Thirty-something geek on the south coast of England. Think I'm sort of smart, but I might just be fooling myself. Player of games, reader, feminist, humanist.
One of two podcast hosts called Chris Smith at maximumpowerup.com
I did it, completed another Japanese RPG, first one since 2017. Sort of completed it twice too. Also including a couple of playthroughs on the arcade cabinet.
Completed this month
Bravely Default 2 – Switch
Well it happened, 137 hours later and I completed this with the true ending, and all characters max level and max jobs. About 50 hours after first ‘completing’ the game and rolling the credits. Really enjoyed myself with this. My ex-wife was playing it too and having someone to discuss progress, strategy and which are the best outfits very much helped. We’ve lined up a similar game to play next (foreshadowing for further down the page) and It looks likely I’ll break the tradition of one JRPG every four years.
Technically cheating since usually for arcade games of the “shmup” variety I would only consider a game completed if I’d done it on one credit. However, I’m not as concerned about brawlers, so I’m going to consider them finished once I’ve rolled the credits on my arcade machine, so I can log them and get on with my day.
Metamorphic Force – Arcade
As above, another arcade brawler played through. I only found out about this game recently, and was surprised how good it was. Sort of like if you take the animal transformations from Altered Beast and put them in a good game.
Games played during April
Pac-Man 99 – Switch
Just as surprising on arrival as Tetris 99, and almost as good. Pac-Man 99 is another ‘free’ Switch game that you can play as long as you have a subscription to Nintendo Online. Due to Bravely Default 2 taking up almost all of my gaming time this month I haven’t spent a lot of time with it yet, but I very much enjoyed what I played so far.
Still giving the arcade machine a lot of love. I’ve mostly being playing Lasso as the new Ten Pence Arcade Podcast game. Also been spending a bit of time playing the original Pac-Man, after playing the above on Switch.
I don’t usually play many demo versions of games, but this month I played two that surprised me. R-Type Final 2 and Octopath Traveller.
R-Type Final 2 Demo – PS4
Of the two demos, this was the disappointing one. It did the exact opposite of what a gameplay demo is supposed to do. When I first heard this would be coming out, I assumed I’d be getting it day one as I did enjoy the previous game and am always up for a new shmup. However, playing the demo it seemed very bland, and the visual effects somehow reminded me of 90s indie PC efforts produced in “The Games Factory“. Decided I’d wait for a sale.
The game then came out to average reviews with a hideous Season Pass for DLC that made the whole thing smell of “nostalgia cash-in”. I’m out, still likely to pick it up eventually in a sale, just not any time soon.
If I haven’t put you off, both the PS4 and Switch editions are here on Amazon*
Octopath Traveler Demo – Switch
Conversely, this was a much more positive experience. As mentioned at the top, we tried this demo as an option for something to play post Bravely Default 2. As this is from the same developers (indeed it was their previous release) it was immediately familiar and agreeably suitable. Full game incoming* for May.
The Longing – Switch
The good folks at Application Systems Heidelberg were kind enough to give me a review code for this one, I love the premise so look out for a blog about it once I’ve spent a bit of time with the game.
Doom Eternal – PS4
This popped up on Amazon for a fiver, and I couldn’t resist even though it was already installed on my PC from GamePass.
Nothing completed this month, which is much more like me to be honest.
Games played during March
Bravely Default 2 – Switch
This is pretty much all I’ve played aside from arcade stuff on my cab. Think I’m at around 90 hours in and closing on the ‘ending’, but I have very much been enjoying myself. Already wondering where it’s going to land when I revise my Top 5 JRPG’s list.
Have spent a decent amount of time playing on the arcade machine though, mostly Black Tiger and Darius Gaiden, playing along with the Ten Pence Arcade podcast. As well as a lot of Robotron 2084, Smash TV and Robotron X as research for the latest episode of Maximum Power Up, Twin Stick Shooters.
Also rediscovered the game Bubbles in conversation during the recording of the above show, so I’ve been playing that too.
NBA2K Playgrounds 2 – PS4
I’ve had my eye on this for a while, mostly out of curiosity. It popped up on sale cheap for a physical copy on PS4. I grabbed two copies and sent one to a friend, and we then found time one evening to start playing a season together online. It’s great fun, really captures the 2v2 mayhem of classic NBA Jam but with more modern functionality. Looking forward to playing it some more.
Well that didn’t take long did it. Talked myself into spending a bit more money on the cabinet and replaced the Raspberry Pi3b+ with the Pi4 4GB* model. I was very tempted to get the 8GB but everything I read suggested that would be overkill for what I needed. A good chance I’d have been fine with the 2GB version but happy to stick with the 4GB.
I did have to pick up a different HDMI and power cable which were pretty straight forward, but the two main purchases were the Pi itself and the Flarc case* for it, which also helps keep it cool quietly. I picked all the parts up from The Pi Hut for around £85. There are decent bundles* available too but there wasn’t one quite suitable for what I wanted.
I had to get a new build of the RetroPie software suitable for the Pi4, but was minimal effort setting it up using the same usb flash drive with roms I’d configured for the Pi3b+. It was all worthwhile as it has meant I could add Dreamcast fighting and shmup games to the cabinet, as well as expanding how many MAME games it’s capable of playing.
You’ll also notice in the image at the top of the page I upgraded the cabinet with a bar table*. Having somewhere to rest my drink has made all the difference, very pleased with this one for the money and goes nicely with the bar stools I picked up previously.
A few games completed during February, generally 2D stuff that has been okay to play while I have been unwell. Games like Gears 5 are on hold until I’m free of all vertigo symptoms.
Games completed this month
Airborne Kingdom – PC
This was probably the most perfect game I’ve played for recovery. It’s a slow paced city builder style game, except your city is floating through the sky. With the game speed on the default, I was able to keep it running and make progress just playing very casually. It’s just a very pretty, relaxing game. Although I suspect the newly released “hard mode” probably makes it a more stressful experience, I think I’ll give that a miss.
