BlazBlue: Continuum Shift Extend — 3Q2018 issue

Guilty Gear suc­ces­sor cleans up nicely in fight­ing game arena

Fight­ing game con­nois­seurs have a robust buf­fet to choose from these days. There’s Mar­vel, Street Fighter, Tekken and Mor­tal Kom­bat for tour­na­ment purists, a new Soul Cal­ibur has been announced, and a new Smash is on the hori­zon and the older games in the series are still played in some cir­cles. Guilty Gear, which has always been qui­etly in the back of the lunch­room, was a mix of tour­na­ment and casual, so it stands to rea­son that its spir­i­tual suc­ces­sor — BlazBlue — would mimic that notion.

BlazBlue arrived in the fight­ing game scene as a new entry in the port­fo­lio of Guilty Gear devel­oper Arc­Sys­tem. Tak­ing what they learned from that series, Arc­Sys­tem improved upon the for­mula they’d cre­ated with gor­geous visu­als, a rock­ing sound­track and impres­sive game­play options that ensure you’ll have plenty to do.

BlazBlue CSE starts off rather intim­i­dat­ingly. From the begin­ning, there are quite a few modes to choose from. If you’re not informed, you might be a lit­tle lost try­ing to under­stand just where you should start. With a var­ied plate to choose from, at the very least the modes are inter­est­ingly designed and add value to an already-packed game.
The stand­out fea­tures, how­ever, are the graph­ics and story. As with Guilty Gear, you’re get­ting a treat visu­ally. The level of detail in each char­ac­ter and the back­grounds make the game worth sit­ting down and study­ing. If you’re into anime, the aes­thet­ics were designed with you in mind.

The story is also wor­thy of com­par­i­son to most mod­ern anime. It’s con­vo­luted and com­plex and has twists and turns involv­ing a multi-layered cast. There’s a lot about the search­ing for a sav­ior and magic — which isn’t out of place for an Arc­Sys­tem game. It feels famil­iar but it doesn’t detract from the fact that it’s lay­ered and deep.

Learn­ing the mechan­ics for most fight­ing games is a mixed bag. Some games expect you to be able to jump in and mas­ter the basics as if you’ve done noth­ing but play fight­ing games all of your gam­ing life. Oth­ers like to give you a tuto­r­ial so that you’re not lost and quickly putting the game down, never to return. BlazBlue CSE is in the lat­ter cat­e­gory: So con­cerned is the game about you learn­ing to play and mas­ter all that it has to offer that it throws a sur­pris­ingly deep tuto­r­ial mode at you. It slowly increases the level of com­plex­ity and the mechan­ics are spot on and easy to grasp. All fight­ing games need the type of learn­ing tool that’s offered here.

If you love Guilty Gear or if you just want a deeper sto­ry­line than what’s cur­rently offered by the larger more well-known titles on the mar­ket in fight­ing games, BlazBlue promises to deliver a rich expe­ri­ence. It deliv­ers on that promise with a com­mit­ment to extend­ing beyond just the reg­u­lar fight­ing game expectations.

Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival — 1Q2017 issue

Rolling the dice with Ani­mal Crossing

Judg­ing from the stand­point of an avid Ani­mal Cross­ing player and enthu­si­ast, the con­cept of new games com­ing into my beloved fran­chise is not always wel­come. There have been par­tic­u­larly good games (i.e. Wild World, the orig­i­nal game) and mediocre offer­ings (Happy Home Designer and City Folk). Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a lit­tle bit of both: It’s a fun take on the Ani­mal Cross­ing uni­verse, but it needs a lit­tle bit of pol­ish and more things to do to keep the con­cept of a board game based on the fran­chise interesting.

I’ve always referred to Ani­mal Cross­ing as the series about doing noth­ing. Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val takes that con­cept and turns it on its head. With Fes­ti­val, you’re tasked with mov­ing around a typ­i­cal Ani­mal Cross­ing town in the form of a large board game. The town is trans­formed by spaces that can be events, Stalk Mar­ket sale stops and vis­its from the usual assort­ment of guests that visit a nor­mal town in the franchise.

