Nintendo

Getting Smashed

So they tell me the online gameplay for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is broken. It’s all laggy and stuff, with lots of frame drops and what-have-you.

Uh… okay?

I don’t mean to sound dismissive, but there’s a couple of things for me to unpack here. The first of the things, is that I’ve actually had very little trouble with the online game. I’ve fought almost exclusively in 1-on-1 stock matches with no items and no final smashes, and I have a wired connection for my Switch in docked mode. Maybe if I’d been trying to play 8-player Smash with all items on, I’d be complaining, too. I don’t know. The other reason I’ve not been bothered by the supposedly poor state of Smash Ultimate‘s online game is: I’ve barely played any online at all, compared to the amount of time I’ve played in single-player mode.

Just to backtrack for a little context: my three favorite Nintendo franchises are The Legend of Zelda, Splatoon, and Super Smash Bros., all three of which are now on the Switch. I’ve put a gazillion hours into each of them, and the two Smash games I played the most prior to Ultimate are Gamecube’s Smash Melee, and the 3DS’ Smash for 3DS. Melee had no online functionality, obviously, and … for 3DS had online that was befitting of the Nintendo 3DS. I’ve played the poop out of both of those games… and I point out, neither had a “Subspace Emissary” or “World of Light”, the story-driven single-player campaigns of Smash Brawl and Ultimate, respectively. Nope. In Melee and 3DS, I played hundreds of hours of single-player Smash matches, usually in the game’s most basic mode, sometimes of the All-Star and Classic variations, and occasionally in the the 3DS’ weirdo “Smash Run” mode (although Nintendo’s occasional efforts to turn Smash into a 2D platformer, as in “Smash Run” and “The Subspace Emissary,” never quite worked.)

My first exposure to the Smash Bros. franchise was watching the demo mode for the original Nintendo 64 game in the window of Electronics Boutique, the precursor to EB Games, at Roosevelt Field Mall in Long Island, NY. I stood and stared as Yoshi and Samus punched and shot each other on an MC Escher interpretation of Peach’s castle. It was a fighting game, but the character models were too small, and there was too much platforming involved, weapons kept appearing out of midair, the damage percentages were going UP, and every once in awhile one character would punch the other off-screen. It was one of the most bizarre games I’d ever seen. After getting my hands on a rental copy a few months later… well, it was still bizarre, but at least I began to understand how to play.

Smash 64, as the original game is often retrospectively referred to, was a bizarre Nintendo funhouse version of sumo wrestling, where the basic objective of knocking your opponent out of the arena remains, but the manner by which you do it is a hallucinatory fever dream. Smash Bros. is a franchise where an electric mouse whacks an astronaut fox over the head with an oversized mallet, and it’s just another day at the office.

As it turned out, Smash 64 was little more than a tech demo for Super Smash Bros. Melee, the franchise offering for the Nintendo Gamecube. Still not online-capable, Melee refined the systems upon which modern iterations of the franchise still work. Melee established Smash as a super-casual fighter that was also insanely technical and precise if you cared to dig deep enough into its mechanics, achieving the rarified air of being both a party game and a hyper-competitive one at the same time. Melee remains so popular to this day that Nintendo famously reprints GameCube-style controllers to go along with every new release in the Super Smash Bros. franchise.

If it wasn’t my favorite game on the GameCube (Rogue Leader, Metroid Prime, and Zelda: Wind Waker are also strong contenders) Melee was definitely my most-played. Melee debuted in my early 20’s, a time in life when I would still occasionally have groups of friends over for long multi-player sessions but still largely played solo. As such, most of my time with Melee was spent fighting the CPU. I owned Brawl but underplayed it, I played the hell out of Smash for 3DS and largely ignored Smash for Wii U, and now it would seem I’m going to dump a lot of that same Melee time into Super Smash Bros. Ultimate.

