Super Smash Bros. Ultimate Review

With a name like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch’s edition to Nintendo’s massively-successful crossover fighter certainly gave itself a lot to live up to. Somewhat miraculously, Ultimate manages to pull that very feat off, delivering what is undoubtedly the best entry in the long-running series to date. Bursting at the seams with content and fine-tuning the series’ gameplay, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its lofty expectations, even if a lackluster adventure mode and a thin (and inconsistent) lineup of new fighters means it doesn’t quite surpass them.

Super Smash Bros. really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. The franchise has become one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers thanks to its engrossing gameplay, which combines elements of traditional fighting games with Mario Kart-esque party elements, all while incorporating sumo style rules that make it unique unto itself.

By ‘sumo style’ rules, I of course refer to Super Smash Bros’ key mechanic of sending opponents off the screen – similar to sumos throwing each other out of the ring – in order to defeat them, as opposed to depleting a health bar as in most fighters. Though with that said, the ‘Stamina mode’ first introduced to the series in Melee, in which players do deplete each other’s health, returns as one of Ultimate’s primary game modes, no longer relegated to a kind of bonus mode as in the past.

That seemingly small change is indicative of the very nature of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is the Super Smash Bros. that attempts to legitimize every play style for the series, and to appease every type of Smash fan. And for the most part, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate wildly succeeds in doing just that.

If you’re a serious Smash player, you can remove items and play on flat stages a la Final Destination or small stages with minimal platforms in the vein of the classic Battlefield stage, with no match-altering Final Smashes included. Players who want chaotic fun can have all items active, Final Smashes turned on, and enable every last, crazy stage hazard and gimmick. Or, if you’re somewhere in between, you can play on the standard stages with the gimmicks turned off, only allow Final Smashes by means of building up a power meter during battle, and only enable the occasional Pokeball and Assist Trophy in regards to items.

The ways in which you can customize matches are boundless. This really is the Super Smash Bros. that can appeal to any Nintendo fan. At least in terms of the core gameplay, that is.

If there is one glaring downside with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s with the game’s adventure mode. Dubbed ‘World of Light,’ Ultimate’s adventure mode is mind-numbingly tedious, and simply not worth the time and effort it takes to see it to the end.

In World of Light, players initially take control of Kirby, the only survivor of a Thanos-style mass extinction, as they progress through one battle after another, unlocking the other characters and collecting ‘Spirits,’ which are won after defeating opponents in possession of said Spirits.

These Spirits are a new feature in Ultimate, replacing the series’ long-standing trophy collectibles. It’s ultimately an unfair trade. While the trophies of Smash’s past featured unique character models and gave some insights into Nintendo (and gaming) history, the Spirits are merely presented as stock promotional art from past games, and provide statistical bonuses to your characters when equipped. Spirits can grant boosts to attributes like strength or speed, or provide you with a special ability (such as starting fights with a particular item, or being resistant to certain types of attacks).

This may sound interesting in concept, but it kind of goes against the very nature of Super Smash Bros. This is a fighting series all about learning the different play styles of the various characters. So if you have Spirits activated in the standard game, it makes things more about who has the best Spirits equipped, as opposed to who played the best in any given round.

Suffice to say the Spirits find all of their appeal in the single player World of Light mode. Though even then, the game often mishandles their usage. Pulling a page out of Paper Marios Sticker Star and Color Splash, there are a number of battles in World of Light in which it is necessary to have specific Spirits equipped in order to win. If the Spirits gave you advantages in these situations, that’d be fine. But on more than one occasion you will come across a battle in which victory is impossible unless you have a specific Spirit equipped.

Another issue with World of Light is that it’s just too long for its own good. It features an unnecessary amount of branching paths, alternate routes, and  overall battles. And when it finally looks like you’re done with it, World of Light pulls a Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins on the player and extends the adventure by rather lazy means. To detract from the experience even further, World of Light is exclusively played by a single player. Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, was far from a winner, but at least I could play that with a friend.

Not to mention Subspace Emissary served as a fast means of unlocking every character. But World of Light just drags on and on, with the lonesome tedium making you seek one of the many other means of unlocking the characters (thankfully, there are no shortage of options when it comes to expanding the roster). The fact that World of Light actually makes me long for Subspace Emissary could be a sign that maybe Super Smash Bros. is better off without an adventure mode at all.

Of course, the adventure mode is just a small part of the overall package, and every other mode included in the game delivers in spades: Classic Mode is more fun than ever, and includes unique challenges for every last fighter. Tournaments are easier to set up than ever before. New Squad Strikes have players selecting teams of characters and eliminating them one by one. Smashdown sees players cycle through the entire roster one at a time, with previously selected characters getting locked out after use. The variety never ceases to impress.

On the concept of variety, the biggest selling point of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that every playable character from the franchise’s history is present. If they were playable in a past Super Smash Bros. title, they’re playable here. So those of you who missed Solid Snake for being omitted from Super Smash Bros. on Wii U/3DS, he’s back. Young Link and Toon Link can now face off against one another. Pichu makes his return after seventeen years (they can’t all be winners). The DLC characters from Wii U/3DS return. Even the good ol’ Ice Climbers have found their way back to the series, after technical limitations on the 3DS prevented their appearance in the last installments. And yes, we even get a handful of new characters joining the fray, meaning that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has all of the character variety of each and every one of its predecessors put together and then some.

“You’re the man now, Croc!”

