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.
Poor New Super Mario Bros. U. As far as the “New Super Mario” games go, it was a marked improvement over the DS, Wii and 3DS titles that came before it. But due to its status as the fourth entry in the sub-series, and being released mere months after the uneventful New Super Mario Bros. 2, fans were a bit New Super Mario Bros-ed out. Being released on the ill-fated Wii U probably didn’t help it in the long run, either.
While the Super Mario series as a whole is known for innovation and reinventing itself, the ‘New’ sub-series was a throwback to Mario’s early side-scrolling years. The 2006 DS original was a nice nostalgic experience, and the Wii sequel added four-player co-op into the equation. By the time New Super Mario Bros. 2 on 3DS rolled around, and offered little to nothing in the realms of newness, gamers were burnt out on the retrograde sub-series. That really is a shame, because New Super Mario Bros. U felt like a refinement for the ‘NSMB’ series, even if the “New” in the title was increasingly ironic by this point.
NSMBU, like many Wii U titles before it, has been given a second life on Nintendo Switch (complete with the New Super Luigi U DLC intact). While it would be hard to argue that the title is one of Mario’s finest, hopefully its presence on Switch will allow a wider audience to see what an improvement it was over its NSMB predecessors.
Like the other NSMB titles, ‘U‘ was more interested in recreating Mario’s past than it was in paving the way for his future. It’s still a side scroller that sees players try to conquer obstacle course-like stages by reaching the flagpole at the end. With that said, however, this fourth New installment had a much more playful and intricate sense of level design. Though it may not stack up to classics like Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, the depth and creativity of the level design was stronger here than it had been in any other 2D Mario title since those games (unless we’re counting Yoshi’s Island, of course).
Sadly, the visuals and music, while not technically bad, leave a lot to be desired. It’s almost humorous that this game – not Super Mario 3D World or Mario Kart 8 – was the first Mario game to be released in HD. It looks great from a technical standpoint, but while the 2D Mario games of old were visually and aesthetically distinct from one another, the New Super Mario Bros. games all used the same visual style. Sure, the graphics are certainly better now than the previous games, but from an artistic standpoint, New Super Mario Bros. U – like the other NSMB games – is Mario at its most vanilla.
At least the world of Super Mario is colorful and vibrant enough that, even in this vanilla state, it still has its charm. The music, sadly, suffers considerably more. The music isn’t bad per se, but it’s more or less the same as it was in the previous NSMB games. It can be fun and catchy, but this is far from Mario music at its best.
When you consider that the classic 2D Marios such as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World all looked stylistically unique to the point that you could identify them from a single character sprite, and provided some of the most iconic video game tunes of all time, it was more than a little disappointing that New Super Mario Bros. U simply provided more of the same in terms of visuals and audio.
Still, it’s the gameplay and level design that are the stars of the show, and that’s where New Super Mario Bros. U always shined brightly over the preceding ‘New’ Super Mario games. The four player co-operative mayhem of New Super Mario Bros. Wii made its return here, with level design that just feels better suited for the additional players this time around, while also having enough to them that they don’t feel empty when going it solo.
As in the original Wii U release, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe can be played as Mario, Luigi and Toad. Unlike the original version, however, Toad isn’t separated into two characters, with the yellow and blue variants merely being pallet swaps for the same character this time. The Switch release fills the void of the fourth character by bringing in the addition of Toadette, as well as Nabbit’s inclusion in the main game this time around, as he only appeared in the DLC in the original release.
While Mario, Luigi and Toad all play identically in the main game, Nabbit is tailor-made for beginners, as he is unharmed by enemies. Toadette is somewhere in between, as playing as her will turn 1-Up Mushrooms into 3-Up Moons, and many of the usual power-ups are replaced with the ‘Super Crown.’ The Super Crown can only be used by Toadette, and transforms her into Peachette, a suspiciously Princess Peach-esque character who gains a double jump, in addition to Peach’s magic gliding abilities (essentially, she plays like the other characters when they get the flying squirrel suit).
I don’t mind that these characters are made with first-time gamers and young children in mind. That’s perfectly fair, as those audiences need to start somewhere. And these characters will probably make learning the ropes that much easier. What’s less tolerable, however, is now that the yellow and blue Toad are the same character, and two players can’t pick the same character, if you’re playing with a whole group of four, someone is going to have to play as one of the beginner characters whether they want to or not. What’s even worse, Mario isn’t present in the New Super Luigi U campaign, meaning that two players will have to play as Toadette and Nabbit no matter their skill level. Somehow, Nintendo has made the four player mode less appealing on Switch than it was on Wii U as a side effect of this.
Again, I have no issues with Nintendo including easier characters with new players in mind, but the fact that one or two players will have to play as them if you have a full group seems like a glaring oversight. Couldn’t the Switch version have added a few other characters who play like the standard ones in addition to the beginner characters?
The other big issue that’s plagued NSMBU since its Wii U release are the lackluster boss fights. Mario games may not be known for difficult boss battles, but the series has always done a great job at making them creative. Even the first New Super Mario Bros. on DS had a good variety of boss fights. But in New Super Mario Bros. U, not only are all the end-bosses of each world merely the Koopalings, but their battles don’t feel very different from what they were way back in Super Mario Bros. 3. And the mid-bosses of each world are mostly comprised of different fights against (the insultingly easy) Boom-Boom. Only in the late game does NSMBU throw different mid-bosses at you. And by that point, it feels like too little, too late.
