2541: Farewell

This is my last daily post on this blog, to coincide with the last hour of the last day of 2016. I’m not going to rule out posting on here again when I feel like it, but this is the last of my daily entries. I feel that the exercise has run its course, and I’m definitely satisfied with what I’ve accomplished over the last 2,541 days.

Why am I stopping now? Well, it’s part of a broader plan I outlined a few days ago. I want to unplug and get away from the constant noise of online culture in 2016. It stopped being fun a good while ago — roughly coinciding with the rise of the outrage brigade who love nothing more than using their social media clout to shame people for enjoying “problematic” material — but it’s also been becoming increasingly apparent that the reasons I’ve been keeping my social media accounts active for as long as I have simply don’t seem to be the reasons other people keep them active.

On previous occasions when I’ve considered deactivating my Facebook and Twitter accounts — Facebook in particular — the thing that has always stopped me is the thought that “oh, people won’t be able to get hold of me easily, since everyone uses Facebook nowadays rather than anything else.” But over time it’s become apparent that while everyone does indeed use Facebook, pretty much the last thing they use it for is keeping in touch with other people. Rather, the inherent encouragement of narcissism in modern social media encourages people to post everything about their lives — or rather, everything in a heavily edited, idealised version of their lives — in an attempt to make other people feel like they should be having more fun/sex/babies/delicious meals/strong opinions about Donald Trump. And while that occasionally leads to heated debates in comment sections, it very rarely seems to lead to good conversations.

Twitter comes at it from a different angle. I’ve heard Twitter described as being like going to a party where everyone is shouting things at the room in general hoping other people will come and join the conversation, and that’s a fairly apt description. The particular trouble with Twitter is that its original selling point — its 140-character limit, intended to encourage people to “microblog” rather than post walls of text — isn’t conducive to nuanced discussion and debate, which leads to particularly obnoxious behaviour when people of differing ideologies and/or opinions about which anime girl is hottest come into contact with one another.

In short, I’ve been finding social media to be more trouble than it’s worth, so I’m unplugging from the noise in the hope that those people who do value my friendship will make use of other, more private and personal means of contacting me rather than everything being aired in public. And this blog comes under that header, too.

This blog has been valuable “therapy” for me over the course of the last few years, which have been, to say the least, rather challenging and difficult for a variety of reasons. I’ve faced many obstacles — some of my own creation, some by other people being colossal jackasses and my not really having any power to do anything about that — and, while I wouldn’t say my life is where I want it to be in the slightest, I feel that I’ve grown stronger as a person as a result.

But I feel like I need to start a new chapter. Leave behind the past, and look forward to a hopefully brighter future. It’s not easy to shed emotional baggage — not to mention the physical baggage that mental stress can leave you with — but severing my ties with the past, be they social media accounts or indeed this blog, feels like the right thing to do right now.

I’m not disappearing entirely, mind you; as I mentioned in my previous post, I still intend to keep writing weekly on MoeGamer, which will become my main place to write about games I’ve found particularly interesting or exciting, so I encourage you to subscribe over there if you like what I’m doing. And for more general writing, I’m starting up a weekly TinyLetter — effectively a small-scale mailing list — for personal notes to those of you who have been kind enough to show me friendship and support over the last few years. If you’re interested, you can sign up for that here. (Those of you for whom I have email addresses already, I’ll be taking the liberty of signing you up automatically at some point on New Year’s Day; I hope you don’t mind, and if you do, please rest assured that if you decide you don’t want to receive my notes, you can unsubscribe easily.)

Aside from that, though, at this point in my life I feel like broader Internet culture just doesn’t hold the value it once did for me, so out the window the unnecessary crap goes for 2017. I’m not encouraging any of you to follow my lead and I’m certainly not casting any judgement on those of you who still find value in social media and Internet culture at large; I’m simply saying it’s not for me, and explaining where I’ll be going if you do want to find me.

