Top 5 Challenging Boss Battles in Dark Souls 2!

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Dark Souls is a series known for its robust level of challenge and punishing learning curves. Dark Souls 2 is no exception to this, and it contains several bosses that occasionally make you wonder why you are playing in the first place. Generally speaking, the bosses in DS2 are considerably easier than the original (or perhaps I am now just more skilled at the game). Indeed, some are almost laughably easy. Demon of Song and the Skeleton Lords spring to mind immediately, with an honourable mention to Nashandra and Aldia who were disappointingly easy as a final boss in comparison to Lord Gwyn.

That being said, some of the bosses were frustrating to say the least. Here are my own personal top five most difficult (or annoying) bosses in Dark Souls 2: Scholar of the First Sin.

  1. Sinh, Slumbering Dragon

The main game and the DLC material pit you against a number of Dragon bosses, but I would say that this is the most challenging of the lot. Primarily, this is due to the fact that it spams toxic at you as an after effect to its breath attacks. Bosses that like to inflict status effects on to the player are always frustrating, but in this case the combination of toxic, flying charges, fireballs and punishing melee attacks make this fight stand out.

  1. The Smelter Demon/Magical Smelter Demon

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I have included these two in the same spot as they are more or less identical in terms of appearance and move set (albeit slightly more power on the magical demon). Some players may have found this fight pretty easy but I found myself struggling. The Smelter Demons hit hard, move faster than you would expect for their size and also inflict fire and magic damage respectively. A few area spread attacks can catch you off guard, and midway through the fight the Demons will cause residual damage if you stand too close and enchant their weapons for further damage. This is challenging enough, but I think what caught me off guard the most was the fact that, well telegraphed as the attacks are, there is a slightly longer pause than you would expect between the beginning of the attack animation and the attack landing. Often you roll out of danger only to then take the attack full on in the face. Most people could probably adapt to this a bit quicker than I did but it still proves a challenge. A special nod has to be given to the magical Smelter Demon for having a very irritating run up to the boss, full of dangerous enemies and traps.

  1. Aava, the Kings Pet

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Hands up, who remembers Sif from Dark Souls 1? Anyone else feel slightly bad about killing him? I always did; he looks too cute, makes a heart-wrenching noise like a dog when hurt and just misses his dead buddy.

No such feelings accompany this fight. Aava is a bastard; a straight-up bastard. Beast boss fights are, in my experience, either quite easy or punishing in the extreme. Aava falls into the latter category. Unlike the Royal Rat Authority, whose attacks are pretty easy to suss out and avoid (roll forward), Aava’s move-set is more varied, do more damage, and he is much, much faster. All of your dodges need to be completely on-point or you are in for a mauling. There are many times where I felt that my dodge was perfectly timed only to die moments later. Additionally, Aava also has a few spells/area attacks to keep things interesting. I always plump for a melee build; I have no idea how spell-casters manage to get through this fight.

  1. Raime, the Fume Knight

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I probably died more times in this boss fight than in many of the others put together. He is another boss fight that comes in two halves; once his health is depleted by half he becomes a lot more dangerous. His initial attack pattern is quite varied but can be mastered with a few attempts. That being said, if he hits you, the damage can be quite severe as he racks up combo-hits and staggering attacks. It is easy enough to heal at this stage; sprinting across the room should give you enough time to chug that sweet, sweet Estus.

His second form is genuinely frightening. He adopts the move-set and flaming sword attacks of Lord Gwyn, the final boss in Dark Souls 1, only there is no favourable terrain to assist you in the fight. His attacks are lightning fast and it is nearly impossible to get enough breathing space to heal. I ended up two handing my Pursuer’s great sword as blocking any of his attacks was simply not an option. In order to win, your rolls and doges must be perfect every time. There is no margin for error. Additionally, he can follow up his quick combos with punishing area attacks, fireballs, and a laserbeam-like type attack. If you have depleted your stamina through dodging his combos they can be very hard to avoid.

However, the sense of triumph on winning this fight is pretty special, and has only really been matched the first time I defeated Ornstein and Smough in the first game.

  1. Burnt Ivory King

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I am going to preface this entry by saying that I did actually enjoy it quite a lot, despite the level of difficulty.

This boss is possibly unique in the Souls franchise (I haven’t played DS3 so can’t say for sure) in the sense that the boss fight includes a melee or sorts with multiple enemies and allies. The Burnt Ivory King opens portals into the fight arena and you have to defeat all of the Burnt Knights before facing off against the King himself. It’s actually quite fun, but the enemies are not as weak as you would like which means that the changes of actually getting to the King each time you try is about 50/50. Due to the fact that he is similar in fighting style to the challenging Fume Knight, this can be problematic. He moves with terrifying speed, hits hard and offers very few chances for healing. On his own, this fight is probably a bit easier than Raime, but when you add in the extra challenge of defeating his knights, it just pips it for me in terms of difficulty.

