Super Smash Bros. Has Lost Its Heart

I hate to admit it, but I kind of hate what Super Smash Bros. has become.

I know, I’ve complained a lot about Super Smash Bros. in the past. But I finally think I best understand where my issue with my disillusionment with the series lies. In the past, I’ve not-entirely joked about my disdain for the overabundance of “anime sword guys” in the series, and I stand by those complaints in that their execution lacks variety. But that’s ultimately only a critique. My real issue with the series is actually much deeper than that.

Super Smash Bros. simply isn’t the same series it once was. By that, I mean that it no longer feels like the “Nintendo fighter” that it used to be. In its earlier entries, Super Smash Bros. was all about Nintendo’s history, pitting the company’s many characters against each other in bouts that were one part 2D fighter, one part Mario Kart, and one part sumo wrestling. The series was as much a love letter to Nintendo history as much as it was a combination of a party game and a fighter.

That “Nintendo-ness” has been lost to the series in more recent entries: There are no longer trophies that give brief glimpses to the deeper nooks and crannies of Nintendo’s back catalogue. The once simple arcade-style single player modes are replaced with overblown “story” modes with cinematics that look more like something out of Kingdom Hearts than Super Smash Bros. And while the series used to pluck Nintendo characters like Ness or the Ice Climbers out of obscurity, these days we instead just get more and more third-party characters who have less and less to do with Nintendo. The franchise now feels like it’s more about the hype than the history, with each subsequent third-party addition getting a more over-produced reveal trailer than the last.

“Ugh. Barf.”

I know, by now you’re probably ready to jump down my throat for being a Nintendo fanboy. But this isn’t a case of “X company is better than Y,” it’s a simple matter of a series forgetting what it once was. Super Smash Bros. is bigger than ever, but it’s kind of lost sight of its original purpose as it expanded.

I miss the humbler days of Super Smash Bros. Back when the inclusion of someone like King Dedede was considered a big deal, because he was a classic Nintendo character. Nowadays Super Smash Bros. just seems like it’s trying to get bigger and bigger, gluttonously trying to snag as many of the biggest names from other people’s games as it can get.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against the idea of third-party characters being included in Super Smash Bros. But I do think the series has gone too far in this direction, and needs to take a few steps back in this department. Back in Super Smash Bros. Brawl (the first entry to introduce characters from outside of Nintendo) they made it a point to keep the third-party characters to a minimum (it had two). Now, they just can’t stop adding them. It’s kind of polluted the whole point of the series.

It isn’t just the number of third-party characters that’s diluted the Nintendo aspect of Super Smash Bros. on its own, but who they’re selecting. I liked the idea Sakurai and company had going into Brawl, that the third-party characters had to have some history with Nintendo (which makes the fact that Solid Snake was the first such character added a little odd, since his presence on Nintendo consoles wasn’t too expansive). I think maybe, going forward, the series should look back and double-down on that notion, and the third-party characters should at least have strong ties to Nintendo’s own history. Mega Man and Simon Belmont make all the sense in the world. When you think of third-party games in Nintendo’s early years, that’s immediately who you’d think of. Banjo-Kazooie also makes perfect sense, given that Rare was probably the most beloved and prolific second-party Nintendo ever had (they basically carried the N64).

“This is stupid.”

Those characters’ series all played a key role in Nintendo’s history, so they still feel like they fit in to the proceedings. They may not have been made by Nintendo themselves, but their association with the Big N is so strong they feel right at home in Super Smash Bros. The same can’t really be said about Final Fantasy VII, Fatal Fury, Persona, Tekken or Minecraft. That’s not to say anything against those games (well, maybe Final Fantasy VII), and some of them have appeared on Nintendo consoles at one point or another. But you can’t really make an argument that they are as much a part of Nintendo’s history as Mega Man or Castlevania.

Now I know people will really want to thrash me, and accuse me of being “salty” that my favorite character didn’t make it or whatever. Lord knows the Sakurai Defense Force grab their torches and pitchforks and spread their toxicity whenever someone shows the smallest modicum of disappointment in the series. I personally don’t find it unreasonable if someone is disappointed in a game about fanservice when said game fails to deliver on that fanservice. But that’s besides the point. The point is that Super Smash Bros. now just feels like a big hype machine, a shallow commercial more focused on the promotion of other people’s games and the production values of its own trailers than it is about, you know, Nintendo characters fighting.

I’ve heard some people claim that Super Smash Bros. “isn’t about Nintendo history anymore” as a means of defending the series. But that’s exactly the problem! There used to be a spirit of playfulness and inventiveness to the series, a trait shared by other Nintendo staples like Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda. And that just isn’t present anymore. The heart and soul of Super Smash Bros. has all but disappeared as it becomes more and more about shallow, meaningless hype.

“Dear God, why?!”

Think back to the original Super Smash Bros. No one knew who this Ness kid was. You could almost hear the collective “What the hell is EarthBound?” of everyone who played it. Then there’s the reveal trailer for Super Smash Bros. Melee, which introduced Princess Peach, Bowser and Zelda to the series, then turned around and also reminded fans of the existence of the Ice Climbers! Even when Brawl introduced Solid Snake to the series (whose reveal seems as tame as a kitten compared to what we have now), it did so only after bringing in Wario, Meta Knight, Zero Suit Samus and a freshly-resurrected Pit from Kid Icarus.

These were all eclectic combinations of classic Nintendo faces, as well as some that inspired players to look deeper into Nintendo’s history (or elicited delightful surprise to the few people who were aware of the more obscure characters ahead of time). Sure, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate brought in longtime requests Ridley and King K. Rool, and that was amazing. But then it all gets kind of diluted when the focus quickly shifts to a revolving door of third-party characters. There’s been so many third-party characters added through the game’s DLC, that Ridley and K. Rool’s welcome inclusions feel like they’ve been drowned.

Some people would say that they’re running out of Nintendo characters to use. Like hell they are! Series like Advance Wars and Golden Sun still go unrepresented, despite demand from fans (but those fans are naturally just supposed to shut up “because SepHiRoth!!1!”). There are characters like Stanley the Bugman or Muddy Mole that they could pluck from history. Hell, Takamaru from The Mysterious Murasame Castle has been considered for inclusion into Super Smash Bros. in the past, but was rejected for “not being as recognized as other Nintendo characters.” Since when was recognizability a factor? Good thing Ness and Pit made it in when they did, I guess.

Point being, there’s no shortage of Nintendo history that can still be drawn upon to be included as playable characters in Super Smash Bros. It’s just that Nintendo and Sakurai and whoever else choose to focus on the big names they can get elsewhere. It was fun for a while, but by this point, it’s kind of robbed Super Smash Bros. of what made it special to begin with.

The fans who want to see these characters from Nintendo’s past often seem to get bullied online by Super Smash Bros’ strangely zealous defenders, since those characters “don’t have a chance” to make it. Funny, because in the Super Smash Bros. of old, those are exactly the kind of characters who would make it. Resurrecting characters from the obscure corners of Nintendo’s history is the most “Super Smash Bros.” thing imaginable. Or at least it was back when the series was actually about Nintendo characters (it may be worth pointing out that learning the reason for Takamura’s exclusion was what brought me to the realization of what’s wrong with Super Smash Bros’ current mentality).

It isn’t just the characters though, but the gameplay of Super Smash Bros. itself seems to care less and less about the items, the stage gimmicks, and all the Mario Kart-esque party elements that separated Super Smash Bros. from other fighters in the first place. I think the competitive gaming scene has had a largely negative influence on the Super Smash Bros. series (I would argue competitive gaming has had a negative impact on a lot of other series as well, but let’s stick to Super Smash Bros. for now). I don’t have a problem with people who want to play Super Smash Bros. as a competitive game (I myself often played the series on flat stages with little to no items). But let’s be real here: Super Smash Bros. was never a hardcore fighter. While it’s admittedly a good thing that the series has had more of a focus on character balance in recent entries, that’s one of the few positives as much of the series’ appeal has been lost as it caters more and more to the competitive crowd.

Take, for example, the WarioWare stage. In Brawl, if you were playing on the WarioWare stage with AI opponents, and one of the stage’s “micro-games” showed up – asking the combatants to play along with its goofy instructions – the AI would follow those instructions, because it was like WarioWare. That was the appeal unique to that level. That was the kind of playfulness the series used to have. In Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, however, if you do the same thing, the AI opponent will ignore the WarioWare rules and just keep fighting because hardcore fighter!

Where’s the charm? Where’s the personality?

They’ve been lost, unfortunately. Lost to Super Smash Bros’ insistence on being taken seriously as a competitive fighter, and its even more egregious ambitions of being a hype machine.

It’s almost like Super Smash Bros. has had a direct opposite trajectory as Paper Mario in regards to the changes the series has made over time, but both have been damaging to their respective series’ heart: Paper Mario continues to strip away its depth to the point of being an empty shell of its former self, while Super Smash Bros. just keeps adding bells and whistles to the point that it’s lost its identity as Nintendo’s take on the fighter.

