February 4, 2021Blog
Last week I recommended a $2.99 app. This week I'm talking about a $299 game console. 2021, AMIRITE? Well, any port in a storm, I suppose. The hours can be long, and anyway what are you supposed to do when you finish Netflix?
Way back in April 2020, when it became clear we were going to need to retreat into our bunkers for awhile, I ordered a Nintendo Switch. I felt lucky to get one, since apparently I wasn't the only person with this brain wave and for awhile it became a hard to get item. My previous gaming consoles consisted of a Wii that I hadn't used in a few years and ColecoVision which I was OBSESSED with back around 8th grade. So I wouldn't call myself a big gamer, notwithstanding my many many hours spent playing Pac-Man back in the day.
The design of the Switch is extremely ingenious. First of all, there are only two cords - hallelujah! There's a compact docking station that you connect to your tv, and also plug in to a power source. The console sits in the dock. If you want to play a game on your tv, you slide the controllers off the side of the console and take them back with you to your comfy couch. If you want to SWITCH and play on the go, you reattach the controllers and carry the console wherever you want. It's pretty light weight and the screen is big and clear enough for a great game experience, just in miniature. You can SWITCH back and forth as often as you want, and the game will pick up wherever you left off previously. For those of you with kids, I'd imagine this is a great feature for getting everyone out the door!
Donkey Kong was the whole reason I wanted a ColecoVision when I was in middle school. In that game, Mario was the intrepid plumber, jumping over barrels and fireballs in order to save Princess Peach. Since then, Mario has become QUITE the video game superstar, and his adventures have gotten more inventive and elaborate as the technology has improved. He's even made room for his plumber brother Luigi, who has his own heroics to demonstrate. The premise of Luigi's Mansion 3 is that Luigi, Mario, Peach and three friends have checked into a fancy hotel for a vacation. BUT it turns out they've walked into a trap - the hotel is run by vengeful ghosts who want to punish Luigi and Mario for vanquishing them in previous games. Everyone except Luigi is captured and frozen in portraits, and he is left to scamper from floor to floor, defeat various ghosts, and rescue his companions.
In just the few years since I last played a game on the Wii, the graphics experience has improved SO MUCH. This game is gorgeous, the controllers give a wide range of motion, and the design allows you to progress through the storyline, building on the simple skills you learn early on and developing more as you go. What I love about any game in the Luigi/Mario universe is how they are both silly and diabolically clever. Luigi gradually collects more attachments for his main weapon, the Poltergust 5000, which he wears on his back. He can use it like a vacuum to suck up coins, lives, drapes and more. He can use it to fire a plunger at a sticky door or cabinet, which he then pulls to open. He can also use it to activate his alter ego "Gooigi" (pictured) a squishy version of himself that can slip through grates and other tight spots. Most importantly, he has as freeze flash which stuns ghosts momentarily, giving him the chance to vacuum them up. He moves from floor to floor, each of which have a different theme and a different type of ghost to defeat. One floor is a shopping mall, and several batches of ghosts Luigi has to get through wear sunglasses, which makes them impervious to the freeze flash. So first he has to pull the sunglasses off their face, THEN he can stun them. On the restaurant floor, Luigi takes on a murderous ghost chef who is chasing him with a cast iron pan while also flinging ghost fish. Luigi has to throw the fish back at the pan, stunning the chef long enough to freeze him, and then beat him into submission using the Poltergust 5000. Every room represents a different kind of puzzle, many of which you can solve through trial and error. But there are a TON of internet community postings (including YouTube recordings of people playing the game) that can help you whenever you get really stuck. I had so much fun playing this game, although I would take a lot of breaks when I found myself up against a particularly devilish ghost boss. There was always some new delight to discover, like the garden floor that is drenched in flowers or the club floor where you have to extract an elevator button from a group of breakdancing/dabbing ghosts in hoodies. Even though I've "finished", I'm excited to go back again with my MUCH IMPROVED GHOSTBUSTING SKILLS to find the additional Easter Eggs that are hidden throughout to keep the game fresh and new, no matter how many times you play.
Animal Crossing is a totally different gaming experience. I started seeing a lot about it on Twitter as the quarantine and lockdown started to get "mature". There are a few think pieces on why it became so popular this year, and the general consensus is that in a time when so much feels out of our control, in Animal Crossing we can create a perfect environment, exactly as we want it, while completing achievable, repeatable goals every day. Yep, I can get the appeal. After playing a game like Luigi's Mansion, Animal Crossing requires a bit of a downshift, because there are no adversaries to defeat, no macguffins to track down, no time limits to overcome. In this game, your avatar is invited to move to an island, which you get to name. (Mine is called Winterfred.) The island is run by Mr. Nook (a raccoon, I think?) who issues you a tent and a few other start up supplies. At first, I just walked my avatar around the island wondering WTH I was supposed to be doing. But between on-screen prompts and trial and error, it's pretty easy to get the hang of things. There are things on the island you can pick up and collect, like branches. You can shake the trees to get oranges. Some raw materials can be turned into tools, like fishing rods and nets. As you expand your toolkit, you can collect more things on the island, like fish and bugs. Everything you collect can be sold to Mr. Nook's minions, for the island currency of bells. Bells can be used to upgrade your tent to a house, add rooms to your house and decorate, change your avatars hairstyle and outfit, and lots more. And basically that's it! You collect stuff, use it to build other stuff or sell it for bells, and spend your bells to get yet more stuff. Why is this fun? Maybe fun is the wrong word - the best word for Animal Crossing is soothing. For example, you can buy flower seeds in bulk, plant them, and then in a couple of days see them bloom across your island. Once you've purchased a wetsuit you can swim and dive for sea creatures, even finding the occasional pearl. You can earn Nook Miles to travel to other islands, where you can get different kinds of fruit or other hidden treasure. There are occasional special quests to complete, but they're really simple and also optional. It's just a little online utopia you can escape to for however long you desire, continually fine-tuning it to your specific tastes. I've found it particularly useful when I wanted a diversion that kept me occupied, with the illusion of challenge (sometimes those fish slip right off your hook!) but a truly negligible degree of difficulty. This has been a pleasant time-passer for me since Christmas. Most days I pick it up for about 20 minutes, and can easily put it down until the next time I need a little hit of tranquility.
Switch games run about $50 each, although some are more, some less. These games barely scratch the surface of what's available in the Switch universe, but even with just two games the Switch has been a good investment for me. There are days when even I can't stream any more tv, and a little ghostbusting or island hopping has been a great alternative.