Top 5 Most Anticipated Games of 2016

Now that it’s December, 2015 is nearing its end. Along with preparing for the holiday season (and subsequently, the one-year anniversary of this site), Star Wars, and New Year’s Resolutions that I’ll probably stick to for five days, December also serves as a time to reflect on the year ahead.

This future-hype naturally finds its way into the world of video games as well. So as we all prepare to look back at the best games of 2015, we also look forward to our most anticipated games of 2016. And I am no different!

The following are my top five most anticipated games of 2016. They may look a bit different from most people’s selections, but for one reason or another, these games all have my attention. Let’s start with a runner-up then get to the top five!

Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

Honestly, I had six games that stood out that I could choose from, so I feel guilty about placing any of them as a runner-up. But since a “top 6” list just sounds goofy, someone had to take the fall. Since Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam comes out in January, I don’t have much more of a wait. So that bumps it to a runner-up on this list of anticipation (just go with it).

Aside from Paper Mario: Sticker Star, there hasn’t been a bad Mario RPG. Though Dream Team was a considerable step down from Bowser’s Inside Story, I have high hopes for Paper Jam. Being a crossover between Mario’s two ongoing RPG series, Paper Jam has the potential to bring a new sense of creativity to the Mario RPG formula.

I do have to wonder where Mario RPGs will go from here though. After you have both series cross paths, it seems like it would be a good time to give Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi a break, and maybe start a new direction for the Mario RPGs. But maybe that’s just me.

Now on to the top 5!

5: Dark Souls 3

Dark Souls 3

Platform: Multiplatform

Dark Souls is one of the better modern franchises in gaming (even if I kinda suck at it), and I’m really excited to die repeatedly play this new entry. I do kind of hope it adds more to the series than Dark Souls II did though. As great of a game as it was, I don’t want the third entry to just do what the first two already did. I hope DS3 can take all the good things from the series (of which there are many) and add some new twists into the mix as well.

What makes the Dark Souls series great is that it really feels like a modernized version of the kinds of games you’d play on the NES back in the day. It’s incredibly difficult, focused entirely on gameplay, and features a kind of progression that would feel at home on an 8-bit console. Yet it also feels brand new. The series has so far continued this trend through three games (remember, Demon Souls was the first game, Dark Souls was the second), and I’m confident it can repeat its success for a fourth time.

4: Star Fox Zero

Star Fox Zero

Platform: Wii U

Lack of multiplayer aside, Star Fox Zero looks to be the return to form I’ve been waiting for from the series. The gameplay looks like a modernized Star Fox 64, none of the weirdly sexualized characters from the subsequent games are present, and the story is going back to basics. It pretty much looks like the proper follow-up to Star Fox 64, which has somehow not yet happened in almost two decades.

If Star Fox Zero does indeed end up being this generation’s Star Fox 64, then it will be well worth the wait. Now I just hope the game’s delay into 2016 means they’re adding a multiplayer mode.

3: Mighty No. 9

Mighty No. 9

Platform: Multiplatform

Though the Red Ash Kickstarter fiasco might have put a sour taste in gamer’s mouths in regards to Keiji Inafune’s Comcept studio, I’m still super excited for Mighty No. 9.

It’s hard to believe Mega Man hasn’t appeared in a game outside of Super Smash Bros. for over five years. But if Capcom won’t let us have the Blue Bomber, at least we have a spiritual sequel to look forward to.

Mighty No. 9 really does look like a Mega Man title, and hopefully the gameplay and level design can live up to that heralded series. As a huge bonus, the game looks to feature several different additional modes to add some replayability and change up the experience.

2: The Legend of Zelda Wii U

Zelda Wii U

Platform: Wii U (but maybe NX)

The latest “proper” addition in The Legend of Zelda series looks to be the most ambitious entry yet. It could be one of the last great Wii U games, or one of the first great NX ones. Or both.

The Legend of Zelda is one of gaming’s greatest series, and a new home console entry is always a big deal. But this one in particular seems to be aiming to change up Zelda conventions, and hopefully, as we learn more about the game, that becomes more apparent.

Though I really wish Nintendo would give the series another art direction as daring as The Wind Waker, I like the new cel-shaded look. It looks a lot like a more advanced take on what Skyward Sword did visually. But while Skyward Sword used its visuals to guise the aging technology of the Wii, this new Zelda actually looks to be taking full advantage of its hardware.

My two great hopes for Zelda Wii U is that it really does change up the series, since Zelda games, great as they are, lack the consistent sense of newness of its sister series, Super Mario, and that the main adventure is only as long as it needs to be. I’m actually among those who loved Skyward Sword, but I admit that game would have been better if it were trimmed a few hours shorter. There’s no need to stretch a game’s length just for the heck of it. I’ll take a 10 hour game that feels complete over a 60 hour one that feels largely comprised of filler.