Again, some people claim that Super Smash Bros. is now something more than it once was, as it now encompasses video games as a whole. I’d argue that it’s become too much, and that less would actually be more at this point. Give me the smaller, more creative Super Smash Bros. over its garish, Esports-pandering current self any day.

Some even argue that Super Smash Bros. is bigger than “just Nintendo” at this point, but does it really have to be?

Personally, once the DLC characters for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are good and done with, I hope Nintendo, Sakurai and everyone else involved take a good, hard look at the series. After Ultimate, I’d love to see the next installment go back to its roots. Yes, that means cutting a lot of the fat which yes, means cutting back on characters like Cloud, Sephiroth, Joker, Terry, Steve and Kazuya. Will that disappoint some people? Sure. But hey, at least those characters had their time in the sun. Besides, their fans seemed to relish in rubbing the disappointment of other people in their faces, so I can’t say I’d feel too bad for them.

“I miss THIS.”

Let’s have the next Super Smash Bros. include the original N64 cast, and those of Melee and Brawl as well, but maybe be a little more selective of the characters from subsequent entries. Characters like Mega Man, Simon Belmont and Banjo-Kazooie can stay. But let’s really try to keep it to a minimum with the third-party choices. A few new characters who actually have meaningful ties to Nintendo’s history can join in as well, whether they be recognizable or not. Let’s maybe have a few fun modes instead of trying to concoct this big, epic storyline that couldn’t be more out of place in this series. And let’s stop pretending that Super Smash Bros. should be some big ESports franchise, and bring back the playfulness and emphasis on fun of the earlier entries.

Super Smash Bros. would do well for itself to go back to basics. To self-reflect and realize it doesn’t have to be the hulking monstrosity it’s become. Just let it be Nintendo’s fun take on the fighter genre again. Maybe then it can reclaim its heart and soul, instead of just being the empty embodiment of hype.

Donkey Kong and Mario Turn 40!

Forty years ago today, the original Donkey Kong game made its way into arcades! That’s a big milestone for the game itself, but even more important is that it marked the debut of both its titular ape Donkey Kong and the character who would become known as Super Mario!

Why Nintendo isn’t celebrating this themselves, I’ll never know. It’s only their two oldest and iconic characters celebrating their 40th anniversary! And no, Mr. Game & Watch isn’t older because he wasn’t an actual character, just a placeholder graphic given the limitations of the Game & Watch handhelds (the name “Mr. Game & Watch” only dates back to 2001 with Super Smash Bros. Melee). So Mario and DK are the oldest.

Donkey Kong and Mario would eventually branch out on their own, and star in a number of their own series. They still meet up in some of Mario’s spinoff games, but I don’t think DK should simply be classified as a “Mario character.” I think of it like when Iron Man and Thor meet up in the Avengers films. You wouldn’t call Thor an “Iron Man character” would you?

Mario would go on to have a stronger resume than any other character in gaming, and DK isn’t too far behind. And they both got their start in a little arcade game that – had licensing not fallen through – would have starred Popeye and Bluto! Hard to imagine what video games would look like if Shigeru Miyamoto’s original classic didn’t have its own original characters. I shudder to think.

Nintendo may be mysteriously silent on the occasion, but don’t worry Mario and Donkey Kong, we remember!

Happy anniversary to an arcade great! And happy 40th birthday to Mario and Donkey Kong! Video games wouldn’t be the same without them!

Top 10 Nintendo 64 Games to Play Today

The Nintendo 64 recently celebrated its 25th anniversary! So I figured now was as good of a time as any to commemorate the trailblazing retro console’s best games.

There are a few ways one could acknowledge what constitutes the “best” games on a console, such as its biggest milestone releases or its most influential titles. Or you could go with what games were best in their day. In the end, I decided to go with my usual method of which games are simply the most fun to play today.

Because of this reason, you may see some notable omissions. Case in point: I won’t be including Goldeneye 007. Even though that title was a landmark for first-person shooters (especially on home consoles) and multiplayer games in general, the games it inspired definitely improved on its foundations, which leaves Goldeneye 007 to feel kind of clunky by today’s standards.

But that doesn’t mean that every N64 great is a thing of the past, and the Nintendo 64 games that do hold up, do so pretty swimmingly. The following ten games are the ones I would recommend if someone wanted to play a great game on the N64 today. Not recommending games based on historical purposes to someone who didn’t grow up with the N64, and not selections for someone who did grow up with the N64 looking for some nostalgia. These are games I would recommend simply as great games to play, that just happen to be from the Nintendo 64’s library.

Oh, and to save myself the hassle of ranking this list, I didn’t! I just listed all ten games in alphabetical order and I recommend them as is! Some are colorful platforming romps, some are epic adventures, and some are full of the multiplayer goodness the N64 made famous!

Before we get to the top 10 proper, however, here are some honorable mentions:

Diddy Kong Racing: A Mario Kart-style racing game combined with a Super Mario 64-style adventure! That’s one amazing combination that inspired many other kart racers to follow. Not to mention it introduced us to both Banjo and Conker! It also boasts great multiplayer that is somewhat hindered by the fact that there’s no music when playing with more than two players. To this day, people are waiting for Mario Kart to emulate its adventure mode.

Donkey Kong 64: The biggest Nintendo 64 game in the literal sense of the term. DK64, while still a fun collect-a-thon platformer, is sometimes too big for its own good. With five playable characters, each with their own collectibles, DK64 certainly has variety in gameplay and a lot of things to do. Though for those same reasons, it can become a little tedious having to switch back and forth between characters. But in typical Rare fashion, DK64 also includes a host of multiplayer modes at your disposal. Why on Earth did the idea of single-player adventure games having such great multiplayer options fall out of style?

Mario Kart 64: A beloved, nostalgic favorite today, but Mario Kart 64 actually wasn’t so fondly received critically in its time, being considered a disappointing follow-up to the SNES original upon its release. It admittedly isn’t the best Mario Kart: There are only a few memorable racetracks, the graphics are ugly, and like Diddy Kong Racing, there’s no music when playing with three or four people. But the core gameplay holds up, and Mario Kart 64 has some of the best balloon battle courses in the series (Block Fort!). A fun time, but not the go-to Mario Kart experience today, nor the best example of Mario multiplayer on the N64.

Mario Tennis: The origins of Waluigi, a character destined to… fill out the roster in Mario spinoffs (What can I say? Not every character addition is going to end up having the impact of Yoshi). Mario Golf is also fun, but it’s Mario Tennis that I think is the better go-to Mario sports title of yesteryear. A solid tennis game with a Mario twist. Oh, and while it may have debuted Waluigi, it also served as the last time we saw Donkey Kong Jr., who’s been MIA ever since.

Super Smash Bros.: Ah, the good ol’ days. Back when Super Smash Bros. was actually about Nintendo characters. I miss that. Sure, the N64 original may not have the same depth and polish of later entries in the series, but Super Smash Bros. remains a fun multiplayer romp. And it’s fun just to revisit and see the series in its purest state, before its Nintendo-ness was diluted and it catered too heavily to the Esports crowd. Just pure Nintendo fun.

And now, finally, the Top 10 Nintendo 64 Games to Play Today!

1: Banjo-Kazooie

Let’s be frank: The N64 was Rare’s console. While many of Nintendo’s key franchises made appearances, they could be pretty spread out. In between Nintendo’s big releases, Rare was pumping out one game after another to keep it all afloat. But Rare’s N64 output didn’t just fill in the gaps, they released a number of genuine winners during the era, some of which even outshined Nintendo’s own efforts.

Though the Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Super Nintendo and Goldeneye 007 were Rare’s biggest sellers, it was Banjo-Kazooie who proved to be Rare’s homegrown hero(es). Simply the most “Rare” of all of Rare’s creations.

A 3D platformer modeled after none other than Super Mario 64, Banjo-Kazooie replaced Nintendo’s iconic plumber with Banjo the bear from Diddy Kong Racing, and the bird Kazooie who lived in his backpack. Replacing Mario’s coins were music notes, and in place of the elusive Power Stars we had Jiggies; magical, golden jigsaw pieces.

Banjo-Kazooie isn’t just Super Mario 64 with a new coat of paint though. Whereas Mario had all of his moves right out of the gate, Banjo and Kazooie learn different abilities as they go, which gave each subsequent level new means for our titular duo to obtain Jiggies. There’s the witch doctor, Mumbo Jumbo, who could transform Banjo and Kazooie into various different forms. There are mini-games abound. And to change up video game traditions, for the game’s finale, Banjo and Kazooie find themselves in the middle of a board game/quiz show (though we do also get a proper final boss, proving that sometimes you can have your cake and eat it too).

All of this, in addition to Banjo-Kazooie’s unique personality (those garbled jibberish voices are just wonderful), meant Banjo-Kazooie was no mere copycat. It took what Super Mario 64 started, and made it entirely its own.

It may seem like a smaller adventure by today’s standards, there are still a few camera issues, and some Jiggies are unceremoniously just lying around, but make no mistake, Banjo-Kazooie is still as fun as it ever was.

