articles is to inform readers about games that don’t get the most attention and are often underestimated. Without further interruption, let’s get talking about this game.

Magic Pengel is one of the most played games from my childhood, due to the unique nature of the game and it’s mechanics. The best way to describe this game is by saying that it is a mix of Pokemon and Mario Paint. You control a fairy-like entity known as a Pengel, who you are able to draw various types of creatures called “Doodles”. The process of creating Doodles allows you to use different types of paint brushes, colors, and body parts that have different functions, such as wings, arms, legs, designs, and much more. Depending on the colors that you use to create your Doodle. they will be categorized into three main categories: Magic, Attack, and Block. The way this acts like Pokemon is that their is a duel system set in the game that works like rock paper scissors. For example, if you use a magic type move and your opponent uses an attack type move, you will win that match-up and deal damage. There are hundreds of different Doodles across the game that you can collect and battle with other NPCs. After defeating an NPC, you have the ability to purchase the doodles they used in a recent duel.

The mechanics of the game are already a large draw for players, but there are other aspects of the game that really bring it full circle. The setting and art style for the game uses cel-shading alongside 3D graphics to create it’s unique look and atmosphere. The art style may have been influenced to the collaboration with Studio Ghibli, which shows that they had some interests in video games before Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch. The composition pieces for the game world and duels in different locations are some of the most memorable tunes that I can remember even to this day. The way that the music plays part in the flow of battles and the exploration factor give it that much more meaning and importance to the game’s design.

This is what the duel system looks like in game.

The main story that the game follows the events of you waking up and meeting with Zoe and her brother Taro, who live, along with the other residents of the island, under the rule of The Kingdom, who use pure-hearted doodlers to create for their own uses. I won’t go into much more detail regarding the story, both as a means of spoilers and another reason to incite everyone to play the game. Though this is not critically or commercially acclaimed, this game has a cult following of people who really appreciate this game. That being said, trying to get your hands on a copy won’t be easy or cheap as even a used copy can go for roughly $50 or more online.

Overall, this game has that unique quality which sets it apart from many other games on the Playstation 2 and is definitely worth a playthrough. I wish that this could get a remastered version on the next gen consoles as I highly recommend this game for anyone who needs a break from shooters or battle royale games.

Great Games – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild

I remember the Christmas of 2018 was definitely one of the most memorable as the last present that I opened, by the instruction of my parents, was a Nintendo Switch. It was love after first sight. The system had already been out for a year and the titles that had come out for it were all very exciting. However, there was one title that really stuck out to me, which just so happened to be the first game that I purchased for the console.

The combat system in Breath of the Wild gives you many ways to fight your opponents, whether you prefer complicated setups or fighting head on.

This game introduced several new gameplay mechanics that already added to the music and art style that fans of the series have come to know and love about the Zelda franchise. The gameplay added new weapons, armor, and ingredients, that allow players to customize Link to embody their own personality, create new items for gameplay, and use items from past entries and races of Hyrule. One very distinct feature of this game is the physics engine and the chemistry system that the developers implemented, which allows a player to create chain reactions and defeat enemies in new, innovative ways. The game world became more immersive, as compared to Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess, and allows players to freely roam and explore. The music adds tone and mood to the various areas you visit and changes depending on the time of day. The story and characters work in tandem to create the events that the player has to complete in order to save Princess Zelda. The graphics and visual design adds more of a high-definition appeal to previous entries in the series and still retain the core elements to creating the land Hyrule. Though there is a suggested way to complete the game, there is nothing stopping the player from running straight to the final boss after starting the game.

A player can just spend hours exploring the terrain alone. The variety found within this game provides an expansive, diverse Hyrule to explore.

There are just so many things that Nintendo did right with this game in particular that really set it apart from past entries in the franchise. One of the best things about this game is just the way they were able to seamlessly add various references to past games, even though the timeline concept for each game is broken to make the game’s atmosphere work. I don’t mind the oversight of the timeline because this game requires all of those elements to make it epic and it became just that.

I would say that Breath of the Wild is by far one of the best video games that I have played to date and speaks volumes for the rest of the franchise. Now I just need to wait until next year to play the sequel and as they say, the waiting is the hardest part.

Welcome Post

Who Loves Video Games? Everyone!

Hello to all you gamers out there!

Do you like video games? Interested in video games that you may not have heard of? Are there video game franchises out there that you love? I know I do!

I have been playing video games my whole life and I want to become a video game designer after college. I have owned dozens of systems over my lifetime and I wanted to find a way to talk about video game history, obscure titles, or basically anything that pertains to video games and consoles. I’ll have weekly postings on various topics and get some user polls up to see if anyone wants to have a specific game or console highlighted in a post. I look forward to talking about video games with such a diverse community and expressing my love for all things video game.

Until then, take care everyone!

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