Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS Review

Smash Bros. 3DS

Super Smash Bros. on 3DS is a prime example of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That’s not to say that no tweaks have been made – this is probably the most balanced Smash Bros. yet – but it serves more as a means to bring the winning formula of the series to handhelds than it does to push it forward.

But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. There was a six year gap between Brawl and this 3DS addition to the series, after all. The series has hardly been exhausted. And when the game is as fun and addictive as this, why should Nintendo tamper with it?

It’s a great transition, I might add. The brunt of the Smash Bros. control scheme and mechanics translate faithfully to the 3DS, with only minor gripes directed towards the blocking and grabbing mechanics, performed with the system’s shoulder buttons, which feel a little less fluid than on the home console Smash Bros. titles.

The core appeals of the series, however, are the deep yet accessible fighting gameplay, and the ludicrous amount of fan service provided by the colorful roster of Nintendo characters, as well as the stages and items.

It’s the biggest Smash Bros. roster to date, with the majority of characters from Brawl returning along with a good number of new characters. Some of these new characters, like retro favorites Little Mac and Duck Hunt, or newer faces like Shulk and Rosalina, are welcome additions. Though some others, such as Dark Pit or Lucina, feel like Nintendo is scrapping the bottom of the barrel (in the case of the former, director Sakurai may just be giving himself a pat on the back for directing Kid Icarus Uprising). When one considers some of the fan favorites that were left out (Ridley, Dixie Kong), one has to wonder what exactly the criteria is to make it on the Smash Bros. roster these days.

Two new third-party characters brighten things up, with Pac-Man and Mega Man bringing an added dose of nostalgia and gameplay variety to the table (regrettably at the expense of Snake).

Smash Bros. 3DS

The great thing about this particular Smash Bros. is that it caters to both of the diehard Smash Bros. fan bases: Those who prefer the fun, chaotic party game aspects of the series, and those who take it as a serious fighter. Online modes, appropriately dubbed “For Fun” and “For Glory” cover both fields, with the former allowing all stage gimmicks and items and the latter featuring more straightforward, item-free stages. Both styles have their benefits (one gives you serious, “no excuses” victories and defeats, while the other lets you take full advantage of the toy box of items at the game’s disposal), and its good to see the series acknowledge its diversity.

There are the usual single-player and bonus modes. Classic and All-Star modes return, as do home run contests and break the target. One unfortunately lax new mode, Smash Run, features players running around a map, fighting classic game enemies and collecting stat boosting power-ups before facing off against traditional Smash opponents. It’s worth a look, but lacks replay value.

As usual for the series, Super Smash Bros. on 3DS includes countless unlockables. So just in case the insanely addictive multiplayer wasn’t incentive enough for you to keep coming back, unlocking every last stage and trophy might just have you hooked.

Of course, it’s that tried-and-true gameplay that makes Smash Bros. on 3DS shine. Play as your favorite Nintendo character, do some damage to your friends’ favorites, and send them flying off stage in an extreme sumo-style bout.

It may not be the same leap forward for the series that Melee was to the original or that Brawl was to Melee, but it does prove that the immense fun of the series is perfectly complimented on a handheld. Smash Bros. has always been a tough series to put down, and now that you can take it anywhere, that may be truer than ever.

7

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Review

Dream Team

Mario and Luigi’s fourth handheld RPG outing together sees things go back to basics. After being joined by their baby selves in Partners in Time and allied with the King Koopa in Bowser’s Inside Story, Mario & Luigi are back on their own. Though it’s Luigi who gets special attention this time around.

Dream Team sees the mustachioed brothers traveling to the land of Pi’illo Island for a vacation, only to find out the bat king Antasma has been trapping the island’s denizens in stone pillows. In order to save the day, Mario must enter the dream world through Luigi’s dreams via magic pillow, ally with Luigi’s dream version of himself, and rescue the Pi’illow folk. It’s one of the silliest plots yet in the series, which makes for some humorous writing and plenty of Luigi-centric sight gags.

The brothers’ actions are still controlled individually, with different button presses allowing Mario and Luigi to jump, defend and attack enemies, as well as interact with their environment. The game takes the usual top-down perspective in the outside world, but once Mario enters Luigi’s dreamscape, it turns into something closer to a sidescroller.