Anyway, it’s Zelda. Of course I have it on this list!

1: Yooka-Laylee

Yooka-Laylee

Platform: Multiplatform

Rare made some of the greatest video games of my youth. With a resume that includes the likes of Donkey Kong Country 2 (arguably the best 2D platformer), Banjo-Kazooie (arguably the best 3D platformer until Mario went to space), Goldeneye 007, Perfect Dark, and so many other classics, it’s a wonder how the developer has fallen so far from grace over the last decade.

Yooka-Laylee is something of a dream come true for me. The new studio Playtonic Games – founded by a small group of some of Rare’s finest former developers – debuted the game as a spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series in a wildly successful Kickstarter campaign. And so far, everything about the game is looking like a modernized version of the Banjo-Kazooie style of platformer.

Playtonic has been vocal in saying that the game isn’t merely a re-skin of Banjo-Kazooie, however, and that Yooka-Laylee is making the winning formula new again. The collectibles will all serve a purpose, the game will have a greater sense of freedom in exploration, and players will have some forms of customization in gameplay and progression.

After Nuts & Bolts more or less kicked Banjo-Kazooie fans in the… nuts & bolts, Yooka-Laylee looks like the proper follow-up to Banjo-Tooe that I’ve waited fifteen years for. It was even the first game on Kickstarter I’ve helped fund. The only other game I’ve funded since was Red Ash. And well, let’s just move on.

Yooka-Laylee simply looks to bring back a style of game that’s been all but forgotten in the last few console generations. Given the minds behind it, I have a lot of confidence they’ll be able to pull it off. Really, there’s no reason why Yooka-Laylee wouldn’t be my most anticipated game of 2016.

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes Review

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes

Though The Legend of Zelda is more renowned for its single player adventures, the series is no stranger to multiplayer games. The Four Swords sub-series introduced co-op mayhem to the land of Hyrule, while Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks featured multiplayer modes of their own. Tri Force Heroes is the latest multiplayer entry in the iconic series, and puts some new spins on the concept on the Nintendo 3DS. Though for all the fun Tri Force Heroes brings to the table, it brings just as much frustration with it.

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force HeroesFrom the get-go, it’s clear that Tri Force Heroes isn’t like other Zeldas. The story takes place in a land called Hytopia, a kingdom that takes pride in its fashion sense. When their princess is cursed to wear an ugly, unremovable bodysuit by a witch simply called “The Lady,” the kingdom falls into despair. A prophecy tells of a group of three pointy-eared heroes who will save the day. The call for a hero is answered by Link – apparently the same Link from A Link Between Worlds – as well as two other unexplained Links. Link, looking to hide his heroic origins for some reason, dresses in many fashionable Hytopian outfits during the adventure, with Link’s wardrobe ranging from Goron costumes to Zelda’s dress.

It’s a strangely un-Zelda-like setup that kind of takes away from the series’ usual tone. Even when Zelda has been more humorous and lighthearted in the past, there was still some sense of seriousness to the equation. The plot might be a little more forgivable if this were a spinoff like Hyrule Warriors, but this is the official follow-up to A Link Between Worlds, which just makes things feel misplaced and goofy.

Tri Force Heroes retains the same top-down gameplay from A Link Between Worlds, so there’s no problems with how Link controls. Meanwhile, the setup is something new for the series, with the kingdom of Hytopia serving as a kind of hub world, with a primary shop that sells Link his outfits, as well as additional shops that sell other items. The center of the town is the castle, which is where Link is sent on missions in the “Drablands” and meets up with the other heroes.

The castle is essentially an online lobby, and the Drablands are where the brunt of the action takes place. The Drablands are separated into eight “worlds,” each consisting of four levels. Every level works like a condensed version of the series’ dungeons, and have four floors, the last of which being a boss fight or a horde of enemies.

Every level houses three items such as the boomerang, bow and arrow, hammer, bombs and other such Zelda mainstays. Some levels feature three unique items, while others have multiple copies of the same item. But there’s always one item for each player, and every level’s puzzles are built around the items.

The level design is smart in this regard, continuing the series tradition of keeping players thinking of new ways to utilize the mechanics. Having three players trying to figure out how to work together to solve puzzles can be a joy. That is, when you can manage to find a team who’s willing to learn the ropes and not just throw their teammates off cliffs or quit the first time it takes more than a few seconds to solve a puzzle. All three players share a pool of hit points as a means to demotivate trolls, though you’d be surprised how many players still insist on team-killing. Finding a good team to stick around can take a good while, and the game makes little effort to make the process easier.

