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Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for Switch

I had thought that Mario Kart 8 was as close to perfect as the series could get, but it turns out I was wrong because Mario Kart 8 Deluxe manages to improve upon it. Wii U owners, such as myself, may be frustrated that they’re getting a re-release rather than a new game, but I’ve seen Mario Kart 8 take-off on the Switch on a way it never did, or ever really could, on the Wii U.

I won’t talk about the general handling or the tracks or anything like that, because I’ve already covered that in my review for the original game ( and the two DLC packs, which are included here ( & Suffice it to say that the handling is perfect and the tracks diverse, exciting and wonderful.

I’ll focus instead on what is added. I’ll begin with one of the most controversial additions, the introduction of ‘smart steering’ to keep you from falling off the tracks and an auto accelerate option. Some people (utter pricks) have criticised their introduction, saying that it ‘plays the game for you.’ Having these features on do not give you any real advantage, as you will always skip shortcuts and never really power slide or boost effectively. You might win in single player 50CC matches but that’s basically it and I don’t think anyone will consider that to be the core Mario Kart experience. It is something which allows the very young, or perhaps disabled gamers, to access and enjoy the game. How anyone could view this as a bad thing is beyond me. However, one tiny niggle is that the smart steering is put on automatically when you start, and this isn’t really indicated to you. It should default to off and then need to be turned on, not the other way around. This is literally the biggest flaw in the game by the way.

There are a couple of interesting changes to the core gameplay from the original. The first is the ability to hold two items at once, Double Dash style. In practice it doesn’t really change things too much, but it’s something nice to differentiate itself from the original product. I suspect that the more significant change will be the introduction of a third level of boost on the power slide, this time sending up purple sparks. The tracks aren’t designed for its use, with few corners lasting long enough to activate it, but the boost is massive and it feels amazing when you do pull it off. Neither of these changes mess with the almost perfect mechanics of the original game, but offer something a bit different nonetheless.

Easily the biggest difference in the re-introduction of a proper Battle Mode, which has been somewhat neglected after it’s arguable heyday in Mario Kart 64. There are plenty of different modes, from the classic balloon battle to the shine catching game from Double Dash. There are new courses too, with the most striking being one based on Splatoon, complete with soundtrack. The Inkling boy and girl are also introduced as racers in this game. The new Battle Mode rounds out and expands an already rewarding package.

All said though, the best addition to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is more a function of the Switch console than the game itself. Portable, instant local multiplayer is a game changer. The Switch’s appeal may not be as immediately obvious as the Wii’s, but I think this feature is a system seller. Each player can use a separate Joycon to split0screen race, anywhere you go. The single Joycon isn’t the most comfortable controller in the world and I don’t think anyone will be preferring it to a Pro Controller, but it does work, much better than you might expect. I’m not a fan of online gaming generally; I love multiplayer, but I usually only get that rush of excitement when I’m in the room with whoever I’m competing. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe shows me a vision of a bright future for local multiplayer, something which for many years has been steadily dying.

As a final point, I’ll share a video of what I was doing on Saturday night. For clarity’s sake, I’m the guy who’s amazing at Mario Kart, not the guy who’s amazing at rapping. I’m a good rapper at best. This guy is called Mega Ran by the way and he’s great, go see him. Support independent musicians.

I love this console and I love this game. Mario Kart 8 Deluxe is essential.



Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros for Nintendo 3DS

The Mario RPG spin offs have long been some of my favourite JRPGs. Games like Super Mario RPG, Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga and Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door took classic Mario elements and spun them on their head, giving us a unique, fun and frequently hilarious twist on the classic Mario formula. Recent Mario RPGs such as Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros and Paper Mario: Sticker Star have abandoned this charm and imagination in favour of a rigid adherence to classic Mario tropes and unfortunately Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros does not reverse that trend.

One day in Peach’s castle, Luigi stumbles across a strange book which acts as a portal between the regular Mario universe and the Paper Mario universe. Hordes of paper Toads as well as Paper Princess Peach come flying out, as do Paper Bowser and Bowser Jr, along with his army. It isn’t long before Bowser and Paper Bowser team up and capture their respective Peachs, leaving Mario and Luigi to save the day. Along the way, they are joined by Paper Mario himself.

