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

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade Review

Luigi's Mansion Arcade

In 2015, Nintendo released an arcade iteration of their Luigi’s Mansion franchise to arcades in Japan, courtesy of developer Capcom. The game has since made its way to select arcades stateside, as something of a test run to see how well it fares outside of its native Japan. Hopefully this test run turns into something more, as Luigi’s Mansion Arcade is the best of the recent arcade transitions of Nintendo franchises.

The first highlight of Luigi’s Mansion Arcade is the setup itself. The game is featured in an enclosed cabinet, giving it a darker, more isolated feeling that fits the game’s haunted house theme. The cabinet features a seat for two players, each of which use a controller modeled after Luigi’s Poltergust 5000 vacuum.

Unlike the GameCube original or the 3DS sequel, Luigi’s Mansion Arcade is presented in a first-person view, meaning that players see everything from Luigi’s viewpoint. The players can select from a small set of mansions, each of which are played in a linear, on-rails style, with players progressing to the next room of every mansion once they clear out every ghost in a given chamber.

The game utilizes motion-controls, with players aiming their vacuum controllers at the ghosts, holding and releasing a button at its top to shine a flash at the ghosts to stun them, and then pulling a trigger on the controller to begin vacuuming the ghosts up. It actually controls pretty well, and it may leave you wondering why Nintendo didn’t make a game like this on the Wii.

Admittedly, one awkward piece of controls is present in the form of the Flash Bomb, a limited ability that more easily stuns every ghost on-screen. The Flash Bomb is used by pressing a button in the middle of the cabinet itself, as opposed to being featured on the gun. This can become a bit cumbersome in some of the more hectic sections, and can kind of break the flow of the game’s control scheme.

Additional fun is added to the game by the way the levels feature branching paths. Although the levels are played in fixed paths, certain rooms can lead to alternate paths (either by finding a hidden item or shining your light to reveal a secret pathway). This adds a little more variety to the experience, and also gives players the chance to earn extra coins, which means a higher score after the mansion is complete.

Luigi’s Mansion Arcade adopts the visual style (and even the mansions) from the 3DS game. This means that the game has a nice, cartoony look to it that’s visually appealing, but also means that it lacks the gloomy atmosphere of the GameCube original.

Although Luigi’s Mansion Arcade simplifies the series’ formula to fit the “quick fun” nature of arcades, it makes for a worthy place to spend your arcade points. Luigi’s Mansion Arcade is simple but addictive fun that provides a good deal of enjoyment for two players.

 

6

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

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.

 

5

Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64) Review

SSB64

Super Smash Bros. quickly became one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. And how could it not? It’s a fighting series where Nintendo’s most beloved characters duke it out with sumo-style rules, and Mario Kart-esque weapons. But after the sequels built so strongly on the series’ formula, going back to the original may come us a slight disappointment. While the 1999 original Super Smash Bros. remains a fun game in its own right, it feels more than a little empty when compared to any of its sequels.

As stated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game where – rather than depleting your opponents’ health – the goal is to accumulate enough damage to send them flying off the screen, thus eliminating them. It’s a simple enough setup, but it has proven so much fun that the series has produced some of the most insanely replayable games of all time.

On the downside, much of the depth found in the gameplay wouldn’t arrive until the GameCube sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee would add more moves, more specials, and tighter mechanics. Brawl would add Final Smashes and some really creative movesets. And the recent Wii U and 3DS editions add depth and polish to pretty much every facet of the gameplay.

By comparison, the N64 original feels barren. Here, the characters only have three special attacks (performed with B, B + up, and B + down), as opposed to the four found in Melee and subsequent titles. Even more notably, the number of standard attacks each character has is incredibly limited. There are no Smash attacks or more intricate moves. You can’t midair dodge, or perform very many fancy combos. You only have a few directional ground and midair attacks, and the aforementioned specials. The gameplay is still fun at its core, but knowing just how much depth the sequels added to the equation, it’s easy to feel that the original Smash Bros. is a bit dated.

On top of that, some of the mechanics also haven’t aged too well. Here, opponents will be sent flying off-stage with relatively little damage. In later entries, opponents usually need to be well above the one-hundred damage mark before you can think about sending them packing. But here, you can defeat enemies after having only dealt about half of that damage. This leaves many battles feeling incredibly short. Another downside is just how slow the characters move. Many people complained that the characters in Brawl moved too slowly, but I might assume those same people hadn’t played the original in a good, long while. Here, the characters move so slowly and jump so floaty it’s hard to complain about Brawl’s movements by comparison.

