Tag Archives: Nintendo

Magical Tetris Challenge — 1Q2017

Magical Tetris Challenge-11When Tetris’ and Disney’s worlds collide

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-4-retrogradeComboing 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.

Bust-A-Move — 1Q2017

Bust A Move-12Puzzle Bobble’s breakout hit

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-3-5-retrogradeWith 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.

 

Balloon Fight — 1Q2017

Balloon Fight-10Fruitless showdowns with respect to balloons

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-2-retrogradeThis 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.

Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival — 1Q2017

Animal Crossing Amiibo Festival-10Rolling the dice with Animal Crossing

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-3Using 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.

Mario quick hit reviews — 1Q2016

Super Mario Land
Mario’s first adventure outside of the Mushroom Kingdom just Super Mario Land-03happens 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 CoinsSuper Mario Land 2-02
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 Mario Kart Super Circuit-02mixed 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

SMB2JP-01

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

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 SMB2JP-04friendly. 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.
Score-2-5-retrogradeThis 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

Mario Kart 64-04

Mario Kart’s growing pains

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 longterm Mario Kart aficionado, I have to Mario Kart 64-09admit 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.
Score-3-5-retrogradeWith 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

Mario 64-21Mario’s greatest evolution

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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, Mario 64-07even 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 Score-4-5-retrogradecan 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

Paper Mario-01A serviceable tale on paper

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 Paper Mario-04with 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.
Score-4-retrogradeIf 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

Super Mario Maker-15

A masterpiece in the making

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 Super Mario Maker-27an 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 Score-5only 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

DK Jr-01Like father, like son

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 DK Jr-12game 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.
Score-1-retrogradeInstead, 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

Ultimate NES Remix-02Ultimate retro package

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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.
Score-2-5While 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

Excitebike-02Nothing to get excited over

by Lyndsey Hicks
by Lyndsey Hicks

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 Excitebike-14simple 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.

Score-2-5-retrogradeAnd 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.

Metroid Prime — 2Q2014

Photos courtesy of IGN.com

The return of Samus after 8 years is welcome

Lyndsey-cutout-2013
By Lyndsey Hicks

As a longtime fan of the Metroid franchise, I suppose I could be forgiven for not making the immediate leap onto the Prime bandwagon. After all, Super Metroid is my beacon of hope still shining for 2D games, a symbol of the pinnacle that the genre reached. I mean, I plan to name my firstborn daughter Samus. That’s how much I love Metroid. So, when Prime hit the shelves, I was duly skeptical. It had been eight long years without so much as of a whiff of Samus’ scent in the market of solo games and I was starving. Enter Prime.

Prime isn’t so much a pure Metroid game as it is a combination of metroid-prime-06Metroid and first-person shooters of the day. What you need to know to understand Prime is that it’s set between Metroid and Metroid II: Return of Samus, and it’s the first real game in the series to start putting the pieces of the Metroid saga together. Samus roams around Tallon IV to uncover the past of the Chozo (her caretakers after the death of her parents in a Space Pirate raid), and takes on the villainous group, who are conducting biological experiments on the planet. That’s the meat of the story essentially, but it mostly means that you’re going to do some exploring. This being Metroid and all.

Score-3The first-person controls could have been hazardous to the game’s health but they aren’t. They’re actually simple to use and surprisingly easy to get used to even if you’re intimately familiar with Super Metroid’s setup. My main concern was how does Samus’ action translate to the first-person mold? Can she still move around fluidly? And, how is the action handled when she has to switch to Morph Ball mode? All of these questions were immediately answered with a simple playthrough. Action is fluid and movement is clean and paced well. There are no problems with switching modes, and I rather liked how that is handled. It’s almost as if someone on the development team at Retro Studios remembered what it was like to imagine you were Samus in the Varia Suit.

I appreciated the atmosphere of Prime, considering that if a game is to be called Metroid in any way, it must have the “Metroid atmosphere.” I certainly got that as I meandered through maze-like caverns with foreboding music playing gently in the background. What I appreciated about the soundtrack mostly was the use of old themes to tie the games together. You can tell you’re playing a Metroid game if you listen hard enough, and I liked that the issue wasn’t thrown in my face constantly. I didn’t need to be hit over the head repeatedly that this is a Metroid tale, and the music was polite about reminding me.

My only problem with Prime is that while it feels like a Metroid game should, I wasn’t that immersed in the tale. Every Metroid game released up to this point, I played through and was engaged thoroughly. Prime? I really couldn’t get into the story that much, and I didn’t really care all that much about the Chozo. I realized that because of the way Metroid ends, Samus can’t really go back to the Mother Brain issue. However, Prime just struck me as boring.

Prime was the start of a good thing, obviously, since there are two sequels and a host of spinoff games. What I was most pleased with, however, was the fact that Samus returned in top form. It was about time. Eight years was way too long to go without using some version of the “Metroid instinct.”