Speaking of the new characters, that’s where things can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to selections. Ridley and King K. Rool feel like the most meaningful newcomers, given that they’ve been in high demand from fans since Melee. Splatoon’s Inklings also make sense as they represent one of Nintendo’s contemporary success stories. And Simon Belmont feels long overdue in the third-party character department (seriously, besides Mega Man, what other third-party character even compares to Castlevania’s early history with Nintendo?).

The remaining newcomers, however, are a bit of a mixed bag. Isabelle from Animal Crossing – though a welcome addition in her own right – doesn’t exactly come across as a character fans were dying to see join the series. Incineroar feels like he could have been any randomly selected Pokemon. And the downloadable Piranha Plant just feels like a big middle finger to the fans who have been requesting their favorite characters for years. That’s not to say that these characters detract from the gameplay by any means. But for a series so grounded in fanservice, some of these character selections feel misguided.

“Evil kings from classic series are the coolest!”

Perhaps with more newcomers the more disappointing entries wouldn’t stick out so much. But with most of the emphasis going towards bringing back every past character, you kind of wish that the smaller quantity of newcomers would have translated to a consistent quality. And that’s unfortunately not always the case.

Some fans may also lament that clone characters – now officially referred to as “echo fighters” – are still present, but at least now they’re categorized appropriately, and not treated as though they’re full-on additions to the franchise.

“The colors, Duke! The colors!”

Still, it’s hard to complain too much when Ultimate boasts seventy unique characters (with more on the way via DLC. Here’s hoping some favorites make the cut). There’s simply never a shortage of characters to choose from, and all of them bring their own sense of fun to the gameplay (with the possible exceptions of the excessive amount of sword fighters from Fire Emblem, who often feel interchangeable even when they aren’t clones).

Each character’s Final Smash has also been altered this time around, as they take on a more cinematic approach. Unfortunately, while the Final Smashes look more impressive than ever, their infrequent interactivity makes them less fun than in previous installments. This was probably done for the sake of balance, which is admirable. Though chances are, if you have Final Smashes active, you aren’t exactly aiming for a balanced, competitive bout.

The stages also adhere to Ultimate’s “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality. Although there are a few omissions, the majority of stage’s from past Super Smash Bros. titles make a return (unfortunately, Brawl’s Electroplankton-inspired stage is bafflingly among them). There are only four brand-new stages in the base game: Odyssey and Breath of the Wild themed levels for Mario and Zelda, and courses based on newly-represented series Splatoon and Castlevania. That may not sound like a whole lot of newness, but more stages are planned to be added along with the DLC characters. Besides, with the returning courses, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate includes over one-hundred different locations to do battle. And as stated, every last stage comes in three different versions (standard, Battlefield, and Final Destination), so you’re not very likely to get bored from repetition.

For those who don’t always have someone at the ready for some couch multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also expands the series’ online capabilities. Creating online matches has been streamlined by means of creating arenas, where players can set the rules as they see fit. You can even search for specific rulesets if you want to join an arena that’s more to your play style (though admittedly, the search engine needs some work). It’s now much, much easier to set up or join an online match and play with or against Smash players from around the world.

Sadly, the online functionality still isn’t perfect. Though lag is considerably less frequent than in Brawl or Wii U/3DS, it’s still present more often than you’d like. It isn’t limited to worldwide matches, either. I’ve encountered some slowdowns in games against my friends. Again, the lag isn’t so common as to detract from the overall experience, but considering that in five years’ time I’ve never encountered any lag issues in Mario Kart 8 (whether on Wii U or Switch), you have to wonder how and why Nintendo can’t replicate that level of online functionality with their other multiplayer franchises.

Other quibbles with the online mode include some minor (but no less irritating) design quirks, such as leaving your place in cue for the next fight in an arena just to change your character’s color (let alone change your character). Or why entering the spectator stands also removes you from cue (why the cue and spectator stands aren’t one and the same is anyone’s guess). Again, these are all just minor annoyances, but you have to wonder why they’re there at all.

Of course, it must be emphasized that, with the exception of the World of Light adventure mode, all of the complaints to be had with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are minor grievances in the big picture. The series’ signature gameplay has never felt so polished, the content has never felt this endless, and with every last character in franchise history present, Super Smash Bros. has never felt this complete.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also a technical showcase of the Switch’s capabilities. Though it retains a similar overall look to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS and Brawl, the graphics are much sharper and more refined. The level of background detail in the stages themselves – often so small you’d never see them in the heat of battle – is a testament to the abilities of the artists behind the game. The character animations are similarly impressive, especially those with unique characteristics (such as DK’s eyes bulging out of his head when hit, Donkey Kong Country-style; or Wario’s manic, sporadic movements).

Complimenting these visuals is a soundtrack that represents an unrivaled array of video game music, featured in both their original and new remixed forms in addition to many remixes from past Super Smash Bros. installments. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s quite as many new pieces of music added into the fray as Brawl and Wii U/3DS brought to the table, but it’s hard to complain too much when the music is this terrific. Not to mention the soundtrack to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is inarguably the biggest library of classic video game themes ever compacted into a single game.

On the whole, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an absolute winner. Its overall sense of newness may not be as prominent as the past few entries, but its inclusion of the best elements of every past installment, along with each and every last one of their characters, makes this the definitive entry in the long-running Super Smash Bros. series to date. With the exception of its egregious adventure mode, everything about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exploding with fun. With so many characters, stages, modes, and options, the content included in the package is seemingly bottomless, leading to an unparalleled replay value.

Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is not only the best game in the series, it’s one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made.

