Pokémon Puzzle League Review

Panel de Pon, Nintendo’s reverse falling block puzzle game, is one of the finest products of the genre. Though the original Japanese game had a bit of an underwhelming lineup of characters, as they looked like generic Sailor Moon knockoffs. So, whenever bringing the game outside of Japan, Nintendo has given Panel de Pon (AKA the “Puzzle League” series) a number of facelifts using their more established (and more charming) characters. The SNES received Tetris Attack, which implemented characters, graphics and music from Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island. And when Nintendo decided to release a Nintendo 64 version of the game in 2000, they chose Pokémon to fill the role. Pokémon was still white hot and at the height of its powers in 2000, so it was a fitting way to bring Panel de Pon to the N64. Thus, Pokémon Puzzle League was born! Interestingly, Nintendo chose to use characters, artwork and music specifically from the Pokémon anime, making Puzzle League one of the few Pokémon games to actually be based on the TV show.

The gameplay of the series is as it’s always been. Working as something of an inverted Tetris, the blocks don’t fall from the top of the screen but rise from the bottom. The blocks come in different colors (here representing different Pokémon types, with red being fire, blue being water, and so on), and players can swap two blocks horizontally to try to match them up with three or more blocks of the same color (either horizontally, vertically, or both) to clear the blocks. By chaining together combos, players can send ‘garbage blocks’ to each other, which create an additional obstacle that needs to be removed by matching more blocks adjacent to the garbage blocks. Should the blocks pile up to the top of the screen, it’s game over.

Like the best falling block puzzle games, the gameplay is really easy to explain, but difficult to master and incredibly fun. Pokémon Puzzle League even features additional modes that weren’t present in previous releases. Most notably, there’s a 3D version of the gameplay that takes advantage of the N64’s hardware.

In the 3D mode, the usual flat grid where the gameplay takes place is replaced with a cylinder, with players shuffling through the cylinder to give the gameplay something of a 360-degree perspective. It’s an interesting take on the series’ formula, though I do admit the gameplay of Pokémon Puzzle League is better suited on the 2D playing field, as the cylinder makes it hard to keep track of where things are, thus making it more difficult to strategize your moves.

Other, more traditional modes are present, such as a story mode (which sees Ash Ketchum battling through the original Gym Leaders, his friends and Team Rocket to become the Puzzle League Champion) or an ‘Endless Mode’ where players see how long they can keep the board from filling up as the blocks gradually start rising faster, trying to beat their high score along the way. And of course, there are multiplayer options, with players being able to choose one of fifteen different Pokémon Trainer characters, each one boasting three different Pokémon (which change the background graphics and soundbites, but have no effect on the gameplay itself. That may seem superfluous, but it’s a nice touch as it adds some extra Pokémon flair by being able to select different Pokémon with your trainer). Ash, of course, has Pikachu, Bulbasaur and Squirtle at his disposal.

Besides the characters from the Pokémon TV series, Pokémon Puzzle League also features instrumental remixes of songs from said series (specifically the album 2.B.A Master). I have to say this is an amazing addition to the game, as the dub of the Pokémon anime really went all out in the production of its songs back in the day (cheesy though the songs may be). While I normally try to avoid the “back in my day, everything was better” mentality of my generation, one thing I have to admit really was better back in my day were cartoon theme songs. These days, an American studio wouldn’t put that kind of effort into their own homegrown animated series, much less the dub of an anime. But in the late 90s, the sky was the limit! The music is a reminder that, back then, Pokémon basically ruled the world. My point being, it’s great to hear those early Pokémon songs in some capacity in an actual Pokémon game.

“The game even features a few brief cutscenes that features the original voice actors from the Pokémon dub. Boy, that takes me back.”

The core gameplay introduced in Panel de Pon remains some of the most fun and addictive in the entire falling block puzzle genre, and with the added Pokémon characters and music, it makes Pokémon Puzzle League a really easy game to revisit and get engrossed in. I do have to admit, I still find the Yoshi-centric makeover of Tetris Attack makes that game the definitive entry in the series, but Pokémon Puzzle League is probably a close second place, and a worthy successor. Seeing as the Tetris Attack version may not see a re-release (Nintendo didn’t go through the proper steps to use the Tetris name, creating a bit of a conundrum), Pokémon Puzzle League is probably the most accessible way for westerners to experience one of Nintendo’s unsung classics.

Plus, any game that features remixes of Viridian City and Double Trouble is an easy win.

8

Super Mario Galaxy 2 Turns 12!

“Why isn’t Lubba a character in Mario Kart yet?”

Well, this makes me feel old. Today, May 23rd 2022, marks the twelfth anniversary of the release of Super Mario Galaxy 2 in North America! May is apparently a fantastic month for Mario, seeing as we already had the anniversary of Super Mario RPG earlier this month. That’s two all-time greats in the same month!

Yes, somehow, it’s been a full twelve years since Super Mario Galaxy 2 was released on the Wii. The first Super Mario Galaxy (released on Wii in 2007) was already one of the most acclaimed video games of all time, and it may seem odd to remember that when Galaxy 2 was announced, the hype was somewhat restrained, with many claiming it looked like more of the same, and that it couldn’t live up to its predecessor.

Boy, were those people wrong! Despite the lofty standard set by the first Super Mario Galaxy, Galaxy 2 managed to meet and even exceed expectations, becoming every bit as acclaimed and heralded as its predecessor. And to call it more of the same couldn’t be further from the truth. Similar to how Majora’s Mask would create an identity of its own while using many of Ocarina of Time’s assets, Galaxy 2 is structurally and philosophically its own beast, despite using its predecessor as a backdrop.

“The very first image of Super Mario Galaxy 2 I ever saw.”

It’s also important to note Galaxy 2’s impact because when it was released in 2010, the video game world was all in with the weird “games aren’t art unless they emulate movies” mentality. Unless something was a Mass Effect or a Red Dead Redemption or some “atmospheric” indie darling, it couldn’t be art. I can recall at least one major gaming website once IGNorantly claimed that Limbo was a better platformer than Galaxy 2 because Limbo “had atmosphere.” But who the hell talks about Limbo anymore? Then again, people thought Ken Levine was like gaming’s greatest auteur back then. It was a confused time.

Thankfully, Super Mario Galaxy 2 prevailed in showing that pure, unadulterated game design in itself can be art. Galaxy 2 is a game as perfectly structured as any, comprised of one imaginative idea after another, each one creative enough to be a game in their own right. It’s a game of no wasted energy.

Yes, even though Galaxy 2 went against what was seen as “highbrow gaming” at the time, it has stood tall these twelve years later, and outlasted the games that were “supposed” to be the new artistic standard.

In the years since, the Souls series and Breath of the Wild have reached a similar level of acclaim to the Super Mario Galaxy duo. But with all due respect (particularly to Elden Ring) it’s fitting that Super Mario Odyssey is perhaps the only game since to match the non-stop inventiveness and pitch-perfect execution of Galaxy 2. It’s been a hell of an act to follow.

The first Super Mario Galaxy was pretty much perfect, but Galaxy 2 somehow became something more. Twelve years later, it’s still – quite easily – one of the best video games of all time.

Happy twelfth anniversary, Super Mario Galaxy 2!

“One of Mario’s best-ever power-ups. And one that’s in desperate need of a comeback.”

Now, why wasn’t Galaxy 2 included in Super Mario 3D All-Stars again?

