Tag Archives: Classic Games

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Bowser reveals his artistic and sensitive side.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

10

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Super Mario Land Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

5.0

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 Review

Kirby’s Adventure was the last great NES game, and Hal’s pink, spherical hero once again closed out a Nintendo console with the SNES. The Nintendo 64 had launched in 1996, with Kirby Super Star and a handful of other classic titles insuring the 16-bit system went out in style (it wouldn’t be inaccurate to claim the SNES had a better ’96 than the N64 did). But Kirby was to perform double duty for Nintendo’s 16-bit console, and saw a second adventure hit the SNES in 1997. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was the last Nintendo-published game released on the SNES, and due to the N64 being well established by this point – as well as ignoring many of Super Star’s changes to the series in favor of a direct continuation of Dream Land 2’s formula – Kirby’s Dream Land 3 was far from a best-seller in its time, and even had a mixed reception upon release. This is a crying shame, because in many ways, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 feels like the series’ definitive entry, and ended the Super Nintendo’s run on a major high note.

As stated, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 left behind most of the abilities introduced in Kirby Super Star, instead adopting the seven ‘traditional’ Kirby powers (burning, ice, spike, cutter, parasol, rock and spark), as well as one additional new ability, cleaning, which takes the form of a broom. Like Dream Land 2 and Adventure, each ability consisted of a single move. By simple description, it’s easy to see why many would think this is a step back from what Super star accomplished just one year prior. But Dream Land 3 has a few tricks up its sleeve to not only give these copy abilities a sense of variety, but also in giving them a greater sense of purpose in the overall adventure.

The first – and most obvious – gameplay addition is that Dream Land 2’s animal friends (Rick the Hamster, Coo the Owl, and Kine the Sunfish) are joined by three additional friends: Chuchu the Octopus (who looks more like a female Kirby), Pitch the Bird, and Nago the Cat.

Like in Dream Land 2, combining the different copy abilities with each animal friend produces a new power, which greatly expands the uses of both the powers and the animal friends. Additionally, along with Coo being able to fly with ease and Kine being a fast swimmer, Rick now gains the ability to wall jump, and each of the new animal friends come with their own abilities for travel. Nago is able to triple jump, and Chuchu can float for a short time, as well as cling on to ceilings. Pitch is able to fly as well, albeit his short stature makes it harder for him to carry Kirby’s weight, making him less graceful than Coo. Pitch can, however, run faster than any of the other friends on the ground, making him handy both on land and in the air.

Another deviation from Super Star is that Kirby can no longer turn his powers into allies for a second player. Co-op still returns, however, with the introduction of the character Gooey, a peculiar blob with the same copy ability as Kirby, though he prefers to use his prehensile tongue over inhaling foes. Gooey can even be summoned when playing solo, but it isn’t recommended, as he may take out enemies before you get the chance to take their powers.

Perhaps Dream Land 3’s biggest contribution to the series is that – while it is an easy adventure that makes for a nice, relaxing experience for one or two players – there is an added sense of difficulty brought into the mix for completionists.

Once again, the evil entity of Dark Matter is invading Planet Pop Star, possessing King Dedede and his minions and covering the world in negative energy. In order to combat this negative force, Kirby must do good deeds for the citizens of Dream Land, which rewards him with Heart Stars, which hold the positivity needed to drive Dark Matter out of Dream Land.

For more easy-going players, you can simply blast through the levels and make your way to a confrontation with King Dedede, which will still provide plenty of fun with the game’s clever level design and overwhelming charm. But if you want to beat the game to full completion, you’ll have to figure out how to claim every last Heart Star. And unlike Dream Land 2, which merely included one hidden item per world, every single stage of Kirby’s Dream Land 3 hides a Heart Star. In order to gain these Heart Stars, Kirby and Gooey will have to make full use of the copy abilities, animal friends, and combinations thereof.

