Tag Archives: snes

Ranking the Games of the SNES Classic

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It’s coming…

Nintendo dispatched with what little suspense there was relating to the SNES Classic this week by unveiling the plug and play device as well as just about everything we needed to know about it. Ever since the company shockingly pulled the plug on the NES Classic, the plug and play mini Nintendo Entertainment System that proved nearly impossible to find during the holiday season, the gaming community has been wondering when the company would show off its successor. It was basically a foregone conclusion that a SNES Classic Edition would be made, the only real questions concerning it would be when is it coming and did Nintendo learn anything following the NES Classic fiasco?

Well, yes and no to that last question. The biggest complaints, aside from availability, surrounding the NES Classic were in regards to the controller cord length and the selection of games. While most of the very best non-licensed games from that era were represented, there was also a lot of padding with games such as Balloon Fight and Ice Climber that most people were not eager to revisit, The controllers were wired, which in the age of wireless feels odd enough, but to make matters worse the cord length was only two and a a half feet. The SNES Classic seeks to improve on both by legitimately featuring a wealth of quality, classic games and by featuring longer cords. Unfortunately, the length was only extended to five feet which is shorter than what is featured with the original SNES controllers. There’s no word from Nintendo though on just how many units will be produced, only offering up that it will be significantly more than the NES Classic. Helping matters some is that each unit will come bundled with two controllers, as the only thing harder to find than the NES Classic last Christmas was a second controller to go with it. The SNES Classic will come in at $80, which is $20 more than the NES Classic, and will feature 21 games as opposed to 30.

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The UK edition which is identical to the Japanese Super Famicom. The actual Japanese version will include different titles.

I’ll review the device in time, when it’s actually available, but like I did with the NES Classic, I wanted to rank the games that are coming with it. Last fall, I speculated on what would be included on the device assuming it would include 30 games, so naturally I picked more than what was featured. I actually only missed on three games:  Kirby’s Dream Course, Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts, and Star Fox 2. The latter of which I mentioned as thinking it would be asking too much since Star Fox 2 has never been officially released. It’s definitely the biggest surprise that came out of Nintendo on Monday, and I’m sure millions of Nintendo fans across the globe are eager for an official release. Kirby’s Dream Course, I just plain didn’t consider while I omitted Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts from my list mostly as wishful thinking. Given that its predecessor was featured on the NES Classic, I had a hunch it would be included, even though I don’t know anyone who wants it. The only game I’m surprised isn’t being included is Pilotwings, as being a first party title and SNES launch game, I had just assumed Nintendo would include it. Capcom naturally is including Street Fighter 2, and the only question around that game was what version would we get? The US is getting Street Fighter 2 Turbo: Hyper Fighting, while curiously the Japanese market is getting Super Street Fighter 2. What did we do, Capcom, to deserve this slight?

I could go on and on about this product, but I’m going to cut myself off here and get to the meat of this post:  the games. The 21 US/UK games are below in order of how awesome I think they are starting with the worst of the bunch. This set, as a whole, is rather excellent with only a few titles I’m not too high on. And even though I’m starting with the lesser titles, the first one comes with an asterisk:

Star_Fox_2_2017#21 – Star Fox 2* (2017)

Star Fox 2 is obviously the most mysterious title of the bunch, but given that it has “leaked” to the internet it’s not as mysterious as it once was. And even though I think the finished game included on the SNES Classic is likely not much different from the ROM that’s been available for years, I don’t feel comfortable ranking it just yet without playing the completed game. So while I’m ranking this as #21, it’s basically unranked, and I don’t think it will be the worst game on the set. What it probably will be is the first game most people play after the plug this baby in.

 

250px-GhoulsSNES_boxart#20 – Super Ghouls ‘n Ghosts (1991)

Ghouls ‘n Ghosts is a hard game, which is probably its defining feature. The SNES game is the sequel to the original, though it’s not much different. It certainly looks better, but as an early SNES title it’s not likely to impress in that respect. For those who really want to be challenged, this is probably a satisfying game. For me, I just don’t find it particularly enjoyable to play. It’s not cheap or anything, it just isn’t fun to control Arthur or particularly rewarding to complete his quest. I wish Capcom had opted to include the spin-off Demon’s Crest instead, but I did not expect that to happen.

snes_f-zero_boxart#19 – F-Zero (1990)

F-Zero is another early SNES title and when it first came out it was pretty impressive to behold. Playing it though? Eh. It’s basically a glorified tech demo for the SNES Mode 7 graphics which did a lot for the racing genre as you no longer needed to rely on onscreen prompts to know when to turn, you could just see the turns coming up ahead. It’s a hard game that strangely is strictly single player. Since it was a launch title, some fans might have a fondness for the game as it was one of the titles to turn to after finishing Super Mario World, but a lot of people would probably rather play another popular racing game from this collection.

dkc_snes_boxart#18 – Donkey Kong Country (1994)

I’m guessing most people will rank Rare’s resurrection of the Donkey Kong franchise higher than I am, but I was just never that into the game. Kind of like F-Zero, the game is a bit of tech demo sorts for the pre-rendered three-dimensional graphics that the game makes use of. With everything being pre-rendered, there’s a disconnect between the Kongs and the environment surrounding them. I, of course, didn’t know this when playing as a kid but I did feel the disconnect. It was impressive to look at, but not a lot of fun to play.

superpunchoutbox#17 – Super Punch-Out!! (1994)

The less popular sequel to one of the NES’s most popular games, Super Punch-Out!! is probably a more arcade perfect version of the original Punch-Out!!, though the NES version was so popular it became the definitive one. As a result, this game lacks its predecessor’s charm. Little Mac isn’t so little given the behind the back view of the game which really changes the feel of the game and undermines the underdog factor the game is supposed to possess. It is a game I haven’t played in years and I’m interested in resisting it to see if my opinion has changed.

contra_iii_game_cover#16 – Contra III: The Alien Wars (1993)

It’s Contra, I probably don’t need to go into any additional detail. You know what you’re getting here. It fills a nice void on this collection for its co-op play, and Contra is probably the premiere run and gun franchise. It serves a nice callback to Super C from the NES Classic, so it was a foregone conclusion it would be here. A lot of Contra fans consider either this or Hard Corps, which was released for the Genesis, as the best in the series so Contra fans should be happy this one is here.

250px-star_fox_snes#15 – Star Fox (1993)

I know we’re all really excited to be getting Star Fox 2 on this set, but I feel like it must be said that Star Fox is possibly Nintendo’s most overrated franchise. The original game is, and I’m sounding like a broken record already, a tech demo of sorts for the Super FX chip. And if you didn’t know, the Super FX chip was the SNES’s primitive way of introducing polygons to gamers. It looked dated from the moment it first showed up, but there was some charm to the game’s visuals. Those have been lost to time as the game is borderline ugly at this point, but it’s a solid behind the vehicle flight simulator. Star Fox 64 was much improved and the 3DS version of that game is probably the best game in the franchise. And pretty much all of the other games are either decent or bad, but at least the first one is still solid!

smk#14 – Super Mario Kart (1992)

The launching of a franchise juggernaut, Super Mario Kart was an instant crowd favorite due to the combat elements of the game. Battle Mode is still pretty fun, though the Mode 7 graphics do show their age at this point. It almost seems like Mario Kart 64 has taken over as the game most people feel the most nostalgic for, but I do feel the original game was actually better than that one. It probably wasn’t until Double Dash for the Gamecube that the original was finally surpassed and it has since been lapped a few times. It is dated, but still fun and challenging.

250px-Kirbydreamcourse#13 – Kirby’s Dream Course (1994)

This is probably the weirdest game included on this collection, and aside from Star Fox 2, the most unexpected. Kirby gets a lot of the spin-off, gimmick, treatment and most of those games are mediocre or worse with a few gems here and there. Dream Course is one such gem even though it probably sounds pretty stupid. The game is basically a cross of mini golf and billiards with Kirby serving as the ball. You shoot him into enemies with the last enemy on the screen serving as the goal of the stage. The objective of the game is to get Kirby into the goal in as few “strokes” as possible. He can still copy powers which introduces strategy into which enemy you take out first. The billiards element exists in your ability to apply spin to Kirby popping him up in the air or causing him take off in a given direction. It’s a fun game though it does depend a lot on trial and error, so once you figure out each hole, you’ll probably not come back.

earthbound_box#12 – EarthBound (1994)

The JRPG was really starting to take-off at this point in time so it’s no surprise that Nintendo sent its lone game in that genre west for the first time. EarthBound is a game fondly remembered for its setting and humor, being for the long time one of the only JRPGs to be set in a non-fantasy setting. This is another game that many people will probably rank higher than I am (I think IGN recently placed it in the top 10 RPGs of all time or something), but believe me when I say the game is very dated by today’s standards. About the only thing progressive EarthBound did at the time from a gameplay perspective was remove the random battles, but enemies are much faster than you which minimizes that advantage. The inventory management is easily the game’s biggest drag and everything moves at a glacial pace. As someone who loves JRPGs, I can find enjoyment in the game, but I don’t think it’s on the same level as the other SNES greats like Final Fantasy III and Chrono Trigger, but that’s just my opinion.

kss_boxart#11 – Kirby Super Star (1996)

Kirby Super Star is your dose of traditional Kirby on this set, and Super Star is probably his best outing still to this day. It’s not particularly challenging, like his NES outing, but the copy powers of Kirby make the game a lot of fun and give you the ability to change things up with each play-through. You can also have a second player control an enemy character for 2-player co-op which is also a lot of fun. It’s quite possibly the best co-op platformer I’ve ever played as even Mario and Sonic have struggled in that area. And as a late entry to the SNES, a lot of people may not have be as familiar with this game which may make it feel new to a lot of people picking up this collection.