If you’d like to stay in touch more privately, please either subscribe to my TinyLetter — which you can reply to just like a normal email — or drop me a message via my Get In Touch page with your email address and/or any other contact details you’d care to share.

For those who have supported this blog for any period of time — be you lurker or regular commenter — thank you, good night, and I wish you a happy, healthy and hearty New Year. Here’s to 2017 being a better year for everyone.

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2540: Royalty Free

I was surprised to discover that a device exists purely for the purpose of streaming shit music into shops.

Actually, let me correct that: a device exists purely for streaming royalty-free music into shops. There’s a good reason for this, of course: music in the background generally makes for a livelier, more pleasant atmosphere, but not all businesses find it practical or desirable to pay up for PRS and suchlike in order to use copyright-protected music, and as such we have the rise of the royalty-free artist and their music to fill this apparent gap in the market.

The aforementioned device isn’t, shall we say, a perfect bit of kit; the available music on offer is relatively limited, and its shuffle algorithm is so unsophisticated that it’s not at all unusual to hear the same song five or more times over the course of a single hour, but it does at least perform its basic function reasonably effectively. And more to the point, through a bit of the old Stockholm Syndrome, finding yourself in an environment where this nonsense is all you are able to listen to means that after a while you might actually start liking some of these songs.

Songs like Kady Z’s Game Over.

Or indeed Kady Z’s Beautiful Disaster — apparently Kady Z, whom I had never heard of prior to actually investigating the dreadful but catchy lyrics to Game Over, is pretty much the queen of royalty-free music.

Interestingly, of all the musical monstrosities that belch forth from the aformentioned streaming box, Kady Z’s are the only ones that I seem to be able to find easily on the Internet. I’m sure the others are out there somewhere, but Game Over is the only song I’ve so far managed to find by Googling the one line of the lyrics I can actually remember. (“Game over, you and me, game over, finally free.”)

All this is perhaps because in particular the two songs I’ve mentioned above I actually don’t mind all that much. As I say, that may well be the Stockholm Syndrome talking, but from a bit of additional cursory research this evening, Kady Z appears to be 1) quite attractive and 2) actually not a terrible pop artist either, seemingly drawing influences from a number of other artists including Ke$ha (most apparent in Game Over), Katy Perry and numerous other “upbeat white chick” kind of affairs.

I wouldn’t say she’s a particular artist I’m going to rush out and buy all the albums of, but sometimes it’s kind of nice to accidentally stumble across some reasonably inoffensive new music that’s a bit outside the mainstream pop charts, which remain mostly dominated by bullshit these days — yes, I am getting old, and I’m not at all ashamed of it.

So there you have it. Make an hour-long playlist with Game Over in it at least five times punctuated by other stuff and you, too, can experience roughly what my day has been like.

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2539: Hipster Coffee

I was a little early going into town for work this morning, so I stopped for a coffee. The Starbucks I usually stop at was pretty heaving, so I went over the road to a place that has relatively recently opened but which I hadn’t tried before: an apparent chain (I’ve seen at least two in various parts of Southampton) called Coffee #1. And I think it’s the most hipster place I’ve ever been in.

If I were to say the words “hipster coffee shop” to you, picture what you think I mean for a moment. Chances are you’re imagining a place with wooden floors, eclectic art lining the walls and overly familiar, jocular writing on the menu. And, of course, lots of 20-year old mean with beards and overly elaborate moustaches browsing Instagram on their iPads. And blue-haired, slightly overweight women staring morosely at their mobile phones, flipping idly through social media rather than actually talking to the person sitting across the table from them.

Coffee #1 was exactly like this, and then some. The art on the walls seemed to have no coherent theme whatsoever, running the gamut from an enlarged diagram of how to correctly hitch a horse to a post to framed covers of Tintin comics and Tolkien novels. The furniture wasn’t much better; I’m pretty sure there wasn’t a single matching chair in the entire place. And this wasn’t the case that you find in some coffee shops where maybe a chair breaks so they have to bring out an “emergency chair” from the back room to fill a gap; no, this seemed like a distinct effort to make everything mismatched. It was sort of impressive in a faintly insufferable sort of way.

