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Blog of the year 2019

It’s the end of another year and it is time for Klax.  Oh, wait, that’s not right. Let’s try this again. It’s the end of the year, and I asked members of the Cane and Rinse team to tell me about their most memorable gaming moments of the year; a fond (or sometimes not so fond) look back at the moments in games this year that stuck with us. Let’s see what memories were forged in 2019…

Michiel Kroder – A Dance with Dragons
It’s not always that easy to find the time to play videogames for me, but for my doing I’ve been able to play through quite a lot in 2019: from getting through the last stretches of [very DOOM – ed], realising a two loop clear on Super Ghouls’n Ghosts and learning all the patterns in Furi, to blasting and slashing my way through the later half of Kid Icarus: Uprising during my trip to Nepal, playing through Donkey Kong Country 2 and 3 in full for the first time and braving the grotesqueries of both Evil Within games, just to name a couple of highlights. Apart from that, I’ve also been able to dip my toes in a couple of new releases like Devil May Cry 5, the Resident Evil 2 remake, Rolling Gunner, Astral Chain and Fire Emblem: Three Houses.

But interestingly enough, my most memorable gaming experience of 2019 must have been with a game that’s probably of an altogether lesser quality than the titles I’ve named above. A game that was induced to the veritable Hall of Shame of Angry Video Game Nerd reviews a long time ago: Double Dragon III: The Sacred Stones.

double dragon 3

I’ve known for a while now that the third Double Dragon outing on the NES isn’t half as bad as such a dubious honour would lead you to believe. In fact, the graphics and sound of the game rank pretty high in their categories of the system’s library and the game’s mechanics are pretty technical and interesting for an 8-bit beat ’em up.

It’s just that it has horribly broken difficulty, thanks to only giving you one life and an energy meter that gets depleted faster than in the original Japanese version. After beating the stage 2 boss, however, you will obtain him as an extra character with a beautiful, precious, additional health bar of his own. And a second boss will join you on your quest for the sacred stones after stage 3.

Up until I decided to return to Double Dragon III in my Live from MK Home Base stream for Cane and Rinse’s Twitch channel, I was never able to endure that initial hump of the first two stages. But eventually, on my first 2 hour live stream of the game, I finally did it… and pushed all the way through to the final stage, no less!

I can’t tell you how good it feels to break the broken difficulty of a game deemed impossible without save states by many that have tried their hand at it, live and with an audience. And while I have yet to clear the full game, victory is so close I can already taste it.

Rich Davison – A Monster Among Men
The Monster Hunter: World Iceborne DLC makes no concessions to new players. It requires a player to have completed the end game content of ‘vanilla’ Monster Hunter: World. As a consequence, your average pick up group are honed, experienced in teamwork and dangerously equipped.

This is useful of course as the difficulty leap in even the most basic of hunts in September’s DLC is noticeable. Generally, If you’re interested in being a success in Monster Hunter, you’re going to want to get very good, very quickly at poking, cutting, bopping or shooting angry spiky creatures. But there’s an alternative for the conscientious objector, the elusive hunting horn. So rarely do you see one that I’d all but forgotten they existed.

This year, I found myself in a group with a hunting horn (bagpipe to be precise) player who left me in awe. To the untrained eye, you’d see this humble piper gracelessly waddle out of harm’s way, piping discordant, bladdery notes – so dulcet yet so dissonant.

As I recall he was clad in Tigrex armour (from a returning monster) and I assume that through a specific gear setup that this maestro had found a way to administer continuous, communal healing to the team. This allowed everyone to tank all blows from the foe and output serious damage to the wyvern. I’ve never seen that mysterious (presumably) Scot since and I imagine that with their work done, they disappeared Mary Poppins-like into the great unknown, smug with the knowledge they blew my mind. 

What I’d actually witnessed there was one of the most elegant gear set ups, from an unpopular player type that often feels superfluous, except here they commanded the battlefield. Thankfully, thousands of hours into the series and Monster Hunter World: Iceborne continues to both delight and surprise. Seeing this combination of thought and skill for the first time was wonderful, a great example of the depth of the game.

Thomas Quillfeldt – Interstellar Celebration
Outer Wilds is billed as a pure exploration and puzzle game set in an ever-restarting pocket solar system. But, as with the film Gravity (which I saw in amazingly immersive 3D IMAX), it quickly turned into a horror experience. 

