WarioWare Twisted Review

One of Nintendo’s defining traits is their unrivaled ability to showcase the merits that are exclusive to the video game medium. While other developers and publishers seem hellbent on bringing the world of Hollywood into the video game fold, Nintendo has always understood that the real poetry of video games is in their gameplay. Mario and Zelda (rightfully) get the most praise for this, but perhaps the Nintendo franchise that expresses Nintendo’s game design philosophy in its most literal sense is WarioWare.

The WarioWare series strips away all the bells and whistles of gaming, and reduces it to its bare-bone basics. By throwing multitudes of ‘micro-games’ at players – each one requiring minimal movement and button presses – WarioWare is a showcase of gameplay concepts at their most simple. It’s as beautiful as it is absurd.

There’s perhaps no better entry in the WarioWare series than WarioWare Twisted. Released on the Gameboy Advance in 2005, Twisted put a unique spin on the series’ formula: motion controls.

While most other WarioWare sequels have capitalized on their respective hardware by weaving the quirks of Nintendo’s consoles into the series’ formula, Twisted instead had unique functionality of its own. With a built-in ‘gyrosensor,’ WarioWare Twisted allowed players to interact with its micro-games by moving, tilting and flipping your GameBoy Advance.

You know how in movies and TV shows when someone is supposed to be playing a video game, but the actor clearly doesn’t know what they’re doing and is just moving the controller around like a madman? WarioWare Twisted has player’s actually doing that in order to play the game. In typical WarioWare fashion, Twisted provides innovative gameplay at the price of making the player look like an idiot while playing it. What could be more ‘Wario’ than that?

A year before the Nintendo Wii brought motion-controls to the mainstream, WarioWare Twisted brought a different kind of motion control to the table. While many of Twisted’s micro-games will still require a press of the A button or D-pad, most of them require the player to move the GameBoy Advance around in order to effect what’s happening on screen. It makes for a game that’s easy to pick up and play, while providing all the charm and hilarity you could ask for in a Nintendo title.

Can you think of another game that requires the player to move the entire system left and right in order to shave a man’s stubble? I didn’t think so. There are so many fun and funny ideas at play in WarioWare Twisted at every turn. If you can play it and somehow not get a goofy grin on your face or let out a chuckle, you must have a heart of stone.

There are micro-games that have you flipping the GBA upside down so a man’s toupee falls off, or that have you tilting the Gameboy Advance to its side so you can slide a man his drink (but tilt too fast and the drink spills). There are games that have you twirling the system so a key falls out of a giant keyring, or to make a platform move so a frog can land on it. Not all of the micro-games are winners (such as one where you have to pay attention to which of two hands is holding a coin, with the motion controls only being used to highlight which hand to select), but the ones that are, shall we say “not-so-great” are in shorter supply.

The game features a variety of modes, with the “story” being spread out between different characters. Each character works as their own stage, with their own set of micro-games that follow different rules (some might require light motion-controls, while another character’s might have you going all-out with them). You have four chances to make it to the ‘boss’ micro-game which, after completed the first time, will allow you to move onto the next character. After a character’s stage has been completed, you can replay them and go through more and more micro-games to try and best your high score as the games continue to pick up speed. You can also play a mode that allows you to select a single micro-game to play on repeat, again getting faster and tougher after every few rounds.

The more you play the different modes, the more goodies you can unlock. Some of these unlockables include music tracks from the game, while others will be goofy trinkets that display the game’s motion controls even further, albeit in minuscule ways (for example, you can unlock a marionette, which you can then move about by tilting the GBA to pull his strings).

It’s all a bit silly and mindless, but that’s kind of the appeal of WarioWare. It strips the very concept of video games down to its bare essentials, then runs wild with them in as many crazy ways as it can think of. WarioWare is both a celebration and a parody of its own medium, and that’s perhaps never been better displayed in the series than it is here in Twisted.

Aesthetically, the game still looks and sounds great for a Gameboy Advance title. Twisted wisely uses its many micro-games to experiment with various visual styles, and this is one of the few GBA titles I can think of that had good enough sound quality to feature a song with lyrics (“Mona Pizza” which has since gained fame for its uses in the Super Smash Bros. series).

It is a bit of a shame to admit that WarioWare Twisted can be a difficult game to find these days. Notably, it never even saw a release in Europe, due to the gyro sensor in the cartridge containing mercury. And its unique control scheme means it has yet to see a re-release on a subsequent Nintendo console.

Let’s hope one day Nintendo finds a way to adapt Twisted onto contemporary hardware. Until then, if you still have a Gameboy Advance handy, WarioWare Twisted is more than worth the trouble of tracking down. And if you don’t have a Gameboy Advance, Twisted remains a great reason to get one.

