Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Review

Mario Kart 8 was not only the best-selling game on the Wii U, and one of the system’s best titles, it was the best Mario Kart to date. It abandoned the luck-based nature of Mario Kart Wii, and gave it a sense of polish like the series had never seen before. There was, however, one glaring flaw with Mario Kart 8.

Despite all the improvements MK8 made to the core racing mechanics of the series, it somehow managed to butcher the series’ beloved Battle Mode of all things. Gone were the arenas where players did battle. Instead, players had to pop each other’s balloons while wandering around the racetracks, hoping that they could manage to even find one of the other players.

Thankfully, it seems Nintendo realized they made more than a little bit of an oopsie with Mario Kart 8’s Battle Mode, and decided to revamp it entirely for the game’s relaunch on the Nintendo Switch. By taking an already exceptional game, rectifying its one great flaw, and sprinkling in several other small changes, Nintendo has ensured that Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is as essential to the Switch as its original incarnation was to the Wii U.

This being a re-release, the core mechanics of the experience are nearly identical to what they were in the original Mario Kart 8. The racing is as tight and intricate as it was back in 2014. You still get boosts for drifting and for performing stunts, the racetracks still posses anti-gravity sections, and the items are still more balanced than in previous entries in the series.

There are, however, a few subtle changes that improve the already smooth experience. You can now drift longer for even greater boosts (represented by pink sparks flying from your wheels), and the infamous “fire hopping” trick (which gave an advantage to those who could pull it off) has been removed, making the racing all the more balanced.

Perhaps the most noticeable change in gameplay is that you can now hold two items at once, a returning feature from the GameCube’s Mario Kart: Double Dash!!. You can even find double item boxes, to immediately gain two items at once.

These may all sound like small changes, but you’d be surprised just how much they change things up. This is particularly true for the double items, which make getting and maintaining first place a greater challenge than before.

There are other changes present as well: Beginning players can now enable “Smart Steering,” which prevents your kart from falling off track (though this feature disables the pink sparks, and makes certain shortcuts harder to reach, should they require you to jump from one track to another). You can now change characters and karts in between online matches, instead of going back to the online lobby in order to do so. Additionally, the randomization of items seems to have been tweaked, with speed-boosting Mushrooms – while still the most common item – no longer feeling annoyingly frequent, while more useful items aren’t quite as rare, though not common enough to ruin the game’s balance.

We even get two items returning from older entries in the series: Super Mario Kart’s Super Feather allows players to jump over obstacles, and Mario Kart 64’s Boo turns players ethereal, making them impervious to enemy items, while also stealing an item from a random opponent.

To top it all off, the game includes every character from the Wii U version, including the DLC originals like Link from The Legend of Zelda, Villager and Isabelle from Animal Crossing, Tanooki Mario, and Dry Bowser, as well as five brand-new characters: King Boo, Dry Bones, Bowser Jr. and the boy and girl Inklings from Splatoon.

On the downside of things, the only unlockable character is Gold Mario, who is merely an alternate color for Metal Mario, who already seemed like an unnecessary character to begin with. Mario Kart 8 had a mixed bag of characters as it was, with every timeless video game icon like Mario, Bowser and Donkey Kong being countered with a throwaway addition like Baby Daisy and the creative low that is Pink Gold Peach. The five brand new characters do bring a bit more proper franchise representation to the game, but the more lackluster characters still sour the roster a little.

Of course, the big news here is the Battle Mode, which has been brought back to its former glory, and features five different gameplay styles.

Naturally, there’s the traditional Balloon Battle, where players fight in an arena and try to eliminate the other players’ balloons by using items. Then there’s Bob-omb Blast, which is essentially just Balloon Battle, but where every item is replaced with Bob-ombs, making for pure chaos. Coin Runners sees players trying to hold onto the most coins by the time the clock runs out, with players losing coins every time a weapon strikes them.

One of my personal favorites is Shine Thief, a returning mode from Double Dash!! that sees every player fighting for a single Shine Sprite. Whoever can hold the Shine Sprite for a count of twenty is the winner. As you can imagine, holding the Shine Sprite makes you the target of every other player, and though reclaiming the Shine Sprite will continue your counter from where it left off (until it reaches five or below), getting it back after losing it is easier said than done. The hectic action of Shine Thief is matched only by Renegade Roundup, a brand-new Battle Mode that is divided into teams. One team takes the role of “The Authorities,” identified by the Piranha Plants with police sirens attached to their karts, while the others are the “Renegades.” The goal of the Authorities is to capture all of the renegades via the Piranha Plant, while the Renegades simply try to survive within the allotted time. This may sound like it heavily favors the Authorities team, but the Renegades can free their captured teammates by driving into a switch, making things much more competitive.

Having a proper Battle Mode rectifies the one big mistake Mario Kart 8 made the first time around, and the fact that it comes in five variants makes it feel like Nintendo went out of their way to make up for its omission in the game’s original release. Battle Mode gives a great alternative to the racing, and all five versions of it are extremely fun.

