Castlevania Review

Castlevania

There are few franchises in all of gaming as revered as Castlevania. Konami’s beloved action series has been one of peaks and plateaus over the years, but whether great, good or bad, the series has built on the initial blueprint created by the NES original. Going back to play the original Castlevania today, you’ll find that while many of its attributes still hold up, it is not a game for everyone.

Being the first entry in the storied series, Castlevania represents the very basics of the series’ gameplay. Simon Belmont can walk, jump, and uses a whip as his primary weapon. Additionally, secondary weapons can be found in the forms of throwing knives, holy water, throwing axes, boomerang-like crucifixes, and stop watches that temporarily freeze enemies and obstacles in place. You can only hold one secondary item at a time, and they are lost whenever Simon is defeated. Hearts can be found hidden all over the place, and every secondary item takes one heart for each use, with the exception of the stop watch, which uses five hearts.

There are a total of six levels, which are progressed through linearly. Each stage is separated into three segments, with each segment serving as a checkpoint, and a boss fight waits at the end of every level. Simon must make his way through these six stages in order to confront the evil Count Dracula in a final showdown.

The game is as simple as that, but its level design provides some challenging platforming and the enemies will put Simon Belmont’s weapons to good use.

CastlevaniaAt its core, Castlevania remains a fun game to play for the most part. Though it does include awkward “stair mechanics,” with Simon becoming glued to staircases when ascending and descending them, which leaves him vulnerable to enemies’ attacks. Aside from that mechanic the gameplay remains mostly fun. The graphics, while simple, still manage to evoke a sense of eeriness even with their 8-bit limitations, and Castlevania includes a killer NES soundtrack.

What will turn away a good number of today’s gamers, however, is Castlevania’s sharp difficulty. A lot of NES games were incredibly difficult (no Nintendo console library since has been so consistently challenging). But while Mega Man and the like are difficult because of smart level design and boss fights, Castlevania combines those traits with some unpredictable enemies and a few cumbersome elements.

Players may notice they make it through the first three levels without too much trouble. But once you enter the fourth level things pick up drastically, with enemies popping into the screen seemingly randomly, and others have patterns that seem to change on the fly. The fourth boss – a combination of Frankenstein’s monster and a tiny, bouncing Igor – will probably have anyone but the most diehard Castlevania fan swearing at their television screen.

It’s true that many of these enemies become much easier with the appropriate secondary weapon, but since you only have access to those so often, you frequently feel at a loss. And the sheer unpredictability of some enemies only adds fuel to the fire.

Take into account the aforementioned stair mechanics, which also remove Simon’s ability to jump. If you come across a skeleton throwing multiple bones at the top of a staircase and Simon has low health, you’re pretty much a sitting duck. Floating Medusa Heads continuously spawn is certain areas, but each will spawn with different patterns. Ravens will fly towards Simon, sometimes continuing to fly onward, other times swooping down for a strike. Then there’s the tiny Fleamen, who bounce around Simon uncontrollably, and are difficult enough to hit that they might deplete most of your health before you can take one of them down.

CastlevaniaThere’s also the strong knock back Simon receives with every hit. You can potentially make it through most of a level without taking a hit, then die after a single bump sends you down a pit, into a spike, or into a body of water (this is especially bothersome when Simon travels across water on small platforms, and Mermen will jump out of the water at random points, meaning they can knock Simon into the water without the player being able to do much about it). You can find meat hidden in some of the castle walls to replenish health, but they’re so infrequent they only help so much.

There just seems to be a few too many elements in the difficulty that are out of the player’s control. As such, Castlevania may be off-putting to many gamers today. But for those who welcome an old school challenge, and anyone with a strong love for the Castlevania series, then revisiting this inaugural chapter in the illustrious saga will ultimately prove worth it.

Castlevania may not stack up to many of its sequels, but knowing all the games that were inspired in its wake is enough to be grateful for in itself.

 

6

Advertisements

Thoughts on IGN’s Top Video Games of All Time List

"The above image belongs to IGN. I in no way made or own it."
“The above image belongs to IGN. I in no way made or own it.”

In a spooky coincidence worthy of the Halloween season, IGN has just finished compiling a list of the top 100 video games of all time a little more than a week after I wrote this list of top 10 lists, in which I mentioned how IGN had yet to follow up their 2007 list of greatest games. Part of me is a little bummed that this list had to come out after I compiled that top 10 of top 10s, because I think IGN’s 2015 list would need a placement on there somewhere, even if there were some questionable omissions and placements in the overall top 100.

