Tag Archives: super mario

Ranking the Games of the SNES Classic

snes-classic

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.

snes-classic-mini-uk-box-art

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.

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Forecasting the Eventual SNES Classic

snesWe’re now past Thanksgiving here in the US which means the holiday shopping season is already well underway. The recently released NES Classic continues to be a hot seller, perhaps the hottest of the season, though that seems to have more to do with product scarcity than true demand (after all, children by and large are not interested in a gaming device with 30 year old games on it). That said, no one would deny that even in limited quantities the NES Classic has been a commercial success for Nintendo, something that’s been hard to come by for the venerable game developer of late. Most analysts peg the NES Classic as being pretty cheap to manufacture, and the power under the hood is likely sufficient to support a comparable quantity of N64 games, so speculating on a potential SNES Classic seems like a waste of time:  it’s going to happen. And if we’re going to get an SNES Classic then immediately the mind next moves onto what games will Nintendo include on that collection?

The Super Nintendo has arguably the greatest library of games of any console ever released (not giving modern consoles credit for digital backwards compatibility, of course), so Nintendo has its work cut out for it when narrowing that library down to 30 titles. Why 30? Well, that’s what the NES Classic contains so might as well stick with it. This post is my prediction of what the SNES Classic will include, and isn’t a collection of games I would necessarily choose if given free reign to do so. In looking over the games of the NES Classic, it became rather obvious that Nintendo wanted to include as many Nintendo developed and published titles as possible, likely for licensing reasons. Also, games featuring licensed characters from outside gaming (Mickey Mouse, TMNT, etc.) weren’t included, so let’s assume the same will be true of the SNES Classic. I’m going to order this list by what titles I think are most likely to be included, starting with the most obvious. Before we get to that, let’s quick-hit a few games I think won’t be included, but probably should be.

Demon’s Crest – A spin-off of the Ghosts ‘N Goblins games, Demon’s Crest is a platform title with RPG elements, a genre almost always referred to as “unique” on a game-by-game basis even though it’s uncommon. The game is available on the virtual console, and if you never played it (and considering it was a late era release for the SNES you probably did not) you’d do well to check it out.

Fire Emblem:  Mystery of the Emblem – For many years, Fire Emblem was the series American audiences were left to wonder about. It was the rare Nintendo property kept in Japan, likely out of fear that American audiences wouldn’t enjoy the gameplay. Wrong! This one would have a shot of being included on the SNES Classic if it had been properly localized, but I’m guessing Nintendo won’t want to do that. It, or another Fire Emblem, is a virtual lock for the Super Famicom Classic though.

Mortal Kombat II – Mortal Kombat was a smash-hit in the arcades, and when it was released for consoles it was a huge hit for the Sega Genesis. That’s because Sega allowed Midway to include blood and gore as long as they put it behind a code. Nintendo did not, and when Mortal Kombat II came out they wisely reversed course. MKII was a huge hit, and while it hasn’t held up over the years as well as its chief rival Street Fighter, it feels like it should be included as it was just so oppressively popular. Nintendo has never had a great relationship though with the Mortal Kombat franchise, so it’s unlikely they see it as important enough to include.

Some other games I considered include TMNT IV: Turtles in Time but that won’t be included for licensing reasons. Sparkster was an awesome platform title and sequel to Rocket Knight Adventures, a Genesis exclusive. Mutant League Football, Shadowrun, and Harvest Moon are also deserving of consideration.

