WarioWare Touched Review

*Review based on WarioWare Touched’s release on the Wii U Virtual Console*

WarioWare, Inc. Mega Microgames was one of Nintendo’s unsung classics of the 2000s. WarioWare stripped the very nature of video games down to their bare minimum, leaving its many microgames as a platform for Nintendo to test out myriads of gameplay ideas. The concept of WarioWare was perhaps more fruitful than Nintendo initially realized, with the series’ formula allowing them to push the innovations of their hardware.

2005 saw two such WarioWare sequels. One of them, released on the GameBoy Advance (home of the original title in the series), was WarioWare Twisted, which had a built-in “gyro-sensor” that allowed for motion controls. The other was WarioWare Touched on the Nintendo DS, which utilized the handheld’s touchscreen and microphone features.

Admittedly, Twisted has aged far more gracefully, with its gameplay features still feeling unique today. That’s not to say that Touched has aged poorly, but because its (pardon the pun) ‘twist’ was that it utilized features that were standard on the DS, it’s kind of lost some of its individuality over time. The later WarioWare Smooth Moves on the Wii would similarly use its platform’s capabilities, but I feel that Smooth Moves managed to do so with considerably more creativity. Smooth Moves brought out the best it could from the Wii’s features, whereas Touched feels more like it’s falling in line with its platform’s standard.

Again, that’s not to say that WarioWare Touched is a bad game by any means. It is WarioWare, after all. And if it doesn’t leave you with some kind of goofy grin on your face at one point or another, you may be dead inside. The issue is simply that Touched is the one entry in the WarioWare series that no longer stands out.

The basics of the series remain intact in WarioWare Touched: Players face gauntlets of seconds-long microgames, with each character in the game boasting their own such series of games. You only get four chances to slip-up before a game over, and the microgames pick up in speed after you have conquered a number of them (the tougher gauntlets naturally increase speed much sooner than the earlier challenges).

The difference here, of course, is that along with button presses, the microgames of Touched are mostly played with the touchscreen controls of the Nintendo DS (or Wii U Gamepad, if you’re playing the Virtual Console release), and some of the latter microgames even utilize the mic on the system for some delightful gameplay quirks.

WarioWare Touched can be a lot of fun at times, with the simplicity of the series’ gameplay being complimented by the DS’s hardware features. Whether you’re swiping, tapping, spinning, or tracing, Touched is a fun example of how the WarioWare series can be used to showcase gameplay ideas and utilize hardware.

On the downside, simply being WarioWare on the DS no longer really stands out for the series. Subsequent WarioWare titles have been released on the DS and 3DS, which boasted additional gameplay innovations on top of the DS’s touchscreen features. WarioWare D.I.Y allowed players to create their own microgames, and WarioWare Gold features most of Touched’s microgames, in addition to those from Mega Microgames and Twisted, plus a number of games of its own. So being the “DS WarioWare” no longer works in Touched’s favor, and hasn’t for quite some time now.

WarioWare is almost always going to a fun experience (Wii U’s Game & Wario being the exception), and the simplicity of the DS’s features has its charms. But it would be hard to recommend WarioWare Touched over a number of its sequels. There’s still good fun to be had with WarioWare Touched, but it’s short-lived, especially when you consider the great replay value the series is capable of.

 

6

Super Mario Maker 2 Review

Nintendo’s Wii U console gets a lot of flack. Some of its criticisms are just (it was a commercial failure for the big N, a fact that was magnified by its status as a bridge between two golden ages for Nintendo), but the Wii U played an important role in Nintendo’s big picture. An argument could be made that the Switch – and the success that has come with it – is a combination of the refinement of the ideas the Wii U got right (surely the Wii U Gamepad opened the door for the Switch’s handheld capabilities), and the results of learning from the Wii U’s mistakes.

The Wii U’s lack of third-party support was among its biggest missteps, but one of the system’s highlights was that it featured some of Nintendo’s best first-party output. It really isn’t a shock that much of the Wii U’s legacy in first-party titles has been given a second chance at life on the Nintendo Switch, whether through enhanced ports (such as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze), or sequels that build on the ideas of the Wii U originals (such as Splatoon 2). The latest entry in the latter category is Super Mario Maker 2, the sequel to one of the Wii U’s few undeniable success stories.

In 2015, Super Mario Maker gave players of all experiences and skill levels the opportunity to try their hand at game design. Though it had a few unfortunate limitations, and certainly wasn’t the first game-creation game, Super Mario Maker was a new highlight for the genre. By making the level creation process as accessible and deep as the gameplay the Super Mario series is known for (and featuring said gameplay to boot), Super Mario Maker was fun and addictive in a way that no other game-making title had been before.

Super Mario Maker 2 takes that same accessibility and depth of the original, while making a few appreciated adjustments and bringing in some meaningful new additions. As such, Super Mario Maker 2 is not only an improvement over its predecessor, but a treasure trove of Super Mario levels that’s ever-expanding. One that should both entice players to test their own creativity in level design, and jump at the chance to see the creativity of other players from around the world.

Though it must be said that there are still a few lingering limitations to certain features of the game. So while Super Mario Maker 2 may be unlimited Mario fun on one hand, these limitations do prevent this sequel from reaching its full potential, and can make certain aspects feel more like the content of an expansion pack than a grand follow-up.

Still, even with limitations, Super Mario Maker remains one of Nintendo’s best ideas. The Mario series has an uncanny ability to make concepts more fun just with its presence, and that’s true even of game-creation tools. Take LittleBigPlanet, for example. While that series has also allowed players to create their own levels and express wild levels of creativity, it loses a great deal of its appeal once you try to play said levels. Gravity works against Sackboy, rendering the platforming awkward and clunky. Mario, however, has long-since mastered gravity for the betterment of gameplay. So while Super Mario Maker 2 may still have room to expand its creation tools, the tried-and-true gameplay and physics of the Mario series guarantee that Super Mario Maker 2 still boasts near-infinite replay value.

“3D World finally gives me reason to make levels outside of the Super Mario World style.”

Like its predecessor, Super Mario Maker 2 allows you to create your own Mario stages in the styles of Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. The most obvious addition to Mario Maker 2 is that it includes a new game style with which to build your stages: Super Mario 3D World.

While Super Mario 3D World was played with a 3D perspective, it did feel like the proper continuation of the legacy of Mario’s 2D adventures (certainly more so than the New Super Mario Bros. games ever did). In Mario Maker 2, the 3D World style is presented as a 2D side scroller, like the other present styles, which in a way makes it tantamount to the first new type of Mario side-scroller since the original NSMB game hit the Nintendo DS back in 2006.

As in the first Super Mario Maker, each different game style not only alters the aesthetics of your stage, but also come with the appropriate physics and mechanics of their respective games, with small changes here and there (each style boasts one power-up unique to their original game, Super Mario World and NSMBU feature Yoshis, while the NES styles have Kuribo’s Shoe in his place, etc.). While the four returning styles can be swapped in and out while editing a level to see which style it plays best in, 3D World is listed under its own, separate category. This is due to 3D World having “enough differences” in its features that the other styles can’t replicate. On one hand there are some notable differences in 3D World, so I can kind of understand this. At the same time, it is kind of a bummer that certain features don’t carry over to the 3D World style.

Once again, all your created levels utilize different course ‘themes,’ based on the world themes of Mario games past. The six themes from the first Mario Maker return: Ground, Underground, Water, Ghost House, Airship and Castle. Super Mario Maker 2 adds four new course themes to the proceedings: Desert, Snow, Forest and Sky.

“Why are Super Mario World aesthetics still so beautiful and eye-catching?”

