Tag Archives: yoshi

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.

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

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

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

Star_Fox_2_2017#21 – Star Fox 2* (2017)

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

 

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

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

snes_f-zero_boxart#19 – F-Zero (1990)

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

dkc_snes_boxart#18 – Donkey Kong Country (1994)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

smk#14 – Super Mario Kart (1992)

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

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

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

earthbound_box#12 – EarthBound (1994)

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

kss_boxart#11 – Kirby Super Star (1996)

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

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

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

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

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

super_castlevania_iv_north_american_snes_box_art#8 – Super Castlevania IV (1991)

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

supermariorpgsnescoverartus#7 – Super Mario RPG (1996)

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

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

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

mega_man_x_coverart#5 – Mega Man X (1993)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Right Place, Wrong Time – Games Worthy of a Remake

Kotaku has an article up this week about one of my favorite games:  Xenogears. In it, the journalist, Jason Schreir, was able to ask director Tetsuya Takahashi about that infamous second disc and why the game went to a narrator instead of letting the player experience the moments the narrator discussed. Fans have mostly assumed that they ran out of money, and that’s still mostly true. Naturally, Squaresoft being a big company could have easily injected more cash into the project, but they were holding the development team to a 2 year development cycle. When the team, and Takahashi attributes it to being a young team, couldn’t make the deadline they were either going to have to release the game in an abridged format, or do something drastic like cut content from the second disc, which is the way they went. Back in 1998, there was no releasing a bare-bones version of a game and adding to it down the road via downloadable content.

Given the two options, Takahashi probably picked the lesser of two evils, but it doesn’t change the fact that he basically didn’t get to make the game he wanted to. For that reason, I’ve always felt that Xenogears is a game worthy of a remake. It likely never will be remade since Takahashi and Square-Enix are no longer affiliated so Square-Enix would have to do it without him. And I don’t know how much you pay attention to the current goings on at Square-Enix, but they’re pretty tied up with another big re-make in Final Fantasy VII with no end in sight on development there, so remaking a lesser title (in terms of sales potential) is out of the question. Nintendo, after doing remakes for its two N64 Zelda titles, just announced at E3 that a remake of Metroid II is coming this September to 3DS. Sony also announced a remake to Shadow of the Colossus for PS4. So yes, remakes are very much “a thing” and there are many games that are deserving of them. Since Xenogears is on record as being one of my favorite games of all time, I want to start there:

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Some improved visuals would be welcomed as well.

 

Xenogears

Orignal Release: Playstation 1998

As I said in the intro to this post, the second disc of Xenogears was essentially a half-measure. An excuse for a remake is right there – just “make” the second disc. In addition to that though, the game’s visuals have aged rather poorly, and the abundance of text begs for some voice overs. I enjoy the modern 2D sprite look embodied by DuckTales Remasterd or the recently announced Dragon Ball Fighter Z. Keeping the sprites would be fine by me. Refining the combat would be welcomed as well and making the “magic” attacks more integral would add some strategy to the non-mech combat. In addition to that, adding more complexity to the mech combat would also be fun as I always felt piloting those mechs should have felt like a blast. Instead, the combat is simplified to a degree with an added resource management tacked on in terms of fuel. Other obvious enhancements would be eliminating random battles and streamlining the interface, though the current one is actually fine. Xenogears is already a good game, so it doesn’t require a lot of refinement, it just needs to be officially “finished.”

Yoshi_Species_-_Group_Artwork_-_Yoshi's_Island_DS

Just Yoshi, no babies. Thank you.

