Top 10 Kirby Games

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Honorable Mention: Kirby and the Amazing Mirror

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention: Kirby and the Rainbow Curse

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

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

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

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

Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Return to Dreamland

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

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

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

A good Kirby game, but a safe one.

Honorable Mention: Kirby’s Pinball Land

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

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

A fitting “first” for Kirby spinoffs.


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


10: Kirby’s Dream Course

Released: 1994

Platform: SNES

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

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

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

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

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

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

9: Kirby Mass Attack

Released: 2011

Platform: Nintendo DS

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

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

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

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

8: Kirby: Planet Robobot

Released: 2016

Platform: Nintendo 3DS

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

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

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

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

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

7: Kirby: Canvas Curse

Released: 2005

Platform: Nintendo DS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6: Kirby’s Dream Land 2

Released: 1995

Platform: Game Boy

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

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

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

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

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

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

5: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

Released: 2000

Platform: Nintendo 64 (obviously)

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

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

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

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

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

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

4: Kirby’s Adventure

Released: 1993

Platform: NES

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

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

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

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

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

3: Kirby Super Star

Released: 1996

Platform: SNES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2: Kirby’s Epic Yarn

Released: 2010

Platform: Wii

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Kirby’s Epic Yarn is charm incarnate.

1: Kirby’s Dream Land 3

Released: 1997

Platform: SNES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Nintendo Switch Turns 5!

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy five year anniversary, Nintendo Switch!

The Best ‘2s’ in Video Games

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

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

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

Now then, on to the twos!

Crash Bandicoot 2: Cortex Strikes Back

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

Diablo II

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

Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy’s Kong Quest

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

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

Half-Life 2

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

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

Halo 2

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

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

Kirby’s Dreamland 2

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

Mega Man 2

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

Mega Man X2 ain’t too shabby, either.

Portal 2

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

Red Dead Redemption 2

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

Sonic the Hedgehog 2

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

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

Street Fighter II

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

Super Mario Bros. 2

Yes. This counts.

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

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

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

Super Mario Galaxy 2

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

Oh, and Yoshi’s back too! Kick. Ass.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

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

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

Team Fortress 2

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

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

Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

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

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

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


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

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

Happy 2/22/22 everybody!

Uncharted Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5

Pac-Man 99 Review

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7

Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon Review

A while back, my older brother referred to Shovel Knight as the “Mario of Indie games.” That’s a pretty accurate description of Yacht Club Games’ shovel-wielding hero. His impact on Indie games, timeless appeal, and penchant for cameos in other games does bring to mind what Nintendo’s famed plumber has done for the mainstream. Though perhaps the comparison between Shovel Knight and Super Mario has never been more prominent than it is with Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon, which removes Shovel Knight from his action-platforming norms into the world of falling block puzzle games. Just as Mario seems capable of transitioning into any genre and making it his own (whether it be RPG, sports or party games), Shovel Knight has now done something similar with Pocket Dungeon, one of the most original and engaging puzzle games in years.

Co-developed by Yacht Club Games and Vine and released at the tail end of 2021, Pocket Dungeon doesn’t just place Shovel Knight in a puzzle game, but the action elements of his titular series as well.

The game works as such: enemies and blocks fall from the top of the screen to the bottom, moving slowly over time as well as whenever Shovel Knight (or whatever playable character) moves. The game ends if the screen fills up completely, but you can also play a rouge-like mode that additionally can end if the player loses all their hit points. By bumping into an enemy, the player damages them. But the enemy also damages the player with every hit, with the exception the final blow. If multiple copies of the same enemy (or block) are adjacent to each other, then defeating them will give the player a chain, awarding them with more gems, which are used to purchase items as well as giving the player a high score. And don’t worry, potions also fall from the top of the screen to heal your hit points.

A certain number of enemies need to be defeated before the exit door of a stage appears, at which point the player can exit right away and move on to the next stage, or try to defeat every remaining enemy and block to claim an additional bonus. A boss fight shows up at the end of every third stage, with a secret boss waiting at the end of the game if you’ve managed to perform a specific set of tasks.

Also included in the stages are keys, treasure chests, shops and bonus areas. The keys naturally open the chests to reveal power-ups (which may give the player a boost in damage, a shield to block a few hits, or other such limited use items). The blue chests lead to the shop (going inside pauses the stage until you leave). Here you can purchase upgrades that give the player bonuses that, unlike the aforementioned items, last throughout the current playthrough (such as additional hit points or immunity to electric attacks, things of that nature). The bonus areas may ask the player to remove all enemies and objects within a small room, with bonus gems and items awarded if you succeed, or just provide the player with free keys and items. Of course, should you get a game over, you lose all your items and upgrades, and return to camp to start over from the beginning (though you can unlock the ability to go directly to later stages, but at the disadvantage of not having the bonuses you might otherwise have when you reach that point).

As it is, the game would already be a blast. It’s so full of variety in enemies and stage-specific obstacles, not to mention the switching around of items and upgrades at the shop every playthrough, that Pocket Dungeon successfully merges an action game with a falling block puzzler. But then the game goes above and beyond by including different playable characters, each with their own abilities that change up the game all the more.

Some characters you unlock by progressing through the story, while others are the boss characters that you unlock after defeating them (each boss stage has a number of potential bosses, so you never know who you’re going to get). Most of the characters are returning from the original Shovel Knight and its expansions, though a few new characters show up as well.

Plague Knight poisons the enemies he attacks, meaning they take an additional hit of damage after a second (other characters can purchase an upgrade that does the same for them which, yes, stacks when used by Plague Knight). Tinker Knight is unique in that he collects metal from the blocks. He is lower on hit points, but with enough metal he can gain a mechanical suit that gives him extra strength (but also explodes when the metal is used up, so be careful). Shield Knight can generate shields by defeating chains of enemies. The bigger the chain, the more hits her shield can block. New character Scrap Knight can pick up an enemy or object and move them somewhere else. My personal favorite is Mole Knight, who can dig underground to switch positions with something else on the board, giving the player all kinds of ways to move around and create chains.

With Shovel Knight alone, the game would be great and full of variety. With these additional characters (plus a number of others I didn’t mention), you can easily get engrossed in Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon just by trying out every character and seeing how they change up the formula.

Even the enemies have their own quirks. Skeletons hit the player for extra damage, while knights put up a shield after your first strike, leaving you to attack them from a different position. Magician-like enemies will teleport once they’re down to their last hit point, while meddlesome yetis will freeze any other enemy or object (or the player) and scatter them across the board. It’s very impressive how much variety Vine and Yacht Club Games managed to squeeze into Pocket Dungeon.

I will admit, the game’s unique merging of genres may take some getting used to. And even when you’re accustomed to it, it can get so chaotic you still might not be able to keep track of your hit points or other things. But once you get the hang of it, Pocket Dungeon is incredibly fun (and only occasionally frustrating). It’s also a little bit of a bummer that the game currently lacks online multiplayer options, which will be added at a later date. Though I suppose this is a rare instance in which the game is so good as it is, I can forgive it if it wasn’t quite complete right out the gate.

In the spirit of Shovel Knight, Pocket Dungeon has great, colorful sprites (who look a little more SNES than the NES-inspired original game), and an awesome soundtrack that features remixes of the original Shovel Knight themes as well as some new stuff that’s just as catchy.

Perhaps the best thing about Shovel Knight Pocket Dungeon is that it’s one of those games that reminds me why we love video games to begin with. It’s a few simple concepts filled with creative ideas, that all come together through great gameplay to create a fun game. One of the best of 2021.

Like the original Shovel Knight, Pocket Dungeon trims the fat of modern gaming to remind us how great a pure video game experience can be.

It’s-a him, Shovel Knight!

8

Mario Party Superstars Review

2021 may not have been the biggest year for Nintendo in recent memory, but the Nintendo Switch did come out swinging with a few titles fans had waited many years for: Pokemon Snap finally received a sequel after twenty-two years in the form of New Pokemon Snap. The patience of Metroid fans was rewarded with the brand new 2D entry they’d been waiting nineteen years for in Metroid Dread. And last but not least, Mario Party finally listened to its fans and returned back to glorious basics with Mario Party Superstars, which is essentially a greatest hits collection of Mario Party’s golden years.

To be fair, 2018’s Super Mario Party was already a huge step in the right direction, ditching most of the more cumbersome gimmicks of the past several entries in favor of the more straightforward “board game and mini-games” setup of the earlier entries. But Super still had some issues that held it back, with unmemorable board designs, motion controls that weren’t always reliable, an inability to play in the Switch’s handheld mode and – bizarrely – the game didn’t get online features until nearly three years after release. And as cool as it was to have a wide variety of characters who each had their own dice, said dice weren’t always balanced.

Mario Party Superstars has left most of Super’s quirks behind, instead opting for a love letter to Mario Party’s earliest (and greatest) installments, making it the best entry in the series since the beloved Nintendo 64 years.

Mario Party Superstars utilizes five game boards, each returning from the first three entries from the Nintendo 64 era, as well as 100 mini-games from throughout each of the numbered entries in the series’ history (meaning Mario Parties 1 through 10, omitting the handheld entries and Super Mario Party).