Once again, Nintendo have made the baffling decision to add no new elements to their Mario RPG story. Early Mario RPGs added new characters and places mixed with the old; I adored exploring Rogueport in The Thousand Year Door and Fawful is one of the most memorable Nintendo villains in recent memory. When existing characters were brought in it was with an interesting twist; who could help but love the pathetic Bowser of Superstar Saga, or the sassy and brave Peach of The Thousand Year Door? All these are gone, with Paper Jam Bros keeping these characters firmly in place in their established dull characterisations. Paper Jam Bros is a Frankenstein’s monster cobbled together from existing Mario elements, but this series is thirty years old now, there’s not much left to do with them. This is fine for a mostly story free platformer, but I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect better in the RPG. The worst part is that there still is story, we still have to sit through it as the same boring beats play out again and again. The only element I liked was the first appearance of the Koopalings in a Mario RPG, but nothing much is really done with them. It seems strange to be complaining about the story of the Mario game, but I know Nintendo can do better because they have in the past!

For anyone hoping that the injection of Paper Mario into the Mario & Luigi world would carry with it some interesting gameplay twists, lower those hopes quickly. Inside and outside of combat, the core mechanics are basically the same as elsewhere. There is a slight twist in the ability for Paper Mario to make clones of himself and boost attack power, but nothing really comes of it mechanically. Special attacks involving the three characters are fun enough the first few times, but begin to get a bit dull. Recent Mario & Luigi games have relied on a gimmick to set them apart from the others and these have genuinely been successful, particularly in the excellent Bowser’s Inside Story and to a lesser extent in Dream Team Bros. The addition of Paper Mario doesn’t even come close to offering the gameplay variety offered by playing as Bowser or manipulating Luigi’s dreams; essentially, he’s a new combat character with some different moves but that’s it. He offers some powers outside of battle, but in practice these aren’t really much different from those in the old games. The core mechanics of this series are still pretty solid, but five games in now something else is needed to keep me coming back.

Paper Jam Bros makes a couple of attempts at new mechanics, but none are entirely successful. There are semi-regular missions to rescue Paper Toads; some of these are interesting but a lot of them are basic treasure hunts as you trawl the environments pixel hunting. There are some cool different ones, like one based around FallBlox-esque er…falling blocks, but the majority are quite dull. Replacing the extremely enjoyable giant battles of Bowser’s Inside Story and Dream Team Bros are giant paper craft battles. These see you taking part in real time tank battles against a group of enemies, ramming them over and then jumping on them to finish them off. There aren’t many of these in the game and they’re really not that interesting. I do appreciate that Nintendo were trying to do something different, but different is only good if it’s better or at least as good as what came before. The papercraft battles are not only boring in themselves but also replaced a much more enjoyable feature.

Paper Jam Bros looks and sounds very similar to Dream Team, with the addition of the Paper Mario world being jarring and off putting rather than visually interesting. Mario and Luigi are bursting with personality with plenty of funny and charming animations; Paper Mario can’t help but come off as a bit (wait for it) flat. The environments are as generic as they come; field, forest, desert, lava, tropical island, snow. Considering the weirdness of the Mario universe you’d think it wouldn’t be too hard to come up with something a bit more interesting. The music is forgettable plinky-plonky nonsense. The game is presented well enough, but most of that work was done for Dream Team so it’s difficult to give this game too much credit.

Paper Jam Bros is probably decent enough if it’s your first Mario RPG. As someone who has played every Mario RPG, it just isn’t good enough for me. The mechanics may be solid but Nintendo has continued its bizarre move to strip the soul from the Mario RPGs. This series was one an automatic purchase, but not anymore. I really hope that Nintendo wins me back because I desperately want to love another Mario RPG, but it doesn’t seem likely.


Mario Kart 8 for Wii U

I’m far from the only one for whom Mario Kart played a significant role in their childhood. I mean…it’s Mario Kart. It’s going to be good. Still, starting with Mario Kart Wii my interest in the series began to slip slightly. I enjoyed Mario Kart 7, but it was probably the Mario Kart game I played least. Therefore, Mario Kart 8 wasn’t necessarily one of my most hyped games. Turns out, it joins Mario Kart 64 and Mario Kart DS as one of my favourite instalments, pretty much perfecting the series. It’s going to be tricky to get better than this.

