You will believe a bear can fly. Continue reading »
There’s an unusual trend that can be found in SNES games towards the end of the console’s life cycle – platformers starring sidekicks. Yoshi’s Island, the sequel to Super Mario World in which the earlier game’s clan of dinosaur buddies took the limelight away from the Mario brothers, is a fine example but Rare pulled the trick twice. The first sequel to the hit Donkey Kong Country didn’t even include the famous gorilla as a playable character, handing the baton instead to his sidekick Diddy. A year later in this third outing Diddy too ended up shelved while his sidekick and monkey squeeze Dixie took the lead role. We’re still waiting for Donkey Kong Country 4: Kiddy Kong’s Day Out. Continue reading »
One thing I’ve long regretted about being too poor to afford a PS3 or 360 is not having access to the rich and exciting range of low-priced download only software the HD consoles have enjoyed over the years. It’s not that the Wii hasn’t had an alternative but the games on WiiWare never enticed me in the same way. With the Wii U here I’ve been anxious to catch up with what I’ve been missing and the darling of the Wii U eShop’s early days is this dazzling puzzle platformer from developer Frozenbyte and it’s easy to see why. Continue reading »
Dr Robotnik is back and up to his old tricks, trapping animals in badniks and hunting the Chaos Emeralds to power his new world-conquering space station the Death Egg. But Sonic the Hedgehog is back to stop him and this time he’s not alone. Continue reading »
The release of the Wii U is fast approaching and with it New Super Mario Bros. U the first brand new Mario platformer to launch alongside a new console since Super Mario 64. While the prospect of a new 2D Mario platformer might not be quite as exciting as something with the innovation and originality of the Super Mario Galaxy games after the botched launch of the 3DS whatever Nintendo can offer us on day one is very welcome. In the meantime we have the not insignificant matter of New Super Mario Bros. 2, another iteration of the venerable series that feels like a dry run for the main event. Continue reading »
Who would have guessed that a gluttonous, money-grabbing cad with personal hygiene issues would become the poster boy for handheld platformers? Wario’s pinched a fair amount of coin in his time but perhaps the theft he’d be most proud of is Mario’s thunder. Created as a sort of alter-ego for gaming’s greatest icon and the final boss of Super Mario Land 2 – 6 Golden Coins, Wario made his playable debut in that game’s follow-up Warioland – Super Mario Land 3 and since then he has gone from strength to strength. The Warioland series is a shining example of consistency, four superbly playable handheld games each of which boasts its own strong identity and Warioland 4 for the Game Boy Advance is arguably the best of them. Continue reading »
There are certain games and characters that are synonymous with particular eras and consoles. Take Capcom’s Mega Man, a chap who has featured in scores of games since his debut on the NES. The popularity of the Blue Bomber has endured for years but he will always be most closely associated with Nintendo’s big grey box from the 80s. If you want proof look no further than Mega Man 9 and 10, modern downloadable iterations of the series presented in nostalgic 8-bit style. During the NES’ lifespan no fewer than six Mega Man games were released, each with fresh ideas that built on the original’s solid framework of run n gun platforming but popular opinion singles out the second as arguably the best of the bunch. Continue reading »
This brilliantly inventive sidescrolling platformer was released around eighteen months ago and for all that time it has been hovering in my to-buy list, jostling for attention with newer releases and other games that passed me by as I progressed through life without any money to spend on fun things. In the time since the game’s release another Wii Kirby game, Kirby’s Adventure Wii has also been released which, as yet, exists hovering in my to-buy list. When I eventually get round to playing the pink blob’s most recent escapade it will be in the knowledge that it will have to be something quite extraordinary to match the quality of Kirby’s Epic Yarn. Continue reading »
For all Mario’s roaring success in practically everything he turns his gloved hand to there’s one angle of video games on which he doesn’t hold the monopoly – handheld platformers. Game Boy launch title Super Mario Land and its follow-up Super Mario Land 2 – 6 Golden Coins were both quality titles but not the industry defining paragons his home console outings were and they were both overshadowed by his alter-ego Wario’s own superior handheld series. The lack of difficulty and length offered more recently by New Super Mario Bros. on the DS made a missed opportunity out of an otherwise excellent game. There’s one exception, the outstanding update of Donkey Kong released in 1994 for the Game Boy but that was more of a puzzle platformer created with a very different design philosophy from the main series. Now the portly plumber is having another shot at bringing goomba-stomping and coin-grabbing to a handheld.
