Community Tagged Articles RSS Feed | Community RSS Feed on en Launch Media Network Toki Remaster Review: Frustratingly Great Wed, 02 Jan 2019 14:51:11 -0500 Joey Marrazzo

Some of our favorite video game franchises come from the arcade cabinets of yore: Donkey Kong, Street Fighter, and Michael Jackson's MoonWalk (look it up). Toki, while frustrating, is one of better platformers from that era and, luckily, a game that plays great on the Nintendo Switch.

Toki has all the platformer/shooter things that you love: six different levels, a hard-to-defeat boss at the end, enemies that can kill you in an instant, and a limited amount of credits. It's a game that tasks you with expertly going through each level with cat-like reflexes and focus. 

Danger and instant-death lurk around every corner. 

Toki starts as a human but is transformed into a slow-moving ape who must save the damsel in distress so he can return to his human form. To fend off the enemies keeping him from reaching his goal, Toki has one attack: spitting energy balls. Luckily, you can upgrade your attack for a short time with several power-ups scattered throughout the levels. You'll be able to spit two balls at once, three balls at once, shoot fire, and more. 

Just like the original arcade game Toki will die if he comes into contact with anything. If you lose all your lives, you have to restart the level and you get a credit taken away from you -- classic, but frustrating all the same. If you lose all your credits, you have to restart the entire game.

Since basically anything can kill you, you're going to die a lot. Dying over and over really isn't fun, per se, but after you die a couple dozen times (like I did), you start to pick up on where the enemies are and how you can complete each level rather quickly.

One way to not die is to get the helmet power-up (kind of like the armor power-up in Super Ghouls n' Ghosts). This allows you to take an extra hit from an enemy without you instantly dying. 

Throughout the game's six levels, you will find the usual water and fire levels found in platformers like these (which are always my favorite levels). Whether it’s swinging on a vine or jumping on a see-saw, each level has you face to face with the boss at the end. 

Each boss will have different things to throw at you while you try and shoot them. I tried just aiming for the boss and avoiding the obstacles but due to Toki's slowness, I often died while going side to side. Your best bet is to take out the obstacles, whether they are giant balls bouncing towards you or the B.U.R.P letters in the fire level, and then go on a full-blown attack of the boss. 

One of the downsides to having an arcade remaster on the Switch is that there is no save function in the game. Yeah, that's right. No matter how far you get, you can't exit the game and play a few rounds of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. Just like the old days, you have to play the whole game through in one sitting. You won't lose everything if you put your Switch to sleep after a level, but you'll lose everything if you close out of the game. 



  • Beautiful Remastered Graphics and Soundtrack
  • Lots of fun
  • Challenging
  • Not many levels
  • Challenging
  • No save support.

Toki is available now on the e-shop and a physical Retrocollectors Edition is available only at GameStop, which features a mini arcade cabinet that you can put your Switch into so you can play the game as if you are in an arcade.

The combination of a fail-and-try-again arcade game, hand-drawn characters, remastered graphics along with a re-orchestrated soundtrack makes Toki a true remaster. While the arcade die-and-lose-all-your-progress style isn't that popular in games nowadays, this game remains true to the original arcade cabinet, and I respect that choice.

Toki is a great way to introduce the new generation of gamers to the pain that many faced in those arcades with just a handful of quarters and a few hours until their parents came to pick them up. 

[Note: The developer provided the copy of Toki used for this review.]

Every Red Dead Redemption 2 Mission, Graded -- Chapter 6: Beaver Hollow Mon, 19 Nov 2018 10:47:11 -0500 William R. Parks

Red Dead Redemption 2 offers an unusual and refreshing approach to the realm of open-world gaming. Its adherence to realism and focus on the slightest of details make it something truly remarkable to play.

With this series, we have taken a close look at the more structured aspect of Red Dead 2, its missions. We have seen them function in concert with the game's open-world, tapping its beauty and atmosphere to elevate their action and showing us new ways to engage and explore it.

Now, as we come to Red Dead 2's conclusion, I feel confident saying that Rockstar's excellent writing and commitment to gameplay variation has made these missions worthy of the world they exist within.

Does this remain true with Arthur's final chapter? Let us find out as we grade the missions of Chapter 6: Beaver Hollow.

Grading Scale

One more piece of upkeep for those that may be skipping the preceding articles -- our grading scale is as follows:

A: These are the missions that are as impressive as Red Dead 2's immense and nuanced world. Transcendent moments that validate video games as art.

B: Exceptional sequences, these missions create moments that leave a lasting impression.

C: *The bread-and-butter of Red Dead 2. Filled with straightforward action and character development that keeps the game moving forward and the player engaged.

D: Forgettable missions that serve just to introduce a character or mechanic without many frills.

F: Painful. The game would be better without these missions.

It is important to note that the "C" grading is not meant to imply that a mission is average compared to other games. Rather, "C" should be considered a baseline for Red Dead 2 relative to its exceptional "A's" and "B's" and its lackluster "D's" and "F's."

The primary goal of this investigation is to create a hierarchy within Red Dead 2's missions, not to provide a definitive stance on how the game stacks up against others.

Note: Mission descriptions and heavy spoilers follow.

Red Dead 2 Chapter 6: The Missions

Visiting Hours

Grade: B

After performing some hot air balloon reconnaissance at the end of Chapter 5, Arthur and Sadie are "prepared" to break John out of prison.

As with Chapter 3's "Blood Feuds, Ancient and Modern" and Chapter 4's "Revenge is a Dish Best Eaten," this mission uses an exceptional set piece (the prison) as a backdrop to escalate the violence and elevate the gunplay.

Additionally, this mission continues Red Dead Redemption 2's trend of grounding its action in familiar troupes, as you use a guard held at gunpoint as your bargaining chip for John's release. This tendency remains effective and satisfying here.

While we have seen some hair-brained schemes go terribly awry throughout Red Dead 2, and there is plenty more to come in this final chapter, we see the flip-side as Arthur and Sadie pull off this particularly brazen plan with minimal set back. After all of their losing, it is nice to see two of the game's most appealing characters win for a change.

Just A Social Call

Grade: B

Something has shifted, and Micah has surpassed Arthur in the gang's hierarchy. With Arhtur's continuous questioning of Dutch, I suppose that I knew that a demotion was inevitable, but it still hurts.

Fortunately, being kept at arm's length from Dutch and his plans gives this mission an additional surprise factor. Apparently, when Dutch says "cut a deal," he means unceremoniously execute one of the world's most powerful forces, Cornwall.

This mission does not only succeed due to its slightly unexpected action, but it also features an excellent interior gunfight amidst conveyor belts of coal. Many of Red Dead 2's most memorable gun battles take place under its wide open sky, and this more claustrophobic encounter is most welcome.

Now excuse me as I go pout while Micah and Dutch plan our next move.

A Rage Unleashed

Grade: C

At the conclusion of the preceding chapter, I was excitedly expecting Chapter 6 to delve more formally into the creepier side of Red Dead 2. I was intrigued by the strangeness of the residents of Butcher Creek and wanted to know more about the savage Murfrees.

Somewhat disappointingly, this is not what ended up being offered by Chapter 6. Instead, the chapter focuses on the narrative arc concretized by this mission: Arthur and Dutch's varying involvement with the Natives.

That said, while I am a bit crestfallen due to the Murfree's absence from this chapter, I am not unhappy with what is offered in its place. This mission alone contains a unique assault on a boat, provides a nice entree to the increasingly violent Dutch and the violence-weary Arthur that pervade this chapter, and gives further insight into Dutch's plan.

However, if Rockstar ultimately wanted the game to conclude as it does, I would love to have seen a short chapter focusing on Red Dead 2's darker underbelly.

The Delights of Van Horn

Grade: D

Here we get further indication that Arthur has been moved down the totem pole, as Micah is now barking orders, sending him with Bill to commander an explosive-carrying wagon.

At this point, we are all too familiar with these stock coach robberies, and I do take some issue with the inclusion of so many middling and wrote missions in the game's final chapter.

I really began to feel the slog that is the game's finale in this mission, and while there are some sublime moments to come, I wish that Rockstar would have done some further editing to keep this chapter feeling fresh and exciting in the ways that the preceding chapters have.

The Bridge to Nowhere

Grade: C

We get a simple little mission here that offers a slight gameplay innovation, allowing you to operate a railroad handcar. The highlight, however, is Arthur and John's interactions throughout the mission.

While I felt that the reveal of Arthur's tuberculosis was not as powerful as it should have been, Rockstar does a nice job communicating how deeply it resonates for him throughout the chapter. There is a newfound clarity around the gang's situation, and he moves away from simply questioning Dutch's actions to direct dissent when he insists that John take Abigail and Jack and leave the gang for good.

Red Dead 2 makes certain to remind you of where Arthur's lucidity is originating, closing the mission with the dying man taking a long pause as he attempts to catch his breath.

Archeology for Beginners

Grade: C

Dutch's involvement with the Natives is one riddled with violence and exploitation, and Arthur's function as a nice counterpoint. This first mission with Chief Rains Fall is a meditative horse ride once again showcasing Red Dead Redemption 2's beautiful vistas.

While he may search for wisdom as he rides with the Chief, the violence that closes this mission poses the question if it is possible for anyone to really change, even when faced with their imminent demise.

Honor, Amongst Thieves

Grade: F

There is little left to say about these wagon robberies, and I am very surprised that Rockstar would include two in a chapter that should be cruising along to a superb climax.

The Fine Art of Conversation

Grade: B

Another attempt at a peaceful mission with Rains Fall, and another bloody massacre.

Colonel Favours is repugnant in ways beyond the myriad of criminals and outlaws we have encountered thus far, and Red Dead 2 does not shy away from the stains that mar United States history. Rockstar's depiction of the government's treatment of the Natives is so viscerally appalling that it has to be applauded.

Further, the mission features a nice action sequence similar to "Visiting Hours," where a gunpoint hostage is used to escape a messy situation, and a touching conversation that further illuminates the conflict between tenderness and violence that rages within Arthur.

Goodbye, Dear Friend

Grade: B

Now for a slight detour to see Colm O'Driscoll hanged.

The standout moment of this mission is when Sadie's rage erupts, and you get locked into sniper-mode (a la Silent Scope) for the battle. While it is a minor modification, it is refreshing to see Red Dead 2 continue to innovate its gameplay.

While I quite like this mission, it is hard not to feel like returning to the O'Driscolls (amidst your heated participation with the Natives) is partially responsible for Chapter 6's sluggishness. There is so much that still needs resolution by the time you reach the game's final moments, and concluding the O'Driscoll's arc in the preceding chapters could have alleviated some of the final act's issues with pacing.

Mrs. Sadie Adler, Widow

Grade: C

With Colm dead, we can now finish off the O'Driscolls and exact Sadie's final revenge for the murder of her husband.

I continue to find delight in how wonderfully rendered Sadie is, and, following a fairly standard shootout, it is perversely pleasurable to see her covered in the blood of the men that have wronged her so thoroughly.

That said, I still do not see a definitive reason that this mission needed to be held until the final chapter and think resolving this storyline earlier would have been preferable.

Favored Sons

Grade: C

While Rains Fall attempts to foster peace, his son continues his shenanigans with Dutch. This plan feels especially gratuitous, as their goal is to humiliate a group of soldiers by trapping them in a valley. Dutch's involvement in something so ill-conceived feels especially heinous with the knowledge that it is purely an attempt to divert heat away from the gang toward the Natives.

Of course, things once again go awry, and Eagle Flies is captured amidst the gunfire. The novelty of fighting the armed forces keeps these missions elevated, and we get a big moment when Arthur and Dutch channel The Fugitive, plunging from a cliff to escape their pursuers.

The King's Son

Grade: B

It is exciting to finally have a reason to infiltrate Fort Wallace, an area that has been red on the map since the game's beginning.

