perjantai 27. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Mario vs. Donkey Kong (2004)

Genre(s): Platform / Puzzle
Released: 2004
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Nintendo
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

In 1981, Shigeru Miyamoto created an arcade game by the name of Donkey Kong. This immensely popular coin-operated game spawned two iconic characters who would go their separate ways after Donkey Kong Jr. - Donkey Kong became the face of his own Donkey Kong Country subseries, and Mario... well, Mario continued to rule the video game business for the next 20 years. At the E3 convention in 2002, Nintendo presented Donkey Kong Plus, a remake of Donkey Kong which was based on user-generated content. The concept of the game was scrapped soon after in perfect silence, but the mere idea of pitting the original arch rivals against each other decades after their debut was too grand for Nintendo to just let slip from their minds. In 2004, the idea became reality in a unique puzzle game named Mario vs. Donkey Kong.

"No you don't! ...NO YOU DON'T!"

Charles Martinet : Mario

Donkey Kong is mesmerized by a TV commercial about the Mini Mario line of toys, and rushes to get a Mini Mario of his own, only to find they're sold out. He breaks into the toy factory and steals all the Minis, and Mario takes it upon himself to capture the crazed, thieving gorilla.

March of the Minis, even before the sequel.
First of all, the game's title is kind of ironic. The writers of the wacky storyline criticize commerciality, and the way I see it, giving a game a title like Mario vs. Donkey Kong is quite the sales pitch in itself. Seriously, imagine Don LaFontaine saying that title in his booming trademark voice. Wouldn't you soil yourself? 23 years after Nintendo burst into the video game scene with a huge bang, with a game starring Mario and Donkey Kong, they returned to their roots. Anyone who ever knew anything about retro gaming must've been somewhat intrigued. The setting's the same, the game's completely different - however, Mario vs. Donkey Kong does pay notable homage to the original Donkey Kong legacy.

The graphics are great. There's very slight animation in the cutscenes and they look kind of stiff, more like comic book cutouts, but the clever use of sound makes them work. We witness the return of ACM technology, however it only applies to the sprites, the stationary elements of the environment are completely flat. It doesn't always mix that great, but most of the time I have no complaints about the graphical side of the game. While Donkey Kong's brief grunts are recycled from some earlier game - I'm not sure which since I've missed out on every DK game since Donkey Kong Country 3, so far - Charles Martinet recorded new voiceovers for this game, and it's absolutely hilarious work. During gameplay, especially the most frustrating moments, he starts to sound just as annoying as in Super Mario Advance, but for example, the opening cutscene totally cracked me up for many reasons, including Martinet's final "Mamma Mia" rant, and the "No you don't!" bit. The music's very good, composer Lawrence Schwedler does his best Wise/Beanland imitation, and it works. Some classic Donkey Kong tunes have been thrown in as well - slightly remixed, of course.

The ghosts of Shyguys past.
The game in a nutshell: you'd like to think that because the game is called Mario vs. Donkey Kong, that you could choose your character and play two different games, but that's not true. There are sort of two different games, but the only character you can control is Mario, and your mission is to conquer six different areas, with six stages each. Every stage has two different phases, and at the end of each area, you'll have to do one more stage - called a Mini Mario stage - and a boss fight. Then there's one additional boss fight. Let's see, if my math serves me correctly, that adds up to a total of 85 "screens". Funny, the game doesn't seem that long. Well, it's actually even longer, since after your first playthrough - if you've collected enough presents, that is, you'll unlock +, which is this game's "hard mode". Now don't go thinking it's the same game with slightly harder puzzles - it's a completely different and extremely tough one, and it has its own ending. The actual game might start feeling like target practice less than five minutes into this inferno.

Well, I still didn't get to the gameplay. The game is a mixture of a regular Mario platformer, the original Donkey Kong and an action-oriented puzzle, like Adventures of Lolo. That was actually a quite good point I made there, since like in Eggerland games, your mission in every standard stage is to solve puzzles to be able to progress and find a key, and with it, make it to the next phase, in which the key and door are replaced by a Mini Mario toy. Solving the puzzles in theory isn't too hard in itself, that's why there are literally tons of enemies and obstacles, presents which unlock a bonus challenge in the end of each stage as well as parts of the + game, and an occasionally very unforgiving time limit to provide some extra motivation. The hammer from the original Donkey Kong returns, accompanied by the classic "hammer time" tune, and it works on most enemies as long as its available. Each stage begins with a tutorial on how to deal with an obstacle or stipulation introduced in the following stage for the first time, and there are also many Help? blocks in the beginning to teach you some advanced techniques. This ensures comfortable play... for a while, at least. I won't even begin to go over all the different dangers or stepping stones on your path, there are way too many of them, but I have to mention a few... on a negative note.

Probably the most annoying boss fight in
the game. Bob-ombs equal doom.
I'll just say that until World 3, Fire Mountain, I was fine with the games obvious, but harmless quirks. As the game gets harder in every way, these harmless quirks become quite serious ones. The physics engine in this game is amazing. Most of the time, it's extremely comfortable to control Mario, his moves are very realistic and precise. However, the engine fails from time to time, especially when it comes to jumping, or switching from one climbing rope to another - even more serious problems occur when you meet enemies that you can use to your advantage by using their tails as ropes. Sometimes, Mario seems to grab the tail, but once you let go of the other rope, you come crashing down, usually on spikes - or floors way below. Mario doesn't die every time he hits the floor, regardless of the height of his fall - but sometimes he does. I haven't quite figured out why. Anyway, precious time is consumed more than once on just double- or triple-checking if you've got the rope or tail at a 100% certainty. Also, the controls fail. You see, Mario is able to make a high handstand jump, which is very handy and it works efficiently, too. You can even make a double jump. However, even the double handstand doesn't help in all situations - in those ones you need the backflip. The L and R buttons have no use in this game. If you press them simultaneously, you will be given limitless time to scan the whole area. The backflip is extremely hard to do. You have to press backwards + A just right to make it happen, and like I said, most of the time you're in a hurry. What I mean to say here is, why not just assign the backflip to a bit more practical scheme, like pressing the otherwise useless R and then tapping A once? All of the problems in gameplay come to a screaming climax in the couple of final worlds... just as I was ready to praise this game as one of the best puzzle games ever made.

If you get all three presents in each stage, you'll be granted a bonus chance in which you can win up to five extra lives. This challenge varies between a normal "stop the arrow" game and a swapping game in which you have to switch presents under Donkey Kong's crushing fist, until the last present remaining is the one you want.

The handstand's a cool manouver. It even
defends Mario from all kind of falling crap.
Going beyond the standard gameplay and back to perhaps somewhat more satisfactory issues, each seventh stage in each area (or world) is a Mini Mario stage, in which you need to guide six Mini Marios through a puzzle room, remembering all the way that they have limited abilities, a tendency to get stuck and total ignorance of everything happening around them - you're their brains. It kind of reminds me of Lemmings... which, on the other hand, reminds me that I absolutely need to dig up Lemmings for some platform for a review. Anyway, once again there's some extra motivation to not take the easiest possible route. The presents from the regular stages are replaced by letters that spell out "TOY", kind of like the "KONG" letters in Donkey Kong Country, and only the Minis can pick the letters up, which makes getting them that much harder. Getting all letters results in a slightly better bonus chance, and has an effect on the +, as well. You don't need to save all the Minis to pass the stage, but saving them all helps you a lot...

...In the boss fights, in which each saved Mini becomes a health point. The boss fights against Donkey Kong are nothing short of epic, and counting out a couple of exceptions, these boss fights might be my favourite parts of the game - especially the last fight of the normal round, since it's so deliciously nostalgic. All of the boss fights are unique, but the basic idea is to use all resources available to damage Donkey Kong four times - by throwing enemies at him in the genuine Super Mario Bros. 2 fashion, dropping stuff on him, or simply by using quick action to turn his own artillery against him before he can even realize what hit him.

