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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Star Fox Zero: Flying Too Close to the Sun
Well hey, look it’s Star Fox! Back in action again. I had always thought he had been relegated to the pile of beloved Nintendo series that are likely to never see the light of day again. But no, he’s back! I’m a big fan of Star Fox 64 (and to a far lesser extent Star Fox Command), so I honestly had to give the game a go, even if the Star Fox series hasn’t had the best track record since its 64-bit glory days.
Star Fox Zero is a sort of reimagining of Star Fox 64, which was already a sort of reimagining of the original Star Fox. The story has essentially the same premise as 64 with starfighter pilot Fox McCloud leading the Star Fox team into battle against the forces of Andross, who has instigated all-out war in the Lylat System against the peaceful planet of Corneria. The history of Fox’s father’s battle against Andross and the rivalry with Star Wolf team also feature prominently. The levels are entirely new, although they mostly take place in familiar settings like the planets of Fortuna and Titania. If you’ve ever played Star Fox or Star Fox 64, this game will feel familiar without necessarily feeling like a repeat of earlier adventures.
Star Fox has veered around a bit since the early popularity of the series, as Star Fox Adventures and Star Fox Assault had a heavy focus on on-foot combat and adventuring. Star Fox Command for the DS dispensed with the on-foot action and focused solely on in-air combat, but the catch was it only had simple arena-style levels as opposed to the fast-paced, highly-detailed linear levels that most gamers seem to prefer from Star Fox 64. Star Fox Zero sees the series attempting to return to basics with a roughly equal mix of the beloved linear “corridor-style” levels and the “arena-style” levels that the series refers to as all-range mode.
Star Fox Zero is squarely focused on vehicular combat, primarily in the series’ iconic starcraft, the arwing, however attention is also paid to a few other rides. The landmaster tank makes a return from Star Fox 64, and the “walker” transformation from the cancelled Star Fox 2, in which the arwing transforms into a bipedal mech, is also strongly featured. The fourth vehicle is a gyrocopter that moves more slowly and methodically than the other three vehicles. I enjoyed the arwing, landmaster, and walker, although I felt the walker was underutilized. These three actually control very similarly. The right analog stick functions like the c-buttons did on the N64 controller, i.e., push up to boost, tap twice left or right to do a barrel roll, etc. The gyrocopter, however, controls very differently with both sticks required for basic movement. I must say I really did not enjoy flying the gyrocopter, it’s too slow and I felt the way the sticks were used was counterintuitive. Perhaps more importantly, I just didn’t think combat was fun in the gyrocopter.
I’m afraid the biggest disappointment I had with Star Fox Zero was the level design. The levels are generally pretty short and inelaborate, and I would argue they do not make good use of the fundamentals the game establishes. What I mean by that is that I think SF0 under utilizes the ideas and gameplay concepts that it introduces. For instance, there’s one segment where Fox needs to infiltrate the interior of a battlecruiser to disable its shields in the midst of a large space battle. To do this, Fox lands on the enemy vessel and transforms into the walker to enter the starship through a hatch. Inside, he fights a few enemies that are guarding a corridor with the shield computer he needs to hack at the end. I could have imagined a much more intricate and involved sequence playing out inside the battlecruiser, but it’s really just a few simple enemies you need to kill on the inside and then you’re done. There are many segments like this strewn across the game that could have been much more interesting than they were, but ultimately lack proper development. The result makes the game feel low-budget in a way, as if they didn’t have enough funds to fully actualize their ideas for the game.
But despite the levels being rather short and very basic in design, I do think they did a good job in making most of them memorable and distinct. Nintendo has a way of designing their games to have stages that are each infused with their own unique imaginative twist, and most missions of Star Fox Zero had some resonance with me. And even though I felt like the stages often came quite short of living up to their potential, I did feel like I became fully engaged with the game. Underneath all of its flaws is an exciting arcade action game that makes you feel like a hero caught up in a massive stellar conflict.
The most contentious aspects of Star Fox Zero come in how it implements the screen in the Wii U gamepad and that it uses the gyroscopes in the gamepad to augment the aim of the analog stick. If you keep up with game reviews from mainstream sites, you’ll know that Star Fox Zero is being hammered on account of both of these features. Let me give a short explanation for those unaware or for those still confused. While playing the game, the television screen shows the “standard” Star Fox view with the camera behind the player’s vehicle. Simultaneously, on the gamepad a view from the player’s cockpit is shown. The idea is to use both the third-person view and cockpit view together. The third person view gives the player a broader view of the obstacles and enemies in the environment, while the cockpit view has a more accurate targeting reticule and is useful for precision aiming.