These new themes add variety to the aesthetics of the game (with new compositions by none other than the original Mario maestro, Koji Kondo, for level themes that are new to particular game styles), but an even bigger addition to these course themes brings even greater variety to the experience: Night themes.

All ten of the course themes now feature an alternate ‘Nighttime’ mode, effectively doubling the total course themes. The Nighttime versions bring out new gameplay mechanics and shifts to their respective level themes. Playing a night-themed ground level, for example, will see Super Mushrooms turn into deadly Poison Mushrooms, which will give chase to the player. Nighttime ghost houses will see the majority of the screen covered in black, with a spotlight shining on Mario and select objects and enemies, giving an appropriately claustrophobic atmosphere to the ghost stages. Castle stages will mysteriously gain water-like attributes, with Mario and enemies swimming through the air as if they were submerged in a water level. Perhaps most interestingly, the underground stages will flip upside down when exposed to nighttime, flipping Mario’s controls around as well.

The night versions of the course themes are among Super Mario Maker 2’s best new features. Along with the major – often bizarre – tweaks they bring to the gameplay, they also make smaller changes to enemies and objects as well, enticing players to try out everything they can in each night theme to see how they work.

Like in the first Mario Maker, you can actually implement two course themes in a stage, one for the ‘main’ portion of the stage (which houses the start and goal), and a ‘sub’ portion of the stage that Mario can access via warp pipe. You can make a stage that consists of a daytime ground level in one portion, and a nighttime castle in the other, again adding to the game’s staggering variety. As an added bonus, the sub-areas of stages can now be made into ‘vertical’ courses, which opens up all the more possibilities, including vertical scrolling sections (though it is both strange and unfortunate that only sub-areas can receive the vertical treatment).

While most of the 3D World style’s differences from the other represented games are justified, one of the disappointing drawbacks to the new game style is that the nighttime features don’t transfer over to 3D World. Even if 3D World couldn’t share all the features of the returning game styles, you can’t help but feel that the night themes – given the twists they bring to gameplay – should have found a way to be carried over.

As always, players can delve into countless stages made by players around the world at any time. Super Mario Maker 2 features a much more refined search engine than the first game, making it much easier to find the types of stages you’re looking for. It’s still not quite perfect (you can still only search for levels and players by codes, as opposed to names), but it’s an inarguable improvement over its predecessor’s search methods.

The 100 Mario Challenge mode from the first Super Mario Maker has been replaced with the Endless Mario Challenge. While the first game’s equivalent had Mario complete a set number of levels under specific difficulties (with a maximum of 100 lives to do so, no matter the difficulty setting), the sequel’s new mode will literally keep the player-created levels coming until the player gets a game over. For the ‘easy’ and ‘normal’ settings, you may find yourself picking up enough extra lives that you can keep going with seemingly no end in sight (you are still limited to 100 lives, and can only obtain three extra lives per stage like in the 100 Mario Challenge from the first game, but in the easy and normal settings you’ll find yourself blazing through a number of levels before dying once, so you often get extra lives faster than you lose them). The ‘expert’ and ‘super expert’ difficulties, however, will really put you to the test. The latter setting, in particular, will probably cost a great deal of your lives just to complete the first stage, whatever it may be.

“No matter how many levels I conquered, I could never rank any higher than the 60s on the leaderboards…”

I prefer this new Endless Mario mode to the 100 Mario mode of the first game. Though on the downside, your only rewards for completing many stages are costume pieces for your Mii avatar. You can also find yourself placing on worldwide leaderboards (different boards for each difficulty setting), though the downside to leaderboards in any game is that there are always those crazy players who can put an ungodly amount of time into the game, meaning that more reasonable players can only get so far, with the leaderboards having a much lower ceiling for them.

I only bring this up because the first game had the delightful rewards of character costumes for the Super Mario Bros. game style, which not only disguised Mario as the sprite of various other characters (from fellow Nintendo icons like Link and Pikachu to third-party characters like Mega Man and Sonic to even non-game characters like Shaun the Sheep) but each disguise brought their own sound effects and music cues to the proceedings.

The character costumes are not present in Super Mario Maker 2. The reasoning for this is that Super Mario Maker 2 doesn’t feature Amiibo support in any capacity, and since Amiibo could be used to instantly unlock coinciding character costumes in the first game, the feature has been dropped.

It does admittedly feel like a weak reason. After all, you could unlock all the Amiibo costumes (plus the additional ones) by completing the 100 Mario Challenge repeatedly, so it’s not like the costumes were only available to rabid Amiibo collectors. Even if the Amiibo support were getting dropped, it seems weird that the character costumes had to be removed entirely as well.

Still, I suppose simply playing through an endless supply of Mario levels is reward enough in its own right. Not every stage you come across will be a winner, of course (many stages are only categorized as ‘easy’ because their creators left them empty, and many are considered ‘super expert’ simply because their creators filled them with clutter or troll the player with unfair traps that only said creator would be aware of). But when you come across a stage in which its creator’s creativity shines through, it makes it all worth it.

Another very welcome gameplay addition comes in the form of Clear Conditions which, as their name implies, are objectives you can set for your stages which must be completed in order to finish a stage. You can make goals like collecting every coin (or simply a set number of them) in a stage, defeating all of a specific enemy, or reaching the goal while in one of Mario’s many forms (Fire Mario, Cape Mario, Cat Mario, etc.). You can even set goals such as reaching the end of a stage without taking any damage, or not touching the ground after jumping in the air (this particular goal requires some crafty level design in order to implement it).

The Clear Conditions can really help in making less linear stages, and certainly help with making features like boss sections and bonus stages. But there are a few unfortunate caveats to the Clear Conditions. Players are unable to place checkpoints in stages with Clear Conditions, and while you may be able to specify certain objectives (like defeating X-amount of Dry Bones), you can’t make more broad objectives (like defeating every last foe on the stage). Another questionable design choice is that, no matter the Clear Condition, the end goal will remain inaccessible until that condition is met. That’s fine for levels where the objective can have the player backtrack to meet said requirements (“oops, I missed x-enemy, better go back”), but in stages where you can fail the objective outright (“I landed on the ground after taking to the air”) you have to manually restart the stage, as the goal will be impossible to reach. It may be a nitpick, but it would be nice if levels such as those would simply register as Mario losing a life and starting over once the objective is failed. Similarly, it would be nice to have an option for a stage to end as soon as a boss is defeated, instead of felling said boss simply resulting in the goal becoming available.

“This must be the George Lucas Special Edition…”

Super Mario Maker 2 also introduces a proper story mode into the mix. Through the Odyssey-esque hub in story mode, players select different stages in the form of “jobs” in order to earn coins to repair Princess Peach’s castle. Unlike the Endless Mario Challenge, the stages in story mode are made by Nintendo themselves, making Super Mario Maker 2’s story mode the closest thing we’ve had to a  new Mario side scroller since New Super Mario Bros. U launched alongside the Wii U in 2012. Even after you’ve finished the ‘story’ aspect of story mode, there are still additional jobs to be done, and even a few unlockables (like the brand new “Builder Mario” power-up for the 3D World style, and Super Mario Land’s ‘super ball’ power-up in the Super Mario Bros. style).

As fun as the story mode is, one aspect that left me greatly disappointed in it is that numerous Clear Conditions that appear in story mode are unavailable for your created levels. I took my time to beat the story mode before I delved into making my own stages, and had an abundance of ideas inspired by what I was playing in story mode.

Notably, I had all kinds of ideas built around the escort mission concept where you rescue Toads and guide them to the end of the level. The condition of clearing a stage while holding a large rock also got my creative juices flowing (unlike other objects Mario can carry, said rock weighed the plumber down, leading the player to get creative as to how to get the rock to the goal while also performing Mario’s platforming acrobatics).

