Category Archives: Classic Gaming

Mole Mania Review

Shigeru Miyamoto is the world’s most prolific video game designer. It’s not hard to see why, since he has served as creator and/or producer of many of the world’s most popular games: Super Mario, The Legend of Zelda, Donkey Kong, Star Fox, Mole Mania…

Wait, what was that last one?

Yes, even Shigeru Miyamoto has made a few games that have gone under the radar, perhaps none more so than Mole Mania. That’s a crying shame, because this 1997 puzzler remains one of the Game Boy’s best titles.

In many ways, Mole Mania works like a simplified Legend of Zelda. If you were to remove Zelda’s overworld, and just stick with the dungeons, doubling down on their puzzle elements, you have a pretty good idea at what Mole Mania is.

Player’s take control of Muddy Mole, who is out to rescue his family after they’ve been kidnapped by a wicked farmer named Jimbe, who’s angry at the moles for eating his cabbages. Each of Muddy’s seven children are being held hostage by Jinbe’s henchmen (the game’s bosses), while Jimbe himself is holding Muddy’s wife.

The game is spread out between eight worlds, though after the first world is completed, levels 2 through 7 can be completed in any order the player chooses (they can even leave a stage for a while and work on another, if they get too stumped). This allows players to go through most of the game at their own pace, which seemed like an idea ahead of Mole Mania’s time.

Each level is comprised of multiple rooms which, like Zelda’s dungeons, need to have their puzzles solved in order to move on. The goal is to get an iron ball to break the wall blocking the exit of each room. Muddy can push and pull the giant marble, as well as throw it forward and back. This may sound simple enough, but Mole Mania finds various ways to turn this simple setup into a complex series of puzzles.

The biggest twist is that Muddy Mole has to navigate each room both above and under ground. Muddy can dig his own holes in the ground, and most rooms also contain holes of their own. Things get tricky though, because if the marble falls into a hole, it goes back to its starting position. You can’t fill in holes, but exiting a room and going back restores it to its default state. Additionally, 20 cabbages can be found on each stage, which must be thrown (or pushed, or pulled) into a hole to be collected, adding a little extra challenge for completionists.

The ways in which Mole Mania continues to change up its simple setup throughout the game is as impressive as it is fun, seemingly never running out of ideas with its concept. There are pipes that the iron marble can travel through to change paths, enemies that may stop the ball in its tracks. blocks that Muddy can push but are too heavy to pull. Mole Mania is always changing up its formula, making for a consistently fun experience.

This creativity even extends to the boss fights, albeit not to the same degree. The boss fights are all pretty simple, but find creative twists on the gameplay as Muddy finds new ways to smack them with the iron marble, or use the environment to their disadvantage.

There are a few technical issues with the game, due to the limitations of the Game Boy. Namely, having to hold the same button to throw a marble as you do to pull it can get a bit cumbersome in later stages (if you hold still for even a second when gripping the marble, Muddy prepares to throw it). You may find yourself doing one action when trying to do the other, since both of the actions are mapped to the same button.

Some players may also find the fluctuating difficulty somewhat off-putting. Although the first few stages do a good job at becoming progressively more difficult, some of the later stages seem to crank the challenge up and down on a whim, with some of them going from a notably easy room directly into an exceptionally hard one.

These aren’t major complaints, mind you. On the whole, Mole Mania remains a delightful game, one whose puzzles can be genuinely head-scratching at times. And on top of the engaging gameplay, Mole Mania features fun musical tracks that – as is expected of a Nintendo score – end up being wildly infectious. Although Mole Mania never received a Game Boy Color update like many other Game Boy titles, the sprites are detailed enough that it still holds up decently well from a visual standpoint.

Who knows why Mole Mania didn’t join the pantheon of beloved Miyamoto franchises. Maybe it had to do with the timing of its release (after the Game Boy’s initial boom but before Pokemon gave the handheld a second life)? Maybe gamers weren’t enamored with the simple prospect of a Mole fighting a farmer when compared to Miyamoto’s usual fantasy fare? Whatever the case, Mole Mania deserved better. It boasts the same ‘pure gaming’ pleasures as Miyamoto’s more well-known titles, and had all the makings of another Nintendo mainstay. Even if it didn’t become a long-standing Nintendo franchise, Mole Mania remains an enduring cult classic, and one of the few titles to come out of the original Game Boy that holds up incredibly well today.