If there’s any disappointment to be had with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it’s simply that there are no new racetracks added to the game (not counting the battle arenas). Yes, the track design in Mario Kart 8 is the best in the series, and the fact that Deluxe comes with all the original’s DLC tracks out of the box means there’s no shortage of variety. But considering how Nintendo went above and beyond the call of duty for the Battle Mode, you can’t help but wish they’d have done the same for the core racing by including a new cup or two.

Even with the lack of new racetracks, it’s hard not to be impressed with what Mario Kart 8 Deluxe has in store. Mario Kart 8 already had great gameplay, and more polish than any entry in the series before it. But now the few kinks that were present have been ironed out, making it the smoothest and most polished kart racer around.

You also couldn’t ask for much better in terms of presentation. Mario Kart 8 was always a gorgeous game. Though it’s hard to tell if the graphics have been improved at all, that’s just a testament to how stunning the game always looked. Its colorful characters and locales, fun and varied art direction, and sharp graphics come together to make a game that looks simply stunning, and whose visuals perhaps don’t get the attention they deserve. It’s an outright beautiful game to look at, and the orchestrated soundtrack is just as pleasing to the ears.

Combine all of this with the more streamlined tweaks, and an online mode that is sure to keep you coming back for more, and Mario Kart 8 Deluxe proves to be one of the finest of multiplayer games. Mario Kart 8 was already the closest thing the series had to a definitive entry, and now as Mario Kart 8 Deluxe, it undoubtedly belongs on any list of the best Nintendo games.

 

9

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The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild Review

*Review based on the Nintendo Switch version*

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a beautiful contradiction. It is at once the grandest adventure Nintendo has ever made, and their most minimalistic. It defies the established conventions of the Zelda series, while simultaneously celebrating the franchise’s legacy. It’s Nintendo’s first foray into the open-world genre, and yet it’s the best game said genre has ever produced. In short, Breath of the Wild is nothing short of a masterpiece, and the new standard for the Zelda franchise.

When Nintendo claimed they were making this newest Zelda title an open-world experience, it was all too easy to assume Nintendo had done something they rarely choose to do, and caved in and conformed with more contemporary gaming conventions. Nintendo is usually known for going by the beat of their own drum, but it seemed Nintendo had finally opted to do what everyone else was doing. Though titles such as Grand Theft Auto and Skyrim earned their place in gaming history, the open-world genre has been teetering on overexposure for years now. Did we really need Nintendo to throw their hat in this ring?

As it turns out, Nintendo was still doing their own thing in regards to Breath of the Wild, as it redefines the very definition of open-world gaming in a way that makes the genre truly live up to its name.

Breath of the Wild begins with Link, the series’ iconic protagonist, awaking from a hundred-year slumber. His memories of his past are wiped clean by this mysterious sleep, and he is only awakened by the distant sound of a woman’s voice.

Link follows the echoing voice, which leads him out of his rejuvenating chamber, and grants him the Sheikah Slate, a mysterious tablet that becomes an invaluable tool in the upcoming adventure.

Link soon learns that, during his slumber, the evil Ganon has been sealed away within Hyrule Castle by Princess Zelda, with the princess having trapped herself within the castle to hold Ganon at bay.

Ganon – now more of a physical, evil presence than a man or monster – will soon break free from his century-long prison to wreak havoc on the world. Should Ganon break free, it would spell certain doom for Zelda and all of Hyrule.

It’s a simple enough plot, but it plays to the game’s benefit because – as is the case with the gameplay itself – it employs both a grand scope and a sense of minimalism, with the details of the plot being unfolded piece by piece only if the player seeks them out. The story has a certain sense of mystery about it, and searching for the pieces of the story to rekindle Link’s memories gives it a sense of personal intrigue.

The truth is, you are able to go straight to battle Ganon as soon as Link awakes from his slumber if you choose, as ill-advised as that may be. The way the adventure unfolds is left entirely to the player, making Breath of the Wild the most open-world of open-world games.

The very foundations of the Zelda series have been rearranged. No longer does Link need to go from one dungeon to the next, grabbing specific items in each dungeon to solve its puzzles, and be rewarded with a Heart Container and a story item upon felling its boss. Those elements are still there – the dungeons, the items, the puzzles, the Heart Containers, and so forth – but Nintendo has completely overhauled how they all fit together.

Link now relies on the myriad of weapons he finds along his journey, or picks up from defeated foes, instead of simply finding a new toy in each subsequent dungeon. Even the iconic Master Sword is an optional component of Link’s arsenal. There are no mandatory weapons, only what you can find.

The weapons can break upon repeated usage, leaving the player to take to battle more strategically than ever before. But certain enemy types may favor particular weapons, and certain regions may be more keen on particular elemental items than others, leaving the player to learn the best places to acquire their favorite weapons.

Similarly, the more puzzle-oriented items in Link’s inventory have found a new life, as they are simply abilities provided by the Sheikah Slate, and are all acquired within the game’s introductory segment.