The rules are back to basics: each player takes a turn moving across the board. Blue spaces give coins, red spaces take coins, with various Event Spaces interspersed in between, and item shops that let you use your coins to buy items to help yourself or hinder others. If you pass Toadette, you can spend 20 coins for a Star, with the winner being the player with the most Stars by the time the game ends. And as a final curveball, there are a few endgame bonuses that award last minute stars, which can turn the tide of the game at the very last second.

It’s the same Mario Party formula you remember, at the height of its powers. Some may lament that Mario Party Superstars doesn’t do anything really new for the series, but after so many years of needless gimmicks and superfluous additions, getting back to the core of what made the series fun to begin with is what fans have been begging for for years.

Superstars features ten playable characters: the original six Mario Party characters of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Donkey Kong and Wario, as well as the two additional characters from Mario Party 3, Princess Daisy and Waluigi. To round things off are the welcome inclusion of Rosalina, and the more questionable inclusion of Birdo. Every character plays identically this time around (no character-specific dice), so it’s really just about picking your favorite.

The five aforementioned boards include Yoshi’s Tropical Island and Peach’s Birthday Cake from the first Mario Party, Space Land and Horror Land from Mario Party 2, and Woody Woods from Mario Party 3. Each board contains most of their original gimmicks (Woody Woods has paths that change between turns, while Horror Land switches from day to night, and Yoshi’s Tropical Island sees Toadette and Bowser swap between two islands when players land on a green Event Space). Some of the boards have seen alterations to be more up to date (the boards from Mario Party 1 now include item shops, whereas the items didn’t initially appear until the second game). It’s actually a great selection of boards, but it’s a shame that it’s limited to only five. The original Mario Party had eight boards total, and Mario Parties 2 and 3 made six boards the series’ standard. So even one extra board really would have made a difference here (particularly an extra board from Mario Party 3 to even out the playing field).

As for the 100 mini-games, it’s a mostly solid selection of the best mini-games from Mario Parties 1 through 10. You’ve got fan favorites like Bumper Balls, Hot Rope Jump and Eatsa Pizza, as well as less popular but equally great selections like Honeycomb Havoc, Cheep Cheep Chase and Dungeon Duos. Even the lesser known mini-games selected are still mostly good.

There are, however, a few questionable mini-game choices. And even a few selections from the N64 games prove that even Mario Party’s best entries had a few stinkers.

First thing’s first, very few of the 1 vs. 3 mini-games are any fun. While stacking three players against one already seems unfair in concept, there are a couple of decent mini-games in the category that prove it can work (such as Tube It or Lose It, which feels pretty balanced for either the single player or the team). But for the most part, the 1 vs. 3 mini-games feel like they heavily favor one side or the other. There was never any reason why Tug o’ War shouldn’t have been a 2 vs. 2 mini-game, as the solo player almost never wins against the three-person team. Meanwhile, games like Archer-rival feel like they overcompensate the single player by giving the team players almost no chance to win. Then there’s Piranha Pursuit – arguably the worst mini-game out of all 100 – in which the three-person team doesn’t seem to actually do anything. With very few exceptions, the 1 vs. 3 mini-games just aren’t fun, and you hate to see them pop-up at the end of a turn.

Then there are mini-games in which it feels like the players have little input on the outcome. I can forgive Bowser’s Big Blast (in which players push switches and hope it doesn’t blow them up), since that one at least has a nice sense of tension. But then you have games like Trap Ease Artist – which sees players simply drop cages and hope their’s fell over more Goombas than the other players’ cages – where you just kind of hope the Goombas can be bothered to head in your direction (which they often don’t). Granted, Mario Party games have always favored luck over skill, and are more about having a good time with friends than they are deep gameplay. But because the mini-games are (usually) more interactive than the board game portion, it is kind of annoying when the luck-based nature of it all falls onto the mini-games themselves.

Finally, despite there being 100 mini-games in Mario Party Superstars, it seems like I encounter the same small subset of mini-games all the time, with only a few switching things up in every game. I don’t know why they would make some mini-games so much less common than others, but I all too frequently find myself wishing I could see a wider variety of the mini-games.

Going back to the game’s luck-based nature, if you’re someone who has taken issue with the series for this aspect in the past, then Mario Party Superstars isn’t going to win you over. Because that sense of luck is as prevalent as ever. Players can randomly find hidden blocks that can award them with extra coins or even a free Star out of nowhere. You could be thinking up a strategy for multiple turns, only for someone to land on an Event Space and immediately halt whatever you were planning. Then there’s the dreaded Chance Time Space, which sees players spin a few roulette wheels. Chance Time can be harmless (like one player giving three coins to another), but it can also completely upend the game in an instant. Things like these can be frustrating, but again, it’s all part of the fun of Mario Party. We all take video games a bit too seriously these days. Not every game needs to be some deep, intricate experience that requires constant practice just so you can master a single combo or whatever. Mario Party has always just been about having a good time with friends, and part of that includes watching everything descend into chaos. With that said, Chance Time can go to Hell.

“Oh come on!”

Speaking of playing with friends, that’s where Mario Party is at its best. Having a full group of players in the same room would be ideal, but thankfully, if you can’t get a group of your friends together, you can play any mode of Mario Party Superstars online. So if you and your friends have the time you can do a full board game or just compete in a series of mini-games on Mini-Game Mountain. And if you’re concerned about Nintendo’s continued lack of online communication, Mario Party Superstars has a fun way to work around that. Players are given different “Stickers” they can use to convey very basic message (things like “Congrats” or “Bad Luck…”), each one coming with its own image of a different character. Nintendo has utilized something similar in other games, but it’s much more effective here, given the nature of how Mario Party works.

Since Mario Party loses much of its appeal when playing solo against computers, it’s also great that you can still play the online modes even without people on your friends list, which makes Superstars perhaps the most readily repayable Mario Party entry. And with few exceptions, I’ve had mostly very smooth online games. Maybe not as smooth as Mario Kart, but certainly more consistent than most other online Nintendo games. The online mode is where I’ve spent the majority of my playtime in Mario Party Superstars, but it isn’t without its drawbacks.

When playing online, the board games are automatically set at fifteen turns. I can actually understand this, seeing as the games in Mario Party are already pretty long, and who knows how long some random person from the other side of the world will take just to roll their dice. So even though part of me wishes you could vote for the number of turns in an online game, I understand this. What I don’t understand is that, when playing an online match without friends, the endgame rewards are completely random.

As mentioned, just before a game ends, players are awarded additional Stars at the last minute. When playing locally or with friends, you can choose to have the traditional endgame rewards from the N64 era (one for whoever won the most mini-games, one for whoever had the most coins during the game, and one for whoever landed on the most Event Spaces), or you can choose to have random rewards, or no rewards at all. Personally, I prefer going with the N64 rewards, since the mini-game and coin stars are something you can potentially aim for. But when you play an online match without friends, the endgame rewards are automatically on the random setting, so you don’t even know what they are until they’re awarded at the end (it’s like how Dumbledore randomly awards points to Gryffindor at the last minute, despite the hard work of the other Hogwarts houses). Not only does this mean you can’t actively try to earn these awards, but some of the bonuses don’t even make sense, like an award that goes to whoever landed on the most Bowser Spaces or whoever moved the least on the game board. Why are those things to be rewarded?

“Geez, we got Bowser Sanders over here…”

At first I thought maybe the actions of the players during the game dictated the random rewards (maybe if someone landed on a notable amount of Bowser Spaces, that would activate the Bowser award). But that’s not even the case, since I’ve done at least two online matches where they announced the Bowser Award when no one landed on a Bowser Space, so no one even got the Star. So why even have it?

The random endgame bonuses were one of my big gripes with Super Mario Party, so it’s unfortunate to see them return, especially in the online matches when you can’t change them.

Another issue I have is how the boards maybe have too many item shops, item spaces, Koopa Banks and (in terms of the Mario Party 2 and 3 boards) stage gimmicks that slow the player down. All these things on their own are fun additions that add to the game, but each board has perhaps too many of them, which not only makes rounds go much longer than they otherwise would, but also makes these elements feel less special with how frequently you come across them. It seems like only the first round of any given game can ever go uninterrupted.

These may sound like a lot of complaints, but they ultimately aren’t party poopers. Because for all the frustration and tedium they may cause, Mario Party Superstars is the best entry in the series since Mario Party 3. By removing all the fluff the series added over the years and going back to basics, choosing boards from the N64 titles and plucking mini-games from throughout the series’ history, Mario Party Superstars feels like both a return to form and a love letter to the series at the same time. Superstars even plays up the nostalgia in fun ways, with the main menu being an exact recreation of that of the first Mario Party.

“The title screen will be based on the last board you played, an element from the original Mario Party that I had forgotten about until my second time booting up Superstars. Nice touch!”

To top it all off, Mario Party Superstars is very easy on the eyes and ears. Though the character models don’t look any newer than they did in Super Mario Party, the old school boards recreated on the Nintendo Switch look stunning (Peach’s Birthday Cake looks especially lovely, and really makes me hungry). You can even switch between the original musical scores or modernized remakes. Mario Party may never have had as strong of soundtracks as other Mario games, but it was always appropriately fun and bouncy. And it’s never sounded better than it does here.

Mario Party Superstars is like a dream come true for Mario Party fans. It could have used an extra board, not all of the mini-games represent the series’ best, and it’s as frustrating as ever. But it’s also the same Mario Party we all fondly look back on and have been begging to return to, despite its faults. How much fun you have during a game may be a bit circumstantial, but few things in gaming are as joyous as getting your friends together for a round of Mario Party, and watching how everything unfolds.