Do you agree with my list? If not I’d love to hear which bosses made you want to never play the series again!

Dark Souls Lore Part 2: the ‘Chosen Undead’

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My last post on this topic outlined the grand deception perpetrated by Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight. Namely, that the curse of the undead was created and unleashed by Nito on the orders of Gwyn as a means to ensure the perpetuation of the Flame, and thus the continued rule of the Gods. Additionally, the myth of the ‘Chosen Undead’ and the aligned prophecy is created by Gwyn, or Gwyndolin, and disseminated by Kingseeker Frampt as another means of controlling the undead and manipulating them into maintaining the Flame.

If you are interested in reading the full post, you can find it here.

Under this context, I decided to look for other clues that would suggest that you, as the player are actually not the Chosen Undead and that the whole prophecy is meaningless.

The stated goal of the Chosen Undead is to kindle the Flame and banish the Dark, and thus averting the onset of the Age of Dark. The game plays on our expectations as players; it is natural to assume that we are special in the world in which we play. This is paralleled in the desperate desire of the undead to find meaning in their cursed state. The game uses language like ‘light’, and ‘gods’ to suggest that we are on the side of right. Dark has always had negative connotations in story telling; so it is tempting to assume that light is good and dark is ‘bad.’

However, we know that the Age of Dark actually refers to the onset of the rule of humanity over the world, subverting and supplanting the rule of the gods, or ‘light.’ Indeed, this was a major driver in persuading Gwyn to link his soul with the Flame in the first place. As I have stated before, it is interesting to note that there are no non-human undead (another factor that suggests that the curse was devised by the ‘Gods’); why would an undead, with their roots and base in humanity be chosen to ensure the continued rule of the gods?

The game often uses the ploy of the unreliable narrator when giving information to the player via exposition. This means that we should be naturally wary and suspicious of any information that is volunteered to us; why should our status as the Chosen Undead be any different? The only reason that we think that we might be is because Kingseeker Frampt tells us that we are, and his motivations are suspect at best.

This brings us neatly to Kaathe, the other primordial serpent. His dialogue talks about opposing Frampt to help right ancient wrongs and find the true lord. This could be a reference to writing the wrongs perpetrated against the dragons by the gods, or it could refer to writing the wrongs of Gwyn in linking the Flame and subverting the natural order of the world and suppressing humanity. This would again suggest that the undead were never meant to be, so it is very unlikely that there would be a chosen undead.

Even if we do buy into the concept of a chosen undead, there is some awkwardness when considering exactly who is doing the choosing. Setting aside some higher power in Lordran that is never mentioned in the game, the natural assumption would be Gwyn, as the mightiest of the Lords. However, as the time of our imprisonment in the asylum, we know that Gwyn is languishing in the Kiln of the First Flame, his power all but spent following his linking with the Flame. It is unlikely that he would be capable of overseeing the process of empowering a chosen undead, and who else would have the power?

To my mind Kingseeker Frampt providers the final clue to the chosen undead being a false prophecy. When he greets you after the ringing of the first Bell of Awakening, he goes out of his way to praise you and convince you of your status as the chosen one. However, should you choose to attack Frampt (after placing the Lord Vessel) and inflict enough damage on him, he will choose to denounce you, claiming that you are not the chosen one after all and that he will sleep until one more worthy appears. Frampt’s capriciousness is telling.

If you truly are the chosen undead, you would be no matter what actions you took or how Frampt feels about you. The glib and fickle way in which he treats you may suggest that he knows that the prophecy is a lie and that the chosen undead does not exist. When he says that he awaits one more worthy, it is likely that he means someone who is more easily duped and controlled into doing the bidding of the gods, and being manipulated into linking the Flame.

It is also odd that there appears to be nothing particularly special about our character or abilities at all. Indeed, we would not even have made it out of our cell in the Undead Asylum were it not for the actions of Oscar of Astora, who tosses us the key to our cell.

I suppose it all comes back to the oft used saying “If it seems too good to be true then it probably is” (if the idea of being a sacrifice appeals to you that is.)

Dark Souls Lore: Gwyn, the First Sin and Conspiracy!

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We are told that in the beginning there was the primordial, half-formed world which was ruled by the immortal Stone Dragons. They, like the land itself, were changeless and undying.

In the depths of the world there arose the progenitors of the humans, giants and other creatures of the world that we see scattered through the Dark Souls universe.

At some point (when is unclear, and a relatively unimportant question in a world that pre-exists time) the First Flame is kindled in the deepest reaches of the world. Within the Flame there exists the Four Souls which serve as fuel for the Flame.

These souls, as we are told, are discovered by four mighty beings who claim their power for their own. These beings came to be known as: Gwyn, Lord of Sunlight; Nito, the First of the Dead; Isalith, Master of Fire; and the mysterious figure known as the Furtive Pygmy.