35497-Street_Fighter_II_Turbo_-_Hyper_Fighting_(USA)-1453510943#10 – Street Fighter II Turbo: Hyper Fighting (1993)

Now we’re getting into the top 10, and the games that helped define the SNES as one of the greatest gaming devices of all time. Street Fighter II was a huge game and instrumental in the fighting-game craze of the early 90s. Without it, who knows where the fighting genre would be? It was also one of the first arcade ports to a console that felt almost perfect making Street Fighter II a game that both simultaneously prolonged the life of the arcade and helped to hasten its demise. The game is a classic and still holds up quite well, to the point that Capcom recently re-released a version of Super Street Fighter II on the Switch with updated visuals. Because of that game, it’s possible SNES Classic owners are getting short-changed with the Turbo edition of the game with Capcom hoping to not impact sales of their Switch title. At least, that was my assumption until I saw that Japanese gamers were getting Super Street Fighter II on their Super Famicom Classic Edition, so who knows why we’re getting Turbo? It’s still a great game, just not as good as Super.

250px-secret_of_mana_box#9 – Secret of Mana (1993)

Often considered Square’s answer to Zelda, Secret of Mana is very much its own thing and even does something it would take Zelda many years to introduce:  co-op play. Secret of Mana can be enjoyed by up to three gamers at a time, but I have no idea if the SNES Classic will be able to accommodate more than two players at any one time. It’s possible, but doesn’t feel likely. Even without that, Secret of Mana is a great game with a great soundtrack, look, and gameplay. I’ve actually been playing its sequel recently, so I’m eager to go back to the first SNES game (which is technically a sequel to Final Fantasy Adventure for the GameBoy) for comparison purposes as I’m undecided on which is my favorite. This one should be a nice, meaty, adventure for SNES Classic owners and its a nice alternative to both Zelda and Final Fantasy.

super_castlevania_iv_north_american_snes_box_art#8 – Super Castlevania IV (1991)

This a favorite of many in the Castlevania fanbase. In some ways, it’s the last classically designed game and is essentially the first three games perfected. It’s classic Castlevania with enhanced visuals and music and still looks great to this day. It might play a little slow for some, but the controls are tight and the difficulty is fair. There’s not much more to say about this one, if you’ve played any of the first three Castlevania titles you’re getting more of the same, just a better version.

supermariorpgsnescoverartus#7 – Super Mario RPG (1996)

The SNES Classic features three traditional JRPGs that all play about as different from one another as a JRPG could. Super Mario RPG was a Nintendo-Squaresoft collaboration with Square doing most of the heavy lifting. Kind of like Capcom’s collaboration with Square on Breath of Fire, Nintendo would take over the Mario RPG franchise going forward and it’s still debatable which title in the now long-running series is the best. The original is still a lot of fun with a lot of humor and charm throughout. The timed button commands in the battle system introduced a layer of interactivity not present in a lot of JRPGs at the time and the pseudo 3D visuals were pretty impressive at the time. They’ve aged a little better than the Super FX games though the title still looks a little dated by today’s standards and maybe a traditional sprite-based game would have aged better. That said, it’s a lot of fun with a solid amount of challenge and its running time will help give your SNES Classic a long shelf life.

yoshis_island_super_mario_world_2_box_art#6 – Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (1995) 

Yoshi was the Super Nintendo’s break-out star, so it wasn’t surprising to see him assume a starring role in the Super Mario World sequel. What was a surprise, was to see baby Mario playing a supporting role, or maybe that should be an antagonist role? Baby Mario sucks and a lot has been said on that subject over the years, but beyond that Yoshi’s Island is a meaty platformer with a lot to see and do. The levels feel massive compared to its predecessor and Yoshi in some levels introduces a surprise element on a first play-through. How those vehicles handle is a bit of a mixed bag, but everyone agrees the game looks fantastic and it was the best application of the Super FX chip I ever saw (technically Super FX2 chip). Because of that though, the game has been hard to emulate properly so it has never been available on Nintendo’s Virtual Console. Hopefully it’s faithfully recreated on the SNES Classic as I found the GBA version available to 3DS Ambassadors underwhelming.

mega_man_x_coverart#5 – Mega Man X (1993)

Mega Man was probably the biggest third-party star on the NES, so it was expected he would make the jump to the SNES. What wasn’t certain was how he would do that. Mega Man 5 and 6 both released very late on the NES making it seem like that series would remain an 8-bit fixture while the SNES received Mega Man X. At first confusing the X for a roman numeral, I was perplexed how the franchise made it that far without my knowing, but once I played it I didn’t care because Mega Man X was the perfect evolution for the Mega Man franchise. Now referred to simply as X, Mega Man could dash and wall jump in addition to his other maneuvers. He had a cool sidekick in Zero, who would later become playable in the sequels, and a new enemy in Sigma. The game was a blast and it’s justifiably included here as one of the premier run and gun platformers. Eventually traditional Mega Man would come to the SNES in the form of Mega Man 7, a game not remembered fondly so Capcom was wise to lend X to the SNES Classic.

250px-smetroidbox#4 – Super Metroid (1994)

For a time, it seemed like Samus would miss the SNES as it took her a long time to arrive. Thankfully, her arrival on the console was definitely worth the wait as Super Metroid is still the best game in the series and a true 16-bit classic. The game isn’t that much different from its NES predecessor, but it’s a lot bigger and more impressive to behold. Samus handles better than ever and feels like a being truly equipped for the mission at hand capable of wall jumping, morph balling, dashing, directional shooting, and all that other jazz. The game opens up little by little with Samus finding new and better equipment that allow her to reach previously inaccessible areas. In that, Samus is very similar to Link though you would never confuse Zelda with Metroid. This is Nintendo’s best action franchise, so it’s a shame the company promotes it so little, but at least we’re getting a remake of Metroid II for the 3DS this fall. Enjoy this one though as it’s one of Nintendo’s best games.

510ahyhdidl-_sx300_#3 – Final Fantasy III (1994)

Possibly the greatest game in the long-running Final Fantasy series, Final Fantasy III was the title that really put the JRPG on the map in the west. Of course, we all know it now by its real title, Final Fantasy VI, but for a long time American gamers thought it was the third game in the series. It features a huge cast of characters and one of gaming’s most memorable villains. Each of the playable characters does something no one else does which makes party construction a lot of fun. There’s also the “final” battle fake-out which leads to the World of Ruin, and I loved that there was an instance of permanent death for a certain character if you messed up. You may have passed on playing Final Fantasy on the NES Classic, but definitely don’t ignore this one.

250px-super_mario_world_coverart#2 – Super Mario World (1990)

Still the best Mario game! I love Super Mario World and you probably do too because it’s a game that’s hard not to like. It’s also a game most have played to death because it was the pack-in game with every SNES sold. Some are probably disappointed Nintendo is including this game and not Super Mario All-Stars & Super Mario World, as that would have essentially given us four additional games, but I wasn’t expecting Nintendo to be that generous so I’m not surprised, but I can’t disagree that it would have been awesome had they done so. Even though I’ve beaten this game many times, finding all of the gates in each stage, I’ll probably play through it again on the SNES Classic because the game is so fun and it will be a nice measuring stick to see how well the emulation is done.

attp#1 – The Legend of Zelda:  A Link to the Past (1991)

It may be boring, but could any other game be #1 on this list? A Link to the Past isn’t just arguably the best Zelda title, it’s arguably the greatest game of all time. It looks great, handles well, sounds awesome, and the adventure is long and satisfying. This one introduced a lot of items and gear that would become staples of the franchise going forward, and the only reason to not play this game on the SNES Classic when it comes out is because you’ve already played it a million times. And even then, that’s still not a great excuse.


