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Rocky’s Gaming Advent Calendar 2021

Well, its finally time for Rocky’s Gaming Advent Calendar. For the last few years, I’ve done this across Twitter and Instagram, with last year being on the site. I like doing these as it gives me the chance to show off some good games, or in some cases some completely random ones. Last year I tried to include one from every console I owned but this year I’m going to try something a little different. This year I wanted to talk about some games or consoles I’ve gotten for Christmas and my memories of them. Yep, I’m throwing in consoles this time. As usual, it’ll be one entry every day between the 1st and 24th of December. The one rule I have is that it can’t contain any of the games from last year’s Advent Calendar. I hope you enjoy.

Day 1 – Grand Theft Auto III

When my PlayStation 2 arrived at Christmas, I got three games with it; Pro Evolution Soccer, WWF Smackdown: Just Bring It and Grand Theft Auto III. I had seen pictures of GTA III in a magazine a few months previously and added it to my wishlist. Little did I know that this would be the game I would end up spending the most time with at Christmas. That Christmas we were getting ready to move house so I had the majority of my older games packed away. When I got the PlayStation 2, I tried PES and WWF Smackdown first before diving into GTA III. GTA III absolutely blew my mind. The change in camera was a big deal. Now you could see the well detailed streets, damage to cars and fleeing pedestrians. The story had more narrative than before, even if Claude was mute. The music was great, with a selection of stations on offer. It just felt so amazing and there was so much to do. It may feel a bit ropey these days, especially the shooting, but at the time I’d never seen anything quite like it.

Day 2 – Wii U

The Wii U was not a console I received but much rather one I gifted… to my wife. Let’s just say it was a memorable present. She was working as an Elf and I decided to get Santa to gift it to her on Christmas Eve. I do have a video but I won’t share it lest she reads this. Anyway, Sharon loved the Wii U. At first there was a massive update but that was the reason I gave it to her on Christmas Eve. After the update, she dived straight into New Super Mario Bros. U, a fun platformer that can be played with friends. The Wii U is a great console and we had so much fun with the Lego series, Mario Kart 8 and Super Mario 3D World but it did lack third party support. Also, some games focused too much on the Wii U Pad gimmick. I recall the worst being Star Fox Zero. Still, we had a great time with it and we still do. Every now and again we’ll pop in a game to play together, with Sharon taking the Wii U Pad and I’ll use the Pro Controller.

Day 3 – Super Castlevania IV

You might think I got this one years ago when it was new but I actually only got it a few Christmases ago when I lived in London. I spotted it one day in CeX and told Sharon I would love to get it but didn’t have the money for it. Sharon didn’t hesitate and bought it for me for Christmas. My first experiences with it were pure joy. I had known it was a remake of sorts of the original Castlevania but its sprites were fantastic. Simon’s whip allowed you so much control when dispatching enemies or swinging from ledge to ledge. The backgrounds were incredibly detailed. I still remember the bats flying out of the skull. It also had levels that really showed off the Mode 7 graphics and how they could be applied outside racing games. It’s probably one of the best games on the system. I know it’s certainly one of my favourite Super Nintendo games.

Day 4 – PlayStation

I’ve made no secret about how much I love the original PlayStation. I have so many fond memories of it and it all started one Christmas. For months I was debating on whether to ask for the Nintendo 64 or the PlayStation. In the end I bit the bullet and opted for Sony’s console. I’m glad I did because I go so much fun out of this system. I got two games with it; Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back and Croc: Legend of the Gobbos. I would get Fighting Force in the post January sales. I spent some time with Croc but I never really got into it. I wasn’t a fan of Croc’s movement or the camera. Crash Bandicoot 2 was where I spent most of my time. I remember the joy of beating the first boss, successfully completing my first Polar level and collecting the Crystals. I never beat it but I would try again and again. Fighting Force would be popped in the system whenever a friend dropped by and we would complete it together. I still love the PlayStation, its dated graphics and all. It introduced me to so many great series including Final Fantasy, Metal Gear Solid and Resident Evil.