  1. 250px-super_mario_world_coverartSuper Mario World (Nintendo 1991) – The original pack-in title for the SNES and best Mario game to date, it’s a no-brainer. The more interesting thing to ponder is how will Nintendo pack the SNES Classic with Nintendo branded games as easily as they could the NES Classic since Mario, Link, and others had fewer outings on the SNES.
  2. yoshis_island_super_mario_world_2_box_artSuper Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island (Nintendo 1995) – I loved this game when it first came out, and for awhile after. More recently, I’ve found it hard to get into as a lot of the gameplay frustrates me. Not to mention the audio. Still, it will be included and it remains Yoshi’s best solo adventure.
  3. smkSuper Mario Kart (Nintendo 1992) – Arguably Nintendo’s most reliable franchise today, it seems every Nintendo console since has had at least one Mario Kart game. The only one that did not was the ill-fated Virtual Boy. For awhile, the original game was my favorite of the series. Those who grew up with its sequel on the N64 as their gateway of the series are probably surprised to hear that most people felt it was inferior to the SNES game when it first came out. It’s no longer the best, but it’s still playable and the battle mode is still a lot of fun.
  4. attpThe Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past (Nintendo 1992) – The best game of the series, and perhaps the best game ever? I suppose I could have said the same of Super Mario World, and I could say that about more SNES titles which further illustrates how awesome the system was. This game will be included, and it will be enjoyed by any who purchase it.
  5. 250px-star_fox_snesStar Fox (Nintendo 1993) – Nintendo’s flashy on-rails shooter, the Super FX powered Star Fox was a pretty big deal at the time, even if it’s one of Nintendo’s lesser franchises these days. The game was so good that Nintendo has essentially remade and released it several times with minor alterations. It’s probably too much to ask for Nintendo to include the never released Star Fox 2 on this set.
  6. 250px-smetroidboxSuper Metroid (Nintendo 1994) – If any of the games on the NES Classic had a “Super” version on the SNES, then it’s probably fair to assume they’ll make it to the SNES Classic. Not that Super Metroid needs to be included for that reason, it needs to be included because it too has a claim to greatest game ever made. It was very influential, especially for the Castlevania series, and the only downside to including it is that it might make people a little depressed when they think about how the franchise is treated by Nintendo today.
  7. kss_boxartKirby Super Star (Nintendo 1996) – Another late arrival for the SNES, Kirby Super Star takes what was good about the NES game and multiplies it tenfold. Easily Kirby’s best game, Super Star is a bit of a forgotten gem on the SNES and holds up quite well. It also features some fun 2-player action so be prepared to have to hunt down an additional controller.
  8. snes_f-zero_boxartF-Zero (Nintendo 1991) – Nintendo kind of ignored the racing genre with the NES, so it’s not surprising they rectified that with the SNES. Racing games were one of those genres that really benefitted with the move to the SNES as the hardware could finally keep up with the speed needed to make these type of games as fun as they could be. F-Zero was a flashy title with its futuristic visuals and also plenty difficult. Not one of my favorites, but I’d be shocked if it was left out.
  9. pilotwings_boxPilotwings (Nintendo 1991) – Pilotwings was kind of the debut of the Nintendo developed tech demo released with all of their future console launches to show off the new console’s capabilities. It was to the SNES what Wii Sports was to the Wii. It’s basically a collection of mini games, and personally I remember all of my friends looking down on this title. I haven’t played it in years so I can’t say if I’d enjoy it more now, but since Nintendo developed it they’ll likely include it on the SNES Classic.
  10. dkc_snes_boxartDonkey Kong Country (Nintendo 1994) – The title that reinvented and brought modern relevance to the Donkey Kong character, Donkey Kong Country was a visual wonder when it was first released and an instant hit. Some people love this franchise more than the 2D Mario one. I’m not one of them, but there’s no way Nintendo doesn’t include this one.
  11. 250px-dk_country_2Donkey Kong Country 2 (Nintendo 1995) – Nintendo had three main series Mario games to help pad the NES Classic, chances are they’ll look to DK to help do the same for the SNES Classic. Some think this one is the best of the SNES trilogy of DKC games, I have no real opinion on the matter as I don’t remember even playing this one.
  12. 250px-dkc3_snes_boxartDonkey Kong Country 3 (Nintendo 1996) – This game arrived really late for the SNES, though if memory serves it still sold all right. This one might not make the SNES Classic, it’s certainly the least likely of the three, but since Nintendo wants to put as many of their games on the system as possible it feels like a safe assumption to include it here.
  13. superpunchoutboxSuper Punch-Out!! (Nintendo 1994) – Punch-Out!! was immensely popular for the NES, Super Punch-Out!! was less so for the SNES. It wasn’t bad by any means, and it felt more like the arcade version of the original, but aside from a visual upgrade it didn’t really feel much improved. I think part of that was the new perspective of being behind Little Mac made him feel like more of an equal to his opponents as opposed to being a diminutive underdog.
  14. 2363827-snes_finalfantasyiiFinal Fantasy II (Square 1991) – Now we’re into the non-Nintendo games, and this is actually where the list really begins for me as far as ordering by most likely. The first 13 could be ordered however you want, aside from maybe DKC3, they’re all going to be included for sure. The SNES was the console where the JRPG really took off, and it’s kind of where Final Fantasy was truly born (at least in the West). Final Fantasy III is the better game, but for some reason I suspect that II is more likely to be included if only one is.
  15. chrono_triggerChrono Trigger (Square 1995) – Another one of those “best ever” contenders, Chrono Trigger is as beloved as any game in the Final Fantasy series, even if it never took off as a franchise on its own. The only thing that would keep it from being included is if Square-Enix wants to be protective of how often they re-release the game. Or if they want too much money in the form of royalties, which could be a problem since they made a lot of awesome SNES games…
  16. 250px-secret_of_mana_boxSecret of Mana (Square 1993) – …like Secret of Mana! Lazily referred to as a Zelda clone, Secret of Mana is a delightful action RPG and the type of game Square-Enix has seemingly forgotten how to make. The sequel was also excellent, but never released outside of Japan. Following that though, virtually every other game in the series has been a shallow hack n’ slash and a major disappointment. Thankfully, this one holds up so well we really don’t need another (though Square-Enix really should just finally localize the damn sequel for some kind of release).
  17. 250px-super-bomberman-box-art-snes-palSuper Bomberman (Hudson Soft 1993) – The ultimate party game for the SNES, Super Bomberman was probably my most rented title for sleepovers and such as the four-player mode rocked. If Nintendo does include this title, and it should, it needs to make sure the SNES Classic can handle four-players, even if it means messing with the aesthetics of the system by including four controller ports on the front.
  18. 35805c88363c1f2ef17b39288c11676f-650-80Street Fighter II (Capcom 1992)- Capcom’s fighting game is almost certain to make an appearance, it’s just a question of what version. They should probably just go with Super Street Fighter II, but maybe they think the importance of the original makes it the more worthy title.
  19. mega_man_x_coverartMega Man X (Capcom 1993) – Mega Man was huge for the NES, so he’ll be included on the SNES Classic even if he played a lesser role for the console. His one main entry, Mega Man 7, is regarded as one of the worst in the series so Capcom will probably push for Mega Man X, and it should. Mega Man X was what the character needed to remain relevant and remains an excellent Mega Man game to this day.
  20. super_castlevania_iv_north_american_snes_box_artSuper Castlevania IV (Konami 1991) – another NES tentpole franchise, Castlevania would see its stock plummet in the 16 bit era, even though Super Castlevania was an excellent game. It’s one of the last traditional Castlevania titles as Symphony of the Night would soon follow with its Metroidvania gameplay becoming the preferred style of future titles in the series.
  21. supermariorpgsnescoverartusSuper Mario RPG (Nintendo/Square 1996) – could Mario do RPGs as well as he could platformers? If Square is handling most of the game design, then yeah of course he can! Super Mario RPG was a surprise hit and remains a fun game to this day. In a way, it might be more likely to appear on this collection than the Final Fantasy games as at least Nintendo shares publishing rights with Square-Enix on this one.
  22. contra_iii_game_coverContra III (Konami 1992) – Probably the last relevant title in the Contra series, Contra III was more of the same which is what people were happy to have at the time. Being a sequel to an NES Classic game is what guarantees it a spot here.
  23. 1130115-snessimcityfSim City (Nintendo 1991) – Another Nintendo published title but with the royalties a little messy compared to a Mario or Zelda game. Sim City was another surprise hit in that there was skepticism the city builder simulation would find an audience on a home console. It did and it did well with its success leading to other sim games being released for the SNES, including “classics” like Sim Ant…
  24. 2363896-snes_killerinstinct_3Killer Instinct (Midway/Rareware/Nintendo 1995) – Nintendo, and Rare’s, answer to Mortal Kombat, Killer Instinct was a perfectly acceptable fighter for the era. Rare, and now Microsoft, hold the publishing rights for the franchise and I don’t know how that affects the original game’s inclusion. If Nintendo needs to only split royalties with Microsoft/Rare then I think it will be included. Anything more and it probably won’t be.
  25. earthbound_boxEarthbound (Nintendo 1995) – Nintendo’s answer to Dragon Quest, Earthbound (known as Mother 2 outside the US) has never been real popular with Nintendo. It’s the only title in the series to be released outside Japan even though Nintendo fans seem to adore it for its quirky humor and real world setting. It’s a game that has amassed a cult following over the years, though personally I don’t think it’s one that really lives up to the reputation. It’s a Nintendo game though, so it will most likely find a way onto the SNES Classic.
  26. 510ahyhdidl-_sx300_Final Fantasy III (Square 1994) – You know it, I know it, and I bet even Nintendo knows that this game should definitely be included among the top SNES games released. Will it make it to the SNES Classic though is a harder question. If Final Fantasy II does, then it may not, even though it seems ludicrous to split those two games up.
  27. 250px-tetris_attack_box_artTetris Attack (Nintendo 1996) – Many have tried to improve upon the formula of Tetris, and few have succeeded. Tetris Attack found a way with a competitive two-player mode that’s a blast to play. It’s been ripped off for other puzzle games like Puzzle Fighter and Pokemon Puzzle League. And thankfully there’s no Super Dr. Mario to bump this one from the collection.
  28. actraiser_coverartActraiser (Enix 1991) – A legitimately unique game that combines the sim elements of a world builder with the action RPG gaming of Castlevania, Demon’s Crest, and so forth. Few games have tried to do what Actraiser did (Dark Cloud being the only one I can recall off the top of my head) and even though it wasn’t an immensely popular title, it feels like one that received its due in the years since so if Nintendo leaves it out I’d actually be pretty surprised.
  29. 2364727-snes_zombiesatemyneighborsZombies Ate My Neighbors (Konami 1993) – This game was so thematically outrageous at the time that it couldn’t be ignored. People remember it, even though it never turned into a bankable franchise or anything (though zombies in general certainly have). It’s extremely memorable as a Super Nintendo game, so much so that it seems like Nintendo won’t be able to ignore it.
  30. 250px-the_legend_of_the_mystical_ninja_coverartThe Legend of the Mystical Ninja (Konami 1992) – Our last title is from a franchise that was far more popular in Japan than the US, but worth including. The co-op play was some of the best on the system. I never owned the game, but I remember renting it multiple times as it was a lot of fun to have around when friends were over for the night.

