Super Smash Bros. (Nintendo 64) Review

SSB64

Super Smash Bros. quickly became one of Nintendo’s most beloved franchises. And how could it not? It’s a fighting series where Nintendo’s most beloved characters duke it out with sumo-style rules, and Mario Kart-esque weapons. But after the sequels built so strongly on the series’ formula, going back to the original may come us a slight disappointment. While the 1999 original Super Smash Bros. remains a fun game in its own right, it feels more than a little empty when compared to any of its sequels.

As stated, Super Smash Bros. is a fighting game where – rather than depleting your opponents’ health – the goal is to accumulate enough damage to send them flying off the screen, thus eliminating them. It’s a simple enough setup, but it has proven so much fun that the series has produced some of the most insanely replayable games of all time.

On the downside, much of the depth found in the gameplay wouldn’t arrive until the GameCube sequel, Super Smash Bros. Melee. Melee would add more moves, more specials, and tighter mechanics. Brawl would add Final Smashes and some really creative movesets. And the recent Wii U and 3DS editions add depth and polish to pretty much every facet of the gameplay.

By comparison, the N64 original feels barren. Here, the characters only have three special attacks (performed with B, B + up, and B + down), as opposed to the four found in Melee and subsequent titles. Even more notably, the number of standard attacks each character has is incredibly limited. There are no Smash attacks or more intricate moves. You can’t midair dodge, or perform very many fancy combos. You only have a few directional ground and midair attacks, and the aforementioned specials. The gameplay is still fun at its core, but knowing just how much depth the sequels added to the equation, it’s easy to feel that the original Smash Bros. is a bit dated.

On top of that, some of the mechanics also haven’t aged too well. Here, opponents will be sent flying off-stage with relatively little damage. In later entries, opponents usually need to be well above the one-hundred damage mark before you can think about sending them packing. But here, you can defeat enemies after having only dealt about half of that damage. This leaves many battles feeling incredibly short. Another downside is just how slow the characters move. Many people complained that the characters in Brawl moved too slowly, but I might assume those same people hadn’t played the original in a good, long while. Here, the characters move so slowly and jump so floaty it’s hard to complain about Brawl’s movements by comparison.

SSB64On the bright side, the original Super Smash Bros. featured an indisputable roster of deserving characters. From the get-go, players can select Mario, Donkey Kong, Link, Yoshi, Samus, Kirby, Fox McCloud and Pikachu, while the secret characters include Luigi, Jigglypuff, Captain Falcon and Ness. It’s an incredibly small roster compared to the sequels, but it also benefits by predating the clones, self-damaging characters, and seemingly random character selections found in later games. Every character here strongly represents Nintendo’s diverse franchises, and you can’t really complain about the the character inclusions (though it is a shame the low memory of the N64 meant that Princess Peach, Bowser and King Dedede were left out of the mix until later entries).

Super Smash Bros. also featured a good number of fun items and a small but creative selection of stages, each one boasting their own gimmicks. There are also some additional modes to be found, though understandably, there’s not nearly as much content as there would be in future installments.

Single player modes are limited to an arcade-style “story mode,” where you battle in a series of fights until you make your way to the Master Hand, and the mini-games Break the Target and Board the Platforms. They aren’t much, and once you’ve played through them to unlock the secret characters, you’ll probably be sticking with the multiplayer battles.

The original Super Smash Bros. is still a fun game, particularly with a full group of four players. But it doesn’t hold up nearly as well as any of its sequels. The game feels prototypical and a bit shallow, and it simply isn’t nearly as fun as Melee, Brawl or the Wii U and 3DS editions. It does hold up better than many of the other multiplayer titles on the N64, however.

If you want to play a more definitive and deep Smash Bros. experience, stick to the Wii U version. But if you simply want to have some old fashioned, multiplayer fun, you could do a whole lot worse.

 

7

Mario Kart 64 Review

Mario Kart 64

There are few video games as synonymous with my gaming youth than Mario Kart 64. The number of hours I spent with its Grand Prix, Versus and Battle modes are uncountable. For a good few years, it was my go-to multiplayer game. The Mario Kart series has come a long way since this second installment hit the Nintendo 64 in 1997, so how well does Mario Kart 64 hold up after so many years of Nintendo perfecting the formula?

