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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Some Early Smash Thoughts

So I’ve has Smash Brothers for 3DS for a weekend now and I feel like I am just scratching the surface of what this game has to offer. I had already spent a ton of time with the demo before the game came out, but the whole game is much different and more robust experience. It is Smash Bros, at its heart the same game that it’s been since the N64 but as always stuffed to the brim with love for Nintendo.

The accepted narrative is that Smash Bros 4 rights the wrongs of Brawl. I disagree with that, Brawl was a fine game, a better one than Melee by a country mile. There were flaws, the character roster wasn’t that well balanced and tripping, while amusing, was not a good addition. But despite its unbalanced nature, the roster of characters was expansive and varied. The single player experience was by a wide margin the best thing the series has ever seen. Smash Bros. 4, though, does improve on Brawl in several ways. Despite the loss of a few fighters, the stable of fighters is even more impressive. The game is also sped up from Brawl’s leisurely pace. Not back up to Melee’s uncontrollable speed, but it is faster than it was. There are some problems as well. The single player seems somewhat barren. There are several different single player modes, but not a one of them is as substantial or entertaining as Brawl’s Subspace Emissary, as flawed as it was. Still, it makes up for it by having a worthwhile online mode.

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all pics taken from Nintendo’s website

That online mode is much better than Brawl’s. Brawl was of Nintendo’s earliest forays into online play and they didn’t quite get it. I played a few matches without lag, but unplayable lagginess was the norm. I have had some laggy games on the 3DS, but mostly it has been a pleasant experience. Other than the fact that I am getting beaten pretty regularly, that is. The local multiplayer is a little less spectacular, since the game doesn’t feature download play. I can understand why not, but it isn’t ideal.

I am in love with this games character roster. Not only are there a ton of new character, but a lot of the old characters feel drastically different despite not having their move sets changed up all that much. No matter how much I play, I can’t seem to choose a character, or even three characters, to be my main. There are plenty of interesting characters here. I’ll break them up into a couple of different categories: best newcomer and most improved returning character.

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The best newcomer is a tough call. Most of the really interesting characters are new. Like Palutena, who is fun despite the fact that I can’t quite figure her out or Little Mac, who is powerful but lacks good recovery moves. There are surprises, like Xenoblade’s Shulk and Duck Hunt Dog. I love Duck Hunt Dog, even if I don’t love playing as him. My favorite is, shockingly, Bowser Jr. Bowser Jr. is a stupid character. His existence lessens the importance of the more interesting Koopalings. Seeing that he was going to be in the game was a little disappointing. But not only are his alternate costumes the Koopalings, making him essentially 8 characters in one, but he is a ton of fun to use. He has decent power and movement. His unorthodox set up, being a small character in a machine, gives him an interesting hook.

The most improves returning character is also hard to choose. A lot of the old standbys were kind of awful in Brawl. Link and Samus were just north of jokes and both have seen a significant bump up in power. Both of them are legitimate combatants this time around. Like in the early Smash Bros games, Samus is a chore to finish off. No matter how hard you hit her, she just floats back in. Link is capable of a ton of feat, with both solid ranged and up close abilities. The most improved, though, has to be Bowser. I hated Bowser in the last game. He was strong, but he was too slow to be that serious of a threat. He is still just as much of a beast, but now he has some much needed agility. He actually moves around decently. He’ll never be anything but a lumbering giant, but now it is not such an insurmountable flaw.

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I guess what I’m saying is that new Smash Bros is great and you should be playing it. I feared this game might lessen my desire for the WiiU version. Even though this game is great, it is hampered enough by its platform to make me yearn for the solid heft of a real controller, instead of contorting my hands to hold the 3DS. Time to get back to Smashing.

Pikmin 3

Both of the people who read my blog regularly will likely recall that I’ve had Pikmin 3 on my “to play” list for about a year. I don’t know why I’ve put it off for so long. At first it was due to a deluge of other games; games like Wind Waker HD and The Wonderful 101. Pikmin 3 was continually pushed down the list. One thing that did keep pushing it down the list is that it is best played with the wiimote and nunchuk, which means that I couldn’t play it on just the Gamepad. That made it just that much easier to skip it and go to something that I didn’t need the main TV for. Now, though, I have finally taken the time to play this game. Pikmin 3 is an amazing game; beautiful, original and with a startling attention to detail. I feel like a fool for putting it off so long.

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I never played the first two Pikmin games. They came out during the time I was largely not playing video games. I did have a Gamecube, but other than Resident Evil 4 and Smash Bros Melee I didn’t have a whole lot for the machine. The Pikmin games looked good, but I just never happened to stumble upon them. Plus, my experiences with console based RTSes, even ones that were supposedly well made, have never been good. I did pick up the New Play Control Pikmin 2 for the Wii, but my nephew borrowed it and I haven’t seen it since. So Pikmin 3 was my entry into this series.