2: Banjo-Tooie

While Banjo-Kazooie took a page from Super Mario 64, its sequel, Banjo-Tooie, was like a combination of Mario’s N64 outing and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. Tooie is a much bigger game than Kazooie, but seemingly learning from Donkey Kong 64, it never feels too bloated. Late N64 graphics aside, Banjo-Tooie still holds up over two decades later.

Though Kazooie’s name is sadly no longer in the title, she may be even more present here than she was in the first game, as Banjo and Kazooie can now go their separate ways and claim their own Jiggies. There are now more prominent boss fights in every stage. There are first-person shooter segments that hold up better than the actual first-person shooters on the N64. You can now play as Mumbo Jumbo. The level themes are more unique (the fire world and ice world are one and the same, there’s a dilapidated theme park, and a dinosaur world). And there’s now a host of multiplayer modes to enjoy!

On the downside, there are eight stages here compared to Kazooie’s nine (and ten less Jiggies as a result). One of these stages, Grunty Industries, is pointlessly convoluted. And Mumbo should really have more to do when you play as him. These are ultimately small prices to pay, considering just how good Banjo-Tooie is otherwise.

Twenty-one years on, fans still debate which is the superior game between Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie. While the original seems to have the slight majority vote, I think I’m on the side of Banjo-Tooie. Despite the aforementioned reduction in stage numbers, I feel like Tooie otherwise builds on and improves just about everything from the original. We may all still be waiting for a third Banjo-Kazooie entry (a real third entry), but Banjo-Tooie was such a hefty adventure in its day, and so well executed, that it feels right at home among today’s games.

3: Conker’s Bad Fur Day

Oh look, it’s Rare again! But of course it’s Rare again. They carried the N64!

Released in 2001 – the same year the GameCube would later debut – Conker’s Bad Fur Day was one of the N64’s last hoorahs (along with a few other games on this list). Though it was planned to be released much, much sooner in the console’s lifespan, under a very different guise.

Originally envisioned as “Twelve Tales” and “Conker 64,” the game was to be a cute, cartoony platformer in a similar vein to Banjo-Kazooie and Super Mario 64. But a troublesome production meant Conker kept getting delayed, to the point that, after Rare released a series of colorful platformers on the N64, interest in Conker waned. So designer Chris Seavor took over the project and gave Conker a complete overhaul.

Raunchy, violent, and riddled with swear words and poop jokes, Conker’s Bad Fur Day seemed to both address the concerns of “too many kids’ games” on the N64 while simultaneously making fun of the people who made those complaints by going to such extremes. Though you have to see the irony in how, these days, people crave more colorful, kid-friendly platformers. Different times.

Some aspects of Conker’s former life remained: the game was still a story-driven platformer, as Twelve Tales was always planned to be. It realized the vision of the original game to feel like an interactive cartoon (the animations and lip syncing were so far ahead of their time, they still rank as some of the medium’s best). And true to Conker’s humble origins in Diddy Kong Racing, Conker himself never actually swears. It’s everyone else who’s foulmouthed.

More important than the “adult” humor, however, is how the gameplay is always changing whenever Conker finds himself somewhere new. Sometimes it’s a platformer, sometimes it’s a shooter, sometimes it’s a racer. Conker’s Bad Fur Day is that rare kind of game that’s always finding something new. And in typical Rare fashion, Conker’s Bad Fur Day features seven different multiplayer modes. No one overdelivered like Rare did back in the day.

Conker’s Bad Fur Day isn’t perfect, however. Like so many N64 games, the camera and some of the controls can get a little iffy, not all of the movie parodies work (ugh, The Matrix), and not all the multiplayer modes are equals. But Conker’s Bad Fur Day is as unique today as it was twenty years ago.

4: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Masahiro Sakurai may have created Kirby, but I think Shinichi Shimomura – Nintendo’s most elusive, mysterious game designer – best understands how to represent the character and his world. Sadly, Shimomura only directed three Kirby games before seemingly vanishing: Kirby’s Dreamland 2, Kirby’s Dreamland 3, and Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards.

Though Kirby 64 foregoes the Animal Friends of Dreamlands 2 and 3, it (almost) makes up for it with a new twist on Kirby’s trademark copy abilities: Kirby can now combine two powers to make new ones! Even though Kirby 64 treads a lot of familiar ground elsewhere, the ability to combine powers keeps things fresh and exciting. Sometimes you may realize you need to revisit a stage with a different power combination in order to obtain one of the titular crystal shards.

While Sakurai’s Kirby games later adopted something of an of edge, Shimomura’s Kirby titles really doubled down on the cuteness of the series (sans the final bosses, giving them an appropriate contrast to everything else). There’s a softness to the visuals that have held up incredibly well since the game’s 2000 release, the music is energetic and infectious (in that very specific, late-90s/early-2000s Kirby way). It’s just an all-around comforting video game.

Some may lament that Kirby 64 is a pretty easy game. But not every game needs to be Dark Souls. Sometimes it’s nice to just be able to experience an adventure, and Kirby 64 provides just that. It takes a simple, straightforward platforming romp and turns it into something memorable with its little touches. Along with the aforementioned visuals, music and personality, Kirby 64 also has some fun level themes (the snow world is also the robot-themed world!), and the levels even manage to tell their own little stories as you progress through them, which was pretty unique at the time. Oh, and there are moments where the player takes control of King Dedede. That’s always a huge bonus.

To top it all off, Kirby 64 even features a multiplayer mode. Though it may not be as gloriously excessive as those from Rare, Kirby 64’s multiplayer provides three mini-games that are addictively fun with friends. One of these mini-games, Checkerboard Chase, even feels like a precursor to today’s wildly popular battle royal genre.

I still hope we one day see the combined copy abilities return to the series in their full glory (Kirby Star Allies featured a watered down version of it). But if Kirby 64 is the only game to feature them, at least it’s an easy game to get sucked back into even today.

5: The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask

For all its acclaim, Ocarina of Time is actually a pretty conservative game, as it’s structurally following A Link to the Past nearly beat for beat, albeit in a 3D environment. Ocarina’s follow-up, Majora’s Mask, is conversely one of the most “different” games in the entire Zelda canon.

Using many of the same assets as Ocarina, Majora’s Mask repurposes them to craft a new world and adventure that’s uniquely its own. The Happy Mask Salesman, for example, was merely a shopkeeper in Ocarina. But here in Majora’s Mask he’s a key player in the story. The same goes for the Skull Kid, who has been promoted to tragic antagonist.

Similarly, while Ocarina of Time featured masks as items for the occasional sidequest (or just for the giggles), here they play a much larger role in gameplay. Three masks in particular completely change things up, allowing series protagonist Link to transform into different species from the series: a plant-like Deku, a powerful Goron and an aquatic Zora. These transformations only add that much more variety and depth to Majora’s Mask, and it’s kind of weird how Nintendo hasn’t revisited a similar idea since.

This is all before we even get into the game’s time travel motif, which sees Link travel between the same three days over and over again in order to prevent the moon from crashing into the land of Termina. There are different things to do, different people to talk to, and different events occurring between the three days, so Link will have to use that trusty Ocarina of Time to revisit and relive certain situations in order to complete the adventure (insert mandatory Groundhog Day comparison here).

Admittedly, the time travel setup isn’t for everyone, and having to redo an entire game-day over because you may have missed one thing can grow a little tedious. It’s also one of the shorter Zelda titles, with only four dungeons to complete before you unlock the final area of the game. So it may be easy at times to see why Ocarina of Time’s more straightforward, more epic adventure may continue to steal the spotlight.

Still, Majora’s Mask remains one of Nintendo’s most beloved games, and one of the most acclaimed video games of all time, for a reason. It’s not only different from any other Zelda title, it’s unlike anything else Nintendo has ever made. With a pedigree like The Legend of Zelda’s, it may be easy to hold things so sacred that it fears to branch out. Yet Majora’s Mask – coming off the heels of Ocarina of Time, no less – decided to take the series in a daring new direction. One that still holds up to this day.

6: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Yes, I may have just said Ocarina of Time is a conservative game, but when it’s sticking to a formula as great as A Link to the Past’s, you can’t complain too much.

For a good while, Ocarina of Time was almost unanimously held sacrosanct as the “greatest video game of all time.” While in more recent years, that debate has grown more open-minded – sometimes for the good (Super Mario Galaxy), sometimes for the not too good (The Last of Us) – for its time, it’s easy to see why Ocarina of Time garnered such praise. A Link to the Past and Super Mario 64 were probably the most acclaimed games up to that point, and Ocarina of Time was essentially a combination of the two. The “best of both worlds” if you will.

Following in its SNES predecessor’s footsteps, Ocarina of Time sees Link partake on an epic adventure to save the land of Hyrule from the evil Ganondorf. Link will travel the land, meet new people (and species), and brave dark and dreary dungeons to become the hero Hyrule needs. Ocarina perfectly translated the Zelda series’ combination of action, exploration and puzzle solving into a 3D environment. And its lock-on combat was a revelation for 3D games.

