Nintendo Switch Turns 5!

Believe it or not, the Nintendo Switch was released five years ago today.

On March 3rd 2017, the Nintendo Switch was released worldwide, alongside The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you can believe it, at the time, many wondered if the Switch would prove to be a success, given the commercial failure of its predecessor, the Wii U. As we know now, the concerns were misplaced, as the Switch has proven to be a massive success in the gaming world. To be more specific, it recently surpassed the Wii to become Nintendo’s best-selling home console ever (and is behind only the Nintendo DS and Game Boy as Nintendo’s best-selling hardware). Not too shabby.

It shouldn’t be too hard to see why the Switch has been such a success. The idea of being able to play console games on the go is simple, but really makes a world of difference. Nintendo has released some of their all-time best games on the system (even re-releasing the Wii U’s best titles to give them a proper audience). And for the first time since the SNES, Nintendo has had some prominent, strong third-party support. I’d argue that the Switch had the best first year of any console in 2017( into 2018), and has only occasionally let up since.

Something to note on this fifth Switch anniversary is that there’s been no word yet on what the Switch’s successor could possibly be. That’s interesting because most Nintendo consoles (any console, really) usually has about a five-year timespan before its follow-up is released. The SNES, N64 and GameCube were all on store shelves for five years when their successors joined them. While the NES and Wii lasted six years apiece, we all knew what the next console in line would be around the five-year mark. Unfortunately for Wii U, that console lasted just over four years before the Switch came knocking. So normally a Nintendo console would be heading off into the sunset right about now (though I suppose the NES and SNES technically lasted a number of years after their successors were on the market). But the Switch doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Nintendo and Game Freak announced a new Pokemon game just the other day for crying out loud!

That may bum some people out, if all they want is better graphics. But I’m kind of relieved the Switch seems to be sticking around for a while. I don’t want them to make a new console just to make it. I’m kind of tired of having to start over with a new console when the current ones still feel like they have plenty left to give.

Who knows how long the Nintendo Switch will ultimately last, but if its first five years are anything to go by, the Switch’s future should be a whole lot of fun.

Happy five year anniversary, Nintendo Switch!

The Best ‘2s’ in Video Games

Today is 2/22/22 Tuesday! To celebrate this profuse amount of twos, I figured I’d reach into my backlog and resurrect an idea I had a while back and highlight the best “2s” in video games. Not the best sequels per se – no strictly subtitled sequels (like Majora’s Mask), no 3s, 4s or any of that – just the best “2s.” Games with ‘2’ in the title.

When I first thought of making this list, I intended it to be a ranked top 10 list, before it fell on the back burner. I decided to resurrect this idea for 2/22/22, but did so pretty last minute. As such, I didn’t bother to take the time to narrow down or rank this list, so I’ll just list all the games I thought of alphabetically (16 games total). Perhaps some day I’ll get around to making the originally intended “Top 10 2s in Video Games.” But for now, I hope you enjoy this list as it is.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that I’m not counting games like EarthBound or Secret of Mana here. In Japan those games are respectively known as Mother 2 and Seiken Densetsu 2, but since I’m writing from an American perspective, those games will always be EarthBound and Secret of Mana to me. Also, “Tooie” doesn’t quite cut it. But we can consider all those games to be honorable mentions.

Now then, on to the twos!

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

The original Crash Bandicoot gave the Sony Playstation a mascot, but it lacked polish. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back gave that mascot a game worthy of his reputation. It’s an improvement over the original in pretty much every way, and set the tone for the rest of the series more so than its predecessor did. One could argue Crash Bandicoot Warped ended up the best game in the original Crash trilogy, but it did so while introducing racing and shooting sections. If it’s pure Playstation platforming you want, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is still a hell of a lot of fun.

Diablo II

Diablo II is one of those games that you just replay over and over again, learning from your previous playthroughs and seeing how you can do things better. It’s also great fun with friends. Diablo II’s simple hack-N-slash gameplay hides deep RPG mechanics that make for a memorable experience. Even before the recent remake, people were still playing Diablo II over two decades later as if no time had passed. It’s that engrossing.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

The first Donkey Kong Country revolutionized visuals in video games, and became an instant hit that extended the SNES’s lifespan. But its sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, improved on it considerably in every conceivable way. DKC2 sees Diddy take center stage, teaming up with his girlfriend Dixie, who can glide with her ponytail. The level design is constantly inventive, the gameplay is refined and always fun, and the soundtrack is gaming’s greatest. DKC2 is one of the best platformers and sequels ever. It’s Rare’s masterpiece.

Oh, and “Diddy’s Kong Quest” is the greatest pun in the history of video game titles.

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 is the first Valve game on this list, but it won’t be the last. Too bad they wouldn’t show up at all if I ever make a list of the best ‘3s’ in video games because…well, you know.

Half-Life 2 revolutionized single-player FPSs and narrative video games in one fell swoop. Its dark and dreary sci-fi world is unforgettable. And Half-Life 2 presented plenty of fun ideas along the way, not least of which being the Gravity Gun, which allowed players to manipulate the game world like nothing seen before.

Halo 2

Halo: Combat Evolved is the reason the Xbox was such a success. With all due respect to the other great games on the console, Halo was its crown jewel. The only game that was capable of knocking Halo off its pedestal? Halo 2, of course!

You could argue that Halo made the Xbox brand what it is. Similarly, you could say Halo 2 made online gaming on consoles what it is. Online games had existed on PC for a while, and consoles had dabbled in the idea (Saturn Bomberman!). But Halo 2 is what made it the standard for multiplayer games, and is the online experience everyone has tried (and only occasionally succeeded) in replicating.

Kirby’s Dreamland 2

The original Gameboy gave us all some cherished memories, but I’d be lying if I said most of the games held up against the test of time (remember that in those early days, the convenience of handheld gaming meant sacrificing some quality). That’s not the case with Kirby’s Dreamland 2, a title that’s still fun and charming to this day. Introducing Kirby’s animal friends and combining them with Kirby’s copy abilities is still one of the best additions to the series, making it a mystery why the concept has only ever happened again one other time. A perfect little game when you’re on the go.

