31-Day Game Challenge

  • Day 2 - Favorite Opening Level

    The Last of Us

    Spoilers for the opening of Last of Us

    Naughty Dog knows how to do an opening. The intro to The Last of Us is a masterful showcase of design that slowly unfolds and gives you all the right amounts of visual information and control. It's a slow burn that lets you take your time as things unfold before you, catching fire by the end, but I think that certain pacing decisions definitely put it up there for me as well.

    Beyond the expert pacing this section has in slowly ramping up the tension and danger, there are also very key design decisions that help with its emotional effectiveness and our own personal stake as a player. As the level begins, we don't play as Joel, we play as Sarah, and when Joel is again introduced, he shoots an infected neighbor who breaks into the study. Joel has the gun, we don't. We understand that we're safe with him.

    After more visual storytelling throughout the journey to the city, we are in a car accident and everything goes dark. When we regain control, we're now playing as Joel, and Sarah's leg is broken. Based on how Joel was presented to us in the previous scene, we know our role now, as this character, is as a protector. So we flee the city as best we can, with infected screaming at our back, eventually finding an armed soldier. He's instructed to shoot us.

    In the scene that follows, Joel tries to brace against the bullet spray but Sarah is hit and dies in his arms. This scene sets the tone for how we then feel playing the character for the rest of the game. It's a twenty minute gut punch that wouldn't be nearly as emotionally effective if it weren't paced or directed as well as it is. Having the player begin as Sarah allows us to have emotional stake in both characters, and helps us understand how both may be feeling as she's dying in those final choking moments. As Joel, we feel especially hurt given we know it was our job to protect her. It's a burden we carry for the rest of the game.

  • Bioshock opening level is very special to me. The plane crashing into the sea, the mysterious lighthouse you see in the distance as a guiding beacon towards safety. Heading inside you bear witness to a huge golden statue of Andrew Ryan and a banner that reads "No gods or kings only men". You then take the stairs down to the bathysphere taking the lift and descending down into the underwater metropolis of Rapture and you see a video of Andrew Ryan and his iconic speech "Is a man not entitled to the sweat of his brow? No says the man Washington it belongs to the poor. No says the man in the Vatican it belongs to god. No says the man in Moscow it belongs to everyone. I rejected those answers, instead I chose something different, I chose the impossible, I chose Rapture." Then the underwater city is unveiled in front of you teeming with life, mysterious string music and further insight by Andrew Ryan himself. Just before the scenic tour of Rapture concludes the lights go out, you hear a man whimpering and begging for his life-and a splicer rips the man to shreds-now you've gone from paradise to horror in one of gaming's most jaw-dropping openings of all time.

  • Day 2 - Opening Level
    Crash Bandicoot

    N. Sanity Beach really stuck with me for some reason. I really like that from the very start, we already see Crash looking like a total goof, looking at the camera and smiling after waking up at the shore. It's a very simple level, which makes it feel inviting in a way. It's also such a cozy level to start with. The vibe of the beach feels kinda jolly, and the music feels mischievous and also curious about the world we're currently in.

    Youtube Video

  • Gonna go with Journey. The dune surfing, the soundtrack, the realisation you're interacting with another human. It just works! And it's representative of the whole game and works well as a subtle tutorial.

  • Day 3 - 8-Bit Game


    I can't think of many better 8-bit NES games to talk about in October than the one and only Castlevania. While Konami may have abandoned the legacy of much of their properties, back in the day when they could do no wrong, the released one of the classic Nintendo games that was a celebration of everything classic and Gothic horror.


    From Frankenstein to Madusa and even Death, no monsters will stand in your way to taking down the biggest bad of them all, Count Dracula. While the jumping today is a little bit clunky, get past that and there are so many different weapons and options you can do to approach each level. It will challenge you to your core but make you love every second of it.

    Oh, and the soundtrack is just sublime.

    Youtube Video

  • Here's a boring answer, Tetris. Have no idea how many hours I spent with it on the Gameboy. Getting really good and seeing the game in real life, trying to fit stuff you see together. Buildings, cars, books. ­čśü Dreaming of Tetris. Hearing the game when you aren't playing. All normal stuff.

    Such a simple concept, so perfect.

  • @happygaming I haven't played too many NES games, but Castlevania is definitely my favorite one. I replayed it on the PS4 collection, and it still holds up. The music especially is wonderful, I don't mind dying and restarting over and over again because of it.

  • Day 3 - 8-bit Game
    Ice Climber

    When I was around 8 years old, I used to have a bootleg Chinese consoles with a bunch of random NES games on it, and while I would get bored easily on most of them, I just kept coming back for this one. I really, really enjoyed the act of punching holes on the ceiling to get to the higher floors. There's just something about the sound effect and the animation of the ice climber that makes it so fun for me. The console lasted for a couple months before it broke, and I got a GBA as a replacement sometime after that... which also came with a bootleg cartridge that has random NES games, including this one.