The Final Word on the NES Classic

nes_classic_retro_blast_splashIf you read this blog even semi-regularly, you’ve probably seen me talk about the NES Classic already. When it came out I ranked the 30 games bundled with the device and also speculated on what could be included on a likely SNES Classic. What I didn’t do was actually come out and review the device. I figured I had nothing left to add to the general opinions that already existed across the internet. Which is to say, the NES Classic Edition is a fun little device, but it’s hampered by short controller cables and not every one of those games is really worth owning in 2016. Since then, the NES Classic became the hot holiday item and was also probably the hardest to come by. Nintendo evidently didn’t anticipate how popular it would be, as it couldn’t meet demand though it assured consumers more were on the way. Now we’re in April 2017, and the NES Classic has been discontinued.

If you were one of those individuals who got a NES Classic then you’re probably feeling pretty fortunate right now. It was never in stock to the point where you could walk into a store and take one-off the shelf. I suspect those who didn’t get one during the holiday rush probably expected them to eventually be in stock in reasonable numbers, just like Nintendo devices from years past. And while the fervor died down a bit following Christmas, consumers still needed to be vigilant in order to get one.

If you’re still pondering getting a NES Classic you’re probably down to third-party sellers as your only option. As of April 27th, the Nintendo store in NYC has stopped selling them and most big box retailers have either unloaded all of their stock or will do so this weekend. Online, no one has had stock since early April except Amazon’s Prime Now delivery service which has had flash sales sporadically and appears to be done as of this writing. And people selling Classics on Amazon or eBay know full well that the item is still highly sought after and essentially unavailable at retail and the prices reflect that. If you were lucky enough to encounter a Classic in the wild, you were likely charged 60 bucks to purchase the console which came bundled with one controller, a micro USB cable, wall adapter, and HDMI cable. A few places up-charged, and Gamestop offered mostly bundles full of other stuff no one wanted, but for the most part retailers stayed at the MSRP. During the lead-up to Christmas, prices climbed high enough to more than quadruple the MSRP with some even fetching around $300. After the holidays, the prices came down to the $120-$150 range, which was still a lot considering the MSRP, but perhaps not prohibitive. Now they’re back up to $300 and higher and who knows where they’ll settle at as they become more and more scarce.

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The NES Classic! Available at all of these places! Maybe!

At $60, purchasing the NES Classic wasn’t much of a dilemma. At that price point it could be considered a novelty. Had it actually managed to be well stocked it probably would have been a popular impulse buy. At the prices they’re going for now though, it becomes a much tougher proposition. I was fortunate enough to purchase two NES Classics. When the item was first announced, I got it in my head that it would make a great Christmas gift for my best friend, so I went to great lengths to acquire one eventually scoring one on Prime Now in a city that wasn’t my own. I had to pay extra to have the item shipped by UPS after having it delivered to one of its stores, but it was a small price to pay to secure a cool gift for my buddy. After Christmas, I happened to be at my computer at the right moment when Best Buy’s website put some up for sale and was able to get one for myself. I’ve had the NES Classic for months, so I feel well equipped to tell you what it’s worth.

To properly judge the NES Classic, you have to consider what it does well and what it doesn’t and why you want it. It contains 30 Nintendo games, about half of which are classics. Some of that lesser half is still playable, and some of it are titles you’ll likely play once and then never again. For sixty bucks, you’re getting each game for essentially $2, so it’s hard to get upset about Ice Climber when you also have Super Mario Bros. 3. None of these games are particularly rare, but you’d be hard pressed to find many for less than $2 if you were trying to get actual NES carts. This makes getting a lot of the best Nintendo games pretty convenient and pretty affordable. Of course, this ignores emulation piracy which I know a lot of people engage in. You don’t need me to tell you that you could probably download all of these games at no expense to you with probably minimal risk of actually running afoul of the law. Don’t confuse that statement as an advocation for illegal ROM downloading, it’s just an acknowledgement of reality. In other words, these games are all easy to come by and probably for really cheap. And if you were an early adopter of Nintendo’s 3DS handheld, you even received a bunch of these games for free from Nintendo itself.

What it all comes down to, you only have a few reasons to actually buy an NES Classic:

  1. The emulation is great and probably the best way to play these games. There’s no latency even when played on a modern television. You can play these games in crisp, bright, HD or opt for a filter that mimics a CRT television (my preferred mode). Nothing else I’m aware of does a better job, including Nintendo’s own Virtual Console service. Simply put, while these games are of limited value visually speaking, they’ve also never looked better and likely never will.
  2. The novelty of it all. And really, this is probably the big reason why people want this thing. It’s cute. It’s a tiny Nintendo Entertainment System that fits in your hand. It’s exactly the type of thing people get nostalgic over and want. Even people that know they won’t actually use this thing much still want it because it looks cool.
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If you actually get one, you probably should also get some controller extension cables. They’re practically mandatory.

There’s also a third reason, though it ties into number 2, and that’s this thing has no protection built-in really what-so-ever. It’s a popular item for modders to hack, and its storage capacity is vast enough that some claim it could store the entirety of the N64 library on it. For those who are really into emulation, it’s kind of the ultimate device because it’s an official Nintendo product capable of playing every single NES game in glorious HD with save states to boot. Considering most that are into emulation do so because they just want to play the games cheaply and easily, they’re probably no longer willing to pay hundreds of dollars to get a novelty box for their illegal games. Especially when you consider that if you mess up the ROM dump you can brick your tiny NES and that just doesn’t seem like a risk worth taking considering what they’re worth.

The decision to purchase or not purchase the NES Classic isn’t that complicated: you either really value silly little niche products or you don’t. If you have a ton of money at your disposal, then have at it, but if you just thought it would be fun to play these games again on a novelty device then passing on it at quadruple the retail price should be pretty easy. That said, if prices come down over the coming months then I could foresee a price range that would have made me comfortable that exceeded retail. At $100 to $120, I could probably talk myself into buying this thing all over again (if I for some reason wanted two of them), but I’d probably stop at around $150. If you really want to play a game or games that are included with the NES Classic, it’s just too easy to go elsewhere for a similar experience.

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What’s harder to get than the NES Classic? The extra controllers. If you have some old NES controllers hanging around, these work great, plus you can take advanage of the original’s  longer cord!

This whole post also assumes that the NES Classic has truly been discontinued. It makes little sense for Nintendo to cancel the thing. It costs them very little to produce, it likely has little or no impact on Switch production, and Nintendo probably isn’t selling tons of copies of these games via its Virtual Console platform. It’s possible Nintendo just wanted to make a quick buck, but was afraid of cannibalizing its virtual shop. It’s also possible the NES Classic was a bare-bones test run of a dedicated Virtual Console set-top box. Perhaps Nintendo will just release a new version later this year that is capable of adding software and likely would be harder for modders to crack, as it would seem the ease of doing so with the current NES Classic was a big factor in its cancellation. At least, that’s the only thing that makes sense. A rumored SNES Classic is on the way, so hopefully the scarcity of the NES Classic wasn’t intentional and the SNES Classic arrives in far greater numbers. If I can’t pre-order it I’ll probably lose my mind, or I’ll likely just end up outside a gaming store hours before it opens to get what I want silently cursing Nintendo the whole time.


Ranking the Nintendo Hardware

nintendointerAs I sit down to write this entry, it is March 1st and we are less than 48 hours away from the launch of the latest piece of Nintendo hardware:  Nintendo Switch. It’s an important release for Nintendo as the last console, the Wii U, was a commercial failure. That being so, the Wii U is a bit of an anomaly as Nintendo has been a respected manufacturer of video game hardware for decades. Nintendo’s journey has been a memorable one, starting with playing cards and low-tech plug and play devices to the Game and Watch series, which set the stage for Nintendo as both a game developer and eventually console juggernaut. As such, Nintendo is synonymous with video games (at one point, the word Nintendo was often used by parents as a catch-all term for gaming system) and it’s hard to imagine they’ll ever leave the industry, but if the Switch is a flop then that could be a real possibility.

Before we take in the new, lets look to the past and try and rank all of the Nintendo hardware to be released to a global audience, starting first with the Nintendo Entertainment System and concluding with the Wii U. Maybe a year from now we’ll have an idea of where the Switch will end up among its peers, hopefully towards the front of the list as opposed to the back, but for now we’ll have to settle for what we have. So let’s get started with the consensus worst piece of hardware ever released by Nintendo…

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It’s like ROB the Robot for your face.

