Super Mario 3D Land; A Good Game, but not Galaxy Caliber

Super Mario 3D Land is an unusual game. On the one hand, it’s technically a 3D game made by the same people behind Super Mario Galaxy, and hence has all of the tricks and game mechanics found in those titles, while on the other it’s about as close to classic 2D Mario as you can get, with one hundred percent of the levels revolving around platforming rather than cheap gimmicks. No, it has as little to do with Super Mario Land the Game Boy series as Wario Land 1 did.

As far as the core gameplay goes, this game is great. Ignore the morons complaining about ‘bad’ controls or what not, the controls work perfectly fine. Indeed, if you’ve ever played Super Mario 64 DS in any capacity, you should find the control scheme here about the same, and as much as some big media sites like to complain, it’s not a bad control scheme to use. So how does it work? Well, controls wise, much like Super Mario Galaxy with exactly two exceptions:

1. You have a run button which you must hold to make Mario dash.

2. Underwater controls work like the 2D games (press A/B to make you go up, let go to make Mario sink down). It’s a different experience, but it’s fairly easy to get used to and is arguably a tad more precise than the awkward swimming mechanics found in the Super Mario Galaxy titles.

The gameplay in general is much like Super Mario Galaxy 2, with fairly linear courses that you have to traverse towards a goal flag. It’s always fun, each level introduces a new mechanic of some kind, and none of these take away from the gameplay. For example, one level will introduce swimming mechanics, another a new kind of enemy or two and another platforms that change/flip when Mario jumps. I kind of like this, it’s how a 3D Mario game should be designed, with a bunch of interesting levels (take note New Super Mario Bros series) that don’t stray too far from the core platforming gameplay (see, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2’s pointless gimmicks).

Mario 3D Land 1

Above: All levels in the game all platforming based, hence there’s no infuriating gimmicks or mini games.

What’s more, I like how this game actually brings some classic Mario level archtypes and does them properly in 3D for once. For example, there are now actual ghost houses with puzzles, mazes and well, ghosts. These feel much more like the Super Mario World/New Super Mario Bros school of design rather than the 64/Sunshine/Galaxy one, and are much better for it. Similarly, actual castle levels are in this (see above screenshot), which is rather refreshing considering how they got rarer and rarer ever since the series went 3D.

The game also comes with a bunch of power ups you can achieve, and thankfully, they work well. For one thing, they’re not timed this time around (and you can carry them between levels, which is a huge relief), and they work pretty well. The Tanooki Suit is the main new addition, allowing Mario to whip enemies with his tail, float down slowly to cross large gaps and… oh wait, it doesn’t have flying abilities. Bit lacking in that sense, but it’s understandable regardless, just being able to ‘glide’ breaks about half the game’s levels and actual flight would probably let you reach the end in well under half a minute. There’s also a Boomerang Suit, letting Mario throw boomerangs at enemies, but it’s not quite as useful due to the one boomerang on screen limit. Does let you pick up star medals and collectibles though, which is good.

Boomerang Mario

Above: The Boomerang Flower/Suit is a nice power when you have it, but a bit limited and less useful in platforming heavy stages.

The best power up however is none of those, but the special Tanooki Suit you get in the bonus levels. Why? Statue Mario. Damn that’s the most useful power in the game, seeing as becoming a statue literally turns you into a stone wall. Anything that could normally harm you ignores you or does nothing (even the giant spike pillars in the later airships get stopped dead by this power!), and if any poor creature happens to be underneath you at the time, it gets smashed to pulp. Traps become scrap metal, Thwomps turned to gravel and even giant creatures like the eels die instantly. It’s a very useful power, and you should easily guess why the game never gives you it for the first eight worlds.

That’s the other new thing in this game, you now have far more than the boring eight world ‘standard’ Super Mario Bros 3 introduced. Instead, when you beat Bowser in the final castle for the first time, you unlock another eight worlds on top of that, with new power ups, a new boss (Dry Bowser), new levels and new enemies and obstacles (such as Cosmic Clones). It’s a very nice addition, seeing as so many recent Mario games just stick with the standard eight.

dry bowser

Above: Changing Bowser to Dry Bowser for the special worlds was a nice touch. Said worlds double the games length.