So there you have it, my prediction of what Nintendo will do for the eventual SNES Classic. In addition to the games, hopefully Nintendo smartens up and doesn’t pull the intentional scarcity card again. It would also be nice to see Nintendo correct some of the issues the NES Classic has such as the lack of expandable software and absurdly short controller cords. My guess is that the NES Classic isn’t natively able to add additional games so that Nintendo doesn’t cut into its own Virtual Console market, but that just seems like a bad move on their part. If the NES Classic continues to sell as well as it has been then I suppose Nintendo will have no reason to change anything. And even though I feel pretty good about this list of games as a prediction, it still feels like Nintendo will try to cram more of their own games into the console than what I’ve included. I’ll put it on record though, if they include Mario is Missing then I’m not buying the damn thing.


The Games of the NES Classic

nes_classic_retro_blast_splashIf you’re into video games then you have probably heard by now about the NES Classic, the plug and play gaming device that resembles a mini Nintendo Entertainment System. You’ve also probably heard about how Nintendo shipped a minuscule amount of the units for the system’s launch date and now it’s impossible to find at retail. It’s a cute product that’s going to be popular due to the nostalgia factor and low price ($60), but if properly stocked it’s probably not flying off the shelves in mass quantities like the current shortage would indicate. It’s a particularly great device for those who do not still own, or never owned, an actual NES and want to get a retro gaming fix. The NES Classic comes pre-loaded with 30 games and each one has four save state slots making hard to beat classics like Zelda II that much more manageable.

This isn’t a post about the NES Classic on the whole though. If you want my opinion on it, it’s definitely a neat little device worthy of your hard-earned sixty dollars. It’s definitely not worth six times that amount which is what some people are paying on the secondary market right now for one. And I also expect the console will be re-stocked in the coming weeks in greater numbers, so if you want one just be patient. The only real knocks against the device are the much maligned short controller wires and the lack of a way to add to the game’s library. Which brings me to the topic of this post:  the 30 pre-loaded games of the NES Classic.

There were over 500 titles released for the NES. That number rises if you include Famicom games never released outside of Japan. A lot of those games are forgettable and not worth anyone’s time in the year 2016, but there’s enough quality on that console to make even narrowing things down to thirty a difficult endeavor. And when it comes to crafting that list, what takes precedent? The games the system was known for? The ones that were the most revolutionary? The ones that sold the most? There’s also a financial and legal component as well. Nintendo could load the thing with thirty games it self-published to save money on royalties, but then you would be missing out on the classics released by Konami, Capcom, and others. And if you want to include a Konami Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game, well then you have to compensate Nickelodeon who holds the rights to TMNT in 2016. Obviously, that makes things messy and Nintendo had a lot of factors to weigh when selecting these thirty games. I’m not going to hold myself to those standards though as I’m going to rank all thirty for you, and where I deem it necessary, suggest an alternate title that should have been included instead. Let’s start with number 30:

250px-iceclimberboxartnes30. Ice Climber (Nintendo 1985) – Most probably know Ice Climber as that weird double-character controlled by a single player in the Super Smash Bros. series. Older folks remember it as an NES launch title that the unlucky ones received instead of one of the better games. Ice Climber represents the early, primitive NES games that were little more than better looking Atari 2600 games. Some of these games were worthwhile because they first existed in the arcade and were just now getting home versions on par with those arcade originals. Ice Climber is not one of those games though, but it costs Nintendo nothing to include it here. As a title for the NES Classic, the only thing it has going for it is that it features 2-player simultaneous play.

What Nintendo Should have included:  Blades of Steel, Konami’s excellent hockey game that was mostly known for its fighting mini-games ahead of its hockey. It features an ice element and simultaneous play for 2 players, and the simple game of hockey can be enjoyed by anyone when experiencing it via video games. If Nintendo wanted to stick with an ice motif but save money, they could have just gone with their own Ice Hockey, also a very good game.

220px-balloonfightnesboxart29. Balloon Fight (Nintendo 1986) – Another early Nintendo game, this one first appeared in arcades before making it home. It’s slightly more interesting than Ice Climber, but isn’t a game you will have much interest in returning to over and over. It’s been re-released a ton over the years, and including it here is just overkill.

What Nintendo Should have included:  Battle Toads, the relentlessly difficult brawler featuring TMNT knock-offs Rash and Zits (gross). With save states, the game might actually be beatable, though Turbo Tunnel would still be a nightmare.

mariobrothers28. Mario Bros. (Nintendo 1983) – Super Mario Bros. is the game most synonymous with the NES, the original Mario Bros. is not. If you had a copy of Super Mario Bros. 3 (and you probably did) then you experienced all you needed to from this game. It was never a popular NES title and Nintendo is basically only including it because it has Mario in the title.

What Nintendo should have included:  DuckTales, one of the best platforming games released for the NES. There’s really not much debating that, and it’s likely not featured on this set because of licensing costs, or because Nintendo wants to save a few games for a second edition of the NES Classic.

1881188-578616_35495_front27. Donkey Kong Jr. (Nintendo 1982) – Donkey Kong Jr is another arcade classic (I’m using that term liberally here) that was never really all that popular on the NES, but Nintendo obviously felt the old arcade games needed (significant) representation on the NES Classic. Donkey Kong Jr. is most notable for putting Mario in the role of villain as the player takes control of Kid Kong and tries to save his old man, I mean, ape. It’s fine, but lack replay value outside of just shooting for a high score isn’t much of a home console experience.

What Nintendo should have included:  Bucky O’Hare, Konami’s unofficial take on the Mega Man franchise. My love affair with Bucky has been fairly well documented on this blog, but my opinion is not clouded by that affection. Bucky O’Hare is an awesome game, and I can’t imagine it would have cost Nintendo much of anything to include it.

nes_galaga_box_europe26. Galaga (Namco 1981) – a slightly younger generation maybe familiar with Galaga not as an arcade classic, but as a popular loading screen diversion of Playstation era Namco games. Galaga is another arcade great that never had much of a life on the NES. Tastes had moved on, and Galaga really doesn’t need to be included in a set of great NES games.

What Nintendo should have included:  Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles II: The Arcade Game is what was most representative of the arcade scene when the NES was popular and would have made for a much better option within this set.

pac-man-box-art-front25. Pac-Man (Namco 1980) – Pac-Man was Mario before Mario. Unlike a lot of the other games on this list so far, there actually was some appetite for an arcade perfect version of Pac-Man on the NES. It’s a game almost everyone is familiar with, but still not really one that people are clamoring to play.

