Tag Archives: Video Games

Coming Soon…ish to Wizard Dojo: My List of All-Time Favorite Video Games…But First…

Oh lord, I’m doing this again, aren’t I? Well, let’s skip the crap and cut to the chase.

My recent review of Dragon Ball FighterZ was my 285th video game review here at Wizard Dojo. That means I have only 15 more games to review to hit the 300 milestone. As stated at the start of the year, hitting that 300 milestone will be something of a segue for me to finally get around to making my long-promised list of all-time favorite video games.

But first (oh, damn it!)…

Okay, so during (and after) the trek to 300, I will also be making a few other video game related lists to build up to the big one. Because, well, doing my all-time favorites list first would kind of undermine the others, don’t ya think?

I’m still going to try my best to not postpone all of this for too much longer, so hopefully you won’t be too mad at me for delaying my favorite games list once again. I don’t even know why I keep writing these things about it. Who besides me is all that interested in knowing my favorite games? I guess since I first mentioned making this list some time ago, I just feel a wee bit guilty that I keep going back on it. Yeah, that’s it. I’m totally not just writing these for the sake of writing something…

Okay, so basically, along with the 300 reviews milestone, my other big idea leading up to the big list is to make an updated version of My Game of the Year for Every Year of My Life. I’ve noticed more and more people in my blogging circle have started doing this, and cited others as the originators of the idea. But I did it first, damn it! Okay, so there’s probably plenty of people out there who thought of similar ideas in the past, but as far as my blogging circle goes, it was my idea!

*Ahem!*

Anyway, the new version of my Game of the Years will be made into a sub-page on this site, as opposed to a blog like last time. This way, I can update it every year after my annual awards.

In addition to reaching 300 game reviews and re-making my Games of the Years list, there are a couple of other video game related lists I’d like to do before I make my ultimate list of (probably 30) favorite video games of all time. Though whether or not I get around to doing all or just some of them beforehand just depends on how quickly I can get them done. Here’s what I have planned.

  • Top 10 Nintendo Platforms
  • Top 10 Nintendo Franchises
  • Top 10 SNES Games
  • Top 10 Switch Games (so far)
  • Top 10 PS4 Games
  • Top 10 Indie Games
  • Top 10 Retro Games
  • Top 10 Greatest Flawed Video Games
  • Top 10 Multiplayer Games
  • Top 10 Games from my Childhood
  • Top 10 Video Game Soundtracks (maybe separated by retro and modern?)
  • Top 10 Video Game Villains (and maybe heroes)

There are other such lists I’d like to get around to – top 10 N64 games, a revised version of my top 10 Wii U games (though that one seems to be becoming redundant with how it seems every Wii U game is becoming a Switch game) – but since I want to actually get to making my favorite games list, I have to narrow things down to the ones I want to do the most. Obviously, the last two lists that I…uhh… listed… don’t necessarily need to be done before my favorite games list, but they’d be nice to do, at any rate.

Anyway, I hope you look forward to whatever I write, and I really hope I can get around to writing all these as soon as possible. Thanks!

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Dragon Ball FighterZ Review

licensed video games are usually a bit of a gamble. After all, they’re more often than not little more than advertisement for whatever property they’re representing, than they are games in their own right. There are exceptions, however, with some licensed games – such as Duck Tales on NES and Goldeneye 007 on Nintendo 64 – being fondly remembered. Going a step further, there are some franchises that seem to segue into the video game medium with a sense of consistency. Star Wars would probably take top honors in that department (its combining of fantasy storytelling with science-fiction settings, as well samurai and western influences would make it a strong candidate for video game transitions even without its insane popularity to consider), but other franchises have proven to have a decent amount of reliability in the video game department as well. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings has proven surprisingly versatile, with successful RTS titles, movie tie-ins, and original games to its name. But perhaps no other franchise in pop culture that didn’t originate as a video game is better suited for the medium than Dragon Ball.

Dragon Ball – and more specifically, Dragon Ball Z and subsequent installments – are more or less just about a bunch of super powered beings duking it out, firing lasers from their hands, blowing up planets, and making the occasional bad joke. The original series had a lighthearted plot, but once things got into ‘Z’ territory, it really did amount to little more than which musclebound hero/villain could cause the biggest explosions by powering up. And it was (and is) awesome!

Combine its colorful and charming nonsense with the fact that the franchise seems to find countless ways to resurrect deceased characters, and Dragon Ball really does start seeming more and more like the video games that were around at the time the manga was at the height of its powers. It’s no wonder that the series has produced a number of beloved fighting games (as well as dipping its toes in the waters of other genres, to much less consistent success). Sure, not every Dragon Ball game has captured the brilliantly stupid mentality of the manga/anime, but there’s probably never been another franchise in pop culture that openly lends itself to the fighter to the extent of Dragon Ball. And Dragon Ball FighterZ, the most recent entry in Dragon Ball fighting games, might be the best realization of the series’ transitions to gaming yet.