The short answer to that is… pretty decently, though there are aspects of the game that haven’t aged particularly gracefully as well.

Being the first 3D entry in the series, Mario Kart 64 was capable of certain feats that the SNES original couldn’t pull off. The new 3D racetracks were more robust, with features like changes in elevation, slopes, and long jumps, among others. This helped Mario Kart 64 create some of the series’ most iconic tracks, many of which have been recreated in subsequent Mario Karts.

Mario Kart 64On the downside, these 3D visuals are now rather ugly to look at. Sure, it’s easy to defend it as being an earlier title in the N64’s library, but that doesn’t change the fact that, when playing the game today, it can sometimes strain the eyes. Not only do the environments look blocky, and the character models downright odd, but you can often only see what’s immediately in front of you, with everything else looking like a pixelated blur. This can sometimes make turns and obstacles difficult to see, which can really effect you during a race. This is all the worse when playing split-screen multiplayer, as the tinier screen space means things look that much blurrier.

On the bright side, the core gameplay is still a lot of fun. The control scheme is simple enough (A to accelerate, B for breaks, and Z to fire weapons), and is among the select Nintendo 64 games that are still fun to control. And it’s different modes bring out a lot of fun in the gameplay.

Mario Kart 64Gran Prix sees one or two players taking on computer-controlled opponents in a complete set of races. Time Trials consist of single player races against a “ghost” player in an attempt to get the best time. Versus mode consists of singular races of two to four players without the computer opponents. Finally, Battle mode has two to four players facing off in enclosed arenas as they gather items and try to pop every other player’s three balloons (this is also the only time in the series where defeated players in Battle mode would become bombs that could ram into a surviving player to eliminate one of their balloons for a little revenge from beyond the grave).

"Where did you learn to drive?"
“Where did you learn to drive?”

The modes are all fun in their own right, with Battle mode probably being the best of the lot. Though there is one huge downside to the game’s multiplayer that should be addressed. When playing a game with the maximum of four players, there is no music to be heard. This was probably due to technical limitations with the Nintendo 64, but it doesn’t change the fact that playing the game without music definitely takes away from the experience. And Mario Kart 64 has a pretty good soundtrack as well, which makes its absence in four player games sting all the more.

This puts Mario Kart 64 in an interesting situation where – despite being an entry in a multiplayer series – the single player modes have probably aged better. Though you can still have plenty of fun playing Mario Kart 64 with friends, the added blurriness to the visuals and the lack of music are really noticeable when playing today.

Mario Kart 64As for the character roster, players can take control of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, Yoshi, Toad, Donkey Kong, Wario and Bowser. This game basically established the “primary eight” characters of the Mario universe (though Rosalina and Bowser Jr. probably make it a primary ten these days), so there aren’t any complaints with the selections (no babies or Pink Gold Peach here), though players may feel a little underwhelmed by the lack of unlockable characters.

Mario Kart 64 is a more basic entry in the series then. But while it may lack the content and depth of many of its successors, it’s still a lot of fun to play. It has its fair share of attributes that show their age, but it’s still way more fun than a lot of other multiplayer N64 titles are when playing today.

If you want a more definitive Mario Kart, just pop Mario Kart 8 into your Wii U and have a blast. But if you want to revisit a N64 classic that can provide hours of fun for you and some friends, you could do a whole lot worse than Mario Kart 64.

 

7

Mario Kart: Super Circuit Review

Mario Kart: Super Circuit

Though every Nintendo console and handheld since the SNES has had its own iteration of Mario Kart, the Game Boy Advance’s Mario Kart: Super Circuit is the only entry that plays like a direct sequel to the SNES’ Super Mario Kart. If you’re a fan of the original, then Super Circuit may be worth a revisit. Just know that it hasn’t aged quite as well as Super Mario Kart, and its transition to the Wii U Virtual Console has removed some key features.

