Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 was not only the best-selling game on the Wii U, and one of the system’s best titles, it was the best Mario Kart to date. It abandoned the luck-based nature of Mario Kart Wii, and gave it a sense of polish like the series had never seen before. There was, however, one glaring flaw with Mario Kart 8.

Despite all the improvements MK8 made to the core racing mechanics of the series, it somehow managed to butcher the series’ beloved Battle Mode of all things. Gone were the arenas where players did battle. Instead, players had to pop each other’s balloons while wandering around the racetracks, hoping that they could manage to even find one of the other players.

Thankfully, it seems Nintendo realized they made more than a little bit of an oopsie with Mario Kart 8’s Battle Mode, and decided to revamp it entirely for the game’s relaunch on the Nintendo Switch. By taking an already exceptional game, rectifying its one great flaw, and sprinkling in several other small changes, Nintendo has ensured that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is as essential to the Switch as its original incarnation was to the Wii U.

This being a re-release, the core mechanics of the experience are nearly identical to what they were in the original Mario Kart 8. The racing is as tight and intricate as it was back in 2014. You still get boosts for drifting and for performing stunts, the racetracks still posses anti-gravity sections, and the items are still more balanced than in previous entries in the series.

There are, however, a few subtle changes that improve the already smooth experience. You can now drift longer for even greater boosts (represented by pink sparks flying from your wheels), and the infamous “fire hopping” trick (which gave an advantage to those who could pull it off) has been removed, making the racing all the more balanced.

Perhaps the most noticeable change in gameplay is that you can now hold two items at once, a returning feature from the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. You can even find double item boxes, to immediately gain two items at once.

These may all sound like small changes, but you’d be surprised just how much they change things up. This is particularly true for the double items, which make getting and maintaining first place a greater challenge than before.

There are other changes present as well: Beginning players can now enable “Smart Steering,” which prevents your kart from falling off track (though this feature disables the pink sparks, and makes certain shortcuts harder to reach, should they require you to jump from one track to another). You can now change characters and karts in between online matches, instead of going back to the online lobby in order to do so. Additionally, the randomization of items seems to have been tweaked, with speed-boosting Mushrooms – while still the most common item – no longer feeling annoyingly frequent, while more useful items aren’t quite as rare, though not common enough to ruin the game’s balance.

We even get two items returning from older entries in the series: Super Mario Kart’s Super Feather allows players to jump over obstacles, and Mario Kart 64’s Boo turns players ethereal, making them impervious to enemy items, while also stealing an item from a random opponent.

To top it all off, the game includes every character from the Wii U version, including the DLC originals like Link from The Legend of Zelda, Villager and Isabelle from Animal Crossing, Tanooki Mario, and Dry Bowser, as well as five brand-new characters: King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr. and the boy and girl Inklings from Splatoon.

On the downside of things, the only unlockable character is Gold Mario, who is merely an alternate color for Metal Mario, who already seemed like an unnecessary character to begin with. Mario Kart 8 had a mixed bag of characters as it was, with every timeless video game icon like Mario, Bowser and Donkey Kong being countered with a throwaway addition like Baby Daisy and the creative low that is Pink Gold Peach. The five brand new characters do bring a bit more proper franchise representation to the game, but the more lackluster characters still sour the roster a little.

Of course, the big news here is the Battle Mode, which has been brought back to its former glory, and features five different gameplay styles.

Naturally, there’s the traditional Balloon Battle, where players fight in an arena and try to eliminate the other players’ balloons by using items. Then there’s Bob-omb Blast, which is essentially just Balloon Battle, but where every item is replaced with Bob-ombs, making for pure chaos. Coin Runners sees players trying to hold onto the most coins by the time the clock runs out, with players losing coins every time a weapon strikes them.

One of my personal favorites is Shine Thief, a returning mode from Double Dash!! that sees every player fighting for a single Shine Sprite. Whoever can hold the Shine Sprite for a count of twenty is the winner. As you can imagine, holding the Shine Sprite makes you the target of every other player, and though reclaiming the Shine Sprite will continue your counter from where it left off (until it reaches five or below), getting it back after losing it is easier said than done. The hectic action of Shine Thief is matched only by Renegade Roundup, a brand-new Battle Mode that is divided into teams. One team takes the role of “The Authorities,” identified by the Piranha Plants with police sirens attached to their karts, while the others are the “Renegades.” The goal of the Authorities is to capture all of the renegades via the Piranha Plant, while the Renegades simply try to survive within the allotted time. This may sound like it heavily favors the Authorities team, but the Renegades can free their captured teammates by driving into a switch, making things much more competitive.

Having a proper Battle Mode rectifies the one big mistake Mario Kart 8 made the first time around, and the fact that it comes in five variants makes it feel like Nintendo went out of their way to make up for its omission in the game’s original release. Battle Mode gives a great alternative to the racing, and all five versions of it are extremely fun.