Dragon Ball FighterZ comes from Arc System Works, famous for their fighting franchises Guilty Gear and BlazBlue, and replicates much of those series mechanics whilst melding them into the Dragon Ball universe.

It’s a match made in heaven, really. Arc System Works’ fighting mechanics blend effortlessly with Dragon Ball’s action, and the adoption of Arc System Works’ established cel-shading makes Dragon Ball FighterZ a visual treat, giving the game the look and feel of actually playing an episode of Dragon Ball Z.

“My main man, Majin Buu!”

The game also takes inspiration from the Marvel vs. Capcom series, with players selecting a team of three different characters to partake in battle. The roster is comprised of a (mostly) all-star lineup of characters from Dragon Ball Z and Dragon Ball Super: you have the obvious Saiyan characters like Goku, Vageta, Gohan and Trunks; classic villains such as Freiza, Cell and Majin Buu; fan favorites such as Piccolo and Krillin, and newer characters like Beerus.

The three-person setup is well utilized, with switching between characters (or calling one of them for some backup) working smoothly. Better still is that the mechanics as a whole have an “easy to learn, difficult to master” feel to them. Everything is smooth and fast-paced, and in a breath of fresh air for a competitive fighter like this, the combos are pretty easy to pull off and chain together, without being so easy as to make matches feel completely one-sided to whoever can land the first combo.

Matches can also be refreshingly lengthy for a game of this genre. If you have two players of similar skill level going at it, you can have a good, long match that looks and feels straight out of the anime. The mechanics of these matches are also surprisingly deep, despite their accessibility. Players may find certain moves can prove vital at any given moment, and its easy to imagine different people basing their strategies off different aspects of the game’s mechanics (some players may prefer to use their built up energy meters to teleport around enemies and chain combos out of it, as opposed to using said energy on more traditional character specials).

One questionably included element to battles shows up – somewhat ironically – in the forms of the Dragon Balls themselves. If players can land a combo of seven hits, they’ll “unlock” a Dragon Ball. If they can do this seven times during a match and obtain all seven Dragon Balls, then proceed to hit one more seven-hit combo, they’ll summon the dragon Shenlong who will grant them a wish (revive a partner, receive full health, etc.). The problem here is that – not only is the method of summoning Shenlong kind of awkward – but if you actually manage to pull off all these combos, your opponent will likely almost be defeated anyway, making the bonuses obtained by Shenlong feeling like they give you an unfair advantage when your opponent is more or less already bested. It’s fun that they tried to actually implement the Dragon Balls into the game, but you can’t help but feel that, with how they’re utilized, they may as well have been left out.

Though Dragon Ball FighterZ boasts several different modes, most of them fun, one of the game’s other notable shortcomings is its story mode. This story mode sees the introduction of a new villain character, Android 21. 21 is more or less a combination of other DBZ villains (sharing many abilities with the similarly named Androids and Cell, as well as the ability to turn her enemies into sweets, which she then consumes to gain their power a la Majin Buu). Android 21 is gaining in power, and soon threatens the entire planet. Meanwhile, the usual Dragon Ball heroes are losing their power, with their only way of regaining their full strength being to link with a wandering soul (the player) who keeps traveling from character to character.

Now, I’m not going to fault the story mode for its plot. This is Dragon Ball, after all, and any DBZ fan can tell you that roughly 87% of all the show’s dialogue was about someone increasing their “power level,” and the remaining 13% was focused on how hungry one of the character’s was at any given time. I don’t exactly expect Shakespeare, here.

The problems with the story mode lie in its bloated nature, repetitious battles and cutscenes, and insultingly easy difficulty. The story mode is spread out between three different stories (one through Goku and company’s perspective, one through the classic villains’ points of view, and one that shows Android 21’s side of the story). While that’s all fine in concept, these stories end up overstaying their welcome by quite a bit. Perhaps the length wouldn’t be so noticeable, if it weren’t for how it becomes really redundant really quickly.

“If you play as Goku, do everyone a favor, and switch it to the English version. Goku’s Japanese voice is insufferable.”

Needlessly long cutscenes repeat the same plot points ad nauseam. The story introduces “cloned” versions of characters to give it all some length, which is understandable. But you’ll quickly find that these fights have no variety, and never really seem to pick up on difficulty (throughout the entirety of one story mode, I never even lost a single character, let alone a match). There are some fun ideas at play, like the ability to level up the different characters and gaining equipable bonus as rewards (extra XP, boosts in health and special attacks, etc.), but it’s hard to care too much when your opponents barely ever fight back.

