Pre-E3 Nerves

It’s that time of the year again! E3 2018 is just a couple days away, and the excitement around the gaming community is quickly escalating. Every year when I get out of bed on the day of Nintendo’s E3 press conference (Direct, as of late), I’m essentially a kid waking up on Christmas morning. The anticipation is high, and I can’t wait for the flurry of announcements that Nintendo has been holding from the public for months. The reason why I have what I refer to as “E3 Jitters”, is because Nintendo is known for taking their fans on an emotional roller coaster during E3. Whenever I expect to hear something, they announce something completely different and unexpected. I understand from a marketing and competitive standpoint that this puts them at an advantage, but it usually drives me and a lot of the fan base crazy. However, I would argue this spontaneity just adds to the anticipation. Nintendo really is like a box of chocolates. The games are usually sweet, but you NEVER know what you are going to get.

He’s a power guy, what can I say?

From Reggie officially being classified as overweight, to Cammie Dunaway awkwardly throwing virtual Frisbees at dogs, to Iwata announcing the vitality sensor, to Ravidrums and the entire Wii Music catastrophe, we’ve seen it all. Of course, they’ve had their high notes as well, such as when Miyamoto came on stage for the Twilight Princess announcement. From the lows to the highs, I can say it has always been a ride that I anticipate greatly, despite often leaving disappointed.  Nonetheless, E3 has provided some fantastic entertainment value, and Nintendo certainly isn’t the only company to have E3 blunders. Just look up Ubisoft’s Mr. Caffeine. He managed to singlehandedly make every single person in the audience uncomfortable just in a matter of seconds. That’s almost impressive.

Yes, it was as rough as it looks.

This year the usual suspects are of course Smash Bros. for the Switch and Metroid Prime 4. Though I’m excited for both of these games and this may put me in the minority, I hope there is minimal coverage on both. We haven’t seen any gameplay for either, so a pair of 5 minute gameplay videos would be just enough to get me excited, and then they can move on to the next announcement. When Nintendo bogs down their E3 showcase with announcements that gamers already know, to me, that is filler. Let’s just have a video or small demonstration of what we already know is coming and move on. Nintendo, among other competitors, have been known to spend way too much time talking about sales numbers, though this has been less of a problem lately.

Absolutely no disrespect toward the late Mr. Iwata, but this idea was just bad. Really bad.

Besides the obvious heavy hitters, I’m sure there will be at least some coverage on Pokémon Let’s Go!, Mario Tennis Aces, and Go Vacation for Switch. I wouldn’t mind some actual Super Mario Odyssey DLC (come on Isle Delfino), or possibly even expansions for Breath of the Wild, but these might be stretching it a bit. There may be some coverage on their new online service and downloadable games. I don’t mind Indie games either, as long as this section is short and sweet. Of course, as I mentioned above, Nintendo always rides the wave of the unexpected, so we’ll just have to wait with anticipation.

I do want to point out that Nintendo is not only selling to gamers, but investors. Companies selling to this odd mix can create some of the best, and most awkward moments in gaming history. Whatever be the case for 2018, I’m sure we’re in for a ride.  When I wake up on E3 morning, I’m going to be hoping for an Animal Crossing Switch or Pikmin 4 announcement under my theoretical E3 Tree. What are you most anticipating this year?

My body is ready.

The Apes of Summer

While the King of Kong scandal, centered on the alleged cheater Billy Mitchel, is heating up, Donkey Kong is yet again taking center stage in a port on the Nintendo Switch, and the timing couldn’t be better for Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. If you know anything about me, you probably know that I am an absolute sucker for playing games at certain times of the year and this one is a perfect game to pick up in the summer. It starts out in the tropics and the player progresses into the later levels that slowly transition into dark and wintry which feel oddly dystopian. Tropical Freeze happens to be one of my favorite Wii U games. While this statement may not seem that earth shattering (sorry, Wii U), Tropical Freeze puts on a master class of what a platformer should be. It’s a challenging game and when player gets comfortable with one thing, the game throws in something totally new and unexpected. It took everything that was right with Donkey Kong Country Returns and amped up the experience tenfold.

First off, the game is pure beauty. The tropical vistas have never looked better, and the water effects are top notch. For me, the thing that sets this game apart is the ambiance. This is something that is hard to get right, and many developers still haven’t figured it out. It’s amazing how Retro Studios captures the ominous feeling of a dark and scary storm approaching on a clear and beautiful day. This game has the player experience the environment through the use of genius shading, intricate detail of the environment, and what seems to be a real life simulation of weather changes and other natural disasters. Whether the player is swimming deep in the ocean while there is a thunderstorm looming overhead, running through a scorching wild fire, or even bracing through a tornado, there is never a dull moment. What sets this apart from recent Mario side scrollers is that nothing is blocky and linear, it all looks like natural environment and from a development perspective, there is no noticeable copy and pasting of environmental textures going on.

Of course, the ambiance wouldn’t be possible without the music. David Wise, who was the composer for the original DKC Trilogy, captures the same magical feeling through his sweeping and oddly calming scores. Playing through the game, the level that actually gave me goose bumps was Grassland Grooves in the Bright Savannah. This level starts slow and builds up to a grand climax of cheerful music and visuals. It’s not all pleasant though. Some of the music also matches the fear of a raging thunderstorm and it only adds to the intensity. If you don’t believe me that this game has intense music, go ahead and Youtube “Vikings Island Theme” and tell me that isn’t one of the most adrenaline inducing songs you have ever heard.

