Super Mario Replay: Super Mario Galaxy

Yeah, I’m still doing this. It has been some time, and I might not be able to finish for some time thanks to the remaining games providing difficulty, but I am still going. Mario’s first appearance on the Wii hit me like a truck with an incredible combination of nostalgia and wonder that re-solidified it as one of my favorite all time games.

This is the game that really got me into Mario. I don’t mean that I didn’t like Mario games before Galaxy, but I never really thought about them or considered myself a Mario fan. One of my earliest memories is of “helping” my Dad play Super Mario Bros. By the time I was old enough to really play games, even Mario 3 was kind of old hat. Otherwise I was a late adopter and Mario games tended to hit early in a system’s life. I bought Chrono Trigger with my SNES, Mario World was already nearly five years old. My N64 came with Jet Force Gemini. Mario games were always just kind of there. Super Mario Galaxy changed that. I bought a Wii to play Super Mario Galaxy. I was in college with time and just enough money to get a new system. I considered the PS3 and 360, but I was mostly spending my gaming time on the DS (I put 300+ hours into Pokemon Pearl) and playing PS2 games I missed because I was a late adopter. But then I saw videos of Mario Galaxy and it was just something I had to play. It and Smash Bros. Brawl made acquiring a Wii a necessity. I never regretted it.

Super Mario Galaxy feels like a revelation despite being an obvious evolution of what came before. The first three 3D Marios follow the same pattern as the the 2D games. The first established how the games work, the next did something very different and then the third came back and perfected the first game. Super Mario Galaxy is definitely the Super Mario Bros. 3 to Super Mario 64’s Super Mario Bros. It plays in large the same, but features more, smaller levels and more adventurous power ups.

The most striking thing about the same is the feeling of unbridled creativity. You can beat the game with the only truly repeated challenges being the mandatory Bowser fights. One level you are running atop a rolling ball controlled with the Wii remote’s accelerometer. The next is a standard Mario level. Then a level with the new Bee Mario power up. And then Mario gets stuck in a bubble and you have to use wind to blow him through some obstacles. The most amazing thing is that nearly all of these different things work and work perfectly. The only one that doesn’t work is the motion controlled manta ray surfing, which is frustrating both (?) times it shows up. Everything else is just perfection.

The game also nails the presentation. I know its low def and on the underpowered Wii, but Super Mario Galaxy still looks good. It is vibrant and cartoony. Everything just looks right. The music is unassailable; boisterous and jazzy and perfectly fitting. The presentation helps make it so easy to just disappear into this game; to sit in it and lose full days as you collect star after star. That is something that few games can do, especially now that I am an adult. It is comforting. Super Mario Galaxy is damn near perfect.

I would hop right on Super Mario Galaxy 2, but I think I loaned it to my brother, so I’ll have to track that down. I do have Super Mario 3D World, so I might start that up sooner rather than later. It depends on how quickly I can track down Galaxy 2. I still need to track down a working copy of New Super Mario Bros Wii so I can get that one. Lastly, I have Super Mario Sunshine, but I don’t currently have a working Wii or Gamecube. It looks like that is going to be the last game I finish. If I finish this; when I started I intended to end with the release of Super Mario Odyssey, playing that game on my brand new Switch. Which I still don’t have.

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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: 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.

Dragon Quest VIII 3DS

I think I had kind of forgotten how important Dragon Quest VIII was to me until I played the 3DS remake.  I always remembered liking the game well enough, slotting it somewhere in the middle of the series when rating my enjoyment of them.  I liked it better than the primitive DQ1 or the grindy DQ2 or DQ6, which I just don’t much care for, but I didn’t consider it a favorite like DQ 4 or 5 or even 9.  It just wasn’t a game I thought much about. Playing the 3DS port/remake, which improves the game in several ways but is also hampered enough by technical issues to not be strictly the definitive version, really brought back how much I liked that game.

During what in hindsight appears to be something of a Golden Age during the heart of the PS2/GC/XBOX days, I largely drifted out of gaming.  I owned a GameCube, but despite a steady stream of solid games, between Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker near the start of 2003 and Resident Evil 4 in early 2005, which was the last new GameCube game I bought before I got a PS2, I played maybe 5 new games. I bought Viewtiful Joe and Tales of Symphonia for myself, got Skies of Arcadia Legends and Lord of The Rings: Return of the King for Christmas, and my brother and I went in together to Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles. Most of those are great games.  Viewtiful Joe and Skies of Arcadia Legends are among my all-time favorites. Return of the King was a great co-op experience during Winter Break, but I have neither the time nor inclination to revisit it and see if it holds up.  Tales of Symphonia was the right game at the right time in the summer of 2004. And Crystal Chronicles is at the very least interesting.  While those were some great games, and there were plenty of great games hitting the GC and other systems, I found myself less and less interested. While the RPGs in that list took some time to play, none of the others are all that lengthy. Some of my disinterest is could be down to the GC not really having the RPGs that really interested me at the time, but I didn’t really feel a pull to get a PS2, where those games could be found. At least, I didn’t until I saw FFXII on the horizon.