If there’s any disappointment to be had with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it’s simply that there are no new racetracks added to the game (not counting the battle arenas). Yes, the track design in Mario Kart 8 is the best in the series, and the fact that Deluxe comes with all the original’s DLC tracks out of the box means there’s no shortage of variety. But considering how Nintendo went above and beyond the call of duty for the Battle Mode, you can’t help but wish they’d have done the same for the core racing by including a new cup or two.

Even with the lack of new racetracks, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has in store. Mario Kart 8 already had great gameplay, and more polish than any entry in the series before it. But now the few kinks that were present have been ironed out, making it the smoothest and most polished kart racer around.

You also couldn’t ask for much better in terms of presentation. Mario Kart 8 was always a gorgeous game. Though it’s hard to tell if the graphics have been improved at all, that’s just a testament to how stunning the game always looked. Its colorful characters and locales, fun and varied art direction, and sharp graphics come together to make a game that looks simply stunning, and whose visuals perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s an outright beautiful game to look at, and the orchestrated soundtrack is just as pleasing to the ears.

Combine all of this with the more streamlined tweaks, and an online mode that is sure to keep you coming back for more, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe proves to be one of the finest of multiplayer games. Mario Kart 8 was already the closest thing the series had to a definitive entry, and now as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it undoubtedly belongs on any list of the best Nintendo games.

 

9

Mr. Shifty Review

*This review originally appeared on Miketendo64.com*

Remember that opening scene from X-2: X-Men United where Nightcrawler is teleporting all over the place, beating people up every time he reappears? Take that, and merge it with a top-down beat-em-up, and you have a good idea of what Mr. Shifty is all about.

Players take control of the titular Mr. Shifty, a teleporting thief who is trying to steal “Super Plutonium” from the clutches of Chairman Stone, who seeks to weaponize it. To do so, however, Mr. Shifty will have to infiltrate Stone’s building, which is the “most secure facility on the planet.”

Mr. Shifty is a very simple game. Your goal is to clear a room by either eliminating all enemies or solving puzzles, with each stage consisting of a number of rooms. The catch here is that Mr. Shifty dies in one hit, and can only use his fists – or various objects he finds – as weapons. So you’re left with figuring out how to best utilize your teleporting abilities to shift through walls and sneak up on enemies. You’ll also have to teleport past deadly lasers, land mines, and explosives, all of which can also be used to take out enemies, if you’re crafty enough.

The game can actually be very creative with how it goes about its premise, with many of the game’s puzzles requiring on-the-fly thinking and its simple combat being tough and exciting.

With that said, the game can feel a bit repetitious after a while. As fun as it can be, Mr. Shifty’s bag of tricks does start to feel exhausted from time to time. It will introduce fun ideas (such as rooms that prevent you from teleporting, stripping you of your primary means of defense), but then keep using them to the point where you may start to get frustrated with them. This is especially true in times when you have to endure a gauntlet of enemies amid such moments, with a single death resulting in starting the whole gauntlet over.

This only intensifies as the game goes on, with the third act unfortunately being the low point of Mr. Shifty, as things really begin to drag on and on.

The aforementioned story is simple, and in case the “Super Plutonium” didn’t tip you off, is full of self-parody and jokes at the expense of gaming and action movie clichés. It can be decently funny at times, though at the same time, I don’t think it’s funny enough to be particularly memorable.

Mr. Shifty is also bogged down by some technical issues, with slow-downs and temporary freeze-ups being common occurrences. It’s by no means broken, but the technical blips are notable enough to hinder the experience somewhat.

When Mr. Shifty works, it’s a lot of fun. The teleporting mechanic brings a good dose of creativity to the puzzles, and the combat is delightfully reminiscent of the beat-em-ups of old. The visuals are also pretty decent for the genre, and the music – while maybe lacking in variety – fits the game well.

Mr. Shifty is a fun experience while it lasts, with simple and addicting gameplay that gets bonus points for the creativity in which it presents its key mechanic. But the increasing monotony, along with the technical issues do hold it back. Mr. Shifty is a game that wants desperately to be replayed over and over again so that players can beat their best times. But after the novelty wears off, it’s hard to say just how replayable Mr. Shifty would be.

 

5

Yooka-Laylee Review

*Review based on the Playstation 4 version*

When Yooka-Laylee was revealed to the world in 2015 as a Kickstarter title, it immediately turned heads. A spiritual successor to the Banjo-Kazooie series created by a number of the key members behind the Banjo-Kazooie games (now under their own studio, Playtonic Games), Yooka-Laylee’s crowdfunding was a resounding success. Here we are in 2017, and Yooka-Laylee has seen its long-awaited release. But does it recreate that classic Banjo-Kazooie magic?

The short answer to that question is yes, but maybe to a fault. For everyone who has longed for a proper third entry to Banjo-Kazooie, or felt betrayed by the unnecessary departure the series took with Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts nearly a decade ago, Yooka-Laylee is exactly the game they’ve been waiting for.

