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Incredible mech action in an alien world

In late 2012, Nintendo released the ill-fated Wii U. Successor to the massively successful Wii, the Wii U continued Nintendo’s approach to fun and innovation by introducing a very unconventional controller alongside its superior online capabilities and fully backwards compatible features. While the Wii U (to this day) has one of the best virtual consoles available for any Nintendo system, its weak game lineup and extremely limited third party support eventually killed the system by 2017, giving it an extremely short lifespan for a home console.

My siblings and I picked up our Wii U for one reason: the Wind Waker remaster. We saved up and waited for the special edition console to drop, and I thoroughly enjoyed playing through one of my favorite Zelda titles with the Wii U’s unique controller. Despite the brief fun we had with a smattering of the console’s games, it wasn’t until the eagerly awaited release of Xenoblade Chronicles X that I felt like the Wii U had finally found its redeeming quality. …


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“Oh, what a wonderful world such would be…”

The World Ends With You wanted me to wake up. I was miserable the year The World Ends With You released on the Nintendo DS. It was the summer of my graduation from high school (2007, and yes, I’m working on this essay from the comfort of my nursing home) and I was having an impossible time finding any meaning in life. Friends had made plans — vacations, getting ready for college, summer internships. …


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When are video games more than games?

I have spent much of my life looking for a very specific something in the video games I play.

This “it factor” is buried somewhere in the narration, and starts right after the call for suspension of disbelief. I play a lot of video games (too many, certainly) and allowing myself to fall into fictional worlds is easy for me because I want to lose myself in the world that’s presented. It doesn’t matter if it’s as bonkers as DOOM: Eternal or as patient as Night in the Woods, I will live in your world if it’s obvious that it has been lovingly and patiently created. …


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A nightmare straight out of 1998

Paratopic is a pressure in the back of my skull.

We often describe aspects of horror by the auteurs who have gifted us the variations of the genre. Lovecraftian. Lynchian. Cronenbergian. While Paratopic certainly pulls from different aspects of the genre across its short run time, the major influence of the surreal horror game seems to be of sensory exploration: disgust, unease, anxiety, stress, pain.

While Paratopic released a few years ago, it has received a second life through sales on the Nintendo Switch and a re-examination of what exactly makes this small game so endearing and different. It doesn’t seem like much at first — the game itself costs only a few dollars and looks like a Nintendo 64 game. There’s little in the way of control, giving it the “walking simulator” feel of games such as Dear Esther and Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture. Paratopic seems uninterested in how it is viewed in terms of being a video game, and is instead a short, arresting experience that requires multiple plays to fully grasp, and even then only the edges of its shape might be understood to the player. …


Games are escapism, and sometimes I want to stay.

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The first time I felt like I stepped out of my bedroom and into another world was in playing Shadow of the Colossus. Despite the several years of gaming I’d experienced before entering Fumito Ueda’s masterpiece, there was something different about Shadow of the Colossus, something almost indescribable. The world felt real.

Even back on the PS2, shrouded in fog and low polygons, the Forbidden Lands were an inarguably real place to my fourteen-year-old mind. Shadow of the Colossus was more than simply a fun game, it was real escapism. Though the world is infamously under-populated, it felt absolutely brimming with life. Every tree, waterfall, and bird felt like it had a place and reason. Instead of existing as a video game, Shadow of the Colossus felt like it was letting me into a world that had existed forever, pulling back the veil so I could have a small moment in the time with this very real dimension. …


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A lo-fi window into the prevailing kindness of humans

I have so many outlets, and they’ve stopped working. It feels disingenuous to bring up the pandemic again and again, wielding it like an excuse for every low feeling and depressed thought I have these days, as if there aren’t millions of others out there experiencing that very same thing. Video games have been my outlet of choice for a long, long time — for a person without health insurance who can’t afford therapy, spending a few hours in Ghost of Tsushima feels like brain balm.


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How trying again and again in Hades made me feel accomplished

This is the run, I tell myself, my sweaty hands clutching my Switch with a clawed grip, my body curled defensively into my couch for the better part of an hour.

I have everything I need to finish this run, to finally best Hades and make my way out of the underworld. My relic makes my temporarily invincible. Lightning bolts are called down when I dodge. My shield weakens my foes upon hit, and my Special deals gnarly critical damage. My stats are good, almost too good.

There’s no way I can fail.

In a sudden burst of button-mashing frenzy, Zagreus explodes in blood for the 37th time. I’m returned back to the beginning of the game, emptied of every boon I’ve earned through my run. My money is gone. I am, again, a product of my own failure. …


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This new entry could be the fresh start that Final Fantasy XV wasn’t

The PlayStation 5 showcase ended mere hours ago. It was a moment that impatient gamers have been gnawing at for months. Not only did Sony reveal a price for the system ($399 for the digital-only edition, $499 for the disc drive edition) they revealed some powerful new console exclusives, chief among them Final Fantasy XVI.

While I’ve been a lifelong fan of the series, Final Fantasy XV was unable to grab me in the way its predecessors have. While the game was entertaining, I was left with a hollow feeling the longer I sat with my thoughts on the game and, unique for me especially, I have not revisited the game since beating it. …


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How Carrion’s inhumanity makes for a unique horror experience

The hallways are dark. Briefly illuminated by electric light and seemingly abandoned, we wander through the vacant halls of a research facility and explore passageways that carry us to empty rooms. All is quiet as a tomb, and we are just learning how to move, how to be, how to exist. This is a horror game after all, and a monster could be around the next corner.

Bipedal monsters with two eyes and two arms, fragile suits of flesh who have encased us within this labyrinthine building.

This is survival horror, but we are not looking to escape a fog-blanketed small town or a village of cults. We are seeking our freedom, our emancipation from what the humans have done to us. They’ve chopped us up and locked us away and now it is time to feel whole again. …


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A frantic indie darling that evolves the deckbuilder

I was obsessed with Mega Man Battle Network as a kid. Mega Man satisfied the frenetic whimsy of my attention at an early age. The series was filled with games that were fast, fun, stylish — and most importantly, cool. My brother and I lost countless hours on the ultra-hard difficulty of the Mega Man games. Instead of giving up when we encountered impossible bosses, instant death spikes, and maddening levels, we pushed onward, the delicious prospect of victory a reward we demanded above all else.

When Mega Man Battle Network released, it did so with mixed reviews. A strange mash-up of the Mega Man formula and the RPG genre, Battle Network also introduced a deckbuilder aspect — battle chips, a way to construct a deck filled with recurring skills and abilities that would refresh at the onset of every new battle. This curious customization awarded limitless opportunities for how each battle would play out and spurred a new obsession. Combined with a local multiplayer that allowed my brother, my friend, and I to pit our best decks against each other, Mega Man Battle Network was the summer game for six years…and a game that would eventually fade into obscurity. …

About

Brandon R. Chinn

Author of the Kognition Cycle and the Mistake of the World. Works featured in Moonchild Magazine, Twist in Time, Selene Quarterly. Talk to me about video games!

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