Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64) Review

SSB64

Super Smash Bros. quickly became one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. And how could it not? It’s a fighting series where Nintendo’s most beloved characters duke it out with sumo-style rules, and Mario Kart-esque weapons. But after the sequels built so strongly on the series’ formula, going back to the original may come us a slight disappointment. While the 1999 original Super Smash Bros. remains a fun game in its own right, it feels more than a little empty when compared to any of its sequels.

As stated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game where – rather than depleting your opponents’ health – the goal is to accumulate enough damage to send them flying off the screen, thus eliminating them. It’s a simple enough setup, but it has proven so much fun that the series has produced some of the most insanely replayable games of all time.

On the downside, much of the depth found in the gameplay wouldn’t arrive until the GameCube sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee would add more moves, more specials, and tighter mechanics. Brawl would add Final Smashes and some really creative movesets. And the recent Wii U and 3DS editions add depth and polish to pretty much every facet of the gameplay.

By comparison, the N64 original feels barren. Here, the characters only have three special attacks (performed with B, B + up, and B + down), as opposed to the four found in Melee and subsequent titles. Even more notably, the number of standard attacks each character has is incredibly limited. There are no Smash attacks or more intricate moves. You can’t midair dodge, or perform very many fancy combos. You only have a few directional ground and midair attacks, and the aforementioned specials. The gameplay is still fun at its core, but knowing just how much depth the sequels added to the equation, it’s easy to feel that the original Smash Bros. is a bit dated.

On top of that, some of the mechanics also haven’t aged too well. Here, opponents will be sent flying off-stage with relatively little damage. In later entries, opponents usually need to be well above the one-hundred damage mark before you can think about sending them packing. But here, you can defeat enemies after having only dealt about half of that damage. This leaves many battles feeling incredibly short. Another downside is just how slow the characters move. Many people complained that the characters in Brawl moved too slowly, but I might assume those same people hadn’t played the original in a good, long while. Here, the characters move so slowly and jump so floaty it’s hard to complain about Brawl’s movements by comparison.

SSB64On the bright side, the original Super Smash Bros. featured an indisputable roster of deserving characters. From the get-go, players can select Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Yoshi, Samus, Kirby, Fox McCloud and Pikachu, while the secret characters include Luigi, Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon and Ness. It’s an incredibly small roster compared to the sequels, but it also benefits by predating the clones, self-damaging characters, and seemingly random character selections found in later games. Every character here strongly represents Nintendo’s diverse franchises, and you can’t really complain about the the character inclusions (though it is a shame the low memory of the N64 meant that Princess Peach, Bowser and King Dedede were left out of the mix until later entries).

Super Smash Bros. also featured a good number of fun items and a small but creative selection of stages, each one boasting their own gimmicks. There are also some additional modes to be found, though understandably, there’s not nearly as much content as there would be in future installments.

Single player modes are limited to an arcade-style “story mode,” where you battle in a series of fights until you make your way to the Master Hand, and the mini-games Break the Target and Board the Platforms. They aren’t much, and once you’ve played through them to unlock the secret characters, you’ll probably be sticking with the multiplayer battles.

The original Super Smash Bros. is still a fun game, particularly with a full group of four players. But it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as any of its sequels. The game feels prototypical and a bit shallow, and it simply isn’t nearly as fun as Melee, Brawl or the Wii U and 3DS editions. It does hold up better than many of the other multiplayer titles on the N64, however.

If you want to play a more definitive and deep Smash Bros. experience, stick to the Wii U version. But if you simply want to have some old fashioned, multiplayer fun, you could do a whole lot worse.

 

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Metroid: Other M Review

Metroid: Other M

When Metroid: Other M was released on the Nintendo Wii in 2010, it looked to bring a greater emphasis to storytelling and character development to the Metroid series. Up to that point, every Metroid release was a quality title to one degree or another (the original Metroid may have aged poorly, but there’s no denying the influence of many of its ideas). So a story-focused Metroid title seemed like a promising concept. Unfortunately, Other M proved that anything is possible by delivering the first bad game in the Metroid series. It’s such a misstep that Nintendo has seemed at a loss as to how to salvage the series almost six years later.