What makes the game fun is the usage of all things Ani­mal Cross­ing. Game time is deter­mined by a cal­en­dar that uti­lizes events com­monly found through­out the series, and vil­lagers that you would encounter in town show up to help out player char­ac­ters. The player char­ac­ters them­selves are Ami­ibo fig­urines that you pur­chase and input into the game. For exam­ple, GI has about 25 Ami­ibo, eight of which are Ani­mal Cross­ing related (Digby, Celeste, Isabelle, Vil­lager, Tom Nook, Mable, Rover and K.K. Slider) that can be used to play through a ses­sion. These char­ac­ters can col­lect points to unlock new out­fits and modes in the plaza based on game per­for­mance. The tie-in to the series ben­e­fits the otherwise-tired Mario Party for­mula and enhances the charm of what would prob­a­bly be a tire­some exer­cise in board game management.

Using some of that inher­ent charm of Ani­mal Cross­ing, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val plays well and looks great. There is a notable pas­tel sheen over every­thing in-game, but it still looks just like you’d expect Ani­mal Cross­ing to look: Bright, col­or­ful and smooth. Because we’re long past the janky block graph­ics of the orig­i­nal game, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is closer in style to the lat­est game in the series, New Leaf, and it works in its favor. The sound­track is also in line with the New Leaf era and it’s ser­vi­ca­ble. It’s not the main fea­ture of the game, so I’m not expect­ing it to reach the realm of New Leaf’s great tracks, but it’s not unpleas­ant so it works just fine for what it’s asked to do.

My main com­plaint about Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val, how­ever, has more to do with the pol­ish of the final prod­uct and some of the addi­tions. It feels as though there isn’t enough to do in-game, quite hon­estly. While the board game is fun, it’s not enough to keep me inter­ested long-term. The addi­tions in the plaza — mini-games that use Ani­mal Cross­ing ideas — are cute but get old quickly, and some are out­right frus­trat­ing, even for a long­time player like myself.

The trivia sec­tion, for exam­ple, tests your knowl­edge of the series. Set­ting aside the fact that there shouldn’t be a time limit to answer ques­tions that test your prowess of a series that has at least seven games, the ques­tions are incred­i­bly obscure most of the time and require that you have ency­clo­pe­dic mem­ory and under­stand­ing of how the series works. Most peo­ple just look­ing for a fun board game aren’t going to know the answers, let alone know them quickly. I have been play­ing Ani­mal Cross­ing since the “Pop­u­la­tion grow­ing!” days of 2003, and I had trou­ble with quite a few of the ques­tions asked. There should be more to do, more inter­ac­tion with the town that you play in and more of an attempt to dig deep into that well of seven games.

Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a unique take on a series that has man­aged to endure and improve over the past 15 years with new con­cepts and inno­va­tion. If there is some con­so­la­tion prize for stay­ing on this board, it’s know­ing that while it could use some pol­ish and flesh­ing out, Ami­ibo Fes­ti­val is a good roll of the dice and gam­ble that paid off for the Ani­mal Cross­ing franchise.

Maximo: Ghosts to Glory — 1Q2017 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Max­imo con­tin­ues the quest to res­cue the princess

I have a love and hate rela­tion­ship with Cap­com. For every game they develop and pub­lish that will be a smash hit by being more cre­ative and stick­ing to the basics, they churn out five or six copies of the same game with­out break­ing any new ground (i.e. Street Fighter V). I won’t even men­tion how they stud­ied the Kon­ami code of dis­pos­ing of one of their great­est game series and its leader. With this view of Cap­com off my chest, let’s look at a game that is orig­i­nal and has become a suc­ces­sor to the clas­sic games Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island: Max­imo: Ghosts to Glory.

You take the role of said char­ac­ter, Max­imo, who, after return­ing from a bat­tle to pro­tect his king­dom, finds out that his main lady Queen Sophia is cap­tured by his once-trusted adviser, Achille. To make mat­ters worse, Achille has devel­oped a drill that has pierced the under­world, allow­ing him to cre­ate an army of undead mon­sters to ter­ror­ize the king­dom. All is not lost as is seems that as Max­imo was free-falling, the Grim Reaper makes a deal for him to return to the liv­ing world in exchange for return­ing the lost souls to the under­world. Max­imo accepts and begins his quest to free Sophia and restore the peace taken by Achille.

Max­imo retains the ele­ments from Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins and Adven­ture Island but allows free­dom to explore all of the stages thanks to its 3D design. Max­imo has the abil­ity to run, jump and crouch to avoid ene­mies and is eas­ily con­trolled with use of the ana­log con­trol stick. Max­imo is also ready for bat­tle with his trusty sword and shield, which can be thrown at approach­ing ene­mies and capa­ble of wip­ing out all ene­mies on the screen if the right power-ups are applied. In addi­tion to his sword and shield, Max­imo has his armor which, if all the parts are gath­ered, he becomes invin­ci­ble for a brief period.

