Mario & Luigi Partners in Time

I missed this game when it first came out. Actually, I missed the first two Mario & Luigi games when they first came about. I eventually picked up a used copy of Superstar Saga, but by the time I’d finished with that, Partners in Time was hard to come by and Bowser’s Inside Story was coming soon. Plus, the word of mouth of on Partners In Time was that is wasn’t very good. So I passed it by, letting it be a hole on the series while I busied myself with the wealth of other games available on the 3DS. As the years went by, the game’s reputation was cemented as the bad one. When the game came to the WiiU Virtual Console, I picked it up to be a completionist, but I didn’t have high hopes. I have never been happier to be wrong. I don’t know that I like this game more than Superstar Saga, but Partners in Time is an excellent evolution the series.

The big change to Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time was to add Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, making the pair a foursome. To be completely honest, it doesn’t quite work. It adds a layer of complexity, but the control in M&L was already complex enough. Now, special attacks require tracking four different characters, each represented by a button, rather than just two. It is hard to do. Adding two more buttons to combat made, for me at least, some of the attack items all but useless. That being said, the game doesn’t require the player to master all of its tools. All you have to do is find one or two that work for you and exploit them. It does work when the game forces the two pairs of brothers to split up. Those too infrequent bits are great, with the babies on the top screen and the regular bros on the bottom, moving them in tandem trying to solve puzzles. It is the absolute peak of the what this series offers. The only problems I had were likely caused by playing it on the WiiU rather than on a real DS.

The game also lacks a truly memorable villain, something that Bowser’s Inside Story and Superstar Saga have. In the first game there was Fawful, with his nonsense metaphors and showboating. In the third, we got the humorous take on Bowser. Partners in Time has … personality free evil mushrooms. There really isn’t anything to them, they are just a vague evil. That is one reason that Partners In Time is frequently considered lesser than other games in the series. But while that flaw is there, there are still a lot of great moments among the other characters. You get a lot of fun with a pair of Toadsworths as they attempt to keep the Baby Peach happy. There are a few, but impactful, scenes with Bowser and Baby Bowser. Then there is Kylie Koopa, who shows up throughout the game as some sort of Koopa Lois Lane. She is a delight. Not quite on the level of Fawful, but she is a character that should have had more staying power in the series.

The other “problem” the game supposedly has is that it doesn’t really take advantage of its time travel premise. That is true, I guess. It really doesn’t do a lot with the time travel. Essentially, the current day Mushroom Kingdom, really just Peach’s Castle, is the hub for a game that takes place almost entirely in the past. Nothing you do as a player in the past really affects anything in the future, it is just another place to go to have adventures. It is a missed opportunity, but I don’t see the point in faulting the game for not doing something it never tried to do. It wanted the big bros running around with the babies, it really wasn’t interested in the mechanics of time travel.

The story has a lot of great moments that I don’t want to spoil, but one worth noting is near the end, when the brothers reach a Star Gate. The gate won’t let them pass because, it says, that Luigi isn’t pure enough. So there is a quest to prove his purity, at the end of which the Gate admits that he was just messing with Luigi and the brothers in general. It is pretty great.

Nintendo recently announced that they are putting out a remake of Bowser’s Inside Story, following up on the remake of Superstar Saga and skipping over Partners In Time. I get it, because BiS is the better remembered game and that is one that will sell more copies, but it feels like a missed opportunity to me. Partners in Time is a great game and with the kind of small tweaks and improvements that would come with a remake would go a long way to helping other people realize how good the game is.

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Super Mario Replay: New Super Mario Bros 2

I thought I had written about this game back when it was released, but apparently I didn’t. That is a shame. New Super Mario Bros 2 was released amongst a uncharacteristic deluge of true Mario games. From 2009-2013, there were 6 full Mario games released, not including Super Luigi U, a full-sized DLC add-on. NSMB2 was released right in the middle of that, and it got overshadowed by the games around it. That really isn’t unfair; most of those games are straight up masterpieces. NSMB2 is not quite on that level, but it is also a decided step up from its immediate predecessor New Super Mario Bros. Unfortunately for this game, excellence is overshadowed by brilliance.

