5 Gaming Facts About Me!

One Blaugust prompt that caught my eye was to share some facts about yourself, so I thought I’d give it a shot by wrapping it in the subject of this blog – video games! Here are 5 facts about my gaming life and habits. Hopefully, they’ll give anyone reading a clearer picture of my interests and perspective.

Princess Zelda made me fall in love with video games.

The first video game I can remember playing was Super Mario Bros. on the NES, as part of that SMB/Duck Hunt combo cartridge. It was a staple of households in the late ’80s and early ’90s, and I found it quite fun. What truly made me fall in love with gaming as a hobby, though, was playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past for the first time. Specifically, seeing Princess Zelda herself in the castle dungeon during the prologue. I just loved her design and the fact that she was a brunette, like me (though she wouldn’t always be in the future). Her dress was gorgeous and greatly appealed to a little girl going through the princess phase at the time. This kind of leads directly into my next fact…

There she is!

Tomb Raider opened up a whole new world to me.

Christmas 1997 brought me a PlayStation and the smash-hit game Tomb Raider, starring the legendary heroine Lara Croft. It was the first game I ever played that featured a female protagonist. Playing TR was like an evolution of my earlier experience with Zelda. I got to figuratively step into the shoes of the iconic woman herself, exploring ancient tombs, hunting for treasure and blasting rival mercenaries without a care in the world. Lara was cool, confident and tough as nails. I wanted to be just like her. Tomb Raider also genuinely jump-started my interest in travel and learning about the wider world. I’ll always have a soft spot for the series and its star for the impact they left on me.

The first level, and the first of many adventures as Lara.

My opinion on multiplayer gaming has changed drastically in recent years.

As an adult, I’m a pretty big fan of online multiplayer games. I’d guess my gaming time is pretty evenly divided between them and singleplayer games, but it wasn’t always this way. I used to strongly dislike online multiplayer games, to the point that I would call myself a snob about them in hindsight. In fact, I basically did just that when I wrote about my experiences giving Call of Duty an earnest shot for the first time. My husband, on the other hand, has been a big fan of online shooters since the first Halo took the world by storm. He tried many times to get me into online multiplayer over the years, but it didn’t stick until Overwatch came out in 2016. I liked the cartoony aesthetic and focus on teamwork instantly, and decided to check it out. I ended up playing it regularly for a few years, and branched out to other online games. At present, I have Dead by Daylight, Apex Legends and Fall Guys in regular rotation between singleplayer games. I’ve also poured hundreds of hours into Call of Duty entries, Splatoon 2, Tetris 99 and Pac-Man 99 (RIP Mario 35). My hubby and I even play Apex together, which makes it all the more fun.

Apex Legends’ best boy Fuse, clad in what appears to be discarded comic books.

I am absolutely fascinated by weird, experimental and low-budget games.

I love a good, quirky game. One of my all-time favorites is Chulip, a game about running around town kissing people. I’d gladly fund a Kickstarter campaign to give that game a modern port by myself if I had the option. If a video game was made on a shoestring budget by an eccentric artist, you can count on me to give it a look. I’m one of those people who’s definitely going to try to beat the infamous Takeshi’s Challenge one of these days. I’ve played and enjoyed so many strange indie games thanks to the explosion of small games getting made and sold nowadays. I was so excited to finally get to play Garage: Bad Dream Adventure recently, and it was a very rewarding experience after such a long wait. Basically, I love all things weird and out-there in the world of video games.

Fatum Betula, one of those faux-PS1 horror games that I enjoyed.

I’m pretty decent at horror games.

Speaking of weird games, I’m quite fond of the horror genre. Resident Evil and Silent Hill are two of my favorite series of all time, and it’s rare for me to turn down any horror game big or small. I think the genre is in a pretty interesting place right now, especially since we were all told by the big publishers horror was dead during the height of the PS3/360 years. There are tons of indie horror games being released, as well as excellent Resident Evil games still coming out regularly. Having been a fan for so long and counting some of them among my personal top 10 games, I’d say horror is one of the gaming genres I’m actually pretty decent at! I’m no professional speed runner, but I can beat Resident Evil (2002) under 2 hours as a matter of course at this point, and both Silent Hill 2 and 3 regularly finish under 3 hours each playthrough. I’ve also beaten RE just about every way there is to do so, having gotten all of the achievements/trophies on multiple platforms. As you can see in my banner image up top, I’ve beaten the remake of Resident Evil 3 on Inferno difficulty with an S-rank. I’m not the best gamer out there, but I’ll give myself a little credit in this area.

An amateur speedrunning attempt of mine.

There you have it, five facts about my relationship with video games. I hope they shed some light on what kind of gamer I am and how this hobby has shaped me over the years. I enjoyed thinking about what tidbits would fit this prompt. It’s fun to get introspective from time to time.

Playing With Fear

Note: This post contains minor spoilers for Fallout: New Vegas, Harvester and Omori. It also contains discussion of phobias and pictures of virtual wasps.

