Pokemon Vega (Game Boy Advance)
When I recently bought an Everdrive GBA, the very first thing I did was start loading promising-sounding Pokemon ROM hacks, and of all the ones I downloaded, Pokemon Vega looked to be the most promising. One of the things I was looking for was a hack with well designed Fakemon, the community-given name for new Pokemon a hacker creates and puts into his or her ROM hack. From what I'd read, Vega was pretty much the best of the best as far as Fakemon go, so that's where I began. Fortunately, there's an English translation that's readily available given that the hacker is Japanese.
It's obvious from the first few minutes that Pokemon Vega is an exceptionally well made fan hack that had an enormous amount of care and skill put into it. It's an all new region, about half of the Pokemon in the game are Fakemon, and something like a half or a third of the real Pokemon had to be added in by the hacker as they're from DS and later generations (I think they're all or mostly Gen IV). Not only that, but the game features a handful of entirely new moves. Despite all this, it feels completely natural; one could be forgiven for mistaking it for a legitimate Pokemon game made by Game Freak. No half-assed sprites, no only-somewhat-tweaked world map, no obviously self-insert characters. It all feels completely natural and organic. The best part, though, is undoubtedly the creation of the most glorious Pokemon past present, or a future, and the TRUE evolution of Pikachu - the almighty Electric/Fighting type, Machu (pictured above from the intro sequence)!
Story-wise, Vega picks up where its predecessor, Pokemon Altair and Sirius, left off. As such, there are references to the protagonist's exploits in Hoenn from Altair and Sirius, but there are never any tie-ins major enough to necessitate playing the previous game; I've never touched it, and I had no problem following what was going on aside from not knowing what the "Hoenn Catastrophe" referenced a few times was. I've also seen a lot of folks on Pokemon ROM hack forums suggest just skipping straight to Vega as it's apparently a FAR superior game (which makes sense given that the hacker would have honed his skills a lot during the production of Altair and Sirius).
You start the game immediately encountering new Fakemon as your starter choices are all new. Your fire starter ends up Fire/Steel, your water starter ends up Water/Poison, and your grass starter ends up Grass/Flying. I won't go into details of the story as it's actually one of the more interesting ones I've seen in a Pokemon game (although not quite as interesting to me as Diamond/Pearl or Black/White), but be warned - this game is BALLS hard. Expect gym leaders to be 10 to 15 levels above you when you get to a new town while the surrounding Pokemon are going to be 10 to 15 levels below you, making grinding a pain in the ass. There also exists a fan hack of the fan hack called Vega Minus that is essentially exactly the same except that gym leader and Elite Four levels have been lowered so that they're only 5 to 10 levels above you. That's the version I played because I'm impatient when it comes to grinding, and even with the lower (read: less brutally high) difficulty of Minus, it's still an extremely tough Pokemon game that took me about 68 hours to beat (and by beat, I mean clear the Elite Four and become the new Champion).
While Vega is extremely difficult, it's absolutely worth while. It's a hack of FireRed which I, personally, consider to be the best game in the Pokemon series (although it FireRed/LeafGreen and HeartGold/SoulSilver always swap for #1 every few weeks for me), so it's already got that going for it. Even with those, though, I'd still say it's a better Pokemon game than any of Game Freak's Pokemon games after the GBA era (except for the aforementioned Gen II remakes). It's not for the faint of heart or those unwilling to bash your heads against a brick wall grinding, but it's absolutely worth the struggle if you have the patience. Everdrive, emulator, reproduction cartridge, whatever - however you do it, just play this game if you're a Pokemon fan.
My Rating - 5 Neps
Star Trek (Steam)
Also available on PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360
I have a lot of feelings about the Kelvin timeline in Star Trek. I've been watching Star Trek literally my entire life. I don't like prequels, and I don't like alternate timelines; Jar Jar Abrams' reboot film is both, and this game takes place shortly after that movie. So how does this 2013 Star Trek game stack up for a long-time Star Trek fan and a Prime timeline elitist? Well...it's not terrible.
