Super Mario RPG Turns 26!

Today, May 13th, 2022, marks the twenty-sixth anniversary of the release of Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars on the Super Nintendo in North America (it was released in Japan two months prior). I know, you’re probably thinking “twenty-six is a random anniversary to point out for something like this.” And you may have a point. But last year I (of all people) failed to write about Super Mario RPG’s twenty-fifth anniversary! I wrote a bunch of anniversary posts for other things in 2021, yet failed to acknowledge the anniversary of what is most likely my favorite video game of all time. So consider this my recompence.

Come to think of it, I failed to mention Paper Mario’s twentieth anniversary in 2021 as well (and its twenty-first a few months back)… I’ve become everything I’ve ever hated.

Anyway…

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was released on the Super NES twenty-six years ago, and instantly became one of the most beloved Mario games and RPGs of all time. Although its release being so late in the SNES’s lifecycle – as well as the release of the Nintendo 64 and Super Mario 64 a few months later – may have affected its sales somewhat at the time, Super Mario RPG would still prove to be a success. And true to its name, it became something of a legend in the video game world, with word of mouth helping its reputation grow over the years.

“The best battle system.”

Sadly, Super Mario RPG seems to be the one Mario game that won’t get a sequel. Although it would inspire the Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi sub-series (and influence many other RPGs outside of the Mario series), Super Mario RPG itself has only continued on through a few cameos and a couple of snippets of music in subsequent Mario games. Despite fans’ persistent yearning to see the characters and elements of Super Mario RPG make a return, their pleas continue to fall on deaf ears.

There is a glimmer of hope, as Chihiro Fujioka, the director of Super Mario RPG, has recently expressed his desire to create a sequel to the SNES classic as his last game before retirement. Fingers crossed that Chihiro Fujioka gets his way.

Even without a sequel, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars has left an indelible mark in Nintendo history and earned its legendary status. It’s the game that gave the Mushroom Kingdom a story, introduced the world to Mallow and Geno, made Bowser the most likable character ever, and made turn-based battles way more fun! A legend? Oh, you better believe it!

“In what other game can Bowser do battle with a giant cake?”

Happy Twenty-sixth anniversary, Super Mario RPG!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go listen to that godly soundtrack again!

My Month in Movies: April 2022

I guess I have another “My Month in Movies” left in the tank. Despite my saying these things aren’t going to be monthly, I’ve ended up doing them almost every month since I started doing them last October (for movies I watched in September). The only exception was February. Seeing as Uncharted was the only movie I watched during that whole month, I guess it makes sense I skipped it.

Still, I don’t expect to continue to make these kinds of posts regularly (I say that now). I still have movies and games from last year I’ve been meaning to review but still haven’t. I should really get to those soon. But, this month had a bit of a theme going, so I figured I’d make another My Month in Movies for the occasion.

That theme was video game movies! Although I watched a few films outside of the category, I watched six video game movies in April, and I couldn’t resist writing about them.

In total, I watched nine movies in April of 2022. Again, movies marked with an asterisk are ones I watched for the very first time.

Sonic the Hedgehog (2020)

Sonic the Hedgehog 2*

The Last Blockbuster

Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore*

Double Dragon

The Bad Guys*

Mortal Kombat (1995)

Street Fighter

Super Mario Bros. (1993)

So again, you could say video game movies were the name of the… game! Ho ho! It’s just unfortunate that I didn’t get around to watching Mortal Kombat Annihilation or the 2021 Mortal Kombat reboot as I originally planned. Maybe I’ll do another video game movie-themed post in the near future as an excuse to watch them.

I know, I know, video game movies don’t exactly have the best reputation. But as I’ve stated in the past, the earlier entries in the sub-genre are like guilty pleasures. They tended to be dumb and goofy, but they were so bad they were entertaining. It was probably in the 2000s when video game movies became unspeakably bad. But, as I mentioned in my reviews for the Sonic movies and as I’ll soon mention here, video game movies have now found a way to be genuinely good.

My first movie this month was a re-watch of 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, AKA the last big movie before the pandemic (seriously). I love this movie. It has its problems, but I kind of don’t really care. It’s a fun movie that pays respect to the video game series (something not a lot of video game movies have done), and it gives Jim Carrey an excuse to be the most manic he’s been since the 90s. And as Dr. Robotnik, one of my all-time favorite video game characters, no less!

Sure, the structure can be a little flimsy at times, and the movie really jumps through hoops to try to explain why Sonic needs help from his human friend Tom Wachowski (James Marsden). But again, if I’m watching a movie based on Sonic the Hedgehog and starring Jim Carrey as Dr. Robotnik, I mostly care that the movie is fun. And 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog is just that, fun.

And let’s all be grateful that the filmmakers and studio decided to redesign Sonic after that horrifying first trailer. Otherwise the film wouldn’t have worked (can’t really make a kids’ movie based on a classic video game character if that character gave kids nightmares), and we probably wouldn’t have gotten its superior sequel without the change.

Also, something to note: in my original review for Sonic the Hedgehog, I mentioned the only piece of music from the games that made it into the film’s score were a few renditions of the iconic Green Hill Zone theme. But that’s inaccurate. There’s one other musical number lifted from the games, as the film begins with the opening theme from Sonic Mania! That’s a really nice touch!

My next movie was logically Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Boy, this film did not disappoint! It’s a bigger, better sequel, pays even more loving homage to the games, features Tails and Knuckles, and Jim Carrey looks like Robotnik this time around (minus the round belly. Though word is Jim Carrey has wanted to portray a game-accurate Robotnik since the first film. Maybe by the time Sonic 3 rolls around Jim Carrey will go full Eggman with a fat suit). Yes, it can get goofy at times, but that’s hardly an unforgivable sin.

The simple fact is that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is some of the purest fun I’ve had in a movie in years. I think it’d be fun even if you didn’t know the games. But this is a movie that really cares about going the extra mile for the adults who grew up with Sonic the Hedgehog, and the kids who are growing up with Sonic the Hedgehog. Something like that is becoming pretty rare in this day and age.

Perhaps in retrospect my only real disappointment (besides the mid-credits tease) is that, unlike the first movie, I don’t think any of the music from the games made it into the film’s score. That’s doubly a bummer given how awesome that snippet of Emerald Hill Zone from the film’s teaser was.

Next up we take a break from video game movies and go into movie movies. Or movie documentaries. Or video rental documentaries. I’m talking about The Last Blockbuster, okay!

The Last Blockbuster was released in 2020, and chronicles how Blockbuster Video went from being a brand as big as McDonald’s to going broke and dwindling down to a single store (in Bend, Oregon). It’s a fun, nostalgic documentary that showcases some of the boneheaded business decisions Blockbuster made over the years (like not buying Netflix early on when they had the chance, and that illogical “no more late fees” thing). It really makes me miss the days of going to Blockbuster to rent a movie (or video game) every week. Hell, it makes me miss the days when I ordered movies in the mail from Netflix!

In the days before the internet, I discovered a number of games just by scrolling through Blockbuster shelves (I must have rented Brave Fencer Musashi at least a half dozen times before actually buying it). It’s kind of a shame we can’t have anything like that anymore. Damn internet.

The Last Blockbuster is definitely a fun watch, though I do wish it found a greater variety of film buffs to interview on the subject (a minute of Kevin Smith is too much Kevin Smith for me).

Going from Blockbuster and back into a movie theater, my next movie was Fantastic Beasts: The Secrets of Dumbledore. Boy, are the subtitles for this series goofy.

I’ve actually been meaning to review this one, so I won’t say too much here. In short, I think The Secrets of Dumbledore is an improvement over its predecessor The Crimes of Grindlewald (seriously, those titles!), but it still fails to capture the magic of the Harry Potter series. Dumbledore feels like a big dose of course correction after the bungling second installment, but hasn’t elevated Fantastic Beasts to where I think it could be. But maybe now that it’s been pointed in the right direction and with two installments to go, maybe it can find greatness before the end.

I then dipped my toes back into the video game movie pool with Double Dragon from 1994. It’s uhhh… It’s no Sonic the Hedgehog.

I didn’t put an asterisk next to Double Dragon at the beginning of this post because I have technically seen it once before. But this may as well have been the first time because the previous time I watched it was when it was in theaters, and I would have been five at the time, given the film’s late ’94 release. So this viewing was basically like watching Double Dragon for the first time, and is most likely the longest gap in between my first and second viewings of a movie (not that I, or anyone else, could keep track of such a statistic).

This is a bad movie. It has some ironic entertainment, but unlike the other video game movies I would watch later in the month, Double Dragon is more guilty than pleasure.

I admit, I don’t have the deepest history with the Double Dragon video games, but I seem to remember them taking place in essentially an 80s-style setting, filled with martial arts and street gangs of a Karate Kid fashion. I guess the movie has street gangs and an approximation of martial arts, but it also takes place in the “future” of 2007, where a massive earthquake has devastated Los Angeles, giving the film a kind of post-apocalyptic setting. Also the bad guy uses a machine to mutate the gang members working for him into grotesque monstrosities, with the character Abobo from the game being one such creature.

I admit I haven’t played all of the Double Dragon games, but were any of them like this?

Although Robert “The T-1000” Patrick has some fun as the villain, Double Dragon ultimately stumbles. It’s neither a good adaptation or a fun martial arts movie on its own.

Switching back to movie theaters, I saw Dreamworks Animation’s The Bad Guys. I already reviewed The Bad Guys, which was a lot of fun. Its story may not tread very original ground, but the animation is daring and creative. Definitely one to watch if you want something visually unique, or just a fun and humorous riff on gangster and heist movies.

For the final three movies of the month, we go back to the early days of video game adaptations. The first of these was Mortal Kombat from 1995.

Although video game movies have had a very rough history from the beginning, they had at least one gold nugget (okay, bronze) in their early years in the form of Mortal Kombat.

While Mortal Kombat may not be a technically great movie or anything, it was far ahead of other video game movies in that it gave fans want they came to see: this is very much a Mortal Kombat movie. And it’s fun.

All the characters from the original game make an appearance, and they fight. Like, a lot! Seriously, a good chunk of the middle act literally zips from one fight scene to the next. The fighting is cheesy and over-the-top, but in an entertaining way. Some fans lament that the violent “fatalities” weren’t present in the movie. But given how the series became too reliant on the violence later on, I feel like the movie’s relatively tame violence makes it stand out in the franchise. I also like how they decided to make Raiden, the god of thunder and lightning, the funny character of the film in addition to being the mentor.

The big complaint, of course, is how Mortal Kombat’s (incredibly abrupt) ending undoes the whole point of the movie. The whole premise is that the good guys have to win the Mortal Kombat tournament to prevent the emperor of Outworld from invading Earth. Spoiler alert (for a twenty-seven-year-old movie), the good guys win the tournament. But then the emperor comes through a portal to Earth in the last seconds of the film anyway. If you know the stories of the games, this does play into the sequel. But given that the emperor’s sudden appearance is unexplained in the movie, it comes across as a big middle finger to the plot. Yes, it’s eventually explained in Mortal Kombat Annihilation, but maybe the emperor’s emergence itself should have been saved for the sequel to give the first film a proper ending.