Although Mario Kart 8 has its gimmicks, it doesn’t succeed because of them, it succeeds because it is one of the most perfectly put together games I’ve ever encountered, made by a clearly passionate and talented team of developers. Before thinking about the main differences, I want to make clear just how well this plays. The handling of Mario Kart games can vary a lot, but in my opinion it was at its best in Mario Kart DS…until now. Power-sliding around the courses just feels brilliant, standing as the solid base everything else is built on. The chaotic local multiplayer of Mario Kart is, of course, still the highlight, and I have had and look forward to plenty more awesome evenings getting drunk and playing this with my friends. You can play online against friends, which I like, and against strangers, which I don’t. The inherent frustration of Mario Kart is fun with pals, obnoxious with strangers, but perhaps that’s just me.

There are a few new items, such as the Piranha Plant which drags you forward in little boosts and bites nearby racers, and a new item that can even block blue shells, if timed right. Being able to block blue shells shakes things up somewhat, but the introduction of the ‘coin’, a near useless speed boost (which is also used to unlock upgrades) is the bane of first place and denies that comfortable defence that could generally be formed with bananas and green shells. This can be really frustrating when the single player gets tougher (and it does get tough towards the end), but really it just furthers the egalitarian experience that is Mario Kart. Mario Kart 8 is regularly frustrating, but similarly to Mario Party the frustration is actually an essential part of the experience, and something really core to what the series is about. It’s frustrating, but it’s the good kind of frustrating which drives you to ‘just one more race.’

The flying and underwater sections from Mario Kart 7 make a welcome return, with the new ‘anti-gravity’ sections which see Mario and co. driving up walls and boosting off each other being visually stunning and exciting, even if it doesn’t necessarily effect the gameplay too much. It’s extremely welcome though, and feels in some ways like an F-Zero influence on Mario Kart. The new courses are generally designed with these in mind, with a whole bunch of awesome new tracks. The highlight for me was the lap-less one track Mount Wario, which sees you karting all the way from a cargo plane to the bottom of a mountain. There are loads of good ones though, and no real duds. The classic tracks are cannily altered to take advantage of the flying and anti-gravity gimmicks, feeling new whilst still retaining the character of the classic tracks. There are some odd choices, with a lot of the best classic tracks having already been pilfered in previous games. Still, overall the 32 tracks you have stand as some of the best Nintendo have ever put together.

Mario Kart 8 is a pretty packed game, with the typical grand-prix single player mode, as well as time trials and plenty of unlockable characters. Nintendo phoned it in slightly with some of these (Baby Rosalina probably being the worst offender), but it doesn’t do any harm having them does it? The karts and bikes are significantly customisable, with loads of different chassis, wheels and wings for you to play around with to suit your play style. The online modes will keep people happy for a long time, and the local multiplayer will be a staple of my social group for a while…at least until Smash Bros. comes out. The lazy battle mode, which sees you racing around normal tracks rather than duking it out in distinct arenas, is an uncharacteristically unpolished addition to a game which, in every other respect, is one of the most polished games I’ve ever played.

Mario Kart 8 is possibly the most beautiful game I’ve ever played. My PS4 maybe the most powerful console in my house, but there’s not a single game on it that can rival the visuals in Mario Kart 8. Running at a smooth 60FPS, in HD, Mario Kart has never looked this beautiful. Visuals aren’t everything, but they do help, and Mario Kart is a stunning sight to behold.  This, combined with the Zelda Wii U reveal trailer, is showing just how powerful the Wii U may actually be. There’s a wonderful amount of detail in every environment and in the characters themselves. I usually never watch replays, but they’re honestly one of my favourite things about Mario Kart 8. The Luigi death stare is well documented, and the game is filled with awesome little details. The music is lovely as well, with my favourite being a track which briefly recalls the lovely Gusty Garden Galaxy music from Super Mario Galaxy. Mario Kart 8 is one of the slickest, smoothest running games you’ll ever encounter.

I can only hope that this is the game that finally begins to shift my favourite console. I like my PS4, but it’s purely there as a tool. I love my Wii U, and separately want it to be a success. Hopefully this, combined with Nintendo’s fantastic showing at E3, will finally convince people to pick one up. Mario Kart 8 is probably the best Mario Kart game ever, but it’ll almost certainly be the worst selling. That would be a true injustice to this excellent game.1b93b38b656a72a4c7b0dd91197dd715d2bf0ef1.jpg__1920x1080_q85_crop_subject_location-987,694_upscale

Super Mario 3D World for Wii U

From its lacklustre reveal at E3 to the ecstatic reviews upon release, Super Mario 3D World has generated strong emotions for months. The initial disappointment that we weren’t getting a ‘proper’ 3D Mario game gave way to some reviewers praising it as the best 3D Mario game, surpassing even 64 and the Galaxy games. I have to wonder if these reviewers were playing the same game as me. Although 3D World is much much better than I initially feared, and is a legitimately great game, it simply does not stand up to its predecessors, and I’m still left craving the epic Mario game that we were promised.