Unfortunately, once I started making my own levels, I spent a good deal of time trying to figure out how to implement these Clear Conditions, only to find out that they weren’t even an option. It was a bummer, to say the least. Perhaps Nintendo can implement the story mode Clear Conditions into the level editor through an update or DLC down the road. But even if we do get them later (and hopefully we do), it still stings to be teased with these features before having the ability to use them in our own created levels.

While Super Mario Maker 2 introduces numerous additions to single player modes, it also introduces multiplayer into the Mario Maker fold. Two players can work together on a single Switch console in the level editor in what is ultimately a well-meaning but overly chaotic addition. But more notably is that Super Mario Maker 2 includes competitive and co-operative multiplayer modes, where up to four players from around the world can help/hinder each other in player-created levels.

In the multiplayer modes, players take control of Mario, Luigi, Toad and Toadette (why Princess Peach is absent is beyond me). Unlike many Mario games featuring different playable characters, all four heroes play identically in Super Mario Maker 2. That makes sense, seeing as many levels could effectively be ‘broken’ if their creators forgot to consider Luigi’s high jumps and such. The identical play styles of the characters are excusable, but I do kind of hope Nintendo adds a few more character options down the road (again, why isn’t Peach a playable character? And let’s throw Rosalina in there for good measure).

Unfortunately, you may encounter lag issues more often than you’d like during online play, which can really be a detriment in a fast-paced platforming stage. Some people will balk at the very notion of a Nintendo game with smooth online capabilities, but I have to point out that Nintendo has accomplished it in the past with the Mario Kart series (to this day, I have yet to experience any notable lag issues with Mario Kart 8 on either the Wii U or Switch). The fact that Nintendo has accomplished consistently smooth online elsewhere does kind of make it more aggravating when they release an otherwise promising and fun online experience hampered by frequent slowdowns.

Along with big changes such as Super Mario 3D World, the new level and nighttime themes, story mode and multiplayer, Super Mario Maker 2 houses a seemingly countless number of smaller additions. Classic Mario features make their way to the Mario Maker experience for the first time (such as snake blocks, rising and falling water/lava, the Angry Sun, and the long-requested slopes).

There are also new mechanics introduced in Super Mario Maker 2 which haven’t been seen elsewhere in the series before: swinging claws can fling Mario or grab and drop enemies like a crane game. Red and blue on/off switches that coincide with similarly colored blocks make for unique platforming and puzzles. ‘Twisters’- balls of wind (with eyes, of course) – produce mini-tornadoes that can launch Mario and enemies upward. There are so many features both new and returning in Super Mario Maker 2, that the game is like the ultimate toolkit for learning video game level design for players of all ages.

If there’s one feature I wish could be polished up a bit though, it would be boss fights. Bowser and Boom Boom appear in all game styles (though Bowser takes on his ‘Meowser’ form in 3D World), with Bowser Jr. being available in the returning game styles, and Pom Pom also appearing in 3D World. It’s not exactly a wide range of boss options, and while each boss behaves differently in each game style they’re present in, it would be nice if each style had different sets of behaviors you had the option to select from when placing them in your levels.

I’ve noticed many levels that have gotten creative with their takes on boss fights, and while that’s great to see, I do wish Nintendo could give players easier access to creating more unique bosses. Players shouldn’t have to jump through so many hoops just to make a boss that isn’t Boom Boom. Maybe Nintendo could implement the ability to ‘bossify’ enemies? Make any enemy bigger, change their color, select how many hit points they have, things like that.

Again, you can use Clear Conditions to make a boss fight in theory, but even that has limitations. You may be able to add a single Magikoopa to a stage, for example, give him a Super Mushroom to make him supersized, and make his defeat required in order to finish the stage. But you can still take out said giant Magikoopa with a single fireball. So it’s not much of a boss fight, really.

Still, no matter how many limitations may hold back certain areas of Super Mario Maker 2, there is no doubt that – on the whole – Super Mario Maker 2 is the new benchmark for game-creation games. The returning features, along with the armies-worth of new ones, make Super Mario Maker 2 a bottomless toy box that opens the floodgates for endless Mario fun.

There may still be some work to be done to the editing tools if we want to see the perfect Mario creation game, but the fact that Super Mario Maker 2 provides a refinement and expansion of what its predecessor started – allowing players from all over the world to exercise their creativity through its level editor – means the game boasts perhaps an unmatched level of playability.

 

8

My First Super Mario Maker 2 Levels

First of all, a thousand apologies that my updates have been so slow as of late. We’re almost halfway through August, and I’ve only written a single review so far this month (for Quentin Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time in Hollywood). For that matter, I’ve been pretty infrequent with the updates all Summer. Again, a thousand apologies. Here’s hoping that, in the months ahead, I can pick the pace back up. Who knows, September is the month that features my birthday. Maybe I’ll crank out a bunch of meaningful posts in September as a gift to myself.

To make up for some lost time, here’s something…that isn’t just another dreadful filler post!

So here’s the codes for my first bath of created levels in Super Mario Maker 2! Admittedly, I’ve only made a handful of courses so far, as most of my hours in Super Mario Maker 2 have been dedicated to the Endless Mario Challenge. But hopefully I’ll get to making even more stages, and I’ll be sure to continue posting their codes here on my site.

So if you have a Switch, and Mario Maker 2…play my levels!


 

MKM-DYR-GYF

“High Tide Wine River”

For this stage, I utilized the Super Mario World aesthetics, and built it around two new gameplay mechanics introduced in Super Mario Maker 2: The On/Off switches, and using the Dry Bones shell as a boat.

I used the forest theme, with the nighttime element to change the rising water into deadly poison. Because said poison is purple – and as a nod to Super Mario RPG – I added the “Wine River” bit to the title. And the “High Tide” portion of said title is both in reference to the fact that the poison rises, and a little nod to the ‘High Tide Ride’ stage from Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze.

To top it off, the stage features that soothing music/sound effect throughout. So even if you find the stage difficult (though it’s only categorized in the “normal” difficulty range), hopefully the calming music will help make things seem not so bad.

 

KM9-8QR-P8G

“Chuck E. Skipsqueak’s”

This stage uses the Super Mario 3D World style (I assume most my stages will be either SMW or 3D World), using the airship theme.

As you may have guessed from the name, the stage is something of an homage to the arcades of Chuck E. Cheese’s. More specifically, it’s a tribute to the classic “Whack-A-Mole” games you often find there (and basically any arcade).

Yes, I am aware I could have used any of the other game styles and used Monty Moles to more accurately replicate the game, but the 3D World style is the only one that includes the new Construction Mario power-up, which uses a hammer. On top of that, the Skipsqueaks come in a spiney variety, which can’t simply be jumped on to be defeated. Thus, by removing the ability to use Mario’s jump as an attack, and requiring the use of a hammer, I feel it better captured the feel of a Whack-A-Mole game.


Those are the only ‘real’ levels I’ve made so far (I’ve made one other stage, but it’s more of a joke and I’m not sure if I’ll keep it, hence why I haven’t discussed it here). Hopefully you enjoy these levels, and hopefully I’ll be making plenty more Super Mario Maker 2 stages soon.

Talking of Super Mario Maker 2, I hope to have my review of the game up soon, as well as my review of the recent Lion King remake. So you see, I still have reviews and other such “real” posts in the pipeline.

Take care!

Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman Review

Despite having originally been released in 1983, Bomberman is a timeless game, comparable to Tetris or Super Mario Bros. in this regard. Like Tetris, Bomberman is the kind of game that’s held up well enough that it could be ported to any modern console or device and be justified in doing so. And like Super Mario, it has produced numerous sequels in the decades since its original release.

