Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS – Taking Names Has Gone Portable

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The Smash Bros. experience has always been a matter of making sure you had enough controllers for all of your friends, that no one got in the way of the TV while the fight was on, and perhaps having to pass the controllers around to give everyone a shot at playing if there were more than four people wanting to play at a time. Enter 2014 and the latest iteration of the Smash Bros. franchise, Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS. Exiting the gate before the Wii U version of the game, the series’ first handheld title has been of particular interest to Smash fans, particularly long-time players that wondered how the franchise would fare in portable form. And so lies the question: does Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS live up to the very high expectations it’s been held against, and does it work on the 3DS?

Yes, and yes, are the short answers. Very much so.

Surprisingly, there is no learning curve going from the console to the handheld. The first thing I did when I fired up my copy was to start a four-player free-for-all against level 9 CPUs with my main, Link, and the moment the match began I was playing as though I’d owned the game for months. The circle pad and a-b-x-y buttons, coupled with the shoulder buttons, feel exactly like playing with a controller and as natural as playing with a GameCube controller (though I’m not sure how you c-stick users are faring!). There are a number of new items that feel right at home in the rotation of Smash Bros. item madness, including, but not limited to:

-Blue Shell: Just as in Mario Kart, the Blue Shell zones in on players and hovers ominously before smashing downwards with destructive force.

-Hocotate Ship: Captain Olimar’s ship is a throwable item this time around, and will shoot upwards and disappear into the sky before crash-landing onto the stage.

-Beetle: Link’s trusty item from Skyward Sword is just as crafty here; when thrown at an opponent, it will grab them and carry them off-screen, hopefully netting you a K.O. before they can escape.

-Galaga Bug: Remember when you’d lose a perfectly good ship in Galaga to those bugs that would absorb it in their tractor beams? The same concept applies here, as the Galaga Bug will spin around lazily and attempt to absorb opponents with its beam and take them off into the darkness of space… where no one will hear them scream…

The roster of characters boasts nearly 50 fighters this time around, and for the most part everyone is either a returning veteran or an impressive, fun addition to the choice of playable fighters. However, people who have been playing since Melee will notice that the franchise-staples, the Ice Climbers, are absent from the 3DS version of this Smash Bros.; Masahiro Sakurai claims that it took too much power to have Nana and Popo on the screen at once, so they were ultimately dropped from the game, but that the Wii U version managed to have them up and fighting at one point during development. This of course leads to the question of whether or not they will be in the roster of the Wii U version; given the fact that they were capable of fighting just fine together on the GameCube, let alone the Wii, I’m not really understanding why this should be an issue on the 3DS and Wii U. Plus, Duck Hunt, one of the new fighters introduced this time, is both the Duck Hunt dog and duck fighting together. On screen. At the same time. Just like the Ice Climbers. Also missing from the fray was Brawl’s beloved newcomer, Snake – it remains to be seen whether he and the Ice Climbers will either be put into the Wii U version at the last minute or be made DLC after the game’s release. One can only hope, but for now they’re absent from the 3DS version.

Mega Man, one of the most sought-after additions to the roster of fighters, is very fun to use and utilizes classic Mega Man attacks and weaponry that are sure to please fans of the series, but particularly of the classic games. Little Mac, one of the most controversial additions due to his extreme speed and strength, is another great fighter who will almost certainly face the same fate of Meta Knight and get banned from tournament play because of people claiming he’s “broken” or “unfair.” Greninja fights in a fashion similar to Sheik and handles with tight controls and lightning speed, while Charizard has freed itself from the Pokemon Trainer and fights solo this time around. But then there are additions that, frankly, left me scratching my head or just weren’t the most enjoyable characters to use; the Wii Fit Trainer isn’t the worst character in the world but feels like a space that could’ve been filled by a more appropriate fighter that meshed better, while Lucina feels too similar to Marth to be a worthwhile addition. And again, while Duck Hunt was certainly a nice surprise, not to mention unique and creative, I would’ve preferred to have the development team try to work the Ice Climbers into the roster if they could have the dual-avatar team of Duck Hunt work on-screen simultaneously.

Gerudo Valley is one of the best new stages in this iteration of Smash Bros. - here, Samus and Kirby seem to have discovered the carpenters' tent.

Gerudo Valley is one of the best new stages in this iteration of Smash Bros. – here, Samus and Kirby seem to have discovered the carpenters’ tent.