Super Mario RPG Turns 26!

Today, May 13th, 2022, marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of the release of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars on the Super Nintendo in North America (it was released in Japan two months prior). I know, you’re probably thinking “twenty-six is a random anniversary to point out for something like this.” And you may have a point. But last year I (of all people) failed to write about Super Mario RPG’s twenty-fifth anniversary! I wrote a bunch of anniversary posts for other things in 2021, yet failed to acknowledge the anniversary of what is most likely my favorite video game of all time. So consider this my recompence.

Come to think of it, I failed to mention Paper Mario’s twentieth anniversary in 2021 as well (and its twenty-first a few months back)… I’ve become everything I’ve ever hated.

Anyway…

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was released on the Super NES twenty-six years ago, and instantly became one of the most beloved Mario games and RPGs of all time. Although its release being so late in the SNES’s lifecycle – as well as the release of the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 a few months later – may have affected its sales somewhat at the time, Super Mario RPG would still prove to be a success. And true to its name, it became something of a legend in the video game world, with word of mouth helping its reputation grow over the years.

“The best battle system.”

Sadly, Super Mario RPG seems to be the one Mario game that won’t get a sequel. Although it would inspire the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi sub-series (and influence many other RPGs outside of the Mario series), Super Mario RPG itself has only continued on through a few cameos and a couple of snippets of music in subsequent Mario games. Despite fans’ persistent yearning to see the characters and elements of Super Mario RPG make a return, their pleas continue to fall on deaf ears.

There is a glimmer of hope, as Chihiro Fujioka, the director of Super Mario RPG, has recently expressed his desire to create a sequel to the SNES classic as his last game before retirement. Fingers crossed that Chihiro Fujioka gets his way.

Even without a sequel, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars has left an indelible mark in Nintendo history and earned its legendary status. It’s the game that gave the Mushroom Kingdom a story, introduced the world to Mallow and Geno, made Bowser the most likable character ever, and made turn-based battles way more fun! A legend? Oh, you better believe it!

“In what other game can Bowser do battle with a giant cake?”

Happy Twenty-sixth anniversary, Super Mario RPG!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to that godly soundtrack again!

Top 10 Kirby Games

Believe it or not, Kirby is 30 years old this year! The powerful pink puffball made his debut on the Game Boy in Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992, and has since become one of Nintendo’s, and gaming’s, most enduring characters.

While Kirby could inhale his enemies in Dream Land, it wasn’t until his second game, Kirby’s Adventure, that Kirby gained the ability to copy their powers by doing so. An ability that has defined the series since.

Over the past 30 years, Kirby has branched out to other types of games as well. whether adding new mechanics and innovations to his platforming romps or dipping his toes in other genres entirely, Kirby has proven to be second only to Mario as the most versatile hero in gaming.

Kirby has done so much over the years, that it seems a bit weird that he’s only just now getting his first-ever 3D platformer in the form of Kirby and the Forgotten Land. To celebrate Kirby’s milestone 30th year, as well as the release of Forgotten Land, I figured I’d compile my list of the top 10 Kirby games of all time!

I have to admit, this was a tough list to compile. Though the series may not have the same weight as Mario or Zelda, Kirby is arguably the most consistent of the lot in that he’s never really had a bad game (Kirby Battle Royal comes closest though). While this list is based on personal opinion, I did take into consideration which games were meaningful additions to the series as a whole, which ones were the most innovative, and things like that to help narrow it down.

And for those wondering, I will be counting any remakes as an extension of their original game. So, before you get upset that Kirby Super Star Ultra isn’t on here, it technically is by the fact that Kirby Super Star is (spoiler alert, I guess).

Because this list was so difficult to compile, I didn’t want to leave some of the extra games out entirely. So let’s give a brief shoutout to some honorable mentions before we get to the top 10 proper.


Honorable Mention: Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

A Kirby Metroidvania?! Up to four players?! Hot dog! That sounds, well… amazing!

And in some ways, it is. But Kirby and the Amazing Mirror’s world is less cohesive than other Metroidvanias (the in-game map hardly helps). Also keep in mind that this was 2004 on the Gameboy Advance, so the only way to actually get four players together was to make sure everyone had the game as well as link cables. It was difficult then, even more so now.

Still, you could argue that Amazing Mirror was ahead of its time with its concept. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland and Kirby Star Allies would eventually weave four-person multiplayer into classic Kirby gameplay. Now here’s hoping Hal and Nintendo decide to revisit the Metroidvania concept for the series down the road.

Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is a good game, but doesn’t quite reach the potential heights of its concept. Further point deduction for being the only game in the entire franchise not to feature his exalted greatness, King Dedede.

Honorable Mention: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

I really struggled deciding whether Kirby Canvas Curse or Rainbow Curse would make the top 10 between the two similar titles. In the end, I went with Canvas Curse (spoilers again). But Rainbow Curse is certainly no slouch.

Kirby is no stranger to unique art styles, and Rainbow Curse’s clay-inspired visuals are among the best of the lot. It’s a gorgeous game! And the touchscreen/stylus focused gameplay remains as unique as it was in Canvas Curse.

On the downside, because the gameplay focused on the Wii U gamepad, you couldn’t always appreciate the visuals in all their glory (the gamepad obviously didn’t have the same quality as what was on the TV screen). And bizarrely, Kirby could no longer copy abilities, even though he could still do that in Canvas Curse. Also the game was released in 2015, that weird time period when Nintendo games had like three bosses that would just recycle over and over (like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Yoshi’s Woolly World), a trend that Rainbow Curse sadly fell into.

Still, the charm shines through. And the music is excellent.

Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Return to Dreamland

Controversy time! A lot of people these days seem to look back at Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Wii as one of the best games in the series, if not the best! It seems to have become maybe the second most praised entry by fans, after Kirby Super Star. Alas, it didn’t quite crack my top 10.

There’s certainly a lot to love about Return to Dreamland: it was the first traditional Kirby game released on a home console since Kirby 64 eleven years earlier, it featured pick up and play four-person multiplayer (play as either four Kirbies or different characters), and it doubled down on the series’ love of including a ridiculous amount of extra content. Oh, and it introduced the ‘water’ copy ability first seen in the anime into the games!

On the downside, Return to Dreamland is as by-the-books as it gets, adding very little to the Kirby experience that hadn’t been done before. At the time that may not have seemed too bad, given the whole “eleven years since Kirby 64” thing. But in retrospect it’s far more noticeable. It also doesn’t help that this was the early 2010s, when there was no shortage of retro 2D platformers. And the Wii and DS generation gave us much more innovative Kirby games.

A good Kirby game, but a safe one.

Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Pinball Land

Mario, Pokemon, and Metroid have all tried their hand at pinball games, but Kirby (quite logically, given the character) beat them to the punch.

The first-ever Kirby spinoff, Pinball Land saw Kirby play the role of the ball on three different pinball tables. Kirby’s Pinball Land is a very fun pinball video game on the Game Boy, though it is also pretty straightforward in its pinball-ness. Aside from the cute characters and boss fights, it doesn’t really introduce any Kirby themed gimmicks to the proceedings. Maybe some day, Hal Labratory will revisit this idea and find a way to implement Kirby’s copy abilities into the world of pinball.

A fitting “first” for Kirby spinoffs.


Alright, that’s probably enough honorable mentions. With that out of the way, let’s move on to the top 10!


