Putting Around Pocket Camp

It’s been about three weeks since Animal Crossing: Pocket Camp was released on mobile devices, and I’ve surprised myself by actively keeping up with it, just having reached level 40. I check in about three or four times a day, depending on my schedule: on the morning bus ride, at work during my lunch break, on my bus ride home, and sometimes right before bed, if I’m not too tired.

There’s not a whole lot to Pocket Camp. My fixed routine goes like this: I receive any completed furniture from Cyrus, visit each area to fulfill animals’ requests, harvest resources (fruit, fish, and bugs), check the marketplace for any new items, return to my camp to check on the invitees (who either have additional requests or gifts for me), review my contact list to see what furniture I need to build, and visit my friends to give kudos and raid market boxes to fill up on any dwindling supplies. I do the exact same thing every time I log in.

That does sound a little boring, doesn’t it? Although Pocket Camp is putting on a Christmas event right now, it hasn’t done a thing to change up gameplay. Besides the slightly random nature of catching fish and bugs, you’ll be doing the same things day in and day out, with little sense of progression besides an arbitrary character level, animal friendship, and a steadily growing cache of Bells. Someone like me, who finds immense joy in navigating complex systems of character creation and development, would probably be bored by something as repetitive and uniform as Pocket Camp, right?

With this direct opposition to my usual likes and interests, what keeps me tapping on that app icon so many times a day? As cliche as the infamous “fetch quest” has become in the RPG genre, I still find simple pleasure in completing menial tasks for overly demanding NPCs. Pocket Camp is full of canned responses and cutscenes, but there’s a certain charm in them that keeps me hunting down those bugs and fish, as tedious as that can be.

The sound effects in Pocket Camp, and Animal Crossing in general, have this soothing, casual vibe that I have a hard time putting into words. The crunch of the snow beneath your feet as you walk, the gentle splash from a fish latching on to your lure, the shuffling of your pockets as you stash away an item, the munching and gulping of animals enjoying their food and drink at your campsite; the list goes on.

Would I recommend Pocket Camp to everyone? Not really. If you’re an Animal Crossing fan, it’s worth a shot. You can accomplish a lot without encountering any pay walls, but when you get up to the higher levels, progress slows significantly and it takes a long time to gather the necessary resources to complete amenities and furniture. The game still has my interest for now, though I can feel it waning day by day as other titles become more interesting again. It’s definitely gotten me wanting to Play New Leaf again, and keeps the hope alive for a full fledged entry on the Switch some day.


Skyrim Tips for Beginners

Now that Skyrim is available on Nintendo Switch, players new to the franchise are diving into the series for the first time, and it can be a bit overwhelming for the uninitiated. With little structure or direction, what’s a Dragonborn to do? As someone who’s played Skyrim for over 500 hours, I’ve put together 10 of my personal tips for creating a new character and venturing out into the massive world of Tamriel.

10. Plan Your Character Concept.

In my opinion, the character creation sequence has a minimal affect on the final capabilities of your character. Although your racial selection bestows powers and some starting skill bonuses, the way you play your character and the perks you select ultimately determines what you’ll be good at. First and foremost, think about how your character will deal damage. While it would be great to win over the world with Speechcraft, the harsh reality of Skyrim dictates that you’ll end up using force to accomplish most of your objectives. Will you use bows or melee weapons? One-handed + shield, two-handed, or dual wielding? Destruction spells? A combination of all the above? With this choice in mind, think about other skills that will support your primary method. Sneak is good for rogues or archers who want to take advantage of critical strikes from the shadows. Light or Heavy Armor improves the effectiveness of armor, essential for melee fighters. Illusion, Alteration, Conjuration, and Restoration spells include a variety of support effects, like magical armor, misdirection, or healing. Enchanting, Alchemy, and Smithing (the crafting skills) are good for essentially everyone, but should be a secondary focus for new characters, at least at first. Fledgling characters should also avoid Pickpocketing, Lockpicking, and Speechcraft. Keep your concept in mind as you play and advance your character.

9. Activate a Standing Stone.

After exiting the introductory cave, you’ll set out on a path to the village of Riverwood with your chosen companion. Along the way, you’ll come across a set of three Standing Stones: The Warrior Stone, the Mage Stone, and the Thief Stone, which gives a permanent 20% growth bonus to all the skills in the chosen category (until you activate a new stone, of course). Taking into consideration your character concept, make sure to activate the Stone that affects your primary method of dealing damage. For melee weapons, choose Warrior. For bows, choose Thief. For destruction spells, choose Mage (but keep an auxiliary weapon handy at all times). The higher your damage output, the more successful you’ll be in Skyrim.

8. Level Up Wisely.

When you level up, you can increase your Magicka, Health, or Stamina by 10 points, and gain one skill point to spend. At first, focus on increasing your health to improve your survivability, at least for the first five levels. Then, if you’re a mage, you may want to start boosting your Magicka. Stamina is helpful mostly because it increases your carrying capacity, but isn’t important at lower levels. For your first skill point, use it to improve your damage output: for melee characters, Armsman or Barbarian, depending on your weapon preference; for archers, Overdraw; for casters, Novice Destruction reduces the Magicka cost of your low level Destruction spells, effectively increasing your potential for damage. (For wizards, it’s also not a bad idea to put at least one point in either Armsman, Barbarian, or Overdraw to strengthen your backup weapon by 20%.) As a general rule, boost your health as often as you can, and prioritize skills that can enhance your damage output before choosing other supporting skill perks.

