Ever Oasis

Ever Oasis, the new 3DS action RPG from Grezzo and Nintendo, is a perfect summer game. It is breezy and bright and cheery. It is great for pulling out to play for twenty or thirty minutes before putting it away for the day or even the week. That makes it sound kind of slight and forgettable, but it is really just perfectly bite sized. It is a rather simple game, but that mostly works in its favor, with the games charm resting in its simplicity.

I previously compared it to Dark Cloud 2 and that comparison fits in the broad strokes. They are both action rpgs with some light dungeon puzzles and city building sim elements. But Dark Cloud is a big, meaty, complex game. It has giant dungeons to explore, several deep character building systems and involved town building sections. It does a lot of thing and does them well. While the game never really clicked for me, I am never surprised when someone tells me that it is a favorite. Ever Oasis offers a lot of the same things, but in this game they are simplified to be almost immediately graspable. There is some weapon building, but it is almost entirely linear. You use weaker weapons to forge stronger weapons, there is nothing like the complex weapons trees of Dark Cloud 2. The dungeons are compact, with easily understandable puzzles and most use the same few tools over and over. And the town building is as simple as placing buildings in a line. I could see some people craving more depth than Ever Oasis has to offer, but it gave me a taste of things I love in games without ever overwhelming me.

I don’t know that Dark Cloud was actually that much of an influence here. The same is true of the other PS2 RPG that it brought to mind, Radiata Stories. Ever Oasis feels like those games, but I can see stronger DNA from The Legend of Zelda, Grezzo previously remade the N64 games for the 3DS, and Secret of Mana, whose creator worked on this as well. It really feels like a synthesis of those two games, with some light town building thrown on top.

As breezy and charming as I found the game, there are parts that don’t work. The biggest problem is that the puzzle solving skills are tied to specific villagers in your oasis. Since you always have the protagonists in your 3 person party, you better hope you don’t encounter more than two types of puzzles that you need to solve. Yes, you can warp back to the oasis with the press of a button, but that takes time away from exploring. Also, some of the town business can grow tedious having to do it every day, despite how much can be automated.

For the most part, though, the game’s charms shine through. It is helped along by bright, cheery graphics and some solid music. It is just fun to be in the world of this game. The actually fighting and exploring mechanics, while simple, are satisfying. The camera is better than most games of this sort, mostly because it uses fixed perspectives. And the story, while mostly a bright and sunny adventure, makes an excellent turn to bittersweet at the end. It isn’t too heavy or crushing, but it does finally show a little weight.

Ever Oasis isn’t a great game, but it is good enough at a enough things to be worth a look. This is a game destined to show up years from now on underrated and overlooked games lists, much like Radiata Stories and Dark Cloud 2. These sorts of games don’t really come around often enough, and I’m glad Nintendo took a chance on this in the waning days of the 3DS.

Ranking Final Fantasy Games

At one time I had planned a whole series of posts that was nothing but lists, but I never got around to getting it started, leaving me with a handful of lists waiting for me to feel like posting them.  The Dragon Quest one already went up, I have a Mario one waiting for me to finish replaying the series to see how it needs to be adjusted and there are a couple more in various stages of being finished.  Lately I’ve been blitzing through Final Fantasy 12: The Zodiac Age, so today I am tossing up my ranking of the Final Fantasy series. The main series; I also have a list of spin offs and direct sequels, but those are another beast entirely. I thought about swapping in some games to take the place of the not present MMO’s, but decided to just leave them off.  11, 14 and 15 are not the list because I haven’t played them.

12. Final Fantasy 2 – I feel like a bully putting this at the bottom, but while it is interesting, it’s just not good.  It is the only game in the series I’ve never felt compelled to complete.

11. Final Fantasy 3 – There is a lot I like about this game, but I’ve only played the DS version and it is a rough draft of the perfected job system from 5.  Still, even this far down on the list is a game I like.

10. Final Fantasy 13 – I actually like this game a whole lot even if it appears unfinished at times. It plays like a fairly unsuccessful combination of 10 and 12, but I enjoyed it well enough.