The bulk of this mission offers something that I would love to have seen more of throughout Red Dead 2: motivated weapon restrictions. Here, it is only bows and stealth takedowns that can be used, but finding ways to justify limiting weapon options in more of these middling late-game missions may have added just enough variation to elevate Chapter 6.

Additionally, the lightning storm escape that closes the mission reminds us of just how beautifully atmospheric Red Dead Redemption 2 can be.

My Last Boy

Grade: A

This mission marks the beginning of a trilogy of high-action sequences that will take us to the end of Arthur's story. Red Dead 2 is not reinventing the wheel with these missions. Rather, it offers amped-up versions of things we have done previously, and here, we find the game's biggest gunfight.

Riding into combat with the Natives at your side is a wonderfully cinematic moment that smacks of some of film's finest battles, and the following shootout sings. But this mission is more than just action, featuring a severe act of betrayal, as Dutch leaves Arthur to nearly die, and a powerful moment where Arthur's disease causes him to collapse in the road.

Rising from this incapacitation, I was notified that Arthur was at minimum weight. We saw this type of small touch at the beginning of Chapter 5 (Arthur comes to in Guarma with all of his cores drained), and I love these little expressions of Arthur's physical state through the gameplay systems that are in place. While this is something very minor, it is a lovely indicator of just how much consideration went into Red Dead 2's smallest details.

Our Best Selves

Grade: B

This mission gives us a super-sized train robbery, complete with jumping between horses and the train, explosions, and the locomotive careening off the bridge we destroyed previously.

The action on the train itself does not quite match the previous mission's gun battle, but it is still serviceable, and Dutch and Micah's insistence that John has been killed gives us the setup for Red Dead 2's final mission.

Red Dead Redemption

Grade: A

After 82 missions we have finally arrived at Arthur's last hurrah, and this mission is a wonderful remix of some of my favorite aspects of Red Dead 2 delivered in one final punch to the gut.

To start, we get a last ride with Sadie. Throughout these mission gradings, I have continually remarked on how much I like Ms. Adler, and the missions that put her and Arthur in close proximity remain some of the most memorable.

The action of this segment also offers something I wish was more pervasive in the game: gunfights where Arthur does not have any support. As stated, I have found Red Dead 2's difficulty lacking, and the continual support you have in the action sequences is a big part of this. I really appreciate the opportunity to go in solo for this final mission.

From there, we get another original song-fueled horse ride. While not invoked as powerfully as was done in Chapter 5's "Dear Uncle Tacitus," this moment of rejoinder prior to your final confrontation with Dutch hits hard.

Then we get a final moment of brotherly connection between Arthur and John. As I have mentioned, I continually enjoyed when familial tenderness shines through the hardened exteriors of these two men, and Arthur's self-sacrifice is the ultimate offering.

And finally, I was transported back to Red Dead 2's first transcendent mission, Chapter 2's "Americans at Rest," as I engaged in a savage brawl with Micah. As Arthur was laid to rest, the full scope of what I had experienced in this phenomenal game was driven home.

Chapter 6 Summary

Arthur's final chapter proves to be Red Dead 2's most inconsistent, dragging in a way that the preceding chapters do not.

One part of this is that the gameplay is pushed to its limit by the sheer volume of missions. After 70 missions, it is, of course, challenging to offer variations that will keep them feeling fresh and exciting, and I believe that editing some of the redundancy throughout the game would allow it to have a stronger finish.

Further, a slight restructuring of the O'Driscoll arc could prove to keep this final chapter chugging along at a more even clip, something that I believe would be better for the game overall.

All of that said, the game finishes with a climax that meets all of the established expectations and more. "Red Dead Redemption" so wonderfully presents so many of the exceptional aspects of the game, and it is a finale that will not be soon forgotten.

Epilogue & Side Missions

While the two epilogue chapters are, of course, part of Red Dead 2's main story, the missions contained within operate very differently than the six chapters we have thus far graded.

Much like the game's side missions, the scale and scope varies so greatly between them (one mission might be a full-scale action sequence while another consists of cinematics almost exclusively) that it does not seem productive to try to fit them individually into this grading scale.

Indeed some of the side missions are truly wonderful, and the epilogue (functioning as something like a movie in its totality) definitely finds a home amidst the best Red Dead 2 has to offer. However, they will not be individually graded here.


If you want to know what we think of the game as a whole, be sure to check out our Red Dead Redemption 2 review. If you're looking for tips and tricks for the Wild West epic, be sure head over to our Red Dead Redemption 2 guides page.

And if you would like to see more of our Red Dead 2 mission gradings, those that are currently available can be found at these links:

Chapter 1: Colter
Chapter 2: Horseshoe Overlook
Chapter 3: Clemens Point
Chapter 4: Saint Denis
Chapter 5: Guarma

Every Red Dead Redemption 2 Mission, Graded -- Chapter 5: Guarma Wed, 14 Nov 2018 15:33:24 -0500 William R. Parks

Red Dead Redemption 2 has put us through savage gunfights and hilarious nights in the saloon, and, with the end of Chapter 4, it has left us on a cliffhanger unlike any of the preceding chapters.

Some of the kindest and most thoughtful of our gang were put to rest in a disastrous robbery, and our attempts to evade the law reached entirely new heights.

While I had been loving my time in New Hanover and Lemoyne, the prospect of continuing my adventure in an entirely new locale had me excited, and I could not wait to dive in.

Let us see what the game had in store as we look at each mission of Chapter 5: Guarma.

Grading Scale

One more piece of upkeep for those that may be skipping the preceding articles -- our grading scale is as follows:

A: These are the missions that are as impressive as Red Dead 2's immense and nuanced world. Transcendent moments that validate video games as art.

B: Exceptional sequences, these missions create moments that leave a lasting impression.

C: *The bread-and-butter of Red Dead 2. Filled with straightforward action and character development that keeps the game moving forward and the player engaged.

D: Forgettable missions that serve just to introduce a character or mechanic without many frills.

F: Painful. The game would be better without these missions.

It is important to note that the "C" grading is not meant to imply that a mission is average compared to other games. Rather, "C" should be considered a baseline for Red Dead 2 relative to its exceptional "A's" and "B's" and its lackluster "D's" and "F's."

The primary goal of this investigation is to create a hierarchy within Red Dead 2's missions, not to provide a definitive stance on how the game stacks up against others.

Note: Mission descriptions and heavy spoilers follow.

Red Dead 2 Chapter 5: The Missions

Welcome to the New World

Grade: B

Beginning Chapter 5 with all of the gear I had accumulated missing and all of my cores drained was exhilarating.

This first mission is loaded to the gills with new information, establishing an adversary for the chapter (Fussar) and connecting him to Cornwall as well as setting up the conflict that will pervade your time on Guarma.

If I was to get off this tropical island safely, I needed to both recover Javier (who is captured in the mission) and intervene in a conflict occurring between Fussar and the Natives. While I had become a seasoned veteran at rescuing gang members, my previous experience with involving myself in established conflicts suggested that this was not going to go well, and I felt a bit overwhelmed by the paths that were opening before me in this new setting.

I was transported back to my time at the beginning of Chapter 2, feeling as though I might drown in the options available to me. Ultimately, Guarma turned out to be very compact and manageable, but this feeling of discombobulation served to nicely immerse me in what Arthur was likely experiencing. It is impressive that Rockstar is willing to throw players so off-kilter this late in the game.

Savagery Unleashed

Grade: C

As I wandered through the jungle for the first time, I came across a man hanged, and, soon enough, I was taken captive and beaten in a cellar.

After breaking free of my captor, and cutting loose two Natives that I had been asked to rescue in the preceding mission, I found myself in the midst of a fairly stock stealth mission with some gunplay to close it out.

As I quietly crept past my enemies, I was struck by how often Red Dead 2's stealth segments ask me to follow directly behind an NPC. While this follow-the-leader certainly creates some nice cinematic moments, it ultimately brings the game's overall difficulty down significantly. As long as I stick close to my lead, I never really feel like I am in danger of being discovered.

Similarly, so many of the game's gunfights provide companions to assist you, often causing them to feel quite easy. When I am engaged in one of these missions, selecting a load-out feels almost entirely like a cosmetic choice, as victory seems guaranteed regardless of the weapons I have equipped.

In general, there is a sense in Red Dead Redemption 2 that Rockstar gives preference to creating cinematic moments rather than providing challenging gameplay. While it is nice to watch the story unfold with minimal death and interference, I would really like to see an increased difficulty setting come to the game in a future update.

A Kind and Benevolent Despot

Grade: C

After saving the Natives in the preceding mission, Dutch and Arthur can now focus on rescuing Javier.

At this point, it is made clear that all of the money stolen in the Saint Denis bank robbery was lost in the shipwreck, and Dutch continues to come apart at the seams, strangling the guide that brings them close to Javier's location.

From there, this is a wrote stealth/combat mission with a slight flourish as you sabotage a warehouse filled with sugar and set it ablaze. What can I say? I have been charmed every time Red Dead 2 has let me burn something to the ground, and it holds true here.

Hell Hath No Fury

Grade: B

With the resistance assisted and Javier recovered, it is time to attack Fussar directly and make a clean get away.

What follows is the most unique mission located on Guarma, as Fussar has some truly big guns (a Navy warship) at his disposal.

Before using a cannon (for the first time) to sink it, we get a standout gunfight on the island's beaches. After being stripped of all of my gear, it feels good to have a powerful shotgun back in my hands, and I painted that sand red.

Paradise Mercifully Departed

Grade: B

Even with the Navy ship dispatched, there are still some problems - namely, the captain of the ship that is to return us to Saint Denis has been captured by Fussar and an array of artillery is certain to sink any of our attempts to leave by boat.

There is a lot going on in this mission. Explosions, a cannon shoot-out, some corridor-style gunplay, and a tense four-man standoff that feels like it could have been plucked right out of The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Additionally, if Red Dead Redemption 2 has taught me anything it is that I am a sucker for gunfights in crop fields, as I loved blasting my way through Fussar's fields of sugarcane.

This mission showcases so many wonderful ideas and proves that, even after all of the preceding missions, the game's straightforward action sequences can still standout.

Dear Uncle Tacitus

Grade: A

Now back on the mainland, the Guarma crew splits up to locate the rest of the gang that was left behind.

While there is a short burst of action, this mission functions as a truly transcendent rejoinder, putting you on a long, lonesome horse ride set to a wonderfully surprising new song from D'Angelo.

It is hard to convey why this mission is so effective, as it relies so heavily on Red Dead 2's ability to create a breathtaking atmosphere, but to be alone with Arthur, quietly reflecting on where you have been and where you are headed, is powerful and marks one of the game's high points.

Fleeting Joy

Grade: C

As I wiped the tears from my eyes, I found myself back with my crew, and (surprise, surprise) Sadie has been the one to keep everyone together during our absence.

However, there is not much time for celebration, as another assault on camp cuts things short. This time around it is the Pinkertons, and they are not messing around, carting a gatling gun to make sure they leave no survivors.

Unfortunately for them, they did not plan for Sadie Adler, and again I found myself marveling at her ability to dish out death before I stepped behind the gatling and finished the lawmen off.

It is also revealed that Dutch is not planning to spring John from prison any time soon, but Arthur and Sadie seem to have other plans.

A Fork In the Road

Grade: D

While walking through the streets of Saint Denis, a coughing fit overcomes Arthur, and a trip to the doctor reveals that he has tuberculosis.

This mission feels like Red Dead 2's single greatest misstep.

This needs to be an extremely resonant moment, as it informs Arthur's character development for the rest of the game. Following "Dear Uncle Tacitus," it is clear that Rockstar is able to build powerful and impressionistic moments, however, this one simply does not land.

There is no foreshadowing that makes this mission the gut-punch it should be. Instead, we are blindsided by Arthur's illness, and it almost feels as though I missed a portion of the game that would build to this reveal.

Considering the methodical pacing used throughout the game, I am very surprised to see Rockstar not escalate this more gradually and effectively.

