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Top 10 Games with Staff Writer, Andrew Vandersteen

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Top 10 Games is a new, semi-regular series that hopes to offer a bit of insight into the twisted minds of Goomba Stomp’s writers, editors and podcasters by allowing them to tell you about their all time favorite games, and why they love them to such an unhealthy degree. 

About Andrew: 

From playing old DOS games on my Dad’s accounting computer, to getting our first NES and SNES, gaming has been one of the most constant things in my life. Growing up with three brothers it wasn’t just a way to kill time after school, but also a bonding exercise, or occasionally the cause of a fight after particularly nasty rounds of Perfect Dark. Even through high school and college gaming was a way to ground myself, wind down after stressful exams or long days of lectures. I’ve played a lot of games over the years, and picking 10 wasn’t always that easy, but here they are: the best of my best, and maybe yours too.

Crusader Kings 2

Yes, my Grand Vizier is a horse, what about it?

A lot of games have great stories, but often my favourite stories are the ones I create myself while playing. That’s what Crusader Kings 2 is all about, creating and experiencing your own story, and the tools it provides to do this are astounding. At times the game is equal parts medivial sitcom, and Game of Thrones fanfic, and weaving these tales has kept me coming back for several hundred hours.

This is easily the most daunting of games on my list to recommend to anyone, and I know several people that have attempted to play it because of me only to give it up in frustration after a few hours. That’s the trick to CK2 though, is you can’t give up in a few hours. I honestly took 50 or so hours to understand some of the basic ideas, along with several dozen visits to the forums and wiki for the game, but it truly did pay off, as playing the game now is a relaxing break from some of the more intensive titles on this list.

Yes, it’s mostly menus, and yes there’s a lot of reading, but CK2 isn’t a game just about storming castles and killing citizens. It’s a game about seducing your aunt to distract her from you killing her son because he’s next in line for the throne and you want that spot. It’s a game about outing the pope as a criminal because he wouldn’t support your crusade so you accidentally plunge half of Europe into civil war. It’s a game about marrying your daughter off to your enemy so she can act as a spy while you quietly buy the support of his neighbors in preparation for a coup. CK2 doesn’t need a main plot because it lets my story be the main plot, and it truly does it better than any other game to date.

Doom 2

DOOOOM! DOOOOOOM!

Yes, games that make you think are great. You complete a puzzle, you feel smart, and you move on. But I don’t always want a game that makes me feel smart. Sometimes I just want to tune out everything, crank some metal, and get lost in the carnage. Sometimes I just want Doom 2, over and over again till it’s done.

Doom 2 is like going to your grandmother’s house for me. Yes, everything is old, and covered in dust, and in comparison to newer things it just doesn’t look that great. But I don’t care. I’m sitting down with a cup of marshmallows and chocolate chips watching The Honeymooners on a 24′ CRT, but I’m happy. Doom 2 is that, only instead of weird snacks and outdated TV shows from the ’50s, it’s ripping demons in half and blowing them apart with a double-barreled shotgun.

What really pushes Doom 2 over the first one for me, aside from the aforementioned shotgun, was the maps. Doom had some great maps, sure, but they were just learning what John Romero and John Carmack were capable of. With the second game not only did id get more creative, but their community did too, and some of the maps are downright insane. Particular favorites: Tricks and Traps, Downtown, and best of the best: Barrels O’ Fun.

It sometimes surprises me that Doom 2 is still fun to this day, but every time I load it up, especially with some fan mods like Brutal Doom or Pirate Doom it brings me back to my youth again, and for that it earns a spot in my pantheon of greatness.

The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind

Giant bug taxis are the only fast travel for me.

This list isn’t technically presented in any particular order, save for Morrowind‘s position at the top. When it comes to video games, this is my be-all and end-all, my golden standard, and the one game I’ve returned to more times then I can recall. Morrowind is everything I love about games, not just RPGs per se but all games across all genres. It may have aged like milk, but I still love Morrowind.

I won’t spend too much time talking about why I love Morrowind, as I’ve already done that in great length here, but a few things are worth going over again. The absolute freedom of Morrowind still floors me to this day, and while its world is nowhere near as big and open as games like Skyrim or Breath of the Wild, the level of detail is outstanding, with seemingly every tree and rock specifically placed. It feels believable, with well-worn roads going between different cities and hidden caves and points of interest just off the beaten path. Despite playing it for 15 years, occasionally I’ll still run into something I haven’t seen before, some secret just out of sight that I’ve missed.