Mortal Kombat is a silly movie, but very much a Mortal Kombat movie. In a time when so many video game movies couldn’t even get that right, that was enough. And it’s still goofy fun.

“Unironically a magnificent final shot.”

Next up we have Street Fighter! Talk about a guilty pleasure! People use the term “so bad it’s good” a bit too liberally, but I think it’s a very apt description for the Street Fighter movie. It’s so bad, but so glorious.

Street Fighter is basically a cheesy military action movie combined with a cheesy martial arts movie, and it stars Jean-Claude Van Damme as Guile and the late Raul Julia as M. Bison.

The film has some notable deviations from the source material, such as Guile being the main character, while Ryu and Ken are bumbling comic relief. I don’t mind that too much, since they basically just swapped the generic guy wearing a gi as the main character in favor of the generic military character (personally, I always thought Chun-Li should have been the main character of the series since she stands out far more). There’s also the infamous change of Zangief being a bad guy (an idea that Wreck-It Ralph would unknowingly accept as fact), but he does go good by the end. But overall, it’s a decently faithful adaptation of Street Fighter II. Certainly a better adaptation than the anime movie, and more entertaining too.

Of course, you can’t talk about the Street Fighter movie without mentioning that it was one of Raul Julia’s last film roles. Sadly, Julia’s health had been in decline, and accepted the role of M. Bison because his kids were fans of Street Fighter and wanted to give them something to enjoy as one of his last roles (an incredibly classy act on his part). But his health rapidly declined after production began, which greatly affected the physical training for the actors (they often didn’t even get to practice for their fight scenes until right before they shot them), which probably explains why the fights are nothing special. Raul Julia would sadly pass away not long after the movie was complete, with the film dedicated to his memory.

Raul Julia really gave it his all though. He knew exactly what kind of movie he was in and made the absolute best of it, hamming M. Bisom up to high heaven and creating a gloriously cheesy villain.

The rest of the film is also cheesy fun, with Jean-Claude Van Damme being an ironic highlight (and Ming-Na Wen as Chun-Li being a more genuine one). Capcom themselves clearly thought the movie was entertaining, sneaking in sly references to the movie in some of their games (like Chun-Li being a news reporter in Mega Man 9). Hell, the film even gave Ken his last name, Masters.

Street Fighter was released in theaters less than two months after Double Dragon, so it must have been something like a palette cleanser to video game fans back in 1994. Today, if you want to indulge in some “so bad it’s good” fun, Street Fighter is one of the best options. As is my final movie of the month…

I ended the month with the video game movie that started it all, Super Mario Bros. from 1993. Like Street Fighter, I consider Super Mario Bros. to be one of my great guilty pleasures, and a movie that’s so bad it’s good. Although Street Fighter probably has more genuinely praise-worthy elements, I still put Super Mario Bros. in the same boat because it is such a weird, surreal movie that it really does have to be seen to be believed.

Again, the Super Mario Bros. movie is a bad movie, but it is fascinating to behold. You may honestly ask yourself “what the hell am I watching?” when viewing it.

The film’s first slip-up was, of course, the fact that it’s live-action. How anyone could look at the Super Mario Bros. games, and decide live-action made any kind of sense for the series, I will surely never know. It’s perhaps no surprise then, that the film’s second great mistake is that it has virtually nothing to do with the games other than some of the character names (the film uses the Super Mario Bros. theme music during the opening title in what may be the most cruel tease in cinema history).

Granted, I stand by my past claims that early video game movies have a pretty decent excuse for their less-than ideal quality in that the video games of the time were so different from movies that adapting them for the silver screen would be difficult. And Super Mario Bros. was the first theatrical video game movie adaptation (there was a straight-to-video Mario anime in Japan previously), so it’s understandable that sailing such uncharted waters would be a difficult task for the movie. Now, I’m not excusing the Super Mario Bros. movie of its faults, but at least given the circumstances of the time, they make sense.

Some people complain about casting the late, great British actor Bob Hoskins as Mario and the Colombian actor John Leguizamo as Luigi, since the Mario Brothers are, you know, Italian. But honestly, Mario is such a cartoony character that I hardly think it matters (I also don’t mind Chris Pratt voicing Mario in the upcoming animated film). I’m more offended by the fact that they didn’t give Luigi a mustache. Plus, I think both actors do a fine job despite the rest of the movie, with Bob Hoskins in particular doing a great job at portraying a more realistic take on Mario as a plumber from Brooklyn. Though the fact that the film focuses so intensely on Mario’s occupation – which is little more than a tidbit in the video games – is telling of how poorly the movie understood the material.

“Pictured: Bowser and some Goombas. No, seriously.”

Oh yeah, and the film’s version of Bowser is President Koopa, portrayed by Dennis Hopper. The Goombas are really tall guys with tiny lizard heads for some reason. The film also uses the name Daisy for the princess (Princess Daisy having only appeared in Super Mario Land at the time), I suppose because the name Peach (or Toadstool) wasn’t realistic enough in a movie as grounded in reality as this. By the way, did I mention that the premise of the film is that the meteorite that wiped out the dinosaurs actually created a parallel universe where the dinosaurs evolved into humanoid beings, and Koopa wants the missing piece of the meteorite to merge the dimensions? So that’s fine, but the name Princess Toadstool is going too far.

Perhaps the most hilarious changes from the games are the little things, like how the Mario Bros. wear special shoes to allow them to jump high (because that really needed an explanation) or how, instead of overalls, the brothers Mario wind up wearing jumpsuits with color patterns that approximate their famous attire. Like, why couldn’t they even get the overalls right?

Even if you can somehow ignore the absolute mishandling of the Mario franchise, this movie would still be a weird fever dream of cinema. And yet, I can’t look away…

Alright, I’ve rambled long enough. Let’s dish out the usual awards so I can move on to some proper reviews (and maybe watch Street Fighter again).

Best Movie I Watched All Month *And* Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Go ahead and hate me, but I love these Sonic movies. The first one was a delightful surprise, being a legitimately good family movie that happens to star Sonic the Hedgehog. But the sequel is a full-fledged Sonic the Hedgehog movie, and the best video game movie yet made.

Obviously, Sonic 2 had a more difficult time winning over critics (but the reception was mostly positive). The fact the film is based on a video game probably had a lot of ‘professional’ critics making up their mind right off the bat, unfortunately. But for people who enjoy a little thing called “fun,” Sonic the Hedgehog 2 delivers that in droves.

Sonic 2 is terrific fun. Doubly so if you’re a fan of the source material (probably something else that turned most critics away. Can’t have fans being happy). It’s truer to the classic games than the Sonic games themselves have been in a very long time (with the exception of Sonic Mania). Who would have thought that the movie adaptations would be the best thing to happen to Sega’s flagship franchise in years?

Plus, it’s just nice to have this type of movie that has a tone, sense of humor and action scenes that don’t just ape the same stuff Marvel has been doing for a decade and a half (although the finale may come a bit close). And yes, I gave it a more glowing review than Spider-Man: No Way Home. I don’t regret that one bit.

Go ahead and hate me for praising this kids’ movie based on a video game. But it’s honest to goodness some of the most fun I’ve had with a movie in a long time.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Double Dragon

Whereas Sonic the Hedgehog 2 took video game movies to new heights, Double Dragon was something of an early low. It lacks the bungling insanity of Super Mario Bros. and doesn’t begin to compare to the glorious cheesiness of Street Fighter. So while those movies are the good kind of bad, Double Dragon isn’t so lucky.

I’ve seen worse movies (this is hardly even the worst movie to “win” in this category in the handful of months I’ve done these), and video game movies themselves would get much worse during the 2000s. But it’s safe to say that Double Dragon is pretty bad, and has less of the guilty pleasure factor of its contemporary video game movies.

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Super Mario Bros. and/or Street Fighter

“This is actually a good movie poster.”

Super Mario Bros. is a hilarious disaster of a movie. As I said, being the first (Hollywood) movie to adapt a video game was already an uphill battle, but Super Mario Bros. also had a slew of other production problems besides that. It’s really no wonder it ended up a mess. The fact that it seemed to actively avoid any semblance of faithfulness to the games it was adapting only adds a slew of other issues.

And yet, the film is so bonkers I can’t help but get a kick out of it. There are so many bizarre details in this movie: Like when the cop in the dinosaur world is questioning the Mario brothers, there’s a woman rubbing her high heel on the cop’s shoulder the whole time. What the hell is that about? There’s also the running gag of Koopa waiting for a pizza he ordered, which ultimately has no payoff.

Some people try to claim that, if you removed the Super Mario name from the equation, that this wouldn’t be too bad of a movie. But I disagree. As a fan of the Super Mario series, I think the film’s utter ineptitude at capturing even the most basic elements of the games (again, the Mario brothers don’t even have overalls) gives the picture a kind of pitiable charm akin to The Room. It’s a bad movie, but you root for it nonetheless. Take away the “Mario” element and it’s simply a bad movie.

With that said, it is obvious why Nintendo was reluctant to let anyone make another movie based on their games for the longest time (though there was an Animal Crossing anime film in 2006 which has strangely never been released outside of Japan). Nintendo didn’t let Hollywood anywhere near their franchises until Detective Pikachu in 2019. And now we have a brand-new Super Mario Bros. movie finally on the way. Although the fact that it’s being made by Illumination has me skeptical (and I hate that Seth Rogen is Donkey Kong), I’m still excited for it. Here’s hoping it learns a thing or two from the Sonic movies (and that may be the only time Mario needs to learn anything from Sonic).

Finally, how can the Street Fighter movie not put a smile on someone’s face? It is the epitome of dumb fun.

The whole movie is one big, goofy ride. Littered with cheesy dialogue and cheesier action, not to mention Jean-Claude Van Damme struggling to deliver his lines. But it’s the efforts of Raul Julia that ascend Street Fighter to glorious ridiculousness.

Double Dragon may have been squeezed in the middle of them, but it really was fitting that Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter were among the earliest video game movies. It’s just appropriate that two games of such iconic stature would be adapted before any others. You can complain about their execution all you want, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way than have Mario and Street Fighter be the first video game movie adaptations.

These movies really are two sides of the same coin. Take that as you will.


That’s all folks!

I’ve rambled quite long enough (again). So let’s put this one in the books and call it a day. I don’t know if I’ll write another “My Month in Movies” soon. But I said that before and I’ve done a few since then, so I guess we’ll see. As always, I hope you had a fun read.

Take care!

Kirby Turns 30!

Today marks the thirtieth anniversary of the release of Kirby’s Dream Land on the Game Boy and, by extension, the thirtieth anniversary of Kirby himself!

Released in Japan on April 27th 1992, Kirby’s Dream Land introduced the world to Kirby, the pink puffball who would go on to become the mascot of developer HAL Laboratory, as well as one of Nintendo’s (and gaming’s) most enduring characters. Not to mention the cutest (sorry, Pikachu and Yoshi)!

With Sonic the Hedgehog being released the year prior, video game characters (particularly platforming mascots) were becoming “cooler” and “edgier” (or trying, at any rate. None of Sonic’s imitators ever actually matched him). So in retrospect, Kirby seems like a beautifully defiant act on Nintendo and HAL’s part. Doubling down on the cuteness of their character while everyone else was aiming for “attitude.”