Day 5 – The Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel

This is a bit of a four for one entry. Last Christmas Sharon got me the four Legend of Heroes: Trails of Cold Steel games. I love JRPGs and this one was recommended for me. It was a bit troublesome to find the first two but Sharon did get them. She had bought the first two from a local game store but there was a mix-up and I received two copies of the first game. We got it sorted in the end. I’ve only recently started to play through these (I have some serious issues with the backlog) and I have been enjoying them. The first two come as a pair narrative wise, while I have been told that III and IV are also a pair. They’re turned-based JRPGs with a large number of teammates to choose from. The first game is a linear affair but the second really opens up. Like most JRPGs, they are long games, probably around 40 hours or so depending on the difficulty you choose, side missions you undertake and what events you view. I’m glad I’ve finally gotten around to them as I’m really enjoying them and I’d happily recommend them to anyone who loves a JRPG.

Day 6 – Tomorrow Never Dies

After EA had acquired the James Bond license, I was excited to see what they would do with the franchise. I had loved GoldenEye 007 and was excited for this one. I had read previews of it that showed off some of the game’s levels. When it came to Christmas time, I asked for Tomorrow Never Dies and its strategy guide. I’ve always loved getting a strategy guide. When I finally got my hands on it, I was a bit surprised. Both good and bad surprised. I liked the third-person camera and some of the levels were fun. I was disappointed that some areas they had shown in the preview were gone and it didn’t have the same charm GoldenEye 007 did. It also had no multiplayer, one of GoldenEye 007’s best features. It’s a fun game that’s not too long but there are definitely better James Bond games around to spend your time with.

Day 7 – The Legend of Zelda

I’ve never been a big fan of The Legend of Zelda series but I had played some, most notably The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. When I was picking out games that I wanted for my NES, I did mention both The Legend of Zelda titles. Sharon would pick them up along with the NES (and some other games) for me just before I moved abroad. Yes, I am a very late adapter to the system. When I did finally get around to The Legend of Zelda, I was pleasantly surprised. Its 8-bit graphics looked wonderful, even 20-odd years later, its music was so catchy, and its somewhat open world was a joy to explore. Its simplicity of style and complexity of design worked well together to great a fantastic adventure. A few Christmases later, I would sit down and play through its great adventure, finally finishing it in the middle of the night, surrounded by darkness with only the end screen illuminating the room. To date, this is the only game in the series I have completed.

Day 8 – Xenoblade Chronicles X

This was my very first entry into the Xenoblade series. I received it as a gift one Christmas but it took me a while to get around to it as I’m not the biggest fan of the Wii U Pad. However, it is a terrific game. Its setting is huge, with a world you can freely explore. You can find yourself face to face with high level monsters early on, something veterans of the series would be used to. This caught me off guard but I quickly adapted. Its scale and variance between areas is beautiful and it reminds me a lot of an MMORPG. You can plough through the games main story or undertake side-missions to find secret characters, equipment and items. The game pretty much leaves you to your own devices. My only real criticism is that despite having a large selection of party members to choose from, the main story requires you to bring certain ones with you. Still, it’s a great game and I look forward to diving into the rest of the series someday.

Day 9 – Saints Row The Third

Having adored the second game in the series, I was looking forward to playing Saints Row The Third. I remember visiting my brother-in-law who had it and just loving the games crazy antics. This was only a small snapshot into the game, something I wouldn’t realise until I finally got it. It was weird, zany and hilarious but felt so much better structured than either of the first two Saints Row games. There was a tonne of customisable options, a new city to explore and lots of weapons to find. Its missions ranged from your standard open-world affair to absolute mayhem. I would play this while chatting with friends on Xbox Live, back when I used to interact online. I also would play it in co-op, a feature I loved in the Saints Row games. My friend and I would sometimes take on missions but most of the time we would just cause havoc and try to get each other killed. Out of the four games in the Saints Row series, this is my absolute favourite one. Hopefully, the new Saints Row game will capture the magic of this fantastic entry.

Day 10 – Yakuza Kiwami 2

Rocky’s Golden Ham Award for 2020 was a game that took me ages to play. My friend had been recommending the Yakuza series to me for years. He talked about it constantly, showed me gameplay footage and would play Yakuza 0 when I popped up to visit him. He was obsessed, and with good reason. Eventually, I relented and asked for the available Yakuza games on the PS4. At the time there was Yakuza 0, Yakuza Kiwami, Yakuza Kiwami 2 and Yakuza 6. I wouldn’t play them until the PS3 games were remastered. Yakuza is a fantastic series and once I started, I got sucked in. I pretty much played them one after the other, with small breaks in between. Of all of them, Yakuza Kiwami 2 was my pick of the bunch. It uses the Dragon Engine, making the game look fantastic. Kamurocho feels so much bigger than before thanks to how every area is connected with minimal (or non-existent) loading screens. The story is superb, drawing Kiryu into an inter-clan war. Its combat is so smooth and the transition is excellent, again thanks to the Dragon Engine. If there’s any in the series that’s a must play, it’s definitely this one.

