Luigi’s Mansion; An Underrated Mario Classic

With Luigi’s Mansion Dark Moon being so popular and the possibility of a Luigi’s Mansion 3 always being around the corner, it’s best not to forget about the title where it all started.  Released for the Gamecube in about 2001, Luigi’s Mansion was a comedy survival horror game set in the Mario universe, where Luigi had to clear out his new mansion of all the ghosts and monsters that he found there.

So here’s a short review of said game, for all those people wanting to remember the original even after playing the fantastic sequel…

Graphically the game is amazing. Really, of all the games Nintendo was showing off to illustrate the technical power of the Gamecube, this was the one that made me think that I needed the console immediately. Every texture and object looks superb and full of detail to a level not even matched by the Super Mario Galaxy games in some cases, and the effects used for lighting and shadows are some of the best on the entire console.

The trailers for the game show off how great it looks even more so:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=32ktIWrdWio

When you compare it to the kind of graphics us Nintendo fans were used to on the Gamecube (like Big Boo’s Haunt from Super Mario 64), or even the graphics quality used in most Playstation games, it looked absolutely outstanding in comparison. It’s the most realistic haunted house in the entire Mario series that mansion and to some potentially even the best looking area period.

Music wise, some reviewers on IGN and Gamespot complain it’s not varied enough, but it’s still got an amazing soundtrack regardless.

What might surprise people though is how different the soundtrack is from the style used in any of the other Mario games or spinoffs. Whereas the mainstream Mario series uses somewhat upbeat, happy music for the ghost house areas (like in Super Mario Galaxy and 3D Land) or stereotypical ‘haunted house cartoon’ music (such as the soundtrack in Wario Land Shake It), Luigi’s Mansion’s music has a very much more ambient style to it. It doesn’t stand out as much as say Super Mario Bros 1’s overworld theme does but it doesn’t need too, the music enhances the atmosphere greatly and always keeps you on edge throughout. That dark rooms theme posted above for instance really does make you fear some kind of horrible ghost or monster is going to attack any minute now, and the outside theme is almost touching and solemn:

The graphics and music really do help with the eerie tone present throughout the adventure in a way that the somewhat boring music and graphics style used in many a normal Mario ghost house doesn’t. Compare it to this:

Or this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=shH-6N_W3w0

And you can see how different the atmosphere conveyed by the soundtrack in Luigi’s Mansion is even if it isn’t so varied.

Gameplay is good too, although arguably of comparatively lesser quality than the graphics or music. In fact, let me get one thing straight to anyone wanting to try Luigi’s Mansion:

It’s not a Mario game. It’s not a platformer and you cannot jump.

What you have instead is an action adventure game built around puzzles and parodying the survival horror genre. It’s very different from the likes of Super Mario Sunshine or Galaxy in that you can’t physically bypass puzzles via your acrobatic skills (partly because the mansion almost always has a ceiling) and Luigi cannot physically beat up the ghosts like Mario can in his adventures. Instead he comes armed with a modified vacuum cleaner called the Poltergust 3000 (another one of Professor E Gadd’s multitude of inventions) that’s used to suck up ghosts, shoot out fire/water/ice and generally navigate the mansion. This item is controlled pretty much the same as FLUDD’s default water squirting function in Mario Sunshine (aka by using the C Stick) and works perfectly.

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Super Mario 64; A Classic that Defined 3D Platforming

With how 3D platformers and games in general have improved in the past few years, it’s very easy to think Super Mario 64 has gotten a bit dated. Heck, after the likes of the Banjo Kazooie series and Super Mario 64’s very own sequels, the original must really seem a bit archaic to gamers who didn’t grow up with it.

But Super Mario 64 is still a classic. It may not have aged quite as well as the 2D games did (3D games tend to age poorly due to how 3D graphics work), but there is something amazing about this one game that no sequel or imitator has ever quite recaptured. And that’s what this review is going to discover or explain.

Graphically, Super Mario 64 is a bit dated. The levels and objects look blocky, Mario looks less like Mario and more like a Lego equivalent (there’s a reason Super Mario Sunshine was seen as such a massive leap forward technically) and some things just look primitive to say the least.

