Zelda Game & Watch

A few weeks ago I ordered a treat for myself:  the Nintendo Game & Watch: Legend of Zelda.  It’s a nifty little device, based on the old Nintendo Game & Watch LCD handheld games.  Nintendo revived the concept with handhelds themed around Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda.

The units usually retail for $50, but Amazon had this unit on sale for $42.50 (now it’s around $45, I believe).  Amazon was also offering $10 off any order to try their location pickup and locker service, and I used some credit card rewards to whittle the final price down to $25 out-of-pocket for yours portly.

I then promptly forgot about it until nearly a week after it had shipped to the store for pickup.  I realized that I was too late, but hoped the pharmacy pickup location had not returned it.  I managed to rush over there between lessons one afternoon, and was thrilled to find my purchase still in their storage:

Zelda Game and Watch Packaging

This little unit is packed with goodies:  The Legend of ZeldaZelda II: The Adventure of Link; and The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening.  There’s also an old-school Game & Watch-style game featuring Link, and a full-color clock that emits a quiet electronic “tick” every second, and features Link scurrying around Hyrule, slaying monsters.

Those three Zelda games are my favorites.  I still remember getting Zelda II: The Adventure of Link one year for my birthday, and my mom telling me to go ahead and play it before my younger brother woke up, because he would demand the controller (some things never change). The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening was one of my favorite Game Boy titles.

I’m also a huge Zelda fan, and always have been.  The series and its focus on exploration, action, and puzzle-solving have always drawn me in, and I used to design my own maps and monsters as a kid.  The music has also always been inspiring, and I even arranged the iconic theme song for my old group, Brass to the Future:

I finally cracked the unit open last week, and pretty much lost all of my free time to playing The Legend of Zelda.  I realized I had never beaten the game before, so after nearly thirty-five years (the game reached the United States in 1987, and I think we got our Nintendo Entertainment System Christmas of 1988), I decided to sit down and finally defeat Ganon.

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TBT: SimEarth

I’ve been on a video game kick lately, diving back into the Civilization games and listening to a lot of the Gaming Historian on YouTube.  As such, it seemed like a good time to look back at another video game post, one about the planet simulator SimEarth.

SimEarth was one of those games that I found instantly appealing—a massive simulator of an entire planet, going through all its geological, biological, and civilizational phases.  Even growing up in a household that rejected the theory of Darwinian evolution (a theory I still don’t accept, although I acknowledge that adaptation and mutation are both possible and happen frequently), the prevailing scientific understanding of our world made for a fun video game.

The possibilities were endless.  Want to be a Deistic god and let the world run on its own?  Go for it.  Want to interfere frequently in your planet’s development?  Do it!  Want to make starfish or Venus fly traps sentient beings capable of forging an advanced civilization?  Why not!

I used to be able to make pretty compelling planets in this game, with rich histories and multiple species in succession rising to sentience, before heading off an intergalactic journey of the stars.  Apparently, I lost any skills I had, as my last game a couple of years ago (detailed below) ended in nuclear winter.  Oops.

With that, here is 27 May 2020’s “SimEarth“:

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Civilization Series: Slayer of Productivity

The school year is winding down for yours portly, but before the clock stops and summer begins, there’s a flurry of last-minute activity.  This week is exam review week, which means an odd mixture of light and easy classes alongside frantic preparations for exams.  For students, it’s studying for the exams that has them stressed; for teachers, it’s putting the exams and their related review guides together.

In college, exam week was the time of the semester I squeezed in the most gaming.  Paradoxically, it was when I had the most free time.  I’d spend a few hours over the course of the week reviewing notes for history exams, or memorizing the singing exercise for my Jazz Theory final, but would spend the rest of that unstructured time diving into games, notably The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.

Now I have far more responsibilities, but exam week still offers some unstructured time to get things done (most importantly, grading all of those exams!).  Unfortunately, I picked this weekend to dive back into Civilization VI, specifically the vanilla version on my Nintendo Switch Lite.

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Midweek Game Review: The Longing (2020)

As I’ve gotten older, I don’t have the opportunity to game nearly as much as I did as a teenager or college student.  I probably ill-spent too much of my youth playing video games, even though some of those games were steeped in lore, exploration, and critical thinking.  Now I actually get paid to play video games with kids a week or two every summer!

Otherwise, I don’t game nearly as much as I used to, and while that’s not necessarily a bad thing, I do enjoy the opportunity to revisit old favorites and try intriguing new games.  My taste in games, like my taste in films, is eclectic, but increasingly inclined towards the experimental and quirky.

Enter The Longing, a 2020 indie game that has you controlling a tiny Shade who, after 400 days of waiting, must awaken the great, slumbering king of the underground.  The king must sleep for 400 days in order to regain his strength, at which time he will “end all longing” forever.

In the meantime, the Shade keeps a lonely vigil—for 400, real-time days.

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Guest Contributor: 39 Pontiac Dream on Traveller’s Tales

As an early Christmas gift, we have a contribution from regular reader and occasional contributor 39 Pontiac Dream.  Ponty typically contributes photographs (see here, here, and here), but he’s also quite an accomplished writer in his own right.  He contributes posts to the English blog The Conservative Woman, a favorite among my readers.

That said, TWC hasn’t always been eager to print Ponty’s video game-related writing.  Their high-brow editorial and submission standards are The Portly Politico‘s gain:  now we get to read Ponty’s writing on video games here!

I’m also excited to have more guest contributors.  We’ve heard from photog in the past, as well as newcomer Son of Sonnet (read his Gemini Sonnets here, here, here, and here).  Now we have good ol’ Ponty pitching in.

As the blog evolves and its audience grows, I am hoping to host more guest contributors.  The pace of daily blogging has been difficult the past few months with work and other commitments, so having some other writers share the load certainly helps.