I think a lot of detractors get hung up here, because they find it hard to switch between looking at the TV screen and then having to pivot their head to look at the gamepad screen. I honestly didn’t have much trouble with this. I think the problem is they are try to shoot everything by looking at the gamepad while still using the TV for maneuvering, which causes them to have to constantly switch focus between the two screens. In reality, I would say ~80% of the time it doesn’t matter if you’re looking at the TV screen or the gamepad. For instance, when facing large enemies or swarms of enemies, I think you can do just fine using the less accurate targeting reticule that is displayed on the TV screen. You need the gamepad view in circumstances where accuracy is important or when you’re trying to shoot in a completely different direction than you’re flying. So, for instance, if you’re trying to lead a very fast specific enemy (like one infamous wolf who will go unnamed), it’s best to use the cockpit view on the gamepad.
Meanwhile, in addition to using the left analog stick for aiming and controlling the trajectory of the vehicle, the player can also tilt and rotate to gamepad to move the targeting reticule. Since human wrists are anatomically more capable of precise movements than thumbs, using these tilt controls grants the player a greater level of accuracy. In addition, sometimes one needs to aim in a way different direction than the arwing is travelling. For instance, in one landmaster level, there are these giant robot spider enemies who have weak points on their underbellies. To hit these weak points, you drive the landmaster underneath the spiders and tilt the gamepad up to aim at their glowing bits and fire. To aim directly upwards like this essentially requires fully pivoting the gamepad so that it is almost upside down above your face. These sorts of situations that require the player to tilt the gamepad to such an extreme occur every now and then in the game. I didn’t have such a problem with them, and, in some cases, I found them to add a clever twist to an enemy encounter. But I’ve seen other reviewers and posters express dissatisfaction with needing to make such sweeping motions with the gamepad, and I guess I can understand where they’re coming from as it could be uncomfortable or awkward depending on your seating arrangement.
I’m a big fan of gyroscopic controls. I find that they permit precise aiming that is close to what you would get using a mouse. This is because mouse and tilt control make use of wrists as opposed to thumbs, and because there is a 1:1 correlation between player movement and action on-screen. Not many companies use this feature, however. Mostly, it’s just been Nintendo who most notoriously used tilt as the default aim option in Splatoon, but they’ve also incorporated this control scheme into the HD Zelda games for items like the bow and grappling hook. The PS4 controller also possesses gyroscopes, but the only game I know that uses tilt to aim is Gravity Rush Remastered.
Gyroscopic aiming, I think, works best as an augment to the traditional analog stick control scheme. The analog stick works best for making broad, sweeping movements of the camera, while the gyros excel at finer, more precise movements that tweak the position of the targeting reticule. Honestly, I haven’t really had any issues with this feature in Star Fox Zero or any other game for that matter. I’m at a bit of a loss when it comes to understanding why so many people seem to hate this control scheme. I guess it’s just hard for some people to learn a new way of using the controller, especially when the standardized dual analog control method has become so ingrained in modern gaming. Oddly enough, the situation reminds me of the early days of polygonal gaming when controls for 3D games hadn’t become so universalized, and every game seemed to have its own twist on how to handle movement in three-dimensional space. Amusingly, I guess that’s suitable for Star Fox, which itself is an artifact of that early era.
Star Fox Zero is an ugly game. There, I said it. While the Wii U doesn’t exactly possess bleeding edge graphics technology, both Platinum Games and especially Nintendo have shown that they can get really impressive looking results out of it. Star Fox, on the other hand, is quite crude in its visuals. Every object in the game is made of a shockingly low number of polygons draped with very simple texture work. The game appears bereft of any modern lighting, shading, or particle effects. At its very best, the game looks merely acceptable at times. Meanwhile, there are some times where the game is a downright muddy eyesore that would be unsightly for even a PS2 game. I believe Nintendo wants us to believe these simplistic visuals are meant to be an homage to the N64 era, but I think more than likely they are a result of the game’s approach to using the Wii U gamepad.