Sure, the graphics definitely show their age, but the gameplay of Ocarina of Time hasn’t really lost a step. While most series may show obvious improvements with each subsequent entry, Ocarina of Time had refined its gameplay so strongly in 1998 that it still feels surprisingly close to the Zelda titles that have arrived since.

On the downside of things (and this is a hugely unpopular opinion on my part), the soundtrack to Ocarina of Time is one of the weaker ones in the Zelda canon. I know, we all love the obvious ones like Saria’s Song/Lost Woods and the Song of Storms, but they’re in the minority of what is largely an adequate soundtrack for the time. It didn’t even feature the main Legend of Zelda theme until the 3DS remake! And even in Zelda, that N64 camerawork can still be a bit of a problem.

So maybe Ocarina of Time isn’t absolutely flawless, as we once so readily accepted. But it’s still an unforgettable adventure in gaming. One that still feels deep and rewarding even by the standards of today.

7: Mario Party 3

Not every great game has to be some grand adventure. Sometimes, fun is all you need to stand the test of time. And that’s where Mario Party 3 comes into this list: it may not be the deepest game here, and it even contains some questionable design choices. But damn it all if Mario Party 3 isn’t fun!

We’re talking about a very specific type of fun here. That unique type of fun that Nintendo seems to have mastered (but that they’ll never fully admit to): the kind of multiplayer game you play with your friends for some good times, only for it to slowly unravel and make all the players involved out for each other’s blood by the end of it all. You can get some of this “friends turned enemies” fun from Mario Kart and Super Smash Bros. But Mario Party personifies it.

From friends stealing each other’s stars and coins, to screwing each other over when they’re supposed to be teamed up in mini-games, Mario Party is designed to make you hate your friends! Okay, maybe not literally, but imagine how Dark Souls makes you feel towards its bosses. Mario Party makes you feel that towards your friends! It’s all in good fun, of course.

Honestly, you can go ahead and lump Mario Party 1 and 2 here as well and call it a tie. But I think that, being released in 2001 at the tail-end of the N64 (it was the last Nintendo-published title on the system), Mario Party 3 had refined the formula a bit. Each game board has some fun gimmicks, the mini-games are more plentiful and varied, and you have more items than ever to sabotage your friends with. Perhaps best of all, Mario Party 3 is the only entry in the series to include “Duel Mode,” which sees two players travel across the board trying to deplete each other’s hit points with the aide of partners. These partners are Mario series enemies that could be placed both in front of (attack) and behind (defense) the player, making Duel Mode something like Mario Party meets Paper Mario. Why Nintendo hasn’t revisited the Duel Mode concept in the many, many Mario Parties since, I’ll never know.

Yes, many of Mario Party’s elements are based on luck, not skill. In just about any other type of game, that would be a huge drawback. But Mario Party is all about chaotic fun with friends. The first two Mario Party entries also provide a great time, but the third is where the series really hit its high point (making it all the weirder that Nintendo has only ever re-released the second entry). On a console known for its madcap four-person multiplayer, Mario Party 3 reigns king.

8: Paper Mario

Yet another late-game entry in the N64’s library, Paper Mario was released in 2001 after years of delays in production.

Originally conceived as a sequel to Super Mario RPG, the game that would become Paper Mario had to make countless changes early on, as Square retained the rights to the original elements of Super Mario RPG. With Square moving away from Nintendo at the time, the big N turned to one of its own studios, Intelligent Systems, to pick up the pieces.

Paper Mario ended up being its own kind of Mario RPG. Mario is equipped with hammer and jump attacks, is joined on his adventure by a parade of cute partners (each inspired by different enemies from the series’ history), and gains new bonuses and abilities based on the badges he wears. These make the battles more simplified than those of Super Mario RPG, but because the game retains its spiritual predecessor’s action commands, they’re no less fun.

Bowser has stolen a magical artifact, the Star Rod, to grant his every wish. The King Koopa has granted himself invincibility, as well as absconded with Princess Peach’s entire castle, and taking it into the sky. So Mario is off on an adventure to rescue seven Star Spirits (held captive by Bowser’s forces) so they can help him undo Bowser’s magic and save the Mushroom Kingdom. It’s every bit as epic as Link’s Nintendo 64 adventures.

Of course, we have to talk about the visuals. It is called Paper Mario for a reason. Originally planned to use SNES-style sprites (prototype screenshots even showed Yoshi ripped directly from Super Mario World), this quickly evolved into making the characters literally flat amidst a 3D environment. It’s kind of fitting, really. Super Mario RPG pushed for 3D at the tail-end of the two-dimensional Super Nintendo, and Paper Mario, towards the end of the Nintendo 64, did the opposite for the 3D console. And while Paper Mario’s soundtrack could never hope to reach the heights of Super Mario RPG’s (still Yoko Shimomura’s best work by far), it still created a fun, fittingly cute soundtrack that ranks among the best on the N64.

Whereas the SNES was full of great RPGs, Paper Mario was really the only notable one to speak of for the N64. But man, is it ever a good one! Its engaging battle system, epic storyline, and insurmountable charm ascend Paper Mario into being one of the genre’s true greats.

Paper Mario’s distinct art direction means it hasn’t really aged visually, and there’s no fussy camera to wrestle with, either. And the gameplay is every bit as fun today as it was twenty years ago. Of all the games on this list, Paper Mario may just be the most timeless.

9: Star Fox 64

Star Fox is something of the one-hit wonder of Nintendo’s franchises. Some of its installments sit at the edge of greatness (others a bit further away), but only one managed to claim it: Star Fox 64.

In a bit of a turnaround from the norm, Star Fox is that rare series (the only series?) where the SNES entry is the headache-inducing eyesore, while the N64 follow-up is a timeless classic.

Originally released in 1997, Star Fox 64 is a remake of the SNES original story-wise. But its gameplay is a refinement of the rail-shooter that builds on every aspect of its predecessor. Such a refinement, in fact, that it has rarely been approached in the genre in all the years since.

Players take control of Fox McCloud, as he pilots his flying Arwing, the Landmaster Tank and (in one level) the underwater Blue-Marine. He’s accompanied by his crewmates: Grizzled veteran Peppy Hare, inventive rookie Slippy Toad, and obnoxious jerk Falco Lombardi. Fox must blast his way through the armies of the evil Andross to save the Lylat System.

Simply destroying the bad guys and making it to the end of a stage aren’t all there is to Star Fox 64, however. Certain actions will unlock branching pathways and new routes through the game. Some alternate routes are easier to find, others not so much. You’ll only go through a handful of stages on any given playthrough, but finding different paths and trying different combinations of stages give the single player mode tremendous replay value (which it already would have from the gameplay alone).

Oh, and just in case the timeless single player campaign isn’t enough, there are also multiplayer modes to keep you coming back for more.

Different vehicles. Teammates with their own benefits (Peppy gives advice, Slippy displays the bosses’ health, Falco helps find some alternate paths). Free-roaming “All-range mode” stages. Multiplayer. A strangely memorable (if corny) storyline… There’s just so much to it. Aside from the obvious 1997 visuals, Star Fox 64 has aged like a fine wine.

10: Super Mario 64

A good chunk of this list is comprised of games released towards the end of the Nintendo 64’s timeframe (Banjo-Tooie, Kirby 64 and Majora’s Mask from 2000; Conker, Mario Party 3 and Paper Mario from 2001). Given the N64’s pioneering of 3D gaming, it makes sense that it would take time for developers to hit their stride and create something that holds up down the road.

But Super Mario 64 was there from day one, and is still an adventure worth taking all these years later. It’s easy to talk about how revolutionary and influential Super Mario 64 was, but this list is meant to discuss how much fun it still is.

What’s amazing is how Super Mario 64 translated the key elements of Mario’s 2D platformer adventures so seamlessly into 3D, while also establishing a new set of rules for 3D platformers. I mentioned how Ocarina of Time follows the same blueprint as A Link to the Past, only in 3D. But Super Mario 64 is structurally a very different game than Super Mario World, though it retains enough key elements of Mario’s past (jumping is important) to still make it feel like a proper follow-up. And just like the 2D Mario games before it, Super Mario 64 has stood the test of time.

Okay, okay. So obviously the visuals scream 1996 (compared to Super Mario World’s sprites, which look just as colorful as they ever did), and the camera can be a pain at times. And like Ocarina of Time, I don’t think Super Mario 64 boasts one of the better soundtracks in its series, despite a few standouts (Dire, Dire Docks comes to mind). So maybe Super Mario 64 isn’t the most timeless Mario game, but for a launch game on the Nintendo 64 to still be this much fun to play? That’s got to be some kind of small miracle.

The camera may be a bit tricky to handle, but Mario himself controls just as he should. It’s hard to describe, but the sense of control Mario has just feels right. Then we have fifteen big levels to explore, a host of bonus stages, and the best hub world in gaming history (don’t even argue). Mario must explore every nook and cranny of these locations; fighting monsters, racing penguins, flying through clouds, swimming with dinosaurs, and a plethora of other objectives to claim those elusive power stars that can break Bowser’s curse on Peach’s castle and its occupants.