  • Day 2, opening level

    Mario Kart 8 (Wii U, 2014) - Mario Kart Stadium

    Youtube Video

    This isn't in my top 50 games of all time. But opening levels are typically not very flashy. They tend to be a scant taster of things to come. MKS, on the other hand, is one of the flashier tracks in the game. Also very fun to time trial. Perhaps the best song in the game too.

  • Day 3: 8-bit game

    The Legend of Zelda (NES, 1986)

    Youtube Video

    I'm not a fan of 8 and 16 bit games, or even most early 3D games. I'd prefer to put a Game Boy game in this spot, but I have to save that for later. So Zelda it is, for having a good amount of depth, a solid art style, and music as good as any game in the series.

  • @oscillator
    I thought it was Reduce, Reuse, Revenge

  • I'm making the executive distinction that "Console Exclusive Series" is tied more to brand and not console. I was trying to think of series that started and ended on one console, having no sequels on subsequent platforms, and that was just really hard. They do exist, though. So if you can't find one, just focus on the brand exclusivity and not the console itself. With that out of the way:

    Day 4 - Console Exclusive Series

    Tomba (PS1)

    A lot of people haven't ever heard of Tomba, but this is a series of two games that began their life and died on the PlayStation 1. It was made by an ex-Capcom employee, Takuro Fujiwara, who directed a lot of NES titles including Ghosts and Goblins, Bionic Commando, and the inspiration for Resident Evil, Sweet Home. He also helped come up with the idea for the original Resident Evil. After he left the company, he started studio WhooPee Camp, and made a game about a little pink haired feral boy named Tomba who goes around levels and eats pigs and solving quests.

    Both the games are largely nonlinear and incorporate elements of adventure games with certain characters needing items for individual stories, who then give you items which will help you progress in the game, Metroid style. You can pounce on dudes and throw them, but also have a ball and chain that you can use as a weapon as well. It's a really interesting set of games!

    I never got to finish them when I was younger, which is a shame because if you want to pick them up now, they've definitely gone up in price for the retro-game enthusiasts.

    But if you want a unique and jolly game that is recognizably its own thing despite what it borrows from, definitely look into this one!

    Youtube Video

    Youtube Video

  • Day 4 - Console Exclusive Series
    Gravity Rush

    Despite only having two entries (and it might be the only two ever released in the near future, sadly), I am already so engrossed to the world of this series. It's gravity focused gameplay is not for everyone, but as someone who really enjoys flying in games, I think it's a really unique take on that concept. The first game is a solid debut that introduced this wonderful world pretty well, and it showed me great potential. The second game makes good use for that, and pretty much improved on all fronts, with more interesting characters, substantial worldbuilding, smoother gameplay with more varied styles, emotionally charged soundtrack, and a climactic final act that left me speechless. Gravity Rush 2 is definitively one of my favorite games ever, and even in it's weaker parts, it still has a lot of heart to show. A third game is like the highest dream in video games now for me, considering GR2's disappointing sales and the subsequent early support shut down for it.

    Also, I really like that the two games have two different cities that feels completely different from one another. Hekseville is a surreal place that feels kinda weird and abstract in it's design and vibes...
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    ...while Jirga Para Lhao is this almost tropical place that feels more grounded in the harsh realities of that world, in more ways than one.
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    Here's one of my favorite tracks from the series.
    Youtube Video

  • Danganronpa

    Out of all the series' I've played nothing is as delightfully bonkers as the Danganronpa series. Sure the games rely heavily on text and therefore reading, but if you can bypass it you'll be utterly treated to some of the most off-the-wall characters and situations you will find in any videogame. Monokuma is deliciously devious and is such an evil, cunning but hilarious bear villian-always cropping up onscreen to interfere in serious conversations-and seeing as he's the figurehead of the despair that goes on in the series-he's a very nosey character who is voiced perfectly. I don't know if I can explain further about the games without spoilage, but certain characters like Byakuya and Toko and their interactions together make my eyes bleed with laughter and bewilderment. There's really nothing that approaches Danganronpa when it comes to berserk hilarity-a series that any anime videogame fan really should check out if they aren't averse to reading lots of text-although there are a handful of cutscenes too. You can take your Personas and your Yakuzas and they will fail to compete with the mind-melting lunacy that goes on in Danganronpa. Here are a few of my favourite tracks from the series.

    Youtube Video

    Youtube Video

    Youtube Video

  • Day 5 - Overworld or Hub World

    Final Fantasy VI

    There are a lot of overworlds that I'm very attached to as a fan of the JRPG genre. These are essential; the living and breathing space where your world is given legs and the characters are given locations and history to exist believably. One of my absolute favorites has to go to Final Fantasy VI, a game that doesn't just lay out a world and give it history, but changes and adapts to the story being told throughout the adventure as well.