An interesting note about this list is that, while most lists either focus on the overall impact a game had at launch or how much fun they are by today’s standards, this list instead focused on how much fun these games were when they were released. An interesting change of pace, if anything.

Here, in full, is IGN’s top 100 video games of all time (or you can just read the whole thing) followed by some of my own take on it (yes, I know it’s their opinion. But this is my opinion on their opinion).

 

100: The Walking Dead: Season 1

99: Advance Wars

98: Perfect Dark

97: Galaga

96: The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker

95: Super Mario Galaxy 2

94: Donkey Kong ’94

93: Ico

92: Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island

91: Batman: Arkham Asylum

90: System Shock 2

89: The Oregon Trail

88: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City

87: SimCity 2000

86: Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!

85: X-Com: UFO Defense

84: Contra

83: Fallout 2

82: Resident Evil 2

81: The Secret of Monkey Island

80: Final Fantasy VII

79: Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 2

78: Fallout 3

77: Zork I: The Great Underground Empire

76: Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awakening

75: EarthBound

74: League of Legends

73: WarCraft 2: Tides of Darkness

72: Spelunky

71: Tom Clancy’s Rainbow Six 3: Raven Shield

70: Mega Man 2

69: Gran Turismo 3: A-Spec

68: Suikoden 2

67: Final Fantasy Tactics

66: Goldeneye 007

65: Burnout 3

64: The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim

63: Super Smash Bros. Melee

62: Monkey Island 2: LeChuck’s Revenge

61: Grim Fandango

60: Donkey Kong

59: Persona 4: Golden

58: Team Fortress 2

57: MechWarrior 2: 31st Century Combat

56: StarCraft

55: Star Wars Jedi Knight 2: Jedi Outcast

54: Thief 2: The Metal Age

53: Ms. Pac-Man

52: Pokemon Yellow

51: Mass Effect 2

50: Dota 2

49: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

48: The Last of Us

47: Uncharted 2: Among Thieves

46: Metroid Prime

45: Diablo 2

44: Banjo-Kazooie

43: Resident Evil 4

42: Counter-Strike 1.6

41: Metal Gear Solid

40: Dark Souls

39: Journey

38: Mass Effect

37: Silent Hill 2

36: BioShock

35: World of Warcraft

34: Shadow of the Colossus

33: Battlefield 1942

32: Rock Band

31: Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic

30: The Legend of Zelda

29: Red Dead Redemption

28: Final Fantasy VI

27: Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

26: Half-Life

25: Metal Gear Solid 3: Snake Eater

24: Sid Meier’s Civilization IV

23: Star Wars: TIE Fighter

22: Halo: Combat Evolved

21: Super Mario Galaxy

20: Street Fighter 2

19: Deus Ex

18: Baldur’s Gate 2

17: Portal

16: Grand Theft Auto V

15: Minecraft

14: Super Mario World

13: Chrono Trigger

12: Sid Meier’s Pirates!

11: Super Mario 64

10: Tetris

9: Halo 2

8: The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

7: Super Metroid

6: Half-Life 2

5: Portal 2

4: Super Mario Bros.

3: Doom

2: The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past

1: Super Mario Bros. 3

 

It’s definitely a solid list, with many classics from various eras of gaming. It’s hard to argue with most of the selections, but some of the placements can leave a lot to be desired.

First and foremost, Super Mario Galaxy 2, Wind Waker and Yoshi’s Island are way too low. I honestly can’t think of why they would be placed way up in the 90s. I’d say that Galaxy 2 and Wind Waker are the best 3D Mario and Zelda, and Yoshi’s Island puts up an argument to being the best 2D platformer ever.

I also feel Symphony of the Night and Mario Galaxy could have placed in the top 20 (at least), but at least they aren’t far off. And while I’ve always been more of a Mario World man, I can respect Mario 3’s placement at the top.

Mega Man 2 is another game that seems strangely low, especially considering there are no other Mega Man games on the list. I would probably also place Shovel Knight in there somewhere, certainly over fellow indie title Spelunky.

I really don’t have much else to say about the games on there, since most of them are pretty great (though I personally can’t stand BioShock, I know I’m alone in feeling this way). However, there are some very notable games that are absent from the list.

Surely I’m not the only one who notices that there isn’t a single Mario Kart in the top 100? I know, some might say there are already a few Mario games (seven to be exact, unless you count the two Donkey Kong games, but despite Mario being the playable character, I consider those to be Donkey Kong games). But to not have a single Mario Kart in the top 100 just seems wrong. Also, no Mario RPG or Donkey Kong Country 2, so I lose again…

Although I’m the first admit that Sonic the Hedgehog has gone downhill (boy, has he ever), I think one of the Genesis titles should have made the list (Sonic 2 seems to be the favorite, though Sonic 3 and Sonic CD have strong support as well). And what about Nights?!