SSB64On the bright side, the original Super Smash Bros. featured an indisputable roster of deserving characters. From the get-go, players can select Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Yoshi, Samus, Kirby, Fox McCloud and Pikachu, while the secret characters include Luigi, Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon and Ness. It’s an incredibly small roster compared to the sequels, but it also benefits by predating the clones, self-damaging characters, and seemingly random character selections found in later games. Every character here strongly represents Nintendo’s diverse franchises, and you can’t really complain about the the character inclusions (though it is a shame the low memory of the N64 meant that Princess Peach, Bowser and King Dedede were left out of the mix until later entries).

Super Smash Bros. also featured a good number of fun items and a small but creative selection of stages, each one boasting their own gimmicks. There are also some additional modes to be found, though understandably, there’s not nearly as much content as there would be in future installments.

Single player modes are limited to an arcade-style “story mode,” where you battle in a series of fights until you make your way to the Master Hand, and the mini-games Break the Target and Board the Platforms. They aren’t much, and once you’ve played through them to unlock the secret characters, you’ll probably be sticking with the multiplayer battles.

The original Super Smash Bros. is still a fun game, particularly with a full group of four players. But it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as any of its sequels. The game feels prototypical and a bit shallow, and it simply isn’t nearly as fun as Melee, Brawl or the Wii U and 3DS editions. It does hold up better than many of the other multiplayer titles on the N64, however.

If you want to play a more definitive and deep Smash Bros. experience, stick to the Wii U version. But if you simply want to have some old fashioned, multiplayer fun, you could do a whole lot worse.

 

7

Mario Kart 64 Review

Mario Kart 64

There are few video games as synonymous with my gaming youth than Mario Kart 64. The number of hours I spent with its Grand Prix, Versus and Battle modes are uncountable. For a good few years, it was my go-to multiplayer game. The Mario Kart series has come a long way since this second installment hit the Nintendo 64 in 1997, so how well does Mario Kart 64 hold up after so many years of Nintendo perfecting the formula?

The short answer to that is… pretty decently, though there are aspects of the game that haven’t aged particularly gracefully as well.

Being the first 3D entry in the series, Mario Kart 64 was capable of certain feats that the SNES original couldn’t pull off. The new 3D racetracks were more robust, with features like changes in elevation, slopes, and long jumps, among others. This helped Mario Kart 64 create some of the series’ most iconic tracks, many of which have been recreated in subsequent Mario Karts.

Mario Kart 64On the downside, these 3D visuals are now rather ugly to look at. Sure, it’s easy to defend it as being an earlier title in the N64’s library, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when playing the game today, it can sometimes strain the eyes. Not only do the environments look blocky, and the character models downright odd, but you can often only see what’s immediately in front of you, with everything else looking like a pixelated blur. This can sometimes make turns and obstacles difficult to see, which can really effect you during a race. This is all the worse when playing split-screen multiplayer, as the tinier screen space means things look that much blurrier.

On the bright side, the core gameplay is still a lot of fun. The control scheme is simple enough (A to accelerate, B for breaks, and Z to fire weapons), and is among the select Nintendo 64 games that are still fun to control. And it’s different modes bring out a lot of fun in the gameplay.

Mario Kart 64Gran Prix sees one or two players taking on computer-controlled opponents in a complete set of races. Time Trials consist of single player races against a “ghost” player in an attempt to get the best time. Versus mode consists of singular races of two to four players without the computer opponents. Finally, Battle mode has two to four players facing off in enclosed arenas as they gather items and try to pop every other player’s three balloons (this is also the only time in the series where defeated players in Battle mode would become bombs that could ram into a surviving player to eliminate one of their balloons for a little revenge from beyond the grave).

"Where did you learn to drive?"
“Where did you learn to drive?”

The modes are all fun in their own right, with Battle mode probably being the best of the lot. Though there is one huge downside to the game’s multiplayer that should be addressed. When playing a game with the maximum of four players, there is no music to be heard. This was probably due to technical limitations with the Nintendo 64, but it doesn’t change the fact that playing the game without music definitely takes away from the experience. And Mario Kart 64 has a pretty good soundtrack as well, which makes its absence in four player games sting all the more.