It's not quite wise to laugh at an already
pissed off gorilla...
The growing problems in even the very basic controls make Mario vs. Donkey Kong a purely frustrating game to play, but it is a truly difficult game at the same time. On the normal round, the amount of actual puzzles decreases towards the end to step aside on the behalf of more straightforward platform action, but once + begins, you can say goodbye to your dignity and self esteem. The + puzzles are hellish, to say the least. Solving puzzles in theory in this whole game is just the beginning in each stage, but in the + stages, you really have to work on everything you need on the go. You need both brains and brilliant reflexes to see the game's true end.

Like I said, a while into the game I was ready to start off the review on an extremely high note, and I did, but I was also ready to end the review with a note just as high. Mario vs. Donkey Kong could've been a brilliant, unique puzzle game with incredible physics - instead it turned out a very good, still unique puzzle-based platformer with great theoretical physics, but not the seamless and all the way comfortable control to back them up. Just imagine what would've happened in any old Mario game if Mario, for some reason, refused to jump at any point when you wanted him to. In this game his occasional and seemingly random incompetence screams bloody murder.

Graphics : 8.7
Sound : 8.9
Playability : 7.9

Challenge : 9.5
Overall : 8.2


a.k.a. Donkey Kong Plus

GameRankings: 79.90%

torstai 26. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Mario Party Advance (2005)

Genre(s): Party / Compilation
Released: 2005
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Hudson Soft
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1-4

Not so long ago, there was a time I hadn't been an active Nintendo player for years. The final years of Nintendo 64's lifespan passed me by, Nintendo GameCube drove right past me altogether except for its excellent Resident Evil remake - I never played the remade version of Metal Gear Solid - and when the Wii came out, I was very intrigued by its concept, but not very interested in its exclusive products. Thanks to the Game Boy Advance, I found myself interested in Nintendo products once again, and got overwhelmed by information on all the Mario titles I had practically never even heard of: Paper Mario, Super Mario Sunshine, Super Smash Bros., Super Mario Galaxy and finally, Mario Party. The first Mario Party game was released on the Nintendo 64 in 1998, but for some unknown reason I must've just ignored it, since two years ago, I wrote an article, or sort of a blog, on the history of Mario with the help of some additional information I dug up from the net, and realized I had no idea what Mario Party was. Well, a few helpful Wikipedia articles later, I scooped up Mario Party Advance. It was mostly harshly criticized for having crappy multiplayer (just like any other handheld game in my opinion), which had apparently always been the butter on Mario Party's bread, but to me, it sounded fine, 'cause I had no experience with the series. Now I do, and Mario Party Advance turned out a harmless little game. For a lonely 10-year old, at least... with a lot of patience.

Bored of the board

The main character of the game is you, the player. You will take on the guise of Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach or Yoshi as you make your way through Shroom City, trying to return minigames and Gaddgets to Play Land, lost due to Bowser's selfish rampage.

The graphics are of the very basic Mario fare you've gotten used to on the Game Boy Advance ever since its first Mario titles popped out. What's quite impressive is the huge amount of characters they squeezed into this game, and all the different minigame designs. All in all, the game looks very nice in a cute, colourful Nintendo sort of way... and it certainly looks diverse. The music's good, even if it might start to get on your nerves during the last few quests. You'll be spending a lot of time on the board especially in the end, thanks to Bowser and that damn annoying Koopakid, and at that point the main background tune might start to sound like a funeral march. It's a bit loud. Giving each area its own background tune, an ambient one, would've been better.

Poor Thwomp. I... I think there's something
in my eye.
Mario Party is the kind of game which is basically quite easy to explain, but reviewing it from an adult's point of view is hard. Unlike many games on the Game Boy Advance that have been given the informative title of "Advance", Mario Party Advance isn't any sort of port or re-release of an earlier game - it's a stand-alone title in the series, with its very own features and quirks. The game's content is close to zero when you first start to play it, but once you've done with the single-player "quest mode", it becomes a large horde of minigames and kind of stupid, yet harmless applications. If I explain everything I possibly can about the main mode first, you can get some sort of idea of what the game is all about.

See Monkey? Save Monkey!
In every game mode, you start off by choosing your character from the four possible choices of Mario, Luigi (never again), Princess Peach (Toadstool.) and Yoshi. The main game is a board game in which you make progress by completing different sorts of quests. Some are available only for certain characters. These quests sometimes range from working as a messenger or fetching stuff, to just answering some sort of questions correctly, but usually you simply have to beat your employer or enemy in some kind of minigame. 50 different minigames and 60 Gaddgets (the apps) are available to you. All minigames can be unlocked in the main game by completing quests or by playing them once in a random challenge on the board, while some Gaddgets are only available in other game modes. Some of the minigames hit the mark, like Koopa Krunch, which is like Tetris, but with Koopa shells and traditional, multicoloured bricks from Super Mario Bros. 3., and some games based on fast button sequences like Bunny Belt and On the Spot. Some others, like Cloud Climb and Outta My Way! on the other hand, are way too easy and simple, no matter how much their difficulty level is raised in other game modes, while some are just plain frustrating - Chomp Walker and the oversensitive Peek 'n' Sneak come to mind. Trap Floor, which is unlocked as the "final battle" of the game, is by far the only minigame which I can really call difficult after a few plays. Most of the minigames ARE difficult on the first round, since the game's explanation for the games is sometimes extremely vague - you'll have to figure them out yourself. Those games in which your success isn't mainly based on luck, turn out easy as heck pretty soon.

On a quest for a pretty flower... that must not
be it. Oh, it is? Eye of the beholder, eye of the
Most of the game is based on luck, regardless of whether you're playing a minigame or navigating the board. The board is the worst. Your movement is based on mushrooms. One mushroom equals one turn. You can get more mushrooms by beating minigames in random challenges which appear to you as you advance on the board. It's very important to keep winning the minigames to make smooth progress. If you lose all your mushrooms, it's game over, which basically means that you'll go back to your starting point, and if you have an active quest, it will be reset and you'll have to do it all over again, no matter how frustratingly lengthy it is. Hard luck. As you're nearing the end of the thin storyline, Bowser and his lackey Koopakid will start making more and more random appearances on the board instead of your friends, and disrupting your progress. Let's say you're in the cemetary and on your way to the beach, from the northernmost side of the map to the southernmost one. Imagine making it to the beach and that damn Koopakid showing up, telling you he's gonna warp you. Then Bowser appears and sends you back to the cemetary. Imagine this happening four times in a row. You're not doing anything wrong, it's completely random! And therefore, even more annoying than it already is! Double this with that damn guide showing up every two steps on the board, showing you a place HE thinks you should go to, or presenting you yet another challenge of Barrel Peril, Stompbot XL or Chomp Walker. I'm telling you, this game will start to get on your nerves sooner or later, even if you like it at first.

Thank you, oh great Game Mage, but you're
a bit too late.
Koopakid's pranks also include a game of Rock, Paper and Scissors. No, not exactly a skill-based game, but get this: if you lose, on the first couple of times Bowser will block your current route with a rock, EVEN IF it is the ONLY route you can take to your destination. It's there as long as you have mushrooms left. Imagine having 15 of them, and the only quests available to you waiting beyond that roadblock. There's just no way around it, literally - you'll have to reset the game, or move in circles until it's game over. To my knowledge, Bowser can only do this twice during the game. On each subsequent random encounter, he just takes one mushroom away from you if you happen to lose. Koopakid can also show up on his own, with a minigame challenge - it's simple: if you win, you win a mushroom, and if you lose, you lose a mushroom.

It seems hard to collect and maintain mushrooms at first, and you'll probably be seeing the "Game Over" screen once every five minutes, but as the less luck-based minigames become more familiar to you, therefore easier, and you learn to strategize by using the freebies on the board efficiently, you'll be on an impressive roll in no time.