Yooka-Laylee really is Banjo-Kazooie 3 in all but name and characters: In place of Banjo the bear is Yooka the chameleon. Instead of the bird Kazooie living in Banjo’s backpack, we have Laylee the bat, who rides atop Yooka’s head. The role of mentor who teaches the duo their moves has been passed to the humorously-named snake Trowzer. The duo of Yooka and Laylee also get transformed, much like Banjo and Kazooie did in years’ past. But instead of a shaman using magic to alter the duo’s appearance, it’s the octopus scientist Dr. Puzz. Finally, in place of the wicked witch Gruntilda is a dastardly businessman (business bee?) Capital B.

“Capital B and Dr. Quack might just be my favorite characters.”

The story here is that Capital B, along with his recently bought-out lackey Dr. Quack, have built a machine that is stealing all of the world’s literature, in an attempt to have a complete monopoly on the book industry. In a nearby creek, Laylee managed to find a special book with golden pages in a pirate ship (which she has been using as a drink coaster). This book happens to be the magical “One Book,” which is the real reason behind Capital B’s sinister book-stealing plot. When the One Book gets swept away by Capital B’s machine, it scatters its pages (the Pagies) to prevent them from falling into Capital B’s hands. Thus begins Yooka and Laylee’s quest to Hivory Towers and the magical book worlds contained within, all to regain their stolen book (of which they have no idea of its true nature).

It’s an utterly silly, nonsensical plot. But it’s also original and fun. More notably, the story eventually starts giving hints at a much bigger plot, which Playtonic Games intends to use as the foundation for its own shared universe of games. In a time when shared universes only exist in super hero stories and ridiculous fan theories, the prospect of a shared universe between platforming mascots and other video game characters is certainly promising.

The goal of the game is nearly identical to that of Banjo-Kazooie: to collect a number of key items to progress through the game and make your way through the hub world.

The main collectibles are the Pagies, the same golden pages from the One Book that act like the Stars from Super Mario 64 or, more appropriately, the Jiggies from Banjo-Kazooie. Pagies are used to access new areas in the game, and in a twist to the old formula, can also be used to expand previously unlocked levels.

One of the main complaints with the collect-a-thon platformers of yesteryear was that many of the collectibles only existed for collections’ sake. Where Yooka-Laylee tries to push things forward is that all of its collectibles serve a purpose.

Along with the Pagies, there are also Quills, with 200 of them to be found on every level, and are used to purchase new moves from Trowzer the snake. Five Ghost Writers (literal ghosts responsible for creating the magical book worlds Yooka and Laylee visit) can be found in each stage, which nabs an additional Pagie once all five are found. There’s a single Mollycool and Arcade Token in each stage, the former allows Dr. Puzz to transform the titular duo, while the latter is used to play the arcade mini-games by Rextro Sixtyfourus, a polygonal dinosaur.

That’s the gist of Yooka-Laylee. Exploring a vast hub world and five themed stages to collect the Pagies by accomplishing various tasks, all while nabbing the other collectibles along the way. It’s the same kind of gameplay you remember from Banjo-Kazooie, and it can be a lot of fun.

Yooka-Laylee also benefits from fluid character controls. Many of the abilities Yooka and Laylee gain throughout their adventure are performed in ways that should be familiar to anyone who played the platformers inspired by Super Mario 64 back in the day, but whether through lessons learned from the past or simply by the benefit of modern technology, Yooka-Laylee plays a lot smoother than most of its predecessors. It’s simply a fun game to control.

On the downside of things, the camerawork is no better here in Yooka-Laylee than it was in the early 3D platformers that inspired it two decades ago. As fun as Yooka and Laylee are to control, the camera is just as cumbersome. Even the most beloved of N64 platformers receive flack for their camerawork, and it’s even the one aspect of Super Mario 64 that hasn’t aged gracefully, so it may be disappointing to know that it’s one aspect of Yooka-Laylee that feels like it came from the past, as opposed to being a tribute to it. Granted, the camera in Yooka-Laylee is never a chaotic disaster in the vein of Sonic Adventure, but it’s still unfortunate to see the one continuous flaw of the early 3D platformers is still at play.

On a more positive note, the levels, while few, are varied and creative. Playtonic clearly aimed for quality over quantity, and they’ve produced some memorable stages. Like most platformers, the levels all have their own themes. The first two have expected gimmicks, with the first being a jungle and the second a snow-themed world, but the remaining three are a little more unique. The third stage is a swamp with a mild Halloween theme, the fourth changes up the gameplay by setting everything in a Vegas-style casino, where you have to win tokens to exchange for Pagies. Finally, Playtonic made the smart move by saving the best stage for last, which combines an outer space setting with a sea-fairing pirate motif, and is definitely a standout stage not just for the game, but for the platforming genre.

The stages all leave an impression, with each one housing their own challenges that make for a great deal of variety. Though despite their many differences, the stages do have some elements in common with each other.

As stated, Rextro Sixtyfourus has an arcade machine in each world, with a different mini-game found in each. Each level also contains a different Dr. Puzz transformation, boss fight, and mine cart segment (inspired by the Playtonic team’s earlier work on the Donkey Kong Country series).

