Category Archives: Fun

My Top 5 Wii U Games

The Wii U ended up being a surprisingly forward thinking platform for Nintendo.  Although its central conceit of introducing second screen gameplay hasn’t gone very far, it managed to introduce a few exciting new series to Nintendo’s stable that pushed what we all thought the company was capable of.  Games like Splatoon and Mario Maker marked incredibly successful forays into online multiplayer functionality and community building, while established series like Mario Kart 8 and Super Smash Bros. received a long tail of support and substantial new content post-release.

On the other hand, it’s hard not to look at Wii U as a low point for the company, especially after the obscenely successful Wii.  Some of Nintendo’s best series have gone missing or fell flat on the machine.  No Metroid, no Animal Crossing, a lackluster Paper Mario game, a Zelda game delayed all the way to the launch of its successor, a Star Fox title that baffled a lot of gamers, sporadic and inconsistent Virtual Console support.  The Wii U has definitely had some high-highs, but also some low-lows.

In the end, I enjoyed the Wii U, even if it did sit idle for months at a time.  Now with the Switch finally out in the wild, I’ve decided to highlight my favorite 5 games of the Wii U (in no particular order).


 

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

Captain Toad was a smaller Wii U title that doesn’t get as much credit as I think it’s due.  This game is a spin-off of the Captain Toad levels from Super Mario 3D World, but I think it actually managed to be something far more interesting and imaginative than the those small bonus stages in its progenitor.  Treasure Tracker differentiates itself from 3D World by focusing on puzzle platforming that tasks the player with getting the main characters (Captain Toad and Toadette) across small 3D levels without the ability to jump.  The game displays a huge range of imagination across its many tiny but dense levels, similar to the kind of creativity and diversity that you would find in a mainline 3D Mario game.

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Super Mario 3D World

Although I think I prefer the Super Mario Galaxy games, Super Mario 3D World (and Land on the 3DS) are undeniably great Mario games.  While the sidescrolling New Super Mario Bros. series has gotten stale, 3D World lives up to the imagination and inventiveness of its 3D Mario predecessors.  The simple fun and wonderment of this game was a huge source of brightness in my life when I originally played it.  I wish I had more thoughtful things to say about it, but it’s just pure, uncompromised Mario goodness, the kind of which is a reminder why this character has been the de facto mascot of gaming for over 30 years running.

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Super Mario Maker

I liked the first two New Super Mario Bros. games, especially the Wii one, but like a lot of other gamers, I thought the series quickly started to stagnate, with the 3DS and Wii U games being less than inspiring.  I was beginning to think that classic sidescrolling Mario had run its course again, but then came one of the most impressive games I’ve played in many years, Super Mario Maker.  For a company as stubborn and old-fashioned as Nintendo, Mario Maker was a huge surprise with its focus on online community and user created content, two things Nintendo rarely exhibits an interest in.  I had a ton of fun playing community levels, but also I was surprised at how much my imagination was stoked while creating my own levels in the editor.

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Mario Kart 8

Mario Kart 8 may very well be number 1 amongst Mario Kart titles for me.  I think in trying to tone down the chaoticness of Mario Kart Wii, Mario Kart 7 ended up feeling rather boring and uninspired.  Mario Kart 8, on the other hand, managed to find the perfect balance between creatively-designed courses and combat and well-balanced racing challenge.  Also, building on what I said about Super Mario Maker, Mario Kart 8 was surprisingly modern and forward-thinking for a Nintendo game and featured a competently designed online mode and DLC packs that actually provided substantial content to the game.

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Super Smash Bros. 4

I often drag the Wii U home for the holidays to see family, because we typically plug a lot of time into Mario Kart together (as we did with the Wii before it).  All that changed, however, after I introduced Super Smash Bros. 4.  At first, my sisters were really unsure about this mess of a fighting game, but it didn’t take long for them to get hooked.  Featuring a ton of great characters from across Nintendo’s history, like Bowser Jr., Ike, and Little Mac, but also a few not so great characters, like Villager and Dark Pit, Smash Bros. is an amazing gift to Nintendo fandom, but also just a fundamentally good game for friends and family from one of the few companies that still puts a lot of effort into high-quality local multiplayer games.


