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Archive for the tag “mario game”

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)


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

Paper Mario: Sticker Star for Nintendo 3DS

I’m very fond of the Paper Mario franchise; Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door for the Gamecube is one of the best JRPGs I’ve ever played, built upon the foundations of the original N64 game, combining a simple yet fun battle system, a surprisingly compelling story, a humorous tone and a gorgeous graphical style to create something really special. Super Paper Mario for the Wii, whilst not nearly as bad as many would say, was nonetheless a slight disappointment in its abandonment of the core RPG mechanic of the previous games. I was therefore hopeful that the Paper Mario game for 3DS would bring the franchise back to its glory days; early screenshots had me cautiously optimistic. Sadly, this optimism was misplaced; Sticker Star is not a bad game at all, but abandons so much of what made previous games special leaving an experience which feels…well, flat (ba-dum-tish).

Sticker Star takes the player around a fairly standard range of locations; you’ve got your grassy world, your desert world, your forest world, your ice word and your fire world. There are some cool environments, a Yoshi Sphinx was rather charming, as was a great level inside a house haunted by Boos, but there’s little here that feels like it’s shaking up the basic Mario formula. Where previous Paper Mario games took the player to a range of strange and different locations, Sticker Star sticks to the basic rule book for constructing a Mario game. The experimentation of The Thousand Year Door is gone; there seems to be a desire to play it safe, which is a shame, as some of the best Mario games are those which set themselves outside of standard Mushroom Kingdom locales, such as Mario & Luigi : Superstar Saga and Super Mario Galaxy.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star sticks to the standard Mario plot line with depressing loyalty. There’s a big annual event, Bowser shows up and ruins everything, kidnaps Peach, buggers off to his castle, leaving Mario to collect 5 thingamajigs to blah blah blah…You’ve heard all this before.

The plot of Sticker Star is definitely one of the most disappointing aspects of this game, undoing all of the good work done in the previous Mario RPGs. Sure, the humour’s there, but without a proper story to provide context it never feels like more than a series of distinct jokes with nothing tying them together. The real tragedy is the treatment of Bowser, who is usually one of the comic highlights of the Mario RPGs. Unlike the main platformer series, where Bowser reigns villain supreme, in the RPGs he is never more than a pathetic irritation. Bowser plays the role of tragic villain, sometimes even anti-hero, and is always hilarious. Until now. Other classic Super Mario characters suffer too; Princess Peach was given an actual personality in The Thousand Year Door, and achieved more than simply waiting in a castle to be rescued. Here she is her usual passive bland self. The appearances of Luigi in The Thousand Year Door were always funny and charming, but in Sticker Star I’d be cautious to even label his appearances cameos, so fleeting they are. The blame for this can be laid in one unlikely place, a place that it is rather hard for a long term Nintendo fan to admit; Shigeru Miyamoto. It’s no secret that Miyamoto doesn’t like RPGs, or believe in a focus upon story. Relatively late in development Miyamoto threw a Steve Jobs and overturned what the team had so far, insisting that many of the story elements be cropped and that they restrain themselves to almost entirely using characters seen in Super Mario World. Gone are the funny and charming characters, the surprisingly dark and epic storylines; what we’re left with is the same crap we’re fed in the main games. The difference is that the main Mario games don’t need a story, they provide a different kind of gaming experience, one focused simply upon twitchy fun, but these RPGS need context and narrative to keep things going. It doesn’t have to be complex, Pokemon Black and White are good examples of RPGs which had minimal story but still work, but we need something.

The main gimmick of Paper Mario: Sticker Star is, unsurprisingly, stickers! This works well in some places, and not so well in others. All attack commands in battles are stickers held in a sticker book, which vanish when used. These stickers can be bought from shops, peeled from walls, found in question mark blocks or looted from enemies. There are timed damage bonuses in battle of course, this being a Paper Mario game, and it’s as satisfying to pull off a good combo as ever. The stuff outside of battles is actually more interesting, a rarity in a JRPG. There’s an element of an old school adventure game to the whole thing, as Mario collects stickers which can be used to solve puzzles throughout the world. One of the more amusing elements of the game is the appearance of ‘things’, items from our world which can be stickerized and used inside and outside of battle. These range from mundane items like scissors and a fridge to the amusingly wacky; my favourite was ‘goat.’

There’s a lot to like in the gameplay of Paper Mario: Sticker Star. The actual battles are quite fun, playing out in a fairly similar way to those in earlier games. Some of the boss fights are utterly epic, and can get incredibly difficult, which only serves to prove the lie that Nintendo only makes easy games. There are some great levels which contain some classic ‘Nintendo moments’, moments which just make you want to clap your hands and giggle like a child. No one can create moments like this quite as well as Nintendo. Alas, everything, really, pretty much everything is undermined by one fatal, baffling flaw in the game design; the lack of a levelling system. This leaves the player with no incentive to enter battles, as they will usually just waste valuable stickers, and shows a huge misunderstanding as to why people play RPGs. I suspect Miyamoto’s involvement here too. Growing a character is one of the most compelling motivations in gaming, and is the fundamental mechanic RPGs are built on. Without the potential for character growth, RPGs just plain do not work. Battles become an irritation, a thing to be avoided. Another major flaw can be the esoteric nature of some of the puzzles; I compared Sticker Star to an adventure game earlier, but it can sometimes tend towards the worst habits of that genre. Some of the puzzle solutions are so bizarre that to get through this game without Google at your side would be a Herculean feat of patience. This could be forgiven however, and doesn’t really bog the game down too much. There are some real flashes of brilliance here, and some really clever and fun levels, but it’s not enough; I could forgive the plot, I could forgive the obtuse puzzles, but I cannot forgive the lack of a levelling system.

However, every time I got myself nice and worked up over the flaws in the gameplay, I’d see another beautiful, stylish or cool area and I’d forget all about it. I absolutely love the aesthetic of the Paper Mario series, and it carries over exceptionally well to 3DS. The 3D is actually really good here; it’s one of the few games I played the whole way through with it turned on, and given my cynicism of the gimmick that’s a high compliment. The game is colourful, charming and sometimes beautiful. The music is excellent, this is Nintendo after all, although the new tunes fail to really have much of an impact. Frequent remixes of classic Mario tunes throughout the game always bought a smile to my face. A fun rollercoaster section set to the slide theme from Super Mario 64 had me playing with a wide grin plastered all over my face. If only the actual game could have lived up to its own style.

Paper Mario: Sticker Star is a highly frustrating game; like Assassin’s Creed 3, it’s a game I really wanted to like. There’s a lot of good here, but its flashes of brilliance only serve to illuminate it’s failures. Despite all this, Paper Mario: Sticker Star isn’t a terrible game, and I didn’t hate my time with it. When it takes a dip in price, this may be worth a go, but not before then.


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