Paper Mario (2001)

Credit: Nintendo

Credit: Nintendo

During the time of the year that celebrates love, I can't help but profess my undying admiration and respect for a video game, of all things. Paper Mario was, quite literally, the atmosphere and highlight of my childhood in terms of pop culture and media exposure, along with the countless other Nintendo 64 games I ran down to the video store to rent with yet another five-dollar bill wrested from my piggy bank (which was a wooden duck, incidentally). I probably rented the same damn cartridge enough times to buy three brand new copies of the game at Zellers. 

It was strange that I knew this even then, but continued to rent the same old cartridge either way. I recognize today that I was drawn to that same copy of the game because I respected it like an old friend I shared countless joyful afternoons with. To this day, I wish I could go back and buy that same cartridge when the video store sold their inventory off. 

Nostalgia aside, Paper Mario is actually a wonderful game. I'd recommend it to anyone who hasn't experienced it. Full of colourful whimsy and charm, and dripping with nostalgic appeal, this adventurous release by Nintendo and Intelligent Systems was highly praised upon its North American launch in 2001. Initially designed to act as a bridge between classic 2D Mario games and the new 3D experiences introduced with Super Mario 64, this strange yet alluring title was quite literally the best of both worlds. Add in the mechanics of an RPG and witty, hilarious dialogue and you get one hell of a fun experience. It's not meant to be approached as a traditional RPG, but rather as a unique interpretation of what Nintendo is capable of when they put their winged creative caps on. But what's really the main thing about this game that separates it from any other Mario title that came before it?

The world. That ever-expansive, explosively colourful, diverse and utterly exciting world.

Not a single Mario game since Paper Mario has come close to presenting such an inviting and inspiring game world to explore, in my opinion. In fact, I'd give anything for Nintendo to ditch the Super Mario 64 style of game design and revisit what made the original Paper Mario so insanely great. The massive cast of truly unique characters including NPCs and several party members, the diverse array of regions and towns to discover, and the altogether presentation of the story and atmosphere is truly special. It has that "Classic Nintendo" feel to it.

Of course, nowadays it really is just that. Time is strange.

The story is evocative, charming and sucks you in from the beginning — in a way I hadn't experienced a Nintendo game since Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (which served as an inspiration when this game was developed, incidentally). Princess Peach invites Mario and Luigi to her castle in Toad Town (basically introduced as the capital of the Mushroom Kingdom), but Bowser steps in and decides to up his game. Instead of merely taking Peach, he lifts the whole castle into the stratosphere, a mere dot of greenery and innocence perched upon the massive floating fortress he'd somehow managed to build underneath it (it's best to not question it and to just smile and nod). There are other elements playing a role in Bowser's plan this time around, dealing with the power of the stars and the Star Spirits protecting the world, but it's too much to go into detail about here. I will say that the story has far more meat on its bones than many other Nintendo titles, and as a basic RPG it's to be expected, really.

Credit: Dark Pixel Gaming (Youtube)

Paper Mario's story is separated into several chapters, and the game and subsequent menus are presented like a children's illustrated book. Each chapter focuses on a different region in the Mushroom Kingdom, and they range from a haunted forest to a volcanic island populated by a Yoshi tribe and plump little (and not-so-little) ravens. Still, the story itself isn't what draws me to the game, though, although I have no real complaints about it (other than my frustrated dislike of the Shy Guy Toy Box chapter).

Mario's various companions, each featuring a host of special abilities and moves. Credit: Bladesofhonor.wordpress.com

Mario's various companions, each featuring a host of special abilities and moves. Credit: Bladesofhonor.wordpress.com

As for characters, they range in seemingly endless variety. On one hand, there are the typical Koopas, Toads, Shy Guys, Bomb-Ombs, Paratroopas and other classic Mario game creatures. But then, there are hooded fortune-tellers of unknown races and incredibly weird characters that are one-of-a-kind, including a massive vulture, talking flowers, dog-like creatures that run the local badge shop in Toad Town, and nomadic mice that frequent the desert region in the game world. Still, these characters only enhance the atmosphere of the game and many offer useful services or items for you (including one Mario can whack with his hammer to obtain a bump of it's flesh, which you can then bake a cake with... and no, I couldn't make this up if I tried). Still, there are countless unique spins on classic characters as well — personally, I can't get enough of the group of Koopas dressing like the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, complete with cheesy poses and theme music.