Pikmin 3 takes a complex genre, real time strategy, and gives a patently Nintendo take on it. It is simplified in some ways, like resource management and unit types. Games like Warcraft and Command and Conquer had various resources that the player had to harvest and then allocate to expand their army. Pikmin 3 does have some resources, but there is little about them to manage. Instead of an extensive tree of unit types to build an army with, there are only a handful of Pikmin types to use. In typical Nintendo fashion, the elements of Pikmin 3 all work together. The main goal of the game, other than to reunite the three little aliens that are the game’s protagonists, is to find fruit. The protagonists convert it to juice and drink, with their mission to the planet they crash on being to find new sources of juice. While there are frequently other goals, that is the primary one. The only other resources besides fruit are flowers and enemy carcasses, both of which are used to create more Pikmin. The color of Pikmin you get from them are determined by the type of Pikmin you used to send them back to the home base.

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Solving puzzles and fighting enemies in the game is all based on the color of Pikmin. There are red, yellow and black Pikmin and they have a sort of rock/paper/scissors relationship. The red ones are immune to fire and good at fighting while the yellow are immune to electricity and, while not as good of fighters as the red are lighter and can be thrown farther. Choosing the correct Pikmin for the job is two thirds of the game. It simple in theory but difficult in practice. Especially once you get all three characters together and can split them into three distinct groups. Do you want to split your colors between each commander, or give each commander one color to lead. It hits that perfect balance of easy to play, hard to master.

Pikmin 3 is also one of the best looking games I’ve ever seen. The tiny aliens you control explore an Earth-like world, finding familiar fruits and your discoveries new names. It is cute. The same goes for all of the “alien artifacts” you find over the course of the game. Seeing these little aliens interpret various trinkets in amusing ways it highly entertaining. It all looks good, simultaneously detailed and clean. It is fun to just run around the areas of the game and just look at what there is to find.

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It is really just another great game on the WiiU, a system with a robust and varied library despite its reputation for not having any games. Nintendo may be failing to sell the system, but they are not failing to support it with excellent software. It seems likely that Pikmin 3 is the last entry we’ll see in this series, which is a shame based on how great this game it.

This is Donkey Kong Country

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It’s no secret that the 2D platformer has had quite the resurgence over the last half decade or so. Between indie games and download titles, 2 and 2.5D platformers are fairly common. As it has been since they basically created the genre with Super Mario Bros, Nintendo is still the master of the form. Their various Mario, Yoshi and Kirby games are generally excellent. 2010’s Donkey Kong Country Returns continued that trend. It had a few problems, like some terrible boss battles and way too many Rocket Barrel and Mine cart stages, but it was otherwise very good. Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, the latest from Retro Studios, stands among the best ever released by Nintendo.

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Tropical Freeze doesn’t reinvent the genre. It stays firmly within the usual mold. It plays almost identically to Returns. The fact that is doesn’t do anything new is not much of a fault. What it lacks in innovation it more than makes up for in polish and general high quality. There is something to be said for the complete mastery of the form that is on display here.

The game is just smooth. DK runs with a kind of loping gait that takes a little bit to get used to, but it then becomes natural. He also has a decent little move pool. DK can bounce off enemies’ heads for a high jump, pound the ground to stun enemies and roll through enemies. He can also pick up and throw certain stunned enemies and barrels. It is a simple set up, but varied enough to be interesting. It doesn’t take long to learn to use these skills, but the game requires the player master them. It starts with some relatively easy warm up levels, but the game soon shows its teeth. Unlike many games, it doesn’t care if the player can beat it. Its challenges are what they are and uncompromising. Few games feel so good to play. DK moves smoothly, but there is a weight to him. He moves like the big gorilla he is. He is surprisingly nimble, but his momentum can be hard to shift. It will likely mean some deaths due to mistimed jumps, but when the timing is right it is sheer acrobatic platforming perfection. The way DK moves is distinctive. It is different from any other platforming protagonist, but it works perfectly.

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While the challenges are uncompromising, the game does provide some help. Aside from a small collection of helpful items to buy from Funky’s shop, DK now has three possible piggyback buddies rather than just Diddy Kong. Diddy is still there, with a jetpack that provides a significant vertical boost to DK’s jumps. Then there is Dixie, who uses her propeller ponytail to give DK what is essentially a double jump. Last is Cranky, who uses his can like a pogo-stick, a la Scrooge McDuck. None of what they add is terribly original, but they all work so well it doesn’t matter. It makes for some hard choices. Do you go for Cranky and his superior ability to deal with enemies and avoid spikes or Dixie or Diddy and their increased mobility? None of the characters are strictly better than the others. Much like Mario’s power ups, the once needed changes based on the situation. Also, taking two hits causes you to lose your buddy; many of the games secrets are dependent on keeping one of them around.