The Virtual Boy

In 1995, Nintendo apparently felt there was a market for a table-top console you stick your face in. The “Boy” tacked onto the end of Virtual Boy’s name makes it seem like it’s a part of the portable Game Boy family, but it’s about as portable as a desktop PC, and about as fun to play as Claris Works. The Virtual Boy was a piece of crap from day one. It attempted to give gamers a Tron-like experience (I guess?) with vector graphics that only displayed in red and black. The console could supposedly inflict permanent damage on one’s vision. The controller was trying to be forward thinking with twin directional inputs, but we soon learned that we did not need two d-pads on a controller and the practice was never duplicated in a memorable way. To top it all off, the machine launched with an MSRP of $180 which is just insane for 1995. Even disasters like the Sega CD have a certain curiosity factor, so much so that I’ve bought one as an adult just for shits and giggles. The Virtual Boy possesses no such charm, and it’s the only Nintendo system I have never owned.

Notable Franchise debuts: Mario Tennis

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At least the white doesn’t show dust.

Wii U

Nintendo’s latest failure, the Wii U, had some promise, but it never delivered on it. Piggy-backing off of the Wii brand’s more recent success, the Wii U was another under-powered Nintendo console with a tablet for a controller. Off TV play is its defining contribution to video games, but with subpar range for the Gamepad it’s still pretty much tethered to your living room. More so than really any Nintendo console (save for the Virtual Boy, which is a huge outlier in every way to the point that I don’t plan on repeating it throughout this post beyond this very sentence), the Wii U failed to deliver the first-party games Nintendo is known for. There were a couple of okay Mario  releases, but no exclusive Zelda or Metroid games (the abomination Freedom Force doesn’t count) or really anything else that was memorable. While it’s true that Zelda:  Breath of the Wild is being released on the Wii U, I would guess more people will experience that game via the Switch. Some of its other more notable releases, like Mario Kart 8 and Splatoon, are essentially being repackaged for the Switch as well. Basically, unless you refuse to repurchase some of your Wii U library, the only reason to hang onto it is for the Virtual Console games. At least it was backwards compatible with the original Wii, in a convoluted fashion, though that obviously isn’t enough to help it avoid this dubious ranking.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Splatoon

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The original Game Boy was hardly form-fitting, but it got the job done.

Game Boy

The Game Boy has the distinction of being one of the best selling pieces of video game hardware of all time. That isn’t really a testament to its quality, but more to its incredible longevity. Released in 1989, the Game Boy was essentially on the market without a true successor until 2001. In that time, the Game Boy destroyed all challengers mostly by virtue of the fact that it did nothing well, but had no flaw that was considered fatal. Sure, it’s monochrome display and absence of backlighting irritated anyone who ever played it, it still managed to find and hang onto an audience because it was often priced well, had good battery life, and was released when the Nintendo brand was at its apex. I know many moms who bought their kid a Game Boy because they viewed it as a cheaper alternative to an NES or SNES, and there was always enough quality software to keep the system afloat. Meanwhile, more superior handhelds were released (Game Gear, Lynx, Wonder Swan, Turbo Express), but they either couldn’t match the Game Boy’s price or software and subsequently died, while the Game Boy lived on. Now, the Game Boy was also chock full of shovel ware, often the worst of the worst in licensed games appeared on the Game Boy and many a kid received some awful games from well-meaning aunts and grandparents for birthdays, but at least there was Zelda, Metroid, and Pokemon to soften the blow. The Game Boy received a slimmed-down redesign in 1996, the Game Boy Pocket. Other than being slimmer and cheaper to power, it also featured a black and white display instead of that hideous yellow/green and black display of the original. Other than that, it was essentially the same and the Game Boy didn’t receive a true redesign until 1998…

Notable Franchise debuts: Pokemon, Wario Land, Kirby, Gargoyle’s Quest

Game Boy Color

Nintendo lumps in the Game Boy and Game Boy Color into the same bucket in terms of reporting sales figures and so on. The Color was modestly more powerful, and obviously possessed a color display, though it was still pretty much a Game Boy. I list it separately only because Game Boy Color games could only be played on a Game Boy Color and not on one of the earlier models of the Game Boy. And since it possessed color, and could play every game in the Game Boy library, it naturally ranks ahead of the original.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Shantae

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The GBA had a lot of revisions in its relatively short life.

Game Boy Advance

The first real successor to the original Game Boy, the Game Boy Advance felt long overdue. And like the Game Boy, it received a few redesigns during its lifecycle. Compared to the Game Boy, the GBA did not have nearly as long a shelf-life. Even though Nintendo claimed the Nintendo DS wasn’t meant to be a successor to the Game Boy line, it essentially was and by 2006 the Game Boy brand was basically dead. Still, for as short a life as it had, the GBA was a pretty great portable, but its held back by some odd design choices and a lack of truly exclusive software. For starters, the GBA featured just four action buttons:  A, B, L, and R. Considering we were a decade removed from the SNES creating the new standard of six buttons, this was a curious omission. It seemed even more odd when the GBA quickly established itself as a dumping ground for SNES ports. The other design miss-step was the lack of a backlight. This would be addressed with the Game Boy Advance SP in 2003, a front-lit clamshell redesign that also resembled a Game Boy Pocket, just with a hinge in the middle. While I preferred the horizontal layout of the original GBA, the lack of a light source really sucked the fun out of it. The SP also had a rechargeable battery, which would become standard for future handhelds. In 2005, two additional redesigns were released, the SPII, which featured a backlit screen with improved brightness over the SP, and the Micro, which was tiny and featured a horizontal layout and no backwards compatibility with older Game Boy games.

Other than the hardware shortcomings, the GBA is also lacking in exclusive software designed specifically for the hardware. There were tons of SNES and NES ports, some of which (like Super Mario Advance) were significantly updated, but they didn’t make up for a lack or original software. There was an original Zelda title, The Minish Cap, which was a solid game but not as good as Link’s Awakening. There was also an exclusive Metroid, Metroid Fusion, which was excellent and lead to the release of a remake of the original game, released as Metroid:  Zero Mission. Mario &Luigi was also great, as was Advance Wars. I have a fondness for the GBA, mostly because of all of the great ports, so I don’t consider it a bad system by any means, but when compared with other Nintendo hardware, it does come up a bit short.

Notable Franchise debuts: Advance Wars, Fire Emblem (for US audiences), Phoenix Wright, Mario & Luigi, Wario Ware

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The original, “chunky,” DS. Like the GBA, the DS would receive a few redesigns including the Lite, DSi, and DSi XL.

Nintendo DS

All right, it feels like I’m picking on the portables, but there’s a reason for that. Portables are often homes to ports and the exclusive software is sometimes hard to find. And Nintendo has also often made its portables backwards compatible, so it would be hard to justify ranking older portables ahead of modern ones. Anyways, most of the criticisms I had for the GBA kind of apply to the DS as well. The DS is sort of the last of the old handhelds, as future ones (and even the final iteration of the DS, the DSi, started the evolution) would be online-equipped opening up the handheld to a host of older, downloadable games. The DS set itself apart from the GBA, and its competitor the Sony PSP, by having two screens. The second screen was hardly an innovation. Design-wise, the DS resembled Nintendo’s old Game & Watch handhelds and the second screen soon became a dumping ground for near useless features like map screens and inventory management. Some games tried, and tried hard, to make use of the touch screen functionality, but often to the game’s detriment (see the Zelda games released for it). Really, the only reason why I rank it ahead of the GBA is because it’s backwards compatible with the GBA software (but not original Game Boy software) and had a better design (finally, six buttons!). It too lacked somewhat in defining software, but the uptick in processing power made new games like Super Mario Kart DS way more playable than the GBA predecessor. The system may have launched with a port of Super Mario 64, but it never became the dumping ground for N64 ports some may have been expecting, probably due to the lack of a a true analog input device, something its successor would rectify.

Notable Franchise debuts:  New Super Mario Bros., Sonic Rush, Trauma Center

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The Wii felt new and exciting when it first debuted, but would not be able to maintain its early momentum.

Nintendo Wii

We’re now arriving at the point in our list where it’s getting hard to separate the consoles from each other. We’ve already blown past the only true Nintendo failures (Virtual Boy and Wii U) and we’re now mostly into the realm of nit-picking, though I feel rather strongly about what is the best Nintendo console of all time, I just feel less so about whats fifth best vs what’s fourth best, and so on. The Wii  is easy to dump on in 2016. It featured waggle controls and tons of horrible “party” games and licensed junk. It was cheap to develop for, and it’s consumer success meant there were tons of Wii’s in the wild so producers had incentive to release games for it, and with minimal effort. As much as I, along with many others, came to resent the waggle controls, I can’t deny what playing the Wii was like in 2006. The Wii is the last console that brought me and my friends together to just play games all night and have a blast doing so. At that point, I was out of college and working a full-time job, so getting together with a group of friends just to play video games didn’t happen much, and hasn’t since. And looking back on it, the launch lineup was pretty barren and yet we still had a blast with it. That was largely because of how much fun Wii Sports was, though I did have fun with Madden and Dragon Ball Z as well. And of course, The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, even though the Gamecube version released a few months later was actually better (aside from, maybe, the fishing mini game).