What Nintendo should have included:  Dragon Warrior II, or Dragon Quest II for you purists. It’s the classic RPG series that started it all, and not including at least one title from the series is pretty lame.

donkey_kong_throwing_barrels_on_mario24. Donkey Kong (Nintendo 1981) – Donkey Kong, like Pac-Man, is another game that consumers did have some appetite for when the NES made it to retail. And since DK is one of Nintendo’s most popular characters, it’s not surprising that he’s included. Still, there’s a lot of arcade games on this set, too many if you ask me.

What Nintendo should have included: How about Faxanadu, a relatively obscure game that still holds up really well. A device like the NES Classic should in part be utilized to give new life to games that were overlooked.

tecmobowlfront23. Tecmo Bowl (Tecmo 1987) – More known for how game-breaking Bo Jackson was, Tecmo Bowl was the first great football game of its kind. It’s pretty dated at this point, but is a top 50 NES title, and for diehard sports fans, probably a top 30 one too.

What Nintendo should have included: You could argue a game like Double Dribble has held up better than Tecmo Bowl, but for the most part, I have no issues with Nintendo including it here.

250px-ff1_usa_boxart22. Final Fantasy (Square 1987) – Few franchises are as synonymous with gaming as Final Fantasy. The first title is also known as the game that saved Square, now Square-Enix, hence why it was called Final Fantasy since there was a very real chance it was the publisher’s final title. It was a Dragon Quest clone that did a few interesting things on its own, but played today it’s quite clear that Father Time has not taken a liking to it. Only the truly dedicated NES Classic owners will see this title to the end.

What Nintendo should have included: I already mentioned Dragon Quest II, and this set doesn’t need another Dragon Quest title. Final Fantasy is pretty important, so it’s place is earned based on that, though if some people think it should have been passed over I won’t argue.

dr-_mario_box_art21. Dr. Mario (Nintendo 1990) – One of the first examples of Nintendo realizing it could just slap Mario on anything and boost sales, Dr. Mario is a Tetris clone that does enough to separate itself from its predecessor, but not enough to better it.

What Nintendo should have included: Tetris! Duh!

250px-excitebike_cover

 

20. Excitebike (Nintendo 1984) – Excitebike has been re-released so many times it hardly seems worth talking about anymore, let alone including it here. It’s an okay racing game, and the level editor was pretty cool, but dated by today’s standards. It’s not the best racer on the NES though, and if Nintendo was only going to include one racing game on the NES Classic it picked the wrong one.

What Nintendo should have included: R.C. Pro-Am, another Nintendo published title though one that was developed by Rare. It holds up as one of the best racing games for the system, and likely wouldn’t have affected Nintendo’s bottomline to include it.

4ca050f712700fd48cb4957af38a315219. Gradius (Konami, 1985) – Gradius is a classic on-rails shooter by Konami known for its difficulty. The on-rails shooter genre has actually aged really well, because there isn’t really much better technology can do for it aside from make it look better. So from that standpoint, it holds up.

What Nintendo should have included: I’m not really an on-rails shooter fan, and it feels like River City Ransom should have been included somewhere on this set, doesn’t it?

250px-zelda_ii_the_adventure_of_link_box18. Zelda II: The Adventure of Link (Nintendo 1987) – I’ve talked about this one a lot already, but to keep things short, I appreciate that Zelda II tries something different but the execution was lackluster. I rank it as high as a I do here because the longer gameplay experience offered by it will likely feel pretty rewarding among these other games. And the save state feature will make it a lot easier for players to actually beat the game.

What Nintendo should have included:  If you love Gradius, then kick this one out for River City Ransom. Otherwise, I really don’t see an issue with Nintendo including Zelda II.

nes_double_dragon_ii_packaging_front17. Double Dragon II (Acclaim 1989) – The arcade beat-em-up most synonymous with the NES. It was a good debate over which was superior, Double Dragon II or TMNT II, but both were fun games, particularly for two-players. Double Dragon II is also miles ahead of the original so good call by Nintendo for being able to recognize that including it over the original was the right move.

What Nintendo should have included:  Nothing, Double Dragon II belongs as the only knock against it is that the NES version wasn’t as good as the arcade one.

castlevania_ii_simons_quest16. Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest (Konami 1987) – The sequel to the smash-hit original, Castlevania II, like Zelda II, is known mostly for its big shift in gameplay. Simon Belmont still handles the same way, but the RPG mechanics make for a vastly different experience. Some people loved it, some people hated it, everyone was frustrated by it’s cryptic puzzles. That last part isn’t really an issue today thanks to the wonderful invention known as the internet, making this game actually more playable now than it was in 1987.

What Nintendo should have included: You could argue that Castlevania III is the better game, and I wouldn’t disagree, but it’s also really similar to the original Castlevania which is also included on this set. For that reason, I like Castlevania II being on here over that. If you think one Castlevania title is enough, then maybe Nintendo should have raided Konami’s library and selected Jackal in its place.

bubble-bobble-usa15. Bubble Bobble (Taito 1986) – A simple, but challenging, two-player experience is how I remember Bubble Bobble. It strangely holds up really well, and its timeless gameplay plus two-player simultaneous play makes for a worthy selection.

What Nintendo should have included:  I have an admitted soft spot for this title, and I’m not sure why. Naturally, I don’t see a reason to kick it out of the NES Classic.

2362264-nes_superc14. Super C (Konami 1988) – Also known as Super Contra, it’s the sequel to Contra and features the same basic run n’ gun gameplay. For whatever reason, no one seems to remember this game even though the first Contra was mega popular. As an aside, it’s pretty amazing how many Konami games made this release.

What Nintendo should have included:  Contra, obviously. I’m pretty sure everyone who picks up the NES Classic will wonder why Super C was included instead.

86c02e32ef3ea0deaa4bca99502e95ed13. Super Mario Bros (Nintendo 1985) – Obviously, this one was going to be included because it’s probably the most important game that Nintendo ever released, and it could be considered the most important and famous game of all time.

What Nintendo should have included:  All that being said, am I the only one who is just really sick of this game? I have no desire to play it again and would have preferred The Lost Levels for the simple reason that I’m less familiar with it.

ghosts-n-goblins-nes-box-art12. Ghosts ‘N Goblins (Capcom 1986) – Finally, a Capcom game! It surprised me how many Konami games made this release vs Capcom as I always viewed the two as equal during the NES days. Ghosts ‘N Goblins was a hard, but fun, game and gamers will really appreciate the save states on the NES Classic when they tackle this one. It’s another run n’ gun styled game, a genre that has held up really well.

What Nintendo should have included:  Nothing, this one belongs, as do all of the rest of the games to follow thus eliminating the need for this postscript on each release.

250px-castlevania_nes_box_art11. Castlevania (Konami 1986) – A no doubt classic. I don’t think I really need to say much about this one, right? It’s hard, but fair (mostly), and it’s style of play is still rewarding today. None of the NES sequels really did enough to warrant consideration over it either (and Nintendo included Castlevania II anyways) making this selection completely warranted.