Mega Man 2

Is Mega Man 2 the grandaddy of video game 2s? Only one game on this list predates it, but I think Mega Man 2 is the game that established the idea that, in video games, the sequel is expected to be better than the original (whereas in movies it tended to be the opposite). Mega Man 2 upped the ante from the original, and set the standard for the series which remains to this day. With some of the best level design and the most beloved soundtrack on the NES, Mega Man 2 remains a timeless classic. The template for what a ‘2’ should be.

Mega Man X2 ain’t too shabby, either.

Portal 2

Here comes Valve again. 2007’s Portal was a little slice of heaven. A game built around a creative idea (using portals to get from point A to point B), and told a simple story. It was short, but pretty perfect. A sequel could have tarnished the purity of Portal’s concept. Instead, Valve outdid themselves with a sequel that’s even more creative, fun and memorable than its predecessor. Adding just enough gameplay additions to feel meaningful to a sequel while not going overboard, and including a co-op multiplayer mode that further toys with the Portal concept. As innovative as it is unforgettable, Portal 2 is an all-time great.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of those games that you just get absolutely engrossed in. Using the end of the old west as a backdrop for its open-world – brought to life with some of the most realistic visuals in gaming – is just absorbing. There are countless things to do at any given moment. You can focus on the (great) story if you want, or you can hunt some outlaws for the bounty on their heads, play some poker at a saloon, hunt down legendary beasts, the list goes on and on. You may even be heading off to do one thing, only for another to demand your attention along the way. No matter how you choose to spend Arthur Morgan’s (and your) time, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Just like Mega Man 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 deserves a place in the hallowed halls of great video games 2s. It outdid the original Sonic the Hedgehog in pretty much every way, with better levels, boss fights and music (such glorious music!). Plus, it introduced us to Sonic’s sidekick Tails. The Luigi to Sonic’s Mario.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 became the best-selling title on the Sega Genesis, and solidified Sonic’s place in the gaming world. Many still consider it the Hedgehog’s peak (though Sonic 3 & Knuckles, CD and Mania may have something to say about that). When you think of Sonic games, Sonic 2 is usually what your mind immediately goes to. A classic.

Street Fighter II

Street Fighter II is perhaps the most accomplished of all the video game 2s. Mega Man 2 and Sonic 2 may have set the standard for their series, but their predecessors are still fondly remembered in their own right. But in the case of Street Fighter, no one cares about the original, while the sequel created a phenomenon. Street Fighter II pioneered the multiplayer tournament fighter, created (by accident) the concept of elaborate combos, revitalized arcades in the early 90s, and set the standard for the series and genre. It was so good, in fact, that Capcom couldn’t stop re-releasing it.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Yes. This counts.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is unfairly seen as the “black sheep” of the Super Mario series (even with Super Mario Sunshine on the table. smh). Part of that is due to the original Super Mario Bros. being so revolutionary, and Super Mario Bros. 3 being such a phenomenon, with Super Mario Bros. 2 sandwiched in between. But people didn’t seem to mind that so much back in the day. Not until it became common knowledge in the west that what we know as Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually a different game in Japan (Yume Kōjō Doki Doki Panic) did our Super Mario Bros. 2 suddenly lose much of its reputation.

That’s dumb. Because Super Mario Bros. 2, as we here in America know it, is still one of the best games on the NES. And it introduced us to elements that have become Mario mainstays, notably Shy Guys, Bob-ombs and Birdo.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is the oldest game on this list, and even after all these years, deserves mention on any list like this. Reskin or not.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Galaxy 2, like Portal 2, is unique in this list in that it improves on its predecessor in virtually every way, despite its predecessor seemingly leaving nothing that needed improving. 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy was a gem in the world of gaming that breathed new life into Nintendo’s flagship franchise (and the Wii console). Then Galaxy 2 came along, took the foundation of the original, and just let its imagination run absolutely wild. Super Mario Galaxy 2 may look like its predecessor on face value, but whereas the first Galaxy was all about giving the Mario series something new (space and gravity), Galaxy 2 is a treasure trove of ideas and concepts themselves. A non-stop toy box of innovation and fun, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of gaming’s greatest achievements.

Oh, and Yoshi’s back too! Kick. Ass.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

While Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Portal 2 perfected already perfect formulas, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island took a flawless game (Super Mario World, duh!) and basically said “yeah, that was great. But now we’re going to do something so different it could be an entirely separate series.” But hey, it’s got that “2” in the title, so it counts!

Yoshi’s Island is another triumph for Mario, platformers, and sequels. Throwing Yoshi (rather, a tribe of Yoshis) into the spotlight was a stroke of genius, wildly changing up the gameplay from the rest of the Mario series (creating a spinoff series for Yoshi thereafter). Enemies become eggs, which are your ammo to reach far away objects and collectibles. The time limit is gone, as is the traditional health system (protect Baby Mario!). It was fresh and innovative in 1995, and Yoshi’s Island has lost none of its luster in the years since. Combine the creative gameplay with the crayon-inspired visuals and epic boss fights, and you have one of Nintendo’s best games ever.

Team Fortress 2

Yet another Valve sequel! Can you imagine what Valve could do if they realized the number 3 exists?!

Team Fortress 2 is an interesting case because the original Team Fortress was a mod for Quake before becoming a game of its own as Team Fortress Classic. So Team Fortress 2 is technically the third game in the series. One thing’s for sure, Team Fortress 2 became the team shooter by which all others would be judged. With nine different classes, a variety of maps and modes, and an art style that looks like The Incredibles, it’s all too easy to see why Team Fortress 2 became a hit right out of the (Orange) box.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was Naughty Dog’s attempt at bringing the action and adventure of Indiana Jones to the world of video games. While it did that, it did so with a number of hiccups (unpolished controls, enemies that apparently eat bullets, etc.). That wasn’t the case with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which realized the potential of the series to create one of the most beloved Playstation games of all time.

The set pieces were bigger and more elaborate than before, the puzzles were more clever, and the action was non-stop. Uncharted 2 really brought the Indiana Jones-like spectacle to life. Nathan Drake’s second outing was never short on thrills. It’s a blast.

It could’ve had more Sully though. Because more Sully is only ever a good thing.


That’s it. That’s my list. I know, you’re probably going to bite my head off for “missing” one game or another. But I can’t play everything!

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this list. Perhaps it gave you a trip down memory lane or maybe even inspired you to check one of these games out that you missed out on before. Maybe one day I’ll make the traditional top 10 list version of this, but for now, let’s just sit back and celebrate all of the 2s!