The Wii may have received a ton of horrible games, but it did also receive two of the greatest Mario games ever released:  the Galaxy series. Some people loved Skyward Sword as well, even though I detested it. The Metroid Prime series was also one of the few improved by the Wii’s input device, and the debut of the Virtual Console was a pretty big deal at the time, even if it perhaps never reached the lofty expectations some of us may have had for it.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Super Mario Galaxy, Wii Sports, Xenoblade

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The N64 looks rather regal compared to some of its siblings, though that reputation did not translate to the software.

Nintendo 64

Where do you rank the N64? I would guess this is the console most affected by what age you experienced the N64 at. If this was your first console, then you probably have some extremely fond memories of the N64, so much so that it may even be your favorite. I do not, and for me, the N64 is perhaps the piece of Nintendo hardware that has aged the worst. Visually speaking, most N64 games are ugly by today’s standards. Muddy textures, endless fog, and subpar sound output make for a poor sensory experience. That’s obviously not true of every N64 game. Rare’s Conker’s Bad Fur Day seems to amaze me more and more every time I play it because of how good it turned out from a presentation perspective. The N64 was also the console where third parties started to turn on Nintendo. Most were not happy with the cartridge format, from a technological point of view and financially (you had to pay Nintendo for the actual cartridges), when the industry was moving to CD. The N64 also possessed one of the worst, and most fragile, Nintendo controllers ever done. It’s saved by the analog input and Z-trigger, two additions that are here to stay across all gaming consoles, and it was awesome finally having four controller ports on a console as a standard feature.

After ripping on the N64, I do have to say it gave us one of gaming’s biggest cultural moments in Super Mario 64, which is perhaps the last game that truly felt like a must play when it came out. Ocarina of Time was obviously a huge hit, but it’s success has been dampened some by the superior remake for the 3DS. The same can also be said for Majora’s Mask. Super Mario Kart 64 is also remembered quite fondly, even though it too has been eclipsed by better games in that franchise. The wrestling games are also well-regarded and if you’re a big wrestling fan you’ve probably held onto your N64 for that reason.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Paper Mario, Super Smash Bros., Banjo-Kazooie, Animal Crossing (Japan only)

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A launch 3DS. An XL version has since been released, along with the New 3DS which possesses a little more power under the hood.

Nintendo 3DS

The successor to the DS, the 3DS essentially fixed everything that was wrong with the DS while boosting the power of the handheld as well. The defining feature, stereoscopic 3D without the need for glasses, is a stupid gimmick. I never play my 3DS with it turned on and if the 2DS didn’t for some reason ditch the clamshell design I’d recommend everyone just get that and save a few bucks. That aside, the 3DS is buoyed by just enough original content and remakes to make it a viable system. It’s kind of like a Greatest Hits system, and the Virtual Console support means gamers have access to all of the old classics released by Nintendo, with only a few exceptions.

If you want to argue that the 3DS lacks truly exclusive 3DS games, then I won’t fight you too much. Super Mario 3D Land is pretty darn good, but I’m not sure it’s a system seller. A Link Between Worlds is loads of fun, but is it even better than Link’s Awakening? New Super Mario Bros 2 and Paper Mario Sticker Star were missteps by Nintendo, but they did right by Fire Emblem and Pokemon. It can’t be ignored though how awesome the Zelda remakes are for the 3DS. Both the Ocarina of Time remake and Majora’s Mask remake are so much better than the originals released on the N64, that it will be a crime if they only exist on portable hardware. Both should at least be made available for the Switch with TV play, even if the assets need further enhancement to make them suitable for larger displays. It’s worth it! And while I definitely play my Vita more than my 3DS, it doesn’t mean I dislike the system, the Vita just happens to know my weakness (JRPGs). I do wish Nintendo had put a higher quality screen on the 3DS, and it’s battery life is weak, but it’s still better than most of the hardware put out by Nintendo which is pretty remarkable for a portable device.

Notable Franchise debuts: Bravely Default

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While the N64 had a more grown-up appearance, the Gamecube went back to resembling a toy.

Gamecube

The Gamecube can be retroactively looked upon as an end of an era, the era of when Nintendo tried to compete on the same terms as its competitors. The Gamecube was basically every bit the equal of the Playstation 2 and Xbox in terms of power, and third parties didn’t need to concern themselves much in adapting games for all three machines. Still, after the N64 damaged Nintendo’s relationship with said publishers, it was hard to win them all back with the Gamecube. The N64 firmly established the still held belief that people buy Nintendo consoles for Nintendo games, and not so much third party games. As a result, Nintendo would have to really work hard to win them back.

One developer who came back with arms wide open was Capcom. Capcom, in truth, never left the Nintendo family as they had a presence on the N64 and a big presence on Game Boy. For Gamecube though, they made the Resident Evil Remake an exclusive game, and Resident Evil 4 was exclusive for about ten months. Both games were awesome then, and are awesome now, and were big titles for the Gamecube. Konami also helped out a little by remaking Metal Gear Solid for the Gamecube which also turned out better than the original. None of it was enough, however, to make the Gamecube a retail giant which is why Nintendo changed strategies with the Wii. Still, there’s little issue to take with the Gamecube hardware as the games have aged well and there wasn’t anything holding it back. The controller isn’t my favorite, but it wasn’t a bad one. The Wave Bird would be released later, basically making wireless the new preferred input method for all consoles. And even though the best Japanese franchises didn’t find a home on the Gamecube, there sill was an assortment of quality games. The Gamecube received two Zelda titles, Wind Waker and Twilight Princess, the latter being better than the Wii game. Super Mario Sunshine may not have sparkled as well as most Mario games, but was still a solid experience. Paper Mario 2 is in the running as one of the greatest sequels ever made, and is really the last good entry in that series. If the system had more JRPGs, I’d probably love it more. Hopefully with the Switch, Gamecube games start becoming a possibility on the Virtual Console because there are some games I’d love to take on the go.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Luigi’s Mansion, Animal Crossing (US), Pikmin, Metroid Prime

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The old NES Control Deck. Nintendo apparently felt it needed to resemble a VCR in order to attract American buyers.

The Nintendo Entertainment System/Famicom

My approach to this ranking is pretty simple:  If I had to pick one Nintendo console and had access to all software playable on it, which would I pick? I think some bonus points in the event of a “tie” are merited for impact when the system was released and so on, but for the most part I’m making this an apples to apples comparison through 2016 eyes. And yes, I would pick an NES and its library over a Nintendo 64 or Gamecube, or whatever. It’s not out of deference to the era in which the system operated, it’s just an awesome system with an excellent library of games.

At this point, you do not need me to tell you about the big titles, you should be more than familiar with them. And since the console is a tank and most still work to this day, I don’t think durability would be a concern in a desert island scenario. While the presentation of the games from the 8-bit era are a bit rough around the edges, the simpler technology forced a simple style of gameplay on the consumer and as a result, the games just plain hold up better than some of the games that have followed. Super Mario Bros. 3 is as fun today as it was in 1990, Metroid just as lonely, and Glass Joe’s face just as rubbery. Even the sports games hold up very well, despite modern titles presenting more accurate simulations. In recent years, the console has experienced quite the revival with retro gaming sites and podcasts becoming a thing. The NES Classic was perhaps the hottest item this past Christmas, and people are still begging for Nintendo to flood the market with more. For those who worry about the Switch killing Nintendo should it fail, at least they can rest easy knowing Nintendo just has to look to the past for a quick buck to get back on its feet should that happen.

Notable Franchise debuts: Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Metroid, Castlevania, Mega Man – need I go on?

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While Nintendo had a reason making the American version of the NES look different, I never heard of an explanation why the SNES and Super Famicom needed to look different. I wish we had received the Super Famicom design, personally.

Super Nintendo/Super Famicom

If consoles can be considered sequels, then the Super Nintendo may be the greatest sequel of all time. Better than Empire, better than Street Figher 2, just the best. Visually speaking, I remember being unimpressed at first glance. A gray, boxy thing with purple accents hardly felt super to me, but then I played it. Super Mario World felt massive. It was bright and colorful and a joy to play. A Link to the Past took everything I loved about the original Zelda title and made it better. A lot better. While many older franchises struggled to move from 2D to 3D during the next console life cycle, virtually every franchise benefitted from the move from 8-bits to 16. Mega Man X, Street Fighter 2, Super Metroid – all games that proved it was only the imagination of game developers that could hold them back. Then Nintendo of America opened the flood gates and we started receiving games like Final Fantasy in greater abundance as new-found confidence allowed for them to finally get released outside of Japan. The SNES is still one of the best consoles for people who love JRPGs, with only Sony’s consoles rivaling it. The few missteps Nintendo had, like forcing Midway to remove blood from Mortal Kombat, were swiftly rectified.