As discussed above, the gamepad displays a cockpit view that is completely different from what’s shown on the TV screen. That means that the Wii U is actually doing double-time. It is rendering two completely different images of a 3D world. The vast majority of Wii U games don’t render two separate 3D images for the TV and the gamepad. They either render one image of the game and display it on both screens (like Smash Bros.), or they render one 3D image of the game and then something simple like a map or inventory screen for the gamepad (Zelda HD remakes). It’s almost certainly quite taxing for the Wii U to render two separate 3D images concurrently. The only other game I know of that does this is Nintendo Land, which also has rather underwhelming visuals. Furthermore, Star Fox Zero runs at a mostly stable 60 frames per second. So while the game looks very modest, it’s likely pushing the Wii U to its limits.
Ultimately, Star Fox Zero is an incredibly ambitious game, and it suffers for it. I have to wonder in the end if these features were really worth it. I’ll reiterate that I like what they’ve set up here. But, the graphics clearly suffer greatly in service of a two screen experience. There’s some clear advantages to the approach they’ve taken. I think gyro aim is a good addition to the Star Fox formula, as it allows for a game that is faster-paced and more precise than what I think would be achievable with purely analog stick aiming. But, I’m not sure if the cockpit view was really needed. Like I discussed above, I have a feeling that 80% of the time it doesn’t really matter if the player is focused on the TV screen or the gamepad. And most of the utility of the cockpit view would be eliminated simply by placing a more accurate reticule on the TV screen. I think getting rid of the technical hurdle of the cockpit view would have allowed them to build a game with much more elaborate levels and greater visual appeal, especially seeing as it is a point of consternation for many.
I guess, in my head, I have this image of what a modernized Star Fox should be. I imagine these colossal space battles with laser beams whizzing by, bright fiery explosions ripping through the hulls of battle cruisers, swarms of enemy fighters scrambling about, and all kinds of debris chaotically being hurled about the battlezone. I imagine these bombastic action sequences like Fox escaping bases and starships on self-destruct as fire cuts loose all around. I imagine futuristic cityscapes being torn asunder by the mayhem of an invading alien force. But, this game does not live up to the lofty heights my imagination vividly conjures up for Star Fox. Rather, Star Fox Zero’s primitive graphics and short and concise missions only very crudely simulate these things. That said, this is a very fun arcade action game, and if you’re able to accept its status quo-defying implementation of the gamepad, I think most Star Fox fans will enjoy it. I can say without hesitation that I had a ton of fun with the game, even if it is tinged with disappointed………..
But, I simply don’t think I can recommend the game to anyone on the fence who doesn’t have a hardcore love for Star Fox, certainly not at full price. I would only recommend a game unqualified when I feel there is a fairly high probably that most people will enjoy it, and in the case of Star Fox Zero, there are too many easy justifications for disliking it. These are principally the game’s brevity, its low budget feel, and the fact that the gamepad implementation has shown itself to not be for everyone. And please understand how painful these words of warning are for me to write, simply because I am so conflicted about this game, and that I want to see Star Fox succeed and become a series that lives up to the potential that I believe it has.
As an addendum, the retail release of Star Fox Zero comes packaged with another game called Star Fox Guard. This is a tower defense game that grew out of a Wii U tech demo that Nintendo showed off some years back. I haven’t torn into this game yet, so I can’t yet comment on its quality. But because some people might be curious, I will say that I am impressed that the games are packaged together in a cardboard box that has two proper Wii U cases on the inside (one for each game). The Wii U cases each have a disc for their respective games, so no having to deal with download codes for the e-shop. I’m very pleased that Nintendo decided to have physical copies of each of these games, when it would have been easy neglect a physical version of Star Fox Guard.
Twilight Princess HD Impressions
It is a strange thing to admit considering how long I’ve been gaming, but the first Legend of Zelda game I ever touched was Wind Waker on the Gamecube. The second, naturally, was Twilight Princess, also on the Gamecube. (I’ve never actually played the Wii version, and I’m afraid I often forget it exists.) Those two games provide an interesting jumping on point for the series, since, as a pair, they’ve become an interesting dichotomy in many gamers’ opinions. Wind Waker has ascended in the mindset of many due to its cel-shaded art style which was unconventional for the series. Meanwhile, Twilight Princess is usually contrasted as a weak game that was overly reliant on the formula established by Ocarina of Time.