The second, and biggest thing I love about Morrowind is its community. I’d love to one-day run the numbers, but I’m confident in saying that Morrowind is one of the most modded games in existence, and the fact that people are still modding it to this day astonishes me. There’s even an open-source port of the game being worked on to allow for further modding, but the retail release is getting on just fine. Mods that change the graphics, change AI, change weapons and armor, add new cities, add entirely new landscapes. There are hundreds of mods for this game, and if you think Morrowind is missing a feature there’s a good chance someone else did too and has done their best to add it in. I’d like to think at least a portion of people working in gaming today got their start making Morrowind mods, and its overall effect on the industry, particularly Bethesda is still being felt today.

Morrowind really is the ultimate expression of why gaming is the greatest art form today. A total sandbox of creativity and fun, and an experience that you can only get in a video game.

Fallout: New Vegas

The post-apocalyptic RPG I would write, complete with rockets and explosions.

I’ve said before that I love open world games, games that react to you, and the post-apocalypse, and that’s exactly what Fallout:NV delivers. This is as close to RPG perfection as you can get, and the definitive Fallout game for fans and new-comers alike. There’s a reason people were legitimately upset when Obsidian weren’t tapped to make Fallout 4, and a reason most people still prefer this game over the newer title.

Fallout 3 and 4 were both written as action games with RPG mechanics, where the larger focus is on the shooting and making minor choices to move you to the next shooting section. NV was written almost like a pen and paper RPG, with dozens of choices based on your abilities, your interactions with other people, and your history in the wasteland. This is what sets this game a step above, is that it recognizes what a proper RPG is about. It’s not just about killing things and leveling up, but doing that with a purpose and feeding that back into your next encounters.

Like other games on this list though, its the world that really draws me in, mixing the old west with the Fallout series signature retro-futuristic vibe. Yes it looks like crap even with a tonne of mods, but there’s a lot of character drawn into every nook and cranny, and every location feels like it has a story to tell. Compared to both Fallout 3 and 4 it also just feels more creative with some really unique and memorable areas, even if it is mostly desert.

Half-Life 2 (w/ Episode 1 & 2)

Fan mods do a lot to help keep this aging classic relevant.

In 2004 most games still looked blocky and weird, with really obvious visual tricks to try and hide or gloss over their imperfections. It made having a high-end PC feel like a waste of money, since most games didn’t look or run all that better then PS2/Xbox titles. Then came along Half-Life 2, a thinking person’s game for a thinking person’s platform, and it changed how I would think about games for a long time to come.

The sheer brilliance in Half-Life 2 is the now infamous 1->2->3 program Valve implemented for progression. First, introduce the player to a new mechanic in a safe, controlled environment, basically a tutorial they can’t fail at. Then introduce some challenge, add some danger to the situation. Finally let the player and the mechanic go wild as you slowly transition them to the next part of the game. It’s simple, but it goes a long way to make the gameplay of Half-Life 2 endearing even today.

The real thing that keeps me coming back to Half Life 2 though is the level of satisfaction it provides. The game is just rewarding to play, be it the exciting shootouts or puzzle sections. The world in and around City 17 is cool to explore and the characters are memorable, even if they only appear for a few minutes. It’s a shame we’ll likely never see the conclusion to the series, but for me the second game is still more than fine.

Harvest Moon

Better than real farming, trust me.

Growing up on a farm wasn’t always that great. I didn’t ever bike to a friend’s house, it smelled like chicken crap half the time, and there was dirt everywhere. As is often the case however, farming in a video game proved to be much more enjoyable, and the SNES cult classic Harvest Moon was a welcome reprieve from the drudgery of real farming.

The simplicity of the original is what does it for me, even 20 years later. There’s no grand story about Harvest Sprites or freeing Goddesses, or rebuilding a town or unifying a small country. Rather, you’re given 2.5 years to make your parents proud and how you do that is up to you. There’s plants to grow and sell, upgrades to earn, and girls in town to marry. All just to make sure Mom and Pops still love you when they get back.

The series has evolved in many ways since the first game, some for the better (HM64Friends of Mineral Town, Wonderful Life) and a lot for the worse (Island of Happiness, Save the Homeland, Tale of Two Towns) but the original game is the one that truly keeps me coming back. It’s simple nature and mechanics give it a timeless feel that just never seems to age, no matter how many times I boot it back up again.

Red Dead Redemption

John Marston’s story remains one of my favorites in all of gaming.

Ever since GTA III I’ve been a big fan of Rockstar games, and getting lost in their open worlds rank among my favorite gaming activities. Ever since watching The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly I’ve been a big fan of Westerns, and watching larger than life characters duke it out in larger than life scenarios. Understandably when I heard that Rockstar would be making a game that combined their open worlds with the themes and settings of the Wild West I was pretty excited, and as it turned out, rightfully so.