Have you played Gears of War? Imagine that with the steroids and chainsaws removed and replaced with space ships and Vulcans. Throw in a pinch of unpolished game mechanics, and that's basically Star Trek. It's a third person cover based shooter geared towards co-operative multiplayer in the same fashion as Resident Evil 5 - two protagonists one of which is AI controlled if playing solo. Unlike Shiva in Resident Evil 5, however, Spock is not helplessly stupid and a bigger threat to you than the final boss. Also unlike Resident Evil 5, Star Trek is actually rather fun to play.
Unfortunately, being a licensed movie ti-in game, Star Trek is just pretty good. It's not great. It's not memorable. It's not innovative. It's fun, but it's little more than a decent way to pass time. It doesn't offer an experience of any true depth. I only played solo, so it may well be a fantastic co-op experience, but from my time with the game, it was good, but not amazing. It looks nice. It plays decently although the cover mechanics are annoying and not nearly as smoothly polished as Gears of War or Mass Effect. If you're a fan of the Abrams movie, then you'll probably really like it. If you're a fan of real Star Trek, you'll probably find the game decent but annoying.
Star Trek is an enjoyable game, but it's an extremely okay game. It's a run of the mill cover based third person shooter that doesn't really do much wrong, but it also doesn't really do much right. It's an enjoyable enough romp for Star Trek fans, but for folks who aren't fans of the franchise, there really isn't a lot to offer as there are much, much better cover based third person shooters. If you find it for less than $5, then it's probably a worthwhile play, but otherwise, I wouldn't bother.
My Rating - 3 Neps
Game of Thrones (PlayStation 4)
Also available on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Android, iOS, OSX, and Windows
Let me preface this by saying that I've neither read nor seen any of Game of Thrones. Aside from the internet's saturation of "Winter is coming" memes, I had no exposure to the series whatsoever before this game. With that said, it's important to note that my impression of Telltale's Game of Thrones series comes from a total newcomer to Game of Thrones rather than established fans who are familiar with the source material.
If you've played any of TellTale's series, then you know how Game of Thrones goes from a gameplay perspective. You make some choices, talk to a bunch of people, realize that your choices were stupid and kick yourself mentally for the next four hours, do some quick time events, and repeat. Game of Thrones is entirely keeping with the established norm for TellTale's narrative series, and that's what makes it so damn good. Like their other series (at least the ones I've played), the character development is so incredibly well done that you really do grow attached to them, and because it's Game of Thrones, their inevitable gruesome deaths hurt all the more because of it.
You play as some random soldier dude - I don't remember his name, so we'll call him Greg - on the eve of some big event (I think maybe the apparently infamous Red Wedding?) when you're attacked out of nowhere by ninjas or something. Well, it was just another regular army attacking your army, but it was a cripplingly effective surprise attack, so I'm going with ninjas. Anyway, after you escape from the ninjas, you make your way back home just to be told "Hey, you're our scapegoat. Off to the certain-death exile place with you!" to serve on a suicide mission. From there, the story revolves around the noble family that Greg was serving and the lord's children through their various exploits. At one point or another, you play as all of the kids except for the adorable younger daughter. You learn about the world, the politics, the places, and the characters that inhabit that world. Then you scream, cry, and sometimes throw your controller in rage when they meet their inescapable and tortuously well voice acted demise.
As is the case with the Game of Thrones novel and TV series from what I've been led to believe, this game plays with your emotions and revels in putting your heart through an orange juicer. Good luck putting the controller down, though, because the characters and story are just too damn engrossing to stop playing no matter how much pyschological turmoil the game causes you. I have absolutely no attachment to Game of Thrones, and I was still ensnared from the first half hour. It was begrudgingly that I turned off my Playstation after episode four to go to bed. I can't speak for how much long-time Game of Thrones fans would feel about the game, but for a total newcomer who loves a good story and well written characters, this game is a near masterpiece.
TellTale's Game of Thrones is perhaps their best work yet. At the very least, it's second only to their Walking Dead series. It's masterfully written and pulls the player in with or without any previous exposure to the IP. My only complaints with the game (only one of which is a legitimate gripe about this particular game) is that there were some performance issues - I had several instances of crashing - and the fact that season 2 has been delayed multiple times although TellTale insists that it's still happening. Eventually. I cannot recommend this game highly enough. It's worth noting, though, that my friend, Jerome, took exceptional umbrage to the game's toying with his emotions.
Jerome's Rating - 2 Romes
My Rating - 4 Neps
I'm a teacher.
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach high school history; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.