New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe Review

Poor New Super Mario Bros. U. As far as the “New Super Mario” games go, it was a marked improvement over the DS, Wii and 3DS titles that came before it. But due to its status as the fourth entry in the sub-series, and being released mere months after the uneventful New Super Mario Bros. 2, fans were a bit New Super Mario Bros-ed out. Being released on the ill-fated Wii U probably didn’t help it in the long run, either.

While the Super Mario series as a whole is known for innovation and reinventing itself, the ‘New’ sub-series was a throwback to Mario’s early side-scrolling years. The 2006 DS original was a nice nostalgic experience, and the Wii sequel added four-player co-op into the equation. By the time New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS rolled around, and offered little to nothing in the realms of newness, gamers were burnt out on the retrograde sub-series. That really is a shame, because New Super Mario Bros. U felt like a refinement for the ‘NSMB’ series, even if the “New” in the title was increasingly ironic by this point.

NSMBU, like many Wii U titles before it, has been given a second life on Nintendo Switch (complete with the New Super Luigi U DLC intact). While it would be hard to argue that the title is one of Mario’s finest, hopefully its presence on Switch will allow a wider audience to see what an improvement it was over its NSMB predecessors.

Like the other NSMB titles, ‘U‘ was more interested in recreating Mario’s past than it was in paving the way for his future. It’s still a side scroller that sees players try to conquer obstacle course-like stages by reaching the flagpole at the end. With that said, however, this fourth New installment had a much more playful and intricate sense of level design. Though it may not stack to classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, the depth and creativity of the level design was stronger here than it had been in any other 2D Mario title since those games (unless we’re counting Yoshi’s Island).

“The Van Gogh “Starry Night” inspired stage is the one instance when the New Super Mario Bros. games decided to do something visually different.”

Sadly, the visuals and music, while not technically bad, leave a lot to be desired. It’s almost humorous that this game – not Super Mario 3D World or Mario Kart 8 – was the first Mario game to be released in HD. It looks great from a technical standpoint, but while the 2D Mario games of old were visually and aesthetically distinct from one another, the New Super Mario Bros. games all used the same visual style. Sure, the graphics are certainly better now than the previous games, but from an artistic standpoint, New Super Mario Bros. U – like the other NSMB games – is Mario at its most vanilla.

At least the world of Super Mario is colorful and vibrant enough that, even in this vanilla state, it still has its charm. The music, sadly, suffers considerably more. The music isn’t bad per se, but it’s more or less the same as it was in the previous NSMB games. It can be fun and catchy, but this is far from Mario music at its best.

When you consider that the classic 2D Mario’s such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World all looked stylistically unique to the point that you could identify them from a single character sprite, and provided some of the most iconic video game tunes of all time, it was more than a little disappointing that New Super Mario Bros. U simply provided more of the same in terms of visuals and audio.

Still, it’s the gameplay and level design that are the stars of the show, and that’s where New Super Mario Bros. U always shined brightly over the preceding ‘New’ Super Mario games. The four player co-operative mayhem of New Super Mario Bros. Wii made it’s return here, with level design that just feels better suited for the additional players this time around, while also having enough to them that they don’t feel empty when going it solo.

As in the original Wii U release, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe can be played as Mario, Luigi and Toad. Unlike the original version, however, Toad isn’t separated into two characters, with the yellow and blue variants merely being pallets swaps for the same character this time. The Switch release fills the void of the fourth character by bringing in the addition of Toadette, as well as Nabbit’s inclusion in the main game this time around, who only appeared in the DLC in the original release.

“Using the Super Crown on a character other than Toadette…what could possibly go wrong?”

While Mario, Luigi and Toad all play identically in the main game, Nabbit is tailor-made for beginners, as he is unharmed by enemies. Toadette is somewhere in between, as playing as her will turn 1-Up Mushrooms into 3-Up Moons, and many of the usual power-ups are replaced with the ‘Super Crown.’ The Super Crown can only be used by Toadette, and transforms her into Peachette, a suspiciously Princess Peach-esque character who gains a double jump, in addition to Peach’s magic gliding abilities (essentially, she plays like the other characters when they get the flying squirrel suit).