The quests are conceptually simple tasks given to you by the inhabitants of Shroom City, in other words an impressive cavalcade of characters from the whole Mario franchise, as well as a few characters that are more or less exclusive to the Mario Party series, including the extremely annoying duo of Shroomlock, a private detective, and Mr. E, a cowardly adventurer, that show up in several of your quests. All of the characters have backstories that don't really fit into the Mario franchise's canon. It seems everyone's your friend in some twisted way, even Bowser despite the fact of him being the main antagonist of the game. His quests usually involve you doing battle with his Koopakids in different ways, but you also need to do some work FOR him. Like in Super Mario 64, you have to complete a certain amount of quests to be able to face off with/work for Bowser - something you'll have to do on many, many occasions to get ahead.

Do the jungle hump.
One more thing I'll mention about the main mode of the game is that it's deliciously brutal in some ways, I must compliment the developers on that. In a duel minigame called the Slammer, I was using Mario, and pitted against Peach (Toadstool.). The game is all about hitting your opponent with a giant (that's giant, HUGE) hammer before (s)he hits you. It was just so surreal watching Mario make pancake out of Peach! Just a while later, I met Peach again in another minigame called Hammergeddon, which is about fighting it out in classic Hammer Bros. style. Now I can honestly say I've hammered Princess Peach (Toadstool.), more than once! Well, to talk about other things with less sexual/sadistic innuendo, the image of Mario flattening under a Thwomp is quite violent on a Mario game's scale. Also, it's kind of funny that you're sent on a quest as a messenger of love on several occasions, and Goomba is the only guy that actually gets the significant other he wants. You know what they say about brown guys... man, that's brutal. I'll stop right there.

Being able to enter the final battle with Bowser and his Trap Floor minigame means that you've gotten everything you can in the rest of the main game, so after the credits, you're done with the mode forever... if you're not into for some serious masochism. Seriously, the last half an hour of the game will be pure, unadulterated pain. You just want the game to be over. The same minigames keep popping up and they're just as challenging as they have been for the duration of the game - just a few keep changing, like the fun and relatively tricky Sort Stack. That Koopakid's the worst pain in the ass. I can't remember the last time a basically decent game had me begging for an end at any point.

The Jewelry Case Gaddget. Just shake the
treasure and watch the jewelry change
colour. Neat.
So, on to the other modes. They are mostly based on playing customizable versions of the minigames and checking out the different Gaddgets you've obtained so far, so I'll try to keep this short. Game Land is mentioned many times in the main mode, and like Toad says once you try it out, it's a one-stop forum for all content in the game besides the quests. All of the minigames are gathered there for free play, and the player can check out all the different, exciting Gaddgets like Screen Clean - which cleans all the virtual dust from your Game Boy Advance's screen, "very useful"! - and Desktop Golf, or my personal "favourite", Snooze Ewes, which helps the player to sleep by giving him/her virtual sheep to count. Completely useless apps, but also completely harmless - right up until you realize that you went into great distances to get a look at them. In Challenge Land, you can play the very same minigames for coins, which you can use to buy the rest of the Gaddgets you can't get in the main game. The ultimate prize of the game is the Power Star, which costs 100,000 coins. If you're dedicated enough, you can probably force yourself to get it... but forgive me for doubting your dedication in advance.

All the things I've learned about the series and the things I've seen in this game prove the lack of decent multiplayer to be a quite plausible peeve. A four-player game is possible only by using an additional board that comes bundled with the game. I'm not really sure how it works, nor do I have the desire to find out. I don't believe that any portion of the game would be very much more exciting with just two players duking it out. As I said, though, I have zero experience with the rest of the Mario Party series, so I can't really point out the true grief here.

In everything other than the main game, the challenge is up to the player's courage to take on more difficult versions of the minigames. The main game isn't hard. It's damn frustrating, that's what it is, due to the difficulties to advance on the board especially nearing the end of the game - again, you're not doing anything wrong, the game is just fucking with you, plain and simple. Also, it's stupid that if you fail to beat any quest besides the lengthy errands that are frustrating for another reason, you'll have to waste another mushroom to simply retry it. In the worst case, you'll lose all of the mushrooms because of mere bad luck and have to go all the way back to the starting point, and make your way back to the same spot again, even if it means travelling from one end of the map to another. It's stupid, annoying and frustrating. Not hard.

So, my first touch with the Mario Party series was a boring one towards the end, but it started out nice and considering that it's a handheld game, there's a decent amount of minigame madness, even some entertaining games; the simple Koopa Krunch is actually more fun to play than a few critically acclaimed, major puzzle titles - this is my honest opinion. To an old school Mario fan, communicating with all those classic characters is also somewhat of a hoot, even if their "storylines" are quite dumb and naive - even in all their utter irrelevancy to the gameplay experience they're kind of disturbing. A decent compilation of minigames, that really sparked my interest in trying some of the titles on major consoles. Maybe I'll scoop up the Nintendo 64 "trilogy" at some point, huh?

Graphics : 8.9
Sound : 7.9
Playability : 7.2
Challenge : 5.9
Overall : 7.0


GameRankings: 56.42%

Toad was originally meant to be the fourth playable character instead of Luigi. That's why Luigi isn't featured on the game's cover art, but Toad (who "hosts" the game) is.

The only game in the Mario Party series which doesn't feature Wario as a playable character.

keskiviikko 25. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Mario's Time Machine (1993)

Genre(s): Edutainment
Released: 1993
Available on: NES, PC, SNES
Developer(s): Radical Entertainment, The Software Toolworks
Publisher(s): The Software Toolworks, Mindscape
Players: 1

I can't think but of one sentence to begin this review with: some people just can't enough of playing shitty games. Let's take me, for example. I already knew educational Mario games are all but a waste of time - I thought Mario Is Missing! would keep me from even trying another one of Mindscape's so called Mario games, but then I figured: hey, might as well complete the set on the behalf of this blog, and who knows, maybe it'll be kinda fun. Well, it's shit. No surprise there. But it's not completely unplayable shit. So, I guess it IS kinda fun. Kinda. Yet, not nearly as fun as it is for me to review it. Unleash the beast!

Did you know German reunification depended on just one sledgehammer? Well, now you do!

In 1993, Bowser builds a time machine he christens the Timulator. He uses the Timulator to steal precious artifacts across time, and build the greatest museum of all time. As Mario and Yoshi investigate the museum, Bowser takes the latter captive. Mario must return the artifacts before history is irreversibly changed, and rescue his partner from Bowser's clutches.

I have stated before (in my review of LucasArts' excellent adventure game Day of the Tentacle) that writing a story about time travel and applying it to a video game is pretty much failsafe. Well, I had forgotten all about Mario's Time Machine, and now that I think about it like the most dedicated wiseass, I can't think of any good game based on a movie about time travel, either. So I'll take back what I said, which I don't do often.

The graphics are the same as in Mario Is Missing! - Super Mario World's sprites in an NES game, except Bowser, whose sprite from Super Mario Bros. 3 is recycled instead. The weird thing is, when he retreats into his shell and starts rolling towards Mario, his sprite suddenly changes into a Koopaling's sprite from that same game, with Bowser's colours. The environments don't look quite as horrid as in the previous game, however the stages are very short and straightforward, which have might something to do with the slightly better graphical display. The music is terrible, which is not surprising at all. Just for the fun of it, I did a little portfolio check on John Korsrud, the guy who wrote the music. You'd never guess, there's only one game he ever wrote the music to in addition to this one. You don't have to be a genius to figure out which game.

The good news is that when it comes to gameplay, Mario's Time Machine isn't exactly Mario Is Missing!, part deux. The games do have a lot in common - they both suck, for instance, but that's not what I mean. Let's start with that retarded icon on the top of the screen. This time you won't have to use it a whole lot, only to use the artifacts which you collect. There's also a map which shows which stages you've already beaten, but it won't make a stinking difference to you, and I'll tell you why in a bit in my commentary. Also, this game ends in one of the most disgraceful battles against Bowser ever, preceded by a pop quiz on random things you've learned about history so far. That's about it, since Time Machine is even fun for a while, whereas Mario Is Missing! wasn't.

I think the best way to break this game down is to write a sort of a play-by-play commentary I did in the case of Home Alone, since the game was so short. I've handpicked three stages from the game to give you some examples of basic frustration in this game, and will go over the intermissions and so called "high points" of the game.

