[ Edit: Cat Quest is releasing today, August 8th 2017, on Steam, and then on Nintendo Switch at a later date in 2017. ]

“Oh no,” I thought, “This is one of those mobile games that tries to shove itself onto a bigger screen and doesn’t quite work.” Honestly, that was my reaction, as soon as I saw the cutesy theme and glossy finish of Cat Quest, a new indie game out on Steam and Nintendo Switch by The Gentlebros.

Alas: I was wrong.

Cat Quest is described on its homepage as “a streamlined and concise open world experience,” and it delivers as advertised. This is a pleasant little hack-and-slash RPG video game that somehow manages to blend tight combat with feline-flavored charm, all in a breezy package that tips its hat to some prior classic titles.

The player takes the role of the Dragonblood, member of an ancient line of dragon-slaying kitties. Your sister is kidnapped by Drakoth, an evil wizard and master of dragonkind. Why, in fact, you must slay three dragons under his control before you can have a chance at rescuing your beloved sibling.

 

Is this an epic tale, rich in lore and expansive in its breadth of literary merit? No, it is not, so anyone looking to sink their mind’s teeth into a deep new fictional universe might be disappointed. However, Cat Quest never pretends to be anything it is not, and is wonderfully self-aware. When it resorts to genre tropes, it sometimes makes light of this, whether bemoaning the generic nature of the villain or the tedium of yet another fetch quest.

Our hero gradually grows in power, both intrinsically and by equipping helm, armor, and weapon items. There are numbers to increase, always numbers, ever increasing — and isn’t this the grand hook of most games, anyway?

The formula still works. There are ratings in Health, Attack, Magic, and Armor to increase. Slain enemies drop tokens of experience points and gold. Gold can be exchanged for items, spells, or spell upgrades. More experience points, gold, and item chests can be found throughout the overworld and in dungeons. The steady climb in strength, combined with choices of character taste (do we want our armor set to emphasize magic power, or would we be willing to sacrifice armor in favor of all-out attack, or…) can reach a nigh-intoxicating fever. “Just one more side quest,” I found myself mumbling to, well, myself, late into the night.

 

The combat is the make-or-break element of this title. I thought it was well-designed, with an intuitive simplicity yet room for tactical reward, but I would be curious to hear others’ opine on this area. There is a button to attack, and a bottom to roll-dodge. Enemy HP can be seen as a progress bar, with a display every time hit points are taken. The numbers are red if the enemy is weak to what you are doing, or white if not, or even shades of orange in between. Your MP is restored through successful hits of your melee attack. Enemies appear both on the overworld map and in dungeons. Their attacks are telegraphed beforehand, with radiating planes of red warning the player exactly where and when they will occur.

Spells can be assigned to four different buttons, and all have an instant impact. The ones that affect enemies are area-of-effect spells that may, for example, damage and weaken all enemies in a fiery circle, or damage and freeze all enemies in a horizontal line. One thing I found helpful was that enemies often use the exact same spells you do, so you always knew what they were up to.

Altogether, this means that combat is a fast-paced, twitchy sport of stick-and-move strategy. High-risk movements that barely escape enemy strikes reward the player with faster kills (and thus faster level-ups), while patient maneuvers can enable takedowns of stronger foes.

 

And so the wheel turns, in its constant cycle of baddie-slaughtering and token-grabbing. If you want to just follow the main storyline, you can, but there are loads of side quests to bide your time as well (and, frankly, are rather valuable in quickly granting extra XP/loot). A pickier player may find the “move to this spot, kill all the enemies, rinse and repeat” gameplay rather repetitive; in my case, I was surprised to find myself hooked and compelled. Your mileage may vary. I can be easily amused at times.

Oh, and puns. You must be warned about the puns. They are everywhere. The location names, lines of dialogue, characters, there are puns everywhere. Constantly. Beware.

And I’m not sure the whole Cat motif is really played out that strongly? Sure, it’s another little hook that some people may enjoy (I’m not a big cat guy myself, really), but while you’re playing the game it’s not like you’re always thinking “I am a cat!” It’s not like you’re swiping with claws and licking your fur. You’re equipping swords, killing monsters, and traversing a fantastical landscape. Typical hero fare. You just habit to inhabit a cat-flavored world while doing so.

 

Speaking of the environment, this is indeed an open world title, writ small. Towns (well, Inn/Shop/Sidequest Board/NPC intersections really), dungeons, monsters, and natural landscapes all blend together to form your setting. In fact, rather than have a true map, the game has a button to… just kinda zoom out. Which is fine, usually, if not all-encompassing as a solution. Although you can zoom out and see most of the map from the very beginning, the game still manages to reward exploration and tuck away some secrets. Area gatekeeping is handled through gaining powers such as waterwalking to enable travel over bodies of water, and let’s just say the Quest really opens up (in my opinion) once you figure out how the larger chests are opened. You can be on one quest at a time, and for your current task you always have a map marker letting you know where to go next. Taking a cat nap at an inn restores your health and magic points, along with saving the game. Autosaves are generous enough, but do not occur in dungeons, so be especially careful venturing into these challenges in the middle of a side quest. Dungeons have a suggested level for entry, but do not lock players out if they are underpowered.

The in-game economy is kinda nifty, in a way. At a shop, you can pay 50 gold to open a small chest, or 5,000 for a large chest. Opening a chest grants you a randomized item. Now, at first, I thought this was a really crappy way to do things. But the beauty of all the chests being randomized is that items stack, rather than duplicate; in other words, if you get the same sword, rather than having a Cool Sword x2 you now have a Level 2 Cool Sword. Oh, did you have a Level 2 Cool Sword already when you found a Level 3 Cool Sword in a chest? You now have a Level 5 Cool Sword. This means that not only was I not sticking to the same set of items for half the adventure, but occasionally I’d get the same nice item in quick succession and find myself feeling pretty danged strong for a while. Maybe it’s been done before, but I liked it.