Now if only Nintendo could do the same for Paper Mario…

7

Clockwork Aquario Review

Clockwork Aquario is something of a unearthed treasure in the video game world. Originally created in 1992 as an arcade title by the now-defunct Westone (creators of the Wonder Boy series) and to be published by Sega, Clockwork Aquario ultimately went unreleased. In 2017, Strictly Limited Games acquired the rights to the game from Sega. But some of the game’s code had been lost over time, so Strictly Limited Games teamed up with ININ Games to help fill in the gaps. After a few more delays, Clockwork Aquario FINALLY saw release on Nintendo Switch and Playstation 4 at the tail end of 2021, nearly thirty years after the game was originally created (claiming the record for longest development time in video game history in the process).

On the plus side, it’s nice to know that such a game has actually been released after seemingly being lost to time. On the down side, the story behind Clockwork Aquario is more interesting than the game itself. Clockwork Aquario provides some fun, arcade-style platforming, but it’s short lived and lacks substance. It’s an entertaining novelty, if maybe not the arcade classic you may have hoped for, given its unique development history.

Clockwork Aquario is an action-platformer in which players can choose from three different playable characters: a boy named Huck Rondo, a girl named Elle Moon, and a robot named Gush. While all three characters have their own animations and sound bites, they all play identically. The goal of the game is simply to make it to the end of each level, defeat the boss, and ultimately defeat the evil Dr. Hangyo (an anthropomorphic fish, of all things) from taking over the world.

“Clockwork Aquario follows the Secret of Mana rule of a boy character, a girl character, and a non-human character.”

The stages are short and straightforward. There’s a time limit on each stage, but I’ve not had it run out on me yet. Each character can either jump on an enemy or slap them, with one hit stunning the enemy, and the second hit defeating them. What’s fun and different about Clockwork Aquario is that once an enemy is stunned, you can lift them up over your head and throw them at other enemies. It’s reminiscent of Super Mario Bros. 2 or Treasure titles like Mischief Makers or Dynamite Headdy in that respect. Also similar to Treasure titles are the big, ridiculous boss fights, all of which involve Dr. Hangyo piloting a crazy, animal-shaped robot.

Although the core gameplay is fun, there are some annoying aspects to it. Namely, there are numerous segments where enemies pop out of nowhere as soon as you’re on top of them, to the extent that it feels like you have to take a hit to move on. That would be an issue even if you had a health bar, but it’s all the worse since your character can only take two hits before you lose a life. Another issue is that it takes way too long to gain a single extra life. By defeating enemies and getting points, as well as picking up gems the enemies occasionally drop, you slowly build up a meter towards collecting a 1-up. But you’ll often lose all your lives and an extra continue before you fill the bar up, so it feels like the reward isn’t worth it. It’s also annoying that you can’t pause the game once you start. I get that this was originally made as an arcade title, but come on. It ended up released on home consoles. Surely they could have added the ability to pause.

You’ll also find that the game is incredibly short, even by arcade standards. Clockwork Aquario contains only five levels, each of which can be breezed through long before the clock runs out. The game features different difficulty settings, but the only real difference is that the harder difficulties give you less continues (seeing as this is an arcade game released on home consoles, you can’t keep giving the game quarters for more chances). There’s also a ‘training mode’ but that’s little more than playing the first two levels with unlimited tries (which is really weird now that I type it out). You’ll also probably feel that, unless you have a second player with you, there’s not a whole lot of replay value here.

If there are two areas where Clockwork Aquario shines, it’s in the visuals and music. The graphics, character animations and backgrounds have a fun, retro anime vibe. It all looks so smooth and colorful! Clockwork Aquario looks like a suped-up Sega Genesis title. The music is similarly enjoyable. So much so that the game even includes its soundtrack in the main menu (both as the tracks appear in game as well as remixes). Clockwork Aquario is very fun to look at and listen to. Unfortunately these aesthetic pleasures don’t translate to the menus, which are pretty basic and mostly just text.

Clockwork Aquario is decently fun while it lasts, but I do think you need two players to get the best out of it (there’s even an extra mini-game in between the third and fourth stages only when playing with two people). Given the game’s unique history, you do kind of wish there were more to it. But it’s still a fun, novel experience. And worth checking out as an odd little piece of gaming history.

6

The 2021 Christmas Special/Seven Year Anniversary Celebration

It’s Christmas again! Already…

Before we get into anything else: Merry Christmas! Happy Hannukah! Happy Kwanzaa! Merry Festivus! Happy Life Day! Happy Rusev Day! Happy/Merry everybody!

Whatever holiday(s) you celebrate, I hope you have a great one filled with happiness, joy, and lots of good food!

Happy holidays to all!

With all the holiday greetings and well wishes out of the way, Christmas Day also marks the anniversary of when I launched Wizard Dojo (well, when I first posted content to it, which is what I would say actually constitutes the launch of something). It’s a double celebration here at the Dojo!

Being both Christmas Day and the anniversary of this site, it’s time once again for the annual Wizard Dojo Christmas Special! Because Wizard Dojo is actually just one long, elaborate Christmas movie in disguise… like Die Hard!

So without further ado, let’s get on with this Christmas Special!


Chapter 1: Ranking the Spider-Man Films

There have been no less than nine theatrically released Spider-Man films ever since Spidey’s first big screen outing back in 2002. I figured now is as good of a time as any to rank all of the Spider-Man features. After all, Spider-Man is kind of like Christmas when you think about it: Spidey wears a red suit, like Santa Claus. The way he swings around New York is kind of/sort of like how Santa flies around on his sleigh on Christmas Eve. And the way Peter Parker builds his web shooters is kind of like how Santa’s elves build the toys…

Okay, it’s not like Christmas at all (unlike Die Hard). But the newest Spider-Man movie, No Way Home, came out recently, and the festive atmosphere of Christmas has me feeling celebratory, so why not?

Oh, and keep in mind that I’m just counting the Spider-Man movies themselves here, and not the Avengers movies in which Spider-Man appears, or Spider-Man adjacent movies like Venom.

With that out of the way, here’s my ranking of the Spider-Man movies!

9: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

That “Amazing” in the title is more than a little ironic, as The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is regularly cited as the weakest Spider-Man movie (as it is here). It’s doubly ironic in that the original ‘Spider-Man 2’ was already amazing.

The second and ultimately final iteration of the Andrew Garfield-starring Spider-Man films, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 perhaps has more merit than it gets credit for (it’s certainly better than some other Marvel movies, like Eternals or the later X-Men films). But it does ultimately succumb to its desire of wanting to be everything.

Not satisfied with simply being a Spider-Man sequel, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 wanted to kickstart its own Cinematic Universe to compete with what Marvel had accomplished with the MCU (remember that Spidey was still strictly under Sony’s control at this time). So what we get is a movie that’s trying to tell its own story while simultaneously setting up an entire series of sequels all at once.

You thought Spider-Man 3 was overstuffed with three villains? The Amazing Spider-Man 2 not only packs on the villains, but also hints at others, tries setting up potential sequels and spinoffs for them (there were plans for a Sinister Six movie, among others), and features a lingering mystery involving the fate of Peter Parker’s parents (which remains unsolved). All this while still trying to give Peter Parker a meaningful character arc involving his girlfriend, Gwen Stacey (Emma Stone).

It’s just too much, and the film crumbles under all that weight. Sony got greedy and sacrificed their Spider-Man sequel just to play catch up with Marvel. But Marvel took its time setting up its shared universe of characters, they started with standalone movies (something I wish they’d go back to) before they brought their characters together. By fast-tracking their planned Cinematic Universe, Sony killed it before it even began. It’s a shame, because the Amazing Spider-Man series had potential.

At the very least, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 gave us a Russian Paul Giamatti inside of a robotic rhinoceros. That’s something to be grateful for.

8: The Amazing Spider-Man (2012)

The Amazing Spider-Man is actually a technically well-made movie. So why do I rank it so low on this list? Because its technical polish doesn’t translate to its creativity. The Amazing Spider-Man served as a good launching pad for a reboot to the series (though we know how it ultimately ended up. See above), but it does so by simply going through the motions.

Released ten years after the original Spider-Man (which was Spider-Man’s origin story), and five years after Spider-Man 3 (which heavily focused on part of Spider-Man’s origin story due to an annoying retcon). Audiences just didn’t want to sit through Spider-Man’s origin story again. Give Uncle Ben a break, will ya?

This is the film that introduced us to Andrew Garfield’s Peter Parker, and to be fair, he’s great in the role (he looks more the part than Tobey Maguire and is less annoying than Tom Holland’s Peter Parker). And it’s his performance, and his chemistry with Emma Stone, that most separates this film from what came before it (that, and I suppose the fact that its villain is a lizard-man). But the film’s darker and more gritty tone haven’t aged as well as the more colorful Sam Raimi-directed films. The fact that Spider-Man was rebooted yet again (and added into the biggest movie franchise in history in the process) five years later, leaving its lingering plot threads to drift in limbo, also hasn’t helped The Amazing Spider-Man stand the test of time.

It’s a shame, because I actually really liked The Amazing Spider-Man when I first saw it. Perhaps if it hadn’t felt the need to show us Spider-Man’s origin story in detail after the 2002 film already did it so well, it may have been able to build more of an identity of its own.