Bombs – which now come in round and cuboid shapes, leaving players to contemplate the physics involved with the item and environment – are now magically produced through the Sheikah Slate, so there’s no need to stock up on them or to be teased with the traditional bomb flowers early on. The Shiekah Slate can also produce icy platforms in bodies of water, manipulate metallic objects like a magnet, and temporarily freeze objects in time, allowing Link to strike with a bevy of hits. Later on, the Sheikah Slate even gets a camera function, allowing you to take photos of the people and creatures of Hyrule to fill up an encyclopedia.

A Link Between Worlds gave players the opportunity to buy any of Link’s items from the get-go, but Breath of the Wild takes that idea a step further by turning Link’s most unique items into different abilities provided by a single starting item. It streamlines the Zelda experience for the better, simply by condensing Link’s abilities, which are used in various ways, as opposed to many tools that have singular functions.

Link can no longer find hearts hidden in grass or clay pots for health. Instead, Breath of the Wild is given a survival element, as Link has to find and craft his own means of healing within the game’s world.

You can hunt animals for meat, find various plants around the world, and collect monster parts from fallen foes. Though eating some of these items as they are can restore a little health, cooking items together can create meals which can not only recover a large amount of health, but also provide temporary bonuses, such as extra hearts or stamina, stronger resistance to heat or the cold, or boosts in defense or attack, among others.

This gives the Zelda series a whole new layer of depth and challenge. Now players have to take notice of the environment and its elements (you don’t want to be wearing metal armor during a thunderstorm), and will have to make stronger preparations before heading into enemy territory.

When your journey first begins, Link may seem pitifully weak, with only three hearts, a small bit of stamina, and barely enough space to carry weapons and shields. This is where Breath of the Wild once again changes up the Zelda formula.

Though Heart Containers are still found by conquering the story-focused dungeons, Link no longer has to search for four Heart Pieces to increase his maximum health. Instead, players can travel Hyrule seeking out Shrines.

Shrines are either found lying around Hyrule, or materialize after finishing a sidequest or meeting a certain requirement. The shrines work like smaller dungeons, usually consisting of a handful of rooms, each containing their own puzzles and hidden treasures. The puzzles involved in the shrines are one of the game’s greatest highlights, as most can be tackled in different ways depending on the player’s thinking. The creativity and brevity of the shrine puzzles really bring to mind the various chambers of the Portal games, and I’d even say their consistent brilliance makes Breath of the Wild arguably the closest thing we have to Portal 3.

Once the shrines are completed, Link is awarded with a Spirit Orb. Every four Spirit Orbs Link obtains can be traded to goddess statues for greater maximum health or stamina, giving a whole new life to one of Zelda’s most recurring traditions. Stamina is used for running, climbing, swimming and gliding, thus making increasing your maximum stamina a worthwhile alternative to giving Link more health.

Similarly, there are Korok seeds that can be found by finding the many playful Koroks, who are hiding all over the place. Koroks may have you do something like lifting a rock at the top of a mountain or shooting flying targets from a certain standing point to make them appear. The Koroks will reward you with the seeds for finding them, and the seeds can be traded to a particularly large Korok for extra space in your inventory.

Finding things like a new shrine or a Korok hiding place (among other things) help fill Hyrule with things to do. This is a great thing, because the Hyrule of Breath of the Wild is absolutely massive, but that size wouldn’t mean anything if there were no substance to it. Thankfully, Nintendo really thought about how to keep things fun and exciting at every turn, so no matter what pace you choose to tackle the adventure, there’s always something to be accomplished, and a strong sense of discovery to be had.

Speaking of the size of the game’s world, it would have been easy for the simple act of traveling around it to become a chore in less capable hands. Thankfully, Breath of the Wild’s developers have streamlined the ways Link can get around Hyrule, meaning that traveling never becomes tedious.

Link can climb virtually any surface in Hyrule, and a paraglider gained early in the adventure means you can climb one mountain and glide to the next, if you so desire. The only surfaces Link can’t climb are found in the aforementioned shrines. Otherwise, player’s can find many clever ways for Link to get from one point to the next.

Additionally, Link can fast travel by teleporting to discovered shrines, as well as Towers (which unlock more pieces of the map when successfully ascended). So if you need to get to the other side of Hyrule in a hurry, you can simply bring up the map screen to teleport there, provided you’ve discovered a means to do so.

Unfortunately, this all brings me to one of Breath of the Wild’s few disappointing elements. Along Link’s adventures, Link can find wild horses, which can be tamed and registered to stables for later use. As you might expect, horses can move faster on foot than Link, but they might be stopped in their tracks by a large rock or tree, whereas Link can simply climb over it. It makes sense, certainly. But because Link is already a more versatile traveller, I rarely went through the trouble of taming horses, even if they are faster on foot. It’s ultimately a small quibble, but I do wish I had more incentive to claim a new steed.

