Super Smash Bros. Ultimate is finally here, and it’s yet another jewel in the crown that is the Nintendo Switch. Although it may be premature of me to say this, given I haven’t tried out all of its modes yet, but Ultimate may very well be the best Super Smash Bros. title yet.
Like any sequel to a multiplayer title, the gameplay hasn’t exactly changed much, but something about it definitely feels smoother. It just feels right to control. It’s hard to explain, but it seems like every returning character I’ve tried feels more fluid to control than they did in past games, and the newcomers are just as smooth. The gameplay may be the series’ trademark “sumo rules” take on the fighting genre, but it just feels so polished.
Another big improvement over past games is the Classic Mode. As much as I appreciate Super Smash Bros for 3DS/Wii U trying to make Classic Mode into something bigger, it never really enticed me to try it out with every character. But here in Ultimate, I find myself wanting to complete Classic Mode with every new character I unlock. The beauty lies in its simplicity, as Classic Mode sees each character go through six fights, a bonus stage and a boss enemy, with each character’s opponents being vague (or literal) little callbacks to their own games.
For example, Ryu’s version utilizes stamina rules to reflecting the traditional fighter nature of Street Fighter. Meanwhile, Mega Man’s journey ends with a battle against Dr. Mario who, once defeated, becomes Mewtwo, subtly referencing the final fight against Dr. Wily in Mega Man 2). And in perhaps my favorite example, Dr. Mario’s fights are against triple opponents, with each bearing a red, blue and yellow color scheme in reference to the viruses from the classic puzzler. It’s just simple, fun and addictive.
Admittedly, the Adventure Mode, dubbed ‘World of Light’ is one I have yet to play. I’ll get around to it, but honestly, Brawl’s Supspace Emisary story mode was kind of a glorified means of unlocking every character. So I’m not exactly rushing into the story mode when everything else is already so much fun. So no opinions on World of Light for now.
Much to my pleasant surprise, it was actually really easy to play against my friends online! I know, that seems shocking considering this is a Nintendo game that isn’t Mario Kart, but playing against friends is actually accessible. That alone gets huge brownie points from me. I also haven’t experienced any lag issues when playing against opponents on a broader online scale, so that’s also an improvement from its predecessors. I have heard some people say the specific searches for quick online matches aren’t very accurate (one-on-one proponents experiencing repeated multi-man matches and such), but I haven’t tried that myself yet so I can’t comment. But the sheer easiness of playing against friends alone feels like a godsend, given all the hoops you usually have to jump through for such features in Nintendo games (I’m looking your way, Splatoon 2).
Then, of course, we have the characters. The title’s main selling point is that every past fighter from Super Smash Bros’ history is present. And with a small batch of newcomers, as well as ‘echo fighters’ we have about 70 characters (depending on how you count Pokemon Trainer). That’s a pretty hefty lineup of characters. And while the roster isn’t perfect (Geno isn’t in it), there really is such a wide variety of characters that, no matter what your play style is, you’re bound to find multiple characters you like. I personally have quickly become a King K. Rool man (hey, if Super Mario RPG isn’t represented, I’m going with my other favorite SNES title, DKC2).
All in all, I find myself having trouble putting Super Smash Bros. Ultimate down. In a weird way, it doesn’t feel quite as “massive” as the past few entries in terms of what it adds compared to what came before, but it does feel better. It takes the best bits and pieces of past Super Smash Bros. games and makes something that feels like one of those ‘special’ Nintendo releases on par with Breath of the Wild or Super Mario Odyssey.
Because of their limited resources, indie games often have to rely on a specific ‘hook’ to compensate for their smaller scale. Minit is one such indie game, and one whose charm stems from its particular gameplay hook which, in a weird way, seems to be a parody of indie games with said hooks. Though it’s mostly modeled after 2D Zelda adventures, Minit also feels equally inspired by WarioWare. That’s because the aforementioned ‘hook’ of Minit is that the player character dies and returns to a checkpoint every sixty seconds, keeping whatever items you claim in a given life, meaning that you’ll make incremental progress at a time.
It’s a fun and charming little gimmick, as you rush to get even a single objective done within the allotted minute. Your house is your initial checkpoint where you’ll respawn after every minute, though there are other houses (as well as a hotel and a trailer) that become your new checkpoint when entering, thus serving as shortcuts to different objectives.