As negative as I may be sounding by this point, New Super Mario Bros. U was always a great platformer, and a proper step up from its similarly-named precursors. Simply making it to the end of each stage is a joy to experience, but completionists will really have their work cut out for them by tracking down the three star coins hidden in every stage, as well as the secret exits found in select stages. And despite the unfortunate character limitations in the Switch re-release, New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe is still a good time with multiple players.
For those seeking a bit more of a challenge, the New Super Luigi U campaign provides just that. Not only does Luigi regain his slippery physics that originated in Super Mario Bros. 2 in this mode, but the stages themselves – though shorter – feature a steeper difficulty. Though the world map is identical in both games, the stages of New Super Luigi U are entirely different than those of New Super Mario Bros. U. The downside to this is that, by nature of sharing an identical overworld, the levels with secret exits in Luigi’s adventure are found in the same exact spots as those in the base game, which is an unfortunate limitation that takes away a bit of distinction in Luigi’s titular mode.
Having both games together, as well as returning challenge modes, means New Super Mario Bros. U Deluxe certainly provides a good amount of content for platforming enthusiasts. Of course, even with its status as the best “New Super Mario Bros.” game, U Deluxe still falls drastically short if compared to Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, which is unquestionably the better option for 2D platforming fans. And unlike the Wii U releases, Tropical Freeze was released first this time. So if you’re only going to get one first-party 2D platformer on Switch, stick with DK.
New Super Mario Bros. U Summation
Consistently fun level design and fluid character control made this the best New Super Mario title. The levels feel more tailor-made for multiple players than previous entries. And like any great Mario game, it’s held up strong over the years. But the game is ultimately held back by flavorless aesthetics and poor boss fights.
New Super Luigi U Summation
The briefer, tougher levels make the Luigi-centric campaign something of the “hard mode” of NSMBU. A fun, steeper challenge for platforming veterans. But the multiplayer option is less fun now that half of a full group are required to play as the “easy mode” characters. And the fact it’s confined to the overworld of the base game prevents it from branching out more into its own beast.
While we were all burnt out on New Super Mario Bros. back in 2012, revisiting the Wii U installment on its shiny 2019 Switch release, and being reminded of how much of an improvement it was over its predecessors, makes you wonder what Nintendo could have done with a 2D Mario game in the seven years since. With NSMBU, Nintendo finally began to get their groove for 2D Mario back, which made it a fitting ‘finale’ to the New Super Mario Bros. sub-series. Hopefully this re-release inspires Nintendo to test where they can take the formula next (fingers crossed it comes with more distinct visuals and better music though).
With a name like Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, the Switch’s edition to Nintendo’s massively-successful crossover fighter certainly gave itself a lot to live up to. Somewhat miraculously, Ultimate manages to pull that very feat off, delivering what is undoubtedly the best entry in the long-running series to date. Bursting at the seams with content and fine-tuning the series’ gameplay, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate lives up to its lofty expectations, even if a lackluster adventure mode and a thin (and inconsistent) lineup of new fighters means it doesn’t quite surpass them.
Super Smash Bros. really doesn’t need an introduction at this point. The franchise has become one of Nintendo’s biggest sellers thanks to its engrossing gameplay, which combines elements of traditional fighting games with Mario Kart-esque party elements, all while incorporating sumo style rules that make it unique unto itself.
By ‘sumo style’ rules, I of course refer to Super Smash Bros’ key mechanic of sending opponents off the screen – similar to sumos throwing each other out of the ring – in order to defeat them, as opposed to depleting a health bar as in most fighters. Though with that said, the ‘Stamina mode’ first introduced to the series in Melee, in which players do deplete each other’s health, returns as one of Ultimate’s primary game modes, no longer relegated to a kind of bonus mode as in the past.
That seemingly small change is indicative of the very nature of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate. This is the Super Smash Bros. that attempts to legitimize every play style for the series, and to appease every type of Smash fan. And for the most part, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate wildly succeeds in doing just that.
If you’re a serious Smash player, you can remove items and play on flat stages a la Final Destination or small stages with minimal platforms in the vein of the classic Battlefield stage, with no match-altering Final Smashes included. Players who want chaotic fun can have all items active, Final Smashes turned on, and enable every last, crazy stage hazard and gimmick. Or, if you’re somewhere in between, you can play on the standard stages with the gimmicks turned off, only allow Final Smashes by means of building up a power meter during battle, and only enable the occasional Pokeball and Assist Trophy in regards to items.
The ways in which you can customize matches are boundless. This really is the Super Smash Bros. that can appeal to any Nintendo fan. At least in terms of the core gameplay, that is.
If there is one glaring downside with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, it’s with the game’s adventure mode. Dubbed ‘World of Light,’ Ultimate’s adventure mode is mind-numbingly tedious, and simply not worth the time and effort it takes to see it to the end.
In World of Light, players initially take control of Kirby, the only survivor of a Thanos-style mass extinction, as they progress through one battle after another, unlocking the other characters and collecting ‘Spirits,’ which are won after defeating opponents in possession of said Spirits.
