Electroplankton Review

Electroplankton

When the Nintendo DS was first released, many of its games were little more than technical displays of the DS’ features. One such game was Electroplankton, which ranks among the strangest titles Nintendo has ever made.

That’s not to say it’s strange in the usual Nintendo sense of whimsy and surrealism. Rather, Electroplankton is a strange game because it’s hardly a game at all. It’s a title that allows players to tamper with nine different sound tests (each categorized by a different Electroplankton) to create unique melodies and sound effects. You can even record your own voice.

The way the game goes about these “mini-games” can be creative: One Electroplankton allows you to record voice samples to four fish-like creatures, which then play the samples back in unison as they swim by. Another has players change the trajectory of arrows, and as four different colored Electroplankton follow them, they create different melodies. These are among the more fun experiences in Electroplankton, but to say that the fun is short lived is an understatement.

Other Electroplankton games are so simplistic it’s close to shocking that they got their own category, instead of complimenting another: One Electroplankton has five records that the player can spin with the stylus to create (admittedly lovely) sounds, but spinning these records one way or another can only hold one’s interest for so long. Another game has players tapping the touchscreen to make Electroplankton eggs appear, which hatch seconds later to produce sounds. It’s games like this that require so little input they’d be better suited among WarioWare’s myriads of micro-games.

Possibly the game’s biggest downside is that you can’t save any of your work. Even if you’ve managed to create a cool and catchy little musical number, you’ll lose it as soon as you hit the B button and exit the mini-game in question. It’s a baffling piece of game design. Electroplankton is a game about creating music and sound that doesn’t let you keep any of your creations.

ElectroplanktonAt the very least, Electroplankton has some interesting aesthetics going for it, with its visuals being colorful and almost ghost-like, and its sound design is appropriately catchy (one of the more memorable Electroplankton lets you tamper with the invincibility theme from Super Mario Bros.). Its look and sound is unique enough that Nintendo’s decision to adapt them into a Super Smash Bros. stage isn’t too surprising.

The problem is that Electroplankton, despite its honest intentions at making a creative and soothing gaming experience, is just far too shallow to succeed. Perhaps with a host of additional Electroplankton or the ability to combine the existing ones, the game may have been a little more hefty. But Electroplankton ultimately feels flat, and the inability to save what you create just makes it sting all the more. Even in its day, Electroplankton felt a bit unfulfilled. Today it would barely even pass as an app on the 3DS’ home menu.

 

3

Mega Man Review

Mega Man

When it comes to third party titles on Nintendo consoles, few have had the impact of Capcom’s Mega Man. Back in its day, Mega Man was as synonymous with the NES as Super Mario Bros. or The Legend of Zelda. Although it was Capcom’s first console exclusive title, it proved to be a successful debut. Mega Man spawned countless sequels, and its hero remains one of gaming’s most beloved characters. While the original Mega Man is not without its problems (which its two immediate sequels touched up), it remains a great game to play even today.

Mega Man was renowned for its non-linear structure, allowing players to choose between six different stages in whatever order they saw fit. At the end of each stage is a boss fight against a “Robot Master,” with each one giving Mega Man a new weapon upon defeat. Another unique aspect of the game was its rock-paper-scissors-like structure, with each Robot Master’s given weapon working especially effective against another one.

Mega ManPlayers take the role of the titular Mega Man, a young robot boy trying to save the world from the nefarious Dr. Wily, who corrupted the six Robot Masters created by Dr. Light and repurposed them for his evil schemes. It’s the kind of simple but honest-to-goodness setup of many games of the time that adds to the game’s charm, even if plot was rarely present in the game itself.

Mega Man’s gameplay remains tight and intricate. Mega Man can jump like Mario, but he must use his “Mega Buster” arm canon, or one of the Robot Masters’ weapons, to defeat enemies. The weapon-based gameplay added a new spin on the platforming gameplay, and it gives the Mega Man series a sense of uniqueness among other retro platformers.

Also of note is that this is the only Mega Man title with a scoring system, as Mega Man is awarded points for defeating enemies, picking up items and completing levels. It doesn’t add a whole lot to the experience, but those who want to beat their personal high scores may find reason to revisit the game numerous times.