As stated, Minit works like a bite-sized Zelda. The player character (who resembles a Tamagotchi creature) travels the land, completes puzzles, and helps others to gain items. The ultimate goal of the game is to stop a factory from producing cursed swords, which are the cause of the “one minute of life” curse. With your own such cursed sword, you fight off enemies, but the character can only equip one primary item at a time, so for certain lives you may have to replace your sword with another item (found right outside your current checkpoint once collected) in order to solve a particular puzzle. It makes for some fun puzzle-solving as you try to use every last second effectively.
Perhaps the game’s greatest strength is how the setup allows for players to tackle it in different ways. Only a handful of items need to be acquired in order to stop the factory, but others still exist out in the game’s world to be collected, along with additional hearts and gold coins. Basically, even though the game is already served up in bits and pieces, it works in such a way that should really appeal to speed runners. On the downside, while Minit may be fun while it lasts, it doesn’t last very long, with most players probably able to complete the whole thing in about two hours. And unless you are really into speed running or are a completionist, I can’t imagine Minit would have too much replay value.
While it may seem like unfair to criticize the graphics of an indie game of limited resources and budget, the fact that Minit’s graphics lead to me dying more than any enemies seems to be a bit of a problem. Although the character designs are charmingly simplistic, the black and white graphics can often lead to objects blurring together, and I found my clock hit ‘0’ quite often simply because I couldn’t tell where I could and couldn’t go. Even the puzzles themselves can, at times, be pretty vague with what you’re supposed to be doing.
Minit may be something of “Zelda meets WarioWare” in concept then, but it lacks the depth of the former, and the latter’s instant communication. Minit could be better polished then, and it may not have enough substance to it to make up for its short playtime. But all things considered, Minit is a fun little experiment that strips the Zelda template to its barebones minimum, and should leave those with the interest finding scurrying to find ways to save every precious second.
Control is something we too often take for granted in video games. Even exceptional games usually require the player to get into the meat of things before they get truly engaging. But every so often, a game comes along where it’s thrilling as soon as you pick up the controller. It’s rare that you find a video game where the simple act of moving the character is a joy unto itself. Super Mario has continuously won us over by setting the standard for platforming controls in both his 2D and 3D iterations. Sonic the Hedgehog dared us to see just how fast he could go, bouncing around stages like a pinball. Alucard traversed the haunted halls of Dracula’s castle with a sense of grace worthy of Ayami Kojima’s beautiful illustrations. And Link paved the way for 3D combat with the likes of Ocarina of Time and The Wind Waker.
Thanks to Insomniac Games, Marvel’s Spider-Man now enters these hallowed halls. Although there’s plenty to enjoy about Insomniac’s take on the iconic web-slinger, its single greatest joy is found simply in moving Spider-Man around New York City. From swinging on skyscrapers to running up walls, Marvel’s Spider-Man succeeds in making players feel like they’re the one behind Spider-Man’s mask. It’s that rare kind of game that just feels right. This is how Spider-Man should play.
Insomniac puts their own spin on the Spider-Man mythology. Mercifully ignoring the origin story we all know, this version of Peter Parker has donned the Spider-Man name for eight years, frequently butting heads with the forces of William Fisk (AKA “The Kingpin”), and putting away super villains like the Vulture, Rhino, Shocker, Electro, and Scorpion some time ago. When he’s not fighting crime, Peter works as the assistant to an down-on-his-luck Dr. Otto Octavius (who has yet to become the villainous Doctor Octopus), giving up his job as photographer at the Dailey Bugle (though his lady-friend Mary Jane Watson is now a reporter for that very newspaper). Meanwhile, Norman Osborne has not become the evil Green Goblin, instead having been voted as the (corrupt) mayor of New York City some time ago.
This unique take on the Spider-Man universe gives the game a fresh slate to build on. With Spider-Man being a veteran at his spider-duties, and his two most iconic villains yet to take up their mantles, the story and setting of the game definitely stand out in the franchise.
The game begins with Spider-Man taking the fight to Fisk himself. But after the Kingpin gets put behind bars, a new, more vicious mob begins to overrun New York City, the Demons. That’s a brief summation of the setup, though without spoiling anything, it does get a lot heftier than the simplicity of its setup would suggest. The story is split into three acts, with the final act almost feeling like a full-on sequel to the rest of the game. Overall, it’s probably my favorite Spider-Man story since Spider-Man 2.