Happy 2/22/22 everybody!

Mario Party Superstars Review

2021 may not have been the biggest year for Nintendo in recent memory, but the Nintendo Switch did come out swinging with a few titles fans had waited many years for: Pokemon Snap finally received a sequel after twenty-two years in the form of New Pokemon Snap. The patience of Metroid fans was rewarded with the brand new 2D entry they’d been waiting nineteen years for in Metroid Dread. And last but not least, Mario Party finally listened to its fans and returned back to glorious basics with Mario Party Superstars, which is essentially a greatest hits collection of Mario Party’s golden years.

To be fair, 2018’s Super Mario Party was already a huge step in the right direction, ditching most of the more cumbersome gimmicks of the past several entries in favor of the more straightforward “board game and mini-games” setup of the earlier entries. But Super still had some issues that held it back, with unmemorable board designs, motion controls that weren’t always reliable, an inability to play in the Switch’s handheld mode and – bizarrely – the game didn’t get online features until nearly three years after release. And as cool as it was to have a wide variety of characters who each had their own dice, said dice weren’t always balanced.

Mario Party Superstars has left most of Super’s quirks behind, instead opting for a love letter to Mario Party’s earliest (and greatest) installments, making it the best entry in the series since the beloved Nintendo 64 years.

Mario Party Superstars utilizes five game boards, each returning from the first three entries from the Nintendo 64 era, as well as 100 mini-games from throughout each of the numbered entries in the series’ history (meaning Mario Parties 1 through 10, omitting the handheld entries and Super Mario Party).

The rules are back to basics: each player takes a turn moving across the board. Blue spaces give coins, red spaces take coins, with various Event Spaces interspersed in between, and item shops that let you use your coins to buy items to help yourself or hinder others. If you pass Toadette, you can spend 20 coins for a Star, with the winner being the player with the most Stars by the time the game ends. And as a final curveball, there are a few endgame bonuses that award last minute stars, which can turn the tide of the game at the very last second.

It’s the same Mario Party formula you remember, at the height of its powers. Some may lament that Mario Party Superstars doesn’t do anything really new for the series, but after so many years of needless gimmicks and superfluous additions, getting back to the core of what made the series fun to begin with is what fans have been begging for for years.

Superstars features ten playable characters: the original six Mario Party characters of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and Wario, as well as the two additional characters from Mario Party 3, Princess Daisy and Waluigi. To round things off are the welcome inclusion of Rosalina, and the more questionable inclusion of Birdo. Every character plays identically this time around (no character-specific dice), so it’s really just about picking your favorite.

The five aforementioned boards include Yoshi’s Tropical Island and Peach’s Birthday Cake from the first Mario Party, Space Land and Horror Land from Mario Party 2, and Woody Woods from Mario Party 3. Each board contains most of their original gimmicks (Woody Woods has paths that change between turns, while Horror Land switches from day to night, and Yoshi’s Tropical Island sees Toadette and Bowser swap between two islands when players land on a green Event Space). Some of the boards have seen alterations to be more up to date (the boards from Mario Party 1 now include item shops, whereas the items didn’t initially appear until the second game). It’s actually a great selection of boards, but it’s a shame that it’s limited to only five. The original Mario Party had eight boards total, and Mario Parties 2 and 3 made six boards the series’ standard. So even one extra board really would have made a difference here (particularly an extra board from Mario Party 3 to even out the playing field).

As for the 100 mini-games, it’s a mostly solid selection of the best mini-games from Mario Parties 1 through 10. You’ve got fan favorites like Bumper Balls, Hot Rope Jump and Eatsa Pizza, as well as less popular but equally great selections like Honeycomb Havoc, Cheep Cheep Chase and Dungeon Duos. Even the lesser known mini-games selected are still mostly good.

There are, however, a few questionable mini-game choices. And even a few selections from the N64 games prove that even Mario Party’s best entries had a few stinkers.

First thing’s first, very few of the 1 vs. 3 mini-games are any fun. While stacking three players against one already seems unfair in concept, there are a couple of decent mini-games in the category that prove it can work (such as Tube It or Lose It, which feels pretty balanced for either the single player or the team). But for the most part, the 1 vs. 3 mini-games feel like they heavily favor one side or the other. There was never any reason why Tug o’ War shouldn’t have been a 2 vs. 2 mini-game, as the solo player almost never wins against the three-person team. Meanwhile, games like Archer-rival feel like they overcompensate the single player by giving the team players almost no chance to win. Then there’s Piranha Pursuit – arguably the worst mini-game out of all 100 – in which the three-person team doesn’t seem to actually do anything. With very few exceptions, the 1 vs. 3 mini-games just aren’t fun, and you hate to see them pop-up at the end of a turn.

Then there are mini-games in which it feels like the players have little input on the outcome. I can forgive Bowser’s Big Blast (in which players push switches and hope it doesn’t blow them up), since that one at least has a nice sense of tension. But then you have games like Trap Ease Artist – which sees players simply drop cages and hope their’s fell over more Goombas than the other players’ cages – where you just kind of hope the Goombas can be bothered to head in your direction (which they often don’t). Granted, Mario Party games have always favored luck over skill, and are more about having a good time with friends than they are deep gameplay. But because the mini-games are (usually) more interactive than the board game portion, it is kind of annoying when the luck-based nature of it all falls onto the mini-games themselves.

Finally, despite there being 100 mini-games in Mario Party Superstars, it seems like I encounter the same small subset of mini-games all the time, with only a few switching things up in every game. I don’t know why they would make some mini-games so much less common than others, but I all too frequently find myself wishing I could see a wider variety of the mini-games.

Going back to the game’s luck-based nature, if you’re someone who has taken issue with the series for this aspect in the past, then Mario Party Superstars isn’t going to win you over. Because that sense of luck is as prevalent as ever. Players can randomly find hidden blocks that can award them with extra coins or even a free Star out of nowhere. You could be thinking up a strategy for multiple turns, only for someone to land on an Event Space and immediately halt whatever you were planning. Then there’s the dreaded Chance Time Space, which sees players spin a few roulette wheels. Chance Time can be harmless (like one player giving three coins to another), but it can also completely upend the game in an instant. Things like these can be frustrating, but again, it’s all part of the fun of Mario Party. We all take video games a bit too seriously these days. Not every game needs to be some deep, intricate experience that requires constant practice just so you can master a single combo or whatever. Mario Party has always just been about having a good time with friends, and part of that includes watching everything descend into chaos. With that said, Chance Time can go to Hell.

