Backloggin’ the Year – The Backlog Boondoggle, January to March 2021
Welcome to Backloggin’ the Year, a feature that discusses the challenges and excitement that comes with working through your backlog. In this edition, Pascal Tekaia sheds scalding tears of shame as his backlog refuses to budge a single inch.
It’s already March. It’s already March!? Not only was it not exactly my goal to make my backlog feature a quarterly rather than a monthly thing, but it feels like I have very little backlog progress to actually show for almost three months of gaming time. I played a bunch of games (I’ll be covering fourteen of them here today, and there were still more besides), and still almost none of them so much as scratch the surface of the backlog goals I had set for myself back in January. I did, however, also spend quite a bit of time stalking the digital streets of Tokyo’s Kamurocho district, which I’ll be covering in its own post soon.
The RPGs: Vampyr, Tales of Vesperia, Persona 5
Of the three RPGs I’m covering in this outing, Vampyr is the only one I’ve rolled credits on. And it really was a piece of my backlog, so I’m quite happy to cross it off my list. It’s a promo disc given to me during an interview at Focus Home’s booth at E3 a couple of years ago, making it a unique piece of my collection.
Overall, I had a good time with the game. I love dark themes, and an RPG about vampires hit me just right. The early twentieth-century London setting was great, too, and I got more than a few chuckles out of the in-game posters warning about infectious outbreaks and urging citizens to stay indoors, being in a global pandemic ourselves and all. The bits of world-building were great, as reading letters and diaries written by random citizens is one of my favorite ways to experience an interesting setting. But I wanted more: more ways to explore the city, more options to role-play as a vampire and maybe abstain from combat altogether, and more variety in the moment-to-moment gameplay. I tend to be slow and meticulous when I play games, so I spent a long time with Vampyr. Also, I felt the game’s first half to be considerably more challenging, before it plateaus and even becomes a bit trivial after a certain graveyard boss battle.
I was getting into a good early groove of busting up my backlog, and figured I’d keep the streak going by finally laying Tales of Vesperia to rest. This was my third attempt at getting back into the game, and it stalled again after that one session. Turns out I really hate this combat system. I just don’t get how to make good use of the 3D battle arena when characters only tend to run on a two-dimensional axis. Combos are slow and constantly lock me into lengthy animations. While I can get past regular mobs, boss battles are not enjoyable in the least. I want a good story, and Vesperia‘s animated skits are fun (if decidedly last-last-gen in appearance). But the combat is such a beast that it’s taken me off the game on three separate occasions now. Oh, and Yuri’s exposed chest (which makes him look like a geriatric 80-year-old man) is very off-putting; I can’t for the life of me figure out why this little detail in the character model wasn’t changed for the PS4 edition.
I won’t pretend to deserve a feather in my cap for spending some time with Persona 5. Yes, it’s a game from my backlog I want to get through, and, yes, I’m playing a now-inferior version, though it’s what I’ve got and I’m sticking to it. But I simply didn’t spend nearly enough time with the game to give it more than a passing mention this time around, maybe only the first two to three hours. At that pace, maybe I’ll get through this one in time for 2023.
The Non-RPGs: Dead Cells, Immortals: Fenyx Rising, MediEvil, Planet Alpha
On paper, roguelikes aren’t for me. There’s not a whole lot I’d get out of repeat runs, procedurally-generated or otherwise. I certainly don’t go seeking them out. But the couple of times I fell into the one or other odd roguelike, I became surprisingly sucked in. Such was the case with Dead Cells, though, granted, it does tweak the formula with action gameplay and permanent upgrades, which helped a lot. I spent a good amount of time with this game, largely because the final boss represents such a shift up in difficulty, and the path to get to him usually required at least an hour’s worth of time investment from me per run, only to be destroyed within seconds. When I finally conquered him, that was it for me. No DLC, no 100% completion, just chalk one up to simply finishing a fun game and move on before it becomes tedious.
In-between bouts of nonogram puzzling (see below), my Switch played host to one game in particular this year. Let’s just get this out of the way: Immortals: Fenyx Rising is the Breath of the Wild I really wanted. A wide-open world to explore? Check. Lots of quests and a main storyline to pursue at my leisure? Check. Individual mini-dungeons to seek out and clear along the way? Check. All of this, and no sign of a weapon degradation system in sight. And all of this wrapped in a genuinely funny story steeped in Greek mythology. It’s no wonder I put in over 50 hours and still am only somewhere around the halfway mark, by my best estimation.
