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Pokemon: A Grand Ambition, Update 7 – The End?

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I’ve done it! My original stated intention has been fulfilled! Continue reading Pokemon: A Grand Ambition, Update 7 – The End?

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The Top 10 Games I Played in 2014

TopGames2014In keeping with tradition, I’m going to forego writing a best-of list, just like I forgot to do in 2012. Scratch that, I mean I’m going to simply order these games alphabetically instead of ordering them. This list is very Wii U heavy, which makes sense as I purchased the system shortly after Mario Kart 8 released. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back in the sense that there were plenty of titles available and coming soon that I wanted to play. And of course, this list is diverse with older games as I usually don’t play many new titles. In that regard, this list is unlike any other I’ve constructed.

Bayonetta 2 – Now this is a video game. Platinum Games, Sega, and  Nintendo expanded upon the formula of the original by blowing it out of the water. This was easily the most fun I had playing a game by myself this year.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence – I’ve been a big fan of the series since playing Aria of Sorrow but this was my first foray into a 3D entry. I did’t think the game was outstanding, but the focus Koji Igarashi and his team had was. An enjoyable action game.

Eternal Darkness: Sanity’s Requiem – The same can be said for this game – that I didn’t find it to be outstanding. It just hasn’t seemed to age super well. Still, this was a fun game to play through with a friend and I’m glad to finally check it off my backlog.

Gyruss – With this game, my friend and I had a great high-score competition going that stretched from late 2013 into early 2014. We had long breaks in between, but the rivalry was fierce. The game and our rivalry was a great example of the Golden Age of Arcade Games.

Mario Kart 8 – This was the game that pushed me over the edge on the Wii U and what a game! If it’s not my favorite in the series, it’s easily #2, right behind Double Dash. A great selection of courses, great DLC, and solid online wooed me in the early days with my new system.

New Super Luigi U – This was another early adoption title that wooed me. I played through the entirety of this in co-op, and it was such a pleasurable experience. A great blend of traditionally designed platforming stages, with super tough requirements, and fun implementation of the Wii U Gamepad.

Pokémon Emerald – I limited myself to one Pokémon game, so despite the more traditional Platinum, HeartGold and the less traditional XD: Gale of Darkness, Battle Revolution, Ranch, and Trozei, I chose this. Having skipped this game in its time, I was excited to revisit Hoenn and see the things I missed out on.

Scribblenauts: Unlimited – My friend and I haven’t beaten this game. We’re maybe halfway through it. Still, the amount of fun we had brainstorming ridiculous creations was probably the most fun I had with a video game all year. Highly recommended.

Super Mario Bros. – I mean, come on. This game is legendary. I finally beat it this year after many attempts and the assistance of my friend. What a sense of accomplishment afterwards! Talk about checking something off of a backlog, this is more like a bucket list item!

Super Smash Bros. for Wii U – What a stupid name. Still, this is such a highly refined, balanced game with enough content to keep me content for years. Rest assured, I will play this game until its successor comes out and it will be in the mulitplayer lineup that long too.

Pokemon Platinum [Nintendo DS] – Review

Pokemon PlatinumA retread of the region of Sinnoh, Pokémon Platinum is an enhanced remake of Diamond and Pearl – the fourth generation of Pokémon games and the ones that ushered in the era of the Nintendo DS. Released in the spring of 2009, two years after its predecessors, it’s a game that I never played until now. Nonetheless, the remake sticks so closely to its predecessors that little feels unfamiliar. Like everything before it, it’s a solid entry that refines the classic formula but does little to improve upon it.

Environments popped a little more in this generation thanks to the 3D accents.
Environments popped a little more in this generation thanks to the 3D accents.

As I did with Emerald, I started in an uncommon way. Thanks to owning multiple handhelds and games, I was able to start with all three starters. Not only that, since some were traded, they earned 1.5x experience and leveled faster than normal. Due to this, the difficulty ranged from pushover to frustrating. At points, my Pokémon would grow too strong and would only listen to me occasionally. This was very frustrating! About four gym leaders in (out of eight) this wasn’t much of a concern anymore. The only other time I had issues was facing the Elite Four. Conquering them required grinding – but it seemed like less compared to Emerald.