I thought I was immune to this sort of humor, but ‘Cara Loft’ made me chuckle aloud.

Cat Quest is an exercise in efficiency. Exploration and combat blend seamlessly together. Fighting is snappy, frenetic. Side quests are never very long at all. If you want to blaze through the plot and get to the dragons quickly, you can. If you want to dally around and get to know some weird NPCs doing odd things in their lives, you can. As I said earlier, this is a game that does as it says. If you do a little research, you should know exactly what you’re in for. Fortunately, it is something I suspect many will enjoy.

This is not to say Cat Quest is perfect, though. In a game-design process that feels like it was focused on Tightness of play, I feel a few considerations may have been left neglected. For example: When you pick up an experience-points token, you get a quick read of how many XP you just gained, along with a glimpse at a live status bar on your progress toward the next level. In fact, your current level is always visible. However, when you pick up a gold token, you get a quick read of how many gold you just gained… but no indication of your current total. Maybe I truly am the only person who would like to see my total gold count without having to access the menu, but I found that UI choice intriguing. Also, not having a map is fine I suppose, but I would have appreciated more documentation on other things like how the items stack, which I don’t think is ever quite explained in-game.

There are definitely aspects of Cat Quest you just have to ‘buy into’ if you want to maximize your enjoyment. Only being able to do pursue one goal (main or side quest alike) at a time? Hey, that’s just how Cat Quest works. Not having any on-screen indication of whether or not all of a dungeon’s chests have been raided yet, despite gaining a Key item that will allow you to go back and grab many large chests you had to bypass before? Why, that’s just how Cat Quest works. Since dialogue is automatically triggered by proximity sometimes (efficiency!) yet some lines are very short, I found myself accidentally skipping dialogue at times, despite being the kind of person who would enjoy reading every word. But maybe I am the exception, and Cat Quest works just fine this way.

Now, all that being said: I have definitely enjoyed my time spent playing Cat Quest this past week. It has been fun. I can appreciate a lighthearted action RPG with combat that demands both my mind and my reflexes, and… puns, puns everywhere. However, at the moment, I still do not know what price the game will be released at, and I do not believe I am alone in this quandary. If this is a $30 release, I would balk at dropping the funds. But if it’s a $5 game, I would certainly feel comfortable recommending it to anyone who’s into This Sort Of Thing. I suspect the truth will be somewhere in between.

 

Cat Quest honestly plays like a 2D Zelda game with enhanced RPG ingredients and much smaller (but more common) dungeons. It plays fast-and-loose with both its gameplay and its distinctive cat-egory of delightfur puns. Even a completionist will find it hard to pull more than 25-30 hours (if that) of this thing at its most, but there is some replay value if you’re like me and wonder how far you could go with a magic emphasis or maybe the ninja items that sacrifice armor.

Cat Quest was reviewed using a Steam key provided by the publisher.

 

So I watched Iron Fist. Keepin’ up on the Marvel Netflix stuff. I don’t think I have any Great Insights, but, I have some thoughts.

That might have been the most contrived, really?-are-you-serious? romance I’ve ever seen.

Fight choreography was, like… 70% disappointing, 20% adequately entertaining, 10% good. Say no to jump cuts.

I understand the Marvel shows suffer from a fatigue of being forced to churn out 13 episodes, but *what* a lackluster final showdown.

Am I crazy, or did Iron Fist start with a potential for having some humor – then just kinda abandon that pretty quickly?

Used two trends I’m getting super tired of in my entertainment media – first, asking me to root for a wealthy hero. Please stop.

And secondly, the endless, spanning-several-episodes agonizing over The Same Moral Choice or Who Am I? Stuff. Without writing too muchabout it, suffice to say I don’t find it interesting for a dude to be like “but WHO AM I?!” for 8 eps. Like, yeah, we get it. AM I DANNY RAND OR AM I THE IRON FIST?! Right. @#$%ing pick one. I don’t care which. Oh my gosh.

Wait, third, another peeve – tendency of pop media to shove this weird preaching about Knowing Your Real Dad Is The Top Thing. It’s become eye-rollingly nauseous for Closeness With Your Biological Parents to be thrust out there as this touchstone of Maximum Human Righteousness or whatever. I don’t want to have to elaborate on why, but… hey, family’s awesome. However, if you don’t know your biological parents, that’s okay. And if your parents suck, I don’t think you reconnecting with them is going to be some ideal, rosy story arc you should necessarily follow.

All that being said, I did like some stuff? I found Ward Meachum to be a really weird, interesting character. Compelling.

And, somehow, I dug the whole “pretending to be dead for 13 years, stuck in a dark penthouse prison” aesthetic. Okay. Fine.

Oh, and the way they used Madame Gao a lot, yet you still end up being unsure of her true… stuff. Identity, motivations, whatever.

The Hand having splinter groups? Okay, I can dig it. Fine. People with guns still having no idea how to use them? Tired trope, yes. I lost count of the times a dude with a gun would simply carry the gun as they ran towards the martial artist, rather than, just… y’know… shooting them.

Anyway. Conclusion – very ‘meh.’ Likely worst of the Marvel Netflix shows, for me. Yet… I still got through it, still ready for Defenders. I just wish we had a Punisher show coming sooner.

 

 

 

 

I’d rank the Netflix Marvel shows this way so far.

1) Daredevil season 1. Most consistent, pound-for-pound quality.

2) Jessica Jones. Really intense, went to some remarkable places. But, wow, my one big frustration was that I still think it makes more sense to just kill the Big Bad around episode 3 or so. Every time I mention this, people are like “but didn’t you understand that–” Yes, I watched the show. I am speaking this opinion from an informed position. They should’ve just killed the guy ASAP. Period. But hey, need 13 episodes.

3) Luke Cage. Yes, it went on too long. But, dang, it had a great vibe and some great moments. A twist I truly didn’t see coming, and shook me up a little. Entertaining.