 

Yoshi’s Island

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1995

There’s some unknown aspect to Super Mariod World 2:  Yoshi’s Island that prevents it from being re-released. Sure, it was ported to the Gamboy Advance but some effects were lost in translation, and yet that’s the version that has appeared on the Virtual Console. The original SNES version has never been made available again, and I have to believe it’s due to some technological limitation since it’s clearly not a licensing issue for Nintendo. Nonetheless, a re-release would be appreciated, but a remake would be better. Aesthetically, the game still looks nice because of its art direction. It’s not as syrupy as more recent Yoshi titles and balances the cute aspects of the franchise well against the typical Mario backdrop. So visually, a remake isn’t really needed, but anyone who has ever played the game would welcome a remake that does one thing differently from the original:  get rid of the crying baby! I’ve read some studies that say an infant’s cry is designed to unnerve its father and I totally buy that. When one of my kids cries it creates a certain anxiety that’s different from what I’m used to experiencing. Mario’s screams bother me in a similar way and I really can’t stand that game sometimes as a result. So Nintendo, how about a remake that just removed Mario? I don’t care if you even adjust the story to explain it, just get rid of him. For whatever reason, all of the Yoshi games that have followed this one have been significantly worse than the original, to the point where I honestly can’t recommend a single one, so a remake of the first one would be more than welcomed now.

35228-Secret_of_Mana_(Germany)-1459171091

The original Seiken Densetsu has been remade more than once, but the much better sequel has not.

 

 Secret of Mana

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1993

Like Yoshi’s Island, Secret of Mana is still quite playable in its current form. Also like Yoshi’s Island, the sequels to it that have made it west have not been nearly as good as the original, making a remake feel more desirable from that point alone. Mostly though, a remake for this title would be welcomed because, like Xenogears, it was kind of released in an incomplete state. Secret of Mana was being developed to take advantage of the Super Nintendo CD, when that deal fell through, Squaresoft had to scrap some content and change development so that it would play without the peripheral. As a result, there’s some buggy portions in the game and the audio is most likely not realized as it was intended. A remake, with a more modern combat approach, would probably be a lot of fun. Just don’t make it a Kingdom Hearts clone.

Actraiser-pic-06

One of the first SNES titles, ActRaiser tried to be many things and was good at them all, but great at none.

 

ActRaiser

Original Release:  Super Nintendo 1990

ActRaiser was an ambitious title. It attempted to combine the godlike properties of a Sim City styled game with an action-platformer that also had some RPG elements. Naturally, being really the first of its kind, it came up short in some respects though it was still a really cool game in its own right. The platform sections could stand to be refined with more combat maneuvers for our avatar, meanwhile, the god mode portions could really use an injection of excitement as they’re definitely a bit tedious as-is. The foundation is in place, but decades of new concepts and ideas being integrated could create an incredible gaming experience.

37152-Megaman_Legends-2

We just weren’t ready for this in 1997.

 

Mega Man Legends

Original Release:  Playstation 1997

For some reason, I was really excited by the concept of Mega Man Legends, an action RPG starring everyone’s favorite 2D action star. The problem was, no one really knew how to make that game in 1997 and no one really would until 2001’s Devil May Cry, interestingly enough, also a game created by Capcom. Even so, DMC is not a great comparison since it’s more focused on melee combat while Mega Man is a shooter. The original Legends is a visually ugly game with poor controls. Capcom really struggled with 3D controls (see Resident Evil) on the Playstation and it took awhile for them to figure it out. More modern titles like Resident Evil 4 (which even that is over ten years old now) refined that over-the-shoulder camera which would work really well for a modern Mega Man Legends. There would still be a challenge to introducing Mega Man styled platforming, but that’s where the DMC experience would pay-off. In short, Capcom wanted to make this game in 1997, but it didn’t know how. In 2017, I think that’s changed and a truly great game in this franchise could finally be realized, and why not just start over rather than try to make Legends 3 (again)?

 

There are obviously plenty of other games that could stand to be remade, and most of them would come from the 16 bit to 64 bit era. I’ll stop here with this post, but feel free to share some of your own. Other games I considered were X-Men (the arcade game), Rocket Knight Adventures, Baldur’s Gate, Bushido Blade, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, and Final Fantasy VI.


Ranking the Mario Games – Part 3

Part 1

Part 2

This edition of ranking the Mario games is going to be slightly different than the two previous ones.  In trying to summarize each game in my previous posts I tried to keep it to one paragraph, which lead to some really long paragraphs.  One paragraph is fine for the lesser Mario outings, but now as I enter the top 5 one paragraph seems like too few, so this post will capture the titles I ranked from position five to three, with one more post to follow for the top two.  This way I can elaborate more on each individual title and attempt to give each game the time it deserves.  These games are some of the best of the best, and while I feel very strongly about their position in the top five, it’s debatable how each should be ranked amongst each other, but that’s what makes these things so fun.