Another highlight of the game are its more traditional story dungeons, which are only traditional in the sense that they are part of the main story, involve puzzles and enemies, and end with a boss. Otherwise, they greatly deviate from the series’ norm.

The dungeons are wonderfully creative, and come in the form of giant, animal-like constructs that would make the Power Rangers jealous. You usually have to go through a mini-adventure just getting to the dungeons through one of the lands of Hyrule’s different races (Gorons, Zoras, Rito and Gerudo), then you have a miniature showdown with the dungeon itself before making your way inside. Once inside, you’ll notice that the dungeons are as open-ended as anything else in the game, as they each contain five terminals which must be activated, but can be activated in whatever order the player chooses.

The best aspect of the dungeons is that, rather than a straightforward layout, the player can actually manipulate them from the inside. Rearranging the positioning of the dungeons and changing the perspective of their puzzles is a beautifully realized bit of creativity, and helps elevate the dungeon design as some of the finest in the series, despite their relative short length.

If there’s any complaint to be had with the dungeons (and I’m grasping at straws here), it’s that – despite the wonderfully varied locations they are found in and the creativity of their level design – the insides of the dungeons are all aesthetically identical, and their bosses also share similar appearances with each other.

Though that’s a non-issue in the long run, as the art direction and graphics, as a whole, are quite stunning. Aside from the Wii U re-releases of Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, this is the first true Zelda game presented in HD, and it looks absolutely beautiful. The environments are relatively realistic in appearance, and the game is so detailed that you can even see the differences in weather between different lands in the distance. The characters are cel-shaded a la Wind Waker or Skyward Sword, which adds to the game’s visual charms, and serves as a unique contrast with the environments.

There even seems to be something of a Studio Ghibli inspiration emanating from the art direction. Ancient robots (called Guardians) are strangely reminiscent of those found in Castle in the Sky, while many of the environments might remind one of Princess Mononoke. Even the walking dungeons may bring Howl’s Moving Castle to mind. Breath of the Wild feels as much like a Studio Ghibli game as Ni no Kuni, and it only adds to the game’s appeal.

Breath of the Wild is equally pleasing to the ears, with a beautifully minimalistic soundtrack that also seems evocative of the soundtracks to Studio Ghibli films. I’ve seen a number of comments disregarding the soundtrack as not sounding “Zelda enough,” but I find it to be a perfect fit for the nature of the game, with its gentle piano melodies and ambient tunes bringing the game world to life.

Similarly, the game features some exquisite sound effects. The different armors and weapons, as well as Link’s interactions with different environments, all have their own sounds, which helps add to the atmosphere and life of the world in a way not dissimilar to Dark Souls.

Perhaps more notable is that Breath of the Wild is the first Zelda game to feature voice acting during its major cutscenes. Though Link is his usual, silent self and Ganon’s status as an evil substance means that two pieces of the franchise’s trifecta remain voiceless, Zelda, along with various other characters, have speaking roles. The voice acting may not go down as some of the best in gaming, but it’s solid and works when it needs to.

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild fine tunes the gameplay and combat first introduced in Ocarina of Time, and similarly perfects the explorative elements of Wind Waker. In the process, it also throws in a little bit of Skyrim, Dark Souls, Portal, Uncharted, Shadow of the Colossus and Studio Ghibli. The end result creates an exhilarating and unforgettable adventure that allows players to tackle it however they choose (I put more than 30 hours into it before I attempted the first story dungeon). Its execution is so well done that Breath of the Wild should rank along the likes of Super Mario World, A Link to the Past and the Super Mario Galaxy titles as one of Nintendo’s finest achievements.

Despite all of its inspirations, Breath of the Wild is still very much the Zelda experience we all know and love. In fact, it may just be the best of the legendary lot.

 

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Freedom Planet Review

*This review originally appeared on Miketendo64.com*

Freedom Planet

Freedom Planet is a love letter to the glory days of Sonic the Hedgehog. In fact, it started development as a Sonic fan game, until its developers at GalaxyTrail decided to create their own IP out of their love of the 16-bit Sonic the Hedgehog classics. The end results are a satisfying platformer that could even be called the best Sonic game of recent memory, even if it doesn’t boast the titular hedgehog.

From the get-go, the Sonic influence is obvious. The game adopts the 16-bit visuals of the Sega Genesis, and no doubt its musical score echoes inspiration from Sega’s heyday (not just in Sonic, but a Nights Into Dreams influence can be heard from time to time as well).

The base game includes two playable characters: Lilac is a suspiciously hedgehog-esque dragon who has powerful kicks and hair whips, as well as the ability to “dragon dash” using stored up energy, and a helicopter spin to add a little boost to her jumps. Carol is a wildcat who isn’t quite as strong as Lilac, but has quicker clawing attacks, can wall jump, leap between specially marked platforms, and can use the aforementioned energy for a rapid kicking combo.

Post-release add-ons for the PC releases have added additional playable characters – including Milla the dog, the game’s tritagonist – though the Wii U version has yet to receive these updates.