These Spirits are a new feature in Ultimate, replacing the series’ long-standing trophy collectibles. It’s ultimately an unfair trade. While the trophies of Smash’s past featured unique character models and gave some insights into Nintendo (and gaming) history, the Spirits are merely presented as stock promotional art from past games, and provide statistical bonuses to your characters when equipped. Spirits can grant boosts to attributes like strength or speed, or provide you with a special ability (such as starting fights with a particular item, or being resistant to certain types of attacks).
This may sound interesting in concept, but it kind of goes against the very nature of Super Smash Bros. This is a fighting series all about learning the different play styles of the various characters. So if you have Spirits activated in the standard game, it makes things more about who has the best Spirits equipped, as opposed to who played the best in any given round.
Suffice to say the Spirits find all of their appeal in the single player World of Light mode. Though even then, the game often mishandles their usage. Pulling a page out of Paper Marios Sticker Star and Color Splash, there are a number of battles in World of Light in which it is necessary to have specific Spirits equipped in order to win. If the Spirits gave you advantages in these situations, that’d be fine. But on more than one occasion you will come across a battle in which victory is impossible unless you have a specific Spirit equipped.
Another issue with World of Light is that it’s just too long for its own good. It features an unnecessary amount of branching paths, alternate routes, and overall battles. And when it finally looks like you’re done with it, World of Light pulls a Ghosts ‘N’ Goblins on the player and extends the adventure by rather lazy means. To detract from the experience even further, World of Light is exclusively played by a single player. Super Smash Bros. Brawl’s adventure mode, Subspace Emissary, was far from a winner, but at least I could play that with a friend.
Not to mention Subspace Emissary served as a fast means of unlocking every character. But World of Light just drags on and on, with the lonesome tedium making you seek one of the many other means of unlocking the characters (thankfully, there are no shortage of options when it comes to expanding the roster). The fact that World of Light actually makes me long for Subspace Emissary could be a sign that maybe Super Smash Bros. is better off without an adventure mode at all.
Of course, the adventure mode is just a small part of the overall package, and every other mode included in the game delivers in spades: Classic Mode is more fun than ever, and includes unique challenges for every last fighter. Tournaments are easier to set up than ever before. New Squad Strikes have players selecting teams of characters and eliminating them one by one. Smashdown sees players cycle through the entire roster one at a time, with previously selected characters getting locked out after use. The variety never ceases to impress.
On the concept of variety, the biggest selling point of Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is that every playable character from the franchise’s history is present. If they were playable in a past Super Smash Bros. title, they’re playable here. So those of you who missed Solid Snake for being omitted from Super Smash Bros. on Wii U/3DS, he’s back. Young Link and Toon Link can now face off against one another. Pichu makes his return after seventeen years (they can’t all be winners). The DLC characters from Wii U/3DS return. Even the good ol’ Ice Climbers have found their way back to the series, after technical limitations on the 3DS prevented their appearance in the last installments. And yes, we even get a handful of new characters joining the fray, meaning that Super Smash Bros. Ultimate has all of the character variety of each and every one of its predecessors put together and then some.
Speaking of the new characters, that’s where things can be a bit inconsistent when it comes to selections. Ridley and King K. Rool feel like the most meaningful newcomers, given that they’ve been in high demand from fans since Melee. Splatoon’s Inklings also make sense as they represent one of Nintendo’s contemporary success stories. And Simon Belmont feels long overdue in the third-party character department (seriously, besides Mega Man, what other third-party character even compares to Castlevania’s early history with Nintendo?).
The remaining newcomers, however, are a bit of a mixed bag. Isabelle from Animal Crossing – though a welcome addition in her own right – doesn’t exactly come across as a character fans were dying to see join the series. Incineroar feels like he could have been any randomly selected Pokemon. And the downloadable Piranha Plant just feels like a big middle finger to the fans who have been requesting their favorite characters for years. That’s not to say that these characters detract from the gameplay by any means. But for a series so grounded in fanservice, some of these character selections feel misguided.
Perhaps with more newcomers the more disappointing entries wouldn’t stick out so much. But with most of the emphasis going towards bringing back every past character, you kind of wish that the smaller quantity of newcomers would have translated to a consistent quality. And that’s unfortunately not always the case.
Some fans may also lament that clone characters – now officially referred to as “echo fighters” – are still present, but at least now they’re categorized appropriately, and not treated as though they’re full-on additions to the franchise.
Still, it’s hard to complain too much when Ultimate boasts seventy unique characters (with more on the way via DLC. Here’s hoping some favorites make the cut). There’s simply never a shortage of characters to choose from, and all of them bring their own sense of fun to the gameplay (with the possible exceptions of the excessive amount of sword fighters from Fire Emblem, who often feel interchangeable even when they aren’t clones).
Each character’s Final Smash has also been altered this time around, as they take on a more cinematic approach. Unfortunately, while the Final Smashes look more impressive than ever, their infrequent interactivity makes them less fun than in previous installments. This was probably done for the sake of balance, which is admirable. Though chances are, if you have Final Smashes active, you aren’t exactly aiming for a balanced, competitive bout.