5. Super Mario Galaxy 2 (2010, Nintendo Wii)

Yoshi is the major selling point of Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Yoshi is the major selling point of Super Mario Galaxy 2.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 might be the favorite Mario game for some people, or a lot of people, and with good reason.  It falls to position five on my list not for quality but more for redundancy.  Super Mario Galaxy felt like a revelation while Galaxy 2 felt like a continuation of that game.  In a way, it’s Super Mario Galaxy’s Lost Levels.  That’s not to say it was entirely the same, as there are some obvious additions to the formula, just not necessarily worthwhile.

The premise of the Galaxy series of games takes Mario into space aboard a ship that serves as a hub world.  From there, Mario enters various levels that play out over a map similar to Super Mario Bros. 3, or more recently, New Super Mario Bros.  The levels themselves range in size, and the setup is similar to Super Mario 64 in that the game asks the player to re-play each level to collect stars by beating it in a specific manner.  Sometimes replaying the levels opens up larger parts while other times it just tasks Mario with a new objective in the same setting.

As with any new Mario game, new power-ups have been added to differentiate from prior games.  For Super Mario Galaxy 2, we have Cloud Mario, Rock Mario, and the Spin Drill.  Cloud Mario allows Mario to create cloud platforms to utilize to reach higher areas or cover wider gaps.  Rock Mario is basically a wrecking ball that powers through areas and certain pieces of the environment.  The Spin Drill isn’t a suit, but an object Mario can grab and use to drill through an entire level, emerging on the other side.  All three are kind of neat, but none are exceptional when compared with some of Mario’s other abilities.  The ice flower from the first game does not return, nor does the flying star, but Bee Mario is still around as are the other power-ups from Super Mario Galaxy.

Even though the more powerful Wii U console boasts a Mario title of its own, Galaxy 2 remains the best looking Mario game to date.

Even though the more powerful Wii U console boasts a Mario title of its own, Galaxy 2 remains the best looking Mario game to date.

The other major addition, and the one promoted right on the box, is the return of Yoshi.  Yoshi is more advanced than ever in Super Mario Galaxy 2 as he’s more than just a second power-up.  His tongue, controlled using the Wii remote’s pointer, can not only consume enemies from afar, but also trigger switches or be used to swing across gaps.  He can still flutter jump and give Mario a boast to his jumps, but he also has power-ups of his own that bestow special abilities for a limited time.  There are three fruits that do this:  a dash fruit, bulb fruit, and blimp fruit.  The dash one (actually dash pepper, making it a vegetable, I suppose) lets Yoshi dash at a high speed.  While dashing he can run up certain walls and across water.  The bulb fruit makes Yoshi glow and shows up primarily in Ghost Houses to illuminate pathways.  The blimp fruit is like the P Balloon from Super Mario World, only with the helium effects taking place on Yoshi this time allowing him to float through the air while Mario hangs on for dear life.  Of the three, the bulb fruit is the most conventional in that it doesn’t affect how Yoshi handles.  The dash pepper makes Yoshi dash almost uncontrollably and it can be a challenge to negotiate the various obstacles in the way.  That’s likely the whole point of the thing, but I never found it enjoyable.  I also loathed the P Balloon in Super Mario World, mostly thanks to the infamous Tubular special world, so blimp Yoshi does little for me.  Controlling Yoshi without the power-ups is infinitely more enjoyable, but few Yoshi levels don’t include a power-up of some sort.  And as you can probably guess, Yoshi is only usable in certain levels.

