Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) — Issue 40

Mario Kart races back to form in Wii U edition

There comes a time in every Mario Kart fan’s life when you have to make a choice of whether you still love the series or if you don’t. I assume this, of course, because I have no idea if any­one still plays Mario Kart or not. I assume they do, and I just don’t know it. The series hit that fabled peak of ques­tion­abil­i­ty for me when Mario Kart Wii was released. GI wasn’t using a rat­ing scale when we reviewed it (editor’s note: This was reviewed in 3Q2008), but suf­fice to say it would not have received a good score. Mario Kart had a lot of work to redeem itself for me, a long­time lover of the series who start­ed in 1992. The lat­est orig­i­nal entry, Mario Kart 8, has made sig­nif­i­cant effort to pol­ish the series again.
Mario Kart, at its core, has always been about arcade rac­ing. There’s noth­ing real­is­tic about play­ing as var­i­ous Mario and oth­er gen­er­al Nin­ten­do char­ac­ters while romp­ing through var­i­ous Mush­room King­dom locales. It’s always been about the Mario charm expand­ed to fit with­in a palat­able dri­ving scheme that makes any­one a cham­pi­on go-kart enthu­si­ast. Mario Kart 8 does not shirk on this charm. If it’s a mem­o­rable Mario char­ac­ter, they’re prob­a­bly in this game. 
And, in a nod to the appeal of Nin­ten­do crossover and nos­tal­gia, there are new addi­tions from out­side the port­ly mus­ta­chioed plumber’s usu­al sus­pects: You can now play as Ani­mal Crossing’s Isabelle and The Leg­end of Zelda’s Link. While they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tribute any­thing new to the series, their pres­ence is enough to elic­it excite­ment because it means Nin­ten­do is final­ly open­ing Mario Kart up to the gen­er­al ros­ter. There is much to mine from, and if you’re ques­tion­ing any of this, look at the lead Smash Bros. has tak­en in this field.
Mario Kart has always been the sort of series that takes its his­to­ry seri­ous­ly. Entries after Mario Kart: Dou­ble Dash have begun ref­er­enc­ing the pre­vi­ous tracks of yore, some­times with var­ied results. Mario Kart 8 man­ages to gath­er a lot of stel­lar new tracks and some old that aren’t favorites but will suf­fice as entries. A lot of the old­er tracks are from more recent entries but make no mis­take — they are there for the pur­pose of draw­ing you in to remind you of the good times and then send you on your mer­ry way to try the new tracks. Tug­ging at my heart strings with a mod­ern SNES Rain­bow Road remake will get you every­where, though there are caveats to these remakes. 
While the tracks are great graph­i­cal­ly, the music is hit or miss. When I say I want a Rain­bow Road throw­back, I also want the orig­i­nal music to go with it. It doesn’t need a musi­cal over­haul because the orig­i­nal music was bril­liant. I’m not sure why Nin­ten­do thought it need­ed to have the sound remade, but it wasn’t a par­tic­u­lar­ly great deci­sion. Oth­er remas­tered stage choic­es, includ­ing Grum­ble Vol­cano and Music Park, are fine. And a lot of the new tracks are great; Drag­on Drift­way and Excite­bike Are­na are def­i­nite standouts.
Graph­i­cal­ly, the game looks amaz­ing. It’s the best-look­ing Mario Kart pro­duced yet. All the char­ac­ters look life-like, and the stages are incred­i­bly detailed. Even the water par­ti­cle effects look amaz­ing. There are times when there’s a brief lull in action that I can soak up the sur­round­ings, and I’m impressed by the Wii U’s under­stat­ed capa­bil­i­ty. Mario Kart 8 shows what the sys­tem could poten­tial­ly do. It’s a tes­ta­ment also to just how good Mario Kart looks in the mod­ern era.
Now, here’s where we may have some issues. I’m not fond of the AI rub­ber­band­ing, and I haven’t been a fan of it since the Mario Kart 64 days. We are a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry grown up and past that, and we’re still hav­ing issues with last-minute vic­to­ries by the AI. This is a known issue at this point, yet it rears its ugly head still. Also, while a lot of the new tracks are cool — Excite­bike Are­na among the best of the bunch — there are some that do absolute­ly noth­ing for me. Track selec­tion is impor­tant, and this entry has dullards. Big Blue, for what­ev­er rea­son, keeps show­ing up in mod­ern catchall Nin­ten­do games, and it’s here, too. I’m not impressed with the track at all, and they could have come up with some­thing else. 
Also, while I love the Ani­mal Cross­ing track, it needs some­thing else than the series’ cute motif and catchy music. It’s your basic, run of the mill dri­ve around in a loop track, but it needs some­thing else to give it some pop. Same thing goes for the Hyrule track. It’s basic, too. What makes this worse is that the tracks are part of the DLC bun­dle for the game. If you’re ask­ing me to spend hard-earned mon­ey on extras, the extras need to be super spe­cial. I’m not get­ting that with those two tracks, specif­i­cal­ly. Thank­ful­ly, there are oth­er extras to be had that kind of make up for those.
Over­all, this is a sol­id entry in the Mario Kart sphere of influ­ence. This is the best entry in years, and it deserves some high praise for a lot of the things that it gets right. There’s always room for improve­ment, but the rac­ing king con­tin­ues to show why it’s the arcade rac­ing champ and why it con­tin­ues to rule the road of go-karting.