7: Spider-Man 3 (2007)

It pains me to rank one of the Sam Raimi films this low on the list. But Spider-Man 3 was the first instance of the series feeling the need to include as many villains as humanly possible at the expense of storytelling coherence. Spider-Man 3 was such a downgrade in quality that it resulted in the end of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, and “Spider-Man 4” never saw the light of day.

To be fair, it was Sony who forced Raimi’s hand to include Venom into the movie, resulting in one villain too many. Harry Osborne had already been set up to take over his father’s mantle of the Green Goblin in Spider-Man 2, and Raimi wanted the Sandman, as he liked the idea of a small-time crook being turned into the main villain, as well as believing he’d be impressive visually. But Sony wanted Venom, so we got him too.

On the subject of fairness, Raimi’s hands weren’t entirely clean, either. It was his decision that Sandman should be revealed as Uncle Ben’s real killer, even though that whole story seemed nicely wrapped up in the first movie. And you know you’re in trouble whenever a movie retcons something like that (“that guy wasn’t the real killer, this guy is!”). Though once again, in the spirit of fairness, at least Raimi only did so because he wanted the film to be themed around forgiveness. I just wish he’d had found a better means to do so.

Suffice to say, the film is a bit cluttered. It has too many elements in too many places. If even just one of them had been cut (let’s just say, oh I don’t know, Venom, for instance), perhaps Spider-Man 3 could have found a better focus and been a better movie.

There was once a time when I’d tell you that Spider-Man 3 was one of my most hated movies. Though a few years ago, when I watched it again for the first time since it was in theaters, I realized it isn’t that bad. I mean, Spider-Man 3 can’t hold a candle to its two predecessors, and I think the massive downgrade in quality from Spider-Man 2 may have been why I was extra critical of it initially. But it still has its good points.

Though it doesn’t resonate nearly as strongly as the first two films, Spider-Man 3 still has something of a beating heart to it. Sam Raimi and company still tried to give the film meaning. As messy as the end result may have been, that’s still something more than I can say about most superhero movies that have been released since. Spider-Man 3 actually had something to it (albeit it often got lost in the shuffle) and wasn’t just about hyping the next string of movies in the Marvel pipeline.

A bit of a mess. But its own mess.

6: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home was the second Spider-Man film set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and the third Spider-Man film released in as many years (following its predecessor in 2017 and the animated Into the Spider-Verse in 2018). You would think Far From Home would have suffered a bit from Spider-Fatigue, but for the most part, it’s still a solid entry in the series. It featured a decently fun villain in Mysterio, took the action out of New York and into various locations in Europe, and had some good action scenes. Far From Home was fun, if maybe not groundbreaking. In other words, it sure was an MCU feature.

Still, there are some things holding Far From Home back from reaching the same heights as other Spider-Man films. Notably, with the film being the first MCU feature released after Avengers: Endgame, you would think that Far from Home would respectfully acknowledge the events of Infinity War and Endgame, given the gravity of – oh, I don’t know – Thanos wiping out half of all life in the universe for five years before the Avengers travelled through time to bring everyone back! But you’d be wrong.

Instead, Far From Home plays up the whole thing as one big punchline. Aunt May laughs off the fact that while she disappeared from existence for five years, someone else was living in her apartment. A kid in Peter’s school also jokes that his younger brother became his older brother during the time he was snapped away by Thanos. Maybe a few jokes about it would be fine, but Far From Home seems to exclusively reference the drama of Endgame as a joke. Considering Endgame was the culmination of everything in the MCU up to that point, and Far From Home was the first MCU film released afterwards, its utter disregard towards Endgame basically devalues the entire MCU franchise. It’s like a big middle finger to anyone who invested in the series. And sadly, this element of writing off the past seems to have become a common trait in the MCU since.

At least the sacrifice of Tony Stark is made important! Because of course it is. Tony Stark was all over Spider-Man: Homecoming, just to hit home the fact that Spider-Man was in the MCU now. So Far From Home is sure to let everyone know how impactful the loss of Tony Stark was, to the point that Peter Parker never even brings up Uncle Ben! Uncle Ben wasn’t Tony Stark, why should he be remembered? But Spidey still manages to snag plenty of new gadgets from Stark Industries in Far From Home. Because Tony Stark!

Okay, I won’t keep going on. Simply put, the film’s overemphasis on pointing out that it takes place in the MCU at the expense of Spider-Man’s own mythology, while simultaneously treating the MCU’s history as a joke, is a bit of a problem. But if you can dig past that, Spider-Man: Far From Home does deliver an entertaining movie.

5: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017)

Five years after the Andrew Garfield era started (and only three years after The Amazing Spider-Man 2), the Spider-Man franchise was rebooted yet again! This time, Sony and Marvel worked out their differences (they would have more later, and work them out again), meaning that Spider-Man could now join the MCU! Sony’s planned Spider-Man universe didn’t pan out, so I guess it’s a case of “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.”

The good news is that Marvel knew no one wanted to see Spider-Man’s origin story again, so they skipped it entirely, and introduced this newest version of Spider-Man in a previous film (Captain America: Civil War) for good measure. So for once, we could just get right into things.

The bad news is that Marvel and Sony were way too excited to let people know that Spider-Man was now in the MCU, with Tony Stark being all over Homecoming (I can’t remember a single advertisement that didn’t put Iron Man front and center). And sadly, Marvel and Sony seemed to think that “skipping” Spider-Man’s origin story meant ignoring it outright. Uncle Ben’s death is still (supposedly) a pinnacle moment in the life of the MCU’s Peter Parker, but you’d never know it from watching Homecoming. Who has time to remember a lost loved one when Tony Stark’s in town?! Yahoo! MCU!

Okay, I’m sorry. Spider-Man: Homecoming is a good movie. But I do think sacrificing Spider-Man’s own mythology for the sake of the MCU is a big problem in the Tom Holland-era Spider-Man films, and not one that grew bigger over time. It was there right out the gate with Homecoming. Still, I guess being overly enthusiastic about being in the MCU is better than an MCU movie making fun of the MCU (like Far From Home).

Other than the film’s obsession with reminding audiences that Spider-Man is now a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Homecoming has a lot to love about it. While Tom Holland’s Peter Parker can be pretty annoying at times, the actor definitely looks the part, and makes for a fun Spider-Man. The action scenes are, once again, very exciting. And perhaps most notably, Spider-Man: Homecoming gives us one of the few MCU villains who could be described as ‘interesting.’

Adrian Toomes, AKA ‘The Vulture,’ wonderfully portrayed by Michael Keaton, seemed to have taken inspiration from the Raimi-era villains. A hardworking man who (rightfully) has a grudge after his salvage company are sent out of business by the government and (*sigh*) Tony Stark. Michael Keaton plays Toomes as a likable, blue-collar man just trying to set things right the only way he feels he can. That’s the kind of villain the MCU could certainly use more of. I’m getting pretty tired of evil rich guys who have the same powers as the hero…

Spider-Man: Homecoming may not be perfect, but it remains one of the MCU’s most fun and lighthearted installments. And everyone loves Michael Keaton.

“Franchise the damn thing!”

4: Spider-Man: No Way Home (2021)

Okay, there may be a recency bias here seeing as this movie was just released. Or it could even be a nostalgic bias, seeing as this film brings back so many faces from Spidey’s cinematic past. Whatever the case may be, I’m ranking No Way Home above Homecoming for the time being. I guess we’ll see how I feel they compare later.

Spider-Man: No Way Home is so recent, that I feel I don’t have much else to say that I didn’t already say in my review at the moment. But here’s a quick refresher…

The good: It’s magic just to see Alfred Molina Doc Ock and Willem Dafoe Green Goblin again. Lots of great action scenes. A few good emotional bits. A truckload of fanservice for the MCU, the Amazing Spider-Man films and the Sam Raimi trilogy.

The bad: The film makes too many cynical jokes at the expense of past Spider-Man films. Dr. Strange fills the role of “overbearing Avengers presence” left over by Tony Stark. The classic villains are made out to be easy pickings for MCU Spidey and Dr. Strange unless they team up. J. Jonah Jameson has been turned into a one-note villain. Mr. Ditkovitch didn’t make a return appearance.

A very fun movie fueled by fanservice and nostalgia, if maybe not the most heartfelt Spider-Man film.

3: Spider-Man (2002)

Nearly every list that ranks a particular franchise has that point where the quality of work within that franchise ramps up considerably. For this list, this is that moment.

The original 2002 Spider-Man feature is still a treat. Although X-Men beat it to theaters by two years, it’s Spider-Man that created the blueprint for the entire superhero genre. It may be easy to forget in this day and age, when the all-encompassing MCU seems to grow bigger and bigger, swallowing other franchises in its wake. But back in 2002, Spider-Man – and Spider-Man alone – was a huge deal. No Cinematic Universe required.

Spider-Man made superheroes mainstream. It was the first film to make over one-hundred million dollars on its opening weekend, and it became a talking point not just for comic book nerds, but people who had never read a comic book in their life. Kids and adults alike ate it up.

Perhaps Spider-Man’s initial success and continuing legacy can be attributed to how Sam Raimi gave the film a heart. This wasn’t simply an origin story where the hero gets his powers (though it is that too), but also a story about love, loss, and responsibility.