Sure, the graphical and mechanical limitations are present. But Super Mario 64 was so forward-thinking in its ideas and so polished in its execution, that this 1996 Nintendo 64 launch title can still claim to be one of gaming’s greats. Proof that fun knows no age.


There you go, my top 10 Nintendo 64 titles to play today! Although I suppose I haven’t played every Nintendo 64 game (I recently purchased the two Goemon N64 games, which I’ve heard good things about, so I guess I’ll see if those deserved a spot here soon). But I think I’ve played so many of them over the years, that my experience on the subject has some merit. I like to think so, anyway.

It’s hard to believe the Nintendo 64 is over twenty-five years old now. It’s as old as the movie Twister, and the Tickle Me Elmo!

Thanks for reading, and I hope this list could bring back some fond memories, or inspire you to pick up one of these games again, or even help you discover them (okay, that last one is a lie. No one is discovering these games from my blog). At any rate, I hope you enjoyed!

Happy Nintendo 64, everybody!

Magical Drop 2 Review

Magical Drop is a series of falling block puzzle games originally developed by the now-defunct Data East. It was a popular series in arcades (particularly in Japan), but the series found a newfound popularity when the second and third entries were ported to home consoles. Though the series continues to take long absences between releases as it bounces around from one developer to another, the older titles continue to find their way onto modern gaming hardware. Such is the case with Magical Drop 2’s release on the Nintendo Switch’s Online service, a port of the Super Famicom version of the game. While fans may still be left wondering why Nintendo seems to refuse to add EarthBound and Super Mario RPG to the Switch’s retro lineup, Magical Drop 2 is a surprisingly welcome addition, providing the pure gaming fun that you expect from its genre.

Most falling block-style puzzle games see the blocks fall from the top of the screen to the bottom, with the player trying to prevent the blocks from rising back up to the top. The schtick with Magical Drop, however, is that the game is over as soon as the blocks (or “bubbles”) reach the bottom of the screen. So instead of blocks falling one at a time, the bubbles of Magical Drop slowly descend in rows, with the player trying to eliminate these rows before they reach the bottom of the screen.

How the player does this is pretty unique: the player can grab onto one color of bubble at a time (though they can grab as many of that color as they can), and then throw those bubbles back to the rows above. The player has to line up at least three of the same color bubble vertically in order to eliminate them, but the really cool thing is that if there are other bubbles of the same color coming into contact with what the player pieces together, every connected bubble of that color will be eliminated. So if you play things carefully enough, you can destroy many blocks in different rows with one fell swoop.

It’s a fun setup, and like many games of the genre, the simplicity the gameplay displays on face value hides a whole lot of depth and strategy. Certain modes will also introduce their own gimmicks, such as special bubbles that, should they touch a completed column, will subsequently destroy an entire row, column or surrounding area of bubbles. There are also ice blocks, which are basically neutral bubbles, with all adjacent ice blocks disappearing if a row of bubbles is completed next to them, no matter the color.

The game features several playable characters. They are all charming enough with their cute anime designs. Though one of the game’s more questionable elements is that each character supposedly has their own abilities, but unlike something like Tetris Battle Gaiden, where these abilities are obvious and manually performed by the player, the character abilities in Magical Drop 2 are a lot more vague. From what I understand, the character abilities here revolve around how the rows of bubbles fall, but the action is so fast paced I haven’t the eye to notice the differences between them. And there’s no in-game description of what their abilities do, other than a one-to-five star rating for a character’s strength, and a vague image under their “magic” category. So you’re guess is as good as mine.

Magical Drop 2 features four different modes of play: a single-player mode where the player simply tries to last as long as possible and beat their high score. Then there’s the two player battle mode, of course. There’s also a story mode, where the player selects their character and faces off against the others. Finally, there’s the oddly-named “puzzle” mode, which has the player trying to eliminate screens of all their bubbles in as little moves as possible in order to add more time to a constantly ticking clock. So there’s actually some good variety here, for a game of its time. And given how addictive the gameplay already is, there’s some really good replay value here.

The game features some fun visuals (the characters’ victory and defeat animations are surprisingly fluid), and the music is appropriately upbeat and catchy. Though the game’s audio takes a hit simply because the narrator can get pretty annoying. I’m someone who honestly doesn’t mind Baby Mario’s crying in Yoshi’s Island, and finds the garbled voices of Banjo-Kazooie to be charming, so it’s saying something when a soundbite in a game gets on my nerves. Magical Drop 2’s narrator’s shouts of “No!” whenever something doesn’t go right for either participants (computer player included) is so constant it becomes stressful. The narrator doesn’t even say anything else during a match. It’s not a major issue or anything, but it is a shame that the endless stream of “No!” drowns out the delightful music.

The falling block puzzler is one of gaming’s most purely enjoyable genres: instantly entertaining, addictingly engaging, unhindered by the bells and whistles that gaming has adopted over the years. Magical Drop 2 is another reminder of why the genre is so enduring.

7

Sonic the Hedgehog Turns 30! (And Nintendo 64 Turns 25!)

It’s been thirty years to the day that the original Sonic the Hedgehog game was released on the Sega Genesis, with its titular hedgehog instantly becoming a gaming icon. It also gave us one of gaming’s greatest foes in Dr. Ivo “Eggman” Robotnik.

The Sonic series has had a colorful history, to say the least. For every classic it’s produced, it’s had one or two disappointments, and even flat-out stinkers. For every Sonic 2, there was a Sonic Boom. For every Sonic CD, a Sonic: The Fighters. For every Sonic Colors, a Sonic ’06. Heck, even Sonic Mania – the best game the series saw in decades – was followed-up mere months later by the incompetent Sonic Forces (as if Sega took offense to Mania’s warm reception and goodwill, and made Sonic Forces out of spite). It’s a testament to the enduring appeal of Sonic himself that no matter how low the actual games got, Sonic remained an icon.

Sonic has made a name for himself outside of video games as well, starring in more animated series and comic books than any other video game character, and as recently as 2020 had his own actually-pretty-good movie (with a sequel on the way). It’s safe to say Sonic isn’t going anywhere, and nor should he.

Happy 30th birthday, Sonic the Hedgehog (and Robotnik too)!

That’s not the only video game anniversary today, though. June 23rd also marks the anniversary of the Nintendo 64, which launched in Japan on this day in 1996.

The Nintendo 64 is one of Nintendo’s best consoles in an historical sense, if maybe not in the timeless sense like the Super Nintendo. That is to say, the Nintendo 64 marked a pivotal moment in gaming history, and many of its games were great for the time, but only a few small handfuls of them have withstood the test of time (namely those with Mario, Zelda and Banjo in the title).

Of course, the Nintendo 64’s unique place in history as being the first real 3D console gives it a special kind of nostalgia (the Playstation and Saturn added 3D games as they went, but the N64 was built with them in mind, in case you thought I forgot about them). It was something completely different from the consoles that came before it, and just about every console since has built on what it started. Of course, being such a pioneer in gaming means that much of the N64’s library feels unpolished today, but you have to start somewhere. And the stuff that has held up on the N64, has held up surprisingly well.

So a fellow happy 25th birthday to the Nintendo 64!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go play some Sonic the Hedgehog and Mario Party. Or maybe I’ll meet down the middle and play some Sonic Shuffle… No. I won’t play Sonic Shuffle.

New Pokemon Snap Review

Twenty-two years is one hell of a long time to wait for a sequel. Yet that’s exactly how long fans have had to wait for New Pokemon Snap, the long-awaited follow-up to the 1999 Nintendo 64 original Pokemon photography game.

It’s pretty odd that we had to wait so long. Pokemon Snap was one of the earlier Pokemon spinoff titles, and was released during Pokemon’s initial red hot booming period. It quickly became a fan favorite, partly because it was among the first instances many people got to see Pokemon in a video game outside of the Gameboy, but mostly because it was a great concept: combining the world of Pokemon with photography, taking pictures of the titular creatures in their natural habitats. It’s easy to see why it won Pokemon fans over so much.

Of course, not every game withstands the test of time. Though the original Pokemon Snap is a fun little endeavor, time has revealed it to be a bit on the shallow side. Released during Pokemon’s early years (when “catching them all” was actually plausible), Pokemon Snap only featured 63 of the original 151 Pokemon. Its stages – which worked with on-rail mechanics, where the player would be able to interact with and influence scripted events as they automatically went by – were short and fun, but rarely required revisiting. Though the game included some puzzle elements (figuring out how to get a Pokemon to pose for the perfect shot, unlocking the passageways to the next levels, and the like) they were once again in limited supply.

I myself obsessed over Pokemon Snap in the N64 days, and while I was ecstatic when it made its way to the Wii Virtual Console, the experience wasn’t quite the same. Sure, it was still fun, but lacked the depth to make me delve into it like I once did (that didn’t stop me from buying it again on the Wii U though).