Hilariously, it seemed because of that, Nintendo’s marketing didn’t know how to advertise Kirby to western audiences at the time, with Kirby’s Dream Land 2’s US commercial depicting Kirby and his Animal Friends as a bunch of mean looking tough guys who beat up a bunch of bikers during poetry night! Don’t believe me?

Or what about this other advertisement for the same game, which literally says not to call Kirby and his friends cute!

It’s like, what is the taboo here? Kirby IS cute! Embrace that and roll with it!

Thankfully, they did that eventually. But it certainly took a while for the marketing to have the profound revelation that people like cute things!

Anyway, Kirby managed to power through such questionable marketing due to the quality of his games. With Kirby’s Adventure (1993), Kirby gained his signature copy abilities, which would become the series’ staple mechanic thereafter. Kirby would go on to star in dozens of games over the decades, both his traditional platforming romps and in more experimental spinoffs, making Kirby second only to Mario as gaming’s most versatile character. The most recent Kirby release, Kirby and the Forgotten Land, is the first 3D platformer in the series, and has quickly been praised as one of Kirby’s best. So the little guy certainly isn’t slowing down.

Kirby even had his own animated series in the early 2000s which lasted 100 episodes, and “Kirby Cafes” which serve Kirby themed foods have become an actual thing in Japan. So even though Kirby may not be as recognizable as Mario, Sonic or Pikachu, he’s had a similar impact.

Thirty years ago, the world was introduced to the cutest of video game heroes. Today, Kirby is still going strong as one of gaming’s best, most consistent (and strangely underrated) series.

Happy 30th birthday, Kirby!

Just don’t beat up any more bikers, okay?

Things Breath of the Wild 2 Should Learn from Elden Ring

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild was and is a brilliant game. I certainly won’t deny that. But I have to admit, in the five years since its release alongside the Nintendo Switch, I think some of Breath of the Wild’s shortcomings have been magnified with age.

I know, I know. How dare I question Zelda?! But it’s like I said, I think Breath of the Wild is a great game, just not the flawless “best game of all time” that so many people decided it was before it was even released (apparently, we’ve forgotten Super Mario World exists). It’s a wonderful game, but it has plenty of room for improvement.

This point hit home for me the more I dove into Elden Ring. Like Breath of the Wild, Elden Ring took an acclaimed video game series (in this case, From Software’s “Soulsborne” formula) and takes it into an open-world setting. Although there’s plenty of differences between the two games, they do have more than a few things in common, and I think Breath of the Wild’s upcoming sequel could learn a thing or two from Elden Ring.

A lot of people were bummed that Breath of the Wild’s yet-unnamed sequel was delayed (though we shouldn’t be surprised, as such delays are commonplace for Nintendo, and Zelda specifically). But I think Nintendo would be wise to use this delay to take a few notes from Elden Ring, in order to make “Breath of the Wild 2” an even better game than its predecessor.

In particular, there are three aspects of Breath of the Wild that I feel could really be improved on, and that Elden Ring addressed. So instead of taking a full-on deep dive to compare every aspect of Breath of the Wild and Elden Ring, let’s just focus on these three issues that Breath of the Wild 2 should really adapt from Elden Ring.

1: Better Dungeons & Optional Dungeons

I guess we technically have more than three things, because we’re starting things off with a twofer. Simply put, Breath of the Wild needed better dungeons, and it needed some outside of the main plot.

Okay, I know some people would point out that technically all the dungeons in Breath of the Wild were optional except for Hyrule Castle, since you can go straight from the tutorial to the endgame if you want. But if you wanted the full story, you had to beat the other four dungeons (the “Divine Beasts”) before heading for Hyrule Castle.

It’s those four story dungeons that could really use some improvement. All four dungeons were basically built around the same puzzle, they all looked aesthetically identical, and their bosses were all incredibly similar in both appearance and in the battles themselves (I don’t care if they were all different forms of Ganon! Ganon can pull some new tricks out of his hat!).

“Oh boy, another brown dungeon with stone mechanisms and covered with blotches of Ganon goo…”

Compared to the dungeons of previous Zelda games, Breath of the Wild’s story dungeons fell short. Even Skyward Sword – which is otherwise the weakest 3D Zelda game – had some incredible dungeons. When I played Skyward Sword HD last year, I realized how much I missed those traditional Zelda dungeons in Breath of the Wild. It almost felt like Nintendo was so proud of the open-world they created with Breath of the Wild, that they didn’t want the dungeons to outshine it, and were a little skittish when designing them.

Elden Ring has no such issue. Despite the shift to an open-world, Elden Ring makes no sacrifices when it comes to its story dungeons, which are as intricately designed as Dark Souls and Bloodborne’s best. Each story dungeon is distinct from the others, houses their own secrets and unique quirks, and ends in an epic boss encounter. Zelda should definitely take note. Just because the open-world is bigger than anything the series has seen before doesn’t mean those classic dungeons can’t be a part of it.

On top of that, Elden Ring has dozens of optional dungeons that have no bearing on the main quest. While the optional dungeons are certainly smaller and have more in common with each other than the main dungeons, it’s still great to have them. So many times I’ve been exploring in Elden Ring, only to discover a cave or doorway to a whole new dungeon to conquer. It would be so cool if Zelda had that too.

Yes, I know, Breath of the Wild did have the shrines, and I have no complaints with them. But the shrines were pretty different from dungeons, being singular puzzles more akin to a test chamber from Portal (again, a great thing). It would be great if Breath of the Wild 2 could have some dungeons outside of those in the main plot in addition to the shrines. It doesn’t even need as many of them as Elden Ring or anything. Just have some optional dungeons complete with Zelda’s classic puzzles and bosses, and I’m good.

Just imagine how cool it would be for Link to just stumble onto a full-blown dungeon not relating to the main plot. Maybe these bonus dungeons have their own story? Maybe completing them could unlock some secret weapons and items?

And speaking of weapons…

2: Permanent Weapons

As great as Breath of the Wild was, it was a pain in the ass how often your weapons broke. You’d find some legendary weapon one minute, only for it to break after fighting a small group of Bokoblins the next. Yeah, after you got a particular weapon you could then remake it with the right materials, but the fact that you can just remake some legendary weapon you discovered kind of takes away from the weapon itself. Point being, I shouldn’t have to remake it!

It baffles me that some people defend this mechanic to the death: “It makes it more immersive!” “It’s more realistic if the weapons break!” “It encourages you to make more of those weapons!” I’ve heard it all.

I’m going to say something that’s going to annoy a lot of people, but if “immersion” gets in the way of gameplay, it’s a problem. That’s why I get annoyed in Red Dead Redemption 2 (also a great game) when Arthur Morgan has to take the time to personally inspect a fallen foe for loot or skin an animal when acquiring materials (something else Elden Ring improved. You want a material? Press the button and you get it!). It may be more realistic to see Arthur Morgan collecting the materials himself, but after a while, you just want to get on with things.

Anyway, back to Zelda…

The whole weapon breaking thing makes sense with the early game stuff. If you have some rinky-dink sword or you decide to start fighting with a stick you found on the ground, I get it. It isn’t durable. My issue is that none of the weapons in Breath of the Wild were durable. They all broke so quickly you could barely enjoy them after all you went through to get them. I felt like I spent more time obsessively repairing and replacing things I already had than I did exploring new things in Hyrule.

Elden Ring avoids this issue in the simplest of ways: you find a weapon, you have that weapon; unless you sell or discard it, you keep that weapon. Beautiful.

A lot of video games do the whole “breakable weapons” thing these days. Even past Soulsborne games did it. But you know what? It’s more of an annoyance that creates tedium than it is a fun dose of reality in your games. It’s a modern gaming trend that really needs to go away. Thankfully, Elden Ring agreed. Hopefully, Breath of the Wild 2 will as well.

3: Worthwhile Steeds

While I said most of my complaints with Breath of the Wild became more apparent in hindsight, this is one complaint I’ve had with Breath of the Wild since day one: taming horses was pointless!

Yes, it sounded cool that Link could now find wild horses, train them, and eventually turn them into a noble steed. But in the end, it felt like a waste of time for one simple reason: Link was a far more versatile traveler on foot than any of the horses in the game!

Oh sure, the horses were technically faster than Link while running. But they would also stop dead in their tracks and throw Link from his saddle if so much as a pebble stood in their path. This made traversing the often rocky and bumpy terrain of Hyrule a start-and-stop affair when riding a horse. Meanwhile, Link could just climb a mountain with his bare hands, and then glide from its peak to cover far more distance in a much shorter time. So why’d I take the time to train that horse?

Although the player character in Elden Ring is a more versatile traveler than they were in previous Soulsborne games (good lord, they finally added a proper jump!), when you mount your trusted “spirit steed” Torrent, you can traverse the world all the better. Not only is Torrent noticeably faster than the player is on foot, but it also gets a double jump! In other words, riding your horse (or horse equivalent) in Elden Ring feels like an improvement in regard to travel. And you don’t even have to tame him!

I’m fine with the idea of Link taming horses in Breath of the Wild 2, but they really need to make it worth the effort. Give the horses strengths and abilities that Link can’t already better on foot.

Admittedly, I’m a bit skeptical that Breath of the Wild 2 will address this particular issue, seeing as we already know the sequel will allow Link to traverse the skies of Hyrule. If he can already go to the sky, I don’t see horse situation improving. Hopefully I’m wrong.

Maybe just give me Epona from the get-go and make her ‘Super Horse’ or something.

“I want a pony so I can ride it twice, get bored and sell it to make glue!”

I suppose I’ll leave it there, for now. I know it sounds like I’m ragging on one of the most beloved Zelda games of all time. But hey, people ragged on Wind Waker years before it was even released! And in retrospect that’s still probably the best 3D Zelda all-around.

This doesn’t take anything away from my love of Breath of the Wild. I’m merely sharing my criticisms of it that I hope the sequel will address. Seeing as Elden Ring has already improved on those areas, I see no reason why Breath of the Wild 2 can’t do the same. I guess only time will tell.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 Review

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is the best video game movie ever made. I know, that’s not exactly a high hurdle to jump, but rest assured it was intended as a compliment without a hint of irony.

The past few years have seen video game movies give more of an effort to be, y’know, good. 2019’s Detective Pikachu, and 2021’s Mortal Kombat reboot were both solid movies that, despite their flaws, were enjoyable and paid respect to their source material. Although the Uncharted movie released just a few months ago may have missed the mark, it still at least gave an effort. The best of this recent resurgence of video game movies was 2020’s Sonic the Hedgehog, which – along with the original 1995 Mortal Kombat film – was probably one of the top two video game movies. But Sonic the Hedgehog 2 betters its predecessor both as a movie, and as a love letter to the video games that inspired it, creating the first great video game movie.

Some film snobs may take offense to that statement. But as someone who can appreciate the value of a little thing called fun, I will happily tell you that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 delivers just that, and in spades. It’s great fun. Tremendous fun.

The story here is that the titular Sonic the Hedgehog (Ben Schwartz) has settled into his new home in the small town of Green Hills, Montana with Sherrif Tom Wachowski (James Marsden) and his wife Maddie (Tika Sumpter). Trying to find his place in the world, Sonic has been doing some moonlighting as a crime-fighter, but is a bit reckless and sloppy at it. Tom thinks Sonic needs to learn to be more responsible before he can become a hero, and leaves Sonic in charge of the house as a test in responsibility, while he and Maddie go to Hawaii for Maddie’s sister’s wedding.