Personally, I’ve always been a big defender of Twilight Princess. In some ways, it’s easy for me to be one. I didn’t play Ocarina of Time until the 3DS version, so of course I never really felt like Twilight Princess was a retread of the OoT formula. And I didn’t have to bother with the motion controls since I played the Gamecube version. And while I understand the complaint that Twilight Princess has a lot of filler content, Wind Waker isn’t innocent of that flaw either, considering the slow speed of the boat and the late game Triforce hunt that bogged down the original version.
But I don’t want to be overly critical of Wind Waker in my defense of Twilight Princess. And to be fair, it’s been a long time since I played TP anyway. While I usually shy away from HD re-releases of games I’ve already played, as I get older, I strangely find myself becoming a sucker for Nintendo content. I’m now a few hours into Twilight Princess HD just released for the Wii U. I’ve just completed the first dungeon, the Forest Temple. And so far at least, I’m enjoying the game as I did back in the Gamecube days.
Twilight Princess is a really beautiful game. It doesn’t get often complimented as such, because it’s usually compared to its visually charismatic cel-shaded predecessor. But playing through the first few hours of the HD version, I’m beginning to realize that Twilight Princess has an artistic flair that is highly underrated. The world of Hyrule presented in this iteration has a strong fairytale-like quality that reminds me of ‘80s fantasy movies like The Neverending Story, Labyrinth, and The Dark Crystal. The world is covered in dark natural colors, principally greens and browns, that are punctuated by more exotic artificial pigments like violet, jet black, and neon. And while the Great Sea in Wind Waker served as breathtaking overworld, the dungeons in that game were often incredibly drab and flat. I don’t think the cel-shading served the interior environments as well as it did the outdoor presentation. Meanwhile, I think the dungeons in Twilight Princess have more character as a result of the interior surfaces actually having textures. However, one major thing I think Wind Waker has to its credit is that the cel-shading hid the edges of the polygons better. Twilight Princess very much does feel like a world made up of polygons, with edges conspicuous on many naturally-occurring objects that shouldn’t have them, like rock formations and trees.
One negative that I’m noticing so far is that the lock-on system in TP is incredibly finicky. There’s been plenty of times I’ve hit the lock-on button when an enemy was right in front of me only to have nothing happen. It seems to me that you have to be fairly close to an enemy to get the lock-on to register it. I don’t seem to remember this being a problem in Wind Waker HD. Maybe it was a problem in the original TP, but I should think that an HD release like this would have some fine tuning applied to it like Wind Waker HD had.
One final thing I’d like to mention is that the amiibo that comes with the game is actually an excellent figure. I’m no amiibo super-collector. I have an 8-bit Mario and a Donkey Kong sitting on my desk that were both gifts, and a Dr. Mario that I bought for myself because Dr. Mario is cool. But I do have a feel of what quality to expect from them. The Wolf Link amiibo that comes with Twilight Princess HD is by far the most intricately detailed amiibo I’ve ever seen, both in figure and coloration. It deftly models Midna sitting atop wolf Link standing on a sloped white rock formation. The are a good many little details captured on the figure including the golden insignia on wolf Link’s forehead, the ornate grooves on Midna’s mask, the lines of fur on Link, and the broken chain above his paw. I hesitate to say it, but I actually kind of wish the in-game models of these two looked more like the amiibo. Of all the amiibos I’ve seen, this is definitely my favorite.
I’m looking forward to playing more of Twilight Princess HD to see how the whole thing pans out, and if my defense of the game for all these years was worthwhile. So this won’t be the end of my thoughts on the game, and I’ll do a more thorough write-up once I’m finished with my playthrough.
Guys, Guys. Super Mario Maker. Seriously.
This happens to me too often with Nintendo games: I know I’m going to like their new games, but I completely underestimate how much I get hooked by them. Captain Toad, Splatoon, and now the latest example, Super Mario Maker. I’ve been completely surprised by how much fun I’ve had making levels. I had reservations initially because, with a series that’s gone on this long, what could users really create for Mario that Nintendo hasn’t done already. I was wrong, of course. Designing levels has been one of those things where it causes the time to melt away without me noticing. While in the level creator, I find there’s just this domino effect in my imagination where new ideas to try are constantly just coming together. While creating, I’ve yet to reach a point where I’m stumped as to what to add next. I seem to always find an idea I want to experiment with next.