Like any game, however, it does have some flaws. My biggest gripe is that there isn’t really enough variety between characters. Cranky Kong’s “Duck Tales” pogo-cane technique is fun, but the game never really forced me to utilize it so I usually wound up using Dixie Kong for her twirl technique. I do want to note that it never really subtracted from the gameplay. The other issue with the Wii U version was load times. These were downright awful. Loading a level could take upwards of half a minute, and sometimes it felt even longer. Lastly, some people critique the challenge in this game. Personally, I have no issue with it, but I can see where it would be challenging for newcomers of the series. The Switch version seems to have a solution for every one of these issues. For one, Funky Kong is now a playable character and should take some of that difficulty edge off. I’m not sure how much I will use him, but it’s nonetheless a neat addition. I’m expecting load times to be better based on the new hardware, but that is to be determined.

So if you can’t tell by now, I’m pretty pumped to play this game again. It should be a huge success on the Switch and will give those that didn’t want to get near the Wii-U a crack at a game that was already near perfection. By nature, platformers are great “pick up and play” games, so it should adapt perfectly to the Switch. Up to this point, I haven’t used the Switch portable feature much, but I predict that should change upon release of this game. Though the price point may seem a little steep for a release of an older game, if you have never experienced the joy that is Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, do yourself a favor, pick it up, and go bananas. (Sorry!)

The Cuphead Influence

Cuphead was one of my favorite games released in 2017. Everything about it I adored. From the 1930 cartoon style visuals right out of the old Fleischer cartoons to the big band jazz ensembles to the cutthroat difficulty, this game has it all. Alas, it’s not on the Switch, or any Nintendo console for that matter, so you may be wondering why it’s appearing here. The reason is I believe that Cuphead would be an amazing fit on the Switch, and I hope it opens the door to other creative talent to hit the Switch in the future. Before you comment, “But Matt, Cuphead will never come to the Switch because Microsoft helped Studio MDHR fund the game”, I’m aware, so please don’t. The focus of this blog is to simply discuss why Cuphead would be a great fit for the Switch and what sets it apart from most other Indie titles.

It doesn’t take one long to figure out that there are a plethora of Indie titles on the Switch. Unfortunately, for me at least, it’s like wading through a dumpster trying to find jewels. I’m not saying that Indie developers should be discouraged from putting games up, nor dissing any one game in particular. But the majority of the games posted seem as though the developer put almost no thought or effort into the art direction, and some of these games even carry a $20 price tag. It baffles me that someone can put time and effort into something they obviously care about, but aren’t willing to go the extra mile to make it great. I know that indie developers have to deal with an extraordinarily reduced budget, and they don’t have a lot of time to work with. I really do get that, but there is no excuse for some of the games I have seen.

Every boss battle is fresh and meticulously crafted

What makes Cuphead stand out? Well, for one, the level of polish is evident. It looks and feels nearly perfect. Never have I thought that I would enjoy playing a 1930’s cartoon so much. Even though it’s old, it’s new. It’s a fresh concept and they took a risk that paid off. Whenever the debate arises whether or not videogames are art (this discussion warrants its own blog), it’s games like Cuphead that I think of.  Next, the difficulty. Yes, to this day, I have over 400 deaths. That is what it took for me to complete my expert run, and not once did I get upset. For every single one, I accounted for a mistake that I made. Once I corrected my mistake, I moved on until I made the next mistake, where I learned and moved on progressively until a boss or level was defeated.

So what is my point? Simply put, Quality > Quantity. I would rather have one game that takes 3 years to complete than 100 games that take 3 months to complete. I’m not saying that all developers need to remortgage their homes, or draw everything frame by frame like the Moldenhauers of Cuphead, but just a little more time on the presentation and polish go a long way. My hope is that Cuphead will encourage developers to try unique art styles and better yet, follow their dreams. Gamers want quality games where passion is oozing out of everything seen on screen. Unfortunately, Cuphead will likely never see the light of day on the Switch, even though it would be a phenomenal addition to a fairly lackluster Indie library. Nonetheless, hopefully game designers are inspired and this will translate into better quality games. Perhaps you agree, or alternately you’ve been eating up the Switch eShop and loving it. That’s fine too. Whatever the case, I think we can all agree that gamers will always appreciate the extra mile. Hopefully Cuphead and Mugman will pave the way for the future, without dealing with the devil.

Why am I Still Playing Breath of the Wild?

It has almost been a full year since Breath of the Wild was released. My intention is to not beat a dead horse by writing about my love for this game again, but rather discuss how it’s holding up just short of a year later. As sappy as it sounds, I still remember exactly how I felt when I first booted up the game and stepped foot on the Great Plateau. This was an entire world for me to explore, and the Great Plateau served as the training wheels to my stunning adventure ahead. There were no tutorials to get my feet wet. It was a matter of exploration, failure, and most importantly, education. You had to learn how to fight, when to run (a strategy much more relevant in this Zelda game than any other in my opinion), how to glide, how to cook, how to climb, and so much more. For the majority of these, I learned by failing, and that is the reason why I am still playing the game today. A year later, and I am still learning things.

Despite over a hundred hours, there is still so much to be discovered.

