Naruto Clash of Ninja 2 — 3Q2020 issue

Retro Naruto revis­its Chunin Exams arc

When it comes to the Naruto video game fran­chise, com­pli­cated con­cepts have never been part of the equa­tion. There’s noth­ing remotely hard about any of the games under the ban­ner and almost all are known for their pick up and play abil­ity. So, it stands to rea­son that the Naruto: Clash of Ninja series is easy to start and get into it, and that rea­son­ing is cor­rect. Clash of Ninja 2 con­tin­ues the acces­si­bil­ity that the series is known for.

Naruto is a great long-running starter series if you’re just get­ting into anime. The basic premise of the anime is the basis of Clash of Ninja as well: A strong-willed boy from a world of nin­jas strives to be the best he can be and one day become the leader of his vil­lage. Because of a dev­as­tat­ing attack on his vil­lage the night he was born, Naruto is orphaned and ostra­cized by his fel­low vil­lagers while host­ing a crea­ture known as the Nine-tailed Fox. He grad­u­ates from his village’s acad­emy and is placed on a team fea­tur­ing his crush Sakura and his rival Sasuke while learn­ing team­work and the ways of nin­jutsu. Clash of Ninja 2 fol­lows the first half of the series, with Naruto work­ing with his team­mates through the Chunin (first level) exams that the ninja acad­emy grad­u­ates face.

Clash of Ninja 2 does an admirable telling the begin­ning part of the story of Naruto, story-wise. Because the begin­ning of Naruto is sim­ple to under­stand and fol­low, the punch of char­ac­ters and addi­tions aren’t over­whelm­ing, and it’s easy to keep up with the action and char­ac­ter moti­va­tion. Every­one is rec­og­niz­able from the anime and it’s easy enough to actu­ally fol­low the story and learn more about the anime with­out the filler that the series is known for.

Graph­i­cally, Clash of Ninja looks just like the anime, which is a bonus in its favor. The game is gor­geous and bright, and it accom­plishes the goal of mak­ing you feel like you’re play­ing the anime instead of a game. Like­wise, the music and voice act­ing are great and feel and sound like they were pulled directly from the anime’s soundtrack.

Mov­ing around within Clash of Ninja 2 is a solid expe­ri­ence. It’s easy to pull off moves and com­bos, and coun­ters are easy to under­stand and get the hang of with a lit­tle prac­tice. My only prob­lem is that every­one seems to play the same way, so there’s not much vari­ety in the movesets. The char­ac­ter you choose is merely cos­metic with the movesets and mechan­ics not chang­ing from char­ac­ter to char­ac­ter. Other than that, the abil­ity to jump right in and get to work is a wel­come and refresh­ing change of pace in a cat­e­gory of gam­ing known for its sometimes-challenging mechanics.

Even though there have been more games released in the Clash of Ninja series and other Naruto fight­ing games added to its lengthy reper­toire, Clash of Ninja 2 is just where you need to start if you’re want­ing to get into fight­ing games and have a love for anime or Naruto. With a wealth of modes, great visu­als and facil­i­tated abil­ity to ease into game­play, this is one well-regarded ninja.

Wrath of the Black Manta — 2Q2019 issue

Ninja copy fails Black Manta

Peo­ple were appar­ently wild about nin­jas in the ’80s. Really wild. I’m guess­ing this because it seems to be a mil­lion and one games about nin­jas that were made in the 1980s. These were all made with var­i­ous degrees of suc­cess in get­ting the point across about the ninja expe­ri­ence. Out of the coterie there were two that stood out: Ninja Gaiden, a time­less clas­sic in the way of the ninja arts; and, Wrath of the Black Manta. Note that we did not use any sort of kind trib­ute for the lat­ter. There is myr­iad rea­sons for this distinction.