There are a lot of other games you could argue should be there, but it is a list limited to 100, so of course plenty of games are going to get cut. Honestly, the quibbles I’ve stated are all I have to say. The list is otherwise pretty good, with a lot of great games covered, different generations acknowledged, and thankfully there’s no bias towards newer games (I feel too many of these “best games of all time” lists end up catering to the flavors of the month). So good on IGN for making a (mostly) great list to represent the best of the best.

Mario Golf (N64) Review

Mario Golf

Though Mario had made appearance in sports titles beforehand, 1999’s Mario Golf on the Nintendo 64 is the game that made Mario sports games a thing. These days, Mario sports titles are a common recurrence, but Mario Golf was testing new waters in its time. Playing Mario Golf today on the Wii U Virtual Console, you may find that some of its aspects hold up, but in a lot of ways, it feels like a limited experience, especially when compared to more recent Mario sports games.

As the game’s title suggests, Mario Golf is a golf simulation game that stars Mario and his friends (and enemies). In the case of being a golf title it works fine, but you may find the Mario characters are strangely misused.

Mario GolfGameplay is simple enough for even those with little knowledge (or interest) in golf to get into it, but deep enough to make it a competitive and replayable package. The mechanics of the sport are streamlined, but you’ll still need to choose your shots carefully, and pay attention to the weather, the land, your swing and even the wind (represented by a Boo, being one of the only uses of a Mario element outside of the playable characters) in order to get the best score.

You can choose the strength in which to swing the club, and your shot’s power and distance is determined by pressing the A button at the right times as a bar moves through a gauge at the bottom of the screen. It’s easy enough to understand, but you’ll quickly find it’s difficult to master once you take your positioning and other conditions into account.

The core gameplay is still a solid golfer, but you’ll soon realize that there’s not a whole lot of “Mario” to it. The courses are all straight forward golf courses, with no Mushroom Kingdom locales or wacky gimmicks, and the game’s alternate modes, such as Ring Shot (similar to that from Mario Tennis), don’t reflect the franchise much either, fun as they may be. Even the mini-golf mode, which seems like a prime opportunity to bring out many of the series’ elements, feels rather bland, with shapes from the alphabet and numerical system being used in favor of any Mario-themed courses.

But seeing as those modes work just fine if all you’re looking for is a golfing game, you could potentially look past that. What’s less forgivable is the game’s character selection.

PlumFive new characters were introduced here in Plum, Charlie, Harry, Sonny and Maple, with Plum being the only one anyone seems to remember (perhaps due to the fact that she’s the only one who actually looks like a Mario character). It shouldn’t come as a surprise that none of these newcomers have returned since, though it is something of a shame that Plum never became a recurring character. If anything, it may have spared us from seeing Daisy become a staying character in these spinoffs.

What really adds a big question mark to the character selection, however, is how the majority of characters, including Mario himself, need to be unlocked. That’s right, you don’t start out with Mario as a playable character in a game called Mario Golf. 

The only starting characters are two of the aforementioned newcomers, Plum and Charlie, as well as Princess Peach and Baby Mario (this game also started the paradox-creating trend of having Mario play sports against his infant self). Everyone else must be unlocked in “Character Match” mode, with a couple of them unlocked via other means.

In Character Match, you are pitted against an AI-controlled character, and you must beat them in order to unlock that character. This process works one at a time, with every character showing up in a fixed order, with Mario himself not showing up until the sixth time around. And if you think this doesn’t sound like too big of a deal, it should be noted that the AI is not only pretty difficult, but you can’t even change its difficulty. Unlocking every character becomes a time-consuming, arduous process that only diehards will care to accomplish. It’s baffling to think that you have to go through so much trouble just to play as Mario in Mario Golf.

The worst part of it all is that Camelot, though proven to be a capable developer with these Mario sports titles, failed to work on the character balance. You’ll find that once you unlock later characters like Mario, Bowser and Metal Mario, you’ll probably never play as the starters again, unless you want to be stacked against all odds.

Also of note is that there were originally four unique characters that could be unlocked via connection to the Gameboy Color version of Mario Golf, but this feature is once again absent in the Virtual Console release, meaning that no matter what you’ll always have four shadowed out squares on the character select screen.