Coffee #1 wasn’t a bad place to go for coffee by any means; the coffee itself was nice and at least came in proper mugs rather than artisanal blown glass jars or something, but the whole experience I had while I was there was just one of the place itself trying far too hard. “Look at me!” it seemed to say. “I’m quirky and kooky and wacky!” It felt like whoever had designed the chaotic aesthetic of the whole place was desperately trying to ensnare to coerce the millennial market into coming for a cup of overpriced, overly complicated coffee while taking selfies with their insufferable friends to plaster all over an Instagram feed that no-one in their right mind would give a shit about, regardless of how many cat GIFs and screenshots of the Notes page on their iPhone featuring supposedly profound “showerthoughts” they interspersed their irrepressible narcissism with.

Entertainingly, I got the distinct impression that the staff at Coffee #1 were a little weary of the whole thing, too. The woman serving me wandered off to take a piss (in the toilet, thankfully, at least I assume that’s where she went) halfway through taking my order, and the guy who appeared to be in charge looked a little flustered, to say the least. I’m not sure whether this was simply a side-effect of the Christmas rush (which I can attest to as being exhausting) or if working in an environment that practically screams “ME! ME! LOOK AT ME! LOOK HOW QUIRKY I AM!” simply fatigues the mind after a while.

Either way, I’m not averse to going back to Coffee #1 again in the future, since the important part of its service — y’know, the coffee — was nice enough and no more obnoxiously priced than its peers. The mismatched, chaotic decor didn’t even really bother me that much, despite the words I’ve expended describing it above — it was simply rather striking, since it was my first visit. It all just seemed like rather a lot of wasted effort — and believe me, to ensure that every single chair in your establishment doesn’t match any other chair in your establishment has to take a certain amount of effort — when I can’t help but feeling most people would be happy with comfy chairs, muted and relaxing decor, and perhaps some light, calming music playing in the background.

And good coffee, of course.

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2538: MoeGamer 2016

As my time writing these posts daily draws to a close, I find myself contemplating my other site MoeGamer and the progress I’ve made with it this year.

For those unfamiliar, MoeGamer (moegamer.net) was originally conceived as a means of continuing the work I did during my time at USgamer with my JPgamer column. JPgamer itself originally came about as the result of a USgamer contributor’s frankly atrocious review of Hatsune Miku Project Diva F in which he, among other things, described people who were into the game as “degenerates”. Fellow regular staffer Cass Khaw and I were both pretty upset and annoyed at the language used in the article, so I used my inaugural JPgamer column to talk about the review, the language that had been used and why such unpleasant prejudices were apparently prevalent in the business. (I got into trouble for “throwing the contributor under the bus” for that piece, but frankly he deserved it. Insulting your audience is never cool.)

From there, I continued to post JPgamer on a weekly basis, reporting on newly announced Japanese games and their localisation as well as Japanese-inspired games by Western developers such as HuniePop. The fact it was a regular opinion column rather than a specific format such as a review afforded me the opportunity to talk about things it might otherwise have been difficult to incorporate into USgamer’s regular content schedule, and for all the bitter taste that my time working under editor Jeremy Parish left me with — particularly once I was forcibly ousted in favour of his friends Kat Bailey and Bob Mackey on the pretense that “the site wanted an all-American staff” — I was, at least, for the most part, allowed to cover what I want. (The only title I was specifically forbidden from writing about at all was Monster Monpiece, which is a silly game to lay down the law over, but the only one nonetheless.)