Read Dead is Rockstar’s magnum opus, the total combination of everything we love about them, so much so that even GTA V felt like little in comparision. Everything here is just as it should be. The characters are Rockstar’s best, with John Marston being among my favourite protagonists ever written. Marston’s story about the lengths a man goes to for his family, and facing the future in the waning years of the world he once knew, still resonate today, and many of the themes transcend the game itself. A good game is one you enjoy, but a great game like RDR is one you think about long after the game is off.

It’s not just the story that makes RDR legendary to me. Gameplay is both perfected and improved from GTA IV. I’ve always found it interesting when games don’t include any automatic weapons in their roster, and with RDR its clear there’s a new level of balance to make fights interesting and deadly. When you can’t spray and pray there’s a bigger focus on making your shots count and staying mobile, which is easy to do thanks to RDR‘s amazingly detailed horses. Even when you’re not shooting there’s a tonne to do like play poker or go hunting, more than enough to keep you busy.

But the real pepper on this plate of fries is the world of RDR, and this is a high watermark I still hold all other games to. RDR and Rockstar’s games in general, truly understand that it’s not good enough to just make your game world open, there needs to be things happening in it too. Groups of bandits or lawmen riding around, farmers taking their cattle to pasture, settlers headed into the unknown, and people having a break around a camp fire. There’s so much dynamic activity in RDR that you truly can just get lost in the immersion, and that’s what puts this game on my list.

Resident Evil 4

Leon Kennedy, as fast with the gun as he is with the quip.

My first experience with RE4 was at a friends house for a sleepover. His parents were far less strict about what games he was and wasn’t allowed to play, and so we loaded up RE4 to see how far I, as a totally new player, could get in the game. Throughout the night we made it to about the halfway mark, partway through the castle in the second act. Despite being completely tired and only kept awake by cans of coke and whatever candy hadn’t been devoured I knew this game was special.

It wasn’t until some time later when I finally got to revisit RE4 and figure out what it was exactly I loved about it. My first time beating it was with the disastrous PC port, the one that didn’t allow mouse-input without a fan-made patch. That didn’t matter, the core of what I loved about RE4 transcended controls, and it still remains firmly in place today.

RE4 is one of the few games I’ve played that understands that “survival horror” isn’t about jump-scares and spooky feelings. It’s about making the idea of surviving moment to moment the horror element. Only ever giving the player just barely enough resources to make it through and trusting you to figure out how to use them. There are very few jump-scares throughout RE4, meaning that you’ll almost always see your death coming and its up to you to figure out how to stop it. Few other games, even today, seem to understand that, and it frustrates me that more developers can’t seem to figure out what made RE4 work.

Despite it’s constant struggle for survival RE4 is just fun to play. People often deride its “tank-controls” but for me this fed back into the horror element, forcing you to think about how best to conduct your fights, rather than just letting you sit back with a machine gun and mow down your enemies. Couple that with the fact that the game has an obvious sense of humour and the whole thing is just consistently enjoyable, even after seven or eight replays.

S.T.A.L.K.E.R: Shadow of Chernobyl 

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I love the surreal and the abstract, things just barely removed from normal that off-put people and make them feel unsure of themselves. I also love post-apocolyptic settings, seeing what modern man can do when everything is stripped from them. S.T.A.L.K.E.R scratches all of these itches so well I pray someone buys the IP so we can get another one.

In 2007 there weren’t open world first person shooters, and save for Deus Ex there weren’t any FPS-RPG games. First person horror existed sure, but mostly in the form of slow and boring point-and-click titles. S.T.A.L.K.E.R changed all of that, and most certainly changed me when I first played it. Here was a game truly unlike anything else, but steeped in the familiar. All I wanted to do was experience more of it.

The Zone still feels like one of the most fully realized game worlds ever made. Every inch of it feels hand-crafted and tooled for horror and action. Mutants, zombies, and hidden treasures all await the unwary in this twisted hellscape. To add to it is the game’s A-Life AI engine which occasionally breaks, but when it works you get to watch groups of AI fight it out organically. The first time you watch a group of dogs take down a boar then drag its carcass away to feast on you’ll understand why people love this game.

I’ve played all three S.T.A.L.K.E.R titles for hundreds of hours, and while I concede that 2009’s Call of Pripyat is in many ways superior, for me the first game is still the crown jewel of the series. It’s world is more detailed than most games I’ve played today, and it has a greater focus on progression, something the later games don’t always do right with their more open natures. Finally out of all three it’s the most refreshingly different, truly a world apart from other games, and for someone that constantly craves originality this was like finding a vodka soaked holy grail.

Super Mario World

Peak Mario.