At this point in my adventure, I have about 140 hours of gameplay in. I have about 200 Korok seeds, completed all Shrines, both main and DLC, completed Trial of the Sword, and finished the game. One would think this would be close to the end of the road, but I still want to keep coming back. Of course I am finding Korok seeds all over to add to my count and zooming around on my Master Cycle Zero like it’s a guilty pleasure, but I’m also learning. Every time I play I discover a new location. I learn more recipes. I meet new people. Just recently I was roaming around at night and started hearing some ominous music playing. Music I haven’t heard in my previous 100+ hours in the game. I was baffled what it was until I finally ran into the culprit: Kilton the Monster Parts Merchant. It is absolutely astonishing to me that after everything in this game that I have accomplished, there is still so much to educate myself on and explore. After meeting Kilton, I have the pleasure of doing it with a sweet Lynel mask.

A year ago I wrote about Breath of the Wild being a special game. Present day, I can not only confirm that, but add to it. Breath of the Wild has to be in the top five games I have ever had the pleasure of playing, if not the top spot. I never thought that Wind Waker would ever be dethroned, but this might do it. I can’t say for sure because I still have so much to explore in Breath of the Wild, and I’m just not satisfied putting it down. A year later and I feel as I haven’t mastered the game. There is still so much to learn. My hope is that Nintendo keeps releasing DLC, but that’s hard to predict at this point. Whether or not this is the case, I know I will be riding around on my Master Cycle Zero rocking a Lynel mask for hours to come.

How Many is too Many? WARNING! Super Mario Odyssey Endgame SPOILERS

Most platformer games usually have one common goal in place: collecting. Whether it be jinjos, jiggies, stars, or moons, these games are usually referred to as “collectathons”. In order to bulk up the experience, or add more to the game, is it safe to simply add more things to collect? How do developers keep the experience fresh? If you missed the spoiler warning for Super Mario Odyssey in the title and don’t want anything to be spoiled, now is the time to stop reading.

There are 999 moons to collect in Super Mario Odyssey (not counting all the additional moons that you can buy, but those don’t count toward the maxed out 999 moons that can power your Odyssey). It’s true that every moon is a little different, but when you boil it down, there are some recurring ways to get most of the moons, with little uniqueness. Some moons are collected by ground-pounding a certain area, dressing up in a specific costume, walking in a perfect circle, stacking Goombas, finding paintings, racing, etc. Despite this repetition, and the vast number of moons spread across the world, I never got sick of the experience. In my 45 hours spent, I collected everything I could, and the experience never felt stale or like I was crawling my way through.

For me, this game ended at the perfect time. Anything more, and the experience likely would have started to decline. Nintendo found the sweet spot, and I think that is largely in part due to the differences in the levels. No two areas were similar in any way, and I appreciate that Nintendo didn’t play it safe with their usual grass, desert, snow/ice, mountain, and lava worlds. Starting out in the Cap Kingdom is so different than anywhere that Mario started his adventure in the past, and the sense of adventure really sparked as soon as I entered the Cascade Kingdom for the first time. The Dia de los Muertos tie-in to the Sand Kingdom was also a nice touch. The Metro Kingdom is something that I was skeptical about, as it gave me vibes of Sonic ’06, but it was done so well. Sometimes I still just go back and run around that giant playground. Even Bowser’s Kingdom looks like it never has, with a Japanese Dojo style theme. Simply wanting to experience every meticulously crafted level is what kept me going to the pursuit of 999 moons. The reason this didn’t feel like a collectathon to me is that I wasn’t motivated by the desire to collect more moons, but rather exploring and being immersed in the environment.

A game shouldn’t be driven by collecting, but exploring.

I realized that these games don’t get their longevity from the number of things to collect, but from the quality of their worlds. In Odyssey, Nintendo found the perfect balance. After I inserted that 999th moon into the Odyssey and saw the cap resting on Peach’s castle, I felt a great sense of accomplishment, and at that time, I was ready to be done. Not done exploring and playing around in the worlds, but done collecting moons. To answer my initial question: is 999 moons too many? In this game, no. In any other game, it probably would be. It all depends on the quality and creativity of the world. Not to mention that throughout my entire 45 hour completion play through, I had a pretty dumb smile on my face (except during a few moons – looking at you, Dark Side).

Nice photobomb, Captain Toad.

I just want to conclude with a more personal note: thank you as always for your time to read these blogs. I know your time is valuable, and when I write these blogs I try to approach with a fresh or new perspective, as there is already so much circulating the internet about games. So thank you, and I wish you safe and happy Holidays. Hopefully it’s not only spent with Mario on his incredible odyssey, but with family.

2017: One of the Best Gaming Years in History?

Fall is already upon us. Leaves are changing, the air is becoming cool and crisp, and good games are seemingly being released left and right. Alas, this blog is not about the season, but about 2017 as a whole. Yes, we have a few more months before it wraps up, but in less than a week, Nintendo’s juggernaut, Super Mario Odyssey will finally be released. I for one cannot wait to sink my teeth into this game. Having already received a perfect score, I think we are in for a fun ride. That being said, I want to focus on what has already been released, and why I think 2017 has been one of the most glorious years for gaming in recent history.