 

9

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Wario World Review

On paper, Wario World sounds like some kind of dream come true: a beat-em-up starring Wario created by Treasure, the developer behind such outrageous action games as Gunstar Heroes and Dynamite Heady? Sign me up! Unfortunately, in execution, the 2003 GameCube title falls well below expectations. And what should have been an easy winner for Treasure and Nintendo instead feels like a tedious time-waster, and a missed opportunity.

Of all Nintendo’s iconic characters, Wario seems to be the most fitting to star in a beat-em-up. The burly anti-Mario is a greedy, selfish brute. It just makes sense for him to be the one to pummel enemies to a pulp over pretty much any other Nintendo character. And Wario World gets off to a decent start in that regard.

“Bang! Zoom! Right in the kisser!”

Wario can punch enemies, perform his signature charge attack from the Wario Land games, and perform a ground pound (as platforming heroes wont to do). But this time around, Wario can also pick up KO’ed foes and proceed to throw them, swing them around, or pile drive them like a pro wrestler.

Similarly, the enemies at first seem to show some promise: You have tiny foes who are taken out with a single punch. Slightly bigger foes get knocked out after a few hits, thus allowing you to perform the aforementioned throwing, swinging and pile driving. And some large and flying enemies show up and require a little more clever uses of Wario’s abilities.

At first glance, you might think Wario World is heading in the right direction. But then it quickly becomes apparent that you’re just doing the same thing over and over again. There’s not enough variety (or polish) in the combat to make Wario World feel like a memorable beat-em-up. And much like Wario’s moveset, the enemies also rapidly reveal their limitations, with each of the game’s stages simply putting different skins on the same few enemy types.

The only thing preventing the game from reaching absolute monotony is if you’re gunning for 100% completion. Each level houses eight bonus stages, with red rubies waiting at the goal of each. The bonus rounds range from single room puzzles to platforming challenges that bring to mind the bonus stages of Super Mario Sunshine. You only need some of the rubies to complete a stage (three in World 1, four in 2, five in 3, and six in 4), but for completionists, there are more to get your hands on.

Other collectibles include eight fragments of a gold Wario statue on every level, with completion of a stage’s statue increasing Wario’s health by half a heart. There are also eight unique treasures to be found on every level, which appear on a certain colored pad on the ground if you’ve found and pressed the button of the same color. Finally, there are five captive ‘Spritelings’ to be rescued on every level. The more Spritelings you rescue, the better the game’s ending will be for Wario.

It may sound like Treasure added a good amount of content to the stages via these collectibles, but unfortunately, there are more than a few elements that make you not really care about what Treasure crammed into their levels.

“I don’t know what they were thinking with some of these bosses…”

Along with the repetitious combat and bland enemies, the camera controls are exceedingly clunky (which makes the Sunshine-esque bonus stages way more difficult than they’d otherwise be), and the level design leaves a whole lot to be desired. Without good gameplay and level design, the collectibles come across more like an arduous chore than an engaging side quest.

If on the off-chance you actually manage to get into Wario World, you won’t be into it very long. The game features four worlds plus a final boss, with each world housing only two stages and a boss fight of their own. The whole game can be completed in a couple of hours, which wouldn’t be a bad thing if what the game did boast were memorable. Sadly, it isn’t. This makes Wario World feeling completely absent of depth and creativity, leaving the game feeling shallow and pointless.

It’s hard to recommend Wario World to anyone but the most diehard of GameCube nostalgics. While the concept shows some promise (especially when paired with its developer), Wario World fails to fulfill that promise. Though it looked decent in its day, Wario’s sense of control felt more like something from the early years of the Nintendo 64, as opposed to the GameCube title it actually was.

Somehow, what should have been a wonderful joint venture between Nintendo and Treasure ended up being a disappointment to both parties involved, let alone the player.

 

4

Replaying: Super Mario 3D World

The Super Mario Maker 2 trailer that launched back in February not only got me hyped for the upcoming Switch title, but its addition of the Super Mario 3D World play style had me feeling nostalgic for the 2013 Wii U platformer. And seeing as I previously stated I wanted to start replaying games more and writing more gaming articles besides reviews, now seemed as good a time as any to revisit Super Mario 3D World. Besides, after trudging through the overly-long and tedious Kingdom Hearts 3, and its mishandling of franchises I like, I needed to play something more fun, rewarding, charming, and that did justice to a franchise I like. Thus, replaying Super Mario 3D World was a no-brainer (it sure would be great if they could make a Disney game this good).

Okay, let’s get this out of the way: No, Super Mario 3D World is not as good as the Super Mario Galaxy titles that preceded it, nor is it as good as Super Mario Odyssey that followed. But considering the Galaxy duo and Odyssey are among the greatest games ever created, not being as good as them pretty much refers to most games that aren’t them. On its own merits, however, Super Mario 3D World is still one of the most consistently fun and creative games of the 2010s.

Yeah, it seems like I praise Mario games a lot. But while not every Mario game is good (New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Paper Mario: Sticker Star, both released a year prior to 3D World, were creatively empty and flat-out boring, respectively), I will say that Super Mario is the only series in which a game as great as 3D World could be considered one of its smaller achievements. It may not have the revolutionary factor of Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario 64, nor is it as great as the trio mentioned in the above paragraph or games like Super Mario World. And yet, it’s hard to find much fault in Super Mario 3D World other than “it’s not as good as some other Mario games.” The Legend of Zelda is probably the only other series that can boast equal quality, though maybe not quite at the same level of consistency (and maybe Dark Souls/Bloodborne, but that has far fewer entries).

“One level combines a shadow aesthetic with the gameplay quirk of carrying around a hungry Piranha Plant.”