One of the prompts for Blaugust is writing about your greatest fear and how it impacts the type of content you consume and create. While getting into my greatest fear might be too philosophical for this blog, I do have two common fears that pop up from time to time while playing video games that affect my relationships with those games in interesting ways.

I’ve mentioned before that Fallout: New Vegas is one of my very favorite video games. I’m currently working on a post about that, but it’s also a relevant game for the topic at hand. When I first played it way back in 2011, I went into it knowing very little about it, so I was very surprised the first time I encountered cazadores. The cazador is a unique enemy type in FNV, based on the real-life tarantula hawk wasp. I have a phobia of wasps, bees, hornets and basically anything else that buzzes and stings, and wasn’t even aware of the existence of tarantula hawks at the time.

Pure evil.

Cazadores are practically guaranteed to provide a nasty surprise to first-time players regardless of how scary one finds them. I remember the first time I encountered them vividly. I was exploring the world at a very low level when I noticed some fluttering orange wings in the distance. After wondering to myself if there were giant butterflies in the game, I quickly found myself swarmed by cazadores, poisoned and dead. That’s the deal with cazadores; they’re fast, aggressive and always found in groups. They carry a deadly poison that will kill characters with low HP in a matter of seconds.

Oddly, my fear of wasps manifests in a curiosity to seek them out in New Vegas. Horror media is often said to appeal to audiences due to allowing them to explore their fears in a safe environment, and I suppose the same principle applies here. Their ferocity but inability to actually hurt me in real life makes me determined to prove myself against them, so every playthrough involves a trip to the Silver Peak Mine.

This location, nestled in the mountains that dot the northwest corner of the map, initially appears to just be an abandoned mine. You enter it through an unassuming shack, travel down a little tunnel that opens into a large cave and…are met with around a dozen cazadores. The seemingly mundane mine is infested with them, but wait! It gets better. Clear out the first section of the cave and you can find a path leading further up onto a higher level. Once you arrive here, you’ll be attacked by more cazadores, including the Legendary Cazador. FNV has a few legendary creatures scattered around the wasteland, one-of-a-kind variants that are typically bigger, stronger and sporting larger HP pools than their brethren.

The evil has been defeated. Note the smaller regular cazador to the left.

True to form, the Legendary Cazador is huge, does more damage than the normal ones and has twice their HP. It’s certainly intimidating, and catching sight of it skittering around on the ground below me for the first time made my stomach drop. Now, it’s a mainstay of my runs through the game. There’s something satisfying about meeting the challenge of an enemy that’s both tough and scary in a game, where nothing can actually hurt you. It’s empowering to face your fears, even if only virtually.

Another game featuring wasps that I’ll definitely write more about in the future is Harvester. This weird, gory point-and-click game from 1996 is full of outrageous satire and social commentary, but I’ll save that discussion for another time. The reason I bring it up now is one of the NPCs, a woman called the Wasp Woman by her peers. Meeting her is completely optional and she serves no real relevance to the plot of the game, but she’s one of the most memorable parts of it to me.

She has to be the only person who’s ever had these thoughts, right?

The Wasp Woman lives in a house completely infested with wasps, deliberately. Approaching the house treats the player to the sound of buzzing and the sight of many nests on the wooden walls. Inside, there is nothing to do but talk to her about her fixation on the insects. She has an obsession with them that veers into sexual interest. Listening to her wax poetic about their predatory nature is one of the strangest things I’ve ever encountered in a video game, and utterly creepy to someone who tries to avoid them at all costs in real life. Curiously, the player can kill this woman and discover that she actually is a giant wasp creature herself. This is never explained any further; Harvester is just that kind of game.

The other fear of mine that rears its head from time to time when gaming is heights. A pretty common phobia, and one I’m sure plenty of readers will find relatable. It’s most apparent in first-person games, when platforming or flying. I’ve recently gotten back into Apex Legends, and that game is a great example of it in action. Due to the frantic action often going on in that game, it is sometimes faster to get around by simply jumping off the building or cliff you’re currently occupying. Every time I do it, I have to avert my gaze or I’ll start feeling queasy.

My fear of heights gave me a chuckle while playing Omori recently. I’m still not completely done with that game, but I can see it also being a candidate for a longer write-up. Early on, there is a part where the titular character refuses to explore an area where his missing friend might be due to it being only accessible via a long ladder. He eventually gets a pep talk that convinces him to overcome his fear and climb the ladder. If only it were so simple in real life, eh?

I wish.

I think it’s interesting to examine how our fears can influence how we react to media, especially in an interactive format like video games. They can allow us to explore what frightens us, why it does and maybe even try to make it easier to deal with in real life. This was a fun prompt to think about.

My First Blaugust!

I’ve been hearing some chatter about Blaugust, so I decided to participate. This is my first one, but I think it presents a nice opportunity to push myself to write more. I’ve been in a bit of a rut lately, with ideas I’d like to write but couldn’t find the motivation to do so. This might just be what I need to get back in the habit of posting more frequently. I’m looking forward to writing and reading everyone else’s posts this month!