The plot is predictably non-existent, with the kidnapping victims being a collection of small fairy princesses, with Peach this time being spared Bowser’s attention due to her position as a playable character. Mario games don’t need much plot, as we saw in the weird narrative of Super Mario Sunshine, but they hit a sweet spot with Galaxy, which had just enough plot to lend your actions context but without distracting from the core focus of the gameplay.

As the name might suggest, 3D World has most in common with Super Mario 3D Land, its little brother on the 3DS. The style is a hybrid of the linear side scrolling originals and the 3D gameplay that we’ve seen since Mario 64. The addition of four player co-op, with players taking on the roles of Mario, Luigi, Peach and Toad, will be a big draw for some but it didn’t seem particularly well implemented to me, particularly when compared to the sublime co-op of Rayman Legends. It all handles very nicely, and the level design is, of course, pretty much perfect, with very few duds in the generous package. There are a handful of Wii U screen poking and blowing gimmicks, but by and large the main use of the tablet controller is for off-screen play. There are a handful of irritations, such as the retention of the archaic and unnecessary timer and life systems, but by and large Super Mario 3D World is a highly slick, responsive and enjoyable game. Essentially, Super Mario 3D World plays incredibly well, and is a hell of a lot of fun, but something about it simply failed to reach me as it’s predecessors did.

I think that the issue is that Super Mario 3D World is, fundamentally, a conservative game. Many reviews have praised this game’s creativity, and although it is bursting with fun and good ideas, the best ones are cribbed from other games. The best levels are the ones that play homage to other games, such as Mario Galaxy, Mario 64, Mario Kart, Luigi’s Mansion and even Zelda. Mario 3D World fails to forge an identity of its own. For all its many, many flaws, Super Mario Sunshine still had a unique character, but 3D World is too reverent to it’s past, something which has effected almost every Mario game in recent memory, scared of forging its own identity. I think that we can thank the massive financial success of the New Super Mario Bros. subseries for this, which has shown Nintendo that a co-op Mario game which nonetheless doesn’t stray far from the traditional series tropes is going to make much more money than a genuinely innovative and bold new entry. I don’t think that many people will disagree with me when I say that Super Mario Galaxy was a better Wii Mario platformer than New Super Mario Bros. Wii, but the latter vastly outsold the former. There was a time when Nintendo used a new 3D Mario game to redefine a genre, as they did with 64 and Galaxy, and even the misfires such as Sunshine were noble failures, but 3D World is not on par with those games.

One area where 3D World does outshine its predecessors is its visuals. To put it simply, 3D World is an unbelievably gorgeous game. The levels are colourful and vibrant, the enemies filled with character, and the water and lighting effects utterly beautiful. For this kind of game, Mario 3D World proves that the Wii U will be able to hold its own against the PS4 and Xbox One. The music is lovely too, although it doesn’t quite match the simplistic charms of 64 or the grandiose orchestra of the Galaxy games.

Super Mario 3D World is a great game, but a new 3D Mario game needs to be more than great. Perhaps my expectations of Nintendo are too high, but they are only that high because Nintendo raised those expectations themselves. If you own a Wii U, buy it. If you don’t own a Wii U, buy one and then buy this game. Just don’t expect the innovative, epic new platformer that you may have been hoping for. download (2)

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. for Nintendo 3DS

I love the Mario RPGs, but I’ve been a bit concerned about their future as of late. After the massive disappointment of Paper Mario: Sticker Star, I’ve been concerned that Nintendo’s program of watering down their RPGs was set to continue, but thankfully, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. puts those concerns to rest. Each game in the Mario & Luigi series introduces a new gimmick; in Partners in Time it was the addition of Baby Mario and Baby Luigi, and in Bowser’s Inside Story it was the ability to control the brothers’ long-time foe. In Dream Team Bros, the gimmick is the ability to enter Luigi’s dreams.