Though the story is progressed one mission at a time, various side quests can be found around New York City, which not only give players plenty to do at their own leisure, but also provide numerous means to build up Spider-Man’s abilities. By completing side quests and meeting certain objectives, the player can unlock new gadgets – which give Spidey different web-based moves – and even new spider suits (many of which pay homage to Spidey’s past), with each suit providing its own bonuses and abilities. Spider-Man can also gain experience points and level up (it seems like every game requires RPG elements these days), which allows you to unlock new moves and upgrade the gadgets and abilities you already possess. Thankfully, not only does Spider-Man gain experience by traditional means (combat, completing missions), but doing things as simple as performing stunts during your web-slinging travels will inch you ever closer to the next level.
It’s actually surprising, how deep Spider-Man’s abilities go. With so many different play styles between Spidey’s moves, suits, gadgets and abilities, there’s no shortage of options for those who want to tackle the game their own way. I personally preferred trip mines that lassoed enemies together in webs, and throwing baddies to stick them to walls. But others may prefer explosive webs and the suits’ special weaponry. Or they may just love throwing environmental objects at enemies. There’s all kinds of ways to enjoy the combat of Marvel’s Spider-Man.
Speaking of combat, you will be doing much of it throughout the game. Mechanically, it works a lot like the combat system of the Batman Arkham series, though it flows more fluidly and feels more polished. And as stated, you have a lot more options to work with here, so no matter how many times you get in a scuffle, you can always try out different abilities and combinations to see what you like best. Unfortunately, there is one drawback to a number of combat sections that lives on from the Arkham games, and that’s that many combat sections just drag on and on. Again, the combat is never bad, but there will be numerous occasions when you’ll feel like the waves and waves of enemies feel unnecessary and redundant. It’s not a major issue, but while the sheer joy of swinging across New York City may never lose its luster, you may feel that many of the combat sections overstay their welcome.
The game’s other downside is that many of the side quests will become repetitious after a while. Almost every optional objective is part of a series of similar objectives (conducting research for Harry Osborne while he’s away in Europe, performing quick challenges for the Taskmaster, etc.). In small doses these side endeavors can be entertaining detours in their own right, but for those aiming for either one-hundred percent completion or maximizing Spider-Man’s stats, you may grow weary of doing the same objectives over and over again.
These elements ultimately prove to be minor complaints, however, as the main story is filled with fun twists and turns both in terms of its narrative and in its gameplay. There are even sections where you can play as Mary Jane Watson or Miles Morales which emphasize stealth (given their lack of super powers). Admittedly, the Miles Morales sections lack variety, but the MJ segments find ways to keep building upon themselves in fun ways.
Of course, the biggest appeal of the game is Spider-Man himself. The Arkham titles were previously considered the benchmark for super hero games for the way they made players feel like Batman. But I don’t think even the best entry in that series quite captured the essence of its titular hero the way Marvel’s Spider-Man puts players in the role of Spidey. The combat is fun and always evolving, but it’s the simple act of motion – the speed, the momentum, the physics – that provides the game’s greatest triumph. The game even features one of the most robust photo modes you will find in a game, a totally unnecessary but greatly appreciated feature that really hits the point home of all the crazy scenarios and actions Spidey can find himself in.
The side quests and other character sections aren’t always winners, and sometimes the game may not know when enough waves of mobsters are enough, but they’re small prices to pay for how well Marvel’s Spider-Man realizes its story and characters, and for how exhilarating it is just to travel around New York City as everyone’s friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Well, the final Super Smash Bros. Ultimate-focused Nintendo Direct before the game’s launch has come and gone. And, well…that was it? I mean, really? That’s it? To use an old (and pretty disgusting) phrase, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was about to win the race, and then crapped its pants right at the finish line.
Look, I have no doubts that – mechanically speaking – Super Smash Bros. Ultimate will still be a very fun game. It has a solid foundation to work from, and it really can’t be too bad in terms of gameplay if it sticks to what the series does best (Brawl was also a very fun game, even with the tripping). But the forty or so minutes it took for the Direct to begin and end made Ultimate go from my most anticipated game of the year, to one I’m simply going to play and review. And that’s kind of sad when I think about it.
