Mario & Wario Review

Before Satoshi Tajiri created a little game called Pokemon, he worked on various other Nintendo games, including Mario spinoffs. Perhaps the strangest game Satoshi Tajiri worked on – and one of the strangest Mario games at that – is Mario & Wario, a puzzle title that was released on the Super Famicom in 1993, but never saw an international release.

Adding to the game’s obscurity is the fact that it is controlled with the SNES mouse, a peripheral so seldom used that many still believe Mario Paint was the only title to utilize it. Despite the game’s title, the player doesn’t control Mario directly in Mario & Wario. You see, the game revolves around the utterly bonkers premise of Wario blinding Mario by – and I kid you not – throwing a bucket on his head (from an airplane, no less). The player then controls a fairy named Wanda, moving her around like the cursor of a computer, and clicking on certain areas to create blocks and platforms for Mario to walk across, or to click on Mario himself to change his direction, with the goal of each stage being to avoid danger and reach Luigi within a time limit, with Luigi then removing the bucket from Mario’s head.

Basically, it’s like the Mario version of Lemmings, but even more bizarre given the setup. Of course, the object on Mario’s head isn’t always a bucket (the item changes depending on which world is currently being played), and in fact it isn’t always Mario that Wanda has to guide to safety (the player can also select Princess Peach and Yoshi, with the former moving slower than Mario and being easy for beginners, while the latter moves the fastest and is essentially hard mode). So the title of ‘Mario & Wario’ isn’t quite accurate.

The game provides eight worlds from the start, which can be selected in any order, Mega Man style, though it probably is still best if first-time players stick to doing them in order, as each subsequent world provides its own twists to the formula, and World 1 is essentially the tutorial (which is a bit disappointing. I feel a tutorial should be its own separate thing). World 9 is unlocked supposedly after completion of all eight others (though in my second playthrough, I played the later worlds first and World 9 became available early. I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen or my earlier playthrough unlocked that option). After World 9, the player will move on to the tenth and final World, which will throw everything at the player.

As stated, each world provides new challenges, like timed blocks (which will turn into solid platforms for only a limited time), ice which makes Mario & company slip and slide, slime that slows them down, and enemies that may throw projectiles at the Mushroom Kingdom heroes. The way in which each world changes up the gameplay and continuously adds new elements keeps the game fresh and is true to the spirit of the Mario franchise. Though there are some stages that get a tad cumbersome, like when they’ll place multiple vertical-moving enemies/obstacles close together, leaving the player to repeatedly click on Mario in between said objects to continuously change his direction since you can’t make him stop outright. Things like that feel more like a test of patience than puzzle-solving.

Each world consists of ten stages, and a final showdown with Wario. Unfortunately, these ‘showdowns’ are probably the biggest disappointments in the game. They aren’t actual boss fights, because Wario can’t damage you or anything. He just flies back and forth across the screen in his airplane, and the player simply has to keep clicking on him for Wanda to damage his plane and earn coins. And they’re all like this, there’s no variety in them. With all the varied elements that get thrown into the stages, it would have been nice if the developers had implemented an array of legitimate boss fights at the end of each world.

If you’re wondering what the coins are for, they actually play the same role as in most Mario games, with every 100 coins granting an additional life. Coins can also be found in Coin Blocks, which Wanda needs to click on this time around, since Mario’s obscured vision apparently also prevents him from jumping. The player can gain also gain more lives by guiding Mario (or Peach, or Yoshi) into collecting the four stars scattered across each stage, or by picking up the rare one-up mushroom. You can also add more time on the clock by collecting an equally infrequent super mushroom (this has to be the only instance in the history of the franchise in which stars are a far more common collectible than mushrooms).

This is unfortunately another letdown with the game. In the eight standard worlds, the player can restart from the same stage in the same world even after a game over, leaving you to wonder what importance the extra lives actually have. Well, it’s important to hold onto those extra lives until the endgame, because if you get a game over at any point in world 9 or 10, you have to start back from the beginning of world 9. 

Unfortunately, this can become pretty darn tedious. Mega Man does something similar, with the player needing to start over from the beginning of Dr. Wily’s castle should they get a game over after the eight standard stages have been completed. But there it’s more understandable because it’s an action game. It’s like, okay, you beat me this time, but now I’m going to pick myself up and dust myself off for the rematch. But here in a puzzle game, it’s kind of annoying. As if you were taking a quiz, got every answer correct except the last one, and then needed to go back and redo the questions you already got right just for another chance at the one you got wrong. I can’t help but feel that maybe this game didn’t need a lives system, and it would have been best had collecting the stars unlocked secret levels or something.