7. Start the Main Quest.

If you’re at a loss for what to do first, begin the main quest by traveling to Whiterun and speaking to Jarl Balgruuf in Dragonsreach. It’s a good place to start, and the objectives expose you to dungeon diving, fighting dragons, and learning Shouts. As part of the quest, you’ll meet the Greybeards who will eventually unlock the full potential of your Unrelenting Force shout, which is incredibly useful for new characters. With it, you can forcefully push your enemies to a safe distance if you need to heal and regroup, and instantly defeat tough foes by Shouting them off a high ledge. Once you have this powerful ability at your disposal, feel free to diverge and take on other quest lines.

6. Make Use of the Carriage at Whiterun

In the beginning, you’ll have little choice but to walk to most of your quest destinations. If you made Whiterun your first stop, however, you may have come across the carriage parked outside of Whiterun Stables, just outside the city walls. For a modest fee, the driver can instantly take you to any of the major cities in Skyrim. Use this feature to discover these important locations, which then become freely accessible using fast travel. Not only does this potentially bring you closer to quest targets, you’ll gain easy access to a large number of shops and services in multiple locations to buy and sell gear, adding to your character’s wealth and power.

5. Learn Basic Utility Spells: Clairvoyance and Candlelight.

Although you can survive in Skyrim without casting a single spell, there are two particularly useful ones that every character should learn: Clairvoyance, an Illusion spell, and Candlelight, an Alteration spell. Clairvoyance, while glitchy at times, conjures a snaking cloud of mystical smoke that traces the path on walkable terrain to your active quest objective. This spell works both outdoors and indoors and serves as an invaluable guide for the directionally challenged (like me). The second spell, Candlelight, creates a luminescent orb that follows your character around until it fizzles. Many locations in Skyrim are dark: caves, ruins, temples; pretty much every indoor dungeon area is lacking in adequate illumination. A word to the wary: this spell makes you much easier to detect when sneaking and draws attention to you, so it’s best to use after all immediate threats are defeated and you’re scanning the area for loot. To access these spells early, talk to Farengar, the Whiterun court wizard.

4. Be Selective in Your Looting

There’s A LOT of things you can collect in Skyrim: weapons, various pieces of armor, books, scrolls, reagents for Alchemy, food and drink, gemstones, crafting materials, and much, much more. For a starting character with low Stamina, it can be tough to decide what will occupy your limited inventory space. There’s a lot of things that are pieces of junk that serve no purpose and have little to no value. Ruined books, charcoal, rolls of paper, ink wells, plates, cups, and similar clutter are best left behind. Most books aren’t worth taking unless they’re Skill Books, which increase a skill by one point when read and can be sold for a decent profit. Food and drink items are almost entirely worthless so they can be ignored, too (although some spirits do have a decent value). Things you should pickup include: equipment, particularly weapons and armors that you can either use, have enchantments you can learn by Disenchanting, or have a good weight to value ratio for selling; arrows, which are necessary for archers and have no weight; reagents, which are relatively lightweight and can be crafted into useful and/or valuable alchemical creations; potions, which are useful in many situations and have relatively high values (although they’re quite heavy considering what they are, so watch how many you have and try not to horde too many of them); gemstones, which can be Smithed into jewelry or sold individually; ores and ingots, and animal pelts and leather, all required for Smithing; lock picks, required for opening locked doors and chests, and disarming traps (ALWAYS have an ample supply of these handy); and empty Soul Gems to trap souls for Enchanting. As a general rule, if you can’t use it or sell it for a decent profit, leave it behind.

3. Hire a Follower.

Skyrim is a journey you can experience entirely alone (and I would say it’s better that way for many reasons), but having an extra pair of hands, especially when you’re just starting out, is a big help. You can recruit most followers by completing quests, or becoming the Thane of a Hold (e.g. completing requests for the local Jarl and their people), who assigns you a Housecarl. Followers can be told to do simple tasks, and will automatically assist you in combat situations. Followers also can’t be killed by damage from enemies: if a follower’s health is reduced to zero, they’ll assume a kneeling position until they recover enough health to rejoin the fight. If, however, you accidentally hit your follower with a damaging attack or spell when they’re vulnerable like this, you can kill them, so be wary of fireballs, stray arrows, or careless weapons swings. Most importantly, followers serve as effective distractions, allowing you to engage enemies without receiving as much collateral damage. There are two followers that are easy to get towards the beginning of the game: Faendal, who can be recruited in Riverwood after completing a simple side quest, and Lydia, a Housecarl assigned to you by Jarl Balgruuf after completing the first portion of the Main Quest.