The inexorable pull of Final Fantasy XII was enough to get me to finally take the plunge on a PS2. Since that game was the primary pull for me to get the system, before it was released late in 2006, I picked up a copy of Dragon Quest VIII, which came with a FFXII demo disc. I was interested, though not exactly excited, to play Dragon Quest VIII. The only game in the series I had played was Dragon Warrior on NES and while I had fond memories of it, I hadn’t played it in a decade or so.  Dragon Quest 8 was a JRPG, which I like, with an appealing graphical style not unlike that in Wind Waker.  I wasn’t ready for how much I would enjoy it.

The essence of the 3DS remake of DQ8 is the same as the PS2 original.  That game charmed me with its aesthetics and is back to basics approach to the JRPG.  Most of the games of that genre that I love emphasize a sense of adventure over strictly mechanical or storytelling concerns.  That is why I love Skies of Arcadia and Lunar.  While no Dragon Quest games are strictly complex, DQ8 rolls its mechanics back to the basics.  There is a tiny amount of character customization, but otherwise the game is very simple.  Neither is the story particularly innovative or original.  It has a silent protagonist on a quest to save a princess, join by a trio of like-minded companions. That shouldn’t be the recipe for a beloved classic, but DQ8 shines in the execution of its very simple adventure.  

One thing the game did better than any game before it how well it realized a world.  Other PS2 games, like Final Fantasy X, eliminated the overworld in favor of linear pathways to follow.  Dragon Quest 8 went the other way, creating a full sized world for the player to explore.  Better than any other jrpg I had ever played, Dragon Quest 8 made me feel like I was in the world of the game.  That feeling is greatly helped by its excellent graphics, which helps create a cohesive world.

 

The simple story, the impetuous for exploring the game’s excellent world, doesn’t work without solid characters and that is another area where the game shines. Both its playable and non-playable characters a delightful and memorable.  Jessica and Angelo are simply well executed stock genre characters. Like the game itself, they break little new ground, but are perfect for what they are.  Yangus, though, is the real star, with his cockney accent and general scruffiness.  His interactions with King Trode are a constant delight. The 3DS adds his sometimes paramour Red as a playable characters, and she is likewise a lot of fun. Then there are the characters that make up the casts in each town the player visits.  There are too many to mention.

Something about this game’s back to basics approach, stripping the genre down to its essence and concentrating on the presentation just worked for me, both in 2007 and in 2017. Back then, I was hoping that the forward thinking, groundbreaking Final Fantasy XII would be the game to make me love playing video games again. But Dragon Quest VIII isn’t the most complex game or the most original, but it is a perfectly executed take on the genre.

A Farewell to a Console Gone Too Soon

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild appears to be the WiiU’s last breath. It is far from unexpected, but still sad. The WiiU was a marketing misfire from the start, and Nintendo was unable or willing to make the adjustments that could have turned things around for it. Still, while it is impossible to consider it anything other than a failed console, but it is one that I hold near and dear.

The WiiU only lived at all for a little over 4 years, and for the last year or more of that it was only life support. For about three years though, Nintendo put out a run of games as good as they ever have. The WiiU doesn’t have the biggest library, but it definitely has more than its fair share of absolute gems. It’s got Mario games, with the trio of New Super Mario Bros U, Super Luigi U and Super Mario 3D World. Plus, it has the make it yourself magic of Super Mario Maker. All of them are excellent games, evident of Nintendo at the top of their powers as developers. They made nearly every Zelda game playable on the system (I think it only lacks the Gameboy games) and put out strong entries in most of their long running series.

I don’t want to make this just a list of all of the excellent WiiU games, though there are quite a few, but a more general look at why I love this system. The tablet controller might be the albatross that sunk the system, but being able to play games like Wind Waker HD and Assassin’s Creed 3 while other people in the room watched TV was a Godsend. Then there were asymmetrical multiplayer experiences, like those found in NintendoLand and Affordable Space Adventures. The tablet really added a lot of ways to play games that didn’t exist before, if only more developers were able to take advantage of it. Nintendo Land specifically is an overlooked gem. Mario Kart 8, Smash Bros and Super Mario 3D World may be the obvious multiplayer go to games, but playing Mario Chase and Animal Crossing Sweet Day with my brothers are definitely highlights of my time with the system.