 

8

Mario & Wario Review

Before Satoshi Tajiri created a little game called Pokemon, he worked on various other Nintendo games, including Mario spinoffs. Perhaps the strangest game Satoshi Tajiri worked on – and one of the strangest Mario games at that – is Mario & Wario, a puzzle title that was released on the Super Famicom in 1993, but never saw an international release.

Adding to the game’s obscurity is the fact that it is controlled with the SNES mouse, a peripheral so seldom used that many still believe Mario Paint was the only title to utilize it. Despite the game’s title, the player doesn’t control Mario directly in Mario & Wario. You see, the game revolves around the utterly bonkers premise of Wario blinding Mario by – and I kid you not – throwing a bucket on his head (from an airplane, no less). The player then controls a fairy named Wanda, moving her around like the cursor of a computer, and clicking on certain areas to create blocks and platforms for Mario to walk across, or to click on Mario himself to change his direction, with the goal of each stage being to avoid danger and reach Luigi within a time limit, with Luigi then removing the bucket from Mario’s head.

Basically, it’s like the Mario version of Lemmings, but even more bizarre given the setup. Of course, the object on Mario’s head isn’t always a bucket (the item changes depending on which world is currently being played), and in fact it isn’t always Mario that Wanda has to guide to safety (the player can also select Princess Peach and Yoshi, with the former moving slower than Mario and being easy for beginners, while the latter moves the fastest and is essentially hard mode). So the title of ‘Mario & Wario’ isn’t quite accurate.

The game provides eight worlds from the start, which can be selected in any order, Mega Man style, though it probably is still best if first-time players stick to doing them in order, as each subsequent world provides its own twists to the formula, and World 1 is essentially the tutorial (which is a bit disappointing. I feel a tutorial should be its own separate thing). World 9 is unlocked supposedly after completion of all eight others (though in my second playthrough, I played the later worlds first and World 9 became available early. I don’t know if that’s supposed to happen or my earlier playthrough unlocked that option). After World 9, the player will move on to the tenth and final World, which will throw everything at the player.

As stated, each world provides new challenges, like timed blocks (which will turn into solid platforms for only a limited time), ice which makes Mario & company slip and slide, slime that slows them down, and enemies that may throw projectiles at the Mushroom Kingdom heroes. The way in which each world changes up the gameplay and continuously adds new elements keeps the game fresh and is true to the spirit of the Mario franchise. Though there are some stages that get a tad cumbersome, like when they’ll place multiple vertical-moving enemies/obstacles close together, leaving the player to repeatedly click on Mario in between said objects to continuously change his direction since you can’t make him stop outright. Things like that feel more like a test of patience than puzzle-solving.

Each world consists of ten stages, and a final showdown with Wario. Unfortunately, these ‘showdowns’ are probably the biggest disappointments in the game. They aren’t actual boss fights, because Wario can’t damage you or anything. He just flies back and forth across the screen in his airplane, and the player simply has to keep clicking on him for Wanda to damage his plane and earn coins. And they’re all like this, there’s no variety in them. With all the varied elements that get thrown into the stages, it would have been nice if the developers had implemented an array of legitimate boss fights at the end of each world.

If you’re wondering what the coins are for, they actually play the same role as in most Mario games, with every 100 coins granting an additional life. Coins can also be found in Coin Blocks, which Wanda needs to click on this time around, since Mario’s obscured vision apparently also prevents him from jumping. The player can gain also gain more lives by guiding Mario (or Peach, or Yoshi) into collecting the four stars scattered across each stage, or by picking up the rare one-up mushroom. You can also add more time on the clock by collecting an equally infrequent super mushroom (this has to be the only instance in the history of the franchise in which stars are a far more common collectible than mushrooms).

This is unfortunately another letdown with the game. In the eight standard worlds, the player can restart from the same stage in the same world even after a game over, leaving you to wonder what importance the extra lives actually have. Well, it’s important to hold onto those extra lives until the endgame, because if you get a game over at any point in world 9 or 10, you have to start back from the beginning of world 9. 

Unfortunately, this can become pretty darn tedious. Mega Man does something similar, with the player needing to start over from the beginning of Dr. Wily’s castle should they get a game over after the eight standard stages have been completed. But there it’s more understandable because it’s an action game. It’s like, okay, you beat me this time, but now I’m going to pick myself up and dust myself off for the rematch. But here in a puzzle game, it’s kind of annoying. As if you were taking a quiz, got every answer correct except the last one, and then needed to go back and redo the questions you already got right just for another chance at the one you got wrong. I can’t help but feel that maybe this game didn’t need a lives system, and it would have been best had collecting the stars unlocked secret levels or something.

Still, even with the game’s simplicity and its drawbacks, it’s still a lot of fun. The puzzle designs are clever, the graphics are crips and colorful, the music is fun, the gameplay is always changing things up, and the sheer absurdity of the concept itself is charming. Despite all of the game’s text being in English, Mario & Wario was never officially released outside of Japan. But if you have a Super Famicom, Mario & Wario isn’t too pricey or hard to find, and probably worth a look. It may not be one of Mario’s finest adventures, but he’s certainly never had another one quite like it.