The stages also adhere to Ultimate’s “everything but the kitchen sink” mentality. Although there are a few omissions, the majority of stage’s from past Super Smash Bros. titles make a return (unfortunately, Brawl’s Electroplankton-inspired stage is bafflingly among them). There are only four brand-new stages in the base game: Odyssey and Breath of the Wild themed levels for Mario and Zelda, and courses based on newly-represented series Splatoon and Castlevania. That may not sound like a whole lot of newness, but more stages are planned to be added along with the DLC characters. Besides, with the returning courses, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate includes over one-hundred different locations to do battle. And as stated, every last stage comes in three different versions (standard, Battlefield, and Final Destination), so you’re not very likely to get bored from repetition.
For those who don’t always have someone at the ready for some couch multiplayer, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate also expands the series’ online capabilities. Creating online matches has been streamlined by means of creating arenas, where players can set the rules as they see fit. You can even search for specific rulesets if you want to join an arena that’s more to your play style (though admittedly, the search engine needs some work). It’s now much, much easier to set up or join an online match and play with or against Smash players from around the world.
Sadly, the online functionality still isn’t perfect. Though lag is considerably less frequent than in Brawl or Wii U/3DS, it’s still present more often than you’d like. It isn’t limited to worldwide matches, either. I’ve encountered some slowdowns in games against my friends. Again, the lag isn’t so common as to detract from the overall experience, but considering that in five years’ time I’ve never encountered any lag issues in Mario Kart 8 (whether on Wii U or Switch), you have to wonder how and why Nintendo can’t replicate that level of online functionality with their other multiplayer franchises.
Other quibbles with the online mode include some minor (but no less irritating) design quirks, such as leaving your place in cue for the next fight in an arena just to change your character’s color (let alone change your character). Or why entering the spectator stands also removes you from cue (why the cue and spectator stands aren’t one and the same is anyone’s guess). Again, these are all just minor annoyances, but you have to wonder why they’re there at all.
Of course, it must be emphasized that, with the exception of the World of Light adventure mode, all of the complaints to be had with Super Smash Bros. Ultimate are minor grievances in the big picture. The series’ signature gameplay has never felt so polished, the content has never felt this endless, and with every last character in franchise history present, Super Smash Bros. has never felt this complete.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is also a technical showcase of the Switch’s capabilities. Though it retains a similar overall look to Super Smash Bros. for Wii U/3DS and Brawl, the graphics are much sharper and more refined. The level of background detail in the stages themselves – often so small you’d never see them in the heat of battle – is a testament to the abilities of the artists behind the game. The character animations are similarly impressive, especially those with unique characteristics (such as DK’s eyes bulging out of his head when hit, Donkey Kong Country-style; or Wario’s manic, sporadic movements).
Complimenting these visuals is a soundtrack that represents an unrivaled array of video game music, featured in both their original and new remixed forms in addition to many remixes from past Super Smash Bros. installments. Unfortunately, I don’t think there’s quite as many new pieces of music added into the fray as Brawl and Wii U/3DS brought to the table, but it’s hard to complain too much when the music is this terrific. Not to mention the soundtrack to Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is inarguably the biggest library of classic video game themes ever compacted into a single game.
On the whole, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is an absolute winner. Its overall sense of newness may not be as prominent as the past few entries, but its inclusion of the best elements of every past installment, along with each and every last one of their characters, makes this the definitive entry in the long-running Super Smash Bros. series to date. With the exception of its egregious adventure mode, everything about Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is exploding with fun. With so many characters, stages, modes, and options, the content included in the package is seemingly bottomless, leading to an unparalleled replay value.
Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is not only the best game in the series, it’s one of the greatest multiplayer games ever made.
The Super Mario Maker 2 trailer that launched back in February not only got me hyped for the upcoming Switch title, but its addition of the Super Mario 3D World play style had me feeling nostalgic for the 2013 Wii U platformer. And seeing as I previously stated I wanted to start replaying games more and writing more gaming articles besides reviews, now seemed as good a time as any to revisit Super Mario 3D World. Besides, after trudging through the overly-long and tedious Kingdom Hearts 3, and its mishandling of franchises I like, I needed to play something more fun, rewarding, charming, and that did justice to a franchise I like. Thus, replaying Super Mario 3D World was a no-brainer (it sure would be great if they could make a Disney game this good).
Okay, let’s get this out of the way: No, Super Mario 3D World is not as good as the Super Mario Galaxy titles that preceded it, nor is it as good as Super Mario Odyssey that followed. But considering the Galaxy duo and Odyssey are among the greatest games ever created, not being as good as them pretty much refers to most games that aren’t them. On its own merits, however, Super Mario 3D World is still one of the most consistently fun and creative games of the 2010s.
Yeah, it seems like I praise Mario games a lot. But while not every Mario game is good (New Super Mario Bros. 2 and Paper Mario: Sticker Star, both released a year prior to 3D World, were creatively empty and flat-out boring, respectively), I will say that Super Mario is the only series in which a game as great as 3D World could be considered one of its smaller achievements. It may not have the revolutionary factor of Super Mario Bros. or Super Mario 64, nor is it as great as the trio mentioned in the above paragraph or games like Super Mario World. And yet, it’s hard to find much fault in Super Mario 3D World other than “it’s not as good as some other Mario games.” The Legend of Zelda is probably the only other series that can boast equal quality, though maybe not quite at the same level of consistency (and maybe Dark Souls/Bloodborne, but that has far fewer entries).
