maanantai 29. elokuuta 2011

Welcome to the modern times?

Here's an update to my earlier post: I bought a new TV today (FullHD), after my old one literally exploded during a peaceful round of Red Dead Redemption. I originally planned to place an order for a couple of games at the same time, now I can't quite afford them since I'm neck deep in bills.

sunnuntai 28. elokuuta 2011

Heading for a fall... as in the season

We are a few days away from September, and here's the latest scoop.

First of all, I want to thank the few people who sent me feedback on the newest look of the blog - no negative comments at all. That means this is how it'll look from now on. Thanks. Second, I'd like to note one suggestion that was made, about wholly dedicating the blog to reviews and publish everything else on a separate Facebook page. Uh, I think I'll take that into consideration some time in the future, right now I don't see any sense in that. There are still too few steady readers, I think I'll end up talking to myself on such a page. Besides, when it comes to my friends, I'm very shy about my work.

For those expecting me to revisit the Donkey Kong Country trilogy on the Game Boy Advance, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I won't do it. Perhaps some other time. Right now, I'm focusing on delivering whole new reviews and not reviews of near-identical ports of games I've reviewed before. I have a few more games to go at in the Donkey Kong franchise, what happens after that, I'm not sure, but I'm most definitely continuing on this track of closing some circles on previously touched brands. There's still a lot to go. More recent games, as well as some certain missing links will start pouring into review about two months from now. I will buy a new TV, I've already looked up one that I like - and on a pleasant note to many, I will try to fit another "RPG time" into my schedule around that same time.

So, September will most probably be all about retro, save for a few games, mostly handhelds, released during the last decade.

torstai 25. elokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Land (1995)

GENRE(S): Platform
RELEASED: June 1995
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Donkey Kong Country was a huge success that Nintendo immediately wanted to capitalize on by carrying the rejuvenated Donkey Kong franchise over to their handheld, but there was no way the Game Boy could've run half of a port of the 16-bit mammoth of a game. Instead, they assigned Rare on a mission to create a whole new game, a handheld sequel to Donkey Kong Country, that would naturally be stripped down of many core elements and advanced gameplay, but still appeal to the previous title's fans by its look alone. Donkey Kong Land is decent handheld entertainment, but it feels like it was primarily meant to ask consumers a question: "think it's time to buy a SNES already?"

And so I became one with the tree

Cranky Kong grows tired of hearing about Donkey Kong Country, and makes a bold statement: the game was a big hit only because of its impressive graphics and sound, and Donkey and Diddy would never make it in an 8-bit game. To prove this, he persuades King K. Rool to steal the Kongs' banana hoard once more, and challenges Donkey and Diddy to another quest, this time on the 8-bit Game Boy.

Please, let go of the rope at
the right time this time.
In the last year, a total of three people have asked me if I've got something personal against the Game Boy. Absolutely not, on the contrary. I totally acknowledge the original Game Boy as the father and mother of all handhelds. But, I also totally get where you're coming from; I am usually harsh on games ported to the Game Boy. I think that back in the day, game developers really didn't care if they fucked up or not. They took a game that really didn't belong on the Game Boy, but made a port anyway. It was all about the money, the game's playability on a very basic handheld was totally secondary to the amounts of cash the name on the box was to make alone. Of course a handheld game is stripped and limited in comparison to another version on a major system, but that raises an important question: was there any good reason (from a consumer and player's point of view) to make it? Donkey Kong Country was a simple platformer with complex, yet easily learned controls. I can't deny that taking a trip in Donkey Kong Land makes me shiver in fear. Fear for the franchise's wellbeing, and fear for my sanity. Let's be as diplomatic as we can here: is Donkey Kong Land a decent handheld platformer? Sure. Does it meet the standards set by Donkey Kong Country as well as it could with half the bits and none the colour? No.

There's no denying that being able to recreate the ACM sprites and uphold the framerate of the original SNES game on the Game Boy are accomplishments. However, I guess that at some point of development, Rare tried to overdo it, they tried to best themselves and forgot that the product was to end up in the hands of players. There are levels which have no background art at all, while others are so detailed that they're almost unplayable - due to the playable characters' sudden disappearance into the background. They become one with it. In the Monkey Mountain region, you might have to resort to the camera itself to figure out where Junior or Diddy is. Even if that isn't so hard, you sometimes really have to work to see all the dangers ahead. As a neutral note, some of the level designs are taken from Donkey Kong Country 2, which was in development and bound for a release about five months after this game.

Surprisingly, movement in
water is smoother than the
movement on land.
The music's an even score between David Wise and Graeme Norgate, and that should be enough said. It's really a shame Wise's been on such a hiatus for the last 15 years along with every other Rare key composer, only emerging with a measly, periodical couple of games to inform people he's still alive, since he really is such an amazing composer, right up there with Nobuo Uematsu and Akira Yamaoka on my list of top dogs in the business. Some resampled Donkey Kong Country songs, some wholly rewritten ones, and some brand new, excellent tracks. The Game Boy did not become famous for great music, but Donkey Kong Land has got a lot of it in store - music is the game's finest trait. The sound effects are resampled straight off Donkey Kong Country.

The gameplay strikes the untrained as decent, to people like me who have played Donkey Kong Country on the SNES for well over a half of their lives, it's more or less one's worst nightmare. What we know even before we try it, is that one very important button is gone, the Y button. In this case, it only means that one of the least essential abilities, Junior's ground slam is ousted. You can still run, roll and do a cartwheel... these abilities are all assigned to one single button just as before, but here it may and will become a problem due to the unstable traction. There are really no huge gameplay differences between Junior and Diddy, they are both just as agile. I think the sole purpose of squeezing two playable characters into this particular game was to grant you two health points.

Climbing these nets is a
nightmare come true.
When it came to platformers, especially those with a tempo like Donkey Kong's, the original Game Boy had one huge problem: invisible walls. They aren't present per se in Donkey Kong Land; what we've got is invisible MUD. The jumps work, but there's a huge lag that makes you fear edges. Very often you will find yourself jumping back to where you jumped from, and thinking twice before trying the jump again. Time itself seems to slow whenever you're trying to cross a gap that's wider than usual. The enemies are randomly placed, regardless of what kind of level you are in, and there never seems to be a consistent array of enemies in one level. It's a total mash-up, like Rare tried to include as many different enemies as they could. Otherwise, the levels in the game are extremely repetitive, and there's no rock solid theme to any of the regions. The first one is once again Gangplank Galleon - which features a level on the deck of a pirate ship one instance, and a level that resembles one on Gorilla Glacier the second. The same levels rotate, constantly. Specific stipulations (such as ice) and backgrounds may change, but practically it's the same rotation, throughout the game and its four regions. It's a boring game, with less than sufficing controls, which become most evident when you're jumping over gaps or between ropes. The gameplay in a very easy-to-understand type of nutshell.

There are no "extra" Kongs in this game, and the plot of the game is only referenced in the manual. Rambi the rhino and Expresso the ostrich return as animal buddies; Winky and Enguarde's methods of movement alone would've killed the capacity, I guess. Rambi and Expresso usually appear in bonus levels only. The bonus levels are quite few in numbers. I don't know for certain, since I didn't go for the 100% completion (first time in this franchise) - but in this game, it seems to be more important to find all Kong letters, and these coins that have Junior and Diddy's faces on them. Some special bonus levels give you a chance to easily gain a huge amount of bonus lives, and these coins are used as currency in them.

Welcome to the land of the
snow and ICE.
Since gaining extra lives is relatively easy, and at least to me, the thrill of going to great lengths to find all bonus levels just isn't there, Donkey Kong Land is a quite easy game when it comes to the gameplay; the only true challenge lies in being able to see what's going on. As for the lifespan... well, once you've hit 100%, you're probably done with the game, regardless whether you're an avid Donkey Kong fan or not. That was not quite the case with the game's 16-bit predecessor, which still works as a great warm-up and a great game in itself, whenever you feel like taking on the SNES trilogy. Highly repetitive levels are something which did not happen in any of the 16-bit games, here they're standard.