Well, after writing this list, I’m suddenly realizing that it’s basically all games featuring Mario or the Mario universe.  Of course, there were a few non-Mario games that I came close to adding to the list, namely Splatoon deserves credit.  The two Zelda remakes (Wind Waker and Twilight Princess) were also pretty good, but I would rather not count remakes in a list of like this.  The releases have been thin over the years, but I’m hoping they’ve been saving up for the Switch.  Definitely, I’m excited for Breath of the Wild, Super Mario Odyssey, and Splatoon 2, and I’m curious about ARMS.  Even though the Wii U had its troubles, I’m cautiously excited for Switch.  Nintendo has its ups and downs, but they’ve always managed to maintain consistent quality over an impressively long history.

My Top 5 Game Picks from 2015

As the old year begins to fade into distant memory, we all take a pause to reflect on the passage of time and what we managed to experience and accomplish on the Earth’s latest spin around the sun.  In gaming, that usually means games of the year lists!  I have to say, there were a lot of great games released in 2015, and I’ve come to the regrettable realization that I just don’t have the time to play every game that I would like to pick up.  There were several big games that I didn’t manage to find the time for in 2015.  Namely, I’m thinking about Bloodborne, The Witcher 3, Soma, and Undertale.  I would like to think I’ll eventually get around to playing those games, but as I look forward, I see that 2016 also looks to have a lot of great games on the horizon, especially in the opening months of the year!  So I fear I might not ever really find the time to get back to those I’ve missed.

The existential regrets of a gamer aside, I’ve compiled a brief list of five 2015 releases that I really thought were highlights of the year.  They are listed in no particular order.

Super Mario Maker

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For a guy who grew up on classic Mario, Super Mario Maker was like the game I’ve been waiting all my life for, but I somehow didn’t realize how much I wanted it until it was here.  Having a vast and ever growing library of new levels in the mold of classic games like Super Mario Bros. 3 was a huge blast of nostalgia.  But what I found most impressive about the game was not the access to a huge collection of user-generated content, but how engrossed I became with the level editor, itself.  I had initially been somewhat worried that I wouldn’t have much inspiration to create levels, but everytime I sat down to create something, I found my imagination was immediately ignited.  It’s kind of amazing how quickly I found myself coming up with new ideas and twists for levels, and the sheer fun I found in creation ended up being the real draw to the game for me.  And the creative spark is incredibly well-facilitated as the level editor is amazingly easy and accessible to use, while still complex enough to grant the designer a fair degree of freedom to invent and experiment with entirely new ideas.

I also want to add that I’m really happy with the diligent continuing support Nintendo has given to the game.  A lot of my initial complaints have been solved in the many updates they’ve released which have made improvements like adding checkpoints and creating a better system to browse and discover new levels.

Until Dawn

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Here was another unexpectedly great horror game that released this year.  Until Dawn is not an action game like Resident Evil, but rather a story-focused adventure game, similar to Life is Strange or The Walking Dead.  Featuring a group of teenagers vacationing alone in a cabin in the woods, Until Dawn adapts the classic slasher film setup to an interactive story experience.  The story features a heavy emphasis on character relationships, and as the group’s situation becomes increasingly dire, we see the friendship of these characters put to a real test.

As the player guides the teens through a single fated night, the consequences of the player’s choices determines who lives and who dies.  It’s possible to do a “perfect” run where all the teens live, or they can all end up dying if the wrong decisions are made.  Ultimately, the number of survivors that make it through the night is less important than the player’s curiosity with how the story unfolds.  And for a video game storyline, I found it surprisingly refreshing.  Amongst all the terror, these characters have their moments of triumph, failure, redemption, tragedy, and affection, which I found made for a rich and standout experience amongst horror games.

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

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Before Metal Gear Solid V, I was a lapsed MGS fan.  I know it’s beloved by a lot of gamers out there, but MGS4 really rubbed me the wrong way and turned me off from the series.  MGS4 was a big step away from the series’ roots, moving from the top-down perspective of the previous games to a behind the shoulder viewpoint, and I don’t think they quite figured out how to make the stealth gameplay work under the new camera conditions.  And on the action side of things, the gunplay was really awkward and lacked grace and fluidity.  But where MGS4 failed in its attempts to evolve the stealth action that Snake’s adventures are known for, I think The Phantom Pain really succeeded.

