Mario + Rabbids

Of all the games I thought to buy when I got a Switch, Mario + Rabbids: Kingdom Battle was not one that came to mind. Even ignoring the WiiU ports, which as one of the few owners of the WiiU I had already played most of them, there were still quite a few games to get me started. The new Pokemon, Super Mario Odyssey, and Fire Emblem Three Houses just for a start. But those games are still full price, while I was able to get Mario + Rabbids for song. I like Mario and I like strategy games, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Mario + Rabbids is a strange game. I mean, from conception it is odd. There is not a lot of overlap in sensibility between the Mario games and the Rabbids. Mario is Mario. The Raving Rabbids were kind of a proto-Minions that spun out of the Rayman series all the way back in the early days of the Wii/fading days of the PS2. They starred in a series of chaotic mini-game collections, starting something of a craze that lasted for a while, but by the time of the Switch launch they had largely been banished to mobile for half a decade. Still, it wasn’t much of a surprise to see Ubisoft try to resurrect them with a new game for a new system. I think its says a lot about where Nintendo was after the failure of the WiiU that Ubisoft was given the keys to Mario Kingdom to help relaunch these characters.

On top of the weirdness of mixing the two franchises is the genre of game that Mario + Rabbids is. It is not a reflection of either Mario or the Rabbids, both of whom at their hearts come from platformers. Mario is known for showing up in absolutely anything; he’s been in sports games, racing games, rpgs, you name it. The Rabbids have mostly been in party games and mini-game collections. So, of course, Ubisoft went with a strategy game. And while it never stops being weird, it mostly works.

The game has got a good mix of characters with some real tactical choices to make once you get a full party. The game eventually gives you the central Mario crew: Mario, Luigi, Peach, and Yoshi. They are joined by Rabbids versions of each of the four. You start with just Mario, Rabbid Peach and Rabbid Luigi, and the others join one or two per chapter. Each version of each four characters fill similar roles, but each of the eight characters is pretty different. Mario is forced on the player for every battle, but fortunately he is good enough that you will likely want to use anyway. He is the all around character. The others have more specialized roles. Rabbid Peach has an actual healing ability; regular Peach has a defensive boost, a shotgun and a healing ability tied to her jump ability. Rabbid Luigi is a pure support character, great at weakening and giving status effects to enemies. Regular Luigi is the team’s sniper. Every character has maps where they shine, where their skills are absolutely essential.




For the most part the game works. Where I thought it kind of fell flat was how it tried to integrate Mario’s platformer roots into the tactical battles. Each character can move a certain number of squares on the grid map, but instead of actually being able to only move, for instance, 6 squares, the game gives a character a range of 6 squares. This makes for some weird choices with the available movement attacks. Each character can perform at least one run by melee attack per turn, but since your movement is based on range, your best choice is generally to run around bumping into every enemy near you before settling in where you want to shoot from. Then there are the warp pipes; these reset a character’s range to a specified number of squares, for some characters nearly the same as their initial movement range. In maps with a lot of pipes, some characters can pretty much go anywhere. It makes things very unpredictable if you don’t know exactly how far enemies can move, both pre and post pipe.




Also kind of awkward and unsatisfying are the parts in between battles where you find chests and solve simplistic puzzles. They feel vaguely in the Mario vein, but mostly end up feeling like padding. I guess there needed to be some connective tissue between stages but these puzzles mostly feel like they are just taking up your time.  It does nail the tone of the Mario series. I am far from an expert when it comes to the Rabbids, but the Mario characters feel about like they would in a Nintendo developed game. I would say I can’t imagine seeing Mario wielding a gun in a Nintendo game, but Smash Bros exists. Mario is the can-do hero, Peach alternates between being sidelined and wanting to get in on the action. There are various goofy Toads. Luigi is the weird schlub also-ran to Mario. Bowser doesn’t make an appearance until late, but he is on brand and honestly this is about as enjoyable as Bowser Jr. has ever been. The highlight is the opera ghost boss, who opens with a song.




Mario + Rabbids is just a strange enjoyable little game. Its creation reeks of desperation on both companies behind it, but the result is a good time.

Paper Mario Color Splash

Nearly three years ago, my brother’s got me Paper Mario Color Splash for Christmas. While I had been greatly anticipating the game, for some reason the game pretty much immediately fell on the back burner. For some reason, I got the notion to finally give a play a few weeks ago. It turns out that Color Splash, like most of Nintendo’s WiiU output is an excellent game.