Either way, having two characters from the get-go gives players a little bit of diversity in its campaign, as Lilac and Carol battle armies of robots to save their planet from the evil Lord Brevon.

This simple story is perhaps the biggest differentiation between Freedom Planet and the 16-bit Sonics that inspired it. If you play the game in Adventure Mode, each level is introduced and concluded with a series of cinematics, complete with voice acting.

I have to say, for having 16-bit limitations, the cinematics are actually quite impressive, though they can at times become a bit too lengthy, which is probably what inspired GalaxyTrail to also include Classic Mode, where players jump directly into the levels without all the cinematics.

Freedom PlanetOn one hand, I feel the game is definitely meant to be played with the story intact, and something feels a little off when playing it without them. But on the other hand, I’m not too big of a fan of some of the characters (like Milla, whose cuteness is forced to the point of obnoxiousness, or Torque, an alien ally who often wears a duck beak for some reason), whom I feel are a little on the pandering side, and again, some of the cinematics drag on and on. In the end, I suppose it’s all down to personal preference.

The gameplay remains stellar, however, with clever level designs that contain multiple pathways a la 16-bit Sonic, with new mechanics added throughout the adventure to keep it all fresh.

There are minor tweaks to the Sonic formula at play, however. Instead of rings that work as a health system and a means to gain extra lives, Lilac and Carol collect red leaves, with every two red leaves refilling one of their hit points. Meanwhile, blue crystals need to be gathered in quantities of 200 in order to gain an extra life.

Freedom PlanetIf there’s one big drawback to Freedom Planet, it’s that it boasts a rather glaring inconsistency in the difficulty between the levels and boss fights. The levels themselves can be easy or reasonably challenging, but even some of the game’s early bosses are on the frustratingly difficult side of things. It’s one thing if a hard game has hard bosses, or if the boss fights gradually become more difficult. But I can’t help but feel there’s no real transition in the boss difficulty. The levels themselves gradually stack up the difficulty, but the boss fights are difficult from the offset.

The complaints are ultimately minor, however. Freedom Planet itself is a whole lot of fun, and feels like a Genesis classic that never was. It’s lightning-fast platforming and smart level design stand favorably alongside Sonic’s most fondly-remembered adventures, it’s fluidly animated with surprisingly strong production values, and its soundtrack – like any great 16-bit title – is a thing of utterly infectious beauty.

Sonic may have lost a step or two over the years, but Freedom Planet is a reminder that the foundations Sonic built were timeless and, of course, way passed cool.

 

7

Nintendo Wii Turns 10!

Wii

Time to feel old, everyone! The original Nintendo Wii was released in North America ten years ago today. Yep, it was November 19th 2006 that the gaming landscape was changed forever, as Satoru Iwata’s home console brainchild was released, and changed perceptions of what it means to be a gamer.

The Wii opened the door for audiences who previously seemed as far removed from gaming stereotypes as possible. No longer were video games just a “geek” pastime, but a hobby for just about everyone, from small children to grandparents and everything in between. It not only changed the direction of Nintendo, but even Sony and Microsoft took note, and if the popularity of mobile games is any indication, the Wii’s impact is still being felt.

Sure, the console had more than its share of shovelware (but then again, so did the PS2, not that anyone seems to bring that up). And the Wii has long-since received flak from undeservedly self-important nerds who deride the console and its motion controls for not pandering to them. But the Wii was a genuine game-changer, and had its fair share of classics (many of which, I would argue, hold up a lot better than the beloved Nintendo 64).

The Wii became a massive success for Nintendo, and even featured some of the most acclaimed games in history (notably the Mario Galaxy titles). Sadly, it’s successor, the Wii U -despite featuring a number of brilliant games – could not replicate the Wii’s success, and is Nintendo’s least-selling home console to date, as well as being unfairly berated on the internet (once again, it’s probably a better console than the N64, or even the GameCube, but I guess it doesn’t have blinding nostalgia on its side).

Perhaps because of the Wii U’s less-than-stellar sales, Nintendo is now dropping the Wii name from its next console, the Nintendo Switch (am I the only one who sees the missed opportunity for it to be named “SWiitch?”). But no doubt the Wii brand left a huge impact on not only Nintendo, but the world of gaming as a whole.

Here’s to the original Wii, and the brand it created. Happy ten years, you wonderful, ivory box you!

Paper Mario: Color Splash Review

Color Splash

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars began the concept of transforming the world of Super Mario into an RPG series. Though Super Mario RPG never got a proper sequel, its legacy was continued by two series: the handheld Mario & Luigi titles, and Paper Mario. Both series were great in their own right, but it was Paper Mario that felt closer in spirit to Super Mario RPG.

Despite the Mario RPGs being among Nintendo’s best titles – up there with Zelda, Donkey Kong, and the Mario platformers – Nintendo, for reasons that will never make sense, decided to opt out of the Mario RPGs as time went by.