Mario Kart Tour — 4Q2020 issue

Mobile Mario Kart still stuck at start­ing line

Grow­ing up as a gamer, there was always a series I could count on to pro­vide a lot of enjoy­ment: Mario Kart. High qual­i­ty, fun rac­ing ensued as did a famil­iar­i­ty with the sys­tem that made up rac­ing in the Mush­room King­dom. But as time has marched on, there are dark clouds over the king­dom and it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly Bowser’s fault for the fool­ish­ness for once; it’s Nintendo’s greed.

Mario Kart in mobile form has always been a safe bet for the Nin­ten­do rac­ing fan. Being able to race with your favorite Mario char­ac­ters and take it on the go? Where do I sign up? But Mario Kart Tour, the lat­est mobile prop­er­ty for the gam­ing giant, is not a fun tour … er, trip. It’s Mario Kart for the SNES dumb­ed and watered down with gatcha ele­ments tacked on for good measure.

Mario Kart Tour takes the usu­al Mario Kart for­mu­la and adds things like gatcha pulls to unlock spe­cial char­ac­ters, karts and glid­ers, usu­al­ly in the high-end cat­e­go­ry, as well as lev­el up your estab­lished ros­ter. The gatcha pulls are obnox­ious because it’s depen­dent on luck of the draw using real mon­ey to fund the pulls. The real mon­ey — that you’re pulling out of your wal­let — is spent in the form of rubies, which allow you to pull from pipes pos­si­bly con­tain­ing the high-end items in batch­es of one pull for five rubies or 10 pulls for 45 rubies. Though the rubies are mod­er­ate­ly priced, it’s the fact that you must buy the rubies or com­plete some­times ridicu­lous chal­lenges to get rubies that makes it beyond the pale.

And, just as infu­ri­at­ing­ly, there’s the character/kart/glider sys­tem that’s tied to the stages cho­sen for each tour. Each lev­el has three or four spe­cif­ic char­ac­ters that are favored on this track. Usu­al­ly, the char­ac­ters that are favored are the fla­vor of the tour; that is, a char­ac­ter or vari­a­tion cre­at­ed espe­cial­ly for the spe­cif­ic tour. As always, they are high-end and exceed­ing­ly hard to acquire. Because this is tied into the pipe pulls, it’s also a cash grab designed to pull in the most ded­i­cat­ed who have the most mon­ey and time to spend fid­dling around with a mobile game. These “whales,” as they are called in online cir­cles, keep this cash grab going and endorse this con­tin­ued behav­ior from Nin­ten­do, which, in all hon­esty, is atrocious.

In addi­tion to the tool-like sin­gle-play­er mode, there is the mul­ti­play­er mode from hell. I wish I could some­how con­vey the trash-like qual­i­ties of mul­ti­play­er in words, but I’m at a loss with­out get­ting an FCC fine for pro­fan­i­ty. The mul­ti­play­er plays like garbage and ignores any sort of mechan­ics that Tour attempts to cre­ate in the sin­gle-play­er cam­paign. It is utter chaos in every match and those lucky enough to do well have to be doing that with sheer luck. It can’t be from actu­al skill and good mechan­ics, because Tour is miss­ing the mark in both areas.

