Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games for Nintendo Switch

It’s no secret I’m largely a fitness gamer – my most-played games for 2021 were Just Dance 2021, Fitness Boxing 2, and RingFit Adventure. Recently I realized that I’ve been neglecting a very fun and relatively active game that also acts as a somewhat ironic time capsule: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020. The actual games were postponed to 2021, though still held in Tokyo, but luckily Mario, Sonic, and friends had no such restrictions.

Reminding me most of the Wii Sports suite that was popular when I was younger, Mario and Sonic at the Olympic Games features a variety of Olympic events, including sprints, long jump, discus throwing, archery, canoeing, swimming, boxing, and many more. Using physical activity to simulate the actual athletics is one way to play (and the way I chose) but there’s flexibility built in so that controller buttons can also be used.

I loved that this game was active but not as strenuous as others, and it has a lot of flexibility. It would make a great party game or group activity since it takes pretty much an equal mix of skill and luck to do well. Longtime gamers might enjoy the 1964 Olympics mode or the story mode that makes it a more cohesive experience. But I advise anyone who’s looking for a lively gaming experience with old friends Mario and Sonic to give this game a try – especially if the cold of winter makes you long for summer sports!

Did You Know It Was a Book First? The Witcher series by Andrzej Sapkowski

I love comparing books to their TV or movie adaptations – ask me about The Devil Wears Prada sometime. Right now, as the new season of The Witcher launches on Netflix, I’m reflecting on my recent read of The Last Wish by Andrzej Sapkowski, the book which first introduced Geralt of Rivia to the world – and eventually rocketed him to fame in video games and now as played by Henry Cavill. Here’s my breakdown of this iconic fantasy franchise, then and now.

ON THE PAGE

I expected a much darker, gritter fantasy than this actually turned out to be. This first book, The Last Wish, acts as a series of short vignettes as highly-trained and lightly superpowered Geralt goes on his adventures fighting monsters for money, and in fact most of these vignettes read as retellings of classic fairy tales. I identified, among others, one like Snow White and one like Beauty and the Beast, both of which seem to echo the source material with wry humor and a good dose of feminist reality check. Along the way, interspersed chapters start to hint at a larger story to come, linked to Geralt’s history with sorceress Yennefer – who’s finally introduced in the book’s final story revealing how Geralt and Yennefer first met. Important themes include what makes a monster, lesser vs. greater evils, and the losses in lifestyle and belonging that happen as society changes. While obviously standing apart from the rest of society, Geralt is very human and sympathetic, and his good friend Dandelion adds even more lightness and humor.

ON THE SCREEN

The show (currently only available on Netflix, and not on DVD or Blu-Ray) takes full advantage of its medium to expand as much as possible – Yennefer gets her own dose of screen time instead of only being seen from Geralt’s perspective, and Geralt’s backstory including his childhood is explored in much more detail. Geralt himself, however, is much less talkative in the show than in the books, which may be because in a visual medium, more nonverbal communication is possible. Another obvious change is one in translation – in the books Geralt’s troubadour friend is identified as Dandelion, but on the show they kept his Polish name, Jaskier, which actually literally translates to ‘buttercup’ in English. And of course, because The Last Wish functions more as an introductory book than a plot-driven one, the stories in the show are also from later books than the one I read, and expand more on various battles and events. In the interest of full disclosure, I drew most of these insights from others’ perspectives, as at the time of writing I haven’t yet seen enough of the show to comment.

Speaking for myself, I think I’ll enjoy both equally as each uses their medium to full advantage; I prefer a chatty, relatable Geralt but I love the idea of showing Yennefer’s perspective and keeping Dandelion’s original name. I’m definitely looking forward to reading more books in this series and catching up with the show. If you’re into fantasy that’s exciting but not too heavy, I recommend reading The Last Wish for a bit of adventure, or at least background context for your next binge-watching session.

Cris Tales for the Nintendo Switch

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to experience the past, present, and future all at the same time? Do you like games filled with adventure, fantasy, and cute animal side kicks? Cris Tales might be the game for you!

This Japanese Role-Playing Game (JRPG) follows the story of orphan, Crisbell. Crisbell is an ordinary girl, until one day she discovers she is a Time Mage. With her new found abilities to jump from the present to the future or the past, the fate of the Four Kingdoms lies in her hands. She must defeat the fear mongering Time Empress! However, Crisbell isn’t alone in her fight; allies from around the kingdom Christopher, Willhelm, and more band together. She also relies on her animal sidekick, Matias, who guides Crisbell through this brand new world of being a Time Mage.

