As the first ATB-Highlights, changed to “Currently Playing” as a more searchable phrase, of the new year, I have a lot to talk about from my winter break. I picked up some new games and became a proud owner of a Steam Deck thanks to the price drops after the release of the OLED model. Additionally, I’ve been sinking a lot of time into Lies of P, among a number of other games, making this one of the more “productive” gaming steaks I’ve had in a while. So, without further ado, let’s dive into what I’ve been playing.

Steam Deck

One of the joys of this Christmas season was finally receiving my long-awaited Steam Deck. Due to one reason or another, I never ended up purchasing one when my pre-order wave finally came so I was happy to boot mine up for the first time. PC gaming isn’t really my cup of tea. I don’t own a desktop PC and don’t really have an interest in one for gaming, specifically. Console gaming is where I’ve always been so the Steam Deck allows me to merge the two into the perfect form for someone like me who doesn’t want to tinker with graphics settings. For my purchase, I opted for the 256GB SSD Steam Deck and added an additional 512 GB Micro SD. So far, I’ve noticed no real difference between the two storage options. Granted, I’m not playing the latest and greatest games on it as my catalog ranges from Xbox 360-era games and indies but, for that purpose, the Steam Deck runs perfectly.

I really have to hand it to Value for creating such a high-end but very niche product that perfectly serves their ecosystem, in the right hands. I don’t believe I’ve purchased a game on Steam over the last five years but, since getting the Steam Deck, I’ve been aggressively spending during the Winter Sale for all sorts of games I feel would be great to play on a hand-held. Speaking of hand-helds, I was surprised how the Steam Deck makes the Nintendo Switch feel so small in comparison, not in a bad way for either machine but the difference is really jarring when switching between games. I’m excited to get more time with my Steam Deck as I dabble with some of its custom features in Desktop Mode and ramp up to play more games on it. The main series I intend to use it for is the Trails series, which I already have Trails in the Sky ready to dive into. The Steam Deck is a real game-changer for me and I hope Value continues to support this line of products beyond the OLED model.

Lies of P

With the insanity that was 2023, Lies of P got pushed back in my gaming plans due to its release around Baldur’s Gate 3 on PS5 so I finally had a chance to give the Bloodborne-inspired Pinocchio game its due time. Having played for over 25 hours, I must say, I’m incredibly impressed by what the team at NeoWiz has accomplished with this game. Yes, Lies of P is a Bloodborne-clone in the moment-to-moment feel, the darker aesthetic/atmosphere, and most everything in between. However, the game manages to do what many other Soulsborne clones fail to do and that’s to honor the inspiration while creating something fresh in its own right. Lies of P is the closest I’ve felt to playing a true-to-form FromSoft game that understands that challenge doesn’t come from enemy density but from giving the players the right tools and hand-crafting challenges for them to tackle. In a year that I didn’t think could get any better, Lies of P has managed to genuinely surprise me and become one of my favorites in 2023. Among the gameplay, what really stuck out more than I expected was the Pinocchio theme. The enemy design of the robot puppets is really something to behold and stands out from a lot of other sci-fi or steampunk themes. For fans of the Soulsborne genre, I believe Lies of P can hold its own among the best that FromSoft has to offer and I wholeheartedly recommend the game to any interested.

Super Mario RPG

The original Super Mario RPG on SNES has been in my backlog for years, from when I first started dabbling in emulation. As a long-time fan of Paper Mario, I’ve always wanted to play through the Squaresoft game that was the basis and proof of concept for Nintendo’s later Mario RPG series Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi. Now, with the release of the remake in 2023, I’ve finally sat down with the game and I must say, I love it. Super Mario RPG is the definition of JRPG comfort food. It’s quirky and cozy while managing to be a true-to-form JRPG without any compromises or cut corners. The game is more challenging than you’d expect but, as many Nintendo titles are, not so challenging as to cause the player any distress, all in a tidy 12ish hour package. Super Mario RPG is one earliest and major players to implement a timing-based combat system in a JRPG where timing button presses to attacks connecting on-screen provide various buffs/bonuses to the attack, a major inspiration to modern games like Sea of Stars. It keeps the game fresh and active, incentivizing you to master its systems and I really appreciate it. All in all, I’m glad to finally get to play through an important piece of gaming history.

With the inclusion of the Steam Deck, I’ve probably dabbled in over 10 games in the past weeks but I wanted to focus on the main one I can say I really “played”. Right now, we’re in the calm before the big JRPG storm that begins towards the end of the month with Like a Dragon: Infinite Wealth into Persona 3 Reload and wrapping up with the big title, Final Fantasy 7: Rebirth. As such, this is going to be a big month for backlog games so I hope you stay tuned for what other interesting titles I’ll be visiting in the coming weeks.