4) Daredevil season 2. Not horrible, just, not great. I mean, I could probably rank it higher just for what it did with The Punisher. Just, like, that could #1. I want more Punisher. More violence, less moral quibbling. “This person is extraordinarily powerful, and will cause thousands of deaths, and completely disrupt and destroy the city, and–” Is he bulletproof? “Well, no…” Bang bang, problem solved! The prison scene where the Punisher shanks that dude with full brutality is one of the most artistic things my eyes have ever gazed upon in my earthly time.

5) Iron Fist. I wouldn’t call it terrible, but it felt like a stretch, like Marvel/Netflix was putting out its bench player, like they were seeing how “meh” and watered-down they could get away with being. Had some bright spots, mostly just a little big of a slog.

Thanks for reading!

Story time.

###

As a kid, myself and my friend each had an NES. He had the game Rollerball, a pinball game with an enormous 8-bit table and a small ball prone to wild variances in potential collisions. We did not play it often, but we did play sometimes. I liked it more than he did. Eventually, he gave it to me. Throughout the years, I got to know the game fairly well with occasional play.

###

In October of 2011, I recorded a gameplay session onto VHS tape and submitted it to Twin Galaxies. The current world record was in the 3-million point range, but I was able to score over 8 million points. It was my first world record, and I was excited. Twin Galaxies has since fallen into a bit of organizational disarray, to say the least, but introduced me to the novel idea of finding somewhat-obscure little NES titles to claim supremacy in.

###

In 2016, I began occasionally streaming NES games on Twitch. Despite the occasional technical difficulty, I had fun just playing some of my favorite old games, even when the graphics were glitched. Gotta love the authentic console experience, right?

One of my personal challenges was to surpass 10 million points in Rollerball. It is a nice, round number to aim for… and that left-most “0” had been teasing me my entire gaming life, just begging to be filled one day. To my knowledge, though, literally no one had ever achieved this.

Until now.

On Saturday night, June 17th, 2017, I started a stream on Rollerball and, well, to make a long story short, ended up with over 10 million points. To be exact: 11,453,840. It took over two and a half hours, and lasted until near 1AM, yet I had a consistent audience of 9-12 people watching along and maintaining a wholesome chat. I really enjoyed finally checking this off my personal gaming to-do list.

Here’s the video.

###

Yes, it is just an arbitrary distinction on an odd Nintendo game, but I had a blast regardless. Sometimes gaming really is that simple.

[ Fair warning – this is a rambling, unpolished, raw-veggies sort of blog post. ]

I was asked on my Curious Cat page, “In no particular order, what are some of your favorite NES games?”

Now, there’s a couple ways I could do this. I could name them all, put up a nice-lookin’ screenshot for each, explain why it’s my favorite and what I like about it, whatever. Or, I could just write up a quick list.

I’m gonna kinda compromise between the two? Let’s split my favorites into three distinct categories.

The Old Pairs of Shoes

Marble Madness
R.B.I. Baseball
Rollerball
Toobin’

I love these games. I am intimately familiar with them, inside and out, like they are parts of my own body. I have pumped so many hours into these cartridges that I can honestly say I’ve spent days playing them.

I find them relaxing.

I enter ‘the zone’ when I play them, reacquainting myself with their curves and their features, their physics and their tricks – all my worries and stresses bleed away as I lose myself in their gameplay experience.

Objectivity is completely out the window when I look at these titles; I have no idea whether or not Marble Madness is actually a ‘good’ game, or if Rollerball is among the best or worst pinball games on the console. I just know that I, personally, really enjoy them.

They hit a sweet spot for me that is somehow difficult to describe yet also, I imagine, a relateable feeling for many gamers and their favorites.

At Midwest Gaming Classic a few years back, Toobin’ was a game that caught people’s attention when we could play it at our exhibitor table (for 1MoreCastle). There’s nothing quite like it.

Honorable mention – Super Sprint

Warts and All

Jaws
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game
Spot: The Video Game
Bible Buffet

I know these games are flawed, maybe even severely. I love ’em anyway. These are the true Sentimental Choices, games that give me warm fuzzy feelings even if it is mostly just due to fond memories of them at this point.

Bible Buffet is almost great. You won’t find another game from that era that so amibitously tries to combine top-down adventure gameplay with a board-game progression. It’s just a shame that it’s a real sloggy grind to play.

Jaws is a scrolling shooter with overworld exploration and light RPG elements. … I mean, really.

Whenever I try and talk about Spot on NES people think I’m talking about Cool Spot which much come as such a disappointment to those people.

Turtles II is a real grindy slog of a game, a repetitive borefest for sure, yet my mom frequently stayed up late to play it with me anyway. Ah, childhood.

Honorable mention – Harlem Globetrotters

The Top Shelf

Kirby’s Adventure
Double Dragon II: The Revenge
Ninja Gaiden II
Contra
StarTropics

These are the ones. Not only are they among my favorite NES games, but they’re also generally regarded highly, too. They’re well-designed, well-made, and provide a great gaming experience. They’re just friggin’ solid, yet even among all the NES greats, these are the ones that stand out to me especially.

Beating people to death is always satisfying, but somehow in Double Dragon II it’s especially so. I’ve never beaten Ninja Gaiden II, but it’s just such a high-octane blast of a well-made game.

Contra is a perfect video game. If you changed anything about it, you’d be altering what is a whole-cloth experience, one of the ingredients that makes up a sublime totality of action gaming. You can’t touch it. It’s flawless.

And Kirby’s Adventure? C’mon. What a friggin’ masterpiece. I mean, yeah, you could throw a Super Mario Bros title or two into this mix, but there’s something about Kirby that appeals to me even more, if we’re speaking personally.

StarTropics is my favorite video game ever. Maybe someday I’ll try to explain why, but it just hits a lot of the right notes for my tastes (and childhood memories). The only game to challenge it has been Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. We’ll see how that goes.