Mario GolfOn the plus side, the core gameplay of Mario Golf holds up pretty well, so those who simply want to play a simplified golf game may really enjoy it (and it’s still up to four players, which makes for a lot more fun). But that same lot may wonder why there are Mario characters in this game to begin with. Mario fans will probably wonder the same thing.

That’s the thing, unfortunately. While Mario Golf still works well as a golf game, it’s not a very good Mario Golf game. And despite featuring the colorful characters from the Mushroom Kingdom, the game’s demanding nature will probably mean kids won’t have the patience for it. It’s hard to figure out what audience Nintendo and Camelot made this game for.

Later entries would better merge the game of golf into the world of Super Mario with fun level designs, gimmicks, and a stronger emphasis on the characters, while retaining the core golfing experience. But this first proper foray into Mario sports feels like a clash of unconnected elements. It’s not so much Mario Golf so much as golf that just so happens to have Mario characters in it.

It’s still a decent enough game for those enthusiastic for golf itself. But the fact that you have to jump through so many hoops just to play as Mario really says it all.

 

6

Top 10 Best “Top 10 Best Video Games of All Time” Lists (of All Time)

Edge

Recently, Edge Magazine did another one of its “Top 100 Video Games of All Time” lists. I believe it was the fourth such list the magazine has done in its twenty-two year history…and also their most disappointing.

I understand that this list was favoring the “most fun games to play today” over historical significance, but even still, the top 100 seems to be more of a “best games from the last couple of years” list – with a handful of classics thrown in to look more knowledgeable – than one that showcases the “modern classics” that it claims itself to be.

One need not look further than the top 10 alone to get an idea of the overall list.

10 – Minecraft
9 – Resident Evil 4
8 – Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time
7 – Super Mario Galaxy 2
6 – Tetris
5 – Half-Life 2
4 – Bloodborne
3 – The Last of Us
2 – GTA V
1 – Dark Souls

All ten would admittedly be considered solid entries to most people, and while I may not quite hold Dark Souls as the greatest video game ever made, I don’t have a particular gripe with it claiming the top spot. But seeing as the only game in the top five that was released before 2011 is Half-Life 2, and that Tetris is the only 2D title in the top 10, it makes it a little difficult to appreciate this list from an “all time” perspective.

I know, people would use the whole “it’s all just opinions” argument, but considering that my opinion of their opinion is also an opinion, that’s not much of an argument. If this list represented the opinion of a sole individual, there wouldn’t be much, if anything, I could say about it. But when you have a group of professionals making any kind of “definitive” list of a best of anything, there should be some sense of timelessness about it, otherwise it just feels like a spur of the moment thing.

This list got me to thinking of many of the others I’ve seen over the years, and which ones I think hold up over which ones don’t. So I decided to create something of a self-referential top 10 list of the best top 10 best video games ever…lists.

The criteria for this list involves four rules.

1: The overall consensus of quality or historical importance (depending on what the list was aiming for) of the games listed. So lists that may have favored games that were hot when the list was made, but have fallen out of favor since, aren’t here.

2: The lists involved have to show a sense of variety, but not at the expense of quality titles. So any lists that follow a “one game per franchise” rule aren’t here, since they basically state that no matter how good certain sequels might be, they are left out in favor of a different title that might not be as good for the sake of variety. But that method, by nature, negates the “best of all time” aspect, and is more of a list of games acknowledged as great, as opposed to best.

3: These are all lists compiled by professional magazines, websites, and other such gaming media, created by their editors and staff, as opposed to fan-voted lists or individual people’s personal lists of favorites (which, once again, you can’t really argue with).

4: These top 10s are taken from lists of top 100, 200, and other such numbered lists. But to avoid needlessly driving myself mad, I’m only ranking them based on their top 10. That’s what most people care about, anyway.

Also, keep in mind that I am a sole individual creating this list in question, but I tried my best to not simply pick lists that cater to my personal tastes (though some represented games certainly do). Perhaps some personal bias did sneak in here and there, but I actively tried to avoid making this simply a list of lists that agree with me. This list doesn’t reflect my personal favorites, but I do plan on making my own such list somewhere in the not-too-distant future.

So without further rambling, here are the Top 10 Best Top 10 Best Video Games of All Time Lists of All Time!

Five Annoying Mario Maker Trends That Need to Stop!

Super MariTroll Maker

Super Mario Maker is a wonderful game. A level editor that allows fans to create their own Mario levels in a way that’s both accessible and deep. It has allowed for many people to showcase some amazing creative potential, and could have a strong impact on Mario’s future (I imagine the next time we see a 2D sidescrolling Mario title, that Mario Maker’s influence will have Nintendo rethink how to approach the 2D Mario formula).