My work on JPgamer revealed that there was an untapped audience out there who were hungry for coverage of Japanese games that wasn’t simply of the “lol, Japan” variety or indeed, since 2013-2014 marked an explosion in the obnoxious “social justice” craze, overly obsessed with declaring everything “problematic” or “misogynist”. My audience were grateful for bringing their attention to a variety of games that either didn’t get any column inches on mainstream websites under the best circumstances, and which were treated with a considerable amount of unfairness and ill-informed disdain in the worst instances. I even made a number of close friends via the columns’ comment sections, whom some of you will recognise from the regular comments on this site and MoeGamer.

When I launched MoeGamer, my initial intention was to treat it somewhat like my JPgamer column, which is to say, simply covering topics and games of interest as and when they cropped up. I didn’t have the time to devote to the site on a full-time basis so I couldn’t turn it into a full-scale news site or anything — but nor did I want to, either. There are far too many of them out there already, with far too many, even among the mainstream commercial sites, simply parroting press releases for the most part rather than doing actual journalism. Rather, I wanted to take MoeGamer in a direction similar to how I had treated my previous writing about Japanese games: I wanted to explore games through long-form writing in which I could use my knowledge of literary, film and media theory to talk about their narrative, themes and characterisation as much as their aesthetics and mechanics. I didn’t treat my articles about games as “reviews” — I instead simply approached them as one might tackle an essay: begin with a starting point and focus to explore, investigate it thoroughly before reaching a conclusion where appropriate.

I’m pleased with some of the articles I produced during this initial period at MoeGamer, though I grant it was a period of experimentation with some pieces more successful than others. Of this initial batch, I’m most pleased with We Need to Talk About Your Sister, on D.O.’s legendary visual novel Kana Little SisterGuidebook to Another Culture, on how Steins;Gate explores Japanese culture and the concept of otakudom without prejudice; There’s Not Always a Happy Ending, on how horrific visual novel Saya no Uta has no endings that can truly be called “good” but is still an intensely satisfying, enriching experience regardless; An Unavoidable Tragedy, on how Nippon Ichi’s surprisingly good The Witch and the Hundred Knight turned out to be a rare example of video games exploring an honest-to-goodness classically tragic narrative; and Atelier Rorona Plus: The Nicest Game You’ll Play This Summer, whose title is pretty self-explanatory.

Earlier this year, after a bit of a hiatus, I decided to reboot MoeGamer somewhat with a mind to providing a more regular stream of content. This partly came from a simple desire to do more with the site, as I’d left it dormant for a number of months by this point, but I was also interested in trying to make something a little more out of it. Specifically, I was interested in the crowdfunding platform Patreon, and whether or not it would provide a means for me to try and earn a bit of extra pocket money from MoeGamer, allowing me to continue providing coverage in the way I wanted to without resorting to clickbait headlines and/or provocative moral crusading, both of which I’d seen the mainstream media sadly decline into over the course of the last couple of years.

My intention was to handle MoeGamer somewhat more like a magazine. Each month would have a clear focus — a single game or series, in this case — and over the course of four weekly articles, I’d explore this focus from a variety of different perspectives. It took a couple of months to get the format nailed down, and it still varies a little according to the specific title I’m covering, but I’m pretty happy with the approach I’m taking now: first, introduce the game or series, including its historical context in relation to its peers, similar titles or inspirations; then, look at its mechanics and anything interesting it does in this regard; then, explore its narrative, themes and characterisation in detail; finally, look at its audio-visual aesthetics or any other aspects of the game which are worthy of discussion, such as alternative versions of a game, different platforms, expansions or remakes.

Notably, an overriding philosophy that I’ve always had with MoeGamer is to accentuate the positive, interesting aspects of these games. Acknowledge their flaws where appropriate, sure, but don’t dwell on them in the cynical, world-weary way that all too many writers do these days. I’ve always found it much more interesting and fun to seek out the good in even the shonkiest of games than to take the easy, low-road approach of tearing it a new one. Pointing out things that someone or something does badly is easy and often destructive; exploring the positive aspects is simply a better experience for everyone involved, at least in my book.