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force HeroesCommunication proves to be a major problem in the game, simply because there’s so little to work with in this regard. Your only means to communicate with other players is by tapping icons on the touch screen. It’s a nice little mechanic that, in concept, allows players to give each other an idea of what they’re supposed to do instead of outright giving it away, but the icons are just too few. You have the options to say things like “hello” or “item” or “no.” Or you can give each other a thumbs up or cheer yourselves on with pom poms. They’re cute, but they’re so limited that they provide no help if your teammates are at a loss. A few more helpful icons could have made a big difference.

A key feature in the game is the Links’ ability to stack on each other’s shoulders to form a totem pole. It’s a simple feature, but it’s used in a few inventive ways with a number of the game’s puzzles and boss fights. Though it too can become hindered with the lack of communication.

It is possible to play the levels in single player, but it’s not recommended. Not only does it defeat the purpose of the game, but it also proves to be tedious and boring. In place of two other players, Link is accompanied by two dummies called Dopples. Players can take control of either Dopple and their original Link at any time by tapping the touchscreen. As you may have guessed, it proves to be an arduous process, and having one person switch between characters to solve puzzles that were intended to be done by three people just feels slow and clunky.

On the bright side of things, if you can find a capable group of people either online or locally, the game can actually provide some fun. The many outfits you get throughout your journey also add variety to the gameplay, since they not only change Link visually, but also grant him special abilities. The aforementioned Zelda dress, for example, makes hearts appear more frequently, while the Goron outfit allows Link to swim in lava.

Revisiting levels with different outfits allows you to approach them in different ways and keep things fresh. Similarly, defeating the boss of a world allows you to select new sets of challenges within the levels in that world. So in theory there is incentive to go back to stages once new costumes are unlocked, though the levels aren’t smart or creative enough to make revisits too desirable.

Tri Force Heroes does look great, combining the aesthetics of A Link Between Worlds with Wind Waker-inspired character designs. The soundtrack shares a similar sense of quality. It’s far from the best Zelda soundtrack, but it’s more memorable and serious than the rest of the game’s tone, which adds a decent sense of adventure despite the awkward plot.

If you can find the right group, Tri Force Heroes can provide some fun. Though just as easily you find a group that makes things more frustrating than anything. And if you go it alone, it’s outright boring. Under the right circumstances Try Force Heroes can be a little treat, otherwise it’s simply the most uneven Zelda to date.

 

5

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows Review

Plague of Shadows

Shovel Knight remains not only one of the best games from the current console generation, but very likely the best indie game I’ve ever played. Taking the foundations of many of the best 8-bit games and creating its own identity through them, Shovel Knight is at once a retro charmer and a modern classic. It’s no surprise that it’s become one of the most successful indie releases in the industry.

Plague of Shadows is Shovel Knight’s first of three promised add-on adventures, and places boss enemy Plague Knight in the starring role. Although it borrows many of the same levels and elements as the core game, Plague of Shadow’s new character means new gameplay and an all-new story are at play. And it all comes as something of a steal, as Plague of Shadows is an automatically added expansion to Shovel Knight for anyone who owns the game, as opposed to paid DLC.

You would be forgiven for thinking Plague of Shadows is nothing more than Shovel Knight with a character swap from first glance. It uses the same world map, the same levels, and the same bosses (though Shovel Knight is now fought in Plague Knight’s domain, with the game keeping continuity with the outcome of the battle in a fun way). The destructible checkpoints return, as do all the levels’ obstacles and gimmicks. But Plague Knight is a vastly different character than Shovel Knight, ultimately turning Plague of Shadows into a new experience within this treaded path.

Whereas Shovel Knight was confined to a grounded and jump attack, along with the various items he picked up along his journey, Plague Knight has a more versatile and customizable means of attack.

Plague of ShadowsPlague Knight’s weapons of choice are bombs. Throughout the game, players can purchase new casings, powders and fuses for Plague Knight’s bombs. Casings determine how the bombs are thrown (some are tossed in an arch, while others are rolled or bounced on the ground), powders determine what happens when the bombs explode (one sends flames in both directions of Plague Knight, for example, while another works as a homing missile), and fuses determine how long it takes for a bomb to explode.

Additionally, Plague Knight is not nearly the jumper that Shovel Knight was, being able to double jump, but with both jumps not equalling the distance of even one of Shovel Knight’s. To compensate, Plague Knight can also gain “Burst,” which are moves performed by holding and releasing the attack button, which give Plague Knight an added boost in his jumps.