However, there’s a bit of a problem here. The secret levels, while good, are often just rehashed versions of the normal ones. Sometimes this is barely noticeable, or a significant portion has been edited (the elevator clock tower and the green platform levels are entirely new), but other times it’s literally just adding a timer or Cosmic Clones to an already short and easy level. Notable poor examples include the level with timed blocks (the same layout is reused twice, just with different enemies), and the underground levels. However, keep in mind this is a whole new eight worlds you’re getting, and well, that’s a lot better than the poor job Galaxy 2 did with the secret levels (just about ten, more than half of which are reused content from past games)

Technically, the game is decent. It won’t quite blow you away like the Super Mario Galaxy games did (the graphics are fairly standard for a Mario game, and there’s rarely cases of beautiful scenery or the like), but it’s just good all round. Music? Excellent as usual, and always fits the theme perfectly. Could possibly be a bit louder in some cases though, the castle themes seem a bit subdued for the kinds of levels you’re ignoring. If it was more like this:

Or this:

Either would fit perfectly in the castles where you’re chased by Cosmic Clones or on a constant twenty second timer, and the New Super Mario Bros one would do great in the final level if I say so myself. The current castle theme is great in itself, just would work better in the slower paced castles. Other level themes work fine in all instances, the airship music is still great, the haunted house music generally fits the mood of the levels it’s in and the main theme is as upbeat as it needs to be, and extremely catchy to boot.

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Wario Land 4; An Underappreciated yet Classic GBA Platformer

Note: Since this review was released, the game has now been added for purchase on the Wii U Virtual Console.  If you have a Wii U, we would hence really recommend that you buy this game, since it’s absolutely fantastic and deserves all the promotion it can get.

When it comes to game quality, the Wario series is a pretty mixed bag. On the one hand, you’ve got some of the best 2D platformers around in the form of the Wario Land series, and some also pretty fantastic party games in the form of the better WarioWare games. But then… there’s stuff like Wario Master of Disguise or Game & Wario, complete rubbish with the brand slapped on it to get a few bucks out of the unwary.

Thankfully though, Wario Land 4 falls on the better side of that divide. Indeed, you could even say it’s the last truly fantastic Wario platformer, given how it came right before Nintendo outsourced the series to whatever random third parties were willing to work on it. Never the less, here’s my review of this excellent game.

Graphics: 10/10

Graphically, Wario Land 4 looks pretty much fantastic. The backgrounds and tilesets are colourful and full of detail and character, the character and enemy sprites are well animated and feel more lively than those in other 2D platformers, and generally the game looks very nice indeed.

But do you know what makes the graphics here even better?

The fact the game never reuses them. You see, other platformers, tend to be big on palette swaps and reusing the same tileset over and over to save on work. Like how Donkey Kong Country 1’s bosses were each reused at least once with a different colour scheme, or how Super Mario World used a fairly small pool of objects over and over again… or even how a certain eShop game I can’t remember (I think Mighty Switch Force) used the exact same foreground for every single level in the game with merely a bit of recolouring to hide the blatant laziness.

CrescentMoonVillage

Above: Crescent Moon Village, a unique level in both style and level design

Wario Land 4 doesn’t do this. Instead, it makes sure that each and every level has a brand new set of graphics to make it look unique and memorable. And once the new graphics are introduced? That’s it, no other level in the game will ever reuse them (except the bonus room tileset). As a result, the game really does feel more interesting to play, since you don’t know what graphics to expect in any given level or what new ‘look’ will be introduced when you go through a door or pipe to another part of the same level. For instance, Pinball Zone has what, about six unique backgrounds in it?

mariowiki.com/images/9/97/WL4_PinballZone_Map.png

Above: Look at that map. Impressive gfx work for just one level…

This level of graphics detail and care is one reason I score the game so high, because the people making it put all their heart and soul in the title and as a result made something that you never get bored of. So as far as graphics go, Wario Land 4 gets a 9/10. It’s not ‘perfect’ (perhaps because it doesn’t have as unique a style as the likes of Yoshi’s Island or Donkey Kong Country), but it’s damn near close to it and for good reason.