Day 11 – Kingdom Hearts

What happens if you take Final Fantasy characters and mix them with a Disney setting? A bloody good time, that’s what. At the time, I used to collect a magazine called PlayStation World. They would have previews, reviews and upcoming game news. One of the issues covered a new collaboration between Square and Disney. I bought the strategy guide before the game and just scrolled through the artwork, excited to see which of my favourite Final Fantasy characters had made the cut. I had already asked for stuff from my parents for Christmas so I figured I’d have to wait until after Christmas for this. On Christmas day, my mam handed me the two games I had asked for, then handed me another package. Inside were some more games, including Kingdom Hearts. I stick it straight in the PS2 and spent the day playing it. I loved its different worlds, its blend of Final Fantasy and Disney characters, and its story (which wasn’t overly convoluted… yet). My only gripe was the camera controls but once I got used to it, I played it non-stop to completion. This is on my “to revisit” list as I’ve recently gotten the Kingdom Hearts The Story So Far.

Day 12 – Canis Canem Edit

Canis Canem Edit, or Bully if you want to give it its proper name, was a Rockstar developed PlayStation 2 game released in 2006. Like Rockstar’s other popular franchise, it had an open world element to it but it was divided into chapters based on seasons. You starred as Jimmy Hopkins as he’s enrolled in a new school. Here, you can attend classes, beat up bullies and undertake mini-games. As you progress through the story, you will unlock new areas and the campus will change depending on the season. I asked for this game for the Christmas of 2006. Having loved Rockstar’s Grand Theft Auto series, I was hoping for more of the same. It’s not as free-roaming as GTA but there was plenty for me to do. I enjoyed its setting, the areas around the school’s campus, and how Jimmy controlled in fights. It was a lot smoother than Rockstar’s previous entries. Once I picked this one up, I couldn’t put it down until I was finished.

Day 13 – Nintendo Entertainment System

I was a late adopter to the NES. My introduction to Nintendo came through the Super Nintendo. It wouldn’t be until year’s later when I would finally get an NES of my own. My wife bought it for me along with a large selection of games. These included Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II, Castlevania and Castlevania II. When I first got it, it wouldn’t read any game except Super Mario Bros. 3. I persevered and dismantled the system, repairing the pin connectors. Once it was sorted, I was finally ready to dive into some Nintendo goodness. I enjoyed its beautiful 8-bit graphics and great gameplay. I was not used to the controller but it was still fun to use. Since then, I have built up quite the library on the NES, thanks to recommendations from YouTube. The games, while challenging, are a blast to play.

Day 14 – Super Mario 64

Nope, I did not get this with my Nintendo 64. I didn’t even get it during the N64’s life span. I had rented it and played it in a friend’s house but I wasn’t too pushed, instead preferring to buy GoldenEye 007 and rent Mario Kart 64. It wasn’t until I moved to London and spotted it in the London Gaming Market that I even considered it. They had a complete-in-box copy in great condition. Sharon (once again) picked it up for me and put it aside until Christmas. I would get a few games, both old and new, that Christmas but I was excited for Super Mario 64. Although I had passed on it for multiplayer orientated games when I was younger, I really appreciated how well it held up and how smooth Mario controlled. In the days of early 3D, it showcased what could be possible.

Day 15 – Indivisible

One of the more recent games on this list, I got Indivisible as a present from my sister last year. It had originally been released on the PS4 in 2019 and I remember seeing it reduced in price on Amazon. I decided to look into it and heard it was a hybrid RPG platformer. This immediately caught my attention, so I added it to my list. When I finally did get around to it, I was surprised at how good it looked and at its inventive combat system. Each button corresponds with one of your party members and you can pull off combos or special attacks. The game has a large cast of characters to recruit, each with their own little side-story. The platforming is good but it really is a case of a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. Still, its visual stylings, strong voice acting and Metroidvania layout means it is worth your time if you can find it at the right price.