A heads up: Make sure that Max­imo keeps his armor as long as pos­si­ble since like Arthur in Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins, if Max­imo takes too many hits, he would be down to his box­ers, which would lead to his death if he takes another hit. Also, con­trol­ling Max­imo is not dif­fi­cult, but some prac­tice is rec­om­mended to get adjusted to mov­ing around.
The stages are excel­lently designed and guar­an­teed to make you feel that you’re in Maximo’s world. The game’s music is an enjoy­able mix of orig­i­nal and remas­tered tracks from the orig­i­nal Ghosts ‘N Gob­lins. The chal­lenge level is ridicu­lously high, guar­an­tee­ing great replay value.

Max­imo: Ghosts to Glory is one of those type of games that will please fans of old-school adven­ture gam­ing who want to play the genre with the lat­est tech­nol­ogy. In my opin­ion, Max­imo is also a exam­ple of what Cap­com can do when they allow cre­ativ­ity to flour­ish instead of always milk­ing their golden fran­chises to death.
Well done, Cap­com. Well done.

Balloon Fight — 1Q2017 issue

Fruit­less bal­loon showdowns

The best thing I can pos­si­bly say about Bal­loon Fight is that it’s inno­v­a­tive for its con­cepts at the time. Other than that, this isn’t a game I’d rec­om­mend to any­one beyond the age of 10 and even that’s push­ing it.

The premise is sim­ple: You play as the “Bal­loon Fighter,” who is tasked with stay­ing alive and defeat­ing ene­mies in increas­ingly dif­fi­cult stages. Two bal­loons are attached to the Fighter and to the ene­mies, and the Fighter must pop their bal­loons while avoid­ing his own being popped and other obsta­cles such as a large piranha, water and light­ning strikes. The Bal­loon Fighter is fairly stout and sturdy, see­ing as though he can take a lot of bump­ing and push­ing, but if he loses his bal­loons, it’s a lost life. There are bonus games and a dif­fer­ent mode, Bal­loon Trip, that takes the Fighter through an obsta­cle course to improve your rank and score.

This is all fine and well, but the con­trols turn what should be a fun and sim­ple game into a night­mare and a chore to actu­ally con­trol. The Fighter flaps his arms to stay afloat and even with both bal­loons still present, this is extra hard to do and main­tain. More often than not, I don’t lose bal­loons because an enemy popped them; it’s because I landed in the water, was eaten by the large fish or steered myself unwit­tingly into the light­ning I was des­per­ately try­ing to avoid. Pre­ci­sion fly­ing this is not. To get a sense of what it’s like to con­trol the Fighter, imag­ine if the hor­ri­ble Ice Climbers were fly­ing instead of jump­ing ter­ri­bly up a mountain.

And while the game is barely playable, the sound­track also man­ages to squeak by in pre­sen­ta­tion. It is a sad day when I declare that a sound­track from Metroid sound direc­tor Hip Tanaka is irre­deemable. There is noth­ing that makes me want to lis­ten to this, and nearly every­thing that Tanaka has cre­ated gets high marks from me. The songs aren’t mem­o­rable, there are few songs there any­way, and the lack of var­ied sound effects is dis­con­cert­ing. Add the sound­track woes to an under­whelm­ing graph­i­cal palette and the game over­all is a mess.

Despite the pedi­gree of folks who worked on the game (i.e. Shigeru Miyamoto as pro­ducer, Metroid designer/director Yoshio Sakamoto and Tanaka), Bal­loon Fight couldn’t be fur­ther away from the qual­ity of Nin­tendo clas­sics I want to play. Bal­loon Fight is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an older era of games that required a Her­culean amount of patience, which I am not pre­pared to give in this day and age where bet­ter games are available.

Bust-A-Move — 1Q2017 issue

Puz­zle Bobble’s break­out hit

Bub­ble Bob­ble isn’t super famous last I checked, but I learned who Bub and Bob were by the time I fin­ished their first puz­zle effort for the Super NES, the mid-90s appro­pri­ately named Bust-A-Move.