Beyond Blue – PC
Turns out I was almost at the end of this after the last time I played it anyway. Another relaxing ambient game, that is a cross between the old Endless Ocean games on the Nintendo Wii (which were great) and a wildlife documentary. The other thing this has in common with Airborne Kingdom above, is that both are games I bought from the Epic games store, so I now have 100% completion of the games I’ve paid for on there. Yes I have only bought those two.
Raiden V – Xbox Series S
Sort of cheating since to properly consider a shmup completed, you’d be looking for a single credit (or even a single life) run through. However I’m a bit more relaxed about these pure console ones where there is enough involved in terms of story etc. On my shmup day described further down, I played this straight through and rolled credits, collecting plenty of achievements on my way.
Mortal Kombat 11 Aftermath – PS4
As mentioned last month, I went on to playthrough the story DLC from the Aftermath expansion. It was good fun and certainly worth a go after finishing the main campaign.
Pretty much in line with what the reviews said, this seems okay but is disappointingly not as interesting as Until Dawn. I’ve played the first hour or two, and was sort of enjoying it. However I haven’t felt compelled to put it on again which I guess is pretty telling. Maybe I’ll get back to it before it leaves Game Pass.
Puyo Puyo Tetris 2 – Xbox Series S
I haven’t bought this yet, hard to justify for the price of entry when I own the first game on PC, PS4 and Switch. However it had a free to play weekend on Xbox, so I gave it a go on my new Series S. It’s still great, and does have a decent amount of new content so I will get it, but will stick with the Xbox version so I at least have it on a different platform to the original.
Shmups PS3, PS4, Xbox
I spent one Saturday in February just having some quality time with the arcade sticks. I hooked up my Cronus Zen and Hori 360 stick to the Xbox Series S (partly to make sure that all just worked on the new console – it does!) and had my PS4 Arcade Stick on the go for the games I played on both PS4 and PS3. As well as Raiden V, I also spent some time playing Raiden IV, Gradius V, Darius Burst Chronicles, and a short burst on Radiant Silvergun to remember why I gave up on that.
Fifa 21 – Xbox Game Pass (Trial)
I remembered that Game Pass now comes with EA Play, which includes 10 hours access to the latest EA Sports games. Having had some fun playing Madden 21 on my PS4 during the past year, I thought I’d give this a go. I did enjoy myself for a few hours on Ultimate Team, sort of piecing a side together and doing the single player challenges. I played two games online with my Nephew though and remembered why I gave up on these. I’m not interested in putting in the time it would take to be viable against other people, so I’ll leave that there.
Bravely Default 2 – Switch
This came out as planned at the end of the month, but I managed to play quite a bit over the last weekend in February so included it here rather than among the pick ups. Really enjoying myself so far, although there have already been a few challenging spots. Hopefully I’ll get to the end this time, rather than abandon it half way through like last time.
Of course this was the big one for February, and also dominated my games played at the end of the month. If you haven’t already read it, I wrote about it in the MAME Arcade Cabinet post (part 2).
Capcom vs SNK: Match of the Millennium – Switch
Another of the Neo Geo Pocket Color (NGPC) games being ported to Switch, and while there are others they’ve done I still want to pick up, I couldn’t wait for this. This is one I never had myself when I had my own NGPC console, but I always wanted it. Lovely little fighter. I’m still hoping they’ll bring Neo Turf Masters Pocket over soon, and it would be nice to see the Card Fighters and Metal Slug games as well.
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.
Following my previous post, helpfully referred to as Part 1, I thought I’d just run through the build process. The assembly was partly done in order of when items arrived, and partly what I felt up to doing. Realistically, this could be all done in a day if you had all the parts to hand. I spread it out over a few weeks.
The first thing I did was start to configure the RaspberryPi 3b+* I already owned for use inside the cab. After I’d ordered the bulk of my parts from Arcade World*, the flat pack kits had a 5 day lead time while they were being cut to order, I was excited and wanted to make a start. The RaspberryPi was all I had to hand while I was waiting.
I took the Pi out of the arcade stick housing it was in before and took a couple of minutes to adjust the cabling of the stick so that it is now just a usable USB arcade controller to use with my PC or whatever. I used this stick for the initial config, and also later when it came to testing the monitor I picked up.
In choosing the front end for my system, I had a bit of a look around all the pre-built images on Arcade Punks etc. to see if I could find one with a suitable collection of mostly arcade games along with a theme that wasn’t ridiculous. I could not.
I chose to just build my own setup, with a basic install and curate my own game selection. A few people were suggesting alternatives to the RetroPie software for me to consider, namely Recalbox, Lakka, and Batocera. Fortunately this comparison article was handy for just running through the differences, and after a bit of reading, I decided RetroPie was still the most appropriate for me. I did a fresh install of the latest version of RetroPie as the one already on my SD card was a couple of years old.
I’d only got it hooked up to my working from home monitor, but knew I would be putting a 4:3 or 5:4 ratio screen in the machine, so I played a bit with the shaders in the setup to find something suitable for that screen. It looks a bit silly in the pictures below, but I’m really happy with it in the finished system. Scanlines and a bit of a curve to the display, to get it looking close to how the games would have looked on an original cabinet.
After copying over a starter collection of ROMs, mostly just my favourite shmups and brawlers, and a complete set of NEOGEO games, there wasn’t much else to do except play Neo Turf Masters, and wait for parts to arrive.
Start and Coin Buttons
Fortunately I didn’t have to wait too long, my Arcade World* delivery arrived about a week later. All the buttons and joysticks arrived a day before the flatpack kit, along with the button decals I’d ordered from eBay. So first up, adding the art to the buttons. Fairly simple to do, just be patient prising the button caps off and try to line the decals up where you want them. Happy with how they turned out, even if Player 1 is slightly losing his head.
