Falling(Behind) Into Autumn

The summer months are now behind us. Daylight hours are getting steadily shorter and there’s a crispness in the air. Fall is finally here. My favorite season without a doubt was summer as a kid – I’m sure almost all of that had to do with the feeling of sweet freedom away from school over summer vacation. As I’ve gotten older, however, I’ve started to embrace the fall months as my favorite time of year – walks in the cool mornings to take in the sights and smells of the season or spending cozy evenings inside with a warm cup of coffee while playing video games or watching a movie(let’s be honest, this is how most of my year is spent).

It’s that time again…

It’s been a while since my last post…again, but I wanted to at least write up a short update post on what I’ve been keeping busy(?) with lately. I have typically defaulted to writing these type of posts with “Weekend Gaming Review” as a placeholder title until I could come up with something…better(that’s been two years, it’s a work in progress). If 2021 has been anything, it’s been inconsistent. The year started off strong enough, but since April or so it seems like it’s been a lot more difficult to stick to any sort of consistent schedule, which led to me taking a short break from blogging and streaming. Since then, I’ve felt like I’m typically at one of two extremes – too many ideas to work on at the same time or I have nothing at all(nothing at all). Over the summer, my output has been rather streaky as I’ll manage to get something written a few weeks in a row, only to then go…what’s it been…5 weeks without writing anything? The same has applied to streaming as well, with any semblance of a schedule falling by the wayside and simply going by whether or not I felt up to it that particular morning.

A change in plans…

The past two years I’ve attempted to do something special for October and participate in a set of Blogtober posts throughout the month. I had a list of spooky, Halloween-themed games prepared well in advance this year as I had wanted to avoid finishing a particular game and quickly writing up a blog post about it the same night, which seemed to happen far too often. After going back and forth on it for some time, I ultimately decided not to force myself into some sort of blog project when I didn’t feel I was up to the task. I have a couple of the games from the list completed and do intend to write up something, but it won’t be on any specific schedule. As for streaming, I plan on doing so a couple mornings throughout the week, but don’t have anything set for which games I intend to play and will basically go with whatever I feel like playing next, scary game or not. So, uh…anyway. Video games.

What I’ve been playing…

Pretty hyped for this…

I finally got ahold of a PS5 in August, so since then, the majority of the games I’ve been playing have been there. I played through Astro’s Playroom and Ratchet & Clank: A Rift Apart before I set my sights on Returnal…which proceeded to consume my life for the next few weeks. My most recent(I guess) post was attempting to explain what it was about Returnal that had me hooked and how it reminded me of what I love about the Metroid series. After that, I played through Spider-Man: Miles Morales, followed by a quick detour through Donut County – grabbing the platinum trophy for both games. I had concluded my time with Final Fantasy XV before getting the urge to play another in the series shortly after, so I re-started Final Fantasy IX on my Switch – which I finished last week(and loved).

I realized that I’ve probably spent more time playing RPGs this year than any other year. I was never really into them as a kid, with Pokémon Red being an exception to this, before moving playing Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic and Tales of Symphonia a few years later. This past year, I’ve finished up Dragon Quest XI, as well as played Fallout 4, Paper Mario, Final Fantasy IX & XV, and recently started catching up on some retro RPGs by playing Shining Force on stream the past couple weeks. Maybe it is just that I probably have more to catch up on with RPGs as a genre, or something about the way you can throw yourself into a story and world for hours at a time. The latter has definitely seemed true the past month and a half, where I’ve felt like doing nothing other than immersing myself into video games after getting done with work for the night and feeling capable of doing little else.

A couple months ago, I had signed up on the Halo Waypoint site to take part in the upcoming multiplayer beta(s) for Halo: Infinite. I got the email invite for the weekends of Sept. 24-26 and Oct. 1-3, so a sizable portion of my time those weekends was spent with Needlers and plasma grenades in hand. I didn’t have an Xbox One until this last year, so I feel like I missed out on Halo 5 for the most part. I finally played through the campaign earlier this summer and really enjoyed it, though I haven’t tried any of the multiplayer modes. It felt great to jump back into a Halo game and the recent multiplayer beta was a lot of fun and only made me more excited to see the full game when it releases on December 8. Halo has been a game series that’s provided a lot of memories and has meant a lot over the 20 years since it’s initial release.

It’s finally here…

Two days ago, after anxiously waiting for months, Metroid Dread was finally released. Metroid Dread and Halo: Infinite are the two releases I’m most excited about this year and it almost feels like 2004 all over again when Halo 2 and Metroid Prime 2 were released a mere six days apart in November. As I may have mentioned my love of Metroid games a…couple times, it should come to no one’s surprise that my Friday morning consisted of running out to pick up my copy of the game and having to wait until I was done with work that night to begin playing. The majority of my weekend has been spent playing Metroid Dread and as of writing this, have only the final section of the game left to finish. I’ve also begun making a few notes here and there of my experience with the game as I fully intend to do a follow-up post after I’m done with the game(yes, I know I’ve said that before). It’s definitely been worth the wait…

So…yeah, that’s pretty much it. What’s everyone else been up to lately? Any game releases you’re looking forward to in the next few months? 2022 is already looking completely stacked for big releases with Elden Ring, Pokémon Legend: Arceus, and Horizon: Forbidden West in just the first two months. It should be an interesting time…

Thanks for reading!