What makes Super Mario 3D World so good? It all boils down to the two qualities that best define a good game: great gameplay, and a terrific sense of creativity. 3D World may not be the most innovative Mario game, but the gameplay and design is as polished as any of the heroic plumber’s entries, and each stage is a showcase of one playful idea after another. It’s the kind of game where the simple act of controlling your character is a joy (which is actually pretty rare, though seemingly less so with this series).
Many fans were at first disappointed with Super Mario 3D World’s initial E3 reveal, as it followed in the footsteps of the 2011 3DS title, Super Mario 3D Land. This raised fans’ eyebrows for two reasons: The first was that 3D Land was a solid game, but not a particularly standout one which, again, given the pedigree of the Mario series, is tantamount to a massive disappointment. The other reason is that, like 3D Land, 3D World seemed to be aiming more for the feel of a 2D Mario entry than a 3D one with its linear level design, with most fans protesting that the 3D Mario titles were losing their distinct identity due to the ludicrous sales of the New Super Mario Bros. side scrolling series.
While I admit I too at the time had some doubts about seeing a “proper” follow-up to 64, Sunshine, and the Galaxy duo (we would eventually get just that with Odyssey), I was hardly disappointed with what 3D World promised. After all, we were ‘only’ three years removed from Galaxy 2 at the time (most “proper” 3D Marios had much longer gaps in between releases), so it didn’t really feel like the necessary time for another Mario title of that scale. Secondly, while the New Super Mario Bros. games were competently fun, they never really felt like the worthy continuations of Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World that they wanted to be. 3D Land introduced the style and feeling of 2D Marios into the world of 3D Marios (linear stages with clear end goals, time limits, etc.) and felt like a step in the right direction. But again, didn’t quite hit the mark.
Super Mario 3D World, however, quickly reveals itself as the worthy successor to games like Super Mario Bros. 3 and World that we had been waiting for, despite being a 3D title. It took the foundations of 3D Land, and combined it with the sense of invention and polish that we expect from Mario’s best titles (which, again, was lacking from New Super Mario Bros. and 3D Land). The Galaxy games had refined what 64 started, so it was cool to get something that felt like a fitting continuation to the Mario games that predated 64 (now if only the Mario RPGs could get a worthy follow-up).
There are so many things that make Super Mario 3D World work so well: the level design is a constant delight, with each stage presenting something new, and always fun. The power-ups – from perennial favorites the Fire Flower and Tanooki Leaf, 3D Land’s Boomerang Suit, and 3D World’s own Double Cherry (which duplicates your character) and the surprisingly powerful and versatile Cat Suit – are all a joy, and add so much to the gameplay (the Cat Suit, in particular, has to join the ranks of Mario’s best power-ups). And you get to play as not only Mario, but Luigi, Princess Peach and Toad as well, each coming with their abilities from Super Mario Bros. 2 (Luigi jumps highest, Peach floats, and Toad is fastest, with Mario being well-rounded). And of course you can unlock Rosalina, who comes equipped with the spin attack from Super Mario Galaxy. It’s a Mario platformer where you get to play as Rosalina! That alone makes it a winner (Rosalina is best girl).
Oh yeah, I almost forgot that Super Mario 3D World is also the only four-player entry in the 3D Mario canon. And unlike many games that add co-op multiplayer to a traditionally single-player formula, the level design of Super Mario 3D World compliments playing alone or with friends.
If there’s any downside to Super Mario 3D World, it’s that the boss fights are an utter cakewalk. Yeah yeah, people claim Mario bosses tend to be easy, but the series often finds ways to make the boss battles feel creative, which makes it easy to look past a lack of difficulty. But aside from the final fight against Bowser and two other recurring bosses (a monarch snake and a Koopa/Blob/Clown/Monster), the boss fights of 3D World feel tacked on and rushed (Boom Boom should never serve as a world boss). But aside from the underwhelming boss battles, just about everything else about Super Mario 3D World is a constant barrage of fun and inspiration.
Along with gameplay and creativity, Super Mario 3D World also boasts what I consider to be the third key ingredient to a great game: a fantastic musical score. Again, the music may not quite be on Galaxy or Odyssey’s level, but 3D World still provides one of the most memorable scores in the Mario canon. Even the sound effects of the game seem to reinforce the game’s “fun at all costs” mentality.
Under my original “.5” scoring system, I awarded Super Mario 3D World a 9.0 out of 10. But now, under my current whole number system, I’ve flip-flopped between an 8 and a 9 (flip-flopping more than perhaps any other game). Unlike other games where I’ve been indecisive with its score, it’s my ‘heart’ that rates the game lower and my ‘mind’ that rates it higher. In terms of ‘heart,’ I can say I don’t feel quite as strongly for 3D World as some other games I would rate highly. After all, I gave both Red Dead Redemption 2 and 2018’s God of War a score of 8/10, as I’m trying to make that the exceptional score that most games would strive for. In that sense, 3D World makes sense with that score. But in terms of ‘mind,’ I would say that Super Mario 3D World doesn’t really have many notable faults. Aside from the boss fights and “not being as good as other Mario games,” there’s really not much to gripe about with Super Mario 3D World. As great as Red Dead 2 and God of War are – and yes, they are undeniably ‘bigger’ games than 3D World – they also have more notable flaws than Mario’s Wii U outing. Super Mario 3D World doesn’t feature an obnoxiously sidetracked trip to Guarma, for example. So I’m still undecided on which score to settle on.