The shape of Super Mario 3D Land is both familiar and new. Your goal in the three-dimensional environments is not to hunt for stars but to race through series of linear levels complete with flagpoles. The health bar found in previous 3D home console iterations is absent in favour of the three-tiered system seen in the 2D series. If normal Mario takes a hit he will shrink (and lose his cap) whereupon another hit will cost a life. Grab a mushroom and you’ll return to full size with another power-up, such as a fire flower, elevating you to the third tier complete with an offensive ability. This marriage of 3D worlds and 2D sensibilities is jarring at first but once you accustom your gaming brain to the idea it becomes second nature and allows an old-school and traditional Mario experience to live in three dimensions.
The levels themselves are a mixture of the usual jumping challenges and gauntlets of enemies with a thoughtfully-integrated selection of Super Mario Galaxy style gameplay gimmicks such as the red and blue platforms that flip over whenever you jump. There’s a good amount of variety but not to the same degree offered by the Wii games, Nintendo gets a lot more mileage from fewer concepts here. The other focus is on the power-ups, particularly the much-loved Tanooki suit returning from Super Mario Bros. 3 which was at the centre of the hype since the game’s announcement and takes centre stage in Super Mario 3D Land where it occurs very frequently. The raccoon-shaped power-up works slightly differently in this game, you can’t use it to fly any more but instead holding the jump button will slow your descent so empowering your jumping ability with far more range, rather like Yoshi’s flutter jump. It’s a sensible alteration and while the suit can still make progressing through levels considerably easier than usual it’s an exhilarating experience blasting through otherwise challenging sections. In addition to this you can press B to perform a tail-spin to take out enemies. It’s among the most useful power-ups Mario has ever had and even highly skilled players will have trouble resisting the urge to abuse it. A notable new addition to the arsenal is the boomerang flower which imbues you with boomerang-throwing abilities used to bash baddies and grab distant items Zelda-style.
The basic and addictive purity of Mario’s gameplay is duly present but the level and balance of control you have isn’t as flawless as it usually is. The major drawback in the gameplay of Super Mario 64 DS was the lack of proper analogue control for movement (you could have analogue control with the touch screen but it was a dog to use), this meant having to hold B to run at full speed which works fine in the 2D games but felt awkward in three dimensions. Strangely despite the presence of the fully analogue circle pad with the 3DS hardware it’s the same deal here. Having to hold B to run properly isn’t game-breaking by any means but it makes things just a touch more fiddly than you feel they need to be particularly when it comes to precise jumping. Other than that the controls are pretty tight.
The game is arranged into eight worlds made up of half a dozen or so levels, among them challenging airship and castle themed stages that throw back once again to Super Mario Bros. 3. Most veterans of the series should zip through these without much difficulty but there’s more. It’s prudent to issue a mild spoiler warning here but the fact is that the game is far from over when the credits roll after beating world eight. Anyone who completes the main story is given another eight special worlds which double the length of the game. Many of these new levels are essentially the same corresponding stages from the original eight worlds tweaked to make them more challenging, for example you might be given a tight time limit or have to complete it with a Shadow Mario following you, but just as many are completely new. This is an important point to raise in the review because these bonus levels are more than a reward for compltionists, they’re half the final game and transform what might have ended up another comparatively short and easy title into something much more long-lasting, difficult and ultimately worthwhile.
The additional objective of gathering three star coins in every level makes a welcome return to boost the game’s lifespan for those that seek 100%, and is tied to a new rating system that shows up on your StreetPass profile, Nintendo again extending the longevity of their games by playing on gamers’ desire to show off. StreetPass hits will send power-up gifts to Toad Houses for you to make use of as well as showing you the best times other players have managed to complete individual levels, introducing a competitive edge that speedrunners will relish. It doesn’t make StreetPass essential to fully enjoy the title but it’s nice all the same.
Super Mario 3D Land was always likely to be the poster child for the console’s stereoscopic 3D, which is made better use of here than any other game on the system so far, offering the best depth of field. Then there are the rooms that employ clever optical illusions for which you’ll need the 3D switched on to see how to reach the tantalising star coin but these are few and far between. What the 3D doesn’t do is improve the gameplay and as such it’s looking increasingly like stereoscopic 3D will struggle to do this at all, working instead as a purely cosmetic enhancement. The brilliantly colourful and crisp worlds of Super Mario 3D Land look superb as it is, flaunting some of the best and clearest visuals seen on the handheld and the 3D gives them a slight edge.