10: Kirby’s Dream Course

Released: 1994

Platform: SNES

Kirby’s Dream Course is one of the earliest Kirby games, being the fourth released overall, following Kirby’s Dreamland, Kirby’s Adventure and Kirby’s Pinball Land. But for such an early entry, it is a wildly innovative deviation from the series norms that is still fun and original to this day.

Dream Course is always touted as a “mini-golf game.” While that’s technically true, the game is far more than just a golf game with a coat of Kirby paint, making it stand out compared to the more straightforward Pinball Land. Kirby even gets to use his copy abilities this time around!

The stages are set up like mini-golf courses, and players have to knock Kirby around like a golf ball, eliminating all (but one) of the enemies on a stage, with the last enemy becoming the hole. Get Kirby in there and it’s on to the next stage! But use up too many turns and it’s game over.

Ten of Kirby’s copy abilities from Adventure make a return and change up Kirby’s physics for how he moves across the courses and takes out enemies. It all sounds so simple, but in execution it’s just so fun and creative. It also happens to be one of the best looking SNES games, with colorful character sprites and surprisingly effective isometric stages. It even has a two-player versus mode!

The only real downside is that, for a game that’s so different, it has very little in-game instructions, making it a little hard to ease into. But once you do, you’ll find one of Kirby’s – and the Super Nintendo’s – unsung classics.

Add this to the pile of “Nintendo games that desperately deserve a sequel.”

9: Kirby Mass Attack

Released: 2011

Platform: Nintendo DS

The 2010s marked something of a reinvigoration for the Kirby series. Gone were the days of fun-but-vanilla entries like Squeak Squad and falling back on remakes of classics. Kirby was once again being used as a blank canvas for the folks at Hal Labratory to experiment with all kinds of crazy ideas, like in the early years of the franchise. And Mass Attack may be the weirdest idea of the bunch!

Kirby purists may lament that this is one of the entries where Kirby can’t copy abilities, but Mass Attack more than makes up for their absence by splitting Kirby into ten mini Kirbies, who have to use their combined numbers to overwhelm enemies, solve puzzles, and collect treasures. It’s basically like Kirby meets Pikmin!

Much like Canvas Curse did six years prior, Kirby Mass Attack is controlled solely by the touchscreen on the DS console. Players tap where they want the Kirbies to go, touch the enemies they want the Kirbies to attack, and can fling the Kirbies upward with a flick of the stylus. It’s another fun and innovative game that brings so much out of the seemingly simple concept.

As a bonus, Kirby Mass Attack includes a host of mini-games and side games, some of which could have been entire games in their own right. So in case the utterly charming main game wasn’t enough, Mass Attack has plenty more to offer.

8: Kirby: Planet Robobot

Released: 2016

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

As stated above, the 2010s saw some great experimental Kirby games. But they also brought us some great traditional Kirby titles as well. Return to Dreamland started things off for this direction for the series, which continued with Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot on the Nintendo 3DS, and Star Allies on Switch. All three are fun (though similar) additions to the franchise, but I think Robobot marked the peak of this generation of Kirby.

Kirby: Planet Robobot is your traditional Kirby platformer, filled with copy abilities for our overpowered pink hero to utilize. But the game features a fun mechanical motif, with the bad guys trying to convert Kirby’s world into a machine. Though the mechanical theme may not always reach its potential, it does bring a great new addition to the gameplay: Robobot armor!

Taking a page from Mega Man X, there are moments in Planet Robobot where Kirby can pilot Robobot Armor which, yes, combine with copy abilities to open up new gameplay possibilities. It’s similar to the Animal Friends from the Dream Land sequels, but since Hal seems hellbent on never giving us those guys again, the Robobot Armor is a great substitute.

There are also some fun new copy abilities, like Doctor Kirby and Psychic Kirby, the latter of which is one of the best in the series. On the downside, Poison Kirby, which should also be among the best copy abilities, is just a reskinned Water Kirby that deals continuous damage. That’s a missed opportunity. Maybe the series can bring back and alter Poison Kirby down the road and make it its own beast.

Kirby: Planet Robobot may be traditional Kirby through and through (never a bad thing), but the new copy abilities and Robobot Armor – in addition to some fun extra modes – make it the best traditional Kirby in a very long time.

7: Kirby: Canvas Curse

Released: 2005

Platform: Nintendo DS

Given the massive success the Nintendo DS ended up being, it may be hard to remember that it had a rough start. Aside from a mixed bag of a Super Mario 64 remake, it didn’t have much to boast about at launch, or for several months after. The two screens and touch screen were awesome ideas that just weren’t being well utilized.

Then along came Kirby: Canvas Curse. Behold, the first great DS game! Canvas Curse opened the door for DS greatness, and the console never looked back.

Kirby: Canvas Curse made me LOVE the DS! It took advantage of the dual screens and the touch-based gameplay to create a game whose inventiveness still makes me smile just thinking about it.

In Kirby: Canvas Curse, Kirby has been transformed into a ball (well, even more of a ball), and the player has to draw rainbows for Kirby to move across. Tap Kirby when he’s on the rainbow, and he does a little dash attack. Dash into an enemy with a copy ability, and Kirby gains that ability (something which was sorely missed in Rainbow Curse). Players can even track down medals hidden throughout the levels, which unlock all kinds of bonuses like music, extra characters, and even new paint colors!

The action is of course displayed on the DS’s bottom screen, given that everything is touch controlled in Canvas Curse. The top screen displays a map, giving the player a better understanding of the layout of the levels.

Canvas Curse has some critics, namely those who prefer the more traditional Kirby games, since Canvas Curse was the title that started the more experimental branch of Kirby titles. But the series has been better off for it. After all, Kirby’s earliest years tried their hand at some odd ideas (see Dream Course above). Canvas Curse simply brought that creative spark back in a time when Kirby games were beginning to stagnate.

You may have noticed a recurring theme on this list of games that have a simple, fun idea, and bring out the best in said idea. This is an area in which Nintendo (and Kirby specifically) excel, and few have done it better than Kirby: Canvas Curse.

6: Kirby’s Dream Land 2

Released: 1995

Platform: Game Boy

Kirby got his start on the Game Boy in Kirby’s Dream Land. It is only fitting that, after going to home consoles and deviating with spinoffs, Kirby would bounce back with a Game Boy sequel that is arguably the best game on the console to play today.

Although Dream Land 2 may be a small game by today’s standards, and lacks the ludicrous amount of extra content of contemporary Kirby games, the fact that everything Kirby’s Dream Land 2 managed to accomplish on the Game Boy remains so well executed and fun has to be commended. It wasn’t just a great game “for it’s time” or “for the Game Boy,” it’s still a great game despite its limitations.

Even though the title reads Dream Land 2, the game actually feels more like a sequel to Kirby’s Adventure. The copy abilities made their return (albeit condensed into what I like to call the “core seven” copy abilities). And Kirby once again had to face off with some demonic force after King Dedede was defeated (though this time, you had to uncover secret items to unlock that final showdown).

This wasn’t merely Kirby’s Adventure on a handheld, however, as Kirby’s Dream Land 2 introduced one of the series’ very best additions: the Animal Friends!

While Mario had Yoshi, Kirby gained three noble steeds in the forms of Rick the Hamster, Coo the Owl, and Kine the Sunfish. The best part was that each Animal Friend changed up the copy abilities, effectively quadrupling the number of powers at Kirby’s disposal. The fact that Hal has only properly brought back the Animal Friends for one other game is beyond perplexing.

