Weekend Pickups – May 2021

Welcome back for another round of “I don’t really have anything specific in mind, so here’s what games I’ve bought lately”. It was Memorial Day weekend, which is usually considered the kick-off to summer as the weather has finally begun to stay a consistently mild temperature. It’s only a matter of days before we enter a few months of complaining about the heat as a change of pace from complaining about the cold(Talking about the weather…the signs of reaching middle-age have begun). Anyways…I was able to check out the game store in town and picked up a pile handful of games. I found a few PS3 games that I’d wanted to check out for a while, along with a few GBA and a single PS2 game. PlayStation 3 games have remained pretty inexpensive the past couple years, save for the few weeks this spring of people panic buying games after hearing about the now-reversed decision by Sony to shut down the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita digital storefronts. I have also wanted to build up my library of Game Boy Advance games, something I never did years ago when it was the current Nintendo handheld system. I happened to come across a few Castlevania games, which depending on the game, don’t typically sell for egregious amounts of money, but still aren’t something you find everyday.

The Games

Final Fantasy XIII

It wasn’t until my late teens/early 20’s that I really began to appreciate, or “get” RPGs as a genre, particularly(Pokemon Red & Gold being an exception). I’ve begun making the joke that I end up bringing home another JRPG every time I visit the local game store…and this weekend was no different. I’ve played quite a few different Final Fantasy games by this point, but have never played FFXIII(or either of the sequels). I remember when the game was released and thought it looked cool, but (foolishly)thought I was going to play through the previous entries before I’d begin playing it. I always heard a lot of mixed things about the game, but intend to play the game myself and create my own opinions from there…once I finish up what must be a dozen or so other JRPGs first…

The Darkness

I remember reading about a game called “The Darkness” shortly after getting my PlayStation 3 back in December 2007(as the original “Spider-Man” lettering indicates). The premise sounded interesting – a dark, supernatural FPS in which you have an army of monsters, “Darklings” available to summon and attack enemies, alongside an array of conventional weapons. The first game I played on my PS3 was a military shooter called Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and Ratchet & Clank: Future Tools of Destruction shortly after that, so it got sort of lost in the middle of “bigger” games. I had always heard interesting things about The Darkness(and its sequel), so it’s simply another example of a game I didn’t get around to playing until years later.

Enslaved: Odyssey To The West

Enslaved: Odyssey To The West is a game that I don’t really remember hearing anything about back when it was released in 2010, but in recent years I’ve heard quite a few people mention the game and how underrated it is compared to other games of the era. A hack ‘n slash action-adventure game made by Ninja Theory/Namco starring Andy Serkis and written by Alex Garland. Pretty intrigued by this one…


Singularity is another game that I remember hearing about back during the PS3 days but didn’t know all that much about. Similar to Enslaved: Odyssey To The West, I’ve heard more people mention the game in the last few years than I ever did following its release. I really enjoyed some of the older games developed by Raven Software like Star Wars Jedi Knight II, X-Men Legends, or Soldier of Fortune II. It’s a little disappointing that Raven has been relegated to little more than assisting Treyarch and Infinity Ward in making yearly Call of Duty releases since Call of Duty: Black Ops in 2010, which was released a matter of months after Singularity.

Castlevania: Lament of Innocence

I remember first playing Castlevania: Lament of Innocence on a demo disk inside an issue of PlayStation Magazine and really liking it, so I ended up buying the game a couple months later. I ended up selling the game a few years back when I (regrettably)decided to downsize my game collection, but I’ve been keeping an eye out for a decent copy of the game the last year or so. I’ll admit the game didn’t do anything revolutionary with the series and may not reach the same heights of something like Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, but I still have something of a soft spot for the game. I had always known of the Castlevania games and had played Super Castlevania, as well as the NES original, but it wasn’t until the early 2000’s that I started getting really into the series, which happened to be right as Lament of Innocence was to be released…

Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge

For as much as I and many others love the Banjo-Kazooie games, it’s usually(and understandably) the console releases that are mentioned. There were two BK games released for the Game Boy Advance – Banjo Pilot and Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge; the former being a cart racer similar to Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing(Banjo’s first appearance, btw) while the latter is an adventure-platformer more along the lines of what one associates with the series. Throughout video game history, handheld releases very RAREly(well done, right?) receive the recognition of home consoles, it’s easy to be unaware BK games were even made for the GBA. You don’t come across either game very often, but I’m still looking for a copy of Banjo Pilot to go along with Grunty’s Revenge…

Speaking of sequels that went unnoticed because they were released on a handheld…

Gunstar Super Heroes

Gunstar Heroes is one of my absolute favorite Sega Genesis games and would likely be near the top of my all-time favorites as well. A sequel – Gunstar Super Heroes was released on the GBA in 2005, 12 years after the original. It was only within the last decade or so that I myself had even heard of the game and I don’t seem to be alone in that regard as I’ve come across many others who were surprised to hear there was a sequel released. Looking forward to this one…

Advance Wars

Advance Wars is a series that I’d always wanted to play, as I have heard next to nothing negative about the game from anyone or anywhere since its release back in 2001, but was a little intimidated by for the longest time as RTS-type games have always been my weakest genre of games. I came across a copy of Advance Wars for a decent price and decided to finally give it a shot. The GBA releases are revered by fans and seemingly destined to be ignored by Nintendo as Intelligent Systems has finally started to gain more recognition now the Fire Emblem games have begun to increase in popularity on this side of the Pacific.

Castlevania: Circle of the Moon

While I have played a few of the Castlevania games for the Nintendo DS, I have never really played any of the three GBA releases – Circle of the Moon, Harmony of Dissonance, and Aria of Sorrow. Circle of the Moon was released as one of the launch titles for the Game Boy Advance on June 11, 2001. None of the Castlevania games on the GBA seem to be very easy to find in the past few years and the latter pair(the ones that didn’t essentially get erased from the overall Castlevania timeline by Koji Igarashi) have begun to skyrocket in price, so as soon as I saw Circle of the Moon the other day I knew I had grab it. It’s just 11 days short of the 20-year anniversary of the Game Boy Advance’s release in North America, so it’s a perfect time to kick back and play some Castlevania….maybe I’ll even get around to watching Season 3 of the Netflix series as well.

That’s all for now! I’m pretty satisfied with the games I was able to find over the holiday weekend. What games have you picked up recently? Let me know. Thanks for reading!

God of War – 15th Anniversary

Today marks the 15th anniversary of the release of God of War for the Playstation 2 on March 22, 2005. I was 19 when God of War was first released and since first playing has gone on to become not just a favorite PS2 game, but on the list of my all-time favorites. I can still remember my very first time playing the game….<wavy, flashback lines>

I had just finished my shift for the day and went to a nearby video store(remember those?) to look through the games section. I was fortunate enough to have a Playstation 2, Xbox, and Gamecube at home that I shared with my younger brother, so being able to walk down the aisle of rental games and having my choice of anything I desired to play was one of the most exciting things in my wonderfully uneventful life. While browsing the PS2 games I saw God of War, a new(er) release as the sticker on the cover indicated. Working in the electronics department, I had noticed the game stocked in behind the glass of the game case and thought it looked interesting. I knew absolutely nothing about the game other than it was set in Ancient Greece and any combination of video games and history(these are few of my fav-o-rite things) I was willing to give a chance. I rented the game and immediately popped the disc into the PS2 to try it out. I can vividly remember sitting in my bedroom on the old loveseat next to my window as I was completely blown away by God of War. I had never seen such an incredible mixture of buttery-smooth gameplay and cinematic presentation on such an epic scale. For further context, this was 2005 – a time when most AAA titles fell into category of “sandbox-type GTA clone” or “sci-fi FPS Halo ripoff”. This was also several years before Sony first-party developer Naughty Dog would begin to hide their stride with the release of the first Uncharted game.