The first New Super Mario Bros game was a phenomenon, but it is actually pretty pedestrian compared to the rest of the series. As you play it, you can almost feel Nintendo working through the rust of not having made a 2D Mario game in more than a decade. That time gap also allowed people to give it a lot more leeway. It had been a long time since there had been a 2D Mario game, the sheer newness of it covered a lot of the games lesser moments. Plus, its not like NSMB was bad, it just wasn’t on the level of the first four games. After that, Nintendo followed up with the multiplayer focused New Super Mario Bros Wii, (my copy of which unfortunately won’t play, so I can’t revisit it at this time) which was its own thing. NSMB2 feels much more assured than the first game; by the time of its release the developers knew how to make Mario games. But it also adds little to the formula.

NSMB2 is not helped by its gimmick, which is based around collecting coins. It is a good thought; coins were a long time part of the series that had little to no mechanical import. Sure in Mario 64 they acted as health, but for the most part they seemed to be there because they always had been there. Without changing anything, NSMB2 emphasizes collecting coins. It almost feels like it should have been a Wario game, since he is the one that loves treasure. It adds almost nothing to the game.

That said, I still think NSMB2 has been unfairly dismissed. While it lacks that spark that makes a lot of the Mario series so great, the game is still excellent. Now that Mario games have again slowed to a trickle, the routine excellence of NSMB2 is more easily appreciated. Not all games can be Super Mario 3D World or Super Mario Galaxy 2. Sometimes just doing everything right can be enough. Sometimes you just want to play more Mario levels. That might be all that New Super Mario Bros 2 brings, but it brings it so well that it is hard to hold it against the game. At least, it is now that it is not coming less than a year after Super Mario 3D Land and a few months before New Super Mario Bros U. Those are the more essential games, but once one has finished with the essential, there is more than a little to recommend in the excellent.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario 3D Land

I’ve already reviewed this game here, and I mostly stand by what I wrote about this game more than a half decade ago (dear god). Now as then I find it to be a near perfect execution of the Mario formula. Now, though, I am a little more forgiving about how much of a formula the series uses, and how much of a departure this game is from that formula.

Playing it all again, the tight design of this game shines. It starts off probably too easy. That is a common complaint with this game, though an over blown one. It is easy, but Mario games are for everybody. It eases players into things to give new players a chance to learn the ropes. That is a good thing. The counterargument is that many people grew up loving Mario games started with games that are much harder than this one. That is true, but it also misses some crucial points. One is the greater degree of competition for young players attention. Super Mario Brothers might not have been the only game in town, but it was one of only a few when it came out. Super Mario 3D Land faces a lot more competition, with children more likely to turn the game off forever if it is too frustrating. Also, 3D games are more complex than 2D games, and it would naturally take a new player longer to learn to play those than of the original Super Mario Bros. So 3D Land walks a fine line, and maybe errs by being a little too easy, by making a game playable for new players but with enough bite for veterans. It definitely does have that bite at the end; the last few of the special worlds are pretty devilish. So yes, the game makes you wait a little too long before getting to the good stuff, but that stuff is good enough to be worth the wait.

Super Mario 3D Land continues the trajectory from Super Mario Galaxy of bringing the 3D games more in line with the 2D games, with smaller, more inventive levels. Super Mario 64 turned the levels into open playgrounds, and Super Mario Sunshine continued that. The series retrenched after that. In many ways, SM3DL is as much like Super Mario Bros 3 as possible. That is clear in how much emphasis it places on SMB3’s signature power up, the racoon tail. While it doesn’t work quite the same way here as it did there, it is an excellent power up as balanced. It gives an inexperienced player a cushion for ill-advised jumps. But it also gives expert players a lot of tools. The only problem with it is that its ability to break blocks is kind of necessary at some points.

Super Mario 3D Land is one of my favorite games in the Mario series. It is the game that sold me on the 3DS and remains maybe the best game on the system. It is only an incremental movement from the Galaxy games, but it is a meaningful evolution.

