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Surviving the Summer Blues – What Video Games Are You Playing?

by Ron Duwell | August 10, 2014August 10, 2014 8:00 am PST

Gamers are finding themselves smack-dab in the middle of one of the slowest summers in recent memory. Three months of school-free, relaxed summer fun, and not a single blockbuster game on the horizon to help keep us entertained.

I mean, we are used to summers being slow for huge video games, but we don’t even have the typical cast aside sleeper hit from Capcom or some other mid-level publisher to help stay the tide!

On the bright side though, this leaves us plenty of time to do what summer vacation is supposed to allow: catching up on our backlog and diving into classic favorites. Despite having nothing new to play, we’ve still been playing a lot.

With that in mind, here’s what we’ve been grinding through during these slow summer months. Feel free to let us know your line-up in the comments section below.

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Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies

Summer vacation has always been a time for me to plow through my sentimental favorite RPGs on the Super Nintendo and PlayStation. Back when I was a kid, nothing beat blasting through these sprawling adventures over and over again, the leading force of my antisocial childhood.

Due to me cleaning out my Japanese apartment to make room for my fiance though, this is the first summer I find myself without several of my favorite “go to” games like Suikoden II, SaGa Frontier, and Star Ocean: The Second Story. PSN can only feed the urges so much, especially since many of my favorites have gone unreleased through digital means.

Feeling the burn to tear through a good old fashioned JRPG, I remembered I had this game still lingering in my backlog. I figured if I was raising such a stink about Square Enix not yet localizing the Nintendo 3DS remake of Dragon Quest VII, I might as well tear through this portable Dragon Quest game instead.

So far, it’s been an absolute blast, destroying the original DS’ reigning RPG kings The World Ends With You and Radiant Historia with its grand scope and charming sense of character. Don’t get me wrong, those games are still great, but Dragon Quest IX is both a masterpiece of keeping the old spirit of video games alive while pushing forward new ideas like its StreetPass system, which still rarely pings up here and there on Japanese trains.

I’ve got a month of summer left, and judging from the size of this game, it’s not going to be enough. Could this one become a new summer favorite?

–Ron Duwell

Rogue Legacy

This indie darling just released recently across all the active PlayStation platforms, but I jumped in on the PC even earlier in the summer. Rogue Legacy dominated my life for the better part of two weeks after I developed something of an unhealthy obsession with maxing out its statistics board.

And achieve that feat, I did! After grinding away during the peak of the Japanese rainy season, my lineage of knights peaked in skills and abilities, and I uncovered every last corner of the board. Too bad the secret bosses are just too stupidly impossible for an old geezer like me.

Rogue Legacy perfectly balances pick ‘up and play mechanics with the drive to play “just one more time.” I was nearly late for work on several occasions thanks to unexpected successful runs into this game’s castle. It has an excellent sense of character channeling the charming generic fantasy worlds of yesterday’s videos games, and the random-element guarantees that every experience will be something new.

Now that I can take it on a PS Vita though, I fear I might be falling into relapse and losing myself to this gem one more time.

–Ron Duwell

Blaster Master

Digging through your old favorite RPGs is one thing because no matter how old you get, your skill level isn’t going to shift that much. I’m just as good at Suikoden as I was was I was thirteen, believe it or not.

Blasting through your favorite NES games though is a totally different beast. Your reflexes become slower, your twitch skills become far less reliable, your expectations of situations becomes softened by todays hand holding games. Your favorite NES games are far more brutal than you remember, and playing through them makes you marvel at what your five year-old self was able to accomplish.

Blaster Master is that rude awakening for me this summer. Nintendo just released this forgotten masterpiece on the Nintendo 3DS Virtual Console, and I’ve been reeducated about its intricacies ever since. What seemed like just a normal game when I was a kid has morphed over time into one of the most unforgiving games of its generation.

Maybe I just didn’t mind dying and losing my weapons so much back then.

Luckily, Blaster Master never proves to be too unfair and is totally beatable for those willing to wrap their brains around its subtle mechanics and massive levels. It makes a perfect companion piece to the laid back and relaxing grind of Dragon Quest IX, meaning no matter what I’m playing, I’ll be able to tickle some of my older gaming urges: brutal masochism or tedious repetition.

I wasn’t the most normal of children.

–Ron Duwell

Peggle 2

I haven’t been bitten by the completionist bug quite like this in a very long time. As of drafting this entry for our list of games, I have logged over 180 hours in Peggle 2.

I was a fan of the original, and I liked Peggle Nights as well. I felt that Peggle 2, at launch, arrived with not enough Masters and less content than I’d like. A few DLC releases later, checking in at $2.99 each, and I have some more Masters that I’m happy with.

