All posts by Jeffrey Wardon

Continue?: The Future of This Blog

Hey all my fellow nerds, it’s been a blast writing this blog for the past two months. The important thing to note is that I wrote this for a class of mine. So, once that’s over, is it game over for The Niche Nerd? Yes and no.

Think of The Niche Nerd as the initial stage of my blogging. While yes, this blog will no longer be updated after I graduate, I have a plan. My plan is to start up a blog under my name and ownership. It will largely cover the same topics here, but it will add on other topics of nerd culture. Overall, while The Niche Nerd may die out, it will live on in my new blog.

What is this new blog? It will tentatively be named “Chronicles of a Dork.” Basically, it will be taking what I covered here and broadening my horizons. So not just video games will be covered, but anime, movies, books, and various other forms of media too.

I will be sure to provide a link to my new blog next week, given I still need to set it up. For now, though, thank you for reading this blog for the past couple of months. It means a lot to me, in all sincerity. As always, until next time my fellow nerds, peace.

Endgame: Top Three Favorite Final Bosses

A common element of video games are boss battles. These are fights that test the player’s skill and ability. So with final bosses, it’s no surprise that they are a true test of skill. Every journey has an endgame, and video games are no exception. These are my top three favorite final bosses in gaming.

WARNING: There are massive spoilers ahead for the games that will be covered. So proceed at your own risk.

#3: Grima – Fire Emblem Awakening

There’s a lot I love about Awakening, and its final boss is no exception. The journey has led the main character and the Shepherds to their fateful encounter with the Fell Dragon Grima. It turns out the protagonist is the vessel of Grima, created to bring the Fell Dragon back into the world. However, given the events of the game, the protagonist chooses to defy their destiny and slay the dragon. Joined by their close friends and allies, the protagonist charges into battle atop the back of Grima.

This battle is a tough one. Players will need to bring their tactical A-game if they want to slay Grima. Plot-wise, it serves as a great ending to a marvelous tale. Also, the music track playing during the battle (Id-Purpose) is phenomenally composed. It adds to the grandness of this final fight. Overall, the final battle against Grima is a very enjoyable one.

#2: The Final Hazard – Sonic Adventure 2

Surprisingly, my favorite game of all time only has my second favorite final boss of all time. However, that is a not a sleight against the Final Hazard. This fight is just plain epic. Two super-powered hedgehogs fight a giant lizard that has merged with a space colony that is on a collision course with Earth. If that isn’t enough, a fantastic rock song is playing in the background too (Live and Learn by Crush 40).

There are only two other things I can say about this battle. One, it is an awesome wrap up to one of my favorite stories in the Sonic franchise. Secondly, it feels so good to lay the smack down on this lizard, especially after an earlier fight with it. All of that combined makes for one heck of a fight.

#1: Primal Dialga – Pokemon Mystery Dungeon: Explorers of Sky

Here is a game I haven’t talked about yet. Explorers of Sky is a phenomenal game already, and is another one of my favorite games. Consider it a #6 on my previous list. The long and epic journey that led our protagonist and their Pokemon partner to Temporal Spire is finally at an end. At least, it would seem that way. Enraged by the collapse of time, Dialga has gone mad, reverting to a primordial state. It’s up to the duo of Pokemon to defeat the outraged time deity and restore the flow of time.

This is my favorite final boss for many reasons. Primarily, it is an outstanding ending to an awesome story. Plus, I remember spending days as a kid trying to beat Primal Dialga. I will admit as an adult the battle can be pretty simple. If you know your type match-ups in Pokemon, then you’ll have this fight in the bag. However, it is still one of my favorites regardless. Lastly, the track playing throughout this clash (Dialga’s Fight to the Finish) is simply great. It adds an epic level to an already grand face-off.

Final Thoughts

There are numerous other final bosses that I have yet to face. So, this list is subject to change in the coming years. With that being said, what are your favorite final bosses? Let me know in the comments. As always, until next time my fellow nerds, peace.

Way Past Cool: 30 Years of Sonic the Hedgehog

If there is one series I’ve talked about a lot on this blog, it’s Sonic the Hedgehog. This line of games (and other media) is among one of my favorites of all time. Needless to say, I also have an extensive knowledge of the series’ history and lore. So, strap on your running shoes and grab a chili dog, this is a look at the Sonic series.