There are way more color choices for each character in Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS than in previous entries, and for a lot of the characters they’re particularly impressive. Samus’ armor can be changed to the color schemes of some of her most iconic suits, like the Light, Dark, and Gravity suits; Link can don tunics (and facial details) that make him appear to be Dark Link, the Fierce Deity, and in his normal clothes from Skyward Sword; Bowser Jr. can don skins to make him appear as the other Koopalings; and the Villager can sport a female skin in case anyone doesn’t want to be the male Animal Crossing avatar. But what the heck, Sonic? Why are you just a bunch of variations of the color blue? A great opportunity was lost in not giving him skins of at least Shadow and Knuckles. A very strange decision, and I’m not sure if it was Sega’s or Nintendo’s.

The stages, however, were a big sticking point for me in this entry to the Smash Bros. series. Some are great, like Gerudo Valley (my personal favorite), where the bridge linking the two sides of the gorge will give way and Koume and Kotake show up, throwing fire and ice at the fighters. Fighting at the base of the Prism Tower and having the fight move into the sky is also really cool, as is the Boxing Ring, where you can jump high above the other fighters using the ropes of the ring to land on top of the lights and send them crashing onto your opponents. And staying on top of Link’s Spirit Train while not falling onto the rails below is both fun and challenging. But most of the stages are, frankly, too lackluster to be memorable, or have already been seen in previous Smash Bros. games. One can’t help but long for Shadow Moses Island, Halberd, Eldin Bridge, or any of the other fantastic stages from Brawl in comparison to what feel like somewhat uninspired locations for the 3DS version of Smash. It was one of the biggest disappointments for me.

Single-player modes are fantastic, bringing back Classic and All-Star modes, as well as the Home Run Derby and Multi-Man Smash. New modes, like Smash Run, give you a few minutes to go around beating up countless minions from various Nintendo franchises (as well as Mega Man and Namco enemies) in order to level up your character as much as possible before thrusting you into a timed battle with 3 CPU players. Player customization is a new feature to Smash Bros., encouraging you to level up particular stats of your fighter rather than just choosing your main and having to adjust to the speed, strength, and weight class inherent to that character. Miis are customizable in this game as well, and you can choose from three different classes of fighter to apply to your Mii – Brawler, Gunner, and Swordfighter – but I’m totally uninterested and just stick to blasting them offscreen in Multi Man Smash. Trophy Rush is a favorite mode of mine, where you pay coins that you earn through fighting and playing through the various modes to destroy falling debris on a flat stage until you fill up a meter and showers of coins and trophies rain upon you to collect. You can also buy trophies that are available in the shop and are constantly rotating out.

Online play is leaps and bounds more enjoyable and smoother than the online experience we were subjected to in Brawl, with few instances of lag or choppiness. Hopefully the Wii U version accomplishes what the Wii could not and gives us a proper online, console Smash Bros. experience, if the 3DS could do it.

Toon Link is either wary or duly unimpressed with Pikachu, who just seems fascinated by comparison.

Toon Link is either wary or duly unimpressed with Pikachu, who just seems fascinated by comparison.

Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS has proven that Smash Bros. can go portable and still provide a quality fighting experience on-the-go. While not perfect, and lacking in some respects, it easily holds its own against the previous console entries to the series and has found itself as the only 3DS game I’ve been playing since its release – it hasn’t been removed from the cartridge port yet. Between the single-player modes, multiplayer smash, and online play, you’ll be busy for a quite a long time. What will you do when Super Smash Bros. for Wii U comes out?! Let the planning begin.

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars – Part Mario, Part RPG, Entirely Epic.

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The Mario RPG games – Mario & Luigi and Paper Mario, respectively – are some of the most prolific and successful franchises in Nintendo canon, responsible for many of the most memorable and well-loved characters and moments in the Mario Bros. universe. However, before the X-Nauts and Sergeant Guy, and before Koops and Fawful, there were Geno and Mallow, Frogfucius and Boomer, and there was Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars on SNES.

A collaboration between Square and Nintendo, Mario RPG brought together the traditional turn-based, menu-driven combat system and leveling-up through earning experience points that Square helped familiarize us with in RPGs like Final Fantasy, with the extremely quirky, colorful world of the Mushroom Kingdom. Unlike previous Mario games that played as side-scrolling platformers with very little dialogue and a basic storyline, Mario RPG threw players into a rich, complex plot that starts as the Bowser-steals-Peach routine (which gets poked fun at by Toads who voice exasperation at the princess being captured “AGAIN”) but explodes into so much more.