 

metroid_boxart10. Metroid (Nintendo 1986) – It’s a good thing games were so expensive in the 80s, otherwise how would anyone have gotten anything done in ’86 and ’87 with so many killer releases on the NES? Metroid is a bit of a tough one to rank as it hasn’t aged too well, but the game’s mood is still so captivatingly barren and lonesome that I find it charming even today. Obviously, future games in the series were able to vastly improve upon the original formula, but since none of them were NES games it makes Metroid’s inclusion a no-(mother)brainer.

250px-kirbys_adventure_coverart9. Kirby’s Adventure (Nintendo 1993) – Kirby is a character who peaked early. Kirby’s Adventure, only his second outing, is probably second only to his outing on the SNES among all of the Kirby games. Kirby’s Adventure is a great inclusion here because not only is it a fun and unique platformer, but it was also a late release for the NES when a lot of gamers had moved onto the Genesis and SNES. The NES Classic gives those gamers who missed it the first time a second chance to experience it.

kid_icarus_nes_box_art8. Kid Icarus (Nintendo 1986) – Poor Pit has been mistreated for years by Nintendo, but at least he gets to be among the 3o games on the NES Classic. His original outing was a difficult platforming/RPG hybrid that may be more appreciated today than it was in 1986. The controls aren’t the best, but they work, and the save state feature gives this one new life. Since it is so often cited as a forgotten Nintendo classic it has probably ceased to be one, but many gamers will probably still get their first taste of Kid Icarus with this set.

220px-punch-out_mrdream_boxart7. Punch-Out!! (Nintendo 1990) – Obviously, this is the version featuring Mr. Dream and not Mike Tyson. It’s the same game though, and while one could argue that this one has been re-released too much, it’s harder still to argue it’s not one of the most fun games released for the NES. It’s timing based gameplay also means it’s held up well in the age department. It’s challenge has always been fair and rewarding, though people will still probably abuse save states to beat it.

250px-super_mario_bros_26. Super Mario Bros. 2 (Nintendo 1988) – Ever notice how no one, and I mean no one, ever acknowledges the box art’s Mario Madness subtitle? What was that even supposed to mean? Anyways, you probably know all about Super Mario Bros. 2’s odd path to release, so I won’t bore you here. It’s a great game, even if it’s very different from its predecessor, and Nintendo wasn’t going to exclude it from this release.

 

250px-startropics_box5. StarTropics (Nintendo 1990) – StarTropics is an often overlooked game from the NES era that feels like the spiritual sequel to Zelda, since Zelda II felt so different. It improves on the original Legend of Zelda in some ways, and it’s use of contemporary items as weapons definitely feels a lot like Earthbound. It’s a really good game, and one you probably haven’t played, so go ahead and play this one first. You have my permission. Just be warned that you will need to consult the internet to make it through one particular part.

ninja_gaiden_nes4. Ninja Gaiden (Tecmo 1990) – Few characters on the NES are as fun to control as Ryu Hayabusa. It’s just too bad the world around our badass ninja Ryu makes him feel not so badass since everything can kill him. Ninja Gaiden is a brutal game, but it still manages to be a fun one. Some of the stuff it does seems unfair, but it always manages to bring gamers back after some rage-induced quiting. Just remember, the chord on that NES Classic controller is really short before you throw it.

250px-megaman2_box3. Mega Man 2 (Capcom 1988) – Naturally, you can’t have a collection of thirty of the best NES games ever created and not include Mega Man. And if Nintendo was limiting itself to just one Mega Man, then Mega Man 2 is probably the best option. Yeah, future games introduced elements like the slide and Rush, but Mega Man 2 is iconic for its boss selection, music, and stage setup. It’s considered the best in the franchise by many still to this day. The only real argument is why did Nintendo include one Mega Man game but two Castlevania titles? The easy answer is that Simon’s Quest is pretty different from its predecessor, while all of the Mega Man games are very similar. It still feels odd, though.

legend_of_zelda_cover_with_cartridge_gold2. The Legend of Zelda (Nintendo 1986) – It’s The Legend of Zelda.

 

Okay, and it’s a great game. Really though, there isn’t a whole lot more I can say about this one. If you’ve never played it because you were born after A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time, or even later, then go back and play the original. Once you get accustomed to the visuals (which were never considered good, to be honest) you’ll likely find that the core Zelda gameplay is present here and it’s captivating even at its most primitive.

 

250px-super_mario_bros-_3_coverart-21.Super Mario Bros. 3 (Nintendo 1990) – Super Mario Bros. 3 is among the greatest games ever made, and it’s the best game on the NES, so obviously it was going to be included. There’s no argument against it, other than maybe that everyone has already played it before. The only negative thing I can even say about it is that Mario has brown sideburns but a black mustache on the box art, which makes no sense. Then again, Nintendo really hasn’t mined the Mario back catalogue like it has some other games so it really doesn’t feel exploited. I may have suggested playing StarTropics first, but come on, you’ll play this one first. Just about everyone will.


Consoles, Handhelds, and Switch Puns by Nintendo

nintendo-switchIf you consider yourself an avid gamer then you are probably by now aware that Nintendo has unveiled its latest console/handheld:  The Nintendo Switch. Previously known by the code name NX, the Switch was officially revealed in a short promotional video on October 20th. Prior to this promotional video, the Switch had only been seen via patent applications by Nintendo containing early drawings that gave some indication of what the console was going to look like. It’s design resembled the Wii U tablet, but with some notable distinctions such as a slot for cartridge based games not unlike Nintendo’s current handheld, the 3DS.

It’s no secret that the Wii U, Nintendo’s most recent entry into the console market, has been a commercial failure. If it weren’t for the abomination known as the Virtual Boy, the Wii U would represent Nintendo’s greatest failure. I was an early adopter of the Wii U mostly out of obligation. I’ve owned every Nintendo console and handheld at some point in my life, and I had the means to get a Wii U at launch, so I did. At worst, I expected to be able to play new entries in classic Nintendo franchises that would provide many hours of entertainment. The gimmick, in this case a tablet with a second screen, was essentially Nintendo’s way of bringing the DS experience to the home console, with a couple of twists. Being on a console meant being able to do different things with the second screen, like hiding information from those who could only view the television or playing the console strictly via the tablet with no TV required. Turns out, that last little feature ends up being the Wii U’s legacy as the Switch is essentially taking that concept of not needing the TV to play and running with it.

nintendoswitch_hardware-0-0

What I assume comes in the box (minus the TV, of course).

Nintendo was never able to prove that the Wii U’s setup was conducive to innovative game design, so naturally neither were third parties. The Switch’s attempt at innovation is far more obvious as Nintendo wants to turn every console game into a portable experience as well. The Switch is fundamentally a tablet that just so happens to have a dock to make play on a TV seamless. Its design is quite similar to the Wii U tablet but noticeably smaller. It appears to be somewhere in size between a Vita and Wii U Gamepad, which is to say for a portable a bit on the large side. The Vita is already sizable for a portable and not exactly pocket friendly, so it goes without saying that the Switch is more of a backpack accessory than a pocket one. The edges of the Switch, which feature the button inputs, are detachable so you can play the Switch like a Vita or use the included kick stand and set it up on a surface and detach the controllers. Some games appear to only require one of these tiny controllers to play, meaning the Switch can natively support two players for certain games. For home use, it looks the Switch will come bundled with a controller “dock” that turns the two pads into something resembling a more traditional controller. The video also shows off a version of Nintendo’s Pro controller that likely will be an extra accessory. The dock also contains USB ports so existing controllers for the Wii U that utilize those ports may be compatible as well.

