This is Picklemoose's Blog. A small section of Pixelated Cardboard dedicated to topics outside of digital board game ports. Posts here will be less formal & cover a range of topics.
I checked in about a year ago with an overview of how my experience with a Nintendo Switch had been going. You can check out that article here, it mostly still applies. I wanted to put some more words together after another year with the console. How has it held up in year two? What have I been playing?
Some background on me as a gamer; I’m a casual one at this point in my life. I grew up on sports games, all of the Nintendo properties, and the occasional JRPG. I briefly kept up with some of the AAA tiles like Fallouts, Red Dead Redemption, Skyrim, etc…, but that phase didn’t last too long. I started playing FPS as I got older as an excuse to play games with friends. I purchased the Switch for nostalgia and for handheld mode and the battle for TV time has become fierce with children entering the picture. I've broken things down into separate topics of discussion, easily skippable if something does not interest you.
I have finally been hit with the dreaded Joy Con drift issue. It’s a fairly common complaint that has outlasted the other initial complaints such as third party docks, power supplies, battery life, and so on. The issue here is that the Joy Cons, specifically the stick on the left controller, eventually will start “drifting” on its own. If you are playing a game like Mario Odyssey, for example, without touching anything on the controllers, Mario will start walking in some direction (in my case, to the left).
I had been lucky in that I either hadn’t played enough to “break in” the controllers enough to see this, or I simply hadn’t been playing a game where I noticed this. That changed recently with Luigi’s Mansion which requires a lot of standing still while aiming which has become really difficult to do if Luigi keeps moving on his own.
My immediate response to this unfortunate development has been simply to use the pro controller. This thing, while expensive, is a well made controller that feels much better than the Joy Cons anyway. I will be looking into the Nintendo fix for the Joy Con drift, I believe they have offered free fixes for them.
Nintendo Online debuted at some point last year. This allows, in my book, three primary functions: Play games online, access to NES and SNES titles, and play Tetris 99. Those are in reverse order of importance. It’s a bit of a mess as online play is often extremely slow and Nintendo uses a mobile phone app to allow in game voice chat which is just...I don’t even know.
The plus sides here, however, far outweigh the issues. First, it’s only $20 for a year. Random quick games of Smash and access to the impossibly large online database of Mario Maker 2 levels both work well and are generally a lot of fun. Mario Maker 2 co-op online? Not so much. The NES and SNES libraries I will go into a bit more later, as I will with Tetris 99.
There was a bit of madness with the Switch’s early life as far as power supplies and docks went. There were many reports of third party accessories bricking systems and a bunch of investigating by the internet. I was scared off by all of this and kept to my first part dock and charger that were included with my Switch. A few months ago, however, I found the need to play my Switch on a different television in my house. I was happy to see that those power issues seem to have been resolved and there were many third party options that seemed to work. I ended up going with the GuliKit portable dock. It is super compact and comes with a nice box to carry it with. The only downside is that it doesn't come with a power block or HDMI cable and only a very short USB-C cable. It has worked well as a second dock and I will use it whenever I have the need to travel with the Switch. I am not claiming that all third party docks are safe or anything of the sort, there are probably still some (many?) with issues out there. I am simply reporting that I haven’t had any issues a few months in with this third party dock. Dock at your own risk.
The tentpole first party Nintendo games that have been released in the past year are not in my wheelhouse. I would consider those to be Yoshi’s Crafted World, Pokemon Sword/Shield, Fire Emblem, Super Mario Maker 2, and Luigi’s Mansion 3. There are probably others I’m forgetting, but out of those five I’d never played any of the previous titles in their respective series. To be fair, Mario Maker is/was a slam dunk for me, I just didn’t have a Wii U. As such, my 2019 in Switch looks a bit different than my 2018 when I was loading up on those sweet first party titles. Here are the new games, but we’ll start with one I mentioned last time but had a wildly different experience than I did playing last year.