“Oh come on!”

Speaking of playing with friends, that’s where Mario Party is at its best. Having a full group of players in the same room would be ideal, but thankfully, if you can’t get a group of your friends together, you can play any mode of Mario Party Superstars online. So if you and your friends have the time you can do a full board game or just compete in a series of mini-games on Mini-Game Mountain. And if you’re concerned about Nintendo’s continued lack of online communication, Mario Party Superstars has a fun way to work around that. Players are given different “Stickers” they can use to convey very basic message (things like “Congrats” or “Bad Luck…”), each one coming with its own image of a different character. Nintendo has utilized something similar in other games, but it’s much more effective here, given the nature of how Mario Party works.

Since Mario Party loses much of its appeal when playing solo against computers, it’s also great that you can still play the online modes even without people on your friends list, which makes Superstars perhaps the most readily repayable Mario Party entry. And with few exceptions, I’ve had mostly very smooth online games. Maybe not as smooth as Mario Kart, but certainly more consistent than most other online Nintendo games. The online mode is where I’ve spent the majority of my playtime in Mario Party Superstars, but it isn’t without its drawbacks.

When playing online, the board games are automatically set at fifteen turns. I can actually understand this, seeing as the games in Mario Party are already pretty long, and who knows how long some random person from the other side of the world will take just to roll their dice. So even though part of me wishes you could vote for the number of turns in an online game, I understand this. What I don’t understand is that, when playing an online match without friends, the endgame rewards are completely random.

As mentioned, just before a game ends, players are awarded additional Stars at the last minute. When playing locally or with friends, you can choose to have the traditional endgame rewards from the N64 era (one for whoever won the most mini-games, one for whoever had the most coins during the game, and one for whoever landed on the most Event Spaces), or you can choose to have random rewards, or no rewards at all. Personally, I prefer going with the N64 rewards, since the mini-game and coin stars are something you can potentially aim for. But when you play an online match without friends, the endgame rewards are automatically on the random setting, so you don’t even know what they are until they’re awarded at the end (it’s like how Dumbledore randomly awards points to Gryffindor at the last minute, despite the hard work of the other Hogwarts houses). Not only does this mean you can’t actively try to earn these awards, but some of the bonuses don’t even make sense, like an award that goes to whoever landed on the most Bowser Spaces or whoever moved the least on the game board. Why are those things to be rewarded?

“Geez, we got Bowser Sanders over here…”

At first I thought maybe the actions of the players during the game dictated the random rewards (maybe if someone landed on a notable amount of Bowser Spaces, that would activate the Bowser award). But that’s not even the case, since I’ve done at least two online matches where they announced the Bowser Award when no one landed on a Bowser Space, so no one even got the Star. So why even have it?

The random endgame bonuses were one of my big gripes with Super Mario Party, so it’s unfortunate to see them return, especially in the online matches when you can’t change them.

Another issue I have is how the boards maybe have too many item shops, item spaces, Koopa Banks and (in terms of the Mario Party 2 and 3 boards) stage gimmicks that slow the player down. All these things on their own are fun additions that add to the game, but each board has perhaps too many of them, which not only makes rounds go much longer than they otherwise would, but also makes these elements feel less special with how frequently you come across them. It seems like only the first round of any given game can ever go uninterrupted.

These may sound like a lot of complaints, but they ultimately aren’t party poopers. Because for all the frustration and tedium they may cause, Mario Party Superstars is the best entry in the series since Mario Party 3. By removing all the fluff the series added over the years and going back to basics, choosing boards from the N64 titles and plucking mini-games from throughout the series’ history, Mario Party Superstars feels like both a return to form and a love letter to the series at the same time. Superstars even plays up the nostalgia in fun ways, with the main menu being an exact recreation of that of the first Mario Party.

“The title screen will be based on the last board you played, an element from the original Mario Party that I had forgotten about until my second time booting up Superstars. Nice touch!”

To top it all off, Mario Party Superstars is very easy on the eyes and ears. Though the character models don’t look any newer than they did in Super Mario Party, the old school boards recreated on the Nintendo Switch look stunning (Peach’s Birthday Cake looks especially lovely, and really makes me hungry). You can even switch between the original musical scores or modernized remakes. Mario Party may never have had as strong of soundtracks as other Mario games, but it was always appropriately fun and bouncy. And it’s never sounded better than it does here.

Mario Party Superstars is like a dream come true for Mario Party fans. It could have used an extra board, not all of the mini-games represent the series’ best, and it’s as frustrating as ever. But it’s also the same Mario Party we all fondly look back on and have been begging to return to, despite its faults. How much fun you have during a game may be a bit circumstantial, but few things in gaming are as joyous as getting your friends together for a round of Mario Party, and watching how everything unfolds.

Now if only Nintendo could do the same for Paper Mario…

7

8-Bit Christmas Review

8-Bit Christmas is a new HBO Max Christmas comedy, about a father recounting a story to his daughter. The story of his quest to get a Nintendo Entertainment System for Christmas during his youth in the late 1980s. As soon as you read that premise, your mind is probably thinking 8-Bit Christmas is like A Christmas Story meets Jingle All the Way, and I think that’s what the movie is aiming for. Unfortunately, that fun combination of retro Christmas movies exists in premise only, as 8-Bit Christmas seems to squander its humor – and the simple premise of “kid wants Nintendo for Christmas” – at every other turn.

The aforementioned father is Jake Doyle (Neil Patrick Harris), who begins telling the tale when his family visits his parents’ house for the holidays, and he and his daughter boot up his old Nintendo Entertainment System (or simply “the Nintendo” as the film calls it, as many of us did back in the day). They pause the game as soon as they start playing it in order for Jake to spin his yarn, with the movie failing to make the obvious jab at the irony that they could be playing the Nintendo instead of talking about how he got it. If the movie fails to even make that obvious joke, well, let that be an indicator of things to come. There’s a lot of missed opportunities for humor going forward.