Once the kit had all arrived, I decided a sensible place to start was the separate riser. Nice small parts, easily done on my own sitting on the floor. Also the joins are all done using modesty blocks, which is the same for the full cabinet. Was a bit of a practice before the main event. With the ongoing vertigo symptoms I was not in a hurry to work with the bigger panels of the cabinet.
Next up, and one of the most fun parts, putting the buttons and joysticks in. This was also the only part I needed to break out my drill. The control panel has holes pre-drilled for the buttons and joysticks, but when the mounting screws go for the joysticks are only part drilled as there are different fittings available. I just had to line up the correct ones for my mounting plates, and finish the drilling through. Was straight-forward, and I had a spare piece of wood handy that I put under panel while I drilled to reduce the likelihood of damage to the control panel surface.
I also played around with configuring the IPAC2 interface before I attached it to the panel. Didn’t entirely register what I was doing though, but once it was all assembled I hooked the Pi back up to my work monitor and figured it out. Quick shout out to my good buddy Ross here, for sharing the below image before I started, using this I managed to orientate both sticks the right way up first time (up, down, left and right aren’t labelled but each need a wire connecting to the IPAC2.
Initially hated doing this, but after I’d got used to it I quite enjoyed myself. I did the riser box first then the control panel, and gradually some of the panels for the cab itself over the course of a few days. It wasn’t too bad, but I did need to buy a rubber mallet. If anything it is nice to now own a rubber mallet. It was also fortunate that I owned a hot glue gun. As much as all the guides say you don’t need glue, and the t-molding will just stay in place, they’re wrong. (Likely that’s true working with ‘proper’ cabinets, but with the grooves cut in this board, it just popped back out when you went near a bend). A bit of hot glue in the trouble spots soon sorted it though.
Now we’re talking. I was still held up waiting for the monitor to arrive, but with the drama in getting that I mentioned on the last post I decided to make a start without it anyway, and assembled the basic frame over a couple of days. Again it was probably only an hour or two of work, I was just taking it steady.
When the screen finally arrived, I first set it up on the table, using the Pi and Arcade Stick mentioned above. Wanted to do a bit of testing before I went through the process of mounting it inside the cabinet. Was delighted that the HDMI to DVI cable I already had just worked and required no extra effort. At this point I settled on the “Arcade 1Up” 5:4 theme for Emulation Station. I was also testing the speakers from PC, I know a lot of people complain about “hiss” using the 3.5mm audio output on the pi, but there was no sign of that here so I decided to stick with these.
The monitor has a built in USB hub, so I moved the flash drive with my games up to that, immediately solving the problem of it running hot and raising the temperature of the Pi. Also provides convenient power for the marquee light (and also the Pacman lamp that now sits on top of the cab). Both lights now switch on when I power up the cab, and switch off when I shutdown RetroPie and the monitor goes into standby. Perfect.
That done, I took the screen and mounted it to the backing panel to fit into the cabinet. Again this was easy just standard VESA fittings. I also moved the cabinet out into the lounge as we approached the final stretch. Knew I wasn’t going to feel up to lifting it onto the riser on my own, so I gave it a temporary home till I had help. The T-molding on the base of the cabinet means it also slides easily so I didn’t need to lift it at all.
The real fun, putting it all together, and everything working. There was a bit of a delay while I waited for the art for the marquee to arrive, so it was in place for a couple of days without the art, but playable. I’ve since taken the top off the little Raspberry Pi case to help keep it cooler, haven’t had any temperature issues anyway. Once the art was added I was able to get it lifted in place onto the riser and get on with the business of playing it.
The one bit I’ve done since writing the last post, my friends were kind enough to pick up a few sheets of this heavy black card from The Range. I may have another go and do it a bit neater, but my first attempt at cutting out a screen surround / bezel went well and I am pleased with the results.
The machine is pretty much ‘done’ although I’m sure I’ll continue to tinker with bits here and there. I’ve been investigating the Raspberry Pi 4 models, and it seems that the 8GB version doesn’t offer any benefits for RetroPie so I may upgrade to the cheaper 4GB model sooner rather than later. Mostly as it is able to run a few later games than my current system.
So during February I fulfilled a bit of a personal goal. I have wanted to put MAME into an arcade cabinet for around 20 years, and have simply wanted my own arcade machine since I was about 10. (A little longer than 20 years). A while back I built my “RetroPie joystick in a box” which was a bit of a proof of concept to see if I thought I could do the full thing. Fast-forward to Lockdown 2021, of which I’ve spent most of the year suffering with Labyrinthitis and ongoing vertigo symptoms. As mentioned in my January Games post, I decided to divert the funds I was holding for my PS5 into this project. Largely because they’re still difficult to get hold of, and the vertigo is keeping me from playing most modern games anyway.
Thankfully, the procrastination really paid off. This process is relatively straight-forward now, compared to what was involved 20 years ago. To be honest, I probably could have done the entire build in a day, but being unwell it was nice to have something to work on over a couple of weeks when I felt up to it. As you can see from the image, it’s complete apart from needing a surround for the monitor, to cover the insides (and the DELL logo).
The main issue that has always put me building one of these, is the woodwork. I’m fairly confident about the wiring etc involved, but not the crafting out of wood. Fortunately, there are a number of providers who sell kits for this very thing. If you can assemble IKEA flat pack furniture, you’re most of the way there.
One of the first considerations, is what size machine to build. While there are lots of nice setups using modern widescreen TVs, these are more useful if you’re going the PC route and are going to play newer games that support higher resolutions and widescreen images. However, as I was going to use a RaspberryPi for the processing, and limit myself for gaming up to the late 1990s, a smaller 5:4 ratio screen was a better option. I found a kit for a 3/4 size cabinet, along with an addon for a riser box to lift it up so it is comfortable to play standing up.