2. Be Smart in Combat.

Many monster types are dangerous for low level characters. Bandits and Skeevers may not pose much of a threat, but powerful wild animals like Sabertooth Tigers and Bears, tougher beasts like Trolls and Giants, and specialized humanoids like Witches and Necromancers can be deadly to new characters. As much as possible, try to engage enemies one-on-one, as multiple foes can quickly deplete your health. Use Sneak to deliver surprise critical attacks with a bow. Apply poisons to strengthen your melee weapons. Cast utility spells like Oakflesh to reduce the physical damage you receive. Drink resistance potions to lessen the impact of elemental damage (any one enemy uses only one of the three elemental types, except for certain boss monsters). Have the Unrelenting Force Shout ready to push dangerous foes away or off cliffs and high ledges, sometimes causing instant kills. Using terrain to your advantage is important. Fighting from high ground gives you a wider angle of attack on your enemies, and keeps you out of reach from melee strikes. There’s an AI quirk you can take advantage of, too: enemies can’t jump and similarly won’t pursue you off ledges, even low ones. Knowing this, you can dance around rocks, cliff faces, or raised platforms to stay just out of reach of your foes while you attack, forcing them to waste time running back and forth on stairs or ramps in their attempts to reach you.

1. Join the Thieves Guild.

You can join many factions in Skyrim, but one of the most critical ones to approach for new characters is the Thieves Guild. There are several reasons for this. For starters, joining the Guild gives you access to Fences, who are the only ones that can buy stolen goods from you. If you’re in the habit of pinching anything shiny you see lying around, this is an invaluable service to increase your wealth and manage your inventory. Secondly, being a member of the guild gives you some clout among city guards, who may accept bribes from you to look the other way if you commit a crime (e.g. thievery), or pay off your bounty for less than the full amount. Lastly, if you dedicate the time needed to clear the entire quest line, you’ll be awarded with the Amulet of Articulation, an enchanted necklace that increases your Speechcraft (improving prices for buying and selling goods) and allows you to automatically pass most Persuasion checks in dialogue, making many quests much easier and more interesting. Your pockets will most likely be filled with gold by the climax, too, and the Fences (you’ll eventually unlock five) will each have a whopping 4,000 gold to pay you for goods in the end. You’ll be rich in no time flat!

I hope that these tips will help new Dragonborns survive the perils of Skyrim. What are your favorite tips for new Skyrim characters?

How “Ultra” is Pokemon Ultra Sun?

A few weeks ago, I posted about my thoughts on the original Sun and Moon. In summary, I was pleased by the aesthetic but disappointed in the overall game design for a number of reasons. Did my playthrough of Ultra Sun address some of these issues? Perhaps. Read on for 🚨🚨SPOILERS🚨🚨 and my impressions.

A few of the changes in Ultra Sun are so subtle that they flew under my radar, mostly unnoticed but leaving me with that feeling of “Did this happen before?” or “Was this here in the first game?” Others had much greater impact. An obvious addition noticeable early on were the sparkling Totem Stickers scattered about Alola that serve as collectibles. It was fun to seek these out, although the reward (Totem Pokemon) isn’t all that spectacular. The menus have been spruced up visually to match Alola’s colorful nature. There’s a few subtle improvements to Pokepelago, like a more efficient Isle Evelup. A new Mantine Surfing mini-game allows you to travel between islands in style, performing airborne tricks “Snowboard Kids” style that earn BP (“beach points”) for good form. The new Battle Agency in the Festival Plaza allows you to use teams of rented Pokemon in battles, similar to the Pokemon Stadium games of old.

The most noticeable changes are in the overall narrative. Two new characters, Dulse and Zossie (or Soliera and Phyco in Ultra Moon), are introduced early on in the adventure. They’re members of the Ultra Recon Squad who passed through Ultra Wormholes into Alola. I found it odd they were forced into nearly every important scene, which made them somewhat of an annoyance. Dulse uses a new Pokemon, Poipole, against you in battle a few times, which is neat. Admittedly, their stiff attempt at the Alolan greeting at every meeting was endearing and is probably my favorite part of the duo.

The motivations of Lusamine and Team Skull’s Guzma were altered, as well. Lusamine isn’t possessed by an Ultra Beast this time around. Instead, she’s working together with the Ultra Recon squad to use Nebby (get in the bag!) as a battery to open up a wormhole to defeat Necrozma, which has stolen the light from the “other world” and now threatens Alola. It’s a more impactful premise with clear consequences for failure. In a somewhat predictable turn of events, Lusamine and Guzma are utterly defeated by Necrozma. This snaps Lusamine out of her temporary insanity, and it becomes up to you to defeat the rampaging Ultra Beast, who fuses with Solgaleo to steal its light, becoming Dusk Mane Necrozma. It’s revealed that the Z-Crystals used in Alola are the pieces of Necrozma that were lost, and its desire to drain the light from the world is driven by a desire to be whole again.

After you defeat Necrozma, Lusamine, Lillie and Gladion, a dysfunctional family I can relate to, begin rebuilding broken bridges. Moving on to the end of my Island Challenge, Poni Island features a significant change that I was pleased with. Trial Captain Mina, who previously had a laughably easy challenge, now tasks you with retracing your steps and defeating all the previous Trial Captains in battle. It was fun fighting against the teams of characters like Kiawe and Sophocles, who previously only sent their Totem Pokemon out against you. The game makes it easy to find these Captains, too–once you locate the first Captain, Ilima, he’ll escort you (i.e. fast travel) to the next Captain, and this continues on until you defeat everyone and return to Mina.