I don’t mind that these characters are made with first-time gamers and young children in mind. That’s perfectly fair, as those audiences need to start somewhere. And these characters will probably make learning the ropes that much easier. What’s less tolerable, however, is now that the yellow and blue Toad are now the same character, and two players can’t pick the same character, if you’re playing with a whole group of four, someone is going to have to play as one of the beginner characters whether they want to or not. What’s even worse, Mario isn’t present in the New Super Luigi U campaign, meaning that two players will have to play as Toadette and Nabbit no matter their skill level. Somehow, Nintendo has made the four player mode less appealing on Switch than it was on Wii U as a side effect of this.

Again, I have no issues with Nintendo including easier characters with new players in mind, but the fact that one or two players will have to play as them if you have a full group seems like a glaring oversight. Couldn’t the Switch version have added a few other characters who play like the standard ones in addition to the beginner characters?

The other big issue that’s plagued NSMBU since its Wii U release are the lackluster boss fights. Mario games may not be known for difficult boss battles, but the series has always done a great job at making them creative. Even the first New Super Mario Bros. on DS had a good variety of boss fights. But in New Super Mario Bros. U, not only are all the end-bosses of each world merely the Koopalings, but their battles don’t feel very different from what they were way back in Super Mario Bros. 3. And the mid-bosses of each world are mostly comprised of different fights against (the insultingly easy) Boom-Boom. Only in the late game does NSMBU throw different mid-bosses at you. And by that point, it feels like too little, too late.

As negative as I may be sounding by this point, New Super Mario Bros. U was always a great platformer, and a proper step up from its similarly-named precursors. Simply making it to the end of each stage is a joy to experience, but completionists will really have their work cut out for them by tracking down the three hidden star coins hidden in every stage, as well as the secret exits found in select stages. And despite the unfortunate character limitations in the Switch re-release, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is still a good time with multiple players.

For those seeking a bit more of a challenge, the New Super Luigi U campaign provides just that. Not only does Luigi regain his slippery physics that originated in Super Mario Bros. 2 in this mode, but the stages themselves – though shorter – feature a steeper difficulty. Though the world map is identical in both games, the stages of New Super Luigi U are entirely different than those of New Super Mario Bros. U. The downside to this is that, by nature of sharing an identical overworld, the levels with secret exits in Luigi’s adventure are found in the same exact spots as those in the base game, which is an unfortunate limitation that takes away a bit of distinction in Luigi’s titular mode.

Having both games together, as well as returning challenge modes, means New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe certainly provides a good amount of content for platforming enthusiasts. Of course, even with its status as the best “New Super Mario Bros.” game, U Deluxe still falls drastically short if compared to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which is unquestionably the better option for 2D platforming fans.

New Super Mario Bros. U Summation

Consistently fun level design and fluid character control made this the best New Super Mario title. The levels feel more tailor-made for multiple players than previous entries. And like any great Mario game, it’s held up strong over the years. But the game is ultimately held back by flavorless aesthetics and poor boss fights.

7

 

New Super Luigi U Summation

“I just find the hidden Luigis of NSLU to be a hoot.”

The briefer, tougher levels make the Luigi-centric campaign something of the “hard mode” of NSMBU. A fun, steeper challenge for platforming veterans. But the multiplayer option is less fun now that half of a full group are required to play as the “easy mode” characters. And the fact it’s confined to the overworld of the base game prevents it from branching out more into its own beast.

 

7

 

Overall Summation

“Okay, this level is beautiful. Why can’t more of the game look like this?!”

While we were all burnt out on New Super Mario Bros. back in 2012, revisiting the Wii U installment on its shiny 2019 Switch release, and being reminded of how much of an improvement it was over its predecessors, makes you wonder what Nintendo could have done with a 2D Mario game in the seven years since. With NSMBU, Nintendo finally began to get their groove for 2D Mario back, which made it a fitting ‘finale’ to the New Super Mario Bros. sub-series. Hopefully this re-release inspires Nintendo to test where they can take the formula next (fingers crossed it comes with more distinct visuals and better music though).

 

7

Advertisements

Pokemon Detective Pikachu Review

At long last, the video game movie curse is lifted!

