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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The Legend of Zelda: The Windwaker HD – Simply Stunning

When the HD remake of The Windwaker was announced some months ago, the few teaser screenshots we were given were enough to get me excited from the start – not only was it clear that the HD was going to breathe new life into the already charming cel-shaded environments, but this would give those of us that loved the game on the Gamecube the chance to revisit it without having to pull out the Wii (or the Gamecube, if your Wii isn’t backwards compatible) now that our WiiU’s were hooked up and waiting for the next big thing with the name “Zelda” in the title to put into them.

Now that my Ganondorf statue from my Limited Edition set is on display and I’ve spent time with my copy of the game, I can say with confidence that this is, simply put, one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played, on any console to date. And yes graphics snobs, I’m looking at you – Windwaker absolutely holds its own against any of the most graphically advanced current-gen titles on the PS3 or XBOX 360. What I can’t stop marveling at are the lighting effects that accurately depict the feel of, for example, early morning or late afternoon, or the sombre, moody interior of a dimly lit temple. It’s amazing how, despite the cel-shaded look of the game, the HD touches in lighting and shadow can somehow manage to give the game a realistic feel; from individual blades of grass, to the distant shadow of Link on the ground or the water below him as he climbs a tall ladder, the subtle additions of realism create a gorgeous look without compromising the whimsy of the original look on the Gamecube.

In terms of gameplay, there are quite a number of changes to discuss. One of the biggest complaints about Windwaker was about how long it took to sail between islands (until you got the ability to warp to certain places on the Great Sea), so in order to combat that you now have the option to purchase the Swift Sail in the Windfall Auction, which doubles your sailing speed and will always have the wind at your back instead of constantly having to change the wind’s direction manually. Believe me, the increase in sailing speed is very notable. Certain items, like the Tingle Tuner and Tingle Bombs, are no longer present in this version of the game, as they’ve been replaced with Tingle Bottles, which you can use to send messages and Pictographs to other players via Miiverse by throwing them into the Great Sea and leaving them for players to find. This makes, for example, completing Lenzo’s statue collection much easier because players can share hard-to-take Pictographs across Miiverse instead of having to do the hard work of taking those photos yourself (though I have mixed feelings about that, which I’ll get to further in this review).

Speaking of Pictographs, the PictoBox can now take up to 12 shots before you have to clear its memory to make room for more, and Nintendo, in a tongue-in-cheek homage to today’s social media obsessed culture, has included the ability for Link to take selfies with it. It’s actually incredibly hilarious, especially considering you can change Link’s facial expression, which, coupled with some creativity, can produce some gems.

In terms of the main quest, the biggest change is that five of the treasure charts in the quest to collect the Triforce of Courage have been replaced by the Triforce shards themselves, greatly cutting down on the time it takes to complete that part of the story. There are many, many changes that this HD version of Windwaker has experienced, but before moving on it’s worth noting that:

- You can actually remove the HUD from the screen, leaving only your heart and magic meters visible

-The Windwaker is permanently assigned to a position on the D-Pad

-You can now move in first-person view including when using the bow, hookshot, boomerang, and grappling hook

-Gyroscope controls are available (and you can turn them off if you please)

-The Deku Leaf now shows you where you’ll land when you drop from the sky

-You can swap items in your inventory using the GamePad instead of having to go into the pause menu

And there’s a plethora of other changes to catalog.

Now don’t get me wrong, I really like some of these changes and improvements to gameplay – and some of them, I don’t. Nintendo has been on a kick of making Zelda titles more “accessible” to a wider audience, which in turn has resulted in the dumbing down of certain things that I appreciate in the Zelda series, namely, the assumption that you’re intelligent enough to handle a challenging game without whining that it’s challenging. We saw this mentality manifest itself in the two Zelda games on the DS, Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, respectively, with the touch screen controls that came across as more gimmicky than intuitive (though I still enjoyed the DS titles for what they were). So the sailing in the Gamecube version took a while, and you had to collect treasure charts to find the Triforce shards, and Lenzo was a taskmaster when it came to getting all the Pictographs to complete his statue collection, and you actually had to use a little brainpower to figure out the trajectory of where your bomb is going to land versus what angle you have your cannon at (because now the trajectory is displayed for you) or where you’re going to land when you cancel out the Deku Leaf… isn’t that part of why we play Zelda? For the challenge?

