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This year I participated in the Cartridge Club Alphabet Backlog Challenge, a contest of sorts that asks gamers, during the year of 2017, to complete 26 video games with titles that align to each of the 26 letters of the English alphabet. The challenge is supposed to be a way to motivate gamers to dig into and complete games from their often lengthy backlogs. For me, however, it became an excuse to find new games just for the sake of arbitrary list completion. Seriously, who just happens to have both an X and a Z game on their shelf? The creators of this challenge knew what they were doing. Sadists.


I completed more than 26 games in 2017, but for this video will only list one per letter. For a full list of games I completed in 2017, head over to my HowLongToBeat profile.

For this games that I’ve done full reviews or other videos, I’ll put links in the description.

A – ABZÛ – Journey underwater. A short, beautiful walking (swimming?) simulator. Borrows equal parts from Journey and Thatgamecompany’s previous title Flower. Here’s hoping for an ABZ2. Watch my Abzu review video for more.

B -Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons – A twin-stick adventure, like Ape Escape but replace the impetuous hyper-intelligent monkey with a dead mom.

C – Caladrius Blaze – After spending 30 minutes playing (and beating?) this game, I was left wondering what just happened. Perhaps I’m too distant from the legacy and culture of top-down shooters (which is probably accurate, considering I didn’t take this opportunity to use the in-crowd term shoot ’em up or the aggressively in-in-crowd term shmup). The basic idea of shooting waves of enemies atop a vertically scrolling background is simple. That’s not what confuses me. I’m confused because I’m allowed infinite lives by way of infinite continues. I don’t remember consciously activating that option. So, given my love of short, easy games, this game should be a favorite. And you know, I didn’t hate the experience. Will I re-play the game with the remaining character options? No.

D – Dear Esther: Landmark Edition – Some say the original walking simulator. If so, I understand the intended insult behind the genre name. This game simulates walking. In a gorgeous, abandoned seaside village with insanely beautiful caves, sure, but, just walking.

E – Everything – a game where you can literally play as anything/everything. This is a game I would have loved in high school, back when I thought being seen in public reading a big book would seed legend of the unexpected brilliant side of Caleb J Ross. “Look at the size of that book! He must be smart.” No, I’m not smart. Case in point: I played much of Everything–the game where you can play as anything–as a pile of poop.

F – Flower – A virtual aquarium/walking simulator/digital desktop Zen garden where you take on the persona of a petal as it hitches to a never ending and omnidirectional breeze en-route to doing the most stereotypical thing a group of Southern Californian developers would want its players to do: plant flowers and paint cities. Firewatch – A virtual aquarium/walking simulator/digital desktop Zen garden where you take on the persona of a firewatcher as it hitches to a never ending and omnidirectional mystery girl en-route to doing the most stereotypical thing a group of Northern Californian developers would want its players to do: hang out with flowers and avoid cities. Watch my walking sim video for more about Firewatch.

G – Golf Story – Combining the least boring parts of golf with the most story parts of story, Golf Story is so much more than the sum of its two parts. Though I didn’t technically beat this game, that technicality is because technically the game’s technical parts broke. A game breaking bug forced me to stop about 80% in. But that 80% is pretty damn great. I’m counting it.

H – Hyper Light Drifter – Director and lead designer Alex Preston was born with congenital heart disease and has been hospitalized throughout his life with various complications associated with his condition. So, the game is way better than it needs to be. It manages to pull together so many good elements from good games when all it really had to do was be a game made by a guy who could possibly die at any moment. Watch my Hyper Light Drifter review video for more.

I – Ittle Dew 2+ –  There’s something about the too-perfect vector graphic animation style look that puts me off. Ittle Dew 2+ handles this graphical choice well, but when a game missteps so early into our relationship, the broken bones due to the inevitable tumble down into the uncanny valley can be difficult to mend. Looks aside, how does the game play? It’s pretty damn fun. The difficulty spikes a bit too high for my tastes toward the end, and some of the level design simply isn’t fair (a late game enemy in the ice dungeon constantly knocked me back into a open door, causing his health to replenish and all other sub-enemies in the room to respawn upon my re-entrance. Did my health replenish? Of course not). The game is top-down adventure puzzle game that plays with the associated tropes made famous by games like The Legend of Zelda series; one character constantly references the lack of health potions in the game. I suppose what I’m saying is: Ittle Dew as a Zelda clone? It’ll do.