In the midst of Mario’s umpteenth rescue of Peach and trouncing of Bowser – not to mention an extremely creative opening sequence that puts you immediately into battle – a giant sword comes crashing downwards into Bowser’s Keep, causing an earthquake that sends Mario flying all the way back to his humble home (aptly named “Pipe House”) and separates Mario and Peach yet again right before they’re reunited. When Mario attempts to make his way back into Bowser’s Keep, the giant sword, Exor, who exclaims that he is part of “Smithy’s Gang”, destroys the bridge allowing access into it. Thus begins Mario’s epic RPG quest to rescue Peach not from Bowser, but from an entirely new enemy.

The game’s isometric perspective and highly-animated 3D character models were state-of-the-art and visually impressive in 1996, pushing the SNES’ graphical capabilities to its utmost potential. In today’s video game industry driven by the need for photorealism and hyper-detailed worlds, Mario RPG is a breath of fresh air, despite being 18 years old, because of its whimsical mix of the fantastical lands of the Mushroom Kingdom with a dash of 3D rendering, detailed environments, vibrant colors, and an art style blending elements of realism with the stylized look of the Mario universe. Coupled with one of the best and strongest soundtracks in any Mario game to date, Mario RPG shone brightly because of the radically different audio and visuals it chose to adopt to separate itself from previous entries in the Mario Bros. series. The RPG genre works well with Mario, and the battle and menu system is extremely easy to pick and understand: in battle you can attack with whatever weapons you have equipped, with special offensive and defensive moves your party members learn upon leveling up (which require “FP” or “Flower Points” to use), or you can use various items from your inventory. One of the most enjoyable parts about Mario RPG is collecting equipment to strengthen your party members and discovering the ones that appeal most to you, like Mario’s giant Lazy Shell, Bowser’s Spiked Link, or Peach’s Frying Pan (a weapon that would become so iconic for her that it would be one of the random items she uses in her B-button smash attack in the Smash Bros. series). 

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These gameplay elements, previously unknown to the Mario Bros. franchise, felt not like clunky, tacked-on additions, but rather were wonderfully executed, creating a smooth combat system that was easy to navigate and interactive for the player; pressing the attack button at the right moment would cause extra damage against enemies while pressing it as soon as an enemy attacked you would reduce the amount of damage you took. This prevented the game from being a standard turn-based RPG that involved little more than selecting a command and calculating damage; the combat animations of each character’s attacks also kept things visually interesting. 

While Mario games are no strangers to introducing new characters, the sheer amount of personalities encountered in Mario RPG would set the stage for the types of colorful individuals that would be introduced in the later RPG games. From your first run-in with Mallow, the tadpole who doesn’t look like he’s a tadpole because (spoiler alert) he’s actually a cloud who also happens to be prince of Nimbus Land,  to being united with Geno, the spirit of the warrior from Star Road that possess the body of a doll, whose real name is a series of unpronouncable characters and who serves a “higher authority,” Mario RPG creates a true level of depth within the heroes and villains alike that populate the game. It’s also the earliest example of Mario and Bowser working together rather than fighting, as well as players being able to take control of Mario’s antagonist; though Peach was first playable in Super Mario Bros. 2, it really is pretty epic when you finally have all three characters on your team, working together to fight an evil too great for them to not put their differences aside for a greater good. While on the subject of evil, one can’t forget the outlandish and outrageous enemies that you can’t help but laugh at and despise all at once, along with the formidable and familiar: the Axem Rangers, a clear parody of the Power Rangers but a lot less competent of a team; Booster, the jilted lover with delusions of marrying Peach and whose friends have a gambling problem; Valentina, who might be the first example of a character featuring a “jiggle animation” in a Nintendo game; Jinx, the extremely skilled, extremely serious, and extremely small ninja that will probably require two tries to take down; Culex, Square’s epic-but-creepy homage to their beloved Final Fantasyseries tucked away in Monstro Town; and even Birdo, the androgynous frenemy we’ve all come to love and be very confused by.

Battle with Culex, Square's homage to Final Fantasy within the game.

Battle with Culex, Square’s homage to Final Fantasy within the game.

And we can’t forget the cameos by other familiar Nintendo faces, like Link taking a snooze in the inn in Rosetown and hearing the Zelda “secret” jingle when you attempt to wake him, or Samus “resting up for Mother Brain” in the guest room of the castle of the Mushroom Kingdom, and even stumbling upon Yoshi and his friends on Yo’ster Island (though, sadly, he doesn’t join your party).

Samus snoozing in the guest room of the castle - just one of many Nintendo cameos.

Samus snoozing in the guest room of the castle – just one of many Nintendo cameos.