The level design was some of the most difficult of its age, and the game arguably remains the most challenging entry in the series. The game is fun, but some players may find the difficulty close to unfair, as some of the stages’ challenges require such precision in their platforming they teeter on unforgiving. The bosses (and even some standard enemies) can take Mega Man down in a few quick hits, and replenishing items and extra lives seldom appear. The entire Mega Man series is known for its steep difficulty, but the original is the one that may be off-putting to some players for the sheer level of its challenge.

One retrospective drawback to the original game is knowing how the sequels improved on the formula, leaving some aspects of the original to feel less fleshed out. The sequels would add sliding moves, charged blasts, and even sidekicks to the mix. The original, by comparison, feels stripped down and straightforward. A fault only in hindsight perhaps, but the comparison to its sequels is inescapable by this point.Mega Man

Visually, the game is one of the more approachable NES titles to revisit. The colors and characters are simple, of course. But the game has a distinct, fun look about it, and the great character designs add to its retro charm. The music remains one of the better NES soundtracks. It may not reach the same heights as some later entries, but Mega Man’s soundtrack is still one of the most iconic in the NES library.

Mega Man remains a classic of the medium. Its sequels may have bettered it, with the two following installments still being considered the ‘definitive’ entries in the series, but the original Mega Man remains, in its own right, an absolute blast.

7

Super Mario Kart Review

Super Mario Kart

When it comes to influential video games, there aren’t many that can match Super Mario Kart. This 1992 SNES classic not only created the kart-racing subgenre, it also helped shape multiplayer and party games from that point forward. Mario had appeared in games other than platformers before Super Mario Kart, but it is the game that made Mario spinoffs a ‘thing.’ Suffice to say it had an impact.

Despite its influence, the sheer fun and replay value that Super Mario Kart brought to the table is what has helped it endure. Its sequels may have added to the formula, but the original Super Mario Kart remains an impressive game even today on the Wii U.

Being the first entry in the long-standing series, Super Mario Kart represents Mario Kart in its purest form. It lacks the bells and whistles of subsequent entries, but in many ways it’s just as fun.

Players can take control of one of eight classic Mario characters: Mario and Luigi are well-balanced, the Princess and Yoshi have high acceleration, Toad and Koopa Troopa have better maneuverability, and Bowser and Donkey Kong Jr. have the highest max speed.

Super Mario KartThe tracks in Super Mario Kart are considerably shorter than later entries (they are downright bite-size by today’s standards), but they are smartly designed. Items like banana peels and Koopa shells made their debut here, but they are much more limited than in subsequent games. It’s the tracks themselves that provide the real challenge, as they host a variety of obstacles that will test players’ racing skills.

Super Mario Kart is still fun to play, though the gameplay isn’t quite so smooth as its modern descendants. Sharp turns will often lead to spinouts, and steering in general feels less fluid than today’s Mario Kart. But when considering this was the pioneer of the genre, it’s a pleasant surprise that it still works as well as it does.

The game made use of the SNES’ “Mode 7” graphics, meaning that scaling and rotation were used on the game’s environments to give a more immersive, three-dimensional effect. It still works for the most part, and it’s pretty impressive how Nintendo used such simple effects to create such a precise racer. Though some of the rotation may prove a little dizzying for the uninitiated.

Super Mario Kart features four different modes: Grand Prix sees one or two players take on a host of computer-controlled characters in a series of races. Time Trial is one-player only, where racers try to beat their best times without the use of items. Vs. Mode is a one-on-one race between two players. Finally, Battle Mode remains one of the game’s highlight, where two players face each other in an arena and must use items to pop each others balloons. The player who pops all of his opponents balloons wins.

Super Mario KartAlthough these game modes are simple, they provide a strong sense of fun and remain addictive, making Super Mario Kart an easy game to return to. One downside is that, even when playing in single player mode, you are still playing within a split screen. Due to the game’s emphasis on multiplayer and technical limitations of the time, Nintendo had to leave the split screen present throughout. It may have had its reasons, but the limited screen space can become a bit of a distraction.

Super Mario Kart, although no longer the best entry in the series, remains a very fun and engaging title that is worthy of a revisit on the Wii U. It was a brilliantly realized concept that revolutionized multiplayer games and turned the Super Mario series into a more versatile franchise. Some of the technical issues are showing their age, but the experience is still a blast.

