Video Game Awards 2020: Best Platform

Now’s the time when we take a break from awarding the games themselves, and instead award the platforms we play them on. Or at least, award one of them as the most consistent of the year.

Part of me doesn’t want to do this, as I don’t want to feel I’m fanning the flames of any console wars, which are dumb and in actuality non-existent (fanboys just like to pretend it’s a thing). But at the same time, I’d feel bad about not acknowledging the merits of a console in a given year. So here we are.

 

Winner: Nintendo Switch

I admit 2019 wasn’t the Switch’s best overall year, but with the likes of Luigi’s Mansion 3, Yoshi’s Crafted World, and even *begrudging groan* Pokemon Sword and Shield, it was definitely the place to go for exclusives. Couple that with the seemingly endless barrage of indie titles and classics that are always making their way on the platform, and the Switch’s continued strong third-party support, and the Nintendo Switch had another strong year, even if it didn’t have a Mario Odyssey or Smash Ultimate equivalent.

Playstation 4 also had another strong year, but I think, if I had to pick, 2019 leaned a little more in the Switch’s favor.

 

Runner-up: Playstation 4

 

Past Winners

2014: Wii U*

2015: Playstation 4*

2016: Playstation 4

2017: Nintendo Switch

2018: Playstation 4

 

*Retroactively awarded.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Handheld Game

Handheld gaming has come a long way. Once a simple means to get a quick fix of gaming on the go, that convenience came at the expense of quality. But over the years, as gaming evolved, so to did handheld gaming, with the GameBoy Advance and Nintendo DS notably taking it to new heights and success.

Now, handheld games are largely indistinguishable from console and PC titles (aside from graphics). And most notably, the Nintendo Switch has completely bridged the gap between home console and handheld. By merging the two concepts together, Nintendo has created a hybrid console that stands as one of the best of all time.

Because handheld gaming has changed so drastically in recent years, I’d like to once again stress that, as long as traditional handheld platforms are still (somewhat) prominent, I am only including games released on said traditional handhelds and Switch exclusives. If a game is released on Switch, but also available on other, non-handheld hybrid consoles, it seems a bit unfair to refer to them as “handheld games.” So even though the Switch is a home console, its duel status as a handheld makes its exclusive titles eligible for this award. Ya dig?

 

Winner: Luigi’s Mansion 3

Yeah, I know Pokemon Sword and Shield was Nintendo’s big seller and most anticipated Switch title of 2019. But I don’t know, am I the only one who found them to be way too padded out? And to be honest, Pokemon – ironically enough – is the Nintendo series that seems to refuse to evolve.

That wasn’t the case with Luigi’s Mansion 3, however. Taking the atmosphere of the GameCube original and combining it with the more level-based structure of the 3DS sequel, Luigi’s Mansion 3 surpassed both of its predecessors with a game that’s consistently fun and inventive.

The Ghostbusters-inspired action of the series has never been so deep as it is here, and with the game absolutely exploding with personality, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is one of the unsung heroes of the Nintendo Switch.

 

Runner-up: Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

2015: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask 3D

2016: Kirby Planet Robobot

2017: Super Mario Odyssey*

2018: Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

 

*Retroactively awarded after deciding Switch exclusives should qualify for this award.

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Content

It seems like every game today wants to throw everything and the kitchen sink at the player. Games have become so big, that they seem hellbent on adding as much content as possible as if daring themselves to see how big they can get.

This has had a notable negative effect, admittedly, with some games feeling more bloated than they should (do I need to bring up the Guarma section of Red Dead Redemption 2 again? It’s because of that chapter alone I scored the game an 8 instead of a 9). But the quest for content has also done good as well, particularly when it comes to titles with player interaction with one another. Which brings me to this year’s winner…

 

Winner: Super Mario Maker 2

Go ahead and call this cheating, but are you really going to argue with a game that provides infinite Mario levels?

No, not every one is going to make a great Mario level, and there are far too many undesirables out there making flat-out trolling stages. But there’s still so much good to be had, and so many players rethinking how Mario levels are played, that Super Mario Maker 2 truly is an endless toy box of fun. There are already more Mario levels than you could ever play in the game, and the number just keeps going up every day.

Mario gameplay is simply at the peak of gaming, so while other game-creation games may be more fun to build than to play, the fact that Super Mario Maker 2 has the timeless gameplay of classics to fall back on means it’s just as much fun to play stages as it is to build them. And the addition of Super Mario 3D World elements is icing on the cake.

Of course not every player-created level will be a winner, but that’s a small price to pay for infinite Mario levels.

