Kirby Battle Royale Review

All streaks must come to an end, I suppose. I’ve long-since touted that Kirby has secretly been the most reliable video game character. Sure, he may not have ever reach the highest highs of Mario or Zelda, but he also never had ant flat-out stinkers like the Mario edutainment games or the Zelda Cdi titles, either. Kirby Battle Royale may not be nearly as flawed as those ghastly games, but it is the first time I can think of where I wouldn’t recommend a game starring Kirby. So while Kirby’s reliability of never starring in an all-out stinker may be intact, his streak of having his name be  attached to recommendable games has finally been broken.

On paper, Kirby Battle Royale sounds like a decent concept. It’s a Kirby brawler, and with Kirby’s history in the Super Smash Bros. series, it seems like it would make for welcoming transition. Problems soon arise, however, when it becomes apparent that KBR doesn’t boast anything near the depth of Super Smash Bros., nor does it have enough variety in the gameplay to make up for this.

Long story short, players can take control of their own Kirby, and select a specific copy ability when going into battle. While there are death matches that seem to make the most sense with the concept of Kirbys with different abilities battling each other, but things already fall short in this area, as the copy abilities only have their basic moves, lacking in the varied movesets that have been a part of the series since Kirby Super Star. If ever there were a time where it made the most sense for Kirby’s abilities to boast different moves and combos, you’d think it’d be in a multiplayer brawler. Yet this is one of the few Kirby titles of recent years in which that element is absent.

There are other modes as well: Apple Scramble sees two teams working together to gather the most apples. Coin Clash is a contest to see who can claim the most coins, all while avoiding a coin-stealing ghost. Flag Ball has players attempting to throw a ball to their team’s flag, with the rub being that the flag can also be picked up, which makes things more difficult if the enemy team gets crafty.

Overall, there are ten different game modes. While that may sound like a lot, and some of them (like Flag Ball) can be fun, they all end up being more in line with mini-games than they do full-on gameplay modes. So what you have feels like Mario Party without the board game segment and only 10 mini-games which, as you can imagine, can only hold your attention for so long.

There is a story mode in the game, which sees Kirby and Bandana Waddle Dee (I still can’t believe that’s the character’s actual name) competing in the “Cake Royale,” a tournament that sees the heroic duo taking on King Dedede’s army of Kirby clones in order to win the ultimate cake. I have to say, I love that the Kirby series can be about saving the universe in one game, and then be about winning a cake the next. What other series has such drastic shifts in the seriousness of its plots?

In the story mode, players start out in the Beginners’ League, and work their way through the Bronze, Silver, Gold and Platinum Leagues. Each stage is comprised of the ten aforementioned games, but in a nice twist, not every stage in a league has to be completed, only as many as it takes to earn enough points to move on in the tournament (though you are free to do them all, if you so desire).

The more points you get, the more copy abilities you unlock in the story mode. Though the game’s top-down perspective can make certain abilities harder to use than they should be (shooting fire and ice from Kirby’s mouth isn’t so accurate as it is  in a 2D plain). Additionally, once you reach the Platinum League, you can equip special orbs before a match that can be used in-game to temporarily boost your abilities. The orbs are an interesting concept, but they end up being too little, too late, given that they only appear in the story mode’s final act.

The basic gameplay of Kirby Battle Royale can be fun, the problem is that it seems to settle on its bare assets far too often. The entire game feels more like it could have simply been a bonus mode in one of Kirby’s meatier (and far superior) 3DS outings like Kirby Triple Deluxe or Kirby Planet Robot.

I suppose if you have enough friends who are interested, you can have some fun play sessions with Kirby Battle Royale. The graphics are also nice and the music is – per the norm for Kirby – memorable and catchy. But for the first time ever, Kirby feels like he’s grown complacent. A Kirby brawler sounds like it could be a roaring good time, but in its execution, Kirby Battle Royale constantly feels like it could be more.

 

5

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WarioWare Gold Review

Is there any series – whether in the arsenal of Nintendo or any other developer – that better showcases the joys of video games in their purest form than WarioWare? Wario’s bizarre collection of ‘micro-games’ strips the medium to its most bare bones state: Push the A button. Go right. Duck, jump, tap the touch screen. WarioWare deconstructs and parodies the very idea of video games through sheer simplicity, but also providing a great time while doing so. WarioWare Gold serves as something of a greatest hits of the irreverent series, showcasing micro-games from past entries as well as a host of its own; featuring traditional button presses, touch controls and motion controls to create the biggest WarioWare yet. Possibly even the best.