 

7

Super Mario 64 Review

Super Mario 64

When Super Mario 64 was released all the way back in 1996 as the Nintendo 64’s key launch title, it was something of a miracle. For years developers had tried to make the idea of 3D gaming a reality, only for it to blow up in their faces. Then along came Mario, in full 3D, to show the world how it was done. Super Mario 64’s influence is hard to understate. Its design was such a creative and technical leap that it set the stage for just about every game that was to follow. The landscape of gaming was forever changed due to Mario’s debut outing in 3D.

What makes Super Mario 64 truly remarkable is how well it holds up. The N64 and Playstation generation is not one that has aged particularly well – with only a few handfuls of titles being as fun today as they are in memory – but Super Mario 64, the earliest of Nintendo 64 titles, is still one of the most fun and ingeniously designed games ever.

The plot remains unchanged from Mario’s past adventures. Bowser, that most perennial of video game baddies, has seized control of the Mushroom Kingdom and kidnapped Princess Peach. The twist here being that Bowser has trapped the Princess in her own castle with the magic of the Power Stars, which he then hid in various worlds that exist within the castle’s paintings.

Super Mario 64Mario must traverse the castle, enter these paintings, and uncover the Power Stars to progress further through the game. The Stars are the goal of each stage’s missions. Enter a stage the first time and you may have to wrest a Star from a boss encounter. The next time you may simply have to reach the end of an obstacle course. Mario partakes in footraces with Koopa Troopas, returns baby penguins to their mothers, and combs every stage for elusive red coins, to name just a few of the methods of earning a Power Star.

It’s a nearly flawless setup that remained the standard of platformers for years. The levels are a marvel of design, and include Mario’s standard fire, ice and water worlds, as well as more obscure locations like the inside of a giant clock, or an island that is both tiny and huge. These stages are stringed together through Peach’s Castle, which remains the single greatest hub world in gaming. Its outer gardens are a place of heaven-like serenity, while its inner design is so charming you would never guess that it’s currently occupied by the game’s villain.Super Mario 64

The level design of Super Mario 64 is still breathtaking to this day, with every stage, even those with repeated gimmicks, having an identity of their own. It would all be for naught though, if Mario didn’t play so wonderfully.

The Mario of 64 controls fluidly, and his actions are so precise that it’s a wonder how Nintendo managed to pull it off with their first try into this uncharted territory. Push the control stick gently and Mario tiptoes quietly enough to prevent a sleeping Piranha Plant from waking. Put some extra force into it and Mario sprints with wild abandon. Hit the action button once and Mario throws a quick punch. Hit it multiple times and Mario pulls off a combo straight out of a beat-em-up. And of course, there’s jumping. For the first time ever, Mario could somersault, backflip, triple jump, and leap off walls. Simple combinations of button presses and joystick motions perform these jumps, which added a whole new depth to Mario’s repertoire.

Mario has so many moves at his disposal in Super Mario 64, but Nintendo pulled it off with such finesse that the game is every bit as accessible as its 2D predecessors.

Super Mario 64The game makes brilliant usage of its (then) newfound space. Wide open worlds give Mario plenty of room to perform his new acrobatics, and enemies and obstacles are presented in such ways to leave players to test every last one of Mario’s moves. The fights against Bowser (of which there are three, which has remained something of the standard for the King Koopa ever since) are probably the greatest showcase of Super Mario 64’s understanding of 3D space. Run behind Bowser, grab him by the tail, swing him around and throw him into one of the bombs placed around a 360-degree battlefield. So much of Super Mario 64 was testing new waters, yet Nintendo crafted it with such playfulness and creativity that it never feels like a mere showcase of hardware. Super Mario 64 is a virtual playground.

Super Mario 64Mario’s list of power-ups was unfortunately shortened in the jump to 3D. Gone are the Fire Flowers, Tanooki Suits and Super Capes of Super Mario Bros. 3 and World. In their place are three caps. The Winged Cap is Mario 64’s premiere power-up, and grants Mario the ability of flight. The Vanish Cap makes Mario ethereal, allowing him to walk through walls. Finally, the Metal Cap turns Mario into an invincible, metal form, which can run through enemies with ease and sink to the bottom of water.

The three caps are a fun twist on Mario’s power-ups, though they’re maybe a tad underutilized, which stings all the more knowing that none of them have ever made a return appearance in the series. The Vanish Cap in particular seems like a missed opportunity, as it only shows up a small handful of times during the entirety of Mario 64.