09. Final Fantasy – The original has a lot of charm even if options for playing it are either brainlessly simple or annoyingly tedious. For all of its faults, I still prefer the NES version. It is a simple game, but there is a lot to love here.

08. Final Fantasy 4 – My enjoyment of this game mostly came from reading Nintendo Power and wishing I could play it. Once I finally got the chance to play it, FF4 never quite clicked with me the way plenty of other SNES JRPGs did.

07. Final Fantasy 8 – I find the plot of this game to be a mess and the junction system is fiddly and breakable, but I still find the game wholly compelling every time I play it.

06. Final Fantasy 10 – It loses the feeling of exploring a real world, but it has one of the best realized stories in the series and a solid battle system.

05. Final Fantasy 5 – This has my favorite character building system in any game. FFV’s job system is perfection.  The story is nothing, but this is a perfect systems game.

04. Final Fantasy 7 – For a long time I had it out for this game. The love it got seemed to detract from what I felt, and still feel, are superior games in the series, like 6 and 9.  But I can’t let that blind me to the fact that this is a phenomenal game.

03. Final Fantasy 9 – It isn’t the best game from a story or systems point of view, but there is something charming about the setting and characters. It is the perfect synthesis of old and new Final Fantasy.

02. Final Fantasy 12 – Playing the remake has solidified just how much I like this game. The gambit system is brilliant and the world is the best in the series.  This is a game you can get lost in for hours and hours. It also has the most underrated cast in the series.

01. Final Fantasy 6 – Still the best in the series. It has a great cast, a terrific story and pretty great systems.  FF6 isn’t just my favorite FF game; it is one of my favorite games of all time.

Super Mario Replay: New Super Mario Bros

I haven’t managed to get my Wii or Gamecube set up to play Super Mario Sunshine, but I did find time to run through New Super Mario Bros. Playing New Super Mario Bros after recently beating the original 2D Mario games is kind of a strange experience. It makes it clear just how much of a backwards looking title it is. It feels like an amalgamation of Super Mario Bros 3 and Super Mario World, but with some regressions to the original Super Mario Bros thrown in. It has a smattering of new ideas, but it seems largely to be an exercise in stoking nostalgia.

That might be a too harsh assessment. There are some new and interesting ideas. The Giant and Mini mushrooms are good ideas, even if one is mostly pointless and the other is an over-used secret generator. I also had some fun with the turtle shell power up even though it is as dangerous as it is helpful. And while it doesn’t feel like it is breaking new ground, it also isn’t directly copying any of the previous games in the series. It takes from all over the series. The world map feels very Mario 3, the gameplay feels more like Super Mario World. The secrets in the level, with 3 hidden coins to find while poking around mostly linear levels, feels a lot like Yoshi’s Island. While Nintendo put “New” in the title, it is clearly a backwards looking game.

That kind of makes sense. New Super Mario Bros was the first new 2D Mario game in more than a decade. If you don’t count Yoshi’s Island, it had been around fifteen years since the last time Mario had featured in a 2D platformer. With Super Mario 64, the series left the sidescroller behind. And even then, there had only been that game and Sunshine since the SNES. After getting roughly seven Mario games in roughly ten years, from after Yoshi’s Island to New Super Mario Bros it was ten years with two. New Super Mario Bros was the start of a renaissance of Mario games, the first in a line when they started coming much more often.

I don’t think New Super Mario Bros holds up too well compared to other Mario games. It was successful because it was being compared to no Mario games, which it is clearly much better than. However, it lacks the spark that most of the other games have. Each of the original run of Mario games felt like an event. It was something new and different and exciting. NSMB feels like a reminder of that feeling. It feels like all old Mario games and somehow none of them. It is creating something new, because no Mario game looked or played like, but doing everything it can to feel like something old.