I had initially thought that Mario RPG was perhaps longer than it really was because the majority of my memories of it are from my elementary school days, but it is, in fact, a very long game that is worth every second you put into it. From journeying to save the Mushroom Kingdom from Smithy and his minions, to leveling up and customizing your party, to experiencing the witty writing and genuinely funny humor, the adventure avoids being the grind that a lot of RPGs end up becoming towards the latter half of the game, and by the end you’ve grown emotionally involved and truly care about everyone you’ve spent so much time with. 

Super Mario RPG: Legend of the Seven Stars is truly a game of epic proportions with the perfect balance of Nintendo charm and Square story-telling and gameplay that would open up the doors for further exploration into the melding of Mario and the RPG genre in the years to come. Wonderfully unique characters, a deeper storyline, an entirely different genre, and superb audio and visuals would make this spinoff one of the most iconic entries in the Mario series and one of the best games in the SNES library. 

Mario Comes Out Swingin’ in Mario Golf: World Tour

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It’s been quite a while since Nintendo revisited the world of Mario Golf, with the last iteration of the series having been Mario Golf: Advance Tour on GBA, but Mario and company are back for another 18 holes in the franchise’s latest addition, Mario Golf: World Tour. This time around we find not so much of the RPG elements featured in the previous handheld installments, but rather a larger focus on mastering each of the game’s three main courses to go head-to-head against the reigning world champ himself, Mario.

As your Mii, you find yourself as a newbie player within Princess Peach’s Castle Club, becoming acclimated to the world of professional golf (or as professional as it gets in the Mushroom Kingdom). After establishing your handicap and entering a handicap tournament, you can then begin participating in the three main 18-hole courses the game starts you off with: the Forest, Seaside, and Mountain Courses, which all have their own characteristics and hazards. The Forest Course is the easiest, with gentle winds and occasional sand patches, while in the Seaside Course you must contend with high winds and water traps, and in the Mountain Course you have to prepare yourself for steep slopes and obstacles. The CPU is extremely competitive and relentless in tournaments; during the Forest Course Tournament I completed with a -9.4 but Peach still managed to beat me out for first with a score of -10, so you always have to be on your toes and make every shot count.

In order to do so, Mario Golf: World Tour actually makes you take wind conditions, club selection, shot power, and tricks played on the ball into consideration– simply timing your shots by pressing A at the right moment won’t be enough for you to take first place. Manual shots allow for adding spins to your ball, and adjusting the camera to an overhead view helps you line up your shot where you need it to go. While the camera on the fairway is excellent and invaluable, the camera when putting was extremely frustrating, focused too close behind your Mii and never really adjusting properly between the three available angles to line up your putt correctly. There were too many instances of angling your shot just right, timing your putt exactly, and still winding up at the very cusp of the hole and having your ball stop, always conveniently during a potential birdie shot. Also irritating was your Mii’s voice, particularly the female voice– every two seconds there was some outburst from my character that made me want to eliminate her voice completely, especially considering the soundtrack is very pleasant to listen to while golfing. But other than those minor annoyances, golfing feels great overall; I found myself playing for extended periods of time every gaming session, and improving my handicap after every course became addicting.

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Interactions with Mario and the gang makes the characters feel much more part of the game and less distant compared to the other handheld Mario Golf titles.

 

The Castle Club is a very engaging central hub to explore, particularly because of the adorable Shy Guys, Toads, Koopa Troopas, Goombas (who somehow have found ways to golf despite their anatomy…), Monty Moles, and Spikes meandering about and engaging in conversation with one another. Talking to them actually yields quite a bit of useful information so it’s worth listening to what they have to say, even if you’re like me and only talking to them because you want to give that Shy Guy running on a treadmill in the gym a big hug. Completing courses results in unlocking a wide array of equipment for your character, which you can equip at the store in the Castle Club; different articles of clothing provide different attributes for your character depending on what you have on. Further exploration into the Castle Club actually brings you face to face with Mario, Luigi, and friends themselves, which is a nice change to the former Mario Golf handheld entries, where they always felt detached and less a part of the story compared to your character. If you find yourself confused by all of the golf jargon thrown at you during gameplay, head downstairs and talk to the purple Toad who will explain every golf term in the game that might be tripping you up. And while you’re there, check out the quality local and online multiplayer experiences that let you choose how you want to play with your friends (or taunt them on the green, as they case may be), but be aware that there’s no Download Play, so everyone is going to have to have a copy of their own.

Single player mode allows you the chance to take a break from the seriousness of tournaments and handicaps and take part in Challenges, like hitting a ball through a series of rings or collecting star coins on the course, all while using items to do crazy shots like using a Fire Flower to burn through trees or a Bullet Bill to defy strong winds. Completing Challenges also unlocks equipment, characters, and courses, which makes the game’s DLC packs a bit less disappointing, knowing that you still have quite a lot of content to look forward by just buying the game itself to begin with, which increases this game’s replay value.