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 may be a small game. But it’s one you can never go wrong with.

5: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Released: 2000

Platform: Nintendo 64 (obviously)

Speaking of Kirby games that had a great gameplay hook that for some reason has never been brought back, it’s Kirby 64!

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards was the only Kirby game released on the Nintendo 64. Being released in 2000, it was pretty late to the N64 party (late-game additions were a common theme to Kirby back then, as you’ll see further on this list). But Kirby 64 was so good that none of that really mattered. Twenty-two years later(!!), it’s held up as one of the best Nintendo 64 games to play today.

Although the graphics took advantage of the Nintendo 64’s 3D capabilities, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards was still played from a 2D perspective. But Kirby 64 had some fun with the hardware, with a more dynamic camera that would shift to more cinematic angles during certain moments (a little detail about the game that goes largely unmentioned, but that I love to bring up).

The big new gameplay hook was that Kirby could combine two copy abilities together! The aforementioned “core seven” abilities of the Dream Land series returned, only now when Kirby discarded a power, he could throw it at an enemy to make a brand new one (or just inhale two enemies at once)! It was an awesome feature then, and it remains awesome today. Why Hal Labratory never revisited the idea, I will surely never know (yes, Squeak Squad and Star Allies allowed some abilities to be put together, but to say it was a watered-down version of Kirby 64’s innovation would be an understatement).

While the Animal Friends may not have returned (Grrr!), Kirby did have some allies in the forms of Ribbon the fairy, Waddle Dee, Adeline the painter, and even King Dedede himself. Though only Dedede really changed up the gameplay, and only at certain moments. But these characters were all nice additions at any rate.

The game still looks great for an N64 title, and the soundtrack is one of the most beautiful on the console. The level designs stand out with how they seem to tell their own stories if you pay attention to the visuals. There’s even a trio of fun mini-games to play with friends. But it’s the combined copy abilities that give Kirby 64 some of the best gameplay in the series. I mean, one combination literally gives Kirby a double-sided lightsaber (being released relatively soon after The Phantom Menace, that’s surely no coincidence)! How have they never brought that back?!

4: Kirby’s Adventure

Released: 1993

Platform: NES

If you want the purest Kirby experience, look no further than Kirby’s Adventure. Oh sure, Kirby’s Dream Land may have been the first game in the series, but the fact it lacked copy abilities feels outright bizarre in retrospect, because they’ve become such an important element to the series since their introduction in Kirby’s Adventure.

It didn’t start small, either. Kirby’s Adventure features a whomping twenty-four copy abilities (okay, twenty-three if you don’t count the sleeping ability)! They range from the obvious mainstays like fire and ice, to powers that have become more obscure over time like the high-jump (which may seem superfluous since Kirby can fly, but it’s actually really cool). It even introduced one of Kirby’s rarest (and best) copy abilities right out the gate: UFO Kirby!

For an NES game, this is a staggering amount of gameplay variety. And while Kirby’s Adventure may seem limited by today’s standards, it has lost absolutely none of its fun factor or replay value. In fact, along with Mega Mans 2 and 3, Kirby’s Adventure is one of the few NES games to challenge Super Mario Bros. 3 for its 8-bit crown.

Kirby’s Adventure not only established the copy abilities as Kirby’s key gameplay feature, but also set other series standards as well: It made King Dedede a more misunderstood villain, and featured a greater evil as the final boss (in the form of Nightmare who, for my money, is still the coolest “big bad” in the series). It introduced many of the series’ most iconic tunes. And thanks to those copy abilities, set the tone for the level design for the series going forward, with areas that require certain powers to uncover all the secrets.

Some Kirby games have added to the formula, and others still have tried something entirely different. But for pure, unadulterated Kirby greatness, you just can’t go wrong with Kirby’s Adventure.

3: Kirby Super Star

Released: 1996

Platform: SNES

Everyone else’s favorite Kirby game is number 3 on my list. To be fair, it was also my favorite for a long time, but two others have won me over more in recent years. At any rate, Kirby Super Star is an excellent game, and one of the highlights of the Super Nintendo. And boy, is that saying something!

I remember back in the day, Kirby Super Star was advertised as containing “eight games in one cartridge.” Which was always a bit strange because Super Star features seven platforming games and two mini-games. If they were being honest they would have said “seven games plus two mini-games!” Or if they really wanted to fancy it up for marketing, they should have glossed over the fact that two of them were mini-games and said “nine games.” Whatever.

At any rate, none of the games are full-fledged games on their own. More like pieces of a greater whole, each of which bringing its own twist to the gameplay. But they are all exceptionally fun!

Spring Breeze is a remake of Kirby’s Dream Land, now with copy abilities! Dyna Blade features a Super Mario Bros. 3 style map. Revenge of Meta Knight sees Meta Knight act uncharacteristically evil and has a more cinematic approach. Gourmet Race is, well, a race between Kirby and King Dedede. The Arena is a boss rush mode. And Milky Way Wishes is kind of like the main event, needing to be unlocked and combining elements of the other included games. But the best of the lot is The Great Cave Offensive, which is something of a light Metroidvania in that it’s presented as one big world as opposed to individual levels and features hidden treasures that you may need to return to once you find the right copy ability.

Super Star doesn’t stop with the multitude of games themselves, however. But the core Kirby gameplay received two very important additions.

The first is that Super Star was the first game in the series where the copy abilities have their own movesets, as opposed to a single power. The second is that Kirby Super Star brought two player co-op to Kirby platformers. Kirby could now discard a copy ability by turning it into a friendly version of the enemy he got the power from, whom a second player could then control. At a time when Mario and Luigi still had to take turns, Kirby Super Star allowed two people to play at once! It remains a cool and innovative means for multiplayer, and strangely the feature didn’t return until Star Allies in 2018 (though it was planned to return well before then).

These elements, combined with the colorful visuals and kickass soundtrack, combine to make what is probably the most beloved Kirby game of all time. It may rank in third place here, but I can’t argue against the love Kirby Super Star continues to receive to this day.

2: Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Released: 2010

Platform: Wii

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is perhaps the most “huggable” video game ever created. A simple, sweet, always fun and endlessly charming little romp that’s as unique today as it was in 2010.

Epic Yarn is another entry in the “something entirely different” category of Kirby games. And dare I say it’s the best of the lot!

This is another game where Kirby is stripped of his signature copy abilities, but the gameplay that Epic Yarn introduces is so fun you really won’t miss them. Kirby is transported to a world where everything is made out of yarn (and other fabrics), and Kirby’s new yarn body simply transforms as the situation demands it: Instead of running, Kirby turns into a little car. He stomps on enemies by turning into a weight, swims by becoming a miniature submarine, and floats to the ground by changing into a parachute. There are other, more overt transformations during big moments in the game, like a robot tank and a snowboarding penguin! Kirby also comes equipped with a yarn whip, with which he unravels enemies.

It’s a constant delight to see the many things Yarn Kirby can do. This is a rare instance in which a video game’s art direction actually affects gameplay. Kirby can even interact with the environment, unzipping and unbuttoning parts of the world to uncover secrets. Kirby’s Epic Yarn features one of the most delightful art directions in video game history, and the game is every bit as fun to play as it is to look at.