This game primarily takes place on P’illo Island, a sleep themed tourist destination. Although it generally looks quite nice, it’s not particularly engaging to explore, largely due to the clichéd nature of its environs. There’s the desert part, the field part, the beach part, all stuff that we’ve come to expect from these games. Much more interesting is the dream world in Luigi’s head, although not quite enough is done with this. There was potential to go to some very strange places in this game, and Dream Team Bros doesn’t quite live up to it. Honestly, the Mario & Luigi games haven’t had a truly engaging setting since the Beanbean Kingdom of the original. This area is really the only one in which the game is surpassed by the other recent Mario RPG for 3DS, Sticker Star. Thankfully, Dream Team Bros. surpasses Sticker Star in almost every other sense.

Princess Peach, the Mario Bros. and her entourage vacation to P’illo Island after an invitation from its reclusive leader. It is soon discovered that Luigi’s extreme ability to sleep anywhere means that he can open portals to the world of dreams. It’s not long before a foul bat-like being known as Antasma is unleashed. Antasma is the foe of the ancient P’illo race, who have been petrified as stone pillows that can only be released if Luigi sleeps on them and Mario rescues them in his dreams. Mario & Luigi are joined by the prince of the P’illos, Dreambert, as well as Starlow from Bowser’s Inside Story, to stop Antasma and save the island.

Although the plot is naturally much more entertaining the main Mario games (and Sticker Star), it still feels like a step backwards. The Mario RPGs have traditionally been an opportunity to subvert the traditional Mario tropes, representing a knowing self-awareness on Nintendo’s part. Remember the curious and feisty Princess Peach of Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door? She’s gone, and is back to her uselessness of the main platformer series. The worst victim of this is Bowser, a character who in previous Mario RPGs emerged as probably the most interesting character in the Mario canon, a pathetic, almost masochistic figure, whose kidnappings are more motivated by bravado and insecurity rather than genuine evil. In earlier RPGs he’s a funny, obnoxious, but oddly sympathetic character, but he’s right back in standard villain mode here. Yahtzee of Zero Punctuation fame has a theory that Nintendo are intent on purging all subversive elements from their canon, and it’s hard not to concede him that point. Dream Team Bros. is definitely the least self-aware game in the Mario & Luigi series, and it suffers for it.

The P’illo Island element of Dream Team Bros. is standard Mario & Luigi; simple puzzles, some platforming and turn based battles. It’s still fun, but all the really interesting stuff happens in Luigi’s dreams. In these dreamscapes, Mario is joined by ‘Dreamy Luigi’, who is capable of many strange powers. In battle, Mario is the only active fighter, but all of his attacks are reinforced by a horde of Luigi clones, known as ‘Luiginoids.’ Special attacks are called ‘Luiginary Works’, and usually involve Mario wielding his army of Luigi’s, often using the 3DS gyroscope. Outside of battle, Luigi’s face on the touch screen can be manipulated to affect the dream world. For example, Mario and be launched around by Luigi’s moustache, or made to sneeze by tickling his nose. Returning from Bowser’s Inside Story are the giant battles, this time controlling Luigi, during which the 3DS is turned on its side and everything is controlled by the touch screen.

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is a long game, perhaps too long as by the end I was getting a little bored. The battles, both on P’illo Island and in the dream world can get very repetitive, and the puzzles are usually rather easy with solutions spelt out for too clearly. However, I did like the difficulty of this game, which is probably the hardest in the series since the original. Sometimes the difficulty can feel quite cheap; the final boss’ random healing move was infuriating, but generally failure is due to your own reflexes inability to dodge or counter attacks. There’s quite a bit of side content too, from extra P’illo folk to rescue to a large side quest involving taking photos and sliding puzzles. I didn’t really focus too much on the side quests, but it was nice to have it there, and it will easily bump the play time up by at least another five hours for those who are so inclined.

My favourite parts of the game were those that involved puzzling and platforming in the dream world, using Dreamy Luigi’s abilities in interesting and fun ways. It makes the rest of the game feel a bit vanilla by comparison, but this is the kind of game which likes to keep things fresh and surprise you. How you get through each area isn’t always completely obvious, even if the areas themselves are generic. My favourites were a Zelda-esque trading quest in seaside town and controlling a giant drill in the desert, but there are plenty of other examples of the interesting ways you progress. The combat isn’t particularly deep, but it’s generally fun and only really wears out its welcome in the last few hours or so. The giant battles were a real treat; as cool as they were in Bowser’s Inside Story, the additional power of the 3DS allows these battles to be utterly insane, with a definite nod to Japanese kaiju films in how these fights play out. The controls, all on the touch screen, can be a bit fiddly, but overall they work well. In fact, in some ways this game reminds me of those early DS games which used the touch screen constantly for gimmicks. The difference is that back then those gimmicks usually held the game back, but here they actually work very well and support the core mechanics rather than undermine them.