What makes Super Mario 3D World so good? It all boils down to the two qualities that best define a good game: great gameplay, and a terrific sense of creativity. 3D World may not be the most innovative Mario game, but the gameplay and design is as polished as any of the heroic plumber’s entries, and each stage is a showcase of one playful idea after another. It’s the kind of game where the simple act of controlling your character is a joy (which is actually pretty rare, though seemingly less so with this series).

Many fans were at first disappointed with Super Mario 3D World’s initial E3 reveal, as it followed in the footsteps of the 2011 3DS title, Super Mario 3D Land. This raised fans’ eyebrows for two reasons: The first was that 3D Land was a solid game, but not a particularly standout one which, again, given the pedigree of the Mario series, is tantamount to a massive disappointment. The other reason is that, like 3D Land, 3D World seemed to be aiming more for the feel of a 2D Mario entry than a 3D one with its linear level design, with most fans protesting that the 3D Mario titles were losing their distinct identity due to the ludicrous sales of the New Super Mario Bros. side scrolling series.

While I admit I too at the time had some doubts about seeing a “proper” follow-up to 64, Sunshine, and the Galaxy duo (we would eventually get just that with Odyssey), I was hardly disappointed with what 3D World promised. After all, we were ‘only’ three years removed from Galaxy 2 at the time (most “proper” 3D Marios had much longer gaps in between releases), so it didn’t really feel like the necessary time for another Mario title of that scale. Secondly, while the New Super Mario Bros. games were competently fun, they never really felt like the worthy continuations of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World that they wanted to be. 3D Land introduced the style and feeling of 2D Marios into the world of 3D Marios (linear stages with clear end goals, time limits, etc.) and felt like a step in the right direction. But again, didn’t quite hit the mark.

Super Mario 3D World, however, quickly reveals itself as the worthy successor to games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and World that we had been waiting for, despite being a 3D title. It took the foundations of 3D Land, and combined it with the sense of invention and polish that we expect from Mario’s best titles (which, again, was lacking from New Super Mario Bros. and 3D Land). The Galaxy games had refined what 64 started, so it was cool to get something that felt like a fitting continuation to the Mario games that predated 64 (now if only the Mario RPGs could get a worthy follow-up).

There are so many things that make Super Mario 3D World work so well: the level design is a constant delight, with each stage presenting something new, and always fun. The power-ups – from perennial favorites the Fire Flower and Tanooki Leaf, 3D Land’s Boomerang Suit, and 3D World’s own Double Cherry (which duplicates your character) and the surprisingly powerful and versatile Cat Suit – are all a joy, and add so much to the gameplay (the Cat Suit, in particular, has to join the ranks of Mario’s best power-ups). And you get to play as not only Mario, but Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad as well, each coming with their abilities from Super Mario Bros. 2 (Luigi jumps highest, Peach floats, and Toad is fastest, with Mario being well-rounded). And of course you can unlock Rosalina, who comes equipped with the spin attack from Super Mario Galaxy. It’s a Mario platformer where you get to play as Rosalina! That alone makes it a winner (Rosalina is best girl).

Oh yeah, I almost forgot that Super Mario 3D World is also the only four-player entry in the 3D Mario canon. And unlike many games that add co-op multiplayer to a traditionally single-player formula, the level design of Super Mario 3D World compliments playing alone or with friends.

“The Koopa/Blob/Clown/Monster.”

If there’s any downside to Super Mario 3D World, it’s that the boss fights are an utter cakewalk. Yeah yeah, people claim Mario bosses tend to be easy, but the series often finds ways to make the boss battles feel creative, which makes it easy to look past a lack of difficulty. But aside from the final fight against Bowser and two other recurring bosses (a monarch snake and a Koopa/Blob/Clown/Monster), the boss fights of 3D World feel tacked on and rushed (Boom Boom should never serve as a world boss). But aside from the underwhelming boss battles, just about everything else about Super Mario 3D World is a constant barrage of fun and inspiration.

“Six years later, and the game still looks great!”

Along with gameplay and creativity, Super Mario 3D World also boasts what I consider to be the third key ingredient to a great game: a fantastic musical score. Again, the music may not quite be on Galaxy or Odyssey’s level, but 3D World still provides one of the most memorable scores in the Mario canon. Even the sound effects of the game seem to reinforce the game’s “fun at all costs” mentality.

Under my original “.5” scoring system, I awarded Super Mario 3D World a 9.0 out of 10. But now, under my current whole number system, I’ve flip-flopped between an 8 and a 9 (flip-flopping more than perhaps any other game). Unlike other games where I’ve been indecisive with its score, it’s my ‘heart’ that rates the game lower and my ‘mind’ that rates it higher. In terms of ‘heart,’ I can say I don’t feel quite as strongly for 3D World as some other games I would rate highly. After all, I gave both Red Dead Redemption 2 and 2018’s God of War a score of 8/10, as I’m trying to make that the exceptional score that most games would strive for. In that sense, 3D World makes sense with that score. But in terms of ‘mind,’ I would say that Super Mario 3D World doesn’t really have many notable faults. Aside from the boss fights and “not being as good as other Mario games,” there’s really not much to gripe about with Super Mario 3D World. As great as Red Dead 2 and God of War are – and yes, they are undeniably ‘bigger’ games than 3D World – they also have more notable flaws than Mario’s Wii U outing. Super Mario 3D World doesn’t feature an obnoxiously sidetracked trip to Guarma, for example. So I’m still undecided on which score to settle on.

As of this writing, I’ve beaten the “main game” of my current playthrough of Super Mario 3D World, and am currently playing through the post-game secret worlds. And after recently playing through lengthy games (including the aforementioned tediousness of Kingdom Hearts 3), revisiting Super Mario 3D World is exactly what I needed. Its constant sense of fun and invention, combined with its polished execution makes Super Mario 3D World an easy game to pick up and play, and a delight to revisit again and again.