While some of these changes are more menial than others and, frankly, quite helpful, I can’t help but be a little frustrated when people complain about aspects of a game that didn’t prevent them from saying a game was great in the past, but that they want made easier for them now. Zelda is also known for having a rich, lengthy story, and I don’t want anyone messing with something that’s going to shorten my quest experience when I already have to wait years between Zelda titles anyway. That being said, the change in the Triforce shard quest was simply a matter of people not wanting to feel like they were on a fetch quest and wanting to get on with the story faster. This wasn’t a part of the quest that ever bothered me, but evidently enough people complained that Nintendo shortened it for the HD remake.

Small gripes aside, this version of Windwaker has developed the definitive Windwaker experience. From the glorious HD upgrade, to the improvements in gameplay, to the additions of new features that are thoughtful and not merely thrown in to say something different was done, Nintendo certainly hit it out of the park this time and exceeded my expectations.

Whether you fondly remember popping the game into your Gamecube or this is your first foray into the Great Sea, pick up Windwaker and make it part of your Wii U library.

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The expressiveness of Toon Link makes these selfies all the more hilarious.

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Sailing with the Swift Sail.

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Beautiful HD touches even found their way to the game’s original art.

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One of the first teaser images we were given of the HD upgrade to the visuals.

Super Smash Bros.: Creating Champions and Destroying Friendships For Nearly Fifteen Years

Though this year’s E3 was ultimately kind of a disappointment for me (I know that sounds odd, considering the major hype around the Next-Gen console reveals and the titles announced for them), Nintendo still managed to get me all giddy inside with the reveal of Super Smash Bros. WiiU and 3DS (I really hope those are just pending titles…). And how could I NOT get excited once I saw that after all these years, Mega Man is FINALLY joining the fray, or that the villager from Animal Crossing would be making an appearance? I’ll even give the Wii Fit Trainer a chance at proving herself to be a fan favorite come release day.

All of this anticipation, waiting for a final release date, wondering what other new characters and stages will be announced, makes me think of when I was in high school and I would eagerly check the official site for Super Smash Bros. Brawl for my dose of daily updates and screenshots. To be honest, the only other franchise that tops my level of excitement when a new installment to the series is announced is my favorite franchise of all time, The Legend of Zelda (but that’s not to say I don’t get excited for the other franchises I love!).

Reminiscing about SSBB got me thinking about why the Smash Bros. games get people so excited; one of the comments on the bottom of IGN’s article documenting the daily Smash Bros. updates we’ve been getting was from a guy that said it was about time he sold his PS3 so he can buy a WiiU for the new Smash Bros. I’m sure he’s not the only gamer out there with the same mindset right now, so what’s the deal? Why does Smash Bros. get so many of us riled up and bubbling over with glee?

Nintendo is a bit like Disney: both companies have created a plethora of characters and universes that people connect to on deeper levels than with most video games and cartoons. Just as there are people who have fond memories of going to Disneyland as children and feel you can never be too old to put in a Disney film and enjoy it, so too are there gamers who remember the first time they ever kicked a Koopa shell at a row of Goombas, or figured out the trick to getting out of the Lost Woods, or completed their Pokedex in both Red and Blue. There’s something magical about the universes in the world of Nintendo that suck people in and cause them to hold the heroes, and even the enemies, of these games close to their hearts.

With that being said, the idea of throwing together Nintendo’s all stars and letting them duke it out in a battle for supremacy is one of the greatest things Nintendo could’ve conceived – a game rife with fan service that feeds off of the rich supply of characters and iconic settings Nintendo has lovingly created over the years. But Nintendo doesn’t just stop at taking their heroes and villains and throwing them in a ring together to fight. No, they make the battles even more wild by including dozens of items to aid you in battle, with nearly all of them being taken from each character’s respective games.

Want to blow your opponent sky high? Try a Bob-omb from the Mushroom Kingdom, or a Smart Bomb from Fox’s Arwing. Need a pick-me-up in battle? Eat one of Kirby’s Maximum Tomatoes or Link’s heart containers. And if you need some extra muscle, you could always grab a Pokeball and call a powerful Pokemon to your aid. Just the items alone show Nintendo’s storied attention to detail and incredible creativity that they pour into the Smash Bros. games, all for the sake of making players smile at the familiarity of seeing their favorite franchises represented in multiple ways throughout the game. Having generic bombs, weapons, or health items just wouldn’t cut it for a game this grand in scope.