Icarus and Friends

Grade: A

Anyway, despite having TB, I am off to meet Sadie to solidify our plan for getting John out of prison.

As we saw in Chapter 4, Rockstar has begun to include different vehicles to keep the action missions feeling fresh, and we get a wonderful one in this mission: a hot air balloon. Additionally, Arturo, the balloon's owner, is a nicely rendered side character that gives this mission the Rockstar feel.

This airborne shoot-out is one of my favorite action sequences in the game, and while taking a tour is the cover used to get Arturo to take you up in the balloon, I really wish there was the opportunity to see more of Red Dead 2 from this vantage point.

That's Murfree Country

Grade: B

After the Pinkerton assault, it is clear that the gang cannot stay holed up where they are, and Arthur and Charles are sent up North to scout out an area that has an unfamiliar mystique to it.

On your ride, Charles mentions that no one would come to this part of the country to look for us, as people are known to go missing -- color me intrigued.

When you arrive, this bizarre and mysterious undertone remains. In the town of Butcher Creek, the citizens have bruised and sore-riddled faces, and, at the hideout of the Murfrees, you find ritual sacrifice and a woman locked in a cage.

Something so wonderful about exploring the world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is encountering its dark and odd underbelly, and the prospect of the next chapter bringing this in to the main story had me very excited.

Additionally, the mission closes by raising the stakes yet again, demonstrating that the gang is willing to execute its own if they have acted out of line.

Chapter 5 Summary

Guarma gave us a breather, offering a temporary new setting and some good to great action sequences.

However, the true standouts of Chapter 5 all occur back on the mainland. "Dear Uncle Tacitus" provides a beautiful and poetic interlude while "Icarus and Friends" showcases some of the game's most thrilling action.

Unfortunately, we find a major pitfall, as the mishandling of an important dramatic beat renders it ineffectual.

Hopefully, Chapter 6 can convey just how important Arthur's sickness actually is, and I am champing at the bit to learn more about the oddballs in Butcher Creek and the horrible Murfrees.


If you want to know what we think of the game as a whole, be sure to check out our Red Dead Redemption 2 review. If you're looking for tips and tricks for the Wild West epic, be sure head over to our Red Dead Redemption 2 guides page.

And if you would like to see more of our Red Dead 2 mission gradings, those that are currently available can be found at these links:

Chapter 1: Colter
Chapter 2: Horseshoe Overlook
Chapter 3: Clemens Point
Chapter 4: Saint Denis

Every Red Dead Redemption 2 Mission, Graded -- Chapter 4: Saint Denis Sun, 11 Nov 2018 11:50:58 -0500 William R. Parks

Over Red Dead Redemption 2's first three chapters, we have seen some notable trends begin to emerge.

One is that straightforward action sequences with minimal plot development have solidly established themselves as the game's subpar filler. This is not to suggest that these missions are purposeless or even bad, just that they do not offer the gameplay innovations or narrative intrigue we see in the rest of the game's missions.

Another is that Dutch and his boys are not your typical genius criminals that are thriving in a world created for them. The are flawed, often ignorant, men that fail more than they succeed, and their way of life is coming to an end quickly.

And finally, as we get further and further from the game's tutorials, the chapters become increasingly focused, functioning more as self-contained narrative arcs riffing on classic Western mythos than the free-form structure of the first chapters.

Do these trends continue in this next chapter? And how does Rockstar embellish and vary the gameplay they have established thus far?

Let us find out as we look at Chapter 4: Saint Denis.

Grading Scale

One more piece of upkeep for those that may be skipping the preceding articles -- our grading scale is as follows:

A: These are the missions that are as impressive as Red Dead 2's immense and nuanced world. Transcendent moments that validate video games as art.

B: Exceptional sequences, these missions create moments that leave a lasting impression.

C: *The bread-and-butter of Red Dead 2. Filled with straightforward action and character development that keeps the game moving forward and the player engaged.

D: Forgettable missions that serve just to introduce a character or mechanic without many frills.

F: Painful. The game would be better without these missions.

It's important to note that the "C" grading is not meant to imply that a mission is average compared to other games. Rather, "C" should be considered a baseline for Red Dead 2 relative to its exceptional "A's" and "B's" and its lackluster "D's" and "F's."

The primary goal of this investigation is to create a hierarchy within Red Dead 2's missions, not to provide a definitive stance on how the game stacks up against others.

Note: Mission descriptions and heavy spoilers follow.

Red Dead 2 Chapter 4: The Missions

The Joys of Civilization (Bronte)

Grade: C

Chapter 3 closes with Red Dead 2's introduction of Saint Denis, and, with the first mission of Chapter 4, Rockstar writes a love letter to it.

The gang is on the trail of Angelo Bronte, Saint Denis' crime lord, believing that he is currently in possession of Jack. Tracking him down sets you on a foot chase through the city's streets and alleys.

Saint Denis really is quite exquisite, bustling with life and activity. As a result, a mission that guarantees players will visit its nooks and crannies feels worthwhile.

The conclusion also provides a nice bit of world building, as a gang of children (apparently working for Bronte) is a sufficiently dark underbelly to the modernized city. If the outlaw lifestyle truly ends with you and your crew, what future do these pint-sized desperadoes have?

Angelo Bronte, Man of Honor (Dutch)

Grade: C

With the location of Bronte's estate in hand, it is time to pay him a visit and get Jack back.

Here is a modern criminal, conducting business in a modern city. His criminality extends beyond anything your gang could dream of. While you are trying to con your way into leads for small scores, he sits back and collects his riches from other streams -- yet another indication of just how outmoded your lifestyle is becoming.

Fortunately for you, one of these revenue streams appears to be blocked, and Bronte is willing to return Jack if you correct that for him.

What follows is a serviceable action sequence in a unique setting (Saint Denis' graveyard), and Bronte is true to his word. Again, Jack's voice acting leaves something to be desired, though I did enjoy his espousal of the virtues of spaghetti to his father.

I was also pleased to see a tender moment between John and Arthur at the mission's conclusion. As I have mentioned previously, the hyper-masculine ribbing between the gang's members often obscures the heart of their relationship (that they truly are brothers-in-arms), and it is nice to see that shine through on occasion.

No, No and Thrice, No (Mary Beth)

Grade: D

This mission primarily serves to give Tilly, one of the gang's members, a backstory, sending you to rescue her from a past acquaintance that has taken her captive.

While I appreciate Red Dead Redemption 2's commitment to breathing life into everyone in the crew, it feels as though characters that are going to have main story missions centered around them should be sufficiently established at this point.

An elaborated side mission for each of the supporting players seems like a wonderful way to round out these secondary characters, and it feels like this mission would fit perfectly as this type of non-essential mission.

The mission does let you decide if you will execute Tilly's captor or let him live. However, this type of decision no longer feels particularly exciting, considering you have this choice with nearly every NPC in the game.

The Gilded Cage (Hosea)

Grade: B

With this mission, I was transported back to accompanying Triss Merigold to the masquerade ball in The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, a wonderfully bizarre tonal shift amidst slaying werewolves and confronting witches.

While this mission is not as enjoyable as The Witcher 3's party, I appreciate Red Dead 2's willingness to continually shift its mood and style. Dressing up and attending a soiree at the mansion of the Saint Denis mayor definitely stands out amidst the grizzly violence that comprises a majority of the game's missions, and the estate itself offers yet another beautiful set piece to explore.

Additionally, the mission's ability to so tactfully introduce a number of characters and concepts, which will become relevant in later missions, is a testament to the quality of Red Dead 2's writing.

A Night of Debauchery (Trelawny)

Grade: B

As has been the case in the preceding chapters, Red Dead 2 loves to put you in the middle of established outlaw narratives, and here I was injected straight into the veins of Maverick.

Acting is a tactic we see characters use again and again as they navigate their ways in and out of the game's stickiest situations, and finally, it is Arthur's turn to perform, conning his way through a high-stakes riverboat poker game.

My primary gripe with this mission is the lack of play to the poker game itself. It took only two hands to bust Desmond Blythe, and the absence of any back-and-forth really deflates the intensity that this segment could build.

Also, why in the world is Strauss advising me to do anything but fold when Blythe is holding two Aces? While you get a nice little sweat, and ultimately win, with your pocket Kings, the only world where this is correct is the one where Strauss knows exactly what is coming off the top of the deck, and I do not believe that is supposed to be the case here.

Poker rant aside, the mission is excellent, including the shootout that lets you make your escape from the riverboat, though I was quite concerned that my fancy new pocket watch was going to be destroyed as I jumped into the water below.

American Father II (Eagle Flies)

Grade: D

Leviticus Cornwall has been relatively absent, aside from a brief mention of him at the mayor's party, but the tycoon has been making moves to further uproot the Natives.

Before he has a chance to do any more damage, Arthur is enlisted to infiltrate the Cornwall Oil Fields and steal a document that confirms there is oil under Native land.

While there is a bit of stealth and an explosion to provide some character, I have begun to grow weary of these straightforward action missions that offer little in advancing the plot. There is certainly a point to this mission, primarily solidifying both Cornwall and Arthur's relationship to the Natives, but I wish it gave just a bit more in the way of narrative progress or gameplay innovation.

Horseman, Apocalypse (Sadie)

Grade: B

This is the Sadie Adler show, and she continues to be remarkable.

For the first time, the gang's camp is under direct assault (by the O'Driscolls, who, like Cornwall, have been quiet of late). This adds an exciting dynamic that has not been tapped by the preceding missions, playing defense rather than offense.

Beyond this slight tweak, the mission shines because Sadie does. After seeing her knife several O'Driscolls, I followed, mouth agape, as she executed many more.

Additionally, this mission is the first time we see one of our own killed, and while I had not spent much time thinking about Kieran since Chapter 2's "Paying a Social Call," his death certainly indicates that the game's stakes have been raised.

On a note clearly unrelated to anything mentioned above, why does Red Dead 2 not feature a romance option? While the game's beginnings are nearly overwhelming in their unique approach to openness and realism, the minor chinks in the armor begin to show by this point.

There is so much care put into so many small aspects of the game that it is easy to become immersed. However, when this standard is not maintained, it feels even more present by way of contrast.

Fundamentally, I wish there was a Red Dead 2 experience that was both more demanding and provided more in the way of NPC interaction (beyond deciding if you will say "hello" or shoot them). Perhaps we will see a "survival" difficulty added to the game in the future to provide a more challenging, and more real, way to play this wonderful game.

Urban Pleasures (Dutch)

Grade: C

While we enter Red Dead 2 at a moment when the gang is facing a more than a minor change-of-plans, the series of misfortunes that has befallen them since has Dutch talking about a move to Tahiti. Sound like a desperate ploy to anyone else?

As always, the one thing standing in our way is money, and Dutch has decided to followup on robbing the Saint Denis railway station to rectify this, a tip that was passed along by Bronte himself.

Again we believe we are on the level of an outsider, and again we are made fools -- the station is empty and the law is hot on our heels. For a group of individuals that believe so strongly that they are above modernization, the gang sure does look like backwater yokels often.

Now that Red Dead 2 has more than sufficiently established gunplay on foot, wagon, and horse across a multitude of settings, I was very happy to see Rockstar begin to play with some new elements in this mission. Specifically, that is executing lawmen in the streets of Saint Denis while you ride aboard a hi-jacked trolley.

Here is hoping that these small vehicular flourishes begin to show up in more of these baseline action missions.

Country Pursuits (Dutch)

Grade: B

We have another major tonal shift with this mission, and one that is very different than we saw in "The Gilded Cage" -- this mission is a straight-up horror creature feature.

Despite the continual refrain that revenge is a fool's errand, Dutch continues to unravel and wants to punish Bronte for the railway station setup, planning to use a boat to enter his estate in shadow.

While I expected to board a boat and be on our merry way to the slaughter, this mission sends you on a delightful detour, helping a boatman check his animal traps and locate his son.