Naturally, this is when things go wrong. Dr. Ivo Robotnik (Jim Carrey) has managed to escape his isolation on the mushroom planet with the help of Knuckles the Echidna (Idris Elba). Knuckles wishes to retrieve the Master Emerald – an artifact of infinite power once protected by the Echidnas – to honor the legacy of his tribe, and believes Sonic knows of the Emerald and its location. Robotnik, of course, is merely using Knuckles to claim the Emerald for himself (with revenge on Sonic being a nice bonus).

While Knuckles’ strength and Robotnik’s intelligence are too much for Sonic to handle alone, the blue hedgehog gets a partner of his own in the form of Miles “Tails” Prower (Colleen O’Shaughnessey), a two-tailed fox who idolizes Sonic after tracking the events of the first film. And so the race to find the Master Emerald is on, pitting Sonic and Tails against Knuckles and Dr. Robotnik.

As any longtime Sonic fan could tell you, despite the film being called Sonic the Hedgehog 2, the plot is actually based on the video games Sonic the Hedgehog 3 and Sonic & Knuckles. There are some alterations that may upset overly literal fans (Knuckles trying to find the Master Emerald as opposed to already being its guardian, for example), but the movie can’t be exactly the same as the games. As someone whose formative years coincided with those of the Sonic franchise, I was constantly delighted by Sonic the Hedgehog 2’s faithfulness to the video games (which doesn’t simply feel like fanservice, but a genuine love for the series itself).

While I really enjoy the first Sonic film, it does in retrospect feel like it compromised a bit, playing like a 90s-style family comedy with Sonic, Robotnik and a few elements of the series sprinkled throughout. But now that it proved a success, it really feels like the gloves are off for this sequel, and it’s allowed to be a full-blooded, true blue Sonic the Hedgehog movie. Not only do we have the additions of Knuckles and Tails (the latter admittedly showed up mid-credits in the first film), and Jim Carrey actually looking like Robotnik now (as opposed to Jim Carrey with a mustache), but you also have the storyline from the games, and countless references, winks and nods to the series throughout. And not just references to the games, but even the old cartoons and comic books as well.

“The front for Dr. Robotnik’s continued operations is a coffee shop called “The Mean Bean.” Now THAT is a reference.”

The funny thing is that Sonic the Hedgehog 2 is, in many ways, truer to the video games than the games themselves have been for a very long time (exception being Sonic Mania). This is particularly true of the four core characters of the franchise: Sonic himself is wonderfully realized both in animation (we’ve come a long way from that first trailer for the original movie) and in Schwartz’s vocals, while Jim Carrey’s Dr. Robotnik (my favorite movie villain of the past few years) is still a show-stealer. The addition of Tails (and O’Shaughnessey) adds some extra heart to the proceedings. And importantly, I feel like the film (and Idris Elba) have redeemed Knuckles as a character, resurrecting his badass strength and determination (while still bringing humor out of his naivety) after the games demoted him to the bumbling doofus of the series once Shadow the Hedgehog pointlessly stole his role as Sonic’s rival two decades ago.

That’s not to say that Sonic 2 is exclusively for the hardcore crowd, and left fans of the first movie out in the cold. Something I greatly appreciated about Sonic the Hedgehog 2 was how it performs a balancing act between being a fantasy adventure more in line with the games and still having the family comedy vibe of the first film.

I was concerned that the newfound fanservice may have meant the characters introduced in the first film would be swept under the rug and awkwardly forgotten. But if anything, those characters now feel more important to the overall Sonic mythology. Characters like Maddie’s sister Rachel (Natasha Rothwell), Green Hills’ dimwitted deputy Wade Whipple (Adam Pally) and Robotnik’s thankless assistant Stone (Lee Majdoub) now have bigger parts in the story. And while Tails is now at his rightful place by Sonic’s side, Tom and Maddie play a new role in the story as Sonic’s surrogate parents.

This is where Sonic the Hedgehog 2 actually surprised me. In the first film, Tom basically played an older brother role to Sonic, trying to keep the hedgehog’s juvenile antics in check. But now Sonic has to learn to be more responsible, as he’s now playing the role of big brother to Tails. Not only does this lead to some genuinely heartwarming moments, but it also cleverly builds on the characters, their relationships, and what they learned in the first film. Wow. I can honestly say I didn’t expect Sonic 2 to be the kind of sequel that would connect and grow the narrative of the first film. So that was a pleasant surprise.

I admit, there are a few moments where the film does lose some of its balance with its aforementioned two halves, which results in some pacing issues (including one scene that resolves a subplot that goes on a bit long, entertaining though the scene may be). But for the most part, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 succeeds in being both an organic follow-up to the original film while also being a more faithful adaptation of the games.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 retains the sense of humor of the first movie (including some nice callbacks to that film’s best gags without simply repeating them), which apparently hasn’t sat well with some fans (who probably take the series a little too seriously). But I personally find it to be good family comedy that reminds me of the old Sonic cartoons from my youth. I’d rather see the Sonic series be intentionally goofy like these movies over unintentionally hilarious like the more “serious” and cinematic games in the series ended up being. And it’s just nice to see a blockbuster in this day and age that doesn’t simply use the same brand of humor that Marvel has been utilizing for way too long now.

It isn’t all jokes though. While Sonic 2 shares its predecessor’s humor, it completely outshines it with action sequences. Again, the first Sonic film felt a little restrained, which was echoed in its action scenes. They were fun, but small-scale and sparse. Sonic the Hedgehog 2, however, seems to (once again) take inspiration from the games for its action set pieces, resulting in a more satisfying action movie. Though the finale may feel a bit too close to that of a Marvel movie (so Sonic avoided that pitfall in one area, but not another).

There’s a lot to love about Sonic the Hedgehog 2, even if you aren’t overly familiar with the games. But it does feel – more so than any video game movie before it – like it rewards fans of the franchise. This may sound like the biggest cliche, but watching Sonic the Hedgehog 2 honestly made me feel like a kid again. Not just because of the (often deep cut) callbacks and references, but because of its honest-to-goodness love of the series it’s adapting. A lot of franchises these days are suffering because the people behind the camera are using said franchises to promote themselves, as opposed to coming from a place of love for the material. So it’s nice to see a series give back to its fans for a change, instead of taking from them.

I will admit (without spoiling anything), the mid-credits teaser has me a bit concerned for the future direction of these Sonic movies (as does Jim Carrey’s talks of possible retirement, since he’s now as vital to these movies as Dr. Robotnik himself is to the series as a whole). But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, let’s all appreciate this moment, and enjoy Sonic the Hedgehog 2. The first great video game movie.

8

Top 10 Kirby Games

Believe it or not, Kirby is 30 years old this year! The powerful pink puffball made his debut on the Game Boy in Kirby’s Dream Land in 1992, and has since become one of Nintendo’s, and gaming’s, most enduring characters.

While Kirby could inhale his enemies in Dream Land, it wasn’t until his second game, Kirby’s Adventure, that Kirby gained the ability to copy their powers by doing so. An ability that has defined the series since.

Over the past 30 years, Kirby has branched out to other types of games as well. whether adding new mechanics and innovations to his platforming romps or dipping his toes in other genres entirely, Kirby has proven to be second only to Mario as the most versatile hero in gaming.

Kirby has done so much over the years, that it seems a bit weird that he’s only just now getting his first-ever 3D platformer in the form of Kirby and the Forgotten Land. To celebrate Kirby’s milestone 30th year, as well as the release of Forgotten Land, I figured I’d compile my list of the top 10 Kirby games of all time!

I have to admit, this was a tough list to compile. Though the series may not have the same weight as Mario or Zelda, Kirby is arguably the most consistent of the lot in that he’s never really had a bad game (Kirby Battle Royal comes closest though). While this list is based on personal opinion, I did take into consideration which games were meaningful additions to the series as a whole, which ones were the most innovative, and things like that to help narrow it down.

And for those wondering, I will be counting any remakes as an extension of their original game. So, before you get upset that Kirby Super Star Ultra isn’t on here, it technically is by the fact that Kirby Super Star is (spoiler alert, I guess).

Because this list was so difficult to compile, I didn’t want to leave some of the extra games out entirely. So let’s give a brief shoutout to some honorable mentions before we get to the top 10 proper.


Honorable Mention: Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

A Kirby Metroidvania?! Up to four players?! Hot dog! That sounds, well… amazing!

And in some ways, it is. But Kirby and the Amazing Mirror’s world is less cohesive than other Metroidvanias (the in-game map hardly helps). Also keep in mind that this was 2004 on the Gameboy Advance, so the only way to actually get four players together was to make sure everyone had the game as well as link cables. It was difficult then, even more so now.

Still, you could argue that Amazing Mirror was ahead of its time with its concept. Kirby’s Return to Dreamland and Kirby Star Allies would eventually weave four-person multiplayer into classic Kirby gameplay. Now here’s hoping Hal and Nintendo decide to revisit the Metroidvania concept for the series down the road.

Kirby and the Amazing Mirror is a good game, but doesn’t quite reach the potential heights of its concept. Further point deduction for being the only game in the entire franchise not to feature his exalted greatness, King Dedede.

Honorable Mention: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

I really struggled deciding whether Kirby Canvas Curse or Rainbow Curse would make the top 10 between the two similar titles. In the end, I went with Canvas Curse (spoilers again). But Rainbow Curse is certainly no slouch.

Kirby is no stranger to unique art styles, and Rainbow Curse’s clay-inspired visuals are among the best of the lot. It’s a gorgeous game! And the touchscreen/stylus focused gameplay remains as unique as it was in Canvas Curse.

On the downside, because the gameplay focused on the Wii U gamepad, you couldn’t always appreciate the visuals in all their glory (the gamepad obviously didn’t have the same quality as what was on the TV screen). And bizarrely, Kirby could no longer copy abilities, even though he could still do that in Canvas Curse. Also the game was released in 2015, that weird time period when Nintendo games had like three bosses that would just recycle over and over (like Captain Toad Treasure Tracker and Yoshi’s Woolly World), a trend that Rainbow Curse sadly fell into.

Still, the charm shines through. And the music is excellent.

Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Return to Dreamland

Controversy time! A lot of people these days seem to look back at Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Wii as one of the best games in the series, if not the best! It seems to have become maybe the second most praised entry by fans, after Kirby Super Star. Alas, it didn’t quite crack my top 10.

There’s certainly a lot to love about Return to Dreamland: it was the first traditional Kirby game released on a home console since Kirby 64 eleven years earlier, it featured pick up and play four-person multiplayer (play as either four Kirbies or different characters), and it doubled down on the series’ love of including a ridiculous amount of extra content. Oh, and it introduced the ‘water’ copy ability first seen in the anime into the games!

On the downside, Return to Dreamland is as by-the-books as it gets, adding very little to the Kirby experience that hadn’t been done before. At the time that may not have seemed too bad, given the whole “eleven years since Kirby 64” thing. But in retrospect it’s far more noticeable. It also doesn’t help that this was the early 2010s, when there was no shortage of retro 2D platformers. And the Wii and DS generation gave us much more innovative Kirby games.