The relics that Shovel Knight collected in his adventure can still be found, but instead of being used as their own weapons, Plague Knight can trade them in to a merchant in exchange for Arcana, which basically function like Shovel Knight’s relics and use magic points, but they are an entirely new library of moves.

At any given time, you can go to the character menu and customize which casings, powders, fuses, Bursts and Arcana that Plague Knight is using, giving the game a great sense of variety. You’ll probably find a particular setup that suits your liking, but you will still need to change things up every here and there when certain situations are better dealt with different moves.

The vastly different approach to Plague Knight’s gameplay makes the experience feel brand new again. Though on the downside, you may find that some of the platforming has become considerably more difficult, due to Plague Knights purposefully awkward jumping. And repeatedly holding the attack button to perform Bursts can feel a tad cumbersome (sometimes you’ll have to be careful not to overshot your jumps with a Burst, making them as risky as they are helpful).

Plague of ShadowsConversely, the boss fights now feel a great deal easier, as you can continuously bombard them with bombs thrown from the air ground (of the game’s returning bosses, only Propeller Knight gave me any notable challenge). The difficulty is therefor not as consistent as that of the original game, and it’s easy to see many players preferring Shovel Knight’s balance over Plague Knight’s on-again, off-again difficulty.

Plague of Shadows introduces a whole new plot, which takes place concurrently with Shovel Knight’s story (you can even spot some of Shovel Knight’s exploits at various moments throughout the game).

Plague of ShadowsPlague Knight, as it turns out, is a traitor to the knights of the Order of No Quarter, as he plans on stealing the “essence” of each of his fellow knights – as well as that of Shovel Knight and the Enchantress – in order to create a potion that will grant him any one wish.

He is not allowed into the towns from the original game (most the townsfolk fear him), so instead Plague Knight takes refuge in a secret lab with various tertiary and background characters from Shovel Knight, the most notable of which being Mona the witch, who serves as Plague Knight’s assistant and most trusted ally.

The game does a mostly good job at turning a boss enemy into a more fleshed-out character, though Plague Knight’s snide personality isn’t as immediately likable as Shovel Knight’s chivalric charms. The story itself has a similarly effective simplicity to the original game, and it connects with Shovel Knight’s plot in some amusing ways. Though some of the optional bosses have some pretty goofy reasons for battling Plague Knight, which makes them feel tacked on to this adventure out of obligation, instead of giving them a meaningful purpose to return.

This expansion provides a secondary challenge in finding all of the hidden Cipher Coins, which are used to purchase the customizable moves from Mona. The Cipher Coins are usually obvious to spot (though some are hidden in walls), but it will take quite a bit of platforming skill to collect them all.

If Shovel Knight is one of the better modern games, it is only fitting that Plague of Shadows is one of the better DLC packages out there as well. It doesn’t quite match Shovel Knight’s campaign due to the more fluctuating difficulty, and some people may simply not find Plague Knight’s sense of control very appealing. But the simple fact that this is a DLC campaign that feels like a worthy successor to the outstanding original is a massive accomplishment in of itself. And it’s free. What a steal.

 

8

Top 5 Third-Party Characters Who Should NEVER be in Super Smash Bros.

I’ve already written lists of characters I’d like to see added in Super Smash Bros. as DLC, and specified my top five most-wanted third-party characters. But with the Smash Bros. character ballot ending today, I’d figured I’d make another, much more unpleasant list. These are the top five third-party characters who I fear some troubled souls have actually voted for, despite their not belonging/deserving to be in the series, or just flat-out being lame characters.

 

5: Master Chief (Halo series)

"Take it easy, Master Chief! You're still cool!"
“Take it easy, Master Chief! You’re still cool!”

I love Halo. I really do. It’s one of the most consistently fun and deep FPS series out there. So much so that it’s an FPS series I still enjoy playing despite my overall loss of interest in the genre.

But why exactly should Master Chief be in Super Smash Bros? There are still a fair number of people who want him in there, but why? He has literally zero connection to Nintendo, and putting him in the game would just be advertisement for a competing console. Not to mention Nintendo is adamant about no guns in Smash Bros. (save the ray gun and Super Scope 6). When Solid Snake was in Brawl his guns were removed in favor of the more tactical side of the character. But Master Chief is all guns. What could they do with him?

A cool character from a great series. But he has no place in Smash Bros.

 

4: Any Indie Character Who Isn’t Shovel Knight (Various)

 

"Go on and cry because YOU DON'T BELONG HERE!"
“Go on and cry because YOU DON’T BELONG HERE!”

I get it. Indie games are a thing now. But just because most of them seem to replicate the same kind of old school feeling of Nintendo games doesn’t automatically give them Smash cred. Just because they have a tendency to take the blueprints of Super Mario and add in a heap of pretentiousness their own twists doesn’t mean they’ve earned their spot.

