Tag Archives: Bowser

Super Mario Galaxy Turns 10!

Super Mario Galaxy was released on the Nintendo Wii on November 12, 2007, meaning that today is the tenth anniversary of its (western) release. Wow… I feel old.

Anyway, the ten-year milestone is always a big one, but I feel this is an exceptional cause for celebration in the video game world for a couple of reasons.

The first such reason is that Super Mario Galaxy can be seen as a resurgence of the Super Mario series, which is still going strong these ten years later. Sure, the Mario series never got into any real slump (he’s not Sonic, after all), but aside from the two Paper Mario titles on the N64 and GameCube, it felt like the series had been missing that little something extra after Super Mario 64. But then Galaxy came along and brought the series back to its strongest. Here was a game that could ranked alongside any of Nintendo’s best. And because of it, we later got the holy-crap-it’s-somehow-even-better Super Mario Galaxy 2 a few years later. Sure, Super Mario 3D Land was a bit of a regression, but Super Mario 3D World, while no Galaxy, delivered another Mario great shortly thereafter, largely because of the impact Galaxy made to the series, and its influence on Nintendo’s designers.

“Super Mario Galaxy also introduced us to best girl, Rosalina.”

This influence stretched past Nintendo’s doors, however, as many other developers sang the praises of Super Mario Galaxy. It also seemed to shift the industry as a whole in a more positive direction. After the early 2000s seemed to transform gaming into “edgelord” mode, where everything was dark and gritty, and vengeance seemed to be the go-to motive for the armies of “anti-heroes” of the time; Super Mario Galaxy’s high praise and strong sales seemed to lighten things up a bit, and reminded people that a colorful, cheerful game doesn’t equate to a bad one. Thankfully, we see a much wider variety of tones and styles in games today then we did in the 2000s, and although that’s not all on Galaxy’s shoulders, it probably is the centerpiece of this shift thanks to its acclaim and influence.

“Galaxy reintroduced Mario World’s constant sense of invention to the series. There was never a dull moment in Galaxy.”

Now perhaps this is just me talking, but I feel like Super Mario Galaxy revived the “perfect 10” in video games. That’s entirely subjective, of course, but I think if you look at most publications’ records of perfect scores, they seemed to pick up in numbers with the release of Super Mario Galaxy. I don’t think critics are any easier in giving perfect scores, I just think games have gotten better, and are at a height they haven’t been in since the 16-bit days. Again, it’s not that Galaxy magically made perfect 10s possible, but it can be seen as the beginning of this high level of quality.

Even on a more personal level, there were plenty of games I enjoyed greatly during the early 2000s, but at the same time, there aren’t a whole lot I’m quick to point out as some of the best games I’ve ever played if asked today. That’s certainly not a knock on those games (again, many of them were great), but as stated, I think Galaxy resurrected that timeless quality in games that hadn’t been seen since the Super Nintendo era.

I mean, when the worst thing I can say about Galaxy is that Galaxy 2 and Super Mario Odyssey are even better, that kind of speaks volumes about it.

Happy tenth anniversary Super Mario Galaxy! An all-time classic, without question.

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Super Mario Odyssey Review

Much has been said of how Super Mario Odyssey is the return to the “sandbox style” of Mario game found in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. But the truth is it’s much more than that. This is the latest evolution in a series that is no stranger to evolving, as it feels like a  culmination of everything Mario has learned up to this point, all tied together with a bag of tricks that are entirely its own. World ensured Mario was an icon to endure past the 8-bit NES, 64 brought Mario into the third dimension and changed the way platformers are played, and Galaxy turned the very nature of the series on its head (often literally). Odyssey is the latest continuation of Mario’s progression, as it contorts and redefines the very foundations of gaming’s greatest icon.

From the get-go, it’s easy to tell that Odyssey is something special. Though the story is the tale as old as time – with the fiendish Bowser absconding with Princess Peach in an attempt to force her to be his bride – there are new twists here that make things feel fresh. The first, and most apparent, is the new cinematic quality given to the game’s events. The story this time around  begins with what would be the end of another Mario adventure, with the mustachioed hero coming face-to-face with the King Koopa to rescue Princess Peach.

Bowser, now decked out in a wedding tux, has hired a band of evil bunny wedding planners called the Broodals to aide him in his schemes, which all revolve around the forced nuptials. Bowser manages to get the upper hand in the scuffle, and soon Mario is sent plummeting from Bowser’s airship. Mario awakes not in the sunshine covered grassy hills that would signify the first level of virtually every previous Mario title, but in the Nightmare Before Christmas-esque world of the Cap Kingdom, which is inhabited by spectral hats.