 

6

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair Review

In 2015, a small development studio called Playtonic Games – comprised of several former members of Rare – revealed Yooka-Laylee through Kickstarter. Yooka-Laylee was a 3D platformer that served as a ‘spiritual successor’ to the Banjo-Kazooie games, which are still seen as some of Rare’s finest achievements, and more than likely the only only 3D platformers not called Mario that genuinely compare to the Italian plumber’s fabled adventures. With the creators of such a beloved series crafting its spiritual follow-up, suffice to say Yooka-Laylee’s crowdfunding campaign was a roaring success.

Fast-forward to 2017 to the release of Yooka-Laylee, and the game’s final reception was unfortunately a lot more mixed than the game’s initial success would have suggested. Though it was a solid effort, a number of technical issues and a few outdated elements prevented Yooka-Laylee from reaching its full potential. Though far from a bad game, it wasn’t the second coming of Banjo-Kazooie we all had hoped it would be.

Thankfully, Playtonic didn’t let the disappointing reception hinder them, and in the Summer of 2019 they announced a surprise sequel, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair, which was released a few months thereafter. Unlike its predecessor, Impossible Lair is a 2D side scrolling platformer akin to Rare’s Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the SNES. Though Playtonic has insisted to not refer to Impossible Lair as a ‘spiritual successor’ to DKC as they did with its predecessor and Banjo-Kazooie as to avoid setting this sequel up for disappointment, it actually is a strong improvement over its predecessor, and a worthy follow-up to the Donkey Kong Country series.

It’s apparent that Playtonic has learned from Yooka-Laylee’s missteps. While we can hope that means their next 3D platformer will be a real winner (especially considering that genre could do with another classic outside of Mario after all these years), Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is such a strong 2D platformer that it should do away with any skepticisms people may have had towards Playtonic after their maiden voyage, and re-establishes Yooka-Laylee as a viable video game franchise.

While Rare were the developers of the original Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the SNES, that series was eventually passed on to Retro Studios during the 2010s. Retro Studios resurrected the series with Donkey Kong Country Returns on the Wii, and made the series their own with the masterful Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze on Wii U (and later Switch). While Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair pays homage to Rare’s SNES Donkey Kong Country titles that many of Playtonic’s team members helped create, it also seems to be a loving tribute to Retro Studios’ efforts with the series. In particular, Impossible Lair seems to be doing its best at a game of one-upmanship with Tropical Freeze. Although Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair can’t quite match up to Tropical Freeze, it is undoubtedly the best 2D platformer to be released since.

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair sees the return of Yooka the chameleon and Laylee the bat, as well as their enemy Capital B, who is trying to takeover the “Royal Stingdom” of bees with the use of his new bee mind-controlling scepter. To ensure Yooka and Laylee can’t stop him for a second time, Capital B. has constructed the titular Impossible Lair, an insanely difficult platforming stage that will push Yooka and Laylee (and thus, the player) to their limit.

Similar to the DKC games, both characters essentially serve as a hit point. Get hit once, and Laylee flies away (though there are a few seconds where she can be recovered, and should you lose her, you can bring her back by ringing a Laylee bell). Get hit twice, and Yooka dies. Fall down a bottomless pit, and it’s instant defeat.

To survive the Impossible Lair, Queen Phoebee – the matriarch of the Stingdom – can grant the duo of Yooka and Laylee the aid of her royal guard, who provide a shield for the heroic duo, with each royal guard serving as an additional hit point for the shield. But there’s a catch, the royal guard have all been imprisoned by Capital B.

This is where Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair draws some inspiration from The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Should the player have the skill/patience, it actually is possible to head straight into the Impossible Lair and, yes, even beat it (though the challenge is so incredibly steep you may have to be crazy to try that). Or you can experience more of the game, rescue the royal guards, and use them to create the shield for Yooka and Laylee. There are forty-eight royal guards in to be found in total, but again, you can attempt the Impossible Lair at any time, no matter how many guards you’ve rescued.

It’s a seemingly simple twist to the genre, but one that ultimately makes for a great change of pace. The concept of the final level being readily available from the start of the game, with the completion of the other stages giving the player more strength to brave said final level, might be the most refreshing twist to the progression of 2D platformers since Super Mario World introduced multiple stage exists and branching paths in its world map. It’s easy to imagine player’s seeking the toughest challenge trying to conquer the Impossible Lair from the get-go, though I’m on the side of the fence that believes a game is best when you experience it to its fullest.