Zelda: Breath of the Wild
This was in my last write-up and I basically said I was not able to get into it. That changed in 2019 as I finally got around to finishing the main story. I like the game well enough, I think it is good, very good even, maybe a B+ or A-. It didn’t, however, land for me as a GOAT contender as it obviously has for many others. I can’t put my finger on why, exactly, that has been the case, but I mainly blame the awful horse riding controls. There are moments of sheer, A++++ brilliance in this game, specifically the four divine beasts. Boy, the combination of platforming, fighting, and puzzle all coalesce perfectly for 30-60 minutes from the moment you get close to one of the beasts. Then you’re off running around finding shrines, cooking food, doing errands to complete side quests, and so on. It’s not that I dislike any of the activities in the previous sentence, but they all seem so ordinary compared to what the game provides in its peak moments. Take all of this with a grain of salt as I’ve always preferred Mario, but BotW is a really good game that I’m much less likely to revisit than something like Odyssey or Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze.
Ring Fit Adventure
This is an exercise game that includes a plastic ring that is flexible enough to bend in on itself but sturdy enough to make that process somewhat difficult. There is also a leg strap. A Joy Con is placed in each of these two and you are off. The game itself is a light RPG style game which has you defeating enemies in turned based combat, collecting gold, earning power ups, leveling up, and so on. The shtick here is that to defeat monsters you have to do a certain number of reps of some exercise. 20 squats, 15 planks, 25 front presses, ten tree poses, and so on. Out of all of the games here I am most likely to write a separate thing on this one, so I won’t get into the fine details, but the game has gotten me active. I play about 5 times a week for 30-40 real time minutes which usually equates to 15-20 exercise minutes (the game tracks the time you’re actually doing something). I can’t claim to have lost 20 pounds or feel like a new person, but it has succeeded for about two months now in getting me into a regular exercise routine, which is something I’d struggled with starting in the past. And yes, the game is a legitimate exercise. There are a lot of variables, but there are times when I finish completely drained and soaked in sweat and others when specific muscles are very sore. This is a very niche thing, but it is well made and does a great job of keeping me engaged with variations on a standard workout routine.
Super Mario Maker 2
The only time I regretted not owning a Wii U was seeing videos of Mario Maker levels. Getting to make Mario levels was a childhood dream come true! Mario Maker 2 is essentially three games in one. First, there is a collection of levels the game has built in that will take you a few hours to play through. This is really fun! It’s a Mario game with a ton of variety as you switch between all of the various Mario styles from game to game, although I do believe they all use the same physics which is a bit odd if you are more used to certain games. The second game is the online speed runs, Ninji Speed Runs, which rotate out on a regular basis. These are essentially custom levels uploaded by Nintendo that hundreds of thousands of people will compete in to see who can finish the fastest. It’s an absolute time sink trying to optimize your moves, but it is incredibly gratifying to see your personal best improve as you figure it out and watch it climb the rankings. This, again, could be a game on its own and I’d be perfectly happy. Finally, there’s the actual game which is making Mario levels and playing levels other people have made. It surprised me quite a bit how little I enjoyed making levels, that was the selling point after all. It just didn’t click, maybe I’ll revisit this at a later, more creative time? Regardless, finding other’s courses and playing them is still a ton of fun. Overall, there is a little bit of something for everyone here, I think. The main draw of the game has been a miss for me, but I’ve still been enjoying this game quite a bit.
NES Online Console
Meh. NES was a great system but I have little desire to fire it up when I could be playing...
SNES Online Console
A Link to the Past, Super Metroid, F Zero, Super Mario World, Yoshi’s Island, Star Fox. That’s all you really need to know. Not all of the games here are gems, looking at you Super Soccer, but there are some fun, deep, long games to be found here and it is all included with your online subscription. What a deal! I played through a good portion of Metroid and completed my first runthrough of A Link to the Past thanks to this. What a great experience. I never played Yoshi’s Island so that is next on my list. To be fair to the NES, there are some gems there, and its title list is probably more packed than SNES, but outside of the Super Mario Bros games (all 3 and Lost Levels are on there), there’s nothing on the NES I’d actually want to play at this point.
Celeste is the first indie game I’ve played in a long time. Not for any particular reason, simply that my playtime is generally limited and I’ve had more than enough to play with larger releases that interest me. Celeste is a pixel art platformer based around two simple moves: a dash/burst/double-jump thing, and a fatigue based wall climb similar to BotW. The game does an absolutely fantastic job of stretching these simple concepts to their absolute limits and providing a difficult, fun challenge from start to finish. The game is tough (but not brutally so) to finish, but then they added some ridiculous extra difficulty in finding various hidden items throughout the game. I like how finishing the game isn’t entirely about pulling off strings of twitchy platformer moves (although there is some of that), but is often more about solving the platformer puzzle a particular room or area presents. It took me a long time to dive into these retro, pixel art throwback style indie games. I’m glad I chose Celeste to do so.