But Bomberman sits somewhere between Tetris and Mario. Tetris is still released on every available platform to this day, and Super Mario Bros. – though holding up well on its own merits – has been bettered multiple times over by its sequels. Bomberman, meanwhile, has seen many iterations through the years, and while some of them have added a lot to the formula (Saturn Bomberman being a particular highlight), many of its sequels are so close to the original that they can feel more like ports.

That brings us to Bomberman GB. As its name implies, Bomberman GB was to be the Gameboy edition of the series. Released in 1994, Bomberman GB successfully brought the classic Bomberman gameplay to the handheld. But for the game’s release outside of Japan, Bomberman GB was given a slight makeover. Hudson Soft (Bomberman’s now-defunct original developer) and Nintendo decided to add one of the latter’s characters into the game, and chose to use Wario, the comically villainous “anti-Mario” who had debuted two years earlier in Super Mario Land 2 and quickly became one of Nintendo’s most iconic characters.

The end result was Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman, a game which successfully translates the Bomberman gameplay to Nintendo’s Gameboy handheld, but doesn’t do too much more than that. Though Wario Blast is fun, it’s far from the best Bomberman game, and the fact that Wario’s presence in the title is simply cosmetic means his addition – while welcome – isn’t exactly meaningful.

Like any traditional Bomberman game, the goal is to eliminate all of your opponents on the battlefield. Your weapons are (quite obviously) bombs, which you use to destroy obstacles in your path, and ultimately try to blow up your opponents. The bombs explode in lines that travel in four directions, and you are susceptible to your own bomb blasts, meaning you’ll often have to take cover behind walls to avoid destruction by your own hand, as well as your enemies’.

Some of the usual Bomberman power-ups also return, and can be found after destroying certain obstacles. The bomb power-up allows you to plant an additional bomb on the field (one extra bomb for every power-up gained), while the fire power-up increases the range of your bombs’ explosions (making it easier to destroy your foes…and yourself). There is also a skull power-up, which is something of a double-edged sword. At first, the skull power-up seems purely bad, as it temporarily removes your ability to plant bombs (as well as the character skills you learn as the game progresses). But on the plus side, if you’re crafty enough, touching an opponent while under the effects of the skull will remove their ability to plant bombs as well. And if you infect an enemy with the skull, its negative effects will wear out on you before them, making for an easier target.

In a nutshell, it’s Bomberman, but on the Gameboy. On the plus side, Bomberman is one of the few games that could be translated onto the original Gameboy and not feel like it’s sacrificing the series’ quality for the sake of portability. On the downside, it’s Bomberman… but on Gameboy. That’s all well and fine, except unlike Tetris, this isn’t supposed to be a port, but is instead one of Bomberman’s less creative sequels.

There are some changes, with the most prominent (aside from Wario’s mug being added to the game) being that the rest of Bomberman’s usual items (such as the ability to kick your bombs forward) are now instead permanent abilities that are learned after defeating bosses.

There are eight worlds in the game, each comprised of four stages (again, bringing Super Mario Bros. to mind). The first three stages of each world are the traditional Bomberman battles (the first against a single opponent, the second against two, and the third against three), which are played in best two-out-of-three rules. The fourth stage of each world is the boss stage.

“Of course I’m going to pick Wario in WARIO Blast.”

Though the game allows you to play as both Bomberman and Wario, the change really is purely cosmetic. The only difference is Bomberman’s non-boss enemies are Wario clones, and Wario’s are Bombermen (additionally, the passwords for each stage differ between the two characters). And considering these are Gameboy sprites we’re talking about, the cosmetic change only goes so far (though in all honesty, just play as Wario. You can play as Bomberman in any Bomberman game, so you may as well play Wario and benefit from the crossover aspect).

Though the game is short (it probably won’t take much longer than an hour), the fact that each world introduces new stage gimmicks means there’s some fun variety throughout. And I enjoy the two-out-of-three nature of the stages. Though even with these benefits, Wario Blast does feature some unfortunate shortcomings.

One of the big issues is that – with the abilities gained from the first few bosses – the player quickly becomes overpowered. I can accept the usual power-ups from the series are made into learned abilities (though there’s also an argument to be made that aspect in itself takes something away from the experience), but one ability which sees the player learn how to dash an enemy against a wall to stun them makes the proceedings way too easy. The early stages will see the AI try to outmaneuver you (to varying degrees of success). But in later stages, you can just pick up bomb and fire power-ups as you go, and once you run into an enemy, just dash them into a wall and plant a single bomb for an easy win.

Another problem is that there’s an awkward few seconds after your opponents have been defeated where you can still potentially die before the victory screen is displayed. You’d be surprised how often you’ll end with a draw and add another round to the best two-out-of-three because of it.

While Wario Blast may have a number of elements holding it back, I have to reiterate that the classic Bomberman gameplay will always be fun. And sure enough, Wario Blast: Featuring Bomberman is a rare example of a Gameboy title that’s still fun to play today. But Wario Blast does suffer from being one of the more basic Bomberman sequels, offering little to the experience that you couldn’t find in every other Bomberman title.

Perhaps the biggest missed opportunity of Wario Blast, however, is the simple fact that Wario’s inclusion in the game was merely shoehorned into the game’s international release. Perhaps if Wario Blast lead to some follow-ups of its own that integrated Wario’s presence into the proceedings in more meaningful ways relating to gameplay or level design, it would be easier to look past Wario Blast’s underutilization of its namesake character. But because this was the beginning, middle and end of Wario butting heads with a third-party character, it’s more than a little disappointing that the game never had a real chance at fully delivering on its concept.

Think about it, what better video game character is there to go toe-to-toe with various gaming heroes than Wario? Super Mario is the face of gaming, so it only makes sense that the “anti-Mario” would try to sabotage other people’s games and try to slap his face on them. Hudson Soft and Nintendo could have been onto something here with Wario Blast. Sadly, instead of seeing Wario face off with Bomberman again, or try to hijack Mega Man, Castlevania, or any other series, it all ended just as soon as it began. By the time Bomberman GB 2 made its way westward, Wario was nowhere in sight…

But hey, Wario Blast is still fun. And that definitely counts for something.

 

6

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong Review

Before Mario entered the Mushroom Kingdom, met Princess Peach and found an archnemesis in Bowser, there was Donkey Kong. Before Luigi was introduced to the world, before Mario was even named Mario, there was Donkey Kong. Mario and Donkey Kong were gaming’s first legendary rivalry, the dynamic in which all of Nintendo was built on.

But it was not to last. Though they were enemies in the early 80s, as Mario joined up with his brother and began having adventures in the Mushroom Kingdom, Donkey Kong was phased out. It wasn’t until 1994 that Donkey Kong saw a complete reinvention, turning a new leaf and becoming the hero of his own adventures starting with Donkey Kong Country (of course, this is actually a different Donkey Kong, so I guess the name is like a title that gets passed down or something). However, earlier in that very same year, the Nintendo Gameboy saw a supposed re-release of the original 1981 Donkey Kong arcade game. But after besting the original four levels from the arcade classic, this version of Donkey Kong (unofficially dubbed “Donkey Kong Gameboy” or “Donkey Kong ’94” by fans) unraveled into a brand new adventure, with nearly a hundred new levels all modeled after the single screen platforming of the classic game, with additional puzzle elements added into the mix.

With Donkey Kong Country becoming a big hit, that served as the foundation of the Donkey Kong series from that point onward (something I very much appreciate, being a DKC fan myself). The downside to this was that Mario and DK’s rivalry was once again put on hold. That is until 2004, when Nintendo released Mario Vs. Donkey Kong on the Gameboy Advance, which was created as a kind of spiritual successor to the original Gameboy’s cult classic.