As of this writing, I’ve beaten the “main game” of my current playthrough of Super Mario 3D World, and am currently playing through the post-game secret worlds. And after recently playing through lengthy games (including the aforementioned tediousness of Kingdom Hearts 3), revisiting Super Mario 3D World is exactly what I needed. Its constant sense of fun and invention, combined with its polished execution makes Super Mario 3D World an easy game to pick up and play, and a delight to revisit again and again.
Super Mario 3D World may not be the most groundbreaking Mario game, but it’s an undeniable blast from start to finish. And while my favorite Wii U game will always be Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, Super Mario 3D World is just about the only Wii U game left that hasn’t either been ported to the Nintendo Switch, or have an improved sequel for Nintendo’s hybrid console (even Super Mario Maker, once believed to be the justification of the Wii U’s gamepad, is getting a Switch sequel). So along with the Virtual Console, Super Mario 3D World is basically the reason to keep your Wii U at the ready… at least until it gets ported to the Switch.
Is Super Mario 3D World worth a replay? Oh, hell yeah!
Wow, can you believe it’s already been a year since Super Mario Odyssey brought perfection into our gaming lives?
Yes indeed, Super Mario Odyssey celebrates its first anniversary today.
Of the hundreds and hundreds of video games I’ve played over the course of my life, Super Mario Odyssey is easily among the very best. It stands as one of (currently) only nine games I’ve awarded a perfect 10/10, and probably its biggest competition for the title of best game of this decade is its own predecessor, Super Mario Galaxy 2 (another of my 10/10s).
How good is Super Mario Odyssey? So good that, when I beat its story and the credits started rolling, I actually stood up and gave the game a standing ovation. You might say that doesn’t make any sense, since I just completed a video game by my lonesome and it’s not the same as a theater environment where other moviegoers could join in. But that’s just how good Odyssey is. Come to think of it, I don’t know why I didn’t mention my standing ovation in my review of the game somewhere. I don’t believe I’ve done that before with a video game, so it’s worth mentioning in regards to how much I enjoyed it.
Why is Super Mario Odyssey so good? Like all the best games that don the Super Mario name, its a non-stop barrage of creative ideas. And Odyssey might just showcase this better than any other entry in the series. From the second the game begins to well after the credits roll, Odyssey presents players with insurmountable imagination. There’s not a moment in Odyssey that isn’t utterly delightful and inventive.
Super Mario Odyssey is a game that takes elements from just about all of its predecessors, and rearranges them in such ways that it constantly feels fresh and new. Whereas most games – even exceptional ones – often present you with the long and the short of their vision within the first couple of hours and then repeat those elements for longevity, Odyssey never lets up with its restless imagination. It looks back on its peerless catalogue of predecessors not just to simply rekindle fond memories of gaming’s past, but more importantly, to reinvent the very things we love about the series.
Happy one year anniversary, Super Mario Odyssey! One of the very best experiences gaming has to offer. Keep putting smiles on faces.
Full Super Mario Odyssey review can be found here.
Super Mario Party is something of a bittersweet occasion. It’s mostly sweet, mind you, as this eleventh installment in the long-running series feels refreshingly like a return to form, after the past few sequels seemed to go off the rails. Super Mario Party is, in essence, what Mario Party should be: four-player multiplayer fun. The bitterness is felt in Super Mario Party’s technical restrictions, a few unfortunate gameplay limitations, and at least one element in the main mode which feels outright unfair… even by Mario Party standards. So while Super Mario Party may be a return to form for the beloved series, its shortcomings prevent it from reaching the staggering heights it otherwise may have.
First and foremost, Super Mario Party resurrects the series’ classic gameplay (No more ‘party car’ nonsense). Four players face-off in a giant board game, where they compete to gain the most stars. In between turns a mini-game is played, with the winner of each mini-game claiming coins. Players primarily gain stars by purchasing them from Toadette on the game board, though there are a few other means of obtaining them.
Although the classic gameplay has returned, a few new twists have been made to the formula. Super Mario Party includes twenty playable characters (four of which need to be unlocked). While they may all play the same within the mini-games to keep things fair, each character now possesses their own special dice, in addition to the standard six-sided die that anyone can use.
The character specific dice are a case of risk and reward. Shy Guy’s dice, for example, is comprised of five sides of 4 and one 0, giving him a safe chance of moving a decent number of spaces, but risking not moving at all. Meanwhile, Bowser’s dice allows him to trample all over the place with high rolls of 8, 9 and 10 spaces, but also risks landing on a 1 or losing three coins (in addition to not moving). It’s an interesting twist on the Mario Party formula, with the characters who boast the biggest advantages also having the biggest shortcomings, which not only balances things a bit, but prevents the standard dice from losing its relevance.