This puts Mario Kart 64 in an interesting situation where – despite being an entry in a multiplayer series – the single player modes have probably aged better. Though you can still have plenty of fun playing Mario Kart 64 with friends, the added blurriness to the visuals and the lack of music are really noticeable when playing today.

Mario Kart 64As for the character roster, players can take control of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario and Bowser. This game basically established the “primary eight” characters of the Mario universe (though Rosalina and Bowser Jr. probably make it a primary ten these days), so there aren’t any complaints with the selections (no babies or Pink Gold Peach here), though players may feel a little underwhelmed by the lack of unlockable characters.

Mario Kart 64 is a more basic entry in the series then. But while it may lack the content and depth of many of its successors, it’s still a lot of fun to play. It has its fair share of attributes that show their age, but it’s still way more fun than a lot of other multiplayer N64 titles are when playing today.

If you want a more definitive Mario Kart, just pop Mario Kart 8 into your Wii U and have a blast. But if you want to revisit a N64 classic that can provide hours of fun for you and some friends, you could do a whole lot worse than Mario Kart 64.

 

7

Mario is Missing Review

Mario is Missing

There are many reasons why the Super Mario series holds such a lofty status in the world of video games, with one of the biggest of those reasons being its versatility. Throughout the years, the Mario series has weaved its way into various genres to great success. The Mario Kart series is probably the most famous such sub-series, while the Mario RPGs have created adventures that rival the core platformers of the series. Even sports genres like tennis and golf have benefitted from having the Mario characters crossover into them. But there is one genre that Mario could not successfully transition to, even through multiple attempts: edutainment.

During the earlier part of the 1990s, Nintendo licensed a number of developers to create “educational” Mario games, all of them falling flat. There is arguably no more infamous example of this experiment than 1992’s Mario is Missing.

Nintendo likes to boast 2001’s GameCube launch title Luigi’s Mansion as the first time Luigi had the spotlight ahead of his more famous, red-clad brother. The truth is that Mario is Missing beat it to the punch by nine years, as this marked the first time Luigi was the sole playable character in a Mario game, as Mario himself has been kidnapped by Bowser. You can’t really blame Nintendo for rewriting history, however, because this was one awful debut for Luigi as a leading man.

How does one even begin to describe Mario is Missing? Well, as previously stated, it is an attempt at creating an educational Mario game, with the key word there being attempt. After Mario is kidnapped, Luigi travels to Bowser’s castle in Antarctica to rescue him. Yes, Bowser’s castle is inexplicably in Antarctica, and this game takes place not in the Mushroom Kingdom, Dinosaur Land, or any fun, imaginative world we’d grown accustomed to in Mario games, but in the real world. How fun…

Bowser’s castle contains three floors (think of them as worlds), with each floor containing five doors to different real world locations (think of them as levels). After all five levels in a world have been cleared, Luigi must face a “boss fight” (note the quotation marks) in order to get one step closer to rescuing Mario.

As soon as you enter a door and walk into a real-world location, the game looks somewhat like a traditional Mario sidescroller, with Luigi even boasting a similar sprite to that of Super Mario World (though his overalls look more purple here than blue). There are even Koopa Troopas running about the place.

That’s about where all similarities to anything relating to a real Mario game stop though. The environments, as you might expect, look as similar to their real-world counterparts as they can, given the 16-bit limitations. More alarming are the presence of five generic passersby in every level (always the same five passersby mind you. These people really get around). Luigi still has to jump on Koopa Troopas though, as three randomly-placed Koopas on each level contain an “artifact,” which are necessary to move forward in the game.

Mario is Missing
“You must be this tall to talk to me.”

Here’s where things get really baffling. In order to return these artifacts to their rightful places, Luigi must find the landmark they belong to and speak to the woman at the information booth (who looks suspiciously like Princess Peach) at each landmark. But Luigi can’t just speak to the woman at the information booth at any time, with the presumptive reason being that he’s too short to reach her window. The Mario Bros. were never that short! And why does it even matter? It’s not like he’s trying to get on a roller coaster or something.