… Others

Super Spike V’Ball
King of Kings
M.U.L.E.
Rescue: The Embassy Mission
Ironsword
NES Open
Track & Field
Caveman Games
Blades of Steel

Eh, these are just some games that I like, and I get the feeling that I like them more than most people, even though I don’t think they’re truly horrible games either. King of Kings is a legitimately decent platformer, better than many other titles on the NES.

I’m not sure this by-category way of listing my favorites was a good idea, heh, but there it is. I have a lot of great memories with Super Spike V’Ball, staying up late at night with my friend, trying to beat the world circuit. Rescue: The Embassy Mission is such a quirky title (8-bit FPS section?!), I think it’s a neat concept that doesn’t get enough credit. I got over $2 million in prize money on NES Open. Track & Field is the ultimate test for your thumbs. I should stream Caveman Games someday, ’cause some people seem to think it’s difficult. I dream of playing M.U.L.E. with three other humans.

Just NES things.

Honorable mentions – Super Dodge Ball, Crystalis, Guerrilla War

Wait, Does This Mean…?

Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out
R.C. Pro Am
Bubble Bobble

Yep, it means that these three games are not among my favorites, despite being much-beloved by many. They never quite caught my attention and enjoyment the way they have seemingly done for countless other players. And this is fine.

I have a Curious Cat account, which lets people ask me questions anonymously. This has already resulted in some cool interactions, and getting some questions I otherwise wouldn’t, that I am happy to answer, including personal ones about my faith.

I recently received this question:

“I expect that questions like this might oft be a troll, I promise this isn’t- I’ve followed you for a long time (and plan to continue doing so) but I wanted to ask, I see you as a man of devout faith, however I also see you interact with many LGBT folk on Twitter regularly (myself included.) Can I ask you about how you reconcile your faith and your openness to people traditionally not welcome by men of your station? (This is somewhat a selfish question, I am a lapsed Christian for likely understandable reasons.)”

My response… is longer than the character limit at that site allows.

So I am posting it here:

###

You can definitely ask. Besides, what question *isn’t* selfish?

I’m not sure I’ll ever see a better question on here. This is quite a question. We can go to a lot of places from this question.

There is a temptation to just give a “Jesus is love! :D!” sort of answer and move on – but I get the sense you’re looking for a bit more here.

If you’re willing to read, I’m willing to be open. If you’re willing to respect me as a real flesh-and-blood person behind these pixels, I’m willing to take this Elephant In The Room sort of question… and drag that pesky pachyderm out into the light a bit.

Let’s do this.

###

It breaks my heart to think this has to be a “how do you reconcile your faith with it” sort of issue, like the type of person I interact with might be a demerit against my faith somehow, like it seems perfectly normal to ask this sort of thing.

But I get it: Christians have done a great job of setting themselves up as enemy combatants in the arena of culture. They have done a terrible job of simply loving people. Showing grace. Sharing burdens. Breaking bread together.

My heart is heavy for the ill reputation of Christians nowadays; not because it is unfounded, but because they are definitely guilty.

Christians just kinda suck.

They need to squirm uncomfortably in their seats with this truth, and wrestle with it, and acknowledge it. I’m not joking or being trite, I mean this in a real sense of the state of the modern church – I think Christians need to shift away from the reflex of “you’re a sinner” and start with “I’m a sinner” instead.

The modern church is full of Christians who, upon hearing Jesus say “let he who is sinless cast the first stone,” are eager to chuckle back “haha whatever” and start grabbing rocks. They’re cool with Jesus hanging out with the priests and the royalty, but frown upon the parties where he sits alongside thieves and prostitutes and turns the water into wine when they run out of alcohol.

“Why would we want to welcome someone who seems a little different from me?” a Christian may say, might think.

But when I consider, instead, the question “How do I live out the Gospel?” there is no hesitation.

###

“C’mon Eric,” I can hear someone asking. “You know what they mean when they ask how you reconcile your faith with this. What about the verses, Old Testament and New Testament alike, that condemn homosexuality? What about all the affirmations of marriage, and unions between a man and a woman?”

I mean, yeah, let’s go there – if you put a gun to my head and asked me, is homosexuality is sin? I’d have to say, yep, it’s there on the Big Ol’ List. Right there beside calling someone a fool and coveting my neighbor’s stuff, somewhere between murdering people and wearing clothing of two different fabrics, there among failing to honor my father and presenting the wrong sort of burnt offering.

And yet, I truly don’t feel convicted here, I don’t feel called to live out my Christianity as a man with a checklist, going about striking as many marks against as many people as possible. In fact, some people did exactly this, and they, the Pharisees, didn’t get along with Jesus very well, which should tell us something.

If a Christian really wants to have this conversation with me, if they truly want to reach up on the shelf of sexual sins, then I’d love to ask them where their heart and soul is at today, and how they would feel about their wife reviewing their browser history, and how recently they looked at someone with a lustful gaze, and hey wait a second have you ever known someone who’s been married before and what do you think when Paul says there’s no place in the kingdom of God for people who’ve been divorced?

So, back to the original question: How do I reconcile it? Let’s boil this down – I do not believe that sexuality would be the reason someone fails to enter Heaven. I know I’m a heterosexual man in a church-approved marriage – but I also know I am a sinner. If you wanted to condemn me for something, you could. And if I wanted to condemn people, I bet I could condemn everyone, without ever having to bring their private physical affections into play.

There’s plenty of condemnation to go around, if you want to find it. If I want to make the case for all of humanity going to Hell, I can do so without ever bringing sexuality into the mix.

But if we want salvation, we need Jesus. Period. There’s no asterisk in the equation.

On Judgement Day, when the Bible speaks of the Book of Life, it’s not talking about a book that tracks whether or not someone was cisgendered and heterosexual, no. When you’re standing there, is Christ going to be your Advocate? Is he your Lord and Savior? That’s the one and only ultimate question, and not something else.

Romans 3:23 doesn’t say, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, but especially those LGBTQ people…”

Romans 1:16 doesn’t say, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes, oh but not the gays, no not them…”

John 3:16 doesn’t say, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever is heterosexual shall not perish…”

John 3:16 has been emphasized a lot throughout the history of the church, but how often do we focus on the verse right after? John 3:17 is beautiful:

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

There it is.