Nintendo is a company that fans expect a lot of. They always seem to set the bar of quality game design higher and higher. Take Breath of the Wild for instance. This game takes the best aspects of the franchise and capitalizes on what makes it great. I felt no greater sense of adventure since I was a young kid playing Super Mario 64 or Ocarina of Time for the first time. This is undoubtedly special, and why so far Breath of the Wild is currently* game of the year for me.

*subject to change

A franchise that was essentially brought back from the dead this year is Metroid. Samus Returns does everything that I was hoping it would. Appealing visuals and tight controls, along with the new melee addition, make for a really addictive journey. I would love to see the developer have free reigns and make a brand-new Metroid game.

This year in particular, smaller, more tightly knit developers are also getting more attention. Sonic Mania is living proof that sometimes, fans know exactly what is best for a franchise. The game was made by only a handful of inspired and passionate people, and look what resulted. The same can be said for the recently released Cuphead. Though not on a Nintendo platform, I couldn’t pass this one up. The 1930’s art style is one that I have never seen before in a game, and pushing through the brutally hard difficulty is so worth it only to experience more. My point is, gamers are starting to appreciate the hand crafted, quality approach, and developers are responding.

A Game of Year Contender for sure. Competition is fierce this year.

The release of the Switch was also monumental, and completely necessary, to erase painful memories of the Wii U era. I love that Nintendo doesn’t feel the need to compete with competitors by powerful processing or graphics, but with intuitive design. A portable home system is something that will pave the way for years to come. When Nintendo becomes irreverent in the industry, Nintendo is at its strongest. We were also fortunate enough to get the SNES classic, so I can replay some of my favorite games of all time the way they were meant to be played.

Perhaps I consider 2017 so impressive because it made franchises relevant again. It made Nintendo relevant again. No, we didn’t get a new Animal Crossing game or a Pikmin game (at least not the type I’d want to see), but we did get a plethora of games that were not afraid to redefine themselves. When I look back on the year and reflect, I see a year of revitalization. A year of redefining what gamers actually want: quality.

Sonic is Back!

Let me begin with a disclaimer: I am a total Sonic the Hedgehog amateur and have very little experience with the games. I grew up with NES and SNES, while my neighbor across the street had Genesis consoles. This allowed us to get the best of both worlds without actually having to own both consoles. I was always a “Mario guy”, but when we wanted to get our Sonic fix, we would go to my neighbor’s house and play it there. That’s about the extent of my history with Sonic – I recall the first game, Sonic 2, and Sonic and Knuckles, but only vaguely. I have no history with the 3D games after I rented one as a kid and instantly felt ripped off. It’s a franchise I have always wanted to get into, but I just never felt the timing was right. Well, until now (I know, I jumped on the bandwagon).

Sonic Mania was everything I was hoping a new Sonic game would be. The developers (a small group of Sonic Fans), did an absolutely wonderful job of making the game appeal to series vets and newcomers alike.

You can tell this game was made with care by people with a passion for the blue hedgehog.

From the intro cinematic to the easter eggs, this game is bursting with fan appeal. With my lack of experience, I know I missed a handful of references, but the level design in this game is what kept it so fresh for me. If you aren’t aware, the level mix has old and new levels. The developers did such a nice job that half the time I couldn’t even tell if a level was new or a classic. Beyond that, it’s fast-paced, but not too fast. It’s tricky, but not too difficult. Everything about this game feels just right. The levels never grow tedious, and all of your skills are tested in the final level for a grand finale.

It’s apparent that everything in the game was handcrafted with care.

Even though it has been over a decade since I touched a Sonic game, after playing Mania for only a few hours, I felt like a veteran. Playing the game is so empowering, and it just makes you want to keep playing. At first, I was tremendously terrible at the ball collecting bonus stages and the race mode, but after a while, I found myself looking forward to these variations. Something about unlocking all of the bonus content and collecting those Chaos Emeralds just feels so good. Considering the many hours I put into this game, the $20 price point makes it a great value. Not to mention some of the music is among the best I’ve heard in recent years.

This game is filled with action-packed fun.

It will be interesting later this year when Sonic Forces releases as it will give Sega insight as to what the fans actually want. Will the developers be eager to create more classic sidescrollers, or will they continue to ride the rails and release 3D games? I believe the success of Sonic Forces will answer that question. One thing I do know is that Mania set a pretty high bar. Who knew that all Sonic needed to be revitalized in the eyes of gamers was a little fan service and a lot of passion. Regardless of the outcome, one thing is for certain; Sonic has a new fan.

DLC – Is it Actually Doing the Industry a Favor?

I finally got around to playing Breath of the Wild’s First DLC pack and I had a lot of fun with it. When I finished it though, I started thinking whether or not DLC is really essential to enhance the experience of the game, or is it something that company’s feel obligated to do now, because it may look bad if they don’t. Obviously, there are different types of DLC out there, including but not limited to: enhancements (BoTW DLC Pack 1), additional story elements (BoTW DLC Pack 2), new modes, etc. I get that the advantage of DLC is that companies can release their games without further delay if they want to make an addition to the game but it is too late to fit it in the release schedule, and DLC can make a game last longer. But is that also opening the door for companies to release “unfinished” games? Nintendo themselves have even expressed disinterest in DLC in the past, saying that they want the consumer to have the full experience up front, but the tide has apparently turned.