Every Heart Star will require Kirby to perform a good deed for that level’s NPC. Some of these objectives are simple, like avoiding stepping on flowers or making sure you have a specific animal buddy by the end of the stage so they can meet up with one of their loved ones. But others will require deeper exploration into a stage, and will need Kirby to find the right ability combination to solve a puzzle, uncover hidden objects, or even overcome a mini-game. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 may never be full-on difficult, but it epitomizes the series’ combination of being an all-ages adventure while also providing an extra challenge for those looking for it.

“Every world begins with a humorous little animation, and many of the animal’s powers play into their personalities, adding to the game’s bountiful charms.”

Much like Kirby’s Adventure on the NES, Dream Land 3 being released at the tail-end of the SNES’s lifecycle meant that it brought out the best in the console’s technical abilities. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is simply a beautiful game. Seemingly taking inspiration from Yoshi’s Island’s storybook aesthetics, Dream Land 3 takes things further with an art style molded from crayons and colored pencils. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 looks like a child’s drawing come to life in video game form, and somehow seems largely forgotten in discussions of great video game art styles, a discussion it very much belongs in. There are additional visual effects added to many stages, pushing the SNES to its graphical limits. These effects, combined with the art style, make Kirby’s Dream Land 3 one of the best looking SNES games. The only downside to the visuals is the knowledge that we’ll probably not see another game that looks like this.

As usual for the series, the timeless visuals are joined by a stellar soundtrack. Kirby’s Dream Land 3 features a score that, fittingly, sounds every bit as beautiful and dreamlike as the visuals look. Sadly, much like the game itself, the soundtrack never seems to get the attention it deserves, as it stands as one of the best in the series, and one of the more underrated soundtracks on a console that was no stranger to great soundtracks.

While at first glance it may seem like Dream Land 3 is merely lacking in what Super Star brought to the table, it ultimately feels like the deeper game due to what it does with the most traditional Kirby formula. It takes the foundation of Dream Land 2, and expands on it in every conceivable way. The new and returning animal friends, creative level design, and added sense of exploration make it a great game in its own right. Combine that with an all-time great art direction and a fantastic soundtrack, and you have what may not only be the best ‘traditional’ Kirby adventure, but also one of Nintendo’s most underrated and charming games.

 

9.0

Kirby Super Star Review

*Review based on Kirby Super Star’s release as part of the SNES Classic Edition*

The Super Nintendo Entertainment System had a way of bringing out the best in Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. Mario began the SNES with a bang in the form of Super Mario World – and would later create a whole genre with Super Mario Kart, before pushing platformers even further with Yoshi’s Island, and ultimately breathing new life into the RPG genre – while Zelda and Metroid both received installments so definitive that they served as the blueprints for their series from that point onward. And let’s not forget the reinvention of Donkey Kong that saw an entire trilogy hit the console. Kirby, Nintendo’s secret weapon of consistency, was certainly no exception. After a duo of spinoff titles hit the SNES, Kirby once again worked the nightshift for an established Nintendo console while a newer one (the N64) had already hit the market, this time with two very distinct adventures. The first of this duology of SNES Kirby classics was Kirby’s Super Star, a title which remains arguably the most beloved entry in the entire series.

It’s not hard to see why Super Star has gained it’s lofty status in the franchise. It was with this entry where Kirby’s copy abilities became more than singular moves, with most abilities boasting an entire moveset. The game also included the most copy abilities up to that point, with memorable additions to the lineup like the Dragon Ball-esque Plasma, and the EarthBound-inspired yo-yo.

“Kirby Super Star started the trend of Kirby wearing a different hat with every ability.”

Super Star also brought co-op into the series, with Kirby being able to turn a copy ability into a ‘friend,’ allowing a second player to aid Kirby as one of the pink hero’s usual enemies. And with so many copy abilities, Kirby and his ally have no shortage of play styles.

That’s not where Super Star’s contributions to the series stop, however. Super Star’s primary ‘schtick’ was that it included eight games in one! This does, however, end up being a bit of a double-edged sword. On the plus side, the compilation presentation officially kickstarted the Kirby series’ love of packing in as much content into the package as possible. But on the downside, many of the games feel bite-sized, leaving them feeling more like pieces to one singular game, as opposed to Super Star fully living up to its promise as being ‘eight games in one.’