The story mode features three primary match types: tutorials, which reward extra points for using specific moves; fights, which are exactly what they sound like; and boss battles, which will advance you further into the story when completed. Don’t let these match types fool you, however, as none of them end up feeling different or more difficult than the others (even the moves the tutorials require quickly begin recycling themselves). Because of these many shortcomings, the story mode ultimately feels like the most boring way to play Dragon Ball FighterZ, and by a good margin.

On the bright side of things, this is a competitive 2D fighter, and multiplayer was always going to be where Dragon Ball FighterZ shined. And for the most part, shine it does. Once again, the fighting mechanics are both accessible and deep, and more importantly, they make for a whole lot of fun. Tie them together with the beautiful and fluid character animations, and I really can’t stress enough how the game feels like you’re playing an episode of the anime.

I did use the words “for the most part,” however, and the caveat here being the unreliable and sometimes confusing connection issues when playing online. I have yet to experience any particular issues in a match itself, but more often than not, the game will find and drop several matches before I find one that I actually end up playing. Additionally, after a few matches you might find yourself having to suddenly select a different server to connect to, and in perhaps the most egregious example of connection issues, it took me several tries and a 20+ minute wait just to spectate a match.

“Just…look at this!”

Even with the online problems and lackluster story mode, Dragon Ball FighterZ still manages to outshine its shortcomings simply because of how much fun the core gameplay is, and how well it captures the essence of the show. Once you find a good opponent, you’ll likely find yourself transfixed by the action. Even if you’re watching a friend play, the visuals alone are something to behold. In terms of being a Dragon Ball game, Dragon Ball FighterZ is as good as it gets. If some of the kinks can be worked out either in updates or in an eventual sequel, its power level might be over nine-thousand!

 

8.0

Shadow of the Colossus (Playstation 4) Review

There aren’t many modern video games that have left quite the indelible mark as Shadow of the Colossus. While gaming today is arguably better than it’s ever been as a whole, it seems that for whatever reason – whether it be outlandish hype, the “bigger is better” mentality, or a tendency to pander – the number of more contemporary games that feel like they have their own timeless identity are few. Half-Life 2, the Portal duo, the Souls-Borne series, the 3D Mario titles, Breath of the Wild, and select indie titles (namely Undertale) stand out. Shadow of the Colossus similarly stands tall alongside them and, although probably a more flawed game than any of the aforementioned titles, has perhaps left the biggest impression in terms of style and tone. As influential as it’s become, there’s never really been anything else quite like it.

This Playstation 4 remake by BluePoint Games is the title’s third release, all but enforcing Shadow of the Colossus’ status as one of the most iconic Playstation games ever. Similar to Crash Bandicoot: The N. Sane Trilogy last year, this PS4 rendition of Shadow of the Colossus is a faithful recreation of the PS2 classic, which means that, although the assets have been rebuilt from the ground-up and boast some absolutely stunning visuals, some of the game’s flaws still remain intact. For purists, the authenticity is commendable, though you may also wish that BluePoint Games had tweaked the rougher mechanics ever-so slightly, to give Shadow of the Colossus a level of fluidity to match its uniqueness.

Shadow of the Colossus has become something of the poster-child for the whole “video games as art” concept, and although there are plenty of other games that showcase the unique artistic merits of the video game medium, Colossus’s status isn’t undeserved. While many of the games released in its wake have felt confused as to how to implement their artistry within game design – usually being either AAA games that think replicating movies is the way to go, or self-righteous indie titles that think a somber tone and visual style make up for shallow gameplay – Shadow of the Colossus actually feels like a fully realized creative vision.

The core game is as it’s always been. You play as Wander, a young warrior whose love has died. Willing to do anything for her, Wander takes the girl’s lifeless body to an ancient temple in a forgotten land, in hopes that an ancient being called Dormin can resurrect his lost love. But Dormin cannot undo death without a cost, and the demon needs Wander’s help just as much as Wander needs Dormin’s. Wander is to scourge this forgotten land of the sixteen Colossi, magnificent giants who remain some of gaming’s greatest creatures. If Wander can slay the sixteen Colossi, Dormin can resurrect his fallen love.

It sounds like a simple setup, but its execution transcends it into one of gaming’s greatest stories. What starts off as a selfless quest built on love transforms into a selfish tragedy. The Colossi – despite their intimidating size and appearances – are never presented as monsters. Instead of the usual fanfare one would receive for conquering a boss fight, the slaying of a Colossus is always accompanied by grief and sadness.