You’ll see I had a few bits already, but I’ve listed all the components of my build below with links. As usual, those marked with a * are affiliate links. For the bulk of the build I returned to Arcade World UK*, where I picked up the parts for my previous RetroPie project, and also my PS4 Arcade Stick mod. As you’ll see from the photos, my colour scheme is loosely based on Bubble Bobble, green for player 1, and blue for player 2, with green for the T-Molding (trim).
When I first thought about doing this, I was going to just buy the minimum amount of stuff I needed to get something up and running and playable for just 1 player, using some parts I already had. I probably would have saved about £150 off the initial cost, but it would have remained a work in progress for the foreseeable future. I made the decision to buy everything I wanted to make a cabinet I really liked.
This is the riser* to lift the cabinet higher. If you just intend to play seated (or for some reason you’re building one for children, you probably won’t need one of these)
I took the same approach to buttons on the cabinet as I did when I did the RetroPie joystick. The 6 “action” buttons for each player are Sanwa OBSN-30 Screw In Arcade Buttons*. Admittedly I haven’t tried a lot of buttons to compare, but all the parts on my PS4 fight stick are Sanwa too, and I love that.
When I did my RetroPie joystick, I just got a basic USB encoder* from Amazon, you could probably use 2 of these to accomplish the same control setup. However, with this build I wanted something better regarded. I went with this bundle of an IPAC2 complete with all the wiring* I’d need for my buttons. The IPAC2 has more than enough connections for me to do a 2 player system with 8 buttons each.
I had intended to get 2 of the same sanwa stick* I previously used in my other 2 projects, but at the time of ordering they were out of stock. I didn’t want to wait though so I had a read up on what else was available. I eventually settled on this Seimitsu LS-38-01 stick*, it’s basically the same as their LS-32-01 joystick, with a modification to make it much stiffer. I read a few positive reports from people who like similar games to me, and was convinced. I definitely prefer it to my sanwa stick for 2D Shmups, but I think I prefer the sanwa for games like Street Fighter. I am not good enough at either for it to really matter though…
In order for this stick to fit the control panel in the kit I purchased, I needed to select the SE Mounting plate option. I also added the H5P cable, which easily wires to the IPAC2.
This is the green trim* around the edges of the cabinet. Arcade World helpfully tells you how much to order for each of their kits, I added the 2 amounts together for both the cabinet and riser, and ordered 35 feet. I didn’t waste very much when I was installing it, and probably have 1 or 2′ leftover. Happy to report that their estimates are a good measure.
I already had two of this RaspberryPi 3b+ model*, otherwise I’d suggest a bundle like this one. It’s definitely worth having an official PSU as variations in quality of USB power supplies have been known to cause issues with gaming on the Pi. I took the Pi out of my RetroPie joystick as I don’t expect to use that any more now I have a cabinet. (I’ve just converted that into an extra USB fight stick for my PC).
At some point I may upgrade my machine with an 8GB RaspberryPi 4*, but shelling out another £80 when I already had one that would do most of what I wanted seemed a waste. Maybe there will be another revision or something that makes more sense.
For the marquee (the Bubble Symphony picture at the top) I was originally looking at various options on etsy. Once I realised all the sellers were in the USA, would cost me the same again in shipping fees and take forever to arrive, I started looking elsewhere. I found the very helpful team at Arcade Art Shop who had a huge selection of art, and were more than happy to print my preferred design to the dimensions I supplied for my cabinet. I went for this Bubble Symphony design, printed on the flexi-film, and it just popped in behind the plexi that came in my kit.
I had also been thinking about getting vinyl art for the sides and control panel as well, but now I’ve assembled the system I think I like the plain black panels with just the marquee.
As mentioned above, I wanted art for my Start and Coin buttons. I got the arcade button decals with the COIN design from this account on eBay. Very happy with how they turned out.
For the light at the top behind the marquee panel, I picked up a little 5V USB LED strip. Not sure how long this link will last, but I went for this one, with the options White, Clear and 35 cm. Looks great installed, and draws power from a USB slot on the monitor.
I originally purchased a DELL 1917S from eBay, but this was the one spot of drama where the seller said it was shipped, then when it still hadn’t turned up a week after delivery, I contacted them and three days later they just refunded me without a word. Then relisted the item. There is always one…
I then found a DELL 1914S from someone else for £20 cheaper which arrived next day, so it worked out anyway. The only really issue with this screen over the other, was that it didn’t have HDMI input, so I had to use one of these cables* to connect via DVI. I had one of them handy anyway.
I briefly looked at a variety of options for amps and separate speakers that could be wired to the top of the cabinet. However this was likely to cost around £50 by the time I’d factored in powering them, and given the quality of audio you can expect from 90s arcade games, I wasn’t keen to spend that. What I did instead was chuck these speakers from my PC* inside the cabinet (where I’m very happy with how it sounds for now) and spent £35 on a nicer 2.1 set for my PC. I generally limit how carried away I get with sound, out of respect for my neighbours. If I do decide to go the amp & speaker route, it’ll probably be something like this bundle*.
I already had the one that I was using with my RetroPie Joystick, and it conveniently sits unobtrusively on top of my cabinet. It is very handy to have a keyboard for tinkering with the software. Couldn’t find the exact model, but it’s sort of like this tecknet keyboard*, and I imagine it would be just as effective.
*update* I have now made up a surround from heavy back card, and will include photos in the part 2 blog post. The card was £1.50 a sheet from the local “The Range” and friends kindly picked some up for me given my continuing inability to walk that far. I have a few more sheets of it, and think I could do a neater job, but I’m pleased with it already and it now looks much more like a finished project.
For the moment, I’ve just got a fairly heavy duty extension cable in the cab. Mostly because it was what I had to hand, but also because I needed quite a long cable to get to the socket in my office, and I needed something I could easily take the plug off and put back on, to run it through the hole on the back panel. I will replace this with something a bit lower profile later.
I think that’s all the components. Build post is now up here as Part 2.