The only slight downfall in the graphical presentation is the game’s relative lack of character. Super Mario 3D Land is a far cry from the vibrant open worlds of Super Mario 64 or Super Mario Sunshine or the adventurous wonder of Super Mario Galaxy, which gave a sense of context to the playgrounds you explored. The old-as-the-hills story aside there’s little real purpose to Mario’s traversal of these rather cut-and-paste level themes which play out like purposefully designed collections of platforms arranged in a 3D space. Of course that’s exactly what they are as it has always been but the designers have done very little to mask this. The airship and castle levels convey a sense of place but they’re driven by nostalgia and not original creativity. Everything else is very generic and lacking in detail. It’s pure efficient video game level design, not a bad thing as such, there’s an unfussy simplicity to it that reminds you of the design philosophy that puts gameplay ahead of everything else, but a well-judged deeper context to the craziness would have been nice. The game is constantly striving to entertain, never to immerse.
This fairly unimportant point aside what Super Mario 3D Land does it does very well indeed and delivers a richness of content and challenge that the character has never seen in a traditionally ordered handheld platformer before. This is the kind of game that gets into your brain becoming second nature. It’s got that one-more-go factor that perfectly offsets the level of challenge, never making success seem impossible or too tough to make its pursuit fun. The last levels can be absolutely devilish but the adrenaline associated with beating them overwhelms. Once again Nintendo have exploited their golden balance of appealing characters, gameplay simplicity and fiendish design to craft a must-have title that can satisfy the casual and the hardcore. It’s been a cliché for a long time but one of the best games on the console is a Mario game.
Presentation – 9
Clear, concise and well-ordered. The map screen is particularly reliable at showing all the relevant information completionists need.
Design – 8
Excellent use of platforming gimmicks and a faithful regard for the series’ history combine to great effect. It could have been more detailed though.
Gameplay – 9
That a game this addictive and fun is actually one of the loosest in controls should only be taken as a mark of the franchise’s enormous standards. It’s top-notch stuff.
Graphics – 9
Approaching a home-console level of colourful crispness. The visuals don’t show off, they just get on with the job of looking pleasing.
Sound – 8
The effects are all age-old classic chimes, bounces and thuds, the soundtrack an appropriately chirpy mix of old and new.
Difficulty – 8
A Mario game as rock-hard as the NES days wouldn’t really be appropriate for modern audiences but this still manages to provide something robust for veterans.
Longevity – 8
Beating every level should take you at least ten hours. Then there’s finding 100% and replays.
The long wait for a classic Mario platformer on handhelds is over. With its excellently judged marriage of styles, superb design and satisfying amount of content 3DS owners finally have an original one-player experience to shout about. Was it ever in any doubt?
I mentioned in my Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy review that a single experience of a film or game isn’t always enough to judge fairly how good it is. So it has proven with Super Mario Galaxy 2, last year’s sequel to Nintendo’s critically acclaimed Wii platformer. Replaying my 2010 Game of the Year for the first time has brought me to the decision that it is not superior to the original after all, not that it is anything other than utter brilliance.
After the relative disappointment of the Gamecube’s Super Mario Sunshine, a game that still has great merit, Nintendo recaptured the faith and admiration of fans and critics with Super Mario Galaxy which sent their mascot to a number of ingeniously designed ‘galaxies’ in search of power stars, repeating the structure of the classic Super Mario 64. Along the way gamers were treated to an endless array of superbly realised gimmicks and gameplay concepts that had them constantly changing gear in a title that never repeated itself. Variety and quality made the game great and the sequel didn’t mess with the formula.
The story, however, is just a tad confusing as it plays out as though the events of Super Mario Galaxy never happened. Bowser’s huge and has kidnapped Princess Peach again and it’s up to Mario to pursue his arch-nemesis through the universe to save her. Princess Rosalina returns from the first game in lesser role but the game makes out that Mario has never met her before. Why Nintendo went with this approach is a mystery but no-one ever played a Mario game for the story.