Bowser is traveling the world, stealing different items from various kingdoms to ensure his ceremony is perfect: Flowers from the Wooded Kingdom, sparkling water from the Seaside Kingdom, and a mystic wedding ring from the Sand Kingdom, to name a few of the objects Bowser has apprehended. One of these items happens to be a sentient tiara from the Cap Kingdom (aptly named Tiara), whose brother Cappy is on a mission to rescue her. Mario and Cappy join forces, and soon the duo set off on a globetrotting adventure to save the day.

“Even more esoteric Mario characters, such as Pauline from the original Donkey Kong, show up during the adventure.”

Being a Mario title, of course the plot is simple stuff, but its cinematic presentation is a new high for the series, with many moments feeling like extravagant set pieces ripped out of Uncharted. And though it’s minimal, a travel brochure that serves as the player’s map contributes a bit of world building, with each kingdom getting some little details given to their environment, citizens, and local industries. Odyssey’s world may never pull at the heartstrings like Rosalina’s storybook, but Mario’s world has never felt more alive.

This is perhaps a bit ironic, because Mario’s world has also never been weirder. The realistically-proportioned humans of New Donk City (the Metro Kingdom) have already gained internet infamy for how they hilariously clash with Mario’s cartoonish self. But that’s far from the end of it, with Odyssey seemingly having a ball implementing whatever art directions and world themes tickle its fancy. The Sand Kingdom is home to sugar skull people inspired by Dia de los Muertos, while the Cascade Kingdom houses a T-rex that looks like it was ripped out of Jurassic Park. There are many other wonderful diversities in Odyssey’s visuals, including one boss who – along with its world – looks more like something from Dark Souls or Skyrim than Super Mario.

Of course, with Mario, it’s the gameplay that always comes first, and that’s as true here as ever. The best part is Odyssey’s distinct sense of weirdness is found even in its gameplay.

Describing the gameplay as weird certainly isn’t a knock on the game’s controls – Odyssey is as much a sequel to the Galaxy duo as it is to 64, as Mario himself retains all his classic acrobatics from those games, and controls just as fluidly as he did in his space ventures – but this weirdness is found in the form of Odyssey’s key new feature: the capture mechanic.

By throwing Cappy, Mario can effectively possess creatures and his classic enemies via his ghostly headwear (think of it like Oddjob from Goldfinger meets Bob from Twin Peaks), with each capture-able character bringing its own gameplay.

Some creatures provide small changes, such as the Cheap Cheap allowing for faster swimming without the need to take a break for air, while Goombas can stack on top of each other to reach higher places. Others are a bit more drastic, with the notorious Hammer Bros. having their own sense of movement, and can rapidly throw projectiles to fell enemies and break objects.

“Mario can even become a tank, turning things into all-out warfare.”

The capture ability isn’t limited to Mario’s classic rogues gallery, however, and the former plumber can possess new creatures like the Gushen, a squid-like figure entrapped in a bubble of water which pays homage to Sunshine’s F.L.U.D.D. by means of using the water as a jetpack. The Tropical Wiggler can stretch like an accordion for some unique navigation, while the aforementioned T-rex proves to be an unstoppable behemoth. Mario can even capture some inanimate objects, like the poles of New Donk City, which fling Mario to great heights.

Being able to capture such a wide array of creatures and objects means that the gameplay is constantly changing, and Odyssey wisely incorporates the mechanic into a seemingly endless variety of objects both big and small. Traditional power-ups are nowhere to be found, but the capture ability is so robust and used so creatively that it’s a more than worthy alternative.

It’s all for the sake of collecting Power Moons, the new equivalent to Stars and Shines of 3D Marios past. These Power Moons are the energy source that fuels Mario and Cappy’s ship, the Odyssey, with more moons required to visit each subsequent kingdom.

“Power Moons come in different colors depending on the kingdom.”

Here’s where Super Mario Odyssey lives up to its monicker of an open-world Mario title more than 64 and Sunshine ever did. There is no hub world in Odyssey, instead, each stage is its own wide open sandbox. Without a hub to return to after a Moon is collected, Mario pulls a page out of Banjo-Kazooie’s playbook, and is free to comb through a stage finding as many Power Moons as he possibly can at the player’s own leisure. There is a small caveat in that Odyssey is slightly more story-dictated than other Mario titles, and most of the stages are unlocked in a subsequent order (with only a few instances of multiple levels opening up at once). This is ultimately minor, however, as each stage has so much to do at any given time – with more activities being unlocked as you progress through the adventure – that the sheer abundance of player choice is perhaps equalled solely by Breath of the Wild.

Odyssey’s stages can get pretty massive, but they never feel overwhelming. Checkpoint flags can be fast-traveled to on the map screen, and the capture ability often leads to faster means of exploration. Plus, there’s so much to do in any given space of Odyssey’s levels that you’ll never feel like your travels are for naught.