Tobey Maguire made his version of Peter Parker a loveable dweeb: goofy, awkward, somewhat naive. Later Peter Parkers Andrew Garfield and Tom Holland seemed to be cast to turn the character into something of a heartthrob. But Tobey Maguire’s version is nerd incarnate, giving him a more underdog quality.

To compliment the film’s relatable hero, we were given a sympathetic villain in Norman Osborne (Willem Dafoe), whose descent into the Green Goblin is equal parts tragic and terrifying. He’s the father of Peter’s best friend, and even becomes something of a father figure to Peter, as well. But a desperate attempt to save his company by rushing an experiment – using himself as a test subject – results in his personality being split a la Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Norman Osborne remains, but the evil Goblin can take over at any moment. Willem Dafoe plays the double role with a brilliance similar to what Andy Serkis would give Gollum a few months later in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.

In what is perhaps the best bonus possible, Spider-Man even gave us the greatest comic relief in superhero movie history in J. Jonah Jameson. The bombastic newspaperman was brought to life so flawlessly by J.K. Simmons that Marvel had to bring him back for the role in the MCU, because they knew no one else could match his performance.

We may all laugh at Spider-Man’s origin story by this point, but the 2002 film got it so right. Peter Parker gains his superhuman abilities after being bitten by a genetically enhanced spider, and at first uses his newfound abilities to win some money and impress the girl next door, Mary-Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). But a petty money squabble leads Peter Parker to let a crook get away, a crook who later shoots Uncle Ben (before Spider-Man 3 retconned the shooter, anyway). Peter holds Uncle Ben’s hand as he passes. No overly long, dramatic speech is necessary. Uncle Ben (memorably played by the late Cliff Robertson) simply shows joy that he can look at a loved one before he passes. With his uncle’s teaching of “with great power comes great responsibility” resonating in his heart, Peter Parker decides to use his powers for the sake of others.

It’s beautifully told, and the emotion is earnest in a way that seems lost on the MCU.

Sure, 2002’s Spider-Man has its share of cheesy moments: the upside-down kiss, Green Goblin’s costume, the wrestling scene… But if anything, those cheesy moments only add to that aforementioned earnestness. Spider-Man is telling the story it needs to tell, and if that entails some awkwardness, then so be it. Personally, I find the cheesiness of the Sam Raimi films to be much less eye-rolling than the forced “applaud here” moments of the MCU.

In 2002, no multiverses needed saving. No one was wiping out half of all life in the universe. There was just Peter Parker growing into Spider-Man fighting Norman Osborne, who had fallen into becoming the Green Goblin. And it was great.

Spider-Man may not be the highest ranked movie on this list. But y’know, it’s something of a classic itself.

2: Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse

“Inventive” may not be the word you’d use to describe the superhero movies of today, but it’s an apt term when describing Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse.

Boasting animation that looks like a comic book come to life and a story that plays with the Spider-Man mythology, Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse was the surprise hit of 2018, becoming one of the most acclaimed superhero films of all time.

Into the Spider-Verse shifts the focus to Miles Morales, who becomes the Spider-Man of his world. When Kingpin activates a portal that starts bringing in people from different universes, Miles has to team up with various other Spider-People from across the multiverse to save the day. Miles’ team includes an out-of-shape Peter Parker, Gwen Stacey from a world where her and Peter’s roles were reversed, a monochromatic Spider-Man out of film noir, an anime girl version of Peter Parker, and a cartoon pig.

The film is as fun and varied as its oddball lineup of characters, with its story unfolding – rather uniquely – from the perspective of its main characters, rather than letting the audience in on most of the details ahead of time. Though perhaps as a consequence of this, Kingpin himself – despite having a pretty good story to him – ends up getting a little shortchanged in the film.

In a time when every superhero movie under the sun seems hellbent on building up towards a string of other superhero movies down the road, Into the Spider-Verse was a breath of fresh air. Here was a new take on Spider-Man, no Cinematic Universe was needed. Into the Spider-Verse worked so well as a standalone movie, that I don’t know if its upcoming sequel, Across the Spider-Verse, can actually match it. The fact that the sequel includes a “Part 1” in the title is also a bit disappointing. I’m all for sequels, but it’s a shame that today’s sequels can’t just be their own movie anymore. They always have to hype up something else on the horizon. Being excited for Across the Spider-Verse isn’t enough these days. You have to be excited for the movies that come after it before it’s even released…

I guess we’ll see how that all ends up. But even if the sequels don’t live up to the original, Into the Spider-Verse will have still left us with one of the most original and definitive movies in the superhero genre.

1: Spider-Man 2 (2004)

Into the Spider-Verse may be the most original Spider-Man movie, but make no mistake about it, Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2 is still, quite simply, the best.

The Amazing Spider-Man took a nosedive with its second entry, and the MCU Spider-Man films can feel kind of interchangeable (the fact that No Way Home needed to bring back old faces to feel distinct is telling). But 2004’s Spider-Man 2 was a case of a sequel taking everything that was good about the first installment and improving on them in every way. It’s one of the best sequels of all time.

The emotion is better. The drama is better. The action is better. The humor is better. And with all due respect to the Green Goblin, even the villain is better.

With Peter Parker’s personal life suffering due to his duties as Spider-Man, he begins to wonder if the city still needs its web-slinging hero anymore. Meanwhile, Dr. Otto Octavius becomes Peter’s mentor, only to turn to a life of crime once a would-be revolutionary experiment ends in tragedy.

This is a key factor to Spider-Man 2’s enduring appeal: On one hand, it is about Spider-Man’s battles against Doctor Octopus. But even more so, it’s a movie about the inner struggles of Peter Parker and Otto Octavius. Even after all these years, it’s still the single most character-driven Marvel film. But if it’s superhero action you’re looking for, Spider-Man 2 has that covered as well, featuring a number of memorable action scenes, notably its iconic train sequence. Though that’s just one of many, many standout moments created by Spider-Man 2.

Tobey Maguire’s Peter Parker was a likable dweeb in the first movie, but here he becomes a true hero. And Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock – whose mechanical arms make him a perfect foil for Spider-Man – is a tragic, sympathetic villain with a depth that no Marvel movie since has been able to grasp. The supporting players all get their chance to shine as well, and add even more emotion to the film (the scene where Peter Parker tells Aunt May the events leading up to Uncle Ben’s death being another high point). Not to mention J.K. Simmons is at his best as Jameson.

It all comes down to the characters, really. Everything we loved about them the first time around is brought back in full force, with some great new additions as well. Doc Ock is the obvious newcomer, sure. But even characters like Mr. Ditkovitch – Peter Parker’s stingy landlord – leave an impression. And of course, we have the inspiring scene where the people of New York stand up to Doctor Octopus to defend Spider-Man (this was something of a theme in the Raimi era, with something similar happening in the first film as well. Perhaps not surprisingly, Spider-Man 3 lacked such a scene). Even the random citizens were important here in Spider-Man 2.

Yes, it’s true, Spider-Man 2 has its cheesy elements (though perhaps not to the same level as the first film). But again, I almost feel like they add to its appeal in retrospect. Spider-Man 2 is sincere and upfront, warts and all. It’s as genuine and heartfelt as any superhero movie ever made.

There have been many, many, many movies based on Marvel comics in the nearly eighteen years since its release, but not one of them has made me care as much as Spider-Man 2.

Simply the best.


Chapter 2: The Best of Wizard Dojo in 2021

2021 was not exactly the most productive year for Wizard Dojo. Although January got off to a decent start (I reviewed the entire Oddworld series… although a new entry was released a little while later and I still need to review that), things quickly fell silent. From February through May, I only wrote four posts (all movie reviews), with May being the first month in this site’s seven year history where I didn’t post anything whatsoever. And here we are, nearing the end of the year, and I’ve only reviewed nine videogames in all of 2021…five of which were the aforementioned Oddworld titles in January. I haven’t done right by video games this year, so I guess I should focus more of the Dojo on gaming in 2022. Catch up on the games I played but failed to review this year. Fingers crossed I can catch up to my backlogged game reviews.

With all this said, I still like to think I provided some quality content (by my standards) to Wizard Dojo this year. I certainly wrote about plenty of movies. So now, here’s some quick access to the best of what I wrote in 2021!

Video Game Reviews (might as well post them all here)

Oddworld: Abe’s Oddysey

Oddworld: Abe’s Exoddus

Oddworld: Munch’s Oddysey

Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath

Oddworld: New ‘N Tasty

New Pokemon Snap

Magical Drop 2

Dr. Mario (NES)

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)

Movie Reviews (Let’s pick 10, besides Spider-Man: No Way Home since I posted a link to that above)

Soul

Raya and the Last Dragon

Mortal Kombat (2021)

Space Jam: A New Legacy

The Suicide Squad (2021)

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

Eternals

Home Sweet Home Alone

8-Bit Christmas

Ghostbusters: Afterlife

The Best of the Rest (Things I wrote that aren’t directly reviews)

The 1000th Blog! – In which I celebrate my 1,000 blog milestone here on Wizard Dojo*. Also includes my ranking of the Paper Mario series.

*Technically, I removed some old filler blogs a while back, and the 1,000th post was the 1,000th not including those removed. And I deleted a further few filler posts of old afterwards. So I guess technically it isn’t the 1,oooth blog anymore. But come on, I’m over 1,000 again. Just let me celebrate. I’ll try not to delete any more past content.