Donkey Kong Land is certainly not bad, but I wouldn't recommend it to anyone who has instant access to the big games in the franchise. It just doesn't feel good to play it. I think Rare should've consciously downgraded the graphics by a lot, to a more classic standard and go for an entertaining game - instead of an initially good looking game, that turns out a graphical mess and not a very fun or smooth gameplay experience. In spite of my disappointment, I'm heading into the sequels with moderate hope.

SOUND : 9.2


GameRankings: 71.80%

The game cartridge is coloured banana yellow.

maanantai 22. elokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Classics (1988)

GENRE(S): Arcade / Platform / Compilation
RELEASED: October 1988
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

A lot had happened in Mario's career after his first appearances in Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.. He had totally brushed off the dusts of his humble beginnings with the Mario Bros. series, and the character of Donkey Kong just couldn't function by himself quite yet, as proven by the lackluster Donkey Kong 3. Nintendo bid an indefinite farewell to their first true classic in 1988 - and cashed in on Mario's recent success - by compiling the first two Donkey Kong games to a single NES cartridge. Without a doubt, Donkey Kong Classics is the most essential 8-bit purchase to people with the will to experience these two arcade favourites at home... if they can find it, that is.

It's not just any business, it's monkey business

Did you know I used to own Donkey Kong on
Game & Watch? Well, now you do.
There's no sense in actually reviewing this bundle. I just wanted to share some insight on the release. Donkey Kong Classics rendered the stand-alone cartridges of both games included useless, back in a time collecting NES games wasn't nearly the respectable hobby as it is today. It didn't sell too well and it was taken off the market soon after its release in Europe (1989), which of course eventually resulted in it becoming just as much of a collector's item as the stand-alones. The prices people set for all Donkey Kong titles for the NES on eBay are baffling, even Donkey Kong Jr. Math, which of course, is not included in this bundle. Neither is Donkey Kong 3, which sells for the cheapest price on every major auction site. Just as the compilation's name implies, it's about the only true classics in the vintage franchise, the only games which I personally enjoy playing to a certain nostalgic extent.

The games are included in their very original forms. The only difference is that they share the same title screen, with the first game's classic theme song - gloriously resurrected in Donkey Kong Country six years later - as its background tune.

Mario, you bastard!
Both of the games are still just as fun to play through once or twice as they always were, no more and no less. If I have to criticize this bundle for something, I guess they could've even created a save system for the high scores for those die-hard arcade enthusiasts that are really interested in them. Otherwise, I think it was a good, smart release at the time, since it included two arcade classics tagged with one single mid-price, and pushed the other disgraces released under Donkey Kong's legendary name even deeper into the unknown.

A good collector goes after the stand-alone games. A fabulous collector goes after the stand-alone games, AND this bundle. Donkey Kong Classics is the mere retro player's choice. Since the first Donkey Kong game was reviewed before I changed the ratings, I feel obligated to re-evaluate the game - but I'll go with the original ratings in the case of Donkey Kong Jr..

GRAPHICS : 6.0 / 7.0
SOUND : 4.5 / 7.3
PLAYABILITY : 8.0 / 7.8
LIFESPAN : 5.9 / 5.5
CONCLUSION : 7.3 / 7.0

sunnuntai 21. elokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Jr. Math (1983)

GENRE(S): Edutainment
RELEASED: December 1983
AVAILABLE ON: NES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Educational games for something other than home computers have always been some of my favourite targets when I've really wanted to lash out at something. They've usually had no value as games. To this day, games like Mario's Time Machine and Mario Is Missing! have been spit on and laughed at, even by me. Donkey Kong Jr. Math was a launch title for the North American NES - which makes it the first educational title ever released for a Nintendo system. Here's where things get interesting. Was Nintendo able to find balance between education and entertainment in 1983, or was Donkey Kong Jr. Math one of Nintendo's most embarrassing screw-ups in the early days of their firstborn? Take a wild guess.

+/- 0

Here we go again. I've professed my unconditional love, or lack thereof, for commercial edutainment numerous times in the past. I'm not saying there never was a good educational game. I'm saying I'd never pay the same price for one as I would for some real game. I understand how marketing works - I studied it. I understand that to thrive as a business, you can show no ruth. However, it is plain stupid to slap Donkey Kong Jr.'s face on an NES cartridge and sell it to kids mesmerized by Donkey Kong games as a new, exciting installment in the franchise, when it is actually the world's most generic math application; it has no value as a game, or an educational tool. Well, Nintendo was smart enough to realize this fuck-up bit them back, hard, and gave them nothing in return. The history of 8-bit educational games developed by Nintendo began and ended with Donkey Kong Jr. Math.

All of the sprites and background textures are ripped straight off the original Donkey Kong Jr., as well as the music. Player 2 uses an embarrassing pink version of Junior.

The pink one can't count.
Starting up this game is the hardest part, because you already know what it's going to be like. Me, I didn't know anything about the game, but I found it safe to expect that it would be one of the worst games I've played in a long while; after all, if people couldn't do proper educational games in 1994, how in the hell could a game from 1983 be even that decent? This game totally cashed in on my expectations - this is the first time I can cap that off with "that's what I was afraid of".

There are three game modes. In all of them, you control Junior. First, there's "Calculate A". Daddy gives you a number, let's say it's 35. What you need to do is climb vines hanging all across the screen, and gather the proper numbers and symbols needed to end up with the number 35. For example, you can do it the easy way, pick up a 7, then get on the ground and pick up the multiplication symbol, get back on the vine and pick up the number 5. 35! Or, you can play the genius, if you're really bored, and go through all kinds of complex formulas that'll take you an hour to reach 35. The game does not punish you for a wrong answer, it patiently waits until you're correct. You're wondering who that pink bastard in the other corner is? That's your opponent. You can go pat him on the head or hump him up the ass, he doesn't care. He just stands there, until you find someone retarded enough to pick up the second controller. There's no opposition from the CPU. After five correct answers, you win this mode. It's not the most graceful or proud victory, but...

"Calculate B" offers up some harder math problems, with a high negative number, such as -655. This works in the exact same way as the first mode, and there's still zero opposition from the pink buttmonkey - the least terrifying video game rival in history - so you can easily take your time and try everything until you get close to the target number, and finish the game with "style". If you thought this was the bottom end of the game's totally absent challenge, take a look at the last game mode.

"So, son! What's the solution to this tricky
problem?" "Daddy... I have no fucking clue.
But I'll find out soon, with this magic key of
The last game mode is an "exercise", which is a mix-up of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division. I work in a supermarket, and having a good head in math is very important to me. I actually thought this exercise would do me some good! Maybe Donkey Kong Jr. Math ain't as bad as I thought, and as it has been thus far! OK, so first we choose the type of the exercise. There are ten stages in each exercise. There's the formula, the solution is missing. This looks nice. 85 divided by 5? That's, uhh, 17. I try to push all sorts of buttons to enter the answer, nothing happens. Finally, I give up and push the key hanging from the chain to the lock above. The answer appears, I've won. I go to the next round still wondering what the fuck just happened. 14 multiplied by 45? I don't have time for this shit, so I'll just push the key into the lock. The answer is 630. I've won again. What kind of a damn "exercise" is this?! You don't even have to think, all you need to do is to push that damn key into the lock to get the game tell you the answer to each problem! Where's the slightest fucking value in this game?! 

Donkey Kong Jr. Math has got to be the worst educational game I've ever played. If you think it'll help your kids to truly pick up on a boring subject like mathematics, I'm sorry to say you're far off. It has absolutely no value as a game, and even less as an educational tool. It educates nothing! In the main modes, the game patiently waits for the player to hit the right answer, even if it's a stroke of pure luck, and in the "exercise", it bluntly blurts out the answers after minimal efforts by a very saddened player. I expected to get a good laugh out of this "game", not witness one of the worst, most useless applications ever disguised as a video game. I'll spare a few tenths out of my respect and temporary pity for the Donkey Kong franchise. 