A while back, I recall a company releasing DLC that was actually already loaded on to the original disc. Long story short, this created a huge controversy, and ever since, DLC has had sort of a negative tone to it, for me at least. The fact that you could buy the disc and not truly own all of its content seemed, well, cheap. I know that this is a rare case, but I consider it a turning point for this type of additional content. Just the idea of adding something after the fact makes me question the motive and ethics in general.

But from a positive viewpoint, DLC can drastically increase the life of a game if done right. I’m hoping the second DLC pack for Breath of the Wild, The Champion’s Ballad, will add a lot more to the game and justify the $20 price I paid for both DLC packs. Considering $20 is 1/3 of the price of the entire game, I’m expecting a lot of content. I do think it’s smart for Nintendo to “sell” the DLC a little more by releasing amiibo with it, hence the four Champion amiibo, which do look amazing. In my opinion, the more DLC can stand alone, the better it is. Yes, add-ons and enhancements are nice, but I think it’s tougher to pay for those compared with actual, fresh content. I do want to disclaim that this is in no way a review of The Master Trials DLC.

Mario Kart 8 is another game that comes to mind. I loved the bonus tracks included in the DLC, but I still can’t help but think they should have been included in the actual game. My fear, and point of this blog is that DLC in general, if not done right, can only decrease the value of the consumer dollar. Nintendo has surely jumped on the DLC bandwagon, and I think they are still in the experimentation phase. It seems like when it comes to releasing content after the fact, more developers have been getting away with charging more for less. At least that’s how things seem to be trending. The Master Trials was a fun motivator for me to get back in the game, but I really felt like it should have been included in the first place. Hopefully, the Champion’s Ballad proves to be a breath of fresh air (that pun was intended).

The Champion’s Ballad is scheduled to release this Holiday Season

It seems like the DLC trend Nintendo has been riding is here to stay. It will be interesting to see how it evolves.

My Favorite 3D Mario Title

With Super Mario Odyssey looming in the horizon, I thought it would be appropriate to write about my favorite 3D Mario Game. Yes, it’s Super Mario Sunshine, and probably the 3D Mario game with the most divided opinions. The game is by no means perfect (looking at you, Pachinko Machine), but I’m going to outline some key points that for me, make this game better than Super Mario 64, Super Mario Galaxy 1 and 2, and the most recent “3D” installments that I have a tough time even grouping into this category. Let us begin.

The Locale

I’ll get this one out of the way first. I’m an absolute sucker for the tropics. Maybe it’s something about the water lapping up against the shore or the gorgeous sunsets, but I just find myself being really relaxed whenever I play this game. It’s as if you aren’t only playing a stellar Mario game, but having a day at the beach. All of the levels are artfully designed, and even though they are all based around the tropical theme, they each have their unique personality. Whether you’re in the peaceful country life of Bianco Hills, the island theme park known as Pinna Park, or enjoying a world class sunset at Sirena Beach (my favorite), you feel like you are on a vacation. I also really enjoy the fact that you can see different levels in the distance within each area. It’s a simple addition, but a nice touch nonetheless since the world seems connected.

The last thing I’ll mention in this category are the local inhabitants. It’s not your traditional toads, koopas, and goombas. Here, we have Piantas, Nokis, and a whole new variety of enemies. It’s different and refreshing. Nintendo crafted a world here that really does feel genuine. The further you get in a level, the more involved you become in its story, and it’s really nice to feel involved in an environment, rather than just running around for the sake of collecting things.

There are so many good things happening here…

The Gameplay

I have a really tough time describing this one because I’m not sure how to define what makes it better. To me, it’s just more fun to control Mario in this game. It could in part be to the addition of the FLUDD and that you have more moves in your arsenal, but somewhere in the development of Galaxy 1, they tweaked it, and it hasn’t felt as good since then. It seems like Mario controlled tighter and was more responsive in Sunshine. Not to say that later Mario games don’t control well, but I don’t feel like I have the same level of precision control over Mario. I have a feeling that Odyssey will conform to the more recent “loose” style, but we’ll have to wait and see.

The Challenge

This game is hard. This is the aspect of the game that I believe deters some gamers from liking Sunshine. This title does house some of the toughest levels in the entire Mario Franchise, even going back to the original. I’ve beaten it countless times, and each playthrough there are a number of levels that still give me pause (even a Game Over screen or two – something which I never really see in newer Mario titles). On top of some challenging levels, each world features a number of platforming stages where shadow Mario removes your FLUDD. In these levels, the only thing separating you from the Shine Sprite is a gauntlet of platforms. It’s deceivingly simple, and there are some stages that are absolutely brutal, especially later in the game. Not to mention the classic Mario music is playing here, which for some reason makes it even more intense for me.

The last thing in this category I want to include are the blue coins. I’m a completionist, and I must collect every blue coin. The game doesn’t do a fantastic job of tracking these for you, other than giving you a count for each level. I do sometimes get annoyed when I’m missing the last few and I admittedly have to go online to hunt them down. No shame if you do the same.

So here is where the divide occurs. The above points may seem like negatives that take away from the overall experience, and for some, they are. But personally, they enhance my experience by doing something that Mario games rarely do today, and that is make me want to beat it. When I see that Game Over screen, the adrenaline kicks in and I focus. This makes victory that much sweeter. I have to be fair and say that later Mario games do bring in this level of difficulty, but usually at the very end of the game, after you collect everything else. I had fun in the Champion’s Road and Grandmaster Galaxy’s “The Perfect Run”. I can certainly see why Nintendo would put the ultimate challenge of the game at the very end, but it would be nice to have this flavor be added  more throughout the game, albeit as optional.