There’s much fun and mirth to be had in the bubble-popping title. There’s not much story other than Bub and Bob are pop­ping bub­bles to save a friend, who is trapped at the end (level 100). Once their friend is saved, that’s it. But, that’s assum­ing you can make it that far.

Bust-A-Move is incred­i­bly sim­ple to play but hard to mas­ter. The con­cept is easy to under­stand: aim a launcher and match three like-colored bub­bles. The bub­bles will fall off the play­ing field, clear­ing space and rows so that you can work toward clear­ing fur­ther bub­bles. After a cer­tain num­ber are cleared, the ceil­ing of the well low­ers, inch­ing closer to a vis­i­ble line. Once the line is crossed with a bub­ble, the game is over. Basi­cally, it’s reverse Tetris with bub­bles instead of lines. The trick­i­ness in mas­ter­ing the game comes in pop­ping the bub­bles. There are dif­fer­ent tech­niques to achiev­ing the results that you want, but it really comes down to know­ing how to aim and learn­ing the fabled bankshot off the side of the well.

With its sim­plic­ity in learn­ing, Bust-A-Move quickly dis­tin­guishes itself as fun to play. I requested the game for my 14th birth­day, and I’ve had a blast play­ing the orig­i­nal since. There are other games in the series, but this one is the best out of all of the sequels and spin­offs of the series. The con­trols aren’t too stiff, though some­times I have com­plaints about the par­tic­u­lar way a bub­ble bounces or sticks a lit­tle too eas­ily to the first bub­ble it comes close to. Yet, the con­trols aren’t horrible.

The sim­ple theme also shows in the graph­ics. Bust-A-Move is one of the bright­est and cutest games I’ve ever played. The col­ors pop and while you’re using col­ored bub­bles, they don’t nec­es­sar­ily inter­fere with the back­ground graph­ics, which could make for a con­fus­ing play field.

Bust-A-Move also gets a nod for its atten­tion paid to other modes such as Chal­lenge and the two-player bub­ble pop­ping. Chal­lenge is fun and a good test of skills: You’re tasked with pop­ping as many bub­bles as you can before it’s game over. It’s hard to pop a lot if you’re new to the game, but as your skills progress, you can and will see a dif­fer­ence in how long you man­age to last. The two-player mode is fun also, because you can either play against the com­puter or against another human player. Any game that gives me the option to play two-player against the com­puter auto­mat­i­cally gets a nod because that injects longevity into a title immediately.

There’s a decent amount of depth to Bust-A-Move and it cer­tainly makes for an inter­est­ing puz­zle dis­trac­tion on the SNES. It’s worth explor­ing the bubble-popping world with the orig­i­nal bub­ble eliminator.

Magical Tetris Challenge — 1Q2017 issue

When Tetris and Dis­ney col­lide

Mess­ing with an old and uni­ver­sally loved favorite such as Tetris is a risky propo­si­tion. You can get it right or mess it up hor­ri­bly, where it is for­ever known as the “messed up ver­sion of Tetris.” Luck­ily, Mag­i­cal Tetris Chal­lenge by Cap­com man­ages to dodge that label and add a few ele­ments to the main game to refresh an older title.

Mag­i­cal Tetris is, at its core, a fun game with lots of charm to spread around. There are mul­ti­ple modes to choose from and the vari­ety helps the replay fac­tor long after the nov­elty of com­bo­ing wears off. The story mode is the other mode most played at GI, and is based off the new Mag­i­cal Tetris mode. While I’m not fond of the cliffhanger by dif­fi­culty level method, the story is ser­vice­able and moves the action for­ward with a nice added Dis­ney touch. Main­stays such as Mickey, Min­nie, Don­ald and Goofy fill out the cast, though you can only play as these four.

Mag­i­cal Tetris earns its bread and but­ter in the way it builds on the Tetris for­mula. With Tetris in the name and designed to appeal to a mass audi­ence using that, Mag­i­cal Tetris starts out with the basics: Cre­ate and clear lines using seven letter-shaped pieces. Clear four lines and you get a Tetris.

Ah, but herein lies the addi­tions to Mag­i­cal Tetris and where the basics end and advanced play begins: For every line cleared, a small amount of energy is added to a magic meter. Fill up the magic meter and you get what we’ve termed at GI as a break­down: All pieces restruc­ture to cre­ate a neat space and a large por­tion of the well where your pieces fall is wiped clean. Also, clear­ing lines cre­ates com­bos, which can be coun­tered until a piece is shaped 10 by 10. Com­bos and coun­ters cre­ates a back and forth, dur­ing which oddly shaped pieces are cre­ated and fall into the play field. By set­ting up the pieces in a decent shape in your well, you can achieve what is called a pen­tris, or five lines cleared
simul­ta­ne­ously.