There is no doubt in my mind that the SNES is Nintendo’s greatest achievement in gaming. It’s not as if other machines haven’t come close in the almost 30 years since the console debuted, so Nintendo shouldn’t hang its head in shame that its still trying to top it. The formula is there, Nintendo just needs to put it all together. The SNES is a beautiful example that a console does not need some wacky gimmick or ridiculous horse power to be worthwhile, it just needs to function comfortably, and above all else, have worthwhile software. It seems like each console to follow has alienated a certain subset of gamers and developers where as the SNES appealed to every one. If the Switch can recapture some of that, it will stand a chance.

Notable Franchise debuts:  Yoshi’s Island, Mega Man X, Chrono Trigger, Super Mario RPG


Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8 (2014)

Mario Kart 8 (2014)

Over the years, Nintendo has acquired the reputation of pushing innovation over technical marvel when it comes to video game development. As has been the case with the past two generations of hardware, Nintendo’s machine has lagged behind its competitors in the raw power department in favor of pushing a new method of gameplay. When taking a glance at the comments section of any gaming website, it’s hard to determine which party is more responsible for pushing this image: Nintendo or its fan base. And in 2014, is the reputation earned?

The notion that Nintendo is advancing gaming through innovation is as much a business strategy as it is a marketing one. When your console can’t do what the competition can, it becomes necessary to sell it on different terms. I do believe the brains behind Nintendo’s games buy into this direction, but it would be naive of me to suggest those sitting in the board room are removed from the process. Nintendo, even after some lackluster years recently, sits on piles of money thanks in large part to a strategy that is rather risk-averse. Unlike most companies who are content to sell hardware at a loss and profit off of software, Nintendo chooses to keep costs down so that it can make money on everything it sells. Nintendo did buck tradition with the Wii U and sold the console at a small loss, but the company also expected to erase such pretty quickly, though reportedly it has yet to.

Things have not gone well for Nintendo when it comes to the Wii U. Nintendo was hugely successful in convincing consumers that the Wii was something new and exciting and soared to new heights behind the console. With the Wii U, Nintendo has failed to do so and the responsibility lies with Nintendo. The company has failed to demonstrate to consumers that the new GamePad is the innovation people have been unknowingly looking for. With Nintendo’s poor leadership creatively, third party developers have been unable to see the worth in developing titles for the GamePad and third party support has been ghostly for the Wii U. Head on over to those comments sections though, and you can expect to find Nintendo fans content to trumpet the company motto of innovation vs shiny visuals and point to the future releases of Super Smash Bros. U and Mario Kart 8.

Well, here we are on June 1st and Mario Kart 8 has arrived in stores across America ready to be gobbled up by hungry gamers seeking validation for their Wii U hardware. In Mario Kart 8, Nintendo has delivered a fun and clever slice of kart racing that rivals the best the series has done. Those captivated by nostalgia may still cite Mario Kart 64 as their favorite, while the popular pick in recent years often falls to the Gamecube’s Double Dash installment, but Mario Kart 8 does nothing to tarnish the legacy of the franchise and should give fans of the series something to chew on.

Expect to find yourself in odd places thanks to the anti-gravity portions.

Expect to find yourself in odd places thanks to the anti-gravity portions.

One aspect of Mario Kart 8 that no one can deny improves upon all of its predecessors resides in the game’s visuals. For the first time ever, Mario Kart is running in high definition and the tracks have never before held as much personality as they do now. The game is very sharp looking even when the action is cruising at a neat 60 frames-per-second and this level of detail is even more apparent when accessing the slow-motion replays. Each tire has individual treads, spectators jump and wave flags, and characters proudly display that red turtle shell high above their head before chucking it at an unsuspecting foe. Not only is Mario Kart 8 the best looking Mario Kart game, it may be the best looking Wii U game thus far. It does push the Wii U with its visuals, though I have yet to encounter any slowdown, but have noticed some pop-in with objects in the distance. When playing with other gamers in your living room via split-screen, the game does drop to 30 fps but with the action confined to a smaller area for each person it’s not very noticeable. The only other critique I can levy at the game’s visuals are with the character faces. They all look fine and how one would expect Bowser or Daisy to look at this point, but their expressions don’t change much at all while driving. There’s no teeth-gritting when entering into a tight turn or other subtle changes, but I admit that’s nit-picking. I also would have liked to see a little more personality in the actual kart designs as most of them are pretty much carbon copies of what has come in a previous game.

Mario Kart 8 may look great but the game lives and dies with its unique brand of kart racing, which has been often imitated but never surpassed by other franchises. Mario Kart 8 should feel familiar to those who have been playing since Mario Kart Wii. The controls are basically the same and drifting remains a timing-based game instead of the left-right-left-right method of Mario Kart games preceding the Wii edition (this change was allegedly made to remove the “snaking” technique from older titles). Most of the items from Mario Kart 7 return, and as usual, there are a couple of new ones. The boomerang flower gives racers a weapon to toss at foes that comes back, just as it does in the Super Mario series. The super horn is the long-awaited answer to the spiny blue shell that is universally despised by all Mario Kart gamers. The blue shell is easily the worst item Nintendo introduced to the series. First used in Mario Kart 64, the blue shell heads straight for the lead racer and is an unavoidable obstacle. I’m not against an item that can help someone lagging in the rear make a move in the final lap, but the blue shell does not do this. All it does is grant a racer from the back of the pack some influence over the outcome, which is unjust and ridiculous. If it took out most of the racers in its path it would make more sense. Anyways, the super horn can deflect any weapon, including the spiny blue shell, but it’s pretty rare to come across one when leading a race.

Mount Wario is my pick for best new track.

Mount Wario is my pick for best new track.

The new courses present in Mario Kart 8 should be met with open arms by most Mario Kart vets. The new emphasis this time around is anti-gravity racing. This allows tracks to have impossible slopes and the game really seems to enjoy bending the course that will make many crane their neck to follow the action. Anti-gravity racing is more than just a visual trick, as when racers are on this portion of a track colliding with one another creates exaggerated bumps that can be used as a speed burst. Certain obstacles on the track can do the same and while anti-gravity portions have been added into some of the old tracks, the new ones designed for Mario Kart 8 make the best use of it. Of the new tracks, I particularly enjoyed Sunshine Airport and Mount Wario, both of which reside in the Star Cup. Sunshine Airport is just a really visually entertaining course with a lot that can distract one from the race while Mount Wario takes on the form of a downhill ski race that starts off in the belly of a massive airplane. It’s a great high-speed run with plenty of challenge and few “cheap” moments. Just about every new course contains some kind of shortcut that can be exploited. Usually they require a mushroom item or star item to pull off so lead cars are often unable to use these to extend their lead leaving those hanging around in the middle the ones best equipped to make use of them.

I love the addition of the Koopa Kids, but could do without the baby characters.

I love the addition of the Koopa Kids, but could do without the baby characters.

As with every Mario Kart game, the love it or hate it rubber-band AI exists. What this means is expect to receive little more than coins and banana peels when leading the race while those cars further back get all of the fun and chaotic items. The Mario Kart games practically discourage getting to the front of the race early on but I’ve yet to meet a person with the discipline to play these games any other way. On the slowest setting, 50cc, expect to dominate the AI if you’re at all familiar with the franchise while the fastest setting, 150cc, should make for some pretty hectic finishes to your races. The game contains quite a few unlock able items and characters. Completing a grand prix event on any difficulty setting unlocks new characters (random order, it would seem) and courses while collecting coins during races unlocks new kart parts. There are some special gold parts that can be unlocked as well through special means but if you want info on all of that stuff it’s readily available on the internet. Even semi-dedicated gamers who picked the game up on Friday will have just about everything unlocked by the time Game of Thrones starts Sunday.

This setup is beyond stupid.

This setup is beyond stupid.

Mario Kart 8 is a fun experience and is likely what Nintendo fans have been waiting for. For its bluster about being an innovative developer of games, Nintendo continues to disappoint with the Wii U and Mario Kart 8 is no stranger. It may be fun, but it’s hardly unique and that’s no more apparent than with its use of the GamePad. The GamePad is practically an after-thought with this game. In some ways its a hindrance, as normally a course map and leaderboard is part of the onscreen HUD but has been relegated to the GamePad’s screen. You can opt to use the GamePad in lieu of a television display, but it’s strangely missing-in-action when it comes to two-player. When playing with one other person locally, the game opts for a vertical split-screen which gets the job done but is hardly ideal. What I don’t understand is why Nintendo did not include an option to have one player’s screen be the GamePad and the other the television. Instead, the GamePad just mirrors the TV, split-screen and all, or can function as a giant horn button (I’m sure that’s exactly what gamers had in mind for the GamePad when it was announced). Sonic All-Star Racing got this right, which is just embarrassing for Nintendo that it couldn’t. Nintendo has also chosen to follow the path set by other publishers of not including an instruction booklet and would rather have a digital one. The digital one is clunky, and I had to just hit buttons until I found the right one that displayed the stats of the karts on the character select screen. Battle Mode has also been redone. Before Battle Mode had its own arenas to select from based off of tracks in the game, now it just uses the actual tracks leading to many moments of just driving around with no one to shoot at. It’s not even worth playing.