Plan your next move carefully…

The Graphics and Music

 I grouped these categories together because they complement each other so nicely. The music does a fantastic job of speeding up or slowing down depending on what you are doing, and it always sticks to the tropical theme. For an early GameCube title, the graphics are incredible. These visuals have aged really well, and I always look forward to replaying the game just to see the eye candy that it still offers to this day. I still hope that Nintendo makes an HD remake, because that would be… well… tear inducing.


So that is my defense of Super Mario Sunshine. If you want to play a really fun Summer game and need a break from inking squids, pick up Sunshine and do yourself a favor. It’s such an incredible and unique entry in the series that this blog can’t do it justice. If you disagree (which I anticipate as somewhat likely), please let me know, and why. What is your favorite 3D Mario game?

Here’s hoping in just a few months we’ll all have a new favorite!

Breath of the Wild Nostalgia

The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild is a special game. Is it perfect? Not quite. But in my humble opinion, it’s pretty close. Throughout the 100+ hours I have dedicated to Breath of the Wild, I slowly felt more empowered, more confident, and more ambitious. Finally feeling strong enough to storm the castle gate pumped up the adrenaline inside of me. Not to mention, most of the game I felt as though I was running and gliding through a Bob Ross painting. However, rather than writing a full review on this game, I thought I’d highlight something that just stood out to me. That is, all of the intricate references to past Zelda games.

Beauty is Everywhere

Wherever, you look, whether you know it or not, you are probably seeing an homage to a past Zelda game. Every other landmark is named after a past character or location, although a letter might be missing or displaced in the name. I felt an unusual sense of happiness when I discovered Tingle Island, even though Tingle was nowhere to be found. I find it crazy that just a name can invoke such a feeling of nostalgia even if the landmark itself does not. There are also specific regions in the map that primarily focus on one game. I found a Phantom Hourglass Area, Twilight Princess themed area, even a Wand of Gamelon area.
Kidding on that last one.

There were many times when I encountered a landmark that tugged on the nostalgia strings. For instance, I was riding on my horse, Lacey (named after my real-life cat), and while I heard the subtle melody of the main Legend of Zelda theme, I stumbled upon Ranch Ruins. I couldn’t believe the condition of this place, and then it hit me that it was a dystopian Lon Lon Ranch. After I disposed of the Guardian that called it home, I took Lacey for a spin around the track and actually started getting emotional as I recalled memories of playing Ocarina of Time and pictured Malon Singing Epona’s Song in the center of the ranch. Another time this hit me was when I discovered Eventide Island (by far my favorite area in the game) and felt as helpless as getting washed ashore in Link’s Awakening. Yet another favorite of mine was discovering the Master Sword. This took me back to a Link to the Past thanks to three blue nightshades in the background.

This game doesn’t forget about its roots, either. It was really nice to see the old man at the very beginning of the game, the only difference being instead of going into the cave to visit him, you go out of the cave. Maybe there is a deep meaning behind that? I’m not entirely sure, but when Link does leave the cave for the first time and overlooks the Dueling Peaks, I was instantly reminded of the artwork from the original game. The Master Sword shooting projectiles when Link has full health is also a nice touch.

Though these references may be a nightmare for people who are keen on placing this game somewhere in the franchise timeline, I view it as essentially a conglomerate of pinnacle moments in the series. For me, this aspect of the game is delicious icing on an already incredibly built cake. This is a special game not only because of its top-notch design, but because it doesn’t forget about how it came to be in the first place.

The Nintendo Strategy – Does it Work?

Every single year I find myself wondering, speculating, and analyzing what Nintendo is going to release next. I’m about 0 for 300 in predictions. Two Button Crew recently posted something on Facebook that made me laugh, but also made me wonder why Nintendo operates the way they do. What I mean by that is they never do what anyone is expecting. They are probably the most unpredictable company I have ever known. Yet, they are probably the company I have given the most money to. What is the driving force (from a business perspective) behind Nintendo’s decisions and how they market them?



The biggest thing I can think of is innovation. To be innovative, a company has to be different. Nintendo cannot reform the gaming industry by following the same old formula. Unfortunately, this also means that some fans are going to be let down because Nintendo tends to take what they love and either leave it in the dust, or change it just enough so it doesn’t feel old. An example of this for me is Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door. I loved that game. I would love nothing more than a true sequel. Since that game came out, we’ve gotten Super Paper Mario, Paper Mario: Sticker Star, and Paper Mario: Color Splash. Each subsequent game I just mentioned gets closer and closer to the formula that makes The Thousand Year Door, but none of those games kept my interest because of changes made by developers to keep the games “fresh”. Not all changes are bad though (I’m looking at you, Breath of the Wild). When Nintendo takes change and gets it right, that is when nothing else in the industry can come close. And it’s not just about software, the same applies to hardware. The Wii essentially revolutionized gaming, and the Switch so far is a success story as well. Nintendo is basically the cleanup hitter in the lineup. They hit more home runs than anyone, and they can hit them farther. Unfortunately, that also means they are likely going to strike out more than anyone.