It also feels like Nintendo was stretching muscles they hadn’t used in a long time. It is occasionally rough, with some weak levels and too many secrets hidden behind mini-mushroom pipes, but you can almost feel the development team learning how to make this sort of game as they go. Which is why I think each subsequent New Super Mario Bros game is better than this one. This was a proof of concept, and Nintendo learned that both they could still make this sort of game and that this sort of game will sell.

For all that this game lacks the spark of the games that made Mario Mario, it is still a very good game. I did speed through it in about six or seven hours over two days. It is a lot of fun. Not gold standard, best game of all time fun, but solid fun. That is something that the Mario series has never failed to deliver. Even if this game was junk, the fact that it seems to have been the impetuous for the ongoing Mario renaissance more than makes it worthwhile.

Now Playing in June 2017

Beaten

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island – read about it here.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – read about it here.

Ongoing

Ever Oasis – I was a little on the fence about getting this game. I like the developer Grezzo’s previous work, but that work was mostly remaking/porting the N64 Zelda games. It looked to combine a lot of things I think I like, but tend to not actually enjoy. I’ve got a stack of Harvest Moon and Rune Factory games that I have barely played to prove it. I want to like games like this, games like Dark Cloud or Fantasy Life, but I just don’t tend to have as much fun with them as I would like. Through the first four or five hours Ever Oasis is proving to be an exception. The town building stuff is pretty simplified, but satisfying. The combat isn’t anything super unique or anything, but it is enjoyable. It simply looks and sounds appealing and plays pretty well too. So far it is shaping up to be the perfect summer game.

River City Knights of Justice – I got distracted by Ever Oasis, but I also picked this up late in the month. At first blush it plays a lot like last year’s River City Tokyo Rumble, which I mostly enjoyed, only with a fantasy coat of paint on it. I don’t really like the scaled back areas and weird character progression, but maybe that make more sense as it goes on, since I’ve only cleared the first couple of towns. It looks good and sounds good and only costs $15, I’m sure I’ll have my fair share of fun with it before the summer is over.

Persona 5 – I have made little progress and it’s not the game’s fault. A confluence of circumstances (a death in the family, I moved and changed jobs) kept me from even plugging in my PS4 for most of June. When I did have time to play games, I generally ending up doing something else. I still plan on playing these games, but I didn’t do much in June.

The Last Guardian – I have made little progress and it’s not the game’s fault. See above

Lufia 2 – I have made little progress and it’s not the game’s fault. See above

Upcoming

Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age – This is one of my favorite FF games and I can’t wait to give this remastered version of it a go.

Super Mario Sunshine – I still need to get my Wii hooked up and going, but I am eager to get to it.

New Super Mario Bros. – While I am trying to play the series in order, I am willing to differentiate the 2D and 3D games. This is the only handheld game I don’t own

Yakuza 0 – I don’t know if I will manage to get to it among all of the other PS4 games I’ve got on my plate, but I refuse to let this game slip through the cracks.

Super Mario Replay Yoshi’s Island

I’m just going to come out and say it: I don’t really like Yoshi’s Island. You could argue that is because I’ve only ever played the supposedly compromised GBA port, but I think I just don’t like the game. I have played most of its recent follow ups, like Yoshi’s New Island for 3DS and Yoshi’s Woolly World, and while enjoyed those games, there is still something about them that I wasn’t quite to my taste. Compared to other Mario games, Yoshi’s Island is a slow and pokey game, focused more on exploring and collecting that traditional platforming challenges. I get why people would like it, but it is not for me.

It is a great looking SNES game. While at the time most games were either ugly 3D (Star Fox) or ugly approximations of 3D (Donkey Kong Country), Yoshi’s Island went for a detailed, colorful hand drawn look, with plenty of effects thanks to using the same advanced on cart chip that Star Fox used to make the SNES capable of its primitive 3D graphics. There is no getting around that this is one of the best looking games on the SNES. The same is true for the excellent music. And Nintendo wasn’t content to just run out the Mario World formula again, they gave the idea of a platformer a fairly extensive overhaul and produced a fresh and tightly designed game.