If anything, the shortcomings of the original Pokemon Snap only made its fans yearn for a sequel even more (self included). The concept of Pokemon Snap is just too good, and was always begging to be expanded upon. Fans of Pokemon Snap deserved a follow-up that lived up to their memories of the original.

Thankfully, that’s exactly what New Pokemon Snap is. We may have had to wait an excruciating twenty-two years, but New Pokemon Snap delivers on the sequel we’d always hoped for: It features the same core gameplay of the original, but expanded on it in every way, with a newfound depth and replay value that make it the most fun I’ve had with a Pokemon title in I don’t even remember how long.

New Pokemon Snap takes players to the Lental Region, where they meet Professor Mirror, who is studying both the Pokemon of the region as well as its “Illumina phenomenon” which causes Pokemon (and some plants) to emit a mysterious glow. It’s up to the player to photograph the Pokemon so that Professor Mirror can better study their behavior and the effects the Illumina phenomenon has on them.

Like the original, the stages are played on rails, with the player taking photos as they automatically pass by. Also like the original, New Pokemon Snap is one of those rare, relaxing games where the player can’t really lose. The goal is to simply take the best pictures you can. You can take up to 72 photos every time you play a stage, and use them to photograph whichever Pokemon you want. You can snap multiple pictures of any Pokemon you see, but you can only take one photo of each Pokemon you photographed to the professor every time you play a stage, so be sure to send in your best photo of each for the best score!

There is a bit of a change to how the professor grades your photos this time around. You’ll still receive points for things like the composition of your photo, whether or not the Pokemon is facing the camera, how close the Pokemon is, etc. But now the actions the Pokemon in the photo is doing will earn the photo a rank of one to four stars (if a Pokemon is just standing there, expect a one-star photo, but if you can get a Pokemon to do something more, the rank will be higher). The player’s photodex can contain four photos of each Pokemon registered, one for each star rank. So that alone already gives players more incentive for repeat visits to stages.

That isn’t the only source of replay value New Pokemon Snap provides, however. Now, the stages themselves are constantly changing! Though the courses in New Pokemon Snap remain pleasantly short, there’s a lot more to them. For starters, playing a level enough times and earning enough points will level up that stage, which will then introduce new Pokemon and pathways to that course. Some stages even include separate day and night versions, with the player being able to level up both versions of a stage to unlock even more! Eventually, levels will introduce branching pathways, and like the original, some even include puzzle elements that can unlock additional paths and stages. And if you miss the way a certain level used to be when you first visited it, you can revisit the earlier versions of stages any time you want. It’s really quite impressive how much New Pokemon Snap can get out of even a single level.

As you play through the game, you’ll also unlock new features. As in the original game, you can throw Fluffruit (basically an apple) or play music to get a Pokemon’s attention or make it behave a certain way. Replacing the original game’s Pester Ball this time, however, are Illumina Orbs, which will give Pokemon that aforementioned glow for a short time, and often change their behavior. You can now also scan a stage to get a briefing on all the Pokemon in your immediate area (as well as select which path to take when you reach a fork in the road), but the scan will also affect certain Pokemon. There are even some instances where combining these items will give additional results.

Basically, even though New Pokemon Snap features the same style of short, on-rails stages as the N64 original, there’s so much more to them. At any given moment, there’s so much going on around you, that it really is impossible to get everything in a single trip. It’s pretty fun to decide which things you want to focus on during a specific run of a stage, and which ones can wait until later.

It doesn’t even stop there, however. Now, when you save photos to your album, you can edit them with filters, frames and stickers, and then share them online if you want. You can ‘like’ other people’s photos (referred to as giving “Sweet! Medals”) and hope they do the same for yours. As you play through the game, you unlock more editing features (frames, filters, stickers, as well as decorations for your personal profile). Again, there’s a lot of fun to be had with all this (though the limit of 28 characters in a photo’s description has prevented me from making many a desired reference, unfortunately). As an added bonus, if someone has taken photos of a Pokemon or area you haven’t seen yet, it will be blocked unless you choose to see it, which is pretty cool.

My only complaint with the photo sharing is that you have an odd limit of only six photos to be uploaded at any given time. The professor can also (randomly) choose two additional photos of yours to share online, but that’s just two more slots for photos I could be uploading myself! Granted, you can swap which six you want in and out at any time, so it isn’t a big deal, but why such an odd limitation?

If there’s a more notable drawback to New Pokemon Snap, it’s that some objectives are strangely vague. This is true of unlocking some of the branching paths, though most of those aren’t too hard to figure out. When it comes to Requests, on the other hand, many of them are so vague in their descriptions that I’ve had to look up guides to see what they mean. And even after watching some guides, I’m left baffled as to how I was supposed to know that’s what the request was asking of me.

These requests are essentially little side missions. After you discover a certain Pokemon or reach a certain point in the game, you’ll receive a request asking for a specific picture in relation to those discoveries (taking a photo of a Pokemon doing a specific action, finding out what Pokemon lives in a particular cave, things like that). Some of these requests reward the player with some of the aforementioned customizable items for your photo album (but some don’t reward anything, which is pretty weird in itself). They’re fun in concept, but too many of these requests don’t make the objective clear enough.

Something that New Pokemon Snap really deserves credit for are the visuals. New Pokemon Snap is a gorgeous game to look at! The Pokemon themselves have never looked better, and the environments are so beautiful to look at, I sometimes take photos of just the scenery so I can look at it in the album later. It’s weird how the mainline Pokemon games like Sword and Shield continue to look kind of behind the times, but a spinoff like New Pokemon Snap is one of the best looking games on the Nintendo Switch.

“Praise the sun!”

The music is also joyful, and really fits the relaxed nature of the game. It may not be among the best Switch soundtracks, but it’s appropriately atmospheric for each stage, and simple and fun in between them. It was perhaps a missed opportunity to not feature new versions of any of the tracks from the original game, however. You don’t want to overdo it and rely completely on returning music, but considering this is the longest gap between a Nintendo game and its sequel to date (I believe), it would have been a nostalgic euphoria to hear two or three musical pieces from the original make a return.

“Don’t cry for me. I’m already dead.”

New Pokemon Snap is something of a dream come true. Even as I’ve lost my enthusiasm for the mainline Pokemon games, I’ve still longed for a follow-up to Pokemon Snap that could build on the original’s concept. To not only have a Pokemon Snap sequel after all these years, but to also have it be the game we thought we could only wish for in how it adds so much to every aspect of the formula, can make it seem like an almost surreal experience. While it may take something away from Pokemon Snap if we started getting sequels as regularly as other Pokemon games, I do hope we don’t have to wait another twenty-two years for a third entry. New Pokemon Snap really is the Pokemon Snap title worthy of our memories of the original.

Now that we’re on the subject of long overdue Nintendo sequels, how about Super Mario RPG 2?

8

Super Mario World and Super Nintendo Turn 30!

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the original release of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System in Japan, and along with it, Super Mario World.

With all the hullaballoo Nintendo is (understandably) making for the 35th anniversary of Super Mario Bros., they’ve been strangely quiet about this moments anniversary. As far as I’m concerned, the Super NES is the most timeless console of all time. While the original NES has earned its place in video game history, playing it today, it does feel like a product of its time, save for a few exceptions (Mario, Mega Man, Kirby). Similarly, the Nintendo 64 pioneered and revolutionized 3D gaming. But testing new waters meant that not everything about the N64 has held up swimmingly, and again, with a few exceptions (Mario, Zelda, Banjo, Starfox and Kirby), the Nintendo 64 can also feel a bit like a relic.

The Super NES, on the other hand, hit that sweet spot. The culmination of everything game design had learned up to that point, polished and refined. The SNES continued classic gameplay and franchises, while introducing hosts of new ones, and made them all better than ever. And beyond all expectations, the classics of the SNES haven’t aged a day. It really did earn the monicker of “Super.”

More specifically, let’s talk about Super Mario World. The best video game launch title of all time, Super Mario World is at once synonymous with the Super Nintendo, and also one of the rare games whose reputation might just transcend its console (certainly no small feat, given the console in question). I mean, Super Mario World is just the definition of a classic. You don’t really think of the year of release or the era in question when it comes to Super Mario World. It’s simply a perennial classic that stands on its own.

Super Mario Bros. 3 may have perfected what Super Mario Bros. started, but Super Mario World somehow perfected that perfection. Brilliant level design, repayable levels, secret exits and hidden worlds, Super Mario World effectively created the difference between simply getting to the end of a game, and completing it 100%. You could also speedrun it and try to best it in as few levels as possible if you wanted. Basically, while NES titles and prior video games were all about high scores and finding the fastest way to get to the end, Super Mario World created the broader options of how you could complete a game. Both speed runners and completionists owe Super Mario World more than a little thanks.

And, of course, who could forget the introduction of Yoshi! Mario’s cute little dinosaur sidekick quickly became Nintendo’s second most popular character (sorry Luigi). Yoshi even starred in Super Mario World’s 1995 prequel, Yoshi’s Island, and went on to star in franchises of his own.