Consequently, as coming up with new plans for a level is rather natural, the challenge of designing a level really lies in executing those ideas in a smooth and fun way. One of the things that really helps out while building levels is that you can seamlessly transition from editing the level to playing the level. The smooth, load time-free transition from editing to play testing makes fine tuning a level or experimenting with an idea very accommodating and painless. I’m not going to pretend like my levels are super well-designed masterpieces, but this aspect of the level designer means that they’re much tightly-crafted and less messy than they could have been.
For those who don’t know, there are four tile sets available in the editor: Super Mario Bros. 1 and 3, Super Mario World, and New Super Mario Bros. U. Furthermore, you can make levels in specific environments, such as underwater, ghost houses, airships, Bowser castles, etc. Super Mario Bros. 2 (USA version) is left out probably because it is mechanically a major divergence from the other games (as it is based around picking up and throwing enemies rather than stomping them). But there are doors you can place in a level that strongly resemble the doors to subspace in SMB2, so it is represented in a very token way.
I think, of all the tile sets, I find the best looking to be the SMB3 levels. It may just be my own bias toward this game as my favorite of classic SMB, but the SMB3 pixel art just looks very crisp and sharp in HD. The SMW visuals are a little busy, I think (although they look very good when playing on the gamepad). Meanwhile, SMB1 looks a little bit off in HD. I’m not sure why, but I think it might be because all of the sprites cast shadows on the background. On the other hand, wall jumping is probably my favorite thing to do in a platforming game. In Mario Maker, wall jumping is only possible in NSMBU levels (as that mechanic doesn’t exist in older games), so I tend to find myself wanting to design levels in that tile set more than the others.
With all that said, I do have one major complaint with the game. As far as I can tell, there’s no way to set mid-level checkpoints. This makes long, elaborate, and challenging levels a little more tedious than they should be, since any time you die you have to repeat the early parts of the level. As I prefer to make levels that are on the tricky side, I find myself preferring to make them on the short side so they don’t wear too much on the player’s patience.
Here are my levels so far:
Crawling Caverns: D553-0000-002A-057B
This level seems to have been my most popular so far. It’s an underground level in NSMBU style, and wall jumping is required to succeed. In addition, I experimented around with the idea of needing to use giant enemies, such as giant turtle (shells), to clear the way forward.
Land Meets Sea: 27CE-0000-0030-E71F
The theme for this level is a normal ground level beset by a lot of traditionally underwater enemies, include flying bloopers (giant and normal size), cheep cheeps shot from cannons, and spiny balls. As a tip, the player should try to move briskly through this level, or otherwise the screen can pile up with enemies from the cannons at certain points and make it a lot harder than it was meant to be.
This underwater level started off as an attempt to create a tribute to the hydroelectric dam level from the TMNT NES game. I don’t know if you would realize that from the final level design, but it definitely has a “don’t touch the walls” aspect to it. I originally wanted to make this in the SMB3 style and use the electric jellyfish in that tile set as the walls, but the result was something that was a bit of a visual overload. Instead, I used the SMB tile set and spiky balls as the walls instead.
Hope you like wall jumping!: C9AB-0000-004D-5CF4
A NSMBU castle level. This one was meant to be heavily focused on wall jumping, because as I’ve mentioned, I love wall jumping. It’s not a masterpiece or anything, but it’s actually probably my favorite I’ve created so far, and it taught me a lot about what Mario is capable of doing under NSMBU rules.
Under, Through, Around, and Over: 1C4B-0000-0027-43EA
This is the first level I designed. I decided it was fitting to begin with the original SMB. Ultimately, I think I was trying to be a little too clever with this one, and the result is something that is a little on the messy side.
The year 2015 marks SMB’s 30th Anniversary, and initially I was a bit concerned that Nintendo wasn’t doing anything special for it. There was a lot of concern about Super Mario Maker when it was first announced, because Nintendo has historically not been great at doing online systems, and a game like this needs a good online system for users to trade levels. Last year there was even some confusion coming from Nintendo as to whether gamers would even be able to share levels online or not! Thus, the end result of Mario Maker has actually been something much more incredible than many other people or myself thought it would be and has been a great way to commemorate Mario’s 30th.
Mario Party 10: I don’t hate this game.