Cris Tales is surely to be a new favorite JRPG. Right off the bat, the player is immersed in the drama surrounding the Four Kingdom’s fight against the Time Empress. The player learns a lot of the important skills at the beginning of the game. Cris Tales also allows you to venture off and explore. You can talk to multiple townsfolk and learn more. The plot is fun and easy to follow.

The turn based fighting style, allows the player to think through the moves they want to make. I liked this concept for the game. Some traditional RPG’s can get intense with the fight scenes, and by the time you think about what to do, you have to start over. The turn based element keeps the fight scenes simple and kid friendly.

Cris Tales is available on the Nintendo Switch and the Xbox One/Series X.

Fitness Boxing 2 for Nintendo Switch

Need to get out a little frustration, but still like to move to the beat? Then you might like Fitness Boxing 2: Rhythm and Exercise, a game for Nintendo Switch. I came to the game hopeful, because I’ve liked the boxing and kickboxing I’ve tried in the past, but skeptical that it would measure up to the other, very robust, fitness games I’ve already discovered on Nintendo Switch.

Fitness Boxing starts with a comprehensive tutorial walking you through the moves and the basic game interface and how to set your goals and customizations, and only after you’ve completed the tutorials can you unlock other portions of the game. I liked that this was a cumulative and careful learning process, but sometimes I like to drop in and figure things out as I go, so I thought it was a pity you couldn’t skip some of the early steps to just start experimenting. The more I played, however, the slow and steady unlocking of more features made the game addictive and rewarding. Not to mention the fact that jumping into new moves and routines without knowing what I was doing led to some serious sore muscles.

The game integrates the instrumentals of some well-known pop songs (Katy Perry, Ed Sheeran, and Marshmello, among others) into its workouts, which I found really helpful when trying to stay on the beat (apparently boxing is all about rhythm?) though I did get distracted trying to sing along. And distraction is BAD in this game, because timing is everything. If you don’t move at just the right time you’ll miss your punch and lower your score, and along with it your “estimated fitness age” that’s calculated at the end of the workout. Me personally, I didn’t really appreciate some trainers’ vaguely judgmental commentary on your performance and estimated age, but maybe that’s just me. Either way it wound up working a number of muscles I forgot I had, and even virtual jabs and uppercuts are strangely cathartic. The specific punches are surprisingly technical and hard to get right, and the instructors (of which there are a pretty good variety to choose from and personalize) are animated in a vaguely unsatisfying style that doesn’t move totally naturally with the actual movements you’re doing – this is mostly concerning in the stretching portion, where doing it incorrectly has real consequences.

All around, it wasn’t the best Nintendo Switch fitness game I’ve tried (Zumba Burn It Up still holds that spot), not least because it’s oddly challenging in unexpected ways, but it’s a solid contender to have in your rotation of virtual workouts. If you like fitness video games, learning in cumulative chunks, boxing, and lively animation, you might enjoy Fitness Boxing 2.

PGA Tour 2K21 Video Game

guest post by Anthony

When I was a kid I loved playing the Tiger Woods PGA Tour golf games but it has been quite a while since I last played one. I’ve been an avid golfer for most of my life though I’ve fallen off a little bit over the last couple of years. This summer I’ve been making an effort to get out on the course a lot more often and it’s been fun to get back into one of my favorite hobbies. It has been so much fun in fact than in addition to playing golf in real life I’ve also been eager to get back into playing virtual golf as well. PGA Tour 2K21 is the more recent golf simulation game that has come out and I’ve been really enjoying my time with it.

The game looks amazing with a multitude of real life PGA Tour courses on offer, including our local TPC Deere Run which hosts the John Deere Classic over in Silvis, Illinois.  The team behind the game scanned all 15 of the real courses from the game so all the bunkers, water hazards, and fairways match their real life counterparts. The visuals and sound effects do a lot to showcase the beautiful courses and the gameplay mechanics make it almost as much fun to play as real golf. Swinging a golf club in the game is intuitive and when you make mistakes it is easy to see what you did wrong, something that is not quite as easy to figure out in real life.

The game has a couple of main modes. The two biggest are the PGA Tour mode were you create a golfer than work your way up from the Korn Ferry Tour to the PGA Tour, while unlocking new gear, clothes, and sponsors along the way. This is the main mode that I’ve been playing and I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. The other main mode is multiplayer. I’ve played a couple of games online with friends and it plays just like single player does, just with other humans instead of the computer. It’s fun to be able to play on a bunch of tournament level courses that I will likely never have the opportunity to play on in real life. I can play them a lot better in PGA Tour 2K21 than I probably could in real life as well.

PGA Tour 2K21 is available on Nintendo Switch and XBox One.