Now Playing February 2018

Beaten

Monster Hunter World – I’m not really done with this, but I have essentially beaten it. I will likely have a good, long post coming in a few days/weeks about it. It does a great job of updating the series without losing its appeal. Removing the transition sections from the maps and letting the monsters wander wherever they want makes the world feel more real, and the only thing it loses is the exploit of ducking to the other side of the load screen to heal up. It also has a pretty interesting roster of mostly new monsters. I do hope they bring back some classic monsters through DLC, but it is an early frontrunner for game of the year.

Mario & Luigi Partners in Time – Post coming soon. This is a real good game.

Ongoing

Monster Hunter Stories – I’ve only just started this, but I like it so far. It is fun to get another perspective on a Monster Hunter setting that what is usually there in the games. It is a bit simplistic so far, but hopefully it will develop some as it goes.

Upcoming

Radiant Historia Perfect Chronology – I loved the original release of this game, and I am eager to revisit it and see what new has been added.

Terranigma – I’ve got a Raspberry Pi and I’ve got all my ROMs on it. I plan to play this first to test it out before moving on to some PS1 games or something. I know I’ve had this in the ongoing before, but I think I’m going to have to start over, so I’ve got it here.

Now Playing January 2018

Beaten

Super Mario 3D Land — post coming soon.

New Super Mario Bros 2 — post coming soon.

Ongoing

Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time — I’ve made a little more progress and should finish soon. I still really like this game and will have a full post once I finish up.

Final Fantasy XV — I played the first hour or two of this. It is interesting, but I can’t tell if I like it or not yet. I’ve barely gotten started. I will say that Cindi is one of the most ridiculous character designs in a series full of ridiculous character designs. It is a sensible concept ran through some kind of insane porn filter. It is just completely out of place.

Etrian Odyssey V — Barely any progress, but it is still the game in my 3DS.

Monster Hunter World — Another game I barely played, but this one only because it just came out. It feels like a little more than the slight updates that the last few Monster Hunter sequels have been. And maybe I just haven’t seen the content yet, but it also feels like a much smaller game than them in terms of number of monsters available to hunt. I’ll be writing more about this early game of the year favorite.

Upcoming

Celeste & Iconoclasts –– I will likely pick up one of both of these for a weekend of fun in the near future. They look great.

Super Mario Mario Galaxy — I am really looking forward to this, assuming I get the chance to actually play it.

River City Rival Showdown

River City Ransom is one the best games on the NES. It is scrolling brawler, a genre even at its best has always felt somewhat flat, but River City Ransom combined that with a little bit of a Metroid like open world and some light RPG elements, along with a healthy dose of humor, to create one of the most memorable and endlessly replayable NES games. Thanks to consistently inconsistent localization choices, the greater series that River City Ransom was part of never really became a thing and it largely disappeared from western shores after the NES faded until a recent resurgence on the DS and 3DS.

That resurgence has been both welcome and somewhat disappointing. Last year gave us River City: Tokyo Rumble, which I enjoyed. However, it was more like Ransom’s predecessor Renegade than the game it gets its title from. It was fun, but it was not that River City Ransom experience that I was craving. Earlier this year we got River City: Knights of Justice, which replaced the usual Tokyo setting with a fantasy one, but bafflingly removed many of the rpg elements from the game. I have yet to finish it, but I’ve found it to be a great disappointment. While I was still excited to play the game, I was worried that it be another shadow of the game I really wanted to play. Thankfully, with Rival Showdown they have finally gotten things right.

The game is more of a reimagining of the NES classic, not a simple remake. It takes the same basic set up, that someone has set the ruffians of all the high schools against Kunio and kidnapped Riki’s girlfriend, and turns it into a time limited open world adventure. It takes the original game and adds in a dash of Majora’s Mask as well as some alternate endings, making the replayability of it a central part of the experience.

It starts with a few events to set up the game, then let’s the player loose for the rest of the three days in game to do whatever they want. There is a right path, one that leads to the actual showdown with the guy responsible, there is more than enough stuff to keep the player busy even if they ignore all the main story stuff. On my first path I missed a few plotlines entirely. Most of the events are reimaginings of events from the first game, only played out multiple times with increasing difficulty, like the repeated run ins with Benny & Clyde.