The story will take about fifteen hours to complete, but rest assured the game is far from over at that point, as postgame content opens the adventure up all the more, leaving every sandbox of a stage completely open for the player to traverse them like never before. With hundreds of Moons to acquire, there’s rarely ever an end in sight, unless the player so desires to move on.

There are other means in which Odyssey gleefully leaves the player in charge, with a host of different control options available. Though the motion controls may take a few minutes to get used to, once you do, they play like a dream, and I found myself actively wanting to play with a joycon in each hand. You can always dock the joycons or use a pro controller if you wish, but Nintendo really went all out in ensuring every control option feels so responsive.

Perhaps Odyssey’s most charming little customizable option is the ability to change Mario’s costume and hat. Coins play a larger role than ever, as they can be traded to a chain of shops known as the Crazy Cap to gain new costumes. Similarly, purple currency is different to each kingdom, and are used to unlock costumes based on or inspired by that region (often with ties to Mario’s past, such as New Donk City’s construction worker uniform being identical to that which Mario wore on the box art to Super Mario Maker).

For the most part, the costumes and hats are purely cosmetic, though there are a few instances of a particular costume set being required to enter specific doors or to get the proper reaction from an NPC. Though this may be Odyssey’s lone lacking element, as Mario is usually just granted a Moon for entering said doors or talking to said NPCs. It’s a minor quibble, but it would have been a bit more interesting if the sections that required specific costumes had more to them.

If one has to search really hard to find anything else to raise an eyebrow about, it’s simply that the penalty for defeat is a measly ten coins. Gone are 1-ups and game overs in an admittedly modernized approach. But seeing as coins are all over the place, and more prevalent than ever before, defeat seems to have very little consequence.

Another noteworthy aspect of Odyssey is its bombardment of memorable boss fights. Although the boss battles tend to be on the easy side, they deliver on the fronts of creativity which, for my money, is the more important area. The boss battles are varied and plentiful, with many of the best ones also taking advantage of different capture abilities.

Visually speaking, Odyssey is the best looking game on the Switch. Along with the aforementioned abundance of art directions, the game as a whole is just a beauty to look at. Every texture, surface and liquid to be found in Mario’s world is given a new sheen, so even the most absurd of creatures and locations have a sense of realism. Better still are the tiny little details that are littered all over the place, like Mario getting covered in soot if he jumps over a chimney, or small animals scurrying in the distance. Although Mario’s world is more surreal than the land of Hyrule, Odyssey evokes the same sense of love for attention to detail as Breath of the Wild.

Of course, what would a Mario game be without a great soundtrack? This is another area in which Odyssey seemingly sets a new highpoint for the series, expanding on the orchestrated wonderment of Galaxy and making it into something even more grandiose, while still sounding distinctly Mario. Odyssey’s soundtrack is as fun and epic as any in Nintendo’s history, and is nothing short of a joy to listen to.

Super Mario Odyssey is a phenomenal game. It never stops piquing the player’s curiosity, and consistently rewarding it with one brilliant idea after another. There’s simply never a dull moment in Super Mario Odyssey, as it displays a constant stream of inventiveness that few games could match. Even a second player can join in on the action, and take control of Cappy while player one takes up Mario’s mantle.

Mario is one of gaming’s oldest icons, and yet he’s also proven to be the medium’s most consistent source of new ideas time and again. That concept has maybe never been more apparent than it is here in Odyssey, as it combines so many aspects of Mario’s greatest adventures while simultaneously rewriting them. It’s the next step in Mario’s evolution, while also being a loving homage to the series’ peerless history.

If I didn’t know any better, I might even say that Odyssey feels like a fitting conclusion to gaming’s most iconic franchise. It won’t be, of course, but Odyssey feels like the crescendo of all things Mario. There were more than a few instance in which Odyssey had me misty-eyed. Some instances were due to personal nostalgia, others were because of how beautifully Odyssey pays tribute to its entire lineage.

Fitting that Super Mario Odyssey should be released ten years after Galaxy. In 2007, Super Mario Galaxy seemed to encapsulate the Super Mario series, and brought it all to such newfound heights that many wondered where Mario could possibly go next. Now, Odyssey has pulled it off all over again. Its restless imagination, non-stop surprises, and pitch-perfect gameplay will leave anyone wondering what the future holds for Mario and company.

 

10

Super Mario Sunshine Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

Ever since its release on the GameCube in 2002, Super Mario Sunshine has been one of the black sheep of the Super Mario series. Its water pack-themed gameplay and stagnant setting certainly make it stand out from other Mario titles, but it’s those same elements (and a handful of others) that have always prevented Sunshine from being the kind of revered classic that Mario is used to starring in.

It’s all relative, of course. On its own merits, Super Mario Sunshine still provides a great gaming experience, and it probably holds up better than the other 3D platformers of the GameCube/PS2/Xbox era. If it were an entry in another series, Sunshine may have been a defining moment. But in a series that houses more “best games ever” than any other, simply being “great” isn’t great enough. Sunshine was a victim of its own expectations.