I know it’s odd to start with a title that says “I don’t hate this game,” but it encapsulates my feelings about Mario Party 10 relative to what I’ve read from most other posters. Let me start off by making it clear that I am not a huge fan of Mario Party games, which I think is where the disconnect with other bloggers comes from. I haven’t really enjoyed the Mario Party games, because I just feel that they are too chaotic and luck-based for me to be invested in trying to win at them. Defeat and victory feel entirely out of my hands, and, consequently, it’s hard for me to feel emotionally attached to the outcome of a game. Within the series, I have by far the most experience with Mario Party 8. I’m not clear if that game is well regarded amongst hardcore fans, but I’m not particularly fond of it. I put a lot of time into it simply because Nintendo is almost the only company that puts serious effort into local multiplayer games, and, eventually, you need a break from Mario Kart and Smash Bros.
There are three modes in Mario Party 10: Mario Party, which is the most conventional (although it is rather unconventional in the context of the series), Bowser Party, which is built around asymmetric multiplayer enabled by the Wii U gamepad, and Amiibo Party, which sounds like the perfunctory Amiibo content for the game. I haven’t really played Amiibo Party, as it requires players to swipe in an Amiibo at the beginning of each turn, and that sound like a hassle. I did enjoy Mario Party and Bowser Party a lot when I played it with friends and family over the recent holiday weekend. Both of these modes feature the most controversial aspect of the game which is the car that all the players ride to communally progress through the board. Basically, in this game, each board has a start point and an end point, and the players take turns rolling dice to move the car that they all ride in together as they advance toward the finish line. When the car lands on a space with a special event, it generally only affects the player who rolled to get on that space. Mini-games are triggered by landing on a mini-game space, or sometimes pop-up at random.
The Mario Party mode is probably what can be considered the most traditional mode of the game. This mode pits all players against each other with the goal being to collect the most mini-stars before the car reaches the end of the board. One interesting idea presented in this mode is that there are “boss battle” mini-games that occur at the mid-point and end-point of each board and consist of the players trying to do the most damage to a boss-type character. I think this mode is probably the most controversial. Many long-time Mario Party players feel that it eliminates the strategic element of Mario Party, as all players move together and there are no candy-type items that let players thwart each other. I don’t necessarily agree with this point. I have two main problems with past Mario Party games. First, I have always found the games to be simply too chaotic and chance-driven for my actions to really make any difference in the final outcome of the game. Sure it’s satisfying to nail another player with an item that steals their stars or coins. But in the end, I’ve always felt like all the random events that occur on the board go a lot farther to determine the victor than any strategy I try to effect or how well I played the mini-games. When I lose, I feel cheated. When I win, I feel more relieved than triumphant, since I know that the success had nothing to do with how well I played the game. The other main issue I have with the Mario Party games is that they feel so drawn out. Part of this is having to wait for your turn to occur and not being particularly invested in paying attention to the other players during most of that time. I find that I really only care about what the other players are doing when they are about to potentially screw me. The other part is that those games can be really gregarious, often interrupting the action to take time to elaborately explain every detail of what’s happening during an event on the board, presumably so potential new players aren’t left confused.
I think the car and the other streamlined aspects of Mario Party 10 go a long way to abrogating the issues I have above. Overall, its a less complex game which works to its advantage, making it a breezier, more naturally-flowing experience. Instead of characters having to keep track of stars, coins, candies/offensive items, and special dice blocks, there are now only really mini-stars and special dice blocks. The mini-stars, which are necessary to victory, are generally only collected in straightforward manners, you collect them from winning mini-games or from special events that happen on the board. There are still plenty of opportunities to screw over other players, though (which is fun). For instance, on one board, it’s possible for a character to get haunted by a boo if they pass through a particular space on the board. The boo will then leech out mini-stars from the haunted player each turn. Using special dice blocks, it is of course possible to set up the next player in the rotation to get stuck with the curse. Unlike in previous games though, I feel events like these are less decisive, as mini-stars are far easier to collect than the stars in the previous games. In the older games, one bad event can completely ruin you for the rest of the game. Now, such turns of events are less discouraging, and after getting stung like that, its easier to resolve to make a comeback and get revenge.
The game also feels faster than its predecessors. The announcements made during the game are more concise and don’t stymie the pace of the game. In addition, the car mechanic made me feel more engaged during other players’ turns, as I would have to base my plans in the next turn around where they landed (since all characters move as one).
