🎮 Knotwords: A New Word Game From Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger

Today I found out about a new game by Zach Gage and Jack Schlesinger, who created one of my favorite iOS games, Good Sudoku. It is a word game called Knotwords. Playing it is a little like playing crossword constructor. You fit letters into an empty crossword grid so that they make words. The tutorial and first few levels are very easy, but the game gets more challenging—and more fun—once you pass them. I am enjoying it so far, though I have not yet decided if I will purchase the full version.

🎮 Children of Morta

Over the past week, I played through Children of Morta on my Nintendo Switch. It is a Roguelike game built around combat and dungeon crawling, with several gimmicks to keep it interesting. There is a strong story element and a very enthusiastic narrator; unfortunately, I didn’t think the story amounted to much in the end.

Overall, I enjoyed it. It reminded me a little bit of the Diablo games, though my memory of those games is quite hazy.

At first I found it nearly impossible to beat the first dungeon’s boss. I could reach the boss from my very first run, but I could not defeat it. I discovered that you have to grind and level up your characters’ stats. Once I did that many, many times, my characters were strong enough to kill that boss, and basically everything else that came afterward.

I very much appreciated that you did not have to mash the attack button endlessly during combat. Instead you rock the right analog stick in the direction you want to loose your arrows or swing your sword. It works very well, much like a twin-stick shooter.

While the game is fun, it gave me some frustrating moments, too. I experienced a game-breaking bug several times near the end of the game. Sound effects would loop and then cut out entirely; eventually the game would crash. I lost one of my runs entirely due to this bug. It hit me again during my fight with the final boss, which really put me on edge; fortunately, the game did not crash and I was able to complete it anyway.

🎮 Classic Mac games I used to enjoy

During my freshman year in college, my friend Saul and I played a Pong-inspired game on his Mac called Mortal Pongbat. It is basically Pong with lasers and bombs you can use to destroy your opponent’s paddle. As a two-player game, it was a ton of fun.

We also would play a one-player Centipede clone called Apeiron. It was frenetic and had some humorous sound effects.

While these games look very dated today, they were a lot of fun in 1995.

🎮 I played through through Celeste this week. I really enjoyed the challenge until the last couple levels, when I had to turn Assist Mode on to get through them. I am glad I made it up to the top of the mountain, no matter how I got there.

Chess.com isn’t just for blitz games

I play chess on Chess.com, thanks to a challenge request from Andrew Canion a while back. We play “1 Day” games, which are essentially correspondence chess. It is great fun playing against Andrew, but I don’t get to play with him in real time because we live on different sides of the planet. To see if I can beat an opponent—who is not one of my kids—in real time, I have played a number of blitz games, which are 10-minute games. Unfortunately, I always lose them badly or lose on time. The clock stresses me out, which makes the games not much fun at all.

It did not occur to me before today that I could start such a “1 Day” game against a random opponent on Chess.com just as easily as I could start a blitz game. I did so tonight, and now I have another long, slow game going. I am happy to have found another way to play chess against people at my level that won’t stress me out.

🎮 I bought 992 games today from Itch.io: the Bundle for Ukraine. Now my backlog is over 1,000. 😅 I (selfishly) wanted to pick up cross-platform, DRM-free versions of Celeste and Baba Is You for cheap. The rest is gravy.

🎮 New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe

New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is one of the disappointments in my Nintendo Switch collection. I had hoped it would bring me the same joy that Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros. did in the past. Instead, I found it punishingly difficult, due to devilishly positioned enemies and a physics engine tailored to make the characters slip off platforms all the time. (Don’t even get me started about the Ghost Houses.) It seems to have been made for players who are so good at Mario games that they are absolutely sick of them and are interested only in an insane challenge.

The developers must have known it was too difficult, because they added two “easy-mode” characters and an option to have Luigi show a sample run of any level and allow you to skip it at the end. Despite these aides, on my first play-though, I stalled out in the middle—I literally could not get through the next level, whichever path I took—and gave it up for a couple years.

Last week, I was thinking about how poorly I fared at New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe. I wondered it the reason I found it so difficult was that my Mario skills had atrophied. To test that, I played through Super Mario World, which I have not played in about 15 years. I was able to blow right through it (the Star World levels notwithstanding), so I don’t think my Mario skills are entirely the problem. I expected Super Mario World-level difficulty, but New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a much harder game.