The Lords rise up and use their power to cast down the Stone Dragons and usurp control of the surface world. They are aided by Seath, a dragon born without scales who therefore lacks the immortality of his kind, who is rewarded by Gwyn by making him a Duke and, eventually, giving Seath a fragment of his Lord Soul.

Nito retreats to the catacombs to become master of the dead and Gwyn and the Witch of Isalith go on to found their own mighty domains. The Furtive Pygmy chooses to remain in the shadows, repeatedly splitting its own Lord Soul, known as the Dark Soul, which he portions out to the emerging race of humanity who begin to multiply.

Eventually, without the power of the Lord Souls to sustain it, the First Flame begins to fade. This alarms the Lords as their own power is linked with the Flame. They fear that their dominion over the world will come to an end if the Flame is lost; they also fear the emerging threat of humanity who could, in time, come to challenge the Lords for control over the world.

In desperation, Gwyn decides to commit the First Sin by linking his own soul with the Flame. However, he is aware that his own soul cannot fuel the Fire indefinitely. Therefore, before linking his soul with the Flame, he comes up with a plan to ensure the continued propagation of the Flame.

Gwyn devises a plan which forces the emerging humanity to continue to feed the Flame through sacrificing their humanity as fuel. In order to achieve this, Gwyn enlists the aid of Nito, First of the Dead, to create the curse of undeath to afflict humanity.

The curse, which would be devised and unleased by Nito, only intensifies as the Flame fades. In order to avoid going hollow, afflicted humans must harvest humanity from wherever they can and offer it as fuel to the bonfires that are linked to the Flame. Not only does this help to fuel the flame but it also allows the undead to retain their sense of self and avoid going hollow.

As the flame fades, ever more members of humanity fall under the curse and become undead, become afflicted and begin the process of harvesting fuel for the flame to avoid the fate of going hollow.

This plan has the double benefit of ensuring the propagation of the Flame, and therefore the continued rule of the Lords through the line of Gwyn, who presumably contain a portion of his Lord Soul, but also has the effect of dividing and weakening humanity through the curse.

Although not explicitly stated, the curse of undeath makes more sense as being purposefully created and targeted at humanity by a hostile will rather than through a chance of nature or an unintended consequence of the fading of the Flame. The label of a curse is important as it does not act in the way that a disease would, which could be mitigated and quarantined. It is interesting to note that only humanity is afflicted by the curse. The only undead giants and other creatures that can be found in the Catacombs seem to exist only through the efforts of Nito and, to some extent, Pinwheel.

As the First of the Dead, Nito would be well placed and capable of creating an undead curse which could be unleashed at the bidding of Gwyn, in the same way that his powers were unleashed against the Stone Dragons. As a being who is only interested in spreading death, the curse of the undead would appeal to Nito as it encourages the undead to kill to further harvest humanity.

To further solidify the continued propagation of the Flame by humanity afflicted with the curse of undeath, Gwyn, or possibly his children, conspire with Kingseeker Frampt, one of the primordial serpents, to create the prophecy and myth of the Chosen Undead as another means of control.

By distributing the prophecy, and the myth of the Chosen Undead, it encourages the more powerful of the undead to seek more souls and link the Flame, framing it as a noble quest to banish the curse of undeath. The process does indeed do this, for a while, until the Flame begins to die down once more, re-starting the cycle.

Having devised and implemented a plan to ensure the continued protection and fuelling of the First Flame, Gwyn splits his Lord Soul with his children and several other important figures, and finally offers himself to the Flame, becoming the first Lord of Cinder. His loyal knights who accompany him are charred in the resulting conflagration, becoming the Black Knights that wander Lordran.

At some point before the linking of the Flame by Gwyn, the Witch of Isalith attempts to re-create the First Flame, but instead ends up creating the Chaos Flame the eventually spawns the demon race and pyromancy.

It is logical to assume that the events taking place in Dark Souls 1 happen just after the first waning of the Flame since Gwyn became the first Lord of Cinder (although it would seem that this is still a very long time after that). I think this is evidence most by the fact that the Nito and Seath are still alive (if that is the appropriate word for the First of the Dead and a now immortal dragon.)

I did wonder why Frampt (presumably with Gwyn’s permission) would push you towards destroying Nito, Seath and the other holders of the Lord Souls. The simple answer would seem to be that he knew that powerful souls would be needed for the re-kindling and no longer really needed the other holders of the Lord Souls for anything. The Flame would continue to exist without them.

I also questioned how the Flame could be linked in subsequent cycles of the process as the powerful souls of Nito etc would already have been used up in the players run in Dark Souls 1. However, this must be where the Lords of Cinder come into play. Just as you kill the first Lord of Cinder in the form of Gwyn, subsequent ‘chosen undead’ must vanquish all the other Lords of Cinder who are created through the process of linking the Flame before linking the Flame themselves.

This is yet more evidence of the cyclical nature of the process and ingenuity of the deception by Gwyn and Frampt. It is hard to shake off the feeling that you are being used when you play the game, and I know that next time I am faced with the choice, you better believe I will be choosing not to link the Flame.