The other big twist Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair brings to 2D platformers is its overworld. Instead of a map screen to select stages, Yooka and Laylee are thrown into a connected world that takes on a top-down, overhead perspective, akin to the 2D Legend of Zelda titles. New stages are found throughout the overworld, and usually require the player to solve a puzzle in order to unlock them. Additionally, each of the game’s twenty stages (not counting the Impossible Lair) features an alternative version, which feels like a more fleshed-out realization of the ‘level expansion’ concept from the first Yooka-Laylee.

While these changes Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair makes to 2D platforming progression are very much appreciated, I must admit most of the game’s drawbacks come from its overworld. Though the idea of unlocking platforming levels in a Zelda-style overworld is a great concept, the puzzles found in said overworld can sometimes be a bit cryptic, and it can often be vague as to where you’re supposed to go next, which prevents the concept from reaching its full potential.

Thankfully, the stages themselves are far better realized. As stated, these are the best side scrolling platformer stages since Tropical Freeze, with levels constantly introducing new gameplay elements into the mix, and the alternate forms of each stage providing even more variety. One stage may get flooded in its alternate form, while another gets flipped on its side. One stage gets frozen over, while a conveyor belt-themed stage will move in reverse the second time around. The twenty proper stages – and their alternate forms – all feel distinct from one another, feel lengthy without ever overstaying their welcome, and are consistently creative.

Quills return as the equivalent of Mario’s coins or Banjo’s music notes (or I suppose most accurately in this case, Donkey Kong’s bananas). Also returning are the Tonics from the first Yooka-Laylee. Quills are found all throughout the stages and overworld, while Tonics are found exclusively in the overworld (sometimes very well hidden), and often require puzzle-solving and Yooka’Laylee’s acrobatics to find.

Once the player finds a Tonic, they use the quills they’ve found to purchase them. The player can equip up to three Tonics at a time. You can unlock the ability to equip four Tonics, but the downside to this is that the process of unlocking the fourth Tonic slot will take you towards the 100% completion mark, and you may wonder why you need that additional Tonic when the game is that close to being finished.

The Tonics provide new twists to the gameplay, or simply change the aesthetics of the game itself. The cosmetic Tonics might change Yooka and Laylee themselves (like giving Yooka a comically oversized head, or making both members of the duo silhouetted), or change the visuals of the stages themselves (such as comic book graphics or heavily pixelated filters). The gameplay Tonics can either help the heroic duo (like giving Yooka more time to reclaim Laylee after she flies away), or hinder them (such as giving enemies an additional hitpoint or reversing the player’s controls).

You may wonder why you would want to equip Tonics to hinder Yooka and Laylee, other than to provide an extra challenge for those looking for it. There’s actually a valid reason for it: the Tonics that make the game more difficult will add to the quills you gain during a stage, while the beneficial Tonics will subtract from them (the cosmetic Tonics thankfully don’t alter your quill count at the end of a level). Again, it’s a fun twist on the traditions of the genre.

Whether or not you like to play with visual-altering Tonics or not, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is quite the aesthetic treat. The graphics look as smooth as the first game, but likely due to the simpler 2D setting, it doesn’t suffer from the same technical blips. The levels look great and the backgrounds are lovingly detailed. It’s just a beautiful game to look at (though I must admit some of the cosmetic Tonics could be a little eye-straining for me).

Like its predecessor and the DKC titles its emulating, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair also features a top notch soundtrack. Banjo-Kazooie composer Grant Kirkhope provided the overworld theme, while fittingly enough, Donkey Kong Country composer David Wise created a number of tunes for the game’s stages. It’s a lovely, atmospheric soundtrack, with the David Wise pieces sounding like a direct follow-up to the composer’s work on Tropical Freeze.

The game as a whole feels like it’s aiming to be a follow-up to Tropical Freeze in a gaming landscape that’s desperately starved of one. Though it undoubtedly follows the rulebook that many of Playtonic’s staffers themselves created with the SNES Donkey Kong Country titles, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair feels every bit as much a love letter to Retro Studios’ second Donkey Kong offering. It’s only fitting then that Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair is the first 2D platformer to come around since Tropical Freeze that can rightfully be compared to it. That in itself is one hell of an achievement.

 

8

Donkey Kong Country Turns 25!

Today, November 21st 2019, marks the twenty-fifth anniversary of the release of Donkey Kong Country on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System! It’s also the twenty-fourth anniversary of its exemplary sequel, Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest. It also means it’s been exactly nine years since Donkey Kong Country Returns was released on the Wii.

Whoa whoa! DKCR is already nine years old? Where the hell did that time go?!

Yessir, the Donkey Kong Country series is now twenty-five years old. If I may give my two cents, I personally think DKC is probably the best all-around 2D platforming series. DKC2 and DKC: Tropical Freeze, in particular, should rank as some of the greatest platformers ever made.