Let’s get the big bad out of the way first: Geno is not in the game. Despite being arguably the single most requested character to join the series for well over a decade, he’s still MIA. And I know people will say I’m just being sour over the character I wanted not making it, but here’s two things: 1) This is a series built on fan-service, so being bummed out about your favorite character not making it is actually a reasonable disappointment (provided that the character in question was a likely possibility, which Geno very much was at this point). And more importantly 2) It’s not like I’m the only one who wanted Geno. Like I said, he’s been possibly the most requested character for years, rivaled only by Ridley and King K. Rool, who collectively became known as the “Big Three.”
Look, I think it would be awesome if Muddy Mole were added to Super Smash Bros., but I also know I’m just about the only person who thinks that. So no harm no foul with that omission. But Geno? Pretty much everyone and their grandmother wanted him at this point, and after giving fans what they wanted with Ridley and King K. Rool, people actually expected Geno to make it in. So now it all feels like a cruel tease, especially after that Mii Fighter costume debacle last time around…
“But Geno’s too obscure! He was in one game! He hasn’t been seen in years!” is what the detractors (AKA people who apologize for everything Sakurai does) would say. But none of those arguments hold a bit of weight by this point, considering K. Rool and several other characters hadn’t been seen in years, obscure characters have been part of the series since day one (EarthBound, Ice Climbers), and the fact that a character like Dark Pit is in the game at all means relevance clearly isn’t an issue. Hell, if anything, the demand for Geno over the years has actually made him more relevant than ever. Besides, Ultimate is the fifth (technically sixth) installment in the Super Smash Bros. series. We got all the most recognizable characters out of the way long ago, now was the time to get crazy with the fan-service. Instead Ultimate only went halfway.
Again, if we were talking about a character I wanted, but I know I was alone in wanting, I would give it a pass. But when a character has actually grown more iconic because people want him in Smash Bros., wouldn’t you think they’d prioritize such a character? As stated, if we weren’t teased with a Mii Fighter costume in the last game in might not sting as much, but after that mess, it feels like the fans were practically owed the character.
It’s not just Geno’s exclusion, but other characters that people have wanted for years also got left in the cold. Isaac from Golden Sun is still an Assist Trophy. Again, people would say I just regret the omissions of my favorite characters, but I’ve never actually played Golden Sun (it’s on my to do list), so I’m not talking about personal history or want here. But I sure as hell know he’s been one of the more requested characters over the years, certainly more so than many characters who are already there (did anyone really want three different Marth clones?), so the fact that the Direct just casually showed Isaac still stuck in his Assist Trophy position and just expected people to be cool with it is kind of insulting. I mean, could they have at least made a bigger deal about him somehow? It basically just screamed “you want this character? Yeah, we don’t care.”
Yet even more notable omissions include Skull Kid and Dixie Kong (the latter of which having no excuse for not having been in the series for some time already). Two prominent, highly requested characters from two of Nintendo’s biggest series. But, y’know, screw them. And yes, I know, from the beginning, Sakurai said there wouldn’t be too many newcomers this time around. But you would think, with fewer newcomers, they’d actually put the most requested characters front and center. At the very least, had Geno made it, I’m guessing the other exclusions would have been a little easier to swallow, considering it would mean we’d finally be getting the “Big Three.”
What makes the omissions sting all the more is the final lineup of newcomers in the Direct. Ken from Street Fighter makes sense, but it’s kind of hard to get too excited over a clone of an existing character. What makes less sense, however, is that the final ‘new’ character was revealed as Incineroar from Pokemon Sun/Moon.
Look, I get that Pokemon is Nintendo’s big money maker, and I’ve said in the past that Pokemon (along with Mario and Zelda) is one of the few series that could have as many characters as it wants and it would be hard to argue against it. But THAT’S the final character you decide to reveal? Incineroar isn’t even as popular as fellow Sun/Moon starter Dicidueye, who would have been a more unique character anyway. I mean, I’m not totally opposed to Incineroar, but to be the final character in the starting roster? Talk about a popcorn fart of a reveal… Would have been better off revealing Incineroar months ago and ending with the Belmonts and K. Rool.
Since I mentioned the starting roster, it is important to note that Sakurai has promised that, through the first year or so after Ultimate’s release, a quintet of DLC characters will be released, each coming with their own stage and selections of music. So there is hope yet for Geno, Skull Kid, and Dixie (not sure on Isaac though, given that they kept him as an Assist Trophy). But still, wouldn’t revealing someone like Geno (after already having Ridley and K. Rool) been the perfect final character? Incineroar just seems so…unceremonious.