Mario Vs. Donkey adopts much of the same style as the 1994 Gameboy title, with stages that are comprised of two, single-screen segments (some of the later stages are only slightly larger). Each of these screens serves as a platforming puzzle. In the first screen of a level, Mario must find a key and take it to the door to the second screen, in which the goal is to grab a “Mini-Mario Toy” that’s incased in a glass bubble. And for completionists, each stage also houses three presents (one or two on a screen) that will require extra thinking and acrobatics to collect.

The first six stages of every world work this way, with the seventh stage of a world seeing Mario guide the six collected Mini-Mario Toys to their toy box – which will only open if the Mini-Marios collect the T-O-Y letters scattered about – avoiding dangerous obstacles along the way. The eighth and final stage of each world is a boss fight against Donkey Kong. For most of the stages, a single hit from an enemy or obstacle will do Mario in. During the boss stages, however, Mario’s hit points will be determined by the number of Mini-Mario Toys the player managed to guide to the toy box on the previous stage (for an obvious maximum of six hit points).

It’s a really simple setup, but it works thanks to some fun puzzle design and Mario’s acrobatics. Not only does Mario partake in his usual jumping here, but he can also do handstands, backflips and swing on bars like a gymnast. The levels feature puzzles built around mechanics like red/yellow/blue switches that coincide with similarly colored platforms, timed electrical barriers, and other such trinkets and traps that will test the player’s reflexes and skill.

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong is a fun game, but it has admittedly aged a bit. The structure of the game eventually becomes repetitious, and you may find yourself wishing the game would deviate from itself after a while (does every world need the same amount of levels here?). Additionally, the aforementioned Mini-Mario stages can become a bit tedious, and even some of the worlds can overstay their welcome when they lean too heavily on a specific gameplay gimmick (the best Mario games are acclaimed for never letting any idea linger longer than they need. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong didn’t get the memo, I suppose).

I just think there needed to be more variety within the stages and puzzles. When you think of how massively the 1994 Gameboy Donkey Kong expanded the original arcade game, it feels a tad underwhelming that the Gameboy Advance successor released a decade later doesn’t really feel like it adds to the formula all that much. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong still provides a fun time in the same vein as the arcade original and the Gameboy remake, but you know the GBA could’ve done more with the gameplay.

The aesthetics might also be a mixed bag for some. Mario Vs. Donkey Kong utilizes pre-rendered character sprites (a nod to DKC’s influence to the Donkey Kong series), which admittedly look unique for the system, and Mario’s animations are surprisingly fluid. The music and sound, on the other hand, might quickly wear on you. The music isn’t bad, but it’s not memorable (which seems like a sin for a Mario game, doesn’t it?), and the sound effects are mostly recycled sound clips from previous games (Super Mario 64 for Mario, Donkey Kong 64 for DK, and Super Mario Sunshine for Toads). And while the Mini-Marios’ cry for “Mario” may be cute the first time one of them gets lost, it may start to get on your nerves when you start constantly hearing it as they stop following Mario due to the tiniest obstruction in their path.

Mario Vs. Donkey Kong remains a fun game in its own right, but one that you can’t help but feel could have been better. It lacks the variety and challenge that could have made it more engrossing (though again, completionists will have a bit of a challenge trying to claim high scores and unlock the secret ‘Expert’ stages). And sadly, this is the current end-of-the-line for Mario and DK’s age-old rivalry. Sure, Mario Vs. Donkey Kong spawned its own sub-series (some of which included level editors, a feature that was originally planned for this title and really would have benefitted the finish product), but each sequel put more focus on the Mini-Marios and gameplay associated with them, and less on its titular rivalry (one entry even replaced the “Vs.” in the title with “and,” which really hit home the change to the series). So as far as the gameplay produced by the original Donkey Kong goes, it has now been on its longest hiatus (if you can believe it), with the original Mario Vs. Donkey Kong still being its most recent offering.

That’s a real shame. Even though Mario Vs. Donkey Kong has unraveled a bit with age, it still shows that the formula originally conceived in 1981 still has something to give.

 

6

Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge Review

I love Banjo-Kazooie. I love the Gameboy Advance. This makes it so disheartening that Banjo-Kazooie’s oft-forgotten GBA spinoff – Grunty’s Revenge – is forgotten for a reason. Despite a surprisingly accurate translation of the gameplay from Banjo-Kazooie’s N64 duology at first glance, Grunty’s Revenge boasts none of the depth of its predecessors, and ranks as the worst game the bear and bird duo have starred in (yes, even Nuts & Bolts had more going for it).

Strangely, Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge was the first game released by developer Rare after they had been purchased by Microsoft. The game had gone through a few different development phases over a couple of years, and by the time Rare became Microsoft’s property, Grunty’s Revenge was too far in production to scrap entirely. Thankfully for Rare, Microsoft’s lack of a handheld gaming platform meant they could still legally release the game on Nintendo’s handheld, but required a middleman publisher since neither Microsoft nor Nintendo could do the honors (which seem so silly in retrospect, now that we live in a time when Xbox Live can be played on Nintendo Switch). THQ ended up being that publisher, and Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge saw release in 2003, to little advertisements and fanfare.

To bring in a bit of personal history, I didn’t even know about the existence of the game ahead of its release. I just opened one of my birthday gifts that year, and lo and behold, Banjo and Kazooie were in a Gameboy Advance game…apparently. I was excited, to be sure. But it didn’t take very long into the game to realize that Grunty’s Revenge was something of a step backwards for handheld gaming, harkening back to the times of the original Gameboy when the transition of a franchise to a handheld usually meant the compromise of its quality. Consider how well so many of the Gameboy Advance’s titles have held up over the years, and Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge’s flaws are only magnified with hindsight (Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was released the very same year on the GBA, but you’d never know it from the difference in quality between the games).

When you first start the game, it looks promising. Even though the GBA didn’t have the power to recreate a full-on 3D platformer in the vein of the N64 Banjo-Kazooie titles, Grunty’s Revenge still does a solid job at finding a way to translate the series’ gameplay to the handheld. Grunty’s Revenge takes on an overhead camera view, and uses pre-rendered character models (a la Donkey Kong Country), which faithfully recreate the characters and enemies from the N64 games. And despite the GBA’s relatively few buttons (A and B on the face of the system, plus two shoulder buttons), Grunty’s Revenge even does a pretty good job at making Banjo and Kazooie’s moves feel reminiscent of their classic N64 outings. Even the iconic gibberish voices return!

But those similarities are short-lived, unfortunately.

The game begins with a rather rushed story. Sure, the Banjo-Kazooie games were never a story-focused series, but they had humorous writing, charming characters, and strong production values for the time. But here, the story just kind of happens on itself, and the game never really capitalizes on its concept.

Taking place between Banjo-Kazooie and Banjo-Tooie, Grunty’s Revenge sees the titular witch Gruntilda – still trapped under a boulder after the events of Banjo-Kazooie – transfer her ghost into a robot body made by her henchman, Klungo. She then kidnaps Kazooie, and travels back in time (whether by her magic or the new robot body is anybody’s guess), in an attempt to stop Banjo and Kazooie from ever meeting, thus ensuring they would have never defeated her in the first place. Thankfully for Banjo, the witch doctor Mumbo Jumbo had witnessed the whole thing, and uses his magic to send Banjo to the same, vaguely-implied time period as Gruntilda.

Like the Banjo-Kazooie games proper, the goal is still to collect Jiggies (10 on each stage) and Musical Notes, the latter of which are used to purchase moves from Bozzeye, a mole who is an ancestor of both Bottles and Jamjars, who played a similar role in Banjos Kazooie and Tooie (respectively).