Flashing back to the “late 80s” and young Jake Doyle (Winslow Fegley) wants nothing more than to get an NES for Christmas. But his parents (Steve Zahn and June Diane Raphael) have no intention of getting him the console, citing its hefty price tag and, more annoyingly, buying into the hysteria of video game violence that many a dumb parent bought into during the 80s (and well into the 90s). The only kid in town who owns a Nintendo is a spoiled rich brat who insists the other kids in the neighborhood bring him gifts just for the opportunity to watch him play Nintendo. But Jake is desperate enough that he does what the rich kid asks just to catch a glimpse of the video game system.

That all changes when an accident occurs at the rich kid’s house, as the brat grows frustrated at his defective Power Glove (that is to say, his Power Glove) and he jumpkicks the TV, which falls and crushes his dog. The dog ends up being okay, but the film takes its sweet time letting us know this, which seems awfully cruel for a PG-rated movie (when will comedies learn that you can’t make a dog getting hurt funny? It just doesn’t work. It can’t). The rich kid’s parents then lead the neighborhood’s revolt against video games (though this isn’t brought up until later, and even then, feels only half-realized).

With his only access to Nintendo in the past, the young Jake Doyle decides to take matters into his own hands and win a Nintendo for himself, as his scout troop is giving one away to whomever can sell the most Christmas wreaths. Of course, that ends up being just one of several endeavors Jake Doyle partakes in his quest to get his own Nintendo. Sadly, every last one of these endeavors ends up feeling, you guessed it, half-realized.

That’s the main issue with 8-Bit Christmas, it introduces a number of situations that could be funny, but never manages to wring anything memorable or comedic out of them (I guess the idea that the gym teacher was among those bringing gifts to the rich kid in order to see the Nintendo was kind of funny, but that’s one quick gag). You could argue that the movie puts the nostalgia for Nintendo and the 80s ahead of the comedy, which could provide something entertaining (if pandering) in its own right. But 8-Bit Christmas even fails at the nostalgia.

For example, the only two real life games you see played in the movie are Paper Boy and Rampage, which are hardly the first two games you’d think of when you think of the NES. The game you see given the most play time is a fighting game made exclusively for the movie (leading me to think the images the filmmakers made for the game were simply placeholders until they could secure the rights to use a real game, but never ended up getting the rights to whatever that was). Despite the movie being about a kid’s obsession with Nintendo, Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda only get one verbal mention apiece. I mean, if your movie is going to pander to the nostalgia of people like me who grew up with Nintendo, then at least give us what we want to see.

There are other details the movie gets wrong about the time period, like how Jake’s sister is part of the Cabbage Patch Kids craze, something that happened in 1983, two years before the NES was even released. Granted, I think the movie is trying to use Jake’s faulty memory as a means to give its flashback narrative an excuse to smoosh together as much 1980s as possible, similar to the television series The Goldbergs, but that can only go so far. It’s one thing if Adam Goldberg wears a Roger Rabbit shirt in a time before he should be wearing it, but it’s another thing if the entire story is built on some weird Frankenstein’s Monster of the 1980s.

The movie has a little bit of fun with the idea of Jake’s memory at first, like when he’s seen riding his bike wearing only a cap, until his present-day daughter asks if he wore a helmet like he always tells her, and then a helmet magically appears on the young Jake’s head in the flashback. There’s also Jake’s father’s penchant for swearing being replaced with an angry “God bless it!” as Jake censors the story for his daughter. Then there’s Jake’s parents’ blatant favoritism towards his sister, which he’s adding to his story to make it sound like the odds were stacked against him all the more. And I think we’re to assume the rich kid’s aforementioned jumpkick to the TV is supposed to be an embellishment. These are fun little ideas, but the movie seems to forget about this element as it goes on, which is a shame because this is where playing with the idea of faulty memory can be fun. Had they stuck to it throughout there could have been more creativity here.

I suppose asking for creativity out of this movie is asking for too much. Again, this is a movie of half-realizations. The pieces are all here to make for a good Christmas comedy, but nothing ever really comes together. For example, there’s a scene where – after all the stores sold out of Cabbage Patch Kids – Jake and his father decide to buy one for his sister from a “street dealer” in the middle of the night. The dealer (David Cross) opens the trunk of his car to reveal the Cabbage Patch Kids among other toys, including an NES. The scene feels entirely detached from the main plot until Jake sees the Nintendo in the trunk. But nothing comes from it. Jake doesn’t try to talk his dad into it or barter with the toy dealer to get the NES. So what’s the point of the scene? What’s the punchline? The concept of the guy dealing toys on the streets is an appropriately silly concept, but you kind of have to bring it to life with jokes and writing. Suffice to say, the Seinfeld scene with showerhead smugglers, this is not.

8-Bit Christmas’s inability to bring out the comedy in its situations is one of its two great faults. The other is that the movie can’t seem to decide who it wants its target audience to be. Given the film’s PG rating, it’s as crude as it can be, with references to vomit and diarrhea abound. At times it seems like it wants to get cruder with its content (like dropping a TV on a dog, not that that would ever be funny no matter the rating), but it’s too skittish to go further because it also wants to be a kids’ movie. But it also isn’t smart enough to figure out how to tell jokes within the “restraints” of its PG rating. 8-Bit Christmas is a movie that’s almost one thing, and not quite another.

This indecisiveness is perhaps most prevalent in the film’s finale in which – without spoiling anything – the movie suddenly tries to salvage itself with a heartwarming ending between young Jake and his father. Up until that point the movie has been aiming (and missing) to just be dumb fun, when it isn’t trying to be crude and irreverent, that is. So for the ending to suddenly try to bring sentimentality to the picture makes that sentiment feel unearned.

You can tell 8-Bit Christmas is yearning to be compared to A Christmas Story, which is considered a classic Christmas comedy. It’s not A Christmas Story, it’s not even Jingle All the Way. At least that movie embraced its lunacy and, dumb as it may be, is the kind of movie that will leave you with a big, goofy grin on your face. I would have been perfectly fine if 8-Bit Christmas were simply “Jingle All the Way but with a Nintendo.”

I admit I’ve seen far worse Christmas movies than 8-Bit Christmas. Winslow Fegley fits the role of a Nintendo obsessed kid in the 80s, and Neil Patrick Harris’s narration helps move things along. And its jabs at the pointless controversies surrounding video games back in the day are funny (though they’re only really funny if you’re someone like me, who remembers all that silliness, as opposed to the film bringing anything funny out of it through its own creativity). But the film ends up feeling aimless and directionless as it fails to capitalize on any of the situations it introduces. Was it really so difficult for 8-Bit Christmas to just have the silly, simple story of a kid wanting a Nintendo for Christmas, and running with it?