Super Circuit retains the play style of Super Mario Kart, where courses are mostly flat and straightforward when compared to the other sequels in the series (though they retain the fun Mario themes). Much like the original game, it feels more like the tracks are moving instead of the character, which can take some getting used to, especially when one realizes the turns are much sharper and the vehicles more slippery than in Super Mario Kart. It doesn’t feel as immediately fun as the SNES game, but for those with the patience for it, Super Circuit ends up being a similarly entertaining experience.

There’s also a good sense of balance with computer AI and the items. Playing on 150cc will still prove incredibly difficult, but playing on lesser difficulties make things feel more fair and less random than in some entries of the series. The items consist of all the basics like bananas and shells, and lack the more overpowered weapons of later Mario Karts.

Mario Kart: Super CircuitThe character selection is identical to that of Mario Kart 64: Mario, Luigi, Peach, Yoshi, Bowser, Toad, Donkey Kong and Wario are all playable, with no secret or surprise characters making the roster. Even back in 2001 when the game was first released on GBA there was no shortage of Mario characters to work with, so the recycled selection is a minor bummer.

The visuals are the aspect of the game that have been most affected by age. Though the game is colorful and the game’s merging of Super Mario Kart and Mario Kart 64’s art styles is interesting, it looks neither as lively as the former or even as visually pleasing as the latter (normally you’d expect an early 3D game like MK64 to have aged worse visually than a 2D game like Super Circuit, but somehow the exact opposite is true). The game’s Virtual Console release is also better suited for off-TV play on the Gamepad, since playing on the TV stretches the visuals and exposes its datedness all the more. Some of Super Circuit’s rotation effects might even prove bothersome to those with sensitive eyes.

The single biggest drawback to the Virtual Console release, however, is that it no longer has a multiplayer option. That’s right, it’s Mario Kart without multiplayer now. If you can track down an original GBA copy of the game and a couple of link cables, you can still have some multiplayer fun. But without a means to replicate the link cables, or a split-screen option to make up for it, the Virtual Console version of the game lacks the series’ defining feature.

Still, there’s fun to be had with the core gameplay. And additional single player modes like Time Trial and Quick Run (a more customizable VS. mode) ensure that there’s more to do than the Grand Prix mode. You can even unlock all twenty tracks from Super Mario Kart on top of the twenty tracks introduced here, giving Super Circuit more courses than any entry in the series up until Mario Kart 8 introduced DLC into the mix. So despite the limitations, there’s still plenty to do for solo players.

If you cherish the gameplay of the original Super Mario Kart, then Super Circuit is still worth a spin, though preferably in its original GBA incarnation. For those who feel the series has improved for deviating from the SNES game’s blueprints, you may want to hit the brakes before downloading Super Circuit.

 

6

Yoshi’s Woolly World Review

Yoshi's Woolly World

If someone were to ask me what I think the most charming video game of all time is, my answer would probably be a toss up between Yoshi’s Island on the SNES, and Kirby’s Epic Yarn for the Wii. It is very fitting then, that there should be a game that serves as a spiritual successor to both titles. Yoshi’s Wooly World comes from Good-Feel, the same studio that created Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and combines that game’s visual aesthetic of a cloth and fabric world with gameplay reminiscent of Yoshi’s Island.

Here players take control of a Yoshi made out of yarn. He can still flutter jump, ground pound, and gobble up enemies. Only now, balls of yarn take the place of Yoshi’s eggs. Though they function more or less the same as the eggs of Yoshi’s Island – being thrown at enemies and out of reach objects – they have a few additional uses as well.

Wire frame platforms can be made whole by tossing a ball of yarn into it. Chain Chomps – who are little more than metal wire here – can become bean bag-like Chomp rocks when struck by yarn (changing them into the color of the yarn thrown, for some added visual fun). Some enemies that can’t be jumped on, like Piranha Plants, can get tied up in the yarn, rendering them vulnerable.

These may sound like little changes, but it is these little details that make Yoshi’s Woolly World stand out. Whereas most games starring Yoshi since Yoshi’s Island have failed to establish a meaningful identity of their own, Wooly World is able to make the established elements of the Yoshi series feel new again because of the makeshift makeover. It’s a rare instance in which the visuals really do add to the gameplay.