The overworld map for Paper Mario. Credit: Nintendo

The overworld map for Paper Mario. Credit: Nintendo

The world design is truly one-of-a-kind, not even replicated by later entries in the series of Paper Mario games spawned by this original title (and frankly, I only count one of them as a proper sequel worth your time). Each region in the world is separated into smaller cells, connected and presented like a bunch of expansive dioramas strung together. It's fascinating and increasingly endearing, evoking an air of mystery in the sense that players can't see what lies ahead. The magical use of geometry and layered backgrounds (with countless secrets) combined with what I consider the very best colour palette used in a Mario game makes for an inviting world, no matter how dark or nasty, that you simply can't help but be drawn into in even a slight sense. Prime examples of this genius art style at work are the Toad Town, Flower Fields, Dry Dry Outpost, Koopa Village, Lavalava Island and Shiver City areas. Hell, even the Jade Jungle and Shy Guy's Toy Box areas boast a clever mixture of colour, depth and geometric variety despite being absolute pains in the ass to complete. 

Aside from Paper Mario's main story, there are countless little side-activities and opportunities to partake in, and several secrets hidden below the lush, colourful surface of this game. Collect badges to power up abilities and gain new moves. Spend coins and gamble, including on what I consider the strangest lottery ever — featuring plump, multi-coloured piglets being squeezed out of a pipe. Join the Toad Town Dojo and try to even half-attempt to defeat the overpowered master there. Have your fortune told, travel the world and stop in inns like a nostalgic drifter, picking up as many special items and goodies as you can carry before taking them back to Toad Town for a local chef to use in a seemingly endless book of recipes. Hell, even visit Mario's house, ground pound the secret door in the bedroom and read Luigi's rather hilariously sad diary. At one point, you gain complete access to every area in the game via various modes of transportation including a steam-powered train, a whale, and even a strange hovering pod found in Star Haven. Just before reaching the very end, players can choose to revisit any place in the game and just explore, going between Bowser's castle and the Mushroom Kingdom as often as they like. Honestly, as a child I loved nothing more than just wandering around this heavily populated game world, trading items and getting Tayce T. to whip up yet another mistake for me to eat as a result of mixing uncooperative ingredients together. I felt like a travelling connoisseur of Mushroom Kingdom delicacies mixed with an archaeologist and tourist. It was such a wonderful place to escape to, with a deliciously charming atmosphere that could never be tainted by the outside world. It was — and is — the best part about Paper Mario, in my opinion.

And then there's the soundtrack.

Good God almighty, that soundtrack.

Credit: LedZeppelinXV (Youtube), Nintendo

It's melodically brilliant and gives the game a special charm that no other entry has come close to mimicking. Composed by Yuka Tsujiyoko and Taishi Senda, this collection of jittery jingles, ethereal atmospheric pieces, and peppy, quirky little ditties is an essential pillar of Paper Mario's design. The game wouldn't have half of it's lasting appeal without it. Highlights include the entire Shiver City / Shiver Mountain / Crystal Palace suite (the latter section of which is one of the very best compositions in a Nintendo title). This segment of the game, taking place towards the end of the player's journey, evokes a sense of urgency and discipline. The player guides Mario and his party up treacherous slopes, through icy caves and a brilliant frigid wilderness. The Crystal Palace section of the region is one that took my breath away as a child the first time I entered its mirrored, mystical halls with Inception-level mind-trickery. The haunting yet urgency-tinged score that plays in these halls prior to the final boss battle before Bowser at the end is truly mesmerizing. 

Credit: randomyoshi (Youtube), Nintendo

Other must-listen pieces include the Goomba and Koopa village themes, respectively. Homey and full of warm, fuzzy charm, they serve as wonderful themes introducing players to the mechanics and atmosphere of the game. The Toad Town theme falls into a similar category, as does the music that plays inside Peach's Castle at the beginning of the game. Other standouts include the Shooting Star Summit and Star Spirit Sanctuary themes, both of which are transcendent and shimmeringly beautiful. 

