Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles

With my recent overhaul of Wizard Dojo (with a new overall look and new scoring system), I figured I’d ring in this new era of Wizard Dojo-ing with a revised version of the very first ‘top list’ I ever posted here at the Dojo; Top Video Game Launch Titles!

The first time around, I listed five games, plus some runners-up. This time around, I’m upping things to a top 10!

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, a console doesn’t have to wait very long to receive its first masterpiece, with a number of consoles getting one of their definitive games right out the gate. Although it used to be more commonplace for a console to receive a launch title that would go down as one of its best games, the idea of a killer launch title is becoming a rarer occurrence in gaming.

Still, launch games have more than left their mark on the industry. Here are, in my opinion, the 10 most significant video games to have launched their console.

Continue reading “Top 10 Video Game Launch Titles”

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Soldam: Drop, Connect, Erase Review

*This review originally appeared at Miketendo64.com*

The falling block puzzle game is one of gaming’s most reliable genres. Though they tend to be simple on the surface, the gameplay of the genre that Tetris built tends to be deeper and more complex than it at first appears, making for immense replay value and pure, unadulterated gaming fun.

One of the more popular falling block puzzlers of the early 90s was the arcade title Soldam, which has found its way onto the Nintendo Switch with updated graphics while still maintaining its classic charm. Though Soldam (now boasting the subtitle of “Drop, Connect, Erase”) may not be one of the best block puzzlers out there, its simple twist on the genre is another reminder why these types of games will always be fun.

The basic premise of Soldam is the same as any other title in the genre: blocks fall from the top of the screen, and threaten to fill up every last space. You need to match up the blocks by their respective colors to eliminate them. The more you manage to eliminate, the higher your score. But should the blocks make it to the top of the screen, it’s game over.

Soldam comes with a twist, however. Instead of falling blocks, it’s fruit that falls down from the heavens (called “Soldam fruit,” in case you were wondering where the strange title comes from). The fruit always comes in groups of four, thus still technically making a block. You can rotate each quartet of fruit in order to match the colored fruits up with other fruits of their corresponding color, with an entire row needing to be made the same color in order to eliminate it.

There’s another major twist in the usual puzzle gameplay in the form of “flanking,” which ends up being Soldam’s biggest draw. You see, even if you run into a tight spot and need to place mismatched colors in an otherwise consistent row, you can still rectify it by placing the proper color on top of (or to the side of, or diagonally from) the misplaced color, which will then “flank” the misplaced color, and change it to the desired color.

For example, if you have a row that consists of mostly red fruit, but contains one or two yellow fruit, just place more red fruit over the yellow fruit in such a way that makes the yellow fruit a “bridge” between red fruit. Once the yellow fruit becomes sandwiched by the red fruit, it will become red, thus completing the row.

Of course, you’ll have to be extra careful as the game goes on, because if you make too many mistakes, it will be all the more difficult to try and flank them. And as a match goes on, additional colors will be added (you start with only two). And you can only flank through one color. If a blue fruit gets in the way of the yellow, the red fruit can’t flank through it.

It’s a really simple concept, but it proves to be a lot of fun the more you play it. It may not turn the genre on its head like Tetris Attack or Tetris Battle Gaiden, but Soldam is nonetheless addicting and mentally stimulating, as any self-respecting puzzle game should be.

On the downside of things, Soldam doesn’t boast a whole lot of variety.  Along with the traditional mode of trying to get a high score, there’s also an “endless mode,” two-player versus matches, and challenge mode, which puts you into a series of quick objectives (eliminate so many rows within a set number of turns, destroy several rows at the same time, etc.). There’s definitely fun to be had here, but none of the additional modes add a whole lot to the experience.

Soldam may not rank as one of the best falling block titles I’ve played, but its simple mechanic of flanking proves to be a very engaging concept, and the game is complimented by cute visuals and characters, as well as a catchy soundtrack. Soldam may not be the perfect puzzler, but it makes for a fine addition to any collection for fans of the genre.

 

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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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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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Top 5 Video Game Launch Titles

 

SMB

Video game consoles are defined by their best games. Sometimes, consoles don’t have to wait very long to receive a console-defining game. Sometimes such a game is available on day one, if not included right out of the box with the console! Although this trend of iconic launch games has dwindled in more recent years, there’s no denying the impact a launch game can have on its system. Here are what I consider to be the top five launch games of all time. But first, let’s take a look at some honorable mentions. Continue reading “Top 5 Video Game Launch Titles”