There are other IPs I love nearly as much as I love the World of Nintendo: Marvel’s superheroes, Star Wars, Harry Potter… uh, Calvin and Hobbes. And while I’d love to play fighting games featuring any of those characters using Smash‘s simply complex mechanics, pare of the joy of Smash is its role as a lovesong to video games, and if you throw Luke Skywalker or Wolverine into the mix, its place as the definite ode to gaming as a medium fades away. Since Brawl, non-Nintendo characters have been added to the Smash Bros. mix, staring famously with Sonic the Hedgehog in the ultimate burying of the 16-bit hatchet, and having since expanded to include Pac-Man, Ryu and Ken, and Cloud Strife, among others. Smash is a now a who’s who of gaming (and a “who’s that?” of Fire Emblem characters.)

So yes: I suppose people are having trouble with Smash Ultimate‘s online modes so far. Splatoon 2 and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe are nearly flawless online experiences, so I’m sure Nintendo will soon patch out the rough spots in Ultimate‘s delivery, as well. But ultimately, the online support is only a small bit of what this franchise has to offer. Smash is made for on-the-couch multiplayer, and it’s Nintendo’s welcome mat to its competitors, a once-a-generation chance for everyone to stop fighting silly console wars and look around to realize: you know what? Video games are pretty cool.

Smash if you’ve got ’em.

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How Nintendo Tells Their Stories (and Sometimes Doesn’t.)

I’m realizing that I spend a lot of time talking about stories in games and how games tell stories. I’m a writer with an MFA in Creative Writing, so I suppose it stands to reason that this is the sort of thing I’d spend too much time thinking about. Part of the universal appeal of Nintendo and their games, I’d argue, is the LACK of narrative in the stories their games tell. Gameplay is universal, after all. I’ll perhaps get some angry disagreement from people reading this, but the truth is that the amount of story Nintendo puts into their games is minimal compared to what other developers, specifically Western developers, put into their games. Not only that, but the style of storytelling in Nintendo IPs tends to differ from franchise to franchise. Here’s a brief analysis of the various styles of storytelling adopted by some of Nintendo’s major franchises. (Note: I specifically say “analysis” as opposed to “overview” because there are some questions regarding the narrative nature of a few of these franchises, questions Nintendo doesn’t seem in a great hurry to clarify.)

Super Mario – Either Princess Peach gets kidnapped, like, once a week, or the scenario suggested by Super Mario Bros. 3 is true: the Mario games are performances, and the characters are all actors putting on a show for the player. Super Mario Bros. 3 is framed as a play, with a curtain rising on the title screen and falling after the game’s credits roll, not to mention platforms through the whole game being bolted in place and the various background structures casting flat shadows like two dimensional set pieces. Each level ends with Mario (or Luigi) running offstage into the darkened wings, for goodness sake. So the Mario cast is simply play-acting these adventures for us, and in their time off they like to get together and race go-karts, or play baseball, or maybe pile in a car and play a board game.

The Legend of Zelda – Around the time of Skyward Sword, Nintendo released a bat-poop crazy official Legend of Zelda timeline, seemingly to please the fans who had desperately been trying to figure it out on their own. In order to force contradictory games together, Nintendo split the Zelda timeline in three places, leading to three alternate realities where the events of different games could take place (and apparently, very quietly, they reunited the timelines last month by officially inserting Breath of the Wild at the very end of all three.) While certain games do seem to refer to past or future games, there’s an argument that people need to pay more attention to the word “legend” in the franchise’s title. Legends are passed down from generation to generation, changing and evolving over time. The base story of the Zelda franchise is almost always the same: a struggle for balance between three triangular shards of an all-powerful artifact, each with a designated bearer in the form of a boy dressed in green named Link, a princess of the royal family of Hyrule named Zelda, and a thief/sorcerer/pig-monster named either Ganon or Ganondorf. These elements remain fairly constant, but it’s the DETAILS in the telling that change over time. The games in the Legend of Zelda series are telling the same story over and over, more or less. They are representative of the multi-generational retelling of the prevailing legend of the Kingdom of Hyrule.

Metroid – Of the “big three” Nintendo IPs, the Metroid franchise has the most traditionally linear storyline. (It also has far fewer games to juggle than the Mario and Zelda franchises, to be fair.) Though not released in chronological order, each title in the main Metroid series fits neatly into a place, with the first two games in the franchise, Metroid and Metroid 2: Return of Samus each receiving remakes later in life that massaged their stories to better fit into the now-established franchise lore. Not only that, but the two volume Metroid manga that establishes the origin of series protagonist Samus Aran is largely seen as canonical, and slots right in at the front of the chronological list. (You can see the Metroid timeline order here.)