The last two Mario & Luigi titles have basically stripped away the depth in story, characters and gameplay from the first three titles, but Paper Mario has been altered all the more. Super Paper Mario took away the turn-based battles in favor of platforming with RPG elements, though it retained the strong storytelling of the previous Paper Mario entries.

It was Paper Mario: Sticker Star on the 3DS however, that remains one of Nintendo’s biggest blunders. Sticker Star brought back turn-based battles, but replaced the RPG elements with collectible stickers, a gimmick that quickly grew tired and even made battles predominantly pointless, since your only reward for winning battles were more stickers and coins…for buying more stickers. Not to mention the game removed virtually every story and character aspect of its predecessors, leaving it soulless on both a narrative and gameplay standpoint.

Sticker Star was greatly disliked by longtime fans of the series, and when Paper Mario: Color Splash was first revealed and looked to be replicating Sticker Star’s style, it seemed doomed from the start. But does Color Splash fix the many problems of Sticker Star? Or does it fall just as flat?

To put it simply, if Sticker Star broke the Paper Mario series, Color Splash does a pretty good job at fixing it. But even if you repair something after its been broken, it’s never going to look quite as good as it once did.

Paper Mario: Color Splash does adopt much of Sticker Star’s formula. Battles still use consumable actions (here presented as cards), and Mario still doesn’t gain levels, nor is he joined by any memorable partners that can aid him in battle (though his adventure is joined by a sentient paint bucket named Huey, who is a far more charming and funny character than Sticker Star’s Kirsti ever was).

There is a bonus this time around in the form of paint. Mario must paint his cards in battle to fully power them up, and also paint areas of the environment that have been drained of their color using the paint hammer. The inclusion of paint benefits the battle system by the addition of Hammer Scraps, collectible items that are rewarded after battle. Hammer Scraps more or less work like experience points, and when enough are collected, the maximum amount of paint Mario has at his disposal increases. This difference alone prevents the battles from feeling pointless, as they did in Sticker Star, though it sadly cannot change the tediousness of the battles themselves.

Color SplashThere’s no beating around the bush, making all of the actions in battle consumable items is simply bad game design. Sure, the game throws cards and coins at you all the time, so you’re rarely going to run out of actions, but you may easily run out of the cards you need for a given enemy or situation. You’re constantly scrambling to get the right cards, or going out of your way to get enough coins to buy them by the bulk, just so you’re sure to have enough to make your way through a specific section.

To further complicate things, the process of using these cards in battle is just as tedious as anything. You have to cycle through your cards on the Gamepad (which are always categorized, left to right, from oldest to newest), then set up the cards you want to use, tap the chosen cards to paint them, select the “done painting” option, and then finish things off with an entirely unnecessary “flick” motion to send the cards from the Gamepad to the TV. Then, and only then, can you perform the usual action commands in battle. The process can grow old fast, and you may find yourself avoiding enemies just so you don’t have to keep going through it.

Another huge downside to battles is that Mario will automatically attack the on-screen enemies in a set sequence from left to right. This not only removes so much potential strategy in battles, but also means that, should you defeat some enemies too soon, Mario could end up screwing things up (like jumping on a spiked enemy) and the player can’t do anything about it.

Finally, “Things” make a return from Sticker Star, being 3D objects that can be turned into super powerful cards for use in and out of battle. Each Thing includes a hilarious in-battle animation (like a breakdancing piggybank or a tornado-like washing machine), and make for fun special attacks. The problem with Things arrises during boss battles. Every boss in the game must have a specific Thing used against them in order to defeat them. It is mandatory that you have a specific Thing with you during each boss, so that you can use them at the right moment. If you don’t have the right Thing, the bosses are, quite literally, impossible.

Color SplashIf this worked like Mega Man, and specific Things were merely particularly effective against certain bosses, it could be really fun and clever. Instead, you have bosses that are only beatable with specific items. There’s no strategy involved. If you know what Thing you need, you basically have victory guaranteed. It’s yet another display of blatantly bad game design.

Thankfully, this is where most of the complaining stops, because the aspects of Paper Mario: Color Splash that are enjoyable are very much enjoyable.

For starters, there’s a much greater emphasis on story and character than there was in Sticker Star (of course, any story and character at all would be much more than Sticker Star, but it’s intended as a compliment).

The plot is simple enough, with Mario and Peach traveling to Prism Island – a land renowned for its vibrant colors – after they receive a Toad drained of its color in the mail, sent from the island to the Mushroom Kingdom. Once they arrive at Prism Island, Mario and Peach find that the place is being drained of its color by an army of Shy Guys. Naturally, Bowser is up to his old tricks again, and it’s up to Mario, and his new paint bucket partner Huey, to restore color to the island and rescue the Paint Stars.

Color SplashSo the plot itself is nothing grand like Super Mario RPG or the first two Paper Marios, but Color Splash does liven things up with terrific writing and the series’ trademark humor.