The Gods of Olympus have abandoned me. Now there is no hope…

God of War begins with Kratos standing on the top of a cliffside peak lamenting his abandonment by the gods of Olympus as he casts himself down below into the Aegean Sea. The opening level is still as awe-inspiring and captivating as when I first played it. You begin playing the games as Kratos squares off against Ares’s hordes of undead legionnaires, the numbers are not in your favor, but you’re armed with the Blades of Chaos – jagged blades bound to Kratos’ forearms by chains. In addition to an army of Ares’ minions, the ferocious three-headed Hydra has appeared and is attacking anything nearby. You must then fight your way across your ship, then traverse the entanglement of other merchant ships before finally facing the giant sea serpent. The game blew me away with the ease and fluidity of which Kratos can attack and outright obliterate enemies. The only other game I knew of that featured such slick combat and animations was Devil May Cry; the hack and slash-style combat in God of War has some similarities to DMC, not only in fluidity, but also in combo-stacking and accumulating red orbs with which to upgrade your equipment and attacks. The opening boss battle against the Hydra is still one of the most epic boss fights I can remember, culminating in you impaling the “main” head of the Hydra on a broken mast as you then must venture into the giant serpent’s mouth to retrieve the captain’s key from the unfortunate Ship Captain(who will go on to make a couple more appearances in subsequent games).

I remember playing as much God of War as I could over the three day rental period. The game was such a perfect mix of action, adventure, blood, violence and history my 19 year-old self was immediately hooked. Rather than renting the game over and over, I decided I would just attempt to save up $50 from my meager part-time job paycheck so I could buy it for myself. My younger brother and I put some money together to buy a copy of the game and were finally able to make our way through the puzzles of Pandora’s Temple and journey the depths of Hades before finally the final and admittedly, a little disappointing battle with Ares in which Kratos opens Pandora’s Box and gains the power of a god, growing to the size of a titan to fight Ares in what I thought seemed a little too similar to one of the MegaZord/Monster showdowns in the final moments of a Power Rangers episode.

For the few faults I could find in God of War, like the couple areas where combat or traversal could be easier with a controllable camera angle, the intoxicating feeling of power when annihilating wave after wave of enemies made it easy to overlook. The feeling of slicing through hordes of enemies before grabbing an undead archer and being able to literally tear it in half never gets old, even the outdated quick-time events as you finish of a stronger enemy such as delivering the final blows to a cyclops or ripping off a Gorgon’s head are still enjoyable. A number of fixed camera angles that can a missed jump here and there, along with some of the puzzle/platforming elements that were clearly inspired by Prince of Persia games. The battle arena were a perfect balance of challenging without the being “cheap”. There is only three boss battles in the entire game – the Hydra, Minotaur, and Ares in the finale, each boss fight descending slightly in impressiveness.

God of War creator David Jaffe has stated he wanted to make a game combining the Ancient Epic feel of Clash of the Titans with the hunt for mythical relics of movies like Raiders of the Lost Ark. The gameplay is an amalgam of the combo-based combat of Devil May Cry with some puzzles and light platforming as you would find in the Prince of Persia series. Santa Monica Studios did a phenomenal job of creating a game with mechanics and controls that were quite basic(Light Attack, Strong Attack, etc.) but offered enough variety and challenge to prevent the game from getting tedious. Much credit also goes to Santa Monic Studio for God of War’s graphics; the game featured the most amazing visuals I had ever seen in a video game and easily among the best of any game on the Playstation 2. God of War is one of those games in which you can somewhat easily pinpoint its inspirations and doesn’t necessarily represent anything revolutionary within the genre, but the level of quality it achieved in each area. A video game set in Greek mythology may not have been a new concept(Kid Icarus?) and exploring the vast expanse of Ancient Greece has been better materialized in games like Assassin’s Creed: Odyssey, but God of War is still a classic and one of the greatest in the Playstation 2’s incredible library of titles. Kratos also remains one of gaming’s most iconic characters whether in Greek or Norse mythology.