Pokemon – Again: this is not my area of expertise, but the mainline Pokemon games all seem to take place on one world map inspired by the Japanese islands, with each game taking place in a particular region; the nation of Japan is, of course, similarly divided into regions. Every game tells a similar story, more or less: that of a young Pokemon trainer trying to collect every type of Pokemon in their region. The ultimate Pokemon dream game is the game that will unite that world’s regions into one massive Pokemon adventure… or at least that’s what I’ve heard. This just isn’t my jam, yo.

Animal Crossing – All Animal Crossing games tell the same story: the tale of a town’s struggle to get out from under the oppressive thumb of their miserly raccoon landlord.

Fire EmblemFire Emblem games follow a similarly sort of weird rule of connection as, say, the Final Fantasy games: they all carry thematic and mechanical similarities, they all seem to take place in different unrelated worlds and kingdoms, but heroes from the different games seem to cross over from time to time into the worlds of other games. This is really a reminder not to take this stuff to seriously, y’all. They’re just games. (Note: some franchise fans will argue for a connected timeline that branches off into various epochs and eras, but honestly, what’s the point? See also: Xenoblade Chronicles.)

Donkey Kong Country – The chapters-long epic poem recounting the adventures of a bunch of monkeys as they try to reclaim their bananas.

Kirby – Who gives a <expletive deleted>?

Star Fox – The ongoing storyline of the Star Fox franchise seems to be: how many times can we reboot the storyline of the Star Fox franchise? And one time, with dinosaurs.

Splatoon – Yo, the Splatoon backstory is actually pretty messed up. I’m not getting too deep into it; it’s like some creepy-pasta Slenderman stuff. It involves human extinction, unchecked evolution, and a race war. Kotaku has more to say on it here.

Smash Bros. – It’s either the tale of children’s Nintendo toys coming to life to do battle (Smash 64), a multi-universe character hopping crossover (Smash Bros. Brawl: The Subspace Emissary), or the never-ending mission of a small group of gamers to keep the Gamecube controller relevant.

Dr. Mario – What am I even doing with my life?

Tetris – Let’s just wait for the three film trilogy to really shore up the story arc here.

Pikmin – Tiny plant monsters and… uh… astronauts collecting giant fruit… you know what? It turns out the lesson of this entire article is to just shut up and enjoy your games. Not everything needs to be connected, you know? Cripes. (The Pixar Theory is a bunch of malarkey, too.)

How a Giant Purple Cube Revolutionized Interactive Storytelling

Last December, I wrote a post on this blog about the little-used literary device of “second person POV”. The second person is a form of writing in which the main character is referred to as “you,” effectively making you, the reader, the main character of the story. In a medium with minimal interactivity, like books, you can see how this is a device of limited use. However, in an interactive medium, like games… it struck me while playing Portal 2 and Breath of the Wild that second person POV is the ideal form in which to construct a video game narrative: create an intriguing world, and then step back and allow the player to react to it as they will.

While I was having this amazing revelation, Epic Games had already figured it out and was well into the process of busting the mold wide open with Fortnite Battle Royale.

In my original post, I wrote the following: “… environmental storytelling, storytelling that presents you, the player, with a world and then steps back to allow you to react to it… (developers) are asking you to react to the game… with your OWN thoughts, feelings, and responses, not with pre-scripted ones voice-acted for you in cut scenes.”

I’m pretty unfamiliar with the culture and in-depth mechanics of online gaming, but I’m fairly keyed into gaming news in general. Fortnite Battle Royale‘s presentation is something that’s new to me, though perhaps not so much to longtime online gamers. FBR is divided up into “Seasons”, which implies segments of full narrative continuity, as consumers of media have long since been trained to expect from television. I picked up Fortnite right as Season 4 was ending, so I was only sort of aware of the event that took place near the end of that season: the timed rocket launch viewable to anyone who happened to be playing the game at that moment, the one that ripped open the rifts in the world that have become such a big part of both the game’s mechanics and of its narrative.