Though, that's not to say the nastier parts of the game boast sub-par soundtracks. On the contrary, some of the pieces that play in areas such as the Forbidden Forest and Koopa Bros. Fortress are strong, deeply atmospheric pieces, making use of echoes and fantastic layering. The Dry Dry Ruins theme is fantastic in every sense, full of rumbles, bitter harpsichords, dried-out marimba beats and a shivering synth that alters as the player guides Mario throughout. The Gusty Gulch theme and entire Bowser's Castle suite are brilliant, really giving the game's atmosphere a knife-like edge and shaking the foundations of what players would have become accustomed to hearing thus far in the game. I really can't praise the soundtrack highly enough, and vividly remember cranking my television volume during some parts of the game.

If you've not touched an entry in the series of games spawned from this one (and Super Mario RPG, before it), you'd do well to pick up a copy of the original Paper Mario and hold tightly onto it (and not just because of the price a Nintendo 64 cartridge of the game commands nowadays). The Wii and Wii U Virtual console services offer the game for a great price and it's certainly more than worth plonking down ten dollars for. It's bright, intriguing, surprisingly deep and frankly one of the most charming Nintendo titles released. Aside from the equally delightful direct sequel, Paper Mario and the Thousand-Year Door, I personally can't recommend the later entries in this beloved series to anyone. They almost tarnish what made the first two games so great, and with each new title released I found the charm was sucked away, replaced by a plastic shell of what was so special and appealing in the first place. I sincerely hope Nintendo revisits what made this initial game so appealing and timeless. 

Because it's rare to come across a modern title that respects you as much as you respect it.

If only more people would put the countless cloned drab dude-bro overhyped productions aside for a few years, and let the magic trickle out again. Perhaps that's why I respect Nintendo and their creative vision so very much, among a few other developers and companies. I lived out so many inspiring, wondrous, whimsical years during my childhood thanks to the inspiration and emotional gravity offered by this allegedly mere digital plaything, and I know there are countless others out there in the world who share a similar attachment to this pixelated old friend. The very best of friendships tend to last a lifetime, but what is a purpose of a friend? They provide comfort, companionship, smiles, entertainment and share time with you. If you're feeling blue, they're there for you. If you need someone to lean on, you don't have to look far.

Similar to the friends I've made and kept over the years, I consider Paper Mario — yes, a video game — an equally important presence and source of joy in my life.

It's yet another title for me that is more of an experience than a game.

The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim (2011)

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I'll just say it right now - The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim is an enriching, evocative and awe-inspiring experience that fully deserves to be discovered, should you be one of the few in the world who hasn't given it a go. While many aspects of the game are watered-down from earlier entries in this much-adored series, there is a whole lot that the developers did right. 

And what they didn't do right, the general public and modding community certainly fixed... for the most part. Take a look at my piece on modding in Skyrim to see just how much love and passion players have injected into the game via mod creation, and for insight from a popular modder, Joseph Lollback (aka Antistar) pertaining to his one-man project, Clockwork.

Proof of how addicting and incredibly fun the game is? The fact that it was released back in 2011 yet even today has a massive fanbase that continues to log hours exploring, dungeon-delving, quest-fetching and Crimson Nirnroot-picking. The modding community's fiercely passionate dedication to tweaking the game also generates infinitesimal reasons to revisit this digital frozen wilderness. Of course, there are those who want to understand what it is about this particular game that continues to draw people in. 

Skyrim, in layman's terms, is a sprawling fantasy RPG that seeks to envelop players in a detailed, living and fully explorable atmosphere and landscape. Taking place in a frigid northern province in a fictional world, Skyrim thrusts players into the middle of an ever-changing environment. The magic in the game's design is the completely open-ended gameplay, allowing players to (once they've created a deeply customizable character) follow along with the main quest or set off in a completely different direction. If players simply wish to roam the mountainous region picking ingredients for alchemy or stealing cheese from the houses of the province's inhabitants, then they're free to do so. Of course, the sheer number of features, choices and opportunities available for Skyrim players is too long to list here, but here are just a few examples:

-Explore hundreds of individually unique tombs, dungeons and ruins, most of which have their own stories or minor quests tied to them, discoverable by the player.

-Visit cities and towns populated by voice-acted non-player characters (NPCs) who provide everything from goods and services to quests, opportunities and insight into the land around them, making for a living, breathing experience.