Wrath of the Black Manta is your stan­dard adven­ture game cen­tered on find­ing miss­ing chil­dren in New York City, the appar­ent bas­tion of all evil and where the most heinous crimes take place in the video game world. A drug fiend named El Toro is hell­bent on turn­ing these chil­dren into addicts and it’s up to you and your ninja skills to make Toro get down or lay down with the War on Drugs.™

The premise is run of the mill, the con­trols con­fus­ing and clunky and the action extremely repet­i­tive. The back­grounds do change from level to level and there is a lot of ground to cover. But, all you’re going to do is walk around search­ing ware­houses for chil­dren and gang­ing up on infor­mants from the car­tel to get infor­ma­tion. What should be an absolute clean sweep is a clus­ter because get­ting that infor­ma­tion with­out being killed from ridicu­lous hits is a nightmare.

The fact that most of the action is ripped off from the infi­nitely bet­ter and more inter­est­ing Ninja Gaiden doesn’t help here because you’re going to die a lot from ter­ri­ble jump­ing and those afore­men­tioned hits from ene­mies. The sound­track also does Manta no favors as it’s just barely ser­vice­able. Even the art is ripped off from some­where else: Word on those mean streets of NYC is that some of the art was taken straight from the book “How to Draw Comics the Mar­vel Way” when the Japan­ese ver­sion was ported to the U.S. I’m guess­ing they thought no one would notice, but it goes over with the sub­tlety of a ton of bricks. Speak­ing of a lack of sub­tlety, the obvi­ous “stay away from drugs, kids, if you want to live” mes­sage and the hit-you-over-the-head irony of char­ac­ters named Tiny (a in no way sur­pris­ingly large boss char­ac­ter who tries to stomp you to death in the first level) means you’re in for a long ride with this whether you want to or not.

The key to this bat­tle is, if you want to play a ninja adven­ture just play the released at the same time Ninja Gaiden. Gaiden is far supe­rior in every way and has more appeal in terms of story. Wrath of the Black Manta is the poor man’s Ninja Gaiden and is in no way stealthy enough in its sub­tlety to earn any sort of title of ninja anything.

Cool Spot — 2Q2019 issue

A refresh­ing platformer

Every so often there will be a licensed game that’s actu­ally worth some­thing. It will have a great sound­track and decent con­trols and not be so obnox­iously unplayable that legions of older gamers remem­ber it with a cer­tain hatred that burns deep within their soul to be passed down through gen­er­a­tions to come. Cool Spot, licensed from Pepsi part­ner 7UP, is the excep­tion to the norm. If you’re expect­ing a half-baked idea of plat­form­ing solely because it’s a mas­cot, think again. This romp to release sen­tient lit­tle red dots is actu­ally not half bad and has genre-redeeming qualities.

Cool Spot starts off innocu­ous enough. Spot must res­cue its friends, who are trapped through­out 11 lev­els in cages. Why its friends are trapped, we’ll never know but it’s up to Spot to res­cue them and lec­ture you about not drink­ing dark sodas. Spot’s tra­ver­sal through these 11 lev­els is noth­ing short of amaz­ing despite the ram­pant prod­uct place­ment. It’s sur­pris­ingly good, with solid con­trols that don’t make con­trol­ling Spot a chore, and com­pe­tent sim­ple mechan­ics that don’t get in the way: It’s mostly jump­ing and shoot­ing mag­i­cal sparks at ene­mies and barred gates. The life sys­tem — hilar­i­ously denoted by an ever-peeling and dete­ri­o­rat­ing pic­ture of Spot — is more than gen­er­ous and there are helper power ups galore to get through lev­els. The lev­els them­selves have a lot of depth and are timed just right with enough time to explore or get the bare min­i­mum expe­ri­ence in the search for Spot’s miss­ing friend.

While Spot might be on a prod­uct placement-filled jour­ney, it’s a lushly drawn trip. Cool Spot is no slouch when it comes to the audio-visual depart­ment. The back­grounds are drawn with Spot mov­ing through an obvi­ously human world at about 25 per­cent of the size of every­thing else. It isn’t big at all but the world sur­round­ing it is and it shows in the sheer scale, though my only gripe with the game comes here: The back­grounds, while beau­ti­ful, are recy­cled except for a few stages. At least the first three stages are repeated and reused, just with new stage names and some recol­or­ing in spots.