Some of the flaws of the first game return. Specifically, the rocket barrel. Now, though, DK can take two hits rather than one, making what was infuriating tolerable. And maybe it’s just due to them being easier, but the spectacle seems cranked up. There aren’t any simple mine cart or barrel stages. Instead DK is escaping runaway buzz saws in a sawmill or dodging giant eels. While they may not touch the regular stages as far as gameplay is concerned, they are certainly memorable events.

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Really, spectacle is what this game does best. While the gameplay side is just excellent executed, traditional stuff, the art, sound and level themes really set this game apart. One level takes place in what appears to come from the Lion King stage production. The silhouette stages return, including one that has DK jumping across moving platforms above an avalanche. Another level is an underwater escape from a giant octopus. Many of the hazards only appear in one stage. The graphics are pretty much perfect. Colorful, well designed and wonderfully expressive. They are just great. Best of all is the return of Dave Wise on the soundtrack. It is wonderful. Just go listen to some of it.

While it doesn’t do much new, Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze does everything well. Innovation and experimentation are often things to be lauded in games. But it is hard to say anything bad about a familiar game executed as well as this one. Retro Studios now has three definite classics on their resume: this, DKCR and Metroid Prime. I hope their next game is something original, though I wouldn’t be disappointed in a third Donkey Kong. They have changed Donkey Kong, in my mind, from the character with the good fortune to star in Nintendo’s first hit to a genuine star. After these last two games he is definitely on the same level as any Nintendo character, save Mario and Link.

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Still a Super Mario World

Super Mario 3D World was the best game to come out last year. There was some fierce competition, most of it from Nintendo themselves. A Link Between Worlds was great and The Wonderful 101 was something special. Still, 3D World was better. At this point, excellence is so routine to the Mario series it is expected. Somehow, Super Mario 3D World still surprises with it quality.

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While the game largely plays the same as the seminal 3DS’s Super Mario 3D Land, 3D World does feature ton of new stuff. There are new power-ups, most notably the catsuit and the double cherry. Both of those work well with the main focus of the game: the multiplayer. Like the New Super Mario series, 3D World is designed for up to four players. While making a 2D game, like NSMBU, accessible for multiple players is relatively easy. The game usually only has to track the players across one plane. Creating a 3D game with single screen multiplayer is much more difficult. 3D World accomplished this, primarily by fixing the camera high in the sky.

The problem with that method is that it makes some jumps hard to judge. Not impossible, but it is occasionally unclear where exactly where Mario is. This problem is becomes bigger with a full four characters on the screen. The camera doesn’t track any one player’s movements, so sometimes you end up in the background, trying to complete difficult jumps blind. This would be a huge problem if it weren’t for the game’s most prominent power-up. The catsuit gives the player a ton of leeway on those jumps, since it lets the player climb on things. It is extra mobility in a game all about mobility.

Even with that, multiplayer can get hectic. That is where the double cherry comes into play. No, it doesn’t alleviate the confusion of multiplayer, it multiplies it. In single player the cherry duplicates can be hard to track, it is nigh impossible with extra players. This is far from a bad thing. They craziness happening on the screen turns a delicate ballet of speed and momentum into an overcrowded party.

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Both of 3D World’s signature power ups play with the constraints of multiplayer. The biggest “new” feature of the game is also focuses on that. The Super Mario Bros 2 gang is present in 3D World, along with their unique gameplay styles. Mario is the all-around character, Luigi jumps the highest, Peach floats and I guess Toad runs the fastest. I mean, who uses Toad?

All the focus on multiplayer did not cause the single player to suffer. All the things that help the multiplayer also work well in single player. The double cherry is fun every time it shows up, and the catsuit is fits naturally in with Mario’s usual power ups like the fire flower. The greatest boon are the multiple characters. Switching from character to character drastically changes how you approach levels. Peach acts as an easy mode, with her ability to float to out of reach collectables . 3D World is genuinely smartly designed, with elements that work with each of its different styles of play.

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All this and I didn’t really mention that the difficulty curve is pitch perfect and that the level design ranges from great to inspired. Or how the music is delightfully jazzy. Really, the game is just about perfect. Mario is still the king. Since Nintendo tends to limit their Mario releases to one per subseries per console, it will likely be a while before we see another Mario game. I am more than happy to savor this one for a while.