Now, how about Muddy Mole for Super Smash Bros?

 

8.0

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Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars Review

*Review based on Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars release as part of the SNES Classic*

Since its inception in 1985, the Super Mario series has proven to be the avant garde of video games, prioritizing gameplay innovation and concepts unique to the video game medium over all else. This design philosophy has not only allowed the core platformers of the Super Mario series to consistently reinvent themselves, but has also turned its titular plumber into gaming’s renaissance man, able to adapt to seemingly any genre Nintendo decides to cast him in. Of the various “spinoff” Mario titles, Mario Kart gets the most widespread recognition, as it created the ‘kart racer’ sub-genre while simultaneously producing a series that rivals the core Mario titles in popularity. But while Mario Kart might be the most famous of Mario’s detours, the most outstanding might just be the 1996 SNES classic, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, the title that sent Mario into most unfamiliar territory.

Super Mario RPG was a bold venture. A joint effort between series’ publisher Nintendo and Final Fantasy developer Square-Enix (then Squaresoft), Super Mario RPG took the characters and world of Nintendo’s flagship franchise, and merged it with the RPG genre that Square was renowned for. Though a fan-favorite today, at the time many wondered if converting the Mario series into the narrative-heavy RPG genre could work. The fact that Super Mario RPG remains one of the most beloved Mario games should be a testament to just how successful the finished product was. Its hefty reputation is well deserved.

While Super Mario RPG is a joining together of the series and genre of its title, what makes it work so well is how it both pays homage and parody to both parties involved, and turns them on their heads.

“Where can I sign up to join the Koopa Troop?!”

The story here is that – just as Mario is about to defeat Bowser for another daring rescue of Princess Peach (here called Toadstool, as she was known in the west at the time) – a massive earthquake hits the scene, throwing Mario, Bowser and the Princess to different corners of the Mushroom Kingdom. The source of this quake is a giant, anthropomorphic sword that has fallen from the heavens and plunged into Bowser’s castle. The sword is called Exor, and declares Bowser’s Keep to be occupied by its master, Smithy, who plans to conquer the rest of Mario’s world.

As it turns out, Smithy is already closer to world conquest than he knows, as Exor slashed through the Star Road on its descent onto Mario’s world, shattering it into seven magical Star Pieces. The Star Road is what allows people’s wishes to come true. With its power scattered into seven fallen pieces, the wishes of the denizens of Mario’s world can no longer come true. It then becomes a race between Mario and his companions to prevent the Smithy Gang from claiming the seven Stars, which would result in the evil Smithy’s dark desires coming to fruition.

What makes this story memorable is that it both adds a serious narrative to the Super Mario series (for the first time), while still maintaining the franchise’s whimsical lightheartedness. The premise feels like it could have been pulled out of a Disney movie, and the game takes advantage of the nature of the Mario series to add a good dose of humor into the serious RPG plot.

“Bowser reveals his artistic and sensitive side.”

Mario is joined on his adventure by four companions: The aforementioned Princess Toadstool is the obvious ally, but for the first time in the series, Bowser fights alongside Mario in a quest to reclaim his castle. The remaining two members of Mario’s party were original to Super Mario RPG; Mallow, the fluffy, cloud-like black mage of the group, and Geno, an otherworldly spirit occupying an action figure for its body. It’s a memorable cast of characters.

Mario is his usual, silent self; but the Princess becomes something of the ‘tough guy’ of the group after growing tired of being rescued, while Bowser steals the show as the insecure brute with a heart of gold. Meanwhile, Mallow is the kid of the group wanting to prove himself, while Geno has connections to the Star Road and is something of the Gandalf of the team (the wise, old badass). Mallow and Geno left such an impression that, although they have yet to properly appear in another game, fans still long for their return.

No matter how iconic or likable these characters are though, it wouldn’t mean much if the game they starred in weren’t great. Luckily for them, Super Mario RPG was one of the best games of the genre’s golden era, and remains one of Mario’s timeless classics.

The battle system here at first looks like the usual turn-based affair, but with some fresh changes, such as each action in battle being mapped to specific buttons (A for regular attacks, B for defense, Y for special moves, and X for items). The biggest addition Super Mario RPG makes to RPG battles is one that’s subtle, yet game-changing: Action Commands.