The amount of times I’ve beaten this game is truly staggering. I’ve seen every level, every enemy, and every boss and I still love it to death. To me this is the pinnacle of Mario games, the title everything else is held to in comparison, and many fall flat. This is Mario as it should be forever. This is how most games should be.

I love the challenge in SMW. The levels have a steady progression to them, slowly building harder and harder until you get to the final boss. Sometimes the world has a particular theme, sometimes it’s just a series of levels which are barely connected. A lot of times there’s secrets to unlock, but you’ll need to go beyond the norm to find them. Even after you’ve defeated Bowser there are entire worlds off the beaten path for you to unlock, should you be willing to look for them. I’m convinced there may still be levels I haven’t played yet, not for lack of trying.

I love the creativity in SMW. The color palette is bright and vibrant, 16-bit as it is. It’s not the SNES’ best looking game, but it is one of the system’s cheeriest. There are minor details in each level I love looking at, and the layouts of the levels are as expertly crafted as they are fun to observe. Then there are the enemies and power-ups, the graphics for which are still sometimes used today.

To me, when someone says Mario, this is the game that instantly springs into my mind, and that’s unlikely to ever change. Many Mario games are great, most of them amazing, but this is truly the Mario game that still does it for me.


There are a lot of games that almost made this list, and a few that were on it up until the last second. Even as I write this I’m re-thinking some of these choices and this list is not totally representative of games that I hold in high esteem. Still, these are the 10 games that I can play over and over again and still enjoy, and I hope there’s something here for you too.

10 Honorable Mentions: Far Cry 2, Saints Row 2, The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask, Bioshock, Metal Gear Solid 5, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Warhammer 40k: Dawn of War 2, Spec Ops: The Line, The Sims 3, Chrono Trigger

Andrew Vandersteen has been watching movies and playing games since before he could do basic math, and it shows. But what he lacks in being good at things, he makes up for with opinions on everything nerd culture. A self described and self medicated audiophile and lover of anything and everything really, really terrible, he's on a constant quest to find the worst things humanity has ever published. He's seen every episode of The Legend of Zelda, twice, and thinks the Super Mario Movie was a war crime. When he's not playing games or writing about them, he's messing around with audio or fixing computers. Perpetually one paycheck short of breaking even, and always angry about something.

3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Carston

    September 10, 2017 at 5:23 pm

    This is a great list man. Props for loving Crusader Kings 2, I have a serious love/hate relationship with that one.

  2. Ricky D

    September 10, 2017 at 5:44 pm

    I’m surprised you put Super Mario World as your top pick. I figured it would be a PC game. That said, Super Mario Bros. 3 is the best game in the series by far 😛

    • Andrew Paul Vandersteen

      September 11, 2017 at 1:27 pm

      Id actually say Morrowind is my top pick, but all the games here are awesome. SMW is hands down my favourite Mario game and i cant wait to play it again on the SNES classic

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‘Pokémon Gold and Silver’ Remain the Greatest Pokémon Games

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pokémon gold and silver

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on September 22, 2017.

At last estimate, there were 802 pokémon in the Pokémon World, with Marshadow the latest to be discovered. Back when Pokémon Gold and Silver were released, there was a measly 251 pokémon; an additional 100 pokémon were added for generation two. With so many new dynamics added to the latest Pokémon games, it might be surprising to find that Pokémon Gold and Silver remain the strongest titles in the series, and even more astonishingly, how the successors were influenced more by Pokémon Gold and Silver than they were Pokémon Red and Blue.

It wouldn’t take much convincing to believe that Pokémon Red and Blue was the greatest generation, the original that sparked a highly successful franchise. Indeed, much of what gives Pokémon a strong pay day was soft boiled in generation one. The mascot, after some serious slimming alterations, remains Pikachu, and even the poster boy of the animé, Ash Ketchum, is based on Red from Pokémon Red and Blue. However, when you run from your nostalgia, you’ll find that Pokémon Red and Blue were largely broken.

Pokémon has become a seriously complicated strategy game, that relies on so many complex variables, that becoming a Pokémon Master has never been so difficult. Currently, it remains fairly well-balanced, but it never used to be. Pokémon Red and Blue were terribly flawed when it came to strategy. The Psychic type was ridiculously overpowered, with only weaknesses to Ghost and Bug types, both lacking a strong movepool. The only Ghost moves were Lick and Night Shade, both comparatively weak to your Psychic selection; Bug moves aren’t even worth mentioning. Alakazam became the strongest non-legendary pokémon in the game, something that would cause confusion to the latter addition of pokémon fans.