The stages that take you to the bubbling depths of Brinstar to the rooftop of Silph Co., to the Bridge of Eldin or soaring in the skies on the Halberd and every stage in between, all add to that epic feeling that comes from seeing the heroes you grew up with transgressing into each other’s universe in their fight to prove they’re number one. We can’t forget how, beginning with Smash Bros. Melee, Nintendo catered to their fans even more by introducing trophies you could earn through battle of the most iconic characters and items from Nintendo’s lengthy library of games.

What draws some of the most excitement from the announcement of a new Smash Bros. title, however, is the question of which characters will be unlockable and what new faces will be joining the fray. It’s always been a fun surprise when you’ll see the familiar warning that a new challenger approaches and you’re about to add a new player to your roster of fighters, but by the time Smash Bros. Brawl was announced and in development, more video game developers wanted to get in on the Smash Bros. phenomenon and see their own characters jump into the action. The fact that Sega and Konami both allowed Nintendo to include Sonic and Solid Snake in Brawl is a testament to how big of a deal each new Smash Bros. installment is, and how the allure of the games reaches beyond just Nintendo fans.

It’s also clear that both Nintendo and other developers listen to what their fans want, as seen in the inclusion of Mega Man in the upcoming games. For years people have been clamoring online for Capcom and Nintendo to work together to get him into one of the games, and those wishes have finally become a reality. I know that personally, after I watched the epic trailer of Mega Man’s entrance, my first thoughts were, Are Sonic and Snake going to be back in this game? and What other characters from other developers are going to make an appearance? My hope is that the answer to the former is yes, and that there will be a number of other characters appearing in this game. After all, it’s not such a far-fetched idea – Namco is helping to produce this installment. Maybe we’ll see some Soul Calibur characters? Tekken? Pac-Man? There’s a lot of possibilities there, and they don’t have to just come from Namco, either.

Smash Bros. excites people like no other fighting game because of the level of creativity each game builds upon, the mashing together of so many of Nintendo’s universes, and the potential for having more and more outside developers bring their characters and franchises into the mix for some truly epic fights. Whether you’re a newbie who just started playing with Brawl, or you’ve been playing since the N64 title and, since Melee, refuse to use anything but a Gamecube controller to play (like myself), Smash Bros. brings friends together in a way I haven’t experienced with any of the other fighting games I’ve played over the years. Friends get genuinely pumped up when they find out a Wii is in the house and Smash Bros. is available to play, and as soon as the controllers are passed out and hooked up, it gets real.

Choose your character, and it’s go time.

Come 2014, the battles will start anew.

Link's new look in the upcoming Smash Bros.

Link’s new look in the upcoming Smash Bros.

Mega Man appears!

Mega Man appears!

Some gameplay from Melee, which is often argued as the best of the Smash games.

Some gameplay from Melee, which is often argued as the best of the Smash games.

The level of characters to choose from in Brawl is awesome, especially with the addition of Sonic and Snake.

The level of characters to choose from in Brawl is awesome, especially with the addition of Sonic and Snake.

Why You Should Get Sucked Into Animal Crossing: New Leaf, Like Me.

When I was in my senior year of high school, I got a copy of Animal Crossing: Wild World for the DS, unaware of how obsessed I would become with this virtual town. I didn’t miss a day of picking and selling my fruit, upgrading my house, customizing my pad, and building relationships with my neighbors – hell, I stayed up until 5:30 in the morning the night I got back from my senior ball just to ensure I didn’t miss a day in my town.

But then college came along, and other video games, and my days in my town became numbered, until I didn’t play it anymore because I was afraid to turn it on and see which of my neighbors had moved due to neglect. 

Then, a few years later (namely, just a couple of weeks ago), a little title called Animal Crossing: New Leaf came out for the 3DS, and I knew I was about to get hooked all over again. I was right.

The lure of Animal Crossing has always been about how highly customizable your town and home are, and New Leaf takes that concept to a whole new level. In this title, the big twist is that you’re the mayor of your town and you’re the one calling the shots. You have the ability to draft town ordinances that, say, mandate that shops stay open later or open earlier, or you can kickstart the construction of town projects that make your citizens happy and your town more attractive. Right now I’m trying to fund a fountain to be built, and after that’s done I can go back to the list of available projects to continue the town’s beautification. 

Tom Nook is back to squeezing all of the bells he can get out of you – yet again he’s in charge of taking care of any home expansions you’d like to make on your humble abode, with the home loans increasing exponentially in value with every upgrade. However, your house isn’t the only building capable of expanding in town: the Nookling siblings, Timmy and Tommy, have their own shop in New Leaf, and if you buy enough of their products they’ll eventually expand on their shop and offer even more items to buy.