There is a downside to the DLC, however, in that the five characters are still a mystery. So while we can all be hopeful that those aforementioned fan favorites will make the cut, after having the rug pulled from under us time and again from the Smash Bros. series’ character choices, it’s kind of hard to get too excited. I mean, if Geno couldn’t make it even after teasing everyone with the Mii costume, it’s more than a little bit of a kick to the crotch of the fans.
Speaking of the DLC, however, there is one inclusion that might be even more questionable than Incineroar’s baffling presence as the final reveal… Piranha Plant is going to be a DLC fighter shortly after the game’s launch. Thankfully, it’s separate from the other five mentioned mystery DLC characters, but yes, a standard enemy from the Mario series gets in before the handfuls of characters fans have been requesting for years. That’s… that’s just insulting. I mean, I think Waluigi is a pretty lame character, and I think his requests for inclusion is little more than a joke taken too far. But at least Waluigi is a character! I think he’s earned a spot before a basic enemy like a Piranha Plant, no matter how much of a staple they are to their series. And if we’re throwing in standard enemies now, why not add the Waddle Dee with the bandana, since people at least wanted him? It is the most baffling inclusion, and not in a good “I wasn’t expecting that!” kind of way, but in a “wow, no one asked for that…” kind of way.
Sure, the Direct also revealed things like the new Story Mode, titled ‘Spirits.’ And I know some people are excited for a story mode. But in a game like Super Smash Bros., a story mode isn’t exactly the selling point. I’m sure more people would have preferred to see more of their requested characters make it into a series all about providing fan-service than they would like a story mode out of a fighting game. I mean, Brawl’s story mode – Subspace Emmisary – became pretty infamous for being a means to unlock the characters, and then completely forgotten about afterwards. And while the Spirits mechanic has some appeal, I again state that people would have probably preferred more newcomers over it.
Yeah yeah, Sakurai apologists would just write me off as being salty about the exclusions, but again, I’m talking about characters fans have wanted for years (some for over a decade). And they get bumped (yet again) for uneventful inclusions like Ken and Incineroar, and a Piranha Plant, something no one wanted. How exactly were they expecting people to react to these final announcements?
Sure, I’ll repeat myself and say I’m sure the game will be good fun in terms of gameplay and mechanics. But whatever steam Super Smash Bros. Ultimate picked up in the past few months through the likes of the Inklings, Ridley, Simon Belmont and King K. Rool came to a screeching halt in the span of forty minutes. Sure, Ultimate has already added some good new characters, but if you’re playing the lottery it doesn’t matter how many numbers you have, if you’re missing out on the last number, you still lose the jackpot.
Well, here’s hoping those five mystery DLC characters end up being worth the hype. In the meantime… Meh.
Probably the most hyped video game of the year, Red Dead Redemption 2, was released last week. And after growing old waiting for my PS4 to install the game, I’ve managed to put a good number of hours into it. So here are my thoughts so far.
The good news is, it’s easy to see why people were so excited for the game, given its sheer scope not just in size, but content. It really does feel like you can interact with pretty much everything in one way or another. You can completely ignore the story and just spend time playing poker or robbing passersby on the road. You can make small talk with citizens, take baths, go hunting, and play Dominos (though even in a video game, I still don’t get it). It’s simply fun just goofing off and doing your own thing.
Red Dead Redemption 2 is a very meticulous game, with all of the above activities (and so many others) having their own rules and mechanics. It feels like everything about the game’s world is given an extreme attention to detail. This level of intricacy is felt in the game’s sense of realism. Arthur Morgan – the player character – really feels like he has human limitations that other video game characters don’t have.
Similar to Breath of the Wild, Morgan needs to eat, dress appropriately for the weather, and craft materials in order to survive. Unlike Breath of the Wild, Morgan can’t climb every surface, and struggles against the environment as much as he does fellow outlaws. Your horses also need to be taken care of, and yes, you can even let Morgan grow a beard, and then decide how to shave his facial hair.
On the downside of things, I think this emphasis on realism can sometimes be frustrating. Having to stop and set up camp in the middle of a quest, and then needing to use item after item to keep all your stats in order can grow a little tedious after a while. Breath of the Wild’s similar survival elements were much quicker paced and always enhanced the experience. By comparison, Red Dead Redemption 2’s survival aspects can be involving, but just as often can feel cumbersome, and drag what is already a very long game out even longer.