Yoshi's Woolly WorldBoth the environment and characters are affected by the art direction: Snow becomes lumps of cotton, the lava Blarggs are now red and yellow scarfs, and those pesky crab enemies from Yoshi’s Island are transformed into purses with scissors for claws.

To put it simple, the game looks as stunning as it does adorable, and the visuals are used creatively to add some new spins on the gameplay. It’s more extravagant than Kirby’s Epic Yarn, and really runs with the yarn gimmick to make for a very beautiful game.

Yoshi's Woolly WorldThough the standard mechanics are borrowed from Yoshi’s Island, many levels introduce their own fabric-themed gimmicks into the mix, ensuring that the experience remains fresh throughout its six worlds. There’s a level where Yoshi hangs on to sliding curtains that echoes Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. A later stage sees Yoshi sticking to conveyor belts of velcro, which send Yoshi in every which direction. And on one of the game’s best levels, ghostly curtains float in the foreground, revealing silhouette platforms every time they pass by. The platforms are non-existent whenever they aren’t blanketed by the curtains, so Yoshi has to stay in the curtains’ shadows.

Each level presents a new take on the formula, with many of the gimmicks being exclusive to singular levels to prevent them from overexposure. This adds a great sense of variety to the gameplay and keeps the levels exciting. It should be noted, however, that the levels can get a bit lengthy. While most of the stages are enjoyable and introduce fun mechanics, there are a couple that might over-stay their welcome. Thankfully, these are in the minority, and if you don’t fancy what one level has to offer, its features will be discarded in favor of a new batch of ideas in the next level anyway.

As is the series’ tradition, a host of collectibles can be found within every stage. Yoshi can collect beads throughout every level, which can be used to purchase Power Badges, which grant Yoshi special powers when going into a stage (such as being recovered from falling into a pit, or being aided by Yoshi’s dog Poochy in stages where he isn’t normally available). Small bouncing hearts, similar to the starmen of Yoshi’s Island, serve as Yoshi’s hit points.

Every level has five flowers and five pieces of “Wonder Wool.” The flowers give Yoshi the opportunity to play a bonus stage at the end of a level, and finding every flower within a world unlocks that world’s secret stage, while finding every piece of Wonder Wool within a level unlocks a new Yoshi to play as (every Yoshi plays the same, but provide some fun visual variety). Each stage also houses twenty Stamp Patches, which are hidden in some of the beads. Finding enough Stamp Patches allows you to use stamps in Miiverse.

Yoshi's Woolly WorldAs was the case with Kirby’s Epic Yarn, Wooly World is not a particularly difficult game if you only wish to blast through the levels (though it is more challenging than Epic Yarn, seeing as Yoshi can actually die). But hunting down every last collectible proves to be quite a challenge even for veteran players (in my first playthrough of the game, I didn’t unlock any of the secret stages). This makes Woolly World a very versatile game. It’s challenging enough for younger players as it is, but those who might be able to beat it without breaking much of a sweat will still find a hefty challenge trying to claim all of its hidden trinkets.

This is why I question the necessity of the game’s “Mellow Mode.” Mellow Mode gives Yoshi wings that allow him to fly indefinitely, essentially making every level a non-issue. This mode can be switched to at any time in the pause menu, and is intended for really young players. But again, the game itself only provides a few challenging levels, and players always have the option of using the incredibly useful Power Badges, or a second player in co-op mode, to help them out. So Mellow Mode ends up feeling unnecessary, and maybe even insulting to less experienced players.

Yoshi's Woolly WorldThe game’s other big drawback are the boss encounters. As was the case in Yoshi’s Island, every world features two castle stages that end with a boss fight, one in the middle of a world, and one at the end. But whereas Yoshi’s Island was always introducing a new and creative boss fight with every encounter, Woolly World instead recycles the same two mid-world bosses for every world. After Captain Toad and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse already had repetitive boss fights, you kind of wish that Woolly World would have broken this recent trend for Nintendo, instead of following it. The end-world bosses are a bit more fun and varied, though not particularly difficult.