The Psychic type was controlled in two ways in Pokémon Gold and Silver, a new type and some new moves. No dynamic has balanced competitive play more than the introduction of the Dark type. Suddenly, Alakazam was frail. Umbreon and Tyranitar gave Alakazam some problems it never faced in the previous generation, creating a reluctance to use the iconic Psychic pokémon. Secondly, and most importantly, there were now moves that could do serious damage to Psychic types. Shadow Ball became a new Ghost move that finally did decent damage, Megahorn was introduced as a strong Bug type Move, and Crunch remains a much used Dark type move. To top that off, the split of the Special stat into Special Attack and Special Defence really paralyzed Alakazam into a lightweight pokémon.

It wasn’t just Psychic types that took a hit either, the Dragon type finally had a nemesis with other Dragon pokémon. The reason why Gyarados was never a dragon type was purely down to the balance of the types. A Water/Dragon type in generation one would have only have had a weakness to Dragon, in which the only Dragon move was Dragon Rage which always does 40HP damage regardless of type. The introduction of the move Dragonbreath gave Dragons an actual weakness to the Dragon type, even if the move was relatively moderate in strength. This in return, allowed a Water/Dragon type to be introduced, Kingdra, which is the evolution to the generation one pokémon Seadra.

Kingdra was obtained by trading a Seadra holding a Dragon Scale. This new way of evolving certain pokémon by trade whilst holding an item opened up new evolutions for some generation one pokémon. Onix became Steelix, Scyther became Scizor, Porygon became Porygon2, and Poliwhirl could become Politoed. Two of these were inspired by the introduction of the Steel type, allowing a defensive strategy to blossom in competitive play. Indeed, it’s hard to find a competitive team without a Steel type, with Scizor remaining one of the most widely used.

The pokémon introduced in Pokémon Gold and Silver are some of the most adeptly created designs out of the full 802 pokémon so far discovered. It’s hard to find any seriously awful designs in the generation. The Unowns maybe, but they inspired some differentiation in the same species of pokémon that would end up with Alolan forms in Pokémon Sun and Moon. Baby pokémon were a rather dull, and a particularly needless addition. However, they inspired the most complex dynamic in competitive play to this day, pokémon breeding.

The complexity of pokémon breeding came much later, but the concept remains leech seeded to Pokémon Gold and Silver. Nature and ability, two values that would come in Pokémon Sapphire and Ruby, would spore from the pokémon breeding concept of generation two. Whilst it started as a small gesture to the pokédex to obtain some baby pokémon, it would soon become a pokémon producing factory, often with a Ditto at the center of it, to develop pokémon with the perfect nature and ability for competitive play.

The complexities didn’t end there. Some breeding partners would be able to pass on a move to its offspring that it shouldn’t be able to learn. For example, if a male Dragonite knows Outrage and a female Charizard knows Fire Blitz, the resulting Charmander will know Outrage and Fire Blitz. This could result in a chain effect, whereby a move could be passed on from generation to generation of different species. This helps to give your pokémon a competitive edge by learning a move it wouldn’t be able to learn by normal means.

Pokémon breeding ultimately turned the Pokémon series into very different games. Whilst in Pokémon Red and Blue you had to catch them all, from Pokémon Gold and Silver it started to focus on breeding them all. Filling your pokédex wasn’t just throwing balls and trading, but more complex situations in which your pokémon reacted to the environment. One such change that happened in Pokémon Gold and Silver was the introduction of a night and day cycle. This would continue to feature in every Pokémon generation after that, and Pokémon Black and White would even attempt different seasons. The night and day cycle would be the exact same as the night and day cycle in real life, meaning you had to play Pokémon Gold and Silver at different times of the day to encounter all the pokémon.

This would be further bolstered by certain evolutions only occurring during the day or at night. The most famous, of course, is Eevee into either Espeon or Umbreon. The creation of time and place becoming a factor into the development of your pokémon, plus the divergence of possible evolutions, such as Poliwhirl becoming either Poliwrath or Politoed, gave much more flexibility to how you develop your own team. The evolution of Espeon and Umbreon wasn’t just a time restraint either, but an invisible happiness meter would also play a role. This invisible meter meant for certain pokémon, you just had no idea when they would evolve, you’d only know how to encourage it. This happiness meter would eventually inspire the affection meter in Pokémon X and Y, modeled by another Eevee evolution, Sylveon.

These invisible stats meant, at least for a while, you had to treat your pokémon as if they were a living, breathing creature. Unfortunately, most pokémon that evolve through happiness are baby pokémon, which are incredibly weak. Fainting drops the happiness meter down, so an Exp. Share remains the best way to level it up, should you believe its happiness is high enough for the evolution.

The mathematics hidden beneath each pokémon also created a candy so rare that pokémon fans sought them to this day; shiny pokémon. Not really adding anything to the gameplay other than a different color to your pokémon, some of them look truly amazing. The most sought at the time was always a shiny Charizard, which becomes a beautiful, black dragon. The most famous in the game, however, was the red Gyarados which was part of the storyline.