The foggy swamp is a wonderful setting for a bit of campy horror, and, soon enough, you are rescuing the boy from the jaws of a gigantic gator and applying pressure to stop his bleeding.

I love the often bizarre moments when Red Dead 2 decides to give you control of actions that many games would pre-script - pouring a drink at a bar, for example - and was happy to be administering the bandage to the injured child myself.

Revenge is a Dish Best Eaten (Dutch)

Grade: B

With the traps cleared and the child (presumably) recovering, the boatman is now free to help with the siege on Bronte's mansion.

As with Chapter 3's "Blood Feuds, Ancient and Modern," a giant estate acts as backdrop for a massive gun battle, and I continue to find this setup extremely fun and exciting.

Additionally, your exit features a nice little gameplay variation we have not yet seen where carrying Bronte on your shoulder relegates you to using just your pistol as you blast your way out. A small touch, but I appreciate Rockstar's attempt to keep each mission feeling distinct, especially considering the sheer volume of them.

The mission concludes with a critical turning point in the narrative where Dutch, fully unhinged, drowns Bronte. The doubt Arthur may have been feeling about Dutch's leadership appears to transform into disgust, and I continue to applaud the game's writing.

It is so common for games to position their central characters as unimpeachable saviors of the worlds they exist within, and it is, at times, hard not to roll one's eyes as every NPC you encounter pats you on the back for your accomplishments. Red Dead 2 offers the counter (men whose ignorance continually leads to failure and horrifying events), and it is a welcome relief.

Banking, the Old American Art (Dutch)

Grade: A

Chapter 4 closes with an absolutely monumental mission.

The preliminary setup (a bank robbery scaled-up to Saint Denis-size) is already exciting, but the degree to which the gang's attempt fails takes this mission further. The unceremonious murder of Hosea and Lenny, two of the game's most likable characters, is powerful and effective -- proof of just how well rendered they are.

Separately, as I shot Pinkertons from the bank's windows, I was struck by how much the gunfighting in this mission transported me to a carnival shooting gallery. My position remained fixed as my targets bobbed and weaved, and while I do not believe this is an intentional reference, rooting the gunplay in a tradition that emerged in the period that Red Dead 2 is set is a nice little detail.

From there, the mission took a new spin on the escape, sending me up (rather than out) and eventually on to a boat that promised to leave everything I had learned about the world of Red Dead 2 behind.

Of course, nothing ever goes as planned for the gang, and the complete uncertainty of what is to come next makes this the most striking and exciting chapter conclusion thus far.

Chapter 4 Summary

There are a couple of missteps in Chapter 4, missions that ultimately feel like they would be better served as supplemental content and not essential story missions. However, the chapter has a lot to be enamored with as well.

Saint Denis is the richest and most exciting civilization we have encountered, and some tonal variation keeps the game feeling dynamic.

While there are fewer A-grade missions than preceding chapters, "Banking, the Old American Art" rivals the best the game has to offer, and there are slight gameplay flourishes to enjoy throughout.

While I have been extremely satisfied with what Red Dead 2 has offered thus far, the knowledge that Chapter 5 is prepped to provide something completely different has me excited. I cannot wait to dive in.


If you want to know what we think of Red Dead 2 as a whole, be sure to check out our Red Dead Redemption 2 review. If you're looking for tips and tricks for the Wild West epic, be sure head over to our Red Dead Redemption 2 guides page.

And if you would like to see more of our Red Dead 2 mission gradings, those that are currently available can be found at these links:

Chapter 1: Colter
Chapter 2: Horseshoe Overlook
Chapter 3: Clemens Point

Splatoon 2's November Splatfest Announced Fri, 09 Nov 2018 22:33:16 -0500 William R. Parks

It has been a big week for Inklings the world over.

On Tuesday, Update 4.2.0 brought new weapons and a slew of gameplay changes to Nintendo's hit third-person shooter, Splatoon 2.

Now, with the announcement of November's Splatfest, fans will be asked to do battle to decide which is the better dip, salsa or guacamole.

The November Splatfest is set to begin at 11pm EST on Friday, November 16 and will last for 24 hours.

While this Splatfest is exclusive to North America, it comes hot on the heels of Japan's November Splatfest, where they are deciding between regular Pocky and thin Pocky.

Splatfests are monthly events where players engage in Turf War to debate hot-button issues like mayonnaise vs. ketchup and fork vs. spoon, and November's promises to be a divisive one.

For fans that may be on the fence and rather that their preferred Inkopolis News anchor decide for them, Pearl is pro-salsa while Marina has an affinity for guac.

Where do you stand? #TeamSalsa or #TeamGuacamole? Let us know why your answer is salsa in the comments below.

Every Red Dead Redemption 2 Mission, Graded -- Chapter 1: Colter Thu, 01 Nov 2018 10:41:00 -0400 William R. Parks

The world of Red Dead Redemption 2 is filled with life. Hunting down its legendary beasts and searching for buried treasure is engrossing, while small tasks like getting your hair cut turn out to be more fun than fruitless.

But what about the game's more structured aspect, its missions? Are they as compelling as the meticulously crafted world in which they exist?

In this multi-part series, we take a look at each of the game's missions, separating those that sink from those that soar. In the end, we will have a detailed outline of Red Dead 2's highest highs and lowest lows.

We hope that you will come along with us for the ride.

Grading Scale

Before we begin, let's have a look at the grading scale we will be using from here on out:

A: These are the missions that are as impressive as Red Dead 2's immense and nuanced world. Transcendent moments that validate video games as art.

B: Exceptional sequences, these missions create moments that leave a lasting impression.

C: *The bread-and-butter of Red Dead 2. Filled with straightforward action and character development that keeps the game moving forward and the player engaged.

D: Forgettable missions that serve just to introduce a character or mechanic without many frills.

F: Painful. The game would be better without these missions.

It's important to note that the "C" grading is not meant to imply that a mission is average compared to other games. Rather, "C" should be considered a baseline for Red Dead 2 relative to its exceptional "A's" and "B's" and its lackluster "D's" and "F's."

The primary goal of this investigation is to create a hierarchy within Red Dead 2's missions, not to provide a definitive stance on how the game stacks up against others.

And, without further adieu, let us begin by looking at the missions in Chapter 1: Colter.

Note: Mission descriptions and heavy spoilers follow.


A wide angle night shot of Arthur Morgan riding through a snowy forest

Red Dead 2 Chapter 1: The Missions

Outlaws from the West 

Grade: B

Red Dead 2 starts off as you might expect: a gunfight with a rival gang (the O'Driscolls) and burning a house to the ground.

While Rockstar is not winning any awards for originality here, the game's technical magnitude is immediately apparent in this mission -- tromping through the Grizzlies' snow is something I won't be forgetting any time soon.

Enter, Pursued by a Memory 

Grade: C

John Marston is missing, and his wife has asked you to track him down.

This mission primarily functions to establish Arthur and John's relationship, but it's notable for its introduction of the game's beautiful "cinematic camera," a wonderful addition that enriches the game's more dialogue-centric passages.

Also, executing some in-pursuit wolves gives players a bloody first-taste of Red Dead's rich fauna.

Old Friends 

Grade: C

The O'Driscolls are planning a train robbery, but Dutch (your gang's leader) feels like the spoils would be better in your hands. Time to invade their camp and steal the intelligence they've gathered.

A standard shootout ensues, but, as I went to loot the bloody corpses of all of my foes, I was struck for the first time by just how committed Red Dead 2 is to realism.

Emptying the pockets of a pile of bodies is a pleasant slog, and I felt as tired as Arthur must have felt after liberating the belongings of the recently departed.

The Aftermath of Genesis

Grade: D

It is time to bow hunt with Charles.

A tutorial mission that teaches you about tracking and stealth, I would love to have seen a bit more from this one. Although you get the bow for later hunting missions, nothing particularly stands out in this slow, plodding mission. 

A more exciting target or something to throw a wrench in the works could elevate this hunt, but, without it, this standard mission falls flat.

Who the Hell is Leviticus Cornwall?

Grade: B

In the climax of Chapter 1, the gang is off to perform the heist the O'Driscolls had planned.

However, due to some faulty dynamite, the train robbery devolves into a shootout, which culminates with your first real role-playing decision: do you want to execute innocent men or set them free?

While the mission is a bit deflated by the defective explosives, it feels good to be making decisions that are consequential -- and doing outlaw business that is not just killing O'Driscolls.

Eastward Bound 

Grade: C

Your gang is ready to pack up and move camp, and you will be riding with one of the head honchos, Hosea.

Some breathtaking vistas reveal themselves in this mission, and a mishap with your wagon makes it more than just a ride-along.

I was also impressed by the in-transit dialogue showcased in this mission -- a sentiment I have often while playing Red Dead 2.

Outlaws riding horses in the snow

Chapter 1 Summary

As is typical, Red Dead 2's beginnings are focused around teaching game mechanics. However, Rockstar finds ways to couch these lessons in missions that feel like more than just tutorials.


With "Outlaws from the West" and "Who the Hell is Leviticus Cornwall?" in the lead, Chapter 1's more action-packed missions stand out as highlights.

However, that will not be exclusively the case as the vastness of New Hanover begins to open in "Chapter 2: Horseshoe Overlook".

We hope that you will join us for a look at that next chapter in the upcoming days.


If you want to know what we think of Red Dead 2 as a whole, be sure to check out our Red Dead Redemption 2 review. If you're looking for tips and tricks for the Wild West epic, be sure head over to our Red Dead Redemption 2 guides page

Twitter and Reddit's Most Spectacular Spider-Man Pics From Photo Mode (So Far) Fri, 07 Sep 2018 17:00:40 -0400 Jonathan Moore

Much to the delight of Spidey fans the world over, Marvel's Spider-Man is finally out. To celebrate ole' Webhead's return to form, Twitter users and Redditors have already started showing their love for Insomniac's vision by posting some truly awesome pics from the game's robust photo mode. 

As others have pointed out, what makes Spider-Man's photo mode stand out is that it allows players to not only take spectacular photographs of our friendly neighborhood wallcrawler, but to put those photos on everything from billboards to comic book covers, the latter of which is really the biggest draw. 

From the looks of it, players are taking to it with gusto, giving Peter Parker a legitimate run for his money by using the camera mode to take some great shots.

Here are some of the very best we've seen on both Twitter and Reddit so far. We'll be updating this list as more players get their hands on the game. 

Best Spider-Man Photos From Twitter









Best Spider-Man Photos From Reddit

Reddit User: Semajjohnson473

Reddit User: Smoke4issa

Reddit User: Hadu-Ken12

Reddit User: Bustacapshaw

Reddit User: THE-WARD3VIL

Reddit User: Azeema_

Reddit User: DickDatchery

Reddit User: Disordo

Reddit User: fujbuj

Reddit User: UnknownNinjaPew

Reddit User: Super-Sam1995

Reddit User: AceAttorney719

Reddit User: Zireael1993

Reddit User: Crowleeyy

Reddit User: GoldieHand

Reddit User: Puddin--

Reddit User: Tykon420

Reddit User: Ogsvenom


Got your own Spider-Man photos you'd like to share? Know someone who's a regular Peter Parker with the in-game camera? Hit us up in the comments below and we'll feature them here. 

Stay tuned for our official review of Spider-Man, and as always, keep it tuned to GameSkinny for all your gaming news, reviews, and expert guides. 

Header image via Redditor Hazardez

The Tea: A Long, Slow Steep in the Twilight Princess Prologue Thu, 23 Aug 2018 12:04:41 -0400 Jackson Ingram

Editors note: Spoiler alert for a very old game.

I knew almost nothing about The Legend of Zelda before Twilight Princess. I mean, I knew it was about Link and Princess Zelda saving the world and/or each other from an evil dude with a fire-engine-red dye job. And I knew that in this particular game, Link was also a furry. But I certainly didn’t know that its prologue was controversial. In fact, for the first two or three hours, I thought maybe running farm-boy errands around Ordon would be the general vibe for the rest of the game, too.