Nvidia is providing the architecture for the Switch. Some of the preliminary specs have been shared with the public, but just how powerful the Switch is remains a mystery. Given Nintendo’s track record, its likely the Switch will be competitive with the current consoles on the market from Sony and Microsoft, but will likely fall behind in raw power when their advanced models hit shelves over the next year. As long as the Switch is capable of handling ports from those machines, and given that neither Sony or Microsoft is going to ignore the original PS4/Xbox One, the power of the system should be satisfactory. It’s also unknown what the screen’s resolution and makeup is. LED? OLED? Can it support 4k? Is it a touch screen? The display of the Wii U Gamepad is nothing special, and if the promo video is showing actuall gameplay on the device then it at least looks like the Switch is superior to the Gamepad as far as resolution is concerned. If it’s on par with the original Vita then that would be fantastic.

first_look_at_nintendo_switch_-_youtube_-_google_chrome_2016-10-20_10-13-34-1

If you thought using the Wii remote was uncomfortable…

The system’s concept is an appealing one for me. These days I spend more time with my handhelds than I do my consoles because it’s hard for me to make time to actually play with my consoles when I’m home. A machine that functions as both offers a lot of potential. I had hoped to utilize the Wii U in a similar fashion when I first got it around the house, but its range is severely limited so I never took advantage of using the Gamepad as a dedicated console as much as I had envisioned. Sony has offered remote play for several years now through its handhelds, but it’s something I’ve never taken full advantage of. With the PSP, it just plain didn’t work very well. With the Vita, it seems to work fine, but the Vita has fewer buttons than a PS4 controller making some games pretty awkward as those features end up being mapped to the rear touchpad. The Switch is basically just a straight portable that’s convenient to play on a television, and it’s a bit surprising that no one has really done this before. The only thing similar is the NeoGeo X which was released a few years ago. The X is a handheld that has a console dock which resembles the original NeoGeo AES system and more or less functions the same, right down to the wired controllers. The X is actually pretty cool, but the quality is a little suspect. With Nintendo, I have few fears about quality so the Switch should provide for a better experience.

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A brief look at a game cartridge and headphone jack (take that, Apple).

Naturally, there are concerns with any new console, especially a Nintendo one. Third Party support has been a major issue for Nintendo ever since the days of the Nintendo 64. The Wii initially had a fair amount of support because it sold so well that publishers couldn’t ignore it, but there always seems to be the perception that Nintendo owners are fiercely loyal to Nintendo’s games and not as interested in others. So far, numerous developers are pledging support though none are confirming games (likely because of a non-disclouse agreement with Nintendo). Based on the video, it looks like the NBA 2K franchise is heading to Switch, and perhaps most exciting of all, Skyrim was shown as well. The video is likely a mock and what we saw of these games may not even be running on the Switch hardware, but it’s at least encouraging. I do wonder how a game as massive as Skyrim will fit on an SD card and what the costs will be. It’s possible the card in the video is a blank, and to play games on the go you have to transfer from an internal HDD in the dock to a flash style card,but that seems cumbersome. It also sounds like the type of thing that would make piracy easier and publishers hate that. Most likely games are going to come on these cards and I’m over-thinking it, but it will be interesting to see how this all works out. My fear is that the storage medium will compromise a title like Skyrim, and if I can’t have the full Skyrim experience on the Switch, then what’s the point?

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The “joy-cons” slide onto the side of the Switch. In order to preseve a traditional four button layout on each one, it looks like we have to endure possibly the world’s shittiest D-Pad.

The main concern I have, and probably most gamers have after viewing the video, is with battery life. A tablet plus two mini controllers seems like the type of thing that will drain batteries quickly. The Wii U’s Gamepad has horrible battery life, but how much of that is because the Gamepad has to constantly communicate with the actual console? Modern handhelds aren’t much better though, with 4-6 hours being the new standard. After owning both a launch 3DS and a launch Vita for a few years, I can say both of my handhelds are closer to that 4 hour lifespan than the 6 at this stage and it gets discouraging. How well the Switch handles that part will determine just how portable it truly is. Aside from that, the standard concerns apply such as how much will it cost and how does it feel to actually play it? I’ll admit, those little controllers (I think Nintendo is referring to them as joy-cons or joy-pads) don’t look optimal. My guess is they work in a pinch, but I suspect most will be buying a pro controller. The fact that they slide into the side of the tablet is a minor concern as well. Will they slide out during some intense gaming sessions? Probably not, but we’ll see.

I did find it interesting that the promotional video’s target audience clearly seems to be adults. There are no children at all in the video which is in stark contrast to Nintendo’s family audience we’re used to seeing. This probably all factors into the name, Switch, as the console represents a very different approach by the company to remain relevant. At this moment in time, I can’t commit to buying it without seeing more. The Wii U’s tech was never very interesting to me, but I purchased it largely on faith that Nintendo would deliver with excellent software. The Wii U never did, and even the first party titles from Nintendo have really started to suffer. This even goes back to the days of the Wii. Triple A franchises like Star Fox, Metroid, and Mario have really taken a hit lately and Nintendo needs to win me back in that respect. The company really hasn’t shown off any games yet. The video mostly appears to show off enhanced versions of Wii U games like Splatoon and Mario Kart 8 which leads me to believe the unveiling of the big titles is still to come. There is a glimpse of a new Mario game in there that appears to be very much in the style of Super Mario 64, and of course we know that the new Zelda game is likely to be a launch title with a simultaneous or delayed Wii U release (similar to what Nintendo did with Twilight Princess). A new Zelda game, even if it was largely developed with the Wii U in mind, might be all the Switch needs for a successful launch. After that, it will fall to Nintendo to provide reason for gamers to keep coming back. No one is really talking about it right now, but if the Switch is a failure it could mark the end of Nintendo as a console developer, and there’s no way to spin that as a good thing for gamers.


Ranking the Zelda Games – The Top 4

5caa2739-c222-443c-8d6a-dff6048064c4We’re down to the top four in our rankings for the best games in The Legend of Zelda franchise. As far as climaxes go, this one is probably fairly anti-climactic as there’s a pretty clear top two in this series that the majority of gamers agree on. Though, as these games collectively get older there is undoubtedly more affection for the more recent games as suddenly a title like The Wind Waker is a normal gateway for players in their teens and twenties. Nostalgia always plays a role in a subjective exercise such as this one, though I sincerely feel these four games are the most dense and most fun Zelda experiences that Nintendo has put out. And I’m also not beholden to them. I really hope the next game in the series dethrones our champ, or at least forces its way into the conversation. Time will tell.

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Link’s Awakening is the rare Gameboy game to utilize cut scenes.