So how does Luigi reach the window? By riding on top of Yoshi, of course! And how do you get a hold of Yoshi? By first discovering where you are on Earth so Yoshi can find you! You can find out your current location by asking the aforementioned passersby where you are, to which they always drop a hint (because why give a direct answer?). If you’ve figured it out, then you pause the game, go to a world map menu where you control Yoshi, and bring him to your current whereabouts (or if you’re playing today, you can read up the locations online and save yourself this cumbersome first step).

Mario is MissingI will admit, this world map is one of the few things in the game I like, because it is literally a map of the continents of the Earth reworked into the style of Super Mario World’s world map. The cleverness stops there though, since the game doesn’t bother to do anything creative with Yoshi whether you get the location right or wrong. You just un-pause and either Luigi will suddenly be riding Yoshi or not. And all Yoshi does is make you move slightly faster and boost you high enough to talk to the woman at the information booths.

Once you’ve reach the required height to communicate, you can return the artifacts you’ve found to the information booth if you can at first answer two questions about the landmark. At this point you can enter the landmark to snap a photo. Once all three artifacts are returned, you need to backtrack to the blue pipe you came out of at the start of the level (Bowser’s doors apparently lead to pipes), and then you repeat this process ad nauseam. It is one of the most tedious setups I have ever seen in a game, and it’s made all the worse by the mechanics of the game itself.

For starters, there’s Luigi’s jumping. You would think with all the Mario games that the developers could have referenced for smooth jumping controls, that it shouldn’t be so difficult to pull off. But Luigi’s jumping here feels incredibly stiff and slow, to the point that you may wonder if anyone involved with the game’s development had ever played a Mario game before. Another weird thing about the jumping is that the perspective doesn’t seem to mean anything, as Koopa Troopas often appear to be in the background behind Luigi, yet you can still jump on them as if they were right in front of you. You can’t die either, so I guess the Koopas can’t hit you from where they are, even though you can hit them.

Even worse than all of this are the mechanics involving the stage progression. As if the process of it all wasn’t convoluted enough, the levels themselves are almost maze-like, with Luigi getting to the different sections of a stage by crossing the street to go into the background or foreground. You must be standing directly in the center of the sidewalk when you do this though, which just makes things that much more tedious. To add insult to injury, in order to remember where you, the landmarks, the passersby and the Koopa Troopas are, you have to repeatedly pause the game and look at a map. This level map is different from the Yoshi one, mind you, and looks a lot more cluttered.

Another annoyance comes from just trying to talk to people. You would think you would just have to press a button when you’re close to them, like in any reasonable game, but you’d be wrong. You have to stand directly in front of them, while facing them, and then press the button. This isn’t so easy considering these people are constantly moving. Luigi just can’t catch a break when it comes to talking to people, can he?

Once you’ve finally managed to get the artifacts and Yoshi, some of the most frustrating mechanics of rear their ugly heads. For one thing, Luigi can only trade the most recently obtained artifact. So let’s say you’ve picked up artifacts A, B and C, and are right next to the landmark that relates to artifact B, you can’t trade it in right there. Instead you have to drag yourself all the way to landmark C and trade that one in first. You do have the option of getting one artifact at a time and trading them in piece by piece, but that also means after you’ve completed one artifact you have to backtrack, find the right Koopa Troopas, and repeat the process all over again. No matter how you tackle it, it’s obnoxiously tedious.

Even the questions at the information booth can be a pain. Yes, this is an educational game for kids, so the questions are generally really easy. But every now and again they’ll throw you an odd one like “Amazingly, the pyramids of Egypt were built without —-” with some potential answers being “nails” (the correct choice) and “air conditioning.” So if “nails” is the the only correct answer, does that imply that ancient Egyptians did indeed have air conditioning? That’s real educational. Worse still, if you get the wrong answer to a question, you have to wait about ten seconds before you can talk to the woman at the information booth again, which just drags this whole mess out just that much longer.

Perhaps worst of all is that, when a world is all done and you think you may be rewarded with a boss fight that may resemble something fun, all the bosses do is go back and forth over and over and over again. They also can’t kill you, so they’re basically just waiting for you to jump on their heads a few times while they run around aimlessly. It’s exactly the same for all three bosses: Ludwig, Iggy and Roy. Yes, Roy is the final boss, and Bowser is just taken out in a cinematic. He didn’t even want to bother this time around.