The other thing that Nintendo doesn’t really seem to care about is competition. They are 100% independent when it comes to the decisions their competitors make. This is a very ambitious move, but not one that comes without risk. A company as large and with as big of a fan base as Nintendo can get away with this. They don’t have to keep making the same old games and systems because they don’t care about disrupting the status quo in the industry. People expect a new Gears of War game that does not stray far from the formula, because that is what Microsoft is good at making (I’m not saying it’s a bad series). There is very little risk for Microsoft here, because they can look at past sales, and without straying from the formula within the game, they can predict and model how profitable the game will be. My intent is not to start a console war, but in my opinion, no other competitor innovates like Nintendo. This is simply because other companies do not want to partake in the risk Nintendo takes on when they test the waters of the market.



I’ll always love Nintendo, and there are times when I’ll hate them. It’s just the way Nintendo works, and it will not change anytime soon because it’s how they operate. Innovation is what all companies should strive for, but Nintendo takes it to a whole different level.  It’s a business model that would drive most companies into bankruptcy sooner than you can say “Mario Kart”. Innovation is something that does come with a cost, but one thing I can be confident in is that Nintendo will be innovating the industry and making my favorite games and consoles for years to come.

Switch Opening Weekend Experience

Needless to say, the weekend the Nintendo Switch debuted, I didn’t get much done. After the setup of the surprisingly small console, I immediately started playing Breath of the Wild. In my opinion, the introduction is the best in the series. I was instantly hooked and ended up playing until around 2 A.M. I have an embarrassing number of hours logged into the game already, and I only have about 1/3 of the map uncovered, and only one dungeon complete. Though I have a ways to go, I can already tell this game is special. A game like this doesn’t come around often, so I plan to cherish it. I could go on and on about my feelings so far for Breath of the Wild, but alas, this is about the Switch.


Looking out into the horizon for the first time is a magical experience


The next day wasn’t very different, with the exception that friends were planning on coming over to try out the system. Of course, I played Zelda all day leading up to that. When people started arriving, it was time to try 1-2-Switch. Let me say that this is probably the most fun I’ve had with a multiplayer game in a long time. The concept is a little strange at first, especially since it encourages you to look your opponent in the eyes (something us introverts can struggle with). This creates a somewhat awkward (yet hilarious) interaction. As we went through the games we realized we were not only having fun with the game, but having fun with one another. It’s clear this is what Nintendo was going for, and once you ease in and feel more comfortable with how the games work, it’s truly a blast.


This game is not only fun, but a great showcase of the Switch technology


After 1-2-Switch, we transitioned over to Snipperclips. Another multiplayer game where two players work cooperatively to solve different puzzles and accomplish different tasks. It’s a lot of fun. I also downloaded Shovel Knight: Treasure Trove, and haven’t even gotten to it because I’ve been so enveloped in the other games.

This console has some magic that the Wii U just didn’t have. I truly believe this is what Nintendo needed in terms of their position in the industry. That is, to not worry about competition, but rely on the best development in the industry and innovation. I’m also looking forward to Mario Kart 8 Deluxe and Splatoon 2 releasing in the coming months.  Yes, I may be caught up in the whirlwind of hype and still in the “honeymoon phase” with Zelda, but my hope is fulfilled back in Nintendo. Now excuse me, I need to go play Zelda; it hurts to not be playing it.

Wii U Tribute – Top 5 Games

It seemed like it was just yesterday; that snowy November day back in 2012. The day I picked up my Wii U, brought it home, opened it, and hooked it up with anticipation and excitement. The Wii brought my family countless hours of joy, so I was expecting this system to get the same type of love. I started with Nintendo Land and then downloaded Little Inferno. Little did I know, Little Inferno would be a fairly accurate representation of what the Wii U would produce. That is; a cold, empty fireplace with short but powerful bursts of fire.  Just beyond 4 years later, and while I write this, I hate to say the system was overall a disappointment for me. That being said, some of my favorite games of all time were released on this system, albeit they were few and far between. Here is my top 5 favorite game list for the Wii U:

Honorable Mentions: Splatoon; Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker; The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker HD; Super Mario Maker


  1. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse


The number 5 spot was a pretty even tie between Kirby and the honorable mentions. Any game could have gotten it. The reason I chose Kirby was because I fell in love with the clay style visuals and controls the second I started playing. Not to mention, this game really took advantage of the unique gamepad the Wii U had to offer. Not too many games took advantage of it, which is a shame.


  1. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze


The Donkey Kong Country series is one of my all-time favorites, and I like this entry just as much as any of the games in the original trilogy for the Super Nintendo. The visuals are astonishing, and the soundtrack is beautifully composed by original Donkey Kong Country Composer David Wise. These two things come together to make an extremely atmospheric adventure that I still go back to on occasion.


  1. Super Smash Bros. Wii U


Well, it’s Super Smash Bros. I have spent countless hours playing this game with friends, and it has brought me plenty of fun times and memories. The control scheme was tweaked and tightened from the Wii version, and this, in my opinion, makes it easier to pick up and play.


  1. Mario Kart 8


Mario Kart 8 takes everything that makes the series great and amplifies it with great tracks, an assortment of new characters, a brand new physics mechanic, and DLC. My only gripe with this one is the lack of battle tracks, but it looks like the Switch is going to pick up the slack in that department with a set of battle maps, old and new alike with Mario Kart 8 Deluxe.