Originally a trilogy created by Rare on the Super Nintendo, Donkey Kong Country was later revived by Retro Studios on the Wii and Wii U/Switch with two additional entries. Whether under the creative minds of Rare or Retro, Donkey Kong Country has provided some of the best 2D platforming experiences.

Between the phenomenal gameplay, masterful level design, and perfect, perfect music, the Donkey Kong Country series should rank alongside The Legend of Zelda and Super Mario as one of Nintendo’s finest.

Happy birthday, DKC! Can Tropical Freeze get a sequel now?

I Has Pokemon Sword!

I now has (yes, has) Pokemon Sword version. Does Nintendo still use the terminology “version” to distinguish Pokemon games anymore? At any rate, this is cool not only because it means a new Pokemon adventure, but also because I have no more video games on pre-order for the rest of 2019! This, of course, means I will have ample time to catch up on my back catalogue, as well as my game reviews.

Sure, there are a couple of other 2019 games that look interesting, but I’m so inundated with games I’m just gonna have to stave it off for a while. Of course, Christmas is coming up, and if any of my more generous/bestest friends happen to be reading this, I’m perfectly fine with getting some games as gifts. *Hint hint wink wink*

Anyways, along with playing Pokemon Sword (what, you thought I was going to get Shield version? Is anyone getting Shield version?), I will try to catch up on other games from 2019 like Sekiro: Shadows Dies Twice and Astral Chain, along with some older titles. As for the near future, I’m hoping to review Luigi’s Mansion 3, Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled, Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair and Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga as soon as possible. That’s on top of some movie reviews as well, like Joker and Dojo Rabbit (I have no excuse why I haven’t reviewed them yet. Sorry). Also with It: Chapter 2 being released on digital platforms soon, I’ll (finally) get around to reviewing that duology. And of course, Frozen II is a must review for me, and hopefully I’ll have my review for the holiday special Olaf’s Frozen Adventure done before that.

I’ve reviewed most of the movies I’ve seen in theaters this year, with the exceptions of the above mentioned that I just haven’t got to yet (plus Judy. But I may wait to review that one until I get all these things done. No rush on that one). I’ve actually grown quite pleased with ow many movies I’ve managed to review that were released this year. Unfortunately it seems in regards to games, I was still buying more while I was still playing others. As a result, I haven’t finished a number of them and haven’t been able to review as many as I’d like. Here’s hoping these next few months give me the time to make up for lost time.

I’m really going to have to crank these out quickly in the coming days if I hope to stick to my plan of reviewing every Star Wars movie before The Rise of Skywalker releases in late December (sans Solo: A Star Wars Story, which I’ve already reviewed).

What am I going on about this again for? Didn’t I already ramble about this recently?

In short, with no more games on pre-order until Animal Crossing: New Horizons in March, it looks like I finally have a good window of time to catch up on things. And also yay Pokemon and all that!

The Obligatory “Coming Soon to the Dojo” Update for November 2019

Hey hey! It’s November…already. Did everyone have a happy Halloween? I know I did, even if I unfortunately didn’t manage to have a costume this year (I ordered a custom-made one, but did so too late, so I’m still waiting for it to arrive… there’s always next year).

Apologies that I once again failed to write a Halloween-centric top 5/10 list. I liked doing those back during the Dojo’s first two Halloweens. Hopefully next year I can go all out with the Halloween goodies. On the plus side, I did review the original Luigi’s Mansion to celebrate Halloween, so I didn’t leave the Dojo un-festive for the season. I would have liked to review Luigi’s Mansion 3, but Nintendo decided to release it on the day of Halloween. I guess I can understand what they were going for, but my beef is that Nintendo kept marketing Luigi’s Mansion 3’s release as being “just in time for Halloween.”

Releasing a game on Halloween is not “just in time” for Halloween. Releasing it any time in October before the 31st would be “just in time” for Halloween. Releasing it on Halloween is just that, releasing it on Halloween!

In short, I reviewed the first Luigi’s Mansion for Halloween due to the timing. Though I suppose now I’ve reviewed all the existing Luigi’s Mansion games so far (including the arcade title), so I guess now my review for Luigi’s Mansion 3 will feel all the more complete when it’s done.

Man, how many times have I already said “Halloween” and “Luigi’s Mansion” in this post?

Talking of Luigi’s Mansion (for the umpteenth time), I picked up my copy of Luigi’s Mansion 3 today. So I’ll do my best to review that in the near future, along with the following games that I’m ready to review…

Crash Team Racing Nitro-Fueled

Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga + Bowser’s Minions

Yooka-Laylee and the Impossible Lair

And of course, another Wario title sometime this month, as has been my 2019 tradition for no particular reason whatsoever.

In addition, I hope to get around to finishing Sekiro, Astral Chain, Ni no Kuni Remastered, and Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story + Bowser Jr’s Journey in the not-too-distant future.