One of the things that made Shadow of the Colossus so special is that – unlike the many games that try to be art by throwing in as many cinematics as possible – Shadow of the Colossus weaves its narrative and lore into something that could only work as a video game. Shadow of the Colossus, at its heart, is a giant boss rush. Every Colossus is a beautiful combination of boss fight, puzzle and stage design. Climb the Colossi, expose their weak points, slay them, return to Dormin, repeat. Again, it all sounds simple, but the creativity involved within each Colossus makes every encounter something special.

You can unlock Time Attacks for each Colossus, which then rewards upgrades to your weapons and grant new items. You can also find fruit and hunt down silver-tailed lizards to boost Wander’s health and stamina (respectively). All the while your trusted horse Agro helps you traverse the land.

It’s actually quite beautiful how it all comes together. As stated, the game is an extravagant boss rush on paper, but Shadow of the Colossus is one of the rare “art games” that understands how to meld its world and thematics into its gameplay as one cohesive whole. Save points, for example, were presented as shrines scattered across the land (though the shrines now merely restore health in the PS4 version, as saving is now done automatically or manually through the pause menu in a delightful bit of modernization). Even the aforementioned Time Attacks take the form of visions/memories that take place within Dormin’s temple. The game’s unique world always finds ways to mold into its gameplay.

So what’s new about Shadow of the Colossus’ third release? Along with the aforementioned streamlined save feature, some tweaks have been made to the control scheme for the better. The X button now serves as Wander’s jump button and to mount Agro, while the triangle button calls your stead and boosts Agro’s speed when mounted.

The most obvious change is found in the aesthetics, however. Unlike the PS3 release, this isn’t just the PS2 original with an HD makeover, but a from the ground-up recreation of the PS2 classic. This means that, although Shadow of the Colossus may be a PS2 title from 2005, you may never know it if this is your introduction to the game. The attention to detail on a Colossus’ fur, the individual blades of grass blowing in the wind, the ripples in every pool of water; Shadow of the Colossus, and indeed few games, have ever looked so beautiful. In terms of sheer realism in the environments, I’d say this PS4 remake is second only to Uncharted 4 as the best looking game I’ve seen. For a 2005 game to look this stunning is telling of just how much care and attention BluePoint Games put into this remake. Even the game’s iconic musical score sounds crisper than ever, and the added sounds that emanate from the environment and Colossi only add to the game’s atmosphere and sense of awe. Additionally, a new collectible can be found in the form of glowing “Enlightenments,” though finding them all and unlocking their questionably useful reward may only be worth the time for the most diehard of fans.

Another fun little addition is a new “photo” option, which allows you to take screenshots within the game and share them on social media. It may not sound like much, but with how utterly gorgeous this remake is, you’ll likely bask in the opportunity to take the best photos of the game’s unique world and its tragic giants.

If there is a downside to this remake, it’s that the original’s blemishes in control and camera largely remain. Thankfully, you no longer have to worry about drops in the framerate, and as stated, some of the controls have been wisely mapped to different buttons. But some of Wander’s movements and actions still feel a little clunky, and when wrestling with a Colossus, the camera can still get utterly chaotic at times, which may still lead to some frustration and swearing (emotional reactions that seem like the last responses the game wanted to create). Sure, you can praise the authenticity of the recreation, but you may also begin to question if such authenticity is the best option when the years since the game’s original release have revealed how it could be bettered.

I’m not asking for unnecessary, George Lucas-style additions here (no Dewbacks, please), and in terms of video game preservation, I get it. But a key difference between video games and other mediums that see remakes is that games feature interactive mechanics that, over time, can be bettered. If BluePoint Games were willing to change the way Shadow of the Colossus controls in terms of player input, you kind of wish they’d have done the same for the way Wander and his camera control. At the very least, an additional option would be nice.

So Shadow of the Colossus was never a perfect game, and that’s still true here. That’s a bit of a shame, because the uniqueness and execution of much of Shadow of the Colossus’ vision make it a gaming experience like no other. With the additional technical polish, Shadow of the Colossus might sit with some esteemed company at the very top of the mountain of gaming’s all-time greats. As it is, it’s still making the climb up that mountain. But Wander shouldn’t have any trouble in that department.

 

9.0

Celeste Review

An inspirational climb to greater heights.