One of my favorite moments in any video game is when my cousin and I first got to the top of the school in the original River City Ransom and faced the Dragon twins. It was a hard fought battle. First, they knocked me down to one sliver of health on my health bar. So I moved away from the fight, taking quick shots and running away. Left fighting a two on one, my cousin didn’t last long. By the time I rushed back in, they had already knocked him out. That left me versus both Dragon twins, that epic Double Dragon music, with almost no health. Somehow, though grit and luck and a small amount of skill, I pulled through. I took out both of them, leaving us free to take on the last boss. It was amazing. River City Rival Showdown gave me a few a of those moments. The best one was when an army of delinquents attacks Kunio’s school and must stand alone to stop them. They don’t stop coming for almost ten real world minutes. It is epic and exhausting. I loved it.

I don’t know that I like Rival Showdown as much as River City Ransom, but for the first time one of its follow ups feels like it attempts to improve on the stuff I liked about River City Ransom. Most of them lose things like the rpg character building stuff or the free roaming elements. That delicate mix is what made the original game work so well and this is the first follow that really captures it.

Top 10 Games of 2017

I didn’t play too many new games this year, and I completed only a fraction of those that I did play. Even so, I was able to assemble a list of my 10 favorite games. I haven’t beaten every game on this list, but I have played all of them enough to know how good they are.

10. Etrian Odyssey V -I have barely cleared the first stratum of this game’s dungeon. I have loved previous Etrian Odyssey games and I like this one so far, but it hasn’t grabbed me like most of the rest of the series, so I don’t know where I’ll end up with this one. It could easily fall off the list, or it could shoot up four or five spots once I finish it.

09. Disney Afternoon Collection -I have played each of the games in this excellent collection for at least an hour, but I haven’t beaten any of them. Capcom’s NES Disney games are mostly terrific. Even the worst of the lot, Tailspin, is at least trying to do something interesting. I man never beat any of these games, but I expect to have a lot of fun with it going forward.

08. Ever Oasis - A delightful little game with a little Actraiser and a little Secret of Mana and a little Legend of Zelda.  It ends up being a pretty unique blend that makes for a very fun little game.  I didn’t think it did anything great, but it was consistently pleasant and enjoyable.

07. Yakuza 0 - This game would almost certainly be higher on this list if I had managed to complete it. If the first two chapters are indicative of the whole game, it might have topped the list. I just didn’t spend the time with it that I needed to in order to beat it. I have raved about Yakuza games in the past, and everything I’ve said about the previous games hold true here. It is just a great experience.

06. Fire Emblem: Shadows of Valentia There is a middle ground between this remake of the second Fire Emblem game and the previous 3DS triad release of Fates. I liked this game a bunch and it did some new and interesting things with the series despite being a remake, but it also lost some things that I loved about the series. I guess my complaint with the series amount to why can’t they just make the GBA games some more. I still have yet to not enjoy a Fire Emblem game.

05. Wonder Boy: The Dragon’s Trap Another remake (fully half of the games on my list this year are remakes), this new Wonder Boy takes the Master System game and gives it a gorgeous, fresh coat of paint. It also changes just enough in terms of quality of life improvements to make it play just like you remember it playing. I really think I need to spend time with the rest of this series, since I loved both this and Monster World 4.

04. Persona 5 I didn’t love this game quite like I did with the previous two games in the series, but it was still mostly a really good time. It still has a great battle system and its life sim elements are incredibly addictive.

03. Final Fantasy XII: The Zodiac Age This remake of the most underrated Final Fantasy game proves how good and forward thinking the game was back when it first came out. It also reminded me that the game is a lot shorter than I recalled, clocking in at a satisfying 35-40 hours instead of the 60 or so I remembered. I really need to get back to try to finish up all the hunts at some point.

02. River City Rival Showdown - This one might not be as high once the newness wears off, but right now it is everything I want out of a modern River City game. It’s got a fun, goofy story, classic graphics, a deep array of special moves and some genuinely awesome moments. I hope they make more of these.