The storyline itself carried on from Pokémon Red and Blue, something that didn’t really happen in the other generations. In many ways, this made Pokémon Gold and Silver a 90s equivalent to a DLC rather than an entirely new game. This is further shown in the post-game when you can take the S.S Aqua to Kanto and battle the original eight gym leaders to increase your badge total to sixteen. Pokémon Gold and Silver remain the only Pokémon games where you can visit two regions, something that probably won’t happen again.

The intertwined natures of generation one and two are further tied by the animé. In the very first episode of the animé, the legendary bird Ho-Oh is seen flying above Ash. Ho-Oh wouldn’t be seen in the games until Pokémon Gold and Silver, the mascot for Pokémon Gold itself. Likewise, Togepi was seen in the animé well before the release of generation two, hinting at the concept of pokémon breeding by first appearing as an egg. Much of Pokémon Gold and Silver was created in conjunction with Pokémon Red and Blue, creating a natural path to follow on your Pokémon adventure. Since then, the path has become more erratic, with no clear direction. They usually just pick a part of the world for inspiration and create its Pokémon equivalent. The Japanese inspired regions were gone after Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, and way before then, the storyline had lost any kind of direction from one game to the next.

What made Pokémon Gold and Silver so special was it continued the journey already started in Pokémon Red and Blue, and then added the balance that was much-needed competitively. More importantly, it sowed the seeds for future Pokémon games to come, beginning the dynamics we’ve all become accustomed to all the way up to Pokémon Sun and MoonPokémon Gold and Silver is the greatest Pokémon generation because it’s the true origins of the Pokémon games we see today, contrary to the original Pokémon Red and Blue.

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‘Bee Simulator’ Review: Pleasantly Droning On

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Unless a typical bee’s day involves a lot of clunky wasp fights, high-speed chases, and dancing for directions, it’s doubtful many players will walk away from Bee Simulator feeling like they’ve really been given a glimpse into the apian way of life. Sure, there’s plenty of the typical pollen collecting and human annoying here, but odd tasks like hauling glowing mushrooms for ants, helping baby squirrels find their mom, and stinging some little brat who’s stomping all your flowers (hopefully he doesn’t have an allergy) are also on the agenda. That’s not exactly keepin’ it real, but regardless, the variety is actually more simple and less silly than it sounds; it turns out that even doing weird bee stuff quickly becomes repetitive. Still, this family-friendly look at a bug’s life is bolstered by a sincere love of nature, as well as some smooth flight mechanics and a surprisingly large open world for younger gamers to explore.

Bee Simulator beetle

Set in a Central Park-like expanse, Bee Simulator definitely takes on a more edutainment vibe right off the bat (Goat Simulator this ain’t) with a prologue that offers up some info on the ecological importance of bees to the planet. That protective attitude is a constant throughout the game’s short campaign and side quests, as the well-being of these hive heroes is constantly under threat by those goonish wasps, the bitter cold of winter, and of course, oblivious humans. Players take control of a newly hatched worker bee (sorry, drone lovers) who dreams of a role more important than being relegated to merely buzzing by flowers, and consequently sets out to save the day. However, these crises are portrayed in the thinnest terms possible, resolved quickly, and summarily forgotten, leaving little of narrative interest.

So then, it’s up to the gameplay to keep players engaged, and in this area Bee Simulator is a bit of a mixed bag. On the good side, flying works really well, and gives a nice sense of scale to being a little bee in the great, big world. Winging it close to the ground offers a zippy sense of speed, as flowers and blades of grass rush by in colorful streaks. A rise in elevation makes travel seem slower, but provides a fantastic view of the park, showcasing a lakeside boathouse,a zoo filled with exotic creatures, as well as various restaurants, playgrounds, picnics, pedestrians, and street vendors scattered about. Precision is rarely a must outside chases that require threading through glowing rings (a tired flying sim staple) or navigating nooks and crannies, but the multi-axis controls are pretty much up to the task, and make getting around a pleasure.

Bee Simulator zebras

However, that sense of flowing freedom doesn’t quite apply to the limited list of other activities. Though the world is large, the amount of different ways to interact with it is very small, revolving around a few basic concepts: fighting, racing, dancing, retrieving, and collecting. And with the exception of the latter, these actions can only be performed at specifically marked spots that initiate the challenge; most of Bee Simulator exists purely for the view. It’s somewhat understandable in its predictability — how many different things can a bee actually do, after all? — but the gameplay is still a bit disappointing in its shallowness. Fighting plays out like a turn-based rhythm mini-game, those aforementioned races follow uninspired routes, dancing is simply a short bout of Simon, and collecting pollen employs a ‘bee vision’ that does nothing more than verify that players know their colors.