January has never been a heavy hitting month for video game releases – it functions as a relative calm before the storm. However contemporary showcases have proven to be a delightful exception to the rule, transcending January into a mainstay of quality. January 2013 saw the release of one of the best modern JRPGs in recent memory, Ni No Kuni: Wrath of the White Witch and January 2017 introduced the franchise resurrecting Resident Evil 7: biohazard, a franchise reviver and one of the best games of 2017. This past January also had a masterpiece simmering under the radar, the independent platformer with tremendous heart, Celeste. While its sense of scale is rather diminutive compared to the previously mentioned January entries, its level of quality never faltered, making it an undeniable front-runner for game of the year. Plated with its impeccable level design, brilliantly simple mechanics, and slew of deviating paths and hidden goodies, Celeste transcends into a remarkably defined staple of the modern 2D platformer. Its pitch perfect gameplay and refined mechanics are enhanced by its impeccably crafted pace and gameplay implementation, introducing new twists and turns at every corner, significantly upping the ante with each new chapter. Aside from its mechanical prowess, Celeste boasts one of the most beautifully crafted narratives to ever grace the gaming sphere, a creative element typically undermined or absent in mainstays of the genre. Celeste’s inspiring coming of age story is a breath of fresh air to the expanding portfolio of 2D platformers. While these two fundamental structures of Celeste are inherently separate, both exude an unparalleled level of quality, becoming prime examples of their craft and are seamlessly harmonized as a result. Celeste is not only a remarkable start to the new year, it is arguably the best modern 2D platformer, standing tall amongst the meteoric heights of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and Ori and the Blind Forest.

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What Makes a Game a 10?

*The following blog owes credit to the many banters between me and Red Metal of Extra Life Reviews*

Since I launched Wizard Dojo on Christmas Day of 2014, I’ve reviewed nearly 300 different video games. Of that lot, I’ve awarded six games a perfect score of 10/10 as of this writing, and I plan on reviewing the remaining such games soon. But what makes a game deserving of such top honors? Well, that’s a question that will of course elicit different answers depending on the individual you ask. But if we’re going by my personal ratings, there are a few different ways to look at it.

The easiest answer is simply that a 10 represents the absolute best I think gaming has to offer. The shortest way to describe what makes games 10s is that they are games that not only define their genre’s, but execute everything they do so greatly that whatever missteps they may have are entirely inconsequential.

During the 2000s decade, there seemed to be an utterly batty mindset amongst many gamers on the internet that, because nothing is technically perfect, that no game deserves a perfect score. That is, of course, a load of BS. If you have no plans on using a rating system, why the hell do you have a rating system? As long as you have a rating system, you should use it to its fullest, if even only on occasion.

What’s funny is that things have seemed to have taken a complete 180 turn during the 2010s, with many sites and gamers dishing out perfect scores left and right, if the hype is strong enough. Now, not everyone has to be stingy when giving out perfect scores (different rating systems will work differently, of course), but I can’t help but feel a lot of people are just trying to make up for lost time for how stingy they were during the 2000s.

The way I see it, the 10s I award can be separated into two primary categories: contemporary masterpieces that I believe showcase the pinnacle of modern gaming through both staggering quality and invention, and classics from yesteryear that have defied the aging process, and can still go toe-to-toe with the best of modern gaming.

Of course, because video games are a medium that evolves so quickly, many games of the past can quickly begin to feel outdated. As such, a game that has endured through the years and can still claim to be among the best is a pretty rare thing. Because of that added achievement, I do think the number of retro games that I would award a 10/10 would ever-so-slightly outnumber my more contemporary 10s. But for those same reasons, my near-perfect score of 9.5 would probably be housed more by modern titles than old-school ones. Obviously, the overall quality of the game itself determines how highly I’d rate a game, but that added “test of time” could be what edges one game over the 9.5 category and into the realm of the perfect 10.

This also leads me to some hypocritical territory, as I have trouble thinking of a game released during the 2000s decade that I can safely say I’d award a 10/10. Now, the difference between me and others who never awarded perfect scores during the 2000s is that, if one were to ask my past self during the 2000s the games I’d give top honors to, I probably would have listed a few games from those years. But because I started this site in 2014, I am primarily looking at things retroactively by modern standards. So most of the games I’d award 10s to can claim to be either A) the most exceptional titles from the 2010s or B) the rare 1990s game that still feels like it gets everything right.

That’s not ruling out the possibility of a “perfect” game from the 2000s decade, of course. Just that I can’t think of one right off the bat like I can for the decades immediately before and after it. Namely because I feel that many of the best games from the 2000s have been bettered by similar experiences from the 2010s, and since I’m doing things retroactively, they can’t help but be compared to each other. The original Super Mario Galaxy from 2007, for example, is a 10 for all intents and purposes, as the issues the game does have are incredibly minimal. But if/when I get around to reviewing it, I may award it a 9.5, because I feel its 2010 sequel (which I have reviewed and gave a 10) polishes the experience all the more. And since both games are relatively similar experiences, the edge goes to the latter.