Com­bo­ing and coun­ter­ing makes the game­play fun and adds an increas­ing level of com­pet­i­tive­ness and urgency to every match. Even if you’re not the most Tetris-competent gamer, Mag­i­cal Tetris does an excel­lent job invit­ing all skill lev­els in to learn and get bet­ter. The basics are quickly explained and the advanced tech­niques are made plain as you go along. That helps in the fran­tic atmos­phere of a spir­ited two-player human match, where any­thing and usu­ally every­thing can happen.

The game shines in its visu­als, which ben­e­fit from that Dis­ney touch. The game is bright and col­or­ful and designed in the way of Dis­ney games and ani­ma­tion, mean­ing it’s top-notch through and through. The graph­ics are still good for an N64-era game and haven’t aged badly. The sound­track has aged well, too, and is still one of the best of the era. Each character’s stage is mem­o­rably themed and stands out enough for you to remem­ber it well after your game is over.
Hav­ing played the major­ity of the Tetris spin­offs and cre­ations out on the mar­ket for the past 30 years, I need to have some­thing that pushes me to play. Mag­i­cal Tetris suc­ceeds in adding to the Tetris for­mula just enough to buy its way in to my library and stick around through charm and abil­ity. This is an excel­lent Tetris spin job.

Devil May Cry 3 — 1Q2017 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of GiantBomb.com

Dance with the devil in Dante’s rebound adventure

When I finally got my own copy of Devil May Cry 3, I read that it brought back the melee action that made the first game awe­some to play, but it raised the bar for future install­ments of Capcom’s demon-slaying series. Was the praise heaped upon DMC3 well deserved or was this another way of Cap­com milk­ing a great game series dry for more cash? I got my answer in Devil May Cry 3: Dante’s Awak­en­ing, Spe­cial Edi­tion.
Set as a pre­quel to the orig­i­nal DMC, we find our fear­less demon hunter Dante begin­ning to set up shop when a mys­te­ri­ous man named Arkham arrives with a invi­ta­tion from Dante’s brother, Vergil. This “invi­ta­tion” turns into a demon-style, reveal­ing that Vergil has not only helped in res­ur­rect­ing a ancient demonic tower, but also he wants Dante’s amulet to open a por­tal to con­nect the human and with the demon worlds. Dante, of course, is not pleased and sets off to stop Vergil and his plans of world domination.

DMC3 starts from the begin­ning as an explo­sive non­stop melee with brief but impor­tant tuto­ri­als for play­ers to mas­ter Dante’s moves and his sig­na­ture weapons. In addi­tion to the tuto­ri­als, four dif­fer­ent com­bat­ive arts called “styles” are avail­able to Dante, giv­ing him var­i­ous abil­i­ties to increase the power of var­i­ous guns, strik­ing weapons, dodge attacks, and unleash­ing hand-to-hand com­bat with dev­as­tat­ing results. Once Dante defeats a cer­tain boss, he will be able to use them in the form of unique, var­i­ous weapons. There is a lock-on fea­ture to directly tar­get ene­mies that, with prac­tice, will be a valu­able tool to rip ene­mies apart. Also in the spe­cial edi­tion, there are two modes of play: Nor­mal, which is basic DMC speed; or, Turbo, where EVERYTHING is clocked up 20 times the nor­mal speed of the game to test your skills. Also, you can play the game not only as Dante, but also as Vergil, who has some seri­ous weaponry and moves that would make Jubei Yagyu be in awe.

The game music fits each level with a Phan­tom of the Opera type of feel while the bat­tle scenes uses an electronic/heavy metal beat that heats up the bat­tles. My only issue is that it’s repet­i­tive every time I fight ene­mies, but it’s well done nonethe­less. The voice act­ing in DMC is top-notch thanks to Reuben Lang­don as Dante and Daniel South­worth (Power Rangers: Time Force) as Vergil. Both actors did the motion cap­ture and voice work for their respec­tive characters.