01. The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild I had some trepidation going into Breath of the Wild, but it won me over completely. It mostly lacks my favorite part of a Zelda game, the dungeons, but it creates an open world that for once is actually worth exploring. It fulfills the exploratory promise that has been inherent in the series since the NES days. I love it.

Now Playing in December 2017

Beaten

River City Rival Showdown — I burned through this game in a few days and have a post coming up for it. It is everything I wanted from it.

Ongoing

Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild — With Xenoblade Chronicles 2 out, I felt the desire to go back to Xenoblade Chronicles X and finish up a lot of late game stuff, but apparently my nephew deleted my save at some point. Instead, I fired up Breath of the Wild again and completed a few shrines. I love the game so much, I could play it forever. I think I might try to clear out all of the shrines if I have the time.

Mario & Luigi: Partners in Time — I’ve been told that this game is the black sheep of the Mario & Luigi series, but through the first half or so of the game it is closer to the peak of the series rather than the bottom. I like the M&L series, but the only weakness of this entry so far is that it lacks the joy of the great villains like Fawful or Bowser. Otherwise, it has been a blast.

Upcoming

Final Fantasy XV — I got this for Christmas and am eager to get to it.

Monster Hunter World — I’ve missed out on the beta demos for this game, but I couldn’t be more excited for a full console Monster Hunter game. Don’t get me wrong, I greatly enjoy the 3DS Monster Hunter games, but I first fell in love with the series with the WiiU version of Monster Hunter 3. I hope this is good.

Mario — I still intend to get to the rest of the series and finish this playthrough before starting a new series playthrough, like Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest of Suikoden.

Now Playing November 2017

Beaten

Kindle Picross games – I’ve been playing some picross games on my Kindle before I go to bed and I’ve all but run out of free puzzles. They are fine.

Ongoing

Yakuza 0 – I did a handful of side stories with Majima, and played a ton of Outrun. I love this game, but I haven’t had the time to play it.

Terranigma – Small progress, see my consistent complaints about free time.

Etrian Odyssey V – This game has me stymied. It should be my wind down, spending twenty minutes exploring before I go to bed, but I can’t get through the end of the first stratum, where traditionally the increased options with the characters eases things up enough to be enjoyable rather than frustrating.

Upcoming

Mario – I am getting back to this, though there may be a couple holes in my series replay. I don’t know if I have a working Gamecube or Wii to play Mario Sunshine. I also don’t have ready access to a good copy of New Super Mario Bros Wii. The rest, though, are ready to do and I will get to them as soon as possible. And maybe by the time I’m done I will have access to Super Mario Odyssey.

River City Rival Showdown – This came out in November, but my package didn’t arrive in time for me to start. Once finals end, I am going to lay on my couch and play this straight through, so long as it lives up to its predecessor.

Now Playing October 2017

Beaten

Layton’s Mystery Journey: Katrielle and the Millionares’ Conspiracyreview here.

Chrono Trigger – read some ramblings here.

Ongoing

Yakuza 0 – When The Last Guardian didn’t grab me, I turned to the game for which I bought my PS4. That is an exaggeration, but this game, along with the remake Yakuza Kiwami and the upcoming Yakuza 6, were big factors in me finally moving to this generation of consoles. I am roughly a third of the way through this game and it is just as good as the previous game in the series, which was one of my favorites. It has condensed things down to just two playable characters, but it has kept the variety by giving each character multiple fighting styles. I love this series, and I am loving this game.

Etrian Odyssey V – I am in the tank for this series, and there is a lot of new stuff that I like, but I am in that early game section, about floor 4 to 5, when I still don’t know what my team is and the game feels like kind of a slog. I has the same problem with the first game, so much that I sold it back to gamestop, a move I would quickly regret. I know better now, but I haven’t yet broken through with this one and figured out what my team is and how it works. The game is great, though.

Terranigma – I am still in the introductory area, but I think I am going to like this. I loved Illusion of Gaia when I played that, and this is like that game with more solid mechanics.

Upcoming

River City Rival Showdown – With my limited time, it seems unlikely that I will even get to this game, but I can’t not get a remake of River City Ransom. Maybe if I am still being as stymied by Etrian Odyssey V when this game hits as I am now.