The problem I have is that no matter how well made the game might be, I simply prefer what came before. Super Mario World was already more of an exploratory game than previous Mario games and Yoshi’s Island slows the pace even more to focus on poking around expansive levels. I couldn’t even begin to say that they aren’t well designed, but they end up being more like mazes than obstacle courses. It is rarely that difficult to just clear a stage, but the game judges based on how well you collect things and finding all of the things in each stage is a tedious and involved process. Many people bemoan the collect-a-thons that 3D platformers became in the wake of Super Mario 64, but that trend was started with Yoshi’s Island. There are five flowers hidden throughout each stage, a perfectly fine collectable, much like the three giant coins in later Mario games. Each stage also has 30 red coins to collect, some of which are hidden, some sit in plain sight and some look like regular coins until you nab them, meaning you have to go for every stupid coin in the game on the off chance it is one of the important ones. Then there are the stars, which are tied in with the game’s worst mechanic.

The stars represent how much time you have to rescue Mario if you get hit and he becomes dislodged from Yoshi’s back. Because yes, you control Yoshi, not Mario in this game. And Baby Mario’s wails as he floats around are insufferable. To then be also graded on maintaining 30 of those damned stars is frustrating. Finally there is the egg throwing. Yoshi is able to eat just about anything and turn it into an egg. The player must then throw those eggs at just about everything. This brings up the not especially intuitive aiming mechanic and the often limited supply of eggs. It is a good idea, but one that is often too complex to be enjoyable.

I do question whether Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island is really a Mario game. The unignorable fact is that the game is titled Super Mario World 2. But that doesn’t make it all that different from Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3. There Wario gets top billing, but Nintendo was still hedging its bets by keeping it in the Mario series. In both games, Mario has been replaced as the protagonist and the mechanics of the game are significantly different from what came before or happened since. None of Yoshi’s Islands sequels or follow ups are considered a part of the main Mario series. I counted it at least as much because it is one of the few Mario games I haven’t beaten than for any other reason.

The thing is, I see a lot of Yoshi’s Island’s DNA in the “New” Super Mario series. It has been scaled back quite a bit, but things like the hidden giant coins feel like something from this game. Though Yoshi’s Island’s mechanics have been directly continued in what most people call disappointing follow ups – I would argue the only thing disappointing about Yoshi’s New Island is how it looks – its impact continues to be felt in the main series as well. I guess I just have to finish coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really like it.

Dragon Quest Rankings

I finished up with Dragon Quest 8 3DS a few weeks ago, but since I’ve already said just about everything I have to say about it in this post, I figured I would mark the achievement, such as it is, by making a list ranking the main line Dragon Quest games. I could have tried to fit in some of the spin offs I’ve played, but what I’ve played and what I haven’t outside of the main series is pretty spotty and it’s been so long since I’ve touched the original Dragon Quest Monsters, for instance, that I thought it better to just stick with the main series.

  1. Dragon Quest 5: Hand of the Heavenly Bride – This is just about a perfect rpg.  It is Dragon Quest at its best, with solid if basic gameplay and interesting narrative experimentations.  Playing through the life of the protagonist, from starting out as a little kid until he has kids of his own. It is just a delight
  2. Dragon Quest 4: Chapters of the Chosen – Much like 5, this is another game that plays around with narrative structure, opening with several short sections with completely different casts until they all come together under the protagonist.
  3. Dragon Quest 8: Journey of the Cursed King – Possibly the simplest game in the series since DQ4.  Yet is is also the most charming since 5.  8 deliberately breaks no new ground, but it is a perfectly executed classic style jrpg.
  4. Dragon Quest 9: Sentinels of the Starry Skies – The only new DS entry is the best version of the series’ class system.  The gameplay is fine but nothing more than the enjoyably basic JRPG that most of the series offers, though it does have a somewhat enjoyable multiplayer mode.
  5. Dragon Quest 7: Fragments of the Forgotten Past – I’ve only played the recent 3DS version and I liked it, but between this and DQ6, no series is better at bungling a class system than Dragon Quest.
  6. Dragon Quest 6: Realms of Revelation – I kind of hate most of this game’s characters and it takes forever to really get going.
  7. Dragon Quest 3: Seeds of Salvation – Full disclosure: I haven’t played more than an hour or two of this game.  Instead of using that as a reason not to include it or to postpone this list, I am instead considering it a mark against the game, since I’ve found the time to play all the rest. I will revisit when I finally do play it.
  8. Dragon Quest – There is stuff to like about the original Dragon Quest, but there really isn’t that much there all told.
  9. Dragon Quest 2: Luminaries of the Legendary Line – Grindy and not all that fun.