The Distortion World was a mind-bending area where Giratina resided.
The Distortion World was a mind-bending area where Giratina resided.

This generation introduced many new features, although for my purposes, there’s little that I wanted to, or could, interact with. Arguably the biggest feature was the introduction of online trading and battling. With the Nintendo WFC shutdown now, this is a nonstarter though. The next most important introduction would probably be the use of the touch screen via the Pokétech. Consisting of twentyish apps, the majority of them are useless novelties. This was the biggest lost opportunity. Naturally, there were more Pokémon introduced and many more gameplay additions and tweaks too.

If the poor use of the touch screen was the biggest lost opportunity, perhaps the second would be the lackluster visuals. The environments – routes, dungeons, and towns – are set on 2D backgrounds, but for the first time, use 3D accents. Buildings, trees, and other objects are displayed in such a way that they pop up and out visually. Battles however, still show off the battling Pokémon in flat 2D drawings that offer little animation. There’s probably more fidelity than in previous games, but it’s hard to tell.

Battles still used basic 2D sprites mostly lacking animation.
Battles still used basic 2D sprites mostly lacking animation.

Being three mainline games into my Grand Ambition at this point, it’s very easy for the games to run together and seem less distinct. With the major new addition to the series obsolete today, Pokémon Platinum had little to offer in newness. The most enticing new feature was the Pokémon themselves. Going back and capturing the Pokémon that I did back in high school was a comforting task. Sinnoh wasn’t as memorable a region for me as Hoenn was, but it was still nice to go back. This, despite the fact that most of the additions were either poor or unused by me, as I focused nearly solely on beating the game and capturing the legendaries.

Pokemon: A Grand Ambition, Update 2 – Pokemon Emerald

It’s been a long time but I haven’t dropped this grand ambition of mine. As I mentioned at the end of my last check-in, after beating Pokémon Colosseum, I was due to begin Pokémon Emerald. It was a new experience for me as I skipped out on the game when it originally released back in 2005. My experience was somewhat of a mix between a trip down memory lane and dementia, as I recalled certain aspects and events, but couldn’t really tell what differentiated it from Ruby and Sapphire. Nonetheless, I’ve powered through the narrative, and am passively working on the Pokédex while I actively play Pokémon XD: Gale of Darkness – my current challenge.

Currently, I’m close to crossing the 100 hour mark in Emerald. Honestly, I didn’t anticipate spending this much time with the game. I believe I was around 70 hours into it when I decided I’d completed all of the postgame content I was going to complete and thusly, moved onto Gale of Darkness. However, I’ve put another 30 hours into Emerald by playing it before bed here and there and taking it with me into public if I anticipate a long enough downtime to fire it up. In fact, on one such outing (a visit to the emergency room, care of my girlfriend) I caught a shiny Pokémon! It was a shiny Wailmer, which I’m pleased as punch with.

I anticipate completing Gale of Darkness in another dozen or so hours, so I’ll probably spend more time with Emerald before jumping into the next game on my list – Pokémon Platinum! In that time span, I’ll be working towards completing the Pokédex, although I don’t think I’ll be able to fill out the 200+2. That being said, I have many Pokémon to trade between LeafGreen, Colosseum, and Gale of Darkness, so we’ll see. As far as the next stops on this tour of mine, Platinum will follow Gale of Darkness; afterwards I’ll jump back to the console space with the Wii’s Pokémon Battle Revolution. After that, Pokémon Ranger is a possibility before jumping into HeartGold and then the Black/White series. Until next time, which, will be much sooner.

Pokemon Emerald [GBA] – Review

This wasn't the first, nor the last, of the Pokemon games to feature a reflective box.
This wasn’t the first, nor the last, of the Pokemon games to feature a reflective box.