-Varied and unique quests, ranging in everything from a strange civil war (complete with fort-sacking and battles) to dragon-slaying and sprawling dungeon-delving tasks as well as specialized guilds for players who prefer either magic, melee-based combat, thievery or even assassinations. 

-A wide array of skills and perks that allow for a truly unique experience each time, depending on the player's choices. Everything from destruction-based magic and archery to pickpocketing, blacksmithing and alchemy can be utilized and increased to provide bonuses and special attributes to players.

-Complete and total freedom mingled harmoniously with hundreds of quests and tasks for players to complete at their own discretion. Everything in the game is optional, and everything is possible. The choice is entirely yours (barring a few small exceptions here and there). Many players have invested hundreds of hours into Skyrim without even touching the main quest.

-Countless activities and things to fiddle with. Just a few examples include potion (or poison) crafting, blacksmithing, smelting, mining, hunting, enchanting weapons and armour, buying and upgrading player homes, cooking and recipe-hunting, reading hundreds of individually unique books (many of which are full-fledged stories or insights into the fascinating lore of the Elder Scrolls series), harvesting ingredients from the wilds, as well as wandering with followers and getting married. 

The province of Skyrim is home to many smaller regions with varying climates and atmospheres. For example, the Reach is a valley and river-filled region with towering pine forests and craggy mountainous ridges. The Tundra is a frigid, hazardous area muffled by snow, ice and hidden secrets aplenty. The Rift is in a constant dreamlike state of perfect Autumn, with brilliant orange and yellow leaves smothering the rich sloping valley landscape, hugged by towering mountains filled with ruins, treasures and secrets. Of course, pictures are worth a thousand words. Check out the gallery below, consisting of my own personal screenshots taken whilst playing this engrossing and beautiful game: 

I must admit, there is a certain bias when it comes to my personal experience with Skyrim. The game was released during a difficult and dark time in my life - a time when I didn't think there needed to be a tomorrow. Lining up on launch day, I was ecstatic and excited for the first time in months. Having played the previous entry in the series, Oblivion, for thousands of hours, I was incredibly eager to delve into the next chapter and experience what the series' developers, Bethesda Softworks, had created. Over the next year or so, I found myself gaining emotional and mental strength from the escapism, immersion and sense of whimsy that Skyrim delivered. Having that time to escape from the chaotic and unforgiving real world was a therapeutic and necessary chapter of my life. It taught me to pace myself, breathe and ponder - a wondrous gift in this age where people move too quickly to type complete sentences or think of the feelings of others. This is one of those powerful experiences that only other players of Skyrim will likely understand. Many revisit the five entries in the Elder Scrolls series because of the fantastical escapism and level of serenity these games provide. There's a certain essence in them - an aura or magnetic force that sucks you in and numbs the poison. These games have saved lives.

This review being written and published today is living proof.

That essence and lasting allure is precisely why Skyrim has endeared the past several years and emerged from the mountain of other game releases since 2011, relatively unscathed. Couple that with the countless number of modifications available for PC, and in some capacity, console-based users (ranging in everything from new player homes and treasures to collect to entire quests, lands and voice-acted companions) and you have one hell of an experience waiting for you. The game and all of its downloadable content has recently been remastered with new high-definition graphical enhancements and tweaks to the game's design (such as water flowing more naturally and rain not clipping through overhead structures such as roofs or bridges without need to install a mod). 

And the decision is yours whether to take a peek at what Skyrim holds. It's more than a video game or "plaything".

It's an experience. 

 

Driver 3 (2004)

Behind the wheel, there's a sense of freedom. There's a feeling of endless opportunity, with only your imagination and the fuel gauge rendering a limit. That very same euphoric shiver of excitement and opportunity is a staple of open-world video games. Driver 3 - or Driv3r as it was stylized by developer Reflections Interactive - was one of the most highly-anticipated releases of 2004. I still remember entering a local EB Games in Cobourg, Ontario and arriving at a literal wall of Xbox and PS2 copies - and that was just for pre-order. Everybody in line had a copy in their hand. It was a hellish wait for the game to come out, and I joined several dozen others in lining up for the launch in June 2004. The game, akin in concept to a Grand Theft Auto title, was insanely hyped and advertised. Banners, web and print ads were everywhere that appealed to gamers. Driver 3 released to mixed criticism, but honestly in this case I must stress the importance of picking up a copy if you can still find one. It's one of those titles that few critics gave enough time to truly appreciate. It's not perfect, but it's far from unworthy of your time.