In short, Mario is Missing fails tremendously as both a video game and an educational experience. It’s unrelentingly tedious, and doesn’t even play well. There have been other bad Mario games through the years, but even they usually have some redeeming attributes. But it is honestly difficult to find much of anything to praise about Mario is Missing (though I suppose I did enjoy some of the music tracks, which humorously remix Super Mario World themes in the styles of particular countries). And it’s made all the more painful by the fact that it drags the Mario series into this mess.

I’m starting to think Mario purposefully went missing, as a means to avoid starring in this stinker of a game.

 

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Mario Kart: Super Circuit Review

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Though every Nintendo console and handheld since the SNES has had its own iteration of Mario Kart, the Game Boy Advance’s Mario Kart: Super Circuit is the only entry that plays like a direct sequel to the SNES’ Super Mario Kart. If you’re a fan of the original, then Super Circuit may be worth a revisit. Just know that it hasn’t aged quite as well as Super Mario Kart, and its transition to the Wii U Virtual Console has removed some key features.

Super Circuit retains the play style of Super Mario Kart, where courses are mostly flat and straightforward when compared to the other sequels in the series (though they retain the fun Mario themes). Much like the original game, it feels more like the tracks are moving instead of the character, which can take some getting used to, especially when one realizes the turns are much sharper and the vehicles more slippery than in Super Mario Kart. It doesn’t feel as immediately fun as the SNES game, but for those with the patience for it, Super Circuit ends up being a similarly entertaining experience.

There’s also a good sense of balance with computer AI and the items. Playing on 150cc will still prove incredibly difficult, but playing on lesser difficulties make things feel more fair and less random than in some entries of the series. The items consist of all the basics like bananas and shells, and lack the more overpowered weapons of later Mario Karts.

Mario Kart: Super CircuitThe character selection is identical to that of Mario Kart 64: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Toad, Donkey Kong and Wario are all playable, with no secret or surprise characters making the roster. Even back in 2001 when the game was first released on GBA there was no shortage of Mario characters to work with, so the recycled selection is a minor bummer.

The visuals are the aspect of the game that have been most affected by age. Though the game is colorful and the game’s merging of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64’s art styles is interesting, it looks neither as lively as the former or even as visually pleasing as the latter (normally you’d expect an early 3D game like MK64 to have aged worse visually than a 2D game like Super Circuit, but somehow the exact opposite is true). The game’s Virtual Console release is also better suited for off-TV play on the Gamepad, since playing on the TV stretches the visuals and exposes its datedness all the more. Some of Super Circuit’s rotation effects might even prove bothersome to those with sensitive eyes.

The single biggest drawback to the Virtual Console release, however, is that it no longer has a multiplayer option. That’s right, it’s Mario Kart without multiplayer now. If you can track down an original GBA copy of the game and a couple of link cables, you can still have some multiplayer fun. But without a means to replicate the link cables, or a split-screen option to make up for it, the Virtual Console version of the game lacks the series’ defining feature.

Still, there’s fun to be had with the core gameplay. And additional single player modes like Time Trial and Quick Run (a more customizable VS. mode) ensure that there’s more to do than the Grand Prix mode. You can even unlock all twenty tracks from Super Mario Kart on top of the twenty tracks introduced here, giving Super Circuit more courses than any entry in the series up until Mario Kart 8 introduced DLC into the mix. So despite the limitations, there’s still plenty to do for solo players.

If you cherish the gameplay of the original Super Mario Kart, then Super Circuit is still worth a spin, though preferably in its original GBA incarnation. For those who feel the series has improved for deviating from the SNES game’s blueprints, you may want to hit the brakes before downloading Super Circuit.

 

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Mario Golf (N64) Review

Mario Golf

Though Mario had made appearance in sports titles beforehand, 1999’s Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64 is the game that made Mario sports games a thing. These days, Mario sports titles are a common recurrence, but Mario Golf was testing new waters in its time. Playing Mario Golf today on the Wii U Virtual Console, you may find that some of its aspects hold up, but in a lot of ways, it feels like a limited experience, especially when compared to more recent Mario sports games.

As the game’s title suggests, Mario Golf is a golf simulation game that stars Mario and his friends (and enemies). In the case of being a golf title it works fine, but you may find the Mario characters are strangely misused.