Ever since the 1993 Super Mario Bros. live-action film introduced the world to cinematic video game adaptations, the genre has – somewhat uniquely – never really been any good. At least the earlier adaptations had something of an excuse, as they were trying to figure out a way to take video games, (which by nature are quite different than movies) and translate them to movie audiences. As the years went on and video game movies never got any better (and in fact, often got worse), it seemed like game-to-movie adaptations were nothing but a failed novelty. Sure, there were a few video game movies here and there that perhaps appealed to the fans of the games (Mortal Kombat comes to mind), but it would be difficult to call them good movies unless you fit snuggly into the franchise’s established fanbase. But now, we have Pokemon Detective Pikachu, the first honest-to-goodness video game movie I would call a ‘good movie.’

Obviously, this live-action/CG hybrid is based on Nintendo’s beloved Pokemon franchise. While plenty of animated Pokemon films have been released over the years, they have all been direct continuations of the TV series (even if they don’t always share the same continuity). Pokemon Detective Pikachu, however, is not only the first live-action Pokemon movie, but the first one to be directly adapted from one of the games (interestingly, the film is based on a relatively obscure spinoff title in the franchise, the Nintendo 3DS’s Detective Pikachu).

What makes Detective Pikachu work so well may sound obvious, but it’s something that has eluded Hollywood’s video game adaptations for decades: It embraces and respects its source material, while telling a cinematic story set in that world. Because of this, Detective Pikachu  will delight fans of its franchise, and should even win over audiences who may not be overly familiar with the games or TV series, because it tells a good story.

So many video game movies come across as being embarrassed that they’re based on video games, and don’t seem to give much effort into being good movies, either. Pokemon Detective Pikachu feels tremendously refreshing with how it delights in indulging the world of the Pokemon series.

The story centers around Tim Goodman (Justice Smith), a young insurance salesman with previous dreams of becoming a Pokemon trainer. Tim has an estranged relationship with his father Harry – a famous detective of Ryme City – due to what Tim perceives as his father’s preference for work over his son, particularly after his mother passed away while Tim was still young. But one day, Tim gets a distressing call. His father, it seems, has perished in a car accident while in the midst of a case.

Tim travels to Ryme City to gather his father’s belongings, but while there, he stumbles across a most peculiar character: a Pikachu capable of speaking human language, though only Tim is able to hear him (everyone else hears the iconic squeaks of “Pika Pika Pi!”). This is Detective Pikachu (Ryan Renolds), the Pokemon belonging to Tim’s father.

Detective Pikachu was involved in the crash that supposedly claimed the life of Tim’s father, and is suffering from amnesia because of it. Despite his busted memory, Detective Pikachu remembers one important detail; Tim’s father is alive. After a bit of convincing, Detective Pikachu manages to sway Tim into helping him discover the mystery of what happened to Harry, and to solve whatever case he was working on at the time of the crash. The duo soon becomes a trio, as they are joined by Lucy Stevens (Kathryn Newton) a plucky junior reporter trying to become a serious journalist, as well as her Pokemon partner, a Psyduck (so I guess it’s a quartet).

It’s a simple detective mystery plot, but it makes for a good story thanks to the likable characters (particularly Pikachu himself, with Ryan Renolds giving a terrific vocal performance as the iconic character), as well as its embracing of the Pokemon license as a whole. Indelible elements of Pokemon lore find their way into the plot, with the film both paying respects to its license and also utilizing it for the benefit of its writing (the film finds plenty of ways to bring out humor in its creatures). Pokemon Detective Pikachu is a charming film for established fans and newcomers alike.