Those expectations certainly were high, seeing as Sunshine was the follow-up to Super Mario 64, a title that changed the direction of gaming from then on out. And with a six year build-up to a 64 sequel, suffice to say Sunshine had a lot to live up to. Those shoes were simply too big to fill.

If we take a step back and look at Sunshine on its own merits –  away from all-time greats like Super Mario Bros. 3, World, 64, Yoshi’s Island, and the later Galaxy games – it’s easy to see that there’s a lot to love in Mario’s polarized GameCube outing.

In Super Mario Sunshine, Mario, Princess Peach, and a group of Toads are vacationing to the island resort of Isle Delfino. Of course, there’s never time for Mario to catch a break, and no sooner does Peach’s plane land on the island’s airstrip that they realize something is horribly wrong, with a toxic goop polluting the landing pad. Mario quickly finds a strange, talking water pack called F.L.U.D.D. (Flash Liquidizing Ultra Dowsing Device), and uses it to clean up the airstrip (why anyone else couldn’t use F.L.U.D.D. when it was just lying around is anyone’s guess). As it turns out, the whole island is being covered in this strange goop, with the culprit being a Mario doppleganger attempting to frame Mario for the ordeal.

Sure enough – despite the doppleganger’s obvious blue, gelatinous body – the inhabitants of Isle Delfino (the tree-headed, big-nosed Piantas and the hermit crab-esque Nokis) hold Mario responsible for the crime, and sentence him to clean up the island and clear his good name. It’s definitely a nice change of pace from Peach getting kidnapped (though that happens a little later as well), but the voice acting (yes, voice acting) leaves a lot to be desired.

That’s all besides the point really. Mario games are never about the story, and all this polluted island clean-up business is little more than a reason to introduce the new water-based mechanics.

Being a sequel to Super Mario 64, Sunshine plays very similarly to its revolutionary predecessor. Mario retains his triple jumps, summersaults, wall jumps, butt stomps and dives that he learned in 64, only now he has possession of the F.L.U.D.D. to give him new moves.

The two primary functions of F.L.U.D.D. are the squirt nozzle and the hover nozzle, with players being able to switch between the functions with the press of a button. The squirt nozzle is used to clean up sludge and to shoot other objects when necessary, while the hover nozzle, as its name implies, allows Mario to hover for a short time, which really comes in handy for some of the trickier platforming.

Additionally, two other nozzles are acquired later in the game, and are more or less Sunshine’s equivalent to the usual Mario power-ups, as they temporarily replace the hover nozzle when obtained. The turbo nozzle allows Mario to move super fast, being able to break through certain walls and run on water, while the rocket nozzle gives Mario a higher jump than he’s ever had before or since.

“Drink up.”

Although F.L.U.D.D. may seem a bit on the gimmicky side, it’s a gimmick that ultimately works, as it adds a new twist on 64’s platforming mechanics. Meanwhile the fact that you’ll frequently have to “reload” it by finding a body of water to recharge gives it a little something of a shooter element (I can’t help but feel Splatoon borrowed a little something from F.L.U.D.D.). And the idea of a water-based platformer is still an intriguing concept looking back on it today.

Best of all is that Sunshine’s Mario controls so well. Mario wrote the rulebook on how to make a platforming hero control fluidly, and Sunshine provides some of the most cohesive controls in the entire series. Aside from wall jumping sometimes being a little finicky, I can’t think of much to complain about in the control department.

Sadly, not everything in Sunshine works as well as Mario and F.L.U.D.D. The camera, though an improvement over 64’s, still suffers a bit from the same faults of its predecessor. A number of bonus areas, in which Mario is thrown into more cramped platforming gauntlets, are particularly hindered by the camerawork, as it can be difficult to get the camera in the right angle while simultaneously trying to make sure Mario doesn’t fall to his doom on a tricky, moving platform.

Similarly, you may find that there are more than a few technical issues with the game. Though they may be small and (mostly) inconsequential, pointing out technical issues in a mainline Mario title is normally unheard of. But it seems Sunshine didn’t have as much time to receive the usual “Mario polish,” and you may find Mario getting stuck or an enemy’s animation not showing up more often than you’d like.

Still, while these flaws are notable, they’re hardly game-breaking. With how well Mario controls, along with the overall execution of the level and mission designs, it’s hard to complain too much.

Super Mario Sunshine ultimately has a similar structure to 64, with Mario traversing a central hub world to access the “proper” stages, which house a series of missions, each one capped off with acquiring a Shine Sprite (Sunshine’s equivalent to 64‘s Power Stars). There are, however, a few differences that perhaps played a part in Sunshine’s more divisive reception.