SOUND : 6.5


a.k.a. Donkey Kong Jr. no Sansū Asobi (JAP)

A whiter shade of pale

I bet you covered your eyes the moment you checked in. The place has suddenly changed some, huh? Just wanted to inform you that this whole new look is merely a test at this time. If you like it, and if it works out for me in the long run, this is how the blog will look from now on. Tell me your opinions below, flame my ass on MSN or share your thoughts via e-mail. My MSN and e-mail address is the same as ever,

REVIEW - Donkey Kong 3 (1983)

GENRE(S): Action / Shooter
AVAILABLE ON: ARC, NES, PC, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo, Hudson Soft (PC)
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo, Hudson Soft (PC)

In 1983, the Mario franchise was born with the unveiling of Mario Bros.. Even though Mario moved on and eventually conquered, Nintendo couldn't just leave their previous golden goose be. Donkey Kong 3 was brought to the arcades just a while after Mario Bros.. Since Shigeru Miyamoto was deeply involved with the artificial development of his beloved Mario character, director Hiroshi Yamauchi - an important player in the development and release of the first game - was pretty much alone with the third and final game in the classic Donkey Kong franchise. This installment hit homes first out of the three games; it was released on the Famicom in the summer of 1984, and simultaneously with the previous titles for the North American NES in the summer of 1986. Donkey Kong 3 was a huge departure from the whole franchise. First of all, it was a shooter instead of a platformer. Secondly, it always sucked.

Repellent for shoddy sequels on aisle 4

Donkey Kong has escaped and taken refuge at a greenhouse owned by a young man named Stanley. With his effective bug spray in tow, Stanley must repel the swarms of insects Donkey Kong unleashes on his beloved plants, and finally the ape himself.

It looks like Donkey Kong had a little accident...
and Stanley's about to have a worse one.
You've never heard of a Donkey Kong 3? Don't sweat it, it's not that known. It's hardly ever mentioned, even in official publications. To many people, the vintage Donkey Kong franchise of the 80's came to a head with the release of Donkey Kong Jr.... which is perfectly true, because Donkey Kong 3 has virtually nothing to do with the other games. By a quick glance, it looks the same. The HUD is exactly the same. However, the game does not have Mario in it - although Stanley wears clothes identical to his in the promotional art. DK looks different. Finally, and most importantly, the game is in a whole different genre. And, it's bad.

The graphics aren't much to look at, and the game is far from original or innovative, unlike its two predecessors, as far as both the audiovisuals and gameplay are concerned. What's original and innovative is the mere stupid idea of the game's release. The few tunes, which are more like cues since there's no real background music, sound horrid.

You assume control of Stanley in a fashion you would assume control of a space ship in Space Invaders or Galaxian - with the difference being that you can jump (and will jump, whether you want to or not) to a higher ground - and your goal is to either keep Donkey Kong at bay and get rid of all the swarming insects on the screen going for your flowers, or aim your repellent directly at DK and push him off the screen. You can power up your repellent with some kind of a hyperspray, that kills all smaller enemies immediately, and pushes DK at a faster rate. If you can somehow get Stanley to bend to your will - which is hard - you'll make it to a more difficult level. After the third level, guess what? You're done. Of course, the game then begins anew, on a higher difficulty. That's the one similarity between the gameplay of Donkey Kong 3 and the preceding games.

Those worms can be really annoying. If you've
got the interest to try the game, you'll know why.
Let's scramble the pieces: bad controls. I mean, "AAARGH!" Stanley seems to jump by himself, which is sometimes very dangerous, since the insects move in such a non-symmetric fashion, and of course, just touching one means loss of life. Also, invisible walls may appear out of nowhere at any time. There are only three levels. In this game, though, the higher difficulty levels feature new sorts of annoying enemies, which, I guess, are supposed to make the levels feel like whole different ones. Well, they don't - Donkey Kong 3 is one repetitive game. The first two games had four wholly different levels each. This one has three, which look different, but play out near-identically. The total lack of excitement is the cap on Donkey Kong 3's inferiority. No wonder even the arcade version remains a curiosity for the most devoted retro fanatics.

I don't use these two words together too often when it comes to such artificially respectable retro, but this time I must: Donkey Kong 3 is a miserable failure. It doesn't belong on a home console, and it doesn't even hold up to arcade standards partly set by the previous games. These days, it might pass for some mild mobile entertainment... if it was free of charge. It feels like the game was released only to exclamate the importance and influence of its predecessors... and of course, to cash in on a popular brand name.

SOUND : 3.5


Personal trivia: the Famicom version was released on the day I was born - July 4th, 1984.

A direct Game & Watch version of the game was released, but there's also another Game & Watch title called Greenhouse, which has identical gameplay.

Since Donkey Kong 3, the character of Stanley has only appeared in one episode of the animated series Saturday Supercade, and as a trophy in Super Smash Bros. Melée.

lauantai 20. elokuuta 2011

News on 3.0, the Mario rundown

He won.
The time has come to see Mario off. There are no more Mario games on THE LIST, counting out those indirectly related to Nintendo's iconic character. This does not mean I'm barring all chances of reviewing Mario games in the future, but this is the last you'll be hearing from Mario for a long time. I've got Donkey Kong Classics coming up soon, but it's more of an insight on the rare compilation than a real review, since both of the games included have already been reviewed. I'll give you the Mario rundown all the way from last year in a jiffy, but first, I have something to announce.

'Mania is going 3.0, which means I will once again make some changes, both minor and major ones, to the style and look of the blog. The first changes will be made very soon - I'm working on a new logo, for example, and thinking of changing the colour scheme. I'm open for suggestions until next weekend, during which (I hope) 3.0 will be completed. Also, I recently found all kinds of good, or at least highly potential, old video game related material written by yours truly, that might be interesting to publish at some point. I'll consider to compile all this old shite to a single page.

That's about it, so here's the Mario rundown.

A total of 50 Mario games have been reviewed since August 2010. The highest rated Mario game is Super Mario 64 for the Nintendo 64. The lowest rated Mario game is Mario Is Missing! for the SNES. The average rating of all Mario games is 7.5 (NOTE: Super Mario All-Stars and Mario's Early Years!, as well as the forthcoming Donkey Kong Classics compilation, are exempt from the count).

1981 ... Donkey Kong [NES] ... 7.7
1982 ... Donkey Kong Jr. [NES] ... 7.0

1983 ... Mario Bros. [NES] ... 6.0
1985 ... Super Mario Bros. [NES] ... 8.7
1988 ... Super Mario Bros. 2 [NES] ... 8.4
1988 ... Super Mario Bros. 3 [NES] ... 9.2
1990 ... Super Mario World [SNES] ... 9.3
1993 ... Super Mario All-Stars [SNES] ... 8.7 [SMB] / 7.3 [SMB: TLL] / 8.4 [SMB2] / 9.2 [SMB3]
1995 ... Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island [SNES] ... 9.4
1996 ... Super Mario 64 [N64] ... 9.6
2001 ... Super Mario Advance [GBA] ... 8.1
2002 ... Super Mario World - Super Mario Advance 2 [GBA] ... 9.0
2002 ... Yoshi's Island - Super Mario Advance 3 [GBA] ... 9.3

1989 ... Super Mario Land [GB] ... 8.0
1992 ... Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins [GB] ... 8.5
1994 ... Wario Land - Super Mario Land 3 [GB] ... 8.7
1998 ... Wario Land II [GB] ... 6.3
2001 ... Wario Land 4 [GBA] ... 6.9

1990 ... Yoshi [NES] ... 6.9
1992 ... Yoshi's Cookie [NES / SNES] ... 7.9 / 8.0
1993 ... Yoshi's Safari [SNES] ... 5.9
1997 ... Yoshi's Story [N64] ... 6.0

1992 ... Super Mario Kart [SNES] ... 8.9
1996 ... Mario Kart 64 [N64] ... 9.1
2001 ... Mario Kart: Super Circuit [GBA] ... 9.0

1992 ... Mario Is Missing! [NES / SNES] ... 4.8 / 4.1
1993 ... Mario's Time Machine [NES / SNES] ... 4.9 / 5.4
1994 ... Mario's Early Years! [SNES] ... no rating

1999 ... Mario Tennis [N64] ... 8.7
2005 ... Mario Tennis: Power Tour [GBA] ... 6.5