Super Mario Galaxy 2 does score points over its predecessor by being the more challenging of the two.  Getting to the final battle with Bowser is a moderate challenge, but the extra levels and special stars can be exceptionally difficult.  It tends to be challenging without being overly frustrating, though the hardest level in the game may drive you to break a controller or two.  Super Mario Galaxy 2, disappointing power-ups aside, is a marvel of game design that basically gave gamers more of what they wanted.  I personally found the original title more enjoyable as it was more new and I found some of the challenges less annoying (though both games contain balance ball levels, the shoe-horned Wii remote feature that most could do without.  And Spring Mario).  Every fan of the 3D Mario games should have this one in their library though, as should anyone who thinks modern Mario titles are too easy.

4. Super Mario 64 (1996, Nintendo 64)

Running through the early stages of Super Mario 64 was a kind of joy I can't begin to describe.

Running through the early stages of Super Mario 64 was a kind of joy I can’t begin to describe.

If you’re someone who grew up with a Gamecube or Playstation 2 as your first console, then you cannot possibly understand what it was like to play Super Mario 64 for the first time in 1996.  It only took a moment for Super Mario 64 to blow you away and convince you that you were playing something special.  It arrived at a really interesting time with Nintendo taking a backseat to Sega and Sony in getting its new hardware to market.  Sega’s Saturn never set the world on fire due to its hefty price tag and lacking software, but Sony’s Playstation was winning gamers over worldwide with new franchises and old, proving once and for all that a CD-ROM based console could work and work well.  Sony had even won Nintendo staples like Final Fantasy, and up till now it seemed like Nintendo was just going to stand and take it.  Then the public got a glimpse of the Nintendo 64.  Sure it was kind of plain looking and still boasted a cartridge medium, but with promises of 3D Mario and Zelda people were convinced it would succeed and the pre-orders came pouring in.

At this point in my life I felt I had “outgrown” Nintendo and the prospects of playing a new Mario game didn’t excite me in the least bit.  My first experience with the console should have been totally unremarkable as it occurred at a Toys “R” Us prior to the system’s launch at a demo kiosk.  It couldn’t have lasted more than ten minutes, and was maybe closer to five, but I remember it so well because of how incredible it felt to control Mario in 3D for the first time.  There was nothing like that currently available anywhere, and seeing Mario run around such an immersive world was shear joy.  The game was inherently fun, and I felt like I could have just run around in that first stage for hours.  I remember after playing it I went to the Saturn kiosk and tried the upcoming NiGHTS and frowned at the pixilated visuals.  Sony was demoing its Mario adversary, Crash Bandicoot, who’s commercials ended up being more fun than his games.  I probably tried to convince myself that Crash was superior, and that Mario was too kiddie, but deep down I knew I had just experienced the future.  The game was such an experience that I feel kind of stupid for not ranking it number one, though I know as I write about the games to follow I’ll feel better about my decision.

Bowser was very big, though not exactly frightening.

Bowser was very big, though not exactly frightening.

Years removed and numerous star challenges completed, I can still say that Super Mario 64 is an exceptional game, even if it’s imperfect.  Super Mario 64 was the first true attempt at a 3D platformer and it’s still the core of what all the games in the genre still follow, especially future Mario titles.  For the first time, Mario could jump, double jump, and triple jump his way to Bowser and free the princess.  Familiar foes returned like the goomba and koopa troopa, while new power-ups and locations were unveiled.  Super Mario 64 felt unique not just because of the new interface, but by creating its own world.  Traditional power-ups like the super mushroom and fire flower were absent from the game with Mario now having a life meter for the first time.  Mario could no longer breathe underwater or ride Yoshi or even partner with his brother Luigi.  There was more emphasis on exploration and uncovering hidden challenges and levels. Beating a stage once awarded Mario with a star and opened up additional challenges in the level.  To proceed further in the game Mario needed to collect a set amount of stars to face Bowser for a final time.  And for the first time, Bowser truly towered over Mario.  Looking more like a turtle than ever, it was intimidating encountering Bowser and also fairly challenging as the player needed to position Mario behind him in order to grab his tail.