In my defense, I picked the game up in 2014, amid one of my epicly long Animal Crossing benders. Unfortunately, Ordon Village’s long to-do list didn’t captivate me the way AC’s did. Maybe I would’ve spent longer on it if I could’ve redecorated Link’s tree house (really so much underutilized space) or if Zant’s curse turned the hero of Hyrule into a wolf villager instead of a “noble beast” or whatever.

Imagine my surprise when, four years later, I dove back into Twilight Princess to discover over 40 hours of dungeon-crawling and monster-fighting awaited me beyond Ordon Village, with barely any tedious chores to do along the way. 

Dawn of the First (Long) Day

Really, when Link isn’t saving Hyrulians from the Twili monsters, he’s saving them from the humdrum frustrations of daily life instead. Those initial hours of herding goats and tracking down lost cradles were the perfect primer for some of Twilight Princess’ long-game side quests. If the prologue hadn’t taught me that every little peasant worry was not only important, but also Link’s personal responsibility, do you think I would’ve spent more than two seconds tracking down bugs for Agitha’s “ball”? Or single-handedly funding bridge repairs? Not in this economy, baby. The value of the rupee is going down with each HD remake.

And yet, while it wasn’t necessarily a joy to rescue Ordon’s brat pack again and again, their dependence on Link injected our blank-slate hero with some badly needed character. Unlike in Wind Waker (to which TP is frequently compared), this Link has all the lifelike proportions with none of the life. He kind of just goes with the flow, drifting from quest to quest until it seems like he saved Hyrule just because he didn’t have anything better to do that weekend.

Twilight Princess’ cast is very hit or miss for me. Arguably, the pushiest characters are the ones that exude the most personality. I remember wanting to strangle Milo (that is, if I could find his polygonal baby neck), but at least I could remember him to begin with. Meanwhile, each time Colin sniveled back onto the screen, I had to Google who he was and why I should care.

That’s a dichotomy that extends well beyond the prologue. The subtitular Midna is (rightfully) listed as one of the most interesting support characters of the franchise, while this iteration of the series name-maker Zelda is as beautiful as she is bland.

The side quests might start to pile up fast in this one, but Link wouldn’t be the hero (and there wouldn’t be a story) if he weren’t singularly driven by an innate desire to help people -- no matter what. So I caught ever stupid bug in Hyrule and I got Midna back on her Twilight throne because I could get behind a Link that would see value in both. His heroics might make for a one-note performance, but these tasks, no matter how small, keep him in tune with the world's much larger symphony.

Yeah, But Who Cares?

“Okay, sure,” you might be thinking. “The Twilight Princess prologue might thematically imbue the story with meaning, but does it have to spend so long teaching us how to do everything?”

Maybe not. But entering the series with very little base knowledge of Zelda puzzles and items, it was nice for me to ease into things (even if I would never, ever use that slingshot again).

Besides, as a launch title for the Wii, it couldn’t have been a bad idea to give us some guidance on how we were supposed to control the (newly right-handed) Link using the Wii remote. Think of it as the warm-up before we completely exhausted our noodle arms trying to get all those poorly explained sword techniques down.

At the end of the day, I’m glad Twilight Princess kicked off this infamous “gritty, edgelord” Zelda title with a Weenie-Hut-Jr. mode. It made us slow down and consider the world we're tasked with saving. Like the Shire, Ordon Village is a a home for LInk to come back to (and then leave again… after the epilogue).

As far as prologues go, it’s much more goat than G.O.A.T., but it gets the job done.

Fandom Freak-Out

For an old game, I have an old freak-out. This concept fan art for Midna’s Twili armor is everything I wanted for my snarky warrior queen. While the Twilight Princess could serve up all kinds of realness in any outfit, I have to admit I was deeply disappointed when my fave imp (whose cursed form is a fascinating departure from the typical mold of female character design) glowed up into just another slender, scantily clad video game babe.

Silverwolf05, if you're still out there in this post-DeviantArt era, I hope you’re doing the Lord's work: boldly designing practical, stylish outfits for ladies of all body types, classes, and platforms.


Weekly questions: Which Zelda prologue stands out for you? Are we supposed to remember any of the Ordon villagers' names? Minda for Smash 2018?

Until next time. Stay steamy.

The Tea (never timely, always hot) is a weekly column steeped in gaming culture and the fandom experience. Tune in Thursdays for another cup of steamy content.

The Tea: Ecco the Dolphin's Intro Was a Sad, Lonely Chunk of My Childhood Thu, 16 Aug 2018 10:41:58 -0400 Jackson Ingram

Game prologues are infamous for being long and boring and holding your hand way too tightly when you really just want to keep both on the controller. Like, can’t you just trust I know how to jump and move forward?

No, actually, you can’t. I’m one of those babies who needs prologues (and walkthroughs, and mid-game snacks, and sometimes short pauses during  scary parts), and I’ll admit that in all my years of gaming, I’ve spent far too long just existing in them. Prologues are the virtual wombs of video games, and I'm never fully ready to leave the relative safety of quirky, introductory mini-games for the unknown, outside world.

In this special miniseries, I’ll be taking (quick) bites out of four prologues that I remember not as appetizers to a larger adventure, but as the main course itself. In the case of Ecco the Dolphin, it’s because I never made it past the tutorial.

"Try this dolphin game. Kids like dolphins, right?"

Ecco was one of three Sega Genesis games I remember playing in my family's attic. Unlike the shoot-em-up Sunset Riders or the blink-and-you-die classic Sonic the Hedgehog, Ecco seemed like it’d be more in line with my five-year-old tastes and eye-hand coordination.

It started out okay. I was just a ‘lil dolphin, boppin’ around the ocean with all my dolphin buds. One of them, clearly the pod's resident hotshot, challenged me to jump as high as I could out of the water. This was apparently the triple-dog dare of dolphins, because the game would not let me refuse on the principle of modesty or stage fright.

So after a few failed skims of the surface, I did it. And Ecco launched high, high, high into the air, and I got a taste of what any shred of athletic ability must've felt like for other kids who actually went outside. In that moment, my bottlenose body was like a missile, unstoppable, flying toward the heavens.

But like Icarus reaching for the sun, my joy was not to last. While I was getting the sweetest dolphin air you could imagine, a huge vortex opened up in the water below. Five-year-old me watched in mute horror as my dolphin friends and family were slurped into the black hole like long strands of spaghetti.

A Swim with Dolphin Death

Growing up, my biggest fear was the loss of a family member. I’d end every night and start every morning with a ritualistic prayer for the safekeeping of my mom, dad, sisters, dogs, grandparents, cats, aunts, uncles, and friends, in that order.

I’d mouth the words the same way each time, and would start all of it over again if I skipped anyone by mistake. I was convinced that if I didn’t do this exactly right, God would smite them on the spot. So just to be safe, I started doing it anytime anyone left the house. “Please, please, please, in Jesus’s name, Amen,” I’d repeat in my head after Dad left for work or my sisters for school or Mom for the grocery store. I’d try to finish it before the garage door closed, so I could still see them in the car and trust that it wouldn’t be the last time I did. 

You can imagine how I felt splashing back into the water as Ecco after the vortex had closed its mouth over my pod. The ocean was empty and I was alone.

For the longest time, I thought it was my fault, like maybe my jump had triggered the vortex, and I was responsible. I restarted the game again and again, trying to avoid it, but eventually I accepted that to jump and lose everyone and everything was the only option the game had given me.

And after that, all there was to do was swim. 

I explored every pixelated reef and cove, holding down the C-button and singing out to no one. I never figured out where I was supposed to go. I rammed poor Ecco into rock walls and leapt onto the beach and fired myself back into the air again and again and again, hoping to find whatever pocket my family had been tucked into.

I gave up eventually, and since these were the days before the internet (at least at my house), that was it. I never found out what happened next. For me, Ecco’s lonely, empty prologue was the whole game. I shut off the Sega and resigned him to a life of dolphin solitude.

It wasn’t until years later that I stumbled onto the game again on some online forum. “Aliens??” I thought. “Those were aliens???” It turns out, the vortex hadn’t been my fault after all, but rather that of an intergalactic colonizing race that fed off the Earth’s oceans. Ecco had some deep lore, apparently. Once we’d made the switch from dial-up to high-speed, I made sure to watch the ending, and found myself tearing up once the credits started to roll. After all these years, Ecco had found his family.


Now I’m just waiting for the next E3 so Sega can announce the long-awaited reboot in which Ecco takes on the big oil companies.

Fandom Freak-Out

Did you know there are only 52 Ecco the Dolphin pieces on Come on, people! Start generating that sweet cetacean content! While y’all get to work writing the Ecco/Doctor Who crossover you know the world needs, I’ll leave you with this, a fan poem that would’ve blown five-year-old me’s mind. 22-year-old me is just a little confused, but I hope its author is living their truth.

Oh, and #EccoForKingdomHearts3.


Are there any prologues you’ve never made it past? Did you know there were aliens in this weird dolphin game? Who is responsible for that? Sound off in the comments below!

Until next time. Stay steamy.

The Tea (never timely, always hot) is a weekly column steeped in gaming culture and the fandom experience. Tune in Thursdays for another cup of steamy content.

The Tea: 10 Characters That Should Never, Ever Be in Super Smash Bros. Thu, 09 Aug 2018 10:11:32 -0400 Jackson Ingram

I’m not here to add to the never-ending hot takes of who I think should be in Super Smash Bros. I'm neither interested nor qualified to choose more Nintendo warriors to beat the snot out of each other in the upcoming (glorified port) Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

After the recent Nintendo Direct, there's already going to be more fighters than there are Harley Quinn cosplayers at Comic-Con. It's a swollen roster, people. And besides, there are only so many cases one can make for Waluigi before we have to give up.

Enough of that! Just get your Waluigi fix in Mario Tennis and on like the rest of us!

Anyway, I'm instead here to stir the pot. I’m going to start controversy!

I’m going to make a listicle because Buzzfeed has conditioned me into thinking that's an acceptable way to make an argument. So without further ado, here are the Top 10 Characters who absolutely should not be in Super Smash Bros. under any circumstances.

Fight me.

1. Pauline (Donkey Kong, Super Mario Odyssey)

The Original 8-Bit Damsel has really made a name for herself as the mayor of New Donk City. She has an infrastructure to run, city council meetings to schedule, jazz bands to lead. As much as I’d love to kick DK’s monkey ass while rocking that (iconic) red pantsuit, my girl Pauline, is too busy fighting the unemployment rate to throw down in Final Destination.

2. The Titular Hollow Knight

Yes, it’d be so baller to throw down as the little bug dude, except Hollow Knight is just so hard. In my clumsy hands, I'd just send the Knight scuttling off the nearest edge again and again and again, all while better, worthier platformers used their Knights to do backflips over me. And then they'll turn me into a bug-kabob. My self-esteem doesn’t need that.

3. Epic Mickey Mickey

Despite how much Kingdom Hearts conditioned me to like this game, I now have the hindsight to see what a mechanical mess it was. I just wish I could’ve realized this before I bought the sequel, which I recently exchanged at GameStop for a whopping $1.99. Thanks, Disney.

4. Kingdom Hearts Mickey

“Say fellas, did someone mention the Door to Darkness?” No, GOD, get OUT OF HERE. And stop making my Kingdom Hearts obsession more embarrassing than it already is. Every time "the King" mouse-rolls into the scene to dual-wield more hamfisted wisdom, I fondly think back to the days when Mickey was a mute.

5. Professor Layton (Professor Layton Series)

Okay, he had a few sword fights, just two or three, among countless hours of puzzle-solving and mystery-cracking. That doesn't make him Indiana Jones, folks. Just because P. Layton could skewer me (and I’d probably thank him afterwards) doesn’t mean the good Professor should have to go toe-to-claw with Ridley. Let the poor man retire to some quiet cottage in the English countryside. That goes double for you and your watered-down spin-offs, Level-5.