Okay, so maybe one shouldn’t expect an SNES game to have eight whole side-scrollers in it. But when two of the eight titles are merely mini-games (one of which being a samurai re-skin of one of Kirby’s Adventure’s mini-games), it does dampen the prospect of eight Kirby games being included in the package. A third, slightly larger mini-game is also present in the form of Gourmet Race, which pits Kirby in a race against King Dedede (while also introducing one of the series’ best tunes).

The ‘proper’ games include Spring Breeze, a remake of the original Kirby’s Dream Land now featuring copy abilities; Dyna Blade, a short adventure in which Kirby ventures to stop a powerful bird; The Great Cave Offensive, a Metroidvania that sees Kirby scavenging for treasures; Revenge of Meta-Knight, where Kirby prevents an uncharacteristically villainous Meta-Knight from conquering Dream Land; and Milky Way Wishes, a title which changes up the Kirby formula while implementing elements from the other games.

Sadly, both Spring Breeze and Dyna Blade – while fun – end almost as soon as they begin. Revenge of Meta-Knight feels like a more complete adventure, and adds a more serious tone to the proceedings, one which has found its way into subsequent games in the series. It’s Great Cave Offensive and Milky Way Wishes that feel like the main events, however. Great Cave Offensive proves the Metroidvania formula works wonders with the Kirby series, and it’s a wonder why Hal hasn’t dipped their toes into such waters more often (they have since only revisited the concept in Kirby and the Amazing Mirror). Milky Way Wishes mixes things up by removing Kirby’s ability to copy his foes’ powers by inhaling them, instead progressively unlocking each power to use at any time, should he be able to find them. These two re-workings of the standard Kirby gameplay bring an additional puzzle solving and exploration element (figuring out which powers to use where), and add a sense of depth that may be lacking from the other games in the package.

“Two of the games feature a boss fight against a string of RPG battles. Why hasn’t this boss returned?”

To top everything off, the game still looks visually stunning; with bright, cartoony graphics that haven’t aged a day. What’s better is that each game in the compilation finds a way to add their own visual distinction to the mix  – whether it be the more gritty, machine-based locations of Revenge of Meta-Knight or the starry skies and palette-swapped enemies of Milky Way Wishes – while still fitting into one, cohesive whole. As is the standard for the series, these visuals are complimented by a terrific and often-overlooked soundtrack, which captures as much variety as the games themselves, and should leave a lasting impression on players.

Is Kirby Super Star the best title in the series? That’s a tough call, seeing as Kirby has never made any notable missteps. But it may just be his definitive title in that it seems to be the one most subsequent entries have tried to live up to. Dream Land got things started, and Adventure gave Kirby his signature mechanic, but Super Star is the entry that established much of what we continue to see in the series even today. Not every game in the compilation may be equals, but when Kirby Super Star works, it’s impossible not to be won over.

 

8.5

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 Review

By 1995, Kirby had quickly established himself as one of Nintendo’s premiere franchises. Kirby’s Dreamland, though simplistic, found an audience due to the popularity of the Game Boy. It was with the 1993 NES sequel Kirby’s Adventure where the series really found its stride. Adventure gave Kirby his synonymous copy abilities, which in turn gave the series a stronger sense of depth in gameplay. Kirby had shown up in a few spinoff titles after his NES outing, but after three years it was time for the original Kirby’s Dream Land to get a proper follow-up. Kirby’s Dream Land 2 arrived on the Game Boy in 1995, and although it is a fittingly small game due to its hardware, its overall quality has held up almost shockingly well over the years.

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 adopted Adventure’s copy abilities, solidifying the mechanic as Kirby’s staple. Of course, the Game Boy had more limited capabilities than a home console, so the number of copy abilities were lowered to seven: burning, cutter, spike, ice, spark, stone and parasol. To compensate for the reduced number of powers, Kirby was given three animal friends for Kirby to ride (a la Mario and Yoshi), with each animal friend altering the copy abilities.