The England V. Italy Saga: Creative thinking needs to be backed up by results

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You can say this for England; there is always plenty to discuss when they play. This weekend’s crucial Six Nations game against Italy at Twickenham proved no exception to this rule after the largely unprecedented tactics deployed by the Azzurri.

Before getting into analysis of the play itself, I feel compelled to offer up a defense of England head coach Eddie Jones. Never one to be shy in coming forwards, Eddie described the Italian tactics as ‘not rugby’ and recommended that match attendees ask for their money back.

Predictably, social media took extreme offence at this, describing his words as ‘sour grapes’, ‘whinging’ and everything in-between. I, on the other hand, completely sympathise with Eddie Jones’ frustration. He will have worked with his team for two weeks on perfecting rucking, counter-rucking and keeping discipline at the breakdown. The game will have been the culmination of a lot of hard work and effort by all concerned and to see that work largely derailed in such a manner must have been deeply frustrating indeed.

It does also seem that with every victory and success the level of scrutiny (and yes, often, dislike) aimed at him from across the rugby world grows ever greater. Many of the critics are voicing their derision at what they see as his comments being merely the result of being ‘out-thought’ (debateable, more on this later) by Connor O’Shea and his defence coach. To my mind all this proves is that Eddie takes enormous pride in what he does, and genuinely cares on making his team a success. It proves he is emotionally invested in England’s fortune as a team, so of course he is going to feel wounded when it goes wrong. Frankly, I’d prefer this to be the case rather than a more passive approach that has been taken by other coaching teams both with England and other Northern hemisphere teams in the past.

Of course, perhaps I am a little biased in the sense that I largely agree with Eddie’s statement even if I do question the wisdom of making a statement like that in front of the cameras.

This leads me to the Italian tactics themselves. As you will have guessed, I am not a fan. I think that debates on the legality of the tactic itself are largely pointless. It is legal and Italy did have the right to do what they did. However, it doesn’t mean that they should.

As a tactic it pretty much makes no sense at all. Yes, you do avoid the possibility of conceding penalties at the breakdown by not getting involved in the rucks in the first place. However, by not committing men to the ruck and challenging for position, you leave yourself completely vulnerable. By having players out of position, and not competing for the ball, the attacking team can do what England eventually did, which is to simply pick and go through the gaps or use a maul to blast through what remains of the defensive line and then exploit the resultant gaps.

Using this tactic feels a little gimmicky. Sure, it might give you the element of surprise and wrong-foot your opponents, but sooner or later, your opponent will be able to take advantage of the fact that they know that no-one is going to be competing for the ball. Sparing use of this tactic by a talented side could have merits as they can fall back on other styles of play when the opponent adapts accordingly. With Italy, however, you got the feeling that they had little else to offer in this match besides this play. I mean no disrespect to Italy when I say this. I have been a huge fan of the Italians for a long time and genuinely want to see them able to compete at the highest level.

This didn’t really feel like competing, mostly just like hanging on. Italy has actually looked far more threatening in past matches (perhaps not this tournament) when they have turned up fully ready to play. It was therefore a disappointing sight for anyone who wanted to watch a fast-paced, highly competitive game. Eddie was right; beyond the bizarre spectacle, the game didn’t offer too much else.

For all the talk of ingenuity from Connor O’Shea, the fact remains that Italy still lost the match and conceded six tries. If creative thinking is not eventually backed up by results it is meaningless. As Eddie put it, England came away with five points, Italy have nothing to show as of yet for this tournament.

And now we come to England. It can’t be denied that England were slow to come into the match. The opening quarter of the game lacked intensity and was plagued with unforced errors. That being said, for all the criticism of England’s adaptability, they did eventually react and finish off a convincing win. For all the talk flying around of close encounters, England did score six tries and win the bonus point.

We also saw some outstanding individual performances for England. Launchbury, Daly, Care and Ford all had great games, displaying real flashes of brilliance at times. It was also heartening to see Mako Vunipola back from injury and making an impact in the time he was on the pitch.

The online abuse of Hartley and Haskell over their confusion over the ruck (or lack of) is completely unwarranted. They are both highly professional athletes who have been competing at the highest level for a long time. To imply they are stupid or don’t know what they are doing is ridiculous. It is entirely understandable that they would want to check with the referee on what is, and is not, legal in terms of their actions outside of the scrum. The desire to not concede penalties through wrongly reacting to a highly unusual situation, and to not let down the rest of the squad, is completely understandable. Criticism of England’s reaction time to this turn of events was rampant, but how often have we seen Wales or Ireland having a torrid time, only to react and regroup after the second half? It is also worth bearing in mind that any other team in the tournament might have reacted in the same way, or worse, to a similar situation.

This game was far, far away from England at their best, but it is worth keeping the game in perspective and remembering that even the very best teams can have a bad game (or string of bad games.) It is also worth keeping in mind just how far England have progressed in a short space of time. They do not consider themselves the finished article yet and are still very much in the process of improving.