It’s very basic stuff that can’t really sustain motivation for those used to more creativity. The roughly 3-hour campaign seems to support this idea; Bee Simulator knows it doesn’t have much going on for veteran gamers. However, as a visual playground for younger kids to fly around in, free from any real danger, there is something a bit magical about the world presented. There are loads of little vignettes to happen upon, such as a family BBQ, a small amusement park, and a bustling kitchen. What exactly are those lonely row-boaters thinking about out on the lake by themselves? Where is the flower lady going in such a hurry? Discovering new places — like a lush, sprawling terrarium — creates the impression of a massive world with plenty going on regardless of whether the player sees it or not, and can serve to spark the imagination.

Bee Simulator garden

In addition to racking up that pollen for the winter, info on various flora and fauna can also be be collected and stored in the hive’s library, where 3-D models can also be purchased with ‘knowledge’ points earned through completing quests. These texts detail some interesting facts about brave bees and their relation to the environment, and can definitely be a fun teaching tool for wee gamers.

Grizzled fans of the open-world genre may want to buzz clear, however, as well as those hoping for some zaniness. Though Bee Simulator offers some solid soaring in an attractive environment, it’s a sincere, straightforward attempt to promote bee kind that doesn’t offer much more than a relaxing atmosphere and repetitive actions.

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20 Years Later: ‘Pokémon Gold and Silver’ Took the Franchise’s Next Evolutionary Step

The legacy of Johto lives on in what was Game Freak’s next evolutionary step in the world of Pokémon.

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Two regions to explore, 16 gym badges to collect, two Elite Four runs to conquer, a battle tower to climb, a previous champion to best at your own game, and 251 pocket monsters to capture. There is no denying that the Johto region of Pokémon Gold and Silver had- and still may contain- the most amount of content to dig into for any player when it comes to everything outside of filling up all the entries of Sword and Shield’s Pokédex.

Pokémon Gold and Silver released in Japan 20 years ago today on November 21st, 1999. The Johto region still stands as not only one of the most renowned Pokémon games in the franchise but a contender for one of the top Game Boy and Game Boy Color games to be released on the handheld systems. No matter which entry is your favorite, there is no denying that Pokémon Gold and Silver was the next evolutionary step on Game Freak’s stairway to fame in what is now currently the largest franchise in history.

A Daunting Next Step

Pokémon Gold and Silver’s development was greenlit immediately after Red and Green had launched in Japan. The untitled sequels at the time were slated for release for the holiday season of 1998. However, during this time frame, Game Freak had also been working on a multitude of Pokémon projects including the Nintendo 64 game Pokémon Stadium and a rebranded companion version to Red that would replace Green for the overseas release of the games. The majority of the small staff team of programmers had already been occupied once the development of Gold and Silver truly began.

What was originally intended to be one year of development slowly turned into three and a half due to a lack of on-hand resources and major programming difficulties that inevitably delayed what was to be the company’s most ambitious release yet. Game Freak found themselves in a troubling situation as the independent company had to balance out time for overseeing the entire Pokémon brand that had expanded into an anime, cards, toys, and even soon to be movies. The worldwide phenomenon was continuing to expand faster than Game Freak could keep up with.

Nintendo Force Magazine – ‘Satoru Iwata Pokémon Tribute’

Late into Gold and Silver’s development, Game Freak’s team of programmers called upon star-man of the industry Satoru Iwata as the developers were having trouble with various coding bugs and fitting all the game assets onto the small memory storage of the Game Boy’s cartridges. Iwata stepped in immediately and saved yet another second-party Nintendo project from disaster. At the beginning of Gold and Silver’s development, Iwata had single-handedly recreated the entire battle system code for Pokémon Stadium by just simply playing the games and analyzing some internal coding. Iwata’s trustworthy knowledge instantly skyrocketed him to become one of the company’s most valuable informants. Nintendo’s future president returned to his all-star team of programmers working at HAL Laboratory to create graphical compression tools for Game Freak to use. This allowed the company to combine both the Johto and Kanto regions onto a single 1-megabyte Game Boy cartridge and meet their latest home territory release deadline.

The Next Phase of Evolution

Gold and Silver continued to build off of Red and Green by introducing the next region in the Pokémon world that would naturally set trends for the series going forward. One of these trends was the reoccurring introduction of a new region inspired by a different area of the world for each game.