Fortnite Battle Royale, though, is not delivering a narrative in any sort of cinematic way… except, perhaps, to the ironic nod to the sort of storytelling the game’s developers are NOT using, in the way of a short film depicting the events of Season 4 that’s playing on the drive-in movie screen of map location Risky Reels. What FBR IS doing, though, is revolutionizing the concept of storytelling in interactive online gaming.

The player avatars of FBR are purely cosmetic in nature, chock-full of personality, and complete blank slates. Everyone on the roster, from Tomato-Head to superhero to biker chick to pink furry, is equal in both ability and character. In the tradition of many of gaming’s greatest protagonists (Link from Zelda, Steve from Minecraft, Chell from Portal, and Gordon Freeman from Half-Life) the FBR avatars are silent mannequins upon which the player can project their own personalities through style of dress, back bling, and by choosing which emotive expressions to include on the in-game executable wheel o’ emotions. The developer has provided the player with sick duds, true… but it’s the PLAYER who provides the character.

What the developer HAS done, though, is create a gaming narrative that’s second-to-none in a world of characters that are beyond its control, and it has done so in Season 5 simply by inserting onto the map a giant purple cube.

As of this writing (September 1st, 2018) the Giant Purple Cube has been on the Fortnite map for nine days… or so, I’m bad at math, shut up. It appeared not long after explosive lightning blasts had begun striking the map at regular intervals. The strikes came to a head in the game’s new desert region (created in the aftermath of Season 4) as a massive bolt struck a plateau and left in its wake the now-infamous Giant Purple Cube. (The appearance of the Cube was fittingly documented on the live-stream of Ninja, the world’s most famous Fortnite streamer, in a bit of coincidence that one assumes was helped along by Epic PR suggesting to Ninja the time and place he should be hanging out if he wanted to see something cool. If they didn’t? They should have.)

Since it’s appearance, the Cube has been poked at, jumped on, and shot at by probably thousands, if not millions, of Fortnite players, many of whom quickly discovered the Cube does not LIKE to be poked at, jumped on, and shot at. Gamers have screen-capped the Cube, sent the game’s camera inside the Cube (it appears to be a four-dimensional cube, in actuality, which is messed up and also awesome), made reddit threads about the runes that are glowing on and inside the Cube, and followed the Cube across the map as it began to tumble and slide and move, leaving in some places behind it an anti-gravity energy field and more mysterious runes burnt into the ground.

In other words? Epic Games have turned Fortnite Season 5 into a LOST-level mystery event, with theories about what the Cube is, where it’s going, what the runes mean, and what’s going to happen next flooding the Internet. In fact, LOST is probably exactly the model Epic was going for. I assume nobody missed the none-too-subtle inclusion on the Season 5 map of a sealed hatch in the ground of Wailing Woods? Will the hatch ever open? Who knows? Does it have to? Not really. Epic Games was presumably just telling us in advance that Season 5 was going to be LOST-like in its level of mystery and speculation. Just look at what googling “Fortnite purple cube” brings up:

And that’s just a tiny sampling of the online ink being spilled about Fortnite Battle Royale‘s newest mystery.

Whether or not Epic Games realizes it (and I’m going to bet they realize it; they couldn’t be this good at what they’re doing without knowing what they’re doing) they are revolutionizing storytelling in gaming. There are no scripted-dialogue events in the lives of FBR‘s silent online avatars. No, all of the intrigue going on right now in Fortnite Battle Royale is derived entirely from what is going on AROUND the players, what’s going on in the world in which the game happens to be taking place. None of this would be possible, of course, if the base video game at the core of FBR wasn’t so good and if Fortnite hadn’t caught on with seemingly every gamer in the world. If you’re playing FBR, and literally millions of us are, you can completely ignore the Cube and just play Battle Royale… just as you can completely ignore the battle royale and poke and prod at the Cube. In the grand tradition of the greatest works of second person literature of all time, Choose Your Own Adventure books, Epic Games has simply built an intriguing, mysterious world. It is entirely up to each player to decide what they’re going to do in it.

So, as stated: all Epic has done here is completely revolutionize how storytelling in online games will best be presented from here on out. That old gag. No big deal.