The Genesis of Sonic

Early on in the 90s, Sega had just released their Genesis console (also called “Mega Drive” in Europe and Japan). It boasted 16-bit graphics and “blast processing” (marketing mumbo-jumbo) that rivaled the Super Nintendo. However, the Genesis lacked a killer app to truly sell the console. Sega needed a mascot with true supersonic power.

Enter programmer Yuji Naka and artist Naoto Ohshima, the two men credited with creating Sonic the Hedgehog. Sonic himself went through several different concepts before he became the iconic blue hedgehog. In fact, one of the designs had him as a rabbit.

Concept artwork of Sonic. (Photo credit: SEGAbits)

Once all was settled on the design, the game took shape. Sonic the Hedgehog (1991) was initially released on June 23, 1991 for the Sega Genesis. It would go on to be a modest success for Sega. From there on, the rest is history.

My History With the Series

I remember my first interaction with the Sonic franchise was the animated series simply called Sonic the Hedgehog. It was probably around 2003 when I was at a Blockbuster Video with my parents. I had picked out a VHS of the cartoon because it looked cool. After watching a few episodes, I became a fan. Little did I know that this hedgehog had a whole series of video games, comics, and other media behind him.

The intro to the cartoon. (Credit: 90sCartoonIntros on YouTube)

My earliest memory with the games is with Sonic Advance on the Game Boy Advance and Sonic Adventure 2 Battle on the GameCube. Sonic Advance is a two-dimensional platformer that returned Sonic to his roots. There wasn’t much of a story to the game, but it’s still a very solid experience. It eventually got two sequels.

Sonic Adventure 2 Battle was what completely sold me on the series. As currently being my favorite game of all time, there’s a lot I could say about this game. However, I already covered it in a previous post. Safe to say, the game means a lot to me.

From then on, I was a total Sonic fan. I read the comic books published by Archie Comics, I watched the anime, I bought the music CDs, and I even saw the recent movie. (In my opinion, the movie’s pretty decent!)

Final Thoughts

Though I have my gripes with the series’ current direction, overall I love the Sonic the Hedgehog franchise. While I haven’t been around for all 30 years of its history, I’ve seen enough of it to be a fan. What are some game series you love? Let me know in the comments. As always, until next time my fellow nerds, peace,

A Simple Demonstration: The Need for Game Demos

As far back as I can remember, game demos have been a constant in the gaming industry. In the early days, you had demo discs or even kiosks at Toys “R” Us (or other retail stores). Nowadays, you have downloadable demos. However, it seems for a time demos weren’t as common. This week, I’m going to take a brief look at two demos, how they influenced my decision-making, and why demos are a good practice.

Exhibit A: Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl

I knew someday I would get around to talking about Etrian Odyssey, and today’s the day. Untold: The Millennium Girl is a full on remake of the first Etrian Odyssey. This series is a relatively niche one, as it is a first person, dungeon crawling, turn-based JRPG.

I had heard about the series for some time before I tried out the demo for Untold: The Millennium Girl. At the time, the only game I had played that was similar to Etrian Odyssey was Persona Q: Shadow of the Labyrinth. I was at least familiar with the game play style, but everything else was brand new when I played the demo.

It was a bit different from your standard JRPG, which ultimately sold me on the game in time. The main point here is that the demo of the game was solid enough to get me to eventually purchase the full game. I still have yet to finish it, but I’m glad I bought into the Etrian Odyssey series. That is all thanks to the demo.

If you are interested in checking out the demo for yourself, it’s available for free on the Nintendo 3DS eShop.

Battle game play of Etrian Odyssey Untold: The Millennium Girl. (Photo credit: Atlus).

Exhibit B: Balan Wonderworld

Here is a case of high hopes that turned into deep disappointment. To give a bit of background, Balan Wonderworld was being developed by ex-Sonic the Hedgehog developers Yuji Naka and Naoto Ohshima. These two gents were responsible for creating the Blue Blur. As a big fan of that series, I had my hopes for what they could with Balan Wonderworld.

Needless to say, those hopes were dashed.

When I tried out the demo for this game, I went in with an open mind. However. I just couldn’t bring myself to enjoy what was an unfinished and bland platformer. I’ll admit, I originally planned on buying the game day one. Boy, am I glad this demo came out before the game itself released.