The good news is now that I have Luigi’s Mansion 3, I only have two upcoming games on pre-order, the smallest amount of pre-ordered games I’ve had in years. And one of those games is Animal Crossing: New Horizons, which doesn’t come out until March. So it looks like I have a good window of opportunity to catch up on games and review them.

This of course brings me to another point. I mentioned in a post at the earlier part of this year that I’m planning on purchasing fewer games in the future. Certainly not because I’ve lost any love for them (technically speaking, they’re probably better on the whole now than they’ve ever been), but because they’re too damn long and too damn expensive. And I have other things I have/want to do with my time, and I don’t want to be reduced to eating cold beans with a stick. Plus, remembering how in my youth there would be a handful of games I would replay for years, I would kind of like to rekindle that quality over quantity approach. Getting games that I’ll want to play over and over, as opposed to ones that demand me to surrender entire days’ worth of time to them.

Although I kind of caved and bought more games this year than I initially intended, I did buy fewer games this year than the past few years. But next year, I’m really going to try and aim for like four or five full-priced retail games for all of 2020 (once again, there could be exceptions if a game I’d know I’d have to get – like a Super Mario Galaxy 3 or Bloodborne 2 – was announced for an imminent release after I’ve reached my self-imposed limit. But those are quite the exceptions).

As I’ve stated to the point of it becoming a running joke here on my site, I would like to further my studies of video game development, as to develop my own game(s) someday. And I would also like to do something video game related in video form at some point. So even though fewer new purchases would mean fewer reviews for contemporary games, I would still use this site to catalogue my game development progress, and post/link whatever videos I may make here as well.

Because video games have become such an investment and commitment, I have to limit myself if I want to seriously delve deeper into my creative outlets. But don’t worry, I still have plenty of retro games in my library I can review in-between reviews for 2020 releases (I also have a few games from a recent history that still need reviewing, key among them being Persona 5).  And even though I may be reviewing less new games, I could always write other types of blogs about the ones I’m playing (again, if I play a game I can keep going back to, why not find new things to write about them?).

Basically, I’m writing this post to reiterate things I’ve written here before… This site ain’t going anywhere, but reviews for new video games will unfortunately have to slowdown. On the plus side, that will open up my time not just for game development and video shenanigans, but also more time for movie reviews and those long-promised, oft-delayed top 10 lists. Hopefully this also means I’ll write less filler posts like this one…

Speaking of movie reviews, I have a few of those planned for the near future as well. Though I have an extensive checklist of reviews I hope to get to at some point, for the rest of November and December I will prioritize movies I’ve seen in theaters, and older movies that relate to them (and by that I mean the entire Star Wars saga in preparation for The Rise of Skywalker). I really have no excuse why I haven’t reviewed Joker yet. And since I’ve seen It Chapter 2 and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil, expect reviews for those movies and their predecessors as well. I also really want to review all four Mad Max movies, but I may just do the first one in the near future, then wait until after I’ve reviewed the aforementioned movies before I do the rest.

Also, Frozen II comes out in three weeks from today. Of course that’s one I’m going to review. But since I’ve already reviewed the original (which is one of my 10/10 reviews, by the way), I’ll review the short film/holiday special, Olaf’s Frozen Adventure before then (a short film which, generic title aside, was rather charming).

So yes, hopefully the remaining posts I write in 2019 will be these, and other, worthwhile posts. And hopefully this will be the last “here’s what I’m going to write” post for a while. 2020 may see some changes to what I write here at the Dojo to some degree, but hopefully you stick around and enjoy. And once again, happy belated Halloween.

Luigi’s Mansion Review

Nintendo was in an interesting place in 2001. Though the Nintendo 64 helped revolutionize gaming (namely due to Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time), its sales numbers paled in comparison to the Sony Playstation. And with the Playstation 2 releasing in 2000, it’s safe to say that the GameCube was in a hurry to get out the door as soon as possible. As such, this meant that the GameCube’s signature Mario game, Super Mario Sunshine, would miss the console’s launch, marking the first time Mario wasn’t present to cut the ribbon on the dawning of a new Nintendo console.

To fill that void, however, Nintendo had a separate game set within the Mario universe to make the GameCube’s launch. But it ended up being quite different from any other game set in the world of the Mushroom Kingdom. The game in question was Luigi’s Mansion, a kind of spoof on the survival-horror genre that marked the first official game in which Luigi received the starring role (wiseacres are quick to point out the existence of Mario is Missing from years earlier, but that title was an edutainment game that wasn’t developed by Nintendo, so it doesn’t count). Although Luigi’s Mansion never boasted the depth of Mario’s adventures, Luigi’s first proper solo outing nonetheless provided enough unique ideas and personality that it retains a charm of its own.