The game was so flashy and new that many seemed to ignore the few areas it fell short, while time has made them more apparent.  As was the case with seemingly every 3D title from this era, the camera can be problematic and there will be times where the player is forced into making a leap of faith hoping there’s a platform out of sight.  And while controlling Mario in wide open spaces is a breeze, negotiating platforms and narrow ledges is less so, and there’s a reason why Mario hasn’t been able to punch and kick enemies following this game.  And other than the wing cap, the power-ups were decidedly un-fun, and no Luigi seems like borderline blasphemy.  In short, the Mario titles to follow were clear improvements on the interface enough to overcome nostalgia.  Or rather, I should say one title in the 3D Mario universe is clearly superior, though if someone held a gun to my head I might opt for Galaxy 2 over Super Mario 64, but that’s all right.  Here, nostalgia counts for something which puts Super Mario 64 at a strong number four on my list.

3. Super Mario Bros. 3 (1990, Nintendo Entertainment System)

The map layout common to many Mario games originated with Super Mario Bros. 3.

The map layout common to many Mario games originated with Super Mario Bros. 3.

It took me a long time to admit to myself that Super Mario Bros. 3 was no longer my preferred Mario game (and no, it’s not number 3 on my list because that number appears in it’s title), which is a testament to just how great it is.  I still consider it amongst the most highly anticipated video games of my lifetime.  Following the rather odd Super Mario Bros. 2, I think most people were excited about returning to what felt like the more traditional style of Mario games.  And knowing Mario was going to be able to fly was the kicker.  The game came out in 1988 for the Famicom in Japan, so US gamers had to endure nearly two years of screenshots in Nintendo Power (and a cameo in The Wizard) before getting to play the game, but it was worth the wait.

Super Mario Bros. 3 was the true sequel to Super Mario Bros. and the clearly superior one at that.  It was everything the original game was times 100.  It looked better, Mario and Luigi felt better (they could now slide down slopes and carry koppa shells), and the worlds of the game were so much more immersive and fun when compared to the original.  It felt huge having eight worlds with each map seemingly larger than the one before it.  It starts innocently enough with World 1 and its clear path to the castle.  Then World 2 stretches to a second screen, while World 3 has Mario sail across the map.  World 5 is basically two maps with one hidden from view at the start.  The game was always throwing new things at the player, especially when it came to the power-ups.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is remembered for a lot of reasons, but mostly it's for the power-ups.

Super Mario Bros. 3 is remembered for a lot of reasons, but mostly it’s for the power-ups.

Super Mario Bros. 3 can be credited as the game that really took the various power-ups to a new level.  It’s still the game I use as a measuring stick when evaluating all of the new and old abilities Mario acquires in his latest games.  The super leaf was the major and much hyped new ability which gave Mario a raccoon tail and ears and let him fly.  We excused the ridiculousness of the whole thing because, after all, MARIO COULD FUCKING FLY!  It blew my little mind that Mario could soar through the air like Superman.  It might seem like such a small thing younger gamers today, but it really was unheard of at the time.  The first time I laid eyes on Super Mario Bros. 3 it was all I wanted to see, just show me Mario flying so my head could finally wrap itself around the idea.  It didn’t just end there, of course.  World 3 introduced the frog suit which made swimming fun for the first time.  The water levels are kind of that thing we all overlook (except when it comes to the first Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game), but we all kind of secretly hate them.  The frog suit was a needed addition, even if trying to hang onto one through the land-based levels was a chore as Mario could only run in the suit if he was carrying a koopa shell.  The tanooki suit in World 5 was a cuter take on the super leaf, but it did allow Mario to turn into a statue and avoid damage, a deceptively useful tool.  World 5 was also the world that held the one stage (5-3) everyone remembers for the Kuribo’s Boot, a green boot Mario could steal from the goomba’s in the level and pound his way to victory.  The hammer bros. suit was the most sought after though.  Found in World 7, it was a more powerful take on the fire flower and most players would hang onto it until the final showdown with Bowser.

Now Bowser really has to contend with a "Super" Mario.

Now Bowser really has to contend with a “Super” Mario.