In the end, Yoshi’s Woolly World may not be the masterpiece that Yoshi’s Island was, but in the two decades since that game’s release, it is the first game to feel like a worthy follow-up to it. By combining the essence of Kirby’s Epic Yarn into the Yoshi series, Woolly World becomes its own entity that does both sides of its inspiration proud. It’s beautiful to look at, and it’s rather impressive musical score also makes it a joy to listen to. The gameplay is simple and fun, and the collectibles give the game a nice dose of depth and replayability.

It may not be perfect, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a more huggable game out there.

 

8

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

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

Ranking the 3D Mario Games

Super Mario 64

When Mario made the jump to 3D gaming in 1996 with Super Mario 64, in marked a turning point for both the Super Mario series and gaming as a whole. Super Mario 64 opened new doors and paved new ground for the world of video games. With such a heavy influence on gaming, it shouldn’t be too much of a surprise that the Mario series itself was particularly effected by its influence.

Mario would abandon his 2D sidescrolling roots for a good ten years before New Super Mario Bros. on the Nintendo DS made it a thing again. While New Super Mario Bros. launched its own sub-series that has kept 2D Mario games largely successful, most Mario fans these days consider the 3D entries to be the “core” titles in the franchise, and with good reason. New Super Mario Bros. is fun and all, but it relies too heavily on Mario’s past and relishing in nostalgia. It’s the 3D games that feel like the series’ evolution and future.

Five console games and one handheld title comprise the 3D Mario canon. While we all eagerly await what might be the next great 3D Mario adventure – whether it be a Wii U title or a key release on Nintendo’s upcoming “NX” console – let’s look back at the 3D Mario games that have been released so far.

As part of my celebration of Super Mario Bros’ 30th anniversary, here is my ranking of the 3D Mario games, from least to greatest.

Continue reading “Ranking the 3D Mario Games”

Super Mario World Review

Super Mario World

The dawn of the 1990s saw some major shifts in the gaming world. The popularity of the NES was winding down, and Sega had an early jump into the 16-bit generation. With Sega’s head start into this new era of gaming – complete with a certain blue hedgehog who threatened Mario’s crown – Nintendo needed a killer launch title if its own 16-bit console, the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, was ever to compete with Sega. Super Mario World was that killer launch title, and so much more.

If Super Mario Bros. 3 perfected the formula laid down by the original Super Mario Bros., then Super Mario World may have transcended it. Everything that Shigeru Miyamoto and his teams at Nintendo had learned in developing the NES Mario trilogy culminated in Mario’s SNES debut. It wasn’t merely a graphical overhaul for the series (though it was that too), but a game that took the series’ blueprints and was ready and willing to rewrite them in the most playful ways imaginable at every turn.

Mario seemingly learned a thing or two from Nintendo’s own Metroid by this point, as Super Mario World placed a much greater emphasis on exploration than the series’ previous titles. Super Mario Bros. 3’s world map concept was greatly expanded on by two simple yet profound innovations: Replayable levels, and secret, alternate goals within the game’s stages.

Super Mario WorldNo longer was Mario’s mission to simply make it to the end of the stages by heading right. Now Mario was frequently heading upward, downward, and even inward to find secret exits that would create new pathways on the world map. Simply completing a stage was only half the battle. Mario’s ultimate goal was to scourge every last level for alternate paths to discover all the secrets of Dinosaur Land, which served as a replacement to the Mushroom Kingdom for the game’s setting. Super Mario World’s playful insistence on secrets went to such lengths that it hid a secret world within a secret world.

It’s the way Mario uncovers Dinosaur Land’s hidden levels that truly showcase Super Mario World’s sheer inventiveness. Finding many of the game’s secret exits often requires Mario to break the very rules he himself established in his NES adventures. And the levels themselves, though not as difficult as those of Mario 3, are somehow greater than their predecessors. The sheer creativity presented in each level showcases Nintendo at their best. Rarely has a game been so consistently imaginative with its every last concept before or since.