A good Kirby game, but a safe one.

Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Pinball Land

Mario, Pokemon, and Metroid have all tried their hand at pinball games, but Kirby (quite logically, given the character) beat them to the punch.

The first-ever Kirby spinoff, Pinball Land saw Kirby play the role of the ball on three different pinball tables. Kirby’s Pinball Land is a very fun pinball video game on the Game Boy, though it is also pretty straightforward in its pinball-ness. Aside from the cute characters and boss fights, it doesn’t really introduce any Kirby themed gimmicks to the proceedings. Maybe some day, Hal Labratory will revisit this idea and find a way to implement Kirby’s copy abilities into the world of pinball.

A fitting “first” for Kirby spinoffs.


Alright, that’s probably enough honorable mentions. With that out of the way, let’s move on to the top 10!


10: Kirby’s Dream Course

Released: 1994

Platform: SNES

Kirby’s Dream Course is one of the earliest Kirby games, being the fourth released overall, following Kirby’s Dreamland, Kirby’s Adventure and Kirby’s Pinball Land. But for such an early entry, it is a wildly innovative deviation from the series norms that is still fun and original to this day.

Dream Course is always touted as a “mini-golf game.” While that’s technically true, the game is far more than just a golf game with a coat of Kirby paint, making it stand out compared to the more straightforward Pinball Land. Kirby even gets to use his copy abilities this time around!

The stages are set up like mini-golf courses, and players have to knock Kirby around like a golf ball, eliminating all (but one) of the enemies on a stage, with the last enemy becoming the hole. Get Kirby in there and it’s on to the next stage! But use up too many turns and it’s game over.

Ten of Kirby’s copy abilities from Adventure make a return and change up Kirby’s physics for how he moves across the courses and takes out enemies. It all sounds so simple, but in execution it’s just so fun and creative. It also happens to be one of the best looking SNES games, with colorful character sprites and surprisingly effective isometric stages. It even has a two-player versus mode!

The only real downside is that, for a game that’s so different, it has very little in-game instructions, making it a little hard to ease into. But once you do, you’ll find one of Kirby’s – and the Super Nintendo’s – unsung classics.

Add this to the pile of “Nintendo games that desperately deserve a sequel.”

9: Kirby Mass Attack

Released: 2011

Platform: Nintendo DS

The 2010s marked something of a reinvigoration for the Kirby series. Gone were the days of fun-but-vanilla entries like Squeak Squad and falling back on remakes of classics. Kirby was once again being used as a blank canvas for the folks at Hal Labratory to experiment with all kinds of crazy ideas, like in the early years of the franchise. And Mass Attack may be the weirdest idea of the bunch!

Kirby purists may lament that this is one of the entries where Kirby can’t copy abilities, but Mass Attack more than makes up for their absence by splitting Kirby into ten mini Kirbies, who have to use their combined numbers to overwhelm enemies, solve puzzles, and collect treasures. It’s basically like Kirby meets Pikmin!

Much like Canvas Curse did six years prior, Kirby Mass Attack is controlled solely by the touchscreen on the DS console. Players tap where they want the Kirbies to go, touch the enemies they want the Kirbies to attack, and can fling the Kirbies upward with a flick of the stylus. It’s another fun and innovative game that brings so much out of the seemingly simple concept.

As a bonus, Kirby Mass Attack includes a host of mini-games and side games, some of which could have been entire games in their own right. So in case the utterly charming main game wasn’t enough, Mass Attack has plenty more to offer.

8: Kirby: Planet Robobot

Released: 2016

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

As stated above, the 2010s saw some great experimental Kirby games. But they also brought us some great traditional Kirby titles as well. Return to Dreamland started things off for this direction for the series, which continued with Triple Deluxe and Planet Robobot on the Nintendo 3DS, and Star Allies on Switch. All three are fun (though similar) additions to the franchise, but I think Robobot marked the peak of this generation of Kirby.

Kirby: Planet Robobot is your traditional Kirby platformer, filled with copy abilities for our overpowered pink hero to utilize. But the game features a fun mechanical motif, with the bad guys trying to convert Kirby’s world into a machine. Though the mechanical theme may not always reach its potential, it does bring a great new addition to the gameplay: Robobot armor!

Taking a page from Mega Man X, there are moments in Planet Robobot where Kirby can pilot Robobot Armor which, yes, combine with copy abilities to open up new gameplay possibilities. It’s similar to the Animal Friends from the Dream Land sequels, but since Hal seems hellbent on never giving us those guys again, the Robobot Armor is a great substitute.

There are also some fun new copy abilities, like Doctor Kirby and Psychic Kirby, the latter of which is one of the best in the series. On the downside, Poison Kirby, which should also be among the best copy abilities, is just a reskinned Water Kirby that deals continuous damage. That’s a missed opportunity. Maybe the series can bring back and alter Poison Kirby down the road and make it its own beast.

Kirby: Planet Robobot may be traditional Kirby through and through (never a bad thing), but the new copy abilities and Robobot Armor – in addition to some fun extra modes – make it the best traditional Kirby in a very long time.

7: Kirby: Canvas Curse

Released: 2005

Platform: Nintendo DS

Given the massive success the Nintendo DS ended up being, it may be hard to remember that it had a rough start. Aside from a mixed bag of a Super Mario 64 remake, it didn’t have much to boast about at launch, or for several months after. The two screens and touch screen were awesome ideas that just weren’t being well utilized.

Then along came Kirby: Canvas Curse. Behold, the first great DS game! Canvas Curse opened the door for DS greatness, and the console never looked back.

Kirby: Canvas Curse made me LOVE the DS! It took advantage of the dual screens and the touch-based gameplay to create a game whose inventiveness still makes me smile just thinking about it.

In Kirby: Canvas Curse, Kirby has been transformed into a ball (well, even more of a ball), and the player has to draw rainbows for Kirby to move across. Tap Kirby when he’s on the rainbow, and he does a little dash attack. Dash into an enemy with a copy ability, and Kirby gains that ability (something which was sorely missed in Rainbow Curse). Players can even track down medals hidden throughout the levels, which unlock all kinds of bonuses like music, extra characters, and even new paint colors!

The action is of course displayed on the DS’s bottom screen, given that everything is touch controlled in Canvas Curse. The top screen displays a map, giving the player a better understanding of the layout of the levels.

Canvas Curse has some critics, namely those who prefer the more traditional Kirby games, since Canvas Curse was the title that started the more experimental branch of Kirby titles. But the series has been better off for it. After all, Kirby’s earliest years tried their hand at some odd ideas (see Dream Course above). Canvas Curse simply brought that creative spark back in a time when Kirby games were beginning to stagnate.

You may have noticed a recurring theme on this list of games that have a simple, fun idea, and bring out the best in said idea. This is an area in which Nintendo (and Kirby specifically) excel, and few have done it better than Kirby: Canvas Curse.

6: Kirby’s Dream Land 2

Released: 1995

Platform: Game Boy

Kirby got his start on the Game Boy in Kirby’s Dream Land. It is only fitting that, after going to home consoles and deviating with spinoffs, Kirby would bounce back with a Game Boy sequel that is arguably the best game on the console to play today.

Although Dream Land 2 may be a small game by today’s standards, and lacks the ludicrous amount of extra content of contemporary Kirby games, the fact that everything Kirby’s Dream Land 2 managed to accomplish on the Game Boy remains so well executed and fun has to be commended. It wasn’t just a great game “for it’s time” or “for the Game Boy,” it’s still a great game despite its limitations.

Even though the title reads Dream Land 2, the game actually feels more like a sequel to Kirby’s Adventure. The copy abilities made their return (albeit condensed into what I like to call the “core seven” copy abilities). And Kirby once again had to face off with some demonic force after King Dedede was defeated (though this time, you had to uncover secret items to unlock that final showdown).

This wasn’t merely Kirby’s Adventure on a handheld, however, as Kirby’s Dream Land 2 introduced one of the series’ very best additions: the Animal Friends!

While Mario had Yoshi, Kirby gained three noble steeds in the forms of Rick the Hamster, Coo the Owl, and Kine the Sunfish. The best part was that each Animal Friend changed up the copy abilities, effectively quadrupling the number of powers at Kirby’s disposal. The fact that Hal has only properly brought back the Animal Friends for one other game is beyond perplexing.

Kirby’s Dream Land 2 may be a small game. But it’s one you can never go wrong with.

5: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Released: 2000

Platform: Nintendo 64 (obviously)

Speaking of Kirby games that had a great gameplay hook that for some reason has never been brought back, it’s Kirby 64!

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards was the only Kirby game released on the Nintendo 64. Being released in 2000, it was pretty late to the N64 party (late-game additions were a common theme to Kirby back then, as you’ll see further on this list). But Kirby 64 was so good that none of that really mattered. Twenty-two years later(!!), it’s held up as one of the best Nintendo 64 games to play today.

Although the graphics took advantage of the Nintendo 64’s 3D capabilities, Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards was still played from a 2D perspective. But Kirby 64 had some fun with the hardware, with a more dynamic camera that would shift to more cinematic angles during certain moments (a little detail about the game that goes largely unmentioned, but that I love to bring up).

The big new gameplay hook was that Kirby could combine two copy abilities together! The aforementioned “core seven” abilities of the Dream Land series returned, only now when Kirby discarded a power, he could throw it at an enemy to make a brand new one (or just inhale two enemies at once)! It was an awesome feature then, and it remains awesome today. Why Hal Labratory never revisited the idea, I will surely never know (yes, Squeak Squad and Star Allies allowed some abilities to be put together, but to say it was a watered-down version of Kirby 64’s innovation would be an understatement).

While the Animal Friends may not have returned (Grrr!), Kirby did have some allies in the forms of Ribbon the fairy, Waddle Dee, Adeline the painter, and even King Dedede himself. Though only Dedede really changed up the gameplay, and only at certain moments. But these characters were all nice additions at any rate.

The game still looks great for an N64 title, and the soundtrack is one of the most beautiful on the console. The level designs stand out with how they seem to tell their own stories if you pay attention to the visuals. There’s even a trio of fun mini-games to play with friends. But it’s the combined copy abilities that give Kirby 64 some of the best gameplay in the series. I mean, one combination literally gives Kirby a double-sided lightsaber (being released relatively soon after The Phantom Menace, that’s surely no coincidence)! How have they never brought that back?!

4: Kirby’s Adventure

Released: 1993

Platform: NES

If you want the purest Kirby experience, look no further than Kirby’s Adventure. Oh sure, Kirby’s Dream Land may have been the first game in the series, but the fact it lacked copy abilities feels outright bizarre in retrospect, because they’ve become such an important element to the series since their introduction in Kirby’s Adventure.

It didn’t start small, either. Kirby’s Adventure features a whomping twenty-four copy abilities (okay, twenty-three if you don’t count the sleeping ability)! They range from the obvious mainstays like fire and ice, to powers that have become more obscure over time like the high-jump (which may seem superfluous since Kirby can fly, but it’s actually really cool). It even introduced one of Kirby’s rarest (and best) copy abilities right out the gate: UFO Kirby!