Scotland and Ireland will be an enormous challenge, but I remain hopeful.

Mourning Warhammer Fantasy

I want to start this piece with an apology to you all as I realise that I am seriously late to the party in discussing this topic, which I now know came to prominence all the way back in 2015.

The combination of leaving university and entering full-time graduate employment meant that Warhammer of all kinds was, for me, completely neglected. Beyond the occasional wistful glances at my Vampire Counts army and army book, my interaction with Games Workshop became close to absolute zero.

It was with some sadness that I discovered a few weeks ago, when I decided to look on the website to see if there had been any bad-ass new releases for the High Elves, that Warhammer Fantasy had been completely dropped by Games Workshop.

For a while I thought there must have been some error on the website or that I had accidentally logged on to Games Workshop Sweden by mistake. Eventually the truth sank in. The franchise that I have loved since I was 12 was gone. I have already mentioned that I had largely stopped collecting (and completely stopped playing) but I had always imagined revisiting Warhammer Fantasy within the next few years when finances became a bit more stable and I (hopefully) have a bigger place to live with room for a hobby station.

It was disappointing in the extreme to find out that this was no longer going to be possible. It was also disappointing that Games Workshop had decided to turn their backs on dedicated hobbyists who had patiently built up fantasy armies across the decades. Of course, GW is a business, and sales of fantasy may not have been enough to bring in a health margin for the company. That being said, I am sure that long term collectors may have preferred alternative options to be explored before pulling the plug altogether, perhaps cutting back on costs elsewhere in the company (do the video games make that much money, and I heard something about a movie?)

Yes, fantasy may live on with hobbyists arranging their own tournaments and bringing like-minded individuals together. Inevitably though this will die away in time (and what happens when your Mortis Engine gets eaten by the cat/stepped on/destroyed by a toddler?) rendering your collection virtually useless.

Let’s be honest, Warhammer of any kind is not cheap many people will have spent an awful lot over the years loyally buying army books and rule books for every new edition and adding ever more units to their armies. This seems like a bit of a kick in the teeth and I would not be surprised to discover that people were angered upon receiving the news. I know I was. I never did get around to buying those Blood Knights or a Varghulf or the very lovely Phoenix Guard models. I suppose now I never will.

Hope for England yet in the RBS 6 Nations 2017

Perhaps the worst thing about watching England’s performance at the weekend against France, and there were a fair few to choose from, was imagining the comments and critique offered up by pundits and the public in the aftermath.

Before the match had even finished I could already see the wave of self-righteous anger bearing down from comments sections and forums alike bemoaning the performance of the squad. Of course, there were many aspects to the performance to be critical about. The now somewhat infamous lineout that was thrown directly into the back of the head of a player two meters away only to feebly bounce off and go loose will probably feature in my nightmares for some time to come. I imagine it will have a feel of those dreams where you can’t quite move your legs fast enough to get out the way of an oncoming storm.

In a lot of ways, this is an apt description of England’s performance. It never really got going and felt completely undercooked for at least the first half of the match. There was no energy, no attacking edge to the squad, reactive rather than proactive.

Although there was much to reflect on from the performance, and although the match really did make for an uncomfortable and tense viewing experience, I really do believe there were more positives than negatives to take away. It is difficult to come out firing all cylinders in such an intense competition, as was demonstrated by Ireland and Wales in their opening games.

It is all very well for Eddie Jones to dismiss some of the injury challenges facing England in the run up to the opening match. The fact remains however, that England were missing a significant amount of world class players from their opening 15 that are difficult to replace. Add to this mix a significant re-shuffle to the squad, players starting in untested positions, and a new mix of starting forwards and you get a potential recipe for disaster.

Yes, the overall performance was flawed, but it speaks volumes of the maturity of the squad that when faced with these difficulties, they maintained composure, dug deep and found the win. Having gone 14 games without a loss it would seem inevitable that, at some point, the level of intensity of play would drop. No team can be dazzling all the time, but they can be reliably successful. For me, this was the biggest point to take away from the opening game. Despite the poor start, injuries and lack of intensity, England still came away with the win, demonstrating the impact of a quality bench and depth of character of each player involved.

Eddie Jones is far too shrewd a coach to have learned nothing from this encounter and will take appropriate steps to help improve performance before the squad takes on Wales in Cardiff at the weekend. His comments in the media regarding Wales and the past performance of England in Cardiff have been seen by many as stupid and provocative. However, the more perceptive among us know that he doesn’t really believe in the statement, but that it has served a purpose in keeping the attention and ire of the media on himself rather than on the players.

 

Pokemon VGC 2016: Good or bad for the game?

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Three days ago, Pokemon released the rules for the 2016 national and worldwide Pokemon championships, which will also form the basis of the VGC section on Battlespot. The main difference between 2016 and 2015 is that many of the legendary Pokemon which were banned are now viable for use. Each team can contain up to two of these newly allowed legendaries.