The dream world features Luiginary Works, strange happenings in Luigi’s subconscience that Dreamy Luigi can interact with. These Luiginary Works serve as a means to add various touchMario & Luigiscreen controls and new play styles to the game. They certainly help the dream sequences separate themselves from the rest of the game, as does the battle system.

In the outside world, battles remain largely as they’ve been in the past three games. Mario and Luigi have jumps and hammers at their disposal, with special moves (referred to as “Bros. Attacks”) using input from both Mario brothers. The dream battles, by contrast, involve Mario fighting alone, until he uses special moves (here referred to as Luiginary Attacks) which involve an army of Luigis forming various shapes, like skyscrapers and boulders, that require more unique uses of the 3DS (such as motion controls or the touch screen) to do maximum damage.

The Dream sequences are the highlight of the game, as they house more creative twists in gameplay, whereas anything that takes place outside of Luigi’s dreams – which, unfortunately, is the brunt of the game – feels like it’s running on the same ideas as the previous three Mario & Luigi titles. That’s not to say that the non-dream segments don’t provide any fun, but after the wildly inventive Bowser’s Inside Story – which seemed to throw new ideas and gameplay around every corner – Dream Team feels relatively restrained.

Dream Team is an enjoyable game when taken on its own merits, with fun gameplay and a wonderful Mario & Luigimusical score, and the character animations are more lively than ever. But in some notable ways it feels like a step down from its predecessor: The writing can be hilarious, but you’ll miss Fawful and the like. The Luiginary bits are fun and funny, but never match up to the sheer entertainment of controlling Bowser. The dream concept is a good setup, but fails to match the creative promise of that premise.

Dream Team is another solid RPG in the Mario canon, and certainly more worth the time than Paper Mario: Sticker Star, its 3DS sibling, but knowing what came before, you know Mario & Luigi could have dreamed bigger.

6

Star Fox 64 3D Review

Star Fox 64 3D

Star Fox 64 3D not only brought the beloved Star Fox 64 to a new generation (complete with graphics recreated from the ground up), it also elegantly transitioned a Nintendo 64 classic onto a handheld system.

The adventure is as it’s always been, Fox McCloud and his team of bounty hunters are out to save the Lylat System from the evil Andross and his empire. Being a Nintendo game, this means venturing to such locales as a lava world and a level themed around a train chase. It’s the same beloved game as it was on the N64, but with a new coat of paint.The visuals are a hefty upgrade from the blocky original, and 3D effects are used effectively.

Barrel Roll Most stages are an on-rails affair, with others being a singular battlefield where you and your allies fight hordes of enemies before a big bad appears.  You will only play seven of the game’s fifteen stages on any given playthrough, but taking alternate paths, finding secret routes, and besting your top scores on each stage give the game a great deal of replayability even today.

Star Fox 64 3D now includes two primary modes of play, appropriately named after the N64 and 3DS, with the former sticking close to the original blueprint and the latter making accommodations for the 3DS’ features, utilizing more 3D effects and featuring “gyro controls” using the 3DS’ motion-sensing gyroscope. The 3DS mode is worth a look, but piloting an Arwing is best left to the traditional control method.

The gameplay is of course the real star. Star Fox 64 has aged more gracefully than most of its N64 brethren, and that simple yet polished gameplay is left intact: Fire lasers, throw bombs. Defeat enemies, don’t hurt allies. Find upgrades, uncover secrets and beat your high score. The mechanics are simple, but used to their fullest.

Multiplayer also returns, though questionably with the absence of any online features. It’s a true shame, as Star Fox 64 has always been a fun multiplayer experience, and could have been made all the better with online functionality. The multiplayer battles are fun – which now include team battles where you and your buddies face off against CPU opponents – but the lack of online modes makes it all feel incredibly limited.

 Star Fox 64 3D It’s also sad knowing that, aside from a few visual and technical bells and whistles, the game remains largely identical to the 1997 original. That’s not a bad thing in terms of what is presented, given the game’s overall quality. But for being remade from the ground up for the 3DS, one can’t help but feel there were some missed opportunities for new modes or added content to the original adventure.

Star Fox 64 3D plays things a bit safe then, but it has enough fun and polish to fall back on to make that not such a terrible thing. Star Fox 64 was always one of the most cherished games on the N64, and now you can experience it all again, on the go. Barrel rolls and all.