For an NES game, this is a staggering amount of gameplay variety. And while Kirby’s Adventure may seem limited by today’s standards, it has lost absolutely none of its fun factor or replay value. In fact, along with Mega Mans 2 and 3, Kirby’s Adventure is one of the few NES games to challenge Super Mario Bros. 3 for its 8-bit crown.

Kirby’s Adventure not only established the copy abilities as Kirby’s key gameplay feature, but also set other series standards as well: It made King Dedede a more misunderstood villain, and featured a greater evil as the final boss (in the form of Nightmare who, for my money, is still the coolest “big bad” in the series). It introduced many of the series’ most iconic tunes. And thanks to those copy abilities, set the tone for the level design for the series going forward, with areas that require certain powers to uncover all the secrets.

Some Kirby games have added to the formula, and others still have tried something entirely different. But for pure, unadulterated Kirby greatness, you just can’t go wrong with Kirby’s Adventure.

3: Kirby Super Star

Released: 1996

Platform: SNES

Everyone else’s favorite Kirby game is number 3 on my list. To be fair, it was also my favorite for a long time, but two others have won me over more in recent years. At any rate, Kirby Super Star is an excellent game, and one of the highlights of the Super Nintendo. And boy, is that saying something!

I remember back in the day, Kirby Super Star was advertised as containing “eight games in one cartridge.” Which was always a bit strange because Super Star features seven platforming games and two mini-games. If they were being honest they would have said “seven games plus two mini-games!” Or if they really wanted to fancy it up for marketing, they should have glossed over the fact that two of them were mini-games and said “nine games.” Whatever.

At any rate, none of the games are full-fledged games on their own. More like pieces of a greater whole, each of which bringing its own twist to the gameplay. But they are all exceptionally fun!

Spring Breeze is a remake of Kirby’s Dream Land, now with copy abilities! Dyna Blade features a Super Mario Bros. 3 style map. Revenge of Meta Knight sees Meta Knight act uncharacteristically evil and has a more cinematic approach. Gourmet Race is, well, a race between Kirby and King Dedede. The Arena is a boss rush mode. And Milky Way Wishes is kind of like the main event, needing to be unlocked and combining elements of the other included games. But the best of the lot is The Great Cave Offensive, which is something of a light Metroidvania in that it’s presented as one big world as opposed to individual levels and features hidden treasures that you may need to return to once you find the right copy ability.

Super Star doesn’t stop with the multitude of games themselves, however. But the core Kirby gameplay received two very important additions.

The first is that Super Star was the first game in the series where the copy abilities have their own movesets, as opposed to a single power. The second is that Kirby Super Star brought two player co-op to Kirby platformers. Kirby could now discard a copy ability by turning it into a friendly version of the enemy he got the power from, whom a second player could then control. At a time when Mario and Luigi still had to take turns, Kirby Super Star allowed two people to play at once! It remains a cool and innovative means for multiplayer, and strangely the feature didn’t return until Star Allies in 2018 (though it was planned to return well before then).

These elements, combined with the colorful visuals and kickass soundtrack, combine to make what is probably the most beloved Kirby game of all time. It may rank in third place here, but I can’t argue against the love Kirby Super Star continues to receive to this day.

2: Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Released: 2010

Platform: Wii

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is perhaps the most “huggable” video game ever created. A simple, sweet, always fun and endlessly charming little romp that’s as unique today as it was in 2010.

Epic Yarn is another entry in the “something entirely different” category of Kirby games. And dare I say it’s the best of the lot!

This is another game where Kirby is stripped of his signature copy abilities, but the gameplay that Epic Yarn introduces is so fun you really won’t miss them. Kirby is transported to a world where everything is made out of yarn (and other fabrics), and Kirby’s new yarn body simply transforms as the situation demands it: Instead of running, Kirby turns into a little car. He stomps on enemies by turning into a weight, swims by becoming a miniature submarine, and floats to the ground by changing into a parachute. There are other, more overt transformations during big moments in the game, like a robot tank and a snowboarding penguin! Kirby also comes equipped with a yarn whip, with which he unravels enemies.

It’s a constant delight to see the many things Yarn Kirby can do. This is a rare instance in which a video game’s art direction actually affects gameplay. Kirby can even interact with the environment, unzipping and unbuttoning parts of the world to uncover secrets. Kirby’s Epic Yarn features one of the most delightful art directions in video game history, and the game is every bit as fun to play as it is to look at.

As an added bonus, Kirby’s Epic Yarn even boasts a two player option, with the second player taking on the role of Prince Fluff, who has all the same yarn abilities as Kirby.

The game did receive some criticisms from – shall we say – “less cultured” gamers, due to its lack of difficulty, seeing as Kirby can’t die in Epic Yarn. But at what point did we decide every game had to be difficult? No one ever complained when Wario couldn’t die in the Wario Land sequels! There’s room for all types of games, and Epic Yarn is proof of that. It isn’t difficult in any traditional sense, but players can lose their hard-earned beads if they aren’t careful. Kirby’s Epic Yarn is a soothing experience, key word there being “experience.” You can either get through the whole game at a leisurely stroll or go the way of the completionist and try to get the best score on each level, unlock all the hidden goodies, and build up Kirby’s apartment to get more tenants. If we can praise games that put cinematics before gameplay, we can certainly find the merit in games that display the beauty in the simple act of playing them.

As the icing on the cake, Kirby’s Epic Yarn includes one of the more underrated greats in terms of video game soundtracks, with a piano-centric score that is as warm and welcoming as the game’s visuals.

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is charm incarnate.

1: Kirby’s Dream Land 3

Released: 1997

Platform: SNES

To date, there is no Kirby game I love more than Kirby’s Dream Land 3.

This may come as a surprise to many, since a number of players see Dream Land 3 as more of an “upper middle tier” entry in the series. But I think such a reception is mostly due to the timing of when Dream Land 3 was released. Kirby Super Star was released late in the Super Nintendo’s life, but by the time Dream Land 3 was released, the Nintendo 64 had already been on store shelves for months! But Kirby has had something of a habit of being late to the party. Kirby’s Adventure was released on the NES after the Super NES had been on the market, Kirby 64 was late to the Nintendo 64, and both Epic Yarn and Return to Dream Land didn’t make it to the Wii until later on. Sadly, because of the emergence of 3D gaming on the N64, Dream Land 3 seems to be the one that was most affected by its late arrival. But to deny Kirby’s Dream Land 3 of the attention it deserves is doing a great injustice to one of Nintendo’s most underrated gems.

You could say that Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is like the missing link between traditional Kirby games and Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Obviously, it follows in the footsteps of Dream Land 2, complete with Animal Friends (their only other proper appearance. Though they’ve been making more frequent cameos in recent years). Like Super Star, it features two-player co-op (this time the second player controls Gooey, a dark blue blob who uses his tongue to eat baddies). And like Epic Yarn, Kirby’s Dream Land 3 features a stunning and unique art style and a gentler tone. It’s like the best pieces of Kirby games that came before, and some that hadn’t even happened yet!

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 featured gameplay similar to its predecessor but, along with the aforementioned second player, brought in some meaningful additions of its own. The “core seven” copy abilities of Dream Land 2 returned (rock, fire, ice, spark, spike, cutter and parasol), along with one brand new one, cleaning, in which Kirby wields a broom (a power that was unique to this game until it reappeared twenty-one years later in Kirby Star Allies). The three Animal Friends from Dream Land 2 all made a comeback, now joined by three new ones: Nago the Cat, Pitch the Bird, and Chu Chu the Octopus (though she looks more like a girl Kirby).

Once again, each Animal Friend combines with the copy abilities in their own way, giving the game immense variety. Pitch often makes for the most fun combinations, but I’d be lying if I said Nago wasn’t my favorite of the bunch (I love that darn cat). Sadly, the Animal Friends here have become even more forgotten than the originals and have only made cameos in Kirby 64 and Star Allies (via the cleaning ability) since. That’s a travesty that needs to be rectified!

Another great twist to the gameplay is how every level in the game features a special “mission” that can be accomplished. You see, in addition to simply completing the stages, there’s a different NPC at the end of each level who needs Kirby and his friends to do a certain action for them. You may have to find a secret room to find a toad’s lost baby or track down the missing pieces of R.O.B. the Robot. Some stages have goals as simple as making sure you have a certain Animal Friend by the end of it. Others are admittedly a little more vague, but in such a way that once you reach the end, you feel more like “oh, THAT’S what I was supposed to do” as opposed to angry at the game for being cryptic or something. It makes you want to try again and do it right. Naturally, accomplishing every mission rewards you with the proper final showdown and ending.

Combine all that with another winning soundtrack and beautiful visuals that took the crayon-inspired graphics of Yoshi’s Island and cranked them to 11, and Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is a Kirby game that at once represents the best of all aspects of the series while also feeling unlike any of its Kirby kin.

Kirby’s Dream Land 3 is simply the very best of all the Kirby games.

Nintendo Switch Turns 5!

Believe it or not, the Nintendo Switch was released five years ago today.

On March 3rd 2017, the Nintendo Switch was released worldwide, alongside The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. If you can believe it, at the time, many wondered if the Switch would prove to be a success, given the commercial failure of its predecessor, the Wii U. As we know now, the concerns were misplaced, as the Switch has proven to be a massive success in the gaming world. To be more specific, it recently surpassed the Wii to become Nintendo’s best-selling home console ever (and is behind only the Nintendo DS and Game Boy as Nintendo’s best-selling hardware). Not too shabby.

It shouldn’t be too hard to see why the Switch has been such a success. The idea of being able to play console games on the go is simple, but really makes a world of difference. Nintendo has released some of their all-time best games on the system (even re-releasing the Wii U’s best titles to give them a proper audience). And for the first time since the SNES, Nintendo has had some prominent, strong third-party support. I’d argue that the Switch had the best first year of any console in 2017( into 2018), and has only occasionally let up since.

Something to note on this fifth Switch anniversary is that there’s been no word yet on what the Switch’s successor could possibly be. That’s interesting because most Nintendo consoles (any console, really) usually has about a five-year timespan before its follow-up is released. The SNES, N64 and GameCube were all on store shelves for five years when their successors joined them. While the NES and Wii lasted six years apiece, we all knew what the next console in line would be around the five-year mark. Unfortunately for Wii U, that console lasted just over four years before the Switch came knocking. So normally a Nintendo console would be heading off into the sunset right about now (though I suppose the NES and SNES technically lasted a number of years after their successors were on the market). But the Switch doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. Nintendo and Game Freak announced a new Pokemon game just the other day for crying out loud!

That may bum some people out, if all they want is better graphics. But I’m kind of relieved the Switch seems to be sticking around for a while. I don’t want them to make a new console just to make it. I’m kind of tired of having to start over with a new console when the current ones still feel like they have plenty left to give.

Who knows how long the Nintendo Switch will ultimately last, but if its first five years are anything to go by, the Switch’s future should be a whole lot of fun.

Happy five year anniversary, Nintendo Switch!

The Best ‘2s’ in Video Games

Today is 2/22/22 Tuesday! To celebrate this profuse amount of twos, I figured I’d reach into my backlog and resurrect an idea I had a while back and highlight the best “2s” in video games. Not the best sequels per se – no strictly subtitled sequels (like Majora’s Mask), no 3s, 4s or any of that – just the best “2s.” Games with ‘2’ in the title.