So far I’m happy that I’ve covered a variety of different game types in this format, as well as posting some shorter, one-off articles on games that I found interesting for one reason or another — even if that reason was nothing more complex than “I liked the artwork” or “a lot of people bought this in the Steam sale this week”. Since April of this year, I’ve covered all of the following games:

  • Senran Kagura Estival Versus (Marvelous/Xseed) — The fourth installment in Kenichiro Takaki’s series of beat ’em ups about ninja girls, featuring an intoxicating blend of exaggerated sexiness and thought-provoking narrative.
  • MegaDimension Neptunia V-II (Idea Factory/Compile Heart) — The fourth mainline Neptunia game, and one of Idea Factory and Compile Heart’s best RPGs to date.
  • Dungeon Travelers 2 (Aquaplus/Sting/Atlus) — A dungeon-crawling RPG that initially shot to notoriety through mainstream outlet Polygon’s puritanical hand-wringing over its provocative artwork, but subsequently proved itself to be among the very best in the subgenre ever created.
  • Ys (Falcom/Xseed) — A legendary series of action RPGs that I’d been meaning to check out for the longest time and finally got around to. They’re now among my favourite games of all time.
  • RPG Maker MV (Enterbrain/Kadokawa) — The latest installment in the long-running series of easy to learn but extremely powerful RPG construction kits.
  • One Way Heroics (SmokingWOLF/Spike Chunsoft) — Barely known (but brilliant) Japanese indie roguelike makes good with a complete revamp and reimagining from Danganronpa creators Spike Chunsoft.
  • Gal*Gun Double Peace (Inti Creates/PQube) — A light gun shooter-cum-dating sim that manages to be considerably more than the sum of its parts.
  • Fairy Fencer F: Advent Dark Force (Idea Factory/Compile Heart) — A huge revamp and expansion on Idea Factory and Compile Heart’s earlier title Fairy Fencer F, itself an attempt to tell a more serious tale than the light-hearted Neptunia series the company is most well-known for.
  • Final Fantasy XV (Square Enix) — While a much more mainstream game than what I’d typically cover on MoeGamer, there’s a lot to write about with Final Fantasy XV that I felt was well worth exploring.
  • Root Letter (Kadokawa/PQube) — A visual novel for the over-30s. Absolutely beautiful.
  • Negligee (Dharker Studio) — A short visual novel from a British (but Japanese-inspired) studio that explores both the experience of working retail and what it’s like to slowly realise you’re a gay girl.
  • Supipara (minori/MangaGamer) — A beautiful visual novel that tells a charming, dream-like tale that masterfully blends the magical and the mundane.
  • Delicious! Pretty Girls Mahjong Solitaire (Zoo Corporation) — Exactly what it sounds like.
  • VA-11 HALL-A (Sukeban Games) — A wonderful visual novel-cum-bartending sim by two guys from Venezuela who really love the old-school Japanese PC-98 aesthetic.

I’m pretty happy with that for nine months’ work, and I like to think that I’ve brought some much-needed attention and love to some games that simply don’t get noticed by many outlets these days. Perhaps I’ve even made you aware of games that you didn’t even know existed, dear reader, and if that’s the case I hope you’ve found something to enjoy among all the titles I’ve covered.

I’ve got a number of titles I’d like to cover on MoeGamer in the new year, including the Trails series by Falcom, Nights of Azure and a variety of Atelier games by Gust, Omega Quintet from Idea Factory and Compile Heart, and numerous others besides. While I’m under no illusions that MoeGamer is ever going to be a competitor for big mainstream sites that pump out a variety of provocative clickbait each day, I am happy with what I’ve created with it so far, and over time I intend to continue expanding it into a comprehensive resource full of long-form articles about a wide variety of surprising and fascinating Japanese (and Japanese-inspired) games. To put it another way, I want MoeGamer to reflect my love for the medium, and I hope others enjoy it too.