Super Mario WorldSome lament the fact that Mario’s list of power-ups was lessened from his Super Mario Bros. 3 arsenal, with only the power-ups from the original Super Mario Bros. (Mushroom, Fire Flower, Starman) returning along with one major new power-up. But this new power-up was the Super Feather, which granted Mario with a magic cape that worked like a super powered version of the Tanooki Suit of Mario 3. The Super Cape granted Mario with the ability to take to the clouds, but it controlled more smoothly than his raccoon tail, and with enough skill Mario could fly indefinitely. He could perform an earth-shaking dive bomb attack that defeated every onscreen enemy, as well as a spin attack to take out stronger bad guys. The simple fact is Mario didn’t need any more power-ups, the Super Cape alone made Mario feel – most appropriately – super.

But Super Mario World somehow outdid even its best new power-up with an even greater addition to the series: Yoshi.

Yoshi was Mario’s new dinosaur pal. Mario would hop on his back, and Yoshi could gobble up enemies, walk on dangerous surfaces that Mario could not, and gained special powers based on the color of Koopa shell he held in his mouth (red shells allowed him to spit fire, blue shells gave him wings, and rare yellow shells gave him a stomp attack). Additionally, secret red, blue, and yellow Yoshis could be found, and gained the shell power that reflected their own color no matter the type of shell they ate, while also gaining the individual benefits as well (meaning a blue Yoshi could fly and spit fire with a red shell, and so on).

Yoshi not only changed up the gameplay, but he went on to become one of Nintendo’s most popular characters, even rivaling Mario himself. Aside from Yoshi’s starring role in Mario World’s own prequel, Yoshi has arguably never been better utilized than in his debut outing here (though Super Mario Galaxy 2 might challenge that statement).

“Thanks to the upgrade in graphics and hardware, Mario could now climb fences and fight enemies from both sides.”

It goes without saying that Super Mario World’s visuals were improved over its predecessors. The new 16-bit technology allowed for more colors and effects, which Mario World used to such success that it remains one of the most visually timeless games ever made. It’s as colorful and vivid today as it ever was.

Complimenting the visuals is one of the best soundtracks in the illustrious series. With the possible exceptions of Super Mario RPG and the Galaxy duo, World’s soundtrack sits near the very top of the mountain of memorable Mario soundtracks for its energy and personality, not to mention its catchiness.

Though a technical improvement over its predecessors, what truly makes Super Mario World one of Nintendo’s finest achievements is that aforementioned creativity. There’s simply never a dull moment. Super Mario World is always introducing a new idea, or a twist on an old one, to keep things fresh.

Super Mario WorldYes, Bowser has still kidnapped the princess. But whereas the minimal plot is a retread of the previous Mario adventures, the journey itself is anything but: Ghost Houses, more unique boss encounters (including some non-Koopa bosses with Reznor and the Big Boo), the save feature, the secret exits, the branching paths, the secret worlds, the Super Cape and, of course, Yoshi. Super Mario World is both a refinement and a subtle but powerful reinvention of everything Mario learned up to that point. It remains not only one of the best Mario games ever, but one of the greatest video games. Period.

It’s Super Mario World. We’re just playing in it.

 

10

September is Super Mario Month

Super Mario Maker

The perennial video game classic Super Mario Bros. turns 30 years old this week. With it comes Nintendo’s release of Super Mario Maker, a game which allows anyone to create their own Super Mario stages. As my own means to join the festivities, I shall dedicate a good deal of this site to Mario-based reviews, blogs, top 5/10 lists, and other such things for the remainder of September (though it’s not as though this site is lacking in Mario-based content).

Of course, I will also post non-Mario themed material as well, should I feel the need. But hopefully I can crank out some good blogging material worthy of gaming’s most famous mustache.

In preparation of Super Mario Maker, I’ve been replaying what are probably the series’ most beloved entries with Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World. So I’ll probably be reviewing these all-time greats soon (expect plenty of gushing). And once I start creating Mario Maker stages, I’ll probably share them here, maybe even in YouTube video form! Maybe I’ll even review other people’s levels! That’s a feature that I can see continuing well past September. I’ll try to whip up some other good stuff as well.

Anyway, a bit of rambling on my part. Let’s get to celebrating thirty freaking years of Super Mario. Let’s-a go!