Maybe there are Christians who are eager to judge and condemn those around them (okay let’s be real, there certainly are). Maybe they refuse to open their homes to anyone, because anyone who walks through their door will be found a sinner. Maybe they refuse to open their arms to anyone, because anyone who might touch them would fail the Big Ol’ Checklist test of sins. Maybe they really do refuse to speak to anyone who’s a little different from them, or never invite them to church, or never offer a word of encouragement or the friendly laugh of community or to share a meal together.

I’m not called to live like those ‘Christians.’ I’m called to live like Christ.

So… it seems silly, honestly, to live out my faith in a way that worries so much about what people’s genitalia looks like and what genitalia they’re attracted to and – I feel gross just having to consider that sort of scenario and type it out, ha.

Is my family likely to attend any Gay Pride parades any time soon? Nah. But would you like to come over for dinner? Can we live life together? Can we lock arms and hold hands and get down into the trenches of this existence and wrestle with our struggles together? Can we celebrate each other’s victories and commiserate in our setbacks? Can we pray together? Can you tell me a story from your life experience as a fellow human being, something that made you smile or made you scared or made you cry? Can we aim for community before we aim for more division?

###

I mean, on some level, it’s also a matter of acknowledging that LGBT people have enough issues to deal with, without having to worry about me. I have no qualms interacting. In fact, I will even go this far: I believe my faith is stronger when I get to know these struggles better, when I get to know people’s stories deeper, and when my heart has room to listen to these voices.

The “lapsed Christian” part of this question worries me, not the other part. That makes my heart feel heavier than anything else in that message. I can’t exactly read that and feel warm & fuzzy afterward.

There’s a story there, and I’d be glad to just listen, if you ever want to contact me privately.

In your question, you had some wording here, I want to close with: “… traditionally not welcome by men of your station.”

I’d love to be a man of faith who welcomes the traditionally unwelcome. Jesus did that – and was himself unwelcome, too.


Earlier today, I stirred up a little trouble on Twitter for criticizing gamers. I usually have no regrets with this, but I received a comment today that gave me a little nugget of insight I took to heart.

Again: Normally, I’m okay with putting jokes aside and taking time to call out crappy gaming stuff. But I kept thinking about this, and wanted to respond, but a lengthy reply wasn’t quite working on Twitter very well, heh. So I’m just posting it here.

###

I respect that. I get it. Can’t argue it. Especially when I’m on record saying I want to promote a more positive gaming community too, right?

I don’t think I’ll shut up about these topics though, even if I sometimes do see the irony in very seriously telling gamers not to take their hobby so seriously. Still, I think it’s okay not to be happy all the time. I think I’m right about these things, or I wouldn’t mention them. I think it’s okay to criticize things, rather than just keep smiling along like nothing is happening. I think it can be appropriate to call stuff out, to make a case for why something is wrong.

But!

I hear you. I’m thinking about it, again, now. I even have an idea –

How about, instead of trying to stir up heated exchanges on my own, I stick to commenting on specific issues if/as they happen?

I can still express the same values, then. I’ll just… not be the instigator. No need to create a new pit of aggravation where they wasn’t one already.

Honestly, it’s usually not out of nowhere anyway, it’s usually in response to something I’ve seen. I think I’m realizing now that, yeah, if I’m not making it clear where something is coming from, I definitely do sound more like a raving lunatic, lol. Or a bully, starting the fight… which is not ideal. Of course.

If you’re serious, that you believe the silly stuff I do helps make people happy, I can get behind the idea of focusing more on that than starting fights. I’m just not a nice guy, I enjoy the fights sometimes – so you’ll have to forgive me for keeping a set of brass knuckles in my back pocket if the need arises!

Thanks.

###

 

[ For what it’s worth, I originally called these “Pleasant Surprises” instead. ]

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1) The combat uses Z-Targeting, in a way that is very faithful to Ocarina of Time, a game released 19 years earlier. Gone are the waggle strikes and motion control. For someone like me, who grew up playing Ocarina and loved Majora’s Mask, being able to backflip away from an attack and circle around an enemy immediately felt natural – and enjoyable.

2) There is a twisted irony in how Breath of the Wild makes the player appreciate the simple pleasure of outdoor sights, like a sunset over water or a shadow rolling across wide grassy plains. “There’s no greater adventure than simply climbing a cliffside!” says the video game. Seriously though, if I had to describe Breath of the Wild to skeptical non-gamers, I’d tell them it’s like going on a great hiking trail, and there just happens to be treasure chests and monsters along the way.

3) There are enough little canon references and callbacks to prior games that I have to wonder if Nintendo literally had a checklist to make sure they included as much as possible. There are Zelda games that take place in an entirely alternate universe from Hyrule, yet still get hat-tips in Breath of the Wild.

4) Sure, it’s extraordinarily “open world.” But along with the openness of exploration is an openness in play style that came as a pleasant surprise for me. Breath of the Wild is a great walking simulator, if you want it to be. It’s a great stealth-action game, if you want to play it that way. It’s probably a solid third-person shooter, if that’s your thing. Personally, I feel like I’m often playing Breath of the Wild like it’s a Bomberman game. “Hide behind a rock and chuck bombs at a confused foe until they die” is my often my go-to strategy, heh.

5) I’ve said this before, and it’s probably a little insane, but I’m already really looking forward to the next Zelda game, if only purely because I wonder how the hell Nintendo will try to top this. Yet, I remember how amazing Ocarina of Time was for me at the time – yet, in my mind, Majora’s Mask managed to eclipse it. The possibilities are crazy.

6) Third-person action, nuanced inventory management (with expandable slots and ammo conservation), the rising of the undead, locales that span from a quaint village to a foreboding castle… somehow, Breath of the Wild is managing to scratch many of the same itches that Resident Evil 4 does.

