2023 Retro Game Challenge
For the past handful of years I’ve been giving myself little challenges to play through at least ten older video games I've never played (to completion) before. Ten is not a large number, but I play games VERY, VERY slowly and I want these to be approachable little challenges. Sometimes I add extra wrinkles to the challenge, such as the year where I could only play games from "unpopular" systems (WiiU, Vita, Master System, etc). Or last year, when I got my Analogue Pocket and stuck to GBA/GB/GBC games.
This year's gimmick was kind of an odd one-- I loaded up Random.org and generated 10 years between 1985 and 2020. Also, I know 2020 isn't retro by any stretch of the imagination, but I figured that would make things interesting. Anyway, here are this year's random years and the games I played from them.
Kung Fu - Nintendo Entertainment System
Super Mario Bros 2 - Nintendo Entertainment System
I know it's not originally a Mario game. I know it's originally based on mascots for some sort of TV promotion. Whatever. What I didn't know was how much the level design of Super Mario Bros 2 starts to weave puzzles into its platforming the further along you go. It completely took me by surprise and I loved it.
Goof Troop - Super Nintendo
Great little co-op game that doesn't overstay its welcome. The spritework is especially amazing. I found myself pausing constantly to see all the wacky expressions the characters make when you kick an immobile object, get hit, etc.
Final Fantasy VI - Super Nintendo
Jeez louise. What do you say about Final Fantasy VI that hasn't already been said? This has been a blindspot of mine for so long, and even though I had been spoiled on most of the major plot points years ago, I still loved my time with it.
The way the game opens up in the second half and you're free to go anywhere you want and rebuild your team in any order is incredibly impressive. I wish I had played this when it first came out, but I didn't get a SNES until extremely late '97. Also, I was seven in 1994 and I have no idea if I would have apprecitated the storytelling and characters at the time. It's so cool to see them experimenting with more cinematic moments, like the march to Narshe or the opera scene. I played Final Fantasy IV all the way through for the firt time last year, and it also had its fair share of cinematic moments (Palom and Porom, man!) but I feel like FFVI really kicked it up a notch.
PS: Gau is love, Gau is life. The way I played this game, it might as well be renamed SquareSoft presents: The Gau Game, feat. cameo appearances by Sabin, Edgar, and Locke. Oh, and speaking of Edgar, this is the game I was playing through most of the lead-up to this year's Eurovision Song Contest, which made "Who the hell is Edgar?" a fun thing to declare durning my mindless grinding on the Veldt.
Dungeons & Dragons: Shadow Over Mystara - Arcade
Man oh man, this is a cool arcade game. From what I can tell, I guess the game only came out in America on the Saturn? Which is a shame, because I bet this would be fun as hell with your buddies crowded around the arcade cabinet. There's a LOT packed into this game: multiple characters, multiple routes to take, character inventory, a move system...it's wild stuff.
That being said, emulating arcade games is always kind of weird. When the game is essentially set to free play the threat of anything is completely removed, unless you really want to hold yourself to limiting the number of credits you put in the game. There were some boss battles and enemy encounters where I couldn't tell if it was being brutally unfair because it was designed to suck up all my quarters, or if it was designed for a full party in mind but instead had only me. Either way, there were a few boss battles where jamming on the insert credit button to die over and over while slowly chipping away at the enemy health bar was the only way I could get through, and stuff like that never feels good to me.
The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker - Nintendo Gamecube
I preordered this game from Blockbuster (of all places!) in 2003 because not only would you get the bonus disc, Blockbuster threw in a free miniature wallscroll tchotchke.
It's 2023 and I've finally finished it. I guess that's my main takeaway of Wind Waker: I owned the game for 20 years, and restarted it numerous times, and have only now bothered to finish it.
This game is purdy as all get-out, don't get me wrong. I was pro-artstyle when I preordered it. And the soundtrack is probably one of the best in the entire series. But I am bored with Wind Waker.
Maybe that's on me for finally finishing it in 2023. I finished the main story of Tears of the Kingdom not too long ago, and maybe going back to an older style of Zelda was turning me off. But I was bored enough in 2003 to stop playing when the game was fresh. And I was bored enough to stop playing in 2013 with the HD remaster as well. That one, sadly, was not preordered at a Blockbuster.
In the past, I would get about two dungeons into Wind Waker and then completely lose interest. This time I forced myself to keep going, partially out of stubbornness but mostly out of sheer curiosity. And I'm glad I did! But outside of enjoying the art and the music, the game never really hooked me.
I'm bored of collecting triforce shards, and I'm bored of being forced to do a boss rush before fighting Ganondorf, and I'm bored of sailing around a big blue nothing with a few specs of land in between. I'm bored of TWO dungeons where I have to lead a companion around, even if one of them is an adorable little korok.
So here's where I stand on Wind Waker: What a great looking game! The music is stellar! It's fun to watch speedrunners break it! Beedle rules!!! But I think I've had my fill.
Pikmin 2 - Nintendo Gamecube
Pikmin 1 was already a fine game, but Pikmin 2 improves on it in every way. Pikmin 2 swaps the challenge of repairing your ship in a limited number of days with the challenge of finite Pikmin in the caves, which I feel is a huge trade up.
The caves vary wildly in difficulty-- you can go from a complete pikmin bloodbath to a walk in the park. That being said, nothing was frustrating enough for me to stop playing entirely. Even when I managed to practically wipe out all my blue pikmin, thanks to the lack of time constraint I could spend a day rebuilding my army.
X-Men: Legends - Playstation 2
The randomizer gave me doubles for 2004! X-Men Legends is still a great game 20 years after release. Probably one of the best X-Men games period. It's a fun ARPG, and the "COMBO!" sound effect is one of those little things that will linger in my head forever. The only thing that hasn't aged particularly well is your team's AI. Apparently the X-men's greatest foe isn't Magneto, it's getting stuck in a doorway while enemies wail on you.
I had a few other bugs, such as a door not unlocking when it should have, and a character getting stuck on the final boss, that kind of left a sour taste in my mouth. When I put a little time into X-Men Legends back in the day, I don't recall the game being as buggy. Maybe I had more patience for that sort of thing. Regardless, this is the game that begat X-men Legends 2, which begat Marvel Ultimate Alliance, which one could argue helped begat Marvel Heroes.
Half-Minute Hero - Playstation Portable
A very unique and charming game with several modes each around the same time limit conceit, but completely different game styles. I want to give a shoutout to Hero 300 mode. Starting and restarting Hero 300 and learning the quickest routes through the level made me feel like a speedrunner in a way no other time attack style video game has.
The writing/humor in the various stories felt very 2009, whatever that might mean, but not enough for me to skip it entirely.
Sludge Life - PC
Calling this "Vibes: The Game" is probably being reductive, but that's what it is and that's totally okay.
I enjoying clambering over everything and tagging walls, even if most of the time I had no idea what I was doing.
Also-- and this is very weird --but the crunch sound effect of eating slugs fucked me up so much that I think I collected two slugs and then vowed to never do it again, lest I barf. Video games usually don't get that kind of reaction out of me, but this one did. So uh, congrats Sludge Life.