Mario Golf: World Tour is a solid mix of great controls, crisp, colorful visuals, great replay value due to its amount of unlockable content, and is ultimately just a flat out great experience. Chalk this one up as another great 3DS title you should add to your library.

Hello Kitty Kruisers – An Adorable, but Slightly Disappointing Experience

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There have been a number of Hello Kitty titles released on Nintendo consoles and handhelds since the days of the Game Boy Color, but what the series of games had been lacking was a racer. Enter Hello Kitty Kruisers for Wii U, a Mario Kart-esque racing game featuring a number of characters from the Sanrio Universe.

Hello Kitty Kruisers has three game modes: Quick Play, where you can do a single race if you’re short on time, Tournament, in which you play four races to earn the most points against your opponents, and Adventure, which asks you to complete certain tasks within a given period of time. In Adventure mode you start with a single task, such as driving through 10 goals within one minute, and once completed the next task is unlocked. Each task has a particular character and course chosen for you, and tasks are always very simple (this is, after all, aimed at a younger audience). Adventure mode seems to not only aim to acclimate the player to the game’s control mechanics, but to provide a break from competitive racing.

Tournament mode is the core of the game and both the racing and control scheme emulate the formula familiarized by Mario Kart: 4 races per tournament, and the goal is to earn as many points to wind up the winner in the end. Racing handles very smoothly and is responsive, and by driving into item spheres you can get offensive and defensive items to protect yourself and get ahead, like pies to throw at other racers or cones to drop behind you. Unfortunately, seasoned racing game fans will find this game extremely easy; it takes seconds (and no items) to find yourself in first, and there were many races were I was almost lapping the person in last. The AI isn’t particularly competitive, so I only experienced the same two items every race because I was either just about to head to the front of the pack and wound up getting pies, or I was in first and kept getting cones. The speed of racing is slow as well, sort of like playing a 50cc cup in Mario Kart compared to Mirror Mode. 

Each track provides you with a different racing experience in terms of vehicles, because you’ll either find yourself assigned to a car, boat, or plane depending on what type of track you’ll be on. There are multiple choices of each specific type of vehicle, but it’s really just a matter of visual preference – choosing a different car, boat, or plane over another doesn’t matter because the vehicle speed and handling are all the same. One thing that is pretty cute though is the ability to change your racer’s outfit just for the fun of it. You can power slide, but you don’t get a speed boost for doing it, and frankly you’re going so slow and the competition is so non-existent that there’s really no need for it anyway. I chuckled to myself when I was sliding over water in my boat and I still heard a burning rubber sound effect.

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Tournaments end anticlimactically, just sending you right back to the menu to choose another race. Unlockables are treated the same – I wasn’t even aware that I had been unlocking characters and vehicles until I went back to Tournament Mode from Adventure Mode and saw Tuxedo Sam and a handful of new cars and boats were now playable. Quick Play is pretty self-explanatory, as it just lets you choose a single race from each tournament to play at a time as opposed to having to play through all four races. The game can either be played with the gamepad, Wii remote, or classic controller, but disappointingly there is no online multiplayer. It would be nice because it would perhaps offer a more challenging and enjoyable experience for older fans of Hello Kitty and her friends (like myself), but local couch co-op for up to four players is an option. 

The graphics really aren’t horrible. Yes, they’re not the caliber of a first-party Nintendo title, but before I put the game in I had actually prepared myself for the worst, and was expecting blocky, fuzzy, and all around bland visuals. Instead, everything is bubble-gum sweet and bright, and the racers and surroundings are at least rendered smoothly. There’s a lot of room for improvement, but I wasn’t sitting there scoffing at what I was seeing. To grade this against racers like Mario Kart or Diddy Kong Racing, or whatever big name racing franchise you want to throw out there, would be unfair because it not only isn’t looking to compete against them, it’s not even meant for the same audience. This is a good racer for young kids, and I was actually really happy with the $20 price tag (and if you’d prefer, you can buy it from the eShop). 

For what it is, Hello Kitty Kruisers is not the worst game I’ve ever played, by far, it’s just not all that it could be. Overly simplistic races and a lack of depth in terms of racing and unlocking content affect what could be an actually decent racer for Wii U. If you enjoy the Sanrio universe or you have kids in your life that would enjoy a simple, easy racing experience, the small price tag at least isn’t a deterrent to picking it up.