Super Mario Bros. 3 also introduced a lot of enemies that became staples of future titles.  The koopa kids made their first appearance as did the boo ghost and variations of the hammer bros. like the boomerang bros. and fire bros.  The airships were introduced for the first time and various mini games dotted the maps along with Toad Houses where power-ups could be found.  Mario and Luigi could also store power-ups for later use that could be activated from the world map.  Fortresses appeared and toppling them were necessary to reach the final fortress in each level.  The magic whistles replaced the secret warp zones and acquiring all three was the quickest way to reach the final stage.  With no game save feature, they were almost necessary for beating the game as the game was almost too big for on session forcing many gamers to leave their NES on all day to save their spot.

For the most part, Super Mario Bros. 3 is just a really fun game that keeps throwing new things at the player the further into the game they go.  It’s scope felt epic back in 1990, and it truly is the ultimate 8-bit Mario title.  Really, the only thing the top two games on my list succeed over it is with level design, but even they owe a lot to Super Mario Bros. 3 which really paved the way for all of the Mario games to follow.  It’s, simply put, among the greatest games ever made.


Ranking the Mario Games – Part 2

It’s part two of The Nostalgia Spot’s look at Super Mario games.  In this section, a couple of under-appreciated titles and a few too recent to benefit from the effects of nostalgia, but I’ll try not to hold that against them.  Part one can be found here.

10.  Super Mario Bros. 2/Super Mario USA (1988, Nintendo Entertainment System)

Mario throws vegetables now.  Accept it!

Mario throws vegetables now. Accept it!

The American version of Super Mario Bros. 2 has always been the black sheep of the Mario family.  It was pretty weird going from the original Super Mario Bros. to this game.  There were no fire flowers, no goombas, no koopas, no Bowser or green warp pipes.  In their place were shy guys, flying carpets, vases, an egg-shooting bird-dinosaur thing, and Wart. By now, most people know that Super Mario Bros. 2 was so odd compared to the first game because it actually wasn’t a Mario game.  Originally released as Doki Doki Panic in Japan, Nintendo re-skinned the characters and added a few Mario-type items to the game for the American audience after Nintendo of America rejected the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2.  What most people didn’t know at the time, and what many still don’t realize, is that this Super Mario Bros. 2 is actually the REAL Super Mario Bros. 2!  The game that would be released as Doki Doki Panic in Japan actually started off as Super Mario Bros. 2.  Mario’s daddy, Shigeru Miyamoto, wanted to really change things up for the sequel with more characters and an emphasis on vertically scrolling levels.  A prototype was developed by Kensuke Tanabe, but when the project became too ambitious Nintendo basically got cold feet so they put the brakes on it and went the safe route for the Japanese Super Mario Bros. 2.  Not wanting to waste the foundation of the game, it was re-dressed for release as Doki Doki Panic.  By the time Nintendo of America was clamoring for a different sequel, Nintendo’s development techniques had improved enough to the point that it was comfortable going full speed ahead with this iteration of Super Mario Bros. 2.  It was so successful that it would be released in Japan later as Super Mario USA, and today it’s pretty much considered the preferred Super Mario Bros. 2 in all territories.  Even knowing that, it’s still a weird game and a lot of the sprites created for Doki Doki Panic were left in which is why there’s no familiar Mario enemies.  Instead of jumping on enemies to destroy them, Mario can stand on top of them and lift them up and hurl them as projectiles or do the same with vegetables.  The jumping and platforming is just as good as ever, and the soundtrack is beyond catchy.  The game looks nice, and the additions of Luigi, Toad, and Princess Toadstool as playable characters added variety.  One thing Miyamoto really wanted to get into the game was simultaneous co-op, but that would end up needing another 20 years for refinement.  Super Mario Bros. 2 is often overshadowed by the game that followed it, but it was an improvement on the original, albeit unconventional.  It’s odd take on the Super Mario franchise is what makes it endearing decades later.

9.  Super Mario Sunshine (2002, Gamecube)

Being a plumber is a stinky job.

Being a plumber is a stinky job.