The ending is noticeably improved with several changes that I liked. The composition of the Elite Four was altered, with Kukui’s old adventuring pal Molayne unseating Hala, and the final battle is against Hau instead of the hunky Professor. In Ultra Sun, Hau comes into his own after Necrozma goes down, and he ends up ahead of you in Mina’s Trial and defeats the Elite Four first, finally earning his place as a true “Rival”. Although I was saddened to lose “Battle at the Summit” as the last boss theme, I feel Hau is a more fitting finale, with Kukui even pulling a “just kidding” moment before Hau’s reveal. The story closes with Lillie still in Alola, which feels much better compared to her disappearance in the original. Since Lusamine isn’t indeterminately ill this time, Lillie has no need to travel to Kanto. Instead, she stays with the others and even participates as a trainer (!!) in the post game content.

Speaking of the post game, there’s a much shorter Ultra Beast episode to tackle. After that’s completed, Team Rainbow Rocket appears, hijacks Festival Plaza, and subsequently takes over the Aether Foundation, turning it into a gaudy castle (possibly inspired by Bowser, I’d say). Inside, you get to fight against old enemies like Archie and Maxie from Sapphire and Ruby, Cyrus from Diamond and Pearl, Lysandre from X and Y, Ghetsis from Black and White, and–of course–Giovanni from the original Red and Blue. Each of these Team leaders have a Legendary Pokemon from their games, so be prepared for some tough and nostalgia-invoking fights.

All in all, I’m pleased with my return to Alola. The revisions made to gameplay mechanics and the narrative made it a worthwhile venture. Not sure how much I’ll stick around now that I’ve completed the post-game, though I did finally consolidate all my Pokemon to Ultra Sun using the Pokemon Bank. I’ll probably go back every now and then to power up a good team in preparation for the inevitable Pokemon Switch.

What did you think of the changes and improvements to Ultra Sun and Moon?

My Top 10 Favorite Alolan Pokémon

Pokemon Ultra Sun + Moon are releasing right around the corner, so I wanted to take a moment to rank ten of my favorite Pokemon from the latest entry. This list only includes Pokemon (and forms) that were introduced brand new in Sun + Moon. Here we go!

10. Minior (all forms)

Found exclusively on Mt. Hokulani, Minior live in the stratosphere and fall to the ground after consuming enough particles in the air. Inside every hard shell is a surprise when it’s cracked open: seven different color variations can be found along with an elusive Shiny version. Even though the different forms aren’t any different save aesthetics, I had fun trying to catch each one and add it to my collection.

9. Lunala

I won’t spoil Lunala’s origins here, but I will say that it’s my favorite of this version’s two primary Legendaries. With beautiful wings colored like the night sky, accented by crescent moons and stars, Lunala is known as “the beast that calls the moon”. I wonder if it’s met Skull Kid?

8. Comfey

In Hawaii, it’s traditional to receive lei for many special occasions: birthdays, retirements, promotions, and particularly graduations, where you’ll see beaming students barely peaking out from the piles of strung flowers, candy, and money draped around their necks. It’s fitting that Comfey was created to represent this important aspect of Hawaii’s culture. Be sure to get lei’d when you come and visit!

7. Komala

This adorable koala bear cuddling a log is one of the most unique creatures in the Pokemon universe. It spends its entire life sleeping, its movements merely a result of stimuli within their dreams. Being constantly asleep has its advantages: Komala have the ability Comatose, rendering them immune to all status afflictions (except sleep, of course), and they can still attack while sleeping. Neat!

6. Oricorio (all styles)

Oricorio, similar to Minior, have varying forms, one for each island in Alola. These Pokemon gain their unique appearances by drinking the nectar of different colored flowers, bestowing on them corresponding abilities and types. My favorite is the Red Oricorio, its plumage representative of a frilly flamenco dress.

5. Hakamo-o

I’m usually quite partial to Dragon types, and the middle evolution of this Dragon-Fighting hybrid appeals to me aesthetically more than its other forms. Its hard scales bestow the Bulletproof and Soundproof abilities, making Hakamo-o immune to many attacks. If you’re curious, “mo’o” in Hawaiian means “lizard”. Local legends are filled with mythical and sacred mo’o.

4. Alolan Muk

There’s a canal in Hawaii that has an infamous reputation: the Alawai Canal. Its waters are widely known to be filthy and contain a host of contaminants, and locals and visitors alike are warned to stay out of it. Curiously enough, it passes right alongside tourist town Waikiki before draining into the ocean. I imagine that the Alolan Muk thrive there, happily feeding off the disgusting gunk to attain its sherbet-like coloration.

3. Alolan Meowth

While standard Meowth excel in cuteness, the Alolan Meowth prefer being fabulous. These mischievous felines sleep most of the day (as cats tend to do), and become active at night to scour the dark streets for glittering coins. Dark is one of my favorite types as well, an attribute which easily secures Alolan Meowth’s high spot on my list.