The only indie game that I feel perfectly captured that “Nintendo feeling” is Shovel Knight. In fact, I might say that it’s the only modern game that can rank among the best 8-bit games. It’s the best NES game never to have been released on NES.

But as awesome as Shovel Knight might be, even he might be a bit early in his resume (seeing as he’s not a Nintendo character) to be put in Smash Bros. against some other contenders. But at least he’d fit in, seeing as he comes without the self-righteousness or quasi-gross out humor of his indie contemporaries. You know who I’m talking about!

 

3: Sora (Kingdom Hearts)

 

"NO!"
“NO!”

Sure, Kingdom Hearts has had various spinoff titles on Nintendo’s handhelds, but who cares? Notice how Kingdom Hearts 3 is being treated like the return of a long-dormant series, even though there’s been a small army of Kingdom Hearts titles released since Kingdom Hearts 2. That’s because no one cares about the handheld spinoffs (except for the lot who has the Bizarro World belief that anything Tetsuya Nomura touches is good). Sora’s presence on Nintendo consoles has been nothing but filler, and has only served to send the convolution of the series’ plot into the stratosphere.

Do I even need to bring up the fact that his buddies Donald Duck and Goofy are way cooler than he is? Even Winnie the Pooh is more badass! And don’t even get me started on the legalities between Square and Disney.

Plus, do we really want another spiky-haired anime dude in Smash? Do we not have enough of those already?

 

2: Cloud (Final Fantasy VII)

Cloud
“Hey look! It’s every Tetsuya Nomura character ever!”

 

 

Don’t give the weaboo what they want! Don’t do it, Sakurai! They don’t deserve to be catered to!

Look, I understand that Final Fantasy VII is a beloved game (if maybe more than a little overhyped compared to many of its predecessors and successors). But seriously, his only presence on any Nintendo console have been bit parts in the aforementioned handheld Kingdom Hearts titles. And well, see above.

Besides, it’s not even like Cloud would be the best Final Fantasy representation for Smash Bros. I know  those Nomura fanboys would whine about this, but honestly, the best Final Fantasy representation in Smash Bros. would just be a basic Black Mage or White Mage or something along those lines.

Not to mention Cloud is more commonly associated with Playstation. So again, what incentive does Nintendo have to add this character over so many others? Need I repeat… Spiky-haired anime dude! No more! Please!

"At least when Cloud looked like clumps of dough he had some charm about him..."
“At least when Cloud looked like clumps of dough he had some charm about him…”

 

1: Shadow the Hedgehog (Sonic the Hedgehog series)

 

*Cue long, drawn-out sigh*
*Cue long, drawn-out sigh*

Lord help us all if Shadow the Hedgehog gets voted in.

Cool to 12-year old boys, creepy Sonic weaboos, and no one else, shadow the Hedgehog is the bottom of the video game character barrel. Not only is he just another member of the infinitely tired anime trope of a “dark” lookalike of a main character (a spot that’s already needlessly filled in Smash Bros. by Dark Pit), but the downward spiral of the Sonic the Hedgehog series can be linked to the character’s introduction. At that point, it seemed like Sega’s main focus was no longer making good Sonic games, but introducing a bunch of goofy animal characters and giving them generic anime personalities that they magnified by emphasizing story over gameplay.

Not to mention that Sonic already kind of has the least imaginative moveset in Smash Bros. (he spins… a lot!), and it’s easy to imagine Shadow would just have a cloned moveset. But, y’know, “dark and edgy.” Uggh.

For one thing, there really doesn’t need to be any more Sonic characters in Smash Bros. But if there were to be another, it should be Dr. Robotnik. Or Eggman. Whatever he’s called. He’s fine.

Shadow already tainted one series, we really don’t need him doing the same for another.

Ranking the 3D Mario Games

Super Mario 64

When Mario made the jump to 3D gaming in 1996 with Super Mario 64, in marked a turning point for both the Super Mario series and gaming as a whole. Super Mario 64 opened new doors and paved new ground for the world of video games. With such a heavy influence on gaming, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Mario series itself was particularly effected by its influence.

Mario would abandon his 2D sidescrolling roots for a good ten years before New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS made it a thing again. While New Super Mario Bros. launched its own sub-series that has kept 2D Mario games largely successful, most Mario fans these days consider the 3D entries to be the “core” titles in the franchise, and with good reason. New Super Mario Bros. is fun and all, but it relies too heavily on Mario’s past and relishing in nostalgia. It’s the 3D games that feel like the series’ evolution and future.