8

Paper Mario: Sticker Star Review

Sticker Star

Sticker Star looks to return the Paper Mario series to its turn-based RPG roots, after fans cried fowl at Super Paper Mario’s platformerization of the series. But turn-based is just about all Sticker Star can claim to have in common with its predecessors. Super Paper Mario may have strayed from the formula, but retained the series’ charm and humor. Sticker Star, by contrast, feels like it took the template from the first two games, and stripped them of their depth.

Yes, turn-based battles are back, but now Mario’s every action is dictated by the various stickers he’s collected. Mario finds stickers on walls, floors, hidden in chests, pretty much everywhere. Collecting these stickers is more fun than actually using them, as you can only carry so many at a time, and after just a few short battles, you’ll find you’ve exhausted your entire pool of stickers. More powerful objects, aptly titled ‘Things’ can be turned into uber powerful stickers, but come at the cost of taking up more room in the already limited sticker inventory. An even bigger problem arrises with boss battles, which take a drastic leap in difficulty over the rest of the game, and each will probably have you use up all your hard-earned stickers in a few short moments.

A roulette wheel gives Mario the opportunity to use two or three stickers in a single turn, but relying on chance just to use more moves only makes the battles feel more tedious, and should you destroy every on-screen enemy before executing every sticker, you still lose all the stickers you selected after the spin of the wheel. The battles simply become taxing.

It doesn’t help that the other RPG elements have been stripped away, either. Mario no longer gains experience points, any and all new moves and actions are obtained through, you guessed it, stickers. Mario gains additional hit points from finding HP blocks, and Mario doesn’t have any partners by his side this time around, meaning the gameplay (and charm) of the game lacks the variety of the older Paper Marios.

Mario’s only ally is a floating crown named Kersti, an attempt at giving the famed plumber a comedic sidekick, but not a very effective attempt. The writing lacks the wit and personality the series is known for (this includes Super Paper Mario, which was hilarious). When Bowser – who has been promoted to primary antagonist in a Mario RPG for the first time since the original Paper Mario – doesn’t even get a single line of dialogue, after having been a wonderful source of comedy in past RPGs, the lack of oomph in story and writing is only magnified.

There are some highlights: Some of the game’s sub-plots are amusing, an example being in the game’s third chapter, where a Wiggler has become magically segmented, leaving Mario and Kersti to bring the segments back to Wiggler’s head. The game includes some of the best 3D effects on the 3DS, with enemies flying into the background and foreground after Mario gives them a whack with a hammer. And the use of a traditional world map, while differing from past Paper Marios, feels at home in a handheld entry.

On one hand, you could say Nintendo deserves some credit for trying something different with the series, when they could have easily played things safe. Unfortunately, this is a case of change bringing less-than desired results. Paper Mario: Sticker Star retains the accessibility of its predecessors, but from its battle system to its story and writing to its absence of partners, it forgets the very reasons we loved the series to begin with.

4

Mario Party: Island Tour Review

Mario Party Island Tour

Mario Party: Island Tour brings Mario Party to the 3DS. With it comes the good and the bad of the series. When this party game is scaled down for a handheld, one can’t help but feel something gets lost in translation.

Mario Party: Island Tour’s primary mode uses a similar board game setup as previous games in the series, with mini-games sprinkled after a set number of turns. Unlike previous games in the series, however, the goal is no longer trying to gain the most Power Stars, and instead the objective is simply to make it to the end of the board before the other players.

Each game board comes with its own gimmick: One sees Mario and friends in a Galaxy-style stage riding miniature rockets, where winning mini-games adds strength to a rocket boost that you can later use to get to the finish line faster. Another course is set in a haunted forest where players are given magic cards that can help or hinder their progress.

The stages are all good and fun, though mini-games are used more sparingly than in previous installments (only in one stage do they have their usual consistency of one mini-game per turn). The longer gap between mini-games ends up feeling pretty noticeable, as the gimmicks to the stages can only hold your interest for so long on their own.

Thankfully, mini-game mode is always an option, where you can play any mini-game of your choosing whenever you feel like it. Or for a more challenging (and time-consuming) approach, there’s the “Bowser’s Tower” mode, which throws players in a succession of mini-games to progress through the titular tower, which also includes a boss mini-game on every fifth floor.

These additional modes come more highly recommended in an handheld iteration of Mario Party, since the “party” atmosphere of the game can gets lost on handhelds. You can link together with friends using only a single game cartridge, which is a huge bonus, but something still feels missing when everyone can just play the game from a distance instead of sharing the same console. In a strange way, the handheld Mario Party games feel more like they’re meant to be played solo compared to the more party-oriented console versions.