For anyone who isn’t familiar with my blog, I’m Kay. I love video games and like to write about them, with an emphasis on the positive aspects of the hobby. I’m in my 30s and happily married to a man who makes a great co-op partner. My tastes are pretty broad, but I really love weird games, horror, RPGs, platformers and puzzle games. Here’s a game I recently had a blast playing with my husband, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge.

Happy Blaugust!

Worth the Wait

It’s no secret that the gaming industry has undergone drastic changes in the internet age. When I was a kid, digital distribution didn’t exist. Online multiplayer wasn’t widespread. The industry is much larger now than it used to be, and I often hear my fellow millennials decry the many changes that have occurred over time. Some people don’t like the most popular genres, like battle royale games or sports games. Others point to modern monetization methods such as battle passes and paid cosmetic items as signalling the death of gaming. Bloated budgets and long development times for modern AAA games are also often cited as problems with the state of the industry. While I can understand these issues and have concerns of my own, especially about budgets and development time, I like to highlight the good aspects of the modern industry as well. One of my favorite modern gaming phenomena is games finally getting localized after many years of being released only in Japan.

When I was growing up in the ’90s and early ’00s, it was common to see games featured in gaming magazines that never ended up leaving Japan. Sometimes, it was obvious they were considered too niche and were just shown off as quirky novelties. Others had uncertain fates and I never heard about why they didn’t get localized. Another, related issue that was common at the time was games taking a long time to be localized for different markets. The industry was smaller then, and it could sometimes take years for a game to be translated and released elsewhere. Nowadays, simultaneous worldwide releases have become much more common. Furthermore, we’re starting to see video games get global releases after many years of being exclusive to Japan.

Our protagonist exploring the dilapidated world.

Just this month, I finished Garage: Bad Dream Adventure for the first time. It’s an indie point-and-click horror game designed by Japanese artist Tomomi Sakuba. Garage has long been a curiosity among fans of niche games, having been released in Japan in 1999 with a limited print run rumored to be only 3000 copies. It became a sort of white whale to members of various gaming forums, as it was feared the game would eventually become lost media due to no archives of it being known. Thanks to the power of crowdfunding, Garage was fully remastered, translated into English and Chinese and released globally on mobile storefronts in late 2021. I actually bought the mobile version at launch but didn’t get very far because playing point-and-clicks on mobile isn’t really my cup of tea, so I was thankful when a Steam port was announced for July 2022.

So, what exactly is Garage? A nightmare, plain and simple. It’s a very surreal game wherein the player assumes control of a little machine who wakes up in a world populated by other machines with no memories except the knowledge that he must find a “shadow” to escape his surroundings. The scenery mostly consists of wooden and metal shacks suspended over red and pink sewage. You are confined to rails to travel around the world and must maintain a steady fuel supply to move. You also have an “Ego” meter, which is described as a measure of the self. Basically, being trapped in this world is draining to one’s psyche, so you must regularly consume a soothing liquid or else you will eventually lose your sanity and ability to speak.

A shopkeeper with his many wares.

The entire game looks and sounds like a nightmare, to a degree matched only by something like Silent Hill 2. Playing this game was a deeply uncomfortable experience, and I mean that in the best way possible. Without spoiling anything, there is some strikingly unsettling imagery littered throughout Garage and the soundtrack is full of disjointed, unpleasant sounds. This game was made to be art first and foremost, no doubt in my mind. I may do a full write-up on this game in the future, as I’ve only finished one playthrough right now and I’m aware there are multiple endings. Regardless, I’m so happy I finally got to experience this unique and fascinating game that many assumed would never see the light of day in most countries, over 20 years after it first graced the PC landscape.

How many times have we all done similar things in RPGs?

Another latecomer to the global stage, and one I’ve praised before, is Moon: Remix RPG Adventure. Originally developed for PlayStation in 1997 by Love-de-Lic, it’s a quirky little game that bills itself as an “anti-RPG”. The tagline says it all: Don’t be a hero. If you’ve ever asked yourself why it’s okay for your RPG hero to break into people’s homes and slaughter random wildlife, Moon is the game for you. It has been cited as an inspiration for Undertale by Toby Fox, and a chat between him and Moon‘s writer Yoshiro Kimura (who wrote and directed another favorite of mine, Chulip) caused Kimura to challenge his previously-held assumption that there was no point in trying to release Moon worldwide. In 2020, 23 years after it’s initial PlayStation release, Moon came to the Nintendo eShop in the west. The next year, it made its way to Steam and modern PlayStation consoles.

I’m confident I would have loved Moon if I had played it as a wee lass on the original PlayStation. I’ve always gravitated toward weird games when possible, and played tons of RPGs on the console. Part of me wonders if that’s why it didn’t get a worldwide release back then; RPGs were a big staple of the SNES and PS, so maybe the powers that be thought a game satirizing a currently popular genre wouldn’t go over well outside Japan.

The core gameplay involves freeing the spirits of creatures killed by the “hero”.