J – Jazzpunk – I thought I accidentally downloaded a Japanese version of this game. Then I thought I was playing the game wrong. Then I thought I figured it out. Then I roasted a plastic pig at the instruction of a guy living under a tarp in a 1950s luau-themed hotel. Then I thought I was playing the game wrong, again. Then, I realized, despite all of this confusion, I was having a damn good time. Short on length but long on laughs.

K – Kamiko – The similarities between Kamiko and Hyper Light Drifter are too great for me to cast aside the possibility, nay, the probability, that my purchase was guided not by the economy’s Invisible Hand, as made famous by philosopher Adam Smith, but by the economy’s Invisible Algorithm, as made famous by some creepy dude who just loves being creepy. Get out of my games, creep! Watch my Kamiko review video for more.

L – The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild – Open world, RPG with pretty annoying crafting mechanics where the protagonist wakes up from a decades long cryo sleep to exit a vault into blinding sunlight with a single goal that is quickly abandoned​ in favor of tedious exploration guided by an all-knowing piece of handheld computer technology. And screws are weirdly important. Wait, what’s Fallout 4 doing under “L”? I mention a bit more about the similarities between Fallout 4 and Breath of the Wild in my Will the Nintendo Switch Last video.

M – Mighty Gunvolt Burst – Classic Nintendo 2D action platformer goodness minus the intimidating difficulty. A surprisingly well-paced Mega-Man inspired (cloned?) game that initially impresses a sense of disappointing brevity but unfolds in a way that requires levels be replayed. Lest, of course, you’re a glutton for punishment, and the idea of tackling bosses multiple times while severely underpowered excites you. If so, have at it. Me, I’ll grind until I’m OP’d and take out my pent up childhood aggressions on pixelated robots, thank you. See my video about video games ruining vacations for a bit more about Mighty Gunvolt Burst.

N – Nova-111 – For every three puzzles that the developers meticulously crafted to afford the player’s decision, making make the player feel simultaneously smart and accomplished, there’s a puzzle that’s seemingly comprised of random obstacles and enemies that make the player feel dumb, because, “of course those random buttons I pressed to solve this puzzle can’t be the way it’s supposed to be solved.” This happenstance design, surprisingly though, doesn’t diminish the fun. Watch my Nova-111 review video for more.

O – Oxenfree – A narrative adventure game that pays attention to pre/post-adolescent dialog, like Juno. Oxenfree handles this dialog with the right amount of care. Unlike Juno, which shoved the snappy quick back-and-forth of a Gilmore Girls exchange through a sausage grinder.

P – Psychonauts  Wow. I’m sad I didn’t play this earlier. I would have loved it as a young college student, looking for proof that games can be validated as narrative works of art. Though, I’m happy I didn’t wait any longer to play this game. The difficulty spike at the end would kill me as an old man. And honestly, even if the spike would have taken me down, the genuine humor this game offers until that moment is absolutely worth the experience. I wish more games would be as creative as Psychonauts. 5/5. See my Psychonauts review video for more.

Q – Q.U.B.E: Director’s Cut – People say Q.U.B.E is a Portal clone. But it’s not. Sure, it’s a stylized, 1st person puzzle game featuring a sentient, omnipresent environment as the primary protagonist guiding the player to potential sacrifice in an incinerator on the ruse of the player simply being part of a series of cognitive tests. And there’s a Wheatley robot. And Q.U.B.E thanks Valve, the developers of Portal, in the credits. But Q.U.B.E doesn’t feature portals. So…not a clone.

R – RiME – An emotional journey (…inspired game; that is, Journey inspired…get it). Well, at the end it’s emotional. The rest of it is–though my kind of game in aesthetics, genre, and gameplay–not affecting at all. It’s obviously trying to do something, but only the patient gamer will stick around to the end to find out what that something is. And even then the end doesn’t fully bring about the ah-ha moment that emotional games like this tend to bring. Also, the art director made an interesting choice when deciding how to clue gamers in to grabbable ledges. Some games use textures. Some games use button icon prompts. Rime uses seagull poop. That’s seagull poop, right? It’s definitely seagull poop.