Music: 10/10

Music wise, Wario Land 4 is fantastic.Seriously, I would say the music is arguably the best the GBA has ever been capable of.

Why is this?

Because the music is both catchy and unique. There are at least ten different music styles represented here, and each and every one of them is done nearly perfectly. The Wildflower Fields level has a great country style theme to it, the Crescent Moon Village level has a catchy yet haunting song that beats any ghost house music in any Mario game to date and the likes of the Toxic Landfill even has what sounds like an electric guitar based theme with a feel totally unlike anything you’d expect from a Nintendo game. Have a listen to some of these songs and tell me they’re not impressive for GBA music:

Above: Heavy metal/electric guitar music in a platformer works surprisingly well…

Above: Ridiculously relaxing

There’s something else that’s neat here too. Yes, this game has actual singing in it! You know, actually audible vocals on a GBA!

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Yoshi’s Island DS; A Kaizo Game Made Official

Not in a satanic or literal sense mind you, but more in a ‘this game is actively trying to sabotage your attempts at winning’ one. Yes, Yoshi’s Island DS is pretty much the nearest thing Nintendo have ever made to a kaizo style ROM hack, and seems to be designed by someone who thinks the best measure of game quality is how much it can predict its players behaviour and make their experience a living hell.

That said, it isn’t a bad game in itself, just an annoying one. The graphics are very well done and mostly match the style of the original (while still updating it to look good on modern systems). And while the music is often rather poor compared to the amazing soundtrack of the original title, it’s most bad in a bland and inoffensive rather than ‘ow my ears are burning in agonising pain’ way.

But it does start to falter a bit in the level and game design in general. For one thing, the difficulty curve is basically non existant. It starts out easy for a world or two, then hits about halfway through world 3 and ends up at roughly Yoshi’s Island 1 endgame level. And past world 5-1? God help any player who even attempts it.

You can see this best in how many insta kill elements get chucked in your face as you progress through the adventure. Whereas in the first game the levels generally went light on the ‘kill Yoshi in one hit’ traps and made somewhat logical looking levels that could still challenge the player, Yoshi’s Island DS just chucks them all over the place. Hell, some levels like Moltz the Very Goonie’s Castle:

Above: How many spikes did they shove in there?

And Bowser’s Castle itself feel like they’re made of nothing but spikes as a crutch to cover poor level design. That only gets worse in the secret and extra levels where any pretense of the game being legitimately fair go flying out the window.

Take A Light in the Dark for instance. Interesting secret level, but it’s just too long and too difficult to be even remotely fair. You’ve got a huge maze filled with darkness and spikes, then a blind skiing section with lots of precision jumps to make and then even more platforming before the level’s over. Let there be Light? You have to jump off a switch over a spike pit, something which requires literally frame specific precision. And when you see things like the lava trap in another secret level (of the ‘mess up and go back three rooms and try again) kind or the damn near impossible to predict with any accuracy egg platform in Yoshi’s Island Easter Eggs, you realise that the game was blatantly made by someone who didn’t really know what they were doing.

eggplatform

Above: I don’t think anyone even knows how to beat this room without dying at least once. Heck, I don’t think the likes of Professor Layton could figure out the ‘legit’ strategy…

Indeed, that whole room shown above is just so ‘random’ there’s no real way of even judging it. You fire eggs at the platform wheel, it moves. Fire quicker and it moves/accelerates quicker. Hit the wheels above the spike barriers and they move up. But the control scheme is so imprecise and the ways to mess up so easy that nearly every attempt ends in certain failure. Go too slow and you run out of eggs. Go too fast and the platform shoots straight past the barrier and leaves you stuck in an unwinnable situation. It’s not well thought out or designed at all.