Color Splash is one of the funniest games I’ve played in a long time. Whether it’s the visual gags that make great use of the paper motif, or the constant zingers the characters are spouting, Color Splash actually elicited a good number of laughs out of me throughout my playthrough.

Yeah, no kidding. I miss unique Toads.
Yeah, no kidding. I miss unique Toads.

On the downside of things, Color Splash continues Nintendo’s bizarre recent trend of making every NPC a generic Toad, with their only differing features being the colors of their spots and vests. I honestly can’t grasp why Nintendo thinks having every NPC looking like the standard Toad is more charming than the variety of characters found in past Paper Marios. It just takes away personality from the game.

This lack of variety also shows up in the enemies, who are relegated to simply being returning foes from Mario’s platforming ventures. Even the aforementioned bosses are restricted to the Koopalings. I seriously don’t understand Nintendo’s refusal to add new enemies to the Mario RPG series anymore.

On a lighter note, another highlight has to be Color Splash’s aesthetics. The game is absolutely gorgeous to look at, with Nintendo bringing the paper craft visuals of the series to life like never before. There are so many little details all over the place that make the environments pop. You can definitely tell the developers were having a great time thinking of ways to recreate Mario’s world out of handcrafted materials. It’s an absolutely beautiful game to look at, and it’s full of visual surprises.

Arguably even better than the visuals is the musical score. Color Splash follows in the tradition of the Galaxy series and 3D World of integrating a full band orchestra into the Mario series, and just as in past efforts, it pays off beautifully. Color Splash’s soundtrack is often (and appropriately) colorful and lively, but it ends up showcasing a wide variety of styles and tunes. It’s one of the best Mario soundtracks of the last few years.

Much of this review may sound a bit negative, but rest assured, the good ultimately outweighs the bad. Nintendo’s stubbornness may have never been quite as pronounced as it is here, with the continuing of Sticker Star’s infamous template. But the fact that Color Splash can take such a flawed blueprint and turn it into a very fun experience is also one of the biggest testaments to Nintendo’s mastery of the craft.

I very much love most of Paper Mario: color Splash: It looks stunning, sounds great, it’s often hilarious, always charming, and is full of fun little gameplay surprises. But the flaws that are present are a bit too prominent, and you may find that Color Splash is at its best in stages that work as their own, self-contained little narratives, and place the battle system to the side. Still, a tedious battle system is better than the pointless one of Sticker Star, and the stories, characters and writing that are present here help give the game an identity that was lacking not only in Sticker Star, but the past few Mario & Luigi titles as well.

Paper Mario: Color Splash may not bring back the glory the Mario RPGs once showcased so profusely, but its creativity and charm are so endearing that you can’t help but feel it’s getting things back on track.

But seriously, can we please just get a proper Mario RPG again? Please?!

 

6

Wings of Magloryx Review

Wings of Magloryx

*This review first appeared on Miketendo64.com*

Wings of Magloryx is an indie title on the Wii U released via the Eshop, and sees players take control of a dragon called Magloryx. This fire-breathing behemoth is on a quest to reclaim his five relics that were stolen by a wizard, all while collecting some treasure and kidnapping a few peasants along the way.

It’s certainly a promising concept. After slaying countless dragons in fantasy video games, it’s about time the roles were reversed, and the idea of playing as a dragon and destroying everything in your path sounds like fun. Unfortunately, the game’s execution lacks a whole lot of polish, and the end results leave a lot to be desired.

Gameplay-wise, Wings of Magloryx is simple enough: You travel across five different worlds (a total of twenty-five levels), with each level being a small series of floating islands. The goal of the levels is to either destroy a set amount of towers, or to defeat a boss. Bonus points are received for “rescuing” peasants (we all know Magloryx is really collecting his dinner).

The controls may seem simple at first, with Magloryx’s actions simply consisting of moving and shooting fireballs. But again, things stumble in execution, and the controls end up feeling clunky.

The left joystick moves Magloryx around, which is simple enough, while moving the right stick up and down changes the height in which the dragon takes to the air, and moving it from side to side changes the camera. Additionally, the ZR button is used to shoot fireballs, and pressing down on the right joystick is used to collect treasure and peasants.

Here’s where things get tricky: The camera movement alone is muddled, and using the same joystick to maneuver the camera and Magloryx’s height never feels right. The dragon himself also moves slowly and awkwardly, and shooting fireballs is incredibly inaccurate. Picking up peasants and treasure is the most cumbersome, however. You have to be low enough to the ground for this action to work (a problem in itself, as even the slightest bump to a rock or tree does damage), but even worse is that, half the time, pressing the right joystick doesn’t even seem to work. You have to keep pressing the right joystick until sparkles fly out of the peasants or treasure, and then fly into them to collect them. It just never feels right, and you just wish you could simply fly into the collectibles without the need of any extra button presses.