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadow of Valentia

A new Fire Emblem game is out and even though over the last year I played what was essentially 3 new Fire Emblem games – each of Fates campaigns, Birthright, Conquest, Revelation, are full games – I was still really pumped for this one.  Hold on, I mean I played 4 Fire Emblem games, because I completely blanked on Fire Emblem Heroes on my phone, though maybe that is a good thing.  The point remains that I will take all of this series that Nintendo is offering, while they are offering it, because I don’t know when it might disappear again.  Still, with the Fates trilogy being a little bit of a letdown, with its fractured storyline making each of its three campaigns feel compromised in some way, the back to basics promise of the Fire Emblem Echoes, a remake of Fire Emblem Gaiden for the famicom, sounded like a good idea.

Fire Emblem Echoes is the truest of mixed bags.  It does some things that I absolutely love, but it also does just as many things that frustrate me. On the plus side is pretty much everything outside of the specific mechanics of this take on Fire Emblem.  On the negative side are some of those mechanics. Or lack of mechanics.

It really is the best looking 3D game in the series.  I have long been a partisan of the GBA game’s beautiful 2D sprites as they dance through their attack animations.  None of the 3D games have been able to match those for looks. While they have gotten progressively better, but it wasn’t until this game that I thought that they had equaled the GBA games.  I also prefer the character designs in Echoes to any the series has had in quite some time. They feel like character designs from the era this game originated, with some slight modernization, but not the pure modern aesthetic of Fates or Awakening. The animations are also top notch, with plenty of unique animations for the game’s characters, a touch that really helps bring out the personality in some characters that could otherwise feel somewhat flat. This is just a great looking 3DS game.  I also like the return to a less comprehensive support system, with the pair up mechanic being completely gone.  I didn’t mind those pair up mechanics in Awakening or Fates. They changed the game significantly, but once I got used to how they worked it became second nature.  However, playing this game without them kind reinforces how unnecessary they are.  The strategy here just feels more pure, with your units better able to fulfill their roles.  The role of character supports is also scaled back.  A big part of the last two games has been seeing those supports for as many of your warriors as possible.  This game cuts back on the number of possible supports and makes them less important overall. They are there to flesh out the characters.  There is no marriage/child mechanic, which is more than fine.  I like that idea, and Awakening did good work with it.  But it felt forced in Fates and it really didn’t need to be added here.  If they go back to that in the future, I hope we get a full generational game, instead of a weird work around.

I have some minor complaints with parts of the game, like how one set of units seems to have uniformly dreadful growth rates or that the third person dungeons seemed unnecessary, but mostly I liked.  Still there are two things that stood out to me as flaws.  Fire Emblem Echoes mostly did a great job removing the cruft that had built up on this series, I think it went a bit too far.  While I think this is true to the original version of this game, I really felt the absence of the weapon triangle. Without that, parts of the game devolved into throwing magic users against non-magic enemies and regular fighters against the mages.  There is no nuance to it; it turned kind of simplistic. I also felt the lack of varied map and win conditions.   While Fates, Revelation especially, went overboard with the gimmick maps, something other than kill all enemies would have been appreciated here.  Just a few battles with survive or escape or capture would have helped spice things up quite a bit.  Those aren’t deal breaker problems, but they were big enough faults to keep from holding the game in the same regard as I do for the first few Fire Emblem games I played.