During battles, players have more involvement than in other RPGs of the time. During attacks, well-timed button presses can increase damage (and timing them just right during enemy attacks can reduce damage), while special moves have their own interactive elements (repeated button-presses or timing, holding a button and releasing it, etc.). It’s such a seemingly simple twist on RPG norms, but it adds so much more fun to the proceedings than simply selecting items from menus.

There are some small quibbles in that there’s a lack of on-screen directions to inform you of when to use button-presses during many actions (directions are briefly explained before certain special attacks, but others are trickier to figure out). Still, most of the Action Commands aren’t too hard to get the hang of, so nothing’s too cryptic. But if you do manage to master them, you may find that the overall adventure is a bit on the easy side, though I suppose turn-based RPGs aren’t known for brutal difficulty anyway. Still, these hardly qualify as complaints, as they never get in the way of the enjoyment of the gameplay, story, or overall fun.

Meanwhile, wandering through the overworlds is also improved over other games in the genre, with just a dash of platforming added into the mix for – you guessed it – more interactivity than you’d find in other RPGs. The game is given all the more personality when you talk to NPCs, who often put that aforementioned humor on full display. In case that weren’t enough, Super Mario RPG features a myriad of entertaining mini-games and side quests, some of which are exceptionally well hidden.

Being released at the tail-end of the Super Nintendo’s life cycle, Super Mario RPG pushed the console’s capabilities to their limits. Super Mario RPG features highly detailed environments and an isometric perspective to give the game something of a 3D quality, with character graphics that are comparable to the Donkey Kong Country sequels (one enemy monster even resembles good ol’ DK, perhaps to emphasize this).

However, the best aesthetic qualities of Super Mario RPG are in its sounds. Composed by Yoko Shinomura – famous for her soundtracks of Street Fighter II and the Kingdom Hearts series – Super Mario RPG’s score is her masterwork, encompassing a wide range of styles and emotions,  and captures that distinct Mario personality while also creating an identity unique to itself. The SNES is widely regarded for the stellar soundtracks of its games, and Super Mario RPG is second only to Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest for the title of best musical score on the platform. It’s an all-time great gaming soundtrack.

“How can you not love a game in which Bowser can fight a giant, evil wedding cake?”

Sadly, while Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remains one of Mario’s most memorable adventures, it seems to be the only entry in the entire franchise that was to be a one-and-done deal. It may have influenced spiritual successors in the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi series of RPGs – which improved on a few individual elements (Paper Mario introduced on-screen button cues during attacks) – but none of them have captured the same magic of the whole experience that Super Mario RPG did, nor have they left the same kind of unique impact on the overall Mario series.

If anything, Super Mario RPG’s isolation from the rest of the Mario series has only helped it endure as one of the most beloved entries in the franchise’s peerless history (it’s even helped inspire games such as Undertale). Here’s hoping that, someday, we might see Super Mario RPG’s legacy continue in some form. For now, however, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars can at least still claim to be among Mario’s greatest adventures, and one of the best RPGs of all time. A legend indeed.

 

10

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 Review

With his introduction as the antagonist of Super Mario Land 2, Wario became an immediate Nintendo mainstay. Who knows if it was the original intent when the character was created, but Wario ended up hijacking the Super Mario Land series, being the star of its third entry in 1994 before it full-on transformed into the Wario Land series. Though the Wario Land sequels would add a bit more originality to the proceedings, Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 remains a fun and surprisingly deep platformer.

Wario Land played a bit closer to the Mario Land rulebook than its sequels would, with floating blocks containing items being scattered about, and Wario running, jumping and collecting power-ups to clear stages. But this isn’t merely Super Mario Land with a change of main character, as Wario has a few tricks of his own to justify his promotion to starring role.

The dastardly villain is – fittingly – a lot more brutish than Mario, coming equipped with a shoulder charge attack, and after jumping on enemies, he can pick them up and throw them at others. In place of Mario’s power-ups are three different helmets: The bull helmet makes Wario’s charge attack more powerful, in addition to giving him a butt stomping attack. The dragon helmet shoots a stream of fire from its nostrils. And the jet helmet grants Wario a higher jump, in addition to allowing him to use his charge attack in midair and under water.