Playing With (Marginal) Power

I’ve accrued many, many hours playing Fortnite Battle Royale over the last few weeks, so much so that I decided to indulge in the $10 Battle Pass rather than continuing to play it as a free-to-play experience. It IS an addictive game, I have to admit it. I’ve grown to enjoy the building aspect (even though it’s still sort of ridiculous that as soon as you take a shot at anyone they immediately begin building a house), but I’m STILL annoyed that, like Splatoon and Splatoon 2, too many close-range fights devolve into a hop-and-shoot-out.

I’m starting to cool off on the game, though, and it’s not the game’s fault. As you’ve no doubt presumed, I’m playing Fortnite on a Nintendo Switch, and sadly enough, if you’re playing Fortnite on a Nintendo Switch you are playing Fortnite at a competitive disadvantage.

It’s impossible to deny: since the days of the N64, Nintendo’s home console hardware has been underpowered when compared to the same-gen contemporaries offered by Sony and Microsoft. There’ve been but a handful of times when this reality has, as a longtime Nintendo enthusiast, bothered me. One of those times was the N64’s inability to run of-the-day RPGs (I will forever wonder what might have been had Final Fantasy VII been an N64 title instead of a PlayStation title), and another was when I foolishly purchased the Wii installment of an annual MLB franchise (holy hell, was that a mistake.)

And now, we have Fortnite. There are no two ways around it: Fornite underperforms on the Nintendo Switch. Nintendo, as a game developer, gets incredible performances out of its own platforms. Likewise, Bethesda has managed to fit Skyrim and Doom into entirely presentable and functional packages on the Switch. Rocket League runs with stripped-down graphics in handheld mode, but the gameplay itself does not suffer. Fortnite for the Switch, though, is a frame-skipping, blurry-edged half-Victory Royale. It’s easily the best mobile version of the game, but it is absolutely the mobile version of the game, and a mobile version of the game that chugs significantly when action gets heavy. As I play I can’t help but be reminded that I’m playing against Xbox and PC gamers who are enjoying a gorgeous, smooth 60 FPS experience, especially when I run into Tilted Towers or one of the game’s other busier areas. I’d have perhaps won that last shotgun duel, I realize, if only my game hadn’t at a key moment dropped down to 15 or 20 FPS, or frozen completely for a full second. Unlike earlier Nintendo home consoles, the Switch’s hybrid nature forgives a lot of sins: does it matter if Doom on the Switch isn’t as pretty as its PS4 cousin when you can play it anywhere? Performance matters, though, especially in online gaming. I play Fortnite with the Switch in the dock and connected online via broadband, and my system still vastly underperforms as compared to Xbox and PC players.

Now, I don’t want to overstate it: Fortnite remains entirely playable on the Switch. The many, many hours I’ve already put into it are a testament to that. Also, in the interest of full disclosure? It doesn’t help that my favorite game mode is 50 v 50, where the entire field of 100 or so players quickly congregate into the center of the storm circle, increasing the likelihood of system performance issues. The fact remains, though, that I avoid landing at Tilted Towers because I know the framerate drop will likely lead to my death, and I have to remind myself not to traverse the landscape too quickly; if through a combination of seamless ramp building and launchpadding I end up Fortnite-parkouring my way across the island, there’s a good chance I’ll start moving faster than the game can fill in its draw distance. And look: I understand that part of my problem might be that I just need to “git gud” at the game. Still, believe me when I tell you that the performance issues of Fortnite on Switch are notable and real.

I will continue to play Fortnite. I will continue to try and “git gud” at it. And the situation is actually improving noticeably as time goes on, thanks to the wonders of always-online consoles and developers constantly patching out bugs and patching in better performance. But here’s something to think about: twice in my life have I been tempted to make a non-Nintendo system my primary home hardware. The first was with PS1, on the strength of FF7 and Metal Gear Solid. The other was in the age of the Wii, when I was saddled with a gimmicky system with a lineup of shovelware and sub-par ports. The Switch is not the N64, and it is not the Wii. It is a tremendous system with a tremendous line-up, and all of Nintendo’s own online offerings work flawlessly. (As does Minecraft and Paladins and other online third-party games, FWIW.)

