Note: Since this post was published, the URA Zelda project was cancelled, Mushroom Kingdom Fusion was cancelled and then rebooted again, and a couple of the other projects went offline. That said, most entries on the list are doing okay, at least from what we can tell.
Over the years, many fans have tried to outdo their heroes and make their own fan games, hacks and projects. Most of these quickly fall victim to Sturgeon’s Law and turn out to be garbage, uninspired rip offs of the official levels with random objects placed about in horrible looking ways, tons of text talking about internet memes or poorly done attempts at ‘adult’ content that ends up being like a bad fan fic.
But some games do better. In fact, some do so well that you could argue they can even better the official games, that they’re projects so ‘good’ that the companies involved should probably be immediately hiring the developers right there and now and be turning them into inhouse projects to be released in stores. These are my top ten favourite fan game projects.
In no particular order, they are…
1. Mushroom Kingdom Fusion
How the hell to describe this game, other than basically Smash Bros, as a single player game, on steroids. Every classic Nintendo and third party character you can think of (Mario, Luigi, Link, Samus, Kirby, Wario, Mega Man, Arthur…) is playable. They all get about ten different power ups, get to play levels based on the worlds of nearly every game series in existance (even modern ones like Resident Evil, Halo and Gears of War) and the game lasts long enough to have over 200 different levels.
In other words, it’s pretty much every gaming fan’s dream Subspace Emissary. These trailers tell it better than I can:
It’s absolutely incredible the amount of sheer work that’s gone into this game, as well as just how much they managed to cram into a single fan game made for free. It’s not perfect by any means (the physics need quite a bit of work and aren’t as fluid as in real Mario games), but damn, content wise this is arguably better than most things the real video game industry puts out these days.
2. Super Mario Odyssey and MSU1
On it’s own, Super Mario Odyssey isn’t the most interesting SMW related fan project around. Sure it looks like a nice ROM hack of a decades old SNES game, but it doesn’t initially look like it can compete with the likes of Brutal Mario in regards to programming gimmicks and ASM. So why is it on the list?
Because of one minor thing it introduced. The MSU1 chip. This is a custom hardware chip that allows for full out streaming audio and fairly decent quality video to be run on the SNES. Kind of like a SNES CD so to speak, the type of thing that would have been made if Sony’s deal with Nintendo had gone through instead of the terrible CDi thing.
This is the result:
Yes, that does mean you can have full voice acting and song lyrics in a SNES game now. Yes, you can even have Gamecube and Wii era video game music in such games, to the point you could theoretically replace the main Super Mario World theme with the title music from Super Smash Bros Brawl and play it on your TV. And yes, you can now share your crappy taste in popular music with the rest of the world if you so desire.
Now I’ll be fair here, there is a reason this was never used in a SNES game, namely cost. Those music files have to be in .wav form, which takes up a good few megabytes of space. So unless you’re only having about four songs in the game, you’d presumably need to either have a SNES cart with absolutely massive storage capacity or some way of loading the music from an external CD or hard drive. But it’s very impressive regardless, and shows that modern music could have been used in SNES games.
3. Psycho Waluigi
Most of the others on this list are here for being over the top, crossover filled gimmick fests or doing a whole ton with another game’s engine. However, Psycho Waluigi is different for one reason.
It’s basically the most professionally made, well designed fan game in existance.
From what I hear, it basically doesn’t even feel like a fan project, but like a spinoff game Nintendo could go out and publish right now. What’s even more incredible is that this game doesn’t actually include as much ‘new’ content as many people assume it does, the graphics are generally ripped from other Nintendo made games and other elements often are as well. It’s just that they’re so well used, so well matched together that people don’t even notice any kind of style clashing or noticeable differences.
It also has a very interesting, innovative gimmick. Basically, Waluigi gets psychic powers from a creature called Psycho Iris and can use them to manipulate and pick up/throw enemies and objects. There’s also a major new villain character trying to foil Waluigi’s plans along the way (sorry, forgot her name), inventive new boss battles and a whole host of features to go with it.
Basically, it’s the perfect example of a fan game done well.
4. Donkey Kong Country 4
I just couldn’t go without mentioning this one, right? Basically, it’s the perfect culmination of the Donkey Kong Country series as a whole, remixing all three original games and a whole host of new stuff in a blender and letting you… pretty much do everything you could in every other game in the series.