If you enjoy what I’ve done with the site or simply want to support creators producing long-form, non-clickbait content, any donations to my Patreon are most gratefully received right here. I thank you kindly in advance for your generosity and readership, and hope you enjoy what I produce in the new year.

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2537: Treasure Tracker

I started playing a game I’ve been meaning to check out for a while today: Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, a spin-off title from one of the Wii U’s best games, Super Mario 3D World, and a fantastic game in its own right.

For the unfamiliar, Captain Toad is based on the occasional levels in Super Mario 3D World where instead of controlling Mario, Luigi, Toad and/or Princess Peach, you take on the role of Captain Toad, an intrepid explorer from the Toad race who is carrying so much crap in his backpack he can’t jump. Consequently, his means of navigating levels is very different from the relatively conventional platforming of Super Mario 3D World’s regular levels, and his stages tended to be rather more puzzly in nature.

Captain Toad Treasure Tracker takes the idea of these stages and builds a whole game out of them. With each stage being formed as a three-dimensional diorama, usually in a cube shape, you need to carefully navigate Captain Toad around and rotate the camera in all directions to find hidden items and passageways as well as determine the best way to proceed.

Captain Toad Treasure Tracker features a great deal more variety in its stages than the Captain Toad stages in Super Mario 3D World, and in true Mario game tradition there are a wide variety of unique mechanics and gimmicks that are introduced and explored in a couple of stages before being set aside before they wear out their welcome. Powerups from Super Mario 3D World put in an appearance, too, most notably the cherries which spawn a clone of your current character, which you then control simultaneously with your original one. You’ll then be tasked with navigating these characters together in such a way that you do things like simultaneously press switches or proceed down two separate routes at the same time.

In true Nintendo tradition, there are several degrees of depth that you can play the game in. At its simplest level, you can make your way through Captain Toad by simply determining the path to the star that completes the stage. Then there are three hidden gems in each stage, and finally a hidden bonus objective. Not all of these objectives need to be completed at the same time or even in a single playthrough, but they add a great deal of depth and replayability to the levels.

Most of all, though, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker is simply an utterly charming game that doesn’t have a drop of maliciousness or cynicism about it whatsoever. It’s endearing, cheerful, colourful and relaxing to play, and already, after just 11 stages (out of a reported 70+) it’s becoming one of my favourite Wii U games that I’m very much looking forward to getting stuck further into.

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2536: NES Remix and the Art of Good Game Design

Still on a Nintendo kick at the moment. I’ve been playing a fair amount of NES Remix on Wii U, a rather peculiar package that consists of an enormous number of bite-size challenges based on a variety of Nintendo’s old 8-bit NES games.

Structurally, it’s rather like a mobile game in that each level tends to take less than a minute to complete, and upon completion you’re graded between one and three stars, which are subsequently collected and used to unlock further challenges.

The rating system isn’t needlessly complicated, however; you get one star just for clearing the challenge, even if you ran out of lives and had to continue partway through a multi-stage task; you get two stars for clearing the challenge without using a continue; and you get three stars for clearing the challenge without using a continue and within a (hidden) par time. (You can also attain “rainbow stars” for each challenge by beating an even tighter par time, but these are purely for your own satisfaction; they don’t count as extra stars as far as the game is concerned.)

The genius of NES Remix is that it teaches you to play all of these old games as you go, and it does so without using any hand-holding tutorials whatsoever. Rather, with each of the games in the package, it starts you off with simple tasks and gradually advances you to more complex, multi-stage challenges. And once you’re done with all that, the “Remix” and “Bonus” stages provide their own twists on the classic NES games in all manner of ways, perhaps by mashing up characters from one game into the levels of another, or by doing weird things with the visuals, or by making you play the game upside down or back to front.

What NES Remix successfully does is revitalise every game it incorporates — even those which, when played in their original forms, would look a little tired and primitive now. By trimming the experience down to less than a minute rather than expecting someone to play, say, an entire round in Golf, or a complete game in Baseball, you get a feel for the solid base mechanics of these games without having to invest a lot of time in them and risk them outstaying their welcome. NES Remix instead tasks you with, to use the same examples, simply getting on the green in less than 2 hits from a variety of situations, or winning a game from its final innings.