Classically, the mainline Pokémon games come in threes. The first two launch together while the third, usually an enhanced amalgamation of the previous two, releases about a year later. Pokémon Emerald is the enhanced remake of Pokémon Ruby and Sapphire – the first two Pokémon games on the Game Boy Advance. I adored Ruby when it released in my freshman year of high school. I clocked well over 200 hours with it before moving on. After retiring LeafGreen and Colosseum, I was interested in starting Emerald and returning to Hoenn as it had been ten years since I last saw it.

Double Battles were introduced with this generation.
Double Battles were introduced with this generation.

Returning to Hoenn brought back many memories. As I crisscrossed the expansive island, I remembered specific towns, routes, and completing specific objectives. Not everything was familiar though. I couldn’t remember some of the smaller story beats. The series is host to light and airy narratives though, so this wasn’t a surprise. Whereas players were confronted with Team Aqua or Team Magma in Ruby and Sapphire, players had to contend with both in Emerald. These groups aren’t necessarily evil like Team Rocket, but their goals of enacting massive changes to Hoenn’s ecosystem were potentially world ending.

The Battle Frontier was heavily marketed as the defining feature of Emerald when it released back in the middle of 2005. Personally, the battle facilities that have been introduced in the series haven’t appealed to me too much. This one hasn’t stolen too much of my time either. I appreciate being able to win harder to find evolutionary items and spotlighting the various battle styles is fantastic, but I’ve never put too much time into these. I’m more of a breeder than a fighter. The Battle Frontier is massive though and there is plenty there to entertain diehard fighters.

Really, those are the major differences between Ruby and Sapphire and Emerald. Perhaps the most notable of the minor alterations was Game Freak’s adjustments of wild Pokémon locations and the ability to capture both Groudon and Kyogre. Oh, and the Pokémon battles featured minor amounts of animation, like Crystal did prior. This generation was host to many new additions. Prime among them were double battles, contests, weather, the ability to dive, and many, many other novelties and mechanics.

This awesome building was one of the attractions at the Battle Frontier.

This awesome building was one of the attractions at the Battle Frontier.

Pokémon Emerald is the first enhanced remake in the series that I’ve completed (discounting LeafGreen and HeartGold, I guess). All in all, the additions and alterations make this the most feature packed between Ruby, Sapphire, and it, but it doesn’t make those games obsolete. I would find it grueling to play this immediately after playing one of those, so if you’re attempting a series playthrough as I am, pick one. The major changes may seem minor, but a comprehensive changelog of all changes would be immense. An older Pokémon game like this isn’t for everybody though, so only Pokémaniacs need apply. I fit the bill too! It’d been forever since I journeyed across Hoenn and it was a pleasant return.

Pokemon Colosseum [GameCube] – Review

Pokemon ColosseumReleased back in 2004, Pokémon Colosseum was Nintendo’s first attempt at making a full-scale console RPG out of their Pokémon series. Having been an avid fan at the time it was originally released, I remember being severely let down by the nontraditional take on the Pokémon formula. My teenage self couldn’t even bother to complete the game, despite the allure of trading some truly worthy Pokémon into Pokémon Ruby. Think of all the free time I had then! I’m revisiting the game now as a part of my grand Pokémon ambition, and I came away enjoying it more than I originally did for the exact reason I disliked it then – it’s different.

Double battles all the way in this game.
Double battles all the way in this game.

Wes, the player’s avatar, is a mute antihero attempting to foil the plans of the nefarious gang he recently betrayed. Alongside a spunky girl named Rui, who is the only known person able to detect Shadow Pokémon, the duo set about snagging and purifying all Pokémon that have had their hearts corrupted. I thought the storyline and characters were ridiculously simple, although some were just plain ridiculous. Of course, I didn’t begin this game with expectations of a riveting story. In fact, I don’t think anyone plays these games for their story; it’s the gameplay that draws people in.

The backdrop of the game is the Orre region, and as it is rather desolate, and a little more rough-and-tumble than other regions, there aren’t any wild Pokémon. The only method of building one’s collection in this game is snagging Shadow Pokémon from other trainers, which goes against everything that had been ingrained in the series up to this point. Once they’ve been snagged, they need to be rehabilitated through use in battle, among other procedures. While battling, Shadow Pokémon may enter Hyper Mode from time to time. While in this mode, their chances of striking a critical-hit increase, however, they may also ignore orders. Calling their name will calm them down.