It’s hard to believe the original reveals for the various CG designs of the Pokemon were met with backlash, because honestly, they’re really faithful recreations. Pikachu looks like Pikachu, Charizard looks like Charizard, Psyduck looks like Psyduck. The CGI of the film is impressive, and the fact that they stayed true to the character designs of the games is admirable (ain’t that right, Sonic?). Perhaps the only one that still throws me off is Jigglypuff, who is given fur in the film, but I always figured had more of a balloon-like quality. But that’s not much of an issue, especially since Jigglypuff only shows up for its expected joke (singing karaoke at a bar, and putting the patrons to sleep). One mixed visual element may be Ryme City itself, which may look a little too dark at times – leaning into its Film Noir aspect perhaps a little too much – but the many different Pokemon keep the cute and colorful aspects of the franchise well intact.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu admittedly has its faults, with the most notable being its somewhat fragmented structure. While the film is always charming, it can feel tonally episodic. The film’s elements of action, emotion, comedy and mystery seem separated into their own scenes (“this scene’s a funny moment!” “This part’s an action scene!” “This scene has emotion and drama!”). It’s never bad, but you do kind of wish Pokemon Detective Pikachu could better blend its different elements together (Pixar comes to mind) instead of feeling so fragmented. Still, that’s ultimately a small price to pay when you remember that – by God! -Detective Pikachu is a video game movie that’s actually good.

It’s not just that it breaks the video game movie jinx that makes Pokemon Detective Pikachu stand out, but also in the possibilities it opens up for franchise filmmaking. Back in 2017, The Lego Batman Movie accomplished something similar, showcasing a Batman feature that could take its franchise in a brand new direction without affecting the integrity of the license itself. And I think Pokemon Detective Pikachu accomplishes something similar.

A sequel has already been confirmed, but I hope that Detective Pikachu begins a new trend of Pokemon movies altogether. Some Pokemon movies can be sequels and share continuities, while others could be standalone features with their own styles and tones. The only common link would be that they use the overarching Pokemon mythology as a backdrop. Why not have a Rocky-style feature about an up-and-coming fighter and his Machamp? It really is a franchise that can have so many different creative voices.

Pokemon Detective Pikachu is a cute and charming family feature, one that brings a merciful end to the video game movie curse, while also (hopefully) acting as the start of a new sub-genre of franchise filmmaking.

 

7

2019 Video Game Awards

Here you can find all of my 2019 Video Game Awards (celebrating the best of 2018) in one convenient place.

 

First, the Introduction

And the awards themselves.

Best Sound

Best Visuals

Best Music

Best Remake/Re-Release

Biggest Surprise

Best Multiplayer

Best Content

Best Indie Game

Best Gameplay

Best Handheld Game

Best Platform

 

And of course, Game of the Year.

Top 10 Games of 2018 (Game of the Year)

At last, our journey takes us here, to the end of all things.

And by that, I mean it’s time to wrap up my long-delayed 2019 video game awards (celebrating the best of 2018 video games) with the big “Game of the Year” award.

While 2018 wasn’t quite on par with 2017 in regards to video games (which would be no small feat), it still produced some truly memorable gaming experiences. Enough that I could once again compile a full top 10 list, as opposed to my usual top 5. And also, with my gaming purchases beginning to slow down, who knows if I’ll be doing a full top 10 again any time soon. Best to take advantage of what I’m given when I can.

So, what were the best games of 2018? Well, according to me, anyway, they were these following ten titles.

Continue reading “Top 10 Games of 2018 (Game of the Year)”

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Platform

With all the awards I’ve been giving to the video games of 2018, it’s time to give one to the platforms we play them on.

I’m not one for console wars. Sure, I have my favorite gaming consoles (two of which are currently the biggest sellers on the market), but I feel it’s immature to claim one brand superior to another just because. The people who shame Nintendo for being “kiddy” warrant that very pejorative more so than anything Nintendo has ever made. And those who make similar claims against Playstation or Xbox aren’t any better.

But this isn’t about console wars, it’s just awarding the console I feel was the most consistent over the calendar year that was 2018. So without further ado… here’s that!

Winner: Playstation 4

 

While the Nintendo Switch definitely had a great sophomore year in 2018, it did admittedly not quite reach the heights it did in its unparalleled debut year of 2017. Playstation 4, meanwhile, may have had its best year yet.

Between God of War and Marvel’s Spider-Man, the Playstation 4 received two of its best exclusives to date. Ni No Kuni 2 and Tetris Effect also proved to be memorable exclusives. Not to mention the absolutely beautiful Shadow of the Colossus remake. On top of that, the PS4 also saw great Multiplatform releases like Red Dead Redemption 2.