Color Splash is built in the same mold as its predecessor, Sticker Star for DS. That surely was a big disappointment for the people who hated Sticker Star, but Color Splash truly refines what that game did and feels like the culmination of this conception of Paper Mario. Like Thousand Year Door took the original Paper Mario and perfected it, Color Splash perfects the enjoyable but flawed Sticker Star. Super Paper Mario was perfect the first time out. (No, I haven’t played the game in nearly a decade, but I am sure my memory of it is perfect.) There are no companions and Mario’s abilities are still represented by a randomly drawn deck. Here they are cards instead of stickers, but the concept is generally the same. Mario can only do what he has the cards to do. The game has also been almost completely lost its RPG elements. There are almost no numbers to be seen, no levels or experience. Mario still does have HP, but that is about it.

Mario can carry up to 100 cards and use as many as four a turn. Cards are plentiful, meaning there is rarely any reason to horde them. Sure, you might want to make judicious decisions when using them, using regular jumps to take out weak enemies like Koopa Troopers and saving the huge jump and five jump cards for bosses, but nothing sticks in the inventory for long. The game is divided into levels and each one has a gimmick of some sort. Some of these play into the real world looking items that are in the paper world, others just have a neat hook.

Where it really shines, especially in comparison to Sticker Star, is in the story and characters. The main complaint with Sticker Star is still there in Color Splash; the game’s characters consists almost entirely of Toads. Bowser is almost completely absent, Peach makes only a slightly larger appearance. It is mostly Mario and Huey, a paint bucket, messing around with Toads and Shyguys. Still, the game manages to use the interchangeable facelessness of the Toads to its advantage this time. There are some with personality, like a feisty yet fearful ship captain, but mostly they are just folk, letting the events of the game happen to them. Still, they are worked in perfectly in every environment. They panic and are resigned. They try to help, but are generally ineffectual. Like they do with the eternal second brother Luigi, this time Nintendo has turned that into wonderful comedy. The highlight of the game is a big train rescue. Lemmy of the Koopalings has hijacked a train and Mario has to defeat him to gain a Paint Star. (More on those in a second.) Mario makes his way through the train, saving Toads from various torments at the hands of enemies. Then he reaches a peaceful train car. There, with the sun setting in the background, Mario and a Shyguy have a philosophical discussion. Then you go on. It is a brief aside that manages to be both humorous and thoughtful at the same time; it is great. The game is filled with moments like that.

About those Paint Stars: the big gimmick of Color Splash is that Bowser and his army are sucking the color out of the Paper World. So Mario gets help from a sentient paint can named Huey and sets about restoring the Paint Stars that protect the worlds paint and filling in the whited out parts of the world. It is the perfect gimmick for Paper Mario. It also works well with the entirely papercrafted world of game.

Like nearly all Mario RPGs, Color Splash goes on a bit too long. It is too easy and there are some tedious levels. But it looks amazing and is a great time for the bulk of its run time. There aren’t too many games left on the WiiU that I haven’t played. A part of me wants to argue for the underrated greatness of the WiiU, but that feels like a completely lost cause at this point. Especially since most of the best WiiU games have migrated to other systems. And I am sure that most of the rest will at some point. Maybe not Wonderful 101, which is an all time classic that needs more love. I don’t have the time or energy for this cause. If this is the game that is my farewell to the WiiU, I am glad I sent it off with a great game. I do still have Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, so I do have that still to look forward to.

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.

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.

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.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario Bros

My big project here this year is going to be a replay of the Super Mario series, mainline games only. That means no spin-offs or sports titles. Like previous projects like 25 Years of NES, the Wheel of Time Reread, Second Quest and 25 Years of SNES, I expect this year long project to take me at least 15 months and become a hateful chore by the end of it. Right now though, I am hoping the ending of this will coincide with the release of Super Mario Odyssey and I can play that game with the character’s history in mind. No promises, though.


So we start with Super Mario Bros. Not the 1985 NES game, though; this time I am playing the Super Mario All-Star version on the Wii through the 25th Anniversary Edition. I decided to play it, and the other NES games, in this format because it gives me something else to say about them. There really isn’t much left to say about Super Mario Bros. I’ve already written about it once.  The All-Stars version gives me at least two things to talk about. One is the newly added save system. I am in favor of saving my progress and not being forced to complete a game in one sitting. Super Mario Bros is not designed with this in mind. In fact, it is designed to facilitate playing through quickly. I am avoiding warping so I can see more of the game than I usually do, but all the different hidden Warp Zones that were built into this game are a thing of beauty. Assuming you know what you are doing you can get to just about any stage in a matter of minutes. Saving robs the game of most of its challenge. You still have to get through without dying, but you can take it one World at a time and methodically take this game apart even if you aren’t any good at it.