As an added bonus, Kirby’s Epic Yarn even boasts a two player option, with the second player taking on the role of Prince Fluff, who has all the same yarn abilities as Kirby.

The game did receive some criticisms from – shall we say – “less cultured” gamers, due to its lack of difficulty, seeing as Kirby can’t die in Epic Yarn. But at what point did we decide every game had to be difficult? No one ever complained when Wario couldn’t die in the Wario Land sequels! There’s room for all types of games, and Epic Yarn is proof of that. It isn’t difficult in any traditional sense, but players can lose their hard-earned beads if they aren’t careful. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a soothing experience, key word there being “experience.” You can either get through the whole game at a leisurely stroll or go the way of the completionist and try to get the best score on each level, unlock all the hidden goodies, and build up Kirby’s apartment to get more tenants. If we can praise games that put cinematics before gameplay, we can certainly find the merit in games that display the beauty in the simple act of playing them.

As the icing on the cake, Kirby’s Epic Yarn includes one of the more underrated greats in terms of video game soundtracks, with a piano-centric score that is as warm and welcoming as the game’s visuals.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is charm incarnate.

1: Kirby’s Dream Land 3

Released: 1997

Platform: SNES

To date, there is no Kirby game I love more than Kirby’s Dream Land 3.

This may come as a surprise to many, since a number of players see Dream Land 3 as more of an “upper middle tier” entry in the series. But I think such a reception is mostly due to the timing of when Dream Land 3 was released. Kirby Super Star was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, but by the time Dream Land 3 was released, the Nintendo 64 had already been on store shelves for months! But Kirby has had something of a habit of being late to the party. Kirby’s Adventure was released on the NES after the Super NES had been on the market, Kirby 64 was late to the Nintendo 64, and both Epic Yarn and Return to Dream Land didn’t make it to the Wii until later on. Sadly, because of the emergence of 3D gaming on the N64, Dream Land 3 seems to be the one that was most affected by its late arrival. But to deny Kirby’s Dream Land 3 of the attention it deserves is doing a great injustice to one of Nintendo’s most underrated gems.

You could say that Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is like the missing link between traditional Kirby games and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Obviously, it follows in the footsteps of Dream Land 2, complete with Animal Friends (their only other proper appearance. Though they’ve been making more frequent cameos in recent years). Like Super Star, it features two-player co-op (this time the second player controls Gooey, a dark blue blob who uses his tongue to eat baddies). And like Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 features a stunning and unique art style and a gentler tone. It’s like the best pieces of Kirby games that came before, and some that hadn’t even happened yet!

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 featured gameplay similar to its predecessor but, along with the aforementioned second player, brought in some meaningful additions of its own. The “core seven” copy abilities of Dream Land 2 returned (rock, fire, ice, spark, spike, cutter and parasol), along with one brand new one, cleaning, in which Kirby wields a broom (a power that was unique to this game until it reappeared twenty-one years later in Kirby Star Allies). The three Animal Friends from Dream Land 2 all made a comeback, now joined by three new ones: Nago the Cat, Pitch the Bird, and Chu Chu the Octopus (though she looks more like a girl Kirby).

Once again, each Animal Friend combines with the copy abilities in their own way, giving the game immense variety. Pitch often makes for the most fun combinations, but I’d be lying if I said Nago wasn’t my favorite of the bunch (I love that darn cat). Sadly, the Animal Friends here have become even more forgotten than the originals and have only made cameos in Kirby 64 and Star Allies (via the cleaning ability) since. That’s a travesty that needs to be rectified!

Another great twist to the gameplay is how every level in the game features a special “mission” that can be accomplished. You see, in addition to simply completing the stages, there’s a different NPC at the end of each level who needs Kirby and his friends to do a certain action for them. You may have to find a secret room to find a toad’s lost baby or track down the missing pieces of R.O.B. the Robot. Some stages have goals as simple as making sure you have a certain Animal Friend by the end of it. Others are admittedly a little more vague, but in such a way that once you reach the end, you feel more like “oh, THAT’S what I was supposed to do” as opposed to angry at the game for being cryptic or something. It makes you want to try again and do it right. Naturally, accomplishing every mission rewards you with the proper final showdown and ending.

Combine all that with another winning soundtrack and beautiful visuals that took the crayon-inspired graphics of Yoshi’s Island and cranked them to 11, and Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is a Kirby game that at once represents the best of all aspects of the series while also feeling unlike any of its Kirby kin.

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is simply the very best of all the Kirby games.

Clockwork Aquario Review

Clockwork Aquario is something of a unearthed treasure in the video game world. Originally created in 1992 as an arcade title by the now-defunct Westone (creators of the Wonder Boy series) and to be published by Sega, Clockwork Aquario ultimately went unreleased. In 2017, Strictly Limited Games acquired the rights to the game from Sega. But some of the game’s code had been lost over time, so Strictly Limited Games teamed up with ININ Games to help fill in the gaps. After a few more delays, Clockwork Aquario FINALLY saw release on Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4 at the tail end of 2021, nearly thirty years after the game was originally created (claiming the record for longest development time in video game history in the process).

On the plus side, it’s nice to know that such a game has actually been released after seemingly being lost to time. On the down side, the story behind Clockwork Aquario is more interesting than the game itself. Clockwork Aquario provides some fun, arcade-style platforming, but it’s short lived and lacks substance. It’s an entertaining novelty, if maybe not the arcade classic you may have hoped for, given its unique development history.

Clockwork Aquario is an action-platformer in which players can choose from three different playable characters: a boy named Huck Rondo, a girl named Elle Moon, and a robot named Gush. While all three characters have their own animations and sound bites, they all play identically. The goal of the game is simply to make it to the end of each level, defeat the boss, and ultimately defeat the evil Dr. Hangyo (an anthropomorphic fish, of all things) from taking over the world.

“Clockwork Aquario follows the Secret of Mana rule of a boy character, a girl character, and a non-human character.”

The stages are short and straightforward. There’s a time limit on each stage, but I’ve not had it run out on me yet. Each character can either jump on an enemy or slap them, with one hit stunning the enemy, and the second hit defeating them. What’s fun and different about Clockwork Aquario is that once an enemy is stunned, you can lift them up over your head and throw them at other enemies. It’s reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 2 or Treasure titles like Mischief Makers or Dynamite Headdy in that respect. Also similar to Treasure titles are the big, ridiculous boss fights, all of which involve Dr. Hangyo piloting a crazy, animal-shaped robot.

Although the core gameplay is fun, there are some annoying aspects to it. Namely, there are numerous segments where enemies pop out of nowhere as soon as you’re on top of them, to the extent that it feels like you have to take a hit to move on. That would be an issue even if you had a health bar, but it’s all the worse since your character can only take two hits before you lose a life. Another issue is that it takes way too long to gain a single extra life. By defeating enemies and getting points, as well as picking up gems the enemies occasionally drop, you slowly build up a meter towards collecting a 1-up. But you’ll often lose all your lives and an extra continue before you fill the bar up, so it feels like the reward isn’t worth it. It’s also annoying that you can’t pause the game once you start. I get that this was originally made as an arcade title, but come on. It ended up released on home consoles. Surely they could have added the ability to pause.