I’m told this this is quite similar in format to the rules of 2010 (long before I got interested in competitive play.) As you can expect, people on twitter and in forums across the depths of the internet have already begun to argue over whether this is a positive or negative change. Despite the fact that pretty much everyone interested will be doing this already, I have decided to some up my thoughts on the changes.

I’ll start off with the negatives. The main issue for me is that in order to be viable competitively, a team is almost definitely going to have to actually use two of the 15 or so legendaries that are now allowed in the format. This presents an issues immediately which is quite likely going to make me not bother with engaging this year. Essentially, in order to get good legendary Pokemon, you have to go through a process called soft resetting. This involves saving the game before a legendary Pokemon, and then catching the Pokemon over and over again, resetting the game each time until you get a Pokemon with the right stats and IVs. This takes a huge amount of time and is very frustrating and unenjoyable. But if you want to play and win, you will almost certainly have to do it. Unless you have a friend generous enough to do it for you or give you their hard earned ‘Mons, you don’t have much of a choice. This just isn’t viable for me. I have a full time job and little enough time in the evenings as it is. Unless Nintendo change the rules to allow conventional breeding of legendary Pokemon (which I doubt) then I really will have to rule myself out of playing.

However, that is just a personal choice for me. I actually think that the changes are, on the whole, pretty good for the game. Some people are claiming that the meta game will become overly centralised, with only a few Pokemon in regular usage, but I don’t buy that argument because that’s pretty much what happens in every version of the meta game, including 2015 (looking at you Mega Kangaskhan…..which I also use.)

Beyond the Pokemon that are still banned (Mew etc) all discoverable Pokemon are now viable for use. This means that actually, in all likelihood, we will see a lot more variety in the teams as people come up with ever more inventive ways of combining legendary Pokemon with less well known and used Pokemon. Particularly with such an emphasis on weather, with Groudon, Kyogre and Rayquaza all now allowed, many Pokemon which were pretty dump before will actually find their niche.

In short, I’m all for it. I’m just sorry I won’t be able to take part.

Top ten N64 games: revisited

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Many moons ago, when blogging was still relatively new to me, I did what I imagine most games bloggers above a certain age have done and wrote a to ten N64 games list. It was a pretty indulgent thing to do but I nevertheless enjoyed it immensely.

Looking back on this now, I didn’t do the best job, not really justifying my picks in any detailed sort of way. Also, I have played a few other games since then which very much need to be taken into account. Therefore I give to you my latest attempt at singling out ten games, out of a plethora of good N64, as the ‘best.’

Naturally I would love to hear whether you agree or disagree, for that nice feeling of shared experience, or passionately and pointlessly arguing against someone else’s perfectly valid opinion.

  1. Super Smash Brothers

The game that launched a franchise which was destined to become one of Nintendo’s most profitable of all time, this game does not need much in the way of introduction. The success of this game was purely down to its simple concept of throwing together the most iconic characters that Nintendo could find and making them beat the crap out of each other. Not only did this settle some childhood arguments about the relative strengths of different characters, but it also allowed a whole generation to fall out with each other and sulk for days. Satisfying gameplay, simple controls and an addictive re-playability, combined with Nintendo’s triple A intellectual properties made this a smash hit paving the way for later instalments. Unlike most of the games on this list however, it doesn’t hold up so well now. Playing it after being used to its more polished, lightning fast successors really does feel both slow and clunky. Or maybe I’m just not playing it properly. Either way, Link for the win!

  1. Jet Force Gemini

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Perhaps one of the few on this list which could possibly be described as underrated (or maybe not, I just don’t know anyone else personally who owned it.) Nevertheless, this game really did show off the huge amount of talent that Rare had at its disposal. Not to mention that the concept of the game is so good. Space heroes, including a flying dog, out to save small bear-like creatures from the predations of giant ants? Yes please! Add buckets of ant-gore, satisfying action and that dark humour which become so synonymous with Rare, and the result is a really excellent third person action/adventure. The only issue with this is that in order to finish the game an incredibly long and arduous process of saving every tribal and finding all of the scattered space ship parts  has to be overcome and completely de-rails the flow of the game. Still an excellent experience though.

  1. Snowboard Kids

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Possibly a game doomed to fade away into obscurity, this game deserves to be on this list and it really was a coinflip between having this game at seven or eight in this list. This polished snowboard racer really does have everything; chaotic items and weaponry, excellent course design, a reward system for pulling off complex tricks, and one of the best soundtracks to feature in any game, ever. Seriously, neighbours could be forgiven for thinking that you were mid-way through a pretty good rave once this game gets dusted off. Really wouldn’t bother with the sequel though…

  1. MarioKart 64

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Does this game really need its merits explained? Well, lets go over them anyway, if only for the sake of thoroughness. Building on the huge success of the first instalment on the SNES, this game has to go down as one of the best MarioKarts to date. Fantastic track design, which really brings out all of the character of the Mario universe, coupled with frantic races, cheating computers and a battle mode, (not to mention the utilising of a number of Nintendo’s best characters) combined to not only create a good game, but ensured the long term success of the franchise. This remains one of my favourite entries to date despite some slight issues with the somewhat slippery handling. It would be reasonably safe to say that this game was a triumph for multi-player gaming, and has created fond memories and excessive combativeness for a whole generation.