Chronologically, Other M takes place after the beloved Nintendo classic, Super Metroid. After having defeated Mother Brain with the help of the last Metroid, which sacrificed itself to save Samus in that game’s finale. The effect of the baby Metroid’s sacrifice seems to have had a deep impact on Samus, as she seems to regularly reflect on the incident with one needless, exposition-laden monologue after another.

Samus receives a distress signal coming from a space station called the “Bottle Ship,” and investigates. There she encounters many of her old allies from the Galactic Federation military, from her days before bounty hunting. She becomes embroiled in the Galactic Federation’s mission to investigate the Bottle Ship, as the facility is suspected of conducting illegal bioweapon experiments.

The meeting between Samus and her old military buddies is used as a means to give us insight into Samus’ past, but all it ends up doing is contribute to Other M’s devolving of Samus’ character.

The Samus of Other M all but destroys the intrigue of the character. Long-considered to be one of the strongest heroines in gaming, Other M reduces Samus into a whiny, insecure crybaby who lacks any independence.

You can sum up this evisceration of character by the way Samus gains additional weapons and abilities. In most Metroid games, Samus finds upgrades to her armor and weapons throughout the game world. Here, Samus still supposedly has all of the abilities she gained in Super Metroid, but she denies herself access to them until her former commanding officer gives her the okay to do so. Samus even endures health-depleting heat in lava-filled craters for a good while before she is given permission to activate the heat-resistant capabilities of her suit. Why Samus lacks the independence to activate such abilities on her own in order to save her life in a hostile environment destroys both her character and logic.

It also doesn’t help that Samus speaks in the most lethargic, monotonous, and poorly-acted voice imaginable. She also seems to constantly be talking about how she’s feeling about every situation as it happens, because who needs subtlety?

It’s some of the worst character building in video game history, made all the worse by the fact that it diminishes an iconic video game character so greatly.

I seem to be rambling on about the story and character development (rather, the lack thereof), but how does Metroid: Other M hold up as a game? Well the good news is it’s better than the narrative aspects. The bad news is that’s only because of how abysmal said narrative is.

Metroid: Other MThe gameplay works as a third-person action game, with Samus being controlled by holding the Wii remote sideways. Samus’ standard actions include jumping, shooting, and turning into her morph ball form to plant bombs and squeeze into small spaces.

Additionally, players can go into first-person mode by pointing the Wii remote forward. When in first-person mode, Samus can look around to investigate, lock on to enemies, and shoot missiles. But she can’t move in first-person view.

This makes the gameplay feel slow, clunky, and segmented. You’ll frequently be fighting waves of enemies (with many of them taking far too long to kill), where you’ll be charging your laser repeatedly, then switching to first-person view to fire a missile. It not only works awkwardly, but one of the seemingly countless enemies can easily hit you when in first-person. The combat segments are just overlong and riddled in poor mechanics.

To pour more salt on the gameplay wound, players recharge Samus’ missiles by pointing the Wii remote upward and holding the A button. This same action can be used to heal some of Samus’ health when she’s in critical condition. There are so many instances where you’ll be trying to charge your missiles, refill health, or go into first-person view only to do one of the undesired actions that it becomes exhausting.

Other M also feels incredibly straightforward when compared to the Metroid titles that preceded it. There’s a bit of backtracking to be done, but for the most part you’ll just feel like you’re constantly pushing forward, with the exploration aspects the series is famous for being nowhere to be found.

Perhaps the worst part of the gameplay are moments that force (yes, force) players into first-person view so they can search an area for a clue of where to go next. Not only can the player not progress until they find the item in question, but said items are largely left unexplained to the player, and the objects you’re usually looking for tend to be the size of a single pixel, making it easy to get stuck in these moments for up to ten minutes at a time!

While the storytelling is atrocious and the gameplay is frustrating, Other M can at the very least boast about its production values. The game was one of the better looking Wii titles, and you’d be forgiven for thinking the cinematics came from a PS3 or Xbox 360 title. Though it’s hard to care too much about how fancy the cinematics look when the story they’re telling is such a stinker (not to mention they’re unskippable).