When I first thought of making this list, I intended it to be a ranked top 10 list, before it fell on the back burner. I decided to resurrect this idea for 2/22/22, but did so pretty last minute. As such, I didn’t bother to take the time to narrow down or rank this list, so I’ll just list all the games I thought of alphabetically (16 games total). Perhaps some day I’ll get around to making the originally intended “Top 10 2s in Video Games.” But for now, I hope you enjoy this list as it is.

Before we get started, it’s important to note that I’m not counting games like EarthBound or Secret of Mana here. In Japan those games are respectively known as Mother 2 and Seiken Densetsu 2, but since I’m writing from an American perspective, those games will always be EarthBound and Secret of Mana to me. Also, “Tooie” doesn’t quite cut it. But we can consider all those games to be honorable mentions.

Now then, on to the twos!

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

The original Crash Bandicoot gave the Sony Playstation a mascot, but it lacked polish. Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back gave that mascot a game worthy of his reputation. It’s an improvement over the original in pretty much every way, and set the tone for the rest of the series more so than its predecessor did. One could argue Crash Bandicoot Warped ended up the best game in the original Crash trilogy, but it did so while introducing racing and shooting sections. If it’s pure Playstation platforming you want, Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back is still a hell of a lot of fun.

Diablo II

Diablo II is one of those games that you just replay over and over again, learning from your previous playthroughs and seeing how you can do things better. It’s also great fun with friends. Diablo II’s simple hack-N-slash gameplay hides deep RPG mechanics that make for a memorable experience. Even before the recent remake, people were still playing Diablo II over two decades later as if no time had passed. It’s that engrossing.

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

The first Donkey Kong Country revolutionized visuals in video games, and became an instant hit that extended the SNES’s lifespan. But its sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest, improved on it considerably in every conceivable way. DKC2 sees Diddy take center stage, teaming up with his girlfriend Dixie, who can glide with her ponytail. The level design is constantly inventive, the gameplay is refined and always fun, and the soundtrack is gaming’s greatest. DKC2 is one of the best platformers and sequels ever. It’s Rare’s masterpiece.

Oh, and “Diddy’s Kong Quest” is the greatest pun in the history of video game titles.

Half-Life 2

Half-Life 2 is the first Valve game on this list, but it won’t be the last. Too bad they wouldn’t show up at all if I ever make a list of the best ‘3s’ in video games because…well, you know.

Half-Life 2 revolutionized single-player FPSs and narrative video games in one fell swoop. Its dark and dreary sci-fi world is unforgettable. And Half-Life 2 presented plenty of fun ideas along the way, not least of which being the Gravity Gun, which allowed players to manipulate the game world like nothing seen before.

Halo 2

Halo: Combat Evolved is the reason the Xbox was such a success. With all due respect to the other great games on the console, Halo was its crown jewel. The only game that was capable of knocking Halo off its pedestal? Halo 2, of course!

You could argue that Halo made the Xbox brand what it is. Similarly, you could say Halo 2 made online gaming on consoles what it is. Online games had existed on PC for a while, and consoles had dabbled in the idea (Saturn Bomberman!). But Halo 2 is what made it the standard for multiplayer games, and is the online experience everyone has tried (and only occasionally succeeded) in replicating.

Kirby’s Dreamland 2

The original Gameboy gave us all some cherished memories, but I’d be lying if I said most of the games held up against the test of time (remember that in those early days, the convenience of handheld gaming meant sacrificing some quality). That’s not the case with Kirby’s Dreamland 2, a title that’s still fun and charming to this day. Introducing Kirby’s animal friends and combining them with Kirby’s copy abilities is still one of the best additions to the series, making it a mystery why the concept has only ever happened again one other time. A perfect little game when you’re on the go.

Mega Man 2

Is Mega Man 2 the grandaddy of video game 2s? Only one game on this list predates it, but I think Mega Man 2 is the game that established the idea that, in video games, the sequel is expected to be better than the original (whereas in movies it tended to be the opposite). Mega Man 2 upped the ante from the original, and set the standard for the series which remains to this day. With some of the best level design and the most beloved soundtrack on the NES, Mega Man 2 remains a timeless classic. The template for what a ‘2’ should be.

Mega Man X2 ain’t too shabby, either.

Portal 2

Here comes Valve again. 2007’s Portal was a little slice of heaven. A game built around a creative idea (using portals to get from point A to point B), and told a simple story. It was short, but pretty perfect. A sequel could have tarnished the purity of Portal’s concept. Instead, Valve outdid themselves with a sequel that’s even more creative, fun and memorable than its predecessor. Adding just enough gameplay additions to feel meaningful to a sequel while not going overboard, and including a co-op multiplayer mode that further toys with the Portal concept. As innovative as it is unforgettable, Portal 2 is an all-time great.

Red Dead Redemption 2

Red Dead Redemption 2 is one of those games that you just get absolutely engrossed in. Using the end of the old west as a backdrop for its open-world – brought to life with some of the most realistic visuals in gaming – is just absorbing. There are countless things to do at any given moment. You can focus on the (great) story if you want, or you can hunt some outlaws for the bounty on their heads, play some poker at a saloon, hunt down legendary beasts, the list goes on and on. You may even be heading off to do one thing, only for another to demand your attention along the way. No matter how you choose to spend Arthur Morgan’s (and your) time, you’ll enjoy every minute of it.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

Just like Mega Man 2, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 deserves a place in the hallowed halls of great video games 2s. It outdid the original Sonic the Hedgehog in pretty much every way, with better levels, boss fights and music (such glorious music!). Plus, it introduced us to Sonic’s sidekick Tails. The Luigi to Sonic’s Mario.

Sonic the Hedgehog 2 became the best-selling title on the Sega Genesis, and solidified Sonic’s place in the gaming world. Many still consider it the Hedgehog’s peak (though Sonic 3 & Knuckles, CD and Mania may have something to say about that). When you think of Sonic games, Sonic 2 is usually what your mind immediately goes to. A classic.

Street Fighter II

Street Fighter II is perhaps the most accomplished of all the video game 2s. Mega Man 2 and Sonic 2 may have set the standard for their series, but their predecessors are still fondly remembered in their own right. But in the case of Street Fighter, no one cares about the original, while the sequel created a phenomenon. Street Fighter II pioneered the multiplayer tournament fighter, created (by accident) the concept of elaborate combos, revitalized arcades in the early 90s, and set the standard for the series and genre. It was so good, in fact, that Capcom couldn’t stop re-releasing it.

Super Mario Bros. 2

Yes. This counts.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is unfairly seen as the “black sheep” of the Super Mario series (even with Super Mario Sunshine on the table. smh). Part of that is due to the original Super Mario Bros. being so revolutionary, and Super Mario Bros. 3 being such a phenomenon, with Super Mario Bros. 2 sandwiched in between. But people didn’t seem to mind that so much back in the day. Not until it became common knowledge in the west that what we know as Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually a different game in Japan (Yume Kōjō Doki Doki Panic) did our Super Mario Bros. 2 suddenly lose much of its reputation.

That’s dumb. Because Super Mario Bros. 2, as we here in America know it, is still one of the best games on the NES. And it introduced us to elements that have become Mario mainstays, notably Shy Guys, Bob-ombs and Birdo.

Super Mario Bros. 2 is the oldest game on this list, and even after all these years, deserves mention on any list like this. Reskin or not.

Super Mario Galaxy 2

Super Mario Galaxy 2, like Portal 2, is unique in this list in that it improves on its predecessor in virtually every way, despite its predecessor seemingly leaving nothing that needed improving. 2007’s Super Mario Galaxy was a gem in the world of gaming that breathed new life into Nintendo’s flagship franchise (and the Wii console). Then Galaxy 2 came along, took the foundation of the original, and just let its imagination run absolutely wild. Super Mario Galaxy 2 may look like its predecessor on face value, but whereas the first Galaxy was all about giving the Mario series something new (space and gravity), Galaxy 2 is a treasure trove of ideas and concepts themselves. A non-stop toy box of innovation and fun, Super Mario Galaxy 2 is one of gaming’s greatest achievements.

Oh, and Yoshi’s back too! Kick. Ass.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

While Super Mario Galaxy 2 and Portal 2 perfected already perfect formulas, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island took a flawless game (Super Mario World, duh!) and basically said “yeah, that was great. But now we’re going to do something so different it could be an entirely separate series.” But hey, it’s got that “2” in the title, so it counts!

Yoshi’s Island is another triumph for Mario, platformers, and sequels. Throwing Yoshi (rather, a tribe of Yoshis) into the spotlight was a stroke of genius, wildly changing up the gameplay from the rest of the Mario series (creating a spinoff series for Yoshi thereafter). Enemies become eggs, which are your ammo to reach far away objects and collectibles. The time limit is gone, as is the traditional health system (protect Baby Mario!). It was fresh and innovative in 1995, and Yoshi’s Island has lost none of its luster in the years since. Combine the creative gameplay with the crayon-inspired visuals and epic boss fights, and you have one of Nintendo’s best games ever.

Team Fortress 2

Yet another Valve sequel! Can you imagine what Valve could do if they realized the number 3 exists?!

Team Fortress 2 is an interesting case because the original Team Fortress was a mod for Quake before becoming a game of its own as Team Fortress Classic. So Team Fortress 2 is technically the third game in the series. One thing’s for sure, Team Fortress 2 became the team shooter by which all others would be judged. With nine different classes, a variety of maps and modes, and an art style that looks like The Incredibles, it’s all too easy to see why Team Fortress 2 became a hit right out of the (Orange) box.

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

Uncharted: Drake’s Fortune was Naughty Dog’s attempt at bringing the action and adventure of Indiana Jones to the world of video games. While it did that, it did so with a number of hiccups (unpolished controls, enemies that apparently eat bullets, etc.). That wasn’t the case with Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, which realized the potential of the series to create one of the most beloved Playstation games of all time.

The set pieces were bigger and more elaborate than before, the puzzles were more clever, and the action was non-stop. Uncharted 2 really brought the Indiana Jones-like spectacle to life. Nathan Drake’s second outing was never short on thrills. It’s a blast.

It could’ve had more Sully though. Because more Sully is only ever a good thing.


That’s it. That’s my list. I know, you’re probably going to bite my head off for “missing” one game or another. But I can’t play everything!

At any rate, I hope you enjoyed this list. Perhaps it gave you a trip down memory lane or maybe even inspired you to check one of these games out that you missed out on before. Maybe one day I’ll make the traditional top 10 list version of this, but for now, let’s just sit back and celebrate all of the 2s!

Happy 2/22/22 everybody!

Uncharted Review

Movies based on video games have rarely worked out. In the past, you could argue that video games were so different from movies that it was difficult to translate the material onto the silver screen, giving something of an excuse to the lackluster quality of video game movies. But as video games became more and more movie like, you would think they’d be easier to adapt to the cinema. But apparently you’d be wrong, because video game movies didn’t get any better (you could say they even got worse, considering they no longer had the excuse of trying to adapt something that was so fundamentally different from movies).