Rick the hamster, Coo the owl, and Kine the fish all join Kirby on his second Game Boy adventure. Rick travels faster on land than Kirby does on his own, while Coo takes to the air and Kine makes swimming sections a breeze. Best of all is that the game makes good and varied use of every animal friend. If you want you can stick with your preferred animal friend for most of the game, but certain secret areas will need the use of particular animals and/or powers to access. While most such areas provide hidden 1-Ups and similar items, certain levels contain an extra secret ‘Rainbow Drop,’ which are required to face the secret final boss.

Dream Land 2 is a much bigger game than the original. While the first Dream Land simply featured five short stages, Dream Land 2 contains seven worlds, each with multiple stages of their own. It still will only take players a couple of hours to finish, but things feel a lot more like a complete adventure this time around.

One stage in each world hides a Rainbow Drop, with the later drops being particularly difficult to find (often requiring you to have a particular animal friend and power just to find a clue, let alone the drop itself). If you find them all and defeat King Dedede, the true final showdown against Dark Matter takes place.

Some may wish that there were more hidden trinkets than simply one per world, but when you consider the limitations of the Game Boy, it’s actually quite impressive how much Kirby’s Dream Land 2 managed to pull off. Even Kirby’s Adventure had you go directly from Dedede to its big bad by default, so the fact that Dream Land 2 had you uncover secrets in order to obtain that final challenge was novel at the time.

Of course, being released on the original Game Boy, Kirby’s Dream Land 2 is not a particularly pretty game to look at. On the plus side, it was released late enough in the Game Boy’s life to take full advantage of the Super Game Boy (an SNES attachment that allowed you to play Game Boy titles on the console, with added color). This means that the added colors could later be found when playing the game on a Game Boy Color, Game Boy Advance, or in one of its later re-releases. It may not match the visual charm of Kirby’s Adventure, or the outright timeless graphics of the later Kirby Super Star or Dream Land 3 on the SNES. But if you manage to play Kirby’s Dream Land 2 on the proper hardware, it’s one of the few original Game Boy games that isn’t a total eyesore.

What Dream Land 2 lacks in visual fidelity, it makes up for in one of the Game Boy’s best soundtracks, with that distinct Kirby charm permeating through every tune. Each animal friend even gets their own theme (with Coo’s being the best).

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 may not match the “fire on all cylinders” feeling of Kirby’s Adventure, and it goes without saying that later entries topped it. But the core gameplay is fun and deep enough to make Kirby’s Dream Land 2 one of the few titles for the original Game Boy that has held up incredibly well. It’s still a lot of fun.

 

7.5

Kirby’s Dream Land Review

The Nintendo Game Boy became a video game phenomenon. Taking video games on the go was a revelation, and Nintendo took full advantage of it by giving their established series handheld iterations on the Game Boy. But the accessibility of the Game Boy also opened the door for Nintendo to create new franchises on the console, an opportunity that would lead to the creation of Pokemon and Wario. Among Nintendo’s franchises that began life on the Game Boy was Kirby, who has remained one of Nintendo’s most reliable names ever since. It all began with Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992. Though the original Dream Land may be incredibly simple when compared to later entries in the series, it still succeeds in what it initially set out to do: be an introduction to video games.

It’s true, while Kirby has become one of Nintendo’s most enduring series, it’s original title was created for the purpose of being a kid’s first video game. If young audiences found the later levels of Super Mario World too difficult, they could instead play Kirby’s Dream Land to get a better understanding of how games work. In this sense, Kirby’s Dream Land remains a roaring success. On the downside, that also means that Dream Land is an incredibly simple game that lacks depth, which is only more apparent today seeing as modern Kirby titles throw in as much extra content as possible.

Yes, Kirby’s original game is only five stages total in length. And more notably, while Kirby could still inhale enemies in his debut outing, he could not yet steal their abilities by doing so (that would be an innovation of the more substantial Kirby’s Adventure, released one year later on the NES). Kirby’s Dream Land can be completed in well under an hour, with an ever-so-slightly more challenging mode being unlocked upon completion.