While you’re soak­ing up the beauty of it all, how­ever, the sound­track is rock­ing in the back­ground. Cool Spot is one of the best sound­tracks for the Super Nin­tendo and should be in every gamer’s library. Mag­nif­i­cent pro­duc­tion val­ues, crisp audio and nice, deep bass lines make for some inter­est­ing tracks that don’t sound like stan­dard 16-bit audio. Tommy Tal­larico, pre-Video Games Live fame, put obvi­ous love and care into the audio and it shows. It’s one of the best sound­tracks for its time.

Cool Spot has a lot to offer in the way of good ’90s plat­form­ing. If you can work around the prod­uct place­ment and shilling for the 7Up brand, you’ll find an uncom­pli­cated hop-and-bop with depth and a bang­ing sound­track that’s sur­pris­ingly refreshing.

Animal Crossing Pocket Camp — 2Q2019 issue

Camp­ing with friends

My love affair with Ani­mal Cross­ing began in 2003, a year after the Game­Cube ver­sion was released in the U.S. It wasn’t enough to merely start a life with a char­ac­ter — known as Rubes(kitty) — in my pro­ce­du­rally gen­er­ated town known as Tokyo; I had to col­lect every­thing in my cat­a­logue, build my house into a man­sion and catch every insect and fish just for com­ple­tion sake. In the ensu­ing 16 years, I have played every iter­a­tion of Ani­mal Cross­ing avail­able. So, you can imag­ine my pal­pa­ble joy when a mobile ver­sion of Ani­mal Cross­ing was announced in 2016. Cue Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pocket Camp in 2017, and I’m still going strong in my quest to build the per­fect camp.

Pocket Camp is a spin­off of the main Ani­mal Cross­ing series but retains ele­ments of the series. Famil­iar tasks such as pay­ing off your debt for your liv­ing quar­ters, com­plet­ing requests for ani­mals that visit or improv­ing your finances through item sales are abun­dant in the Pocket Camp land­scape. New to the series is the timed rota­tion of the ani­mals that are in one of four loca­tions scat­tered around the land­scape. Four ani­mals will be in these loca­tions with options to talk to you and request items; whether you choose to give them the spe­cific items they request or just chat it up for expe­ri­ence points is up to you. Also new are the afore­men­tioned expe­ri­ence points. Each ani­mal has a meter that gauges their friend­ship level with you. The higher the level, the more rewards they give in exchange for items they request. The rewards are also new, usu­ally in the form of Leaf Tick­ets and raw mate­ri­als that are used in craft­ing fur­ni­ture and clothes that can be used to dec­o­rate your camp site and RV.

Pocket Camp, in its most sim­plis­tic form, is a dumbed down portable Ani­mal Cross­ing main game that requires inven­tory man­age­ment and micro trans­ac­tions. And it’s a sat­is­fy­ing way to get that quick Ani­mal Cross­ing fix. Much like the main series, it’s relax­ing and fun to pop in and check with the camp site to see what’s hap­pen­ing, pick up some gifts or get involved in fes­ti­vals and events at my own leisure. Time is still mea­sured real­is­ti­cally, and insects and fish are still viable at cer­tain times, though the sea­son require­ment is not in use. Money is still prac­ti­cally around every cor­ner, and it’s eas­ier than ever to pay off the debt of upgrad­ing your hum­ble abode when rare bugs and fish are more plen­ti­ful this time around. It’s also quite nice to be able to buy items from other play­ers world­wide in an item mar­ket­place with the Mar­ket Boxes option. The econ­omy that has devel­oped still has some work to do, but the abil­ity to find rare insects, fruit, shells and fish for sale from other friends and strangers is a great start.

For a long­time Ani­mal Cross­ing player, the fun in Pocket Camp is imme­di­ately there but not with­out some caveats. After a cer­tain point, the in-game cur­rency of Bells ceases to be a prob­lem. While scarce in the early going, Bells aren’t an issue once the final upgrade for the RV is obtained and paid off. I now reg­u­larly have about 1.8 mil­lion Bells on hand daily and can’t spend it fast enough on things other than craft­ing and a rare item inven­tory econ­omy that has con­ve­niently sprung up in my friends list. This is like the issue of Bells in the main series so while it’s not sur­pris­ing, it’s still an issue that needs to be reme­died with more things to do. And, the price of Leaf Tick­ets is a bit much. Their addi­tion is help­ful, but their pric­ing should be adjusted. Also, in-game cur­rency should be allowed to be used to buy Leaf Tick­ets. That would give another rea­son to hoard money later in the game.