The mechan­ics, lack­ing in skill and refine­ment, are a seri­ous prob­lem. Now, I’m cog­nizant of the fact that this is a mobile game, so we’re not talk­ing pre­ci­sion like a main entry would have. How­ev­er, this is rough even for a mobile game. Often, drift­ing is dif­fi­cult and ultra mini-tur­bos are next to impos­si­ble. Giv­en that I’ve mas­tered the drift­ing fea­ture in Mario Kart with every entry start­ing from the Nin­ten­do 64 days, I shouldn’t have this much trou­ble main­tain­ing a drift. The com­bo sys­tem, while inter­est­ing and a great fea­ture, is not refined as well as it should be. There should be a meter that shows me the length of time between com­bo actions and how much time I have left if you’re going to tell me that I have a time lim­it on those actions. Some­times, com­bos drop inex­plic­a­bly, ruin­ing a run at a chal­lenge that requires a cer­tain number.

Equal­ly prob­lem­at­ic are the weapons sys­tem and the AI lev­el. I tend to race com­fort­ably on 100cc, but I will race on 150cc and 200cc (with a pur­chased Gold Pass) if I’m work­ing on improv­ing scores in the bi-week­ly ranked cups. In the months since I’ve begun play­ing, I’ve noticed the aggres­sion of the com­put­er-con­trolled karts steadi­ly creep­ing up, which is a prob­lem. It’s most­ly notice­able on the week­ly favored track, which quick­ly gets infu­ri­at­ing when you’re try­ing to main­tain a rank­ing and the com­put­er is hell bent on keep­ing you from achiev­ing this goal. The weapons sys­tem plays a large part in this because it’s near­ly impos­si­ble some­times to receive your character’s spe­cif­ic weapon or a fren­zy or even a use­ful fren­zy despite your char­ac­ter more than like­ly being a high level.

Also low­er­ing Tour’s fun fac­tor is the char­ac­ter sys­tem. As in oth­er games in the series, there are a vari­ety of char­ac­ters from the Mush­room King­dom and Nin­ten­do in gen­er­al that can be and have been added to the ros­ter. The sheer vari­ety is great but the need to unlock and pay for these vari­eties is the prob­lem. It’s greedy as hell that you have to buy rubies to pos­si­bly unlock a char­ac­ter to do well in the fea­tured tour track or mag­i­cal­ly come up with the ways to earn them, which are far and few in between. Basi­cal­ly, Nin­ten­do wants you to spend mon­ey and they’re not afraid to pimp out Mario Kart to achieve this goal, so they’ll nick­el and dime you constantly.

And I hope you love a lot of the tracks already pulled into Tour because track vari­ety is lack­ing. There are a lot of not-fun tracks that seem to be repeat­ed quite often. That decreas­es the enjoy­ment of rac­ing because you know you aren’t going to want to mess around with a cup that has an obnox­ious track (I’m glar­ing at you, 3DS Rain­bow Road).

Visu­al­ly, Tour is fine. It looks like Mario Kart and has all the ele­ments of the rac­ing god we’ve come to know and love. As a mat­ter of fact, the game looks like a bet­ter ver­sion of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, just below Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch. Those oft-repeat­ed tracks are gor­geous recre­ations of old faith­ful favorites from the SNES, Nin­ten­do 64 and Game Boy Advance titles with a few new cities of the world tracks thrown in the mix. In the begin­ning there were a lot of dif­fer­ent city tracks, but because of the pan­dem­ic, work on the tour has been kept to already estab­lished tracks from the series that can quick­ly be con­vert­ed for use in Tour.

Musi­cal­ly, Mario Kart is known as hav­ing a banger sound­track for every game. Tour doesn’t slouch in that depart­ment with the new tracks, but it does mess up with some of the old­er tracks. I’m not quite sure how a game can get one part of the sound­track right but mess up the oth­er parts, but Tour some­how man­ages to do it. Any of the new tracks that were cre­at­ed for Tour are excel­lent. The menu themes are excel­lent, as well, with new tunes mixed in with remixed favorites from pre­vi­ous games. But then you get to an old­er track, let’s say Koopa Troopa Beach from the SNES. It does not sound the same as the orig­i­nal ver­sion at all. The pitch sounds off by a few notes, as if some­one recre­at­ed it for Tour and kind of, sort of remem­bered the way the orig­i­nal sound­ed. Rain­bow Road from the SNES has the same prob­lem. It sort of resem­bles the orig­i­nal tunes but also … not real­ly. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to get from tour to tour, so I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly get my hopes up in terms of music qual­i­ty when I see an old­er track announced.

All my prob­lems with Mario Kart Tour are fix­able, but that’s up to Nin­ten­do to work on and decide if it’s worth it this far in. With increas­ing fre­quen­cy, how­ev­er, I find myself say­ing this might be the part of the Tour that’s my last stop.

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.