Managed to start the year off pretty well, with three (count ’em!) completions. Even more impressive considering since halfway through the month I’ve been knocked out with Labyrinthitis and unable to play much of anything. I expect it’ll be at least mid-February before I get back to any VR.
Games completed this month
Gears of War 4 – Xbox One / Series S
Spoiler for later down the list, but one of the first things I did with my new Xbox was pick up my co-op campaign where I left off with my mate Ross a couple of years ago. Thankfully my Nephew was around to see it through, as Ross has since surrendered his Xbox Gold account. Gears 5 next.
Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate – PS4
Played through the main story mode on this, as with the previous Mortal Kombat, and the two Injustice games, the story is really enjoyable and a real masterclass in how to do single player content in a versus fighter. The last boss fight soured the experience slightly, but that’s nothing new for these kind of games. I’ll have a little break then go back and play the single player story from the Aftermath DLC.
First ‘next gen’ game played on my Series S, and I managed to finish it this month too. Although I only have the lower spec Series S Xbox, Ori is a real showcase for it. Was able to play the whole game in 4K with HDR at 60fps. Really great follow up to the first game, even if they have been copying Hollow Knight’s homework. Oh and that’s one ticked off from my playlist for 2021 as well.
Games played during January
Blood & Truth – PSVR
Was progressing quite nicely with this until I got ill. Hopefully I’ll be able to finish it off once I’m feeling better.
Sea Salt – Xbox One / Series S
Only managed a quick go on this on GamePass. I think it’s leaving the service soon so probably won’t manage to get back to it. It was fun though so I may pick it up in the sale later. I was enjoying terrorising a seaside town with my easily describable minions, while playing as Dagon.
Forza Horizon 4 – Xbox Series S
Of course I’m back on this with the shiny new Xbox. Looks fantastic and is still the best racing game I’ve ever played. Seems to have been quite a few new races and events since I played last too.
Assault Android Cactus – Xbox One / Series S
I played this through a while back on my PC, not convinced I ever beat the last boss though. While I’ve been enjoying revisiting some of my existing library on Xbox I noticed I’d barely touched it on there. Thought I’d fire it up and see if I can bring myself to finish it this time round.
Civilization 6 Gathering Storm – Switch
This (and the following 2D games in this list) are all I’ve really been up to since getting ill. Anything in three dimensions is still a no go, but was good to give this a bit of an airing for the first time since I picked up the DLC. Still don’t really know what I’m doing though.
Parasol Stars – Core Grafx Mini
Possibly the first time I’ve really sat down to play this, and I’ve discovered a bit of a love for it. Also, I’ve mentioned it many times over now, but the Core Grafx Mini is an absolute gem.
Another I’ve spent plenty of time with previously (and discussed on the pinball episode of the podcast), but couldn’t resist getting back on it while I was playing on the mini. I’m also getting over the annoyance when the table flicks between the top and bottom screens.
Xeno Crisis – Xbox One / Series S
As I’d discovered I could handle 2D games, I figured I’d give this a shot on GamePass. Really good game, pretty difficult though. Very much channels Smash TV, aesthetically, gameplay and apparently also difficulty!
Ghost Town Mine Ride – PCVR
This was a pretty low budget pick up. Mostly just wanted something on the PCVR set similar to Until Dawn: Rush of Blood on the PSVR.
Last Resort (Neo Geo) – Switch
An old favourite Neo Geo game that got ported to the Switch a while back. They don’t go on sale that often, but for £3 this was an easy sale.
Xbox Series S & GamePass Ultimate
As mentioned above, I picked up the Series S at the start of the year. I know this version has received some flack on social media but I’m very happy with it. I was still using a launch model original Xbox One, so had missed out on any incremental upgrades from the later versions. I’m still going to pick up a PS5 to go alongside my gaming PC to make the most of the latest generation of games. However, the Series S does an excellent job of making my existing Xbox library, including some games from the original Xbox, look great on my 4K TV.
It also serves as a very convenient GamePass box, for playing the games on the subscription service, where it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t have a disc drive. For the price, and quite frankly the small size of the device compared to the monsters that are the PS5 and Xbox Series X, it is a lovely device.
Still quite difficult to get hold of but when Amazon do have them, they’re here*.
Bezier: Second Edition – Switch
A friend sent me a link to the trailer for this, it was clearly very Geometry Wars in style, so I had to get involved. Didn’t hurt that it was only a fiver at launch too.
Games pre-ordered this month
Bravely Default 2 – Switch
It’s almost four years since I last played a Japanese RPG (the incredible Panzer Dragoon Saga on the SEGA Saturn), so I’m about ready to play one again. Of the 5 I have played before, the original Bravely Default on 3DS was not without issues, but I did have some good fun with it. My friend pointed me to a demo of this new one on the Switch store, which I played around with before putting in my pre-order. I have gone for a physical edition* though, so I can at least trade it in if I’ve made a terrible mistake.
It’s due at the end of February, it could take my mind off trying to get hold of a PS5 for a while. This is just as well, as I’m thinking about putting that back a few months anyway, and diverting funds towards another project. More on that story later.
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.
Continuing to only slightly progress the planned list, I have decided to drop off some of the titles that I have already rolled forward previously. Going back to the 2020 list I allowed myself four games I didn’t play to take forward. The others were either abandoned during my updates in 2020 or “back on the shelf”.
Top 5 played in 2020
1. Animal Crossing: New Horizons – Switch
This was on the playlist from last year, and after putting in 400 hours, it does have to be my game of the year really. I did stop playing when I moved house over the Summer, and I haven’t been back to it. I’m sure I’ll get the urge again this year though, if only to do the Autumn and Winter seasons I didn’t play yet.
If you have a Switch you must own this* already, right?
2. Marvel’s Spider-man – PS4
Yes everyone else played it the year before, but it does deserve most of the praise. I did find some of the side content tedious, too much busy work. It’s only the same problem that most open world games have, and the main story did make up for it.