Another problem occurs when you inevitably bump into the countless “invisible walls” in the game. You would think the boundaries of the stages would coincide with the layout of the environment, but that’s not the case. Often times you’ll be circling around an island trying to eliminate enemies, and then are suddenly stopped dead in your tracks as the words “out of bounds” appear in the middle of the screen. It happens far too often, and it’s hard to figure out the levels when the stage design and technical limitations don’t mesh together.

Something else that really bogs the game down are the constant slow-downs. If even just a couple of enemies are onscreen throwing swords or shooting arrows at you, you can count on the game slowing down to a near halt.

Things are made all the worse through multiple graphical errors. Though the game has decently colorful and fun graphics, you’ll often notice that the destruction animations for the towers rarely work like they’re supposed to. You’ll destroy the entire tower and yet its windows will still be floating in midair. Enemy health bars will also remain onscreen long after the enemies themselves are defeated. And sometimes, you won’t even notice the enemy health dropping at all. You’ll just be bombarding them with fireballs, the enemy will be frozen still, with the fireballs seemingly passing through them, then the enemies will suddenly die. It’s details like this that make the game feel unfinished.

On the bright side of things, the music is pretty enjoyable (if nothing particularly memorable), and the fact that certain levels branch out the world map means you can tackle most stages at your own pace. You can even buy spells with the collected gold to change things up ever-so slightly.

It’s a shame then, that such a fun concept as taking control of a dragon to lay waste to the land ends up feeling so rushed and unpolished. This is an idea that could have produced a fun (if admittedly simple) game. Instead, playing Wings of Magloryx can feel like a chore, and some of the game’s aspects are so unfinished you can’t help but feel that Wings of Magloryx is little more than bargain bin fodder.

 

2

Bonk’s Adventure Review

*Review based on the Wii U Virtual Console port of the TurboGrafx-16 version*

Bonk's Adventure

Though Bonk isn’t exactly a household name these days, there was a time when he was a relatively prominent mascot character for the TurboGrafx-16 console. The system would see no less than three different Bonk titles in its lifetime, the first of which was 1990’s Bonk’s Adventure. Though it may not be one of the best platformers of the 16-bit era (admittedly a difficult feat to accomplish), it still serves as a simple but fun platforming venture.

Bonk’s Adventure stars the titular Bonk, a young caveboy with a comically large head that’s as hard as a rock. Bonk is on a mission to save a dinosaur princess, and will have to use his thick noggin to take out enemies.

Whereas most platformers of the time simply had players jumping on enemies to defeat them, Bonk instead uses a headbutt as his signature attack. Bonk can headbutt enemies on the ground, or jump in the air to perform a diving headbutt. In a fun twist to platforming norms, Bonk’s regular jumps can only damage enemies if they are above him, as his head is harder than his feet.

Bonk has three hit points to start with, which can be replenished in increments by finding fruits and vegetables, while small hearts will replenish an entire hit point, and large hearts refill all of Bonk’s health. Meanwhile, two blue hearts are hidden in the game, and will increase Bonk’s maximum hit points by one.

Bonk's AdventureAdditionally, Bonk can find pieces of meat, which serve as power-ups. Finding one piece of meat supercharges Bonk, who can use his diving headbutt to stun all on-screen enemies (defying all logic, this includes enemies in midair). Finding a second piece of meat when powered up will send Bonk into a temporary invincibility. You can even skip the stacking and go straight to invincibility if you find a big piece of meat.

The core gameplay is pretty darn fun, though it must be said that Bonk’s movements and jumps feel slower than those of Mario or Sonic. It’s nothing major, but if you’re used to the more popular platforming heroes of the era, then Bonk’s relatively slower controls do become noticeable.

Another downside is that the levels are incredibly basic. While there are some platforming challenges to be had, the levels really come down to little more than going from one end of the stage to the other. There are some fun ideas to be had in terms of environments (including the belly of a dinosaur in an early stage), but the level structure never comes anywhere near the creative heights of Super Mario World or Sonic the Hedgehog.

Bonk's AdventureVisually, Bonk’s Adventure still holds up, with the graphics and animations possibly being the game’s highlight. The character designs are simple but colorful, and the environments are fun to look at. Best of all is Bonk himself, who has some hilarious animations. Bonk’s transformations when grabbing the aforementioned meat, as well as his death animation, are both done in a Looney Tunes-esque cartoony style. My personal favorite animation is when Bonk climbs steep walls, which he accomplishes by biting them with his teeth.

Bonk’s Adventure also features some cute and catchy (if not entirely memorable) music. Once again, it can’t match many other platforming soundtracks of the time, but it fits with the game’s tone and simplistic nature.

Suffice to say that Bonk’s Adventure hasn’t aged as gracefully as many of its 16-bit platforming peers. Though it’s certainly a fun platformer in its own right, it simply lacks the depth and creativity that platformers of the 90s were quickly becoming adept in, which ensured their timeless appeal. Today, Bonk’s Adventure may be a good place to start for younger gamers and platforming newcomers to get a taste for the genre. But for platforming veterans, it may feel a little too vanilla.

 

5