2. Mimikyu

This spooky yet endearing Pokemon is one of the most recognizable creatures in Sun + Moon. Mimikyu spends its entire life hiding under a cloth, viciously guarding its true appearance from view. Those rumored to have seen it all mysteriously died soon after. This terrifying mythos reminds me of Hawaii’s Night Marchers, a procession of spirits that march to the sound of spectral drums and eerie “oli”, or chants. It’s said that simply looking at them is dangerous: if one of them meets your gaze, it could mean death for you or your loved ones.

1. Alolan Ninetales

Those of you closest to me know I have a soft spot for foxes. Vulpix and Ninetales have been two of my favorite Pokemon from the beginning. Seeing brand new, gorgeous Ice-type forms in Sun + Moon made me happy. Although Alolan Vulpix is just as beautiful (and quite cute, to boot), I chose Alolan Ninetales for my list for its regal, flowing tail and mystical, almost cloud-like appearance.

Who are YOUR favorite Alolan Pokemon? ⭐️

Being a Social Anti-Social

I may come across as a social person on Twitter. I tweet frequently, proactively respond to replies, and build rapport with my followers. At my job, I have to work with literally everyone in the company, communicate openly, and remain approachable even during difficult or stressful days. It comes as a surprise to many people, except perhaps the ones that know me best, that I’m extremely introverted. I don’t dislike being around others, which is a common misconception about anti-social folks; it just drains a lot of my energy to be in a social environment, and I can’t keep it up for extended periods of time.

There’s a lot of factors at play here. Being bullied as a child forced a lot of protective mechanisms into place that I have to actively control. Criticism of any kind, good intentioned or otherwise, makes me want to lash out defensively. I don’t take it well when others respond with little or no empathy if I’m trying to express my feelings. When I don’t know the details about something being discussed, I have an urge to either lie or get angry, mostly because I was teased for my lack of knowledge in popular culture; my nose was always in books or video games instead. I tend to make faces when something either pleases or displeases me, so I consciously make an effort to retain an appropriate expression. It tires me out when someone carries on endlessly and dominates a conversation. I’m sure there are a lot of other things that go through my mind during interactions that I can’t think of at the moment.

With all these different pieces in motion in my head, sometimes all at the same time, I get exhausted fairly quickly. Because of the nature of my job, I interact with people constantly, whether they’re calling with questions, stopping by for discussions, or collaborating with me in meetings. There are many days when I get home and just want to curl up in a dark room and go to sleep. On the weekends, I hesitate to invite friends over or even go out of the house because I’ve had more than my fair share of socializing during the work week. Again, it’s not that I don’t want to see the people I love; it simply takes a lot of conscious effort and energy to have those interactions. I cringe when coworkers suggest going out for drinks after work, and I constantly avoid company events like the holiday parties.

Over the years, I’ve learned to cope and accept this little quirk of mine. It takes a little less effort now to subdue my internal defense mechanisms during conversations, though at this point in my life I know they’ll never be shut down for good. I’ve also found better people that understand rather than belittle my personality and don’t get miffed if I decide against hanging out sometimes. It’s easier for me to socialize in a comfortable or familiar environment like my own home, and it’s been great having friends over occasionally to play games and such.

I’m not sure why I decided to write about this. Maybe I feel misunderstood by some and had to try and explain it. Maybe I just needed an outlet for my feelings. 😌

An Odyssey in Pictures

I completed the main story of Super Mario Odyssey today, and I have nothing but praise for Nintendo’s latest entry in our mustached hero’s legacy. From start to finish, Odyssey delights. The worlds are meticulously detailed, beautifully rendered, and filled with secrets: Power Moons, purple coins, and hidden challenges. Cappy adds a new element of gameplay that not only gives Mario a new set of moves, but opens up fresh mechanics in every level. Become a dinosaur that can smash rocks, goombas that can stack, bullet bills that can fly, podoboos that can safely traverse magma, and much more.

I’m doing something different with this post, and including some screenshots of my journey. WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS INCLUDED.


On we go!

Mario can become a wide variety of creatures in his quest, including a melon that can extend its vine-legs to reach high places and avoid danger.

You can bet I took a lot of photos of Bowser along the way. Here’s a shot of his punch-glove hat.

Mario Odyssey is a beautiful game. I took a break at the top of New Donk City after nabbing an out-of-the-way Power Moon.

One of my favorite worlds was a spooky ruin with a terrible dragon as the boss.

Each world has its own unique aesthetic, and is populated by colorful denizens. In the shot below, I took control of a Podoboo with Cappy.

Mario meets a lot of new friends in Odyssey, including these adorable chubby seals.

The final confrontation takes place under a cathedral on the Moon. You can’t get much more epic than that.

In typical outlandish fashion, Bowser makes a grand entrance at the climax of the game, complete with Peach trussed up by a hanging chain (like Super Mario RPG).



The final moments include a terrific boss battle and an escape/survival sequence, ending with what I consider Nintendo’s personal love letter to me: you get to toss Cappy onto Bowser and use him to escape the crumbling base. I was grinning from ear to ear.