  1. Donkey Kong 64

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Another piece of Rare magic, and another IP which made the transition from 2D to 3D seamlessly, this game took a classic and re-made it into a fantastic 3D platform adventure game. The inclusion of 5 playable Kong’s, the innovative and breath-taking worlds to explore, hilarious special powers, and fruit based weapons, and overall feeling of quality, made this an unforgettable experience. The bright levels, unbelievably good level soundtracks, and awesome boss fights ensured that this game was played over and over again (despite the part of the game which demands beating the original Donkey Kong to get to the final boss being SO FRUSTRATING!)

  1. Banjo Tooie

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Seriously, what was Rare on in the late nineties/early noughties and where can I get some? I agonised for a long time between putting this at the 5 or 4 slot on this list. This is definitely one of my favourite games of all time. As an adventure platforming game, this pretty much has everything. Great level design (particularly like Hailfire Peaks) most amazing, kick ass soundtrack (every tune will have you humming for days after), having a character that can split in two and or travel as a pair assisting each other with their respective skills was pretty refreshing for the time, the narrative was smart and, of course, that wickedly dark Rare humour just oozed out of the dialogue. Banjo and Kazooie have some hilarious and dark dialogue which still makes me laugh every time. This game misses out on being my favourite adventure/platforming game only due to the next entry…

  1. Super Mario 64

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For many, this is game that really launched 3-D platform gaming. On a personal level I will never forget the feeling of watching 3-D Mario leaping out of the pipe and then seeing Peach’s castle looming in all its glory. That’s all before you get inside; greeted by Bowser’s sinister laugh to see all the rooms and corridors sprawling off into the distance. This game, more successfully than others of the time, managed to make every world and course completely unique and engaging, including hidden secrets and stars to find and outrageous world bosses. Rather than go on, suffice to say that this game is pretty close to perfect and is held back only by the limitations of its hardware. Then again, would this really be improved with more technical power behind it? Not really, I didn’t like the DS version of the game anywhere near as much (mostly because trying to play a 3-D game on a D-pad is just dump, and don’t get me started on trying to control with the touch screen.) This game still features in many people’s lists of best games of all time, and deservedly so.

  1. Goldeneye/Perfect Dark

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To some, it may appear heretical to lump these two games together, particularly as they are both such outstandingly good titles. However, I really couldn’t call between the two in terms of my own preference, and they largely provide the same sort of thrills. Perhaps more than any of the others, these two Rare titles are the ones which have become synonymous with N64 quality. It is very difficult to say which the better game is. Technically Perfect Dark has the edge, utilising the expansion pack to give a more polished and graphically superior game. By all other standards though, they both are too close to call. Both offer superb and engrossing storylines and excellent FPS action. Goldeneye has all of the Bond charm of the movie; Perfect Dark captures the essence of futuristic government conspiracy. Both have great multiplayers (possibly slightly better in PD due to the ability to have extra NPC combatants.) The only clear difference between the two games is that the enemy intelligence is far better in Perfect Dark.

  1. The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time

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This is the game that really launched my obsession with games and remains one of my favourites to this day. I’m sure there is no need to explain why this game is good; you almost certainly already know why (and if you don’t what was up with your childhood?) This game has literally almost everything. So why is it at second? Well…

1. The Legend of Zelda Majora’s Mask

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Building on what made Ocarina so good, this game delivers in spades. I know that putting this ahead of Ocarina might be an unpopular choice, but out of the two I really do prefer Majora’s Mask. Sure, it doesn’t have as many temples and the boss fights are a little easy in places, but apart from that I think Mask has the edge. The sheer overwhelmingly large amount of challenges and quests to complete, coupled with the darker, more mature content (dealing largely with loss, regret, fear and death) create a far more immersive world as you get so heavily involved in the lives of the denizens of Termina. The use of masks to give Link different skills and forms adds further depth to an already winning formula. Pure magic.

Pokemon Wonderlocke Challenge! Episode 4: The road to the Elite Four

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I know what you’re thinking, “how can you be at the elite four by episode four of the wonderlocke?”

Simply put, the team became too powerful for the game to offer much in the way of challenge. Since our last episode, gym after gym fell to my team with no casualties to report. I played through the story line of containing Primal Kyogre with little in the way of incidents (although it got a bit hairy at times with the battle against Kyogre.)