I must confess, part of my placing Super Mario Sunshine immediately after Super Mario Bros. 2 is because it just seems so appropriate.  The games are both great examples of their genre, but both find themselves some-what unloved among the other Mario titles.  Super Mario Sunshine was a late arrival on the Gamecube, late in the sense that it wasn’t there for the system’s launch.  Mario had been a fixture at every Nintendo system launch of any consequence before, so gamers kind of just assumed he’d always be there.  With the Gamecube, Luigi got to bat lead-off for a change with his first solo outing leaving Mario to arrive a year later.  Super Mario Sunshine is the sequel to Super Mario 64 and just the second 3D Mario title in the span of six years.  1996-2002 was kind of a dry spell for Mario, but Super Mario Sunshine is another superb outing for the venerable plumber.  Unfortunately, Nintendo saw fit to saddle Mario with FLUDD, a water-powered jetpack type of thing that dominates a lot of the gameplay.  FLUDD really wasn’t well-received by Mario fans (though reviewers seemed to enjoy it) even though it was a rather fine gameplay addition for the most part.  With such an established star as Mario though, fans are often resistant to change.  Super Mario Sunshine brought back a lot of the platforming elements of prior games with an emphasis on level exploration.  It was well conceived, and using FLUDD as a means of propelling Mario along works quite well.  It’s the more mundane actions that become tiresome, such as needing to spray the environment clean incessantly.  As the player, you’ll do a lot of just standing around spraying water.  There’s also the need to replenish the water supply that’s not much fun.  Yoshi did make his return in Sunshine, and Bowser Jr. his official debut.  Super Mario Sunshine is a game that’s likely better than most people remember, and is absolutely still worth checking out.

8.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii (2009, Nintendo Wii)

New power-ups and co-op play; it's all you really need to know about New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

New power-ups and co-op play; it’s all you really need to know about New Super Mario Bros. Wii.

New Super Mario Bros. brought the plumbers back to 2D in a way that was commercially very successful, though creatively felt more like a straight nostalgia trip and little else.  Which was fine, but I’m not sure what people expected of the franchise going forward, or if it even would be a true franchise.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii arrived three years later and for a home console this time, the Nintendo Wii.  This is where the franchise really started to leave it’s mark, with more interesting power-ups and better level design.  For the first time a Mario game was also able to be played cooperatively with up to four players all at once.  This was something Nintendo wanted to do as early as Super Mario Bros. 2, but the technology just wasn’t there.  To be fair, it’s not New Super Mario Bros. Wii’s strongest point as only two players of equal skill will be able to find much enjoyment in co-op.  Otherwise, it feels more like Sonic the Hedgehog 2 with one player controlling the action and the other frantically trying to keep up.  The level design for the Wii game is much better though, after being mostly forgettable on the DS.  The added power-ups of the propeller suit and ice flower/penguin suit also add to the experience.  The propeller suit especially is one of the more fun power-ups to come along in a Mario game.  With a flick of the wrist, the propeller on the player’s head spins sending Mario ever higher on the screen and allowing for a slow descent.  Yoshi, again, is back but is limited only to certain stages which is kind of disappointing.  The challenge is a bit better than the DS title, though it’s still a pretty easy game for Mario veterans.  The final showdown with Bowser is both memorable and, if you’re aiming to collect all of the star coins, pretty tricky as well.  The reintroduction of the Koopalings is also a welcome development after the many repetitive boss battles in the first game.  New Super Mario Bros. Wii is another fun 2D Mario game, though it falls short of being a truly remarkable.

7.  New Super Mario Bros. U (2012, Nintendo Wii U)

For the first time ever, Mario is in HD but the end result won't knock your socks off.

For the first time ever, Mario is in HD but the end result won’t knock your socks off.