Looks eerily familiar. Less fun, though.
So, the game begins with Bowser snatching Yoshi and you're taken to the lobby of Bowser's museum. Entering any door in the lobby will put you in a boring poor man's game of Mario Bros., in which you'll have to bump a few Koopa Troopas entering the room through pipes down and kick them out of the playfield. You can't take damage in the entire game; if an enemy hits you, Mario will just duck and stay put for a couple of seconds. There is close to no collision detection in this "minigame". You'll just have to keep hitting those bricks straight underneath the enemies until the game decides to incapacitate the enemy. Kicking them out of the field can be quite damn difficult too, since Mario is quite eager to randomly do his spin jump carried over from Super Mario World, which prevents him from jumping too high. As you're trying to get to the downed turtle, he will probably come to and you'll have to try getting rid of 'em again. Oh yeah, and guess what else? Run too close to the pipes and the game will just assume you're trying to exit the room, which makes no sense since all the rooms are alike and the items you're trying to get appear randomly. You're taken back to the lobby entrance, which will really start to drill through your temple when Mario starts nailing the doors shut in order from left to right. You'll be seeing the lobby many times on other occasions as well.

Yeah, that one egg must've helped a plenty.
Your new password is... "VAGINAL"?
Anyway, when you're done with this sequence, you get a random artifact as a reward for your troubles. For my first of three examples, I'll choose the sledgehammer. What an artifact, huh? The famous, rusty sledgehammer that changed history and couldn't possibly be replaced. The world is in for a paradox. Yep, yes siree. Well, the next thing you'll have to do is enter the time machine in the middle of the room. The stages have no descriptions, just years, ranging from 80,000,000 B.C. to 1989. I choose 1989, perhaps the sledgehammer can be used to do some irreversible damage to Milli Vanilli. However during the "smooth, astounishing übergalactic transition through time", in other words some generic animation with an equally generic sound effect, I remember that the game's purpose is to preserve time as it is, not change it - that's Bowser's job. Damn. Oh well, I got the year right - it's when they started tearing down the Berlin Wall, and they NEEDS THIS ONE SLEDGEHAMMERS! I MUSTS RETURNS IT!!! I choose the sledgehammer from the menu on top, and... a bird flies in and takes the hammer away. The game says that I got the location to use the hammer all wrong and should read all the clues to figure out the correct spot.

Oh well, back to the time machine, through the lobby to the first door, and another dull Mario Bros. session later, I get something... but it's not the sledgehammer. It's a stovepipe hat. Only one important historical person I know used a hat like this, and that's Honest Abe Lincoln. I check Wikipedia for fast knowledge on when Abe did something important (I really can't bear running down the lobby and doing that Mario Bros. thing any more times than I really need to, if I jumble something up), and it states he held the Gettysburg Address in November, 1863. Well, 1863 is not found on the list, but 1862 is, as the only year on the list that President Lincoln was alive to see. Well, it's not related to the Gettysburg Address, but it is something... wait, it IS related to the Gettysburg Address! Imagine that. An educational game, and they fucked up. Ha. Well, it's not that bad of a fuck up, so let's just leave it at that. It seems that President Lincoln was so depressed over the loss of his beloved hat that he couldn't make the Address. Now that's plain ridiculous, but let's carry on anyway. Well, now that we spend a little more time actually playing the game instead of just using the item we're carrying right away, let's go over the basic gameplay.

That's a lamp, and it needs a light bulb. Or so
you logical bastard would like to think.
It sucks. Unlike Mario Is Missing!, Mario's Time Machine is disguised as a traditional Mario platformer, with hourglasses and clocks standing in for bricks. Some of the hourglasses can be broken with the spin jump, or rotated so you can jump through them, by bumping them from the beneath. Like I said before, Mario is a bit too trigger happy with the spin jump, but that's not all, his jumping distances vary and if they're not a problem enough to get to a destination, there are the enemies which respawn by a nanosecond. Again, they can't harm you. They're just there to annoy you. They are of no use to the game. I have to wonder why they even bothered to put enemies into the game. Probably just to fuck with the player, OR to make this look like a game from some angle.

We have no clue of where to use Abe's hat, so let's force ourselves to a clue block placed among a horde of annoying enemies, tons of hourglasses and a few indestructible clocks. It's hard, but finally one random, here-goes-nothing jump accidentally lands us right underneath the block. It says something about the U.S. Civil War. Yeah yeah, we know about that, give us another clue. "Abraham Lincoln was known as Honest Abe". And that's all. GOD DAMN IT! Oh well, to the next clue block, which is in plain sight and easy to reach. It says something like "The ADDRESS isn't on the GATE". Oh, so it's that gate then, with the big Gettysburg sign on it. Let's use the hat. BINGO! Abe is now Happy Abe and can finally make the speech. It's a bit odd that the crappiest "clues" were seemingly worth the most trouble in the developers' minds. Well, that's OK since in some stages, neither the clues OR the solutions make any sense at all. Stay tuned.

I'm in the year 1879, with the light bulb. I take some time to check out the map, to see what I've got left, 'cause its obvious the light bulb belongs here - I'm in a dark living room with oil lamps all over the place. As I whip out the map, I realize something. You can't use the map in the only places it does you some good, which is the lobby or the Mario Bros. room. Only in stages. So, if I accidentally went back to 1862 when I actually wanted to go to 1879, I'd have to enter the time machine again, back to the lobby, and back to the Assrapin' Troopas minigame to get another random item to use in some other time. "Damn, I have to use this steering wheel in 1520. Well, I'll remember that other one later." You take the steering wheel to its place, then rape those Troopas until you get the light bulb, and then: "Uh, which year was it again? Damn, can't check the map while I'm in here. Eeny-meeny-miny-1862. D'OH!" And so the circle continues. This didn't happen to me - anymore at this point, anyways - but it's possible.

Well, as I was saying, I'm in 1879 with that damn bulb. I read the clues and there's NOTHING useful. One of them says "You can just feel the electricity in the air". Well, the first thing I try is jumping into the air and using the light bulb. Well, it doesn't work, items can't be used while Mario is in the air. Well, there's an electrical testing device on the table. Nope, it's not that either. God damn it, how could I miss that empty electric lamp on the table? I'll just snap this in and... here the bird comes again. Bye bye, light bulb. It's kind of symbolic, since I'm all out of ideas after that empty lamp. That does it, now I'm using the Save State option on my emulator. I've refrained from it this far, but enough is enough. Well, the correct place to use the light bulb in is in front of the gramophone. Get it? Music in the air? Electricity in the air? FUCK YOU, SOFTWARE TOOLWORKS! FUCK YOU AND YOUR MOTHER!

Hats off to ANYONE who can figure out what's
going on this game.
Well, it is all done. All I have to do now is hurry to the end of the lobby and enter Bowser's humble abode. The game tells me to hold on a damn minute and answer three questions based on the clues throughout the game. It's all the same to me at this point, I've waited many damn minutes for something to happen in this awful "game". Well, by knowing which Roman general had the hots for Cleopatra, which was the biggest and baddest dinosaur of all time and which dollar bill has Abe Lincoln's face on it, I'm in the clear. First of all, I've read all Asterix books worth reading, secondly I've watched Jurassic Park a million times plus I'm not stupid, and thirdly, I'm very good at guessing. The clues had nothing to do with this, I didn't even read them all at least in which the correct placement of the item was already obvious. I can now fight Bowser. Yay?

Nay. As a Bowser fan, I find myself double revolted. The Mario vs. Bowser setting has provided us avid players with some epic battles back in the day, this is something just indescribably retarded. It's like a battle against any Koopaling in either Super Mario Bros. 3 or Super Mario World, only a lot more generic, slow, easy and simple. Bowser explodes after the third and final jump on his head, then miraculously appears again in the credits, CRYING. This fuckin' does it... so, where's the next game? This was fun.