Like the Super Nintendo itself, Super Mario World felt like a refinement of of its predecessors, with Nintendo adding new and creative ideas around every corner. A classic in every sense of the word.

As an added bonus, November 21st also serves as the anniversaries of the original releases of Donkey Kong Country and Donkey Kong Country 2 (DKC3 misses the mark by one day). So you could rightfully call November 21st “Super Nintendo Day” (which I very much do). DKC was released on this day twenty-six years ago, while DKC2 celebrates its big twenty-fifth anniversary today. As an added bonus to said added bonus, Donkey Kong Country Returns was released on the Wii ten years ago today, to commemorate the sixteenth anniversary of the original DKC… How the hell is Donkey Kong Country Returns a decade old already?

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. Happy Super Nintendo Day, everybody! And a very happy 30th to Super Mario World! Wahoo!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 Review

When Luigi’s Mansion was released as a GameCube launch title in 2001, it was an interesting little oddity in the Mario franchise. A small excursion starring the lesser Mario brother taking on a house full of spooks and specters in Ghostbusters-like fashion. It was fun and unique, but short-lived. And for over a decade it seemed that Luigi’s Mansion was to remain a one and done affair. It was surprising then, that a sequel was released on the Nintendo 3DS almost twelve years later. Though it lacked the atmosphere of the GameCube original, Luigi’s Mansion: Dark Moon proved that the concept of Luigi doing his best Peter Venkmen impression still had a lot to offer. It may have taken the timeframe between an original Pixar movie and its sequel, but Dark Moon turned the once isolated Luigi’s Mansion experience into a viable franchise of its own (it even spawned an arcade spin-off).

Developed by Canadian studio Next Level Games (who also made Dark Moon, as well as the Mario Strikers games and the Wii installment of Punch-Out!!), the bluntly titled Luigi’s Mansion 3 was released on the Nintendo Switch on Halloween of 2019. Taking the best bits of the GameCube original and the 3DS sequel, Luigi’s Mansion 3 proved to be the best entry in the series yet by some margin.

Though the game still houses the word “mansion” in the title, the action this time around actually takes place inside of a hotel. This high-rise hotel, The Last Resort, is the vacation spot for not only Luigi, but also Mario, Princess Peach, and a group of Toads. Because Mario and the gang are never allowed a proper vacation, the whole thing ends up being a rouse. During the first night of their supposed vacation, Luigi awakes in the middle of the night to find that Mario, Peach and the Toads have gone missing, and the seemingly luxurious hotel has transformed into a dilapidated, nightmarish tower filled with ghouls. It turns out the hotel’s owner, Hellen Gravely, is actually a ghost, working under Luigi’s recurring foe, King Boo. King Boo has successfully captured Mario, Peach and the Toads and trapped them in portraits, and almost does the same to Luigi, before the younger Mario brother makes an escape (perhaps King Boo should try capturing Luigi first next time… and maybe he and Bowser should work together, because King Boo seems pretty adept at capturing Mario, so together they could get a lot done).

Luigi soon finds that his mentor in ghost-catching, Professor E. Gadd, has also been captured by King Boo, and is in the hotel. Luigi finds an extra ghost-catching device left by Gadd, and soon uses it to rescue the mad scientist. From then on, Gadd takes refuge in his ‘ghost-proof’ bunker, and provides Luigi with different gadgets and abilities along the way (including “Gooigi” Luigi’s gelatinous doppelgänger) in the quest to save Mario, Peach, the Toads, and to put an end to King Boo and Hellen Gravely’s plans.

Being a Mario game that isn’t one of its RPGs of yesteryear, the plot of Luigi’s Mansion 3 is of course simple stuff. But the action becomes something truly memorable by how much personality and character shines through. Luigi’s Mansion 3 is one of the most vibrantly-animated video games ever made. The game is bursting at the seams with charm and humor, particularly physical comedy, with Luigi’s Mansion 3 being on a level of its own in that category.

Not only has Luigi’s anxious, trepidatiously-heroic personality never been more on display, but other characters, and even enemies, are filled with exaggerated movements and expressions (Next Level Games, perhaps realizing that Professor E. Gadd had never previously been seen walking more than a few feet, gave him a decidedly hilarious running animation). While Mario games have often had fluid character animations, they’ve never been so innately humorous as they are here, with Luigi’s Mansion 3 evoking Loony Tunes at times.

The gameplay is an utter delight. The basics are still the same as they’ve always been for the series: stun ghosts with a flashlight, catch them in your vacuum, dwindle down their hit points until they finally get sucked up. The Dark Light from the second game returns, and is used to find/solidify invisible and spectral objects, as well as release your friends (and coins) from portraits. But there have been a few fun little quirks added to the proceedings: the Poltergust vacuum can now let out a burst to keep large groups of enemies at bay, should Luigi find himself overwhelmed. Luigi can now slam ghosts that are caught in the vortex of the vacuum, which depletes larger chunks of their health with each slam. The Poltergeist can now also fire a plunger, which sticks to objects for Luigi to pull and drag them.

The biggest gameplay addition is the inclusion of Gooigi, who works as a second playable character. Once Gooigi is obtained, the player can switch between Luigi and his gooey clone by the press of a button (or a second player can join in to take on the role of Gooigi for some fun co-op). Gooigi mostly controls identical to Luigi, but has some pros and cons unique to him. Being the slime-like creature he is, Gooigi can sink into drains, squeeze into narrow spaces, walk passed spikes, and pass through cages like Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean. On the downside, Gooigi cannot move in bodies of water or come into contact with fire, or else he dissolves and retreats back into Luigi’s Poltergust.

Although on their own, these additions may seem small, when you put them all together, they really add a lot to the classic Luigi’s Mansion gameplay. In particular, the puzzles that require both Luigi and Gooigi to step into action really bring out the game’s creativity.

One of my complaints with Dark Moon was its mission-based structure. The first Luigi’s Mansion had a unique atmosphere and sense of place for a game set in the Mario universe. It may not have been truly frightening, but the titular mansion of the original game felt like like a set place and, relative to the series, was appropriately eerie. Dark Moon removed that atmosphere in favor of a mission-based structure, which made the experience feel fragmented and episodic. The first game felt like you were scouring a haunted mansion. The second game simply felt like levels in a video game.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 finds a nice compromise between the two. The Last Resort houses 17 floors, each with a different theme or motif. Because things no longer begin and end with a set mission, you have more freedom to explore and go at your own pace, like the first game. But with every floor featuring a different theme, Luigi’s Mansion 3 has a stronger sense of variety, closer to the second game.

“Boy, doesn’t this just personify Luigi’s placement compared to Mario? Mario’s key collectibles include stars, suns and moons. Luigi collects… elevator buttons.”

Each floor houses its own collection of special treasures to find, as well as Boos to catch. The game is progressed by defeating a floor’s boss and acquiring the elevator button they’re holding, which then allows you to go to the matching floor of that button (though they aren’t always in sequential order, which is a nice little touch).

The boss fights are a lot of fun. While the first two Luigi’s Mansion games could admittedly get a bit repetitious, the boss fights alone in Luigi’s Mansion 3 bring out so many fun ideas out of the series’ gameplay that you’ll always be wondering what’s around the next corner. And while the boss ghosts may not capture the same (relative) scariness of the Portrait Ghosts from the first game (thus resulting in not quite the same unique atmosphere of the GameCube title), they are a definite step-up from Dark Moon, which had no Portrait Ghost equivalent.

Players who just want to complete the story can do just that, but for completionists, you can always backtrack and hunt down every last treasure from every last floor of the hotel. And if that’s not enough, Luigi’s Mansion 3 even features multiplayer!

Luigi’s Mansion 3 not only houses a series of local multiplayer mini-game modes, but also builds on the “Scarescraper” online mode introduced in Dark Moon. This cooperative online mode sees up to eight players (four as different colored Luigis, and four as their corresponding Gooigis) brave the Scarecraper by completing one randomly-generated floor to move on to the next (up to ten floors). Most floors will ask players to exercise them of all their ghosts, while others will task players with collecting a certain amount of treasure, having everyone gather in a specific room, or finding lost Toads and escorting them to a teleporter. When all floors are completed, the Luigi-centric team then comes face-to-face with a boss fight in the form of Boolossus.

Scarescraper is a simple multiplayer mode in concept, but insanely addictive in execution. As the clock keeps ticking and you desperately try to find the last ghost/Toad/lump of cash, it becomes a hectic scramble that requires real teamwork to overcome. And while Nintendo’s lack of voice chat is usually a hindrance, this is one instance where the feature isn’t exactly missed. If a player gets caught in a trap and requires another player to rescue them (as getting yourself out of a trap takes considerably longer and exhausts the time limit), they press a few buttons to alert the other players of their whereabouts, hoping their team can get rescue them in time. Again, a lack of voice chat is normally a big problem with Nintendo multiplayer games, but here, it may have made things too easy. It’s difficult to describe, but the Scarescraper is somehow more fun by forcing teams to work together while giving them minimal tools to do so.