Want to see DK explore Crocodile Isle and play through things like Bramble levels and rollercoaster stages? That can be done.
Or see him and Diddy Kong explore the Northern Kremisphere? Go right ahead.
Heck, you can even see Kiddy Kong and Dixie Kong messing around on DK Isle and riding Rambi about if you want, that’s all in the game.
This is literally a Donkey Kong fan’s dream game, a proper sequel to the original trilogy complete with everything and anything that made them good all those years ago. If you were to ask people what they’d want in a new title, something like the above would be the expected result.
5. Ura Zelda Restoration Project
A project which seems to be going above and beyond expectations, the Ura Zelda Restoration Project is sort of an attempt to remake Ura Zelda, the original Ocarina of Time sequel planned for the Nintendo 64DD.
Well, it started as one. The game as it is now on the other hand seems to be more like a dream Zelda game, with absolutely everything being new and everything found in the beta version being brought back. For instance, the game doesn’t just edit the existing dungeons, it replaces them entirely. And adds more, for a total of SIXTEEN dungeons.
Did I mention that each of these has new enemies? A new boss at the end? Heck, probably even new items with new effects!
That’s not all. They’ve got a whole new custom composed soundtrack to replace the original, including new warp songs. Samples can be heard below:
Here are some videos/trailers of it:
They also remade Hyrule Castle Town as a fully 3D and explorable town rather than just a static background, and are planning to redo the entire game’s storyline and much of the layout of Hyrule itself. The sheer effort put into this project is amazing.
6. Super Mario Star Road
Yes, Frauber’s game came out before this one and was technically the first completed edit of Super Mario 64, but I’d say it’s this title which really showed what a Super Mario 64 mod could be like and impressed me the most.
It’s probably the best collectathon style game made since the days of the Nintendo 64, complete with over 120 different stars to collect, music from various other games and all new levels to explore. There’s a toy level. A placed themed upon outer space complete with stars and planets. Even a level based on Super Mario World with 3D versions of the castle tileset!
It’s not the only finished Mario 64 hack, but it’s definitely the one I’d say is closest to a Super Mario 64 sequel, and for that I include it on this list.
7. Naferia’s Reign: Invasion of the Dark Mistress
Huh? Yes, this is a strange project, and one that quite a few people here have probably not heard of due to the source material. But from what TV Tropes says, it’s basically a really, really fancy and interestingly designed game mod for Duke Nukem 3D.
And by that, they mean that it barely resembles the original any more down to the genre. Seriously, you know how Duke Nukem 3D was a first person shooter?
Well this game, is a little more than a shooter. No, it’s an RPG. Complete with leveling up, about twenty different stats you can increase by leveling up and around 15 playable characters with their own skills and abilities. Yes, multiple playable characters. Including for whatever reason, Bubsy the Bobcat. I guess even the worst mascot character in video game history has his fans.
It’s also supposed to have some kind of epic, in depth storyline and references to Earthbound/the Mother series.
All in all, it’s a very, very bizarre mod of a popular first person shooter and deserves a spot on the list just because of how the game adds multiple playable characters and a full blown RPG system to a FPS engine.
8. Chrono Resurrection
Unfortunately stopped by a cease and desist order from Square Enix, Chrono Resurrection was a 3D remake of Chrono Trigger that was being worked on a few years ago. It was very impressive for a fan game, looking almost like an official Playstation 2 era title and would have been a fantastic fan game if it was ever released.
Here’s a trailer for it:
But alas, someone on Square’s legal team must have hated the idea and shut down the project almost without warning for some dubious reason. Wasn’t the only one either, there was also a fan mod of Chrono Trigger that was meant to continue the story being made too, which also got shut down along with the Chrono Compendium’s entire ‘hacking’ section by legal order.
9. Extra Mario Bros
The absolutely pinnacle of Super Mario Bros 1 modding, Extra Mario Bros is basically Super Mario Bros meets Metroid complete with enemies and objects from all three Super Mario Bros games, Metroid and a whole host of other video games. It also contains music ported from various video games released after the NES era and toned down to fit in an eight bit title, kind of impressive in itself.
What’s more so however is the final boss. Keep in mind that this is Super Mario Bros 1 the guy was editing to create this, and this boss plays NOTHING like anything in the original game:
For a game made about 30 years ago on a machine less powerful than your standard calculator to have a final boss that’s at least as impressive as the final one in New Super Mario Bros 2 is seriously awesome. That’s not even getting into the ported enemies, new main character graphics, new music, and things like completion percentage and game completion timer ripped straight from Metroid.