After the well-meaning but misguided Game & Wario on Wii U, WarioWare Gold is back to basics. Players face a succession of seconds long micro-games, each one asking the player little more than a button press or two. But the more micro-games the player completes, the faster they get, until everything turns into a jubilant chaos worthy of Wario’s maniacal laughter.

WarioWare Gold features three different primary modes of play: Mash games simply require the use of the D-Pad and A button (y’know, button mashing). Twist style games – named after the Game Boy Advance’s brilliant WarioWare Twisted – see players rotating their 3DS console in a myriad of ways to accomplish them through motion controls. Finally, Touch based games use the 3DS’s touchscreen.

The games are wonderfully silly, with my personal favorites being the Twist-style of games. These micro-games can be unlocked by playing through the story mode (a loose term here, as there isn’t much story, but it should provide some good laughs). The story mode sees the absurd cast of WarioWare each introduce a different theme of games within the different playstyles, with players needing to beat a ‘boss game’ within a character’s series of games to move on to the next chapter within a particular play style. Once the boss round is completed, players can replay the chapter and try to shoot for a high score, with four failed games leading to a game over (though extra lives can be earned by defeating the boss rounds).

After a micro-game is played, you unlock it in the other game modes. These modes include the Index, where you can play any micro-game you want repeatedly to get a high score on a specific game; meanwhile, Challenge Mode is unlocked once the story is completed, and bring changes to the micro-game marathons (such as randomly switching between the three play styles of micro-games, which is sure to keep players on their toes). You can even compete against another player online to see who can outlast the other as the micro-games get faster and faster.

“One of my favorite Micro-games sees players repeatedly press the A button to keep unwanted guests out of Wario’s house.”

WarioWare Gold features a strong presentation, with the usual , purposefully cheap animation making a return, albeit looking crisper and cleaner than ever. Notably, this is the first entry of the series to feature full voice acting, which makes the story mode all the funnier. And of course, the micro-games feature a dizzying variety of art styles which range from Nintendo throwbacks to anime to stock photos and scribbles. Many of the micro-games will leave a goofy grin on your face through the art alone.

WarioWare Gold may not reinvent the series formula, but this isn’t exactly a series aiming to revolutionize. What WarioWare Gold does achieve is providing the closest thing to a definitive entry in the series yet. It takes bits and pieces of its predecessors and tosses them into a blender. WarioWare Gold’s rapid-fire micro-games and different play styles make for an ideal on-the-go gaming experience.

 

8

What Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Needs to do to Actually be the Ultimate Super Smash Bros.

Super Smash Bros. hype is a unique entity for me. On one hand, Super Smash Bros. is one of the few remaining series where the announcement of a new entry gets me genuinely excited. But of all my favorite gaming franchises, Super Smash Bros. is the one that can (and has) disappoint(ed) me the most. Of course, it shouldn’t be too surprising, considering this is a series largely built around fanservice, so when it fails to deliver on a much-wanted character or (in the last entry’s case) seems to cater to director Masahiro Sakurai’s favoritism, the experience can feel a bit sullied.

That’s not to say that the games aren’t good though. Super Smash Bros. for Wii U, despite being the entry I have the most complaints about in terms of character selections and omissions, is actually the most solidly designed and technically sound iteration yet. Hell, even the bafflingly reviled Super Smash Bros. Brawl is still a really well made video game. But again, this is a series that’s built around Nintendo’s history, and its fandom. So when it feels like Nintendo’s history and its fans are being ignored, it really stings.

“Proof that Sakurai hates us all.”

Case in point, Masahiro Sakurai has actively asked fans to suggest characters for the series since Super Smash Bros. Brawl was in development, and yet, the three most consistently requested characters – Metroid’s Ridley, Donkey Kong’s King K. Rool, and Super Mario RPG’s Geno – were just as consistently ignored. None of them made it into Brawl, and in Super Smash Bros. for Wii U and 3DS, Ridley was made into a stage hazard, while Geno and K. Rool weren’t even that lucky, being represented solely by Mii Fighter costumes, which felt like a blatant middle finger to the fans on Sakurai’s part, especially seeing as that particular entry had a sudden emphasis on his own characters (Kid Icarus suddenly seemed to get plenty of references, conveniently after Sakurai directed Kid Icarus: Uprising on 3DS).

Sakurai has tried to explain his reasons for leaving out requested characters, but most such reasons seem more like half-hearted excuses than anything. He often claimed that “Ridley was too big,” even though by that logic, Captain Olimar should be too small. Or he would claim that he would go over the character and see what uniqueness they would bring to the table…only to fill a good chunk of the roster with clone characters.