Still, even with the game’s simplicity and its drawbacks, it’s still a lot of fun. The puzzle designs are clever, the graphics are crips and colorful, the music is fun, the gameplay is always changing things up, and the sheer absurdity of the concept itself is charming. Despite all of the game’s text being in English, Mario & Wario was never officially released outside of Japan. But if you have a Super Famicom, Mario & Wario isn’t too pricey or hard to find, and probably worth a look. It may not be one of Mario’s finest adventures, but he’s certainly never had another one quite like it.

 

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I Has a Super Famicom!

“Behold, my Super Famicom! … And cool posters!”

That’s right, Kevin! I am now the proud owner of the Japanese version of my favorite retro console, the Super Famicom!

With this purchase, I can now play (and subsequently review) SNES games that were only released in Japan. Not sure I’ll be doing RPGs though, considering the story focused nature of the genre means reading the on-screen text is pretty important, and I can’t read Japanese so…yeah, you see the dilemma there. Though I have long-since owned a copy of the Japanese version of Super Mario RPG, so I might have a go with that one, since I love/know the game so well anyway.

My long-time readers may remember that I have reviewed a Super Famicom title in the past in the form of Tetris Battle Gaiden. But to clarify, it was my brother’s Super Famicom and game I played. Now I have my own Super Famicom, which means I can review more of such games.

Will I be getting the Japanese versions of any other retro consoles? Probably not anytime soon. Like Super Mario RPG is to its genre, the Super Nintendo holds a special place for me in terms of retro consoles. So this is something I made an exception for. I’m not ruling out the possibility of buying more Japanese retro consoles, but it’s not on the cards as of now. The Super NES is just a timeless masterpiece of a console, so it gets the special treatment.

So yeah, on top of all the other reviews I’m falling behind on, I now have a whole other category added to my lineup…

Hong Kong ’97 Review

There are varying degrees of bad games. There are games with glaring flaws, but also boast enough redeeming qualities to make them worth a look. Then there are games that are mostly bad, but have a few qualities that show that, at one point, the game may have had some promise. After that there are games so bad you might get some entertainment out how hilariously terrible they are. Those are followed by games so atrocious that it’s no longer funny. They’re just flat-out broken.

Below all of that, we have Hong Kong ’97.

If you’ve never heard of it – something you should be thankful for, and I’m sorry if I’m serving as your introduction to it – there’s a good reason for that. Hong Kong ’97’s release is still one of gaming’s great mysteries. All that’s known is that in 1995, a company known as HappySoft LTD desperately tried to get their one and only title into video game stores as an unofficial release on the Super Famicom (the Japanese Super Nintendo), but that few retailers (if any) would take it.

Years passed, and along came the internet, which allowed gamers to finally satisfy whatever sick curiosity they may have had for the game. Whether through questionable downloading, or by indie retailers putting the game on an SNES cartridge as some kind of joke, people were finally able to see exactly why no one wanted to sell it to begin with. Hong Kong ’97 is abysmal in every regard.

Honestly, Hong Kong ’97 is difficult to describe in mere words. Just about every aspect of the game is as baffling and absurd as they are atrociously designed. But this is a review, so we have to give it a shot.

First, let’s start with the music. As soon as you start the game (and I mean as soon as you start the game), you are bombarded with a five-second loop of the Chinese song “I Love Beijing Tiananmen” repeatedly. It never stops. Through the opening cutscene to a game over, and everything in between, the first two lines of I Love Beijing Tiananmen are constantly looped, without any break or pause under any circumstance. Also, it’s the only element of sound in the game, as there are no other music tracks, and zero sound effects to speak of.

As dumbfounding as this audio “quality” is, it’s actually the least of Hong Kong ’97’s slip-ups. Next, let’s talk about that notorious opening cinematic.

“Desperate much?”

After multiple screens of text asking retailers that HappySoft will buy and sell games, you are introduced to the “story” of the game. In 1997, the Transfer of Sovereignty over Hong Kong from the United Kingdom to China is taking place (an accurate prediction on the game’s part). To counter the threat of Chinese rule, the Hong Kong government assigns Chin (represented by a stock photo of Jackie Chan) – an unspecified relative of Bruce Lee – to wipe out “All 1.2 billion f***in’ ugly reds.”

Wait, that’s not all.

To combat Chin, the Chinese government is researching a means to take the deceased Chinese leader Tong Shao Ping (represented by a stock photo of real-life, former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping, who was still alive at the time of the game’s release), and transform him into an “ultimate weapon.”

My words simply can’t do this intro justice. This opening cinematic is just so absurd on so many levels that it has to be seen to be believed.

“This picture is beyond a thousand words.”

After the opening, the “game” immediately and abruptly begins without warning. Players take control of Chin in what basically looks like a parody of the shoot-em-up genre. Chin throws nonspecific white balls at enemies, who appear from the top of the screen. Occasionally, car enemies will appear from the sides of the screen. Defeat three cars (something that takes about a minute and a half), and the “ultimate weapon” Tong Shao Ping appears (still little more than the same photo of Deng Xiaoping’s head from the intro). Defeat Tong Shao Ping, and everything starts over. The gameplay (I use that word very loosely) is just an asinine, endless loop, much like the music.