The other thing is interesting thing about the All-Stars version are the new graphics. It makes the characters look like SMB3 characters, but with SMW detail and color depth and fancy backgrounds. The original version of Super Mario Bros looks good in a primitive, familiar way. You’ve seen this game and those sprites for 30 years; that is what they are supposed to look like, the lack of detail notwithstanding. The All-Star graphics take some getting used to, but they actually look really good. It does create some dissonance with a game that looks like a SNES game but definitely plays like an NES game.


As for the game itself, I don’t know what to say about it. I don’t think a game exists that has been more thoroughly discussed and dissected that Super Mario Bros. I’ve already written about it once. It is the ur video game, its primordial essence is a building block for nearly every game that came after it. Honestly, even all these years later it is still a lot of fun to play. It is perfect in its simplicity. Everyone should play it.

Ready For Adventure!

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker flew somewhat under the radar among Nintendo’s more high profile releases this fall. With all of the Pokemon, Smash Bros and Amiibos, Captain Toad comes off as something of an afterthought. Still, a lot of care clearly went into the games creation. Much like Super Mario 3D World last year, Captain Toad just bursts with joy, creativity and fun. Captain Toad is like an indie game, with a simple core concept blown up into a full game, which has been given the full Nintendo polish. It may be a small game, but it is nearly perfect in its smallness.


The Captain Toad stages were highlights even amidst the whole game highlight that was Super Mario 3D World. Playing as Captain Toad in a Mario style game was an interesting challenge. He has none of Mario’s athletic moves, thanks the weight of his backpack the little guy can’t even jump. Instead of hopping and bopping their way through the levels, players had to move carefully and study their surroundings. The player’s abilities are pared down to running and picking plants. Each stage is a little puzzle that the player must solve. With Treasure Tracker, the simple concept of those stages is explored to its fullest extent. The core never breaks down, but it is pushed. The game adds power ups, including 3D World’s Cherry doubler. There are touch screen blocks to move and wind-blown platforms and the majority of Mario’s usual baddies to fight. With Captain Toad’s limited skills, even a simple enemy like the lowly Goomba poses a threat.

Stages start out simple, to beat if not to get all the gems and complete the extra challenge, but before long the game starts to show its teeth. Players must learn how to exploit Toad’s capabilities they will die, repeatedly. The few bosses the game throws in, really only two bosses repeated a few times, are wonderful, tense challenges. While the game looks childish, it soon provides a moderate challenge.


What really sets this game apart is the wealth of detail is shows. It looks great, like 3D World, but there are so many little touches that really make this game memorable. Like the bed in the train level. If Captain Toad stops on it, he will lay down to take a nap until the player moves again. At one point the two toads, Toadette is a big part of the game, are in a minecart that is rocketing down a hill. Captain Toad covers his eyes while Toadette throws her hands in the air in joy. There is a stage in the later part of the game where you ride a dragon. While Toad sits on its head and cheers, the player controls the dragon taking out hordes and enemies and tons of blocks. There is no threat, no danger or puzzle. It is just a victory romp, pure joy. Near the end the game also tosses up a few stages that are homages to other Mario games. The whole game is just a delight.

One neat trick is the story. It starts on pretty well worn footing, with Toadette being kidnapped and Captain Toad setting out to rescue her. After a dozen or so stages through, they flip the script and it is then Toadette setting out to rescue the Captain. After a section like that, the two are split up and looking for each other, alternating every handful of stages. It doesn’t really matter which one is used, they both play identically. It paints a picture of two mostly competent adventurers who are in slightly over their heads. Another big draw to the story is that there is no real incentive to their quest other than adventure. Yes, they are both trying to rescue the other at times, but they got “kidnapped” by going after stars in the first place. It is less a kidnapping that an unfortunate fall. The big bad bird takes the Toads away because they won’t let go of their prize that was stolen.