6. The Enormous Eel From Super Mario 64

The eel isn’t on this list because I think it’s a bad idea. I’m just thinking about screen space here. Back when Smash forced you into hyper-competitive four-person friend groups, this could’ve worked, but now that Nintendo has merged those friend groups into a whopping octet, Eely just ain’t gonna fit onstage.

7. Tingle (Legend of Zelda Series)

Out of the laundry list of reasons why Hyrule Warriors shouldn’t exist, Tingle floats to the very top, like a spandex-clad, homophobic caricature of a hot-air balloon.

8. Tony (Earthbound)

On the other end of the spectrum, Tony would be the gay icon I’ve been waiting to join Smash. But just because he would totally die for Jeff, that doesn’t mean he should have to. For the greater good, he should stay side-lined while my friends and I fight over who gets to be Peach.

9. Any of the Arms Characters

Um, pardon me, no one invited you, Betty Spaghetti.

10. The entire cast of Homestuck

This is from the dystopian future AU in which Nintendo not only buys out MSpaint-adventures, but decides to completely lean into Smash overpopulation. Super Smash Bros X will include all 900 Homestuck characters, moving en masse. Instead of attacking, they just obfuscate the whole screen and suck other fighters into massive plot holes.

Fandom Freak-Out

Instead of giving you a thought-provoking, artistic piece of fan culture this week, I’ll leave you with this, the greatest Smash Bros mod ever made, and then drop the mic.


What characters don't you want in Smash? Does using "smash" as a verb sound vaguely dirty? And finally: did anyone actually like Hyrule Warriors?

Until next time. Stay steamy.

The Tea (never timely, always hot) is a weekly column steeped in gaming culture and the fandom experience. Tune in Thursdays for another cup of steamy content.

The Tea: Majora's Mask is a Surprisingly Smooth Intro to Legend of Zelda Thu, 02 Aug 2018 12:09:54 -0400 Jackson Ingram

I picked up Majora’s Mask sometime last year. It was my first Legend of Zelda game. Like, ever.

For a long time, not-playing Zelda was kind of a point of pride for me, and also just a killer fun fact for “Never Have I Ever.” But finally, after Majora got its 3DS remake, I decided to see what all the hype was about. It was only after I stumbled through my first three apocalyptic days in Termina that literally everyone (including my boss) told me that I’d chosen what might be the least accessible entry-point in a franchise that spans three decades.

There are a million Zelda games to choose from, and I had to pick the one in the bizarro off-shoot timeline, with the Hell clock and the dead-eyed statues and the cow-stealing aliens.

Apparently, Ocarina of Time (essentially the host body off of which Majora propagated) would’ve been a slightly better first choice, but it hadn’t even occurred to me that the two were connected. I thought Zelda was an anthology series. Y’know, like American Horror Story or something.

But apparently, it’s exactly like American Horror Story in the sense that anyone can retroactively connect the dots of the whole franchise and, if you squint hard enough, it makes a whole picture.

And Lord, what a picture Majora made.

If at first you don't succeed... Die, die again

I initially gravitated toward Majora because of a little story called “Ben Drowned.” Maybe you’ve heard of it? It’s one of the worst Creepypastas to ever infect the internet, convincing children around the world (myself included) that their Nintendo 64 cartridges could not only be dusty, but also demonic.

Now that I’ve grown out of my internet horror phase (and am definitely not still terrified of Slenderman), I have the distance to see "Ben Drowned" as just a goofy ghost story. But at the time, it messed me up, and maybe turned me off Zelda until I could work through that phobia to find more mature things to be scared of. Like my electric bill. Or spiders.

By comparison, Majora itself isn’t so scary. It’s full of campy, cartoony moments, and it populates its world with weirdos who will send you on more errands than a full morning of Animal Crossing. Of course, all of the comings and goings happen under the looming threat of the moon’s collision course with Termina. But even knowing that they’re all high-key doomed at the end of the three-day cycle, the quirky residents of Clock Tower Town carry on, business as usual.

These mundane, personal moments really force you to care about the lives you’re supposed to be saving, and give a much greater weight to the adventure on the whole. If if the moon is super ugly. I mean, just look ... 

To be honest, if I knew the world was going to end in three days, you know what I’d do? I’d set my alarm to get up on time. I’d eat the same cereal I eat every morning. I’d drive to work and chat with my friends and go grocery shopping and probably stay up too late playing video games. To cling to a routine is deeply human. It’s a point of stability, even when things are hopeless.

So I get it ...

But boy are they hopeless. Link takes it upon himself to help the people he meets, knowing that anything he does for them will inevitably be reset before the end of the three days. The swamp will become toxic again. The music box girl’s father will re-mummify. Anju and Kafei, after finally being reunited and resolving to die together, will be torn apart. And yet, we keep helping them, again and again, knowing it might be fruitless, because it’s the only thing you can do.

This game exists in the difference between “hopeless” and “meaningless.” It is enough that these characters have these fleeting scraps of happiness. It is enough that the world is as it should be, if only for a moment.

So yeah, maybe the game isn’t scary. But geez, it can get heavy.

Song of "X-Y-R-X-Y-R"

Of course, aside from the three-day doom cycle, Majora is best known for the masks. Y’know, it’s kind of right there in the title.

On the surface, they’re just mechanical spice for the gameplay. Each one serves a different function, from granting the gift of speed to acting as a cow-shaped entry-ticket to the most exclusive Milk Bar in Termina. Three special masks, however, transform Link completely from a human to one of the other three primary races in the game.

And the only way to get those is to play the “Song of Healing” on a corpse.

Link, it stands to reason, should not go into the medical field if that’s his idea of “healing.”

Instead of bringing back the dead, the Ocarina condenses their likenesses down to masks that encapsulate the identities of the departed. People literally mistake Link for whichever dead guys he’s masquerading as, and he just kind of rolls with it. The game doesn’t frame this as identity theft, but as a thoughtful tribute. For each, Link chooses to carry on the parts of their lives that were left unfinished. 

The only form Link doesn’t take on voluntarily is that of the Deku. Instead, it’s forced onto him at the beginning of the game in a horrific transformation sequence, one that sets the tone for the rest of the adventure. Unlike the mighty Goron or the sleek Zora, the Deku doesn’t feel like a power-up. We’re used to Link as a strong, able-bodied hero. To turn him into a little impish tree-dude feels like a limitation, at least at first.

But even after Link is transformed back into the tights-clad hero we know and love, he keeps the Deku mask to use throughout the adventure. Eventually, we see the Deku not for its limitations, but for its unique strengths. With its light, feathery body, the Deku can ride the wind currents or even skip across the surface of water. By the time we run into the Deku Butler, who implies that his dead son is the source of the Deku mask itself, we can better appreciate Link’s role in honoring that image.

Majora’s themes of remembrance hit me hard every step of the way, especially as I find myself missing my own deceased loved ones in similarly tangible ways. Every day, I wear my uncle’s too-big golf jacket to work. And when I go home, I can feel the cool kitchen tile through my grandpa’s hand-me-down socks, whose heels he wore thin after decades and decades of standing at work.

These are small things, which maybe didn’t mean much while my uncle and grandpa were alive, but now they’re little pieces of them that I can take with me throughout the day. The masks of Majora embodied that for me on the screen in a way that felt deeply personal. Link isn't dressing up as these three characters. He's honoring their memory.

Fandom Freak-Out: Terrible Fate

The masks I’m referring to here, of course, are the dope power-up ones. Not the titular Mask, which was just a huge asshole to everyone, though I have to give kudos to Majora for breaking the usual big-bad mold.

The vicious spirit of the mask is no dark lord Ganondorf or even bumbling Bowser. It has no ambition for domination, no craving for power. It only desires suffering. And what better puppet for a chaotic demon than a trouble-making brat? Give godlike powers to any child, and they could easily become Skull Kid, one of the most compelling video game villains I’ve recently thrown down with. Which leads me to my freak-out of the week.

Terrible Fate” is a beautifully rendered cinematic of the events leading up to Skull Kid’s possession. Here, we’re introduced to him not as the OP little demon who turned us into a Deku, but as a scared and lonely kid who got caught with his hand in a cosmically malevolent cookie jar.

It also answers the age-old question: do Skull Kids actually have beaks? Spoiler: no.

Final Swallow

Majora’s Mask was a frustrating, often obtusely intricate maze, one that I needed a walkthrough to navigate at almost every sharp turn. In the 25-ish hours I spent hobbling around Termina under the nightmare-fuel moon face, I don’t think I relaxed for even a second.

And I loved the crap out of it. Each heart-pounding tick of the clock was another unique beat in a lovingly dense world. I couldn’t wait for another dip into it, so I grabbed my old Wii from my parents’ house last weekend and now I’m neck-deep in the dungeons of Twilight Princess, which… I’m also told might not be the best representation of the series as a whole. But who cares! I’m living for it.

If these are the most difficult Zelda games to get into, then I’m looking forward to a long backlog of incredible adventures to come.


Questions for y'all: What was your first Zelda game? Did you find Majora charmingly weird or too-weird-to-be-charming? Why do the Great Fairies all wear the same outfits? These are the hot takes I need in the comments below.

Until next time, friends.

The Tea (never timely, always hot) is a weekly column steeped in gaming culture and the fandom experience. Tune in Thursdays for another cup of steamy content.


Teeny Titans 2 Tiny Review Wed, 01 Aug 2018 09:36:30 -0400 Steven Oz

It's not often that a mobile game catches my attention. When I do play, I usually play simple match-3 games or time-based city building games.

But then I discovered Teeny Titans 2. I knew about the first Teeny Titans from commercials airing on Cartoon Network, but I never had the chance to play it. However, based on what I knew about both the show and the first game, I jumped at the chance to play the sequel.  

I'm glad I did. 

A Tiny Story Goes a Long Way 

Teeny Titans 2, or as it's also known, Teen Titans Go! Figure, is a sequel to the mobile game Teeny Titans, and based on Teen Titans Go!. This new adventure is inspired by the Warner Bros. Animation film Teen Titans GO! to the Movies.

You play as one of the Teen Titans (Robin, Raven, Cyborg, Starfire, or Beast Boy) trying to uncover the mystery of who is trying to put the Teeny Titans Figure Company out of business. It is your job to battle various characters from the DC universe and discover the truth.

It's a simple-enough story that guides you along without burdening you with heavy story content, which is good for a mobile game because you'll most likely want to jump in a just play the game right away. 


For a mobile game, the gameplay in Teeny Titans 2 is done very well. It provides all the elegance of a turn-based game with an adventure that spans the scope of famous locations in the DC Universe.

The turn-based battles are a fun way to showcase the various Teeny Titans for sale in game. If you have never played the original game, there is a slight learning curve, but the game eases you into it with a simple tutorial section. Battling your Teeny Titans is a fun mix of beating your opponent to the attack and managing resources that pop on your screen. 

You can bring up to three figures in to your party from your total party of six. Each of these figures has their own power to choose from as the battle bar meter races forward. As you use your powers, it drains the meter and certain powers have to charge up before you can use them.

Some of your powers are also buffs for your characters, and these can raise your attack power, defense, or health. The cool thing about the game is your opponent is doing the same thing. So, you have to watch your opponent's battle bar to make sure they are not charging up to attack.

Each figure also can be modded with Mod Chips. These mods have varying abilities that can be added to your figures. Some offer health benefits and others can slow down the opponent's battle bar.

The adventure part of the game is fun but could be more refined. All you really do is tap and swipe to move your character around. As you venture into this world, it has night and day cycles, which bring up new challenges and shops.  There are numerous side quests that can give you new characters and mod chips. 

The only problem is a few of these quests don't show you where to go. You get lost in the each of the locations. While that can sometimes be good, most of the time, it can be quite boring just going to each character on the map trying to find out if they are the one you need. 


