Tetris Attack Review

In 1995, Nintendo released Panel De Pon on the Super Famicom. It was something akin to an inverse Tetris. A falling-block puzzle game where the blocks ascended from the bottom of the screen, as opposed to falling from the top. In 1996, Panel De Pon was brought stateside under the name Tetris Attack, swapping out the original Panel De Pon characters with a motif based on Yoshi’s Island. The game was later re-released on the Nintendo 64 with yet another new title, Pokemon Puzzle League, using characters and visuals from the Pokemon anime. While Pokemon Puzzle League is the version that has seen subsequent releases through Nintendo’s downloadable services, the Yoshi’s Island aesthetic makes Tetris Attack the most endearing version of this overlooked gem of a puzzler.

As stated, despite having the name Tetris in its title, Tetris Attack works as a reversed version of the falling-block puzzle genre made famous by Tetris. Here, the blocks all rise up from the bottom of the screen. Nor do these blocks come in different shapes. Instead, they are all bricks adorned with different colors and symbols (like red blocks with hearts, yellow blocks with stars, and blue blocks with diamonds.

The player moves a cursor around, which looks like two squares clumped together. The player moves the cursor up, down, left and right with the D-pad, with the A and B buttons being used to swap whatever two blocks are within the cursor. By moving the blocks around, players are supposed to line up at least three blocks of the same color (either horizontally or vertically) in order to eliminate them and prevent the blocks from reaching the top of the screen, which results in a game over.

But wait, there’s another twist to the formula at play. If you manage to chain four or five blocks of the same color together, or get an ongoing combo going, you’ll drop what’s called a “garbage block” on your opponent. Garbage blocks make things more difficult for whoever ends up with them. Players eliminate the garbage blocks by completing a series of blocks adjacent to the garbage block, which then turns into a series of regular blocks. Additionally, rare exclamation point blocks may appear, and if you manage to chain them, you’ll drop a metal garbage block on your opponent, which is even tougher to get rid of.

Like most of the great puzzle games, the gameplay is instantly understandable, but so well executed that you could play it for hours at a time. Tetris Attack will have you thinking and strategizing on the fly, racking your brain to find the quickest combos possible. It’s insanely fun.

Tetris Attack features a host of different modes, such as endless (where you simply play and rack up points until the blocks inevitably take over), and the oddly-named Versus Mode – which is more of a story mode – where players control Yoshi as he battles his friends (such as Poochy and Lakitu) to free them from a curse, and then take the fight to Bowser and his minions (in which all of your freed allies serve as additional tries).

The single player modes are all fun, but no doubt it’s the multiplayer that will keep you coming back. Tetris Attack is one of the most fun puzzle games I’ve played, and if you have another player willing to tackle it, you can easily get lost in its action.

Once again, the game has seen many different facelifts through the years. And while the core gameplay remains the same in each iteration, Tetris Attack serves as a testament to the appeal of a franchise name, because – as stated – the Yoshi’s Island characters and visuals make it the definitive version of the game.

Sure, playing the game under any of its guises is fun, and if you can more readily play it in one of its other forms, go for it. But there’s just something so charming about the Yoshi’s Island aesthetics, that it gives the game its cutest, most appealing packaging. Tetris Attack even includes some great remixes of Yoshi’s Island tunes, as well as some stellar original music, which is refreshingly peaceful and calming. Until, of course, the blocks raise too high, and the music becomes more appropriately hectic.

Tetris Attack is pure fun. It remains one of the best multiplayer titles of the 16-bit generation, and is one of the most addictive puzzle games around. The Panel De Pon formula is something special in the falling-block genre, and wrapping it up in a Yoshi’s Island motif just makes it all the sweeter.

 

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Yoshi’s Woolly World Review

Yoshi's Woolly World

If someone were to ask me what I think the most charming video game of all time is, my answer would probably be a toss up between Yoshi’s Island on the SNES, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii. It is very fitting then, that there should be a game that serves as a spiritual successor to both titles. Yoshi’s Wooly World comes from Good-Feel, the same studio that created Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and combines that game’s visual aesthetic of a cloth and fabric world with gameplay reminiscent of Yoshi’s Island.

Here players take control of a Yoshi made out of yarn. He can still flutter jump, ground pound, and gobble up enemies. Only now, balls of yarn take the place of Yoshi’s eggs. Though they function more or less the same as the eggs of Yoshi’s Island – being thrown at enemies and out of reach objects – they have a few additional uses as well.

Wire frame platforms can be made whole by tossing a ball of yarn into it. Chain Chomps – who are little more than metal wire here – can become bean bag-like Chomp rocks when struck by yarn (changing them into the color of the yarn thrown, for some added visual fun). Some enemies that can’t be jumped on, like Piranha Plants, can get tied up in the yarn, rendering them vulnerable.

These may sound like little changes, but it is these little details that make Yoshi’s Woolly World stand out. Whereas most games starring Yoshi since Yoshi’s Island have failed to establish a meaningful identity of their own, Wooly World is able to make the established elements of the Yoshi series feel new again because of the makeshift makeover. It’s a rare instance in which the visuals really do add to the gameplay.