A few days ago I decided I was up for the challenge again, and would play and finish New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe this time, hell or high water. I would not try to collect the three star coins in each level. I would not try hard to find the game’s plentiful secrets. I would even play as the second-easiest character, Toadette, the whole time and use Luigi’s sample runs to skip levels. I am not trying to collect star coins or trying hard to find secrets; I am simply trying to reach the end of each level.

Even with this plan, I have not yet finished it. I am almost at Peach’s castle, which is the last set of levels. I am glad that I finally discovered many of the colorful, creative, and clever bits that the game designers put into the game; in total, however, they fail to delight me. I’m sure that New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is a good game, but it is not a good game for me. I am not sure I will ever play the game again after I beat it.

🎮 Steamworld Dig

Earlier this week I played through Steamworld Dig on the Nintendo Switch. I bought it for a song during Nintendo’s New Years sale, and I found it well worth it. It is a high-quality game with a fun—and brief—game loop. First you explore the mine and collect treasure, then you return to town to sell the treasure and purchase upgrades. There isn’t any more to it, unfortunately, but the gameplay is fun nonetheless.

A while ago I played through the sequel, Steamworld Dig 2, which bests the first game in every way imaginable, including turning it into a full-fledged Metroidvania. If can pick up only one of the two, Steamworld Dig 2 is the one to get.

🎮 My Nintendo Switch game haul and backlog

If it weren’t for the SwitchUp YouTube channel, I would have played little more than Breath of the Wild and Hollow Knight on my Switch. Now I watch their videos to monitor Nintendo eShop sales weekly, and have developed quite a backlog of games. In the past few months—mostly after Black Friday—I acquired (all on sale and usually for $5-10 per game, with the exception of Metroid Dread), the following games:

Played

  • Metroid Dread
  • GRIS
  • Streets of Rage 4
  • Shantae and the Seven Sirens
  • River City Girls
  • AER Memories of Old

Backlog

  • Shantae and the Pirate’s Curse
  • Moonlighter
  • Children of Morta
  • Guacamelee! 2 Complete
  • Slay the Spire
  • SteamWorld Heist: Ultimate Edition
  • SteamWorld Dig
  • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Expansion Pass
  • Hob: The Definitive Edition
  • Mana Spark
  • Tales of Vesperia: Definitive Edition
  • Ni no Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch

I have enough games to keep me busy for a couple years. I could crack a joke and say that I have a game-buying problem, but I am actually happy with this situation. Gaming has become my primary source of entertainment this year. I have fun playing the games I have purchased. And I have a lot of great games in my library to look forward to.

🎮 Shantae and the Seven Sirens

Over the past week I played through Shantae and the Seven Sirens, which is one of the many games I bought on sale after Thanksgiving.

Once I started it, I realized that I already played part of it. In 2019, it (well, a small part of it) was a launch title on Apple Arcade. At the time, I, like most Apple nerds, got the Apple Arcade free trial. I did not click with Apple Arcade. The only game I liked on it at the time was Shantae and the Seven Sirens. That version was my introduction to the Shantae series. After my Apple Arcade trial ended, I bought the next best thing, Shantae: 1/2 Genie Hero, on the Switch.

Because I had played part of it in 2019, I decided to play it this time using the original 2019 level of difficulty, rather than in the newer “definitive mode” with “balanced difficulty.” That may have been a mistake, because the game posed no challenge at all. Healing items and magic refills abound, and about 20% of the way through you get a heading dance (which is like a magic spell) that makes healing almost entirely unnecessary.

While not challenging, it was a lot of fun. The game has cute and colorful graphics, a funny and entertaining script, snappy controls, and runs smooth as butter on the Switch.

After I beat it, I started a new game under the “definitive mode”. Right away I found it much harder—harder than I expected, to be honest. I will likely play through it again at this higher difficulty setting and see how I fare.

🎮 Gris

Earlier this week I played (twice!) through Gris. It is a beautiful platformer that represents a metaphorical journey of a girl overcoming grief or depression. It is the kind of game that is meant to be an emotional experience rather than a challenge. In fact, it is impossible to lose. What struck me about it is how beautiful it is. The graphics are painterly and the music perfectly fits with the game’s themes and action.

🎮 I bought myself a ton of Nintendo Switch games that were on sale for Black Friday and Cyber Monday. My backlog is embarrassingly extensive now. I must have a year’s worth of games to play. Perhaps I can stop buying them for a while.