1998 ... Mario Party [N64] ... 7.3
1999 ... Mario Party 2 [N64] ... 7.7
2000 ... Mario Party 3 [N64] ... 6.4
2005 ... Mario Party Advance [GBA] ... 7.0

2003 ... WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! [GBA] ... 8.4
2004 ... WarioWare: Twisted! [GBA] ... 7.2

1990 ... Dr. Mario [NES] ... 7.0
1992 ... Mario Paint [SNES] ... 7.8
1994 ... Wario's Woods [NES / SNES] ... 6.5 / 6.1
1996 ... Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars [SNES] ... 8.5
1999 ... Super Smash Bros. [N64] ... 8.2
2000 ... Paper Mario [N64] ... 8.9
2003 ... Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga [GBA] ... 8.8
2004 ... Mario Golf: Advance Tour [GBA] ... 7.3
2004 ... Mario vs. Donkey Kong [GBA] ... 8.2
2004 ... Mario Pinball Land [GBA] ... 4.7

REVIEW - Donkey Kong Jr. (1982)

GENRE(S): Arcade / Platform
AVAILABLE ON: 3DS Virtual Console, ARC, Atari, CVIS, INTV, NES, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo, Coleco (CVIS, INTV)
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo, Atari

Seriously, what better way to see Mario off this blog than Donkey Kong Jr.? Not only did this sequel to the 1981 arcade megahit - that started it all - give the carpenter formerly known as Jumpman the much more original name of Mario, but it is the only game to date to feature Mario as the main villain instead of the happy-go-lucky, charismatic hero every Nintendo fan so adores. Just like its predecessor, Donkey Kong Jr. has been named one of the best video games in history, and just like its predecessor, it's a classic, but to be completely honest - which a lot of people are apparently unable to do - most of its original charm has worn out. I've said it before: going all super-retro is amazing fun to be had, but vintage arcade gaming just isn't the same anymore, and some games were never fit for home consoles. Ten minutes, a few tears of joy, and casual players are done with Donkey Kong Jr..

Don't you worry 'bout a thing, pa'!

Mario has captured his once rampant pet Donkey Kong, but he has a slight problem: DK's son, Junior, who doesn't take kindly to his dad's incarceration. The player assumes control of the puny ape as he attempts to rescue his gigantic dad from Mario.

Home versions of classic retro arcade games have never been well-received by game enthusiasts, and there are good reasons for that. Classic arcade platformers were tense, because if you failed, you needed to pay more money to get another chance in besting that damn enemy or obstacle that gave you hell. You needed to fight for your high score. As soon as the first home consoles came along, it was clear that gamers wanted more than simple arcade-style games, where your primary goal was the highest possible score. You could play as long as you wanted, no casual gamer gave a shit of a high score - if you bought a game to your home, the only thing of interest at least should've been how long it took to finish the game. The longer and harder, the better - you paid for it, with expectations the game would pay itself back.

Comin' to get ya, pa'.
There are early arcade games that made good, in arcade halls as well as living rooms - such as Capcom's Ghosts 'n Goblins. This side-scrolling platformer was entertaining and exciting, and its difficulty was peerless at the time it made it to the NES. Let's stick with the NES version of that every gamer's nightmare for an example - it was released on the NES in the summer of 1986, the same time as Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr.. Releasing these three arcade megahits for Nintendo's new flagship of home entertainment at the exact same time opened some eyes. Time was definitely on the side of neo-arcade ports like Ghosts 'n Goblins, which truly took you time to complete and weren't just based on how high you could score. Since Donkey Kong was not the only franchise to be brought to homes and then suffer from harsh criticism from arcade enthusiasts, you could say that 1986 marked the death of classic arcade. That's my view... and from my view, Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. for the NES have both had their unfair share of bullshit. I've already paid my respects to the first game a long time ago, and acknowledged its impact on the video game industry. Even though Donkey Kong Jr. is an equally short trip to retro land, it is also an immensely influential, and original game in itself. It's a damn classic... but let's be honest, to ourselves and everyone else.

I've got to compliment the graphics, because all of the levels in the game are completely different by design and the game is very colourful and well animated for its time. The music is also surprisingly tolerable. There are two different versions of the theme song, and each of the four levels has a different background tune. All in all, the game is audiovisually pleasant, considering that the original version came out as early as '82.

Similarities between Donkey Kong and Donkey Kong Jr. are very obvious. There's character A - the hero. Character B - the villain, and character C - the damsel in distress, who in this case happens to be a giant, pissed off gorilla. B does everything in his power to keep A from reaching the top of the level. If A manages to reach the highest top, the level's over and we move on, right up until we clear the fourth level. The villain's subdued, and the damsel (...) rescued. Then, the game starts over, on a higher difficulty level. This cycle goes on and on until you lose all your lives. The game never ends, it's the high score that "matters".

The final showdown. All you need to do is push
those six keys into the six locks. It's easy. Really.
The gameplay is very innovative. There are platforms to jump across, but most of the game is based on Junior's amazing climbing ability. He can move from vine to vine by simply reaching out to the other one, you don't necessarily have to jump at it. You can also climb both vines at once, which is a good, strategic move. Mario harrasses Junior with all he's got: small animals and electric shocks. His attacks can all be avoided in several different ways; Mario's attacks are small fry compared to the real peril. The real peril is that if Junior falls, even from the lowest possible height that exceeds the height of his jump, you lose a life, just like in the first game - in which it was even more ridiculous. You also die from stalling. See that score window on the top right? If that counts down to zero, you're dead... however, I've never had the slightest problem with that one. The enemies and freefalls are your only concerns.

Each level has a different theme, but indeed, there are only four of them, and each one can be beaten by using one simple strategy or pattern, regardless of the "difficulty level". The game might seem hard at first since Junior's a bit stiff to move around, and it will probably take a moment to sink in the rules of the vine-to-vine transition, but two or three rounds of the game are perfectly possible to beat in less than ten minutes. Don't expect the game to change; it won't. That was it, that was the game. It's all about the high scores now. High scores you cannot save.

The slightest charm Donkey Kong Jr. has, might go to waste at home, but it's an endearing retro classic that demands a little more perspective than just a blunt review of how a home version of it is today. It's a good play - definitely an experience every retro fan should have, and certainly should have time for. The most important parts of the game are minutes well spent.

SOUND : 7.3


a.k.a. Donkey Kong Junior

In Europe, the original arcade version of the game was known as Crazy Kong Jr..

REVIEW - Mario Pinball Land (2004)

GENRE(S): Arcade / Pinball
RELEASED: August 2004
DEVELOPER(S): Fuse Games
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

The first proper, coin-operated pinball game was Baffle Ball. It was created by David Gottlieb, and released in 1931. To this day, there have been hundreds of different pinball games of different genres. The first proper, coin-operated Mario game was Donkey Kong. It was created by Shigeru Miyamoto and Gunpei Yokoi, and released in 1981. To this day, there have been dozens of different Mario games of different genres. In 1984, Mario and pinball crossed over for the first time in an NES game simply called Pinball, which was based on an arcade game created by Nintendo a year prior. 20 years later, some crazy yahoo figured they should do a REAL Mario pinball game, with Goombas and Piranha Plants and Bowser, and so on. Mario Pinball Land happened, and it was a tragedy.

What is the most frustrating form of pinball? Pinball with a plot.

Mario, Peach and friends visit a funfair which has a life-size pinball machine as its main attraction. Unbeknownst to the eager Peach, this machine is operated by Bowser's minions. As soon as Peach gets into the machine, Goombas shoot her right through Bowser's front door. It's once again up to Mario to get into the machine and make his way into Bowser's castle, only this time he needs to follow the very thin rulebook of slapstick pinball.

Pinball. What a form of gaming. I was a pinball freak as a kid. Whenever I happened to visit a café, gas station, or one of the many bars my stepdad favoured, or any other place that had some arcade action in it, I scouted the area for pinball machines. I was by no means a pinball wizard, but I loved the games. I loved the sound effects, I loved the increasingly complex and neat design of the tables, and if the table was based on something I really, really liked, like Jurassic Park, I could honestly play it for hours, or as long as my mom or stepdad had quarters left to share. My passion for pinball somewhat died after they started making pinball video games, more than just Pinball for the NES. Of course they sucked, they were nowhere near the thrills of real pinball, but back then, I was simple-minded and I loved them because I shined at them, something I could never do in real pinball. Why? Because pinball is UNFAIR! It's frustrating, annoying and unfair. ...And, insanely addictive.