4. Link’s Awakening (Gameboy 1993) – Of the three titles I’m going to highlight in this post, Link’s Awakening is probably the one with the least tenable hold on the number three spot and the most fluid of the titles. I mentioned it in part two, but games six through three are really interchangeable. The order isn’t that important, but I chose to put Link’s Awakening in the three spot because it’s a very unique entry in the series, an important one, and it’s also a damn good game. Link’s Awakening is a direct sequel to A Link to the Past, which is probably why the cover art is almost indistinguishable from that of A Link to the Past. When it first came out, I actually thought it was just a Gameboy port, but I of course found out I was mistaken. It’s the first portable entry in the series and is quite easily the best game released for the Gameboy, and it’s color edition is the best on the Gameboy Color, which is a pretty impressive accomplishment. It laid the groundwork for all of the portable Zelda titles to follow establishing certain trends like the ability for Link to jump and equip any combination of any two items he wishes. Want to walk around with bombs and the bow? Go for it! You don’t need to just carry sword and shield everywhere. It also features a totally offbeat approach to world-building. This game is pretty wacky, and of particular delight are the numerous cameos from characters common in the Super Mario universe, in particular the US edition of Super Mario Bros. 2. There’s a lot of genuinely funny dialogue and the plot is very care-free and loose. The Gameboy hardware has some obvious limitations when it comes to handling a Zelda title, but it’s surprisingly capable here. The only aspect of the game where the hardware limitations persist is really in the two-button control setup. It does become rather tedious switching between items constantly. There’s no shortcut to do so forcing the player to pause the action and access the items from the game’s menu. It’s an inconvenience, but a necessary evil. That’s really the game’s only negative for me. It’s challenging, provides a lot of replay, and is pretty unique among the other games in the series. If you never played it, it’s available on the Virtual Console. Go for the DX version as it’s in color and has a bonus dungeon. It’s truly one of the best Zelda titles around.

BreathoftheWildFinalCover3. Breath of the Wild (Wii U/Switch 2017)

The newest entry in the series has forced me to update these rankings. What was once a post about the top three, is now about the top four, and Breath of the Wild has forced itself into the top three, nearly top two. What made me rank it behind Ocarina of Time? Well, I think start to finish Ocarina is just a little more fun. It’s the perfect Zelda experience, but in 3D. – finding dungeons, collecting new gear, defeating Ganon. Breath of the Wild ditches that old formula in favor of a more relaxed approach that leans heavily on its vast map. It’s a phenomenal game and that approach may lead to a newer, and better, standard for the Zelda franchise, but right now it feels like it’s just scratched the surface of what makes an open world game so special. If you want more thoughts from me on Breath of the Wild, I made a nearly 4,000 word post on the subject right here.

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Hyrule may not look as good now as it did then, but many games from this era have aged worse.

2. Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64 1998)  – Ocarina of Time has become perhaps the defining, and most popular, game in The Legend of Zelda series. Its use of three-dimensional polygons makes it modern, and since the game is almost twenty years old it’s become a popular introduction for many gamers to the franchise. It’s also a well-crafted, expertly paced, and visually impressive title for its era which has since been improved upon with a 3DS re-release.

Let’s go back to the mid 90’s for a minute and reminisce about the era defined by the Playstation and Nintendo 64. There was a battle for supremacy between those two consoles, and poor old Sega was left behind in the dust thanks to the Saturn. When Sega created the Saturn, they foolishly decided not to make the system natively capable of 3D graphics (it had no geometric processor and achieved 3D with the use of 2D sprites). It was a puzzling move since Sega had been at the forefront with such technology with titles like Virtua Fighter and Virtua Racing. The Saturn was built to be a 2D powerhouse, and it was as it was the only title that could probably handle the Marvel VS series. Since it couldn’t do great 3D, consumers and game developers largely ignored it leaving Sony and Nintendo to duke it out for console supremacy. And when it came to 3D titles, Nintendo had an advantage with its more powerful hardware and analog control stick which Sony had to add years later. In this era, many popular 2D titles tried to make the move to 3D and fell hard. Eight and sixteen bit legends like Castlevania and Mega Man just couldn’t cut it in 3D, but Nintendo had great success with its properties. It started with Super Mario 64, one of the most well-received games in history, and it continued with Zelda.

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These guys were freaking terrifying in 1998.

Nintendo’s solution to making Zelda work in this new environment was to move the camera behind Link. The toughest challenge with any 3D game is the camera and getting it to be in the most optimal position, especially when negotiating jumps. Nintendo, realizing Zelda was never about platforming, decided to institute an auto-jump feature for Link. To attack enemies, the Z-trigger was used as a lock on mechanism where pressing the button would cause Link to lock onto an enemy. This was called Z-targeting, and once Link engaged an enemy no other enemies would pester him. As such, the combat was essentially a series of one on one affairs. While locked on, Link’s controls changed slightly allowing him to dodge left and right and hop away and towards enemies. This approach was called context sensitive actions, and it applied mostly to the A button on the N64 controller which was used for almost every action in the game. This all sounds elementary to anyone who grew up with the game, but at the time this was the kind of thing that stumped developers, but Nintendo figured it out.

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Another one of Ocarina of Time’s popular additions:  fishing.

Ocarina of Time’s defining trait, aside from the whole 3D thing, was the ability of Link to move back and forth through time. In the present he was just a kid, but in the alternate, dystopian future (does any other type of future exist in games?) he was an adult. The game didn’t require too much back and forth which helped keep it from getting stale. It also featured one of the better plots for a Zelda game that even saw the titular princess get her hands dirty. It introduced Ganondorf, the humanoid version of main villain Ganon, and even gave him a pretty interesting backstory. Gorons and Zoras also became more fleshed-out in Ocarina of Time and have largely remained unchanged since. The game has been so popular and so successful that every console edition of Zelda has basically played the same. That’s somewhat a weakness for newer games, but for Ocarina of Time I hardly consider it a weakness. Like the original Legend of Zelda, the game’s only real weakness is that it was limited by the technology of the time. The open fields of Hyrule are sparsely populated and pretty boring by today’s standards and it’s a damn shame the game was on a cartridge and not a CD as the score is too good for such compression. That’s all fairly trivial though. I’d tell you to go out and play the game if you haven’t already, but you probably already have numerous times.

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This world still looks beautiful to me.

1.A Link to the Past (Super Nintendo Japan 1991/North America 1992) – In retrospect, it’s kind of surprising A Link to the Past wasn’t titled Super Legend of Zelda, following basically every other naming convention of the time. It may not have received such a lazy title, but in many ways A Link to the Past is simply Super Zelda, because it feels like the game the original Legend of Zelda was trying to be. Not only does it look and sound much better, but it’s huge, boasting more items, more dungeons, and two whole maps! The Legend of Zelda felt like a beast of a game when it came out, and it’s crazy that in a relative short amount of time it could be bested and improved upon so completely. It makes me miss the days of old when a new console was clearly a new, and more powerful, entity.