Luigi’s Mansion 3 isn’t perfect: the controls can take a little getting used to (especially if you’re not playing with the classic controller), I feel like there could have been some additional incentives for completionists other than a few (often easy to find) treasures and Boos, and there are a few annoying puzzles here and there (sadly, the movie-themed floor, perhaps my favorite in the game, possibly contains the most cryptic puzzles). And while the idea of a multiplayer-exclusive boss fight in the Scarescraper is really cool, it’s kind of a bummer that it’s always the same boss fight (just a couple more would have added a lot).

All things considered, however, Luigi’s Mansion 3 is an extremely fun experience that is always at the ready to throw something unexpected at the player. There’s something new seemingly around every corner, some of which might truly catch you by surprise (which is why I haven’t gone into too much detail on what the different floors of the hotel have in store). And it does so with some of the most exuberant and hilarious animation in the history of video games.

8

Farewell, Nintendo 3DS

After nine and a half years, Nintendo has officially discontinued the Nintendo 3DS. This isn’t too surprising by this point, as the 3DS has been kind of pushed to the sidelines since the Nintendo Switch launched, but it’s still kind of sad after having the 3D handheld around for nearly an entire decade.

Originally released in 2011, the Nintendo 3DS was the successor to Nintendo’s most popular system, the Nintendo DS. As such, the 3Ds included many of its predecessor’s features (two screens, the bottom screen having touch controls, etc), while also providing more powerful visuals and sound and, as the name implies, 3D effects for the top screen.

3D was all over the place in the early 2010s, most notably in movies, where 3D effects had seen a huge resurgence (often attributed to James Cameron’s Avatar, even though Pixar’s Up and several other movies beat it to the punch in early 2009. I guess people wanted to pretend Avatar had some kind of lasting impact to justify its box office numbers). While most 3D in movies at the time was a bit gimmicky, usually making for only one or two notable effects, the 3D visuals on the 3DS were actually pretty good. Sure, you had to hold the handheld a specific way to get the full effect, but you didn’t need any 3D glasses, and it actually looked pretty good. Some games – most notably Super Mario 3D Land, Pushmo, Kirby Triple Deluxe and Kirby: Planet Robobot – even took advantage of the effect for the sake of gameplay!

Still, as the 3D craze died down, so did Nintendo’s emphasis on the effect on the 3DS, with games featuring less and less actual 3D as time went on. Eventually, Nintendo even released the “Nintendo 2DS,” a variant of the handheld without the 3D visuals, which over time became the standard version of the system. As time went by, Nintendo and other developers began releasing more and more games that blatantly stated they didn’t use the 3D effects on the box!

While the namesake feature of the system may have run its course some time ago, the 3DS itself actually held strong for a good while. With a steady stream of great original titles like The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds, as well as terrific remakes like those of the N64 Zelda titles, as well as the best entries in the Mario & Luigi series throughout its lifecycle (though the less said of the 3DS’s original Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario titles, the better).

The Nintendo 3DS was a perfect companion for the original Wii in its last years, as well as the Wii U during its entire run. When the Nintendo Switch was released in 2017 and combined Nintendo’s home console and handheld efforts, it became clear that the 3DS was no longer a priority, but it still had a few good years left.

In the end, the Nintendo 3DS joins the ranks of the great Nintendo consoles, like the Super NES, Gameboy Advance, the original DS, the Wii and even the system that supplanted it, the Switch. With nine and a half years under its belt, the 3DS certainly has a lot to reflect on. A history and library that few gaming systems can match. Not bad for something that was initially ridiculed for being a gimmick.

I salute you, 3DS! Thanks for the memories.

Replaying: Super Mario 64

Super Mario 3D All-Stars is great (it was released on my birthday, ya know). I mean, it has it’s problems (a series of this caliber deserves grander presentation than a simple startup screen and brief descriptions of the games included), and the absence of Galaxy 2 really is inexcusable (had it been included, this would be the best video game compilation ever). But it’s still a compilation of two amazing classics and also Super Mario Sunshine, so I’m not about to complain too much.

Though Galaxy is easily the best game of the bunch, I decided to do things chronologically and started with Super Mario 64 first. Super Mario 64 is, from a historical and influential standpoint, one of the greatest videogames of all time (with Tetris and the original Super Mario Bros. perhaps being the only games to top it in those categories). Super Mario 64 is also one of the defining games of my life. Though I think there were better games before and better games since (Super Mario World is a far better game, for example), there are few games that are as ingrained in my mind as Super Mario 64. I played and replayed it so often as a kid, that even when it’s been years in between playthroughs, I can still recall where, when and how to collect (almost) every star and red coin. I know the stages inside and out, and can track down most everything in the game without giving it a second thought. Super Mario 64 is burned into my psyche.

Playing this classic again on the Switch reminds me what an integral part of gaming Super Mario 64 was (and still is). Yes, it’s definitely rough around the edges – with its camera being cumbersome and Mario sometimes feeling a little slippery to control – but creatively, it was so far ahead of what everyone else was doing, it still amazes.

I’m not sure if it’s ironic or poetic that gaming’s biggest icon of the 2D era was also the one that, in its first go around, got 3D gaming so right (okay, it’s poetic). Yes, some of its technical aspects have aged, and Super Mario 64 isn’t pretty to look at (though the HD sheen of the Switch version makes it look better than ever), but when you consider how 3D video games at the time were so unwieldy and broken that the concept was considered a fad doomed to die a sudden death, Mario’s transition into 3D was as flawless as anyone could have hoped for, perhaps more so.

Playing Super Mario 64 again today, it’s still a lot of fun, which is more than you can say for…pretty much every other early 3D game. Yes, its blemishes are more apparent to modern eyes (that damn camera), but it still feels like a delightful virtual playground whereas its contemporaries feel like taxing eyesores.

I do have to admit, it is a bit of a bummer that Nintendo opted to only optimize the game’s presentation and give it an HD makeover, as opposed to remaking it entirely. I mean, I get that new games are the priority, but surely Super Mario 64 is one of the games in Nintendo’s history that warrants a from the ground-up remake. I mean, Crash Bandicoot had it done, and as much as I love Crash Bandicoot, he’s certainly no Mario.

Whatever. As always, it’s the game that ultimately counts, not the look. And as stated, Super Mario 64 is still a great game, and its inventiveness for the medium as a whole can’t be understated. Super Mario 64 wasn’t simply “Super Mario World but in 3D” (an unpopular complaint I have against Ocarina of Time is that, structurally, it’s essentially A Link to the Past with a 3D makeover, with all the added hiccups that come with the N64). It reworked how platformers are structured. Sure, you still had linear goals, but you could go about them in different ways, and sometimes achieve a goal other than the intended one. And one thing Super Mario 64 did that I still don’t think many 3D games have done (even the 3D Mario titles, until Odyssey came around) is how it gave Mario moves and abilities that were made solely for the sake of taking advantage of 3D space, and how the game incorporates certain goals (stars) simply by utilizing these moves.

There are stars that simply require the player to master Mario’s wall jump in order to reach them, areas that can only be reached with Mario’s trickier to perform movements, and hell, Mario’s little breakdancing move seems to only exist because it could now that Mario was in a 3D environment. The player can almost sense that Miyamoto and company must have had an absolute blast making the game, and just had fun discovering what they could make Mario do with his added dimension.

“It’s strangely seldom mentioned how, in Super Mario 64, you’re actually controlling two characters. Mario himself, and the Lakitu holding the camera.”

This infectious sense of joy doesn’t just apply to the technical aspects of the game, however, but the creative ones as well. As much flak as I’ve been giving the game’s camera, how fun of an idea was it to make the in-universe reason for the camera being that Mario’s adventure is being recorded by a local news station (which, naturally, uses a Lakitu flying on a cloud as the cameraman, explaining away the controls for the camerawork)? Or what about the clock-themed world behaving differently based on where the clock hands are when you enter the stage? And to this day, a gaming moment from my early years that I can still recall clear as day was chasing after a rabbit in the lower levels of Peach’s Castle, and running into a wall that began rippling upon Mario’s contact with it, revealing yet another of the game’s levels just waiting to be explored. Up until that point in the game, the stages were all accessed via jumping into painting. So for just a basic wall to deceptively be the portal to one of the stages might still be the most beautifully mischievous detail in video games.

Suffice to say, I’m having a lot of fun revisiting Super Mario 64. Of course, there’s a lot of frustration as well, trying to wrangle around the camera, controlling the flying power-up, and Mario’s sometimes sporadic actions. Frustrations I don’t get when playing either of the Galaxy games or Odyssey (which, with all due respect to Super Mario 64, are all superior games), or even 3D World for that matter (which might also be a better game from a technical standpoint). But hey, Super Mario 64 was the first of its kind, for it to still be as fun and creative as it is today is probably more than anyone could have asked for.

The Mario series has had more “perfect games” under its belt than any one series (I might even argue it’s had more than most other prominent series put together). Super Mario 64 is not one of the perfect Mario games. But it still, to this day, is a one of a kind gaming experience. A video game wonderland that, while it may feel aged in a number of respects, still comes across as a timeless classic.