Day 16 – Sonic the Hedgehog

A few years ago, I got a Master System with a number of games. The standout game was Sonic the Hedgehog. It is a great port of a 16-bit game to 8-bit hardware. Actually, port is the wrong word as it is its own game, built from the ground up. Despite not being as polished as its 16-bit namesake, Sonic the Hedgehog takes full advantage of the Master System’s hardware to produce one of the best games on the system. It is a little bit slower than the Mega Drive version but it still has some excellent speed. The game is harder though, with only one ring available to regather if you take a hit and boss stages don’t give you any rings. This was certainly a shock to me when I first played it but I will get through it one day because it’s an absolute cracker.

Day 17 – Mafia: Definitive Edition

I had always wanted to try the first Mafia game but being a console gamer, I was turned off by the less than stellar reception the console port got. I also didn’t have a powerful enough PC to pull it off. When it was announced that Mafia would be getting a remake, I was excited as I had enjoyed Mafia II on the Xbox 360. I would receive Mafia: Definitive Edition as a gift last Christmas and I immediately dived into it in the new year. It would be the first game I would complete in 2021 and the first to receive a Ham award. The graphics looked stunning, capturing a very 1930s vibe perfectly. The story is split into chapters, with each chapter explaining Tommy Angelo’s involvement with the mob. The story is riveting and the gameplay lives up to expectations. Cars drive like they would in the 1930s, heavy and cumbersome but never feeling unwieldly. Shooting can take a bit of time to get used to but once you do, it’ll feel like second nature. Hanger 13 knocked this one out of the park.

Day 18 – Mario Kart Wii

This was another present I bought instead of receiving. Sharon liked the look of the Wii and I decided to get her one for Christmas. She had loved Super Mario Kart as a child and wanted to try the new one with the Wiimote Wheel. It was an obvious decision that I would get Mario Kart Wii with the system for her. Secretly, I always loved the Mario Kart series, I wanted to play it too. The Wiimote controls are strange at first but it works well. You can do all the usual stuff with them, such as using items or pulling off stunts. However, I prefer to play with a controller and it wasn’t long until I picked up a classic controller for the system. Mario Kart Wii features a large selection of tracks to race on and cups to win. This included both new and old tracks. The game also introduces motorbikes to the series. Similar to Mario Kart: Double Dash, you can select your kart or bike when choosing your character. Mario Kart Wii also featured an online mode but my time was spent in split screen gameplay, where we racked up an impressive number of hours trying to win each race.

Day 19 – Dino Crisis 2

At the time, I had only wanted two wrestling games for Christmas; WWF SmackDown 2! And WWF No Mercy. While reading a magazine, I had heard about the upcoming Dino Crisis 2. I was a big dinosaur nerd but I wasn’t too keen on survival horror games. I decided to ask for it in the end. When Christmas Day arrived, I was pleasantly surprised. Its gameplay was less survival horror and more action. I had previously rented the first Dino Crisis game but the sequel resonated with me more. The pre-rendered backgrounds looked stunning, the number of dinosaurs available was great, and purchasing more equipment kept me coming back. It’s not a long game by any means but I still loved playing through it again and again. Dino Crisis 2 felt like the series had finally found its own identity but sadly the failure of Dino Crisis 3, which completely stepped away from the first two, would leave the series in limbo.

Day 20 – Terranigma

A long, long time ago, I would often go to stay with my cousins. They had a Super Nintendo with a few games, mostly stuff like Donkey Kong Country 3 and Super Mario World. There was one unusual game, Terranigma. I remember not having a clue what to do and that was the end of my involvement with it. It wouldn’t be until any years later I would hear about it on Twitter. I decided to track down a copy but the prices for it had gotten steep. My wife, Sharon, decided to surprise me with it for Christmas. Having played many different RPGs since the first time I laid eyes on Terranigma, I was better prepared for it. The game looks amazing, especially the over world map. It has a very distinct curve to it but there’s a reason behind this. The combat was fun and engaging, never feeling cheap. While I haven’t played all the way through it, the story felt like something I would thoroughly enjoy. I decided to track down Soul Blazer (a repro because it is stupid expensive here) and Illusion of Time so I could enjoy more from Quintet.