Sadly, there is one aspect of Super Mario 64 that doesn’t hold up so well as the rest of it’s exquisite design: The camera. Even back in its day, some cried foul at Mario 64’s inconsistent fixed camera. Players have the ability to alter the camera angles themselves, but it only helps so much. Super Mario 64’s camera never feels broken, but you may find that, playing the game today, the camera will lead to more misplaced jumps and accidental plunges into the abyss than you’d like.

It’s not too big of a complaint, however, when you consider that this was Nintendo’s first attempt at 3D gaming, and that they were so wildly successful in so many areas. The visuals are obviously dated, but the color and personality of the characters and environments make you not really care about how blocky Mario may look. The music, while maybe not as catchy as Mario World, is nonetheless memorable (the theme music for the water stages is still one of the most beautiful pieces in the series).

But it’s the design, the genius structure of it all and the beauty of its execution, that makes Super Mario 64 such an enduring classic. The thrilling level design and the polished gameplay still hold up after all these years.Super Mario 64

Best of all are the little things, the throwaway details that display such creativity that most of today’s games wouldn’t even think to dream them up: The title screen which allows you to stretch and pull Mario’s face, which solely exists because it’s fun. The portrait of Peach that melts into Bowser’s ugly mug just before Mario falls through a trap door. The owl hiding in a tree, waiting to carry Mario into the clouds. The rippling walls that reveal themselves as entrances to secret worlds. And my personal favorite, the way the clock world goes into hyperspeed or a dead stop if the clock hands are in the proper positions when Mario enters its portal. Super Mario 64 is brimming with ideas both big and small.

Super Mario 64Super Mario 64 was a revolution in 1996, and it remains influential even today. But the greatest testament to its quality is how much fun it still is. The gameplay is still so entertaining, and the ideas still delight. The camera may prove troublesome to today’s gamers, and you may wish Metal Mario made a few more appearances, but make no mistake about it, Super Mario 64 is still one of gaming’s wonderlands.

 

9

Top 5 Games of 2014 (Game of the Year)

2014 was quite an interesting year for video games. Most of the hyped, high-profile titles that were “destined for greatness” ended up disappointing most. Destiny, Titanfall and Watchdogs, which were all supposed to be the year’s biggest games, quickly fizzled out upon release. But that doesn’t mean 2014 was full of duds.

Quite the opposite, actually. 2014 saw a few truly great games. Namely, fantastic sequels to greats like Dark Souls and Bayonetta shined, and 2014 turned out to be the year the Wii U truly proved its mettle, with the Big N releasing one quality title after another.

So maybe the memorable games of 2014 didn’t come in the forms everyone expected, but when they did show up, they came in full force. Here are the five games that had the biggest impact on me.

Continue reading “Top 5 Games of 2014 (Game of the Year)”

Video Game Awards 2015: Best Visuals

A game’s graphics are often the first aspect to get noticed. Before we play games, we often have screenshots and videos to get us hyped. Naturally, it’s the visuals that almost always catch our eye immediately. Oftentimes it’s the games with the most photorealistic graphics that get all the praise. But I tend to prefer games with unique visual styles over something that merely looks “realistic.” The Ni no Kunis, Wind Wakers and Okamis. The Neverhoods and the Kirby’s Epic Yarns. Here’s a game that deserves credit for its visual beauty.

 

Winner: Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-

Guilty Gear Xrd

There are probably two things you’ll instantly notice about Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN-: One of those things is the incomprehensible title (seriously, what is an Xrd?), the other is the beautiful cel-shading.

Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- boasts some of the most stunning cel shading I’ve ever seen. The characters look like fully three-dimensional anime characters as opposed to polygonal recreations. No ridiculously thick outlines or other such tricks to make the characters look more like anime drawings brought to the world of gaming. They actually look like hand-drawn characters that have become three-dimensional. It’s gorgeous.

Funny thing is, this was kind of a last minute game I just found out about towards the very end of 2014. But as soon as I saw it, I fell in love with these visuals. I hope other developers can find ways to replicate what Guilty Gear Xrd -SIGN- has done with its animations. They’re just too good.

Runner-up: Super Smash Bros. for Wii U