I wasn’t sure about the oddly more realistic graphical style when I first saw it, but it really grew on me by the end. The Bros. are very well animated, particularly in battles, with a fluidity to their movements that just wouldn’t have been possible on the DS. The giant battles in particular, which take place in full 3D, look absolutely stunning, and genuinely awesome. The music is generally pretty great too, with only a handful of standout tunes, but more than I can recall from the other Mario RPGs. Alpha Dream have apparently been working on Dream Team Bros. for four years, and that level of effort really shows in the presentation.

Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. is an encouraging sign that Nintendo aren’t done with this kind of game, and although it can’t quite rival the heights of Bowser’s Inside Story and The Thousand Year Door, it’s a great game and definitely one of the stronger releases in the Mario RPG canon. Mario-and-Luigi-Dream-Team-Bros-artwork

New Super Luigi U for Wii U

It still feels really strange buying DLC for a Nintendo game. Sure, I’d bought a handful of Fire Emblem missions, but DLC in a Mario game? What’s the world coming to? I was therefore relieved when Nintendo announced that their New Super Mario Bros. U DLC would be vast, a complete remaking of the 80+ levels in the game around Luigi’s slightly different physics; it sounded too good to be true. Sadly, it kind of is.

The ‘plot’ is identical to New Super Mario Bros. U, but with Luigi replacing Mario. Perhaps an injection of some of Luigi’s cowardly humour seen so well in games like Paper Mario and Luigi’s Mansion would have been nice, but…yeah, I’m not going to criticise a Mario game for its plot.

The excellent world map of New Super Mario Bros. U is unchanged for New Super Luigi U, but the levels are completely different, keeping only the world themes. The problem comes in the 100 second time limit applied to each level, ostensibly to lend this game a faster, more chaotic pace, but likely simply because it halves the length of each level. It’s not a stretch to complete many levels in less than a minute, with a constant feeling that the levels are finishing just as they start getting good. There are a fair few levels where this really works, where you get into a Rayman Origins style groove, with extra long jumps which only Luigi could pull off and a high speed throughout, but there are lots more which don’t. An odd glimmer is visible of what Nintendo were going for, but these moments are too few and far between.

That said, the game is still incredibly fun. It’s kind of hard for a game like this to not be fun, it’s simply too brief and not nearly as good value for money as it may first seem. The boss battles are identical to those in the main game, with this game feeling more like a fan made mod than a full expansion, which is how it is priced. The other major addition is the playable debut of Nabbit, the thieving rabbit from the original game, who is a new kind of Mario playable character. He cannot take damage, but he also can’t take on powerups, so he’s only really there to help prop up weaker players in co-op.

New Super Luigi U is a lot of fun, but it leaves a sour taste in your mouth, and unless it pops up in a digital sale I’d give it a miss. luigi

Luigi’s Mansion 2 for Nintendo 3DS

The original Luigi’s Mansion, a Gamecube launch title, was an underrated gem, unfairly criticised for what it wasn’t (a sequel to Super Mario 64) rather than appreciated for what it was. It may have taken over a decade to arrive, but the sequel more than lives up to its predecessor, actually exceeding it in certain ways. It’s not perfect; certain elements of the original’s charm are lacking, but it more than makes up for it elsewhere.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 takes place in Evershade Valley, an area filled with friendly ghosts under the study of Professor E. Gadd, returning from the original game. The shattering of the ‘dark moon’ above the valley turns the ghosts antagonistic, so Professor Gadd summons his old ghost hunting partner Luigi out of retirement to get to the bottom of the mystery.