In this case, the demo gave me a good enough feel for Balan Wonderworld. Good enough that I canceled my order for the game. Ultimately, this is a scenario where a demo can help weed out a bad game.

If you are interested in experiencing Balan Wonderworld for yourself, there is still a free demo available on the Nintendo Switch, the PS4/PS5, and Xbox One/Series X.

Screenshot of game play from Balan Wonderworld. (Photo credit: Square Enix).

The Point of It All

Overall, game demos are an important part of the decision-making process for buying a game. They allow you to essentially take the game out for a test run. This helps you come to a decision on whether to a buy a game.

It can even be a source of change for game development. In some cases, some developers use feedback from demos to change or fix their games. This happened with games like Daemon X Machina and Octopath Traveler.

In short, game demos can be a great practice to employ.

Final Thoughts

I think game demos have a lot to offer for consumers and developers alike. What are some game demos that made or broke the game for you? Let me know in the comments. As always, until next time my fellow nerds, peace.

Archiving the Past: Why Game Preservation Matters

With the recent news of Sony shuttering the PS3, PSP, and PS Vita’s online stores, an important question has been raised: how do we preserve video games? This question has been around for quite some time now, but it’s all the more relevant as game companies are pushing for an all-digital future. In this week’s post, I will be breaking down what game preservation is, how it’s done, the challenges facing it, and why it matters.

What is game preservation?

Simply put, it’s exactly as it sounds. Game preservation is the matter of keeping games in-tact and saved for continued (and future) use.

To compare it to other media, think of film archives. There are whole foundations out there dedicated to the preservation of movies. These foundations do this so that older films (or even newer ones) aren’t lost to history. Believe it or not, lots of media ends up getting lost because no one ever thought to save them for later. In fact, it is such a common thing that there are entire forums and communities online dedicated to finding “lost media.”

So, is it as simple as just saving your discs or cartridges for years on end? Not exactly.

How are games preserved?

It really depends on the game’s format. DVD-based games can at least be put in a disc drive on a computer and have their data imaged onto a hard drive. Cartridges, on the other hand, take a bit more of a work-around to preserve. (That could be another post in and of itself, so for the sake of brevity, I will link you to a great post from Hackaday about cartridge preservation).

One way of preserving these games is through emulation. Software emulation allows for games on older consoles like the NES, PlayStation, Sega Dreamcast, and the like to be played on PCs (or even phones). Emulation is a thing that has been around for years now, with some consoles even making use of it these days.

There are other ways of preserving games, though it gets harder for a layman like me to explain. At the end of this post, I will link to other articles that can go into further detail.

The challenges of preservation

To be blunt, nothing lasts forever. Physical media is a great testament to this reality. Over time, the processes on these physical formats like discs and cartridges will be unable to be performed. Whether it be due to age or just physical rot, large sections of data will become inaccessible on these formats.

What about digital media? Well, so long as they are bound to physical devices, they have a limit too. Game consoles after a certain point just stop working, rendering the games on them unplayable.

A huge problem for both digital and physical game owners just reared its head recently with the PS4. According to Twitter user “Does It Play?”, once the internal clock on a PS4 dies, both digital and physical games are unable to be played.

Without even getting into the legal quandaries of game preservation, it is already easy to see why preservation can be challenging. However, I would argue that it’s ultimately worth it.

Why game preservation matters

To be brief, video games are an important part of modern culture. While other forms of media are often preserved, games don’t get the same treatment.

There is a lot to be learned from video games. Business, marketing, development, culture, and trends are just some things that can be gleaned from studying video game history. To lose a vital part of modern technology’s history would be a mistake. Heck, to lose any part of history would be a grave mistake.

Preservation of games and media in general is an integral part of remembering who we are as a species and where we came from. As the old adage rings true: those who forget their history are doomed to repeat it.

Final Thoughts

This was a topic that I wanted to cover for quite some time. Fortunately, the renewed interest in preservation gave me good reason to talk about it. At the end of this post will be links to other articles on the matter and to foundations committed to preserving games. (Just a note, I am not affiliated with any of these sites and am not receiving any type of gain from them).