One other movie that 8-Bit Christmas may draw comparisons to is The Wizard, the 1989 Fred Savage vehicle that was little more than an advertisement for Nintendo (and Universal Studios). The difference between the two is that you can laugh at The Wizard, because it was supposed to be serious despite its failings. But when you’re supposed to laugh at something and can’t, it’s harder to appreciate even ironically.

8-Bit Christmas is like the Power Glove… it’s so bad.

4

Nintendo Wii Turns Fiftiin!

It’s time to feel old yet again! Because the Nintendo Wii turns 15 years old today!

That’s right, somehow, it’s been a full fifteen years since Nintendo’s innovative, wacky-named little ivory box first hit North American stores, on November 19th 2006 (it would be released in other regions in the following weeks into early December 2006).

Before I go on, let me just say that no video game console makes me feel older than the Wii does. Now, I was born in 1989 and had older brothers, so I was born into the days of the NES, and grew up on the SNES, Sega Genesis and (a little later) the Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn. But I suppose because I was just a little kid when those consoles were released, I can readily accept that they are now considered things like “retro” and “old school.” Though I was a bit older when the Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube hit, those consoles were more about powerful technology and refining what came before (to varying degrees of success), so again, I can accept the retro moniker.

But the Wii was, in my eyes, the first console in a long time that really felt like it was breaking new ground with its ideas. The N64 pioneered 3D gaming (and upped the number of players from two to four), but I reiterate that I was still just a kid when that was released, so it would have seemed like magic no matter what. The Wii though… by that point, I could really appreciate what the Wii was bringing to the table. A console built around motion controls, aimed at everyone (the NES and, to a lesser extent, the SNES, were also geared towards “everyone.” But the Wii took that concept to a new level). It really felt like something new, and really lived up to its (admittedly generic) codename of “Revolution.”

So now that this innovative console that exuded such newness is fifteen years old, I really feel like a dinosaur.

I’ll never forget that first time I picked up a Wii remote, simply navigating the Wii home menu gave a huge rush of “whoa” over me. And playing Wii Sports for the first time? I don’t even think I need to explain how joyous that was. It really did bring back that ‘magic’ I felt from my childhood days whenever a new console was released (specifically, it felt very much like Christmas 1996 felt, when Santa had left a Nintendo 64 for my family).

Simply put, the Wii brought “magic” back to gaming.

I know that’d be considered a controversial statement on my part, because the Wii certainly had its detractors. Yes, the Wii tended to favor the “casual” crowd. But I always failed to see why that was considered a bad thing (other than typical gamer ignorance). It was merely a different thing.

Others derided it as being gimmicky with its motion controls – and while in the cases of less competent games that was true – I don’t see why building gameplay around motion controls is any more gimmicky than, say, a game being built around its cinematics for a more movie-like experience. Again, these are just differences.

I have to admit the Wii did end up having a lot of shovelware, but that always comes with the territory of being the most popular console on the market. The PS2 had its share of filler as well. Even the SNES had bad games. But the Wii was the one where people conveniently seemed to ignore the good while spotlighting the negatives. Point being the Wii had its faults, but it also had strengths that it seems people only recently started remembering.

After all, along with being one of the rare post-90s consoles that actually felt like something different and new, it also played a huge role in video games becoming the mainstream pastime they are today. Remember it or not, but before the Wii, video games were still largely seen as an exclusively “nerdy” endeavor. The Wii helped normalize gaming into something that people – any people – just did.

“The Wii also gave us the gift of Miis, simplified avatars you could make in the image of yourself, celebrities, fictional characters, or just straight-up abominations.”

On top of that, the Wii also created easy access to retro gaming via the Virtual Console! Before the Wii came along, retro gaming was an expensive collector’s hobby. But the Virtual Console allowed players to revisit (or discover for the first time) games from the NES, SNES, N64 and Sega Genesis, later also adding the TurboGrafx-16, Commodore 64, Neo Geo, Sega Master System and even arcade titles! Combine that with the fact the Wii could play GameCube games, and the Wii had – hands down – the best back catalogue ever. It was the first modern (at the time) console with a retro library, and I’ll go ahead and say it hasn’t been bettered. Even Nintendo themselves haven’t been able to replicate it (on the Wii, you just downloaded the games you wanted, and they went to the first available window on the home channel. Now we have Switch online, where you have to go to a separate screen for each available console, and trudge through all the filler Nintendo keeps adding to find the game you want to play. I just want my favorite retro games on the home screen again!).

“My (probably) favorite video game ever, Super Mario RPG, was celebrated as the 250th Virtual Console game in North America. Its release on the Wii also marked the first time the game was released in Europe.”

Of course, we can’t forget the great games to come out of the Wii itself. I already mentioned Wii Sports, which is the one everyone and their grandmother played. And then around a year after the Wii and Wii Sports were released, the console saw another game that brought back that aforementioned ‘magic.’

“Video game perfection.”

Yes, the Wii would see a number of great games, but it was Super Mario Galaxy that stood out from the pack and became one of the most acclaimed games of all time. It also marked something of a resurgence for Nintendo’s beloved series, after Mario’s humbler critical and commercial success post-Super Mario 64. Notably, it was also the first Mario game to be scored by a full orchestra, which just kicks all of the ass. Despite a few hiccups here and there, the exceedingly high standards Galaxy set for the Super Mario series (and its music) have remained largely intact, with games such as 3D World and Odyssey carrying the torch. It should be noted that the only Wii game that managed to be better than Galaxy was (what else?) Super Mario Galaxy 2.

“The Wii also resurrected Punch-Out!! after a fifteen year absence… and now it’s been absent in the twelve years since the game’s 2009 release.”

The Wii may not have always came out guns ablazing, but when it brought its A-game, it really was a console unlike any other that had been seen before. And with due respect, perhaps unlike any that’s been seen since.

It’s hard to believe it’s been fifteen years since Nintendo changed the game with that little white box and that controller that looked like a TV remote (and let’s not forget that blue light that would creepily turn itself on in the middle of the night). Nintendo has fully embraced bringing back the NES, SNES and N64 in multiple forms. Maybe now that the Wii is fifteen, they’ll find a way to bring the Wii back to modern audiences. I wouldn’t mind a retro mini-console version of the Wii myself. And I know someone else who’d camp out to get one…

Happy fifteenth birthday, Nintendo Wii!