New Pokemon Snap for Nintendo Switch

If you’re an action / military / sports gamer, I’m very sorry, I still don’t have any recommendations for you. If you like gentle, low pressure games, though, I’ve got another highly-anticipated gem to recommend: New Pokemon Snap.

I’ve heard lots of hype surrounding this release and I believe it’s warranted: this game from the Pokemon universe lets you live out your wilderness photographer dreams seeking and documenting various Pokemon in their natural habitats. The game play is relaxing and easy to learn, and you get a thrill of exploration and discovery along with bonus points for capturing particularly good photos.

Here’s the basics: you’ve joined the research team of Professor Mirror, who’s studying Pokemon behavior with the help of his assistant Rita (and some others). He gives you a pod to travel in and a camera to take photos with, and he sends you to various nature preserves. Your pod travels slowly along a preprogrammed course, and it’s your job to keep your eyes peeled for Pokemon along the way. Your camera can scan your surroundings, identify Pokemon, and zoom in to take good photos, and you also have a supply of fruit to toss to attract hungry ones. You must go back to the same course a few times to level up and unlock a new area, but there’s always something new to discover. You can also go to the courses at night to see a whole new set of Pokemon and behavior, including the mystical Illumina effect.

With beautiful scenery, cute creatures, and a variety of courses to unlock, this is a great game to get lost in, and another good entry point into the Pokemon universe. I myself got quickly addicted and was very sad to have to turn the game back into the library. Don’t miss it!

Animal Crossing: New Horizons on Nintendo Switch

If your 2020 experience was not accompanied by the soothing background music of this gently capitalist video game, this is the time to check it out – not only for the fun experience of playing, but because soon you may be able to visit the Davenport Library in-game! Keep an eye on our website and social media for more details on that programming opportunity. For now, here’s all the other reasons to try the game.

Animal Crossing is (and as I understand it, always has been) escapism at its finest. The idea is, your character has decided it’s time to get away from modern life, and so takes advantage of a unique opportunity: making a new home from scratch on an uninhabited island! In another game, this would be a grim process, probably involving dying of scurvy or dysentery along the way, but not in Animal Crossing. You’re taken under the wing of the Nook family — Tom, Timmy, and Tommy — who guide you every step of the way in creating your island paradise. (Incidentally, you also go pretty heavily in debt to the Nooks, but they’re nice about it and don’t charge interest.) You start out small, building tents, inviting villagers, upgrading to buildings, learning to craft things, catching bugs and fish for the local museum, and more pleasantly domestic tasks. Eventually, you can build bridges and ramps, or reshape the land itself. Everything turns on the idea of customization: lots of options are provided for you to make everything, from your own appearance and clothing, to island decor, to the island landscape itself, into whatever you want it to be.

If it sounds incredibly self-indulgent, it is – but the capitalism previously mentioned offers some valuable parallels to the real world, including using a banking terminal, depositing money in an account, selling items to make a profit, paying off loans, etc. The game is also seasonal and continually updated: each season corresponds to real life in both weather and wildlife, with a number of festivals and holidays bringing special in-game events.

There’s also an excellent social component of the game: a good deal of your success revolves around building good relationships with your adorable animal villagers, recruiting others, making sure everybody gets along, and just generally making the island a nice place to live. Eventually, with the proper memberships and resources, you can visit other players’ islands and share gifts. As previously mentioned, this means you can also visit the library’s island paradise, coming soon! If you’re looking for a gentle, social escape video game, I recommend giving Animal Crossing a try.

Prey Video Game

guest post by Anthony

2017’s Prey is a game I’ve been meaning to get around to playing for quite a while now. Thankfully, I finally got it this winter and I’m glad to report that it exceeded all my expectations.

Prey primarily takes place aboard Talos 1, a research space station run by the TranStar Corporation that orbits Earth. The station is an expansive environment that includes the various labs, offices, and community spaces that the hundreds of scientists and other workers stationed aboard the station need. It turns out that TranStar has been secretly studying alien life aboard the station until they break containment and infiltrate the station leading to the deaths of the majority of the population aboard the station (shocking how these types of things anyways happen to mega-corporations who secretly find alien life in sci-fi stories). You play as Morgan Yu, Vice-President and head of Research for Transtar. You explore the now near deserted station trying to find a way to stop the aliens from reaching Earth while also trying to save the few remaining humans left on board.