With the good comes the bad, how­ever. While I appre­ci­ate the use of ana­log con­trol in addi­tion to mov­ing the screen cam­era around, the con­trols are tank-like. That is frus­trat­ing because if I’m sur­rounded by ene­mies, I’m easy pick­ings. Also, the auto­matic fir­ing abil­ity of Ebony and Ivory is still in DMC3 but it requires rapid press­ing instead of the fluid ease found in the first game. I also had to stock up (and I mean STOCK UP) on red orbs to pur­chase power ups for Dante and his weapons or learn new moves since the game was try­ing to do a stick-up job every time I need to make some upgrades. For­tu­nately, I could replay each mis­sion to get more orbs or level up.

DMC3 lives up to its high praise guar­an­tee­ing plenty of chal­lenge and replay value when you just want to get medieval on things but legally. This Spe­cial Edi­tion is a no-holds barred adven­ture in demon-slaying with the best in the busi­ness. If Cap­com wants to do a movie for Devil May Cry, I’m for it, but do it right; in other words Cap­com, stick to the story and the pay­day bonanza will take care of itself.

Mario quick hit reviews — 1Q2016 issue

Super Mario Land
Mario’s first adven­ture out­side of the Mush­room King­dom just hap­pens to also be his first in the portable sphere. Mario Land is a ser­vice­able adven­ture filled with the weird and dif­fer­ent (Tatanga, any­one?), but it’s still good Mario. The mechan­ics resem­ble SMB, and the graph­ics keep things famil­iar enough despite space­ships and pyra­mids mak­ing an appear­ance. Keep this early Mario as an option on the go.

Score: 3.5 out of 5

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
Mario’s sec­ond hand­held adven­ture is a step up in terms of … every­thing. There are more power ups, more stages and more ene­mies to take on, includ­ing Wario, who is intro­duced to the world at large here. The six tit­u­lar golden coins mean more places to explore and more to do, which is always help­ful in a Mario title. The con­trols get a lit­tle crisper and the graph­ics are gor­geous for a hand­held title. This is one to own, even if you’re not a super Mario fan.

Score: 4 out of 5

Mario Kart: Super Cir­cuit
Mario’s first foray into the hand­held kart­ing side of things is a mixed bag. On the one hand, it’s Super Mario Kart finally on a hand­held sys­tem. That instantly makes it worth check­ing out by itself. On the other hand, the dif­fi­culty and rat­ing sys­tem make it a frus­trat­ing expe­ri­ence. If you’re used to the rub­ber band AI from the two pre­vi­ous titles, you’ll find it well worn here. And good luck get­ting the max num­ber of coins and stars pos­si­ble in the bid to max out the game. But, it’s still decent Mario Kart over­all and the game plays exactly like you’d expect. That’s a win­ning attribute that helps sal­vage this race.

Score: 2.5 out of 5

Super Mario Bros. 2 (JP) — 1Q2016 issue

Super Mario Bros. 2 an uneven, heavy-handed sequel

If there were ever a time when Mario was con­sid­ered not to be fun, this would be it. I have always had a major fas­ci­na­tion with Mario and the Mush­room King­dom, but the true sequel to one of the great­est games of all time made me wish I didn’t go down the rab­bit hole.
At first glance, SMB 2 is your typ­i­cal sequel: Improved graph­ics and new con­cepts, such as the addi­tion of the Poi­so­nous Mush­room. But there’s imme­di­ately some­thing off putting about the game. It’s famil­iar yet for­eign. A lot of the same ene­mies are used and the game has a lot of the same story-specific ele­ments as its pre­de­ces­sor. The objec­tive remains the same: Save Princess Peach from the invad­ing Koopa army. But this is where things take sin­is­ter and not-so-pleasant turn.
I’m not going to beat around the bush: The dif­fi­culty level is not friendly. If you didn’t start with Super Mario Bros., stop right now and go back and study up that game. The sequel is designed to be set up and buoyed by the orig­i­nal. If you start here, you’re set­ting your­self up for fail­ure.
The new lev­els were designed to take “super” play­ers to task and show them that Mario isn’t the cake­walk they thought him to be. So, born from that are Sisyphean efforts such as warps that return you to an ear­lier part of the level; or my favorite: The fact that using level warps at all pre­vents advance­ment to the real end­ing of the game. This is Ghouls and Ghosts before Ghouls and Ghosts.
This frus­trat­ing tac­tic of pun­ish­ing the player for being too good is exactly why the fol­low up to Super Mario Bros. would have never flown in Amer­ica and why we didn’t see the game until a full five years after its release in Japan. Peo­ple tra­di­tion­ally play Mario to relax, not be thrown back­ward in a never-ending loop of anger and frus­tra­tion. This doesn’t appeal to the mass play­ers and it’s cheap and per­verse that Mario is used in this way.
While it’s not the same Mario in a lot of respects, the same old charm is present. The whim­si­cal jaunt through the Mush­room King­dom is now fraught with all types of dan­ger, but it’s still pretty to behold. And the music is still the main act of beauty and source of joy in what is a dark skip through the for­est of Mario. Some­how, through all of the anger, Koji Kondo’s mas­ter­pieces never seem to get old.
For the sake of your con­trollers, I sug­gest invest­ing in cheat codes to get through SMB 2. It’s one of the few games I would ever give this advice about to beat.
We Amer­i­cans might be lazy and unchal­lenged (editor’s note: Nin­tendo con­firmed that this is the real rea­son why we received the much-easier-but-still-hard SMB 2 USA/Doki Doki Panic ripoff), but at least our con­trollers remain intact and whole, no thanks in small part to get­ting a far eas­ier ver­sion of Mario 2. Super Frus­tra­tion Bros. would have been a more apro­pos title for the sequel to the great­est game of all time.