I chose to highlight 2 games that illustrate this topic, but there are plenty of other examples. I remember when I decided to dive into the Yakuza series in the early 2010s. After hearings lots of praise for the games online, I picked up Yakuza 3 and 4 for my PS3. They were both very fun and memorable games, but murmurs abounded around the net that the series probably wouldn’t get localized anymore in the future. They already took years to come out in the west, and were too niche for the effort involved, so the story went. Fast forward to today, and not only has Sega made the series a multi-platform hit, but almost every Yakuza game has been available through Xbox and PC Game Pass, and will soon grace the revamped PlayStation Plus service.

Another modern gaming wonder is the recent remake of Live A Live, an RPG I remember hearing many good things about over the years, but never played due to, you guessed it, it never releasing outside Japan. Now, I have a demo sitting on my Switch home screen courtesy of Square-Enix’s current interest in “HD-2D” games and I couldn’t be more excited. Metal Wolf Chaos, a wacky Xbox game that’s more American than most American games, finally got a global release a few years ago thanks to Devolver Digital and is another entry on my to-play list. I’ve also poured many hours into Mr. Driller: Drill Land, an entry in the beloved puzzle series that was originally released for the GameCube in 2002, but has been re-released on multiple platforms since 2020. I can’t wait to see how many other hidden gems from the video game industry’s proverbial vault find their way onto more platforms and gain new fans in the coming years.

Feeling Like a Kid Again

A couple of recent releases have given me refreshing nostalgia during these troubling times. It’s unbearably hot and the news has been a parade of misery for a while now, so it’s been nice to kick back with retro throwbacks that remind me of some very fun times from my youth. In the past two weeks, Capcom Fighting Collection and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge both released, and I’ve been having a blast with them.

One of my all-time favorite games. It always puts a smile on my face.

I’ve been pretty excited for Capcom Fighting Collection from the moment it was announced. The collection contains several Darkstalkers games (usually called Vampire Hunter or Vampire Savior in Japan), Cyberbots: Fullmetal Madness, Super Gem Fighter Minimix, Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo, Hyper Street Fighter II: The Anniversary Edition, and the first home port ever for Red Earth. Puzzle Fighter alone is a guaranteed purchase from me. It was a staple of rentals in my home, as it was a game my mom and I loved playing together despite never seeing a copy for sale until it got a Game Boy Advance port in 2003. The prospect of being able to finally play obscure games like Red Earth and Cyberbots was also enticing.

The other major draw of this collection for me was all the Darkstalkers games on offer. I’ve been a fan of the series since 1998, when I bought the PlayStation port of Darkstalkers 3. Its roster consisted of all manner of monster movie mascots. There’s a succubus, a vampire, a Frankenstein’s monster, a fish man, a jiangshi, a werewolf, an undead punk musician, a yeti and just about anything else you could want for a spooky rep. The horror aesthetic and lovingly detailed animations were so cool! The series oozes charm and that unmistakably ’90s edge. Getting to see these great characters again for the first time since 2013’s Darkstalkers Resurrection is a real treat, and having access to Japanese versions of the games and entries that never even came out in North America back in the day is the icing on the cake.

Despite being a terrifying bee monstrosity, I always liked Q-Bee for having my favorite color as her alt.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Shredder’s Revenge is another love letter to the ’90s gaming scene I’ve been looking forward to. When I think back to being a kid in the ’90s, one of the first things that pops into my mind is hanging out at the local arcades with friends. So many birthday parties and Saturday afternoons were spent feeding quarters to The Simpsons, Rampage, Street Fighter II and, of course, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I wasn’t even a big fan of the cartoon or comics at the time, but TMNT games were always tons of fun and effectively introduced me to a series I wouldn’t have paid attention to otherwise. Talk about good marketing!

Donatello chills with a Game Boy while Leonardo finds a cameo from Channel 6 boss Burne.

My enjoyment of the old TMNT arcade games made me pretty hyped for Shredder’s Revenge, a brand new game heavily inspired by the old games and cartoon. My husband was fond of the series as a kid, which convinced him to play Shredder’s Revenge in co-op with me even though he generally hates beat ’em ups. We even re-watched the dangerously cheesy live-action movies in the lead-up to the game’s release. It does a great job of capturing the spirit and whimsy of the series. Gameplay is your standard beat ’em up fare, with a nice variety of moves to pull off, baddies to defeat and level types. The sprite work and animations are vibrant and detailed, making the characters as lively as one would expect from the coolest dudes and (and dudette!) of their day. The game is also filled to the brim with references and throwbacks to the older TMNT media. Shredder’s Revenge even opens with an animated intro complete with the theme song covered by Faith No More singer Mike Patton. It’s a delightful game for anyone who enjoys the series or genre. Playing it felt like being back in the arcade again, except this time I had a husband to share in the fun.