Mario GolfGameplay is simple enough for even those with little knowledge (or interest) in golf to get into it, but deep enough to make it a competitive and replayable package. The mechanics of the sport are streamlined, but you’ll still need to choose your shots carefully, and pay attention to the weather, the land, your swing and even the wind (represented by a Boo, being one of the only uses of a Mario element outside of the playable characters) in order to get the best score.

You can choose the strength in which to swing the club, and your shot’s power and distance is determined by pressing the A button at the right times as a bar moves through a gauge at the bottom of the screen. It’s easy enough to understand, but you’ll quickly find it’s difficult to master once you take your positioning and other conditions into account.

The core gameplay is still a solid golfer, but you’ll soon realize that there’s not a whole lot of “Mario” to it. The courses are all straight forward golf courses, with no Mushroom Kingdom locales or wacky gimmicks, and the game’s alternate modes, such as Ring Shot (similar to that from Mario Tennis), don’t reflect the franchise much either, fun as they may be. Even the mini-golf mode, which seems like a prime opportunity to bring out many of the series’ elements, feels rather bland, with shapes from the alphabet and numerical system being used in favor of any Mario-themed courses.

But seeing as those modes work just fine if all you’re looking for is a golfing game, you could potentially look past that. What’s less forgivable is the game’s character selection.

PlumFive new characters were introduced here in Plum, Charlie, Harry, Sonny and Maple, with Plum being the only one anyone seems to remember (perhaps due to the fact that she’s the only one who actually looks like a Mario character). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that none of these newcomers have returned since, though it is something of a shame that Plum never became a recurring character. If anything, it may have spared us from seeing Daisy become a staying character in these spinoffs.

What really adds a big question mark to the character selection, however, is how the majority of characters, including Mario himself, need to be unlocked. That’s right, you don’t start out with Mario as a playable character in a game called Mario Golf. 

The only starting characters are two of the aforementioned newcomers, Plum and Charlie, as well as Princess Peach and Baby Mario (this game also started the paradox-creating trend of having Mario play sports against his infant self). Everyone else must be unlocked in “Character Match” mode, with a couple of them unlocked via other means.

In Character Match, you are pitted against an AI-controlled character, and you must beat them in order to unlock that character. This process works one at a time, with every character showing up in a fixed order, with Mario himself not showing up until the sixth time around. And if you think this doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, it should be noted that the AI is not only pretty difficult, but you can’t even change its difficulty. Unlocking every character becomes a time-consuming, arduous process that only diehards will care to accomplish. It’s baffling to think that you have to go through so much trouble just to play as Mario in Mario Golf.

The worst part of it all is that Camelot, though proven to be a capable developer with these Mario sports titles, failed to work on the character balance. You’ll find that once you unlock later characters like Mario, Bowser and Metal Mario, you’ll probably never play as the starters again, unless you want to be stacked against all odds.

Also of note is that there were originally four unique characters that could be unlocked via connection to the Gameboy Color version of Mario Golf, but this feature is once again absent in the Virtual Console release, meaning that no matter what you’ll always have four shadowed out squares on the character select screen.

Mario GolfOn the plus side, the core gameplay of Mario Golf holds up pretty well, so those who simply want to play a simplified golf game may really enjoy it (and it’s still up to four players, which makes for a lot more fun). But that same lot may wonder why there are Mario characters in this game to begin with. Mario fans will probably wonder the same thing.

That’s the thing, unfortunately. While Mario Golf still works well as a golf game, it’s not a very good Mario Golf game. And despite featuring the colorful characters from the Mushroom Kingdom, the game’s demanding nature will probably mean kids won’t have the patience for it. It’s hard to figure out what audience Nintendo and Camelot made this game for.

Later entries would better merge the game of golf into the world of Super Mario with fun level designs, gimmicks, and a stronger emphasis on the characters, while retaining the core golfing experience. But this first proper foray into Mario sports feels like a clash of unconnected elements. It’s not so much Mario Golf so much as golf that just so happens to have Mario characters in it.

It’s still a decent enough game for those enthusiastic for golf itself. But the fact that you have to jump through so many hoops just to play as Mario really says it all.