Where the original Luigi’s Mansion all took place in one mansion, the sequel takes place in five. Although never actually scary, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is highly atmospheric, with the five mansions all feeling vivid and distinct from each other. I wish Nintendo would show an ounce of the innovation in the New Super Mario Bros. games that they do here. Exploring these mansions never fails to be fun, and although I did at times miss having a single massive location, the variety afforded by the different mansions means that you never know what you’re going to get. Many games ‘blow their load’ very early on; you see the best areas of Far Cry 3 or Assassin’s Creed III in the first twenty minutes, but Luigi’s Mansion 2 is consistently surprising and inventive all the way to the end.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 has more of a plot than we’re used to in Mario games, and there’s a definitely some charm to it. Luigi’s Mansion 2 light, but nonetheless well thought out, approach to plot is a good middle point between the bizarre nonsense of Super Mario Sunshine and the nonexistent laziness of New Super Mario Bros. U. Unusually for a Mario game (not counting the RPGs), the story is anchored around characterisation, namely that of Luigi himself. Luigi has always had more personality than his more famous brother, and a huge amount of credit should go to the legendary Charles Martinet for his voice work, as well as the animators who make Luigi so charming. Luigi’s wails as a ghost jumps out at him, his weary sighs as another obstacle blocks his path and his adorable little ‘I did it’ when he solves a puzzle goes a long way towards making Luigi one of the most loveable Nintendo protagonists I’ve ever played.

For the uninitiated, Luigi’s Mansion sees our green overall-ed hero  battling ghosts with his ‘Poltergust 5000’, a modified vacuum cleaner. Luigi is also armed with a torch, used to stun ghosts whilst the Poltergust sucks them up. There are multiple ghost types, which take different lengths of time to capture. It’s essentially ghost fishing, and it’s a lot more fun than it sounds. The ‘Poltergust’ isn’t just used for capturing ghosts however, it’s Luigi’s number one way of interacting with the environment. The mansions are filled with riches, used for upgrading the Poltergust, and collectibles, with much of these riches found by interacting with the environment in interesting and clever ways. This is a game which really rewards careful exploration and taking time. Luigi also gains access to the ‘Dark-Light’ attachment to his torch which he uses to expose objects that have been hidden by pesky Boos. One of the biggest strengths of this game is it’s boss battles, which are some of the most inventive, original and fun that I’ve enjoyed in gaming. Boss battles are often unnecessarily crammed into games that don’t need them, and Nintendo did a good job in crating boss battles which would only work in a Luigi’s Mansion game.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 follows a mission based structure, something which I would have expected to dislike. At the end of each mission, usually between ten and twenty minutes, Luigi is summoned back to E. Gadd’s lab and given a score. This mission structure does make things slightly more linear than the original, but there is nonetheless still room for exploration and moving off the beaten track. The game is a good length, with four of the mansions containing five missions and a boss, with one containing three missions and a boss. There are bonus levels available for those who capture all of the hidden Boos in each mansion, adding a good amount of replay value. My major criticism of this release compared to its predecessor is the loss of ‘portrait ghosts’, unique ghosts which could all be hunted as a side task, often needing to be captured in different ways. Their loss is a shame, but is somewhat made up for by the fact that the regular ghost enemies are much more dynamic, with matching personalities, than the original had.

The Nintendo 3DS may not be the most graphically powerful handheld on the market, but games like Luigi’s Mansion 2 prove just how much that it’s capable of. This is a gorgeous looking game, much better than the Gamecube original, absolutely bursting with personality in every room. The 3D is no slouch either; it’s not necessary, and those who hate it won’t be converted, but it does look excellent. The sense of depth really helps immerse the player into the environment. 3D always looks best in enclosed environments, and as Luigi’s Mansion 2 almost entirely takes place in enclosed environments it works wonderfully. The aforementioned voice acting from Charles Martinet is a surprising highlight; I’ve never heard a Mario character be so vocal, and it’s never less than charming. The music is lovely as well, with the classic Luigi’s Mansion theme song joined by some spooky and fun new tunes as well. It’s the little details that really make this game so special though; sometimes, when things are fairly relaxed, Luigi will hum along with the background music. The game is packed with these details, details which only ever appear in something created as a labour of love.

Luigi’s Mansion 2 is the kind of game that only Nintendo makes. The best Nintendo games are characterised by an attention to detail above and beyond what other developers are capable of. The second party team who developed Luigi’s Mansion 2, Next Level Games, have the potential to stand alongside Retro if this is anything to go by. If you own a Nintendo 3DS, this game is an absolute must.