Last but not least is the story.  I was not a big fan of the story in any version of Fates and really haven’t loved the story of a Fire Emblem game since the Radiant duo.  Echoes is a fleshing out of an NES game’s story, but I greatly enjoyed it. Some developments are abrupt, but none are as nonsensical as most of Fates storyline was. I liked being in control of two separate armies, each with their storyline to play through but not being locked into one story or the other. I see how much this game influenced Sacred Stones, another series oddball.  I am glad this weird entry in the series got a remake and I am glad it is so much better than the remake the original Fire Emblem got for the DS.

Now Playing in May 2017

Beaten

Disney Afternoon Collection –

I didn’t precisely beat this.  In fact, I didn’t finish any of the games in this 6 game collection, but I have played it enough to feel like I’ve had my fun.  Maybe when I have a shorter docket of games to play or maybe just some Saturday when I feel like plowing through DuckTales 2 I’ll get back to it, but for now I’m done.  This is more excellent work from Digital Eclipse.  Just like with the terrific Mega Man Legacy Collection, the Disney Afternoon Collection takes six NES game and emulates them perfectly on modern systems, along with bringing in a lot of encyclopedic material to complement the package. The games themselves are not quite as uniform as Mega Man. DuckTales and DuckTales 2 are upper echelon NES games, true classics. Rescue Rangers and Rescue Rangers 2 are fine games, really as good as can be expected from licensed games.  Darkwing Duck is too hard to be fun, which is unfortunate because there is a lot to like about it.  And Talespin is an interesting failed experiment.  It is an attempt to combine a shmup with a platformer that doesn’t really work.  It just isn’t fun to play.  Still, the game is interesting enough that I don’t mind its inclusion here.  I don’t like these games as much as the Mega Man ones from MMLC, this is the kind of retro compilation I hope we get more of; ones that really work to provide some accuracy and context for the games instead of just slapping 60 or so ROMS on a disc and calling it a day.

Dragon Quest VIII – read about it here.  Confession: I didn’t actually beat it.  I’ve got a couple of hours left, but I really didn’t want to play it anymore.

Super Mario 64 – read about it here.

Ongoing

The Last Guardian – I don’t know that The Last Guardian is going to go down with Ico and Shadow of the Colossus as one of the most important and striking video game experiences I’ve ever had, but I can’t imagine it finishes much off that list.  There is something special about Fumito Ueda’s games.

Persona 5 – This was my second most anticipated game of the year, after Breath of the Wild.  But with the comedown off of that game, along with a loss of free time, has kind of prevented me from really digging into this like I would have liked.  I’ve just cleared the first dungeon and am finally getting into the swing of things.  It is good.  I don’t know that I like the cast as much as Persona 4’s, at least not initially.  To be honest, Persona 4 is one of my favorite games of the last 10 or so years and the long wait between it and Persona 5 does the game no favors.  I don’t think it could ever live up to my expectations, largely due to reasons that have nothing to do with the game.  It’s been almost 10 years since Persona 4 came out; I am not the same person I was back then and I am not in the same place to really fall in love with this game.  I like to think I’ve matured, at least somewhat, and this series hasn’t. I don’t really think it should.  It is not a problem for a game to be aimed at 15-25 year olds just because I am no longer in that age group. I will always have the memories of being absolutely engrossed by Persona 3 FES and Persona 4 in 2007-2008, and today’s kids deserve to get that same kind of experience from Persona 5.  I guess I’ll just have to appreciate it from an aesthetic and mechanical standpoint.

Fire Emblem Echoes – 

I am burning through this pretty fast; I should have it done by the end of the weekend.  It is a hard game to articulate my feelings for.  The things it does well it does very well, but the things it does poorly it does very poorly.  I think I like it better than the previous 3DS games – which are very good – but I don’t think there is a single map in this game I will remember.  I’ll have a full post before too long.

Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island – I’ve cleared the first world, which is close to as far as I’ve ever made it in this game.  I’ve got to be honest, I’ve always felt the Yoshi’s Island games were inferior to regular Mario games.  People told me that the original Yoshi’s Island would change that, but since it has never grabbed me enough to get me to finish it I doubt that.  This time isn’t changing my mind so far.