Super Mario 3D World may not be the most groundbreaking Mario game, but it’s an undeniable blast from start to finish. And while my favorite Wii U game will always be Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World is just about the only Wii U game left that hasn’t either been ported to the Nintendo Switch, or have an improved sequel for Nintendo’s hybrid console (even Super Mario Maker, once believed to be the justification of the Wii U’s gamepad, is getting a Switch sequel). So along with the Virtual Console, Super Mario 3D World is basically the reason to keep your Wii U at the ready… at least until it gets ported to the Switch.

Is Super Mario 3D World worth a replay? Oh, hell yeah!

Wario Land 3 Review

Wario’s misadventures continued on the Game Boy Color with Wario Land 3. As the third installment in Wario’s initial platforming series, Wario Land 3 polished what its predecessors started, and added some new tricks of its own into the mix. It was such an improvement over the first two entries that, upon its initial release in 2000, Wario Land 3 was widely hailed as one of the best handheld games of all time. While the aging process has taken away some of the game’s spectacle (especially when one remembers the far more timeless Gameboy Advance was released the following year), Wario Land 3 remains a fun platforming adventure in its own right.

Like Wario Land 2 before it, Wario Land 3 sees its nefarious anti-hero as an invincible brute. He can charge through enemies without any worry of defeat. The greedy Wario risks losing only his precious treasure when struck  by attacks that would do in other platforming heroes. And just like its predecessor, Wario doesn’t grab power-ups, but receives new abilities via ‘conditions’ which are inflicted upon him by enemies.

If Wario gets smashed on the head, he becomes as flat as a pancake and can float in the air. If snow should fall on Wario, he’ll become a snowman who can roll down hills and destroy enemies and obstacles. And in one of the game’s funniest gags, eating a donut will transform our hero into Fat Wario, who can fall through floors and, despite having reduced jumping height, will launch enemies into the air when he lands back on the ground.

Once agin, this not only makes for some fun gameplay and unique twists on platforming norms, but also shapes Wario’s character. Mario is a selfless hero, so we want him to succeed. Ergo, Mario getting hurt results in losing a life. Wario, by contrast, is a greedy buffoon who only wants to make himself richer. As the player, we may help Wario out, but he still has to pay for his greedy ways by means of getting hurt to gain his powers. It’s actually a pretty unique example of building gameplay around a character, and visa versa.

Another unique aspect of Wario Land 3 is in its level progression. There are twenty-five levels total, but each stage has four different goals. The goals are four different treasure chests, with each chest requiring a similarly colored key to be opened. Although most of the time the chests have to be opened in a set order (often requiring the completion of another stage before you can get the others), you don’t need to open every chest in the game to face the final boss (Wario only needs to collect four magic music boxes from different treasures before the big showdown). This of course means that many of the chests are optional, and the game can continue after the final boss, should you so desire.

Unfortunately, there are some aspects to Wario Land 3 that haven’t aged well. Throughout the game, some treasure chests will reward Wario with a new move, enabling him to reach previously unreachable places. That may sound like a cool, light Metroidvania twist. But the issue is that most of the moves Wario learns along the way are moves he had from the start of Wario Land 2 (ground pound, picking up and throwing enemies, etc.). It actually makes the character progression feel a bit pointless if you’re mostly learning basic moves from the game’s predecessor.

Another problem arises with the game’s puzzles elements. While credit is definitely due for how Nintendo tried to expand on Wario’s various conditions by building new puzzles around them. But issues arise when the puzzles in question are either too easy (with Wario gaining the required ability then and there) or too vague, leaving you wondering what power you even need.

One other notable flaw in Wario Land 3 is its ‘Golf’ mini-game. This mini-game is already required for more treasure chests than it needs to be, but what’s worse is that it costs a decent number of coins every time you try it. And of course this mini-game has to have finicky and imprecise controls, meaning that you’ll be forking over a good amount of your hard-earned loot just to try the mini-game over and over again. And if you run out of coins, you have to scour the stage for more, which can take time. I would honestly take Wario Land 3’s vaguest puzzles over this mini-game, so it’s a real shame it shows up as often as it does.

While these elements do make Wario Land 3 feel more like a product of its time than one would hope, it still provides some classic Nintendo fun and Wario’s distinct charm. The levels are fun, and it’s entertaining just seeing what other messes Wario can get himself into all in the name of gold. But  Wario Land 4 on Gameboy Advance and Wario Land: Shake It on Wii probably hold up better.

 

6

Goodbye Wii Shop Channel

Allow me to get nostalgic – and a wee bit weepy – as Nintendo has officially shut down the Wii Shop Channel, after over twelve years of service.

Now, I’m going to say something that’s bizarrely unpopular, and say that the Wii remains one of my all-time favorite video game consoles. And yes, I liked it better than the N64 and GameCube. One of the (many) reasons the Wii was so great was the Wii Shop Channel.

As Nintendo’s original online store for downloading games, the Wii Shop Channel opened the door for WiiWare – where players could download original titles – and the Virtual Console service, a treasure trove of classic gaming. Sadly, a number of WiiWare games that weren’t released by other means have now entered the nether (and could tragically remain in limbo, lest their developers find a means to code them elsewhere). And although the Wii Virtual Console has long-since been succeeded by the Nintendo Eshop on Wii U, 3DS and Nintendo Switch, the Eshop has never quite matched up to the library of classics the Virtual Console brought to the Wii.