Yoshi's Woolly WorldBoth the environment and characters are affected by the art direction: Snow becomes lumps of cotton, the lava Blarggs are now red and yellow scarfs, and those pesky crab enemies from Yoshi’s Island are transformed into purses with scissors for claws.

To put it simple, the game looks as stunning as it does adorable, and the visuals are used creatively to add some new spins on the gameplay. It’s more extravagant than Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and really runs with the yarn gimmick to make for a very beautiful game.

Yoshi's Woolly WorldThough the standard mechanics are borrowed from Yoshi’s Island, many levels introduce their own fabric-themed gimmicks into the mix, ensuring that the experience remains fresh throughout its six worlds. There’s a level where Yoshi hangs on to sliding curtains that echoes Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. A later stage sees Yoshi sticking to conveyor belts of velcro, which send Yoshi in every which direction. And on one of the game’s best levels, ghostly curtains float in the foreground, revealing silhouette platforms every time they pass by. The platforms are non-existent whenever they aren’t blanketed by the curtains, so Yoshi has to stay in the curtains’ shadows.

Each level presents a new take on the formula, with many of the gimmicks being exclusive to singular levels to prevent them from overexposure. This adds a great sense of variety to the gameplay and keeps the levels exciting. It should be noted, however, that the levels can get a bit lengthy. While most of the stages are enjoyable and introduce fun mechanics, there are a couple that might over-stay their welcome. Thankfully, these are in the minority, and if you don’t fancy what one level has to offer, its features will be discarded in favor of a new batch of ideas in the next level anyway.

As is the series’ tradition, a host of collectibles can be found within every stage. Yoshi can collect beads throughout every level, which can be used to purchase Power Badges, which grant Yoshi special powers when going into a stage (such as being recovered from falling into a pit, or being aided by Yoshi’s dog Poochy in stages where he isn’t normally available). Small bouncing hearts, similar to the starmen of Yoshi’s Island, serve as Yoshi’s hit points.

Every level has five flowers and five pieces of “Wonder Wool.” The flowers give Yoshi the opportunity to play a bonus stage at the end of a level, and finding every flower within a world unlocks that world’s secret stage, while finding every piece of Wonder Wool within a level unlocks a new Yoshi to play as (every Yoshi plays the same, but provide some fun visual variety). Each stage also houses twenty Stamp Patches, which are hidden in some of the beads. Finding enough Stamp Patches allows you to use stamps in Miiverse.

Yoshi's Woolly WorldAs was the case with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Wooly World is not a particularly difficult game if you only wish to blast through the levels (though it is more challenging than Epic Yarn, seeing as Yoshi can actually die). But hunting down every last collectible proves to be quite a challenge even for veteran players (in my first playthrough of the game, I didn’t unlock any of the secret stages). This makes Woolly World a very versatile game. It’s challenging enough for younger players as it is, but those who might be able to beat it without breaking much of a sweat will still find a hefty challenge trying to claim all of its hidden trinkets.

This is why I question the necessity of the game’s “Mellow Mode.” Mellow Mode gives Yoshi wings that allow him to fly indefinitely, essentially making every level a non-issue. This mode can be switched to at any time in the pause menu, and is intended for really young players. But again, the game itself only provides a few challenging levels, and players always have the option of using the incredibly useful Power Badges, or a second player in co-op mode, to help them out. So Mellow Mode ends up feeling unnecessary, and maybe even insulting to less experienced players.

Yoshi's Woolly WorldThe game’s other big drawback are the boss encounters. As was the case in Yoshi’s Island, every world features two castle stages that end with a boss fight, one in the middle of a world, and one at the end. But whereas Yoshi’s Island was always introducing a new and creative boss fight with every encounter, Woolly World instead recycles the same two mid-world bosses for every world. After Captain Toad and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse already had repetitive boss fights, you kind of wish that Woolly World would have broken this recent trend for Nintendo, instead of following it. The end-world bosses are a bit more fun and varied, though not particularly difficult.

In the end, Yoshi’s Woolly World may not be the masterpiece that Yoshi’s Island was, but in the two decades since that game’s release, it is the first game to feel like a worthy follow-up to it. By combining the essence of Kirby’s Epic Yarn into the Yoshi series, Woolly World becomes its own entity that does both sides of its inspiration proud. It’s beautiful to look at, and it’s rather impressive musical score also makes it a joy to listen to. The gameplay is simple and fun, and the collectibles give the game a nice dose of depth and replayability.

It may not be perfect, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more huggable game out there.

 

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Top 10 Bowser Battles

Bowser

There is no foe in all of gaming as persistent as Bowser. Since his debut in 1985, the King Koopa has dedicated his life to defeating Mario, kidnapping Princess Peach, and causing all around mayhem in the Mushroom Kingdom.