On top of differing his core gameplay from Mario’s, Wario’s level design makes some notable changes as well. Wario isn’t out to save the day, but to scour the land for all the loot he can find (in another fun twist from the norm, while Mario often ventures to rescue Princess Peach, Wario is simply trying to steal a giant, golden statue of her). This means that simply making it to the end of a stage isn’t your main goal. Taking a page from Super Mario World, some of the stages contain alternate, secret exits, which lead to more stages and, in one instance, an entire optional world. Additionally, there are fifteen secret treasures to be found in the game, which will result in Wario becoming substantially richer at the end of the game if collected.

These alternate exits, optional levels, and hidden treasures make Wario Land a much deeper game than the Super Mario Land duology, adding to the game’s length and replay value. There are a few unfortunate downsides to how these elements are implemented, however.

While the levels with secret exits are distinctly marked on the world map, the levels that contain the secret treasures are not. That may not seem like a huge problem, but a few of these treasures must be collected by replaying earlier levels after a later stage or world is completed. So you’re basically just left guessing what stages you need to revisit.

The levels containing secret exits also disappear from the game entirely about midway through, leaving the first half of the game to feel more inspired than the second. The boss fights also lack creativity, and the music is a surprising step down from the Super Mario Land titles (thankfully, the graphics are on par with those of Super Mario Land 2).

Even with these complaints, Wario Land is still entertaining even today, which is quite the feat for a Game Boy title. It’s fun just to find more coins and treasure, and seeing if you can hold onto them by a level’s end, a concept which the game has even more fun with. Complete a stage, and you can play a mini-game where you get three 50/50 chances of doubling your coins or reducing them by half. Meanwhile, checkpoints require a small fee (10 coins) to access, but the coins you got up to that point aren’t saved if you die, giving a nice twist on checkpoints where you have the choice of using their security or keep more gold at a greater risk.

Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3 may not be one of Nintendo’s finer platformers, but it did serve as a fitting introduction for Wario as a video game star. Though it is a bit strange that Wario got his own game after just two years, while the world is still grossly absent of a game starring Bowser after over three decades…

 

7.0

Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins Review

Despite Mario and friends being the most recognizable characters in gaming, the franchise has very rarely received new mainstay additions to its character roster after Super Mario Bros. Super Mario World brought the biggest addition in the form of Yoshi, while Super Mario Sunshine introduced Bowser Jr., and Galaxy brought fan favorite Rosalina into the mix (we still have yet to see if the parade of oddities introduced in Odyssey will frequently reemerge). But in between Yoshi and Bowser Jr. the series received perhaps its strangest character in the form of Wario, who was introduced as the villain of Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins.

When Super Mario Land became a massive success on the Game Boy, it only made sense that a sequel would follow up eventually. And in 1992 – the same year the Game Boy introduced the world to Kirby – Super Mario Land not only got a sequel, but Nintendo received another iconic character in its bizarre, anti-Mario villain, who has gone on to star in a number of his own series.

Along with the introduction of Wario, Super Mario Land 2 is notable for feeling more like a Mario game than its predecessor. The Fire Flower is back, Goombas return, Koopa shells no longer explode, and the game as a whole just feels more inspired. If Super Mario Land’s goal was simply to bring Mario to a handheld console, than Super Mario Land 2 sought to make a handheld entry that could live up to its home console brethren. And although Mario Land 2 may not have aged quite as well as those aforementioned home console Mario adventures of yesteryear, it’s still a good deal of fun while it lasts.

The story here is a rare instance of a Mario game actually tying into the plot of its predecessor. While Mario was busy rescuing Princess Daisy from Tatanga the spaceman in Super Mario Land, Wario took control of Mario’s castle (damn, I knew plumbers charged a lot, but a whole castle?). Wario has placed a magic spell on the castle, and Mario cannot enter unless he’s received the Six Golden Coins, which are in the hands of Wario’s minions. Mario must venture to six different lands to wrest the coins away from the bosses so that he might take back his castle from Wario. It’s an interesting change of pace from the usual princess kidnapping, though the idea of Mario having a castle still seems pretty weird (and apparently Nintendo thought so as well, as any and all other Mario games ignore this and depict Mario living in a more appropriately humble home).