The post-game activities include a tour of Mushroom kingdom and Peach’s castle (Yoshi on the roof included!), and a slew of new things to find in each world: you can race with Koopas, find Peach in her travels, and uncover a slew of new Power Moons released after the destruction of Bowser’s moon base.

All in all, Odyssey was a delightful experience that’s continuing to deliver. I’ve got a lot more to do and plenty of things to find. There still seems to be one final destination waiting for me out there, so I’m off to find it!

Thank you Nintendo for the fantastic Mario entry. ❤️

My Top 5 Favorite Mario Platformers

With Super Mario Odyssey’s October 27 release date closing in, I wanted to take a few moments to reflect back on my five favorite Mario platformers. This list excludes all the spin-off titles and different genres that Mario has ventured into thus far, and Super Mario Maker (which to me is on another level completely). As Mario would say, “Here we go!”

5. Super Mario 3D World – Wii U

Probably my favorite iteration of simultaneous multiplayer experiences in Mario games, Super Mario 3D World expanded on the gameplay of the New Super Mario Bros. series and placed our beloved heroes back into a 3D environment. The addition of Peach as a playable character (complete with her floating ability), a fun competitive points system, a tantalizing world map full of little secrets, and a set of hidden collectibles to find in each stage easily makes Super Mario 3D World my favorite multiplayer Mario game.

4. Super Mario Bros. 3 – NES

Back in the good old days of the NES, Super Mario Bros. 3 reigned supreme as my favorite Mario title. Coming off the good but completely different Super Mario Bros. 2, Super Mario Bros. 3 added the world map that we’re all familiar with today, and sprinkled it generously with secret Toad houses, alternate paths, and powerful items. The wacky Koopa Kids made their first appearances here, assisting Bowser in his princess-napping ways. We got some of the best power ups in Mario history in this entry, too: the Tanuki Suit, the Frog Suit, the Hammer Bros. Suit, and Kuribo’s Shoe, to name a few!

3. Super Mario Galaxy – Wii

Super Mario Galaxy took the 3D environments introduced in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine and gave us something on an even larger scale: planets in outer space. The nuances of planetary gravity and the round shape of many locales marked a unique and satisfying outing for Mario that felt so much bigger than previous games. We also met the beautiful and regal Rosalina along with a brand new race of star-creatures called Lumas. Rosalina has since become a staple in Mario spin off titles, securing her place alongside Peach and Daisy as recognizable Mushroom Kingdom royalty.

2. Super Mario World – SNES

Building on the foundation of Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World transports Mario into the 16-bit era and adds a slew of fun features. While the power ups were toned down a bit from 3, we get to meet Yoshi in his first platformer and explore a world map rife with secrets: stages often had more than one exit to discover, opening alternate paths and hidden levels. Some of my favorite things to do included scouring each “red dot” in search of elusive keys, and finding the star-shaped transporters that sent you up to the challenging Star Road.

1. Super Mario 64 – N64

Ranking consistently as one of my favorite games of all time, Super Mario 64 was Mario’s first foray into 3D. At the time, the (somewhat awkward) polygonal graphics and expansive environments were a sight to behold, especially with the novelty of its design during that era of gaming. With Peach’s castle as the hub, Mario could leap through paintings into a variety of different worlds, searching for Power Stars to gain access to deeper parts of the castle. Fields, mountains, oceans, deserts, volcanoes and ice fields sprung to life and were a joy to explore. This entry marks the first time we hear the voices of Mario, Peach, and Bowser, with Charles Martinet taking on his iconic role as Mario for the first time in a video game.

Mario Odyssey is SO CLOSE! What Mario games were YOUR favorites?

My Dream Pokemon Game

With Ultra Sun and Moon on the horizon, I’ve been thinking back on my experience with the OG Sun and Moon. In truth, I was let down by this latest outing. On one hand, I thoroughly appreciated the obvious nod to Hawaii and its unique blend of cultures; I got to educate a lot of you about malasadas and how delectable they are, for starters. I never felt stereotyped or offended by the game’s representation of my home state, and the effort put into research and fact checking was clearly recognizable. The cast of characters were a fun and colorful bunch; Team Skull lead the charge with their over the top hand gestures and theme music. Speaking of music, Sun and Moon’s soundtrack is easily one of the best in the series. The final battle theme, “Battle on the Summit”, has become one of my favorite video game songs.

Beautiful setting and presentation aside, Pokemon Sun and Moon fell short in a few key areas. Progress felt awkward, and besting Trials didn’t feel as rewarding as collecting those shiny gym badges. They were definitely novel ideas, but failed to deliver the challenge and sense of accomplishment I desired. Hau was a likable yet ineffective rival who seemed to always be a few steps behind you. The composition of the Elite Four wasn’t much of surprise, which took away a lot of that feeling of awe since you’d seen most of them before. The post-game content felt empty and lifeless, an afterthought held together poorly by a handful of interesting new Pokemon. One new mechanic I did enjoy was the Ride system, which eliminated the need for pesky HMs and the oftentimes weak, hard-to-Forget moves they contained.