7) My wife, a 100% non-gamer, watched me play for a couple minutes the other night while we had a quick conversation. She ended up helping me solve a shrine puzzle. She’s always been an excellent gaming co-pilot when the occasion calls.

8) Breath of the Wild does this really cool thing that, I’m not sure what the game-design terminology is for the phenomenon so, you’ll just have to forgive me for describing clumsily: By having key sites like towers and shrine identified visually, rather than on a given map, this changes the dynamic of the player’s motivation and feelings towards the discovery. First of all, there’s the pleasing “ah ha!” moment of spotting a shrine. But then the process to get there becomes a matter of personal pride. After all, I’m the one who found it! All by myself! And, darn it, I’m gonna get there. Obviously, there’s intentionality behind the towers that usually include a last obstacle before you can climb them, whether environmentally or in the form of enemies. Thinking back, I can say that many of my most memorable, most satisfying moments have been conquering the journey to reach those destinations. The ones I found for myself. It’s a subtle-yet-potent difference in sensation, one that I find myself welcoming with open arms.

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I am becoming convinced that The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a great video game.

 

[ Quick reminder: I am still in broadcast-only mode while I play through Breath of the Wild, meaning that while I am posting this publicly, I will not be reading any potential comments yet – nor any tweets, emails, etc. ]

[ Also: SPOILERS AHEAD. This is NOT a spoiler-free sort of thing. The latter part of this post will be detailing specific Zelda stuff, although I am not very far in the game by any means. ]

 

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So. Uh.

This new Zelda game is great.

I am not sure exactly how many hours I’ve put into it so far (nor even how to check, if there’s a way), but I’d estimate that I’ve gotten about 15 hours in since getting the game Friday afternoon. Any other games, creative projects are on the backburner right now – playing Zelda is my go-to activity once the rest of the family is asleep, or I can otherwise sneak some time in.

Writing about the game feels like it would follow a similar route to playing it – I could probably go 2,000 words in any particular direction, and still feel like I have 80,000 more in any number of other directions.

I am going to try to split this post into three parts: Some general spoiler-free impressions of this new Zelda entry, one specific experience I’ve had with the game as I shared it with kids, and then some particular moments from within Breath of the Wild that I’ve really enjoyed.

 

First Impressions (Spoiler-Free)

 

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is one of those games that I would totally respect someone for disliking, because different people enjoy different things and it’s not for everyone. If you enjoy a more linear Zelda, I get that.

But on an objective, stand-from-a-distance basis, it’s just such a well-made game. On a macro level, you can see the effort and intent that went into the big-picture design of it all – then on a micro level, you can appreciate all the tiny details, how every space has been crafted wonderfully.

There is room for criticism, sure. The music is a bit minimalist; if you want a grand adventuring theme to accompany you while you valiantly traverse Hyrule Field, it is not there (but when it does show up contextually, it’s real nice). The graphics… are fine, but as plenty have said, you’re not dealing with super detailed textures or ultra-HD fine-tuned details.

However, this is a gorgeous game. Trying to describe the visuals in text is a disservice. This is a game where I am frequently taking time just to slowly move the camera around and take in the sweeping vistas. It’s a remarkable feat, getting a grand sense of landscape from within an artificial environment. It feels really good.

Also, while Breath of the Wild in many ways surpasses prior Zelda titles in authoritative fashion, you can still prefer differences in things like storyline, or maybe you’re way into the motion controls for the Skyward Sword combat.

Beyond those things, though… it’s just a really solid video game. It’s tough to find any glaring faults, and any further criticisms would feel like quibbling.

I have one gamer friend. He loves the Mass Effect series, greatly enjoyed Witcher III, has gone through phases of Skyrim and World of Warcraft, etc. He’s my go-to for modern-gaming discussion. It was really fun to talk to him about Breath of the Wild, and how it compares to the current gaming landscape.

Basically, I get the sense that Nintendo has put out a AAA-quality product that can hold its own against any other release – with their own particular brand polish (lighthearted writing) and, importantly, decades of built-up associations with the franchise.

Trying to imagine Breath of the Wild as a new, separate IP is an interesting exercise. It’d still be a decent game, sure, but there really is something to be said for Nintendo’s bold choice to say “hey, we can do an open-world action RPG; in fact, let’s do it with the Zelda series.”

About the Switch itself, my friend asked me, “So, you can take it into the bathroom?” That’s funny. I told him it hadn’t occurred to me, but yeah, actually, it would be perfect for that.

Breath of the Wild is also one of those games that I definitely really like, on a deep level, but it’s tough to explain why in a tidy summary. For instance, there are two things that come to mind strongly when I consider why I’m digging it so much:

 

  • Breath of the Wild encourages exploration in a way I have never seen before to an extent that is truly impressive.

The whole game is just a series of standing at Point A, picking a point B to get to, and having a whole adventure just getting there, usually sidetracked by four or five little mini-adventures along the way as you keep seeing little interesting things to check out. Over and over, again and again, the player is rewarded for simply being attentive to the world and checkin’ stuff out.

 

  • Personally, I love how Breath of the Wild poses a challenge on a level both cerebral and visceral.

Prior games in the Zelda canon have gone for this balance before (puzzles are a tradition), but Breath of the Wild achieves a striking harmony that is difficult to describe without putting you through it yourself.

You have opportunities to plan how you approach clusters of enemies, and the more you think of these spaces the more tactical options come to mind. Yet, in the specific conflicts with particularly tough foes, the actual fighting is very satisfying. The Shrine puzzles can be really tricky (there’s one I actually gave up on and stamped on my map to return to later), but whether you’re using your brain or your reflexes, there seems to be a consistent theme of Rewarding in the playthrough.

There is a persistent (constant, consistent) feedback loop of explore, discover, reward – it’s lovely and delightful. It sounds so simple, but is a stark contract to the more overarching “get item, to get to next town, to get to next dungeon” theme in prior Zelda quests.

