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.

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.

Super Mario 64 — 1Q2016 issue

Mar­i­o’s great­est evolution 

Most of the gam­ing world would agree that Super Mario 64 is one of the great­est games of all time. I would agree also except for two things: First, the game gives me a tremen­dous headache after about 10 min­utes of play; and, sec­ond, I’m not like most people.
See, where I have a prob­lem with Mario 64 is where most peo­ple don’t have a prob­lem. Don’t get me wrong; I love the leap for­ward that presents itself as soon as you boot up the game for the first time. I was — and still am — in awe of the won­der­ment that is see­ing Mario in 3D after play­ing 2D Mario games for the major­i­ty of my gam­ing career. How­ev­er, I’m not in con­cert with the idea that it’s one of the great­est games of all time. Why? Just because it was the first to ful­ly real­ize a for­mer­ly 2D char­ac­ter in 3D splen­dor? Because it’s Mario and just because it’s Mario? 
No, I can’t form my opin­ion or even include the game in the con­ver­sa­tion of great­est game of all time just because of any of those things. There has to be some valid rea­son­ing and while there are some great points for it, I’m not sold 100 percent.
Mario 64, graph­i­cal­ly, is steps ahead of almost every­thing for the Nin­ten­do 64. Note that I said almost. 
Most games don’t hold a can­dle to Mario in ful­ly real­ized 3D and, even with his polyg­o­nal block style as with most ear­ly N64 games, Mario still looks like a king. Peach’s Palace is inter­est­ing­ly laid out and the graph­i­cal qual­i­ty of the cas­tle still blows away the com­pe­ti­tion 20 years lat­er. Watch­ing Mario run around, run and jump and be Mario but in a non-2D sprite is pure heav­en for Mario lovers like myself. 
But there’s that block­i­ness that I men­tioned before. It’s obvi­ous through­out and can be jar­ring from time to time. And for motion sick­ness suf­fer­ers like myself, the 3D is nigh unbear­able. It’s all I can do not to vom­it after 20 min­utes, so my play­time is imme­di­ate­ly lim­it­ed because of the visu­als. I should not be want­i­ng to vom­it after play­ing a Mario game.
The sound­track makes up for the ill­ness-induc­ing game­play. The sound­track is fan­tas­tic and it’s wor­thy of a main­line Mario game, eas­i­ly. From run­ning around in the plains of Bob-omb Bat­tle­field to tra­vers­ing numer­ous obsta­cles to take on the King of the Koopas, Mario 64 is a dream come true in terms of audio pleasure. 
And, this is, after all, the first com­mer­cial game where Mario actu­al­ly speaks. It’s a joy to hear him squeal and squawk for the first time as he explores the var­i­ous worlds. 
With all of my neg­a­tive sen­ti­ments about the leap from 2D to 3D for Mario, I still appre­ci­ate the mas­ter­piece that is Mario 64. Ground­break­ing and simul­ta­ne­ous­ly frustrating? 
Yes. But it’s frus­tra­tion worth hav­ing even if it takes a tum­ble down my list of great­est games ever.