There’s another interesting new element to the proceedings, as players can now gain allies by means of landing on a special space or using an item to summon them. These allies are comprised of any of the playable characters not currently in the session. Whoever you claim will not only add to your roll (allies can only roll a 1 or 2), but also give you access to that character’s dice. You can also gain multiple allies, which means that much more can be added to your rolls, and you can use that many more dice. There are even a few mini-games in which your allies can help out, which may seem unfair, but it’s the kind of “hate your friends” unfair that has always been associated with the series.
As for the mini-games, Super Mario Party boasts no less than 80 of them. And for the most part, it’s a pretty stellar lineup. The usual four player, two-vs-two and three-vs-one mini-games return, though the battle and dueling mini-games from the series’ oldest entries are sadly still absent. The mini-games use a variety of different play methods, whether traditional button presses, motion controls, and even games with minimal interaction (like selecting objects in one of the game’s surprisingly fun memorization games). Thankfully, very few of the mini-games feel based around luck this time around, and the motion-control implementation is top-notch (one game which sees players try to jiggle candy out of a jar is the best use of physics in a video game this year).
On the downside of the game, there is one aspect that is completely luck-based: the end-game bonuses.
Yes, the old Mario Party titles also included end-game bonuses, which could turn the tide completely at the last minute, but they were consistent with what their bonuses were. Those entries rewarded the player who won the most mini-games, landed on the most green spaces, and claimed the most coins (an odd choice, considering it usually coincided with the mini-game bonus). But in Super Mario Party, the bonuses are randomly selected, as are the number of bonuses it decides to dish out at the end of a match (usually it’s two, but every so often there will be three).
In the first game I played, I managed to snag a bonus star for winning the most mini-games, but I ended up in a close second in my second game because one of my opponents got bonuses for having an ally and for moving the least spaces (why should that even warrant an award?). It was frustrating in the old Mario Parties when your friends would steal first place in the last minute thanks to the bonuses, but at least you could somewhat strategize with the knowledge of what the bonuses would be. You could try to win the most mini-games, or aim for the most coins. But here, you have no idea what the bonuses will be until they’re dished out. If the game had to have random end-game rewards, it should at least inform players what they’ll be at the start of the game, so that they can actually try working towards earning them, instead of keeping their fingers crossed.
Aside from that (admittedly infuriating) aspect, the classic board game play style of Mario Party is at the best it’s been since the early GameCube titles. And the excellent mini-games are the most memorable since the beloved N64 trilogy. Unfortunately, there is a strange shortage of game boards to choose from at only four. Each board is fun and finds ways to stand out, but you can’t help but wish there were more.
On the bright of things, Super Mario Party makes up for the lack of boards by providing some interesting new modes, one of which – River Survival – is actually a great alternative to the classic board game setup. If classic Mario Party is all about competition, River Survival changes things up in the name of cooperation.
In River Survival, four players work together to – as the name suggests – survive river rafting by working together. All four players paddle their oars using motion controls, with the players on the left swerving the raft right, and the players on the right swerving the raft left. Players will have to pop balloons spread throughout the river to play cooperative mini-games, which will add more time to the clock upon completion. While the number of mini-games in River Survival are limited, the river itself contains branching paths, with each path providing their own challenges. So there’s still a decent sense of variety.
The other new mode is Sound Stage, which pits players in a series of motion controlled, rhythm-based mini-games as they compete for the highest score. It’s a fun and welcome diversion, but Sound Stage lacks the heft of the classic mode and River Survival. In addition to these modes, you can always choose to play a selection of unlocked mini-games.
One unavoidable aspect of Super Mario Party that might not sit well with all players is that it’s a Switch title that cannot be played in the Switch’s handheld mode. There are a few mini-games that can be played with multiple undocked Switches – which serve as cool tech demos but won’t last long – but you can’t play any of the game’s main modes in handheld form. At the very least, this is an understandable technical limitation, as the game requires players to only use a single Joycon so that it’s easier for multiple players to join in (not to mention the game brings out some creative uses in the Joycons’ motion and rumble features). But it’s obviously a limitation that won’t sit well for those who enjoy the on-the-go nature of the Switch.
A far, far less understandable restriction comes in the form of Super Mario Party’s online mode. Continuing Nintendo’s infamous trend of bizarre online decisions, Super Mario Party’s online is limited to a single mode which sees players sprint through five mini-games. Five mini-games that are on rotation from a grand total of ten.
That’s right, Mario Party finally has an online mode, but you can’t get the whole Mario Party experience with friends across the world. You’re limited to a measly ten mini-games, with only five of which being playable at a time. No board game, no River Survival, no access to the majority of mini-games.
This not only comes off as a huge downer, but also an embarrassing missed opportunity, considering Super Mario Party’s release practically coincided with the launch of Switch’s online service. Some might say that the board game matches are too lengthy, and have a higher risk of players dropping out, but I can’t see why they couldn’t limit the board games to be played with people on your friends list, and giving access to every mini-game to the broader online crowd.
For those who long for the glory days of Mario Party, Super Mario Party serves up a fitting return to form for the series. The classic board game style is resurrected and at full force – being muddled only by a lack of boards and the obnoxiously random end-game bonuses – and the additions of character dice and allies provide some meaningful change. The mini-games are varied and among the best the series has ever seen. The River Survival and Sound Stage modes provide some good versatility to the overall package. The game boasts simple-but-catchy music, and incredibly sharp, colorful visuals (it’s no Odyssey, but it doesn’t need to be). The single control option won’t be to everyone’s liking, but it’s the bafflingly restrictive online features that serve as the real party-pooper.