But with the good comes the bad. And when you hand gamers the ability to make (or break) Mario’s rules, sometimes that leads to the really, really bad.

Of course not every Mario Maker level was destined for greatness, but if someone makes a basic, forgettable level, that’s no unforgivable sin. But then there are levels that are just sloppy, broken, and trollish.

The following five things fall into this category, and are annoying trends I’ve seen in far too many Mario Maker levels already. Simply put, if you want your Mario Maker levels to be any kind of decent, avoid these terrible tropes at all costs!

 

5: Trampolines as far as the eye can see!

Okay, so there are actually a number of good levels that exist floating around the Mario Maker servers that utilize trampolines and springs as their motif. Even some that place these springs by the dozens to slow Mario down and get in his way can still be decent. It is possible to take the concept of “a lot of springs” and make a good level out of it.

But that’s when people actually have some kind of method to the madness. More often, you’re likely to see a level that just randomly threw springs and trampolines every which way, placed even more of them on top of one another, stacking more still on top of those, and perhaps placing a small army of enemies bouncing around just to make things more frustrating.

This seems to be one of the go-to level creation methods for troll Mario Maker players. It’s easy, lazy, and frustrates players to no end, without providing any real fun.

 

4: Blind Jumps

Blind jumps. Enough said, really.

Not being able to see where Mario is about to jump, and not providing an arrow, coin, or any other indication that I’m not just about to jump into an abyss is a huge no-no. The player should always have some sense of knowledge of what is a bottomless pit and what isn’t in a platformer. If they don’t, you just turn things into a random guessing game. That doesn’t make your level difficult, it makes it terrible.

Super Mario Maker provides more than enough tools to give players a sign or a hint of what lies ahead. Use them. Otherwise, your level is destined to be skipped over and never given a star.

 

3: Instant death right out the gate

Here’s something you’re bound to come across way too often when playing the 100 Mario Challenge on expert difficulty. Levels where the player is immediately killed by a Goomba placed just over Mario’s head at the start of a level, or a trampoline instantly falls and pushes Mario off a cliff as soon as the level begins. If you move quick enough as soon as the level loads you can avoid these hazards (though you’ll most likely hit an invisible block and be killed by an enemy or fall off a cliff nonetheless), but why would you? When a level loads up, you’re just waiting for it to load, and expect to start moving afterwards. How on Earth is the player just supposed to predict that a level will unfairly kill them right after the loading screen?

I’m sure the trolls who make these levels think themselves mighty clever (despite the fact that they all do it, meaning none of them are even creative about it). But if you run into one of these levels in the 100 Mario Challenge, skip it immediately. If you happen to select one of these levels through other means, quit it and never look back. They’re awful.

 

2: A prison of invisible blocks

Here is an excruciating annoyance for any respectable Mario Maker player. I have played a depressing amount of stages where Mario will fall into a little pit that shouldn’t be difficult to jump out of. But jump once and, uh oh! There’s an invisible block. Jump again, and another invisible block. This of course continues until there’s simply no escape, and players are forced to either quit/skip the level (the wise option), or retry the level and avoid falling in that spot. Though I don’t know why anyone would want to retry such a stage, considering it takes the concept of trial-and-error, and turns it, once again, into something random and poorly-designed.

Worst of all is that the trolls who make these levels, without fail, put that laughing sound effect into every block, effectively making fun of you for falling for their trap. But how could you not? Were you just supposed to magically know you were falling into an inescapable, level-breaking prison? There is literally no way you could predict that.

Hopefully Nintendo can somehow patch this up and prevent invisible blocks from completely boxing players in. Then maybe the real level designers playing Mario Maker can have a good laugh.

 

1: ENEMIES EVERYWHERE!

I fully understand the enthusiasm people have to pit Mario against a literal army of Goombas and Koopa Troopas in a way that he never could before. The problem is that it seems to a lot of people, the idea of an “army” means throwing enemies into every inch of the screen without any finesse or planning, and giving players zero breathing room. Worst of all are the people who spam Lakitus and place them high enough to be out of view (which, once again, makes things random). It’s such a pain playing a level that’s cramped with Hammer Bros. and flying Cheep Cheeps, and just when you think you have an opening, a flying, giant circle of Boos falls from the sky and kills you. And don’t even get me started on Blooper spamming in underwater levels.