Paper Mario — 1Q2016 issue

A ser­vice­able tale on paper

The moment you know Mario has gone on too many adven­tures is when you know you’ve played way too much Mario. Paper Mario, the sequel to the hard-to-top Super Mario RPG, is when I knew I’d played way too much Mario and seemed to expect way too much from a Mario game. The joke, how­ev­er, was on me as I real­ized that an in-depth and long adven­ture await­ed, and a sto­ry was to be told here that need­ed to be told after the high­light of RPG.
Paper Mario starts out much like any oth­er Mario game: The princess has been kid­napped and Mario needs to save her. How­ev­er, there’s a twist in the danse macabre that is Mario and Bowser’s eter­nal strug­gle over Peach. Bows­er has man­aged to get his hands on the Star Rod, impris­ons most of the wish-grant­i­ng com­mu­ni­ty and has lit­er­al­ly abscond­ed with Peach and her court into the sky. This is the point at which you should be say­ing, “Real­ly Bows­er? You just helped save your uni­verse in RPG and you’re back to cre­at­ing prob­lems again?” But, nev­er­the­less, the sto­ry must go on and Paper Mario fills that void nice­ly with an engag­ing tale of team­work and cama­raderie. I was most impressed with the depth of the char­ac­ters and the deft way Intel­li­gent Sys­tems fleshed out the world of Mario and some of his nev­er-before-seen allies who come from all walks of the Mario life. 
Anoth­er impres­sive part of the tale is the tongue-in-cheek humor sprin­kled lib­er­al­ly through­out. Paper Mario isn’t afraid to be self-ref­er­en­tial or pinch off oth­er games when it calls for shak­ing up the rou­tine “Mario saves Peach” bit. 
Spoil­ers ahead: There is a sec­tion that calls for a cer­tain princess to become a vir­tu­al Sol­id Snake-like char­ac­ter and it imme­di­ate­ly calls forth images of Met­al Gear Sol­id. That kind of bor­row­ing is the kind of thing that’s allowed and plays well with­in the con­text that Mario is the king of all that he sur­veys and even in his spin­off titles, he can still run with the best of the best, pay homage and still come out smelling like roses.
In his sec­ond RPG out­ing, Mario still plays just as well as his first attempt in the role-play­ing sphere. Paper looks like and plays out like a sto­ry­book, which is fresh and invit­ing to old diehards like myself. The mechan­ics are sim­ple to learn and are lay­ered enough that an expe­ri­enced RPGer can jump right in and under­stand what’s going on with­out much explanation. 
If you played the first game, con­cepts such as timed defense, timed offense and first hits will make sense. It’s that kind of ref­er­enc­ing that makes the game a suc­cess: It’s easy to pick up and play, regard­less of your lev­el of famil­iar­i­ty with the series’ system.
My main gripe, though, is that the game feels sprawl­ing and slight­ly dis­joint­ed at times. That’s a great prob­lem to have actu­al­ly, but there are times when back­track­ing and the seem­ing­ly end­less sid­e­quests tend to dis­tract from the main goal. Still, I’d rather have that prob­lem than be bored with noth­ing to sup­port the main story. 
Also, as a rather nit­picky side gripe, the final boss fight is one of the most aggra­vat­ing fights I have ever experienced. 
I was eas­i­ly in that bat­tle for half an hour sole­ly because of the boss’ abil­i­ty to heal, not because I was doing any­thing par­tic­u­lar­ly wrong. If, at the end of the bat­tle, I say, “I will nev­er fight this end bat­tle again,” there is a prob­lem there. 
It was as if it was pro­tract­ed and drawn out for the sake of being a hard boss battle. 
My issues aside, though, I had an engag­ing and mem­o­rable time play­ing through and I couldn’t wait to work through a new chap­ter in the saga that was Paper Mario. This is a tale you lit­er­al­ly can’t put down.

Super Mario Maker — 1Q2016 issue

 

A mas­ter­piece in the making

Super Mario Mak­er is the Mario game that isn’t quite the stan­dard Mario fare but is the game you didn’t know you need­ed. It is, along­side few oth­ers, the killer app for the Wii U.
Let’s start with what Mario Mak­er isn’t. This isn’t your reg­u­lar Mario hop and bop, save the princess adven­ture. In fact, lit­tle sto­ry if any exists and Peach is bare­ly men­tioned or ref­er­enced. This is Mario stripped down to his bare ele­ments, show­ing how his adven­tures come togeth­er. It’s also real­ly an excuse to revis­it Mario’s past and get some of the new­er enthu­si­asts up to speed, just in time for Mario’s 30th birthday.
The stage is set by uti­liz­ing some of Mario’s great­est games. Mak­ing an appear­ance are ele­ments from the orig­i­nal plat­form­ing mas­ter­pieces Super Mario Bros. and Super Mario Bros. 3. Join­ing those are sec­ondary great­est hit Super Mario World and the more recent hit New Super Mario Bros. U. All four games rep­re­sent some crown­ing achieve­ment for the every­day plumber and thus have some mer­it for mak­ing you revis­it these set pieces to cre­ate your own masterpiece.
Cre­at­ing that mas­ter­piece is sim­ple and intu­itive. The lev­el edi­tor focus­es on lev­els, not worlds, and wise­ly makes the process quick and pain­less. Want to make a lev­el with 10 Bowsers under­wa­ter only to face off against a lone Ham­mer Bros. before the end gate in Super Mario world style and graph­ics? That’s easy. But this is also where the only gripe that I have with the game rears its head. While you may want to make that stun­ning gaunt­let of pain imme­di­ate­ly, you’re lim­it­ed because of the game’s unlock­ing sys­tem. Game styles beyond the initial two and ulti­mate­ly the major­i­ty of your cre­ation library are unlocked via a time sys­tem that goes by days. You can speed it up, but it’s intend­ed to make you the cre­ator spend sev­er­al days try­ing out the sys­tem and get­ting a feel for new ele­ments in a paced envi­ron­ment. I can appre­ci­ate the sense of not want­i­ng too many ele­ments all at once, but the sys­tem is a lit­tle slow and frus­trat­ing when I have a mil­lion ideas that I can’t ful­ly imple­ment for sev­er­al days initially.
Mario Mak­er looks fan­tas­tic for the most part. The non-lev­el edi­tor graph­ics look great and are crisp. The game runs off the Wii U graph­i­cal pow­er so while your new­er game styles and non-edi­tor graph­ics look good on the Wii U gamepad and on the TV, your old­er graph­ics for most of the styles are going to look a lit­tle bad at 1080p res­o­lu­tion on a new­er TV. Nin­ten­do took a risk in not jazz­ing up the old­er game styles and it paid off, quite hon­est­ly. I’d rather play a SMB3 lev­el in the way that it would have looked on the orig­i­nal NES than a fixed ver­sion that’s been changed.
In addi­tion to the graph­ics, the sound­track is a mix of new and old. The main themes asso­ci­at­ed with each game style and lev­el type (Ground, Under­wa­ter, Under­ground, Cas­tle, Air­ship and Ghost House) are remixed for use dur­ing the edit­ing process. They are found, though, in their orig­i­nal form when an actu­al lev­el is played. The remix­es are great and bring some­thing new to the table, while using the orig­i­nal ver­sion does a lot for immer­sion. The game’s illu­sions to spir­i­tu­al pre­de­ces­sor Mario Paint don’t hurt, either. It, too, had a unique sound­track and hear­ken­ing back to that era of cre­ativ­i­ty in sev­er­al places such as the sound­track is a  wel­come inclusion.
What I love most about Mario Mak­er is its sense of Mario love. It’s not afraid to let the gamer take con­trol and it’s also about Nin­ten­do let­ting folks in to see the wheels turn behind one of its most icon­ic fran­chis­es. Nin­ten­do clear­ly loves Mario, whether it’s from a mon­e­ti­za­tion point of tak­ing its inter­nal lev­el edi­tor and turn­ing it loose on the pop­u­la­tion, or from the stand­point that Mario is Nin­ten­do and he’s been giv­en the roy­al treat­ment for a job well done for the past 30 years. Super Mario Mak­er is the company’s love let­ter to Mario fans and well done let­ter at that.