Thoughts on Today’s Nintendo Direct (9/23/2021)

Nintendo had a new Direct today, which maybe not-so coincidentally happens to be the 132nd anniversary of the founding of the company (happy 132nd birthday, Nintendo!). It was certainly an improvement over their E3 Direct this year (not a very high hurdle to jump, but I meant it as a compliment). There were numerous big announcements, so let me talk about the ones that caught my attention.

First thing’s first, Nintendo 64 and Sega Genesis games are coming to Nintendo Switch as part of an upgraded Switch Online. That’s cool, and with the NES and SNES already a part of it, it just feels more complete now. All the classics together again for the first time since the Wii (I know many people would hate me for not including Atari consoles as part of “the classics,” but let’s not pretend like those hold up). A lot of the obvious games will be included at one point or another, like Super Mario 64, the N64 Zelda titles, Sonic the Hedgehog 2, etc. But then they (briefly) showed something that really caught my eye…

“Buh Gawd King!”

Yes, Banjo-Kazooie is coming to Nintendo Switch, making it the first time since its original release that Banjo-Kazooie is on a Nintendo console (where it really belongs, if we’re being perfectly honest). It was a “blink and you’ll miss it” kind of announcement, which is odd, seeing as it’s actually a pretty big deal given the whole history of the series (and developer Rare) with Nintendo and then Microsoft and everything. Could this mean a new Banjo-Kazooie game is in the cards? Probably not. But it gives some semblance of hope for a future for the series. Plus, Banjo-Kazooie (and the other N64 games) on the go? Sounds great!

Before we move on to more games, let’s take a moment to talk about something else that was discussed during the Direct: the upcoming Super Mario animated movie!

While the fact that the film is being made by Illumination has me a bit skeptical (their movies tend to be perfectly content with being “adequate”), I would be lying if I said I weren’t interested. Particularly after this Direct, when Shigeru Miyamoto himself announced the cast!

Chris Pratt wouldn’t have been my first choice for Mario, but I can totally imagine it now after the announcement. I admit I’m a bit disappointed that Seth Rogen is voicing Donkey Kong. But Anya Taylor-Joy as Princess Peach and Jack Black as Bowser? Hot diggity dog! I mean, I always imagined Brad Garrett as Bowser (he was great as Krang in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows), but Jack Black is a more than worthy substitute.

Also, Cranky Kong is in the movie.

Also also, Foreman Spike is in the movie. Now THAT is the kind of deep cut I was hoping for from this Mario movie. The kind of deep cut Super Smash Bros. USED to do, but would never do these days.

Speaking of Super Smash Bros., the last DLC fighter for Super Smash Bros. Ultimate wasn’t announced during this Direct, but will be announced in October. I’m kind of glad they didn’t reveal them here. It’s probably just going to be another anime guy with a sword or another vanilla fighting game character. They’ll likely be a character who has little to nothing to do with Nintendo’s history anyway, so why sully this Direct with another inevitable disappointment from Super Smash Bros?

Anyway, back to the good stuff. Next year will see the release of Chocobo Racing GP, a Switch exclusive sequel (or maybe remake) of a semi-obscure Mario Kart-style racing game from the Playstation One.

I. Loved. This.

I have many fond memories of Chocobo Racing back in the PSOne days (hard to say how well it would hold up, since I haven’t played it in such a long time, but for its day I had a lot of fun with it). Never would I have thought Square-Enix would actually make a sequel to it after all this time. I’m happy they are. Especially since Nintendo seems to keep forgetting to make Mario Kart 9, a kart racer like this is all the more welcome. So happy to see Square-Enix remember something other than Final Fantasy VII for once.

And finally, the big news (for me, anyway) was the announcement of Kirby and the Forgotten Land. The first fully 3D Kirby game!

Good gracious, that trailer. It started off quiet, showing off an abandoned civilization. Typical video game stuff, but with an added colorfulness not usually seen in “abandoned civilization” scenarios. Then we cut to Kirby waking up on a beach. “Oh cool! A new Kirby game!” I thought. Kirby’s always reliable in producing quality games, though he is a Nintendo mainstay so it wasn’t the most shocking revelation.

But then… it happened.

The camera zoomed out behind Kirby. “No, it can’t be…” I thought, before Kirby started moving around freely in this new environment! It’s a Kirby 3D platformer! Good heavens, it’s a Kirby 3D platformer!

Do you know how long I’ve waited for a 3D platformer starring Kirby? Way too long! To pull back the curtain on the depths of my nerdhood, I’ve sometimes thought about what kind of games I would make in various existing franchises, and one of my recurring ideas has always been a 3D Kirby platformer. And now it’s actually happening. I actually got a little misty-eyed in the trailer.

But what am I telling you for? Just watch it yourself!

Now, to be fair, 2D platformers have a much better track record than 3D ones (3D Mario games are amazing, but they haven’t had any real competition since the days of Banjo-Kazooie). But the potential has always been there. And in this day and age, when Rare hasn’t been present in the genre for well over a decade, Mario’s 3D platformers (sublime though they may be) are really the only ones out there. Oh, you can bring up Ratchet & Clank all you want, but that series is far more an action-adventure game than a platformer (just because it has cartoony characters doesn’t mean it’s a platformer). So we need 3D platformers now more than ever. There’s never been anything wrong with 2D Kirby games (literally, there’s never been a bad one), but I’m happy to see the series branch out with a full-fledged 3D platformer after all this time.

There were plenty of other things discussed in the Nintendo Direct, such as a long-awaited update to Animal Crossing: New Horizons (yes please), and a new trailer for Bayonetta 3 (which closed out the Direct for some reason. I personally would have ended it with Kirby, which has a much richer history and – I’m just going to say it – is a much better, less button-mashy series). But if you just want the news that came out of the Direct, you can read that elsewhere. I’m just giving my thoughts on my favorite bits of the presentation. So hopefully you enjoyed reading my thoughts on this Nintendo Direct.

Jack Black is Bowser.

Dr. Mario (NES) Review

These days, we kind of take for granted the Mario games that don’t fit into the “main” Super Mario series. Unless it’s the next big 3D Mario adventure, we tend to refer to the games as “spin-offs” and don’t hold them in the same light as the “proper” Mario games.