Basically, Sakurai’s excuses end up feeling like just that, excuses. Look, I get that not every character can make it in, but when you actively ask people to suggest characters, and then continuously ignore their most wanted characters for over a decade, it’s kind of hard to accept the excuses.

Even worse, however, are the people who defend Sakurai’s every action (whom I refer to as “Sakurai apologists”). Again, I understand not everyone can make the cut, but when people actively defend things like the “Ridley is too big” argument and the overabundance of clone characters, it’s like, just… come on! Sakurai is a great game designer, but it’s okay to admit to his mistakes. And well, blatantly ignoring fan requests after asking for fan requests, and resorting to simply copying existing characters and claiming its another are definite mistakes.

These people will often question what a potential character’s moves would be, but that’s an argument that seems beyond pointless, considering that from Super Smash Bros’ very first entry, Captain Falcon has been a playable character. He’s a character who, in his own series, was never seen outside of his racing vehicle! If they could turn him into a fighter back on the N64 in 1999, there’s no reason why Sakurai and company couldn’t get even more creative with current hardware.

This brings me to the point of all this ranting: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has the opportunity to live up to its name. The game is being billed as the “Smash Bros. for everyone” and is set to include every single returning character from the series’ history, which is a good start. However, the real big news is that Ridley has finally joined the Super Smash Bros. roster as a playable character! Finally, after over a decade of waiting, the patience of Metroid fans has been rewarded.

On the downside of things, Sakurai has already stated that there won’t be too many new additions to the roster this time around. I suppose that makes sense, with so many characters in the game, they’re running lower and lower on classic characters to choose from. But that’s just my point, if we’re only going to get a ‘few’ new characters, why not make them characters that count?

Of the three most consistently requested characters, Ridley has now become the first of the trio to make the roster. So, why not finally pull the trigger and deliver the other two as well? K. Rool and Geno are two characters that have so much potential for the series – let alone their fan support – that not adding them in at this point would seem like petty spite. Hardly what you would want from a game that’s supposed to be the Ultimate edition of a franchise largely built on fanservice.

That would already make something of a statement for the series. It’s like, not only would we be getting every past character from the series history, but also the three most requested, ever-elusive characters. Whatever other newcomer selections could also potentially be filled with old fan-favorites. Again, if the newcomers are going to be few in quantity, they really better make them count in terms of quality.

Of course, even with Ridley’s inclusion, there are still causes for some concerns. The fact that clones now have the ‘official’ label of “Echo Fighters” has me greatly worried that Sakurai might just be doubling down on them (again, quality, not quantity. A bunch of clones is hardly something to get excited over). And in another downer, Bomberman is finally making his debut in the series…as an Assist Trophy. Considering how big of a multiplayer franchise Super Smash Bros. is, it’s a real shame that Bomberman – one of the pioneers of multiplayer gaming – can’t make the cut as a playable character.

Still, Ridley’s presence gives hope that not only could Geno and K. Rool make their long-awaited debut, but that the select amount of newcomers might bring out the more creative side of the developers. If Sakurai and company can deliver everything from Super Smash Bros. past (which looks to be the case so far), and throw in the few remaining missing elements that fans have been craving, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate may just live up to its name.

Between the presence of every returning fighter and the debut of Ridley, so far so good. But to make Super Smash Bros. Ultimate truly the ultimate Super Smash Bros. experience, the rest of those newcomers really have to mean something.

Mario Tennis Aces Review

Although they’ve never produced any all-time classics in the way the primary platformers of the Super Mario series, the Mario RPGs, and the Mario Karts have, the Mario sports title may be the best example of the franchise’s unique ability to seemingly make any genre more fun simply by having its name associated with it. Even those who have no interest whatsoever in any given sport should still be able to find enjoyment out of it when it’s given a Mushroom Kingdom twist. I mean, when you add in characters like Luigi and Donkey Kong, and then throw in some crazy gimmicks and special moves, something like golf suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. Perhaps the most consistent of Mario’s sporting endeavors are his ventures into tennis. The newest entry, Mario Tennis Aces, perhaps polishes up the core gameplay more than any previous Mario Tennis title, though it does come at the expense of a relative lack of content.

“Rosalina is best girl!”

Mario Tennis Aces seems to be all about refining what we’ve come to know about Mario Tennis. In this sense, the game is a roaring success. Mario Tennis gameplay has simply never felt so smooth and fluid. No matter which character you pick, the game feels great to control, with slight differences given to each character based on their weight class (don’t expect Bowser to move as gracefully as Rosalina). Mario Tennis Aces features a variety of control styles, all of which feel comfortable, though my personal preference is a Joy-con in each hand.