That's debatable.
Seriously though, this was luckily the second and last game in The Software Toolworks and Mindscape's educational series. Other companies who were selling Mario as Captain Obvious at the time, teaching kids irrelevancies, were respectable enough not to disguise their games as traditional Mario games and force parents to buy their children crap - they came out straight with their educational purposes. Mindscape did the exact opposite and did their best to market their games as "not quite official, but full blooded" Mario titles. What they got in return was a lot of shit, and for a good reason. Mario's Time Machine is a simple, frustrating "edu" game without the "tainment" part. It's not QUITE as bad as Mario Is Missing!, more like equally useless. Bearing it's the challenge. Even if it's not exactly its point (I don't know what is), you will have to have a huge fuckin' hole in your brain to not be ABLE to beat it. 'Cause you know, you'd be dead, if you had a huge fuckin' hole in your brain. There's education for ya. If you found this small piece of info new or interesting, maybe this IS a game for you.

Graphics : 7.2
Sound : 4.5
Playability : 5.0
Challenge : 3.7
Overall : 4.9


GameRankings: 60.42% (SNES)

REVIEW - Mario Kart: Super Circuit (2001)

Genre(s): Racing
Released: 2001
Available on: GBA
Developer(s): Intelligent Systems
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1-4

The Game Boy Advance had been out only a few months when it was graced with the first-ever handheld Mario Kart game. Purists who disliked Mario Kart 64 were once again on the march, criticizing the game as just another needless remake of perfection before it was even released. Mario Kart: Super Circuit is an essential, comfortable port of vintage Mario Kart even purists can't bash, but like most handheld installments, ports and versions of classic games, it gives and takes.

The gang's back on the road

I can't think of much things that haven't been said about Mario Kart in the past. Do you really think the basics will ever change? No, and that's a good thing, it really is. It's the kind of concept you just can't execute better, you can only modify it a little, and make it look fancier. It's kind of pointless to start comparing Super Circuit's graphics to Mario Kart 64... until you realize they actually look better. Seriously, Intelligent Systems' all-over cartoonish style is much better and easier on the eyes than the pseudo-realism Nintendo's development team tried to accomplish with the tracks in Mario Kart 64, which radically contrasted the cutout characters. The game looks really nice, and it sounds really nice, too. The music composed by Kenichi Nishimaki - best known for his work on RPG's, including the Paper Mario series - is great, and really captures the Mario spirit. Sound effects are present, but voiceover samples were mostly left out this time around - some are recycled from Mario Kart 64, but luckily with caution. I really had my fill of the samples in Super Mario Advance.

Daddy's hooooome!
So, Intelligent Systems make their debut as the main developers of Mario Kart, but the game hasn't changed at all. It's like a mixture of both previous games. The tracks, and the variety of weapons and power-ups is close to, but not exactly like the ones in the original game, while the cast of racers is exactly the same as in Mario Kart 64. Those who have read the earlier Mario Kart reviews know who I'm rolling with, even if character ratings (speed and weight) that are sort of carried over from Super Mario Advance kill my buzz - Bowser's definitely the slowest of all racers. Ah, who cares, really? He rules.

The controls take some getting used to due to the limited control scheme of the Advance, but they turn out pretty much the most fluid controls in the series. Sharp curves are much easier to manage than in the earlier games, and there's a feeling of more precise and comfortable control all the way.

I'll try to wrap this all up rather quickly, since the basics really haven't changed at all. The great basic concept of 1992's Super Mario Kart still works, and there are virtually no changes to it. However, the game has one notable high point, as well as a notable low point. The high point is that whenever you win gold in a cup, let's say Mushroom Cup, and have collected 100 coins during the tournament, that particular cup from the very original Super Mario Kart is unlocked for free use in any single-player game mode. That means there's a total of 40 different tracks in this game. As long as your enthusiasm for the single-player mode lasts, you'll have fun...

A similar track made my life a living hell in
the original... this time, the controls are a
bit more forgiving.
...Yet, the multiplayer game is a disgrace. Duking it out in multiplayer used to be the reason to keep playing Mario Kart. All of the classic multiplayer modes are here - Mario GP, VS and Battle - but the handheld format brings in limitations to the multiplayer experience. There's a new mode called Link It Up!, which allows four players to use that limited and awkward link cable to connect their systems. However, this mode only allows Mario GP, four different tracks and different coloured Yoshis to be played. It's useless, since the other four-player modes have more options. Playing either one of the classic modes which allow four players (VS and Battle), on the other hand, just simply doesn't feel the same, everyone's staring at their own system's screen, sitting ass-to-ass to each other... the mere thought doesn't work for me. You need some personal space, for swearing, playing mind games, swinging your fists and whipping out a powerdrill to work on your controller. That's what multiplayer's all about.

Even while the multiplayer, an extremely large part of the true Mario Kart experience inevitably fails to impress me on a personal level, Mario Kart: Super Circuit is a damn good game, equipped with surprisingly good A.I., good controls and perhaps a better single-player campaign than in any other game in the series, including the ones that came later. 

Graphics : 9.2
Sound : 9.2
Playability : 8.9
Challenge : 8.9
Overall : 9.0


GameRankings: 92.03%

Nintendo Power ranks Mario Kart: Super Circuit #173 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

REVIEW - Wario Land II (1998)

Genre(s): Platform
Released: 1998
Available on: GB / GBC
Developer(s): Nintendo
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

I went into the original Wario Land II pumped up by Super Mario Land 3 and all the great reviews I read about this sequel, which is a combination of a traditional platform game, puzzle-solving and adventuring. I must say that I'm immensely disappointed, but at the same time I'm kind of excited of the fact that I can finally be a total contrarian to all those critics who think Wario Land II is one of the most essential Game Boy games of all time. I don't like it, plain and simple.

Trial and error... error... error...

One ordinary morning, Captain Syrup and his gang get back at Wario by robbing him and trashing his castle. After Wario wakes up and realizes his precious treasure is gone, he gives chase to the pirates all across the surrounding lands.

Mostly - counting out boss fights and some quite impressive sequences - the game looks plain, very plain. It's a quite big game as expected, so it's practically no wonder, but I sincerely have to doubt that Nintendo couldn't do better than something this stiff and dull in 1998. The music, this time composed by Wario Land's Ishikawa Kozue all by himself, is quite horrid. There's maybe one good tune, the rest of it's there to drive anyone out of mind. The sound effects... well... farting at low frequency comes to mind. Believe me, this isn't just because I don't like the game, this really is my honest opinion of the game's audiovisuals. The Color version at least looks decent, but this is the original we're talking about here.

A boss fight, against a giant
bee. What was his name
again? Oh, "Giant Bee".
To prove I'm not just bashing the game for some selfish reason, I must say the game is not total shit by any means, and there are some things I sincerely like about it. However, if a game begins with a lengthy stage in which your "mission" is to shut off a loud alarm clock, and you are forced to hear that alarm clock in Game Boy's less than spectacular audio throughout the stage, you know something's wrong. If the next chapter begins with a quest to return an escaped, oversensitive chicken back to her pen with every slightest bump against invisible walls pissing on your progress, you are doubly sure there's something wrong. What does that whole chicken thing have to do with getting back your treasure, anyway?!

Let's take it from the start. Wario Land II is a very, very different platformer. First and foremost, Wario can't die. There are no pits, no chasms, and if you hit an enemy from the wrong side, you will merely lose coins - like Sonic the Hedgehog loses rings, however the coins are not there for health, they are just there for valuable treasure and currency for minigames, which are once again important to determining the ending of the game. There's also a lot of puzzle solving related to the environment and how to get into certain places with Wario's lacking physique. You will need to take advantage of certain enemies and the handicaps which some enemies inflict on you - more about these handicaps later on. The fact that Wario is practically invincible doesn't make the game one step easier - or harder, at that. It's just DAMN frustrating. I don't know about everyone else, but to me, challenge doesn't stand for doing lengthy sequences over and over and over again just because you jumbled something up in the end of it - like magically hit an enemy from the wrong side even though it didn't seem that way, or went crashing into an invisible wall while attempting to make a long jump which you knew you COULD make - and will make, the next time. Or the next. Or the next. These things happen, for real. Like I said, this doesn't make the game any more difficult than it is. It just rips and tears on nerves, nothing else. Halfway through the game, I wished it would all be over.