The whole game is adorable like that. In gameplay, it feels like an indie game, like VVVVVV, built around a single concept and just going all the way with that. But there was clearly a level of money put into this game that most indies can’t match. Instead of simplistic, if possibly stylish graphics, Captain Toad looks as good as or better than Nintendo’s biggest offerings. It is also a unique look into the Mushroom Kingdom. Rarely does Nintendo give a glimpse without the plumber around and most of those are about the other plumber. This is a chance to see the world through other eyes, and it helps make Mario look all the better. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker may be a somewhat simple game, but it combines simply perfected play mechanics with loads and loads of sheer charm make it a winner.

Top 10 Games of 2013

This was supposed to go up more than a month ago, but I somehow lost it in the shuffle.  I thought about just letting it go, the end of February is an odd time for a best of the last year list, but I wrote this and want to post. So here are my Top 10 Games for 2013.

2013 was the year that the 3DS really came into its own.  It was a good system before that, but this year it really ruled.  The hits started early, with Fire Emblem Awakening in February and never really stopped.  Plus, there were a ton of great downloadable games as well.   The WiiU, while a failure from a sales standpoint, also had a decent amount of good games.  Plus a couple truly great games. I wish I’d have been able to afford a few more PS3 games, but I’m so far behind with that system it is hard to justify new game purchases.

Before I get to the list, I really should mention a few games that missed the list.  Mostly because I didn’t play them, or didn’t play them enough.  Pandora’s Tower was the last hurrah for the Wii.  I bought it and gave it a try.  It seemed okay, but was kind of janky.  I need to give it another chance, but it got lost in my Monster Hunter mania. Pikmin 3 is by all reports excellent.  Somehow, I just never made time for it.  It slipped through the cracks.  Likewise, I never really found the time for SMT Devil Summoner: Soul Hackers.  I just added it to the ever growing pile of unplayed SMT games.

The two Zelda games released this year, A Link Between Worlds and Wind Waker HD, were also excluded.  A Link Between Worlds because it is my Christmas present so I haven’t gotten to play it.  Wind Waker HD, though, I Ieft out because it is a remake.  That is also why I left out DuckTales Remastered, as excellent as it may be.   Continue reading

It is a Somewhat Disappointing Story

Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is a game that, on paper, I should love. I really enjoyed the first M&L game (though I missed out on the second one) and this one brings back the best part, Fawful, and has some of the best looking sprites I’ve seen in a long time. It also has Nintendo’s trademark quality localization, being mostly witty and funny. So I am having difficulty pinpointing exactly why I found playing it to be such a chore.

Part of it I think is the premise. Mario and Luigi manipulating Bowser from the inside while he fights against Fawful’s minions sounds great, but it doesn’t quite work out as it should. All of Bowser’s insides basically look the same, meaning that nearly the entire time game Mario and Luigi are stuck in one area. Also, the globins, the anti-body inhabitants of Bowser’s body are a big miss on the writer’s part. Talking to them is simply tedious. The Mario Brothers portions of the game are simply not as good as they could be. The Bowser portions are much more entertaining. They are certainly better written. Bowser’s charmingly self-centered nature is tons of fun. He sees everything only as reflections of his importance. His goals haven’t changed, he plans to conquer the Mushroom Kingdom and force Peach to be his bride. However, with Fawful currently in power, his goals are temporarily aligned with Mario’s. Still, Bowser finds it hard to focus on the larger goal rather than instant gratification. The problem with Bowser’s portion is the other problem I’ve had with the game.

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story tries its best to utilize as much of the DS’s functionality as possible. In this case this is a bad thing. There are many features on the DS that when uses appropriately can greatly enhance a game. The great games on the system use only the ones necessary. M&L3 uses as just about everything on the system, no matter how awkward the implementation is. The game has the player turn the system sideways to fight big battles with Bowser, you blow in the mic to blow fire, tap the screen for various attacks. It makes battles, whose timing mechanics already make them more involved than most, a chore. I found most of the tapping, sliding and other touch mechanics to be tiresome. The worst part is that the increased complexity in battle mechanics is offset by a simplification of the platforming parts, which were the best parts of the first game.

These problems aren’t really that big. They are kind of nitpicky. Still, they added up to enough to keep me from truly enjoying the game. Mario and Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story is a well-made game with small flaws that simply rubbed me the wrong way. I wanted to like it, I really did, but I didn’t really enjoy the game all that much. I know some people were disappointed when Nintendo announced Paper Mario for the 3DS rather than a new Mario and Luigi game, but I’m perfectly happy with that series continuing over this one.

25 Years of NES Part 5: Super Mario Bros. 2

Now that Mega Man is taken care of its time to move on to another great sequel Super Mario Brothers 2, the secret best Mario game (If you do not get the reference you should listen to Retronauts).  Super Mario Bro. 2 is a game with a complex history and some of the best platforming on the system.