“Waluigi is here. That’s one thing Mario Tennis will always have over Smash.”

Different types of shots are mapped to different buttons on the controller, while combinations of those buttons (one to prepare to strike the ball, one for the strike itself) add to the mix. Should you charge a shot long enough before striking the ball, you build up energy, which can be used to slow down time, perform a quick counter-shot, and – if the energy meter is completely full – a special move. Additionally, stars appear on the court from time to time, which allow players to perform a “zone shot,” which briefly brings things to a first-person view for player’s to throw an exceptionally fast ball.

This brings me to one of the more disappointing elements of Mario Tennis Aces’ gameplay: the zone shots and character specials are more or less the same. The only difference is that the special moves come with a unique animation beforehand, and do more damage to your opponent’s racket. If a player (or the CPU) doesn’t time the ball just right after their opponent hits a zone shot or special, their racket will take damage. With enough damage, your racket will break, thus ending the game early.

It’s easy to imagine this being a divisive mechanic. On one hand, it provides a unique spin to the series, and adds a different element of strategy to the proceedings as you gain energy and plot to build up to the point of destroying an opponent’s racket. But on the other hand, it kind of makes a drastic change to the very game of tennis. But if you’re among those frustrated with the mechanic, you can always turn it off.

Though this leads to another questionable design decision for the game. While you can choose whether or not your rackets can break during a match, you cannot change the length of a match or set in a game of tennis. And, bizarrely, you can’t directly select which court you wish to play on, instead having to “deselect” stages you don’t want on the options menu, which seems unnecessarily arduous. Perhaps in another tennis game it wouldn’t be a big deal, but given the unique themes and gimmicks of Mario Tennis courts, it would make a basic level select option all the more ideal than in normal circumstances.

Thankfully, the core gameplay is so much fun, that if you’re playing multiplayer (whether online or next to a friend), you might not mind the limited options. Single player, however, does leave a bit more to be desired.

“Mario Tennis Aces brings back the odd Mario sports tradition of resurrecting Super Mario Sunshine bosses.”

The primary single player mode in Mario Tennis Aces is an adventure mode that sees Mario on a journey to collect five power stones to stop the power of an ancient, evil tennis racket, which has taken control of Luigi, Wario and Waluigi. It’s a surprisingly humorous story mode with its wacky plot, and it features some fun RPG elements to it (Mario can gain experience points and levels, and additional tennis rackets can be obtained through optional stages). Not to mention it provides a fair bit of variety in its challenges. The downside to the story mode, however, is its severely fluctuating difficulty curve.

You would think that the stages would gradually get more progressively difficult as you go, especially seeing as this is a Mario game, and that’s an area in which the franchise usually shines. But the challenge of the story mode in Mario Tennis Aces is all over the place. You’ll go from a ridiculously easy stage to a ludicrously difficult one at any given time, with seemingly no warning as to when the difficulty is going to spike to a new high or drop to relaxing low. Two stages in particular – against Blooper and Boom Boom, of all characters – gave me a considerable challenge. The story mode does provide some solid fun in the gameplay, variety and RPG elements, but the inconsistent difficulty may be too jarring for some.

“Chain Chomp FTW!”

Even with these issues, however, Mario Tennis Aces is an undeniable good time. The sheer polish that exudes from its gameplay marks a new high for the series, while free play and tournament modes give multiplayer a huge amount of replay value. Add in the fact that you can not only play as series regulars like Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser, but entertaining newcomers like Spike and Chain Chomp, and you have one of the most distinctly ‘Mario’ of all Mario sports titles. If Nintendo and Camelot can take this core gameplay for the next entry, while refining the single player campaign and adding more play styles and customizable options, and we could have the Mario Kart 8 equivalent of Mario’s sports titles. As it is, well, the pieces are in place.

 

6

Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle: Donkey Kong Adventure Review

Downloadable content has become one of the more polarizing aspects of modern gaming. While the prospect of a game gaining additional replay value post-launch is enticing, many developers have used it as a cheap means to release a game before its initial vision is finished, thus charging consumers more money at a later date to make the game the complete package it should have been at launch. Well, let the Donkey Kong Adventure DLC for Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle – 2017’s surprise of the year – be a shining example of how to do DLC right. Working more as a mini-sequel as opposed to a light extension of the original game, Donkey Kong Adventure proves once again why this most unlikely of crossovers shouldn’t be underestimated.