 

Runner-up: Crash Team Racing Nitro-Feuled

 

Past Winners

2014: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U

2015: Super Mario Maker

2016: Overwatch

2017: Super Mario Odyssey

2018: Red Dead Redemption 2

Video Game Awards 2020: Best Visuals

“Wow, nice graphic! I’d like to get my hands on that game!”

– The original US Legend of Zelda commercial

 

As a visual medium, video games have always had a focus on their visuals. While this has lead to some problems (remember when people used to deride a console for not having as good of graphics as another? *shudders*), graphics and art play a vital role in video games.

Following in the tradition of animation, video games use visuals to convey their vision. Whether it’s capturing a look of realism or displaying a striking art design, visuals – though not necessary for a game to be good – are vital to the video game medium itself.

Similarly, when it comes to naming what I think deserved Best Visuals of any given year, I go for either a title of striking technical realism (a la Uncharted 4) or wondrously imaginative art direction (like Cuphead). As far as 2019 goes, the winner for Best Visuals falls into the latter category, and is probably a bit obvious…

 

Winner: Yoshi’s Crafted World

Much like FromSoftware seemingly has a monopoly on excellence in video game sound work, developer Good-Feel has a similar dominance in visuals.

Starting with the hand-drawn, anime artwork of Wario Land: Shake It!, Good-Feel then elevated video game visuals with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, whose fabric-inspired graphics were carried over to Yoshi’s Woolly World. And now, Good-Feel has created a follow-up to Woolly World that changes things from yarn and wool to crafting materials like cardboard and plastic.

Yoshi’s Crafted World, in true Good-Feel fashion, is bursting with visual creativity. This was Good-Feel’s first time revisiting a Nintendo property they had already worked on, but that didn’t slow down Good-Feel’s imagination. The fact that they’ve managed to re-imagine Yoshi’s universe twice with different makeshift motifs is a testament to the studio’s unparalleled knack for visual invention.

Who know where Good-Feel will go next? One thing’s for sure, it’s bound to look astounding.

 

Runner-Up: The Legend of Zelda: Link’s Awakening (Switch)

 

Past Winners

2014: Mario Kart 8*

2015: Yoshi’s Woolly World

2016: Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End

2017: Cuphead

2018: God of War (PS4)

 

*Retroactively awarded

Nintendo Switch Turns 3!

It’s somewhat hard to believe, but as of today, March 3rd 2020, it has officially been three years since the Nintendo Switch’s release!

That’s right, three years ago today, the Nintendo Switch was launched, and with it, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, the best game on the…

*Super Mario Odyssey exists*

…the second best game on the…

*remembers Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze was ported to the Switch*

…the third best game on…

*looks at Super Smash Bros. Ultimate and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe staring at me on my shelf*

…. a really damn good game!

Seriously, the Switch has been a killer console. Its status as a hybrid between a home console and handheld not only makes it the most innovative console wince the Wii (oh Wii, I love you), but that seemingly simple factoid makes a world of difference. You now have home console sized/quality games on the go. It’s amazing when one thinks about it.

“My SNES and Switch. Side by side. As they should be.”

And the games! Oh, the games! Again, we had Breath of the Wild – possibly (probably?) the best 3D Zelda title – right out the gate. Not only has Nintendo kept up a (pretty) steady pace of stellar releases since then, they’ve also either ported most of the Wii U’s best games to the system, or have upgraded sequels to them available on Switch. And unlike pretty much every Nintendo console since the N64, the Switch actually has strong third-party support.

There’s just so many games! Both new and old games keep getting released on Switch, giving it a most impressive library (if only it could get its downloadable classics right. Just adopt the Wii’s Virtual Console library).

Yeah yeah, the Switch still has its share of problems, mainly relating to online features (why oh why do we need an app for voice chat?! That’s so convoluted!), but in terms of the library of games and its other features, I honestly think it’s my favorite Nintendo console since the Super NES (I still love you, Wii).

The Switch may have a bit of an uphill battle ahead, what with Sony and Microsoft preparing their next consoles this year. But I think it’s safe to say that the Nintendo Switch has already left an indelible mark on video game history.

 

Happy birthday, Switch!

WarioWare Twisted Review

One of Nintendo’s defining traits is their unrivaled ability to showcase the merits that are exclusive to the video game medium. While other developers and publishers seem hellbent on bringing the world of Hollywood into the video game fold, Nintendo has always understood that the real poetry of video games is in their gameplay. Mario and Zelda (rightfully) get the most praise for this, but perhaps the Nintendo franchise that expresses Nintendo’s game design philosophy in its most literal sense is WarioWare.