But there are still a lot of reasons to like this game’s style. For one thing, the amount of charm in the whole thing is immense, you can tell Nintendo has lovingly crafted each and every corner of every level to make it interesting and unique. The levels looked amazing back in the 90s and they still look pretty nice today, despite their somewhat blocky appearance. It’s hard to explain, but there’s just something so amazing when you first step out into Bob-omb Battlefield and see the whole level in front of you, a land filled with possibiities of all varieties.

Above: This is probably giving Nintendo 64 era kids a lot of nostalgic flashbacks about now…

Stylistically, there’s also a more ‘industrial’ look to Mario 64 as a game that stands out. It’s still very Mario inspired, but the levels often don’t tend to look overly cartoony like the ones in Mario 3D Land and other such games, they have an appearance which makes them feel almost like real places.

Sound wise, the game is very different from any game since. The music just feels more ambient, almost like background sound rather than the striking, stand out style used in Mario Galaxy 1 and 2. This means while the music is often not quite as memorable and will come across as a bit ‘plain’ when you’re merely listening to it on Youtube or other sites, it just fits the level so well. Just listening to the music from the water levels is so soothing, while the haunted house and cave music always has you on edge and the standard grass theme suits the feel of the levels its played in equally well. Just listen for a bit:

It’s also quite clever how Nintendo only used a very limited soundtrack, yet managed to make the music fit every level so perfectly. You never feel the music is inappropriate, despite the fact the EXACT same theme is used for a desert and a fiery hellscape:

Gameplay however is where it shines. Indeed, this was for its time the ‘sand box’ game of the moment. Go anywhere in any levels you unlocked, complete any missions in any order. Play around in levels for the fun of it. That’s so unfortunately lacking in recent Mario platformers.

It’s actually depressing to look back on the game now, since it’s almost an artifact of a forgotten time where 3D was used to make games fun rather than just send players from cut scene to cut scene. The times where developers would make the levels huge open style worlds where you could do whatever at any time. Some current games still sort of feature this, but I’d say the biggest mistake in gaming was when platformers stopped giving you choices and started being all about being ‘cinematic’ or like some movie.

fpsdesign

Above: Sadly not limited to First Person Shooters

Adding to the enjoyment of exploring the different worlds and being able to do anything are the power ups. Now, they’re timed rather than being permanent like in 3D Land or the classic 2D games, but all in all they do make the game much more fun. The Wing Cap lets you fly around at will for a while, the Metal Cap lets you be mostly invincible and walk underwater and the Vanish Cap lets you turn translucent and go right through wire fences and enemies. Oh, and the awesome Koopa Shell you can ride across lava, quicksand and water. That’s always been a fun addition that has sadly never returned since.

But really, there’s nothing more amazing than flying around Bob-omb Battlefield for the very first time, having the freedom to take to the skies at any time and to go wherever you wanted. It’s the type of freedom so sorely missing in Mario games since, what with Sunshine, 3D Land and Galaxy 2 lacking such powerful flight options and Galaxy 1 limiting the red star to the two most boring areas of the game.

Super Mario 64 introduced a lot of great gameplay innovations to the series too. Like the ability to go to any level you unlocked and take on any mission you felt like trying. The whole plot point of collecting stars to unlock levels and reach the final boss. Heck, it was basically the start of the 3D collectathon genre that Banjo Kazooie and others like it perfected, and it always has a place in my heart because of this.

This is also the Mario game where that structure works best. Don’t like a mission? Skip it and do something else. Much better than in Sunshine where you had to at least play the first SEVEN levels in each area, or Galaxy 1 and 2 where you near enough had to play most of the levels just to move on. Or Mario 3D Land where you near enough had to play every level, even the ones you found annoying as hell.

It does also help that the level design is amazing and that each area is filled with charm and bursting with secrets to find. Not just the six stars either, there’s also the inevitable 100 coin star, various passages to secret levels, 1-up Mushrooms hidden in numerous devious locations and random teleports with no explanation for their existance. Of all the games in the series, there are so many little random touches and secrets that you really get to feel like Nintendo’s staff had a lot of fun making the game. You feel like each of the levels is a unique world with its own atmosphere and numerous minor elements that just make it feel right.

Why do butterflies turn into bombs and chase you down when you punch them?

Why does Dire Dire Docks lead to the castle pond if you exit past the metal barrier which had Bowser’s face on it?

Why can you teleport between flowerbeds in Bob-omb Battlefield?

None of this stuff is in the manual. It’s like the game’s designers intended you to just mess around and see what you could find. And that’s something so many later games completely missed out on.

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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.