Lufia 2 – At some point I am going to knuckle down and finish playing this, instead of fiddling with it in fits and starts.

Upcoming

Yakuza 0 – This might be me being optimistic, but assuming I finished up The Last Guardian (which should happen as soon as this weekend) and Persona 5 (could take years) I am anxious to get back into this.

Super Mario Sunshine – I’ve got to get access to my Wii to get this going, but I can’t wait for a new Mario experience as I play through the whole series.  This, Lost Levels and New Super Mario Bros are the only ones I haven’t really played.

Terranigma – I promise.

Xeodrifter – This was on deep discount, so I picked it up and as soon as I finish with Fire Emblem.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario 64

Super Mario 64 is without question one of the most influential games ever made. It was a trailblazer; the first game to prove that you could make a fun game in 3D. It is, however, still an early 3D game and it plays like.  Super Mario 64 kind of holds up perfectly and it kind of doesn’t hold up at all.

This was my first time playing Mario 64 in years. I was one of those oddities that owned an N64 but never owned Mario 64.  By the time I got my system, I had already played most of the game at friend’s houses and I could borrow it from any number of them at any given time.  I lived in some sort of anomalous bubble where everyone owned an N64 and the PS1 was something of a rare breed.  So I played my fair share of Mario 64, but it wasn’t a game I could easily revisit. Playing it now was surprising in how much of the game held up perfectly, but other parts had aged as badly as any game of the era did.  

Super Mario 64 is a wonderfully crafted game.  Each of its 20 or so stages are dense little environments to explore in.  They provide the perfect playgrounds in which to utilize Mario’s expansive move set.  There is an array of challenges, with stars alternately hidden and sitting in plain sight in hard to access areas.  It is a game the drops you there and just lets you explore.  Wonderfully, almost none of it is mandatory.  I don’t think you have to collect a single red coin to beat the game,  so long as you are not going for all 120 stars. Super Mario 64 is very much the proof of concept for what a 3D game could be.

Unfortunately, some things on the technical side let the game down. The camera is the big offender.  Getting it to show the needed angle is a significant battle and makes portions of the game much harder than they have any business being.  The controls also feel primitive.  Mario is fun enough to move around, but trying to read a sign is an exercise in frustration, as is lining up a punch.  It is really any of the fine controls that really hold things up.  Running and jumping feel great, but anytime you have to slow down and be precise the frustration mounts. Swimming manages to combine the worst of the camera and the controls into one awful experience.

A lot of the later stages were somewhat unfamiliar to me.  I know the first handful very well and with the exception of [water stage] can relieve them of their stars pretty quickly.  But the back half of the game, while not new territory, was much less known. Having that somewhat new experience helped me sort out how much of my affection for this game is nostalgia and how much due to it being actually good.  As I mentioned above, there are frustrations, but even in 2017 there is a lot to love about Mario 64.  Most later 3D Marios returned to more of level structure.  A wise decision in my opinion, as that gave us the Mario Galaxy games, but there is certainly something to be said for the greater freedom and exploration to be found in Mario 64.  It is a different kind of Mario game than those that Nintendo has made in the last decade, and that at least makes it interesting. The relatively small size of the stages, at least by today’s standards, also allows Nintendo make it feel open while still being pretty tightly designed.  It doesn’t have the formlessness that often afflicted N64 action games.

In many ways Super Mario 64 is a lot like Super Mario Brothers. There is something timeless about it, despite its primitive graphics, which held up much better than expected, and its imperfect controls, it still come together for something tirelessly fun and endlessly replayable.  It is the first of its kind and established paradigms that later games would improve upon.  It showed other games the way, but other games did it better.  Though not many, if any, on the N64. It might be more important than good, but it is plenty of both.