What do you all think about this issue? Leave your comments and thoughts below. As always, until next time my fellow nerds, peace.

Further Reading

Groups for Video Game Preservation

Home page of the Video Game History Foundation

First Impressions: Rising Up With Monster Hunter Rise

After several months of waiting, it is time to rise up. Monster Hunter Rise came out exactly a week ago from today, and during that time I have already clocked in over 15 hours. However, what are my thoughts on the new Monster Hunter installment? Let’s get into it.

Initial Impressions

My first experience with Rise was the demo released in early January. At the time, I was confused with the controls and new mechanics. It seemed like a cross between World and Generations Ultimate. Some of the new mechanics, primarily the Wirebug and Silkbind Skills, took some time to get used to. Over time, though, I played the demo more and more. I eventually got a hang of the new controls and mechanics.

Then the full game came out, allowing me to experience more of what Rise had to offer. First off, I will have to say this game looks beautiful for what the Nintendo Switch can pull off. The Switch is not a graphical powerhouse like the new generation consoles, but every once in a while it can surprise me. Environments are detailed and vibrant, brimming with the various fauna of the Monster Hunter world. Let me tell you, the monsters look fantastic in Rise.

If it starts singing about the Bare Necessities, I’m grabbing my Heavy Bowgun.

While graphics are nice, what about the game play? Rise retains the same high-octane action from previous titles while having new mechanics. I mentioned them before, but the Wirebug and Silkbind Skills are the new main additions to the game play. The Wirebug allows for increased mobility and maneuverability, something that is very welcomed for Monster Hunter. It adds a new layer of strategy to hunting that is enjoyable. Meanwhile, Silkbind Skills are essentially the replacement for Styles from Generations Ultimate. I think they are just fine, though I do miss the customization Styles allowed for in Generations Ultimate. Overall, I really enjoy the new mechanics introduced here.

Final Thoughts

I think Monster Hunter Rise is a very solid experience so far. It combines what I liked about Generations Ultimate and World into a fresh, new package. I am definitely looking forward to the future updates planned for this game and any possible DLC. I recommend Rise to any Monster Hunter fan. For newcomers, though, I would recommend checking out the demo first to get a feel for the game.

Let me know what you think in the comments! Until next time my fellow nerds, peace.

Indie Spotlight: To Hell And Back With Hades

Over the past week, I have been enjoying Supergiant’s latest game Hades on my Nintendo Switch. It is a Roguelike, a genre I covered in my last post about Rogue. I should note, this is not a full-fledged review of the game. I have not beat Hades yet, however, I wanted to share my initial thoughts on it.

Hades is the story of Prince Zagreus, one of the many progeny of Hades himself. Zagreus one night (relative to time in the Underworld) decides to go through his father’s documents, hoping to find anything at all about himself. He ends up learning of his true mother, Persephone. Determined to find her in the surface world, Zagreus begins his journey of multiple attempts to escape the Underworld.

As such, you aren’t expected to finish Hades in one run. You will die multiple times, and I mean MULTIPLE times. So get ready to hone your skills if you wish to aid Zagreus in his escape from the Underworld.

Be prepared to see this screen a lot throughout your play-through.

In Hades, your goal is to make it as far as possible through Tartarus and escape the Underworld. Along the way, you will receive help from Zagreus’ Olympian relatives. They will give you different power-ups and effects for your skills. However, upon death you lose any and all of these power-ups. Essentially, you start from scratch after each time you die. Certain elements of the game are permanent, though, like weapons and other effects. My favorite weapon so far is the Aegis Shield.

Achilles is right, death is just another obstacle to our hero Zagreus.

Ultimately, combat can be pretty simple at times to downright frantic. Some early chambers will feature fewer enemies while later chambers will throw waves of them at you. For this, a bit of advice from the character Hypnos, “Dash like mad.” Dashing lets you evade most attacks. Depending on certain power-ups, your dashes can deal damage themselves.

Other than that, the characters are pretty entertaining and well-written so far. My personal favorite side character is Nyx, Queen of the Night. The soundtrack is also fitting and a blast to listen to while fighting off hordes of Underworld denizens.

Final Thoughts

Hades is a great spin on the Roguelike genre. It offers hours of content and replay value. I look forward to playing more of Hades in the future. Have any of you played Hades yet? Let me know what you think in the comments! As always my fellow nerds, until next time, peace.