It wouldn’t be inaccurate to say that Kirby’s Dream Land is as bare-bones as it gets. But at the same time, it still controls pretty well for a game originally released on the Game Boy. Perhaps more importantly, not only would it serve as a great introduction for young children to the world of video games, but if you’re interested in game design itself, Kirby’s Dream Land may also serve as a nice first-step in that regard as well. What Dream Land lacks in depth, it makes up for in its sense of education to how games work.

The layout of the stages and enemies serve as a study to the game’s mechanics (and by extension, the mechanics of platformers as a whole). And each subsequent stage introduces some new gameplay elements (including a space shooter segment, food that give Kirby new abilities, and a boss rush final stage). Yeah, it is a little cheap that Kirby can pretty much avoid any non-boss obstacle in the game by flying (later entries would provide enemies and hazards to prevent such an exploit of Kirby’s powers), but again, this was a title designed to introduce young children to the medium.

Kirby’s Dream Land may not be the most timeless of Kirby titles. If anything, it’s utter simplicity compared to its sequels and spinoffs may retroactively make it the weakest entry in the series. But it’s hard to be too critical on a game that’s simply trying to open the door for children to get into gaming, and the soundtrack holds up nicely (King Dedede has the longest-standing theme music of any video game character for good reason. His theme is awesome!). Kirby’s first adventure may not be a classic, yet it still has its charms.

 

6.0

Shadow of the Colossus (Playstation 4) Review

There aren’t many modern video games that have left quite the indelible mark as Shadow of the Colossus. While gaming today is arguably better than it’s ever been as a whole, it seems that for whatever reason – whether it be outlandish hype, the “bigger is better” mentality, or a tendency to pander – the number of more contemporary games that feel like they have their own timeless identity are few. Half-Life 2, the Portal duo, the Souls-Borne series, the 3D Mario titles, Breath of the Wild, and select indie titles (namely Undertale) stand out. Shadow of the Colossus similarly stands tall alongside them and, although probably a more flawed game than any of the aforementioned titles, has perhaps left the biggest impression in terms of style and tone. As influential as it’s become, there’s never really been anything else quite like it.

This Playstation 4 remake by BluePoint Games is the title’s third release, all but enforcing Shadow of the Colossus’ status as one of the most iconic Playstation games ever. Similar to Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy last year, this PS4 rendition of Shadow of the Colossus is a faithful recreation of the PS2 classic, which means that, although the assets have been rebuilt from the ground-up and boast some absolutely stunning visuals, some of the game’s flaws still remain intact. For purists, the authenticity is commendable, though you may also wish that BluePoint Games had tweaked the rougher mechanics ever-so slightly, to give Shadow of the Colossus a level of fluidity to match its uniqueness.

Shadow of the Colossus has become something of the poster-child for the whole “video games as art” concept, and although there are plenty of other games that showcase the unique artistic merits of the video game medium, Colossus’s status isn’t undeserved. While many of the games released in its wake have felt confused as to how to implement their artistry within game design – usually being either AAA games that think replicating movies is the way to go, or self-righteous indie titles that think a somber tone and visual style make up for shallow gameplay – Shadow of the Colossus actually feels like a fully realized creative vision.

The core game is as it’s always been. You play as Wander, a young warrior whose love has died. Willing to do anything for her, Wander takes the girl’s lifeless body to an ancient temple in a forgotten land, in hopes that an ancient being called Dormin can resurrect his lost love. But Dormin cannot undo death without a cost, and the demon needs Wander’s help just as much as Wander needs Dormin’s. Wander is to scourge this forgotten land of the sixteen Colossi, magnificent giants who remain some of gaming’s greatest creatures. If Wander can slay the sixteen Colossi, Dormin can resurrect his fallen love.

It sounds like a simple setup, but its execution transcends it into one of gaming’s greatest stories. What starts off as a selfless quest built on love transforms into a selfish tragedy. The Colossi – despite their intimidating size and appearances – are never presented as monsters. Instead of the usual fanfare one would receive for conquering a boss fight, the slaying of a Colossus is always accompanied by grief and sadness.