With its sprawling open world, The Phantom Pain is a huge deviation from its predecessors.  What I admire most about MGSV is the freedom it allows the player in pursuing mission objectives.  I played this game after finishing the PC version of GTAV, and what struck me about GTAV was how restrictive it was toward the player.  At every point in GTA’s missions, the game has very exact instructions that it expects the player to follow.  MGSV, on the other hand, merely drops the player in a huge playground with a mission objective and gives them the freedom and toolbox to devise their own solutions to achieving that goal.  

In some ways, The Phantom Pain doesn’t feel like an MGS game, which is why I’m very hesitant to call it the best of the series.  The gameplay is amazing and probably the best amongst its kin, but the story and characters are not as elaborate and interesting.  Many people feel that the story was probably unfinished due to the troubled circumstances of development.  Regardless, this game was just amazing to me and is a perfect illustration of the obsessive attention to detail that Hideo Kojima and his team are known for.

Resident Evil Revelations 2

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The original Resident Evil Revelaitons was a 3DS game that I thought was alright considering it was a handheld action game.  I don’t think it was a bad game, just not a particularly special one.  With that in mind, Revelations 2 was an incredible surprise to me.  While it still leans toward action, I felt it was much darker as a horror game than the previous two mainline Resident Evil games, which focus more on bombast than tension and dread.  

Revelations 2 stars series veterans Claire Redfield and Barry Burton operating in parallel campaigns.  The player trades off control between the two characters at predetermined points in each of the game’s episodes.  Once again, the Resident Evil series partners the main characters with AI companions.  This time newcomers to the series Moira Burton, Barry’s daughter, and Natalia, a mysterious psychic orphan, travel with Claire and Barry respectively.  Unlike in previous games, the player can switch control between the main character and the partner at will.  While the inclusion of companions in Resident Evil has been highly derided by fans, I think Revelations 2 is the first game in the series to use them well from a mechanics standpoint.  This is because neither Moira nor Natalia use guns, but rather have special abilities that are helpful to Claire and Barry in combat.  For instance, the psychic Natalia can “see” things that Barry can’t, like invisible enemies and hidden weak points.

And finally, the secret ending is just badass.  They really did a good job making all the characters in this game compelling and enjoyable, and the ending is really a “hell yeah” culmination for all their struggles.

Splatoon

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There’s no question that Nintendo is great at making multiplayer games.  I don’t know that there are any games that I’ve enjoyed as much with friends and family as Mario Kart and Smash Bros.  But nonetheless, I don’t think many foresaw just how successful their first foray into the world of online action games would be.  When Splatoon was first revealed, it piqued my interest (and made my highlights of E3 2014), but I really felt I was being cautiously optimistic.  Afterall, Nintendo had been great at making multiplayer games to play with real live human beings, but online competition had not yet been a serious focus of theirs.

But the success of Splatoon is not merely in Nintendo finally proving that it could compete in the arena of online gaming (when it wants to), but in the fact that it injects actual imagination and creativity into the rather stale world of online shooters. For better or for worse, Nintendo tends to go its own way and rarely walks in the footsteps of others, and Splatoon is a game brimming with ideas that are mostly entirely its own.  It was a huge breath of fresh air, and I really know of no other online experience which could be considered similar.   

My only complaint with the game is the single player campaign.  I’m not saying I think it’s bad, as I did enjoy it enough to see it to completion.  (The final boss is a really fun fight!)  Rather, I just expected something a little more memorable coming from Nintendo, but I guess the real focus of the team had been on crafting such a superb multiplayer experience.

 

Top 5 Things on My Wishlist for the Next Round of Mario Kart 8 DLC

The release of Smash Bros. may have caused it to feel like a distant memory, but just a few weeks ago Mario Kart 8 received a pretty amazing DLC upgrade.  Although it included some additions to the character and kart roster that I felt were kind of lackluster, it did introduce 8 awesome new courses (and the tracks, of course, are the true stars of the Mario Kart series).  There is one final DLC pack announced for May (which seems like an oddly long time table to me) with little known about the next round of tracks that will be introduced, though the three new racers have been announced.  It’s a somewhat reasonable guess that at least one track will be Animal Crossing-themed, as Villager and Isabelle are announced crossover characters.  Since thinking about the future of Mario Kart always gets me excited, I’ve compiled a short list of things I’d think would be cool for the next round of tracks.

