2023. So far, it's the year of Nintendo.
I haven't posted anything here for a little over a month - between Christmas, New Year, and a January that's been as busy as they always seem to be, I've been left with precious little spare time. That spare time I've had has felt better spent playing games than writing about them, to be honest. A new Switch OLED model found its way into the house at the back end of last year (along with an Anbernic RG353M - but I'll talk more about that in a later post), and it's been getting some serious use. So far this year, I've finished 3 games in 3 weeks - all of them on the Nintendo, and most of it in handheld mode on that gloriously improved screen. Cold winter evenings have been spent curled up in the lounge with me playing Nintendo and my family crashed out around me - everyone doing their own thing, content to share the space with one another. I can't lie... it's been pretty blissful.
The year started off in style with Bayonetta 2 - a game that's been sat on my pile of shame for a year or so. Coming off the back end of 2022, I was in the mood to play something... crazy, I guess. Bayonetta 2 certainly fulfilled that particular need, by virtue of being as absolutely batshit crazy as its predecessor was. I mean, it's a Platinum action game - and they hold a reputation for shipping games that are considerably less than sane for an excellent reason. There's something about them that just seems fearless and hellbent on putting together games like no-one else does - and Bayonetta 2 absolutely fits that (extremely loose) mold. This is a game that starts off with you fighting angels on the back of a fighter jet... and then manages to get progressively weirder as it progresses to a conclusion that sees you beating a planet sized warrior to death. I enjoyed it enormously.
Next up was Metroid Dread - another game that had been languishing on the pile of shame for far longer than it deserved to. I actually started this one some time ago and then got sidetracked by other stuff - probably Destiny 2, as there was a point in time where that used to sidetrack me from pretty much everything else.
Metroid is a series that holds a special place in my heart. I think for most of us who grew up playing NES games in the 80's, it's one of those series - the ones that we'll view through rose-tinted spectacles, for better or worse, for the rest of our lives. No matter how pretty it gets, or how complicated, as soon as I fire it up there's a part of my 43 year old self that's transported back to sitting in front of the TV on a rainy Saturday morning - using the ice ray to freeze monsters into platforms to make my way back up a shaft in the depths of planet Zebes.
Metroid Dread, then, is as pure a progression of the series staples as I think is currently possible. The Prime series that took the game into 3D a couple of console generations ago was all well and good - but for me, Metroid is a 2D game when it's at its best. I've played plenty of Metroidvania's in recent years - the best of which was probably Ori and the Blind Forest - but nothing quite matches plunging into the unknown in the company of Samus Aran. It felt more forgiving in some ways than earlier games - I think I got lost precisely once in the entire game, and even that situation lasted less than half an hour, and none of the bosses held me up in any meaningful way - but in spite of that I came away having thoroughly enjoyed my time with Metroid Dread. It felt like the end of a saga, narratively - but knowing Nintendo, I doubt we've seen the end of this universe.
I want a new version of every 2D Zelda game in the style of the recent remake of The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. That was the conclusion I reached within about 40 minutes of firing this one up. I've a confession to make - even though I've actually owned this game on an original Gameboy cartridge since sometime in 1993 or 1994, I've never actually finished it. I'm pretty sure that of all the games on my pile of shame, this is the one that was at the very bottom. Diving back for a quick go on the Gameboy version when I was part way through, my suspicions were confirmed - this remake is mechanically pretty faithful, apart from a huge visual uplift and a bunch of modern quality of life improvements. Being able to put a stamp on the game's map to mark whatever you feel is important made my navigation of the dungeons far easier than it probably would have been if I'd had only my own memory to rely on.
Aside from that improvement, it retained the old-school feeling of Zelda that Breath of the Wild noticeably stepped away from. There are dungeons containing items that are essential to the completion of that dungeon and the destruction of its boss. There's a very clear order in which things need to be done, occasionally tripped up with some non-existent signposting that caused me to wander around aimlessly until stumbling across a clue that led me to the next part of the quest. In that way, it was a curious mix of old-school and more modern design that didn't always want to play nicely together.
So, thus far the year's been a curious wander down memory lane in a modern guise - like looking at uploaded images of old photographs. Next up though, there's something that I've been waiting to play for a long time after it launched in a disastrously broken state. It's had patches and fixes, and with its first DLC just around the corner, the time feels right. I'm talking about Cyberpunk 2077. See you all in Night City.