You’ll also find that the game is incredibly short, even by arcade standards. Clockwork Aquario contains only five levels, each of which can be breezed through long before the clock runs out. The game features different difficulty settings, but the only real difference is that the harder difficulties give you less continues (seeing as this is an arcade game released on home consoles, you can’t keep giving the game quarters for more chances). There’s also a ‘training mode’ but that’s little more than playing the first two levels with unlimited tries (which is really weird now that I type it out). You’ll also probably feel that, unless you have a second player with you, there’s not a whole lot of replay value here.

If there are two areas where Clockwork Aquario shines, it’s in the visuals and music. The graphics, character animations and backgrounds have a fun, retro anime vibe. It all looks so smooth and colorful! Clockwork Aquario looks like a suped-up Sega Genesis title. The music is similarly enjoyable. So much so that the game even includes its soundtrack in the main menu (both as the tracks appear in game as well as remixes). Clockwork Aquario is very fun to look at and listen to. Unfortunately these aesthetic pleasures don’t translate to the menus, which are pretty basic and mostly just text.

Clockwork Aquario is decently fun while it lasts, but I do think you need two players to get the best out of it (there’s even an extra mini-game in between the third and fourth stages only when playing with two people). Given the game’s unique history, you do kind of wish there were more to it. But it’s still a fun, novel experience. And worth checking out as an odd little piece of gaming history.

6

Nintendo Wii Turns Fiftiin!

It’s time to feel old yet again! Because the Nintendo Wii turns 15 years old today!

That’s right, somehow, it’s been a full fifteen years since Nintendo’s innovative, wacky-named little ivory box first hit North American stores, on November 19th 2006 (it would be released in other regions in the following weeks into early December 2006).

Before I go on, let me just say that no video game console makes me feel older than the Wii does. Now, I was born in 1989 and had older brothers, so I was born into the days of the NES, and grew up on the SNES, Sega Genesis and (a little later) the Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn. But I suppose because I was just a little kid when those consoles were released, I can readily accept that they are now considered things like “retro” and “old school.” Though I was a bit older when the Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube hit, those consoles were more about powerful technology and refining what came before (to varying degrees of success), so again, I can accept the retro moniker.

But the Wii was, in my eyes, the first console in a long time that really felt like it was breaking new ground with its ideas. The N64 pioneered 3D gaming (and upped the number of players from two to four), but I reiterate that I was still just a kid when that was released, so it would have seemed like magic no matter what. The Wii though… by that point, I could really appreciate what the Wii was bringing to the table. A console built around motion controls, aimed at everyone (the NES and, to a lesser extent, the SNES, were also geared towards “everyone.” But the Wii took that concept to a new level). It really felt like something new, and really lived up to its (admittedly generic) codename of “Revolution.”

So now that this innovative console that exuded such newness is fifteen years old, I really feel like a dinosaur.

I’ll never forget that first time I picked up a Wii remote, simply navigating the Wii home menu gave a huge rush of “whoa” over me. And playing Wii Sports for the first time? I don’t even think I need to explain how joyous that was. It really did bring back that ‘magic’ I felt from my childhood days whenever a new console was released (specifically, it felt very much like Christmas 1996 felt, when Santa had left a Nintendo 64 for my family).

Simply put, the Wii brought “magic” back to gaming.

I know that’d be considered a controversial statement on my part, because the Wii certainly had its detractors. Yes, the Wii tended to favor the “casual” crowd. But I always failed to see why that was considered a bad thing (other than typical gamer ignorance). It was merely a different thing.

Others derided it as being gimmicky with its motion controls – and while in the cases of less competent games that was true – I don’t see why building gameplay around motion controls is any more gimmicky than, say, a game being built around its cinematics for a more movie-like experience. Again, these are just differences.

I have to admit the Wii did end up having a lot of shovelware, but that always comes with the territory of being the most popular console on the market. The PS2 had its share of filler as well. Even the SNES had bad games. But the Wii was the one where people conveniently seemed to ignore the good while spotlighting the negatives. Point being the Wii had its faults, but it also had strengths that it seems people only recently started remembering.

After all, along with being one of the rare post-90s consoles that actually felt like something different and new, it also played a huge role in video games becoming the mainstream pastime they are today. Remember it or not, but before the Wii, video games were still largely seen as an exclusively “nerdy” endeavor. The Wii helped normalize gaming into something that people – any people – just did.

“The Wii also gave us the gift of Miis, simplified avatars you could make in the image of yourself, celebrities, fictional characters, or just straight-up abominations.”

On top of that, the Wii also created easy access to retro gaming via the Virtual Console! Before the Wii came along, retro gaming was an expensive collector’s hobby. But the Virtual Console allowed players to revisit (or discover for the first time) games from the NES, SNES, N64 and Sega Genesis, later also adding the TurboGrafx-16, Commodore 64, Neo Geo, Sega Master System and even arcade titles! Combine that with the fact the Wii could play GameCube games, and the Wii had – hands down – the best back catalogue ever. It was the first modern (at the time) console with a retro library, and I’ll go ahead and say it hasn’t been bettered. Even Nintendo themselves haven’t been able to replicate it (on the Wii, you just downloaded the games you wanted, and they went to the first available window on the home channel. Now we have Switch online, where you have to go to a separate screen for each available console, and trudge through all the filler Nintendo keeps adding to find the game you want to play. I just want my favorite retro games on the home screen again!).

“My (probably) favorite video game ever, Super Mario RPG, was celebrated as the 250th Virtual Console game in North America. Its release on the Wii also marked the first time the game was released in Europe.”

Of course, we can’t forget the great games to come out of the Wii itself. I already mentioned Wii Sports, which is the one everyone and their grandmother played. And then around a year after the Wii and Wii Sports were released, the console saw another game that brought back that aforementioned ‘magic.’

“Video game perfection.”

Yes, the Wii would see a number of great games, but it was Super Mario Galaxy that stood out from the pack and became one of the most acclaimed games of all time. It also marked something of a resurgence for Nintendo’s beloved series, after Mario’s humbler critical and commercial success post-Super Mario 64. Notably, it was also the first Mario game to be scored by a full orchestra, which just kicks all of the ass. Despite a few hiccups here and there, the exceedingly high standards Galaxy set for the Super Mario series (and its music) have remained largely intact, with games such as 3D World and Odyssey carrying the torch. It should be noted that the only Wii game that managed to be better than Galaxy was (what else?) Super Mario Galaxy 2.

“The Wii also resurrected Punch-Out!! after a fifteen year absence… and now it’s been absent in the twelve years since the game’s 2009 release.”

The Wii may not have always came out guns ablazing, but when it brought its A-game, it really was a console unlike any other that had been seen before. And with due respect, perhaps unlike any that’s been seen since.

It’s hard to believe it’s been fifteen years since Nintendo changed the game with that little white box and that controller that looked like a TV remote (and let’s not forget that blue light that would creepily turn itself on in the middle of the night). Nintendo has fully embraced bringing back the NES, SNES and N64 in multiple forms. Maybe now that the Wii is fifteen, they’ll find a way to bring the Wii back to modern audiences. I wouldn’t mind a retro mini-console version of the Wii myself. And I know someone else who’d camp out to get one…

Happy fifteenth birthday, Nintendo Wii!

Xbox Turns 20!

“The first Xbox console… not to be confused with Xbox One.”

It’s time to feel old, because today is the twentieth anniversary of the original Xbox console and, by extension, the entire Xbox brand!