A Look Back at Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters (SNES)

I have very vivid memories of particular games on SNES from my childhood, and it wasn’t until a number of years went by that I came to understand that many of the games in the video game collection I share with my brother are either extremely obscure or somewhat rare. Since my brother was a huge Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles fan, my aunt got us a copy of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Tournament Fighters for our SNES, simply because it had to do with TMNT and she thought he’d like it. Little did she realize that down the line I would wind up playing it more than he did.

At its core, Tournament Fighters sought to take advantage of the fighting game boom popularized by the Street Fighter franchise in the early 1990s, and it becomes clear once you start playing that the game was heavily influenced by the style of that particular franchise. The story mode of the game centers around Splinter and April being kidnapped by Karai, who seeks to resurrect Shredder, and you can choose either Leonardo, Michelanglo, Donatello, or Raphael to fight through each stage. I’ll freely admit that the difficulty in this game is pretty high – you can lower the difficulty if you have to, but just getting through the first stage without dying and having to restart at least once doesn’t happen very often for me. In typical retro gaming fashion, this game is tough and expects you to be at your best if you want to get through it. There’s also a one-on-one versus mode and a spectator mode in case you’d rather sit and watch the CPU go at each other.

I was always much more drawn to Tournament Mode in the game, which is an arcade mode where you get to choose your character from a wide roster of players and you have to beat everyone else at their respective stages to get to the final stage. Aside from the four turtles, you can choose between Shredder, a handful of characters from the Archie Comics line of TMNT books – namely Wingnut, War, and Armaggon – and Chrome Dome from the animated series. However, the character I always play as is Aska, the female ninja who was an original character created for the game. Of the four turtles, Donatello is hands down the most fun to use, as well as the most effective. His bo staff has the best reach and his move set feels the smoothest, as opposed to the other turtles who have either short reach or who simply don’t feel as effective in battle. Each character has their own unique set of moves, including a super special that can be used once the player’s energy meter is filled in battle; using it as a finishing move drops your bonus points to zero at the end of the match, so it comes with a cost.

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Leonardo versus Aska in the Noh Stage.

In typical Konami fashion, from the start menu you can input a series of button presses and d-pad pushes to unlock both the Rat King and Karai to use in Tournament Mode, as well as their stages and other features to customize gameplay, such as increasing the game’s speed. In an homage to games like Street Fighter, from which a lot of Tournament Fighter’s elements are influenced, there’s a bonus round where you smash and destroy as many safes as possible to increase the amount of cash you take home at the end of the tournament – though if you end up losing to an opponent during the tournament, all of that cash is lost and you have to start back at zero. The final fight with Karai is ridiculously hard, and I’ll freely admit that I usually end up spamming Aska’s hip attack over and over until the clock runs out and I win with the menial amount of damage I’ve caused. Nearly 20 years of playing this game hasn’t made that fight any easier for me. 

One of the most memorable things about Tournament Fighters for me is the music. This game has a great soundtrack that ranges from the frantic, intense theme in the art museum against Chrome Dome, to War’s tribal influenced music in the ruins, to the traditional Japanese inspired music in Aska’s Noh stage (my personal favorite), there’s a wide range of songs in the game’s soundtrack that keep the tone of the game fast-paced and really get you into that fighting game zone while you’re playing. The stages are visually interesting and some have semi-destructible environments; while the graphical limitations of SNES keep movements of characters in the backgrounds to nothing more than fist pumping or tapping of feet, the rich colors and creative arenas keep the game interesting throughout. Interestingly, menial changes were made when localizing the game from Japan to the United States, such as removing the destructible walls in Rat King’s Studio 6 stage or changing some of the characters’ voices. Most notably, Aska’s thong leotard that she wears in the Japanese version was deemed too risque for American audiences and consequently was changed to a bikini bottom in her sprite animations for the game’s US release. 

Tournament Fighters may not have revolutionized anything in the fighting game genre, nor is it considered on par with franchises like Street Fighter or Tekken, but it deserves recognition for being a genuinely great game. From the music, to the stages, to the challenging battles, this is one game in my SNES library I’m happy to have, and frankly I have more fun with this game than I do with a lot of the contemporary fighting games that have come out recently on other consoles. If you’re ever lucky enough to run across a copy of Tournament Fighters, pick it up and add it to your retro gaming collection.

Click here to take a listen to one of the best songs in the game, Noh Stage – Aska’s Stage.

Yoshi’s New Island: A Mixed Bag of Ups and Downs

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Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island on SNES is one of my favorite games of all time, particularly because everything from the hand-drawn art style, to the tight controls, to the iconic music and enemies make it an amazing gaming experience. So when I heard that Yoshi’s New Island would be coming to 3DS I was crossing my fingers for an equally memorable experience – unfortunately I ran into a mixed bag of positives and negatives with the latest installment of the franchise.