The level design is solid and fun. It may not be up to the platforming perfection of Super Mario Bros. 3 or World, but for a Game Boy title it’s pretty impressive that it holds up as well as it does. There are two key ingredients that set Mario Land 2’s worlds apart from other entries in the series, however.

The first is that the themes of each world differ from the usual “grass, fire, ice, etc.” motifs usually found in platformers. Instead, the worlds here range from being based around toys, Halloween, outer space, a tree, a turtle, and – in a fun twist on Super Mario Bros. 3’s Giant Land – a world where Mario shrinks, with everyday creatures like ants and grasshoppers serving as enemies. The second, and bigger twist, is that these worlds can be completed in any order. Seemingly taking inspiration from Mega Man, Mario can traverse the game’s world map and enter any of these six worlds in any order the player chooses. This gives Super Mario Land 2 a unique sense of openness that the series strangely hasn’t revisited in subsequent 2D entries.

Along with the usual Super Mushroom and the aforementioned Fire Flower, a power-up exclusive to this game shows up in the form of the Super Carrot, which grants Mario rabbit ears that allow him to hover for a prolonged period of time.

“The graphics are just a wee bit better than the first game. And by that I mean they look way better.”

Overall, the gameplay is fun, if maybe unambitious compared to other Mario titles (the open-world map being Land 2’s best innovation to the series). It should also be noted that, with the exception of Wario’s Castle, the levels are all pretty easy, with the boss fights even more so. And the whole game can be completed in a little under two hours. Given the time the game was originally released – when the convenience of gaming on the go meant sacrificing some of the depth and quality of the experience – these aspects make sense. Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins was an almost ideal handheld game back in the day. And when you consider the graphics and music are a marked improvement over those of its predecessor, it felt more like a proper Mario adventure.

The downside is that, though the game is still a lot of fun in its own right, handheld gaming has come so far since 1992 that the limitations of its placement as an early handheld classic stand out all the more. While it certainly holds up a lot better than the first Super Mario Land, it’s still hard to argue why you would play Six Golden Coins over one of Mario’s more iconic retro adventures (which are readily available on pretty much every Nintendo device these days).

Super Mario Land 2: Six Golden Coins is still fun, and serves as an interesting piece of Mario’s history, but it falls considerably short of the plumber’s finest.

Still, we got Wario out of it. I guess for that alone we should all be grateful.

 

6.5

Super Mario Land Review

It may seem a bit strange today, given that it seems to have left no long-lasting impact on the Super Mario series as a whole, but 1989’s Super Mario Land remains one of the best-selling titles in the entire series. In fact, up until the Wii re-popularized Nintendo games, Super Mario Land was the third best-selling Mario game, behind only Super Mario World and the original Super Mario Bros. Though the high sales become a bit more understandable when one remembers that this was not only Mario’s first handheld entry, but also a launch title for the Game Boy. Releasing a Mario game to launch the Game Boy was a no-brainer, and with the handheld’s seldom-approached success, it only makes sense that Super Mario Land would rack up sales numbers. And for the time, Super Mario Land was a nice introduction for the series into the handheld market, though time has revealed that Mario compromised a lot in the transition to the Game Boy’s launch.

Super Mario Land, at first glance, seems to have all the trappings of Mario titles of the time. Mario still runs and jumps across different kingdoms, collects power-ups, and rescues a princess from a villain. But it won’t take long into playing to realize that things are just a little…off.

While mushrooms still make Mario bigger (thus giving him an additional hit point), flowers grant Mario with a bouncing ball, as opposed to the more accurate fireballs of Mario norm. Perhaps more bizarrely, while stars still grant Mario temporary invincibility, the usual Mario invincibility theme (AKA the most hypnotic 18 notes in gaming history) is replaced with a rendition of the Can-Can. It turns out that the princess involved isn’t Peach (or Toadstool, as she was known in the west at the time), but Princess Daisy. And the baddie isn’t Bowser, but a much more generic spaceman villain called Tatanga.

Those are something of excusable changes, considering Super Mario Land was created by a different team than the rest of the Mario titles of the time (it was the first Mario game without direct involvement from series creator Shigeru Miyamoto). But there are other changes that are a little less forgivable.

“The scrolling-shooter segments are admittedly a cool change of pace that I wouldn’t mind see make a return.”