This is all about tracking down stars and the good news is that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is right up there with its predecessor in terms of crafting engaging and imaginative gauntlets for you to get through in pursuit of them. One notable change in the structure is the presence of world map in the style of Super Mario Bros. 3. You must pilot your starship (which looks like Mario’s head) through the various worlds and choose a galaxy to visit. By finding one star in a galaxy you will be free to proceed but there are frequent checkpoints that you can only get past if you’ve gathered a specified number of stars which necessitates revisiting old locales for new challenges. At the end of each world you will face off against either Bowser or Bowser Jr. for a Grand Star before proceeding to the next map. This approach is designed to streamline the experience allowing speedy access to the galaxies and avoiding the need to run around a hub world and it certainly succeeds.
Each galaxy offers a number of challenges with stars as a reward, many of which play out like a simple linear race to the finish but you’ll often have to beat a minigame and will very frequently make use of a number of new and returning power ups. You will also have to keep a lookout for a Comet Medal in each galaxy. These are big collectible coins usually located somewhere semi-hidden that will prompt a prankster comet to come into orbit around the galaxy. If you visit a galaxy when a prankster comet is in orbit a new star challenge will appear. This might require you to repeat a previous star in a time limit, set you up against a boss with only one unit of life energy or make you gather one hundred purple coins. Keeping your eyes peeled for Comet Medals adds a layer of depth to the game but if you miss one it can be a pain to have to redo the star as you have to collect the star as well as the medal for it to count.
As you’d probably expect the ideas and innovations in Super Mario Galaxy 2 never stop coming. The delightful moments were the game messes with gravity or puts you on little planetoids that were so popular from the first game make a welcome return and are accompanied by no shortage of new concepts. A few galaxies play on rhythm with platforms appearing and disappearing in time with the music. Elsewhere many of the best moments come with the power ups. Mario’s new upgrades include a drill which lets him burrow straight downwards through planets and out of the other side making for some brain bending puzzles. There’s also a cloud suit with which you can make three cloud platforms to stand on giving you great freedom to traverse seemingly impossible gaps and the boulder suit turns the plumber into a rocky bowling ball to mow down enemies.
The most significant new inclusion is Yoshi who actually made his 3D debut in Super Mario Sunshine but he’s been handled much better here. In some galaxies you can hitch a ride on the green dinosaur and gobble enemies by targeting them with the Wii Remote pointer or use his tongue to swing from floating flowers. Better still Yoshi even has his own power ups that make him float upwards, run fast or illuminate hidden platforms that don’t exist when unlit. Every single Yoshi level stands out and although its perhaps a shame that you can’t keep him after grabbing a star the game would be in danger of becoming repetitive if it let you use him all the time.
Of course the level design is crucially important to compliment the varied gameplay mechanics and by and large Super Mario Galaxy 2 does not disappoint. Standout galaxies include the crumbling Clockwork Ruins Galaxy and the hot and fiery Melty Monster Galaxy which offer linear challenges but some of the more open world levels are a little underwhelming. The visual direction however is flawless utilising the same colourful art style and graphical quality the first game was praised for. Character and enemy designs are strong throughout and absolutely every part of the game looks as pretty as anything the Wii has done.
Once again the soundtrack is top notch with sweeping orchestral tunes accompanying some high quality MIDI arrangements. Music highlights include the bouncy theme of the Puzzle Plank Galaxy and the tense, stirring tune that spurs you on during time limited stars. A number of classic tunes from the first game also return and the comical sound effects are top quality throughout. It’s an audio package that can proudly be considered the equal of that of the game’s predecessor.
One important improvement over Super Mario Galaxy is the difficulty level. One mild complaint of the first game was that it didn’t offer veteran players much of a challenge. The sequel has clearly made things tougher without going overboard and many of the later stars will cause some headaches. On the other hand the game features a Super Guide feature the like of which was first introduced in New Super Mario Bros. Wii. If you are struggling to reach a star and find yourself frequently losing lives a ghostly Rosalina will appear and offer to show you what to do. It’s possible to let the game play out for even to the point of collecting the star although any stars gained in such a manner will be an unattractive brown colour and a constant reminder that you didn’t get it yourself although it is possible to try again and earn the proper gold coloured star. This controversial feature has led to purists claiming it makes the game too easy but it is entirely optional and gives less able players a better chance of seeing the end credits. The reward for collecting all 120 stars is the best the series has ever produced and needless to say the game is huge and will keep you going for an extremely long time.