The mine cart segments are some highlights from the game. The mine cart sections may not have the same level of heart-pounding action as those found in DKC: Tropical Freeze, but they are a fun change of pace all the same. Boss fights are a little more of a mixed bag. The bosses can get pretty difficult, and not always for the right reasons, with some really bringing out the worst out of the aforementioned camera, but they at least feel like a breath of fresh air in the modern gaming landscape where traditional boss fights are a rarity (though also because of this, I kind of wish the boss fights weren’t limited to one per stage).

In the middle of the road are the transformations. The first two transformations aren’t particularly memorable, with the first being too slow and the second too hard to control. But the rest are all pretty fun, though their uses are varied. The third transformation is one of my favorites, but is only really used to nab two Pagies (one of which you can simply grab after transforming). The fourth and fifth transformations find some good use, however, with the fifth in particular being a whole lot of fun and is used in a variety of ways.

This brings us to the Rextro mini-games which, unfortunately, are the worst part of Yooka-Laylee. The Rextro mini-games simply aren’t fun. At their best, they’re merely forgettable. But at their worst, they are infuriating. The mini-game on the casino stage, in particular, felt unreasonably demanding and difficult. What’s worse, if you want to one-hundred percent the game and get every Pagie, you need to best each Rextro mini-game twice (the first time to get to the end, the second time to beat Rextro’s high score). I’m not exaggerating when I say it took me over two hours to get both Pagies from the casino mini-game.

Now, in all fairness, I think the Rextro games are supposed to be frustrating, as a kind of joke on the nature of a lot of old video games. It might be funny the first time around, and it certainly fits with Rextro’s character, but I think it’s a good example of a joke being taken too far.

The only other notable issue to be had with Yooka-Laylee is that the aforementioned concept of expanding the levels feels only partly realized. After a level has been unlocked, you can surrender a few more Pagies to expand it and uncover all of its challenges. It’s definitely a cool feature, but it would have been a game-changer if there were a little more to it. Perhaps if you could choose which section of a stage to expand piece by piece, it might feel a bit more engaging. As it is, expanding the levels feels like a nice first step to something greater that can hopefully be fully-realized in a subsequent game.

With all this said, any complaints to be had are counterbalanced by the fun to be had with Yooka-Laylee. It really does feel like a labor of love from Playtonic Games. A love of their past work and a love for a genre that has tragically fallen into obscurity over the years. The fun of Banjo-Kazooie is on display all throughout Yooka-Laylee, and it still manages to find some ways to tweak the genre it loves so much for the modern age.

“Is this Glitterglaze Glacier? Or Arendelle?”

Suffice to say the game is much prettier to look at than the N64 titles it borrows from. In a time when the concept of color seems reserved for games made by Nintendo, it’s great to see a game like Yooka-Laylee come around and introduce so much visual vibrancy. To see a game like this in full HD is a thing of beauty, and the visuals are complimented by a creative art direction, particularly in the environments (the snow stage looks like it was ripped out of Disney’s Frozen), which are then filled with goofy characters.

“Even Shovel Knight joins in on the fun.”

More important than the graphical modernizations are how Yooka-Laylee adds new elements to the traditional 3D platforming. Along with the level expansion, there are many small tweaks that add to the gameplay: You now have a power bar, which is needed for Yooka and Laylee’s special moves. Butterflies can be found around the stages, and refill both your health and power bar (simply grab them for power, or eat them with Yooka’s tongue for health), which is a fun way to streamline the usual restoration items. Each level also hides secret items to extend your maximum health and power, giving a mild RPG element to the mix.

Then there are Tonics, which can be unlocked by completing various tasks in a way not dissimilar to Playstation Trophies or Xbox Achievements. Once unlocked, these Tonics work as gameplay modifiers, and change up the game in various different ways, like removing fall damage, alerting the player when a rare collectible is nearby, or making the special moves use less of the power bar. The Tonics are a great addition to the gameplay, and since you can only equip one at any given time, it prevents you from taking advantage of them and becoming overpowered.

It’s little touches like these that help Yooka-Laylee rise above being a mere tribute to the genre’s past and showcase it as an attempt to push the platform forward. It doesn’t always succeed, by the effort is front and center.

Of course, a classic platformer wouldn’t be complete without a memorable soundtrack, and Yooka-Laylee certainly has a great one. Playtonic Games really wanted to capture the spirit of their games from times past with the soundtrack, so they got a hold of former Rare composers Grant Kirkhope, Steve Burke, and the incomparable David Wise to compose Yooka-Laylee.

Kirkhope composes the majority of the tracks, which is incredibly fitting, as he composed the Banjo-Kazooie titles. Admittedly, Kirkhope has set the bar high for himself, but his tracks for Yooka-Laylee are as fun, catchy and memorable as any he’s made.

Wise and Burke are used in times that reflect their classic soundtracks, with the Rextro mini-games boasting the “new retro” sounds of Burke (undoubtedly the best part of the mini-games), while the mine cart segments are accompanied by the unmistakable sounds of Wise.

The fact that Playtonic Games brought together all these fantastic composers for a single game ensures Yooka-Laylee has an amazing score, but the fact that Playtonic understood when to utilize each composer to reflect their styles with the gameplay also makes it one of the smartest and most creative game soundtracks in years.