While it might not be a main­line game, Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pocket Camp is still a neat and wel­come addi­tion to the Ani­mal Cross­ing fran­chise. With its con­tin­ued updates and addi­tions, the Ani­mal Cross­ing pop­u­la­tion is still growing.

1942 — 2Q2019 issue

Pacific bat­tles fly in 8-bit form

Capcom’s warfight­ing 1940 series reminds me of the good times when arcade gam­ing ruled my week­ends and I was for­tu­nate to find some rare gems that later became gam­ing clas­sics. Dur­ing that time, I played 1942 in the arcade and on the NES and walked away from this expe­ri­ence with some valu­able infor­ma­tion: 1. The first game in a series may or may not guar­an­tee future suc­cess; and, 2. The cre­ators of some of our favorite games had to cut their teeth on low-tier games before they received the big breaks that made them what they are today. One of those games is 1942.

1942 is a vertical-scrolling shooter that takes place on the Pacific front of World War II. You take con­trol of a P-38 Light­ning plane assigned to go to Tokyo and destroy the Impe­r­ial Air Force fleet.

Game­play of 1942 is sim­ple: You can move either ver­ti­cally or hor­i­zon­tally. Con­sist­ing of 32 stages, the P-38 will be chal­lenged by Ki-61s, A6M Zeros, and Ki-48s with a long-range bomber known as G8N as level bosses. To give the P-38 Light­ning a fight­ing chance against these planes, it can do air rolls or ver­ti­cal loops. If you time your attacks right, some planes will drop upgraded fire­power or an escort team of two smaller fighter planes to com­bat the relent­less assault from planes that WILL attempt to knock you out of the skies, espe­cially if you’re just tak­ing off from your air­craft carrier.

While I liked 1942, there are some issues that annoyed me. Tim­ing of move­ments, includ­ing the ver­ti­cal drops and air rolls, must be pre­cise because of the high chance of being shot down by enemy planes. Also, you must watch for attack­ing planes in front and behind as the Ki-48s are mas­ter­ful at get­ting the unsus­pected into close-area shootouts, which will reduce the num­ber of lives quickly.

The music qual­ity of 1942 is an acquired taste as the repeated use of a snare drum made me think that Cap­com phoned in a lack­lus­ter drum beat, which made me turn the vol­ume down to con­tinue play­ing. The chal­lenge is decent since you will be on your toes to avoid enemy fire non­stop. It has strong replay value and would be a great time-killer as a nos­tal­gia trip for arcade vet­er­ans. Also, it’s a great exam­ple for those who want to know how side-scrolling games played a major impact in the gam­ing world.

1942 serves not only as an icon in gaming’s hall of fame but also dou­bles as one of Capcom’s entries into the gam­ing world. It helps that 1942 was the start of look­ing at Cap­com as an up-and-coming game com­pany want­ing to expand beyond its home of Osaka, Japan.

Fun facts:

    • The P-38, Ki-61, A6M and Ki-48 were actual war planes used heav­ily in the Pacific Con­flict between the U.S. and Japan. The com­pa­nies who built them — Lock­heed Mar­tin, Kawasaki, and Mit­subishi — are well-established in the defense indus­try and con­tinue to play vital roles in var­i­ous areas of aero­space tech­nol­ogy.
    • 1942 was Yoshiki Okamoto’s debut game for Cap­com. He was also the orig­i­nal game designer of Konami’s Gyruss. Because of inter­nal dis­putes involv­ing pay, he was fired from Kon­ami. After 1942’s suc­cess, Okamoto remained at Cap­com where he played an impor­tant role in pro­duc­ing Final Fight, Street Fighter II and Biohazard/Resident Evil. He retired from game devel­op­ment for con­soles in 2012 and is cur­rently devel­op­ing games for var­i­ous mobile devices.

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.

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.

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.

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.