 

There are other annoying reoccurrence I’ve noticed in Mario Maker, but these are probably the worst. Even if you aren’t the best level designer out there, you’d be wise not to follow suit with these terrible tropes, lest your level becomes utter crap.

Mario Tennis (N64) Review

Mario Tennis

The late 90s and early 2000s saw something of a boom in Mario spinoffs. The capabilities of 3D gaming allowed for more immersive and realistic sports titles, and Nintendo capitalized on this during the N64 years, creating their own series of sports titles with a Mushroom Kingdom spin through developer Camelot. Most of these titles were successful enough to spawn sequels that continue to this day. Of this early lot of Mario sports games, the best was arguably Mario Tennis. Though it may feel a tad small when compared to more recent Mario sports titles, Mario Tennis remains a solidly fun game due to its core gameplay, which has aged gracefully.

Before I divulge into the game itself, it should be noted that Mario Tennis holds the dubious honor of introducing Waluigi into the Mario series. This lanky, dastardly villain was created as the Luigi to Wario’s Mario. Unfortunately for Waluigi, being created for the sole purpose of giving Wario a tennis partner has prevented him of making much of an impact on the greater Mario series, and he’s been stuck as a filler character reserved solely for Mario spinoff titles ever since. But he’s a character so comically lame he’s become pitiable and, dare I say, even enjoyable (if ironically so). Mario Tennis’ character introduction may not be much to boast about, but it’s still a notable mark in Mario history. Though the game’s re-introduction of Daisy and Birdo into the franchise is less forgivable.

Onto more important things. The gameplay of Mario Tennis features the ability to perform different shots by pressing one or both of two primary buttons (A and B in the original N64 release, but this is changeable in the Wii U Virtual Console version). Each button performs a different type of shot, and pressing the same button twice, or pressing the two buttons in different orders, can produce alternate, more powerful shots. It’s a simple setup that provides a surprising depth, as it gives the game a good sense of “easy to learn, difficult to master” that should make it appealing to players of various skill levels.

Additional variety is added by the different characters, courts and modes.

Mario TennisThe character roster consists of many Mushroom Kingdom mainstays, who each take on different play styles (Mario and Luigi are well-rounded, Bowser and Donkey Kong are strong, the Princesses fall under the “technique” category, and so on). The differences in character abilities aren’t quite as prominent as they are in later Mario sports titles, and there aren’t any wacky special moves, but they all add a nice dose of versatility to the experience.

The different courts lack the fun gimmicks that Mario sports games would later adopt, and feel more grounded in realism, with the differences in courts being based on how they effect the bounce of the ball as opposed to Mushroom Kingdom motifs (with the exceptions of some secret stages, though they too feel mundane when compared to later entries).

Thankfully, the additional modes add some Mushroom Kingdom charm to the equation. Along with the standard exhibition and tournament modes (which provide both singles and doubles variants), there’s also Piranha Challenge, in which a group of Piranha Plants spit tennis balls at the player, who must then hit them past their opponent without missing too many of the Piranha Plants’ shots. Then there’s Ring Shot, a surprisingly addictive mode where you must hit the ball through a set number of rings, with your collective ring shots only counting if you score the point against your rival. Finally, there’s the simply-named Bowser Stage mode, where players face off on a shifting court that affects the players’ shots, while also giving players Mario Kart-like items to slow their opponents down.

The game also has some pretty impressive AI. If you set the computer-controlled opponent on easy it’ll be a cakewalk, but if you up their difficulty you’ll be in for some tough tennis matches.

Being a Nintendo 64 title, the graphics of course look dated and clumpy, but the colorful Mario aesthetics make it look more appealing than other titles in the genre of its time. The music is similarly more enjoyable than you might think out of a tennis game. Notably, the music in the game’s menus can be pretty soothing.

The drawbacks to Mario Tennis include the aforementioned missed opportunities to fully capitalize of the Mario brand, as the game can sometimes feel more like a tennis game that happens to have Mario characters in it, as opposed to a full-fledged Mario tennis game. Some players may also long for more game modes, since the ones provided  may not hold the interest of those more accustomed to the versatility of contemporary Mario sports titles.

Mario TennisAn additional downside to the Virtual Console release is that all the additional features provided by connecting the game to the Gameboy Color Mario Tennis title are absent, since the feature itself is no longer applicable. Without the transferring capabilities between the two games, Mario Tennis now feels like a good chunk of its content has been gutted.

Still, even these drawbacks aren’t enough to deter the simple delight of the gameplay. For a sports game of any kind to hold up this well after fifteen years is impressive in of itself. The fact that it stars Mario and friends is just a huge bonus. And yes, that even includes Waluigi.