Admittedly, that’s not the only reason why  the additional modes of the game are more recommended than the more traditional Mario Party gameplay. The board game levels, true to the nature of many entries in the series, can feel based more on luck than skill. Often times you’ll find yourself winning mini-game after mini-game, only for you (or an opponent) to land on a particular space that undoes all your accumulated achievements in a single round. You could be on your way to victory and have a bad roll of the dice bump you to last place in less than a minute. Such randomness has always been a part of Mario Party, and adds a bit of unpredictability to the affair. But one can’t help but feel after a while said randomness feels more aggravating and unfair than anything.

There is still fun to be had in Mario Party: Island Tour. The mini-games come in a wide variety of fun little endeavors that make good use of the 3DS (some use the touch screen, others motion controls, and of course the standard button presses come into play), but mini-games can only go so far.

Mario Party: Island Tour is fun while it lasts, but you may find it’s best played in small bursts in its mini-game modes, as opposed to being the get-together party game that the title suggests.

5

Mario Tennis Open Review

Mario Tennis Open

Mario Tennis Open should feel familiar to anyone with experience in Mario’s past tennis ventures. Singles and doubles matches return, and players use tennis shots such as lobs, slices and dropshots through different button presses. The 3DS interface makes for a nice setup, and it won’t take long to master the different shots.

New to Open, rays of light will randomly appear on the tennis court, and performing a shot while standing on said rays of light will turn your move into a ‘chance shot,’ which are super powered versions of the standard shots. It’s a fun little addition to the gameplay, but on the downside the opportunities for chance shots occur far too frequently, making most matches more about rushing to those chance shots and less about genuine strategy.

Mario Tennis Open makes some additional use of the 3DS hardware, with the gyroscope getting particular attention. Rotating the 3DS focuses the game’s camera on your character, which may give you an appreciation for the fluid character animations, but the effect’s oversensitivity often has the camera fluctuating its focus back and forth to distracting levels.

The roster is comprised of the usual Mario mainstays, from beloved icons like the Mario Bros. themselves to the Mushroom Kingdom’s fillers Waluigi and Daisy. There aren’t any surprising new additions, but the game makes good use of Miis, who can be customized through unlocked gear. Unlocking Mii uniforms, shoes and costumes can take a while, but it adds a good dose of replayability to the game.

New modes, simply referred to as ‘special games’ are short, condensed bursts of fun that add a little variety to the package: Ink Showdown sees you and an opponent in a match where Piranha Plants lob tennis balls and ink blots at you, Ring Shot has you hitting the ball through rings for points, Galaxy Rally has you knock the tennis ball back and forth on disappearing platforms, and Super Mario Tennis sees your character playing perennial classic Super Mario Bros. by hitting the tennis ball against the game’s screen. These special games may not boast a lot of depth, but they do add some additional flavor and challenge to the experience.

Mario Tennis Open may not be a particularly innovative entry in the Mario sports canon. But, despite its flaws, it provides the fun and quirks the series is known for, and an additional online mode ensures that you can always find a tennis partner (or rival) with ease.  It may not provide the senseless hours of entertainment as Mario’s finer spinoffs, but Mario Tennis Open does offer solid fun.

6

Kid Icarus Uprising Review

Kid Icarus: Uprising

Kid Icarus Uprising sought to resurrect Nintendo’s long-dormant Kid Icarus franchise (last seen on the Game Boy twenty-one years prior) and turn it into a modernized action game. For the most part, Uprising succeeds in its mission. Taking cues from the likes of star Fox 64 and God of War, Uprising’s stages alter between hectic on-rails shooter and grounded beat-em-up.

Both segments use the same style of control, Pit’s movements are controlled with the thumbstick, the touch screen is used for aiming,and the L trigger performs attacks. It’s a simple setup that’s easy to learn, and works in surprisingly versatile ways. Though the setup works best in the flying segments, because when Pit is on land, the touch screen is also used to control the camera. As one might guess, using a touch screen to move a camera and target enemies can feel muddled, which takes away some of the smoothness from the experience.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

The story is typical Nintendo: The forces of the underworld are causing mayhem and chaos, and the goddess Palutena sends her warrior angel Pit to put a stop to it. It’s a simple plot, but one that comes alive due to the colorful personalities of the characters, and a good dose of fourth-wall breaking humor. It does introduce the trope of a black-clad “dark” version of its main character, but at the least, the game and character in question are aware of the trope. What might have otherwise been a series of anime cliches is made into an amusing parade of charm and character. There are also few cinema tics, with the characters instead giving their say-so about nearly every situation Pit finds himself in. It can get a little too chatty at times, but for the most part it’s entertaining banter.