The WarioWare series strips away all the bells and whistles of gaming, and reduces it to its bare-bone basics. By throwing multitudes of ‘micro-games’ at players – each one requiring minimal movement and button presses – WarioWare is a showcase of gameplay concepts at their most simple. It’s as beautiful as it is absurd.

There’s perhaps no better entry in the WarioWare series than WarioWare Twisted. Released on the Gameboy Advance in 2005, Twisted put a unique spin on the series’ formula: motion controls.

While most other WarioWare sequels have capitalized on their respective hardware by weaving the quirks of Nintendo’s consoles into the series’ formula, Twisted instead had unique functionality of its own. With a built-in ‘gyrosensor,’ WarioWare Twisted allowed players to interact with its micro-games by moving, tilting and flipping your GameBoy Advance.

You know how in movies and TV shows when someone is supposed to be playing a video game, but the actor clearly doesn’t know what they’re doing and is just moving the controller around like a madman? WarioWare Twisted has player’s actually doing that in order to play the game. In typical WarioWare fashion, Twisted provides innovative gameplay at the price of making the player look like an idiot while playing it. What could be more ‘Wario’ than that?

A year before the Nintendo Wii brought motion-controls to the mainstream, WarioWare Twisted brought a different kind of motion control to the table. While many of Twisted’s micro-games will still require a press of the A button or D-pad, most of them require the player to move the GameBoy Advance around in order to effect what’s happening on screen. It makes for a game that’s easy to pick up and play, while providing all the charm and hilarity you could ask for in a Nintendo title.

Can you think of another game that requires the player to move the entire system left and right in order to shave a man’s stubble? I didn’t think so. There are so many fun and funny ideas at play in WarioWare Twisted at every turn. If you can play it and somehow not get a goofy grin on your face or let out a chuckle, you must have a heart of stone.

There are micro-games that have you flipping the GBA upside down so a man’s toupee falls off, or that have you tilting the Gameboy Advance to its side so you can slide a man his drink (but tilt too fast and the drink spills). There are games that have you twirling the system so a key falls out of a giant keyring, or to make a platform move so a frog can land on it. Not all of the micro-games are winners (such as one where you have to pay attention to which of two hands is holding a coin, with the motion controls only being used to highlight which hand to select), but the ones that are, shall we say “not-so-great” are in shorter supply.

The game features a variety of modes, with the “story” being spread out between different characters. Each character works as their own stage, with their own set of micro-games that follow different rules (some might require light motion-controls, while another character’s might have you going all-out with them). You have four chances to make it to the ‘boss’ micro-game which, after completed the first time, will allow you to move onto the next character. After a character’s stage has been completed, you can replay them and go through more and more micro-games to try and best your high score as the games continue to pick up speed. You can also play a mode that allows you to select a single micro-game to play on repeat, again getting faster and tougher after every few rounds.

The more you play the different modes, the more goodies you can unlock. Some of these unlockables include music tracks from the game, while others will be goofy trinkets that display the game’s motion controls even further, albeit in minuscule ways (for example, you can unlock a marionette, which you can then move about by tilting the GBA to pull his strings).

It’s all a bit silly and mindless, but that’s kind of the appeal of WarioWare. It strips the very concept of video games down to its bare essentials, then runs wild with them in as many crazy ways as it can think of. WarioWare is both a celebration and a parody of its own medium, and that’s perhaps never been better displayed in the series than it is here in Twisted.

Aesthetically, the game still looks and sounds great for a Gameboy Advance title. Twisted wisely uses its many micro-games to experiment with various visual styles, and this is one of the few GBA titles I can think of that had good enough sound quality to feature a song with lyrics (“Mona Pizza” which has since gained fame for its uses in the Super Smash Bros. series).

It is a bit of a shame to admit that WarioWare Twisted can be a difficult game to find these days. Notably, it never even saw a release in Europe, due to the gyro sensor in the cartridge containing mercury. And its unique control scheme means it has yet to see a re-release on a subsequent Nintendo console.

Let’s hope one day Nintendo finds a way to adapt Twisted onto contemporary hardware. Until then, if you still have a Gameboy Advance handy, WarioWare Twisted is more than worth the trouble of tracking down. And if you don’t have a Gameboy Advance, Twisted remains a great reason to get one.

 

8

Mario & Wario Review

Before Satoshi Tajiri created a little game called Pokemon, he worked on various other Nintendo games, including Mario spinoffs. Perhaps the strangest game Satoshi Tajiri worked on – and one of the strangest Mario games at that – is Mario & Wario, a puzzle title that was released on the Super Famicom in 1993, but never saw an international release.