“Sunshine reeeally likes falling back on the red coin missions.”

The first of these differences is that Sunshine is actually more linear than 64. Contrary to recent popular opinion, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with linear games, but considering that many like to praise 64 and Sunshine for being the “sandbox” Mario games, it may surprise some to revisit Sunshine and find out that’s only true to an extent. While Banjo-Kazooie dropped players into a stage to unearth its collectibles at their leisure, 64 and Sunshine’s mission-based level format gave a set objective that needed to be accomplished at that time. 64 did actually allow players to tamper with that format, as they could at times accomplish the requirements for a stage’s later stars while attempting to get an earlier one, but Sunshine doesn’t share that element, instead having the selected mission dictate the Shine Sprite to be collected almost entirely (the only exceptions being a handful of the game’s hidden Shines, or a level’s obligatory 100-coin Shine Sprite). The delightful hub world of Delfino Plaza is where the game is at its most open, but the stages themselves are more limiting.

Again, that’s not a bad thing per se, but perhaps one reason Galaxy was so warmly received is that it was more honest with its linearity. Galaxy had level structure that was more akin to Super Mario World than 64, so the linearity felt like a cohesive whole. But Sunshine presents its stages as open-world sandboxes but, fun though they may be, they’re not quite that.

One of the other big differences in Sunshine from other Mario titles is that every stage is built around its tropical island theme, which works for better and worse. In terms of better, it makes Isle Delfino feel like an alive location, with the different levels even being visible in the distance of others. In terms of worse, it also means that Sunshine lacks the sense of variety and surprise that the best Mario titles have. Sure, there’s a dose of different locations, like a harbor and a beach and a haunted casino (which is located on another beach…), but there are no castles or giant worlds to speak of. Isle Delfino is definitely a unique location in the series, but it seems to be in some kind of bubble away from the franchise’s usual fairy tale elements.

That’s not to say that Sunshine is devoid of the series’ indelible mark of surrealism, as the aforementioned platforming gauntlets that serve as the bonus stages – where Mario is robbed of F.L.U.D.D. and has to rely on his own abilities – seem to be housed in a bizarre, often pixelated dimension, with random shapes and objects suspended in space in such a way that they feel like a precursor to the Galaxy titles. It may not be a surprise that Sunshine’s detractors often single these segments out as the game’s highlights.

“Maybe Yoshi shouldn’t drink so much Hi-C…”

While Mario’s world may seem (relatively) more grounded and less fantastic in this GameCube adventure, there’s still a terrific sense of joy to be had. Many of the Shine Sprites are a blast to obtain, and even Yoshi joined in on the action (albeit sparingly), being able to use his hovering and enemy-eating abilities of the past, while also being able to spit up juice (eewww!), which works similar to F.L.U.D.D. but with its own properties (like turning certain enemies into platforms). Not to mention that Super Mario Sunshine still looks visually impressive for a fifteen year-old game, and its music is upbeat and fun, and perfectly captures the game’s setting.

There are some other disappointing elements though. Not counting Delfino Plaza or the bonus stages, Sunshine only boasts seven proper levels, which is considerably less than Super Mario 64’s fifteen! Yet, the game has just as many Shine Sprites as 64 had Stars (120), with a decent chunk of twenty-four of them being obtained by trading blue coins to a raccoon in Delfino Plaza (ten blue coins for one Shine).

With twice the number of blue coins as there are Shine Sprites, collecting them all may have made for a fun sidequest, especially seeing how some of them are so esoterically hidden (stand on a certain platform and squirt the moon!), that finding them would actually feel more worthwhile if trading them in unlocked some kind of secrets. By simply making them a means to get every Shine Sprite, it makes it feel as though both the Shines and the blue coins were only partly realized. I would have much rather had the game spent more time crafting another level or two for those additional Shine Sprites, and thinking of something more unique to do with the blue coins, then simply slapping them together in what really feels like an effort to save time.

It should once again be emphasized that , while many of these criticisms are just, others are more relative. Sunshine has both the honor and misfortune of being a part of a series with an abnormal consistency in high quality and creative spark. So while Sunshine may be well executed in most respects, and is still a whole lot of fun to play today, its more restrained and conservative sense of invention makes it lesser than most of its Mario series brethren, and its more rushed elements bring it down a peg further.

For most other series, a game of Sunshine’s quality may  have felt like a trip to paradise. But for Mario, it feels like he’s taking a vacation from being the best at what he does.

 

8.5

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.

 

9.5

Paper Mario: Color Splash Review

Color Splash

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars began the concept of transforming the world of Super Mario into an RPG series. Though Super Mario RPG never got a proper sequel, its legacy was continued by two series: the handheld Mario & Luigi titles, and Paper Mario. Both series were great in their own right, but it was Paper Mario that felt closer in spirit to Super Mario RPG.