A sleek visual look make the game one of the most eye-catching in the 3DS library. The character models are detailed, and the world’s colorful. It’s 3D effects are limited, but turn the 3D off and you’ll soon find you want it back on. The musical score is surprisingly versatile, taking cues from Super Smash Bros., Uprising’s score is suitably epic and oftentimes gives the game an heir more akin to a console title.

Multiplayer modes come in two varieties: Free-for-alls see players battle each other down to the last man standing, while Light Versus Dark mode sees two teams of three face one another, once the team members of a team are damaged enough, one of their comrades will become one of the angel characters (Pit for light, Dark Pit for dark). Victory is attained by defeating your opposing team’s angel. These multiplayer modes are fun additions to what is already a hefty adventure, and playing both modes unlocks more weapons and items that can be used in single and multiplayer, giving you plenty of reasons for return visits.

Kid Icarus: Uprising

There are many unlockables, trophies and challenges to be found. Long after you’ve finished the main adventure, Uprising makes sure you have plenty more to do. You’d probably want to replay it all anyway, as the story mode is a much larger scale adventure than you would expect from a handheld title. And the multiplayer modes – while sometimes a little too chaotic for their own good – are fun little deviations. It’s not only a great 3DS game, it also brought a relevance to an abandoned Nintendo franchise that it never quite had before.

6

New Super Mario Bros. 2 Review

NSMB2

In 2006, Nintendo released New Super Mario Bros. for the Nintendo DS. At the time, it had been fourteen years since Mario and Luigi starred in the genre that made them famous. New Super Mario Bros. brought back the side scrolling, hop-and-bop platforming from Nintendo’s heyday, and established the formula for a new generation. The “new” in the title meant something.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 doesn’t share the advantage of old-made-new that its predecessor did. It’s a tried and true platformer, with the same tight controls and technical polish that Mario is known for. But it lacks the series’ trademark sense of imagination. There is little to be found here that couldn’t be found in New Super Mario Bros. on the DS or Wii. Even the music is largely comprised of recycled or remixed tunes from the DS original.

That’s not to say that New Super Mario Bros. 2 is completely void of ideas. This entry’s big draw is its focus on coin collecting. Gold coins are all over the Mushroom Kingdom (more so than usual), and the Mario Bros. are determined to rack up a million of them, with the coins you collect in any given stage being added to your grand total upon completion.

New Super Mario Bros. 2The game has a lot of fun with how it goes about this gold frenzy: Jumping through gold rings causes Mario’s enemies to leave trails of coins wherever they go, and a new spin on the classic Fire Flower turns Mario gold (and Luigi silver, naturally), allowing you to shoot gold fireballs and turn everything they hit into more coins. Rescuing Princess Peach becomes an afterthought in the midst of this Scrooge McDuck level of penny-pinching.

The coins are a fun diversion, but one that doesn’t add any real depth to the experience. Game overs are never a worry, as the game stays true to the series’ tradition of one-hundred coins granting an extra life. With the sheer abundance of coins littered everywhere, you’ll find that your extra lives skyrocket to the point that you’ll never have to worry about seeing a game over screen, and the level design is hardly difficult enough to justify such generosity. It’s one of the easiest Mario sidescollers, made easier through its own gimmick.

Despite these drawbacks, New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a fun game. True to the nature of the series, it controls like a dream, the gameplay is as fluid as ever, the 3D gives the game a nice visual pop, and it strikes a few joyous nostalgic moments (the raccoon tail from Mario 3 returns, as does recurring boss Reznor from Mario World). But for all the things it does right on a technical level, it lacks just as much in terms of substance and creativity. Sequels have rarely slowed the imagination of the Mushroom Kingdom, but New Super Mario Bros. 2 often feels rehashed, relying on gimmicks to add a superficial sense of identity to the mix.

New Super Mario Bros. 2 is a fun, solid platformer, but that “New” in the title is a little on the undeserved side this time around.

6