This is all to say the Mario Kart 8 is more of the same, like New Super Mario Bros. U and Pikmin 3. If you’re looking for a new Mario Kart title to play on your Wii U, it certainly gets the job done as it has been over six years since the release of the Wii edition. Which means expect the same, fun, frenetic gameplay the series is known for along with the not-so-good things the series is known for such as a clunky online interface and annoying rubber-band logic. I suspect Mario Kart 8 will quickly become the best selling title for the Wii U making the game a success, but the elephant in the room is still that Nintendo has yet to do much of anything worthwhile with its now not-so-new controller. I doubt very much that the next big title, Super Smash Bros. U, will do anything to change that.


The Hyperkin SupaBoy!

The Hyperkin SupaBoy.

My interest in portable gaming has always exceeded the reality of how much time I spend with it.  From the very beginning, I’ve always been enamored with the concept of shrinking down a home console and taking it on the road.  I was positively thrilled the first time I saw a Gameboy cartridge and how it looked pretty much exactly like a miniature NES cart.  The Gameboy also had the same color scheme as the NES and boasted its own versions of Mario, Zelda, and Metroid.  However, while the physical game may have looked like a mini NES cart, the actual games were not on the same technological level.

I touched on this concept when talking about the new Playstation Vita.  The Vita has a cool cross-platform feature that allows gamers to share save files between Vita games and their PS3 counterpart.  It’s an expensive feature, but a cool one.  And while Vita games aren’t quite on the same technological level as PS3 ones, they’re fairly close and some less-demanding titles are nearly identical in looks and features.  This is pretty close to having the home console experience on the go.  Before the closest anyone had got to this was Sega when it released the Nomad in the mid 90’s.  The Nomad was a portable Genesis that could also be used like a home console.  It was pretty cool, but the system’s wretched battery life made it portable in concept only.  The thing basically went thru an entire package of batteries in one session.  Sure you could use an AC adapter as well, but sometimes a power outlet isn’t readily available when you’re on the go.

Apparently I’m not the only intrigued by the idea of being able to carry a console in my pocket as recently clone systems have gained in popularity.  For those unfamiliar, a clone system is a console created by a third party that mimics the original first party offering.  Since these companies that create these systems owe no allegiance to Nintendo or Sega, a clone system can be compatible with multiple systems.  One of the most popular ones is the Retron 3 which has a cartridge slot for NES, SNES, and Genesis games.  The quality of these machines is definitely not up to par with the originals, and often some software gives them issues, but for the most part they get the job done.  Lately, portable clone systems have started to show up in greater frequency which is what brings me to the subject of this post:  Hyperkin’s SupaBoy.

Super Metroid to go? Yes, please!

The SupaBoy is a portable Super Nintendo.  It is a true console for the commuting gamer.  Sure the technology is nearly 20 years old, but it’s a Super Nintendo, arguably the greatest video game console of all time!  It uses a standard SNES game cart and, as best I can tell, can play pretty much every game released for the SNES.  Now, that statement isn’t without some controversy.  When the SupaBoy was first released, several gamers took to youtube to review it and comment on what games worked and what didn’t.  The big culprits with any SNES clone system are Super Mario RPG, Star Fox, and Earthbound.  SMRPG and Star Fox cause problems because of the graphical technology needed to power the games (Star Fox, if you recall, famously made use of the Super FX chip) while Earthbound has a unique feature to prevent it from working on pirated consoles that causes the game to overload the screen with non-player characters and enemies, making it virtually unplayable.  The first batch of SupaBoys appeared to not work with these games, as well as others, though there was some confusion over Super Mario RPG and if it mattered where the game was manufactured.  Since Hyperkin released the second round, more videos have popped up of users getting these games to work.  I don’t at present have any of the games alleged to not work, so I cannot confirm anything.  Buyer beware.

Hyperkin wisely played to the nostalgic crowd when it designed the SupaBoy as it looks exactly like an oversized US SNES controller.  It has the same color scheme and the buttons and D-pad are in the same style.  Start and Select had to be moved but that hardly takes away from the look of the machine; it’s pretty cool.  Hyperkin also added two controller inputs to the front of the system so this bad boy can be hooked up to a TV with the included AV cable and used as a standard SNES.  The system is big, but feels good in the hands.  It’s made of hard plastic, and though it’s definitely not of a high quality in terms of feel, it’s better than expected.  On mine, the D-pad feels a little funky, it has more play on one side, but it works fine.  The buttons are very “clicky” which makes it kind of a noisy system to play.  There are games I won’t play on the train as they’d just be too noisy and would likely irritate the patron sitting beside me.  Because SNES game cartridges are fairly large, the SupaBoy has to be large to accommodate.  As a result, this isn’t the most portable system around as it’s not likely to fit in your pocket.  In a backpack sure, but it’s got nothing on the DS, for example.  And since the game carts are so large you’re probably not going to carry too many around, but beggars can’t be choosers.

Still the best TMNT game.

Enough of the specs, how does it play?  Quite well.  When plugged into a TV, it looks no different to me than my old SNES.  The picture quality is sharp, the audio is good, and I haven’t noticed any new glitches or slowdown.  On the go, it also looks and plays great.  The color palette on the system’s screen is perhaps slightly darker, but it’s just as clear as it is on a television.  It does take some getting used to, but after 10 minutes or so I found myself fully immersed in the gameplay experience.  So far I’ve only tried three titles on the system:  Super Mario World, Turtles in Time, and Super Metroid.  Of the three, I’ve spent the most time with Super Metroid as I work my way thru that classic title.  I’ve switched between playing with a controller and playing with just the SupaBoy and I don’t notice any change in how well I play the game.  The experience is fully realized when using the SupaBoy, which is exactly what I was looking for.

I suspect a fair majority of the hits I end up getting for this blog post will revolve around the hardware itself.  Specifically, the audio.  Take one look at the SupaBoy on amazon.com and you’ll notice several reviewers complaining about the audio.  On a lot of models there was a defect that caused a high pitch sound to come over the speakers.  There apparently was no fix and owners either returned their system in hopes of getting a better one or learned to deal with it.  When I purchased my SupaBoy I was told this had been fixed and the audio screw-up was isolated to the first batch of systems produced.  So far, this seems to be true as I haven’t had any issues.

Another common complaint with clone systems is that the pin connectors are inferior in some way.  This is a common complaint with another Hyperkin product, the Genesis portable clone the Gen Mobile, which became popular enough to even get Sega’s official branding.  On that system, many gamers have had problems removing cartridges because the pin connector is just too snug and the system ends up breaking.  The SupaBoy does provide a fairly snug fit, but it’s not too bad and I don’t feel like I’m doing any damage to the unit when I insert and remove games.  It would have been nice if Hyperkin could have included an eject button like the original console, but it seems fine.  Another concern some have is aimed at the battery and battery life.  The SupaBoy uses a rechargeable battery that comes with the system.  It’s removable too, so once it can’t hold a charge it can be replaced.  I’ve never gone longer than 2 hours with the SupaBoy and the battery indicator did not yet reach red status, indicating it would need to be re-charged soon.  Hyperkin says expect 2 and a half to 3 hours per charge, which isn’t great but is on par with current handhelds.

Not only is it a portable SNES, the SupaBoy is a fully functioning home console as well.

I purchased my SupaBoy from Game Swap USA, a Florida based retailer that sells on eBay.  My unit came with two clone controllers so I could easily play on my TV or invite a friend to play as well (haven’t tried that, but I assume it would be a bit weird sharing the tiny screen with one player holding the unit and the other playing via controller).  The system can use regular SNES attachments and can also use some other third-party devices like the Game Genie.  It does play Super Famicom games, which is pretty cool if there are any in your collection you would like to enjoy on the go.  Some PAL games work as well, but not all.