However, the past few years have seen a rise in quality for the video game movie, with three entertaining films in the sub-genre being released in as many years: 2019 gave audiences the cute and charming Detective Pikachu, 2020 surprised us all when Sonic the Hedgehog actually ended up being good, and 2021’s Mortal Kombat reboot was also solidly fun. They may not have been great movies, but they each proved to be entertaining features in their own right, and also notably paid respects to their source material, whereas the video game movies of yesterday seemed embarrassed by the video games that inspired them. Simply put, things are finally starting to look up for the video game movie.

That brings us to Uncharted, based on the video game series by Naughty Dog. The Uncharted games took inspiration from the Indiana Jones films with their non-stop “BANG ZOOM” style of action set pieces. The characters are fun, and the games have witty dialogue. If any video game should have a smooth transition into the world of movies, surely it’s Uncharted.

Which makes it so strange that this Uncharted movie has had such a turbulent time getting made at all, and that the finished product only kind of works.

Plans for an Uncharted movie go all the way back to 2008, the year after the original Uncharted game was released on the Playstation 3 (feel old yet?). Actor Nathan Fillion famously wanted to portray series lead Nathan Drake in whatever movie ended up being made (he even looks like Nathan Drake and shares his first name), but the closest he got was starring in a fan made short film as the character. For a few years in the early 2010s, Mark Wahlberg (who looks kinda like Nathan Drake) had been cast in the role. Though the ongoing turbulent production meant that never happened, either.

Fourteen years and a revolving door of directors and writers later, the Uncharted movie is finally a reality, with Tom Holland (who looks nothing like Nathan Drake) in the lead role. Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg, still contractually attached to the movie, has to settle on the role of Victor “Sully” Sullivan, Nathan’s friend and mentor who is much older than Wahlberg in the games (to be fair to Wahlberg, Sully is the best character in the games, so I wouldn’t call it a demotion).

Right away, I can tell you the two leads are miscast. Both Holland and Wahlberg are good in the movie in regards to acting (though they severely lack the chemistry of the characters in the game). But neither actor looks like – nor captures the essence of – their respective character. Nathan Drake always had kind of rugged, everyman good looks, not the babyfaced boyishness of Tom Holland (something that’s reinforced by the Playstation Productions logo at the start of the movie which shows us what Nathan should look like). Meanwhile, Mark Wahlberg is not only too young to be Sully, but the fact that he’s constantly standing right next to Nathan Drake while looking more like Nathan Drake than Nathan Drake is just awkward. Plus, some of the humor of the character is lost with the reduction in age (surely I’m not the only one who thinks J.K. Simmons should have been Sully?).

That’s not to say that the movie gets everything wrong. Uncharted continues the recent trend of video game movies paying respects to their source material. The film begins similarly to the beloved Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, with Nathan Drake awakening in the middle of a death defying set piece before the story takes us back to the beginning and leads us back to this point midway through (a set piece which, by the way, is ripped directly from Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception). We’re also given flashbacks of a young Nathan Drake (Tiernan Jones) during the time he spent with his older brother Sam (Rudy Pankow) and how that inspired him to become a treasure hunter, something taken directly from Uncharted 4: A Thief’s End. And the film even uses the overall template from the series by taking a real historic figure or event (in this case, Ferdinand Magellan and the Magellan Expedition) and giving it a fictional, treasure-centric spin (though now that I think about it, it’s kind of weird how the first three games had a supernatural twist, but the fourth game and this movie do not). So the movie is respectful to the games, which should sit well with fans.

The film is an origin story for Nathan Drake, showing how he met Sully and became a treasure hunter. Sully was once partnered with Sam, before Sam went missing. But the connection to his brother leads Nathan to join Sully on his adventure to find the treasure of the Magellan Expedition, the same treasure Nathan and Sam used to dream about finding. Along the way, Nathan and Sully are also joined by Chloe Frazer (Sophia Ali), a mysterious treasure hunter who’s as much a rival as she is an ally (another observation: Chloe wasn’t introduced until the second game in the series but made it into the film, while the original female lead, Elena Fisher, is absent from the movie). Naturally, there are also villains after the same treasure, in the form of Santiago Moncada (Antonio Banderas), a millionaire willing to do anything to claim the treasure, and his hired mercenary Jo Braddock (Tati Gabrielle).

Uncharted is a fun movie that follows the structure of the games pretty well. The big set pieces are entertaining, even if they don’t quite match up to those from the games (the finale comes close though). Maybe that’s partly because in the games you actually got to play those set pieces, which I kind of appreciate all the more now that I write that out. And it’s a well acted movie despite the miscasting. But there’s just something missing in the translation to the big screen. The Uncharted video games featured some strong character moments, and some sharp dialogue and banter between characters. The movie makes attempts at these, but such moments always end up feeling kind of rushed and flat. The aforementioned lack of chemistry between Holland and Wahlberg doesn’t help this at all, either.

It’s difficult to describe. Uncharted has most of the elements that made its namesake video game series so memorable, but it just never really seems to come together. It’s enjoyable enough, but Uncharted somehow just doesn’t click.

There are many worse video game movie adaptations than Uncharted, but there are a few better ones. Uncharted should have had a seamless transition from video game to movie, and could have been a great action-adventure flick in its own right. It’s a fun movie that has some exciting set pieces, but Uncharted ultimately feels like its treading familiar ground for the genre, and doesn’t reach the potential of what an Uncharted movie could be.

I think we’ll see more Uncharted movies in the future (whether they’re sequels or a reboot depends on the success of this film), and hopefully one day we’ll get an Uncharted film that lives up to the video game series. But Uncharted’s first big screen outing is simply an ‘okay’ movie.

Who would have thought that Sonic the Hedgehog’s big screen debut would have ended up so much stronger than Nathan Drake’s?

5

Pac-Man 99 Review

With the battle royale genre taking the video game world by storm over the past few years, a recent trend has been remaking classic video games in the style of this genre. At the heart of this trend is developer Arika, who teamed up with Nintendo to create Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35, the latter of which was pointlessly discontinued after only a few months. Shortly after Super Mario Bros. 35’s cancellation, Arika announced that they were teaming up with Bandai Namco to give Pac-Man the battle royale treatment with Pac-Man 99 for the Nintendo Switch. And much like Arika’s previous efforts, Pac-Man 99 is a fun and addicting spin on one of the classics of the medium.

As its name implies, Pac-Man 99 takes a page from Tetris 99’s book, and sees ninety-nine players compete against each other in a game of Pac-Man all trying to outlast each other, with the last player standing being the winner.

Pac-Man still moves around the board eating ‘Pac-Dots’ and avoiding the ghosts (Inky, Pinky, Blinky and Clyde). There are still the big ‘Power Pellets’ in the corners of the board, which temporarily supercharge Pac-Man and allow him to turn the tables and eat the ghosts! So the basic gameplay is as it always was, but there are some fun changes that come with the battle royale makeover.

Now, whenever Pac-Man eats a ghost, that creates a “Jammer Pac-Man” for other players. Jammer Pac-Men are basically white Pac-Man outlines that slow players down. The more Jammer Pac-Men you send to other players, the slower they’ll get, making them easy pickings for the ghosts, thus eliminating them from the competition. Of course, this also means other players are constantly sending Jammer Pac-Men your way as well. But you can eliminate all of the current Jammers at once by eating a Power Pellet.

Another addition are the groups of tiny “Sleeping Ghosts” on both sides of the board. When collected, these Sleeping Ghosts then trail behind the nearest proper ghost to create a ‘Ghost Train.’ The benefit to this is that, once the ghosts become edible with a Power Pellet, each ghost in the Ghost Train creates its own Jammer, thus bombarding your opponents.

Once a certain amount of the Pac-Dots on the board are eaten (I believe it’s half of them), a fruit appears at the center of the board which resets all of the Pac-Dots, Power Pellets and Sleeping Ghosts once Pac-Man eats it.

Also of note is how the game changes as it goes. Not only do Pac-Man and the ghosts move faster as a match goes on, but the Jammer Pac-Men will behave differently in different stages of a match. In the earlier portion of a game, the Jammers will stay in place, and will slow Pac-Man if he moves through them. Later, the Jammers start chasing Pac-Man. And the late-game introduces red Jammer Pac-Men, who may move slower than the others, but will eliminate Pac-Man just as the ghosts do. And Power Pellets merely freeze the red Jammers in place temporarily. Only getting the fruit will eliminate the red Jammers from the board.

These are all fun twists to the Pac-Man formula that make for a thrilling multiplayer competition. But there are some additional elements that add another level of strategy, though they could be better explained and presented. These are the power-ups and the targeting options.

The power-ups are added bonuses the player can equip at any time, that are activated once Pac-Man eats a Power Pellet. The power-up options are Speed, Stronger, Train and Standard. Speed – true to its name – will double Pac-Man’s movement speed for the duration of a Power Pellet, with the caveat that you’ll send less Jammers to other players. Stronger creates more Jammers per ghost that you eat, but reduces the length of the Power Pellets’ effects. Train adds more ghosts to the Ghost Trains, but also brings a Jammer to your own board for every extra ghost. Standard won’t give Pac-Man any bonuses outside of what Power Pellets usually do, but also doesn’t have a downside.

Targeting options refer to who you want to be sending your Jammer Pac-Men to, and can also be changed at any point. The targeting options are categorized as Random, Knockout, Hunter, and Counter. Random, of course, will simply target a random set of players. Knockout will target players who are on the verge of being eliminated. Hunter will go after the players who have eliminated the most competition already. Finally, Counter will target anyone who is currently targeting you.

It is possible to target individual players, but this is only plausibly done when played in the Switch’s handheld mode, where you just tap that player’s screen on the touchscreen. When played in docked mode, you have to press the ‘L’ or ‘R’ buttons to manually go through each player to find the one you want. But with 98 other players, that’s simply unreasonable, especially in a game that gets as chaotic as this.

As much fun as Pac-Man 99 is, I have to admit the implementation of the power-ups and targeting options could have been done better. Pac-Man himself is controlled by the D-pad, while the buttons change the power-ups, and the right joystick switches the target options. I suppose that’s fine, but if I’m going to be honest, as the game goes on and gets faster and faster, I tend to forget those options are even there. It doesn’t help that the HUD for these options are greatly obscured by all the other players’ screens. Tetris 99 also did something like this, but Pac-Man 99 has so many added visual effects (which look nice on their own) that the displays for the power-ups and targeting options are just drown out. It just makes things all the more chaotic and I lose track of the action.

Another problem is that the game fails to properly explain what the power-ups and targeting options do. There are no in-game options detailing them, and the effects aren’t immediately apparent during gameplay. Although the names gave me a general idea, I actually had to look them up online to know what they did.

A simple instructions section on the main menu and a clearer display would really benefit these aspects. Otherwise Pac-Man 99 is a very fun twist on a timeless classic. It’s highly competitive, and you’ll find yourself even competing with yourself to see if you can rank higher than you did the time before. You’ll find you catch on to the new mechanics pretty quickly, but will play game after game trying to master them. It’s one of those “just one more game” kind of video games.

Pac-Man 99 doesn’t reinvent the Pac-Man formula or the battle royale genre, but like Tetris 99 and Super Mario Bros. 35 before it, Pac-Man 99 proves that battle royales and classic games are a match made in heaven.

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