It's fun. It's moody. It's expansive. It's not your grandmother's Sunday drive, that's for damn sure.

Driver 3 hasn't aged quite as well as other titles, but it's far from being downright ugly or unplayable. At the time, it was a revolutionary head-turner of a game that boasted one of the greatest soundtracks in gaming history, an engaging and evocative story, a moody, sombre yet enticing art style and, naturally, an endless vein of open-ended delights just waiting to be discovered. People absolutely hungered for this thing - I hadn't seen such excitement over a game release since Grand Theft Auto III, Super Mario 64 or Pokémon Gold/Silver

That moodiness and ever-so-sheer atmosphere is unique to this game. Reflections sweated, bled and injected all of their collective existence into this one product. It shows in the eerie yet oh-so-appropriate music accompanying you whilst exploring the meticulously detailed streets of the three cities in the game - which themselves were painstakingly researched by artists and modelled in-game. Driver 3 ended up being the swan song of Reflections in a sense, but they went out with one hell of a bang, and here's hoping they can rest comfortably at night knowing they didn't settle for the same rehashed garbage released every year that has become the unfortunate norm today. They made a game with attitude, character and a lived-in feeling despite adhering to a structure and theme found in countless other titles. The detail is what sets it apart.

The detail extends right down to the tracking of a player's line of fire, representing bullet holes appearing precisely where they aim their weapons - and yes, the game is akin to the Grand Theft Auto series in its existence as a carnage-riddled driving and shooting title. But don't knock it yet; there's good fun to be had in Driver 3. The story works hard to serve as a justification for the themes and actions present in the game. Escapism exists as a way of discovering experiences normally not permitted by reality. Obviously, people normally don't hijack cars, shoot people and drive on rooftops unless if they fully intend to - and even then, it's doubtful that they'd have never done such things if they hadn't picked up a video game containing such content. The same thing goes for films or books. Media is but a form of expressionism and escapism if used innocently and without agendas. Ranting aside, Driver 3 isn't just another "shoot-em-up" title.

Case in point? The story, atmosphere and sheer energy of this game. It isn't there as background noise or mindless fluff (here's looking at you, Call of Duty series) - it's there for effect and justification of the activities the player partakes in as an FBI agent doing some very deep undercover work to take down an international criminal. Taking players from Miami to Nice and even Istanbul (rarely featured in gaming), the story unfurls and takes you deeper into the investigation. It's an energetic and explosive experience not in any way unlike the countless action films of yesteryear. Nowadays, an endless stream of violent thrillers involving police officers, drugs, shootings and explosions flood the market. They're a dime a dozen, but people barely bat an eyelash at them... usually. On top of this, the game doesn't hold your hand; it beckons you into the unknown, in the form of the three featured cities fully explorable in "Take a Ride" mode. Players select a car, city, time of day and other details before being placed square in the middle of a living metropolis with no instructions. It's brilliant. Traffic whirs along every street, civilians go about their usual business and the moody background music greets you. There are even secrets that lay in waiting for discovery - or ambush. You're free to go wherever you want and do whatever you wish - with no time limits or restrictions.

The soundtrack of Driver 3 is one of the finest, most meticulously curated collections of previously recorded music in gaming history. Each track featured in the game or created for it required a very precise flavour or character, and this was masterfully executed when hearing the end result. There were no limits in the selection process. Bands that were about to break were featured, and this resulted in the fantastic "Destiny" by Syntax being added to Driver 3 and heavily featured in advertising. In fact, I acquaint this one song in particular with the overall atmosphere of the title, and it acts as a fitting unofficial theme song for it. On top of a killer soundtrack, several high-ranking voice actors were hired including Iggy Pop, Michael Madsen, Ving Rhames, Mickey Rourke and Michelle Rodriguez (a fantastic addition). They gave their respective characters an added sense of depth that only served to enhance the immersion and mood of the game