It should be considered a good thing that the most recent entry in the New Super Mario Bros. franchise is the best.  Though that does kind of ignore the fact that the edition released just a few months prior to New Super Mario Bros. U is the worst in the series.  The console editions are the stronger games, and they’ve apparently had a little more love during their development cycles.  New Super Mario Bros. U also has the distinction of being the first original Mario title to debut alongside new hardware since Super Mario 64 back in 1996.  Unfortunately for the Wii U, while New Super Mario Bros. U is a good and enjoyable title it’s not the system-seller that Super Mario 64 was.  Sales of the Wii U have been putrid, to put it nicely, so a lot of people still haven’t played this one.  Admittedly, when I first played it last year I was feeling a little fatigue after just recently finishing New Super Mario Bros. 2 and it took me awhile to actually play through this one.  That’s not the game’s fault, though I suppose it is a short-coming for the title that, despite being in HD, it still looks and plays more or less the same as the previous games.  The game borrows conceptually from Super Mario World in how the map is laid out.  There are several hidden paths and special levels to uncover throughout the game and each world has its own distinguishing features.  They’re also controlled by one of the seven Koopalings once again, with the King of Koopas waiting at Peach’s castle for Mario to arrive and save his princess.  All of the power-ups from New Super Mario Bros. Wii return though in a diminished capacity.  The main new power-up is the flying squirrel suit, which makes too much sense for a Mario game.  With it, Mario can glide and he knifes through the air rather quickly, as opposed to the slow descent of the super cape or tanooki suit.  He gets a one-time hop in flight that does bring him to that slow descent we’re used to.  He also has the ability to cling to walls, though he can’t move along them (which is what the new cat suit will allow in the upcoming Super Mario 3D World).  I was a bit lukewarm on the suit initially, but after extended playing time I’ve actually come to enjoy it quite a bit.  It’s different, and probably Mario’s best flying suit since the cape.  The best thing I can say about New Super Mario Bros. U though is the difficulty.  It’s still exceptionally easy to rack up 99 lives, but the levels in this game will actually force gamers to use those lives.  The star coins are also better hidden, and like previous games extra levels are unlocked after defeating Bowser for the first time.  If the main game isn’t challenging enough, there are extra challenge levels that are designed to bring about controller-smashing frustration.  Lastly, the game also makes use of the Wii U gamepad by allowing it to function as a second screen, meaning you don’t even need your television on to play the game.  I’ve said a lot about a game that basically feels like more of the same, but New Super Mario Bros. U is the best side-scrolling Mario game since Super Mario World, so I suppose it deserves all of these words.

6.  Super Mario 3D Land (2011, Nintendo 3DS)

Many of the stages in 3D Land exist in a three-dimensional environment but force Mario to a 2D-like path.

Many of the stages in 3D Land exist in a three-dimensional environment but force Mario to a 2D-like path.

Over the years, Mario fans have become divided into two camps:  the ones that prefer the 2D side-scrolling games and those that prefer the 3D titles.  In truth, most fans like both but there are preferences.  In general, those that grew up with the 8-bit NES tend to prefer the games that remind them of the old titles, while those who first experienced Mario via the Nintendo 64 tend to favor the 3D games.  For the first time, Nintendo decided to try and please both with a single title:  Super Mario 3D Land.  This was not just Mario’s first 3D portable adventure, but also his first trek on Nintendo’s new 3DS handheld and Mario was expected to demonstrate the advantages of stereoscopic 3D gaming.  I don’t know if Mario was able to sell audiences on that feature, but people in general seemed to love the game and with good reason.  The style of the game is basically an open world concept for each stage, but with each level being a small level reminiscent of the old games.  Some of these levels force Mario into more of a 2D plane that may allow Mario to hop in and out of the foreground and background.  The use of stereoscopic 3D meant a few stages at a high camera angle and some platforms are nearly impossible to negotiate without the 3D effect enabled.  For power-ups, the tanooki suit was brought back but in a diminished capacity as Mario could only slow his descent, not fly (the stone form ability from Super Mario Bros. 3 is only available after beating the game once), which was a shame.  The boomerang bros. suit was the other hyped addition and it’s a good alternative to the traditional fire flower (and a nice homage to the hammer bros. suit from Super Mario Bros. 3).  The layout of the map is as linear as it gets, but completing the game once opens up what amounts to a second game.  The first set of stages are fairly painless for Mario veterans, but the bonus worlds are much tougher and contain a good amount of challenge.  Mostly, the game works as designed, though I could do without the 3D effects.  Mario controls well and the approach allows the developers to pick and choose from the best of Mario’s past and stuff it all into one game.  Hopefully Nintendo is able to build off of this game and it ends up being the first game in another successful Mario franchise, the Wii U is banking on it.


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.