Despite the initial false start attempting this on the Xbox One originally, and then the gap to progress for a year when I got stuck on the “Bloodless” boss, I did really enjoy this. It seems to still be getting content added as well so I may have another look at it for that later too. As “metroidvanias” go, this almost certainly deserves a place on my top 5. Will need to think about where it goes if I ever refresh that list.
As per previous posts, the Switch version* doesn’t run as well as the PC or other console ones, but if you mostly play your Switch in Handheld mode, it’s a very satisfying experience now they’ve fixed the original issues.
4. 51 Worldwide Games – Switch
I was a bit torn with this, as I was hoping for more in terms of the online multiplayer options. As a standalone piece though, and with local multiplayer, this is a worthy follow up to the stellar 42 All-time Classics on the Nintendo DS.
As a cheaper release anyway, 51 Worldwide Games* is still easy to recommend for the money if the idea interests you at all.
5. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) – PC
Really enjoyed the campaign, but mostly what I enjoyed was spending a lot of time during this pandemic playing online with my best mate. I remain grateful that they finally got proper cross platform working. It has been really great to be able to play on my PC, while he was on his PS4, and it to just, work. Complete with voice chat. The multiplayer remains some of the best around.
Core Grafx Mini
Didn’t think I could really list one of the mini consoles as a top game of the year, but it was certainly a highlight. Still an easy recommend.
Bit of a surprise this. Unfortunately it was so well done and polished that it destroyed the lacklustre Warcraft 3: Reforged, and derailed my plans to replay that campaign. I did get a bit stuck (as usual) on the original C&C GDI story though, so I should try to go back to it.
Streets of Rage 4 – Xbox One
I think a lot of people were surprised how well this turned out. A real gem this year. Didn’t make my list though as while it’s great fun in local multiplayer, I still don’t really rate brawlers like this as single player games.
Think I assumed this was digital only (outside of those heinous ‘limited’ collectors editions). Apparently not*.
10 games for 2021
1. Super Metroid – Switch / SNES
Despite my statement last year, I’m giving this one more run out. If only because I’m still yet to play any of the NES or SNES games on the Switch and I should at least get to one. It is year four though, oh dear.
2. StarCraft II: Legacy of the Void – PC
Another one that survives for another year on the list, I think I would have gotten to this if I wasn’t distracted by the Command & Conquer Remaster. Oh and if Blizzard hadn’t become a terrible company that made me actively not want to play their games. I do want to close out the StarCraft II trilogy though so hoping to get to it.
3. The Last Express – PC
“Last one on the list that I’ve brought with me from last year. Gotta have a train game!” – Think I’ll keep that quote from last year too…
4. Myst III: Exile – PC
Last of the ones I’m taking forward, I do still intend to progress my way through all these. However long it takes. I can already see me replaying the original MYST again when the new VR version comes to Steam though.
5. Airborne Kingdom – PC
Only picked this up in December, and I already know I want to play it through. It is very pretty, and seems to have an interesting campaign / story for a city builder.
6. Shadow of the Tomb Raider – PS4
I really enjoyed the first two games in this trilogy, but wasn’t in a rush to play more. It’s been long enough now that I’m looking forward to this one, and Sony were kind enough to make it one of the free games for January. Excellent.
7. Call of Cthulhu – Xbox / PC
Think I have this on both Xbox and PC so we’ll see how I feel when I get round to starting it. We all know I enjoy a Lovecraftian Videogame and I’ve heard good things about this one.
8. Ori and the Will of the Wisps – Xbox
Very much enjoyed the original, despite some of the more punishing platforming sections. I’ll probably play it on the next Xbox I pick up, likely a Series S.
9. Miles Morales – PS5
The first of two games I don’t actually own yet, it’s still my intention to pick up a PlayStation 5 once they’re available again. I’m hoping I can get one by February, and take a week off work to play. This game is first on the list. Second and third on the list are my free upgrades to the PS5 versions of Madden 21 and Mortal Kombat 11. Obviously.
Think you need the ultimate edition* if you want the remastered original game. And of course you want that.
10. Hollow Knight: Silksong – Switch?
As expected, this didn’t come out in 2020, but should arrive in 2021, and I shall be there when it does. The first game was a perfect fit for the Switch, but as my home situation changed, I find I don’t play it handheld anymore. I might then go for whichever version of Silksong is going to look best on my big TV.
2021 releases I’m looking forward too
Returnal – PS5
The new one from Housemarque. I’m not entirely sure I’ll like this, as I’m not big on third person shooters or roguelikes. However, Housemarque still made some of my favourite games, so I’m going to give it a go.
Back 4 Blood – PC
After getting back into Left 4 Dead 2 last year, I’m quite looking forward to this. Not sure I’ll get it on release though, looks pretty pricey for something I’ll only play casually with friends. We’ll see.
God of War: Ragnarok – PS5
Another sequel to a game I enjoyed previously. All going well this should be a real showcase for the PS5.
Gotham Knights – TBC
Not sure where I’ll play this, but if it’s anything like the Batman Arkham games, I should enjoy it, and it is very appealing to play as the Bat Family.
*these are affiliate links, I’ll get a small commission if you buy something.
Nothing else finished for the end of the year, but I did abandon another game, so that’s pretty similar.
Games played during December
Need 4 Speed Rivals – PS4
Picked this up in the sale for a couple of quid, just as something else to play online with a buddy. Had fun with it for an evening, not sure if we’ll go back to it but pretty much already had my money’s worth. Basically spent my entire time wondering why I was playing it when Forza Horizon is a thing.
Star Trek Bridge Crew – PSVR
Not only did we play this again during December, we also managed 4 players to have a full crew. It was everything I’d hoped for, more please in 2021.