When I heard of a game called Mario Pinball Land, my mind was filled with thoughts of Digital Illusions' Pinball series from the 90's - initially decent games that had crappy, unrealistic dynamics, and therefore they ultimately proved that pinball wasn't meant to be enjoyed at home in a digital form. Then, my thoughts carried on to ZEN Pinball, a very popular, downloadable PlayStation 3 title. That game is as close to real pinball as a digital game can get. It has extremely realistic dynamics and physics, and it is just as addictive as a real, frustrating, annoying and unfair pinball game. Mario Pinball Land came out years before, but the thing is that it's a Mario game. Whenever there's Mario, there's got to be some quality - there are exceptions, but this game was produced by Miyamoto. So, I gave it a shot, knowing nothing of the game except for its name. I believe you are familiar with the term "facepalm".

Gone are the days when all we needed was
a good bounce...
The graphics are very good, and so is the sound. Charles Martinet's Mario isn't as loud as usual, and the music is awesome at best! I love the boss theme. Something about the whole thing - as an audiovisual performance - tells me that Nintendo had virtually nothing to do with the game, except for production duty. Something's off, and then again, something's on that usually isn't. Either way, I have nothing to complain about when it comes to audiovisuals... but...

...Playing the game is like sticking a 12-inch needle in your eye, slowly. If you play it for too long, you'll actually be doing that. I'm sure that each and every one of you has played pinball in some form, so I don't need to explain the basics of the form. Mario is the ball, and you need to use the flippers of the pinball to keep him within the confines of a tight, narrow playfield. Everything that Mario hits grants you points, coins or special items, or a passageway to the next area. Or, a bonus game. You have to move forward, all the time. Sometimes, you need to gather a number of stars to get through numbered doors, just like in Super Mario 64. Those stars can be anywhere, even in areas you already cleared. If you think that's the most frustrating part of the game, I'm sorry to say you're wrong. Anyway, there's an occasional boss fight, in which you need to hit the boss for a set number of times, and like I said, a few different bonus games. There are five different worlds in the game. Your ultimate goal - surprise, surprise - is to defeat Bowser as your little pinball of flesh, and save your pretty-in-pink love muffin.

Chomps on the loose.
First, I was willing to forgive Mario Pinball Land for its awful dynamics. It came to me as no surprise at all that playing the game is nowhere near how a pinball game really works from a purely physical standpoint. You can try to rely on your magnificent skills in pinball, but they do you close to no good. Mario goes where he wants to, and if he wants to fall between the flippers like a floppy dick in the middle of the most amazing momentum, he does it, no matter if he's in the position to fall straight down in the first place or not. You think to yourself, that since this is a game with a plot, you've collected all kinds of essential stuff and clashed through a million areas already, that the game would cut you some slack, that there would be a checkpoint. Think again. Lose all your "balls", fail the level, it's to the very beginning with you. A single level must be cleared in three tries, assuming you're not lucky enough to get a 1-Up or two! Thinking how much Mario enjoys his stay off the playfield and the time it can take you to hit a certain target in a certain spot to proceed in each screen, one level will probably be enough to open your eyes to the fact: Mario Pinball Land is not a good game, and it's much more frustrating and annoying than any pinball game in any form ever was. Of course Mario Pinball Land is challenging, but it is not interesting. Some critic said it's hard to put down; I find putting it down extremely easy.

Mario Pinball Land doesn't meet any standards it's expected to meet. Entertaining pinball? It's not pinball by a long shot, the only thing the two have in common is that they're annoying - only pinball's an addictive nuisance! A good Mario game? Please. A good handheld game? Hey, think of all the good handheld games released under Mario's name through the years. The concept of the game is strange to the point of being fascinating, but Mario Pinball Land is not a good play.

SOUND : 8.5


a.k.a. Super Mario Ball (JAP/EU)

GameRankings: 64.58%

REVIEW - WarioWare: Twisted! (2004)

GENRE(S): Compilation
RELEASED: October 2004
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo, Intelligent Systems
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Nintendo hasn't been my favourite company in the world in 15 years, but I've never denied the simple fact; out of all three major players in the modern console war, Nintendo is the most creative one. They've always been creative; ever since the company moved to electronics in 1974, they've strived for innovation. We have had the pleasure of witnessing remarkable products of their creativity such as the Nintendo Entertainment System, the Super Nintendo, the Game Boy, and of course, the Wii, which revolutionized standard gameplay with motion-based control. Nintendo has also been known to create innovative peripherals and software for existing platforms for decades, with varying success. In 2004, Nintendo published WarioWare: Twisted!, a sequel to the hit game WarioWare: Mega Microgame$! - a seemingly normal Game Boy Advance cartridge... with a built-in motion detector. The game put a whole new ring to handheld gameplay, and it was more than well received by critics. It is one of Nintendo's most innovative games throughout history, that's for sure, but is it really that good? Well, yes, but I preferred the first one.

Twisted Mister

Wario breaks his Game Boy Advance in a fit of rage, and takes it to Dr. Crygor for repair. Instead of simply fixing it, Crygor uses the broken GBA to test out his new invention, the Gravitator. The machine spits out dozens of handheld consoles that look exactly like the Game Boy Advance, but in order to play it, players need to spin and twist the GBA itself. Seeing his friends' positive reaction towards the surprise invention, Wario asks them once again to develop games with him.

Mr. Miyagi's new training program.
This review, as short as it is, took a while to transpire, because you need a real Game Boy Advance unit to get an authentic feel of the game. There are patches for GBA emulators which allow you to map the gyro sensor to regular buttons, but I probably won't need to explain that it simply isn't fun to play the game without the real thing. So, I borrowed a friend's Game Boy Advance, I didn't need it for more than half a day to get a feel of the game. Then, I switched to the emulated game to get screenshots done. This friend then asked me what it was like to play Twisted! on an emulator. "Boring, huh?" I didn't see a concrete difference. Twisted! is a weaker game than Mega Microgame$!. OK, it's fun to kill time with it, and it's certainly innovative but it's just not interesting - and it's even harder to understand than its predecessor, even if there's not a lot of button pressing involved, and there's still one single action button you need to use in addition to rotating, shaking and jerking your GBA like crazy.

Let's start with the graphics, they're pretty much exactly the same as they were before. Not extraordinarily pretty, but certainly diverse. The music and sound effects - including the voice samples - are simply horrible, no surprise there. Nothing new on these fronts.

More toilet humour. Excellent!
The game is another collection of microgames, with different characters offering you an array of games from different genres, plus a "boss fight", but indeed, the gameplay differs much from Mega Microgame$!. The digital pad isn't used at all. All forms of movement are executed by tilting the Game Boy Advance itself to a certain direction, and the A button works as a confirmation button. In the later stages, the A button becomes more of a part of the game, as Kat and Ana's collection of games needs you to work on your tap, press 'n' mash skills. Different characters have some sort of threads connecting their games - yes, 9-Volt is still in with his old-school Nintendo shite, which manifests into the best round in the whole game - but they also have different instructions for you. For example, Mona's games require you to tilt the GBA just slightly, while Jimmy T.'s games require some serious rotation and abuse of the console. 

Twisted! recycles many ideas already exploited in Mega Microgame$!, and not only that, but it also recycles itself. I firmly believe it was just the amazing idea of a motion-detecting GBA cartridge that got the critics so fired up about this game. After just a few rounds into the game, I was already starting to get fed up with spinning the GBA. I had worked a long shift that day, and my arms, hands and shoulders were already hurting. I personally don't think making handheld games based on motion detection for standard handhelds was or is such a great idea.

You're some dude that resembles a Crash Test
Dummy, and your mission is to pick a giant
nose. Normal enough for you?
Twisted! is a very hard game, much harder than its very simple concept would make you believe. It's also way more hectic than Mega Microgame$! ever was, even in the end. I believe, and know for a fact, that there are many people who find Twisted! an absolute masterpiece, one of the most revolutionary Mario-related titles there ever was, and extremely replayable. Well, there are all these collectible "souvenirs" to consider, but I can't see myself being attached to this game for an extended period. I'm with the first game, all the way.