And, of course, I’d love to be able to compensate these writers (though Ponty has told me several times that getting published is enough for him).  Your subscriptions to my SubscribeStar page have made some minimal patronage possible; please consider a subscription or donation to keep things going and growing!

Regardless, Ponty has written a very detailed mini-history-cum-review of British game developer Traveller’s Tales, which has published a number of LEGO games.  Ponty and his wife are avid gamers, and Ponty seems to have a soft spot for these games.

I have not made any major changes to Ponty’s submitted text, other than adding an apostrophe to “Traveller’s.”  I’ve even preserved the charming “u” in “favourite,” to make sure the piece preserves its distinctly British flavo(u)r.

But enough of my yakkin’.  Here’s Ponty:

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Game Review: Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution

Last week I took some time to play a few games, notably The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.  Once my niece and nephews arrived, though, I didn’t have time for much else (although we built some cool planes and helicopters with a big bin of LEGOs).  They love Uncle Portly’s “devices”—my Nintendo Switch Lite (the “big device”), Nintendo 3DS XL (the “medium-sized device”), and Nintendo DS Lite (the “small device”).  My older nephew will spend hours building levels in Mario Maker 2 if left to his own devices.  My niece usually ends up with the “medium-sized device,” leaving my littlest nephew to play whatever I happen to have that will run on the DS Lite.

In digging around for games a two-year old could grasp, I found my old copy of 2008’s Sid Meier’s Civilization Revolution.  It’s an interesting, almost “abridged” version of the full Civilization experience—what would now be a cellphone app.  The game contains the major elements of a Civilization game from the Civilization IV era, and the game bears the stamp of many of that iteration’s innovations (as well as one of the major contributions from Civilization III, culture borders).

Naturally, my nephew wasn’t going to be playing that, but I popped it in one evening after the kids went to bed and found the game highly entertaining.

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Morrowednesday: Back to Vvardenfell

Finding myself with a good bit of unstructured time this week, I decided to revisit a game I haven’t played in nearly sixteen or seventeen years:  The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind.  The game was released right at the end of my junior year of high school, in May 2002.  I was familiar with The Elder Scrolls from picking up a copy of the first game, Arena, in the used games bin at Electronic Boutique in the Aiken Mall sometime back in middle school.  Arena came out in 1994; it was probably around 1997 or 1998 when I picked up my copy—including a mousepad map of the Tamrielic Empire and two fat instruction booklets.

That was back when the Internet was not so readily available (I don’t think we had it at home until the year 2000 or 2001), so playing big, open-ended roleplaying games like those in The Elder Scrolls series required a great deal of study before and during play.  That also meant actually reading the information characters imparted, and learning by a great deal of trial and error.

When Morrowind released I’d preordered it based solely on how much I enjoyed Arena.  Arena is very clunky by today’s standards (it was made for MS-DOS, after all), but the breadth of the world, as well as the game’s roots in tabletop roleplaying games, really drew me in.  I figured that if Morrowind was built on the same dedication to pen-and-paper roleplaying, it would be a blast.

Well, I was right.  Morrowind is, perhaps, the best game I have ever played.  That doesn’t mean it is flawless; indeed, Elder Scrolls games are notoriously buggy.  Morrowind is no exception.  But bugginess, clunky combat, and a steep learning curve aside, Morrowind delivered on the promise of an open-ended roleplaying experience, while also delivering an incredibly dense story, and a world jam-packed with characters, locations, quests, and lots of random oddities.

Somehow, though, I haven’t touched the game for any significant length of time since probably 2006.  The release of two follow-ups, Oblivion (the only time I skipped a class in college—a University Band rehearsal—was the night this game was released) and Skyrim (which came out on 11 November 2011, the year I began teaching again) would continue the series, but see it lose much of its depth of mechanics to become a more streamlined action RPG.

To further indicate this blog’s slide into pop cultural irrelevancy, I’ve decided to chronicle my newest playthrough here on The Portly Politico, doing so on Wednesdays when there is not a sonnet scheduled and when I have played enough to write something of interest.  In other words, the second and fourth Wednesdays in the month, and the fifth Wednesday when one appears in a month.

I’m dubbing these posts Morrowednesdays.

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Minecraft Camp 2021 Begins!

Yesterday marked the first day of my school’s annual Minecraft Camp, which I host every June.  Minecraft Camp is a great deal of fun, and it’s probably the single most lucrative event for yours portly all year.

Last year I was very sick, so I had to hand Minecraft off to another colleague.  I hated to miss it, not only because of the nice little paycheck it brings, but because it’s so fun seeing what the kids come up with in-game.  I’ve been working Minecraft Camp since 2014, and have been running it since probably 2017, and I’m always impressed (and amused) by what the kids come up with.

As such, I’m thrilled to be back.  As best as I can tell, this year’s camp is the biggest attendance in the history of camp, with the possible exception of the inaugural 2014 camp (based on a photograph from that camp, I count fifteen campers, but I know of at least one student not pictured—he’s working as a counselor with me this year!).  We have sixteen kids signed up, and I have three young men working as counselors with me, two of whom were in Minecraft Camp when they were younger.  With yours portly tossed into the mix, that twenty very old desktop PCs up and running in the lab.

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Dorfromantik

Now that I’m enjoying the unending freedom of summer vacation, I’ve finally taken some time to play video games.  I splurged a bit last week and picked up a casual little indie game called Dorfromantik, from the four-man German development team Toukana Interactive.  I caught the game on a 20% off sale, but full freight is $10, so it’s an easy lift.  The game is still in early access, meaning that it’s technically not finished, but from my time playing it, it seems very solid, stable, and complete.

It’s also incredibly fun.

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