Yoshi’s New Island takes the basic premise and control scheme of its predecessor and applies it to this new game successfully: explore six worlds while keeping Baby Mario safe on Yoshi’s back, and utilize egg throwing as your main form of offense. Lobbing eggs, ground pounding, and swallowing enemies all felt responsive and smooth, but the very first thing that irked me while playing was Yoshi’s flutter jump; as opposed to feeling light and airy and shooting Yoshi in a nice arc before coming down, the jump felt heavy and slow. It took patience to get used to the timing needed to get the jump to work in your favor as opposed to causing you to miss landing on ledges or not reaching the height needed to clear enemies (which happened to me quite a bit when playing for the first time).

Moving deeper into the game, you encounter some of the new features Yoshi’s New Island brings to the mix, though not all of them make for a greater experience overall. The giant eggs are quite fun, and utilized in two ways: above ground, Yoshi uses them to smash blocks and barricades to earn coins, 1-ups, and flowers, while underwater giant metal eggs cause you to sink so you can destroy deterrents and gather goodies down below. These don’t show up in every level and appear just often enough that they didn’t feel like a gimmick, but weren’t annoyingly required to progress through levels constantly. Yoshi’s transformations in particular levels all take advantage of the 3DS’s gyroscope to move Yoshi through the level while pressing any button to use the functions of his transformation, though some of them felt tacked on and uninspired. While Jackhammer Yoshi made smashing rocks fun and Submarine Yoshi fires missiles at enemies, Minecart, Hot-Air, Bobsled, and Helicopter Yoshi all only required you to tilt the 3DS in the direction you wanted to move. That was it. You only get to use these transformations for a few seconds, once in a random level, which was disappointing and a bit of a letdown.

While on the subject of letdowns, the soundtrack for this game was probably the most upsetting thing I encountered during my playthrough. Yoshi’s New Island has essentially two tracks: the main theme of the game mixed into multiple, varying versions of the main theme (but nonetheless THE SAME SONG OVER AND OVER), and the theme played inside of boss castles. It got to the point where I was playing the game with the volume off because hearing one song throughout six worlds was driving me nuts. It wouldn’t have been a problem had it been Koji Kondo’s vastly superior and wonderful soundtrack from Yoshi’s Island, but instead I had to listen to kazoos and music that mistakenly tries to paint this game as a kid’s game.

Yoshi’s New Island is certainly not child’s play in terms of difficulty, as it gets tougher as you get through each world. I found myself saying things that would never be written into the script of any Nintendo game as I was killed by tricky puzzles or one nasty enemy just waiting to time their attack with me getting near it. At times I was extremely frustrated when Baby Mario would get stuck either at the top of the screen or off to the left with no way for me to reach him, and I’d watch him get carried away; it’s one thing to simply run out of time because you’re fighting enemies and can’t get back to Baby Mario, it’s another to lose him because of wonky programming that doesn’t give you a chance to save him even when you try. Even more frustrating was the odd placement of checkpoints within levels – sometimes you’d get one right in the middle of the level (where it should be), other times you’d find yourself trucking through, dying, and starting way back at the beginning when you should have encountered a checkpoint long before.

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The hand-drawn art style in Yoshi’s New Island is easy on the eyes.

There were two things that made getting through levels particularly enjoyable for me, namely the lovely visuals and some of the most hilarious enemies that were often a combination of adorable and chuckle inducing. In terms of art, worlds were either rendered in watercolor, crayon, or chalk pastel visuals, sometimes invoking Japanese inspired artistic techniques in backgrounds that I really appreciated. My favorite part of Yoshi’s New Island, however, were the Shy Guys. Shy Guys are simultaneously ridiculous and huggable, with Stilt Guys blocking your path on stilts wearing matching shoes, Tribal Guys doing dances that involved wiggling their tushes at you, or Shy Guys carrying doors away from Yoshi and falling into chasms with them still in their hands, to name a few. In World 5 I encountered some sort of little fighter wearing karate robes who seriously used a hadouken and threw a ball of lighting at me. I laughed. Boss battles were fun, albeit a bit short, and mid-world battles with the blundering Kamek made you think and kept you on your toes.

Yoshi’s New Island suffers from a few issues, mainly the lackluster soundtrack and some new features feeling flat and shallow, but at its core this is a fun title that takes the classic platforming formula from the SNES title before it and brings it to 3DS. A pleasing art style, fun enemy encounters, and solid controls make Yoshi’s New Island a good, but not great, experience that’s worth your time overall.