In conclusion, Driver 3 is a must-play. Ignore the whiny reviews nitpicking on glitches, graphics and other niggling issues - yes, they're present, but the overall experience and fun of the game itself greatly outshines them. In a sense, those who focus on negatives will be drawn away from positives (hence my particular style of reviewing). In fact, the glitches, campy humour and slapstick animations offer a completely different version of Driver 3 if played simply to have a blast and perform the craziest and most inherently unrealistic stunts. It's great fun when not taking it seriously. This was the very last title in the Driver series that really had a special charm and flavour that called me back to it even a decade after release. This timeless attraction to such a rich, rewarding experience - even if just to play with the game's crazy physics and animations - is what Driver 3 does best. Seriously, just try finding all the hidden cars or "Timmies" - and yes, I doubt many will even know what I'm referencing but don't let that stop you from finding out. I've hardly scratched the surface of all the goodies and experiences awaiting those who pick this title up, but the next time that you find it at a local Goodwill or Value Village in playable condition, you'll do well to plop a few dollars down and bring a hallmark title in open-world gaming history home.

Take the wheel.

 


Photo Credit: Gamershell.com

Video Credit (in order): Zero2029 (Youtube), MattJ155 (Youtube)

Simcity 2000 (1993)

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

The first review published here ought to belong to a game particularly inspiring and well-regarded. Simcity 2000 is one such game. Released in 1993 by Maxis amid rave reviews, the sequel to the original city-building masterpiece quickly became known as one of the best management simulation titles released of all time. Presented in a new, 2D isometric view that provided an enhanced sense of depth and newfound energy, Simcity 2000 - affectionately known as SC2K - gave players an even more believable and addicting way of playing than the first entry in the series.

Everything from the game's colour palette to the quirky music and animations helped in creating an appealing environment that sucked players in from the moment they chose their difficulty level and named their city. The challenge was, of course, to build and manage a thriving metropolis and provide it with a host of services and vital amenities. The game was even more inviting than the original thanks to the updated graphics and animations. Heavy traffic would be represented by cars clogging affected streets coupled with sound effects befitting such a situation . Upon catching sight of great grey toxic clouds hovering over parts of their latest developments, players would learn the importance of pollution control. If they didn't try to remedy the problems that arose, then rioters would fill the streets and boo them into submission. 

Photo Credit: Origin (Electronic Arts)

Photo Credit: Origin (Electronic Arts)

That's the charm of the game - one can lose themselves and become immersed in the sheer multitude of tasks and challenges associated with micromanaging a constantly evolving organism. The added depth was also present in the form of the unnecessary yet entertaining aspects of the game. For example, the player's decisions and the events that can occur in their city will directly influence several mock newspapers. Every so often the top stories are presented to the player, which they can expand upon and view. Everything from tax raises to plane crashes and earthquakes would be detailed... and usually involve a llama (Simcity creator Will Wright's favourite mammal). The text in Simcity 2000 was specially designed to keep players engaged. Even the placement of buildings came with unexpected surprises. Placing a park would result in infectious cheers, whereas raising taxes would present the player with a chorus of boos. Watching players such as Youtuber WeaselZone deal with the growing list of challenges that come with building a sprawling city is a great way to get a feel for how the game plays and evolves - almost dangerously so at times.

Video Credit: WeaselZone (Youtube)

Simcity 2000 was a hallmark entry in the series, and one that still stands the test of time despite the obvious graphical differences of the Nineties. I highly recommend finding the Windows 95 version; it features the best soundtrack treatment (and frequency of songs played) as well as graphical and UI fidelity. Still, for only a few dollars an equally enjoyable version can be downloaded via Origin and experienced. There's a reason that these kinds of iconic games are "classics"; they earned the respect and admiration that they deserve through engaging content, challenges and just great fun. It was a simpler time in the industry, but Simcity 2000 is anything but simple once you let it pull you in. Combined with a fantastic and memorable soundtrack, clever design and an all-around brilliant execution in terms of addictive yet escapist micromanagement, this is one game that really ought to be given a try. 

You have the opportunity to do whatever you wish in this colourful and detailed little piece of software. Build a village, pollute it with coal power, turn it into an industrial mecca, endure rioting and spiking crime rates, add commercial districts and turn it into a business and shopping paradise, clean up from earthquakes and tornadoes (or start them yourself) and so very much more. The poor little Sims in the isometric world you've shaped are subject to your will - whether your intentions are helpful or hindering are completely up to you. The game does little to hold your hand; rather, it almost seems to mock players with challenging difficulty even on "Easy" mode for some. 

Still, just try putting it down.