Johto was the western half of a landmass shared by the previous game’s location. While Kanto had been based on the Kantō region of Honshu, Japan, the nearby Kansai region would become Johto’s core source of inspiration for its landscape as seen through not only its general location on the map but its architectural features. For example, the sharp shapings of rooftops and gateway entrances to towns known as torii are littered everywhere throughout Johto; some of Kansai’s most common building aesthetics.

Map of Johto and Kanto regions from Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver promotional art

Gold and Silver gained several new features that would ultimately become some of the most crucial and missed aspects of the mainline games. For starters, one important new feature that would solidify its place in future entries was the inclusion of a real-time clock. Multiple in-game events, visuals, and even Pokémon variety in the wild areas would alter depending on the time and day of the week. For example, the psychic owl species of Pokémon, Hoothoot and Noctowl, would only appear in the wild starting in the late afternoon. Eevee could only evolve into Umbreon at night, while the Bug Catching Contest was exclusively available at certain hours on weekdays.

Suicune, Entei, and Raikou became the first trio of legendary creatures to start what is now known as “roaming Pokémon.” Rather than traditionally entering a dungeon-like area, players would randomly encounter these three minor legendaries in the wild grass areas of the game after they had witnessed them book it from the Burned Tower of Ecruteak City during the story. When in battle, the Pokémon will attempt to flee immediately on its first turn. If any of the three are killed in battle, the beast will never be able to appear again on your save file.

The competitive scene for the series would begin to take its modern shape because of the introduction of both breeding and the move deleter. Breeding opened a new floodgate of multiplayer strategies by allowing specific Pokémon to obtain moves they would naturally not be able to learn through technical machines and evolution. Meanwhile, the move deleter finally allowed Pokémon to be rid of their HM moves that previously could not be overwritten, allowing players to freshly design their move-sets at any given time.

The most notable feature, however, would never see a return in a future game. Being able to journey across two different regions is by far Gold and Silver’s most proclaimed component. As stated before, Kanto and Johto share an extremely close geographical connection. Because of this, players can explore the entirety of Kanto after defeating the elite four- more than doubling the amount of content the game had to offer. Outside of the Johto games, this feature has never once returned to another Pokémon game.

The Legacy of Johto Lives On

At the time of its release, Gold and Silver received a highly positive reception from both audiences and critics. The most notable features praised by critics in reviews were the inclusions of more mechanics and typings that deepened the battle system along with the designs of the lineup of new Pokémon receiving all-around praise. During its lifetime on store shelves, the two versions nearly recreated the success of their predecessors as both combined with the sales of their later third enhanced entry Pokémon Crystal sold a total of 23 million copies. Today, Pokémon Gold and Silver are still regarded as some of the best Pokémon games, but not in their original form.

In 2010, trainers had the opportunity to return to the Johto region for the third time in the tenth anniversary generation two remakes Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver for the Nintendo DS. Following in the footsteps of Pokémon FireRed and LeafGreen, the generation two remakes not only attempted to streamline and fix the problems found in the original Game Boy entries of the series but they added a hefty new amount of content for both retuning veterans and newcomers on top of a gorgeous graphical overhaul.

HeartGold and SoulSilver – Cyndaquill partner in New Bark Town

Building off of the engine used for Pokémon Platinum, the enhanced remakes envisioned what is arguably the greatest interpretation yet of the Johto region by continuing to build off what the other DS games had already successfully established. HeartGold and SoulSilver contained nearly every feature found in a Pokémon game up until that point. It sought to continually expand upon modernizing the series through making needed accessibility changes and improving on the Nintendo Wi-Fi connectivity abilities that Diamond and Pearl had a rather shaky start with. Several lost features from previous games outside of Gold and Silver even managed to return for the remake. The beloved idea of having an interactive Pokémon partner to journey around the world with from Yellow, for example, made a comeback but this time any Pokémon could follow you as long as they had been placed in the first party slot.

While still being one of the Nintendo DS’s most commercially successful games, HeartGold and SoulSilver were not able to reach half the amount of sales their original incarnations had achieved. However, the games have averaged the highest critical reception of any mainline Pokémon game released in the franchise. The game notably received spotlight due to its included pedometer accessory the Pokéwalker. The device allowed players to place one Pokémon in the device. As a player walks in real-life, their Pokémon could collect experience, find items, and even catch other creatures that could be transferred directly back into the game.

Pokémon Gold and Silver exclusive MyNintendo 3DS themes.

Today, the original versions of Gold and Silver can be purchased on the Nintendo 3DS Eshop alongside the first Pokémon games- Red and Blue- that had released on the original Game Boy. Alongside the original generation two games, its counterpart successor Pokémon Crystal can also be purchased currently on the Eshop. 3DS home screen themes (as depicted to the left) can also be obtained through gold and silver points through the MyNintendo website.

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