Now, it’s not all fun and games with clone systems, and unfortunately the SupaBoy is no different when it comes to that.  I found this out the hard way.  After pro-longed play the unit appears to be prone to over-heating which can cause freezing.  I had a game of Super Metroid freeze on me after I had been playing it for less than two hours.  When I turned the unit back on the next day, I found all of my save data had been erased.  Damn!  It gets worse.  I hadn’t re-charged the unit and started over my game.  After maybe a half hour the screen started to get buggy.  I hadn’t seen it do this before, but I knew I was probably running low on battery.  I immediately plugged the unit into a wall outlet and the screen corrected itself.  I turned the unit off and just for piece of mind inserted Super Mario World to make sure the unit was fine.  It wouldn’t boot up.  I figured it was due to the battery being run down so I tried it again an hour later and Super Mario World booted up fine, but with one problem:  no save data!  So, I lost my save game data that was around 20 years old.  I’ve read online some people have had this issue as well, and were able to avoid having their save data erased by reseting the unit before turning it off when it freezes.  I guess I’m going to have to be really careful and baby the Hell out of this system.

Hyperkin’s SupaBoy is not alone in the portable SNES gaming world.  Other companies have put out their own version of a portable SNES unit.  The SupaBoy appeared to get the most praise from the gaming community so it was the one I went with, but there are supporters for other devices out there such as the FC-16 Go by Yobo and the RetroDuo by Retro-Bit.  If you love classic games and think a portable Super Nintendo is something you would be interested in then I can safely recommend the SupaBoy, but do your homework first and don’t expect Nintendo-level quality.  It has its own strengths and weaknesses, but at the end of the day, it’s a freaking portable Super Nintendo, which says it all!


Greatest Games: Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars (1996)

In the early to mid 90’s Nintendo was still king.  Sega had carved out a very nice, and in some parts of the world larger, fan-base but Nintendo was still the first word that came mind when video games were brought up.  By the end of the 90’s Sony would establish itself as the new leader of the pack, but that didn’t really weaken the Nintendo brand too much.  At the same time, Squaresoft was killing it with the Final Fantasy franchise and beyond.  When it was announced that Nintendo and Square were working together on a role-playing game expectations could not have been set higher.

That collaboration would give birth to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, one of the Super Nintendo’s final acts of brilliance.  I, to this day, still feel like I missed out a bit on how great the SNES was.  I had one, like just about everybody.  When I first heard that a Super Nintendo was coming to market I wanted it without ever having seen it.  I didn’t have a subscription to a game magazine or anything, and not many of my friends did either.  I think the first time I saw what the SNES even looked like was at a cousin’s house.  I begged for one but would have to wait a little while until one Christmas where I had my Ralphie moment to find it hidden behind a kitchen chair.  It was awesome, but by next Christmas I wanted a Genesis because it had Mortal Kombat with blood.  Pixelated red stuff was really important to a 9 year old.  I received a Genesis the very next Christmas, one year after I got my SNES.  From there I never received another SNES game.  I think my mother and grandmother (the two most likely to buy me Christmas and birthday presents) assumed the Genesis was superior or something and would just buy me Genesis games.  As a result, most of my SNES play was through rentals or much later on through ports on the Playstation or other means.

Mario was able to jump and avoid enemies on the "world map" areas. Contact with an enemy would take the player into battle mode.

Super Mario RPG was a game I experienced in a limited fashion when it was first released.  On the surface, it was kind of an absurd title.  Mario, the plumber, in an epic Final Fantasy style adventure?  It had an interesting visual style though, a pseudo 3D engine that kind of looked like claymation, and an isometric 3 quarters perspective.  I rented it with a friend, multiple times I think, though we understandably could never beat it in one night.  I had another friend who owned it and showed me the ending since he beat it.  I never thought to borrow it and play through it myself, probably because by then I had a Playstation and was at that age where it didn’t make sense to go backwards from the more powerful console to the lesser.  When emulation started to rise in popularity on the internet I downloaded it and played through it.  And then once the Wii and its Virtual Console came along I downloaded it again and played through it from start to finish, this time seeing everything the game had to offer.

The antagonist for Super Mario RPG; Smithy!

Super Mario RPG is one of those games that’s just plain fun to play.  It would be easy to credit that to the Mario charm but I give most of the credit to Square.  Square could have taken the easy way out and just palette swapped Final Fantasy VI with Nintendo characters and called it a day.  Instead, they took the essence of what made a Mario game a Mario game and incorporated that into an RPG formula.  Mario is the premier platform hero, and Square wisely identified that and incorporated something that’s fundamental in most games into a genre where it’s completely foreign:  the jump button.  Mario could jump, which added a new amount of depth to the world.  Mario traverses a world not completely unlike his usual Nintendo adventures.  As he encounters enemies he can jump on them which brings the game into battle with Mario scoring an early hit.  He also has platforms to traverse and jump across.  These challenges are fairly limited and there’s nothing as challenging as the hardest Super Mario Bros. levels were accustomed to, but it does add to the experience and help make it decidedly “Mario.”

The battle system also received an overhaul to best suit the plumber and his pals.  It’s still turn-based like the majority of RPGs at that time, but it incorporates more button presses.  These commands take the form of either button mashing or timing based.  Hit the attack button at the proper time for just about every attack and the character will score an additional hit up to a certain point.  It’s possible to ignore these extra commands if one is so inclined, but it’s far more rewarding to make use of them.  The more powerful attacks were suitably more difficult to pull off but also more rewarding.  This also worked on defense as well, as characters could avoid taking full damage on some attacks with a well-timed button press.  The game does a good job of changing things up at the right time as well so that just when you’re getting comfortable dodging the para-kooopa’s attack or timing Mario’s mallet strikes just right, a new enemy comes along or a new weapon.

The weapons and skills also have a lot of Mario charm incorporated into them.  Mario has his fire power to make use of and his jump attack.  He can also wield a mallet at times like he did way back in his debut in Donkey Kong.  My favorite weapon is probably Bowser’s chain chomp which he wields like a bolas by spinning it over his head and then tossing it.  Oh yeah, this game also pairs up Mario and Bowser!  Such a pairing would repeat itself, but this is the first time it happened in a game and it was pretty cool.  Not only was it fun to pair Mario and Bowser, but it’s also nice to give Mario a different antagonist.  And since the Princess joins the party as well, this makes Super Mario RPG the rare Mario game where the plumber isn’t out to rescue the Princess from Bowser.

The "star" of Super Mario RPG? Geno certainly was a hit with fans, and many would like to see a return engagement with Mario.

Square would jointly create additional characters with Nintendo to flesh out Mario’s party.  In battle, only 3 characters can be used at once but up to 5 were selectable by the game’s end.  In addition to the 3 mentioned before, Mario was also teamed up with a cloud kid named Mallow (who thinks he’s a frog) and the toy come to life Geno.  Geno has since become a fan-favorite and often comes up whenever a new Smash Bros. game is mentioned as a potential player character.  Despite the fan reaction to him, he’s yet to make another appearance in any Nintendo game.  Square actually holds the copyright on Geno (or at least holds it jointly with Nintendo) which is why he is unlikely to ever surface again as a playable character (he does have an item cameo in Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga).  The party Mario ends up forming contains the usual assortment of offensive-minded characters, healers, and so on.  It’s nothing too deep, but the variety is solid enough.

If there’s room for improvement it’s with the story-line and difficulty of the game.  It’s standard fare for an RPG to have a big, dramatic plot, which is something Mario has never been known for.  The story here is rather simplistic and not a driving force of the game.  Square wisely interjects humor wherever it can giving this title a different feel from most of the genre.  And considering Nintendo didn’t give Square much to work with in terms of plot depth based on older Super Mario Bros. games, they did a pretty admirable job.  And while the gameplay is complex enough to separate the title from introductory RPGs such as Mystic Quest, it still feels like Square made it as accessible as possible for Nintendo’s audience.  There’s some challenge to the game but nothing crazy.  There’s no point in the game which requires the player to go out and level grind to get through a certain dungeon or any white knuckle boss encounters.  Even the optional, hidden boss Culex (a Final Fantasy themed boss) isn’t very difficult to best.

The game is by no means perfect, but it offered a fun and refreshing take on the RPG genre when it was first released.  The charm of the title was infectious, and it’s approach to battle would show up in both future Nintendo titles and future Squaresoft games.  Because the relationship between the two companies soured shortly after the release of Super Mario RPG, a true sequel has never been created.  Instead fans have received several spiritual sequels in the form of the Paper Mario series and the handheld Mario & Luigi games.  Both franchises borrow heavily from Super Mario RPG, but neither is a copy and paste affair.  For the most part, the humor has been carried over and made an essential part of the game’s story-telling.  Bowser is also rarely the ultimate foe and is sometimes a playable character as well.  Timing based attacks are the norm for the battles and for the most part the games have been a lot of fun.  Turning Mario into an RPG star seemed like a pretty crazy idea in 1996, but it worked out better than probably anyone could have hoped for.  The current games have been fun, but I still think the original Super Mario RPG is the best.