I think I’ve captured my thoughts of the games on this system on this blog over the last few years. The ones I found most memorable, outside of the obvious Mario and Zelda choices, were The Wonderful 101 and Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze. The first is a game unlike any other. It has some shades of other Clover/Platinum game’s like Viewtiful Joe and Bayonetta mixed with some Pikmin and just a touch of Star Fox. It is a singular experience and is reason enough to own the console. It was also kind of divisive upon release, but I would call it a masterpiece. Donkey Kong Tropical Freeze, on the other hand, is a game like many others. It is a fairly standard 2.5D platformer, albeit one done with uncanny precision. It can be hard, but it is never unfair, it looks and sounds great and it perfectly nails that easy to play hard to master balance. It is one of my favorite platformers of all-time.

Even though the WiiU is officially dead at this point, I am far from done with it. I have a couple dozen more hours of Breath of the Wild ahead of me for starters. Plus, I got Paper Mario Color Splash for Christmas and have barely started on it. The same goes for Twilight Princess HD and Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, both of which I bought last year and have barely started. Finally there’s Hyrule Warriors and Pokken Tournament, one of which I plan to buy and the other I’ll borrow from my brother, but both of them will be played.

I said I didn’t want to make this a list, but I’m about out of things to share about this much loved, by me at least, console and I haven’t mentioned games like Bayonetta 2, Captain Toad Treasure Tracker, Tokyo Mirage Sessions, Xenoblade Chronicles X, Star Fox 0, Yoshi’s Woolly World, Pikmin 3, Smash Bros 4, Mario Kart 8 or even breakout hit Splatoon. Other than Affordable Space Adventures I haven’t touched on any of the excellent downloadable games. The WiiU failed, and I can accept that, but it did not fail for lack of quality games. Most consoles would love to have a three year period of output like the WiiU had almost exclusively from Nintendo. The WiiU’s failure is a failure of marketing and a failure by gamers, the system and its games were great.

Frustrated Hype

There is no game coming out this year that I am more excited for than The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, which I should have in my hands already and I’ll see you in a couple of years when I come up for breath. Hell, I don’t think I’ve been this excited for a game since the similarly delayed Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess a decade ago. Still, there is something in the early reactions that I find incredibly annoying. The game is getting the same kind of hype that helped contribute to me losing interest in Game of Thrones. Like with that TV/book series, much of Zelda’s early lauding is built on tearing down what came before it. As someone who has had a lot of fun with those games, it finds that turns me away more than it gets me interested. I doubt I will result in a clean break for me with Zelda like it did with A Song of Ice and Fire, at least partly because I still really like what Nintendo is putting out and partly because I like Zelda a lot more than I ever enjoyed George R R Martin’s work.

Today!

Today!

While its fans’ crapping on the rest of the genre wasn’t what turned me off to A Song of Ice and Fire, it did make it easier for to just decide to give up on the series. I dug into the series a year to two before A Feast for Crows came out and enjoyed it. Then A Feast for Crows hit and I found it rather underwhelming. When the promised second half didn’t show up the next year, or the year after, I kind of started to lose interest. At least, I did until it was announced that HBO was working on a TV adaptation. That sparked a reread and the realization that once the shock of the discovery was gone, I didn’t really like the books that much. That is the biggest reason I am not into the series anymore; it kept my interest through the rush of its twists and turns, but I didn’t like anything else about it.

What really didn’t help the situation were my online interactions with GoT fans. The primary method I’ve seen fans of the series use to build up it up is by tearing down other fantasy series. ASoIaF/GoT is better than Wheel of Time because it is so real. It is so dark and gritty, unlike all that other silly fantasy crap. Not only did I find these arguments unconvincing, it was also frustrating to see stuff I liked consistently put down by people hoping to push something that I really didn’t like. Being more realistic is not necessarily a positive thing in a fantasy series. Being dark and gritty is often just code for being cynical and pre-teen edgy. I am glad for fans of the series to have as faithful and successful an adaptation as Game of Thrones appears to be, but it success doesn’t render other similar series inferior.