 

I realize that I am likely echoing the sentiments of plenty of other reviewers out there, but I only read a couple spoiler-free reviews. I doubt I have any real insight, from a critical vantage point. Consider this a confirmation, I guess. Seeing all those perfect scores roll in was like “no way,” but now it’s just like, “Yeah, I get it.”

It’s just a great video game. I like it.

 

Sharing the Switch (One Minor Spoiler?)

 

Sunday afternoon brought me a really cool moment with my Switch and Zelda.

My wife and I were preparing to leave from our house to visit her family to celebrate our nephew’s 3rd birthday, just a lowkey gathering sort of thing. My wife got a phone call from my 12-year-old nephew, requesting I bring the Switch.

Now, I have barely had the thing for 48 hours, it is still shiny and new to me, and this is a setting where there will be 10+ kids (the 12-year-old is the oldest) and food and… basically, my wife made no promises to my nephew, and told me she’d totally understand if I chose not to bring it.

But, here’s the thing: If someone wanted you to show them your SNES, how would you go about sharing it? Lugging it over along with controllers and cartridges and cords to plug in?

I think of the Switch as a home console (almost exclusively, I played it docked on the TV), but at this point, it was nice to be able to just bring it over to the house like it was a 3DS.

After dinner, I found a spot to kickstand the Switch and loaded Zelda. Myself and my nephew were soon joined by one other nephew (his brother) and three nieces.

Six of us, huddled around the Switch, taking turns passing the controller. It was like something out of a Nintendo commercial, and although I still mostly just think of the Switch as my Zelda machine, I have to give Nintendo props for making a system that is so uniquely shareable in this way.

Watching kids play Zelda was waaaay more fun that I expected, I admit, and kinda unfolded even more of Breath of the Wild’s brilliance.

Three of them were complete pacifists – they wanted me to get them to an area they could just walk around in, and enjoy the view, as we all laughed when they would inevitably have to run away from baddies (except for one, who specifically requested a village to poke around in). One niece wanted combat against “easy enemies,” and was satisfied to slay a couple small groups of “goblins.”

Then there was my 12-year-old nephew, who put on quite a show. He paraglided off a tower, only to freefall and scare us all as he pulled the chute just feet from the ground. Clearly, he was comfortable in a 3D gaming environment thanks to his Minecraft experience.

As he explored, he suddenly began triggering a couple story sequences I hadn’t even found yet (I had to go back and do it myself when I got home!), then came across a miniboss that provided us with our crowning spectator thrill.

On a little island in the midst of lakes and other waterways, with its own grove of trees, my nephew found a sleeping Hirox – this giant, forty-feet-tall cyclops guy. He walked over to him, slashed him with the sword, then ran away as we all laughed.

The giant pursued, to the edge of the island, and stopped. My nephew brought Link around to look at him from the nearby bridge, as we all sighed with relief.

But then the Hirox grabbed a friggin’ tree right out of the ground (!), and suddenly began wading straight through the water… waist-deep for the giant.

We all started screaming.

My nephew forced him to fight on dry land, and – actually killed him! We all cheered!

Video games are fun.

Especially when you let your nephew use a really powerful sword that you found in a shrine well outside the usual safer boundaries of your exploration.

Seriously, though – I think there’s something to be said for a game so versatile that it can be enjoyed as both a walking simulator and as the source of memorable, dynamic boss confrontations. It was fun to see my younger family members point excitedly at the screen as they spotted something cool in the distance, and to see how much even a five-year-old can enjoy a tough Zelda game in a supervised spurt.

 

Gameplay Highlights (Spoilers! Or, At Least, Specific Stuff About The Gameplay, If Not Much About The Actual Plot)

 

As a fan of the Zelda series, Breath of the Wild has a rich layer of enjoyment for all the fan servicing, canon references, and callouts to prior games. I think my favorite touch so far was during an early cutscene; when Ganon is mentioned, the game plays the same opening organ notes that you hear in Ocarina of Time as you ascend the staircase to confront Ganondorf. That was a really cool flourish.

Even just speaking in a general narrative sense, I really dig the story idea of waking up 100 years after you were already the hero once before – and having conversations with people who end up talking about you. Granted, half the time that happens it ends up being a Yiga fight… but that, too, is a cool, fun element.

Then again, there’s just so many tons of “cool, fun” moments. There’s a bridge in Hyrule that, at night, I’ve seen an enormous, glowing green dragon just sorta lazily fly around. He’s huge. I tried shooting him with an arrow, he didn’t even notice. I took a picture of him, so I have a name, but I literally don’t know anything else about him/her/it yet.

Definitely had a smile on my face when I walked into Kakariko Village.

My playstyle: Speaking of Kakariko, I’ve been using the stealth outfit, upgraded at the Great Fairy Fountain. I have options for more defense, sure, but being able to have more control over when enemies notice Link is definitely helpful for me. Happy with my choice so far. Died the outfit green.

I enjoy cooking more than I thought I would, and trying to discern the math behind the combinations. I laughed out loud when I made a weird stealth-enhancing elixir – it provides only a low-level boost to stealth, but for over ten minutes.

Through my first few hours, I was honestly struggling a bit with the bow-and-arrow controls. I didn’t want to use motion controls, but the controller aiming felt WAY sensitive, all over the place. When I adjusted the Camera Sensitivity down a notch… boom. Everything clicked into place, and firing arrows felt familiar, like an old friend. I was nailing slow-motion midair kills and it felt glorious.

Weapon degradation: I was always leery of this design aspect, ever since it became public knowledge. I mean, I realize Nintendo wouldn’t just blindly throw it in – I trusted that some thought went into it, and it was be handled as well as could be reasonably expected.

So my impression of that has been intriguing; the actual degradation of the weapons hasn’t bothered me. If anything, it forces you to think about your arsenal much more than typical Zelda fare, and opens up lots of varied possibilities for the melee combat. Having a weapon available has never, never been an issue.