Aside from the presence of Bottles’ nondescript ancestor, there’s really nothing in the game that takes advantage of the time travel plot. The stages (of which there are five, along with the hub of Spiral Mountain) all follow standard themes and environments for the genre and series (farmland, beach, swamp, harbor and a fire/ice hybrid). In Banjo-Tooie, we got a dinosaur world, and that game didn’t even feature time travel. And that same game featured an infinitely better fire/ice hybrid world. What about the worlds of Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge so much as implies the game takes place in the characters’ past?

Wouldn’t it have been neat if the stages were direct adaptations of those from the N64 games, but with twists that showcase how they take place before the events of those games? For example, maybe you could visit Mumbo’s Mountain from Banjo-Kazooie, and the giant termite mound from that game is still under construction. Or maybe you could revisit Rusty Bucket Bay at a time before it became overwhelmed with pollution? Grunty’s Revenge is already re-using level themes from the previous games, anyway. Why not make it literal and find a way to capitalize on the time travel setup of the story?

As stated, the game actually does a decent job at bringing the series’ gameplay to the GBA, but the more you play Grunty’s Revenge, the more you realize how stripped down it is. Sure, the translation to a handheld system back in 2003 was going to come with a few expenses. But this sadly isn’t a simple case of a simplified Banjo-Kazooie on the go (that might have actually been pretty sweet). As stated, Grunty’s Revenge harkens back to the days of the original Gameboy, when a popular franchise making its way to a handheld device meant it’s quality was going to suffer.

“Also the boss fights suck, largely due to their lack of creativity and challenge, and their sheer repetition.”

The levels are just too empty, and the objectives too mind-numbingly simplistic. The N64 Banjo-Kazooie games did a great job at making the experience feel like an adventure, but Grunty’s Revenge just feels like it’s going through the motions with no rhyme or reason.

Even the moves Banjo and Kazooie learn from Bozzeye are just ones they already learned in the previous games. The only real difference is how you start the game with Banjo on his lonesome. But even that feels underplayed. Wouldn’t it have made for a more unique game if the player had to continuously switch between playing as Banjo and Kazooie? If you’re going to separate the two characters (and not manually, as in Banjo-Tooie), might as well roll with it and take advantage of the concept.

I can’t believe I’m going to say this, but there is actually one thing that Grunty’s Revenge does better than its otherwise far superior N64 predecessors. And that’s how, this time around, the different transformations provided by Mumbo Jumbo carry over to subsequent levels once unlocked. This means that the transformations actually have more uses here, since you’ll have to revisit Mumbo’s hut in a particular stage to utilize a different transformation in order to nab a Jiggy or two. Though it must be said that even this element suffers from a lack of communication to the player, as one stage features a Jiggy that needs a later transformation to obtain, with the game never even hinting that to be the case (going back to my personal history with the game, I gave up on it for a time back when I was younger because of this segment, in which I had no earthly idea what I was supposed to do). The  real Banjo-Kazooie games could get a little cheeky and have a character (or google-eyed object) tell you when something was meant to be revisited at a later time. While that may be a bit overt, it’s certainly a better option than leaving the player entirely clueless. And while in concept, the idea of Mumbo changing you into any available form on a given level is an improvement for the transformation concept, it still never reaches its full potential for the aforementioned reason that the objectives themselves feel so uninspired.

Banjo-Kazooie: Grunty’s Revenge isn’t a total waste. As previously stated, the visuals find a way to bring the look of the N64 games onto the GBA with surprising accuracy. Similarly, the music captures the familiar charm of the real Banjo games. And the initial feeling of the controls is how you would imagine Banjo-Kazooie should play on the handheld system. But Grunty’s Revenge ultimately stumbles because of how far it misses the target on any of its concepts.

That initial feeling of “this is how Banjo-Kazooie should play on a handheld” quickly fades away as you realize that accuracy only exists on face value. It soon becomes apparent that Grunty’s Revenge fails to realize what made the Banjo-Kazooie games so memorable to begin with, and just coughs up a cheap imitation of what a Banjo-Kazooie game should be. The setups of time travel and separating the heroes don’t come into play in either the story or the game itself in any meaningful way.

Grunty’s Revenge is only kind of Banjo-Kazooie. Just enough to pique the curiosity of my younger self back on my 14th birthday, but not nearly enough for it to live up to the bear and bird duo who adorn its title. It’s not even in the same ballpark.

 

4

WarioWare, Inc. Mega Microgames Review

The Game Boy Advance should rightfully rank as one of Nintendo’s greatest systems. While the original Game Boy’s influence can’t be understated, and the Nintendo DS helped push Nintendo’s innovation forward, it’s the Game Boy Advance which boasts a timeless appeal that makes it akin to the handheld equivalent of the SNES. The GBA’s library of games brought a newfound quality to handheld gaming, and many of its titles have stood the test of time swimmingly. Among the Game Boy Advance’s many accomplishments was that it introduced the world to the WarioWare series.

Released in 2003, Mega Microgames kicked off the WarioWare series. By throwing players into one series of seconds-long “microgames” after another, each of which only required a press of the A button or two, or a few touches of the D-pad to complete. As a series of microgames continues, they pick up in speed, testing the player’s reflexes.

In essence, WarioWare has always been a deconstruction of video games themselves, stripping away all of their complexities until only the bare minimum of what a video game is remains. It’s simplistic to the point of hilarity (an element that’s magnified by the often silly concepts and goofy graphics of the microgames themselves). WarioWare is a genius subversion of video games, presented in the most manic package possible.

The only real downside to Mega Microgames is – as the first game in the series – it shows its limitations when compared to its sequels (most specifically it’s GBA follow-up, WarioWare Twisted and WarioWare Gold on the 3DS). Mega Microgames – somewhat ironically – falls short of its successors by being the bare basics of the series, even if that “bare basics” element is the appeal of the series as a whole.

Simply put, Mega Microgames is WarioWare in its purest form, for better and (relatively) worse. You play through “chapters” of the game, each distinguished by a different character (with Wario serving as the opening and closing chapters, with the rest represented by the WarioWare cast first introduced here, like Mona, 9-Volt and Jimmy T.). Later entries in the series would better define each character’s chapters with specific themes (whether through twists to the gameplay or unique aesthetics), but here, the gimmicks of each character are a bit less defined.

9-Volt, for example, may have always been a Nintendo fanboy, but here, not all of his microgames use retro Nintendo games as their template. Meanwhile, the games that do use Nintendo’s past as a backdrop quickly begin appearing as other characters’ games as well. In fact, you’ll notice the same microgames getting recycled a lot sooner here than you would in later WarioWare entries, leaving you to wonder why there needed to be as many different character chapters as there are.

Playing through the story mode (if it can even be called that), probably won’t last over an hour. Thankfully, after you conquer a chapter, you can play through its games at your own leisure to go for a high score. Additionally, besting certain chapters will even unlock brand new games outside of those in the main game. So even if you can run through Mega Microgames, it still provides a decent amount of addicting gameplay nonetheless.

WarioWare Inc. Mega Microgames remains a lot of fun even today. The only thing preventing it from being more strongly recommended is that it (understandably) feels like an unpolished diamond in hindsight. Later entries would bring so much out of WarioWare’s brilliant concept of rapid-fire gauntlets of mindlessly simple games – both in terms of the number of microgames and variety in their gameplay – that Mega Microgames feels prototypical by comparison.

Mega Microgames kickstarted one of Nintendo’s most quietly beloved franchises, and gave the Wario character newfound life and purpose. Its successors may have added to the formula, but the original WarioWare still provides a good amount of fun.

 

7

Banjo-Kazooie Are in Super Smash Bros. Ultimate

Oh. My. Shatner.

They did it. They finally did it!

During Nintendo’s E3 Direct, it was revealed that Banjo-Kazooie will be joining the Super Smash Bros. roster sometime this Fall, complete with music by Grant Kirkhope and a Spiral Mountain stage.