 

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Mario Tennis (N64) Review

Mario Tennis

The late 90s and early 2000s saw something of a boom in Mario spinoffs. The capabilities of 3D gaming allowed for more immersive and realistic sports titles, and Nintendo capitalized on this during the N64 years, creating their own series of sports titles with a Mushroom Kingdom spin through developer Camelot. Most of these titles were successful enough to spawn sequels that continue to this day. Of this early lot of Mario sports games, the best was arguably Mario Tennis. Though it may feel a tad small when compared to more recent Mario sports titles, Mario Tennis remains a solidly fun game due to its core gameplay, which has aged gracefully.

Before I divulge into the game itself, it should be noted that Mario Tennis holds the dubious honor of introducing Waluigi into the Mario series. This lanky, dastardly villain was created as the Luigi to Wario’s Mario. Unfortunately for Waluigi, being created for the sole purpose of giving Wario a tennis partner has prevented him of making much of an impact on the greater Mario series, and he’s been stuck as a filler character reserved solely for Mario spinoff titles ever since. But he’s a character so comically lame he’s become pitiable and, dare I say, even enjoyable (if ironically so). Mario Tennis’ character introduction may not be much to boast about, but it’s still a notable mark in Mario history. Though the game’s re-introduction of Daisy and Birdo into the franchise is less forgivable.

Onto more important things. The gameplay of Mario Tennis features the ability to perform different shots by pressing one or both of two primary buttons (A and B in the original N64 release, but this is changeable in the Wii U Virtual Console version). Each button performs a different type of shot, and pressing the same button twice, or pressing the two buttons in different orders, can produce alternate, more powerful shots. It’s a simple setup that provides a surprising depth, as it gives the game a good sense of “easy to learn, difficult to master” that should make it appealing to players of various skill levels.

Additional variety is added by the different characters, courts and modes.

Mario TennisThe character roster consists of many Mushroom Kingdom mainstays, who each take on different play styles (Mario and Luigi are well-rounded, Bowser and Donkey Kong are strong, the Princesses fall under the “technique” category, and so on). The differences in character abilities aren’t quite as prominent as they are in later Mario sports titles, and there aren’t any wacky special moves, but they all add a nice dose of versatility to the experience.

The different courts lack the fun gimmicks that Mario sports games would later adopt, and feel more grounded in realism, with the differences in courts being based on how they effect the bounce of the ball as opposed to Mushroom Kingdom motifs (with the exceptions of some secret stages, though they too feel mundane when compared to later entries).

Thankfully, the additional modes add some Mushroom Kingdom charm to the equation. Along with the standard exhibition and tournament modes (which provide both singles and doubles variants), there’s also Piranha Challenge, in which a group of Piranha Plants spit tennis balls at the player, who must then hit them past their opponent without missing too many of the Piranha Plants’ shots. Then there’s Ring Shot, a surprisingly addictive mode where you must hit the ball through a set number of rings, with your collective ring shots only counting if you score the point against your rival. Finally, there’s the simply-named Bowser Stage mode, where players face off on a shifting court that affects the players’ shots, while also giving players Mario Kart-like items to slow their opponents down.

The game also has some pretty impressive AI. If you set the computer-controlled opponent on easy it’ll be a cakewalk, but if you up their difficulty you’ll be in for some tough tennis matches.

Being a Nintendo 64 title, the graphics of course look dated and clumpy, but the colorful Mario aesthetics make it look more appealing than other titles in the genre of its time. The music is similarly more enjoyable than you might think out of a tennis game. Notably, the music in the game’s menus can be pretty soothing.

The drawbacks to Mario Tennis include the aforementioned missed opportunities to fully capitalize of the Mario brand, as the game can sometimes feel more like a tennis game that happens to have Mario characters in it, as opposed to a full-fledged Mario tennis game. Some players may also long for more game modes, since the ones provided  may not hold the interest of those more accustomed to the versatility of contemporary Mario sports titles.

Mario TennisAn additional downside to the Virtual Console release is that all the additional features provided by connecting the game to the Gameboy Color Mario Tennis title are absent, since the feature itself is no longer applicable. Without the transferring capabilities between the two games, Mario Tennis now feels like a good chunk of its content has been gutted.

Still, even these drawbacks aren’t enough to deter the simple delight of the gameplay. For a sports game of any kind to hold up this well after fifteen years is impressive in of itself. The fact that it stars Mario and friends is just a huge bonus. And yes, that even includes Waluigi.

 

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