My frustration, on a scale of
1-10? I'd say 15.
There's a little bit of influence from adventure games, as well. You are given a certain mission in the beginning of each stage, but most of the time it just describes what waits for you in the end and what you need to do there in order to beat the stage. The chicken mission I mentioned, however, requires you to make your way to the end of the stage, pick up the chicken and then go all the way back to the beginning with the clucker in tow, while dodging some big, evil, annoying chickens. However, chickens are not the most annoying birds in the game by a long shot. Those have to be the owls - perhaps inspired by the one in Super Mario 64 whose talons you had to grab and fly to the cage high up in the sky to get that one Power Star. It was annoying, but this is something even worse as you'll have to use an owl to fly through different gauntlets on several occasions, and the flying controls suck some hairy arse. Just one bump into something will send you right back to the beginning of the sequence, a few coins short. What makes matters even worse, is that the owls are just a part of a bigger picture of different sorts of transport and special stipulations which are there to drive the player insane without almost any exceptions.

Since Wario can't actually take damage, you can rest assured that Nintendo came up with a few nuisances to cover that loss. Like I said, Wario loses coins upon touching an enemy the wrong way - that sounded kinky - but he also takes a ridiculous fall backwards, which seems to vary according to the location and height you're in. Let's say that you're climbing a high, vertical tower. You get to the highest floor, and an enemy catches you right in the kisser. You're most likely to fall straight to the first floor. If you get hit again on the first floor, it might be Wario doesn't move at all. It's ridiculous! Once again, this kind of bullshit is challenge? Where was I when they figured something like this out? Well, then there are the bosses... let me tone down the fury first. OK... so, the coins are safe once you reach a boss, but taking one good hit from a boss results in you getting thrown off the field, having to backtrack from some other location back to the boss, and start the whole fight all over again. I almost gave up in the last boss of the main game. My nerves just couldn't bear the randomness. If this was any other game, I would've kindly asked for at least a traditional health bar. However, if there was some kind of health bar in this particular game, it would spell "NEVER".

Suddenly zombified. Call
Chris Redfield.
You might have noticed I used the words "main game". There are 25 main stages in the game, but 26 more to those who are dedicated enough. To my knowledge, each chapter has a secret exit, and each stage has a secret treasure and a following minigame. The secret exits lead you to additional chapters with five stages each. These stages also have treasures, and are followed by the minigame like any other stage. The secret treasures are acquired by using coins to play a hidden memory game in each stage, with three difficulty levels. In this case, Easy is the most valuable (and literally most expensive) difficulty level, since you'll get the same prize on each level, and you won't get another chance if you jumble it up. After getting all of the treasures and beating the Anticipation-like minigame after each stage to acquire a rare treasure map, you're taken to a one final stage, and upon beating it, you will complete 100% of the game and at least should get the best possible ending. I'm not sure, since I will never, ever have the patience to even try. I can tell you that for certain, right now.

So... finally, the handicaps. Usually, when you're introduced to a new handicap, it will be to your advantage in solving a progress-based puzzle, however later, maybe even in that very same spot after you've done all you need to do, they will be there just to slow you down and annoy the hell out of you. Enemies respawn like crazy no matter how many times you take them out, so usually that won't help either - however, the respawning's seemingly just as random as everything else in the game. The handicaps include getting shrunk, flattened, inflated by a bee sting, zombified, "crazy" ("drunken" in the Japanese version - and that's closer to the truth) and fat, among others. Some of these don't have any use; the "crazy" handicap is funny at first, but not at a point in which it's inflicted high up in the air while you're trying to jump across narrow platforms to get to the other high side of a room, since you can't jump while under the influence, and the only way to shrug it off is to fall back to the bottom and take a dip into water.

Oh, now they gave Donkey
Kong the hammer.
I can't even count how many features of the game themselves drive me angry and frustrated. There's not a single point in the game I would call difficult in the traditional sense, only dumb. Like I said, it's a different thing to get stuck on something - some spot or a singular enemy - than having to climb some stupid-ass stairs or jump across a lengthy line of platforms over and over and over again just to bump into some enemy in the end who suddenly changes his pattern of movement just in time to push you back to the beginning, or if not him, a sudden invisible wall. It's all luck. I guess the fact that the game is so big is enough to convince me that it deserves a better rating for actual challenge. It just sucks that you have no chance to return to any of the stages during the first playthrough. If you miss something, it's tough luck.

The first couple of stages made me believe I'll like the game. Sure, the sound of the alarm clock was infernal torment, the rest of the sound effects sucked and the music was the worst, but the game still had some potential, I really enjoyed the gameplay for an extended while before falling hard like Fatman. I really wanted to enjoy the game. I really wanted to see what makes the game, and I quote, a "9.0" at IGN (extremely replayable, huh?) or "A unique and addictive platformer that no gamer should be without" and similarly rated at Nintendojo. Like I said in the prologue, on the other hand I enjoy being a total contrarian once in a while. I simply can't see the game's greatness. It's memorable, semi-fun and different, that's true, but it is no masterpiece and far from essential in my view.

Graphics : 7.0
Sound : 5.4
Playability : 6.1
Challenge : 8.0
Overall : 6.3


GameRankings: 80.00%

The game is actually the third Wario title. Virtual Boy Wario Land, released in 1995, was the second, but it was ignored in the numerical order probably due to the Virtual Boy's poor success. However, the game itself has been hailed by many critics as the best Virtual Boy game by a long shot.

The game was released on March 2nd, 1998. An enhanced and better known version of the game was released on the Game Boy Color on October 21st. Even though Wario Land II is a Japanese game, the original Game Boy version was never released in Japan.

tiistai 24. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Wario Land - Super Mario Land 3 (1994)

Genre(s): Platform
Released: 1994
Available on: GB
Developer(s): Nintendo
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

Wario became a very popular character in the Mario universe right after his stint as the main antagonist of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins. The problem was that at that point, the developers didn't really know what to do with him and how to improve his status... except the unlikely move to make him a lead character. Well, in 1994, Nintendo finally published a game in which the hero wasn't a cutesy, happy-go-lucky saint fighting for the greater good, but an ugly, childish, malicious and greedy thief working for no one's benefit but his own. Super Mario Land 3, now more or less officially known as Wario Land, as it has since spawned many sequels of its own, instantly became a cult classic and immortalized Wario as a character we all love to hate.

Building a kingdom of greed

Still seething over his defeat at Mario's hands, Wario sets out to find the lost statue of Princess Toadstool to use it as a bargaining piece to acquire a castle of his own. He learns that the pirates on Kitchen Island, led by Captain Syrup, are somehow linked to the mythical treasure. It's time to rob some robbers and get back at Mario.

Feel like ridin' on a Thwomp?
The game looks pretty much the same as Super Mario Land 2, on the surface. Wario's sprite has been smoothed out and cut down to size, luckily - he's still ugly as heck, but in a positive sort of way. He's not nearly the colossal warthog he was in the previous game. The enemy design is quite interesting; there are no classic Mario enemies at all except for Thwomp (or whatever they call him now), and a very modified version of Goomba, named Goom. Still there are over 30 different enemies, plus seven unique bosses, which are all quite stylish in design in the surreal Super Mario Land sort of way. The music's a bit better this time around, yet there's a whole new team at work once again, so it's quite different as well. A couple of familiar-sounding tunes appear, but the all-original score picks up the win this time.