Geometry Wars 3 – PS4
I quit playing this ages ago, but one of my mates picked it up on sale in December. He proceeded to obnoxiously send me a screenshot of him beating my Pacifism score. I then fired it up to do something about that, and noticed I was being beaten by at least one of my friends on all but one of the classic leader boards. Had fun for a week or so correcting that on them all. Still a fantastic game.
Mario Kart 8 Deluxe – Switch
With various friends and family members getting Switches this year, Mario Kart 8 pretty much became the game of Christmas. Enjoyed revisiting the entertaining multiplayer, even if my Nephew entirely dominates the number one spot.
Amazon link* the price fluctuates a lot for this. It was below £40 just before Christmas
Worms W.M.D. – PS4 and Switch
Double-dipped for this so as well as continuing to play the PS4 version, I can also play against all those new Switch owners in the family too.
After I had been discussion my thoughts on a recent podcast episode about maybe picking up a PC VR headset in addition to my existing PSVR setup, a mate offered me this for a great price. It’s a lovely bit of kit, and gives me access to those games that haven’t made their way to the PlayStation. Amusingly I’ve had to order some prescription lenses for it so I can see properly. Unlike the PSVR helmet there is no room for my glasses inside!
Airborne Kingdom – PC (epic)
Another I’d been watching for a while, I grabbed this from the Epic Store, their sale with the combined £10 voucher made it silly money. A beautiful looking and very mellow (floating) city builder. Will put this on the playlist for 2021 as I’m keen to give it a proper go.
Locomotive – Switch
I did manage a go on the PC version of this back at EGX 2019. However it came up on the Nintendo eShop for about 90p so grabbed it there instead. Fun little puzzle game. With a train.
GameBoy Color and EZ Flash Junior
Forgot to include the GameBoy in my November roundup, but it was my one Black Friday purchase. A custom modded GameBoy Color with a lovely bright backlit screen. In December I added the EZ Flash Junior card for it. Much cheaper alternative to the equivalent EverDrives, and seemed worth a punt after the success I had with the EZ Flash Omega for GBA games on my DS Lite. I’m now considering a second Junior to use with my original GameBoy.
Might get a link cable too, who wants to play some GameBoy Tetris and Golf?
Mortal Kombat 11 Ultimate – PS4
Had my eye on this for a while, went on sale just as I was gifted a timely Amazon voucher as a bit of a professional reward. Very pleased with it already, and happy that it’s another game (along with Madden) that will give me the PS5 upgrade for free when I can get hold of one.
Okay so I already have all the digital content for this, but the physical edition with 12 months of Nintendo Online was on sale for only £1 more than just the online subscription. Nice for the shelf anyway.
Although the online Tetris 99 gameplay is free, the DLC content is a nice way to play some solo Tetris. If you need to pick up an online pass for the Switch anyway, you could do worse than grabbing this package*.
Sayonara Wild Hearts – Switch
Heard a lot about this when it first came out, and some friends were talking about playing it recently too. Another sale purchase. First impressions are good but it really made me want to go back to playing Thumper.
Games retired this month
Kingdom Hearts Final Mix – PS4
Well I tried.
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.
I only went and finished something. Didn’t play much else though. Haven’t finished many games at all this year, I do have some time off over Christmas but I’m 5 books behind schedule on my goodreads challenge, so might be making more of an effort to hit my target there instead.
Games completed this month
Bloodstained: Ritual of the Night – Switch
Finished this on the Switch. It was a bit of an effort to get back into Bloodstained as I hadn’t played it for ages and I knew I was stuck at a boss. Forced myself back into it though, and rather than continuing to just lose fighting the same boss, I went off and did some side quest things and generally explored / levelled up. I’m not going to bother doing 100% completion, but I did get the true ending. That will do.
You can pick up a physical copy for the main consoles here* it definitely runs much better on the Xbox and PS4 (and PC) but it is perfectly playable on Switch now it’s had a few performance patches, and I still find the Switch the best way to play these “metroidvania” games.
Games played during November
Modern Warfare – PC
Think this is slowly dropping off, but I managed a couple more sessions on the multiplayer this month. I don’t really like the look of the new Call of Duty so I’ll probably sit that one out. Maybe they’ll return to Modern Warfare for the next outing.
Left 4 Dead 2 – PC
We managed some more multiplayer on this during November, the standalone campaign missions make it perfect for arranging casual gaming nights where people generally only have a couple of hours to play.
Elite Dangerous – PC
Haven’t played much of this yet, but I’ve had it for quite a while. As Epic gave it away free this month, some of my friends grabbed it and there is talk of maybe trying to play together. We’ll see if that ever happens, in the meantime it was fun to do the tutorial at least. It was also a good excuse to dust off my flight stick. It’s only basic, but I have a Thrustmaster T.Flight Stick X. It’s similar to this HOTAS model on Amazon* but without the massive throttle.
*As usual, these links are affiliate ones, which may earn me a small commission if you buy something.
No I’m not usually a fan of importing Americanisms like Black Friday, but I do like a bargain. Yes you can also spend your money more ethically than with Amazon, but for as long as they continue to be the cheapest option and frequently the most convenient, it is hard to ignore.
This is broadly going to be a bit of a round up of Amazon’s stuff, but will include anything else good I spot. Also a couple of links to things not currently discounted for Black Friday, but may be a better option than things that are on sale. If you are looking to buy books and would rather support independent local bookstores, then it may be worth looking into Bookshop.org instead.
The Amazon links here, like elsewhere on my blog, are affiliate links where I get a small payment if you use them and buy something. Thanks. The rest of them are just ordinary links though so feel free to hit those without worrying about me benefiting…
Amazon’s own range of devices are frequently a solid choice for personal electronics. I use a few myself that are easy recommends.
Although these can be a bit annoying if you want to use apps that are not available in the Amazon app store, it is relatively straight forward to install the normal Google Play store onto the devices. These days you can basically convert them to just run as standard Android tablets. That said, they are excellent value for money specially if you wait for them to be on sale. As usual they are reduced for Black Friday, but always reliable for a good deal on “Amazon Prime Days” too.