Having these two releases to play so close together really gave me a wave of nostalgia. It’s nice to see older games and retro revivals thrive in the modern gaming industry. We older fans can revisit things we already loved while a whole new generation gets introduced to them for the first time, which is a win-win in my book. I got to play Puzzle Fighter while thinking back to all the time my mom and I spent playing it together, then showed off Darkstalkers to my siblings who hadn’t been born yet when I first played it. I hope we see more retro collections for archival purposes as well as new games from older genres.

Kirby and the Lands Between

Note: This post contains spoilers for Kirby and the Forgotten Land and Elden Ring.

After wrapping up my most recent Elden Ring playthrough, I decided to check out Kirby and the Forgotten Land for a lighthearted change of pace. The game looked adorable and fun, sure to offer a relaxing time. I was also curious to see how a fully 3D Kirby game would play after enjoying several of the series’ 2D offerings in the past. To my surprise, not only did Forgotten Land turn out to be a fantastic game in its own right, it was also a perfect companion piece to Elden Ring.

The New World is full of the overgrown ruins of a former civilization.

While I have enjoyed some Kirby games in the past, I’m by no means an expert on the series. That said, Kirby and the Forgotten Land is one of my favorite video games in years. It is overflowing with charm and gives me the same warm fuzzy feelings Kirby’s Epic Yarn did over a decade ago. The graphics are vibrant and colorful, Kirby himself has many endearing expressions and the many critters dotting the landscape are some of the cutest enemies I’ve ever encountered in a game. The harshest thing I can say about it is that 60fps would have been nice. There are varied side activities and fun post-game content to enjoy. I took my time to achieve 100% completion and had a blast throughout.

Even the post-apocalypse is cute with Kirby around.

The game begins with Kirby being caught in a vortex and transported to a land called the New World. In this world, he embarks on a journey to rescue captured Waddle Dees from a troupe of villains known as the Beast Pack with the help of Elfilis, a blue creature who quickly becomes Kirby’s BFF. As you rescue Waddle Dees, they will populate a hub appropriately called Waddle Dee Town, where they establish new businesses like a cafe and movie theater. There are side activities to check out, including fishing, playing puzzle games, participating in a battle arena and collecting miniature figures from capsule machines. The town also includes a little house for Kirby, where you can take a nap to restore health between levels and display the figures you’ve obtained. While walking around Waddle Dee Town, you can press a button to wave at your Waddle Dee pals and they wave back. This serves no purpose except to put a smile on the faces of players, and I love it.

Kirby can work a shift at the cafe during the lunch rush for rewards.

So, what does this have to do with Elden Ring? Like the Lands Between, the New World exists in the aftermath of some catastrophic event. Both games present a dying world and the attempts of its inhabitants to improve their conditions. Of course, Kirby does this with a much more cheerful tone, but I think they complement each other nicely. This post-apocalypse provided a nice breather after wading through the bleak version From Software gave me.

Gameplay in Forgotten Land also shares some traits with Elden Ring. I know that probably sounds like nonsense, but hear me out. While playing through it, I couldn’t help but think the combat was like a kid-friendly action game. An action game with training wheels, if you will. Bosses have large shockwave attacks with telegraphs, as well as attack combos with cooldown periods to give you time to run up and bonk them. You have a dodge roll ability that works best against some attacks, while jumping over others is a safer bet. Executing a perfect dodge slows down time briefly, a mechanic featured in several action games made by Platinum Games like Bayonetta, Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance and Nier Automata.

A title and huge weapon befitting an Elden Ring boss.

Kirby has his signature copy abilities that have different advantages and drawbacks, so a given ability may be effective against one boss but not another. It’s like the habit among From fans of keeping backup weapons or even entire builds in case you run into an area where your chosen affinity is suddenly useless. Also, I’m not the first person to point this out, but King Dedede has an attack that’s very similar to one of Radagon’s attacks. Both slam their weapon on the ground, which causes a delayed shockwave over a large portion of the arena, conveniently highlighted so players can avoid it. Further, the Morpho Knight’s ability includes stealing your health after a successful combo, much like the infamous Malenia. As silly as it may sound, I think you could teach a child the basics of action game combat using Kirby and the Forgotten Land, since it features a simpler and easier form of the mechanics seen in the likes of From and Platinum’s games.

How I felt after beating some of Elden Ring’s bosses.

Kirby and the Forgotten Land is a wonderful game that surprisingly reminded me of a kinder, gentler Elden Ring. I can’t say I ever expected to compare these two games, but I appreciate such an unconventional pair sitting side by side in my game library. Playing them back to back was pure joy and Kirby gave me a nice change of pace while making me think it might be the perfect way to introduce a game like Elden Ring to someone unfamiliar with such combat.

Jolly Cooperation

Note: This post contains spoilers for Elden Ring, Dark Souls, Dark Souls 3 and Bloodborne.