New Super Mario Bros. U for Wii U

Nintendo has been receiving a fair amount of flack lately when it comes to the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ franchise, with many gamers feeling that Nintendo are simply resting on their laurels and leaving the innovation in sidescrolling platformer gameplay to smaller indie studios, or games such as Rayman Origins. Perhaps this accusation is understandable; there were two games released in this line in 2012, New Super Mario Bros. 2 for 3DS and this, New Super Mario Bros. U, a launch title for the Wii U. Nintendo have countered that they only release one game in this line per console, which is actually a pretty fair response, and I can understand Nintendo wanting to launch a new console with a Mario game under their belt. So here we are again, another Mario sidescroller to add to the pile; if you’ve played one you’ve played them all, so is it worth dipping into this one as well? I believe, on balance, yes.

Probably my favourite aspect of this game is the return of a Super Mario World style map. The other New Super Mario Bros. games have been very much focused upon emulating the Super Mario Bros. 3 template. Super Mario Bros. 3 is a fantastic game, and certainly one of the most important ever made, but I still generally prefer the intricacy of Super Mario World. New Super Mario Bros. U returns secret exits to the series, where new levels can be unlocked, an unlockable extra world and a dynamic and fun world map. Super Mario World classics such as Boo Houses make a welcome return as well, leaving New Super Mario Bros. U as a spiritual successor to my favourite Mario sidescroller. Perhaps it’s silly to praise Nintendo for returning to an innovation they first bought about over 20 years ago, but it’s still very pleasant to be playing this specific kind of Mario game again.

In a stunning twist on the standard Mario formula, rather than kidnapping Princess Peach and bringing her to his castle, Bowser in fact kicks Mario, Luigi and two Toads out of the castle and our heroes must make their way back.

Although I’m not generally opposed to the simple story of the Mario games, I do sometimes wish that Nintendo would take some risks. I suspect that after the voice acted weirdness of Super Mario Sunshine Nintendo resolved to keep plot out of their Mario platformers. That said, the game really doesn’t need a plot and doesn’t really suffer for the lack of one, unlike Paper Mario: Sticker Star.

In addition to the classic Mario staples of running and jumping, we have the return of such classics as the fire flower and Yoshi, although the latter feels severely underused. New power ups include the squirrel suit, which allows Mario to enter a graceful glide and baby Yoshis, which can be carried and have different properties. Like their grown up brethren, these baby Yoshis also feel underused, which is a shame as they’re a fun idea. One pleasant highlight of this game is the boss battles, not something I’ve ever really enjoyed in platformers. The final boss battle against (spoiler alert!) Bowser is a lot of fun, and I’m tempted to call it the best Bowser fight so far. I also thoroughly enjoyed the ability to play the game directly on the Wii U gamepad; I rarely bothered to even turn on the TV when playing this game.

Nintendo have the basic mechanics of a Mario platformer so nailed down now that it always feels satisfying to play. This game is actually fairly difficult, but is rarely frustratingly so, as any mistakes made feel due to player error rather than bad game design. A major exception to this is the shoehorning in of clunky motion controls using the Wii U gamepad towards the end of the game, which felt imprecise, gimmicky and unnecessary. By and large though, the game just works; it’s impressive that the series is still so much fun, and it can be tricky to pin down exactly what it is that makes these games work so well.

Mario’s first HD outing looks rather lovely, particularly in the backgrounds and in the animations of Bowser and the Koopalings. It’s all a bit conservative however, with the odd inventive level only serving to show how stagnant the art style in the ‘New Super Mario Bros.’ range has become. One level designed around Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ is absolutely beautiful, but fleeting, and I really wish that Nintendo would experiment a bit more in this area. That said, the basic aesthetic is as charming as ever, and I never tired of seeing the enemies dance along to the music. As has been the case with the last few Mario games, the best tunes are remixes of those from the past, with the new ones not impressing half as much. The last great Mario soundtrack was the spectacular score for Super Mario Galaxy, and I hope Nintendo pull out all the stops musically for the next big 3D Mario platformer.

This isn’t an easy sort of game to review, as since almost all gamers will have played a Mario sidescroller at some point they all already know what to expect. This game is what it is; more of the same. If that appeals to you, as it did to me (having skipped the recent 3DS outing), then go for it, this is an incredibly fun and charming ride. However, for those who are burnt out on the series, and I couldn’t blame you for that, this game isn’t going to change your mind. New-Super-Mario-Bros-U2

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