The most noticeable is Mario’s control, which feels far more slippery and chaotic than his NES and SNES adventures. It’s not outright bad to control, but considering Mario more or less wrote the book on making fluid platform jumping, anything less than the series’ standard really sticks out. Worse still, Super Mario Land plays some dirty tricks that work against the intuition this very series created! Notably, Koopa Troopa shells explode about a second after a Koopa has been defeated. Perhaps in a home console title, where there could be a visible distinction between your standard Koopa shell and an exploding one, this might not be so bad. But with the limitations of the Game Boy, it just looks like a Koopa Troopa. And with how the series has ingrained the idea of kicking Koopa Shells into our minds, it all just comes off as a cheap stunt.

Being a Game Boy launch title, suffice to say Super Mario Land isn’t a pretty game to look at (though at the very least, the ability to play it on a 3DS – with a backlight and whatnot – means that today you can experience the game in any lighting without having to strain your eyes). Thankfully, the music is actually pretty good. Certainly not among the best Mario soundtracks, but all things considered, it’s catchy and fun.

Of course, if there’s any great limitation to Super Mario Land, it’s that it is one short game. Okay, so it shouldn’t be assumed that a Game Boy launch title would be particularly long, but Super Mario Land can be beat in a half hour…if that. At the time, Super Mario Land had the benefit of being the Mario on the go. But now, with so many other options – whether one of the meatier, contemporary Mario handheld games, or a portable re-release of one of the console classics – you don’t exactly have a lot of incentive to play Super Mario Land in their stead.

Super Mario Land is not a bad game, but retrospective has exposed it as the weakest Mario platformer. For its time, Mario on the go was an accomplishment in its own right. But despite nothing being particularly bad about it, Super Mario Land doesn’t feature any elements that weren’t considerably bettered by Mario games before and since, leaving it feeling like Mario’s most mediocre moment to contemporary eyes.

Then again, the fact that Super Mario Land unleashed Princess Daisy onto the series may just constitute an unforgivable sin.

 

5.0

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land Review

When the Wii brought in a resurgence of 2D sidescrollers, it was inevitable that Kirby would make his triumphant return to home consoles, after years of being relegated to handheld exclusivity and spinoffs. When Kirby did receive a proper adventure on the Wii, it was in the unconventional Kirby’s Epic Yarn, a title which did away with just about every one of the series’ established elements (sans it’s trademark charm, which had never been stronger). One year later, in 2011, Kirby would receive yet another outing on the Wii, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, which preformed double duty in bringing a traditional Kirby title to a home console for the first time since Kirby 64, and making sure audiences wouldn’t have to wait another decade for a console entry as they did between 64 and Epic Yarn. In those regards, Return to Dream Land does its job just fine. Though if one were to compare it to one of Kirby’s stronger titles – or some of the other side-scrollers of the time – it does fall a bit short.

That’s not to say that Kirby’s Return to Dream Land does anything particularly wrong, it just doesn’t go that extra mile to deliver something spectacular. It serves as a fitting apology for the baffling lack of Kirby in the decade prior, but rests a little too comfortably at simply being traditional Kirby in a time when that in itself seemed novel.

“Gotta clobbah dat dere Whispy Woods!”

The story here is that a visitor from another dimension has crashed his ship in Dream Land, and Kirby – being the kind-hearted hero he is – selflessly decides to help out, and uncover the visitor’s missing ship parts (which of course are protected by each world’s bosses). A Waddle Dee and Meta-Knight decide to help Kirby out on his adventure, as does an uncharacteristically generous King Dedede, despite having nothing to gain from the adventure (not that it matters, any excuse to play as King Dedede is a good one).

The core gameplay is what it usually is: the gloriously overpowered Kirby can steal copy abilities from enemies, which he can then use to his advantage. You make your way through 2D stages, fight bosses, and uncover hidden collectibles (Energy Spheres in this particular entry). It’s all straightforward and easy (with only some of the Energy Spheres being particularly difficult to find), but the Kirby formula is always fun.