Some accuse this standard Mario Party mode as lacking the drama of previous games, as it is a much more light-hearted and faster moving affair than in the past. I think that’s where the new Bowser mode comes in. This mode is designed around the asymmetric multiplayer that Nintendo has always touted for the Wii U but rarely ever actually uses. In this mode, four players work together to get the car to the end of the board, while another player using the gamepad chases after them as Bowser. Bowser takes his turn after the other characters and is given four dice to roll so he has a chance of catching up to the team. If Bowser catches the team, then that triggers a mini-game where the good guys fight Bowser. In these mini-games, Bowser is on the attack through various means, while the Mario team tries to avoid taking damage. Each good guy player has a set number of hearts that are lost when they take damage, and a player is removed from the game when they lose all their hearts. (There are some events on the board that can bring dead players back to life, however.)
I think this is the real high-drama mode, because the odds seem to be very tilted in Bowser’s favor. Hearts carry over between mini-games, and it’s generally easier for Bowser to take away hearts during those mini-games than it is for the other players to regain their lost hearts which generally requires landing on specific board spaces that are rather scarce and only provide a small number of hearts in return. In addition, this mode is permeated by the theme that Bowser likes to cheat to win. For instance, if the Bowser player doesn’t like their first dice roll on a given turn, Bowser Jr. allows them to reroll the dice to try to catch up to the team in the car. These such advantages afforded to Bowser allows the classic bitterness and drama of the old games to surface. Regardless, I still prefer it to the old games because of its heightened pace and straightforwardness.
Although I had fun with Mario Party 10, I say I don’t hate it, because I’m not necessarily overwhelmingly enamored by it either. I feel it is a bit lacking in content with just 5 boards, only 3 of which are playable in Bowser Party Mode. In addition, there’s no online play, so you need friends over unless you feel like playing against bots (who aren’t really all that good at the mini-games). I don’t know why Nintendo is so averse to adding online multiplayer to Mario Party. They justifiably have a bad reputation in neglecting online features, but they’ve made great strides with online in Mario Kart and Smash Bros. Some people believe that Mario Party matches are too long for online play, and, consequently, most people will be tempted to disconnect if they find themselves losing. But I think the new Mario Party Mode is fast enough and offers enough opportunities for comebacks that online play wouldn’t just devolve into a bunch of rage quits. All those negatives expressed, I do want to say that I really like the mini-game selection this time around. There’s a lot of diversity, and motion controls are used smartly and only in ways that actually make sense.
In the end, I think the $50 price tag might be a little steep for most people. The evidence overwhelmingly seems to indicate that diehard Mario Party fans probably won’t like this game. But if you’re like me, interested in something else to play on your Wii U with friends and family after you’ve burnt out on Smash Bros. and Mario Kart, Mario Party 10 might just be a fun diversion until you’re ready to go back to those far superior games.
Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, You Get Out What You Put In
Despite what I’ve heard a lot of people saying, Treasure Tracker isn’t really all that much like it’s 3D World counterpart. Superficially, they are similar in that they have much the same scope of very condensed-down, “toy box”-like level structures. But Captain Toad in 3D World was much more of a rigid puzzle game, whereas I feel that Treasure Tracker is much more of an exploration game. In 3D World, the goal of Captain Toad’s stages are to collect as many of the 5 accessible green stars as possible before a timer runs out. The challenge presented is that Captain Toad is not capable of jumping, only falling, so the player must figure out a pathway through the level that will allow them to reach each star. Treasure Tracker is more like standard Mario stage design. The goal is merely to reach the exit of each level, which in this case is represented by a gold star. To reach the gold star requires either some light puzzle solving, avoidance/combat of enemies, or technique-based “maneuvering” (platforming might not be the right word since you don’t jump) through the level. Reaching the gold star is, in almost all stages, a pretty simple task that can be completed within the span of minutes.
With that simplicity in mind, the uninitiated to Treasure Tracker may wonder why the game need exist at all, especially as a $40 retail release. To answer that, there are two things which I think make Captain Toad worthwhile to me. The first is the creativity put into each level. As you would expect from the makers of Mario games (3D Mario games at least), each level tends to display its own unique, imaginative ideas, both in terms of aesthetics and gameplay mechanics, albeit cut down into smaller-scale spaces. Since Mario Galaxy, I don’t know of anyone other than Nintendo who are capable of so completely capturing my sense of wonder on such a regular basis. Second, and this is probably key, is that the secondary objectives of each Treasure Tracker level really make the game compelling to master.