It sounds like a Pokemon for Switch is in the works, and here’s a list of what I’d like to see implemented and/or return from previous entries.

Gyms: This is an obvious one in light of my previous comments. I liked Gyms. They were these grand setups put together by the best Pokemon Trainers of each region, and were designed to test your mettle as a trainer. If they make a return, I want to see more from them: more engaging puzzle elements, tougher crony trainers, and Gym Leaders that use teams not only focusing on certain types, but built to deal with counters to their chosen types, as well.

Smarter Battle AI: It’s easy to take down most trainers in a Pokemon game by throwing out the right type counters, but what if the opposing AI-controlled trainers detected your strategy and reacted appropriately? What if your foes switched Pokemon to avoid weaknesses, always picked moves that are super effective against your Pokemon (and alternatively never used moves that produce “No Effect” or “Not Very Effective”), and made better use of status altering moves and items? As a way to keep the game accessible for all audiences, it would be great to include this as an optional “Hard” or “Expert” mode for seasoned Pokemon players who want a more difficult challenge from single player.

Customizable Home Base: The Secret Base was a cool feature from Ruby and Sapphire that could be fleshed out a bit more. Not only should you be able to collect all kinds of Pokemon knick knacks from your adventures and display them in any way you choose, but also show off trophies of your accomplishments, assemble teams of your favorite Pokemon for other trainers to test their mettle against (AI-controlled while you’re not present), grow and harvest Berries, purchase available items (i.e. ones in shops you’ve already visited) from a mail order catalog, and send/receive mail and/or gifts to players on your friends list. Your Home Base should be a place you can retreat to during your adventure to take stock in what you’ve done and prepare for the next leg of your journey.

All-Pokemon Safari: While this may be a stretch, I would love to see an area you could go to (most certainly post-game) where you have a chance to catch ANY Pokemon from the venerable series, save perhaps the Legendaries which might be released on a limited rotation and require certain items or tasks to be completed. Imagine the teams you could build with full access to all the series’ Pokemon! It would require work and dedication, but this would give newer and veteran players alike a chance to truly “Catch ‘em All!” without relying completely on Wonder Trade.

Class / Career Path System: One idea I frequently have about Pokemon is a job/class or career path system. Your trainer could have different skills or bonuses depending on your choice at the beginning of the game. Pokemon Trainers (in the traditional sense) might give bonuses to the IV potential of a specific Type they choose when creating their character; Breeders’ Pokemon might have a greater chance to see positive effects in battle from strong bonds with their Pokemon; Nurses (think Nurse Joy) could use an ability that fully heals all the Pokemon on their team, which recharges after a reasonable cool down period; Scientists could see greater effects from using items in battle and have a chance to get multiple uses out of one; the possibilities are limited only by the imagination.

Defending Your Champion Seat: It would be neat to occasionally defend your supremacy from other trainers vying for the top spot in the region. As part of the post-game activities, you can sit in your Champion’s throne and take on a gauntlet of challengers, receiving items and other bonuses for winning. Losing wouldn’t be an option!

Photo Booth Mode: Take selfies of yourself and your Pokemon (one or multiple), all with customizable poses, frames, props, backgrounds, environments, filters, and lighting effects. You could post the pictures in your home base or share them online, adding a taste of creativity and personal flavor to your experience. I know several of you who would go gaga over this mode.

These are just a few of the ideas I have in my head about the potential for Pokemon Switch. What do you want to see in the next Pokemon entry?

National Coming Out Day

Coming Out was a long process. As a young kid, I didn’t think about sexuality much, if at all. Part of that came from being sheltered as an only child. Sure, I gravitated towards characters like Sabin from Final Fantasy 6, and something about the Orcs in Warcraft 2 was profoundly intriguing, but preteen me never connected the dots to my sexual orientation. I simply liked what I liked and didn’t question it.

Moving on to intermediate school, I was frequently accused of being gay. One boy in particular would constantly make comments about my wardrobe and associate my choices with homosexuality, which triggered staunch denials from me because I didn’t want to be any more different than I already was. It was hard enough getting picked on for being chubby, dorky, and awkward. This is probably when I decided to check myself in to that closet we all talk about, though I didn’t consciously know what I was doing back then.

As I maneuvered my way through high school, I increasingly used video games as an escape, and male characters continued to pique my interest. Seifer from Final Fantasy VIII was probably the first game character I recognized as “attractive”, even though he was a bully and a jerk. At school, I had found a small group of friends, but I was afraid to confide my confused feelings to them. I pretended to like girls because that seemed to be the right thing to do. Even so, things like being in the locker room after PE class made me uncomfortable because the hidden part of me wanted so desperately to be curious, but I was deathly afraid of what the other boys would think if they saw me peeking at them. I naturally ended up going to junior prom with a girl, my best friend at the time, which was enjoyable.

Towards the middle of my senior year, one of the boys in my little group of friends got it into his head that I was gay, and pressured me relentlessly to come out and admit it to him. By this time, another boy had come out to the entire class, and he was mercilessly bullied for his bravery. On top of the fears I already had, seeing the way my fellow classmates treated him pushed me even deeper into the proverbial closet, and my friend’s persistence began to rub me the wrong way. There came a breaking point, as you might expect, and I spent the rest of my senior year in self inflicted isolation and loneliness. Graduation night was simultaneously a relief and filled with overwhelming sadness about everything I threw away.