Those going into this believing that Wario Land is just a simple Mario game with a different lead character are in for a surprise... a positive or negative one, that depends on the player. It's a whole different game, and I kind of dig it. The main purpose of the game is to collect coins. You can beat the game with any amount of treasure, but the ending of the game wholly depends on how much you've accumulated coins and hidden treasures. Almost everything in the game is based on money. You can use coins as weapons, you must pay for checkpoints - which might sound quite silly, but it's all right since you'll have to be a total speedrunner if you don't have the amount needed at that point - and also, to be able to exit and complete a stage. Each stage is followed by two bonus games which you can choose from: a double-or-nothing guessing game, in which you'll be able to double up your coins from the stage you just completed or lose half of them, and a 3D shooter with three different difficulty levels in which you'll have to bomb far away enemies to stock up on extra hearts or lives. I usually just take double or nothing, despite having extraordinarily bad luck. The shooter is really difficult on the harder levels.

Wario himself differs from Mario quite a lot. He doesn't die from simply touching an enemy, actually it's the complete contrary. He can knock an enemy over by just bumping into him. Might sound easy, but most enemies are armed with weapons, and he can't touch the weapons without taking damage; he has to bump into these enemies from a safe side. It still might sound pretty easy, but believe me when I say that Wario Land is quite a difficult game. There are some enemies you just can't deal with physically, at all. Wario's methods of attack vary depending on his state. The state is manipulated by different Pots - great, first mushrooms, then "pot". These pots grant Wario different helmets. The normal Super Helmet allows him to tackle through bricks and enemies. The Bull Helmet enhances the tackle in speed and strength, and also gives Wario the ability to pound the ground with a body slam. The Dragon Helmet gives Wario the ability to breathe fire - the fire also destroys bricks and works underwater in a different way. Finally, the Jet Helmet allows Wario to fly for a short while, and radically increases his walking speed. Little Wario, to which Wario traditionally changes after taking damage, is quite useless. He can still knock down enemies by jumping on them and throw them around in the vein of Super Mario Bros. 2, but he can't break any bricks by slamming or tackling them. Starman is the only returning power-up from the traditional Mario brand.

A man can go through the
grey stone.
Your goal is to make it through a linear world map, all the way from your landing point at Rice Beach to the heart of Kitchen Island, Syrup Castle. After you've beaten the game, all the coins and the value of hidden treasures you've gathered are tallied up to determine your ending. So, in this game, like in Super Mario Land 2, coins aren't collected for extra lives, not directly at least. Instead, you'll want to try gathering 100 hearts to gain an extra life. Each heart icon you collect is worth 10 hearts. Extra lives are way more difficult to obtain than in the two previous games combined. For the first time in this series, I actually lost all of my lives once... and I was very disappointed that each time that happens, the hidden treasures you've found so far are taken away from you. You can return to the stages to get them back, but it's still a pretty damn stupid and tedious thing to do to the player who might've gone far out of his way to get those trinkets.

The treasures are usually hidden in treasuries beyond maze-like areas. Finding the key is usually pretty easy, once you know it's there somewhere. However, getting to the treasury usually takes a lot of your precious time, which might run out during your little hunt. This was at least my main problem in collecting them.

Shades of Super Mario Bros. 2.
Each region of Kitchen Island is controlled by a unique boss. Once again, all of the boss fights have pretty much the same idea, but different strategy. You'll have to jump on them or throw a certain item at them three times to pick up the win. After each boss is defeated, you have a chance to collect a lot of extra money before the time runs out.

I think that's all I have to say about the basics, so the bottom line is: how are the controls this time around? They're still pretty random when it comes to jumping, and trying not to spoil anything, I'll just say some things that should work occasionally don't. It's like the A.I. decides whether or not it feels like taking commands. However, in general the control's a lot better than in the previous games. Wario is bulky, and not nearly as sleek and smooth as Mario, but that also means, in this case, that he maintains a certain precision missing from the earlier games.

Let's rumble, Rusty.
On how difficult the game is... well, as I pointed out, it is pretty damn difficult at times. Purposedly so, since the first two Super Mario Land games were easy as heck; Super Mario Land 2 even moreso since it was non-linear. It's especially difficult when you go for the best possible ending. Not only will you have to find all of the hidden treasures, you will also have to deal with an extra, secret region (although the difficulty level doesn't really soar like in most games with these sort of secrets) and muster up a lot of hard currency.

The final game in the Super Mario Land series spawned one of its own, and for a good reason. Wario injected the Mario franchise with something perhaps unimaginative and naive, but refreshing. It's fun to return to Wario Land from time to time, and it is indeed one of the most interesting and essential Game Boy platformers.

Graphics : 8.8
Sound : 8.1
Playability : 8.7
Challenge : 9.1
Overall : 8.7


a.k.a. Super Mario Land 3: Wario Land (JAP)

GameRankings: 81.00%

To date, Wario Land has spawned seven sequels of its own, despite formally being a Super Mario Land 3.

maanantai 23. elokuuta 2010

REVIEW - Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (1992)

Genre(s): Platform
Released: 1992
Available on: GB
Developer(s): Nintendo
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

Super Mario World marked the last major, official Mario platformer for years to come, as Shigeru Miyamoto felt an urge to take the brand beyond that one genre. Gunpei Yokoi, who produced Super Mario Land for the Game Boy in 1989, assembled a whole new team to work on a sequel to the handheld classic in 1992, to keep the traditional Mario game alive and kicking. Designed by Hiroji Kiyotake, Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins struck gold, and gave birth to yet another character who would become a mainstay in the franchise, as well as the star of a few games of his own: Wario.

Chasing out a squatter, Mario style

Mario returns from Sarasaland to find his own land, Mario Land, to be in complete shambles. During his absence, his evil cousin Wario has taken over the castle, renamed the area Wario Land and brainwashed the land's inhabitants to believe Mario is their enemy. Mario needs to gather the six golden coins used to open the castle gates to get in and chase Wario out of his house and his dominion for good.

Bunny Mario vs. a butt-ugly
bird boss.
The graphical design borrows a lot from Super Mario World - and one ability is carried over from the 16-bit game - but that's about it with the comparisons, since Super Mario Land 2 is quite a unique Mario game. Sticking with the graphics, the sprites are HUGE taking into consideration that we're playing a Game Boy game here. When I first slapped the game in, I thought I was controlling Super Mario right off the bat, until I munched the first mushroom. Surprisingly, it works. I thought the large sprites would've made progress damn near impossible in an expectedly hectic platformer, but there are no problems in relation to the display.

It's clear there was a different team working on this game than the previous Super Mario Land; the soundtrack's only a small part of it. This time, the music's composed by Kazumi Totaka, and I must say it isn't too good. Once again, there's a remixed (nearly unrecognizable) version of a vintage Mario tune, the Underworld theme from Super Mario Bros., and it sounds fine, but the original score is quite unimaginative and bland. Well, it could easily be purely irritating, and it isn't, so I guess this is somewhat of a plus.

The easiest Mario game to compare Super Mario Land 2 to, is without a doubt its predecessor, however that's not very easy either. Making it to an alternative exit or touching a checkpoint bell high up in the air before exiting a stage has the same effect that exiting through the upper door in the end of each stage had in the first game - you're granted a bonus chance. The shooting stages are taken out of the fray, but they're somewhat replaced by just as special stages based on anti-gravitation or floating around inside a bubble.

Wow. A Jason Voorhees
wannabe with a knife stabbed
through his head. In a Mario
game. Wow.
As you will see right after pressing Start for the first time, it's pretty much pointless to start comparing Super Mario Land 2 to any other game. It has a save feature - Super Mario World had one, but this is a Game Boy game. Unbelievable. 4 megabits of size was unheard of in a Game Boy game back then, and some might have thought the save feature would take most of that capacity, but uh uh. For an original Game Boy title, Super Mario Land 2 is quite big. And flashy.