Despite the Mario RPGs being among Nintendo’s best titles – up there with Zelda, Donkey Kong, and the Mario platformers – Nintendo, for reasons that will never make sense, decided to opt out of the Mario RPGs as time went by.

The last two Mario & Luigi titles have basically stripped away the depth in story, characters and gameplay from the first three titles, but Paper Mario has been altered all the more. Super Paper Mario took away the turn-based battles in favor of platforming with RPG elements, though it retained the strong storytelling of the previous Paper Mario entries.

It was Paper Mario: Sticker Star on the 3DS however, that remains one of Nintendo’s biggest blunders. Sticker Star brought back turn-based battles, but replaced the RPG elements with collectible stickers, a gimmick that quickly grew tired and even made battles predominantly pointless, since your only reward for winning battles were more stickers and coins…for buying more stickers. Not to mention the game removed virtually every story and character aspect of its predecessors, leaving it soulless on both a narrative and gameplay standpoint.

Sticker Star was greatly disliked by longtime fans of the series, and when Paper Mario: Color Splash was first revealed and looked to be replicating Sticker Star’s style, it seemed doomed from the start. But does Color Splash fix the many problems of Sticker Star? Or does it fall just as flat?

To put it simply, if Sticker Star broke the Paper Mario series, Color Splash does a pretty good job at fixing it. But even if you repair something after its been broken, it’s never going to look quite as good as it once did.

Paper Mario: Color Splash does adopt much of Sticker Star’s formula. Battles still use consumable actions (here presented as cards), and Mario still doesn’t gain levels, nor is he joined by any memorable partners that can aid him in battle (though his adventure is joined by a sentient paint bucket named Huey, who is a far more charming and funny character than Sticker Star’s Kirsti ever was).

There is a bonus this time around in the form of paint. Mario must paint his cards in battle to fully power them up, and also paint areas of the environment that have been drained of their color using the paint hammer. The inclusion of paint benefits the battle system by the addition of Hammer Scraps, collectible items that are rewarded after battle. Hammer Scraps more or less work like experience points, and when enough are collected, the maximum amount of paint Mario has at his disposal increases. This difference alone prevents the battles from feeling pointless, as they did in Sticker Star, though it sadly cannot change the tediousness of the battles themselves.

Color SplashThere’s no beating around the bush, making all of the actions in battle consumable items is simply bad game design. Sure, the game throws cards and coins at you all the time, so you’re rarely going to run out of actions, but you may easily run out of the cards you need for a given enemy or situation. You’re constantly scrambling to get the right cards, or going out of your way to get enough coins to buy them by the bulk, just so you’re sure to have enough to make your way through a specific section.

To further complicate things, the process of using these cards in battle is just as tedious as anything. You have to cycle through your cards on the Gamepad (which are always categorized, left to right, from oldest to newest), then set up the cards you want to use, tap the chosen cards to paint them, select the “done painting” option, and then finish things off with an entirely unnecessary “flick” motion to send the cards from the Gamepad to the TV. Then, and only then, can you perform the usual action commands in battle. The process can grow old fast, and you may find yourself avoiding enemies just so you don’t have to keep going through it.

Another huge downside to battles is that Mario will automatically attack the on-screen enemies in a set sequence from left to right. This not only removes so much potential strategy in battles, but also means that, should you defeat some enemies too soon, Mario could end up screwing things up (like jumping on a spiked enemy) and the player can’t do anything about it.

Finally, “Things” make a return from Sticker Star, being 3D objects that can be turned into super powerful cards for use in and out of battle. Each Thing includes a hilarious in-battle animation (like a breakdancing piggybank or a tornado-like washing machine), and make for fun special attacks. The problem with Things arrises during boss battles. Every boss in the game must have a specific Thing used against them in order to defeat them. It is mandatory that you have a specific Thing with you during each boss, so that you can use them at the right moment. If you don’t have the right Thing, the bosses are, quite literally, impossible.

Color SplashIf this worked like Mega Man, and specific Things were merely particularly effective against certain bosses, it could be really fun and clever. Instead, you have bosses that are only beatable with specific items. There’s no strategy involved. If you know what Thing you need, you basically have victory guaranteed. It’s yet another display of blatantly bad game design.

Thankfully, this is where most of the complaining stops, because the aspects of Paper Mario: Color Splash that are enjoyable are very much enjoyable.

For starters, there’s a much greater emphasis on story and character than there was in Sticker Star (of course, any story and character at all would be much more than Sticker Star, but it’s intended as a compliment).

The plot is simple enough, with Mario and Peach traveling to Prism Island – a land renowned for its vibrant colors – after they receive a Toad drained of its color in the mail, sent from the island to the Mushroom Kingdom. Once they arrive at Prism Island, Mario and Peach find that the place is being drained of its color by an army of Shy Guys. Naturally, Bowser is up to his old tricks again, and it’s up to Mario, and his new paint bucket partner Huey, to restore color to the island and rescue the Paint Stars.