Day 21 – Jak II: Renegade

Ever have a game that you want so badly, you won’t shut up about it? Jak II: Renegade was one such game for me. From the first screenshots I saw in PlayStation World, I knew I had to have it. My parents would gift it to me one Christmas and I couldn’t wait to get stuck in. I was hoping for a full-on Grand Theft Auto style game set in a colourful, cartoony world. It sort of delivered that feeling. Jak II has its own unique charm. Jak and Daxter find themselves in the future, where their whole world has changed. Not only that, but Jak now has a new power. The duo set out to help the citizens of the city and find a way home. The gameplay mixes the platforming of the first game with third-person shooting and vehicles, pulling it off wonderfully. The game looks great and the acting is as witty as ever. The only issue I had was its strange difficulty spikes. I recall getting stuck in a few areas but overcoming almost all of them. I still haven’t beaten that final boss.

Day 22 – Final Fantasy XV

It’s hard to believe that Final Fantasy XV is now five years old. It feels like only yesterday I arrived home from London to receive it, Kingsglaive: Final Fantasy XV and its strategy guide from my parents for Christmas. I was hyped for it, like I am with most Final Fantasy games. I watched the anime on YouTube, constantly watched gameplay clips and read about it wherever it popped up. It felt like it took an age to release (it was an age, technically). I was playing Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth but put it on hold for this. The first time I booted it up, I was instantly in love, thanks to Florence and the Machine’s Stand by Me. I played it religiously, doing any side quest, no matter how menial. I loved the characters and their interactions with the wider world. Everything about it felt epic. I wouldn’t stop until I finally obtained the Platinum. The game wasn’t perfect. It felt incomplete and separated, which the DLC would help with. Combat was fun but magic became redundant and I missed having a larger party. Still, I enjoyed it and I can’t wait to visit once again, this time with all the DLC in tow.

Day 23 – Resident Evil 4

I recall visiting a cousin who had a GameCube, long before I did. He had a healthy selection of games but the new one he was playing stood out to me. It was a new twist on an established franchise. Resident Evil 4 looked amazing. I still remember him talking to me about it while playing, only to be decapitated by a Las Plagas. When I heard it was getting a PlayStation 2 port, I added it to my Christmas list immediately. My parents would purchase the steelbook edition for me. When I inserted it into my PlayStation 2 that Christmas Day, I was ready for the madness. Well, at least I though I was. I had watched a small section of it in my cousins but I wasn’t quite prepared for how much it changed. Tank controls were gone, replaced with an over the shoulder camera. Zombies were no longer present, replaced by villagers infected with Las Plagas. These enemies could run at you, wield weapons and even flank you. I most certainly wasn’t prepared for Dr. Salvador as he decapitated me with his chainsaw. It was exhilarating. Even the escort missions later on never felt like a chore thanks to Ashley’s AI. I kept pushing through, no matter what gruesome enemies the game through at me. I loved Leon’s sarcastic humour, the shift away from the T-Virus and the new creatures Las Plagas created. When it was all done, I discovered I could do it again from Ada’s perspective. I know now that it is an inferior port but I still enjoy it.

Day 24 – Sega Master System

The only gift I got for Christmas twice. The Sega Master System was the very first console I ever got. It came with Alex Kidd in Miracle World built in. I remember waking up that Christmas morning and feeling a heavy box at the end of the bed. I immediately opened it up and was excited for the console. I think I took over our television for the whole day. I would spend hours with that machine, renting games from my local store. My parents would even bring their television down from the bedroom so I could play it in the siting room without taking over the main T.V. (we only had the two). I don’t know exactly what happened to that machine but I imagine it was passed on to a younger relative. When I moved to London, I spotted a Master System with 30 games on eBay. Sharon said she would buy it for me for Christmas and I was as excited then as I was all those years ago. When I finally got my hands on it, I set it up in the living room of the shared house and we just took turns playing it. It brought back so many wonderful memories. I’m so glad I have the Master System back, along with a healthy collection of games including some I’d never played before. These included Sonic Chaos, Jurassic Park, Fantasy Zone, Shinobi and Wonder Boy. Thanks to Twitter I have a healthy wishlist of games for the console and I do want to get it modded for RGB output someday.

I hope you enjoyed Rocky’s Gaming Advent Calendar 2021. I wish you and your family a Happy Holidays and I’ll see you in 2022.


Rocky Ratings

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