Into the Dungeons of Doom: The Legacy of Rogue

If there is another genre I love, it is the Roguelike. The endless amounts of randomly generated dungeons to crawl and loot to grab define this genre. Where did this genre begin, though? Well, it all started with a single game little over 40 years ago.

The Birth of Rogue

Way back in the mystical year of 1980, there were two gents named Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman, both age 19. They went to college at UC Santa Cruz and worked on computer coding. Both Michael and Glenn had a love for the computer text-based game Adventure. The game would only give you descriptions of surrounding and the like through text, as there were no graphics at the time.

However, Glenn recalls around this time at UC Berkeley a man named Ken Arnold had put together a library of routines. This ultimately allowed programs, like games, to put a character on the screen. While it didn’t allow for true graphics, it would serve as a primitive form of them. Letters, symbols, and numbers could now be used to represent very rudimentary pictures.

Eventually, the package containing the library made its way around several campuses. As the creative minds they were, Michael and Glenn wanted to create a graphical adventure game with the library. Ultimately, this gave birth to Rogue (a name Glenn came up with based off the character class from Dungeons and Dragons).

What type of game is Rogue?

Rogue is an adventure game that takes place in the “Dungeons of Doom,” where the fabled Amulet of Yendor rests. Everything in the game is randomly generated. This means floor layouts, item placement, and enemy placement are all randomized. That makes every play through different than the last.

Screenshot of the MS DOS version of Rogue, played via Steam.

You fight monsters in this game simply by hitting the arrow key in the direction of the monster. After beating a monster, you gain experience points. Gain enough of these and you’ll level up. The game play itself is very basic, but for a game from the 80s, I can overlook that. This is especially true for a game that helped pioneer its own sub-genre.

The Legacy of Rogue

Rogue helped to inspire the sub-genre of games called “Roguelikes.” Essentially, these games take after the original Rogue with how they play. A somewhat well-known series that spawned from this sub-genre is Chunsoft’s Mystery Dungeon. Even the game Hades, a Roguelike developed by Supergiant Games, was nominated for Game of the Year at 2020’s Video Game Awards. There are countless games that have been inspired by the original Rogue. Needless to say, the Roguelike sub-genre has become very popular and successful since its inception.

Final Thoughts

Rogue has undoubtedly inspired many games since the early 1980s. Its always fascinating to see how a seemingly small and simple game inspire a myriad of other games. One thing’s for sure, I’m thankful that Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman followed their passions to develop Rogue. It gave rise to one of my favorite sub-genres in gaming. What do you all think of the history and legacy of Rogue? Let me know in the comments. Until next time my fellow nerds, peace.


To the Scrapyard: 3 Games That Never Released

There are many video games out there, some that have gone on to be great successes. However, not every game gets released. A few even got far into development but were axed later on. This week I will be looking at three games that never reached store shelves.

#1: Sonic-16 (Cancelled Sega Genesis/Mega Drive game, 1993)

There are several cancelled Sonic the Hedgehog games throughout the series’ history. This one, referred to as Sonic-16, was pitched to Sega by Sega Technical Institute (a long-defunct American development studio of Sega). Sonic-16 was based off the hit TV-show at the time simply called Sonic the Hedgehog or as fans call it, “Sonic SatAM.”

It featured noticeably slower and more methodical game play than the series was known for back then. This reason alone is often cited as why then series director Yuji Naka gave the pitch a thumbs down. There is a video of the cancelled game on YouTube, but I thought it would be best to share it here.

Video of the pitched game from November 1993. (Video credit: Peter Morawiec)

Personally, I would have been interested in trying the game out if it ever released. (Granted, I wasn’t even alive in 1993). Funnily enough, the old Saturday morning cartoon is what introduced me to the overall Sonic series. I’m pretty sure younger me would have been thrilled to see this as a fully playable game. However, as an adult, I can see why Yuji Naka made the decision he did. It would have been too risky to change the game play so drastically early on in the series. Though, I will admit, part of me would love to see this game revived officially or through a fan-made ROM-hack.

One last thing to note, Sonic-16 has been said to be an earlier form of another, much more infamous cancelled Sonic game. However, I feel the story of Sonic X-treme is best saved for its own post.