For the first time this gen, though, I’m wondering if it’s time to invest in a secondary home console. The Switch will always remain my primary; Smash and Metroid Prime are both on their way, after all. But serious or even semi-serious Fortnite Battle Royale play just isn’t possible on Switch. At what point does a powerful portable console become an underpowered home console? If Fortnite on Switch is a significantly less-than experience (and it is), at what hour of gameplay does it become justifiable to invest in a whole other console primarily to play that one game?

Because I’d really like to be able to land at Tilted without feeling like I’m watching a flip book, you know?

A Rabbid Fan

On my mission to go back and close out some of my half-completed backlog of Switch games, I decided this weekend to put down Splatoon 2 and Fortnite and return to the surprise hit of 2017, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle.

(My quick Fortnite review: I’m torn. I love the art style and weapon system, and playing it is what you imagined playing “manhunt” would feel like as a kid but never did… but I could do without every player rocking an 8-foot vertical leap and building a house at the first sign of incoming fire.)

It took me a moment to get back up to speed on Kingdom Battle. I was early on in the game’s fourth and final world, the Lava Pit, and over the course of two or three days I dove back in and remembered what made the game unexpectedly fun when it debuted at the end of last summer.

If you own a Switch and you’ve not yet partaken in Kingdom Battle, and you have any fondness for X-Com, Fire Emblem, Advance Wars, Codename S.T.E.A.M., Final Fantasy Tactics, or really any game in the tactical role playing genre, you really should indulge yourself. The key combat elements of the genre are all here and well-executed, but aside from that Kingdom Battle is a vibrant and colorful game with a tremendous soundtrack, a genuinely amusing story… and if you find the Rabbids annoying, fear not: the presence of the Mushroom Kingdom’s bravest and boldest takes the edge off their Minion-esque antics.

For a game featuring Mario and Luigi and a bunch of cartoon rabbits, Kingdom Battle is surprisingly stylish. Though combat animations occur only after you’ve inputed instructions to the members of your three-man squad, once your team is up and running you’re treated to Matrix-style slow motion camera pans and trick shots, with Mario, his Rabbid doppelgänger, and everyone else flipping and flying through the air, tossing grenades over their shoulder, or dabbing as they send off an explosive trolley through a white rabbit pipe. Developer Ubisoft deserves credit: they’ve blended Nintendo’s house style and their own Assassin’s Creed-flavored approach to game design perfectly.

One of the best things about Kingdom Battle, aside from its impeccable balance (did I mention the balance?) is that after its final boss battle, a boss battle that took me four tries but never felt cheap, the game almost aggressively throws more content at you. There’s a hidden world within one of the game’s worlds that’s only accessible post-game, and the game’s extra challenge maps are all waiting for your now almost fully souped-up squad to tackle. On top of that, there’s a local co-op mode, a local versus mode was added last December, and Kingdom Battle also has DLC for sale, the newly released Donkey Kong Adventure, a whole extra world to play through with a set squad that includes DK himself. I’ve not made a big secret of my love for Splatoon 2 on these pages, but truth told? I’m going to dip into Donkey Kong Adventure before I try out Octo Expansion. I don’t play Splatoon for the single player campaign, but I can’t wait to try out new characters and maps with Kingdom Battle‘s fantastic combat system.

So yeah… here it is, almost one year too late, my ringing endorsement for Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle. We’ve only had the Switch in our lives for sixteen months, but it already has a very impressive set of titles, representative of most of gaming’s important genres. Check tactical role playing off the list, cuz Kingdom Battle has that covered.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle is the game that nobody wanted, but now I’ve got my fingers crossed for a sequel.

We’re in the Endgame Now

That’s a quote from Avengers: Infinity War. Did you see it? It’s dope. The Marvel Cinematic Universe is my number one non-Nintendo thing these days. Earlier holders of that title include, but are not limited to, Ghostbusters, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Star Wars, and the Harry Potter books.

Nintendo’s the constant, though. (Nintendo and the New York Mets, but one of those two things does not bring me endless torment and pain, and the other is a baseball team that plays in Queens, NY.) Like many gamers, I find myself sometimes feeling buried under the sheer volume of games in my library that I’ve started and not completed. Every once in awhile, though, a watershed event comes along that lights a fire under my behind to tie up the loose ends on some of these things. With Nintendo’s E3 presentation just a week away, and the expected influx of new announcements to begin trickling in over the next few months, I find myself at one of those, “I’d better get moving with the endgame,” moments. This isn’t as final as the last one I experienced: I knew I’d be trading in my Wii U for a Switch so as the Switch launch drew near I tore through Wii U games at a breakneck pace.