Now Playing in April 2017

Beaten

Bye Bye BoxBoy! – 

I want to have a lot to say about this game, but I don’t think I do. This is the third and apparently final go around for this deceptively simple puzzle platform series. You play as a box that makes more boxes. You must use those boxes to solve increasing complex puzzles. It is not complex, but it does get wonderfully difficult. I think they’ve finally fully explored this concept. Each of the three games has been great, and this one is no exception. I love these games. We might not get anymore, but I hope Nintendo keeps them around with ports and remakes.

Wonder Boy and the Dragon’s Trap – read about it here.

Super Mario World – read about it here.

Ongoing

Persona 5 – I haven’t played this near as much as I would like, but through the first week or so of game time, which is all I’ve managed to play, it is very good.  It is Persona.  The third and fourth games in the series as some of my favorite JRPGs on the PS2 and this seems to be following in their footsteps in most of the ways that matter.  Whether I like it more than those games comes down to how well it executes this near perfect formula.

Dragon Quest 8 – read about it here.  I’m still not done with it, there have just been too many other things to pull me away from what is essentially replaying a game.  Still, I have greatly enjoyed all the time I’ve spent with this game so far.

Disney Afternoon Collection –

The Disney Afternoon Collection_20170211015520

The second release from Digital Eclipse, the first being the Mega Man Legacy Collection, they are quickly establishing themselves as the go to makers of classic game compilations. MMLC was a near perfect collection of the 6 NES Mega Man games, this one is a similarly accurate and loving collection of 6 of Capcom’s Disney NES games.  I see how they choose the 6 they did, basing it around the Disney Afternoon cartoons, but it does leave two of Capcom’s NES games on the outside looking in; no The Little Mermaid or Adventures in the Magical Kingdom in this collection.  The latter is better left forgotten, but The Little Mermaid is a better game than Talespin at the very least.  There is no real sense in complaining about what is not here when the 6 games included are more than enough to be worth the price of admission.  DuckTales is regarded as the crown jewel here, but I’ve also heard that the sequel is actually better. Talespin is a bit of a stinker, though it is an interesting experiment and Darkwing Duck should be a lot more fun than it is, but the other four are a blast.  I’ll probably have more to say after I spend some more time with these games.

Mercenaries Saga 3 – This is a solid looking tactics game, but through the first 10 chapters there is little more to it than brute force.  It doesn’t feel like there are a lot of decisions being made.  It all feels kind of rote.  This could be overcome with a worthwhile story to keep the player’s attention, but that is a no go here. I guess that’s not fair, maybe the story here is really good.  It is impossible to tell through the all but incomprehensible localization. It feels like a first pass, with most of the sentences are sensible, but they don’t really follow each other in logical ways.  It is probably worth the price of admission, but only because it is so low.

Super Mario 64 – I have never gotten 120 stars in this game, and I don’t think I will on this replay either.  I am one of the few N64 owners who didn’t own this game back in the day. I did borrow it a few times and have gotten most of the stars a time or two.  I don’t want to say too much about it before I write about it, but it mostly holds up.

Shovel Knight: Plague of Shadows – I’ve only played through two stages of this, but it is a great take on the already great Shovel Knight.  The amount of work that are being put into these free updates is just amazing.  Once I get a Switch, I’ll likely double dip just for the opportunity to pay Yacht Club Games again.

Lufia 2: Rise of the Sinistrals – I’ve started on this. It is a solid SNES jrpg through the first few hours.

Upcoming

Fire Emblem Echoes: Shadows of Valentia – I am not 100% in favor of what I’ve seen of this remake of the series’ black sheep, but I like Fire Emblem enough to pick it up anyway.

The Last Guardian – My brother handed me his copy of this when he heard I bought a PS4.  I’m getting pretty involved in Persona 5 right now, but if I need a break or somehow finish it, I think I’ll give this a play before I really get invested in Yakuza 0.

Yoshi’s Island – I’ll be playing the GBA port, since that is the one I own on WiiU.  I’ve already started, having cleared the first world sometime last year and I don’t feel like starting from scratch.  Hopefully this will be the time that this game clicks for me.

Super Mario Sunshine – After I finish with Super Mario 64, I’ll be splitting my Mario time between this and Yoshi’s Island.