Had you asked me back in 2005 some of the games I’d say deserve top marks, I might have listed The Wind Waker and Shadow of the Colossus among them. While I still think incredibly highly of both of those titles, I think their shortcomings are a little more obvious to modern eyes. Again, those are still among my favorite games, but I’d be lying if I said they felt as technically sound as something like Breath of the Wild.

Does that mean that my modern 10s will one day fall short of future standards? While I suppose that’s possible in some cases, I do think 3D gaming has finally reached a level of quality that I think will hold up strongly down the road, much like 2D gaming did when it reached the SNES days. And once again, I don’t give out perfect scores freely, so I try to make sure that when I do dish them out, it’s to games that I can see still being regarded as classics down the road. Or at the very least, that I can see myself still obsessing over down the road.

Again, it’s because we can’t peak into the future and I can’t say for sure what will hold up the best why modern masterpieces often get the 9.5 treatment from me, whereas the timeless classics get that extra .5 to make it a perfect 10 (though of course there are exceptions in both categories). I can only give my best shot and predicting the future. But I do think gaming is at a point where it becomes apparent how a game will hold up relatively quickly.

This now brings me to a little bit of a dilemma in my potential future 10s. Of course, people’s opinions change (if even slightly), and one’s criteria may change over time. Though one’s favorites tend to endure, they can also fluctuate. I’m even thinking about reviewing subsequent releases of some of my 9.5 games (such as the PS4 version of Undertale and the upcoming Switch port of DKC: Tropical Freeze) to see if they go that extra mile, now that they’ve had time to marinate in my mind.

My “dilemma” stems from the fact that some of my criteria has fluctuated since Christmas of 2014. Not by a whole lot, mind you, but enough that it has dictated two possible outcomes for my ultimate amount of 10s I would currently grade to the video game world.

When I first launched Wizard Dojo, I knew I wanted to make sure that awarding a perfect score would feel special. But of course there are different ways of going about that. Again, the quality of the game is what ultimately dictates the score, but there was always the question as to what should define that quality. As stated, a game like Super Mario Galaxy puts up an argument for that elusive 10, so did I give 10s based on that quality alone, or did I go the route of comparing games with similar titles and allowing personal preference to tip the scale in favor of the game I feel is superior?

In the end, I went with the latter method, partly as a means of limiting the number of 10s I give to make them feel more special (which is admittedly a wee bit pretentious on my part), but it’s also a nice way to let personal taste come into play to better define which ones are my all-time favorites, given the retroactive nature of many of my reviews (As much as I try to be professional and objective with reviews, when it comes to reviewing what I think are the best of the best, why not let my personal take tip the scales a little? Despite having more objective traits than many other forms of media, video games still provide more than enough room for subjectivity).

With that said, I still find myself somewhat at war with these two methods of awarding 10s to games even today, as this balancing act of objectivity and subjectivity allows my list of 10s to continue down two different directions. Again, I’ve currently awarded six different games a perfect score. The way I see it at this point, I could either continue reviewing the remainder of my shortlist of potential 10s, and should they hold up, my total number of 10s might be around double what they are now. But the other way to go about things is to allow my perfect 10s to solidify my top ten all-time favorite games. So ten 10s to define my favorites.

Now, some might argue that the latter method would pigeonholed my perfect scores. But I’m not saying those would be the only 10s I’d ever award (there’s always going to be another one down the road, and I could always discover one from the past that I originally missed out on). I’m just saying that – with my reviews so often being retroactive – making my 10s and my personal top ten favorites one and the same at this point would set the standard for any future (or retroactive) 10s thereafter. The former method is obviously less confined for the time being, but neither way prevents the possibility of more perfect scores.

By this point you’re probably thinking I’m just way other-thinking all of this, and you’d be absolutely right. Of course I’m other-thinking this, these scores are after all not an exact science or mathematic. Rather, they’re just a vague way to sum up what I feel are the greatest works in a creative, artistic medium. Creative mediums aren’t so exact, which is one of the reasons I love them so much (with all due respect to science and math, I could never love them the way I love the arts). Plus, I have OCD, so over-thinking things is just how I am.

Wow, this has really gone off-the-rails now. I only wanted to give a little bit of an insight as to why I give some games a perfect 10/10, while other games that are on a similar level receive the “near-perfect” 9.5/10. But now I’m rambling about solidifying my favorites and whatnot. Again, these scores are, in the end, little numbers that we try to use to sum up our feelings to what we’re reviewing. Hopefully the people who read my reviews actually care about the words that lead up to that number, and not just the number itself.