Late in Dark Souls 3, I hit a wall. I had taken my time exploring every nook and cranny, and was just about ready to confront the final boss. There was just one problem. One man stood in my way, a penultimate boss who was quite literally blocking the path to Ornstein’s armor, my favorite armor set in Souls games. The Nameless King, who would become famous for being a tough optional boss at the time, was giving me a hard time. After many unsuccessful attempts to fell him, I was at my wit’s end. Thus, I decided to try summoning another player for help. As it turned out, I was far from the only person trying to summon for this boss. Co-op signs appeared in front of the fog gate left and right, but were snatched up so fast I was left staring at the “Failed to summon cooperator” message over and over. But all was not lost. Eventually, I managed to snag a sign, and a warrior named “Doors”, a man dual-wielding greatshields, appeared before me. I had never encountered anyone using such an unorthodox build, but we beat The Nameless King together.

Out of all the 100+ hours I spent playing Dark Souls 3, nothing stands out in my mind more than fighting The Nameless King with Doors. Thanks to his help, I was able to defeat every boss on my first playthrough and acquire the armor set I’d been waiting to use for most of the game. Inspired by the help I had been given and the knowledge of how frustrating it was trying to summon in a hotly-contested area, I decided to try and help others with the fight. I spent hours throwing my sign down in front of that fog gate, and, while I can’t recall exactly how many victories were achieved, we were often victorious. It was a fun and rewarding experience, and led me to leave my sign in front of more boss gates in my next run.

I’ve never been opposed to summoning in these games, which I’m aware is a contentious topic among the fanbase. Many arguments have been had online about the “proper” way to beat From Software games, with some claiming you didn’t “really” beat the game if you used summons, or even certain weapons and spells. I don’t really care about any of that, to be totally honest. I have no problem with acknowledging someone else’s achievement in beating the game in a way that’s harder than how I did it, but I also don’t believe in policing how other people play video games. They’re meant to be fun, after all. I did beat both Bloodborne and the original Demon’s Souls entirely solo by chance, since I didn’t feel like paying for PlayStation Plus for Bloodborne and played Demon’s Souls late enough that the servers were still online but the population was so low I never spied a single co-op sign.

Just staring at the sun with my buddy Solaire.

I think the ever-lovable Solaire said it best. Early in Dark Souls, you can meet him and he’ll explain how summoning works. He calls it “jolly cooperation”, a fitting moniker since you can find his sign in front of several major bosses throughout your journey. It’s also an apt description for just how pleasant summoning can be. Like pulling off a self-imposed challenge, it ironically comes with its own sense of satisfaction when you help someone with a boss who’s been giving them trouble. It also provides lots of light-hearted fun. I’ve encountered so many meme builds and funny names in the years I’ve been playing these games. Another neat aspect to summoning is how your actions over the course of the game can affect NPC summons. Keep Solaire alive and he can join you for the final fight against Gwyn. In Elden Ring, being branded by the Three Fingers en route to the Frenzied Flame ending makes Shabriri available to summon against Godfrey. After I had already finished Bloodborne, I learned that you can summon both Father Gascoigne and Vileblood Hunter Alfred to fight the Cleric Beast, the very first boss I and I assume most players fought, if you have met hidden requirements to do so.

I’ve been playing Elden Ring recently, as my last post discussed. Since that post went up, I have finished 3 full playthroughs of the game and obtained all the achievements, yet my desire to keep playing hasn’t abated. For the first run, my husband and I decided to do something we’d never done before with these games and play as much of the game as possible in co-op. We were going to be playing in parallel anyway, so why not go on this fantastical adventure together? It was a very fun time, and certain late-game bosses gave us plenty of trouble even though there were 2 of us. For my second run, I played solo, and for my third trip through the game, I stayed mostly solo but went back to co-op with him towards the end when he had time to play.

My favorite part of my third run was when we decided to beat the Godskin Duo together again. As the name implies, they are a duo boss. They share a health bar akin to the Four Kings from Dark Souls, and will revive each other when you kill them individually until the bar is depleted. They were quite tough the first time we encountered them, but not so much on replays, so we decided to have fun with it when we got back to them as a team. We had a good time playing around with their AI to see what we could cause them to do, and even took a goofy screenshot to commemorate the fight when we put one of them to sleep. Silly stuff like this being possible in such bleak games is a stroke of genius, to me. Like being able to leave messages referencing Metal Gear Solid in front of every ladder, it adds to the sense of community and the shared meta experience of the games.

Giving your characters silly names and dabbing in front of bosses is a surprisingly normal part of FromSoft games.

Hearkening back to my experience with The Nameless King, my most memorable experiences in Elden Ring by far have been in co-op. Malenia has already taken the crown as “that one boss” of Elden Ring. An optional boss tucked away in a hidden late-game area, she has quickly become infamous among players as one of the most difficult bosses From has ever designed. I will readily admit I have yet to beat her solo, not even attempting the fight on my second run. I didn’t particularly enjoy fighting her, but some of my fondest memories of my time with the game are of her fight. After I claimed victory against her thanks to summoning, I thought back to the time I was stuck in Archdragon Peak, waiting in front of the fog gate for a co-op sign that wouldn’t disappear before I could activate it. So, I spent a few hours throwing my sign down and helping others.