Metroid: Other MIt’s a great irony that Samus has never looked more beautiful than she does in Other M, considering this game is the one blemish on Metroid’s record. Some of Nintendo’s critics say the Big N no longer cares about the series, but I think they simply want Other M to become a distant enough memory so the series can pick itself up.

You could find worse games than Metroid: Other M. But you’d be hard pressed to find another game that bares the name of one of Nintendo’s most revered franchises that fails so devastatingly.

 

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Metroid Review

Metroid

For thirty years, the Metroid series has been one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. Many consider it to be one of the “Big Three” Nintendo properties, alongside Super Mario and The Legend of Zelda (in all fairness, Donkey Kong should probably be included as well and make it a “Big Four”). Like many of Nintendo’s ongoing series, Metroid got its start on the NES. Revisiting the original Metroid today comes with some good and bad. On the plus side, when playing Metroid today, it’s obvious to see how many of its elements continue to inspire game design even today. On the down side, many of the game’s elements have aged rather poorly, making it seem nearly obsolete in the face of its sequels.

Metroid is a 2D action game, but unlike Nintendo’s platform-oriented Super Mario series, Metroid is far more open-ended. Samus, the protagonist bounty hunter, must traverse a single labyrinthian world on her quest to destroy the Metroids and the evil Mother Brain.

Samus begins her quest with little more than the ability to jump and shoot lasers from her arm canon. Throughout the game, Samus can find items that give her additional abilities, like missiles, more powerful and longer-ranged lasers, the power to morph into a ball and plant bombs, extensions to her health, and others. In one of the game’s great innovations, there are many areas that require specific abilities in order to be progressed, making Metroid a trailblazer in video game backtracking.

Unfortunately, while Mario’s earliest entries remain timeless, the years have been wearing on Metroid in a number of ways. Perhaps the most prominent sign of the game’s prototypical nature is its lack of a map. Metroid is a game that is built around a labyrinth, and requires players to revisit areas, yet they are left to memory alone to remember where they’ve been and figure out where to go next. Considering that the game’s 8-bit limitations can make many areas look similar to one another, it can lead to many instances of accidental revisits. It can become downright confusing at times.

Then there’s the difficulty. Samus begins the game with thirty hit points, which can initially be increased to ninety-nine by picking up health drops from enemies. Finding some of the aforementioned hidden items can grant additional sets of ninety-nine hit points, so Samus’ increasing health means there’s no need for extra lives. But before you think Samus is some kind of unstoppable tank, it needs to be said that many enemies can be hard to kill, do a notable amount of damage to Samus, and have hard to figure out patterns. Combine that with a number of moments where enemies flood the screen (slowing the action in the process), and you may think Samus is a lot more fragile than her amor may suggest.

What’s worse is that, after every death, Samus’ health reverts back to thirty. There are certain ‘checkpoints’ if you continue playing right after dying, but if they’re next to a more difficult area, you may want to find a good spot to farm health drops before moving on, since it can be frustrating tackling these areas with so few hit points.

MetroidThe game has no save feature, instead opting for a password system. Thankfully, if you’re playing through the Wii U’s Virtual Console, the password system becomes entirely unnecessary, as you can end the game at any point and start back right where you left off.

Metroid was also made famous for speed-running, with completing the game under certain time limits altering Samus’ action in the end. Take too long and she won’t even look at the player. Finish fast enough and she removes her helmet to reveal she’s a woman (her identity may be common knowledge now, but back in the day the reveal was revelatory). And if you manage to beat the entire adventure in an hour, Samus will go all-out and reveal her bikini body. Though considering she’s an 8-bit sprite here, her appearance is hardly reward enough for the hefty task.

There’s certainly still a place in history for Metroid. Its ideas were ahead of its time, its heroine is one of the best in gaming, and the music – even in these 8-bit days – displayed how Nintendo games took video game soundtracks to the next level. But it would be a lie to say that the original Metroid holds up nearly as well as many other Nintendo classics. And if one were to compare it with its Super NES sequel, well, there is no comparison.

Whether it’s Super Metroid’s perfecting of the series’ ideas, or Zero Mission’s re-imagining of this very adventure, Metroid’s own sequels have more or less turned the original into something of a relic.

Yes, Metroid was a work of genius. But its genius shines much brighter in the games that succeeded it.

 

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