I therefore decided to throw myself straight into victory road and the Elite Four to bring the wonderlocke to a climax. The road to the Elite Four proved to be the most challenging part of the game so far, purely down to the volume of trainers and the limited amount of healing items that I allowed myself. Despite some tricky moments with some of the Pokemon living with only a few HP remaining, I did make it through to the Elite Four without suffering any further losses. This means that my team going into the Elite Four was as follows:

Abomasnow, Toxicroak, Gastrodon, Sylveon, Gyarados and Goodra.

The first thing that struck me on challenging Elite Four Sidney was that my Pokemon were almost perfectly levelled, with most being on par with or just below the level of Sidney’s. The second thing that struck me was that I have being playing and watching competitive Pokemon for too long. This sounds a bit stupid but it does mean that I have kind of forgotten that kind of random crap that the NPCs actually run on their Pokemon. A combination of this, and perhaps a little overconfidence on my part, led to my defeat in the wonderlocke.

My Abomasnow went down to a random fire punch Dusknoir, Gyarados to freeze-dry Glalie, Toxicroak to a Blizzard critical hit. All of these combined with the pressure of going in to each successive battle with fewer and fewer Pokemon meant that by the time I went in to the battle with Steven the Champion I only had Sylveon and Gastrodon left. Needless to say this wasn’t enough and defeat was pretty certain by that point.

A disappointing end to the Wonderlocke maybe, but it really has convinced me on the fun that can be had in Wonderlocke and Nuzlocke challenges. It forces you to be more creative with your teams and become far more attached to your Pokemon when you realise that you can’t just run to the Pokemon centre to heal up.

Next up…. Pokemon Nuzlocke Challenge: HeartGold!

Top Ten Grass-Type Pokemon!

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Despite grass type being one of the most common Pokemon types of all, I often feel that it is generally overlooked. Possibly this is due to grass being pretty weak competitively, being weak to flying, fire, bug, Ice and poison. This makes it pretty tricky to use, particularly with most teams running an ice attack user to deal with the many dragon type threats which are commonly used (Salamence etc) and the prevalence of Mega-Charizard and Talonflame in the doubles meta-game. Another possible reason for grass type often being overlooked is that there are just so many average looking Pokemon in this type. However, I think it deserves better, so here is my top ten favourite Grass, or part-grass, type Pokemon.

  1. Snivy

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This Pokemon makes the list due to its cutesy charm and appearance of haughty aloofness. It doesn’t hurt that Ash’s Snivy in the TV series really was amazing (once it got its attitude sorted.)

  1. Vileplume

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I loved this Pokemon as a child ever since I saw it in glorious 3D in Pokemon Stadium, pirouetting around using petal dance, smiling away. It earns ever more marks from me by looking bad-ass despite evolving from one of the dullest basic Pokemon in the game.

  1. Chikorita

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CUTE!! ‘Nuff said.

  1. Leafeon

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I love all of the Eeveelutions. I think they are all so well designed, lots of thought and effort have gone into the look of these Pokemon. They seem to typify their typing in the way that they look, and Leafeon is no exception to this. It’s a pain to evolve if you aren’t sure where to find a moss stone, but well worth the effort. Surprisingly not too awful stats-wise too, with an impressive attack and defence value. Move-pool not too good though.

  1. Bulbasaur

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BULBA-SAUR! I love Ash’s Bulbasaur in the cartoon, its tough and cute in equal measure. I never could understand why Ash leaves it behind…

  1. Cacturne

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Not only is this Pokemon, incredibly sinister looking, its Pokedex is equally disturbing – “Packs of them follow travelers through the desert until the travelers can no longer move.” Looking at its face, I can seriously believe it. Huge style points on this Pokemon.

  1. Abomasnow and Mega-Abomasnow

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Since I first encountered this Pokemon and its associated mega-evolved form in the snowy cave in the Kalos region, I thought its design was pretty special. Which is saying something as I think that the 6th generation has some really great Pokemon design to compete with, so much so that I wrote a post dedicated solely to this shortly after the release of X and Y (if you missed it, the link is at the bottom of this post.) Who wouldn’t love a giant grassy Ice-monster that looks like it could very well be responsible for all the rumours of abominable snow men?

  1. Gourgeist

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Haunted pumpkin that wanders around cursing people? That’s sounds pretty awesome to me. “Singing in eerie voices, they wander town streets on the night of the new moon. Anyone who hears their song is cursed.”

  1. Ludicolo

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This Pokemon makes it all the way to the top purely because it looks like it is the most cheerful creature on the planet and dances pretty well. Making it dance slower when it has a status problem was a fairly nice touch.

  1. And the winner is…Trevenant!

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This Pokemon has a great little Pokedex entry, stating that it will willingly protect its forest from harm cause by people and Pokemon, which instantly conjures up memories of Ents from Lord of the Rings or Tree Guardians from the Warhammer Wood Elf army. Add in the fact that its design really is perfect, then this ways always going to be the standout winner.

https://theinverselook.wordpress.com/2014/01/21/6th-generation-pokemon-design/