So whatever route I ultimately decide to take – whether it be basing my favorite games around my perfect scores or my perfect scores around my favorite games – I hope you enjoy the reviews I write, and look forward to my eventual list of favorites, and whatever else I write down the road.

Oh, and one more note. Although I technically “broke” my scale in the past to dish out a couple of 0/10s, a means to showcase the works so bad they don’t even count, I will not be breaking the positive end of my reviewing spectrum. Awarding anything higher than the highest score is just wonky; even when people mean it as a joke it doesn’t make sense.

“Sorry Eleven, no 11s here.”

Perfect Dark Review

*Review based on Perfect Dark’s Xbox 360 re-release as part of Rare Replay*

In 1997, Rare (then known as Rareware) released Goldeneye 007 on the Nintendo 64. Based on the James Bond film released two years prior, the video game adaptation proved to be the far more influential entity, single-handedly reinventing the first-person shooter genre on home consoles, which remain the most prominent genre of video game on home platforms even today. It was inevitable that Rare would seek to create a sequel, but after losing the James Bond license, the developer had to start from scratch, opting for a spiritual successor to continue Goldeneye 007’s legacy.

The game in question ended up being the 2000 N64 title Perfect Dark, an original IP that combined Goldeneye’s gameplay with a new science fiction setting. The tonal shift allowed for some fun additions to what Goldeneye started (alien weapons!), and though the 360 release and an Xbox One controller make Perfect Dark more playable than Goldeneye by modern standards, it has still felt the effects of aging. While Perfect Dark once felt like an all-time great, it now comes across as a merely decent FPS outing.

The setting for Perfect Dark sees two alien races at war with each other; the Maians, who resemble the typical gray alien archetype, and the Skedar, vicious reptilian creatures who can use holographic technology to disguise as humans. The struggles between these two races have found their way to Earth, with the Maians finding allies in the Carrington Institute, a research and development facility; and the Skedar serving as benefactors to the corrupt dataDyne corporation, who are using Skedar technology and weapons for nefarious means. In the middle of it all is Joanna Dark, an agent for Carrington Institute tasked with uncovering dataDyne’s plots.

It’s actually a pretty entertaining story, and it has a lot of fun with long-standing conspiracy theories and old sci-fi tropes. Joana Dark also had all the makings of an iconic video game character, which sadly never quite came to fruition (largely due to the game’s underwhelming 2005 sequel). Perhaps best of all is that the game itself is still pretty fun…if you’re playing the re-release that was first available for download on the Xbox 360 and became a part of Rare Replay.

The sad truth is that – with the exception of a handful of titles (namely those with “Mario,” “Zelda” and “Banjo” in the titles) – the N64 library hasn’t exactly aged gracefully. There is some reason to that, of course. After 2D gaming had time to develop and evolve, leading to the 16-bit golden age, the N64 was part of gaming’s early 3D years. Things were starting over, and the Nintendo 64 was like Nintendo’s canary in this new mine.

I’d be lying if I said Goldeneye 007 lives up to its reputation when playing today. Yes, it played a hugely influential role in the direction gaming would take from that point on, but it feels bare bones compared to what the FPS genre has provided since, and it feels like an utter slog to control. The same could probably be said about Perfect Dark’s original N64 release, as it followed close to Goldeneye’s rulebook, and there’s only so much developers could do to work with that awkward N64 controller. But while the character models may still look clumpy, Perfect Dark’s re-release allowed Rare to implement some much-needed improvements to the control scheme. It may still feel small by today’s standards, but at least the re-release prevents Perfect Dark from feeling like a relic like Goldeneye.

The second joystick found on contemporary controllers alone improves Perfect Dark’s sense of control greatly. And the additional buttons only add to this improvement, making the overall control scheme much more fluid than it could be on the N64’s controller. Sure, there are still a few dated design choices (like Joanna being able to carry as many weapons as you could find, which makes cycling through them a bit of a chore), but again, it’s great to be able to play Perfect Dark with some lessons learned from the FPSs that showed up in the years after its original release.

Another great addition is the inclusion of online multiplayer, which came courtesy of Perfect Dark’s 360 release. Perfect Dark was one of the Nintendo 64’s better multiplayer titles back in the day, and the online functionality only gives it more replay value.

On the downside of things, some of Perfect Dark’s more dated elements also find their way into multiplayer modes. Back in gaming’s earlier years, being able to find “cheats” was something that was rewarded, and concepts like balance weren’t the issues they are today. That was true even in the N64 years, with Perfect Dark’s weaponry often being a case of just that.