Donkey Kong Jr. — 3Q2015 issue

Like father, like son

I don’t believe there is any­one who reads GI who doesn’t know that I don’t care for Don­key Kong. By now, it should be painful­ly obvi­ous that I don’t care for the simian’s retro exploits or his more recent out­ings, either. It’s not that I don’t respect what the great ape has done for gam­ing; it’s more that I feel he gets cred­it for mediocre-to-hor­ri­ble games. Don­key Kong Jr. falls on the low­er end of the spectrum.
Much the same tripe as the orig­i­nal, you’re tasked with sav­ing some­one by mov­ing across hell and high water. But wait, this time it’s dif­fer­ent! No, you aren’t sav­ing Pauline this time around; no, you’re Don­key Kong Jr., the scion of Kong­dom sav­ing your incor­ri­gi­ble father from the clutch­es of evil human Mario. The fact that anoth­er ape has to save his parental fig­ure from Mario in a com­plete role rever­sal begs sev­er­al ques­tions: Where was Junior when his father was kid­nap­ping inno­cent maid­ens and run­ning ram­pant? Why would Mario even both­er to kid­nap the great ape in the first place? Sure, there’s the motive of revenge, but you’re nev­er going to get your ques­tion answered, try as you might. You just have to accept that DK needs sav­ing and it’s up to you, his reli­able off­spring, to do the job.
Hop­ing that your adven­ture in sav­ing your father is worth it, the game tasks you in uti­liz­ing a jump­ing and climb­ing mechan­ic that may or may not work, depend­ing on where you are height wise. Any fall more than a few pix­els high will kill you, which makes about as much sense as the kid­nap­ping caper you seem to be embroiled in. Who­ev­er had the bright idea to make jump­ing a chore and maneu­ver­ing your ape around impos­si­ble obvi­ous­ly didn’t get that this was a bad design deci­sion imme­di­ate­ly. See­ing as though they are the only skills your ape has, it would have been a lit­tle bit wis­er to make those work well.
Instead, you’ll watch Junior repeat­ed­ly get eat­en alive by croc­o­diles (we’re not sure why a plumber would employ these dan­ger­ous live crea­tures to kill an ape), nailed by ran­dom falling objects and fall to his obvi­ous and hor­rif­ic death, all because he’s under­de­vel­oped at jump­ing and climbing.
And while you’re wit­ness­ing this obvi­ous act of poach­ing, it’d be wise to use some head­phones. The music, much like the orig­i­nal game, isn’t the great­est and it will get monot­o­nous imme­di­ate­ly. Don­key Kong Coun­try this isn’t.
Your best bet is to try the game just for the nos­tal­gic fac­tor in see­ing a pret­ty rare char­ac­ter; Junior was last seen, by my count, in Super Mario Kart for the SNES. He isn’t putting in too many oth­er appear­ances and maybe, just maybe, it was this trip out of the jun­gle that con­vinced him to let his father do all of the adven­tur­ing in the fam­i­ly. This bar­rel isn’t full of laughs or a blast.