Each level in Peggle 2 has three objectives, once you clear all the trials and such. There are 10 levels per Peggle Master. There are, at this point, seven Masters. There’s also an extra level. Pencils down, that’s 240 objectives to clear. Stuff like hitting certain scores, performing certain clear shots, clearing all the pegs, winning with four balls left and winning with a specific character.

I’ve cleared 181 of these objectives, roughly one per hour if you look at my play time. That’s kind of scary.

Peggle 2 is the game I’ve played most on my Xbox One since launch, far and away. A lot of that has happened this summer, in between other sessions with other games. I always find myself sitting and thinking, “you know, how about a quick round of Peggle?”

I can quit whenever I want, you know.

–Joey Davidson

Forza Motorsport 5

I don’t really have an opinion on the different sponsored car packs that make up the purchasable segment of Forza Motorsport 5‘s downloads, but when it comes to free content, Turn 10 is showing other sports-oriented games how to do it.

Since the game’s release alongside the Xbox One launch in November, the game has added not one or two but three tracks to its library, all of which are free and automatically patched into the game. These tracks have done a great job of keeping me coming back to the game.

It always starts with the new tracks, but it quickly balloons out from there.

I start out wanting to play the new track, but then maybe I pick a new car I haven’t tried yet and find it a little tough to control, and I’m not sure if it’s because I’ve forgotten some of Nurburgring’s more finnicky corners or if the car just has a wild streak. So I start practicing on some of the more familiar tracks like Spa and Laguna Seca. I’m not quite where I want to be, so I hit the garage to get the right parts under the hood and maybe try tuning the car myself or picking out one of the user-created tuning setups that fits my need.

And then I’m trying to log a new best time on every track in that car’s class, trying to beat my old times, getting closest thing I can to a perfect, clean lap, running 5 or 10 laps around a track before heading to the next one.

And then four hours have passed, I forgot about dinner, and the sun is down. The cats are looking at me like they haven’t eaten in three days.

It’s been eight months since Forza Motorsport 5 ended up in my hands and every time there’s been a lull in game releases, I end up back on the track again – brain turned off, focused entirely on the car and the road.

–Eric Frederiksen

The Alan Wake Series

I finished out the spring season with Red Dead Redemption, sandwiching it around the ultimately disappointing Watch_Dogs. After finishing that up – tearfully – I thought, hey, I should play another game released on May 18, 2010.

So I booted up Alan Wake.

The Max Payne games have been some of my favorites since they came out, and Remedy’s follow up, Alan Wake, is no different.

Alan Wake, like Max Payne before him, is a bit of a hack when it comes to the written word. That should be a problem, but somehow it always ends up pulling me in further. Wake is in an absurd situation that is played so seriously, I can’t help but love it.

In concert with Sam Lake’s particular style of writing is an interesting, well tuned mechanic that requires you to burn darkness off your enemies before you can shoot at them. Aside from your trusty (and quickly recharging) flashlight, you have flares, flashbangs, and a flare gun at your disposal to help you take on the forces of literal (and literary) darkness that chase Wake.

Just as soon as I finished the game and its two downloadable chapters, it was onto Alan Wake’s American Nightmare. The game was criticized for its repetitive nature – you essentially have to play through slightly different versions of each of the three sections three times over.

My favorite part, though, is the series of Arcade levels that have you trying to survive against waves of the Taken. Slight tweaks to the mechanics of the original Alan Wake make an already fun game endlessly replayable. Sure, it might have shooting and guns in it, but Alan Wake is still a game about a writer running around in the dark with a flashlight, and it’s tons of fun.

–Eric Frederiksen

Heavy Bullets

Unlike many of the other games on this list, Heavy Bullets isn’t an old favorite, dug out of the attic or the depths of an online catalog. Technically it’s not even finished yet.

Heavy Bullets, in development by Terri Vellmann (and only Terri Vellmann), is a roguelike FPS. You’re armed with what can only be described as a hand cannon, a revolver that fires rounds that look like they’re closer cousins of Bullet Bill than of actual handgun rounds. Pay attention where you’re firing though, as you have to pick up your bullets after you use them and reload them into your gun.

The world of Heavy Bullets is simply designed, but it feels like a place where it’s always deep summer. It’s a low-poly, black-and-neon world decorated by little more than a few palm trees and some rocks and tall grass.

As I play, though, my mind fills in the blanks. I can feel the humidity hanging in the air as I approach one of the vending machines, I can hear the neon buzzing despite there not being any actual neon.

Most roguelikes adhere pretty closely to the fantasy world from which they spawned. Heavy Bullets is almost nothing like them, but it’s easily one of my favorites.

–Eric Frederiksen


Ron Duwell

Ron has been living it up in Japan for the last decade, and he has no intention of leaving this technical wonderland any time soon. When he's not...

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