Sure, some of these weapons were cool and novel – such as the Laptop Gun, which could be used by the player or placed on the ground to act as a turret – while others were a bit too overpowered. The primary culprit of this being the Farsight, a Maian sniper rifle that could not only see through walls, but killed opponents in a single hit without fail. Back in the day we all accepted the Farsight as its own reward for finding it. But now that video games have matured a little bit and don’t reward shortcuts quite so prominently, something like the Farsight now feels like a cheap and annoying product of a bygone era.

Perfect Dark certainly won’t wow anyone who didn’t experience it back in its day, and it probably won’t impress those who did if they take off the rose-tinted glasses. But the adjustments made to Perfect Dark’s re-release make it feel far more functional than its archaic predecessor Goldeneye 007. Just make sure you play it on more contemporary hardware. Revisiting Perfect Dark on the Nintendo 64 could prove every bit as disappointing as a revisit to Goldeneye.

 

6.0

Kirby’s Dream Course Review

*Review based on Kirby’s Dream Course’s release as part of the SNES Classic*

Good ol’ Kirby. Nintendo’s most underappreciated of workhorses has never truly got the recognition he deserves, often held down in the shadows of Nintendo’s more prominent franchises like Mario, The Legend of Zelda, and Metroid. Sure, he may not have a title quite as heralded as Super Mario World or Ocarina of Time to his name, but Kirby has also never had any atrocious edutainment titles or CDi games under his belt, either. Nor does his series house a game anywhere near as bad as Metroid: Other M. When a series’ worst entry is still a game as charming and creative as Kirby Air Ride, I’d say it’s doing alright for itself.

Kirby is usually known for his 2D platforming adventures, which are easier and friendlier than Mario or Donkey Kong’s journey’s in the same genre. Kirby is a gloriously overpowered character, being able to eat enemies, copy their abilities, and even fly over hazards. But the series has never not been fun, and that remains true even for Kirby’s spinoff titles. Perhaps one of the most under-the-radar Kirby titles – and the out-of-left-field entry in the SNES Classic Edition – is Kirby’s Dream Course, which combines the colorful world of Dreamland with miniature golf.

This 1994 SNES title sees Kirby transported to isometric golf courses, where the goal is to defeat all enemies – save for one – on a course. Once these enemies are defeated, the final foe becomes a hole which serves as the stage’s goal. Get Kirby into the hole within a set number of turns, and you can move on to the next stage.

Kirby is controlled here like a golf ball, with players able to adjust the power, angle and spin of Kirby’s movements. As in golf, the player receives a better score if they can get Kirby into the hole in the least amount of turns, but being a video game, Kirby loses a life if too many turns are taken. Players can gain extra turns when Kirby defeats an enemy and makes it into a goal, but will lose turns when hit by an enemy attack, and will immediately lose an entire life if he falls off a stage.

It’s a simple setup, but the core gameplay is a lot of fun. Better still is that Kirby’s copy abilities have found their way into the mix, with Kirby gaining an ability when he defeats a foe that happens to possess one. The powers can then be activated by a press of the B button once Kirby is on the move. The wheel power, for example, will boost Kirby’s speed so he can glide on water and move easily through tough terrain, while the stone ability will bring Kirby to an immediate halt, which can be a lifesaver on more elaborate courses.

If there’s any notable complaint to be had with the gameplay, it’s that – for a game with a pretty unique setup – Kirby’s Dream Course doesn’t exactly do the best job at giving the player a decent learning curve. The simple act of ‘striking’ Kirby can be a little confusing if you jump right into things, and although there’s a tutorial available to help out with that, it fails to explain some of the finer details of the experience (such as giving Kirby light boosts with the A button). The same applies to the aforementioned copy abilities, with the game more or less leaving you to guess how their individual physics will affect those already present in the game. It’s not overly cryptic, but for a Kirby game to be cryptic at all seems strange.

Visually, the game is another impressive showcase of the timeless colors and charms of the SNES, and the sound effects and music are delightful remixes of classic Kirby tunes. And while the single player adventure may feel a little repetitive at times, a two-player competitive mode gives the game some nice replay value, with players taking turns to see who can best a course the quickest.

Kirby’s Dream Course may not be one of the most remembered Kirby games, but it is another testament to the pink hero’s often-overlooked versatility. While Mario frequently reaps praise for his chameleon-like ability to blend into any genre, Kirby has been doing the same thing for nearly as long, but to much littler fanfare. And though Mario’s offshoots usually deserve their praise, when it comes to golf, Kirby has the former-plumber beat. The later Mario Golf on Nintendo 64 looked and felt like a typical golf game, but with Mario characters attached. Kirby’s Dream Course, on the other hand, actually feels like what golf might be like in Kirby’s whimsical world.

 

7.5