It appears the days of consoles launching with cutesy mascots may be long over. Sure, the PlayStation 5 comes pre-loaded with the delightfully nostalgic tech showcase Astro's Playroom, but the real console exclusive that has people trying to get their hands on one of these elusive wonders is Bluepoint's remake of FromSoftware's Demon's Souls. At last, those without access to the Souls game that started it all way back on the PS3 can experience this intriguing historical document of a game that laid much of the foundation for the far more heralded Dark Souls trilogy. It both feels somewhat old as many of the constructs found within have reappeared multiple times in the ensuing decade plus of Soulsborne titles but also thrillingly new as massive improvements to graphical fidelity, frame rates (a Souls game running at a consistent 60 fps might be the most impressive thing Sony has ever done), and that wonderful haptic feedback the PS5 controller is becoming known for. While I may not have found myself slamming my head against the wall out of frustration like most Soulsborne games are notorious for (I suffered a mere 79 deaths versus the thousand or so I usually do, but I mainly attribute this to that smooth frame rate and tons of prior Souls experience), I still found myself completely absorbed in the fog-covered world of Boletaria, loving learning how one of my favorite genres of games got its start.
As I waded through the gaming doldrums of the past few months in preparation for the imminent release of the next generation of consoles, it seemed like as good a time as any to revisit some of my personal favorites that helped define the last two generations of gaming, Naughty Dog's high-flying, treasure hunting Uncharted series. The globe-trotting exploits of the self-proclaimed descendent of Sir Francis Drake have held a special place in my heart because they truly embody my belief that video games can be so much more than just mindless action. They can also be one of the highest forms of entertainment and storytelling - two tenants that the series has really helped usher into the mainstream over the last 15 years. After several years away, I was excited to spend a month or so revisiting my old friends like the womanizer with a heart of gold, Sully, and Elena, the tenacious reporter who just might be the only one capable of calling out our main protagonist Nathan Drake on his bullshit. However, simply enjoying them wouldn't be nearly productive enough, so, naturally, I decided it was time to definitively rank them all through a combination of both gut feeling and 11 carefully crafted categories that epitomize what an Uncharted game should be.
Apparently gaming in 2020 is the year of FromSoftware for me, as the first half which already included Bloodborne and Sekiro has now added 2016's Dark Souls 3 to the mix. Perhaps it was Soulsborne fatigue, or maybe it was all that's changed in the 4 years since it came out, but I found DS3 to be my least favorite of all the Soulsborne titles so far (still TBD on Dark Souls 2 and Demon Souls). Overall it was still a very solid game that provided plenty of fun smashing giant bosses with massive greatswords for 50 or so hours, but it played more like a refined Dark Souls than anything that had something new to say. Lacking the foreboding atmosphere and trick weapons of Bloodborne and the incredible precision of Sekiro, DS3 felt oddly dated and almost a little rough, while also lacking the sense of wonder and amazement that makes that first trek through the original Dark Souls so memorable. Fortunately, though, DS3 manages to pick itself up from some early game stumbles and really gets rolling around the halfway mark, maintaining a high level of consistency throughout the rest of the main game and two excellent DLC packs.
I had one major goal in mind this past weekend. After over 3 weeks and several hundred deaths, it was time to finally beat Dark Souls and earn my important and totally not made-up Badge of Gaming Courage that surviving the brutal punishment nets you.
Since I'm currently in the midst of a crushing run through Dark Souls, I decided I needed something to level my gaming mood out. Inspired by my recent ode to Luigi, watching a speed-run in person, and my undying love of Fred Savage's 1989 opus, The Wizard, I opted to revisit perhaps the greatest 2D Mario of all time - Super Mario Bros. 3.