When I finished my third playthrough and the last achievement popped up, I thought about whether or not I should just start a new playthrough. I ended up deciding against it, and instead went back to Malenia and put my sign down again. The fights often end in defeat even with multiple people working together, but when we win, it always puts a smile on my face. One of my favorite memories I’ve made playing Elden Ring is getting summoned by the same guy 3 times in a row until we finally bested Malenia. My husband once helped someone defeat her and got a message thanking him for it. In a world where people often seem much more inclined to send hate mail than thank you notes, it was a nice gesture. Those little connections you make with other players in these games are priceless, and truthfully more memorable than the plot or lore at the end of the day.

To All the New From Software Fans, Welcome to the Family!

Note: This post contains some spoilers for Elden Ring.

Elden Ring has been out for a few weeks now, and while official sales numbers have yet to be released, early murmurs from insiders and SteamSpy point to it being a very successful launch for From Software and Bandai Namco, and likely the best debut ever for From. It definitely seems to be reaching a broader audience, if my social media feeds are anything to go by. As a Souls vet who is currently enjoying ER, I keep thinking about how wonderful it must be for all those players falling in love with one of these games for the first time and would like to talk about that. So, I guess you can consider this an anti-gatekeeping post. Welcome to the fray, new players!

My husband surprised me with Elden Ring last weekend, and we’ve been making our way through it almost entirely in co-op. We’ve never done that for any of the previous Souls-like games, so it’s a nice twist to the usual formula for us. We’re not that far into the game yet, but that’s by design. The open world is just so fun to explore. This game has a sense of adventure to it that I, as a huge fan of FromSoft games, felt was beginning to wane after playing through Demon’s Souls, the Dark Souls trilogy and Bloodborne. It’s not that any of those games are bad. I think they’re all quite great, in fact. After playing all of them multiple times, however, I started to feel like I’d seen everything From had to offer. That’s even why ER was a surprise gift for me; I was on the fence about it until I heard other From fans raving about the new things it adds to the mix.

Getting teleported here was a cool surprise.

Having spent some time in the world of Elden Ring, I think the decision to marry Breath of the Wild‘s truly open-world formula to Souls combat was pure brilliance. I wouldn’t have expected it to work as well as it does, but being able to freely roam the vast, atmospheric world and discover all kinds of secrets and wonders is truly delightful. As I mentioned above, the giddiness I feel when exploring The Lands Between keeps making me think of all the new players and how exciting it must be for them. All the unexpected boss fights you can stumble upon, the intriguing and mysterious NPCs to meet, the often jarring changes from one location to another, even the funny little meme messages people love to leave everywhere, they’re all engrossing to me as someone who’s very familiar with FromSoft tropes. I can only imagine how mind-blowing some of this stuff must be to someone who isn’t well-versed in how these games play out. There are so many surprises in the world, from quirky friendly characters to intimidating, giant monsters, that it’s great fun to share experiences with others.

Meeting a living warrior pot put a smile on my face.

I think this “water-cooler game” factor is a big part of why Elden Ring is such a cultural force in and outside the gaming community at the moment. The addition of the open world turns the game into a sprawling adventure that we can all explore at our own pace, which in turn leads to players discovering things in different order and having their own unique journey to recount to others. It also helps that the open world makes the game more accessible than other From games by allowing you to leave an area that’s giving you trouble and try something else or come back later. That freedom empowers players to experiment and find their comfort zone while maintaining the difficulty these games are known for in its boss fights and optional areas. I like how this adds a fresh twist to the Souls-like formula for veteran players like myself while also making the game appealing to more players. From didn’t have to compromise their vision for their games, but still found a way to open Elden Ring up to people who may have missed out on their previous offerings.

I was just exploring with my phantom wolves when a boss health bar suddenly appeared!

Elden Ring is an exciting evolution of the formula set up by the Souls games and Bloodborne. It’s nice to see FromSoft pull off pleasing their existing fans while bringing in a whole new crowd. I’m loving my time in The Lands Between and happy to be sharing this wonderful experience with all the new players out there. I hope you’re all having as much of a blast as I am. Welcome to the club!

Enjoying Video Games as a Spectator

Watching other people play video games is a subject I’ve seen come up in conversation many times since I first started playing games as a kid. Every young gamer I knew enjoyed watching friends and family members play nearly as much as they liked actually playing themselves. It’s a funny thing to me, that a highly interactive medium could be so entertaining even when merely spectating, but it’s certainly true for myself as well.

The explosion of online let’s plays and streaming culture points to this being a widespread phenomenon. Watching other people play video games can be very fun for many people. I think there’s a variety of reasons why this is the case. Personally, I think it’s fun to watch someone experience a game I really like for the first time. Seeing a fresh perspective on something I have my own existing feelings and biases about can be enlightening about what other people look for in games and how they engage with them. It’s also a great way to obtain information about a game you’re interested in, since you can see what it’s like in action and get a feel for how it plays based on the reactions of others. On the fence about a potential purchase? Fire up a stream and see if the game looks worth the money. Streaming is also a useful way of discovering obscure games and hidden gems you may have overlooked.