But as I said this is not a superior sequel. In fact it’s about shoulder to shoulder with its older brother but if I had to pick one I would go for the original. The reason for this is a question of heart. I understand why Nintendo brought in the map screen concept but I have to confess that I miss the Comet Observatory from the first game. The hub of Super Mario Galaxy was a much larger world than Starship Mario and although there was nothing really to do there it was a delight to return to again and again. The mysterious and somehow serene observatory, populated by adorable Lumas, and, of course, Princess Rosalina, floating through the soothing darkness of starlit space was an extremely pretty base for accessing galaxies that grounded the game in a satisfyingly homely way. It felt like the most wonderful haven and a nice change of pace from the frantic platforming, not to mention serving as the venue for the melancholy story Rosalina reads to the lumas but most important was the absolutely enchanting music. Nothing equivalent appears in the sequel. It might seem like a minor point and no doubt many will prefer the speedier setup and the Comet Observatory doesn’t have the sense of mystery about Princess Peach’s Castle in Super Mario 64 but for me the absence of such a wonderful hub world lessens the soul of the sequel somewhat. The efficient, lightning fast service the map screen offers seems strangely impersonal and does nothing for immersion.
This is somehow a slight problem throughout the game. Perhaps it’s because it came first but Super Mario Galaxy just feels better, more immersive, more rounded and more heartfelt and that really is the only difference between the two games. The sequel, to its credit, improves on many areas of the first but it doesn’t quite do enough to surpass it. What it does it does so well that on first view it might seem that it is the better of the two but examining it over time makes it apparent otherwise. But this is all a rather unimportant matter of comparison that doesn’t change the fact that Super Mario Galaxy 2 is an absolutely superlative platformer, the latest in the series’ proud tradition and one of the two best games available for the Nintendo Wii.
Presentation – 10
Design – 9
Gameplay – 10
Graphics – 10
Sound – 10
Difficulty – 8
Longevity – 9
The same brilliance of the first game with a million and one new ideas. More of the same is not always a bad thing and this is so much more than that. Another top drawer title for the most recognisable character in video games.
I’m not in the habit of downloading new games. I have nothing against it in principle, cheap, new easy-to-access titles are obviously a good thing but I tend to favour more high-end releases that offer a richer experience. It doesn’t help that the Nintendo consoles don’t offer the best choice of download games with many of the higher profile offerings limited to the HD platforms but for once I’ve made an exception.
Shantae – Risky’s Revenge is the long overdue sequel to a popular Game Boy Colour game starring the eponymous belly-dancer half-genie who is called into action when busty lady-pirate Risky Boots pinches a mysterious lamp. You must guide the sexy heroine around a colourful side-scrolling world in search of the magical seals Miss Boots is hunting. It’s traditional platforming fare with a fresh sass and some cool gameplay mechanics that make it stand out from the crowd. The game has been lauded as the best available to download from DSiWare and although I have little experience to allow me to make comparisons I’m inclined to agree.
Rather than the usual linear succession of levels Shantae is set in an open explorable world Metroid style with various themed areas to discover. Don’t expect the level of depth from this world you’d get from one of Samus’ adventures, most areas are quite basic in design with the focus very much on action and there are a lot of enemies to take down everywhere you go. The handful of dungeons switch things up with some neat puzzles and timed challenges and come complete with imaginative boss encounters.
Shantae controls sharply with the usual run, jump and attack actions. Her unique primary attack is to whip her big purple ponytail at enemies in a way that would give any normal person serious whiplash. Additionally she can belly-dance to transform into a variety of animals and gain new abilities. The monkey for example can jump higher and climb walls. The various upgrades open up new avenues in the open-ended world, a design quirk that goes hand in hand with some hefty back-tracking. It’s a fast-paced game and lots of fun to play but doesn’t give Mario a run for his money.
One area the game excels is in its visual presentation. Shantae’s is a very pretty game that makes vibrant use of primary colours, animated sprites and detailed backgrounds. The music is bouncy and the sound effects comical. The thin script is peppered with amusing fourth-wall breaking gags and the whole package comes with a quality sheen that most DSiWare games lack.
The only real complaint with Risky’s Revenge is that it’s a flash in the pan. Just as the game feels like It’s really getting into its stride it ends but this is part and parcel of low budget download titles. While it lasts it’s a blast and will give most players a challenge on the way but one can’t help but wonder what could have been achieved with a full release.
A quality title with a mildly sexy edge that looks great and plays well. One of the better experiences available to download on the DSi and 3DS.