Oh yeah, the Dragon Quest “Hero” was announced for a Summer release as well. But he’s not Banjo-Kazooie so he kind of got overshadowed.

This is… This is amazing! For years I (and so many others) have wanted, and hoped, and dreamed that this could be a possibility. Now our patience has paid off, and this dream has become a reality.

With the exception of Super Mario RPG’s Geno, I don’t think there’s another character left who has been so strongly requested for so long as Banjo-Kazooie. And now, after all this time, the bear and bird tandem finally join their rightful place among the Super Smash Bros. roster.

Now if we could just get Geno…

Here is the Banjo-Kazooie reveal trailer (admittedly, it is a little bit of a bummer it’s mostly a tweaked version of King K. Rool’s trailer, but I’m not about to let that dash any of my excitement).

Something About Mario RPGs

Earlier this year, I picked up the 3DS remake of Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story. But before I play through it, I remembered I (strangely) never beat the 2017 3DS remake of Superstar Saga. So I recently started a new file on that game (and have since beat it, and will review it once I play more of the remake’s exclusive “Minion Quest” mode). Not only did returning to Superstar Saga end up being an utter joy, but it also really, really made me miss what the Mario RPGs used to be.

It’s been ten years since the original release of Bowser’s Inside Story on the DS, and not counting the aforementioned 3DS remakes, that was the last time the Mario RPGs were truly great (I did enjoy Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle a great deal, but seeing as that was both a crossover and a strategy RPG, I guess it’s not quite what I’m talking about). And I really, really miss the days when the Mario RPGs were among the best things Nintendo had going for them.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars remains my favorite RPG of all time, and arguably my favorite game period. It perfectly combined the accessibility and fun of Mario with the depth and turn-based gameplay of RPGs, without sacrificing the quality of either of its halves. Although it tragically never received a proper sequel, the Square developed title did receive two spiritual successors created by Nintendo’s own internal studios.

Paper Mario simplified the formula a bit, but still made for a hefty adventure that boasted a unique art style, and saw Mario team up with party members based on the series’ iconic enemies. Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga was more focused on fast-paced action, and featured genuinely hilarious writing. Both of these Super Mario RPG spiritual successors would wind up becoming their own sub-series.

Paper Mario was followed-up by the critically-acclaimed Paper Mario: The Thousand-Year Door on the GameCube, while two Mario & Luigi sequels were released on the Nintendo DS: 2005’s Partners in Time, and 2009’s Bowser’s Inside Story. Of the lot, Partners in Time is the only one that fell short of the rest, though even it was still a good game in its own right (though I’m not complaining that the 3DS remakes went directly for the best M&L entries).

While it’s usually the Mario platformers and The Legend of Zelda that are held in the highest regard in Nintendo’s canon, the Mario RPGs were, more quietly, delivering experiences that were often just as good. And with their Nintendo mentality of “fun at all costs,” the Mario RPGs provided some of the most timeless games in the genre (Final Fantasy hasn’t aged so gracefully).

But then, in a creative move that truly defies all logic and reason, Nintendo decided to begin stripping away many of the elements that made the Mario RPGs so memorable. The third Paper Mario title, 2007’s Super Paper Mario, was still a fun game, but it removed the series’ turn-based structure in favor of a platformer that featured RPG elements. Not a bad idea in itself, and Super Paper Mario still retained an RPG-like story, but considering the main Mario series are platformers, did Nintendo really have to sacrifice Paper Mario to test out this idea?

Hey, at least Super Paper Mario was still a good game. And it was followed up by the aforementioned Bowser’s Inside Story. Little did we know that Bowser’s Inside Story would be a one-time return to form. A “last hoorah” if you will. Because after that we got the 3DS’s Paper Mario: Sticker Star, the first Mario RPG that could be considered a flat-out bad game.

Not that you could truly call Sticker Star an RPG. Sure, turn-based battles were back, but they were dictated entirely by consumable ‘sticker’ items. Every action you used in battle required these consumable items. And for victory, you didn’t get experience points and level up.

For winning battles, you were rewarded with either A) more stickers, or B) coins…to buy more stickers. It was a self-defeating concept. Why should I bother fighting and spending my stickers if the only reward is more stickers? And if you think you’re supposed to save up stickers for boss fights, that’s not it either. Bosses required specific stickers to be defeated, so it’s not like conserving and strategizing the stickers you’ve saved up even meant anything.

You know what’s even worse? Sticker Star not only had virtually no story to speak of, and no party members, but it removed the humorous writing the Mario RPGs were known for (Bowser, of all characters, never even spoke). Sticker Star also marked the beginning of the bizarre trend of Nintendo not allowing the Mario RPGs to feature original enemies, with only established baddies from the platformers showing up. Perhaps strangest of all, this was also when Nintendo started making every last Toad in the Mario RPGs just look like the generic “blue vest, red spots” Toads. When the previous RPGs gave us Toads of all shapes, sizes and crazy geddups, why take that away and effectively remove so much personality from the games?

And yet, this was the direction Nintendo decided to stick with. Sure, the next RPG in the Mario pipeline, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team (released on 3DS in 2013) was a step up in many ways (for one, it actually felt like an RPG again). But it also was, by a considerable margin, the most creatively bland M&L game up to that point. It did have some original enemies again, but the “Generic Toad” epidemic was still in full effect.

Then, in early 2016, the 3DS also saw the release of Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam. In concept, Paper Jam sounds like it should have been the shot in the arm the Mario RPGs needed, being a crossover between the two continuing Mario RPG series.

Sadly, the concept is the best part of the game, as Paper Jam was really just a watered down Mario & Luigi sequel that doubled down on Dream Team’s faults (Toads with zero distinction and personality, no more original enemies whatsoever). It just so happened to feature Paper Mario as a third party member. Considering how great the Mario & Luigi games once were, it was sad to see the series fall this far from grace.

To sum it up simply, Superstar Saga remains one of the funniest, most quotable games I’ve ever played, but I honestly can’t remember any bit of writing that came out of Paper Jam.

Later in 2016, we’d get the last new Mario RPG so far (again, unless we count Mario + Rabbids), Paper Mario: Color Splash on Wii U. Despite fans wanting Nintendo to return to the turn-based, actually-an-RPG style of the first two Paper Marios for years, Nintendo decided to go all WWE and turn a def ear on fans. They actually made the game a follow-up to Sticker Star’s gameplay.

Yeah, no kidding. I miss unique Toads.

To its credit, at least Color Splash had some humor and personality to it (though the Toads remain generic, and new enemies still weren’t allowed), and some of the gameplay could be fun. But there still weren’t any party members, and the battle system remained largely pointless (though the game’s “cards” were an improvement over their sticker predecessors, seeing as you could power up cards by painting them, and you could gradually increase your maximum paint through battles, so there was some semblance of progression). So Color Splash was essentially a version of Sticker Star that wasn’t completely broken. But that’s not exactly “on par with the Mario platformers and The Legend of Zelda” now, is it?

Again, one could argue that Mario + Rabbids Kingdom Battle set things in a right direction for Mario RPGs (and it’s certainly a better game than anything involving the Rabbids has any right to be), but you could also argue it should go in a whole other category. Even still, as enjoyable as Mario + Rabbids is, I still wouldn’t put it on the same level as the Mario RPGs of old.

Thankfully, the fact that the 3DS now houses Superstar Saga and Bowser’s Inside Story means we have access to brilliant Mario RPGs on contemporary hardware. But it’s kind of sad that Nintendo had to resort to past success in order to do so. Don’t get me wrong, the remakes are great, but it would be great if we could also get a brand new Mario RPG that could live up to its legacy.