Another problem I have is shuffling through items. Now, RDR2 is wise enough to have a Secret of Mana-esque item wheel for most of the essentials by holding the L1 button (though going to a menu is still required for many other items). But I kind of wish you had to hit a button to select an item, instead of simply letting go of L1 on a highlighted item, because this often causes me numerous problems when I’m in a firefight.
Although I’m less than twenty percent through the story, I’ve already encountered some notable technical issues. One especially egregious moment saw two bounty hunters randomly spawn in front of me as I was going through a tutorial on crafting while camping, the bounty hunters bumped into me with their horse, which canceled my crafting (and the dialogue that went with it). The bounty hunters then instantly despawned (and later respawned), and I couldn’t get back to my tutorial, so I had to kill myself to get back to the previous checkpoint. I’ve also witnessed a few instances of NPCs’ character models suddenly changing (a man working a hotel lobby inexplicably transformed into a bandaged version of himself and back again in the span of time it took to rent a bath). Granted, with just how massive and detailed the game is, you could say that such technical issues are almost expected. But does that really change the fact that they’re issues?
With all that said, I have had a mostly stellar time with Red Dead Redemption so far despite the flaws. It is a very easy game to get lost in and just have fun acting out the old west. I still have a long way to go before I reach the end of the story, so I guess I’ll have to wait and see how long the game remains engrossing. As it stands, Read Dead Redemption 2 has so far been an addicting, if flawed time.
October 2018 has been my slowest month of updates on this site since I launched it back on Christmas Day of 2014. I’ve only written three posts (two game reviews and a movie review) so far, so I figured I’d write a little something so things don’t seem too empty.
Don’t worry your pretty little head, my slower updates aren’t a sign that I’m losing interest in this site. I have no plans to stop writing Wizard Dojo. Even if I become a successful game designer or something along those lines (as I hope to be), I’d still try to find some way to update this site.
The simple fact of the matter is…I’ve been busy.
Along with life being, well, life… Zipping through all those Mega Man X games in September also kind of burned me out (BURN TO THE GROUND!). So I was already going to take things easier in regards to this site in October, though I didn’t mean to take it this easy.
Looking ahead to November and December, I hope to pick back up some steam, and carry it through 2019. With that said – and I’ve mentioned this before – I expect my reviews of more recent games to slow down a bit moving forward.
There are two obvious, simple reasons for this. Reason A) video games are expensive, and as much as I’d love to review every big game that’s released, I don’t get paid to do this, and my wallet just can’t keep up. Reason 2) modern video games are just too time consuming. I love video games, but my word, they’ve become quite the time-investment (the recent release of Mega Man 11 was a total delight. A game I can complete in a few sessions? Lovely!). So again, while I’d love to be able to play through and review every last major release, I simply don’t have the time to do that. I’m just now getting back into God of War on PS4, a game that came out months ago, and still need to start playing Ni no Kuni 2, which not only came out in the first quarter of 2018, but was one of the games I was most looking forward to this year.
Between life and priorities, in addition to having other interests and endeavors (again, I’d like to make a game myself some day), I just can’t dedicate 60+ hours for every game that comes out just to beat them for a review. I’ve actually heard some people online complain about Super Mario Odyssey and Marvel’s Spider-Man’s campaigns being “too short” at around 15-20 hours. That actually seems like a more ideal length for a contemporary title from start to final boss (optional content is always welcome, because it’s optional). I mean, that’s most of a day right there! How is that short?!
*Also, speaking of Spider-Man on PS4, that’s probably my next game review*
Long story short, I have no plans to slow down this site in terms of content, but I think it’s safe to say most of my reviews going forward will be for shorter games (retro titles, indie games) and movies. Yes, I still plan on reviewing TV shows at some point, but don’t expect them to be a regular occurrence.
As of this writing, I’ve reviewed 319 video games, so I don’t feel like I’m leaving my readers short if I slow down on AAA titles and such. Besides, it’s not like I’m never going to review big-budget, lengthy games, just that you can expect my reviews building up to the 400 and 500 (and beyond) milestones being mostly comprised of games from yesteryear and those of a smaller scale. And also games with 15-20 hour campaigns. Which are short, apparently…
Oh, and yes, I still hope to make videos of some capacity. And what’s that? My list of all-time favorite video games? Yeah, that’s still a thing at some point.
Alright, this filler update has gone on long enough now. I hope you’re not too bummed about my recent dry spell and the news that I’ll be slowing down on high profile games in the not-too-distant future. Hope you’ll still put up with my nonsense.
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.