The museum is back, under the caring wing of Blathers the owl, which is one of my favorite places in the game. I really enjoy finding fossils every day and having him assess them so I can donate them. You can also donate fish and bugs that you catch, along with any artwork you’re lucky enough to get your hands on from Redd the traveling shyster salesman, but be careful not to buy fakes! The museum is yet another building that will expand when supplied with enough donations.

One of the best new additions to this iteration of the Animal Crossing series is the island that you can travel to, for 1000 bells per round trip. Tortimer, the mayor from Wild World who was also the previous mayor of your town, will eventually pay you a visit and open up the opportunity for you to travel to the island, where you can bring back rare fruit that doesn’t grow in your town to sell for more bells, as well as where you can catch exotic bugs – including creepy giant beetles that sell for a ton of cash – and fish. But one of the coolest additions to the game is your newfound ability to swim. You can only swim on the island with the new item, the wetsuit, but you can dive to find sea creatures and plant life that you can’t snag while fishing.

The main source of your income is the new shop, Re-Tail, which is the town’s recycling center; this is where you sell your fruit, bugs, and unwanted items for the bells you’ll need to fund all those public works projects and home expansions. New Leaf is definitely a very money-driven game, and luckily Nintendo had the foresight to provide the player with a variety of options to earn money quickly and easily. From bringing back items from the island, to selling the precious stones and metals you can find in rocks around town, to fishing for sharks and rare bugs that bring in the big bucks, there’s always a way to make the money you’ll need to make your town the best it can be.

And of course, Animal Crossing wouldn’t be the same without the special events that occur throughout the year in your town. Fireworks displays in August, celebrations of holidays, observances of seasonal markers like the summer solstice (which includes 24 hours of sunshine and no sunset), and contests like the Bug Off are all constantly happening and bring out your neighbors to socialize.

As the mayor, you have a personal aid named Isabelle that never seems to leave City Hall and is always waiting to talk to you in your office and give you advice on how to be the best mayor for your town. She’s the person to go to if you want to draft ordinances, start town projects, or if you want to check your approval rating amongst your neighbors. Speaking of approval ratings, the Happy Homes Association makes its return to secretly judge your home when you’re not aware of their presence and determine whether or not you have the feng shui necessary to earn a high rating for your home’s decor and layout.

Traveling to other players’ towns is possible via Nintendo WiFi, but only with your permission. You can choose to “open” your town gate to visitors, which allows anyone with your friend code to visit your town. The key there is having someone’s friend code, which reduces the fear of a stranger coming to your town and, say, chopping down your fruit trees, or just acting creepy. I opened my gate so my brother could visit my town and vice-versa (I named my town Alameda and his is Oakland), and we got to exchange gifts and fruit from our towns to take back with us. If you activate Street Pass for New Leaf, you can actually find a replica model home belonging to the person you Street Passed pop up in your town in the Happy Homes Showcase, which is an outdoor plaza where you can visit the homes at any time and order furniture and items you like from them.

One of my favorite additions to this Animal Crossing is a particular item you can buy in the Nooklings’ shop: the fortune cookie. It’s totally Nintendo fan service at its finest. Inside each fortune cookie is a fortune that you can trade with the Nooklings for a special Nintendo-themed item; each fortune is numbered, and that number correlates with a particular item. So far I’ve gotten some really awesome stuff like the Hero’s Clothes and the Hero’s Boots (Link’s tunic and boots from Twilight Princess), the Triforce, the Master Sword, triple red shells from Mario Kart, Samus’s Varia Suit (the top half, at least), a Pikmin hat, and a few other items. Some of the items can actually be interacted with in your house to do cool stuff. You can only buy one fortune cookie a day at a cost of two Play Coins, so it’ll encourage you to take your 3DS with you on your daily commute so you can walk around and earn those coins!

Animal Crossing: New Leaf is a title that keeps on giving. The more you play, the more you discover, and with the passage of time new things are always happening throughout the year. Build relationships with your neighbors, expand your home and your town, and be the mayor! As I’ve been putting more time into the game I find it more difficult to stop playing, because I want to see what my town will look like once I’ve completed every public works project and helped more shops to open up and expand. There’s a reason why New Leaf quadrupled 3DS sales the week of its release and why it’s sold over 4 million copies in Japan alone. 

Pick up your copy if you have a 3DS. This is most definitely one of those must-have titles for the system. Just be prepared to get sucked in.Image