WiiWare introduced the gaming world to titles such as World of Goo, Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life as a King (and it’s sequel, My Life as a Dark Lord), and Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People, among many others. And while retro gaming had been a thing for collectors for quite some time, the Wii’s Virtual Console service helped popularized retro gaming for the mainstream, allowing easy accessibility for new generations of gamers to discover beloved classics from the NES, SNES, N64, and non-Nintendo consoles like the Sega Master System, Sega Genesis, TurboGrafX-16, Commodore 64, and even Arcade titles!

Yes, the Nintendo Eshop has continued the Virtual Console’s legacy on subsequent Nintendo hardware, but not quite to the same degree. 3DS added GameBoy titles, and Wii U gained the GameBoy Advance (admittedly a HUGE get), but they lost nearly all of the non-Nintendo content, and even ended up with considerably less games from Nintendo’s history. And even though the Switch can easily claim to be one of Nintendo’s best consoles, the fact that its legacy content is still currently limited to a small handful of NES titles is a baffling step backwards. Sure, many complained that the Wii’s Virtual Console could be slow in getting content (getting one to three games every Thursday in the US), when all was said and done, it had such an array of classics that it was more than likely the best collection of retro titles you could hope to find. Combined with the great original games on the Wii, along with the system’s backwards compatibility with the GameCube, and the Wii – believe it or not – may have boasted the most classics of any console. Yes, I said that, and I don’t regret it. Fight me.

Yes, the Xbox 360, PS3, and current generation consoles have thankfully kept easy access to gaming’s yesteryear alive and well. But – perhaps simply because the Wii was the first to have such an extensive library of gaming history – they’ve never quite captured that same magic as when the Virtual Console brought another classic to the Wii.

As someone who, sadly, didn’t always take the best care of their games as a kid (and someone who, strangely, only occasionally played older games as time went on in my younger days), having easy access to so many classics all on one console was a godsend. And perhaps I was just at the right age when it began to really hit me how quickly gaming advances and how older consoles fall out of the spotlight, but there was something great knowing that things like the Wii Virtual Console service essentially helped kickstart the preservation of classic gaming (after all, once a movie left theaters, they’d end up on home video formats. But once games became older, they became collectors items. Frankly, I think they always deserved better).

Yeah, I realize I’m talking a lot more about the Virtual Console side of the Wii Shop Channel than WiiWare. WiiWare was great as well, of course. But I feel like the Virtual Console really helped make retro gaming a more mainstream thing, and ‘old school’ gaming was no longer relegated to those who happened to grow up at the time (and I was someone who did grow up at the time. But the idea of younger gamers – and older gamers just getting introduced to the medium – not having played certain classics broke my heart… I am a weird person). Plus, I just have a lot more personal memories of the Virtual Console.

Playing Super Mario 64 again in preparation for Super Mario Galaxy? Lovely. Playing the Genesis Sonic the Hedgehog games on a Nintendo console? Beautiful. Discovering Secret of Mana? Sexy.

Again, it’s tremendous that subsequent consoles have continued to keep retro gaming alive, but now whenever a classic makes its way to a modern console, it feels like an inevitability. But in the Wii’s day, there was something, for lack of a better word, ‘magical’ whenever a beloved favorite found its way to the Virtual Console. But there are two examples in particular that stand out in my memory.

The first was Donkey Kong Country 2. Although I always enjoyed the game as a kid, I never could get over the fact that you didn’t play as Donkey Kong (little kid logic), so I never got very far during my childhood. On at least two different vacations over the years when I couldn’t find my old copy (again, careless kid), I rented DKC2 at hotels, and beat the first world before I ran out of time on the second. These served like teasers for how much I would eventually fall in love with the game, which happened when, you guessed it, DKC2 made its way to the Virtual Console.

During 2007 when DKC2 made its way to the Wii, I finally played through the whole thing, and damn, had I been missing out all those years. I always liked the original Donkey Kong Country, but it really doesn’t compare with its sequel. The level design is among the best of any platformer, and the more I delved into the game on my Wii, the more I fell in love with its (quite unique) sense of atmosphere, and its incomparable musical score, which played a part in the indelible influence the game has had on my own creativity.

So yeah, it may have taken me 12 years, but I finally discovered my full appreciation for a game that was originally released in 1995 thanks to the Virtual Console.

The other big memory I have is (as you may have guessed if you keep up with my blog) Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars. Now, unlike DKC2, I had always loved Super Mario RPG, and even beat it twice back in the day. But I hadn’t played it in years, and it was around the time of the Wii (again, thanks to the Virtual Console) that I began to realize that not every game from my childhood stood the test of time. I craved Super Mario RPG, but admittedly had a little concern that maybe my memories of it wouldn’t reflect the game itself.

“This was basically me when I beat Super Mario RPG on the Virtual Console.”

Thankfully, when it was released in September (my birth month, no less) of 2008 on the Wii Virtual Console and I jumped right back into Super Mario RPG, it quickly became apparent that it was a fine wine of gaming. It had only gotten better with age. It lived up to my memories and solidified itself as one of my all-time favorites. It was magical.

Come to think of it, the Wii helped solidify most of my favorite games it seems. It all goes back to the “rediscovering of retro games” thing I keep bringing up (as well as the fact that the Wii brought Super Mario Galaxy to the world). I mean, as has become a recurring joke here at my site, the current console generation has really made me flip-flop a lot in regards to my favorites. But when it comes to the titles I can safely say have a secure spot on my list, the Wii really played a helping hand in that.