Released in North America on November 15th 2001, Microsoft’s Xbox was the first major console created by a North American company since the Atari Jaguar (remember that thing?). At the time, many people wondered how the Xbox would fare against the competition. Industry mainstay Nintendo was releasing the GameCube around the same time, and Sony’s white hot Playstation 2 had been out for a year by that point.

Thankfully, at least one game ensured the Xbox would be a major player in the video game world.

Yes, the Xbox had plenty of great games (my personal favorite being Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath), but it was Halo that proved, right out of the gate, that Xbox was a force to be reckoned with, and that it was here to stay.

Though Xbox couldn’t match the sales numbers of the Playstation 2, it left an indelible mark in video games, even popularizing online multiplayer on home consoles with (what else?) Halo 2.

In twenty years, we’ve gone from the original Xbox to the excellent Xbox 360 to the Xbox One to the oddly-named Xbox Series X/Series S (not to be confused with the Xbox One remodels called Xbox One S and Xbox One X…which people have confused it for so why did they call it that?!). Over those two decades, Xbox has provided countless memories of fun and excitement to players the world over. The Xbox legacy has provided so much joy to people, that we can all forgive the fact that its original controller was basically a brick with buttons on it. Seriously, why was that thing so huge?!

Happy twentieth birthday, Xbox!

Pikmin Turns 20!

Today, October 26th 2021, marks the twentieth anniversary of the release of Pikmin in Japan!

Yes, somehow, it’s been two full decades since players were introduced to the multi-colored half-plant/half-animal aliens known as Pikmin, and the brave Captain Olimar, the hero of the series.

Pikmin was the brainchild of none other than Shigeru Miyamoto himself, the creator of Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Donkey Kong (in addition to less prominent series Star Fox and F-Zero). Although it’s never achieved the same level of success as Mario or Zelda, Pikmin certainly shares in their spirit, with Miyamoto’s signature “fun at all costs” philosophy present throughout.

The original Pikmin was released October 26th 2001 on the Nintendo GameCube (it barely missed the console’s launch both in Japan and stateside), and saw Captain Olimar utilize three Pikmin types: fast and fire-resistant Red Pikmin; Yellow Pikmin, who could be thrown higher and (strangely) were the only Pikmin who could throw bombs; and aquatic Blue Pikmin, who have since become a staple as the last Pikmin type the player meets in each game. With the help of the Pikmin, Captain Olimar had to recover the 30 pieces of his rocket ship within a 30 day in-game time limit, before his air supply ran out (so its story is kind of like a more serious Toejam & Earl, a game which recently celebrated its 30th anniversary on the 15th, by the way).

Pikmin was a big deal because, at the time, it was the first big new franchise Nintendo had made in some years (the N64 era was mostly about bringing Nintendo’s established franchises into the third dimension). And of course, the fact that Miyamoto was its creator certainly helped. Not to mention its unique gameplay, which combined elements of puzzle, action and real-time strategy into one innovative package.

Three years later, Pikmin 2 was released, also on the GameCube. This entry introduced Louie, the Luigi to Olimar’s Mario, as a second playable character. Pikmin 2 also brought in new Purple Pikmin, who had ten times the strength of other Pikmin types, and White Pikmin, who were not only resistant to poison, but would poison whatever creatures managed to eat them. The story here was that the company Olimar and Louie work for is in debt, and the Pikmin planet just so happens to house treasures that are quite valuable on Olimar’s home planet of Hocotate.

Although Pikmin 2 still utilized a day/night cycle like the first game, it no longer had a time limit for the adventure. Additionally, the player could traverse underground dungeons for the game’s best treasures and boss fights, which ignored the clock altogether until the player returned to the surface.

Oh, and Pikmin 2’s claymation promotional art? Sublime.

Both GameCube titles would later be re-released on the Nintendo Wii with newly implemented motion controls, which some felt improved the games. But outside of those re-releases, the Pikmin series would lay dormant for nine years after Pikmin 2.

Finally, in 2013, Pikmin 3 was released on the Wii U. Though the Wii U would end up being a financial failure for Nintendo, it had a strong selection of first-party titles, and Pikmin 3 was one of the best of the lot.

Pikmin 3 introduced three new characters: Alph, Brittany and Charlie, who came to the Pikmin planet in search of fruit seeds to regrow their planet’s food supply. Though they hailed from a different planet than Olimar, they would encounter the returning Pikmin hero (and Louie) during the adventure. And while the Purple and White Pikmin were sadly sidelined to one of the game’s secondary modes, two new Pikmin types were introduced: Rock Pikmin, who could break through objects the other Pikmin could not in addition to delivering a kind of sucker punch to enemies when thrown; and Winged Pikmin, who could fly, giving the player a whole new way to explore the world.

Pikmin 3’s omissions of some of Pikmin 2’s features was met with criticisms (besides the largely reduced presence of the purple and white Pikmin, the game also left behind the dungeons from its predecessor), but it also received strong praise as the most approachable Pikmin title, a sentiment I would have to agree with.

Like many other Wii U titles, Pikmin 3 was eventually brought over to the Nintendo Switch as Pikmin 3 Deluxe in 2020, featuring new modes that brought back Olimar into a playable role.

Besides that re-release, the only Pikmin game since Pikmin 3 was Hey Pikmin! on the Nintendo 3DS, which was like a side-scrolling spinoff game. Hey Pikmin! had a lukewarm reception, probably in no small part to the fact that Pikmin games are so infrequent that fans really just want another proper Pikmin game.

Sadly, we’re still waiting for a full-on Pikmin 4. It’s been eight years since Pikmin 3 was originally released (geez, already?!), meaning that the wait between Pikmins 3 and 4 will match the time gap between Pikmins 2 and 3 in just a number of months… Hopefully Nintendo can at least give us an update on Pikmin 4’s in the not-too-distant future. More Pikmin could only ever be a very good thing.

I guess I should correct myself, as there now is another Pikmin spinoff game, as Niantic – the creators of Pokemon Go – have just given a ‘soft release’ to their new mobile game Pikmin Bloom today, to commemorate the series’ twentieth anniversary. I still play Pokemon Go to this day, so I’ll have to give Pikmin Bloom a go myself!

We may all still be waiting ever so patiently for Pikmin 4, but for a series of surprisingly few entries, Pikmin really has carved a strong legacy for itself in the twenty years since it debuted as that quirky new GameCube game “from the creator of Mario and Zelda.”

“I still have that Pikmin promotional booklet from Nintendo Power!”

Happy twentieth, Pikmin!

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES) Review

In the late 80s and well into the 90s, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles ruled the world. Although it started as a comic book by the recently defunct Mirage Studios, it became a pop culture phenomenon with the 1987 cartoon series. TMNT would go on to become one of those rare franchises that hasn’t really lost its popularity in the years since that early booming period, with several movies and subsequent comic books and cartoons that continue to this day. And of course, we can’t forget the many video games to star the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Although the Turtles are most associated with the beat-em-up genre in the world of gaming, they’ve appeared in a number of other genres as well. Strangely, even though the peak years of Turtlemania coincided with the fighting game boom of the early 90s, the Turtles only starred in one such fighting game during that timeframe: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters by Konami.

I suppose you could say the Turtles starred in three fighting games of the time, seeing as Tournament Fighters saw releases on the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis in 1993, and weirdly made its way to the NES afterwards in 1994, with each version having notable differences from one another (with most praising the SNES version as the best of the lot, because of course it was). Although the pairing of TMNT and fighting games seems like such an obvious success, Tournament Fighters doesn’t seem nearly as remembered as some of the other Turtles games of the time.