Super Smash Bros. Has Lost its Heart – In which I write about how the Super Smash Bros. series has betrayed what made it so fun and memorable in the first place, with its overemphasis on third-party characters, hype and pandering to eSports at the expense of its own identity.

The Beauty of Ghostbusters 2’s Optimism – In which I write about how Ghostbusters 2’s hopeful, positive message makes it a much better sequel than it gets credit for.

My Month in Movies (September 2021) and My Month in Movies (October 2021) – In which I wrote about the many movies I watched in those months.

I also wrote no less than ten anniversary posts for various movies and videogames. In chronological order…

Sonic the Hedgehog Turns 30! (And Nintendo 64 Turns 25!)

Donkey Kong and Mario Turn 40!

Spirited Away Turns 20!

Super Nintendo Turns 30 (in North America)

Ten Years of Dark Souls

Pikmin Turns 20!

Xbox Turns 20!

Nintendo Wii Turns 15!

Beauty and the Beast Turns 30!

The Lord of the Rings Turns 20!

And now we meet somewhere in the middle, because I posted two movie reviews on the tenth anniversary of their respective movies: Rango and The Adventures of Tintin. But now we’re getting back into review territory.

And perhaps my favorite thing I wrote this past year…

Top 10 Nintendo 64 Games to Play Today – in which I list the most timeless Nintendo 64 games.

Whether you read any of these back when they were posted or not, I hope you have some fun reading them.


Chapter 3 & 4: My Months in Movies (November and December 2021)

Following suit with my previous ‘My Month in Movies’ post, I figured I’d write about what I watched during the last two months of 2021. Sure, December isn’t quite done yet, and I could still watch another movie or two before year’s end. But come on, it’s Christmas!

Because my last ‘My Month in Movies’ post ended up being so long, I will sadly keep things shorter here (seeing as I had other things to post on this Christmas blog). So here I’ll list the movies, and then go straight into the awards. Hopefully, I will get the opportunity to write about some of these movies in more detail sooner rather than later. As before, movies are listed in chronological order of when I watched them, and those with an asterisk are movies I watched for the very first time.

Now let’s get started!

My Month in Movies: November 2021

Movies watched

Hitchcock*

Jumanji

Ghostbusters 2

Marvel’s Eternals*

Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure

Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey

Ron’s Gone Wrong*

Home Sweet Home Alone*

Dr. No

Die Hard

Home Alone

Castle in the Sky

Ghostbusters: Afterlife*

Die Hard 2

8-Bit Christmas*

Encanto*

Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

Best Movie(s) I Watched All Month: Castle in the Sky and Die Hard

Alright, I’m going to cheat right out the gate and select two movies as the best I watched in November. My reason is simple: they both put up strong arguments to being the best live-action (Die Hard) and animated (Castle in the Sky) action movies of all time. So why not just celebrate both? Also, I know if I just picked Castle in the Sky, my best movies of every month so far would definitely show some favoritism (and having favorite directors or movies or anything is considered taboo these days for some reason).

Castle in the Sky, the first film released by Studio Ghibli (though the third feature directed by Hayao Miyazaki), is one of the most influential animated films ever made. Not only did it kickstart the world’s greatest animation studio, but it continues to influence movies, animation, television and video games to this day. Hell, with the exception of Star Wars, I’m having trouble thinking of a movie that has had as big of an influence on video games as Castle in the Sky. Everything from The Legend of Zelda (most overtly in Skyward Sword and Breath of the Wild), Skies of Arcadia, Secret of Mana and Final Fantasy have drawn from it. Even the storyline of Sonic & Knuckles was directly lifted from Castle in the Sky (as a bonus, Dr. Robotnik’s entire character design was largely based on a character from the film).

Even without its impact, Castle in the Sky is such an incredible film. It’s probably Miyazaki’s most straightforward tale, but it’s a perfectly structured adventure film brimming with the director’s unrivaled imagination. Two kids, Pazu and Sheeta, go on an adventure to find Laputa, the titular castle in the sky. A band of pirates, lead by the elderly yet energetic Dola (one of Miyazaki’s best characters), are also out to find the castle and its countless treasures. But a bigger threat looms in the form of the military, under the command of the mysterious Colonel Muska.

Again, it’s a simple adventure story, but flawlessly crafted, and the world it created has proven influential for a reason (the city of Laputa itself is perhaps second only to the bathhouse in Miyazaki’s own Spirited Away as the most indelible place in animation). The action set pieces utilize animation to send them over the top of what you would expect. They’re so exciting, in fact, that it’s a mystery Miyazaki never really tackled another full-on action-adventure film after this. A classic.

I feel like I don’t even need to introduce Die Hard. It’s one of the most iconic action movies of all time. It deserves mention alongside the likes of Terminator 2 and Mad Max: Fury Road as one of the greatest works of art in the genre (I would also add Speed to that running). And yes, it’s also one of the best Christmas movies of all time.

Taking place on Christmas Eve, New York police officer John McClane (Bruce Willis) is visiting Los Angeles to reconnect with his estranged wife. He visits her at her place of business, the Nakatomi Corporation. But things quickly go south when a band of terrorists, lead by Hans Gruber (the late, great Alan Rickman) take over the building. John McClane then has to figure out a way to use what resources he has to take out the bad guys one by one if he wants to save the hostages.

Again, a simple premise, but perfectly executed. Besides how well made and exciting the action sequences are, there are a few key areas that make Die Hard stand out from other action movies: One of them is John McClane himself, a much more human and vulnerable action hero. Released in the late 1980s, Die Hard purposefully made John McClane contrast the seemingly invincible heroes of the genre played by Schwarzenegger and Stallone that dominated the decade. Sure, John McClane still survives things he probably wouldn’t in real life, but just barely. Notably, he just happened to take his shoes off right before the terrorists showed up, so his feet end up in a bad, bloody way before the end of things.

There’s also Hans Gruber, debatably the best villain in any action movie. He has a charisma and cunning about him that make him so much more memorable than other villains in the genre. We can’t forget Officer Al Powell (Reginald VelJohnson), John’s only ally outside of the building, who has an interesting story of his own. Then there’s the Nakatomi building itself. Setting all of the action inside one location proved to be a stroke of genius, and gives the film a strong sense of place.

Die Hard’s 90s sequels are also exceptional action flicks (I still haven’t seen the 2007 and 2013 entries), though they lack a number of the qualities that make the original still feel so unique. Al Powell is reduced to a cameo in the second film, never appearing again thereafter. Hans Gruber was never topped in the villain department. The scope grew, at the expense of a singular, iconic location. And John McClane slowly became the indestructible action hero he once defied. They’re solid sequels, sure. But the original Die Hard is the action classic.

And also a Christmas classic.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: Eternals

I already wrote a review for Eternals, so mercifully I don’t have to delve too deeply into this mess again.

Suffice to say, it’s the worst entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. No contest.

It’s a boring slog with a pessimistic attitude. It has an undeserved sense of self-importance. It conveniently retcons elements of the MCU’s world-building to try and make itself make sense. It’s… uhhh. Yeah.

Look, if you want to know more about why I don’t like it – and you don’t want to scroll all the way back up this wall of text for the last link – I’ll post the link again here.

On the plus side, Spider-Man: No Way Home seems to have brought audience attention right back to the MCU. So thankfully Eternals is already looking like a memory. A bad memory, but still.

Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Encanto (Ron’s Gone Wrong is a very close second)

One of my bad habits this year was seeing a number of great animated films and then not writing about them, such as Luca and The Mitchells Vs. the Machines. I have no idea why. On that subject, here are two other great animated films that were released this year that I still have yet to review: Disney’s Encanto and Ron’s Gone Wrong! Mayhaps I’ll catch up on these animated movie reviews before I start dedicating Wizard Dojo’s 2022 to video games.

Anyway, Encanto is yet another winner in Disney’s current hot streak of animation. Say what you want about Disney’s live-action output, but their animated films have never been better than they are now. I’d be ostracized from my generation for saying that. But with due respect to the ‘Disney Renaissance’ of the 90s, most of those movies were largely the same. The modern Disney era – whether you think it began with The Princess and the Frog in 2009, a year before that with Bolt, or the year after with Tangled – has provided an array of movies with a depth and variety that Disney has never seen before. It’s now also probably the longest hot streak in the studio’s history, so there’s that too.

Encanto tells a beautiful and heartfelt story about family, as Mirabel (Stephanie Beatriz), an ordinary girl in an extraordinary family, must figure out why her superpowered siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles and mother are losing their magical powers.

It’s beautifully animated and has a great selection of songs (which I almost hate to admit, given they were written by Lin-Manuel Miranda. But as Moana proved, Disney seems to be able to bring out a more creative side to him and it doesn’t all sound the same). A joy to the senses.

Bafflingly, Encanto was a box office disappointment. That breaks my heart. But now that the film is readily available on Disney+, hopefully it will find the audience it deserves.

Encanto is very worthy to hold the distinction of being Walt Disney Animation Studio’s 60th film.

While we’re here, let’s go ahead and give Ron’s Gone Wrong the “Pleasant Surprise of the Year” award. Seriously, “pleasant surprise” may be the best way to describe this movie. It was barely advertised, and those advertisements didn’t exactly look promising. I went to see it more out of curiosity than anything, but ended up seeing a sweet, emotional, wonderful movie.