I guess what I’m getting at is that the Wii marked the time when my enthusiasm for games wasn’t restricted to the moment (or the occasional revisit of a classic), but I really began to think more about video games on a deeper level. And yes, a large reason for that was the Wii Shop Channel.

Now, we have to say goodbye to the Wii Shop Channel. It’s legacy may live on through the Nintendo Eshop, but the Wii Shop Channel itself holds a special place in the hearts of many gamers, myself obviously included. Now, ironically enough, Nintendo’s little download service that helped preserve gaming’s past has now become a nostalgic memory itself.

Thanks for the memories, Wii Shop Channel!

Oh yeah, and we can’t forget what is perhaps the biggest contribution the Wii Shop Channel made to the world of gaming: This delightful music!

The Inconsistency of the Smash Roster

I ramble about Super Smash Bros. a lot, and I plan to write my full review of Ultimate really soon, so I’ll try to keep this quick. But the other day, I saw a tweet that made a good point, claiming that Ultimate, more so than Brawl or Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS, has a list of Assist Trophies who should be playable characters, and playable characters who should be Assist Trophies.

Now, this person did leave out the first four announced newcomers in Inkling, Ridley, Simon Belmont and King K. Rool in their argument. Some people argued that that skewed the original poster’s point, but they emphasized that they left those characters out because they thought they were deserving newcomers. Hard to argue that, seeing as Ridley and K. Rool have been two of the three most wanted characters for over a decade, Inkling represents a contemporary Nintendo franchise, and Castlevania’s history with Nintendo goes without saying. But they pointed out that the remaining newcomers – including echo fighters – when compared to a number of characters who were relegated to Assist Trophies, leave a lot to be desired. And I kind of agreed.

Yes, I am aware that the echo fighters “don’t take up much programming space” yada yada yada. I get that. But let’s face it, they’re still difficult characters to get too excited over. Especially when we get reminded of the characters we could have had. And if the remaining newcomers are a little on the… ‘iffy’ side, well then those echo fighters are going to mean even less.

But let’s get back to the remaining newcomers. Isabelle is a choice that makes sense given Animal Crossing’s immense popularity. And you know what, I like that she’s in the game and think she’s very fun to play. However, whenever I remember that Shovel Knight and Bomberman are simply Assist Trophies, Isabelle’s placement as a playable character loses some of its appeal. Yeah, she’s a good addition, but if I – and many, many others – had a choice between Isabelle and Shovel Knight or Bomberman, well, I think we could all agree that’s a runaway victory for Shovel Knight and Bomberman.

“Even Incineroar is embarrassed he made it in before Geno.”

Then of course, we have Incineroar. Now, again, I completely understand the popularity of Pokemon, and have stated in the past that it’s one of the few series where it could potentially have as many characters as it wants. But, also again, when we look at characters who didn’t make the cut who fans have been begging for for years (Isaac from Golden Sun, anyone?), it boggles the mind that a Pokemon as random as Incineroar would be chosen instead. I mean, at least someone like Decidueye would be unique with his grass/ghost typing and emphasis on archery. But Incineroar kind of just seems to cover ground that’s already been covered in Smash being a brute character with fire moves. Again, I don’t hate Incineroar, but why are so many characters fans have wanted relegated to Assist Trophies in favor of random selections like Incineroar.

“Kill it with fire!”

Oh, but then we have the soon-to-be-released Piranha Plant. Now this is where I feel the selection was just a massive letdown. I mean, no one asked for a generic enemy (and if they had to add one, why not Goomba? At least Goombas are kind of the most iconic generic enemy in games, so they have that going for them). Some people claim Sakurai wanted to do something unexpected to surprise fans, but does a surprise really matter if it ends up disappointing? I mean, if someone ding-dong-ditched me and left a flaming bag of dog poop on my porch, I’d be surprised, but certainly not happy about it.

Sure, Piranha Plant could end up being a fun character to play. But its inclusion still seems like a slap in the face to all the fans who have been dying to see their favorite characters make the cut. I repeat, people really, really wanted Isaac, Bomberman, Shovel Knight, and many others. No one wanted Piranha Plant. And for a series as grounded in fanservice as Super Smash Bros., it just seems like a counterproductive move to so blatantly go the opposite direction of what fans want.

Yeah yeah, I’m going to bring up Geno again. Of course I am. But I don’t continuously bring up Super Mario RPG’s possessed puppet without reason. Fans have begged for the character’s inclusion for perhaps longer and more adamantly than any other character (wit the possible exceptions of K. Rool and Ridley), and yet, time and again, Super Smash Bros. fails to deliver on him. Granted, there’s still hope for Geno to make it as DLC, seeing as he doesn’t appear as an Assist Trophy. But there’s no guarantee to that. Some people think the fact that he shows up as a spirit deconfirms him, but that just sounds like a weak argument, since the spirits are just stock images that boost stats and don’t actually appear physically in matches.

But as I’ve stated ad nauseam, Geno’s continuous absence seems to personify the wonkiness of Smash’s character selections and omissions. I mean, if the most requested characters by fans can’t make it in, but Piranha Plant can, it seems to go against the very nature of the series.

Some people defend these selections by claiming that “it’s Sakurai’s game” and while that’s true, his is a game series built on fan service. It’s not like he’s telling a deep, personal story with the series. It’s Nintendo (and other) characters beating the crap out of each other.

What’s really annoying is when Sakurai apologists lash out against disappointed fans, as though they don’t have a right to be disappointed. We all love Smash Bros., but again, when the characters people want keep getting ignored while seemingly random selections make it in, it’s annoying. I love Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, and I think it’s the best game in the series. But would I enjoy it more if I could play as Geno? Oh, hell yeah! Without question.