Overall, Teen Titans Go! Figure is an impressive game. It fleshes out the Teen Titans Go! universe while providing a silly story about collecting. While there are some minor problems with the adventure, it does not impeded the extremely well-done turn-based battles and great visuals. 

I was compelled to move forward and find out what happenstance was unfurled in this land.

You can download the game now for $3.99 on the services listed below on the Apple App StoreGoogle Play, or Amazon

[Note: A review code was provided by the publisher.]

The Tea: Falling Out of Love with Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp Thu, 26 Jul 2018 11:10:01 -0400 Jackson Ingram

I put Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp down about two weeks ago and haven’t opened it once since. That’s kind of big for me.

I’d been playing it every day since it’s release. Every. Single. Day. I was even one of those Americans who gamed the system by registering for an Australian iTunes account so I could get an early crack at what I thought could be something really special. Something just like every AC before it (except for maybe City Folk, which felt a little meh, to be honest).

And for a while, I loved it. But just for a while.

I’ve written before about how Animal Crossing has been a critical form of self-care for me. In my sophomore year of college, I spent an hour of every day in New Leaf. This was an hour I absolutely did not have. I had way over-committed myself that year with advanced coursework, extracurriculars, and internship applications. Each day was a numbers game: nine cups of coffee, three hours of sleep, one hour of Animal Crossing. Clearly, I could’ve been using that time more wisely, but I wouldn’t have traded those 60 minutes for anything.

It was a step out of my life and into something better. It was like releasing a breath I didn’t know I was holding. For that one hour, I felt unconditionally safe and loved and accepted -- and it got me through the other 23 hours of the day.

So when Pocket Camp came out, and I was back on my usual BS of counterbalancing sleep deprivation with caffeine, I thought I was downloading a new kind of salvation right into the palm of my hand. By then, I’d basically put my New Leaf town on hiatus, just like so many negligent mayors before me.

I was a Responsible Adult™ with reverse senioritis (that’s when you start taking school way too seriously in the last year) and I just couldn’t afford that time anymore. I had to power through without it. But with a mobile game, I could escape whenever I had a spare minute. If I was waiting for a meeting to start or getting ready for bed or just eating breakfast, I could log into my campground and breathe. And for over half a year, Pocket Camp was the breath of fresh air that I could take with me wherever I went.

Lining Tom Nook’s Furry Pockets

For a long time, I ignored the criticism. Yes, it did seem like Animal Crossing had bought into the then-recent trend of releasing a free-to-play, watered-down mobile game to buy themselves some time (and rake in some “Leaf Tickets” from in-app purchases) before fans could start demanding a new main title.

Okay, we had already been demanding one before that point, but this was Nintendo. If Super Mario Run could capture the spirit of its side-scrolling plumber with just a single button mechanic, surely AC could take me back into the warm, magical world I’ve come to love. It would be enough just to feel like a valued part of that community and to see my familiar animal friends (still waiting on Alli though, tick tock, Nintendo).

Plus, the new furniture themes were (are still) incredible. From modern to historic to elegant and shades of everything in-between, it’s been such a joy to mix-and-match the new materials. If only Queer Eye’s Bobby could see me now. And if only moving furniture in real life could be as easy as swiping it from one corner of the room to the next. My apartment would basically decorate itself.

The only real issue in Pocket Camp is space. We have a whole new palette of options, but essentially only one (tiny) canvas. There are worse problems to have, of course, but with just a single campsite to makeover (and over and over), I looked ahead to when a Switch announcement would promise me the mansion-sized expansions of a main series title.

So while I waited, I went all in with Pocket Camp. I did every event. I collected ALL the things -- even the really hideous fish chairs from Chip the Beaver, all of which I’d very much like to stick right back into the ocean. I redesigned my camp again and again. Just when I thought I had it perfect, Isabelle would slide into my DMs telling me about some new furniture series that I just had to have.

Gothic Roses. Alice in Wonderland. Jello. The special event themes piled up, each more demanding on my schedule than the last. Sometimes I’d even set an alarm for 3 a.m. to wake up, replant my garden, and then fall back asleep, knowing I’d have new flowers waiting to be picked in the morning. I was obsessed. Once again, Animal Crossing’s cartoon brand of capitalism owned my soul.

Shut Up and Stop Taking My Money

But now I, too, have finally felt the event fatigue that’s been plaguing so much of the AC community. These timed contests and tasks just… don’t mean anything. Especially when it’s one right after another after another. I don’t care enough to pick up the 800th “gyroidite” (the somehow shittier version of a regular gyroid), and I sure as hell won’t spend money on those ridiculously overpriced fortune cookies (which just give me the same piece of furniture again and again anyway).

I’ve poured so much time into this franchise, and the one game that promised me convenience just doesn’t respect that.

There have been improvements since its launch, of course. You can finally sort your campers by level and theme, which makes so much more logical sense than by species. And thank God you can tap through the endless onslaught of friendship-leveling animations. But when half the game is unveiling parties and the other half is errand-running, it’s way too easy to burn yourself out on just going through the motions.

I don’t want to catch another common butterfly or harvest another orange or collect another conch shell. Yes, day-to-day request-filling has always been a staple of the series, but it’s supposed to be mixed in with charming dialogue that makes you feel genuinely connected to these animals (even though you know they’re programmed to like you) and the freedom to shape your environment into a personal safe haven (even though you know someone is going to move in right on top of your hybrid flowerbeds).

That’s gone, and it feels like AC’s heart has gone with it.

Pocket Camp is the sixth spin-off in the franchise. New Leaf came out in 2012, the year half the world prepared for a Mayan apocalypse. Do you remember where you were when the Mayan apocalypse didn’t come? I don’t, because that was a long time ago, and while Welcome Amiibo was a surprise expansion of what’s become one of my favorite games of all time, it’s left much to be desired (and even now, a bit of a bad taste in my mouth).

How long will they keep us waiting? How many more E3’s and Nintendo Directs will go by before I can dig up my waning hope for Animal Crossing on the Switch? A little longer, it seems.

In the meantime, I’m hitting snooze on Pocket Camp. I should’ve known it wouldn’t last. I mean, that game doesn’t even let you talk to Sable, so really, what’s the point?

Fandom Freak-out

Though Pocket Camp has fallen out of my favor, the warm, supportive, unbelievably creative AC community has not. One of my favorite members has to be YouTube’s MishaCrossing, whose Let’s Plays generously invite you into her world and whose tutorials show you, step-by-step, how to build your own (shoutout to those hacking guides, ayyyy).

While her repertoire has extended well beyond AC, my favorite project of hers is a 172-day-long Let’s Play of New Leaf that shows her bewitching town of Kodama grow from the planting of the town sapling into a truly magical world, one you can then visit via New Leaf’s Dream Suite. As I discussed last week, Let’s Plays don’t have to be an endless cacophony of outdated “noob” jokes and offense slurs. Sometimes they can be really special. And they show you how video games can create communities that are special too.


That's it for this week, folks. In the meantime, chime in the comments with your thoughts/critiques/defenses of Pocket Camp. Do you still play? Which event ruined your life? Spill the tea friends.

The Tea (never timely, always hot) is a weekly column steeped in gaming culture and the fandom experience. Tune in Thursdays for another cup of content!

The Tea: This Kingdom Hearts Project Turns a Let's Play Into Art Fri, 20 Jul 2018 16:09:30 -0400 Jackson Ingram

Remember when Kingdom Hearts was just “Disney meets Final Fantasy”? Who knew that would be as simple (and clean) as it’d get. Spanning nine titles and nearly as many platforms, KH has built a franchise the way I might build a cake: foregoing the advice of actual bakers to add layer after layer until I have a deliciously unstable cake-tower, loosely held together by candy-sweet frosting and regret.

Call it complexity or convolution, but we’re like seven “side games” from calling KH coherent. It’s a growing pain Square-Enix has been scrambling to alleviate with PS4 remasters of the entire series, all in the hopes that new fans can theoretically get up to speed before the long-long-long-awaited release of Kingdom Hearts III next year.

But let’s be real: who has time to replay all those games? Better question: who actually wants to keep playing Kingdom Hearts Union χ[Cross]? Yes, there are now official recap videos, but this story’s been brewin’ for 15 years. How can a cutscene compilation do it any justice?

Enter Marco, better known as Everglow, who’s made a bit of a name for himself among KH diehards for his playthroughs, Union χ[Cross] story translations, and, of course, the 30-min extended KH tracks that have quickly taken over my music playlists. À la Jiminy Cricket, Everglow’s been a steady KH chronicler since 2012, but this past April, he launched his most ambitious project to date: retelling the entirety of the Kingdom Hearts saga. In video. Chronologically.

At first glance, Everglow’s Kingdom Hearts Timeline (KHT) might sound deceptively simple, but don’t be fooled into thinking this is just another playthrough. KHT lines the very scattered pieces up in the exact order they occur. So like, Aqua is chugging through the Realm of Darkness while Sora is making his first (of so, so many) trips through Agrabah. Untangling 15 years of interwoven plot threads would be a huge undertaking on its own, but KHT takes it several Sora-shoe-sized steps further by setting out to retell the KH saga as effectively (and affectingly) as possible.

Top and above: Most episodes pull from several titles to realign the story chronologically.

We’ve seen cutscene compilations before, of course, but even Nomura-certified ones, like the Days and Coded “movies”, fall flat because video games, by virtue of their medium, tell the bulk of their stories through first-hand experience. With this in mind, Everglow creates each episode with a balanced mix of cutscenes and gameplay, carefully curating a unique rhythm that gives viewers a full experience without getting bogged down with wave after wave of button-mashing.

It’s Everglow’s unique blend that sets KHT apart, and, in my opinion, the franchise should look to this style and pace of storytelling as we take our first uncharted steps into whatever the hell they have cooked up after the Xehanort Saga.

[Re]Birth by Sleep

The Timeline begins, of course, by taming the international cash cow that is Kingdom Hearts χ (including its browser title, the mobile game before and after its rebranding, and the almost nonsensical CGI movie) into a story that not only makes sense, but means something. As impressive a feat as that is, however, it’s when we hit Birth by Sleep that the Timeline really begins to shine.

To be quite honest, I’ve never been a huge BBS fan. It’s whole ~thing~ back in 2010 was having three player-characters, which is conceptually dope as hell. The less dope part was that the tri-pronged approach made you play through the same events through three different perspectives, in three separate playthroughs. And let me tell you, Disney Town’s happy-go-lucky minigames weren’t any more charming the third time around than they were the first.

The pacing goes to hell almost immediately, and the characterization goes with it. We spend about 15 hours with each of the main protagonists -- Terra, Aqua, and Ven -- and get told over and over what a special friendship they have, but we never see it for ourselves because the gameplay demands that they stay isolated until the game's climax (which KH2’s secret movie spoils almost in full).

That makes it really hard to care about them as a fractured friend group, instead of just seeing a handful of whiny young adults who could use some communication counseling. Stop telling me about your problems! Talk to each other! Geez!

Everglow braids these three separate threads into a much stronger, united story. Instead of running the level gauntlet one keybearer at a time, we stick around in each world for complete, cohesive, well-paced arcs (typically starting with Terra accidentally screwing something up, Ven wandering around like a dope, and Aqua trailing after them, picking up the pieces).

The dissonant highs and lows of their friendship begin to harmonize.

More Than a Let’s Play

The way I see it, there are two types of people: those who ask, “Why would anyone want to watch a video game?” and those who backlog their Watch Later playlist with Let’s Plays. Like it or not, video games have carved out a cultural moment in which Mario Tennis is as much a spectator sport as its real-life counterpart. It’s a thing.

And while I’m truly allergic to obnoxious YouTuber culture, I often power through the bad jokes and running commentary because there are some games that I want to experience even when my bank account won’t let me. It’s kind of like having to go over to an annoying friend’s house to play something, and they almost ruin it by never shutting up.

With the Timeline, it’s all the joys of Kingdom Hearts with none of the usual Let’s Play detractions. In fact, I’d almost rather watch Everglow’s videos than play the games myself. His gameplay is so masterful and so artistic that it quickly becomes an integral part of the storytelling.