The initial concept for what would later become Luigi’s Mansion at first starred the more famous Mario brother, with the idea being to place Mario in a singular indoor setting. Originally conceived as a Japanese-style castle, the setting eventually became an American-style haunted house. With the change in setting, Nintendo decided to promote Luigi to be the star of the game for one very simple reason: Mario was known for being brave and adventurous, but now was the time to showcase Luigi’s personality, whose constance presence in his brother’s shadow made him easy fodder for a ‘reluctant hero’ character.

Though audiences saw glimpses of distinct personalities between the Mario Bros. through their television series and books, there was never any official, concrete characterizations between Mario and Luigi by Nintendo themselves in the formative years for the video game series. If Mario was the brave hero who would leap into action at the first chance, then it just made sense that Luigi would be the series’ ‘Cowardly Lion,’ as he shares a similar heroic spirit as his brother, but it’s buried far, far deeper. So it was a natural fit to have Luigi be the one to traverse a haunted mansion, facing his many fears as he tries to rescue Mario.

Luigi’s Mansion might be the first Nintendo game to be centered around one of their character’s personalities, and it remains one of their most successful attempts (the less said of Metroid: Other M, the better). Nintendo’s critics often deride the developer for a supposed “lack of character,” but that’s a gross misconception. While it’s true Nintendo rarely prioritizes actual storytelling and their characters tend to not have complex backstories (probably for the better. I again refer you to Other M), many of their characters are bursting with personality in a similar vein to classic cartoon characters like Mickey Mouse, Bugs Bunny and Popeye the Sailor Man. Luigi’s Mansion is a fine example of this. Between Luigi’s constantly chattering teeth (which kind of makes him look like Wallace from Wallace and Gromit), shaky knees, and nervous humming of the game’s catchy theme tune, Luigi’s Mansion showcases its lead character’s personality – while simple and exaggerated – to be thoroughly entertaining.

It simply wouldn’t have been as good if it were Mario braving the haunted halls of its mansion. The game and its lead character both benefit one another in such a way that you wish more of the story-focused games of today would attempt to replicate that connection, as to avoid the common pitfall of gameplay conflicting with narratives and character motivation.

Even with Luigi’s personality leading the charge, gameplay is still at the forefront of Nintendo’s designs. And although it shows its age in certain areas, for the most part, Luigi’s Mansion remains a uniquely fun and charming game even today.

As mentioned, the game is all about Luigi trying to save Mario, who has gone missing in the new mansion Luigi supposedly won in a contest he never even entered (red flag there, Luigi). The mansion is, of course, littered with ghosts. Luckily for Luigi, Professor E. Gadd – a lifetime researcher of ghosts – has been studying the mansion, and gives Luigi his ghost-catching vacuum, the Poltergust 3000.

Yes, the gameplay is more reminiscent of the 1984 Ghostbusters film than it is any of its Mario series predecessors (Luigi can’t even jump in the game). Equipped with only the Poltergust and a flashlight, Luigi traverses the mansion fighting ghosts. The flashlight will stun ghosts, exposing their heart, which allows Luigi to suck them up into the Poltergust.

One of the most fun things about Luigi’s Mansion is the act of catching ghosts itself. The player of course moves Luigi with the standard joystick. But Luigi aims the Poltergust and flashlight with the GameCube controller’s ‘C-stick.’ If a ghost caught in the Poltergust’s whirlwind changes direction, the player will have to accommodate and pull the direction opposite to that which the ghost is heading, occasionally cutting some slack so Luigi can avoid a potential hazard in his way as the ghost pulls him along the ground. Essentially, it’s like an elaborate fishing game used as a combat mechanic.

It’s simple fun with the standard enemies, but the real treat comes in the form of the “Portrait Ghosts;” unique mini-boss-like specters whom the mansion’s many chambers are built around. Each Portrait Ghost has different tells and weaknesses, and can provide real tests of endurance for the player.

The Portrait Ghosts are memorable not just for how each one provides their own little puzzle for the player to solve, but also in their personalities and design. Most of the Portrait Ghosts are more humanoid than what we usually see in the Mario universe (keep in mind this was sixteen years before Odyssey brought realistic-looking humans into the fold), and although it would be difficult to call the game truly scary, the Portrait Ghosts’ appearances do make the game feel appropriately spooky and (relatively) darker than the usual Mario title. The mansion itself could be considered a character in its own right, given its strong sense of place.

It may not match the combination of cartoony characters with a dark and dreary atmosphere of Donkey Kong Country 2, but Luigi’s Mansion is probably the only other game I can think of that warrants a comparison in that regard. Luigi’s Mansion’s eventual 3DS sequel, though arguably an improvement in certain respects, lacks the original’s sense of atmosphere and character.

Luigi’s Mansion could be described as a “Diet Metroidvania,” with Luigi gaining access to more chambers of the mansion as he continues to capture Portrait Ghosts. Though perhaps one of the game’s drawbacks is that it could have taken an extra page from the Metroidvania sub-genre and had Luigi (or the Poltergust, as it were) gain new abilities to access more of the mansion, instead of it merely being a case of defeating sub-bosses for keys. The Poltergust does gain the ability to emit fire, water and ice, but they unfortunately never get utilized in any substantial way.