#2: Maverick Hunter (Cancelled Mega Man first-person shooter)

Ah yes, the Blue Bomber himself has his own set of cancelled games, too. However, the most interesting one to me is the cancelled first-person shooter game. This game, entitled Maverick Hunter, was based off the Mega Man X sub-series. It would have reportedly been similar to what Metroid Prime brought to the Metroid series. (In fact, some of the people who worked on Metroid Prime also worked on Maverick Hunter).

Video of the game play in Maverick Hunter. (Video credit: MegaMacTV)

Maverick Hunter features fast and high-octane action akin to DOOM (2016). Players would have been mowing down robots and performing stylized kills on them too. The video featuring its game play was first released back in 2013, presumably some time after the game had been cancelled.

I honestly think this game could have been quite a bit of fun and an interesting spin on Mega Man X. It would have been a much darker take on the series and a radical genre shift, too. The Mega Man X games are traditionally “run ‘n gun” platformers and a bit more lighthearted. Suffice to say, I can see why this project got shelved.

#3: Star Wars 1313 (Cancelled multi-platform action game, 2013)

Among all of the Star Wars games developed by LucasArts, Star Wars 1313 was one of the last. This wasn’t because LucasArts went under, it was because the Walt Disney Company had bought Lucasfilm around the time of development. Ultimately, the game was scrapped due to the acquisition by Disney and subsequent layoffs at LucasArts.

The game would have starred bounty hunter Boba Fett as he explored the subterranean society “Level 1313” of the planet Coruscant. It would have been a darker, grittier take on the Star Wars universe.

A trailer featuring game play of Star Wars 1313. (Video credit: GameNews)

Given the recent success of The Mandalorian, I could see a game like this being done for the current gen of consoles and PC. It probably wouldn’t be a straight-up revival of 1313, but a potential game could take a lot of inspiration from it. Considering that the Star Wars games license will no longer be EA’s in a couple years, I would say a 1313-inspired game is completely possible.

Final Thoughts

Like I said before, not every game gets to make it to store shelves. Regardless, it is still interesting to look at what could have been for some game series. There are still far more cancelled games I could cover in the future, and even some other lost media too. Though, that is for another time. As always, feel free to let me know what you think of this post in the comments. Until next time my fellow nerds, peace!

The Great Escape: Video Games and Escapism

We all know how great this past year has been. A global pandemic, draconian lock downs, civil unrest, etc. When the world plunges itself into utter and nearly inescapable chaos, where do people have left to turn? One method is escapism.

What is escapism?

Escapism is best defined as using fantasy or imagination to distract yourself from reality. At its core, escapism provides humanity a way to look away from their troubles and stresses, even if only for a fleeting moment. In some ways, it’s an essential part of life because it lets people cope with the negative aspects of their real lives.

However, too much escapism can be a detrimental thing. There’s a difference in indulging in escapist fantasy occasionally and literally living in a fantasy world. Escaping reality shouldn’t come at the cost of living your actual life. Though, that’s enough of my personal advice for one post.

Aside from that, at its most basic, escapism could be seen as idly daydreaming. However, it can take many forms: music, books, television/film, writing, art, or even sports. The form of escapism I’m interested in discussing here is, surprisingly enough, the world of video games.

How are video games an escape?

Video games provide a fantasy for players to partake in. This fantasy is all dependent on the person, though. Some wish to slay dragons and explore a vast open world. Others may just want to race around in luxury cars and wreak havoc in the city. Fortunately, video games offer a rich and diverse selection of worlds to explore, all with their own unique stories. I’d argue that there are games out there for everyone to enjoy, it just takes a little looking.

While this is all well and good, exactly how are video games an escape? Again, it’s all about appealing to the individual’s fantasies. Games allow players to actively engage in that fantasy, creating a stronger escapist experience overall. The level of need or want to see those fantasies satisfied is going to vary depending upon the person. When those are fulfilled, a game has done its job.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I’d say video games are my go-to form of escapism. They provide just enough of an interactive fantasy that other mediums don’t. However, that isn’t to discredit other methods of escapism. That brings me to my question for the week: what are your favorite ways to escape reality? Let me know in the comments! Until next time my fellow nerds, peace.