🎮 Shantae

I started playing Shantae on the Game Boy Color last night, and was blown away by its ambition and the technical prowess it exhibits. Although its resolution is indeed very low, it still offers every bit of the charm of the recent Shantae games, along with satisfying gameplay, great music, and fun character designs. It is hard to believe it was written for an 8-bit system, because it exhibits tricks like parallax scrolling backgrounds that I know were possible until the 16-bit era began. It is a gem, and is another reason I’m happy I got into retro gaming this fall.

🎮 I beat Metroid Zero Mission tonight. It is a fun game, and much better than the original game (Metroid) that is is a remake of.

🎮 I am enjoying my retro handheld very much. Yesterday I played through Super Mario Land for the first time since the 1990s. I also got through about 50% of Metroid Zero Mission, which I don’t think I ever played before. Some of my enjoyment is nostalgic, but most of it is because I have been playing some fantastic games.

Why I have been playing so many video games lately

Looking back on last week, I played a lot of video games. A lot more than usual actually. It’s a sort of thing I do when my brain is so tired I can’t do anything else, not even focus on a TV show. I have been working really hard writing system walkthroughs or performing data analysis during the day, and working on a presentation and an article for publication in my company’s newsletter during the evenings. I realized that I have been staving off mental exhaustion by escaping into the world of Pokémon or Metroid in the late night hours before I go to bed. This might keep happening for the next few weeks. It is an absolute sprint for me until December 3, I’m afraid. At least at the end of the year we get the last week off.

🎮 I finally beat Metroid Dread! I thought it would be impossible, but I persevered. What a cool game!

🎮 25 years late to Pokémon

My retro handheld, perhaps understandably but not by design, has become a dedicated Pokémon machine. I never played a Pokémon game before last week, and honestly never understood their appeal. Last night, when my brain was too tired for anything else, I had fun grinding away at Pokémon Yellow for hours. I am missing out on the game’s social features like trading and battling. It must have been amazing to have been a little kid with a Game Boy, a link cable, and like-minded friends.

🎮 Giving Up on Raven Beak

I may never beat Metroid Dread’s final boss, Raven Beak. I’m just not fast enough on the controller, and I don’t have the time or patience to “git gud”. That’s OK with me. I could never beat the true final boss of Hollow Knight, The Radiance, either, and have played through that game, start-to-nearly-the-finish many times. Playing through the game is fun; finishing it is optional for me.

🎮 I have been loving the new Metroid game and it has been kicking my ass. 😂 It is the toughest and most fun game I’ve played since Hades and Hollow Knight.

🎮 Starting out with retro gaming

I spent some time today trying to set up my new Retro handheld gaming system. I flashed ArkOS on it and copied some games over. I had to find YouTube videos to help me configure it correctly. I hope to figure it out well enough to give the cool, inexpensive handhelds to my kids someday.

🎮 I ordered a retro handheld 😅

I was very excited early this month for the release of Metroid Dread so I watched a bunch of videos on YouTube of gamers playing through classic Metroid games. Eventually the YouTube algorithm led me to learn about retro handheld devices. These are emulators that can play games from many older systems. I quickly got obsessed with them and ordered one, an Anbernic RG351MP, despite my history of not really liking many of the classic games available on my Nintendo Switch. So, it may be a waste of money, or something I can eventually give to one of my kids, or it will be something I really love. I am looking forward to setting it up, tweaking its firmware, and playing some classic games.

🎮 Metroid Dread is really fun. I spent a couple hours on it last night. It is really fun. It is weird not having the morph ball right from the start, though, and you pretty much have to figure out wall jumping is possible on your own.

🎮 Metroid Dread

My copy of Metroid Dread was just delivered. I am so excited to play it, but I’m not sure when I’ll get to start. I’ve got to help out the kids to bed and plan to watch the season finale of Ted Lasso tonight as well.

In anticipation for the new game, over the past few weeks, I played through about most of Metroid and Super Metroid to get back into playing shape for it. The first game is pretty rough, but Super Metroid is a masterpiece. I played through it on a 3-day rental when I was a teenager, and always remembered how great it was. I also dug up my old Metroid Fusion cartridge. I own it but don’t don’t think that my hands are up for playing it anymore on my old Game Boy Advance.

Anyway, Dread is waiting for me, and my backlog of Switch games (I am a sucker for sales) will have to wait a little longer.

I played too much Scott Pilgrim vs. the World this week, and have been rewarded with wrist pain in my left hand. I should have known I was overdoing it because my typing became more and more inaccurate as the week progressed.