After all this, Twisted! is still a decent game, I won't deny that; I would be a fool if I did. I just expected so much more out of it, after a game that I consider one of the Game Boy Advance's true gems, and by first reading about the gyro feature. It's amazing on paper, but not such a great way out when it comes to actual gameplay.

SOUND : 5.2


a.k.a. Mawaru Made in Wario (JAP)

GameRankings: 87.47%

Nintendo Power ranks WarioWare: Twisted! #55 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

keskiviikko 17. elokuuta 2011

REVIEW - WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! (2003)

GENRE(S): Compilation
RELEASED: March 2003
AVAILABLE ON: 3DS Virtual Console, GBA
DEVELOPER(S): Nintendo
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

Wario apparently needed a break from the Wario Land series, and his character a bit more versatility. So, in 2003, Nintendo gave Mario's mischeavous cousin his own minigame compilation. Just hearing about the concept, many people naturally thought the game would be Mario Party in a slightly different package. It's quite different, it's insanely addictive, it's strange above everything else, and it will also drive you out of your mind... but with good intentions. In my mind, WarioWare Inc. totally saved Wario's face after a long line of disappointments.

A whole new meaning to "development hell"

Looks... hard.
Inspired by a TV commercial of a new hit game called Pyoro, Wario creates his own video game company called WarioWare, Inc., already seeing the dollar signs. However, making video games is not quite as easy as he initially thinks, so he calls nine of his multi-talented friends around the world - and the galaxy - to share their ideas with him and join his endeavor for commercial domination.

I guess the following was around the time I reviewed Wario Land II. As the most dedicated readers are aware, I don't have any kind of special love for Wario games. Wario is OK as a character, I've enjoyed most games he's starred in as a supporting character, up to some extent, but up 'til now, he hasn't had much wind when it comes to his own games. So, when I reviewed Wario Land II - which I mostly hated - my friend told me I should get into WarioWare, which he thought was damn rad and by far the best time-killing shite money could buy for the Game Boy Advance. When I asked him what the game was about, he couldn't say anything else but "well, it's a compilation of minigames". I told him I'll stick with Mario Party, and he was like "no, no, it's completely different but you'll have to try it to get it". So I tried it, briefly, and it drove me NUTS! I was never going to try it again, but I couldn't just leave it out of this Mario-thon, I would've felt guilty. So, I tried it again. Initially it drove me even closer to the brink of insanity, but once I got used to its ridiculous tempo, I found a very essential, yet not perfect, handheld collection of microgames. That's right, MICROgames. They're like mini-minigames, and I'll tell you how they work soon enough.

Looks... strangely familiar.
The graphical input to this game was apparently minimal. It's not that pretty, but on the other hand, there's a huge number of microgames that totally differ from each other and have many different dimensional settings. Also, the animations are pretty detailed, some of them are damn funny - while some are just boring - and they're surprisingly vulgar on Nintendo's scale. One of the supporting characters is struck with a severe need to go to the crapper and he actually uses the toilet as his microgaming platform, and rolls of toilet paper to indicate how many lives he has left. There are many things to consider when rating the game's graphics - even if it doesn't immediately strike the player as the most beautiful game in the world, it has many impressive instances. The sound is not impressive at all; most of the sound effects are ripped straight off Wario Land 4, and the original music is horrible.

Looks even more familiar. Too bad I was
never a true fan of this game.
So, the game begins with an introductory round. Wario is at his desk, and he kind of shows the player all the games he's come up with all by himself. This practically means that you'll have to win at ten different games to get past this round. Sounds lengthy, huh? Well, playing through these ten games takes about 30 seconds. You see, each microgame doesn't last more than just a few seconds. Within those few seconds, you need to accomplish the very simple goal you're given to beat the game. The game occasionally speeds up, which means you'll have even less seconds to finish the rest of the round's games. You don't have to win in every game, but you need to hang on to at least one life 'til the end of the round - failure in one game equals one life lost. These games range from... well... EVERYTHING to EVERYTHING. Seriously - you might be given five seconds to successfully medicate a person with eye drops. You might be given five seconds to shoot down a small flurry of alien ships. You might be given five seconds to steer a paper plane down a vertical hallway without hitting any obstacles. Finally, you might be taken to a sudden flashback of the original Metroid and given five seconds to blast through Mother Brain's glass cocoon! This game will surprise you.

Now THAT is some trippy shite. Looks
worse than the SMB movie... uh, wait... let
me take that back.
Most characters have different themes, or genres, to their collections of games. There's one character that uses reality as his theme. For example, there's a moving picture of a real cat. The briefing says "SLEEP!", so what you have to do is wait until the cat closes his eyes and press A. That's it, you won. A duo of characters has a nature theme, which is not that prohibited from including just about everything. My favourite character in the whole game is 9-Volt, a young DJ who's crazy about classic Nintendo games; his genre is simply "Nintendo". Very brief instances of whatever classic Nintendo games or hardware you can imagine will come your way once you get to 9-Volt's round; The Legend of Zelda, Duck Hunt, Donkey Kong, Super Mario Bros., Metroid, F-Zero, Balloon Fight, Hogan's Alley, even Mario Clash for the Virtual Boy! It's a total blast!

To beat a whole round, you need to engage in a boss fight, which, just like the microgames, can be of any sort. The boss fights do not have strict time limits tied to seconds, you can take your sweet time with them as long as you beat them. To once again note the ridiculous variety between boss fights, one of them is a game in which you need to use a hammer to pound a nail as steadily as possible - minor mistakes are allowed, but if you hit your own hand, the game's over. One recurring boss fight is a generic recreation of a classic Punch-Out!! bout, which gets harder over time. Upon beating a round, you earn the right to play all of the microgames you've won, freely, and usually, you unlock an additional, special game that cannot be taken part in during the storyline. Most of them are vs. games.

OK, uhh... what do I press, what do I press?
Down to the flaws of the whole thing. Even though the genres are different, all the games are the same in the sense that only the directional button and A are used. Still, it is sometimes damn hard to figure out what you need to do in each game, and that's what will drive you nuts! You can't be sure how the controls work before you try them - which you do not have time to do - and you're not even given a clear indication what it is you're controlling each time! The briefing is very vague, there never are more than two words used to tell you what to do. The developers have said that is one of the game's strongest ideas - not having a freakin' clue how a particular game works and be given just a couple of seconds to figure it out and win it - but I don't see how it's such a fabulous idea. The game is hectic and unfairly punishes you from small mistakes as it is. On top of that, the controls are not that smooth throughout the whole line. As a final flaw, I'd like to take a look into a certain round of games, hosted by the alien Orbulon, whose genre is "IQ". As it tends to be with many video games that are supposed to challenge your intelligence, these games only challenge your SPEED, not a shard of your intelligence. There's no balance. Well, at least this game doesn't berate you like the more recent Brain Challenge - a good memory has always been one of my strongest traits, and I got an F for memory in that game... just because the memory test went at an inhuman speed. "How many frogs were there?" "Frogs? I didn't see any damn frogs. All I saw was a green flash on the screen. Oh, there were nine of them? Cool." The IQ round isn't quite that hard or ridiculous. It's even fun. It's just as hard to figure out as the rest of the game.

Don't you let that mucus fall! Don't you dare!
WarioWare, Inc. is a quite challenging game in its entirety, and it certainly has a lot of replay value. The games and whole rounds are extremely addictive, and if you manage to beat all of those rounds, you'll unlock a host of "survival modes" for your trouble, which are perhaps even more addictive than the main game. This game will help you wake up in the mornings, that's for sure, and it's definitely one of the most essential GBA cartridges to have with you on long and boring trips. See that time slain!

I'm so glad that Wario hasn't gone to complete waste since the first Wario Land game. WarioWare Inc.: Mega Microgame$! sounds horrible, and it is a strange, flawed, but all in all, a great curiosity of a game. As a whole, it's better than any Mario Party game out there. The Nintendo retro clips alone would be enough to keep me hooked on this one for a long time. Let's see if the sequel fares even better, I'm rooting for it.