That is the same feeling I am getting from some of Breath of the Wild’s hype. Nintendo is purposefully comparing their new Zelda to the original Legend of Zelda. That is fine, and it appears to have resulted in a truly excellent game. But that has morphed in many places to the full on tearing down of every Zelda game between the original and this new one. It is some baffling revisionist history, like there haven’t been at least three masterpieces in between. This is not true of everybody, many are careful to point out that while A Link to the Past didn’t have the original’s freedom it was still an excellent game, but most of the games are getting written off as misguided crap.

I never thought I would put myself into arguing against the original Legend of Zelda, but people vastly overstate the sense of ‘freedom’ in that game. It may have been one of my original gaming loves, but that game is a lot of opaque crap that has been wisely discarded. Getting past the Lost Hills or the Lost Woods is a cool trick once you know it, but it is understandably frustrating to anyone who doesn’t know how it works. Finding most of the secrets on the over world involves either already knowing where things are or painstakingly burning each bush or bombing likely walls. It isn’t fun; it is tedious. There is a lot to love about the game, but its relative openness is not the game’s biggest selling point.

Then there are the supposedly hyping comparisons to Skyrim, as though being a wide open janky piece of crap would be an improvement for the series. I know that I am the extreme outlier for my take on that game and Bethesda’s output in general, but what I’ve always liked more about Nintendo’s output over a lot of the open world crap that is dominating the current gaming landscape is that their games actually have well considered gameplay. I would rather Skyward Sword’s tightly designed, dense overworld to the wide open nothing that I see all over the place. From what I’ve seen of Breath of the Wild it appears to avoid the traps that nearly every other open world games fall into. Like Metal Gear Solid V, Breath of the Wild appears to still be a tightly designed game that is also an open world. As long as it still plays like Zelda, everything else is just gravy.

What annoys me is the hype that depends on putting something else down to make whatever is being hyped look good. You don’t have to tell me that the Wheel of Time is crap to try to convince me that A Song of Ice and Fire is good. Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword don’t have to be misbegotten junk to make Breath of the Wild a fresh experience. It can sell on its own merits; the other games in the series don’t need to be buried to build it up. Again, I am excited for Breath of the Wild as have been for a game in a long time, but that excitement has nothing to do with Skyward Sword, other than the fact that this game seems to be using a similar art design.

Super Mario Replay: Super Mario Bros 2

I started and lost a version of this blog post and I don’t really feel much like rewriting it. Especially since I’ve already said just about all I have to say about the game in my 25 Years of NES entry on it. So this one is going to be short; just a few observations from my recent play through of the All-Stars version of the game.

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Super Mario Bros. 2 is a still great, and the All-Stars version just makes it better. It is already a game notable for being bright and colorful, this version just adds to that. There is just something so inviting about this game. It doesn’t have the game changing importance of the first game or Super Mario 64, nor is it as virtuosic a display of game design as Super Mario Bros 3, Super Mario World or Super Mario Galaxy, but Super Mario Bros 2 is one of the most pleasant games in the series to play. With the Mario series that is really saying something. Nearly all the games are pleasant, but this one stands out in that regard.

That’s it. Shortly it will be time for Super Mario Bros. 3, which might turn out to be as short as this one. It depends on how much I have to add to what I’ve already written about that game.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam

The Mario RPGs, both of Paper Mario and Mario & Luigi sub-brands, tend toward being tedious at times. I love them, but there is no denying it. The Mario & Luigi games tend toward condescending tutorializing and Paper Marios tend to feature funny bits that are just a chore to play. Those are blemishes on otherwise very good games, though the degree to which those flaws derail the experience varies. Nintendo combining the two series was on it’s a terrific idea; it had the potential to be one of the best games of the year, but it also runs the risk of flaws compounding to make one of the most frustrating game experiences imaginable. While Mario & Luigi Paper Jam is not quite the best case scenario, it luckily strays far from the worst case scenario.

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Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam is not really a combination of the different stands of Mario RPGs, it is just a Mario & Luigi game with the Paper Mario characters tossed in. That in itself is one of the better gimmicks in the series, less tiresome that Partners in Time’s babies or Dream Team’s dreams. The Paper Mario stuff is just a flavoring added on to the usual M&L goofiness. They didn’t go quite far enough with the paper stuff, but they got some good use out of the paper doppelgangers. It clearly made it easier to come up with enemies, since they could double up on the Mario staples and have to lean less on new, and generally less interesting, original baddies. I would say that the lack of original characters is a flaw, but the only truly interesting character this series has ever come up with is Fawful. Instead, the game just lets the slightly different Bowsers and Peaches play off each other for some really fun scenes.