Though Mario has bested him countless times over the past 30 years, Bowser just keeps bouncing back. But with so many memorable encounters against the King Koopa, which ones stand out as the best? The following is my list of the top 10 battles against Bowser from the Mario series. Keep in mind that I’m just sticking with the Bowser fights from the primary platformers in the series. So even though that final battle in Paper Mario was pretty awesome, it won’t be here.

Also note that this isn’t a list of “hardest” Bowser battles. Too often these days do gamers simply think a difficult boss automatically equates to good and an easy boss is automatically bad. This list is based on how creative the boss fights were, the tension they create, and how definitive they are for their respective games. Difficulty is a secondary thing here.

So without further ado, the top 10 Bowser battles! Continue reading “Top 10 Bowser Battles”

Yoshi’s Story Review

Yoshi's Story

The Nintendo 64 marked a major turning point for Nintendo. The release of Super Mario 64 with the console’s launch set the stage for the rest of the N64’s lifecycle. Nintendo reinvented Mario for the world of 3D gaming, and so it was time for their other franchises to make the jump. Some would receive major overhauls similar to Super Mario 64, while others had less drastic changes. Many of Nintendo’s franchises would benefit from the leap to the N64, but others would stumble. Unfortunately, Yoshi wasn’t one of the lucky ones.

 

The SNES’ Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is one of the finest platformers ever made. It reinvented the Mario formula and had a sense of depth and inventiveness that few titles in the genre could match. On the surface, Yoshi’s Story seems to borrow much of its predecessor’s assets: It remained a sidescroller even with its 3D graphics. Yoshi can still gobble up enemies and throw eggs. He still has his flutter jump and butt stomp. And the Yoshi’s still come in an array of colors.

The connections with Yoshi’s Island all feel superficial, however. Because while Yoshi’s Story may share some of the basic tools of its predecessor, it retains none of the depth. Gone is Baby Mario in need of protection, as well as the exquisite level design, tight controls and vehicle transformations. Even Yoshi’s Island’s antagonist, Kamek, is MIA.

Instead the game sees a band of baby Yoshi’s out to save their island, after Baby Bowser has cast an evil spell to make the island’s residents unhappy, stealing the “Super Happy Tree” in the process just to pour salt on the wound. So the baby Yoshis seek to combat Bowser’s unhappiness with super happiness.

In order to obtain this super happiness, the Yoshi’s must consume fruit. Each Yoshi has a favorite fruit (Yellow Yoshi likes bananas, while the Blue Yoshis like grapes), and a single “lucky fruit” is chosen via roulette wheel at the beginning of every playthrough. Eating a favorite or lucky fruit refills a Yoshi’s health completely, whereas other fruit will only give back health in increments.

Yoshi's StoryYoshi’s Story actually included a pretty unique method of progressing through the levels. There’s no end goal to reach, and the only way to move on is by eating enough fruit. Unfortunately, the way you progress through the worlds is less interesting.

The game contains six worlds, each with four stages. But you are only able to play one level in each world in every playthrough. You can select which stage in the first world you want to tackle, but you’ll only have that option in the subsequent worlds if you can find all the hidden hearts on the previous level (each heart unlocks an additional level in the next world).

The levels themselves just aren’t very interesting. The game’s storybook-like aesthetics are fun (though less timeless than those of Yoshi’s Island), so the stages are pleasing to look at, but they’re all pretty basic. You can zip through them in a matter of minutes with little effort.

Bosses are only found in the third and sixth world, with the latter always being Baby Bowser. That’s two boss encounters in the story mode, and they are every bit as bland as the stages themselves.

Yoshi’s Story was clearly intended for younger audiences. That’s all good and fine, but Nintendo has made plenty of games for younger audiences that also have depth. Yoshi’s Story feels completely shallow when compared to the majority of Nintendo’s titles.

Yoshi's StoryNow, Yoshi’s Story does have its share of charm, to the point that I feel somewhat guilty in having to admit that the game is one of Nintendo’s weaker efforts. The aforementioned visual style is cute, and the pop-up book setups for the world map and cinematics are endearing. I like the idea of each Yoshi serving as an extra life (you can reclaim a lost Yoshi by finding the hidden white Shy Guys), and those aiming for high scores might actually get some fun out of the game’s Trial Mode. The music can also be pleasant, though some of it will probably be too sugary for some audiences.

The problem is that Yoshi’s Story just lacks substance in so much of what it does. The stage design feels uninspired, there’s little variety in the gameplay, you can breeze through the story mode in less than an hour, the secrets aren’t all that secret, Yoshi’s sense of control feels less fluid than in the SNES original. There’s just not much to it. Yoshi’s Story doesn’t feel like a sequel to Yoshi’s Island, it feels like Yoshi’s Island has been stripped of its qualities.

Yes, Yoshi’s Story is a kids’ game, and perhaps kids can find some enjoyment out of it. But it also seems like Yoshi’s Story feels the need to dumb itself down for kids, and that’s the exact opposite of the philosophy behind Nintendo’s best games.

 

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