Play By Play Grab Bag

By Brian • 12 July 2022

I’ve been busy lately. My wife took a trip to Europe, we housesat for a friend for a week, my family and I moved to a new apartment four hours away, and I’ve been on the road for work and social functions. I also, on occasion, sleep. With all of that going on, investing significant time in video games has been nearly impossible.

Luckily(?), I’m a seasoned nerd, and I always manage to steal a little bit of time for some games, no matter how busy I am! While I’ve been unable to dig into a robust, engrossing experience, I’ve done a fair share of short-session, pick-up-and-play gaming over the last couple of months, either as a precursor to bedtime or to kill time between trips to the store for new apartment-related purchases. Here are the thoughts I collected on the games played over that time.

Streets of Rage 4

When we have time, and our schedules line up, Craig and I spend an evening each week playing co-op games online, either on our PCs or Nintendo Switches. (Nintendos Switch?) We recently completed our second playthrough of Streets of Rage 4, with Craig taking up the role of Floyd Iraia, and yours truly portraying Adam Hunter. Normally, I risk it all on the streets of rage as Blaze Fielding, but I have to switch things up periodically.

I have nothing bad to say about this game. I can beat Galsia to death again and again and never get tired of it, especially when performed with a lead pipe. (I hope that doesn’t paint me in a bad light—beam ’em up games have this genuinely cathartic effect on me in an otherwise stressful world.) The developers took everything amazing about the Streets of Rage series and added some welcomed quality-of-life improvements and fantastic hand-drawn art. The result? A brilliant and fun modernization of the franchise, complete with unlockable characters, callbacks to past games, and all of the satisfying beam ’em up action I can stand. It looks good, sounds better, controls well, and has everything I need in a brawler to hold me over until I get around to buying and playing Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge.

You might hear a little more about Streets of Rage 4 when I get around to my Top 10 Games of 2021 list, coming to a blog near you before the end of calendar year 2022! (I hope.)

Dig Dug 2

Craig and I played just a little bit of Dig Dug 2 after finishing Streets of Rage 4, but before we were ready to call it a night. It’s a recent addition to the NES games available on Nintendo Switch Online, and an interesting concept. This sequel sees the action occur on the surface of a series of islands, rather than in underground tunnels. Dig Dug can defeat longtime enemies, Pooka and Fygar, by inflating and exploding them, in the tradition of the original game. Or, he can use his drill to destabilize parts of the island, causing them to sink into the ocean. Any enemies caught on the sinking ground go with it, netting Dig Dug big bonus points. Just be careful not to let Dig Dug get caught on the wrong part of the island, or he’ll sink with it, too! Not as good, fluid, or intuitive as the original, but good for some quick fun in a pinch. I felt the developers really pushed the new gimmick on players, as point values for inflating and exploding enemies are infinitesimal compared to dropping them into the ocean. It’s worth getting good at, but it’s tricky. Risks and rewards, for sure.

Vampire Survivors

After a hiatus of a month or two, I dipped back into Vampire Survivors, rekindling my slaughter of evil. Since I last played, new characters, levels, and secrets have been added, ensuring that I will continue to allow this game to consume too much of my time.

Currently, I’m just working to unlock the rest of the characters and weapons. However, I also saw some weird things happening. For example, sometimes when playing, a green-clad Grim Reaper appears. I can’t hurt it, but it follows me around for a while and does big damage if it comes into contact with me. What does it mean? Is it just an environmental hazard, or is there more to it?

Something unusual also happened as I played a level called Moongolow (not to be confused with Moonglow from the Ultima games). I survived 15 minutes, and Death came to kill me, but instead of that happening, the screen went blank, and after a few seconds, I reappeared, alive and well, in a new level! I didn’t survive long there, so I can’t say much about it. It kind of looked like a church suspended in the air, and I was being attacked by things that looked like angels. I guess I’ll have to try to make my way back there again to try to solve this mystery. I have a feeling there’s more going on with this game than meets the eye.

The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

My wife and I briefly showed A Link to the Past to our daughter, but it only mildly piqued her interest—she’s probably a little too young to really appreciate it.

However, having not played it for quite a while, it piqued my interest, so I had to dive in. A Link to the Past is definitely in my top three Zelda games. (Where, exactly, I’m never quite certain.) Despite that, it’s apparently been so long since I last played it that I forgot some secrets and the locations of some items! That’s typically my sign that it’s a good time to revisit an old favorite—I can have fun, but it’s also not a complete cakewalk.

My goal in this playthrough of A Link to the Past was to find 100 percent of the items, which I don’t think I’ve ever accomplished. Specifically, I never found all the heart pieces—there was at least one that always eluded me. But, this time, I got them all! In fact, I am certain that I collected one that I’ve never collected before—it was in a cave on Death Mountain of which I have absolutely no memory. I was tempted to put together a full Second Quest blog post about this little self-assigned task, but it wasn’t quite different enough from past plays to warrant it. I’ll need a much spicier challenge.

Super Mario Maker 2

When I was a kid, I used to love designing Mario levels. I’d draw them on notebook paper, cardboard, even on a Magna-Doodle. When the first Super Mario Maker came out, I figured I’d dump hundreds of hours into making my own levels for real. Truthfully, I never got that into it. It was fun, but my levels just weren’t that good? I think I allowed an unrealistic expectation that I would immediately be able to make Miyamoto-quality levels—with no patience, practice, or trial-and-error—get the better of me. Rather than just have dumb creative fun building some nonsense and actually making some of those awesome levels I drew on paper in elementary school, I just gave up.

However, I didn’t let my misfire with the first Super Mario Maker deter me from also purchasing Super Mario Maker 2. Brian, you goof. What were you thinking?! Well, between all the added features and functionality, not to mention the ability to also build world maps, I couldn’t resist. And, again, I more or less gave up on it before I even got started.

So, you remember how we showed our daughter A Link to the Past, and it wasn’t really her thing, at least not yet? As it turns out, Super Mario Maker 2 has proven to be something of a blessing. She’s interested in playing video games, especially Mario games, but is not yet good enough at controlling them to really be effective, or even have a good time. She can run, she can jump, but she can’t run and jump. She can’t change directions well, and so on. Throw an enemy or a pit into the mix, and it just complicates things further.

However, Mario Maker allows us to put some practice levels together, designed to get her accustomed to the controls, without having to contend with Bowser’s meandering peons or ubiquitous holes. Not only do we get to enjoy spending time building the levels together, she can then explore what we built and learn the controls without any pressure or unwanted surprises. And hey, maybe even I’m learning to enjoy Mario Maker the way I thought I would, despite not being the world’s greatest level designer.

It’s weird, watching her learn to play. In my mind, I have always been good at video games. But, I’m certain that’s not true. I surely went through all of the same struggles as her, trying to build muscle memory and hand-eye coordination, only to get killed by a ghost or snake or goomba and be thrown totally off my game. And I’m sure there is a hefty segment of the “pro gamer” audience out there who will tell you that such obstacles are necessary to properly learn to play. I probably would have said the same thing ten years ago. But, I dunno. It’s a game. It’s probably okay to just have fun.