Weirder still, the backgrounds that the action takes place on are all random stock photos, ranging from Maoist propaganda to the Coca-Cola logo (of which I doubt Coco-Cola gave any consent).

The bizarre visuals don’t stop there. Every enemy you defeat turns into a poorly-cropped photo of a nuclear explosion, with Tong Shao Ping exploding into dozens of square-contained mushroom clouds. It’s downright laughable.

Oh, and should you get hit even once, you are immediately (IMMEDIATELY) taken to the game over screen, which has got to be Hong Kong ’97’s most tasteless element (and that’s saying something).

Hong Kong ’97’s game over screen is notorious for showing what appears to be a real-life crime scene photo of a body, due to the date and time being featured in the corner of the picture (though the horrendous pixelation makes it difficult to discern the more graphic aspects of the photo, thankfully). Call me overly sensitive, but this isn’t a history book or something where the use of such a photo would have any kind of context. Having a photo like this in a game is just distasteful.

After the offensive game over screen, you go back to the opening of the game (the part where HappySoft is desperate to buy and sell games). You can speed up the screens of the intro, but you can’t skip it outright. Get hit just once and you have to view it all over again.

There’s really nothing else to say. As a game, Hong Kong ’97 is as poorly-designed as they come. It doesn’t have any redeeming qualities. It’s empty, shallow and broken. But what makes Hong Kong ’97 all the worse is how distasteful it is: the desperate advertising in the opening, using brand logos and celebrity likenesses without any permission, and worst of all, using what is probably a real photo of a violent crime scene as a game over screen make Hong Kong ’97 a “game” that knows no shame.

Up until this point, my rating scale has remained a 1 through 10 system. But Hong Kong ’97 has broken me and my rating system. Hong Kong ’97 deserves nothing more than nothing.

 

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Tetris Battle Gaiden Review

Tetris Battle Gaiden

Sometimes, the simplest video games are the best ones. Look no further for a testament to this than Tetris, the original falling-block puzzler which remains one of the most timeless classics in the medium. Tetris is essentially perfect as is, but its iconic status (as well as its simple formula) also means that other games have tried to put their own spin on its gameplay. One of the better of these Tetris spinoffs is also one of the most obscure, and comes in the form of Tetris Battle Gaiden, a puzzle game released exclusively on the Japanese Super Nintendo, the Super Famicom.

This Japan exclusive, released in 1993, features the same addicting gameplay as the perennial classic, with the same exact block shapes that the players must construct in such a way as to complete a row, which eliminates those blocks and prevents them from stacking too high. If the blocks reach the top of the screen, you lose.

Tetris Battle Gaiden changes thing up with one simple yet profound addition to the formula: magic spells.

In Tetris Battle Gaiden, players can select a small variety of cute, colorful characters (like a ninja, a wolfman, a princess, and a strange rabbit-like creature, to name a few), each one boasting four different magic spells.

Tetris Battle GaidenSpells are used by collecting orb-like crystals during the gameplay. These crystals are found on some of the falling blocks, and if you manage to eliminate a row of blocks that houses a crystal, you gain that crystal. Casting spells is performed (somewhat strangely) by pressing up on the D-pad. If you have only one crystal, your character will use their level 1 spell. Two crystals for level 2, three for level 3, and four for level 4.

These spells all work to either aide you or hinder your opponent. The Wolfman, for example, can make his opponent’s blocks fall in slow-motion for a short time, while the Princess can duplicate the current block setup of her opponent.

The spells are a whole lot of fun, and come complete with fun little animations for each individual spell for each character. But these spells also work as something of a double-edged sword, which prevents them from being too overpowered. For example, if the Wolfman slows down an opponent whose stacks of blocks aren’t as high as his own, it means the Wolfman has to work twice as fast as the other player if he hopes to eliminate his own blocks. And should the Princess’ opponent have a higher stack of blocks, it’s obviously not a great idea to duplicate it.

This may sound like a small addition to the classic Tetris formula, but it really does add a new level of competitiveness and strategy to the equation. Not to mention it’s one of the very few instances in which selecting a different character in a puzzle game actually makes a difference to gameplay.

Tetris Battle GaidenThere are some minor annoyances with the game, like the inability to select the background stage or music (it simply goes with the stage and music of the character selected by player 2). Nothing major, but the ability to actually select the background visuals and music would have been nice, especially the music, since the soundtrack is insanely catchy and fun.

Tetris Battle Gaiden may not reinvent the formula, but it puts a fresh twist on an all-time classic and gives it a whole new dimension. It’s an incredibly addictive puzzle game that makes for some terrific multiplayer fun. If you can somehow get a hold of a Super Famicom, Tetris Battle Gaiden is a must-have.

 

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