NES Remix is also interesting from a historical perspective to see how far we’ve come in certain genres. As you may have surmised from the examples I’ve given so far, this is particularly apparent in the sports games. Tennis, for example, requires far more split-second timing than its more modern counterparts. And while Golf features an early version of the classic “two tap” power-and-accuracy meter that many modern equivalents still use today, the lack of features such as the ability to put spin on the ball or estimate the maximum distance a given club will hit makes you realise how much we take for granted today.

It’s not just true for sports games, either. Ice Climber makes me incredibly grateful that Nintendo finally got the hang of jumping controls with the Mario series, because they certainly didn’t in Ice ClimberThe Legend of Zelda will make you miss the ability to move diagonally. And Donkey Kong will make you glad that modern platform game heroes have significantly stronger knee joints and don’t die if they fall more than the length of their own shins.

As infuriating as some of these old games can be, NES Remix embraces their foibles and quirks and turns them into simple but compelling and addictive challenges that have kept me very much entertained over the last few days. And when you’re done with Nintendo’s oldest games, NES Remix 2 then moves onto later titles such as Super Mario Bros. 2 and 3, Metroid and Zelda II as we see a company getting more adventurous and attempting to refine their craft further.

For some, there will be no substitute for playing the original games — perhaps even on original hardware — but NES Remix is a great way of revisiting a wide variety of Nintendo classics and having a bit of fun with them. Plus I can’t help thinking it would make a hell of a great basis for group competitive play.

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2535: A Very Nintendo Christmas

Familial duties for Christmas Day are all done and dusted, and the wife and I are back home. After giving a bit of fuss to the cats — who got an impressively large haul of gifts, because everyone likes to buy presents for cats, and cats are easy to buy gifts for — my main plan for this evening is to sit down in front of the Wii U for a whole bunch of Nintendo gaming.

I’m not entirely sure why my brain has made an unbreakable association between Nintendo games and the festive season, but I get this feeling and this desire to binge on Nintendo games every Christmas.

I suspect it’s a combination of factors, beginning with the fact that one of the most exciting Christmas presents I ever received as a child was a Super NES — the first console I’d ever owned, as up until that point we’d previously been a computer game-only household thanks to our collection of 8- and 16-bit Atari computers.

During that Christmas, I spent a great amount of time between the three games I had at the time: Super Mario WorldStreet Fighter II and Chuck Rock. (The latter two were American imports for some reason, necessitating the use of one of those enormous and unwieldy “converter” cartridges in which you had to plug the game you wanted to play in the top, and an English game in the back.) Consequently, I have very fond memories of that Christmas, and notably, the original Street Fighter II is one of the only fighting games I’ve ever felt like I actually “got”.

I think it’s more than that, though. I wrote yesterday about how I have generally positive associations with Christmas thanks to generally pleasant family gatherings growing up, and Nintendo as a whole prides itself on its family-friendly output. Now, to be honest, my parents were never particularly ones for playing two-player games with me — though my brother would join in when he was present — but the association is still there. First-party Nintendo games in particular are wrapped in a wonderful feeling of warmth and friendliness — a feeling that they’re designed for families to gather round and enjoy themselves with, even if it’s only one person playing at a time while others look on and enjoy the cartoonish silliness.

Then there’s also the fact that Nintendo games are generally very “pure” experiences that often — not always — forego ambitious, thought-provoking storytelling in favour of extremely solid gameplay, and as such are the perfect fodder for those times of year when you don’t want or need to think too hard about things, such as, say, when you’ve eaten several tons of turkey.

Whatever the reasoning behind it, I can’t break the association between Nintendo games and the holiday season, and nor do I want to. So the remainder of my Christmas day is going to be spent in the company of Mario and all his friends.

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