After finishing the first stage of the game, we are given the freedom of moving around on the world map, and that's not all - the game is completely, perfectly non-linear right up to the point you storm the castle. You can finish the different regions - called zones - of this newfound "Wario Land" in any order you wish, and stop by for a bonus game or two any time you wish, as long as you have the dough for it. In the case of at least one zone you will have to do the intro stage - the "gate" - over again if you decide to leave the zone in midway, but usually this isn't a problem. The world of Super Mario Land 2 is weird and unique. One zone - the mandatory underwater one - is entered by letting a giant turtle swallow Mario, one requires you to navigate through the mechanical innards of a huge Mario robot, one is a house which you'll have to enter while shrunken smaller than the ants in its garden, and in one zone you'll get to try how anti-gravity plays out in a traditional platformer. Not too easy, I can tell you. Each zone ends in a boss fight; all of them have the same basic idea, but the best strategy changes each time. All in all, there's an impressive total of 32 stages in the game, counting in the secret stages which I personally haven't found yet although I've beaten the game.

The power-ups have changed a bit. First, the new one: Magic Carrot, which turns Mario into Bunny Mario, the version of Mario depicted in the game's cover art. I know how it sounds like, but don't mock it 'til you've tried it. The bunny ears enable Mario to glide for an extended while, and the power-up itself grants Mario higher and longer jumps, as well as consecutive air jumps.

The Super Mushroom and the Fire Flower give Mario the spin jump ability introduced in Super Mario World, which is used to break certain types of floors. It works a little differently; you have to duck and jump to pull it off. The Fire Flower no longer enables you to shoot those "superballs" introduced in Super Mario Land, instead the movement of the fireballs is reverted to their original pattern. This time there are special bricks which can only be destroyed with fireballs. The Starman can still be found from some rare blocks, but it also appears each time you defeat 100 enemies. The period of invincibility while under the Starman's influence is much shorter, but defeating five enemies results in an extra life, as does every subsequent defeat. Yes, the game is once again very generous with extra lives - and it doesn't stop in this feature. We have a minigame.

You probably won't believe this, but collecting 100 coins won't result in an extra life - this has got to be the first. However, you can use your coins to earn extra lives in a minigame hut located near your starting point on the world map. Depending on the size of your bet (30 to 999 coins), you can earn 1-99 extra lives with just one game. Of course, you can also get a power-up instead, or hit an enemy icon, which means all that cash you just laid down was for nothing.

"Get out of my house."
This all makes Super Mario Land 2 sound like a unique and good Mario game, and it is both, but the controls still lack standard quality. They're definitely better than in Super Mario Land, but when the going gets tougher and more precise, they equal trouble. Which brings us to how difficult the game is: not very. It's big according to the Game Boy standards, but it still won't take you more than two hours to complete. Besides, since it's non-linear, it really doesn't toughen up before the final castle, which on the other hand is quite damn difficult largely due to the threesome between narrow platforms, a river of lava flowing beneath them and the on/off controls. And, it's frustrating, since there are no checkpoints at all. If you happen to lose to Wario, which is very possible due to his unpredictability on the first round, you need to do the whole castle all over again.

Despite some flaws, Super Mario Land 2 slaps its decent predecessor silly. It sports a storyboard and design which are perhaps detached from the rest of the franchise, but still cool, and the game occasionally works the Game Boy to its absolute max, proving its capability of running long and complexed games without too much technical difficulties. A quality handheld platformer, indeed.

Graphics : 8.8
Sound : 6.8
Playability : 8.4
Challenge : 8.2
Overall : 8.5


GameRankings: 77.42%

Composer Kazumi Totaka's signature piece "Totaka's Song" appears as a hidden track. It is heard in the Game Over screen, if the player waits for exactly 2 minutes and 30 seconds.

REVIEW - Super Mario Land (1989)

Genre(s): Platform
Released: 1989
Available on: GB
Developer(s): Nintendo
Publisher(s): Nintendo
Players: 1

On the 21st of February, 1989, Nintendo introduced the world to the most technologically advanced handheld console ever seen at that point in time, the Nintendo Game Boy. On that same day, Super Mario Land arrived to the Game Boy as a launch title. Mario debuted on a handheld console in a game very reminiscent of his 1985 adventure Super Mario Bros., but thematically different platformer. Due to his Super Mario World and A Link to the Past projects among others, Shigeru Miyamoto passed design and production duties over to his mentor and close friend Gunpei Yokoi. To this day, Super Mario Land has remained a cult favourite despite being somewhat of an oddball among early, traditional Mario platformers.

Aliens vs. Mario

An alien warlord by the name of Tatanga invades the peaceful Sarasaland and kidnaps Princess Daisy to force her hand in marriage. Mario sets out on a journey through Sarasaland to confront Tatanga in the kingdom of Chai and rescue Daisy.

Graphically, the game is like Super Mario Bros. in black and white. The design turns out very different, though. It's like Super Mario Bros. injected with huge doses of mythology and science fiction. The music is composed by Hip Tanaka instead of Koji Kondo, and only an extremely modified version of the Overworld theme from Super Mario Bros. remains, as the background tune for the couple of automatically scrolling shooting stages. The music is OK, even if it's a bit weird that even the Starman theme was changed.

The pyramid of Birabuto.
There are only four worlds in the game - the four kingdoms of Sarasaland: Birabuto, Muda, Easton and Chai, which are all influenced by some mythology in design. They all have three stages each. Unlike in Super Mario Bros., there is no particular order to the stage types. Stages 2-3 and 4-3 are in fact entertaining side-scrolling shooting stages, in which Mario takes control of a sub or a Sky Pop ship and blasts everything in sight, including brick walls to avoid getting crushed by getting stuck between them and the invisible wall in the back. The bosses in these stages are also fought by using the ship. Normal stages have two different exits. Making it to the top exit by managing certain obstacles always results in a simple bonus game, in which you can earn power-ups or extra lives. The bonus game is a reward for defeating each boss, as well.

The power-ups are the same as in Super Mario Bros., but there are a couple of changes. First, the 1-Up Mushroom is replaced with a simple heart icon. Second, the Fire Flower enables Mario to ricochet fireballs off walls to gather coins that are out of his reach, and to tactically dispose of enemies. As you progress, power-ups become very scarce and that makes getting one in a bonus game that much more practical. Extra lives are handed to you in large amounts, via the bonus games and huge coin rooms traditionally entered via pipes.

The boss fights also work the same way, even if they're really different in every other way; if you have the Fire Flower power-up, you can defeat the bosses with your fireballs, or just make your way to the lever in the back of the room to blast 'em into oblivion. In the vintage, slightly modified Super Mario Bros. style, upon conquering the first three kingdoms in the game, a monster disguised as Princess Daisy will thank you before ditching the charade and leading you to another stage.

The shooting stages are
surprisingly fun.
The regular enemies, as well as the bosses, really differ from standard Mario enemies. Goombas are the only enemies carried over from the previous games in their classic form. There are turtles which resemble Koopa Troopas, but they're the kind that explode once you jump on them. The Piranha Plants and Bullet Bills are also quite different than their counterparts in the bigger games. The rest of the enemy cavalcade consists of animals, insects, Easton cultists and crazy Japanese folk. Seriously.

Super Mario Land is a fun little platformer, and it has strong cult value in the Mario universe. However, the controls aren't up to par with the Mario standard. The game's downgraded by a disappointing lot once you get to the final stages and are forced to face long sequences involving moving platforms. Mario's jumping ability is very weak, and the distance in particular is very random at its worst. Invisible walls are all around, and in the final stages there are a lot of narrow platforms, in which a certain lack of traction comes into play. Until World 4, I hadn't really broken a sweat with the game and I had about 20 lives or something like that - within five minutes, I had lost over a half of my lives solely due to the invisible walls in the air and my inability to keep Mario from running into chasms like a retard.

Despite the somewhat frustrating controls and scarce power-ups, Super Mario Land really ain't that hard. The stages are extremely long, but they're mostly stitched together from just a few different screens and situations. On top of all there are so many checkpoints and extra lives possible to obtain, that I really can't see anyone, who's ever played a Mario game before, failing the game. Beating the whole thing shouldn't take more than an hour. So, it's a little frustrating, but easy in the long run. Good, light entertainment as long as it lasts.

Graphics : 8.0
Sound : 8.2
Playability : 8.0
Challenge : 7.0
Overall : 8.0


GameRankings: 75.42%

The first Mario production without Shigeru Miyamoto's involvement.