For all the murmurs we keep hearing about a Playstation 5, I find it kind of hard to care too much about that at the moment. The Playstation 4 clearly has plenty of life left in it. No need to rush the next generation when the current one is still thriving so strongly.

 

Runner-up: Nintendo Switch

 

Past Winners

2014: Wii U

2015: Playstation 4

2016: Playstation 4

2017: Nintendo Switch

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Handheld Game

Handheld gaming is in quite an interesting place these days. Mobile gaming has of course taken most of the handheld market over the last decade. But perhaps more interestingly, the Nintendo Switch has essentially bridged the gap between handheld and home console gaming.

There was once a clear cut difference in terms of what kind of games you’d see on handhelds. In the Game Boy days, it meant the compromise of quality for the convenience of portable gaming. In the Game Boy Advance days, handheld titles were smaller, shorter experiences, but no less great than their console counterparts. But now with the Nintendo Switch, there’s really no difference.

This is, of course, making this particular award a little tricky. Do I stick with what is traditionally considered a ‘handheld’ game (3DS, etc.)? Or do I include Switch titles?

Well, I suppose since the 3DS is (unfortunately) on its last leg, I guess now is as good a time as ever to allow Switch games into the mix. However, I will only consider Switch exclusives eligible for this award. I don’t want to dilute the idea handheld gaming too much. Therefor, if I only make the exclusive Switch titles eligible for this award – as opposed to multiplatform games and ports/re-releases that also happen to be on Switch – then I feel this award’s continued existence is justified.

So without further explanation, here is my favorite handheld game of 2018.

 

Winner: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

First, let me give credit where it’s due: If I were going with the “traditional” handheld route, this award would go to WarioWare Gold. So let’s award that as the “Runner-up” in this category, and give it some additional brownie points as well. Because WarioWare is an awesome series, and Gold was just so much fun.

With that said, I can’t deny the sheer joy of playing Super Smash Bros. on the go. Sure, Super Smash Bros. on 3DS did it first, but it also felt like it made some compromises in the transition, and was kind of the ‘lesser’ version of its Wii U counterpart. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, on the other hand, is Super Smash Bros. at its best whether your playing on your TV or on the go.

Ultimate is one of the best examples of the appeal of the Switch itself. It’s top tier gaming no matter how you choose to play it. And Ultimate gives you one of the best multiplayer series of all time, whether you choose to go the home console or the handheld route.

 

Runner-up: WarioWare Gold

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

2015: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

2016: Kirby Planet Robobot

2017: Super Mario Odyssey*

 

*Retroactively awarded now that I’m qualifying Switch titles for this award.

Video Game Awards 2019: Best Gameplay

Gameplay is the heart and soul of any game. No matter how good your story is, no matter how big your budget and production values, no matter how much hype you have, if the gameplay doesn’t deliver, your game has failed.

There were plenty of games that provided excellent gameplay in 2018. Whether it was refinements of tested mechanics, innovative concepts, or immersive interactivity, 2018 gave us some gameplay greats. But one in particular stood out for me…

 

Winner: Marvel’s Spider-Man

There were admittedly a few top contenders for this award. Super Smash Bros. Ultimate represents one of the greatest multiplayer franchises at its very best. Red Dead Redemption 2 gave us a world with an unrivaled amount of ways to play. God of War delivered the series’ trademark action, while delving further into exploration elements. And Celeste was a testament to how simple gameplay can create deep games.

But in the end, I had to go with Marvel’s Spider-Man. Why? For the very simple reason that Spider-Man controls just as you’d always hoped he would. From running up walls to swinging across buildings, Marvel’s Spider-Man really made you feel like the friendly neighborhood web-slinger.

Granted, some of the combat sections drag on a bit, but they’re still fun. Spider-Man’s constantly expanding moveset, repertoire of gadgets, and unique costumes all add to the experience, making for quite the varied combat variety.

Yes, Spider-Man walks away with this award because it made me feel like Spider-Man as much as I think a game could at this point. The simple act of controlling a character has rarely been so satisfying.

 

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

Past Winners

2014: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

2015: Bloodborne*

2016: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

 

*Retroactively awarded after further consideration