S – The Swapper – A hidden gem that should have been on everyone’s top 10 list in 2013. The early game threw me, though. When trying to figure out the story (it’s intentionally vague), some background dressings appear to be props from a kitchen trash can. Seriously, tin cans and paper plates made to look like space stuff. I thought we were playing a transcendent Toy Story. But no. Those really are tin cans.

T – Thomas Was Alone – Proof that personality trumps visuals. You play as rectangles. Seven rectangles. With names. Narrated by Danny Wallace. I got bored only once.

U – Unravel – The heart is a bit too on the sleeve for me, a bit too Lifetime movie, but that amount of sap is quite daring for a video game. 2d puzzle-platforming at its most visually stunning.

V – Virginia – I love walking simulators. I love unique visuals. I love story-driven experiences. I do not love Virginia. I assume there’s a point buried somewhere in this game. I kept thinking the game must have been based on actual events, events that I simply wasn’t privy to. Perhaps knowing the source material would allow me to connect with the fiction. But no, it’s not based on actual events. At least not stated as such. But the only way I can convince myself that I didn’t waste two hours of my time is to pretend. So, what events are the basis of this game? Let me imagine the following exchange:

Writer of Virginia: “Remember that time I did a lot of drugs then wrote a story about an FBI agent who has trouble making friends, and I saw a UFO…”
Me: “That really happened?”
Writer of Virginia: “Yeah, I really did take drugs, write a story, and thought my desk lamp was a UFO.”

W – Wolfenstein: The New Order – I consider myself one who stays connected to the video game world. I read video game news blogs, I watch a lot of video game commentary on dozens of YouTube channels. So when a game like Wolfenstein: The New Order avoids me for this long, I question the reliability of my conscious integration lifestyle. What corners of the internet have I failed to explore? And this isn’t about the algorithms failing me. I can understand that. I look up so much disparate stuff online that any sane algorithm would understandably be confused. I’d be assigned the re-marketing demographic of, at worst, “Serial Killer,” and at best “Guy who probably collects bread bag twist ties.” I don’t collect twist ties. But, the game, it’s incredible. The game humanizes a franchise that has been historically a laughable exploit. It’s as though MachineGames specifically set out on an impossible mission. Why? Perhaps as a mimetic exercise to better craft the similarly impossible mission of our hero B.J. Blazkowicz. I mean, I’ve got no other way to rationalize the success, so I’ll go with the weird motivation-cum-inspiration centrifuge thingy. See my review video of Wolfenstein: The New Order for more.

X – Xeodrifter – Nothing special. 8-bit Metroidvania set in a blue-to-pink colored universe. Quick fun. Nothing more. 3/5.

Y – Yooka-Laylee- Bright colors. Self-deprecating sidekicks protagonists. Puns. Platforms. Everything a Kickstarter backer should have expected. But that final boss fight, damn, like the devs felt a need to make up for the middle lull by ending the meal with a punch to the teeth. And long ago, I told myself I’d always watch the credits to every game I beat (a way to honor the devs for what they’ve given me), but…well…the largest videogame Kickstarter success unsurprisingly has a large credits reel. TIL there are a lot of people named Anthony in the word. If interested, watch my full review of Yooka-Laylee.

Z – Zombie Nation – An obscure NES game that’s become popular for its overall weirdness. Zombie Nation is a side scrolling shooter in which you play as a flying head with eyeball and vomit projectiles while rampaging through cities, causing humans to fall to their death while simultaneously saving said humans. The player deaths are unfair at times, but being a disembodied head that must use your own organs and bile as weapons is already pretty unfair, so I like to imagine the caption balloon that appears upon player death says Thank You in Japanese (I just checked. It’s apparently Japanese for “regret,” as in “I regret doing whatever I did to become a disembodied head that must use my own organs and bile as weapons.”)

That’s all 26 letters and 26 games. Have you played any of these? What are your thoughts? Would you perhaps be interested in participating in an alphabet challenge?

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Game Videos

All footage comes courtesy of my “vault” channel Game Footage except for the following which are YouTube videos licensed under CC BY 3.0

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