It’s always surprising to me how many games I missed out on over the years. It’s not like I took a break from gaming during the late ’90s — I purchased several PSX and PS2 systems because I was constantly playing them. Still, I somehow never tried any of the MediEvil entries, though I know some swear by them. So I scooped up the modern remaster and gave it a whirl. Now, I’m no graphics snob, and the game looks, honestly, fine. But man, those gameplay controls were — and still are! — absolutely horrendous at times. It was the early days of 3D game spaces, and it really shows here. Some flaws are charming and should be retained, but not in this case, and the overhaul sadly did not happen. By the time I finished the game, I was only missing a few quick achievements for the platinum, but once that was done, I couldn’t uninstall the game fast enough!
I purchased Planet Alpha as a lark, and I think that may be the most apt summation of the game I can provide. I remember playing it for a few minutes at E3 a while back, but just as “what was that one game where you walk around on that one planet?” And that’s pretty much Planet Alpha, just several hours of that. On the plus side, the game looks great; those background vistas are quite gorgeous and worth their own mention.
The Adventures: Cloudpunk, Gorogoa, Shady Part of Me, Chronicle of Innsmouth
Since Cyberpunk 2077 didn’t make its way out of my backlog stack this time around, another cyberpunk-themed game had to serve. Cloudpunk caught my attention as soon as we started covering it on the site, and when a physical copy was made available, I knew I wanted in on this. I’ll admit I didn’t “get” the game at first — you literally do nothing other than fly around the city to various destinations and listen to the story unfold. But once I understood that was the point, it became such an enjoyable part of my evenings, and I was genuinely sad when it was over.
When you don’t want to get caught up in yet another mammoth 50-plus-hour RPG, sometimes a game like Gorogoa is just the ticket to fill up a couple of hours on a single afternoon. Sliding in and out of scenes to manipulate the scale, viewpoint, and how different scenes fit together became a highly enjoyable mental exercise to while away a single day. Shady Part of Me is a similar story, only this time it’s a little meatier, and the focus is on a light/darkness dichotomy. You’ll need to guide two characters — a girl and her shadow self — through a number of stages, manipulating light sources to clear a path for both of them. Some (very) light platforming is also required. There’s a narrative thread running through this game, but I found this aspect to feel unsatisfying and far too vague to enjoy. Finally, I started up old-school point-and-click adventure Chronicle of Innsmouth, and from what I’ve seen of the first hour or so, it’s quite good! If it’s Lovecraftian, it gets my attention, and the real draw here is to complete this to play the second installment that releases in just a few days.
The Rest: Picross S, PictoQuest: The Cursed Grids, Piczle Quest
And here we are, at the embarrassing end of an embarrassing start to my backlog quest, where I spent an embarrassing number of hours on not one, not two, but three different nonogram puzzlers on Switch. I’d completed most of Picross S in 2020, so the first few days of January saw me mop up the leftovers, which should, by all accounts, have put puzzle games on a long hiatus for me. I blame what comes next squarely on Paws…
On the Game of the Year podcast, Paws mentioned a nonogram game she was playing on Switch. It sounded like fun. I went and looked for it and found PictoQuest: The Cursed Grids instead. It was not that great, more like baby’s first nonogram puzzler. To be fair, the puzzles themselves were fine, but the story — the thing that sounded like it would add so much to the overall experience — was utter garbage. After finishing this, I went back to the eShop, and this time actually found Piczle Quest, the game Paws was originally talking about. It’s proven to be quite addictive, and a great thing to keep busy with when putting on a movie commentary in the background (yes, I’m one of those people!). My only complaint is that a few too many puzzles rely on perfectly symmetrical objects, so solving one side becomes a simple process of repetition for the other side.
That brings this particular chapter to a close. Hopefully, I’ll be able to make a better dent in my backlog for next time and keep to a more timely publication schedule. I’m always shuffling around deadlines and upcoming projects in my head, and I’m getting closer and closer to clearing a bit of space on my playlist to devote to that stack of games next to my TV, always growing larger, always taunting me.
2021 at a Glance
Total Games Completed: 11
Total RPGs Completed: 2