I know some readers are now crying out that the SMB 2 that I’m writing about is not the “real” SMB 2 and all I have to say is “bullshit.”  Yes, Japan did get an entirely different game named Super Mario Bros. 2 than we did here in the United States, but the one we got is the better version of Super Mario Bros. 2.  Japan’s SMB 2, known locally as the Lost Levels, is warmed over SMB with added spite.  The innovations in that game are terrible things like poison mushrooms and invisible wind bursts.  Our SMB 2, on the other hand, was greatly influential to the future of the Mario series.  Shy Guys and Birdo are enemies that continually show up in the various Mario Parties and Sports games.  Any time the secondary cast of Mario games – Luigi, Peach and Toad – are playable nowadays there is a great chance their controls will be based on their SMB 2 counterparts.  Most importantly the American Super Mario Bros. 2 is a great game with colorful, detailed graphics and solid, if a bit easy, gameplay.  So if any player feels ‘cheated’ by getting this game get over it; this is the real Super Mario Bros. 2.

I feel like I have to explain how SMB 2 came to be.  In Japan the game we know as SMB2 is known as Doki Doki Panic.  I have never played DDP, but I assume it plays about the same as Super Mario Bros. 2.  It was created by Nintendo’s golden boy Shigeru Miyamoto, his involvement is a big reason it feels like later Mario games.  The reason Doki Doki Panic became Mario 2 is that by the time for Nintendo to release a Mario 2 in America, the original Mario 2 would have seemed dated on top of not being any good.  So Nintendo basically did a sprite swap in Doki Doki Panic to make it the real Super Mario Bros 2 and everybody won.

One of the biggest changes from Mario Bros to Mario Bros 2 is that instead of Mario and Luigi being playable and playing identically there are four different unique playable characters.  In addition to Mario and Luigi this game has Peach and Toad.  They all have different abilities.  Well, the same basic moves, they just work in different ways.  Mario is the base character.  His momentum and jumping ability are the normal setting.  Luigi jumps higher than Mario, but he is also much harder to control.  He slides back and forth and is generally infuriating.  Luigi is the expert character; once you learn to control him he makes large parts of the game much easier.  If Luigi is the expert character then Princess Peach is the beginner character; she does not jump quite as high as Luigi but she can float for a limited amount of time before she comes back down.  It makes the jumps all much easier.  Toad’s jumping abilities are not that different from Mario but he can dig really fast and I rarely use him.  Still, having 4 different playable characters adds tons of replay value, which is good because SMB 2 is short.  As in beaten in about an hour short.

Another deviation from the Mario formula is that jumping on enemies head’s does not kill them.  You can ride them or pick them up and throw them, making for interesting but very different gameplay.  And instead of Goombas and Koopa Troopers the game has shy guys and Birdo.

While very different, SMB2 is also very good.  It is more of a puzzle game than other Mario games.  Getting to the end is not the challenge, at least not as much as figuring out how to get there is.  You must find keys guarded by frightening masks.  Passages must be cleared using a limited number of bombs.  Potions that take the player to a shadow area must be thrown in specific areas to get power ups.  All in all it is very different from other Mario games, but Super Mario Bros 2’s uniqueness is a large part of its charm.  There are other strange things in SMB2, though their uniqueness is debatable.  At the risk of spoiling a more than 20 year old game, SMB2 ends with an it was all a dream reveal.  The whole game is Mario’s nightmare.  Another strange thing is Birdo.  Of the manual it to be believed, and being an NES manual it is probably not, then Birdo is some sort of trans character that wishes it was a girl so it could lay eggs.  This is why it shoots eggs out of its nose.  Truly a bewildering creature.  And the 2nd best thing in all of ever (number one of course being Frankenstein’s Monster riding a motorcycle, swinging a sword and quoting Milton) is in this game you pull a turnip out of the ground and it turns into a rocket ship.  Yes, a turnip rocket!

There is no other game like SMB2.  No game has its convoluted history, its puzzley platforming, or the sheer amount of unique weirdness.  Some games may match it in places, but none has them all.  Despite being an entry in a long running franchise, Super Mario Bros 2 is unique.  Even if you do not think it is a good game, in which case you are demonstrably wrong, it’s worth playing just for the novelty of it.  This, the real Super Mario Bros 2 is one of the most fun and individual games on the NES.

pictures from the VG Museum.