One of the things that made Shadow of the Colossus so special is that – unlike the many games that try to be art by throwing in as many cinematics as possible – Shadow of the Colossus weaves its narrative and lore into something that could only work as a video game. Shadow of the Colossus, at its heart, is a giant boss rush. Every Colossus is a beautiful combination of boss fight, puzzle and stage design. Climb the Colossi, expose their weak points, slay them, return to Dormin, repeat. Again, it all sounds simple, but the creativity involved within each Colossus makes every encounter something special.

You can unlock Time Attacks for each Colossus, which then rewards upgrades to your weapons and grant new items. You can also find fruit and hunt down silver-tailed lizards to boost Wander’s health and stamina (respectively). All the while your trusted horse Agro helps you traverse the land.

It’s actually quite beautiful how it all comes together. As stated, the game is an extravagant boss rush on paper, but Shadow of the Colossus is one of the rare “art games” that understands how to meld its world and thematics into its gameplay as one cohesive whole. Save points, for example, were presented as shrines scattered across the land (though the shrines now merely restore health in the PS4 version, as saving is now done automatically or manually through the pause menu in a delightful bit of modernization). Even the aforementioned Time Attacks take the form of visions/memories that take place within Dormin’s temple. The game’s unique world always finds ways to mold into its gameplay.

So what’s new about Shadow of the Colossus’ third release? Along with the aforementioned streamlined save feature, some tweaks have been made to the control scheme for the better. The X button now serves as Wander’s jump button and to mount Agro, while the triangle button calls your stead and boosts Agro’s speed when mounted.

The most obvious change is found in the aesthetics, however. Unlike the PS3 release, this isn’t just the PS2 original with an HD makeover, but a from the ground-up recreation of the PS2 classic. This means that, although Shadow of the Colossus may be a PS2 title from 2005, you may never know it if this is your introduction to the game. The attention to detail on a Colossus’ fur, the individual blades of grass blowing in the wind, the ripples in every pool of water; Shadow of the Colossus, and indeed few games, have ever looked so beautiful. In terms of sheer realism in the environments, I’d say this PS4 remake is second only to Uncharted 4 as the best looking game I’ve seen. For a 2005 game to look this stunning is telling of just how much care and attention BluePoint Games put into this remake. Even the game’s iconic musical score sounds crisper than ever, and the added sounds that emanate from the environment and Colossi only add to the game’s atmosphere and sense of awe. Additionally, a new collectible can be found in the form of glowing “Enlightenments,” though finding them all and unlocking their questionably useful reward may only be worth the time for the most diehard of fans.

Another fun little addition is a new “photo” option, which allows you to take screenshots within the game and share them on social media. It may not sound like much, but with how utterly gorgeous this remake is, you’ll likely bask in the opportunity to take the best photos of the game’s unique world and its tragic giants.

If there is a downside to this remake, it’s that the original’s blemishes in control and camera largely remain. Thankfully, you no longer have to worry about drops in the framerate, and as stated, some of the controls have been wisely mapped to different buttons. But some of Wander’s movements and actions still feel a little clunky, and when wrestling with a Colossus, the camera can still get utterly chaotic at times, which may still lead to some frustration and swearing (emotional reactions that seem like the last responses the game wanted to create). Sure, you can praise the authenticity of the recreation, but you may also begin to question if such authenticity is the best option when the years since the game’s original release have revealed how it could be bettered.

I’m not asking for unnecessary, George Lucas-style additions here (no Dewbacks, please), and in terms of video game preservation, I get it. But a key difference between video games and other mediums that see remakes is that games feature interactive mechanics that, over time, can be bettered. If BluePoint Games were willing to change the way Shadow of the Colossus controls in terms of player input, you kind of wish they’d have done the same for the way Wander and his camera control. At the very least, an additional option would be nice.

So Shadow of the Colossus was never a perfect game, and that’s still true here. That’s a bit of a shame, because the uniqueness and execution of much of Shadow of the Colossus’ vision make it a gaming experience like no other. With the additional technical polish, Shadow of the Colossus might sit with some esteemed company at the very top of the mountain of gaming’s all-time greats. As it is, it’s still making the climb up that mountain. But Wander shouldn’t have any trouble in that department.

 

9.0