“I’m sailing away!”

In concept, Yooka-Laylee is exactly what it promised to be. Although the camera still feels like a relic of the past, the world expansion and transformations could be more fully realized, and those Rextro mini-games definitely need to be either rethought or left out entirely from a sequel, Yooka-Laylee is ultimately a refreshing return of one of gaming’s greatest genres. It’s the Banjo-Kazooie 3 we all hoped Nuts & Bolts would have been, though let’s face it, we’re all still hoping for a direct Banjo-Kazooie 3 all the same.

Yooka-Laylee isn’t perfect, but its heart is in the right place. The Banjo-Kazooie legacy is alive and well. And if Playtonic has anything to say about it, so is the collect-a-thon 3D platformer.

 

6

 

Super Bomberman R Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

It’s been a long time coming, but Bomberman is finally back! Once developer Hudson Soft – creators of the Bomberman franchise – were purchased by Konami, the series took an extended hiatus. Konami was so quiet in regards to Bomberman, in fact, that many wondered if we’d ever see the beloved multiplayer series again.

Thankfully, such fears can be put to rest, as Konami’s first original Bomberman game arrived as a launch title on the Nintendo Switch, in the form of Super Bomberman R. But is Bomberman better than ever, or does his return prove to be a little rusty?

It may as well be said now, Super Bomberman R is very much the Bomberman you know and love. Though it may not be the best of the traditional Bomberman titles (that honor would go to Saturn Bomberman), it is a welcoming return to the series that may also serve as a fitting introduction to the classic Bomberman gameplay for new players.

Just as the case is with most titles in the series, Super Bomberman R sets players in single-screen arenas, where they have to blow up blocks and other obstacles to make their way through. Along the way, they can pick up power-ups that allow you to plant multiple bombs at once, increase the length of the explosions, allow you to throw your bombs, and so forth.

The gameplay – being identical to the majority of Bomberman titles – is fun, though its over-familiarity may make the Bomberman initiated feel underwhelmed if they were looking for anything more than a simple return for the series after years of absence.

The game has two primary modes: Story and Battle.

Story Mode sees one or two players progress through a series of single-screen levels, where they must simply get to the exit to move on. Though they must first activate the exit by meeting a certain requirement (usually it’s defeating every enemy, but you may also need to escort characters to a designated spot, collect keys, or simply survive for a set amount of time). Each world consists of eight such levels, followed by two boss fights.

The first boss fight always pits players against one of the Five Dastardly Bombers, who each have their own unique bomb type. You only have to hit them with a single bomb, but their AI is quite crafty, and at times can feel like you’re up against a human player, making for some intense encounters.

The second boss of each world is much larger, and involves one of the Dastardly Bombers piloting a large robot or other vehicle. Unfortunately, these bosses aren’t nearly as fun, primarily because they quickly become tedious. Each boss has their own pattern, which never really changes during the fight, and having to expose their weak point only to hit them with one or two explosions before the process starts over quickly grows monotonous.

One notable complaint to be had with the story mode is the perspective. While not bad for the most part, the perspective during the story mode is at a slant, which can become difficult in certain stages where there are higher and lower grounds to traverse, as it can be tough to discern when which plain certain objects and enemies are on.

This perspective issue is also noticeable during the aforementioned giant boss fights. Oftentimes, the bosses are so large that they take up most of the screen, making it difficult to see your character as they disappear under the mechanical bosses. What’s worse, you may often get killed by accidentally touching part of the boss when you can’t even see where your character is.

All this is a non-issue in battle mode, however, as the camera is fixed in the series’ usual top-down style. Battle mode is where you’ll be spending most of your time with the game, as you can battle other players locally or online in deathmatches which are as fun as ever. Super Bomberman R doesn’t do anything new with the Bomberman multiplayer formula, but after years of a Bomberman-less gaming landscape, it is good to have it back.

In the end, Super Bomberman R may not be one of the greatest entries in the series due to its lack of innovation to the classic formula and some camera issues and tedious bosses in its story mode, but it does provide that classic Bomberman gameplay that it sure to bring a good deal of fun in multiplayer sessions, whether battling various foes online or teaming with a friend in story mode. Combine that with some pretty gorgeous visuals and catchy music, and you have another healthy reminder of why this series was so memorable to begin with.

If you’re a Bomberman veteran, you’ll feel right at home with Super Bomberman R. If you’re new to the series, it serves as a good introduction to what the franchise has to offer. Either way, it’s great to have Bomberman back.

 

6

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

*Review based on the Nintendo Switch version*

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beautiful contradiction. It is at once the grandest adventure Nintendo has ever made, and their most minimalistic. It defies the established conventions of the Zelda series, while simultaneously celebrating the franchise’s legacy. It’s Nintendo’s first foray into the open-world genre, and yet it’s the best game said genre has ever produced. In short, Breath of the Wild is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the new standard for the Zelda franchise.