Yes, it may look like a Big Hero 6 clone on the surface (but would that be so bad?), and its themes of an overreliance on technology and social media were already done relatively recently by The Mitchells Vs. the Machines. But Ron’s Gone Wrong has an identity of its own and ends up being a touching tale about friendship and loneliness.

Just writing about it now, I want to watch Ron’s Gone Wrong again. It’s currently available on both Disney+ and HBO Max. So if you have time for a movie, give this overlooked gem a watch. You’ll be glad you did.

Now seriously, why haven’t I reviewed these yet? I reviewed that piece of crap Eternals fast enough after I saw it, why not these actually great movies? There must be something wrong with me. Go ahead and call me ‘Scott’s Gone Wrong.’

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Home Alone 2: Lost in New York

I honestly had real trouble thinking about what would take my “Guilty Pleasure Award” for November, and not just because I didn’t watch any Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movies. I really just don’t think I watched anything that fits that bill. I thought maybe the Bill & Ted movies – of which I hold the unpopular opinion that Bogus Journey is way better than Excellent Adventure – but no. I genuinely like them. I also thought about Home Sweet Home Alone, which I reviewed already and found to be mediocre and unmemorable, but harmless entertainment that was better than the other post-Macauley Culkin Home Alone movies.

In the end, I decided to go with Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. Even now, I don’t know if it really qualifies as a guilty pleasure. I find it to be thoroughly entertaining.

I decided to go with it for one specific reason: Home Alone 2 is basically Home Alone 1. It’s the very definition of a copy-and-paste sequel. However, if any sequel could get away with being so similar to the original, I suppose it would be Home Alone. It is, after all, just a story about a kid being left home alone on Christmas and outsmarting a duo of bumbling burglars. It isn’t exactly aiming for a deep, rich narrative. Sometimes, it’s okay to just have fun.

Home Alone 2 does have a couple of distinctions from its predecessor. The first difference is in its setting (It is called Lost in New York, after all), with Kevin McCallister now staying at the Plaza Hotel as opposed to his actual home. The second difference is that the film adds some secondary antagonists in the form of the hotel’s staff, with the concierge being played by Tim Curry (always a huge bonus).

Otherwise, Home Alone 2 is basically more of the same: the setup of Kevin being separated from his family. Kevin enjoying his time alone, before he inevitably begins to miss his family. Kevin is fearful of a local (this time it’s a Pidgeon Lady in the park), only to befriend them later. And he sets up a series of elaborate booby traps to defeat burglars Harry and Marv (Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern), who are also somehow in New York at the same exact time as Kevin ended up there by accident. But, as an added plus, the booby trap sequence here is longer and more brutal than the first movie, and is perhaps the best example of cartoon violence being done in live-action.

So yeah, Home Alone 2: Lost in New York may as well be called Home Alone Again: But in New York. But what it lacks in narrative creativity it makes up for in sheer entertainment. And I don’t really feel guilty about it.

My Month in Movies: December 2021

Movies watched

West Side Story (1961)*

My Neighbor Totoro

Being the Ricardos*

Spider-Man: No Way Home*

The Santa Clause

The Santa Clause 2

The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

Jingle All the Way

It’s a Wonderful Life

Best Movie I Watched All Month: My Neighbor Totoro

December may have been my slowest month of movie watching since I started doing these ‘My Month in Movies’ things, but it wouldn’t have mattered how many movies I watched, the crown was guaranteed to go to Totoro.

I say that with the utmost respect to It’s a Wonderful Life – truly one of the best movies ever made -but if there’s one movie I can think of that’s even more life affirming than It’s a Wonderful Life, surely it’s My Neighbor Totoro.

Hayao Miyazaki’s quiet tale about childhood, nature and life really is a one of a kind film. Truthfully, Miyazaki could have retired after Totoro and he’d still be the greatest filmmaker in animation. The fact that he continued to create so many classics afterward is nothing short of inspiring. One of those subsequent films, Spirited Away, is Totoro’s only equal as my all-time favorite film, animated or otherwise.

My Neighbor Totoro is the story about two little girls, Satsuki and Mei, as they move to a new house to be close to their ailing mother, who is being treated at a hospital. But their new house comes with a surprise, as just beyond it rests a giant camphor tree, which is the home of Totoro. The girls soon discover the animal-like spirit, and have many adventures together.

Totoro was Miyazaki’s follow-up to Castle in the Sky, which may be the most overt display of the director’s versatility. Going from the spectacle and set pieces of Laputa into the ethereal beauty of Totoro was something else. And none of Miyazaki’s artistry was lost in the transition.

My Neighbor Totoro remains Miyazaki’s most iconic film, with its titular character becoming the face of Studio Ghibli (adorning the opening of every film from the studio thereafter). It’s been said that young children in Japan believe in Totoro in a similar way to how children believe in Santa Claus (something which Miyazaki’s colleague and mentor; the late, great Isao Takahata, claimed was Miyazaki’s greatest achievement). Its reputation couldn’t be more deserved. My Neighbor Totoro is the most gentle and sweet movie I’ve ever seen. A masterpiece.

And let’s give a special shoutout to It’s a Wonderful Life. Because, well, we’re talking about It’s a Wonderful Life here! Famed director Steven Spielberg recently revealed It’s a Wonderful Life to be his favorite movie, and I’m not about to argue that. It deserves all the praise it’s received over the decades. If you tell me you can watch It’s a Wonderful Life without getting choked up and misty-eyed, well then, you’re probably either lying or a robot.

Worst Movie I Watched All Month: The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause

“Find someone who looks at you the way Jack Frost looks at Santa when he’s about to trick Santa into using a magic snow globe to inadvertently wish he had never become Santa so they both travel back in time and Jack Frost steals Santa’s job.”

Wow. Going from talking about My Neighbor Totoro and It’s a Wonderful Life to talking about The Santa Clause 3. Wow. Just… Wow.

1994’s The Santa Clause is actually one of my favorite Christmas movies. The tale of Scott Calvin (Tim Allen) becoming Santa after the former Father Christmas falls off his roof is unique in that it works as both a kids’ movie and a more complicated one for adults. It’s genuinely a really good Christmas movie.

The 2002 sequel, The Santa Clause 2, is definitely aimed more at youngsters. It doesn’t deal with the same complexities of adulthood as the original, but it works in its own way. It’s another guilty pleasure of mine (and would take that award for December, if not for another Christmas movie). And it’s got Tim Allen in a second role as a human-sized toy Santa who takes over the North Pole and becomes a dictator. So that’s fun.

But The Santa Clause 3: The Escape Clause. Ouch. You thought The Santa Clause 2 was juvenile? It looks like Breaking Bad compared to its successor!

The Santa Clause 3 is basically about Jack Frost (Martin Short) plotting to take over the North Pole, already recycling the second movie. Also, Santa and Mrs. Claus are expecting a baby, so Santa brings his in-laws to the North Pole to visit, claiming he works at a toy factory in Canada to keep his status as Santa Claus a secret (he claims the elves are small Canadians, as one does). It’s silly.

None of the more grown up elements of the original are intact, nor does the film feel the need to give children a fun, coherent story like the second movie. Instead we just kind of get a series of hyperactive things happening, and Martin Short running around in a funny costume saying things (admittedly some of which are funny: “Did you just call me skillful and delicious?”). Did I even get into the time travel aspect of it yet? Yeah, Jack Frost and Santa go back in time to the events of the first movie and change history, so kind of like a Back to the Future Part II thing (but that’s giving Santa Clause 3 way too much credit).

Still, at least I can laugh at The Santa Clause 3. That’s more than can be said of Eternals.

Best Movie I Watched for the First Time This Month: Being the Ricardos

I saw the original West Side Story for the first time this month (I still need to see the new Spielberg one), and it was good. I also saw Spider-Man: No Way Home, and it was good. Maybe it’s because I’m more used to superheroes and musicals than I am biopics, or maybe it’s because I wasn’t aware of this movie until some friends invited me to tag along with them to see it and thus I was pleasantly surprised, but I’m going to give this honor to Being the Ricardos for the time being.

Being the Ricardos is the latest in a long line of biopics to be released in recent years. I admit I’ve only seen a few of them, but I really enjoyed Saving Mr. Banks and The Founder. While Being the Ricardos isn’t quite as fun as those movies, I still found it to be a good time.

Ricardos focuses on the inner workings of the production of I Love Lucy, during a particularly turbulent week for the show’s filming (with some additional flashbacks stretching the scope of the film’s story). It has a stellar cast, with Nicole Kidman as Lucille Ball, Javier Bardem as Desi Arnaz, Nina Arianda as Vivian Vance, and my man J.K. Simmons as William Frawley. The cast may not necessarily look like the people they’re portraying (then again, Tom Hanks doesn’t look like Walt Disney, either), but the film has fun with transforming the actors to look more like the I Love Lucy cast in the moments in recreates scenes from the iconic show.

It’s got all the drama you would expect from a biopic, but of course a movie about I Love Lucy has to have some humor involved, and Being the Ricardos includes some genuinely funny bits. It may be a bit Oscar bait-y, but it’s thoroughly enjoyable all the same.

The film was simultaneously released in theaters and Amazon Prime, so I may have to watch this one again at home soon. I repeat, it’s got J.K. Simmons as William Frawley as Fred Mertz! Need I say more?