Look, I understand that not everyone can be pleased, and some fans are always going to be disappointed. But there’s a difference between certain characters not making the cut, and the characters people have wanted most for over a decade not making the cut in favor of characters no one asked for (again, that damn plant!). It just comes off as spiteful (even if that isn’t the intent).

Even K. Rool and Ridley, despite their demand, had to wait until now to finally make it into the series, with Sakurai always coming up with rather weak reasonings for their omissions in the past (the “character uniqueness” statement in regards to K. Rool was particularly laughable, given all the similar characters already present in the series). I don’t want to complain too much about that, since they’re here now. Better late than never and all that. But given some of the characters who made it in before them, it’s pretty head-scratching.

What’s particularly hypocritical of the fans who dismiss those who express disappointment is that they’ll often ridicule fans of a particular character when they’re not in, but once a character makes it in, they suddenly act like they were always onboard with the idea since Sakurai and company gave the green light. It’s like, what a bunch of trollish sheep.

Look, I hope I never sound too negative in regards to Super Smash Bros. I truly love the series. But that’s why I get so passionate about it, both the good and bad. It’s easy to love the games themselves, but it’s often hard to ignore what could have been… especially if what we get is Piranha Plant.

Again, I hope to have my review of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate up soon. And since the omissions of my (and other people’s) most wanted characters isn’t a serious fault in terms of game design, I won’t be talking much about this stuff in my review. Hence why I decided to get it out of the way here. It’s certainly not the first time I’ve ranted about the Smash roster, and it surely won’t be the last.

My review of Ultimate is definitely going to be mostly positive (except in regards to World of Light). So please don’t think I’m just a grumpy guys when it comes to Smash. It’s just that I, like many fans, have the right to be disappointed when the series, frankly, disappoints in certain areas.

Wario Land II Review

Though the third entry of the Super Mario Land sub-series opened the door for Wario to become a video game star, Wario Land II completely kicked the door down for Wario to rewrite the rules of platformers. Though Wario Land II’s sequels would better the formula, this ambitious 1998 Game Boy title really set the stage for Wario’s unique place among Nintendo’s stars.

There are two key components that made Wario Land II such a standout both as a Game Boy title, and as a platformer: The first is that Wario Land II featured branching paths with its story, with players being able to alter the course of the game through specific actions (a feat that was a very bold move given the limitations of the Gameboy). The other key mechanic – the one that turned the platforming genre on its head – is that Wario is invincible.

That’s right, nothing can stop Wario’s path of destruction. You may wonder where the challenge is if Wario can’t be harmed. But Wario is out for treasure, and every enemy wants that same treasure. Instead of taking damage, Wario will lose coins and, subsequently, get a lower score when all is said and done. It’s a fun twist on platforming norms that has been duplicated many times since, with Kirby’s Epic Yarn being a prominent example of a game that studied Wario’s rulebook.

However, here’s where things get really interesting. The power-up helmets that were found in the first Wario Land are gone. And the concept of power-ups are instead combined with Wario’s invulnerability, with many enemy attacks having status effects on Wario that can benefit Wario with temporary abilities (in addition to serving as minor inconveniences).

By getting hit with an ice attack, Wario becomes frozen and slides backwards, and can glide across spikes unscathed. If Wario gets set on fire, his flaming backside causes him to run at super speed and can burn down certain obstacles blocking his path. And if Wario gets stung by a bee enemy, he will have an allergic reaction, with his head swelling up so much he can float like a balloon.

Having enemies inadvertently aid Wario not only serves as a fun twist on genre traditions, but also plays into the sense of humor of Wario’s character. While Wario was originally the ‘anti-Mario’ by being a dastardly villain, Nintendo quickly made him a more unique character by making him Mario’s opposite in terms of being a comical scoundrel. Mario goes off on daring adventures to save princesses, and gains super-powers like flight and shooting fireballs. Wario, by contrast, has to find success through his own misfortunes. Wario’s own games punish him for his greed, but also reward him in the end because, well, he isn’t such a bad guy. And there’s something kind of hilarious about that.

As you might expect, players often have to utilize Wario’s various ‘conditions’ to find new paths throughout the game, as well as uncover hidden treasures for 100% completion. Though some of the game’s branching paths are found by other player actions (in one of the game’s best gags, you can go through a whole other story route simply by doing nothing and letting Wario sleep through his alarm at the start of the game). Although some routes through the game are much shorter than others, they do add to the game’s replay value. And for completionists, you’ll have to go through all of the game’s routes and uncover every secret treasure to see the real ending.

Not all is peaches and cream for Wario Land II, however. The boss fights can feel a bit unpolished and finicky with how you’re forced to go back to the previous room if you’re even a pixel off with their patterns. Sure, with Wario invincible, they needed to do something to give bosses a challenge. But perhaps robbing Wario of more treasure would have been a less tedious consequence than having to start the boss process all over again.

Other than that, the only real complaint with Wario Land II is that – through modern eyes – it definitely feels rough when compared to its sequels, which perfected the formula (Wario Land III in particular, is often considered one of the best handheld games of all time). Wario Land II is still fun, and its Game Boy Color version (which is readily available for modern gamers to download on the Nintendo 3DS) still looks pretty great, all things considered. But the two subsequent handheld entries (as well as their Wii sequel) provide the more definitive Wario platformers.

Wario Land II may not be the best game starring the mustachioed anti-Mario. But it is the game that really helped shape Wario’s character. No longer simply the “bad Mario,” Wario was now the comic foil of Nintendo’s lineup of gaming icons.

 

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