Five console games and one handheld title comprise the 3D Mario canon. While we all eagerly await what might be the next great 3D Mario adventure – whether it be a Wii U title or a key release on Nintendo’s upcoming “NX” console – let’s look back at the 3D Mario games that have been released so far.

As part of my celebration of Super Mario Bros’ 30th anniversary, here is my ranking of the 3D Mario games, from least to greatest.

Continue reading “Ranking the 3D Mario Games”

Super Mario Bros. 3 Review

Super Mario Bros. 3

Video games don’t come more beloved than Super Mario Bros. 3. Its pre-release hype – which included an entire motion picture, The Wizard, to help advertise it – was unprecedented in its day. It became a pop culture phenomenon that matched even the original Super Mario Bros., and established most of the identity of the Super Mario series that we still see over two and a half decades later. And to this day, it is still widely regarded as one of the greatest video games of all time, and regularly declared as the most timeless game on the NES (with only Mega Man 2 putting up an argument against it). Super Mario Bros. 3’s importance to Nintendo is hard to exaggerate. It remains a highlight in the big N’s history.

While the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2 retained the look and feel of the original but cranked up to an infuriating difficulty, and the western Super Mario Bros. 2 felt like a strange detour in the series, Super Mario Bros. 3 felt like the first real evolution of the Super Mario Bros. formula. Mario once again jumped through the Mushroom Kingdom, kicked Koopa shells, and ventured to save the Princess from the villainous Bowser. But Super Mario Bros. 3 was a massive leap forward in its execution. Not only did the visuals receive an overhaul – with the Mushroom World being more colorful and vibrant than ever before – but Super Mario Bros. 3 expanded on gameplay in several meaningful ways.

Perhaps most notable are the power-ups. While the Super Mushroom, Starman and Fire Flower all returned, Super Mario Bros. 3 added a wealth of new oddities to give Mario super powers. The first and most prominently featured was the Super Leaf, which gave Mario raccoon ears and a tail that allowed him to fly. A new run meter at the bottom of the screen displayed Mario’s speed. Run fast enough and leap to the air to send Raccoon Mario skyward! He could even take out enemies and slow the descent of his falls with a spin of his tail.

Super Mario Bros. 3Then there’s the Tanooki Suit, which put Mario in a fluffy costume. The Tanooki Suit serves as a greater (and rarer) version of the Raccoon Suit, granting the same powers while also allowing Mario to transform into an invincible statue. The Frog Suit gave Mario and Luigi better swimming and jumping abilities, while the elusive Hammer Suit let the plumbing duo turn the tables on the Hammer Bros., as they could throw hammers that easily defeated even the most difficult enemies. In arguably the game’s most famous level, Mario could hop into a giant shoe and hop across otherwise dangerous surfaces.

Super Mario Bros. 3’s power-ups delighted players (as well as baffling westerners with their roots in Japanese culture), and added a new sense of variety and depth to the mix. The game included so many power-ups that it boasted Mario’s largest arsenal until Super Mario Galaxy was released on the Wii some seventeen years later.

Then there were the levels. Super Mario Bros. 3 showcases some of the very best level design in all of gaming. The courses are straightforward, with Mario simply needing to reach the goal at the end of each stage. But every level presents a fun idea or challenge – with many of them being built around a single mechanic or power-up – that are used to their fullest. The eight included worlds also saw a greater variety, with worlds taking on themes like deserts, oceans, the sky and even a world where everything is super-sized.

The world map, a revelatory concept, was introduced here. Mario could now travel across a map in between levels, giving players a greater sense of freedom. They can tackle every level they wanted, or just skip to the ones that are necessary for progression. Enemies even appeared on the world map, giving Mario the chance to earn a power-up. Toad Houses and mini-games gave Mario a chance to earn even more goodies and extra lives. You still couldn’t replay levels after beating them in the same playthrough (that would be an innovation of Super Mario World) but the world map was a drastic leap forward for the series.

Super Mario Bros. 3The game still remains fun to look at, with the graphics being some of the most timeless on the NES, and the music just as catchy and even more varied than that of Super Mario Bros. But more notable is how many of Mario’s established elements all got their start here: Boos, Thwomps, the Koopalings, airships, flying, the aforementioned world map and Toad Houses… So much of what we know about Super Mario today was first realized in Super Mario Bros. 3. The game was such a landmark in game design, and so widely beloved, that it has largely remained at the heart of the series ever since.

When it comes to discussing the best of Mario’s 2D adventures, the argument is almost unanimously between Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. Between the two, I’ve always been more of a Super Mario World man, as the replayable levels and secret exits added so much depth to what Mario 3 started, but that’s only a testament to that game’s sheer greatness. Super Mario Bros. 3, in its own right, remains one of the greatest platformers ever made, one of the crown jewels of 8-bit gaming, and one of the finest games to don the Mario name. It even makes re-watching The Wizard worthwhile just to see the game featured in the finale. It’s that good.