If anything shows what can be done with Super Mario Bros 1, this is it.
10. Super Smash Bros Fan Games in General
Hard to pick just one of these since at least three or four big projects exist that have had many years of work put into them, so I may as well just point out all of them.
First of all, there’s the obvious Super Smash Flash. You’ve heard of this one, it’s basically a Smash Bros game playable in a web browser, and already has its own sequel. With multiple stages, lots of music and playable characters and most of the modes expected from a real Smash Bros title, Super Smash Flash is an interesting fan recreation of the series you should definitely check out.
The next fan made Smash Bros title of interest in Super Smash Land. Basically, Super Smash Bros if it had a Game Boy installment, except playable on computer. It has all the same options and characters and stuff as the real Smash Bros titles, all toned down to fit the monochrome stylings of a classic Game Boy game. Here’s a trailer:
And there’s Super Smash Bros Crusade, a standalone fan game trying to be a sequel to the Super Smash Bros series. It’s kind of like Super Smash Flash, but it’s even fancier with over 80 characters planned, numerous stages and even post released downloadable content and regular additions!
There’s also another more obscure game, although unlike the ones above it doesn’t have any released playable demos to prove its existance. That’s Card Sagas Wars. It’s supposedly going to feature a good few HUNDRED characters. Yes, characters from every possible series known to man, from Mario to Link to even the likes of Master Chief and characters from various anime series. Did I mention they plan to redraw them all in a consistent style?
Unfortunately, as the lack of updates on the site indicates, there’s all the signs of an inactive/dead project here, so it seems possible we may never get to play this one. Here’s the official site:
As you can tell from the above, Smash Bros and crossover fighting game fans sure are dedicated, and make some impressive fan projects…
Other Candidates for the List
The above games were just some of the many projects I could have listed here. But for various reasons, I decided not to list some of the following. Nothing particularly wrong with these projects, I just thought they were a bit too unpolished or showed too little evidence of progress to be worthy of inclusion.
The Legend of Zelda Parallel Worlds
Didn’t include it because I hear there are some questionable design choices, such as dungeons seem as slightly too hard to be fun and some unpolished sections. However, I do remember hearing someone was planning to redo much of this game to fix up that stuff, so maybe I’ll mention it in a future article.
Simply put, this game has aged really poorly. It’s still technically impressive, but a lot of the level design needs serious work and it’s nowhere near as impressive as it once was due to the recent Mario 3 disassembly thing…
However, a sequel is being worked on which uses the above disassembly and adds a ton more neat stuff, so that might be worthy of a future list. It’s just that the original isn’t as great as it once was and the sequel has had hardly anything shown of it so far, hence nothing to make a judgement based on.
Two things stopped me listing this one. First of all, I thought the ability to have MP3 quality music kind of outdoes most of the ASM in this game, since it’s outright ground breaking rather than merely a pretty cool extension of what can already be done in the engine itself. Not to mention, people have increasingly replicated all the stuff in Brutal Mario anyway, making it less impressive nowadays.
The other thing that stopped me is that the game design is pretty poor in general, the levels often feeling somewhat empty and like they’ve been thrown together in record time. Basically, it’s technically impressive, but most other projects listed appear to be much better designed games in general.
Super Mario and the Sacred Bells and Toad Strikes Back
I wanted to try and show a variety of fan games and hacks, so I had to choose just one or two good games from Mario Fan Games Galaxy. While these two are supposedly fantastic games, they just weren’t either as well polished as Psycho Waluigi or as ambitious as Mushroom Kingdom Fusion, so they lost out on a spot on the list.
The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time 2D
Nothing much was shown of any of these projects, and with some of the situations going around based on them I didn’t want to get involved in talking about these again. Basically, one got shut down by Nintendo lawyers, the other cancelled after the creator faked his own death. Neither had much progress to show for it.
There are quite a few that could be potentially listed, it’s just I have no experience in the fan scene or knowledge of what’s considered impressive for a Pokemon game or hack. Anyone who does know a lot about the series could probably clue me in on this.
So that’s my list of top fan projects, some of which rival the official games. What fan projects have you been impressed with over the years and why?