    You're progressively introduced to the map throughout the adventure and slowly gain an understanding of the geography. It's overwhelming in the beginning and seems so large, but as you meet new characters, they all seem to have a place they come from that you can remember from the story to attach them to. Whether it's the castle of Figaro, the dingy, rundown town of Zozo, or the iconic and cold mining town of Narche, these are important and memorable places with things that happen on top of them being visually, thematically and musically unique. We grow attached to many of these places like they are characters themselves even though they don't really change.

    Spoilers ahead - Actually, they do.

    Three fourths of the way through the game, after you think you're going to fight the final boss the last time, he goes completely crazy and destroys the world, fracturing the landscape you came to know, as well as pretty much everything else; the party and the people who live in each place. The rest of the game takes place in World of Ruin, the same world you came to know, but everyone is broken now, like the world, trying to recover and survive in a bleak landscape. Towns are different, people are different, and now it's about trying to get the band back together in the same way that by the end you hope you can put the world back to some state of sanity and health, or maybe even better than before.

    World of Balance and World of Ruin aren't just places where you select where to go next in the story, they're an essential element that is a character unto themself; changing, growing and dying just like characters we follow as we progress through it. It's a world living worth saving.


  • Day 5 - Hub world or overworld
    3D Dot Game Heroes

    Honestly I had a hard time thinking about this one, so I choose this game despite only playing like 30% of it back then. I just love the art style of this game in combination with the music. It feels so jolly. I still accidentally hum the overworld theme every now and then.

    Youtube Video

  • Day 6 - Game that makes you feel relaxed

    Aer: Memories of Old

    After a rough day, sometimes I'll install this game and just fly around for a little bit. The music is incredible, and the lo-fi polygonal graphics just have a coziness that's just so easy to get lost in. There's never any real danger of failure or death, but the game allows you to explore to your heart's content; through the clouds finding animals on floating islands and ruins that hold ancient history. It's too bad the studio went bankrupt, I would have loved to see what they did after.

    Here's a bit of the soundtrack and a trailer with the game in motion.

    Youtube Video

    Youtube Video

  • Day 4, console exclusive series

    I take "console exclusive" to mean "only released on console, not handheld/PC/arcade/mobile". And one of the few series that I can attach that description to AND enjoy multiple titles in is Project Gotham Racing. Specifically, 2 and 4.

    2 refined what 1 (an original Xbox launch title) started*, with tighter physics, better lighting, bigger environments (hello Chicago and N├╝rburgring!), more modes, a bigger soundtrack, and most importantly, online play. It was the definitive racing game on Xbox Live for the original Xbox. If you weren't playing Halo 2, you were playing the community gametype Cat & Mouse:

    Youtube Video

    ---> More on 2 <---

    4 is one of the most visually impressive games on the Xbox 360, and was a huge step up in every way from the wonky 3, which was rushed to make the launch of the 360. It ramped up the environment size even further with New York, and fairly successfully added bikes to the mix (the turbine bike is one of the coolest licensed vehicles ever in a game). The gameplay isn't quite as addictive as 2's (it feels a touch more technical), the tracks tend to feel more dreary (part of it is a greater emphasis on inclement weather), and I don't remember any of the soundtrack. But the production values are utterly rock solid.

    Youtube Video

    Microsoft had gone all-in on the blander Forza series by this point though, chasing the sim crowd, and gave PGR 4 little marketing.

    *PGR is a spiritual successor of Metropolis Street Racer, but is quite distant in a technical sense.

  • Day 6 - Game that makes you feel relaxed
    Tetris Effect

    TE is a very unique game for me. The trippy visuals and amazing soundtrack, combined with the modern Tetris gameplay, made me feel things that I never really felt before while playing a puzzle game like this. The range of emotions that this game can make me feel is pretty awe-inspiring. I'm not very good at Tetris, so nowadays I just play one of the relax playlists just to wind down. The Sea playlist is my favorite one, I'm in love with the underwater feel of it.

    Youtube Video

  • Day 7 - Indie Game


    This was one of the most powerful games I've played in a long time. I even wrote a podcast episode about it. Celeste is tough as nails but never sticks your nose in your failure the same way a lot of other games do that pride themselves on overcoming obstacles. The difficulty is specifically what the game is about; overcoming the things that are the most difficult that seems impossible, but it's about the encouragement and support necessary to overcome it. It wasn't easy, but after dying thousands of times, I beat every level in the game, after multiple times stopping to tell someone I didn't think I could do it or that it was impossible. Shortly after every time, I would get that drive, and the pieces fall into place.

    Perfect control, amazing art, and outstanding tracks from Lena Raine.

    Here's an abridged video version of the podcast episode I wrote for those interested.

    Youtube Video