Ultimate NES Remix — 3Q2015 issue

The ulti­mate retro package

It’s one thing to trade off of nos­tal­gia. And we all know Nin­ten­do does that often and well. What we don’t often get to see is Nin­ten­do using its his­to­ry to change the way its games are played. Until now. That’s where Ulti­mate NES Remix comes in. The ques­tion is, do you want to play these remixed games again and at what price?
Remix takes a few of your favorites NES titles and adds dif­fer­ent con­di­tions to them in an attempt to spice things up a bit. In Super Mario Bros., for instance, you have to reach the goal in a cer­tain amount of time or defeat a cer­tain num­ber of ene­mies with­in a time lim­it. That’s the mun­dane stuff in the begin­ning. Lat­er edicts get hard­er the fur­ther down a game’s list you go so as to pro­vide more of a chal­lenge. Whether or not you enjoy these chal­lenges depends sharply on whether or not you enjoy play­ing games you prob­a­bly already have played and want to see some­thing dif­fer­ent with­in them.
While the chal­lenges may be dif­fer­ent, there isn’t much else dif­fer­ent about the games. The music and graph­ics from the 8‑bit era remain intact and about the only thing that’s changed is the slick mod­ern pack­ag­ing of the Ulti­mate Remix itself and the addi­tion of leader­boards and cham­pi­onship mode. So, don’t come into this expect­ing depth or some mag­i­cal upgrade to mod­ern day stan­dards of graphics.
If you enjoy the days of yes­ter­year and can and will pay $30 for a com­pi­la­tion chal­lenge pack­age, by all means shell out for Ulti­mate NES Remix. The chal­lenges are amus­ing for the most part, and there are a few extras that make play­ing through the mul­ti­tude of games offered (16 in all) a real treat. But take it with a large grain of salt and look at it for what it is: A chance to drag the orig­i­nal NES games out that you loved as a kid, more than like­ly, to get a piece of your now-adult wal­let. Ulti­mate­ly, this could have been a lot more.

Excitebike — 3Q2014 issue

Pho­tos cour­tesy of Gamefaqs.com

Noth­ing to get excit­ed over

Near­ly every­thing game indus­try leg­end Shigeru Miyamo­to touch­es turns to gold. The key­word there is near­ly. While it might be con­sid­ered blas­phe­mous in some cir­cles to ques­tion the god­like ten­den­cies of Miyamo­to-kamisama, there are some­times valid rea­sons strewn about his resume. Excite­bike is one of those excus­es to point to when some­one says that Miyamo­to is capa­ble of com­mit­ting no wrong in game design.

Excite­bike isn’t a ter­ri­ble game. In fact, it’s one of the bet­ter games to come out of the NES line­up. But that isn’t say­ing much in the long run. Excite­bike takes a sim­ple con­cept and makes a moun­tain out of a mole hill. So much so that if you have no idea how the game works, you’re not going to imme­di­ate­ly fig­ure it out just by rum­bling through a cou­ple of tracks. My per­son­al learn­ing curve stretched from age 8 to age 28, and it was only because I asked some­one about the nuances that I became a bet­ter player.

That’s the thing about Excite­bike, though: I get that it’s a real­ly sim­ple game. You, the dirt bike rid­er, are gift­ed and able to chal­lenge a mul­ti­tude of tracks. You aim for the high­est score, stay off the rough patch­es, use your boost to speed up and attempt to keep your bike lev­el with the course once you make big leaps. That’s the extent of the game. There’s a track edi­tor thrown in for good mea­sure and a sec­ond type of race that’s basi­cal­ly time tri­als. Sim­ple, right? Yes.

And frus­trat­ing. No one knows what I would have giv­en to know that press­ing A rapid­ly when you fall off your bike helps with recov­ery. I would have trad­ed my tiny king­dom in lit­tle old Colum­bia, S.C., to know that. It would have also helped to know that dri­ving over the arrows on the ground reduces bike tem­per­a­ture. Know­ing these two impor­tant pieces of infor­ma­tion might have made a dis­tinct dif­fer­ence in my con­tin­ued career of dirt bike rac­ing. But, alas, that dream went right out of the win­dow with my incli­na­tion to con­tin­ue rent­ing the cart back in the day.

If you want nos­tal­gia and you can appre­ci­ate being forced to learn the ins and outs of dirt bike rac­ing, by all means pop a wheel­ie in Excite­bike. But don’t be sur­prised with the unimag­i­na­tive locales, race lay­out and pen­chant for keep­ing you the play­er in the dark. Sim­ple con­cept? Check. Sim­ple con­trols? Check. Mario cameo? Triple check. But Shigeru Miyamo­to’s genius touch to make the game a bet­ter expe­ri­ence for the unini­ti­at­ed? Nope. That’s still sit­ting in the garage with my dri­ve to play the game as a frus­trat­ed 8‑year-old and now as a more dis­crim­i­nat­ing 32-year-old.