A second distinguishing feature of this game is the battles themselves. For the duration of the storyline, every battle is a double battle. Each trainer plays with two active Pokémon. I really enjoyed the developer’s dedication to this feature. Most other games only feature double battles intermittently, which in a way, dilutes their appeal. Instead, the opportunity presented itself to build my party around combinations that made sense. I didn’t necessarily strategize in such a way, but the other trainers sure did; the combination of Earthquake and floating Pokémon did grow to be annoying.

Cities and dungeons weren't as much a part of this game.
Cities and dungeons weren’t as much a part of this game.

Due to the structure of the game, there is a set number of obtainable Pokémon. Following the storyline and having an inquisitive nature will generally result in catching snagging them all. Once the game has been completed, players can freely trade between Pokémon Ruby, Sapphire, and Emerald. There is also Mt. Battle, a 100-trainer challenge, and a few multiplayer battling modes. Should one snag and purify every Pokémon and complete Mt. Battle, they’ll be awarded a Ho-oh – my current quest.

Mirror B. is one of the goofier antagonists.
Mirror B. is one of the goofier antagonists.

Back in the day, I couldn’t get beyond Colosseum’s differences from the Game Boy Advance games. I simply wanted one of those games with full-scale console graphics, nothing more and nothing less. Instead, Nintendo and developer Genius Sonority developed a different type of Pokémon game. Coming to it now, and with tempered expectations, I actually really enjoyed myself. The gameplay differences kept it fresh as I was coming to it having just completed LeafGreen – a very traditional game. Not only that, getting to see so many Pokémon visualized in respectable 3D was exciting for me. This isn’t your grandfather’s Pokémon game.

Pokemon: A Grand Ambition

Rawr!
Rawr!

I’m a Pokemaniac. There, I said it. Now that it’s on the internet, I’ll never be able to reclaim those feelings and keep them caged again. Ever since Pokemon X and Y released, I’ve been surrounded by people who playing the game. This has created a certain fervor that one might describe as a zeitgeist. Well instead of joining in on the excitement directly, I’ve decided to do so in a roundabout way.

What I’ve done, is reinvigorated a plan to play through the earliest games in the series that will allow me to transfer Pokemon to the most recent releases. Therefore, my starting point is the Ruby and Sapphire era, consisting of mostly Game Boy Advance and GameCube games. The Pokemon from this generation can be transferred upwards to the DS games and then from the DS games to the 3DS games. Instead of starting with Ruby or Sapphire (or most likely Emerald because I never played it), I’ve begun with LeafGreen. Even though it and FireRed were released after Ruby and Sapphire, it makes more chronological sense to me as they are remakes of the original releases.

Being the Pokemaniac that I am, or was prior to Black and White, I’ve already played through LeafGreen. And honestly, I’m not replaying it for pure face value enjoyment. It’s a solid game but being an enhanced remake of the original games, it’s a little lacking. No, my enjoyment has stemmed from the long view I’ve got.

I’m naming my avatars differently so they’re not all simply John. I’m also nicknaming all the Pokemon I can along the way – something I’ve usually refrained from doing. I’m thinking that once (if?) this is all said and done, I’ll be able to look back at the fleet of Pokemon I’ve acquired and remember which game one of them came from and what I was doing/thinking at that time. At the very least, I’ll have a diverse cast of Pokemon that will get tons of experience from being traded!

Even though this is a process that appears like a deep dive into the Pokemon rabbit hole, it’s not as hardcore as you might think. For the most part, I’m avoiding caring too much about the multitude of stats tied to individual Pokemon. I could spend time searching for the optimal combination of traits in a specific Pokemon. Then, I could decide in which game I want to level a specific Pokemon to learn desired moves. Yet further, I could try and figure out what the hell EV training is. Instead, I’m leaving these extra opportunities for added enjoyment if I ever actually follow through and complete this grand ambition of mine.