A Link to the Past basically added everything that has become standard to the Zelda franchise. Running, tossing items, changing worlds, ocarinas, you name it – A Link to the Past has got it. The game also features a tighter narrative so gone are those cryptic messages and random puzzle switches. It might not be as hard, as a result, but it also isn’t an easy game. Be prepared to die and hear that horrid beeping sound when low on health as you try to make your way to the next dungeon. The path isn’t always clear, making the game feel like a true puzzle at times. Remember the shock of going to The Dark World for the first time and finding Link transformed into a rabbit? Or pulling the Master Sword out of the stone for the first time? A Link to the Past is full of classic moments and classic sounds. The score is legendary now and is probably still the best of the series, even if it’s not as grand in scope as the more recent entries due to limitations of the time. It’s also no less fun to play. I challenge anyone to play this game for an hour and not have a good time.

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One of the game’s many boss encounters.

A Link to the Past arrived early in the life cycle of the Super Nintendo. It wasn’t a launch title, but gamers only had to wait about a year for it. And since the console launched with Super Mario World they had plenty of time to kill before Zelda dropped. It was a must have title when it did, and my friends that got the game first became very popular overnight. Playing through it and completing it felt like a serious accomplishment, because games just weren’t routinely this big at the time. The same phenomenon would repeat itself with Final Fantasy II and III. It wasn’t that games like this were overly difficult, they just felt like serious tests of endurance. In truth, they just highlighted how much time average gamers spent playing video games. We probably spent as much time on Super Mario Bros. 3, we just weren’t as aware of it.

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Atta boy, Link!

A Link to the Past is the best Zelda game because almost everything in it has been carried over into the games that have followed it, even more than twenty years later. It also holds up in every respect. It may not be in 3D, but it’s still easy on the eyes and possesses a lot of visual charm. I already mentioned the fantastic soundtrack, and it’s suitably challenging and a bunch of fun to play. If I had to find a fault with it then I’d say its storyline isn’t very compelling, but that can be said of just about every Nintendo first-party title. They’re not storytellers at Nintendo, just game makers, and with A Link to the Past they may have created the greatest game ever made.


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 Wii U and Gaming in the HD Era

Last Sunday, Nintendo unleashed upon the world its latest console:  the Wii U.  For some, the Wii U is the beginning of the latest era of gaming while others simply view it as Nintendo’s entry into the current HD generation of consoles.  Regardless of your opinion, this is a new console and new consoles are something to get excited about.

I had made the decision to reserve a Wii U for myself awhile back so picking up the deluxe bundle on launch day was no problem.  I also picked up a new Pro controller and a copy of New Super Mario Bros. U.  As far as console launches go, the Wii U appears to have had a mostly successful one.  When I picked up mine it was around 1 o’clock and the Best Buy I went to was already sold out of the deluxe bundle.  The sales receptionist I spoke with wasn’t certain, but did think they still had a couple of the standard bundles in stock.  For those unaware, the deluxe version comes with more internal memory (32 GB vs 8), a copy of Nintendo Land, a charging dock for the GamePad, and comes in black as opposed to white.  For the extra fifty bucks, it seemed like a smart choice to me though for those stuck with the smaller unit know that the Wii U works with most external HDD so expanding upon that 8 GB of memory shouldn’t be too difficult.

If I had to use one word to sum-up the GamePad, it would be: Big.

The Wii U is quite similar to its predecessor in terms of looks.  It’s fairly small and plain looking.  It still makes use of a sensor bar and Wii remotes and the main home screen remains mostly unchanged.  The big change obviously comes in the Wii U’s GamePad, a combination of a tablet and a standard controller.  It has four face buttons, twin analog sticks, and four shoulder buttons including two triggers.  It has a slot for a stylus as well as home, power, and TV buttons.  The TV button allows you to pair your GamePad with your television and use it as a second remote.  It’s functional and kind of neat for when you have your GamePad on your lap.  The controller is fairly large, but light.  It’s nearly the same size as the console itself.  It’s light feel is welcomed, but it does make the controller feel a bit cheap.  Shaking it causes the buttons to rattle, and the shoulder triggers are not analog meaning there’s no sensitivity to them (pushing it all the way in or slightly has the same in-game effect) which is a bit of a letdown.  The touchscreen though is large and quite nice with very good picture quality.  It doesn’t seem to be quite as good as the Playstation Vita’s OLED screen, but gets the job done.  It communicates with the Wii via wireless and infrared and there’s no noticeable lag.

The Yoshi’s Fruit Cart game is one of the more interesting ones on Nintendo Land.

How the GamePad functions with the Wii U is obviously what will make or break the system.  Nintendo Land is the game that’s supposed to put the GamePad’s features front and center which makes it almost a required purchase for early adopters.  Nintendo Land is basically a collection of mini games each one based on a different Nintendo property.  Some of these IPs are pretty well known, like Zelda, while others not so much, such as Balloon Fight.  I’m not a big fan of mini game collections so I haven’t really got into Nintendo Land.  There is some cool stuff in there though.  The Ninja Battle game has you aiming your GamePad at the TV and sliding your finger towards the screen to toss ninja stars.  The Yoshi Cart game has you draw a line on the GamePad for your cart to follow to pick up fruit on the way while avoiding obstacles.  The catch is that the fruit and obstacles only appear on the TV screen while the GamePad is blank.  Games like the Zelda adventure are mostly straight forward.  The GamePad can be used to view the scenery by physically moving it, or the player can just look at the screen.  Nintendo Land seems to just scratch the surface without really showing anything revolutionary.  It will be interesting to see how Nintendo makes use of the GamePad in their classic franchises.

Baby Yoshi returns in NSMBU.

There’s no wondering when it comes to Mario though, since he has a new game at launch.  New Super Mario Bros. U is pretty similar to the previous entries in the series, GamePad or no GamePad.  I’m only a few levels deep, so I can’t say if it’s better or worse than the other entries in the series yet.  I can say that I like the Super Mario World inspired layout, and I like the inclusion of Yoshi even if he’s added as he was in the Wii game where he can only be used in certain levels.  I haven’t tried any multiplayer with it, so I can’t even comment really on the GamePad’s use there but in the single player game it’s really only used as a second screen.  Such a feature does have its uses as you don’t even need the television on to play the game, but it is disappointing that Nintendo couldn’t find a way to make use of its new toy with its flagship series.

It’s pretty nice that Nintendo has finally entered the HD era, but what isn’t nice is that they’ve also adopted a lot of what makes this era of gaming so frustrating.  The Wii U is the victim of the dreaded day one update, which means the second you plug in that new console it’s going to prompt you to update the operating system.  Ditto for both Nintendo Land and NSMBU.  The OS update took me well over an hour to update and install, while the Nintendo Land update took around a half an hour and NSMBU around 15 minutes.  That’s pretty damn annoying and one of the things that makes me long for the days of old.  Also complicating things, is the Wii U is the victim of severe loading times.  Changing screens takes around 15 seconds on the unit and booting up a game is far from seamless.  I don’t know if this is something that can be improved upon with future updates or if we’re just going to have to deal with it.

The Wii U has some things going for it, but it’s definitely not the revolution that the Wii was.  Playing the Wii for the first time felt incredibly fresh and new, while I didn’t get the same feeling when playing the Wii U.  It’s certainly fun, and there’s probably better software out there (like Scribblenauts Unlimited) for showing off the GamePad, but right now the console is far from a must buy.  Get it if you love Nintendo or want to have the latest thing, otherwise most will be fine waiting for the first big Nintendo game on it or price drop.