Super Mario Party is a whole lot of fun, and it’s great to see the series get back on track. But here’s hoping the Switch sees a Mario Party sequel in the not-to-distant future that expands on what Super Mario Party started, and isn’t afraid to take the entire friendship-ruining Mario Party experience online.
Although they’ve never produced any all-time classics in the way the primary platformers of the Super Mario series, the Mario RPGs, and the Mario Karts have, the Mario sports title may be the best example of the franchise’s unique ability to seemingly make any genre more fun simply by having its name associated with it. Even those who have no interest whatsoever in any given sport should still be able to find enjoyment out of it when it’s given a Mushroom Kingdom twist. I mean, when you add in characters like Luigi and Donkey Kong, and then throw in some crazy gimmicks and special moves, something like golf suddenly becomes a lot more interesting. Perhaps the most consistent of Mario’s sporting endeavors are his ventures into tennis. The newest entry, Mario Tennis Aces, perhaps polishes up the core gameplay more than any previous Mario Tennis title, though it does come at the expense of a relative lack of content.
Mario Tennis Aces seems to be all about refining what we’ve come to know about Mario Tennis. In this sense, the game is a roaring success. Mario Tennis gameplay has simply never felt so smooth and fluid. No matter which character you pick, the game feels great to control, with slight differences given to each character based on their weight class (don’t expect Bowser to move as gracefully as Rosalina). Mario Tennis Aces features a variety of control styles, all of which feel comfortable, though my personal preference is a Joy-con in each hand.
Different types of shots are mapped to different buttons on the controller, while combinations of those buttons (one to prepare to strike the ball, one for the strike itself) add to the mix. Should you charge a shot long enough before striking the ball, you build up energy, which can be used to slow down time, perform a quick counter-shot, and – if the energy meter is completely full – a special move. Additionally, stars appear on the court from time to time, which allow players to perform a “zone shot,” which briefly brings things to a first-person view for player’s to throw an exceptionally fast ball.
This brings me to one of the more disappointing elements of Mario Tennis Aces’ gameplay: the zone shots and character specials are more or less the same. The only difference is that the special moves come with a unique animation beforehand, and do more damage to your opponent’s racket. If a player (or the CPU) doesn’t time the ball just right after their opponent hits a zone shot or special, their racket will take damage. With enough damage, your racket will break, thus ending the game early.
It’s easy to imagine this being a divisive mechanic. On one hand, it provides a unique spin to the series, and adds a different element of strategy to the proceedings as you gain energy and plot to build up to the point of destroying an opponent’s racket. But on the other hand, it kind of makes a drastic change to the very game of tennis. But if you’re among those frustrated with the mechanic, you can always turn it off.
Though this leads to another questionable design decision for the game. While you can choose whether or not your rackets can break during a match, you cannot change the length of a match or set in a game of tennis. And, bizarrely, you can’t directly select which court you wish to play on, instead having to “deselect” stages you don’t want on the options menu, which seems unnecessarily arduous. Perhaps in another tennis game it wouldn’t be a big deal, but given the unique themes and gimmicks of Mario Tennis courts, it would make a basic level select option all the more ideal than in normal circumstances.
Thankfully, the core gameplay is so much fun, that if you’re playing multiplayer (whether online or next to a friend), you might not mind the limited options. Single player, however, does leave a bit more to be desired.
The primary single player mode in Mario Tennis Aces is an adventure mode that sees Mario on a journey to collect five power stones to stop the power of an ancient, evil tennis racket, which has taken control of Luigi, Wario and Waluigi. It’s a surprisingly humorous story mode with its wacky plot, and it features some fun RPG elements to it (Mario can gain experience points and levels, and additional tennis rackets can be obtained through optional stages). Not to mention it provides a fair bit of variety in its challenges. The downside to the story mode, however, is its severely fluctuating difficulty curve.
You would think that the stages would gradually get more progressively difficult as you go, especially seeing as this is a Mario game, and that’s an area in which the franchise usually shines. But the challenge of the story mode in Mario Tennis Aces is all over the place. You’ll go from a ridiculously easy stage to a ludicrously difficult one at any given time, with seemingly no warning as to when the difficulty is going to spike to a new high or drop to relaxing low. Two stages in particular – against Blooper and Boom Boom, of all characters – gave me a considerable challenge. The story mode does provide some solid fun in the gameplay, variety and RPG elements, but the inconsistent difficulty may be too jarring for some.
Even with these issues, however, Mario Tennis Aces is an undeniable good time. The sheer polish that exudes from its gameplay marks a new high for the series, while free play and tournament modes give multiplayer a huge amount of replay value. Add in the fact that you can not only play as series regulars like Mario, Luigi, Peach and Bowser, but entertaining newcomers like Spike and Chain Chomp, and you have one of the most distinctly ‘Mario’ of all Mario sports titles. If Nintendo and Camelot can take this core gameplay for the next entry, while refining the single player campaign and adding more play styles and customizable options, and we could have the Mario Kart 8 equivalent of Mario’s sports titles. As it is, well, the pieces are in place.