Luigi's Mansion 3
My initial write-up of this was too long so I scrapped it. I might write a seperate piece on this game because it has had a very unique arc for me. Rarely, I honestly can’t remember it happening before, have I ever actively disliked a game like I did Luigi’s Mansion 3 only to have it turn around about ten minutes before I had reached the end of my patience. Breath of the Wild I didn’t fall in love with initially, but I did enjoy it which is a far cry from disliking it. Luigi’s Mansion 3 starts off really slow with a super drawn out series of introductory/tutorial levels where you get slowly introduced to the controls as your vacuum backpack abilities are rolled out to you. This is fine, but it’s too long and the game has you solving really simple puzzles during this time. This, combined with some frustrating controls (pro tip: look up the unadvertised hidden controls, they are a lifesaver), had me ready to move on from this game about 3-4 hours in. Lucky enough, I decided to look up how to get over my control issues which led to the alt controls and convinced me to go into another level in the game. I’m glad I did as the level design and puzzle aspect took off from that point forward. They aren’t difficult enough to make you spend 30 minutes trying to solve them, but there are some solid puzzles here that will certainly take some time to get past. The use of your gelatinous sidekick Gooigi is the best part, providing puzzles that require two characters to solve. They could have leaned into this a lot more frequently than they did, but I’m glad they held back, making those tag team moments extra fun Having said all of that, I still don’t love Luigi’s Mansion 3. It’s good, and fun, but not great for me. A big part of my issue is how restricted Luigi’s movement is. He really can’t step into a bathtub? Or jump forward or backward? I understand these restrictions make a lot of the puzzles work, but I like to imagine what kind of amazing puzzles the game could feature if Luigi had an expanded movement set.
Crash Bandicoot N. Sane Trilogy
This was on sale and I have been going through a bit of a retro phase lately so I wanted to give it a try. Although I tend to draw a line of retro gaming between the SNES/Genesis era and the Playstation/N64 eras, Crash Bandicoot feels more like the former with difficulty generally associated with NES games. It’s pretty crazy how difficult some of these levels are in the original game. That darn Road to Nowhere level is still here and even the “easier” levels that follow it often take me two or three or twenty continues to finish. It’s a genuine challenge that relies a lot on trial-and-error and memorization for the quick moving parts. The first game is all around great, but the two bridge levels are needlessly difficult to the point of being frustrating. The second game is also great, it doesn’t have any levels as frustrating as Road to Nowhere, but it is still quite challenging. My only complaint on this is that the bosses are a big letdown, especially the final boss. The third game is, well, bad. It feels like a trial run to decide if they were going to make a racing, flying, third person shooter, jetski, or underwater game (they went with racing). The actual Crash Bandicoot levels are really quite fun, they mix viewpoints and styles to a degree not seen in the first two. There are simply far too few of those between all of the alternate style levels, none of which really land all that well due to control issues. All in all, the remaster looks amazing and the first two games are fantastic, so for me, it was well worth the purchase.
Saving the best for last. This is an amazing game. It is a Tetris battle royale game where you compete against 98 other players to be the last one standing. You play a normal game of Tetris with the twist that wiping out multiple rows will send unwanted extra rows to opponents’ boards. Of course people will be sending you those extra blocks as well. It is battle Tetris and it’s everything I ever wanted but didn’t know it. The game was updated to include other play modes if you purchase the added content (the base, online only game is free but does require Nintendo Online). I haven’t played any of them, but have regularly played the online game since release. I play a lot of Apex Legends (a more traditional battle royale game), but there is nothing quite as intense as being in the last 3 or 5 players on Tetris 99. The blocks are flying, if you haven’t already decided where the next three pieces are going, you have already lost. In the rare (for me, anyway) case where it all comes together for an improbable win, it is pure gaming bliss.
That's A Wrap
That's all for now. I will plan on checking back in a year or so from now to see if anything has changed. It has been a fun second year for me with the Switch and it's easily my most played console at this point.