I have used a couple of these, and one is still in use as my main tablet now. I don’t do any 3D gaming on it, but use it for watching all the main streaming services, reading comics & PDFs and for playing card and board games.
This is the kindle fire I have myself. I upgraded from the original HD version of the Fire 8 model below. I was very happy with the smaller device, but for reading digital comics, the 10″ screen means the whole page fits comfortably on screen and is as close as you can get to the experience of reading a physical comic. It’s also reliably in use every Sunday as I stream Red Zone on it while watching the Dallas Cowboys game on the big screen.
Oh and if you go for the one with Special Offers / Ads to save a few quid, you can always pay the extra later to have them removed.
A new addition to the range is this “Plus” model of the HD 8. While I happily used the HD 8 for ages, the extra RAM and improved battery life of the Plus seems well worth the slightly extra price. It is likely to be longer before you’ll want an upgrade.
Although reading comics is much more comfortable on the HD 10, if you’re going to carry the tablet around a lot the HD 8 is probably the sweet spot for display size vs portability.
Increasingly redundant as more people move to Smart TV’s or connect other set top boxes with media apps like Blu-ray Players & game consoles, the firestick is still one of the better options for accessing apps on your TV. I’ve gone for the 4k model here, as even if you don’t have a 4k display, that bit of extra performance in the device should make it a bit snappier to use.
If you’re a bit of a techie there are plenty of modding options for Firesticks too, but personally I just have one set up to access Netflix, Prime and Britbox on my aging bedroom TV.
The original Amazon device. Earlier models of these didn’t have any kind of light, with the “e-ink” displays doing their best to replicate paper. Still a solid choice for getting started with ebooks if like me you don’t enjoy reading on your phone.
Not currently discounted as I write this, but worth checking in case they do add a discount come Friday. This is the kindle I use myself. It does see discounts down to around £80ish, and is the e-reader I’d recommend. The kindle oasis is nice but I’m not convinced it’s worth the significant additional cost, even with the current offer.
Alexa and Friends
I’m still not sold on any of the A.I. listening devices, and at present have disabled Alexa, Cortana and Google listening software on my electronics that support them. However, if you’re in the market for one, Black Friday is a good time for those too.
Not on Amazon, but if Google is more your thing, they’re currently doing their Nest Hub for £59.99.
Amazon subscription offers
Kindle Unlimited is a pretty good value proposition if you read a lot (and are not concerned about having books to keep on the shelf). Some of the included digital magazines are pretty nice too for reading on a tablet. New subscribers can currently get Two Months Free instead of the usual shorter trial.
Amazon Music Unlimited
I still struggle a bit with the way the music streaming industry treats artists, although I’m not sure Kindle Unlimited is much better for authors… However, they are a good way to discover new music, and listening to other people’s playlists is fun. Just remember if you want to support the bands you love, go see them live (if that’s ever a thing again) or buy their merch from them direct.
Black Friday has a free three months trial (instead of the usual 30 days) for new subscribers.
Again as yet not discounted, but have come down since the RRP anyway. These saw a good discount last prime day so will be worth checking on Friday to see if they have another deal on. (If not, they’re still well worth £75). Comfortably the best of the ‘mini’ consoles, I still love mine. Should you pick one up, I also recommend the 8bitdo additional controller rather than trying to get another wired official one. They look the part, are very comfortable to use, and best of all are wireless with no noticeable input delay (I use mine to play pinball and shmups without issue).
This is a good deal for one of the best fighting games ever. It’s not much of a discount from the regular price, but circa £15 for the complete edition with all the extra characters still feels like a bargain to me.
This seems a decent price, £17 for retail editions of the PC, PS4 or Xbox One version of the game. Also comes with a steel poster, which looks fun apart from it appears to be the same size as a game case. Not sure if that meets the definition of ‘poster’ but fun all the same.
Not a super great deal really but a fair price if you fancy this and haven’t picked it up yet. Particularly if you intend to get a PS5 in the next month or two as so long as you get the full PS5 with the disc drive, you can put this PS4 disc into it to access the PS5 version of the game for free. If “football” football is more your bag, the same applies to FIFA 21, at the same price point.
Amazon Warehouse is where they clear out items that have been returned, for whatever reason and for Black Friday there is an additional 30% off. If you don’t mind things being “nearly new” it is certainly worth browsing. The goods are still guaranteed and the descriptions will tell you what condition to expect. I purchased my PSVR setup from the Amazon Warehouse Black Friday sale a few years ago, for about £100 less than RRP. The outer box was ripped but inside it was all mint, and the device still had all the plastic covers on.
Other sales to check out
Not a site I knew of before a couple of weeks ago, but their early Black Friday sale was brought to my attention, and a couple of really good deals on board games stood out. Also had excellent prices on the sleeves I needed for my copy of 7 Wonders: Duel. Very pleased with the service, so happy to recommend them here. They mostly focus on collectable card games like Magic the Gathering (as you might expect from the name), Pokemon etc. including selling individual cards. They do have a good range of general table top board and card games though too.
Another great resource for board games, usually good prices anyway. Worth checking their Black Friday sale too.
Currys have come a long way in terms of competitive pricing and customer service in recent years. I’ve found myself using them quite a bit for games consoles, chromebooks and various general bits of tech. It’s still worth shopping around to compare prices, but I feel much more comfortable recommending them these days. Their Black Friday sale is worth a look.
Looks like a promising selection from Argos for Black Friday this year, although the best deals seem to be on hair straighteners and I don’t know enough about those to say if it’s a bargain.
Unsurprisingly, GAME have a tendency to have a more cynical approach to Black Friday, with items on sale being already available for the same price (or cheaper) elsewhere. Worth a look to compare prices if you’re after something specific, but definitely double check other places before buying there.