Mario Kart 64 — 1Q2016 issue

Mario Kart’s grow­ing pains

Mario Kart has always been an inter­est­ing expe­ri­ence. Com­bin­ing go-karting and Mario has and is a recipe for suc­cess for Nin­tendo, quite hon­estly. And, by the time Nin­tendo got around to mak­ing the sequel to the smash hit Super Mario Kart, they knew they had a sure­fire mas­sive hit on their hands.
Mario Kart 64 takes every­thing you loved about the first game and immea­sur­ably increases it. The Mario char­ac­ters, the tracks, the secrets; every­thing about Mario Kart 64 is bet­ter than the orig­i­nal in every respect. Dri­ving has improved with bet­ter steer­ing qual­i­ties for all char­ac­ters includ­ing the bonafied intro­duc­tion of pow­er­s­lid­ing. Mas­ter­ing pow­er­s­lid­ing means a world of dif­fer­ence in race times, espe­cially when you have brag­ging rights at stake. Old mechan­ics, such as the weight class con­cept, are still present but it seems every­one has a bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion with respect to how a class really con­trols. The light­weights feel like, well, light­weights. The heavy­weights actu­ally feel like they’re heavy to han­dle.
While I’m an admit­ted long-term Mario Kart afi­cionado, I have to admit that if you’re going to get into Mario Kart, this is the title to do so with. It’s not hard to pick up MK64 and grasp the mechan­ics. It’s also easy to play with friends who under­stand the nuances of Mario Kart so that you’re not left behind for very long. And it’s the play­ing with oth­ers that makes this one of the best party games ever cre­ated. MK64 has Bat­tle Mode as its ace in the hole and it makes it one of the first quin­tes­sen­tial party games, along­side Gold­en­eye, Super Smash Bros. and Mario Party.
With all that it has going for it, how­ever, there a few minor draw­backs. First, if rub­ber band AI both­ers you, this is not the game for you. MK64’s AI is one of the worst offend­ers of the rub­ber band­ing prac­tice and it gets worse as you go through the sin­gle player race cam­paign. Com­bine that with the pun­ish­ing dif­fi­culty of 100cc and 150cc races and you have a frus­trat­ing, controller-throwing mess. Sec­ond, this is the sec­ond game after Mario 64 where Mario char­ac­ters are vocal­ized. I promise you will get tired of hear­ing char­ac­ters say their favorite phrase long before you fin­ish any of the modes. It gets old quickly and makes one wish they could turn the sound off, except that you’ll real­ize quickly that the sound­track is actu­ally great. This, how­ever, is the game that turned me against Mario char­ac­ters talk­ing.
Mario Kart 64 is polar­iz­ing to some play­ers: Some think it’s one of the great­est kart rac­ing games ever made while oth­ers hate it. I tend to be in the mid­dle; it’s a great entry in the kart rac­ing genre, but there are some fairly major quirks with how it plays to throw a wrench into things. I like to think that the fun and the qual­ity asso­ci­ated with Mario Kart boosts it out of the mid­dle of the pack.