Each Treasure Tracker level hides away three diamonds, somewhat similar to the green stars of 3D World or the giant coins of New Super Mario Bros. The collection of diamonds works as a sort of ancillary objective that will do way more to challenge and stimulate players than merely reaching the exit. The diamonds are not completely superfluous to completing the game, as certain parts of the game are gated with a minimum diamond requirement that blocks further progression. But exhaustive diamond collection is an unnecessary requirement to technically complete the game. In addition, each level has a bonus objective. Sometimes, this objective is fairly straightforward, such as collect a certain number of coins or find a hidden gold mushroom, but the simplicity of these goals can be deceptively challening. Other times, the objective is more unique. For instance, one level has Toad sneaking through a town of Shy Guys and gives the player the bonus task of never being spotted by these enemies.
These side goals (diamonds and special objectives) are why I say that you get out of the game what you put into it. In Treasure Tracker, it’s true because players merely trying to reach the end credits will miss out on the best aspects of the game. Some criticize Nintendo for making such interesting gameplay features into optional side content, but I’ve come to feel that that attidue is the result of a harshly consumerist view of games as being merely products that are to be consumed as quickly as possible so that the player can move onto the next big release.
Back when I was a kid, “mastering” a game was a feat that everyone treasured and bragged about. Nowadays, it feels like I hear people more wanting to have games that are incredibly “digestible,” so that they don’t have to spend a lot of time with them and can thus play more games. Probably, it’s less a reflection of the times, rather a reflection of an adult’s view on gaming vs. a child’s. Adults have plenty of money to buy the next big game coming out, while children don’t, so these nascent gamers focus instead on squeezing the most they can out of what they have. This is why I think Minecraft is so enormously popular with young people today, as it has an incredible amount of replayability. Meanwhile, I hear a fair few of the adult gamers I know complain about its lack of “direction.”
Back on the topic of Treasure Tracker, in some ways, this side quest focus is merely a representative part of modern Nintendo game design. They make the core game progression somewhat easy so that everyone can enjoy it while also making more difficult optional content that the hardcore can sink their teeth into. Personally, I think they are quite good at this format, meaning they are better than most developers at making me want to complete the bonus stuff. Nintendo puts a lot of creativity and thought into their side content. For example, the special objectives in Treasure Tracker, even when they are as simple as having to collect a certain number of coins, usually require the player to think a bit outside of the box in really inventive ways. Sometimes, that final batch of coins can be hidden in very clever places or may need the player to figure out a special trick to reach them. These objectives aren’t merely a poorly designed, rote test of blunt skill, and, consequently, Nintendo avoids the tedium that most developers tack onto their games, because they’re not treating the side content as merely an afterthought to the main line of progression. Rather, the side content is an integral part of their philosophy of designing games that have compelling content for all possible players.
In a way, Treasure Tracker sort of reminds me of one of my all-time favorite games, Donkey Kong for the Game Boy. Both games seem to share a similar philosophy of concentrating down gameplay design into quickly-attacked, reduced spaces. In addition, it’s a bit unique as it’s not a full priced retail title, rather it seems to be a sort of side project for Nintendo EAD. Nintendo is basically the only developer really supporting the Wii U right now, via both it’s own studios and partners such as Platinum Games. I know a lot of people out there use the lack of third-party support to knock the Wii U, but really, the raison d’être of Nintendo consoles has been Nintendo’s own games since at least the N64. I see the Wii U as more of a secondary console that justifies its existence simply because of the high quality and uniqueness of Nintendo software. I don’t think I would buy, say, a Ubisoft console, simply because their offering don’t really stand out enough, in either quality or creativity. The problem for the Wii U (and previous Nintendo consoles) is really that Nintendo is not a massive company and have difficulty in keeping a steady flow of releases for their platforms. I think Treasure Tracker may represent the start of Nintendo’s solution to that issue, as we’re going to see more smaller side projects like this fill out the release calendar. Kirby and the Rainbow Curse and Mario Maker fall into this category, I believe. Hopefully, it will provide for some interesting new experimentation from the venerated developer.
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
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.
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
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
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
Oh goodness no….just kidding…….just kidding….
5) Wario Colosseum
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.