2nd Quest: Wind Waker

Yes, I know I’m jumping around like crazy instead of beating these games in order, but I play what is available. I’ll get to Majora’s Mask and the Oracle games soon, but Wind Waker HD just came out and I was excited to play it again. So here it is.

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Wind Waker is an odd, contradictory game. More than most games in the series, it feels as though it were created with a specific vision. A vision somewhat different from the rest of the series. The original, A Link to the Past and Ocarina were all variations of the same on progressively more powerful hardware. Link’s Awakening and Majora’s Mask were very clearly side stories. Wind Waker has all the trappings of the main games: Zelda, Gannon and the fate of Hyrule in the balance, but the rest of the game is wildly different like the side games. It feels like a real evolution for the series. This feeling is helped by the divisive art style. This is the Zelda team changing the rules of what it means to be a Zelda game. At the same time, this game seems compromised on a fundamental level. There are spots where dungeons appear to be missing. The wide open seas feel lifeless and empty. It feels rushed, which is generally not the case with Nindendo’s “delay it until it is done” policy. Still, despite its occasional compromised bits, Wind Waker is far from mediocre.

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Calling the graphics divisive is giving the brainless naysayers too much credit. The graphics are terrific. They are timeless, as the HD rerelease really showcases. Sure, there are some touch-ups and new lighting, but it still looks excellent even after ten years. The squat, expressive Link is the series’ most memorable. Likewise for the tough, sea-faring Zelda and somewhat tragic Gannondorf. Despite its somewhat empty sea, the world feels more real and lived in that most. This is largely due to the colorful, expressive graphics. Sometimes the characters in a Zelda game are just freakishly weird. Like Twilight Princess. This may be my favorite version of Hyrule.

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Honestly, Wind Waker is my standard answer to what is my favorite Zelda game. I might actually like some others better, but I never felt like Wind Waker got the love it deserved. The response to Wind Waker HD has been overwhelmingly positive, though. It really warmed my heart. That is the reaction that the game deserves. It still feels fresh. A lot of that is because the reaction to this game caused Nintendo to overcorrect and hew too closely to the Ocarina model for the next games. Nintendo’s attempt to move the series beyond its initial trappings was rejected. On the negative side, it does suffer from a lack of dungeons. The first couple are a little basic, but the latter ones are really good. There just aren’t enough of them. There are two sets of two dungeons that really feel like they should be sets of three. Still, the last couple dungeons are really great. The HD version really sands down the original games rough edges. Speeding up the speed bump triforce hunt is greatly appreciated and the swift sail makes exploring a lot of fun instead of a somewhat tedious hassle.

Wind Waker hammers home that with one exception, the Zelda series is great all around. I love this game.

2nd Quest 4 Swords

This series hasn’t really turned out liked I had hoped. Not the Zelda series, but my series of blog posts as I attempt to replay them all this year. I am about halfway through Link to the Past and have put some time in on Majora’s Mask, but I haven’t really had the time to sit down and play them that I had wished. It doesn’t help that I have been playing them on my Wii and it is currently unavailable to me. I have managed to play the free download version of 4 Swords on my 3DS, though. I know it really doesn’t come until much later, but I’ve played it and I might as well go over it while it is still fresh.

4 Swords began as a link up extra in the GBA port of Link to the Past. Nintendo was trying to sell connectivity, and 4 Sword was their way of shoehorning it into LttP. The version I played was rereleased as a free download as part of the Legend of Zelda’s 25th Anniversary. Essentially, it is Legend of Zelda: The Arcade Game. It is a mix of traditional Zelda dungeons with some Gauntlet like sensibilities.

Gone from 4 Swords are all of the series overworld and story parts. It is just dungeons. There is also no gradual accumulation of tools; you have a maximum of two at any given time. The emphasis is on getting the best use out of limited tools and on cooperation. 4 Swords is ideally a multiplayer game. I, unfortunately, was unable to play it that way. It is playable in single player, with one person alternating control over two Links. It is actually a lot of fun. The dungeons aren’t particularly complex, they are randomly generated, but there are some novel cooperation puzzles. The arcade game comparison comes in with 4 Swords goal of collecting Rupees. The player is scored on how many Rupees they collect. In multiplayer this adds a touch of competition, with each player trying to get the most Rupees, but in single player it just makes collecting the Rupees more important than usual.

It is certainly not the full Zelda experience, but there is certainly a lot to love. While the initial dungeons fall into the usual Fire/Forest/Ice variety, the bonus dungeons are neat. They are done in the style of previous Zelda games. One looks like LttP, another Link’s Awakening and the last looks like the original Legend of Zelda. It is really cool. This is a fun distraction rather than a full game. Definitely not an essential experience, but a worthy addition to the Zelda series.

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.