 

7

Super Mario Maker Review

Super Mario Maker

Thirty years ago, Mario and Luigi stepped into the Mushroom Kingdom in the NES classic Super Mario Bros. This kickstarted the Super Mario series, which has gone on to create a peerless resume of sequels, prequels and spinoffs that have created legions of Nintendo fans over the last three decades. Nintendo found the perfect way to celebrate the thirtieth anniversary of Super Mario Bros. in the form of Super Mario Maker, which gives those fans the ability to create their own little piece of Mario’s history.

Super Mario Maker started production as a sequel to the SNES title Mario Paint, though somewhere along the line Nintendo’s vision for the title turned into something greater. The end result is a level builder that, although not unlike LittleBigPlanet and its ilk, outshines its contemporaries with far more accessible creation tools, and superior gameplay that’s pulled directly from some of Mario’s finest adventures.

For those who have questioned or bemoaned the Wii U’s Gamepad controller, Super Mario Maker is its ultimate justification. Creating levels is built entirely around the gamepad, and it really is as simple as dragging and dropping objects on the touchscreen, and drawing the layout of your level like you would with a pencil and paper.

Super Mario MakerSome objects can be shaken to change their properties (shaking a green Koopa Troopa will change him to a red one, with its functions changing accordingly). Many enemies and objects can be altered in ways that go against their normal functions in the Mario series: Bill Blasters can now launch coins and power-ups, while question blocks can be turned into deadly traps containing Hammer Bros. You can stack enemies into totem poles, make them super-sized with Super Mushrooms, and give them wings, Lakitu clouds, or Koopa Clown Cars to transform even a lowly Goomba into something menacing.

But it’s not just enemies and objects, but the things you’re able to create with a few swipes of the Gamepad are staggering.The simple drawing approach easily makes Super Mario Maker the most welcoming and fluid creation game I’ve played. In the case of LittleBigPlanet, I often felt that the kid-friendly aesthetics were misleading to a deep but alienating creation tool. Super Mario Maker retains a similar depth, but it streamlines game creation by basing it on drawing and drag-and-drop mechanics. It simply couldn’t work this well with a traditional controller.

Your levels can take on one of four styles: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. The four styles not only affect the visuals, but the gameplay as well. The physics change according to each game, with Mario 3, World and New Super Mario Bros. all maintaining their respective sense of control and momentum, as well as Mario’s moves from each game (if you want wall jumps, go with New Super Mario Bros., for example). The original Super Mario Bros. has seen some tweaks, however, with Mario being able to jump higher when bouncing off enemies, which was an ability he didn’t gain until the sequels, and getting hit as Fire Mario only reduces him back to Super Mario, as opposed to going directly to his miniature version like in the original game.

Super Mario MakerAdditionally, some enemies and objects that only appeared in later (or earlier) games now find their way into each play style. You can now see Boos in the original Super Mario Bros. (which somehow look cuter than ever) and Wigglers can appear in Super Mario Bros. 3.

Some objects are limited to certain play styles, however, with Raccoon Mario, the Super Cape, and Propeller Mario being unique to Mario 3, World, and NSMBU, respectively. Meanwhile, the original Super Mario Bros. gains the new “Mystery Mushroom,” which contains costumes that give Mario the visual appearance of other video game characters, from Nintendo’s own Link, Samus, and Donkey Kong to characters like Mega Man and Sonic the Hedgehog.

Players can unlock the different costumes through Amiibo connectivity, or by the slower method of beating the “100 Mario Challenge” repeatedly (with each conquest of the mode awarding a single costume). Though it’s probably one of the best uses of Amiibo so far, it’s somewhat of a shame the costumes only appear in the Super Mario Bros. setting, since playing as Mega Man in Super Mario World would be indescribably amazing.

Then there are semi-exclusive objects, with Kuribo’s Shoe appearing in the two represented NES styles, while Yoshi can only be found in World and New Super Mario Bros. U.

Each level you make can only be confined to one play style, so you’ll find you want to create more and more levels so you can delve deeper into each game’s engine.

As exquisite as the creation tools are though, there are a couple of disappointing limitations. Namely, you can’t place checkpoints in levels. This can be a huge pain given players’ penchants for making ridiculously challenging stages. You also can’t place slopes, so no sliding downhill into enemies like in the good old days. Levels can take on six different themes (normal, underground, underwater, airship, ghost house and castle), with some obvious options (snow, desert and fire) being left out of the loop. Chargin’ Chucks, Big Berthas, and other notable Mario enemies are also no-shows.