When Nintendo claimed they were making this newest Zelda title an open-world experience, it was all too easy to assume Nintendo had done something they rarely choose to do, and caved in and conformed with more contemporary gaming conventions. Nintendo is usually known for going by the beat of their own drum, but it seemed Nintendo had finally opted to do what everyone else was doing. Though titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim earned their place in gaming history, the open-world genre has been teetering on overexposure for years now. Did we really need Nintendo to throw their hat in this ring?

As it turns out, Nintendo was still doing their own thing in regards to Breath of the Wild, as it redefines the very definition of open-world gaming in a way that makes the genre truly live up to its name.

Breath of the Wild begins with Link, the series’ iconic protagonist, awaking from a hundred-year slumber. His memories of his past are wiped clean by this mysterious sleep, and he is only awakened by the distant sound of a woman’s voice.

Link follows the echoing voice, which leads him out of his rejuvenating chamber, and grants him the Sheikah Slate, a mysterious tablet that becomes an invaluable tool in the upcoming adventure.

Link soon learns that, during his slumber, the evil Ganon has been sealed away within Hyrule Castle by Princess Zelda, with the princess having trapped herself within the castle to hold Ganon at bay.

Ganon – now more of a physical, evil presence than a man or monster – will soon break free from his century-long prison to wreak havoc on the world. Should Ganon break free, it would spell certain doom for Zelda and all of Hyrule.

It’s a simple enough plot, but it plays to the game’s benefit because – as is the case with the gameplay itself – it employs both a grand scope and a sense of minimalism, with the details of the plot being unfolded piece by piece only if the player seeks them out. The story has a certain sense of mystery about it, and searching for the pieces of the story to rekindle Link’s memories gives it a sense of personal intrigue.

The truth is, you are able to go straight to battle Ganon as soon as Link awakes from his slumber if you choose, as ill-advised as that may be. The way the adventure unfolds is left entirely to the player, making Breath of the Wild the most open-world of open-world games.

The very foundations of the Zelda series have been rearranged. No longer does Link need to go from one dungeon to the next, grabbing specific items in each dungeon to solve its puzzles, and be rewarded with a Heart Container and a story item upon felling its boss. Those elements are still there – the dungeons, the items, the puzzles, the Heart Containers, and so forth – but Nintendo has completely overhauled how they all fit together.

Link now relies on the myriad of weapons he finds along his journey, or picks up from defeated foes, instead of simply finding a new toy in each subsequent dungeon. Even the iconic Master Sword is an optional component of Link’s arsenal. There are no mandatory weapons, only what you can find.

The weapons can break upon repeated usage, leaving the player to take to battle more strategically than ever before. But certain enemy types may favor particular weapons, and certain regions may be more keen on particular elemental items than others, leaving the player to learn the best places to acquire their favorite weapons.

Similarly, the more puzzle-oriented items in Link’s inventory have found a new life, as they are simply abilities provided by the Sheikah Slate, and are all acquired within the game’s introductory segment.

Bombs – which now come in round and cuboid shapes, leaving players to contemplate the physics involved with the item and environment – are now magically produced through the Sheikah Slate, so there’s no need to stock up on them or to be teased with the traditional bomb flowers early on. The Shiekah Slate can also produce icy platforms in bodies of water, manipulate metallic objects like a magnet, and temporarily freeze objects in time, allowing Link to strike with a bevy of hits. Later on, the Sheikah Slate even gets a camera function, allowing you to take photos of the people and creatures of Hyrule to fill up an encyclopedia.

A Link Between Worlds gave players the opportunity to buy any of Link’s items from the get-go, but Breath of the Wild takes that idea a step further by turning Link’s most unique items into different abilities provided by a single starting item. It streamlines the Zelda experience for the better, simply by condensing Link’s abilities, which are used in various ways, as opposed to many tools that have singular functions.

Link can no longer find hearts hidden in grass or clay pots for health. Instead, Breath of the Wild is given a survival element, as Link has to find and craft his own means of healing within the game’s world.

You can hunt animals for meat, find various plants around the world, and collect monster parts from fallen foes. Though eating some of these items as they are can restore a little health, cooking items together can create meals which can not only recover a large amount of health, but also provide temporary bonuses, such as extra hearts or stamina, stronger resistance to heat or the cold, or boosts in defense or attack, among others.

This gives the Zelda series a whole new layer of depth and challenge. Now players have to take notice of the environment and its elements (you don’t want to be wearing metal armor during a thunderstorm), and will have to make stronger preparations before heading into enemy territory.

When your journey first begins, Link may seem pitifully weak, with only three hearts, a small bit of stamina, and barely enough space to carry weapons and shields. This is where Breath of the Wild once again changes up the Zelda formula.

Though Heart Containers are still found by conquering the story-focused dungeons, Link no longer has to search for four Heart Pieces to increase his maximum health. Instead, players can travel Hyrule seeking out Shrines.

Shrines are either found lying around Hyrule, or materialize after finishing a sidequest or meeting a certain requirement. The shrines work like smaller dungeons, usually consisting of a handful of rooms, each containing their own puzzles and hidden treasures. The puzzles involved in the shrines are one of the game’s greatest highlights, as most can be tackled in different ways depending on the player’s thinking. The creativity and brevity of the shrine puzzles really bring to mind the various chambers of the Portal games, and I’d even say their consistent brilliance makes Breath of the Wild arguably the closest thing we have to Portal 3.