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Comedy has always been a big part of these games’ appeal. That is true of both Paper Mario and M&L. True comedies are rare in games, and even rarer among RPGs. That fact that these games have been consistently funny over almost ten games. While not all of them have been great games to play, they’ve all brought the same sense of wacky irreverence. The two series combined are maybe funniest yet. This is quite an accomplishment for a games with three protagonists, none of which talk. The best bits are the Bowser parts and the seeing the two Peaches outwit the two Bowser Jrs. It never really strays from the conventional Mario cast, but it does really good work with them. Really, the Paper Mario stuff helps sand down the flaws of the previous M&L game. Dream Team, while not a bad game, was interminable with the tutorials and not especially funny chatter. That is cut down quite a bit in this one. There are still some annoying minigames, but they are less frequent and less onerous.

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Despite all that this game does well, I still can’t quite say that I love it. I’m not really sure why; it addresses almost all of the problems I had with the previous game. It also brings some much needed challenge to the bosses. They might actually go a little too far into difficult. The story doesn’t do anything special, but it is funny and fast moving. It might just be that the addition of Paper Mario to the team is just too much for me to handle. I can’t manage three separate characters as once. Really, it is just as fun as the game is from moment to moment, it all feels belabored and pointless in the end. What Mario is actually doing is never particularly interesting; he is just going through the motions that make up a Mario game; except this time the gameplay is not as outrageously good as it is in the platform games. When it stops being funny it starts being a drag. Still, those moments are relatively few. Mostly the game is a joy.

25 Years 25 Games #3: Super Punch-Out!!

For as big a fan as I am of Mike Tyson’s Punch-Out!!, it was kind of shocking to me to find out that there was a sequel on SNES.  This was in 2008, about the same time as Nintendo announced the Wii game.  Somehow, the existence of the SNES game eluded me for nearly 15 years.  I really don’t know how I didn’t know about it. I did buy it on the Virtual Console, but I never got around to playing it.

After beating it, I have to say that I don’t like it as much as the other two Punch-Out!! games I’ve played. A big part of that is how familiar I am with the NES game and how closely the Wii game sticks to it.  Super Punch-Out!! is quite a bit different. It is more complex, with a wider variety of punches and dodges available to the player, and it has a roster of opponents that is mostly unique to this game. (and the arcade games that no one has ever played) I think what really hurt my enjoyment of it, though, is that I don’t really remember how long it took me to get good at Punch-Out!!

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I found playing Super Punch-Out!! very frustrating.  After the first few easy opponents, I started ran into the wall that is learning new fighters.  I got by Piston Hurricane and Bald Bull pretty easily, but Dragon Chan and Masked Muscle was where I started having a lot of trouble.  These fighters have a lot of different moves and tics, and learning those takes time.  Especially when the game doesn’t quite work like I expect it to.  The real problem is how fast I was trying to beat this game.  Now I think of NES Punch-Out!! as a pleasant romp, at least until the last three or four fights.  But it took me a long time playing that game to get that good.  Like playing it off and on for more than 20 years. Compared to that, or to a game that is deliberately as close to that game as possible.  Super Punch-Out!! is trying to push the series forward, and it mostly works, but it frustrates an old pro at the NES game.

None of those problems really have anything to do with what this game actually is.  Although I don’t much like this game, I can’t really claim that it isn’t a good, or maybe even great, game.  The complexity it adds should be counted as a good thing.  I really liked the different super punches that Little Mac has at his disposal.  I never really figured out how the different punches worked, but the options are good.  It will take time to learn when to use which one might take some time, but I like having a more options than just uppercut.

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I’m of two minds about the new boxers in this game.  I really like some them; they work.  What I don’t like is how far they start to get away from being, you know, boxers.  Masked Muscle is fine; his luchador shtick doesn’t interfere with him being a boxer.  His one extra move is to spit in the player’s eyes, an illegal move but not a crazy one.  Likewise with Heike Kagero and his hair whip.  But Dragon Chan and his kicks or How Quarlow and his stick are just a step too far for me.

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Super Punch-Out!! is a great looking game.  No one can argue with that. Just like the original was one of the best looking games on the NES, this one has some of the best looking sprites on the SNES. The music is also a highlight.  Really, there is no part of this game that isn’t well made; I just don’t like it as much as the previous game. Nintendo rarely misses and they were really on the top of their game in the SNES days.  While Super Punch-Out!! doesn’t quite have the reputation of some their best games, like Super Metroid or Yoshi’s Island, but it really shows how the mastered this hardware.