The thing is, Mario was always Nintendo’s renaissance man. Shigeru Miyamoto designed the character with the intent that he could be thrown into any type of game, in a similar vein to classic cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and (most specifically) Popeye the Sailor Man. It’s not as though Mario was created with a definitive story and some big universe of characters already planned out ahead of time. Mario appeared in a number of games before Princess Peach, Bowser and the entire Mushroom Kingdom came into existence in Super Mario Bros. That was Mario’s breakout role, sure, but it wasn’t exactly where he got his start. Although it makes sense that Super Mario Bros. would become the basis of what we all consider to be “main” Mario games, as time has gone on it seems people have diminished the allure of the “other” Mario games as an unfortunate side effect of this.

That wasn’t the case back in 1990, when Mario could suddenly don a lab coat and head mirror, call himself a doctor, and star in a falling block puzzle game, and it would still create an iconic game in its own right.

Dr. Mario was the first such puzzle game in the Mario franchise, which would slowly become its own series, and open the door for puzzle games starring other Mario franchise characters like Yoshi’s Cookie and Wario’s Woods. While some of these later puzzle games were improvements, and subsequent Dr. Mario sequels (such as the underrated Nintendo 64 entry) built on the formula, the original NES release is still a charming and addictive puzzle game.

The goal of Dr. Mario is to eliminate a screen of all of its viruses. These viruses come in three colors: red, blue and yellow. You eliminate these viruses by matching them up with vitamins of corresponding colors. But there are a few twists to keep things interesting.

The first thing to note is that the vitamins have two halves, which can be different colors, so you’ll want to pay extra attention when the viruses are close together. You have to match four objects of the same color in order to eliminate a virus. Each half of a vitamin counts as one object, and a virus counts as another. So you could potentially have three viruses of the same color stacked on top of each other, meaning you’d only have to put one similarly colored half of a vitamin on top of them to eliminate them. You can even eliminate the viruses by placing the vitamins against them horizontally, but it’s much less common.

Additionally, if the vitamins involved in an elimination feature halves of different colors, those halves will remain and fall straight down until they either land on a virus or the bottom of the screen. This gives you an added level of strategy for any nearby viruses, but it also risks filling up the screen with piles of vitamins. If the vitamins stack up to the top of the screen and Mario can’t throw any more, you lose the round.

It’s a nice twist on the Tetris formula, one that remains fun even today. Better still, the game features a two-player competitive mode, where each player aims to eliminate their screen of viruses before the other. And despite the technical limitations of the game (even by NES standards) it makes the best with what it has. The graphics are cute and fun (I especially like how part of the screen is a microscope held up to the viruses, just so you can see them dancing around in all their glory), and the game’s two selectable music tracks, Chill and Fever, are infectiously catchy, and are all too easy to listen to on repeat as you play round after round.

Unfortunately, if you don’t have a second player at the ready to tackle the aforementioned two-player mode, Dr. Mario’s gameplay can only go so far. The lack of any additional modes really stands out in retrospect, and the fact that – unlike Tetris – each round has a set goal to reach means beating your own high score is kind of an afterthought.

Dr. Mario is still fun, no doubt. But it isn’t particularly deep. It’s at its best when two players are onboard, and even in that area it’s been bettered (Dr. Mario 64 turned the formula into a four-player party game. And now I really wish Nintendo would re-release that game or make a proper sequel to further add to the proceedings).

Its limitations are certainly more apparent today, but Dr. Mario is still worth playing. Perhaps more importantly, it represents a time when gamers were a bit wiser, and could accept Mario in any role and not question the merit in its potential.

6

Super Nintendo Turns 30 (in North America)!

Yeah, I know. I already wrote a thing about the Super Nintendo’s 30th anniversary based on its original Japanese release. But we’re talking about a video game console so good, I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to write about it again.

Today, August 23rd 2021, marks the 30th anniversary of the Super Nintendo Entertainment System’s release in North America. This also means it’s the 30th anniversary of Super Mario World’s release in North America, which I’ll happily say is still the best launch game ever made.

There are a few classic video game consoles from yesteryear: the original NES had perhaps a bigger impact than any other, and was the video game console of the 80s. The Nintendo 64 pioneered 3D gaming. The Sony Playstation, as well as the Sega Genesis, Saturn and Dreamcast, also opened new doors to gaming. But it’s the Super Nintendo Entertainment System that’s the timeless masterpiece of a video game console.

With all due respect to the aforementioned consoles, they have aged in one way or another (well, maybe not the Genesis, but its library wasn’t as deep as the SNES’). That’s not to say that they don’t have their share of timeless games, because they do. But when revisiting those consoles, it is apparent that they came from specific points in the past (as much as I love the N64, and perhaps sometimes I’m too harsh on it, it can sometimes be painfully obvious that it was experimenting with 3D gaming). But the SNES is the one that still stands tall even when compared to today’s consoles. It was that perfect moment in gaming history when developers had mastered the craft of everything that came before. And while it is a good thing that gaming entered new territories afterwards, suffice to say that entering the third-dimension kind of started things over. And in some ways, games still have yet to catch up to where they were (the SNES never had things like microtransactions get in the way of more honest game design, after all).

Just think of the library of classics the SNES had: Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, the Donkey Kong Country trilogy, Yoshi’s Island, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG, Super Mario Kart, Kirby Super Star, Kirby’s Dream Land 3, EarthBound, the first three Mega Man X games, Mega Man 7, Tetris Attack, the Street Fighter 2 ports, Secret of Mana, and more still!

There were just so many classics on the console, and they remain every bit as fun today as they were then (exception being Star Fox. In a bit of role reversal, it’s the N64 installment in that series that has proven timeless). You also had your lesser known gems (Demon’s Crest), and stronger third-party support than any Nintendo console until the Switch (although the Wii actually had stronger third-party support than it gets credit for).

A classic lineup of games unlike any that has been seen before or since, the Super Nintendo is truly one of the greats. It’s hard to believe it’s been thirty years since the system made its way stateside (I was just a baby at the time!). But you wouldn’t know it by playing the many classics it produced.

Happy 30th anniversary (again), Super Nintendo!

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 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 into 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 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 Takamaru’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 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 abandoned 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 and mini-games 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!