Once the shrines are completed, Link is awarded with a Spirit Orb. Every four Spirit Orbs Link obtains can be traded to goddess statues for greater maximum health or stamina, giving a whole new life to one of Zelda’s most recurring traditions. Stamina is used for running, climbing, swimming and gliding, thus making increasing your maximum stamina a worthwhile alternative to giving Link more health.

Similarly, there are Korok seeds that can be found by finding the many playful Koroks, who are hiding all over the place. Koroks may have you do something like lifting a rock at the top of a mountain or shooting flying targets from a certain standing point to make them appear. The Koroks will reward you with the seeds for finding them, and the seeds can be traded to a particularly large Korok for extra space in your inventory.

Finding things like a new shrine or a Korok hiding place (among other things) help fill Hyrule with things to do. This is a great thing, because the Hyrule of Breath of the Wild is absolutely massive, but that size wouldn’t mean anything if there were no substance to it. Thankfully, Nintendo really thought about how to keep things fun and exciting at every turn, so no matter what pace you choose to tackle the adventure, there’s always something to be accomplished, and a strong sense of discovery to be had.

Speaking of the size of the game’s world, it would have been easy for the simple act of traveling around it to become a chore in less capable hands. Thankfully, Breath of the Wild’s developers have streamlined the ways Link can get around Hyrule, meaning that traveling never becomes tedious.

Link can climb virtually any surface in Hyrule, and a paraglider gained early in the adventure means you can climb one mountain and glide to the next, if you so desire. The only surfaces Link can’t climb are found in the aforementioned shrines. Otherwise, player’s can find many clever ways for Link to get from one point to the next.

Additionally, Link can fast travel by teleporting to discovered shrines, as well as Towers (which unlock more pieces of the map when successfully ascended). So if you need to get to the other side of Hyrule in a hurry, you can simply bring up the map screen to teleport there, provided you’ve discovered a means to do so.

Unfortunately, this all brings me to one of Breath of the Wild’s few disappointing elements. Along Link’s adventures, Link can find wild horses, which can be tamed and registered to stables for later use. As you might expect, horses can move faster on foot than Link, but they might be stopped in their tracks by a large rock or tree, whereas Link can simply climb over it. It makes sense, certainly. But because Link is already a more versatile traveller, I rarely went through the trouble of taming horses, even if they are faster on foot. It’s ultimately a small quibble, but I do wish I had more incentive to claim a new steed.

Another highlight of the game are its more traditional story dungeons, which are only traditional in the sense that they are part of the main story, involve puzzles and enemies, and end with a boss. Otherwise, they greatly deviate from the series’ norm.

The dungeons are wonderfully creative, and come in the form of giant, animal-like constructs that would make the Power Rangers jealous. You usually have to go through a mini-adventure just getting to the dungeons through one of the lands of Hyrule’s different races (Gorons, Zoras, Rito and Gerudo), then you have a miniature showdown with the dungeon itself before making your way inside. Once inside, you’ll notice that the dungeons are as open-ended as anything else in the game, as they each contain five terminals which must be activated, but can be activated in whatever order the player chooses.

The best aspect of the dungeons is that, rather than a straightforward layout, the player can actually manipulate them from the inside. Rearranging the positioning of the dungeons and changing the perspective of their puzzles is a beautifully realized bit of creativity, and helps elevate the dungeon design as some of the finest in the series, despite their relative short length.

If there’s any complaint to be had with the dungeons (and I’m grasping at straws here), it’s that – despite the wonderfully varied locations they are found in and the creativity of their level design – the insides of the dungeons are all aesthetically identical, and their bosses also share similar appearances with each other.

Though that’s a non-issue in the long run, as the art direction and graphics, as a whole, are quite stunning. Aside from the Wii U re-releases of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, this is the first true Zelda game presented in HD, and it looks absolutely beautiful. The environments are relatively realistic in appearance, and the game is so detailed that you can even see the differences in weather between different lands in the distance. The characters are cel-shaded a la Wind Waker or Skyward Sword, which adds to the game’s visual charms, and serves as a unique contrast with the environments.

There even seems to be something of a Studio Ghibli inspiration emanating from the art direction. Ancient robots (called Guardians) are strangely reminiscent of those found in Castle in the Sky, while many of the environments might remind one of Princess Mononoke. Even the walking dungeons may bring Howl’s Moving Castle to mind. Breath of the Wild feels as much like a Studio Ghibli game as Ni no Kuni, and it only adds to the game’s appeal.

Breath of the Wild is equally pleasing to the ears, with a beautifully minimalistic soundtrack that also seems evocative of the soundtracks to Studio Ghibli films. I’ve seen a number of comments disregarding the soundtrack as not sounding “Zelda enough,” but I find it to be a perfect fit for the nature of the game, with its gentle piano melodies and ambient tunes bringing the game world to life.