Returnal Is Everything I Love About Metroid

I was lucky enough to score a PlayStation 5 a month ago after telling myself I would wait a little while before throwing down hard-earned cash on a new console. It had been 9 months since the PS5 was first released, and I had assumed I would buy one(try to, at least) within the first year, before games like Horizon: Forbidden West and the next God of War game were to be released. On my short list of games I wanted to play first on the new PS5 was Returnal – a roguelite, bullet-hell, third-person shooter developed by Housemarque. I had loved the studio’s previous releases, such as Super Stardust HD or Zombie Nation as Housemarque had become known for making primarily arcade-style games. Returnal had been billed as the first “true, next-gen release” for the PS5 and had a fair amount of hype around it as it was advertised as a AAA roguelite shooter. Prior to its release, the discussion quickly shifted towards the game’s steep difficulty curve.

Returnal also came as a recommendation from a friend as “very much my type of game” knowing how much I loved Hades last year….they were absolutely correct. I don’t believe I’ve played a game quite like Returnal, certainly not within the AAA-game space. I also don’t recall being quite this hooked on a game in a long time. It only took 15 days for me to go from my first minutes with the game to beating the game and collecting every trophy. It was over the course of the many many hours devoted to the game that I had something of a revelation – Returnal contains everything that I love about Metroid games.

I first fell in love with Metroid as a series playing Super Metroid as a kid. Super Metroid, Prime, and Fusion are among my all-time favorite games and my time with Returnal over the past couple weeks has brought out some of the same feelings I have with playing Metroid games.

Isolation

ASTRA pilot Selene Vassos crash lands on the planet of Atropos after defying orders not to investigate the swirling anomaly she dubs the “White Shadow”. She emerges from the wrecked ship and proceeds to explore the mysterious, ever-changing alien world. She discovers she is caught in a loop of living and dying over and over again unless she is able to break the cycle and discover the cause of this phenomenon.

One of the things I’ve always found interesting about Metroid games is the sense of isolation. You’re all alone, on an alien world, vastly outnumbered by hostile lifeforms, but you’re determined to make it out alive. Maybe it’s just my antisocial, loner tendencies here, but I’ve always been intrigued by the way games like this can amplify one’s own feeling of insignificance and helplessness. This has been a feeling used in many sci-fi movies and games for decades – 2001: A Space Odyssey and Alien being notable examples.  In Returnal, Selene crash lands on the planet, Atropos after choosing to investigate the distress signal coming from the “White Shadow”. Similar to Samus, there is no backup and she has only herself to rely on, along with her determination to persevere many, many attempts at escape in order to break the cycle and find her way off the planet. There’s also a sense of isolation as you are contrasted against giant, sprawling environments, such as Death Stranding or even Red Dead Redemption 2. Some of my fondest memories from DS or RDR2 are simple moments quiet solitude while taking in the otherworldly sights of a post-extinction event America or the expansive mountains and plains of the Old West. Perhaps I’m just particular to playing the “lone wanderer” in video games… 

Mystery & Danger

After landing on Zebes, Samus begins her investigation the planet, starting with the area surrounding her ship to reach deeper into the world’s multiple environments. At first there’s a sense of trepidation, as you’re unsure just what matter of lifeforms lie beyond the next area. That feeling of mystery and danger is something I immediately recognized while playing Returnal. Each of the game’s 6 biomes have a set of randomly-generated rooms; you don’t know which room is on the other side of the doorway until you pass through. This deviates a bit from Metroid games, where the world has a set map layout, but once you’ve…ahem…failed enough attempts, you begin to pick up on what to look out for in specific rooms. The first time you come across a room, you are quickly overwhelmed by a dozen enemies waiting to attack and the next, there could be no enemies at all. This means you are constantly on your toes because you never truly know which enemies(if any) lie beyond the doorway in front of you, resulting(possibly) in a very abrupt end to your current run. I honestly don’t know how many times I ran afoul of the RNG gods and came face to face with a horde of enemies or mini-boss(es) merely a couple rooms from the starting point in a biome. “Well…shit. I guess I’m starting this over” was a common phrase muttered over my many hours in Returnal. 

Weapons & Abilities

Another one of my favorite moments in a Metroid game usually occurs late in the game. You’ve survived wave after wave of enemies and gigantic boss encounters, slowly building your arsenal of weaponry. There’s a turning point where you no longer feel afraid of this imposing planet and its violent inhabitants – you’ve gone from FEARFUL to FEARLESS. By the time you get the Screw Attack upgrade, specifically in Super Metroid, you merely laugh as you annihilate the grunt enemies blocking your path to the final area of the game. Bloodborne is another good example of this, you begin the game feeling underpowered and running past the foul beasts of Yharnam before you begin to truly feel like an accomplished hunter. In Returnal, there’s a similar feeling of transformation as you progress through the game. It differs slightly from the above games as any weapons upgrades only last your current run, the same as any artifacts or parasites you acquire. Due to the roguelite nature of the game, any feeling of power in Returnal comes almost entirely from studying and understanding the attack patterns of your enemies – you’ll be seeing them a lot so perception is critical to success here… 

I wouldn’t say Returnal borrows much from Metroid gameplay-wise, as there isn’t a lot that would be typically considered “Metroidvania territory”. The game is first and foremost, a roguelite game. One that incorporates elements of bullet-hell shooters, but set to a third-person perspective. This makes it feel very reminiscent of the shootouts in Control(strange coincidence, as both Housemarque and Remedy Entertainment were founded in Finland). It does however hit a lot of the same notes in atmosphere and mood that I’ve always loved since first playing Super Metroid as a kid…

Returnal feels every bit as addicting as Hades was just a year ago(and then some). There’s a layer of atmospere and mystique that I love, which gives way to an absolutely satisfying(and brutally difficult) gameplay loop. The sense of accomplishment in getting the platinum trophy(or simply beating the game) makes this an unforgettable experience. I feel like the past few consecutive games I’ve played through will all be on my list of favorite games from 2021 when the year is over, but I’m even more confident Returnal will sit among the top spots on that list.

Thanks for reading!

Here’s a video of one of the boss fights I uploaded recently…