Prey does an excellent job building a very interesting setting aboard Talos 1. The different areas of the station are full of interesting details about the world of the game, the work that was done in each of the locations, and the people who worked there. Prey also gives the player a variety of interesting tools to explore and interact with these spaces. There is an upgrade system that depending on which options you choose will change how the aliens, the surviving humans, and the security systems aboard the station react to you. The system also gives you different options on how to approach each problem in the game and gives plenty of opportunities to fight through encounters, sneaking through them, or talk your way through them. While the initial set up for the plot is a little cliché the game does a really good job with a few key plot twists and some interesting details to make the world feel very unique. I really enjoyed playing through Prey and would highly recommend it to any action or adventure game fans out there.

This game is available in XBOX ONE and PS4 formats.

Late Adopter Video Games for Nintendo Switch

Your favorite newbie gamer is back with some new recommendations for you! The theme of this post: late to the party. Not only am I discovering gaming later in life than most, I’m discovering the most popular video game genres later than most people. Read on to discover which iconic video game universes I finally tried and loved in 2020. (Not mentioned: Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — see Wes’ great post about that one.) The second theme of this post is: never too late! If I can achieve my childhood dreams through gaming as an adult, you can too. So don’t be afraid to give these games a try; they’re tested and approved by the clumsiest new gamer there is — me.

First: I heartily recommend Zumba: Burn It Up as a fun exercise game. Yes, I’m definitely late to the Zumba trend, but it was worth the wait. What I really liked about it was the ability to practice Zumba moves and get comfortable with them in the privacy of my own home, on my own schedule. With the video game format, there’s even a degree of feedback that you get to help you improve. Maybe someday I’ll drag my hermit self into a Zumba class, but right now I love being able to do fun things on my own without having to schedule it in and survive crowds and awkwardness. If you’re like me and you’ve always wanted to try Zumba but never had the time, check out this game for a nice intro.

Second: I’m not proud of this, but it’s taken me until now to finally break into Pokémon. Again, I always wanted to be a part of the fandom, but could never figure out how. Well, now I’ve found at least one way to experience it: with Let’s Go Pikachu or Let’s Go Evee for Nintendo Switch. It’s an accessible game for those new to both video games and the Pokémon universe, with good tutorials and fairly intuitive gameplay. It’s low-pressure with achievable goals, and for that reason fairly addictive! Also, as I always suspected, the Pokémon are incredibly adorable and fun to interact with, which never hurts. If you want to finally achieve a childhood dream (like me), relive your fond childhood memories, or introduce someone new to a cute and fun world of training and battles, I definitely recommend one of the Let’s Go games.

Finally, as a bonus for anyone who’s super bored with my newbie enthusiasm for established games, I want to share a quick summary of a fun genre I’ve discovered that hopefully is new(er) to you: the visual novel game. In my opinion it’s a great fusion of video game and novel. The story is engaging, the visuals are good, the mood is restful, but you have to take action to move the story forward, immersing you in the narrative. My favorite from the library is Arcade Spirits, a romantic comedy visual novel where your customized character finds purpose, friendship, love and fun working at the local arcade.

Another type of visual novel game is the murder mystery. As a big reader of murder mysteries, especially historical or classic murder mysteries, these games’ style and story are a great fit, and the gameplay gives me good practice working through puzzles. For a version of this game genre available from the library, try Deadly Premonitions: Origins, where you help a detective investigate the murder of a young woman in a small town.

Untitled Goose Game for Nintendo Switch

Perhaps you already heard about when Untitled Goose Game took the gaming world by storm. If you haven’t, I’m here to tell you that not only is this game good fun, it’s now available for Nintendo Switch, and you can check it out from the library! The game is built on a simple premise: a goose (that’s you, the player) wanders into an ordinary village to ruin everyone’s day. That’s it, and it’s fantastic.

One thing I liked as a newbie gamer is the game’s structure, in which you learn both in building blocks and by being creative. You unlock one area of the village at a time by crossing items off your to-do list (it’s a great list, including ‘lock the groundskeeper out of the garden’, ‘make someone buy back their own stuff’, ‘get on TV’, etc.) and each section lets you build skills and strategies that help you in the next, more complicated section of town. But there’s no particular order of tasks you have to do, and no instructions on how to get them done. You learn how to move the goose, make it pick things up and (very importantly) honk, and then your job is to wander, explore, and experiment until you figure out how to do things on your own. This makes it a good game to build your creativity and strategic skills in a low-stress environment, with simple, charming art and occasional musical accompaniment.

I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed being the town nuisance, moving people’s possessions around, chasing and honking at them. It was almost like a release valve for all my petty frustrations and rude impulses, and the structureless, low-stakes feel of the game made me feel free and empowered to take action (albeit impolite action) in the world. All in all I would recommend this game for all ages as a lighthearted romp with some psychological benefits.