Watching high-level play is also a source of entertainment. I’m going to be totally honest here – I love playing fighting games, but I am not good at them by any stretch of the imagination. Seeing professional players in action either in tournament settings or just during normal streams shines a whole new light on how these games can be played. Streaming and YouTube culture has also given gamers the opportunity to witness crazy feats such as beating difficult games with dance pads and steering wheels, or blindfolded. Speedruns that involve incredibly precise inputs to execute glitches can also be a treat to see.

On a more personal level, watching friends and family members play video games can be a great bonding experience. I used to love watching my mom play all kinds of NES and SNES games when I was a kid, especially since many of them were too difficult for me at the time. I think anyone who loves games can recall asking an older sibling or cousin to beat a tough part for them at least once during their childhood. Even as an adult, my husband and I watch each other play tons of games. Our tastes don’t always align, but the shared experience of a video game is a lot like watching a movie together. Even if only one of us is playing, the other can still participate by giving their thoughts and advice.

My husband would never play World of Horror, but was interested to see me play it.

A perfect example of this is horror games. I love them. Horror is one of my favorite genres. My husband loves watching me play horror games, but hates actually playing them. He doesn’t find them too scary or stressful, he just doesn’t find them fun. He will never miss an opportunity to watch me play one, however, even if it’s Silent Hill 2 for the 50th time. Dead by Daylight is one of his favorite games to spectate due to the hectic and often unpredictable nature of online multiplayer games. To him, seeing me try out different character builds and tactics is fun. By the same token, even though I enjoy plenty of multiplayer shooters, I like watching when he plays because we tend to not use the same loadouts and strategies.

Even singleplayer games like Bethesda RPGs can be fun to watch someone else play. You and your friend probably don’t do the exact same things in a given Skyrim or Fallout: New Vegas playthrough, for instance. Maybe you prefer Raul as a companion and your friend always picks Boone. Perhaps you like to walk all over the map of Ghost of Tsushima and find every collectible, meanwhile your buddy stays preoccupied with the main quest. Watching someone else play the same game you’ve already played can give you things to talk about that you may not have considered. It just goes to show how much of a social and communal experience playing video games can be when even just watching others play them can be engaging in its own right.

Video Games Make Exercise Fun

I was just reading that Ring Fit Adventure has outsold Splatoon 2. As a fan of both games, I can’t say I’m surprised by the success of RFA. Not to knock Splatoon; it’s a very fun and very Nintendo take on the multiplayer shooter genre, so its success makes perfect sense to me. RFA, for its part, is another beast entirely: a way to make exercise fun and engaging to people who don’t enjoy it. And that, in my view, highlights one of the strengths of video games as a medium.

You can feel your balance getting better as you do yoga poses.

Fitness games are a brilliant way to utilize the interactivity of gaming. Motion controls that require players to get up off the couch and physically move around allow for a wealth of exercises to be done within the trappings of a fun leisure activity. In the case of Ring Fit Adventure, the game is styled as a casual RPG. You have stats to raise (humorously called “gains”), skills to unlock, gear to equip and potions to craft (in the form of smoothies), all of which aid in turn-based battles that occur throughout the levels. There are bosses to conquer, side quests to complete, mini games to play and bonus modes to try. It’s obvious how much thought went into making RFA a fun little RPG as well as a nice fitness program.

Squat holds will really make you feel the burn.

The fitness part of the game can’t be overstated, either. The game contains 30 intensity levels, which players are free to adjust at will or let the game set based on information provided. There are dozens of exercises to equip and use in battle, targeting arms, legs and torso as well as yoga poses. It’s a great way to ease into working out if you aren’t sure where to start or can’t go to a gym. Experimenting with different combinations of exercises is also a good way to see where you are in terms of personal fitness, as I noticed the first time I equipped the standard yoga tree pose and nearly tipped over, or when I increased the intensity a few levels and immediately regretted the squat reps I had chosen.

Ring Fit Adventure is a terrific way to combine exercise and gaming, but it isn’t the only game in town. Just Dance is another favorite of mine. I often find myself having so much fun dancing to the beat that I don’t realize I’ve broken a sweat. One noteworthy feature of JD is it doesn’t have a fail state. Your score can only go up throughout a song, making it a great option for elderly people or people with disabilities who may worry about being able to keep up with a gamified workout. The Switch is home to the Fitness Boxing series, where the Joy-cons are used to simulate boxing moves for a fun workout akin to playing Punch-Out. The eShop also gave us the free game Jump Rope Challenge during the pandemic, which is exactly what it sounds like. Speaking of the pandemic, I assume it has played a large part in Ring Fit Adventure‘s success, since it provided an attractive alternative to trying to put together a home gym for people suddenly unable to go to theirs during lockdowns. With Covid still around, fitness video games are a nice option to have for those who can’t or don’t want to worry about going to a gym. Either way, I’m glad these games exist and think they perfectly illustrate how video games can blend the real world and virtual worlds in unique ways that other entertainment media cannot.