And honestly, much of the game is kind of like that. You’ve got areas and bosses like the first few which are too easy to the point they probably weren’t tested well, you’ve got parts of levels where traps you can’t see or predict in advance get sprung on you at random and a general zero acceptance for minor mishaps (no items here, if you run out of points or eggs, you’re literally incapable of getting a good score or sometimes beating the level).

But despite what I said about poor level design, the game is still pretty fun. The platforming is fun, the basic game mechanics work about as well as they did in the original and there are brilliantly unique ideas in here (like the boss fought in freefall), it’s just that the game is just a little too frustrating for most people.

Above: Probably one of the most interesting bosses I’ve seen in a 2D platformer. Maybe Super Mario Galaxy 3 should use a similar concept except in 3D...

The extra modes are pretty good as well. Time Trial is neat to have, although the whole ‘get items to lower your time’ kind of kills the point of it all, the mini games are fairly decent if you like that kind of thing and the enemy museum is actually pretty cool if you want to see how the monsters act without getting hurt in the process.

And there’s one more important piece of advice for you. So listen up! Time keeps on ticking even as you are reading this message!
Above: The Time Trial messages are… funny too.

And while the transformations and things are fairly rare this time around, some of the new stuff involving them is pretty cool. A rocket that takes you up into the stratosphere and has you avoid planets on the way to the next part of the level? That’s pretty unique for a Yoshi game. As is the kangaroo riding and mine cart related gameplay.

All in all, Yoshi’s Island DS is a fairly decent game if you like difficulty and has some pretty fun concepts. It’s got some good boss battles and levels, some fairly nice music and some clever new ideas in general, so it’s definitely had some effort put into it. Just keep in mind that the difficulty does severely ramp up during the later stages and that it’s not a game for the faint hearted.

If you don’t like difficulty? Just seriously play something else, because this isn’t the game for you.

Note: This review was originally posted on Talk Nintendo before it’s closure, and the opinions of the author may have changed since that time.

The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds Review; A Worthy Return to the Zelda’s Franchise Golden Age

With the Legend of Zelda series finally getting a new game on 3DS after the console’s two years on the market, expectations were running high. A sequel to A Link to the Past in a familiar style? A proper overworld to explore with a ton of interesting content and connected locations? Difficult arcade based gameplay? That all sounded a tad ambitious back when the game was first shown. Heck, some people were even worried this title was going to hurt the legacy of the SNES classic with its association alone.

Thankfully though, everything has turne d out fine. And based on my recent full playthrough of The Legend of Zelda A Link Between Worlds, I can hence say that the game is one of the best, most well designed and thoroughly enjoyable titles in recent Nintendo history. Here’s my review of this modern day classic…

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Luigi’s Mansion 2 Review; A Title that Outshines Its Predecessor in Every Way

Luigi’s Mansion 2 is a brilliant game. Yeah, that’s pretty much the entire gist of the review and the one message you should care for right off the bat, so there’s no real question whether it’s a game you should buy in future.

But let me explain why it’s a great game in more detail via this review. Basically, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is better than the first game in every way. It’s better on a technical level, it’s better on a gameplay/design level, and it’s so much better on a replay value/difficulty level that the original can’t even begin to compare to it. Let’s start with the technical side and the graphics and music first…

Graphics

Graphically, Luigi’s Mansion 2 is one of the best games on the 3DS. Every mansion looks absolutely fantastic and is packed to the literal rafters with detail, the ghosts are all generally well designed and it looks so clear and non blurry that the game could quite easily stand on a home console with only minimal changes.

Luigi's Mansion Dark Moon Screen 1

 

Above: This is running on a handheld system. My god game graphics have come a long way since the Game Boy…

This is even more noticeable in the Secret Mine, where the snow effects and general feel are so outstanding in their quality that you end up forgetting that this is a game that’s running on a handheld games system. Seriously, if you still don’t think the graphics are amazing immediately, go and play through the last few mansions since they are some of the best examples ever of what the 3DS is capable of graphics tech wise.

P.S. There’s also quite a few neat background things. Like how you can see King Boo fly past you in the background in numerous missions…

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