Getting flung helplessly into the deepest reaches of space; lifted clean out the atmosphere by a weather system; spotting something, then feeling like my senses had betrayed me when it vanished; plunging into a tardis-like chasm before being attacked; jet-packing across a low-gravity planet at high speeds before losing control and hurtling into a massive ravine.

All these occurrences and more left me feeling acute existential terror, unlike anything I’ve felt since first booting up Elite ~ 6 years old and flailing around in the expanse, perishing again and again in the mercilessness of outer space.

Chris O’Regan – A Biker Runs Through It
I go to a lot of gaming expos and shows and as such get exposed to many games, some never see the light of day, but most do get release and one in particular never left me. This is even months after I had left the expo and had even planned for the next one. It just kept nagging at me. The game was Lonely Mountains: Downhill and I first encountered it at PAX West 2018 in the Washington State Convention Center.

Lonely Mountains: Downhill is a mountain bike ‘simulator’ that models the interaction between rider, bicycle and track to such an accurate degree that you feel you’re riding down the treacherous paths yourself. It celebrates physics, skill, perseverance and elation of beating what seems to be an insurmountable time when you start to play it.

What caught my eye was the low polygonal models of the rider and the environment they are cycling through. There is the use of soft focus for back and foreground features as the third person camera hovers over the rider the player attempts to control.

Careful manoeuvring of the bicycle is required as gravity takes over, pulling the player down an increasingly hazard laden trail that includes rocks, fallen trees, jumps across gorges and narrow paths on the sides of cliffs.

Megagon Industries, the developers of Lonely Mountains: Downhill  have somehow managed to create a sense of speed and danger that keeps me coming back to it. This fact is a testament to its craftsmanship, which I have a deep respect for and it is for that reason I declare playing Lonely Mountains: Downhill to be my favourite gaming experience of 2019.

Joshua Garrity – Outer Wilds *SPOILERS*: That FUCKING QUANTUM MOON

My nemesis. My Moby Dick. The Quantum Moon may not have been intentionally designed to be an antagonistic force in Outer Wilds, but no other character this year seemed to take as much relish in presenting the player the middle finger as this massive, grey arsehole.

Our first meeting set the tone for our relationship going forward. I approached out of pure curiosity, ignorant to this giant orb’s insidious dickheader-y.

“Huh, was that there before?”, I thought as I drifted closer to the Brittle Hollow, ultimately concluding that I must have missed it due to the presence of an already explosively violent orbiting body.

So, I initiated standard landing procedures to explore this yet to be revealed satellite. I get close, lock-on, turn on the landing camera, I see grey fog and then, gone. The fucker was gone! Now, in mild frustration I may have stopped briefly to satiate my addiction to twitter without pausing the game, only to find my ship’s current trajectory heading towards QM’s more stationary and more volcanic moon cousin, smashing the hull of my ship.

However indirect the damage, a feud was forged in that moment.

I would go on to make several attempts to land on the Quantum Moon thinking that, much like the Quantum Rocks, if I simply kept it in view, I would find success. But no, at a certain point I had to turn to land and every. single. time. the rotund physics defier vanquished. So, I gave up, for a time.

In the hours that unfolded after, The Quantum Moon would evolve into the kind of performatively obtuse, ‘look-at-me’ prick that everyone meets in their early 20s. I distinctly remember reading the email of a distraught Nomai, expressing the impossibility of ever reaching that Moon.

Then, I looked up to continue exploring and guess who drifted over the horizon. Yep! This was not the only instance of this either, it felt like every time I read anything related to the Quantum Moon, it would appear to remind me of my continuing failure.

Want to know the Moon’s secret? What you need to do in order to be “worthy” of landing on its surface? You have to take its fucking picture…

Of course it does, the spherical, narcissistic shithead.

Oh, the wonderful digital paths we’ve tread this year.  Here’s hoping that 2020 brings a similar amount of digital wonder and crisply rendered joy to our lives.  Also, let’s hope that Josh finds another game to torment him in such a fashion that next year so we are treated to a similar amount of hilarity (and swearing) in his description.

Happy 2020 to all!

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