Mario’s power-ups also feel sadly restrained. While Super Mario Bros. 3 gets the Raccoon Suit, the Tanooki Suit, Hammer Suit and Frog Suits are nowhere to be found. Even the majority of New Super Mario Bros. U’s power-ups, though less desirable, are questionably absent. But perhaps the biggest bummer is the limited potential for boss encounters.

Bowser and Bowser Jr. are the only true boss characters at your disposal, and you have to jump through some hoops to make them mandatory boss fights. Unless you get creative with their presence in your stage, you can often simply run past Bowser and Bowser Jr., avoiding the boss fight altogether. Hopefully some DLC can add boss rooms or some method of required fights against boss characters. Adding the Koopalings, Reznor, Boom Boom and the Big Boo wouldn’t hurt, either.

Despite these limitations, the combination of accessibility and depth that Super Mario Maker provides is a captivating gaming experience that will hopefully encourage gamers to get really creative. Naturally, not everyone will make great levels, but Super Mario Maker provides all the right tools for the great ones to reach their potential.

Players can upload their created levels for others to play, which can be found by searching through lists of creators or the stages themselves. Or for those who want a more complete experience, you can tackle the aforementioned 100 Mario Challenge.

Super Mario MakerThe 100 Mario Challenge can be played on easy, medium, and expert difficulties, and sees Mario tackling 8 (easy) or 16 (medium and expert) randomly selected stages with 100 lives. Though players can place as many 1-Up Mushrooms as they’d like in a given stage, only a maximum of three lives can be earned on any given level, as to maintain a balance.

The difficulty of each stage is determined by the number of players who have completed a course compared to the overall number who have played them. It’s not a perfect system (you may notice some levels are harder or easier than the current mode suggests, and are only present in that mode because relatively few people have played them), but for the most part it works. Playing on easy should be a cakewalk, with its best levels relying on creativity and gimmicks over steeper challenge, while making it through expert difficulty even once will feel like a hard-fought victory through gauntlets of punishing obstacle courses. At their worst, expect lazy stages in the easier modes and troll levels in expert. But those levels can be skipped in favor of better ones if need be.

Once again, experiencing other players’ levels and sharing your own is a real treat, but it too comes with some unfortunate limitations.

For starters, you can only upload ten levels from the get-go, and only earn the ability to upload more by receiving enough “stars” on your levels from other players. I actually like this idea of rewarding players with more stages, as it gives them incentive to make levels people will like to play. On the downside, the number of stars required to upload more levels increases drastically over time, and most players probably shouldn’t hope to be able to upload the maximum number of stages (100), and may find themselves deleting their levels from servers and uploading new ones in their place instead. So the system is a bit of a double-edged sword.

Secondly, searching for specific levels won’t be so easy. You can search through lists of creators and even favorite certain level builders to find their stages more easily. But you can’t instantly search for people on your Wii U friends list, nor can you search for a level by its title or filter your searches for specific play styles or objects (let’s face it, we all want more Mario World and less New Super Mario Bros.). In order to find specific levels, you need to input 16-digit codes that are listed with each stage. Yes, despite the fact that Nintendo has abandoned these codes in favor of more streamlined methods elsewhere, they decided that Super Mario Maker of all games should bring them back. Hopefully this is another area Nintendo can touch up in updates and DLC.

Super Mario MakerI hope none of these criticisms sound too harsh, because truth be told they are ultimately very small complaints when the overall package is, in a lot of ways, a dream come true. What Nintendo fan hasn’t wanted to create their own Mario games at one point or another? Not everyone has the technical know-how for romhacks, nor do such things tend to present themselves as particularly welcoming. Super Mario Maker takes the ambition of players to create their own Mario levels, and wraps it up in a convenient package.

Super Mario Maker is the best showcase of the Wii U Gamepad to date, as it provides an experience that couldn’t work so well without it. Super Mario Maker gives you clean, easy-to-use creation tools to make the Mario levels of your dreams (or nightmares). You can make stages more akin to Mario’s traditional adventures, or create something quite different out of those same assets.

Simply put, Super Mario Maker is as good as a game-creation game gets in terms of its interface and gameplay (Sackboy’s sense of control never compared to Mario’s). And although it’s bound to be a different experience every time you pick up the Gamepad, it could be argued that Super Mario Maker is the Wii U’s definitive title.

Is Super Mario Maker one of the best Mario games ever? That’s entirely up to you, me and everyone else to decide.

 

8