Perhaps that’s due in part to the game’s selection of playable characters, many of whom would still be considered deep cuts to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles aficionados even today. The SNES version contains ten playable characters, but only half of them would be very familiar to Turtles fans. Four of those are obviously the Ninja Turtles themselves: Leonardo, Raphael, Donatello and Michelangelo. The other familiar face is their archnemesis, the Shredder (though he is bizarrely labeled as “Cyber Shredder” in the game).

The remaining characters are varying degrees of niche. There’s Armaggon, a shark-like mutant; Wingnut is a humanoid bat; and the oddly-named War is a purple triceratops-like creature who is not in fact a member of the Triceratons (triceratops-like aliens from the franchise). These three characters all originated from the Archie Comics TMNT series, which I emphasize is separate from the original Mirage Studios comics. Of the lot, only Wingnut appeared in the 1987 cartoon, though Armaggon would eventually show up in the 2012 series. And then we have Chrome Dome, a robot character who appeared in a few episodes of the original series. But the last character is the real odd-duck of the lot.

The final playable character is Aska (which really should be spelled “Asuka”), a ninja woman who made her first and only appearance in the TMNT franchise in this game (meaning we have at least one more deep cut character the newer cartoons can resurrect). Apparently, Aska was intended to be the character Mitsu from the film Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles III, to which she bears a strong resemblance (though the video game character is a little ‘bouncier’ in certain areas). But due to that film’s poor reception from fans, the character was hastily tweaked to the Aska seen here.

So if you were hoping for fan favorites like Master Splinter, Casey Jones, Bebop and Rocksteady, Krang, or frequent crossover character Miyamoto Usagi, you’re out of luck. Splinter is kidnapped in the game’s story mode, and Bebop and Rocksteady are background characters on one of the stages. So the character selections may have been off-putting to fans at the time. Seeing as this was around the height of Turtlemania, fans were probably hoping to see more of their favorites in the game. Though perhaps the more obscure selections make the game more interesting in retrospect.

Anyway, aside from the lack of fan favorites, Tournament Fighters has a lot to offer TMNT fans, and is a solid fighter in its own right.

The game features three different modes: Tournament, Versus and Story. Tournament is your expected arcade-style mode, where you pick any of the ten characters, and go through a series of fights. You have unlimited continues, and can switch characters if you lose. Versus allows players to fight matches at their own leisure, and can be played with two players (making it the game’s real main event, and what will keep you coming back if you have other players available). Story is similar to the Tournament mode, but fittingly features more cutscenes and dialogue boxes. You can only play as the Ninja Turtles themselves in this mode, with the order of opponents differing depending on which turtle you select, and you only get three continues here.

The story is that the Shredder has been defeated and is no longer in New York City (though he’s still an opponent, so maybe “Cyber Shredder” is like a robot or something?). But the Foot Clan returns under the leadership of Karai (marking the character’s first appearance outside of the Mirage comics, further playing into the game’s love of lesser-known TMNT characters). Seeking revenge for Shredder’s defeat, the Foot Clan kidnaps Splinter and April O’Neil to goad the turtles into combat. It’s a fighting game plot.

Additionally, players can go to the option menu to alter the difficulty of the game, and even choose a setting that speeds up the gameplay. The Tournament and Story modes end earlier on easier settings (Tournament ends against the non-playable Rat King, and Story against Cyber Shredder, with players only facing Karai herself on more difficult settings). But the easier settings will probably be more enjoyable for most players, since it seems like Tournament Fighters is one of those retro fighting games where the AI opponents can seemingly break the rules of the game on harder settings.

This is the game’s most annoying drawback. I admit I’m not the best player of fighting games, particularly against other people. But I usually enjoy trying out the more difficult settings in the single-player modes. Though some of the older fighting games can get ridiculous on higher difficulty settings. They don’t simply get harder, but the computer AI seems to be able to do things the human player can’t, and unfortunately Tournament Fighters is one of those games. The AI opponents spam moves faster than you can react to them, and on several occasion when I knocked my opponent down and approached them to follow up, they somehow managed to grapple me before they even stood back up! It’s cheap little things like that that make this one of the fighting games where I just don’t want to bother with the harder settings.

I suppose the higher difficulties are only there for those who want them, however. The easier settings will provide some good fun while they last. Though the game’s lasting appeal will of course be its two-player versus mode.

The gameplay itself is tight and intricate, and actually feels on par with Street Fighter II. Each character has two punch/weapon attacks and two kicks (a weak and strong variation) mapped out to the four buttons on the SNES controller. There are familiar button combos and a good variety of moves for each character. Additionally, continuously attacking an opponent will fill up a green meter under your health bar. If you can fill up the bar completely, you can unleash a powerful special move by pressing both of the stronger attack buttons. Sure, by today’s standards, Tournament Fighters may feel a little slow. But for its time, this is as good and fleshed-out as fighting mechanics got. It’s still a fun game to play.

To top it all off, the game looks great. Although maybe not as colorful as the more famous Turtles in Time, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters features the kind of detailed, fluidly animated character sprites you would expect from the SNES. The sound is maybe a bit less consistent (Rat King sounds kind of like Sylvester Stallone), but it does what it needs to.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighter may not be the most remembered Turtles game, but it has perhaps held up the best out of those released during the early days of Turtlemania. It clearly took more than a little inspiration from Street Fighter II, and I’m actually surprised how well it compares to the influential fighter.

If you still have a Super Nintendo at the ready, Tournament Fighter is a fun time. And if you have a friend over, it should be a great time.

7

Ten Years of Dark Souls

Today, September 22nd 2021, marks the ten-year anniversary of the original release of Dark Souls in Japan. So not only is September 22nd the birthday of both Bilbo and Frodo Baggins, but I guess you could call it Dark Souls Day as well.

Yes, somehow it’s been ten full years since Dark Souls first captured our imaginations (and made us smash our controllers) with its intricate gameplay, epic boss fights and unique dark fantasy world. It would end up being (unquestionably) the most influential video game of the last decade, with many imitators in the “Souls-like” genre (none of which are a patch on the real deal) being made in its wake, and games in just about every other genre adopting many of its elements and mechanics.

Okay, so technically Demon’s Souls started the series. Though while Demon’s Souls may be a classic in its own right, I think it’s safe to say it was with 2011’s Dark Souls that the series really took off and conquered the video game world.

Unlike so many games from the late 2000s/early 2010s, Dark Souls has aged beautifully, and its impact and influence has remained intact in a way that’s usually reserved for Nintendo’s best titles. I mean, who the hell talks about Bioshock anymore? Good riddance, I say.

Ah, but Dark Souls. It really is one of the medium’s modern classics. Although now that it’s ten-years old, do we take out the “modern” and simply categorize it as a “classic?”

At any rate, that’s what Dark Souls is, a classic! Its sequels and follow-ups are also stellar (though BloodBorne is probably the only one whose reputation matches the original). The series was a dominating force in gaming in the 2010s, and it seems its influence will continue well beyond that.

Series creator Hidetaka Miyazaki’s next game, Elden Ring, is one of the most anticipated games on the horizon. But it certainly has a lot to live up to if it hopes to have the same impact as its 2011 predecessor. A hell of an act to follow.

Happy tenth anniversary, Dark Souls!

“Ah, dang it!”