SOUND : 5.0


a.k.a. WarioWare Inc., WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgames!, Made in Wario (JAP), WarioWare, Inc.: Minigame Mania (EU)

GameRankings: 88.97%

Nintendo Power ranks WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Microgame$! #77 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

The game was quickly remade for the Nintendo GameCube as WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Game$!.

tiistai 16. elokuuta 2011

REVIEW - Paper Mario (2000)

RELEASED: August 2000
AVAILABLE ON: N64, Wii Virtual Console
DEVELOPER(S): Intelligent Systems
PUBLISHER(S): Nintendo

In the late 90's, the role-playing genre was at the peak of its popularity, thanks to Final Fantasy's long-anticipated mainstream breakout. In 1996, Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars was released on the dying SNES to great acclaim. The next year, a 64-bit sequel to the game was unveiled at Nintendo's Space World trade show, and it was initially simply called Super Mario RPG 2. The game had a distinctive graphical style, and it was told to have such simple core gameplay, that it could be easily accessed by even the youngest players. For numerous reasons, most of them widely unknown, the game suffered a delay after delay, but in the summer of 2000, this game - now called Paper Mario to accommodate its very unique graphics - was finally released in Japan, and it was one of the most successful games to emerge during the final days of the Nintendo 64. All amateur role-players and fans of Super Mario RPG, listen up: Paper Mario is the perfect game for you.

One of the best Mario games your dad never played

Bowser figures out the reason why he hasn't been able to beat Mario in the last 15 years - the seven Star Spirits of Star Haven haven't granted his selfish wishes. Bowser invades Star Haven, kidnaps the Star Spirits and steals their omnipotent Star Rod. Meanwhile, Mario and Luigi are invited to a party at Peach's castle. Bowser eventually crashes the party, lifts the whole castle high up into the sky with the leverage of his flying fortress, and finally manages to defeat Mario. The Star Spirits help the injured Mario back to his feet and summon him to embark on an epic quest to find them, for only they have the power to defeat Bowser in his current state.

Kids, remember that "sexual innuendo" thing
I talked about?
I won't lie to you: just a few years ago, I had no stinking clue what Paper Mario was. I missed out on a lot of games when I was somewhat boycotting Nintendo, and as it's turned out on a lot of occasions during the last year or so, I missed out on many truly great Mario games above all. At some point, I grew very intrigued with Paper Mario, seeing the interesting graphical style and finding out that the game was actually an RPG, more or less a sequel to Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, which I liked very much back in the day. I still like it, but like I said when I finally reviewed the game, I've grown out of it. Perhaps I've grown out of a game like Paper Mario as well, in many senses; it's not just typically childish when it comes to dialogue and the audiovisual presentation, but it's also the simplest role-playing game I've ever seen. There is no learning curve to it at all, which separates it from the highly difficult Mario & Luigi series of RPG's on the Game Boy Advance. Still, it's captivating, addictive and just plain COOL. In some sense, it's simply an amazing game. Paper Mario is better than Super Mario RPG, and I dare say, the best Mario game I've left to hang thus far.

The graphical style of the game has been already mentioned so many times that it's probably clear by now that not only is it unique, but the game looks superb. In the last few weeks, I've went through a lot of Nintendo 64 games that I never had the chance to try during the platform's short cycle, that have turned out very pretty - surprisingly pretty compared to most games I did play during the cycle, and actually most of those games were either done by Nintendo's own R & D or Rare. Paper Mario's non-dimensional, smooth sprite cutouts in a 3D environment with an automatic camera, and even some impressive cinematics to boot, is a perfect mix, and I don't like to suck back on my own words, but taking all the games I've lately played into consideration, I think Paper Mario is the single best-looking game on the Nintendo 64.

The music is great, and it's not too repetitive either, which came to me as a surprise. As tradition goes, there are many remixed Mario tunes here, as both background music and easter eggs (man, I love those easter eggs, glad they carried them over from Super Mario RPG), but a lot of it is new stuff written by Yuka Tsujiyoko, very known in Japan for his work on the Fire Emblem series - the only previous Mario-related title in his resume at the time was Tetris Attack, which, of course, was not recognized as a Mario-related game at all in Japan. It should be noted that Paper Mario was the first Mario game since Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars, that didn't have voice acting or voice samples of any kind, which means no Charles Martinet with his evergreen "mamma mias" or those dastardly "OH NOOOOES". Kind of refreshing, actually.

This game is not meant for those dull, stuck-up RPG fans, who always demand for certain type of deep, precise customization or all the fanciest elements of the genre. Take a moment to think what the first RPG you ever played was. Mine was Chrono Trigger, or actually, to be absolutely precise, the first RPG's I played were Black Crypt on the Amiga and Swords and Serpents on the NES. Damn straight, they were hard to comprehend, all of them. Nowadays I play complex, yet relatively standard role-playing games like Fallout, Dragon Age and the earlier Elder Scrolls games to great effect, but back in the early- to mid-90's, I had no stinking clue of how to play an RPG. If only I had a game like Paper Mario to show me the ropes. You could call it role-playing for dummies, which it is, but once you get to play it, I have a feeling "dummy" is the last word on your mind. Sure, I laughed at the game at first. The moment I got in control, I curiously started liking the game. Venturing around the very small world map was fun, there ultimately were many sidequests and secrets although the game seemed very empty at first, the game had cool dungeons and puzzles, and the extremely simple battle system got me by the balls. Sure, there were a lot of ugly spots on the way, but I find it very hard to say something concretely nasty about Paper Mario.

Hammer time.
A good thing to say right off the bat is that even if Paper Mario isn't the most fulfilling (or fulfilled) RPG out there, most of the most required elements of an RPG are in place... they just take some time to emerge. One good example is a fast travel hub. Since there's not an actual world map for you to advance on, for many hours it might seem like you're forced to backtrack your way to the intersection of Toad Town each time you finish a chapter in the quest, or backtrack to several locations during one of the most prominent sidequests, which requires you to deliver letters all around the world. There is a fast travel hub, but to my knowledge, you're not bluntly directed there by any of the characters - you'll have to find it yourself. It makes everything a whole lot easier, and less tedious. Especially less tedious, because every time you finish a chapter, most of the enemies you've encountered up until that point do not yield ANY Star Points - which are equivalent to EXP. If you don't use the fast travel hub, you'll be fighting hordes of these useless bastards only for coins. As you might've figured out, it took me a lengthy while to find the hub and I was far into the letter sidequest at that point. My personal stupidity is not a reason to bash the game, but since everything else in this game is so obvious, they could've made the fast travel hub stand out a bit more as well.

You play as Mario - what a damn surprise. There's a short prologue that ends in quite a shock for Mario fans, after which Mario is left for dead - or he would be, if this was not a Nintendo game. He's merely badly injured. Anyway, the quest begins with the spiritual forms of the Star Spirits (well, that made no sense) appearing before Mario in a dreamlike sequence and setting him off on another journey through Mushroom Kingdom, to find their true beings, locked up all around the kingdom by faithful servants of King Bowser. Once united, they can help Mario to counter the effects of the Star Rod currently held by his arch nemesis. Soon after this narrative, a tutorial sequence begins to show you all the preliminary basics, which don't even LOOK or SOUND difficult to comprehend. I've seen so many tutorials that explain things much more complicated than they really are, and I must give praise to Paper Mario for explaining things as simple as they really are. There are many brief tutorials to come, but you're definitely going to survive for a couple of hours with these basics.

Metal Gear Peach.
The long pathways and dungeons in this game combine elements from a traditional Mario platformer and a multi-dimensional RPG. So, it's quite like Super Mario RPG, but this game very rarely demands any annoying jump tricks from you, unlike the previous role-playing game in which Mario's unparalleled skill to jump was one of the most important elements of the gameplay. Initially, Mario can't even jump too high in this game! Anyway, there are blocks, springboards, pipes and whatnot on the field. There are also some obstacles which Mario can't deal with alone - for example, gaps he cannot jump over, cracked walls which obviously hold secrets, and water. This is why Mario has a cavalcade of multi-talented party members at his side.