Truthfully, by the ripe old age of 39, I’ve been playing games for long enough that the single player campaign of any game isn’t going to cost me too much in terms of time commitment. What really trips me up are the never-enders; in particular, Splatoon on the Wii U and Splatoon 2 on the Switch. Still, I’m making an effort to pull myself away from inking and splatting online competitors in order to close the book on some of my first-year story-driven Switch purchases. (Interesting side note: I feel no such compulsion to finish Splatoon 2‘s single-player campaign. Despite enjoying the campaign of the first game, the campaign in the second just hasn’t grabbed me, even though it’s very much more of the same.)

I’ve already put a good-sized dent in my pile. I’ve gotten the main campaigns of Celeste, Steamworld Dig 2, Super Mario Odyssey, and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild out of the way, for starters. I’ve still a ways to go, though. Here’s some of the stuff in my, “Finish this before Thanos snaps his fingers,” pile.

Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze – This isn’t a great place to start. I just got it, and already I’m about halfway through. It’s a tremendous platformer, one of the best I’ve ever played, and even the tacked on “Funky Mode,” the so-called “Easy Mode,” only serves to make the game less frustrating, not actually easy. I skipped this on Wii U, and I’m glad I did, as this game looks and feels gorgeous in handheld mode on the Switch.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle – This is a great game. I just take really, really, really long breaks between worlds. If I remember correctly, I’m up to the fourth and final world in the campaign. I’m not a big partaker of the active battle strategy games, but if Mario + Rabbids and Codename S.T.E.A.M. are indications of what that genre has to offer I should really look into more of them. What’s the best platform for X-Com, anyway?

Shovel Knight: Specter of Torment – I played about five minutes of Plague of Shadows and said, “Pass.” Plague Knight doesn’t control in any way I find enjoyable. I’ve played five minutes of Specter of Torment and found the opposite to be true about the high-flying Specter Knight. Now I just have to get back to it one of these days…

Minecraft – I know you CAN beat the Ender Dragon and essentially “beat” Minecraft, but as it turns out I don’t have anywhere near the amount of patience it takes to work my way there. Maybe if I find myself stranded on a desert island someday with nothing but a Switch, Minecraft, and a power supply… but even then, I’ll probably just try to recreate  Ocarina of Time‘s Hyrule from memory in Creative Mode.

Skyrim – Skyrim is addictive. It’s also repetitive: a lot of the missions, a LOT of the missions, require you to wander through a linear labyrinth hacking the heads off of cannon fodder until you reach a final boss that’ll kick your ass unless you spam healing spells and potions. It’s still a wonderful game, as I’ve previously documented, and even after I finish the main quest line (which I will) I can see myself going back and doing side quests for years. You know, like everyone else was doing five years ago.

Golf Story – I’m torn on Golf Story, one of the Switch’s early indie critical darlings. Don’t get me wrong: it has oodles and oodles of charm and personality. Still, the lite RPG elements haven’t hooked me quite as much as the simple 16-bit golf has. In short? I’m hot on the golf, but lukewarm on the story.

Stardew Valley – I know; you don’t really FINISH Stardew Valley, you just reach benchmarks. I’ve played a little more than one in-game year, finished the mines, and married off my character. It’s utterly charming and I’ve put a lot of time into it, and yet… chore simulators just don’t hold me long-term. Still, building your farm and tending your crops is oddly satisfying. I think I’m on the verge of becoming a homebody introvert hermit: I have little or no use for the townsfolk now I’ve taken a bride and I plan to leave my property as little as digital humanly possible. Can I add a beard to my character model?

Obviously, I don’t NEED to finish any of these games before the new batch of big Switch games come along. The old school gamer in me disagrees, though. Games have moved into online social experiments and competitions first and foremost, and it’s a wonderful evolution, frankly. It’s been embedded in my soul, though: games tell stories. They have beginnings, middles, and endings. Reaching the endgame is still a big deal to me.

I’m old, you know?