So, what are you playing?
I came achingly close to pulling the pre-order trigger on the Super Mario 3D All Stars collection, the compilation of Super Mario 64, Mario Sunshine and Mario Galaxy set for a limited time physical (and digital!) release until March 2020. Then a little voice in the back of my head reminded me that I owned all these games, several times over, in various physical and digital formats across multiple devices and Virtual Console services. What's more, the false scarcity of limiting the time availability of this release on a digital storefront, plus the obscene $60 price tag, really griped my butt. I find the barebones port of Mario 64 particularly insulting, as there is a much better version of this game that Nintendo could have brushed up into a serviceable ultimate edition, but of course they didn't because if they can charge a premium for the N64 original and save time and money, they'll do it.
So instead I installed a DS emulator on my home theater PC to play Super Mario 64 DS. It's not perfect; the aspect ratio is still 4:3 and I haven't found a way to map the touch screen analog controls to a traditional thumbstick yet. But it plays pretty well as is, so I've been enjoying the best version of Mario 64 on my big TV from the comfort of my couch. This version of the game was disregarded at launch for its cumbersome controls, but remapped to a USB gamepad it's surprisingly intuitive to play, even with digital movement. In terms of gameplay and presentation Mario 64 DS was a significant improvement over the original; it added a ton of new content, four playable characters, a simple multiplayer mode and dramatically improved the graphics. Blown up to 1080p I'm reminded how crisp, clean and timeless early polygonal graphics can be; I hope the rest of the industry figures this out so we can get HD ports of N64 and PS1 games that really deserve it, but I digress.
I fully intend to purchase Super Mario 3D World + Bowser's Fury when it drops in February. My wife and I sunk an embarrassing amount of time into the original Wii U version while we were dating, and it still stands up today as a fantastic multiplayer party game and is probably still worth $60. God knows more underappreciated Wii U games deserve a second chance on Switch. But I have a kid on the way, times are tough and I just can't afford to drop large chunks of cash on whatever microwaved rehash of an old game Nintendo decides to trot out. 3D All Stars just isn't a good value for someone who owns all those games multiple times over. That said, if Nintendo finally releases that rumored Metroid Prime HD trilogy, I'll be there with bells on.
I somehow ended up with two copies of Marvel's Avengers
this week—one on PS4 and one on Stadia. What to do next? Compare them, of course! I've completed the campaign and a bunch of multiplayer missions on the PS4 version, and now I'm running through tons of missions on Stadia so I can have an accurate picture of the differences. The variations between the two versions are subtle, but definitely definable.
I've also been playing around with Nvidia's GeForce NOW, with an eye to review that platform. Is it a platform? Or a tool that lets you play games on other platforms? Either way, I'm having a good time dipping into various games on my Steam library that I've never tried before, and cranking the settings all the way up to the maximum. GeForce Now can take it. I've mostly been playing Vampyr, which is a nice looking game, but I'm digging around for other games to really push the functionality to its limit. Look for a review in a week or two.
Crusader Kings III on my desktop and EVE Echoes in my pocket make up the rather nerdy combo I'm tackling right now.
I was tempted to helm some far-flung kingdom in Crusader Kings, like the Pagan Empire in Southeast Asia. But when I found out you could play the legendary Ragnar Lothbrok dynasty up in Scandinavia, I had to get my Viking on. The History Channel's unprecedented success with their Vikings TV show, which centers on ol' Ragnar Lothbrok himself, likewise found unprecedented success with me, too. Medieval knights and castles are cool and all, but I will pick tribal lifestyles over feudal ones any day of the week. Besides, it has so far allowed my lesbian atheist concubine priestess to raise at least one of my bastard children as she's off fabricating claims on neighboring Swedish lands.
EVE Echoes proves that I have no concept of what mobile gaming should be. EVE Echoes is EVE Online, the most infamous "spreadsheets in space" MMO there ever was. Sure, this cellphone version has bigger buttons and has removed a couple of steps here and there in order to speed up certain processes. But as far as get-in-get-out gameplay goes, this ain't Candy Crush. The Cellphone Space Jerks [JERK] corporation I've joined continues to be an unexpectedly soft-spoken and helpful community of new and old EVE fans. I haven't sprung for all the sped-up perks that come along with a subscription, but I'm okay just slow-walking the free-to-play version. Also, EVE is owned and operated by an Icelandic developer, so this is the kind of stuff Ragnar Lothbrok's descendants are building nowadays.