One party member is on Mario's side at all times. You can switch between party members at any time, even during battles. Before Paper Mario came along, it was not common knowledge that all classic enemy characters from Mario games were actually from more or less decent communities; the party members represent the more decent side of Koopas, Goombas, Boos, Bob-Ombs, etc. Each party member has a special field talent, for example the Bob-Omb Bombette can be thrown against a cracked wall and ignited to explode to reveal a secret pathway, over and over again. Also, they all have a unique, basic attack method in battle, as well as as one special skill. By upgrading your party members to a higher rank (Super and later, Ultra) at rare Power Blocks, you gain one more, immensely powerful (but expensive) special skill to their list of commands, and increase their attack power in general. The party members can hurt themselves in battle by attacking the wrong kind of enemy with a wrong kind of attack - for example, if you use Goombario's headbutt to attack a Pokey - but they are rarely directly attacked by enemies, and they don't have HP. Instead, they get injured, and miss one or more turns in the case of a bad move, depending on how bad it is. Most enemies are after Mario, not his allies.

Ah. A haunted mansion. Should've seen that
The battle system bears some similarities to that of Super Mario RPG, but it's way more simple. In the very beginning, you need only one button for combat, and you don't even have access to timed attacks at that point. When you do, the battle becomes a little more interesting. Each attack you make has a different button or stick sequence for you to take note of and master to increase the power of these attacks. For example, "repeatedly tap A until the meter hits 100%", "repeatedly tilt the analog stick to the left", or "press A just before you land". This works the other way around, too. You can block (or dodge) most attacks by pressing A at the exact right moment when your enemy attacks. The exact moment of course depends on the enemy. For winning a battle, you sometimes gain coins, hearts (which replenish your health), and flowers, which replenish your mana, just like in Super Mario RPG. Sometimes, you even gain regular items. The most important rewards are, of course, Star Points.

As I already said, once you've cleared a chapter, there's no point in fighting most enemies that have stood in your way up 'til that point, if you don't happen to be in a very dire need for coins. You gain absolutely no experience from them. Leveling up is very slow in this game, it takes much patience and perhaps a little bit of back-and-forth action in single locations. In the vintage coin-collecting style, you gain a level from each 100th Star Point. In the vein of Super Mario RPG, you can choose from three different level bonuses - Max HP, Max FP and Max BP (Badge Points, tell you about 'em soon). The "funny" thing is, that only the attribute you choose increases. It's the only perk you gain from leveling up, while in most RPG's all attributes increase a little when you level up. This can be extremely frustrating, just as frustrating as it probably sounds. You can't really play any favourites, but there's little sense in trying to keep a perfect balance, too, at least when the going gets tough and you'd probably do with a high number of maximum HP. The worst part of the game in this sense, as well as many other senses, is that there's an inventory limit. In Super Mario RPG it was 29, but since you don't have to care for your partners' wellbeing in addition to your own, in this game it's 10.

Life in a toy box ain't easy.
In addition to special skills that are used with "flower power", each saved Star Spirit grants Mario a Star Spirit Power used with a Star Energy Unit. The Star Energy cannot be replenished with items; instead, it replenishes over time and you can speed up the process by using a free Power called Focus, however it wastes one precious turn. These Powers range from cure spells to direct attacks, and are quite useful from time to time, especially the later ones. 

Mario's strength and defense cannot be modified by natural means. However, you gain more attack power as well as field talents from different boots and hammers. Also, Badges will help you in just about every way imaginable. Your total Badge Points and the amount each Badge needs to be equipped determine how many of these trinkets you can wear at once. There are some traditionals such as HP Plus, FP Plus and whatnot, also Badges that slowly replenish your HP and FP during battle, some that allow you to use special attacks, and one very essential Badge that allows you to jump on spiked enemies. All kinds... equivalents of Badges have been seen in many games, but at least Super Mario RPG didn't have anything like them, so this a step forward for the Mario series. On a darker note, the game is a damn scrooge with them Badge Points. It constantly provokes you to increase your BP at level ups, which, again, you do not want to do. Badges are found everywhere, but the rarest of them are sold at special shops. One's near the center of Toad Town (your "HQ"). The other one's on the outskirts at Shooting Star Summit, and they don't accept coins as currency, only rare Star Pieces will do.

This place overflows with pastel.
In the very same shop, another character bluntly tells you secret locations of both these Star Pieces and Badges for a relatively small fee. As empty and tube-like as the game might seem at first, there are many sidequests and secrets in this game, as well as a few minigames to boot. They might not be from the most interesting end, especially once you figure out that they're mostly related to some really non-essential Badges and some even more non-essential items - I guess that once again, I must concur that the chase is usually better than the catch. Some of the most non-essential Badges simply change the sound effects of Mario's attacks - well, at least those types of Badges don't take up any BP.

There's one more minor yay and also, one minor boo to the battles I feel obligated to note. In most games, when an enemy character causes his own loss (such as by means of self-destruction), you get no experience points from 'em. In this game, you do. That's the yay, because such enemies have always annoyed the hell out of me. You still don't get any SP from escapees, though. That's not the boo. The boo is that whenever you use an indirect skill to win the battle, such as Parakarry's Air Lift (he carries a single enemy out of the battlefield), or Bow's Spook (she scares the enemies, potentially making them all run away), you get no SP from the enemies you manage to inflict those "attacks" on. Tallied up with everything else I've said about SP farming thus far, it's safe to say that it's downright hard to level up in this game, way too hard. That's its most outrageous flaw in my opinion.

Another moderately weak point in my opinion is a recurring "sidequest", in which you control Peach inside the recently invaded Mushroom Castle. She has a recently born star on her side, who can't really do anything about her wishes, but can and will work as a messenger between her and Mario. So, your mission in these segments is to uncover Bowser's plans and strategies, the locations of the Star Spirits, and information on the bosses, in a very poor man's stealth game. It's kind of cool, especially once some real tasks set in - such as baking a cake for a hungry turncoat Shy Guy to squeeze some valuable information out of him - but it has a negative effect on the game's consistency, since you can't really do anything but examine stuff and move around in annoyingly precise stealth. Luckily these sequences don't last more than a few minutes, but there are too many of them.

Sure you would. Too bad no one asked for
your input.
Apart from a few extremely annoying boss fights which will probably take a few tries and precise planning due to the strictly turn-based system - and handicaps, which settle in as quite standard near the end of the game - Paper Mario is an easy game. It was made to be just as easy, as it is to comprehend even if you've not touched a role-playing game in your life. The many puzzles hardly need a semi-brainiac to be cracked in under a minute, and the dungeons are surprisingly linear even if they don't seem that way at first. Either way, the game is entertaining most of the way, and I believe younger folk (ages 9-12) will find the game at least somewhat replayable. Additional props to the considerable length of the game; it takes about 25 hours to beat Paper Mario to the hilt.

Paper Mario is a bonafide - yet a bit overlooked - Nintendo classic, and alongside Super Mario 64 and Mario Kart 64, it's probably one game I will always remember Nintendo 64 for. It's probably not the best RPG curiosity out there, but it is a good one, and the best Mario RPG I've played thus far. It's a good thing I finally opened my mind to it, better late than never.

SOUND : 9.2


a.k.a. Super Mario RPG 2 (working title), Paper Mario Story (working title), Mario Story (JAP)

GameRankings: 88.74%

Nintendo Power ranks Paper Mario #63 on their list of the Top 200 Nintendo Games of All Time.

A game of the same name is slated to be released on the Nintendo 3DS in 2012. Apparently, it's rather a sequel than a remake.

The Koopa Bros. are obviously based on the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Luigi's diary says something like: "I wish I had my own game, with my name in the title.", and "I'm terrified of ghosts!" These entries are allusions to the then-upcoming Nintendo GameCube game Luigi's Mansion.

Luigi also mourns his relationship with his brother in his diary. He says that once upon a time, they used to play golf and tennis, and have parties together. This entry is an allusion to Mario Golf, Mario Tennis and Mario Party.

Upon recovering from his stomach ache, the whale calls Mario "Dr. Mario", which of course is an allusion to the game Dr. Mario.