Color SplashSo the plot itself is nothing grand like Super Mario RPG or the first two Paper Marios, but Color Splash does liven things up with terrific writing and the series’ trademark humor.

Color Splash is one of the funniest games I’ve played in a long time. Whether it’s the visual gags that make great use of the paper motif, or the constant zingers the characters are spouting, Color Splash actually elicited a good number of laughs out of me throughout my playthrough.

Yeah, no kidding. I miss unique Toads.

Yeah, no kidding. I miss unique Toads.

On the downside of things, Color Splash continues Nintendo’s bizarre recent trend of making every NPC a generic Toad, with their only differing features being the colors of their spots and vests. I honestly can’t grasp why Nintendo thinks having every NPC looking like the standard Toad is more charming than the variety of characters found in past Paper Marios. It just takes away personality from the game.

This lack of variety also shows up in the enemies, who are relegated to simply being returning foes from Mario’s platforming ventures. Even the aforementioned bosses are restricted to the Koopalings. I seriously don’t understand Nintendo’s refusal to add new enemies to the Mario RPG series anymore.

On a lighter note, another highlight has to be Color Splash’s aesthetics. The game is absolutely gorgeous to look at, with Nintendo bringing the paper craft visuals of the series to life like never before. There are so many little details all over the place that make the environments pop. You can definitely tell the developers were having a great time thinking of ways to recreate Mario’s world out of handcrafted materials. It’s an absolutely beautiful game to look at, and it’s full of visual surprises.

Arguably even better than the visuals is the musical score. Color Splash follows in the tradition of the Galaxy series and 3D World of integrating a full band orchestra into the Mario series, and just as in past efforts, it pays off beautifully. Color Splash’s soundtrack is often (and appropriately) colorful and lively, but it ends up showcasing a wide variety of styles and tunes. It’s one of the best Mario soundtracks of the last few years.

Much of this review may sound a bit negative, but rest assured, the good ultimately outweighs the bad. Nintendo’s stubbornness may have never been quite as pronounced as it is here, with the continuing of Sticker Star’s infamous template. But the fact that Color Splash can take such a flawed blueprint and turn it into a very fun experience is also one of the biggest testaments to Nintendo’s mastery of the craft.

I very much love most of Paper Mario: color Splash: It looks stunning, sounds great, it’s often hilarious, always charming, and is full of fun little gameplay surprises. But the flaws that are present are a bit too prominent, and you may find that Color Splash is at its best in stages that work as their own, self-contained little narratives, and place the battle system to the side. Still, a tedious battle system is better than the pointless one of Sticker Star, and the stories, characters and writing that are present here help give the game an identity that was lacking not only in Sticker Star, but the past few Mario & Luigi titles as well.

Paper Mario: Color Splash may not bring back the glory the Mario RPGs once showcased so profusely, but its creativity and charm are so endearing that you can’t help but feel it’s getting things back on track.

But seriously, can we please just get a proper Mario RPG again? Please?!

 

7.5

Mario Party 2 Review

Mario Party 2

The Mario Party series has seen many, many iterations since the release of its first entry in 1999. Though the series’ annual releases eventually meant the games would eventually be watered down (even now that the releases are no longer annual, the newest entries are frowned upon more than ever), the original N64 trilogy is fondly remembered. Perhaps none more so than the second installment, which was released in 2000.

Mario Party is a rather easy series to summarize: Players take control of a different character from the Mario universe (here including Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Wario and Donkey Kong), and take turns moving across board game-inspired levels, with mini-games spread throughout after each player has taken a turn. The basic goal of Mario Party is to have more stars than the other players by the time the game is over.

Just like any real board game, things are a bit more complicated when you go into detail. Stars are normally obtained by reaching Toad on the game board, and paying 20 coins to purchase it. Additionally, stars can be stolen from other players by passing by Boo (or summoning him through one of the game’s items), and additional stars are awarded at the end of the game for accumulating the most coins, winning the most coins in mini-games, and landing on the most “Happening Spaces” (green spaces on the game board that activate the level’s different gimmicks), should you choose to have these bonuses enabled. If players tie for the most stars, the tying player with the most coins is the winner.

Coins are obtained by landing on one of the many blue spaces on the game boards, while landing on red spaces takes them away. Coins are also earned by winning mini-games or stealing them with Boo. There’s also the bank space, which forces players to surrender five coins every time they pass it, but should a player be lucky enough to land directly on the bank space, they are awarded with every accumulated coin in the bank.

Players must also be wary of the Bowser spaces on the board, as landing on them could end with Bowser messing with the players, stealing their stars and coins for himself.