Similarly, the game features some exquisite sound effects. The different armors and weapons, as well as Link’s interactions with different environments, all have their own sounds, which helps add to the atmosphere and life of the world in a way not dissimilar to Dark Souls.

Perhaps more notable is that Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game to feature voice acting during its major cutscenes. Though Link is his usual, silent self and Ganon’s status as an evil substance means that two pieces of the franchise’s trifecta remain voiceless, Zelda, along with various other characters, have speaking roles. The voice acting may not go down as some of the best in gaming, but it’s solid and works when it needs to.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fine tunes the gameplay and combat first introduced in Ocarina of Time, and similarly perfects the explorative elements of Wind Waker. In the process, it also throws in a little bit of Skyrim, Dark Souls, Portal, Uncharted, Shadow of the Colossus and Studio Ghibli. The end result creates an exhilarating and unforgettable adventure that allows players to tackle it however they choose (I put more than 30 hours into it before I attempted the first story dungeon). Its execution is so well done that Breath of the Wild should rank along the likes of Super Mario World, A Link to the Past and the Super Mario Galaxy titles as one of Nintendo’s finest achievements.

Despite all of its inspirations, Breath of the Wild is still very much the Zelda experience we all know and love. In fact, it may just be the best of the legendary lot.

 

10

The Nintendo Switch Hype is Real!

Before I get to my opinions of the Switch or its lineup of games, I just want to express how grateful I am that those horrible rumors of a Mario RPG/Rabbids crossover turned out to be false. The idea of Super Mario RPG FINALLY getting a sequel, only to have it defecated upon by the presence of the Rabbids (the most insufferable gaming mascots of all time) was just too much to bear. But it was all nothing but lies and deceit. This is cause for celebration.

 

Anyway, the Switch looks pretty incredible. I like the different play styles (console, handheld, and tabletop), and the controllers look quite nice. The “differing battery life” seemed like a vague answer to one of everyone’s biggest concerns, but I guess I can worry about that another time. The good definitely outweighed the bad with Nintendo’s presentation (though what, must I ask, was up with the translator? Can someone please buy that man a personality?).

But I’m here to focus on the games, and wow, Nintendo really delivered. It turns out that Splatoon isn’t a port, but a full-on sequel, Splatoon 2! We also saw another new Nintendo IP called ARMS, a 3D fighting game in which the characters all have extendable robot arms (oh, Nintendo).

Then we have Xenoblade 2, a new Shin Megami Tensei, and a new Square-Enix RPG with 16-bit sprite characters in 3D environments tentatively called “Project Octopath Traveller” (who comes up with these names for Square?). Also, Skyrim will finally be making its way to a Nintendo console. So the Switch is certainly showing some strong RPG support.

Project Octopath Traveler

We also got confirmation that Sonic Mania will be heading to the Switch, and Mario Kart 8 will be revamped as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, and will feature a host of new characters, items and tracks. Most importantly, it will bring back a better more traditional Battle Mode. So it could end up being the perfect Mario Kart.

Of course, Nintendo made a big deal about The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, while conveniently ignoring that it’s still going to be on Wii U as well (I’ll always love you, Wii U). The big news regarding Zelda, however, is that it will indeed hit the Switch at launch.

Surprisingly soon, the Nintendo Switch and The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild will launch on March 3rd. And for a reasonable price at $300 (I don’t remember the price in other regions, and they don’t concern me. I’m a selfish bastard sometimes).

Aside from Zelda, the biggest game featured was Super Mario Odyssey. The brand new 3D Mario title will return to the free-roaming style of Super Mario 64 and Sunshine, and will see Mario traveling to different worlds via some kind of spaceship.

By different worlds, I don’t mean planetoids like in the Galaxy games, but it seems more like different dimensions. One of which is a realistic-looking city with unfortunately realistic-looking people called “New Donk City” (this is bound to be a meme) which features various Donkey Kong references. Another world is some kind of psychedelic food-themed world. Also, Mario’s hat has googly eyes, and he can throw it like Oddjob from Goldfinger and use it as a platform. Also Mario rides a Sphinx.

Super Mario Odyssey

Yeah, this could be the weirdest Mario game ever. And it looks amazing. Super Mario Odyssey is planned for a release in 2017’s holiday season.

Sheesh, if Nintendo can stick to these release dates, the Switch could be a contender for having the best first year in console history. And combined with all the great games coming to PS4, Xbox One and PC this year, 2017 could be the best year gaming has seen since the unprecedented streak that was 1995-1998.

I am very happy.

Nintendo NX Revealed as Nintendo Switch!

The time is upon us! Nintendo’s next home console is finally revealed, and its official name is the Nintendo Switch! You can watch the reveal trailer right here.

 

The biggest reveals for Nintendo’s new console is that, as it was often rumored, it is indeed a hybrid of a home console and a handheld system, which will surely change Nintendo’s game considerably. And as it was also rumored, the games will return to cartridges.

Along with the previously announced Nintendo Switch version of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, confirmed games include a new Mario Kart, Splatoon (either a new version or a sequel), an Elder Scrolls title, and a brand new 3D Mario game.

And, believe it or not, it’s still scheduled for a worldwide release this March!