Another fun aspect of Luigi’s Mansion is finding the many treasures hidden throughout the titular abode. While Mario is always grabbing coins, here, Luigi is on a quest for coins, pearls, dollar bills, gemstones and diamonds. Though gaining these riches does little more than effect your score at the end of the game, it still proves to be a fun diversion to see how much treasure you can collect.

The biggest complaint most people seem to have with Luigi’s Mansion is its short length. If you know what you’re doing, the game can be completed in about the time it takes to watch a movie. Luigi’s Mansion could have done with just a couple more hours of gameplay, as some of its ideas don’t meet their full potential with the little time they’re allowed to have. On the plus side, I suppose the game’s brief time makes it one of the few titles in the medium that can be seen as a holiday tradition with annual playthroughs (Halloween in this instance, obviously).

Luigi’s Mansion was one of the earlier Nintendo titles to feature a New Game Plus mode after completing the campaign. Unfortunately in both its Japanese and US release, the differences between the main game and New Game Plus are little more than some stronger enemies and a weaker Luigi. The PAL version of the game (released well after the other versions) rectified this somewhat by making the post-game version of the mansion mirrored and changing the locations of certain treasures, but even that only goes so far. So unless you missed out on some treasures, or just really want to beat your high score, there’s not a whole lot of reason to play through the “Hidden Mansion” mode.

The short running time of the campaign is unfortunate, but it’s not the game’s biggest issue. Though the GameCube has aged better than the Nintendo 64 on the whole, it’s earlier titles still suffer a bit from the same kind of technical hiccups that plagued its 64-bit predecessor. And Luigi’s Mansion is no exception.

Some of the controls feel a little clunky, particularly in regards to handling the flashlight in conjunction with everything else. The flashlight is turned on by default, and pressing the B button turns it off. You turn Luigi around and aim the Poltergust with the C-stick, and you suck up ghosts with a press of the R button. And while the flashlight stuns the ghosts, you have to stun them at the opportune time, or else they’ll disappear. It can feel a bit awkward to turn Luigi around and aim the Poltergust while holding the B button to keep the light off and then release it to turn the light on when the time is right, especially in rooms with multiple ghosts.

Along with the standard enemies and the Portrait Ghosts, the Mario series’ classic ‘Boo’ enemies show up as the primary baddies. While seeing these secondary foes get a promotion in the same vein as Luigi is nice, there are some issues with the Boos’ presence in Luigi’s Mansion. The game features fifty Boos hidden throughout the mansion. But unlike the other ghosts in the game, Boos ignore the aforementioned “fishing” aspects of the catching process, with Luigi simply focusing the vortex of the Poltergust on Boos to drain their hit points.

That may not sound too bad, and at first it isn’t when the Boos have less hit points. But once you you realize Boos can travel from room to room, and they start getting more hit points, thus giving them more opportunities to do so, it gets a bit tedious chasing a Boo from one room to another, and downright frustrating when they exit a room to go into the hallway and back again repeatedly. It’s also a bit disappointing that, despite the game claiming there are 50 Boos in the mansion to be captured, there are technically only 35, since 15 of them are automatically captured as part of a single boss fight.

Another note Luigi’s Mansion should have taken from Metroidvanias is the implementation of fast-traveling. The game can only be saved by talking to Toads (who are perhaps a bit too far spread out from one another), or after catching a Boo. While the Toads save your game, they don’t act as checkpoints. Every time you reload your game, or defeat a boss, or die, you start back at the foyer of the mansion. Although you can return to the foyer by scanning mirrors, there’s no means to fast-travel anywhere else in the mansion. As you might imagine, backtracking to different sections of the mansion can quickly feel arduous.

Though these aspect do show that the game has aged a bit, the core gameplay, along with its undeniable sense of character, have helped Luigi’s Mansion remain a fun and delightful experience nearly two decades later. It is perhaps the perfect launch game the GameCube could have hoped for (if maybe not the one it sorely needed), as Luigi’s Mansion echoes the console itself in many ways. The GameCube may not have been the success story Nintendo was hoping for in the Playstation dominated market of the time, nor is it one of Nintendo’s more iconic or innovative consoles. But it has a unique appeal of its own, a small-scale charm that’s aberrant  among Nintendo systems.

Just the same, Luigi’s Mansion – though far, far away from being one of the best games set in the Super Mario universe – remains a unique and appealing offshoot of Nintendo’s flagship franchise. We may not have realized it in 2001, but in hindsight, Luigi’s Mansion seems to have encompassed the GameCube’s place in Nintendo’s history right out of the gate.

 

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