Super Mario RPG, Paper Mario, Superstar Saga, Thousand-Year Door and Bowser’s Inside Story are widely (and wisely) considered the top-tier Mario RPGs. But the sad thing is it seems like Nintendo has no plans on making a Mario RPG like they used to.

What’s particularly sad about that scenario is that the Mario franchise on the whole has really never been better. The release of Super Mario Galaxy in 2007 began a Mario renaissance that continues to this day. Between it, Galaxy 2, 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Super Mario Maker and Odyssey, the Mario franchise hasn’t lost any steam. And while Bowser’s Inside Story was released within this timeframe, that was it for the RPGs.

For whatever reason, Nintendo decided to strip away the things that made Mario RPGs so memorable in the first place. And instead of listening to fans and changing course (as they have in other areas in recent years), they’ve just gone into overdrive in regards to watering down the once great sub-genre. If one were only to have played Color Splash and Paper Jam, they’d never know that Mario RPGs were, at one point, among Nintendo’s finest achievements.

Here’s hoping that the recent remakes of Superstar Saga and Bowser’s Inside Story remind Nintendo of what Mario RPGs once were, and help them figure out how they can recreate that magic.

Whether its a worthwhile Mario & Luigi, a Paper Mario that returns to its roots, doing the impossible and teaming with Square to make a direct sequel to Super Mario RPG, or something new entirely, a new Mario RPG that can live up to the legacy of its best predecessors is something Nintendo sorely needs.

Wario Land 4 Review

*Review based on Wario Land 4’s Wii U Virtual Console release*

Here’s an unpopular opinion: The original Game Boy hasn’t aged well. Sure, there are a few games from the original Game Boy that hold up decently (namely Game Boy Color exclusives), but for the most part, its games represent a time when the convenience of gaming on the go came at the expense of quality. The Game Boy Advance, however, marked a time when handheld games began to capture a more timeless quality. The GBA was the SNES to the Game Boy’s NES, with its predecessor feeling archaic (save for a  handful of titles) while it itself holds up so well, it doesn’t feel like a retro console at all.

Case in point: Wario Land. Wario Lands 2 and 3 on the original Game Boy were once hailed as some of the best handheld games of all time, and while they’re still decent to play, they’re getting on a bit. Wario Land 4, on Game Boy Advance, however, is still a worthwhile platformer today. Perhaps not an all-time great, but it’s certainly not disappointing to revisit.

Like its predecessors, Wario Land 4 is all about the greedy anti-Mario’s quest for treasure. This time, Wario is pillaging an ancient pyramid in the middle of a jungle, but gets trapped inside and has to find a way to escape, all while collecting as much treasure as possible, of course.

Wario retains his brutish strength from the past games, with his charging attack, ground pound and ability to pick up and throw enemies intact. Additionally, by holding the R button, Wario can run at such a great speed, that with enough momentum, his hard noggin can break through blocks that even his charge attack can’t budge. Similarly, if he ground pounds from a great enough height, he can also destroy these stronger blocks (there’s even one puzzle in the game that cleverly combines this with a teleporter, meaning that Wario was thinking with portals even before Portal).

The structure of the game takes a different approach from its predecessors, however. There’s a quick tutorial that shows you the ropes of the game (it’s actually one of the better tutorial levels I’ve seen, effectively condensing all the game’s elements to their bare basics, thus giving you insight to the entire adventure ahead). After that, the game features four worlds, which you can play in any order you see fit (and if you get stuck in one world, you can leave it and do another for the time being). The worlds themselves follow a more linear structure, however, with each featuring four stages and a boss fight at the end.

Stages work a bit differently here than they did in past Wario games (and most platformers in general, for that matter): Wario searches through the levels collecting treasures, but instead of a traditional goal found at the end of a stage, each level features a statue of a blue frog (why not?) that, when jumped on, activates a timer. With the time ticking down, Wario has to make his way back to the beginning of the stage, where a portal now waits to take Wario back to the hub. Naturally, Wario gets to keep every treasure he collects if he makes it back before time runs out.

While most of the jewels and coins scattered about add to Wario’s score, each level also contains three unique treasures: One is a bird with a key for a beak (again, why not?) which is needed to unlock the next level in that given world. Another treasure is a tablet separated in four pieces found in golden treasure chests, with all four pieces in all four stages needing to be found in order to open the boss door. Finally, a well-hidden music CD can be found and subsequently played in the sound room of the pyramid’s overworld.

While these items add some extra depth to the stages, it’s kind of a shame that – aside from the CDs – they’re required to complete the game. Had there been more non-story items, Wario Land 4 would have a fun staying power for completionists, instead of most return visits to levels being out of necessity for having missed a key or one of the four tablet pieces the first time around.

The levels themselves are well designed and creative. It’s fun to search through them for treasures, and they never feel so labyrinthian as to be confusing. The stages are also less bland than in the past few Wario Lands, with fun gimmicks added into the mix. One of my favorite stages is built around knocking over stacks of dominoes, then racing to the end of a room before the final domino falls and hits a switch that closes off a treasure.

Level design is always a make or break factor for platformers, and the clever structure and gimmicks of the stages of Wario Land 4 ascend it above its predecessors. There are, however, two notable elements that prevent Wario Land 4 from reaching its full potential.

The first such issue is that, while Wario retains his ability to gain special powers after being struck by certain enemy attacks (swelling up and floating like a balloon when stung by a bee, sliding across surfaces when frozen by an enemy, etc.), Wario is no longer invincible as he was in Wario Lands 2 and 3. In the past games Wario would gain such abilities from almost every foe (with the exceptions merely robbing Wario of coins), here you rarely know when an enemy attack will give Wario a power, and when it will just take health away. It unfortunately gives the game a gambling element that wasn’t present in the past.

The other issue is the process of fighting the bosses of each world. Not only do you have to find all of the aforementioned tablet pieces in each level just to face them, but every boss also features a time limit. If you take too long to defeat a boss, you’ll miss out on the opportunities to claim all of their treasure chests. That’s not so bad on its own, as before every boss fight, Wario has the opportunity to purchase special items (from what looks like Mr. Game & Watch), which are then used to damage the upcoming boss before the fight begins. Some items will do marginal damage, while others will nearly take out the boss on their own. That may sound like a cheat, but considering this is a Wario game, it’s actually a fitting element that compliments Wario’s character and humor.

None of that is a problem on its own. The whole boss process becomes an issue, however, by the simple fact that you can’t just purchase the boss items with the treasure Wario collects along his adventure. Instead, you purchase the items with special tokens. You get these tokens by spending your points/treasure to play one of three mini-games located before the boss fight of each world. You are then awarded tokens based on your performance in these mini-games. The problem is that acquiring these tokens can take a fair amount of time, and with how slowly Wario chips away at the bosses’ health on his own, you’re going to want to spend the extra tokens for the more powerful items to beat the bosses as quickly as possible. So if you want to claim every boss treasure and complete the game at one-hundred percent, you have to repeat the process all over again if you can’t beat the boss fast enough the first time around. Some might say that’s a fair price to pay since the game essentially gives you the ability to cheat, but buying these items is optional anyway. So why not just use your points to buy the tokens and skip the mini-games? It’s just a tedious process that seems counterproductive.

Aside from those elements though, Wario Land 4 remains a winner in most respects. Wario himself controls better than ever, with his every action feeling far smoother than in past games. The level design finds some fun and creative ways to mix up the formula. The game still looks great with its colorful graphics and vibrant animations, and the soundtrack stands tall above its predecessors, meaning that collecting those CDs is worth the effort.

It may not be among the best games on the Game Boy Advance, but Wario Land 4 is another testament that the GBA is when handheld gaming truly made it.

 

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