 

9

Top 5 Third-Party Characters I’d Like to See in Super Smash Bros.

I already wrote a list of characters I’d like to see added to Super Smash Bros. via DLC, but of course I realized there were a few other characters I failed to mention. Two of the characters I listed belong to third-parties, but some of the characters I failed to mention also fall under that umbrella, including one that I personally feel guilty for not listing.

Now, some people will give the usual “too many third-party characters” argument, but I’m not saying all these characters will be added to the game, or even that I’d like to see them all thrown in at once. It’s merely a list of five third-party characters I’d like to see. Nothing more. Besides, I’d rather see more third-party characters than any more anime swordfighters by this point (spoiler alert: Lloyd Irving isn’t here). So at the very least, the characters listed here would bring some added variety to the mix.

Keep in mind I’m sticking with characters who have a history with Nintendo. So while I love Halo as much as the next guy, Master Chief has no place here. I should emphasize that these characters have strong ties to Nintendo, so Cloud’s cameos in those handheld Kingdom Hearts games amount to nothing here.

Although Rayman games are fun (if maybe a bit overrated), I don’t particularly care for the titular character, so he’s not here, either. Finally, Solid Snake was already in Super Smash Bros. at one point, so while I wouldn’t mind him returning to the series, this list is solely for potential newcomers.

Feel free to vote for any of these characters on the Smash Bros. character ballot if you haven’t already!

Anyway, let’s get onto the list. But first, an honorable mention. Continue reading “Top 5 Third-Party Characters I’d Like to See in Super Smash Bros.”

Super Smash Bros. Really Needs More Donkey Kong Characters

Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash BRos. for Wii U and Nintendo 3DS saw another major update recently, with a lot of additional content including Tournament Mode, the ability to upload videos to YouTube, and DLC stages and costumes for the Mii Fighters.

Unfortunately, one of those Mii Fighter costumes includes King K. Rool, the recurring antagonist from the Donkey Kong series. Why is this unfortunate? Because K. Rool has been one of the most requested characters to join the Super Smash Bros. roster, and him being included as a Mii Fighter costume almost feels like a mere token. He’s included as a Mii costume, so will Sakurai just stop there?

Now, it is possible that if K. Rool (or anyone else) gets enough votes in the Smash Bros. character poll he could potentially still be added. But that really depends on how many new characters the poll will allow. It’s an uncertainty.

I understand it’s difficult to write coding and add a whole new character to the game, so I understand people can’t get every character they want as DLC. My problem though, is that the Donkey Kong series, one of Nintendo’s premiere franchises, is sorely underrepresented in Super Smash Bros. DK shouldn’t have to wait for DLC.

"Not like this... Not like this..."
“Not like this… Not like this…”

Donkey Kong and Diddy are great characters in Super Smash Bros. But considering the series’ importance to Nintendo’s history (it was their first full-fledged franchise, the Mario series itself is a spinoff from it, I could go on), having just two characters when it has more to work with seems unfair to the beloved series. Especially when one considers that Kid Icarus, a series that didn’t even have a new entry for over two decades, has three characters. And don’t get me started on the small army of Fire Emblem characters.

I’m not even saying that the game needs to include the whole Kong family (no one wants Chunky Kong), but Dixie Kong should have already been in Super Smash Bros. some time ago. Not to mention her prehensile hair could give her a unique moveset. King K. Rool would also be a great addition, since he’d not only bring more DK representation, but the series could use some additional villain characters (the current games only have Bowser, Bowser Jr., Ganondorf and King Dedede filling the villain roster), and K. Rool could add to that category nicely. Even Cranky Kong makes more sense than a lot of the characters who actually made it into Smash Bros. (because seriously, Dark Pit)!

Metroid is another series that is sorely underrepresented in Smash Bros., also having only two characters (both of which are two versions of the same character). But I understand that Metroid has a bit less characters to work with. So while Metroid definitely deserves more characters, it isn’t quite as baffling as DK’s underrepresentation. There’s no shortage of material to work with when it comes to Donkey Kong.

Again, there is still some shred of hope for the DK faithful with that character poll. But the big question is, why should Donkey Kong, one of Nintendo’s greatest franchises and one of gaming’s most iconic series, have to rely on the character poll just to get one additional character?

Hopefully, the K. Rool Mii Fighter costume is just an appetizer for something better for the DK crew around the corner, and not just compensation.

Is Ocarina of Time Holding the Zelda Series Back?