  1. Pikmin 3


My all-time favorite game for the Wii U. As I was playing this game, I felt as though I was a part of the world. It may not be the longest game out there, but as a self-proclaimed completionist, I found myself constantly coming back for more. Even the bingo battle multiplayer is a blast, and there are a number of ways to win, which only adds to the strategy. If you own a Wii U and have not played this game, please do yourself a favor.


Well, those are my favorites of the Wii U. I would love to hear what yours are. In the meantime, let’s raise a glass to the Wii U. Cheers.

Now bring on the Switch!

Run, Mario, Run!

It’s no surprise that one of Nintendo’s main Holiday 2016 experiences has to do with Mario doing what he does best: running. Except this time, he is not being controlled by a controller, but the touch of a finger. Mario games have never been very complex in terms of gameplay, and that is likely why Nintendo made their most iconic figure transfer over to iOS devices (Android sometime next year). Mario running and jumping is a Nintendo staple, and even people who could not be more disconnected from video games surely are at least familiar with the physics behind the game. That is why I think it was brilliant for Nintendo to do this. The price point for the full game will turn some of the crowd away, but I predict this is going to be a massive success for Nintendo, and long term, they will be a big contributor to mobile gaming.

So, what’s next? I feel that some franchises will migrate over to mobile better than others. I have a tough time picturing a mobile Zelda game that brings the expansiveness and feeling of adventure that we are all used to with a console. I could possibly see Nintendo bringing it back to the classic style (per Link Between Worlds), but the mobile limitations alone would most likely water down what could be an otherwise rich experience.

Another direction Nintendo could take this would be to remake classic games (Ice Climbers, Balloon Fight, Excitebike, etc.) on mobile devices, since these games tend to have a simpler play style. With the recent release of the NES Classic Edition, these games are on the forefront of Nintendo’s radar, so maybe it’s a possibility that one day they will hit the mobile market. Of course, this is purely speculation, and Nintendo has proven time and time again that speculation usually amounts to no more.

Whatever the case, it will be interesting to see exactly where Nintendo goes with this, because right now, the market is still being tested. Are mobile devices better suited for $1.99 puzzle games, or $9.99 games that have had much more development invested in them. The money will talk, and Nintendo will surely respond. This season, however, the more Mario runs, the happier Nintendo will be. Who knows, he may even pave the way for other franchises.

Classics Never Age

With the release of the NES Classic Edition just a couple days ago, I can’t help but reflect on what makes classic Nintendo games so special. Since those 8-bit days years back, technology has advanced an exponential amount, but yet, we keep going back to the hits of yesteryear. Why is this? In the present day and age of 4K television sets, Nintendo is releasing a system with games over 30 years old. This seems very ironic, and at the same time, it just seems right. For those who don’t know, the NES Classic will include 30 classic NES games, all in HD. It could, of course, be a Holiday filler for Nintendo in what otherwise may be considered a drought, but nonetheless, it’s something I am personally pumped about!

I have to admit that I own 95% of these games already, most of them through virtual console and the ambassador program. That being said, I am still getting an NES Classic. Maybe it’s the fact that all of the games are in an incredible looking shrunken NES, or because you can experience them with a replica NES controller, or maybe because I am way too quick to throw my money at Nintendo. Regardless, this is such a great way to appeal to seasoned gamers who can never get enough, and new gamers wanting to experience these games for the very first time.

These titles never really seem to age, and when I say “age,” I mean go out of style. Once in a while I go back to a Nintendo 64 game and the frame rate is just so bad that I have to stop. But NES games (most of them) don’t seem to bother my eyes as much. On top of that, the 8-bit style seems to be trending; that is, it’s cool again. I feel like the classic style is viewed as an art form today. Not only the graphics, but the music as well. Whenever I play a really old game, I always admire all of the limitations that the developers were up against, yet they still managed to provide a fun experience. Some developers are still taking advantage of this. Yacht Club Games recently developed Shovel Knight. I can’t even begin to describe how much I enjoyed my experience with that game. Despite all of the advances in game development techniques and top notch engines, they made Shovel Knight with a very classic feel, sound, and challenge. It sold well – REALLY well. This just supports the argument that graphics are not everything, and in fact, I view them as secondary (but that is a rant for another time).

Not only do these games capture an art style that never gets old, they provide a level of challenge that almost goes unmatched today. I can’t even count the number of times that I spent 40 minutes trying to get through a stage in Kid Icarus and collecting as many hearts as possible to power up, while missing the final jump in a level by a pixel and falling to my death (I’m finished!). The games can be relentless, they can be mean, they can make fun of you, and they can even be unfair. But I feel like this only adds to their personalities. I will never forget the feelings of accomplishment that I achieved when I first defeated Medusa, Mother Brain, and Ganon for the very first time. You have to WORK for it. If you are having a tough time beating a level, there will not be a character pop up to offer help. You have to get better, or there will not be any progression. I understand that Nintendo has to appeal to a much broader crowd now days, and I have absolutely no problem with the helping systems they put in place, but sometimes it’s nice to play a game that respects one’s level of skill.

Nintendo knows that they are sitting on a gold mine of classic games. In my opinion, the NES Classic Edition is a fantastic idea, despite the fact that most of these games have been released countless times in the past. It’s something that old and new gamers alike can enjoy. These games are like wine and cheese. They only get better with age.