The Guilty Pleasure Award: Jingle All the Way

Is Jingle All the Way the best bad Christmas movie? I definitely think it makes a strong case.

The weirdly specific sub-genre of “take an action star and put them in a family comedy” was everywhere in the 90s, and even shows up today every now and again. I would say I don’t know why they keep trying, since there hasn’t been a good movie produced by the combination of action star and family comedy (that I can think of, anyway. Unless Last Action Hero counts). But then I remember how gloriously stupid Jingle All the Way is, and suddenly the genre makes sense.

Starring Arnold Schwarzenegger himself – the action star of the 80s and 90s – Jingle All the Way is a movie about a dad named Howard Langston trying to make up for his failings as a father by getting his son the toy of his dreams for Christmas. The problem is he forgot to get the hot-selling toy (a superhero named Turbo Man) ahead of time, and now that it’s Christmas Eve, it’s going to be impossible to find! It doesn’t help that he keeps running into a troublesome mailman named Myron (Sinbad) who’s after the same toy.

Using last minute Christmas shopping as the premise for a Christmas comedy actually isn’t a bad idea. It’s the kind of thing we’ve all been through, and that a movie could exaggerate for comedic effect. The problem (great thing?) is that Jingle All the Way exaggerates it so much, that the film ends up being completely bonkers.

Howard has to literally fight his way through a mall to get a raffle ball, gets tangled up with a group of Santa Claus conmen, and in one of the most ludicrous finales ever conceived by mankind, Howard becomes Turbo Man himself for a Christmas parade (complete with working jetpack), where he does battle against Myron, who dons the costume of Turbo Man’s nemesis. Oh yeah, all this while Harold’s pervy neighbor (the late Phil Hartman) keeps trying to put the moves of Harold’s wife. You know, kids’ movie stuff.

The movie is completely ridiculous. It’s dumb, goofy, and makes cosmic leaps in logic. Yet I find it impossible not to give Jingle All the Way at least one annual viewing towards Christmastime. It’s dumb fun. But the emphasis is on fun.

There are a number of good Christmas movies to watch around the holidays, but if you just want to have something you can have fun with and laugh at, Jingle All the Way has you covered.

I mean, how could you not be entertained by a movie that includes Arnold Schwarzenegger screaming the words “Put that cookie down! Now!”


Chapter 5: The Last One

I apologize that I once again have to cut my Christmas special short, chapter-wise (though the word count here is among my highest to date). Remember when I used to do eight chapters to these things? And that was not counting these ending parts which now are one of the numbered chapters. It’s kind of like how in Banjo-Kazooie, the final boss level was considered its own separate entity outside of the nine proper levels, but then Donkey Kong 64 and Banjo-Tooie included the final boss stage as part of their level count to try to hide the fact that they had less levels.

My point is that hopefully next year I can get started on my Christmas post earlier and do something extra special with it. I love Christmas. I made sure my site would celebrate its anniversary on Christmas Day for a reason (and not just because it would be easy to remember). So here’s hoping that I can eventually make these Christmas posts everything they should be.

At any rate, I hope you had a good time reading this. But more importantly, I hope you had a Merry Christmas, or happy Hannukah, or happy Kwanza! Happy everybody! Happy holidays to all!

I’ll see you in 2022… And by ‘see you’ I mean I’ll write some stuff here and maybe some people will stumble on it by sheer accident and decide to read it if they have nothing better to do.

Merry Christmas!

Nintendo Wii Turns Fiftiin!

It’s time to feel old yet again! Because the Nintendo Wii turns 15 years old today!

That’s right, somehow, it’s been a full fifteen years since Nintendo’s innovative, wacky-named little ivory box first hit North American stores, on November 19th 2006 (it would be released in other regions in the following weeks into early December 2006).

Before I go on, let me just say that no video game console makes me feel older than the Wii does. Now, I was born in 1989 and had older brothers, so I was born into the days of the NES, and grew up on the SNES, Sega Genesis and (a little later) the Nintendo 64, Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn. But I suppose because I was just a little kid when those consoles were released, I can readily accept that they are now considered things like “retro” and “old school.” Though I was a bit older when the Playstation 2, Xbox and GameCube hit, those consoles were more about powerful technology and refining what came before (to varying degrees of success), so again, I can accept the retro moniker.

But the Wii was, in my eyes, the first console in a long time that really felt like it was breaking new ground with its ideas. The N64 pioneered 3D gaming (and upped the number of players from two to four), but I reiterate that I was still just a kid when that was released, so it would have seemed like magic no matter what. The Wii though… by that point, I could really appreciate what the Wii was bringing to the table. A console built around motion controls, aimed at everyone (the NES and, to a lesser extent, the SNES, were also geared towards “everyone.” But the Wii took that concept to a new level). It really felt like something new, and really lived up to its (admittedly generic) codename of “Revolution.”

So now that this innovative console that exuded such newness is fifteen years old, I really feel like a dinosaur.

I’ll never forget that first time I picked up a Wii remote, simply navigating the Wii home menu gave a huge rush of “whoa” over me. And playing Wii Sports for the first time? I don’t even think I need to explain how joyous that was. It really did bring back that ‘magic’ I felt from my childhood days whenever a new console was released (specifically, it felt very much like Christmas 1996 felt, when Santa had left a Nintendo 64 for my family).

Simply put, the Wii brought “magic” back to gaming.

I know that’d be considered a controversial statement on my part, because the Wii certainly had its detractors. Yes, the Wii tended to favor the “casual” crowd. But I always failed to see why that was considered a bad thing (other than typical gamer ignorance). It was merely a different thing.

Others derided it as being gimmicky with its motion controls – and while in the cases of less competent games that was true – I don’t see why building gameplay around motion controls is any more gimmicky than, say, a game being built around its cinematics for a more movie-like experience. Again, these are just differences.

I have to admit the Wii did end up having a lot of shovelware, but that always comes with the territory of being the most popular console on the market. The PS2 had its share of filler as well. Even the SNES had bad games. But the Wii was the one where people conveniently seemed to ignore the good while spotlighting the negatives. Point being the Wii had its faults, but it also had strengths that it seems people only recently started remembering.

After all, along with being one of the rare post-90s consoles that actually felt like something different and new, it also played a huge role in video games becoming the mainstream pastime they are today. Remember it or not, but before the Wii, video games were still largely seen as an exclusively “nerdy” endeavor. The Wii helped normalize gaming into something that people – any people – just did.

“The Wii also gave us the gift of Miis, simplified avatars you could make in the image of yourself, celebrities, fictional characters, or just straight-up abominations.”

On top of that, the Wii also created easy access to retro gaming via the Virtual Console! Before the Wii came along, retro gaming was an expensive collector’s hobby. But the Virtual Console allowed players to revisit (or discover for the first time) games from the NES, SNES, N64 and Sega Genesis, later also adding the TurboGrafx-16, Commodore 64, Neo Geo, Sega Master System and even arcade titles! Combine that with the fact the Wii could play GameCube games, and the Wii had – hands down – the best back catalogue ever. It was the first modern (at the time) console with a retro library, and I’ll go ahead and say it hasn’t been bettered. Even Nintendo themselves haven’t been able to replicate it (on the Wii, you just downloaded the games you wanted, and they went to the first available window on the home channel. Now we have Switch online, where you have to go to a separate screen for each available console, and trudge through all the filler Nintendo keeps adding to find the game you want to play. I just want my favorite retro games on the home screen again!).

“My (probably) favorite video game ever, Super Mario RPG, was celebrated as the 250th Virtual Console game in North America. Its release on the Wii also marked the first time the game was released in Europe.”

Of course, we can’t forget the great games to come out of the Wii itself. I already mentioned Wii Sports, which is the one everyone and their grandmother played. And then around a year after the Wii and Wii Sports were released, the console saw another game that brought back that aforementioned ‘magic.’

“Video game perfection.”

Yes, the Wii would see a number of great games, but it was Super Mario Galaxy that stood out from the pack and became one of the most acclaimed games of all time. It also marked something of a resurgence for Nintendo’s beloved series, after Mario’s humbler critical and commercial success post-Super Mario 64. Notably, it was also the first Mario game to be scored by a full orchestra, which just kicks all of the ass. Despite a few hiccups here and there, the exceedingly high standards Galaxy set for the Super Mario series (and its music) have remained largely intact, with games such as 3D World and Odyssey carrying the torch. It should be noted that the only Wii game that managed to be better than Galaxy was (what else?) Super Mario Galaxy 2.

“The Wii also resurrected Punch-Out!! after a fifteen year absence… and now it’s been absent in the twelve years since the game’s 2009 release.”

The Wii may not have always came out guns ablazing, but when it brought its A-game, it really was a console unlike any other that had been seen before. And with due respect, perhaps unlike any that’s been seen since.

It’s hard to believe it’s been fifteen years since Nintendo changed the game with that little white box and that controller that looked like a TV remote (and let’s not forget that blue light that would creepily turn itself on in the middle of the night). Nintendo has fully embraced bringing back the NES, SNES and N64 in multiple forms. Maybe now that the Wii is fifteen, they’ll find a way to bring the Wii back to modern audiences. I wouldn’t mind a retro mini-console version of the Wii myself. And I know someone else who’d camp out to get one…

Happy fifteenth birthday, Nintendo Wii!