Ocarina of Time

Ocarina of Time is a great game. It transitioned a series from 2D to 3D almost flawlessly, and provided a polished, groundbreaking experience that remains influential to this day. However, it seems that in some ways, Ocarina of Time’s legacy has become something of a double-edged sword for the series.

In a way not dissimilar to how Final Fantasy VII has lead many fans to turn their heads away from subsequent entries in the Final Fantasy series, it seems there are a number of Zelda fans who are ready to dismiss newer entries in the Zelda series on the sole grounds that they aren’t Ocarina of Time. It doesn’t matter how good these games might be, so long as they aren’t the 1998 N64 title, there are gamers who will indulge in their biases against them.

If Ocarina of Time is still a favorite game for many people, that’s all good and fine. But the whole “Ocarina of Time is the unapproachable best game ever and no other game will ever compare to it” attitude that often seems to surround the game is nonsense. It’s just detrimental to subsequent Zelda games (and other games in general) to deny them the possibility that they could be as good as Ocarina of Time.

The Wind WakerThis attitude was never more prevalent than it was with The Wind Waker. I’m one of the few people who actually loved Wind Waker’s ambitions from the get-go, but for most gamers, the “cartoony” graphics were some kind of act of blasphemy against Ocarina of Time’s relatively brooding atmosphere. Wind Waker went through countless ridicule upon its reveal, and a number of gamers outright refused to play it. It didn’t matter how good the game might have been (I personally would say it outdoes Ocarina in every category by quite some margin), the fact that it was different than Ocarina of Time and did things its own way meant it was poison to many gamers. Thankfully, most have warmed up to Wind Waker in the years since its release, and a growing number of journalists and critics have slowly began praising it as the best 3D Zelda game. But there are still those out there who claim Wind Waker, and other such Zelda games, are simply inferior to Ocarina of Time by default.

Twilight PrincessWith the kind of backlash Wind Waker received, it shouldn’t be too surprising that its follow-up, Twilight Princess, looked to appease these critics. Twilight Princess, though a technically great game, ultimately suffered due to its pandering to Ocarina of Time’s fanbase. It had a few nifty ideas of its own, but too much of Twilight Princess seemed like a retread of Ocarina of Time. It became a “me too” experience that could have been something more if it had the courage to branch out and do its own thing like Wind Waker (and Majora’s Mask, for that matter) did. In trying to cater to the “Ocarina or nothing” crowd, Twilight Princess – great as it was in terms of polish – lacked much of a creative identity of its own.

Skyward Sword2011’s The Legend of Zelda: Skywayrd Sword was a brave departure from Ocarina of Time’s influence. And although Skyward Sword had some notable stumbles in terms of progression later in the game, it seems many of its missteps are magnified to gargantuan levels by those who compare it unfavorably to Ocarina of Time. Perhaps Skyward Sword didn’t have the expert pacing of Ocarina of Time, but at the very least it was willing to rewrite how Zelda games are played. One could argue that Ocarina of Time simply copied and pasted A Link to the Past’s blueprints, put them in 3D, and called it a day.

Unfortunately, to many gamers, none of the accomplishments of these “other” Zelda games matter. To them, Ocarina of Time is simply perfect. And that’s fine, until it gets in the way of acknowledging any merit in other games. Having a favorite game is one thing, but punishing other games for not being that game is another.

It probably doesn’t help that Eiji Aomuna, who has helmed the majority of Zelda titles since Ocarina of Time, continues to claim that Ocarina is still the Zelda he strives to “beat” with every new entry. This is in stark contrast to the likes of Shigeru Miyamoto or Yoshiaki Koizumi when they create a new Super Mario title. They acknowledge Mario’s hefty past accomplishments, but they never seem as though they are intimidated by any beloved fan favorites of the past. New Mario games seem approached with a “back to the drawing board” mentality, why should Zelda be any different? Why should Zelda games be in the shadow of a singular predecessor?

Yes, Ocarina of Time is a great game, but that shouldn’t stop other Zelda games from reaching that same level of greatness. Mario has Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, 64, and Galaxy all sitting at the peak of its series. Meanwhile, it seems many of Ocarina of Time’s fans want to ensure that The Legend of Zelda’s mountaintop is an isolated one, with Ocarina of Time sitting all by its lonesome.

My Top 5 Games from E3 2015

E3 has come and gone once again. Amidst all the big announcements, awesome games, and presentations that aren’t nearly as bad as people are making them out to be, the event itself, while not without its highlights, was ultimately one of the lesser E3s of recent years. But, even if the show didn’t quite reach greatness, it still gave us a glimpse of some great games. Here are my top 5 games presented at the show…but first, some runners-up! Continue reading “My Top 5 Games from E3 2015”