Adding to the game’s obscurity is the fact that it is controlled with the SNES mouse, a peripheral so seldom used that many still believe Mario Paint was the only title to utilize it. Despite the game’s title, the player doesn’t control Mario directly in Mario & Wario. You see, the game revolves around the utterly bonkers premise of Wario blinding Mario by – and I kid you not – throwing a bucket on his head (from an airplane, no less). The player then controls a fairy named Wanda, moving her around like the cursor of a computer, and clicking on certain areas to create blocks and platforms for Mario to walk across, or to click on Mario himself to change his direction, with the goal of each stage being to avoid danger and reach Luigi within a time limit, with Luigi then removing the bucket from Mario’s head.

Basically, it’s like the Mario version of Lemmings, but even more bizarre given the setup. Of course, the object on Mario’s head isn’t always a bucket (the item changes depending on which world is currently being played), and in fact it isn’t always Mario that Wanda has to guide to safety (the player can also select Princess Peach and Yoshi, with the former moving slower than Mario and being easy for beginners, while the latter moves the fastest and is essentially hard mode). So the title of ‘Mario & Wario’ isn’t quite accurate.

The game provides eight worlds from the start, which can be selected in any order, Mega Man style, though it probably is still best if first-time players stick to doing them in order, as each subsequent world provides its own twists to the formula, and World 1 is essentially the tutorial (which is a bit disappointing. I feel a tutorial should be its own separate thing). World 9 is unlocked supposedly after completion of all eight others (though in my second playthrough, I played the later worlds first and World 9 became available early. I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen or my earlier playthrough unlocked that option). After World 9, the player will move on to the tenth and final World, which will throw everything at the player.

As stated, each world provides new challenges, like timed blocks (which will turn into solid platforms for only a limited time), ice which makes Mario & company slip and slide, slime that slows them down, and enemies that may throw projectiles at the Mushroom Kingdom heroes. The way in which each world changes up the gameplay and continuously adds new elements keeps the game fresh and is true to the spirit of the Mario franchise. Though there are some stages that get a tad cumbersome, like when they’ll place multiple vertical-moving enemies/obstacles close together, leaving the player to repeatedly click on Mario in between said objects to continuously change his direction since you can’t make him stop outright. Things like that feel more like a test of patience than puzzle-solving.

Each world consists of ten stages, and a final showdown with Wario. Unfortunately, these ‘showdowns’ are probably the biggest disappointments in the game. They aren’t actual boss fights, because Wario can’t damage you or anything. He just flies back and forth across the screen in his airplane, and the player simply has to keep clicking on him for Wanda to damage his plane and earn coins. And they’re all like this, there’s no variety in them. With all the varied elements that get thrown into the stages, it would have been nice if the developers had implemented an array of legitimate boss fights at the end of each world.

If you’re wondering what the coins are for, they actually play the same role as in most Mario games, with every 100 coins granting an additional life. Coins can also be found in Coin Blocks, which Wanda needs to click on this time around, since Mario’s obscured vision apparently also prevents him from jumping. The player can gain also gain more lives by guiding Mario (or Peach, or Yoshi) into collecting the four stars scattered across each stage, or by picking up the rare one-up mushroom. You can also add more time on the clock by collecting an equally infrequent super mushroom (this has to be the only instance in the history of the franchise in which stars are a far more common collectible than mushrooms).

This is unfortunately another letdown with the game. In the eight standard worlds, the player can restart from the same stage in the same world even after a game over, leaving you to wonder what importance the extra lives actually have. Well, it’s important to hold onto those extra lives until the endgame, because if you get a game over at any point in world 9 or 10, you have to start back from the beginning of world 9. 

Unfortunately, this can become pretty darn tedious. Mega Man does something similar, with the player needing to start over from the beginning of Dr. Wily’s castle should they get a game over after the eight standard stages have been completed. But there it’s more understandable because it’s an action game. It’s like, okay, you beat me this time, but now I’m going to pick myself up and dust myself off for the rematch. But here in a puzzle game, it’s kind of annoying. As if you were taking a quiz, got every answer correct except the last one, and then needed to go back and redo the questions you already got right just for another chance at the one you got wrong. I can’t help but feel that maybe this game didn’t need a lives system, and it would have been best had collecting the stars unlocked secret levels or something.

Still, even with the game’s simplicity and its drawbacks, it’s still a lot of fun. The puzzle designs are clever, the graphics are crips and colorful, the music is fun, the gameplay is always changing things up, and the sheer absurdity of the concept itself is charming. Despite all of the game’s text being in English, Mario & Wario was never officially released outside of Japan. But if you have a Super Famicom, Mario & Wario isn’t too pricey or hard to find, and probably worth a look. It may not be one of Mario’s finest adventures, but he’s certainly never had another one quite like it.

 

6