Pokemon Origins – Not the Pokemon You Grew Up With

I’m not one of the many impatient Pokemon fans that have already watched the Japanese episodes of Pokemon Origins and have finished the series, but when I heard about this mini series that was going to be based on the Red and Blue Gameboy games, my elementary school self did a leap for joy on the inside.

The Pokemon anime holds a special place in my heart; every day after school I’d come home, turn to our local channel 44, grab my Pikachu stuffed animal, and watch the latest episode. As I got older, it moved to channel 20 and I’d wake up at the crack of dawn every Saturday to catch it. To be quite honest, the only reason I stopped watching it was because the original voice actors (except for Pikachu’s, of course) got replaced with people that sounded like they were doing poor imitations of what I was used to hearing for years – and yes, I was that attached and loyal to the original cast that when they left, I left too. It just wasn’t the same experience.

It’s been quite a number of years since I parted ways with the Pokemon anime, and as every batch of Pokemon that have come out have gotten, frankly, stranger, I’ve found myself missing the Pokemon from Kanto and Johto more and more. So hearing that Origins would be making a return to the roots of the series, I was thrilled to take a trip back to the Pokemon I grew up with and that any other game has yet to top.

Episode I introduces Red as the protagonist, the original trainer from Red Version, and his rival Blue. It’s hard to not compare Origins to the Kanto episodes of Pokemon, but I will say that Ash, for all of his bumbling along in the first episode (and frankly, throughout the entire series) seemed more competent on the outset of his journey than Red. Red is eager, enthusiastic, but absolutely oblivious when it comes to Pokemon; Blue, as much of an overconfident douchebag as Gary was and just as good of, if not a better, trainer, lets Red choose his Pokemon first when they get to Professor Oak’s lab. Red goes with Charmander, saying that his dad named him Red in the hope that he would have the fiery spirit of a fire Pokemon, so Gary chooses Squirtle, already understanding the advantage of types and feeling that any Pokemon he chooses he can raise to be stronger than Red’s.

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Red is completely clueless compared to Blue at the outset of their journeys.

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In my humble opinion, the best PokeDex in the entire Pokemon franchise.

Red is likable as a protagonist, albeit whiny at times, and has a realistic lack of knowledge once he begins on his journey. While Blue is focused on being the best trainer in the region, Red is more concerned with simply completing the Pokedex, in comparison to Ash, who dreams of becoming a Pokemon Master from the get-go and defeating the Elite Four. Red doesn’t even learn about badges until after his first battle with Blue; I won’t get into too much detail (don’t want to ruin it before you see it!), but I will say that battling in this series is represented much, much more realistically than in the original anime, and the Pokemon don’t say their own names, but instead make the more animalistic cries that they make in the games, though not digitized of course. And when I say it’s more realistic, that goes hand in hand with being more brutal than the original series; when Blue’s Squirtle uses Bite on Red’s Charmander, you actually see Squirtle chomp into Charmander’s face and won’t let go as they struggle. Definitely not the Pokemon we grew up with.

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Battles are depicted more realistically in Origins than in the original anime.

Red doesn’t understand the concept of type match-ups and continues to use Charmander in battle even when it’s at a distinct disadvantage; he spams Ember over and over, not taking the hint that it’s not always working, nor is Charmander ever hitting its target, until he learns the hard way in his early battles. A familiar face appears to give him some advice (again, not here to spoil too much) and train him in the knowledge he lacks, helping to build a stronger bond between Red and all of his Pokemon, and to help Red and Charmander become more in-sync in battles.

Players of the original games will be happy to see locales and Pokemon from the Red and Blue games, like Viridian City, Pallet Town, and the Pokemon we all tried our hand at the first time we set out to capture one in the wild, like Pidgey, Rattata, Caterpie, Metapod, and a handful of others that threw me right back to my childhood, and back to when I would think ruefully to myself while playing, “Another [insert one of the aforementioned Pokemon here]?!”

Quite frankly, I’m very impressed with what I’ve seen from the first episode of Pokemon Origins. It’s got the same charms and allure to attract the current generation of Pokefans that are growing up with the ongoing anime now, as well as the nostalgia and trips down memory lane that fans that grew up with the original 150 (or should I say, 151?) have been missing for a long time now. With great art, more realistic portrayals of battles, and references to things used in the games that weren’t discussed in the original anime (like TMs – which are contained on floppy drives, for that real sense of being thrown back into the 90s), I’ll be tuning in for every episode and reveling in the Pokemon of my generation. Even if it makes me a little choked up at times.

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