In fact, if anything, I have the opposite qualm! I wish I had more inventory slots… to such an extent that I feel like I might be missing something, in terms of opportunities to expand weapon slots (?!). I don’t want anyone to tell me, I want to discover it for myself if it’s there, but so far, man, I just feel really limited in what I can carry. Maybe that’s just me. It’s not a huge deal (and for some wide swaths of play not an issue one bit), but occasionally leads to some tough decisions.

The one exception: I bought a house? Which is fun and nice? And it came with one weapon display on the wall, so I am using that. Hopefully the blank slate of surrounding walls marks the promise of future upgrades.

The 12 memories to regain from Zelda’s photos, with utterly no information as to where they were taken (yet finding people who gives hints) is a brilliant stroke. It seemed like an eye-wideningly difficult task, like, I wanted to groan at the thought – but without really yet trying very intentionally to hunt them down, I’ve already found two. Nice.

I don’t really get the Blood Moon thing? Sometimes it brings me right back to the game where I was, but sometimes the loading time seems extra long and then it’s 7:30am. In either case, I’ve yet to see the Blood Moon actually have any sort of effect, but I haven’t exactly been hanging around right after I recently killed a bunch of dudes either. If anything, it’s nice to see the theme of A Menacing Moon Overhead make an appearance in a Zelda game again.

Just realized: I haven’t even tried any “shieldboarding” yet. When I’m at a high point of elevation, my instinct is always to paraglide from the peak, rather than shieldboard down into the valleys. A whole different kind of play/exploration style, untapped.

I’ve had a couple really enjoyable moments of returning to the Great Plateau and managing to keep finding stuff I never stumbled across before. I get the feeling you can spend 500 hours exploring this game and not find everything. Some may be intimidated by that – but I love it. Certainly not trying to be a completist or anything (I was never the type to relentlessly hunt down every Skulltulla), but just knowing the game has such rich stores of discoverable STUFF is neat. I dunno. Maybe I’m an easily amused sucker, but it works.

The first time I genuinely laughed during the game was when I had a Skeltal following me, and I dropped a bomb on the ground as I ran… and he picked it up, over his head, just before I detonated it.

I guess I’m glad the Every Region Has A Horse Ranch stuff is in the game, but you can chalk that up as One Of Those Things I’m Just Not Into. I walk everywhere. I don’t understand the appeal of having a horse (or being a wolf, per Twilight Princess). I don’t want animals, I want adventure. I have enough pets in real life – they’re an expense to clean up after, not something to embrace or be excited for. Meh.

I’m at the point where I can kill a Guardian if I really need to, but it’s not a sure thing and not something I seek out. Would still rather run for my life. Or just bomb it from behind a wall if it’s stationary.

The simple possession of 1) infinite bombs that you can 2) detonate at your own control is so @#$%ing refreshing. I am a huge fan. Just call me Bomberman. They’re my go-to for basically everything. Killing enemies, chopping down trees, creating a distracting, hunting wildlife, whatever. “Do it with bombs” is my motto.

I can’t be the only one who finds it amusing, the way Link’s limp dead body slides down slopes after he dies…

I thought it was great to run into so many people just traveling the world like you are, but now I’m thinking it’s kinda weird to keep bumping into the same people repeatedly, but it also makes sense. Anyway, the world feels populated even out in the open.

I’ve definitely had a little bit of a rebellious streak, trying to reach areas well before I probably should be. If anything, my biggest problem is finding Shrines to activate there! Well, that, and dying at the hands of harsher enemies and environments alike. Gosh, this game is fun.

Oh, boomerangs? Having to manually catch them when they return? Ha! A nifty touch.

I found a spiked club made of dinosaur bone, which makes me wonder if I am going to run into any dinosaurs, which is something I don’t think I’ve ever wondered in a Zelda game before.

Speaking of which: The first time I fought a Lizalfos, and it did that head-down sprint where it runs unnaturally fast? Wow! Terrifying, and instantly brought to mind a raptor from Jurassic Park.

The whole opening sequence in The Great Plateau was just so well-done. Feels like a distinctly different chapter than the rest of the game so far, the way the whole world just opens up and unveils before you. It’s weird, feeling a sense of nostalgia and sentimentality, within the game, just for the Plateau and good times with the mysterious Old Man. If I had to be an obnoxious fanboy and applaud Nintendo for one particular thing so far, it might be how the opening chapter of the game is handled, those first few hours. Pitch perfect.

I really like the look of the Spirit Orbs? Like, just, how they look, floating through the air as a liquidy sphere. It’s a little thing, but resonate with me somehow. I even showed my wife. I am very silly.

… yikes, this is becoming quite the insane wall of text. Welp. My bad.

Let me end with trying to describe, by some approximation, where I am in the game.

  • I have upgraded my hearts and stamina meter twice each, have around 23 Korok seeds, and I think around 90 items cataloged in the Compendium.
  • My strongest sword has a 50 rating and I have a shield with a rating somewhere in the 30s. I am saving them for… when the need arises, or until I start finding stronger stuff more consistently, obviously.
  • I just spoke to the Zora prince, who wants me to travel down the ominous road with electric enemies he warned me about. Electric enemies do actually kinda frighten me, so I am trying to gear up appropriately – no metal armor/weapons, use stealth as much as possible, and I’m probably going to stock up on arrows and attack from a distance as much as possible. We’ll see.
  • But first! I kinda wanna see if I can make it to Akkala (sp?!). From what I’ve heard from the research lab, and knowing the homebuilders were transferred there, it seems like a really promising destination. But the last time I tried to find it, I… just… yeah, I’m not sure where exactly it is, I’ll just say that, lol. “North” from one spot, someone said, and I think there was a sign on a road, and… yeah, I just gotta figure it out. Which is fun! It’s a great game, Bront.
  • Also on the to-do list: Try shieldboarding, show that kid the Fire Rod I got, replenish a few decent stamina-healing recipes, invest in the Knight’s set of armor just to have on hand at least, and retry that Shrine I couldn’t conquer the first time.

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Those are some of my thoughts on The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild video game for the Nintendo Switch.

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