As the title suggests, Donkey Kong Adventure takes the Mario + Rabbids formula out of the Mushroom Kingdom and into Donkey Kong Country. After a string of events sends Princess Peach’s Rabbid doppelgänger, as well as robot guide Beep-0 and a bitter and defeated Rabbid Kong into “another dimension,” they find themselves in the world of Donkey Kong (I thought Mario and Donkey Kong were part of the same world? Oh well, the Rabbids crossover changes things up I guess). Rabbid Kong goes berserk, gaining newfound strength through “bad bananas” (bananas infected with the virus from the base game), and attempts a monopoly on all the bananas of Donkey Kong Island. Naturally, this doesn’t sit well with good ol’ Donkey Kong, who joins forces with Rabbid Peach, Beep-0, and the Rabbid equivalent of Cranky Kong (named Rabbid Cranky, naturally) to put a stop to Rabbid Kong’s plans.

The core gameplay remains the same; it’s still an X-COM-style tactical RPG that’s separated into two primary segments: exploration and puzzle sections, and combat. During the former, player’s control Beep-0 (who is being ridden by Rabbid Cranky like a segway), and you navigate the maps while solving the occasional puzzle to progress or collect treasure (new weapons, artwork, and music). Additionally, Donkey Kong Adventure takes a cue from Retro Studios’ Donkey Kong Country games, and includes twenty hidden puzzle pieces that must be found to unlock more secrets.

The basics of combat still remain intact: every character can move along the grid-like battlefield, perform either a primary or secondary attack, and use a special ability per turn. You can get some additional damage in by performing a slide attack during movement, and can gain more ground by performing team jumps. However, the two new characters, especially Donkey Kong himself, really change things up.

“DK can lure in enemies with his Donkey Konga inspired congo drums, which makes for a great combo with the devastating ground pound move.”

Rabbid Peach retains her blaster/sentry weaponry, along with her healing and shielding abilities. Rabbid Cranky introduces a crossbow and grenades into the mix, while also boasting an ability that allows him to attack an enemy during movement, as well as the power to put foes to sleep. Donkey Kong is the game-changer, however. Defying the standard mechanics of the game, DK doesn’t possess any firearms, instead wielding a boomerang-like banana as a weapon, and using his own fists to perform ground pounds in place of a secondary weapon. DK can hop on higher surfaces without the need of a warp pipe, and new DK pads allow him to swing from one section of a battlefield to another. DK also breaks the established rules by lacking a team jump and slide attack. Instead, DK has the more useful ability of being able to pick up teammates, enemies and objects during his movement phase. By picking up Rabbids Peach and Cranky, DK can carry and throw them to great distance, while enemies and objects can be thrown at other foes for another means of attack.

Donkey Kong’s presence alone greatly differentiates this DLC campaign from the base game, as he goes against many of the game’s mechanics while still fitting neatly into them (being paired up with two more traditional characters really brings out the best combination of old and new). If the campaign were just a bit longer, Donkey Kong Adventure would feel like a proper follow-up to Mario + Rabbids, as opposed to DLC.

Unfortunately, the short running time of the campaign may be the downside to Donkey Kong Adventure. Granted, I wasn’t expecting it to be as long as the base game, but I don’t think the overall length even reaches the halfway mark of the original campaign. That wouldn’t be too much of a complaint, except that the uniqueness that DK brings to the gameplay feels like it has more potential that goes unrealized. Not to mention the boss fights lack the variety found in Mario + Rabbid’s original release. Still, after the campaign is done, there are additional challenges to be tackled, so while I wish there were a bit more of this Donkey Kong goodness, the unlock able challenges do add a nice bit of content to the package. Another downside is that some of the technical issues still persist in the game. Nothing major, but some occasional slow-ups, as well as graphics taking some time to load still show up.

Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was already one of the best games on the Nintendo Switch, and now Donkey Kong Adventure adds an exclamation point to that claim. It’s a hefty piece of DLC that differentiates itself from the core game while simultaneously adding to it. All the while, Donkey Kong Adventure pays beautiful homage to the entire Donkey Kong series. The DKC aesthetics bring out the best in Mario + Rabbids’ already stellar visuals, while hearing classic Donkey Kong tunes given new life via Grant Kirkhope’s composition is a real treat. Even the loading screens pay tribute to those of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. If Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was the surprise hit of the Nintendo Switch, then this Donkey Kong Adventure expansion is a perfect companion piece to it, proving that, beyond all expectations, the merging of Super Mario and Ubisoft’s Rabbids (and Donkey Kong) really was a match made in heaven.

 

7

Mole Mania Review

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

Wait, what was that last one?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now, how about Muddy Mole for Super Smash Bros?

 

7

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.

 

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