As you may have guessed, the key difference here is that Return to Dream Land features four player co-op. One mode of co-op features first player as Kirby, with the other players taking control of Waddle Dee, Meta-Knight and the great King Dedede himself. Naturally, Kirby is the only one who can steal his opponents abilities (with Dedede using a hammer, Meta-Knight his sword, and Waddle Dee a spear). This makes Kirby the most versatile of the characters, but the other three do provide a nice change of pace. Another form of multiplayer sees all four players control different colored Kirbys. Both multiplayer modes have their advantages (in the all-Kirby mode everyone can copy powers, while in the mode with different characters, you get different play styles…and King Dedede).

Unfortunately, the ability to play with four players – though a welcome addition – is really the only big change to the series formula that Return to Dream Land makes. There are also the occasional “Super Abilities” – temporary copy abilities with devastating power – but otherwise, Return to Dream Land is possibly the safest entry in the series.

Again, that’s not a horrible thing, as the adventure is fun, the visuals are cute and charming, and the music is, in typical Kirby fashion, pretty darn great (making Return to Dream Land a far more aesthetically distinct adventure than Mario’s side-scrolling return to home consoles in New Super Mario Bros. Wii). And once the adventure is completed, a host of post-game modes are unlocked, and there are even some mini-games to serve as a nice detour for you and some friends.

There is a lot of fun to be had in Kirby’s Return to Dream Land, especially when you have four players at the ready. The only thing holding it back is that it’s an uncharacteristically complacent entry in an otherwise inventive series. We don’t even get the nice narrative level structure and dynamic camera angles of Kirby 64, and even the ‘Dream Land’ in the title feels misplaced, as this Wii adventure shares very little with the Dream Land trilogy (at least give us the animal friends if you’re going to put ‘Dream Land’ in the title).

Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is a solid title, and makes for some great, multiplayer fun. But whether it was simply trying to make up for lost time, or being released within a timeframe that also saw exceptional 2D platformers like Kirby’s Epic Yarn and the Donkey Kong Country revivals, Return to Dream Land seems satisfied with simply meeting the status quo for the series. On the plus side, it did open the doors for more stellar Kirby experiences such as Triple Deluxe, Planet Robobot, and Star Allies (the latter of which making for a more inventive realization of co-op Kirby). For that alone, I suppose we should be grateful.

 

7.0

Kirby’s Epic Yarn Review

Ten years. That’s how long it took Kirby to get another console entry after Kirby 64. Hal’s pink hero featured in a number of handheld games during that decade-long interim, but the only title starring Kirby on a home console during all that time was the racing game Kirby’s Air Ride on the Game Cube. Sure, Kirby began life on the Game Boy, but it seemed strange for him to suddenly be entirely confined to handhelds after appearing in a quartet of memorable games on the NES, SNES and N64. But in 2010, Kirby finally returned to a home console, when Kirby’s Epic Yarn arrived on the Nintendo Wii. Epic Yarn wasn’t your normal Kirby adventure, however, and did away with most of the series’ usual elements. Despite the changes, Kirby’s Epic Yarn quickly garnered critical praise. Though in typical Kirby fashion, Epic Yarn seemed to just ad quickly fall under the radar. This is a crying shame, because Kirby’s Epic Yarn remains one of the best entries in the series, and one of the Wii’s unsung gems.

Developed by the aptly-named Good-Feel (who previously made the gorgeously animated Wario Land: Shake It), Kirby’s Epic Yarn is quite likely the most charming video game ever made, and a rare instance in which striking visuals actually enhance the gameplay.

Naturally, the story begins in Dream Land, where a sorcerer named Yin-Yarn – hailing from the parallel world of Patch Land – has invaded, turning everything and everyone into yarn as to take control of Dream Land (for reasons he himself is not sure of). Yin-Yarn stumbles across Kirby, and transforms our hero into a yarn version of himself, unable to inhale objects and enemies. The sorcerer then banishes Kirby to Patch Land – which Yin-Yarn has unstitched – in order to move on to Dedede’s castle. In Patch Land, Kirby meets Prince Fluff, who teaches Kirby his new yarn body allows him to transform into a variety of shapes and sizes. Kirby and Prince Fluff then team up to find the Magic Yarn needed to stitch Patch Land back together, find a way back to Dream Land, and stop Yin-Yarn from wreaking havoc. It’s an appropriately simple (and even silly) plot that adds to the game’s charms, as does it’s narration, which evokes a grandfather reading a storybook.