My college years stabilized a bit, but the various traumas from high school kept me in denial of who I really was. I met a great group of guys and gals during my time living on campus, and we spent a lot of time playing video games together and hanging out. It helped to repair my critically wounded soul, and I felt a bit more human again. I was still lying though, and even pretended to be attracted to one of the girls we hung out with, which was an awful thing to do in retrospect. In truth, I was a bit taken by the guy that lived next door to me in the dorms, and we became good friends. He was a bit dumb at times, and I spent many hours telling him that his horrible girlfriend at the time wasn’t good for him. I guess you could say he was my first crush.

In my second year, the people in charge of student housing moved me erroneously to a new place, so I had to get accustomed to an entirely new group of people. By a stroke a fate, one of my roommates was an old friend from elementary school, and his girlfriend would be the one to set me on the path to truly coming out. She was a nice girl who liked video games and Inuyasha, so I bonded with her quickly and we talked about all kinds of things. One day, we were in the dorm together, just the two of us. The guys had all gone out to get some lunch. She came and sat next to me, and asked “Travis, are you gay?” There it was. That question I had been avoiding and hoping not to hear. I denied it at first, but she politely let me know that other guys had come out to her too, so I didn’t have to be afraid. Something in my heart told me I could trust her. “Yeah, I’m gay,” I admitted. She hugged me. “When you’re ready,” she said, “I’ll help you come out to the guys, too.”

That one act of kindness took the edge off the fears I’d held on to for years, proving to me that being gay wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Within a few days, I took her up on her offer and came out to the other guys in our group, and they were completely accepting and cool about it. Over time, I became more comfortable with who I was, even openly declaring my gayness on MySpace, which is how I met my husband (though that’s another story in itself for another day). I was lucky to have that kind, caring friend to help me start my journey, which I believe is one of the reasons I advocate kindness to this day.

One last thing I wanted to touch on was coming out to my mother and the rest of my family. For some, coming out to mom and dad is a difficult and life changing experience, not always for the better. It was a mixed bag for me. Several months after I came out to my friends and to myself, I decided it was time. Her reaction was disappointing but expected. She went through a period she called her own “coming out” and we didn’t talk for a few months because of confused feelings on both sides. In time though, she came around to full acceptance and is extremely supportive of me today.

Coming out is hard. We all have different circumstances and although we can find similarities in our stories, everyone’s experience is unique. Don’t assume you understand what any particular person is going through. Be supportive of your queer friends that wear their colors proudly, and equally supportive and respectful of those who aren’t quite ready to do that yet. NEVER out anyone else, no matter what you may think or feel. Be kind today. Much love to all.

Taking an Inventory

There’s been a lot of tragedies this year, both natural and man-made. Last night’s terrible shooting in Las Vegas continues a frightening escalation of gun violence in the United States. Puerto Rico is struggling to cope with total devastation while our government tangles itself in red tape instead of providing the necessary aid. These two examples are only the tip of the metaphorical iceberg; it’s been a rough year overall.

Every time something happens, it’s disheartening to see the response of our fellow human beings, putting selfish things like wealth and/or political motive over the safety and well-being of others. After a while, it’s natural to lose faith in humanity. I certainly wouldn’t blame you. It’s a startlingly logical path that I’ve wandered down many times. It’s much too easy to fall into that vast pit of despair and hopelessness at the end.

There’s a few reasons I haven’t completely lost hope. First and foremost, there are people in my life that depend on me. They’re fighting their own personal battles and I can’t leave them on their own. I’m needed. Second, there are good people around me serving as a reminder that not all is evil in the world. Some share my passion for gaming, and others are as shocked as I am about the state of our country and the world. While I don’t have many local friends, Twitter is a welcome reminder that I’m not truly alone in the friendship arena.

My last reason may seem a little strange, or perhaps naive. I still believe, despite all the evidence against it, that human beings as a species are inherently capable of good. While there are quite a few of us that make terrible choices, as a species the good far outnumber the bad. You might scoff at me for saying this; it’s a natural reaction in this day and age. The monsters certainly get more screen-time than the heroes, which can feel overwhelming and scary.

It’s more important now than ever to focus on what you have and what you can control. I implore you today to step back and take an inventory: your family (if they’re good to you), your friends, your spouses, your children, your pets. Remind them that you love them, spend time with them, thank them, do a random act of kindness. Make it a habit and stick to it.

Then, if you have the capacity, contribute to larger causes. Donate money to relief efforts: Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Mexico, Florida, Texas, and now Las Vegas could all use the help. Speak out for what you believe in: call congressmen, write articles, post on social media, attend protests if and only if you feel safe doing so. Most importantly, take care of yourself. You can’t be there to support the ones you love if you don’t. If you’re unable to help a larger cause, do not feel ashamed. Achieving personal growth and thriving in a world like this is one of the biggest forms of protest.

Take care of yourself, take care of each other. Much love to all.