Birth by Sleep has one of the most robust ability systems in the franchise, filling out each character’s deck with individualized skillsets with which Everglow makes every fight dynamic. Some of the larger beats of each boss battle I’m sure he planned out in advance, but because this is a video game, he also has to choreograph as he goes, tweaking and improvising so that the finishers goes off like clockwork, leaving the most lasting impact every step of the way.

Like a painter in front of three distinct color palettes, Everglow uses Terra, Aqua, and Ven's moves to engineer cinematic moments on the fly, all while incorporating stylized touches to evoke their distinct personalities. Watching him, it’s almost like seeing an actor embody a character onstage.

Ever-patient Aqua takes her time in battle, often letting her opponent strike first and, in the climax of the story, shows serious restraint in some of the fights against her own friends. Meanwhile, Terra rushes in, fitting for his impulsive nature. And the way Ventus breezes around the arena, the fights are as much a carefree game to him as they are to the player.

It’s these tiny, blink-and-you’ll-miss-it details that elevate the gameplay to an art form I’ve never seen in Let’s Plays before.

Check out the 16:00 mark for an excellent example of how Everglow blends gameplay and storytelling.

Perhaps the best example of this project’s thoughtful innovation is its use of Trinity Limits. While the Trinity Limit has been a staple Kingdom Hearts attack, Birth by Sleep uses it specifically to evoke the bond between Terra, Ven, and Aqua. When Everglow deploys his Limits at key moments, he ups the emotional stakes by editing in character voiceover that best illustrates the complex dynamics between the three.

Let me tell ya, the "dynamic" in question is not always unconditional love, which makes it all the more interesting. I honestly thought I’d get bored of them toward the end, when there was at least one Trinity Limit per episode, but because of the nuance behind the chosen dialogue and the Limit’s use as a finisher to critical boss fights, Everglow makes each of them feel just as fresh and impactful as the first.

The cutscene edits and in-game characterization truly work wonders together, fittingly coming to a head at the climax of the game in “Episode 30: Destiny is Never Left to Chance,” whose montage (recapping the Wayfinder Trio’s friendship amidst its collapse) actually left me breathless.

Fandom Freak-Out

This week’s entire column is technically the the Fandom Freak-Out, but it’d be wrong of me to (rightfully) laud the Timeline as the greatest multimedia contribution to the Kingdom Hearts fandom without giving mad kudos to some of the brilliant contributors to the "A" side of this AV masterpiece.

Beginning around Radiant Garden in the Birth by Sleep leg of the Timeline, Everglow begins incorporating several of Project Destati’s acclaimed orchestrations at key moments. My favorite so far has to be the inclusion of Riku’s theme from their first full-length album Light at the part of Birth by Sleep in which he inherits the keyblade from Terra.

Project Destati made waves this past March with the long-awaited release of their second album, Darkness, and have already hinted (through their surprisingly robust social media presence) at a third in the works (because the best things in KH come in threes).

Project Destati describes themselves as “a celebration of the rich musical score of the Kingdom Hearts games.” Outside the context the cutscenes and boss battles, the music tells a story itself, constructing impressive and moving arcs that flow across their discography. In this sense, Project Destati pairs perfectly with Everglow’s project, both succeeding telling a tale (as old as time) in a completely new way.

I can only imagine what the Timeline will do with Darkness’s 10-minute "Xion" track once we hit Days. I’ll keep tissues on-hand for that one.

The Final Swallow

I can't say it enough: Everglow’s Kingdom Hearts Timeline is a gift. If you’re a newbie trying to machete your way through the lore before KH3 or an old fan looking to experience the story in a fresh light, this project is for you.

Right now, Everglow’s still working his way through KH1 (which plays out interspersed with Aqua’s journey in 0.2), and the parallels are bananas good. Don't believe me? Check out what he did with Neverland. If you start now (and watch pretty much non-stop for three days), you should catch up right before KH's climax, which promises to be a hell of a show.


That's all for this week, folks. In the comments below, tell me about your Let's Play experiences. What are your favorites? Why do you watch them? Let's get talkin'.

The Tea (never timely, always hot) is a weekly column steeped in gaming culture and the fandom experience. Tune in Thursdays for another cup of content!

The Tea: A STEAMy Sip of Ori and the Blind Forest Thu, 12 Jul 2018 11:40:15 -0400 Jackson Ingram

In just over nine hours of Ori and the Blind Forest, I only died 551 times. The game very helpfully kept track for me and gave me a visual reminder every time I hit pause to catch my breath and/or cry.

To be honest, I didn’t really know what I was getting into with Ori, but it seemed like I had so little to lose back then: it was on sale, it was well-reviewed, and its graphics were gorgeous. Even if I had reservations about playing as anything remotely resembling a furry, I dove in. I thought it looked like a cute little game. I was so young then, so very naive.

I’d heard the term “Metroidvania” before. No, I had never played a game like it, but I knew that Samus was kick-ass in Super Smash Bros, and I'd watched the pilot of the Netflix Castlevania anime, so I thought I had a pretty solid background in the hybrid genre. Surely there would be no further prerequisites. I could do this. It was just a platformer, right? Something like Super Mario but for furries. (Oh wait, that's already a thing.)

But was wrong. It was hard. It was SUPER HARD.

To be fair, it had been a while since I’d played what Waypoint Radio might refer to as a “video-game-ass video game,” if this even counted as one. For the past three years, I’ve been pretty busy -- and pretty stressed -- so I pretty much limited my video gaming to weekly jaunts through my heavily-hacked Animal Crossing: New Leaf town (aka, my happy place).

The pace of an Animal Crossing stroll is perhaps somewhat more leisurely than that of a Metroidvania platformer. That, and Animal Crossing has far fewer buttons to remember. Essentially, you hold a tool, you hit “A,” and it does the thing. In Ori, my left hand was constantly playing its own little game of Twister on the keyboard while my right hand swirled the large glass of wine I inevitably poured myself after dying in the Ginso Tree for what felt like the 300th time.

It was somewhere around the 150 mark that I switched the difficulty down the easy, but apparently, I needed “baby mode” because it took me another 20 minutes of fatalities to get through it.

A Piping Hot Take on Gameplay

It’s very possible that the wine didn’t help my already rusted reflexes, but in my defense, I was a little stressed, alright? Which is a shame, because the forest itself was breathtaking. When I wasn’t running, hopping, or gliding for my life, I couldn't help but admire the sheer scope of the world I was tasked with saving.

The forest of Nibel was -- and still is -- gorgeous and sprawling, with vast contrasts between areas that somehow manage to be disparate but also part of a cohesive whole. It was a world I enjoyed inhabiting, no matter how hard it tried to kill me at every turn (hence the wine).

I’m pretty sure I spent all nine hours at the edge of my desk chair, checking and re-checking the edges of my screen for whatever ungodly disaster was about to chase me across the map next.

Speaking of which, the map itself is the true adversary in Ori and the Blind Forest. The enemies, all of whom could've been ripped out of an Epic Mickey demo, were fairly predictable, but that’s not so much a complaint as it is a blessing. If I’d have faced anything more complex from those dudes, me and my phosphorescent spirit guide would’ve told this forest to go f- itself.

The repetition gave me the practice I needed to master the game's moves and eventually (read: FINALLY) start sewing them together for some really satisfying platform traversal. It was just around when Ori started feeling like an extension of myself and not like a dumb little fox puppet that I beat the game and deleted it from my desktop forever.

The Story: Quick as a Fox, Subtle as a Tsunami

Clearly, I’m not planning on replaying this one with my newly abundant free time, and despite how visually impressive the sequel promises to be, I’m just not invested enough in Nibel to take another trip through its thorny brambles.

The plot
almost saved it for me, as plot often does in games. I’ve played through a lot of bad sequels just because I’ve felt just a little connected to the games' characters, but here, I just… don’t. I feel nothing. This little fox thing and its inarticulate friends mean nothing to me.

It’s possible that I’m this heartless because when I watched Bambi as a child, my mother very pointedly told me exactly how she felt about the perceived demonization of hunters in children’s media. So when Bambi’s mom died (oh, crap, spoiler alert), my little brain was too full of rural Midwestern deer-culling discourse to develop empathy for woodland creatures caught on the wheels of the circle of life.

Sure, the relationship between Ori and Naru is sweet and (actual spoiler alert) it was sad when Naru seemed to starve to death at the end of happy-times-prologue-berry-season, but a bigger part of me was like, “Oh, thank God I don’t have to play as that giant sloth again.” (Although, yeah, about that...)

Besides a few twists and turns, the set-up here is pretty straightforward. You’re a fox-thing named Ori that’s supposed to restore the three elements (essentially: water, air, and fire, because screw the earth) and save the forest before an enormous owl kills you in retribution for the indirect part you played in ruining her life.

The owl, Kuro, is probably the most interesting character -- a mother equal parts protective and vindictive -- and definitely has the best character design, but that’s probably because you can’t mess up a giant demon owl. You just can’t. By comparison, the other characters come off a little clumsy. There’s something kind of bulbous about their designs and movements that makes it hard to imagine them outside the flat plane of a side-scroller.

Oh, and guiding you on your journey is a little pixie-thing called “Sein”, who takes you from one spirit grave to the next so you can absorb their sweet platforming powers in a move that doesn’t at all resemble necromancy.

There’s also some deeply earnest voiceover work from the Spirit Tree, which occasionally chimes in with a made-up gibberish language (and floaty, mystical subtitles) to say something fake-deep and almost embarrassing to read. The whole plot felt like it had me in an emotional chokehold, hitting me over the head again and again with just the hammiest sentimentality, begging me to care about the epic plight of its characters. And each time it did, I cared just a little less.

So long-story-short, it was a little hard for me to feel for Ori beyond the fact that every time I led its fragile fox body into another fatality, I felt a stab of guilt for being unable to complete even the most basic Metroidvanian maneuvers. Also because I’m pretty sure “forest guardians” are an endangered species. I should really be more responsible.

The Fandom Freak-Out: NIBEL

Luckily, the game undeniably succeeds in one area: the music. Looking back, it was the overwhelming praise for the OST that drew me to Ori in the first place. As the kids would say, I’m a slut for VGM, and composer Gareth Coker delivers the goods. While admittedly, the main theme isn’t my absolute fave (a little overwrought, in my opinion, and a total earworm in the worst way), it’s impressive how the rest of the album outshines what’s supposed to be the headliner. Each track feels carefully constructed, with soaring highs and somber lows that could tell a story on its own. Paired with the visuals, it’s an orchestral treat that brings Ori’s world to life.

Where Ori's narrative laid out its wide-cut arcs with hammy-fists, the orchestration drew out its nuance. I’ve been listening to Materia Collective's NIBEL (see below) basically on a loop at work, and with each playthrough, I’m amazed at how Materia Collective takes an already intricate musical score and not only dives into it from every angle, but makes me want to take the plunge back into the Blind Forest myself.

While there’s a lot to love here (and a whole spectrum of reasons to love it), my favorite track has to be “The Waters Cleansed” by David Russell (a Materia Collective regular, and a core member of the Project Destati trio). While my feelings may be somewhat skewed by the intense relief I felt after clearing the Ginso Tree (very wine-drunk at two in the morning), I can say with certainty that I can imagine no better representation for Ori’s brand of hopefulness than Russell’s gorgeously delicate arrangement.

The Final Swallow

Am I glad I played Ori? Absolutely. It was a weird experience to be sure. Sometimes beautiful. Often infuriating. But always unique. It’s like a mosh pit! Not exactly my cup of tea, but something I’m glad to have experienced just once. And never again.

This week’s “Fandom Freak-Out” goes to Materia Collective’s NIBEL: Ori and the Blind Forest Remixed. It’s an impressive 37-track tribute to Coker’s work, featuring over 50 composers, arrangers, and artists.