1) Wave Race

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The first round of DLC had F-Zero (Mute City) and Excitebike themed tracks, so it doesn’t seem far-fetched to me that Nintendo might prepare appearances of their other racing franchises.  I’ve always had a heavy fondness for Wave Race ever since the N64, but I also feel like it might not be the most appreciated of Nintendo’s series.  Even when compared to F-Zero, a series which hasn’t seen a proper release in a long while, it just doesn’t receive nearly the same level of attention.  I would like to see Nintendo give the series at least a respectful nod, as they did with the Mute City track.  Unfortunately, I think this is somewhat unlikely for a few reasons.  First, it’s a little challenging to create a Wave Race-based track in MK8, because you don’t really race on the water in MK8, rather you race under it.  Maybe they can set up the track so the hover wheels are triggered over water (sort of Jet Moto-style), but that leaves me to wonder then if the Mario Kart 8 engine is set up to handle the wave-physics that Wave Race is based around.  Also, the style of Wave Race is more grounded in reality than the fantastical and whimsical settings of MK8 and F-Zero.  Therefore, despite my enthusiasm for Wave Race, I’m conflicted as to whether the two series would really mesh well together.

2) Pilotwings

Pilotwings, although not a racing series, I think could actually work a little bit better with MK8 than Wave Race.  I’ve no experience with the SNES game, but I thought the N64 game has always been a bit underappreciated.  I also really like the breezy, high-flying, flat-shaded aesthetic of Pilotwings Resort and the Pilotwings-stage in Smash Bros, which I think could make for a visually stunning MK course, similar to what they did with Excitebike.  I’ve always felt the Mario Kart 7-inherited parachute mechanic is lacking in substance and really just serves to extend the scale of the courses.  Perhaps a track with multiple parachute segments that utilize PIlotwings elements could prove fun?  I’m thinking things like boost rings and bullseye targets in the landing areas that provide some sort of benefit if hit.

3) Mushroom City

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One of the most interesting tracks from Double Dash, I’m a bit surprised Mushroom City hasn’t already made a reappearance in Mario Kart.  In addition to the heavy traffic, Mushroom City’s main draw is its convoluted layout, allowing players access to diverging paths and junctions as they race through the city.  Actually, a new city-themed track made from the ground up for Mario Kart 8 might be more interesting.  The improved hardware could allow for an even more sophisticated and maze-like city, and randomized traffic patterns could provide impetus for players to switch up the paths they take through the thoroughfares.

4) World 4 – Giant Land

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I’ve always thought World 4 from Super Mario Bros. 3 could make for an interesting track.  I’m imagining a track where players have to focus on avoiding the giant-sized versions of common Mario enemies such as koopas, goombas, piranha plants, Sledge Bros., etc.  Also, perhaps there could be some sort of mechanic where racers could go through some sort of doorway/gateway (kind of like in the original World 4) and become big themselves.  The giant-sized racers would have an advantage in that they could trample smaller racers, but the smaller racers would have an advantage in that they could access certain shortcuts that the giant racers wouldn’t be able to fit through.  A cool idea I think, although maybe a little gimmicky.

5) Kirby’s Air Ride

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Oh goodness no….just kidding…….just kidding….

5) Wario Colosseum

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I don’t have a whole lot to say about this one.  I include it purely out of how much I enjoy it.  The XXL-sized Double Dash track was a favorite of mine, and I’d like to see it make a comeback.

All in all, regardless of what we see appear in the final content package, this first round of DLC gives me faith that Nintendo will deliver quality.  The only track I think I distinctly dislike is Excitebike.  The simplistic oval Excitebike track seems like a low hanging fruit for the development team that Nintendo dressed up in nostalgia to avoid complaints.   I seem to be against the grain of popular opinion, though, since it always seems to get a lot of votes online.

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