Cute though the story may be, the fabric theme also adds to both the visuals and, most importantly, the gameplay.

In the world of Patch Land, everything is made out of fabric. Whether it’s the fuzzy environments, string-like enemies, or zipper-laden castles, Kirby’s Epic Yarn is one of those rare titles where you can imagine everyone involved with its production had a blast thinking about how everything in the game world comes together. It’s an absolute joy to look at, and dare I say Kirby has never been cuter.

What ascends Kirby’s Epic Yarn’s visual aesthetics into the realms of all-time great video game art directions, however, is how it integrates into the gameplay. Kirby can often zip, stitch, and patch up the environment around him. And his new yarn form allows him to change shape to glide as a parachute, ground pound as a weight, and take the form of a car to move faster. Many of the game’s puzzles are built around the aesthetics, making Kirby’s Epic Yarn the first game to turn the concept of knitting into an engaging gameplay mechanic.

On top of all this, certain sections will see Kirby full-on transform for a limited time. Throughout the adventure, Kirby and Prince Fluff can take the forms of a robot-tank, a UFO, a train, a surfing penguin, a dolphin, a mole, a fire truck, and a race car. With the variety of ways the developers used the fabric motif, Kirby’s Epic Yarn would already be a game full of variety. But with the transformations added into the mix, the game stays fresh throughout its entirety (though some may find the motion controls of the train form a tad cumbersome).

Another twist to the Kirby formula – and video game conventions as a whole – is that Kirby can’t die in Epic Yarn. Being the overpowered character Kirby is, his games have always tended to be on the easy side, and you might say Epic Yarn increases the ease ten-fold now that Kirby is essentially invincible, which won’t sit well for everyone. That wouldn’t be an entirely accurate claim, however, as Kirby’s Epic Yarn does manage to give a challenge for completionists in the form of beads.

Beads are scattered throughout every stage, and depending on how many beads Kirby manages to hold onto by the end of a stage, players can earn bronze, silver and gold medals. Even a single hit from an enemy will result in Kirby’s collected beads being scattered about Sonic rings style, disappearing completely after a short time. Some players may find themselves restarting a level should they fall down a bottomless pit, and see bead after bead fall into the abyss as Kirby is brought back to safety.

Additionally, every stage also hides two secret objects and a music CD to find, making for an extra challenge for those seeking that elusive 100% completion. The objects in question can be used to decorate Kirby’s new apartment at the player’s leisure (bringing a little taste of Animal Crossing into the mix), and certain objects can be placed in other apartments in the same building to get new tenants to move in, with each new arrival providing their own series of time limit-based mini-games (like trying to find friends hiding within a stage, or defeating a set number of enemies). So in case the adventure itself somehow weren’t enough, the collectibles and mini-games give Kirby’s Epic Yarn some great replay value.

“Though the bosses lack difficulty, they are consistently creative. This includes my main man, King Dedede, naturally.”

The game features seven worlds in total, each with four mandatory levels and a boss fight, along with two additional levels that can be unlocked if you collect enough bead during that world’s boss. Though it may not be the most difficult game out there, Kirby’s Epic Yarn still provides a hefty and undeniably fun adventure for one or two players, with Prince Fluff joining Kirby in the game’s co-op mode.

To wrap the experience up nicely, Kirby’s Epic Yarn features one of the most memorable soundtracks in the series. Fittingly, the music is softer and more relaxed than most Kirby soundtracks, with beautiful live band and piano pieces ranging from cute and sweet to surprisingly beautiful. This makes hunting down those aforementioned CDs well worth the effort.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a rare kind of game, one that happily defies the status quo of its time. The 2000s were riddled in video games aiming to be as ‘mature’ and violent as possible, starring parades of angry bald dudes seeking vengeance on one thing or another who, in retrospect, almost seem to be making fun of themselves with their edginess. Meanwhile, most games released during the 2010s have tried their damnedest to replicate the look and feel of cinema out of a misguided means to earn legitimacy. Kirby’s Epic Yarn defied the decade that came before it, and still stands out in the years that have followed by emphasizing sheer joy and creativity over all else. Kirby’s Epic Yarn takes most of the trappings of what normally constitute ‘good’ video games and disregards them, aiming instead to simply leave a smile beaming across your face. It’s all the better for it.

 

9.0