Those are the basic rules of Mario Party, though each board also has their own share of gimmicks and themes (in Mario Party 2, we have a western world, a haunted world, and a space world, to name just three of the six boards featured). The boards all change up the formula slightly, with different layouts and different results from landing on the aforementioned Happening spaces.

Mario Party 2The mini-games are where the action really picks up though. Mini-games come in a host of varieties, with 4-player free-for-alls, team-based two-on-two and one vs. three being the standard types that are played between rounds. Additionally, there are one-on-one dueling mini-games (playable by using the dueling glove item or landing on the same space as another player during the last five turns of a game), and battle mini-games, in which all four players compete for a jackpot of their coins.

The mini-games can be a bit hit or miss. There are plenty of really fun mini-games, and then there are some that are just more frustrating than anything, with some being blatantly based more on luck than player skill.

Mario Party 2This luck-based nature isn’t just found in mini-games, either. There are instances where players will randomly find hidden blocks containing stars or myriads of coins, and many level gimmicks will often screw players over. You can go from first to last place in the span of a single turn, no matter how well you’re performing on the board or in the mini-games.

Granted, this luck-based gameplay actually does reflect the nature of many real-life board games. But it doesn’t change the fact that, in a video game, it just feels so frustrating.

With that said, a game of Mario Party 2 with a full party of four players is a whole lot of fun. The game’s competitive nature – and even some of its more random elements – make it the kind of game that’s riotous fun with friends. And if you get tired of the board game setup, there’s always modes built strictly for the mini-games, as well as a host of unlockable content.

On the downside, Mario Party 2 is simply not engaging when playing solo. The Mario Party formula only works when playing with others. As a single player experience, the randomness and other frustrating elements are only magnified, without the interactions with friends to make them more ironic and enjoyable.

That really sums up Mario Party 2. Great (if not exactly deep) multiplayer fun, but not much of anything to speak of in terms of single player modes. Bring a few friends to the party, and even the more frustrating elements of Mario Party 2 become fun.

 

7.0

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX Review

MKAGPDX

Mario Kart as been one of Nintendo’s most successful and beloved franchises. Every major platform since the SNES has seen the release of a new Mario Kart title, and in more recent years, Nintendo has teamed with Namco Bandai Games to produce a series of Mario Kart titles for arcades. The third and most recent of which, Super Mario Arcade GP DX, can be played in many arcades in Japan and in the west. But just how well does this arcade installment stack up against the traditional entries on Nintendo’s platforms?

In many ways, Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is a pretty interesting game. Not only does it bring Mario Kart to arcades, but in many instances you are able to save data so that you keep unlocked features with future visits (though not every arcade provides the means to save progress, and simply have many of the game’s aspects unlocked from the get-go). Then there are silly little details that could only work in arcades, like taking a photo of yourself with a pirate hat or Rosalina’s hair to be displayed over your character for other players to see.

Gameplay-wise, Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is a pretty faithful transition for the franchise to arcade cabinets. The game is controlled via arcade wheel, with an acceleration and brake pedal being included to better mimic real-life driving. It definitely feels appropriate for an arcade version, though admittedly the wheel’s controls can feel a tad oversensitive.

Naturally, like any Mario Kart, the game is at its best when played with others. Most arcades that feature the game have multiple cabinets. Players can not only race against each other, but can even team up against computers, or have two-on-two races between players. Some of these modes even include special items that see players’ vehicles join together, with one player temporarily becoming the driver, and the other firing a barrage of weapons, Double Dash style.

On the downside of things, some of the classic Mario Kart aspects – namely the items and tracks – have been watered down. While it’s understandable for certain features to be simplified in the arcades, I can’t help but feel that the game went about the simplification in the wrong way.

Items are now placed into three categories: items that are launched in front of you, items that are dropped behind you, and special items. This not only takes out the variety in the Mario Kart weaponry, but in each race you’re only able to get a single item in each category, which – like your Kart – are determined via roulette wheel. So not only do you not have most of the classic Mario Kart items at your disposal (all but the Koopa Shells are replaced with more generic items like road signs),  but you don’t even have control as to which items you get, or what kart you drive.

The tracks themselves also have a strong lack in variety. Although there are still a few different cups to choose from (each containing four tracks), each track within a cup has a striking similarity to each other in both layout and themes (every track in Mario Cup resembles a beach, for example, while Bowser Jr. Cup is all about airships).

Mario Kart Arcade GP DX is definitely a fun time at the arcade, especially if you happen to get three other players to join in. Unfortunately, its feeling of being simplified for the arcades is a bit too prominent, which removes a good deal of variety and depth from the formula. It’s definitely worth a few tokens if you have some friends or other arcade patrons playing with or against you. Just don’t expect to spend a whole lot of time on it, even if you have the tokens to do so.

 

6.0